The emperor could tell what Prince Duan was implying. Qi Yun had been the one preparing his medicine these days. He could easily tamper with it. The more he thought, the more paranoid he became.
He didn’t want to die. No emperor ever wanted a premature death. Some even wished to defy death forever. He’d lead a luxurious life. It still scared him to think about his life being threatened.
Prince Duan’s words made him doubt Qi Yun’s intention, which was evident in the way his brows furrowed. Prince Duan hid a smile. He decided to take care of Qi Chen’s issue as well.
“There’s something else this official is debating if I should tell Your Majesty.” Prince Duan lowered his eyes and put on a harmless front. The emperor was already fearing for himself. He nodded to Prince Duan after some hesitation, silently urging him to continue.
“There’s more to the second prince’s attempt to stage a coup. This official has conducted an investigation myself. There are many unanswered questions. Your Majesty knows the second prince better than I do. You know what kind of a person he is. He couldn’t have come up with such a treacherous plan himself.”
“Storming the palace was the worst thing he could do. He was already the crown prince. Why would he have taken the risk? Besides, hasn’t Your Majesty doubted Nan Xun? Everything happened so suddenly. How was it possible for Nan Xun to make it to the palace in time? Besides, everyone he brought with him was his best fighters. They should have been at the training ground, which wasn’t that far from the imperial city, but was still outside the city. If Nan Xun arranged for them to come after hearing about the second prince’s action, they wouldn’t have arrived so soon.”
“Everything came together too perfectly. Moreover, Feng Baiyu had been the second prince’s strategist, but he showed up with Nan Xun that night. There was something fishy about that. I hope Your Majesty would investigate the matter again.”
Prince Duan laid out his points logically. He didn’t try to absolve Qi Chen of his crime, but instead raise questions to the emperor from a different perspective.
He made it out as if the whole ordeal was a carefully constructed plan, which was a terrifying possibility. Being overloaded with information prevented the emperor from thinking critically. Prince Duan’s analysis nudged the direction his thoughts went and made him come to the same conclusion.
“The second prince has made a mistake,” continued Prince Duan. “However, it’s clear that someone deliberately set him up. He was tricked into committing the treacherous deed. The one who ends up benefiting isn’t the second prince, is he?”
He deftly framed Qi Yun as the suspect like the cunning man he was. He knew what to say and what to leave unsaid. If he’d mentioned Qi Yun explicitly, his words would be less convincing. The emperor would come to the conclusion himself.
“This official has said everything I wanted to say. I won’t bother Your Majesty further. Please excuse me.” Prince Duan left the room with a silent Qi Chen in tow, a smile tugging his lips. Qi Yun frowned when he saw his expression. Something was wrong.
The more the emperor thought, the more Prince Duan’s speculation made sense to him. It suddenly struck him as odd that he still hadn’t recovered even after being cured of his poison and treated with great care. He rose to his feet and summoned one of his confidantes, asking him to send for the royal doctor he most trusted.
The doctor came not long after. He bowed to Qi Yun when he passed by him and rushed into the room. Qi Yun’s eyes twitched. He had a bad feeling about this.
The emperor asked the doctor for a diagnosis. He grew nervous as the doctor’s face grew tighter with fingers wrapped around his pulse point.
Finally, the doctor let go of the emperor’s hand. “Your Majesty is inflicted with a potent poison. Why are you still taking supplements that do nothing to treat it? You’ve missed the best time to get cured.”
The emperor widened his eyes, immediately suspecting Qi Yun of being responsible. His son had been the one to get the royal doctors for the emperor, and he had been preparing the medicine.
The emperor hadn’t realized how cunning a man Qi Yun was. His frown grew deeper as he contemplated the possibility.
The royal doctor left without a word. Accompanying the emperor was as dangerous as taming a tiger. He knew a quiet retreat was his best option.
Qi Yun’s worries intensified when he saw the doctor leaving the palace. He stared at the shut door, then at the doctor walking away from him. After a brief hesitation, he caught up with the doctor.
He knew the man was the emperor’s confidante. There were things he couldn’t bring up openly. He thus smiled and exchanged pleasantries with the doctor, discreetly asking him what the emperor asked him here for.
The doctor was no fool. He gave Qi Yun a polite smile and humored him without giving him any useful information. Qi Yun had no choice but to let the doctor leave. He’d have to cross the bridge when he came to it.
He didn’t know what Prince Duan had said to the emperor, but it was obvious that the emperor had grown distant from him again. He’d been delivering medicine to the emperor himself in the past, but the emperor sent him a message, telling him to focus on affairs in the court and to not worry about anything else.
Others would assume the emperor was being considerate, but he knew it was a sign that the emperor was suspecting him again. However, he hadn’t found out anything about Prince Duan’s previous conversation with the emperor. He thought Prince Duan had merely made a few harmless remarks behind his back.
The emperor was ill, and Nan Xun had made all the necessary arrangements. Nothing could stand in his way. He didn’t think Prince Duan would be able to stir up that much trouble. He put aside his worries and stopped dwelling on it, trying to tell himself that the emperor was merely being considerate. He didn’t even tell Nan Xun about the recent turn of events, thinking it unnecessary.
The emperor was relieved rather than disappointed that Qi Yun hadn’t been waiting outside the palace the past couple of days. His reaction confused his personal eunuch. In the past, the emperor would always ask for Qi Yun if he stopped visiting. Why did the emperor seem happy about Qi Yun’s absence?
The eunuch couldn’t figure out a reason. The royal family was always difficult to predict. He shook his thoughts away.
This day, the emperor asked the eunuch to send for an official who was loyal to him, seemingly to talk about business.
The official bowed to the emperor and looked up at him. “What has Your Majesty asked me to come for?”
The emperor’s eyes were vicious. His face was pale due to his illness, but his presence was as strong as ever, if not stronger.
“I want you to scout around the palace,” he said bluntly. “Don’t let anyone notice you. Gather information in secret.”
The official was befuddled, but he nodded without a word and walked away. He reported back to the emperor at night.
“The palace was surrounded by Prince Nan Xun’s men. Every gate is guarded by his people as well. Has something happened lately?”
The emperor wanted to keep the information on a need-to-know basis before he went to the bottom of the situation. Thus, he made a dismissive gesture without a word and told the official to not tell anyone. The official nodded despite his confusion and walked away.
The emperor was left alone in the room. He gazed deeply into the distance. He knew Qi Yun often met up with Nan Xun. He’d assumed the two brothers were just close. Prince Duan’s words made him realize what was happening. The two of them must have been in cahoots for a long time, aiming to take the throne. He’d thought Qi Yun was a pure-hearted man, but now it seemed he was the shrewdest of them all. He’d managed to played everyone!
The emperor’s thoughts turned to Qi Chen. He’d heard about how Feng Baiyu helped Qi Yun take care of some of the cases in the court. He must have been planted by Qi Yun in order to trick Qi Chen into committing treason. Qi Yun might have sent Feng Baiyu to seduce Nan Xun as well so that the general would support him.
The emperor put all the blame on Qi Yun. He’d completely forgotten about the young man who loyally stayed at his side while he was sick. In his place was a shameless villain who’d do anything to further his goal.
It was a sleepless night for both the emperor and Qi Yun. Qi Yun had informants by the emperor’s side. He knew who the emperor had met with, but not what they’d talked about. Nonetheless, he was sure Prince Duan was somehow involved.
The next morning, the emperor sent for Prince Duan, who didn’t show any reaction when he got the message. Qi Chen watched him, wondering what he was planning.
“You know he’ll ask for you, don’t you?”
Prince Duan huffed, his eyes turning sharp. He shifted his gaze to Qi Chen. “They aren’t that difficult to deal with. It ends up benefiting me that they treated me as such a serious threat that they secretly took the precaution to maintain control over the palace. They made one mistake: I didn’t plan to storm the palace. I want the emperor to willingly hand us his power.”
“How do you know Royal Father will believe you?” Qi Chen was still confused.