Chapter 273: Decision
Pang Xiao’s men did things in a tight and clean fashion. Qin Huaiyuan was back safe and sound in the city in the wee hours of morning.
The marquis strode through early morning light to immediately see Weichi Yan. He wasn’t the type of person to worry at the details or play the role of a loyal subject to the bitter end, willing to die for his convictions even though the times had left them behind.
Having survived the emperor emeritus for so long and weathered several rises and falls, Qin Huaiyuan had shifted from someone idealistically simple to one who thought of his family’s future. Since it wasn’t possible to triumph over Great Zhou, he should instead bend his mind to the task of obtaining the most benefits for the emperor.
Weichi Yan was in a wonderful mood today, perhaps on account of seeing Qin Yining yesterday. Even now, the image of the girl gently sending him off with a lowered head appeared whenever he shut his eyes.
Or perhaps some lingering convictions had finally shattered after seeing her. All Weichi Yan knew was that he seemed to have shrugged off immensely heavy shackles, and he felt light as a feather from the bottom of his heart.
“Your Majesty, Grand Preceptor Qin requests an audience.”
“Show him in, quickly,” Weichi Yan responded urgently. He happened to want to speak to Qin Huaiyuan as well.
The marquis entered the imperial study shortly afterwards. He bowed. “This subject greets Your Majesty. Long live Your Majesty.”
“You may rise. Be seated.” A faint smile hung on Weichi Yan’s face.
Qin Huaiyuan thanked the imperial favor and took a seat on the chair that the young eunuchs brought over. This particular chair imitated the design of the hats that officials wore as part of their uniform. The marquis smiled. “Judging from Your Majesty’s expression, a joyous matter seems to have occurred today.”
Weichi Yan gave a small smile. “Nothing particularly joyous, just that We’ve thought through a few things and feel all the lighter for it. You have good timing. We were about to summon you.”
Seeing that his liege seemed to be in high spirits, Qin Huaiyuan played along. “What has Your Majesty thought through?”
Weichi Yan rose and responded solemnly, “We made a clandestine outing yesterday and spent a lot of time walking through the city proper, taking note of the tragic circumstances.”
When Qin Huaiyuan saw the emperor’s tightly furrowed brows and barely concealed anguish, he quickly sank to his knees. “This humble subject is incompetent and unable to share Your Majesty’s burdens.”
“No, you’ve done very well.” Weichi Yan helped the marquis back up. “You’ve done much already for Us and the people of Great Yan. We can only rue that the heavens don’t bless us, that we lack proper timing, geographical advantage, and unity within our own ranks. We possess none of the trinity.”
He smiled wryly. “When my royal father handed the throne to me, it wasn’t that he thought highly of my abilities or talents. It was only because he had no other option for a scapegoat. He stashed away large sums of wealth and threw an empty shell at me. He hoarded treasure so that he might rise again in the future. He won’t be the shameful ruler of a defeated nation when Great Yan falls in battle. The historians will only record that I was the last emperor of Great Yan.”
Weichi Yan closed his eyes and clenched his fists. “To be honest, I feel deep hate and resentment. I’ve never received one iota of care from my father. As I grew up, my father didn’t look at me with the love of a father for a son, but with deep-rooted wariness.
“I know that he was afraid I would steal his position. He cared about my royal uncle much more than he cared for me. How I wished sometimes that it was my uncle in this seat. Perhaps then we wouldn’t have ended up in these straits. But it’s all too late now.”
Weichi Yan’s back was to Qin Huaiyuan, not wanting his subject to see him shed tears in a moment of weakness. However, his nasally voice betrayed that this emperor, this man, was weeping.
Qin Huaiyuan took a kneeling position on the ground again, quietly listening to Weichi Yan pouring his heart out. Bleak pity welled up correspondingly.
When that useless emperor emeritus had been in charge, he’d been on guard against everyone, not just Weichi Yan. This pain wasn’t limited to only the crying majesty. As a subject, Qin Huaiyuan had offered most of his life and energy to court. But in the end, the former emperor toyed with him as he would, killing or praising at the drop of a hat.
He could understand Weichi Yan’s agony because he shared it. Perhaps the anguish of having entrusted one’s hopes to the wrong person and inability to fulfill one’s ambitions were similar to not receiving fatherly love?
“When We went out yesterday, We saw people eating their own children.” Weichi Yan’s voice shook. “I saw with my own eyes an old woman, dressed in patched rags, gnaw on a half-roasted child’s arm… I really wanted to kill myself at that!
“I refused to admit my shortcomings because I didn’t want to be the sovereign of a failed nation. I hung on with grit teeth for the laughable sake of idiotic self-pride. Countless numbers of my people have suffered for it. Grand Preceptor Qin, I was wrong. I was wrong from the beginning.’
Weichi Yan turned around, tears glistening on his cheeks, but heretofore unseen resolution in his eyes.
“I shouldn’t have selfishly plunged my people into the depths of hell to begin with. As emperor, not only do I not usher happiness to them, but I treat them as tools with which to construct the foundations of my status. What difference is there then, between me and my father? We’re equally selfish and equally useless.”
“You’ve done very well already, Your Majesty,” Qin Huaiyuan comforted. “Great Yan would’ve never fallen had you taken the throne a decade earlier. Some things were irredeemable when you took the reins. It’s not your fault.”
There were exaggerated elements in this response as Weichi Yan’s abilities really were limited. But it was a timely nod of affirmation for when the emperor was at the lowest point of self-doubt. As long as there was one person who understood him, then for the sake of saving the rest of the people, it didn’t seem such a blow to accept being emperor of a failed nation.
“Thank you, Grand Preceptor Qin.” Weichi Yan smiled even as tears streamed down his face. He spoke thickly, “I can’t be selfish anymore. I can’t have everyone buried alongside my throne. I’ve decided to surrender to Great Zhou.”
“Your Majesty…” A lump was stuck in Qin Huaiyuan’s throat as well.
Though he knew this would be the result, once it was made, it was the death knell for the country that Qin Huaiyuan had spent most of his life safeguarding. It marked the end of his efforts and youth, and the many grand dreams that a once daring and energetic young man had made.
He was incredibly miserable and also quite resigned.
But he also wasn’t the sort to make decisions based on emotions. If the general drift of affairs had left them behind and there was nothing they could do to wrench things around, then they had to make other plans.
“Your Majesty.” Qin Huaiyuan wiped away his tears and brought out the envelope with shaking hands. “I found this by my pillow when I woke this morning. The contents… Your Majesty, I don’t dare sprout nonsense. Please have a look.”
Weichi Yan blinked and hesitantly accepted the envelope. When he unfolded it to take a close look, his already wan face drained of all color.
Though he’d decided to surrender, it was one thing for it to be a consciously made decision, and another thing entirely to do so after being betrayed.
“These people —are really, really! Hah! Our good subjects and Our good father-in-law!” The emperor howled at the heavens and burst into loud sobs. “The generals have rebelled and half of the civil officials. Even my own father-in-law has betrayed me! My lands are no more, so what do we fight for?! What else can I do other than be docilely taken?!”
Grief struck Qin Huaiyuan and he closed his eyes, tears streaking down his cheeks. Liege and subject wept together.
Neither of them discovered Empress Li Yanyan silently backing away from the imperial study doors. She cast a meaningful glance at Lu-gonggong and took off.
The eunuch looked down as if the empress hadn’t come around at all.
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