Qin Yining’s pupils contracted with alarm, but her expression remained as placid as ever. She reminded herself not to panic so she wouldn’t give anyone anything they could use against her. After a closer look, she confirmed that Ji Zeyu had indeed not come.
The bottom fell out of her stomach.
If Ji Zeyu mobilized the Valiant Tigers and joined forces with the rest of the men near the capital, there would be no hope for Pang Xiao and his mere fifty Elite Tigers.
Furthermore, she’d noticed upon entering the capital that the guards of the Office of the Five Wards were patrolling more diligently than ever. It seemed that Li Qitian had come prepared for every possible outcome—he planned to take Pang Xiao down, and as for those associated with him...
Qin Yining drew a sharp breath and forced herself to cease this line of thought.
First off, Pang Xiao was no brainless blockhead—that he’d dared bring her to this treacherous banquet meant that he’d made full preparations as well. He wasn’t the type to offer up his right cheek after getting slapped on the left, and he wasn't one to turn a blind eye to family being threatened.
Besides, Li Qitian would have to win over public opinion if he wished to achieve anything. As long as Pang Xiao played his cards right and maintained a tight grasp on the turn of events, there was still room to maneuver.
In truth, the prince was very worried about Qin Yining and feared her anxiety would affect the baby. But she seemed as composed as usual to his eyes. It wasn’t a front, it looked like she’d slowly worked her way through her initial shock. He felt a rush of pride; he was truly fortunate to have such a clever wife who could see the bigger picture!
By this point, the bickering between the two factions had reached its peak. Many officials who’d remained neutral suddenly noticed head eunuch Li Guanwen shuffle quickly over to Li Qitian from the side, murmuring a few words into the emperor’s ear.
Seeing how Li Guanwen hadn’t attended the start of court this morning, the crowd couldn’t help their curiosity at the head eunuch’s sudden appearance. Had something happened?
While arguments flew thick and fast beneath his seat, Li Qitian growled at his servant, “Why has Ji Lan not shown up with his men yet?”
Li Guanwen’s face scrunched up like a bitter melon and he spoke with a constipated expression.
“Your Majesty,” he stammered quietly, “P-prince Consort Ji said, said, that there have been disturbances at the Valiant Tiger camp. He can’t leave because he has to hold down the fort.”
Li Qitian balled his hands into tight fists, nearly crushing the string of topaz beads he’d been fiddling with. Without betraying a trace of agitation, he quietly rebuked, “What is the meaning of this?! Didn’t you examine the Valiant Tigers last time?! Ji Zeyu's control over the Valiant Tigers is no less than that of Pang Xiao’s, so why would there be disturbances at a crucial moment like this? Does he speak the truth, or is he simply unwilling to come to my aid?”
Terrified, Li Guanwen didn’t dare utter a single word. At a time like this, anything he said would get him into more trouble.
Glancing down at the morning assembly, Li Qitian realized that several people had begun looking in his direction and hastily recomposed himself. He once again donned the expression of one worrying about the state of his court.
“There could be an uproar at any moment,” he hissed through clenched teeth. “What if the situation turns dangerous? He refuses to come when I need his protection and prefers to hold down the fort instead? Hold down the fort? Who is he holding down the fort for?!”
The reprimanded Li Guanwen shook like a quail who wanted to scuttle far away and turn invisible. Since he couldn’t exactly relay the entirety of Ji Zeyu’s words to Li Qitian, all he could say was, “Prince Consort Ji said that if anything happened, he would protect His Majesty even if at the cost of his own life.”
“His own life?” Li Qitian was on the verge of cursing. By the time Ji Zeyu came to offer up his life, Pang Xiao would already be holding Li Qitian’s head!
He was incredibly furious–he’d arranged for civil officials to attack Pang Xiao, but his martial officials hadn’t come through. Pang Xiao’s popularity with the people ran deep, their reverence toward him transcended convention. If Li Qitian couldn't attack him both internally and externally, his chances of success were almost nonexistent.
If he failed to deliver a fatal blow to Pang Xiao this time and allowed the prince the room to catch his breath, the future would become even more difficult and perilous.
“Go back and order him to come!” he muttered vehemently at Li Guanwen.
“Understood.” Li Guanwen swiped at his sweat as discreetly as possible before beating a hasty retreat.
As the debate grew more chaotic, those in favor of censuring Pang Xiao continued to dispute with his sympathizers to the point of attacking their colleagues and airing out each other’s dirty laundry.
Li Qitian had put on a pretense of worry at first while enjoying the verbal attacks on Pang Xiao. Those people spoke to his heart, leaving him immensely satisfied. Over time, however, his concern grew genuine.
If Pang Xiao’s anxiety got the better of him and he really decided to rebel, only Ji Zeyu stood a chance at defeating the prince in combat out of everyone in the capital. Pang Xiao’s fighting style was swift and ruthless—if he decided to shed all pretense of cordiality, Li Qitian probably would’ve kicked the bucket long before Ji Zeyu came to his rescue.
Just then, a young eunuch walked in from a sideroom. Li Qitian’s pupils constricted violently, he had a feeling the youth didn’t come bearing good news.
Far from being an ordinary eunuch, the young man was a spy specially trained for espionage, assassination, and the like. They normally corresponded in secret, so for him to appear out in the open dressed as a eunuch had Li Qitian suspecting something had gone amiss.
The youth came forward, bowed, then stepped to Li Qitian’s side for a few words, shocking the emperor so much that he dropped his string of topaz beads.Previous Chapter Next Chapter