Pan Xiangjie was suspended from his post as he awaited impeachment. Having also received a flogging, he sighed and moaned as he lay on his stomach back at home to nurse his injuries. His son, Pan Lin, was also implicated and had to endure the rebukes of the imperial censors every day during court sessions. A few days later, he was also suspended from his post to be detained and confined at home.
Xiao Chiye, having received a raise in rank, organized a banquet and specifically invited the Marquis of Helian. The Marquis of Helian was too embarrassed to appear before Xiao Chiye because of the matchmaking attempt for Commandery Princess Zhaoyue the last time.1 He was also worried that this tyrant would be so proud of his success that he would humiliate him and make things hard for him before the others. So, after thinking it through, he got his son to attend the banquet on his behalf.
Marquis Junior was called Fei Shi. He was also a well-known figure on Donglong Street. He had once gone drinking with Xiao Chiye in the past, but none of them lesser-tyrants were as domineering as mega-tyrant Xiao Chiye. What’s more, he feared the Xiao Clan, so he no longer went out for entertainment with Xiao Chiye and would make a big detour whenever he saw Xiao Chiye and Li Jianheng. Now that he had to attend Xiao Chiye’s banquet, he first wilted by half, then changed direction and headed to the Pan’s Residence to ask Pan Lin to go together with him.
“Go with me. We’ll treat it as relieving our boredom!” Fei Shi held up his robe and urged him on. “The banquet this time is on Kailing River. There’ll be many people there.”
Pan Lin’s son was just a month old. He teased the baby for a moment before saying, “Not going. I’ve been feeling vexed these few days.”
“What fun is there in playing with a baby?” Fei Shi squeezed in to intercept the nanny and said, “I can’t skip it this time. My father has specifically made his instructions clear. Go have some fun and make friends with him. I heard that he is friends with the Left Censor-in-chief of the Chief Surveillance Bureau, Cen Yu. If he steps forth and intercedes for you, then you wouldn’t have to endure as many rebukes.”
“Seriously.” Pan Lin tossed aside the handkerchief. “Cen Xunyi’s the one who’s the most brutal in reprimanding me! Xiao the Second only advanced in rank this time owing to his friendship with His Majesty. Just how much can he convince Cen Yu? I’m not going. I don’t want to embarrass myself!”
“Look at you. How are you this inflexible?!” Fei Shi was truly racking his brains to coax him out of the door. “He has a prior friendship with His Majesty. If he can put in a few good words for the Pan Clan before His Majesty, would you still need to be aggrieved to such an extent? Come on, let’s go. I had a drink with him before. I’ll introduce you!”
Unable to dissuade Fei Shi, Pan Lin was dragged out of the house and onto the horse carriage, which headed right for Kailing River.
◈ ◈ ◈
With Xiao Chiye hosting a banquet this night, all the gaily-painted pleasure boats on Kailing River were full. He was now famous, and all the brothels and taverns along the riverbanks benefited from association, having gotten a piece of the action. Money was being splashed around on the outside like water. He did not even have to open his mouth; flocking all around him were people trying every means to give him money.
But there’s no such thing as a free lunch in the world.2 If he accepted their money, he would have to do them favors. If he did not do it today, then there would be plenty of pretexts for them to get him to do it in the future. Xiao Chiye knew this all too well, so he did not accept a single coin. This was such a grand occasion, and he paid for it all out of his own pocket.
Chen Yang flicked away noisily at the abacus in the back behind the scene. The more he computed, the slower he became. Eventually, he simply tossed away the abacus and said to Ding Tao and Gu Jin, “The palace has rewarded us with so many fields and mansions. Let’s sort them out and find an auspicious day to sell them all.”
Xiao Chiye just happened to come out after changing his robe. He cut an imposing sight, all decked in a gold crown, brocade robe, and black clouds boots. On hearing Chen Yang, his countenance changed. He felt his way to his belt and said, “… I’m that poor?”
“We have too many expenses at the start of spring. The villages on the outside are self-sufficient enough to bring in some money. But many residences in Qudu are bestowed upon us by the palace. We can’t rent them out, and we still have to arrange for someone to clean them daily. Our Prince Residence and Plum Blossom Residence are permanent residences, and there are at least three hundred people or so who serve in both. The monthly salaries, monetary rewards, and…”
Xiao Chiye said, “And Ding Tao’s candy allowance. You have to eat an entire frontier reconnaissance squad’s worth of rations each year, right? We’ve spoiled you too much.”
Grabbing his little notebook, Ding Tao did not dare to make noise and merely mumbled, “The Princess Consort gave special permission for this when I was back at home…”
“You’ve grown up.” Xiao Chiye said callously. “You don’t need to eat candies anymore. They are bad for your teeth.”
“I’ll temporarily hold off on the calculation of the expenses tonight.” Chen Yang held on to the table, feeling a little dizzy. He said, “I’ll do it tomorrow morning.”
“When it comes to dealing with matters.” Gu Jin said succinctly. “A man’s got to be liberal with his money!”
“Do a proper audit of the accounts for those residences on the outside. I hardly go there even in a few hundred years, and dage is too busy to manage them on his end too. When those subordinates go free and unchecked for too long, they would even dare to hoodwink others.” Xiao Chiye strode a long step out, then retreated back and said, “Calculate it now! It won’t be more than a few thousand taels. There’s someone… managing this account.”
Gu Jin watched him step out of the door and asked, “Who? Who in our residence can manage how our Second Young Master spends his money?”
Chen Yang carried the abacus back and flicked through it for a moment before giving an equivocally worded reply.
Ding Tao rubbed his boots against each other and stretched out his head to whisper, “I know who it is.”
◈ ◈ ◈
Not many officials were invited to this banquet. Court officials of fourth-grade and above were all subjected to censure from the Chief Surveillance Bureau had they gathered for private feasts. Xiao Chiye was also the Viceroy of the Imperial Army, so he could not invite any of the few important military officials who worked with him on the patrols. The feast Cen Yu held the last time was also a private feast. He first presented a memo to the Grand Secretariat, and it was only when Hai Liangyi gave his nod that he invited the guests. This was how it ought to be. Kong Qiu, having gotten inebriated that feast, ended up getting censured and had to sit through a lecture from Hai Liangyi.
The censors of the Chief Surveillance Bureau were the imperial censors, just as described. They could rebuke the emperor at the top and denounce the various officials at the bottom. Even Hai Liangyi himself would receive a censure if he were slightly negligent. For example, during the public ditches incident this time, Hai Liangyi just so happened to hold the posts of the Grand Secretariat’s Deputy Grand Secretary and Grand Secretary in successive order, so he would have to bear the blame had a problem cropped up. In the beginning, when Li Jianheng had just ascended to the throne, he found the dragon throne in Mingli Hall so hard that his buttocks ached if he sat on it for too long. Thus, he griped about it to those in close attendance. Not a few days later, he received a roundabout rebuke from the imperial censors. To this date, he never dared to bring up the matter of padding it with a thick cushion.
Xiao Chiye could not invite the “authorities in power”, but he could invite the “nobles”, or more specifically, the “distinguished nobles”. As long as it was a person of a hereditary noble rank, he invited them all. Most of these rich young masters with noble titles but no real power had someone in their family to back them, so they could have fun all they want with a peace of mind. One example was Fei Shi. His father was still alive and in good health, and his elder sister was about to marry a man from the Han Clan, so he did not have to worry about his daily essentials like meals and clothing. He was not a good student either, barely learning anything; all he did the whole day was to loaf around.
The moment Fei Shi stepped off the sedan, he dragged Pan Lin over to meet Xiao Chiye.
“Your Lordship, congratulations!”
Xie Chiye laughed and said, “I’m glad Your Little Lordship is willing to honor me with your presence today. Please drink all the wine you want tonight.”
Seeing how approachable he was, Fei Shi could not help but relax. He said, “Your Lordship is generous. I shall not leave sober tonight!”
Xiao Chiye looked at Pan Lin and said, “Vice Minister Pan, please drink to your heart’s content too. Is His Excellency Pan getting better these days?”
Hearing his usual tone, Pan Lin, whose heart had been in his mouth, relaxed a little. He returned the greeting and said, “Thank you for Your Lordship’s consideration. My father’s health is fine. It’s just that he feels ashamed in the face of His Majesty’s graciousness and has been facing the wall to self-reflect on the errors of his ways these days.”
Xiao Chiye seemed to sigh with emotion as he said, “His Excellency Pan is a veteran minister of three reigns. He acts with prudence and is conscientious in his handling of state affairs. It’s truly a pity for him to meet with such an unexpected misfortune.”
Pan Lin had been suffering setbacks day after day. He had pleaded with a great number of people to intercede on their behalf and have their sentences reduced. Other than the Fei Clan, who still had the heart to help them out of their difficulty, the others all came up with every kind of excuse to turn him away. He was born a di – a legitimate descendant – of a noble clan, and his career had been pretty much smooth sailing. It was only now he had a taste of the world and found out just how fickle and hypocritical society3 was. Thus, he was greatly surprised and touched by Xiao Chiye’s words.
“My father…” Pan Lin felt emotional, but knowing the etiquette, he forced a smile and said, “Forget it. I’m here tonight to congratulate and celebrate Your Lordship’s great happiness, so let’s not mention anything else. Your Lordship, congratulations!”
“I’m just blessed to have His Majesty shower kindness and favor upon me. All I did was to carry out the task of rolling and crawling around in the mud. I can’t be compared to the Vice Minister and His Excellency Pan, who worry about the state all day long. Chen Yang.” Xiao Chiye turned aside. “Invite His Little Lordship and Vice Minister Pan onto the boat and serve them well.”
Chen Yang bowed and respectfully led them both inside. One side of the ship’s interior was draped with hanging sheer fabric, and the sound of pipa flowed into the night. The seats were arranged according to levels of superiority. Chen Yang led them both to the seats of honor. Seated at this table were all descendants from the noble clans.
Pan Lin saw a few acquaintances, but he did not greet them. Seeing the unfriendly atmosphere, Fei Shi hurriedly got up to mediate. He said, “Isn’t this Eldest Young Master Xue? What a truly rare sight!”
Xue Xiuyi was Xue Xiuzhuo’s elder brother of lawful birth. But this person had neither talents nor brains and relied solely on his birth to trample over Xue Xiuzhuo for many years.4 He was an ambitious man, and now, after seeing the Pan Clan on the decline, he was starting to give Pan Lin the cold shoulder.
Xue Xiuzhuo drank his wine and merely said, “Hmph. And how is the Little Lordship doing?”
Fei Shi jabbed his fan and said, “Me? Not too bad. What has the Eldest Young Master been doing lately? Come out for some fun!”
Looking haughty, Xue Xiuyi said, “I’m busy. Been studying some books that are the only copy extant from the previous reign.”
Fei Shi smiled and said, “My, my. The Eldest Young Master is a man of great talent. So why do you have time today?”
All this while, Xue Xiuyi had his side to them, as unwilling as he was to look Pan Lin in the eye. He said, “I heard Yao Wenyu has returned to the capital. I thought I should be able to see him here tonight, so I came. There are some issues I need to talk to him about.”
Pan Lin had been tolerating him for a long time. Seeing this attitude of his, he promptly sneered and said, “Not necessarily so. The queue of people who want to pick Yuanzhuo’s brain stretches all the way to Hongyan Mountain in accordance with their learning and accomplishments. It’s pointless even if the Eldest Young Master hangs around here waiting; it’s still far from your turn!”
What Xiu Xiuyi hated the most was the others making a dig at him for his lack of talents and shallow knowledge. He promptly set down the wine cup and said in a frosty voice, “Fine. I’m not worthy. But I still have a little self-awareness of my own limitations. I know my own worth. I know whether or not I’m deserving of sitting in this position!”
At his double-edged remark, Pan Lin abruptly rose to his feet.
Xue Xiuyi had a mean mouth, and he sneered when he saw Pan Lin go red in the face. Instead of being enraged, he chose some scathing remarks to throw out, “Come on, Chengzhi, take a seat. Why? Are there nails on this chair? Everyone on this boat is looking at you. You are basking in glory tonight—Your Pan Clan has indeed been impressive lately, even more so than the time you had a son!”
Pan Lin’s first wife had previously died of illness, and there were a few times his concubines got pregnant only to suffer miscarriages. Seeing that he was already over thirty years of age and was still without a son, Old Madam Pan went vegetarian and prayed to Buddha while also seeking all over for prescriptions. In order for him to beget a son,5 she stuffed batch after batch of women into his room, causing such a hoo-ha that everyone knew about it and mocked Pan Lin behind his back for having an unmentionable affliction.
Rage overwhelmed Pan Lin. He trembled and pointed at Xue Xiuyi, so furious was he that he gasped for breath and sputtered, “You, you… and what the hell do you think you are?! You let the common son beneath you take charge and manage the household affairs. You’re simply, simply… as dumb as a boorish boar!”
Xue Xiuyi slapped the table and rose to retort, “You shut up! You are a disgrace to the educated class! You know dogshit!”
Pan Lin countered, “You’re even worse than a beast!”
Sandwiched in the middle, Fei Shi held on to his teacup as he was splattered with a faceful of spittle. He closed his eyes and yelled, “What the heck?! Eldest Young Master, Chengzhi, stop quarreling! Why ruin a good banquet—”
Xue Xiuyi said, “Don’t put me in the same category as him. He’s not worthy. He doesn’t even deserve to carry my shoes!”
Pan Lin looked to his left and right, then picked up the teacup and smashed it. This entire table was thrown into chaos. Fei Shi could not stop them. Both of them showed utterly no regard for their dignity as they tangled and fought with one another.
Xue Xiuyi stayed at home all year round. He was small-sized and thin, and he was not skilled at fistfights and kickboxing. Subsequently, he was shoved to the ground by Pan Lin and ended up banging his waist hard. He repeatedly wailed, “Owow… To think you dare to hit me, you!”
Pan Lin had nothing left to smash, so he took off his shoe and swung it to swat it right at his face, saying, “I’m teaching you a lesson on behalf of Old Master Xue! The hell you think you are. Your foul mouth ought to be slapped!”
There was an uproar all around. Fei Shi dodged that shoe and said urgently, “Stop fighting! Quick, stop it! Men, men!”
Xiao Chiye lifted the curtain and entered, his expression growing grave. Chen Yang led the guards forth to stop them and pulled both men apart.
Xue Xiuyi had been smacked until there were red marks on his face. He covered his face and stretched out his leg, wanting to kick Pan Lin. With his neck craned, he spat out hatefully, “We aren’t done yet. This is not over!”
Pan Lin was truly a sorry sight to behold. He had come to his senses now; he never expected to make a clown of himself in public. Avoiding all the eyes on him and enduring his misery, he said resolutely, “Even if I, Pan Chengzhi, were to starve to death in the future, I’ll never sit at the same table as you, Xue Xiuyi! And even if our Pan Clan of Dancheng were to die out, I’ll never beg your Xue Clan for help!”
With that, Pan Lin tossed the shoe to the floor. He raised his head, but did not look at anyone, and merely cupped his hands before his chest to Xiao Chiye.
“I, Pan Chengzhi, will compensate Your Lordship for spoiling Your Lordship’s fun! And I, Pan Chengzhi, will also pay you back double for all the things I’ve smashed tonight! Not only that, I, Pan Chengzhi, will even book this entire Kailing River for Your Lordship to have fun! Your Lordship, I shall take my leave! I’ll come calling on you another day to offer my apologies!”
He kicked off his other shoe too. And just like that, he stepped over the mess on the ground in his clean socks and pushed Fei Shi aside to make his way out.
“Your Excellency, please wait.” Xiao Chiye said in an unhurried tone. “Chen Yang, take the Vice Minister to have a change of clothes first.”
Fei Shi hurriedly said, “Right, right, Chengzhi! Let’s get your clothes changed first!”
When all was said and done, Pan Lin was, after all, a noble clan young master. What’s more, he was an authorized official of the imperial court. He had to speak tough, but if he really had to walk on the streets in this state, it would have been better to kill him. So, with Chen Yang and Fei Shi urging him on, he relented and went with them.
“Eldest Young Master.” Xiao Chiye lifted a finger to beckon Gu Jin over. He motioned, “After you, too.”
- To recap, Marquis of Helian’s daughter is Commandery Princess Zhaoyue. The Empress Dowager once tried to matchmake her and Xiao Chiye in chapter 46.
- The full proverb is 吃人嘴软, 拿人手短 Literally, “The mouth that eats the meals of others is softened; the hand that takes the gifts of others is shortened.” When someone gives another person something out of the blue (e.g., a gift or a meal), they usually have something to ask. And since the person has taken their gifts, it’d be harder to turn them down, so they (usually) end up doing them the favor. The closest modern adage to explain this is “there is no such thing as a free lunch”, that is, there is nothing people will let you take or eat (or drink) for free.
- 世态炎凉 the fickleness and hypocrisy of society, i.e., people are nice to you or not depending on your success and position.
- Children in those days were classified according to whether they were a child born to the principal wife or concubines. A lawful son was born by the legal wife (this was the wife who has been officially married into the family, also known as the principal wife). Being the eldest of the legal wife made him the legitimate heir. They also had higher social status and often received better treatment compared to the other common sons born by concubines. It’s recommended to keep this in mind, as this will be a recurring theme in the novel.
- Sons were valued more than daughters in those days, especially to carry on the family line. Those who did not have a son (thus ending the family line with them) were deemed unfilial, and filial piety was a big thing in those days.