First Arc ー Chapter 3 (Part 5): Battle Begins
“Chenyu is just a woman and doesn’t know how to speak any major principles. It’s just that when I saw something a while ago, I was very inspired. I’ll now say it out and share it with Empress.” She changed to another tone and said slowly, “Once when Chenyu passed by the kitchens, I saw the female cook frying fish. When the living eels were thrown into the boiling pan of oil, all of them hardly struggled a few times before they died except for only one which desperately bent its body upwards and still didn’t after a long time. The female cook felt that it was very strange. She fished it up and cut open its abdomen to take a look. It turned out that the inside of the eel’s abdomen contained seeds. It had attempted to protect its own children, that’s why it had desperately put up a last-ditch struggle on its deathbed like that.”
Xue Ming shut her eyes as her chest undulated.
Jiang Chenyu gazed at her intently and enunciated every word very slowly, “Empress, even the fish still knows how to seek for survival for its seeds, let alone a human? You, really no longer have any wish at all?”
Xue Ming’s lips trembled. Finally, she slowly opened her eyes and her tears streamed down. She reached out her trembling hand and gripped Zhao Luan’s arms. “Ah Luan……”
“Cousin Elder Sister, I’m here!”
“Our Xue Family is steep in sins and it’s unregrettable for us to die all except Xue Cai who’s seven years old. All those vile matters which harm others have nothing to do with him. But since His Majesty has already taken actions against the Xue Family, he is bound to stamp them out by pulling up the roots when cutting the weed and will absolutely be unwilling to only spare him. Right now, I can only ask you for help……”
Zhao Luan’s face turned ghastly pale. She said in a quivering voice, “I…I…I……I also don’t want Little Xue Cai to die, but my…my……Imperial Elder Brother, he won’t listen to me……”
“I implore you to go beg the Empress Dowager, beg the Empress Dowager to spare Xue Cai’s life on the account that our Xue Family had contributed hard work even if we didn’t perform meritorious deeds in protecting the territory! As Xue Ming said, she bent her waist to kneel down and kowtowed on the ground with a clear ‘thud’ sound.
Zhao Luan was nonplussed as she said, “I promise you. I promise you that I’ll definitely go beg the Empress Dowager! No matter what the outcome is, these words, I will definitely bring them before the Empress Dowager for you!”
Xue Ming clutched her hand tightly and lowered her voice as she said every single word, “In this case, I’ll thank you on the behalf of all the Xue Family’s 137 members!”
At the side, Jiang Chenyu looked on at this scene and stood quietly without any expression.
After returning to Jia Ning Palace, Zhao Luan went back first. Jiang Huayue dismissed all the palace servants and only left Chenyu. After staring at her for a very long time, she finally stamped her feet and said, “My grandaunt* and little devil**, do you actually know what you have done?”
*T/n: I’ll try to make it brief. The grandaunt is the one who can act in the most unrestrained manner, so when referring to someone as ‘grandaunt’, there is a sense of helplessness and fear of what the person is going to do.
**T/n: May be used when parents or other seniors reproach a child for being mischievous
Jiang Chenyu said indifferently, “I know. I’m very clear about what I am doing.”
“You’re clear? From what I see, you’re insane! You first not only took the liberty of letting Zhao Luan go see Xue Ming, you even pulled me along to see her together. After that, you instigated Xue Ming to ask for help from Zhao Luan and keep Xue Cai’s life. I reckon that Zhao Luan will think of a way to go beg the Empress Dowager these few days. If this matter disturbs the Empress Dowager, then it will really get out of hand. I don’t know whether we can preserve Xue Cai in the end, but I know that when His Majesty knows about it, he will definitely be furious! You have harmed me big time. Younger Sister, you have really harmed me big time this round!”
“Elder Sister, don’t be impatient……”
Jiang Huayue said anxiously, “How can I not be impatient? What’s with you? The person who is usually least willing to tread on muddy water is you. How come you’re taking so much initiative today and insisting on taking on this matter to yourself?”
Jiang Chenyu sighed lightly and lowered her voice to say, “Maybe it’s only because I know that we are helpless and have no command over ourselves when we’re already immersed in the situation. If we don’t resist, we’re certain to die.”
Seeing that what she said was terrifying, Jiang Huayue was stupefied. “What are you saying?”
“Among Nation* Bi’s four great aristocratic families, the Wang Clan is already exterminated and right now it’s the Xue Clan’s turn. The ones remaining are the two families, Jiang and Ji. Could it be that Elder Sister really thinks that we will coexist and share prosperity?” Jiang Chenyu laughed in ridicule but did not know who she was laughing at. “Even if the Jiang Family is willing, the Ji Family may also not necessarily be willing; Even if both the Jiang and Ji Families are willing, His Majesty also won’t be willing……”
*T/n: I’ll most probably just use ‘Nation’ in the future
The more Jiang Huayue listened, the more apprehensive she was. She was frightened as she said, “Younger Sister, your meaning is?”
“All along, there has been a subtle equilibrium between three great aristocratic families, Xue, Ji and Jiang as well as His Majesty. This equilibrium restricts every single person in the situation, therefore forming the placidness on the surface while right now, His Majesty is determined on breaking this equilibrium and eliminating the Xue Family. This way, Nation Bi’s power will certainly be reorganized once again and after the reorganization this time, does Elder Sister think that our Jiang Family which has always not been that committed to His Majesty and pays particular attention to playing safe, will still have a possibility of finding our foothold?”
Jiang Huayue shivered and could no longer say any words out.
“That is why, if we want the Jiang Family to be alright, then the Xue Family cannot be gone and to leave the Xue Family a way out, the target is not Xue Ming, but Xue Cai.” Jiang Chenyu inhaled deeply and analyzed, “Xue Ming is already deposed. She’s alone in the cold palace and is hard to have any accomplishments but Xue Cai is different. He is still young and still has countless possibilities. On top of that, his innate gifts, talent as well as the firm foundation of the Xue Family’s connections, all these are his capital to stage a comeback some other day in the future. This child, we definitely must think of a way to save him!”
Jiang Huayue looked at her own younger sister blankly and suddenly felt that she had become very unfamiliar. Even if her facial features were still that familiar appearance, what emitted from her was instead a frightful and imposing aura that she had never realized before.
Since when had she become like this?
And what was it that caused her to change?
“How can we save him?” Jiang Huayue said in a quivering voice, “Even if the Empress Dowager knows about it and speaks to His Majesty to plead with him, just based on that temper of His Majesty, he may not necessarily do her this favor. You have to know that His Majesty is after all not the Empress Dowager’s biological son. Him providing for her is just for show……”
Jiang Chenyu’s limpid glance drifted to her and was extremely bright and also sharp. “The Empress Dowager naturally won’t work but how come Elder Sister has forgotten that there is a person’s words which His Majesty will absolutely listen to.”
That’s right. Within the whole court of civic and military officials right now, if one were to really say who truly has the power to awe the Emperor and truly able to Xue Cai, there was only one person ー Marquis Qi Ao, Ji Ying.
That night, Jiang Chenyu returned home to tell her Father and Elder Brother about this matter. Jiang Xiaocheng gaped with his eyes wide open and said in surprise, “What did you say? You and Huayue accompanied Princess to go to Qian Xi Palace to visit Xue Ming and also promised her to help her save Xue Cai?”
Jiang Chenyu nodded her head. Jiang Xiaocheng almost jumped up. His first reaction was, “Are you insane? You obviously know that His Majesty has shown clearly that he wants to eradicate the Xue Family from the roots and you still dare to go snatch someone under the tiger’s claws? You dislike that your life is not long enough?”
Compared to his agitation, the astute and circumspect Jiang Zhong was instead much calmer and muttered, “In the Xue clan, although Xue Huai is a divine general, he is aged after all; Although Xue Ming is the Empress, she has already been deposed; Although Xue Hong is proficient in warfare, he is a foster son……it is true that only remains Xue Cai. However, his age is too young, it’s hard to say how his accomplishments will be like in the future. Why do you insist on preserving the bloodline of the Xue Clan?”
Jiang Chenyu raised her head and distinctly said the words straightforwardly, “Establish an enemy.”
“Establish whose enemy?”
“The Jiang Family, the Ji Family as well as……His Majesty.”
Realization suddenly dawned on Jiang Zhong. “So it’s actually like that……You plan to use the Xue Family to restrict the Ji Family and not let them continue to grow stronger?”
“I’ll say it like this. Among the three great aristocratic families, once the Xue Family is no more, the two families, Jiang and Ji remain. Regardless from which perspective, our Jiang Family is no match for the Ji Family while not only does His Majesty not trust us, he is also not on close terms with us. Waning is just a matter of time. However, although His Majesty relies heavily on the Ji Clan, with the lesson of the predecessor from the Xue Family’s example of being powerful and pushing the ruler around, he surely won’t let them grow stronger. Therefore, looking at it from this point, we are actually the same as His Majesty. Both of us need an opportunity to restrict the Ji Family. Let me ask, is there any better opportunity other than the orphan of the Xue Clan?”
This time, even Jiang Xiaocheng understood. His eyes started to shine but he still said with some bafflement, “Xue Cai is still a child at his early childhood. What accomplishments can he have? He is able to restrict Ji Ying? I don’t believe.”
Jiang Chenyu smiled faintly. “Then what if His Majesty bestows Xue Cai to Ji Ying?
Jiang Xiaocheng was stupefied for a moment. Afterwards, he leapt up and said, “How is that possible?”
“Why is that not possible? If His Majesty can’t kill Xue Cai, then for him, which place other than by Marquis Qi Ao’s side can be safer yet also more dangerous? Him bestowing Xue Cai to Ji Ying is because he trusts Ji Ying. That’s why he hands the greatest scourge in his heart to his most trusted official, trusting that he will definitely look after Xue Cai properly and not let him have any accomplishments; If His Majesty doesn’t trust Ji Ying, then he can happen to use this chance to test Ji Ying’s loyalty and watch how he will treat Xue Cai, whether he will groom him into a talent or break him up here and now.”
“But His Majesty has no reason to not kill Xue Cai!”
Jiang Chenyu’s gaze became dim. She steadily said, “Then we’ll find him a reason so that he simply must preserve him.”
Jiang Zhong hesitated for a very long time. Finally, he sighed softly. “Even though this stratagem is good, this Father keeps feeling that it is inappropriate because if we are the ones who step in to rescue Xue Cai, isn’t this tantamount to proclaiming to His Majesty that we’re not of one mind as His Majesty? I’m afraid that without waiting for the Ji Family to grow bigger, His Majesty would have already beheaded us and made an example out of us……”
Jiang Xiaocheng suddenly opened his mouth to laugh a few times. Jiang Zhong furrowed his eyebrows as he said, “What are you laughing about, Xiaocheng?”
“Father’s vexation is really interesting. Just relying on us, we are able to rescue Xue Cai?”
Jiang Zhong’s face immediately turned purplish black. This son was indeed stupid that he only knew how to undermine those from his family.
Jiang Chenyu examined his words and observe his countenance and promptly placated. “Father, don’t get angry. What Elder Brother said is also the truth. Regarding Xue Cai’s matter, we naturally can’t be the ones who step forward. In fact, Chenyu has already thought of the best candidate.”
Jiang Chenyu said as she bit the tip of her tongue, “Marquis Qi Ao.”