Chapter 309: Empress Dowager's birthday banquet (3)
There were plenty of famous, decisive figures present at such a grand banquet, but the person who just stood up was a unique and exceptional case. In Tianning Country, the nobility never involved themselves with politics, while politically active members were never part of the nobility. Still, this figure was not only a celebrated noble, but a general who occupied a critical position!
His name was Baili Yuanlong1, and he was part of Tianning's Baili Clan, the biggest aristocracy clan in the capital. He was approaching 50 years of age but was a Great General who commanded the Tianning naval forces.
Tianning had a total of three Great Generals that respectively controlled the infantry, cavalry, and sea forces. Great General Mu was in charge of the infantrymen, which made up the bulk of Tianning's military strength. Meanwhile, Baili Yuanlong lead the most unique naval forces. Both Great General Mu and Great General Baili had homes in the capital city. Meanwhile, the Great General of the cavalry spend most of the year guarding the borders at the Three-Way Battlefield. He hadn't come back this time.
The naval forces were considered most unique because Tianning Country was the only nation on Cloud Realm Continent to have a navy. Northern Li and Western Zhou didn't have any. Moreover, Tianning's navy had been made by General Baili's own hands into a regular army unit during his youth. Unlike General Mu, his fame came not from his exploits, but his navy. Though they'd never been dispatched to fight before, they still got the highest soldiers' pay and provision from the capital every year. No one amongst the civil and military officials had ever objected to this fact, because they knew that the navy had been supported by the late emperor as a way to counter Northern Li. Both Northern Li and Tianning had unbroken coastline on their eastern borders. If war became necessary, Tianning definitely wouldn't spare Northern Li's eastern borders in a battle!
Thus, these naval forces could be said to be the ace in Emperor Tianhui's sleeve during a real fight. They were the decisive factor that could determine the difference between victory and defeat. Baili Yuanlong had always been low-key. He only showed his face once or twice in a single year, but why was he standing up now? Everyone was bewildered.
"Is anything the matter, General Baili?" the empress dowager had always been polite to the naval general much respected by the late emperor.
"This general simply wants to offer congratulations to Esteemed Empress Dowager," Baili Yuanlong replied.
He wants to offer congratulations? The empress dowager's body stiffened. The stillness of the audience hall had grown to indescribable heights. Its guests had even inexplicably held their breaths as they grew tense.
What are Baili Yuanlong's intentions?
Naturally, he'd need to offer his congratulations, but it wasn't his turn yet. The Duke of Qin had just finished his toast when he stood up. Could it be that he, too...
The crowd trembled in fear, not daring to speculate on the possibility. Some things were treason even if all you did was think about them. Emperor Tianhui's face was cold and stern as he stared at Baili Yuanlong. Long Feiye looked cold and aloof, seemingly disinterested in the entire affair. At the same time, he seemed to grasp every detail in the palm of his hand. As everyone watched, Baili Yuanlong poured himself a cup of wine.
Was he simply going to make a toast, just like Long Feiye?
A sense of unease began to spread through the empress dowager's heart. She'd rather run right over and stop him now, but she couldn't. She could only sit stiffly in her seat as she watched with a nervous, flustered heart. Baili Yuanlong raised up his cup as he stepped out. Although he'd never participated in a real war before, he was still infused with the killing aura of a general that could rival General Mu. He was old but vigorous, his powerful strides taking him to the empress dowager. That posture only made everyone more jittery. Most of them had forgotten to breathe altogether. The empress dowager nervously clenched her fists, digging her long nails into her palm despite the pain.
Baili Yuanlong arrived in front of the empress dowager and made a bow that was neither haughty nor humble. "This general offers congratulations to Esteemed Empress Dowager. May Esteemed Empress Dowager's phoenix body be in good health!"
The empress dowager was still wearing a smile on her face, but it was completely frozen. She seemed calm, but her heart was already surging with all the force of rising winds and clouds. She couldn't guess why Baili Yuanlong had suddenly chosen to step out of bounds. Would he be like Long Feiye, and simply toast her without a gift? Or would he give her a present after the toast?
Right now, it didn't even matter what his gift would be, as long as he had one. If it existed, then his reason for stepping out of order to congratulate her would be a silent protest to Long Feiye's actions. That would be the strongest show of his support to the empress dowager and Emperor Tianhui. If he had no gift, then...the empress dowager couldn't continue that train of thought. She was far too alarmed-her first time feeling such an emotion at her own birthday banquet.
She waited for Baili Yuanlong to announce his present. She waited and waited, but Baili Yuanlong didn't say another word. He simply stood there, leaving her in an awkward situation.
So there really isn't a present?
The empress dowager couldn't believe it. Emperor Tianhui believed it even less. He coughed lightly as a reminder before the empress dowager managed to say, "General Baili, you may rise."
Would the present come after that, then?
Everyone's attention was focused on the general. But he simply straightened up and returned to his seat. His actions had echoed Long Feiye and Han Yunxi exactly.
Only a toast, but no present?
So, Baili Yuanlong had made his toast using His Highness Duke of Qin as his example. In other words, Baili Yuanlong wasn't here to congratulate her, but publically declaring his stance. He and his 10,000 strong nay were under Long Feiye's command! A third of Tianning's military forces was actually Long Feiye's strength!
Time seemed to stop. The empress dowager looked dumbfounded at Baili Yuanlong. Emperor Tianhui had been caught off-guard as well. For a moment, he couldn't even accept what had just happened. He always thought that the three military divisions were firmly under his control. Even General Mu and his vast troops of infantrymen were firmly within his grasp. He never thought that Baili Yuanlong would actually be one of Long Feiye's people. The scariest part of a coup was the change of allegiance in military forces. Long Feiye's piece on the chessboard this time was far too drastic a move-simply taking away the firewood from under a cauldron!
Long Feiye was using Baili Yuanlong to tell everyone here that he not only had the guts, but the power to stand up to Emperor Tianhui as an equal! Emperor Tianhui had always yielded three parts before him, but those three parts were sufficient for Long Feiye to conquer the other seven utterly!
The birthday banquet still had to continue since it had just started. But the strength of two factions had already hurt the heads of those present as witnesses. Should they still offer up the presents they prepared for the empress dowager?
If they did, they would be standing on the side of Emperor Tianhui; if they didn't, they would be standing on the side of His Highness Duke of Qin. It was now time to pick sides.
Who would be the first to follow after Baili Yuanlong?
Some people were panicking, while others were afraid. Still some were ready to make more trouble. Still, no one expected the next person to stand up to be Crown Prince Long Tianmo. Because of his frequent illnesses, the crown prince's faction had long lost its power and influence at court. Add that to his relapse this time, and anyone intelligent would know that Emperor Tianhui had been playing around with the crown prince's life to suppress Han Yunxi. Even though he was a crown prince, and even though he'd returned to the capital with his life, the situation was hopeless if he didn't have the emperor's favor. He should have the greatest grounds to resent, hate, and resign himself to his fate, but he ended up being the first to stand out and save face for the empress dowager and emperor.
"Imperial Grandmother, take a look at what grandson has brought you." Long Tianmo personally brought up a massive lingzhi mushroom2 about the size of a palm, its color as red as glistening blood. The sight immediately attracted the eyes of all the onlookers.
Someone exclaimed in admiration, "Your Highness Crown Prince, is this the genuine article?"
"Impudence! Would this crown prince gift Imperial Grandmother a fake?" Long Tianmo reprimanded.
"Your Highness Crown Prince, is this the blood lingzhi mentioned in legends, said to cure all kinds of diseases and ailments?" another person asked in excitement.
"Exactly so!" Long Tianmo's serious illnesses had kept him confined in the Eastern Palace in the past. Because of that, he'd been searching for this item for years, but never expected to find one on his way back from Medical City. When he nodded his head to confirm its authenticity, the entire hall rose in an uproar. Blood lingzhi was the foremost of all medicinal ingredients. No matter what ills ailed the patient, a single appearance of this mushroom could cure the cause. It was worth more money that both the Persian cat and luminous-night pearl that had appeared before, and praised as Cloud Realm Continent's number one medicine.
Even Han Yunxi and Gu Beiyue, who was sitting in a distant table of his own, marveled at the sight. Some medicinal ingredients only existed in ones or twos. Once a person finished using it up, it would be gone! All right, even Lil Thing felt ready to stir in her sleeve. It had no idea what was going on outside, but it couldn't help but think that the palace was a great place. It had so many good things! It had to make its own trip here one day!
Long Tianmo had managed to restore the mood of the birthday banquet with a single blood lingzhi. He made a grand bow and said respectfully, "Imperial Grandmother, this is a quality blood lingzhi. Grandson wishes that Imperial Grandmother may live as long as the Zhongnan Mountains, and have happiness as boundless as the eastern seas!"
If possible, Long Tianmo wouldn't have taken out the mushroom at all. He originally aimed for a middle ground during the banquet, so that he wouldn't appear too weak nor offend his Imperial Father and Imperial Uncle Qin. However, this was a perfect chance to express his stance to Imperial Father. No matter whether his enemy was Imperial Father or Imperial Uncle Qin, gaining Emperor Tianhui's regard was the best way to amass his strength. Only then would he have the chance to take the throne by force.
Disputes amongst the imperial clan was nothing more than a simple test of 'endurance.'
Long Tianmo's sonorous voice was like a large bell that resounded through the banquet hall. Although his influence paled in comparison to Baili Yuanlong, he still managed to turn the tables in Emperor Tianhui's favor. The empress dowager was so moved that she couldn't speak, while Emperor Tianhui was finally looking at Long Tianmo with a gaze of admiration. Still, Long Feiye remained unmoved. It was obvious he hadn't taken the matter to heart at all.
Zhao mama secretly crept up and murmured, "Esteemed wangfei, do you regret it now? Next time, don't save his life. He's a castaway pawn, but he still can't tell good from bad!"
Han Yunxi smiled. Even Zhao mama could tell that Long Tianmo's "chronic complaint flaring up again" was simply a ruse designed by Emperor Tianhui at his expense? Although they were currently on opposing sides, Han Yunxi didn't find Long Tianmo disagreeable. At the very least, he'd been one of her staunchest patients. No matter what, he'd never given up on himself. As for saving him, well. She'd been forced to do it every time! There was nothing for her to regret with that.
With the crown prince making his move, someone was bound to follow next. That person became none other than the second imperial son, Long Tianqing.3 This second imperial son was the child of Noble Consort Xiao, who was the daughter of none other than Xiao Zhengxin,4 Prime Minster of the Left.5 As the crown prince's faction declined in power day after day, the second imperial son's influence had grown in its wake. There were even rumors that Great General Mu was on the second imperial son's side. Since the crown prince had shown his strength, the second imperial son was also unwilling to be outshone. But as he walked past Long Feiye and Han Yunxi's table, he actually gave them an exaggerated snort of contempt, obvious enough for anyone to see.
Child, it's understandable to protect the empress dowager and ingratiate yourself with the emperor in these circumstances. But stepping on the Duke of Qin to gain the emperor's favor is definitely a big mistake!
1. Baili Yuanlong () - Baili is a two-character surname, Yuan means "first," Long means "grand, prosperous, thriving."
2. lingzhi () - also known as magic fungus or glossy ganoderma, used in medicine and formerly credited with miraculous powers. It's considered a symbol of good luck as well.
3. Long Tianqing () - Long is dragon, tianqing means "holding up the skies/Heavens."
4. Xiao Zhengxin () - Xiao is a surname that also means "desolate, dreary," Zhengxin means "righteous belief."
5. Prime Minister of the Left () - in the Chinese imperial government, the Prime Minister (also known as the Grand Chancellor) is the highest-ranking executive official. Sometimes the government may have two Prime Ministers-one of right and left. In that case, the Prime Minister of the Left holds the higher rank between the two.