Chapter 353: Outwardly docile, inwardly devious
Long Feiye stopped talking upon her arrival, while Chu Xifeng respectfully retreated to the corner of the room. Han Yunxi could tell they'd been talking business, but because her matter was rather time-sensitive, she had no choice but to tell Long Feiye now.
"Your Highness, may I discuss something with you?" she asked seriously.
Su Xiaoyu had returned to the Leisurely Cloud Pavilion. Zhao mama couldn't set her worries to rest, so she'd followed Han Yunxi here in case she did something rash. She was already feeling nervous from Han Yunxi's words, and secretly tugged at her robes. Although Zhao mama dearly wished to tell His Highness Duke of Qin how Mu Liuyue had humiliated Han Yunxi, she didn't dare! She knew the Duke of Qin liked esteemed wangfei, but how much? And to what extent? She wasn't clear.
She only knew that His Highness and esteemed wangfei weren't 100 steps apart anymore. But they weren't much closer, either. Originally, the empress dowager had decreed their marriage, while Emperor Tianhui had urged it on. Back then, the entire wedding had been a way to insult and humiliate the Duke of Qin. If esteemed wangfei came to ask for betrothal gifts now, His Highness Duke of Qin would definitely be unhappy, even more so than before. It wasn't certain whether he'd gift her any for real.
"What is it?" Long Feiye asked mildly. In his memories, this woman rarely asked him for anything, much less in such a rush.
Han Yunxi allowed Zhao mama to keep tugging as she spoke. "Your Highness, chenqie wants to throw a birthday banquet for mufei."
Zhao mama was completely at a loss. What?
Long Feiye was surprised as well. Why did this woman suddenly come up with that idea?
"Why?" Long Feiye asked.
Han Yunxi's eyes glimmered craftily before she suddenly scooted closer. Long Feiye was caught off-guard, but he didn't back away. He allowed her to stand right next to him. Han Yunxi grinned before she whispered something in his ear. Her words were unintelligible, but Long Feiye simply nodded with visible interest. Everyone else present at the scene felt like their heads were stuck in a fog. They wanted to ask questions, but didn't dare to interrupt the pair.
Han Yunxi spoke at length and in detail about what she wanted to do, her breath teasing the edges of Long Feiye's ear. He was reluctant to have her leave by the time she finished and straightened up.
Meanwhile, Han Yunxi had no idea how intimate they'd looked just then. She was all business. "Your Highness, what do you think?"
Long Feiye pinched his ear, feeling refreshed. "It'll be done according to your wishes."
Han Yunxi was thrilled. "Will Your Highness come too?"
Long Feiye actually broke into a soft smile. "I will!"
Both of them looked to be in an excellent mood. Tang Li and the rest were left completely befuddled. Just what had they talked about? Were they really going to hold a birthday banquet for Grand Concubine Yi?
When Han Yunxi left, Tang Li asked in bewilderment, "Big bro, it's not a good idea for Grand Concubine Yi to show herself again, is it?"
Every since the incident with Mama Su, the two big shots in the palace had been secretly investigating Long Feiye's origins nonstop. Grand Concubine Yi would be in great danger if she was exposed, especially if she fell into the emperor and empress dowager's hands.
"It's inconsequential," Long Feiye replied leisurely.
Han Yunxi began preparations for the birthday banquet that very day. The first thing she did was to write invitations inviting all the members of the imperial clan and the court's officials and ministers. It didn't matter whether they sided with Long Feiye, Emperor Tianhui, or took a moderate stance-all were welcome to come. Of course, she'd invited them under Long Feiye's name, after getting his permission. Once the invitations went out, commentary rose from all sides. Grand Concubine Yi's birthday banquet was only a few days short of the crown prince's wedding. Just what was the Duke of Qin's estate planning?
"Heheh, they're trying to steal the show! I'd like to see how many people show up! What an insensible thing to do at a time like this!"
"The Duke of Qin's faction would naturally attend, but..."
"...but they'd only end up singing their own praises! Hahah, as I see it, they're planning to turn renegade. Perhaps they'll be a show worth seeing this time."
"I never expected Great General Mu to stand on the crown prince's side. Aye, the Duke of Qin's truly in a perilous position!"
If the crown prince hadn't chosen to wed General Mu's daughter, Grand Concubine Yi's birthday banquet might be a more popular affair. But as things stood, and with the wedding so near, even people like General Baili were left baffled by his actions. Wasn't His Highness Duke of Qin just inviting a snub from everyone else?
Long Feiye himself offered no explanations whatsoever.
While everyone was in the middle of planning to reject the invitations, Han Yunxi suddenly used Long Feiye's name again, this time to issue a public proclamation. The contents of the announcement said that Grand Concubine Yi's birthday banquet would be entirely vegetarian, because the grand imperial concubine had abstained from eating meat to pray to Buddha. In addition, because severe famine had claimed many victims across the country, it would neither be a luxurious or extravagant affair. They had to be frugal. But more important than either of those nuggets of news was the fact that they'd hold an auction for rare and precious medicinal plants at the banquet. All of the proceeds would be used to fund relief efforts in the disaster struck areas.
A huge reversal happened towards the Duke of Qin's event in the wake of this proclamation. There were no more dissenters, as everyone strove to attend the event and express their support. Even members of Emperor Tianhui's party, as well as the moderate factions, found themselves unable to refuse the invitation. In order to win the hearts of the people, they had to at least make a show of support even if their hearts felt differently towards the party host.
Han Yunxi had been utterly devious!
First, she'd sent an invitation without disclosing the details of the banquet. Then, she made a public proclamation of her intentions. Many of the people who had made irresponsible, sarcastic remarks before ended up slapping themselves in the face!
Long Feiye stood in his study, staring out the window at the figure busying herself outside of the Leisurely Cloud Pavilion. The doting gaze in his eyes grew more pronounced as he watched.
Meanwhile, Emperor Tianhui stared at the invitation for the empress dowager, his face so cloudy that one could squeeze water from his features!
"Buying the hearts of the people, what a hypocrite!"
"I'll go take a look myself. I'd like to see what kind of tricks they'll try!" the empress dowager disapproved.
Furthermore, Han Yunxi had even sent people to specially spread the word. Within two days, all corners of the capital and its surrounding cities and towns knew of the upcoming banquet. Before long, the news would probably spread all over the country. In an instant, news of the crown prince's impending wedding became buried until the event itself occurred. Everyone was talking about Grand Concubine Yi's birthday banquet now. Many sang the praises of His Highness Duke of Qin for loving the common people as his own children. Nobody brought up the crown prince or Mu Liuyue anymore.
Han Yunxi had already shown her skills before the party had even started, leaving Emperor Tianhui and the empress dowager in a state of panic. Of course, nobody outside the loop knew this was Han Yunxi's doing. All of them assumed that it was the Duke of Qin's idea.
Grand Concubine Yi's birthday banquet and the crown prince's wedding were only days apart. If they made such a big deal of the famine now, how could the crown prince dare to hold a grand marriage procession? He wouldn't even dare to give too many betrothal gifts to the bride! But his side had already published the list of betrothal gifts before. If he didn't give her any presents now, it would make things awkward.
"Imperial father, as erchen sees it, why don't we donate all the betrothal gifts? As well as the silver prepared for the wedding? We can conform to a principle of simplicity," Long Tianmo rather admired His Highness Duke of Qin's methods. His only reason for marrying Mu Liuyue was to cement the military power backing her. He didn't care much about the wedding ceremony itself. It would actually save more time and effort if they didn't make a fuss. He too, had never expected that he'd marry Mu Liuyue one day. The more pomp and grandeur they took on, the more stifled he felt.
Before Emperor Tianhui could speak, the empress dowager exploded. "Impossible! How could a dignified and proper crown prince's wedding conform to the principles of simplicity? The Duke of Qin's waiting for you to donate those very things! Are you really going to do as he wants?"
"Imperial grandmother, the hearts of the people are more important! Erchen didn't want anything extravagant to begin with," Long Tianmo was sincere in his argument.
Of course the empress dowager understood his reasons, but she was unwilling to yield. She'd taken so many cares for the sake of her grandson's wedding! Moreover, the imperial uncle's estate had covered much of the costs for the ceremony. In other words, the imperial uncle was using the wedding as collateral to bribe General Mu's estate to their side! The wedding date might be set, and Mu Qingwu and the crown prince might be on friendly terms now, but it wasn't enough to stop the imperial uncle from worrying! He was a sly old fox who knew that even an alliance between in-laws couldn't guarantee absolutely loyalty from the general's estate. However, once money came into the equation, it'd be harder for them to refuse.
If they tried to give the general's estate a large lump sum of silver, it was debatable whether General Mu or Mu Qingwu would even accept the money. However, if they could convert the value into betrothal gifts instead while telling the public that they were quite expensive presents, General Mu wouldn't be able to refuse the crown prince face in the future, even if he refused his intentions!
How would the imperial uncle's side be able to explain themselves if everything was donated instead?
Long Tianmo was too lazy to pay any attention to the empress dowager. He looked seriously at Emperor Tianhui and said, "Imperial father, this situation is a perfect chance to win the people's hearts. Erchen would like to be personally present at the birthday banquet and its charity auction. I want to use the wedding funds to make bids."
Emperor Tianhui was clearer than anyone else that the crown prince would have to attend Grand Concubine Yi's birthday banquet. Moreover, he'd have to bring along enough silver to draw popular attention back to their side. He much preferred to fight against the imperial uncle's estate in the future, rather than lose this chance to contend with Long Feiye for power. The only reason he'd agreed to this wedding was so he'd gain more power through the crown prince's faction. This way, he'd have more force to reckon with Long Feiye.
Originally, he was planning to move against Long Feiye once the wedding was finished and alliances cemented between the imperial uncle and generals' estates. He never expected Long Feiye to fool around at a time like this! Emperor Tianhui had to admit that he admired the man for his move. Naturally, he could guess the intentions of the imperial uncle's estate as well.
After some hesitation, he stroked his beard and said, "Tianmo, you make the decision."
"Your Majesty!" the empress dowager cried.
"Muhou, our days are still long yet," Emperor Tianhui said, before he added, "Muhou, you shouldn't let Grand Concubine Yi win the people's hearts, either." It was a reminder that this was Grand Concubine Yi's birthday banquet. Once it was finished, Grand Concubine Yi's good name would spread throughout the land. Perhaps it'd even outshine the name of the proper empress dowager in the palace.
That wouldn't do! She too, as the empress dowager, would have to take silver to buy back public attention!
Mu Liuyue didn't know about anything currently happening in the palace. However, when the general's estate got their own invitation, she wanted to attend as well. She knew that using the famine as a pretext was a way to buy people's hearts. Despite this, she never made the serious connection between the banquet and her own impending wedding. In her mind, this was her first chance for a public appearance after her reputation had been revived. For better or worse, she should at least show up at the event. As a result, she prepared quite a bit of silver as collateral, too.
In the end, various powers throughout the capital city all prepared their silver to wait for Grand Concubine Yi's birthday banquet. If they had known that the banquet only existed because Mu Liuyue annoyed a certain Qin Wangfei, what would they think instead?
Well, those are words for another time...