Three days later, night, the Mu Palace.
The Mu Wang palace has always been heavily guarded, and these days it has been even more so. The aide, Zhou An, hurriedly walked through the front courtyard and stepped into the study. He saw Mu Wang standing coldly in front of the desk, and his heart trembled. He walked forward and paid his respects.
Mu Wang waved his hand impatiently and asked, "How is the Crown Prince's whereabouts being investigated?"
"Your Highness, our men haven't seen the Crown Prince's camp on the official road or at the Ten-Li Slope." Zhou An hesitated for a moment, then continued, "The Crown Prince must have gone through Sankou Town. Should we send someone to pursue..."
"Even until now, you still dare to speak!" Mu Wang berated, "The road to Sankou Town is remote and treacherous. What's the use of chasing after them? If they travel day and night, in at most two days, they will arrive at the Mu Tian Prefecture."
Zhou An's worry flashed through the depths of his eyes, "Wangye, I don't know if Zhong daren has handled the matters of Mu Tian Prefecture properly. If the Crown Prince arrives early and discovers even the slightest trace of the breach in the Two Rivers, it would be a great peril for you, Your Highness."
王爷 (wáng yé) - My lord/lord.
Mu Wang swept his sleeves and spoke coldly: "This wang had already warned Zhong Liwen earlier to appease the people and not to act excessively harsh and arrogant. If it were not for him arousing resentment among the people in Jiangnan and acting against the court's various decrees in a covert manner, how could the Emperor have dispatched the Crown Prince and Ren Anle to the Mu Tian Prefecture?"
The past two years, Emperor Jianing was not unaware of the growing influence of the Mu wang's Manor. However, if he were to do nothing, like a timorous turtle, waiting for Han Ye's ascension, he would ultimately meet the same fate as those imperial uncles who ended up worse off than dead. It would be better to take a risk. Initially, everything was going smoothly. If it weren't for the recent breach in the Jiangnan River, Emperor Jianing would also have difficulty finding an excuse to rectify the situation in Jiangnan.
He had been cautious, patient, and careful for over a decade, yet he found that man's calculations are no match for heaven's calculations.
人算不如天算 (rén suàn bù rú tiān suàn) - literally translates to "man's calculations are inferior to heaven's calculations." This phrase means that despite a person's careful planning and preparations, unexpected events or circumstances may occur.
"Wangye, now is not the time to be angry. Zhong daren has done so much for you over the years, and if he is exposed by the Crown Prince this time, he might turn around and bite you, Wangye..."
"He dares!" Mu Wang's expression turned gloomy, and he took a few steps back to the window. After a moment, he said, "Zhou An, inform Zhong Liwen that those troublesome things should be dealt with cleanly and efficiently. Also, give orders... the secret operations in Jiangnan will temporarily be under the control of Gui Xi."
Zhou An was startled, his expression changed. He was initially a follower of Mu Wang, and many important matters in the Mu mansion were under his responsibility. However, he knew in his heart that the person most trusted by Mu Wang was the leader of the mansion's secret guards, Gui Xi. This person was extremely mysterious; even Zhou An only knew of Gui Xi's unparalleled swordsmanship and unwavering loyalty to Mu Wang. If Gui Xi intervened in the affairs of Jiangnan, there should be no cause for worry.
Zhou An heaved a sigh of relief, nodded approvingly, and respectfully withdrew.
Two days later, Mu Tian Prefecture.
The accompanying guards, on the previous day, were divided into several waves and entered the Mu Tian Prefecture to investigate. Han Ye and Ren Anle led two maidservants, a wooden guard, and a spirited young zhuang yuan, who sat leisurely on a donkey cart and slowly made their way into the city.
Oh, forgot to mention, this time, wielding the small whip and driving the donkey cart with great sacrifice is not Chang Qing, but Jian Song, the commander of the Eastern Palace Imperial Guards who has always been by Han Ye's side. Of course, this is the most direct and effective revenge from Ren Anle after Han Ye snatched away her beloved servant girl.
Upon entering the city, one could only see tidy streets and prosperous commoners. The scene before one's eyes was tranquil and harmonious. After witnessing the bustling journey, the people in the donkey cart finally arrived at the predetermined inn arranged by the guards who entered the city ahead of time—the Ping'an Inn in the western city of Mu Tian prefecture.
On this night, Ren Anle luxuriously soaked in a hot bath, feeling refreshed. When she pushed open Han Ye's door, she saw Yuan Qin and Yuan Shu standing behind him, resembling obedient young wives, she couldn't help but snort disdainfully.
She enslaved the petty prince's commander of the Eastern Palace for one day, and as a result, even this only remaining blockhead servant girl was relegated to a corner.
Han Ye disregarded her increasingly arrogant and insolent behavior, regardless of how sharp and sarcastic Ren Anle's mockery and sarcasm were. He focused on commanding the two maidservants, and as a result, she couldn't display any temper at all.
"Your Highness, there are only ten days left for the disaster relief funds to arrive at the Mu Tian prefecture, and yet you have time to enjoy tea and play chess here?" Ren Anle saw Han Ye holding the freshly brewed tea prepared by Yuan Qin, and with a raised eyebrow, she immediately started to criticize.
Her long hair, draped over her shoulders, was still dripping with water. Without Yuan Qin by her side, everything seemed to go wrong. Ren Anle, while speaking, subtly gestured towards Yuan Qin with her eyes.
Yuan Qin took a step, Han Ye coughed lightly neither too lightly nor too heavily. She quickly moved back to her original position, lowered her head with a serious expression, and began brewing tea.
Even combing a single strand of hair is not allowed, where is the justice in that! Ren Anle's face darkened, and she was about to draw her sword and engage in a full-scale fight. Han Ye raised his eyes, a smirk forming at the corner of his mouth, "Ren daren, it's only fair to reciprocate. What can you offer gu? "
Ren Anle restrained herself as she looked at Han Ye's fox-like appearance, but her longing for Yuan Qin's nimble hands became overwhelming. Reluctantly, she took out a few sheets of paper from her sleeve and slapped them on the table, saying, "Before my visit to the Ministry of Revenue, I I had Qian daren transcribe a list of officials responsible for last year's construction of the river embankment in Jiangnan. Your Highness might find it useful."
The officials in charge of managing the waterways cannot be easily pried open, but it's different for the subordinate officials. They directly obey the orders of various government officials, so and they certainly have a lot of knowledge about inside information.
Han Ye raised his eyebrows, unabashedly beckoning to Yuan Qin with a wave of his hand. Yuan Qin, as if granted a general amnesty, swiftly took three steps and arrived behind Ren Anle, picking up a cloth to wipe her hair.
Ren Anle let out a satisfied hum, like a contented cat, she retracted her claws and lazily leaned back, even her gaze upon Han Ye softened.
Han Ye found it interesting, the corners of his mouth curved up slightly. He picked up the paper on the table and examined it for a moment, then turned his gaze back to Ren Anle. He was not stingy with his praise, saying, "Ren daren's thoughts are truly meticulous. She even brought out the list of river workers from Jiangnan that was sent to the Ministry of Revenue."
"I am too lazy to take a detour. Investigating officials is the ultimate goal, but who says we can only investigate them? The testimonies of the common people are more trustworthy than anything else." Ren Anle yawned and said, "The Mu Tian Prefecture was clearly plagued by severe flooding, yet what we see today upon entering the city is a scene of prosperity and tranquility. Isn't it strange?"
"Presumably Zhong Liwen has put in some effort on this matter," Han Ye's voice turned cold, "He thinks gu is a fool. He delayed reporting the disaster for ten days, just to create this false illusion of the Mu Tian prefecture."
"If an ordinary court official had come this time, he would probably not be able to achieve such results. Your presence here, Your Highness, has made the officials in Jiangnan panic."
Han Ye remained noncommittal and called out once. Jian Song walked in from the doorway. Han Ye pointed at the list on the table and ordered, "Go and investigate, return to gu tomorrow."
Jian Song received the order and left. Ren Anle stared intently at this handsome and gentle commander of the Eastern Palace, while Han Ye's hand holding the chess piece paused, and he narrowed his eyes, "What's the matter, Ren daren ? Are you interested?"
What's wrong with this woman? Even though Southern Jin is a remote borderland, it's not to the extent that one cannot avert their gaze upon seeing a slightly attractive person!
Ren Anle reluctantly withdrew her gaze and looked at Han Ye, shaking her head with her chin resting on her hand, saying, "Even if there are three thousand calamities, this subject would only take a sip."
纵使三千祸水，臣亦只取一瓢饮- Even if there were three thousand calamities, representing a vast number of difficulties or challenges, she remains resolute. The phrase suggests that despite the magnitude of the hardships, the speaker would only take small sips, indicating their commitment to enduring and persevering through the trials without succumbing to them completely.
This is the most impolite sentence Han Ye has ever heard, but he will never admit it in his lifetime. In that moment, as Ren Anle looked over with a smile and narrowed eyes, and gazing into those pure ink-black eyes, deep down in his heart, he was perhaps...somewhat pleased.
Suddenly and unexpectedly, a sudden and unforeseen event occurred, however, it was incredibly real.
Early the next day, Han Ye and Ren Anle donned plain clothes and left the inn. Both of them dressed in men's attire, appearing quite ordinary. Initially, as they strolled through the city, everything seemed fine. However, the further they ventured towards the outskirts, the more grim their expressions became. Apart from glimpses of peace within the bustling streets of the city, as they traveled along the official road from Mu Tian Prefecture to the breached embankment, hundreds of meters beyond the city's outskirts, it was crowded with raggedy, famished commoners. They had sallow complexions, holding their children and elderly with sorrowful expressions.
Before thousands of refugees, there are only a few porridge stalls. About ten officials stand guard here, grinning and yawning while basking in the sun, their eyes their eyes showing indifference and numbness.
Now is the time for distributing porridge and rice. People are lining up to receive the watery porridge, where a few scattered grains of rice are mixed in it. The murky soup even contains bits of grass and roots.
Han Ye and Ren Anle concealed themselves behind a large tree not far away, their expressions cold and solemn.
In the southern region, frequent water disasters have occurred, with the Mu Tian Prefecture being particularly affected. Every year, the imperial court would store a large quantity of grain within the Mu Tian Prefecture for emergency needs. How did this magistrate, Zhong Liwen, come to power? He actually dares to treat the common people so harshly and provide relief to the disaster-stricken through inhumane efforts!
Mu Tian Prefecture has been experiencing frequent heavy floods. Here, the officials and merchants collude. In more than ten county governments, grain is more expensive than gold. They have tasted the sweetness and naturally, they are unwilling to provide the grain for disaster relief. Most of it is aged rice or mixed with impurities to make do.
Han Ye glanced at Ren Anle and said, "We arrived only yesterday, yet you seem to be familiar with the Mu Tian Prefecture."
"Your Highness, do not forget that Qian daren's residence is that of a wealthy merchant. Before departing the capital, I inquired about various affairs in Jiangnan with Qian daren. Each year, if it were not for the Qian family purchasing and providing relief grain, they never raise the price of grain. Otherwise, the common people in the Mu Tian Prefecture and its surroundings areas would have long been unable to survive."
The business of the Qian family spread throughout the world, fostering good relationships far and wide. Qian Guangjin, in particular, had gained the favor of the emperor to such an extent that no one dared to forcefully command the Qian family in this manner.
Han Ye looked at the distant commoners, silent and speechless.
"Your Highness, perhaps you have never witnessed such a scene, where human lives are deemed as insignificant as weeds and are regarded as pigs and dogs." Ren Anle's voice lowered, and she suddenly turned to look at Han Ye, saying, "When the border flames of war arise, it is they who send their sons and husbands into the army. During years of severe drought, it is the common people themselves who dig canals to bring water. And in times of flooding, it is they who build river embankments with their own flesh and blood. The bureaucrats of Da Jing are sustained by the taxes of the people from all corners of the realm. Your Highness, they rely on the common people for their livelihoods. How dare they allow the people of Da Jing to live in such misery!"
The words of Ren Anle resounded with a thud. After a moment, Han Ye finally raised his eyes and looked towards the multitude of sorrowful people in the distance. He slowly spoke, "It is this ruler's fault."
The emperor, inclined towards war, and the imperial princes vying for power, while corrupt officials plague the land. Da Jing... is far from the peaceful prosperity he once believed it to be. As the crown prince, he remains unaware of the plight of the people in Da Jing.
"It is not His Royal Highness's fault alone. If the people are the roots, then the emperor is the foundation of a nation. When the emperor fails to govern the country properly, it leads to the corruption of the court and the suffering of the people."
"Ren Anle!" Han Ye suddenly raised his head and coldly said, "Discussing the sovereign is a capital offense. Swallow these words you've uttered, and if you dare mention them again upon returning to the capital..."
He restrained his voice, brushed his sleeve and turned back, the cold air on his body particularly intense just now.
In a place hidden from her sight, Han Ye's hand tightly held, and his thin lips lightly pursed.
Ren Anle is from the grassland and is used to having a carefree and unrestrained temperament. If she were to speak such words in front of other people in the future, she would probably not be far from the execution ground. With such a fearless temperament, why doesn't she just stay comfortably in her own happy place, but instead, she has come to meddle in the chaos of the capital!
This female bandit leader, indeed, has grown tired of her life!
"Your Highness, all the officials involved in the construction of the river embankment last year were conscripted by the Mu Tian Prefecture five days ago." Jian Song investigated for a day and brought back this rather unpleasant news.
"All conscripted? On what pretext?" Han Ye's brows furrowed.
"Reconstructing river embankments, not only this..."
"Has not even a single one of last year's river workers disappeared? All gone without a trace?" Ren Anle walked in, followed by the spirited Wen Shuo.
Jian Song nodded and said, "What the daren said is correct. All the river workers in charge were temporarily summoned by the government officials five days ago. In addition, Mu Tian Prefecture also conscripted another five hundred river workers."
Ren Anle and Han Ye's expressions froze simultaneously. They exchanged a glance and understood the profound meaning behind Zhong Liwen's words.
If the river embankment is to be built, 500 river workers are sufficient; there is absolutely no need to recruit again. The river workers who were recruited afterwards are the true repairers at present, as for the river workers and supervisors from last year... I presume they have already been put under the supervision of Zhong Liwen. All traces have been erased, making it impossible for people from the capital to investigate. It's quite clean and neat.
Just... if hundreds of people were detained together, how could there be no movement at all?
"Jian Song, go and investigate the recent places where a large quantity of grain has been transported. If my guess is correct, these people should be imprisoned in the outskirts."
"Chang Qing, follow Jian daren." Ren Anle leaned against the door and gave a faint order. Chang Qing swiftly appeared with a swish and silently followed behind Jian Song, immediately becoming his shadow.
The Eastern Palace commander's corner of the mouth twitched, silently withdrew and left.
Han Ye expressed his astonishment with a click of his tongue, "Are you willing to part with your precious guard?"
"Chang Qing is adept at tracing clues, and I lend him to Your Highness for temporary use, so... tonight, Yuan Qin belongs to me," Ren Anle stated firmly.
Han Ye put down the book in his hand and earnestly looked towards Ren Anle, saying, "Your business dealings are indeed meticulous. I believe no one is more capable than you to hold the position of the Eastern Palace's steward."
Wen Shuo shrank in the corner, watching the unusual conversation between the two people.
Han Ye's expression was extremely solemn, Ren Anle blinked her eyes, secretly comparing the annual salaries of the prestigious position of Grand Minister of Justice and the Chief steward of the Eastern Palace. She curled her lips, displaying her extraordinary skill, and instantly disappeared at the door.
Han Ye was taken aback, looking at the swaying door, and suddenly burst into loud laughter.
"Your Highness..." Wen Shuo's voice suddenly sounded without warning, and only then did Han Ye remember that there was someone else in the room. He restrained his smile and turned his head slightly.
Nearby, a young man sat cross-legged on a bed, propping up his chin. There was a smile at the corners of his mouth and in the arches of his eyebrows. The words that escaped his lips were earth-shattering.