Chapter 387: Emperor Tianhui is so vexed
"I'm laughing because Your Highness is planning to make him confess to charges under torture!" Han Yunxi said with a bright grin.
That Official Yu not only oversaw the amount of grain sent to South Ning Prefecture, but the other two major disaster regions as well. The difference in the account books between what was given and what Long Feiye bought would be another proof of embezzlement. Now that things had come to this point, Long Feiye's personality wouldn't have the patience to investigate into such details. Since he captured Official Yu, he'd squeeze out all the information from his lips! 'Confess to charges under torture' wasn't a pretty accusation, yet Long Feiye didn't get angry.
Instead, he asked, "Do you have any good ideas?"
Han Yunxi was thrilled. "Your Highness, you have asked the right person!" She had plenty of poisons on hand that would making people suffer a living death! Meanwhile, the guards by the side all felt that this husband and wife duo were like a pair of wolves working together. Mhm, it's better not to antagonize His Highness Duke of Qin or Qin Wangfei. They're both absolutely villainous!
During the next few days, Long Feiye and Han Yunxi stayed at the senior provincial official's estate, observing the situation with the grain distribution while slowly tormenting Official Yu. At the same time, the other two regions began to receive their grain deliveries as well. The news of Nanguo Mingde being strung up to see outside the city gates also spread to the other two regions as well. The loyal and upright officials all hailed and clapped at the report, while the corrupt ones were left terror-stricken. They found all sorts of excuses to uncover and spit out their stored grain to give back to the people, worried that they'd suffer an even worse fate if they didn't distribute their stores in time.
According to estimates, His Highness Duke of Qin's grain, combined with the stores from the corrupt officials, were sufficient to feed the disaster regions for one and a half months without any trouble. Long Feiye didn't plan on going to the two other regions, as he was far too busy to bother with such minor officials. His eye was fixated on the high-ranking head above them all. Soon enough, news of the grain distribution spread across the entire country, causing the rumors against Long Feiye to collapse. In their place came singing praises and acclaim, until the story of how the Duke of Qin saved the disaster regions became Tianning's most important news topic. It even went beyond their borders to other countries! His Highness Duke of Qin had a impressive reputation to begin with, and this only added to his fame.
Even though the disaster regions still needed help, His Highness Duke of Qin had already captured the people's hearts!
The imperial uncle was one of the first to hear such news and found himself physically paralyzed at his desk for ages. If he couldn't figure out where Long Feiye had gotten all that grain by now, then he didn't need to be an imperial uncle anymore.
A trap! This was all a trap, starting from the charity auction itself! I've not only lost my silver, but my grain as well! The shock was too much for him, the realization coming with a bitter, excruciating agony.
The Imperial uncle sat there for a very long time before he suddenly shouted, "Someone, come! Get Qian Rong1 here, quickly!"
If Long Feiye could buy grain from the black market, that meant he knew for certain the Lin Clan's grain shop was under the imperial uncle's command. Even though those two parties had never interacted directly and only communicated via secret missives, they'd still been discovered. During that business in the black market, the imperial uncle was impatient to cash in the silver drafts, and had left all of the business management to Qian Rong. He was supposed to talk and act in his place. In the end, Qian Rong had even taken the potential sellers to the location of his grain depot! When the imperial uncle recalled such a thing, he realized what had happened. But it was all too late now! If Long Feiye ever found a clue from Qian Rong and traced it back to him, everything would be over!
"To reply master, Qian Rong isn't at home," a guard quickly came back to report.
"Then where is he?" the imperial uncle asked in alarm.
"This subordinate doesn't know. From what I heard from the servants, he's been missing for days," the guard said honestly.
The imperial uncle's face turned stark white. "Search! Hurry and find him for me!"
The guards who went on a manhunt returned the next day with a clear answer: Qian Rong had gone missing! Even his hometown had no news of his whereabouts. The imperial uncle was left thoroughly flustered. He immediately issued orders to cut off all contact with the Lin Clan while killing off all its members in secret.
"Someone come, go to the Yu Estate and bring back Yu Guangfu's wife and children! Quickly!" the imperial uncle ordered urgently.
Unfortunately, he was too late. Long Feiye had long taken hold of the Yu Clan after leaving the capital city. How could the esteemed and respected Duke of Qin ever fight a losing battle? The imperial uncle was left as anxious as a cat on a hot tin roof. Meanwhile, the nephew he supported with all his strength was watching his plight like a farce. This too, was a form of mockery.
Long Tianmo had already told Mu Qingwu before getting the news, "Young General, it's a good thing that all the betrothal gifts were given over to the disaster regions. Otherwise, the general's estate would be hard-pressed to escape public censure if the imperial uncle's estate falls!"
Mu Qingwu had wore a complicated expression before remaining silent. He had chosen to rely on His Highness Crown Prince precisely so he could seize the chance to infiltrate the imperial uncle's circle and investigate his corruption. But as he and Long Tianmo grew closer, he discovered that this crown prince was even more righteously indignant about the imperial uncle's misdemeanors. Meanwhile, the imperial uncle had his guard up against the crown prince as well. He hadn't told Long Tianmo many details regarding the grain for the disaster regions at all.
"Young General, I expect the Great General should feel much more relieved now," Long Tianmo half questioned. The marriage between him and Mu Liuyue had been led on by Mu Qingwu. Great General Mu had always taken a moderate stance, having no good feelings for the imperial uncle's estate. He'd only agreed with great reluctance after he failed to dissuade Mu Liuyue herself. Now that the imperial uncle's estate was about to collapse, perhaps the Great General would forget about his scruples and wholeheartedly support his son-in-law?
Mu Qingwu hesitated for a moment before he finally spoke up. "Your Highness Crown Prince, the imperial uncle's estate has deep roots. Three days of frost isn't enough to make a foot of ice!"2
Long Tianmo inwardly rejoiced at his words. Mu Qingwu had beat around the bush multiple times, but he'd finally expressed himself openly this time! He knew that the proper and upright general's estate would never take a fancy to such betrothal gifts. How could they ever shift their stance for the sake of a disreputable daughter's marriage? Most likely, the old General Mu already knew in his heart which faction to support.
"The only thing I fear is that it'll be hard to persuade imperial father and imperial grandmother of the matter. So I'd like to ask General Mu to enter the palace and try," Long Tianmo murmured.
The imperial uncle had a special status within the imperial court. Even if His Highness Duke of Qin found concrete proof of his wrongdoings, it would still be up to imperial father to declare him guilty of his crimes. In truth, imperial father had known of the imperial uncle's wrongdoings long ago, but he'd always opened one eye while closing the other. After all, if he touched the imperial uncle's estate, that would affect all other aspects of the imperial court as well. Right now, all powers in the dynasty were at an equilibrium. Imperial father would never cause waves to affect any side at this point in time.
However, if Great General Mu personally came to the palace and expressed his clear indications to support the Eastern Palace, then everything would change. The general's tangible show of support would give the Eastern Palace-and its crown prince-a solid footing in the dynasty. Imperial father would then be able to seize the chance and eliminate the imperial uncle's estate!
Mu Qingwu was thinking to himself. Although his risk this time hadn't allowed him to grab evidence against the imperial uncle, he had at least helped out in the process. He looked at the crown prince's sincere gaze and secretly felt a little happy. In the end, he'd chosen the right path, after all.
"Your Highness, this soldier shall return home right away and convince father. As for the empress dowager..."
Before Mu Qingwu finished, Long Tianmo thumped his own chest and promised, "Leave the empress dowager to this crown prince. You don't have to worry!"
Emperor Tianhui had received the latest news even earlier than the imperial uncle's estate. He shut himself up in his study after that and refused to meet anyone.
"Your Majesty, His Highness Crown Prince has been waiting a long time outside," Eunuch Luo reported in a soft voice.
"Didn't Zhen say already that Zhen wouldn't meet with anyone?" Emperor Tianhui clenched his fist and slammed it against the secret missives on his table, his eyebrows creased with extreme vexation.
"His Highness said it's something very important and insists on seeing Your Majesty," Eunuch Luo said timidly.
"Spread the word that Zhen is feeling indisposed. Court will be canceled for three days. If there's an emergency, they can send a message to the Resting Heart Pavilion. Otherwise, have the crown prince take care of the rest!" Emperor Tianhui impatiently waved his hand before rising to leave through the back doors and head for Resting Heart Pavilion.
The famine problem had yet to be resolved, yet the Duke of Qin had already won over the people's hearts. How could he be satisfied with that? The fuss raised from the disaster regions would definitely get the imperial uncle's estate in trouble sooner or later. It wasn't only the crown prince, but various civil and military officials as well, that prepared booklets either defending or denouncing the imperial uncle's estate. As an emperor, he had his difficulties solving problems, too! The imperial uncle's faction in the royal court was a powerful force that he both loved and loathed. Though he wanted to get rid of them quickly, he always wanted to use them for his own means. Unfortunately, the time of either had yet to come to fruition.
That hateful Duke of Qin! It had taken less than 10 days after he left for the famine regions before he tossed the emperor such a thorny problem! Of course, that wasn't the worst of Emperor Tianhui's headaches. His biggest problem now was how to counter the Duke of Qin since the famine issue was still raging. Letting him off just like that felt too cheap. In the future, the populace would only know the name of Tianning's Duke of Qin instead of its Emperor Tianhui!
Eunuch Luo hurried after the emperor as he left, more or less guessing his thoughts. "Your Majesty, it's still the beginning of winter right now. True winter has yet to arrive."
New grain wouldn't be available until people planted them in early spring. From then, it would still be some time before the harvest season in late summer. The road to famine relief was still a long one. Despite hitting the nail of the head, Emperor Tianhui was too preoccupied to find merit in Eunuch Luo's words. Any form of discourse made him sick at heart now. He turned back with a glare and roared, "Scram!"
The frightened Eunuch Luo quickly withdrew until he left the imperial study and ran into Long Tianmo.
"Eunuch Luo, is imperial father truly unwell?" Long Tianmo asked doubtfully.
"Your Highness Crown Prince, His Majesty is indisposed. It's better if you go back," Eunuch Luo pled.
"Has Imperial Physician Gu been summoned?" Long Tianmo asked next. Only imperial physicians would have a chance to speak to His Majesty now.
"Your Highness, His Majesty hasn't called for an imperial physician yet, but it definitely wouldn't be Imperial Physician Gu. Imperial Physician Gu asked for sick leave a month ago and went back to his hometown, so he won't be back so soon," Eunuch Luo said honestly.
"Such a long leave..." Long Tianmo felt suspicious, but didn't think much of it. After all, the man was just an imperial physician.
Currently in far off South Ning Prefecture, Han Yunxi was doing the final touch-ups on Long Feiye's injury. Coincidentally, the two of them had also brought up the subject of Gu Beiyue.
"I heard that Gu Beiyue asked for a sick leave and went back to his hometown?" It was a rare thing for Long Feiye to bring up his name in front of Han Yunxi.
"Really? Where did Your Highness hear that from?" Han Yunxi asked doubtfully. They'd been gone for a month now, but this guy had specially searched for news about Gu Beiyue's whereabouts?
1. Qian Rong () - Qian means "money," Rong means "lofty."
2. Three days of frost...a foot of ice () - bingdong yichi fei sanri zhihan, or the Chinese equivalent of "Rome wasn't built in a day." Mu Qingwu is hinting that the imperial uncle's estate has had time to build up its power base, so it wouldn't be toppled so quickly/easily.