Translated by Vivian of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
As soon as this was said, the entire court was shocked. The ministers and officials sitting around below the court were dumbfounded, and it was so silent everywhere, not even a crow or sparrow could be heard.
Xiahou Lian’s heart trembled, and he clenched his fists tightly.
Situ Jin noticed his abnormal behavior and said in a low voice, “What is it?”
Xiahou Lian shook his head and stared fixedly at Xu Ruoyu, who was on the court.
Xu Ruoyu’s forehead was covered in sweat, and the hair at his temples stuck to his cheeks, his face so pale it was like a dead person’s flesh. He had lost both legs after all and had only recuperated for three days, so his body was very weak. Two imperial physicians holding medical boxes were waiting outside, just in case he suddenly fainted.
The Minister of Justice barely calmed his surprised expression as he said to Xu Ruoyu, “Do you know how big a crime plotting a rebellion is? Chief Minister Shen is clearly a meritorious official who rescued the emperor, how come it has turned into conspiring to murder the former emperor? Quickly tell the truth of what you know!”
Xu Ruoyu glanced at the empress dowager, who was behind the screen barrier, took a deep breath, and said, “Sir, don’t be hasty, please allow me to explain it carefully. The former emperor already knew that Wei De was colluding with King Fu to rebel by forcing the emperor to abdicate, so he secretly entrusted the final edict and tiger tally to Shen Jue. However, Shen Jue didn’t consider the grace of the former emperor’s trust and returned kindness with ingratitude. He wishfully wanted to use the tiger tally to deceive King Fu into entering the capital and then charge King Fu for entering the capital without an imperial edict. Unexpectedly, King Fu encountered a flood on the way and passed away halfway. Shen Jue happened to find the Nameless Ghost. The Nameless Ghost is proficient in strange and wicked tricks, and he is especially good at face-disguising. Shen Jue ordered the Nameless Ghost to disguise my face and made me pretend to be King Fu, enter the capital, and follow Wei De in forcing the emperor to abdicate. Then, he ordered me to fake my death during the coup, since only then could Wei De be killed in the name of treason. However, Shen Jue wasn’t satisfied. In order to support the emperor onto the throne, he was frenzied and hounded the former emperor to death, only telling others that the former emperor had been angered to death by Wei De and King Fu, and even claiming to be a meritorious official! If there is a lie among these matters, I would be willing to be struck to death by lightning!”
Xu Ruoyu finished speaking in one breath, and everyone on the court gasped. Who would’ve expected that Shen Jue was actually extremely audacious to this degree. A eunuch could actually hound the emperor to death! The three old men on the seats turned pale from fright and looked at Shen Jue. Shen Jue was impassive, without much reaction.
Cold sweat dripped from the Minister of Justice, and he took out a handkerchief from his waist to wipe his face as he said in a trembling voice, “What you said is only a one-sided statement. Deceiving and killing the late King Fu and hounding the former emperor to death are great felonies! For these crimes, not only tearing him limb from limb by five horses, even death by a thousand cuts isn’t too much. Do you have proof?!”
“Of course! The underling of the fifth division of the Eastern Depot who is kneeling below the court, Xiahou Lian, is the Nameless Ghost. As everyone knows, the Nameless Ghost specializes in using a Leading Mechanism Silk puppet to kill. Yesterday, the Embroidered Uniform Guard seized the puppet Zhaoye from his house, all of you sirs will know at a glance.”
After he said this, two Embroidered Uniform guards carried Zhaoye on their shoulders onto the court. The exquisite puppet indifferent stood in the daylight, its white porcelain mask reflecting a cool luster. A saber arm had already been damaged, only leaving behind the remains of a left arm. The light of the saber was partly hidden and partly visible underneath the sleeve, containing a deeply ingrained killing intent.
The chiefs and ministers in the seats stared fixedly at Zhaoye, and even the Embroidered Uniform guards’ eyes betrayed curiosity. The puppet Zhaoye had been well-known for a long time, and besides those unlucky devils who had died under Zhaoye’s saber, few people had truly faced Zhaoye. Seeing it this time, everyone tutted in amazement. The Minister of Justice’s gaze swept toward Xiahou Lian. “Xiahou Lian, do you plead guilty?”
Xiahou Lian stepped forward and said, “I do not. Sir, please reconsider clearly. The governor has been hunting down Garan rebels for many years and investigated countless of Garan’s secret nests. This also includes the Nameless Ghost’s secret nests, and Zhaoye was obtained from there. I am incompetent and know a little about forging, so the governor only gave Zhaoye to me to take a look at, Zhaoye really isn’t mine!”
Situ Jin added from behind him, “If you don’t believe it, sir, you can recheck the Eastern Depot’s official documents. Every check and seizure is recorded.”
The Minister of Justice pondered for a moment before saying, “I heard that the Eastern Depot has a portrait of the Nameless Ghost, there’s no harm in borrowing them for a look.”
Xu Ruoyu wanted to speak, but pain from his knees assaulted him, and his face became a little paler. The Minister of Justice beckoned, and an Embroidered Uniform guard brought over a low stool for Xu Ruoyu to sit on. Xu Ruoyu panted before saying, “Sir, there’s something you don’t know. This Nameless Ghost used some unknown method and has already changed his head and replaced his face, so it isn’t his original appearance. However, he was once instigated by Shen Jue to disguise my face, making me pretend to be King Fu, who had already drowned in a flood, and enter the capital and force the emperor to abdicate. I still have that skin mask. Please have a look, sirs.”
Xu Ruoyu took out King Fu’s mask from the fold of his clothes, presented it to the Embroidered Uniform guards, and the Embroidered Uniform guards presented it to the three officials sitting on the seats. The three people huddled together to look at it carefully. The mask was as soft as skin, and it really was King Fu’s appearance. The three of them looked at one another and passed the mask down. All of the ministers and officials below looked at it one by one, all of them whispering.
The Minister of Justice said solemnly, “Xiahou Lian, how do you explain this?”
“I have never seen this skin mask,” said Xiahou Lian.
Someone said, “Perhaps Xu Ruoyu found an alchemist in the martial arts world to make a skin mask to falsely charge the chief officer at will.”
Xu Ruoyu gritted his teeth. “Then please tie up all of the underlings in the fifth division. The day we rushed thousands of miles to find King Fu, they were all present. There is also the senior lead officer of the Eastern Depot, Situ Jin, they’re all accessories! Sirs, please use cruel punishments, don’t be afraid they won’t speak the truth!”
Everyone nodded. To hear the truth, it could only be done by using cruel punishments.
The Minister of Justice was just about to have the Embroidered Uniform guards use torture instruments when Shen Jue took a few steps toward the center and said, “Normally, I should be the litigant. You all are only holding onto Xiahou Lian, yet you didn’t ask me half a word. What is the reason?”
The Minister of Justice laughed awkwardly and said, “Chief Officer, what you said is right. If you have been treated unjustly, don’t hesitate to defend yourself.”
Shen Jue glanced at Xu Ruoyu, and Xu Ruoyu hastily lowered his head. It had clearly been a light glance, yet it was as cold as ice and snow in winter, and Xu Ruoyu’s entire body felt cold. Shen Jue retracted his gaze and tugged out the hint of a sneer. “I have always felt that it’s strange. I clearly treated you well, and at the time when you wandered the martial arts world, you were in deep debt. Your sixty-year-old mother was blocked at home by debt collectors and couldn’t leave, and it was I who repaid your debt for you and promoted you into the Eastern Depot, so you were able to live to be a person. Before, you even said how you would repay me with extreme sacrifice, yet you’ve turned and forgotten all of it. You even became a rabid dog, making wild accusations.”
Xu Ruoyu’s hands trembled, and he slowly kowtowed toward Shen Jue. “Governor, I’ll remember your great favor as long as I live. But today, you have made such a big mistake, and I can’t help the wicked do evil! I will repay your great favor in my next life!”
“I can’t afford the great favor you’re going to repay.” Shen Jue laughed and continued to say, “Later, I sent people to check your house. Sure enough, I understood everything.”
Xu Ruoyu was stunned.
Shen Jue clapped twice and said loudly, “Bring up Mrs. Xu Gao!”
A eunuch brought an old woman and walked inside from outside the crowd. The old woman was holding a handkerchief, and when she saw Xu Ruoyu, who was on the ground, she rushed over and wailed, “Son! Son, how did you become like this!”
“Mother!” When Xu Ruoyu saw the old woman, the rims of his eyes also became red.
Behind the screen barrier, the empress dowager clenched her fists, her painted fingernails piercing her palms.
The left censor-in-chief said doubtfully, “This…”
“Old lady, what have you encountered these past few days, tell them everything in detail!” Shen Jue clasped his hands behind his back and said slowly.
The old woman wiped away her tears and said in a choked voice, “That day, I was planting flowers at home. Suddenly, someone covered my mouth and nose and took me to an unknown place. It looked… l-like it was an estate. They didn’t allow me to walk around at will, I could only stay in a room all day long. I asked who they were and why they caught me, but they didn’t say and only made me stay quietly, not letting me run around. I was anxious, but I’m an old person. Even walking is effortful, so I didn’t have any choice. Fortunately, the day before yesterday, the chief officer sent people to come and save me, so I was able to get out.”
“So, someone kidnapped you!” The Minister of Justice was anxious and uncertain.
“Unfortunately, those people were all fugitives and were arrested by my people, and all of them actually bit their tongues and committed suicide.” Shen Jue looked at Xu Ruoyu and smiled coldly. “So, as to exactly who these people were, I can only ask you, Xu Ruoyu.”
“I…” Xu Ruoyu looked at Shen Jue, sweat dripping from his back.
Situ Jin said in a low voice from behind him, “Xu Ruoyu, do you think that if you falsely charge the governor for her, you and your mother will have a way to live? Why don’t you ask your mother how she has been doing these past few days?”
The old woman cried and shook her head. “I can’t get enough to eat at meals, and I’m also not allowed to say it, I can only be hungry.” She shed tears, and when she saw Xu Ruoyu’s knees, she cried even harder. “Son, sin! What sin have we committed!”
Behind the screen barrier, the empress dowager suddenly said harshly, “Xu Ruoyu, think well before you reply!”
Xu Ruoyu was silent for a long time, and his complexion was ashen. After a long time, he suddenly broke free of the old woman’s embrace and crawled next to Shen Jue’s feet, crying as he said, “As you sirs have seen, my mother was kidnapped, forcing me to falsely charge the governor. What I said just now was all false, they were all instigated by that person! That person is the empress dowager!”
The Minister of Justice was shocked. “The empress dowager!”
Xu Ruoyu turned around again and kowtowed toward Shen Jue. “Governor, I know that I betrayed you and also betrayed the empress dowager, so I don’t have a way to live anyway! Please, Governor, consider how I went through fire and water in the past and worked hard without credit, and protect my mother! I… am willing to die as an apology!” After saying this, Xu Ruoyu’s entire body shook, and he fell down. The old woman cried out and threw herself onto Xu Ruoyu’s body. She flipped him over but saw that blood was flowing from the corners of his mouth; he had already bit his tongue and committed suicide.
The entire court was shocked. The three counselors on the seats couldn’t bear to look, and Xiahou Lian also knitted his brows tightly. Embroidered Uniform guards immediately came up and brought away the corpse and old woman. The empress dowager’s entire body was shaking, and her hands trembled as she took the hot tea Zhu Xia handed to her. She took a few small sips, regaining her composure with great difficulty. She changed into a steady voice as she said, “Sirs, this Xu Ruoyu said that the chief officer was plotting a rebellion one moment and then said that I plotted to frame the chief officer the next moment. With only a few sentences, he changed several times in a row, he really cannot be trusted. In my opinion, this person was talking nonsense, all of it were lies. The entire imperial court knows that the chief officer rescued the emperor, and everyone sees that he helps the young emperor. I’m the emperor’s mother, why would I frame the chief officer for no reason?” She turned her head over and looked at Shen Jue through the screen barrier, smiling slightly. “Chief Officer, don’t you agree?”
Shen Jue turned the ring on his thumb and smiled without temperature. This woman’s mind didn’t turn slowly. She had missed the blow and had already lost the decisive opportunity, so she had immediately changed to restore peace with him. However, how could he, Shen Jue, be easy to deal with? Shen Jue said slowly, “Empress Dowager, don’t be hasty, the case still isn’t over. The case of me bombarding Guangling Temple a few days ago hasn’t been tried yet. Sirs, why don’t they be tried together!”
The empress dowager hastily said, “I think there’s no need! The chief officer wouldn’t bombard Guangling Temple for no reason, there must be a cause! Why doesn’t the chief officer report it to me and the emperor alone after the trial, why bother all you ministers and officials here?”
Everyone shook their heads, and the left censor-in-chief saluted with clasped hands toward the empress dowager. “Empress Dowager, your words are wrong. Guangling Temple enshrines the memorial tablet of the former emperor, so it is about the well-being of Great Qi. It’s better to try it together here.”
The empress dowager put her hand down blankly, and her expression became frustrated. Shen Jue had taken the initiative to put forward for the trial, so he must have already made preparations. Her checker game had already been lost.
Shen Jue clapped again, and a few underlings holding a bloody person threw him onto the ground. The person had disheveled hair and a dirty face, and his body was covered in bloodstains, so his appearance already couldn’t be seen. An underling squatted down and lifted away his hair, revealing his face. He lifted him up to show everyone, and it was actually the commander of the Imperial Guard, Wan Bohai.
“Commander Wan!” Everyone stood up, their expressions stunned.
“Spare me… Spare me…” Wan Bohai crawled toward Shen Jue and reached his hand out to the hem of Shen Jue’s robes. Shen Jue frowned imperceptibly and retreated half a step.
Wan Bohai mumbled, “Chief Officer, spare me… It was me, it was all me, I committed adultery with the empress dowager. She made me surround Guangling Temple and send the Imperial Guard to kill you, it was all me… I’m begging you, spare my life…”
His voice wasn’t loud, but everyone present heard it, and the two words “committed adultery” especially pierced everyone’s ears like a needle prick. Everyone was extremely stunned, and they all looked at the empress dowager behind the screen barrier. A crisp sound that was like ice cracking came from behind the screen barrier; it was the tea bowl shattering all over the ground.
“He was tortured into becoming a prisoner, and he’s confessing to false charges under the torture!” The empress dowager gritted her teeth. “His words cannot be trusted!”
“Wan Bohai, the empress dowager said that you’re slandering her. Slandering the empress dowager is capital offense.” Shen Jue looked down at Wan Bohai and smiled indifferently. There were dense and dark shadows in his eyes, as if hiding thousands of demons.
Wan Bohai felt cold from those eyes, and he said loudly, “I’m not lying! I’m not! The empress dowager… The empress dowager has a peach-shaped birthmark next to her buttocks, you can find a nursemaid to look! It’s on her left buttocks! On her left buttocks!”
“Let me ask you again, who did the case of Mrs. Yao?” Shen Jue asked leisurely.
“It was the empress dowager, it was all the empress dowager! The empress dowager wants to kill the chief officer, it’s the empress dowager!”
Everyone was silent. Wan Bohai was able to say such a secret birthmark, and let alone whether it was the empress dowager who had framed the case of Mrs. Yao, it was almost sure that they had committed adultery. This was a scandal of the imperial family, so it originally shouldn’t have been this publicized. Everyone kept silent and didn’t dare to say a word. The faces of the three officials on the head seats were covered with embarrassment, and they looked at one another, staring at one another at a loss.
Finally, Shen Jue spoke. “Things are like this. The empress dowager first blamed me for the sudden death of Mrs. Yao and her son, and then ordered Wan Bohai to surround me at Guangling Temple during the incense offering. For self-protection, I had to send people to the Divine Machine Battalion to ask for help. Not to mention, committing murder in a Buddhist shrine is very disrespectful toward Buddha! What the empress dowager did really was intolerable by the heavens.”
Actually, him blowing up Guangling Temple was even more intolerable by the heavens, but no one dared to say it. The situation was very clear now, the empress dowager had already suffered an overwhelming defeat, and Shen Jue was fully satisfied. Whoever dared to incur Shen Jue’s misfortune would be seeking their own death.
The Minister of Justice repeatedly wiped his sweat, and half of the handkerchief was already wet. He considered his words for a while before saying, “The matter of the empress dowager must be transferred to the Imperial Clan Court to be dealt with. Chief Officer, please give a lot of care, we won’t intervene.”
Shen Jue nodded. The matters inside the palace chambers indeed should be given to him to manage.
The screen barrier parted, and the empress dowager stepped out from behind it. Under the sunlight, her complexion was so pale it was practically transparent, as if it could evaporate at any time. She walked down step by step and passed by Shen Jue. Shen Jue saluted with clasped hands toward her and bowed as he made way.
“Chief Officer Shen, you indeed are skilled at trickery, calculating precisely and never erring.”
“Empress Dowager, you overflatter me.” Shen Jue said, “I merely relied on a little luck.”
“I originally thought I could beat you.”
Shen Jue laughed lightly. “Empress Dowager, you forgot that I taught you not to make a move without complete control,” the expression in his eyes became quiet and deep, “but once you make a move, you have to cut the weeds and dig up the roots, not leaving future troubles.”
The empress dowager shook, and Zhu Xia held her with tears in her eyes. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “Very good, then I’ll congratulate you for obtaining what you desired and achieving your wishes!”
Eunuchs from the Imperial Clan Court took the empress dowager away. Seeing that things had come to an end, Xiahou Lian sighed in relief and looked up at Shen Jue, and Shen Jue also happened to look over. The two of them looked at each other, and for some reason, Xiahou Lian felt that his ears were a little hot. Xiahou Lian pretended to cough and pointed outside, meaning that he would wait for him outside. Shen Jue nodded, indicating that he understood.
Everyone was about to leave when the chief minister of the Court of Judicial Review suddenly spoke.
“Hold on, everyone, although Shen Jue never conspired to murder the former emperor and the bombarding of Guangling Temple is also excusable, he used to work in collusion with Wei De, reversing the appointment and evaluation of officials and playing with schemes and power. Nowadays, he’s formed a faction and become a traitor and made His Majesty indulge in fun. He doesn’t want to work hard and is close to rebels and far from loyalty and justice, shouldn’t he be tried!”
Xiahou Lian was stunned, and he turned his head back, happening to see Shen Jue and the chief minister of the Court of Judicial Review looking at each other from a distance. Where their eyes met, there seemed to be bright flames of war.
Shen Jue said unhurriedly, “His Majesty ordered the Three Divisions to hold a joint trial for the case of me plotting a rebellion. Sir, if you want to impeach me, you should present a memorial to the throne to the emperor.”
The chief minister of the Court of Judicial Review smiled coldly.
If he presented a memorial to the throne to the emperor, wouldn’t it still be Shen Jue who would approve it? His Majesty was ten years old, so even holding a brush was tiring, how could he manage it?
“You’ve disrupted the laws of the imperial court and muddied the court’s routine. Today’s Great Qi only knows Shen Jue and not His Majesty, which is the same as plotting a rebellion. It can be put on trial all the same!”