Chapter 90: Cleaning House
Jun Huang paused. The maid must have mistaken her for an official. She didn't correct her. Being seen as an official would help her more than being seen as a servant. She cupped her hands in greeting. "I came with a concubine of the crown prince. On our way, I was distracted by the beautiful flowers. When I realized it the lady was already nowhere to be seen. This gentleman doesn't know my way around the palace. That's how I ended up here."
The maid was naive. She thought that Jun Huang looked like an honest man. She readily accepted Jun Huang's explanation. "Do you know where the lady was going to?"
"To Consort Zhen's place, of course."
"If that's the case, this servant will take you there." She led Jun Huang towards Consort Zhen's palace. Jun Huang sneaked a look at the Cold Palace behind her before continuing to follow the maid. They took many turns through the hallway and finally arrived at their destination.
The maid had other matters to attend to, so she left right after dropping Jun Huang at the door. After she had left, Jun Huang turned to look at the extravagant palace. This place was night and day to the Cold Palace. The banished empress must have had quite a breakdown when she first moved out.
She could hear Rou'er bidding farewell to Consort Zhen. Consort Zhen was going to walk her out, but Rou'er turned her down. It had started to drizzle. Consort Zhen didn't argue. She ordered someone to bring Rou'er an umbrella.
Rou'er thanked her before walking out with the umbrella. Jun Huang only caught up to her after she had walked quite a long distance. Rou'er let out a sigh of relief when she saw that Jun Huang was able to make it. "Have you done what you came here to do?"
Jun Huang nodded, looking into the distance. Rou'er could tell Jun Huang didn't want to explain, so she didn't ask. She silently held the umbrella towards Jun Huang.
Jun Huang accompanied Rou'er back to Prince Chen Manor in order to not rouse suspicion. When they said goodbye, Jun Huang told Rou'er, "I have matters to discuss with Qi Yun. Please ask Qi Yun to meet me back at my place when you have the chance. It's better that I don't go to him personally."
Rou'er nodded. Jun Huang left without saying another word. In the hallway, Rou'er watched Jun Huang go until Jun Huang disappeared at the street corner.
Qi Yun visited Jun Huang not long after. He scowled at her. It didn't take long for Jun Huang to figure out why he was angry. Rou'er must have said something about Jun Huang's visit to the palace when she talked to him.
Qi Yun frowned at her. "Didn't we agree that you should tell me when you're going to do something risky? You can't just go to the palace recklessly! What if something happened to you?"
Jun Huang gave him a meaningful look as she poured him a cup of tea. "One cannot achieve great things if they keep dwelling on what can go wrong like you do. You know as well as I do that you can't catch a tiger cub without venturing into a tiger den."
Jun Huang had a way with words. Qi Yun didn't know how he could argue with that. He sighed in frustration.
Jun Huang took out a token and showed it to Qi Yun. He widened his eyes. He recognized the token to be one belonging to the royal uncle. He didn't know how Jun Huang got hold of it. She had to dress as a man just to walk freely in the imperial city!
"This is what I went to the palace for," said Jun Huang.
Now Qi Yun understood Jun Huang's intentions. They could not possibly achieve their goals on their own. Nan Xun had always stayed neutral without helping or hindering anyone's cause. Despite holding control over the army, he didn't know that many officials in the imperial city. The royal uncle was different.
The royal uncle was the banished empress's brother. More importantly, he held an important position in the court, and he enjoyed the favor of the emperor. Many officials were eager to stay on his good side.
Qi Yun still had one question. "Weren't you worried that the empress would sell you out when you visited her on your own?"
"She wouldn't," Jun Huang said confidently. She got to her feet and looked up at the raindrops lining the bottom of the roof. "She's trapped in the Cold Palace, and the former crown prince has passed away. The royal uncle is the only one she can depend on. He, however, doesn't live in the palace. It's not that easy for them to meet up. It doesn't matter who it is. As long as there's someone who offers her the one thing she wants the most, she'll accept readily."
"She's determined to avenge the death of her son. Otherwise, why would she try so hard to remind the emperor of their past? If Consort Zhen hadn't intervened, Consort Ping would have been allowed to move back to the Phoenix Palace already."
Her analysis had answered all the questions he had had. Qi Yun hadn't realized that Jun Huang was such a good strategist. If she had been a man, she would have gone down in history as a legendary figure.
It took a while for Qi Yun to remember what they were here for. "Why did you ask me to come?"
Jun Huang looked at him with bright eyes. "We have to get pure-hearted officials on our side."
Qi Yun frowned. He had been learning how to govern a country in the privacy of his own chamber, but there were many things he didn't know as well as Jun Huang did. He was a little confused. "What do you mean by pure-hearted officials?"
"It seems that the teacher Your Highness hired has not been as good as rumors said," Jun Huang teased. Qi Yun was mortified. He had sought out a retired teacher to teach him about managing affairs of the state. And to convince the teacher to leave retirement, he had visited him personally. He was prepared to visit the teacher thrice in person like Liu Bei had in order to persuade Zhuge Liang to be his strategist.1 It took Qi Yun quite some time to finally convince the old teacher.
Jun Huang sighed. "Pure-hearted officials are officials who are loyal and headstrong. In the chapter Fourth year of Duke Yin from The Zuo Tradition, it said, 'Shi Que was a pure-hearted official. He sent Zhou Xu and his son Shi Hou to their deaths. This is what it means to sacrifice your family for the greater good!'2 You should read this part when you have the time."
Qi Yun nodded. He understood now. "But who among the officials are pure-hearted?"
Jun Huang remembered suddenly that Qi Yun rarely attended the court meeting. He had been an audience, but he had not participated himself. Of course he wouldn't know what kind of a person these officials were.
"Someone like the Senior Grandmaster is a pure-hearted official. His priority is always the people, but he knows when to back down. If every official can be like him, a country's centuries of foundation wouldn't have been destroyed, and it would go down in history as a great nation." Jun Huang let out a laugh. Even she herself didn't believe that it was possible for every official to be pure-hearted. She only said what she said to comfort herself.
Qi Yun looked at her in silence. Noticing his gaze, Jun Huang schooled her expression into one of impassiveness before handing him the token. "This we have to do together. However, the most important thing for us now is to find the royal uncle and convince him to help us."
"You are a royal prince. Now that the supporters of Qi Yin had come to despise Qi Chen, they need another prince to get behind. You are therefore the perfect choice for approaching the royal uncle. I'll take care of the rest."
"As you wish." Qi Yun nodded, looking at the pouring rain outside. He was suddenly hit by a sense of frustration. He was the fourth prince, but he was so unfamiliar with matters in the court that he needed Jun Huang to advise him.
Jun Huang knew what he was thinking, but she didn't say anything. There were things that were better left unsaid. She could only focus on taking her revenge as soon as she could. There was an extent to how much she could help Qi Yun. Once he became the emperor, there would be no one to hold his hands. She only hoped that this unrest they were going to cause wouldn't undermine the foundation of Northern Qi.
They both knew what they had to do. They made the preparation. Qi Yun went to the royal uncle with the token.
The royal uncle agreed to join force with Qi Yun as soon as he heard what Qi Yun had to say and saw the token he himself had given his sister. It was a good start, a triumph worth celebrating.
Things didn't go as well on Jun Huang's side. None of the pure-hearted officials were willing to join this faction they didn't know the agenda of. These officials didn't hold a high position, but they were picked by the emperor. They had real power. People liked them were especially stubborn. Some might say that they were self-righteous.
A fifth-grade official pointed at Jun Huang and scolded, "If the gentleman has time to come to me, why don't you deal with the rotten apples in the court first?" His eyes were widened in rage. He seemed like he was going to slap Jun Huang any moment.
Jun Huang frowned. "What do you mean?"
The official huffed, leveling her with a derisive stare. "You can't achieve anything by simply forming a faction. Go back to where you came from and leave Northern Qi alone." With that, he walked away.
Qi Yun emerged from the other room and looked at the official's back. "There are many stubborn men like him in the court. Why must we go to them?"
"They are officials with years of experience. He just pointed out the problems facing the court right now. It's clear that we should shift our focus to that." There was a faraway look in Jun Huang's eyes. Of course there are black sheep in a powerful country like Northern Qi.
Qi Yun nodded. "Everyone we have talked to so far has been ambiguous about their intentions. I wonder what they really think."
Jun Huang scoffed. She had been talking to the officials about ruling the country with law. She said that Northern Qi should not be held in the hand of people who disregarded morals. She didn't mention who she was working for. The officials had been purposefully vague in their response in order to not offend anyone. It was understandable, but people liked them could not be trusted with important tasks.
"Jun Huang, if second brother finds out, won't you be in danger?" Qi Yun asked worriedly.
Jun Huang shook her head. "Don't worry. We have been shown our hands. Those officials won't tell Qi Chen until they figure out who we are."
After a while, Qi Yun said, "I think we should stop for a moment and do some house-cleaning."
Jun Huang turned to Qi Yun and gestured at him to continue. Qi Yun was excited for finally seeing traces of approval in Jun Huang's eyes. He reminded himself to not get ahead of himself.
He cleared his throat and drank some tea to soothe his vocal cord. "Some of our supporters have been doing things behind our back that go against our beliefs. Some even violate the law of this country. They've done a lot of damage to the city. We are not a sanctuary for people like them. They have to be dealt with."
Happened in the Three Kingdoms Period. Liu Bei was the ruler of Shu Han. His goal was to restore the Han dynasty. ↩ Basically, his son Shi Ho was an accomplice to Zhou Xu in killing the ruler of their country. Shi Que set them up and had them arrested. He then insisted on having his son receive a death sentence. ↩