Published at 10th of August 2019 10:38:16 AM

Chapter 126

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The Barren Land (1)

Sheng Hong was worthy of the title of the fourth-ranked Left Intermediate Censor. According to Minglan, he had a high degree of political sensitivity. On the third day after the return of the Imperial Army, he was keenly aware that he would be busy soon.

The military power of Zhou Dynasty originally lay in the hand of the Commandery of Five Armies, Capital's Left-behind Armies, Five Armies and the garrisons around the country. After the new emperor ascended the throne, the so-called “Mutiny of Prince Jing and Prince Tan” and “the Northern Expedition War” broke out. Gradually, most of the elite armed forces were commanded by Sheng Congwen and Gu Tingye.

According to the customary rule, the generals should hand back the commander's seals after returning to the capital. In half a month, the Ministry of Personnel had submitted the written statement to the Emperor several times and reminded him to take back the commander's seals. However, the Emperor ignored them. Finally, the Grand Secretary of Wuying Palace, Qiu Shu, openly petitioned the Emperor to take back the commander's seals at the court meeting but the Emperor excoriated him on the pretext of him overstepping his authority.

Sheng Hong felt that something was cooking. He trusted Old Madam Sheng, so one day after work, he went to give his greetings to Old Madam Sheng and mentioned his worries, and then went to discuss with Changbai in detail.

“I hope nothing goes wrong.” Old Madam Sheng put her palms together devoutly and silently recited a few sentences of Buddhist sutras. “If there is a war, the civilians will suffer a lot. Because of the rebellion carried out by Prince Jing and Prince Tan, crops failed in Jiangsu and Anhui provinces and numerous peasants had to sold their children for money.” Old Madam Sheng had venerated the Buddha for many years. Because of her kind nature, she had offered rent concessions to many tenants before the Spring Festival.

Minglan was holding an embroidery needle and embroidering a cloth. When she heard that, she raised her head with a bemused expression and said, “I don't think there will be a war. From ancient to modern times, few emperors like to provoke a war.”

Old Madam Sheng had a tremendous breadth of experience. After thinking for a while, she said, “I'm afraid that His Majesty is going to clean up the military circles.”

Minglan nodded in agreement, “Grandma, what you've said is reasonable. In most cases, the reason a playboy picks up a butcher's knife is because he wants to force a beautiful woman to be his mistress; the reason a thief steals a mace is because he wants to be a bandit. His Majesty doesn’t want to give the military power back to the Commandery of Five Armies. I’m afraid that he’s going to take action soon.”

Emperor Renzong (the previous emperor) was very kind to lords and nobles. So, during his reign, most of the military power was in the hands of aristocratic families which were related to one another by marriages for generations. Their relationships were complicated and difficult to deal with, which caused the confusion of the military discipline. Since the new Emperor took the throne, he must be planning to rectify the style of the military circles.

Old Madam Sheng gently pinched Minglan’s smooth delicate face. The young girl blinked at her grandmother with a naughty look. Old Madam Sheng felt relieved and smiled, “Bad girl! Don’t talk nonsense! As a lady, talking about the affairs of state is improper.”

Minglan covered her face with her hands, struggled to get free from Old Madam Sheng’s grip and said in a low voice, “It’s not an affair of state. It’s closely related to our family.”

“What do you mean by that?” Old Madam Sheng curiously asked.

Minglan put down her hands, leaned over and whispered in Old Madam Sheng's ears with a serious expression on her face, “Grandma, ask Madam to stop seeking a spouse for Sister Rulan for the time being until His Majesty has cleaned up the military circles.”

Since Minglan had accepted the gold necklace from Rulan, she would keep her mouth shut and try her best to help her older sister play for time. Wen Yanjing should be a good man because he had a positive impact on Rulan. For a girl, it was not easy to be free to choose her spouse in ancient times. Minglan sincerely hoped that Rulan could marry Wen Yanjing and lived a happy life.

Facts proved that Minglan's worries were uncalled-for. The Emperor was swift to act. Before Wang shi would have chosen her son-in-law, the first round of impeachment started.

At the Imperial Court, some officials had attached themselves to Fourth Prince in Shen Chen Mutiny; some had collaborated with two princes in Mutiny of Prince Jing and Prince Tan; some had failed to apply their full strength in the Northern Expedition War. The Emperor commanded the censors of Department of Supervision to check these officials strictly and then sternly try them jointly with the Dali Temple.

According to the basic military principle that the commander should avoid fighting with two groups of enemies at the same time, this time the Emperor concentrated on cleaning up the aristocratic families. He deprived several peerages and demoted a dozen aristocratic families. Earl Yongchang Household was also punished because of the misconduct in regard to the management of armies. Earl Yongchang was ordered to forfeit his one year's salary and two village estates of Earl Yongchang Household presented by the previous emperor were confiscated by the Emperor.

The civil officials were safe for the time being, so they spared no effort in contributing ideas and exert efforts for the Emperor. As a subchief of Department of Supervision, Sheng Hong was very busy and mostly worked till midnight. Sometimes he slept in his office and had no time to return to the Sheng Mansion.


One day, Hualan came to the Sheng Mansion with her son and daughter and visited Hai shi who was pregnant. She brought many gifts to her family. Quan and Shi were roughly the same age. Children of their age were very lovable. They were very active and noisy but unable to cause big troubles to their parents because they still couldn't walk or crawl far. The worst thing they could do was to open their mouth and cry.

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The other day Minglan had designed a row of wooden fences which were wrapped in thick brocades, and placed them on Quan's bed, forming a square. The wooden fences were soft and Quan could play inside the square at will. Even if he fell by accident, he wouldn't be hurt at all.

Hai shi admired Minglan’s design. Since she had been pregnant, she had to keep away from her son in order to protect the unborn child. So she often sat aside with a smile and watched Minglan playing with Quan who was inside the wooden fences on the bed. The pudgy little boy sometimes fell down on his back with legs pointing up and sometimes held the wooden fences and managed his tottering steps, which often made adults around him convulsed with laughter.

Hualan felt it interesting at the sight of Quan playing inside the wooden fences. So she put Shi down next to Quan and allowed them to play together. The two adorable plump boys embraced together. Sometimes they helped each other get up; sometimes they fought for a toy and grappled together, while Zhuang was clapping her small hands to cheer on them. All the people in the room were amused by the three lovely children and even the servants waiting upon nearby couldn’t help laughing.

Finally, the brothers were both exhausted and cried for a moment before they fell asleep on the bed with their heads close together, their short legs overlapping. The two boys slept soundly, snoring gently and drooling.

Zhuang was also tired, holding the Doraemon doll given by Minglan with one hand and rubbing her eyes with the other. Wang shi instantly brought Zhuang to the next-door warm room to have a rest and asked maids to look after her. Hai shi rubbed the back of her waist and felt tired. So Old Madam Sheng asked her to go back to her bedroom and take a rest.

“Alas… I prefer to stay in the Sheng Mansion. Quan is healthy, strong and good-natured. What's more, he is outgoing and not shy with strangers.” Hualan smoothed the wrinkles on her clothes, gazed at her son who was sleeping on the bed in the inner room, and then sighed softly, “But Shi is dull-witted and delicate.”

Rulan, who was playing with a drum-shaped rattle, raised her head and said to Hualan, “Sister-in-law Hai often holds Quan and takes a walk in the garden. And she never forbids Quan from bouncing or playing with others. Eldest Sister, you excessively worry about your son.”

Hualan’s face darkened as she was displeased and about to bicker with Rulan. Wang shi immediately said to Rulan, “You know little about the Earl Zhongqin Household. There are so many people in the Earl Zhongqin Household and perhaps some of them have wicked ideas. If your Eldest Sister doesn't provide careful protection for Shi, the consequences will be serious.”

Hulan’s cold expression softened a little and she said bitterly, “None of my husband’s concubines is well-behaved. I dare not to allow myself to be distracted at any time. Compared with me, Sister-in-law Hai is indeed a lucky dog. All members of our family are good persons. Alas, I…”

Old Madam Sheng's heart ached for her eldest granddaughter, so she drew Hulan close to her, put her arm around this young woman's shoulders and comforted, “Hualan, life is not easy with everyone. Anyway, your husband treats you well, right?”

Hualan raised her head and met Old Madam Sheng’s loving eyes, a wave of happiness flooding her as she knew that she could depend on the Sheng family. The thought cheered hers up and she smiled, “Shi’s father is kind to me. He seldom goes to his concubines’ bedrooms; instead, he spends most of his time with me. As long as he is free, he always plays with Shi and Zhuang. My mother-in-law sometimes spoke sarcastically to me. Although he dared not contradict what his mother said, he confidentially told his father what she did. As a result, my father-in-law went to scold my mother-in-law by enumerating her wrongdoings, ‘Do you have nothing to do every day? Why are you keen on making uncalled-for trouble? Our son and daughter-in-law now live a harmonious, happy life. It’s a good thing for our family. As a mother-in-law, you shouldn’t come between the couple. If you cause the unrest of our family, I will send you to the Ancestral Temple and you can copy the Buddhist Scriptures while reflecting on yourself.’ Then my mother-in-law would be obedient for some time.”

Hualan deliberately imitated Earl Zhongqin's way of speaking in a gruff voice. Rulan burst into laughter and lay back on Minglan's breast. Countess Zhongqin was a well-known muddleheaded woman in the capital. Earl Zhongqin often scolded her, and her sister-in-law, Countess Shoushan looked down on her, which was known to their relatives.

Wang shi breathed a sigh of relief, wiped her eyes with a handkerchief and said, “Good. You father didn't misjudge Wenshao. He is a good man!”

Old Madam Sheng took Hualan’s hand, patted it gently and sighed, “Hualan, you have done the right thing. As long as you show respect to your mother-in-law and do the reasonable thing, you don't have to be afraid of her. Your father-in-law and husband are sensible. They won't allow your mother-in-law to bully you.”

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