The princess consort shook her head and gently pushed her husband away. "You may find my idea distasteful, as it’s sure to lead to casualties on both sides. If angry citizens go on a rampage, they inevitably ransack, loot, vandalize, or set fire to these beautiful residences. They won’t stop at grabbing the food. Even the elderly, children and women may be hurt...
“However, at the moment I really can't think of any other way to save so many people. The national treasury is exhausted and we don't know when we will receive provisions. But the people can't go a day without food or medicine. At this rate, their dissatisfaction will grow and His Majesty's authority will be destabilized. More importantly, I fear these citizens will all be just written off.
"Sending them after these rich families may sound callous and result in harm and injury, but this is the best option compared to letting people starve to death or driving them to desperate measures." Qin Yining lowered her head with a murmur. "Perhaps I’m condemning myself to the eighteenth level of hell with such a cold-blooded proposition."
"Don't say such a thing, my dear." Pang Xiao smiled and wrapped an arm around her in comfort. "I understand where you’re coming from. When I was first sent to war, I couldn't bring myself to swing my sword at my foes and end their lives. They too had people waiting for them at home. Every slice and thrust would visit tragedy upon a family.
"However, I couldn't afford to hesitate when it actually came to ending a life because if I did, not only would they kill me instead, they would also slaughter the people I fought to protect. The era of chaos and violence would never end if I didn’t take out my opponents, and the people would never know peace.
“Killing hundreds might seem like a cruel and bloody act, but at the same time, their sacrifices are valuable because more people can live on happily and peacefully. If I must atone in hell for my sins, then so be it. As the Buddhist adage goes, 'Who will enter hell, if not me?'"
Hearing this, Qin Yining couldn't help mutter, "Who will enter hell, if not me… indeed. If my unscrupulous proposition keeps more people alive, the sacrifices of the minority will not be in vain. If I am sent to hell for this, then I wholly accept it.
“This will also set an example for the families in other cities and counties, so that they don’t dare to form cartels of their own. We're not looking to seize their provisions from them. We only ask that they set fair prices."
Her resolve grew as she spoke, a shining assertiveness and foresight replacing the previous vulnerability in her eyes. Those present understood what the princess consort meant.
Considering how they lacked sufficient military power, it did appear that encouraging the refugees to riot was the only way they could minimize casualties and ensure the survival of the majority. Even the law couldn't punish so many at once; how could His Majesty punish such a large number of refugees?
However, their hearts ached for those soon to be martyred: the elderly, children and women of those rich families. They had no say in the prices of the rice, yet they were to be bystander casualties nonetheless.
When the group next looked at Qin Yining, they saw her in a different light.
How intelligent and decisive was she to have thought of such a solution! Compassion drove her remorse over those about to lose their lives, yet she’d done so to save the majority. Cruel as she may seem, could any of them truly denounce her?
That night, Qin Yining found herself unable to sleep.
She tossed and turned, kept awake by chilling mental images of mobs raiding the estates of the rich to commit arson, murder, and plunder while women and children were tortured to death. When she finally found sleep, she was frightened awake by nightmares.
His wife’s screams woke Pang Xiao with a jerk. The sight of her face streaked with tears squeezed his heart painfully as he drew her into a tight embrace.
"My darling, you've done nothing wrong. Your solution isn’t wrong. Even if there’s fault to be distributed, the one upon the throne is to blame, not you."
"But the truth is that many will die because of my plan."
"That may be, but a great majority of the citizens will live because of you. Not just the people of Yang County, but all of the citizens living in the disaster zone."
Qin Yining leaned against Pang Xiao's shoulders with closed eyes and nodded. She had to bury her weaknesses in order to move forward in the face of harsh reality.
At daybreak, the refugees learned what the immoral landlords had done in their lust for money. They’d increased their prices to the unaffordable amount of twelve taels per stone when the Faithful Prince of the First Rank sought to strike a deal. The prince tried several times, receiving nothing but doors slammed shut in his face for his efforts. Knowing this, the people agitated with outrage.
Riots boiled over by noon. News spread of attacks on the Dings and the Peis. Meanwhile, Huzi dragged a person bound by rope before Pang Xiao and Qin Yining.
"Your Highness, the two we interrogated yesterday confessed they were acting on orders to provoke the refugees so that there would be a major riot. This one is the person pulling the strings."
The two looked down with conflicted feelings—lying on her side and gagged with a rag was none other than Madame Lu.
The princess consort intoned, "Why? Didn’t you move to your countryside estate? Why are you here and why did you do that? Do you know how many citizens were trampled to death because of you?"
Biting down on the rag in her mouth, Madame Lu glared wrathfully at her.
"Remove her gag so that she may speak," ordered Qin Yining.
"Yes, Your Highness." Huzi immediately removed the rag.
Squirming like a massive cicada larva, Madame Lu struggled for a long while before she brought himself to a seated position. She lifted up her head at Pang Xiao, then Qin Yining before exclaiming, "I only wanted to help the refugees! What wrong have I committed?"Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Oh goodness. Oh man. I see what she's doing here. This is gonna be ugly. @@