Qin Yining had witnessed before the effects of famine with her own eyes, so she knew better than anyone what crazed things that starving people would try.
She stood next to Pang Xiao, looking at people who were skin and bones, fury and desperation twisting their sallow, gaunt faces. Arms that were more accurately described as dried branches brandished bowls and chunks of pottery. It felt like someone had dug out her heart; she was so distressed she could barely breathe.
Life shouldn't have been like this for them!
Great Yan’s trash emperor hadn’t treated them well and Great Zhou’s emperor likewise didn’t value their lives. Rage and despair brewed in their hearts, but they kept such emotions firmly in check because of their low status.
They would be saints if they could keep their cool after enduring all sorts of disaster and having their liege lord treat them as less than human!
In any case, Qin Yining herself didn’t think she wouldn’t harbor a single trace of hate at this juncture, especially when she faced the fear of starvation.
“What should we do, what should we do?” She subconsciously fished for Pang Xiao’s hand.
The prince could feel the coolness of her fingers, and he gripped her hand tenderly, transferring warmth with his palm. This was too much hardship to have her observe such a scene.
He stroked the back of her hand comfortingly with his thumb and called out, “My friends and countrymen, please calm down and listen to this prince!”
“No, we won’t listen!”
“You’re all corrupt bastards! You stole the provisions that the imperial court sent us! You play us for fools by giving us that watery porridge everyday!”
“Are we not people in your eyes just because we’re surrendered Great Yan citizens??”
“We want to eat! We want food!”
A muted din rose from the crowd. If this had been in normal times, emotions would’ve ran high a long time ago. The air would throng with shouts and roars. But starving people didn’t have much strength to make a fuss, and they even had to stop after every sentence to catch their breath.
They weren’t purely rioters, so Pang Xiao couldn’t bear to use violence on them. He could only yell back, “Please settle down, everyone. We all know that years of war have plagued Great Zhou. We inherited the mess that was Northern Ji, and Great Yan’s emperor specialized in robbing the people. He even sold off the tax grain and hid the proceeds!
“All of these people were highly intelligent, if lacking in the ability to run a country. But they were all very skilled in scheming and plotting. Great Zhou received none of the treasure!
“The emperor is wholeheartedly dedicated to the people, but we all know that even the greatest housewife can’t cook without rice. We’re also in a disaster zone. The earth dragon turning over blocked off the roads with enormous boulders, or just straight up cracked them open. Carriages with provisions can’t make it into the city at all.
“The princess consort, a weak girl, traveled over land and water for an entire day to obtain more food for everyone. She finally got her hands on some rice and sweet potatoes, and her only hope was that more people would survive until the emperor’s rations arrived. That’s why we’ve had to make such watery porridge with the limited provisions, so that no one starves to death.”
Pang Xiao’s resonant voice traveled far into the distance, instilling some calm into the scene.
“This prince promises everyone that whether it’s the emperor, this prince, or every official and soldier here—we all have the same goal. We want you to live on. We want more people to live on.
“His Majesty constantly thinks of this area. Silver and rice will be here shortly, and I fully understand how hungry everyone feels. But no matter what, we should persevere and live on.”
At this point, the prince laughed self-deprecatingly. “Everyone knows that I’m a demon who kills without blinking. So let that be. I only hope that everyone can maintain cool heads and conserve as much energy as possible to wait for rescue from the capital. In order to make sure most people survive, I don’t mind being a villain. This prince will harshly punish anyone else who seeks to start trouble.”
His words quieted everyone in the end. It was now that they recalled Pang Xiao wasn’t some sort of foppish dandy used to swimming in the lap of luxury. He was a solemn and principled soldier. Any promise he gave might bear more weight than those in the jianghu.
If he said he would do something, then he would do it.
This sentiment rose in many hearts, but what had they received after time and time of offering up their trust and hopes? Abandonment and betrayal from the imperial court!
That was how the previous dynasty had treated them and Great Zhou was no better. Pretty words were used to lull them, but they were always the chosen sacrifices when push came to shove.
Some in the crowd were already crying, and angry shouts ripped out, “You’re threatening us! But there’s so many of us, so what can your men do no matter how strong they are!?”
“That’s right! Hand over the food! Hand over the food!”Previous Chapter Next Chapter