Hua Xiangyi and Qi Shiyu’s wedding was scheduled to take place on the eve of the Grain in Ear1 in the fourth month. The Ministry of Rites had already submitted the drawn-up process to the Empress Dowager. The internal affairs of the palace were numerous and complex, so when it came to such a major affair, the key government offices could not afford to be lacking in personnel.
Fuman originally thought himself to be the perfect candidate for the position of the Directorate of Ceremonial Seal-holding Director. He had the qualification and experience, having attended the Eunuch School2 and having been in charge of managing the affairs in the Grand Secretariat and Mingli Hall. Plus, he had Xiao Chiye to vouch for him. As such, he was even more discreet and cautious as he attended to his official duties these days.
Unexpectedly, when the imperial edict was issued, the Seal-holding Director turned out to be Fengquan and not him. Fengquan was young, and he had little experience to speak of. He had never studied in the Eunuch School. What’s more, he was a junior eunuch who was already over the usual age when he entered the palace. His connection to the former Pan Rugui and Ji Lei was one that could never be severed clean. To let him take on this post that was comparable to that of an “inner minister”—Fuman really did not know if he should cry or sigh.
“The promotion of an outer court official depends on his family social standing, place of origin, and teacher or master he tutored under. I thought the promotion of us inner court eunuchs would be exempt from this hurdle of family background and status. But, damn.” Fuman set down the teacup and let loose a long sigh. “Who knew that we still can’t cross this hurdle after all!”
“What family background does he have?” Xiao Chiye listened to Fuman’s grouses and said as he leisurely drank his tea, “He’s only benefiting off his elder sister’s glory.”
“Your Lordship, why is it that I don’t have a sister?!” Fuman slapped his knee and lamented.
Xiao Chiye snorted a laugh and said, “If the seal isn’t available, there’s still the brush. The Brush-holding Director also manages the Eastern Depot. Old Fu, by letting him take the lead at the head of the pack, you’ll get to escape the spittles of imperial censors.”
“His Majesty’s current treatment of me can’t be compared to the former emperor’s treatment of Pan Rugui, and the Eastern Depot isn’t as influential as the Imperial Bodyguards.” Fuman hesitated, then said, “Your Lordship, looking at how favored Her Ladyship Mu is at present, if she were to give birth to an imperial heir in the future, then wouldn’t Fengquan secure this position completely? Never mind if he is one who knows his place. I fear that he harbors an ulterior motive and ends up breaking the imperial court’s laws and throwing the state into chaos. Wouldn’t that make him the second Pan Rugui?”
Fuman had to greet Fengquan with a smiling face in the palace, but in truth, he was jealous and sickened of him. Fengquan had Mu Ru as a backer. If Fuman, who had been supplanted by him, wanted to stand up to him as an equal in the Directorate of Ceremonial, he had to win over the outer court officials.
“He is young, and he still has to rely on you for many matters. You often move around the Grand Secretariat, and you are a known figure to the Grand Secretary. If one were really to compare, he is merely a lad who usurps what is others’. He is no one worthy of mention.” Xiao Chiye comforted him in his manner, then said, “With us looking out after each other from within and without, we needn’t fear him. How is it going in the palace lately?”
“Second Young Master Xi is dead. His Majesty still thinks of the tune he had yet to complete and felt sad for a few days.” Fuman turned sideways to look at Xiao Chiye. “But Your Lordship, while I was serving tea to the various excellencies in the Grand Secretariat, I inferred from Minister Wei’s words that he still wants to investigate the Xi Clan’s accounts. The Xi Clan caused such a big commotion at the harbor, and there is no head of household this time. Such a big business may be likened to a piece of fatty meat—it’s a gold mine. They are all eyeing it!”
“Isn’t his family still alive?” Xiao Chiye and Shen Zechuan had discussed the follow-up plans for the Xi Clan. Those keys had fallen into Shen Zechuan’s hands, and in Xiao Chiye’s eyes, these were Shen Zechuan’s trousseau. Biding his time, he said, “Xi Hongxuan’s eldest sister-in-law, and Xi Hongxuan’s various cousins are all skilled in managing the business, and they have not committed any crimes. By investigating their accounts for no apparent reason, Minister Wei would be accused of hitting a man when he’s down.”
“His Majesty didn’t agree. But the Grand Secretary seems…” Fuman moved his arm onto the table and said to Xiao Chiye, “… seems to have the intent to pursue the accounts too.”
Hai Liangyi naturally has his own considerations. The Xi Clan had too much silver hidden away. Rather than let the remaining few clans divide it up among themselves, they might as well take that money into the state treasury and let the imperial court manage it. But this meant that Hai Liangyi had to fight with the noble clans head-on.
“The key is still His Majesty.” Xiao Chiye thought for a moment and said to Fuman, “His Majesty is a wise ruler, and he’s the most particular about benevolence and righteousness. It was only just last month that he granted a general amnesty. Wouldn’t raiding and confiscating the Xi Clan’s properties and possessions for no rhyme or reasons this month run contrary to the original intent of the amnesty? His Majesty is also hesitating himself. Old Fu, Fengquan will no doubt go along with Minister Wei for this matter. If you go along too, then it will instead look like you’re blindly going along with the flow. Why not use the opportunity while you are serving His Majesty to tell His Majesty in detail that it is inadvisable to go ahead with this matter at present?”
The gears turned in Fuman’s head. He said, “Won’t this offend Minister Wei?”
“Whether inside or outside the palace, there is only one master, and that is His Majesty.” Xiao Chiye smiled. “Pan Rugui was powerful and influential too, but he did not throw in his lot with the emperor. I’m not at all surprised that he ended up executed. Besides, how can Mingli Hall tolerate tongues wagging? How would he, Wei Huaigu, know of the words you say to His Majesty? His Majesty likes people who are sentimental. You don’t have to persuade for the sake of persuasion. Just mention it in passing.”
“I shall listen to Your Lordship’s advice.” Fuman was all smiles, looking warm and affable. “In any case, this money won’t land in our pockets. We all might as well not want it!”
“The Ministry of Revenue has been tabulating the Imperial Army’s accounts for the medicinal herbs used at the Zhao Zui Temple for quite a number of days. How’s it? Have you heard anything of it?”
“It’s been done and has already been submitted to His Majesty’s desk. Nothing is wrong.” Fuman knew that Liang Cuishan, from the Ministry of Revenue who was entrusted to handle this account, had been nominated by Xiao Chiye, so he said, “His Excellency Liang is truly something to sort out and keep the accounts in such clear order. He could even answer readily and smoothly when the Grand Secretary quizzed him about it. Looks like he’s on his way to a promotion too!”
Thus, Xiao Chiye asked no further. When Fuman was leaving, Chen Yang gave him the new tea from Hezhou they had prepared in advance. Fuman’s hands sank when he received it, and so he knew that there was something inside. He pretended to decline it, and it was only after Chen Yang repeatedly persuaded him that he finally accepted.
The next day, when the court was dismissed, Xiao Chiye waited outside Mingli Hall for himself to be summoned. Shen Zechuan was there too. Both men stood an appropriate distance away—not too far, not too close.
“There are people everywhere probing into the Xi Clan’s properties these few days.” Xiao Chiye removed Langli Blade and handed it to Shen Zechuan, taking the opportunity when Shen Zechuan received it to hold down his hand slightly. “Your Excellency ought to move fast soon.”
Shen Zechuan seemed to have something else on his mind. On hearing him, he lifted Langli Blade and said, “Yeah, he has already left Qudu and is rushing back with the coffin in tow. There should be news next month.”
“Hai Liangyi is not the same as the others. He has made up his mind to take the Xi Clan’s family properties into the state treasury. No matter how fast your man rushes, he will still lose the advantage of the first strike.” Xiao Chiye found Shen Zechuan a little distracted; thus, he released his grip.
Shen Zechuan’s palm sank. Barely able to hold up Langli Blade, he said, “… No matter how fast he is, he still has to play by the rules and follow procedures.”
Xiao Chiye cast a glance at Mingli Hall’s corridor and asked, “What’s wrong?”
Shen Zechuan replied, “I’m looking for someone. Shifu is missing.”
Xiao Chiye said, “As long as there is no passage document issued, he is still in Qudu. The Eight Great Training Divisions would not dare to let people in and out without authorization during the plague period. And the Imperial Army took over the patrol after the plague period. If Ji Gang-shifu has already left, I should have news on my end.”
“I’m also guessing that he’s still in Qudu.” Shen Zechuan paused for a moment. “Xi Hongxuan only did what he did to take Teacher away. Shifu went along for the sake of protecting Teacher. He shouldn’t have been held up for this long. But if Teacher is still in danger, then Shifu definitely won’t be able to leave on his own.”
“Xi Hongxuan is already dead.” Xiao Chiye turned his eyes slightly to look at the other end. “Time to get someone to check that gentleman’s house.”
Shen Zechuan followed Xiao Chiye’s gaze. On that end, Xue Xiuzhuo, dressed in official robes, was approaching them together with Jiang Qingshan.
Xue Xiuzhuo was plain in appearance, but he had a scholarly and refined bearing. He was not the same type as Kong Qiu, Cen Yu, and the likes. He was gentle towards the others, making it likely for the others to form a favorable impression of him. On the contrary, Jiang Qingshan was not what one would expect. The formidable heavyweight of Juexi from the rumors actually looked younger than his actual age.
Both of them drew close, and the four men greeted each other.
In the past, when Jiang Qingshan came to Qudu to report on his work, he had only seen Xiao Chiye from afar at the Banquet of A Hundred Officials. As for Shen Zechuan, it was his first time meeting him. But his heart was not in this, so he was neither warmhearted nor pretentious towards them.
“Many old cases were closed this year, and it’s all thanks to the contributions of Assistant Minister Xue and the various excellencies from the Ministry of Justice. His Majesty will surely lavish you with praises today when we meet with him.” Xiao Chiye said to Xue Xiuzhuo with a smile.
Xue Xiuzhuo smiled too, shaking his head slightly as he said, “It’s all due to His Excellency the Minister’s perceptive and wise judgments that the cases could be closed. I merely assisted him from the side. How is it considered a contribution? On the contrary, it’s Vice Commander Shen who straightened out and put those disorganized case files into order again. It has indeed been hard on him.”
Shen Zechuan looked at Xue Xiuzhuo and said, “The imperial prison has an archive I can check. These matters are something that even a common clerk would be able to handle.”
Xue Xiuzhuo’s expression betrayed nothing. Other than Jiang Qingshan, the other three were all feigning civility. Jiang Qingshan seemed as though he did not want to get involved. He merely stood at the side and said nothing.
Fuman lifted the curtain and came out to call out their names. Only then did the four men move together into Mingli Hall. As Shen Zechuan strode in, he instantly caught sight of Fengquan, who was serving at the side beneath Li Jianheng’s dragon throne. Both men’s eyes met, and Fengquan smiled.
◈ ◈ ◈
Fei Sheng prided himself on being number one when it came to conducting searches. There had never been a person he could not find. Yet, there was still no trace of Ji Gang and Qi Huilian even after he had gone through the entire Qudu these two days.
Ge Qingqing had followed him all the way. When he saw that Fei Sheng had now lost his arrogance and had been silent all this while, he asked, “Is there a possibility that they have been taken out of the city?”
Fei Sheng was serious when he was attending to official duties. Not looking at anyone, he squatted at the bottom side of the Xi Clan’s burned veranda and said, “Unlikely. Since one of them had extraordinary skills, then it is only by taking them down on the spot that would ensure no traces will be left behind. For this kind of matter, the more the commotion, the easier it is to be exposed.”
Ge Qingqing took a few steps back and surveyed this mansion with spacious halls and extensive gardens. He said, “But if he had hidden them at home, then how could it have escaped the searches of our brothers? We have long done a thorough search of this residence.”
“Although I have never befriended or associated with Xi Hongxuan, I have heard of his temperament.” Fei Sheng rose. “He was suspicious by nature. So the more important things were to him, the more he would have kept them close to him. Because he did not trust others. Since these two men are so important, he would definitely not put them in a place far away from him…”
Fei Sheng’s voice gradually trailed off. He climbed up along the scorched wall and pushed aside the various branches to look over next door.
“That’s Prince Qin’s Manor.” Ge Qingqing climbed up after him and crouched down to look inside.
“Deserted for many years…” Fei Sheng jumped down and took a few steps into the painted corridor, where he saw the paint at the top had already peeled off. It was all gray and drab all around, covered thick with cobwebs. He used his Xiuchun Blade3 to pick off the cobwebs and tried pushing the doors with paper seals.4
“That’s right. It has indeed fallen into disuse for many years.” Ge Qingqing looked around. “You suspected he hid them here?”
As soon Fei Sheng touched the door, he knew something was wrong. He said, “A decades-old manor, yet the seals are merely covered in dust. Something’s fishy!”
He took half a step back and abruptly kicked the door open.
I saw someone question the need to keep considering the issue of ingots transportation instead of using banknotes outright. I’ll explain it here so that those with the same question can also understand the reasoning behind this.
Because I did not define banknote banks in my setting. If such a setting were to exist, then it must be able to contain Xi clan’s wealth and completely be beyond the imperial court’s control. It’d be considered as a self-made entity by the merchants, and therefore, it must have a high credit rating to ensure that the banknotes issued under its banner can be used. Four million taels is no small sum. Even if they were converted into banknotes, they’d still be subjected to inspection during transportation. The banknotes would also need to be protected against humidity and fire hazards. Most importantly, because they are not officially issued by the imperial court, there is no guarantee that its usage across the various lands of Dazhou will be problem-free. As an example, for this amount of money to come out of the Juexi, it must be converted to banknotes at the banks in Juexi, but once it reaches Zhongbo or Libei, it remains a question of whether or not the banknotes can be exchanged for the same value.
If the setting were to include official banknotes, then events such as the defeat of Zhongbo troops, corruption amongst government officials, power struggles among political factions, and the emptying of the state treasury during the era of Xiande have resulted in the Ministry of Revenue being unable to audit their own accounts clearly. They would have even less capacity to issue and distribute official banknotes and paper currency. The issuance and distribution of such have strict requirements for the notes’ materials as well as a standardized credit limit. So even if banknotes were used, there is also no way a few banknotes could net four million, given the limit on credit. If we were to consider using denominations of one tael, five taels, ten taels, and so on, the transfer of four million banknotes could only resolve the issue of weight. Subsequently, if the imperial court were to have a change of sovereign, or if the Xi Clan were to be brought to ruins, then whether or not these banknotes will depreciate in value or render void will also prove to be another source of headache as well.
Actually, there is an aspect of the Xi Clan’s setting. I’m not sure if everyone has noticed. It’s that the Xi Clan controls the salterns and copper mines. The copper mines mean that they can mint their own copper coins, as long as they have a firm grasp on the relative purity standard of Dazhou’s copper currency… This is the fundamental reason they can pit themselves against the rest of the Eight Great Clans. Besides, isn’t the large amount of silver warehouses in their possession also an indication that they have, in fact, already been mining silver in private and have the potential to manipulate the flow of silver in the market?
Of course, these are a few words from whatever little information I have on hand. Because I’m not familiar with the know-how in this field, I’m not comfortable with blindly adding in the setting of banknotes and banks. In the case of silver, it makes more sense to only consider the relative purity standard of silver.
Many areas are problematic if we were to probe deeper into it, so thank you for your tolerance and understanding! As a result, today’s chapter isn’t much, sorry! But now that today’s matter has been dealt with, we will return to our old schedule tomorrow.
Thank you for reading.
- 芒种 Grain in Ear, the 9th of the 24 solar terms, which marks the end of the grain-growing season and is the last chance for sowing.
- 内书堂 Eunuch School was established in the palace to train young eunuchs to be literate. This was a deviation from the ancient principle that eunuchs were forbidden to learn to read and write.
绣春刀 Xiuchun Blade is the blade of the Imperial Bodyguards during the Ming Dynasty.
Strips of paper used for sealing doors, windows, etc, for example, on a property confiscated by the government.