"Indeed, great khan." Another of Siqin ardent supporters came forward and bowed. "This emperor of Great Zhou has gone too far. The matter of him sending assassins to murder Anari Khan aside, he had the nerve to quibble when we sent diplomatic letters condemning them for their actions! Not only did he fail to apologize, but he didn't even give us compensation. They truly think us Tatars to be beneath them!"
These words inspired a wave of discussion and speculation among the crowd.
Soon enough, everyone agreed that the truth of the matter was that the Great Zhou emperor had sent assassins after Anari Khan, yet now refused to admit to his murder. He was attempting to help his assassins escape punishment!
As the sound of discord grew louder, their emotions escalated. Amid their disparaging, a loud voice cried out, "Those sly Great Zhou foxes are begging for Tatar hunters to teach them a lesson! Then they'll know what we're made of!"
That ignited the fighting spirit and blood lust of the officials. No Tatar warrior would admit to being cowards who didn't dare exact vengeance on Anari's behalf. What's more, Utkin Khan loved Anari so dearly that they wanted to help avenge her. Not only would this appease the khan, it would win them his favor.
The gathered officials wordlessly came to the same conclusion and stirred themselves up. In just a moment, the court was filled with cries to volunteer for military service.
The corners of Siqin's lips involuntarily twitched into a faint smile, but it was suppressed as quickly as it came.
"I thank you all," said Siqin, "but we Tatars aren't a people who do not see reason. I will decide after discussing terms with Great Zhou. We shall give them a chance. If they continue to refuse responsibility, then they cannot blame us for collecting on the blood debt owed to us!"
His subjects expressed their unanimous approval and assented verbally with bows.
Calls to arms written in four-six prose were immediately published after the court meeting adjourned. They recounted the shamelessness of Great Zhou in great detail—for sending and then not owning up to sending assassins, and ended with subtly lauding Utkin Khan's wise and benevolent rule.
These writings not only made their way to Great Zhou; but also cities and villages all over Tatar, big and small. It didn't take long for heated discussion to flourish in the general public, with everyone collectively praising Utkin Khan's heroism.
The people of Great Zhou, on the other hand, were disgusted by their shameless words.
Li Qitian was so infuriated that he smashed his favorite tea set and summoned Pang Xiao, Patriarch Lu, and Qin Huaiyuan to the palace for another tongue-lashing.
"Tell Us, what are we to do now?! Not only did those Tatars write these calls to arms, they show great disrespect with their words. That is not even the least of it—they think themselves lions and wish to extort an obscene amount of money as compensation! These Tatars are so impoverished that they've gone mad!" fumed Li Qitian.
Strictly speaking, he’d seized the throne from the back of his stallion in the battlefield. War wasn’t something he feared. However, their greatest dilemma wasn’t that they didn't have soldiers or horses, but that the national treasury didn't have any spare silver to fund yet another war.
He was already so strapped for silver that he felt as if his elbows were exposed every time he pulled on his robes, as if he were so poor that he couldn’t afford to replace threadbare clothes. And now the Tatars were trying to extort him?! How was Li Qitian not to be angered by this?
"Please quell your anger, Your Majesty." Qin Huaiyuan was the calmest of the three—seeing that Pang Xiao and Patriarch Lu didn't move to speak, he did the natural thing and bowed. "This subject believes Siqin is using any excuse he can to extort reparations out of us. If that fails, he will have a plausible reason to declare war."
Li Qitian felt the onset of a massive headache at the mention of the word "war"—whether it was warfare or the livelihoods of the people, all of them required financial support. The government was still as chaotic and broken as it’d been in the past; the tumors of Northern Ji didn't cease to be simply because a new dynasty had begun.
They had been hard at work trying to stabilize the nation so that Great Zhou could gradually rise and prosper.
However, it was precisely because they had their hands full with rebuilding the country that they didn't have the energy to spare on other affairs. Li Qitian's worries had already turned the hair on his temples white.
"We know full well this is the case! The problem is how we are to resolve this situation! As We said from the start, the people of Our war torn nation have suffered for years. We are willing to go through any ordeal if the people can be spared from hardship.
“It’s still uncertain if it’s even our people who killed Anari! If née Qin and Lu Heng are both captured, Tatar will swear we were the ones who did it! And now they think themselves to be a lion and open their maws to demand money from us, or else they will declare war. We pity each and every one of Our citizens!"
Li Qitian's heart ached so much that he was close to beating his chest and stamping his feet from sheer frustration. To be emperor seemed glorious, but he was so frazzled that he couldn't even feel the depths of his exhaustion, whether mentally and physically.
Patriarch Lu and Pang Xiao spoke not a single word, for they knew Li Qitian couldn’t care less for Lu Heng and Qin Yining's safety. If the Tatars had declared they would waive all responsibility as long as Great Zhou handed those two over, Li Qitian wouldn't have cared if they were deceiving him or not—he would’ve gladly accepted those terms.
Pang Xiao was in secret contact with some of the Elite Tigers and had ordered them to infiltrate Tatar in search of Qin Yining. Though Li Qitian seemed high-strung, the nation's affairs were so chaotic that his hands were completely full; he wouldn't care about the prince's actions for the time being.
Even if the emperor decided to press charges, Pang Xiao was willing to accept any punishment. He had already defied all those royal decrees, after all—would he care about such a thing if it meant helping his beloved?Previous Chapter Next Chapter