Chapter 12: Keeping Mum
Chu Zhongtian fell silent upon hearing his wife’s words. The founder of the Zhou Dynasty, Emperor Taizu, lost his sons to the war that founded the empire, so Taizu’s younger brother offered his second son—also the current King Qi—to Taizu for adoption.
However, in a bitter fight against an expert of the foreign tribes, Taizu sacrificed his life to bring the enemy down together with him. Due to the young age of Taizu’s adopted son, as well as the instability within the newly formed empire, Taizu nominated his younger brother as the successor to the throne in his dying breath, leading to the rise of Emperor Taizong.
Inheriting the will of Taizu, Emperor Taizong conquered vast swathes of land, greatly expanding the territories of the Zhou Dynasty. In the midst of doing so, he accumulated far too many physical traumas on the battlefield, resulting in his body reaching its limit prematurely. When the time came for him to select an heir, he found himself being put in a spot.
Going by conventions, the throne belonged to Taizu’s lineage, and he only took the crown because King Qi was far too young to govern back then. Thus, it was only right for him to pass the throne down to the already matured King Qi.
But greed lurked in the hearts of all men. Even though King Qi shared Taizong’s blood, he was already the son of another man, having been adopted by Taizu. Due to that, Taizong favored his own eldest son, King Jin, instead.
So, he played a nifty trick. He issued an edict, declaring that he would proclaim the first one amongst the two to reach Earth Immortal stage as the successor to the throne.
King Jin, as the eldest son of Taizong, was naturally older than King Qi, and the fact that he had the backing of Taizong meant that he had far more cultivation resources at his disposal. It went without saying that King Jin would be the first one to reach Earth Immortal stage, and he went on to succeed the throne and became the incumbent Emperor Gaozong.
It caused controversy back then as there were many older subjects in the imperial court who were loyal to Taizu’s lineage, and those people stood in support of King Qi. In order to placate this group of people, Taizong hinted at the possibility of having King Qi succeed Gaozong after the latter’s death, thus averting a possible mutiny.
A hundred years had passed since then, and Gaozong was nearing the end of his lifespan. The issue of succession came up once more, and Gaozong chose to proclaim his own son as the crown prince. Such an act provoked the discontentment of those from King Qi’s faction. The fact that the selected crown prince was of average talent, paling far in comparison to the prodigious King Qi, only served to further inflame the hearts of the court officials, swaying them so.
But no matter what, Gaozong was still someone who had ruled for a hundred years, consolidating great power and influence under him during his reign. In recent years, these two factions had been clashing with one another, both in the open and in the shadows.
The Chu clan, with its businesses dominating both the salt trade and the arms trade, had unbelievable wealth that rivaled that of a country. Given the significant resources it had at its disposal, it was inevitable that both factions would want to bring the Chu clan to their side. However, Chu Zhongtian had no wish to embroil the Chu clan in the fight to determine the succession of the throne, so he had been trying to maintain a neutral stance thus far. In recent days, however, the Imperial faction seemed to be showing intentions of pushing for a marriage with the Chu clan so as to drag it onto their war chariot.
Patriarch Chu and his wife had been deeply troubled over this matter because the Chu clan, unlike other clans, had a huge secret that mustn’t be known by outsiders. Furthermore, Chu Chuyan had been the one supporting half of the Chu clan’s businesses over the years. If she were to be married into the Imperial faction, the Chu clan would be in dire risk of being swallowed whole.
Chu Chuyan was aware of the things at stake here, so she proposed taking the initiative to hold an open selection for her spouse. She chose the most useless fellow in the city and quickly held a marriage ceremony with him in order to crush any ideas that the Imperial faction or King Qi’s faction had in mind.
It was due to this that Qin Wanru suspected the culprit who ruined the spirit creek was sent by either the emperor or King Qi.
“Regardless of who the culprit is, it looks like the days ahead of us aren’t looking too good,” Patriarch Chu said gravely. “Sang Hong is going to take over as the governor of Linchuan Commandery.”
And Brightmoon City was under the jurisdiction of Linchuan Commandery.
Qin Wanru exclaimed in astonishment, “Vice Minister of Finance, Sang Hong!”
The Minister of Finance was one of the Nine Ministers that managed the finances of the empire, and the Vice Minister of Finance was the second-in-charge. Sang Hong, who was in charge of supervising the salt and arms trade within the country, was an aide to the emperor, so it was clear he was being assigned to the Linchuan Commandery in order to deal with the Chu clan.
“I’ve heard rumors that he’s a callous person who has no qualms killing his kin if he needs to. There are many noble clans who have fallen apart due to his intervention. I fear that our Chu clan is in grave danger,” Qin Wanru remarked worriedly.
Seeing the traces of fear on the face of his usually headstrong wife, Chu Zhongtian pulled her into his embrace and said, “We’ll deal with it accordingly when it comes our way. Our Chu clan is no pushover either! Sang Hong is no more than an eighth rank; let’s see who gets the last laugh!”
Qin Wanru rolled her eyes at her husband. “Is his cultivation the only thing that matters? Great Bandit Chen Xuan of the Hidden Dragon Mountain is no more than a sixth rank, so why haven’t you managed to eradicate him yet even after so many years?”
Chu Zhongtian harrumphed coldly. “That Chen Xuan is a sly fellow. Every time I rush over after receiving the news, he would have already disappeared without a trace. I’m suspecting that he might have an insider within this city that has been tipping him off, or else I would have caught him long ago!”
A thought popped into Qin Wanru’s mind, and she said, “Those bunch of bandits illegally peddle salt and plunder the merchants passing by the area, killing them in cold blood. We should toss the matter into Sang Hong’s hands. He won’t be able to turn a blind eye to this matter as the governor.”
Chu Zhongtian’s eyes lit up as well. “What a wonderful idea! That reminds me, I heard that the merchant convoy of the Yu clan is heading over to Brightmoon City. We have to inform them of this matter lest they get ambushed by Chen Xuan’s group… Yowch ouch ouch ouch…”
Before Chu Zhongtian could finish his words, Qin Wanru had already grabbed his ear tightly, saying, “You are just worried about their matriarch, Yu Yanluo, aren’t you? She was the number one beauty of the capital back then. I know that you shamelessly courted her before, only for her to end up marrying the Cloudmidst Duke. Are you thinking of rekindling the spark between you two?”
Chu Zhongtian desperately pleaded for mercy, “My dear wife, they have already been married for so long. How could I possibly bear such intention toward her? You mustn’t spout such nonsense!”
However, Qin Wanru still refused to release her grip, harrumphing coldly instead. “I heard that the Cloudmidst Duke has passed away due to an accident recently though. Doesn’t that mean that Yu Yanluo is single?”
Chu Zhongtian’s eyes lit up. “Is that true?”
In the next instant, he felt two murderous gazes directed toward him from his sides, so he quickly changed his tone and said, “My dear wife, doesn’t the fact that I’m ignorant about her affairs show that my eyes have never been on her? Besides, you also know the current circumstances I am in. How could I have any other intention about her?”
Seeing the dimmed look on Chu Zhongtian’s face, Qin Wanru hurriedly released his ear. “Husband, I’m sorry.”
Chu Zhongtian shook his head. “No, I’m the one who has let you down.”
Qin Wanru hated to see the downcast look of her husband, so she quickly changed the subject. “Where did Chuyan go?”
Chu Zhongtian replied, “She’s bringing the young miss of the Pei clan around the city.”
A frown formed on Qin Wanru’s forehead. “As someone from the Pei clan, she’s probably a member of King Qi’s faction. I can’t help but think that she has darker intentions in mind for suddenly choosing to study at Brightmoon Academy.”
Chu Zhongtian chuckled in response, “Rest assured! Our daughter is a smart child, she knows what to do.”
Qin Wanru harrumphed. “Pei Mianman might be young, but she has the face of a cunning vixen. Those peach blossom eyes of hers seem to be constantly seducing the men around her. I don’t like her.”
Chu Zhongtian burst into laughter. “Are you worried that she would snatch your daughter’s man?”
Recalling Zu An’s loser face, it was truly hard for Qin Wanru to imagine that Pei Mianman would actually fall for him. She chuckled to herself and remarked, “I would be celebrating if she could take that scoundrel away from Chuyan!”
Zu An suddenly let loose a powerful sneeze. He wondered which young miss or madame was currently thinking of him.
“Young master, have you caught a cold? I’ll find some thicker clothes for you to put on right away!” A loud exclamation suddenly sounded. Before Zu An could even react, a young man had already wrapped a robe around him.
The stupefied Zu An took a closer look at the young man before him. The latter appeared to be fourteen or fifteen years of age, and he was dressed in a set of blue clothes. His hair was tied into two buns on top of his head. Put together with his large eyes, he had a docile, youthful look.
“No, wait a moment, who are you?”
“Young master, you’re teasing me. This servant is your study companion!” the young man replied with a flirtatious smile.
“Study companion?” Zu An was flabbergasted for a moment before realizing that this might have something to do with him attending the Brightmoon Academy. He was just heading to one of their clan’s subsidiaries. Was there really a need to go so far as to assign a study companion for him?
Looks like the Brightmoon Duke’s estate is indeed needlessly rich. Yeap, just how I like it.
“What did you call me earlier?”
“I can’t hear you. Louder!”
“Not bad, not bad. Lad, you have a bright future ahead of you.”
It was as if the flower of joy had blossomed on Zu An’s face. Nothing seemed to have gone his way ever since he came over to this world. He might be the son-in-law of a Duke’s estate, but there was not a single person who respected him here, let alone address him as ‘young master’.
It wasn’t easy for him to come by someone who treated him with respect, and it left him feeling soothed from head to toe.
“What’s your name?”
The study companion immediately jolted into attention as he replied anxiously, “Young master, my name is Cheng Shouping.”
“What ping?” Zu An thought that study companions usually had characters like Fu (Fortune), Wang (Prosperity), or Cai (Money) in their names. At the very least, they would go with something that was easy to remember like Wah On. Who in the world gave this fellow such a weird name?
“Cheng Shouping, Shouping from ‘guarding one’s lips like a tightly corked bottle’. It’s a name that the old master bestowed me!” As the young man spoke, he puffed up his chest proudly.
“Not bad, you were actually able to receive a bestowed name from the old master.” Zu An wasn’t familiar with the customs in this world, but he reckoned that it should be a huge honor to be given a name by one’s master. Take Zheng Chenggong from his previous world for example, after he was bestowed a surname from the emperor, everyone began addressing him by the honorific ‘Lord of Imperial Surname’.
“Young master, you’re flattering me. I was deeply favored by the old master while I was working for him, but one day, I found myself transferred over to the kitchen. Initially, I thought that I might have unintentionally offended the old master somehow, but now that I have been assigned as young master’s study companion, I finally understand the thought that the old master has put into me. He must have been trying to temper me by putting me through adversities so that I would be ready to take on a greater cause when the need arises!” Light could be seen glittering in Cheng Shouping’s eyes as he spoke with great passion.
“Wait a moment…” Somehow, the more Zu An listened to Cheng Shouping’s story, the more bizarre it seemed to become. He was well aware of how others in the Chu Estate thought of him, and yet, this fellow thought that it was an honorable job?
Looks like he’s not a very bright lad.
Besides, this fellow had started out working by Old Master Chu’s side, so how did he end up being transferred over to a place like the kitchen?
However, Zu An didn’t pay too much heed to this matter. He was more interested in his own affairs. “It seems like you have been in the Chu Estate for quite some time. You should know quite some stuff, right?”
Cheng Shouping thumped his chest and said, “That goes without saying! From the old master down to the servants working in the Chu Estate, there’s no one’s affair whom I don’t know about!”
Zu An was planning to gather some intelligence surrounding the Chu Estate. It had only been here for two days since he arrived here, but there were already so many people who were plotting his death. To make things worse, he had no idea where the problem was stemming from at all. This made him deeply aware that he was in a perilous position.
He mulled for a moment before asking, “Do you know why the Chu clan chose me as their son-in-law?” This was the one thing that he had been the most doubtful about. Chu Chuyan, from her background down to her appearance, was impeccable, whereas Zu An, no matter which angle one were to look at him from, was useless trash through and through. It should have been impossible for their paths to have ever crossed, but in a mysterious turn of events, they actually became married to one another. This reeked of something suspicious.
After hearing Zu An’s question, Cheng Shouping shot a confused look at him. “Isn’t that because of young master’s devastatingly handsome looks?”
Zu An’s eyes shot right open. It would seem that Chen Shouping shared some of his flair in spewing nonsense earnestly. “Cough cough. While what you’re saying makes perfect sense, is there no other reason behind it?”
“None at all. The young miss chose you because of your dashing looks back then.”
Deep in Chen Shouping’s heart, he was thinking ‘Don’t you have a shred of self-awareness in you at all? There’s nothing you have that can be called a strength other than that!’, but he didn’t allow a sliver of his thoughts to slip through his mask. His expression was as earnest as it could get.
“You’re saying that the young miss chose me personally?” Zu An astutely picked out the crucial information hidden amidst Chen Shouping’s words.
“Yes, that’s right. Madame wasn’t satisfied with her decision and had implored her to reconsider her options,” Cheng Shouping replied.
Zu An interjected right away, “You don’t need to say anything unnecessary to me.”
He initially thought that Chu Chuyan was forced into marrying him due to her parents’ will; that would explain the dissatisfaction and killing intent she had directed toward him. However, what Cheng Shouping said earlier would eliminate such a possibility.
But why would Chu Chuyan choose him as her spouse? That young miss’ eyes were as sharp as they could get!
Pui pui pui! She must have fallen for my dashing looks and desired a taste of my body!