Chapter 204: Toppling the first Domino
The emperor was caught off guard. Of course he had thought about this as well. His conversation with Nan Xun replayed in his head. He huffed out a laugh. “The official may not know that Nan Xun has admitted to being attracted to only men. Having a descendant is never on the table.”
Sir Shangguan scoffed and looked up at the emperor. “There have been many homosexual men throughout history, and a good number of emperors kept male lovers. Your Majesty must know, however, that these men still ended up having a wife and children. This official has heard about the affair between Prince Nan Xun and Feng Baiyu. I was told that Feng Baiyu is a man with both intellect and bravery. His talent must be what attracted the prince. My daughter may not be the most talented person in the world, but she has her strengths. She can easily recite poems from the Classic of Poetry[1.The oldest collection of Chinese poetry found so far.]. She’s no worse than that man. Besides, maybe Prince Nan Xun is merely having a fling with the man. He’s unlikely to be truly in love. This official will tell my daughter to turn a blind eye to what the prince and Feng Baiyu is up to and pretend that they are friends.”
The emperor frowned as Sir Shangguan spoke. Everyone knew that the emperor was wary of Nan Xun. Sir Shangguan kept pushing his button by trying to make decisions for him. Sir Shangguan might think that he was safe as one of the founding officials, but he wasn’t. The emperor had let his interference slide the first few times. After a while, though, he started to get irritated.
“I didn’t know Sir Shangguan had such a silver tongue,” said the emperor. His narrowed eyes fixed on Sir Shangguan, sending a shudder down his spine. Fear crept into Sir Shangguan’s heart. He stayed on the ground, too afraid to say another word.
Huffing, the emperor got to his feet and put his hands behind his back. He looked down at Sir Shangguan. After what felt like hours, he finally broke the silence. “I’ve made my decision. Keep quiet and go.”
There were thousands of words at the tip of Sir Shangguan’s tongue, but he couldn’t possibly say anything now. He bid the emperor farewell and hurried out of the palace. After he had put some distance between him and the emperor, he finally let himself relax. He wiped away the sweat covering his face.
The emperor didn’t feel like reading now. What Sir Shangguan said did make some sense to him. He may be wary of Nan Xun, but he couldn’t let the Nan family bloodline ended after Nan Xun. It was time to talk to Nan Xun again.
Without wasting any time, the emperor ordered a eunuch to go retrieve Nan Xun. When the eunuch arrived at Prince Nan Manor, Nan Xun was having dinner with Jun Huang.
It must be something important, thought Nan Xun. He said a few words to Jun Huang before leaving with the eunuch.
The emperor had been waiting for him in the palace. Without preamble, the emperor told him what Sir Shangguan had said earlier. Nan Xun frowned. Annoyance flashed through his narrowed eyes.
“What do you think?” asked the emperor. He kept his gaze on Nan Xun.
“Your Majesty doesn’t have to worry about this humble official,” Nan Xun said earnestly. His tone made it clear that he believed in what he was saying. “This gentleman has fallen for a man. I will not and cannot give him up. I’m not going to hurt other people by making promises I can’t keep.”
The emperor frowned. “Are you really going to stay with a man for life, Nan Xun? That’s against the - ”
“What does his gender have to do with my decision?” Nan Xun cut in. He didn’t want to waste his time arguing. “This official loves him and only him. I’m not going to give up simply because he is a man. If I cannot protect the person I love, how am I going to protect Northern Qi?”
The emperor was moved by his confession. Being in the royal family put a shackle on you. Oftentimes, personal decisions were not decisions at all. The control was rarely in your hand. It was admirable of Nan Xun to willingly make such sacrifice for another man. They might end up being shunned by the general public.
If the emperor was being honest with himself, he had to admit that somewhere in his heart, he was pleased by Nan Xun’s decision. If Nan Xun didn’t produce an heir, there would be one less threat to the royal family.
Nevertheless, the emperor had watched Nan Xun grow up. He couldn’t let Nan Xun put himself in this situation. He sighed. “If you don’t like Shangguan Yue, how about I gather a few children and let you pick one to adopt? Even though you have no feelings for women, you should have an heir to inherit your legacy.”
“This official has never had such thoughts. We live in this world for merely a few decades. If all we think about is producing an heir, we will achieve nothing. The time is better spent on improving myself so that I can protect Northern Qi better. Fate has already pointed me to where I should be. Your Majesty doesn’t have to be too worried.”
Nan Xun had given him a convincing response. The emperor couldn’t argue with him. He waved a hand in the air and changed the subject.
Nan Xun knew what the emperor was thinking. Nan Xun possessed one of the pair of tiger tallies. With it, he would be able to command the army. The last emperor was the one who gave Nan Xun the tally, and he declared that no one was to take it away from Nan Xun without a good reason.
The past two years might have passed in peace, but Eastern Wu was always waiting for its chance to strike. Northern Qi needed Nan Xun. No matter how worried the emperor was that Nan Xun would one day stage a coup, he could not take the tally away from Nan Xun. That was why he kept Nan Xun in the imperial city. And yet he was still concerned.
If Nan Xun had a child, the child would become his weakness. Then the emperor would be able to use that as a leverage to control Nan Xun. He wouldn’t need to walk this tightrope to keep Nan Xun in check.
Nan Xun wasn’t going to voice the unspoken words. The emperor couldn’t take him out yet. There was nothing for him to fear. Sir Shangguan, however...
Nan Xun narrowed his eyes. A sharp glint flashed through his expression. Last time Sir Shangguan had almost driven a wedge between him and Jun Huang. He didn’t expect Sir Shangguan to try the same thing again. Sir Shangguan even used the three unfilial things as his argument! Nan Xun would not tolerate Sir Shangguan again. As the commanding general, he wasn’t afraid of a mere scholar official.
When Jun Huang and Qi Yun were trying to figure out a plan to take out Sir Shangguan, Nan Xun had stopped himself from stepping in. Now, though, he would not let Sir Shangguan stay in power for a moment longer.
Sir Shangguan is approaching the age for an official to enjoy retirement in his home town, Nan Xun thought to himself, oblivious to what the emperor was saying to him. If I didn’t deal with him now, who knows what troubles he will stir up in the future? It’s time that I help him get an early retirement.
After bidding the emperor farewell, Nan Xun looked up at the cloudy night sky. He had an idea.
As the grand chancellor of the country, Sir Shangguan must be smart enough to destroy evidence of his wrongdoings, but no one could truly eradicate all records of his past. Nan Xun had planned to stay away from Sir Shangguan’s business, but no more.
He didn’t return to his manor. Instead, he took a few shadow guards and snuck into Shangguan Manor on a treasure hunt. He was able to find what he needed.
It would be unwise for Nan Xun to bring the evidence to the emperor himself. The emperor might get suspicious. The third prince, upon reflection, was the best candidate. Nan Xun asked a shadow guard to deliver the evidence to the third prince’s manor.
The third prince was over the moon when he saw the evidence. He was sure that he would be able to handle it himself, so he didn’t tell Ji Bo. Ji Bo, however, knew something was up with the prince. He simply wanted to wait and see what the prince would do.
Ji Bo only knew after a few days that the third prince, being the fool that he was, tried to blackmail Sir Shangguan into supporting him. He promised Sir Shangguan great power and fortune. Sir Shangguan, however, wasn’t going to be seduced like a lesser man would. As soon as he knew that the evidence was in the third prince’s hand, he sent out assassins to go after the prince.
The third prince had never been held at swordpoint his whole life. He trembled in fear uselessly. Even though his personal guards had rescued him in time, and he suffered no loss other than a scraped knee and having parts of the evidence taken away, he would not let Sir Shangguan off the hook.
The next morning, the third prince barged into the palace in a huff. There was a morning meeting this day. The third prince planned to announce the scandal while every official was in the room.
From under a pavilion in the third prince’s manor, Ji Bo watched the third prince leave. A smile tugged at his lips.
He knew the third prince was furious, and in fury, the prince had lost all sense and reason. The prince would do as he had predicted. Just in case something go wrong, however, he snuck into Nan Xun’s manor and told Jun Huang about what had happened.
In the morning meeting, the courtiers would take turns briefing the emperor on their work, and a discussion about the important matters the officials were dealing with would be held. It was coma-inducing. The third prince used to care nothing about the administrative affairs. Many meetings were spent dozing off, and many times he was kicked out by the emperor. He only changed after Ji Bo started assisting him. The emperor had praised him for his change. Afterwards, he had been parading the palace like a peacock for some time.
Once the items on the agenda had been addressed, the emperor opened his mouth to tell the eunuch to conclude the meeting. The third prince stepped forward and bowed down to the emperor the way an official would to his master. “This official has something to report.”
With an eyebrow raised, the emperor fixed his robe and cleared his throat. “What is it?”
“This official can prove that Sir Shangguan has been taking bribes, and that he has colluded with people in the martial arts world to create his own personal army in secret.”
The third prince had spoken slowly. He kept an eye on Sir Shangguan’s expression - it was like a patch of dark clouds had gathered over Sir Shangguan’s head. The third prince huffed with his chin lifted arrogantly.
Sir Shangguan dropped down to his knees and declared, “This old official is innocent! Please don’t be hasty, Your Majesty!”
The emperor turned to the third prince. “It’s your words against his - ”
“This son has the evidence to support my claim. Royal Father will understand as soon as you read it yourself.”
The third prince handed the documents to the eunuch, who presented it to the emperor. The emperor’s eyebrows drew closely together.
Sir Shangguan could feel his heart in his throat. He thought that he had taken everything back! He didn’t expect the third prince to possess more evidence...
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