Chapter 264: Counter-productive

Without another word, Jun Huang handed Qi Yun an osmanthus cake. He took a bite and realized that it was delivered here by Nan Xun.

Even before Jun Huang came to Northern Qi, he was on friendly terms with Nan Xun. He’d been invited to Nan Xun’s manor and had the chance to sample meals prepared by Nan Xun’s cook.

The next day, Qi Yun brought some food to the emperor’s chamber as Jun Huang suggested. Not surprisingly, the emperor didn’t let him enter.

Jun Huang had told him that the emperor might react this way. He quickly recovered and said to the eunuch, “Royal Father must have gotten tired of the taste of medicine. I know he dislikes bitter things. However, Royal Father has forbidden me from visiting him. I can’t bring him desserts myself like I did before. Still, I should fulfill my duty as his son. Please take this to him for me, gong gong.”

His tone was genuine but insistent. The eunuch hesitated, his eyes shifting from Qi Yun to the door. In the end, he nodded and sighed. “We are in no place to make guesses about the emperor’s thoughts. Rest assured that this old servant will take this in to His Majesty. However, I can’t guarantee that he will have any.”

“That’s fine. Please just bring it in for me.” Qi Yun handed the eunuch the box of desserts he’d prepared and gave him a gentle smile. With that, he walked away.

The eunuch sighed. When he brought the box in, the emperor was sitting up with the help of a servant. The eunuch hurried to him and put a robe around his shoulders.

The emperor’s gaze landed on the box the eunuch had placed on the table and raised an eyebrow. “Was it Qi Yun?”

The eunuch didn’t immediately respond. He carefully considered the emperor. Only once he made sure the emperor wasn’t angry did he nod and respectfully say, “The fourth prince is considerate enough to have some desserts prepared. This servant has taken a look. They’re all Your Majesty’s favorite. He’s put in a lot of care.”

“Ha, I don’t know when he’s learned to buy my approval rather than earn it. He should be trying to improve himself rather than giving me such useless things.” He took a look at the inside of the box and added, “Take this to the ninth prince. He’ll like it.”

The eunuch blinked in surprise. He nodded and obediently left with the box of desserts.

Qi Yun had planted his own people at the emperor’s side. What the emperor said soon reached his ears. He forced himself to calm down. Jun Huang reminded him to be patient as well. He mustn’t get reckless at time like this.

Autumn had come, but it could get a little hot at noon. Qi Yun went to the royal kitchen himself and had a bowl of lotus seed soup prepared. He brought it to the emperor’s chamber. Instead of entering, he asked the eunuch about the emperor’s condition and told him to take good care of the emperor before leaving. 

The eunuch relayed Qi Yun’s words to the emperor, leaving the bowl of soup in the emperor’s room.

After some time, the eunuch returned to the room to find that the bowl of soup completely untouched. He sighed and chucked it.

Qi Yun knew all about what had happened, but he kept on bringing food to the emperor. He’d also completed the task the emperor assigned him.

The emperor wasn’t as angry at Qi Yun as he had been. He began to think that perhaps Qi Yun shouldn’t be blamed for the officials’ action.

Qi Yun had continued to be a caring son without complaint despite being turned away every time. At the end of the day, he was of the emperor’s blood. The emperor sighed, pushing aside his wariness of his son. He was a little regretful of how he’d scolded Qi Yun. Perhaps he should grant his son some agency in compensation.

As usual, Qi Yun came to the emperor’s chamber early in the morning. He was going to leave after handing the desserts to the eunuch, but the eunuch stopped him.

“Your Highness is finally here,” the eunuch said with a smile. “His Majesty is still asleep. Please wait outside for a moment. This old servant will notify him once he’s awake.”

Qi Yun frowned and waved a hand in denial. “There’s no need. Royal Father doesn’t want to see me. I’m only going to anger him. Gong gong should bring this in. Royal Father has started to have some of the desserts I brought him lately. I think I’ve figured out his preferences. I’ll bring more tomorrow.”

The eunuch’s smile deepened. “Your Highness misunderstood. This servant wouldn’t dare ask you to wait here without the emperor’s say-so. Last night, His Majesty said himself that he’d missed Your Highness and wanted you to stay when you came in the morning. It’ll be good if Your Highness can chat with him a little.”

Qi Yun paused and finally let out a sigh of relief. He kept a calm face, but in his mind he was celebrating. The fact that the emperor was willing to see him was a victory in itself. He might be able to mend their relationship by catering to his father’s pride.

He waited for about an hour until the eunuch said that the emperor was awake. Qi Yun fixed his robe and followed the eunuch through several doors. Once inside, he placed the box of desserts on his side and greeted the emperor respectfully.

The emperor was in a good mood. He smoothed a hand over his beard and told Qi Yun to be at ease. He exchanged some pleasantries with his son, saying nothing about what happened that day. Qi Yun was relieved. He didn’t want to talk about that either. It would only hurt their feelings.

Their conversation shifted to politics. The emperor said after a brief bemused pause, “I hear you’ve done well with the tax reduction case. Since you have the time, you should resume your work at the Court of Judicial Review so that you’ll have some voice in the court in the future.”

Qi Yun’s eyes widened slightly in surprise. He thanked the emperor earnestly and left after some more talk.

Prince Duan soon heard that Qi Yun had been assigned to the Court of Judicial Review. It was a known fact that the court was controlled by the royal family. It was a warning sign that the emperor had put Qi Yun in charge. After some deliberation, Prince Duan concluded that he must find a way to knock the prince down a peg.

He picked a few difficult cases, intending to deter and embarrass Qi Yun, but it turned out to be counter-productive. He’d instead given Qi Yun the opportunity to prove himself and earn respect.

Prince Duan visited Qi Yun not long after he took charge of the court. Qi Yun knew he hadn’t come to congratulate him. After some contemplation, Qi Yun welcomed Prince Duan with a friendly smile.

“I didn’t expect Your Highness to come so suddenly,” Qi Yun said with a raised eyebrow. “Why didn’t you send a message in advance?”

Prince Duan’s eyes flicked to the prince as they engaged in small talk. Suddenly, the drum outside sounded. A calculating glint flashed through Prince Duan’s eyes and was quickly masked. Qi Yun didn’t notice.

“I have business to attend to and wouldn’t be able to stay with you. Please forgive me.” Qi Yun cupped his hands in apology.

Prince Duan didn’t intend to let him leave. “If you don’t mind, may I go as an audience?”

Qi Yun couldn’t say no to an imperial prince. He nodded after some hesitation. “If so, I welcome Prince Duan’s advice if a tricky issue arises.”

When they arrived at the court, there were two peasant women kneeling at the center of the hall. Both looked at the other with open hostility. It was clear they had a disagreement they couldn’t resolve.

“State your identity and the reason you’re here,” Qi Yun said once he got seated.

The woman dressed in colored fabric glared at the other woman before saying in a respectful tone, “In response to the esteemed official, this woman is Gui Yuan, owner of a chicken farm in the west region of the city. Today, all my chickens were found dead. Widow Mu sold rat poison for a living. She must have killed my chickens.”

“Nonsense!” Widow Mu shot Gui Yuan a glare. “How did I poison your chickens when all the poison remains unused in my house? Besides, your chickens deserve to be killed. They sleep in the morning and make a ruckus at night, keeping your neighbors up every day. What a wonderful thing to be free of the noises they made.”

Gui Yuan’s face went red in anger. “You heard it yourself, esteemed official. Widow Mu has confessed! You should lock her up at once. She killed my chickens today. She may murder a person tomorrow.”

The two women started arguing then and there for all to see, their faces red and their hands placed on their hips. It seemed that they wouldn’t stop unless they got a result.

Qi Yun was getting a headache. He rubbed at his forehead and asked a consultant by his side, “How did this case come to the Court of Judicial Review? This shouldn’t be our responsibility, should it?”

“Normally the local yamen should be in charge of such cases. These two, however, go there so often with trivial matters that the bureaucrat got tired and refuse to take their cases anymore.” The consultant added as a reminder, “I don’t know how their case was handed to us, but Your Highness can’t just turn them away even if that’s what the local yamen did. You’ve just taken this job. It’s better not to give anyone reasons to criticize you.”

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