Without troublemakers lurking among the refugees, the crowd simmered down when they recalled that the food they’d had in recent days was all thanks to the Faithful Prince and Princess Consort of the First Rank.
Whether the emperor truly cared for them or not, at least the prince and Magistrate Li had been trying their best. They’d rioted only because someone had taken advantage of their panic and fear to fan the flames.
After emotions ran their course, many regretted their actions and worried if they’d have to answer for their misdeeds. They no longer stormed the yamen, but sobs continued to ring out from the crowd.Everyone felt their grief as if it were their own; the louder the refugees cried, the more infectious their anguish became.
Qin Yining leaned against Pang Xiao and shed tears of her own as she took in their despairing sobs. The prince wrapped his arms around his distressed lady and rubbed her shoulders before addressing the crowd.
"Fear not. Since this prince is here by royal decree as the disaster relief ambassador, I will do my job well. The earthquake destroyed many roads, which makes the transport of provisions difficult. However, I will see to it that this problem is resolved. Please have patience and conserve your energy.”
At this, one of the sobbing citizens piped up. "Why should we believe you?"
"Yeah, we've been trapped here for so long, and so many people who could’ve been saved have already kicked the bucket!"
"You disaster relief officials took your sweet time getting here, and you came empty-handed. How are we commoners supposed to trust you?"
Everyone was in a pitiful state—many had lost family to this catastrophe one way or another, and Li Qitian's policies truly didn't inspire much confidence. It made sense why people of the disaster zones would resent them.
Frankly, Pang Xiao and Qin Yining didn’t agree with Li Qitian's methods, either. However, they weren’t in the position to point fingers at their liege lord. All they could do was solemnly swear that no one would be abandoned.
The two devoted everything they had to quelling the riot, resulting in minimal losses.
Even the strongest of tigers cannot hold off a pack of wolves. Pang Xiao was a master of the martial arts and had a group of elite soldiers to protect him. However, if the rioting had continued and enraged citizens charged them, no one could say for sure what dire consequences might’ve developed.
Having finally pacified the refugees, Pang Xiao took Qin Yining to discuss their next course of action with Magistrate Li and Prefect Gong. They sat on the ground of a barren clearing without regard for status or station, the Dragon Riders forming a perimeter around the group.
Sir Gong began, "The situation before us is very clear. Though His Majesty's relief funds have yet to arrive, His Highness' donations are enough to last us a good while. However, transportation is still an issue, and we don't have anyone we can buy rice from. The rice families in town refuse to settle for anything less than ten taels for one stone of coarse rice. Even if we have to agree to those prices, we still need to purchase medicine. Who knows how much longer we'll be able to support the people?"
Pang Xiao grit his teeth and hissed, "Curse those dogs who gave up their humanity for wealth!"
Dejection loomed over the group. In the people's hour of need, some gathered together to brainstorm ideas, while others lacking in morality, such as the Dings and Peis, looked on as if watching an entertaining show.
One could only sigh at the stark contrast between the two.
But the refugees knew nothing of their troubles—all they saw was that their emperor neither sent them disaster relief provisions nor funds, and many had died from starvation or disease as a result.
The purpose of helping those affected by the disaster wasn’t just to save lives. From the emperor's perspective, it was more crucial that he retained the public's confidence in him. Fail at the former, and he would lose the faith of the people. Fail at the later, and someone might come for his head!
Qin Yining pursed her lips. Truth be told, she had already devised a callous solution, but she couldn't bring herself to voice it. But after witnessing the suffering of so many citizens, she could afford to hesitate no longer.
She declared resolutely, "I actually have a way for us to temporarily solve the problem at hand without the use of silver. However, it may be too unsavory..."
Everyone looked at the princess consort.
Pang Xiao looked thoughtful. "What do you propose we do?"
"Steal from the rich and give to the poor." Qin Yining pursed her lips, her brows pinched. She remained silent for a long moment.
"This subordinate understands what Her Highness is saying,” Magistrate Li spoke up, “but we lack manpower. If we try to break into those residencies, we may not even be able to get any provisions. We would merely be endangering the lives of those involved."
The prefect nodded as well. "Indeed. What's more is that if we loot and steal, we’ll get into trouble with the law."
Qin Yining pursed her lips and closed her eyes for a moment before speaking again. "But, what if the refugees were the ones to raid the estates?"
The group was stunned into silence by her words.
Heart aching, Pang Xiao pulled his beloved into his embrace without regard for anyone else and patted her back. "My darling, this is such a difficult situation for you."Previous Chapter Next Chapter