TIGR

TIGR Chapter 77

The Imperial Guard’s Revenge

Chapter 77 Asking for a Son

In the eighth month, the emperor climbed Mount Chunde by the Chengtian Mansion, inspected the Xianling Tomb, and reinforced the armed forces. The emperor ordered the expansion of the Xianling Tomb, ended the Southern Patrol, and set off for Beijing.

In the ninth month, the emperor led his people back to the capital. The Southern Patrol which took two months, with more than ten thousand followers, carrying great prestige, and mobilizing a large group of armed forces finally concluded. It was regarded as a journey to fulfill the emperor’s wish. After the emperor returned to the palace, he began to arrange for the joint burial of former Empress Dowager Jiang and Xingxian Monarch. After his parents’ coffins were finally taken care of, the emperor was finally free to settle his accounts after autumn. || Settle accounts after autumn is a Chinese idiom that refers to waiting for the right time to get revenge.

The first to bear the brunt was naturally Zhang Jihou, who offended the emperor by interceding for Zhang Heling and his brother. The emperor wrote an imperial order to the Ministry of Rites, saying: “I am only yin, so I look to yang, just like the earth supports the sky. A man is a guide for his wife, and a wife in turn is respectful and obedient. Since I lost my first wife prematurely, there was no one to assist in my sacrifices and there was no one to unify the imperial family, so Madam Zhang became empress. The boundary between grace and an extra chance is a very small margin. So those who are continuously disrespectful should be treated with grace. Yet yesterday, I was insulted without remorse. A woman like this, how is she worthy of her position? Now that I have returned to the palace and heard about the news, I will collect the empress’ Ce Bao, and the whole world will stop commenting and follow it as an imperial order.” || Ce Bao (册宝) doesn’t have a direct translation, but refers to the Golden Book and Seal empresses recieve when being crowned. For the emperor to remove it would be for the empress to be removed from her position.

After the emperor’s determination to abolish the empress, no official dared to fight against the emperor for a powerless Zhang Jihou. After the imperial order was decreed, everything moved quickly, and on the sixteenth day of the ninth month, the Zhang family was abolished and moved to another palace.

The country could not be without a monarch for a day, and similarly, the harem could not be without an empress. Empress Zhang was abolished, so naturally, a new empress needed to be established. By this time, it was already a well-known secret that Imperial Concubine Li was pregnant, and it was said that her due date was in the tenth month. Everyone thought the emperor would appoint Imperial Concubine Li as the empress, but in the end, the emperor named Imperial Concubine Fang as the third empress.

Madam Fang entered the palace in the same year as Imperial Concubine Li, Imperial Concubine Duan, and others. Because of her solemn and upright conduct, she was deemed the Virtuous Concubine and the head of the nine concubines. Wang Yanqing was a little surprised when she first heard the news, but when she thought about it a little more, she felt it was expected.

The Imperial Court depended on checks and balances, the previous dynasty was like this, as well as the harem. If Imperial Concubine Li was named empress and later gave birth to the prince, she would have no restrictions at all. Therefore, the emperor did not crown the beautiful concubine who carried his heir, nor the most favored concubines. Instead, he chose the well-behaved and most qualified concubine with virtue.

The emperor’s intentions were clear.

The imperial chambers had probably never been so lively. Not long after Madam Fang’s coronation ceremony, Concubine Li gave birth to a prince prematurely at the end of the ninth month. Twelve years after he ascended the throne, the emperor finally had his first son. The emperor and his officials breathed a sigh of relief, and there was joy inside and outside the palace.

Immediately afterwards, good news came from the harem. Concubine Duan was found to be two months pregnant, and Concubine Wang was also found to have a slippery pulse, but because it was still early, they weren’t certain yet.

|| Slippery Pulse (滑脉) refers to a condition felt when taking someone’s pulse. The pulse is typically smooth flowing, and if someone has this then something is different with their body. It could be many things, but here it refers to a sign of pregnancy.

The emperor was pleased and immediately promoted Concubine Li to Imperial Concubine Li and Concubine Duan to Imperial Concubine Duan. Concubine Wang was not promoted to a higher position because it wasn’t confirmed, but she received a large reward. When she later delivers a child, there should be a reward.

Amidst the cheers, no one remembered the newly crowned Empress Fang.

In the morning, it was clear that the emperor was in high spirits. At this time, Lu Heng handed over a letter. Someone — the Nanjing Imperial Guards to be precise, reported the Zhang brothers for their evil deeds. The emperor was waiting for this and immediately ordered them to go to Nanjing, arrest the Zhang brothers, and send them to prison.

The emperor was a person who needed to get back every penny due. His entire family sat in his hand, what more Empress Zhang? Lu Heng had prepared long ago. The emperor spoke in the morning, and in the afternoon, the Imperial Guards rushed out of the city.

When Lu Heng came back in the evening, Wang Yanqing asked: “Brother, is it true that the Zhang brothers secretly performed witchcraft?”

Lu Heng was unconcerned: “It doesn’t matter whether it’s true or not, no matter what evidence is handed over now, the emperor will believe it.”

Wang Yanqing frowned: “But I heard that Empress Zhang was pleading for pardon until she fell ill. The officials criticized this matter and didn’t agree with the punishment of the Zhang brothers. You were the one who handed in the report. If no definite evidence is found in the end, will it implicate you?”

Lu Heng smiled. He stretched out his hand and pulled her into his arms, squishing her face endearingly: “Qing Qing, are you worried about me?”

As Wang Yanqing was pulled down by him, the hairpin rings on her heads collided with each other, making a tinkling sound. Wang Yanqing pried open his fingers and glared at him angrily: “Don’t grab me.”

But she didn’t deny what he said.

Lu Heng felt very at ease in his heart. He was used to walking with a knife at his throat, and usually there were much more dangerous situations than this, but no one had ever worried about whether he would slip. So this was how it felt to be cared about.

Wang Yanqing didn’t let him hold her face, so Lu Heng played with the delicate hairpins in her hair and said: “If evidence can’t be found, then he will just be locked up. There are plenty of spots in the prison. If he is locked up for ten or twenty years, evidence can always be found.”

Wang Yanqing was slightly stunned. Lu Heng lowered his eyes and saw her expression, and asked with a smile: “Why, are you scared? Do you think your brother is not acting like a good person?”

Wang Yanqing shook her head, then nodded: “Of course, not a good person.”

Lu Heng couldn’t help but laugh. The more he looked at her, the cuter she became. She even looked cute when she scolded him for not being a good person. Lu Heng said: “If they dared to do anything, they should haven been prepared to have their accounts settled. Initially, the emperor forgot about it, but they still insisted and even dared to bribe people in the palace. There was still the birth of a prince in the harem and the emperor was in a good mood, otherwise, the Zhang family would not just be faced with imprisonment.”

When this was brought up, Wang Yanqing asked: “Has the name of the prince been settled yet?”

“Yes.” Lu Heng glanced at Wang Yanqing and said with an unclear meaning: “Several high names were presented in the cabinet, and finally the emperor hesitated between Ji and Zhi. The emperor also asked me about which of these two names to choose. I said that I didn’t have a wife or children, how should I know how to name a child. The emperor was forced to resolve it himself and chose Ji.”

Lu Heng’s words were brimming with meaning, but Wang Yanqing acted like she didn’t understand, and said seriously: “Zhu Zaiji, with great virtue, one can take charge of the world. For the foundation of the nation, it’s a good name. Rumours of pregnancy are coming one after the other among the concubines in the harem which is a good omen.”

Lu Heng felt that it was too difficult for him. The matter of his marriage had not been resolved, and instead, he was worrying about the pregnancies and births of other people’s women. Lu Heng sighed and said: “Yeah, but I don’t know if I can enjoy the cheerful atmosphere.”

His last three statements weren’t without the mention of marriage and Wang Yanqing was a little embarrassed. Trying to stay out of hot water, she said: “These past three years were all very calm. How come, in these few days, the concubines suddenly became pregnant as a group.”

The Imperial Court was also secretly curious about this. However, the harem was strictly supervised and the emperor was a very careful person. If they weren’t his child, the child and their mother would definitely not live to dawn. The emperor did not respond which meant that he was indeed the heir to the throne.

Lu Heng raised his eyebrows meaningfully and said: “I think it’s because the emperor was climbing mountains and swimming in lakes. He was in high spirits, so it was easy for the concubines to become pregnant. But the emperor seems to think that Tao Zhongwen’s pill was useful.”

After he finished speaking, as if he just remembered that Wang Yanqing was still in his arms, he lowered his head and asked: “I wasn’t careful just now and said the wrong thing, can you not pay it any mind?”

Wang Yanqing couldn’t think of anything after being struck straight on. She could only blink, confused, and asked: “What?”

“It’s better if you don’t understand.” Lu Heng held Wang Yanqing’s waist, touching gently with his fingers with an unrestrained smile in his eyes, “Even though Tao Zhongwen didn’t know where he heard the folk remedy from, he indulged in tale and claimed that using a women’s period to make a pill could nourish the Yin, mend the Yang, and strengthen the body. After taking it, it was guaranteed to get a woman pregnant with a son. The emperor was very convinced and asked Tao Zhongwen to proceed with concocting this pill. The emperor also bestowed one to me. Its a pity, I don’t suppose I’ll get to use it.”

Wang Yanqing suddenly felt his hand on her waist turn scalding, and even him stroking her clothes seemed meaningful. Wang Yanqing’s ears suddenly turned red, she pursed her lips, and pushed at his hands: “Let go, I’m going back.”

Lu Heng’s palm was now empty and he reluctant to part with her. He rubbed his fingertips together and said slowly to Wang Yanqing: “I only mean that I am not married yet, so it is not appropriate for me to take this kind of pill. Qing Qing, did you misunderstand me?”

He actually had the nerve to ask, Wang Yanqing didn’t believe that was what he meant! Wang Yanqing finally couldn’t bear it anymore. She glared at him angrily, turned around, and walked away quickly.

·

After the emperor had a son, some happy troubles also occurred. Xue Kan, the official who arranged the emperor’s audience presented a note discussing the matter of the crown prince who continued to be a major event in the country. Now that the emperor had a son, he warned the emperor to consider establishing the crown prince, that this was the normal procedure. Unexpectedly, after reading the note himself, the emperor became furious. He had Xue Kan imprisoned and ordered people to track down the mastermind behind it.

Otherwise, how could Xue Kan, a small official, dare to talk nonsense about establishing an heir?

However, Xue Kan was a scholar with very hard bones. He refused to confess no matter how hard he was tortured, insisting that he wrote the note himself. Seeing that the interrogation had gone on for several days without results, the case reached a stalemate and it was sent down. One day upon a nightfall, a sedan chair stopped in front of the prison door. The jailer stopped the visitor, but a boy took out a tablet and said to the gatekeeper: “My master is the Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Appointments, Master Peng. He has been entrusted by Xue Kan’s family, and wishes to pay tribute to his old friend by sending some warm clothes.”

As soon as the jailer heard this, he didn’t dare say anything and immediately let him pass. Peng Ze, the Deputy Minister of Appointments, changed into his regular clothes and walked quietly into the gloomy prison. Sun Yingkui and Cao Bian, the officials in charge of the case, quickly came out and bowed: “Deputy Minister.”

Among the six departments, the Ministry of Appointments was the most noble, and the Deputy Minister of Appointments was second only to the minister. Historically, only close associates of the Head Auxiliary could sit in this position, and Sun Yingkui and Cao Bian could not afford to offend him as minor officials. When Peng Ze saw them, he raised his hand lightly and said: “I’m only here to see my old friend personally today. You don’t have to be so polite, you may rise.”

When Sun Yingkui and Cao Bian heard this, they knew Deputy Minister Peng was asking them to keep this a secret and not spread was happening tonight. Although the officials were not allowed to host outsiders during an investigation, rules were dead and people were alive. Being officials in the same dynasty, the lifeless rules of the court were far less important than the likes and dislikes of a deputy minister. Sun Yingkui and Cao Bian were not people ignorant of the ways of the world. They repeatedly said yes and led the way with tacit understanding.

Soon they arrived at the cell where Xue Kan was being imprisoned. Peng Ze tucked his hands in his sleeves and said: “It’s been cold lately and the humidity in the prison is heavy. You two have worked hard. I’ll be here to watch. You both go out and drink some hot tea to warm yourselves up.”

These words were meant to drive Sun Yingkui and Cao Bian away. Sun Yingkui hesitated, but Cao Bian already agreed, pulling Sun Yingkui and walking out.

Sun Yingkui stumbled behind him and after turning the corner, Sun Yingkui asked in a low voice: “This is a case that the emperor personally ordered us to investigate strictly. If we leave our post without permission, and something happens, we will have our ranks revoked!”

Cao Bian quickly glared at Sun Yingkui and signaled him to be quiet. Cao Bian looked ahead and behind to make sure no one saw them, then he pulled Sun Yingkui to a hidden spot behind the wall: “Why don’t you understand? Deputy Minister Peng came to see the imperial prisoner, but he was wearing regular clothes, and he deliberately chose to go after dark. He was not coming to see an old friend, but he was clearly traveling on behalf of someone else.”

Sun Yingkui blinked and suddenly realized: “You mean the Head Auxiliary?”

“Yes.” Cao Bian didn’t continue until he looked at his companion, his forehead full of sweat from worry, “Moreover, Deputy Minister Peng and Xue Kan were scholars of the same year.”

“Scholars of the same year, how……” Sun Yingkui muttered in confusion. Being on the same public roll of successful candidates from the imperial civil service examination in the same year created a close relationship. In the future, they would become officials and enter the Imperial Hanlin Academy at the same time. In court, many close friends were formed because of this. Peng Ze also said that he and Xue Kan were good friends, which made sense…

Suddenly Sun Yingkui’s eyes widened, and he said in disbelief: “Scholars of the same year… Didn’t Cabinet Elder Xia also pass the exam that year?”

Cao Bian hurriedly hissed and signaled Sun Yingkui to keep his voice down. Sun Yingkui was so shocked that he couldn’t speak. The messy fragments quickly connected into a line in his mind.

Xue Kan wrote a letter proposing to establish the crown prince, but the emperor was unexpectedly furious; the Deputy Minister of Appointments now came to see Xue Kan late at night. Xue Kan and cabinet scholar, Xia Wenjin, were born in the same year and he heard that they were on good terms; but Xia Wenjin repeatedly contradicted Head Auxiliary Zhang and it is said that Head Auxiliary Zhang has not liked Xia Wenjin for a long time…

Sun Yingkui’s mind went blank and he was dripping with cold sweat. Unsuspectingly, he was involved in a cabinet struggle. He knew that the cabinet struggle in the court was fierce, but he was just a small official and never thought that one day the court struggle would befall him. Sun Yinkui’s hands and feet were sweating, and his voice went hoarse: “Then what are we going to do, just pretend we don’t know?”

Peng Ze asked them to leave, and Sun Yingkui thought that maybe they could follow Deputy Minister Peng’s words and leave, so that the rest of the matter would have nothing to do with them. Cao Bian scolded him, “Fool” and said anxiously, “We were ordered by the emperor to investigate this case, so leaving in the middle would be a dereliction of duty. Afterwards, the Head Auxiliary will just put the blame on us.”

Sun Yingkui was also anxious: “If we refuse Master Peng, we will die. If we don’t refuse, we will also die. What else can we do?”

Cao Bian gritted his teeth and glanced back. Seeing that Peng Ze didn’t notice anything, he said: “Stay and eavesdrop.”

Peng Ze wouldn’t suspect that the two little officials he didn’t take seriously would dare craft an escape plan. Seeing that there was no one else in the prison, Peng Ze walked in and sighed: “Brother Xue, you have suffered a lot these days.”

However, Xue Kan was unmoved and looked at him coldly: “Peng Ze, you and I are both scholars of the same year. We have known each other for ten years, and I have always regarded you as a close friend. I didn’t expect you would act like this.”

In the eighth month in the capital, the night was cold, and the prison was even colder. Peng Ze rolled up his sleeves and smiled faintly: “The old man lost his horse, but it turned out to be for the best. Who’s not to say this isn’t a blessing in disguise. Looking at the present situation, you are suffering in prison, but considering the future, how do you know that this won’t be your springboard?”

Xue Kan sneered, not caring at all that his body was stained with blood and in a miserable state. He still looked at Peng Ze with contempt: “What do you mean by that?”

Peng Ze drew closer. He put the quilted clothes that the Xue family’s wife and daughter asked him to bring beside Xue Kan and patted them gently: “You and I are friends. I can’t bear to see you like this, a man full of talents, but always in insignificant positions. Soon, I will give you a door-knocking brick. If you seize the opportunity, your future will skyrocket, and everything will be at your feet.”

|| A door-knocking brick refers to the situation where bricks are used to knock on a door then thrown away after. This is a metaphor for the initial tool or action in defrauding someone.

Xue Kan was a nobody, not like the well-off Deputy Minister Peng Ze, but he was not without a sense of smell. Xue Kan’s eyes moved slightly, thinking of something.

Seeing that Xue Kan understood, Peng Ze said: “You are just an ordinary civil servant, how can you participate in the establishment of the crown prince? I heard that Cabinet Elder Xia admired your literary talent very much and invited you to many banquets at their home. Maybe, these words were mentioned by Elder Cabinet Xia at the banquet, and you had no intention of remembering them, so you wrote them down.”

Xue Kan finally understood. He completely understood what his good friend wanted to do. At Xue Kan’s silence, Peng Ze thought he had been persuaded and was about to share the specific details.

Unexpectedly, Xue Kan suddenly turned his back, stood up and said coldly to Peng Ze: “I am a man of low stature and my words mean little, but I was lucky enough to be appreciated by Elder Cabinet Xia. Still, a gentleman’s friendship is as pure as water. Elder Cabinet Xia and I only spoke about academic studies, not political matters. To be asked to say those words is complete nonsense. A man of character is responsible for his own work, and I am indeed the one who wrote the memorial. I have offended the emperor and thus have evoked his anger, so I have no complaints.”

Peng Ze didn’t expect that Xue Kan would fail to appreciate his kindness. His expression changed and he said: “Xue Kan, please think clearly, not everyone can receive this kind of opportunity. If you miss this chance, it will be too late to ask for another.”

Xue Kan looked at the person in front of him and felt extremely strange. His friend, who he had known for more than ten years, turned out to be this kind of person. He felt cold and disappointed in his heart. He thought for a moment that if everyone in the court was like this, what would be the meaning of his job?

Xue Kan was extremely disappointed and unable to control his emotions, he blurted out: “Opportunity? If I really follow your instructions and turn on Elder Cabinet Xia, I’m afraid I won’t be able to wait for the rise of my career. I will only be kicked away by you as a scapegoat. Before I submitted the memorial, I showed you the draft. You kept the draft overnight as an excuse, and the next day you told me that the memorial was well written. Master Zhang also repeatedly praised it after reading it. He said that this was a national matter, so I could submit it with confidence. After the memorial was submitted, Head Auxiliary Zhang gave his full support. However, the only thing that came was the emperor’s anger and my imprisonment. Did you or Head Auxiliary Zhang even say a word? If this is what Master Zhang calls an opportunity, forgive me for I will not enjoy the good fortune.”

Xue Kan was so angry, he let everything out. Peng Ze was right. Xue Kan was just an insignificant official. How could he dare to make false claims about establishing a prince? Not only did he show the memorial to his friend who was a senior official in the Ministry of Appointments in advance, but his friend strongly urged Xue Kan to hand over the memorial. He also said that after he handed over the memorial, Head Auxiliary Zhang would also help him, and Xue Kan felt relieved.

Unexpectedly, the emperor was furious after reading his memorial. Head Auxiliary Zhang and Peng Ze, who had previously agreed to support him, remained silent. Xue Kan thought that Head Auxiliary Zhang and Peng Ze were afraid of being burned, and it was human nature to protect themselves wisely. So, Xue Kan did not blame his friends, even when he was tortured, Peng Ze’s name was never mentioned.

It wasn’t until he met Peng Ze today, when Peng Ze hinted that he could turn on Xia Wenjin, that Xue Kan woke up from a dream. It turned out that he had been used by his friend and Head Auxiliary Zhang.

Xue Kan didn’t want to look at the person in front of him anymore. He pointed at the cell door and said coldly: “Deputy Minister, thank you for sending me winter clothes today, but our paths are different and there is no room for mutual conspiracy. Please leave.”

Peng Ze became angry when he saw Xue Kan step on the nose upon his face. He said coldly, “You clearly cannot differentiate good from bad”, shook his sleeves vigorously and left.

|| “Step on the nose upon his face” is a direct translation to 蹬鼻子上脸 which describes a situation where someone gives face to another who has displayed outrageous behavior, and that person not only does not appreciate but becomes arrogant.

When he was leaving, Peng Ze vaguely heard a rustling sound in the prison, just for a moment. Peng Ze thought it was a mouse, and neither he nor Xue Kan cared.

Nobleman Peng Ze was a second-rank Deputy Minister and he was also a figure in court who could make the ground shake when he stomped his feet. Naturally, he brought manpower to guard the main roads. But Sun and Cao were the officials in charge of the case, and their knowledge of the prison far exceeded that of Peng Ze. Sun Yingkui and Cao Bian originally stayed to eavesdrop as a precaution, but they never expected that they would hear such a terrifying inside story.

Sun Yingkui and Cao Bian were almost frightened to death, so they wrote a report overnight. They did not dare follow the normal procedures. They knew that the cabinet controlled the sky with just one hand, and all documents from officials all over the country were to be reviewed by the Head Auxiliary before they were put on the imperial court. If the secrets held by Sun Yingkui and Cao Bian fell into the hands of the Head Auxiliary, it was only a matter of time before their heads were removed.

Fortunately, the emperor also knew that the cabinet held too much power and found another way to bypass them. If an official had something urgent, they could submit a letter through the Zuoshun Gate, and a eunuch would deliver it directly to the emperor. Only when the cabinet and eunuchs check and balance each other can the emperor sit firmly on the throne.

The emperor therefore saw the records from Sun Yingkui and Cao Bian. The emperor’s face became darker and darker as he read. Assistant Zhang stood by and his heart couldn’t help but beat faster.

The emperor finished reading it and handed back the note without saying a word. Assistant Zhang quietly stepped forward to change the tea and asked: “Your Majesty, you have been reviewing the memorial for a while, would you like to take a rest?”

The emperor waved his hand but remained silent. Assistant Zhang understood, put down the teacup, and left quietly.

The emperor remembered what happened a few days ago. Zhang Jinggong brought him a draft, saying that Xia Wenjin had ordered his men to support the crown prince. Zhang Jinggong didn’t say the rest, but the emperor was a very suspicious person. The emperor couldn’t help but think, what was Xia Wenjin’s intention when he advocated establishing a prince while he was still in his prime?

The more the emperor thought about it, the angrier he became. Zhang Jinggong lowered his head and spoke as if he didn’t notice the emperor’s expression, saying that the emperor could stand still and wait a few days to see if anyone would submit a memorial.

The emperor agreed and there wasn’t an outbreak. After waiting for a few days, sure enough, a memorial confirming his suspicions arrived. The emperor was furious at that time and ordered that the people who presented the memorial be arrested and sent to court prison for interrogation. In the past few days, the emperor’s anger dissipated, and he gradually felt that what happened a few days ago was suspicious. As a result, just today, Sun and Cao sent over the conversation they overheard between Xue Kan and Peng Ze.

If the emperor was angry on the surface a few days ago, now he was truly furious. The emperor thought quietly for a while, then called Assistant Zhang in, and said: “They say Lu Heng has entered the palace.”

|| Author’s Note:

Emperor: I’m really angry, you’re done for.

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