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Xie Qian and Tang Fan stepped forth to bow. The Prince didn’t wait for them to even bend over before he scrambled up to stop them. “Don’t be overly polite, teachers! Look at you, Teacher Xie — you did something like this, and made Teacher Tang do the same!”
Of all that was in officialdom, what was most abundant was false politeness. Tang Fan had seen countless ‘fake polite’ people, who clearly wanted you to bow, but would still shout about politeness not being needed, putting on obvious airs yet acting like they were respectful scholars. What was true and what was false were things the other party might not sense, but bystanders could tell all too well.
In Tang Fan’s eyes, however, the little Prince appeared to have not changed even a little bit.
Hardships turned into time, yet only calm indifference remained in his heart. Were he not like this, why would someone like Huai En be set on him?
Despite the Prince wanting him to not, Tang Fan still proceeded to bend at the waist, making a big show of respect.
“Ai, Teacher Tang!” Unable to stop him, the Prince could only grab his arm, then stoop over along with him. The scene was a little comical to witness.
Xie Qian laughed. “Since he’s here, this subject will finish my withdrawal.”
“Teacher Xie, please come in and have tea. Sit for a bit before you leave.”
“This subject still has things to do in Hanlin Academy, and it would be unsuitable for me to stay long,” Xie Qian rejected. “Besides, Your Highness’s schoolwork should not be held up too much.”
“I will see you off, then,” the Prince had to answer.
“You must remain here!” Xie Qian quickly stated. He firmly refused to let the Crown Prince see him off, so the latter had to have his attendant do it.
After the two left, the Prince said powerlessly to Tang Fan, “Teacher Xie was being overly cautious.”
Tang Fan smiled. “There’s nothing much wrong with being cautious. Him being cautious is just him thinking of you, Your Highness.”
The Prince smiled back, stepping into the hall while holding Tang Fan’s hand. “I know, Teacher Tang. I was very happy to hear Father Emperor appoint you as a tutor!”
“Thank you for your trouble in remembering me, Your Highness. We’ve sadly been apart for several years; this subject rather missed you, too. Now that I see that you’re in good health and high spirits, I feel at ease.”
The boy cocked his head. “Yet… why did I hear that you were not too willing to take up this position?”
He held no reproach in his tone, only showing a small amount of complaint, as if to say, ‘We got along fine before. Why didn’t you want to see me?’
Tang Fan wasn’t going to keep anything from him. “You’ve misunderstood. That was simply because the one that recommended me was Peng Hua. I have never had any contact with him, so I’m suspicious, and fear that he wants to use me to put you at a disadvantage.”
“There’s no need to worry, Teacher Tang,” the Prince answered, relieved. “You’re only instructing me, with no other tasks. There certainly won’t be any troubles.”
“Dare I ask which tome Teacher Zhou last left off on for you?”
“It is indeed the Wude era,” the young Court of Education employee beside him said with a bow.
Ever since Sima Guang had written A Mirror for Governance Aid, it had been viewed as required reading for future generations of Emperors. The tome’s status was self-evident.
Despite the Annals of History being seen as the pioneer of historiography, its years were too far away. When it came to the Ming Dynasty, the Song and Tang Dynasties were much better references, which was why the Mirror had become a crucial text for successive Crown Princes since Ming’s founding.
Any able to be Hanlin entrants had to be well-learned scholars, but those like Tang Fan, who could bring up any section of contents from A Mirror for Governance Aid without even needing to flip it open, were still rare.
The Prince’s eyes instantly glinted. “The section with Zhang Jinshu! You’re really amazing, to not forget anything you’ve read!”
Tang Fan grinned. “A Song man once said that those that are rulers yet do not know the Mirror are those that wish to govern yet do not know the source of self-governance, and fear rebellions yet do not know the techniques to defend against rebellions; those that are subjects yet do not know the Mirror are those that cannot manage anything for their ruler, nor govern the citizenry. In light of that, I had to study it carefully. It was no huge matter. If you go and ask Teachers Xu and Xie, they are likely quite familiar with the book, as well.”
The Prince snuck in close to his ear. “Teacher Zhou didn’t know it by heart. He had to flip through the book for a look every time, and would still get it wrong sometimes. I never pointed it out, though, else someone who had a reputation like his would definitely feel embarrassed!”
Tang Fan felt amused. Owing to their previous interactions, they didn’t feel too unfamiliar despite having been apart for so long, and even though the Prince was precocious, he still had something of a mischievous child’s heart. “You have kind intentions, and are very generous. Teacher Zhou is up there in years, so his memory is certainly not comparable to that younger folks’. Pointing out his mistakes to his face would have likely embarrassed him. As long as you understand the core of this, you will meet with no sort of instability.”
The boy nodded with a smile. “You know me well. That was indeed the case.”
They looked at each other with smiles, the only remaining gap between them vanishing into nothing.
“Today, then, I will continue from where Teacher Zhou left off, starting from the seven years of Wude. This subject does not know what his teaching style was; if you think me long-winded or difficult to adapt to, all you need to do is point it out, and I will adjust appropriately.”
He said as much, but he really wasn’t long-winded when teaching at all, even directly skipping over some things that weren’t so important. The equal-field law and three-tax system, which had not much ink dedicated to it in the Mirror, he instead described in great detail, occasionally using comparisons to the Great Ming so that the Prince would receive an even clearer understanding.
Half a day’s time quickly passed. When Tang Fan got up to take his leave, the Prince was rather reluctant to part from him. “It’s a shame that you won’t be able to return until five days later. It pains me that I can’t continue to listen to your teachings tomorrow, too.”
Tang Fan laughed. “Your words truly shock this subject with flattery, Your Highness. There are simply many concrete examples in history books, which is why you think they’re more interesting to listen to than others. It’s not due to this subject’s merits.”
As a thoughtful and considerate child, the Prince knew not to speak like this too much, else it would make his other teachers ill at ease to hear, and also gain Tang Fan enemies for no reason. “It was I who spoke rashly. I will see you off, Teacher Tang.”
He ignored Tang Fan’s rejection, personally wishing to escort him out. In the end, Tang Fan had to say, “Please remain here, Your Highness. It would be better to let Orator Lin see me off.”
“Teacher Tang is right,” Lin Ying said. “Please remain here. You must not be too attention-grabbing.”
The Prince was forced to stop. “If you please, then, Orator Lin.”
While they walked out, Lin Ying brought up a topic on his own. “Your lectures differ greatly from Teacher Zhou’s, giving one quite an undivided sense of altruism. It’s little wonder as to why His Highness was unwilling to part from you. He has been cordial with others before, but this humble official has never seen him be so close to a teacher who’s teaching for the first time. I presume that you’re old acquaintances with him?”
Tang Fan having explicitly pointed him out for the send-off was for the purpose of taking the chance to ask him about things related to the Prince’s progress, so he smiled. “I can’t be considered an old acquaintance. This was simply a duck being forced to roost; I’m afraid that my tutelage of His Highness was poor and laughable. How could I compare to Teacher Zhou’s wide knowledge?”
“You’re being too modest. Looking at His Highness’s attitude alone, you evidently teach well enough.”
“I’ve only just arrived here, and do not know the rules. Dare I ask what areas require focus in the Prince’s lessons? Please give instructions, Orator Lin.”
Lin Ying thought a minute. “There shouldn’t be any. However, The Grand Teachings of Literary Flourish reached completion not too long ago, and His Majesty looks upon it very fondly. Once the Mirror is done, the Grand Teachings should be taught from. If you have the spare time, you should read the tome in advance to make a lot of proper preparations.”
Tang Fan understood immediately.
The Grand Teachings of Literary Flourish was a new tome that had just been compiled in December of last year. The originating goal of the book’s creation was to instruct the Crown Prince on how to cultivate himself and rule the land peacefully, but in actuality, it had been a motion manufactured by the Wan party to curry favor with the Emperor. Following the book’s creation, all of the Cabinet Solons that had participated in it or edited it had been promoted and rewarded.
To get the Emperor’s favor, they had also requested that he personally pen a foreword, which he had easily agreed to. Despite him not having the mind to engage in politics, he was not only an exceptional painter, but had a literary flair that was above the norm, making the Wan party’s plan really scratch his itch.
Because of this, the Prince had to express importance towards the set of books, lest he give others a cause for gossip.
“Had it not been for your reminder, I would have forgotten that, Orator Lin. Thank you!”
Lin Ying smiled. “No need to be so polite. His Highness being happy means that all of us are happy, too. This is something I’m well aware of.”
Tang Fan smiled back. “You’re exactly right!”
Everything following went smoothly. Tang Fan entered the palace once every five days. The Prince was of decent aptitude and quickly progressed in his studies; there was not a more stress-free student than he.
Compared to Consort Wan’s tyranny, the Prince was reasonable, of gentle personality, treated his teachers and subjects with total respect, and did not get high-and-mighty in his status. Human hearts were grown from flesh — who wouldn’t want to be close to such a Crown Prince?
However, the Wan party currently had tremendous power in Court. Those with the wisdom to protect themselves did not dare to offend them, only able to quietly bury their thoughts in their minds.
No matter how good the Crown Prince was, in the eyes of the Wan party, there wasn’t a bit of good about him. In other words, they didn’t support his ascension, and he certainly wouldn’t walk the same path as them in the future.
Hence was why, even though Consort Wan hadn’t had a son herself, she had to support Consort Shao’s son — the current Second Prince, Zhu Youyuan — for Crown Princedom.
Of course, that stemmed from Consort Shao bowing low before Consort Wan, adhering to her via filial piety.
Zhu Youyuan was seven years old. According to sequence, he ought to be the Fourth Prince, but two of his older brothers had passed in their youths, the Crown Prince notwithstanding. He was not a half-grown teen like the Crown Prince, nor had he had a hard childhood, nor was he early-maturing in wisdom, nor was he uninfluenced by the Wan party; he was a prince that had practically grown up inside a pot of honey, loved by his parents since childhood. Obviously, he was pampered, and not a thing like the Crown Prince, who had almost lost his young life.
A child like him was clearly much easier to grip than the Crown Prince.
In spite of only spending a brief morning in the palace, Tang Fan was already acutely aware that the Crown Prince’s current situation was a bit isolated.
Furthermore, the rumors outside of the palace going around about the Crown Prince’s abolishment had never ceased, some even saying that his health was weak, which would not be promising towards the proliferation of the family. In contrast, Zhu Youyuan was strong-bodied, making him more suitable for the continuation of the lineage.
There was both truth and falsehood to the rumors, yet more falsehoods than truth. One thing was certain: if the Crown Prince’s position genuinely was as stable as a boulder, these rumors wouldn’t have disseminated in the first place, and no one would have belief in them.
Also, while coming to and from the East Palace, Tang Fan had once inadvertently discovered some people spying in the dark like ghouls. He knew that they must have been sent to monitor the East Palace, and even catch blackmail material on the Crown Prince.
However, with Tang Fan’s present position, even if he was the Prince’s teacher in name, there was nothing he could do.
On that topic, even when He Cheng was being taught, his mind would inevitably start wandering after sitting for a long while, but the Prince’s would not. From start to finish, he would be completely focused on listening to his lessons and asking questions whenever there was something he didn’t understand. What teacher wouldn’t inevitably adore a student like him?
Despite Tang Fan not saying so, he had seen too much noxious air in the present Court. Like many, he held high hopes for the Crown Prince, and became biased towards him at heart. When it came to the Prince’s lessons, he was more attentive, needing to carefully prepare for the five-day-interval lessons in advance.
As expected, the Prince came to be all the more fond of Tang Fan’s lessons, at times even accidentally letting his mouth run. It got the point that even Xie Qian had jokingly complained that the subject he was responsible for was too pedantic compared to what Tang Fan had to do, which had led to the Prince being fascinated by the novelty.
On this day, when Tang Fan came home from the Inspectorate, he saw that Ah-Dong was dressed up nicely, even having brought out the gold wire bracelet inlaid with rubies that she never usually wore. “Our Ah-Dong is such a pretty young lady. What handsome lad are you planning to go out and see?” he wondered.
She jumped up to berate him. “All you know how to do is make fun of me all day, brother!”
He beamed as he pat her head. “Who’s forcing you to always be a monkey that dances around with swords, waves around sticks, and even runs off to climb trees? I’m worried about how you’ll marry someday. At long last, you look a bit like a young lady — that puts me at a lot of ease!”
Ah-Dong pouted. “What do you mean, dancing around with swords and sticks? Were it not for me, big sis would’ve let the He’s take her away by force!”
“Yes, yes,” he conceded, “but no matter what is said, you’ll always be a woman, and this is your natal family. Your brother and sister know how you are, but that might not be the case when you get to your husband’s family. You need to learn to be a little more restrained, even if you have to fake it.”
“I’m still three-ish years away from hairpinning age!” she said, feigning anger. “Most big brothers wish for their little sisters to stick around for longer, but you itch to marry me off!”
He bust out laughing. “That’s because you eat too much! I’m worried that you’ll eat us out of house and home!”
The two joked around for a bit, until she hurriedly bounded some steps away. “No more playing, sis has to help me put my hair back up in a bit. I need to rush over to the Sui’s, we can talk later!”
He grabbed her. “Why are you getting so dressed up to go there?”
“Did Brother Sui not tell you? Ah-Bi’s marriage is set, I’m going to congratulate her!”
Thinking of what Sui Zhou had said last time, Tang Fan’s brow creased. “Speaking of that, Guangchuan is about to get married too, right?”
Ah-Dong was quite confused. “I haven’t heard of that.”
He faintly detected something amiss. “Wasn’t he going to marry his cousin?”
“You remembered wrong! Sister Qiao already married last year!”
“…Then, is his marriage still up in the air?”
“Yep! I heard that he wasn’t happy with the engagement his family got for him and refused it. Ah-Bi is a girl in her prime, so she can’t be waiting; their family said that she should be engaged and made to marry first. Brother Sui knows as much. Did he not tell you?”
Though there was an order of seniority, a lot of affairs amongst the citizenry were not overly particular, like in the Sui situation. Since Sui Zhou’s engagement was drawn out and undecided, his little sister could marry before him through their family’s initiative.
Upon hearing this, Tang Fan only felt a burst of fire start in his heart, and couldn’t help but harshly swear on the inside: Sui Guangchuan, you bastard!
Making him think that he was getting married this whole time, only to have been keeping him completely in the dark!
Seeing that his face was flashing green and white, Ah-Dong kept asking him what was wrong. He had no desire to explain to her, so he reassured her, then strode out, ready to find the guilty party and settle the score.
Right when he had just walked out of the gate, he sighted a litter stopped at the entrance of the alley up ahead. As for the one that stooped and stepped out of it, he could not be more familiar with him.
The other party having come here at nighttime was likely not to reminisce about old times.
Sure enough, Wang Zhi spotted him quickly, said a few things to the people at his side, then walked over briskly.
Before Tang Fan could cup his hands in greeting, the other lowered his voice to speak anxiously. “Come into the palace with me, quick! His Majesty wants to see you!”
Tang Fan was astonished. “Something happened?”
Wang Zhi grunted. “I took the chance of relaying the message to come out in person so that I could clear things up with you beforehand! Get on the litter, we’ll talk on the road!”
He had made early preparations, having found the biggest litter available. It wasn’t so crowded that two grown men would have to cram in there, but even if it was cramped, they wouldn’t have had the spare time to care. When the curtain was lowered and the burly bearers lifted the chair, Wang Zhi first questioned, “When you were lecturing in the East Palace last, did you or did you not say something that shouldn’t have been said?”
Tang Fan was mystified. “No. I’m responsible for teaching His Highness from the Mirror, and everything was based off of its contents.”
“What did you speak about last?”
“When I had first arrived, the Prince said that his former teacher had just started talking about the seven years of Wude, so I went from there. We’re now on the fifteenth year of Zhenguan.”
Wang Zhi looked grim. “That’s probably where the issue is. Someone claimed to His Majesty that you were speaking randomly during your lessons to the Prince, misleading him and driving a wedge between father and son, ruler and subjects.”
Tang Fan smirked. “When did I get such a skill?”
The other glared at him. “You’re still in the mood to laugh at a time like this?! What the Prince learns, someone will report to the Emperor after each set period of time. If His Majesty wasn’t truly angry right now, he wouldn’t have ordered you to enter the palace. You’ll probably be reprimanded and interrogated when the time comes, so you need to be prepared.”
“Do you know what exactly I said that angered him?”
Wang Zhi shook his head. “Neither Huai En nor I were near him at the time. Wei Xing was the one on-duty.”
Tang Fan had not much contact with in-palace officials, so that name didn’t make him feel anything.
“He’s Liang Fang’s apprentice,” Wang Zhi supplied.
Now, he understood. “That is to say, he’s not on your team, so he won’t share specific details with you.”
Because Wang Zhi didn’t know much, there was no way to get ready for anything ahead of time. The two said nothing the whole route. Upon arriving at the palace gate, Wang Zhi warned, “No matter what you answer with, you will need to consider it carefully in advance.”
Before the switch, Wang Zhi never would have given such warm-hearted advice, but he really didn’t know the details of what was happening, so he had no choice but to repeatedly warn Tang Fan out of fear that he would cause a calamity.
The Emperor hadn’t ordered Wang Zhi to go out and pass the message on to begin with, while Wang Zhi had used his own position to go in person and give Tang Fan an advance warning. This made it inappropriate for him to lead Tang Fan to the Emperor, and he had to call another palace-goer to do so.
The Chenghua Emperor was in the midst of reviewing memorials presented by the Cabinet. The Crown Prince was standing beside him with his hands hanging. They were too distant for Tang Fan to clearly see their expressions, so he was obliged to follow standard by first reporting his name and paying his respects.
The Emperor set down the vermilion brush he held, raised his head, and said something shocking. “We told you to teach the Crown Prince in value of your knowledge, yet you took the opportunity teaching gave you to beguile him. Is that something a subject should do?”
“Your remarks make this subject fearful, Your Majesty,” Tang Fan quickly replied. “The Prince is the nation’s heir apparent. That I am able to give him lessons is truly a blessing to me, and my gratitude for your trust in me is neverending. How could any dissatisfaction arise in my heart? Please retract your statement!”
Chenghua huffed coldly. “We had believed that you being on the roll meant that even if your knowledge was inferior to your peers like Xie Qian and Wang Ao, you must also be exceptional. Yet you used your tutelage to inform the Prince of something that goes against proper relationships between ruler and subject, father and son! And you still dare to quibble about it!”
“This subject does not know what you are referring to, Your Majesty. Please clarify!”
The Prince’s face had long been filled with worry, and he couldn’t hold back any longer, quickly walking out from behind the imperial desk to kneel by Tang Fan’s side. “Father Emperor, you are brilliantly wise; Teacher Tang conducts himself with righteousness and gentleness, and his lessons picked up from where Teacher Zhou left off. This son has not heard anything wrong, let alone any talk of anything beguiling.”
The Emperor’s face was cold. “Prince, you do not need to step in for him. We clearly had someone inform Lin Ying to let Tang Fan know to skip over the few tomes of Wude in the Mirror. Why did you teach it anyways, Tang Fan?”
The Prince was startled, automatically turning to look at Tang Fan.
However, Tang Fan was even more astonished than he. “Your Majesty, I have never heard Lin Ying say so.”
The Emperor smiled coldly. “You still want to deny it? Someone, call Lin Ying over.”
Lin Ying was quickly located.
“Lin Ying, we told you that when giving lectures to the Prince, the tomes about Wude were to be skipped over to go straight into Zhenguan’s first year. Have you ever informed Tang Fan as such?”
“Answering Your Majesty, this humble subject did indeed inform Teacher Tang of this.”
“Right after Teacher Tang’s first day of lecturing at the East Palace, this subject saw him off, and warned him on the road. His Highness the Crown Prince can testify on this matter.”
The Prince hesitated. “That day… Lin Ying did see Teacher Tang off. As for what they said on the road, this son does not know.”
Lin Ying was calm. “At the time, Teacher Tang asked me what areas to pay attention to while teaching the Prince. I relayed what Your Majesty told me, then said to Teacher Tang that The Grand Teachings of Literary Flourish had since been compiled, and that you have high hopes for the tome. He was to pore it over to teach it to His Highness as soon as possible.”
His wording was arranged methodically, and, owing to his placid expression, the way he spoke was not in any way suspicious.
The Emperor turned to Tang Fan. “What do you have to say to that?”
The translator says: *rolls eyes audibly*
The author’s mini-theatre:
Tang Fan: You’re not getting married at all. You lied to me. Heh.
Sui Zhou: I didn’t lie to you, I just didn’t say that it was Ah-Bi’s marriage. Your sister knew last time, too. She’s an accomplice.
Tang Fan: My sister is my sister, you are you! Don’t mix it up!
Sui Zhou: How about I take you as a wife in apology?
Tang Fan: Heh. You marrying off would about about do it.
Sui Zhou: Okay!
Tang Fan: …Hm, what did I just say? I suddenly lost my memory!
Sui Zhou: …