T/N: I mistranslated Zhou Guang Rui’s position. He’s a salt distribution commissioner, not a salt transport envoy. Sorry for that. 运 means transport, while 使 means envoy, so this translator just put them together. I recently acquired a dictionary of official titles in imperial China and found out that his title is actually ‘salt distribution commissioner’, which makes more sense.
Also, you know how these characters often address themselves in the third person using illeisms to distinguish their status, show respect, humble oneself, etc. When they use the first person (pronoun, ‘I’) in a conversation, depending on the context, that means they’re close, of the same status, being rude, or being sincere. Sometimes they alternate between ‘I’ and an illeism. I’m always careful not to casually insert ‘I’ anywhere. This translator is struggling to directly translate some of these and want to preserve the characters’ ways of expressing themselves.
Anyway, enjoy the chapter!
Fan Jin Chuan choked and his face flushed crimson.
“Naturally, I want to. Worthy Brother and I are of similar disposition, and this foolish brother especially admires Worthy Brother’s resourcefulness. I want Worthy Brother’s guidance in understanding local affairs. If Worthy Brother is willing to assist, then Zi Jin will have obtained a treasure.”
Zi Jin was Fan Jin Chuan’s courtesy name.
Fan Jin Chuan had not anticipated Fang Feng Sheng’s straightforward assent and was instantly stunned.
“Was what Brother Fan just said all false?”
“Then, I hope Brother Fan will take care of me in the future.” Feng Sheng raised her cup of wine.
Fan Jin Chuan also lifted his own, and the two tilted their cups toward the other in mid-air, smiled in acknowledgment, and downed their wine in one gulp.
By the time they finished their drinks, the moon had mounted on the tip of the tree.1
Fan Jin Chuan’s alcohol tolerance was so poor that he was comatose in intoxication, compelling Feng Sheng to carry him aboard the horse carriage to rush him to the inn.
Back at the inn, Uncle Yu didn’t leave, but his stance suggested he had something to say. Feng Sheng could only ask Zhi Qiu to make some tea, and the two of them sat at the table.
“Young Sir, why go with Gentleman Fan? Hou Fei was right. If Young Sir wants to reverse the case for Master, that third prince will be a better choice. Although this Gentleman Fan is also a talented man, how can a seventh-rank county magistrate take advantage of a situation to compete with those giants?”
“Third prince aside, Fan Jin Chuan is the best choice at the moment.”
“Why set the third prince aside, Young Sir……”
Feng Sheng interrupted him, “Uncle Yu, do you know whose student Fan Jin Chuan is? Do you know the place he’s assigned to?”
Uncle Yu’s eyes gleamed with inquiry.
“His teacher is Court Elder Song, and he will assume office at Taizhou.”
Uncle Yu was so astonished that he stood up on the spot.
“In the meantime, let’s not mention Court Elder Song. According to ‘The Salt Law’: salt tax contributes up to half of the tax income, and the salt tax from Liang Huai contributes up to half of the country’s. The Liang Huai Salt Distribution Commission is divided into three branch offices: Taizhou division, Tongzhou division, and Huai’an division. Of the three, Taizhou came top; its salt production had once reached five to six parts of the country’s total. My father’s case is closely linked to salt. Let’s first consider that father was jeopardized because Lord Zhou endeavored to expose the salt administration’s greed for profit by sending a letter to those above. Obviously, this touched the interests of a certain party, so the other side struck him with a muck-rake2 by setting up a trap and framing him.
“The other party’s reaction speed was exceedingly fast; it’s palpable that someone had leaked the news days prior. If the case is introduced to the higher authorities, and His Majesty sends someone to investigate, where will the investigation start, and who will be most afraid of it? I think it’s better to start at the root of the matter rather than scour from a high tower, so Taizhou is the better option.”
“Feng Sheng, when did you find out that Fan Jin Chuan will take office in Taizhou?”
“Last time, after leaving Uncle Hou’s place. I unexpectedly stumbled upon him at the government residence, so I made some inquiries.”
“In other words, on that short trip to and from the third prince, you had already cooked up a scheme to latch onto Fan Jin Chuan to get a handle on Taizhou?”
Feng Sheng nodded her head.
Uncle Yu’s eyes glimmered in wonder, and though he remained taciturn, he felt a sudden surge of confidence that very moment.
Although they were already resolute in their decision, before this, they were like headless flies without even half a helping hand, so he was anxious but didn’t dare reveal it. Now, in just half a day, Feng Sheng had procured a good prospect. Maybe this time, they would succeed.
“Feng Sheng, I’m sure you can make it.”
“That’s what I’ve always thought.”
After Uncle Yu left, Feng Sheng freshened up and plunged onto the couch.
Remembering Uncle Yu’s previous question, she rolled over.
There was actually another reason why Feng Sheng cast the third prince aside, but this reason, she wasn’t going to say.
Fan Jin Chuan took office just recently and had already delayed quite a few days, so he planned to bid farewell and leave.
When Zong Yue was informed of this, he especially asked Du Ming Liang to host a banquet prior to his departure.
“This is farewell; mountains are high and roads are far. However, this highness believes that we will soon be able to meet Lord Fan in the capital.”
“Thank you, Your Highness, for your high hopes. In fact, compared to settling in the capital, this lowly official rather feels that this one can expend more for the court in the local area. Journeying from the capital to Yangzhou, this lowly official deliberately abandoned the waterway to take the dry route, as this one desired to stroll and explore. Along the way, this one couldn’t help but sigh, finally understanding the true meaning of the ancient saying that reading ten thousand books is not as good as walking ten thousand li.”
This was why Fan Jin Chuan was a man who lacked skill in communicating. By stating his hopes of meeting at the capital, the person who spoke implied his expectations for the other to be promoted and appointed an important position; yet, the other countered by shunning the capital and elucidating his preference to immerse in the locality. As a matter of fact, he drove himself to a dead end by stifling the other from answering.
Feng Sheng was also present during this exchange and had gained a little more insight about Fan Jin Chuan’s personality and temperament.
She was posing as Fan Jin Chuan’s private advisor. She hadn’t intended to participate, but Fan Jin Chuan nonetheless dragged her along, saying that when given the opportunity, he could give Zong Yue an explanation so he wouldn’t vent his anger on her. It just so happened that Feng Sheng wanted to observe the situation more, so she went with him.
After they arrived, Zong Yue remained reticent as usual. Fan Jin Chuan had explained to him how, on the way to Yangzhou, Fang Feng Sheng made an appointment with him and decided to assist him with official matters. Anyway, as to whether he believed that ruse or not, it was impossible to tell from the surface.
Since there was a banquet, there was naturally no shortage of song and dance.
It was a well-known fact that Jiangnan produced beauties. Unfortunately, the bright beauties were enchanting, but Zong Yue and Fan Jin Chuan showed no interest. Du Ming Liang took heed of this and impelled Hou Fei with him to liven up the awkward atmosphere induced by the other two’s impassivity. Feng Sheng, on the other hand, eyed the spectacle with fervor.
Feng Sheng raised her eyebrows.
Sitting side by side, their whispering eluded others’ notice.
“The hero’s tomb resided in a village’s gentle home; King Fuchai of Wu plunged his country into ruin3, both falling prey to women’s allure. Worthy Brother should now attach more importance to literary studies and must not excessively engross oneself in feminine charms.”
Feng Sheng stared listlessly at his dead earnest appearance. Was this person her moral guardian?
“Brother Zi Jin, the sage once said that appetite and lust are only natural. Scholars and literati mostly regard this in elegance; how come Brother Zi Jin is so averse to it?”
“Foolish brother is saying this for your own good. You’re still young and don’t understand the power of this……”
At this time, Du Ming Liang sought Fan Jin Chuan for a drink, interrupting his lecture.
Fang Feng Sheng’s eyes remained rooted at the scene and didn’t take the matter seriously at all.
After half a round of wine, Feng Sheng felt a bit bloated, so she got up to relieve herself.
There were maids and manservants attending outside, so she didn’t worry about no one leading her. When she came out of the restroom, she noticed the bright moon on the sky. The night breeze was cool, so she stood there to dispel the alcohol from her system.
Feeling much more comfortable, she turned and stalked back. As soon as she took a curve, she seemed to have ran into a wall.
She fell backwards and was yanked by someone.
Under the moonlight, Zong Yue was draped in a black embroidered brocade robe, tall and straight as a pine, his eyes dark and deep.
Feng Sheng struggled but couldn’t break free as her wrists were grasped firmly.
“Tell me, are you Fang Feng Sheng? Or is it Fang Feng Fu?”
“Naturally, it’s Fang Feng Fu. Third Highness must not be mistaken in the future, Feng Sheng is this one’s sister.”
Zong Yue knew that she was lying without batting an eyelid, and he sneered.
“Third prince, if there’s nothing else, this scholar will return to the table first.”
“Do you not know? If anything is too coincidental, it will come off deliberate.”
The two voices sounded almost simultaneously, and Feng Sheng’s mouth stiffened. Of course she knew. She actually had no intention of deceiving Zong Yue any further, but, because she was certain he wouldn’t expose her, she hadn’t given it much thought.
“This scholar never intended to deceive Your Highness.”
“The fox’s tail4 is finally revealed?” Zong Yue snorted.
“It’s not that this scholar is deceitful; it’s just that the third prince is too aggressive.”
“Have you forgotten what you’ve done in the Sun family?” These words were spat through gritted teeth, evident that Zong Yue still harbored a grudge over the incident.
Feng Sheng took a deep breath and plastered on a smile.
She pulled back her own hand, but the other’s grip only tightened. She made her gaze appear more sincere, softening her tone: “Third Highness, if you’re still holding a grudge for what happened before, I’m sincerely apologizing to you now. Please forgive a weak woman who was besieged on all sides and desperately wanted a way out. I had no other choice but to take advantage of the opportunity. If I didn’t do that, perhaps after a few days, I would’ve suddenly found myself in your bed. I’d rather die than let myself be reduced to that state.”
“You’re finally admitting it?”
“Wasn’t Third Highness always doubtful? What good will it do to keep lying? But I believe that Third Highness is tolerant and magnanimous, and will definitely not be bothered with this young lady.”
“This highness is not at all magnanimous and will retaliate against the smallest grievance.”
“Then, there’s nothing I can do. I can’t change your mind. But worry not, I won’t appear in front of Your Highness’s eyes in the future or cause any trouble.”
Feng Sheng pulled back again, and this time Zong Yue loosened his grip.
“If you’re aiming to reverse your father’s case, instead of following Fan Zi Jin, you should come to this highness.”
The step Feng Sheng had just taken paused.
“Third Highness knows quite a bit.”
“Isn’t that why you left the Sun family and reused your other identity? Don’t blame this highness for not reminding you. This matter is not something you can touch, so be careful of setting yourself on fire.”
“Even if I burn, I’m still the one immolating my own self. Your Highness need not be concerned.”
“What do you think Fan Jin Chuan can do for you? He can’t protect himself!”
Feng Sheng only felt everything in front of her eyes momentarily blur. Her entire person seemed to have struck a wall again, and when she raised her head, she collided with Zong Yue’s ice-cold gaze.
“Worthy Brother, Third Highness, what are you doing?”
In the corridor, Fan Jin Chuan examined the place from afar with a puzzled face.
“It’s nothing. Just had a chance encounter with Third Highness and exchanged a few words about tonight’s touching moonlight.”
Feng Sheng took two steps backwards, bowed her head, and arched her hands, “This scholar will not disturb Your Highness’ appreciation of the glorious moon.”
Zong Yue’s face was frosty, but he didn’t speak.
When Feng Sheng passed him, she paused her steps and voiced out: “Do you know why I sought Fan Jin Chuan instead of Your Highness? Because you hold women in contempt, ah.”
Feng Sheng left with Fan Jin Chuan, the two of them laughing and chatting as they plodded away, still vaguely audible.
De Wang, who had been shrinking to the side, emerged and whispered, “His Highness.”
Zong Yue snorted and turned to stride away.
1 月上树梢: lit. the moon ascends on the tip of the tree. A way of saying what time it is. The moon is basically at a certain position, a certain time depending on the season. It’s to tell that it’s already late, since the moon has appeared at a certain height.
2 倒打一耙: lit. to strike with a muck-rake (idiom); fig. to counter-attack; to make bogus accusations (against one’s victim)
3 Fuchai was a king who was weak against Xi Shi’s beauty and ended up ignoring his country’s affairs, killing his advisors, and eventually ending his own life. The country got annexed by Yue. Xi Shi was said to be truly beautiful; in fact, she didn’t really do anything, but it was because of her that the country was annexed.
4 狐狸尾巴: lit. fox’s tail (idiom); to reveal one’s evil nature