All Under Heaven – Chapter 22

Battle of Wits. Who will emerge victorious?
Zhao Su spent half a shichen in the cold winter wind standing outside Xu manor before someone came out to ask him to enter.

“It’s approaching the end of year, laoye is not usually at home. A rare visit home, and he heard that Dai Gongwang’s student has come over to visit, he asked me to let you in, please wait for a short moment, whilst laoye changes into a fresh set of clothes.”

Perhaps it was after speaking Xu Jie, that the servant who was previously cold and unwelcoming had come back with a friendly greeting.

Zhao Su said thanks and then sat in the reception hall, the servant quickly served up some tea.

The reception hall had a furnace, the decorations were plain and neat. There weren’t any superfluous items. Compared to Liu Shouyou’s home that he had just visited, it was the difference between heaven and earth. It was hard to imagine that this was indeed the home of a Grand Secretary.

Zhao Su had heard that Xu Jie’s family were back in his hometown; they had not followed him to the Capital. So it was no wonder that entering here felt plain and simple, as the owner was often not here, even the tables and chairs looked neglected.

He heard the light footsteps of someone approaching.

He just lifted his head when he heard laughing: “So you’re Zhao Shaoyong?”

The old man in front of him was wearing everyday Han robes, his feet were covered with black silk shoes, and he seemed to be very relaxed. Xu Jie was 58 years old this year, but his gestures and the way he carried himself showed that he was still full of vitality, and most of his beard and hair were still black. His vigour was no less than the younger generations.

Zhao Su didn’t notice that Xu Jie was also sizing him up.

Zhao Su was wearing a light yellow robe, he didn’t have any fancy ornaments in his hair, it was just simply put up and fastened in place with a jade pin, his look was simple and pure, clearly resembling a scholar.

With Xu Jie’s position and status, whether or not he saw an insignificant person like Zhao Su did not matter to him at all. However, it just so happened that on this day he was resting at home, and also he had suddenly been reminded of something from the past.

It was regarding the battle of Changle, the memorial had Zhao Su’s name upon it but because of Yan Shifan, the memorial never made it to the Emperor1Reminder: this scene happens in Chapter 13. Even though this kind of thing happened often and it was nothing that Xu Jie hadn’t seen before, Zhao Su was still the student of Dai Gongwang and he was also a hot favourite for next year’s metropolitan exam. If in the future, he could enter Hanlin Academy, in the years after that he’d also perhaps become an official of the Grand Secretariat. Now that Zhao Su had decided to come pay him a visit, it was a good opportunity to build a relationship with him, an opportunity that Secretary Xu would not let slip easily.

Zhao Su quickly got up to pay his respects: “Zhao Su greets Secretary Xu.”

Xu Jie laughed out loud and helped him up: “No need to be so courteous, I have long heard from Dai Gongwang about how outstanding his two students were. Originally I didn’t believe it, but now I can’t not accept it. One has already achieved jinshi, and the one in front of me came first in the provincial exams. How long have you been in the Capital, have you got used to everything? If you haven’t, just let me know and I’ll get someone to find you a peaceful house, so that you can concentrate on your studies.”

The sincere words of this Vice Secretary of the Grand Secretariat would have moved anyone.

“Thank you for your concern, Grand Secretary, Shaoyong has already rented a house with a friend who has also come to take the exam. My teacher has expressly told me that when I arrive in the Capital, I must find an opportunity to come and greet you, and to also thank you in his place. He said that last time it was all down to you that he was able to recover his position so quickly.”

Xu Jie nodded and then sighed: “I am useless, I couldn’t help him recover his original position, the Northeast is so remote, now he’s gone, it’s unlikely he’ll be able to make it back in the next three to five years.”

Zhao Su smiled: “Actually, my teacher said that he likes remote places, he said that he never felt comfortable in the Capital.”

Xu Jie shook his head “This Dai Gongwang, he really doesn’t want to spend his days comfortably, he’s always looking for trouble!”

The two of them looked at each other smiling and laughing and the unfamiliarity between the two quickly disappeared.
Xu Jie was a devout follower of the School of Mind, and because of Dai Gongwang, Zhao Su was also naturally associated with the School of Mind. During the last few years, he had spent quite a lot of effort on this as well, so he was able to make Xu Jie happy by adapting to his way of thinking. The two of them were chatting away so happily, that the Xu’s housekeeper, seeing that his master was so taken with this young lad, that he asked the other servants to prepare an extra set of chopsticks and bowl when preparing for lunch.

Zhao Su saw that the atmosphere was pleasant, so he said: “Grand Secretary, to be quite honest, today I came over here in the place of someone, who wanted me to thank you.”


It’s his Highness, the Prince of Yu.”   

Xu Jie was expressionless: “Shaoyong, I would never have thought that in this short amount of time you’ve already got so close to the Prince of Yu.”

Zhao Su saw that he had misunderstood, and recounted the story of his chance encounter with Zhu Yijun.”

Xu Jie seemed to look a little less displeased. “He said thank you?”

“Lao-fu hasn’t done anything to merit any thanks from the Prince of Yu.”

Zhao Su smiled meekly: “Grand Secretary has given a lot of thought to conceal from others, but it is not possible to hide it from the Prince.”

On the day that Zhu Yijun had gone missing, the Prince of Yu was afraid of disturbing the Emperor so he did not report to the palace but unfortunately, Yan Song had gone in his place. This caused the emperor to be dissatisfied with Prince of Yu. If Xu Jie hadn’t mediated, then the Prince of Yu would probably have already been reprimanded by the Emperor it would absolutely not have been so calm as now.

“Prince of Yu wants to sincerely thank you, but he isn’t even able to because Princes are forbidden from having contact with high-ranking officials. And because Gao Gong and the others are officials of the Prince of Yu, they are also not at liberty to express their gratitude either. So that’s why I am here today. I hope Grand Secretary will forgive me for my impertinence. Grand Secretary, your loyalty is unparalleled, only the heavens knows, the Earth knows and the Prince of Yu also knows.” 

In reality, the Prince of Yu had never told Zhao Su to say all of this. In fact, Gao Gong had thought that Xu Jie was extremely lenient with Yan Song, in order to keep his own position. Although, he hadn’t done anything bad, he felt that he couldn’t have been particularly trustworthy either.

But Zhao Su knew that this was not the truth.

Jiajing’s attitude to choosing an heir was unclear and dubious, the Prince of Jing had Yan Song and his son’s support, but the Prince of Yu didn’t, with just Gao Gong and the others was not enough.

All these years, although the Emperor had never chosen the Prince of Yu as his successor, nor had he really done anything particularly bad to him. He seemed to treat his two sons with the same attitude. Ultimately, there must be someone who had been secretly helping the Prince of Yu, and this person had the power equal to Yan Song and his son, so this person had to Xu Jie.

But in order to not offend Yan Song, there were many things that Xu Jie had to do in secret. Even if he had chosen to support the Prince of Yu, he had no way of letting him know that. So he just continued to help him in secret and the Prince of Yu was none the wiser and this would play out like this for another three years, until Xu Jie’s student Zhang Juzheng entered the Prince of Yu manor as a tutor to the Prince. After that, Zhang Juzheng would let the Prince of Yu know all the good deeds that his teacher, Xu Jie had done, and the Prince of Yu would slowly change his attitude towards Xu Jie.

But at the moment, Zhang Juzheng hadn’t entered the Prince of Yu manor yet, Xu Jie also hadn’t had the opportunity to let the Prince of Yu know, but from Zhao Su, he learnt that the Prince of Yu has been indebted to him for a long while.

Xu Jie was startled for a while, and suddenly he felt all kinds of feelings in his heart which turned into a light sigh: “His Highness is too courteous, I am just carrying out my duty as an official of the imperial court.”
For so many years, the world had only seen him write Qingci to flatter the Emperor, only saw him bending down and bowing before Yan Song and his son, Yan Shifan, and how he had forgotten his own teacher, the previous Senior Grand Secretary Xia Yan’s vendetta2Xia Yan was the Senior Grand Secretary before Yan Song, he was ousted by the latter. No one had seen him secretly protecting the high-ranking officials, doing his best to resolve political unrest in the imperial court behind the scenes.

He endured the humiliation and even let his granddaughter marry Yan Shifan’s son as a concubine. People laughed and mocked him, saying that he was a thousand-year-old tortoise3perjoratively it used to describe someone who is shrewd and secretive, having the ability to plan ahead and is a bit of a schemer, but Xu Jie just had to bear it.

But he was also a human being, he also got tired, he also felt wronged, he also hoped that others would understand him and approve of what he was doing.

So at this time, when Zhao Su told him that his Highness the Prince of Yu had always known what he was doing. The slick and sly, Xu Jie almost welled up and he shed a tear.

Zhao Su shook his head: “It is your duty, yes, but nowadays, there are not many people who do not remember how to do their due diligence. There is only you, shaking with indignation, speaking bluntly and advancing forward whilst remaining utterly devoted. Suffering patiently and pushing yourself to the limit. Enduring humiliation as part of an important mission.. Even if, right now, black clouds are covering the sun, one day the dark clouds will disperse and the sun will shine brightly again.”

Xu Jie was Xu Jie, in only a short moment, he had already come back to senses. He smiled and said faintly: “The Prince of Yu asked you to come over, but surely it wasn’t for you to say all this?”

Zhao Su finally got to the point: “Although his Highness rarely sees his Majesty, he is filial to the Emperor and this has never changed. There have been some rumours that have been spreading outside recently. I wonder if Secretary Xu has also heard?”

The meaning of this phrase was, there had been a lot of rumours that there were a lot of people bad-mouthing the Prince of Yu in front of the Emperor, leading to the Emperor being inclined towards the Prince of Jing. The Prince of Yu is worried that the Emperor might name the Prince of Yu as the Crown Prince. As Xu Ge was well connected he wanted to know if he had heard anything.

Zhao Su couldn’t ask him outright, in case Xu Jie feigned ignorance. Zhao Su had wasted a good few brain cells in coming up with this coded question.
Xu Jie stroked his beard and slowly said: “Please tell his Highness, the Prince of Yu, a wise man never listens to rumours.As the saying goes, a straight foot is not afraid of a crooked shoe4Idiom: 身正不怕影子斜 – it means an upright person is not afraid of gossip. As long as a person conducts themselves in an open and aboveboard manner, he has no worries of rumours at all..”

He seemed to know that he was speaking ambiguously, so he added: “His Highness is the Son of Heaven, so is naturally able to spot the most minute of details. Although, lao-fu isn’t the Duke of Zhou5周公 The Duke of Zhou was as a member of the royal family of the early Zhou dynasty (1046-771BC) who played a major role in consolidating the kingdom established by his elder brother King Wu. He was renowned for acting as a capable and loyal regent for his young nephew King Cheng of Zhou. He is also known as the “God of Dreams” In Chinese legends, if an important thing is going to happen to someone, the Duke of Zhou will let the person know through their dreams, but I am willing to assist the rightful monarch and do all that is within my power.”

As soon as he said this, Zhao Su understood that Xu Jie was promising to protect the Prince of Yu, he couldn’t help but stand up and bow: “Shaoyong would like to thank Secretary Xu in the place of the Prince of Yu!”

Xu Jie laughed: “No need to be so courteous, lao-fu has already said that I am just carrying out my duty. Dai Gongwang really does have an outstanding student! It’s late, why not stay for lunch before leaving?”

“Thank you Secretary Xu.” Zhao Su gladly agreed. He wasn’t aware at this moment in time that the people who were regarded well by Xu Jie were few and far between and for Xu Jie to invite him for lunch was an extremely rare occasion. In fact, he should have known that it was a great honour.

The lunch at Xu Manor was simple, four dishes and one soup, it was enough for two people, it was common dishes and the taste was not too bad. The two of them chatted whilst they ate.

It was winter, and it had just snowed outside. Looking around, everywhere was white and covered in ice. Only the black rock in the middle was not completely covered by the snow, standing there abruptly.

“Shaoyong, why are you staring at that rock?” Xu Jie laughed, “This is a rare black rock from Lake Tai, even if you wanted it, I wouldn’t be willing to part with it.”

Hearing that, Zhao Su came back to his senses, laughing: “I was just thinking it is unusual to have a black rock sticking out amongst a landscape of white snow.”

Xu Jie understood what he meant and said: “You mean to say a slight blemish is a blot on the landscape right?”

Zhao Su touched his nose: “Secretary Xu is indeed sensitive to the finest detail, just now you said that the rock was quite precious so I didn’t dare to say anything. In case I spoke wrongly then I’d lose face.”

Xu Jie laughed out heartily: “Sometimes perfection is not always a good thing, sometimes there needs to be something which can make the white snow appear to be even whiter.”

Zhao Su understood the deeper meaning in his words and he continued: “Snow is snow because it is spotlessly white and perfect, if it needed something else to make that more evident then it shouldn’t be called snow.”

Xu Jie glanced over at him, all smiles and asked: “So what do you think?”

“Since this rock is ruining the landscape, it’s better to dig it up, then the landscape will be clean.”

At this time, the two of them were using the rock as a metaphor to talk about the Imperial Court.

“Youth will be youth.” Xu Jie didn’t get angry but only shook his head a little: “This rock already had its place in the pool when it was made. The rock and the silt at the bottom of the pool have been mixed together long ago. If it really needs to be removed. It will not only need to take time and effort, it will also ruin the pool’s own foundations.”

Zhao Su smiled faintly but didn’t give up: “It is hard to avoid giving up when trying to eradicate a chronic disease. But if the original beauty of the pool can be restored, the cost outweighs the loss.”

Xu Jie put down his chopsticks and declined to comment: “So do you think, this rock needs to be dug out directly or should it be dug out after changing the pool water?”

“Shaoyong believes it is best to paint holding two brushes6idiom – fig. to attack one problem from two angles at the same time..”
Zhao Su held back his smile and said quietly: “The Imperial Censors must have had many people secretly rolling their sleeves up for battle, eager to give it a go, although the Lake Tai rock is a deep rooted problem, but his subordinates are not untouchable. Furthermore, his Majesty is a firm believer of the Dao. Amongst the Daoist Masters, there may be one who is righteous and loyal. Even if you can’t drain the entire pool immediately, throw a stone in, and find out how deep the water is, that’d also be good.”  

What he was saying, based on Xu Jie’s sophistication and intellect, the latter must have already thought of long ago. But due to the latter’s cautious nature, his many years of patience, he wouldn’t make a move so easily. What Zhao Su needed to do was to help fan the flames.

If he succeeded, perhaps Zhao Nuan could get out earlier.

Even if Xu Jie wasn’t persuaded by him, from Zhao Su’s knowledge of the future, he knew that Yan Song and his son only had a few good years left before their downfall. Worst comes to shove, he’d think of another way to save Zhao Nuan.

Following that, Zhao Su didn’t go any further with this conversation. Zhao Su had already said everything he wanted to say. No matter how eloquently he spoke and how carefully his arguments were constructed, he would not be able to control Xu Jie’s thoughts and decisions. The fact that he was able to finish what he wanted to say and was neither scolded, nor kicked out of the manor was already a good result.

In his past life, in those YY novels7i.e the protagonist is super strong, untouchable and awesome and always comes out on top where the domineering spirit of the protagonist made everyone fall under the feet of the main character could not happen in reality.

Xiongdi, I’ve tried my best. Zhao Su mumbled to himself.

Following that, the rest of the meal was dull and tasteless. Xu Jie hurriedly finished up, then said that he still had important things to do. He said Zhao Su could rest there for a bit and then he left. After that, Zhao Su finished his meal slowly, and then asked the housekeeper to let Xu Jie know on his behalf that he had gone home.

It seemed to have snowed a little again, thin snowflakes fell down, the winter wind was blowing, it was cold enough to wake a person up.

Zhao Su took a deep breath, released all the nervousness that he didn’t dare to express just now, and sighed again.

Eating such a meal bought him at least a few more months to live.

Under Xu Jie’s scorching gaze, there were a few times that he almost couldn’t say what he wanted to say, because he had a feeling that his thoughts were completely useless in front of Xu Jie. This person was indeed terrifying.

At least he had finally completed the mission successfully and he had something to report back to the Prince of Yu. Thinking about the Prince of Yu manor, Zhao Su was reminded of the little child, Zhu Yijun who resembled a soft steamed bun, he couldn’t help but smile and even had spring in his step.
Translator Note:

Lol the author said that writing this chapter gave her a headache haha but next chapter is a cute one!

Yarrr.. it was a headache to tl too (-_-)
23/12/21 – Re-edited text, notes added.

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