Ji Li had orders from Jing Yi that he must stop them!
He steadied his stance and raised his eyebrows. “Your Highness, this subordinate is fully aware of the difference between ruler and subject. However, I must also do my duty and cannot let you pass. If Your Highness wishes to enter the capital today, you must have the Emperor’s edict. Otherwise, Your Highness would be defying an imperial edict. And those that go against an edict should be killed.” His words resounded loud and clear into the air.
When Lang Po heard the word 'killed', his entire face flushed red with fury. He immediately stepped forward and drew his sword, pointing it at the arrogant Ji Li. "Audacious! How dare a mere war secretary say the word 'killed' towards His Highness!"
In an instant, both sides had their swords drawn and at the ready, awaiting their leader's command!
However, Jing Rong raised his hand, signalling them to not act rashly. One should not act against overwhelming numbers; therein lies certain death!
Seeing that, Ji Li said, "Your Highness is someone who considers the big picture. If you insist on barging in, both sides will only suffer heavy casualties in the end. Without permission from His Majesty, this official will not take a single step back either."
The Qizhen Emperor only issued his oral decree under pressure from the courtiers. If he allowed Jing Rong to return to the capital now, it would firstly be a slap to his own face, and secondly, going back on his word. The courtiers would surely be in opposition and the situation would be just as bad as twenty years ago when he first ascended the throne. Then, Imperial Duke Yu had resigned in protest and dissatisfaction when the courtiers had supported his bid for the throne, creating an enormous scene and causing the imperial court to be in a state of upheaval and leading to a complete reorganisation.
Thus, it would not be worth the risk that this matter would once again cause an upheaval!
Considering that, the Qizhen Emperor naturally would not publicize that secret edict summoning Jing Rong back to the capital.
Ji Li was also certain of this, and thus agreed to Jing Yi's request and sent troops outside the city to detain him.
Jing Rong now had on a frigid expression, but also appeared unnaturally calm. "War Secretary Ji, on the way here, this prince even considered letting bygones be bygones if you withdrew your troops and let us pass. All the civil and military courtiers say that you have a precise understanding of the political situation, are always very clear about the pros and cons of every action, and are able to quickly find the crux of problems.
“Otherwise, you would not have been able to remain in this lofty position as Secretary of the War Ministry. However, today, from what this prince has seen, you’re actually an extremely stupid person instead. Back then, the Marquis of the North said you are a “howling wolf” that eats people whole, not leaving even the bones. He was absolutely correct.”
Howling wolves are ferocious, but are also dumb. There was no description more apt than that for Ji Li.
Although Jing Rong’s tone was mocking, every single word was packed with killing intent and landed like a multitude of hard pellets. Ji Li’s complexion flashed red and white with fury as he clenched his fist tightly around the sword by his side.
Jing Rong seemed to be deliberately provoking him. With a corner of his lips crooked up slyly, he continued, “War Secretary Ji is a smart person and never submits to the machinations of others in the imperial court; even when the late crown prince was still around, he had no say over even a single soldier of yours. But now that Prince Yi has married the eldest daughter of your Ji family, War Secretary Ji is just like a declawed and caged bird trapped by Prince Yi’s side, content in captivity and willing to be manipulated. It’s such an eye-opener to see War Secretary Ji like this.”
The more Jing Rong spoke, the darker Ji Li’s expression became. From the side, it looked extremely comical.
In the end, Jing Rong wanted to give him one last chance on behalf of Ji Yunshu. If he would withdraw his troops immediately, Jing Rong would do as he said and forget their past misgivings.
How could Jing Rong know that Ji Li was being forced into a corner? Ji Li wasn’t willing to be manipulated by another either, and was even less willing to let Jing Yi lead him around by the nose. However, his own sister had lost her purity in the palace. Once this was revealed, Ji Muqing would surely be executed and implicate the entire Ji family. This was exactly how Jing Yi was able to blackmail him.
Ji Li heaved a deep sigh and tried not to let Jing Rong’s word affect him. “Your Highness does not need to say so much. Even if it weren’t for Prince Yi, this lowly official would still bar your way here. His Majesty’s oral decree comes first; all who defy it will be killed without question.”
All who defy it will be killed without question.
Jing Rong had already given him a chance, but he refused! Then he can’t blame him for what happens next!
“Well said! ‘All who defy it will be killed without question’ - would you include the late emperor in that?” Jing Rong questioned in a mollifying tone.
The crowd was in an uproar. The late emperor? He had passed on long ago, so why would he say that?!
Ji Li was baffled and stared unblinkingly at Jing Rong. He looked on as Jing Rong slowly drew out a yellowed imperial edict from within his wide sleeves, then placed it in his palms and lifted it slightly upwards. His burning gaze swept across the crowd. “Here is an edict from the late Emperor! Who dares to obstruct the way?!”
The soldiers were flabbergasted and looked helplessly at each other. Their longswords trembled imperceptibly as they took several steps backwards.
Only Ji Li didn’t make a single move. He looked suspiciously at the edict. “The late Emperor’s edict? Impossible!” He denied, refusing to acknowledge it.
“War Secretary Ji, the imperial edict in my hands is not for you to doubt or suspect; seeing the imperial edict is equivalent to seeing the late Emperor. If you dared overstep your bounds, it is equivalent to displaying contempt of the late Emperor; according to the laws of Great Lin, it’s a death sentence without pardon.”
Ji Li was struck speechless and slightly widened his eyes in surprise. “Even if there really were an edict from the late Emperor, it couldn’t be in Your Highness’s hands. It is still unknown whether this edict is authentic.”
“The late Emperor has already passed on; how could this prince fabricate a counterfeit? The authenticity of the imperial edict isn’t something that War Secretary Ji is qualified to question.”
Ji Li remained silent.
“Step aside!” Jing Rong commanded in a deep voice.
The soldiers were about to open up a path, but the next moment, Ji Li suddenly barked out an order. “Don’t let him pass.”
The soldiers could only stay where they were; they could neither advance nor retreat.
Ji Li’s expression was dark. “Although this lowly official is not qualified to verify the authenticity of that imperial edict, I would naturally withdraw the troops if it were real. However, if it were false, this official can only carry out his duty and bar Your Highness from entering the capital.”
“So you mean that you wish to look at this edict?”
“You’re still not qualified to look at the late Emperor’s posthumous edict. If you wish to know if it is real, then quickly step aside with your men. Once this edict is presented to His Majesty, the authenticity will naturally be determined. War Secretary Ji, if you insist on being stubborn, this prince guarantees that you and your soldiers will be buried right here, “Jing Rong threatened sternly. His fathomless eyes were like a deep glacier that made others tremble with fear.
Ji Li hesitated, feeling uncertain. Should he let them pass or not? He deliberated for a long while before he finally decided, “Alright. In that case, Your Highness, please wait here. This official will send someone to report to His Majesty and await his decree.”
Jing Rong remained silent.
Ji Li summoned a soldier and softly gave a few instructions by his ear. He nodded, then glanced at Jing Rong before he left to make his report.
Before receiving His Majesty’s decree, the two sides were set in a deadlock. Neither dared to act blindly.
Jing Rong retreated back to the carriages and summoned Lang Po. “Secretly send someone to inform the city guards outside the city gates and have them immediately enter the palace to report to His Majesty.”
Eh? Lang Po was astonished. “Your Highness, didn’t War Secretary Ji already send someone to make the report?”
“The person he sent won’t be reporting to His Majesty, but is heading to Prince Yi’s estate instead.”
Ah! “This War Secretary Ji is truly wily and cunning!”