“Understood!” Imperial guards outside the study immediately rushed in and hauled away the maid now mute from terror. She didn't find her voice until they were back outside; desolate shrieks rang the rafters.
“Mercy, Your Majesty! Please spare me, Your Majesty! This servant doesn’t want to die, doesn’t want to die, Your Majesty!” Anguished howls sent chills down the backs of the listeners in the study.
The heart-wrenching screams deepened the furrows on Li Qitian’s forehead. Li Guanwen rushed out as well and gestured to the guards, “Well?! Hurry up and gag her! All of us will pay for it if His Majesty is truly angered!”
“Understood.” A guard fished out a handkerchief from his sleeve and balled it up to shove into the maid’s mouth. They dragged her into a far off corner and summoned two eunuchs to administer the punishment.
A hundred plank beatings were administered without mercy and broke the maid’s bones after a dozen blows. Fresh blood welled up out of her mouth after thirty, and she stopped breathing after her eyes bulged out.
When all one hundred had been overseen, she'd separated into two segments. The eunuchs held their hands to their nose and mouth to prevent themselves from vomiting and fetched water to scrub the ground. The unlucky maid was bundled up into a reed mat and unceremoniously thrown out of the palace.
Disregarding how others felt, the steady thwacks of the planks mollified Li Qitian somewhat. He even felt much more at peace when he smelled the faint tang of blood and could calm his mind down to consider next steps.
Li Guanwen almost curled up into a ball from fright when he saw his master contemplate things with narrowed eyes. How ruthless must his heart be to find solace in violence and gore? Killing a maid was most likely on par with stepping on an ant in His Majesty’s eyes.
After several more moments, the deeply pondering Li Qitian ordered, “Li Guanwen.”
“This servant is here.” Li Guanwen suppressed his inner panic and fear to walk forward for a bow. “What orders does Your Majesty have?”
“You will deliver Our decree to the Valiant Tiger camp and command Ji Zeyu and those generals who confined him to enter the palace. Say it is Our orders and that all disagreements will be resolved in front of Us. We do not wish to see clashes beneath the table.”
Li Guanwen heaved a sigh of relief at first, then quickly felt apprehensive at the thought of venturing into a military camp overrun with upheaval. Who knew if he might lose his life on this errand?
There was nothing for it but to bow and receive his orders. “Understood, this servant will be on his way.” He left with the fatalistic attitude of going to his death.
Li Qitian stroked his chin in thought, deliberating over what the brutes in the Valiant Tigers meant by all of this. If Pang Xiao really had arranged for the conflict, then the emperor would be facing a rebellion in short order.
Face dark, Li Qitian gave a few more orders in quick succession, commanding the men of the Metropolitan and Five Wards to be ready.
Those who received these orders flew into a flurry of panic. They had no idea what the emperor meant by “being ready”. What were they supposed to be ready for? What did the emperor want to do?
Truth be told, they dearly wished that they weren't officials in the capital at the moment. There was nothing more they wanted than to be far, far away from this land of turmoil and danger.
While his subordinates froze with fear, Li Qitian was a similarly taut bowstring. His agitation and unease lasted until Ji Zeyu and six mid-grade Valiant Tiger generals entered the hall.
Li Guanwen felt reborn when he saw his master again. He really had thought he would die on this trip. If the army had truly rebelled, it’d be as easy as stepping on an ant for these soldiers to kill him.
But he’d come back alive!
“Your Majesty.” The eunuch kept a firm grip on his emotions and bowed properly.
Li Qitian nodded from the head seat and looked at the two parties completely distinct from each other.
Ji Zeyu stood to one side with a frosty expression, noticeably far away from six generals and commandants who had served under Pang Xiao. They plainly couldn't stand the sight of each other and bristled threateningly whenever they looked at the other side. Though they stood before the emperor in his imperial study, it seemed that they wouldn't be happy unless they took a bite out of each other.
“How dare you confine your commander?! Do you know your crimes?!” Li Qitian roared.
The six immediately took a knee and raised cupped fist salutes. “These subjects know our crimes, Your Majesty, please quell your anger. However, we had our reasons for doing so.”
Li Qitian’s ears rang and head ached from the loud roars of these brutes responding in unison. Scowling, he pointed at one of the youngest commandants. “You, speak.”
“Understood!” The young commandant took two steps forward and knelt on the floor again. “Your Majesty, Prince Consort Ji wants to break apart the squads that we have trained in for many years and forbade us to lead our original troops.
“We Valiant Tigers have already established tried and tested training and battle methods for us. The prince consort wants us to discard it all as soon as he receives his new command. He obviously wants to monopolize authority and marginalize our ability so he can take credit for our achievements!
“But if we agree to this farce, what was an army at full strength will be reduced to less than thirty precent of our battle capabilities. We didn’t want Your Majesty’s valiant tigers and wolves to become mewling cats, so we debated with Prince Consort Ji.”Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Ayyy got caught up on editing previous chapters!