A dumbstruck Tang Li could only respond, “Sister-in-law, are you a fool? You’re really saying this out loud?”
Han Yunxi’s words were a perfect mirror to the gossip about her views outside. They claimed she refused all the pleas of the courtiers to cancel the party and was going to make it a huge deal!
Han Yunxi rolled her eyes at him. “You’re the fool!”
“Empress, you want to force them to help the disaster refugees at the birthday banquet?” Ning Jing asked. She knew Han Yunxi was no idiot.
“Not only that!” Han Yunxi laughed coldly. She beckoned the couple closer and whispered a few words to them. Long Feiye had long known of Han Yunxi’s plans and simply laughed from the sidelines. The politics and veiled competition of the court were extremely boring affairs, so it was fun to have Han Yunxi stir up the waters once in a while. Tomorrow’s birthday banquet would definitely be amusing.
That night, Long Feiye personally flew around the walls to check all the rooftops of the palace, but found no trace of Gu Qishao. Although he had forbidden the man from coming with them, he still sent a messenger to invite him to Rui’er’s birthday banquet.
Is that guy not coming?
Although Gu Qishao said he’d gift No. 7 Teahouse to Rui’er, he hadn’t done so formally. They at least needed the title and deed. Although Han Yunxi knew how to stir up trouble, Gu Qishao was the true expert. If he didn’t show up, tomorrow’s gathering would be much less interesting.
The night passed peacefully within the palace, but both within and beyond the capital walls and even people across the continent were awaiting news of the banquet cancellation. Baili Yuanlong was especially invested in the news.
Late at night, he held a secret meeting with a southern military commander named Xiao Dong (萧栋). This year, Xiao Dong was 40, a full 16 years younger than Baili Yuanlong. But compared to Jin Zi in the norther, Chu Tianyin in the west, or Luo Tuo (洛图) in the east, he could be considered old. Xiao Dong was hopeless at tactics or fighting, so amongst the other southern generals he was an absolute waste! But his origins were huge!
He was none other than a member of the head of all the large clans in the south, the Xiao. When Long Feiye was still at the peak of Celestial Mountain, the Xiao Clan Head went to the Medical City conference to object against supporting Han Yunxi and Gu Beiyue. For years their family had eyed the position of the empress, so it’d be strange if they didn’t raise any objections!
Long Feiye wanted to get back at them for their actions, but Gu Beiyue held him back. Otherwise, the Xiao Clan would have lost their status and riches long ago. Since their influence was so vast and complicated in the south, that would have affected the entire region and sent the south into chaos. Currently, the west, north, east, and central regions were all in the midst of reconstruction after the war. Much of their resources and grain came from the south.
The south could not fall into unrest! That was one reason the southern generals dared to act so wantonly. Of course, their supporters and various clans were all very intelligent. They knew Long Feiye had reservations against them, so they had to seize this chance to snatch more power and allies. Xiao Dong was simply a representative of the other major clans. He was very different from Baili Yuanlong, but the two had similar understandings.
First, they felt that Long Feiye had been too hasty in appointing Jin Zi, Chu Tianyin, and Luo Tu as main commanders of the armies. Both Jin Zi and Chu Tianyin had yet to reach 30, while Luo Tu was the nephew of the Kangan Private Bank’s Manager Luo. He had just turned 30 last year. In the eyes of Xiao Dong and Baili Yuanlong, these whippersnappers were still growing. What could they accomplish?
Secondly, they both had Han Yunxi on their spearheads. The southern generals most coveted the empress’s position, for her son would be the future monarch. To put it plainly, they hoped the crown prince and his future heirs would come from their clans and favor their people, thus winning more benefits for their side. Baili Yuanlong wished the southern region could gain strength as well. If possible, it’d be best if they grabbed up the empress spot. In his eyes, a stronger southern army meant the emperor would need him more, thus drawing him closer to the sovereign! After all, the current situation showed that only the Baili Clan was capable of contending with the south.
Baili Yuanlong and Xiao Dong had been talking for a long time across the tea table. Now they were simply waiting for news from the palace. Although this was a private meeting, they maintained their formality towards each other. After all, they weren’t true comrades but both fighting for honor and advantages. It was only natural to be guarded against each other.
After a long period of silence, Xiao Dong probed, “Your Excellency Baili, it’s already so late. As I see it, there won’t be any more news from the palace, yes?”
What was he probing for? To see if Baili Yuanlong had any agents in Long Feiye and Han Yunxi’s court. All of the civil and military officials wanted to buy news from the palace and hear the latest updates. Unfortunately, this was extremely difficult. Long Feiye didn’t have a harem and only lived with Han Yunxi at the main palace. They didn’t require many servants at all.
Xiao Dong mused that Baili Yuanlong was once the second in command of East Qin, so he should be very intimate with Long Feiye’s circle of allies. Even if he couldn’t bribe servants close to the two rulers, he should at least have spies within the palace. But that was something only Baili Yuanlong himself knew.
Baili Yuanlong replied, “Wait a while longer. If there’s really no news, then that’s perfect.”
Thus, the two fell into silence again.
Yet little time passed before Xiao Dong grew restless. “Your Excellency Baili, if the esteemed empress insists on proceeding as planned, then the two of us can withdraw together tomorrow!”
They had agreed that if the birthday banquet went on as planned, they wouldn’t mention it at the morning court, but censure the empress in public at the gathering that night. After all, it would be the empress herself who insisted on making it a big show!
“Of course!” Baili Yuanlong nodded placidly.
The two of them continued to wait. Unfortunately, it was almost dawn and there was still no news of the banquet being cancelled from the palace. Since it was almost time for the morning court, Xiao Dong couldn’t stay and rose to bid his farewell.
After sending him off, Baili Yuanlong sat back down and drank a few sips of strong tea to wake himself up. At this moment, a female around 30 emerged from the curtains. Despite getting on in age, she was dignified and beautiful, with the kind of looks that made fishes sink and geese fall from the skies. She radiated the aura of a high class young lady, enough for people to forget her actual age.
This was none other than Baili Yuanlong’s eldest daughter. She had spent many years undercover in Northern Li, growing from a simple court lady Qingyun to Northern Li’s most favored Noble Consort Xiao. She was Baili Mingxiang’s older sister, Baili Lixiang! She had been hidden so deeply and for so long in Northern Li that she didn’t even leave the country when it fell into chaos. As the unrest grew, she escaped north until news of the Northern Li emperor’s suicide reached her ears. Then she left for good.
She had managed to snatch away quite a few of the jewels and treasures in the Northern Li palace and had an excellent understanding of the situation there. Even now, her many trusted contacts were scattered within the country. Baili Yuanlong knew martial arts, but never picked up any other skills while following Long Feiye. He was so stubborn and awkward that he was more like a dense block of rock. The only reason he could ally with the southern generals now was because of this daughter supporting him behind the scenes.
After crawling her way up in the Northern Li court and living through years of power struggles, Baili Lixiang’s methods and skills were anything but simple. The Baili Clan had sacrificed so much for the East Qin Dynasty. In her eyes, Long Feiye should have made her father a king at least and have her younger brother inherit the title. In this way, the Baili Clan would always enjoy the treatment expected of kings.
Yet Long Feiye did no such thing, but listened to Han Yunxi and split up the military power into five factions. What’s more, he gave the highest authority to her, a woman. The Baili Clan had followed Long Feiye for so long and given up so much. Why couldn’t they enjoy any of the privileges they earned? Neither she nor her father could accept that Long Feiye had given the western army to Chu Tianyin of the Nether Clan to command, then the northern army to Jin Zi of the Black Clan. In their eyes, this was a huge risks and simply stupidly digging one’s grave.
“Father, you should go rest. As I see it this is no simple matter. You’ll have to be careful tomorrow,” Baili Lixiang might be a deep schemer with poisonous methods, but she was also a refined lady. She would never vie for her own gains, but was willing to sacrifice herself for her father and brothers, even unto death. If a woman took it into her head to give it all for her family, the promise would be permanently imprinted into her heart.
Baili Yuanlong was in no mood to retire. He was calm before Xiao Dong, but he exposed his emotions completely before his daughter.
“Lixiang, how could father sleep? Xiao Dong and I are acting in concert tomorrow. What if…”
“Father, there is no ‘if!’ As long as Han Yunxi resolves to hold her banquet, she’ll never be able to rise again! I not only convinced the ministers of six ranks, but found many citizens as well. They should have all finished preparations by now. As soon as the banquet starts, those citizens will block the city gates. Moreover, father, this was Han Yunxi’s idea to begin with. I refuse to believe the Northern Li troops will still care about her after this!” Baili Lixiang declared.
Baili Yuanlong nodded. He felt much better after his daughter’s words.
“Father, do you remember how Han Yunxi initiated a fundraiser at Tianning’s empress dowager’s birthday banquet?” Baili Lixiang asked.
Baili Yuanlong grew tense. “It can’t be that this time she too…”
“Don’t worry, father. Daughter has already prepared for two instances. Even if she starts a fundraiser, daughter can still deal with her!” Baili Lixiang smiled coldly beneath the candlelight. She truly resembled a snakelike beauty.
“What’s your plan?” Baili Yuanlong asked hastily. Baili Lixiang whispered something in his ear, surprising him greatly. “That really happened?”
“I’ve already paid personal visits to those ten madams,” Baili Lixiang murmured back, “It’s impossible for this to be false!”
At last, Baili Yuanlong set aside his worries. He was nervous before, but now felt much more solid. He couldn’t wait for the banquet to begin. “You should rest early too. Tomorrow will be your first time meeting the emperor, you must keep your spirits fresh,” he said seriously.
“I still have to pick up little sister later. She should almost be at Yunning by now,” Baili Lixiang couldn’t help complaining, “That girl Mingxiang is really unruly. Why did she choose to run off and be some army medic instead of thinking up ways to stay in Yunning?!”
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with yexi's face slapping history i don't know how much of a threat baili lixiang will manage before she's snuffed out. it'll be fun to see the royal couple actually struggle for once, so i'll keep my hopes up for a somewhat epic showdown~