Chapter 40

Back then, Emperor Xi feared the unification of the military would usurp his power, and divided military authority between the Five Armies Marshal Estate and the Ministry of War.

The Five Armies Marshall Estate had the authority to order the troops but not relocate the armies. The Ministry of War had the authority to relocate soldiers but not give them orders. The two departments were strictly separated, and only obeyed the emperor.

Officials naturally had to understand their superior’s intentions. The emperor feared the centralization of power, and also feared the two departments colluding with each other. For the sake of his peace of mind, they had to keep their distance. Theoretically speaking, the Zhenguo Duke shouldn’t have any interactions with the Ministry of War’s high official. On the surface, they truly didn’t get along. However, this didn’t prevent them from having a personal connection.

That year, while the previous emperor still ruled and the Zhenguo Duke was responsible for the army, the current Ministry of War’s high official Miao Jie was a new official under him. Afterwards, Miao Jie rose through the ranks one step at a time, but had never forgotten their initial relationship. Therefore, although they didn’t get along on the surface and would often argue wildly in court, they had a private undeclared camaraderie.

For the sake of dealing with Yan Ting, the Zhenguo Duke borrowed the high official’s hand.

After court on this day, the two were the palace via the palace roads.

They maintained a distance of ten feet, but it didn’t prevent them from speaking.

“Your son-in-law has returned?” The high official’s hair and beard were completely white, his body shriveled. He looked completely like an old man. He wore a purple court dress with a red-crowned crane embroidered patch on his chest. He held a jade cane in one hand and kept his gaze forward as he spoke.

The Zhenguo Duke also wore a purple robe, with a qilin embroidered on his chest. He grunted faintly in affirmation and didn’t speak.

The Ministry of War’s high official was very curious, and couldn’t resist leaning over a little. “Aren’t you afraid of your daughter finding out about you screwing him over?”

The Zhenguo Duke glared fiercely and didn’t speak.

“Fine, fine, fine. I know you’ve always been overbearing. But I’m really curious why you’re dealing with your own son-in-law. You’ve even screwed him over so much!”

“None of your business! Stop having so many idle thoughts!”

The high official was a little aggrieved. Relocating Yan Ting to the border was arranged by him. Relocating him back was also arranged by him. How did it suddenly become his idle thoughts?

This damn old man still has the same terrible temper after so many decades!

He himself also had a quick temper. He glared and said: “Don’t come looking for me in the future if you need help. Good deeds are never repaid!”

The Zhenguo Duke glared back, his beard twitching in anger. His thick brows were fierce and his posture extremely frightening. Anyone else would naturally be afraid, but the high official had argued with him for several decades. He naturally wasn’t afraid.

The two glared at each other, trying to see whose eyes were bigger.

…….

Nearby, a group of military officials were whispering to one another.

“Look, look. The Zhenguo Duke is arguing with the high official again.”

“It’s not like it’s their first time. Didn’t they just have a go at each other in front of his majesty?”

“That’s right. They’ve just finished arguing in front of him, and are still arguing after coming out. Do you think they will come to blows?”

“They probably won’t. This is still within the palace.”

One of the more elderly members spoke: “They’ve fought in the palace before! One time….”

This person started recounting history.

……

Although the Zhenguo Duke’s eyes were larger than the high official’s, there was a saying that smaller eyes could glare more intensely. He couldn’t overcome him in the end, and relaxed his expression. He snorted: “Family affairs.”

Fine, this could count as an explanation.

One becomes more immature as one ages. The high official was mighty in front of others, mighty in front of his family. Only in front of his old friend would he reveal some other expressions.

One would encounter all sorts of situations in one’s lifetime. For people like them, outside matters were never an issue. Only family affairs could give them a headache.

Thinking of his own useless son back home, the high official’s teeth hurt in sympathy. “Alright, don’t take my words to heart. Give me a shout if you need anything. Your son-in-law has reached out to Assistant Minister Chen. Assistant Minister Chen brought it up briefly to me but I ignored him. At that time I was thinking, shouldn’t he be asking you, his father-in-law?”

The Zhenguo Duke’s expression was a little mocking, but he suppressed it.

The high official continued to chatter. “You never change, old fellow. Are you trying to get him to beg you? Is there a point to playing around like this….”

The Zhenguo Duke ignored him. He patted his shoulder and walked off with large strides. He was very strong, and the high official’s frail shoulder shook at being patted by him, and it almost shattered. The group of people watching on one side were terrified the two would come to blows. On the other side, the high official cursed in his heart: Screw you, did you think this was still back in the day? This daddy is already old, and cannot withstand a pat from a brute like you.

Afterwards, he leaped up with an agility that didn’t suit his age and pointed at the Zhenguo Duke’s back. “You old brute, just wait and see!”

Everyone wiped their brows. Luckily, they didn’t come to blows! These two were so old, but were still so “mischievous”!

***

Yan Zhi wasn’t in the estate. When the servants found him, he was out drinking with his friends, and was completely wasted.

When the servant mentioned that the old madam called him back for a matter in the estate, he didn’t dare delay and hastened back.

He was still tipsy and his mind was a little blurry. When he entered the Rongan Hall and saw the old madam’s gloomy face, he suddenly trembled and his drunkenness vanished.

He cursed himself for not going back to his room to tidy himself up before coming, worried his principal mother would be displeased by the smell of alcohol. However, he maintained a smile and sidled over, greeting her and Yan Ting respectfully.

“Mom, what do you need from your son?” Yan Zhi stood by the old madam’s side and asked. This was quite an intimate distance. Yan Zhi’s attitude had always been this way.

He treated the old madam very intimately, as though she were his biological mother. However, he also maintained his etiquette, and was never jealous at being treated differently than old two or old three.

This discrepancy in his behavior wasn’t easy to grasp. Up until now Yan Zhi had done very well despite appearing to be a hedonistic young master who idles about daily.

The old madam’s gloomy face softened a little. However, she recalled that this was about her own son’s important matter. Yan Ting was more important in her heart in the end, and thus her anger won out once more.

“Who’s smiling around with you? You unfilial son, tell me honestly, did you provoke any trouble outside recently?!”

Yna Zhi initially thought his principal mother was joking around. But he realized her expression didn’t look like she was joking, and instantly shivered. His body reacted faster than his mind and immediately knelt in front of the old madam.

His expression was miserable as he said aggrievedly: “Mom, what on earth is going on? Say it from the beginning!”

“Mom” and “mother” both meant the same thing, but mom sounded more intimate than mother. Yan Zhi had been raised by the old madam, and always called her mom ever since he learned to speak. After several decades, even after growing up, he never changed his way of address even though the other concubine borne sons called her mother.

Towards this form of address, the old madam didn’t agree to it yet also didn’t object, so he continued using it all this time. The other concubine borne sons were sent out after the old marquis passed away. Only this son who called her mom remained here. After all, he was the first son she had raised. She had been worried about giving birth to sons, and after raising him she gave birth to two in succession. Despite not having given birth to him herself, she still had some attachment.

“You laze about outside all the time, and made friends with a bunch of scoundrels. I’ve never reprimanded you. This time you must tell me honestly: did you provoke any trouble?”

Yan Zhi was a little indignant. She had never bothered about his idling and drinking, and had even indulged him. How was it now relevant?! But thinking of the old madam’s rarely seen anger and Yan Ting who was sitting on the side, his heart was startled.

“Your son didn’t cause any trouble outside. Mom, believe me!”

The old madam looked doubtful and Yan Ting didn’t reveal any expression.

“You really didn’t?”

“I really didn’t. When has your son ever lied to you, mom? You must believe your son!” Yan Zhi’s expression was solemn and included a little bit of grievance. He fell just shy of raising three fingers and swearing to the heavens.

The old madam still understood Yan Zhi quite well. He was normally slippery but was truly filial. The eldest branch didn’t receive any additional benefits and relied on the monthly allowance to pass their days. Unlike old two, who had a noble title and old three, who she gave extra allowances and whose wife’s dowry was also quite substantial.

Although the old madam hadn’t instructed Concubine Pei to discriminate against them, she had still permitted it. After all, the eldest branch wasn’t of the principal line despite living within the estate. The old madam wouldn’t permit them to have the same treatment as her own sons.

Despite this, Yan Zhi would still gift her things every once in a while. Although these things weren’t expensive, the thought was what counted. It had to be noted that despite old two and old three being her own sons, they had never done so. Of course that wasn’t to say they weren’t filial, merely that they never thought about doing so.

Old two had heavy responsibilities and old three was taciturn in nature. The one son who wasn’t borne by her would flatter her daily and pay tribute to her. Accumulated over time, even a heart of stone would be moved.

The old madam looked a little troubled. She glanced at Yan Ting and said: “It’s not that your mom doesn’t believe you. The household has encountered some issues. Report any inappropriate dealings and connections these past two years one by one.”

Yan Zhi liked to play the fool and act well-behaved, but that depended on the situation. This was naturally not the time. He had always been a hoodlum, and he ended up reporting everything he had done these past years.

This Yan Zhi’s status wasn’t high. A marquis estate’s concubine borne son could only interact with people of similar status. Apart from showing up at his job, his time was spent gambling and drinking with friends. A life of debauchery with occasional minor gambling meant their group would often display their might in front of strangers who looked easy to bully.

Yan Zhi was completely honest, and even reported that he was secretly keeping a mistress outside. He didn’t dare conceal anything.

Right as he spoke, a shriek was heard from outside. Xue-shi pounced over like a bolt of lightning.

“Great, Yan Zhi you unscrupulous thing. You dare raise a mistress on the outside!”

It turned out that when the old madam was looking for Yan Zhi, the servants had stopped by the eldest branch’s pavilion first but Yan Zhi hadn’t been in the estate. At that time they had notified Xue-shi. When she heard the eldest lord had gone to the Rongan Hall, she came over as well. When she arrived, she was going to have the maid announce her arrival when she heard Yan Zhi’s voice from the hall.

Hearing this meant all hell broke loose. She didn’t care about etiquette and directly barged inside. She pounced onto Yan Zhi and started scratching and beating.

Yan Zhi wasn’t able to react and was scratched a couple of times. He felt his cheek and realized he was wounded. He also didn’t care about his principal mother and brother watching on the side and gave Xue-shi a slap in return.

Xue-shi fell to the floor, but was rather fierce. She cried even louder but it didn’t prevent her from pouncing over once more, yelling about his lack of conscience.

All this happened very quickly. By the time the old madam reacted, the two were already tangled together. She banged the small table on her arhat bed. “Is everyone dead? Why aren’t you pulling them apart?”

The maids and grannies immediately charged over and dragged Xue-shi off.

Xue-shi’s face was full of snot and tears as she fell prone at the old madam’s feet and started wailing. “Mom, you have to mediate for me. Yan Zhi’s humanity was eaten by a dog. I’ve played the part of his wife at home and worked hard to raise our family. He actually raised a mistress on the outside….”

Yan Zhi stood there rubbing his face while cursing her for being a shrew.

Author’s notes:

Err, explosion in the next chapter.

There’s a point to Xue-shi and Yan Zhi fighting. Minor characters have their own reasons for existing.

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