One had to say, Li Qitian’s words were very rousing. A man’s ambitions should be found in all four corners of the world!
Pang Xiao wasn’t some philandering milquetoast. When he’d hoisted high the banner with Li Qitian, he must’ve imagined the great feats he’d accomplish one day, when the world had changed and he occupied lofty heights from which to resist the brutal former system.
Li Qitian’s speech tickled the depths of his heart.
Hidden behind the divider, Qin Yining’s mind raced. When she connected this conversation to what had happened recently, it felt that all wasn’t how it appeared.
She held her breath with nervous concentration to hear Pang Xiao respond with a voice slightly charged with surprise. “Do you mean that, Your Majesty?”
“Naturally!” Li Qitian was also highly agitated. “What did we rise up for, all those years ago? So that we would be able to crush the heads of those corrupt and greedy officials beneath our feet! But who would’ve thought that after we won the world, we still can’t do as we wish in matters of court?”
Pang Xiao agreed, “That’s right, but there’s nothing we could’ve done about that. When Your Majesty sounded the call of justice, food and money had to be borrowed from right and left. If it wasn’t for the support of several large aristocratic families, our own silver wouldn't have been enough. Given that, Your Majesty has no choice but to respect their terms and conditions.
“The weakest of them has foundations stretching back to Northern Ji for at least a hundred years. Not only do they have ample financial strength, deep reserves, and a wide network, more than likely they have deep ties with the officials at court as well.”
“You're very right,” agreed Li Qitian. “Only a brother like you, one who’s been there with Us every step of the way, understands Our difficulties. Oftentimes, there are whispers behind Our backs that say We fear those surrendered Northern Ji officials, that they hold the true power at court. But who knows of Our predicament?”
The emperor waved a hand when his thoughts travelled here. “All that is in the past now. You’ll be inducted as a Grand Secretary tomorrow. Though you won't be the Secondary or Senior in the short run, that makes three of our own in the council. That’ll be enough to vie with those Northern Ji relics! We won’t have to look to their faces when it comes to deciding policy anymore.”
Pang Xiao appeared gripped by passion, but some worry still crossed his face. “Your Majesty speaks very truly, but this subject has little talent and even less learning. I’m afraid I’m unsuited for the position.”
Li Qitian waved a hand. “Don’t unduly belittle yourself. If We say you are suitable, then you are suitable! No more protests now, we’ll proceed tomorrow as we’ve discussed.”
Pang Xiao nodded zealously and proclaimed with high spirits, “Understood! Thank you, Your Majesty!”
The increasingly heated conversation filtered into Qin Yining’s ears, as well as some plans for future policy. Li Qitian finally left after a while longer, the prince seeing him out.
Quiet descended onto the front hall. There was no one else present. Qin Yining remained behind the divider, not daring to come out.
Roughly fifteen minutes later, the door creaked open to announce Pang Xiao’s return.
“Darling Yi?” Pang Xiao called out when he didn’t see the girl.
The Qin fourth miss walked out from behind the divider. The prince broke into a grin to see that she’d been hiding there all this time. He walked up for a hug. “Aren't you tired? Why didn't you come out and sit for a bit?”
“I was worried there’d still be people in the hall. I can’t see clearly through the joints of the divider. What if I bumped into some of the emperor’s men after you two walked out? It's better to be more careful.”
“Oh you." Pang Xiao lovingly scratched Qin Yining’s nose with the pad of a fingertip.
The girl responded seriously, “What do you plan to do with what His Majesty was talking about just now?”
“I was coming to bring you to the study so we can discuss this. I've already sent Huzi to notify Sirs Xu and Xie.”
But the girl shook her head. “I’m just a woman. It’s not good for me to be involved in your matters, is it?”
“It wouldn’t be a good thing for any other woman to carelessly mingle with matters outside. But you’re no ordinary woman.”
Pang Xiao took her hand and walked to the door, carefully adjusting her cape. “Sirs Xie and Xu quite admire your wisdom and they’ve already accepted you. I was worried that they wouldn’t accept you joining our conversations, but it now seems my worries were unfounded. You have your own ways of winning them over.”
Qin Yining dimpled. “What ways? I’m just genuine in my affections for you. They’re loyal to a fault and I treat you truly. Of course they’d accept me.”
Warmth suffused his heart. Overcome by emotion, he pulled her into his embrace and left a loud smack on her forehead.
Qin Yining also wrapped her arms around his waist and smiled after a moment. “We shouldn’t keep them waiting. Let’s hurry over.”
The two walked out hand-in-hand, but switched to one following after another when they reached the yard.
Once they reached the outer study, Pang Xiao ordered Huzi to keep a close eye on the premises and entered with the Qin fourth miss. He carefully recounted Li Qitian’s words to Xie Yue and Xu Weizhi. “There are no outsiders here. The floor is yours, gentlemen.”
“Understood.” The two raised cupped fists and sank into deep thought.
Qin Yining had actually formed some opinions from earlier. She bit her lip, swallowing back what she was about to say.
The prince smiled at the sight. “What thoughts do you have, my darling?”
Taken aback that he would ask her first, Qin Yining started and looked hesitantly at the strategists off to the side.
Xie Yue smiled at her reaction. “Miss Qin is remarkably intelligent and heard everything clearly just now. I’m sure you’ve given it great thought. Why not tell us your take first?”
“That’s right. There’s no need to be so cautious, Miss Qin. Since we’re discussing business, speaking freely is the rule of the day. We’re all exchanging opinions, so please go ahead and lay out whatever’s on your mind.”
The girl rose to dip a polite curtsey at the two men. “Then I’ll be showing off in front of the masters.”
The two strategists raised cupped fists in return.
She took a moment to gather her thoughts when she found her seat again. “I feel that the emperor’s actions today were very suspicious. He doesn’t seem to genuinely want to install His Highness onto the council. Instead, it seems like he’s purposefully playing on emotions to numb the prince. Not only does he want to avoid giving His Highness a title, but he also wants to give the prince a bad name and leave empty-handed.”
“Oh?” Xu Weizhi arched a brow but quickly understood.
“We’re all aware of the prince’s circumstances,” continued Qin Yining. “He made the most effort in taking down Northern Ji, and his name was the worst for it. Everyone in the Northern Ji camp treats him as the enemy, thereby diverting away a lot of hatred for the emperor.”
Pang Xiao nodded. “That’s very true.
“So that’s why I find this very suspicious. From the emperor’s earlier conversation with His Highness, there are many deep-rooted aristocratic families in the Northern Ji faction. Many of these families once gave the emperor’s armies a lot of financial aid, which is how you guys were able to take down the old dynasty.
“With how the Grand Secretariat is now, the addition of His Highness will change its layout. The Northern Ji faction will lose their majority voice. The aristocracy won’t allow that, much less the surrendered officials. Their men at court will surely band together to oppose the prince, to say nothing of anyone else.”Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Schemes upon schemes again!