Chapter 194 – The Scholar Entering the Capital for His Imperial Examinations
‘Since I was young, my family was poor. I had a quiet and sincere but slow personality. I did not have any friends or family. I ate congee and vegetables, but I never ate meat. I only liked to read, and other than reading, there was still more reading. I lived without any serious ambitions, and after going to the capital, I really only wanted to enter the Heavenly Academy to study. Afterwards, I met Chen’er, and I only wanted to read with her although she didn’t have any interest in reading at all.’
This was the first part of the opening paragraph in Wang Zhice’s diary. While reading this section, all of a sudden a familiar feeling took hold of Chen Changsheng, just like when he had learnt about Gou Hanshi’s experiences before the Ivy League Gathering. Although he knew they were opponents, Chen Changsheng still carried a sense of familiarity towards him, as he also only liked reading books.
‘On the way to the capital, I met the Grand Guard at that time, the future Taizu, in the Tianliang County Palace. Afterwards, I met the Prince of Qi for the first time and later met him again in Luoyang. There was also Elder Brother, yes, and I also met Chen’er in that alleyway dripping with filth, So, I stayed behind.’
‘The paper in Luoyang was expensive. Everything was expensive, and even the sesame seed cakes were more expensive than those from other areas. What made it even worse was the constant fighting day in and day out. After Chen’er used up all of our money, she wanted to return to her previous occupation. However, I always felt that killing people wasn’t good, so she asked me how she could support our home. I thought over and over again that I still needed to enter the capital. Even if I could not enter the Heavenly Academy, I could still camp outside the Mausoleum of Books to sell some fake rubbings of inscriptions. I had always believed I was a useless scholar and could only write some nice words.’
‘She came with me to the capital and was always by my side. Even if she wanted to leave, she couldn’t, as Emperor Taizu’s army had already surrounded the capital. It was also at that time when I learnt that Elder Brother had never prepared to come back after originally leaving Luoyang. On the day when the capital finally fell, Chen’er and I sat on a boat, separated from the Bridge of Lamentation. We saw the smiling Prince of Qi riding in on a white rhinoceros, and we knew that our lives would take a turn for the better.’
‘As the Emperor ascended the throne in front of the Mausoleum of Books, the great Demon army had already arrived. After two years, the Demon race invaded again. The Prince of Qi would occasionally travel to the inn to search us out for idle gossip, and I could tell his mood worsened over time. I did not know whether it was because his favourite rhinoceros had died at the Fallen Willow Plains or that the Emperor had not decided who was the crown prince. One day, when he drank a little too much wine, he stared into my eyes and said that ever since he came to Luoyang, he had always wanted me to help him. I did not really understand this, as how could I, a physically weak scholar, help him with anything? Also, when I came to the capital….. all I wanted to do was enter the Heavenly Academy to read.’
‘After I entered the Heavenly Academy and began studying, I lived the life I looked forward to living. Still, Chen’er did not like such a plain life. I took her to see the green vines of Li Palace and the Banyan Trees inside the Orthodox Academy. She did not like any of that and said that the forest in the Garden of Dawn was too dense and the great banyan trees were too tall. The most important thing was, the River Qu and the lake within the Orthodox Academy were too flat. During some nights, I would watch the acrobatics in Luoyang and laugh, but she would only smile coldly. She said that reading and enjoying the scenery were boring, and only someone like me could withstand such a boring life. I understood what she wanted to say, but I did not want to follow up. So, I could only stay silent.’
‘Afterwards, she still ended up leaving the capital. I did not know whether she went to Xuelao City or to find Elder Brother. However, in short, when she left me, I thought seriously for three days and three nights, confirming that I could not change anything. I continued to read, and while resting in-between, I began thinking of matters related to cultivation. My friends and I always thought that I did not have the potential to cultivate, much less any talent.
However, for some unknown reason, I, who had only begun cultivating after the age of forty, did not meet any problems in cultivation as mentioned in the legends. I used the period of a single night to roughly master cultivation. Perhaps, the commotion I caused that night was a tad too marvelous since I scared a lot of people. As a result, I became a famous person in the capital for some odd reason, and the Prince of Qi took the imperial edict of Emperor Taizu to force me into a government position.
Many people believed I was proud because of the commotion I caused that night. Yet, the real reason I was pleased with myself was because those small games which I made began to spread throughout the capital and even the whole continent. In short, I became famous and began establishing connections with various well known people, officials, and several princes including the Prince of Qi. They were on friendly terms with me, and my life seemed to become much more cheerful, other than the fact that she never returned.’
‘Peaceful, happy days do not last forever. I understood this logic, but I just never thought that this lovely period would actually end so suddenly. On a certain day, late at night, two people came to my house. They were all the Palace of the Prince of Qi’s guests, and they wanted me to do some things. After thinking for a moment, I did not agree, but I did not want to get in the Prince of Qi’s way. I understood his temperament; nobody could prevent him from taking a step forwards.
On the morning of the second day, horse carts began carrying corpses outside of the city, and I stood atop the building, looking in the direction towards the Hundred Herb Garden. I watched the white smoke slowly rise up and silently prayed that not too many people would die, at least those princes whom I knew. Pity, it did not end up as I had wished. Those princes still died in the end, including their wives, sons, and daughters.’
‘I sat at home in boredom for three days. I did not leave the house, nor did I look for any related news. I looked silently at the two guests from the Palace of the Prince of Qi. Finally, after handling the matters outside, the Prince of Qi came to me personally. In such a nervous hour, he actually took the time, especially, to come and see me. I did not know whether I should have felt honored or suspicious.
The Prince of Qi said that he did not mind my silence the past few days, but he needed me to show my own opinion towards this matter for the capital’s populace to see. I could only stay silent. He stared into my eyes and asked what my feelings about this matter actually were. I thought a little and said that I had no opinion. As a result, it was he who had become silent, before turning around and leaving. That was the last time he and I spoke to each other as friends. Since only afterwards, did I learn that he had already formally ascended the throne that morning, becoming the Zhou Dynasty’s emperor.’
‘My position in the government was not taken away, nor was I put under house arrest, much less being sent to jail. I was just purposefully forgotten by the government and those people I was once familiar with. I was forgotten in this house on Grievance Alley. There was also another person who was purposely forgotten like me, Emperor Taizu. Perhaps, the Prince of Qi…… no, I should say the emperor……wanted to be a good son to his father as he was worried that Emperor Taizu might cause some trouble behind closed doors from being too bored, or perhaps he still remembered the friendship between us that I too might cause trouble at home from boredom. Anyway, he decreed that I would hold the secretary position and accompany Taizu in the royal palace.’
‘I must say, this period of time living deep within the palace was actually very interesting. In the short period of a few months, Taizu seemed to grow older by several hundred years and transformed into a real old man. Unlike how he had been easily angered in the past, he became much kinder and no longer cared about the matters of the empire. Of course, he had no way of caring since nobody allowed him to have any influence.
As a result, he began paying attention to the victories while playing games and those beautiful female servants. As for the latter, I admonished him many times, but he did not really like to listen. Regarding the former, it was very hard for him to win against me while playing games, and instead it became more and more interesting. In that tall palace covered in vines and on that table underneath the vine canopy, we played many rounds of cards. While we were leisurely playing, we would always talk. As a result, I heard many stories, which I never forgot.’
While looking at the handwriting in the diary, Chen Changsheng found it difficult to remain calm.
All these were stories of Wang Zhice himself, which included memories of a legend. What he said was very messy, but very concise, and it clearly narrated the course of his own life. This narration just happened to coincide with the continent’s most turbulent times. As a result, this story naturally and strongly influenced Cheng Changsheng.
While reading the words in the diary, it was as if he had seen Wang Zhice in those days. He was a young scholar who went to the capital for exams and not for a position in the government. He traveled thousands of miles just to read tens of thousands of books. Who would have ever guessed that on such a journey, the scholar would see an upside down female shadow in the city of Luoyang, causing him to stop in his steps and see a lot more things.
The young scholar began walking once again in the end, reaching his destination of the capital. He had never forgotten his original purpose all those years ago, but he could not live by his way of thinking from all those years ago. Many things had changed from his perspective. The upside down female shadow had broken apart into nothingness. He became part of the government and famous in the capital. Afterwards, he was forced into those worlds, which he had never liked nor ever wanted to enter.
After reading up to this point, Chen Changsheng slowly became more nervous. Up until now, Wang Zhice’s diary or oral history, was about to enter the most important part and the section Chen Changsheng wanted to know most. In the period of time that Taizu was put under house arrest deep within the palace, what exactly did he say to Wang Zhice? Maybe he could discover an explanation from a person who had changed fate himself.
He continued to read the diary.
‘There were many rumors regarding Emperor Taizu, and the one most well known was naturally of him changing fate. Specifically, a rumor always spread around the continent saying, that many years ago, Taizu became friends with the leader of the Dao at that time, who was also the previous Pope of the Li Palace later on. He used some type of secret technique to successfully change fate by giving offerings to the starry sky. This caused that Emperor’s Star to forever shine on the world from the night sky.
As for after the transformation of Hundred Herb Garden, a lot more specific details about an offering to the starry skies appeared in the rumors. Everyone was saying that in order to change fate, Taizu had to be willing to leave behind only a single son to carry on the bloodline. As for the other sons, they would all be offered to the starry sky……… however, after Taizu successfully ascended the throne, he did not want to stick to the promise he had made all those years ago. In actuality, all of his sons were so outstanding, so who could he allow to die? Who was willing to die?’
‘I did not know whether the Prince of Qi and the other princes had heard of this rumor or not. Even if they had heard it before, nobody would have believed it. However, it didn’t matter if this rumor was true or false. As long as it appeared and as long as they had heard it, the dry branches within their hearts would transform into scary, poisonous snakes, constantly biting at their hearts. From taking down Luoyang to the capital, Taizu’s outstanding sons could never maintain a good relationship, mainly due to who the throne belonged to.
Thinking back now, this rumor affected these relationships greatly. I must admit, Taizu’s sons were all very outstanding, but His Majesty was the strongest one. When those princes were still scheming to affect Taizu’s choice and waiting for fate’s arrangements, His Majesty was the first one to take action. Without the slightest hesitation, he slaughtered all of his brothers…..’
‘I asked Emperor Taizu if there really was something like changing fate. That day, he was drunk, and the age spots on his face were especially obvious. He smiled just like a child and also like a fox. He did not answer my question directly. He only sang dramas from the Tianshui State while forming dimples with his smile. He nodded his head without stopping, as if he was just about to fall asleep but struggling to keep himself awake.’
Changes in translations:
?? – used to be the Way, now the Dao