This was undoubtedly a hot potato. Who would dare take it?
But if they refused, what would happen?
Under the watchful eyes of many, if they didn’t take it, what would become of the Court of Judicial Review, the Ministry of Justice, and the Censorate?
At this time, Zhao An Xian and the other three sitting at the top loathed Fang Feng Sheng to death. Why weren’t they informed beforehand? Had they known this would happen, they would have reported illness and stayed at home. However, in hindsight, this person had done so many things. The other had chosen this situation, not a jot earlier or later, but precisely this moment, to say it.
The three of them stared at each other in dismay, momentarily at a loss.
Fang Feng Sheng was still kneeling at the bottom. The matter was obviously still at a deadlock.
At this juncture, a subordinate of one of the few officials heading the trial spoke up.
“Lord Zhao, Lord He, Lord Feng, Fang Feng Fu’s words are well-founded. As the victim’s family, he claims to have all the evidence. This official doesn’t think he’s lying. Why are the three of you lords just standing there in a daze? What’s the problem?”
Another official voiced out, “Never would have expected that the esteemed Court of Judicial Review, the Ministry of Justice, and the Censorate would have cases they don’t dare take on.”
“Who says we refuse to take on the case? We were just a little distracted! Bring it here quickly.” Zhao An Xian prompted the clerical subofficial to receive the brown paper bag, thinking that Fang Feng Fu would not have the guts to hand it over so readily. However, he didn’t expect the other to instead be very delighted.
Thinking about what this person had said, the evidence here was only a part of it. It seemed unlikely for this person to not have a backup.
Zhao An Xian and the three men took the brown paper bag and left together, not even daring to spare it a glance. Other officials also didn’t stay long. Feng Sheng returned to the room she had been confined in, but compared to before, there were now twice as many guards. Furthermore, their attitude was not as pleasant as the ones prior, making her feel as though she was surrounded by tigers, leopards, and wolves.
The wind was rising.
During the imperial court’s upheaval on the 30th year of Jianping, Feng Sheng’s sudden arrival caused another hurricane. This time, it completely changed the situation in court, catching everyone unawares.
In the time it took Feng Sheng to return to that room and eat another meal, the entire capital shook.
The events that transpired at the Court of Judicial Review, like a sudden peal of thunder leaving everyone no time to cover their ears, spread throughout the capital. Even if they wanted to cover it up, it was too late.
The Jianping Emperor was appalled and furious, Empress Chen was horrified, the Crown Prince was anxious and restless, and Court Elder Song actually smashed the teapots from the cabinet, which was enough to illustrate how unsettled he was.
No one in this world could truly cover the sky with one hand. Should there be one, then that person would only be the Jianping Emperor. However, even monarchs had plenty of things they were helpless and powerless against. The situation in court was complicated, and a single Liang Huai implicated many. If the Jianping Emperor, the dignified monarch of the country, wanted to do something, he would have to work out a strategy once more, as a slight move in one part might affect the situation as a whole.
The Crown Prince was the future heir apparent, which concerned the entire country. If the Crown Prince’s personal virtue was lacking and his moral conduct corrupt, one feared that all the courtiers would be unwilling to have him continue sitting on the position of crown prince.
Now, someone had accused the Crown Prince, with words so irrefutable and justified, during the joint trial of the three offices, involving even a major case from a few years ago.
For a moment, the court and the entire public were greatly astounded.
With a brittle sound, the Jianping Emperor smashed his third teacup.
After that, the entire palace hall sunk into a deathly stillness.
The eunuchs and palace maids on duty today were all trembling in terror. Having served by His Majesty’s side for a long time, they knew that the calmer His Majesty looked, the more furious he actually was.
The Jianping Emperor’s rage was not only because of the Crown Prince’s matter, but also because he realized that he himself had followed the ways of others.
This time last year, he was even extremely appreciative of Fang Feng Fu, a nobody whose name was unknown to all; otherwise, he wouldn’t have disregarded the other party’s lack of scholarly honor, repeatedly making an exception to promote him. Perhaps others weren’t aware, but the Jianping Emperor knew that Liang Huai could have such an atmosphere now because this person made great contributions.
But how much he had admired him then, that was how much he hated him now.
A mere advisor’s son was surprisingly capable of orchestrating such an enormous and elaborate scheme. It wouldn’t be unusual for an emperor be suspicious of it. Even Fang Feng Sheng’s relationship with Fan Jin Chuan could also be regarded as one of her special ploys.
This person had actually perceived that he had long been dissatisfied with Liang Huai. At that time, so many factors were at play, and a faint move could disrupt the balance, so he had been reluctant to make a move. Thus, in the past, he had Fan Jin Chuan installed as a pawn. Court Elder Song had used the Crown Prince’s name to operate Liang Huai like an iron bucket,1 and only Fan Jin Chuan’s former status would not arouse people’s suspicion, especially with a temperament and character susceptible to use.
Unexpectedly, amidst drowsiness, there just happened to be a pillow.2 Sure enough, Fan Jin Chuan played a big role, and Fang Feng Fu officially entered his eyes. The various actions this person executed had coincided with some of his ideas, which made him feel a sense of appreciation. But when the other grew repeatedly indiscreet, touching things he shouldn’t have touched, this appreciation slowly morphed into a kind of forbearance, eventually developing into intolerance.
At this moment, the Jianping Emperor presumed that this person had done things deliberately and had calculated that someone would fish in troubled waters, seizing this opportunity to attack the Crown Prince. This person had been certain that he would save the Crown Prince and would consequently have him escorted to the capital. Grasping even some of the smallest of details and the most precise of his intentions, it led to today’s matter of accusing the Crown Prince in court.
The more the Jianping Emperor ruminated, the colder his face grew. He could actually feel himself breaking out in cold sweat.
Was this fear?
“Your Majesty, Her Majesty the Empress is asking for an audience,” Fu Lu trudged in and reported in a low voice.
“Send her away!”
Outside the palace hall, Empress Chen received the news that the Jianping Emperor refused to see her. She was still somewhat unwilling and wanted to continue to ask for an audience, but she seemed to have remembered something and promptly left Qianqing Palace.
This time at the East Palace, Zong Duo flew into a rage and held a sword against everything in the study. He took the objects as Fang Feng Fu and chopped them up.
“This humble one wants to chop him up. He actually had the impertinence to accuse this humble one!”
“Your Highness, calm down, please calm down. By all means, bear in mind everything Her Majesty has done for you. Her Majesty still hasn’t spoken. Things will certainly take a favorable turn.” He Nian grabbed him from behind, his usual calmness nowhere to be seen.
“A favorable turn?”
Would things really take a favorable turn?
“Instead of seeking a favorable turn, this humble one would rather kill him first!”
There might be a favorable turn, but at least not right now.
The day after the incident, the court began to discuss spiritedly. Countless officials submitted memorials saying that, in order to ensure the Crown Prince’s reputation, this case must be thoroughly investigated. The Jianping Emperor was already in a position where he would find it difficult to dismount after riding the tiger.3 He could have suppressed the whole situation privately, but it had now attracted the public’s attention, so he must give the people an explanation.
The dusty files in the Ministry of Justice were once again unfolded, and the case that had passed for several years was finally revealed in the eyes of the people. Who was right and who was wrong, justice would be given.
At the same time, there was a lot of controversy in court concerning who would be ordained to investigate the case.
According to law, it should be the three major offices, which were the Court of Judicial Review, the Ministry of Justice, and the Censorate, but in court, several people expressed their dissent. After an entire half a month of debate, six officials were finally decided to hear the case together: Lü Bao Chun, the Chief Minister of the Court of Judicial Review; Yu Huan Jie, the Minister of Justice; Lu Yun Fu, the Left Censor-in-chief of the Censorate; as well as Jiang Xi Ming, the Chief Minister of the Court of Dependencies; Prince Wei; and Jiang Bo Xue, the Minister of Rites.
These six people were the final outcome of the conflict between various forces, Prince Wei being the only exception. He was named and included by the Jianping Emperor himself, and he also played the role of supervising on the Emperor’s stead.
Matters had actually developed to this day and age. Wanting to use someone else’s hand to tamper with the case was already close to impossible. These six people supervised and restricted each other. The only thing they could do was to bring out the truth of the case.
Things began following the prescribed order, and Fang Feng Fu, the victim’s family, had already been locked up in the Celestial Prison of the Court of Judicial Review to ensure his safety.
During this time, Prince Wei, one of the chief investigators, along with the other officials tasked to investigate, visited Feng Sheng once.
She had lost some weight again but was still in good spirits.
Before leaving, Prince Wei remarked, “This person is not a criminal, and locking him here is already against the rules. Having him live and eat on par with a prisoner ultimately seems a bit harsh.”
Lü Bao Chun asked, “Does His Highness Prince Wei have a suggestion?”
“This case is not something that can be investigated in a brief period of time. This man is a weak scholar. He has also contributed to the country, so Lord Lü ought to treat him more cordially. In that case, make the cell more comfortable, and find some scrolls, brushes and ink for him to pass the time. This prince has had numerous fateful encounters with him. This prince will order someone to send these things over, which will be considered an acknowledgement of our friendship.4 It’s also to prevent the common people from criticizing that our imperial family is harsh in our dealings.”
The others stood gazing at each other for a while but did not raise any objections. Anyway, what Prince Wei would send, if something were to happen, he would be responsible for it himself. After Fang Feng Fu would hand all the evidence, this whole case would actually have nothing to do with her anymore. There would be no need to be afraid of anyone trapping a suspect into confession, changing testimonies, or anything like that.
As such, Feng Sheng moved to a more comfortable cell.
If it was not for the fact that there were no windows in the cell, the door of the cell would be tightly closed all year round, leaving only one window for delivering meals, which was almost the same size as that in one’s own home. Inside the cell, there was a bed, a writing desk, a screen, all kinds of books, and clothes stored to dispel the cold. Prince Wei had prepared a certain object5 for her. After seeing it, Feng Sheng was embarrassed for a long time.
The actual fact was, she had prepared on her own and also carried a lot of it with her, as she had anticipated this day for quite a long time.
Time passed day by day, and because she had seen neither the sun nor sky, Feng Sheng did not know how much time had elapsed. It wasn’t until Prince Wei once again ordered people to send her winter clothes and had charcoal braziers added to her cell that she realized it was already winter.
During this period, Prince Wei used the cold winter as a pretext to send her quite a few things, but he had not a word passed on. Feng Sheng guessed that he must have been angry.
But even if he were angry, she couldn’t do anything about it. Since she left the Sun family, her life and even the purpose of her survival had been to avenge her father’s death and to reverse his verdict. Trembling with fear, she had weathered through difficulties to advance to this step, just for this day. No one and nothing could have stopped her.
There were many Buddhist scriptures in the things Prince Wei sent, and the days here were so quiet that it made people want to go crazy. She would inevitably finish reading all the books at some point, so Feng Sheng had recently become occupied with copying Buddhist scriptures.
She would copy for a while and rest when she got tired. Anyway, with nothing else to do, it was the only thing keeping her busy. If it were before, Feng Sheng would never have imagined that this would be the most leisurely day of her life.
There was nothing to do and nothing to think about.
By now, she had completely relaxed. Things were advancing to the last step, and the outcome was out of her control. Even if she couldn’t pay for one life with another, if she were to die right now, she wouldn’t be ashamed to face her father after death.
She had already strove to her hardest.
When time entered the spring of the following year, the results came out.
Court Elder Song was stripped of his official title. His manor was raided and his possessions were confiscated. After another hearing, the rest of the minor people involved fell off their horses and lost their official titles. Some had their houses searched and their property seized, while those who had committed graver crimes were directly beheaded. Furthermore, the Crown Prince Zong Duo was stripped of his crown prince title and was temporarily confined in his prince manor.
This was already the best possible result, so Feng Sheng was not surprised when she found out.
The Great Zhou Dynasty had five punishments, ten abominations, and eight deliberations, of which the eight deliberations were: deliberation for imperial relatives, deliberation for old retainers of the Emperor, deliberation for the morally worthy, deliberation for ability, deliberation for merit, deliberation for high position, deliberation for diligence, and deliberation for guest of state.6
In other words, if a person was any of the above-mentioned eight types of identities or qualifications, were he to violate the law, any judicial authority would no longer have right to judge. It must be presented to the Emperor, who would personally adjudicate and could also mitigate the crime at his discretion. The Crown Prince was an imperial relative and a man of high position, and could also qualify as one of the Emperor’s old retainers, so how could he compensate with his life? Him losing his identity as the crown prince was already considered the result of the arduous efforts of many forces.
Then, shouldn’t it be her turn to die?
But as Feng Sheng waited for the death sentence, it didn’t arrive. Then, she waited some more, but it still didn’t arrive. Could it be that the Jianping Emperor didn’t want to kill her?
What she did not know was that, in the midst of this storm, the Jianping Emperor had wanted to kill her more than once. The reason for his patience was to manifest a monarch’s prestige and to avoid being criticized by the people.
After all the trouble, the dust had finally settled. When everything had quieted down, he moved this idea again, but then came an unexpected guest.
“What did you say?”
If the Jianping Emperor had a mirror in front of him this very moment, he would be able to appreciate his own expression of extreme and unparalleled shock.
“You’re saying that Fang Feng Fu is a woman, and you’re begging zhen7 to bestow upon you marriage to her?”
Prince Wei, who was usually very proud, was now prostrated on the ground. “Yes, Imperial Father.”
I read a comment saying that when this is over, Feng Sheng can still continue being an official. Actually, having reached this point, Feng Sheng will still end up dead. Prince Wei is not cheating her. Even if the crown prince steps down, the Jianping Emperor will definitely kill her, and it’s not just because she abolished the crown prince or because she schemed too much and took everyone into account. Would an emperor keep someone so presumptuous, bold, and disloyal, with wisdom close to demonic, nearby? Wouldn’t he be scared?
1 铁桶 (tiě tǒng): lit. iron bucket. A metaphor for firm or strict. Court Elder Song’s operations in Liang Huai were airtight.
2 瞌睡碰到了枕头: Just when someone wants to do something, it luckily appears for him to do it; exactly what one’s been looking for
3 骑虎难下: ride a tiger and find it hard to get off (idiom); get into a position from which there is no retiring; have no way out
4 香火情: lit. 香火 means burning incense, while 情 means emotion. In front of the gods, the ancients would burn incense to pledge an oath of affection or comradeship. This could apply to platonic and romantic relationships. I don’t know how to translate it literally without it sounding odd, and since Prince Wei sent her stuff on the basis of their relationship (as having had a few fateful encounters), I simply used ‘acknowledgement of our friendship’.
5 It isn’t specified exactly what thing, but with Feng Sheng’s embarrassment, Snowy and I assume (and agree) that it’s stuff for periods lol.
6 五刑: Five Punishments was the collective name for a series of physical penalties meted out by the legal system of pre-modern dynastic China. It would be too long to explain each of them here in detail, so you can just click the link if you’re interested.
十恶: Ten Abominations were a list of offenses under traditional Chinese law which were regarded as the most abhorrent, and which threatened the well-being of civilized society. These were: 1) plotting rebellion, 2) plotting great sedition, 3) plotting treason, 4) parricide, 5) depravity, 6) great irreverence, 7) lack of filial piety, 8) discord, 9) unrighteousness, and 10) incest.
八议: The Eight Deliberations was a set of principles used by traditional Chinese law in order to lessen legal punishment on the royals, nobles and members of upper classes.
7 朕 (zhèn): lit. I, the sovereign. The illeism the emperor uses. I used to translate it as the capitalized pronouns we/our/us, but I find it confusing sometimes, so I’ll be keeping the pinyin for now.