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Under countless gazes, that youth silently advanced. From his demeanour, he seemed a little stiff, but was controlling it fairly well, without appearing overly nervous. His steps were steady and his academy uniform gently fluttered in the wind, it wasn’t all that dazzling to the eyes, but was very neat, the same feeling he himself gave others.
“So that’s Chen Chang Sheng?”
Within the crowd that were gathered in the plaza before the Hall of Grand Clarity, there erupted a multitude of sounds from discussion and questioning.
Chen Chang Sheng had long been famous in the Capital, a lot of people had heard of his name, knew of his background and knew of that betrothal, but today, for many, it was their first time seeing him.
It was only now, that many of the populace could form a real impression of him. They discovered that he wasn’t the same as Tang Thirty-Six in being a refined and elegant nobleman, neither was he a pretty boy, but instead, he was someone that gave others the feeling that he was approachable.
Chen Chang Sheng walked up the stone steps, arriving before the hall, he turned around to look at the sea of people on the plaza.
Beside him, there was an ebony table, upon the table, there was a garland of thistles. Sunlight spilled in from the edge of the clouds above, falling upon the garland and scattering into faint rays of light.
The garland of thistles didn’t have any gold or jade, looking rather plain, but it represented the hardships and glory that are on the path of cultivation, being extremely significant within the Orthodoxy’s traditions, while also being a symbol of first upon the First Banner in the Grand Examination.
It slowly became quiet in front of the Hall of Grand Clarity; everyone had been waiting for this moment.
Those examinees, court officials and bishops standing in front of the hall, looked at the image of Chen Chang Sheng’s back as he stood before them, their moods were various; some were gratified; some were calm; some were envious; some were indifferent. However, no matter what they felt, at this moment and time, they could only wait upon Chen Chang Sheng receiving this heavy accolade.
What was somewhat surprising, was that His Excellency, The Prime Minister, who was in charge of awards for the three that were ranked upon the Grand Examination’s First Banner, had retreated to the crowd at some point and was no longer situated before the hall, whom therefore, was going to do the awarding?
It was at that moment, the sunlight from the heavens above that fell upon the garland of thistles suddenly dispersed, becoming countless strands before congregating into a ball of light in front of the hall; it was a holy and pristine, white ball of light.
Gasps of exclamation resonated before the Hall of Grand Clarity.
The divine radiance receded and a tall figure slowly emerged from within.
The figure was an elderly person wearing Sacred Robes, their head bore the Holy Crown and their hand held a staff of ordinance.
Divine music played out in unison, a hallowed and dignified presence enveloped the entire area.
Sounds of shock continuously arose, then rapidly returned to silence.
Limitless people prostrated themselves in greeting and reverence towards the elderly person, with the sea of people being akin to a wave; all heads lowered in deference.
Venerations to His Holiness, The Pope.
His Holiness, who had rarely appeared before the world for the past few years, had actually made a personal appearance, this was something no one could have anticipated, causing them to feel dumbstruck, what was this for?
Isn’t Chen Chang Sheng a student of Orthodox Academy? Wasn’t Orthodox Academy personally crushed by His Holiness many years ago? Wasn’t the Orthodoxy currently in a tense situation, with the new and tradition factions confronting and challenging each other?
Apart from His Holiness, The Pope, another elderly person had also appeared before the Hall of Grand Clarity – His Eminence, Archbishop Mei Li Sha, had a peaceful expression on his face as he received the staff of ordinance from His Holiness, he then retreated to one side.
His Holiness used his hands to lift the garland of thistles from the table and then walked to the front of Chen Chang Sheng.
Chen Chang Sheng was currently dumbfounded, not knowing what he should do, he subconsciously looked towards the Archbishop that was by the side, His Eminence smiled and nodded his head.
His Holiness looked at Chen Chang Sheng and smiled as he said: “If you don’t lower your head, who will be able to help you wear the laurel wreath?”
Those words seemed to explain what was currently happening, but also seemed to have some sort of deeper meaning. However, how could Chen Chang Sheng possibly have the time to currently think of such matters, he quickly bent his knee slightly, lowering his head.
His Holiness placed the garland of thistles upon Chen Chang Sheng’s head and carefully adjusted its positioning before finally being satisfied, His Holiness then said: “I have always considered these twigs to be rather unappealing; I don’t know how those in the past felt, but placing it upon your head, it feels very invigorating, not bad.”
Chen Chang Sheng was currently still in a state of stock and couldn’t understand the hidden meaning of His Holiness’ words, but at the very least, he could tell that His Holiness was praising him.
Not bad? How many young people could be evaluated as “not bad” by His Holiness? He only knew that Mo Yu and Prince Chen Liu had previously received this kind of evaluation, now, it was his turn.
“Rise,” said His Holiness.
Chen Chang Sheng stood straight as instructed, he involuntarily raised his hand and touched the garland of thistles on the top of his head, relying upon the hard and thorny sensation to verify the authenticity of everything before finally calming down slightly.
Seeing his actions, His Holiness started laughing.
It was only then, that Chen Chang Sheng could finally see His Holiness’ appearance clearly.
The Pope was an elderly person, with an aged face.
That face was very ordinary, with its most discerning feature being that its eyes were very deeply set, as if they were a deep abyss, yet, it wasn’t terrifying, because it contained a cerulean sea and azure sky within, alongside sunlight.
The sea within The Pope’s eyes were as calm and serene as mirrors under the brilliance of the sun, boundlessly blue, unknown as to how profoundly deep they might be, or how vast, if the sunlight was to withdraw and hurricanes were to suddenly appear, it would naturally become turbulent and perilous, with unending thunder and lightning, but currently, there was only sunlight, without any storms, therefore there was only benevolence, absolution and placidity.
This was the first time Chen Chang Sheng had seen such a gaze, in but a moment, it felt as if his body had become warm and cosy, wanting to step into that warm sea water; perhaps freely swimming within, or perhaps resting.
After a long period of time, he finally came to his senses.
After regaining his senses, through the sensation of the garland on his finger, he came to realise that only a moment had actually passed, he had yet to even retract his hand.
Such a dignified, hallowed, and immense realm of consciousness, really did make others feel nothing but praise and reverence.
Chen Chang Sheng had only truly regained his senses at that moment, comprehending that the elderly person standing in front of him was the most transcendent existence within the human world, someone that had already entered the realm of divinity, a true Saint.
He didn’t know how to react, before suddenly remembering the spells of Autumn rain in the Tower of Purging Dust. Though he didn’t know why His Holiness had helped him, he had still accepted the aid in the end.
“Thank you,” said Chen Chang Sheng, as he earnestly did a formal gesture towards His Holiness.
His Holiness looked at him with an affectionate gaze, extending his hand to lightly stroke Chen Chang Sheng’s head, saying: “Poor child… good child… come see me after a few days.”
After saying those words, he indicated that Chen Chang Sheng should turn around.
Chen Chang Sheng was slightly stupefied, following the instructions and turning around, facing the thousands upon thousands of people before the Hall of Grand Clarity.
The Pope grasped onto his right hand and slowly raised it towards the heavens.
The plaza suddenly became silent, then a thunderous roar of cheering erupted, as if it wished to push through the skies.
His Holiness had left; His Eminence had also left.
The court officials and red-garbed bishops in front of the hall all came up to Chen Chang Sheng, looking at him with affectionate expressions as they congratulated and advised him, with someone saying, if Orthodox Academy was to have any problems, he could freely seek them for help, as if they really were one of his elders; even His Excellency, Prime Minister Yu Wenjing, came up and spoke some words to him.
Yesterday, the academy had received a lot of name cards and gift records, this was because these personages had acquired some details to the Grand Examination, details such as those few spells of Autumn rain – they couldn’t see the current situation clearly, but needed to prepare in advance – His Holiness had actually made a personal appearance today and displayed such a cordial attitude towards Chen Chang Sheng, how could they possibly not understand, at the very least, they had to outwardly appear friendly.
The other examinees obviously didn’t receive the same treatment as Chen Chang Sheng, they all stared at Chen Chang Sheng, who was in the centre, surrounded by personages.
Some of the observers had envious expressions, while others were sympathetic. Tang Thirty-Six said to Guan Fei Bai: “If first upon the First Banner has to be like this, then I would rather not bother obtaining it.”
“I would also not want to,” said Guan Fei Bai, before suddenly coming to his senses and saying: “Wait, are we really familiar or something? Not to mention, you think you have the ability to obtain first upon the First Banner?”
“The fight is already over, is it worth continuing to be at odds with each other? Don’t you think, at this time, we should be more sympathetic towards a woeful person like Chen Chang Sheng?”
Though Tang Thirty-Six said this, he didn’t have any intention of going forward and helping Chen Chang Sheng break free from this situation. Those were all true dignitaries, it would have been more fitting if his Grandfather was here instead to help, Tang Thirty-Six’s own status was far too removed from these personages.
Chen Chang Sheng was very unaccustomed to this type of situation, being especially unused to the scent of incense coming from these personages, but he controlled his state of mind very well and nothing untoward could be said about his manners.
It was at that time, the area in front of the hall suddenly became quiet, the people surrounding him dispersed in turn, opening up a path, all that could be seen was Xu Shi Ji walking over from beyond the crowd.
Xu Shi Ji is the Divine General of the Eastern Decree, deeply trusted by Her Divine Majesty, combined with having a “good” daughter, his status within the government had always been special, but this wasn’t the reason this time as to why the bishops and his colleagues from the government were letting him through, the reason was because they knew of the complex connection between him and Chen Chang Sheng.
Those personages had all previously spoken to Chen Chang Sheng as if they were his elders, but if one were to speak of actual elders, in the Capital, only Xu Shi Ji and his wife could be considered his elders, more importantly, the betrothal had become a farcical affair, everyone wanted to know what Xu Shi Ji would say to Chen Chang Sheng at a time like this, with a lot of people already having prepared themselves for watching the mockery of Xu Shi Ji.
It became very quiet in front of the hall.
Xu Shi Ji walked over slowly from beyond the crowd and stood before Chen Chang Sheng, his expression was indifferent; looking down upon him from a lofty position.
Chen Chang Sheng greeted him formally, but didn’t say anything.
“Your performance in the Grand Examination… wasn’t bad,” Xu Shi Ji said this while looking at him in the eye, the tone of voice was evidently that of an elder, but upon entering the ears of those present, it felt a little stiff.
Chen Chang Sheng gave it some consideration, but didn’t reply.
Xu Shi Ji’s brow raised slightly, he then suddenly said: “Come home for dinner tonight.”
Hearing those words, the scene became an uproar.
No one said anything, but a lot of people couldn’t control themselves from silently criticising him repeatedly, especially those high ranking officials of the tradition faction, who silently cursed him continually for having thick skin that was even thicker than the palace walls; how could someone be so completely shameless?
Outside of everyone’s expectations, Chen Chang Sheng answered, after giving it some thought: “Certainly.”
Xu Shi Ji stared at him in the eyes, confirming that he really did understand what was being requested and that he really was agreeing. Xu Shi Ji’s expression softened slightly, he didn’t say anything else, giving a nod towards Chen Chang Sheng and then turning to leave.
After releasing the Banners for the Grand Examination, came a customary parade.
With Chen Chang Sheng as the lead, the examinees boarded special ceremonial carriages. While being surrounded by the masses, they travelled along the government road that was to the side of the River Luo in the Capital, touring a single circle, this required at least four hours.
The entire Capital city was caught in a wildly euphoric atmosphere.
There were fresh flowers and fruits being constantly tossed onto the carriage by the populace. The carriage of Chen Chang Sheng, Gou Han Shi, Guan Fei Bai and Tang Thirty-Six had the most fresh flowers and fruit, if it wasn’t for the fact that the government had prior experience and posted an abundance of soldiers to constantly remove them, they would have quite probably been buried by flowers and fruits.
Touring to the Imperial City’s Southwestern corner, Chen Chang Sheng felt a little thirsty, without giving it much thought, he took a melon from beside him and took a bite, only feeling that it was fragrant, sweet and crisp, being very enjoyable. However, he could have never expected that his motion would actually incite a rain of melons, striking him to the point of making him hold his head in his hands wordlessly.
His line of sight went from the rain of melons to the Imperial Palace, placing the Pavilion of Ascending Mist within his sights, he could also see the Platform of Sweetdew. He couldn’t help but feel that he could see a small dot at the platform; he thought that it was the Black Goat.
He waved towards that direction. He then saw within the crowd, the girl, Shuang’er, who had a complicated expression on her face, upon thinking of the dinner tonight, his waving hand become a little sluggish.