Translated by Vivian of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
“What’s going on?” Xiahou Lian asked Situ Jin in a low voice.
Situ Jin’s expression was grim. “The righteous class has made a move. The chief minister of the Court of Judicial Review doesn’t belong to the empress dowager, he belongs to the righteous class.”
Xiahou Lian’s heart sank slightly.
The righteous class and the eunuch faction had confronted each other for a long time, and the flames of war were already raging everywhere when Wei De had still been around. They had had unresolvable trouble for a while, and the memorials to the throne of the righteous class impeaching Wei De had piled up before the emperor like snowflakes. Unfortunately, the emperor wouldn’t approve them at all, so everything was useless. Wei De had resented the righteous class for reporting him, so he frequently put people in the Eastern Depot’s prison. There had been a remonstrator who had impeached him for ten major crimes, and he had been tortured to death in the Eastern Depot.
That time had been when Shen Jue was Wei De’s favorite, and he had helped Wei De arrest many people, so he already knew he had formed a large conflict with the righteous class. Now, Shen Jue had taken Wei De’s place, so the righteous class was pointing their spearhead at Shen Jue. It looked like the case of Mrs. Yao and the siege and killing at Guangling Temple weren’t planned by the empress dowager alone; the righteous class had added fuel to the flame.
Xiahou Lian knitted his brows and asked, “Did the governor prepare for this?”
Situ Jin shook his head lightly. “I do not know.”
Shen Jue looked down, tucked his robes, and smiled tepidly. “Trial? The empress dowager can’t be helped, she’s His Majesty’s mother after all. Although it took effort, I had to deal with her.” After saying this, Shen Jue’s expression changed, and his features became stern, full of wind and thunder. “But I’d like to see which of you all have these qualifications to dare to put me on trial?”
“Presumptuous!” The chief minister of the Court of Judicial Review was furious. “You’re nothing more than a mere eunuch. We’re the court officials of the righteous class, why can’t we put you on trial!”
The left censor-in-chief said seriously, “Chief Officer Shen, if you don’t want to be against the world, it’s better for you to wait to be tried.”
“What a court official of the righteous class! Are the origins of your money and resources really clear and not muddy, without any faults!” Shen Jue lifted up the corner of his mouth in ridicule, yet he didn’t start from the chief minister. He turned his head and faced the left censor-in-chief. “Sir Censor, the court knows that you were born rich. Your hometown of Songjiang has continuous farmland and countless villages. But no one knows that half of this rural farmland was obtained from embezzling poor families. You’re ranked in the Six Ministries, and in order for Songjiang’s magistrate to please you, they open an eye and close the other. The people whose farmland was embezzled by you had nowhere to turn to for help and became refugees. Someone named Tian Daniu starved to death in the streets. Using money, you sent people to throw him into a mass grave, and that was that. I wonder if what I said is correct or not?”
The left censor-in-chief’s expression completely changed, and sweat rustled as it fell from his head. He stammered, “I-It’s total nonsense! Chief Officer, don’t make unfounded accusations!”
Shen Jue ignored him and saluted with clasped hands toward the chief minister of the Court of Judicial Review as he said, “As for you, sir, you are indeed honest and upright, and no faults can be picked out. Unfortunately, you don’t manage your household strictly. Last month, your son was galloping on a horse without holding the reins and injured people. An old man in his eighties was kicked in the chest, and he laid at home for half a day before dying at night. It’s said that one should pay with their life for killing someone, but you have a good, resourceful wife. She bribed and settled everything, even gave the old man’s family enough benefits, and this matter was suppressed like this. All of you rejoiced, but that poor old man died!”
The chief minister’s face was filled with shock, and he was dumbfounded, unable to speak. Shen Jue looked at his expression and put on a surprised appearance. “What, did you not know about this matter?”
The chief minister gritted his teeth. “You’re… talking nonsense!”
Shen Jue sneered, “Whether it’s nonsense, turn over your son and wife to the government, and they’ll know once they investigate. However, I have always talked about evidence when I speak, so when the time comes, I’ll just see if you’re willing for your only son to pay with his life for killing someone!”
The chief minister slumped as he sat on his seat, and it was silent below. When the water was clear, there would be no fish 1; who dared to say that they themself hadn’t made a single mistake upon assuming office? Even if they hadn’t, it was also hard to prevent their families from being spoiled and arrogant. The Eastern Depot was skilled at trickery, and even the dominoes that officials drew in their homes could get to the emperor, let alone these unspeakable affairs? Yet this chief minister didn’t believe in evil and had firmly collided with the muzzle of Shen Jue’s cannon.
Shen Jue turned his fluid gaze and looked at the Minister of Justice, about to speak.
The Minister of Justice hastily saluted with clasped hands and smiled. “Chief Officer! Chief Officer! This matter has nothing to do with me! Originally, the empress dowager framed you, the evidence is conclusive, this case should be closed! There is an urgent matter at my house, I have to leave first, I have to leave first!”
The Minister of Justice lifted his robes and left, and the officials below also all got up and said goodbye. The figures beside Shen Jue were like woven threads, and he stood in their center, looking at the chief minister of the Court of Judicial Review who was on the seat and had a dejected expression. The smile on his face peeled inch by inch like gold paint, returning to arrogant highness and coldness.
He asked indifferently, “Sir, do you still want to put me on trial?”
The chief minister’s throat was choked as he slowly stood up, took off his black gauze hat, and held it in his arms. “Chief Officer Shen, you win, you gain complete victory! Tomorrow, I will resign and return home, never to return to the court!”
“In that case,” Shen Jue saluted with clasped hands properly, “I, Shen Jue, respectfully send you off.”
The chief minister left with a flick of his sleeves. Shen Jue slowly straightened up, closed his eyes, and took a deep breath. Exhaustion spread up from his limbs and bones, like densely packed insects, climbing all over his body along his meridians. In order to handle today’s war situation, he practically hadn’t slept peacefully a single day in these past few days.
People’s figures were chaotic, flowing past him like tidewater, and no one dared to look at his eyes. Now, the empress dowager had fallen, the righteous class had suffered an overwhelming defeat, and the emperor was only ten years old. He was fully worthy of being below one person and above tens of thousands of people. However, he suddenly felt that his heart was very empty, like a hollow drum, able to make thumping sounds from knocking.
Why? He was clearly the winner, the only winner.
“Young Master.” Xiahou Lian’s voice came from next to him. He looked up in confusion and saw Xiahou Lian’s black and deep eyes.
Xiahou Lian said softly, “Let’s go home.”
Shen Jue lowered his eyes and smiled in exhaustion, replying, “Okay, let’s go home.”
He was just about to turn around and leave, yet he heard an old voice sound from the distance.
“I wonder if I have the qualifications to put Chief Officer Shen on trial!”
His figure stagnated, and the smile on his face froze.
Xiahou Lian turned his head with everyone else and saw a stooped old man outside the crowd move in, step by step, leaning on a cane. The old man was pitifully emaciated, skinny to the bones and with a thin layer of skin wrapped around bones. His official uniform couldn’t even be supported, as he was like a clothes rack, swaying, his entire body containing wind.
Xiahou Lian was stunned where he was. That old man had experienced twelve years of torment by wind and frost, and he seemed to age faster than others, his face no longer the appearance it had been at the time. But he recognized him, he recognized him at a glance.
Dai Shengyan, Mr. Dai.
He subconsciously looked back at Shen Jue. He was standing in the wind, his head lowered and his face concealed in the shadows, his expression unable to be seen. But somehow, his figure seemed to be filled with withered and cold wind. The confidence of devising strategies from just then had disappeared without a trace, leaving only bone-chilling coldness and loneliness.
“Mr. Dai! You came!” The chief minister hastily went up to welcome him.
“No matter, no matter,” Mr. Dai waved his hand. “Although my bones are old, I can still walk. Please, everyone, wait a bit.”
The old man slowly moved toward the head seats like a snail, happening to pass by Shen Jue. Shen Jue looked down at the hem of his robes: colorfully embroidered knees of rivers, cliffs, and seawater, dazzlingly bright.
Xiahou Lian touched Shen Jue’s hand. His fingers were as cold as ice, without temperature.
“Young Master, don’t be afraid.”
“I’m not afraid.” Shen Jue’s voice was a little hoarse.
“If Mr. Dai wants to hit you, I’ll take you away.”
“Idiot.” Shen Jue pressed the sides of his forehead. “Stand to the side, you’re not allowed to speak if I don’t tell you to.”
The old man finally arrived at his destination. He rested his cane against the yellow pear wood desk, supported himself with his two emaciated hands on the table, and slowly sat down. Sitting like that, it affected all of the joints in his body with creaks, as if he was going to fall apart in the next moment. The old man took a breath, took out a memorial to the throne from inside his sleeve, unfolded it, and spread it on the desk.
Only after doing everything did he look up and say lukewarmly, “I consider myself to be cautious. Since becoming an official, although I don’t dare to call it giving it my utmost until death, I have never made a grave mistake. Although I have already resigned, I won the former emperor’s recognition, and he gave me the official title of the crown prince’s tutor. Today, I am daring, and I meddle in others’ affairs to try this case. May I ask you, Chief Officer Shen, do I have some criminal record and origins that cannot be revealed, and cannot put you on trial?”
It was so silent all around, not even a crow or sparrow could be heard, and all gazes gathered on that man standing in the wind. The officials of the righteous class inwardly had smiles and glanced at one another. Dai Shengyan was an exception of the court; he never formed factions or stood in line and followed the trend. In his early years, he hadn’t had any achievements in his official career. What made him stand out was his knowledge. Scholars at the time looked up to him, and later, he had been the former emperor’s teacher. However, since the case of the extermination of the Xie clan, it was as if Dai Shengyan had taken the wrong medicine, as he used all of his effort to oppose the Wei Faction. He had beat the Dengwen Drum several times and submitted written humble requests to the emperor, reporting Wei De for twenty-four crimes.
Wei De saw him as a thorn in his side, but he had had a strong relationship with the former emperor and a great reputation, and righteous people from the martial arts world of unknown origins secretly protected him, so he wasn’t easily moved. Over the years, the people impeaching Wei De advanced wave upon wave, but Dai Shengyan was the only one who had lived steadily until now.
Shen Jue used extreme effort to tug out a smile as he bowed deeply in a salute. “Sir, you are noble and benign, I do not have anything I can pick faults of.”
“Good.” Dai Shengyan looked down and stroked the memorial to the throne on the desk. The memorial was already yellowed, with deep ink marks, and it could be seen that it had already been some years. “At the time, I impeached Wei De for twenty-four great crimes, beat the Dengwen Drum for three days and three nights, and knelt before the imperial palace for three days and three nights. Twenty-four crimes, each crime was enough for Wei De to be shattered to pieces. Especially this twenty-fourth crime, secretly colluding with the rebel faction of Garan and the entire Xie clan of Jinling, over one hundred people. Xie Bingfeng, who had experience in the Censorate, his wife Mrs. Xie Xiao, their sons, Jingtao and Jingtan,” Dai Shengyan paused, as if he was choked, “and my little disciple that had just gotten started, Xie Jinglan, all of them were brutally murdered.”
The people below all sighed.
Dai Shengyan continued, “But the former emperor turned a blind eye and a deaf ear. He would rather be against the world and still protect Wei De. Chief Officer Shen, although you killing Wei De was a meritorious deed, you practically participated in everything Wei De did in the past. Now, you’re the seal-holder of the Directorate of Rites and should be in charge of the affairs of the inner court and not intervene in external affairs. However, you followed in Wei De’s footsteps, destroyed the ancestors’ form of government, and enticed His Majesty into having fun. These twenty-four crimes, except for the last one, are all added onto you, exactly the same. Chief Officer, you have a retentive memory, and you have already heard these twenty-three crimes long ago. Do you want me to repeat them again?”
Shen Jue closed his eyes and said hoarsely, “No need.”
Dai Shengyan nodded. “In that case, Chief Officer, do you plead guilty?”
Xiahou Lian felt shocked, and his long brows knitted tightly.
Shen Jue didn’t move, nor did he speak. His head was lowered, and he was gazing at his own shadow. In a daze, that figure seemed to be a lot shorter and a lot skinnier, and he turned into his appearance at twelve years old. He remembered when he had been on Wangqing Pavilion, he had also stood like this below the court and replied to Mr. Dai. At that time, he had put on a pretense of dignity and held himself as haughty, pretending that he didn’t care and firmly maintaining a prestige that didn’t exist, yet he had been completely seen through by Dai Shengyan at a glance.
Actually, he knew that Mr. Dai had beat the Dengwen Drum and knocked on the palace gate. When Mr. Dai had knelt outside the palace gate and asked to see the former emperor, he had been standing in Liuli Gate, distantly looking at that emaciated figure under the sunlight, lonely and like a firewood stick, able to be broken with a pry. He had thought, Why is this old man so foolish, Xie Bingfeng was clearly that kind of bastard who fished for fame, and Xie Jinglan had only joined him for a few months. If they died then they died, if they’re gone then they’re gone, why would he fight to the death with Wei De?
He felt that he was very tired, so tired he couldn’t catch his breath. For the first time, he wanted to flee, to run far away so that Mr. Dai would never see him again. However, the gloomy daylight shone on him, and he was like a ghost who had appeared and had nowhere to hide, nowhere to turn to for help.
He opened his mouth, wanting to speak. Dai Shengyan suddenly said, “Since I held the court trial until now, you have never looked up at me. Could it be that I am still not qualified to see your face?”
Xiahou Lian stepped forward, wanting to speak, but Shen Jue grabbed him and didn’t let him move. Xiahou Lian struggled, but Shen Jue’s hand was like an iron plier, tightly pulling his sleeve.
Shen Jue’s voice was so low it seemed to be buried in the dust. “I’m begging you, don’t say it.”
Xiahou Lian was stunned, and he stopped struggling.
Shen Jue slowly looked up. The smile from just then had disappeared without a trace, and he couldn’t even put on a fake smile. His white face was without sorrow and without joy, as if it had been frozen by ice and frost. Only those eyes, filled with frost and snow, were as sorrowful as a lone swan goose.
Dai Shengyan was stunned. The young man below the court had beautiful features, and vaguely, his appearance was extremely similar to that stubborn youth in his memory. In a daze, he actually thought that that youth hadn’t died. He was still alive and standing below the court, looking at him.
He knitted his brows tightly and asked, “Chief Officer, you… look very familiar. I wonder if you and the Xie clan of Jinling are related?”
“I am not,” said Shen Jue.
Dai Shengyan’s eyes hid pain as he said, “It seems like it is merely a coincidence.” He sighed deeply and said, “Then, do you admit to the twenty-three great crimes I spoke of just then or not?”
Shen Jue’s voice was hoarse. “I…”
It was silent below the court, as everyone was waiting for his words. In that moment, he seemed to be that new and inexperienced youth, and the eloquent and overbearing Shen Jue disappeared, only leaving behind a boy who was at a loss, his heart full of sorrow as icy as a tide.
However, in the silence, Xiahou Lian suddenly said loudly, “He doesn’t!”
As if a sharp arrow had come from the sky, piercing the silence, everyone was shocked. The chief minister of the Court of Judicial Review shouted, “How is it your place to interrupt here! Leave!”
Xiahou Lian lifted his robes and knelt on the ground, kowtowing as he said, “Sir, the left censor-in-chief occupied other people’s farmland, and the chief minister’s son took someone else’s life! Flip through all of the Eastern Depot’s documents and reveal all of the secrets of the officials’ money and resources. All of the court’s civilian and military officials, no one is not guilty, no one is innocent! Why are you only putting my governor on trial, and not them!”
The faces of all of the officials sitting around were flushed as they shouted, “Presumptuous!”
“You’re the presumptuous ones!” Xiahou Lian kowtowed on the ground as he roared, the veins on his forehead bulging. “If you want to have a trial, put everyone on trial together!”