Translated by Vivian of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
First day of the first month.
The sky hadn’t brightened yet, so there was a hazy blackness all around. The dripping sounds of the water clock came along the wind from inside the palace, a long series that was neither fast nor slow. Situ Jin passed through the crowd of eunuchs coming and going with difficulty. In another two hours, the emperor was going to receive the congratulations of civil and military officers, vassal kings and feudal lords from various places, and envoys of various overseas countries at Fengtian Gate. All of the eunuchs of the Directorate of Rites were as busy as spinning tops; some were holding teacups that had been newly replaced by the imperial court and some were holding incense burners that would be burned in Jinshen Hall 1, and all of their heads were lowered as they ran back and forth like ants under the tall eaves of the temple gate. Upon seeing Situ Jin, they didn’t even have time to salute. They hurriedly said “Senior Lead Officer” and brushed past his shoulders.
Shen Jue was naturally already up. He was the person in power in the Directorate of Rites, so for the congratulations from the officials, he had to wear python robes and a broad belt and stand by the emperor’s side, looking down at the officials kowtowing in the vast dust and shout long live the emperor. He never procrastinated; he always stepped out of his bedroom on time, bringing a mighty crowd of eunuchs with him as he went to respectfully greet the young emperor and end his long time of staying in bed.
Situ Jin went to the main room. There was already a group of people waiting outside the door. One was holding a towel and comb, one was holding soap, and there was also one holding a teacup for rinsing his mouth. They waited for Shen Jue to change into court clothes inside, then went in to serve him.
Situ Jin knocked on the door and said in a low voice, “Governor, there is something important I have to talk to you about.”
“Come in.” Shen Jue’s voice sounded.
The little eunuchs pushed open the door and filed in, and Situ Jin inserted himself into the center and went in. Shen Jue was sitting on a high chair, his python robes tucked cleanly and neatly, and the broad belt at his waist was also fastened without a thread out of place. Only his hair hadn’t been combed yet, and it was loose on his shoulders like black paint. A little eunuch held an ivory comb and stood behind him to comb his hair for him, another person raised up a mirror for him to look, and the one holding a teacup handed over a toothpick and tooth powder. Shen Jue rinsed his mouth as he listened to Situ Jin talk.
“Last night, I received a secret report that we lost contact with the spies we planted in Xingqing Gang in Yingtian Prefecture. On the first day of the twelfth month, the contact person met once with them, but there has been no news since then. The Eastern Depot searched through Nanjing City, but they didn’t find them.
Xingqing Gang was Yingtian Prefecture’s biggest water transportation gang, and they rushed between Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Beijing, and Tianjin throughout the year. In the spring and summer when the weather was warm and the rivers weren’t frozen, they could even go to the North and do business. Last year at the beginning of the year, Shen Jue had planted three spies in Xingqing Gang, and one of them had taken the position of gangmaster in the gang who controlled the docks. However, starting from the eleventh month, the three people had lost contact one after another. According to past experience, either their identities had been exposed and killed by people of the underworld, or they had become traitors. However, these three people seemed to have vanished into thin air. Even their shadows had disappeared without a trace, as if they had never existed.
Shen Jue furrowed his brow and used a towel to wipe his face. He stood up from the high chair and stepped out of the door. “What did the other spies in Yingtian Prefecture say? Xingqing Gang and Laifu Gang are very close in transactions, what news is there from Laifu Gang?”
Situ Jin followed behind Shen Jue and said, “The spies in Laifu Gang have also disappeared. The day before yesterday, I received a document from the Lingzhou Guard, there has also been no news of the spies in the water transportation gangs in Yang River. Governor, the spies we have planted in major gangs everywhere have… all disappeared.”
Shen Jue paused in his footsteps, and the person following behind him also hastily stopped. Shen Jue turned his head and looked at Situ Jin, and he was slightly angry as he said, “Why are you saying it only now?”
Situ Jin bowed his head obediently and said, “The original agreement was to meet at the beginning of every month, but the latest these spies showed up was the eleventh month. In the twelfth month, the contact people everywhere didn’t meet with them and reported the news. The official document was drafted and sent to the capital, and it was reviewed by the Eastern Depot’s eunuchs in charge of clerical work of each level. They discovered that contact had been lost with all of the spies and noticed that something was wrong, then passed it to me. It’s already the fastest speed, I didn’t dare to have any delay.”
“Were there any abnormalities in the news they gave the last time they showed up?”
“No. I have already read everything, they’re all talking about the internal conflicts in the gangs, and there’s nothing wrong.” Situ Jin knitted his brows. “However, I noticed one thing. On the ninth day of the tenth month, the Eastern Depot seized a transportation boat from Xingqing Gang headed toward Beijing and Tianjin. The boat suddenly caught on fire during the investigation, and all of the cargo was burned. According to Xingqing Gang’s confession, they were smuggling hard liquor from Yanghe. Now, I’m afraid it seems that there was something fishy inside.”
Shen Jue was silent. Spies disappearing without a trace wasn’t a strange matter, as going undercover in the underworld was originally extremely dangerous. Those gangsters had always killed without even blinking, so a spy accidentally revealing a clue and getting killed was normal. Only he and Situ Jin had the list of names of their spies, so it wasn’t possible that it would be leaked. However, it wasn’t very possible that they had become traitors. Their families were all under Shen Jue’s eyes; it was okay for them to not want their own lives, but would they not even care about their family?
Could it be…
Shen Jue knitted his brows as he walked forward and stepped onto Tian Street, pure white snow crunching underneath his feet. Shen Wenxing suddenly ran over with small steps from the other side and grimaced as he said, “Godfather, His Majesty isn’t willing to get out of bed, and he’s asking whether today’s worship can be canceled?”
Shen Jue had a splitting headache and he said resentfully, “He sure is fanciful. The worship in the first month is an ancestral rite, how can it be canceled? He has to get up even if he can’t. In a while if I see that he’s still in bed, believe it or not, I’ll hit him in the face with his ceremonial clothing!”
Shen Wenxing sweated profusely upon hearing this. Shen Jue also had an unyielding and arrogant temperament, and the young emperor collided with the muzzle of Shen Jue’s cannon every day, so Shen Wenxing really believed that he would paste the ceremonial clothes onto the emperor’s face. Shen Wenxing smiled placatingly as he repeated, “Godfather, calm down, calm down! I’ll think of a way now to get His Majesty to get out of bed!”
As he said this, he hastily turned and wanted to leave, but Shen Jue suddenly said, “Hold on! There’s still two hours until the grand ceremony right now, go and call that group of scoundrel officials from the Grand Secretariat into the palace. Just say that His Majesty doesn’t want to appear and tell them to think of a way. Hmph, if I can’t live in peace, they also shouldn’t think of getting a good sleep!”
Shen Wenxing beamed happily and said, “It’s still you who is wise!” Then, he turned around and hurriedly left.
Shen Jue paused before saying to Situ Jin, “Send people to bring the boss of Xingqing Gang to the capital and send him to the imperial prison. There are so many punishments in the prison, I’m not afraid he won’t speak. I’d like to see exactly what treasured things they’re smuggling that they would rather destroy than let the Eastern Depot know.”
However, Situ Jin hesitated as he pondered. “If we provoke the gangs into rioting, I’m afraid the remonstrator will make a big fuss. Governor, you speak and act cautiously nowadays…”
Shen Jue sneered, “I’ll invite him over to drink tea, I don’t want his money or his life. If this group of gangsters dares to riot, they’ll be punished as a rebel faction! Pass down my orders, for whoever serves the boss of Xingqing Gang, be sure to use methods that don’t wound flesh and only wound the inside. Let’s see if his mouth is solid enough, or if my floggings are hard enough!”
Situ Jin replied with yes and then said, “The underlings who were sent to Garan Mountain Temple before have returned. The official documents remaining from what Xiahou Lian burned have been put into the storehouse, and the household items in his home have also been moved. However, we couldn’t find the Garuda’s last letter that he spoke of before, though we saw many books that were left from being bitten by rats, so I’m afraid the last letter has already been eaten.”
“Then never mind. Tidy up the documents, I’ll look at them when I have the time. Xiahou Lian is still sleeping, go and call him up after a while and tell him to go take a look.” Shen Jue took two steps and recalled last night. When Xiahou Lian was by his side, he never had his guard up, and he had slept like a dead pig, not waking up no matter how he was moved. He had quietly embraced him in his arms and secretly pleasured himself, and thinking about it now still made his bloodstream swell.
He had had to get up early in the morning and had been afraid of waking Xiahou Lian up, so he had changed rooms at three quarters past three. Now, the Grand Secretariat would still need some time to coax the young emperor, so he wasn’t in a hurry to rush over. His heart gradually became eager as he thought about whether he should go back again to see Xiahou Lian. He thought over it for a while but still gave it up, lest he would stick there, be unable to pull himself away, and be late.
Situ Jin still went, and Shen Jue slowly headed toward Qianqing Palace. The sky gradually brightened, and the clear outlines of green tiles and flying roof ridges appeared in the light. Below was pure white snow, setting off the stretching red walls and reflecting a bright world. His heart suddenly cheered up. It was the first day of the year, and everything was beginning anew, as if everything had hope. It’s okay, he thought. As long as Xiahou Lian is by my side, whether it’s court officials or Garan, I will have a way to deal with them.
After walking for a while, he suddenly saw a little girl sitting on the gate pier ahead. She was wearing a bright red coat, a plain white apron, fox fur on her neck, and she was holding a tiger kite that had fierce eyes and a white forehead. She had a pair of big and black eyes, excessively black, which set off her snow-white face to be like a voodoo doll.
Shen Jue frowned. He recognized this girl; she was the Marquis of Linbei who had come from Liaodong in the North. She had a two-character surname, Baili, and a single-character first name, Yuan. It was strange to say that a little twelve-year-old girl was actually a commandery marquis. Although Great Qi had had female marquises in the past, it was the first time a little girl who wasn’t even fifteen yet had become a marquis. This little girl’s life experience was also tragic. A few years ago, there was an outbreak of smallpox in the North. Her parents and siblings had gotten infected and passed away, leaving her alone by herself, and the title of the Marquis of Linbei had fallen onto her head.
She had gone to the capital at the end of last year. The Marquis of Linbei sounded like a marquis, but it was actually only a little better than an ordinary civilian. It had no power, as it was an empty title. A person randomly picked out in the capital was more powerful than her, and the people below treated her differently, so she was naturally left out.
The Marquis of Linbei had a manor in the capital, but it had already been deserted for a very long time. She stayed in post stations and had actually been squeezed to live in the servant quarters by officials who had come to the capital to make the general program. When Shen Jue heard of this, he had reported it to the emperor and brought her into the palace, so it wasn’t considered treating her inadequately.
However, Shen Jue hadn’t talked to her face-to-face before, so he didn’t know what kind of temperament this girl had. Because of the young emperor, he would get headaches when he saw children, and he didn’t really want to acknowledge her. However, she was already in front of him after all, so it wasn’t easy to pretend he hadn’t seen her. Shen Jue put on a polite smile and went forward as he saluted with clasped hands, saying, “Young Marquis, why are you here alone so early in the morning?”
Baili Yuan lifted her head, looking at Shen Jue with big eyes that had a clear distinction between black and white. “I came out to fly a kite, and as I was flying it, I got lost.”
Children were just annoying, why would one fly a kite in the early morning? Shen Jue felt detestful, yet he didn’t show it on his face. He bowed and said, “I’ll send you back?”
“Okay.” The girl held her kite and stood up. The snow on the ground was thick, and it was strenuous for her to walk, so she automatically held Shen Jue’s hand. “I’m afraid of falling. Chief Officer, hold my hand.”
Shen Jue usually didn’t like other people touching him, but this girl had already held his hand. He didn’t fling her hand away and could only hold it loosely. Perhaps she had been in the wind for a long time, as the girl’s hand was very cold, like an ice cube. His hand was also cold, and two icy hands holding each other made it so that neither one could feel any temperature.
She had come out alone to fly a kite, and it was unexpected that no maid or eunuch had followed her. Shen Jue looked down at her. She was dragging the big kite and walking with alternating heavy and light steps, her head lowered and not making a sound. She was a gentle and quiet girl, better than the young emperor. Shen Jue undid the cloak on his body and put it on her, and then had someone hold the kite for her.
She hesitated for a while before handing the kite over. Shen Jue asked her, “Is this kite very important?”
Baili Yuan nodded and said in a small voice, “My older brother made it for me to play with.”
Her short-lived brother had died from smallpox a few years ago, and she had brought the kite from the North to the capital, how pitiful. Shen Jue asked, “Have the people in the palace served you well? If there is something disagreeable for Your Highness, do not hesitate to tell me.”
She stopped speaking, probably because she was afraid of offending someone, so she wouldn’t dare to say it even if she wasn’t being treated well. Then he’ll get another group of people to serve her; it was just changing a group, which was a matter of moving his mouth for Shen Jue.
Shen Jue held her hand as they entered Jingyang Gate 2. When the maids and eunuchs saw Shen Jue and Baili Yuan, they all crowded around them and kneeled on the snow, trembling. They hadn’t taken good care of Baili Yuan, so they were probably afraid of Shen Jue’s punishment. All of them were trembling violently, and even their faces were pale. Shen Jue furrowed his brow and looked for a while before saying, “Careless things, when the grand ceremony is over in a bit, go down and receive a beating!”
The maids and eunuchs repeatedly said yes, still trembling. Shen Jue saluted with clasped hands toward Baili Yuan and said, “I will leave now. Your Highness, tidy up properly, don’t be late.”
Baili Yuan said okay and lifted her hand to take the kite in the eunuch’s hands. The eunuch’s sleeve accidentally hooked onto the kite’s bamboo strip and tore a hole.
The eunuch hastily kneeled and kowtowed. “Marquis, please forgive me!”
Baili Yuan tilted her head and looked at him. “You broke the kite my brother gave me.”
Shen Jue said, “Your Highness, do not panic, I’ll have maids from the embroidery workshop to come and take a look. This hole isn’t big, it should be able to be fixed.”
“Chief Officer, will you kill him?” Baili Yuan looked up at Shen Jue, her dark eyes as clear as water.
Had his notoriety already gotten to this degree? Shen Jue reassured her, “Of course not, it will just be a small punishment.”
“Is that so, I thought you were a bad guy. I didn’t expect that you were a good person, Chief Officer,” Baili Yuan looked down as she said. Shen Jue didn’t react for a while; he had seen many people, yet this was his first time meeting someone who was so bad at talking.
He suddenly felt impatient and was just about to say goodbye. Suddenly, Baili Yuan pulled out a hairpin from her bun and thrusted it into the eye of the little eunuch. Blood instantly flowed, and the little eunuch howled as he laid on the ground, covering his eye and screaming.
Baili Yuan frowned and looked at him roll around wildly on the ground. “Huh, how come he isn’t dead yet?”
Everyone’s faces turned pale from fright, and even Shen Jue was shocked. He suddenly knew why this group of people in Jingyang Palace were trembling. They weren’t afraid of him, they were afraid of this girl. Baili Yuan still wanted to stab, but Shen Jue had people stop her, and then ordered for that eunuch to be lifted away. Blood flowed all the way along the snow, the red contrasting with white, another kind of dazzling.
A few drops of blood had splashed onto Baili Yuan’s snow-white face. She used her sleeve to wipe them, and lifted her face to ask Shen Jue, “I injured one of your people, Chief Officer, will you punish me?”
She was as fair as an ice sculpture and looked pretty, yet she was missing a bit of liveliness, so she looked oddly uncomfortable. Shen Jue suppressed the strange feeling that arose in his heart and said, “It was he who broke your kite first, Marquis, so it wouldn’t have been a problem even if you killed him. However, today is an auspicious day, and the emperor has a decree that the entire palace is not to see blood. Never mind, you have been wronged after all, so I’ll cover up today’s matter for you. The grand ceremony will be in a bit, so please go back earlier and tidy your things.”
“Chief Officer, you really have an eloquent mouth. With one remark, it became my fault.” Baili Yuan’s expression was indifferent. She threw the hairpin into the snow and turned her back, walking as she said, “I heard that you helped the Grand Secretariat implement political reforms lately, Chief Officer. You resolutely took out sinecure officials, not even letting your own Eastern Depot off the hook. At the end of the year, the matter of weakening vassal kingdoms will also be put on the agenda. Those who are several side branches away from the imperial family will all be demoted to commoners. I wonder if I, with a different surname than the emperor, will be among them?”
“The title of marquis has been handed down from your ancestors who seized power with the founding emperor. You are also a direct relative of the Baili clan, so of course you won’t be part of the weakened vassals.”
“I see.” Baili Yuan paused in her footsteps and looked down at the ground, rubbing her toe on the snow. “Where are you going to go now, Chief Officer?”
“I still have to wake His Majesty up.”
“Why do you have to go? Isn’t it good to let him sleep?” Baili Yuan said, “When he is asleep, all of the power in the world is in your hands.”
Shen Jue squinted his eyes slightly.
He suddenly couldn’t weigh this girl who looked to be only twelve years old. She seemed like a gentle and frail girl who had been bullied, yet she also seemed like a lady of a rich family who regarded human lives as weeds. She seemed to be afraid of him weakening vassals, yet also not afraid. Exactly what did she want?
This feeling of being unable to grasp his opponent was very bad. Shen Jue touched the tourmaline beads on his wrist and said, “Marquis, although you are still of a young age, you should still be discrete in your speech. I still have matters to attend to, so I won’t accompany you.”
“I thought that you were an evil spirit, I didn’t expect that you were a Bodhisattva.” Baili Yuan said, “It is also difficult for the most treacherous in the heart yet the most loyal on the surface to escape doom, Chief Officer.”
“It’s none of your business, Marquis, take care of yourself.” Shen Jue said in an indifferent voice, and clasped his hands behind his back as he walked on the narrow road.
Baili Yuan gazed at Shen Jue’s back that gradually grew distant, and the light red corners of her lips faintly hooked up, a sinister smile arising. That smile was extremely ferocious, and it made her look like a doll of an evil spirit.
She said in a low voice, “Then, I respectfully wish for the chief officer to be sung of through the ages and be remembered forever.”
So now we have another enemy? Who is this little girl?! Seriously! There seems to be more bloodshed coming! Thank you for the translation and editing!
Thank You for the chapter (´,,•ω•,,)♡
Shen Jue secretly taking his feelings for XL a big step forward, all while XL slept. Cheeky and daring.
This girl’s a Garan spy, I bet. What an unpleasant character.
More trouble and death on the way 😔
Thanks for translating, the T/Ns and editing.
Thank you so much for the chapter! Happy mid-autumn to you 🥮
Hope she won’t be the future empress
This little girl is super creepy!!! She’s so bizarre! Is she really just 12 years old?? Be careful SJ!
Thank you for the chapter!
I’m already very tired. Author, why can’t you give my children a peace?
Btw, my little boyfriend (CY) has finally appeared!!!!!!!!!!
Damn. I also think she’s a Garan spy.