Taishu Hall’s guards found themselves waking up from awkward lying postures; however, they didn’t notice anything amiss due to the dizziness and nausea that hit them the same way before they passed out, forcing them to open their eyes in a rush and get to their feet. They had to bear with lack of sensations for a while before they felt they were in their own bodies again. One other common denominator was that they were all scared since they fell asleep on the job. After all, regardless of what your family background was, all imperial guards had to abide by the same set of strict rules and suffered the same penance. In the best-case scenario, they’d be whipped thirty times. In the worst-case scenario, they’d lose their heads. Upon finding even the superiors snoring, though, they started to question what happened and realised everyone else shared the same experience and feelings. It was illogically possible for the entire squad to have dozed off on the job. Hence, the commander led a team to inspect the exam venue.
They didn’t see any flames from the outside and nothing upon entering the exam venue. A tile slipped and nearly cracked the commander’s head open, however. Considering the fact that the tile shouldn’t have shattered into dust from the height that it fell, it suggested that the tile was completely mashed to begin with. After he inwardly remarked that the exam venue needed to be renovated badly, he continued further in. While he found some examinees sleeping, the majority of them were writing as if their lives depended on it.
Flipping scholars get to sit on their arms and write while I have to walk stand on guard. Waste of my time worrying.
“Continue the patrols. Do not drop your guards,” the commander instructed.
The moon’s position had changed.
Ming Feizhen slapped He Shi on the face. “Wake up! He Shi, wake up!”
Still groggy but regaining awareness of his surroundings, He Shi stuttered, “St-stop!” grabbed Ming Feizhen’s hand and yelled, “You’re going to knock me out if you don’t stop!”
As he lubricated his neck with some neck movements, He Shi asked, “Why did I fall asleep? Why are you here? Why... is the room different?”
“How is it different?”
“I’ve spent two days here. I know how many tiles there are and how many cracks there are on the wall. The tiles look like they were haphazardly stuffed together a moment ago, and it looks hideous. Wait, what are you doing here? What have you done?”
“This is not time to be worrying about minor issues. Long-story short, I’ve sorted out the old fart. I need what I requested from you now.”
“You sorted him out?”
A short while later, Ming Feizhen sat on the ground to start copying the response He Shi provided him. As per their agreement, He Shi wrote two excellent responses and one shoddy response. Feng Shanshan was obviously no longer going to need his copy.
“You subdued all those corrupt officials? Now I understand why His Majesty wanted you to sit the exam. He must’ve entrusted the case to you since he knows you’re a detective. Else, he’d have been feeding to the wolves.”
“Of course His Majesty knows me.” Ming Feizhen took out a pear from his shirt for a snack. “Since you have nothing to do, tell me what suggestions you have for the imperial court.”
Watching Ming Feizhen copy his paper, He Shi cracked a smile. “Is there any point in telling you?”
“You know I’m close to His Majesty. You never know if I might be able to pass on a suggestion. Come on. We’re buddies. Let’s help each other out.”
Suffice to say, Duke Ming wasn’t looking to help and be helped. He was worried His Majesty would be so pleased with his exam paper that he’d get inquisitive, and Duke Ming wouldn’t know how to answer. Hence, he tried to prepare for the unexpected.
“My suggestions for the imperial court? That’s a tough one. How about the imperial court’s suggestions for itself.” He Shi stopped to think, then opined, “The imperial court has three major topics they are discussing at the moment, so I shall speak on them. Aside from the military affairs concerning the north, south and west, the three biggest concerns are, who lead the civil and military factions, the internal strife and the successor.”
“Good eyes.” Ming Feizhen casually took a bite out of his pear, insincerely clapped, then stated, “Keep going.”
After his cheek stopped twitching, He Shi shook his head and sighed. “The martial and civil officials are competing between themselves. The fact is, civil servants have always been granted higher regard ever since the dynasty was first established. Unfortunately for them, the three offices overseeing the martial world were created. In addition to having immense power, they virtually stand above all other ranks. No official has any right to refuse if Liu Shan Men is working on a case that requires their cooperation. The Qilin Guards control the military. Emperor’s Entourage is an Emperor’s most trusted aide nobody dares to cross. The civil servants are extremely displeased about it, but Emperor’s Entourage won’t just step aside.
“The internal strife is, needless to say, the Seven Champion White Princes. You can tell from the recent turmoil that His Majesty is insistent on tackling them. If the White Princes of them can recognise what they should do in these times, they’d follow Luo Sword Manor as soon as possible. If they wise up, they might enjoy prosperity for a few more years. Otherwise, trouble will be on their doorstep before they know it.”
Ming Feizhen raised his head. “Do you think they recognise the times?”
He Shi scoffed, “Would they be struggling if they did?”
“The matter of succession is self-explanatory. Nobody knows what to expect until a Crown Prince is named. That’s why all the Princes are forming factions. Until one is named, none of them will settle down.”
Continuing to copy, Ming Feizhen queried, “Tsk, tsk, everything is a big problem. You’ve noticed it all?”
“Big problem?” He Shi snorted. “How are they big problems?! The drought in Hedong, the locust infestation in Shanxi, Beijiang’s military activity, the homeless citizens, the struggling citizens... these are what you call big problems. A group of selfish civil servants trying to climb the hierarchy, nobles trying to fight for authority, a bunch of officials struggling to choose a faction, and forcing His Majesty to make a choice are big problems? A natural disaster takes tens of thousands of lives. A locust infestation means a famine in the subsequent year is inevitable, which means keeping the death toll to less than thirty thousand would be amazing. Beijiang has been looking to form an alliance, which means we need to ease tensions between us and the Western Regions, or we’ll be hit from both sides. These are big problems.”