Chapter 382: Someone wants to trap His Highness Duke of Qin
His Highness Duke of Qin had ordered His Excellency Provincial Official to give every person in the city two jin of grain before sundown. It was currently noon, only six hours away from sunset. Though Official Nanguo dearly wished to give Nanguo Jun a good beating, he didn't have enough time. He had to think up a plan as quickly as possible before His Highness Duke of Qin's personality kicked in and raised his sword against their father and son pair for all the disaster victims to see!
Logically speaking, Official Nanguo should have received His Highness Duke of Qin immediately upon his arrival here, but after such an incident, he had no confidence whatsoever. How could I dare to face the man?
"Someone come, watch over this unfilial brat for me. He's not allowed to set a single foot out the door!" Official Nanguo left these vicious words behind before hurrying out the door. His destination was an unremarkable house not far from his own estate, where the man who had been sent by the imperial uncle had taken up residence. When Emperor Tianhui first ordered the Duke of Qin to set out for the disaster areas, the imperial uncle had secretly sent his own man here. He was none other than Official Yu1 from the Ministry of Revenue, who was in charge of managing the various disaster areas. Official Yu had received orders to inquire into the distribution status of grain across the various regions. Technically speaking, this Official Yu was to be responsible for rectifying the corruption of the lower-ranked officials, but he was an embezzler himself, one who had helped the imperial uncle steal a lot of grain while falsifying records. He kept one eye open and one eye closed when it came to the corruption of other officials. As long as they didn't embezzle too much, he wouldn't look into them even if he had the evidence. After all, the higher-ups were already crooked, so trying to muffle the ones lower down the ladder from reporting on his crimes meant he had to give them the sweet treatment.
Moreover, Official Yu not only accepted the imperial uncle's bribes, but he also benefits from other officials, after venturing into the disaster areas. He lived in South Ning Prefecture and was worshipped like a Bodhisattva by Official Nanguo. No matter what he wanted, Official Nanguo would do his best to please him right away. However, there was one thing he'd yet to agree to . Today, Official Nanguo came hastily to his quarters for that very matter. Official Yu was about to leave when he arrived.
"Heheh, Official Nanguo's picked the right time to come. What a son you've raised! What great things he's done! I was just going to go look for you!" Official Yu huffed.
Official Nanguo wore a face full of helplessness. "Official Yu, this-see now, I haven't even had time to visit His Highness Duke of Qin yet because I came to confer with you first!"
"Discuss with this official? Heheh, what, pray tell, do we have to talk about? I won't hide this from you, but the matter I mentioned was personally proposed by one of the higher-ups. You've been dawdling all this time. What now, you've finally found me after getting in trouble?" Official Yu asked disdainfully.
If not for the fact that South Ning Prefecture was the largest prefecture and a severe famine region located in the important central region of Tianning Country, the imperial uncle never would've chosen to propose his idea to this ambivalent man, Official Nanguo.
"Official Yu, you can't put it like that..." Official Nanguo said as he pulled Official Yu back into the house. He lowered his voice and added, "Official Yu, all of Tianning knows that His Highness Duke of Qin isn't someone to provoke. This official is also taking our own lives into consideration with this matter. If the matter you propose fails, then we'll both lose our lives! Even the ones higher-up will toss us aside quickly to save their own skins!"
Official Yu wanted Official Nanguo to do nothing more than call together all the famine victims and instigate them into an insurrection in order to slander His Highness Duke of Qin for embezzling and force him to give up the grain. They weren't preparing for just any little riot, but a huge rebellion that would spread from South Ning Prefecture to all of the other disaster regions! His Highness Duke of Qin had come alone to the disaster areas without even a single contingent of guards. As soon as they moved the hearts of the populace and had the other officials add fuel to the flames, His Highness Duke of Qin would be forced to give grain he didn't have. When that happened, he'd not only lose the people's hearts, but he'd gain Emperor Tianhui's censure as well. His title of Qinwang2 would be revoked as a way to calm the anger of the masses.
This was a huge trap. Official Nanguo didn't dare to consider the ramifications of the decision. If they failed and His Highness Duke of Qin counter-attacked, they would be the quickest ones to die. But Official Yu only turned up his nose at Official Nanguo's doubts. "Then why did you come here today?"
Official Nanguo was in a tight spot. His head drooped as he heaved sigh after sigh. Official Yu's thin lips curled up into a smirk. "Official Nanguo, I think it's getting late. If you have nothing else to do, you should hurry up and collect that grain. There has to be at least 20,000 people in this city. Two jin per person is no small sum!"
Official Nanguo only sighed some more. His son hadn't underestimated him, because he indeed had sufficient means to gather that much grain in that short a time. But if His Highness Duke of Qin ever asked him where it came from, he'd be doomed. Finally, he lifted his head and said, "Your Excellency Yu, this official has a scheme to make your plan work. I want to use the grain distribution order as a way to test it out! I don't know what Your Excellency thinks of this idea?"
Official Yu was waiting for these very words. He laughed and exclaimed, "Speak as you wish!"
Official Nanguo scooted closer and whispered his plan into Official Yu's ear. Soon enough, Official Yu's expression turned into a satisfied smile. Finally, he rejoiced and chuckled, "Excellent, excellent! We'll split up to work. After we succeed, this official will definitely report the truth to the higher-ups. It won't be long before....you're transferred to the capital city, hehe!"
After taking his leave from Official Yu, Official Nanguo hurried over to the inn where Long Feiye and Han Yunxi were staying. Even in the toughest of places, Long Feiye was broad-handed as ever. He had made reservations at South Ning Prefecture's best inn. He had always been liberal with his money even before all the embezzling rumors had started. When there was no need to disguise himself or his whereabouts, he had extremely high standards for his clothing, food, living quarters, and travel arrangements. By the time Official Nanguo arrived, Long Feiye was drinking tea with Han Yunxi in the second floor lobby.
At the head of the stairs, Official Nanguo and a few of the officials he'd brought along stopped to bow and pay their respects. "Senior Provincial Official Nanguo Mingde3 of South Ning Prefecture greets Your Highness Duke of Qin. May Your Highness Duke of Qin prosper for thousands and thousands of years! Greetings to esteemed wangfei, may esteemed wangfei prosper for thousands and thousands of years!"
Ice cold eyes gave him a passing glance before their owner intoned, "Rise."
The chilly voice was enough to make everyone present shiver a few times. The other officials didn't even dare to spare an extra peek, but stood with their heads bowed as they trembled and shook with fear. Official Nanguo was also afraid, but walked forward at a quick pace with his back bent in a bow. "This official came late with his welcomes, causing my unfilial son to cause you a great affront. I ask that Your Highness forgive me."
"So, you father and son pair aren't planning to hand out the grain?" Long Feiye asked as he turned to face Official Nanguo with his frigid, emotionless pupils. The latter felt a cold chill down his back before he ducked his head with a heart full of fear. He had always heard of His Highness Duke of Qin as a cold, ruthless, vicious man. He would never show mercy to anyone for any reason. Now that he'd seen the man for himself, he was even starting to regret agreeing to Official Yu's proposal.
But there was no turning back now. An arrow once shot could not be taken back. "This humble official doesn't dare! What Your Highness ordered, this official shall do his utmost to fulfill. I wouldn't even hesitate to go through fire and water!" Official Nanguo hastily expressed his views.
"Then go on," Long Feiye said as he looked out the window. "It's getting late."
As Official Nanguo peered at His Highness Duke of Qin's icy profile, he almost felt an urge to give up right then and there. But for the sake of his life and that one last chance for hope, he braced himself and went on with the sham. Feigning an awkward expression, he said helplessly, "Your Highness Duke of Qin, there are 23,000 registered citizens of the city. If every person gets two jin of grain, then I'll need at least 40,000 jin. Gathering such a sum is hard enough in seasons of plenty, to say nothing of these troubled times!"
"So what you're saying is, your lordship's causing difficulties for you father and son pair?" Long Feiye asked coldly. By his side, Han Yunxi sat calmly drinking tea while watching him bully the man.
Official Nanguo broke out into cold sweat from fright. He quickly explained, "This official wouldn't dare, wouldn't dare! It's really too much grain for this official and I'm left incapable of action! May Your Highness Duke of Qin have clear judgment!"
"So what you're saying is, your lordship was tricked by your son?" Long Feiye asked next.
Han Yunxi nearly spat out her tea at the words. Meanwhile, Official Nanguo was so terrified that he fell to his knees with a loud thump. "My son wouldn't dare! Your Highness has misunderstood! My son doesn't know the difference between Heaven and Earth and spoke wildly, thus offending Your Highness. This official will pay in his place, so may Your Highness Duke of Qin disregard the slights of small men! Spare my son this once."
Finally, Long Feiye turned back again to meet him squarely with his eyes. His tone was stern, "Nanguo Mingde, the 20,000 some odd citizens of this city are all expecting their grain. Now you're telling your lordship you can't give them any. Why don't you teach your lordship how to explain that to them as well!"
Official Nanguo fell silent, not knowing what to say. Han Yunxi took this chance to sigh softly. "Your Highness, it's really impossible for Official Nanguo to offer up all that grain. As chenqie sees it, let's do as Nanguo Jun suggested and have them pay with their lives. If two lives can calm the anger of 20,000 citizens, hehe, I'd say it's worth it."
Official Nanguo's heart shook at these words. He had been considering how to retreat just then, but now he was firmly on Official Yu's side. He quickly cried out, "Your Highness have mercy! Have mercy! This official will go get the grain right away, this official will definitely try his best!"
Once he left the inn, Official Nanguo found it much easier to breathe. He had only come to put on a show at most. Of course he'd go to transfer the grain; otherwise, how was his playacting to continue? Tonight, South Ning Prefecture would hold a show worth watching!
Long Feiye and Han Yunxi stood shoulder-to-shoulder at the window as they watched Official Nanguo's retreating form.
"Your Highness, that senior provincial official wouldn't be stupid enough to really transfer the grain, would he?" As far as Han Yunxi knew, a senior provincial official was a high-ranking post. Nobody who climbed that high could be anyone simple.
Long Feiye didn't answer, but muttered to himself, "Where are all the disaster victims?"
South Ning City was the heart of South Ning Prefecture. They had traveled over half of its lands while coming down from the north, but had yet to see large crowds of disaster victims anywhere. News of the grain distribution at sundown should have spread by now, but more famine victims had yet to show up at within the city.
That's right...what is going on?
1. Yu () - a surname also found as a term in a sentence after a verb or an adjective. It could mean a variety of things: in/on/at, toward/to, (yielding) to/onto, with regard to/concerning, from, than, or by.
2. Qinwang () - as referenced in an earlier story arc, qinwang is a title for prince of the first rank. (Qinwang Rong would be another example of a person sharing this rank in the story). Long Feiye is referred to as the Duke of Qin because that is one of his other titles (, or qinwang with a different 'qin' character). The reason he is not referred to as Prince Qin in the story is to 1) avoid overlap/confusion with the crown princes/imperial sons as he technically outranks them, and 2) to save the title of "prince" for plot-relevant points later in the novel.
3. Mingde () - "illustrious virtue, highest virtue." Yeah, I'm feeling the irony here too.