Chapter 264: Great Happenings
Just as the Valiant Tigers outside were clamoring to rip the eunuch to pieces, Huzi trotted into the tent and drew close to Pang Xiao. “Your Highness, I’m afraid this matter will be difficult to settle now that it’s such a mess. Are you really planning to kill Zhao Yueshui?”
The prince raised his eyes. “Of course. He ran roughshod over people in Xihua and elicited public anger. I’d only be soothing the troops if I killed him. Besides, I really do have evidence that he sold military intelligence. I’m not framing him.”
“But that eunuch is the emperor’s spy. If you kill him, that’s blatant confrontation with His Majesty! It might result in people gossiping about you behind your back, making the emperor even more wary of you.”
A disdainful sniff emitted from Pang Xiao. “Do you think that castrated man came up with this idea on his own? He normally throws his weight around in Xihua with his back straight and his head held high, but he puts all that away when he sees me. Even if he inwardly scorns me, he presents an agreeable face on the surface. So tell me, where did he get the courage to publicly accuse me today?”
Huzi’s expression shifted as he gasped. “Your Highness, you mean this was the emperor’s idea?”
Pang Xiao shook his head. “His Majesty is wise. He still has use for me, so he won’t shoot himself in the foot like this. It must be Li Guanwen picking up on something and conspiring with Zhao Yueshui.”
“But that’s also tricky to handle!” Huzi was as white as a sheet.
It wasn’t the first day that the emperor had been careful against Pang Xiao. The fiercer the prince fought his battles, the greater his accomplishments. This further added to the emperor’s obsession. Li Guanwen served by the emperor’s side. To sit so firmly in his eminent position meant that he was both smart and shrewd.
How would such a fellow misread the emperor’s intentions?
Though they’d long since known that the emperor was this kind of person, Huzi still broke out in a clammy sweat when he thought of all the implications.
The tent flap raised at this moment as Zheng Pei, garbed in a navy blue straight robe, walked in urgently. “Your Highness.”
“Sir Zheng is here. Have a sweat.” Pang Xiao lifted his chin at the old man.
Huzi brought over a seat and raised a cupped fist salute to Zheng Pei. His polite yet distantly removed attitude was miles apart from the close friendliness before.
Agonized ruefulness welled up in the old man’s heart. He first bowed to Pang Xiao, but was too worried to wait until he’d fully taken his seat before beginning, “Please think twice, Your Highness. Zhao Yueshui is Li Guanwen’s foster son. If you kill Zhao Yueshui, you’ll offend Li Guanwen to no end! The emperor listens to Li Guanwen — that eunuch makes a poor piece of candy but a very sour pot of vinegar. You can’t be brash in this!
“Killing Zhao Yueshui will surely elicit imperial anger. The emperor holds all the reins of power and hates his people begging for forgiveness rather than asking for permission. He sent Zhao Yueshi to your side, so you must think of the master even when beating the dog. Please consider my words carefully out of concern for your standing at court in the future.” Zheng Pei rose to make another bow.
Pang Xiao smiled reassuringly, his gaze quite gentle beneath the candlelight. “Please sit down and speak.” He didn’t answer the strategist directly.
Further resigned wryness flooded Zheng Pei’s heart. He knew that him reporting all of Pang Xiao’s movements to the emperor had thoroughly pushed the young man away. The prince no longer trusted him, but he couldn’t bear to just wash his hands of the entire matter. The young man was Pang Zhongzhen’s son!
Zheng Pei slowly returned to his stool and looked expectantly at Pang Xiao.
“Sir Zheng makes sense.” The prince responded leisurely, as if they weren’t discussing his future or even life and death! It seemed more like they were discussing the weather. “With Sir Zheng’s intelligence, you should understand that some things are already set in stone, even if I don’t kill the eunuch. Those who are irked by me will still be irritated.”
The strategist caught his breath. He was stumped for an appropriate reply. He knew that the prince was a smart one and wouldn’t be fobbed off with some pleasantries.
Pang Xiao spoke only the truth. Even if he left the eunuch alive, the emperor’s wariness of him wouldn’t decrease one iota, and neither would the old Northern Ji officials change their minds of him.
“This prince knows that Sir Zheng is thinking on my behalf, but I’m sure you already know the foregone conclusions of some of the ins-and-outs. Since some things can’t be changed, why must I continue to imitate a doormat and put up with unfair treatment? As a man, do I lack even the courage to speak loudly? That will only invite more bullying until one day, I won’t be able to even lift my head.”
Zheng Pei was completely won over by these arguments. He couldn’t find anything to refute with and had to nod his head.
Pang Xiao cast a glance at Huzi. The guard didn’t have near as many concerns as Zheng Pei. He’d been raring to go once his master had made a decision. Having received the go-signal, he charged out enthusiastically to take care of Zhao Yueshui.
There was only Pang Xiao and Zheng Pei left in the tent.
The strategist looked at the prince’s sharp gaze in the moonlight, but actually couldn’t meet it. The situation was incredibly awkward.
He’d once thought that he was Pang Xiao’s most trusted person.
He’d also thought that it’d been his betrayal that pushed the loyal prince away from him.
But now it looked like Pang Xiao had never truly trusted him!
The prince had always kept firmly in mind exactly how the old man had used him. He’d played deaf and dumb, fixing his sights on his prey like a patient wolf. Pang Xiao never relaxed his guard and had revealed his fangs when the timing was right.
Zheng Pei could no longer do anything to Pang Xiao. He couldn’t counter the prince, much less control the young man. It was no longer impossible for him to be a trusted confidante.
Or perhaps it’d always been wishful thinking that he could ever become a bosom friend.
Zheng Pei sighed and took his leave.
The prince tracked the old man’s movements, withdrawing his gaze after a moment and closing his eyes to rest.
Huzi obtained some actual intelligence from Zhao Yueshi — the eunuch was the typical person of being all bark and no bite. After a round of interrogation, he just wanted a quick death, of which Huzi obliged.
“Your Highness, that castrated man confessed everything.”
“You guessed right, my prince. Li Guanwen had indeed mentioned something to Zhao Yueshui before. When the emperor ‘invited’ your mother and maternal grandparents for a stay in the palace, he ordered the empress to fish your thoughts out of them.”
“As expected, but my mother isn’t so easily hoodwinked. The emperor will have next steps in mind.” Pang Xiao toyed with the whip in his hand. “Since that’s the case, we need to end the fighting here as soon as possible. I'm worried something will happen to my family.”
Huzi nodded firmly in agreement as his master bent his mind to considering war strategy over the next two days.
It wasn’t that he couldn’t win, but that attackers were at a natural disadvantage when besieging a city. Their supply lines were long and Great Zhou far away. The country’s coffers were rather empty after cleaning up Northern Ji’s mess, and the emperor had imposed a stringent budget on him. There was no silver and rice to be had, and their supplies were often late.
Meanwhile, the Duke of An evaded battle and hid behind barred gates.
If he couldn’t keep his troops fed, would he have any right to stop them from resorting to robbery?
The same went for the Great Yan soldiers outside the city gates. If they went hungry, they’d have to take their food from someone else’s mouths as well.
Victims of war would be the people in the end if things dragged on. Pang Xiao just wanted to conclude the war as soon as possible.
But at this time, an absolutely astounding piece of news from Great Yan finally made its way to his ears.
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