Ironically, the words that resonated with him the most were the ones uttered by a subject, and a surrendered official of Great Yan at that! Qin Huaiyuan’s presence in the Great Zhou imperial court stuck out like a sore thumb.
Perhaps it was the relief of an immense burden lifted after finally finding the treasure—Li Qitian found more compassion within himself, which made Qin Huaiyuan’s response more impactful.
“Beloved subject Qin.” The emperor helped his minister up with both hands and patted him on the arms with gratitude. “We have not read you wrong. We decided on using the treasure for people when it was found, as it was pilfered from them in the first place. May that soothe some of the victims who paid the ultimate price for it.”
Qin Huaiyuan nodded solemnly. The look in his eyes and expression radiated exactly the appropriate level of obedience to his overlord, which was also mixed in with subtle veneration.
Just a single glance from one of these looks was a more satisfying balm than two hours of empty flattery.
“Beloved subject Qin, what do you think the follow-up steps should be, now that the treasure’s been recovered?”
Wise Pan An mulled over the question before answering.
“At this moment, this subject feels that there are three arrangements that must be made. Firstly, the Faithful Prince and Princess Consort of the First Rank, Commandery Prince of Yan, and Old Master Gu are to remain where they are for further instructions. Troops should keep them under guard, lest any secrets be divulged. Secondly, deploy Prince Consort Ji to meet the convoy so that nothing will happen en route back home. Thirdly, make plans for allocating the treasure and release updates to herald Your Majesty’s deeds.”
Qin Huaiyuan’s suggestions were sufficiently clear, but not overly thorough that Li Qitian didn’t have space to think things over.
This manner of suggestion-making best demonstrated one’s sincerity. It also left no room for others to think that he was unduly dictating imperial decisions.
Li Qitian nodded repeatedly, deeply moved by the minister’s sincerity.
“My beloved subject, you proposed having the prince and others remain where they are until further notice. How long shall they wait?”
Qin Huaiyuan answered unequivocally, “Until Your Majesty’s men take control of the treasure.”
Li Qitian remained deep in thought for another moment. A question he desperately wanted to ask didn’t make it out in the end.
Pang Xiao and Qin Yining are your son-in-law and beloved daughter. Aren’t you concerned at all that the newlyweds will suffer where they are?
But after thinking it over, Li Qitian saw to the crux of the matter.
Qin Huaiyuan was indeed seeing things clearly. Not only would his suggestion ensure the integrity of the treasure’s location, it’d also clear the couple of all suspicion.
Li Qitian shook his head, not knowing whether to laugh or cry. He wasn’t irked by Qin Huaiyuan’s style. Had the minister been overly selfless, indicating no bias towards his own daughter, sure doubts would arise regarding his loyalty. On the contrary, his behavior now came across all the more genuine.
Li Qitian moved quickly and instructed a messenger to deliver his orders as quickly as possible.
When the messenger came, Qin Yining and Pang Xiao were crowded around a bonfire, roasting fresh game with Huzi, Jiyun and Bingtang.
The princess consort was a true survivor of the mountains who’d endured her fair share of hardships. This kind of simple living was actually more to her taste. Her abilities for eking out a living in the wild greatly impressed her husband and the soldiers.
She had a knack for identifying which paths in the mountains were easiest to walk, which fruit was delicious, and which wild vegetables were edible. She hunted with the skill of an expert huntsman, far better than the guards by Pang Xiao’s side.
After such a long period of time, Qin Yining’s skin was fully rejuvenated by her new life. There was no trace of weathering by the elements, but this appearance made Pang Xiao’s heart ache.
“Your Highness, we’ve got company at the foot of the mountain,” whispered a guard.
Pang Xiao nodded. “I heard them.”
The three hundred Dragon Riders standing guard at the foot of the mountain had established a sentry system on shifts. A sentinel brought the messenger up to see You Meng.
Yuchi Yan and Gu Shixiong, along with their band of twenty-plus followers, were tied up in a heap not too far away. They looked nervously in the direction of the newcomer.
You Meng accepted the secret edict from Li Qitian and read it twice. He grinned when he turned around.
“His Majesty has decreed that the Faithful Prince and Princess Consort of the First Rank, and their followers, remain put for further instruction. The Commandery Prince of Yan and Gu Shixiong as well. As for the rest…” The vice general slid the edge of his hand across his throat.
His personal guards immediately shoved Gu Shixiong and Yuchi Yan over to Pang Xiao, Qin Yining and their entourage. Meanwhile, those who’d followed Yuchi Yan, including Little Lu, screamed with panic and despair.
“No, no, no!! Your Highness! Help us!”
“We didn’t do anything at all! We’re innocent!”
The executioners selected from the Dragon Riders muffled their screams as they were dragged away. The men returned before long, taking up their positions behind You Meng once more. Any closer looks would reveal the bloodstains on their faces and bodies.
“No, no, no no…”Yuchi Yan shook his head, his eyes closed as he mumbled in pain. “It shouldn’t be this way, it shouldn’t be! They’re all innocent!”
“Innocent?” You Meng scoffed derisively. “What, can’t bear to see if with your own eyes? Why don’t you think about the women you left behind at the capital?”
“No, no….” Yuchi Yan’s eyes were round and big, brimming with anguish.Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Yuchi Yan you weakling, you should've seen this coming. I feel so bad for his servants and women.