Chapter 386: But he's not willing
Kind people were cheated by others, kind horses were ridden by others. Sometimes, silence and patient tolerance would make others think you were easy to bully; they'd reach for a yard after getting an inch. But that wasn't always the case. Nanguo Mingde and Official Yu both had put on a farce for so long while the Duke of Qin remained silent throughout it all. The duo had really gotten into their roles, repeatedly reaching for their yards while assuming the Duke of Qin was an easy target.
Now look at the results!
Chu Xifeng had already brought a team of men to search through the senior provincial official's estates while the crowd waited with bated breath! Nanguo Mingde's face was ghastly white, his body trembling all over. He stared at the doors to his estate, too nervous to speak. Although he'd almost lost hope, he still held a fleeting thought that maybe they wouldn't discover his stores of grain in the secret basement.
Chu Xifeng didn't emerge for a long time.
Nanguo Mingde felt his lucky sense strengthen. Perhaps I'll be fortunate enough to escape detection? The secret stores of grain were hidden so well, and Chu Xifeng was unfamiliar with his property. How could he ever found the source? A long while later, Chu Xifeng finally emerged, earning the stares of everyone present. They were going to find out whether the estate had grain once and for all.
Chu Xifeng's careless glance rested on Nanguo Mingde for a second before he scoffed, alarming him greatly. The hands inside Nanguo Mingde's sleeves clenched into fists as his tension skyrocketed. But Chu Xifeng only said, "Your Highness Duke of Qin, this subordinate was unable to find any grain in the senior provincial official's estate."
They didn't find it? Does that mean Nanguo Mingde didn't embezzle any grain? The people present felt a little let down by that, while Nanguo Mingde relaxed completely. He knew it! He knew it'd be hard to find his secret stores! Finally, he'd escaped this calamity!
And yet, Chu Xifeng's very next words were, "Your Highness, this subordinate couldn't find it, but Young Master Nanguo is willing to personally lead the way on your behalf. According to him, there's a giant secret chamber full of grain inside the estate!"
The crowd broke into an uproar.
Chu Xifeng wasn't stupid enough to go searching all around the estate. All he'd done just then was threaten Nanguo Jun until the latter confessed. Nanguo Jun was all bark and no bite to begin with, so he was defenseless in front of his fear. It only took two or three sentence before he blabbed. Nanguo Mingde looked like he'd been struck by thunder five times over. He froze like a statue, never expecting his own son to sell him out!
This had to be called the ultimate dad-ception!1
Long Feiye's lips rose in a mocking lilt. "Official Nanguo, didn't you say your provincial officials estate had no more grain?" Even without seeing the secret storehouse, Nanguo Jun's words were evidence enough! The surrounding crowd began to grow indignant and accusatory as they overturned old gossip with the new. His Highness Duke of Qin hadn't embezzled the silver meant for the disaster areas; nor had he stolen their grain. Their so called provincial official was the greatest pest of all! He even said he'd taken the grain meant for his old mother. What an imagination!
Very soon, Chu Xifeng's men brought out bag after bag of grain, enough to make a small mountain outside the estate. Han Yunxi furrowed her brows at the sight. So many people had starved to death in these regions, but these types were still sitting on their piles of grain and waiting for the prices to rise. Why were they so heartless? This Nanguo Mingde, even a hundred deaths is too good for him!
As the crowd hurled curses, Nanguo Mingde remained kneeling as he shuddered all over. He kept shooting glances at Official Yu. But the latter was hard pressed to preserve his own life, much less Nanguo Mingde's. Instead of helping him out, Official Yu even worsened the situation by throwing rocks at a figurative well. "Nanguo Mingde, this official was mistaken in trusting you! I never thought you were that kind of man! South Ning Prefecture has the worst famine situation of all and got the largest share of relief grain, but you actually did something like this? How can you face the people now?" Official Yu asked righteously.
"Official Yu, you..." Nanguo Mingde was about to defend himself when Official Yu cut him off.
"Official Nanguo, you're also a man with a mother and children. How could you bear to see so many of the old and young die of starvation? Just what is your heart made out of?" Though these words sounded like a verbal rebuke, but anyone who listened carefully would find them a little odd. The onlookers didn't catch the veiled threat, but Nanguo Mingde did. Official Yu was holding the fate of his family against him! In his hands were the total records of grain sent to South Ning Prefecture by Official Yu. He might have embezzled the lot, but the grain he'd gotten had already been stolen from once. Official Yu meant for him to shoulder all the blame without implicating any of the higher-ups. Though Nanguo Mingde was unwilling, he knew early on that he'd be the dead scapegoat should everything fail.
What else could he say? He pressed his head against the ground and fell silent.
"Your Highness Duke of Qin is wise and brilliant! For the sake of South Ning's populace, you've captured such a large pest. It really is their good fortune!" Official Yu flattered.
Long Feiye didn't spare him a glance. "Someone come," he commanded coldly, "Hang up Nanguo Mingde outside the city gates. Starve him for three days and three nights before his interrogation!"
Embezzling grain, was it? Then let him taste the flavor of going hungry! Despite accepting his lot, Nanguo Mingde was still afraid! He started kowtowing as he implored, "Your Highness Duke of Qin, have mercy! Have mercy, ah! This official never dares to do it again! I beg Your Highness Duke of Qin to give me another chance!"
Long Feiye was a very intelligent man. Having grown up in an imperial court full of flatterers, cheats, and struggles both open and covert, he was very clear on the veiled threat behind Official Yu's words just then. He also had plenty of ways to ensure the safety of Nanguo Mingde's old mother and his children, then make the man admit the actual quantity of grain sent to South Ning Prefecture.
But he wasn't willing to act!
Nanguo Mingde was in charge of overseeing the entire South Ning Prefecture. How could Official Yu and the higher-ups ever embezzle so much so successfully, if not without his help? Long Feiye never like giving second chances to those who deserved their punishments. He ignored Nanguo Mingde's pleas and said, "Someone come, take him away this instant!"
"Your Highness Duke of Qin! Have mercy, ah!"
"Your Highness Duke of Qin, this official knows his wrongs! I know my wrongs!"
Very soon, Nanguo Mingde's cries were drowned in the supportive shouts of the crowd. Two guards escorted him to the city gates. Someone threw a rock at him, causing the rest of the crowd to follow suit. By the time Nanguo Mingde reached the gates, he was already battered all over by rocks, his head alone sporting multiple bumps. He truly felt regretful from the bottom of his heart. If possible, he'd rather offend the imperial uncle than this Duke of Qin! What if I hadn't fanned the flames of the people just then? Would His Highness Duke of Qin have shown me more mercy?
Fine. In this world there existed no antidote for regrets.
Official Yu's back broke out in cold sweat as he watched Nanguo Mingde's wretched form being led away. He only rejoiced in the fact that the other man was sober enough to keep mum about most of the details. After looking at the piles of grain around them, he quickly tried to ingratiate himself. "Your Highness Duke of Qin, this official is willing to give his all to assist Your Highness in dividing up the grain!"
Long Feiye still ignored him, treating him as nothing more than air. Official Yu dared not speak up again after that. His heart felt disturbed and uncertain after seeing His Highness Duke of Qin's blatant disregard. Even he couldn't believe that the man would let him off so easily. Feeling like he was on tenterhooks, he waited respectfully on one side, not daring to leave the scene.
Long Feiye ordered, "Chu Xifeng, arrange for the grain to be distributed to the people of each county and township based on population count. Tell those in charge that anyone who dares to embezzle grain again-even a single granule-will receive the same consequences as Nanguo Mingde!"
"Yes!" Chu Xifeng assented as he left.
With so much grain, they'd still have to rely on the local officials to distribute it all. Long Feiye hadn't brought that many men with him. With Nanguo Mingde hanging outside the city gates, both the officials below and above him should start to panic soon. Once the peasants scattered and left, Long Feiye and Han Yunxi settled down in South Ning Prefecture at the senior provincial official's estate. Although Official Yu's heart was filled with a hundred complaints, he had no choice but to follow them into the dwelling. He still couldn't fathom where His Highness Duke of Qin had found so much grain. Of course, there was no time to consider that now. He silently told himself to stand strong no matter how His Highness Duke of Qin forced his hand. No matter what, I cannot reveal the true amount of grain dispatched to the disaster regions.
Fortunately, he was one of the four main officials at the Ministry of Revenue and backed by the imperial uncle. Moreover, the emperor had personally appointed him as the grain ambassador. Unless His Highness Duke of Qin got his hands on those numbers, he couldn't do anything to him. Naturally, events soon proved that Official Yu had grossly underestimated His Highness Duke of Qin. The man didn't ask him anything about the grain, but simply issued an order.
"Grain ambassador Yu Guangfu2 allowed the senior provincial official of South Ning Prefecture to engage in his embezzling ways. By failing to report the misdemeanor, you've committed a third-rank crime! Someone come, take Yu Guangfu to the prisons. Your lordship will interrogate him personally!"
Yu Guangfu was floored by his words. He never thought that His Highness Duke of Qin would accuse him of such a crime!
"Your Highness, Your Highness! This official's been wrongly accused! This official only just came recently to South Ning Prefecture as well and was unaware of the situation here!" Official Yu rushed to defend himself.
Long Feiye smiled icily. "Then what about your previous post?"
"This official...this official was at Longxi Prefecture!" Yu Guangfu replied in a rush.
"The actual sum of grain that reached the famine victims at Longxi Prefecture was even less than South Ning Prefecture. Many of them died overnight, and at least two major riots broke out in the area. Do you take your lordship as someone who knows nothing?" Long Feiye asked angrily.
Official Yu fell to his knees in alarm. "Your Highness, this official has done nothing but assess the situation strictly by the facts. As to the grain I've given and where it's gone, this official really doesn't... His Majesty only told this official to be in charge of dividing the grain, that's all. That isn't part of my responsibilities."
He even brought up Emperor Tianhui? Long Feiye's eyes flashed with disdain as he gave an cold snort. "Your lordship isn't here to see whether you've properly divided the grain, but to punish you for dereliction of duty! Guards, hurry and take him away!"
"Your Highness Duke of Qin, this official didn't know a thing!"
"Your Highness Duke of Qin, this official is His Majesty's personally appointed ambassador, you cannot..."
"Your Highness Duke of Qin...!"
Long Feiye remained unmoved as Official Yu explained, begged, pleaded, and even mentioned Emperor Tianhui yet again. Since he was in the disaster regions now, everything would follow his word instead! He waved a hand to signal the guards to take their prisoner away...
Han Yunxi watched Official Yu struggling the entire way out before she burst into a fit of laughter.
"What are you laughing about?" Long Feiye asked frostily.
1. dad-ception () - kengdie, alright, I tried to translate this pun as well as I could in English. Kengdie itself is internet slang for something dishonest, fraudulent, or a lie, but die () also means "father." Thus we get dads + deception = deception. *cough* I'll see myself out...
2. Yu Guangfu () - Guangfu means "widespread wealth."