Chapter 65 Abysmal: News, Good and Bad
Chief Fang stepped forward. “Your Majesty, I have just sent men to the 7th Prince’s tent. It’s been reported that there are twenty-two men missing from his entourage.”
“7th Prince. So, Where are these men now? What a coincidence, for it to be the exact same number of assailants killed in the woods.” The Emperor was emotionless.
“I have no idea, Father. Someone must have set me up! Please investigate further, Father!” The 7th Prince begged further. His eyes wandered amongst the crowd and landed upon Jiang Moyin. I’m sure he’s the one responsible for this! My sishi had entered the Guan Mountains separately from me – there’s no way men will be missing from my entourage! Why, why are they all helping the Heir!
“All evidence points to you, yet you still refuse to admit your hand in this.” The Emperor shook his head disappointingly. “Take him away, and send him back to Chang’an. Put him into the Judicial Prison, and let Chamberlain Feng decide his punishment after the Autumnal Hunt.”
“Yes, Your Majesty.” All officials chorused as they went down on both knees, their voices covering the screams of the 7th Prince.
As Situ walked back to his tent, he brushed past Jiang Moyin and laughed at him. “So many underhanded tactics, I see.” Without waiting for a reply, he quickly walked away.
Feng Luodi did not take a nap like Situ advised, but sat alone in her tent worrying for him. As soon as she heard the commotion coming from the entrance to the woods, she ran out and watched the whole scene unfold. She did not know the sishi of the 7th Prince when she saw their bodies being carried out, but she recognised the corpses of the two attendants that followed by the Heir wherever he went. These were good men that did not deserve to die! How can these men just die from the selfishness of one person?
She looked towards the Heir’s tent, and saw the unconscious man being carried inside by others. She glared at the man who had his eyes closed. What a ruthless man!
“Your expression would be mistaken by people if they saw you right now.” A voice sounded from behind her. Feng Luodi turned around to see Situ, who had appeared behind her without her knowing.
“Everyone is fine. Don’t be so sad.” Situ reached out a hand and wiped away her tears.
Feng Luodi did not move away, but angled her head towards Situ. “I remember clearly that you were the one who had told me that he was an ordinary but gentle man, respectful to his father and brothers. His kindness was why he was chosen by the Emperor to be the Heir.”
“Yes, I did.” Situ looked into her eyes.
“I also heard that the Heir has a good reputation for always trying to change the lives of the people for the better.”
Feng Luodi laughed, but her eyes were still red. “I do not know anything about the political matters of the court, but if the Heir becomes the Emperor in the future, the utopia that Moyin is envisioning will never come true.”
Her words were outrageous, but Situ did not stop her.
“The 7th Prince did intend to assassinate him, but he would never have succeeded – Moyin would have saw through any assassination attempt on him. Yet he chose to let the attempt proceed, not because he doubted the abilities of his followers, but rather to destroy the 7th Prince. He feels threatened by his brother’s increasing influence, and despite always seeming so genial and brotherly to his siblings, he used the opportunity to get rid of the 7th Prince. He orchestrated all of this, manipulating the Emperor to remove the 7th Prince from power – such ruthlessness! With the way he does things, he will never be a just and righteous king.”
Feng Luodi asked again. “How many of his Covert Guard are left?”
“Five. The other 15 bodies have been disposed of.” Situ did not hide it from her.
Feng Luodi laughed again, but it was a harsh sound, and her face turned pale. “Including the two attendants, 17 lives have been lost because of his decision. He sacrificed 17 people who wouldn’t have had to die otherwise. How can he be a benevolent king, when he can just cast away the precious lives of his followers so easily.”
She continued. “Everything he’s doing isn’t for the people, but for himself. It was all in a bid to seem more caring and gentle to the people of the kingdom, such that he has a higher chance of succeeding the throne. If the day comes when his power is threatened, he will not hesitate to sacrifice the people – and such a man is not fit to be king.”
Feng Luodi spewed out her view of the Heir, and felt much more relieved. However, she realised with a start of how defiant and treacherous her words might have heard, and quickly tried to make up for it. “This is just the ramblings of a young girl like myself – pay no attention to them.”
She quickly turned and fled the scene. Situ looked at her retreating figure and sighed. Moyin, can’t you see? The Heir has already been blinded by power. Situ rubbed his temples as he headed back to the tent. I did not tell her that the 20 Covert Guard of the Heir had volunteered to defend him willingly. But it’s good that she doesn’t know – the more she hates the Heir, the further she’ll stay away from him. That is for the best.
Feng Luodi skipped dinner that night, still feeling too sickened by the assassination attempt and what it’d entailed to stomach any food. What she did not know was the effect the assassination had in the entire kingdom. Although the evidence against the 7th Prince was not exactly enough to convict him for the crime, but it will be almost impossible for him to walk away freely, now that he was in the Judicial Prison.
The Judicial Bureau was in charge of all the investigations regarding all nobles and officials of the 3rd Rank and above. For the royalty, the Judicial Bureau was to collaborate with the Office of Imperial Clan Affairs, the prisoners held either in the Judicial Prison or the Imperial Prison, while the officials not of royal blood were to be handled directly by the Judicial Bureau. As such, Chamberlain Feng was a position where many would want to gain his favour.
It was night-time in the Guan Mountains, and Feng Luodi sat half-reclined on her bed, holding a bamboo slat in her hands. Her eyes were empty, clearly not focused on what she was reading. Situ’s voice sounded from outside.
“Can I come in?”
“Of course.” Feng Luodi put down the bamboo slat she was reading and got up from the bed quickly, washing her hands in a washbasin.
“Not sleeping yet?” Feng Luodi looked at Situ.
“I just finished settling some things.” Situ smiled lightly. “There’s a place I want to show you, shall we go?”
Feng Luodi poked her head out of the tent and looked around. “Now? Where can we go at this time of the day!”
“Come along and you’ll know.” Situ took her question as an approval, and turned to head out of the campsite. Feng Luodi hurriedly followed behind him. It was late, and almost everyone, save the soldiers on patrol duty, were resting in their tents. Situ led the way to the back of the campsite, where the lantern in his hand revealed a dirt path leading away from the campsite.
“I’ve never been able to figure out who exactly you support, Situ.” Feng Luodi voiced idly as she stared at the path ahead of them. “Or are you truly neutral?”
“I could tell you,” Situ looked ahead, “but then you’ll be on my side. How’s that?”
Feng Luodi laughed. “What a tricky proposal. Seems like you’re not one of those typical soldiers that rarely use their brains.”
Situ placed the lantern into his left hand, and grabbed Feng Luodi with his right, leading her slowly behind him. “The road ahead is a little steep. It’ll be safer if you follow me.”
Feng Luodi lightly tugged on her hand, trying to wriggle it free of Situ’s grip, but he did not let go. As they walked, the path became more narrow and uneven, and she decided against it.”
“Why does this path look new?” Feng Luodi could see that the grasses on both sides of the path were neatly cut at the same height.
“It is. Only just cleared a path in the evening, in fact.” Situ explained. “It’s been very long since I’d last came here.”
“You’ve been here before?” Feng Luodi tried to ignore the heat from Situ’s hand.
“When I was twelve, if I remember correctly.” Situ recalled. “I discovered a miraculous beauty that day.”
“A miraculous beauty?” Feng Luodi laughed. “It must be a wonderful place, for you to hold it in such high regard.”
The two of them slowly wound their way up a small hill as they spoke. When they finally reached the top, Feng Luodi was surprised to see that it was mostly barren besides the occasional shrub.
“Is it here?” Feng Luodi looked around, her hand slowly wriggling free from Situ’s grip, who nonchalantly let go of her.
“Look up.” Situ placed the lantern on the ground and pointed at the sky. Feng Luodi followed his finger, and saw a vast galaxy unfold before her eyes.
The glimmer from the stars was interwoven with the gentle hue of the moon, painting an enchanting scene. It was as if the stars were pearls casually scattered across the sky, a belt of silver arcing across the tapestry of light and dark. The skies looked so close, almost as if you could reach out to touch it. Feng Luodi remembered a poem of Li Bai1:
Up here a hundred feet in the sky
I can pluck the stars with my hands
I dare not speak loudly
For fear of disturbing the heavens.
“This is beautiful. I’ve never seen such a starlit sky like this before.” Feng Luodi gasped.
“That was how I’d felt back then as well, as if I could touch them with my bare hands.” Situ exhaled. “I once thought that you could only see such a sight here, but the stars are much closer to the earth in the North.”
“The plains of the North sound like a desolate place.” Feng Luodi frowned. “But every time you speak of it, I can’t help but think of it as a beautiful place. A place, whose beauty is only appreciated by those who understand it.”
Feng Luodi’s eyes turned into crescents. “I would love to visit the North, but I doubt I’ll ever be able to do so in my life.”
Situ did not answer her for once, but looked at the night sky. Every time there was a celebration after a battle, everyone would just return to party in the camp. Yet I always found myself walking into the deserts alone, lying down on the sands and slowly sipping a flask of wine. Only then, did I manage find some solace.
“Situ,” Feng Luodi looked away from the sky, and back at Situ, “thank you. Thank you very much, Situ.”
She felt a gush of feelings erupting from her chest, but she held it in. She was truly grateful for this man, and she will forever remember him, even when she returned to the 21st Century. “I will always remember you.”
Feng Luodi looked straight into his eyes.
Situ did not reply, but took a step forward, arms outstretched as if to embrace her.
Feng Luodi smiled and stepped back. “Now that I’ve seen something as beautiful this, I have no regrets left for the Autumnal Hunt. Let’s go back; I’m sure you’ll have a lot to do tomorrow.”
Situ looked at her for a while, unmoving. Finally, he spoke up. “Alright, let’s go back.”