“This lowly guard doesn’t know what Minister Huang meant by preserving face. Consort Lin has told me that respect is something you earn, while face is something you lose yourself. If Minister Huang isn’t worried about losing face, this lowly guard may carry you away!”
Lin Haihai had told Zheng Feng to knock Huang Wensheng out if he refused to cooperate.
“Who dared make trouble in the Residence of the Minister of Revenue?” called out an icy voice of a woman, her overbearing tone tinged with frost. Then the owner of the voice emerged. It was a noble-looking woman dressed in a light yellow silk dress, followed by a number of female servants whose masculine features were in stark contrast to her delicate face. She bore some resemblance to Imperial Consort Li, while the look in her eyes suggested more shrewdness and fierceness.
“Greetings, First-Grade Madam!” Zheng Feng bowed calmly. It was Yan Lirong, the first young mistress of the Yan Family and a first-grade madam, ranking a grade higher than her husband Huang Wensheng.
“Hmph, Commander Zheng sure is bold. This residence is no place for you to run wild!” Yan Lirong sat down in an armchair and leveled her piercing gaze at Zheng Feng.
Zheng Feng cupped his fists and answered dignifiedly, “That’s a serious accusation, First-Grade Madam. Zheng Feng is but a humble guard who listens to my master. Why would I show you any disrespect? However, Consort Lin has ordered me to take Minister Huang to the North Court. This servant dares not disobey my master’s order.”
“Stop talking about the princess consort like her words were imperial decrees. Others may subscribe to her nonsense, but I, Yan Lirong, will never fall for the act. My second younger sister was put into the Cold Palace because of her scheming. She wants to invite Wensheng to her residence? I won’t allow it. What is she going to do about it?”
Yan Lirong arched an eyebrow, gazing at Zheng Feng tauntingly with shadows of malice shrouding her stunning face.
“What does the princess consort want from this official?” Huang Wensheng sat down and asked, agitated.
“Minister Huang will find out by following this lowly guard.” Zheng Feng remained as calm as ever, which angered Huang Wensheng.
Yan Lirong’s expression darkened as well. She rose to her feet and snarled, “Then we won’t let her have what she wants. Send the guest away!”
Zheng Feng didn’t lose his temper. He got to his feet and said, “Minister Huang, this lowly guard suggests you come with me. If Minister Huang refuses to cooperate, don’t blame this guard for showing you disrespect!”
Enraged, Huang Wensheng grabbed a teacup and shattered it on the ground, growling, “This official isn’t going with you. What are you gonna do?”
With a faint smile, Zheng Feng unsheathed his sword and struck at Huang Wensheng as quickly as lightning. Huang Wensheng was a scholar. All he could do in his panic was to take a step to the side. Then he found the sharp blade raised to his neck.
“How dare you?! Guards, take him down!” Yan Lirong called out in fury. A group of guards immediately rushed in. Zheng Feng lifted the sword slightly and said, “You better stay put. If you do anything to frighten me, and my hand trembles, perhaps the blade will slice open Minister Huang’s neck.”
Huang Wensheng blanched and sweat profusely. This was an unusual turn of events. He’d experienced his fair share of dangers and hardships over the years, but he had never been this afraid until now.
“Do you know what crime you’re committing by kidnapping a court official?” Yan Lirong gestured at the guards to stay put and faced Zheng Feng calmly. Zheng Feng had to admire her despite the circumstances. She was no lesser than any man.
“This lowly guard is merely following orders. If First-Grade Madam is going to hold someone accountable, please go to Consort Lin!” Zheng Feng knew Lin Haihai was trying to lure the snake out of their hiding place, so he kept mentioning her name.
“Wensheng, go with Commander Zheng. This wife will find you as soon as I meet up with Father!” Her words were meant as comfort for Huang Wensheng, but also a warning for Zheng Feng to not do anything reckless.
Huang Wensheng nodded. “Thank you!”
“Commander Zheng, tell your master that this madam and the grand councilor will pay a visit to the North Court to greet her in a moment!” Yan Lirong said with a smile that didn’t reach her eyes.
“Zheng Feng will be waiting!” He sheathed his sword and gestured at Huang Wensheng to go ahead. “Apologies for the offence done to you, Minister Huang. Please, this way!”
Huang Wensheng and Yan Lirong exchanged a glance. She nodded at him. He then turned around and led the way. The guards parted to allow him passage.
Lin Haihai had been waiting for Minister Huang in the main hall. He was in charge of the Ministry of Revenue. In other words, he held control over the economy of the nation. Even if he weren’t a follower of Prince Pingnan, someone as insidious as he was must not be allowed to stay in office.
Zheng Feng arrived with a man in his thirties. Lin Haihai considered him closely. He was a handsome man with a scholarly air about him. It was a shame that he lacked any integrity whatsoever. His looks were nothing but a facade.
Huang Wensheng entered the door to see a woman dressed in plain clothes sitting in an upright posture. Her delicate features and the faint, pure smile on her face made her seem harmless. Is she the sixth princess consort? She was dressed too plainly. She wore no ornaments on her head, and her face was completely free of makeup. She looked at him without a word, delicately holding a cup of tea in her hand.
“Huang Wensheng greets Consort Lin!” He bowed to her.
“No need for the formalities, Minister Huang,” Lin Haihai put away the teacup and said coolly. “Please, have a seat!”
“Thank you, Consort Lin!” Huang Wensheng hurried out before moving to the side to take the guest seat.
Lin Haihai gave him an amused look. “Do you know why I’ve asked for your presence?”
“That...” Huang Wensheng paused. “This official doesn’t know!”
“Physician Lin,” Zheng Feng spoke up to remind her, “First-Grade Madam and Grand Councilor Yan will be paying a visit!”
“Wonderful, the more the merrier!” Lin Haihai clapped with a delighted look on her face. “Zheng Feng, go outside to prepare a warm welcome for Grand Councilor Yan and First-Grade Madam!”
Zheng Feng could read the thoughts behind her cool gaze. Without missing a beat, he said, “This lowly guard will take my leave!”
As soon as he walked out of the door, he rushed straight to the palace. Chen Luoqing and the emperor were in a meeting. Xiao Yuan interrupted them to report Zheng Feng’s arrival when he noted the nervous look on the man’s face. Yang Shaolun assumed that something must have happened to Lin Haihai. With his heart pounding and his face pale, he told Xiao Yuan to let Zheng Feng in.
“What’s the emergency?” Yang Shaolun’s deep gaze followed Zheng Feng inside.
Zheng Feng knelt down on the floor. “In response to Your Majesty, Consort Lin told this lowly guard to bring General Chen to the North Court. She’s going after Huang Wensheng, the Minister of Revenue!”
“Huang Wensheng is a follower of the old thug of a grand councilor. It won’t be easy to make a move against him. What is Consort Lin’s plan?” Zhen Luoqing hurriedly asked for more information. It would serve them well to remove Traitor Yan’s right hand man. The position of Minister of Revenue must not be held by his people!
“Consort Lin has a plan,” said Zheng Feng. “That’s why she wants General Chen there to keep Grand Councilor Yan and First-Grade Madam at bay!”
“This Emperor will go and face our enemies together! You may not be able to deter the old scoundrel, Luoqing. This Emperor is the only one who can make sure that Traitor Yan isn’t going to do anything. With Huang Wensheng out of the office, our chance of winning will grow quite substantially. Liang Buoxian will take over as the Minister of Revenue, and this Emperor will be able to do what I have to do without worry!”
Liang Buoxian had always been a man of integrity. Naturally, he would be the best candidate for Minister of Revenue.
“I’m just worried. It won’t be easy to get Huang Wensheng out of the office. He’s never made any mistakes since he became the Minister of Revenue, and his private life has been clean. We had been trying to find an excuse to get rid of him, but found nothing useful. We let him stay in office for fear of attracting backlash from the officials and the people. Still, someone serving Yan Guan must be removed from a job as important as the Minister of Revenue. It’ll be great if we can deal with him properly this time!”
Yang Shaolun thought for a moment. “She must be pretty confident that she’ll be able to deal with Huang Wensheng if she’s asking for your help. Old Scoundrel Yan is a careful man. He’s been putting up a perfect act before this Emperor, and he won’t dare make a move before this Emperor. Come with me to the North Court, Luoqing!”
“What does Consort Lin have on Huang Wensheng, Commander Zheng?” Chen Luoqing asked the important question.
“This guard doesn’t know the details, but she said that the man must be dealt with!” Zheng Feng didn’t know much about the history between Piaoxue and Huang Wensheng. He couldn’t give them a concrete answer.
“Then we’ll go right away!” Chen Luoqing was visibly delighted. If she had said that Huang Wensheng had to be dealt with, she must have formulated a good plan already.
“Prepare a carriage, Xiao Yuan. This Emperor is leaving the palace!” Yang Shaolun’s sculpted face softened a little. Is she doing well? What will happen when we meet again?
“May this official ask why Consort Lin has asked for my presence?” Huang Wensheng’s patience cracked. Lin Haihai was obviously waiting for something to happen with a calm face, which unnerved him.
“Patience, Minister Huang. We shall talk once Grand Councilor Yan and First-Grade Madam have arrived!” Lin Haihai smiled. Dragging things on was the best strategy to undermine someone’s patience and perseverance. She would have Huang Wensheng see Piaoxue when he had lost his calm. Then his panic would make him take a misstep even though her scheme was far from flawless.
“Consort Lin may speak your mind!” Huang Wensheng scowled. He wasn’t afraid of a princess consort.
“Why the hurry? Come on, have some tea!” Lin Haihai picked up her teacup and beamed at Huang Wensheng, doing everything she could to test his self-control.
“This official has business to attend to.” Huang Wensheng shot to his feet angrily. “If Consort Lin doesn’t have anything urgent to say, this official will take my leave and pay Consort Lin a visit another day!”
Now it’s time! Lin Haihai dropped her smile and put on a serious expression. “If Minister Huang can’t wait any longer, then I’ll be blunt to you. The one who wants to see you isn’t me, but an old acquaintance of yours. Come, they’ve been waiting for you inside!”
Huang Wensheng gave Lin Haihai a doubtful look. Old acquaintance? Why would someone like that be in her residence? There must be something fishy here!
“If that’s the case, please ask them to come!” Huang Wensheng said with purposeful calmness to conceal his fear. This woman wasn’t easy to deal with. She had maintained a soft tone as she spoke, and there were no discernible emotions on her face. He couldn’t tell what she was planning.
“Please come with me, Minister Huang!” Lin Haihai huffed. “They’re waiting for you!”
With that, she rose to her feet and gestured at Huang Wensheng with her brows raised. Huang Wensheng couldn’t help but follow her. There was something compelling about the woman. Something that made it impossible for him to resist her order. A sudden panic stabbed at his heart. Who could the old acquaintance be to make his heart pound like this?Previous Chapter Next Chapter