The Emperor’s edict regarding the case of the ‘switched convicts’ was officially released ten days later. The Minister of Appointments, He Jingzhong, was relieved of his position, and, for the plots he had conceived for his son’s sake, would be demoted to a minor government post in Yue province, while He Wenxin would be executed according to the law. The Minister of Justice, Qi Min, had acted with total disregard for the lives of the people, failing in his duty and circumventing the law, and so would be imprisoned and sentenced to exile. Other officials of the Ministry of Justice, both high ranked and low, were likewise found guilty of the same crime. Although Prince Yu was not implicated, these were the only two among the Six Departments of the court which he held comfortably in the palm of his hand, and which accomplished whatever he asked of them, and with this one case, he had lost both Ministers all at once, and so, besides feeling regret and sorrow, his hatred for Xie Yu burned even hotter, seeming to sink into his very bones.
Someone analyzed the respective losses of the two camps in the fight for the crown in the past half year, and realized that, although it seemed as if the Crown Prince had suffered repeated blows recently while Prince Yu wandered around in high spirits, with this last case, there was, in the end, not much difference between the losses experienced by each side.
On the Crown Prince’s side, his mother consort had been demoted, he had lost the court debate, he had been stripped of the Minister of Rites and the Minister of Revenue, and he himself had been confined to Guijia Palace. On Prince Yu’s side, the land infringement case had toppled the Duke of Qing, the Empress was receiving the cold shoulder in the palace, and now, he had lost the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Appointments. Everyone said it was normal to win some and lose some, but the strange thing was, these two fought like wildfire, attacking each other endlessly, but no one could see what they had gained, and at most, you could only say Prince Yu had improved his relationship a little with the imperial Mu residence and with Prince Jing.
But at the moment, the Crown Prince and Prince Yu did not have time to sit down and count their gains and losses. They were currently investing all their energy into one single matter, and that was how to place their own people into the vacancies in the Ministries of Justice and Appointments, as neither could afford to allow the other to place his own people into the open positions.
The Crown Prince was currently confined in Guijia palace for reflection and did not dare interfere directly in this matter, so he could only act through other people, and inevitably, he was only at about seventy percent of his usual strength. Prince Yu, on the other hand, had hand-picked the two previous Ministers who had just been dismissed, and so the Emperor was currently rather unimpressed with his judgement, and naturally, Prince Yu was not in a position to receive anything he asked for, as he had done in the past. And so, although the two struggled day and night, no conclusion could be reached.
The Ministry of Appointments had only lost a minister, and the operations of the ministry itself were not disrupted, but the Ministry of Justice had lost half its people all at once, and if a head was not appointed soon, the situation would disintegrate into chaos. The Emperor was greatly troubled over this problem, and at his age, headaches and dizziness naturally accompanied stresses of the mind and heart, and soon, all the princes and princesses were arriving at the palace to inquire about his health. Prince Jing and Princess Jingning came together, and when the matter which was causing the Emperor so much trouble was brought up, Prince Jing casually mentioned the official from the Ministry of Justice he had worked with while handling the land infringement case, Cai Quan. At this reminder, the Emperor suddenly remembered this person had been in charge of writing the report for the case, and had left a very good impression on him, and after a hurried investigation, it was confirmed that he had not been implicated in the case of the exchanged convicts, and so the Emperor immediately summoned him to court. After interviewing him for an hour, he saw that Cai Quan possessed clarity of thought and a thorough knowledge of criminal law, displaying good insight while answering his questions, and was indeed a rare talent. It was only that he did not have much qualifications or experience, and did not come from any notable background, and so he had never risen in the ranks. The Emperor had found his solution. The next day, Cai Quan was raised to a third-ranked official and appointed temporary Minister, and was ordered to take charge of all necessary efforts to resume the normal operations of the Ministry of Justice within a month, and to clear up the backlog of work that had accumulated in the meantime. The bickering Crown Prince and Prince Yu had no idea where this Cai Quan had come from, and both initially thought he was from the other’s camp, and could not believe their ears when their investigations revealed that this person truly did not belong to any party, and had remained neutral.
After stabilizing the Ministry of Justice, the Emperor turned his attention to the choice of the new Minister of Appointments, and after many days of consideration, he finally accepted the suggestion of Head Secretariat Liu Cheng and transferred former Imperial Censor Shi Yuanqing into the post, whose mourning period for a parent had ended half a year ago, but who had not been able to return to his former position yet. Shi Yuanqing was an observant and meticulous man, and was known for being honest and upright, and so he had butted heads with both the Crown Prince and Prince Yu in the past, and had even contradicted the Emperor before, and so the Emperor was not very fond of him. No one knew what Head Secretariat Liu Cheng had said to convince the Emperor this time, to make him put aside his personal preference in appointing this important office.
But the frenzy of the court did not disturb the peace and quiet of Mei Changsu’s manor. Although he was now publicly recognized as Prince Yu’s strategist, the losses Prince Yu had experienced in the case of the ‘switched convicts’ was entirely due to his own carelessness and underestimation of his enemy, and as he had not mentioned the matter to the qilin prodigy beforehand, naturally, he could not hold him responsible after the fact. As for the fight to seize the two Ministers’ positions, Prince Yu had actually come to seek Mei Changsu’s advice, but in the end, he was from the jianghu world, and did not have people in the court he could use, and so he could only analyze and suggest a few appropriate choices, and could give no practical help this time. Fortunately, Prince Yu had not placed high expectations on him in this matter, and so after listening to his views, he returned hurriedly to his palace to continue working.
As a result, in these warming spring days, Mei Changsu turned all his attention onto one task, which was to bring in artisans and smiths to renovate the Su manor’s gardens.
The blueprint of the new gardens had been designed by Mei Changsu’s own hand, and the landscape was covered with plants matched in height and size, complemented with fountains and stone gardens, a new large lily pond, a bridge, and even a small pavilion, and there were to be a dozen huge, ancient trees brought in, as well as flowers according to every season. The progress of the reconstruction was exceedingly quick, and the entire process took only a month from start to finish.
On the second day after Su Manor completed its renovations, Mei Changsu good-naturedly invited some guests from the capital with whom he had had previous relations to see the new gardens, and at his special invitation, the two Xie brothers attended with Zhuo Qingyao and Zhuo Qingyi, the Mu siblings came with a few high-ranking generals of their own manor, Meng Zhi brought his wife, and Xia Dong even dragged along Xia Chun, who had only just returned to the capital. Although Yan Yujin did not bring anyone with him, he brought an exquisite little canoe, and Fei Liu spent the entire day in it, floating rapturously on the lily pond.
With the host’s warm reception, the atmosphere quickly became joyful and lively. All the guests were of no ordinary background, and more importantly, there was a whole chaotic mess of different positions and views, and everyone had some relationship with everyone else, and so, on the contrary, they all veered away from court topics and found casual subjects to chat about instead, and as a result, there was a rare ease and comfort to the whole environment. Among this crowd, Yan Yujin was the first to create excitement, and Mu Qing was of a similar temperament, and the two were matched like peas in a pod. As for the others, Zhuo Qingyao was famed for his jianghu reputation, the Xuanjing officers were experienced in the ways of the world, Princess Nihuang was a legend in her own right, and host Mei Changsu was an even greater mystery……no one could have thought that there could be so much joy and delight in such a strange combination of people.
After touring the gardens, lunch was laid out on a half-open terrace. The dishes were simple and light, but the most curious part was that each dish was accompanied by a different type of wine, and wine and dish together combined to give a most distinctive flavour. Amongst the guests, only Xie Bi, who was fond of tasting wine, could name most of the vintages present, while the others only knew one or two at most.
After the meal, Mei Changsu ordered for tea to be brought and personally brewed a pot, and after everyone had received a cup, he said with a gentle smile, “It is dull to sit around like this, I thought of a game last night, I wonder if anyone would be interested?”
No one would turn down the chance to hear about a game thought up by Mister Mei of Jiangzuo, even if he or she did not want to play, and Yan Yujin was the first to reply, “Good, good, Brother Su, tell us about it.”
“I once had the good fortune to acquire a bamboo scroll of zither music, and after studying it for a long time, I was able to ascertain that it was a score of the long-lost ‘The Scattering of Guangling‘. Last night, I hid this score in a certain place in this manor, and I will give this score as a gift to whoever finds it first.” As Mei Changsu spoke, he rolled the cup in his hand, gently dissipating its fragrance. “As for those guests who have no interest in the treasure hunt, let me keep you company here with tea and conversation, and we will wait to see who will claim the prize today.”
As soon as he heard the words, ‘The Scattering of Guangling‘, Yan Yujin’s eyes lit up, the little Lord Mu was young and liked to play, and so he looked excited as well, and although Xie Bi was not interested in the music score, he thought going off on a treasure hunt would be more fun than sitting around drinking tea, and so these three were the first to stand. Xiao Jingrui originally didn’t have much preference either way, but as he hesitated, Yan Yujin suddenly turned a glare towards him, and he knew his friend figured adding another person to the team would increase their chances of winning, so he smiled and put down his teacup, then got to his feet, pulling Zhuo Qingyao up with him. Zhuo Qingyi looked interested, but as a well-bred young noble lady, she was embarrassed to join in the excitement, and so sat unmoving at her place, blushing and glancing furtively at Princess Nihuang.
The Princess, exceptionally observant as always, took one look at her and knew what she was thinking, and so she smiled and stood, saying, “Miss Zhuo, would you care to accompany me?”
Zhuo Qingyi struggled to contain the joy on her face as she hurriedly stood and curtsied, saying, “It would be my honour to accept the Princess’ invitation.”
Seeing the Princess and little lord walking away, the generals of the imperial Mu residence stopped trying to contain their own eagerness, and immediately got up and followed. And so, with only this bit of effort, the terrace was almost cleared.
Mei Changsu spun his tea cup with the tip of his fingers and smiled, “It looks like the only ones willing to sit around with me drinking tea are Meng dage, Meng dasau¹, and Officer Xia Dong….”
“How can that be, there’s still Officer Xia Chun…” Meng Zhi turned towards the eastern part of the terrace as he spoke, and stopped, taken aback. “Where’s Officer Xia Chun?”
“He left a long time ago,” Xia Dong couldn’t help laughing. “Brother Chun is obsessed with music, so as soon as he heard there was an ancient zither score, how could he sit around? Before Mister Su had even finished speaking, he had disappeared like a gust of wind……poof….”
“Right, right, right,” Meng Zhi smacked his head with his hand. “I forgot, last time, Officer Xia Chun even got into an argument with His Majesty over a piece of ancient music.”
“Officer Xia Chun is an expert in the arts of divination, and possesses such ingenuity and skill, he will see through my little camouflaging at a glance, so it looks like Yujin is going to be disappointed today,” Mei Changsu smiled.
“It’s difficult to say, Mister Su’s manor is not small, and whether one starts out in the right direction really depends on luck.” Xia Dong raised an eyebrow, a gleam in her eyes as she laughed evilly, “Yujin that little rascal dragged along so many helpers that, if anyone besides Brother Chun finds the ancient score, he’ll find a way to weasel it out of them in the end. So if you look at it like this, his chance of success is not low.”
Mei Changsu smiled but did no reply, lowering his head to tend the teapot and refilling everyone’s cups with fresh tea, idly turning the conversation to the popular sights and scenery of the area. Around two or three hours later, Xia Chun returned, his face as bright as the spring wind, befitting his name², and holding a small, red wooden box in his hands. He strode up to Mei Changsu and clasped his hands in a bow, saying, “Mister Su, I am flattered by your generous gift.”
Mei Changsu laughed brightly, and said, “Officer Xia has found it yourself, what does this have to do with me? What about the others? They’re not still looking, are they?”
“Yes,” Xia Chun’s smile was a little mischievous, “I came back quietly.”
“I had not expected Officer Xia Chun to have such a playful spirit,” Mei Changsu smiled in spite of himself, then turned his head to look towards the left side of the terrace.
Li Gang had been standing there waiting for some time, and seeing the Chief’s gaze turn towards him, he silently raised his right eyebrow, and then bent forward in a bow.
Mei Changsu’s heart steadied, and he said aloud, “Go and ask the Princess and the rest of them to return, even if they keep looking, there won’t be a second scroll.”
“Yes.” Not long after Li Gang received the order and retreated, the other treasure-hunters came trailing back. When Yan Yujin saw the zither music score in Xia Chun’s hands, although he was disappointed, he also knew that this person’s fanatic love of music surpassed even his own, and so he only sighed a few times and quickly put the matter aside.
The sun was setting, and both host and guests had exhausted their pleasure. The guests took their leaves one by one. Meng Zhi was the last to go, and though he usually rode, he stepped into a carriage this time, probably because he was escorting his wife, and they left that way.
Mei Changsu stood at the door of his manor, seeing his guests out, and then strode slowly to the back of his manor towards his private rooms, and as soon as he entered the door of his house, he said smiling, “Meng dage, you returned quickly.”
“I didn’t go far,” Meng Zhi came over and helped him close the door, then turned and raised an eyebrow. “Did you forget Xia Chun was here when you played that game today? You really scared me just now, I was sweating all over, he’s an expert at mechanics and traps, and you actually dared to let him roam around freely in your manor…….”
“This game was designed for Xia Chun.” As he spoke, a hint of a smile drifted across Mei Changsu’s lips. “A secret tunnel that even Xia Chun couldn’t find – that is truly a secret tunnel……and besides, I redesigned the entrance to the secret tunnel myself, so even if Xia Chun had discovered it, he would only see it as a hidden room. And anyway, if I didn’t have seven parts confidence of beating him, I would not have taken this risk.”
“You’re right,” Meng Zhi let out a long breath. “In everything you do, when have you ever failed to be thorough?”
Mei Changsu smiled and took his arm, saying lowly, “Today is the first time, Meng dage, would you care to accompany me to the imperial Jing residence for a stroll?”
¹dasau = sister-in-law / wife of older brother / respectful address for an older married woman
²in case you’ve forgotten, Xia Chun translates literally to ‘summer spring’
Okay. So, I have an announcement to make, and you’re not gonna like it. I’m currently in the middle of preparing for my final exams, and – I think I really need to take a break from the translating.
This book is too beautiful for me to do a half-hearted job. I don’t think I can do it (and you) justice with the time I (don’t) have right now. (And I do feel the English of the recent chapters is already starting to suffer a little; I may have to go back and do some editing.)
The good news is, I should be back in April (assuming I pass).
The better news is, there are still three more chapters queued after this, so the hiatus will only really start in mid-February.
I also just want to take a moment to thank you guys so, so much. It’s been just over half a year since I started Lang Ya Scribe, and when Chapter 83 posts, that will make something like 56 chapters translated, and it’s all because of your lovely support and comments. I NEVER imagined when I started this that so many people would read my translations. I think the last chapter had over 800 views and JUST LIKE WHAT. (But then again, this is Lang Ya Bang so I don’t know why I’m surprised. Hai Yan is a goddess of storytelling, and I am frankly thrilled to have even a small part in spreading her story to more fans.)
So. I fully intend to be back. The first line of Chapter 84 is already translated.
And in the meantime, hang tight, and enjoy these next few chapters.
(You’ll be happy to know I managed to squeeze in Consort Jing just before I had to stop.)