Chapter 25: Restoring Livelihood to the Border
They headed inside and made their way to the magistrate’s bedchambers. The man was wearing a thin layer of bedclothes, on his knees outside another room’s door. It looked like the origin of the fire had been in this room, and had been extinguished. Nevertheless, the magistrate still looked defeated and forlorn. When he saw Qi Chen arrive, it was as if he’d glimpsed his savior. The magistrate crawled to Qi Chen’s side, the tears streaming down his face actually invoking some genuine pity. “You’re finally here, Your Highness!”
Qi Chen looked at Jun Huang. She understood his meaning and casually spoke of looking around to see the extent of the damage. When she left, Qi Chen gestured for some people to follow her and took the magistrate into another room.
The prince sat in the main seat, looking frostily at the magistrate kneeling in the middle of the room. “Worthless thing! What are good you for?!” He couldn’t help but curse loudly.
“Forgive me, Your Highness. Please spare me, Your Highness!” The magistrate could hear the murderous intent in the prince’s tone and crawled over to Qi Chen in abject terror, tugging on the hem of the luxurious robes for mercy.
Qi Chen sent the magistrate flying with one kick and took a deep breath in before asking slowly, “Was it really robbers?”
“Absolutely, Your Highness! They were all ferocious and without parallel. They’re definitely robbers who live in the mountains.” The magistrate swallowed hard. His back was already soaked with sweat, and he shuddered when he looked at the vicious expression on Qi Chen’s face. He was deathly afraid that the prince would want to kill him. But Qi Chen wasn’t even thinking about the magistrate at all. He was still trying to console himself over his lost silver.
Jun Huang looked at the fellow discreetly tailing her and sneered. She actually did take a walk around the yamen, comforting the terrified servants whenever she encountered them. The sky had already brightened when she left. She rubbed her temples and went back to her room to sleep for a few hours.
It was already noon when she next opened her eyes. Qi Chen had left with his men, leaving only her and Nan Xun in the inn. Nan Xun was waiting for her downstairs, and accompanied her when she went in search of food. She took a seat across from him, “Has everything been taken care of?”
Nan Xun nodded. “It actually was real bandits who’d broken in last night. They’d likely been oppressed too long by the local nobility and had been driven to the point of robbing the yamen. They’ve should’ve distributed the silver to help the people.”
“We’re not really at liberty to do anything in this situation either, so it’s just as well that they’re taking action for themselves.” Jun Huang remarked.
Nan Xun looked at Jun Huang and saw that his lunch companion was now focused on her tea with a lowered head. She didn’t seem to be in good spirits. “Are you alright?” He asked, frowning.
Jun Huang lifted her head to look at him and tugged one corner of her lips upwards. “I just hadn’t thought that the second prince would leave so many people to live and die like so in the name of personal wealth. I just find it rather sad.”
“Human nature is greed incarnate. Why take it to heart?” Nan Xun responded faintly. Jun Huang smiled softly in response, but didn’t say anything else. Her heart felt as bleak as the desolate landscape outside.
Perhaps the heavens were touched by the pair’s actions. After many months of drought, the skies relented and a downpour of rain started coming down that night. Fat droplets plonked onto the yellow dirt, turning sandy holes into murky ditches of shallow water. The people hadn’t seen water in such a long time, and everyone turned out to revel in the rain, shouting and roaring with joy.
Jun Huang and Qi Chen stood beneath an awning, looking at the celebrations from afar. The rain was a bit noisy as it rattled the roof, forcing them to raise their voices. “What does Brother Feng think we should do now?”
“The people are exulting in the water sent by the heavens. Your Highness should make providing for them your first priority. This subordinate feels that we should help build shelter.” Jun Huang responded seriously.
Qi Chen mused thoughtfully, pausing when the rain splashed onto his brocade robes, leaving behind a muddy stain. He couldn’t bear to stay in this place any longer and approved Jun Huang’s proposal, giving her full authority to handle this matter.
The downpour continued for almost half a month, and the dried, cracked riverbeds didn’t take long to return to their original condition. Jun Huang had thought that the rain would delay the building project, but the citizens were in fine fettle when they heard that the imperial court was going to help repair their homes. Adult men started showing up at the inn and volunteering to help with the rebuilding efforts. And so, construction that was originally planned to take a month was completed in half a month. The rain came to a stuttering halt just as most of the houses were rebuilt. It was time for Qi Chen’s entourage to return to the capital.
The people sent them off for a hundred miles, with Qi Chen hugely enjoying the love and adoration of the crowds. He’d completely forgotten that he’d once embezzled the relief funds. Yet at certain moments, he couldn’t help but feel aggrieved at the fact that his silver had flown the coop. He didn’t suspect Nan Xun at all, naively thinking that Nan Xun had no idea what the prince had done. Nothing will reach my royal father’s ears. Qi Chen was in better spirits as he considered the overall situation. He was completely disengaged on the return journey, a far cry from his high spirits when he was traveling to the border. He stayed in the carriage all day, whereas Nan Xun and Jun Huang’s horses took the lead as usual.
“This matter is finally over,” Jun Huang reflected.
Nan Xun nodded. “Indeed, the people have gone back to their normal lives, and should trust the imperial court more after this matter.”
“How will Your Highness report to the emperor about the second prince embezzling funds?” Jun Huang looked back at Qi Chen’s carriage and compressed her lips with disapproval.