The Jing Imperial Court didn’t have any king with a different family name, but those who had the same status as a king with a different family name were titled as the "State Dukes". There were twenty seven State Dukes in the current Imperial Court, whose ancestors had rendered a great service and contribution for the Imperial Court. As time went by, the effect of the contribution would fade away gradually. Some state dukes would slowly lose their tangible power and status, eventually becoming marginalized as simply an ornament some day.
As the studying partner of the Emperor when they were kids, State Duke He, unlike State Duke Lu, who kept a low-profile, had an important status in the Imperial Court, which many people thought was unshakable. At least State Duke He didn’t have to worry about the marginalization of his influence and power. State Duke He was obviously favored and trusted by the Emperor, since it was he who represented the Emperor sitting in the Net Perception Temple as drizzle fell outside, not somebody else.
The Net Perception Temple was like a second palace for the Imperial Court, and also a private temple for the Jing Imperial Court. Today State Duke He didn’t represent the Emperor in prayer for the fortune; rather he was to receive an honored guest on the Emperor’s behalf.
Though State Duke He had no need to worry about his power and status, he was worried he might not be able to get up if he sat on the wet ground for too long, since he hadn’t sat on a futon in many years. If he hadn’t had the experience of sitting on the futon when he studied at the One-Cottage Sect, he figured he might not be able to get up from the futon this time.
Thinking of this problem, State Duke He couldn’t help but complain a little in his mind about this honorable guest; but when he remembered it was rumored that the guest could read others’ minds, he got a bit nervous and abruptly recited some Buddhist mantras silently. With a smile on his face, State Duke He expressed gratitude again to the guest while glancing at the far end of the meditation room veiled by both screens and white smoke.
"The Young Zen Master is willing to come and answer questions on Buddhism for our Emperor, and is even willing to host the Plum Meeting; it’s truly an honor for the Imperial Court."
A breeze blew away the remnant smell of incense smell in the meditation room.
He didn’t know how Young Zen Master would respond after hearing what he had said. As State Duke He was here to chat with this highly accomplished monk of the Fruit Formation Temple, he had no choice but to make those meaningless remarks.
Looking at the far end of the meditating room, State Duke He said after some hesitation, "I heard someone from the Green Mountain Sect went there. Is that really the second house of Immortal Jing Yang?"
The Imperial Court knew about the event regarding the opening up of the cave on Rogue Mountain last night. Like many major Cultivation sects, the Imperial Court believed it to be a hoax, so the Court didn’t send anybody to the mountain. However, the news about what had happened on Rogue Mountain last night had found its way here, and the Fruit Formation Temple had no need to cover up anything.
"It was a prank played by the two immortals when they were around."
The Young Zen Master’s voice was gentle and peaceful, inspiring awe in any who heard it.
Who could use such a peaceful voice to talk about the story of two immortals of the Green Mountain Sect in the world nowadays?
State Duke He pretended to be shocked, asking, "What about that young man under the propitious cloud?"
The Young Zen Master said, "He is the of my old friend, so I look after him."
State Duke He thought the child of his old friend would have to be the disciple on Shenmo Peak, out of all nine peaks of Green Mountain, which meant it had something to do with Immortal Jing Yang after all. As the Young Zen Master said earlier, it wasn’t the manor cave of Immortal Jing Yang. He didn’t think about the matter any further, being in a chatty mood, said, "The Green Mountain Sect shouldn’t have any outstanding disciples for this year’s Plum Meeting, it’s a pity. And who knows when that disciple of the Sect Master who’s behind closed doors will come out."
Compared to the famous Luo Huainan and those gifted young disciples of the Center Sect, like Bai Zao, Tong Yan and Tong Lu, the Green Mountain disciples of the third generation all appeared rather weak without Guo Nanshan, Gu Han and Jian Ruyun. Thought it was said that Zhao Layue would come, she was still too young, not to mention she had a special status.
An elder monk of the Fruit Formation Temple said mildly, "But they have someone named Jing Jiu."
State Duke He didn’t notice the old monk was glancing at the far end of the meditation room before he spoke. "I heard Jing Jiu performed well during the Sword Trial of Green Mountain; but he isn’t as good as Luo Huainan and Bai Zao. And it’s interesting to note that he dares to challenge Tong Yan in the chess tournament," he said, laughing.
The room was quiet, with not a soul laughing with him; it was quite an awkward scene.
State Duke He laughed wryly a few times. He thought of another important matter, and said after some hesitation, "The Royal Concubine is waiting outside the temple, hoping to get your blessing."
It meant she wanted to see the Young Zen Master.
A few elder monks and the Head Master of the Net Perception Temple looked at the far end of the meditation room.
They couldn’t see the face of the Young Zen Master, as it was covered by white smoke
After a moment of silence, the Young Zen Master’s voice sounded again.
"It was out of benevolence and fate that I helped her back then. But she is currently quite blessed; why ask for more? We will meet if the Fates allow."
State Duke He understood what he meant, didn’t dare say anything more.
There was an ash tree forest outside the Net Perception Temple, where a few horse-drawn carriages were parked. The carriages looked plain and simple, but the number of guards around the carriages revealed the important identity of the person in one of the carriages.
The drizzle accompanied the light winds, and it was cold for late spring.
A eunuch stepped out of the carriage, motioning the guards getting in the carriages to seek shelter from the rain.
Here was the Net Perception Temple, where dozens of accomplished monks of the Fruit Formation Temple stayed currently, so there was no need to guard so carefully.
"Our Master has such a kind heart to concern himself with such a trivial matter."
An old female servant in the carriage said with the intention of pleasing her master.
A beautiful woman sat by the window in the carriage. She had a beautiful appearance complete with seductive eyes; however, she also appeared to be pure and naïve, displaying a kind of appeal impossible for men to resist.
She was the most favored Royal Concubine Hu in the Imperial Palace.
"I was from a poor family, and had the experience of being rained on in the wilderness. If Zhu Gui hadn’t kindly saved me from that traveling practitioner back then, I would have been dead long ago."
Thinking of what State Duke He had told her head guard, Royal Concubine Hu felt displeased and gritted her teeth, "It’s not a big deal that he doesn’t want to see me. I don’t believe I have to rely on…"
She was about to make some irate remarks, but she feared the people in the temple might hear her. After all, she truly respected and cherished the Young Zen Master, so she changed her remark when actually speaking.
"I don’t believe anyone could help me take revenge!"
That old female servant rolled her eyes, asking, "Should we ask the Center Sect to take care of this?"
Few people knew that Royal Concubine Hu was close with the Center Sect.
It was she who had convinced the Center Sect to send the disciple Xiang Wanshu to the Four-Seas Banquet held by the Western Ocean Sword Sect last year.
Royal Concubine Hu wasn’t pleased to hear this, actually and suddenly becoming upset upset. "Make another suggestion like that and you can leave the palace by yourself, and don’t come back," she said sternly.
The old female servant didn’t understand how she offended her master, and swiftly knelt down as she asked her for pardon.
Royal Concubine Hu was a clever person. She knew she could try to use her former relationship with the Young Zen Master to ask him to settle the matter, but she absolutely couldn’t ask the Center Sect to settle the matter. The Fruit Formation Temple and the Green Mountain Sect were very close; the Center Sect and the Green Mountain Sect had been in confrontation for many years; they were just like water and fire in that they couldn’t mix together, and they disliked each other.
The orthodox Cultivation sects were the foundation of the human Imperial Court. If she instigated conflict between those two major sects, or worse, made things turn into hostile confrontation, even the Empress in the situation would be dethroned and put in the palace prison, not to mention she was only a royal concubine, though favored by the Emperor in recent years.
A young female servant whispered, "Master Shi said a few days ago that the Pure Heaven Bureau had kept an eye on the Green Mountain Sect all the time."
Royal Concubine Hu said angrily, "What can the Pure Heaven Bureau do with the Green Mountain Sect? She is the personal disciple of Immortal Jing Yang. I just want her to apologize, that’s all. I heard that a person named Jing Jiu dares to challenge Tong Yan. I’d like to see how he is going to end this foolishness!"
Zhaoge City was enshrouded in drizzle.
The crowd lining up outside the city gate put on their conical hats, waiting to get in the city.
Jing Jiu wasn’t the only one with a conical hat on anymore, so he didn’t attract attention.
The gate guard took his wet Travel Permit, asking, "Where are you from? What are you doing in Zhaoge City?"
Jing Jiu answered, "Coming home."
According to Shangde Peak’s investigation, the family of the Green Mountain disciple Jing Jiu was in Zhaoge.
In fact, his family home was in Zhaoge.
He came back to Zhaoge City after twenty years, and he was less sentimental than last time.
The last time, he had encountered the winter snowfall in Zhaoge City; this time he was received by the spring rain.
He learned this saying in the small village: the spring rain is more expensive than oil.
For those who lived in Zhaoge City, the spring rain was like the oil, making the road covered by the green rock slats extremely slippery. Those walking on it felt awfully annoyed.
Of course, the spring rain could motivate the poets to write wonderful poems about it.
Jing Jiu had no interest in zither, chess, calligraphy or painting, so he couldn’t write poem; but he liked the spring rain.
He liked the spring rain regardless of whether it fell on the roof of a boat, on the flight eaves of a house, or on a conical hat.
During a snowfall in the winter, he would move in the house to sleep, but with the window open.
From a certain angle to look at it, Jing Jiu was a romantic person, but he didn’t realize it though.
Walking on the streets and alleys in Zhaoge City with his conical hat on, Jing Jiu didn’t pay attention to the ubiquitous Formations. He gazed through the raindrops at other places.
He saw a beggar under the eaves holding a bowl of soup rippled by the raindrops.
He noticed a young woman fanning the fire in a small mud stove on the roofed boat, ready to cook the meal.
He witnessed a girl running past the alley without an umbrella, pearl-like raindrops on her cheeks.
There was a quiet small courtyard at the deep end of the alley, where one could see the flight eaves of the Taichang Temple nearby.
As Shangde Peak found out, Jing Jiu’s ancestor had served a previous Emperor; so it was reasonable that his family home was located here.
The wooden courtyard door was quite worn-out, and the mosses on the both ends of the stone steps were sodden by the rain, everything appearing peaceful.
Jing Jiu hesitated for a while and walked up to the door.
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