Chapter 274: Secret Envoy
When Li Yanyan left the imperial study, she immediately summoned her most trusted palace servant. The maid had entered the palace as part of her dowry. She hissed, “Take a quick horse and go to my father. Tell him that the emperor already knows about him gathering a hundred officials for a letter of surrender to Great Zhou! Grand Preceptor Qin saw the emperor in the imperial study just now and handed the list over! The emperor is absolutely furious after seeing it. Have my father make preparations. Go!”
Pale with fright, the maid nodded rapidly and sprinted out.
Li Yanyan dropped bonelessly into a round chair, devoid of all strength. What would the emperor do to the Lis? What would he do to her?
The thought had just arisen when she took in a deep breath and confidently pushed it back down.
The nation was destructing and the emperor couldn’t even get a full meal. What strength could he possibly bring to bear against them? Personnel were especially needed in the face of a national crisis. If the emperor punished the Lis, he’d be completely alone and without support then!
Her heart settled back down when her thoughts travelled here.
What the empress didn’t know was that Lu-gonggong described her visit in detail after Qin Huaiyuan left the imperial study.
Weichi Yan snorted coldly. “They really think I’m an easy target to be bullied however they like! I allow them to remain only because there’s still some use to them!”
“Everything is within Your Majesty’s consideration,” responded Lu-gonggong. “This servant would never be able to consider it all.”
Weichi Yan thought for a moment and had the eunuch come closer. He whispered a few words that sent the eunuch off to do business after a bow.
At the same time, Li Yanyan’s maid arrived at top speed with a message about the latest developments.
The duke froze, poleaxed, when he heard the news. Thoughts scrambled frantically to and fro, and he couldn’t say anything for a long while. His advisors were likewise frowning ferociously, tragedy written all over their faces.
“Your Grace, what should we do? The emperor’s likely to fly into an imperial rage when he finds out that we all put our names on it!”
“That’s right, Your Grace! Your noble reputation of a lifetime can’t be ruined here. We need to think about a strategy for this!”
But on the contrary, the duke slowly calmed down in the face of his advisors’ incessant chatter. He burst out laughing. “What are you all afraid of?”
When he rose, there was no sign of the panic-stricken expression that’d been on his face just moments ago. He sneered coldly. “What’s there to be afraid of given how things are now? It’s not only my name on that declaration of fealty. Punishments can’t be meted out when a majority have committed the action. Even if the emperor wants to find fault with someone, what, is he going to kill me and all of the generals in the country? Who can he find to lead the armies apart from me? How will he fight without his generals?”
The others felt slightly better after hearing the duke’s words. Upon closer analysis, what right did the emperor have to punish them when he couldn’t even feed his subordinates? There was a whole court of them dying of hunger!
“Your Grace speaks truly.” All relaxed.
The Duke of An stroked his white beard, a pair of extremely sharp eyes narrowed in his square face. “So Qin somehow got his hands on my declaration, huh! And he was one step ahead of me — levying an accusation in front of the emperor! It looks like that old fox hasn’t lived his years out in vain. I supposed I’ve rather underestimated him before.”
One of his confidants smirked. “They say that Qin Huaiyuan is loyal, I say it’s all a bunch of hot air. He’s just a shameless snake who likes to build a good name for himself. He rushed to make that accusation first so he could have his bread buttered on both sides. He can fish for imperial favor in exposing Your Grace, and can also get in Great Zhou’s good graces.
“But did that declaration sprout wings and fly to him? I wonder just how he managed to get in touch with Great Zhou. We can see from this that though he’s zealous in not giving up, he long since had the desire to surrender.”
The duke nodded in great agreement. He felt that his talents weren’t any less than Qin Huaiyuan, but only Qin’s name was known throughout the lands. Everyone in the world knows of Qin Huaiyuan, but how many know of the Duke of An, Li Mian?
Their principles were also different. Take the matter of city defense: the duke had advocated hoping for victory with slow and steady movements, but privately indicating intent to surrender, while the marquis had staunchly held onto unyielding resistance.
This meant that Qin Huaiyuan’s convictions ran counter to the Duke of An’s interests.
And more importantly was the relations between their two daughters. One was the true, legal empress but received no imperial affections, while the other was the emperor’s true love and yet remained on his mind even after she’d been forced to become a nun.
All these combined meant that the duke and Qin Huaiyuan could never coexist in harmony.
In Great Yan, the duke was always in Qin Huaiyuan’s shadow. The Great Zhou secret envoy had once privately conveyed that his emperor promised that, if Great Yan were to surrender, all defecting officials would be treated generously. No talent would be overlooked. In other words, they would still be officials in Great Zhou.
But with how things were proceeding, the marquis would still loom over the duke in Great Zhou!
And based on what?? Why should he still be suppressed in Great Zhou when it was already like this in Great Yan?!
The duke’s gaze turned cold when his thoughts travelled to this point. “We can’t let the Qins make it to Great Zhou alive! Didn’t the envoy tell us to secretly get rid of Pang? Why don’t we make use of this to take out both Pang and Qin!”
His advisors all snapped to attention and the group began brainstorming appropriate strategies.
Heavy rain in the early morning brought a few hints of coolness to a mountain that an Indian summer had been tyrannizing. Those in Ning Park were busily storing water in containers. Their expressions were eased in anticipation of wild vegetables and fruits growing a bit faster after this bout of nourishment.
Qin Yining and née Sun were chatting lowly over their day’s tasks when a messenger came in.
“Benefactor, an old gentleman’s appeared outside the door. He says he serves your father and has come see you because your father has urgent business to discuss with you.”
Qin Yining blinked. Her father hadn’t made it up the mountain in all this time; they hadn’t talked in a month. She was quite worried about her father’s situation and instantly reacted when she heard he’d sent someone. “Many thanks, I’ll be right there.”
She put down the ceramic tub in hand and smiled. “Mother, I’ll go take a look. Maybe father wants to tell me something.”
Née Sun nodded with a forced smile. “Go on. I won’t go since your father doesn’t have any words for me. It’s probably Qitai, so ask him about your father for me.”
Naturally, the girl knew of her mother’s sadness. Cao Yuqing had been at Qin Huaiyuan’s side on guard duty ever since he’d gone off to defend the city. How would her mother not be jealous?
It wasn’t her position to talk about her father’s private life, so Qin Yining smiled again. “I know, I’ll be right back.”
“Go on. I know you two have plenty of secrets.” Née Sun basked in shared glory as it wasn’t everyday that a daughter was treated like a son. She was proud not just because Qin Yining was an only child, but more so because her daughter was intelligent and always kept the greater picture in mind.
Previous Chapter Next Chapter