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Chapter 145: Doing the Math
Chen Pingping looked at him without even a trace of pity. "You have followed me for 20 years. Before you die, I shall give you the chance to say your last words."

The head of the First Bureau's face went pale before returning to a tranquil smile. He looked at the master who had promoted him from a common functionary to the third-highest man in the Council, and spoke with sincerity. "Don't believe women. They're all mad. They're not suited to politics."
Having said this, he patted the top of his head. With a clunk, his body immediately crumpled, and he slumped over on the wooden desk, no longer breathing.
His words were sincere. Even if the eldest princess and Zhuang Mohan's nightly conversations had not been deliberately listened in on by Fan Xian, one could tell from Chen Pingping’s expression that the eldest princess had been the under the Council’s observation. From the moment that the eldest princess had made the insane decision to sell out Yan Bingyun, Zhu Ge's days as head of the First Bureau were numbered.
His corpse was dragged away. Of course, there would be a follow-up operation in accordance with relevant regulations. Chen Pingping looked at the paper before him and shook his head. "Continuing the analysis, who would be mad enough to bring everything out into the open like this?"
He was capable of being impervious to desires and passions, but when the seven other bureau heads saw the man they had worked with for decades come to such a tragic end, they could not help but feel somewhat emotional. A moment later, they recovered and responded. "The diplomatic mission from Dongyi finally left the day before yesterday," said one of them. "I see today's incident as being connected to the City of Dongyi in some way."
"Very good. The investigation at the palace found that the assassins who entered the palace on the night His Majesty entertained emissaries from both countries at a banquet were definitely connected to Dongyi in some way."
"And on that night, an assassin was discovered in Guangxin Palace. They killed one of the eldest princess’s maids. I reckon that at that time, they also overheard the conversation between the eldest princess and Zhuang Mohan."
"The reason Dongyi is spreading rumors, is because, first of all, they hope to provoke chaos within the royal court. After all, there hasn’t been an effective agreement between the two countries as there was with Northern Qi, so Dongyi fears that the palace will dispatch troops."
"And once this matter is uncovered, His Majesty will be shocked, and might tear up the agreement with Northern Qi, reigniting war between the two nations. Dongyi has always fallen between the cracks, and presumably would be happy to see such a situation."
"Whether you look at it in terms of motive or as a final result, Dongyi is the most likely perpetrator, and the one who would stand to gain most from this matter."
"The only problem is, the paper was only taken from the Xishan paper store last night. If Dongyi can write this many copies in one night--and we are monitoring most of their people hidden within the capital--we need to know about those who are not under our control. There shouldn’t be too many of them." Yan Ruohai continued his analysis. "To do all of this in one night would require at least 40 trained men."
Hearing his subordinates' meticulous analysis, Chen Pingping smiled. He said nothing. The room went quiet.
After a while, a voice suddenly spoke. "So what about the prisoner swap agreement?"
"Continue with it," said Chen Pingping calmly.
"Master, you lost both your legs to capture Xiao En. Returning him purely as a result of the eldest princess’s betrayal is a decision that we, as your subordinates, are uncomfortable following.
"Uncomfortable? How would you suggest we recover Yan Bingyun?" Chen Pingping laughed grimly. "Someone must be exchanged. We can deliver Xiao En into the

hands of Northern Qi alive, but we can only allow him to see the sky above Shangjing, the capital of Northern Qi."
The bureau chiefs knew that the Director had already made his decision. They nodded humbly. They didn’t want to give Xiao En to Northern Qi, no matter what. The old man was the former spymaster of Northern Wei. Who knew how many Qing spies he had killed. And even today, his scheming mind could pose a great threat to the Kingdom of Qing. If the person captured by Northern Qi had not been the son of Yan Ruohai of the Fourth Bureau, these unfeeling spymasters of Qing would undoubtedly have followed their Director's order and urged the Emperor to sacrifice the unfortunate captive's life for the sake of the nation.
Yan Ruohai also knew this, and so he was deeply grateful to the Director. Suddenly, he spoke. "What of the eldest princess?"
"We are loyal to His Majesty, and His Majesty has not said anything; we won’t act on what we don’t know. Chen Pingping had made his final judgment.
"Shall we capture the emissaries from Northern Qi and bring them back?"
"What would bringing them back do? Concede that the royal court has lost face? I’ll leave this matter in the hands of the Eighth Bureau. Say some remaining elements of the former nation of Yue to the south who are still unwilling to concede defeat are spreading rumors within the capital and have already been captured entirely. We will take a couple of prisoners to the market and execute them. Before we do, make sure the common people of the city are there to witness the spectacle." Chen Pingping spoke coldly.
The gathered chiefs departed, following their orders to counteract the rumors and arrest people. Only Yan Ruohai was left behind. He looked at the Director and spoke calmly. "There is no poison in the world that would allow Xiao En to survive the journey only to die before the lords of Northern Qi."
"What is your point?" asked Chen Pingping.
Yan Ruohai frowned. "I know my son. He would not agree with His Majesty's methods. I think he would happily trade his life for Xiao En."
Chen Pingping looked at him coldly. "You should avoid arousing suspicion in this matter. Do not get involved, and do not discuss it. As for how it is done, that is my business. You are correct, there is no poison that could miraculously bring about such a situation. Even if Master Fei were here in the capital, he could not achieve it. But Xiao En must die, and Yan Bingyun must return."
He smiled. "Do not forget, it was I who sent your son to the north four and a half years ago."
Yan Ruohai was about to say something, but Chen Pingping stopped him with a wave of his hand. "I was going to wait for Bingyun's return before I promoted you to Zhu Ge's place. Zhu Ge could have lived a few days longer, but with these leaflets flying all over the capital, and the city in uproar, I want to make it clear to you."
Chen Pingping sighed. "Something that was hidden in the shadows has suddenly become known by everyone in the capital. Such a preposterous yet effective method will probably also force His Majesty to make things clear to the officials who are aware of this matter."
Chen Pingping cleared his throat. "You should know, there is now a commissioner within the council, and as I told you once before, I am preparing to send him to Northern Qi."
Yan Ruohai frowned. "It is very dangerous." He understood that the Director wanted to give this commissioner the task of killing Xiao En.
"One cannot make a sword without striking the iron." Chen Pingping's eyes seemed somewhat tired. "If he is successful, I hope that one day, you can help him run the Council properly."
Yan Ruohai finally understood. He was secretly rather surprised, but he did not dare say anything. Crouched in front of Chen Pingping's wheelchair, he nodded sincerely.
"So who did it?" Chen Pingping pushed his wheelchair to the window, his sallow fingers lifting up a corner of the black cloth, furtively peeking his head out to look, like a child. The days of uninterrupted autumn rain had already finished the day before yesterday, and it was a bright, sunny day outside. There was a golden glint on the imperial palace in the distance.
He leant on one side of his wheelchair, using the light that peeked through the black cloth to look at the paper in his hand. He could not help but shake his head. "Regardless of whether or not she collaborated with Northern Qi, was there really any need to say that she kept three thousand gigolos inside the palace for promiscuity?" This issue regarding the reputation of the royal family was rather inconvenient to bring up in their previous discussions. Chen Pingping looked at the lettering on the leaflet, as straight and neat as matchsticks, and laughed. "It really is causing trouble. Shameful... but, the penmanship really does look like it was written by that idiot from the city of Dongyi."
"Dongyi, Dongyi... is it really you?" As he muttered to himself, a smile floated across his face. "Sigu Sword was an idiot, but he wasn't mad. In dealing with that madwoman the eldest princess, this method could actually be quite effective. If you smash porcelain to pieces, no one can tell the pieces apart. But if you break His Majesty's rules, His Majesty may not be happy.
Whether it was the calculating Chen Pingping, or the secretive and crazed eldest princess, neither could have imagined that such a great matter was caused by the work of just two people, a master and his servant.
Fan Xian watched the aftermath of the affair calmly, even was even detached. His dictation of erotic literature was seemingly something that this nation could not bear. No matter how the Emperor genuinely felt deep down, he did not care what damage he might have done to the eldest princess’s true power. But what he had wanted to happen had finally come to pass.
The eldest princess had left the palace in absolute silence, returning to her fiefdom of Xinyang. As for the conflicts and struggles that this affair had brought about within the palace, Fan Xian was unconcerned.
Just as Wu Zhu had calculated, His Majesty had bestowed titles without restraint. At the same time, Fan Xian had benefited. Although on the surface it had nothing to do with him, it seemed that His Majesty was praising him for his services to the ruling dynasty.
By imperial decree, Fan Xian immediately changed from an eighth level academic to a fifth-level administrator of the Imperial College.
In the reception pavilion, Fan Xian held the imperial decree in his hands, racking his brains. "What does an academic of the Imperial College do?" he asked his father.
"Teaches the students of the Imperial College." Count Sinan also felt that this decree was excessively unfathomable. He shook his head. "You don't have an official certificate of examination; how can you be an academic of the Imperial College?"
"Does that mean I don't have to take the imperial examinations next year?"
"That's right." Count Sinan seemed unhappy. He spoke unenthusiastically. "Not taking the imperial examinations is not the right way. Right now, it may seem extremely convenient, but in the future, it will be a hindrance to your official career." But he thought it over. Did the demand not mean peace for the whole of Fan Manor that this handsome young man could comfortably live out his days?
That was his thinking. Otherwise he would not have named the child "Xian", meaning "leisure", or his courtesy name "Anzhi", which meant "peaceful".
Once he heard that he would not have to sit the imperial exams, Fan Xian was overjoyed, and with a huge grin on his face he returned to the study. Fan Sizhe was already waiting there, grinding an inkstick while he looked at him.
"What are you doing?"
"Making an inscription."
"For what?"
"The Banxianzhai Poetry Anthology."

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