Chapter 1244: [YeXi] Retire

Faced with Han Yunxi’s icy question, Baili Yuanlong only looked innocent. If not for his eldest daughter’s instructions, he wouldn’t be holding back now, much less wear such a pitiful look. 

Seemingly wronged yet helpless, he sighed and said, “Esteemed Empress, there is nothing extraordinary about this pearl. With Northern Li suffering snow disasters and countless dead or injured, our Great Qin citizens are cold and hungry while displaced from their homes. This old man has been unable to sleep at night and unable to eat during the day. I have always been thinking of the Northern Li victims and the soldiers helping them out. There was truly no time for me to prepare an exquisite gift for His Highness Crown Prince. Although this item is modest, this old subject’s heart is sincere. I am of one heart with Grand Tutor Gu and the Northern Li victims and pray with the Great Qin’s citizens for the royal clan’s pity. May our Great Qin suffer no more disasters.”

Leaving aside Han Yunxi and Long Feiye, even those unfamiliar with Baili Yuanlong were stunned by his speech. What mocking, what satire! Not only did it censure the empress for putting so much thought into the crown prince’s birthday after the disasters while ignoring the plight of Northern Li, it also pulled Gu Beiyue to his side and emphasized his true motives for gifting the world map, another stab at Han Yunxi. After all, Gu Beiyue was supposed to be her closest subordinate. In addition, it forced the crown prince to accept this small gift or risk appearing shallow and only weighing presents for their value, not meaning. Of course, the crown prince was too young to understand such things, so the implied insult was more for his mother Han Yunxi.

In any case, Baili Yuanlong’s words were all a cultured crusade designed to deride Han Yunxi. 

Everyone was looking at her, unable to guess the empress’s reaction. Her treatment of Baili Yuanlong’s provocation would determine the attitudes of the other officials present. 

After a long period of silence, Han Yunxi’s face gradually turned cold. Silence stretched on as no one dared to make a sound. But it was Long Feiye who spoke up next.

“A great gift comes from great intentions! Crown prince, why haven’t you accepted Guogong of Zhen’s grand gift?”

“Yes!” Rui’er said childishly, his tender voice belying his serious gaze. He personally got off his seat and walked to Baili Yuanlong. Surprised and pleased, the man quickly kneeled to present his gift with both hands. At this, all of the officials relaxed their brows and smiled! Indeed, the emperor was still wise and brilliant! Since he had spoken out, what did they need to fear? They could simply speak their minds!

As a result, Guogong of Cheng, Xiao An, stood up in turn and presented another extremely common present. He spewed a bunch of lines about the country’s righteousness and its people that sounded more or less similar to Baili Yuanlong’s schtick, expressing his own sorrows while making jibes at Han Yunxi. The other two Guogong presented their gifts as well, but they were neither grand nor modest. Nor did they mock the empress and hide messages behind their forms, preferring to stick to the usual rules of congratulations. 

After the four Guogong were finished, the first-rank officials took their turn. Two of them adopted a moderate stance while the rest followed Baili Yuanlong’s satirical examples. Han Yunxi simply sat there unmoving with an expressionless look. Baili Yuanlong’s long-suffering heart felt much better just seeing her so aggrieved. Xiao An’s lips were already raised in a cold smile. He never cared whether Long Feiye had to face-slap Han Yunxi for the sake of the bigger picture or was uncomfortable with how she handled the birthday banquet. He only knew that once they got started, it wouldn’t be hard to continue with the rest. If there was a first time, there was bound to be a second and a third! 

After all the gifts were dedicated, a stiff-faced Han Yunxi swept her gaze over the table before reminding unhappily, “Emperor, all of the dishes are here. Please start the meal. Today’s menu was all personally prepared by chenqie.

Baili Yuanlong almost stood up at these words, but Baili Lixiang tugged him back very prudently. 

Long Feiye nodded, so Han Yunxi gestured for a court lady on the side to come and serve them. With a respectful bow, the girl lifted the biggest cover on Long Feiye’s table. Hot steam wafted out as a delicious fragrance filled the air. This was a scent most recognized to Long Feiye’s nose: old hen soup!

The court lady carefully spooned out bowlful and placed it in front of Long Feiye before retreating. 

“Emperor, this is a full chicken soup cooked from a three-year-old hen and mixed with hundred-year snow ginseng as well as other precious medicinal ingredients. It was simmered from morning until dusk. The exquisite mix of chicken and medicinal elements in this dish means you should just drink the soup and ignore the meat,” Han Yunxi introduced in a much better mood.

Long Feiye’s brows knit as he looked at the bowl with hooded eyes. He didn’t budge as if lost in thought. Everyone could only sigh in response. A small pot of soup used up one whole chicken and many precious medicinal ingredients. For each of the guests, that totaled to over 100 hens! If they ended up eating the entire meal, how much grain would they consume? How much silver?

Everyone looked at their own covered pot of soup and dearly wished to take a peek. But unless His Majesty moved to eat, none of them could follow suit. At this point, Baili Lixiang shot a glance at a servant closeby before giving her father a light kick. It was time to make their move.

It didn’t matter that the empress thought their gift was too small. Everyone could now see clear proof of the extravagant waste before them. 

Han Yunxi, even if the emperor wants to protect you this time, he might not succeed!

Baili Yuanlong immediately stood up, walked out of his seat, and knelt down on both knees. In a flash, dead silence fell over the crowd.

“Baili Yuanlong, what are you doing?” Long Feiye opened his mouth.

“This old official asks the emperor, empress, and Your Highness Crown Prince to mete punishment!” Baili Yuanlong cried loudly.

“What are your crimes?” Long Feiye asked.

“Today is the crown prince’s birthday banquet, a day of celebration and joy. Esteemed Empress held this banquet and invited all the important courtiers for an important, happy occasion. Yet Northern Li’s people still struggle to eat a single full meal! Even the soldiers assigned to help them are starving. This old official only feels too bitter at heart to enjoy such a feast! This old subject asks the emperor to permit me to retire!”

He wants to leave?

Everyone knew that His Excellency Baili was planning to denounce the empress, but didn’t expect him to behave differently than usual. He didn’t speak as fiercely and directly as before but simply begged the emperor to let him leave as an expression of his resentment. This not only pushed the issue into the emperor’s hands, but was, to put it plainly, threatening the sovereign outright! He was pressuring the emperor to make a decision right now. Would he accept the empress’s wasteful ways and ignore the plight of the masses, or accept his appeal? If the emperor allowed him to retire, then he was telling everyone present that condoned the empress’s extravagance and get implicated in her methods, losing the hearts of the people. If the emperor forbade him from leaving, then Baili Yuanlong would have to fight hard to force the emperor to punish him in order to appease his subjects.

In the stillness, Han Yunxi sat in her seat. Long Feiye was equally quiet as he looked at Baili Yuanlong.

“May the emperor show grace and allow this old official to retire!” Baili Yuanlong cried again.

At this, a few officials in the Baili camp all stood up to kneel by Baili Yuanlong’s side. Together they chorused, “Your Majesty, we subjects are too worried about the Northern Li people to partake in tonight’s feast. Please allow us subjects to retire!”

Long Feiye’s eyebrows creased. On one side, Gu Qishao was narrowing his eyes. He had never placed much importance on the Baili Clan, but this was his first time truly studying Baili Yuanlong’s face. Gu Beiyue lowered his head in silence. Right now, many people below were staring at him and waiting for him to take a stance! 

Baili Lixiang was kneeling behind Baili Yuanlong. She now shot Xiao Dong a look, her heart getting impatient. We agreed to act together, but what does the Xiao Clan mean by remaining unmoved?

Seeing the emperor remain silent, Baili Yuanlong kowtowed for the third time and begged, “May Your Majesty grant us permission!”

At this point, more loyal hearted, righteous officials behind him stood up to kneel behind Baili Yuanlong. They had never joined the various struggles of the factions at court and always supported the empress and crown prince, but today had utterly disappointed them. They weren’t allying themselves with Baili Yuanlong now, but simply expressing their own stance on the matter. The only reason they hadn’t stood out first was because their ranking was too low to make a difference. Since so many higher-ranking officials had taken the lead, they would naturally join them.

They didn’t add to the conversation, but kowtowed repeatedly and cried, “May Your Majesty permit these lower officials to retire!”

Meanwhile, Long Feiye turned to glance at Xiao An, who had yet to make a move. “Guogong of Cheng, do you want to remain?”

Xiao An felt that the entire situation was more complicated than it seemed, but he couldn’t pinpoint any anomalies. Han Yunxi might be formidable, but she had moments of stupidity too, or pride from being pampered too much. He quickly rose to his feet, walked to the center of the hall, and knelt beside Baili Yuanlong. “I sincerely entreat Your Majesty to permit this old official to retire!”

Seeing this, Xiao Dong and the rest of the Xiao Clan all followed to kneel with him. In a flash, two-thirds of the hundred or so guests in the hall had fallen to their knees. Still, Long Feiye didn’t stir. He studied the people who remained with a thoughtful look.

Time slowly trickled by. Everyone waited for Long Feiye to make his choice. At this moment, a eunuch quickly hurried in from the side and whispered into Long Feiye’s ear.

“Your Majesty, the city’s north and south gates report mass gatherings of commoners. They’re being led by scholar types to denounce esteemed empress!”

Long Feiye immediately grew furious. “What are they saying?”

Scared, the eunuch’s legs gave way as he tumbled to the ground.

“Speak!” Long Feiye demanded.

“They say…they say esteemed empress is being extravagantly wasteful by holding a birthday banquet for the crown prince while ignoring the plight of the people. She’s not…not…” the terrified eunuch’s tongue was twisted into knots as he stammered, “Not worthy of being the, not worthy of being the mother of the crown prince.”

“Extravagantly wasteful?” Long Feiye laughed coldly. “Empress, is this true?”

Wasn’t this the obvious truth? He still needed to ask? All of the people in the hall felt both alarmed and disappointed. Even the commoners were rioting, yet the emperor was still going to insist on pampering his empress?

Han Yunxi exhaled and rose from her seat. She pulled Rui’er to her as they both knelt in front of Long Feiye. “To reply Your Majesty, there is no such thing. Chenqie has been wrongly accused!”

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Ruyi's Thoughts

whatever's going on lfy and hyx must be having fun acting the typical roles of severe emperor and "spoiled" empress lolol