The title 大雪 means both heavy snow and also Great Snow, which is the 21st of the 24 solar terms in the lunar calendar. (i.e. Winter).
The snow fell for several days. With the assassination case hastily concluded, the turbulent waves of earlier were swiftly buried under the snowstorm, turning into nothing more than a vast expanse of white. It was at this moment that Li Jianheng heard that Xiao Chiye had fallen ill.
He had reportedly caught a cold, and yet he still faced the wall in self-reflection until he eventually collapsed onto the couch, apparently too ill to even get up. Li Jianheng braved the snow and set out on a carriage with his retinue to the Prince of Libei’s residence. He led the various ministers, and once again, became good buddies with Xiao Chiye.
All the others had left the room. Xiao Chiye’s complexion was pale as he let Chen Yang help him up to sit face-to-face with Li Jianheng.
Li Jianheng said, “I feel very ashamed for rebuking you that day after believing those slanders.”
Xiao Chiye said, “The ruler and his ministers are interdependent on one another. That’s the way it should be. Your Majesty needs not take it to heart.”
Li Jianheng fell silent, as did Xiao Chiye. In the end, they had both come to the point of addressing themselves as ruler and minister in private.
Li Jianheng forced a laugh and said, “I used to think that you were made of iron and wouldn’t get sick. I didn’t expect you to be no different from the common man when you fall ill.”
Xiao Chiye said, “This subject is merely an ordinary man with a body made of flesh and blood. I’d still bleed if I were to get stabbed.”
Li Jianheng recalled the night at the hunting grounds where Xiao Chiye had spurred his horse into the Imperial Bodyguards all alone as the Imperial Bodyguards outflanked them. He had barely come out of it alive, and subsequently, he had put him on to the dragon throne.
Humans were truly strange. When they abhorred a person, they would only remember all that was bad about said person. But once guilt came calling, they would only remember his goodness. It was as if they had taken to heart those words they had used to cuss the other party with others, thereby feeling more and more ashamed.
There were plenty of things Li Jianheng wanted to ask Xiao Chiye. But at this moment, he did not feel like asking anymore. Xiao Chiye said that a body of flesh and blood would bleed. Then, what about the friendship that had grown apart?
So Li Jianheng said, “… Sitting in this position is not a choice I… I1 willingly make. Ce’ an, you’ve never sat here, so you won’t understand how it feels like to be in a precarious position. The others all think that sitting in this position will make them happy and carefree. In the past, I used to think so too. But this isn’t the case at all.”
Xiao Chiye said nothing.
Li Jianheng’s eyes suddenly reddened. He did not know what made him sad either, so he could only say, “I was originally a hopeless case. I’m telling you; I’m very much aware of it. If my brothers hadn’t died, this position would not fall into my hands. But what have I done wrong? I have always wanted to be an idle prince. You people shove me up here without even asking… I have done my best, Ce’an. I have really done my best. I’m not capable enough to control this power of the world; I can only let it control me!”
Li Jianheng covered his face in agony and started to choke with sobs.
“Ce’an, it’s too high sitting up here that I can’t even get a clear look at anything!”
Xiao Chiye’s eyes reddened too. He said, “We are brothers. Why would I blame you?”
Li Jianheng forcefully wiped away his tears and said, “But when all is said and done, I have marred our brotherhood.”
Xiao Chiye said, “Why blame yourself for something you have no choice over? I’m the one who has been too ostentatious in the way I do things. I deserve to be put in my place by someone else.”
Li Jianheng said, “Such is your temper. You can’t be faulted for this. They are only egging me on like this for their own sake. I’ve let you down, Ce’an.”
They both seemed to have buried the hatchet and returned to the time they were each other’s confidants. But the usual lightheartedness of clowning and jesting around had eventually given way to an awkward atmosphere that was more deference and less closeness.
Li Jianheng did not stay long and left after he was done saying his piece. But before he left, he showered Xiao Chiye with lots of rewards and urged him to rest well.
As soon as the people cleared out, Xiao Chiye tossed away the pillow supporting his back. Rising to his feet, he draped on his clothes and put on his shoes before heading for Xiao Jiming’s study.
Xiao Jiming was in the study listening to Zhao Hui speaking on military affairs. When he saw Xiao Chiye coming in, he waved his hand at him and motioned for him to sit before him.
Zhao Hui did not stop and continued to say, “The Ministry of Revenue has already investigated the expenditure of military funds before the new year. The Grand Secretariat is still in discussion regarding the sum after the new year. The snow is heavy this year, and the people of Juexi are happy because the timely snow is an auspicious omen for a prosperous year, and they can look forward to a bumper harvest this year. But in Zhongdu, people are already starting to freeze to death.”
“In recent years, the prefectural yamen in Zhongbo has been short of manpower. With this heavy snow, there are few people who will be able to go and repair the collapsed abodes.” Xiao Jiming drank his hot tea and thought for a moment. “Tell the Ministry of Revenue to set aside 40,000 silver from Libei’s military funds at the start of the year to be used as repair funds for Cizhou of Zhongbo.”
Cizhou was right next to the Northeast Provisions Bridle Path. This favor Xiao Jiming did could be said to be the rendering of timely assistance, much like sending charcoal in snowy weather.2
Understanding his intent, Zhao Hui lifted his brush to record it in the book.
“The prefectural yamen of Zhongbo lacks manpower, and there aren’t many officials in the capital who are willing to go over. But it’s indeed not a long-term solution to leave it hanging like this.” Xiao Chiye poured tea for Xiao Jiming.
“Hua Siqian was unwilling to take charge of this in the past. This is a hot potato. Taking it means having to fork out your own money.” Xiao Jiming moved his fingers along the teacup and said, “But now, Secretariat Hai is in charge. This year’s spring examination3 should be to seek a suitable candidate for Zhongbo.”
“Most of the new officials are inexperienced and have no prestige to speak of. They can be low-ranking officials, but they won’t be able to secure their positions if they are to be high-ranking officials of the border-provinces.” Xiao Chiye said. “The one going to Zhongbo to run the show still has to be selected from the central administration.”
“There is a shortage of talents who can assume responsibility and are up to the task nowadays.” Xiao Jiming said, “Zhongbo used to be a vassal state in the past. Thanks to the Shen Clan, there were many deep-rooted and complicated collusions taking place under the table and plenty of matters that couldn’t be explained or accounted for. When Shen Wei was still around, it was already a set stage. Five years ago, it was abruptly thrown into anarchy and is now a land of chaos. At that time, the common folks fled away from it because of the Biansha’s massacres of the cities. The imperial court was tardy in coming out with a pacification policy. Those who are still in Zhongbo are mostly the remaining military households from the garrison army and the roving bandits. As they say, barren hills and untamed rivers4 will produce undesirable citizens, and the current situation in Zhongbo is nothing but such. If the typical official were to go, he won’t be able to hold the fort. On the contrary, he will be shown who’s the boss.”
“If the imperial court is willing to send a military general with an army, they will still be able to take charge of the matter on the pretext of suppressing the bandits.” Zhao Hui closed the book neatly. “But looking at the situation, I suppose they won’t dare to do it.”
Of course, they would not dare to. At present, Qudu already had the Libei’s Armored Cavalry to the northeast and the Qidong Garrison Troops to the southeast. These were both frontier lands with massive military forces. Holding them in check was already a strain. Taking the risk to send one out again would make it even harder to deal with once conferment was bestowed. But it would not do to leave things as it was in Zhongbo, either. This issue had to be resolved through a compromise.
“This is a headache for the Grand Secretariat to deal with.” Xiao Jiming pushed aside the military affairs and looked at Xiao Chiye. “How did it go?”
Xiao Chiye’s elbows were propped against the armrests of the chair. He wanted to prop up his legs too, but he could not find a spot to. So he said, “You gave His Majesty such a scare. He’s so frightened that he still wants to continue being buddies with me even if it doesn’t please him to.”
“Both of you are dining and drinking buddies5 to begin with.” Xiao Jiming smiled. “Let him fear. It’s better than him not being afraid.”
“Fu Linye has made a great effort.” Xiao Chiye said. “I’ll have to find a chance to thank him sometime.”
“You might as well thank the friend who has been helping you in secret.” Xiao Jiming said. “Someone on the inside has put in quite the effort for this case to conclude so smoothly. Given Fu Linye’s experience, he shouldn’t have been so careless as to fall for the trap this easily.”
“Uh-huh…” Xiao Chiye merely smiled and changed the subject. “Where’s Gu Jin? Call him in. I have orders for him.”
“It’d be better to call all of them in. I have orders too.” Xiao Jiming turned his head to Zhao Hui and motioned to him.
Zhao Hui headed out to call them over, and Meng flew in immediately right after. It landed on the clothes rack, and the snow it shook off wetted the clothes that had been hung up to dry. Ding Tao took off his shoes before hopping in and rushing over to stand as straight as a ramrod before Xiao Jiming. Behind him, Chen Yang and Gu Jin entered.
“Hereditary Prince!” The person Ding Tao held in esteem the most was Xiao Jiming. Revealing his snowy white teeth, he said, “Hereditary Prince, please go ahead and give your command! I, Ding Tao, will not hesitate to brave fire and water for you!”
“Yo.” Xiao Chiye lifted the teacup and said, “Why have you never said that to this Second Young Master?”
Ding Tao said, “You’re always throwing me out.”
“What wrong have you done to make the Second Young Master throw you out?” Xiao Jiming asked in a mild tone.
Ding Tao immediately replied, “I haven’t. It’s just that the Second Young Master is always getting me to keep an eye on that—”
Xiao Chiye almost spewed out his tea. He closed the lid with a “clatter” and signaled to Chen Yang with his eyes. Chen Yang promptly rapped Ding Tao on the head. Ding Tao, still not knowing what was happening, covered his head and did not dare to say a word more.
Xiao Chiye’s tongue was hurting from being scalded. He said, “Drag him out and bury him on the spot! What’s with that complaint? Let Gu Jin explain!”
Ding Tao said in aggrievement, “I’m not—”
Chen Yang covered his mouth and dragged him out. After opening the door, he really buried him in the snow.
Gu Jin thought to himself, what do I say? What the hell can I say?
Standing before Xiao Jiming, he saw that Xiao Jiming was about to put down the teacup, so he immediately kneeled on one knee and respectfully took the teacup before setting it on the table. He said clumsily, “Hereditary Prince, it’s hot!”
Xiao Jiming was not in a hurry to ask on seeing this. He looked at each of them in turn until Xiao Chiye felt uncomfortable, as if he was sitting on pins and needles.
Xiao Jiming asked, “What’s the matter? Is the Second Young Master hiding someone in the residence?”
Xiao Chiye said, “How is that possible? Dage, I have not even proposed marriage yet. There’s no reason for me to tarnish a maiden’s reputation.”
Xiao Jiming looked at him for a long while. Xiao Chiye did not know if Xiao Jiming had believed him, but Xiao Jiming dismissed the topic and told him to continue.
Xiao Chiye found a comfortable position and said, “I’m thinking of asking Gu Jin to do a check on Xiangyun Villa.”
Zhao Hui pondered and said, “Xiangyun Villa is on Donglong Street. It’s a mixed bag of crooks and honest folks to begin with. It’ll not be easy to investigate in secret. Does the Second Young Master think there’s something fishy about Xiangyun?”
“There’s definitely something fishy about her.” Xiao Chiye said. “Wei Huaixing has her testimony in hand. Why would she offend me for no good cause?”
Zhao Hui said to Xiao Jiming, “Hereditary Prince, I heard someone said it was hatred borne out of love.”
Xiao Jiming said to Xiao Chiye at his own pace, “Since she has become an old flame, then you must have a new lover now. It’s been a few days since I entered the capital; why haven’t I heard you mention it?”
Xiao Chiye said, “I’m just bored with fooling around. There’s nothing else to it.”
“Why blink your eyes when you are talking?” Xiao Jiming said. “Blinking means you’re lying. Which clan is this maiden from? This matter has been on Father’s and your sister-in-law’s minds. If there’s indeed something this time, then what’s so hard about telling me? We’ll handle it for you immediately.”
“There isn’t one.” Xiao Chiye could not sit still any longer. He wanted to run, but he did not dare to. So he could only say, “There isn’t one. Really. What am I getting married for? Isn’t that just going to hold up her future?”
“Once you get married, you’ll mature a little.” Xiao Jiming wanted to pat his head, but he could not do it before his subordinates and diminish his dignity and authority. Thus, he lowered his voice, “How long can your sister-in-law and I keep you company? In this Qudu, there has to be someone who can hold a lantern or light a lamp for you and chat with you. No matter who catches your eyes, Father and I will do our best. As long as you like her, we can settle it for you even if she’s a lady of a noble clan.”
Xiao Chiye originally thought of bantering his way through it. But on hearing this, he suddenly felt touched and said, “Commander-in-chief Qi… You can do it even if it’s someone like Commander-in-chief Qi?”
The expression in Xiao Jiming’s eyes underwent a slight change. He did not expect Xiao Chiye to like someone like the Commander-in-chief. After a moment’s pause, he said with complicated feelings, “… I’ll consent to it if she hasn’t hacked you to death by then.”
At night, when Xiao Chiye got on the bed, he suddenly stepped on an object. He bent over to pick it up from the woolen rug. It was a pearl that was used as a button.
Xiao Chiye’s eyes followed the pearl to the base of the bed.
“Chen Yang.” Xiao Chiye suddenly opened the window and shouted.
Chen Yang walked over from the foot of the stairs. Xiao Chiye thought for a moment while looking at him before saying, “Make a trip to the jewelry shop on Shenwu Street tomorrow morning.”
Before Chen Yang could reply, Xiao Chiye raised his hand and tossed a box to him.
“Tell them to make these into earrings. Make one of all the designs available.” Xiao Chiye thought long and hard before continuing. “Keep it simple. Nothing too fancy.”
Chen Yang looked at the box and asked, “… All?”
“All.” Xiao Chiye closed the windows. After a moment of silence, he opened them again.
Chen Yang did not dare to move. He held the box with both hands and called out in bewilderment, “Master?”
Xiao Chiye said, “Put it on the account!”
- The first I Li Jianheng uses to refer to himself here is “朕”. It’s an imperial term for “I” exclusively used by the Emperor. Using this term would really differentiate Li Jianheng and Xiao Chiye as a ruler and his subject. The second “I” he uses is the more common “我”, which would be indicative of him seeing himself on the same level as Xiao Chiye (as buddies).
- 雪中送炭 to provide help in another’s hour of need.
- 春闱 imperial examination, which usually took place in the spring.
- 穷山恶水 inhospitable natural environment
- 酒肉情谊(朋友) also a term for a fair-weathered friend.