Chapter 389: Wangfei can't know
Official Yu really had nothing to say but 'words of the deceased.' Over the course of a few days, Han Yunxi had long gotten numbers for all the grain sent to the three disaster regions from his mouth-as well as the actual quantity that had reached the famine victims. Unfortunately for him, the difference between the two numbers matched the amount in the imperial uncle's hands exactly. Han Yunxi didn't bother asking Official Yu just who embezzled the grain. As long as they handed over the man's signed testimony to Emperor Tianhui, then reported the relationship between the imperial uncle and the black market's Lin Clan grain shop, then the imperial uncle could take care of the explaining himself. Perhaps they'd even hear a few absurd and fantastic explanations from it as well.
Naturally, Long Feiye wasn't stupid enough to send in the proof himself. If he simply submitted it as a memorial to the throne, only Emperor Tianhui would see the evidence. Because of the imperial uncle's high rank and widespread influence, there was no guarantee that Emperor Tianhui would touch him then. However, if he used someone else to deliver the evidence, then everything would be different. Han Yunxi assumed all along that Long Feiye would borrow the crown prince for this task. He was clearer than anyone else on Long Tianmo's disposition and ill grudge towards the imperial uncle's estate. Instead, Long Feiye said, "Chu Xifeng, gather up all the evidence and deliver them to Great General Mu."
Great General Mu!
Han Yunxi was stunned. Why didn't she remember that they could use the Great General as well? The general hadn't wed off his daughter for the sake of a few betrothal gifts, but so that his child would have a good home to settle down. Hateful as his reasons were, they still made logical sense. A parent's heart was to be pitied to such cases. If they gave Great General Mu the chance to topple the imperial uncle's estate now, thus severing ties between the crown prince and imperial uncle once and for all, the crown prince would be an innocent party, while the Mu Clan wouldn't be cursed for their relation to the corrupt imperial uncle. His Highness wasn't just giving Great General Mu a chance, but doing the entire general's estate a huge favor! And even if the general's estate really became loyal allies to the crown prince after this, they still wouldn't dare to challenge the Duke of Qin's estate straight on.
"Your Highness, the scouts reported that Mu Qingwu's been getting very close with the crown prince recently," Chu Xifeng replied in a low voice. Although they were far away from the capital city, nothing happening there could escape His Highness Duke of Qin's eyes.
"Long Tianmo was taught by Tianhui, after all. How stupid could he be?" Long Feiye's words were hard to read. Was he praising the crown prince, or mocking him? Even if Long Tianmo could persuade General Mu to drum up support for the idea to Emperor Tianhui, he still needed the evidence from them to make any progress. In truth, the Duke of Qin was helping Long Tianmo out with this too. Unless Long Tianmo could absolve his connections with the imperial uncle's estate, he wouldn't be able to go far!
Han Yunxi listened on quietly and recalled the scene of Mu Qingwu coming to the Duke of Qin's estate to thank her once for saving his life. He was an open and upright young man, with strong features and bright, piercing eyes. Every time he stood or sat, stepped or moved, it was always with perfect military posture, each movement filled with strength. Now that the imperial uncle's estate was on the edge of collapse, this young man had escaped being smeared in association with them. But in the end, he'd still chosen to stand on the crown prince's side and become their opponent.
Mu Qingwu, you chose the crown prince for the sake of your useless little sister. Was it worth it to give up the Duke of Qin?
Many years later, Han Yunxi would finally know that Mu Qingwu didn't choose the crown prince at all. Nor did he choose the Duke of Qin. In truth, his only choice had been her. There were so things that even the smartest people had no way to figure out. Some things didn't follow brains or raw intelligence, but the heart instead.
Human hearts were the hardest things to read!
After Chu Xifeng organized the evidence, he personally took Official Yu and the starving Nanguo Mingde with him back to the capital. Both the materials and the people were delivered in a large wooden box to the courtyard of General Mu.
"Great General Mu, these are gifts that His Highness Duke of Qin brought back for you from the disaster regions. Please kindly accept his sentiments," Chu Xifeng said respectfully.
"I don't dare, I don't dare!" Great General Mu bowed slightly with his hands clasped in front. Before the impressive strength of the Duke of Qin, even a general like him needed to bow. Thanks to shifts in the current political climate and the great waves moving public opinion, Great General Mu had secluded himself in his quarters after Mu Liuyue's wedding and rarely came out, despite keeping a tab on things. He hadn't guessed that the Duke of Qin would give him gifts, but he more or less knew what those gifts could be.
"This general gives thanks to His Highness for bestowing this reward. I ask that Guard Chu pass on my sentiments to him."
"I will. Take care of the goods. This subordinate bids his farewell," Chu Xifeng said without another word.
A few days later, Long Feiye and Han Yunxi received stormy reports of great unrest coming from the distant capital city! Emperor Tianhui was still recuperating from an illness. Great General Mu and Young General Mu Qingwu had brought along ten or so major officials of the royal court to kneel in front of the palace gates and plea on the famine victims' behalf. They accused the imperial uncle, Li Shirong1 of bribing Official Yu from the Ministry of Revenue and all the other officials, as well as colluding with the black market to embezzle the relief fund grain.
In the end, Emperor Tianhui was forced to grant them an audience while ill, and commanded the crown prince to take over in his place. The Board of Punishment was to cooperate fully with his efforts to investigate this case! Because of that, the old empress dowager had caused a fuss at the Resting Heart Pavilion for three days and three nights, forcing Emperor Tianhui to hide himself. What else could he do now? Things had gotten to this point, so he could only take the chance to push the crown prince forward, giving him a chance to show him as a man willing to sacrifice ties of blood to righteousness.
Less than half a month later, the entire case was concluded with irrefutable evidence, exposing everything. The imperial uncle was revoked of his title and status and demoted to a commoner. Half of his family properties were confiscated, sending him crashing from the clouds above to the mud below. If it had been anyone else but the crown prince in charge of the case, he might have gotten off more lightly. Even without a title and property, he could still recover both in the future. But this time he'd lost the crown prince himself!
The crown prince's support meant a future for the imperial uncle's estate. Now he'd lost that future. Who else in the court would dare to associate or ally with him again? In his place rose Great General Mu, who'd always been a moderate in palace politics. The shame of Mu Liuyue's marriage was finally resolved with this turnover as Great General Mu began to be the crown prince's true source of support.
Emperor Tianhui stood on a lofty tower as he looked down at the surrounding city. "Eunuch Luo, a result like this has given Tianmo a chance to take a share of the action."
Overall, Emperor Tianhui was rather satisfied with the aftermath. At the very least, Great General Mu and the crown prince had won the people's hearts with their deeds as well. The crown prince had especially profited, rising to prominence for the real first time after recovering from his illness.
"Your Majesty still dotes most on His Highness Crown Prince in the end," Eunuch Luo chuckled. Naturally, he had no idea of the true situation, but was just saying words that sounded nice.
Emperor Tianhui simply smiled soundlessly. The son follows the father's footsteps. It's the same when it comes to the position for the throne. Right now, he knew his best choice was only the crown prince.
Meanwhile, Long Feiye and Han Yunxi were also standing at a high point-the top of the tallest peak in South Ning Prefecture. Both of them were facing north and peering into the distance.
"Your Highness, you've advanced the crown prince's career and made him into a formidable adversary with your own hands," Han Yunxi said with a smile.
"Your lordship has to make him an adversary worthy of opposing Tianhui first!" Long Feiye said bluntly.
Compared to Emperor Tianhui, Long Feiye was an imperial uncle who understood Long Tianmo much better. By now, Emperor Tianhui must have forgotten how cruelly he'd once treated the crown prince. But Long Feiye remembered it very clearly-to say nothing of Long Tianmo himself. While Emperor Tianhui was being smug, he never realized that the crown prince's rise to prominence was only the beginning of the end for his own reign!
As Han Yunxi looked at Long Feiye's profile and those silent, brooding eyes, she thought of a famous saying. Strategies planned in the command tent can determine victories thousands of li away!
The man by her side was fully capable of snatching Tianning Country's throne for himself, but he was completely indifferent to it. He would only fight back when the other party provoked him first. Aside from those times, he prepared to maintain an equilibrium between all powers. She knew he wanted more than just Tianning, but even then, he'd have to conquer Tianning first before branching out. Why wasn't he making a move?
She couldn't help but think that he was waiting for something.
But what can it be? Is it related to the Perplexing Butterfly Illusion in my hands?
The cold winter chill suddenly blasted towards them, causing Han Yunxi to sneeze. Long Feiye immediately took off his cloak and draped it over her own, then pulled her into his arms. "Stand here with your lordship for a bit longer."
"Mm," Han Yunxi murmured.
Suddenly, Chu Xifeng dropped down from the skies with something important to report. But he held himself back at the sight and said, "Your Highness, the winds are high here. Perhaps going back is better."
Han Yunxi was still lost in her thoughts and didn't notice anything off about Chu Xifeng's behavior. Long Feiye shot him a glance before readily descending the mountain. When they came back to the senior provincial official's estate, Han Yunxi immediately went to put on more clothes. The days were getting colder!
As soon as she left, Chu Xifeng reported urgently, "Your Highness, that person from the Hidden Pavilion woke up. Something's happened!"
'That person' referred to the secret prisoner being kept at the Hidden Pavilion. After the black-robed man tried to kidnap them last time, they suffered a huge fright and hit their head, leaving them comatose until they were rescued and recovered. Long Feiye shot Chu Xifeng a cold, questioning glance.
After the black-robed man had discovered the Hidden Pavilion, they hadn't kept their mysterious person there. Tang Li was just standing guard over an empty place as a decoy to lure out the would-be kidnapper. Meanwhile, their guest had long been brought to the famine regions with them, and was now staying at a place nearby the senior provincial official's estate. Chu Xifeng had been in charge of ordering men to look after them.
"Your Highness, this subordinate didn't do a thing! That person insisted on leaving, and even attempted suicide to force the guards to release them," Chu Xifeng said honestly. The guest had been the same back at the Hidden Pavilion as well before they finally calmed down. Perhaps the recent kidnapping and change of scene had scared them again.
Long Feiye pulled out a rolled-up painting from her sleeve and said, "Give this to her." But before Chu Xifeng could take it, he withdrew it again. "Your lordship will go there myself."
Sooner or later, he'd need to have a good chat with her. That merited a visit or two.
"Your Highness, that's not good, is it? Suppose esteemed wangfei starts suspecting..." Chu Xifeng trailed off timidly. If esteemed wangfei really found out, she'd probably raise a row to the Heavens.
"All you need to do is keep your mouth shut," Long Feiye said icily. Chu Xifeng was still nervous. After this, this matter wasn't major or minor, but utterly earthshaking.
"Your Highness, what if wangfei asks where you've gone?" Chu Xifeng asked again.
Long Feiye simply left without a reply. Chu Xifeng hesitated for a long time before quickly following suit. As long as esteemed wangfei can't find me, I don't need to tell her any lies.
Long Feiye reached an abandoned estate on the outskirts of the city, causing all of his hidden guards to reveal themselves. He waved a hand to dismiss them all, before pushing open the doors...
Just who was the captive inside?
1. Li Shirong () - Li is a surname that means "plum," Shi is "world, realm," Rong is "prosperous, flourishing, thriving."