“Please enlighten your subject, Your Majesty,” Ji Zeyu remarked faintly.
“What kind of attitude is this?!” Li Qitian flew into renewed rage and kicked the prince consort again.
Falling to the ground, the prince consort’s handsome face still remained expressionless.
“All this time We thought you were of one heart with Us and elevated you at every possible opportunity. We entrusted great responsibilities to you and have treated you well. But you? Is this how you repay Our trust?!”
The emperor blustered, cursed, and stomped on Ji Zeyu a few more times before he finally bent over, huffing and puffing with his hands on his waist.
Ji Zeyu raised himself back to a proper kneeling position. “Your Majesty, this subject really did do this for your sake.”
Li Qitian jabbed his finger at the prince consort’s nose and nodded emphatically with each furious word. “Alright, then speak of this mighty reason! If your logic is sound and rational, then We shall let this matter pass. But if you seek to pull the wool over Our eyes with wordplay, then you will find out if We really must suffer your presence due to the lack of any other option!”
“Your subject has never thought so,” responded Ji Zeyu with his head lowered. “Great Zhou abounds with plentiful talent and the people’s will is with Your Majesty. How would Your Majesty lack for options? Your subject undertook these actions today for two reasons. Firstly, it is indeed inappropriate to take down Pang Zhixi at this time given the current situation at court. The Tatars prowl threateningly at our borders. With foreign aggression at hand, how can we erupt into internal conflict first?
“We must pull together a concerted defense against invaders. Our own troubles can wait until the land is at peace again.
“Secondly, although the Valiant Tigers obey my orders, those people were once Pang Zhixi’s men and thus a latent threat. What if they’re simply biding their time until a moment of urgent need sometime in the future? Why not take advantage of this opportunity to mollify Pang Zhixi and also create a legitimate reason for Your Majesty to dismiss all of his men in important positions? Wouldn't that be killing two birds with one stone?”
Ji Zeyu was normally a taciturn man and seldom spoke so many words in one go. Given the rarity of the occasion, the emperor listened very carefully.
Most of his anger had subsided after the kicking and stomping; the prince consort hadn’t so much as grunted in protest from the abuse. Therefore, Li Qitian was in the proper frame of mind to muse over his subject’s explanation and actually agreed with what was being said.
His setback in court today informed him that he’d been too hasty this time. Not only had he not taken Pang Xiao out of the picture, but he’d also very much adversely impacted his reputation. Moreover, he’d alerted his enemy to what his intentions were and unnecessarily deepened the conflict between them. There was only a thin sheet of paper between the two and open hostilities now. If Pang Xiao wanted to rebel right at this very moment, he'd be able to come up with a perfectly valid excuse.
Pang Xiao had always enjoyed high popularity with the people; his charisma in the army was also unparalleled. The Tatars were brewing for a fight, and their intentions to invade the south were clear as could be. If the prince was forced into challenging Great Zhou at this time and allied with Utkin Khan to attack his former home…
Beads of sweat dotted the emperor’s forehead when his thoughts traveled to this point, and his approval of Ji Zeyu’s actions deepened further.
At least now they’d removed six leaders in the Valiant Tigers whose loyalties lay with Pang Xiao. Li Qitian could replace the six with his own men and yank the Valiant Tigers out of Pang Xiao’s grasp. If it came down to rebellion, the prince’s first choice of troops would certainly be the Valiant Tigers that he’d led for many years. The Dragon Riders of the north would never listen to his orders since Ji Zeyu was the war god of that army.
If Li Qitian firmly grasped the reins of the Valiant Tigers, he would fully control all of the militaries in the land. If he then took Pang Xiao out of the picture, it would be easy enough to deal with Ji Zeyu if he ever harbored seditious thoughts. He would be only one person then, a much better situation than constantly fretting over the possibility of Pang Xiao and Ji Zeyu colluding together for a coup.
Li Qitian sighed and reached out with both hands to help the prince consort up from the ground.
Ji Zeyu seemed to have been injured from the physical barrage. One of his shoulders moved stiffly, and though his expression remained as usual, the emperor could glean a few clues from the smoothness of his movements. Guilt crept into Li Qitian’s heart.
“Don’t mind this, beloved subject. We did this only because of a moment of towering anger.”
“This subject understands the painstaking effort that Your Majesty goes to. Please do not express such sentiments.” Ji Zeyu hastened to drop to his knees again.
How would Li Qitian permit the prince consort to kneel once more? He quickly helped Ji Zeyu up and steered the conversation in a casual direction, purposefully avoiding matters of court.
“Anyang hasn’t entered the palace lately to greet her royal mother. The dowager empress asked about her a few days ago.”
Ji Zeyu looked down at the ground. “Neither has the princess summoned this humble subject during this time. However, she possesses many… cherished servants in her residence. Her days should be filled with joy and laughter.”
Li Qitian immediately understood the connotations behind the response. He knew quite well just how spoiled and pampered his younger sister was. Anyang was stubborn, willful, petulant, and self-absorbed. Political considerations had driven her match to Ji Zeyu, but examination from any other angle would've emphasized how ill suited they were for each other.
Added to that Ji Zeyu previously bumping into Li Helan cavorting with male escorts at Madame Lu’s… well, the prince consort seemed to have lost all hope in the marriage. As a result, Li Helan grew ever more outrageous in her behavior and now kept a harem of escorts at her residence.
Preoccupied as he was with official matters, Li Qitian couldn't attend to every single one of his sister’s affairs. Since the dowager empress hadn’t involved herself, there was no room for the emperor to express his opinions either. With how everything had developed, Li Helan’s reputation as a loose woman had become open gossip.Previous Chapter Next Chapter