His Imperial Majesty the Emperor of the Great Song Dynasty, Son of Heaven, Lord of Ten Thousand Years, Ruler of the Central Kingdom, sits upon the Dragon Throne, ruling a land of ten thousand li in every direction, bearing the Mandate of Heaven and supported in his absolute and total rule by able and capable servants. Everything in harmony. Unlike the shirt of the under-minister for internal affairs, which had clearly not been adequately steamed, and did not quite match the flowers that had been selected for the month. It was going to be one of those days. He has not been on the throne very long, only a handful of years, and yet the acclimation to his subjects flying around on swords is something he is certain will never cease to unsettle him. As a child surviving in the harem, he had known the ultimate reward, that he would rule the court that all in ten thousand li owed obedience to. But the clans and sects of the cultivators seemed to treat that obedience as less of a divine mandate and more of a polite fiction. Thankfully they at least did not visit him at court. But the under-minister was approaching, so His Imperial Majesty the Emperor of the Great Song Dynasty, Son of Heaven, Lord of Ten Thousand Years, Ruler of the Central Kingdom reflexively corrects his posture and beckons him closer.
The explanation is just going to be more cultivator nonsense, he knows it, but he has to ask. "How did you come up with a book greater at teaching than what scholars could accomplish with training?"
"Most scholars are bad at their jobs, Your Imperial Majesty, and I'm great at mine."
The emperor pauses. Considers. Judges the man in front of him, what he has heard and what he has seen. "Many a scholar has come before the Court, and many more before my ministers, and insisted that their peers are wrong, and they are right. How do you know you are right?"
"Well, Your Imperial Majesty, I'd say that if I train teachers and Your people learn to read and write and figure and cultivate, then You'll know."
"That you are a master of cultivation is in no doubt: the bell for observing progress alone is of tremendous value." Perhaps others had considered the inevitable costs to the cultivator clans of cultivation becoming available to all, and refrained from inviting reprisals, but Wei Wuxian was a master of demonic cultivation. "But you claim to also be better at teaching literacy, and so much better at teaching literacy than others that you can distil into a book any literate adult can follow better than trained and selected teachers. What gives you confidence?"
"I mean, with all due respect, Your Imperial Majesty, people have been telling me I can't do things for my whole life and they haven't been right once."
He laughs. A genial one, the entertained emperor. Wei Wuxian is an impulsive demonic cultivator who once threatened to start slaughtering people until he got what he wanted, and he can bring the emperor back from the dead. "Indeed they have, Wei Wuxian. Indeed they have. We would be happy to lend our official approval to your efforts, which should prevent your books being burned by earstwhile teachers."
"If our small program ends up benefiting the people, Your Imperial Majesty, we wish to ask for Your assistance in expanding throughout Your empire."
"We would, of course, be pleased to support the expansion of a successful program across the empire. We will also distribute your gracious gift to Our favorite concubine, to teach some of Our children, as a sign of our trust in you. We trust that risking it with children, rather than locking it away in some glass display, will not cause offense."
"We would be pleased to return and observe how Your children are learning. We may be able to improve our writing."
"We would, of course, be pleased to arrange something for you to see, and will look forward to another visit." The emperor will not comment on Wei Wuxian's failure to adequately share credit: any attempt to sow division would obviously be spotted and taken as the attack it was. Besides, if this was truly possible, some of the teachers who focused on teaching young students literacy could focus on preparing older ones for the Imperial Exams, increasing candidate quality, which was particularly necessary at the provincial level. It need not be the massive disruption that Wei Wuxian was planning for every peasant woman, at least.
"Thank you for your indulgence, Your Imperial Majesty."
"Returning to an earlier topic, We assume that the instructions for interpreting the sound of the bell are contained in the cultivation instruction book?"
"Indeed, Your Imperial Majesty."
"What could be done to aid the process of spreading this as widely as possible?"
"Honestly, Your Imperial Majesty, we mostly need you not to bother us while we're distributing the--"
"We wish to ask for Your Imperial Majesty's patronage of our presses and support for cultivators' traditional freedom to publish about cultivation practices."
He pondered his words for a moment. "An objective of imperial policy is harmony, as well you know, including between mortals and the cultivator clans. Our ministers may raise concerns that this publication could produce backlash, as you are surely aware, and that if this support came in the form of troops there could be unnecessary disharmony in the land if the sects saw Our actions as intruding in their affairs."
"The Chief Cultivator has a... commendable... respect for tradition. Is it not true disharmony to go against the practices of our ancestors?"
The emperor will not laugh, but he will share a smile with the Lan Zhan. "It is, yet We suspect that you may wish for something more than statements of support. We can arrange for blessings, of course, including perhaps a ceremonial one here. We will be happy to publicize any success once Our children can cultivate, but We suspect that that may take a while. Wei Wuxian, how long is the usual process?"
"Depends on the kid, Your Imperial Majesty. Lan Sizhui had his after only two years of meditation but most children are not Lan Sizhui." His tone suggests that this is a fault on the part of most children and one they should very much consider correcting.
"Marvelous! That is impressive indeed! I do not think that even you managed to acquire your golden soul so early, did you? You must be so proud. How did Lan Sizhui enter your life?" Wei Wuxian is weirdly fond of his lover's illegitimate child, but Wei Wuxian can have whatever foibles he feels like having, and parents are often exuberantly fond of anyone they have a hand in raising from a young enough age. Perhaps this was a way for two cutsleeves to have a child?
"Well, Your Imperial Majesty, I gave birth to him."