Chapter 95: We get what we deserve
The official was worried that Qi Chen wouldn't trust his words. He quickly handed the letter to Qi Chen.
Qi Chen was dumbfounded by what he read. There had been signs that someone was trying to steal his supporters away from him, but the signs were so subtle that he had overlooked them. Now he felt himself sweating because of this sudden realization.
He was so angry he ended up letting out a sharp laugh. "Wonderful. These people dare to make their moves on me!"
"Do you know who they are?" the confidante asked.
The official bowed down and shook his head. Then, as if suddenly remembering something, he said, "This official was threatened and coerced by a villainous man. He used my family as leverage. This gentleman was cornered into a dead end. Then, I suddenly remembered the gentleman Your Highness introduced me to on your wedding. I had no choice but to go to the gentleman for help. He knew that this official was Your Highness's supporter. He did all he could to help me rescue my family. That's how this official is able to come inform Your Highness of this issue."
Qi Chen's expression relaxed a little when he heard that it was Feng Baiyu who had helped the official. After a moment of contemplation, he stood up and said, "I'm going to leave the manor to attend to some business. You two should go as well."
Before he walked out, he patted the official on the shoulder, "This is a good mark on your record. You will be rewarded in the future."
The official expressed his gratitude with great enthusiasm. His expression only changed when he ducked his head.
Ever since Jun Huang had moved out, Qi Chen rarely saw Jun Huang. It was the first time that he visited her place. Seeing that Qi Chen was here, the page boy watching the door rushed in to notify Jun Huang. "The crown prince has come, gentleman Feng."
Jun Huang nodded. She knew Qi Chen would come to find her as soon as he knew that someone was undermining his influence in secret. She clapped her hands and said to the page boy, "Lead him here. Later, if Qi Yun or Nan Xun comes, stop them immediately."
"Understood," said the page boy. He re-entered with Qi Chen not long after.
"This gentleman didn't know Your Highness was visiting. I hope Your Highness will forgive me for the lack of a proper welcome." Jun Huang quickly walked up to him, but her attitude was far from servile. Her words were more of a formality than an attempt to please him.
Qi Chen knew how Jun Huang was. There was no point in taking it personally. He sat down on a stone stool and asked, "Does brother Feng know that Qi Yun is impeaching some of my people?"
Jun Huang sat down next to him and poured him a cup of tea. "I have heard of the news, yes. What does Your Highness plan to do?"
She didn't tell him her opinions, but instead letting him speak of his intentions. Qi Chen looked down at the hot tea inside his cup and scoffed. "I will leave them to rot, of course. They cannot even manage to deal with something so trivial. I am not responsible for the mess they've made. They are useless to me."
Jun Huang's fingers stilled. She knew that Qi Chen was quick to cut his losses, but she didn't expect him to be so cold-hearted. If he became the emperor, people in Northern Qi would be living a torturous life.
"What does brother Feng think?" asked Qi Chen. Her silence had stretched a little too long for his liking.
Jun Huang looked up at him and put the teapot down. After she had taken a sip of her tea, she said calmly, "Your Highness is admirable for making the decision."
What she really thought was in stark contrast with her words. Jun Huang never left anyone an escape route. She had thought through what could happen before telling Qi Yun to request for the impeachment. If Qi Chen had been sentimental and sought the emperor out for this matter, he would be severely scolded by the emperor. If Qi Chen chose to abandon the officials like he had decided to do now, he would lose the trust of his supporters. The ones who had not been punished this time would think that Qi Chen was incapable of protecting them. Naturally they would turn to Qi Yun.
For Qi Chen, he could only choose the lesser of the two evils.
"Brother Feng, I cannot take any obvious action in the court now. I'd like to ask you to find out who it was that has been undermining me in secret. What do you think?"
Jun Huang was surprised that Qi Chen would leave this task in her hand. She didn't know if she should laugh. The one who had been undermining him was her! What answer could she give Qi Chen?
At the same time, she was relieved. This meant that she would be able to further divide Qi Chen's power. Qi Chen had always been mistrustful. If he started to doubt people who had been loyal to him, she would be reaping the benefits. Why would she turn this opportunity down?
Qi Chen's decision also showed that he still trusted her. That was a good sign.
After giving it a second thought, she got to her feet and cupped her hands. "This gentleman will not betray Your Highness's trust."
Qi Chen was pleased. He didn't ask why the official went to Jun Huang for help rather than going straight to him. Before he left, Jun Huang promised again to do all she could to complete this task, which made Qi Chen even more trusting of her.
After successfully misleading Qi Chen, Jun Huang and Qi Yun started to deal with the corrupt officials. As for the issue that someone had been selling exam questions without any regard to the law, it was already out of their hands.
There was not much to investigate. Both the perpetrators and the evidence were clear. The head of the Court of Judicial Review barged into the manor of the administrative official with some runners. They arrested the official when he was still in his bed. The official's face paled in horror.
The emperor was enraged by the scandal. The metropolitan exam was meant to be a way to find talents, and yet it had become a way for despicable men to profit. It was a truly atrocious crime. He decreed that the official was to be sentenced to death and executed this autumn. As for the scholars who bought the exam questions, they were sentenced to three months of imprisonment, and they were not allowed to attend the imperial exam at any level in five years.
However, Jun Huang was not satisfied with the way this issue was dealt with. Anyone who was observant enough would be able to tell that a mere administrative official wouldn't be capable of doing this himself. There must be someone behind him.
Qi Yun agreed with Jun Huang's analysis. He wanted to tell the emperor to investigate further, but he was stopped by Jun Huang and Nan Xun.
"It's still only my speculation," said Jun Huang. "How are you going to convince him without any evidence?"
Qi Yun was silent. He had lost his ability to think in anger, but she was right. He clenched his teeth and scowled. There was nothing he could do.
Nan Xun turned to Jun Huang and said, "You have a plan, don't you?"
Jun Huang gave Nan Xun a small smile and exchanged a knowing look with him.
In the afternoon, they went to the prison of the Court of Judicial Review. Qi Yun had been conducting the investigation in the court. Therefore he was able to come and go freely. It was easy for him to get Jun Huang and Nan Xun inside.
The investigation on the officials had had a great impact on the court. More than half of the officials were proved to be guilty. Qi Yun was idealistic. He had "invited" every one of the suspects to the prison. At the moment, this prison was more crowded than ever.
The prison had always been cold. Even though Jun Huang had put on a fox fur coat before she left home, she could still feel the chilling air trying to burrow into her body. The inmates were dressed in only a thin layer of clothes. They cowered in the corner of their cells, their entire body trembling. And their lips had gone purple.
Jun Huang frowned. These men had lead a luxurious life. They had been arrogant men dressing in the finest silk every day.
But now? Now they were in a worse condition than the refugees. They didn't have enough food to quell their hunger. They didn't have proper clothes to keep them warm.
Seeing the dark look in her eyes, Nan Xun followed her gaze and gave the inmates a once-over. In the dark, their bony pale faces were terrifying. He could tell what Jun Huang was thinking. He took Jun Huang's cold fingers in his hands and said gently, "They have violated the law. They had to be punished for their greed. This is their own doing. You shouldn't dwell on it."
Jun Huang tilted her face to throw him a glance and nodded. She pulled her fingers away and put her hands under the coat, tightening the coat to warm herself up.
Seeing that there were visitors, the inmates started muttering that they were innocent, that someone must believe them and appeal their cases for them.
The three of them pretended to be blind to the inmates' plight and went straight to the cell the furthest inside. That was where the administrative official was kept. His face was as pale as a sheet. It looked eerie under the candlelight. He looked up at his visitors. His messy hair stuck to his faces.
His eyes swept through the three of them until they settled on Jun Huang's face. He scoffed. "You! How did I not see it?"
Jun Huang looked at him without a word. "The other inmates said that they were innocent," she said after a moment of silence, her lips curved. "Do you think you are innocent?"
The official burst into laughter as if he had heard the funniest joke in the world. He laughed so hard that he choked on his saliva and broke into a coughing fit. It took awhile for him to recover. "It's not on me to decide if I am innocent," he said, his eyes fixed on Jun Huang. "I know why you're here. Even if I do tell you who is behind this, do you really dare to make a move on him?"
He closed his eyes with a mocking smile on his lips.
Jun Huang knew the official wouldn't say anything more. The corners of her mouth quirked up. "You are willing to be the scapegoat for someone who's not related to you. That's your choice. If you think it's worth it, so be it. Now I'm sure you will like to rest. We will leave you alone." She turned around and walked away. Nan Xun and Qi Yun exchanged a look before following her out.
Outside the chilly prison, the sun was bright and warm. After a few steps, Jun Huang saw Qin Sheng not far from her.
Qin Sheng and his friends had only bought the questions. They weren't considered to be irredeemable. They didn't have to stay in the cells in the dark basement. Once the investigation was complete, they would be transferred to another cell. Then, they would be released after three months.
Qin Sheng's gaze bore into Jun Huang. This handsome man had been wearing plain clothes only a few days ago, and now he was in silk robe and a fox fur coat. Qin Sheng laughed at himself. He had met a great variety of people, and yet he mistakenly put his trust in this Feng Baiyu.
Oh, what a pathetic joke he was!
Jun Huang looked at Qin Sheng, who had been kept in the cell for a few days. She was surprised to find herself feeling nothing. She only realized then that her heart had hardened to the point that it became numb.
Qin Sheng twisted his lips into a smile. "What a cunning man brother Feng is," he said calmly. "This gentleman admires you for your clever ploy."