Elder Lin was indeed reliable. On the second day, Han Jiao received an invitation sent by a young eunuch from the Prince Yan’s mansion.
“Will Prince Yan truly show us mercy?” Mrs. Han sat in the reception hall with her youngest son, holding the invitation in her hands, her face filled with worry.
Han Jiao looked at his mother and found it hard to offer words of comfort.
How could one expect mercy or conscience from those in power?
If Han Jiao, who was poor and destitute, wanted to seek protection from the powerful, he would have to offer something of equal value in return. Now, the only thing he had to offer was his talent.
The saying goes, “The wise ruler acts according to the times, using extraordinary strategies and exceptional wisdom to ensure safety in danger and survival in times of peril.” Han Jiao had already come up with a brilliant plan, but he wasn’t entirely certain if it would turn the Prince’s situation around. Nonetheless, he had to pretend to be fully confident.
Seeing her son remain silent, Mrs. Han became even more anxious. She held her youngest son and walked over to Han Jiao. “As a woman of the household, it’s not appropriate for me to appear in public. How about taking your little brother with you to the Prince Yan’s mansion? When Prince Yan sees you two good boys, he will surely feel compassion.”
Han Jiao looked at his innocent mother and suddenly smiled, but he also felt a tinge of bitterness in his heart.
He smiled because his mother was so naive and lovely, but the bitterness came from realizing that her nature was shaped over the years by his doting father.
When it came to his mother, his father always found it easy to soften his heart and yield. Whenever she put on a pitiful and suffering demeanor, his father would feel immense self-blame, leading him to abandon his principles and allow his brother-in-law to exploit his reputation as a background force in the official circles.
Now that his father, the pillar of the household, had fallen, their mother’s gentle innocence was no longer a weapon to control him. It had become genuine vulnerability.
Han Jiao stood up, took his little brother from his mother’s arms, and said gently, “You rest in your room, and let A’Mo keep you company while waiting for my good news.”
Mrs. Han anxiously suggested, “Take your little brother with you. He’s such an adorable and interesting child. His Highness will surely like him.”
Han Jiao smiled wryly. “Prince Yan has seen children before.”
Mrs. Han was momentarily at a loss for words. She looked at the little boy in Han Jiao’s arms, trying to find some unique advantages in him compared to other children.
Little A’Mo seemed to sense his mother’s expectations and became a bit nervous. With his chubby face, he turned to look at his big brother and hesitated for a moment before nervously offering, “A’Mo can do magic tricks!”
Mrs. Han immediately felt delighted, “Yes! A’Mo can perform a trick for Prince Yan! Let him see this adorable and cherished boy. Can Prince Yan bear to see him as a fatherless child?”
Han Jiao was amused by this mother and son, but his smile was tinged with deep sorrow.
He tightly embraced the chubby little boy in his arms, gently rubbing his soft hair. Reluctantly, he returned his brother to their mother’s embrace. “Wait here, I promise to bring father back.”
In the late afternoon, a familiar figure appeared at the gates of the Prince Yan’s mansion — dressed in a plain white robe with a straight posture.
“It’s that kid!” A guard in the back quickly reminded the Chief Guard, “That’s Han Jiao, the one Master Li wants.”
“Seize him!” The Chief Guard gave the order.
Han Jiao was exasperated by these guards. Before he could even speak, they were already moving to apprehend him. He couldn’t bear it any longer and shouted, “I am here at Prince Yan’s invitation. What are you all doing?”
The Chief Guard snorted coldly, “Oh, now it’s not a request for an audience, but an invitation? Master Li did invite you, huh? Then come inside!”
“Who is Master Li?” Han Jiao broke free from the guards on either side, his eyes filled with anger. “I have the Prince Yan’s invitation right here, in my sleeve!”
The guards hesitated and looked up at the Chief Guard standing on the steps.
The Chief Guard sneered and raised his chin, motioning to check and search. Unexpectedly, they found a genuine golden invitation that didn’t appear to be forged.
The Chief Guard’s face changed, hastily examining the authenticity of the invitation. The young man spoke coldly, “Have you seen clearly now? I came here at Prince Yan’s invitation to pay a visit. Is this how your mansion’s guards treat guests?”
The Chief Guard quickly ordered the two guards to release Han Jiao and stepped forward with a conciliatory smile, “I apologize for the offense! I apologize for the offense! Master Han, please come inside!”
Han Jiao was escorted by the guards into the outer courtyard, and then a eunuch guided him into the inner courtyard.
Passing through numerous garden corridors, they arrived at the flower hall in the western courtyard. The eunuch asked him to take a seat and served him tea, instructing him to wait there.
Han Jiao had intended to silently rehearse the prepared speech a few times. However, his nerves were too tense, and he began to imagine how Prince Yan, the legitimate male protagonist, looked and what his personality might be like.
By calculation, Prince Yan was nineteen years old this year, an age between boyhood and adulthood.
After all, Han Jiao had seen Prince Yan’s younger brother, Xie Duo, who shared the same parents. Xie Duo possessed exceptional looks. Even if Prince Yan’s appearance was discounted by fifty percent, it would still be enough to meet the standard for a male lead’s looks.
He wondered why, at such a nerve-wracking moment, he was concerned about Prince Yan’s appearance. Han Jiao realized that subconsciously, he hoped that Prince Yan would bear some resemblance to Xie Duo, as it would provide him with a sense of security.
What a strange thought this was.
Why did a weird big boss give people a sense of security?
Was he developing Stockholm syndrome due to the intimidation of the big boss?
With such conflicting and peculiar thoughts, he waited for a long time until finally a eunuch came to escort him to the guest hall.
The moment he stepped across the threshold, Han Jiao felt an exhilarating sense that his destiny was about to unfold.
The hall was excessively quiet, so quiet that he had to use the sound of his footsteps to cover up the sound of his heartbeat.
In the western corner of the reception hall, heavy curtains were drawn to both sides, revealing a redwood writing desk at the center. In front of the desk stood a man dressed in blue robes, his figure tall and slender, facing away.
This was Prince Yan. His height was similar to Xie Duo’s, but being three years older, his waist and back appear to be more muscular.
The eunuch reported, “Your Highness, Master Han has arrived.”
Prince Yan didn’t turn around. He simply raised his hand, signaling the eunuch to leave.
Han Jiao noticed that Prince Yan was looking down, seemingly examining something in his hand. On the table beside him was a thick stack of documents. Han Jiao quickly glanced at the text on the top page, guessing it must be confessions from criminals.
The case of killing innocent people for personal gain.
Indeed, Prince Yan was troubled by this case.
In the center of the quiet hall, the three-legged brass plum blossom incense burner emitted an unknown fragrance, leaving a subtle scent lingering in the air.
Apart from the two maids standing on either side of the curtains, there were only Han Jiao and Prince Yan in the room.
This attitude was not right. Since he was here to meet a guest, how could he simply ignore the guest and finish reading the documents first? Prince Yan in the novel was not such an arrogant person.
Would Prince Yan blame him for his younger brother’s copied essay and take his anger out on him?
Han Jiao felt anxious inside, but his demeanor grew even colder and more arrogant on the surface.
He was here to seek audience with Prince Yan as a strategist. Han Jiao was a year younger than Prince Yan, which already weakened his persuasiveness. If he appeared humble and timid, Prince Yan might completely look down on him.
He would rather risk being impolite than reveal any signs of inexperience. Han Jiao made up his mind and mustered the courage to interrupt Prince Yan while he was reading the documents. He nodded slightly and performed a bow. “Hanlin Academy’s Han Jiao pays respects to Prince Yan.”
Prince Yan hadn’t expected this young man to dare interrupt him while reading. In the first exchange, the young man managed to gain the upper hand in momentum. Prince Yan gave a cold smile, put the documents back on the table, turned around, and looked sternly at the young man behind him.
Han Jiao remained calm and met Prince Yan’s gaze, but in his heart, he was taken aback.
It wasn’t because he was intimidated by Prince Yan’s aura, but rather… why did this guy look nothing like Xie Duo?
Their height seemed to be similar. Both were around 185 centimeters tall, with Prince Yan being slightly taller. Xie Duo had just turned sixteen this year, so he might grow a bit taller in the next two years. Their body proportions were quite similar, with broad shoulders, narrow waists, and long legs, but their appearances were different.
Upon closer examination, both Prince Yan and Xie Duo had regal features with high noses and deep-set eyes, showing traces of royalty. However, their facial styles were quite distinct. Xie Duo had the delicate and charming look of a refined manhua-style youth, while Prince Yan had a rugged and sharp style of a tough man.
No wonder their die-hard fan base had different genders. The male protagonist truly embodied the perfect tough-guy vibes in the eyes of male otaku, which perfectly aligned with Han Jiao’s aesthetic standards.
“Why do you wish to meet with this Prince?” Prince Yan’s cold and stern gaze carried a hint of mockery. “It should be this Prince visiting you in person.”
Han Jiao was taken aback.
Why did Prince Yan say that? Han Jiao nodded in response. “Your Highness jokes. I dare not presume such an honor.”
“You dare not? When have you ever not dared to presume an honor?” Prince Yan sneered. “During the birthday banquet of the Minister of Rites, weren’t you waiting in the courtyard for the influential figures to approach you?”
Han Jiao calmly looked at Prince Yan, not understanding what this weird male protagonist was trying to convey.
Holding a grudge, Prince Yan spread his arms and smiled at Han Jiao. “You see, in your eyes, can this Prince be counted as an influential figure?”
Han Jiao: “……”
What’s wrong with this male protagonist? Can’t he speak like a normal person?
Prince Yan sensed the bewilderment in Han Jiao’s eyes and grew even more irritated.
This brat actually dared to completely forget about him!
With this situation, seeking revenge became inconvenient. After all, the incident that night didn’t even register in this little scholar’s mind. If Prince Yan were to bring it up, it would make him seem petty and narrow-minded. He could only swallow his pride and mock coldly, “Master Yang mentioned you have a plan to offer to this Prince?”
“Replying to Your Highness, Master Yang misunderstood. I didn’t say it was a plan.”
Prince Yan chuckled inwardly. This rascal actually knew what stage fright was. When facing him, he didn’t dare to show off anymore. With a light smile, he casually said, “Whether it’s a plan or an idea, just tell me briefly.”
“It’s neither a plan nor an idea. To be precise, what I want to offer is a brilliant strategy.”
“Ah?” Prince Yan was caught off guard.
The confusion from their first meeting replayed once more. He never expected this young man to successfully disrupt his rhythm again. His thought process was lightning fast, surpassing his own, taking control of the situation.
“This brilliant strategy concerns the case of wrongful execution for personal gain.” Han Jiao once again took the lead, leaving Prince Yan unable to keep up.
Prince Yan was stunned for a while before regaining his composure. “How do you know about this sensitive case?”
“My father serves in the Grand Court of Judicial Review and is involved in the trial of this case.”
“So, your father leaked state secrets to you?”
“No, I came across the case files and interrogation records accidentally in my father’s study.”
Prince Yan laughed. “Well, it seems you have stolen state secrets and come to confess to this Prince?”
Han Jiao showed no fear and answered calmly, “In the interrogation record, that criminal had the audacity to implicate Your Highness! As the ruler worries, the subjects suffer humiliation. If the ruler is humiliated, the subjects die. I cannot sit idly by while Zhao Liang spews false accusations and lets the heir of Great Chu suffer unjustly. Thus, risking my life, I offer this brilliant strategy in the hope of clearing Your Highness of any wrongful accusations. Once I bring that traitorous Zhao Liang to justice, I shall also bear the charge of stealing state secrets.”
Once again, Prince Yan was taken aback by this Hanlin Academy scholar who was younger than himself. When he snapped to his senses, he couldn’t help but feel some admiration.
This young man was arrogant, no doubt, but he had an astute grasp of crucial matters.
Every word Han Jiao spoke directly addressed the core issues, demonstrating his understanding of the importance and urgency of the situation. Moreover, he spoke with a sense of responsibility. Faced with Prince Yan’s questioning, he didn’t hastily defend himself but prioritized Prince Yan’s concerns, which touched Prince Yan a little.
Though Prince Yan felt somewhat dissatisfied with this young man, he also displayed some sincerity at the moment and carefully sized up Han Jiao.
“Do you have a way to clear the connection between me and that Zhao Liang?”
Han Jiao nodded. “Firstly, I request Your Highness to summon all the records of military expenses and distributions for the past five years at the Liaodong border. Allow me to examine them.”
Prince Yan’s hope, which had just surfaced, dimmed again. “Why do you need those records? Do you intend to use embezzlement charges against Zhao Liang? Someone already suggested this strategy before you. I am reluctant to suppress such a crazy and heinous crime committed by Zhao Liang, that’s why I have been hesitant to change the charges.”
Han Jiao remained composed. “Your Highness misunderstood. By scrutinizing the accounts, I aim to expose Zhao Liang’s crimes while clearing Your Highness of any involvement.”
“Oh?” Prince Yan looked surprised at Han Jiao. “How do you intend to investigate? I can have a group of accountants handle the records for you.”
“Absolutely not,” Han Jiao replied, “It involves sensitive matters. I earnestly request Your Highness to secretly provide the records and let me handle the investigation alone.”
Prince Yan laughed. “You, an apprentice from the Hanlin Academy, want to deal with bookkeeping? You’re not cut out for such tedious work.”
Han Jiao met Prince Yan’s gaze calmly, a hint of audaciousness creeping up on his lips.
Prince Yan: “……”
Is this rascal trying to show off?
He’s still exceedingly arrogant.
Having been a child prodigy for so long, he probably thinks he’s invincible?
Fine, let him carry this burden for once. Even if he was crushed under the pressure, it’d help this little child prodigy grow some sense!
“You want to independently verify five years’ worth of military expenses?” Prince Yan gave him one last chance to back down. “Have you thought it through? Do you understand the consequences of failure?”
“If I fail to clear Your Highness of any implication, I shall accept punishment for acquiring state secrets and be exiled to a remote and dangerous place.” Han Jiao’s heart remained steady. As long as Prince Yan agreed to provide the records, everything would be fine.
Who said apprentices of Hanlin Academy couldn’t do bookkeeping?
History and literature were just elective subjects for Han Jiao. He wanted the male protagonist to experience what a true data wizard could do.
Prince Yan couldn’t comprehend where this young man’s confidence came from.
Han Jiao’s self-assured smile made it hard not to believe that he truly had the ability.
Prince Yan composed himself and said seriously, “Alright, before tomorrow evening, I’ll have someone send you the records.”
“I will not disappoint Your Highness’ trust.”
Prince Yan nodded, encouragingly saying, “I read the strategy you wrote for A’Duo yesterday. You do have genuine talent and learning.”
Han Jiao humbly replied, “Your Highness flatters me. That strategy was just something I wrote casually.”
Prince Yan: “……”