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    Gu Changjin explained that Pan Xueliang did not die because of anything he did, but rather because of who he was. In other words, Pan Xueliang's fate was sealed from the start.

    Regardless of whether he had cheated or if he was unjustly accused.

    All of this was likely due to Pan Xueliang's identity.

    In his previous life, Gu Changjin must have known about Pan Xueliang's identity to have made such a statement.

    Rong Shu felt a momentary regret for not inquiring further back then. Had she asked more questions, she might have discovered who Pan Xueliang was.

    "I only think that the scholars at the Imperial Academy advised the students not to participate, perhaps to protect them. It's possible that those officials were already aware that something would go wrong with this examination."

    Gu Changjin looked at her intently.

    They were on the same wavelength.

    "But sir, if the cheating scandal during this examination was indeed orchestrated by someone else," Rong Shu held the medicine box, meeting his gaze seriously, "is it truly a coincidence that Pan Xueliang got caught up in it?"

    Gu Changjin's pupils flickered slightly, a sense of clarity akin to the sun piercing through clouds emerging within him.

    This case could have been avoided if the former Minister had simply denied any involvement in Shan Ti's cheating scandal. Yet, he admitted to it.

    Not only did he ruin his lifelong reputation, but he also condemned Pan Xueliang to an irreversible downfall.

    Recalling Hu He's words about the former Minister being in the twilight of his years, Gu Changjin surmised that this imperial examination might well be his last as the chief examiner.

    His final time...

    Gu Changjin abruptly rose and said to Rong Shu, "I should return to the Board of Censors. Miss Rong, thank you for your help."

    Seeing the determination on Gu Changjin's face, Rong Shu knew her words had indeed made a difference.

    She smiled, her eyes curving slightly, and replied, "There's no need for thanks, Sir Gu. I was merely speculating. The case of Scholar Pan still relies on your efforts to clear his name."

    When she smiled, the corners of her eyes lifted slightly, giving off a charming blend of innocence and allure.

    It seemed that a person's smile could rival the fleeting beauty of a flower in bloom.

    Gu Changjin shifted his gaze, his Adam's apple bobbing slightly as he nonchalantly acknowledged with a soft "Mm." He picked up his black silk hat, nodded slightly, and left through the back door.

    Not until half a quarter of an hour had passed did Manager Chen enter with his hands clasped behind his back, saying, "Owner, Miss has come to fetch you."

    Rong Shu hurriedly asked, "Uncle Chen, haven't you mentioned to Mother that I went to Scholar's Lane?"

    "No, of course not, Owner. How dare I forget your instructions?"

    Relieved, Rong Shu lowered her skirt and rushed out the door.

    The moment she entered the carriage, Madam Shen bustled with urgency, "We're heading straight back to Minglu Yard now. Today, scholars caused a disturbance, and several alleys have been sealed off. We don't know when they'll reopen."

    Saying this, she gave Rong Shu a thorough look and asked, "Were you in the silk shop the whole time?"

    Rong Shu acknowledged with a soft "Mm-hmm." "I originally planned to visit the Golden Pavilion, but on my way there, I noticed some trouble brewing in the Scholar's Alley, so I hurried back to the silk shop."

    Madam Shen heaved a sigh of relief.

    "There won't be much peace for the next two weeks. Let's settle the accounts later," she said, her brows furrowing slightly. "I had intended for your Uncle Chen to find a suitable time to inspect your eldest sister's estate. Now, it's not convenient for him to leave the capital city."

    Rong Shu let out an "Eh," and asked, "Why does Aunty need Mother to manage her manor?"

    She knew that the manor belonged to Aunty, a gift from the Emperor when the Cheng'an Marquis Estate was granted its title. However, the manor was situated far away, in Wanping County under the jurisdiction of the Obeying Heaven Mansion.

    "It seems there was some issue with her land, so she asked me to find someone to take a look. Your Uncle Chen handled it. After he inspected the place, he told me that the head of the manor didn't know anything and seemed to be slacking off. I mentioned this to Aunty, but I'm not sure if she's replaced him yet."

    Madam Shen had always felt sympathetic towards the first family. Recalling Zhu Yi's character, she waved her hand and said, "Forget it, forget it. Your Aunty doesn't like bothering others. We can talk about it when we meet her next time. Perhaps she has already changed the head of the manor."

    As they spoke, the carriage proceeded down Changan Avenue towards the city gate.

    Just as they exited the alley, a young physician with a medicine chest on his back spotted the carriage. He recognized it immediately as Madam Shen's, the one that had transported her to and from the Cheng'an Marquis Estate when she treated the Marquis' wife with acupuncture.

    Sun Daoping wiped the sweat from his forehead and muttered, "Ah, the lady inside was actually Madam Gu. No, wait, she's no longer married to Lord Gu; now she's Miss Rong. Such a fine lady, how could Lord Gu bear to divorce her? Grandfather was right – matters of the heart are truly unpredictable. Speaking of which, I found the source of the herbal prescription Miss Rong asked about last time. I wonder if she still needs it. It's strange, that herbal recipe actually originated from an ancient Western Region prescription, known only to a few in the Imperial Medicine Court. How did Miss Rong come across it?"

    The young physician continued his mutterings as his figure gradually disappeared down Changan Avenue.

    Chapter 40

    As Shen's carriage left the city gate, Gu Changjin returned to the Board of Censors.

    Hu He told him, "The people from the Supreme Court have taken Pan Xueliang away. I've sent someone to follow and also arranged for a physician to attend to him. Don't worry, you acted promptly, and his right hand is saved."

    With the old minister having confessed, it would be difficult for Pan Xueliang to clear his name even if he didn't admit guilt. Hu He couldn't help feeling a bit sympathetic towards Pan Xueliang. After years of studying in seclusion, all his efforts and prospects had come to nothing.

    Both of them had entered officialdom through the imperial examinations. How could he not feel regret on Pan Xueliang's behalf?

    But this sympathy wouldn't make him do more. The old minister was an elder statesman who had once served as the tutor to both Emperor Jiande and Prince Qiyuan. Even the current emperor had listened to the old minister lecture on classics and history in the Wenhu Hall.

    The emperor wouldn't allow such an elderly and ailing man to suffer further. To appease the anger of the scholars, they could only sacrifice Pan Xueliang.

    Hu He said, "The Chief Censor believes that since the old minister has confessed, Pan Xueliang will likely not escape punishment. Hence, the case will be handed over to the Supreme Court for trial."

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