Mixed emotions brewed in Li Qitian’s heart when he received Pang Xiao’s report from the last messenger pigeon.
Apart from the tiny grumble in the first note, every report afterwards had been sent on time with minute descriptions of the secret stash. The prince also carefully listed the number of chests and composition of the convoy, lest any be ‘lost’ during transport.
Those letters, combined with You Meng’s report, demonstrated that Pang Xiao was a person of unquestionable loyalty, despite the prince’s overbearing insolence and raising a hand against others.
Li Qitian even felt some soul-searching was in order. Had he been too harsh on Pang Xiao?
At long last, the impressive fortune was his! Although the treasure wouldn’t fully replenish the imperial treasury, it was enough to keep the nation afloat. The amount of silver within was sufficient to pay the Valiant Tigers and the Dragon Riders for five years.
Li Qitian could finally breathe a hefty sigh of relief with possession of this substantial sum. Sleep of utter assurance was his for the taking.
He rounded the large paulownia desk that was covered with a golden tablecloth. Strolling toward the wide-open doors, he gently rubbed his clammy hands against each other.
Highly polished black marble floors shone with a bright gleam. Not a faintest sound echoed from Li Qitian’s footsteps. The eunuchs guarding the entrance lowered their heads and bowed from the waist when they noted their master’s movement.
Spacious hall doors opened onto a large expanse of a plaza, whereupon white stone-bricks patterning the ground, scarlet facades and brightly glazed tiles, and cottony clouds floating through cerulean skies came into full view.
Li Qitian took another deep breath in. Refreshment and rejuvenation in both body and mind!
“This servant is here.” Li Guanwen immediately shuffled forward and bowed with a smile.
“Summon beloved subject Qin to come see Us.”
“Understood.” The head eunuch left straightaway to deliver the imperial summons.
Qin Huaiyuan bursted with questions on his way to the palace. However, he merely bowed to Li Qitian in a show of utter respect, awaiting further instructions upon arrival.
“We used to consider the Faithful Prince of the First Rank a stubborn, bad apple,” smiled the emperor. “But with beloved subject Qin to mentor and guide him, he has matured quite a bit. You have taught him well.”
Suspicious, Qin Huaiyuan nonetheless waved a self-deprecating hand and bowed again.
“Your Majesty offers praise that is far too rich. This old subject is truly unworthy. Although the prince is rash and irritable, and there is also an old grudge between us, we are now one family. No matter out of loyalty to Your Majesty or consideration for my daughter, this old subject should issue reminders at appropriate moments.”
Qin Huaiyuan’s answer was expertly crafted: he neither exaggerated his loyalty nor pretentiously swore his allegiance to the country. Half-truths were coated with half-lies, creating the veneer of honesty.
These days, Li Qitian held Qin Huaiyuan in increasingly higher regard. That wasn’t based solely on the former minister’s capabilities and talent; his looks were also pleasing to the eye. In particular, when Qin Huaiyuan had still served Great Yan, he’d risen against the decrepit emperor of Northern Ji. Given Li Qitian’s own history, he didn’t find Qin Huaiyuan completely objectionable.
In hindsight, Li Qitian lamented that Qin Huaiyuan’s career had been impeded by his previous trash of a master. The best years of his life had gone to waste as he’d unfortunately been born in Great Yan and forced to swear allegiance to a buffoon. Had Li Qitian appeared several decades early, this talent would’ve long joined his ranks!
History would have witnessed another glorious era.
An amiable Li Qitian instructed Li Guanwen to move a seat forward and actually stepped out himself to join the minister on the same side.
Startled by the show of imperial favor, Qin Huaiyuan allowed himself to occupy only half of the seat’s edge.
Li Qitian smiled. “We summoned you merely to convey a matter of great urgency. Nothing else.”
“Please, Your Majesty
“The treasure has been found. It now awaits Our instructions for transport back to the capital.”
Li Qitian watched Qin Huaiyuan’s expression intently as he spoke. His remaining vestiges of suspicion vaporized when the minister’s eyes widened with shock.
“We refer to the treasure of Great Yan. What does beloved subject Qin think of this?”
The question was very artfully created. The emperor didn’t focus on one singular aspect of the affair. Rather, it was up to the minister to deduce the emperor’s intentions from a simple, overarching inquiry.
“Your Majesty,” Qin Huaiyuan stood with a prim bow. “What has been recovered can be called treasure, but in actuality, it’s hard-earned possessions of the people, looted by the emperor emeritus of Great Yan.
“It is living proof of his crime in denying the people the basic right to live. Neither buried underground nor wasted by a privileged few to slake selfish desires would be the most appropriate usage. This humble subject offers that only when the wealth is used for the good of the people will the sins staining it be cleansed.”
Qin Huaiyuan paused and bowed again after looking up at the emperor. “This humble subject feels it is heaven’s design that Your Majesty has recovered the treasure. They know that Your Majesty is a noble emperor dedicated to the people. That this happened when the earth dragon turned over in the south and plague rampages means that it is a door of survival the heavens have flung open for the people. Your Majesty was destined to find and allocate the treasure!”
Qin Huaiyuan’s expression was etched in solemness. He delivered every word, every sentence with authority. And unsurprisingly, every one of these words was a ticket to Li Qitian’s heart, scratching where it itched the most.
Only upon becoming emperor did understanding of being lonely at the top sink in.
Li Qitian was responsible for all of his followers now that he’d ascended to the throne. Everyone—his subjects, people, and even his mother, endlessly solicited things from him, but no one truly understood him.Previous Chapter Next Chapter
I... for a second here I'm feeling some pity for Li Qitian!