Wei Luo quickly returned to her senses and remembered that Zhao Jie said he was traveling incognito. He probably didn't want other people to know about his whereabouts. She appeared sincere when she smoothly replied, "We went there to seek a meeting with Abbot Qing Wang and didn’t pay attention to the other guests. I'm afraid I won't be able to answer Fifth Sir's question."
Seeing her suddenly indifferent attitude, Zhao Zhang froze for a moment, then he lightly laughed and apologized, "I was lacking in manners." As he said this, he bowed to Wei Luo, then turned around, left Ba Zhen, and went into his green canopy carriage to return to the palace.
Watching Zhao Zhang leave, Liang Yu Rong couldn't resist the curiosity in her heart and quietly asked, "That person was..."
Zhao Zhang was still living in the palace and hadn't established his own residence, so it was normal that Liang Yu Rong hadn't met him before. In addition, they were different genders. Even if they went to the same banquet, they would be sitting in different area. It wasn’t only Zhao Zhang. Liang Yu Rong hadn't seen Zhao Jie's face either.
Wei Luo took back her attention and set her gaze on the numerous pastries in the store. Without a change in her expression, she said, "He's Zhao Jie's fifth brother."
Hearing these words, Liang Yu Rong immediately understood. Zhao Jie was the second prince. His fifth brother was the fifth prince! At the sudden realization, she patted her shoulder from lingering trepidation. "Fortunately, I didn't say any wrong words just now.”
Wei Luo curved her lips, softly laughed, and couldn't resist making fun of her, "What were you thinking of saying to him?"
Liang Yu Rong drew back her head and said, "Eating so many sweets, take care that you don't get a toothache..."
Actually, this was a great truth.
The two of them didn't continue talking about Zhao Zhang. They started to earnestly select which pastries to buy.
Liang Yu Rong had originally intended to only buy a candy called snowflake fruit for Wei Chang Yin. But after looking at all of the cute and exquisitely made pastries and candies, she wanted all of them. After hesitating, she bought snowflake fruit candy and two types of pastries for Wei Chang Yin, a few types of pastries for Wei Luo, and several types of pastries and candies for herself before leaving Ba Zhen perfectly satisfied.
After leaving Ba Zhen, Zhao Zhang’s carriage slowly moved forward.
Zhao Zhang lifted the curtain and asked a black-robed guard that was at the carriage’s side, “Have you found out what second brother asked Abbot Qian Wang that day?”
The guard was keeping pace with the carriage on horseback. In an ashamed tone, he said, "This subordinate is incompetent and hasn't found out any inside information.”
Zhao Zhao's face slightly showed his unhappiness. Abbot Qing Wang was an enlightened senior monk. For Zhao Jie to ask for a meeting with him, he must have asked him questions about the imperial court. If Abbot Qing Wang told him the right paths to take for those issues and Zhao Jie achieved a speedy enlightenment, it would certainty put himself in an unfavorable situation.
Currently, the imperial court was divided into three groups. One group of officials supported him, another group supported Zhao Jie, and the third group consisted of officials that remained neutral and didn't enter muddied waters. He had already been firmly suppressed by Zhao Jie's influence and power. Now that Zhao Jie had obtained Abbot Qing Wang's assistance, his position had become even more precarious.
After thinking about this for a while, he decided that his most urgent priorities would be to support his loyal confidants and to draw over to his side some of the officials that were on Zhao Jie's side.
He thought of Count Zhong Yi's eldest grandson, Song Hui. Song Hui was a young scholar that had an encyclopedic knowledge of state policies and studying wasn't his only talent. He had a flexible mind and mastered his knowledge of state policies through a comprehensive study of surrounding areas. He was a very promising individual and definitely a talented person that would be assigned to an important position in the future. Before too long, the April court examination would be taking place. If Song Hui could score in the top three and obtain Emperor Chong Zhen's appreciation, then the number of his capable helpers would undoubtedly increase based on his current relationship with Count Zhong Yi.
Count Zhong Yi's family had a close relationship with Duke Ying's family. It would be excellent if he could capture Duke Ying's family in one move and incorporate them into his group of subordinates.
After thinking, he asked, "I heard that House Wei's Fourth Miss was betrothed to Song Hui when her mother was pregnant with her?"
The guard nodded and said, "Yes."
Hearing this, his lips curved up and he fell into deep thought.
The next day, Emperor Chong Zhen had him and Zhao Jie go to the imperial study for a discussion. It would soon be the court examination, so he wanted to know their views about it and if they had any talented people they wanted to recommend.
In order to test their abilities, Emperor Chong Zhen often called them into his study to ask them about minutiae topics.
Currently, Emperor Chong Zhen was sitting at a black table outlined in gold and decorated with twin dragons made of precious stones. He was holding a list of this year's candidate for the court examination and inspecting the names of the candidates one by one as he waited for Zhao Jie and Zhao Zhang's replies.
With a careful and respectful attitude, Zhao Zhang cupped his hands and said, "To respond to imperial father, your imperial son believes that Count Zhong Yi's eldest grandson has outstanding talent and will reveal his talent in this year's court examination."
Having a slight impression of this person, Emperor Chong Zhen put down his list and thoughtfully asked, "Oh, are you speaking of Song Hui?"
Zhao Zhang nodded.
Emperor Chong Zhen nodded in improvement and mused to himself, "This emperor has seen him a few times. He's politically astute, doesn't stubbornly adhere to old ideas, and has an intelligent mind. Indeed, he is pretty good."
Receiving the emperor's praise, Zhao Zhang curved up his lips into a smile.
On the side, Zhao Jie lowered his eyes. Without the slightest ripple in his voice, he calmly said, "Although Song Hui has outstanding talent, his temperament is too weak and gentle. He's capable in writing essays, but he may not be suitable as an official." He looked up to directly look at Emperor Chong Zheng and said, "Your imperial son also has a person to recommend."
Emperor Chong Zhen asked, "Who?"
He answered, "The Minister of Rites Zuo Zong's heir, Zuo Cheng Huai."
Emperor Chong Zhen was slightly surprised. He also had an impression of this person. Zuo Cheng Huai had participated in last year's civil service exam and had successfully passed the first grades of the examination system, but not the court examination yet. It wasn't because his literary talent was bad. It was because his words had been too sharp and unconventional. Last year's scoring examination official was an old man that inflexibly acted in accordance to convention and disliked his conduct. Although every sentence of Zuo Cheng Huai's essay was incisive, it still received a low score.
Zhao Jie recommended him because he greatly admired him after meeting him a few times by chance. Although Zuo Cheng Huai wasn't suitable at writing essays, he would be very suitable as an official. If he were the one managing the details of disaster relief, it would definitely be done in a methodical manner.
Emperor Chong Zhen pondered this for a moment, then he said, "This emperor will personally review these two people's examination papers. After seeing which person has the superior paper, I will give you two a fair answer."
After saying this, he asked a few questions about taxation and this year's disaster in the northwest. The two of them stuck to their own viewpoints. Neither of them would yield even one step to the other.
About an hour later, Emperor Chong Zhen was exhausted from listening to them. He waved his hand to signal for them to leave.
Zhao Zhang suddenly stepped forward and said, "Your imperial son has something else to say.”
Emperor Chong Zheng was holding a purple brush and marking the court examination list. Without looking up, he said, "Speak."
Zhao Zhang looked down and slowly said, "The person that this subject recently mentioned, Song Hui, had an engagement with Duke Ying's family's Fourth Miss, Wei Luo since they were children. If he receives the top score in this year's court examination, could imperial father bestow this marriage for him?"
(T/N: Just in case it’s confusing why Zhao Zhang is requesting this. Song Hui and Wei Luo’s engagement is only an informal agreement. If the emperor were to bestow marriage for him through an imperial edict, they would probably get married very soon instead of an indefinite date in the future.
Advance chapters have been updated on Patreon.)