"An adopted orphan?" Everybody was shocked.
Fan Xian answered calmly. "It was a long time ago. After Xiao En’s capture, Northern Wei fell and the world was plunged into chaos. Shang Shanhu appeared in the scene during that time." Of course, the Overwatch Council had other evidence, or else they wouldn’t come to such a conclusion. However, among Fan Xian’s missions during this trip, one of them was to confirm who Shang Shanhu's teacher was.
"No wonder Shang Shanhu was in a hurry to rescue Xiao En."
"This is a great problem for Northern Qi." Fan Xian stopped here and frowned slightly. Haitang wanted Xiao En dead, the Qi emperor wanted to imprison Xiao En and find out the location of the temple, and Shang Shanhu purely wanted the old man to live out his final years in peace. The three most powerful factions went to three different directions because of Xiao En. It would be quite exciting to see how this played out.
Fan Xian also wanted to find out the secret of the temple, so he couldn’t afford to simply watch.
It was getting late and the group was tired from their journey, so they began to get ready to call it a day. The arrangements for tomorrow were naturally taken care of by the appropriate officials. Lin Wen picked out a few important events to report to Fan Xian. The most important things for tomorrow were going to the palace to meet the emperor, and also discussions at the Office of the Grand Herald regarding prisoners.
After some thought, Fan Xian said, "Going to the palace will be in the morning. As for the Office of the Grand Herald in the afternoon," he turned to Lin Jing, "I’m going to have to trouble you to attend to that, Sir Lin."
"Sir, what about you?" Lin Jing looked at Envoy Fan in confusion. For an event as important as the exchange of prisoners, how could the head diplomat not be present?
Fan Xian narrowed his eyes. "I have more important matters to take care off." The agreement of exchanging captives consisted of two papers; one white and one black. The black paper was more important to Fan Xian. He had already given back Xiao En and Si Lili. Next he had to immediately confirm where Yan Bingyun was.
Fan Xian sat on the carriage to Northern Qi’s Imperial palace, unable to stop yawning. He wasn’t so spoiled as to complain about beds, but he really didn’t sleep well last night. Next to him, Wang Qinian and Gao Da also held fatigued expressions. Obviously, every member of the envoy had insomnia last night.
When they were about to go to sleep last night, that Vice-Minister Wei Hua from the Office of the Grand Herald came again. Although he didn’t enter the backyard, many beautiful entertainers entered the rooms of the various Qing officials, shocking them greatly.
Fan Xian didn’t know Northern Qi had such a custom, and he was startled. Even though the girl kneeling by his bed was very attractive, with big, alluring eyes, such absurdity on the first day in Shangjing was too much for him. Fan Xian could only ask the girl to leave.
It was little wonder not many people could sleep well after that. However, one entertainer entered Lin Jing’s room and didn’t come out.
When having breakfast, Fan Xian noticed Lin Jing’s expression didn’t look so good. Lin Jing, surprised, explained that Honglu Temple would make similar arrangements when Northern Qi sends envoys to Qing’s capital.
Fan Xian rubbed his eyes. Looking at Wei Hua, who was leading the group in great spirits, he cursed silently. Northern Qi wanted to tire them out on purpose.
Fan Xian thought this diplomatic mission was… similar to the business trips in his previous life. The carriage progressed smoothly. He greedily lifted the curtain to look at the street scene outside the window. It was with great difficulty that he came to Northern Qi’s capital. Going straight to the palace without catching a glimpse of the street scenes would really be a shame.
Getting out of t
he carriage, Fan Xian entered the palace complex. He put on a smile and gently clasped his hands together. Entering a long dark tunnel, he saw a patch of brightness. That brightness was coming from the roofs of many buildings, most of which were black. Among the overall solemnness there was a hint of aged refreshment.
Fan Xian was slightly dazed as he came to a stop and gazed upon the palace. Just like he did when he first saw Shangjing’s city walls, Fan Xian was a bit out of it. As expected, the Imperial palace of Northern Qi was different than that of Qing. Instead of vastness, it emphasized layers instead, giving it a silent but intricate aesthetic. It was as if every single black pillar held a story of what once happened in the palace. Every single hallway told visitors of how great historical figures once walked through here.
The entire envoy became silent. Because the seven Tiger Guards were armed, they could not enter. Other than Lin Wen, Lin Jing, and Wang Qinian, only the necessary officials from the Board of Rites followed Fan Xian.
Onward they walked, going through long walkways, passing by flowing creeks, and finally arriving at the main Imperial hall.
Outside the hall stood stern guards with determined expressions. From a glance, one could tell that each one was at least a seventh-ranked fighter.
Just outside the massive wooden gates, a head eunuch was waiting.
As the group approached, the head eunuch opened his eyes and meekly took a look at this group of southern barbarians. With a brush of his hand, he belted out, "Southern Qing’s envoy has arrived!"
The eunuch’s voice wasn’t too loud, but the wooden gates behind him slowly opened, showing the visitors the true face of the central power on the northern continent.
The main Imperial hall was extraordinarily vast. The double eaves above were made from highly precious glass, which enabled daylight to saturate the hall unobstructed, eradicating all sense of gloominess commonly associated with Imperial palaces.
On both sides of the hall were support pillars made of an unknown material. The pillars were painted black with gold decorations; each one of them was adorned with the image of a dragon ascending into the clouds. They were peerlessly beautiful.
Behind the pillars were layers of mesh drapes. Behind those, people’s shadows could be seen. It was impossible to tell if those shadows belonged to palace girls or eunuchs.
The first sight that greeted Fan Xian’s eyes – the sight which he remembered most profoundly – was that long straight path. On either side of the path was a pool of clear water!
The envoy, led by the eunuch, slowly walked along the path. The Qing officials who entered this place for the first time reacted very much like Fan Xian did; they couldn’t help but be shaken—the floor they were walking on was made of jade! This jade floor was covered by a beautiful carpet which yielded a strange softness to all who stepped on it.
The two pools proved to be the most unexpected features of the hall. The water was exceptionally clear, and goldfish could be seen swimming in it. For those with good eyesight, like Fan Xian, they could see the deepest parts of the pools, where two great fish – one black and one white – rested on the white sand, gently undulating their graceful tails.
Seeing this sight made Vice-Diplomat Lin Jing sigh. "Such an extravagant palace shows just how much power and wealth Northern Qi owns after taking over Northern Wei’s assets," he thought to himself." But at the same time, it was this extravagance which made Northern Qi soft, resulting in continuous defeats at the hands of Qing."
The officials of Northern Qi gathered behind the long path . A breeze picked up from nowhere, leaving ripples on the pools. Here, the ground was paved with sandalwood planks. Everything was solemn.
At the front, up high, was the Dragon Throne. On it sat Northern Qi’s emperor, who was observing the foreign diplomats with interest.
The diplomats knelt and wished the emperor a long life.
"You may rise." The emperor of Northern Qi smiled, as if he was pleased at having made the citizens of Qing bow at his feet.
Fan Xian sighed inwardly and rose, only to find a pair of eyes fixated on his face. Slightly shocked, Fan Xian stared back and traced the ambiguous gaze back to the young emperor on the Dragon Throne.
This young emperor had ruled for less than two years. This year he would be seventeen; the same as Fan Xian. In academic learning, his tutor was the second son of Zhuang Mohan; in martial arts, his master was the Imperial Advisor Ku He's head disciple. He excelled in neither area. He shared a similarity with Qing’s emperor in having no interest in women. He was also a bit overly playful. He treated the empress dowager with respect and fear and anger, and was mostly generous to his people.
Hmm, seems like this young emperor still believes in this thing called love.
That was Fan Xian’s first reaction upon seeing the emperor’s still-childish appearance. But he immediate realized he was being disrespectful. When a nation’s ruler is looking at him, as an official, he had no right to stare back.
So Fan Xian hurried to lower his head and stood aside in silence. Inside, however, he was suspicious of that ambiguous gaze.
Next to him, Lin Jing’s strong voice rang out. Since Envoy Fan was being extremely lazy, Lin Jing, as the vice-diplomat, reluctantly shouldered all the complicated formalities and other duties—he was now reading the letter of credence written by Qing’s emperor himself.
Fan Xian casually listened, knowing they were just some empty words. Things like the friendship and brotherhood between the two nations couldn’t even fool Dong’er, who sold tofu back in Danzhou. But now they were being read aloud with such seriousness.
As expected, the young emperor of Northern Qi kept nodding slightly, showing approval of his counterpart to the south.
Fan Xian jeered on the inside, but smiled respectfully on the outside, as if intoxicated by the friendly atmosphere between the two nations. Immediately, the officials from Northern Qi’s Board of Rites stepped forwards and said some fanciful words. This diplomatic mission seemed to have made some initial progress.
But Fan Xian still felt uncomfortable, because he discovered that, other than that young emperor, there were now many more pairs of eyes on him. As calm as he was, Fan Xian couldn’t help but wonder.
The ones who really wondered were the various officials of Northern Qi. Everyone knew the head diplomat of this envoy from the south was none other than the immortal poet Fan Xian, so they were all very interested as to what this young star—the one who sent Master Zhuang Mohan back to Northern Qi dispirited—was really like. But now, Fan Xian was keeping silent. Even something as important as reading the letter of credence was left to the vice-diplomat.
That made the officials even more interested in this handsome young star.