Translated by Vivian of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
“Eunuch Shen, it’s already gotten to this point anyway, so don’t joke with me.” King Fu stared fixedly at the imperial edict in Shen Jue’s hands and said, “Hurry! Hurry and show me the imperial edict!”
King Fu was the person in the high position after all, so Shen Jue also didn’t dare to make too much fun of him. He presented the imperial edict respectfully in both hands and lowered his eyes to look at the cloud-patterned carvings on the red-painted fragrant rosewood square table, calmly waiting for King Fu to finish reading.
King Fu looked at Shen Jue’s expression expression while opening the imperial edict suspiciously and uncertainly. Shen Jue’s face was as calm as still water, and nothing could be seen. Everyone knew about this Eunuch Shen’s reputation of being the smiling Yama. On the surface, he would talk to you cheerfully and jovially, but he would secretly stab you. He had already been on guard, but he hadn’t expected that this person who had lost power and had been demoted to Nanjing to guard the mausoleum actually carried the emperor’s final edict!
He looked down and started reading hurriedly. He skipped the nonsensical praises like “the emperor rules the country, worships the heavens and ancestors, cultivates the common people…” and whatnot. He also ignored the nonsense where the old emperor recounted his own merits. He read rapidly and skimmed all the way until the last paragraph before he saw “King Fu, the emperor’s eldest son Zhu Muchen, has valuable character, is much like me, and will certainly be able to overcome all difficulties and take over the throne.” He gripped the imperial edict and trembled as he looked up, saying in disbelief, “Father is appointing me to the throne!”
“As Your Highness sees, this is the emperor’s dictation that Secretariat Drafter Gao Caimao recorded. I, Shen Jue, saw it being written down with my own eyes.”
King Fu clenched the imperial edict and calmed down only after a long time. However, he hesitated again for a while and seemed to suddenly understand something. He looked up and sneered at Shen Jue, “But Eunuch Wei said that Father intended to make my younger brother his heir, and was afraid that I would be against my younger brother, which is why he has delayed in summoning me to the capital! If father intended to appoint me to the throne, why didn’t he summon me to the capital? Faking an imperial edict isn’t a difficult matter! Eunuch Shen, could this be you playing tricks!”
Although King Fu was carefree and content, he wasn’t a blockhead. He had mixed in the palace for most of his life and hadn’t read many books, but he had been influenced by constantly seeing and hearing everyone trying to deceive and cheat each other. Mind tricks were Shen Jue’s specialty, and it was also his special skill. He wasn’t a vegetarian after all, so he would have to add more weight to fool him. Shen Jue unhurriedly and leisurely pulled out a white jade thing from a secret pocket in the fold of his clothes, and he pushed it on the table in front of King Fu. “An imperial edict can be faked, but I wonder if a tiger tally 1 can be faked?”
It was a white tiger half the size of a palm, lifting its head and baring its teeth. Because it had been held all year round, its body was smooth and shiny, tinged with a burnt yellow. It was whiter closer to the tail, though it was missing a piece at the position of the tip of its tail. King Fu recognized it; in his childhood, he had been playing with his father’s tiger tally and had accidentally broken it on the floor tiles.
King Fu cautiously picked up the white jade tiger tally and stroked the tip of the tail that was missing a corner. “Tiger tallies can naturally be faked, but this broken tail can’t be faked. I myself broke it by dropping it, and I was even scolded by Father because of this, so I’ve remembered this entire time!” This had come strangely, but the tiger tally that had to be real was in his hands, so he had to believe it even if he didn’t. King Fu suppressed the doubt in his heart, put down the tiger tally, and saluted with clasped hands. “I didn’t expect that Eunuch Shen was someone who Father has faith in. I was rude just now, I hope you won’t blame me!”
Shen Jue held King Fu’s hands and said, “Your Highness overflatters me. I am an insignificant body, so I deserve Your Highness ordering and scolding me at will.”
“You speak too strongly. Although I have already received the final edict, I still have a doubt.”
“Are you asking about the matter of why the emperor has delayed in calling Your Highness to the capital?”
“Precisely.” King Fu knitted his brows. “Eunuch Wei told me that Father has been spoiling my younger brother a lot in recent years, personally teaching him to write and taking him to tour the Leopard House. He even takes my younger brother along to discuss official business with grand secretaries, not avoiding him at all. Eunuch Wei has delivered letters many times saying that Father is in poor health, but he just didn’t mention the matter of designating a crown prince, so he wanted me to prepare early. This…”
“The emperor treats the second prince with the ordinary relationship between a father and son. Just think of when Your Highness was young, didn’t the emperor personally teach you to practice your penmanship? And hasn’t he taken Your Highness to visit gardens and go sightseeing? How can the relationship between father and son be equated with entrusting the great responsibility of ruling the country? Your Highness really misunderstood the emperor.” Shen Jue said, “The emperor means to make Your Highness the crown prince, and as for why it hasn’t been announced and enacted yet, you should ask Wei De!”
Shen Jue was very rude to Wei De in his words, and he had even abandoned a respectful title. King Fu was shocked and said, “Could it be…”
“Your Highness, think carefully, when has news from the palace been not been sent to you by Wei De?”
“But there’s also Mother, Mother also said that Father treats my younger brother with good graces.”
Shen Jue sighed and said, “Your Highness doesn’t know that the emperor hasn’t gone to his harem in a long time. Nowadays, if the empress wants to see His Majesty, it’s also as difficult as climbing up to the sky. The only one who can see His Majesty is Wei De.”
Shen Jue stood up and gazed at the deep and beautiful trees in the garden. He clasped his hands behind his back and said, “Wei De is His Majesty’s companion, and he has accompanied His Majesty for over sixty years. Ever since Wei De succeeded the position of seal-holder of the Directorate of Rites, he’s summoned wind and called for rain in the court, doing as he pleases. Pardon me for speaking bluntly, but if it weren’t for His Majesty’s protection, how can Wei De be so rampant? At the time, the Censorate experienced the brutal extermination of Xie Bingfeng’s entire clan, and Vice Minister Gao of the Ministry of Justice was stabbed in the shoulder blade in the imperial prison before. Not to mention Prefect Li Sha of Shuntian Prefecture and Chancellor Yang Ruoyu of the Imperial Academy… Among officials of the righteous class, how many people have been brutally slaughtered. Similar cases are numerous, and they are all thanks to Wei De.
At the time, he had His Majesty’s protection and could hear the Dengwen Drum and ignore it looking at blood forming rivers without seeing it. When Your Highness ascends the throne, officials of the righteous class will rise together and oppose you. Wei De and Your Highness haven’t had mutual affection for over sixty years, so may I ask if Wei De can still sit safely in the seat of seal-holder of the Directorate of Rites?”
“Of course not.” King Fu shook his head and said, “Why would there be a reason to protect a eunuch and enrage the officials?”
“Which is why he wants to pull Your Highness into the water.” Shen Jue smiled slightly. “If Your Highness forces the emperor to abdicate and seizes his position, your bad name will undermine your words. If you have the name of being disloyal and unfilial, you’ll be incompatible with the officials of the righteous class at the beginning. When the time comes, one or two officials whose brain fibers can’t turn around might remonstrate with death and want Your Highness to give up the throne. I’m afraid blood would splash three feet high on the palace, and the name of tyrant will also be added to Your Highness. To contend with the righteous class, of course Your Highness has to draw support from Wei De’s power. In this way, Wei De would remain invincible. This is one. Two, Your Highness is kept in the dark and won’t know His Majesty’s true wishes. You would think that you successfully ascended the throne thanks to Wei De’s assistance from the side. Wei De is kind to obtain repayment of gratitude and Your Highness is benevolent and kind, so it would be hard not to be deceived by Wei De, and you would naturally keep him seated in the position of seal-holder.”
The words “benevolent and kind” really stabbed King Fu, and King Fu glanced at Shen Jue. The latter remained steadfast, the arc of the smile on his face not diminishing. Shen Jue being able to get to the position of governor of the Eastern Depot was enough to prove that he wasn’t easy to deal with. King Fu and Shen Jue had interacted before, so he knew well that this was a master whose smile hid sabers. Although Shen Jue’s words could be believed, they couldn’t all be believed. However, Shen Jue’s actions and what he sought was nothing more than the word “power.” If Wei De fell from power, wouldn’t it be Shen Jue’s turn? Wei De devised a plan and wanted to obtain his repayment of gratitude, so he and Shen Jue were both indulging in wishful thinking.
He secretly knew it well, but he still had to put on a show on the surface. King Fu fiercely slapped the table and pretended to be angry as he said, “This Wei De! He actually thought of such vicious trickery and even plotted against me! If I had really done as Wei De said, forcing the emperor to abdicate and seizing his position, not only would we father and son be at odds, I also wouldn’t have been able to sit securely on the throne!” After saying this, he saluted with clasped hands again and thanked him. “Thanks to Eunuch Shen arriving in time, this great disaster has been averted. Eunuch Shen, don’t worry, I definitely won’t tolerate a crafty and fawning villain like Wei De. When I ascend the throne, the position of seal-holder of the Directorate of Rites will be yours!”
Shen Jue lowered his eyes and smiled faintly. With empty words, any promise could be made, so he could even say that he would turn over the emperor’s throne to him. Talking about turning against friends, King Fu was also outstanding. How could he guarantee him splendor and prosperity? He was afraid that King Fu didn’t trust either one of him and Wei De, so he naturally also wouldn’t keep either one in the future.
He saw clearly and shook his head. “Your Highness really looks down on me. His Majesty repeatedly wanted to summon Your Highness to the capital but was intercepted by Wei De. On his sickbed, he finally clearly saw Wei De’s true colors, but in the end, it was too late, so he entrusted me with the important task. He ordered me to turn against Wei De and then demoted me out of the capital so I would have the opportunity to meet with Your Highness. I was greatly trusted by His Majesty, so how can I dare to take advantage of this to obtain your repayment of gratitude?”
King Fu also smiled. “Although you believe in Buddhism so you’re always more benevolent and kind-hearted than others, I’m also not a three-year-old child, and I’ve heard a lot of reasons for sacrificing one’s own interests for others, but I still don’t really believe it. Among those so-called officials of the righteous class, which one doesn’t do it for promotion and wealth, and break their heads to fight for a good reputation that flows down for generations? Eunuch Shen, you came here, you and I are grasshoppers tied to the same rope. Say it clearly, and you and I will both be at ease in our hearts.”
He looked to have a fat head and big ears, but he understood clearly in his mind. Shen Jue nodded and said, “At this point, I am no longer afraid of exposing my background. To tell you the truth, Jinling’s Xie Bingfeng, whose entire clan was exterminated by Garan assassins, was my father. I entered the palace under a fake name, Xie Jinglan is my real name.”
“S-Such a thing really happened!” King Fu widened his eyes in shock and clearly hadn’t expected that Shen Jue would have such a life experience.
“At the time, I was only twelve years old. When I was reading at night in the library, assassins from Garan of Seven Leaves broke into the manner and killed whoever they saw. Luckily, I escaped from the doghole and barely survived. Later, I wandered the martial arts world and entered the capital with refugees. I suffered hunger and cold, and only entered the palace to be a eunuch out of helplessness. This was also the heavens’ will, since if I hadn’t entered the palace, how would I have known that Wei De was the enemy who exterminated my entire family?” Shen Jue’s eyes contained sadness, and he made a long salute with clasped hands toward King Fu, saying in a low voice, “I only ask for one thing. To kill Wei De with my own hands and take revenge to get even! I hope Your Highness will help me do so!”
It wasn’t difficult if he wanted to verify this matter, he would only have to go to Jinling and ask around. Speaking of it, no matter how great Shen Jue was, he was still a eunuch, so could he pass him and become the emperor? King Fu composed himself and helped Shen Jue up, saying in distress, “I see. I didn’t think that Eunuch Shen would actually have such a life experience! Thinking to back then, Sir Xie was a great and learned scholar. I was lucky to have experienced Sir Xie’s lecture forums a few times, and I was deeply impressed by his extensive knowledge. Who knew that I would suddenly hear grievous news that a clan of over a hundred people actually died in Jinling, it really was something to sigh at. Sir Dai beat the Dengwen Drum to expose Wei De’s great crimes and I also heard it, but Father was deceived by Wei De and persisted willfully in protecting Wei De, so I also readily agreed with extreme difficulty! The heavens have eyes, and the Xie clan still has a trace of their bloodline in the world. Eunuch, don’t worry, I will take revenge for you for the extermination of your family!”
“In this way, my wish will be over. When Your Highness finishes it, I will return and live in seclusion in Jinlin, and won’t intervene in anything in the court.” Shen Jue saluted with clasped hands and said, “May Your Majesty rule the whole country and the world be forever safe.”
The two of them accompanied each other out, and Shen Jue glanced toward the hill in the back. Situ Jin had been holding a telescope inlaid with gold engravings and looking at the movement below. When he received Shen Jue’s meaningful glance, he immediately brought the troops down the hillside. King Fu’s attendants were already at the gateway to welcome them, and they led Shen Jue’s troops inside to settle down.
Shen Jue and King Fu chatted under the eaves. King Fu said goodbye and exhorted Shen Jue to dine together in a while, and went to wash and change clothes. When King Fu turned around and left, Shen Jue’s smile peeled off his face layer by layer like a falling coat of paint, disappearing in a flash and without a trace.
King Fu allocated a separate courtyard for Shen Jue to rest in. Several bamboos were planted under the eaves, casting green shadows on the ground, and the dense bamboo leaves whirled and rustled in the wind. Shen Jue stepped on the ground that was covered in bamboo shadows and sounds of cicadas, and went inside. There was a fragrant rosewood small square table and round-backed armchair, and a landscape stone folding screen was placed on the square desk before the hall. To its left was a celadon bottle, and there was a bunch of orchids inside it. Shen Jue stepped onto the footrest, sat into the chair, and stroked his brows. He didn’t dare to relax, as the servants and maids walking around everywhere were King Fu’s eyes and ears, so he couldn’t reveal the slightest clue.
Now, he had already passed the first hurdle. King Fu had believed his fake imperial edict and pulled him onto his own boat. Wei De didn’t know that his own troops were already completely destroyed, so he was still waiting yearningly in the capital. Deceiving both sides would be very difficult. He exhaled and opened his eyes to see Situ Jin walking in from the courtyard.
“Our brothers have settled down,” said Situ Jin.
Shen Jue made a mn as a reply. He was too tired and didn’t want to speak.
However, Situ Jin didn’t leave and asked, “Why are you keeping that person? He’s a burden.”
Shen Jue held his forehead wearily and said, “He’s Xiahou Lian’s good friend, so I cannot kill him. Keep him, and when things are over, whether I live or die, let him go.”