The young man whispered two developments to Li Qitian.
“Your Majesty, this subject’s investigation has discovered changes in House Lu’s circumstances. Their patriarch—the second elder master—has drowned himself in a well and Lu Heng has taken over the position.
“The other is that the rations the previous Lu patriarch was responsible for have suddenly stopped in place. They no longer travel to the border and this subject feels that it must be on account of the new patriarch Lu Heng.
“Due to the sudden change in situation and gravity of the issues, this subject felt that it be best if I reported back to Your Majesty posthaste.”
It felt like a storm of thunderbolts had smote Li Qitian.
Wasn’t Lu Heng dead?
Li Qitian had sent scouts to the border some time ago, upon which they determined that Qin Yining was returning by herself with Pang Xiao. After several further investigations, they learned that Lu Heng had lost the fight against a bout of serious illness in Tatar.
Li Qitian had actually congratulated himself then, thinking that that odious troublemaker had finally died. The new patriarch was someone with his head on right, listened to orders, and was easy to manipulate.
Who would've thought that someone supposed to be dead would suddenly appear, and that the useful tool of a Lu patriarch would suddenly commit suicide??
Li Qitian would never believe that it wasn’t Pang Xiao’s deliberate machinations and Lu Heng’s wanton plotting behind this!
He couldn’t rival House Lu’s wealth, resources, or network to begin with. Though he was the emperor and theoretically owned the entire world, he didn’t actually command that much wealth and power.
It'd been less than five years since he’d ascended to the throne, and the national treasury ran lower by the day as revenue could never keep up with expenses. There seemed to be a never ending stream of troubles and woes—if a natural disaster struck somewhere today, then robbers would be sighted elsewhere tomorrow.
Everything required his personal touch as those idiots serving him only knew how to ask for more silver. Meanwhile, House Lu’s foundations ran deep. Sometimes, Li Qitian had to curry favor with them to attain his goals.
As things were currently, Great Zhou did indeed lack sufficient silver to answer Tatar’s declaration of war with corresponding force. The task of transporting army rations had just been entrusted to the newly vested Lu patriarch, but Lu Heng had thrown it out the window immediately upon his return!
All factions attending the morning court session had expressed their opinions in full, and the sides for and against the prince were evenly matched. No one claimed the clear upper hand. Ji Zeyu couldn't come to Li Qitian’s aid as he was preoccupied by the disturbance in the Valiant Tigers, and now this mess cropped up with House Lu!
Li Qitian truly felt that he was caught between a rock and a hard place. Should he allow the scene in front of him to continue developing as it would?
If one looked at things with a critical eye, the installment of a new Lu patriarch and subsequent pause of army rations halfway to their destination were just another log on the blazing bonfire. These events wouldn't actually affect the current situation any.
If Ji Zeyu could resolve the unrest within the troops and rush over to the palace in time, Li Qitian would still have a chance of successfully closing his net around Pang Xiao.
As for Lu Heng, it was impossible for those great aristocracies to completely ignore imperial power. Li Qitian could employ both rational and emotional arguments, as well as promise various benefits to recruit the new patriarch.
As the saying went, there were no permanent enemies in life, just permanent interests. As long as the emperor’s interests aligned with House Lu, he was confident of pulling Lu Heng over to his side.
Li Qitian pondered with furrowed brows for a while, then relaxed when he thought things through.
Spittle flew through the air as officials argued with the burning rage of a thousand suns. It seemed that quite a few of them were about to come to blows. The incessant din grated on Li Qitian’s ears; this would reflect badly on him if word got out.
Therefore, he raised his hand and pressed it downward. “Let there be silence.”
However, his voice didn't cut through the hubbub and arguments continued to thunder furiously. It was Pang Xiao who noticed Li Qitian’s motions and stepped out to roar, “Be silent, milords! Didn’t you hear His Majesty command you to be silent?!”
Imperial Scribe Gu: …
The assorted officials: …
That someone who’d just been censored for disrespecting his elders and superiors could pay attention to the emperor’s every move at every second, and execute the emperor's command for silence on his behalf… Well, the contrast was especially great since those assembled had completely ignored their emperor's wishes.
In fact, the contrast was too great and too embarrassing.
Those in support of Pang Xiao immediately stepped forward with cupped fists. “So you see, Your Majesty, the Faithful Prince of the First Rank is a forthright and candid individual. Perhaps he's a bit too blunt and rough around the edges after prolonged service in the army, but he would never be the sort to defy his superiors and incite rebellion.
“The crimes presented earlier were just fabrications! If Imperial Scribe Gu is so loyal, why does he need the prince’s reminder to be silent?”
“Precisely! Your Majesty, this subject feels that the Faithful Prince of the First Rank accomplished deeds of greet valor and distinguished himself with meritorious service when we warred for the lands of Great Zhou.
“The prince is further honored to be Your Majesty’s sworn brother, which is no wonder that he attracts envy and jealousy from others. They plot against him and manufacture sheer fiction in order to pin baseless crimes on him.
“How are the court’s officials to be convinced without evidence, and how will the people accept our word? If we rush into action and the people do not accept our subsequent explanation, this subject fears that rumors will grow of Your Majesty being wary and fearful of accomplished subjects!”
“Aye, Your Majesty is a wise ruler and would never proceed down that path, but there are many foolish elements among the people. If gossip flourishes, wouldn’t Your Majesty be hard pressed to explain it away?”
“For the good of Your Majesty, this subject strongly recommends deliberating further over this!”