The Cold Palace seldom lit any light; but one light was lit here that day. It was because a guest finally entered the palace hall.
Seeing the white hair on Grand Scholar's head, Jing Jiu realized that a great many years had passed.
"I thought that you could live for many more years. Given your ability, King Jing's rebel shouldn't be a big deal; and Zhao State and Qin State couldn't pose any threat to us; you should be able to keep us safe."
Jing Jiu added, "I didn't expect this day to come so soon."
"This chancellor is eighty years old already. It's nevertheless an old age for mortals," the Grand Scholar Zhang said sentimentally. "If Your Majesty hadn't offered me the magic pills every year, I would have become a pile of white bones a long time ago."
Jing Jiu said, "I did it because I needed you; so you don't have to thank me."
"Your Majesty trusts this chancellor and let me take care of the state. This is my greatest luck," the Grand Scholar Zhang commented genuinely.
Jing Jiu said, "I also think it's a good deal."
Looking at his face, the Grand Scholar Zhang seemed to see the little prince who didn't like speaking many years ago. "Your Majesty, have you succeeded?" he suddenly asked.
Though the Emperor had never mentioned it, a clever person like the Grand Scholar could more or less figure out something.
Jing Jiu shook his head and said, "To ascend requires breaking through the barrier, and also there are a set of rules restricting it. It is the most difficult thing even in the outside world. It will take many years before I can go back."
He seldom explained his Cultivation to anybody even in the real world, save for Zhao Layue and a few others.
Though he said it briefly, it was nonetheless an explanation for the benefit of the Grand Scholar Zhang.
The Grand Scholar Zhang slapped his thigh in regret and remarked, "It's a pity that this chancellor can't wait for that day."
"I'm afraid so," said Jing Jiu.
Looking at his face, the Grand Scholar Zhang said earnestly, "There are only four states left in the world from the original five. Qi State is weak for its size. Zhao State is strong all because of the Eunuch He, though he can never sire an heir, so we have no need to worry about Zhao State. This chancellor has tried his best to manage the affairs of the state, but it's much harder to change the temperament of the populace. Though our imperial court appears united and strong, there are actually many cracks in it. I'm afraid that it will break down after my death."
"What are you trying to say?"
"For the well-being of the inhabitants, Your Majesty should come out to govern the state."
Jing Jiu said, "Since it's a mess, there is no need to fix it. If we can't beat our enemies but still insist on fighting them, more people will die as a result."
After a long silence, Grand Scholar Zhang said, "What Your Majesty said is very sensible. It's this chancellor who is too committed."
"Besides the 'slow people,' everyone has something they want to commit to," said Jing Jiu.
The Grand Scholar Zhang suddenly laughed out, and then asked while looking at him, "Is Your Majesty a genius or 'slow'?"
A faint smile emerged in the deep end of his eyes, as Jing Jiu remarked, "I'm actually very smart, but I'm a bit lazy."
Recalling the life the Emperor had spent in the Royal Palace in the last thirty years, the Grand Scholar Zhang grew quite sentimental, saying, "I didn't understand how someone like Your Majesty could be so lazy. Later, I have realized that the Emperor is someone who is an otherworldly person, but you were unfortunately born in the royal family. As far as Your Majesty is concerned, this is a very unfortunate thing."
Jing Jiu said, "The Royal Palace is a good place for cultivating, and you are a very good chancellor, which is what makes it not unfortunate."
Hearing his compliment, the Grand Scholar Zhang was overjoyed, and he almost lost his composure. He tried his hardest to calm himself down and asked, "Your Majesty, are you really the Fairy Immortal coming down from heaven?"
"Yes," Jing Jiu replied after some thought.
The Grand Scholar Zhang was stunned speechless. After a long while, he said, "This…is really…Since this chancellor can serve Your Majesty in this life, I have nothing to regret."
Jing Jiu patted his shoulder and said, "Anyway, I thank you for your hard work over the years."
The Grand Scholar Zhang couldn't withhold his emotion any longer. He bowed all the way down to the ground, with tears running down his cheeks, and stayed on the ground for a long time.
In the early autumn, the Grand Scholar Zhang died.
The whole Chu State was in mourning. Everyone was wearing the white cloth in the capital. Even Qin State, Zhao State, and Qi State had sent commissioners to the capital of Chu State to pay their condolences. According to the words from the Grand Scholar Manor, his wife wanted to keep his funeral a low-key event. However, as the actual ruler of Chu State over the last twenty some years, there was no way her request could be fulfilled. The funeral of Grand Scholar Zhang could be called extremely luxurious and honorable.
His old wife, supported by her handmaid, had been busy for many days with the help of her three sons. Yet, her eldest son, who had been exiled to the south, didn't show up.
Jing Jiu had told Zhao Layue a while ago, while pointing toward Liangwang Peak, that any path reaching a dead end would have nowhere to go but back. Most of the affairs in the world were the same. The funeral of the Grand Scholar Zhang had many negative effects. Ignoring the fact the tomb he was to be in was worth more than his rank, the worst part was that the inhabitants were forbidden to marry for one hundred days. The sadness soon turned into complaints among the populace.
The atmosphere was gradually changing in the capital.
One early morning, the Grand Scholar Chen, leading a few other chancellors and kings, entered the Royal Palace in an attempt to meet the Emperor. What they had talked about wasn't known.
But according to the news from the eunuchs of the Royal Palace, the Emperor hadn't met these people at all.
It wasn't until now that the officials and populace remembered they had an emperor in Chu State. When the Grand Scholar Zhang was alive, this was not something they needed to worry about; but since the Grand Scholar Zhang was dead, it was impossible to have someone else who had similar influence in the imperial court as he had. As a result, the position of the Emperor in the imperial court all of a sudden became important.
Grand Scholar Zhang had made sufficient preparations before his death. If the chancellors could follow his arrangements, the political influence left by the Grand Scholar Zhang should be able to last for many more years to come.
Unfortunately, there were always some ambitious individuals in the imperial court who were hungry for power; the imperial court couldn't be peaceful for too long.
After the third rainfall in autumn, the Censorate started their prosecution. A dozen petitions were sent to the Central Secretariat to request the impeachment of a certain County Governor.
Having read the petition, the Grand Scholar Chen and a few other chancellors didn't say anything and sent it directly to the Royal Palace.
The Emperor hadn't used the royal seal for a great many years; and there was no exception that day. However, the action of these chancellors in the imperial court displayed their attitude.
That governor was an official trusted by the Grand Scholar Zhang; to put it more precisely, he was someone prepared by the Grand Scholar to become the prime minister in the imperial court for Jing Jiu ten years later.
Once the wind and rain started, it was hard to stop. Soon after, the fingers were pointed toward General Pei.
This famous general of Chu State went back to the capital over night after drinking a jar of alcohol. He was captured immediately when he was back in the capital and thrown into the prison. His supposed crimes were receiving bribes, corruption, and collaboration with the enemy and hidden spies. All the accusations were straightforward, except for the bribery part. The only official who was qualified to be bribed by the General Pei was the dead Grand Scholar Zhang.
The wind and rain turned into a storm. A few officials who were still loyal to Grand Scholar Zhang were soon deposed. And there were many rumors about Grand Scholar Zhang spreading around in the capital.
It was true that Grand Scholar Zhang had governed the state a bit too brutally in his late years; the officials and populace had complained about it a long time ago. Yet, those complaints were mostly expressed in secret. And now, here they were, being brought to the surface.
It was rumored that the Grand Scholar Zhang was extremely lavish in his lifestyle and cruel to other officials; he showed tremendous disrespect to the Emperor, and had no sympathy for the sufferings of the populace.
Soon, the Grand Scholar Zhang had changed from an outstanding chancellor into a manipulative one. It seemed that he was on his way to become the most hated evil chancellor in the history of Chu State.
In the late autumn, some officials finally petitioned to accuse the Grand Scholar Zhang of nine crimes.
The Grand Scholar Manor was encircled by the royal army. The chancellors in the imperial court didn't forget the eldest son of the Grand Scholar Zhang in the south. They sent out the cavalrymen to bring him back to the capital.
The imperial court didn't put the wooden shackles on his neck, nor was the eldest son of the Grand Scholar Zhang locked in a prison wagon. He wasn't even bound. They merely let him ride on a horse following behind. What they intended to do was spread the news.
The angry residents tossed cabbages at him while scholars threw the black ink at him. The items coming from both sides of the street like the rainstorm landed on his head and face.
The eldest son of the Grand Scholar Zhang sitting on the horse bit his lips tightly, his face pale, but he didn't utter a single word from beginning to the end.
The weeping could be heard everywhere at the Grand Scholar Manor. The old wife of the Grand Scholar was headed to the royal prison in a horse-drawn carriage. The royal army stirred a bit at first, but they didn't stop the carriage from going to the prison.
The Grand Scholar Manor had governed Chu State for many years. Though they suffered a great deal when being attacked by the political wind and rainstorm, they still had some supporters hiding in many positions.
Seeing her eldest son she hadn't seen for many years in the gloomy and dark royal prison, the wife of the Grand Scholar seemed suddenly to grow older.
The eldest son knelt down inside the iron fence and said with tears on his cheeks, "Mother, this son is not filial. I failed to bid final farewell to my father, and have to worry about your safety."
After being helped by the handmaid sit down in the chair, the wife of the Grand Scholar Zhang asked while staring into his eyes, "Is the military weapon case true?"
The eldest son remained silent for a moment and nodded, then said, "It happened more than ten years ago. I beg mother to forgive your son's misconduct."
"I had the file brought to me. I read it and found that you had only taken some bribes, nothing significant; far from misconduct."
The wife of the Grand Scholar Zhang added wearily, "Your father had embezzled much more money than this in his lifetime."
The eldest son crawled forward and asked while holding the iron fence, "What are those wicked officials in the imperial court intending to do?"
"What do they intend to do?" the wife of the Grand Scholar Zhang sneered. "They of course intend to completely defame your father, and then spit on his name."
After a moment of silence, the eldest son said, "My case is not a big deal. But if they want to charge father, what evidence do they have?"
"Hence, they try to bring out the Emperor," the wife of the Grand Scholar remarked indignantly.
The eldest son was surprised, prompting, "That slow emperor?"
The wife of Grand Scholar said, "It was said that your father faked the rebellion case of the son of King Jing back then to imprison Emperor in the palace. This is a crime deserving of the slaughter of the entire extended family."
The eldest son grew even paler, asking, "Father was indeed disrespectful to the Emperor. Was it…actually true?"
The wife of the Grand Scholar snapped, "Your father respected the Emperor the most. There is no way he would do such a disrespectful thing."
The eldest son didn't believe what his mother said in the least; he said with a bitter smile, "Regardless, we are doomed. I don't want to be humiliated by these rebellious rascals…"
The wife of the Grand Scholar said, "I asked to come to see you, because I'm afraid you might do something stupid."
The eldest son was somewhat startled and asked, "Do you mean our case has a chance to turn around?"
The wife of the Grand Scholar said, "Your father told me before his death that we don't have to do anything, and everything will be okay."
The eldest son of the Grand Scholar Zhang didn't quite understand his father's last words, asking, "What does it mean?"
"I don't understand it either," the wife of the Grand Scholar Zhang said, "but I think it should have something to do with the royal seal."
Thinking of the rumor, the eldest son generated some hope and pressed, "The royal seal is really lost?"
The wife of the Grand Scholar said, "I guess that your father must have returned the royal seal back to the Emperor. The chancellors in the imperial court don't have the royal seal, so they have no way to sentence our Zhang family."
The rain in the late autumn was very chilly.
The Grand Scholar Chen, the Minister of Rites and some other chancellors, had waited for one hour outside the palace hall, but failed to meet the Emperor.
Seeing the disappearing twilight, the Grand Scholar Chen glanced at others and then left.
When he was in the passageway inside the palace gate, the Grand Scholar Chen asked in a barely perceptible voice, "Is he really in that palace hall?"
The Minister of Rites, Jin Cheng, was the favorite student of the Grand Scholar Zhang. He was just over forty years old this year.
Unexpectedly, he was the first official who had attacked the Grand Scholar Zhang.
"My Teacher stayed in the palace hall for half a night. Nobody knew what they had talked about."
Jin Cheng continued evenly, "But since the day after, no one had seen the royal seal in the Central Secretariat."
The Grand Scholar Chen narrowed his eyes, and said, "It looks like the Emperor regards the royal seal as his safety shield. What are your thoughts?"
Jin Cheng said with a phlegmatic expression, "We should be careful about a possible fire starting in such a dry autumn weather."
Gazing at the green stone slabs wetted by the rainwater outside the passageway, the Grand Scholar Chen fell silent for a long time, and then nodded imperceptibly.
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