Chapter 19 … In the end, there will be a day where my body is torn and my bones crushed.
Gu Hong Jian disappeared for a whole year.
Lin Si Ze spent nearly a year trying to find Gu Hong Jian.
In the beginning, Lin Si Ze had not expected Gu Hong Jian to disappear for so long and to disappear so thoroughly at that, so he had not become highly impatient when the searchers he had sent out returned empty-handed.
Half a month passed with no results, not even a bit of news on her.
Lin Si Ze became relatively resolute at this point and dispatched men to begin carefully combing through the capital, through every single room in all the inns, through every new house owner, through every house. However, there was still no news of Gu Hong Jian.
In this way, two to three months passed, and Lin Si Ze was in a completely foul mood.
Whatever the case, she must leave her hiding spot, right? To buy things at least?!
Then whether the village was lively or desolate, all would be monitored constantly!
Since she could not be found in the capital, the small villages on the outskirts of the capital would be searched!
Lin Si Ze turned the territory upside-down to unearth Gu Hong Jian, but Gu Hong Jian had seriously not emerged. She probably could not have endured staying in the capital, and even if she had stayed, she probably would not have left the house at all.
In short, Lin Si Ze could not find her.
At first, he had been in disbelief and then later enraged, before becoming worried—afterward, Lin Si Ze even harbored suspicions that Gu Hong Jian met some accident.
Except, in April of Píngchāng Year 1, nearly half a year since Gu Hong Jian’s disappearance, Lin Si Ze intended to release an arrest order, only for Jiang Hai Fu to unexpectedly receive an item at that time.
The circumstances surrounding this item was relatively complex. Inside the palace, the palace maids would occasionally make some handicrafts to sell outside the palace, by which the palace eunuchs would head out to sell for them. The palace maids would receive money for those that were sold and be returned the items that did not.
And among those little palace maids Jiang Hai Fu was considered acquainted with, he knew none of them had created this handkerchief he received, upon which a message was embroidered on.
Jiang Hai Fu, tell him I am well. Soon, we will meet again. Do not yearn.1
This message had frightened a little palace maid dearly, and she hesitated for half a day before deciding to pass this matter to Jiang Hai Fu. When Jiang Hai Fu read the message, he was stunned and immediately delivered it to Lin Si Ze.
Lin Si Ze, upon reading the handkerchief once, tossed the handkerchief away with a dark face and recalled all the men searching for Gu Hong Jian.
Jiang Hai Fu silently collected the handkerchief on his behalf.
Afterward, Lin Si Ze then no longer felt committed to looking for Gu Hong Jian. After all, it was still the first year of his ascension, and he was exceedingly busy. Since he knew Gu Hong Jian would simply appear before him unexpectedly, he no longer paid her any mind.
Soon after Lin Si Ze’s ascension in Píngchāng Year 1, there was the imperial examination. Regardless of civil or military affairs, Lin Si Ze held both in high importance. After all, the imperial court currently only held old state officials, and despite their council being good, it would be very difficult to cultivate trust with them. The naturally mistrustful Lin Si Ze had only one person, Gu Hong Jian, in his confidence, and since she had run away, he thus was settling on looking for more trusted aides in this next civil and military imperial examination.
The time for the imperial examination drew close. Lin Si Ze had found the time to look through the examination papers for the top three candidates; among the papers, Zhao Yun Yuan’s left a rather deep impression, but another candidate also left him a profound impression——when he seen that person’s penmanship, he had frozen and felt that it was an extremely familiar.
This was absolutely Gu Hong Jian’s penmanship.
The exact same brush strokes, merely appearing to be more unhurried and fluid than before…it unexpectedly exuded the faint air of a great scholar.
Lin Si Ze contemplated this for a short period of time and then glanced at the candidate’s name—and saw the neatly written ‘Gu Hong.’2
Lin Si Ze: “…”
Lin Si Ze immediately sent someone to find this ‘Gu Hong.’ The name was so obvious; Gu Hong Jian, she did not even think of covering it up!
Gu Hong Jian had arrived honestly, dressed as a man in a cyan chang pao and her hair completely combed back and held in place with a jade silk ribbon. Unexpectedly, she truly looked like a somewhat young noble exuding a distinguished, accomplished, elegant aura.
Nearly a year had passed without seeing each other. Lin Si Ze, when he saw Gu Hong Jian, decided to not reveal the heavy concern in his heart for some reason and simply looked at her with a calm face.
Gu Hong Jian raised her brows and chuckled, slowly making her salutations. “Long live your majesty, the emperor.”
Lin Si Ze helplessly stated, “Be seated.”
Gu Hong Jian immediately plopped her bottom onto the seat, crossing one leg over the other as she said, “Thank you, your majesty.”
Lin Si Ze said, “You are indeed making trouble.”
“What is wrong?” Gu Hong Jian revealed an innocent look. “It is your majesty who is allowing me to sit.”
“Gu Hong Jian!” Lin Si Ze angrily rebuked.
Gu Hong Jian scoffed and then said even more innocently, “Your majesty, this grass root3 does not know where your majesty has been offended. Why is your majesty scolding this lowly person without rhyme or reason?”
Lin Si Ze blanked and immediately recalled that this person before him was now using the alias ‘Gu Hong,’ so when he had called her ‘Gu Hong Jian’…
“Why did you suddenly leave that day?” Lin Si Ze did not feel like making small talk with her and directly got to the point.
Gu Hong Jian smiled minutely and then said, “If I did not take advantage of that time to run, I am afraid that in that year, I would have been stuck living under your majesty’s control and surveillance.”
Lin Si Ze said with a cold face, “Zhèn… I have no desire to control or monitor you.”
Gu Hong Jian put on an innocent demeanor and said, “Even if so, that is not the only method available. In your heart, have you not assumed that I will sooner or later return to the palace as Gu zhǎngshì? Hey, don’t say it won’t be like that. If not that, then what else? Enter the palace, as your concubine? And then watch as you unceasingly expand the harem, striving against others for your favor and later killing all your imperial concubines one by one when I grow displeased…then earning your loathing and thus being required to flee once more…?”
Lin Si Ze stared at Gu Hong Jin, not knowing whether to laugh or cry. “Ultimately, what are you thinking about.”
Gu Hong Jian shrugged. “In short, it would probably have followed this sequence of events.
She knew Lin Si Ze, just like he knew her. Although her words were a bit exaggerated, it really would have occurred according to this route.
Upon realizing this outcome was hopelessly tangled with Lin Si Ze’s presence in her life, Gu Hong Jian had felt absolute despair and simply decided, with confidence and ease, to avoid the problem by walking away from it.
Lin Si Ze continued staring at Gu Hong Jian and said, “So you believe that you do not need to stay by my side? With this being the case, why did you come to take the imperial examination? Gu Hong…ah.”
Gu Hong Jiang glanced at him, her lips minutely hooked to one side in a half smile, and crudely said, “I have never said I want to leave you, but I simply changed how I will stay near you.”
Lin Si Ze’s eyes flashed. He immediately declared, “Then, as you wish.”
The day of the imperial examination, Gu Hong Jian appeared dressed in men’s clothes. As she had practiced martial arts since youth, her figure was excellent, her stance straight and firm—looking like a scholar with the bearing of a military man. Thus, although her facial features were pretty enough to be on a woman, no one had suspicions she was actually one.
That day, there was, for the first time, two top scorers, which led to objections being made to Lin Si Ze about how ‘literary skills ranked first.’
Naturally, Lin Si Ze’s selfish motives were involved as well. After all, he wanted Gu Hong Jian the most, and Gu Hong Jian really had made a lot of progress these days. She was able to reply quickly and fluently, and her wording was sharp as well. While Zhao Yun Yuan absolutely had the top scorer position, Lin Si Ze had made a decision like this almost without any hesitation.
And regardless of how everyone saw it, Gu Hong Jian was not equal to Zhao Yun Yuan. At that time, however, how could they have expected Gu Hong Jian and Lin Si Ze to have previously had a relationship. This thus led to them believing Gu Hong Jian’s views were coincidentally the same as Lin Si Ze’s, which lead to Lin Si Ze being extremely fond of ‘him.’
Gu Hong Jian had actually not foreseen Lin Si Ze doing something like this and was slightly surprised. She then glanced at Zhao Yun Yuan, who was standing beside her.
But she saw his head still lowered like before, his face calm without the slightest trace of reluctance.
Gu Hong Jian’s heart was moved slightly. After the two of them were led out, Gu Hong Jian deliberately cupped her hands and said to Zhao Yun Yuan, “Truly no one had expected such an extreme outcome. I know my talent is inferior to yours. This top scorer position truly…makes me ashamed.”
Although her tone was earnest, she did not look completely genuine and sincere about her apology. If Zhao Yun Yuan had a trace of unhappiness, this would have very easily enraged him.
Zhao Yun Yuan, however, simply shook his head and said, “Hereafter, we will enter the imperial court together as government officials to serve the emperor. The top scorer position is simply a false reputation anyway. Besides, Brother Gu does not need to be unduly humble.”
Gu Hong Jian smiled, thinking to herself, This Zhao Yun Yuan is indeed an honest scholar. Thus, she replied, “So, how does Brother Zhao regard a woman being in politics?”
Zhao Yun Yuan was startled and asked, “A woman being in politics? So, a woman with political power?”
“No, not a woman with political power in the chambers of imperial concubines, but rather a female government official standing in front of the imperial court with strength and discipline, reporting to the emperor and discussing politics.”
Zhao Yun Yuan frowned. “Women have no place in the government.”
“There are no rules written preventing them from doing so,” Gu Hong Jian said with a mocking smile.
“There has never been such a thing before,” Zhao Yun Yuan stated.
Gu Hong Jian continued smiling and spoke no more.
At this moment, Zhao Yun Yuan suddenly reacted, a look of shock crossing his face as he stared at Gu Hong Jian. He murmured, “Don’t tell me Brother Gu…”
Gu Hong Jian quirked her lips. “What?”
“Brother Gu is a woman?!” Zhao Yun Yuan gasped.
Gu Hong Jian’s smile became even brighter.
As she would enter the imperial court as an official, there would inevitably be a day where everyone would discover her to be a woman, so rather than concealing herself, it would be better to have it out in the open.
Actually, Zhao Yun Yuan’s reaction was exactly the same as what she imagined those old-fashioned officials would react upon learning she was a woman.
Zhao Yun Yuan reached out to pull her closer, dropping his voice as he said, “Brother Gu…no, Gu…Gu Hong, you, this is the crime of deceiving the emperor. Go back and tell his imperial majesty right this moment. Perhaps you can save your life. If, in the future, someone discovers the truth, you and all of your relatives will be executed for the crime.
Gu Hong Jian replied, “But that is not fair. Did you not just say that my strength is not lacking and that even if I am not your equal, the top scorer can always enter the imperial court. It seems like if it was a man, he can enter Hanlin Imperial Academy. Because I am a woman, however, I cannot enter the imperial court as an official?”
Probably because Gu Hong Jian was challenging his normally traditional mindset, Zhao Yun Yuan was stunned for a moment. He then immediately responded, “No matter what, you should first tell the emperor. As for whether you’re leaving or staying, you should hand over this decision to the emperor as well.”
Gu Hong Jian remarked, “Oh? Then does Brother Zhao Mean that if the emperor said I can stay, Brother Zhao will support me in my decision to enter the imperial court as a government official?”
Zhao Yun Yuan faltered. “This…”
“In the future, if other officials attack me because I am a woman, Brother Zhao will surely also stand by my side, right?” Gu Hong Jian pressed.
Zhao Yun Yuan blanked. “Ah…?”
Gu Hong Jian completely ignored his shock and pulled her hand free. She patted his shoulder. “Brother Zhao, if it’s like this, I am relieved. Many thanks. Be at ease, as the emperor had already known I am a woman.”
After she finished speaking, she smiled and turned to walk away, leaving behind a still soulless Zhao Yun Yuan.
During the Qionglin Feast, just as expected, Gu Hong Jian declared herself to be a woman without consulting Lin Si Ze or anyone else, fully shocking everyone present.
Lin Si Ze’s face was as black as coal, yet he calmly covered for Gu Hong Jian, expressing that he had long known she was a woman but had felt she brimmed with talent. He had believed that her existence should not be obliterated just because she was a woman and therefore decided to make an exception, having her become the first female government official ever.
Everyone was alarmed, but Zhao Yun Yuan remained silent.
At that time, Assistant Minister Fan, appointed during the previous dynasty, had remained because the late Emperor had some fair amount of trust in him; therefore, this Assistant Minister Fan was kept because he had the kind of ability to write to funeral prayers to the heavens. Although he did not really have a lot of ability or power, the emperor had held him in trust and favor and anointed him to Assistant Minister.
His position as Assistant Minister was stable, despite being on good terms with Imperial Tutor Yao in those days.
He had been very fortunate that during Imperial Tutor Yao and the first prince’s rebellion, he had not been informed. This was probably because he would be tasked to write the funeral prayers, and telling him would instead easily ruin things.
He had not participated, which meant he did not meet with disaster. He had obediently remained silent, but he had still been pulled into Imperial Tutor Yao’s sphere of influence. Lin Si Ze also did not believe in Gods or Buddhas, so although he had kept his position of Assistant Minister, he did not have Lin Si Ze’s trust at all. His power was very little, making him extremely discontent with Lin Si Ze.
Even though this Assistant Minister Fan was stupid, he was also not as stupid as to dare to directly speak against Lin Si Ze. Moreover, since Lin Si Ze ascended the throne, he had been industrious and conscientious, so there had been nothing to criticize.
This event with Gu Hong Jian gave Assistant Fan an opportunity. At once, he knelt down and exclaimed, “Your majesty, you cannot!”
Lin Si Ze was already unhappy since Gu Hong Jian announced her gender of her own initiative. This Assistant Minister Fan’s interjection immediately had him proclaiming with a dark face, “Why not?”
“Your majesty also said an exception is made for her. Earlier, having two top scorers was also an exception made for her. This, this, why are you making exceptions over and over again for her?!” Assistant Fan cried out.
Gu Hong Jian became cheerful. She would also love to hear this reasoning.
Thereupon, she also knelt beside Assistant Minister Fan and proclaimed, “Your majesty, Assistant Minister Fan’s words are correct. What virtue, what ability do I possess that has your majesty making an exception for me. However, if I am forced to leave now, I will be reluctant. Thus, Assistant Minister Fan, give me a month, sir, and I will show my talents well. If I can be of use and satisfy the members of court with my performance, I will then continue being a female government official. If I perform poorly, I will naturally put my things into order and take my leave. Like this, it will also not leave your majesty in a difficult position; do you agree?”
Gu Hong Jian had spoken a lot, and Assistant Minister Fan could only resist for a short period of time before agreeing.
He thought, After all, Gu Hong Jian has just gained an official position and can only enter the Imperial Hanlin Academy, becoming merely a literary official with no true authority. In regards to this performance matter, she can only transcribe books at most. What major event can she prove her competence in?
Even if the emperor sided with her, if she could not do something that made the people wholeheartedly accept her, she was done for.
Assistant Minister Fan had absolutely not anticipated, however, that twenty days after Gu Hong Jian officially began serving as an official, on some morning during an imperial court session, Gu Hong Jian would hand over an accounts book about a person’s life. This report was voluminous, with all the written records detailing everything about his, Assistant Minister Fan’s, sins.
Moreover, she read the entire report in front of the imperial court.
First of all, the emperor was not paying attention at all to court proceedings. In particular, after he fell seriously ill, the crown prince wielded a lot of power, and in regards to his character, Assistant Minister Fan ordinarily accepted quite a few bribes. Yet for him, this was a very trivial, common matter. Currently, who amongst the imperial court was not corrupt? Let alone him, with the grand role of Assistant Minister?
Gu Hong Jian’s accounts book, however, detailed all of his illegal assets very clearly, and in regards to the relatively larger items, she also noted who he accepted the bribe from.
Assistant Minister Fan’s relatives, in his home state, utilized his Assistant Minister position to tyrannically abuse the countryside. Assistant Minister Fan knew of this but paid it no mind. He would even occasionally be sent information from the county magistrate of his home state and be asked to help out his tyrannical relatives. He once heard about his sister’s son killing a man and didn’t even think much about it, simply sending money to be given to the man’s family as compensation. He then mentioned the matter to the county magistrate, and the matter was never followed up. He simply did not care about such things.
In Gu Hong Jian’s accounts book, however, all these matters were recounted one by one. As it turned out, those affairs at that time were not that simple at all. His nephew had forcefully molested a village girl, who later hung herself that same day. The girl’s older brother sought him out to bring him to justice, but instead was wrongfully killed by Assistant Minister Fan’s nephew.
The parents of those siblings cried themselves to unconsciousness. But with no authority, no power, and frail bodies, when they went to report this to the court magistrate, the court magistrate instead imprisoned them for over ten days. In the end, the parents unexpectedly died in prison.
And when Assistant Minister Fan sent coin to these parents, the coin naturally went to the nephew’s purse instead.
This kind of disaster actually happened without notice, suppressed. Although the late emperor was on the throne when this occurred, it shocked everyone speechless. Lin Si Ze’s face was darker than soot. Assistant Minister Fan was also becoming more fearful the more he listened. Upon hearing the parents die tragically in prison, he knelt on the spot toward the imperial court.
Furthermore, there were all kinds of deeds too numerous to list. Gu Hong Jian was not short of breath. Although her voice was not very loud, her intonation and cadence allowed her voice to resound throughout the entire court. Her manner of speaking was steady, yet each word was a death sentence.
Not one official interrupted her. Assistant Minister Fan knelt on the ground, his lips blanched and on the verge of fainting. After Gu Hong Jian finished reading, she immediately kowtowed to where her head slammed against the ground and said, “Your majesty the emperor, you have heard this humble servant explain. This…
“Assistant Minister Fan does not need to worry about explaining. I know the Emperor is very hardworking yet equally busy. Moreover, Assistant Fan is an important government official. Accusing you of this affair, without actual proof it seems—your majesty still needs to send men to investigate. I am very sorry for making things difficult, so in order to lift some of the burden from your majesty’s shoulders, I have long ago sent for your nephew and other relatives who have sinned to be brought to the capital. In addition…I asked around about some matters and have received some reports. Here, these are the most important ones, and this is Assistant Minister Fan’s final crime.”
Lin Si Ze expressionlessly said, “Present.”
Assistant Minister Fan’s eyes widened. When he saw Jiang Hai Fu descend from Lin Si Ze’s side to retrieve the stack of reports from Gu Hong Jian, he was at a complete loss.
“In the last few days, the imperial court has been as immeasurable as the weather. I am also incomparably busy. I hope you all are content with your roles; do not invite trouble. When that person has taken up the position, I will then immediately call for you to the capital or somewhere nearby and give you minor official work.”
Gu Hong Jian stood up and began narrating the contents of the report.
Assistant Minister Fan’s lips twitched. He raised his head to glance at Lin Si Ze and said, “This, this…this humble servant wanted to use my position for personal gain. I have really wronged…”
“No no, you are mistaken, Assistant Minister Fan.” Gu Hong Jian chuckled. “This lower official is not trying to say you are using your position for personal gain. This final crime of yours, is——a futile attempt to overthrow the throne.”
Assistant Minister Fan’s eyes widened. “What?!”
- A bit of complicated culture behind this. ‘Do not yearn’ is what is placed at the end of letters, and it actually means, “When you are missing me, do not yearn to see me again.” This phrase indicates very deep sentiment between both parties and tells the other person to not worry while also expressing how the writer also longs to see them. Isn’t this a very touching promise? ↩
- Note that the candidate name is written as (顾弘) Gù Hóng…and the MC’s name is written as (顾虹见) Gù Hóng Jiàn ↩
- Indicating that he is of low status in comparison, form of self-address ↩