The thought of Zhou Meng’s odd passing, in which he’d suffered no physical wounds at all, had everyone shuddering. Though some wanted to speak in defense of the senior princess consort, they shut their mouths after some thought.
Zhou Meng’s passing had already been determined as divine punishment; if they spoke carelessly and angered the gods, they might possibly meet the same end! The prospect of a sudden death like that with no forewarning had chills running down their backs.
The senior consort’s expression twisted even further.
Never once had she imagined that when the opportunity she’d waited for so many years presented itself, it’d develop into the situation as it was now!
Of all the women in the imperial harem, she held the longest tenure by Zhou Meng’s side. Her son was the most qualified of them all to inherit the prince’s position! If anyone wanted to stop her from living the rest of her life in the lap of luxury, she would fight them to the death!
“You fools! Utter stupidity! That witch is ensnaring your hearts and misleading you all on purpose, and you actually believe her! She’ll devour you till not even your bones remain! I'll mmph…….”
The rest of senior consort’s poisonous jabs were muffled by the second princess consort’s maids.
“You may die yourself if you so desire,” the second consort hissed through clenched teeth, “but you will not drag all of us down with you!”
A number of officials were already fed up with the senior consort’s uncouth ranting. Upon seeing the second consort give orders to bind her arms, muffle her, and drag her away their respect for the second consort grew even greater.
However, the goddess had already been enraged, and the people probably didn’t have the courage to steal the provisions. If the officials didn’t bend to the will of the people, they would likely be torn to pieces and eaten alive!
They’d spontaneously agreed to fulfill the citizens’ wishes—otherwise, they could very well drown to death if everyone decided to spit just once at them, what with how large the population was!
Everyone present directed their attention at the second consort. Even Zhou Meng’s sons, now scared senseless, looked to her in hopes that she could come up with an idea.
The second consort pulled her two sons to her side, her hands tightening involuntarily.
In the past, the second consort would’ve rejoiced over having so many people look up to her.
But now, all she felt was how their stares pricked at her like needles, sending chills through her body and raising goosebumps to dot her skin. However, she was different from the reckless senior and third princess consort.
An astute individual, she’d been born to a family of scholars. As such, she contemplated things more deeply than the other two and was the most adept at reading the room. Whether Zhou Meng’s death was divine punishment or not, the people believed it to be so. Even if that were not the truth, it was now.
In other words, she wouldn’t change their minds even if she talked until her lips bled. If the ruling class wanted to live, they had to go with the flow. Their only option was to follow the hearts of the people!
She quietly expressed her thoughts to the officials, young princes and princesses. Finding her analysis reasonable, everyone agreed. As for the senior consort, she’d been bound and gagged, her sons and daughters similarly treated to prevent any trouble from developing.
Thus agreed, the group left the palace walls and went to open the gates. The creaking of the wooden doors caused a brief lull in the crowd gathered in the plaza.
Heads turned to the gates to see the second consort at the head of a group of officials and Zhou Meng’s children. When they reached ten steps from Qin Yining, they got on their knees and kowtowed.
The second consort pressed her forehead to the ground. “O Goddess above, please accept our worship! We believe all that the goddess spoke of, and the prince has indeed gone to his final rest.
“He did not succumb to illness and he did not suffer any physical wounds. He was not murdered, nor did he take his own life. The gods took him away, and they sent the goddess in turn to bring prosperity to the people of Xiyue.
“The senior princess consort should not have given offense to the goddess, so we have tied up all those who expressed dissent. From now on, we are at the goddess’ beck and call! Goddess, we beseech you, please grant the people of Xiyue your provisions as per the plans of the gods.”
Though her voice wasn’t loud, all of the surrounding citizens heard her quite clearly. Touched by her actions, they felt sincere gratitude toward those who’d opened the gates to plead on their behalf.
They kowtowed to Qin Yining once again, everyone babbling at the same time, “Please have mercy, Goddess!”
Qin Yining had anticipated this outcome, and her eyes welled up with compassion for a quiet reply. “Very well. Seeing the sincere hearts of the people of Xiyue, how can I not follow the mandate of the gods?”
She then introduced Pang Xiao to the crowd. “This man is the true prince of Xiyue. The sacred texts also hoped that I may join the true prince in marriage. Today, with the witness of all those present, we shall hold a simple wedding. Afterward, I will distribute the provisions as dictated by the sacred writings.”
Listening silently, the people burst out cheering at the end. Some of the more boisterous of the children even danced with joy, ecstatic as if the new year had come.
The second consort touched her forehead again to the ground. “As the goddess says. The goddess is acting with the guidance of the gods, so your decisions are naturally correct. We just didn’t know Zhou Meng was posing as the false prince, which means the first prince was an imposter from the start. We were unaware of the specifics and allowed Zhou Meng to lead us astray. We can only beseech the goddess to show us mercy.”
In saying so, not only did she extract herself from the situation, she even made it appear as if the officials and citizens of Xiyue were also innocent.
As her explanation benefited the greater good, the second consort won herself much approval. The citizens promptly echoed her words, saying that they’d acted the way they did because they’d been deceived.
Oooh clever, verrrry clever on both sides.