Chapter 29 Chip Chip Chip Chip Chip Chip Chip Chip
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Huo Caiyu’s suspicions proved to be true. Ye Gui’an’s flattery towards Li Jinyu were indeed excessive, bordering on shameless. He summoned a bevy of beautiful women to dance for the Emperor’s pleasure, even going so far as to bring out his own daughters and urging the Emperor to take his pick. His intention was clear— with Consort Xian’s position secured, Ye Gui’an hoped to curry favor with His Majesty through his other daughters.
Li Jinyu watched in shock as Ye Gui’an paraded his daughters and the other women before him. Among them was a young girl who could not have been more than eleven or twelve years old!
Hearing that His Majesty enjoyed pleasure the most, Ye Gui’an cunningly encircled Li Jinyu with a ring of dancers, each one eager to offer him wine and food.
Surrounded by a group of strangers and a row of faces, with countless hands all around him…
This scene instantly became Li Jinyu’s nightmare No. 2, almost comparable to the hanging black cat on the ceiling!
If not for the last shred of sanity that remained within him, Li Jinyu would have bolted from the room in a moment of panic.
Struggling to maintain his composure, he addressed Ye Gui’an with a forced politeness. “Zhen is feeling a bit tired, Ye Aiqing…”
Ye Gui’an thought he understood and smiled happily. “Your Majesty has worked hard. It’s time to rest. Which one or which few of these women does Your Majesty has taken a fancy to?”
“No need, Zhen wants to be alone.”
“Very well, Your Majesty.” Ye Gui’an happily pointed to his youngest daughter and instructed, “Jingjing, attend to His Majesty well.”
Li Jinyu: “…”
In the end, Li Jinyu still firmly refused others to attend to him. He had no desire to have anyone near him, and he could not bear the thought of subjecting a young girl to a night of singing.
The absence of Huo Caiyu’s comforting presence left Li Jinyu feeling exposed and vulnerable. His mind was plagued by thoughts of the ominous coldness and the menacing black cat that could be lurking in the palace, or worse, following him wherever he went.
Just in case, Li Jinyu took drastic measures before parting ways with Huo Caiyu. He gathered all of his clothes, including the bedsheets from the inn.
Without hesitation, Li Jinyu changed into Huo Caiyu’s clothes, wearing his undershirt, underpants, and socks beneath his outer robe. He could sense the remnants of his Ziwei aura clinging to the fabric. Though it was oppressive, it also granted him a measure of security.
However, as he changed in front of Huo Caiyu, he couldn’t help but notice the strange expression on his face.
Could it be that Huo Caiyu thinks he was a pervert?
Nevermind. If Huo Caiyu thought he was a pervert, then so be it. It was a small price to pay for his protection. Besides, his image in Huo Caiyu’s eyes wasn’t that great to begin with, and maybe it was even worse now.
Under his blanket, Li Jinyu tightly clutched a small bundle which contained Huo Caiyu’s other clothes.
Perhaps it was because of the Ziwei Imperial Qi remnants on these clothes, Li Jinyu didn’t encounter any abnormalities on the first night after leaving Huo Caiyu, no coldness, and no black cat.
The next day, Li Jinyu’s expression turned blank as he looked at the dozen or so kittens in cages of various colors in front of him. “Where did these come from?”
Ye Gui’an, on the other hand, had a pleased smile on his face as he replied, “It is said in the capital that Your Majesty has a fondness for kitties. Therefore, this official has specially gathered these for Your Majesty’s viewing pleasure.”
Li Jinyu’s heart sank, and he felt tears threatening to spill. He had only asked about the palace concubines’ pet cats, yet now it seemed as if he had an unhealthy obsession with kittens!
Like father like daughter!
Li Jinyu coldly refused without hesitation, “No need.”
“Then shall this official call Jingjing to serve Your Majesty?”
“No need for that either.”
“Then shall this official…”
The sycophantic voice of Ye Gui’an was like a bewitching sound that almost knock Li Jinyu out.
He used to find the imperial concubine annoying, but now he realized that Ye Gui’an was even more troublesome. His incessant behavior was beyond comparison, even when compared to the antics of his own daughter.
Unfortunately, Li Jinyu could not appear too cold-hearted in order to maintain his image. As he had spent the last few days dealing with Ye Gui’an, Li Jinyu had also been subtly testing the man’s attitude towards the new tax policy.
Contrary to the assumptions of both Li Jinyu and Huo Caiyu, Ye Gui’an remained unfazed and showed no signs of guilt or panic. Instead, she confidently reassured Li Jinyu, “Your Majesty, rest assured that the spring taxes in Qingshui Prefecture will be fully paid this year!”
Of course, it would be fully paid, but it was uncertain whose pockets it would end up in.
Li Jinyu couldn’t help but mutter to himself, wondering what kind of instructions the Prime Minister had given to Ye Gui’an that made him so self-assured and unapologetic. Perhaps, he thought, the problem was not with Ye Gui’an, but with his own failure to see through the situation.
Sigh. If only Huo Caiyu is here.
Li Jinyu particularly missed his life when he was by Huo Caiyu’s side.
When will Huo Caiyu start the next move?
Huo Caiyu seemed to have read Li Jinyu’s thoughts, or perhaps he was even more anxious than he was. Just a few days later, news arrived at the yamen that the current prefect, Ye Gui’an, had been accused of embezzlement and abuse of authority.
Upon receiving the news, Ye Gui’an’s initial reaction was one of confusion. He had been acting as a local tyrant in Qingshui Prefecture for far too long and had completely forgotten about the possibility of commoners reporting him.
However, he quickly regained his composure and was somewhat surprised by the news. “Why was this reported to me?”
Shouldn’t his subordinates have discreetly dealt with that ignorant commoner?
The servant respectfully said, “It was Deputy Prefect Shen’s idea. The Deputy Prefect said that since His Majesty is staying in Qingshui Prefecture, it would be rare to have something interesting to do, so why not have some fun and take a look.”
Ye Gui’an had never liked Shen Fuyao, but he knew that the man was competent and could be relied upon to handle many affairs. Thus, he could still listen to Shen Fuyao’s opinion to some extent.
As of late, the Emperor had been feeling melancholic and no amount of beauty, wine or food could lift his spirits. Ye Gui’an was deeply concerned about this and had been racking his brain for ways to bring joy to His Majesty.
Shen Fuyao’s suggestion did have some merit… Ye Gui’an had heard rumors of an inner prison within the imperial palace, where various torture devices were used to inflict pain on prisoners for the pleasure of those in power. This lowly commoner who had come forward with accusations against Ye Gui’an could potentially be used to bring some excitement to His Majesty’s otherwise dull days.
The more Ye Gui’an thought about it, the more the idea seemed feasible. After pacing back and forth for a while, he made up his mind. “This official shall go and ask His Majesty right away.”
The sight of the prefect personally ascending the hall in Qingshui Prefecture was a rare occurrence. Previously, Ye Gui’an had only been concerned with accumulating wealth and had neglected his official duties. As a result, the people of Qingshui Prefecture only knew of his name and not his appearance.
Now, someone had dared to openly accuse Ye Gui’an of wrongdoing!
It was not long after the spring tax collection, and the people who despised Ye Gui’an had gathered at the yamen to watch the show.
Ye Gui’an was not fond of facing these lowly peasants, and he wanted his subordinates to drive them away. However, Li Jinyu intervened and instructed, “Zhen loves a good crowd, so let them watch.”
This sentence twisted Li Jinyu’s heart.
Ye Gui’an complied, “These humble peasants owe everything to Your Majesty’s blessings!”
In the midst of the trial, the atmosphere in the hall was tense. All eyes were fixed on the handsome man with a commanding presence standing upright in the center. It was none other than Huo Caiyu.
Li Jinyu, sitting behind a veil specially prepared for him by Ye Gui’an, breathed a sigh of relief when he saw that Huo Caiyu was still in good shape. It was as though they shared a psychic connection, for Li Jinyu felt the weight of Huo Caiyu’s gaze as it swept over their side of the room.
Ye Gui’an spoke up, his voice ringing out with confidence and power, “Who dares to accuse this official in person?”
Huo Caiyu remained calm and collected as he replied, “This humble commoner’s name is of little consequence, but he has come here today to accuse Lord Ye of embezzlement, disregarding the imperial orders, and unilaterally changing the new tax law!”
Ye Gui’an’s words dripped with disdain as he sneered at Huo Caiyu, “This official of the imperial court only carries out orders and have not altered any laws. Furthermore, in Di Dynasty’s legal system, if a commoner files a complaint against an official, they will be punished with ten lashes. Have you truly thought this through?”
Huo Caiyu, having been subjected to the court’s punishment before, stood firm and replied without fear, “This humble commoner has thought it through.”
However, Li Jinyu found himself unable to remain seated.
Ye Gui’an was really expert at rhetorics!
Huo Caiyu was the future dragon’s butt! He wouldn’t even dare touch it, but Ye Gui’an wanted to publicly pull down the future dragon’s pants and spank him?!”
[T/N] The phrase “龍屁股” (dragon’s butt) is a humorous and colloquial way of referring to someone with great potential and a promising future
A cough echoed from behind the screen, interrupting the tense silence.
Taking the cue, Ye Gui’an, the stern authority figure in the room, cleared his throat before issuing a grave decree. “This insolent commoner shall receive ten lashes!”
Li Jinyu was dumbfounded for a moment before intervening. “There’s no need for that. Let’s get straight to the point.”
After speaking, Li Jinyu felt as though Huo Caiyu had glanced at him again.
Huo Caiyu calmly produced a scroll and began to recite its contents with a measured tone, his expression betraying nothing.
Li Jinyu recognized it as the detailed Single Whip Policy that he and Huo Caiyu had worked on together.
With the intent to simplify the convoluted law for the common people, Huo Caiyu proceeded to explain, “According to the new tax law, the people of Qingshui Prefecture only need to pay taxes once this year. At most, it won’t exceed ten taels per person, and they don’t need any tax silver certificates.”
The crowd outside exploded.
“Ten taels?! My family has already paid thirty taels this year! And they say there’s another tax at the end of the year!”
“We don’t need certificates? My family already has cash, why should we send it up and have it devalued?!”
“Is this young man telling the truth or not?”
As the commotion outside grew louder, Ye Gui’an’s annoyance reached a boiling point. With a thunderous roar, he bellowed, “Quiet down!”
His eyes shifted to Huo Caiyu, his face twisting into a scowl as he struggled to maintain his grip on the situation.
The stranger’s demeanor and self-assurance indicated that he was not an ordinary commoner! No, this was someone who had come prepared, someone who had deliberately set their sights on him.
Ye Gui’an felt a surge of anger rise within him. Ordinarily, Ye Gui’an would have taken swift and brutal action against any challenge to his authority. But today, the Emperor was visiting, and he dared not risk any missteps that might reflect poorly on him…
Despite his best efforts, Ye Gui’an couldn’t shake the feeling that something was off, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on it.
Huo Caiyu was still standing below, while Ye Gui’an didn’t have time to think, he was too busy trying to maintain his composure. He slammed the table and shouted, “Nonsense! This official of imperial court represents the will of the heavens and manage the people. How dare you engage in such shameful behavior? Accusing an imperial official without evidence! Someone come—”
“Who said there was no evidence?” Huo Caiyu interrupted Ye Gui’an’s tirade and produced yet another book from his sleeve. Without a word, he opened it on the spot and began to read aloud, “On the seventh day of the second month of the sixth year of Jingchang, Yuan Guang Commercial Firm collected and paid a tax of one thousand three hundred and fifty-six taels and two qian. On the eighth day of the second month…”
As Ye Gui’an listened, his face suddenly contorted with shock and disbelief. He was intimately familiar with these bookkeeping entries. They were the very same accounts that had been reported to him by the person in charge of the commercial firm!
How could they possibly be in this man’s possession?!
“How dare you!”
Huo Caiyu paused, looked up at Ye Gui’an, and said, “The evidence is as solid as a mountain. Does Lord Ye have anything else to say?”
“It’s all fake!” Ye Gui’an sneered, ready to resort to violence to silence his accuser. “Someone, take down this thief who speaks nonsense!”
“Wait a minute,” Li Jinyu spoke from behind the screen, “I don’t think these seem fake?”
Ye Gui’an’s face changed once again, his facade of confidence beginning to crumble. With a forced smile, he attempted to dismiss the evidence presented by Huo Caiyu. “You don’t know,” he said, his tone laced with condescension. “These commoners love to spread rumors. They aren’t to be trusted completely.”
The people outside the hall, who had been cowed into silence by the prefect’s intimidation, began to stir with curiosity. As they watched Ye Gui’an nod deferentially to an unseen figure behind the curtain, they couldn’t help but wonder about the identity of this mysterious person.
“Could it be the Prefect’s superior? What’s the name of the Prefect’s superior?”
“Maybe it’s the Prefect’s wife!”
“Don’t talk nonsense. That voice is clearly a man’s!”
“It couldn’t possibly be His Majesty the Emperor, could it? Hahaha!”
These discussions only circulated among the people’s whispers, but Huo Caiyu was close enough to hear them all.
When he heard the speculation that the Emperor was Ye Gui’an’s male favorite, Huo Caiyu’s already unpleasant mood became worse.
“Does Lord Ye have anything else to say?” he demanded, speaking up to cut off the chatter and refocus the attention on the matter at hand.
Ye Gui’an glanced at him, seething with hatred. If not for His Majesty’s presence, I would have already chopped your head off. What right do you have to talk here?
“This official is well aware of the gravity of the situation at hand,” Ye Gui’an retorted smoothly, his voice laced with a thinly veiled hostility. “However, this matter must be approached with great care and deliberation, as the implications are far-reaching and extend beyond a few individuals…”
But before he could say more, Shen Fuyao suddenly rose from his seat and fell to his knees, bowing his head low in front of the court.
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