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The sun slowly rose, lessening the chill in the air of the exam hall. The nervous students finally had a chance to warm themselves. They rubbed their hands endlessly to make sure that their handwriting on the page did not appear too stiff; penmanship was one grading criterion for the examination paper, so although the exam had already started a while ago, many of them were still only making mental notes and weren’t in a hurry to start putting pen to paper. It seemed that many of the scholars in the exam hall had experienced suffering of their own.

Fan Xian strolled through the exam hall with a smile on his face, his feet not making a sound so as not to disturb the candidates' thoughts. Strangely, what they usually feared most when writing their essays was an examiner passing behind them or looking their examination papers up and down. But when these students discovered that the one who had stopped to observe them was the brilliant and distinguished Master Fan at the entrance to the exam, they could not help but feel their self-confidence increase ever so slightly.

Fan Xian did not seem like the other two examiners, who supervised them with solemn faces; instead, a faint smile hung on his face, and so every student who dared to lift their head to look at Fan Xian felt that the smile on young Master Fan's face encouraging them.

Having patrolled every part of the exam hall, Fan Xian returned to the corner gate where Mu Tie was waiting for him with some well-steeped tea. He watched him take his seat, then laughed and spoke in a low voice. "This is rather boring. Master Fan, it’s fitting that you’ve chosen to rest here. You have a connection to the outside world from here near the corner gate, so it's not so difficult."

Fan Xian smiled. If he were really to return to the main hall and sit down with Minister Guo, perhaps the minister would not be pleased. Fan Xian wouldn't feel comfortable either. Sipping his tea, he recalled something odd. The Crown Prince had given him a list of six names, but He Zongwei's name was not among them. After he had entered the capital, he had learned that He Zongwei was a student of the Grand Secretariat and that he was secretly an official in the Eastern Palace. Logically, he should now be sitting in the civil service exam.

He temporarily put the issue aside, casting his gaze over the countless separate little heavy doors, and then to the innermost part of the exam hall. He though up a slightly absurd notion; if he had not used his drunken stupor to frenziedly recite Li Bai and create the poetry anthology, then he would not be sitting here watching over the testers. Life really wasn't a level playing field.

If those students who were scribbling away knew the results of these grand examinations would be sorted through by the major players in the royal court and in the palace like watermelons, how would they feel?

Time seemed to go so very slowly. Fan Xian was already close to falling asleep in his chair at the corner gate before he discovered that the sun had risen in the sky. The relevant government offices had sent men with lunches, and someone was there to greet them at the corner gate. After they had carefully inspected the tableware and found that nothing was amiss, they delivered six boxes of food to the central hall.

Fan Xian went into the central hall to eat lunch with the other masters and listen to them describe their mornings. They had reprimanded a cheating student in the southeast corner. The supervisor shook his head and sighed. "I have seen cheating students, but I have never seen a student cheat so blatantly like that. To go so far as to overtly copy from an entire book of essays hidden underneath the writing desk, presuming that the curtains around them mean that no one will discover them. They had no idea that the officials around them have sharp eyes."

Guo You, Director-General of the civil service exam and Director of the Board of Rites, suddenly frowned. "How did they bring the book in?"

Fan Xian knew that this was his mistake. He smiled. "The security checks were going too slowly, and the official from the Overwatch Council was pressing us for time, so I was slightly worried. I feared breaching the time limits set by His Majesty, so I made a careless mistake. I ask your forgiveness, sir." He was asking for forgiveness, but was also foisting half the blame onto the Overwatch Council. It was very slippery slope.

Guo You looked at him and harrumphed, but did not give him any trouble. After all, this was something that was inevitable in every generation of imperial exams. He could not attack Fan Xian for it. He simply spoke quietly. "This is young Master Fan's first experience with this. He is inexperienced. You should all be helping him out."

Fan Xian smiled and cupped his hands in salute to the other officers around him, particularly to his superior at the Imperial College. "Principal, please forgive my ignorance. I ask for your guidance."

The principal, Secretary Shu of the Imperial College, was the one who had been glared at by His Majesty that night in the palace hall,. He was a student of Zhuang Mohan, but had always worked for the glory of the people of the Kingdom of Qing, so he did not remember the incident where Fan Xian had made Zhuang Mohan spit blood with any malice. Instead, he chuckled and pointed at Fan Xian. "Dear academic, if you are ignorant, then who in the Kingdom of Qing could dare call themselves knowledgeable?"

The other administrators and supervisors also laughed and poked fun at Fan Xian. "The greatest scholar in the illustrious Kingdom of Qing. If you weren’t an astonishing scholar, young master Fan, you should now be in the hall writing at astonishing speed, gnawing at dry bread in hunger, rather than sit here with us eating lunch."

Even Guo You could not help but laugh at this. Fan Xian himself did not have an ounce of self-confidence in his own scholarly talent. But it seemed that no matter whether it was in the bureaucracy, or the entire nation, everyone else had far more confidence in Fan Xian than he did.

The students in the exam hall were still nervously scribbling away. The daylight began to fade, and Fan Xian strolled around the hall a few times, looking at everyone's test papers. He saw that a few of them were truly talented, and could not help but stop and look. Although in Danzhou he had read the scriptures of this world, he had not thought that he would be taking the official exams to enter a career, so when it came to composing such essays, he feared he would be worse off than most. But after all, he had lived in two worlds; it was somewhat of an exaggeration to say he read extensively, but he had a particular way of looking at things.

He secretly memorized the names of those people, then strolled to the corner gate and faked a yawn. Cocking his head, he found that Mu Tie was almost asleep as he leaned to one side on the chair. He couldn't help but laugh. This Mu Tie was a clever person, and extremely capable. Otherwise, Chen Pingping would not have made him head of the First Bureau. But his integrity was somewhat lacking. Perhaps he had only just learned how to flatter. Every time he saw Fan Xian he would be greatly respectful, and for some reason this made Fan Xian feel somewhat uncomfortable.

"Master, the corner gate must not be opened." Seeing the intermediary Fan Xian walk to the side of the corner gate, there was an uncomfortable look on the Overwatch Council officials' face. He blocked the way. "Other than for deliveries of food and water, the corner gate must remain closed."

"I am aware of that rule," Fan Xian laughed. "I just wanted to have a look around, and see if there's anything fun."

His talk seemed somewhat odd and not in accordance with decorum. In the Emperor's civil service exams of this mighty nation, Fan Xian was an examiner, and yet he wanted to look for amusement in the exam hall. But what was strange was that this official, hearing his words, also smiled in response. "There's a lot of fun to be had in the exam hall. Come around later."

Fan Xian was quiet as he looked at the official's ordinary-looking face. Suddenly he spoke. "Is it you I should be looking for?"

"Correct, Commander." The official lowered his head.

Fan Xian looked him in the eyes. He knew that this official was not of high status within the Overwatch Council, but he certainly was placed here as Chen Pingping's trusted aide. He couldn't help but smile. "Did Master Chen specify a time?"

"After the civil service exams, within three days," replied the official quietly.

"Very well, I still have something that requires your help. I need to check the background of a few people." Fan Xian told the official the names of the people he had memorized. "Don't look into their family background, just their conduct."

"Understood," said the official quietly. "Commander, if you could show me your token?"

Fan Xian took out the Overwatch Council commander's token from his waist, the one that had helped him countless times. The official took a look at it. "Have you memorized them?" Fan Xian asked gently.

"I have," replied the official, "but I will have to report this to the director."

"I understand." Fan Xian smiled warmly. "Before the exam papers are sealed, I want your report back."

"Yes sir."

"Do I need to know your name?"

"No need," said the official quietly. "I am but a lowly official of the Council. I dare not waste your faculties remembering my name."

The Crown Prince wanted to arrange for his backers of many years to be within the court. Perhaps the Great Prince was the same. As for his father-in-law and the Bureau of Military Affairs, it was the typical path of the corrupt official. Thinking about this, Fan Xian couldn’t help but laugh bitterly. His own father-in-law was still not willing to make things easier for him.

But he understood that this was the normal state of affairs of the bureaucracy, and what he was about to do was rather unusual.

Fan Xian sighed slightly. In a few years, when he was older, should he also arrange for his own backers to enter the seeming playground of the bureaucracy? But at the moment, he had no way to do such a thing. The most important thing was to coordinate with the Overwatch Council and make sure that the civil service exams were dealt with properly. He didn't want to give himself too much trouble.

After his "speech-paper" had successfully ousted the eldest princess from the palace, he had wanted to make sure everything was a bit more stable. If it wasn't for the powerful tricks of the Eastern Palace trying to pull him closer, perhaps he still could manage it. And he considered his own plans to be low-risk. Whether it was his own overt power, the grandmaster who stood behind him in the shadows, or the terrifying Council, they were all powers that most people were yet to understand. He believed that as long as he did not interfere with the most basic interests of the royal family of the Kingdom of Qing, then in this seemingly formidable but actually mutually restrictive bureaucracy, he had great prospects for the future.

After his rebirth, he had lived for a good while, and he could not back down too much. Otherwise, would he not have wasted the efforts of the many interesting helpers his mother had left behind for him? Why couldn't he do the same things that the princes and the high officials did? Not only did he want to do them, he wanted to do them beautifully.

"At heart, I really am shameless." Fan Xian looked at the hall full of suffering students, and a smile arose on his face. "If a monk paws at the nun, then why can't I? Not only do I want to paw at the nun, I want to make sure that the monk can't." [2]

[1] "Spring Wind and Rain" is a Chinese idiom referring to the long-term influence of a solid education.

[2] A reference to Lu Xun’s The True Story of Ah Q; the protagonist is the loser Ah Q, who bullies a nun to make himself feel better, accusing her of sleeping with a monk and trying to molest her by saying "if the monk paws at you, why can’t I?"

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