Each of the six Princes have their own strengths – in good and bad ways. Thus far, Orange Prince buried his reputation with his rebellion. Green Prince ruined his name with his unwelcome behaviour in Nanjiang. Yellow Prince irked the people when he spent a mountain of money to buy a city and continues to fuel his lavish lifestyle. Collectively, people referred to them as Three Idiot Princes. The other three were referred to as Virtuous Princes for the people were pleased with them.
Among the three Virtuous Princes, Teal Prince stood above his brothers in terms of character despite his brother defending the border in Beiping. Nonetheless, the one perceived to have the best chance of being crowned the next Emperor was Red Prince.
While news of Emperor Yuansheng’s departure from the capital was kept under wraps, most had caught wind of Red Prince presiding over the capital, which led to strong suspicions that he had the throne in his grasp.
For the most part, there had been very few riots since Emperor Yuansheng took up the mantle. When riots did start, he put them to rest without affecting his people just as when he exterminated Demon Sect for it was his principle to not disturb his people’s daily life. There was a strong case to make for crowning him as the monarch most deserving of adulation for protecting peace. If there was something he deserved to be panned for it would be for not crowning a Prince.
In the political arena, vassals always say, “The Crown Prince is the foundation of a state. Without him, the state is in jeopardy.”
The previous Emperor was a glutton for credit, hence his tendency to start wars. He quelled the fighting in Nanjiang, drove back Beijiang and drove back Youtu’s forces. Among all of Li Clan’s Emperors, he was the one who came closest to rivalling Li Dynasty’s Founding Emperor’s prowess in martial arts. Unfortunately, his people live as though they were trapped in a famine under his rule due to his horrible governing policies; his unscrupulous money-hoarding didn’t help. When his health declined, it was his sons’ turn to give the people grief with their competition among each other.
Had Emperor Yuansheng not declared he would execute anyone who kept badgering him to choose a Crown Prince, the six ministries, especially the ministry of rites and ministry of personnel, would’ve kept advising him to choose a Prince.
Prime Minister Li was the only to agree with Emperor Yuansheng’s decision. For that, other vassals claimed he was just shamelessly licking Emperor Yuansheng’s boots. What they didn’t know was that, the moment Emperor Yuansheng and Prime minister Li made eye contact that day, Prime Minister Li caught on to what Emperor Yuansheng was thinking, consequently going along. All of those present that day had yet to forget the disaster not long ago, though maybe some of them didn’t think of the consequences due to the peaceful days since then.
The cause of the disaster wasn’t the absence of a Crown Prince. Conversely, it was because the last Emperor selected his favourite, his third son, the neutral Prince among his sons that triggered the other two flying into frenzy, leading to wars that took years to end. Once they drove off their foreign invaders, the in-fighting reignited, costing the state decades to recover. Those involved in the event later called “Princes’ Rebellion” prohibited the mention that dark history henceforth.
Prime Minister Li was cognisant of the fact that Emperor Yuansheng feared a repeat of that disaster. In terms of abilities, relationships and under-the-table alliances, all six current Princes were practically reincarnations of their predecessors, the only difference being the last three got along until the youngest one was announced as the successor, while the current six have been fighting since forever.
Nobody had any means of protecting the Crown Prince from all the schemes that would be thrust upon him as soon as he was crowned. Accordingly, crowning one was the equivalent of putting him in a casket. As long as none of them were crowned, they would have to pull punches to get in Emperor Yuansheng’s good books. Emperor Yuansheng, therefore, was constantly irate that none of his vassals could fathom that. Having said that, it was only a way of deferring the inevitable.
Emperor Yuansheng granted four Princes fiefs in four different directions to put them to the test and let their deeds speak for themselves. By assigning adepts from the martial world, he hoped they would not only maintain good health but also learn how to live as decent human beings. The only two Princes he didn’t request annual feedback on were the two who resided in the capital – Red Prince and Orange Prince. Hence, being bestowed the opportunity to work as state proctor was a blessing that Red Prince needed to capitalise on. After all, it afforded him a big opportunity to build his resume and build relationships with the vassals.
Just as Red Prince was given an opportunity, so were keen-eyed vassals, in the sense that they could earn themselves a spot under him if he didn’t actively recruit them. In the same vein, he was also afforded the chance to cull the tumours in the arena. Trying to convince anyone with a brain that there weren’t any corrupt officials is as ridiculous as it gets. Depending on how they design their approach, then, they could be climbing the staircase to heaven or descending the staircase to hell.
Dai Youming didn’t wake up to find himself in prison or at the ministry of justice. He had never been to hell, but he sure didn’t believe the uniform he saw belonged down there; the ministry of justice sure wouldn’t arm themselves with such scary broadswords. As far as he knew, he’d only see men like them in Emperor Yuansheng’s personal army.
“Dai Youming!” A guard dragged Dai Youming out.
Fire clouds on his shoes? His Highness’ crest! I’m at His Highness’ place! Did Sir Zhu save me?
Red Prince’s estate was barely more opulent than Dai Youming’s and a far, far way off from Orange Prince’s, just as Zhu’s old clothing was – plain and old. Therefore, doubt of his conjecture manifested in his mind.
“Reporting! Dai Youming has been delivered!”
“S-Sir Zhu! You saved this one?” Dai Youming looked up to see Zhu sitting in the master seat. He still wore a fire cloud crest on his robe, but this one had three fire dragons wreathing around sewn on.
“How dare you stand in His Highness’ presence!”
Indeed, the person who discussed with Dai Youming at his manor was none other than Red Prince – Li Tingzhu.
Dai Youming dropped to his knees right away: “Sorry, sorry, Your Highness! Sorry for no recognising you. This one… This one… This one…”
“You should be sorry, but not because you didn’t recognise me.” He was still cold, but his tone made it clear that he was the lord presiding over the place. “You want to bribe me so bad that you’d kidnap innocent girls? Dai Youming, do you know what the penalty for your crime is?”
“This one has committed more crimes than that…” Dai Youming kowtowed and reeled off every crime he had committed without withholding anything. “According to the law, this one should be exiled north for forty years.”
Caught with the unexpected response, Red Prince couldn’t find it in him to declare Dai Youming’s punishment. Instead, he questioned, “You are a scholar, a student of Confucius. Why would you commit such sins?”
“Because this one was born into poverty, he has always wanted to build himself into someone accomplished. In the end, he only indulged in a profligate lifestyle and did nothing for the people. However, Liu Shan Men’s female official brought him back to his senses. Despite all that studying, he forgot all about Confucius’ teachings and to live an upstanding life. He is a sinner.”
Dai Youming was taken away to be publicly trialled at a later date.
Ever since being delegated the task of supervising the nation, Red Prince was always actively searching for a break. Sadly, every time he found clues, someone always beat him to the punch; for one month straight, he had been coming up short every time. To solve the case concerning Dai Youming, he posed as his own subordinate to find the chance to rescue the kidnapped maidens. Alas…
“Liu Shan Men…” Red Prince rubbed the ruby on his sword as he redrew the image of Ming Suwen in his mind. “Humph!”