Translated by Vivian of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
It rained continuously in the capital for a few days, so the sky was a gloomy gray, the dark clouds rolling in the horizon like splashed ink. Amid the hazy drizzle, Shen Jue stepped out of Qianqing Palace, and Shen Wenxing held an umbrella for him. Just when they went down the palace road, they saw an old man with his hands in his sleeves standing next to the gate pier and waiting for him. It was the Senior Grand Secretary, Zhang Zhao. Shen Jue raised an eyebrow and slowly stepped toward him. Seeing him come from a distance, the old man smiled as he went forward to salute with clasped hands. Now, Shen Jue’s power was extremely high, so the high-ranking officials in the Grand Secretariat would bow their heads and salute with clasped hands when they saw him.
However, Shen Jue didn’t stand there to receive the salute. He put his hand up and helped him as he said, “What are you doing here, Senior Grand Secretary?”
“You are busy and didn’t come to the west courtroom to listen to the discussion today, so I specially came to see you.” Zhang Zhao took the umbrella in Shen Wenxing’s hands and personally held it for Shen Jue. The two of them walked shoulder-to-shoulder on the middle road as rustling raindrops landed on the umbrella, making pattering sounds.
He usually interfered in government affairs, and these pedantic literati were extremely unwilling, yet he had eagerly ran over today. Shen Jue was impassive and merely said, “Senior Grand Secretary, if you want something, don’t hesitate to say it.”
“This morning, the Grand Secretariat received a secret report from scouts, a large army of barbarians gathered outside Shanhai Pass 1, and they seem to have a southward trend. The Ministry of Revenue has raised military funds for nearly two months, but they still don’t have a substantial amount. What… do you think we should do, Chief Officer?”
Shen Jue glanced sideways at him, the turn of his fluid gaze containing no temperature. He tucked his sleeves and said, “Senior Grand Secretary, since you came to find me, you must have a plan in mind, right?”
“There is a spring drought in the Northeast, and there are ice runs in the Yellow River. Every place wants to use money, and there are large portions everywhere. The land reclamation policies have been abolished and there are no records of the registrations. Originally, we could think of ways to get these military funds from the land, but that is also not enough now.” Zhang Zhao frowned, his face covered in distress. “Now, the national treasury is stretched thin, tearing down the east wall to repair the west wall 2. The taxes that had been collected earlier on were completely spent in the blink of an eye. Chief Officer, in my opinion, for the sake of this moment, we can only increase taxes.”
Shen Jue turned his gaze. “Where would taxes be increased?”
Zhang Zhao’s expression became solemn as he said, “Jiangnan.”
Shen Jue paused in his steps and stood, not speaking.
Rain fell profusely, and Zhang Zhao put the umbrella handle into Shen Jue’s hands, bowing and saluting deeply with clasped hands. “Tomorrow morning in the imperial court, I will lead a memorial to the throne to increase Jiangnan’s taxes. I request for you to support the proposal, Chief Officer, and lend me a hand.”
“Senior Grand Secretary, there are seven officials in the Grand Secretariat, and five of them were born in Jiangnan. Among the ministers and officials in the court, the two gangs of Jiangnan and Zhejiang have taken the lead, not to mention Jiangxi, Hubei, and Hunan together make up half of the court. Senior Grand Secretary, don’t misunderstand. If you want to increase taxes in Jangnan, you would be opposing the entire righteous class.” Shen Jue’s voice sounded amid the rain, even colder than the rainwater.
Zhang Zhao smiled and said, “Chief Officer, you were born in Jinling, so you remember the past kindness of your hometown and don’t want to increase taxes?”
Shen Jue raised his eyes and gazed at the palace road ahead for a while. The brick path stretched far away, and there were gates upon gates, seemingly endless, containing a desolate sense among the curtains of rain. He returned the umbrella to Zhang Zhao and walked out by himself, his voice coming from a distance. “Tomorrow, I will lead the memorial to the throne. There’s nothing you can do about it, so just support the proposal. The righteous class still needs your management. Don’t incur the anger of the masses and dig your own grave.”
Shen Jue returned to the duty room of the seal-holder. Wearing his wet clothes was uncomfortable, so Shen Wenxing brought clean clothes and helped him change. It was overcast and rainy, so there was also a dampness in the room, as if they were soaking in a tank of cold water and moving was sticky, unable to spread one’s hands and legs. He sat on a round-backed armchair and told Shen Wenxingn to wipe his wet hair dry. Daylight filtered through the grill window and shone on the table, casting gridded patterns.
I wonder what Xiahou Lian is doing? he rested his head in his palm and thought. It was raining and that guy had just gotten better, and he had exhorted him to recuperate properly, but he definitely hadn’t listened and was probably hunting down Garan everywhere in the city. He felt sorry toward Xiahou Lian; he had interrogated everyone in Yunxian Building but hadn’t gotten anything. Garan’s line had been cut again, cleanly and completely, and he didn’t even have the opportunity to collect debt and vent his anger for Xiahou Lian.
He randomly flipped through a few memorials, yet he wasn’t in the mood to read them. The words piled on the paper, and he couldn’t even read any of them. It was time to think about escape routes; he couldn’t let Xiahou Lian be ruined with him, and even if they were walking on the points of sabers, he would carry him across. But where was the escape route? All civilian and military officials in the court despised him and were wishing he would sooner. Perhaps there was only the method of leaving Great Qi. He had money and could build a treasure ship, bringing Xiahou Lian to Russia to be Russians.
Shen Wenxing brushed his hair for him again, and he picked up a vermillion brush and circled a few memorials. He lifted his hand and flipped, accidentally flipping to the secret letter about Baili Yuan that the underling in the Datong Guard had handed him that day. His gaze stopped on the words “the entire clan died, only a young girl survived.” He furrowed his brow and asked, “Is the underling who sent the secret letter into the capital still in the capital?”
“Yes, he happened to have just transferred to work in the capital’s yamen, and once he came he hasn’t left.” Shen Wenxing brought a small tray painted in red. On it was a cup of goji berry and rib soup. “Godfather, drink some soup to warm up your body. Don’t toil too hard. Look, when I was wiping your hair just now, I actually saw a few strands of white hair, so my heart aches.”
“I have white hair?” Shen Jue held up a mirror, but his hair had been brushed back and he couldn’t see. “Why didn’t you pluck them for me?”
“The more I pluck the more there is, Godfather. It’s okay, it’s just a few strands, and they can’t be seen. In a bit, I’ll instruct some subordinates to chisel some black sesame, you’ll recover after you eat it.”
Shen Jue’s face was covered in gloominess as he frowned, seeming to be very unhappy. He raised the mirror again and looked for a while before waving toward Shen Wenxing. “Go and call that underling over, I want to ask him something.”
The calvarymen were very fast, so in the time it took for him to drink the cup of soup, the underling had arrived. He cowered as he knelt next to him, appearing to be very afraid. Shen Jue was already used to it; with an identity like his, even cats and dogs would make a way for him when they saw him. He crossed his hands on the straight bridge of his nose and lowered his eyes to look at the person below, asking, “Did Baili Yuan’s clan die completely? Is her nanny still alive?”
The underling hesitated for a while before replying, “Reporting to the governor. When we investigated, we only checked Marquis Baili’s relatives and didn’t pay attention to her nanny and servants.”
Shen Jue sneered, “Your assessments are slacking more and more, you do things like this and can still be transferred into the capital? I said to investigate the origins and details of her family resources clearly, and I even want to know what cats and dogs they’ve had. You’ve come to the capital, so start working as a secretary and learn with your colleagues how you should do things.”
The underling repeatedly admitted his mistake, and Shen Jue watched him wipe the sweat on his head, his legs and body trembling as he got up and walked outside. Shen Jue frowned slightly and had a thought. He took out a pill from the fold of his clothes; it was the pill he had gotten to suppress desires. Shen Jue stopped him and said, “Ah, you dropped something.”
The underling’s footsteps stagnated as he turned back. He saw Shen Jue standing in the hall, holding a jet-black pill in his hand.
Shen Jue looked at him coldly. “What’s this? Could it be Bliss Fruit?”
The underling hastily knelt back down on the ground and said, “Governor, you saw incorrectly, that isn’t mine, I never dropped anything.”
Shen Jue stared at him without speaking, and it was silent in the room for a long time. The underling knelt on the ground, unmoving like a wooden carving. Finally, Shen Jue waved his hand. “I saw incorrectly, leave.”
The underling seemed to have been freed, and he turned, running away with small steps. Shen Wenxing watched the underling’s back recede and leaned over, asking, “Godfather, why did you suspect him?”
Shen Jue knocked the secret letter on his head. “Although smallpox is extremely contagious, it makes no sense that an entire family would die. Have you ever seen someone get smallpox and their entire family die? This group of good-for-nothings didn’t investigate carefully, I was testing if he was a Garan spy.”
“That’s true.” Shen Wenxing used a horsetail whisk to scratch the back of his head. “Anyone knows to find people who have already gotten smallpox to take care of the sick person, they still have to isolate carefully, and the clothes and things the sick person has worn and used should be burned. This family was too careless.”
“They weren’t careless, they encountered a sudden disaster.” Shen Jue opened the secret letter and stroked the words “the entire clan died, only a young girl survived.” A distant memory appeared before his eyes: blood splashing under the moon, Aunt Lan falling in front of his eyes… He took a deep breath and said, “Have my trusted aides go to Datong to investigate, I’m suddenly very curious exactly how this title landed on this girl’s head.”
Shen Wenxing was at a loss. “How can this be investigated? The Eastern Depot yamen of the Datong Guard only found that it was caused by smallpox, and it’s clear that even if there were some clues at the time, the evidence would already be gone.”
“Simple.” Shen Jue closed the secret letter, his pupils hiding ice and snow. “Dig up their coffins and perform autopsies.”
The underling left the palace in the rain. Touching the back of his collar, cold sweat had already mixed together with the cold rain, already indistinguishable. He put his hands in his sleeves as he quickly went into an old alley. There were dirt walls on both sides, and raindrops dripped along the cracks in the dirt, flowing down and leaving light marks. An old woman was standing below the eaves to avoid the rain. He walked over and also shrank his neck, avoiding the rain.
“Everything is done, the governor doesn’t suspect anything,” the underling said in a low voice.
The old woman opened her mouth, yet it was a man’s voice. “Very good, your father will obtain the Bliss Fruit he is due next month.”
“I work in the capital now, though I’m just a small secretary. I’m afraid I won’t be of much use,” the underling said.
“Don’t worry, we’ll come and find you when you’re useful.” After saying this, the old woman picked up the broom by the door to drive him away, her voice suddenly becoming old and feminine. “Go, go, don’t linger at my door like a door god.”
The underling was driven away by her, so she went inside. Spreading her hands, her joints popped as they expanded, and her entire person became a length taller. She ripped off her mask, revealing a pale face with saber marks——the Kinnara.
Before the palace gates were locked, Shen Jue returned to the manor, stepping on the damp shadows that covered the ground. Passing a festooned gate, he turned into the deep courtyard. The courtyard didn’t seem to be as desolate as before; there were lanterns hanging under the dripping water, there were flowerpots below the door pier, and most importantly, there was another master of the house. When all was quiet in the dead of night, he could hug him unscrupulously and also taste the joy of a warm bed. Before, he could only dare to secretly think about it, like the moon on the horizon, able to be seen yet unable to be plucked. Occasionally, he would have a few dreams, scooping the moon from the water and chatting to relieve his worries. Now, he really held it in his hands, and he felt that he was satisfied for the rest of his life, like an old Buddha that had gained enlightenment, the suffering and hardships he had gone through finally having repayment.
The lights were on in the room, so he knew that he was inside. He stood outside the door and adjusted his clothes and hat, putting on an impassive expression as usual before walking inside. Xiahou Lian was laying on the square table for eight and holding a ruler as he drew. He was wearing western glasses, two strings perched on his ears with two round eyeglasses, containing an indescribable funniness.
He walked over to take a look; Xiahou Lian was drawing Zhaoye’s gauntlets, the components carefully disassembled, the lines as thin as hairs.
Shen Jue watched for a while and felt bored, so he sat in the round-backed armchair and held his chin as he looked at him. His concentrated appearance was very good-looking, and a few drops of sweat had congealed on the tip of his nose, sparkling and crystal-clear, making him want to lick them.
He sat for a while longer, but Xiahou Lian was engrossed in his drawing and didn’t even glance toward his direction. Shen Jue was a little angry; he was so busy and had forcibly made time to return, yet this ungrateful person was hugging his messy blueprints and not letting go. He purposely stomped heavily and turned, lifting the curtain and going inside. Xiahou Lian finally looked over and called in shock, “Young Master, when did you come back?”
It turned out that he hadn’t even noticed him at all, and Shen Jue was so angry his vision turned black. He took off his shoes and outer garments before lying down on the bed, his expression dark as he sulked. Xiahou Lian also took off his outer garments and climbed into bed, looking at him. “Why aren’t you saying anything?”
Shen Jue closed his eyes, ignoring him. Xiahou Lian looked at him for a while and suddenly leaned down, kissed him, and smiled. “Good kiss.”
Shen Jue opened his eyes to a slit and saw him smiling and showing a mouthful of big white teeth, and his heart also relaxed. He pulled his arm, making him lie down, and said huskily into his ear, “We’re eating dinner later, so what should we do?”
Xiahou Lian thought for a while before saying, “Why don’t we spar? I still quite want to fight with you again. Last time, you played dirty and shot hidden arrows, I definitely won’t lose this time.”
“…” Shen Jue suddenly felt powerlessness fill his heart.
Xiahou Lian saw that he was weary and asked, “What is it? Are you uncomfortable?”
Shen Jue rolled over, his back facing Xiahou Lian as he said, “I, your young master, is dead, ignore me.”
Xiahou Lian forced him to roll back over and put his forehead against his. Their breaths intertwined, and they could both hear each other’s fervent heartbeats.
“Young Master, it’s been three days, but I still feel as if I’m dreaming,” Xiahou Lian said in a low voice.
“What are you dreaming about?”
“Why would a celestial young master like me?” Xiahou Lian reached for his lips, and amid the swaying candlelight, his lips were as beautiful as peaches and plums.
He didn’t reply, but he lowered his eyes to conceal the glittering smile in his eyes. He lifted his hand to pull on his clothes, revealing half of his shoulder, and he spread his palm, carefully caressing the sharp edges of the bones in his shoulder.
Xiahou Lian was still a little stunned; he hadn’t expected that Shen Jue would play big at the beginning, and he realized in hindsight that the “what should we do” Shen Jue had said just then meant this. However, he didn’t dare to pull Shen Jue’s clothes. Shen Jue was a flower-like person, so he could only ever look from afar but couldn’t touch. He was his god, so he should be put on an altar and worshiped, and kissing was already the biggest defilement.
However, Shen Jue didn’t care about these. Since he was in the palm of his hand, he shouldn’t think about ever escaping. His icy finger stroked downward past his collarbone. They clearly contained a chill, yet raging fires burned continuously at his fingertip. Xiahou Lian frequently sucked in a breath, practically unable to control himself, as his entire body seemed to have been thrown onto a fire to be roasted. That finger lingered at his chest that had just become hard, outlining the scars on his chest that had already become faint marks. Then, he opened his palm and held his chest in his palm, and his heart was gathered in Shen Jue’s palm.
“Does it feel good?” Shen Jue lowered his head to look at him.
Xiahou Lian was panting heavily in Shen Jue’s ear. “Young Master, men shouldn’t touch chests.”
“Then where should I touch?”
a-lian is so oblivious omg 😭😭😭 it’s hurting me but i’m laughing my face off. ahhhh i’m so glad they’re together and happy hopefully they’ll stay that way wink wink (there’s still 24 chapters left and i’m scared please don’t die)
this novel will be my last straw if something bad happens to them.
anyway! thanks for the chapter and the translation!!!!!
I wonder what DJ is planning with this servant?! Unfortunately they have his father hooked on the bliss fruit, how sad 🥺 love the playfulness of SJ towards the end of the chapter, sweet moments! XHL is so modest! ❤️❤️❤️
SJ moving closer and closer to revealing BY’s identity and that of her family. He was right not to trust the underling, although it seems many of Garan’s spies may not be doing it out of choice.
SJ making his desires crystal, whilst XL currently holds back; he won’t break, XL, although he might in other ways. A cliff hanger of the worst kind! 😏
Thanks for translating, for the T/Ns and editing.
SJ: We have time before dinner…😏
XHL: 🤔. Why don’t we spar?
Me: https://s.w.org/images/core/emoji/14.0.0/svg/1f602.svg 🤣 😂 🤣
It’ll be interesting to find out what exactly happened with the Baili clan and why.
Also, hope the next chapter will be a sweet one!
Thank you for the chapter!
Thank You for the new chapter ♡(ŐωŐ人)