What with the tumultuous state of court, the aristocracy and old officials of Northern Ji were currently waiting on the sidelines for further developments, after witnessing what became of Patriarch Lu. Though the second son of the Lu family supported the old patriarch, his authority and ability were quite limited.
The nobles of court, on the other hand, had their eyes on Pang Zhixi and Li Zeyu. If the emperor were to take action against these two, then the nobles had to be on their guard. That outcome made it all the more difficult for Li Qitian to determine his next moves.
Furthermore, the faction of surrendered Yan officials followed Qin Huaiyuan's lead, and ever since Yuchi Yan and Gu Shixiong had been sent off to the royal dungeons, those officials were growing restless. If anything else happened to Qin Huaiyuan, it was possible that they would erupt in an uproar.
On top of all that, the Tatars were eyeing them covetously like tigers, hoping to declare war.
Li Qitian was long at his wits’ end. Weeks of pressure had weighed on his heart, and now Pang Xiao had gone off with his soldiers without so much as a word to anyone. Li Qitian’s temper was flaring out of control.
However, seeing Qin Huaiyuan kneeling on the floor with his head down in compliance with imperial orders had him reconsidering the pros and cons of punishing the old minister. In the end, Li Qitian sighed and personally helped Qin Huaiyuan to his feet with a pleasant expression.
"This is a mere misunderstanding. We ask beloved subject Qin to not take it to heart."
Qin Huaiyuan looked deeply moved and shook his head rapidly.
"Your Majesty bends your mind to overseeing a myriad of affairs on a daily basis. Matters of the nation are complex, but this subject is not competent enough to help His Majesty share that burden. I understand that His Majesty has a reason in all that you do. I only regret that I am a useless scholar who cannot ease His Majesty's worries. The Tatar dilemma is perplexing indeed, yet this subject cannot alleviate the pressure."
Qin Huaiyuan's words struck right at Li Qitian's heart.
It was indeed lonely at the top; as the emperor, his greatest wish was to be understood, not to be simply feared. Qin Huaiyuan's worrisome son-in-law aside, the emperor still found this person rather agreeable.
"Never mind that." Li Qitian gave a long sigh. "He has truly irked Us. It seems that Pang Zhixi anticipated that We would ask you about his plans, so he daren't tell you about them, never mind where he hid the family. You have always proved to be wise, so analyze this: what is Pang Zhixi's purpose for bringing his soldiers out of the city? Can he possibly be on his way to contact the Dragon Riders?"
Unfazed, Qin Huaiyuan thought deeply for a moment before responding, "This subject thinks His Highness does not seem to be the sort of person to do something like this without reason. I suppose such is the vigor of youth."
At that, Qin Huaiyuan's expression took on a bashful note.
"Oh?" Li Qitian quirked a brow.
"Heroes can hardly ignore a beautiful damsel in distress. His Highness is an emotional person at his core. He has always followed His Majesty's orders to the letter, only stepping out of line where matters of the heart are concerned. It is my fault for not teaching my daughter better." Qin Huaiyuan made a move to kneel again.
"There is no need for that." Li Qitian lightly held onto Qin Huaiyuan and ordered him to sit down.
Only then did Qin Huaiyuan tearfully give thanks for imperial kindness before sitting down with his body turned halfway on the chair, his head lowered as he awaited orders.
By now, Li Qitian's ill mood had dissipated somewhat. Thinking back on things, he realized Pang Xiao's insubordination had always stemmed from beautiful women, including the time when he disobeyed more than thirty royal decrees.
In other words, Pang Xiao was no longer the flawless, impervious person he once was. Now, he had a fatal weakness that anyone could jab at. For Li Qitian, this was a very good thing. He could use this against Pang Xiao, improving his grasp over his tool.
Li Qitian sighed, "He truly is reckless. Considering the situation with Tatar, what use would his soldiers be? Does he truly think his soldiers to be sent from the heavens above? What we should be doing is figuring out how to make peace instead."
"His Majesty speaks truly." Qin Huayuan bowed. "The Tatars are clearly using this as an excuse to invade our borders. If we go to war, the people will be thrown into a hellish pit of fire and suffering. Assuming we have the funds to support this war, we would be better off using the silver to better the lives of the people by repairing bridges and roads, building dams, or even lowering taxes. That would be better than any waste of the silver in the national treasury."
Li Qitian nodded repeatedly. "Indeed, yet the Tatars do not think the same."
Qin Huaiyuan and Li Qitian then delved into a discussion regarding governance.
Qin-mama peeped at them from afar, then returned to report to the old dowager. "The visitor appears to be a colleague of the lord. He seemed frazzled and domineering when he came, but after he realized nothing was wrong with our household, he began discussing important matters with the lord."
Only then were the old dowager's worries assuaged. However, upon further contemplation, she still felt there was something off about the situation.
"Have someone take another look at the in-laws' manor and see if you can find out where they have gone. The soldiers were looking for them. Has something big happened?"
Qin-mama immediately made herself scarce to carry out her orders.
Not long after Li Qitian left, a frightened old dowager sent for her son and took him aside as soon as he returned to the inner quarters. Holding Qin Huaiyuan’s hand, she instructed, "Under no circumstances can you pay any mind to the Pangs. Whether they live or die has nothing to do with the Qins. His Majesty is searching for them, so if we interfere, our family may be dragged down with them."
Qin Huaiyuan had already anticipated the old dowager's reaction. Not wanting her to think too much of the situation, he gently agreed.
The old dowager then launched into a discussion about the marriage prospects of the two remaining girls in the family.
Though Qin Yining had been married for some time, there was not even a whisper about her producing children. The old dowager still wished to send the eighth miss to the Faithful Prince of the First Rank as a concubine. Considering their current situation, however, she feared Qin Huaiyuan would not approve.Previous Chapter Next Chapter
I wonder if it's possible for a character to be any more odious than this freaking old dowager, eh.