Thanks for all the love! Here’s a bonus chapter since I was already more than halfway through it! And it nicely wraps up Cai Quan’s storyline before I take a break. Enjoy this, and in the meantime, stay safe even as parts of the world seem to be going crazy! 😷
The Minister of Justice’s words were firm and clear. Upon hearing it, Prince Yu’s heart trembled and he couldn’t help crying out “Father Emperor”. The Liang Emperor snorted coldly, his expression still as hard as iron, but his heart was already a little hesitant.
Until now, he had determined that Xia Jiang and Prince Yu had colluded to frame Prince Jing. He was also very clear that Prince Yu was behind the tragic explosion of the illegal fireworks factory. For the role these two men played in deliberately deceiving and provoking the Emperor, the Liang Emperor had no intention of forgiving them, but now that the situation was under control, he was unwilling to make public all this chaos happening in court.
“Minister Cai, I will immediately issue an imperial edict to remove Zhu Yue from his position. After the dismissal, there will be no need to conduct the joint hearing with the three Ministries. You may handle it with full authority.” The Liang Emperor’s tone was calm as he said to Cai Quan, “I think we can cease investigating this case. At Zhu Yue’s level, it is sufficient to placate the people so let’s just conclude it here. There’s no need to review or inquire further.”
“As for dealing with the rest of the parties involved, I will handle it myself.” The Liang Emperor’s face was expressionless as he cut the Minister of Justice off. “Settling this case has been hard on Minister Cai.”
The muscles on Cai Quan’s cheeks were tight. He lowered his head to hide the internal struggle apparent on his face and the deep anger in his eyes. He didn’t hear Prince Yu’s voice as the prince knelt in the hall, kowtowing his head in gratitude. He was trying his best to control his emotions, forcing himself to stop arguing with the Liang Emperor because he knew that arguing was useless.
“Minister Cai, do you understand what I mean?” Emperor Liang had waited for a long time but did not get a response. He frowned and his tone was more grim.
Cai Quan took a deep breath and paused again. Then he bowed and said in a low voice: “Your servant obeys.”
“If there is nothing else, you may withdraw first.”
“Yes.” Cai Quan’s lips were pressed into a straight line, and he bowed sharply before exiting the Warm Pavilion. As soon as he stepped out onto the porch, a cold winter wind blew with a piercing chill, but the young Minister of Justice felt his heart burn so hot it was unbearable. The eunuch who was waiting in the outer hall brought the cloak he had removed before entering the pavilion but he didn’t put it on, but merely grabbed it and strode out.
Outside the palace gate, the Cai household sedan was still where he had left it. The servants hurried forward to greet him as soon as they saw him, but Cai Quan didn’t get in. Instead, he pulled a horse out from his entourage, got astride it and ran alone towards the city, ignoring the panic behind him. Just like this, he spurred his horse into a gallop, and it was quite some time before he gradually heard someone yelling from behind: “Cai xiong! Cai xiong!”
Cai Quan reined in his horse and stopped. The round face of Shen Zhui, Minister of Personnel, appeared before him, huffing and puffing. He appeared to have been chasing after him for a while.
“What’s the matter? Look at your expression……” Shen Zhui asked with concern as he stretched out his hand to grab hold of the horse’s head.
Cai Quan raised his head and looked at the overcast sky. After a moment’s silence, he suddenly said, “Shen xiong, accompany me to the restaurant for a drink?”
Shen Zhui was startled, but smiled soon after and said softly, “You’re still in court wear. My home is just around the corner. I have a jar of 60-year old Shaoxing wine. You can drink your fill there.”
Cai Quan did not decline, and they rode to the Shen Mansion together. Shen Zhui led his guest to the garden pavilion in the front courtyard where they sat down as he ordered a banquet. As soon as wine and dishes were laid out, Cai Quan downed three cups of wine in succession.
“That’s enough. Even if you can hold your liquor, you probably shouldn’t drink so much,” Shen Zhui held down Cai Quan’s cup and asked, “What’s wrong? Did you enter the palace?”
“Yes…..” Cai Quan heaved a deep sigh, “Regarding the case of the illegal fireworks factory….I’ve mentioned it to you before….”
“Have you carefully examined the key testimonies?”
“Yes…..” Cai Quan rubbed his forehead vigorously, and said in an exhausted voice, “I pulled a few all-nighters reviewing them and I was finally ready to report them to His Majesty today. But…..His Majesty ordered me to conclude the case, to stop at Zhu Yue and not continue to investigate further…..not to continue digging at the root……”
Shen Zhui shook his head dejectedly and said, “You should have expected this outcome.”
“I was actually already prepared,” Cai Quan’s eyes were red as he reached for the wine cup and tossed down another mouthful, “Shen xiong, you don’t know how disappointed and unhappy I am……His Majesty was really angry after reading the testimonies. He kept scolding Prince Yu, for resorting to underhanded tactics, for deceiving the Emperor, and Prince Yu kept apologizing, kept saying he was forced to do it, that he had no choice, that he would never challenge the Emperor’s might.….but that wasn’t the point! Sixty-nine lives, sixty-nine lives! Were they not enough for the Emperor to reprimand Prince Yu and for Prince Yu to repent? Neither mentioned it, neither took it seriously! What matters to them? What do they care about? What?!”
Shen Zhui stared blankly for a long while, then suddenly grabbed hold of the cup of wine and tossed it down.
“It’s really heinous to have such disregard for human life just to pursue their personal interests. What frightens me most is……the Emperor doesn’t seem to care one bit……” Cai Quan’s hands clenched into fists on the table, his eyes looking straight ahead, “At the very least, human lives should be valued. To treat these lives so frivolously, what will the fate of Great Liang be? How will the common people survive? Not caring about the people’s livelihood….is this the kind of Emperor we are serving?”
“Who says so?” Shen Zhui suddenly hit the table with his palm. “I’ve never said this before but I can tell you now. Don’t be disheartened. There’s still His Highness Prince Jing.”
Cai Quan’s eyebrows shot up and he slowly turned his gaze to look straight at Shen Zhui. “Since you’ve mentioned it, I will not hide the truth from you. I have the same hopes for His Highness Prince Jing. It’s just that…..Prince Yu’s methods are truly ruthless. If His Highness Prince Jing doesn’t have someone by his side who can help him deflect hidden arrows, he may not be able to get to the final step……this is not something we can help.”
Hearing his opinion, Shen Zhui’s face also became gloomy. He shook his head and sighed. “You’re referring to His Highness Prince Jing’s house arrest…..there’s no explanation of what’s going on, nor any way to plead on his behalf……”
“Speaking of this, you don’t have to worry,” Now that Cai Quan had let off steam, he felt a little more relaxed. “I didn’t hear all too clearly in the palace today, but it seems that Prince Yu was behind this, and the Emperor has seen through it. I think His Highness Prince Jing should be released soon.”
Shen Zhui was very pleased. He drew a deep breath and said, “That’s good, that’s good. At least the Emperor’s no longer confused.”
“Xuanjing Bureau also appears to be implicated. As His Majesty was scolding Prince Yu, he was also cursing Xia Jiang. This has never happened before.”
“Xuanjing Bureau?” Shen Zhui suddenly said, “No wonder…..as I was heading out today, I saw Imperial Guards sealing up Xuanjing Bureau…..it looks like this storm is not a small one. His Highness Prince Jing would be really fortunate to be able to avoid it.”
Cai Quan closed his eyes wearily and said in a low voice, “But this state of affairs is really discouraging…..”
“You’re wrong,” Shen Zhui looked at him with intensity, “The graver the situation, the less we should be discouraged. With our position in the government, though we may be powerless in some things, we still have the desire to serve the country and the people. This surpasses those who are interested only in enjoying the privileges of holding office.”
Cai Quan seemed to be in a trance, his eyes fixed, lost in his thoughts. After a while, he heaved a deep sigh and poured himself another cup. Shen Zhui tried to persuade him otherwise, but he was also melancholic and ended up having another cup with him.
As the two ministers were drowning their sorrows in Shen Mansion, Meng Zhi had completed carrying out his orders and had meticulously sealed up Xuanjing Bureau. Xia Jiang was not the kind of person who would allow himself to be arrested without putting up a fight, but with an Imperial Decree hanging over his head and Commander Meng personally taking charge at the scene, neither soft nor hard approaches would have been of any use, so Xia Jiang did not resist but merely requested repeatedly to meet the Emperor. Meng Zhi listened with a cold expression but did not respond. Instead, he watched to make sure that Xia Jiang was well-secured with iron shackles before heading to the small prison cell at the back to release Mei Changsu.
In all honesty, Xuanjing Bureau did not really cause Mei Changsu much harm. Xia Jiang had detained him for a few more days because he didn’t want to give this Jiangzuo Alliance Chief with his astonishing talents any time to find a way to counter the poison. But it was a prison after all. His daily recuperative medication had been interrupted, and his food and drink were of poor quality. After a few days there, he had become pitifully thin. Looking him over carefully, Meng Zhi couldn’t help but feel a burst of anguish in his heart.
Because there were so many soldiers around, Mei Changsu was unable to console him. He could only smile and say, “Commander has come in person to rescue Su mou*. For that, Su mou is deeply grateful. Unfortunately, it’s chaotic here and inconvenient for me to express my gratitude. I will definitely call on you another day^ to do so and hope Commander will receive me then.”
*a term referring to one’s self
Meng Zhi held his emotions in check and managed to smile and say a few polite words before he turned around and ordered two of his trusted subordinates to escort Mei Changsu back to his residence. After this had been arranged, he personally delivered Xia Jiang to the Sky Prison and locked him up in the most secure and forbidding Tian Zi cell. Only when that had been done did he get changed and return to the Palace to report to the Emperor.
“Did Xia Jiang say anything?” The Liang Emperor, having just finished scolding Prince Yu and ordering him to return to his residence to await punishment, was still in a vile mood as before. His expression was so dark it looked like it could release a thunderbolt at any time.
Meng Zhi reported the facts. “He refused to admit his guilt and kept asking for a royal audience.”
“Of course he would,” The Liang Emperor smiled coldly and said, “Xia Jiang is someone who is unlikely to give up till the last moment. I would be surprised if he had immediately admitted his guilt.”
“But Your Majesty……” Meng Zhi took a step forward and said with a bewildered expression, “When your servant delivered Xia Dong to Sky Prison, she kept defending Xia JIang, saying…….she was the one who rescued Wei Zheng, that she acted on her own in order to avenge her husband, and that her shifu had nothing to do with it…..do you think this was really the case?”
The Liang Emperor glanced at Meng Zhi, “You and your warrior’s way of thinking. You’re too simple minded. Only you would believe Xia Dong’s words. If all she wanted to do was avenge her husband, she could have just killed him in prison. Why bother pretending to rescue him? Didn’t Prince Ji also catch them supporting Wei Zheng so he wouldn’t drown in his own blood? Clearly they didn’t want him to die. If Xia Dong had acted alone, Wei Zheng would have been long dead. I think Xia Jiang intended to continue to use Wei Zheng for some purpose, for example secretly placing him somewhere under Prince Jing’s jurisdiction, then sending men to search him out. Naturally, this would become proof of Jingyan’s guilt……”
“Huh?” Meng Zhi was horrified. “This…..this is too vicious…..only Your Majesty could connect the dots and make sense of this. Your servant is simple-minded……never would have thought of this.…….”
“I am very familiar with Xia Jiang’s methods,” The Liang Emperor narrowed his eyes, his expression fierce and ruthless, “I never thought he would deceive me so I was never worried. Looking back now, it’s really shocking…..”
“Then Xia Dong…….”
“Xia Dong’s words were intended to exonerate her shifu, that’s all. You may listen to them, but do you believe them?”
“If that’s the case, Wei Zheng may still be alive…….”
“He should still be in Xia Jiang’s hands. But he will not surrender Wei Zheng.”
The Liang Emperor cast another glance at Meng Zhi. “Have you stopped using your brains just because I said you’re simple-minded? Xia Jiang obviously needed to prove that Prince Jing had sent people to break a traitor out of prison, but in the end, he was the one who transferred Wei Zheng out. Isn’t that equivalent to admitting his guilt? I’ve said before, Xia Jiang is not one to confess so easily.”
In his heart, Meng Zhi was dying to laugh, but this Lang Ya second ranking martial arts master couldn’t have so little self-control as that, so he forced himself to adopt a solemn expression as he said, “Framing a prince is an irredeemable crime. If Xia Jiang had the slightest intention of preserving his life, he would never surrender Wei Zheng.”
“You’re finally seeing some light.” The Liang Emperor heaved a deep sigh and leaned back weakly. “Go and tell Xia Jiang that I do not wish to listen to his grievances now. Tell him to think things over properly, and when he’s clear about how things stand, give him pen and paper and tell him to write down (his confession).”
“Leave me.” The Liang Emperor waved his hand. Feeling exhausted, he unexpectedly closed his eyes and dozed off. Gao Zhan tiptoed forward and asked softly, “Your Majesty, will you rest here today?”
The Liang Emperor was silent for a long time and seemed to have fallen asleep, but after a while, he opened his eyes and instructed him, “Let’s go to Zhiluo Palace.”
^In our culture, once a connection is forged, especially one of debt and gratitude, it continues forever. It’s proper etiquette to visit the person one is beholden to on a regular basis to express this gratitude, and more often than not, bearing gifts.
I really enjoyed reading Cai Quan and Shen Zhui’s interactions here. I don’t think they were good friends to begin with, just two very new ministers who want to do their best for their country. This bound them to each other, to have each other’s backs in a den of wolves. I loved observing how this new friendship formed in the face of adversity.
“In his heart, Meng Zhi was dying to laugh….” – this was hilarious! He’s not always so slow-witted….acting like a simpleton just appears to be one of his skills!!