Raising The Water (Part Two)
Waiting till all the officials have cleared away, Gui Wan stands up, walking up to the study room, before reaching the steps, the study room doors opens, and Lou Che walks out.
“Gui Wan?” The fragrance of herbaceous peony drifting over the entire garden, Lou Che smiles towards her.
Setting foot onto the steps, Gui Wan contains a tranquil smile, “About time Husband finished busying yourself……”
“Waited for long?” Holding up her hand, they slowly head towards the floral hall, “No need to wait for me to eat, careful of your body, don’t starve yourself.”
Lightly leaning on him, heart feeling as ease, Gui Wan smiles without answering.
The floral hall is already brightly lit up, Ling Long stands by the table, upon seeing the two of them arrive, she hurriedly orders the servants to start dinner. An entire table of steaming dishes, just smelling the aroma, will arouse one’s appetite.
Cups and dishes crisscrossing, seeing Lou Che down two cups of wine, Gui Wan was secretly surprised, placing down the jade chopsticks, asking: “Husband is in such a good mood today, did you encounter some sort of happy matter?”
“A person,” Looking at the alcohol swirling in the wine cup, Lou Che says: “Today I gained someone who is of great benefit to me.”
Is he pointing to that youth in cotton clothing? To actually be able to receive such great acknowledgement from Lou Che? “Oh? According to Husband’s words, even more talented than Guan Xiu Wen?”
Hearing this name, Lou Che’s wine cup touches the table, a dark expression faintly spreads. Back then in the estate he already felt that there is a gap between them that could not be eliminated no matter what, sure enough, that thought has been verified now, this boy takes to such viciously brutal means, acts with cutting decisiveness, also just like a promising youth of the next generation of the imperial court, although still lacking success right now, but in time, he will definitely become great disaster. And towards him, what annoys Lou Che most, is not his increasingly solidifying strength and capabilities, but his eyes, clear like water, yet also carrying madness.
That state of obsession seems to be dedicated towards Gui Wan……heart bursting into boiling irritations, seeing Gui Wan naturally blurt out this name, appearing calm, Lou Che is relieved, answering: “This person’s talent is not of the First Ranked Scholar talent, completely different to Guan Xiu Wen.”
Lightly curling her lips, Gui Wan sounds a laugh: “Could it be a military talent?” Seeing the appearance of that young commoner, he does not seem like a military talent, compared to Lin Rui En, feels like he is missing something.
“He may be highly skilled in martial arts, but does not have the talent to lead troops in battles,” Seeing Gui Wan’s displeased state, Lou Che is slightly startled, no one could have imagined, even though they have been married for more than three years, seeing her heavenly smile every day, his heart still palpitates because of her, seeming to have already been completely satisfied, “His talent lies in being able to replace any single person within the imperial court.”
Seeing Gui Wan lightly crease her brows, Lou Che explains: “Gaining him alone, is equal to gaining an entire family line. Have you by chance heard of the Shu Clan down south?”
Seeming to have seen a recording of this in San Niang’s notebook, vaguely remembering San Niang has once noted that this family comes from the martial arts world, but operates in an honest and upright manner, a rich and generous family. Gui Wan takes a look at Lou Che, “What of the Shu Clan?”
“This family has gave birth to talented people for generations, carries out tasks extremely carefully, with but a few years, emerged as a rising power within the southern area, a promising future.”
Gaining one person, equal to gaining the entire family is originally of this meaning. The final mouthful of soup into the throat, Gui Wan raises her head, looking at Lou Che, originally desiring to tell him of today’s matter, but looking at it now, it is not the right time, sighing in her heart, forget it, forget it. The conflict within this imperial court is already intense, why add another score to it, he and the Emperor really is to further deepen the bad blood between them, only afraid that these days of peace is already coming to an end.
Vaguely seeing worries hung between her brows, Lou Che softly asks: “Not feeling well?”
Shaking her head, Gui Wan’s smile blossoms, “Sat in the garden for too long, the flower fragrance has made me feel drowsy.”
Taking a closer look at her fatigue already showing, Lou Che is absolutely pained in the heart, standing up, he takes her hand, “Since you are tired, do not force yourself to go on, quickly go back to take a rest.” Reaching out to stroke her hair, lightly stopping at the tip of her hair, when she stands up, he gently holds her waist.
Although aware that Gui Wan is not frail, but he always unconsciously wants to tuck her under his wing. With the current situation of instability, only this Prime Minister Estate, seems to be the ark in the chaotic waves, no matter how the outside world is struggling in the open rivalry and hidden scheming, here, it will forever be of fragrant flowers and singing birds. His turn of a hand to form clouds, flip of hand to form rain, is all but in exchange for a corner of cosiness. During early dawn, to see Gui Wan groom herself in front of the dressing mirror, inside and outside of the courtyard, seeing Gui Wan’s laughter linger around. An entire life intoxicated in trickeries, only he knows, gaining power is not easy, losing it is but within a blink of an eye.
“What is Husband thinking about?” Turning down the corridor, already arriving at the room doors, Gui Wan turns her head to look at Lou Che.
Lou Che gently strokes her cheek, whispering: “Blusher lighting the jade.” Pushing open the doors upon entering, lighting up the candles, the inside of the room instantly brightens up, silk brocaded draperies, tassels of the glass palace lanterns swaying, dressing table made of carved rosewood, all greeting the eyes.
Taking out the hair ornaments, allowing the black hair to flow down, Gui Wan’s body like mist covered water circulating around her, “Looks like Husband really has special liking to the herbaceous peony,” This blusher is a famous herbaceous peony product, a lot of it has been sent into the estate today.
This smile of hers really is like dispelling the clouds to see the sun, no words can describe how distinguished and admirable such elegance is, Lou Che silently watches her clear off the excessive magnificence (make up), long hair fluttering along with her beauty.
Lifting her up, placing her on the bed, covering her with the silk quilt, watching her close her eyes, until her breathing settles, revealing the state of sinking into sweet sleep, and only then did he settle down, placing a kiss on her cheek, with soft speech and low laughter: “This blusher lighting the jade, since when was I speaking of the peonies.” Reluctant to part, he repeatedly looks at her, before finally standing up, walking out of the room.
Feeling like he was only in the room for short moment, only upon stepping out did he find, the moon is already sitting above the willow tree.
The old housekeeper and Lou Sheng stands at the entrance of the courtyard, waiting for Lou Che to step out of the inner courtyard, the two of them bows their head in apology.
“I heard someone sent a pot of tree peonies today?” A deep voice asks, Lou Che reveals a biting chill within his faint smile.
“Yes,” The old housekeeper follows behind him, heading towards the discussion hall, “Heard a lord amongst the many carriages sent it.”
“Who did Madam see today?” Gui Wan was a little absentminded, he may have not mentioned it, but has indeed noted it inside.
“This……” Forehead lined with sweat, the old housekeeper evasively answers, “Madam did leave for a little while, perhaps it was only to admire the flowers by the front doors……”
A sound of a cold scoff cutting off his words, Lou Che turns to his left, “Lou Sheng!”
Lou Sheng silently takes two steps forward without a word, closely following behind.
“How did the investigation go?”
“Unfortunately failed to accomplish orders.” A sonorous and forceful answer.
The study room quiet to point that one can even hear a needle drop, Lou Che sits at the desk for a long time, suddenly letting out a long drawn out sigh: “You’re saying, in the end there is no movements?”
“Yes, General Lin is stationed at the border, this past month, only a small number of defensive troops have been mobilised, all within a normal range.” Lou Sheng stands straight, with not a trace of laxness as he answers, the terrible scars on half his face hidden in the shadows.
“Stationed at the frontier? Could it be an imminent war?” Lou Che has a trace of suspicions, “Nu King passed away two months ago, the Nu Tribe is currently thrown into chaos with inner struggles, Lin Rui En has no need to personally take charge of the frontier……”
“That is right, according to investigations, the Nu Tribe is indeed showing no signs of starting war.”
Waves of faintly elegant floral fragrance flowing in from the half opened windows, like the sweetness of fruits, Lou Che half squints his eyes, as though he is in deep thoughts, hooking up a smile, “These two months, you have been at the frontier, from what you seen, Lin Rui En, how is this person?”
Surprised by this question, Lou Sheng raises his face, without thinking of the previous two questions, he immediately answers, feeling a little hesitant right now, thinking over it a few times, before saying: “Is a true man.” Work and rest along with the other soldiers, not arrogant not impulsive, good mannered, calm and collected when commanding, indeed the demeanour of a famous general.
Knowing that his words “true man” contains many meanings, Lou Che smiles, eyes as darks as night sweeping past him, “The Lin family has been loyal and righteous for generations, gaining the most trust from the Emperor, at this time, with no signs of war, he stands guard at the borders, this sure is interesting……”
A great Zheng Liu, is this the imperial heart standing on top this time round?
Using fundamental principles to face the shifting events?
All along, he has been keeping watch of Lin Rui En’s every move, what Zheng Liu relies on, other than the portion of close ministers within the Capital, is this military pillar, this time round, not transferring Lin Rui En back into the Capital, is it because of putting another scheme in play, or is to fool others?
“Lord Prime Minister.” Lou Sheng lowly calls out, watching Lou Che very leisurely open his eyes, “Just now, I saw that Shu Yu Tian wandering outside the Prime Minister Estate.”
“Shu Yu Tian?” Lightly mumbling this, only just recalling this is the name of the southern Shu Clan’s leader, Lou Che creases his brows, a long while after, he says, “Send for someone to continue monitoring Lin Rui En’s every move, also, investigate into the southern Shu Clan’s situation.”
Lou Sheng simply answers yes, his lowered bowing posture unchanging.
The room restores its earlier silence, slight stuffiness also contained within, floral fragrance overflowing, also tasting like the influence of pure alcohol in affect.
Lou Che lazily leans back on the chair, eyes lightly closing, seeming to have already fallen asleep, yet Lou Sheng remains absolutely motionless, silently waiting.
“Tell the housekeeper to pick out a few beauties, then choose some treasures, gifting it to Shu Yu Tian.” Opening his eyes, Lou Che supports his cheek in one hand, displaying the clear noble demeanour of dignitary.
Lou Sheng freezes without responding, although gifting wealth, gifting beauties is a good way to win people over, but very little does Lord Prime Minister use this method, why would he order such this time? To have ordered to investigate the Shu Clan’s background just now……towards the Shu Clan, exactly is he trusting or not?
“Lord Prime Minister, what if he does not accept them?”
“Not accepting, is a clear statement that he has other intentions.” If he does not accept, this point will be proved, everything the Shu Clan wants, is far beyond status and money.
“Shu Clan is originally wealthy, not accepting, could perhaps be because he does not care……” Knowing Lord Prime Minister currently needs to use people, Lou Sheng speaks up in the Shu Clan’s defence.
Lou Che lowly laughs upon hearing this, but his smile does not reach his eyes, “One who is money greedy never has enough of gaining money, one who is lustful never has enough of gaining more beauties. if he really does not accept it, then it is clear that his ambitions does not just stop there, this type of person, will definitely become great disaster in future.”
Heavily nodding a few time, announcing his leave, Lou Sheng walks out of the study room.
Slowly standing up, Lou Che paces up to the window, within the darkness, using the thin lighting of the moon, he sees an entire courtyard of herbaceous peony flowers arousing sympathy and affection as they sway in the wind, a willowy posture.
“Tree peony……” Lightly sounding a sigh, practically inaudible, he deeply frowns.
In this entire world there is only one person who dares to send the king of flowers on this day……a great trick of psychological attacks makes the best offense, both wanting to shake his confidence, also wanting to use the flowers to warn him, no matter how valuable the herbaceous peony is, it is still below the tree peony.
Not putting Lin Rui En to use, could it be the Emperor has another dependence? Is it the Capital’s provincial commander in chief? Or is it the one with gradually strengthening wings Guan Xiu Wen?
Between long term survival and disputes, Lou Che has already grown accustomed to the existence of intrigues, only this time, there is no warning at all, yet he is able to sense an existing danger……
Must gradually consolidate with every step, only then would he be able to keep hold of everything.
Playing on the chessboard, playing with the entire world.
Hurried steps entering the inner courtyard, the fragrance of herbaceous peonies clinging to the nostrils, relaxing the heart. Lou Sheng slows down his pace, waves of pleasant laughter suddenly reaches his ears from the chambers of the inner courtyard, he attentively looks over, by the flowerbeds in the inner courtyard, Prime Minister Lou, Madam playing a game of chess, Ru Qing, Ru Ming and other maids standing in waiting, even the old housekeeper is standing by the side, attentively watching.
Silently coming to a stop, Lou Sheng stands at a distance, a small booklet firmly held in hand, not knowing whether to enter or withdraw in this moment.
Summer air gradually thickening, rendering the entire city in lush green, just like the previous years, southeast wind rises, bringing great vitality to the Capital City. And this year, within this high spirited green there is the addition of other gorgeous colours blending in, really does give a great feeling to the heart.
The situation in the imperial court like an arrow readied on the bow, tensing the more it stretches. Battle of the political parties appears to be unavoidable, the camps of officials in the Capital has also been sharply divided, seeming to be a huge gamble, choosing one between the two parties, the victors shall continue to stand prideful in officialdom, the losers will have nothing.
The Lou Estate is clearly the leading wave of the war, first to be affected, but right when this undercurrent is surging, amongst such time of open rivalry and hidden scheming, this inner courtyard is actually overflowing with floral fragrance bringing faint leisure, flowers clustered like a brocade.
Laughter occasionally drifting past right now, peace masking the disputes in the imperial court, or is it but a scene of illusionary splendour?
“Lou Sheng, why the need to stand so far away?” As he is placing down the chess piece, Lou Che turns his head to see a figure stood in the courtyard, calling out to him.
Lou Sheng nods his head, walking forward, standing to the left of the chessboard as he hides the booklet behind him, only here, is one able to see Lord Prime Minister’s sincere and hearty laughter, why should he rudely disturb him?
Lou Che as white, Gui Wan as black, performing exhilarating kills on the chessboard, Gui Wan’s chess skills is in fact far more lacking that that of Lou Che’s, with but only one word of ingenious is she able to repeatedly engage in the struggles with Lou Che, Lou Che too is holding back a bit, the two people’s joy lies in playing chess, and not in winning.
White rises black falls, in a blink of an eye the chessboard already reaches another win-lose conclusion, Ru Qing, Ru Ming covers their mouths in laughter, Gui Wan pouts her lips, ten fingers spreading out, pushing across the chessboard, murmuring: “Lost again, not playing anymore.” On the chessboard, the black and white chess pieces mixes together, beyond recognition.
Even the old housekeeper could not hold back from spreading a smile, Lou Che is only able to smile in helplessness, only in this precise moment, is he able to catch a glimpse of Gui Wan’s reckless and spoilt demeanour, how could he bear to disagree with her, just let it go with a smile, not speaking of winning or losing again.
Gui Wan raises her head and notices Lou Sheng stood by the side, although carrying a faint smile, but hands are hidden behind his back, slightly aware that he must have important matters to report, she gathers away her deep smiles, standing up, mouth mumbling chess is a waste of mental thinking, leading the two maids far away in leave.
Elegantly delicate laughter faintly fades after her.
“Lord Prime Minister,” Lou Sheng presents the booklet in hand before him, passing it to the front of the chessboard, “Here is the investigations of the southern Shu Clan and the recent situation in the Capital.”
Left hand holding a black chess piece, very casually tossing it onto the chessboard, sounding a clear ring as it falls, Lou Che accepts the booklet, flipping through the pages, coming to an abrupt stop, eyes fixed on the booklet, “How did the sending of gifts go?”
Lou Sheng’s eyes also falls upon the page Lou Che has his attention on, it is only a very ordinary report introducing the family structure of the Shu Clan, slightly surprised, he answers: “Already sent them over, Shu Yu Tian accepted them all, and appeared very pleased too.”
Very attentively looking over the same page a few times, Lou Che closes the booklet, “This Shu Clan is still a truly difficult puzzle.”
“Did Lord Prime Minister not say, if he accepted all this, then it is good to use the Shu Clan?” Lou Sheng speaks of the questions in his heart.
“You say he accepted the beauties and treasures with a very pleased expression,” Lou Che stirs the scattered chess pieces beside the chessboard, seeming to be considering something, suddenly smiling, “In your eyes, do you think Madam is beautiful?”
Freezing on the spot, not only Lou Sheng’s mouth drops, even the housekeeper reveals an expression of being hit by the absolutely unimaginable. Struck dumbfounded for a while, Lou Sheng snaps out of it, seeing that Lord Prime Minister seems to be waiting for the answer, he seriously thinks it over, in his heart, naturally there is no woman better, prettier than Ran Yi in this world. But he too is no fool, naturally aware of Madam’s beauty, a rare find in this world, such direct answer, would it not be too rude? It is in his nature to not lie in front of Lou Che, and so he bluntly speaks: “Madam is beautiful beyond compare.”
“I heard Housekeeper say, when Shu Yu Tian stepped out of the room, seeing Gui Wan, he turns a blind eye, a person like this, even Gui Wan’s beauty is unable to shake him in the slightest, how could he be tempted by the beauties gifted, afraid that his attitude of pleasure is also an act. This person’s scheming is far beyond yours and my expectations.”
Sailing through the many ups and downs within officialdom for many years, he had long gained the insight into the phenomena in the world, gaining the First Ranked Scholar title before the tender age of twenty, then due to contributing to Crown Prince’s death, experienced standing on top of the political dispute against the Empress Dowager, all this were not reliant on luck.
“According to Lord Prime Minister’s meaning, Shu Clan is to be abandoned, not of use?”
“Such talent, how could we possibly not use,” Lou Che stands up, sweeping his eyes across the garden of flickering emerald green, “Use whenever of use, the Shu Clan has all types of talented people, rather than letting others use them, why not leave it for our own use, but must remain three points on guard towards them.” A matter of urgency, need to first solidify his power, this battle of power between him and Zheng Liu, the stances of the officials within the Capital is already very difficult to change at this point, to gain assisting strength at a time like this, it will undoubtedly add to a better grasp, as to whether this assisting strength will become a threat in future, it is better to wait till the dispute with Zheng Liu is over before taking it into greater consideration.
Lou Sheng bows his head gladly convinced, “Yes, I shall go arrange work for the Shu Clan.”
A month after this, the Shu Clan is working under the Prime Minister Estate, indeed as Lou Che has expected, using the Shu Clan is very beneficial, taking action within the Capital, wining over officials, passing on information and so on, they carry out tasks thoroughly, careful in taking care of matters. Be it in terms of people, finance, material, the Shu Clan holds extremely strong assets, playing up a multiplier effect.
The situation in the Capital remains at a deadlock. The reforming of the “Central Academy” proposed by the Emperor has not progressed in the slightest, and the six divisions based in Prime Minister Lou’s party are also actively working, other than increasing the influence on the Capital’s officials, Lou Che has also established contact with local officials of the southern region, consolidating the power in his hands.
In imperial court lies peace and prosperity, outside imperial court lies disputes and struggles.
Amidst the heat of July, Minister of Personnel from the six divisions dies a sudden death. Not even three days after the news of death spread, and the original Assistant Minister of Personnel has taken over the minister post, at the same time, Zheng Liu announces Guan Xiu Wen as Assistant Minister of Personnel. The former Assistant Minister of Personnel is a cowardly person by nature, was originally wavering between the dispute of two political parties, to face such a severe situation right now, he is even more afraid to speak too much of matters regarding the ministry of personnel, taking shelter with the front of recuperating his health, Guan Xiu Wen this newly appointed Assistant Minister thus perfectly justifiably becomes the true power holder of the ministry of personnel.
Mid-July, Prime Minister Estate.
Summer heat scorching hot, people exhausted as cicadas sounds their calls, lotus leaves linking together, with red lotus head floating above the green waves, a passing of slight breeze, lightly forming ripples, the fireflies happily frolics around, dots of red against the emerald green, such movements suitably fitting.
“A great strategy of raiding…..” Looking at the beautiful scene within the courtyard, Lou Che sounds a sigh, “Rather than putting Zhang’s hat on Li’s head (to wrongly attribute something to another), just grasp hold of the ministry of personnel, his majesty can also be considered to have expended much care and thoughts.”
“Lord Prime Minister, the timing of Minister of Personnel’s death is far too coincidental, could it be……” Lou Sheng lowers his voice as he speaks, reaching up to wipe the sweat on his face. The study room is located in a peaceful area, but with the scorching heat of summer, the heat endlessly flows in from outside, so stuffy that it gets to one’s head.
“So what if that is the case, the outcome already turned out like this, even if we are to investigate the cause of death, it will still be of no help.” Within such gentle refined tone there hides a trace of anger that even he himself does not realise, Lou Che takes hold of the teacup from the table and takes a drink, fan gently swaying, looking out to the cloudless skies and lotus pond.
Towards this move of Zheng Liu’s, he cannot not be full of praises, to take to such means, is not only beyond everyone’s expectations, but also holds a shock factor.
Lou Che silently stands, for a while, not a single person makes a sound within the study.
“Lord Prime Minister,” The old housekeeper stands outside the study room doors, solemn and cautious as he reports from there, “Shu Yu Tian is requesting for an audience.”
“Oh?” Arousing a trace of interest, Lou Che sits up straight, “Welcome.” To come at a time like, he believes there must be a strategy to offer, he shall like to see, exactly what kind of spectacular capability the Shu Clan has.
The housekeeper sounds his reply, for a moment no sound can be heard from outside, after a while, the half opened doors are slowly pushed opened, a youth in commoner’s clothing steps into the room, his facial features very delicate, but once put together, it can only be described with the word ordinary, the most characteristic feature is that pair of phoenix eyes, elegance exhibited within his gaze. Upon entering, he bends his body in a bow, “Greeting Lord Prime Minister.”
“Why all the formalities, please sit.” Lou Che faintly smiles, graciously motioning his hand, signalling for him to sit on the guest seat.
The housekeeper behind him orders a maid to serve up tea, Lou Che exchanges a few words of pleasantries with him, Shu Yu Tian acts reasonably, neither humble nor pushy, responding appropriately, speaking carefully yet smoothly.
“Is Lord Prime Minister troubled by the ministry of personnel matters?” Only three people remains in the room, Shu Yu Tian takes a few glances outside, thinking over it a few times, before speaking out loud.
Straight to the point, also eliminating the need to speculate his thoughts, Lou Che frankly says: “That’s right.”
“Lord Prime Minister originally had six divisions in the palm of your hand, holding the lifeline of the imperial court, despite the bad blood between you and his majesty, his majesty misgivings are too deep, daring not to do anything, this is Lord Prime Minister’s greatest advantage to this day. And with Minister of Personnel’s death, the situation goes through a huge shift, the current minister holds the position but does not care for its matters, the one who truly holds power is Lord Guan. Lord Guan may be Lord Prime Minister’s student in name, but his heart is more biased towards his majesty,” Pausing for a moment, he takes a peek at Lou Che’s expression, seeming to show no signs of annoyance nor anger, Shu Yu Tian puts his heart at ease, the endless flow of analysis continues, “The six divisions are thus unable to connect into one wall, Lord Prime Minister’s power has also revealed a crack. The ministry of personnel to others, may not be of much importance, but to Lord Prime Minister, it is of extreme importance, is it not?”
A clear flash sweeps past those deep orbs, Lou Che hooks up the corner of his lips, smiling at Shu Yu Tian, “Your observation is very thorough.”
“Lord Prime Minister is over praising, our Shu Clan is dedicated in serving Lord Prime Minister, of course we will look at Lord Prime Minister’s political career in greater importance than anything else.” Shu Yu Tian sits straight, behaving with utmost seriousness, “Amongst the six divisions, ministry of personnel determines the promotions and transferring of officials, one cannot see the importance of their role within a short moment, but as time goes on, it will definitely affect Lord Prime Minister. This one move of the current Emperor, can be described as taking away the firewood from under the cauldron, is of extreme formidability.”
Indeed a talent, analysing the situation without a single drop of flaw, Lou Che casually sways his fan, faintly speaking: “Whatever great plan you have, you may speak of it directly.”
Appearing rather surprised by such direct manner of Lou Che’s, Shu Yu Tian is slightly stunned, then smiles: “Lord Prime Minister, since his majesty disrupted our camp, we can completely follow his example.”
Using one’s doings to apply on another’s body, indeed a great plan. Lou Che deeply ponders without a word, taking into consideration each and every possible candidate in his mind, unable to think of who he can send to the Emperor’s side and also be able to disrupt the opposition. The forbidden courtyard of the imperial palace is completely within Zheng Liu’s grasp, with no place to lay a hand on, as for the officials’ side, it is also difficult to control and win over.
“His majesty is a profound person, difficult to predict, it is difficult to lay hands on such aspect.” With a wave of his hand, lightly disagreeing with this strategy, Lou Che’s eyes does not even blink as they stare at him.
“Others are unable to implement this strategy, but for Lord Prime Minister, it is not impossible.” Shu Yu Tian speaks of it so leisurely, seeming to have everything thought out, “May Lord Prime Minister first listen to two literary quotations.”
“I am all ears.”
“The first one, to endure hardships to accomplish ambitions in practice of eclipsing, the story of offering a beauty to King Fu Chai of Wu and restoring the state; the second one, is Lu Bu Wei of the Qin state, with a song hostess marrying King of Qin and so on, the story of power tyranny in the web of court relations.”
These two stories have long been overripe in his ears, even young children knows of them, Lou Che creases his brows, a chill carried within his smile, self-knowing projecting from within his eyes, “The beauty trap is of no use on his majesty.” The matter of Consort Ying serving as a lesson, Zheng Liu is simply good at acting, and not actually one who is intoxicated in beauties.
“Perhaps Lord Prime Minister does not know, I have received word from within the palace, his majesty has ordered for the main hall of Jing Ye to be named Yin Yue Hall, and there was once a woman who lived within the hall for as long as half a year, his majesty’s attitude towards this can be said to be of an extreme special case,” Shu Yu Tuan abruptly stands up from his seat, kneeling on the ground, “This person, is Lord Prime Minister’s Madam.”
Because of this one phrase, the entire room falls into still silence, one can still hear the sound of cicadas outside the window, each little cry, pricking into one’s heart, the originally still incomparably hot air, upon seeping into the study room actually carries a chill. Lou Sheng watches the person kneeling on the ground, face suddenly pales, suddenly reddens, sweat sliding down from his face onto the floor, carrying an incomparably abnormal silence. First turning his head to the side, looking at Lou Che, his face of gloomy chill, fingers tightly clenching around the fan, knuckles already white.
“You–––want–––to–––die?” Lou Che grits his teeth as he spits the words out one by one, hand unconsciously exerting strength, restraining his monstrous fumes.
“Lord Prime Minister,” Even if it has come to this point, Shu Yu Tian’s voice is still as calm as before, his bowed head raises, facing Lou Che, “In terms of patience and endurance, his majesty undoubtedly stands above you, over time, Lord Prime Minister’s power is bound to take a fall. Lord Prime Minister, Madam is a fatal soft burden to you, rather than having it this way, why not turn your greatest weakness into his majesty’s soft burden, such disadvantage will be eliminated, this is but a great advantage to you ah! One woman, in exchange for the power to grasp hold of this world, is it not worth it?”
Such speech blurted out from his mouth, renders the entire study room silent, this unimaginably bold strategy clear and resounding, leaving all those within the room thunderstruck.
Hand stealthily gripping onto the sword handle by his side, Lou Sheng glares at Shu Yu Tian, his face cold and murderous, just waiting for Lou Che’s one word of order, he shall immediately spring into action, making sure to have the one kneeling on the ground splatter his blood in all five directions.
Shu Yu Tian notices his killing intent, his kneeling posture remains absolutely unchanged, coldly glancing at Lou Sheng, with not a single move, he stares ahead, with calm demeanour, an appearance of complete certainty.
The air abnormally heavy and pressing, flowing with hot breathing, every minute and second becomes very long, Lou Sheng hand tightly gripped onto the sword handle grows sweaty, but still hears not a single order from Lou Che, his heart hit with a chill, turns his head towards the person at the desk.
Never has he seen Lou Che like this before, such evident expression of dejection clearly displayed on the face, the nicely shaped eyebrows deeply knitted together, face slightly paled, even that elegant smile that is always displayed has disappeared without a trace, Lou Sheng was secretly afraid. Just when his doubts were uncertain, Lou Che closes his eyes, covering the deeply heavy pain within his eyes, acting like he is in deep thoughts, half leaning back against the chair.
Lou Sheng’s hold on the sword handle can only loosen, in this incomparably stuffy and hot afternoon, the calling of cicadas can be constantly heard, all of this is just like an illusion, behinds such peace there lies battles, plotting, and all this once again makes this originally hot summer grow even more intensely heated, practically making people feel suffocated.
Exactly what is Lord Prime Minister who has both his eyes closed thinking?
Lou Sheng’s mind is blank, within such haziness, he suddenly recalls many things that he originally should have forgotten, but is eventually lost amongst the memories of stories from the past.
He is one who followed Lou Che since the very beginning.
In his memories, back at the Crown Prince Estate, Lou Che was still a grown child no longer small, born with delicate and graceful handsome looks, eyes bright and clear like water, first time he saw him, he had even thought he is a gentleman of the Crown Prince Estate, only later did he find out he is but a freeloader, of lowly status.
But it is this frail youth, who diligently studied literary documents every day, such embodiment of perseverance even he this martial arts person could only sigh in acknowledgement of his own lacking compared to him. Ever since then, did he find, this good looking youth has the potential to become successful.
Listed as First Ranked Scholar at fifteen years old, practically becoming the phenomenon of the Capital City at the time.
A body of a young man, silk clothing jade hair crown, leaping body onto the horse, distinguished and admirable, glorious good looks.
When the flow of congratulating people came coming up to the doors, he finds that that youth has started to change, a smile hung on his face at all times, such smile like the spring breeze, the clearness in his eyes slowly fading away, replacing it is deepness like a quiet lake.
Becoming an official under the Crown Prince is but a matter of course, and he himself has become his person bodyguard, watching him step by step get closer to the heart of power, watching him transform from original nervousness into increasing sophistication.
Like a snowball growing bigger and bigger as he was drawing closer to power. Giving rise the Crown Prince’s dread, even motivated him to kill, and that youth who had been involved in officialdom for two years was a step ahead in sensing the danger, acting decisively on the spot, turning to assist the Empress Dowager at the time, giving her advices and suggestions from behind the scenes. Once Crown Prince died of illness, Empress Dowager seizing all power, the youth had already transformed from a little chick into a soaring eagle.
With exceptionally keen insights, great courage holding no fear no dread, taking to lethal means between cheerful chatting and laughter, with astuteness and resourcefulness of devising strategies in a command tent……practically all conditions required to all successes, he has them all.
In such turbulent struggle, he even managed to take the first step before that sly old fox of an Empress Dowager, winning over the senior officials, pinning accusations, leading the imperial guards, eventually forcing the Empress Dowager to her death in Chong Hua Hall.
The dreariness of that scene back then, just like a vivid happening before his eyes, after the Empress Dowager drank down all the poisoned wine, bleeding out from all seven apertures within the hall, Lou Che step by step steps down from the hall, dampened blue robes, eyes like bright stars, carrying a posture of innate noble elegance, a touch of unknown meaning in his smile, disdainfully side eyeing the arrogance of all the officials, such shocking talent.
Once he regained his senses, he only just found that he himself has already unconsciously kneeled down in the hall, it was also from that very moment, he loyally devotedly guarded this master, standing behind him, watching him rise higher and higher, standing above the clouds.
Power growing greater and greater, the original crystal clear youth was never to be seen again, waiting for so many years, finally meeting Madam, only deep within this garden, are there truly sincere smiles, could it be……right now he has to once again abandon all this for power?
Officialdom like the sea, has no limits, exactly what direction will his master head into?
Memories like a tide, thoughts tumbling, Lou Sheng holds very deep feelings, clanking man suddenly gains an additional sound of a sigh, silently waiting for Lou Che’s final decisions. (Clanking refers to the clanking noise of metal, referring to Lou Sheng as a man who only knows how to wave his sword around and fight).
Lou Che silent leans his back against the chair without a word, closing his eyes to think, cutting off all outside interference, Shu Yu Tian’s every word has hit against his heart, constantly echoing.
How much forms this word can take on. The power of one hand covering the skies, the ability to grasp hold of fate, all this is what he had vaguely looked forward to having. Nearly a decade of roaming the sea officialdom, time and time again brushing past death, this battle of the imperial court with no swords and blades visible, who knows how much more dangerous it is compared the fighting with all one’s might on the battlefield.
Since the age of twenty, he understood how to protect himself, how to eliminate opponents, all types of means and resourcefulness honed through survival, became his instincts.
Everything he has today are all his personal gains, with no one else’s help, even with people ridiculing him “sly as a fox, venomous as a snake” behind his back, he just turns a deaf ear, giving his all, to gain such attitude of looking down on the world in return.
And right now, all of this can possibly come to naught overnight……
Zheng Liu, never did he know he hid it so deeply, whilst he was opposing the Crown Prince with full force, he must have been coldly observing from the side right? Such deep obscurity, truly makes Lou Che admire him from the bottom of his heart.
Imperial power, originally thinking it is already something he cannot reach for, today he is evenly matched with and is struggling for, and the one holding the imperial power, seems to have also fallen for Gui Wan.
Truly laughable to the extreme……
He had long grown used to scheming, but never did he think, one day, Gui Wan would be dragged into the scheme, and he must also make a choice.
Mind endlessly replaying the journey he took on throughout these years. Within the Crown Prince Estate, he studied literary documents written by wise men day and night, outside in the courtyard, there is also a pond dyed blue from the rinsing of ink from his brushes, every day accompanied by books, learning how fight for power within such loneliness. Outside the imperial court, a very very long official road, he slowly walks past, seeing hundreds of officials lower their heads in bowing, every word every deed, deciding the movement of the imperial court.
Struggling for so many years, other than power, what else has he gained?
Suddenly opening his eyes, Lou Che looks out of the window, Lou Sheng and Shu Yu Tian were both surprised, simultaneously following his eyes in looking outside, the sky of cloudless blue, emerald green flickering in the garden, every spot flowing with the uniquely rich flavour of summer.
In a situation where no one else is able to sense anything out of the ordinary, Lou Che actually reveals a trace of faint smile, only he, seems to hear a burst of extremely pleasant laughter.
“No.” The painful struggles expressed on his face completely vanishes, Lou Che lowers his head and looks at Shu Yu Tian, restoring his handsome elegance, within that seemingly warm and gentle voice, there actually carries firm rejection.
Shu Yu Tian completely freezes, seeming to have not expected such an outcome, “Lord Prime Minister, think over it again……” This great opportunity is hard to come by, in accordance to Lou Che’s personality, he should not be rejecting this suggestion, why……
One wave of a hand stops him from speaking further, “Enough, you listen to me, let me hear such words again, then you shall not bother thinking of leaving this place alive.”
Heart thunderstruck, Shu Yu Tian understands he is able to do as he says, heart not feeling resigned, still wanting to speak again, when Lou Sheng had already took two steps forward, completely blocking off his opportunity to speak. Sinking into silence for a while, he struggles repeatedly, lamenting, he could only give up.
The room turns quiet, Lou Che watches Lou Sheng half carry a threatening demeanour in “sending the guest” out the door, only he alone remains in the room.
Feeling somewhat irritated, even he himself cannot clearly tell, why he had flatly rejected Shu Yu Tian’s suggestion just now, and can only attribute it to instincts, thinking that he cannot let Gui Wan remain in the Prime Minister Estate, he could not suppress the pain in his heart; thinking that he needs to send her beyond those tall red walls, his heart even more so felt like someone was twisting a knife into it.
The woman he dotes on, the woman he loves, how could he bear having her suffer the slightest grievance?
Forget it, forget it……
“Why still sitting there when you finished discussing?” The study room doors are pushed open, the ray of light follows in, Lou Che opens his eyes, amongst the radiant glow, he sees Gui Wan step in, her clear resonant voice giving him a sense of peace.
Raising his brows, before he could speak up, he sees Gui Wan walking into the room, carrying a sweet and elegant smile, heart missing a beat, words stuck in his throat, not a single sound uttered.
Heart like a clear mirror, he suddenly understands.
Monstrous power, one hand covering the sky……in exchange, turns out he needs only her……
One shallow smile ah……
Walking out of the courtyard, Shu Yu Tian has a face of gloom, refusal to feel resigned, looking back at the Prime Minister Estate plaque, expression filled with complications. He slowly walks towards a horse carriage waiting around the corner from the Prime Minister Estate, hopping onto the carriage, having just sat himself down, yet to regretfully speak up, inside the carriage is already a person who is sitting cross legged, his posture strange, smiling towards him: “What’s wrong? Looking at your face, seems to be very regretful……”
“Lou Che is originally a trickery talent, who knew he would also be so blockheaded,” Shu Yu Tian looks at the other person, continuing to say, “Unfortunate, really unfortunate……”
“Unfortunate? What’s unfortunate?”
“Unfortunate his failure is already showing, looks like this side of mine is also going to lose.”
The person in the carriage could not hold back from bursting out in laughter, after half a day did he hold back his laughing: “No need to haste, Yu Hai’s side also does not seem to be going smooth, be it win or lose, it is not yet conclusive. Besides, so what if you two lose or win, in the end, the final victor is the entire clan.”
Shu Yu Tian’s face gradually eases down, recalling the scene back in the Prime Minister Estate just now, he lightly sounds a sigh, not saying anymore.
The horse carriage heads west, amongst the afterglow of the sunset, it gradually disappears……
In heaven’s recording of the fourth year, in the occasion of early autumn, the inner imperial court is swept into endless storms, although it is no big matter that greatly impacts the situation, trivial matters are coming one after another, struggles between factions are intensifying the longer it drags on, even the ordinary commoners of the Capital City can somewhat smell it in the air.
At the end of august, a little known low ranked official of the Hanlin Academy (an imperial academy), suddenly petitioned to impeach the Minister of Revenue. In the memorial to the throne, he clearly and precisely points out that the Minister of Revenue having been an official for many years, has been taking bribes and bending the law, abusing power for personal gains, even all of Minister of Revenue’s entry accounts have been marked clearly, just like looking at the original copy. Also grieving that should such officials not be eliminated, it is difficult as a civilian to overcome such difficulty and respect the laws of the imperial court, all that was written in the memorial to the throne, was written in sharp cutting strokes, full of feelings. It was on the very next day, the Emperor although did not clearly speak of it, but already has the meaning to charge such offense. The current Grand Secretary of the imperial court, Prime Minister Lou declined to comment.
On the next day, another official under the ministry of labour impeached that low ranked official of the Hanlin Academy, pointing out that during his time in the Hanlin Academy, the history book recordings of the late emperor were written with ill intent, with the treacherous intention to profane the late emperor. All of a sudden, the low ranked official of the Hanlin Academy turned from being the original prosecutor to being the accused. Amongst the imperial court, the two factions engaged in endless disputes.
This matter opened up the prelude to the battles of factions in the heaven’s recording of the fourth year, later recorded in history as “Hanlin Petition”. A historian of a later generation had pointed out, this matter merely pulled out the past few years of small scale struggles between the two factions onto the main stage, at the same time, it is also the first time the Emperor and Lou Che directly went head to head in confrontation, both having the means of probing at each other. And that low ranked official of the Hanlin Academy and the ministry of labour official, merely opened up the path to this confrontation stage.
The Prime Minister Estate is still the same, red maple leaves fluttering down as they descend.
Ever since that secret talk, Lou Che stood on higher alert towards Shu Yu Tian, but did not act upon it, there is only one reason for this, to separate energy and manpower right now in order to deal with Shu Yu Tian, is an extremely unwise course of action, it will directly affect the capabilities and strength of the Prime Minister Estate, moreover, it is easy to deal with Shu Yu Tian, but to eradicate the stable foundation of the Shu Clan in the southern area is no easy task.
At the same time, he has grown extremely doubtful of the Shu Clan. Matters of the back courtyard in the imperial palace, ever since Zheng Liu personally took charge, it is extremely difficult to gain intelligence, and the matter that Shu Yu Tian mentioned in the study room, clearly shows he is well notified of matters within the palace. Could it be that he also has an insider in the palace?
Maintaining countenance as he continues to use the Shu Clan, Lou Che appears extremely careful, secretly wary of the movements of all parties, taking methodical steps in carrying out deployment, waiting for the storms of the imperial court to come.
The situation in the imperial court is already like rising winds foreboding the storm to come. In the Lou Estate, officials comes and goes in discussions, hectic with tensions running high; and within the inner courtyard, it is still filled with joyful chatting and laughing, unaware of the worries.
In the inner courtyard, the maids and servants are lit with smiles as usual, having not experienced hardships before, they firmly believe, as long as Lou Che is here, the Prime Minister Estate’s skies will not fall down.
 The original phrase for straight to the point is kāi mén jiàn shān / 开门见山 – literally translated as opening the doors to see the view of the mountains.
 To take away the firewood from under the cauldron or fǔ dǐ chōu xīn /釜底抽薪 – the Chinese equivalent of the phrase is to cut the ground from under one’s foot.
 The proverb used for having everything planned/thought out is called chéng zhú zài xiōng / 成竹在胸 which literally translates to having a complete [image of] of bamboo embedded in one’s chest (heart) – before painting bamboo, the image of bamboo is already in one’s heart.
 First of all the practice of eclipse means to lose oneself for a while before bathing in glory again, like how the sun is hidden behind the moon. Whilst to endure hardships to accomplish ambitions or wò xīn cháng dǎn / 卧薪尝胆 – literally translating to sleeping on firewood, tasting the gall is a proverb that derives from the story of a King Goujian of Yue who deliberately put himself through the hardship of sleeping on firewood and tasting gall every day in order to remember the humiliations of serving under the enemy state, the state of Wu ruled by King Fu Chai, after persevering with this for many years, he later wipes out the Wu state, successfully gaining his revenge.
 The Lu Bu Wei story involves a complicated web of treachery, centring around a song hostess called Lady Zhao who was Lu Bu Wei’s concubine but later becomes the king of Qin’s consort (and subsequently the Empress Dowager), under the scheming of Lu Bu Wei she also gains a lover called Lao Ai who is disguised as an eunuch. With Lao Ai, she gave birth to an illegitimate son and schemed to have him succeed the throne, which was found out by the emperor, leading to Lao Ai launching a revolt, ending in failure.