Qin Yining remained expressionless, though she inwardly laughed sardonically as she stepped forward to curtsey. “In response to His Majesty, this subject…”
A shrill male voice furiously interrupted her before she could finish and a middle-aged official stormed forward to bow. “Your Majesty, this subject would like to make a statement!”
“Beloved subject Gu, We are in the middle of an interrogation.” Li Qitian appeared rather surprised, his brows scrunching with displeasure. “Do you not think it improper to interrupt the Faithful Princess Consort of the First Rank so abruptly?”
“Your Majesty, this subject is aware that I have overstepped the bounds of propriety, but this subject is straight as an arrow—if I see someone attempt to mislead His Majesty with flowery speech and the facade of a prim and proper lady, I simply must speak out.” Imperial Scribe Gu bowed before continuing, “This subject humbly requests that His Majesty hears him out. If this subject speaks incorrectly or falsely, I will accept any punishment from His Majesty!”
Li Qitian’s furrow deepened, caught between a rock and a hard place. Seeing Imperial Scribe Gu’s raw sincerity, he couldn’t help but chuckle. “Very well. You speak first, then.”
“Yes, Your Majesty!” The imperial scribe bowed passionately, indignation at the injustice of the situation swelling his chest. “Your Majesty, as an imperial scribe, this subject has the responsibility to present the ten grave offenses committed by the Faithful Prince of the First Rank!
“The first offense: killing innocents without sparing a thought for mercy;
“The second offense: humiliating senior subjects of Northern Ji in a display of high hubris;
“The third offense: misappropriating provisions and causing misunderstandings between liege and subject;
“The fourth offense: forcing himself upon the daughter of a court official and ignoring the will of the emperor;
“The fifth offense: leaving the capital without permission with the intent of claiming treasure for himself;
“The sixth offense: embezzling relief funds without regard for the wellbeing of the people;
“The seventh offense: lusting after power and begrudging the talents of his colleagues;
“The eighth offense: unlawful assembly and raising a private militia for impure purposes;
“The ninth offense: disrespecting his father's official wife and failing his filial duties;
“The tenth offense is the most serious of them all: defying imperial decrees, disrespecting the emperor, and defecting to another nation!
“Someone as arrogant, delinquent, unfilial and disloyal as he has committed too many crimes to inscribe! This subject beseeches His Majesty to punish him severely!”
“This subject concurs!”
“Your Majesty, this subject agrees as well!”
“The Faithful Prince of the First Rank has failed his duties as a royal subject! We beseech His Majesty to judge him harshly and uphold the laws of the court!”
As soon as Imperial Scribe Gu finished speaking, dozens of court officials stepped forward to loudly echo his words. Emotions boiling over from the din of denouncement, they could’ve convinced anyone that Pang Xiao was actually a robber from the mountains who was capable of every possible crime beneath the heavens, and then some.
Li Qitian sat upright at the head of the hall with his brows slightly pinched, the very picture of someone greatly shaken but forcing himself to remain calm. In spite of all this, Pang Xiao, Qin Yining, Qin Huaiyuan, and Qin Xiuyuan didn’t utter a single word to defend themselves.
At the same time, a majority of the aristocracy had seen through what was at play here—His Majesty had set the stage thusly because Pang Xiao’s achievements threatened his authority. As those who’d fought alongside Li Qitian and jointly established the nation together, they were all in the same boat as Pang Xiao. If he was taken down, they were likely next in line.
Thus, many of them stepped forward and fiercely defended Pang Xiao on the spot. Officials whom they were friendly with and members of their respective political factions also went with the flow and threw their hat in the ring to debate with the scribes.
Seeing that the aristocracy had joined the fray, Li Qitian’s underlings followed suit. As the opposition grew, those personally familiar with Pang Xiao came forth to interject.
Not long thereafter, the scene dissolved into the frenetic chaos of a farmer’s market. Dignified officials squabbled more fiercely than street hoodlums out for extortion, dishing out arguments, counter arguments, quoting history and precedent with even more aggression and persuasiveness than spitting profanities.
Li Qitian’s brows furrowed with true emotion at the scene. He hadn’t expected to see so many speak on Pang Xiao’s behalf at a crucial moment like this. It seemed that Pang Xiao’s standing amongst the court and the people wasn’t at all what he’d thought it to be.
He couldn’t help but relish his decision to strike first—had he given Pang Xiao more time to develop and grow into his own, the prince’s roots would have deepened to the point where destabilization would be difficult.
The flames of discord from the two sides practically scorched the heavens as they fiercely argued their stances. This was the first time since the birth of Great Zhou that a debate of such scale had taken place during a court session.
Qin Yining took in the tumult with her head down, growing nervous despite herself. Imperial Scribe Gu had most certainly stuck his neck out on Li Qitian’s orders, so the emperor must definitely have more in store.
Though Pang Xiao had been appointed Grand Secretary of the Hall of Military Glory, he was first a soldier of great acclaim and known as a war god among the people. If Li Qitian was truly set on moving against Pang Xiao, how would the emperor not send in any troops?
As of now, the Metropolitan, Firearms Division, and Division of the Three Thousand of the capital guard were stationed near the capital. Most worthy of note were the Valiant Tigers called into service at the farmlands outside the capital.
Heart lurching, Qin Yining couldn’t help but cast surreptitious glances out of the corner of her eye. All of the imperial officials who’d arrived at the Hall of Governmental Union today were of fourth rank and above.
And yet, Ji Zeyu wasn’t among them!Previous Chapter Next Chapter