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With the passing of the winter solstice, the year was drawing to an end.  It should have been a time of casting aside the old and welcoming the new, a time of joy and excitement, but the atmosphere in the capital had become unexpectedly tense as a result of one of the Emperor’s imperial edicts.

“By royal decree, the investigation of the Bin province land infringement case will now begin, led by Prince Jing Xiao Jingyan as principal investigator, and aided by the Three Departments.  You are hereby ordered to investigate and sentence all involved without prejudice or personal bias.”

The day after he had personally received the bright yellow silk scroll of the imperial decree from the hands of the imperial eunuch, Xiao Jingyan announced the name list of the officials of the Three Departments who would be aiding in the investigation, which immediately shook the already shaken court.

If Prince Jing being named the principal investigator in this case had reduced the Duke of Qing’s chances of escaping blame in this case to an infinitesimal amount, then this name list of the assisting officials had decidedly thrust him into hell.

Although, among the officials of the court, some stood on the sidelines, some had their own biases, and some tried to please both sides, anyone who had been able to rise up in the ranks of the court had some measure of intelligence, and everyone had a good idea of whom those Prince Jing had chosen claimed as their lord.

It quickly became agreed among the court that the Duke of Qing would not be able to avoid calamity this time.  Not only did his close friends and relatives not even dare try to help him, even the person who had publicly acknowledge him as a pillar of support, Prince Yu Xiao Jinghuan, was behaving very strangely.

The Ministry of Justice was Prince Yu’s territory, and the majority of Prince Jing’s investigation would be taking place there, and so everyone thought he would certainly come across some difficulties, and did not expect Prince Yu to accommodate him so amiably, without the slightest sign of intending to make any trouble at all, even sternly rebuking anyone who accidentally delayed in responding to his requests.

So the already precarious position of the Duke of Qing was thus confirmed, and the only uncertainty now lay in whether the Emperor would spare his life, and as for his glorious first-ranked military official position, that was lost for certain.

After ten days, the land infringement case had still yet to be concluded, but news was starting to spread.  Similar cases started flooding into the capital, and some of the implicated noble houses had begun quietly returning land to their peasant owners with compensation, even occasionally coercing them to keep quiet.  In the handling of the subsequent matters, Prince Jing showed a heretofore unseen level of capability, with a nimble flexibility in addition to his steady, unwavering determination, and worked beautifully in cooperation with the officials assisting in the investigation.  And so, because of the Emperor’s support, Prince Yu’s accommodation, and the reliability of his assistants, a case that could have caused uproar and chaos was handled so cleanly under Prince Jing’s direction that he won the praise of everyone who heard about it.

Less than a month later, the case had been essentially concluded, and the number of the convicted among the Duke of Qing and his relatives and close friends came to seventeen in total, and they were sentenced to imprisonment pending execution, with all their property seized, the males of their households sent away to serve penal sentences, and the females sent to service in the palace.

After he had sealed the final scroll, Prince Jing led the rest of the investigating officials into the palace to see the Emperor.

The Emperor immediately summoned them into Xianan hall.  After entering the doors of the hall, Prince Jing discovered that Prince Yu was already before the Emperor, and did not seem to have just arrived.

“Yan’er, you have completed your task.”  The Emperor inquired.

“Your son has obeyed my father’s will, and has completed the sentencing of the Duke of Qing and his relatives for the crime of land infringement, and of one murder.  Here is the scroll, for Father’s reference.”

The Emperor took the scroll the eunuch passed up and read it once from beginning to end, gave an indifferent “Ng” before passing the scroll to Prince Yu, then turned his gaze to the figures gathered before the throne and asked, “Who was responsible for the writing of the case?”

Prince Jing replied, “Cai Quan, senior minister of the Ministry of Justice,” and gestured for Cai Quan to step forward.

“It was well-written.  The structure was clearly organized, and the words carried good substance.”  The Emperor looked over Cai Quan, then turned his gaze back to Prince Jing and was silent for a while before he said, “Your work was not bad as well, you must handle the final matters properly, and continue to stabilize the situation.”

“Yes, Father.”

Prince Yu cut in with a smile, “This case was indeed handled beautifully, and Father has truly chosen the right person for the job.  Such an important case, it was fortunate that Jingyan was in charge, if it was someone else, I fear they would still be running in circles.”

The Emperor looked at him warmly and a smile spread across his face.  “You have behaved very well this time as well, and lightened a great deal of our burden.  Among all our princes, you are the most earnest with the best grasp of the bigger picture.  We hear you even voluntarily helped Jingyan take care of certain matters, is this true?”

“I feared that Jingyan might not be too familiar with the Ministry of Justice, since he seldom has cause to come there, and so lent him a hand.”  Prince Yu smiled and waved a hand dismissively.

“That was very considerate, we are pleased.  Here….”  The Emperor raised a hand slightly and beckoned a servant over.  “Bring a gold chain and four bolts of satin, and bestow them upon Prince Yu.”

“Your son thanks my father for his great favour.”

Prince Jing had investigated the case so diligently and had concluded it so quickly and beautifully, and only received a few lukewarm phrases of praise, while Prince Yu had only held back from causing trouble, but received such generous gifts.  The officials of the Three Departments who had accompanied Prince Jing saw all of this, and though they said nothing, they felt great indignation rising in their hearts.

Before the Emperor’s bias and Prince Yu’s self-satisfied sympathy, Prince Jing himself felt nothing.  He had long ago grown used to receiving unfair treatment and being wronged, and the Emperor’s blind favouritism no longer caused the slightest dismay in him, but rather further ignited the flame of his fighting spirit.

After retreating from Xianan hall, Prince Jing and the other officials went their own way, but Prince Yu rushed out from the hall and called after them, “Jingyan, wait.”

Before, he would have pretended not to hear and kept walking, but to Xiao Jingyan now, his own likes and dislikes no longer meant anything to him, and so he halted and calmly turned around.

Prince Yu hurried towards him, a friendly smile on his face, and gripped Prince Jing’s hand as he explained, “Don’t be angry, Father is really very pleased with the way you have handled the case, and he is planning to wait until you have concluded everything before bestowing rewards…  I have reaped rewards without doing any work today, and have stolen your glory, and if you don’t mind, I will have the gold chain and the bolts of satin sent to your manor….”

“My royal brother is too courteous.  I am a military man, and have no use for such things.”

“It is not for you, it is most appropriate for your wives….”

Prince Jing raised an eyebrow and said indifferently, “My royal brother is not aware that I only have an imperial concubine?  By the rules of the palace, she is not entitled to the use of such things, but I thank you for the kindness.”

Prince Yu looked taken aback, and though he was usually the most adept at pretty words and empty compliments, he could find nothing to say at this moment.  According to proper etiquette, Prince Jing was only a prince, not a royal prince, and so the rank of his imperial concubine was too low to wear gold jewelry or imperial satin.  But these rules were not strictly enforced, and to say nothing of imperial concubines, even the wives of marquis sometimes wore gold jewelry before the Emperor, and the Emperor pretended not to notice, and never pressed the matter.  It was only Prince Jing’s rigid temperament that led to him keeping to this rule, but he could not say he was wrong, and so could only laugh in embarrassment and say, “I overlooked the matter.  But by your abilities, it is only a matter of time before you are raised to Royal Prince, there’s nothing hindering you… that’s right, the new year is coming soon, I will be having a banquet on the fifth day of the new year, Jingyan, you must come, you never came before…”

Prince Jing thought, you never invited me before.  But of course, he understood that Prince Yu’s invitation was to show everyone the friendly relations that had developed between the two, and so did not make things difficult for him, but nodded slightly and replied, “I should come to bring my good wishes to my royal brother and sister-in-law.”

Prince Yu saw that, though his expression was still cool, he had seemed to give a favourable reply, and it seemed that his recent efforts had made some progress, and so joy arose in his heart and he was about to speak again when one of the female servants of the Empress came to summon him immediately to Zhengyang palace, and so he could only say briefly, “Don’t hesitate to find me if you encounter any difficulties” before leaving hurriedly.

Xiao Jingyan had remained rather cold towards all of Prince Yu’s warm efforts, and had not seemed to reply very enthusiastically, giving off only a slight hint of leaning towards him.  But because he normally gave off such a cold, rigid impression, this slight hint of bias was enough to create all kinds of speculation.  The Crown Prince saw that, after he had so easily gotten rid of the Duke of Qing, an even more powerful Prince Jing had appeared, and was growing extremely frustrated.  But Xie Yu kept his composure, and though he received several pointed barbs from Prince Yu in the court, he did not rise to the bait.

Besides the ‘land infringement case’, the other two great cases that had commanded the attention of the court also had their own developments.

These two cases had been delivered to the Ministry of Justice from the Capital Magistrate Office virtually on the same day, but the Ministry of Justice had used different methods in handling them.  The corpses in the well case had been dealt with in the fiercest manner, and no stone was left unturned in the investigation as evidence was collected, witnesses interrogated, and the case sentenced.  Permission to pass sentence on a minister of the same rank was obtained, and though Lou Zhijing refused to admit his guilt, the weight of the evidence was against him and he was stripped of his position and imprisoned, and as soon as the Emperor issued the edict, this once mighty Minister of Revenue would become a concern of the past.  As for He Wenxin’s murder case, although the evidence was clear, it was left to stagnate, and whenever the Earl of Wen came to complain, Qi Min would bring out a long list of doubts and hesitations, and reply that the investigation was still pending, and gradually seemed to be edging towards a sentence of manslaughter, which incensed the Earl of Wen so much that he could no longer rise from his bed.

In any case, the winds of fate seemed to be blowing in favour of Prince Yu as the year drew to a close, and he was beside himself with joy.

And the person who woke him from his pleasant daydreams like a bucket of cold water thrown over his head was the talent of Crimson Sleeve House, Qin Banruo.

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