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Published at 6th of February 2021 06:53:26 PM

Chapter 17

Recently, the cooks at the Hua estate were especially busy . This was because their third young master suddenly grew a picky mouth . Today, he wanted to eat this kind of fish; tomorrow, he wanted that kind of crab . The day after that, he wanted to eat some kind of chicken . And his tastes changed twice a day . During noon, he wanted to have the local delicacies of the capital . During the evening, he wanted to have the local delicacies of the south .   

“I heard that scholars are under a lot of pressure . On West Street, a scholar went mad a few days ago . ”  

The head cook boiled chicken soup until it was very concentrated, then poured it over green leafy vegetables . And after that, had the servants carry this dish away, before taking off his face towel . “This isn’t much . Every time the Imperial Examinations arrive, a few participants would go crazy in the examination hall . Did you know about the young noble from the family of the Imperial Academy’s Sacrificial Wine Specialist? That household can be considered an influential clan with a scholarly reputation . A few years ago, the only son participated in the imperial examinations . In the end, he had to be carried out . If not for the palace sending imperial physicians to examine him, and the all sorts of great medicine he took, he would have died . ”      

“That frightening?” The servant girls and older female servants in the kitchen grew anxious . Even the young nobles from scholarly influential families were like this . The Hua clan were a clan of martial artists . How much stress was Third Young Master shouldering?  

“Old Du, for the next few months, make more dishes that can help someone recuperate their mental energy . ” One after the other, the servant girls and older female servants surrounded the cooks . One of them said this kind of soup could nourish a person; another one said that kind of soup was good for the body . It made the head cooks confused and disoriented, wishing they could have made ten types of soups on the spot to shut the other servants up .   

Ever since the conclusion of the prior ceremony, people kept inviting Hua Changkong to all sorts of poem groups and tea groups . Hua Changkong used the excuse of studying at home to decline .     

Very soon after, news spread in the capital: Great General Hua’s third son was actually preparing for the Imperial Exams .   

After such news had entered the ears of the civil officials, their thoughts grew subtle . They were proud of the charm of books and poems, able to entice a martial official’s son into wanting to be a civil official . Yet, they also felt that very soon, an outsider would break into their circle, into their domain .

But in the end, waves of relief washed over them . For many generations, the Hua clan were a clan of generals . If Hua Changkong wanted to participate in the Imperial Examinations, then let him . Once he did, they, a family of generals, would understand how difficult the scholars’ decades of suffering were .     

They ought to let them have first-hand knowledge that scholars did not depend on their two lips to have influence in the court, and receive the emperor’s trust .   

But no one had expected that there would be some civil officials who, after learning that Hua Changkong wanted to take part in the Imperial Exams, would send many resources for said exam, treating him as if he were their own family member .

The other civil officials were very baffled . Were there… traitors amongst them?  

“These materials are very thorough and detailed . ” Hua Liuli flipped through the resources for the Imperial Exams that the Minister of Revenue’s people delivered . “Was our family’s relationship with the Cao family this strong? I’ve never heard Daddy mention this to Mother before . ”    

“Cao Jinba and Lin Huizhi have been close friends for many years…”  

“What?!” Hua Liuli threw the resources onto the desk . “Could it be that he’s helping Lin Huzhi take revenge?”    

She knew this well: there was no such thing as a free lunch .   

When Lin Huizhi had still been in the court, he censured her daddy . If one put it unpleasantly, she merely forbid him from eating meat . Never had she expected that old fellow to be so good at holding a grudge, actually writing a letter to complain to his good friend .   

“Doesn’t seem like it . ” Hua Changkong shook his head . “It’s clear that he put a lot of care into preparing these things . It didn’t seem careless . ”    

Hua Liuli stared at him for a good while, appearing pensive . “Don’t tell me they want to raise an ally that doesn’t like them at all?”  

“Don’t think too much . ” Hua Changkong handed an opened letter to her . “Father and Mother sent a letter . They should arrive at the capital at most after January . Eldest Brother and Second Brother will remain in the border station, to protect against Jinpo Country surrendering on the surface yet plotting an attack in the shadows, retaliating on the commoners at the border . ”   

“What about Eldest Sister-in-law and Second Sister-in-law?”  

“They will also stay at the border station . ” Noticing his little sister’s upset expression, Hua Changkong reached out to rub her head . “Famous generals can also age . For successive generations, we the Hua clan have always been in the military and never received the emperor’s suspicion . We pay particular attention on when to advance and when to retreat . So don’t think too much . ”  

“I understand,” said Hua Liuli, sitting cross-legged on a soft cushioned chair . “I’m just a bit unwilling to be apart from Eldest Brother and Second Brother’s families . ”    

“Jinpo Country has already fallen . The other surrounding little countries dare not act blindly without thinking . In the next few years, there won’t be any conflict breaking out . Once Eldest Brother and Second Brother have accumulated enough qualifications and seniority, they can return . ” Hua Changkong stuffed a plate of pastries into Hua Liuli’s hand . “Little children should not bother with the adults’ business . ”   

“Young Master, Eastern Palace’s crown prince sent people to deliver some items . ”    

Hua Changkong personally escorted the Eastern Palace’s servants to the doors . Then, he took a look at the things the crown prince had sent . The trunk was full of books . Right at the top of the pile was a book called “Collection of Imperial Exams for the Past Thirty Years . ” He flipped it open . Indeed, inside were test topics and brilliant essays to those topics of the past thirty years .   

The book underneath that was called “Ten Things Needed and Ten Things Unneeded for the Imperial Exams . ”  

Under that, “What to Take Note of in the Meals Before the Imperial Exams . ”  

And under that, “How to Match Your Clothes with Your Knowledge in the Imperial Exams,” “What to Prepare for the Imperial Exams,” “Many Interesting Stories of Zhuangyuans,” and so on . It could even be said that books of knowledge and gossip were gathered together, and neither study references nor entertainment were neglected .   

Hua Changkong gathered all the gossipy books and gave them to his sister . From then on, the sounds of his sister puffing and blowing from laughter could be heard occasionally .

It was a mystery who wrote those books . Practically all the awkward incidents of well-known civil court officals were recorded within .   

When the crown prince was preparing these books, did he know what was written in them?  

The lunar New Year’s Eve was approaching . This was Hua Liuli’s first time passing it without her parents around . It was hard not to feel downcast . Even the gossipy books could not amuse her .     

She leaned against the side of the window frame, gazing at the trees that had lost their leaves in the garden . A sigh escaped her lips .   

“Commandery Princess, if your honored self is bored, how about taking a stroll in the capital?” Yuanwei draped a cloak over her . “Or, you can pick from those invitation cards an interesting gathering to attend?”    

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“No,” said Hua Liuli without even sparing a thought . “My body is delicate, so it’s unsuitable for me to go out . ”  

“How about this slave makes something delicious for you to eat?”  

“I don’t feel like eating . ” She shook her head .   

Worry filled Yuanwei .  If even culinary delicacies cannot interest Commandery Princess, then she must truly be in a poor mood .  General and Mistress have always pampered Commandery Princess growing up, and the other members of the household pamper her even more .  Although those past years in the border station were more difficult than their time in the capital, such years had been lively . They had never been as cold and cheerless as the current year .   

“Little Sis,” said Hua Changkong . Once he had entered the room, he caught sight of Hua Liuli leaning against the window frame, face wan . With a smile, he waved at her . “Come, Third Brother will take you to watch some cuju . ”    

Hua Liuli sat up . “Who’s competing with who?”  

“Prince Ying and Prince Ning have raised two sport teams . They will be competing today . The young nobles and young misses of the capital are all attending to watch . ” Hua Changkong made his way to the side of the window, rubbing Hua Luli’s head . “Let’s join in the excitement . ”  

“You’re not going to study?”  

“Studying requires a balance between work and rest . ” He beckoned toward Hua Liuli, curling his finger . “Are you coming?”  

“Yes!” As soon as the words had left her lips, she prepared to crawl out the window . But with one foot out the window, she immediately turned around and ran out the front door instead .   

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Prince Ying and Prince Ning were born on the same year, same month, and same day to different mothers . Originally, they should be competing for influence, but Prince Ning was someone who loved to play and hated to work . So he got along with the more stronger-personality Prince Ying .     

But Prince Ning had a special hobby: cuju . Although his own technique was terrible, the staunch Prince Ning did not abandon his hobby . Rather, he raised a cuju team . From time to time, he would hold a match, supplying the capital’s commoners and nobility some entertainment .   

When Hua Liuli and Hua Changkong arrived at the venue in a rush, the match had yet to begin . After learning that they would attend, Prince Ning specially prepared two good seats for them . Once the brother and sister pair sat down, Prince Ning rushed to sit next to Hua Changkong . “Third Young Master Hua, word has it that in order to cultivate hobbies and interests in the soldiers, cuju matches would be held, correct?”    

Hua Changkong nodded . “Yes, that’s true . ”  

It was depressing at the border station . If the high-ranking military officers kept the soldiers depressed for too long, bad things would happen . As such, other than training, they would arrange some activities that would help the soldiers relieve their stress . What’s so special about cuju? They had even held sewing competitions .

“It must be very marvelous!” In Prince Ning’s eyes was a look of yearning .     

For a moment, Hua Changkong had a blank expression . Indeed, it was marvelous; it almost sent the door frames flying . From then on, the army camp never held another cuju match . Instead, they switched to sewing and cooking competitions .  

In short, friendship was first, competition was second .   

As soon as the match began, all sorts of cheers and screams surrounded Hua Liuli .  

“Run! Kick the ball into the goal, blockhead!” screamed a female from the imperial clan . Hua Liuli watched as she angrily yanked out a golden hairpin from her hair, hurling it onto the cuju field .   

Silent, she put on the hood of her cloak, afraid those excited spectators would throw things at her head .   

A delicate person like herself could not endure being hit like that .   

With the conclusion of the sports match, the roaring noble lady transformed back into a wise and virtuous woman . The men who were angry to the point of flushed faces and veiny necks transformed back into elegant young nobles .     

However, there were still a few hedonistic sons of wealthy families quarreling on the main street about the cuju team they supported .   

Perhaps it was because the disputes grew too heated, but on the carriage, Hua Liuli could see the servants of both sides on the verge of breaking into fists .   

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In a teahouse across the street, someone watched the scene with indifference .     

“Master, once they start fighting, our people can take advantage of the chaos to kill Tian Ruidong . ”  

The man, the one called “master,” picked up a cup of tea . Snickered .   

Then, he grunted in acknowledgement, before nodding in satisfaction . At that moment, he caught sight of a carriage approaching from the street corner . It made him recall some unpleasant memories . “Are you sure there won’t be any accidents this time?”    

“This subordinate guarantees that there absolutely won’t be any . ”  

The spy they had inserted among the servants had been undercover for nearly four years . Certainly nothing would go wrong .   

The people of Prince Ning’s maternal family would kill the people of Prince Ying’s maternal family . This show would be bustling with excitement .   

“If not for your side’s team member pretending to fall, how would our side’s team have lost?” Tian Ruidong rolled up his sleeves, preparing to step forward to fight .     

“If you say they pretended to fall, then that makes it true?” said the other party, not to be outdone .  If it weren’t for the fact that Consort Xian deliberately gave birth to Prince Ying early, the eldest prince would be our Prince Ning .   

“I, your father, have eyes . Don’t tell me I can’t see through it!”  

“Some people have eyes yet seem to not have them anyway . ”  

“Heh . Once I, your father, get angry…” Tian Ruidong suddenly took note of a carriage slowly approaching on the street .     

Hua Liuli lifted the window curtain . Smiled in a gentle and soft manner . “Young Master Tian?”  

Wasn’t that the Hua clan’s fairy-like daughter?

Tian Ruidong rolled down his sleeves, straightened out his clothes, and flourished his legs as he rushed to Hua Liuli’s carriage .

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