Prince Yan looked somewhat flustered, realizing he had slipped up.
If Master Han knew that Senior Minister Xu was suspicious of him, he would undoubtedly feel unjust and uneasy.
Behind the kidnapping case, someone was trying to frame Han Jiao. Prince Yan was well aware of it and Han Jiao didn’t need to prove himself.
“It’s just that there’s another problem in the Ministry of Justice.” Prince Yan decided not to mention Senior Minister Xu but confessed to the false testimony from the Ministry of Justice. “They’re insisting that the three surviving kidnappers conspired with you and staged on a show for me.”
“Show?” Han Jiao was stunned by this response. “Why would I staged on a show with those people who nearly killed me? There should be some reason behind this attempt to tarnish my reputation, right?”
“Master, don’t get upset,” Prince Yan reassured. “I also find this testimony absurd, so I sent them off early in the morning. There’s no need to dwell on it.”
“But the way they put it, it must be orchestrated by someone. What’s the hidden agenda?” Han Jiao muttered to himself. “Since they claim I staged it with the kidnappers, are they trying to frame me for conspiring with the people behind the scenes in the Ministry of War? In that case, are they suggesting that I, along with those kidnappers, were all manipulated by Zhou Zhaokun?”
Unexpectedly, by just mentioning the results of the Ministry of Justice’s investigation, Han Jiao was able to deduce their intentions. Prince Yan quickly stopped him from thinking further, “This Zhou person wants to muddy the waters. Master, you can simply brush it off. There’s no need to worry.”
“But…” Han Jiao furrowed his brow and continued to speculate, “Investigating the murder case on behalf of Your Highness is like tearing a rift with Zhou Zhaokun. He would like nothing more than to see me in a world of trouble. So why would he falsely accuse me of being his accomplice?”
“Zhou Zhaokun is just a cunning troublemaker.”
“Has the kidnapping case been resolved? So, is the case fixed on me conspiring with the kidnappers? If that’s the case, why hasn’t anyone come to arrest me?”
Prince Yan laughed. “These scoundrels only dare to provide this false testimony behind the scenes. Officially, the case is about convicting those who kidnapped a court official, which incurs an additional crime due to implicating my Ninth Brother. Furthermore, the Ministry of Justice has also interrogated the official who incited the kidnappers, but that criminal refused to admit involvement with others, so the case ultimately stops with him.”
“The Ministry of Justice’s false testimony?” Han Jiao pinpointed the key issue, “Who brought this false testimony to Your Highness?”
Prince Yan was genuinely surprised by Han Jiao’s sharpness. Even after leading the conversation in such a roundabout way, Han Jiao could still get to the heart of the matter.
Digging so deep, Han Jiao would surely guess that Senior Minister Xu was suspecting him.
“It was my dim-witted Eldest Brother,” Prince Yan sighed, “He doesn’t understand your capabilities and doubted that you could solve such a big case in just three days. So when the Ministry of Justice presented this nonsense, he believed it and came all the way to warn me, only to be scolded by me and sent back.”
“The Eldest Prince?” Though he had suspected it all along, Han Jiao feigned surprise and subtly cautioned Prince Yan, “I’ve heard rumors in the court that the Eldest Prince doesn’t belong to any faction.”
“It’s all for appearances,” Prince Yan chuckled, “My Eldest Brother left the palace early and had limited interactions with us, but every time he came to pay respects to my Mother Empress, he would bring some trinkets from the market for me. He has always cared for me.”
“Oh…” Han Jiao cursed inwardly.
Prince Yan, a straightforward and honest boy, was genuinely sincere in his dealings with that fickle eldest brother.
Trying to advise Prince Yan to be cautious of the Eldest Prince directly would surely be met with resistance given their strong brotherly bond.
After a brief pause, Han Jiao subtly inquired, “Does the Eldest Prince usually visit your residence freely like he did today?”
“He usually sends eunuchs to invite me for discussions at a tavern,” Prince Yan explained.
“If he has this level of interaction, why do others believe the Eldest Prince doesn’t have a faction? Does he have similar interactions with the Second Prince?”
“Yes,” Prince Yan nodded, “Eldest Brother openly maintains a friendly relationship with the Second Prince and has gathered information for me.”
Han Jiao locked eyes with Prince Yan, “Is it possible that the Second Prince is completely unaware of the relationship between the Eldest Prince and Your Highness?”
“The Second Prince thinks that Eldest Brother, like Ninth Brother, considers all of us as good brothers and doesn’t engage in political disputes.”
Han Jiao was tempted to knock some sense into Prince Yan.
Somehow, he had equated that fickle Eldest Prince with the big boss.
This was the worst situation the big boss had ever been in!
Xie Duo’s primary reason for not getting involved in factional politics was that he currently had no desire for power.
From the moment of his birth, the representative of power in Great Chu—the Emperor—had always watched over Xie Duo. This had made Xie Duo felt that the world was in perfect harmony, and connections and influence were unnecessary.
In stark contrast, the Eldest Prince’s life has been quite the opposite. As the firstborn son, his mother was elevated from a Concubine to a Consort. Once, they enjoyed a time of great prominence.
However, with the continuous birth of younger brothers, the Eldest Prince’s radiance dimmed bit by bit. He was the most unwilling “fallen star” among all the Princes, striving to regain his former status with all his might.
Therefore, the Eldest Prince held tightly to what he had and was unwilling to let go, with the aim of using others’ influence to secure his own position.
Xie Duo, on the other hand, believed he was the source of his own strength. His friendly gestures toward others were always about offering a helping hand, never an attempt to align with whoever held power.
Prince Yan, surprisingly, couldn’t distinguish between these two starkly contrasting individuals.
“What’s wrong, Master?” Prince Yan faintly sensed that Han Jiao’s mood was off and hurried to reassure him, “I didn’t tell you initially because I was afraid it would make you uneasy. I’ve already promised you, and I understand your character. Why bother with these trivial matters?”
“How well does Your Highness know me?” Han Jiao looked at him seriously. “And how well do you understand the people around you? Sometimes, excessive trust in others can invite disaster.”
Prince Yan was surprised. “Of course, I understand you. If it weren’t for what you said in the carriage, I would have had doubts, but now, our minds are in sync. I won’t entertain any suspicions!”
“My loyalty to Your Highness needs no further words.” Han Jiao couldn’t directly remind Prince Yan to be cautious of the Eldest Prince, so he had to be subtle. “Your Highness’ upright character and your trust in me as a confidant are clear. Presumably, it’s the same with the Eldest Prince. But what about the Second Prince? I’ve heard he’s cautious and suspicious, extremely wary of outsiders. Has he never had even the slightest doubt that the Eldest Prince might be on your side? If the Second Prince harbors any suspicion, can the Eldest Prince really gather reliable information from him? Your Highness, please consider, can these messages be trusted?”
Prince Yan’s expression changed. He lowered his gaze, deep in thought.
Han Jiao fell silent, giving him ample time to sort through this matter.
“No wonder my Eldest Brother has been causing trouble for you recently!” Prince Yan couldn’t contain his anger. “So, it was the Second Prince intentionally deceiving my Eldest Brother and trying to sow discord!”
Han Jiao: “……”
This guy really trusted the Eldest Prince quite a bit.
“Lately, I’ve been thinking…” Han Jiao wasn’t satisfied and wanted to expose the Eldest Prince’s true intentions.
Prince Yan was visibly restless at this moment, not waiting for Han Jiao to speak. He raised his hand and said, “Wait. I need to write a letter to my Eldest Brother right away, warning him to be cautious of the Second Prince!”
“Your Highness, you mustn’t!” Han Jiao hastily stood up to stop him.
“The Eldest Prince… I believe…” Han Jiao was so desperate that he wanted to shake Prince Yan, but he couldn’t speak directly. It would be like alerting the prey!
Judging by this ironheaded guy’s level of concern for the Eldest Prince, speaking harshly would likely drive a wedge between Prince Yan and Han Jiao.
Wait until concrete evidence is found before Prince Yan can make the right judgment.
At this juncture, it wasn’t the right moment to wager on whether Prince Yan would rescue Han Jiao or the Eldest Prince. They might both be left out to dry.
“What’s wrong, Master?”
“I hope Your Highness remains calm,” Han Jiao regained his composure, sitting back at the low table. “From the current perspective, it seems the Eldest Prince is impulsive. If he were to suddenly learn the truth, his attitude would inevitably change dramatically, and he wouldn’t be able to hide it. So, I think it might be wiser to use the Second Prince’s strategy of sowing discord to counter him—pretend that you and I have fallen out, so that I can observe what the Second Prince’s next move will be and what his true intentions are.”
Prince Yan’s eyes brightened. “Brilliant! Master, you’re brilliant! Why didn’t I think of that?”
Han Jiao was at a loss for words.
Helping the main protagonist resolve the case of wrongful execution for personal gain was a double-edged sword. Prince Yan, so straightforward and upright, how could he compete with Senior Minister Li?
Senior Minister Li was quite a cunning character.
Han Jiao considered himself reasonably intelligent, but he also had self-awareness. When it came to academics or technical matters, Senior Minister Li was not his match. However, in terms of political experience, Han Jiao felt he was far behind.
It was essential to take the initiative using the original plot to have a chance of success. So, refraining from action for now was the best strategy. Otherwise, if the rhythm was disrupted, and Senior Minister Li adapted, Han Jiao would find it difficult to counter his moves.
Prince Yan, on the other hand, showed no signs of worry and admired Han Jiao’s strategy.
The following afternoon, all the junior scholar-officials at Hanlin Academy were eagerly waiting for Han Jiao, expecting him to lead them to appear before the Ninth Prince.
“Xiaobai, it’s getting late. We should prepare and head to the cuju field at Nansan Hall to wait,” someone couldn’t hold back their impatience.
“It’s not even noon yet. His Highness said ‘the hour of the Horse,’ so we’ll go a quarter of an hour early.”
“How can that be!” A comrade in the front row was anxious. “Xiaobai, you might be a bit arrogant in front of us, but Prince Ling isn’t a forgiving master!”
Han Jiao sighed.
These aspiring officials were quite pitiable. They couldn’t bear to wait a couple of hours early for their lord.
No wonder the officials of Great Chu had to set out an hour early for the morning court. It was indeed a trial, unable to move even if their legs had gone numb, with Censors closely monitoring the proceedings.
Once there was a diligent Emperor who held morning court at 5 AM, while the courtiers gathered outside the Meridian Gate at 3 AM, waiting.
Han Jiao’s father was someone who disappeared before dawn every day, so naturally, Han Jiao had to rise even earlier. It was almost like swallowing his tears.
When considering this, having an Emperor like the big boss, who enjoyed being lazy, seemed somewhat comfortable. Given Prince Yan’s personality, he’d probably become a workaholic appearing at 5 AM every day.
Unable to resist his colleagues’ urging, Han Jiao had no choice but to lead everyone to the cuju field east of Nansan Hall ahead of time.
The gates of the cuju field were tightly closed, with no eunuch waiting around.
He knew it. The big boss wasn’t the kind to arrive early for an appointment.
Han Jiao turned to the others and shrugged. “His Highness said he’d come at ‘the hour of the Horse.’ Shall we wait here or head back to Hanlin Academy for now?”
“Of course, we’ll wait here!” A group of junior scholar-officials didn’t understand what was going through this child prodigy’s mind. Waiting for Prince Ling was a dignified affair, and it would be quite uncomfortable to return.
Half an hour later.
The chimes for the appointed hour had rung quite a while ago, and Han Jiao was starting to blush.
Astonishingly, the big boss still hadn’t arrived.
Han Jiao felt embarrassed to turn around and look at the colleagues he had brought along.
Meanwhile, the junior scholar-officials behind him still eagerly craned their necks, not a bit disheartened.
Two quarters passed.
Han Jiao forced himself to turn around and apologetically said, “I apologize for keeping you all waiting.”
Seeing Han Jiao’s embarrassment, someone voiced their doubt, “Did His Highness really agree to come watch you practice cuju?”
“You’re not pulling our legs, are you?”
“It’s true,” Han Jiao quickly explained, raising his voice, “Why would I joke about this? His Highness clearly promised to meet at ‘the hour of the Horse,’ but for some reason, he’s absent. How about we disperse for today?”
“Who said this Prince is absent?”
Suddenly, the big boss’ displeased voice came from beside them.
Everyone simultaneously turned their heads to pay their respects to Prince Ling.
Han Jiao quickly turned around to warmly welcome the big boss, “I’ve been waiting for Your Highness for a while!”
Xie Duo walked up to the little child prodigy and spoke in a serious tone, “It’s now the hour of the Dog so if you’re in a hurry, you can attend to your official duties first. I’ll stay here and wait without any issue.”
Oops, this child prodigy had put his foot in his mouth and irritated the Ninth Prince!
Han Jiao: “……”
Two quarters late was indeed quite late, and yet, the big boss had the audacity to be irritable.
Annoyed, but still smiling, Han Jiao said, “I’ve heard that Your Highness is usually punctual. Perhaps today, some trivial matters delayed you?”
This Han fellow was really pushing his luck. He dared to question the Ninth Prince!
Xie Duo’s gaze flickered. He hadn’t expected Han Jiao to question him about his lateness. After a pause, he chuckled lightly and nodded. “You’re correct. My Mother Empress summoned me into her palace for a conversation suddenly, which delayed me for an hour. My apologies for keeping you waiting, Master.”
“Oh, I see,” Han Jiao said, suddenly enlightened.
“Unforgivable,” Xie Duo placed a hand on the child prodigy’s shoulder, passionately declaring, “Come, I’ll take you to confront my Mother Empress.”
“No, no… Your Highness, let’s forget about it!” Han Jiao hastily protested in surprise.
However, the big boss’ strength was too much. Despite Han Jiao’s efforts to resist, he was still pushed in the direction of Kunning Palace, making him squat down on the ground in fear.
Seeing the little child prodigy curled up on the ground, Xie Duo found it highly amusing.
Han Jiao realized he had been teased, so he quickly stood up, squared his shoulders, and used his eyes to express his displeasure to the big boss.
Junior scholar-officials: “……”
How could this Han fellow be so audacious, and why was the Ninth Prince laughing instead of getting angry?
How did Han Jiao manage this!
They’re so childish but I’m so loving it!
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