[Note: Yuán xiāo / 元宵 – also known as Chinese lantern festival on the fifteen of the first month in the lunar calendar]
Yun Xiao Banquet
In heaven’s recording of the fourth year, year end, the snow in the Capital like descending flowers, drifting across the entire sky, the glamorously bustling Capital City white haired overnight.
(Qin Xun appears in chapter 19, the physician who informs Lou Che of the saffron in Consort Ying’s medicine)
Imperial Physician Qin Xun enters the Prime Minister Estate with his head bowed, the winter wind is potentially very strong, giving rise to a biting cold as it brushes against the face, his feet staggers, body swaying, yet seems to not be aware of this at all, continue to quickly pace forward. Arriving at the discussion chamber of the Prime Minister Estate, his face shows slight ease, pushing open the doors upon entering, only seeing that inside the chamber, not only are the three ministries of labour, defence (war), revenues’ ministers, but even the one responsible for the Capital’s military forces and defence, Commander-in-Chief He Pei is present.
These four senior officials of the Capital, are either sitting or standing within the discussion chamber, their faces expressionless, in the moment Qin Xun walks into the hall, all inquiring eyes were casted on him, nodding in greeting, the Capital’s Commander-in-Chief He Pei paces back and forth within the chamber, deeply creased wrinkles formed between his brows, seeing Qin Xun’s arrival, a look of surprise and bewilderment emerges, the three step distance completed with two strides: “Lord Qin, you’ve also come.”
Hand over hand as he bows, Qin Xun formally greets. Not waiting for his answer, He Pei hurriedly speaks again: “Could it be Lord Prime Minister is really severely ill?”
Qin Xun is stunned, not knowing how to respond. Prime Minister Lou has been taking sick leave since half a month ago, it has already been many days since he disengaged himself from the matters of the court, truly ill or fake ill? He originally thought the Prime Minister Estate inviting him over today is to receive medical treatment, but the servants actually led him to the discussion chamber, seeing the several senior officials within the chamber, his instincts tell him it is not due to the matter of Lord Prime Minister’s illness.
Seeing Qin Xun’s face, he too knows he is unable to give him an answer, He Pei sounds a sigh, heading back to his original spot with big strides, picking up the bowl of red tree peony design, he takes a drink of the hot soup, sitting his butt one seat down from Minister of Revenue. The other three senior officials upon hearing their exchange, their expressions flickers, face turning sullen, silently waiting within the chamber. Qin Xun slowly paces near, choosing to sit on the seat at the very end, within this discussion chamber, in terms of official ranking, he is most inferior, moreover, he is just an imperial physician with no real power.
Waiting for almost an entire hour, even Minister of Defence who is known for being deeply calm and composed, reveals a look of anxiety, the inside of the discussion chamber gets quieter and quieter as time passes by. He Pei makes a turn within the chamber, catching glimpse of a stack of memorial to the throne, placed at the table by the master seat, utterly unable to withstand the entire chamber of stuffiness, he heads forth, reaching out to flip through them, the other officials senses something wrong, having yet to stop him, He Pei who had read the contents of the white paper suddenly exclaims in shock, brows jumping high, showing a state of panic.
This moment arouses the curiosity of the other senior officials, all stepping forward, carefully reading over the memorial on the table, all the memorial documents are actually recording affairs of everything that happened within the years of heaven’s recording, what the events are, how the matter was dealt with, names of officials involved and so on, and according to all this, it all refers to the imperial court’s mishandling of affairs, matters that have been neglected, amongst them, all imperial decrees that have been issued by the Emperor has been described particularly clearly, directly pointing out the errors behind the meaning of the Emperor’s edicts, not at all shying away from mentioning the taboo (the taboo being the direct mentioning of the emperor). Stating the name of the sender and recipients, some are regional officials, some are courtiers within the Capital, all written to the smallest details.
Reading through the memorial, the several ministers’ expressions appears much more solemn, unable to speak of their gloomy moods, all catching that thunderous shock hidden in one another’s eyes, the frosty winter of the twelfth month, they all feel their backs oozing with cold sweat, hearts like highly suspended boulders, both uneasy and heavy.
“I have made everyone wait long.” That clearly elegant and warm voice sounds from the doors, the group of officials hurriedly places down the memorial in hand, turning around. Lou Che steps into the discussion chamber, with thick fur of light purple, black silk belt embroidered in gold, green python skinned boots, the moment he opens the doors, a scene of plum blossom shines from behind him, a gloomy floral fragrant follows the wind in entering, petals and snow scattering all over, waves after waves of fragrance, waves after waves of frostiness.
Corners of his lips rising, laughter of clear elegance with graceful ease like reflected in green waves, vague as though distant. Walking into the chamber Lou Che waves his hand, signalling everyone to sit down: “What’s wrong, senior officials all appear pale, are your bodies not feeling well?”
Hearing his voice of concerns, their hearts actually trembles, the five officials within the chamber denies it at the same time, Minister of Revenue saying: “Thanking Prime Minister Lou’s concern, it is probably due to the overly coldness of the twelfth month.”
“En.” Lou Che smiles as he nods, seeming to accept this reason, eyes glancing towards Qin Xun at the end, “Lord Qin has worked hard, I heard Lord Qin is about to retire very soon?”
With the mentioning of him, Qin Xun stands up, bowing all the way down towards Lou Che on the master seat: “This lower official feels my age is getting too old, afraid of wrongly diagnosing health conditions, harming others harming self, thus wants to return home earlier.” Ever since the matter of Consort Ying’s miscarriage, he deeply came to understand, the dangers of the inner palace courtyards, the thoughts of retiring, has been held in his heart for a long time.
“Lord Qin’s void of greed for power and position, truly makes you admirable.” Lou Che nods his head in praising, smile lines like water, yet those orbs are like green waves, there shows no joy, only showing indifference with neither joy nor anger, looking around at the senior ministers sat below, he slowly speaks, “This past half of the month, my body has been infected with minor ailments, unable to care for matters within the court, I hear his majesty has already been implementing his intentions to reform the central academy?”
Finally coming to main topic, the three ministers of labour, revenue, and defence raises their eyes at the same time, after sharing a few looks with one another, Minister of Defence takes the lead in speaking: “His majesty has the intentions to officially establish the central academy in the upcoming new year.”
“His majesty is a little too hasty,” Face showing very faint regrets, Lou Che takes hold of the memorials on the table, seeming to be finding some form of amusement out of extreme boredom as he flips through, “If that is so, what are everyone’s opinions?”
The several officials upon hearing his words, all knew, the time has come to clearly declare their stands, hesitating for a moment, Minister of Labour stands up, bowing as he speaks of his own thoughts: “Prime Minister Lou holds brilliant visions, should the central academy be established, then the power of the six ministries shall all be reduced to empty titles, as though non-existent, completely opposite from the previous generations, shared powers lead to absolute victory, centralised power leads to absolute failure, the central academy plans is absolutely not viable, also disadvantageous to the longevity of our Qi Ling.”
Lou Che glances at him approvingly, indeed the older they get, the fierier they are, smiling but not answering, he waits for the others to respond.
“That’s right, that’s right, the plans for the central academy indeed cannot be implemented, if so, then would the six ministries not become empty titles?” Minister of Revenue hurriedly follows on, immediately speaking up after him.
“After the new year, hope Prime Minister Lou is able to return to court again, dissuade his majesty, the faction of courtiers within the court right now is muddle-headed to the extreme, in particularly that Lord Guan, young and reckless, I fear their ideas are influencing his majesty’s decisions ah.”
Seeing everyone declare their stances, Lou Che places down the memorial in satisfaction: “What everyone has said, is indeed of our Qi Ling’s suffering, since everyone is so passionate towards the matter, then today we shall write up a petition to express our stance, wait till the year ends, we shall go request an audience with his majesty together, dissuading his imperial will.” Raising his hand, pointing towards the inner chamber, the several senior ministers turns their heads to look, paper and ink materials fully prepared, a deep sigh filling their hearts, turns out the gathering at the Prime Minister Estate today was part of a plot all along.
These several people are originally of Lou Che’s faction, clearly aware the emperor’s plan for the central academy precisely targets the power of the Lou Clan, to this very moment, they are already riding a tiger, difficult to dismount, the round of battles they are to witness after the year end is something they cannot avoid like a rabbit, they too can only take on this unpleasant task, following Lou Che, one’s glory is everyone’s glory, one’s loss is everyone’s loss.
Seeing the several senior ministers entering the inner chamber, drafting out sections of the petition, the cold sharpness in Lou Che’s eyes slightly settles down, turning to look at the only one who remains sitting, Qin Xun: “Lord Qin.”
“This little official is here.” Hastily answering, Qin Xun observes Lou Che, ill at ease, wanting to catch a clear look of whatever is hidden under his appearance of elegance and grace, but other than that smile that does not reach the eyes, he is unable to see anything else.
“Back then it was Lord Qin who first discovered the mystery behind Lady Consort Ying’s miscarriage, it is also Lord Qin who accompanied me in investigating the cause of the matter……”
He just knew that entering the Prime Minister Estate today is easy, but leaving will be difficult, Qin Xun’s aged face bitterly wrinkles, silently listening to Lou Che’s gentle voice like jade.
“Lady Consort Ying’s miscarriage, Lady Consort Li’s sudden suicide [by hanging], I believe Lord Qin must surely be well aware of the particulars in the matter down to the details right? Who the real mastermind behind the scenes was, Lord Qin should also be very aware of. Inviting Lord Qin over today, is but to request of you to clearly write down the matter, it too, can be considered Lord Qin’s additional contribution to the imperial court before retiring.”
The inside of the chamber originally cosy and warm, upon hearing these words, Qin Xun only feels his entire body infected by a shivering cold, Consort Li’s death back then was indeed strange, he has once thought over it repeatedly, also able to work out who the possible mastermind is, but today Lou Che actually wanting him to write it down, one descend of the brush and ink shall then make a solid evidence, where is to find such guts, to point an accusing finger at the current……
Shoulder sensing an additional warmth, he dumbly watches Lou Che approach, lightly patting his shoulder, even though watching Lou Che gather away the severe sternness in him, it still makes one sense the chill revealed within those deeply still orbs, he unconsciously bows his head to mask his eyes.
“Lord Qin carefully consider it, since there is still some time before retiring, Lord would not wish to leave behind regrets in officialdom right?” Lou Che averts his eyes away, the smile by his lips deepening, turning his head back around to everyone within the chamber saying, “The Prime Minister Estate has prepared food and wine today, treat it as though I am celebrating new year with everyone in advance.”
Turning around after speaking, Lou Che’s gentle and elegant steps paces towards the doors, opening them and leaving, just like when he had entered the chamber, the plum blossoms and snow outside the doors reflecting one another, the fragrance invading the wind, Qin Xun dumbly stands within the chamber, face stiff as though transforming into fossil, yet his lips responds: “Yes.”
“Attend to the lords inside well.” Walking out of the discussion chamber, Lou Che indifferently orders the housekeeper, due to the strong and fierce winds, he half squints his eyes, leisurely looking over the subtle fragrance and very faint plum blossoms within the courtyard.
“Yes, Lord Prime Minister.” Voice although hoarse and old, but is very steady, the old housekeeper stands straight like a wooden board.
“Immediately prepare the carriage, I need to pay a visit to the Prince Duan Estate.”
Widening his eyes in surprise, the old housekeeper stares at Lou Che’s back figure unblinkingly, pulling himself out of it after quite a while, hurriedly ordering the servants to prepare a simple carriage, up to the point when the horse carriage had far left the estate, he still remains a little absentminded.
In the evening hours, smoke curling into the air, Lou Che arrives at the side doors of the Prince Duan Estate, seeing the servants scramble to welcome him, he leisurely smiles, looks like the entire world thinks he and Prince Duan are as incompatible as fire and water, always seen as political opponents.
“What wind has blown Prime Minister Lou here?” Gradually approaching with dignified strides, Prince Duan’s hearty voice travels over, “Is Prime Minister Lou not bedridden at home? Why the great mood today?”
“Your royal highness and I, can both be considered idlers, an idler meeting an idler, what other special reason is needed?” Not changing his gentle elegance, Lou Che deliberately ignores the satirical meaning behind Prince Duan’s words, black orbs deepening, just like the night sky, containing a smile as he looks askance at Prince Duan.
Prince Duan stops laughing, looking over Lou Che, it is exactly this type of tolerance that is sleek like dripping jade, neither soft nor hard, that has vied against him within the imperial court for over seven years, and he himself has never gained the upper hand in the end, since the beginning to this very day, does he finally understands, this man has already put to play the gentle elegance of casual talents to the most extreme of potentials, masking his true nature, that is the sharp air of hidden blades that is embraced within his rolled up scholarly demeanour, not explicit, yet manages to harm people without a trace.
“Since Prime Minister Lou has such aesthetic mood, I shall naturally accompany you.”
Once the two people is seated within the west wing guest hall, the servants had all already withdrawn, the three legged furnace of crane design diffuses faint white smoke, two flasks of wine placed on the red pine table, the rich wine fragrance filling the air.
Seeing Prince Duan unconsciously seeming a little stiff, Lou Che takes the wine flask first, pouring himself a full cup, conveniently filling Prince Duan’s cup with the jade-like fluid, elbow resting on the table as he holds the cup, lightly taking a sip, the thickly concentrated taste so rich it sweetly slides down the throat, just like a little ball of warm fire.
Prince Duan knits his brows together, up to this point, he is still unable to see through Lou Che’s intention for coming here, after pondering over it for a while, does he finally say: “Today……you have come to see Ying-er?”
If not for Prince Duan’s face being extremely solemn, Lou Che would practically burst out laughing, sparkling eyes slightly narrowing, his enthusiasm calms as he answers: “That is one of the objectives.”
“……then you have come due to the central academy matter?” Prince Duan raises the wine cup, taking a drink, sharp eyes sweeping across Lou Che, yet finds him unaffected by his words, that appearance, clearly looks a few points deeper than in the past, “His majesty is already preparing to unsheathe his sword towards you, instead of making any preparations, what have you come running over to my place for?”
“His majesty is a little too anxious,” Lou Che one mouthful followed by another mouthful, carefully appreciating this wine like fine jade, “We as subjects, cannot always continue to watch his majesty take the wrong steps……”
Prince Duan does not give him any face at all as he coldly harrumphs before saying: “Put away your righteously loyal minister act, just directly speak of your reason for coming.”
Lou Che lowly laughs, carrying a few points of pleasure: “Prince Duan is still Prince Duan, I have heard, the one responsible for the imperial guards within the Capital, Deputy Commander Zhao Min, shares good relations with your royal highness.”
Nevermind “good”, that is a secret chess piece he has meticulously arranged over many years, seeing the certainty in Lou Che’s behaviour, seeming to be very clear of the subtleties within all this, the restlessly alarmed Prince Duan tightly furrows his brows.
“And how do you know of this?”
“That year’s Changes of Feng Shan, your royal highness reacted with such swiftness, his majesty has clearly plotted everything beforehand, yet still managed to let you escape the Capital, should there not have been someone working from the inside, this could not have possibly worked out, I have investigated the imperial guards after the matter, and only then did I discover your royal highness’ ingenuity.”
Placing the cup onto the table, Prince Duan was unable to refrain from lightly sighing: “You wish to borrow this person for use?”
“I most definitely need to borrow this person,” Long brows slightly twitching, Lou Che calmly says this, his tone absolutely resolute.
Prince Duan’s expression darkens a little, eyes showing his restless mind as he stares at Lou Che whose faint smile is so leisurely. Making all the calculations in his mind for a long time, he is still unable to make a decision. Abruptly standing up, the wine cup shaking, a few drips of wine stains the sleeve, but he does not seem to notice. Pacing back and forth within the room in circles, he turns back to look at Lou Che, still that unaffected appearance, such casual calm as though the matter does not concern him, yet it just happens that all these troubles have all been brought on by him.
“Since it is like this, then I shall lend you this person.” Prince Duan grits his teeth as he consents, his brows not showing any loosening up, and instead knits together even deeper, “The favour I owe you……this shall makes things even between us.”
First a very light and inaudible sigh, which was then followed by the hooking up of the lips, Lou Che looks at Prince Duan with a seeming smile, frostiness sweeping past his eyes, disappearing in a flash: “If so, then many thanks to your highness.”
He still managed to see through it! Meeting Lou Che’s eyes like bottomless pits, Prince Duan suddenly gives rise to a burst of frustration. The hesitation he holds over selecting between the Emperor and Lou Che, despite lending him a man, he is still unwilling to stand in his camp……these calculations, in Lou Che’s bright eyes like the moon, had actually been very clearly mapped out.
Prince Duan pours the wine into his mouth, lending the gesture of raising the sleeve, to cover Lou Che’s snow blade like eyes, at the same time, covering his own loss of bearings, filled with shock and panic. The moment he places the wine cup down, Lou Che has a faint smile of elegance hanging on his face, that appearance from before seeming to be a mere illusion.
The two people does not converse as they drink a few cups of wine, Lou Che’s appearance calm like the beginning, after a long while, he seems to have suddenly thought of something, asking: “How is Princess Consort Ying?”
“She is very well, just that morning sickness is a little severe.” Prince Duan’s expression eases with warmth.
Lou Che nods his head, the burden that had long been pressuring his heart seeming to have lifted a little: “The flasks are all empty……” After dropping those words, he throws his sleeves back as he stands.
“Today troubling you for a long time, I shall bid farewell now.”
Prince Duan slightly raises his head, clearly a little suspicious. He originally thought there is still another round of disputes, being political opponents with Lou Che for many years, how could he not know his temperament, things or people that can be used shall be used to the very end, definitely no principle of easily letting go.
“Prime Minister Lou seems to have changed a lot.” Letting out a long sigh, not knowing whether it is of regrets or mixed feelings.
“Changed?” Lou Che strokes his forehead as he lowly laughs, eyes of ink jade reflecting the distorted figures of the cups and saucers, cold and clear like a secluded lake, eyes setting in the far distant, “There is no one who does not change in the world, just that you and I stand at the tip of the blade, thus changing a little more than others.”
These words seem to be spoken from personal feelings, absolutely sincere, the very moment Prince Duan freezes, his instincts tells him, over the many years, it is the most truthful words that have spouted from his mouth.
Prince Duan’s ears hears a word of farewell, and Lou Che had already turned his back, the flowing hair below his headdress rising in the wind, handsome looks radiant like jade appears calm like water, eyes dark like the night sky, deep as though bottomless.
“Prime Minister Lou.” Even Prince Duan himself does not understand why he would call him to a stop, instincts tell him that Lou Che still has words to speak today.
With just one glance, he was able to see through Prince Duan’s suspicions, Lou Che reveals a very faint smile at the corner of his lips, eyes looking through the window, seeing Prince Duan lantern hung inside, groups of servants shuttling back and forth, he leisurely says: “Your royal highness, have you never thought of becoming king?” This is his third reason for coming here today.
Eyes widening unblinkingly, Prince Duan shakes his head, a resonant voice joyfully laughs out loud: “Sitting on the dragon throne, then let you manipulate me? If I do not wish to be manipulated, then I will have to be like the current emperor?”
Lou Che also laughs, the moment he laughs aloud, the ice-like frostiness in his eyes dissipated: “Your royal highness is the one who has truly changed.” Such words, how would the old Prince Duan have said such thing?
Gathering away his smile, he calmly leaves, just like when he had come, he withdraws from the side doors, without disturbing anyone, away from everyone’s awareness, this night, Prime Minister Lou and Prince Duan who has always been political opponents, have reached a certain tacit understanding.
Political career, has no permanent friends, has no permanent enemies!
“Lord Prime Minister……” The old housekeeper who had received announcements from beyond the doors, hurriedly rushes all the way to the study room, that aged body showing unexpected vigour, steps steady and strong.
“What’s the matter?” Able to make out something has happened from his tone, Lou Che only indifferently asks a word, without raising his head, absorbed in looking down at the desk.
“This was just sent over, his majesty’s Yun Xiao banquet, inviting Lord Prime Minister to make a trip there.”
The tip of the brush lightly trembles, one stroke drawing down, seeing the black ink of the white clear invitation, Lou Che’s brows slightly creases, casually resting the brush onto the mountain shaped stand, looking at the old housekeeper short of breath, he indifferently speaks like floating cloud: “It is about time.”
The emperor’s patience has been used up, and his patience, is also exhausted. No good seat amongst seat, no good banquet amongst banquets, this Hong Men Banquet, has come at a considerably timely moment. (Hong Men Banquet refers to banquets set up as a trap for those invited)
Seeing Lou Che as calm as the clear wind and soft clouds, the old housekeeper eases down a lot, throughout this battle of the imperial court that lasted over half a year, his heart is always ill at ease, right now, seeing Lord Prime Minister with a heart steady as mountain, chest filled with certainty, he in return feels relieved, in front of Lord Prime Minister who is thoroughly prepared, what else is there that cannot be easily solved? The old housekeeper steadies his breathing, the corner of his eyes catching glimpse of Lord Prime Minister’s eyes unable to leave the top of the desk, heart met with curiosity, he presses his head closer to look over the xuan paper on the desk.
That painting……who is it? Blinking his eyes several times in absolute puzzlement, yet unable to recognise the person in the painting, the old housekeeper stares at the painting, finally seeing that the brows and eyes looks just like Gui Wan……but, is this Madam?
Lou Che senses the old housekeeper’s strange looks, and actually blushes a little, rolling up the painting. Not only is it the old housekeeper that is stupefied, even he himself does not understand, he is skilled in literary and painting, fishes, insects, landscape, not one is able to trouble him. Gui Wan has already left for almost two months, with not the slightest of news reaching him, like a thorn seeming to be stuck in his heart, he is just unable to rid of the distraction, today in the spur of the moment, wanted to paint a portrait. After raising the brush, did he realise there is simply nowhere to start.
Gui Wan’s smile, Gui Wan’s charm, Gui Wan’s thousands of gestures, be it of frowning, be it of smiling, be it of anger, be it of singing, one brush one stroke, how can it possibly outline all this clearly?
“Ahem……” Softly coughing as he acts unwell, Lou Che asks, “Are there other matters?”
Old housekeeper hurriedly retrieves his line of sight, yet his face reveals a smile: “No more matters, no……Lord Prime Minister may carry on drawing Madam.”
In heaven’s recording of the fifth year, fifteenth of the first month, in name of celebrating Yun Xiao, a palace banquet is held, inviting hundreds of officials.
Once the reporting officer loudly shouts out Lou Che’s name, all officials fell into a moment of sharp silence. The thick curtains raised, Lou Che calmly steps down from the horse carriage, containing a trace of a barely visible smile, looking over the scattered officials amongst the official road.
The officials that came up to him with friendly greetings are clearly of his own camp, the officials that remains standing on the spot as they respectfully bow, seeming to adopt a wait-and-see attitude, with no other expression, their observing eyes containing meaning of ridicule, can only be the Emperor’s supporting courtiers as of recent. The reactions of the hundreds officials one by one captured in his eyes, Lou Che appears calm, slowly stepping onto the official road.
The festive day of Yun Xiao, the lantern lights prosperous, night on the official road as bright as day. Sound of string and wind music drifting from within the inner palace, the music and singing playing without ceasing. The bright colour entering the eyes, the music pleasant to the ears, in this scene of seeming peace and prosperity, he instead senses insidiously murderous intent weighing heavy, traces of blood hidden under an armour of gold.
“Lord Prime Minister,” A young imperial guard hurriedly runs past Lou Che’s side as he quietly says, “Deputy Commander Zhao sent for this little one to pass on a message, there’s an ambush laying inside the hall, may Lord Prime Minister be careful.”
The one he has borrowed from Prince Duan, Zhao Min, is indeed a person of worthy use, Lou Che hangs a faint smile, lightly asking: “Are the arrangements of our people on this side all good?”
“May Lord Prime Minister rest assured, Deputy Commander already has everything prepared.” Having said that, the little soldier did not attract any attention as he slowly walks away.
A wave of wind brushes against the face, the flickering lights like a tidal wave, under the flickering flames, Lou Che’s face appears somewhat blurred, only that lasting faint smile on those lips remains clear.
The greeting officials that had come to his side, gradually increases, the official road soon coming to an end. At a spot not faraway, it is at the jade steps right before the grand hall where a ink blue figure slowly makes his way down, fair skin as white as a woman’s, delicate facial features, that type of beauty that comes from maturing, fresh like the cold spring water, that handsome youth, in particularly standing out amongst the hundred officials, upon seeing Lou Che arriving, he smiles as he approaches, deeply bowing with clasped hands: “Teacher, student has been waiting for a long time.”
Containing a sort of re-examining attitude as he looks at him, Lou Che smiles: “Troubled Lord Guan.”
“Teacher has been attending to ill heath at home, his majesty misses you a lot, today’s banquet has also been set up for Teacher, may Teacher be sure to have fun.” Whilst talking in such respectful manner, Guan Xiu Wen leads the way up the jade steps.
An ambush already set up in the hall, yet Guan Xiu Wen naturally chats and laughs away as he step by step brings him closer, this youth has long become unable to return to his original state. Lou Che calmly watches, his black pupils growing deeper, growing heavier: “The ones to have fun today should rightfully be his majesty and Lord Guan instead.”
First raising his brows with suspicion, then faintly laughing it off, Guan Xiu Wen uses a type of gentle tone that contains satire and carries ridicule as he says: “Teacher truly is all-knowing. The difficulty of knowing yet facing it head on, such courage, a little junior like me can only hope to catch glimpse of the dust you leave behind.”
“Why the need to catch glimpse of the dust, at this day and age, to have the methods it takes for today, Lord Guan is already the leader within our peers,” Lou Che hooks up his thin lips, coldly looking at him, gracefully smiling, “It is only unfortunate, such means that spares no pain to such extent, what you lose in future may not necessarily be any less than the what you have gained.”
Abruptly turning around, Guan Xiu Wen directly faces Lou Che, the smile on his face gathering away: “I have never gained before, where would the loss come from……?” Suddenly realising his own loss of bearings, he immediately raises his smile again, his tone also restoring its usual gentleness.
“Teacher, the inner hall is already prepared, let us quickly enter.”
The officials by the side, seeing these two teacher and student in name speaking and laughing as they walk, all felt greatly surprised, unable to grasp hold of the fake or real within their behaviour, only able to guess the situation from the sides, whilst secretly observing the two people’s expressions at the same time. It is at this time when they have almost reached the top of the jade steps, an imperial soldier jumps out from the path ahead, hastily coming up to Lou Che and Guan Xiu Wen.
“Lord Prime Minister, the estate’s housekeeper is reporting outside the palace, says there are desperate matters to relay.”
Lou Che reveals a trace of surprise in his expression, hesitating for a moment, he orders for permission to be given. Guan Xiu Wen is obviously even more surprised than Lou Che, the imperial guards in this palace had already been replaced, all are of the Emperor’s faction, looking at it now, Lou Che is even more inscrutable than he had expected, standing at the side, he quietly watches what is to happen.
“My Lord, my Lord……” The housekeeper takes on a speed that does not match his old age as he directly sprints over, unable to adjust his tone, “Yu……Du Cheng has been sieged, Madam……unable to get in contact with Madam……”
All officials who were close by could hear everything the housekeeper said, rounded eyes and knotted tongues, palpitating as they remain standing on the spot, “Du Cheng has been sieged” these five words thrown out in such ground breaking, heaven quaking manner, all were thrown into an uproar. Ever since the peace negotiations with the Nu Tribe, the borders have been at peace for a while, the meaning behind besieging Du Cheng, goes without saying.
“What?” First to cry out is Guan Xiu Wen, he widens his eyes, face turning pale, turning ashen, eyes deadly locked onto the housekeeper, charging forth a step, seeming to want to grab him by the collar, hand curled into a claw, yet in moment of sub consciousness he only grabs onto the empty thoughts of “what did you say, say it again.”
“My Lord, Ling Long’s party turned from south to north, planning to rush to Du Cheng to reunite with Madam, only upon arriving there did they find, Du Cheng has been deadly sieged, I heard above the city wall of Du Cheng, hundreds of Nu people have been tied up, the Nu Army has held back for three days, immediately about to invade the city.” Reporting it all in one breath, the old housekeeper speaks quickly and desperately, but was able to let every official there to hear every word clearly.
In a moment of great shock, all officials simultaneously looks to Lou Che, only to be surprised to see this man of great wisdom to have his brows tightly knitted together, the bottom of his eyes darkly stained with panic, such shock and unease expressed in such obvious manner, unable to conceal his look of nervousness, even seeming to be unable to think at all.
Du Cheng besieged? Nu people tied up?
Having the old housekeeper’s words simmer into his brain, repeatedly thinking over it, using commoners to counter the enemy, such means is not at all something Lin Rui En will do, he very soon comes to the conclusion, Lin Rui En has met with misfortune, Gui Wan’s situation is of utmost danger.
Lou Che’s breathing abruptly halts, mind suddenly turns blank, the glamorous colours of the palace before him suddenly loses all its brilliance. Looking at the prying eyes of the hundred officials, he could not help but feel irritated, waving his hand to have the crowd step away, he desperately needs fresh air, to relieve the pain deeply penetrating his heart and bones.
“Gui Wan……Gui Wan is in Du Cheng,” Everyone takes a few steps back, except for Guan Xiu Wen who takes a big step forward, bright glossy eyes from bottom up, completely filled with tension, “Now that the Nu Army has besieged Du Cheng, what is Gui Wan to do?”
His tone because of the loud cry, seems very sharp, the atmosphere before the grand hall falls into a strange silence. No one has ever seen this crystal clear youth acts so frantic, the worries and sorrow contained between those brows and eyes, just like a tense chord, at risk of snapping.
Lou Che stares ahead at a loss, that expression containing rage, containing un-resigned will, Guan Xiu Wen’s loud cry, seeming to have not entered his ears at all, the originally deeply contained sharpness in his eyes pierces through his disguise of gentle elegance, dark cold eyes icily brushing past Guan Xiu Wen: “Shut up!”
Being swept with such stern sharp eyes, the hundred officials dares not to speak a word. Lou Che abruptly turns around, long strides heading towards the inner hall, leaving Guan Xiu Wen and the other officials stunned on the spot.
Seeing Lou Che charge towards the inner hall, Guan Xiu Wen’s heart beats like thunder, eyes turning dark and deep, gritting his teeth, he pounces forward. Grabbing onto Lou Che: “Aren’t you going to save Gui Wan……don’t enter the hall.”
Lou Che turns his wrist, throwing off Guan Xiu Wen, with a great amount of force, causing Guan Xiu Wen to stagger, practically about to fall: “Fool, without the mobilising of troops, how am I to save!”
Guan Xiu Wen freezes, calming down a little, seeing Lou Che’s figure enter the hall, he remains motionlessly silent, many figures seeming to have passed by his side, numerous and scattered, wave after wave, after a long time, he lets out a long sigh, following the other officials in entering the hall.
The situation within the hall once again leaves him shocked, originally should be of string and wind instruments playing, a hall of dancing, music and lighting completely silent, the atmosphere extremely down. Practically all officials had their brows tightly knitted together, or scared or suspicious as they look at the one kneeling in the centre of the hall, Lou Che.
He kneels there……upon seeing that moment, Guan Xiu Wen suddenly wants to say something, his lips lightly twitching, but no voice comes out.
Is this the one who stands high up, with dignified and vigorous spirits, Lou Che?
He who appears gentle, whose heart is in fact cold as ice, the powerful prime minister?
All of a sudden, he is unable to accept the reality before his eyes, the one who had always made him raise his head to look up to, the back view that he had always been wanting to surpass, is kneeling in the middle of the hall all alone, he should originally be loudly laughing out to his heart’s content, yet in this very moment, he can only tightly press his lips together, steady his emotions as he watches the one in centre of the hall, Lou Che. Because in this very moment, he becomes aware that, this man, he perhaps can never possibly be able to surpass in his entire lifetime.
What kind of feeling is this, is it melancholy or regret……?
“Your majesty, Du Cheng urgently requests help, General Lin has perhaps already met with misfortune, please immediately set a decree, to mobilise the northern army in order to provide support.” Lou Che tries his best to maintain a gentle tone as he speaks, but is still unable to conceal those traces of tension.
The Emperor sits high above the hall, too far of a distance away, amongst the illusive lighting of the swaying lanterns, one is unable to catch a clear look of his expression, Guan Xiu Wen darkens his face, following up in kneeling in the hall, with two steps distance away from Lou Che: “Your majesty, Du Cheng has already been sieged, that is the gateway to our Celestial Empire, should the Nu Army march straight in, the consequences are unthinkable.”
“That’s right ah, that’s right ah, the Nu Army is so ferocious, should they pass the checkpoint, Qi Ling would be in great danger!” Two strips of white hair on his temple like frost, the old minister of three generations, Yan Gang, also nods in agreement.
“Your majesty should set the decree whilst it’s still early, Du Cheng can wait no longer……”
“This Nu Tribe truly is a pack of wolves with greedy hearts, clearly came to a truce with our court, yet actually going back on their words, our court should send out elite troops, teach them a good lesson.”
“Give them a full frontal attack, they too are far too rampant, this barbaric tribe……”
The figure in yellow above the hall makes not a single move, a beautiful curve of his lips, he waves his hands bringing the talkative officials to a stop: “Why is the danger of Du Cheng only known now? What is the military division doing?”
Not waiting for the Minister of Defence to speak up in explanation, Lou Che disrupts: “Your majesty, the situation right now is critical, pursuing the matter of fault can be put off for now, please set the decree to mobilise troops.”
“Prime Minister Lou seems to be even more desperate than I, news of the sieging of Du Cheng, was it Prime Minister Lou who got hold of it first?”
“Yes,” Lou Che raises his head, directly looking into the heart of the hall, “My wife is also in Du Cheng, worried heart like burning flame. Should Du Cheng be broken through, the Nu Army will definitely pass through Yu Xia Guan, directly heading into the northern region, other than the heavily guarded city of Yu Xia, the northern region no longer has other fortresses and military power to resist the Nu Army.”
All the officials’ minds becomes snow clear upon hearing this fact, at the same time they reached this understanding, their hearts turns cold, also noting the meaning within Lou Che’s words, Prime Minister Lou’s madam is actually in the Du Cheng beyond thousands li of mountains.
“She is……in Du Cheng?”
Zheng Liu sounds a very soft sigh, his words seeming to contain a trace of bitter laughter. Perhaps hearing the complex thoughts of concern of the one sat on the throne, the officials waits with bated breath, solemn silence falling upon the grand hall.
“Why is the military division still remaining still, accept the decree, gather military supplies, mobilise all troops of the northern states, and head forth to solve the sieging of Du Cheng.”
“Yes,” Minister of Defence stands from his seat, kneeling in centre of the hall with his head lowered, “The army cannot go without a commander, your majesty, don’t know who should be sent out as the general this time?”
Upon hearing this, Lou Che stands up straight: “Your majesty, Bai Wei of Zhang Zhou is a militant talent, well versed in the art of war, acts with a steady head and uses great measures, may be worthy of the great responsibility.”
The hundred officials all thought the Emperor would immediately reject Lou Che’s suggestion, the surging undercurrent between these two people is already well known. But contrary to all expectations, Zheng Liu nods his head, without the slightest of hesitation, he sets the decree: “Bai Wei of Zhang Zhou, is bestowed the position of commander for the northern army.”
Food supplies, armaments, soldiers and so on is quickly arranged, Lou Che kneels by the side, motionless, his body as though turning into stone, and Zheng Liu has never once told him to rise.
“Dear ministers, are there still other matters?” Zheng Liu’s words contains faint fatigue.
“Your majesty, this minister pleads to lead supervisory troops for the northern army.” Lou Che who had been kneeling on the ground suddenly speaks up.
“Prime Minister Lou……” Old minister Yan Gang looks back, originally wanting to speak up in prevention, upon meeting the firm as mountains look in Lou Che’s eyes, the words could only remain stuck in his throat. The grand hall once again falls into silence.
Zheng Liu appears to also be somewhat dumbfounded, the hand resting on the throne covered by his sleeve, tightly forming a fist, eyes as dark as ink locks onto Lou Che’s every movement, quiet and bright as though wanting to see into his heart.
After a long while of eye meet eye deadlock, Lou Che’s hand reaches into his sleeve, pulling something out, with only the length and width of a finger, on it are elegantly exquisite engravings, gold metal as clouds, circling a tiger, baring its fangs and waving its claws, the flowing colour and fragrance of the palace lanterns, shines onto Lou Che’s hand, sparkling brilliance, such gorgeousness like the red rising sun.
“This minister admits being prime minister for many years, have gained no merits in the imperial court, may your majesty take back the prime minister post.”
Watching Lou Che raise the gold seal above his head, Zheng Liu is once again speechless, staring into the centre of the hall without blinking, waiting to get a clear look of Lou Che’s abnormally firm decision, his brows creases even deeper.
Waiting for so long, could it be that he has to give up, having gotten to this point?
All these years of avoiding the light to rise in the dark, waiting for this one day, the Yun Xiao banquet is the best opportunity to eradicate Lou Che, executioners already placed down both sides of the grand hall, with just one sound of an order, the Lou faction can be completely wipe out.
What is he still hesitating for, could it be because Lou Che voluntarily let go of power?
Kill? Or not to kill?
“Your majesty,” By the yellow curtains, an eunuch leans close, Zheng Liu turns his head to the side, so it is the inner palace’s Head Eunuch De Yu. He cautiously walks up, whispering something into Zheng Liu’s ear.
Zheng Liu raises his brows, expression appearing greatly cold: “Really?”
De Yu solemnly nods his head.
Once again turning to face the officials, Zheng Liu hooks up a smile of gentle warmth: “Minister Lou is a rarely seen young talent in our court, now that the borders are in need of urgent help, since Minister Lou has volunteered, I permit your request, head far to the borders, this prime minister post shall temporarily be withheld, wait till Minister Lou’s triumphant return, and I shall reward you then.”
“Thanking your majesty!” Passing the golden seal in hand to the eunuch by the side, Lou Che’s thin lips reveals a smile, elegant to the extreme, looking up to the dragon throne, there emerges a trace of playfulness, disappearing in a flash.
Hand supporting his slightly numb body, Lou Che lowers his body to bow with clasped hands: “This subject shall be leaving first.” Abruptly turning around, never to concern himself with the struggles of the imperial court again, he hurriedly strides out, the brilliance in the hall overflowing, outside the hall, dusk falls, a clear breeze brushes past, comforting without the weight of worries, the soul put at pleasant ease.
After Lou Che had left, the banquet falls into colourless dejection, the Emperor’s mood dims, the hundred officials at great unease due to the war.
Music comes to an end, the people disperses, Zheng Liu lies on the throne slightly tired, the corner of his eyes catching glimpse of De Yu who stands by the side with his head lowered, he coldly asks: “What you said just now is true? There’s an ambush set up at Yu Gan Hall.”
“Yes, Prime Minister Lou being able to remain so calm, must be due to having an escape plan ready.”
Furrowed brows, Zheng Liu senses a surge of restless emotions in his chest, after a long time, he lets out a long drawn out sigh: “Truly is regretful, how much I want to know, between he and I, who would stand victorious……”
 Hong Men Banquet or hóng mén yàn huì / 鸿门宴会 refers to banquets where those invited are to walk right into a trap set up for them. The terms has come from a famous historical moment
In the late Qin Dynasty, Liu Bang and Xiang Yu led their respective army to fight against Qin’s army. Though comparatively weak in military force, Liu Bang first occupied Xianyang (capital city of the Qin Dynasty). When Xiang Yu arrived in Xianyang, he felt furious and threatened to kill Liu Bang. To defuse the crisis, Liu Bang went to Hongmen to offer an apology. At the banquet, Xiang Zhuang, a general of Xiang Yu, pretended sword dancing in order to assassinate Liu Bang. But under the assistance of his subordinates such as Fan Kuai and Zhang Liang, Liu Bang rode out the crisis. (Credits to: http://www.cultural-china.com/chinaWH/html/en/38History1221.html)
For those interested, there is also a film based on this called White Vengeance 鸿门宴 starring Feng Shao Feng, Liu Yi Fei, Leon Lai and Anthony Wang. Though I have not watched it myself so I cannot say if it is a good film or not.