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Chapter 81 Part 2: Collaborative investigation of treason with the enemy being removed from office

    After these words were said, Xu Ming Shan, who had been arguing for his innocence from the beginning, fell to the floor, face drained of color, which lead people to believe all that had been said.

    In the span of time that the eunuch was accepting the zouzhe, Emperor Yu Qian's keen eye swept over the faces of the ministers one by one. What was on his mind was not Xu Ming Shan's greed.

    When the court councillors saw Emperor Yu Qian's calmness, their hearts grew worried and scared.

    Those who interacted with Xu Ming Shan daily were especially alarmed, their foreheads were beaded with sweat, fearing that they would be mentioned next.

    "Emperor." Gonggong solemnly placed the zouzhe he had been holding in front of Emperor Yu Qian and withdrew.

    Emperor Yu Qian's face was cold as he picked up the report, only to feel its thickness. He opened up the first page, seeing numerous figures relating to money. After only going through two pages, Emperor Yu Qian's face became angry and he closed the report with unnecessary force before he threw it at Xu Ming Shan's direction.

    "Look at all your good fortune! And you still dare to convince Your Emperor to believe you? Wasting time to listen to you, even giving you your position as the Minister of Revenue for many years. This is how you supervise the imperial treasury? If you are allowed to remain the Minister for many more years, will the the treasury soon become the House of Xu's family vault?" Emperor Yu Qian's face exploded with anger, enough to scare all chancellors into bowing their heads. No one dared to make a sound.

    And Xu Ming Shan's eyes held nothing but terror. Lifting the report that was thrown at his face, he mechanically opened it, still hoping for some luck. One look at the numbers and his heart immediately fell.

    The report contained meticulous records of his years in office. Each sum that he had embezzled was there, even the bribes he had received were also written down in great detail.

    Xu Ming Shan's face became deathly still, even failing to kowtow to Emperor Yu Qian and beg for forgivness. In his mind, all he could do was beg not to be handed over to the Ministry of Justice and be put to death!

    "Humph! It looks as if, you have nothing else to say? To the Ministry of Justice!" Emperor Yu Qian did not feel like looking at Xu Ming Shan anymore. He looked to Su Yuan and spoke in a fierce tone. "Immediately investigate the deposed Minister of Revenue's Xu Ming Shan's corruption and bribery case. Any official connected to this is to be removed from position. Accepting bribery is a grave and serious matter, a public beheading, and every family member will be sent to the border for penance."

    Su Yuan accepted the order and immediately replied in a deep voice, "As the Emperor commands! Weichen will investigate this case thoroughly and without letting any fish slip through the net."

    Su Yuan waved a hand to the imperial guards at the doorway to have them drag away the stunned Xu Ming Shan out of the hall.

    "Emperor, as Xu Ming Shan was removed from the position, the seat is now empty. I thought the Assistant Minister of the Ministry of Revenue, Qu Yan should take the position." It was the silent Chen wang who suddenly spoke.

    Hearing this, Emperor Yu Qian turned to look at Chen wang, only to see the same cold face that he always maintained. Even though the motives of Jiang Mu Chen could not be deciphered, his words only gave one impression.

    "Oh? Wangye has chosen a replacement so fast." Chu Fei Yang had been silent until now. Like always, his face carried an unfathomable smile, yet an extreme coldness was in his eyes that made others avoid looking him straight in the eye.

    Jiang Mu Chen shifted his gaze from Emperor Yu Qian to Chu Fei Yang. His dark look and Chu Fei Yang's smiling eyes clashed, causing a stir. Both had a grim and refined air, reinforcing that they disliked each other. Even then there were no faults in their decorum, the observers all successively lowered their heads.

    Emperor Yu Qian had not answered Chen wang nor did he pay heed to the animosity between Jiang Mu Chen and Chu Fei Yang. Instead, he looked at Yun Xuan Zhi who had remained silent from the very beginning. "Yun Xiang, from what you can see, are you able to choose someone suitable?"

    Yun Xuan Zhi swept his eyes over the ministers in the hall, inwardly thinking about the effect of Chen wang's words on Emperor Yu Qian before replying cautiously, "Presumably, Emperor already made his own conclusions. I would like to hear it instead of subjecting you to my nonsense."

    "Since it is like this...Let the Assistant Minister of the Ministry of Revenue take Xu Ming Shan's position." Emperor Yu Qian muttered the first part to himself first before announcing the rest.

    When he heard that he was promoted, Qu Yan did not show the slightest trace of joy. He only kowtowed respectfully to Emperor Yu Qian three times. "Many thanks to the Emperor, weichen will work to the the best of his abilities and render service to the court. However, weichen still has one more report to make."

    "Speak, then." He didn't expect Qu Yan to have so many issues today. Emperor Yu Qian's expression became more serious than before as he gave his permission.

    "Emperor, Fu Guo Gongfu's Qu Ling Ao has recently suffered an assassination attempt and is has been fatally injured. The eldest son, Qu Zhang Qing, is not in the capital so Fu Guo Gongfu currently does not have a master. If the Emperor would kindly choose a new houye for Fu Guo Gongfu." Qu Yan's face was solemn as he said the words in a righteous and just manner. It made Yun Xuan Zhi shoot him a look while Chu Fei Yang and Chen wang ended the non-verbal battle. Both turned to look at Qu Yan but Chu Fei Yang's glance was more calculating by far.

    Emperor Yu Qian had already anticipated that Qu Yuan would make an attempt for the houye juewei. He was about to open his mouth to refuse but Su Yuan stepped forward respectfully and said, "Emperor, Fu Guo Gongfu holds an important position in Xi Chu. The Emperor, in your benevolence, naturally would not let Fu Guo Gongfu be without a master for a single day. If Qu houye is injured, it would be best to choose an appropriate talent, so that houye can recover without worry as commiseration to those the Emperor favors."

    "I second the motion!"

    "I second the motion!"

    "I also second the motion!"

    Once Su Yuan's words were spoken, over half of the ministers in the hall knelt before the Emperor to express their agreement with Qu Yan and Su Yuan.

    "Announcing the arrival of the Empress Dowager." The voice of Qu gonggong cut through sharply from outside the Throne Room.

    Emperor Yu Qian instantly stood up, quickly stepping out of the imperial throne to greet the Empress Dowager Qu himself.

    "May the Empress Dowager live a thousand years more." The group of ministers knelt as they greeted the Empress Dowager.

    "Mother, you have free time to come to my hall?" Emperor Yu Qian supported the Empress Dowager as she walked into the room.

    Even though Empress Dowager Qu's face was calm like water, her eyes emitted fury. When she passed in front of Qu Yan she stopped to speak, voice full of coldness and anger. "When bengong passed by the hall earlier and heard Qu daren's proposal, I had some suspicions, so I quickly came to see. Only to find that Su daren would go so far as to curse houye."

    As Empress Dowager Qu was speaking the ministers that expressed their agreement did not dare make a sound.

    Qu Yan was now the Minister of Revenue and also had the support of Chen wang and others, he no longer needed to be careful of others as a a submissive shuzi like before. When he saw the Empress Dowager enter so soon, Qu Yan smiled coldly and said, "The Imperial Consort cannot interfere with government matters. Would the Empress Dowager please return."

    Seeing Qu Yan being strong-willed, the Empress Dowager swept her eyes around the kneeling ministers and finally stopped at Chen wang. She saw that his expression was calm and mocking. Empress Dowager Qu understood quickly that the day's events had been orchestrated by Chen wang.

    How else could this small assistant minister be able to overturn the deeply established Xu Ming Shan?

    It looked like Qu Yan found himself a supporter. On the second day of Ling Ao's injury he already formed an alliance with Chen wang to force Ling Ao out of the houye seat. Even making half of the officials kneel down and appeal to the Emperor in choosing a new houye for Fu Guo Gongfu.

    But, though Chen wang was formidable, he still was not the Emperor.

    Seeing Qu Yan looting a burning house, the Empress Dowager's anger disappeared, her expression changed drastically from that of her entrance. Her spoke in her normal gentleness, "Qu daren is mistaken, Qu houye is mother's brother from the same mother, it is only natural for benguan to be worried about him. Qu daren, houye's own brother, is looting a burning house at the time of his injury to force houye out of the juewei. If Qu daren harbors such evil intentions, how can he be a faithful and patriotic official?"

    The Empress Dowager was jabbing at his backbone with every word, not only implying that Qu Yan was vicious and merciless but also making all the officials doubt his patriotism. He was very angry but he remember where he was and he suppressed his anger with great effort. Smiling, despite the anger. "Weichen thanks the Empress Dowager for pointing this out. But I worry for Fu Guo Gongfu, precisely because weichen is the houye's brother. Right now Fu Guo Gongfu only has laotaijun and other women. There is no one to manage them, the servants might even take advantage of the master. Please do not doubt weichen's intentions, weichen is doing this for the good of Fu Guo Gongfu only.

    "Empress Dowager, I feel that Qu daren's brotherly affection is very moving." Chu Fei Yang spoke up in that leisurely tone he favors.

    When he spoke, he attracted suspicious looks from Chen wang and Qu Yan. The Empress Dowager's eyes flashed a look of deep anger.

    But Chu Fei Yang did not care about anyone's reactions and he spoke as if nobody were around. "But, Qu daren seems much too concerned. If houye is no longer living or even if he is away, the usual practice in Xi Chu is for the eldest legitimate son to continue. Houye's eldest legitimate son is Qu Zhang Qing, apparently the others have forgotten him."

    Chu Fei Yang articulated the words "others" so slowly that even slow people would understand that he was referring to Qu Yan.

    Qu Yan did not change his expression at Chu Fei Yang's taunting and maintained his innocent expression. It filled the Empress Dowager with disgust.

    But when the Empress Dowager understood the meaning behind Chu Fei Yang's words, she unconsciously glanced at Emperor Yu Qian to see him looking at Yun Xuan Zhi meaningfully. Yun Xuan Zhi spoke up in a clear voice, "Following the rules, the seat is only yielded after the reigning monarch passes away. That is the only time others may pursue the seat. Houye is currently injured, talking about this matter now is truly inappropriate. May the Emperor adhere to precedence."

    When Emperor Yu Qian heard Yun Xuan Zhi's resolution, he smiled lightly and nodded. "Qu daren, do not bring this up again."

    Chu Fei Yang had expressed his meaning in so few words, creating the opportunity for the Empress Dowager, the Emperor, and Yun Xuan Zhi to turn down his proposal. Qu Yan once again became filled with fury and agitation. He instantly trained his eyes imperceptibly towards Chen wang and was met with a cold expression, not the least bit affected by the proceedings. He suppressed the anger in his heart once more, withdrawing obediently from this battle.

    Seeing that no other officials had reports to make, Emperor Yu Qian had the court eunuch announce their dismissal as he personally walked the Empress Dowager out of the hall.

    After the ministers left, Chu Fei Yang walked to Chen wang's side and said with a smile, "Wangye was very tricky today!"

    "Chu Fei Yang was not bad either." Chen wang replied sarcastically when he heard Chu Fei Yang's words.

    "Benxiang was only countering at most. How can it be compared to Chen wang's scheming and foresight?" He replied flippantly in a manner that implied that nobody was Chu Fei Yang's equal.

    Chen wang did not know why, but when he saw Chu Fei Yang smile, anger faintly rose from his heart. He instantly replied, "Regarding this matter, Chu xiang seemed to be very prepared. Just now Chu xiang was able to change the wind with only a few words. In all of Xi Chu, only Chu xiang is able to accomplish such a thing!"

    "Hahaha! Wangye's praise is misplaced. Benxiang's formidable nature cannot be compared to Wangye's magic of holding people in the palm of his hands, ready to carry out his tricks. I have heard that Yuan de taifei is worrying her heart out over matters pertaining to wangye's marriage, if any of those young ladies has wangye's approval. On the day of the wedding, benxiang demands that there be a wedding banquet." Chu Fei Yang laughed heartily, losing his refined and scholarly appearance and looking more outspoken.

    But Jiang Mu Chen knew that the Chu Fei Yang's cunning eyes were flickering mockingly at him.

    A wangye whose marriage is being arranged by other people, regardless of his power or influence, was only a puppet.

    Moreover, Jiang Mu Chen felt Chu Fei Yang's words were layered with other meanings. He remembered many times before that Chu Fei Yang had gone against him for the sake of Yun Qian Meng. Jiang Mu Chen knitted his brows, but just as he regained his composure, Chu Fei Yang was already far away, only a violet silhouette in the distance.

    Qu Yan waited for Chu Fei Yang to leave before going to Chen wang's side, his face agitated. "Wangye, it was xiaguan's incompetence that relented the houye seat!"

    "Out of my way." Was all Jiang Mu Chen said as he took large steps towards the exit, leaving Qu Yan by himself outside the hall, stewing with malice.

    A month passed by in a flash. A fortnight ago Emperor Yu Qian made an Imperial Decree, conferring the title of Hai junwang to the fifth son, Hai Chen Xi, on the ninth day of the ninth month.

    After this Imperial Decree, every fu exploded. Hai wang had received a great kindness from the Emperor, bestowing the title of junwang to his son was further showing gratitude to Hai wang for his service to the Emperor.

    What people actually paid attention to was the word "Hai" in the title, which was personally drawn up by Hai wang, who now shared the title. This fifth young master from Hai wangfu received great love from Hai wang, even if he was not the heir, this would put him under the protection of Hai wang.

    Qu Ling Ao continued to be in a state of unconsciousness over the course of the month. Due to the hot weather, the wound in Qu Ling Ao's chest gradually became inflamed with rot. All day he remained lying in bed motionless, causing his back to contract rashes.

    Xiao Nie dafu together with all the taiyi thought up various methods. In the end, they could not move Qu Ling Ao because of his injury and could only put ice in the room to lower the temperature to prevent his condition from worsening.

    During that month, Gu laotaijun and Ji Shu Yu suffered the most.

    Both of them managed the large estate and dealing with Qu Yan and other people who dropped by from time to time to cause a disturbance as they constantly followed the progress of Qu Ling Ao's condition. Only one month had passed but the hair on Gu laotaijun's temples started to turn white, while Ji Shu Yu grew paler and thinner.

    It seemed that Qu Fei Qing grew up into a sensible person in this short period of time. Not only staying by her mother and grandmother to learn about the affairs of the house, but also bore the responsibility of taking care of her father.

    Though every time she saw her second and third uncle drop by to see her grandmother, all the while shedding crocodile tears, Qu Fei Qing could not help becoming angry.

    Today, Yun Qian Meng came by Fu Guo Gongfu for a visit. When she stepped into Qu Ling Ao's room, she saw Qu Fei Qing starring in a daze by the bedside while holding an empty medicine bowl.

    When she saw how withered her biaojie had become, Yun Qian Meng relieved her of the bowl and handed it to Mu Chun. Then she sat on the stool beside the bed and spoke gently, "Biaojie, how are you?"

    Only now did Qu Fei Qing notice Yun Qian Meng. She smiled wearily and replied blandly. "Meng'er, because gumu is the Empress Dowager, she is currently in the palace and cannot handle matters in Fu Guo Gongfu. Dad has been unconscious for more than a month, so they are saying that the Emperor sent people to look for gege to bring him back. If this continues, I'm afraid that one day Fu Guo Gongfu will fall into the hands of second uncle and third uncle."

    Yun Qian Meng could hear the sense of urgency in her voice. She felt that Qu Fei Qing's expression was strange, as if she had been mulling over an idea for a while. She pulled at Qu Fei Qing's hands and said, "Biaojie, biaoge is deep in the lands of the enemy right now. He will naturally be difficult to find. Fu Guo Gongfu still has laotaijun to keep watch, as well as the Empress Dowager's support. Nothing will fall into the hands of those two uncles. Let's just think about jiujiu waking up as soon as possible, other matters shouldn't matter. It is wiser not to overthink."

    Though her words seemed to have fallen on deaf ears. She only received a helpless smile. "I've been thinking recently, if I married Hai junwang, would I be able to change the state of the fu?"

    Yun Qian Meng was shocked when she heard this, her grip of Qu Fei Qing's hands tightened. She immediately replied consolingly, "Biaojie, how can you think this way? Even though Hai wangfu looks rich and splendid on the surface, Hai wangfei has an obvious dislike of Hai junwang. If you marry him, she might also look at you with disfavor. Moreover, Hai Tian junzhu is not easy to deal with. In this moment of hardship, biaojie must not do something you will regret for a lifetime."

    Yun Qiang Meng tried her best to convince her as Hai Chen Xi and Qu Fei Qing were fundamentally different people.

    Hai Chen Xi was cunning, his shrewdness could not be inferior to Hai wang's. If Qu Fei Qing married him, she would not have good days ahead of her.

    But as Yun Qian Meng finished speaking, Qu Fei Qing knitted her brows and tears started to fall from her eyes. She pulled her hands from Yun Qian Meng's and wiped the tears gently, releasing the build up of sorrow. "Meng'er, how can I be ignorant of those matters? But this past month, there were many nights where mother and zumu have not slept. Every time they think of father's condition, zumu and mother lose their appetites. They can't even muster the strength to fight those legendary zombies that loot a burning house. Even though I'm a girl, I can't bear to see the people I care about being bullied by others. Rather than sitting and waiting for death, it would be best to find a way out. Uncle is complacent in the fact that he has an ally in Chen wangfu based on Qu Jing Qing entering the wangfu freely. If I marry into Hai wangfu, let's see who will have the last laugh."

    "All a pile of rubbish!" the exasperated voice of Gu laotaijun came from the doorway.

    She did not allow them time to greet her as she rushed forward to give Qu Fei Qing a slap on the face. The strength of the slap left a distinct mark on Qu Fei Qing's face.

    Yun Qian Meng became alarmed, she immediately begged for forgiveness as laotaijun prepared to slap Qu Fei Qing again. "Waizumu please calm down! Biaojie was only saying nonsense in a moment of worry. Waizumu please don't get angry. We're at jiujiu's bedside right now, you would not want to aggravate jiujiu's condition."

    When Yun Qian Meng brought up Qu Ling Ao, laotaijun put her hand down, looking with much affection towards her son on the bed. Her hands gripped her walking stick tightly as she said angrily to Qu Fei Qing, "Come here!"

    Gu laotaijun had brushed away the people trying to support her and quickly walked out of Qing Song Yuan.

    After being slapped by Gu laotaijun, Qu Fei Qing rubbed the spot in a daze. She smiled lightly to Yun Qian Meng before she followed laotaijun out of Qing Song Yuan.

    Yun Qian Meng could not feel at ease, so she sent Mu Chun to the kitchen to tell Ji Shu Yu what happened and she herself went after laotaijun.

    But the longer laotaijun walked the more labored her steps became. She stopped in front of Fu Guo Gongfu's ancestral hall.

    This ancestral hall was kept clean throughout the year and spirals of incense smoke wafted from within. Laotaijun raised her head to look at the black signboard with the words, "Qu Shi Ancenstral Hall" before she strode inside.

    When she saw Qu Fei Qing come in, Gu laotaijun shouted, "Fei Qing, kneel!"

    Qu Fei Qing numbly knelt on the mat, back straight as she faced the Qu Clan ancestors.

    Gu laotaijun observed Qu Fei Qing's unyielding expression and thought about the words she had heard. Even facing Qu Yan and Qu Fu had not angered her this much. She immediately rebuked, "Zumu will use the Qu clan ancestors to teach you a lesson. Remember this well, Fei Qing.

    "Even when Fu Guo Gongfu is in dire straits, we will not send the clan's daughter out to buy a moment of peace. You are Fu Guo Gongfu's da xiaojie, you've been by my side since you were a child, raised by my own hand. No matter how outstanding you may be, I will not allow the child I have raised to value herself so cheaply.

    "No matter how difficult the situation, you must not forget your identity as Fu Guo Gongfu's di xiaojie! You aren't like Qu Jing Qing and the other frivolous girls. Do you think that Qu Jing Qing freely entering Chen wangfu is something to be proud of? You must know, she is paying for it with her reputation. Even if she becomes Chen wang's cefei, what then? Even though her birth is good, because of her actions, she has lost the chance of becoming the zhengfei.

    "A zhengfei must not only have a good family background, she must also have good morality and conduct. Moreover, if zumu wanted to be connected to Hai wangfu by marriage, the first time Hai wangfei came through our doors, zumu would have already set the marriage in stone.

    "Why should a girl like you say such things? If you went through with it, when your father wakes up and once your brother returns, they will not be grateful for your sacrifice, they will only feel regret! Child, do you understand zumu?"

    After Gu laotaijun finished, Qu Fei Qing did not make a sound. The obstinacy in her posture had been slowly whittled away by Gu laotaijun's reprimand. What remained was only the anguish and hurt of a little girl.

    Yun Qian Meng quietly stepped forward and knelt beside Qu Fei Qing, pulling the trembling Qu Fei Qing's into her arms. She spoke in hushed tones to Gu laotaijun, "Waizumu's words are enlightening. Meng'er and biaojie will remember it. Not only in this lifetime, but even after the rebirth of heavenly kings. But please do not blame biaojie, she was only confused by worry. Biaojie is usually very proper, she would never do such an unethical thing. Please forgive biaojie, waizumu."

    Laotaijun was touched by the sisterly affection between Yun Qian Meng and Qu Fei Qing. But her eyes remained stern as she looked at Qu Fei Qing, she wanted her to admit her mistake with her own mouth before she is forgiven.

    After Qu Fei Qing had endured the rebuke, she had been released from all the pressure that bottled up in her heart. Her mood became much calmer. When she saw Gu laotaijun waiting for her to speak, she immediately knocked her head three times before the memorial tablet of her ancestors. Her face solemn as she said, "Sunnu knows her mistake and will not speak such nonsense again. I will accept zumu's punishment."

    Gu laotaijun saw her finally coming back to reality and nodded her head pleased. "Stay here in front of the ancestors for a day and a half. Meng'er, come with me!"

    "Yes!" Seeing that Yun Qiang Meng still intended to ask Gu laotaijun for forgiveness, Qu Fei Qing pulled Yun Qian Meng and shook her head firmly. Then, she knelt respectfully with a steadfast expression on her face.

    Yun Qian Meng saw her resolution and was certain that laotaijun was able to make Qu Fei Qing see reason, so she slightly relaxed. She instructed the surrounding yatou and pozi to watch over her then lent her arm to Gu laotaijun as they left the ancestral hall.

    Ji Shu Yu, informed of what happened, had been standing at the entrance of the ancestral hall. When she heard her daughter's dangerous idea, she immediately broke into a cold sweat.

    She could not help blaming herself, having been busy with matters in the fu and her husband's condition, she neglected to look after Fei Qing.

    Fortunately, laotaijun had scolded Qu Fei Qing into reason, easing her worries.

    But after Gu laotaijun left, Ji Shu Yu did not enter the ancestral hall to be with her daughter, instead she took her yatou with her and left the ancestral hall.

    As the sweltering month passed, Emperor Yu Qian had sent people out for half a month before they received news of Qu Zhang Qing .

    When Gu laotaijun received the news, she felt as if a heavy stone had lifted from her heart.

    After two days, additional news came from the palace. Qu Zhang Qing had been injured at the border and was returning to the capital by carriage.

    Fu Guo Gongfu struggled to free itself of dark clouds but this piece of news only pulled them deeper.

    As the day of his return approached, Gu laotaijun and Ji Shu Yu felt more and more anxious, not knowing how serious Qu Zhang Qing's injury was.

    The day Yun Qian Meng was told would be the day of Qu Zhang Qing's arrival, she left the xiangfu early to be with laotaijun and the others.

    But from the morning until noon, then noon until dusk, there was still no sign of Ma huwei coming back with Qu Zhang Qing.

    Everybody felt uneasy, just as they were questioning the accuracy of the news, a voice came from the door. "An Imperial Decree has arrived."

    A palace eunuch was holding the yellow parchment that contained the decree. He separated himself from his party and entered Fu Guo Gongfu. After kneeling before laotaijun and the others, he read out the decree in a sharp voice, "By the Mandate of Heaven, the Emperor decrees. Fu Guo Gongfu's eldest grandson, Assistant Minister Qu Zhang Qing of the Ministry of War, has been discovered bringing letters of the enemy. On this day, he is removed from his post as Assistant Minister of the Ministry of War. The Three Division Trial will be held. The people of Fu Guo Gongfu are not permitted to leave nor are they allowed visitors. That is all.

    After the decree was announced, before the customary kowtow could be enacted, Gu laotaijun fainted.
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