“General, do you have any more questions for me? You have been examining this book of accounts for a couple of days already without any further instructions for me.” Duo was confused by Situ’s silence. “If you do not want to involve yourself in this matter, I’m sure Chamberlain Feng or the Minister of the Right will do the right thing if you pass it over to them.”
“I know that. That is not my main concern.”
Duo had spent many years by the side of Situ, and he knew very well what his General was thinking. “Are you worried about the relationship between the Heir and the Grand Tutor?”
Situ did not deny his guess. “What we have done is not enough to let my liege return to Chang’an; the Heir has to lose favour with the Emperor.”
“But if that happens, the hard work of the Grand Tutor these past years would have been for nought. You are closely bonded to the Grand Tutor, but this has to happen just because of such political issues…” Duo’s voice trailed off. Although the General sees the Grand Tutor as his brother, he cannot change sides simply because of that. It must be the same for the Grand Tutor; their support for the different successors to the throne must have caused them much trouble when making such decisions.
“Whatever your decision might be, General, I will execute them with no hesitation.”
Situ closed his eyes. “Ready my horse; I’ll pay the Minister of the Right a visit.”
In the yard of the Qi household, an attendant was led to Qi Jianqiu by the head steward. “Young miss, Miss Feng has a message for you.”
Qi Jianqiu looked at the attendant and frowned. “You look very unfamiliar; I don’t think I’ve seen you before with Luodi.”
“Young miss, I am but a general attendant in the Feng household; that must be why you find me unfamiliar. Young miss Feng has entrusted me to hand this to you.” The attendant over a dainty bamboo slat. “These are recipes that young miss Feng has written for you.”
Qi Jianqiu quickly scanned through the bamboo slat and her expression lit up. “Where did Luodi get such recipes? They are exquisite! I can’t wait to try all of them!”
“I’m not sure about that, young miss.” The attendant bowed his head.
“No matter, I shall look for her myself.” Qi Jianqiu quickly rolled up the bamboo slat in her hands.
“I’ll get your carriage ready then, young miss.” The head steward sprung into action.
“I’m afraid you wouldn’t be able to find young miss Feng at the Feng household.” The attendant stopped them. “She’s on her way to the Wuling Province.”
“The Wuling Province?” Qi Jianqiu was surprised. “What’s she doing there? Wait, why was I not told of this?”
“I’m not sure about that, young miss Qi.” The attendant quickly explained himself. “I was only told to hand this to you two days after her departure from Chang’an.”
“That’s it! She’s trying to hide it from me!” Qi Jianqiu was upset. “I’m sure she’d went to look for her zithers; she’d sent Fei in the past, but she’s going on her own this time! Argh, why did she not tell me anything about this before she left?” Qi Jianqiu rambled on in the courtyard.
“Luodi is heading towards the Wuling Province?” A voice sounded from behind her.
Qi Jianqiu turned around and saw Situ standing in the courtyard, accompanied by her father. From the looks of it, they’d just emerged from an important meeting.
“That’s what the attendant had said.” Qi Jianqiu was a little spooked by Situ’s aura.
Situ looked at the attendant. “Did Luodi instruct you to only tell her about this? Nobody else? Are you sure she hadn’t given someone else the same orders?”
“Your Highness, young miss Feng had indeed only instructed me to tell young miss Qi about this.” The attendant replied respectfully.
Situ’s eyes darkened, and the air around him slowly froze. He took a deep breath and turned to the Minister. “My apologies, Minister, but there are things that require my immediate attention. I shall take my leave.”
“No worries, my Duke. I understand your intentions and will take them into consideration.”
Situ nodded once and strode out of the residence.
“What were the two of you talking about, Father? That’d sounded so mysterious.” Qi Jianqiu’s curiosity was piqued. It was the first time she’d seen her father had any contact with Situ at all.
“Nothing you need to know about; go back to your recipes.” The Minster waved her away and turned to return to his study.
Qi Jianqiu turned to the attendant gloomily. “You can go back now, just let me know when Luodi returns.”
“I understand, young miss. I shall take my leave.”
Duo was at a loss for words. How am I supposed to answer that question? If anything dangerous had happened, he’d definitely have sent a signal!
“No worries, General. Quattor is already searching the villa for any clues Two might have left behind.” Duo quickly comforted Situ. “Perhaps Miss Feng had left in a hurry, and it was too rushed for Two to return with a report.
Quattor quickly returned with a letter from Two. Situ quickly scanned through the document and jumped on his horse, speeding off into the distance. Curious, the two Covert Guards quickly took a look at the letter.
“General, Miss Feng had decided to head to the Wuling Province in search of the Guqin, Cascades. She has found out about my presence and forced me to reveal myself by threatening to take her own life. If I’d wanted to follow her, I was not to tell you anything about this. My assignment was to ‘take good care’ of Miss Feng as you’d instructed and I have left with her. Please understand my decision.”
“Oh man…” Quattor muttered under his breath. “Two is in for some punishment when he returns.”
Meanwhile, a few of the newly appointed officials in court were doing extremely well, Gan Qingjia being the most outstanding of them all. Despite the general image of him as nothing but a playboy, Gan Qingjia had already solved multiple problems that’d plagued the Trade Bureau since his appointment, his decisive actions in court vastly different from his lazy persona in private, earning him praise from both the Imperial Treasurer and the Emperor himself. Needless to say, the Minister of the Left was more than pleased by the performance of his son.
The Eighth Prince had quickly quelled any unrest in the Shanyin Province, quickly issuing out disaster relief to those in need, doing a good job of managing the crisis. The Emperor had praised the Eight Prince in court before the officials, and there was nothing the Heir could do about it. His hands were tied, having been advised by the Minister of the Left and the Grand Tutor to lay low until the Emperor’s displeasure towards him had blown over.
Good news arrived in court day after day, but it was the opposite for the Heir; he’d just received word from the Shanyin Province.
A teacup shattered on the floor.
“How dare the Governor of Shanyin leave a book of accounts of our dealings! Much less letting it become stolen by thieves! Why is the Imperial Treasurer only letting me know of this now?”
One of his advisors, Yu Ming, stepped forward. “The Treasurer intends to settle this himself.”
“Well, has he done so? All the assassins deployed and still, the man has gotten away!” The Heir paced the antechamber frantically. “Where was he last seen?”
“Right outside Chang’an.” Yu Ming answered. “The assassins that were with him have disappeared as well.”
“Then he must be in Chang’an! But who could have saved him?” The Heir’s rage burned with a new intensity. “If they had told me of this sooner, we wouldn’t have to be so passive about it! No, I can’t let this situation escalate any further. Yu Ming, get all of our eyes monitoring every single official in the court who’s related to this case. And pay extra attention to the Minister of the Right; I’m sure that the old fox had stayed back in Chang’an on purpose.”
Yu Ming was worried. “I’m not sure if we should do that, your Highness. The Minister had not made any moves up till now – the man might not have had contact with the Minister. I worry that the Minister is just waiting for our men to deploy; then he’ll be able to sniff us out like a shark. Its not advisable to use any of our men, your Highness!”
“Then who else can we use?” The Heir was infuriated. “I’ve already lost many of my followers in the political tussle with Eighth Brother; he’s getting better at this every single day.”
“Why don’t we tell the Grand Tutor about this?” Yu Ming proposed. “The Grand Tutor has many capable men under him and he’s a firm supporter of you, your Highness. He’ll definitely do everything he can for you.”
“No!” The Heir denied it vehemently. “The Grand Tutor will cease to support me any longer if he hears of this. I grew up with him; I know what he’s like.”
“Okay, then why don’t we turn to the Minister of the Left for help? He too has many resources that he can make use of.” Yu Ming suggested.
“I suspect that the Minister is already rethinking his decision to support me.” The Heir shook his head again. “The very fact that he’d allowed Gan Qingjia to challenge me for a woman is proof enough. I fear that it’ll be the end of us once he hears of this.”
“Uhm…” Yu Ming had run out of ideas. The Heir seems gentle and warm but is in actual fact as suspicious as the Emperor. There are indeed many officials on his side, but the two pillars of support for him are the Grand Tutor and the Minister of the Left. But now, he’s doubting one of them, and hiding things from the other. This does not bode well…
“Let’s do this. Visit the Imperial Treasurer again and tell him to do whatever he can; it’ll be best if he can disrupt the investigation done by Chamberlain Feng over there in Shanyin Province. Hire more assassins and make sure that the Minister of the Right does not get to that book or that man before we kill him.”
“I understand, your Highness. I shall take my leave.” Yu Ming quickly turned to leave.
“Hold on for a second.” The Heir called out after him and took a deep breath. “In the event that this is ever uncovered one day, make sure that the Imperial Treasurer does not rat me out. If it comes to that, tell him that I’ll treat his family well. I’ll right his name when I ascend to the throne.”
Yu Ming paused for a second, before bowing. “Yes, your Highness.”