Sha Po Lang

Chapter 84 - Undercurrents

Chapter 84: Undercurrents

Officer Lu’s back was covered with cold sweat, his body frozen from fear.

Fang Qin sighed in his heart, “These types that can not be promoted.” He slowly said, “Your subject first asks Your Majesty to cease your anger, I feel that the matter may not be as serious as what the Master said. Jiangbei is hot and humid, the summer is difficult to endure, the refugees are weak and are prone to sickness. It is not unusual to have a few cases of fever, not necessarily a true epidemic. Your Majesty, think about it, if someone really has the ability to cover the sky, why can they stop everyone, but can not stop Master Liao Ran from sending a letter back to the capital?”

Chang Geng listened without raising his head, and when he heard this, he smiled lightly and said, “I do not understand what Master Fang meant to say. You’re saying that Master Liao Ran can not tell what is an epidemic and what is a fever? Or is it that the monk is bold enough to plot against a powerful minister? Or was it that this Prince caused a ruckus for no reason, falsely forging evidence with the intention of eliminating those who do not follow me?”

Fang Qin hastily stepped back. “Your Majesty bear witness, Your subject absolutely dare not.”

As soon as Li Feng frowned, Chang Geng put his hands together: “I am still young, I can be a bit quick tempered. Master Fang do not take it to heart.”

“On the fifteenth day of every month, Master Liao Ran always lit an incense and prays for blessings. He will hand-draw a peace token and seal it in a brocade pouch to send it to me at a station, wishing for such things as national prosperity and good health for Royal Brother. The peace token after being sealed will not be opened at will, as Royal Brother also knows. But recently, several peace tokens I received have traces of being dismantled then put back together again, I don’t know who couldn’t bear to look at your brother’s little wish…”

Fang Qin was choked up by his words.

Chang Geng took an envelope out of his bosom, it was not the same one Gu Yun had seen the night before, but an old stack of paper. There was no telling how long they were kept for, they had wide width, after arranging and gluing, they came together once again. Each paper had a string of meaningless ink marks. However, when put side by side with each other, a complete sentence could be seen under the complicated pattern. Together, they said, “The epidemic in Jiangbei is grave. Dead people are everywhere. The stations were blocked off. I hope the court will soon have a resolution.”

Chang Geng: “Each sentence is divided into four pieces of paper, sent out in disorder, covered up with Sanskrit and totem texture.”

Emperor Long An recognized the handwriting of Liao Ran.

Fang Qin was about to open his mouth, but Chang Geng cut off what he was going to say.

Chang Geng: “But honestly as Lord Fang said, after all, this thing is obtained through improper channels, and there are doubts as to whether it is true or not. This is why your brother did not report it immediately. I intended to talk about this today and would like to ask Royal Brother to allow me to travel to Jiangbei to check the situation of the refugees, to help them settle down, and also to verify whether this is true or not. It’s just that Master Jiang was a bit eager and spoke of it too soon.”

Jiang Chong knew how to read the situation, he quickly bowed: “Your Majesty, pardon me.”

As soon as this remark was made, the meaning of Yan Wang filled everyone present with goose bumps, Fang Qin’s head tensed up — Yan Wang was going south!

“Law does not blame the masses” was meaningless when it came to Yan Wang. Last time, the feat of killing all the way from south to north was still vivid. He seemed to not be afraid of not having anyone left to work in the court, nor did he care about making enemies with thousands of people. Resolute in killing, not forming any party, and no respect for anyone. No matter what, he was the Emperor’s blood brother. As long as he didn’t rebel, no one would be able to touch him.

The Fang family once wanted to get closer to Yan Wang, but every time, he had blocked them off with neither light nor harsh attitude.

If one wanted to give a gift to Yan Wang, send it to him today, on the next, special anti-counterfeiting Feng Huo tickets printed by Ling Shu Institute would be delivered to their door. He did not want wealth, did not need beauty. Some people have sent beautiful women; they were returned the next day. If he truly could not return them, they would be thrown over to Yan Wang Manor to clean the yard — the Manor was only an empty shell. Ever since its establishment, Yan Wang had never went back there to spend the night.

In his eyes, the daughter of the Fang family, who countless people had broken the threshold coming to ask for her hand in marriage, was nothing. At first, some people yearned for the first prince-consort position left vacant, trying all their might to enter the inner palace. Who would have expected that later, no one knew what medicine the Emperor had taken, even the Empress was scolded because of this matter. The original saying was ‘ignorant woman please stop dipping your hands into matters of the court’ — it seemed he truly wanted to indulge his younger brother in being alone for the rest of his life. For a moment, nobody dared to mention it anymore.

Fang Qin read the situation incredibly quick, his voice changed and immediately said, “Your Majesty, Your subject heard that many gangsters blended among the refugees in Jiangbei, causing troubles every day. That place was also close to the front line, there are foreigners preying like tigers. His Highness is of very high status. Moreover, the Grand Council could not leave His Highness for even a day. White dragon disguised as fish in such a chaotic place, I am afraid it would be too risky.”

Li Feng frowned and turned to Chang Geng:, “Sending people to check is good enough already, should you personally deal with everything, is that proper?”

On one hand, he appreciated Chang Geng’s indifference, grasping on tightly once he had determined his goal, not taking even the King of Heaven in his eyes. He felt that this person would be useful, but was not too calculating as to make people feel uneasy. On the other hand, Chang Geng was his only brother. Even as they did not grow up together, having little affection, at the time of the collapse of the country, Li Feng had no choice but to reluctantly place this small familial affection on Chang Geng.

But besides relief, Emperor Long An also felt headache. Yan Wang’s demeanor was usually gentle, considerate and not arrogant. But it was not the same when doing business. He dared to throw his Shang Fang sword back to him when the soldiers surrounded the city. Now, as he was in charge of the Grand Council, no matter who was in his hands, he would not acknowledge them.

Li Feng: “No need to talk about this anymore.”

Chang Geng: “My brother, there are a lot of people in Jiangbei, in all directions. We don’t know what the exact situation is. We haven’t even spared them a look, only talking about how to settle them in the court. Isn’t that the same as talking strategy only on paper? Each officer here has their own reasons, no one can come up with a solution. It’s better for your brother to travel there and report back to Your Majesty.”

The corner of Li Feng’s eyes twitched. At that moment, Gu Yun, who had always been a wallflower, came out slowly and leisurely, “Since Yan Wang has the heart, Your Majesty should agree to it. If corrupt officials run rampant in Jiangbei, others may not be able to withstand their weight. If you do not feel assured, your subject can escort him along the way. Is it not just a number of vagrants and bandits? They need not be taken into account.”

Chang Geng was stunned by his sudden appearance, they had not arranged this beforehand.

Shen Yi peeked at Gu Yun secretly, and Gu Yun took advantage of his lowered head to send a glance at him. It was improper no matter how he looked at it. Shen Yi turned away as if his tooth ached, feeling that the adulterer in the story would have the same face.

If these words were to come from someone else, it would seem arrogant and unreliable, but coming from Gu Yun’s mouth, it was incomparably absolute.

Gu Yun thought about it, then added a ready-made excuse: “The land of Jiangnan must be recovered. Your subject also wanted to explore the front line. These few days I had intended to request for a decree to travel there. I can escort His Highness Yan Wang on the way, I promise I will bring him back to you safely.”

As soon as the Marquis of Order stepped out, there was no need to argue any longer.

The next day, Li Feng ordered that Yan Wang would be the chief inspector. Xu Ling, the right deputy inspector of the Inspectorate, will be his assistant, thoroughly investigating the case of the hidden epidemic in Jiangbei, the Marquis of Order would escort them along the way. They would also be accompanied by Ge Chen, a member of the Ling Shu Institute, to assess the equipments of the Westerner Army in Jiangnan.

After the meeting, Fang Qin was in fact, very irritated, but his heart was too deep to show in front of people. He sat in the carriage with a gloomy face. He was brilliant in literary, used to be praised by the former emperor and had excellent wits about him. He was able to lift the name of Fang family in Great Liang as a non-eldest son. Even the thorn-covered Yan Wang would show a pleasant expression when meeting him. People would always praise him, yet everyday, he had to work with the likes of Lu Chang and other cowards.

People said ‘a righteous man is without any party’, but people also said the word ‘power’ and ‘advantage’ were inseparable. Without power, there was no advantage. But without advantage, where would power come from?

From the school grounds to the hall before the Emperor, who would not want to build their own career, leaving behind a grand story? If he didn’t have the surname Fang, he would undoubtedly join forces under Yan Wang, fixing up this rotten and broken court.

Unfortunately, people could not choose their own origin. For the first thirty years, being sheltered by their families, getting whatever what they want, for the next thirty years, they must give their best for the family, being trapped to death because of the family ——

Suddenly, the carriage stopped abruptly, and the family servant outside whispered, “Sir, Lord Lu stopped the carriage, wanting to say a few words to you.”

Fang Qin’s face went cold, wished that surname Lu could die quicker. He sat stiffly for a moment without expression, Minister Fang then reverted his face back to the usual pleasant look. He raised the curtain and half-truthfully, half-falsely scolded, “Ignorant dog servant, hurry and invite him here, why are you still reporting?”

The family servants were already accustomed to bearing the bad names for their master. Their pretenses of fear and panic were as good as real. They invited an irritating Lu Cheng onto the carriage, driving back to Officer Lu’s place.

Lu Chang’s body was covered in cold sweat. As he entered the door, he fell down and worshipped, “Minister Fang please save my life!”

Fang Qin laughed in his heart, but on the outside, he feigned being shocked while helping him up, pretended to be oblivious, he said: “What is Brother Yan Nian doing?”

Lu Chang, of course, knew that the surname Fang was only pretending, but as it came to this, he could only hold on tightly to his savior, it was not convenient to be concerned about his attitude. He quickly and meticulously confessed about his brother-in-law, the current Governor of Jiangbei, Yang Rong Gui, who was bold enough to cover up the epidemic in the area, who cleaned up the local forces, put all the ‘dissidents’ who dared to oppose and betray him into prison, even sent people to block off the post station, assassinated eighteen people who were on their way to report his wrongdoings to the imperial court, forging this as a deed from vagrants and bandits whose greed inflated as they saw money. Fang Qin’s heart and lungs trembled greatly as he listened. He had now come to know too many things.

Lu Chang cried out: “Minister Fang, the reason this official did not report, it was not because of family, but it was for our grand plan. You see, the Emperor rushed for a cure, even something that humiliated the ancestors such as the Feng Huo tickets have been sent out. If he knows that Jiangbei has come to this, coupled with the Grand Council pouring oil into the midst, he will really follow the intention of those cheap businessmen, letting them build their factories!”

Fang Qin looked at Lu’s runny nose and tears, feeling that this man was truly despicable, he thought to himself: “Bullshit!”

On the surface, he sighed with worry, “Are you confused ah Yan Nian, remember when Zhang Feng Han of the Ling Shu Institute went mad and asked the Emperor to lift the Ziliujin ban for the people and had his papers returned by Yan Wang? Although he always mixes up with those Confucians, have you forgotten his surname? His surname is Li. How can the Li family allow a group of private businessmen to sell Ziliujin? Yan Wang did not intend to use those businessmen to do anything. He clearly knew what your brother-in-law had done. He took this as a lead to pour it all on us.”

Lu Chang was speechless and could only cry. There was no good look about him in the first place, right now he appeared all the more disgusting. Despite Fang Qin’s obstruction, he knelt down again and bowed his head like pounding garlic and said, “Master, please save me.”

Fang Qin did not want to save his life, only wanting him to die early, he then stalled: “There is Marquis Gu beside Yan Wang. A word from the Marquis of Order can transfer the entire garrisons of General Zhong in Jiangbei, can they not clear up a few government offices? Yan Nian, it’s not that I ignore the ones in need, but there is nothing I could do!”

After that, as if in pain, he covered his face with his sleeve, choking up: “I still remember Master Yang and I were of the same school, sharing the bond of being classmate, traveling the lake with joy. Now we are both officials in different places, he suffered, how could I not want to save him?”

Lu Chang: “…”

He came here seeking help, yet ended up making the other cry, it was quite amazing. Fang Qin truly lived up to his name of being a master manipulator behind the scenes.

Lu Chang gritted his teeth inside, but speaking with a dejected face: “Sir Fang, once this matter spreads broader, it will be a great crime that is punishable by the execution of nine generations. Our families have deep connections, the bones break still involved the tendons, you can not ignore this.”

Fang Qin’s face twitched fiercely, Lu Chang’s remark had poked him in his weak point.

Fang Qin had a half-sister from the same father, born by ‘connected chamber*’ and did not receive much love. Even in her teens, she did not talk much to her older brothers, but this Lady Fang had once committed a grave deed when she was still young — she attempted to run away from home with another man, but it failed.

*’connected chamber’ is a term referred to the female servant of highest status in a family, she could be considered to be a concubine, but rank-wise, she would only be a bit higher than an ordinary servant. In order to make it convenient to serve her master at night, her room would be connected to her master’s.

In fact, after the opening of the sea route, the era of rituals and music had collapsed for many years. If this were to happen in the eastern coast where the folks were open-minded, it would be nothing much. At most, there would only be a few remarks from the idlying bunch, perhaps someone would even praise her for having courage at a young age – there were many foreign women showing their backs on the street and no one would have any opinions.

But this had happened in the Fang family.

Since Yuan He Dynasty and after, a kind of custom gradually formed in the court. The more open the people are, the more conservative noble families become. It seemed that if they did not, they would not be able to reflect their noble and dignified bloodline. This matter had once caused the Fang’s family great humiliation, they intended to lock her up then send her directly to a temple to be a monk in a few years. Unexpectedly, the Lu family was currently wanting to use connection to climb the ranks. Overjoyed by this opportunity, they hurriedly charged in like flies encountering feces. At last, a cousin of Lu Chang who used money to buy position married Miss Fang.

In the capital, there were only a handful of powerful families. Marrying back and forth, everyone had somewhat of a connection with one another. It could be said that whether it be blessing or disaster, they must bear it together.

Lu Chang’s words were a reminder, but also a threat.

Fang Qin stopped crying and straightened up slowly. He looked at Lu Chang for a moment and thought to himself, “A small officer in a district would dare to threaten me. This man cannot stay.”

“Master Lu, please stand up,” Fang Qin pondered for a moment and said slowly, “I still keep to my words, this is useless no matter who you seek for help. If you want a turnaround, you should start with His Highness Yan Wang.”

Lu Chang saw that they had returned to the starting point again. His face was morphed into a bitter gourd: “But that…”

Fang Qin put up a hand to cut off his words, poured out a little water from teapot on the small table, and lowered his voice “What kind of person is Yan Wang? The whole national treasury passes through his hands, would he care about your meager gifts? Moreover, some men are good-natured and prefer cleanliness. They don’t want those miscellaneous people to be close to them. It’s not uncommon for them to not favor beauty, What’s more, those commonplace women you’ve collected are not beautiful either. Even I feel that they are eyesores, let alone Yan Wang?”

Lu Chang: “Then…”

Dipping in tea, Fang Qin slowly wrote the four words ‘donning the royal robe’* on the table, giving Lu Chang a meaningful look, who was still stunned then stretched out his hand to erase the handwriting on the table.

*an idiom that means

‘be acclaimed as an Emperor’

Lu Chang was staring with wide eyes and his tongue was tied for a long time. He fell down onto the seat next to him, his lips trembling a few times. “Master Fang, doing this, this is…”

Fang Qin sneered and said, “What? Then what are you intending to do? Killing Yan Wang on his way like killing those people who did not have the power to even tie down chickens? Do you really think the Marquis of Order who stood silently on the side in the court all day long was only a flower vase for decoration? Or do you really think that your brother-in-law can cover the sky with one hand and let the imperial officials return empty-handed? If that’s the case, how did that wicked monk’s letter climb all the way to the Grand Council? The current Emperor can not contain even one tiny dust in his eyes. Remember back when they turned on each other, even the Marquis of Order was imprisoned. Do you think he will be lenient with the Lu family — with those of us?”

After an incense time, Lu Chang who had seemingly lost his soul stepped out of Fang Qin’s carriage and wandered into the Lu Manor like a ghost.

Fang Qin told the coachman, “Return to our house.”

He indifferently lit an incense in the carriage, as if wanting to disperse Lu Chang’s scent from all around — to let some people know that in this world, even if there was a common interest, one could not arbitrarily manipulate others either.

The smoke was overflowing in the carriage. Fang Qin sat with his eyes closed and thought: if they could drag Yan Wang into the water, it would be two birds with one stone.

Even if Yan Wang really was selfless, with no ill intent in his heart, not even putting the jade seal in his eyes, then this time, if he could not be overthrown, he still had another killer move in his hands.

Yan Wang’s tactics were heartless, stubborn, and hardheaded, hiding his talents and wits in front of others, appearing only as a loyal official. However, in retrospect, every step it took for Great Liang to come to this stage, his shadow stood behind every single one of them.

If such a person could not stand side by side with them, he would become a strong enemy. Even if he was a Prince, there was only one option…

To be Continued…

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