Sweet as Honey. White Robe.
“… Long Cheng kept working for Kong Duan to protect the altar. I sent him to a village at the capital’s outskirts. He’s not the type who can sit still, so I’ll probably have to assign him some work.”
I recounted what happened over the last few days in a short and concise format. Young Shiyi nodded as I went. Regarding my activities with Divine Moon Cult, she didn’t know much more than my fellow martial siblings. She, as a matter of fact, never met my former subordinates before. In some ways, Hongjiu knew more than she did. Having said that, I never withheld any information from her, so she only needed to ask if she wanted to know something. More importantly, I didn’t want her to involve herself with Divine Moon Cult in case put herself in jeopardy. She knew what I had in mind, which was why she never pried when it came to the topic.
“I see. In short…” Young Shiyi stopped to think and picked up the most important part: “You went wandering for a few days, married a eunuch and even had a son after!”
Young Shiyi deftly grabbed my left ear right as she finished. She shot me a scary glare at me and smiled: “I was wondering why my eye kept twitching the last few days. Wow, Feizhen, you’re amazing, huh? First Princess, Second Princess and even a eunuch now. Let’s hear it; how many mistresses are you hiding?”
“I’m sure I recounted the story in Chinese! What exactly were you listening to?!”
I went on to give an elaborate explanation. Young Shiyi grudgingly believed me in the end; however, the way she looked at me suggested she believed I was the type who was bold enough to actually commit the heinous crime and hide my mistresses around nearby. Thus, I asked her how she was doing as a member of the Female Constables.
Young Shiyi waved a hand: “Heh, nothing much, just a little tired from being commanded.”
‘S-Someone has the audacity to boss my Young Shiyi around?!’
“Heh, they must be sick of living! Who’s bossing you around?! Tell them to step up, and I’ll teach them a lesson!”
“Pfft, what are you so worked up for? Unlike you, my comrade listens, takes care of me, cheers me up and even gave me a small plum blossom.”
‘Huh?! Someone confessed to Young Shiyi? I can’t imagine any male entering their courtyard. Don’t tell me it was Gramps Huang.’
“One flower?! You’re not dead! That’s unlucky.” I shook the image of the scoundrel trying to steal my Young Shiyi’s heart out of my mind: “Bossing you around on one hand and giving you a flower on the other hand. That’s what you call a rat. That’s the worst kind. Don’t fall for his tricks.”
“Idiot.” Young Shiyi giggled: “What are you jealous for? Her name is Lu Xiaomeng. She’s seven years old this year. She’s so adorable and keeps calling me ‘Junior Sister, Junior Sister.’ She’s so cute unlike you, always innovating ways to get on my nerves.”
“Oh, so the little girl’s name was Xiaomeng,” I said in my mind. I was relieved for a second before I was annoyed: “I never got on your nerves.”
“Really now?” asked Young Shiyi, tone sarcastic and standing akimbo with her eyes narrowed. “You just left for several days without any prior notice. You don’t happen to think I don’t know you went to the temple fair before you came back, do you?”
“Uh, that, uh…”
“Who did you go with?”
Young Shiyi didn’t believe me. She stopped herself when she intended to argue. She, instead, remarked, “Wait, I smell a fragrance on you.”
“Where?” I asked before sniffing my sleeve. Tone relaxed, I explained, “I went around to several places today, including eating out. It’s probably the smell of the dishes.”
“Oh? Which restaurant was this? I had no idea there was a restaurant that could produce Jin Guilan’s exclusive premium fragrance.”
Because Young Shiyi mentioned it, I could finally smell the faint fragrance when I focused. That said… I suddenly recalled the somewhat lonely smile from the girl who also shared her heartfelt feelings with me. If my memory didn’t fail me, it was Bai Lian’s smell…
Young Shiyi smiled: “My adorable Ming Feizhen, do you mind explaining what this is about?”
‘Shit! Shit! Shit! Shit! Those eyes are menacing…’
“I-I-I, it, that, this, it’s actually General Manager Bai’s scent. I went with General Manager Bai to the temple fair. Umm, eunuchs like to wear makeup, so it’s nothing surprising.”
Well, General Manager Bai was a girl, after all. Judging from the atmosphere, though, I didn’t think I could mention it…
Doubtful, Young Shiyi stared at me with a squint for a while. I felt as though she saw through me, so I had to force a smile. Suddenly, she sighed: “I’m getting on with age and rusty. I guess it’s hard to blame you for preferring someone else over me. I’m twenty-five and still not married, after all.”
Young Shiyi stroked her cheek and bemoaned, “I can understand why you’d prefer young girls and eunuchs.”
I instantly railed, “Why do you say that, Young Shiyi? How can those women compare to you?!”
Young Shiyi’s poignant demeanour suddenly flipped around: “Oh, so you did find yourself another girl!”
Young Shiyi pinched my ear: “You refuse to speak unless I trick you, is that it?! Fess up! Who’s your mistress? Eunuch Bai, correct?! How long have you two been together?”
‘Let’s apply logic, please! Young Shiyi, you set me up! My ear! My ear!’
“Wait! Where did you learn that from?!”
Young Shiyi grinned smugly: “Your shiniang’s taught me.”
‘Huh? You learnt how to catch cheaters from my shiniangs?! Why did you choose to take the advanced class of all classes?! We’re not even married yet! This is the equivalent of learning Yijin Jing when you haven’t joined Shaolin, learning Tai Chi Mental Cultivation before joining Wudang and learning Spring Wind Rainy Night Art before even knowing what Demon Sect is. You think you’re me or something?!’
I need to digress for a moment. If you want to learn the most authentic and effective Cheater Catching Art in the world, then my shiniangs would be the best of the best. Yan Shisan was a legendary case cracker, but he couldn’t hold a handle to my shiniangs ability to catch my shifu’s affairs. You’re not convinced? Yan Shisan couldn’t catch my shifu, yet they caught him annually.
Wearing a pitiful expression, I lamented, “I finally know what Zhang Fei’s mother’s surname is now…”
Young Shiyi blinked: “What?”
“What else? Starting trouble for no reason.”
Young Shiyi didn’t even feel ashamed; instead, she proudly raised her nose after hearing my homophone joke.
“Hmph! It’s called creating something from nothing. Pretend it is even if it isn’t to reveal the truth,” chortled Young Shiyi. “They taught it to me in the letter they just sent me yesterday. Quick learner, aren’t I?”
I was dumbstruck for a moment. Once I snapped out of it, I grievously cried innocence.
‘Truth?! That’s called framing me! I only went for a stroll with a eunuch. How did going for a stroll cause this entire false accusation?! Shiniangs, why must you teach her that of all things?!’
I was wondering why our conversation resembled a scene of my shifu being caught! If they spread their cheater-catching skill, men would never know what good luck was again!
Young Shiyi smugly said, “We need to keep an eye on you unfaithful men. You have beautiful wife at home, yet you go after girls out there.”
I think Young Shiyi went red in the face when she said “wife” because she was shy. She acted as if she was fine, however. I said it before, and I’ll say it again: my Young Shiyi was adorable…
‘Wait, my Shifu is actually unfaithful, while I’m innocent!’
Young Shiyi lifted my ear: “All right, answer a question for me.”
“Fire away. Fire away.”
‘My ear is coming off! Ease up, will you?!’
Young Shiyi touched her nose and casually said, “When I took my medication today, I heard something…”
I reactively blurted, “Why did you take medication? Is it serious? Let me check your pulse.”
Young Shiyi didn’t respond. She suddenly released my ear. I urged, “Pass me your hand. I’ll check your pulse. It’s not serious, is it?”
Young Shiyi gently massaged my red ear instead of passing her hand to me. Worried, I took her hand and asked, “Are you sure you’re okay?”
Young Shiyi gently pushed me to sit down. She threw herself into my arms and sat on my thighs. She looked up at me.
“I’m fine,” stated Young Shiyi, smiling sweetly. “This is your reward.”
Young Shiyi clasped my face with both hands and gently kissed me on my cheek.
‘My tears. My heart is shedding tears of joy! Woohoo! After all that exhaustion, misfortune and bearing with being labelled a plague, something nice has finally happened to me!’
I didn’t know why Young Shiyi gave me a kiss, but all the suffering was worth it!
In the capital’s prison late at night.
The prison in the capital was referred to as the Celestial Prison. It was also known as the darkest prison. The imperial court’s criminals were locked there. If they didn’t commit serious crimes, they committed heinous crimes. A new inmate joined the criminals today. He was charged with corruption and training a private military. They were crimes that would keep him locked up in that hell for his entire life. Kong Duan’s crimes and punishment had yet to be officially announced. It wasn’t surprising for him to be locked up, however.
The Emperor eradicated all of Kong Duan’s pugilistic-world dens near the capital. Ming Feizhen wiped out Feiyun Hall. Long Cheng left. The others went their own way if they weren’t wiped out. Kong Duan was taken back to the capital and incarcerated. It all happened in the span of one day. As soon as news of it got out, the imperial court was in uproar. The majority of officials closely associated with Kong Duan turned on him, testifying against him to avoid being implicated. A small number weren’t forgiven. Kong Duan could only place his hopes on the two secretaries in his faction.
Criminals incarcerated weren’t allowed to see visitors; normal prison regulations didn’t apply at Celestial Prison. There were always exceptions, nonetheless. A minor population were allowed to visit. For example, officials considered titans in the imperial court or a faction leader in the imperial court.
The man who visited today fulfilled both of those criteria. He was the Ministry of Rites’ head, Zhang Chunfeng. With so many disciples in the imperial court and his immense influence, he quickly caught wind of Kong Duan’s fall. Hence, he raced in at night to pay Kong Duan a visit.
Kong Duan’s prison was exceptionally clean and tidy. He was granted a bed, table and book shelf. As a Second Rank official, he was given preferential treatment despite being a criminal.
Kong Duan sat upright at the table. Having been friends for decades, Zhang Chunfeng was able to recognise Kong Duan despite the latter suffering a severe beating during the day. Zhang Chunfeng silently sat down opposite Kong Duan. Kong Duan continued to leisurely read. Zhang Chunfeng waited for a while before breaking the silence: “Why did you do it?”
Kong Duan stopped turning the page, but he kept his head down: “For the imperial court’s sake.”
Indeed, Kong Duan never perceived his actions as something done for personal gain. Perhaps the only personal gain he desired in it was hoping to be revered in the future. Every scholar shared the same desire since forever; it wasn’t a bad trait by any account.
Angry, Zhang Chunfeng shook: “You bribed officials and took bribes. You had people from the pugilistic world assassinate Lu Xiazou and an imperial court official. You also recruited warriors from the pugilistic world to raise your own army to assassinate imperial court officials. For the imperial court’s sake, you say?”
“Correct, for the imperial court’s sake,” responded Kong Duan, looking up at long last. “Xiazou took bribes and bribed officials. The people from the pugilistic world fought in the ring to make money for me. I have never used a single penny from either of them. I raised the suicide warriors so that we could fight back when we were forced to. I did it all for the imperial court, Confucianism and for our Celestial Rankings!”
Zhang Chunfeng fell into silence again. He was also ready to put his body and soul on the line for his ideals. He, however, never thought about using Kong Duan’s radical means. He shook his head: “Even so… that was foolish. Why were you so foolish? Even if you succeeded, once your doings were exposed, you would only be the next Yan Shisan. Why did you not learn anything from his mistake?”
“I can’t let that be my shackle. Only with Celestial Rankings can we Confucians have a chance at promoting our ideals,” contended Kong Duan, showing his tunnel vision. “We don’t have money or manpower. What can we do with just our jaws?”
“Brother Chunfeng!” exclaimed Kong Duan, starting to grow emotional. “I was going to put away Secretaries Lie and Lu, replace Liu Shan’s Elites Rankings and establish Celestial Rankings to clinch control of how things are run to fulfil our long-wished dream. Unfortunately, I can no longer fulfil our dream. However, all of the money I earned over these years is hidden at…”
Kong Duan calmed down after he shared the location of the money with Zhang Chunfeng: “I will entrust you and Brother Qian with the money. I believe you two can realise the dream.”
Zhang Chunfeng nodded: “… I have already made an official report to explain the Celestial Rankings idea to His Majesty.”
“What?!” Kong Duan couldn’t believe his ears: “Y-You already…. What was His Majesty’s response?”
“His Majesty hasn’t given a response or even mentioned it,” calmly replied Zhang Chungfeng. “That means he is mulling whether or not our Celestial Rankings is a good piece that can rein in the three offices managing the martial world or not. Because he wants to remove the Seven Champion White Princes, if we can contact the Confucian Cult, we can make up for the lack of numbers. As such, there is hope for Celestial Rankings.”
“Perfect! Perfect! Hahaha! As long as His Majesty approves, we still have hope. This old one shall wait for the fall of martial artists and rise of scholars!”
“That day… is not far,” a male proclaimed in a stifled void.
Startled, Secretaries Zhang and Kong turned in the direction the voice echoed. The man in a white scholar uniform was there without them even realising, demonstrating exceptional qinggong. He wore a white mask, a square hat and had a scholar’s sword hanging from his waist. He genuinely rocked the stereotypical appearance of a typical scholar from books. If one could be more of a scholar than Secretary Kong, Confucius’ descendant, the man in white could proudly tick the box. The secretaries found his gaze imposing despite their rich experience in life. It wasn’t fear; it was the panic-stricken feeling triggered when seeing one’s master. The man in white stood unmoving.
Zhang Chunfeng took a moment to regain his composure: “May I ask who you are? Why did you infiltrate the prison?”
The man in white didn’t reply; instead, he reached for his sword. By the time Kong Duan’s hand restraints were cleaved, the shiny blade had already been sheathed. The single slash established two facts. Firstly, the blade was ordinary. Secondly, the man was a skilled swordsman. He then approached the two and flashed a token, wiping away Kong Duan’s suspicions and fear, replacing them with jubilance. The cat caught Zhang Chunfeng’s tongue.
Calmly, the man in white expounded, “I received Secretary Kong’s contact a while ago and watched you two. I am now certain you two are noble and so is your cause. The martial artists have led His Majesty astray; he has wronged the innocent and benevolent. He is sure to pursue this matter further. I came here today to rescue Secretary Kong.”
Kong Duan eagerly peered outside. He was supposed to meet his end in solitude until then. Voice hoarse, he stuttered, “S-So Confucian Association was aware of my dreams. Ar-Are you their envoy? This old one sends you his greetings.”
The man in white politely expressed, “Secretary Kong, you need not stand on ceremony. You are the descendant of the great one. Strictly speaking, we are from the same clan. I dare not look down on you.”
Kong Duan performed a cupped-fist salute: “You are being too humble.”
The man in white pivoted over to Zhang Chunfeng and saluted the latter: “Please forgive my rudeness. I must take Secretary Kong with me today.”
Even if Zhang Chunfeng tried to stop the man with all his might, he wouldn’t even offer a challenge. The man’s request was unnecessary; nevertheless, his sincerity was genuine. After all, how was he going to stop a man who could infiltrate the most heavily-guarded prison and remain undetected all that time?
“Brother Kong is this one’s close friend. This old one is grateful you could help,” said Zhang Chunfeng.
“Thank you,” thanked the man in white.
The man in white pulled Kong Duan over by his arm and zipped off as if their presence was an illusion all along. That was Zhang Chunfeng’s first time witnessing martial prowess of that calibre. For the record, he didn’t decide to cooperate due to the man’s martial prowess but for the sake of realising a dream.
They finally returned to the Central Plain after thirty years of living in recluse. They were the only ones who could put an end to the era of chaos in the martial world. They were Nine Provinces’ Confucianism Association.
*Starting Trouble for No Reason and Zhang Fei – This is hilarious; unfortunately, if you don’t know Chinese, it’s probably not funny.
“Starting Trouble for No Reason” is written as 无事生非 (Wu Shi Sheng Fei). Ming Feizhen used a homophone joke, making it 吴氏生非, which, translated literally, is “Wu Clan Gave Birth to Fei (Zhang Fei). 生 can be translated a myriad of ways such as create, spawn, give birth, life, live etc. which is why the joke works.
Ming Suwen’s response is a rearrangement with a small change to the characters to say, “Creating something from nothing.”
Translated literally to English, they can mean the exact same thing. In Chinese, there’s a big difference to what you imply with each. One is praise. The other will likely land you in a verbal tirade with someone.
**Celestial Prison – This is a literal translation. It’s never used; we just call it prison in English. For clarification sake, I left it in the chapter. Going forward, it will be referred to just as a prison unless necessary for clarity.