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Qu Qing Ju is leaving the city! Little Student Ming has come back!
Chapter Fifty Six Schemes of Brothers
On the day He Ming returned to Jing, the city was enveloped in a light rain. He was half-lying inside the carriage, listening to the sound of rain outside. His face looked pale as he lifted up the curtain. He smiled indifferently as he saw the city gate looming closer.
As the carriage drew up near the gate, he saw da ge and er ge sitting astride on their horses. Behind them, several officials stood nearby, waiting to welcome him back to Jing. He motioned for the carriage to stop and moved to step out.
"Si di is wounded, don't get up," He Heng rode his horse forward, smiling as he prevented He Ming from coming down to bow. He dismounted, cupping one hand over his other fisted hand: "Si di has suffered this time."
"Er ge's words are an exaggeration. I failed in accomplishing the duty fuhuang asked of me. I'm extremely embarrassed," Nonetheless, He Ming still made a bow in front of the carriage. His face had an expression of shame, "To hear that fuhuang is worried about it makes er chen unfilial."
"You were fulfilling your duty. It was the bad intentions of others that ruined the mission. What does that have to do with you?" He Heng smiled, "Fuhuang requested that da ge and I receive you before returning to the palace to report. Si di, you can rest your heart."
"Thanks da ge, er ge." He Ming made a bow towards He Qi before sitting back properly inside the carriage. The driver carefully put the curtain down and waited for Ning Wang and Duan Wang to move first.
He Heng got on his horse and moved towards the still-mounted He Qi. He looked at the carriage waiting behind him and said to He Qi, "Da ge, we should go."
"En," He Qi nodded and remarked as if he was both concerned and relieved, "Si di looks much thinner. He must have had a hard time on the road."
He Heng nodded in agreement. He switched topics, "After a few more days, the examinations start. When the Spring Examinations end, it would be si di's big day. At that time, us brothers should have a good celebration."
"Naturally, we will celebrate," He Qi gave a bright laugh, and fell silent for the rest of the journey.
When He Ming went to see Qing De Emperor, he was given some medicine before he left Tian Qi Palace. An guipin shedded many tears when she saw He Ming appear in front of her.
After listening to his mufei narrate the events that recently occurred in Jing City, He Ming smiled as he assured her: "Mufei no longer needs to worry. This is a good thing. At least er chen could close the fu by using my recovery as an excuse. That way, I would not be drawn into their business."
An guipin heard this and her face suddenly changed, "Ming'er, did you … …"
Checking that no one else was in the room, He Ming lowered his voice: "Those assassins seemed to have no intentions of harming er chen. They were only targeting Right Minister Wei. Er chen's wounds may look dangerous but they didn't hit any critical parts. So mufei doesn't have to worry too much."
An guipin wiped away her tears as she hatefully declared: "He Qi and He Yuan are intolerable. They can fight for the throne all they want but why do they have to involve my son?!"
"Those two – one is the oldest, the other is the most favoured. Naturally, neither will care about other people," He Ming gave a bitter smile, "Mufei shouldn't get angry over these matters."
An guipin barely managed to suppress her anger. She was not usually favored. After she had given birth, Shu guifei had kept on bullying her. Thankfully, the Empress was fair and just. Otherwise, her days would have been even more difficult to endure. She sighed: "It's mufei that's useless. If mufei was more favored, you wouldn't have been so neglected." She suddenly thought of Jing guifei. Even though Jing guifei wasn't as favoured as Shu guifei, she still had some standing in the Emperor's heart. Her son, He Heng, was second in terms of favor, right behind He Yuan. She had never interacted with him but he seemed to be a very able person.
She thought out loud: "He Heng might not be an open and honest person, but mufei thinks that this person isn't as cold-blooded and ruthless. If you interact with him more frequently, a good friendship could grow between brothers."
He Ming understood what his mufei meant. He paused for a beat before replying: "Mufei doesn't have to worry, er chen will consider this matter thoroughly." If He Yuan or He Qi succeeded the throne, it was likely that his days would become even more difficult. If He Heng succeeded, even though he was a sanctimonious person, he wouldn't slight him since he was just a unthreatening younger brother. To show the love between brothers, He Heng would even treat him well.
He Ming didn't want to fight, but he didn't want to be a sword that a person used and threw away. He could choose a wise master and plan for the rest of his life.
"He Heng's wife Qu shi is extremely close to the Luo Family. When you left Jing City, Qu shi had sent people to deliver stuff to me. Jing guifei was very attentive to me as well," An guipin was a woman inclined to an ordinary life but she wouldn't allow others to harm her child, "No matter what ideas they have, at least their execution is much better-looking than the other two."
He Ming knew deep down that He Yuan and He Qi hadn't even properly looked at him. It was only er ge with whom he had camaraderie from all those times they playing together as children. It might have faded much over the years but he still treated him much better than the other two and he remembered the good turns he had been given.
He sat down on the step-carriage, provided specially to him by the order of fuhuang, and left the palace. Soon after He Ming returned to his fu, he received the gifts sent by the other families. Even da ge and san ge had sent something over. Although their presents were only decorations that looked valuable but were practically useless, at least they had showed some concern.
The presents that er ge's fu had sent had been identified by his own fu's doctor as restoratives that were good for the body. He Ming started to understand the concern er ge felt for him.
Remembering how fuhuang subtly hinted that he should ignore the officials who believed san ge was behind the assassination attempt, the smile on He Ming's face became colder. Since fuhuang wanted him to believe him, naturally he wouldn't make fuhuang disappointed. As to whether or not anyone would trust his actions, that would depend on fuhuang and san ge.
"Paternal love?" He Ming threw the sandalwood bead bracelet that Qing De Emperor had given him onto the floor. He watched as the beads bounced in every direction. He sneered as he spoke aloud, "It's such a joke."
On the first day of the Spring Examinations, the carriages filled the areas outside the examination halls, all of them waiting to deliver the student-scholars.
Liang Rong and Qu Wang Zhi sat inside a tea tower, watching as the flood of students lined up to enter the examination hall. The two felt their faces turn bitter. Both of them were students of the Eastern Mountain Academy. Because the academy was on holiday today, they came specially to look at the examination hall. They felt some pressure thinking about how they would also be entering this place soon.
Qu Wang Zhi was particularly tense, since he would be entering the exam hall in the fall. He looked at the stern examinees underneath and felt that he couldn't breathe.
"Biao xiong, there's not much to see here, let's leave," The exam had only been going on for four or six hours when a few white-haired examinees had been carried out. Qu Wang Zhi's expression became uglier as he stood to leave.
"That Qu fu, didn't it have a wang fei? Why did they send their little daughter off to be a qie?"
"Who knows. I just heard that little daughter was a child of the second wife. This second wife was only of a declining family. Duan Wang Fei was born from the original duchess, do you know who she is?"
"Who is she?"
"Do you know the Marquess of Xiang Qing, Tian daren of the Supreme Court?"
"That famous person, who hasn't heard of him? I heard that no matter how difficult the case could be, if it was delivered to the Courts, it will be thoroughly investigated."
"Yes, that's the one. Duan Wang Fei's birth mother was the Marquess of Xiang Qing's full-blooded jiejie. How can you say that their education and birth were the same? The fact that one became a wang fei and the other becoming a concubine, isn't that normal?"
Qu Wang Zhi's face became ghastly as he overheard the conversation. He wanted to rush down and argue with the people downstairs but Liang Rong stopped him, "Wang Zhi, this is the entrance to the examination hall. It would not be good for you if you start something."
"But to let them keep discussing my family like this?" Qu Wang Zhi's rage didn't dissipate but he didn't insist on rushing down. If the matter became public, it might affect him later on if he went into politics.
Liang Rong looked at the surroundings before lowering his voice to advise: "Right now, they are just having a good time. You have to know, the most favoured right now is His Highness Rui Wang. Biao mei has gone into Rui Wang Fu to be a ce fei. In the future, she would … …" He raised a thumb at Qu Wang Zhi, the meaning evident.
Qu Wang Zhi gritted his teeth and kept a lid on his anger. The two came down the tea tower. After travelling for a while on their horses, they saw a grandiose procession heading towards them. The leading guards were all stocky and tough-looking, their eyes alert. From a glance, it could be seen that these were the type of guards which could never be owned by normal families. The carriage behind was pulled by eight stallions. Bells attached to the sandalwood carriage rang merrily as it moved forward.
The two could only yield the right-of-way. When the carriage came closer, they saw that the carriage was imprinted with the symbol of Duan Wang Fu. Qu Wang Zhi's face darkened but he could only helplessly lower his head to show his respect to the wang fu.
After Duan Wang Fu's carriage travelled further ahead, the two continued to proceed. Liang Rong asked with some confusion: "That's the direction heading out of the city. Duan Wang Fu is taking this many carriages, I wonder where they are going?" Was the family of Duan Wang really heading out to relax at this important time?
"Who knows what these wang ye want to do?" Qu Wang Zhi's tone wasn't friendly. He turned to look in the direction the Duan Wang Fu carriages took. He paused before noting, "I heard that Duan wang ye had a hot spring estate in the suburbs. The flowers bloom early on that mountain. They must be going sightseeing."
Qu Wang Zhi was born to a duke and knew more than Liang Rong. He was pretty clear and knowledgeable about the more important properties the wang ye in Jing owned in the suburbs of the city.
"Going out to play?" Right now, the wounded Right Minister Wei and Cheng Wang had both returned to Jing after the attempted assassination. Ning Wang and Rui Wang were engaged in a white-hot battle, and Duan Wang had the leisure to go on holiday?
Liang Rong felt his head wasn't able to process it at all. At this time, wasn't he supposed to take advantage? What did avoiding it mean?
The play was going to start but Duan Wang had done such an action. How would the daren engaged in conflict at Jing endure?
Inside the carriage, Qu Qing Ju, her hair in a simple hairstyle, leaned on the soft cushions as she asked: "Wang ye is really leaving Jing like this?"
He Heng smiled calmly at her: "Didn't Qing Ju want to soak in the hot springs? The weather is just perfect."
Qu Qing Ju giggled, turning to burrow into his embrace: "Wang ye treats me so well."
Her words sounded so fake to He Heng's ears. He smiled helplessly as he explained: "At this time, Jing City would certainly fall into a storm because of si di and the rankings from the Spring Examinations. Ben wang isn't interested in these things. It's better to stay away and find some peace."
Qu Qing Ju looked at his face, and strangely, on his face, the words two-faced were written there.
Ha, did he really believe she never heard the story of the mantis stalking the locust, unaware of the oriole behind it?[i]
[i] This is a very famous Chinese idiom. There's a very good explanation here () but the general gist is that the players are all focus on who they want to defeat, to the point they cannot see the enemy behind them.