The two groups went their separate ways once they arrived in the capital.
They made sure to stay out of each other’s way as one group headed towards the Yi estate, and the other towards the Rong Estate.
A servant immediately approached Jing Rong and Ji Yunshu the moment they arrived. “Your Highness, Lord Shang wishes to see you.”
“Lord Shang?” Is there a court official by that name?
The servant leaned forward and said, “Lord Shang is a compiler in the Hanlin Academy. He was here yesterday, but I sent him away because you were not home. This is his second visit to your estate, Your Highness.”
Oh! So it’s Shang Zhuo of Mingshan Academy.
“Are you going to grant him an audience, Your Highness?”
Normally, Shang Zhuo visiting the Rong Estate so soon after his appointment would invite gossip. However, he is also an acquaintance of the prince and it would be inappropriate to send him away just like that.
“What do you think?” Jing Rong glanced at Ji Yunshu.
“Well, since he’s already visited the estate twice, there’s no harm in granting him an audience regardless of whether he has an urgent matter or not.”
Shang Zhuo was led into the estate by the servant moments later. The compiler was dressed in simple, plain clothing, and carried a long box in his hands. He kept his gaze lowered in respect and exhibited all the deferential behaviour a subject ought to have.
“Greetings, Prince Rong.” Shang Zhuo bowed deeply towards the prince, displaying manners befitting of an imperial official.
“You do not have to be so formal with me, Lord Shang.”
“I should’ve come to visit the day you returned to the capital, Your Highness. But my schedule is packed, and you were busy with the Case of the Dried Well yesterday. I hope my arrival will not interrupt the business you have at hand, Your Highness.”
Shang Zhuo was still a modest and courteous man just like before. Jing Rong looked at him appraisingly. “Congratulations. It’s been merely a few months and you have already had brilliant results.”
“I was able to become a compiler in the Hanlin Academy only because of your grace, Your Highness.”
“No, you achieved the position out of your own merits!”
Jing Rong was simply stating the truth. Shang Zhuo’s talent and scholarship was known by all, and he had exceptional skill in creating replicas. The man was also a good painter and well versed in calligraphy. Even the position of a compiler in the Hanlin Academy could be considered to be a waste of his talents.
Shang Zhuo smiled at the prince and lowered his gaze before turning to bow at Ji Yunshu who was by Jing Rong’s side as well. “Greetings, Teacher Ji.”
Ji Yunshu stood up and returned his greeting, “Well met, Lord Shang.”
“It’s an honor to be meeting you in the capital, Teacher Ji. I did not think that I’ll have the chance to meet you here.”
“I always knew that you’re a talented man since we parted ways at Mingshan Academy, Lord Shang. And you’ve proved me right.”
“You flatter me, Teacher Ji.”
He then handed the box to Jing Rong, “I know you’re not fond of gifts, Your Highness, but I hope you can accept my well wishes.”
He was not giving a gift, but was simply conveying his well wishes. It was a very well thought out excuse that discouraged rejection. Jing Rong opened the box and found a scroll. It was a life-like hundred-bird painting. Within it, birds frolicked in the forest, some with wings outstretched, others resting on branches.
“I hope you like it, Your Highness. This is some of my best work.” said Shang Zhuo.
“As expected of Lord Shang.” Jing Rong voiced his praise as he held the painting, “It is remarkable.”
“Thank you, Your Highness. My humble painting is not worthy of your praise.”
“I like this painting.” Jing Rong handed the painting to Ji Yunshu so that she could admire the masterpiece as well.
And Ji Yunshu was deeply impressed by the work, “I believe you’re the only one capable of drawing something like this, Lord Shang.” Her praise was sincere.
Suddenly, something came to mind and she asked. “By the way, how is Lin Shu doing? I heard he became the Top Scorer and is now serving as an official in the Hanlin Academy as well.”
Shang Zhuo’s expression immediately darkened at the mention of that name, “To tell you the truth, things between Lord Lin and I have changed ever since we received the Imperial Mandate. While we were both serving in the Hanlin Academy, he’s a Historian in charge of documents from the Imperial Family, while I’m a Compiler handling documents from the ministries. We have not had… Much of a chance to interact with each other.”
There was a hidden meaning behind his words. “Is it because of Prince Yi?”
Shang Zhuo was shocked, “How did Your Highness know?”
Of course he knows! He’s a prince!
“Those with discerning eyes can see the machinations that are taking place in the court. I have also heard about Lord Lin from Vice-Chancellor Yu of the Supreme Court when I returned to the capital. It’s not hard to guess that he became the top scorer due to Prince Yi’s endorsement.”
Jing Rong was addressing Lin Shu as Lord Lin!
“Indeed.” Shang Zhuo sighed, “Prince Yi had brought him into the Yi Estate before the Emperor made his decision. I tried to stop him, but you know how he is. He’s very stubborn once his mind is made.”
“People have their own aspirations. But… I’m worried that you might have some discontent.”
“What do you mean by that, Your Highness?”
“You are way more talented than he will ever be. You should’ve been the top scorer, but Lord Lin was able to obtain the position by Prince Yi’s good graces. It’s only normal for the incident to be a thorn in your side.” said Jing Rong.
But Shang Zhuo responded with a smile, “I’m content with my position in the top three. Even if there is indeed a thorn in my side, it’s a very tiny one. We’re both officials of the court serving the imperial family. Our relative positions do not matter to me.”
“It’s good if you can see things that way. The title is just a title. True talent will shine no matter what position you’re in.”
“Your words ring true, Your Highness.”
“I’m glad that I was right about you. To be able to let go of your grudge is a rare quality to have.”
Shang Zhuo responded with a smile.
“Let’s put this matter behind us.” Jing Rong said with a wave of his hand.
After all, Lin Shu had joined Prince Yi’s camp. There was no point in discussing him. Shang Zhuo left after some small talk with the two due to his official business.
“Let me know if I can be of service, Your Highness. I’ll do my best to fulfill whatever you ask of me.” He made his stance very clear.
“Shang Zhuo is a calm and collected man who is clear on what is wrong and what is right. While he is just a mere Compiler in the Hanlin Academy, he’ll be my right hand man within the Imperial Court in the future.” It was apparent that he held the man in high regard.
In truth, Jing Rong had long since planned on putting Shang Zhuo’s talent to good use. And of course, Ji Yunshu approved of his plan as well.