Editor: Areth Kyntaul
To Kill and to Not Kill (Part 2)
The emperor finally breathed a sigh of relief.
He had never won against Teacher Zhang in a debate ever since he was a child.
Su Xiao and his daughter managed to give him a chance to catch his breath.
Seeing an opportunity, the emperor exclaimed, “How are you?! How dare you act insolent in the Golden Hall?! Guards, arrest him!”
The warriors from both sides of the Golden Hall immediately restrained Su Xiao and dragged him to the side. A few vassals also immediately assisted the old Assistant Minister to his feet.
Assistant Minister Zhang was now over sixty, but he was still very sturdy. He was hurting just moments ago when Su Xiao collided with him, but he was feeling much better now.
The emperor didn’t recognise Su Xiao. He merely considered him the princess’s friend and reprimanded, “Hong’er, how can you be so insolent? This is not a place for fun and games. How come you brought you friend with you?”
Princess Hongzhuang quickly explained, “Father, I am not playing. This is Sir Su Xiao, a Baihu from Liu Shan Men. He was also ordered to enter the palace today. I happened to meet him on the street and came with him since we were headed the same way.”
Now the emperor remembered who Su Xiao was. He had called Su Xiao here today to compliment and reward him, not to reprimand or punish him.
“Su Xiao, do you know who you just collided with?”
Su Xiao panicked a little after being restrained, “Umm, umm… An old grandpa?”
The emperor almost laughed.
“Yes, this grandpa here. However, this grandpa has done lots of things for the nation. He works hard from the moment he rises to the time he sleeps. All for the sake of ensuring that there is another good official in the Imperial Court. To allow the people to have another upright official to rely upon. This grandpa has many excellent students. I am among his students. However, because he is upright and has been poor all his life, he has not had the money to buy a decent litter. I have wanted to reward him many times, but he has sternly turned me down each time. He is the Assistant Minister of the Ministry of Personnel, Sir Zhang Chunfeng… He is a high-ranking official.”
Su Xiao only understood what the emperor was saying in the last sentence.
“I apologise! I apologise! I did not bump into you on purpose! Please do not blame me!”
“Not at all, not at all. You did not bump into me on purpose.” Assistant Minister Zhang waved his hand as he spoke to Su Xiao. He then said to the emperor, “You have exaggerated your praise for me, Your Majesty. I am too old to carry so many heavy burdens.”
As soon as he finished, he made his gaze firm once again, “However, I can fall, but I cannot fail in my duty as a minister! The Orange Prince must be killed as a deterrent! Otherwise, I would not be able to face the previous emperor. If I cannot do so, I shall voluntarily quit, to express my frustration and regret!”
What the emperor had feared most still happened. He had imagined this situation countless times, previously, but he still had no solution. This elder had many students, so if he were to lead a petition, it would most likely result in hundreds of officials refusing to attend conferences. However, he was also aware that Assistant Minister Zhang’s temperament was the same as that of a standard scholar; stubborn to the bitter end, with no room for manoeuvring.
The situation became a stalemate.
The emperor couldn’t find any words in his defence.
Assistant Minister Zhang then swept his robe aside and knelt down, “Please give the order to execute Li Chengzhi!”
Su Xiao was standing between the emperor and Assistant Minister Zhang. He noticed the tense atmosphere between them. He couldn’t help himself from interjecting, “Gramps, do you want His Majesty to give the order to kill His Highness?”
Assistant Minister Zhang straightened his wrinkly neck, “That’s right!”
“Mm… But that would make His Majesty very pitiable.”
Following Su Xiao’s statement, Assistant Minister Zhang looked up to where the emperor was.
The emperor’s eyes were both red and his body was quivering uncontrollably.
If the emperor was a tyrant, then this situation would never have occurred. He could have found fault with his vassals and pinned them with crimes to save his unfilial son. He could even demote and promote vassals, to switch those he liked and listened to him in, instead. However, that would ruin the nations operations and his rule.
The emperor was aware of the consequences of doing that. He couldn’t abandon all of the efforts of his ancestors for his son, and he couldn’t forsake the people.
The officials of the Imperial Court had continued to bicker with each other over the Orange Prince’s judgement ever since. The emperor was already exhausted by it.
If he was a tyrant, there would be no room for bickering.
Assistant Minister Zhang had a softhearted moment. He indifferently said, “What do you know, kid? This is about right and wrong. It cannot be handled thoughtlessly.”
Su Xiao couldn’t help himself, “I do not understand complicated things, but my mother and Big Brother Ming always tell me not to look at things on just a surface level. It is true that the Orange Prince revolted, but I feel like he did not seem to cause much losses or damage.”
“Not much?” Assistant Manager Zhang frowned, “Ignoring everything else, poisoning the vassals alone…”
“But I do not recall any of you dying.”
“But His Majesty is still here. And His Majesty seems to strongly want to forgive him.”
“Over a hundred Imperial Guards lost their lives!”
“Was that not the work of the League of Assassins? I heard that the leader of Mystery was the one that gave the order to kill them, not the Orange Prince. To the contrary, I heard the His Highness gave the order to not hurt anybody when you were all unable to put up a resistance, so very few people actually got injured, in the end.”
Assistant Minister Zhang was shut down by Su Xiao’s counters.
Su Xiao’s thinking is very pure. He speaks his mind. But that, surprisingly, shut down Assistant Minister Zhang, who was able to out-talk everybody in the Imperial Court.
The emperor thought to himself, ‘How did I never think of that? Cheng’er didn’t kill many people, indeed… Su Xiao is a kid that has straightforward thinking, yet that is what allowed him to see things for what they are.’
Indeed, the Orange Prince didn’t intend to kill many people at the time. He was fortunate now. It was a fact that he did not give the order to kill the people who were killed. The only people who lost their lives to him directly were the Qilin Guards.
Assistant Minister Zhang thought of that and said, “The Black Winds Thirteen Wings killed the Qilin G-…”
“Assistant Minister Zhang, we Qilin Guards have decided not to pursue the matter.”
The speaker was Long Zaitian standing at the rear. The emperor had called him here just for that. Long Zaitian spoke in a very professional manner, “Our Grand Commander sent us a letter saying that matters of the pugilistic world are to be settled within the pugilistic world. Needless to say, we will collect the blood debt that the League of Assassins owe us. We have no interest in collecting the debt from a second-generation person in a prison. Those were our Grand Commanders words. Would you like to see the letter?”
Assistant Minister Zhang neatly got shut down again. If you looked carefully, you could see that steam was coming out of his head due to anger.
“The criminal Li Chengzhi killed many loyal and outstanding men, yet, you are not pursuing it?!”
“Mind your words!!” The voice was clear, but it came from a female.
The empress that had kept quiet the entire time suddenly picked up a document from the desk and threw it on the ground, shocking everybody present in the hall.
Being a scholar, Assistant Minister Zhang almost leapt up and cried “assassin!” when he heard the sound.
Angry and beautiful tears of pain were visible on the empress’s pretty and white melon-shaped face, “Minister Zhang, the Orange Prince is yet to be stripped of his title, so he is still a prince. How dare you address him by his name? You served as an elder for two reigns, and yet you address people incorrectly?” The empress lived up to her reputation as a hero among women.
Her mother’s side of the family was the leader of the Seven White Champion Princes, the Mount Lu Sword Sanctuary. She was both highly skilled and more venerated than any other. She alone suppressed all rebels in the past.
Though others may be unaware, the Assistant Minister had served as a vassal for two reigns. In one rebellion, he stood next to the empress crying for help. So, there was no way he did not know of her prowess.
Seeing her dominance again now, the elder couldn’t stop himself from becoming submissive to her.
He was a vassal, while she was the empress, and here he was asking to behead her son. He had offended the world’s fiercest tigress.
Assistant Minister Zhang knew that he couldn’t say much more. The more he said, the more mistakes he would make, so he responded frankly, “I apologise.”
To his surprise, not only could the empress roar like a tiger, she also knew how to slip like a snake.
With a smile, she said, “Good. The Orange Prince did indeed err, but his faults are not that severe. His Majesty and I were both already aware of him accepting bribes and have severely punished him for it already. Therefore, that should not be mentioned again.”
“Now, as for the claim that he tried to kill his father, His Majesty told me that he did not meet with any danger. He said that not even the assassins dared to lay a hand on him. Consequently, although the Orange Prince revolted, the claim that he tried to kill his father is false. Furthermore, he is still young, so he was partially tempted by the League of Assassins.”
In a peremptory manner, Assistant Minister Zhang retorted, “Those are unfounded statements, Your Majesty. His Highness has grown into a mature man a long time ago, not to mention his meticulous planning. How can you say that he is still young?”
“The League of Assassins works for money. If His Highness did not take the initiative to offer them payment, how could he have had assassins from the League of Assassins? Now for the part about killing his father. The League of Assassins is a mercenary organisation. His Highness hired the secondranked group, ‘Mystery’. If he was not trying to kill, what did he pay such a huge sum for? If he intended to kill, who else besides His Majesty would be worth such an effort?”
“Hmph. Do you have any evidence then, Minister Zhang?”
“That…” The question stumped Assistant Minister Zhang.
The part about killing his father was derived from induction based on logic. If the Orange Prince was going to revolt, he naturally wouldn’t keep the emperor. One, that would mean that people would question his rule, and two, that would be the equivalent of keeping a hazard. However, those things were all evidence on the surface level.
He could reason that the Orange Prince thought that way, but he had no evidence to establish that it was indeed the prince’s thought process.
The emperor was now safe. The Orange Prince was put on his back in the Flying Fish Pavilion. It was a fact that nobody knew if he wanted to kill his father or not.
Even if Assistant Minister Zhang was smarter and more competent, it was impossible for him to prove that the thought of killing his father crossed the Orange Prince’s mind. But Assistant Minister Zhang was brilliant without a doubt.
He glanced around and then smiled, “Indeed, there is no evidence. However, I suppose that you possess proof that His Highness never had any intention of killing his father for you to ask that then, Your Majesty.”
Their situations were now reversed. This had now turned into a situation of refuting his opponent’s attack with her very own attack. The ministers who were for killing the Orange Prince breathed a breath of relief to themselves.
They thought that Assistant Minister Zhang was still impressive, regardless of the circumstance.
The empress puffed her chest proudly, wore a confident smile, “I do have proof.”
Assistant Minister Zhang was slightly surprised, “Oh? I would be very keen to hear about it.”
“My words are my proof!”
“Hmm?” Assistant Minister Zhang stroked his beard. He then nodded and asked, “What does that mean?”
He didn’t get it.
The empress maintained her perfect composure. With a beautiful smile, she replied, “I may not be informed about other topics, but would I not understand my own son? Assistant Minister, you have read lots of books, but have you given birth to a son? Huh? Do you know the pain of departure with your child you were pregnant with for ten months? Hmm?”
Assistant Minister Zhang, ‘Wh-Wh-What the heck is this all about?!’
The empress then continued, “Nobody knows their son better than his mother. The thought never crossed Cheng’er’s mind. What I say is most correct. Cheng’er did not get to be close with his father from a young age. He has always wished to be acknowledged by His Majesty. That is what led to this major incident. However, he is not cold-blooded, nor cruel, and he would never think about harming His Majesty.”
The empress’ face was flush red as though she said that while under the influence. Plus, she looked after her appearance very well. Despite being forty, she still looked younger than thirty. She was no empress. She was basically a young maiden.
However, it didn’t matter if others didn’t believe her. The problem was that the emperor was visibly moved, “I see. What you said makes sense.”
‘How does that make sense?!’
The Assistant Minister was a highly educated individual,but against the empress, who came from the martial world, it was truly a case of a scholar and soldier trying to reason with each other.
He suddenly realised something was wrong. Usually, conferences are held in Wenhua Hall, but the emperor called everybody to the Wuying Hall. He didn’t do that because he was bestowing rewards today, but because the ancestors forbade the harem from entering Wenhua Hall to join conferences!
The emperor had brought the empress with him today. That means he came prepared!
Right as he realised that, the emperor spoke out with impeccable timing, “However! My Empress, this is a conference between members of the Imperial Court. Pay attention to your manners. Assistant Manager Zhang is an elder for two reigns. You must discuss things calmly and with courtesy.”
The emperor and empress exchanged eye contact. The empress nodded and stopped speaking.
Assistant Minister Zhang’s momentum had been pushed back, though. When the emperor spoke up again, he deliberately ignored him, treating as though he had given his opinion. He knew what the emperor was up to. He snickered to himself and didn’t speak again.
“Assistant Minister Leng, what do you say?”
Assistant Minister Leng runs the Ministry of Justice, which handles the legal proceedings all over the lands. He has a cold expression and rarely speaks, but when he does, he always hit the nail on the head. Hence, the people in the Imperial Court called him One-word Leng.”
“Nobody has brought assassins to the Imperial Study ever since the establishment of this dynasty.”
The emperor and empress’ expressions both turned to distress. They thought that Assistant Minister Leng, who never shared his opinion, was somebody that they could bring over. They never realised he was part of the faction that wanted the Orange Prince dead.
After a pause, the cold Assistant Minister of the Ministry of Justice then said, “However, there is no precedence of killing a prince, since the establishment of this dynasty. I am against killing.”
Only then did the emperor let out a sigh of relief.
While Assistant Minister Leng looked cold, he had a very good reputation, leading to many loyal vassals supporting him. If he was against killing the Orange Prince, then many neutral officials would also choose to side with the faction against killing the Orange Prince.
The emperor then asked, “Where is Shuntian Prefecture?!”
Hero Scapegoat slid out from the crowd. Sir Bao, who was as round as a ball, quickly saluted the emperor, “I am here! I am here! You need not ask, Your Majesty. I am against killing His Highness. If you are asking me why, then… umm… umm… Empress Dowager. Yes, that is it. Empress Dowager! She has personally gone to the Holy Mountain to pray to earn a good fortune. If she comes back to find her grandson gone, good grief, she might freak out and be bedridden. Who would be responsible for that crime? Furthermore…”
Shuntian Prefecture manages hundreds of matters in the capital. Everything had to do with him, so the emperor could use a pretext to blame him for the ‘Emperor Chengkong Incident’. All Sir Bao had done was go with the flow, to protect his reputation and head, so it was worth it.
“Hence, I hereby declare that the Orange Prince will not be killed. He will continue to remain imprisoned. How he will be dealt with will be discussed at a later date.”
Before anybody could say anything, Prime Minister Li Si who had played deaf and mute the entire time, with his eyes barely open, suddenly opened his eyes!
His eyes resembled the eyes of a pirate who had stumbled upon a treasure. He then swiftly declared, “Wise decision, Your Majesty! Long live Your Majesty!!! Long live Your Majesty!!!”
Seeing the Prime Minister speak out, the other officials and ministers quickly followed suit, “Long live Your Majesty! Long live Your Majesty!”
Assistant Minister Zhang complained to himself, ‘Old fox. You’re a good for nothing who’s only trick is to stand there sleeping. You nowhere-to-be-seen-when-we’re-having-a-dispute thug that only handballs things! Most importantly, you’re always fighting to claim the biggest contribution. No wonder he’s been the Prime Minister for three reigns.’
Princess Hongzhuang was shocked but also elated. Her brother didn’t have to face capital punishment and Su Xiao, who had charged into the hall was safe. She couldn’t help but feel happy.
The voices of the vassals died down like waves settling.
The key to the discussion was Su Xiao.
The empress, who was always tough, also changed her opinion of Su Xiao.
The empress gently asked, “Child, is your name Su Xiao?”
Su Xiao nodded, “Yes. I am Liu Shan Men’s… I, I, Liu Shan Men’s Baihu, humbly greets you, Your Majesty.”
The empress couldn’t help but laugh. The emperor smiled and said, “I have mentioned him to you. He is very pure-hearted, as though his heart is transparent.”
The empress gave Su Xiao a nod, “Child, you are very good.”
Su Xiao replied with a smile, “Your Majesty, you’re so pretty.”
The emperor, ‘Hmm? Why does that feel a little strange…?’
*Su Xiao cuts himself off when responding to the empress because he used the informal way of addressing himself before correcting himself.
**Second to last paragraph, Su Xiao speaks to the empress informally, hence the use of a contraction.