Chapter 55 Abysmal: Chaos
“That makes him all the more suspicious.” Situ did not even look up from his reports. “I want more eyes on that man. Check the background of everyone who enters the shop, and I mean the background of every single customer.”
“Yes. General, something else came up in the search.” The Guard hesitated, but continued. “We’ve observed a few men belonging to the Grand Tutor and the Heir snooping around the place as well.”
“Let them be. Do not interact with their men.” Situ put down the scripture he was reading. “Chase away any other agents you find during the search.”
“Another thing,” Situ thought about it for a second, and continued, “I want a check done on the men that can benefit from Chamberlain Feng’s impeachment.”
“Yes, General. We will see to it right away.”
“Your Majesty, the 7th Prince seeks your counsel. He is outside the hall.” The royal attendants bowed to the Emperor and announced.
“What is he doing here at this time of the day?” The Emperor raised his head from the pile of scriptures on his desk. “Let him in.”
“Long live the King! Your son humbly seeks your council.”
“Rise, son. What brings you here today?” Faint traces of a smile appeared on the Emperor’s face.
“I’m here to pay my respects to you, Father. Mother mentioned that you seemed to be heavily burdened lately, and I would like to do what I can to help relieve some of your stress.” The usual arrogance and brusque attitude was gone from the prince’s face.
“I’ll take up your heartfelt offer then, son. Yours, the 8th prince, and the Heir’s alike.” The Emperor replied casually. “I do, in fact, have something troubling at hand. Perhaps you may be of assistance.”
“Of course, Father.”
“Many have petitioned lately to impeach Chamberlain Feng, on the grounds that he should pay for his daughter’s crimes.” The Emperor sighed. “I heard that the daughter of the Chamberlain had been caught smuggling salt into the capital, and it was only due to the insistence of the Administrator, the Duke of Anping and the Grand Tutor that the case has not been closed as of yet.”
“What is troubling you then, Father?”
“Although there have been cases of officials being suspended due to the wrongdoings of their children, Chamberlain Feng is a capable man, and one that I trust.” The Emperor rubbed his temples.
“It is the Chamberlain’s honour to have you think so highly of him, Father. However, the crimes committed by the daughter of the Chamberlain are unforgivable. If the punishment meted out isn’t harsh enough, it might prompt others to try the same route as well. Moreover, if an official is incapable of educating their children, how can they be trusted to help govern the kingdom?”
“Hmmm, your words do make sense.” The Emperor nodded. “Speaking of the Chamberlain’s daughter, is she really as beautiful as the daughter of the Minister of the Right? If not, why would both the Grand Tutor and the Duke of Anping speak out on her behalf? As I recall, both of them are single.”
“I have heard some rumours about the girl, in fact. She is just a simple girl, incomparable in beauty to Miss Qi. Her features can be described as delicate at best, and she carries herself brusquely in public. However, she does indeed play the zither well. Perhaps, that might be why the Grand Tutor is interested in her. As for the Duke, I can only assume that some of the Grand Tutor’s hobbies and preferences has rubbed off onto him, seeing as how they have been spending a lot of time together over the past two years.”
The Emperor narrowed his eyes. “I’ve also heard that the Grand Tutor and the Duke of Anping has been spending a lot of time together lately. Well, I guess they are not speaking up for the girl for their personal reasons, but are trying to send me a message. Perhaps I have been too lenient and kind to the Duke of Anping.”
“Wise words, Father.” The 7th Prince hid his smile. “May I ask how have you decided to handle the case then, Father? The amount of complaints against the bunch of them have been steadily on the rise, and I worry that any delay might tarnish the royal family’s reputation.”
The Emperor thought about it for a moment, and stood up. “Attendant.”
“Yes, your Majesty.”
“Prepare an edict for the Administrator. He is to solve the case in three days, whatever the cause it might be. How unbecoming, for our entire court to be riled up by a single woman!”
“Yes, your Majesty.”
The Emperor thought for a moment. “As for Chamberlain Feng, he can keep his position for a while longer. I shall consider the other candidates for the position as well.”
“An insightful decision, Father.” The 7th Prince smiled. “I shall not disturb you any more then. I will take my leave now.”
“Go ahead.” The Emperor waved him off. “Spend some time with the Heir if you can. There’s a lot for you to learn from him.”
Exiting the hall, the 7th Prince walked towards the palatial gates, a smug grin on his face.
Today, Qi Jianqiu was on orders to visit Concubine Yao, her sister, in the palace again. Soon it was time for the concubine to prepare the Emperor’s lunch, a habit of hers, and Qi Jianqiu slowly strolled out of the palace. Her thoughts went to Feng Luodi, still detained in the Duke of Anping’s residence, and she sighed. She is obviously being framed, and it grinds me knowing there is nothing I can do about it! Argh! Jiang Moyin is right; it won’t be wise of me to visit her due to my sensitive position as the daughter of the Minister of the Right. I can only hope that they will take care of the rest.
She shook her head trying to clear her mind of her frustrating thoughts, and looked up just in time to see the 7th Prince leaving the palace, the smug grin etched onto his face.
“Is that the 7th Prince? Why is he coming from the direction of the Emperor’s study?” An ominous feeling overcame her, and she quickly returned to the Qi household from a side gate of the palace.
She quickly dashed into the Minister’s study. “Father! Father!”
“Why are you shouting and running? How unbecoming of a lady!” The Minister put down a scripture he was reading, and frowned at Qi Jianqiu.
“Father, I just saw the 7th Prince leaving the palace. I’m sure he was speaking badly of Luodi in front of the Emperor and up to no good! Father, please speak to the Emperor now and try to mend the situation!”
The Minister walked to the window, turning his back to her. “Jianqiu, do not meddle in this case anymore. Whatever happens to Feng Luodi in the end cannot be changed.”
“Father!” Qi Jianqiu gasped her father’s coldness. “You know how close I am to Luodi! If anything happens to her, I will blame you for it!”
The Minister turned around, his gaze fiery and bright. “Jianqiu, do you know who is speaking up for her in the court now?”
“I know that there is the Duke of Anping and the Grand Tutor.” Qi Jianqiu pursed her lips. “I’m sure Chamberlain Feng is also trying to clear his daughter’s name.”
“Hmph!” The Minister snorted. “Like you said, the Grand Tutor has already spoken up on her behalf; there is no way I will do the same.”
“Why!” Qi Jianqiu was close to tears. “Is this just because the Grand Tutor is working with the Heir?”
“I’m glad you know that.”
“But Father!” Qi Jianqiu was getting worked up. “I know that you’ve always been neutral in court when it came to such matters, but this concerns Luodi’s life! Just do it for me, will you? I’m sure the Emperor will not classify you as a supporter of the Heir just because of this one trivial matter! Moreover, isn’t the throne going to be handed down to the Heir one day anyway? You’ll end up swearing fealty to the Heir sooner or later!”
“Shut up!” The Minister glared at her. “The matters of the court are not something a simple woman like you can discuss about. I will pretend that I did not hear anything today, and you will remember not to say anything like this again. Let me say this one more time: I will not do anything for Feng Luodi’s case. You can forget about it.”
“Father!” Tears finally spilled out of her eyes. “You are such a disappointment!” Qi Jianqiu turned and fled the study, bumping into the head steward who had entered.
“Master, what has happened to the young miss?” Rui Bo asked hesitatingly.
“Let her be. Send a few men to follow her, in case she does anything foolish again.” The Minister sighed.
Qi Jianqiu dashed out of the Qi household, upset and angry at her father. She wiped at her eyes, not knowing who else to turn to.
“Jianqiu, are you alright?” Xue Yiqi was out with Gan Qingjia, and bumped into Qi Jianqiu coincidentally.
“Oh, it’s you two.” Qi Jianqiu looked at the two of them through blurry eyes and quickly wiped her eyes dry. An idea clicked in her head. “Can you bring me into the Duke of Anping’s residence?”
“Of course! But…but…just stop crying, alright?” It was Xue Yiqi’s first time seeing the tears of a maiden, and he was at a loss of what to do.
“Who said I was crying!” Qi Jianqiu glared at him.
“Oh…oh…yeah, no, you definitely weren’t crying.” Xue Yiqi stuttered.
Gan Qingjia thought for a moment, and patted Xue Yiqi on the shoulder. “Bring her to the residence. I just remembered that I have somewhere else to be.” He turned and left hurriedly, not sparing a look at Qi Jianqiu, while Xue Yiqi quickly brought Qi Jianqiu to the residence of the Duke of Anping.
They headed straight into the antechamber, where they saw Situ and Jiang Moyin sitting opposite each other, the Administrator standing beside them, sweat beading his face.
“What brings the two of you here?” A stark contrast from his usual behaviour, there was no smile on Jiang Moyin’s face as he looked at them.
“She wanted to come here.” Xue Yiqi shrugged. “What’s wrong? Why do all of you look so upset?”
Situ and Jiang Moyin stayed silent, while the Administrator quickly briefed them on the situation. “I’ve just received his Majesty’s edict, and we only have three more days to wrap up Miss Feng’s case.” The Administrator wiped at his brow again. I’ve always known that General Situ is a strict and fierce man, but I’ve never seen this side of the Grand Tutor.
“The Emperor himself? Since when did he care about the minor investigations handed by the yamen?” Xue Yiqi was perplexed.
“I knew the 7th Prince was up to no good when I saw him coming out from the palace! I’m sure he’s responsible for this sudden ultimatum!” The words burst out of Qi Jianqiu’s mouth.
“The 7th Prince was in the palace?” Situ spoke for the first time.
Qi Jianqiu nodded. “He just left the palace not long ago. I saw him coming out of the Emperor’s study with a smug grin on his face. I had a bad feeling about it, and quickly rushed to see you guys.”
“I knew this would involve the 7th Prince sooner or later.” Jiang Moyin narrowed his eyes. He turned to Situ. “Have your men found anything useful yet?”
Situ’s face was dark. “About as much as yours have. I need more time.”
The Administrator reminded gently. “We have three days left.” Four glares burned holes in his tunic, and he quickly kept quiet again, mopping at his brow.
“I can’t be of any help at all!” Qi Jianqiu whined. “Can I at least see Luodi? She must be feeling horrible, confined in that small room!”
“But…that’s against the rules, Miss Qi.” The Administrator had no choice but to try to stop her.
“Just makes sure word doesn’t get out then!” Qi Jianqiu snapped at him.
“Alright…alright. I’ll get someone to bring you there.” The Administrator’s face crumpled, and he shuffled out of the room, followed closely by Qi Jianqiu.
At the same time, the head steward entered the room and looked at Situ. “Chamberlain Feng seeks your audience. He is waiting outside the residence now.”
Situ and Jiang Moyin exchanged a look. “Show him in.”
“I will take my leave, then. The capital is a little chaotic these days, and there is much I have to do in the Imperial Army.” Xue Yiqi quickly excused himself.