Chapter Twelve First sign of budding talent
Zhao Yuan could not guess what was the matter with the emperor. The new dynasty had just been established and there were many political affairs, so it was not uncommon for something to happen.
All the way from his residence to the palace gates the only thing he could think about was Li Yi.
The kidnapping had taken place behind Tianbao Temple and the people caught just happened to match the age and appearance of Li Yi and Ping An.
It was the place where they had been hiding and taking into account the timing, it was a good bet that the person caught was Li Yi.
This was why Lin Wenzhong chose to pursue this lead, as he also thought it was the most likely.
The strange thing was that neither the government office nor the Ministry of Justice seemed to be involved. According to Lin Wenzhong, the monks of Tianbao Temple had seen an official seal before letting the men in for the ambush, so why didn’t it match up?
Soon after Zhao Yuan turned to the side entrance of Zhonghe Palace but before he reached the spirit wall (screen wall used to shield an entrance in traditional Chinese architecture), an attendant walked up to him saluting. Judging from his clothes, he should be a palace supervisor responsible for cleaning today.
“Your Highness, beware of the slippery ground. It was too hot in the afternoon and we tried to disperse the heat by splashing water. The ground is not dry yet.”
Zhao Yuan looked at the ground under his feet, dry to the point of steaming, and knew that the supervisor was clearly trying to use this pretext to talk to him.
“Gonggong is really detailed.” Zhao Yuan praised him and Zhao Xi behind him nimbly handed over a pouch of silver.
Zhao Yuan went straight ahead and was soon followed by Zhao Xi, who had finished talking, “Your Highness, Wei Che came to see His Majesty, but His Majesty sent everyone away and left only the Bingbi eunuch to talk, and later even the Bingbi eunuch was sent away.”
Zhao Yuan asked, “When did it happen?”
“After the morning court, the last person His Majesty saw was Master Wei, and when they finished, His Majesty called His Highness back to the palace.”
Zhao Yuan slowed down his pace, Wei Che? The emperor’s martial arts training instructor, the man with a Luan Yiwei brand.
Once the words ‘Luan Yiwei’ flashed through Zhao Yuan’s mind, he couldn’t help but flinch inwardly.
There was some kind of premonition in his heart but he couldn’t just stop walking in these big surroundings. After a few more steps, he had already gone around the spirit wall, and the sharp-eyed eunuch in the waiting hall saw him approaching and turned around to report inside.
Zhao Yuan straightened his jade belt and stopped under the blossoming tree on the side of the porch. Robins were chirping everywhere in the garden, one after another, making him restless and unable to calm down.
A short while later, the imperial messenger came out, and the attendant led Zhao Yuan in. Zhao Yuan bowed to the emperor while Zhao Heng returned half a family salute to show his respect for his regent uncle.
In the entire Great Cheng this kind of courtesy could only be matched by the courtesy to the Empress Dowager.
Without waiting for Zhao Yuan to say anything, Zhao Heng dismissed everyone.
The young emperor had not yet developed the ability to discuss political matters freely, and at this moment he was saying the words he had mulled over twice: “I have read the memorials sent up in the past few days, and there is a mention of increasing the manpower of Luan Yiwei. I don’t know much about the position of Luan Yiwei, so I would like to ask Imperial Uncle about it.”
“Luan Yiwei is responsible for the safety and security of His Majesty and the first class imperial relatives,” Zhao Yuan replied. “Ceremonial escorts and weaponry are also under its jurisdiction.” He thought to himself, the Emperor has really mentioned Luan Yiwei.
He added, “If Your Majesty is asking about the secret duties of Luan Yiwei, their officers should know it much better than I do. I only know that Luan Yiwei follows Your Majesty’s orders alone, and that Your Majesty is the only one who can use them.”
“Then, does Imperial Uncle not object to increasing the manpower of the guard?”
Zhao Heng was a little nervous when he asked this question, even his hand holding the seal couldn’t help but clench tightly.
Zhao Yuan simply ignored it and said respectfully, “That is exactly what should be done. As the Great Cheng has just been established and His Majesty is still young, there are many disobedient people in different parts of the country who are still not willing to submit. It can’t even be said that the capital is fully cleansed from the remnants of the previous dynasty.
It is high time for more men to be recruited to protect His Majesty and it will also provide an opportunity to enlist the young sons of various families for His Majesty’s use.
Another point is that with the assistance of Luan Yiwei, Your Majesty will not be deaf and blind to the movements of the courtiers outside and the generals in the army.”
Zhao Yuan said everything that should have been said and mentioned but the emperor kept silent. Just when he was about to ask another question.
Zhao Heng suddenly called out, “Fifth uncle.”
He actually used his old way of calling him.
Zhao Yuan was a little surprised. He looked at the emperor’s somewhat strange expression and then took two steps forward, approaching the young man behind the imperial table.
Zhao Heng had a face that resembled his father’s. At this moment, his deep thoughts were written on his brow. It was as if time had been turned back and Zhao Yuan could see himself as a young man, also at this age, terrified and lonely, entering the capital alone…
He remembered the burdens, the dangers, the uncertainty of the road ahead. The uncle and nephew’s fates had similar trajectories, and for a moment, deep in thought, he blurted out his concern, “Heng Er, what’s wrong?”
Zhao Heng faintly turned his face to the side and said softly, “Fifth Uncle, I shouldn’t have doubted you.”
With this one sentence, the warmth that was flowing between the uncle and the nephew was broken.
Shouldn’t the issue of Luan Yiwei manpower be used to test the Regent’s loyalty and ambition?
Zhao Yuan returned to his thoughts and spoke calmly, without even a sigh, “What His Majesty did is what should have been done.”
He looked at Zhao Heng on the imperial throne, his purple clothes made the emperor look calm and mature, unlike a young man.
When he had entered the capital, had he also carried everything alone like this, forced to think day and night and grow up as fast as possible?
As an uncle, he should be pleased to see the young man grow so much, but what about as the Regent of the Emperor?
Something might come sooner than he expected.
The exquisite fruit dish on the imperial table was gently moved by an inch, and Zhao Heng took it into his hands, “Imperial Uncle, the honeydew melon from the west was eaten all night yesterday. I remember that you like it.”
The emperor was handing a way out of an embarrassing situation, lowering his posture, and Zhao Yuan naturally had to accept it to show that the previous matter was over, “This subject is grateful for the reward.”
After the two of them had eaten the melon, Zhao Heng suddenly asked, “What kind of person is Li Yi, the abolished emperor’s grandson of the Qing dynasty?”
Zhao Yuan’s heart stalled, but his hand only steadily put down the teacup he was holding. He thought for a moment and said, “Li Yi doesn’t have the heart of a monarch. He is greedy for life and afraid of death, he is soft-hearted and he cannot bear hardship.”
“How can Imperial Uncle describe him as so useless?” Zhao Heng looked surprised, “Isn’t it true that he was said to be ‘as bright as the moon and as beautiful as a lotus’, and that he was ‘knowledgeable since childhood and good at painting’?”
The string in Zhao Yuan’s heart was stretched tight but he still said indifferently, “It is only because of his status as the emperor’s grandson that many people under him wanted to follow the trend and flatter him.
If we really talk about it, this person only has some talent in such a small skill as painting. As for his demeanor and appearance, he has means to move his qi and nourish his body. With the beautiful clothes to wear, anyone can afford to be called a ‘beautiful person’.”
Everything he said was words of disdain. Even a few words that sounded like praise were said with great restraint and reluctance, as if the speaker simply did not want to appear too biased.
Zhao Heng had already understood a lot. It seemed that Zhao Yuan had not got along with the emperor’s grandson of the Qing dynasty when he was a hostage in the capital; they might have even had some problems.
Only then did Zhao Heng say, “Wei Che came to see me and gave me a list of names.”
The emperor went around in circles and finally got to the point.
Zhao Yuan had to admit that even at his age Zhao Heng had been taught to be extremely good at handling people’s hearts, half due to Zhao Shen’s deliberate training and half due to his talent and early intelligence.
The questioning was like a battle of siege. The commander did not take a direct approach, did not talk directly about the list, but first inquired about military intelligence and asked Zhao Yuan’s opinion on the important people on the list, and then attacked to break down the opponent once he had a good idea of what he was up against.
If he had started the conversation by telling the reason and then asking for opinions, he would inevitably make people defensive, and it would be easy to get untrue answers.
If Zhao Yuan were the emperor’s second uncle, Jing Wang, he would have rushed into the hall to ask if Li Yi was in the hands of Wei Che; if he were the emperor’s eighth uncle, Yan Wang, he would have panicked and revealed himself when Zhao Heng suddenly mentioned Li Yi.
Unfortunately, Zhao Yuan was the regent of Great Cheng, a man who had entered the capital under an assumed name, spent several years there as a hostage and returned alive. He was a man whom even such a powerful mind as Zhao Shen’s had failed to pry open.
No matter how clever the young emperor’s heart was, he would not be able to conceal his designs from Zhao Yuan who had been steeped in intrigue for a long time.
After finding out Zhao Yuan’s attitude towards Li Yi, Zhao Heng had no more worries and said directly, “Father ordered Luan Yiwei to arrest the remnants of the previous dynasty, and Wei Che has already captured the most important fifty people.”
In passing, he handed the list to Zhao Yuan.
Li Yi’s name floated brightly on the top, and vermillion ink outlined it in a circle, like a noose for execution placed tightly over his head.
Zhao Yuan barely heard what the emperor said.
“Father did not say how to deal with these people. I think this is a test left to me by the late emperor. Although it was a secret order from Father to Luan Yiwei, I still want to hear the opinion of Imperial Uncle.”
Although the regent could take charge of all military and state affairs, he had no control over the head of the personal guard and secret orders left by the late emperor for his own son. This was clearly an opportunity for the emperor to express his closeness and trust.
Zhao Yuan rose and said, “I thank Your Majesty for consulting with me, and I would like to advise and supplement Your Majesty.”
How can he be able to persuade the emperor to leave Li Yi’s head intact?
Zhao Heng took out the draft he had been working on, “From the people in this list, most of the ministers were corrupt, wrongful and playing with power. They should be killed as an example to the people, so that they can see the new dynasty. If there are one or two useful talents who are willing to submit, they should be left alive for now.
What I’m worried about is the clansmen of the previous dynasty. The successful establishment of the Great Cheng was done under the banner of respect for the emperor.
I originally thought that all the nobles in the direct line had died, so the remaining ones could be graciously placed in a remote fiefdom, calling it preferential treatment, but in reality, they would be watched well. Who could imagine that one of them was left out, the one who was abolished by Prince Qin, Li Yi, one of the crown prince’s bloodline.”
The eldest grandson of the emperor.
Zhao Yuan said slowly, “Your Majesty has given due consideration to the matter of the old courtiers of the Qing dynasty. As for the disposal of the clan…”
He knew that he should have said a few words of wisdom first, about following the rules and giving a good example, and that he should have waited until everything was ready before persuading the emperor to act with benevolence and justice.
However, Zhao Yuan’s only chance was right in front of him at this moment, and with his many years of military leadership, he would not allow the emperor to have the slightest hesitation.
His one knife saw blood immediately, “Your Majesty, if you kill Li Yi while sparing the other clansmen, it’ll be covering your ears while stealing a bell. If Your Majesty simply kills all the clansmen in one fell swoop, the Great Cheng dynasty will be seen by the world as inferior to the last regime of Prince Qin!”
Even Prince Qin who usurped the throne knew to keep Li Yi for show, to win the hearts of the people, and to keep the name of a benevolent ruler in history.
The new dynasty sent troops in the name of saving the emperor, and now there were still forces outside that had not been eliminated. For the Great Cheng to sit firmly in the capital and gain the support of the scholars and commonfolk, they had to rely on their role as the rightful heir of the Qing dynasty. It would have been highly inappropriate to kill Li Yi and even the entire clan right off the bat.
But if you keep it, how can you allow others to sleep soundly on the side of the bed?
Zhao Heng also understood the dilemma, otherwise he would not have asked Zhao Yuan; but in the end he could not help but mutter, “If I kill Li Yi, will I be bearing the title of traitor?”
“Once Li Yi is dead, my Great Cheng’s just cause for war will disappear, and the late Emperor and His Majesty will become faithless villains and unrighteous rulers!”
Zhao Heng stood up abruptly, “Imperial Uncle!”
The young emperor’s eyes burned with fire as his father and himself were both denounced as villains and unrighteous monarchs, but he finally held back before saying, “Be careful what you say!”
“I have overstepped the bounds of my authority.” Zhao Yuan had known the consequences and knelt down in apology even before the words left his mouth.
Sizheng Hall was so quiet, the sound of a pin dropping could be heard. The emperor was sitting and the regent was kneeling, but Zhao Heng felt that Zhao Yuan was standing even higher than him.
Zhao Heng took a deep breath and finally said, “Imperial Uncle should get up, let me think about it again.”
When Zhao Yuan exited the hall, it was the hottest time of the day at the end of summer.
After a few careful glances at the prince, Zhao Xi’s perennially smiling face was frozen expressionless and even his steps unconsciously became smaller as he fell behind trying to keep his distance.
Zhao Heng could naturally wait in Zhonghe Palace, but Li Yi, in the secret prison of Luan Yiwei, how many days could he stand?