"The Human Emperor declares that…"
"Ji Ao, King Yang Qiu, the son of King Yang Shan, has slain the evil immortal, the Sovereign of Myriad Immortal Alliance, and captured Li Qinghua, the evil immortal's son. Because of his meritorious service, he is now promoted to King Yue Feng. Twenty provinces will be added to his fief, and he can recommend four of his sons to be conferred as ninth-grade Marquises of Province."
"Yangqiu Fengbo, King Yang Qiu's subject, has rendered meritorious service in the capture of Li Qinghua, the son of the Sovereign of Myriad Immortal Alliance, the evil immortal. He is now conferred with the title of the third-grade Marquis of Tang Province, in charge of everything in Tang Province, a third-grade province.
"Tan Lang, King Yang Qiu's subject, has rendered meritorious service in the slaying of the Sovereign of Myriad Immortal Alliance, the evil immortal. He is now conferred with the title of third-grade Marquis of Dong Hai Province. His fief, Dong Hai County, will be expanded and promoted to a third-grade province. He is to be in charge of everything in Dong Hai Province, independent from Zhong Province."
On his knees under the high stone steps, Wu Qi and the others listened to the elderly man slowly read out all the conferrals on the scroll. King Yang Qiu had blushed with excitement, his hands tightly clenched into fists as veins bulged on the back of his palms. Yangqiu Fengbo was shaking with emotion as well. For generations, his family had been the servants of King Yang Qiu's family. Even though he was still nominally King Yang Qiu's servant, after being conferred as the Marquis of Tang Province, his status was now completely different.
Wu Qi was pleasantly surprised when he heard that he was conferred as the third-grade Marquis of Dong Hai Province. With the title, things would become much easier for him. The present Dong Hai Province was a wilderness, and it had a sparse population of only millions of people, even lesser than a properly developed county in Great Yu. Now that the Human Emperor had conferred him as the Marquis of Dong Hai Province and promoted Dong Hai County to a third-grade province, it meant that at the very least, the issue of underpopulation would be solved by Great Yu's imperial court. He knew that the population in Dong Hai Province would soon experience an explosive growth.
Yangqiu Fengbo's three brothers and other subjects of King Yang Qiu who had contributed in this mission were also conferred ranks of nobility, ranging from ninth-grade to first-grade Marquis of County. They were all under great exhilaration, and would have broken into loud cheers if they were not at You Xiong Palace. The conferral of noble ranks made them completely indifferent to the rewards of money, beautiful girls, horses, weapons, and the likes that followed. Their noble titles came with lands and great power, and these two could bring them all the material possessions they wanted.
Ji Ao, whose title had been promoted from King Yang Qiu to King Yue Feng, also gave Yu Gu a major part of the credit in his reports. As a result, because of his status of a Supreme Oracle and his prowess, Yu Gu was promoted as an Elder of Great Yu's Secret Palace, a position that came with a great authority. In addition, he could recommend two of his descendants to be conferred as ninth-grade Marquises of Province.
Because of his dissatisfaction toward Yu Qingcheng, Ji Ao only gave him a minor credit in the reports. As a result, Yu Qingcheng was meagerly rewarded with some gold, silver, jewelry, beautiful girls, and servants, in addition to a manor situated outside Liangzhu and the tens of thousands of acres of farmlands around it; however, he was not conferred a rank of nobility. His face was black with anger when he saw that Wu Qi was conferred as a third-grade Marquis of Province, and even the few personal guards of Ji Ao were conferred as Marquises of County.
The rank of King in Great Yu was divided into four sub-ranks: Shan(Mountain), Shui(Water), Zhou(Province), and Cheng(City).
Each sub-rank was further divided into several grades. The sub-rank of Shan had four grades—Shan(Mountain), Feng(Mountaintop), Qiu(Hill), and Ling(Ridge). Likewise, the sub-rank of Shui was divided into Hai(Sea), Jiang(River), Hu(Lake), He(Stream). As for the sub-rank of Zhou, it was divided into nine grades and eighteen tiers by Seals, which were Jade, Gold, Silver and Bronze; and Ribbons, which were Purple, Green, Red, Black and White. The two highest sub-ranks could only be bestowed to members of the imperial clan, while the sub-rank of Zhou was bestowed on others for their merits, including the members of the imperial clan, descendants of well-known clans, and commonly born civil and military officials.
There were only four grades in the sub-rank of Cheng, which were the Seal of Silver, Bronze, Iron, and the Ribbon of White. It was only bestowed to commonly born civil and military officials; unlike the sub-ranks of Shan, Shui, and Zhou, which were all hereditary titles, it would be reduced by one grade with each generation the title was passed down. If the heir of a bearer of this title did not contribute any merit to the dynasty, the title would be reduced until the ninth-grade Marquis of County.
In Great Yu, it was very easy for the members of the imperial clan to be conferred the title of King, but impossible for the civil and military officials, no matter they were from well-known clans or commonly born, unless they could make an incredible contribution to the dynasty.
Whatever came below the title of King was Marquis was divided into three sub-ranks: Zhou(Province), Cheng(City), and Lie(Common). Each sub-rank was further divided into nine grades, and was differentiated by the types of seals and colors of ribbons. A Marquis of Province was given a province, the grade of which corresponded to the grade of the title. For example, Bo Zhongfu, the current Prefecture Overseer of Zhong Province, was bearing the title of the First-grade Marquis of Zhong Province. As such, one way for a Marquis of Province to move up in grade was to work hard in developing his province, promoting it to a higher grade.
Of course, if a Marquis of Province could contribute enough merits to Great Yu, the Human Emperor would naturally promote his grade by transferring him to another province which was higher in grade. This was another way to move up in grade.
A Marquis of City was also known as a Marquis of County, and a county was given to the bearer of this title. According to their richness and population, the counties in Great Yu were divided into nine grades, which corresponded to the grade of the Marquis who ruled the county. And, just like the Marquises of Province, the ways for Marquises of County to move up in grade were either working hard in developing their counties' economy and population, or accumulating their merits. But, there was another way, an easier way—by having their daughters picked by the Human Emperor and conferred as imperial concubines.
The bearers of the Marquis of Common, which were divided into nine grades, were in fact military officers stationed in various strategic places. They were either posted in some immortal pass or outer heavenly realm, and the grade of their titles was decided by the importance of where they were based, and the number of troops they had.
The Kings of Great Yu had their own fiefs where they had an absolute control over everything, including replacing all the officials in the Military Court and Directorate of Celestials with their own retainers. Even the Kings of County, whose grade was the lowest and fiefs the smallest in size, were free to do what they liked in their counties. They could have their own armies, and as long as they could afford, the size of the army was not limited. They could even have their own set of laws, provided that it was not violating the various injunctions declared by the Human Emperor. For example, they could have a law which set the number of meals their people could take per day, which could be one or ten, and those who violated this law would have their entire family executed. Although it was an absurd law, no one would condemn them for that.
But, the lands given to the Marquises of Great Yu were only territories, not fiefs. Although the Marquis of Province and Marquis of County could pass their territories to their heirs, these lands were under the Human Emperor's jurisdiction. The imperial court of Great Yu had the power of supervising and controlling, the rights to assign officials, and the rights to station other Marquises of Common with their armies in these provinces and counties. Apart from that, all the Marquises had to obey Great Yu's law, and also pay a large amount of tribute to the imperial court every fixed amount of years.
As for the Marquises of Common, they did not even have their own territories. Their dominion was where their armies were stationed. Furthermore, if they were ordered to station in outer heavenly realms, they had to be bullied by those immortal officials of the Heaven and powerful itinerant immortals. Every year, Great Yu lost quite a large number of Marquises of Common in outer heavenly realms, and Yu Zong, who was killed by Wu Qi, was one of the casualties. Normally, Great Yu would not avenge these unlucky Marquises, because, after all, they did not rule outer heavenly realms.
Like a colossal spider web, the vast system of Kings and Marquises, as well as the countless fiefs and territories of varying sizes, covered the entire, almost boundless territory of Great Yu.
With his title of King promoted to a higher grade, in addition to the elevation of his status and voice in the imperial clan, the immediate profit to Ji Ao, previously King Yang Qiu and now King Ye Feng, was the expansion of his fief. Furthermore, he could recommend four of his sons to be conferred as ninth-grade Marquises of Province, which was also a generous reward.
Of all his confidants and military officers, Yangqiu Fengbo and Wu Qi were conferred the titles of Marquis of Province, more than a thousand generals were conferred the titles of Marquis of County, and over ten thousand military officers were conferred the titles of Marquis of Common. This was a huge expansion of Ji Ao's power. Without taking into account the two provinces given to Wu Qi and Yangqiu Fengbo, which allowed his hands to reach further, just by having a group of over ten thousand Marquises of Common loyal to him was already an immense boost to his power and influence.
All in all, the killing of the Sovereign and the wiping out of Myriad Immortal Alliance had brought Ji Ao a tremendous benefit. It made him stand out amongst the many mediocre Kings of the imperial clan of Great Yu and become a star rarely seen in the recent tens of thousands of years, with a tremendous rise in power and influence.
Standing on top of the stairs, the stately-looking old man slowly read out the rewards to the subjects under Ji Ao. Although the detailed list of rewards given to the over ten thousand Marquises of Common was omitted, it still took the old man over eight hours to finish reading the conferral to the thousands of people, including Wu Qi. It was early in the morning when they entered Liangzhu, but it was already dust when the ceremony approached its end.
But, with the sun and the moon always up in the sky over the imperial palace, day and night looked no different here. Also, as Wu Qi and the others had strong fleshly bodies, they did not feel tired even though they had been kneeling for many hours. When the ceremony was finally completed, led by the twelve Great Elders, Ji Ao brought his subjects slowly up the stars, walking into You Xiong Palace.
The high ministers of Great Yu, who were eligible to enter You Xiong Palace, also fell in lines silently and made their way into the palace.
As they approached the deep, dark entrance of You Xiong Palace, Wu Qi had a feeling that it was the mouth of a monster. He could sense an extremely ancient aura gradually wafting out of it, which made him feel a difficulty in breathing.
Taking a deep breath, he followed the crowd into the heart of power belonging to one of the two strongest powerhouses in this world, entering the core which controlled Pangu Continent, the land of magic.
As soon as he entered You Xiong Palace, Wu Qi saw the man sitting on the throne at the far end of the hall.