Chapter 91: Investigating the Officials
Jun Huang was pleased with Qi Yun's explanation. It was good that Qi Yun knew what he was doing. She had been worried that without her help, he might not be able to lead this massive country due to his gentle personality. Now she knew she had been worrying over nothing. There were people who were both gentle and decisive. Those were the kind of men who would make the best leaders.
Seeing the look in Jun Huang's eyes, Qi Yun felt his heart soaring with pride. In their relationship, Jun Huang had always been the one who offered support, which made him feel guilty. Earning Jun Huang's approval made all his efforts in studying affairs of the court feel worth it.
"That's what the official was implying as well. Enemies within the Northern Qi are already stirring trouble. It's not a good time to look outside the country for enemies. It's best we take measures to clean house now." Jun Huang shifted her gaze to the outside and said after a moment of silence, "Try to gather evidence for the crimes those corrupt officials have committed. Remember, don't let them notice what you're doing. We'll take care of the rest once we have enough evidence."
Qi Yun nodded. It was time for him to return to the palace. He got to his feet. "I'll have Rou'er conduct an investigation. As for you, you should go get some rest. You've been hard at work lately."
Once back to her place, Jun Huang thought about what the fifth-grade official had said. His words could be considered a form of support. Once they eliminated the corrupt officials in the court, many would realize that Qi Yun was a competent prince who could shoulder great responsibility. Then there wouldn't be a need for her to lobby for Qi Yun. Those officials would naturally fall into place.
Rou'er proved to be a valuable asset for Qi Yun. In no time, evidence showing that the officials had violated the law was handed to Jun Huang. She scoffed at the report. For a moment, she didn't say anything.
She didn't expect officials in the powerful Northern Qi to behave this way. It was truly disappointing how despicable they were.
Rou'er didn't know what Jun Huang was thinking. Noticing Jun Huang's disheartened look, she worriedly asked, "What does the gentleman plan to do?"
Jun Huang looked up at her and took a deep breath. "Place this evidence at the door to the Court of Judicial Review.1 We can't draw attention to ourselves yet. The best way is to let the emperor conduct the investigation for us."
Overnight, the news that many courtiers had been taking bribes spread through the imperial city like wildfire. Everyone on the list of known perpetrators were thrown into prison. There was nothing they could do to get out of this. They could only blame themselves for being blinded by greed.
In the court meeting, the emperor lost his temper over the scandal. He didn't expect the officials to cast aside the law while they were living on stipend given by the country! It was an insult to the emperor himself!
Almost none of the officials dared to say anything. They were worried that they might be the next person crucified. Nonetheless, there were some loyal officials who believed that the emperor should get to the bottom of this scandal. On one hand, the innocent officials shouldn't have their reputation tarnished by the black sheep. On the other hand, it was imperative that they got rid of these pests eating away the country's foundation.
"Who do the officials think should be given this task?" the emperor asked seriously. The courtiers were silently panicking. They knew this was a task that would invite troubles. Qi Chen too didn't dare to do anything because of the embezzlement he had once committed. He hid behind the crowd, trying to make himself inconspicuous.
For a moment, the room was completely silent. The emperor lashed out at the officials, "What do I keep you for? You are all afraid of getting involved? Are there no pure-hearted men in the entirety of Northern Qi?"
Faced with his demand, the officials remained silent. Only the fifth-grade official Jun Huang had talked to took a step forward.
He had decided the best course of action for himself. He was old, and he had his family to consider. He could not afford to make enemies. It was one thing to know what was the right thing to do. It was another to risk your life doing it.
Seeing that someone finally had the courage to speak, the emperor took a deep breath and said, "What does the official think?"
"This official believes that these people should be punished for disregarding the law. If I were ten years younger, I would have volunteered myself regardless of what it would cost me. However, this official has become an old and frail man. On top of that, this is a serious matter that involved many people. If Your Majesty leaves this task to one of the officials, he may try to cover up for himself. This official believes that it's a job best left to one of the princes."
The other courtiers agreed readily. After some contemplation, the emperor decided that the official was right. He looked over at where the princes stood. Qi Chen cursed inwardly and looked away. He didn't dare to meet the emperor's eyes.
The first person the emperor thought of was Nan Xun. However, he had always dreaded Nan Xun's influence. And Nan Xun was a general who didn't bear the royal family's name. He most likely wouldn't be able to find anything useful.
The emperor turned to Qi Chen. In panic, Qi Chen stepped forward and dropped down to his knees.
"This son has not been feeling well. I'm afraid I cannot accept this task. Royal Father may have to find another candidate." He turned around and saw Qi Yun standing beside him. Without thinking, he said, "This son thinks that fourth brother will be a good choice."
Qi Yun didn't expect Qi Chen to suddenly mention him. He nervously knelt down before the emperor. The emperor frowned at Qi Chen. He was disappointed that Qi Chen would throw his brother to the wolves for fear of getting into troubles. After all, Qi Chen was the crown prince.
The emperor shifted his eyes to Qi Yun. The fifth-grade official could see the hesitation in his eyes. "This official agrees with what the crown prince said."
"Yun'er has not turned twenty yet. This might not be a good idea."
"That's not true," the official said. "The fourth prince's age is exactly what makes him the perfect candidate. If he can take care of this problem, it will be an achievement worthy of peerage. If he fails, no one can blame him since he is so young."
The other courtiers were shocked. They didn't expect a fifth-grade official to be so quick-minded. They weren't sure why he would say what he said with all the officials present, but they didn't dare to make any comments. If the official was willing to speak his mind in these circumstance, it was better to keep quiet and listen.
The emperor made a sound of assent. Immediately, he announced that Qi Yun would be in charge of the investigation. Qi Yun accepted with his hands cupped and swore to himself that he would do this right.
After the meeting, Qi Yun planned to visit Jun Huang for some advice. Qi Chen stopped him before he could get far.
Qi Chen gave him a stilted smile. Embarrassed, Qi Chen cleared his throat and said, "Second brother didn't have a choice… if you run into any troubles, just tell me. I'll do all I can to help you."
Qi Yun smiled. "Second brother is too kind. This is a difficult matter, and Royal Father trusts you. However, sister-in-law is pregnant and you have her to take care of. Besides, second brother has not been feeling well. There's no need for you to feel guilty. I have yet to be granted peerage. Even if I fail, the worst that can happen is me getting scolded by Royal Father. This brother will consider this a learning experience."
Hearing Qi Yun's response, the guilt in Qi Chen's heart finally dissipated. A courtier came up to them, asking for a conversation with Qi Chen. Qi Yun cupped his hands and bid Qi Chen farewell before leaving the palace.
Jun Huang had heard about what happened in the meeting. She knew Qi Yun would come to find her. As she expected, when she was watching the rain in the hallway, Qi Yun approached her with an umbrella.
"Even your hobby is scholarly," Qi Yun said with a smile.
"Many people before me have enjoyed listening to the rain. I am simply imitating them." She sat up and ordered Little Girl to brew her a fresh pot of tea.
Qi Yun looked at Jun Huang and said with excitement, "Today, Royal Father tasked me with investigating the corruption within the imperial court."
"Alright," Jun Huang said calmly. She took a sip of her tea without a trace of surprise on her face. It made Qi Yun feel a little frustrated.
After giving it a second thought, however, the reality seemed so obvious he didn't know how he had missed it. "Is this all according to your…"
Jun Huang nodded. "Perhaps," she said with a laugh. "I merely mentioned you to the official. I didn't expect him to have the courage to nominate you. Wasn't he afraid of rousing the emperor's ire?"
Qi Yun couldn't manage even a smile. He had thought that the official had high expectation for him! But it turned out to all be Jun Huang's doing.
Jun Huang narrowed her eyes at Qi Yun's disappointed look. "You have to understand, Qi Yun, that I merely mentioned your name in passing. The fact that the official took it to heart means that he has always expected you to shine one day. Now that you have accepted the responsibility, you must give it your all. You'll either make a great number of enemies, or you'll disappoint the emperor."
Qi Yun blinked. Jun Huang was right. He had a goal. This was the opportunity he needed to spread his wings. He would not make compromises for those corrupt officials. The pure-hearted officials were the only ones he wanted. Quality was more important than quantity.
Seeing that Qi Yun had regained his confidence, Jun Huang smiled. She reached out to touch the raindrops falling from the sky. There was a distant look in her eyes.
"Why did you tell him to suggest me as a candidate in the meeting with everyone present?" Qi Chen asked.
Jun Huang broke into a smile. "You have to be discreet for the time being. If you show your hand too early, Qi Chen will get suspicious. This way, Qi Chen would think you weren't willing to take the responsibility and only accepted because you had no choice. Then he wouldn't think too much of it."
Qi Yun nodded. He finished his tea and decided to leave, but Jun Huang stopped him. He looked back at Jun Huang with questioning eyes. He wondered what she wanted to say.
"Many officials are involved in this scandal. Don't be reckless or stubborn. Always go for the diplomatic approach. You don't have to be afraid of offending those people, but some might have been set up by others. You have to go through every possibility. Never jump to conclusions."
Qi Yun nodded. He opened his umbrella and walked out into the rain. He didn't noticed that his robe was wetted by the splattered water.
Qi Yun worked hard until the night. Watching the dim light outside his room, he felt overwhelmed by exhaustion. He opened the door and walked out. The candles on his desk was immediately extinguished.
He stretched his arms. A page boy ran up to him and put a robe around his shoulders. "Is Your Highness going outside?"
Right after Qi Yun accepted the task to investigate the corruption in the court, he requested to stay in the Court of Judicial Review. He had been staying awake hard at work until the small hours almost every day. Many candles were burned in the process. He sorted through most of the expenses and incomes of every official. If an official had given fake documents or refused to hand in their account books, Qi Yun would throw them into prison no matter their status. He made no exceptions for anyone. His decisive actions had placed a proverbial sword at every official's neck. They were terrified that the sword would drop and claim their freedom.
Similar to the supreme court today. The agency was in charge of reviewing judicial proceedings. ↩