How could someone like the Grand Scholar Zhang, qualified to be part of the history, have his reputation changed so suddenly? There were many examples of this throughout history. When the emperor was not pleased with the conducts of certain chancellors, he would start a defaming campaign right after that person died; at the very least, the campaign had to be organized in the name of the emperor.
Hence, the crimes the Grand Scholar Chen, the Minister Jin Cheng and others compiled against Grand Scholar Zhang were mostly related to the disrespectful conducts toward the Emperor. However, these crimes had to be accepted by the Emperor himself. As a result, these chancellors had to show adequate respect to the Emperor and let him have more control of the imperial court, unless they intended to rebel against the Emperor.
Unfortunately, they didn't have enough strength to overthrow the Emperor, and most of all, lacked the ambition and courage to do so. All they desired was to govern Chu State in the name of the Emperor. Jing Jiu was aware of it and didn't want to meet them. And they had no idea what they should do next; there was no way they would dare charge into the palace hall to look for the royal seal. To do that, they would commit the same crimes as they had accused the Grand Scholar Zhang of.
It was a dry autumn night, and it was most suitable for starting a fire.
The Minister Jin didn't leave the Central Secretariat. He gazed in the direction of the Royal Palace on the other side of the square, waiting for the flames of the fire to appear.
However, when the morning sun peeked over the eastern horizon and his eyes felt painful due to staring for too long, the Royal Palace was still quiet as usual and nothing had happened.
There was no news until dusk, not even the news of the plan being botched.
The eunuchs who were supposed to start the fire were nowhere to be found. The City Gate Bureau didn't find them, nor did the royal guards or the royal army. It seemed that they had disappeared in the thin air.
Minister Jin felt it odd, a chill suddenly falling on his heart.
He used several towels dampened with the hot water to warm his face in an attempt to drive away the drowsiness and coldness; then he went to the manor of the Grand Scholar Chen.
It was not clear what the Grand Scholar Chen had told him; but judging by the situation in the Royal Palace, it seemed that they hadn't given up on the idea of burning down the palace hall…
Yet, the autumn rain hadn't stopped for a moment in the capital since that night.
It was perhaps because of the autumn rain that the palace hall hadn't been set on fire.
The raindrops falling down from the dark grey clouds infiltrated the clothes along with a cold intent, making anyone feel irritated.
The chancellors of the imperial court felt most irritated than anybody else.
One day, the Grand Scholar Chen called in the Minister Jin secretly and said, "It's the best opportunity right now. We shouldn't miss it."
Jin Cheng understood what he meant.
Everything in the world, including reputation, status, power, wealth, and even Cultivation, would decrease after reaching their peak; public opinion was the same.
At the moment the populace of Chu State was most upset about the Grand Scholar Zhang; if the imperial court didn't take the opportunity and waited for a while, those scholars and populace might start missing the Grand Scholar Zhang who had been defamed a great deal by them. By then, it would be harder to do anything.
On the same night, someone sent a message to the eldest son of the Grand Scholar Zhang in the royal prison. It stated that if he admitted to the military weapon case, he wouldn't be investigated further, otherwise…
Sitting amid the dry hays, the eldest son of Grand Scholar Zhang recalled that he was attacked with cabbages and the black ink from the sides of the street on the day when he was brought back to the capital by the cavalrymen. The despair gradually formed in his eyes.
Did his father really make the statement "Nothing will happen if you don't do anything" before his death?
Even if his father really said that, it still didn't mean anything. This might not be his first time to misjudge the situation.
The eldest son of the Grand Scholar Zhang remembered the conversation he had with his father many years ago. At the time he knelt before the sick bed of his father and pleaded to his father to consider the aftermath after his death, and reminded him of the possible outcomes of his sons being killed and exiled. But his father declined his request sternly and warned him not to mention it again. His father assured that they wouldn't encounter any problems in the future; and his father even exiled him to the south personally…what about now? He was in the royal prison right now, on the brink of being sentenced to death, and the Grand Scholar Manor was encircled and on the verge of being cleansed.
"The chancellors in the imperial court were all your friends and students, but they would like to pull you out from the grave and whip your corpse. It has happened so often in the history; why didn't you figure it out?"
Looking at the white ribbon and the bottle containing the poison left on the ground by the messenger, the eldest son of the Grand Scholar Zhang twitched the corners of his mouth slightly, letting out a fanatical sneer.
He suddenly yelled out wretchedly, "Jin Cheng! I wish you would die a terrible death!"
It was rather quiet in the royal prison. Nobody came out to stop him. His wretched cries and curses were the only noises that echoed among the cells of the royal prison.
The white ribbon that was tied to the top of the iron fence tousled softly, resembling the white banners at the graveyard.
The white ribbon was broken off. The eldest son of the Grand Scholar Zhang dropped onto the dry hays, feeling bewildered. Then he found the bottle containing the poison, opened it with a trembling hand, and downed it with one gulp.
Soon after, he discovered that the content in the bottle that was supposed to be the poison turned out to be the water.
It was then that he became alert. He looked at a dark and gloomy figure outside the cell cautiously, and asked in a hushed voice, "Who is it?"
A man in black walked out from the shady spot and said, "It's really troublesome. I hope you won't try to crash into the walls."
The eldest son of the Grand Scholar Zhang was stunned. The royal prison of Chu State was guarded tightly, plus the forbidding formations hiding among the stone walls; even the strongest swordsmen and the Cultivation practitioners couldn't sneak in.
"Who are you? Why do you want to save me?"
"I'm only a hired hand. Do you really think this is something I am wanting to do?"
The man in black had a broken arm, with one of the sleeves flopping droopily, just like his voice. "I have many important things to do. I'm on my way to kill that eunuch in Zhao State, and then go kill Emperor Bai, yet I'm called by someone to come here."
Having heard this, the eldest son of the Grand Scholar Zhang, his pupils shrinking slightly, asked in a trembling voice, "Are you the man in black?"
Taking a look at his own cloth, the man retorted incredulously, "Are you blind?"
"You are actually not dead," the eldest son of the Grand Scholar Zhang murmured.
The man in black he talked about was not any man wearing the black clothing, but was a specific man remembered in this world.
Many years ago, this world witnessed a strong swordsman who took a fancy to fighting and killing others; it was said that he had a formidable fighting prowess that was only inferior to Master Mo by a paper-thin margin. He had slain numerous highly achieved swordsmen in Qin State, Zhao State, Qi State and Chu State. The strong swordsman always appeared wearing the black clothing; as a result, he was called the "man in black".
He heard that the man in black left the central land and went to the west region to cultivate in an attempt to break through a higher state; but he didn't expect to see him here again.
The eldest son of the Grand Scholar Zhang demanded while staring into his eyes, "You haven't answered my question yet; why do you want to save me?"
The man in black didn't heed him, and directly broke the iron fence and hauled him out after knocking him senseless. According to the message sent by the green bird, he was supposed to spare the lives of all the other prisoners in the royal prison. General Pei and other officials were quite tenacious, so much so that they wouldn't consider committing suicide. It was just that this eldest son of the Grand Scholar Zhang was somewhat troublesome; it was much simpler to bring him out this way.
The man in black who carried out the task in such a lazy and careless manner must be Zhuo Rusui.
Regardless of how powerful an assassin or swordsman was, they wouldn't want to confront the imperial court face to face.
Zhuo Rusui brought the unconscious eldest son of the Grand Scholar Zhang out of the royal prison, disappearing into the capital of Chu State, like a drop of water merging into the ocean without splashing a spray.
The autumn wind and rain were as annoying as usual. The escaping of the eldest son of the Grand Scholar Zhang didn't worry the chancellors of the imperial court as much; on the contrary, they felt relieved instead.
As a result, they could move one step forward now.
They could use this as an excuse to search the Grand Scholar Manor. Even if they couldn't find the royal seal, they could at least sentence the whole Zhang family to death, now that the Emperor had been gone the entire time.
With this idea in his mind, the Minister of Rites, Jin Cheng, arrived outside the Grand Scholar Manor.
The front door of the Grand Scholar Manor had been already bumped open, and hundreds of soldiers had entered it. They guarded all the imperative spots and started searching everywhere. It was chaotic. The overturned cases and boxes and collapsed flower shelves were all over the place, along with the weeping. The fake mountain in the back garden was even dug open, exposing a secret room full of gold blocks.
Jin Cheng furrowed his brows slightly, displeased. "Don't make such a fuss. And don't disturb the old lady," he commanded his subordinates around him.
Though the subordinates nodded in confirmation, they thought indignantly that the Minister was the most favored student of Grand Scholar Zhang, wondering if he would pretend being innocent forever.
The voice of reproach was heard in the deep part of the Grand Scholar Manor, along with the sound of a heavy object dropping on the ground. With the furrowed brows, the Minister Jin walked over.
A subordinate explained to him in a low voice, "The rooms in the back have been under our control; but the back garden where the wife of the Grand Scholar Zhang lives is inconvenient to search."
Without slowing down his steps, the Minister Jin asked in a hushed voice, "Is the item put in place?"
The subordinate replied in an even lower voice, "It's under the dresser; no problem."
The Minister Jin didn't say anything more after uttering "hmm". Soon he arrived outside the back garden.
It was even messier in the backyard. A few maidservants were pushed onto the ground, and the blood was seeping out from their foreheads; the clothes and fabrics were scattered everywhere.
Seeing the scene, the Minister Jin displayed a hint of repentance in his eyes.
He had come to the Grand Scholar Manor countless times. And he even visited the back rooms many times. It was not long ago that he had personally helped his Teacher take the medicine here.
A few subordinates noticed his expression, consoling him with words of comfort, saying things like how he should regard the well-being of the state as the priority, and so forth…
The expression on the Minister Jin's face grew calmer. As he saw the chaotic scenes around him, he let out a wry smile.
That cloth was the royal robe.
In the last twenty years, he had pleaded his Teacher to take the throne; but his
Teacher had never agreed to it.
Now that his Teacher was dead, he prepared a royal robe for him, as a means of showing his "filial piety".
There was a large nashinoki box in the room of the old lady; the royal robe was right under the box.
The room door was closed tightly. Minister Jin straightened his clothes and requested calmly, "Mistress, please open the door."
A commotion could be vaguely heard inside, but the door was not opened.
Time had passed slowly. The expression on the Minister Jin's face grew colder. "Break down the door!" he commanded sternly.
A dozen soldiers climbed up the stone steps, with no regard of the weeping and cursing of the maidservants, and knocked down the door effortlessly, entering it one after the other.
Soon, the soldiers retreated out of the room abruptly. They all displayed a bizarre expression on their faces, as if they had seen a ghost.
A person staggered out from the room. The hair was loose and covering his face, so nobody could see him clearly, except for the yellow royal robe he was wearing, which was quite visible.
The officials who had done it changed their expressions when seeing the royal robe, wondering how this person found the robe they had hidden under the dresser and put it on. Regardless, it was a death sentence to wear the royal robe; and this person came out from the room of the old lady, and so the Grand Scholar Manor was nevertheless guilty of the offense.
"How dare you clothe yourself in the royal robe! Capture this rebellious person for me immediately!"
An official gave his order harshly; but he failed to notice the expression of the person by his side.
Seeing the man wearing the royal robe, Minister Jin's face grew pale.
The man raised both of his hands to part the hair in front of his face to expose an exceptionally handsome face. He remarked expressionlessly, "I'm the Emperor. What should I wear if not the royal robe?"
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