Chapter 321: A Traitor and Usurper
In the Fang Mansion.
“The garrison of Jiangzhou have picked up speed. They’ll get here in five days.”
“Good! I’ve had all necessary arrangements made in the imperial palace, ensuring the Eighth Prince’s and the Concubine Jin’s safety.”
“But what shall we do with Yuwen Zhi? We’ve been ignoring him for several days.”
“Humph. Don’t worry. I’ll handle him.”
In the residential compound of the Assistant Minister of Rites.
“Father, Fang Quan actually expected us to do such a dangerous thing. He clearly doesn’t trust us and is deliberately picking on us!” huffed Yuwen Qi.
Fang Quan had requested Yuwen Zhi to figure out a way to stall the Right Prime Minister and the others when the garrison of Jiangzhou reached the capital city, creating an opportunity for Fang Quan and his men to open the city gates.
“How on earth are we supposed to do that?!” spat Yuwen Qi.
Yuwen Zhi’s face was also quite sulky. Through gritted teeth, he said, “We have to find a way to make it happen. Fang Quan wants proof that we’re trustworthy, and we’re going to give it to him.”
“But how are we going to do that? Chu Liangyan has the whole Northern City Garrison Battalion at his command. How is it possible to hold him back?” said Yuwen Qi.
The garrison of Jiangzhou led by its commander was getting very close to the capital city, only a few hundred miles away from the city gates.
Fang Quan was thrilled at the latest intelligence report. “They’re finally here!”
The garrison of Jiangzhou had moved without an imperial edict and was now only a couple of hundred miles away from the city, threatening to launch an attack at any moment. News of this instantly threw the whole city into panic. A lot of officials who’d been taking a wait-and-see attitude began to have second thoughts.
Taking advantage of this opportunity, at the emperor’s memorial service attended by all courtiers, Fang Quan requested that the Eighth Prince accede to the throne.
“The Eighth Prince is of direct descent from the imperial clan. Right now the Great Yue is tottering in a precarious situation and in dire need of an emperor. Only by enthroning the Eighth Prince will we be able to stabilize the political situation, set people’s mind at ease and ensure the peace in this country,” claimed Fang Quan, standing in the hall.
“The Eighth Prince is still young.”
“Chu Liangyan! No matter how young the Eighth Prince is, it doesn’t change the fact that he’s a descendant of the Zhou family, the imperial household. Why are you trying to stop the Eighth Prince from succeeding to the throne? What kind of evil intentions are you harboring?”
Standing behind Fang Quan were a group of people, including the Concubine Jin and the Eighth Prince, all of whom were confronting the Right Prime Minister and some other courtiers.
The Right Prime Minister sneered, “Lord Fang, everybody knows you’re just doing this for your own ends, no matter how hard you try to make it sound honorable. The Eighth Prince is too young. He will no doubt end up becoming a puppet on your string if he ascends the throne. Under your control, the Great Yue will sooner or later be subjugated; or maybe some day the Fang family will usurp the power of imperial dominion. If that happens, you think you can keep this country from falling in this crisis-ridden situation? We’ve all worked so hard to get the imperial court where it is. Why should we hand it to you on a silver platter to let you squander it? I think you’re the one who harbors evil intentions.”
“If the Eighth Prince is not the one who should be crowned, who is?! Right Prime Minister, we both know very well for whose gain you’re saying these words. It’s no good trying to pretend otherwise,” said one of Fang Quan’s followers.
“Of course I’m fully aware of why I’m doing this. I’m not as stupid as you are. If this country is to navigate through these trying times, we must select a wise leader, a wise leader who has the abilities and courage required to stabilize the political situation and defend this country against foreign enemies, not someone who’s destined to become a puppet on a string. I’m doing this for the people of this country, who can live in prosperity and contentment only when their emperor is sagacious and visionary. If the imperial court falls into the hands of someone incompetent once again, they will be subjected to endless civil strife and reduced to destitute and homeless refugees!” said the Right Prime Minister.
“Faugh! Cut the shit. A wise leader? He’s nothing but a traitor and would-be usurper!”
“A traitor and a would-be usurper? It’s so funny you guys are saying this. All of you are fully aware of whom you should thank for being able to stand here alive, not having to worry about when you’d become slaves of a foreign power. You’ve been enjoying his protection all along but you hold him in contempt, which is so despicable.”
“That’s his duty as a servant!”
“A servant? Of whom? As far as I can remember, right now we don’t really have an emperor. He did that for the people of this country, not some unsavory individual. Fang Quan, you want to use a figurehead to have us do your bidding and be the one at the top of the pecking order. Why pretend otherwise? Each and every single one of us has seen through your little game. Today, standing in this hall, I, Chu Liangyan, am saying this loud and clear – I disagree with the Eighth Prince ascending the throne!”
“You–!” Fang Quan was beside himself with fury.
“Right Prime Minister, you’re not the one calling the shots here. You will agree to enthrone the Eighth Prince, no matter whether you want to or not. Otherwise you might die a violent death!”
“Die a violent death? You guys are so foolish. Right now the whole capital city is under my control. Who could possibly kill me? The Jiangzhou garrison? That’d be even more ridiculous. For your information, the garrison of Jiangzhou are never going to make it to this city.” After the Right Prime Minister said this, his eyes coldly raked Fang Quan and those behind him, seeing their faces clearly, not pausing for a split instant when they swept across Yuwen Zhi, as though this person weren’t there at all.
“What do you mean? Your demise is imminent, yet you’re still in the mood for bluffing?” huffed Fang Quan, pointing at the Right Prime Minister.
“What do I mean? If you don’t believe me, just wait and see if the garrison of Jiangzhou will arrive here as you wish,” replied the Right Prime Minister.
“You–You are openly admitting rebellion?! Are you not afraid the people will despise you?! You’re blackening your master’s name!” Fang Quan went ballistic.
“Why should I be afraid? Anyway, eventually someone will have to make the right decision in a sensible and obedient way,” observed the Right Prime Minister, eyeing them flintily.
“Your Lordship! Your Lordship! This is bad!”
The hall ringed by soldiers, Fang Quan and the others could only walk within a small radius, his followers still confronting the opposing side headed by the Right Prime Minister.
Someone quickly stumbled his way into the hall and prostrated himself on entry, looking up at Fang Quan with a panic-stricken face. “Your Lordship, the garrison of Shengzhou suddenly showed up and stopped all troops of the Jiangzhou garrison!”
“What?!” Fang Quan and his followers were horror-struck, unable to believe their ears. “How come the garrison of Shengzhou moved south without receiving an imperial edict?! Are they not afraid of being executed?!”
“The garrison of Jiangzhou left their encampment and moved north, also without receiving an imperial edict, didn’t they? Why couldn’t the garrison of Shengzhou move south?” said the Right Prime Minister.
Fang Quan and his followers came back to themselves. Pointing a shaking finger at the Right Prime Minister and those behind him, Fang Quan spat, “You! You did this!”
Wasn’t it obvious? The Right Prime Minister and his followers curled their lips, making no reply.
“You–You’re going too far. You actually dispatched the garrison of Shengzhou without authorization to openly rebel!” railed Fang Quan.
“Lord Fang, you’re mistaken. To my knowledge, the reason why the garrison of Shengzhou left their encampment was because they heard that the garrison of Jiangzhou had dared move north without authorization, posing a threat to the capital city. They moved south to intercept the garrison of Jiangzhou so as to ensure the safety of the capital city and the two princes. You can’t pin the crime of rebellion on them like that. Speaking of rebellion, you secretly contacted the garrison of Jiangzhou and had them move north without receiving an imperial edict – that was a real rebellious act, wasn’t it?”
“You–!” Consumed with anger, Fang Quan instantly paled, failed to catch his next breath and almost blacked out. “You… The dispatch of the Shengzhou garrison was clearly part of a premeditated scheme of yours…”
“Don’t you sling mud at us, Lord Fang. We have nothing to do with the garrison of Shengzhou’s moving south. They did it because they found out about the movement of the Jiangzhou garrison, because they knew where their loyalty lay, because they wanted to protect the capital city and the two princes,” said the Right Prime Minister.
The one who had a moment ago been talking about a wise leader suddenly started speaking stern and just words, which threw Fang Quan and his followers into perplexity. When he jerked out of his trance, he found that a lot of other people had shown up in the hall, including the Concubine Liu and the Ninth Prince.
As Fang Quan and his followers came to realize what was going on, they were nearly reduced to vomiting blood with rage.
“Guards, bring the proof of Lord Fang and his accomplices colluding with the garrison of Jiangzhou,” the Right Prime Minister suddenly instructed.
Fang Quan’s eyes widened. “Bullshit! What kind of proof could you possibly have?!”
“It’s no good denying it, Lord Fang. What’s done is done, and you’re not getting away with it,” observed the Right Prime Minister icily.
Soon someone brought the proofs and witnesses to the hall, among which were several letters, two messengers and the butler of the Fang family…
Fang Quan suffered a fleeting blackout at the sight of the two messengers and his butler, and then when his eyes fell on the couple of letters fished out by the Right Prime Minister, all words on which were in his handwriting, he buckled at the knees and sank to the ground.
“What else do you have to say? We got both physical evidence and witnesses. Do you still deny your guilt?” asked the Right Prime Minister.
“Guards, restrain Fang Quan and all other courtiers involved in the complicity with the garrison of Jiangzhou. They’re to be held in custody in this place until the final sentence is pronounced.”
“Chu Liangyan, you–you traitor. You’re the one… The garrison of Shengzhou…”
“Stop making wild accusations against me, Lord Fang. I’m blameless and I’ve never done anything rebellious. Anybody having doubts about this may go to my house and search it. I won’t try to stop them,” said the Right Prime Minister.
Fang Quan failed to endure the fury and passed out.
The Eighth Prince watched this scene with panic on his face. Having always been rather cowardly, he was terrified and lost the last bit of his courage in these circumstances, hiding behind the Concubine Jin who was just as ashen-faced as he was, not daring to come out.
“Your Highness,” the Right Prime Minister said to the Concubine Jin, “I’ve ascertained the collusion between you and Lord Fang as well, and I’ve got the proofs. Considering His Majesty hasn’t been interred yet and the Eighth Prince is still young, I won’t file any charges against you, but from now on, please don’t leave this hall except in exceptional circumstances. Just stay here and keep vigil for His Majesty.”
The Concubine Liu, the Ninth Prince’s mother, held her son tight. The two of them, along with the group of officials who had come a moment ago, all kept silent, not daring utter a word.
“Your Lordship.” Suddenly, someone walked up to the Right Prime Minister, leaned over and whispered something in his ear.
The Right Prime Minister’s countenance remained unchanged. He just gave a nod, respectfully had the Concubine Liu return with the Ninth Prince, told the other courtiers to go back as well, instructed Commander Xie of the Northern City Garrison Battalion to guard Fang Quan, his accomplices, the Concubine Jin and the Eighth Prince, and then left.
“The couple of old courtiers have all arrived at the palace gates.”
“Fortunately we’ve finished this off ahead of schedule. Otherwise we’d have to go to some more trouble. I’ll go and hold them back. You guys stay in the palace and keep watch. By the way, where is Childe Ling?” asked the Right Prime Minister.
“Childe Ling was in the side hall all along until a few moments ago, but I don’t know where he is right now.”
The Right Prime Minister inclined his head. “I see. I’ll go and see Childe Ling after I dismiss the couple of mulish geriatrics.”
“Yes, Your Lordship.”
Walking out of the side hall, listening to the angry curses issuing from inside the main hall, Ling Zhang curled up the corners of his mouth and said, “Let’s go. It’s time we returned as well.”