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Qinglian Chronicles Chapter 4

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Chapter 4: In the palace hall

If it was not for the gong signalling the start of Court, who knows how long more I have to endure the countless "Daren is not arrogant and doesn't claim credit for himself, truly is such a rarity", "Daren is generous even to criminals, truly a saint", and such other nonsense. I want to follow along with everyone else into the palace hall. After all, I had no idea what to do and could only follow the example of others. Only, this bunch of lackey officials are firmly set on my leading the way instead. Hence, I could only brace myself mentally and go forth.

Luckily, that black-faced official and his civil official follower are already standing in their spots. At least now I will have a marker to gauge where my allocated place is. The civil and military officials are divided into rows. The older one is positioned second at the right-hand side while there is a distance of seven or eight people between him and the younger man. From observation, I suppose my place is also on the right-hand side. Taking into account my status and the way a lot of ministers went out of their way to avoid offending me, it is prudent to a.s.sume the empty seat of honour at his side is meant for me. Still, I dare not take the initiative to go over just in case I am wrong and create a situation that will ruin my reputation. Should something serious arise due to this one action, things will be disastrous for me.

After a moment's consideration, I deliberately adopt a slow pace, turning my body slightly to look behind me at the gaggle[1] of lackeys and show a polite smile. "Fellow ministers, please."

Sure enough, overwhelmed by the show of graciousness from a superior, each and every one of them tucked their hands into their flowing sleeves bow slightly before gesturing towards the empty seat of honour. "Daren, please." "Prime Minister Zhang, please."



Chuckling softly, I walk over to my position confidently.

As I was standing, I thought about which dynasty or era am I in now? Why are the t.i.tles for each official's position so chaotic? For instance, the master Dragon Portrait Pavilion's Four Books of Confucianism appears around the Song Dynasty (960 - 1279), the position of Crown Prince's tutor in recorded history has always been given to senior important ministers, not to someone young like me. Also, the t.i.tle of Chancellor and so on are all positions during the Qing Dynasty (1644 - 1911), which is most definitely not the era I am in now for these people don't have shaved heads and long braids. That means…

One cannot expose holes or tears in their clothes[2] ah. I am a little worried but decide to firmly remember the words of my idol Minister Zhang Tingyu[3]. "Ten words, ten gains, but not equal to a single silence." This saying, I am going to use as a lifeline.

At this moment, the generals finally make their entrance in an orderly line. Looking at their solemn and respectful demeanour, I realise that the way I entered the hall just now was gravely discourteous. If the Imperial Censor holds even a little bit of grudge towards me, it is possible for him to charge me with the offence of being impolite in Court. However, I doubt he would try to since the majority of ministers seem to be on my side. Therefore, there's no need for me to be too anxious.

Finally, a court eunuch called with a high voice. "The emperor has arrived!"

Hmm…it sounds very similar to actors portraying eunuchs in serialised dramas.

The emperor walks out and my eyes widen. Hehe…a boy of six or seven years old as the sovereign of a country filled with treacherous court officials. How can a young child possibly help his nation emerge from this ocean of bad circ.u.mstances? No wonder the heavens took such a drastic measure like pulling the original soul out and forcing me into the Prime Minister's body. But did this incident truly happen because the heavens want me to rescue the country?

Naturally, I will have to weigh my current situation first. Don't hope for me to commit myself to justice just because I transmigrated.

Nonetheless, the little emperor is pitiful. At such a young age when sleep is very important for growth, he needs to wake up so early every day. Even so, he still sits perfectly straight upon the throne, carrying a bit of domineering aura.

The court eunuch holding the position of Master of Ceremonies has just begun to say those cla.s.sic lines "If there are things to report, bring it forward. If not, Court is dismissed", when the Minister of Rites (that black-faced Zhong Kui[4]) steps out of the ranks. The matter he brings up is adding an honorific t.i.tle for the previous emperor who died two months ago, and his empress who chose to die together with her husband, which is the last essential step for a royal funeral.

This one matter instantly set fire under the pot[5], with both civil and military officials leaping into the fray, causing the debate to become more and more heated. From my point of view, the way each of the skilfully joined the argument, commenting and reb.u.t.ting, it is absolutely not the first time this topic has been brought up and argued over. Honestly, I am not surprised by the gleeful way everyone involves themselves in the debate. In fact, I would be more shocked if an issue brought up in Court is not heatedly argued over even a little.

Towards this kind of foolish and time-consuming activity, I have absolutely zero interest. I am quite happy to tuck my hands in my sleeves and watch the show as a bystander.

The verbal struggle drags on as these chosen servants of the Crown send their spittle flying all over the place. With the exception for profanities, every other rule regarding etiquettes in the palace is slowly being broken as the argument accelerates. Personal attacks can be heard most frequently amongst the things being said, especially mocking other households for not being wealthy or high-standing enough. Things like "summer insects cannot talk about ice[6]", and "General Li is a man of action, without reading literary texts, don't try to solve academic matters", etc. are being thrown around without end.

I listen to all this while standing aside for a while, only to find that the current situation is very clear-cut. It is precisely because my clique desires to lift the previous emperor up on a pedestal, thus proposing the t.i.tle "Holy Far-sighted Emperor Above Countless Talents" while the Minister of Rites' faction propose the t.i.tle of "Wise and Courageous Holy Empress Above the Heavens" for the empress. Those in my group wants to get rid of the word "Holy" in the empress' t.i.tle even if it cost them their lives. Thus, both sides degraded to hurling continuous insults at each other.

At present, I still don't know who is who, and politics is an extremely complicated matter. While I, of course, have no idea why, but I am sure Zhang Qinglian and the previous empress always clashed for some reason. But it's expected that there will be deep hatred between two parties when someone's husband is stolen.  However, this case of the empress choosing to die together with the emperor is somewhat strange. Don't tell me this b.a.s.t.a.r.d (ZQL) killed her too!

It is only a little later that I notice besides Zhong Kui and the scholarly official, the white-bearded old man standing opposite me is also a member of the opposing faction. Ah, to have the support of the army, no wonder they are not scared of me.

Soon, they have already been quarrelling for an hour but have yet to compromise. I am so bored I really want to yawn. This bunch of people are really annoying. Why does it matter if a commemorative t.i.tle for a dead person is short one or two words?

Glancing at the emperor on his dragon throne, I involuntarily sympathise with him. This is really hard on the child. He doesn't have parents or advisors to guide him, doesn't have the right to speak and yet is still required to sit there like a decorative piece. In actual fact, he must really want to yawn too, right?

As my mind wanders, someone drags me into the chaos. "Zhang Daren, I wonder if you have any wise opinions to give?"

Who is it that's so annoying? Impatiently sweeping my eyes over to that joy-killing rascal. Apparently, it's my "a person with a clean conscience has nothing to worry about" currently smiling "son".

Pondering deeply, I decided to make both sides compromise. "The previous emperor is well versed in literary and military arts, astute and far-sighted. No doubt he is "Holy Far-sighted Emperor Above Countless Talents". The empress gave up her life to follow the previous emperor, showing true affection and devotion. How is she not qualified to bear the word "Holy"?"

Once I finish speaking, both parties stare at me in a daze, mostly likely not expecting me to take this course of action. Their mouths open and close silently for a while before the matter is settled just like this.

The next issue pertains to a request to increase the army provisions delivered to the militia in the southwest borders of the country. The size of the militia is not large and makes up that local region's military ranks. These rascals who were so intensely debating moments ago are now silent, expressing their refusal to care about this small matter, especially the higher-ranking officials surrounding me.

However, I am aware of how important the militia is to a country and its borders. The power of a single militia is, of course, insufficient to sway the nation, but provisions are the lifeline of an army. Without it, there would be no militias. It's a pity I do not completely understand the circ.u.mstances surrounding it, thus can only worry hopelessly.

At this moment, a civil official wearing the green robes of the lowest Court rank steps out, bowing towards the throne. "This servant, Official Liu Chunxi of the Ministry of Revenue requests permission to speak."

Everyone's eyes turn to me. Taking the cue to speak, I said: "Liu Daren, please speak."

This person is approximately thirty years old, but is tall, has a strong built with a pair of peach eyes, which made him look slightly odd.

His speech is not flowery but straightforward, his words clear and organised. "The Imperial capital is the pillar of the world, it cannot be left unguarded. In addition, the road to and fro is far, the expenses costly and the soldiers' spirits will deteriorate should we waste our soldiers to replace the militia. At present, the Eastern province's warehouse typically keeps a stock of four hundred and seventy-nine thousand six hundred and fifty-hour stones of grains, the Western province has three hundred and twenty-seven thousand five hundred and ninety-four stones of grain, all for military use. Once the spring season arrives and the farmers harvest their crops, the paddies that are set aside to pay rental fees will leave approximately seventy to eighty thousand stones of grains. Should these amounts be insufficient as provisions for the militia, the Southern province can transfer more."

This person is someone I have an impression of, for in the heated dispute earlier, while everyone was hollering away, he did not say a single word. Although I suspect he preferred not to say anything previously due to his lower official status, I am sure he can be categorised as someone I can appreciate and trust to get things done.

Since I have decided to give him an opportunity to s.h.i.+ne, I say warmly: "In this case, we shall leave this to Liu Daren to arrange."

After a few other small trifle matters, morning court is dismissed. For the entire morning, my body muscles was rather taunt so I am a little exhausted, but at least I manage to clear up some matter regarding my new ident.i.ty. Firstly, currently, it's the first year of the new emperor's reign, not even two months into the child emperor's succession, in fact. The previous emperor lived to the age of twenty-nine before dying from illness.

To pa.s.s at such a young age…the portrait depicted him so strong and healthy, very much unlike a frail person who can be brought down by a bout of illness. A sudden chill clutched my heart. It couldn't be a case of AIDS, right?

From what I heard, people with a certain kind of s.e.xual behaviour had more chances of contracting AIDS. I just pray that the heavens don't blame me for saying unsightly words beforehand. My current situation is difficult enough as it is. Originally, I worked in the capital industry dealing with economics and was dubbed the expert within this field by my company boss. Under my supervision, situations like ill-handed management of firms, repeated strikes by workers causing a company to go bankrupt, etc. never happened. Problems were solved without much fuss and there were no terrible messes I couldn't handle. But all that experience doesn't really help a lot when I'm currently someone who over-indulged in debauchery and a death-sentence-worthy scoundrel. I already feel so wronged ah! If you give me one more hair-pulling, blood-spitting sickness on top of everything, I really will die to show you!

Anyway, at present, I am sure the dynasty I am currently in is not any one recorded in history, and I definitely have no way of returning to the modern times. However, even if it's not a recognisable dynasty, the customs, language and culture are all very similar to ancient China. Even the topography is the same. Perhaps the theory of parallel dimensions is real, and this is a parallel world corresponding to the ancient China I knew?

Nonetheless, to a practical person like me, this kind of mystery within a mystery is not all that important to me. I don't really care how or why I transmigrated here. My concern is how to integrate into my new life like a fish to water and stir up the waters like the wind.

After Court was dismissed, I originally recall the chains piercing my pretty youth's scapulars and want to return to the mansion as soon as possible to ensure it is removed. Only, a few civil officials close to my status surround me to inquire about my well-being and such nonsense. Without a way out, I can only return their pleasantries until they finally throw out the cla.s.sic line of "Daren, please".

My pretty youth, I'm coming back! Full of joy within my heart, I head in the direction those officials gestured towards. Yi, the direction they point to isn't right ah. I hesitate for a second, but can only continue walking forward. Seven turns and eight bends later, I finally reach a cl.u.s.ter of fairly plain and simple houses. Lifting my head, the plaque read "Inner study". I can't believe a place famed for being the middle of strategic discussions is actually so unremarkable!

Heading inside, I see that the top of the old table is a pile of scrolls. Ah, that's right. As the Prime Minister, I need to look over these proposal scrolls. Ai, looks like I wouldn't be able to go back for a while seeing as this amount of work will take some time. And I'm not even receiving the usual two-day weekend annual leave for it!

With a "few words, few mistakes" att.i.tude, I set out to handle to affairs of the nation with several other high-ranking officials. Straining my ears and absorbing everything like a sponge, I don't let go of every word they say, managing to uncover some news and information that might be useful for me. Like this, a few hours pa.s.sed, and at long last, I at least knew the names and positions of these people here and within the Court.

The black-faced guy who opposed me is the Minister of Rites, Gu Yunzhi. Although he is not very old, he is a third-generation important minister and has seen several short-lived emperors on the throne. Gu Yunzhi is an honourable and upright official, as well as outspoken. He is someone the citizens hold hope in, a pillar both in name and reality for the nation and also a chancellor whose Court position is second to mine.

There are hour chancellors, one is that white-beard old military official. Grand General of the forward Calvary, the brave and loyal Li Minguo. He is the empress' father, but as a person of foreign nationality, is someone whose status is incomparable to me.

From history and experience, in this type of circ.u.mstance, both the foreign group and loyalists are surely working together to stand against me. However, their ultimate goals are different. One does it to further their standing while the other does it for the country and its people. For sure, there will be layer upon layers of contradicting views between members of the two groups. If a common enemy, me, no longer existed, both parties will fight to the death.

The other chancellor is Liang w.a.n.g, the older cousin of the previous emperor. According to my newly acquired information, his body's const.i.tution is not good and is recuperating somewhere quiet. I don't know which faction he belongs to.

The scholarly-looking official who follows the Minister of Rites is Zhou Zizhu, a graduate of the Imperial Academy and a student of Gu Yunzhi. A famous scholar in Jiangnan, civilised and n.o.ble, with a large family backing. No wonder a small historian with no real power dares to publically go against me.

Last but not least, there is my "son". Ministry of Justice's historian, Gao Yushu. One look and you can tell he is from a very wealthy background and is someone who spends frivolously. Unexpectedly, he was once the top scorer in the palace examination.

Now that I have a clear picture of the power struggle within the Court, unlike what it seems on the surface, the present situation is not all that advantageous for me. Therefore, I will really need to be doubly careful with my speech and actions.

Of course, the most important thing is how much military power you have in your grasp. As of now, I am not the original Zhang Qinglian, and have no desire for total control of the Court, to harm those loyal to the Crown, to make the emperor my puppet nor force the boy to abdicate and seize the throne. However, I'm at a phase where it's hard to immediately correct my past deeds and become an upright minister. If I were to soften and allow the other faction to win, do you think I can escape death if I simply yell out loud that I am not the real Zhang Qinglian but merely a soul that took over the body? They are more likely to execute me with fire to set an example rather than spare my life.

Footnotes:

[1] Not a translation error. Author used 'gaggle' to describe the followers are like geese, i.e. noisy lackeys.

[2] To expose holes or tears in clothes = to show weakness

[3] Zhang Tingyu (1672 - 175), a minister during the Qing Dynasty to three consecutive emperors. He oversaw the compilation of the Ming Dynasty's history and the Kangxi Dictionary.

[4] Zhong Kui is not that guy's name. It is a nickname MC bestowed on him as his appearance is similar to a mythical figure in Chinese mythology that drives away evil spirits.

[5] Set fire under the pot = open a topic for debate/discussion

[6] (夏虫不可语于冰): meaning someone who has only seen a small portion of the world have no qualifications to talk about what they have never seen before/what they don't know of.

Translator’s notes: And she survives the first day of Court! Hurray!

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