Chapter Six Plague
After nearly a month of no rain, the rainstorm arrived in the capital as expected. At the beginning, when the parched land and the blistering sun disappeared, everything in the world rejoiced.
However, gradually, it became like a skin full of water that could no longer be filled. But the gods didn’t care and kept filling it even though the skin bloated terribly; until it finally burst, turning the ground into a swamp.
Li Yi had no choice but to go to Tianbao Temple with Ping An. Tianbao Temple was built on the highest terrain in the western part of the city. Many people had fled there.
Tianbao Temple was originally a great imperial temple. It was looted by the rebel troops when they entered the city. Except for the smashed and stolen ones, the few great Buddhas that could be put upright had their golden clothes stripped, leaving their bodies dusty grey and full of holes.
The temple’s gold and silver vessels and treasures were also plundered. Even the gold paint on the murals was not spared; the rebels gouged it, making the walls look moth-eaten.
The monks were all scattered, and the poor people that gathered there were just trying to avoid the rain and water. Most of them had nothing to eat. Under such circumstances, Li Yi didn’t dare to take out their food. Only in the dead of night, he and Ping An could secretly take a few bites. Anyway, they needed to survive the flood first.
Ten days later, the sun was so poisonous that the people couldn’t open their eyes, and the stagnant water in various parts of the capital began to recede. Most of the people who took refuge in the temple hadn’t moved yet, but Li Yi and Ping An were ready to leave.
For Li Yi, the place where the crowd gathered was very unsafe. Before, because of heavy rains and stagnant water, the city was in chaos and no one had time to take care of them. Now that the water had receded, such a large-scale gathering place would soon be visited by officials to register refugees. Li Yi didn’t want to be caught.
Before leaving, Li Yi climbed to the Scripture Pavilion of the temple. From here, he could see the whole city and it was clear at a glance where the stagnant water had receded. He silently jotted down three places in his mind, ready to decide on a hiding place after going out with Ping An.
When he left the temple and passed the main hall, Li Yi saw countless believers prostrated inside. The top of the hall collapsed and the sunlight fell through the opening onto the Great Buddha, giving the otherwise grey and dilapidated statue a glorious golden body.
The crowd gathered under the Buddha statue to thank him for the blessings they had received these days. Ping An leaned against the threshold and paid his respects. Li Yi also chanted in his heart, hoping that the Buddha would hear his prayers and bless him with a safe escape.
On the way to the hiding place, Li Yi’s expression became more solemn as he walked. Various animal corpses floated in the streets and alleys where the water had not subsided yet. There were cats and dogs and even more rats.
The places where the water receded were even more unbearable to look at, full of garbage and animal carcasses gathered in piles.
Li Yi was boiling in the heat as he walked, but his heart felt cold.
The capital was plunged into chaos, two times in a month. How many people died? Especially since the heavy rains started almost at once after the second breach of the city, some of the corpses were not buried in time, and some were buried but too shallow and were washed away by the rain. In addition, animal corpses were also in the water…
Li Yi didn’t dare to think about it anymore. The weather was too hot. He hoped there would be no plague. Or, even if there was an outbreak, it would not develop into a large-scale epidemic.
During the heavy rainstorm in the capital, the inner courtyard of the imperial palace was not affected by flooding. Only the palace garden and lower courtyards were submerged in water. When the sun came out again, the weather was too hot. After only seven days, the catalpa coffin of the deceased emperor was carried out of the capital.
The heat was not as pervasive in Chengen Temple, which was deep in the mountains outside the city, so it was chosen as the temporary resting place.
The most important reason was that the palace had already seen the signs of the epidemic. Su Wang, Zhao Yuan, made an immediate decision, bypassed the new emperor and the empress dowager and ordered the twelve supervisors of the Imperial City to keep a tight rein on the situation. Only then was the momentum suppressed.
When Zhao Yuan lived in the capital back then, because of the emperor’s grandson, he used to go in and out of the inner court all the time. He was much more familiar with the palace than anyone else in Southern Yunnan. The epidemic had just started, and he took all the major events in the palace under control. Many nobles and ministers were quite dissatisfied, but the safety of the new emperor and the empress dowager was much more important. If someone was unhappy about the regent, they had to wait for now.
The old servants who stayed in the palace saw that Su Wang was familiar with his way, so they couldn’t take advantage of him. Not only did they dare not hide anything from him, but they also reported everything to Su Wang in detail.
“Damn it, the twelve supervisors are close to kneeling down and calling for daddy!” Jing Wang who had been watching the situation for a few days couldn’t help but complain to his half-brothers.
“Now that he is the regent, what are we?” Ning Wang held his teacup, unconcerned.
“Who of us is not the emperor’s uncle? Who of us didn’t lead troops and achieve success?” Jing Wang couldn’t restrain his violent temper.
Ning Wang continued: “Second brother, I advise you to save your breath. How can we uncles compare with the emperor’s twin brother? All the battles that we have fought together are not as good as Old Fifth’s alone.”
These words not only did not calm Jing Wang’s anger, but also seemed to pour a splash of oil on it.
“Third brother, how can you praise the ambitions of others and destroy your own prestige?!”
The youngest Yan Wang watched his two elder brothers quarrel and tried to pacify them. “Second brother, third brother, don’t make so much noise. This time it was the epidemic that helped fifth brother. In this situation, it was also the will of gods that the entire Forbidden City fell into his hands. Moreover, I heard that there is an epidemic in the capital as well. It remains to be seen whether the situation can be saved and the epidemic can be quelled.”
Jing Wang was exalted when he heard that. The teacup slammed heavily on the table as he said, “If Zhao Yuan can’t suppress the plague in the capital, I will be the first to censure his regency!”
When Yan Wang and Ning Wang heard this, they didn’t make a sound; each one of them had their own agenda.
Sure enough, Zhao Yuan suppressed the outbreak in the Forbidden City, but could not suppress the situation in the capital. Within seven days after the rainstorm, the epidemic had fully erupted.
“Order from the Regent! From now on, the sources of infection are to be strictly isolated and all parts of the city are to be cleaned in the morning and evening to eliminate the epidemic. Officials at all levels must act in accordance with special orders, and violators will be severely punished!”
New decrees were delivered every day in the capital and surrounding prefectures and counties. During the emergency, Zhao Yuan summoned his own soldiers and sent them to various prefectures to supervise.
Lin Wenzhong glanced at the draft papers pinned on the cabinet. As an advisor of Su Wang, he had something he had to say.
“Your Royal Highness, General Yuchi has already beheaded three senior officials. No wonder the court is up in arms. Look, do you want him to ease up to avoid trouble?”
Zhao Yuan flipped through the memorials and draft papers casually and said with a smile that wasn’t a smile: “Before the executions, the epidemic spread five miles a day. After the first person was killed, there was no one who dared to conceal the news anymore. After killing the second person, the patients were strictly isolated and there was no neglect in cleaning. The third person was executed the day before yesterday and today it was reported that the epidemic has basically stopped spreading.
If you ask me, it was a good idea to let Yuchi Rui kill! If he comes back to avoid these impeachments, where will the people below go to avoid the plague?”
“But, Your Highness…” Lin Wenzhong stopped talking.
Zhao Yuan anticipated his words. “I know what you mean. The attack on Yuchi Rui in the court is just a cover. The person they really want to deal with is me. These people don’t look at the current situation. All of them, they only know how to fight for power!”
Zhao Yuan turned his head and waved his hand at the report sent by the Master of Ceremonies, pointed at the memorials and said, “Take them all down and ignore them.”
It meant to ignore everyone in court.
He remembered another thing and asked Lin Wenzhong, “How are the doctors from the Imperial Hospital and other clinics getting along?”
A few days ago he put all the doctors of the Imperial Hospital and all other medical schools in the capital under one roof and supervised them day by day as if they were an army.
Lin Wenzhong actually kept silent for a while.
“What, wasn’t the beating I gave them the other day enough?”
Zhao Yuan demanded the Imperial Hospital to divide the labour, clarify responsibilities, work in shifts, perform their duties and do everything according to the regulations, enforcing the strictest order.
At the beginning, most of the scholarly doctors were used to being undisciplined. There were some who couldn’t follow the rules; while some doctors from the Imperial Hospital liked bullying doctors from other clinics and didn’t want to cooperate sincerely. They were pulled out by Su Wang and beaten. The punishment was not heavy, just a few rods. Breaking skin didn’t prevent them from carrying out their duties, it was only their prestige that suffered. However, the effect was significant.
Lin Wenzhong thought for a while and said honestly: “It is indeed much more efficient now. It’s just that since then, when Su Wang is mentioned, they don’t even dare to refer to him by his title. They do this.”
He stretched out his right hand, his five fingers spread out.
Zhao Yuan really laughed this time. This Lin Wenzhong was so lively and his expression rich as he showed that the people below were so scared of him they only dared to identify him by a gesture meaning the word ‘five’.
People were afraid of him but Zhao Yuan didn’t care at all. If scaring the doctors could stop the plague immediately, then things would be easy.
What he cared about was that Li Yi was still missing, and he was afraid that even if he could escape one city breach, or two, he still wouldn’t be able to escape the plague.
The epidemic was in full swing in the city now. Every day Zhao Yuan looked from the palace at the dark smoke that surged into the sky from the corpses burning outside the city. He felt that his internal organs were also burning, from the bottom of his spleen and stomach up to his heart, day by day, until his insides were on fire.
He couldn’t look for Li Yi openly, he couldn’t make a fuss and let everyone in the court know that the person he was looking for was the abolished grandson of the past emperor. If someone knew, he wouldn’t be able to protect Li Yi even if he wanted to.
He needed to rush ahead of everyone, find him and hide him.
His people had already been to the slums. According to the descriptions, Li Yi had indeed stayed there, but after the army of Southern Yunnan entered the city, no one knew where he had gone.
In the middle of the night, someone knocked on the door four times. As soon as Zhao Yuan fell asleep, a secret report was sent in. Zhao Xi, the eunuch who had been serving him since he was a child, did not dare to hide it and gently woke him up.
“What’s the matter?”
“There is news on the young master.”
Zhao Yuan got up abruptly, put on his clothes and said, “Let him in.”
When Zhao Yuan had finished reading the secret report, he asked the messenger again, “Has no one seen him since Tianbao Temple?”
“Yes. This subordinate thinks that the young master should have found a secret hiding place, or that he doesn’t stay in one place for a long time like before, but keeps changing places.”
Zhao Yuan was silent for a moment and then said, “Let them keep an eye on all the clinics. If there are suspicious people seeking medical help, they must report to me first.”
He knew that Li Yi cherished his life. Although he wanted to avoid him, if his life was at stake, he would definitely seek to survive first. As he couldn’t find him, Zhao Yuan could only cross his fingers and wait.