Chapter 39.1 Chip Chip?
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The lacquered round table, ornately adorned with a carved dragon, accommodated four people at each cardinal point.
Prime Minister Ye had a calm expression, but his eyes carried a strong hostility as he scanned Huo Caiyu without making a sound.
Huo Caiyu remained utterly indifferent to the Prime Minister’s presence, giving his undivided attention to Li Jinyu, taking note of his favorite dishes and occasionally replenishing his cup of tea.
General Meng, who rarely had the privilege of eating the food from the Imperial Kitchen, savored the delicacies without restraint, blissfully oblivious to the undercurrents.
Li Jinyu sat nervously between the Prime Minister and Huo Caiyu, his mind racing as he pondered what blunder had led him to invite such conflicting personalities to the same meal.
To mitigate any clandestine schemes by the Prime Minister and keep Huo Caiyu at a distance, Li Jinyu situated them at opposite corners of the table.
But this created a problem. With only four people, he had no choice but to sit next to the Prime Minister.
Although he believed that the black cat wouldn’t dare to act recklessly in front of Huo Caiyu, it was still, undeniably, a cat!
A cat demon that had cast a vast psychological shadow over him!
Li Jinyu’s back tensed, and he squirmed in his chair, enduring what felt like the most arduous meal of his life.
Regrettably, this banquet was of the highest caliber, hosting none other than the Prime Minister and the Grand Marshal. How could such an affair be so easily managed?
The dishes arrived one after the other, in a seemingly never-ending stream. The unrelenting flow of dishes left him uncertain of when the lavish feast would draw to a close.
Huo Caiyu’s keen observation detected Li Jinyu’s restlessness, and he inquired softly, “Is Your Majesty feeling unwell?”
Before Li Jinyu could answer, the Prime Minister’s eyes flitted over Li Jinyu’s buttocks, and he put down his chopsticks and chuckled, “Perhaps Your Majesty’s attire is uncomfortably tight.”
The Emperor’s dragon robes had always fit snugly, but since Li Jinyu’s tail had popped out, the inner garment had become somewhat constricting.
Despite the modest size of Li Jinyu’s tail, it still occupied a considerable amount of space.
Although the outer garment was loose and did not expose the issue, Li Jinyu often experienced discomfort from his back to his buttocks due to the tight inner garment.
The Prime Minister’s remarks made Li Jinyu break out in a cold sweat, prompting a hasty reply, “Maybe Zhen has put on some weight lately, hehe.”
Unconsciously, Huo Caiyu’s gaze flickered towards Li Jinyu’s waistline.
The curve was just right, not overly bulky or slender, and pleasing to the eye.
It seemed like he had not gained weight?
Huo Caiyu averted his gaze quickly, not wishing to be caught staring.
Prime Minister Ye’s attention shifted between them, and he pointed to a delicate crystal shrimp dumpling with a smile, “Master Huo, this dish is a favorite of His Majesty in the past. Why not give it a try?”
Huo Caiyu frowned slightly.
His Majesty seldom indulged in such delicacies.
Li Jinyu was startled by Prime Minister Ye’s “in the past” remark. He was about to protest and explain that his preferences had evolved over time when General Meng intervened, “Indeed, when His Majesty was young, he loved Jiangnan’s freshwater delicacies and wanted them at every meal.”
Li Jinyu: “…”
Worried that Huo Caiyu might grow suspicious, Li Jinyu hastily grabbed a shrimp dumpling and stuffed it into his mouth, nodding in agreement, “Indeed, Zhen misses them a bit.”
He turned to Huo Caiyu, a serious expression on his face, “These dumplings are Zhen’s. You can’t have any.”
After all, the Prime Minister had earlier waved his hand over the shrimp dumplings, and who knew what he had done to them?
Huo Caiyu was taken aback for a moment, watching as Li Jinyu’s cheeks bulged with the dumpling. A smile tugged at the corners of his lips, “Yes, Your Majesty. Eat slowly.”
He then poured a cup of tea for Li Jinyu.
Prime Minister Ye chuckled at the sight and remarked, “Master Huo’s skillful tea-pouring for His Majesty truly befits his long-standing position in the palace.”
The statement held a hint of teasing in it.
Li Jinyu glanced at General Meng and noticed a slight darkening of his expression.
General Meng was known for his conservative and traditional views. He placed a great deal of importance on ethics and bloodline inheritance, and he held men who indulged in pleasure-seeking in contempt.
When he had returned to the capital and heard of the “scandalous” relationship between Huo Caiyu and His Majesty, General Meng had remained stoic on the surface, but he was privately very displeased.
However, after witnessing Huo Caiyu’s capabilities and with the Emperor’s composed demeanor, General Meng had refrained from making any further comments.
Prime Minister Ye’s remark was clearly intended to provoke General Meng’s disdain towards Huo Caiyu, and Li Jinyu couldn’t help but feel a bit unhappy about it. Although he didn’t mind stirring up Huo Caiyu’s resentment, he didn’t like seeing Prime Minister Ye making Huo Caiyu unhappy.
Suddenly, Li Jinyu reached out and took Prime Minister Ye’s teacup, offering it to Huo Caiyu. “Huo Aiqing, please pour tea for the Prime Minister.”
Huo Caiyu was confused but didn’t object and poured a fresh cup of tea, even reminding the Emperor to be careful not to burn himself. As Li Jinyu handed the teacup back to the Prime Minister, he faced Prime Minister Ye’s somewhat dangerous gaze and coughed, “Huo Aiqing poured tea for the Prime Minister, so Zhen hopes the Prime Minister will give him face.”
Prime Minister Ye stared at the teacup in Li Jinyu’s hand, his gentle smile frozen like a mask.
The preparation of the tea was a meticulous process, with every step personally taken by Huo Caiyu. The imperial aura of Ziwei enveloped the tea.
The unenlightened demons could feel the weight of the imperial aura, especially when it emanated from someone hostile to their kind. The mere act of drinking the tea could cause harm to the body.
Prime Minister Ye cautiously took the teacup from Li Jinyu and looked at Huo Caiyu with a chilly expression.
General Meng watched closely from the side. He knew that as a member of the court, the Prime Minister had to accept the Emperor’s offerings, no matter what.
With great reluctance, Prime Minister Ye took a sip of the tea, his lips curling involuntarily as he struggled to contain his reaction. He coughed twice before finally regaining his composure.
After this cup of tea, Prime Minister Ye finally quieted down.
As the meal came to an end, it became apparent that a line had been drawn, separating the court into factions engaged in a bitter struggle for power.
The factions of the Prime Minister, Grand Marshal, and the neutral party were in turmoil, spending every morning taunting and fighting each other.
Li Jinyu sat on the dragon throne, cradling his chin and stifling a yawn as he watched the court officials below slander each other.
He couldn’t understand the flowery insults being thrown around, so he decided to keep quiet and not express his opinion.
All these saliva flying in front of his left and right eyes were nothing compared to the imminent imperial exam. The key to determining the fate of the nation lay in ensuring fairness and impartiality during the exam, with a strict vigilance against cheating.
For the imperial exam, maintaining a just and unbiased system was of utmost importance.
Under Li Jinyu’s decree, the examination questions were meticulously prepared by Huo Caiyu and a few other renowned scholars who resided in a separate academy within the National Academy. They were forbidden to have any contact with the outside world until the examination commenced.
Anxious that the great scholars might be insulted, Li Jinyu took the initiative to pull Huo Caiyu aside to apologize in private.
These great scholars had gained a firm footing in the court despite the Prime Minister’s authority, thanks to their widespread recognition and accomplishments. Their reputation made them immune even to the Emperor’s influence.
In the novel, Huo Caiyu made his way around the capital without disturbing these great scholars. On the contrary, he safeguarded them and urged them to join the new dynasty.
To Huo Caiyu’s disappointment, all of them turned down his offer without exception.
Although the final years of the Di dynasty had witnessed a marked decline, it was the hard work and devotion of these great scholars in the court that had kept the country from collapsing completely.
Their hearts were torn between their knowledge that Huo Caiyu’s reign would bring prosperity to the people and their loyalty to the fallen Di dynasty, which prevented them from accepting it.
Two great scholars even chose to pass away with the Di dynasty, unwilling to see the new dynasty prosper and bring shame and dishonor to their former allegiance.
“Your Majesty need not be so polite.” A white-bearded great scholar twirled his snow-white eyebrows and smiled, his eyes filled with wisdom. “We may be old and useless, but our knowledge and experience can contribute to the selection of outstanding scholars in the world, which is already gratifying. Staying in the separate academy for a few days is a small matter.”
“Indeed, what’s better than having a few good friends to discuss the debate of righteousness?” Li Jinyu gazed at the trembling old men and felt a profound warmth in his heart. “The Di dynasty is blessed to have such devoted and learned scholars like you.”
The great scholars erupted in laughter that echoed through the halls. “We old men are but humble servants who share Your Majesty’s burdens… Your Majesty’s bravery and diligence are the real blessings of our Di dynasty.”
Once disillusioned by Li Jinyu’s inadequacies as a ruler, they now saw in him a beacon of hope for the future, and their spirits were rekindled.
Li Jinyu observed their unsteady figures and pursed his lips, deep in thought.
Beside him, Huo Caiyu caught his eye, sensing the Emperor’s mixed emotions of both eagerness and apprehension. He longed to reach out and hold the Emperor’s hand, but the divide between ruler and subject forbade such intimacy. With composure, he spoke, “Your Majesty, please be at ease. Their efforts will not go to waste.”
The examination papers were sealed away in a secure vault under the watchful gaze of the Emperor and the two chief examiners.
Huo Caiyu scrutinized each sealed strip and then turned to Prime Minister Ye, a smile spreading across his face. “What is the Prime Minister’s opinion on our level of security?”
Prime Minister Ye examined the strips carefully and even pointed out a few errors, as if he genuinely wanted the imperial examination to proceed fairly and justly.
“With such strict measures in place, the exam questions are unlikely to be leaked,” Prime Minister Ye said, satisfied, stroking his beard and looking kindly at Huo Caiyu. “Master Huo, be cautious and make sure not to reveal the questions in your sleep.”
Huo Caiyu smiled slightly. “This inferior official sleeps in His Majesty’s chamber every night, so there is no need to worry about him, Prime Minister.”
Prime Minister Ye was momentarily at a loss for words. He had not expected this rascal to turn his own words back on him.
The memory of the tea that had caused him stomach troubles for several days made Prime Minister Ye’s face turn sour, and he bowed to Li Jinyu. “Your Majesty, this minister is feeling unwell and must retire now.”
As the Prime Minister’s footsteps faded, Li Jinyu’s concern grew. “Do you think he’s really planning to sell the exam questions?”
“It’s quite possible,” Huo Caiyu replied, his earlier aggressive manner subsiding into a gentle smile. “Officials who are appointed based on merit will inevitably come into conflict with those from the Prime Minister’s faction. The quality of the Prime Minister’s own officials is also questionable. If they want to resist being slowly eroded and replaced, destroying the fairness of the imperial examination is the easiest option.”
Despite having gathered evidence during Ye Gui’an’s interrogation, none of them seemed to be of any use in their current predicament.
“The Prime Minister’s faction is just occupying a temporary position of power, supported by the aristocracy,” Huo Caiyu continued. “If Prime Minister Ye wants to avoid being replaced, destroying the fairness of the imperial examination is their best option. As for the points he mentioned earlier, this official will investigate them further.”
Huo Caiyu wasn’t naive enough to believe Prime Minister Ye was acting out of the kindness of his heart.
Li Jinyu recalled Prime Minister’s true nature as a demon and spoke gently, “It’s not necessary to go to such lengths.”
After all, the black cat was a demon, and it was difficult to thwart supernatural forces. Besides, as Huo Caiyu had said, whether the Prime Minister was scheming or not, the outcome would still be favorable.
“The more tightly we guard, the less suspicion Prime Minister Ye will have,” Huo Caiyu laughed. “He will think we are overconfident and let his guard down. That’s when we can trap him.”
Li Jinyu blinked, understanding.
Then he also made an effort to trap that annoying black cat!
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