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Translated by: Hypersheep325
Edited by: Michyrr
If the twilight wished to set aflame all the clouds on the horizon, it would still require a very long time, but the feasts and banquets in the restaurants and brothels of the capital had already begun.
Formal banquets always required long periods of time, so they would naturally start very early. It had nothing to do with conserving lantern oil or candles. The cultivating experts and high officials, the scholars and literati, the young ladies and their maids—what they all valued was the change in light as dawn proceeded to dusk and then into the night as well as the change in ambience and experience with it.
Chen Changsheng didn't understand these things. In his view, if a meal exceeded a quarter hour, then it was unhealthy, just like how all the fine delicacies arrayed before him right now were unhealthy.
Today, the dinner being held at the Xu Estate was different from the ordinary family dinner held last time. This was a formal banquet. Although there was only one guest, a member of the junior generation who was still rather young, the central gate of the Divine General of the East's estate, which rarely opened twice in a year, was opened. All manner of exotic dishes, made with the most precious ingredients, were served, then before they were much eaten, just barely given one or two glances, they were whisked away to be replaced with the next round of dishes.
As far as the eye could see were precious utensils and porcelain dishes, making him very naturally recall what Madam Xu had said to him on his first day in the capital. Servant girls were everywhere. Without him needing to do anything, a person would naturally appear to attend him. Yet what was interesting was that neither Madam Xu, Nanny Hua, nor that maid Shuang'er appeared today.
Perhaps it was because of what had occurred between them and Chen Changsheng in the past.
Only Xu Shiji was there to entertain the guest.
Chen Changsheng did not drink wine. Out of courtesy, he ate a few dishes, very quickly getting full.
Xu Shiji placed down his wine cup and waved his hand to indicate that all others should leave. Then he waited for him to speak.
Chen Changsheng did not like to, nor was he skilled at, speaking in a roundabout manner. Seeing from his attitude that Xu Shiji had already mentally prepared himself, he straightforwardly said, "Sir should already know the identity of my teacher."
"On the day that I learned that Daoist Ji was Principal Shang, I was just as shocked as everybody else."
Xu Shiji did not mention how he had spoken for a very long time to the portrait of his father in the ancestral hall. He said indifferently to Chen Changsheng, "Lord Zhou Tong included, many people wish to use this fact to move against you, but you have no need to worry. The laws of my Great Zhou say nothing about guilt by association. Back when the plot to rebel by the Orthodox Academy was discovered, you weren't even born."
"But Sir is still one of the Divine Empress's most trusted Divine Generals. Why does Sir persist with this engagement?" Chen Changsheng asked.
"Everyone believes that I am unbearably vulgar. For me to be able to have such a daughter must have been from the accumulation of many lifetimes of good fortune…there are probably quite a few people who jeer at me in private."
Xu Shiji looked into Chen Changsheng's eyes, not hiding the cold emotion in his eyes. "As for this engagement, it has brought me boundless humiliation…in the eyes of the world, at the very beginning, my Xu Estate looked down on your poor and pedantic young self and wanted to end the engagement, even applying every sort of pressure and humiliation on you. But later on, upon learning that you had a relationship with His Holiness, we shamelessly bothered you, insisting no matter what that you go through with the marriage. As a result, all the humiliation we placed upon you was returned completely to us. One could even say…that we acted very shamelessly."
The parlor was very quiet. All the servant girls had long since retreated far away.
Xu Shiji continued, "Fortunately, no one believes that my family's Little Rong doesn't deserve you, or else even she would have become a laughingstock."
Chen Changsheng thought to himself, since you already know that this situation is so unsightly, why do you persist? Last time when I wanted to end the engagement, why did you so obstinately refuse taking back the marriage contract yourself?
"But I don't care, or perhaps you could say that I can endure all these humiliations and jeers." Xu Shiji's eyes suddenly became sharp and he transfixed Chen Changsheng. "Because I am a father and so I must also consider my daughter. The Empress is the sole object of my loyalty, but if I were to work for the sake of my daughter, what wrong have I committed?"
Over these past few days, Chen Changsheng had thought many times over why the Xu Estate had seemed ready to defend this engagement to the death. He had come up with many reasons, but this was one that he had not imagined.
Xu Shiji was doing it for his daughter.
Chen Changsheng should have been somewhat happy and admitted that he was happy, but he was not. He did not believe that Xu Shiji was this sort of person, this sort of father."I know what you are thinking, what the people of the capital are thinking."
With an expressionless face, Xu Shiji said, "Just like how everyone regarded the Qiushan clan head before the internal strife of Mount Li. But the facts are evidence that all of you thought wrong.
"Correct, if I persist with this marriage, then in the future if His Holiness were to suffer defeat, the Divine Empress will certainly not permit me to live. But I am very certain that even I were to die, the Empress would still dote upon Little Rong. And if…His Holiness were to win, because of her connection with you, I presume that esteemed elder would not have any bad intentions to Little Rong."
He examined Chen Changsheng's profile, then continued, "When the general trend towards the confluence of the north and south finally succeeds, perhaps the Mount Li Sword Sect might still be able to preserve its edge, and so Qiushan Jun could take his achievements for there and go north, but what status will South Stream Temple continue to hold? If Little Rong cannot marry you, the best ending for her would only be to guard Holy Maiden Peak, but if this marriage were to succeed?
"The Pope and the Holy Maiden: this is the true confluence of north and south.
"No matter if they're a northerner or a southerner, everyone wishes to see this scene.
"What is a general trend? This is a general trend.
"Whether I'm alive or not by that point, my Xu clan will absolutely leave its name upon the annals of history."
The true confluence of north and south, the general trend, the scene that all people wished to see—for these reasons, this marriage must continue.
Chen Changsheng felt that these words were rather familiar, then he remembered that upon entering the capital, he had often heard similar phrases. That maid called Shuang'er had said it, that nanny had said it, and many people at the Ivy Festival had also said it. Even Tang Thirty-Six said it. It was just that during these times, the name paired with Xu Yourong had not been his.
He was not a person who wished to conceal his true thoughts. Raising his head, he said to Xu Shiji, "Back then, all of you used to talk the same way about Qiushan Jun."
"In my view, if I were looking for a marriage partner, Qiushan is definitely a better choice than you, even in your present state. The problem is that he's already inferior to you."
A better choice and inferior—these were two ideas at odds with each other.
Chen Changsheng thought of the news that had come from Mount Li. Under the sunlight on the main peak of Mount Li, Qiushan Jun had calmly and casually stabbed himself with his sword, thus resolving this massive conspiracy planned for many years in an understated manner. After a moment of silence, he shook his head, "I'm inferior to him."
Xu Shiji did not comprehend his meaning. "His Holiness is your martial uncle. Based solely on this point, he can never match up to you."
Just as Qiushan Jun had said to his father atop the main peak of Mount Li, the young and the old really could never walk the same path.
Chen Changsheng didn't know that such a thing had been said, but he had a similar feeling. He stood up and prepared to leave, simultaneously taking out the marriage contract and placing it on the table.
His actions were not very solemn, nor could they be considered casual. There was neither pride nor humility. He only took it out then placed it down.
He had already come to this Divine General's estate three times, each time to end the engagement. Perhaps it was for precisely this reason that he was no longer as nervous and awkward as at the very beginning.
Xu Shiji's face also showed no sign of awkwardness. Upon receiving the letter from the Orthodox Academy saying that Chen Changsheng wished to pay a visit, he had already guessed at the purpose of the visit.
"As I said before, if you insist on ending the engagement, stand in front of Little Rong and return it to her."
In the Garden of Zhou, Chen Changsheng truly had intended to do this, but he never had the chance to meet up with Xu Yourong. Then he became somewhat confused. Why was it that both Xu Shiji and Tang Thirty-Six had said similar things, as if they had determined that he only needed to witness Xu Yourong's true appearance to utterly dispel any thoughts of ending the engagement? Even if Xu Yourong was truly as beautiful as a goddess, so what?
He even felt that for other people to regard him as such would be looking down upon him.
"I hear that Young Lady Xu will return to the capital in the few days. I will first leave the marriage contract in Sir's honorable home. If Young Lady Xu has any opinion, please send a letter to the Orthodox Academy."
He paid no attention to Xu Shiji's words, continuing, "I request that Sir not send the marriage contract to the Orthodox Academy again, or else it really might get lost. That would truly be unsightly."
Xu Shiji was infuriated at these words, thinking, you dare to threaten me? But his face showed none of this emotion.
Chen Changsheng was not threatening, but giving sincere advice. This marriage contract really had almost been lost in the Garden of Zhou.
Back when he had been in the lake bottom, fighting with Nanke's two wings, he had emptied out all the contents of his sword sheath in order to break through the wings of light. Among these items was the marriage contract. However, he had already lost any sort of interest in this marriage and even cared very little for the marriage contract. It was only in the past few days when he had prepared to go to the Xu Estate to the end the engagement that he had remembered this matter.
He had originally planned to say something more to Xu Shiji, but dropped the matter after further contemplation. Without any further words, he bid farewell and departed.
Xu Shiji expressionlessly watched his back fade into the darkness before finally withdrawing his gaze. Turning to the marriage contract, his expression grew somewhat focused. He was rather confused as to why the edge of the marriage contract was rather wet.
Walking through the garden of the Divine General of the East's estate, Chen Changsheng used the light of the lantern carried by the servant girl before him to look at the straight trees and gray rocks which had left some impression on him. He very naturally began to recall those encounters he had at this place.
When he was bidding farewell, he truly had wanted to say something more to Xu Shiji, but he had momentarily been unable to find the right words nor how to form the sentence. If Tang Thirty-Six were here, he would presumably bluntly ask Xu Shiji: "You're so shameless, does your daughter know?" But it was impossible for him to say these sorts of words. He was just suddenly rather sympathetic for Xu Yourong.
Xu Shiji said that he persisted in this marriage for the sake of his daughter, but everything that came out of his mouth was about the general trend, the confluence of north and south, leaving a name in history, and other such phrases, not in the least concealing his true opinion. Chen Changsheng thought to himself, it's only a fame-seeking individual who would think about bringing honor to one's family, for the persistence of the Xu clan throughout the ages. In your eyes, how is your daughter any different from a memorial gateway?
If thought about in this way, Xu Yourong truly was somewhat pitiful.
As he muddled through his thoughts, he arrived before a stone arch.
A lady stood at the stone arch.
It was very similar to a scene from a year and a half ago.