Chapter 384: Are you done pretending yet?
Public opinion could indeed be swayed!
Thanks to the pageboy's words, all 20,000 or so of the disaster victims began to move about restlessly. At the same time, various shouts came out from different areas in the crowd.
"Official Nanguo hasn't embezzled any grain at all, so where's he supposed to get that much?!"
"Your Highness Duke of Qin, just spare Official Nanguo. His heart is wholly for the people, he even took the grain from his old mother!"
"That's right. Please, Your Highness Duke of Qin, have mercy on Official Nanguo!"
"Everyone, let's all plea with His Highness Duke of Qin!"
Gradually, the pleas voiced in Nanguo Mingde's favor rose louder and louder before they became the driving force. Those who didn't want to ask for mercy for his sake either kept silent or were pulled along by the crowd. Very soon, a sizable portion of the crowd had fallen to their knees to beg Long Feiye. Originally, it was Long Feiye demanding grain on behalf of the victims; now it'd turned into the victims interceding for Nanguo Mingde's sake. It had to be said that this was all due to Nanguo Mingde's abilities.
Long Feiye observed it all as a bystander, his head lowered to peer at Nanguo Mingde kneeling by his feet. His lips curved disdainfully. How could such tactics ever enter his eyes? Naturally, Nanguo Mingde had no courage to lift his head and face Long Feiye head on. He kept his head down while his eyes spun calculatingly in their sockets. He cast a quick glance to the crowd before raising his hands to cry, "Everyone, be quiet! Listen to me!"
His boldness silenced the entire crowd instantly.
"Everyone, the very fact that you've all pleaded for my life today shows that I, Nanguo Mingde, didn't become a senior provincial official in vain. It was all worth it! If I die before your very eyes by the Duke of Qin's sword today, it'll be without regrets! But there's one thing I can't let go of. If I go, who will beg for grain on your behalf?"
When the crowd heard these words, then saw Nanguo Mingde's sorrowful face, they couldn't help but feel grief-stricken. Many faces in the crowd held traces of regret. This Official Nanguo, he's really thinking of our plight at every possible moment!
Nanguo Mingde continued to speak in a loud voice. "I won't hide this from you all, but only 2,000dan of the relief grain from the imperial palace reached South Ning Prefecture. That was the sum given out to the disaster victims last month."
Everyone knew that they hadn't gotten near enough grain, but they never realized the exact sum was so paltry. The crowd grew into an uproar at the news. No wonder Official Nanguo hasn't been giving us grain. He had his troubles, too!
"Everyone! Everyone, listen to me! Please don't plea on my behalf any longer! As your provincial official, I, Nanguo Mingde, am willing to die to absolve these sins. I only beg Your Highness Duke of Qin to pity the tens of thousands of disaster victims in my South Ning Prefecture. Please send more grain to them!" As Nanguo Mingde finished, he finally looked over at Long Feiye, steeling his resolve despite the man's scrutinizing gaze.
Suddenly, another shout came from the crowd. "Where did the relief grain from the imperial palace go? Who embezzled it all?"
Another shout from a different direction called out, "And the silver allotted to the disaster regions as well! We've never seen that, either!"
"Your Highness Duke of Qin, where's the silver to relieve the famine victims?"
Tsk tsk, who gave these peasants the gall to directly interrogate Long Feiye? Long Feiye's icy frown grew more and more frigid, but Nanguo Mingde didn't understand the implications of his expression. Instead, he turned towards the direction of the shout with a stern rebuke. "You cannot be impudent! His Highness Duke of Qin is the emperor's imperial envoy. With his mission to relieve the disaster areas, His Highness Duke of Qin can definitely save everyone from calamity! He will definitely have a way to bring everyone grain!"
Although it was obvious to the public that even the wealthy were hard-pressed to find grain for sale at a time like this, Nanguo Mingde entreated Long Feiye on that very point. He was simply seizing public opinion-or rather, using public opinion to kill!
"Everyone together, let's beg His Highness Duke of Qin to give us some grain!"
"Your Highness Duke of Qin, please stop making things difficult for Official Nanguo! Please send us grain!"
Gradually, the long line of famine victims started swarming forward to join the ones in front, all of them shouting for grain. The crowd had nearly gone out of control, each and every one of the people calling 'Your Highness Duke of Qin,' but Long Feiye hadn't spared any of them a glance. He was as cold and chilly as an Antarctic iceberg, his hooded eyes staring at Nanguo Mingde as he spoke with a subzero tone. "Are you done pretending yet?"
Nanguo Mingde shuddered and nearly fell down the steps in front of his residence, never expecting this frosty-faced duke to be so calm under these circumstances. Moreover, Long Feiye had seen through his scheme with one look. Here was the critical juncture that left his life hanging in balance. If I can get past this, everything will be alright again. He would be promoted and get rich, then move away from South Ning Prefecture. If he failed, then only death awaited him. He pretended that he didn't hear Long Feiye say a word, and backed up a step before prostrating himself in an overly exaggerated fashion.
Every time his head met the ground with a kowtow, he cried, "May Your Highness Duke of Qin please send us grain! Your Highness Duke of Qin, please send us grain!"
This was a secret signal for the few pageboys behind him to secretly slip away. Soon enough, they returned with 'bad news' in tow.
"Report! Large hordes of famine victims have entered through the southern gates! We can't control them, but they're shouting for His Highness Duke of Qin to give them grain!"
"Report! Large hordes of famine victims burst through the western city gates. The soldiers can't hold them back, and they're already rushing this way!"
"Report! There are 4,000 or so famine victims causing a riot at the eastern gates. The soldiers weren't able to control the crowd, they're coming here now!"
Without a doubt, Official Yu had come to help out! A sinister curve rose to Nanguo Mingde's lips before he shot to his feet. "Someone come, protect His Highness Duke of Qin!"
It would've been better if he said nothing at all. At his words, someone instantly shouted from the crowd, "We can't let His Highness Duke of Qin leave! He has to give us an explanation!"
Echoes of agreement chimed in from various parts of the crowd. "His Highness Duke of Qin can't leave! Before we see our grain, His Highness Duke of Qin has to stay here!"
"Your Highness Duke of Qin, didn't you collect all that silver to buy grain for us famine victims?"
"Your Highness Duke of Qin, the national treasury had so much grain, but where did it all go? The people haven't seen a single granule!"
The 20,000 or so famine victims had fallen into chaos. All of them surged forward. Someone broke against the railings holding them back before a crowd of them slipped through to thoroughly block the doors to the provincial official's estate, penning Long Feiye in the center.
Voices of protest, of interrogation, of demands for grain-all rose together like waves from the mob. Very soon, all of the famine victims who'd burst through the city gates rushed to congregate with the rest of the crowd. These newcomers had their own system of organization, having long been fanned into furor. They were even more agitated than the 20,000 denizens that made up the city. They were indignant. They were wild with frenzy! All of them surged forward without restraint, hurling invectives and direct questions.
"Your Highness Duke of Qin, is it true that you embezzled the silver meant to buy relief grain?"
"Your Highness Duke of Qin, take out the grain and let us have a look. Aren't you here to help with relief efforts?"
"Why didn't the imperial envoy sent to save us bring any grain with him?"
"Where's Qin Wangfei? That scourge of trouble! She must have spent all the relief fund silver!"
"Your Highness Duke of Qin, where's the grain from the national treasury? Where did it all go? Give us an explanation!"
The crowd had gone completely out of control. Some parts of it had already broken out into mini-stampedes. Nanguo Mingde had his soldiers form a perimeter to keep away the rampaging hordes until they established a line of defense. Now he adopted an expression of helplessness as he cried, "Your Highness, just say something to reply about everything! Otherwise..."
"Otherwise, what?" Long Feiye retorted. He allowed the public to condemn him while remaining detached from it all, his cold gaze sweeping across the faces around him. So this is where all the missing famine victims went. Now they've all arrived. He was waiting for this very group of people to show up and cause a row. What he wanted to see was the person controlling it behind the scenes.
Nanguo Mingde was already going all out as he replied, "Your Highness, South Ning Prefecture has tens of thousands of famine victims. Perhaps it'd be better if you avoided them?"
How could Long Feiye do that? As soon as he did, it'd be exposing a guilty conscience!
"Is everyone here?" he asked coldly.
Nanguo Mingde was caught off guard. He didn't know what Long Feiye meant with his words.
"Has every single person arrived?" Long Feiye asked again.
Nanguo Mingde felt a thread of unease. He opened and closed his mouth a few times, uncertain as to how he should reply. At this moment, Official Yu arrived from his disguised location within the crowd. He quickly sent a meaningful glance at the soldiers nearby, who suddenly released their spears blocking the crowd. In that instant, scores of famine victims poured forward, ready to rip His Highness Duke of Qin apart. Anyone who saw the scene would be afraid.
"Duke of Qin, you can't leave!"
"Duke of Qin, give us our grain! Give us all the embezzled grain!"
"Hand over the silver for the disaster regions! Hand over Qin Wangfei as well!"
These victims had morphed into a angry mob already, their words even more horrific than the rumors that had been spread around. Their indignant censure, questions, and demands could make an ignorant listener believe that Long Feiye truly had embezzled silver and grain, and that all the rumors about him were true.
When Long Feiye saw the mob about to overwhelm him, he suddenly unsheathed his sword and raised it in the air!
In an instant, all of the charging hordes froze! They had only gotten worked up about the grain because they wanted to survive. Why wouldn't they value their lives? A single movement from Long Feiye was enough to shock and awe the tens of thousands of famine victims. By his side, Nanguo Mingde was already gaping at the sight. He thought that His Highness Duke of Qin would be forced to run away, but instead, he'd drawn his sword!
He...what's he planning?
Official Yu was surprised as well. But his lips remained drawn in a sinister smile. As he figured, the Duke of Qin must have been forced to a breaking point. Either he was planning to kill off the people or planned to turn his sword on Nanguo Mingde. In any case, there was no way to salvage the situation now. Once the famine victims began rioting, His Highness Duke of Qin would be forced to face the consequences whether he wanted or not. No matter what methods he used, there'd be no saving his reputation now. When the rumors became truth, the Duke of Qin would be irreparably smeared and found incompetent of his imperial envoy position.
Then the news would spread quickly to the other disaster regions. Going by His Excellency's plans, they too, would rise up in revolt. Once all three major disaster regions were plunged into chaos and denouncing His Highness Duke of Qin, Emperor Tianhui would be able to use it as a convenient excuse to investigate His Highness Duke of Qin and remove his royal title, making him a commoner.
Thinking up to here, Official Yu grew moved. He decided to push the Duke of Qin a little harder. He gave a meaningful glance at one of his attendants, disguised as a peasant in the crowd. That attendant boldly threw himself towards Long Feiye and his sword to cry, "Your Highness Duke of Qin, where is our grain?"