Chapter 101: Undercurrents of Peace Negotiations
Huzi knew better than to ask too many questions when his master was this livid. He busied himself with cleaning the floor of coals with a broom and dustpan. He also made sure to summon an inn employee to relight the brazier. As he waited for Pang Xiao to cool off, the guard also personally brewed a cup of tea for his master. When he saw the prince’s expression lighten slightly, he finally dared voice the questions burning the tip of his tongue. “Why would His Majesty suddenly speak of peace? We’ve always had the upper hand in the war. It should be Great Yan begging for peace. Why are we the ones to speak of it first?”
Pang Xiao swept his robe aside to sit on a round chair. A mocking lilt curved his lips. “Isn’t it obvious?”
“Master, I don’t understand.” Huzi scratched his head curiously.
“We’ve fought Northern Ji for so many years now, and then picked up the mess that was the country after a hard victory. We then declared war on Great Yan almost immediately, disregarding the Tatars to the north who have always been harassing, raiding, and looting us. Ji Zeyu’s men in the north need rations and feed as well. How deep do you think our nation’s vaults go?”
“But… but Great Zhou’s armies are strong…”
“The fiercest soldier and strongest horse has strength only if they’re fed. Did the emperor declare war on Great Yan right after his coronation only because he wants to unite the world?”
Huzi blinked and ‘ohhhh’ed in comprehension after a long while. “I get it! His Majesty wants the rich land that Great Yan sits on. Not to mention how easy of a target they are, so he wanted to fight a war to feed another war.”
Pang Xiao poured himself another cup of tea and sipped it slowly. Huzi paced in several circles and then smacked his forehead. “His Majesty doesn’t really want peace, does he? We are… out of silver for the front lines? The emperor’s lying about the negotiations so that… we get a sum of silver to continue the war?”
Pang Xiao nodded absently as he stared at the white porcelain teacup in his hand. His gaze was unfathomably deep.
“Tsk tsk, this makes things interesting. Those Great Yan idiots want nothing more than peace. They’ll probably come with all the sincerity they have. That’s why old fart Weichi forced Qin Huaiyuan to offer up the Qin fourth miss. If they go through the negotiations and then discover it to be all a sham, won’t their citizens be furious?”
“Great Yan citizenry is already up in arms.” Pang Xiao firmly poked the teacup with a callused finger, sending it spinning round and round. “That old fart Weichi favors the trampress and savages his loyal subjects. Whether it’s the death of Imperial Physician Tang, Sun Yuanming, or the execution of all the Duke of Ding’s male relatives, all of this has only enabled the people to see how trash their emperor is. A coward to the bone, to think nothing of the life and death of the ordinary people and soldiers. Whenever trouble knocks, he sends his loyal subjects to answer the door. After a string of events like this, both Great Yan’s citizens and army will be completely disappointed in their emperor. This, is what His Majesty wants.”
“So that’s why the emperor wanted Sun Yu’s brains.” Huzi understood it all now. “He wanted to enrage the populace and drive them to hate their emperor even more.”
So, the negotiations this time had multiple blades hidden within. It would not only extort silver from Great Yan that would then be used to fuel the war against them, but also use Qin Huaiyuan’s good name to once again stir up the army and populace’s discontent against their emperor.
Last time, the trash emperor and trampress wanted great scholar Sun Yu’s brains in order to appease Great Zhou. This time, this fool of an emperor had thrown all dignity to the wind and was hiding beneath the skirts of a girl, sending her to the front. Even though old fart Weichi might feel perfectly justified in protecting his hide, any hot-blooded man of Great Yan felt the deepest of shame and fury.
After all, Great Zhou had just slaughtered twenty thousand Great Yan captives! That was twenty thousand men who would never come home again! These captives had parents, families, and friends. And their emperor wasn’t pursuing revenge for this blood feud, but slaughtering all of the Duke of Ding’s male relatives instead? And now was sacrificing Grand Preceptor Qin’s daughter to boot?!
It would be even more difficult for Great Yan to unite as one after this. Huzi couldn’t help but stick a thumb up in appreciation of his emperor’s shrewdness.
“His Majesty is so wise! But, what do you plan on doing this time, master? You refused to slaughter everyone in the city last time, so the emperor turned around and killed all the prisoners of war and still scared the crap out of old fart Weichi. His Majesty even yanked the position of supreme commander from you. If you object again, the emperor will probably be even more furious. Who knows what will happen then? The Valiant Tigers are too good in fighting, and they listen only to you. He’s long been wary of them.”
“No matter what, Qin Si can only be mine.” Pang Xiao’s declaration was supremely self confident as he put the tea cup down.
“I knew you liked her, master!”
“Who says I like her?” Pang Xiao snorted.
“Eh?” Huzi’s mouth fell open.
“I want to keep her by my side and treat her like a painting. What, can’t I do that?”
“Yes yes, you can do whatever you want, master.” Huzi turned away and pulled a funny face.
Pang Xiao drummed his slender fingers on the table top. “Ever since I got injured saving her, she’s only sent a maid to look after me. She hasn’t come even once. Is this the attitude that she should have towards her savior? Have Bingtang tell her miss tomorrow that if Qin Si still refuses to come see me, I’ll go visit her.”
He rose and stalked off to the inner room as Huzi pulled another funny face. And you say you don’t like her? Look how out of character you’re acting! His master used to be someone who spoke bluntly to girls, but now he was shamelessly forcing a girl to come see him! If the old madame and dowager madame learned of this, they’d be utterly delighted! Praise Buddha! Their precious son and grandson didn’t just love violence!
By this time in the capital, news of Great Zhou wanting to parley, the emperor sending Grand Preceptor Qin, and his command to have the grand preceptor offer his daughter had spread everywhere. No one knew who’d started the rumor mill, but the main gossip was that Great Zhou’s Minister of Military Affairs, Lian Shengjie, was a lascivious brute who liked to torture others. The rumor went on to suggest that the number of pretty, young girls he’d tortured to death was near countless.
Several versions of the rumors started spreading from there, and with every retelling, the contents grew ever scarier. Any family with a daughter worried for Grand Preceptor Qin’s daughter when they heard the gossip.
Any soldier, general, civilian, scholar, and official with the slightest inkling of conscience had already been mourning the death of the loyal Suns, a family who had always fought for the nation. Now that Duke of Ding’s granddaughter was being gifted to an old lecher. Not only would her chastity be in danger, but even her life was forfeit if this happened! This roused everyone to new heights of anger and dissatisfaction.
People started to surreptitiously speak of this in taverns, restaurants, and bars. They viciously cursed the dog emperor, forcing the emperor to send guards and soldiers on street patrols, arresting any bold traitor who dared criticize the emperor. For a span of time, the capital was captured by a resentful, ill atmosphere.
Qin Yining had also received the news at home. She didn’t faint like née Sun, nor did she cry til her eyes were swollen like Bingtang and Songlan. She was very calm and collected, and was even able to get a good night’s sleep.
The next day, she’d just risen when a maid outside called to her. “Fourth Miss, the lord’s body servant has been waiting outside since before the sun rose. He says that the lord wishes to take breakfast with you in the outer manor.”
Qin Yining rose and had Bingtang, Songlan help her wash and dress. She decided on a plain, ivory-white sleeveless vest paired with a turquoise eight-panel skirt. Her hair was swept back, cleanly divided into a series of large knots on top of each other, held in place by a solitary mahogany hairpin. A sky-blue, brocade cape rounded off the look. Maids trailed her as they left the Venerable Study Hall.
The Venerable Study Hall was exceedingly close to Garden of Loving Piety. They’d only just set out when they bumped into Qin Huining and the sixth miss.