Chapter 368: Xu Lingyun and Xiao Ziyan
In the Ling Mansion.
When Ji Yanlai was informed of the deaths of the two young princes, a quizzical look appeared on his face and with that he looked up into the night sky.
Ji Yin asked, “What’s the matter, Clan Leader?”
Ji Yanlai made no reply. After quite a while, he suddenly observed with a smile, “Yuwen Tong turns out to be a pretty interesting guy.”
Curiously enough, the two stars which had originally become dim miraculously started shining brightly again, though they were now as ordinary as the countless nondescript stars around them.
The tragedy about the two young princes was like a farce, and residents in the capital city either felt sorry for them or took an unconcerned attitude towards the matter. All this stopped the day before the enthronement ceremony. Too many events had happened, which was why people were forgetting about them sooner than usual. With the enthronement ceremony drawing near, all those events seemed to have become water under the bridge so quick, and it wouldn’t be long before they were consigned to oblivion.
Governors of the various prefectures had all entered the capital city. The envoys of the Wan Kingdom, the Luohai Kingdom and the Fangcun Kingdom had also arrived. Each of the three countries had sent a prince to attend the ceremony. All three princes were strangers to people of the capital city, and even members of the diplomatic corps were all strangers. Everything was new.
Apart from them, some other people’s arrival in the capital city also attracted people’s attention, such as the Ji family.
Old Master Ji had taken all his family to the capital city, but they didn’t move into their original abode, because it had long since been taken back by the government. Instead, they settled themselves in another large residence. Their servants were bustling around, cleaning the residence in an orderly fashion. Many people were confused and took a wait-and-see attitude, wondering why the Ji family had chosen to come to the capital city at this point in time.
In the imperial palace.
Seven people – Ling Zhang, Yuwen Jin, Tao Yi, Zhao Jiusi, Zhao Turui, Xie Qing, Ji Feng – gathered in a side hall, sitting around the same table.
“So glad you’re back, Ji Feng. We’ve missed you so much,” said Yuwen Jin.
Ji Feng had grown much taller than before, and he also seemed to be a lot more well adjusted. The arch and unbuttoned air that he used to have about him had mostly been replaced by a poised and unhurried one.
“All my family have the Marshal’s kindness to thank for this opportunity to come back to the capital city,” said Ji Feng.
Only very few knew that this time around it had been after receiving an invitation from Yuwen Tong that the Ji family returned to the capital city. Also, Old Master Ji would be appointed to a position of responsibility after Yuwen Tong’s enthronement.
“By the way, which position will your grandfather be appointed to?” asked Yuwen Jin curiously.
Ji Feng smiled, “I don’t know either. Maybe… you should ask Ling Zhang about it.”
Ling Zhang flicked him a glance and replied, “You leave me out of this. I wouldn’t tell you even if I knew. Just wait for further notice.”
“Brother Zhang, I assure you none of us will breathe a word of it to anybody,” promised Yuwen Jin.
Ling Zhang ignored him. Zhao Jiusi said to Yuwen Jin, “Stop putting Ling Zhang on the spot. You’re an adult now. Why are you still asking questions without thinking about them first?”
Yuwen Jin rolled his eyes upwards. “That’s because I see you guys as my brothers, and brothers don’t keep secrets from each other, do they?”
Ling Zhang said, “Well, this will sound awkward, but I don’t feel like telling you the truth. What are you going to do about it?”
Yuwen Jin, “…”
“Haha… Yuwen Jin, it seems that your efforts to guilt-trip him into telling you the truth were in vain.”
All the others burst into laughter.
“When will you and the Marshal get married?” Ji Feng inquired of Ling Zhang.
Ling Zhang responded, “The wedding ceremony will be held right after the enthronement ceremony. Yuwen Tong will announced the date for the wedding at the enthronement ceremony.”
“Well, I guess staff members of the Ministry of Rites are going to have some really hectic days,” commented Zhao Jiusi.
They were old friends, and it had been quite some time since the last time they had sat around the same table to catch up. Although they were missing one, all of them avoided mentioning it by tacit agreement. The past was behind them, while the present and the future were in front of them. A new imperial dynasty was about to start, and they were all in their prime. Any one of them who had some dash – however faint it was – would muster up all their fight to strive for their goals, and none of them would admit defeat.
After the party, Ji Feng, Zhao Jiusi and the others took their leave and walked out of the palace six abreast.
When they looked over their shoulders in the direction of the imperial palace, transports of emotions welled up inside all of them in spite of themselves. “It surprises me how many changes a year’s time could bring.”
“The next time we meet, we’ll have to refer to Ling Zhang as ‘the empress’.”
“Haha. I don’t think Brother Zhang is going to be very happy about people referring to him as that.”
The others exchanged knowing looks and then all broke into laughter.
After seeing Yuwen Jin and the others off, Ling Zhang made towards the consultation hall. Halfway there, he chanced upon two young officials led by guards. One of them was wearing prefectural governor’s robes, and the other a military officer’s full dress uniform. Both of them were strangers to Ling Zhang and seemed to be from out of town and have come to the capital city to attend the enthronement ceremony.
They were walking along another path and met Ling Zhang at the fork.
“It’s an honor to meet you, Childe Ling.” The two guards hurriedly dropped to one knee to pay their respects to Ling Zhang at the sight of him.
The two young officials stopped dead, looking at Ling Zhang. The one in governor’s robes who was relatively handsome was the first to come to himself. He gave the sleeve of the one beside him a pull and bowed with hands folded in front. “It’s a great honor to meet you, Childe Ling. My name is Xu Lingyun. I’m the Shengzhou governor.”
The other man also jerked out of his trance. “It’s a great honor to meet you, Childe Ling. My name is Xiao Ziyan. I’m a deputy commander of the Shengzhou garrison.”
The Shengzhou governor, Xu Lingyun? A deputy commander of the Shengzhou garrison, Xiao Ziyan? Ling Zhang was astonished. These two names sounded so familiar that he immediately recalled that these two people were a married couple. Xu Lingyun and Xiao Ziyan were the gay couple that almost everybody in this country knew about. Xu Lingyun was the youngest ever governor, which was a very high rank for his age. Everybody had believed that he had exceptionally good career prospects, until he had suddenly declared that he was going to marry Xiao Ziyan. As there was a precedent for gay marriage – the Emperor Gaozu and his male consort – nobody dared lay any blame on him, because criticizing him would be synonymous with criticizing the Emperor Gaozu. Still, since then, everybody had believed that Xu Lingyun’s official career had been sentenced to death. In fact, Xu Lingyun had indeed been the Shengzhou governor for many years. Though appearing quite young, he was actually in his thirties, but the couple of them were quite vigorous and seemed to be in their early twenties.
Also, Xiao Ziyan had been the one who led the Shengzhou garrison southwards to intercept the Jiangzhou garrison when they marched north.
In other words, Xiao Ziyan and Xu Lingyun were on pretty good terms with Yuwen Tong. Otherwise they might not have obeyed Yuwen Tong’s orders.
Ling Zhang immediately asked them to rise and said, “I keep hearing people talk about you. It’s really an honor to meet you here today.”
Xu Lingyun and Xiao Ziyan rose to their feet. One of them said with a smile, “You’re too courteous, Childe Ling. We hear a lot of favourable comments about you as well.”
The other one gave a nod of agreement. The two of them stood there side by side, one chuckling, the other quiet, their respective air bringing out the best in each other.
Finding this sight quiet enjoyable, Ling Zhang said, “It’s very nice of you to say so, but I’m sure there are far more unfavorable comments about me than there are favorable ones. By the way, you two are here to see Yuwen Tong, I suppose? How about we go there together?”
Xu Lingyun smiled, “Thank you, Childe Ling. After you.”
“This way, please.”
Thus the three of them headed for the consultation hall together. On their way there, Ling Zhang fell into conversation with Xu Lingyun and found that this man was equable-mannered and had a good sense of humor. Xiao Ziyan, a man of few words as he was, didn’t strike Ling Zhang as unsympathetic. Most of the time he was just listening, but he made Ling Zhang feel he was really paying attention to his words, and his body language was showing his self-restraint all the time.
Ling Zhang talked with them about a lot of things unawares, including the matter of Shengzhou. Ling Zhang had previously passed through Shengzhou several times, but he had never specially paid it a visit to really get to know that place. Xu Lingyun was quite good at providing information about his hometown. Every characteristic of Shengzhou he described sounded more tantalizing than the last, and they made Ling Zhang feel a sudden upsurge of liking for the city.
It was after they reached the doorway of the consultation hall that Xu Lingyun stopped talking about that topic, and Ling Zhang seemed not to have heard enough.
A guard on duty in the doorway of the hall walked up to Ling Zhang at the sight of him. “Childe Ling.”
“Are they busy with anything in there?” asked Ling Zhang.
“The Marshal is double-checking the ceremonial arrangement of the enthronement tomorrow with some officials of the Ministry of Rites,” answered the guard.
Ling Zhang inclined his head, turned around and said to Xu Lingyun and Xiao Ziyan, “Please wait here for a moment. I’ll go inside and have him spare some time to see you guys first.”
“That’s very kind of you, Childe Ling,” said Xu Lingyun. “Sorry to put you to the trouble.”
Ling Zhang gave a smile, pivoted around and entered the consultation hall.
“Childe Ling seems different from what he’s rumored to be,” Xu Lingyun said to Xiao Ziyan, watching Ling Zhang’s receding back.
“His eyes are honest and clean, his manner mild and frank,” observed Xiao Ziyan.
“I wonder who started those rumors about him being domineering and arrogant. Back then I was quite confused as to what the Marshal saw in him. Now it seems that all those rumors are false,” said Xu Lingyun.
“Well, that’s why they’re called rumors,” remarked Xiao Ziyan.
Before long, Ling Zhang walked outside and invited them to go into the hall.
Xu Lingyun and Xiao Ziyan entered only to see that those officials of the Ministry of Rites were gone, presumably waiting in the side hall.
“Xu Lingyun pays his respects to you, Marshal.”
“Xiao Ziyan pays his respects to you, Marshal.”
“You may rise.”
Xu Lingyun and Xiao Ziyan rose to their feet and saw Yuwen Tong and Ling Zhang who was standing beside him and looking at them with a beam on his face.
“What with the dispatch of the garrison, it took the two of us some time to deal with the follow-up matters, so we arrived in the capital city later than scheduled. Please forgive us, Marshal.”
“You both had some hectic days. The Shengzhou garrison rendered outstanding service in the handling of the matter of the Yanzhou garrison’s unauthorized northward movement. If there’s anything you two want apart from the routine reward, all you have to do is tell me. Take it as a bonus I offer you in private.”
Xu Lingyun smiled, “Since you’re so generous, it’d be a shame if we let this opportunity slip away.”
“Thank you, Marshal.” Xiao Ziyan, however, earnestly expressed his gratitude.
Yuwen Tong lifted his eyebrows and looked at the two of them. “To be honest, originally I intended to transfer Xu Lingyun to the capital city.”
Xu Lingyun’s smile immediately disappeared. Xiao Ziyan also looked nervously at Yuwen Tong.
“But at the thought that it’d be rather unkind to have you two live apart for that long, I had no choice but to give up that idea. As a result, this reward I’m offering you in private could be regarded as a kind of compensation. There’s no need for you to have any misgivings. Give it some careful thought and then tell me what you want.”
Both Xu Lingyun and Xiao Ziyan felt relieved. “Thank you for your kindness, Marshal.”
“We promise we’ll think it through.”
After that, Xu Lingyun and Xiao Ziyan reported on their respective work. As Shengzhou was a border city of great strategic importance, many of its local policies should be different from those of other prefectures, for it was best if policies were in line with local conditions. However, the former emperor had rejected Xu Lingyun’s proposals, so many of Xu Lingyun’s good plans had been shelved. This time around, Xu Lingyun had specially come to the capital city to seize this opportunity and convince Yuwen Tong to approve these proposals of his.
Yuwen Tong discussed those proposals with the two of them for quite some time and eventually finalized some preliminary plans. “The remaining few of these proposals can wait. You two may go back and confer with each other about them and see if there’s still room for improvement.”
“Yes, Marshal,” answered Xu Lingyun.
The main purpose of this visit of theirs was to pay their respects to Yuwen Tong and report on some civic affairs and people’s livelihood in Shengzhou. Many of the matters were indeed not of urgency.
“With your permission, we’d like to take our leave and go back to make preparations to attend the enthronement ceremony tomorrow,” said Xu Lingyun.
Yuwen Tong bobbed his head, allowing them to leave.
Xu Lingyun and Xiao Ziyan took their leave. When they were walking through the doors, they looked over their shoulders and saw that Yuwen Tong, who had been quite serious when talking with them a moment ago, twisted his head around to tenderly look at Ling Zhang standing by his side and softly asked him if he was tired, his voice tinged with heartache.
Xu Lingyun gave a smile, turned his head and left with Xiao Ziyan.