Chapter 58 Abysmal: A Plot Within a Plot
With the release of Feng Luodi, the plot against Chamberlain Feng had been naturally resolved. To those parties who were still insistent on trying to fix the crime of the Chamberlain, the Emperor gave an edict to silence all of them.
“We will not discuss this any further. If you have energy to spare, devote it to thinking of ideas for the Autumnal Hunt in the Guan Mountains instead.”
“Yes, your Majesty.”
After the court was dismissed, Jiang Moyin quickly caught up to Situ. “Will Luodi be coming to the Autumnal Hunt as well?”
“No idea.” Situ’s face was an empty mask.
“What’s wrong? She hasn’t contacted you since that day?” Jiang Moyin laughed lightly.
Situ shot him a sideward glance. The image of the fear he’d seen in Feng Luodi’s eyes flashed through his mine, and he turned away.
“I’ll be heading to Autumnal Ombre once I leave the palace, do you want to come along?” Jiang Moyin invited good-naturedly.
“The Autumnal Hunt is coming; the Heir will need your advice.” Situ dodged the question.
“Don’t worry about that. I’ll just improvise something on the spot.” Jiang Moyin smiled.
The two of them left the palace. Jiang Moyin got onto his carriage and headed straight for Autumnal Ombre, while Situ sped off on his horse in the opposite direction.
Behind them, an official approached the 7th Prince. “Your Highness, is that all we’re going to do against Chamberlain Feng?”
The Prince sneered. “Of course not – I’m going to evict him from that position no matter what; I still have a million more ways to knock him off that pedestal. Speaking of which, tidy up your own bearings and cover up the underhanded dealings you’ve been making – you don’t want to be impeached when you’ve just risen to that position.”
“Of course, your Highness. I am deeply grateful for your assistance in this.”
“Just follow in my footsteps, and do what I tell you to do. You will get more than you deserve.” The Prince raised his head arrogantly and stalked off.
“Of course, your Highness. We all know that the Emperor dotes on you especially.”
When the official had left, the prince turned to his attendant. “Go fetch Zhao; he played a huge part in the planning and execution of this.”
The shop had just opened when Jiang Moyin arrived at Autumnal Ombre. There were few people milling about outside the shop, and Feng Luodi was chatting with Scarlet with a smile on her face. Another man took the place of Fei behind the register.
“Luodi.” Jiang Moyin smiled and walked towards Feng Luodi.
“You’re looking good today, elder brother.” Feng Luodi invited him to sit down, pouring him a cup of tea, and Scarlet quickly returned to her duties.
Jiang Moyin swirled his teacup . “Like you said, I’m looking good. Pour me a cup of wine instead. I haven’t even gotten to taste all of them yet.”
“You’ll have the chance to in the future.” Feng Luodi smiled, but did not move to fetch wine for him.
Jiang Moyin laughed. “I see that you’re upset with Situ? It was the first time I’ve seen him so uneasy about something.”
Feng Luodi’s eye twitched. How did he even tell that there is tension between Situ and I just from Situ’s reactions? “Hey, I have a very easy going personality – I can get along with everyone.”
Jiang Moyin held back his laughter and changed the topic. “Did Fei leave to search for Abysmal?”
“Yep.” The smile appeared on her face. “Hopefully he’ll return with good news.”
“He’s a good kid.” Jiang Moyin had a good impression of Fei.
“Elder brother, will you be attending the Autumnal Hunt as well?” Feng Luodi was curious. “I’ve never seen you ride a horse nor shoot before.”
“Of course I am. I’ve attended the Hunt for the past few years.” Jiang Moyin shrugged helplessly. “I know how to ride a horse and shoot, though probably not half as good as Situ or Yiqi. My physical health does not allow me to stay for too long on the horse either.”
“Will you be kind enough to teach me during the Hunt?” A light flashed in Feng Luodi’s eyes.
“Of course. I would be honoured to serve you.” Jiang Moyin blinked his eyes exaggeratingly. “It’ll be good for you to attend the meet; you need some exercise anyways.”
“I’m just curious how it’s like to ride a horse alone.” Feng Luodi tugged on her hair. “To be honest, I’m a little scared of horses – they’re so tall! It’ll definitely hurt like crazy if I fall off from them!”
“Just be careful not to land on your face then.”
Feng Luodi’s hand flew to her face, her brows furrowed together. “That’ll definitely hurt even more! So scary!”
“HAHAHA!” Jiang Moyin burst out in laughter. “Don’t worry about it. I won’t let you fall.”
Their conversation was ended abruptly when Jiang Moyin was summoned by an attendant of the Heir. Feng Luodi did not keep Jiang Moyin any further, but was deeply perplexed by the relationship between Jiang Moyin and the Heir. I’m sure that there are many other officials supporting the Heir, but he seems to rely pretty heavily on elder brother. Brother is indeed extremely talented, but I wonder if he also handles the under-table dealings for the Heir as well? I can barely believe it!
Invited by the Chief of the Imperial Army for a tour of their army base, Situ arrived at the base to see Xue Yiqi coming up to him, still dressed in his armour.
“Elder brother! It’s great to have you here! I’m sure our Imperial Army will be much stronger after hearing your advice!”
The face of the Chief darkened, but he quickly regained his composure. “Captain Xue. This is an official army base, so please give the General-in-chief of the North the respect he deserves.”
“My apologies for my mistake, sir.” Xue Yiqi grinned and scratched his head. Situ watched from the side, not offering a single word.
The Chief led Situ around the camp enthusiastically, humbly asking for Situ’s advice on the camp’s deployments. Before long, the Assistant Chief quickly approached him for an urgent decision, and the Chief had to leave. He turned to Xue Yiqi.
“I will have to trouble Captain Xue to show General Situ around. Do not be complacent in your job, Captain.”
Xue Yiqi heaved a sigh of relief, and turned to Situ, laughing. “Elder brother, let’s go this way. This is the place where the parade for the changing of the Imperial Guard takes place. What a waste of space that could be used as training grounds! You’ll see what I mean when the parade takes place in a bit.”
“That’s a good idea; have you mentioned it to the Chief?” Situ walked alongside him.
Xue Yiqi shook his head disappointingly. “I did, but he instantly rejected me without a second thought. His reason was that this parade was a practice designed by the Chiefs before him – a rule that cannot be changed. He even berated me for being over-eager to achieve results.”
“There can be no improvement without change. No matter; it’ll all work out once you take over his place as the Chief.” Situ said casually, completely unaware of the effect his words have in the camp of the Imperial Army.
“Elder brother!” Xue Yiqi’s eye twitched and he quickly glanced around, looking to see if anyone else overheard their conversation.
Situ continued calmly. “A man without the brains for improvement, nor the heart to make space for those who can.”
“Elder brother! Surely that isn’t your appraisal of the Chief?” He was aware that there were some in court who were displeased with the Chief’s abilities, but he himself had held the Chief in high regard.
“Nope.” Situ shook his head.
“That’s good to hear.” Xue Yiqi breathed a sigh of relief. “I was just thinking that the Chief isn’t half as bad as you’d said.”
“It was the appraisal of the Chief from his Majesty.”
“What!” Xue Yiqi was shocked and could not keep his exclamation down. A few officers looked in their direction, and Xue Yiqi quickly pulled Situ in another direction.
“This is the training grounds of the Imperial Army, where we train our 5000 soldiers daily. Sometimes, the officials from the yamen join in our training as well.”
Situ nodded along. “It’s a great idea for the Imperial Army to train hand in hand with the yamen. You should submit this proposal to the Emperor.”
“Of course, brother.”
“Stop being so humble, Yiqi. You can only realise your fullest potential if you are in a better position to do it.”
“I understand, brother.”
Finishing the tour of the Imperial Army, Situ rejected Xue Yiqi’s invitation to have lunch together and headed back to his residence. As soon as he’d stepped into the main gate of his residence, Covert Guard Two appeared in front of him.
“General, I have found something on Zhao Wu, the owner of the Mingxuan Zither Emporium.”
“We lost track of him this morning, a mere hour after he arrived at the Emporium. I’d snuck into the yard and discovered an empty well that led straight to the residence of the 7th Prince. The man who had invited Zhao Wu to the prince’s residence was very respectful towards him, and we deduce that Zhao Wu is an advisor to the prince, someone of a high stature amongst the prince’s followers. We think that they might be plotting something important, and Zero stayed behind in the prince’s residence to continue spying on them while I’d returned first to report to you.”
“Risking his cover just to return to the 7th Prince’s residence?” Situ rubbed his chin lightly and frowned. “The sishi of the 7th Prince is not to be taken lightly. Get Zero to keep a safe distance; he is to only follow Zhao Wu. If we manage to catch him, I’m sure we can obtain important information from him.”
“I will see to it immediately.”
Situ walked into his courtyard and sat down by the stone table. Just as he was about to pour himself a cup of wine from Autumnal Ombre, another member of the Covert Guard appeared in front of him.
“General. I have found evidence that the Left Arbiter in the Judicial Bureau was bribed heavily by many. He is one of the strongest candidates nominated to succeed as the Chamberlain of the Judicial Bureau in place of Chamberlain Feng. It was only thanks to Chamberlain Feng’s clean track record that he was not impeached. He may appear very righteous, but he is in fact a two-faced man, and exceptionally ruthless and cruel towards his subordinates.” The Covert Guard continued. “I had to dig very deep, using the subordinates he had killed as leads, before I uncovered that he is a distant relative of the Shu Concubine in the palace. Very few people are aware of this.”
Situ was deep in thought. “Is he in close contact with the 7th Prince?”
“No. On the contrary, they actually interact less than the prince does with the other officials.” The Guard paused. “However, he is a frequent patron of Dream Mirrors, despite his reputation as a sombre and serious man, especially antagonistic towards those engaged in the arts. I’d staked out the establishment, and found that the 7th Prince had visited Dream Mirrors frequently as well. However, I’ve never seen them together before.”
“Dream Mirrors?” An image of Emerald flashed through his mind. Along with her captivating dance, was Gan Qingjia’s remark about her.
“This woman is completely unlike any of the other artistes of such establishments. Instead, an elegance that can only be inherited bleeds through her every movements. I suspect that her identity is but a mere ruse.”
“Do a detailed check on the backgrounds of the owner of Dream Mirrors and of Emerald, as well as a check on all their related personnel.”
As the Covert Guard disappeared once again, Situ slowly took out a flask of Autumnal Ombre and sat in the courtyard, drinking by himself.