“This little maid welcomes the Lord Teacher of the State.” The two maids bowed and stood outside the hall, their curious eyes subtly peering at Nie Bufan who was standing behind the Teacher of the State.
The wicked looking man ignored them and walked straight into the hall. Nie Bufan followed after him, finally coming to a palace called “Fusheng Temple”. The main hall was spacious and solemn and there was a huge golden statue in the center, surrounded by minor deities from all sides. Brocade banners hung on the side, candlesticks and incense burner tables were also set up and ready, the fragrance lingering.
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Passing the main hall and walking into the quiet inner room, the wicked looking man said to a plainly dressed boy in white: “Prepare a set of priest attire for him.”
The boy in white answered with an affirmative and led Nie Bufan inside where he then held out a set of clothes before standing aside.
Nie Bufan flipped through it and found that this set of clothes was of the same style as that worn by the boy, which was different from the attire that the palace maids and eunuchs wore.
“Brother, what exactly does your Teacher of State do?” Nie Bufan asked while changing his clothes.
The boy in white looked at him in surprise, and asked, “Aren’t you a newly accepted priest apprentice? How can you not know what my lord does?”
Nie Bufan waved his hand and smiled: “No, we are just strangers who met by chance and felt familiarity at first sight so he brought me into the palace to broaden my horizons.”
“…..” The boy in white looked stupefied, completely disbelieving such nonsense as “familiarity at first sight”.
“What’s your name?” Nie Bufan asked another question.
“He Xiang? My name is Nie…..cough, Ouyang Feng.” Nie Bufan remembered that he had introduced himself as Ouyang Feng to that wicked looking brother before, and he must not let the cat out of the bag himself.
The two chatted a bit and by the time he finished changing his clothes, Nie Bufan also got a general idea of the wicked looking man’s situation.
The Fan family’s eldest son, named Fan Luo, was conferred the title of Teacher of the State at the age of sixteen. He was mainly responsible for the sacrificial rites of the Ming Kingdom. Although he had no real power, no one dared to underestimate him because he used to be the emperor’s companion study mate, taking on the role of teacher and friend. He was literate at the age of three, could write documents at the age of six, and had a highly retentive memory. He was highly learned and cultured, proficient in seven to eight foreign languages, thus he was also a translator.
With his talents, he should have been given an important official position, but because the four generations of the Fan family were officials, both his father and uncle were even the highest ranking officials, their power in the imperial court nearly unmatched. In order to avoid arousing suspicion, father and son could not both be in important positions, so he gave up becoming an official. If it hadn’t been for the emperor’s break in tradition in conferring him with the title of Teacher of the State, Fan Luo would likely be traveling across the kingdoms.
“My lord, Lord Ouyang has finished changing.” He Xiang walked out of the interior room to report.
Fan Luo, who was drinking tea, slowly raised his eyes, and saw that Nie Bufan was dressed in a clean white robe, his black hair tied up high with a simple wooden hairpin, completely revealing his clear and attractive face. Different from the sorry looking state from before, his aura at this time was solemn and dignified just like a white lotus growing in seclusion.
Nie Bufan saw the appreciation in Fan Luo’s eyes. He stood with a hand behind his back, and sighed: “Ai, endowed with natural beauty it is too hard to hide.”
“…..” Fan Luo retracted his gaze and continued drinking tea.
When quiet, he was a white lotus flower, but the moment he spoke, he became a man-eating flower.
At this moment, someone outside the hall informed that the emperor asked to discuss matters with the Teacher of the State.
Fan Luo got up and said to Nie Bufan: “You stay here obediently, don’t walk around, I’ll be back right away.”
“Yes.” Nie Bufan smiled and answered very straightforwardly.
On the other side, Tai Bai, who had been back to the inn for a long time, was feeling increasingly uneasy the longer Nie Bufan failed to show up. It wasn’t until the sun was about to set that he received a letter from Big Weapon. Written crookedly was: I’m in the palace, don’t miss me.
“What do you mean by ‘I’m in the palace’?” Tai Bai asked in shocked anger, “I just took my eyes off you for a second and you entered the palace?”
You at least should explain the cause and effect clearly! How did you enter the palace? Who are you with? Is it safe? When will you leave the palace? Can you stop being so incomprehensible?
Tai Bai was furious. He took out pen and paper, and wrote a full page to express his depression.
Finally, he notified Wang Shichan of this news. After all, in the capital, he was unable to do much.
“What? He entered the palace?” Zhang Junshi exclaimed.
Wang Shichan nodded.
Li Yi’s face became cold and hostile.
Zhang Junshi covered his forehead and sighed, “My heavens, just a short few days and he managed to get into the palace. How did he do it?”
“Most of the guards in the imperial palace were trained by Dongsheng Shangfu. Wei Di will likely be aware of this soon.” Li Yi frowned.
Wang Shichan muttered: “The palace is heavily guarded, even I can’t sneak in secretly.”
“It seems,” Zhang Junshi looked at both Li and Wang, “This time you must use your family’s power even if you don’t want to.”
As night fell, after eating and drinking his fill, Nie Bufan was full of energy. After touring Fusheng Temple, he began to expand his exploration outside the temple.
As soon as he walked out on the promenade, He Xiang seemed to come out of nowhere, blocking his way.
“Ouyang Feng, my lord has ordered that you can’t leave the Fusheng Temple at will until he returns.”
“Don’t be so anxious.” Nie Bufan walked over and threw an arm over his shoulders, smiling, “I just want to go out to the courtyard to see the stars.”
He Xiang looked up at the sky and saw only pitch black and no stars in sight.
He was about to speak, but Nie Bufan interrupted: “Have you heard about the Xitu Kingdom coming to pay tribute?”
He Xiang’s attention was diverted, and he nodded and replied: “I naturally heard of such a big thing. I also heard that they brought a white tiger this time. When it comes the day to have an audience with the emperor, we, as priests, should have the opportunity to see it with our own eyes.”
“Really?” Nie Bufan said excitedly, “It must be very lively then.”
“Of course.” He Xiang looked proud, “Our Ming Kingdom is the head of the six kingdoms, with the strongest national strength and prestige. Every year, many kingdoms send envoys to pay tribute.”
“So, the work of the Teacher of the State also includes receiving foreign envoys?”
“En, my lord has great talents and is very erudite with extensive knowledge of various cultures. The emperor relies on him very much.”
As the two chatted, unknowingly they walked out of the area of the Fusheng Temple, and when He Xiang realized this, they had arrived at the Xianyun Hall. This was the place where the officials usually drank tea and took a rest. It was usually empty at night, and even the guards very infrequently pass by here.
“Let’s go back quickly, if we meet the guards, it won’t be good.” He Xiang pulled at Nie Bufan and whispered. The priest apprentices of the Teacher of the State had the privilege of free passage in the front area of the palace, but Nie Bufan was an undocumented vagrant. Once discovered, it was likely to cause trouble to the Teacher of the State. This was what He Xiang was most worried about.
“Shhh.” Nie Bufan stretched out a finger and pointed in a certain direction, “Listen, is there any sound over there?”
“Sound or not, it is not our business.” He Xiang had no curiosity at all, and continued to urge, “Let’s go!”
“Don’t worry, let’s go and have a look first.” Nie Bufan walked towards that side on tiptoes.
He Xiang stomped a foot, and quickly followed.
As the two approached, the sound became clearer and clearer, seeming to be a pained moaning of some kind.
He Xiang’s face changed slightly. He pulled Nie Bufan’s sleeves and gestured that they should leave quickly.
Nie Bufan touched his head to express comfort, and then continued his adventure.
He Xiang was nearly dying of anger, glaring at Nie Bufan, wishing nothing more than to stab a hole in him.
Nie Bufan poked out his head carefully. In the dark, a figure was holding his belly and curled up in the corner trembling, looking like he was sick.
He leaned against the wall, poked his head out and asked, “Are you okay?”
Hearing his voice, the person seemed to freeze for a while, and there was no response.
Nie Bufan turned his head to He Xiang and said, “Looking at his attire, he should be a guard, why don’t you call the imperial doctor over to take a look.”
He Xiang sighed to himself, just now he thought that someone was having an affair out here. Since it was just a sick guard, it didn’t matter if he ran this errand.
He said: “You go back to Fusheng Temple first, don’t stay here for long, I’ll go get the imperial doctor.”
Nie Bufan agreed very readily.
When He Xiang left, he immediately walked to the guard, patted him and said, “Are you okay? Do you want me to help you over there to rest?”
The guard didn’t respond so Nie Bufan just assumed that he didn’t need it. Looking around, he felt that it was very strange, did the guards in the palace act alone?
He was about to ask what happened, when suddenly he felt a pain in the back of his neck, falling to the ground in the next instant.
He was then dragged up and moved slowly in the other direction.
Slipping into a side hall, the guard endured the pain as he took off Nie Bufan’s clothes, and then dressed him up again in his own guard attire. As soon as he finished this, a solemn and murderous rush of footsteps sounded from outside.
The guard who had changed into the priest robes quickly fled the scene.
Not long after he left, the door of the side hall was pushed open. A group of guards rushed in and immediately saw Nie Bufan lying on the ground.
One of them leaned forward and sniffed before nodding, “Yes, there is a distant fragrance. It seems that the medicine has taken effect. Take him back to the emperor to deal with.”
Several people lifted the unconscious Nie Bufan and carried him quickly toward the inner palace harem. After crossing several long corridors, they happened to pass by Fan Luo who had finished attending the discussion meeting.
“Your Majesty, the prisoner has been caught.” The guard announced outside the door.
“Bring him in.” A eunuch relayed the order.
Nie Bufan was thrown on the ground, his jaw knocking painfully on the ground, and he woke up dizzily.
“This is him?” A low voice sounded in his ears. Nie Bufan looked up and saw a handsome man in an embroidered dragon brocade robe sitting in front of a large desk, his aura solemn and majestic. The corners of his mouth were curved downwards naturally and his eyes were deep, his face not revealing the slightest anger or any other emotions that he might be feeling.
“It’s this thief.” The guard replied.
The emperor played with a jade pendant and quietly examined Nie Bufan.
Nie Bufan hadn’t figured out the situation yet, but he also knew that the atmosphere in this room was a bit wrong. Looking at the guard uniform on his body, he couldn’t help but secretly cry out at the bad luck.
“Who are you?” The emperor asked lightly.
Nie Bufan was about to report the pseudonym “Ouyang Feng”, but thinking about it again he decided it was best to report another pseudonym.
So he replied: “My name is Wei Xiaobao.”
“Wei Xiaobao?” The emperor gently leaned on the dragon chair and asked indistinctly, “Tell me, what is the relationship between you and Zhen’s Consort Li?”
“Consort Li? To be honest, I don’t even know who she is.” Nie Bufan touched his nose. Well, it turned out that that big brother had seduced the emperor’s wife.
“Then why did you appear in her room?” The emperor’s tone of voice was flat, and not the slightest emotion could be heard, but he gave people a feeling of scalp numbing oppression.
The guards and eunuchs around all tensed up and stood ready.
Nie Bufan sat cross-legged on the ground and said, “How do you know that it is me who appeared in her room?”
“Audacious.” The eunuch beside the emperor couldn’t help but shout, “How dare you talk to the emperor in this tone?”
Nie Bufan felt that he was really innocent. As a person who had been wronged, he was already acting very reasonably.
The emperor waved his hand and continued: “Zhen has always known that Consort Li has secretly been with other men behind Zhen’s back. In order to catch this person, I specially awarded Consort Li a unique fragrance that would only rub off on people who have been in contact with her. You have the same scent on your person.”
“Wrong, it’s not me that smells, but these clothes.” Nie Bufan stood up, and the surrounding guards immediately stood on alert.
“Clothes?” The emperor squinted his eyes, and the doubt in his eyes flashed.
“These clothes are obviously not mine.” Nie Bufan tugged on the clothes casually, and in the next instant the belt fell off and the outer robe slipped wide open, revealing the under clothes.
“Look, who would wear this for a tryst?” Nie Bufan was completely without regard for his current disheveled image, his expression calm and steady.
The emperor stared at him in silence for a long while, and suddenly said: “Consort Li is pregnant.”
Nie Bufan was also silent for a while, and he said in a hesitating tone: “Should I say congratulations to Your Majesty?”
As soon as he said this, the expressions of everyone around him twitched and convulsed, not knowing whether it was from suppressing laughter or anger.
The jade pendant on the emperor’s hand shattered silently. He threw it away, stood up, and walked slowly to Nie Bufan’s side. He paced around him before standing still in front of him.
Nie Bufan looked at the emperor who was one head taller than him, and roared in his heart: You think you’re so great just because you’re tall! If you have the ability then let’s compete IQ!
“Take off your clothes.” The emperor said suddenly.
Nie Bufan tried his best to control his mouth and did not spit out any inappropriate words. He decisively took off the guard uniform, leaving only a white under robe.
A guard immediately stepped forward and took the clothes he had taken off to the other side.
The guard uniform was taken off, and the distant fragrance that had been surrounding Nie Bufan disappeared, replaced by the fresh scent of grass.
The emperor saw that he remained calm and steady, not only did he not look afraid of being caught, he lacked even a trace of nervousness. This was something he had never come across before and he instantly marveled at the novelty.
He moved his gaze to Nie Bufan’s hair, stretched out his hand, and took off the wooden hairpin. Without the fixation of the hairpin, Nie Bufan’s head of hair that was enough to make a woman jealous immediately fell loose, flowing smooth and silky.
The emperor played with the wooden hairpin, his gaze settling on his hair for a while, and then asked: “What is your relationship with the Teacher of the State?”
Nie Bufan understood as soon as he saw the wooden hairpin in his hand, and could only reply: “Your Majesty is wise, I am a new priest apprentice accepted by the Teacher of the State.”
“Priest apprentice?” The emperor replied nonchalantly, “Why was this not reported?”
“The Teacher of the State probably thinks that I am too dumb and dull, so he hasn’t reported this for the time being, making it convenient for him to back out in the future.”
The emperor’s movements paused. Don’t know if he had imagined it, but Nie Bufan seemed to see a smile flashing by in the other’s eyes.
“I will find the Teacher of the State to verify this matter, and you can stay at my side for the time being as a book attendant.”
Nie Bufan was incredulous: “Your Majesty, do you have a hobby of keeping suspected adulterers by your side?”
“Audacious!” The eunuch scolded again.
The surrounding guards lowered their eyes and bowed their heads, trying to control the cracks in their expressions.
The corners of the emperor’s mouth twitched a few times before he said: “I can be sure now that you are not…..” No matter what he couldn’t say the word adulterer.
Nie Bufan was even more incredulous: “Your Majesty, you are actually so wise?”
His concubine was impregnated by someone else and as the emperor and husband, shouldn’t he be furious? Whether guilty or innocent, shouldn’t he cut a few heads first to vent his anger?
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The emperor suddenly felt an inexplicable itch in his fingers, and he directed a sharp look at Nie Bufan.
Nie Bufan trembled and said, “Your Majesty, since my suspicion has been washed away, mind bestowing me a piece of clothing? It’s quite cold.”
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