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Chapter 95 Part 1: Wangye is Captured, Two Nations Conduct Peace Talks

    "Emperor, Chu xiang and Chen wang both have their own versions of the story, but their words are within reason. It would be best if we sent some people out first to feel out the enemy before we decide." Yun Xuan Zhi had stepped forward and spoken with a clear voice once the quarrelling of both sides had subsided

    "Feel the enemy out? Yun Xuan Zhi wishes for us to bow our heads and settle with the Northern Qi? Right now, Rui wang is in their hands. We don't need to feel out the Northern Qi to know what they are thinking." Cheng wang's cold voice retorted, his eyes were as cold as ice and looked pretty intimidating.

    Yun Xuan Zhi's brows furrowed at being reprimanded by Chen wang, his eyes flashed as he thought about the current state of affairs in the hall.

    Who would have expected that at this moment the Minister of War would step out from the rear. With eyes and a tone of voice like a tiger he asked Chen wang, "Then from Chen wang's manner of speaking, Chen wang wishes to strike back hard? When the time comes, Northern Qi will only bring out Rui wang in the middle of it. Will you then have my soldiers charge through enemy lines only to surrender? Moreover, Rui wang is the current commander. For him to have been captured, the army's morale surely has plummeted. If we do not find a way to appease Northern Qi, they will just dispose of him and our troops will fall apart."

    At this moment, Emperor Yu Qian cast his look onto those three. When he faced the Minister of War, he said, "Then based on your opinion, it's either war or peace? The discussion has been going on for half a day, yet no concrete plan has been made. What use do I have for you?"

    The Emperor's expression was severe and his voice was cold, his eyes that were faintly flashing with anger, shooting glares that were like icy arrows. His angry appearance made the officials immediately stop arguing and act more prudently, they did not dare to open their mouths to speak.

    At this moment, Chief Eunuch Mao, who had slipped away while the heated arguments between the officials were going on, came back and discreetly approached the Emperor, whispering into his ear, "Emperor, another message has come from an 800-li* horse."

    "Bring it over!" when the Emperor heard those words, his expression turned even uglier. The gathered ministers became even more frightened. What on earth happened now? Everybody was thinking that tonight was really too unbearable. They came into the palace alive but now it was quite likely they would leave without their lives.

    "Bring it over!" after receiving the Emperor's approval, Chief Eunuch Mao immediately called out in a loud and clear voice.

    "Beizhi salutes the Emperor." A travel-worn figure with a worried face entered the hall and kowtowed before the Emperor. The soldier wore gray messenger clothing and when he knelt on both knees before the Emperor, one could see a sealed bamboo tube strapped to his back. The bamboo tube was sealed extremely well, and one look was enough to see that it had come from northern camp.

    "Rise!" Emperor Yu Qian watched the messenger who seemed to still be panting when he had kneeled catching his breath. With his mind more at ease, he allowed him to rise for his report.

    "Yes." With that, the messenger stood, his movements precise and practiced compared to the many officials in the hall, he lacked their slyness.

    He removed the bamboo tube from his back and proffered it with both hands and announced in a loud voice, "Emperor, the 800-li* horse message. Please have a look."

    Emperor Yu Qian gave his gonggong a meaningful look and the Chief Eunuch immediately bent his body into a bow before Emperor Yu Qian before he quickly walked down the jade steps and accepted the bamboo tube, then returned to the Emperor's side. The Emperor broke the seal and pulled out the folded paper in front of all the officials present.

    After pulling out the paper, Emperor Yu Qian quickly read through the contents then closed it immediately. Once again, he turned an expressionless face towards the crowd, that still remained absolutely silent. He then opened his mouth to speak in a cold voice, "Everybody take a guess, what do you think the contents of this document is about?"

    Everybody turned to look at each other. The Emperor's face was completely expressionless and his voice was cold as usual, how could they possibly guess?

    Yun Xuan Zhi pondered a bit and then slowly spoke, "Emperor, weichen dares to make a guess. Could the contents of this document be good news?"

    This caused Emperor Yu Qian to raise his eyebrows. With a tone full of interest, he inquired, "What made Yun xiang guess that?"

    Yun Xuan Zhi raised his head to look at Emperor Yu Qian and saw that there was no anger in his face. This made him open his mouth once more to speak, "As a citizen of Western Chu, weichen naturally wishes for a report of victory every day."

    "Hahaha.... As expected, Yun xiang is good at reading expressions and body language." After unexpectedly laughing out loud, the the Emperor had complimented Yun Xuan Zhi.

    His laugh dispelled the long-frigid atmosphere in the room, allowing the officials to let out relieved breaths. The timid ones among them clutched their sleeves and wiped the beads of sweat on their foreheads. Accompanying one's sovereign was really like accompanying a tiger. They felt like they were at the bottom of a mountain that had been experiencing winter for a thousand years, but now it was as if they were underneath a summer sun; coldness and warmth switched places. For a moment, they had a feeling that they could not bear the change, however they had no choice but to endure it.

    "What glad tidings has made Emperor so carefree?" Yun Xuan Zhi saw that he had guessed correctly and relaxed slightly, but the way he voiced-out his question was still as cautious as before.

    "There is no more need to argue. In this report, Hai Chen Xi said that, upon hearing of Rui wang's capture, he carried out a sneak attack at night with an army of ten thousand against the frontier garrison of Northern Qi. They were able to capture a high ranking leader as prisoner, and it unexpectedly turned out to be a famous general of Northern Qi. This mighty general is a famous military leader in Northern Qi, he has subdued the tribes around their borders and done heroic deeds. He is also the father-in-law of the Emperor Ling Xiao's third princess. His unexpected is sure to give Northern Qi's Emperor Ling Xiao a big headache. When the time comes, we can use this famous general as a hostage in exchange for Rui wang." Emperor Yu Qian related the situation slowly, with a calculating glint in his eyes. His smile made people feel a sense of foreboding. In all likelihood, he had been seething with hate towards the Northern Qi a moment ago, but now that Hai Chen Xi had initiated a show of strength, it naturally made people feel a great sense of satisfaction.

    The ministers completely did not expect the situation to make a turn so quickly, and all had expressions of disbelief.

    But these words had come clearly from Emperor Yu Qian's mouth, even if they had doubts, they had no choice but to believe the facts before them. Each of them bowed deeply with their hands in front of them before the Emperor, "Congratulations, Emperor!"

    When Chu Fei Yang heard the ministers' words of flattery, a mocking smile crept up his lips. His eyes indifferently glanced over Cheng wang as he opened his mouth to say, "Emperor, that mighty general has extraordinary strength and is highly skilled in combat. I think that it would be wiser to detain him in the capital and imprison him instead. If this is done then the Northern Qi would surely have plenty of misgivings and wouldn't dare to do anything rash. However, for the matter of an escort, Hai Chen Xi might not be able to attend to it along with his other duties, so weichen cautions the Emperor to send a trusted person to the frontier to avoid anything going wrong midway."

    "Emperor, I second the motion." Yun Xuan Zhi stood up to speak.

    "I also second the motion!" the Minister of War immediately followed suit.

    "I also second the motion!" suddenly, the hall was filled with voices seconding the motion, and Emperor Yu Qian could not help but nod.

    The problem at hand now was in choosing the escort. The person chosen must be a loyal and reliable person. Emperor Yu Qian casted his imperial eyes about the hall until it finally landed on Chen wang. He was just about to open his mouth to make the order when another 800-li* message arrived.

    "Report!" Emperor Yu Qian recollected himself and allowed his eunuch to let the messenger into the hall.

    After the formalities, the messenger, with his face full of sweat, proffered the bamboo tube and passed it onto the eunuch's hands. Emperor Yu Qian took out the paper to read. After he finished, he was completely elated and immediately said, "The Northern Qi has already sent an envoy to my army's base, calling for an armistice from Hai Chen Xi. They wish to come to the capital to participate in the ceremony of conferring the title of Guifei on the ninth day of the ninth month, and exchange hostages on that day."

    So now, even the matter of selecting an escort could be done away with.

    But the faces of Yun Xuan Zhi, Chu Fei Yang, Chen wang and some others were grave. Yun Xuan Zhi, with a face full of puzzlement, asked, "Emperor, didn't the Northern Qi send this message over too fast? Although the mighty general must be very important, compared to the status of Rui wang with imperial blood, the difference is too great. They did not even wait for our side to send out some terms for settlement. Instead, they quickly sent out their own envoy, and are even taking advantage of the ceremony of conferring the title of guifei to enter the capital. I fear that there might be some trickery behind it."

    "Did the report mention if these terms came from Emperor Ling Xiao or from the Crown Prince?" Chu Fei Yang asked the question everybody was too afraid to speak out loud.

    If the terms of settlement did not have Emperor Ling Xiao's approval, no matter how much Qi Jing Yuan was doted on by his father, the heir naturally could not go beyond his authority in this way.

    After all, sending out an official for terms of settlement was no small matter. The Northern Qi had expended a lot of manpower and resources in this war, how could they so easily speak of giving up?

    Even if he were the Crown Prince of the Emperor, calling for an armistice was still a serious matter. If this was just the Crown Prince acting by himself, then the court ministers of the Northern Qi might not comply with any of it.

    "This report only mentions that the Northern Qi sent an envoy. What is Chu xiang thinking?" Emperor Yu Qian had his eunuch pass the document to Chu Fei Yang so he could take a look as he asked with an indifferent tone. The fingers on his right hand lightly tapped the tabletop, he had already thought about all the possibilities over in his head many times. Presumably, he had his own misgivings.

    Chu Fei Yang accepted the report, skimmed over it, then handed it back to the eunuch. He muttered to himself before speaking audibly, "Emperor, the contents of this document is too casual. Right now, Hai junwang might be waiting for the Emperor's decision in writing a reply. Even though this settlement was put forth by the Northern Qi, since they want to exchange hostages in the capital, no matter what the enemy is planning, the defensive capabilities of the capital should be able to handle it. Isn't that right, Chen wang?"

    It occurred to Chu Fei Yang that, based on the report, the Emperor's orders were being awaited. Hai Chen Xi was a reserved person and would not, of his own initiative, agree to anything. After all, if anything were to happen, Hai wangfu would be held accountable.

    The words reminded Emperor Yu Qian that, rather than guessing the enemy's plans, it would be better to have the enemy right in front of them. It was better to be prepared and be on guard in advance.

    But one thing made Chu Fei Yang very curious. Qi Jing Yuan was a ruthless person. Regarding Western Chu, as the commander, Qi Jing Yuan was in favor of going into war. So why had he not prevented Emperor Ling Xiao from going initiating the peace talks?

    Jiang Mu Chen did not give a reply to Chu Fei Yang's question. He only looked at the Emperor and said in a calm voice, "I await the Emperor's decision."

    The meaning was clear. If Emperor Yu Qian felt that the settlement was feasible, then he should mobilize the city guards to ensure security within the capital in the coming days. But if he disapproved of the settlement, then all of Chu Fei Yang words would be empty.

    Emperor Yu Qian could not help looking back-and-forth between Chu Fei Yang and Chen wang. The fingers tapping the table slowed down a bit, and a moment later, he opened his mouth to speak, "Since this is the case, Chen wang, go make preparations. The security of the whole capital is in your hands. In the coming days, there will be many complicated arrangements in the Palace. As Yuan De taifei assisted the Empress Dowager in managing the harem in the old days, I will send for somebody to bring her to the Palace to stay to help plan the matters of the bestowal ceremony."

    With those words, the Emperor had successfully used Yuan De taifei as leverage against Chen wang, making him unable to act recklessly. If he did his job well then Emperor Yu Qian would allow Yuan De taifei to return to Chen wangfu.

    Emperor Yu Qian hinted at the Chief Eunuch, who hurriedly approached a lesser eunuch who he also gave a meaningful look to. The lesser eunuch took the hint and quickly ran out of the Palace.

    Jiang Mu Chen could not but feel anger within his heart. For the Emperor to go out of his way to be on guard against him, made him sneer inwardly, yet his facial expression  was it usual coolness. With a completely calm voice, he said, "I will obey."

    "Tell Wu daren to go to Yang Xin Hall. Everybody else may take their leave." After seeing that Chen wang had kept his composure, Emperor Yu Qian waved his hand to gesture for the ministers to leave. He then had people summon the Commander of the Imperial Guard, Wu daren, to Yang Xin Hall, most likely to discuss security matters for the Palace.

    The next day, Emperor Yu Qian made two decrees.

    The first was to comply with the Northern Qi's settlement, allowing Hai junwang to escort the Northern Qi envoy to the capital of Western Chu, guaranteeing the envoys safe passage.

    The second command was for ladies of families 3rd rank and above, whether di or shu, were allowed to participate in the bestowal ceremony of the guifei. All to demonstrate the generosity, affection, and virtue of the Son of Heaven, and also accomplishing the long-cherished wish of all the citizens in celebrating the occasion together.

    Like shooting stars, the two decrees were delivered to the public, immediately bringing about great cheers in all of Western Chu.

    It had seemed that the war was dragging on, and the taxes grew more and more heavy on the shoulders of the people. Rui wang getting captured was his own mistake, there was no reason for the citizens to pay the price for his carelessness.

    If the war could be made to end, then that was really the best for the citizens.

    Even the daughters of the various official's families were exceedingly happy. After all, it was going to be a grand celebration and Emperor Yu Qian was actually bestowing them a great kindness in allowing girls such as them, who had a hard time seeing men on ordinary days, to finally have a just and honorable reason to go out. How could they not go to their heart's content?

    Every famous jewelery shop and clothing store in the capital were full of people. Business was good and everybody was happy.

    On the eighth day of the ninth month, Emperor Yu Qian sent Yun Xuan Zhi out to receive Hai junwang and the others. From the city gate's tower he saw Hai Chen Xi's troops appear so he immediately brought the officials with him down and they got on their horses to wait at the city gates.

    Hai Chen Xi had been travelling at top speed back to the capital while escorting the Northern Qi's envoy. After encountering Yun Xuan Zhi at the gates, he rode more slowly through the capital's gates.

    Chen wang had already prepared the city defenses early on. The citizens were at ease and dared to gather around both sides of the large road to wait for Hai junwang leading the envoy through the limestone path.

    Just as everybody had hoped, the stern face and armor-clad figure of Hai Chen Xi on top of his black war horse came into view. Behind him was the vast group of the envoy three thousand man army.

    A carriage covered in yellow silk meandering along behind Hai junwang drew everyone's attention. This carriage looked very imposing; rectangular in shape, it was about 3 meters long, the roof and body used yellow silk, a color only the Imperial Family could use. Each side of the carriage the image of a yellow dragon soaring through mist was imprinted, it made people inwardly astonished at the grandeur of the Northern's Qi Imperial Family.

    Each corner of the carriage's roof was adorned with a colored ceramic ball lantern. If one were to take a closer look, they would discover that the balls did not contain candles but fluorites instead; each was as large as an infant's fist. Just now, this carriage that had made people feel deeply moved by its imposing style, combined with the priceless fluorites being used as lanterns by the Imperial Family, it could only be assumed that they were using luxury to show off.

    Immediately, there was a buzz of praise from the citizens. Everybody started discussing how rich the Northern Qi's Imperial Family was. Even the the fluorites, something so rare that ordinary citizens would normally never be able to see even once in their lives, were used in such a way.

    The person inside this carriage must not be an ordinary person; it must be the Crown Prince of Northern Qi, Qi Jing Yuan. But the windows on each side of the carriage were completely covered so it was impossible to get a glimpse of the person inside.

    Behind Qi Jing Yuan's carriage were several small carriages. Based on their adornments, it looked as if these carriages were a class lower than Qi Jing Yuan's. Instead of bright yellow silk, these carriages only had pale yellow brocade. They did not have the vivid and life-like images of dragons and were only decorated with clouds. Ceramic balls still hung as lamps in all four corners of each carriage but they did not contain a sphere of fluorite. Instead, each had several different sized beads. Though still rare, they were not as valuable as those in Qi Jing Yuan's carriage.

    Right behind these were twenty or so ordinary carriages, most likely occupied by Northern Qi officials.

    The end of the procession was composed of palace maids, eunuchs, and imperial guards-a grand and majestic group of 3,000. Each one of the Imperial Guards looked mighty and heroic, even the eunuchs had delicate and pretty faces. For the spectating citizens, it was a feast for the eyes.

    Right now, it was still morning. The banquet to welcome Northern Qi's envoy was not until the evening, so Yun Xuan Zhi led Qi Jing Yuan's group into the consulate and prepared a place for them to rest. He then nodded to Hai Chen Xi, indicating to him to return to the Palace immediately to make his report.

    But Northern Qi's party was quite large. Even when the Palace had sent over their experienced palace maids and eunuchs, it still took quite some time for everyone to finish settling down.

    Yun Xuan Zhi had been observing Hai Chen Xi throughout the entire process. He looked somewhat afraid, and there had been no sign of Rui wang among the envoy's party. He brought his horse closer beside Hai Chen Xi and said in a low voice, "Hai junwang, where is Rui wang at this moment?"

    When he heard Yun Xuan Zhi's question, Hai Chen Xi's eyes lowered and his lips tightened into a cold smile before he replied, "Yun xiang, don't expect that Qi Jing Yuan would feel so at ease that he'd bring Rui wang around with him while he is in my company."

    Yun Xuan Zhi's expression darkened instantly when he heard this. Realizing that Rui wang was not part of the company, he knew that he was going to have a severe headache when he met face-to-face with Emperor Yu Qian later.

    * - with 1li being approximately 500m, messengers on horseback usually traveled 300li a day, but for instances of emergencies, they could go up to 800li.
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