The carriages stopped beside the main hall, and several eunuchs approached. Chen Mo and his elder sister dismounted the carriage to see their father and second brother also disembark. Then, imperial bodyguards dressed in scarlet robes and a brocade embroidered with black birds deferentially stepped forward to greet them.
There were both men and women among these scarlet robed guards. The men had complexions as clear as jade, full of brightness, while the women were just as pretty, with pink cheeks and vermilion lips, an innate beauty. From their appearances and their auras, they were all past Lesser Thunder Tribulation. These imperial bodyguards were solemn and respectful in bearing, neither servile nor overbearing in the faces of important ministers. They fully displayed imperial etiquette. There was no need to say it, but these were none other than the Vermilion Bird Guard.
The Vermilion Bird Guard was responsible for etiquette, guard detail, general state banquets, and major functions. Normally, they protected the princes and princess while they were inside the imperial palace.
The main hall had a feeling of vastness about it, with its ceramic floor tiles, gold and jade splendor. Inside were various civil and military officials, Chang’an’s cabinet ministers, and even many of the princes and princesses. According to the height of their positions, a strict hierarchy was displayed.
All around, musicians played their music, producing wonderful melodies. Arranged crane-shaped incense burners emitted a distinct scent, their smoke spiraling upwards, their myriad changes faintly discernible, even beautiful.
Following the loud announcement that “Lord Chang’an has arrived,” the bustling room was immediately fell absolutely silent. The room’s several hundred pairs of eyes shifted their gazes to stare at them. Each person rose and bowed according to etiquette, a very spectacular sight.
The Two Lords had equal standing to the emperor, their position at the highest of the hierarchy.
Chen Zhangtian strode in and sat at his designated position. Maids stepped up one after another to pour him wine.
Thereafter, Chang’an’s other powerful and noble clan heads came to toast him. Chen Mo was currently Chang’an’s most famous character, who had already turned the capital upside down just days after his return. This left everyone flabbergasted. The crown prince’s teacher bet especially made everyone’s jaws drop.
To dare challenge Princess Yanyu, he was indeed an heir of Lord Chang’an.
“Lord Jiangnan has arrived!”
A herald’s voice came from outside.
The banquet again fell silent. A man walked into the banquet hall. He wore a purple and gold cap along with a drooping headband. His eyes were like stars, his complexion was bright, and his skin was spotlessly white. The man’s figure was slim, his mannerisms extremely refined, a kind of indescribable elegance. At first glance, this person felt gentle and warm, appeared to be a talented and introverted scholar. However, who could have thought that such a refined scholar would be none other than the second of the Great Chong Dynasty’s Two Lords, Lord Jiangnan, Jiang Ruxiu.1
As his name implied, he was both courteous and handsome.
At Lord Jiangnan’s side were some family members, among them a young girl whose figure was particularly eye-catching. After she entered the hall, she immediately made everyone’s gazes involuntarily shift to her.
The girl had wholly inherited Lord Jiangnan’s scholarly bearing. She was calm, like a pure white lily, untainted.
This should be the Great Chong Dynasty’s current greatest genius girl, Jiang Yanyu, right.
Chen Mo’s eyes narrowed as he thought to himself.
Jiang Yanyu also spotted Chen Mo. Towards this man who was neck-and-neck or even overtaking her, the girl appeared unfazed. She shot him a glance and indifferently passed by.
As usual, other than Lord Chang’an, those officials of lower rank bowed in etiquette one after another.
Jiang Ruxiu slightly smiled and returned the salute. Finally, he stood before Chen Zhangtian’s table.
Chen Mo and the rest rose and cupped their fists.
“Nephew Chen Mo, it has been so long.” Jiang Ruxiu smiled and said. “Your most recent incidents certainly left Uncle Jiang feeling very shocked.”
“Rumors are always exaggerated.” Chen Mo modestly said.
“Did you say my little sister is concealing her age to participate in the Divine Warrior Examination?” One of the Jiang Family’s brothers asked.
“Little Sister Yanyu is naturally unimpeded. It is difficult to avoid her making other people think like this. If Little Sister harbors a grudge, then this cup of wine shall be an apology.” Chen Mo generously raised a crystal cup and slightly grinned at Jiang Yanyu. He was completely devoid of any hostility, as if he was an elder brother toasting his younger sister.
“Something so trivial is not worth a toast of self-reprimand.” Jiang Yanyu’s smile was somewhat forced. “On the other hand, Your Highness Chen Mo’s bet with the crown prince has made Yanyu somewhat overwhelmed.”
Upon mention of the bet, everyone strained their ears to listen to this gossip.
Chen Mo shrugged: “If I only made bangyan or tanhua in the Divine Warrior Examination, Little Sister Yanyu would doubt me, yes.”
“Indeed. A man of character should have ambition that far-reaching.” Jiang Yanyu praised. “Your Highness Chen Mo, should you actually be modest, Yanyu honestly will look down on you. However, in this Divine Warrior Examination, Yanyu will definitely give it her all. There will be no consideration.”
“That is for the best.”
They were very few words, but they concealed a violent upheaval.
Lord Jiangnan sat at an adjacent table, and Jiang Yanyu’s group had a bearing as harmonious as a spring breeze.
“Little Brother, I heard that Jiang Yanyu and Huan Wen get along very well most recently. You have to worry about anything she may be holding back.” Chen Luan whispered. “Jiang Yanyu did not show her full strength in the metropolitan examination, but she still easily took first place jinshi. Still, her Mist Sword Technique is reportedly already at a virtuosic level from training with Huan Wen.”
Chen Mo nodded, again looking at Jiang Yanyu.
The girl was very tranquil, her manners calm. He was unable to see through her depths or cultivation, but Chen Mo could vaguely smell a familiar scent from her body, very much like the feeling of cultivating Star Energy.
“Little Sister Yanyu is a very gentle person. Countless people in the imperial city adore her.” Chen Lin sighed from the side, gazing at Jiang Yanyu with eyes that hid admiration. “But it’s a pity that Little Sister Yanyu’s talent is too incredible. No one in the Great Chong Dynasty can keep up with her.” Chen Lin patted Chen Mo’s shoulder and heartfully said: “Little Brother Mo, I’m rooting for you. I think you’re the only one in this dynasty who has these qualifications.”
“What nonsense are you spouting.” Chen Luan pinched Chen Mo.
Chen Mo winced very innocently. Second Brother said that, so what are you pinching me for.
Chen Lin chuckled: “I heard that Lord Jiangnan is of extremely sophisticated character. He disdains national politics, so His Imperial Majesty is very at ease. If our two families intermarry, then it may not be necessarily the case that it worries the imperial family.”
“If we fall out with the imperial family, Lord Jiangnan will stand with the imperial family, and Little Sister Yanyu will become an enemy. That would be unbearable.”
“Have you no shame in selling Little Brother’s happiness?”
“Little Sister Yanyu is an outstanding character and the number one beauty of the dynasty. How is this a loss to Little Brother.”
“Hmph, Little Brother, don’t listen to him. I feel that Jiang Yanyu is very shrewd. You have to be careful.”
“Aiya, Little Sis Luan, you aren’t jealous of Fourth Brother, right.”
Chen Mo silently listened to his siblings bicker. Second Brother’s personality had always been licentious and loose; he was a frequenter of brothels and shot his mouth off. On the contrary, Third Sister conducted herself upright. She loathed behavior like this. They had always argued with one another when they looked after him when he was little.
He felt that this was just like old times, and Chen Mo could not help but silently smile.
After a moment, the court herald then said: “Wanshou Temple Abbot, Priest Compassionate Emptiness,2 has arrived.”
For the third time, the banquet hall immediately became silent.
Several monks entered from the doorway. These monks wore golden kasaya, and their hands gripped Buddhist staffs. A glow drifted about them, hallowed and solemn. When they entered, the ostentatious banquet hall seemed to be cleansed. Everyone, even the Two Lords, were incomparably solemn.
These monks were all top-notch Zen Masters of the Wanshou Temple. The leading Priest Compassionate Emptiness was the temple’s abbot. His position was on par with the Two Lords.
Zen was the Great Chong Dynasty’s fundamental school. Because the Wanshou Temple was the head of the Great Chong Dynasty’s Zen Schools, even Emperor Tang Mingshi would need to join his palms together when seeing the senior monk, unable to show any expression.
“The abbot of the Zen School surprisingly came.” This actually was outside of Chen Mo’s expectations. The place of the Wanshou Temple’s abbot was in sublime meditation. Very rarely did he join in on worldly affairs. It appeared the Wanshou Temple viewed this banquet very importantly.
“Little Brother, don’t you know, after your Hanshan Asks Shide was composed, rumor said that even Great Master Compassionate Emptiness was startled.” Chen Luan softly said.
“Were these words so incredible.” Chen Mo was surprised. This dialogue was actually able to shock the abbot of the Wanshou Temple.
“Of course. Those in the Zen School who are able to leave behind a ‘Zen quote’ are able to be conferred the title Great Zen Master. Even with so many years, the Wanshou Temple has few words able to move a person’s heart as much as yours.” Chen Luan’s gaze was suddenly full of love and pity. Who knew how many unspeakable and unknown hardships this little brother of hers had to endure over these years.
In this world, how do I handle someone who slanders me, cheats me, humiliates me, ridicules me, underestimates me, belittles me, or deceives me?
Endure him, permit him, avoid him, follow him, bear him, respect him, or ignore him. Then see what becomes of him in a few years.
Every single word, without exception, could move a person.
When this Hanshan Asks Shide shocked Chang’an, everyone only felt amazement and enlightenment, yet Chen Luan was very hurt. From these words, she could sense Chen Mo’s hardship.
Regardless of what happened to Chen Mo, Chen Luan did not want to ask. At that moment when he returned to Chang’an, Chen Luan vowed to herself that she must protect this Little Brother so that he would suffer no more.
“Truthfully, I received these words in a dream. They aren’t my own. I had it pretty good in Azure Dragon Town.” Chen Mo explained.
Chen Luan smiled, silent.
“Again with the dreams. Right, Little Brother Mo, have you remembered the later part of that poem? Heavens, my mind is tickled.” Chen Lin recalled this. “Quickly tell Second Brother, let me listen.”
“Second Brother must be helping Yu Youwei?”
“Can’t you let Second Brother show off in front of Yu Youwei?” Chen Lin had a dejected expression. Last time, he spent so much effort to enter Yu Youwei’s Profound Theory Courtyard, but the result after spending a day there was that Yu Youwei only asked about Chen Mo. Truly, she wanted to know everything, even the age Chen Mo stopped wetting the bed.
And the implication of Yu Youwei’s words was that she was very eager to know the next portion of Chen Mo’s poem.
“Enough chatter. Now that Priest Compassionate Emptiness has come, you will need to carefully prepare for this banquet, Chen Mo.” Chen Zhangtian interrupted the siblings’ conversation.
“Prepare?” Chen Mo blinked.
Chen Zhangtian was silent, only glancing at Lord Jiangnan.
Not long after, everyone had arrived.
“His Imperial Majesty has arrived!!”
Following the sonorous announcement, a man dressed in a dragon robe and a dragon cap entered from the side door. Crowded behind him were princes and princesses.
“We greet Your Imperial Majesty. Long live Your Imperial Majesty!”
Everyone present, other than the Two Lords and the Wanshou Temple’s abbot, all knelt and gave worship. Compared to when the Two Lords entered, this was even more powerful.
“Everyone, you may rise. This pre-court examination banquet need not be so convoluted and overelaborate.” Emperor Tang sat on his dragon throne, truly an impressive appearance, as formidable as a tiger.
“Chang’an Mansion, Jiangnan Mansion, Great Master Compassionate Emptiness, please sit.” Tang Mingshi smiled.
Everyone sat at the same time.
Tang Mingshi waved his hand as a signal. A young girl delicately walked into the hall. Surprisingly, she was Yu Youwei.