Chapter 286 - The Missing Heir
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“You wanted to stop Prince Rong from investigating the Lin Capital Case.”
Old General Li’s expression darkened at Ji Yunshu’s statement, and he almost knocked over his teacup. His change was palpable even though Ji Yunshu had her back towards him, but this only proved that she was right.
She turned around, staring at Old General Li and saying, “I’m not sure why General would want to stop Prince Rong from investigating the ‘Lin Capital Case,’ but if my suspicions are right, it must be linked to the reason why the Imperial Duke met with you fourteen years ago. When I spoke with you then, you were obviously hiding something that must have had greater implications, involving not only the Imperial Duke but also the current Crown Prince and perhaps even all of Great Lin.” Ji Yunshu was quite certain of her assumptions.
Old General Li set his teacup down gently and took in a deep breath. He turned his gaze towards Ji Yunshu, stood up, and walked towards the grassy slopes, which were enveloped in a thick fog. His wrinkled face was unreadable as he praised Ji Yunshu, “Teacher Ji is far too clever.”
Clever? To Ji Yunshu, this compliment felt more like an ironic joke. She remarked bitterly, “If I were truly clever as the General suggests, then it wouldn’t have taken me this long to figure out your true intentions, much less witness Prince Rong take your place in prison.”
“This old man had no other choice.”
“No other choice? To prevent Prince Rong from investigating that case, to protect the secret between the Imperial Duke and you - did you expect Prince Rong to die in your place?” Ji Yunshu could no longer suppress her anger.
There was a twinge of regret as Old General Li repeated his words once more, “This old man didn’t wish for this current state of affairs, but there was no other choice - at this point, only with Prince Rong’s death will the ‘Lin Capital Case’ be closed for good.”
“Ridiculous!” Ji Yunshu took a few steps towards him in resentment and spouted accusingly, “Old General Li has always been a clever man, but what has come over you now? Dare I ask the General to stop and think - Prince Rong was ordered by His Majesty to investigate this case, and no-one would dare to oppose the royal decree; even if Prince Rong was dead, someone else would take his place and oversee the case. Do you wish to come to the Capital each time and kill them one by one?”
Old General Li was stricken; he had not considered this before. Ji Yunshu continued, “Do you know? If Prince Rong dies, I will still continue investigating until the truth is exposed, so the one you should kill is not Prince Rong but me!”
What a failure, a lapse in judgment! The cogwheels in Old General Li’s brain only began to turn with regret when Ji Yunshu’s reminder. Why didn’t you say so earlier? Old General Li sighed, “There is no turning back for me anymore.”
“That is difficult to say.”
“Since I chose to stop General Li not at the city gates but here, it proves that I will not stop you from returning to Qingzhou. It also means that Prince Rong will not be in danger and will leave the Imperial Prison safely, and both the General and Prince Rong will not be implicated.”
“What does Teacher Ji mean?” Old General Li was shocked!
“This humble scholar promises that the General will have nothing to do with this case, nor will I speak of it to anyone else. However, the General must offer your fourteen year old secret in exchange.”
Old General Li did not bite, “Fourteen years have passed. Why is Teacher Ji so insistent?”
“Because this one wants to know and understand - what kind of secret could shake up the ‘Lin Capital Case,’ what could make the General decide to get rid of Prince Rong?”
“Does Teacher Ji really want to know what the Imperial Duke shared with me back then?”
Ji Yunshu nodded honestly.
Old General Li closed his eyes wearily and opened them after a long while. He then said, “This old man would have never shared this with you if I had just arrived at the Capital, but now, there is no reason to hide it any longer. Fine, this old man will tell you everything.”
He paused before saying, “Back then, after the Eighth Prince ascended to the throne, he began to strip away the Imperial Duke’s power and influence secretly, slowly, and continuously, even planting a spy within his household to watch his every move. The Imperial Duke knew that eventually, His Majesty would kill him much like the previous Emperor had killed Marquis Chao.” He took a breath before continuing, “Teacher Ji surely knows that the Imperial Duke’s household consisted of 73 members officially, but Teacher Ji must not be aware that his household actually consists of 75 people.”
What! Unbelievable! Ji Yunshu’s eyes widened in astonishment.
Old General Li’s eyes brimmed with tears and sympathy as he said, “The two people not registered were the Imperial Duke’s third wife and his newborn son twenty years ago.”
What? Ji Yunshu clenched her fists in disbelief, questioning, “How is that possible? All five members of the Imperial Duke’s family were buried in the imperial tombs, no more and no less.”
“Since the Third Madame came from a brothel, she was never registered officially as a member of the Imperial Duke’s household. When the Eighth Prince was crowned twenty years ago, she gave birth to a son after a difficult labor. Knowing that he could not escape his fate, the Imperial Duke announced publicly that the Third Madame had died in labor alongside their child. He secretly sent the mother and son out of the Capital overnight and cremated them lavishly the next day. Since the Third Madame was never properly wed, she could not be buried in the imperial tombs.”
Old General Li continued, “I only came to know of this when the Imperial Duke came to see me fourteen years ago. He told me that he had suddenly lost contact with Third Madame, but His Majesty had already set his eyes on his household then. The Imperial Duke then pleaded with this old man to help him hide the truth and secretly search for the heir if something unexpected were to happen to him. He even entrusted this old man with a token to hand to the heir if he was ever found; with this token, the prince can gather and command the Imperial Duke’s hidden troops at the border. Alas, many years have passed, but this old man has yet to determine the missing prince’s whereabouts.”
“Not long ago, this old man heard that Teacher Ji was about to open the coffins and rushed over from Qingzhou; with Teacher Ji’s wit and skill, the Third Madame would definitely be discovered someday, but once her empty coffin is unveiled, His Majesty would also know that the heir is still alive and would hunt him down and kill him.”
“Since this old man was entrusted with this task, I cannot forsake my promise; whether the heir is dead or alive today, this old man cannot allow anyone to disturb the Third Madame’s resting place.”
Ji Yunshu took a long time to digest Old General Li’s words, her legs eventually giving way.
Grenn's Rants Corner
Lol! The true motive of Old General Li... quite unexpected.
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