TIGR Chapter 82

The Imperial Guard’s Revenge

Chapter 82 Behind the Scenes

In Dongnuan Pavilion, the sun shone on the incense burner, and green smoke spiraled up in the golden light.

Lu Heng stood in front of the imperial table and reported the investigation to the emperor in an orderly manner.

“After the imperial court dismissed on the twelfth day of the tenth month, Xue Kan visited the Peng family house and showed Peng Ze the memorial he had just finished. Peng Ze hosted Xue Kan for a meal. At the dinner table, he said that he drank too much and was not of clear mind. He asked Xue Kan to leave the memorial and said he would read it when he sobered up tomorrow. Xue Kan agreed, and the next day, Peng Ze went to Wenyuan Pavilion to find Head Auxiliary Zhang and had a secret conversation with him alone for half an hour. In the afternoon, Head Auxiliary Zhang brought a copy of the memorial and sought an audience.”

As Lu Heng spoke, he handed Xue Kan’s initial draft of the memorial to the emperor. The emperor took it and looked at it. Sure enough, it was very similar to the one Zhang Jinggong brought. Seeing that the emperor had almost read everything, Lu Heng continued: “I found this draft in the Xue family’s study, and there were also several scraped sheets. A servant of the Xue family also confessed that Xue Kan had been writing this memorial in his study since the beginning of the tenth month, scrapping, editing, and revising through several editions, but he could never make up his mind. A servant of the Xue family said that one day in the middle of the tenth month, Xue Kan came back drunk and seemed to be in a very high mood. On the fourteenth day of the tenth month, Peng Ze hosted a banquet for Xue Kan at the Zuixian Tower, sent back the memorial, praised the excerpt for its good writing, and urged Xue Kan to present it to the emperor as soon as possible. Xue Kan was still hesitant until the twentieth day of the tenth month when Peng Ze came to him again and said that Head Auxiliary Zhang also appreciated the idea very much and that if Xue Kan presented it to the emperor, Head Auxiliary Zhang would help him. On the twenty-first day of the tenth month, Xue Kan transcribed the memorial and brought it to this table.”

Lu Heng did not connect the cause and effects, but hearing the time and actions was enough for the emperor to guess what happened. The emperor put down the draft and asked: “Where is Xia Wenjin?”

The emperor’s suspicions were indiscriminate. If Head Auxiliary Zhang was not pure, then what about the other members of the cabinet. Didn’t they also want to devise a way to possess the crown prince? Lu Heng was well prepared and said calmly: “Xue Kan and Cabinet Elder Xia do have a personal relationship. The last time they met was in the sixth month. Since the Southern Patrol, Cabinet Elder Xia has not met Xue Kan. According to a servant in the Xia Mansion, Xue Kan and Cabinet Elder Xia talked for an hour in the sixth month, but the servant only changed the tea and left, and did not hear clearly what was said.”

This information covered the restaurants, the Xue, Peng, and Xia family homes, as well as the residences of officials in the imperial city. Lu Heng uncovered everything clearly, and could even eavesdrop on most of the conversations, which showed the power of the Imperial Guard’s intelligence network. The Imperial Guards’ claim to be the eyes, ears, and claws of the emperor was not exaggerated at all.

Lu Heng found many clues, enough to solve the case. He personally tested Peng Ze and Xia Wenjin, but it was just for insurance. The reactions of Peng Ze and Xia Wenjin confirmed Lu Heng’s speculation. Lu Heng had no doubts about the conclusion and entered the palace with confidence.

Lu Heng did not say who formed a clique or who sought personal gain. He only laid out the story in front of the emperor and the emperor would figure it out himself. The emperor sighed slightly. It seemed that this result was in line with the emperor’s expectations.

The emperor did not comment on the dispute between Zhang and Xia but asked Lu Heng calmly: “The situation in Datong is getting more and more tense. In your opinion, who should be sent to Datong to lead the army?”

This question was not easy to answer. Lu Heng paused for a moment and then spoke cautiously: “In my opinion, Deputy Imperial Censor Zeng Xian pacified the mutiny in Liaoyang, repeatedly beat back the northern tribes in Shandong, built the outer city of Linqing, and has rich experience in fighting the Mongols; Deputy Imperial Censor Yang Bo cultivated fields, built canals, and built forts when he served as the inspector general of the Gansu province, he subdued the Handong people, and has performed many meritorious deeds in guarding the border and kept Suzhou in good order; the late Marquis of Zhenyuan, Fu Yue, once served as the governor of Xuanfu, Datong and Shanxi military affairs. He was very famous in the Northwest Army. It is said that Fu Yue ate and slept with the soldiers during his stay in the Datong Mansion and was deeply supported. If Fu Yue’s grandson, Fu Tingzhou, is sent to Datong, it will definitely boost the morale of the Datong army and get twice the result with half the effort. I think that these three people are all good choices.”

These three people were from poor, official, and noble families, covering three sources of military commanders. Except for Fu Tingzhou, who had never been on the battlefield, the other two had good military abilities. The emperor said to himself that Lu Heng was really slippery. He answered every casual question without missing a beat. He left the choice to the emperor without taking any responsibility of his own.

The emperor said: “Zeng Mian is currently the governor of Shandong and cannot be transferred without authorization. Yang Bo is suitable, but he returned home after his mother died and is still in Dingyou. If Fu Yue was still alive, he would be the best choice for chief commander this time, but it is a pity that heaven envied a good general. Before Fu Yue died, he said he personally raised his grandson and taught him martial arts, military skills, and strategy. If there was any difficulty in the nine cities in the future, Fu Tingzhou could be sent to relieve the worries. Fu Yue has fought against Mongolia for many years and knows the Datong prefecture very well. The successor he has raised should be good. However, Fu Tingzhou is too young.”

No matter how good Fu Yue was in teaching, he had never fought in actual combat. Who knew if Fu Tingzhou was just good at putting military tactics on paper? The emperor had been thinking about it these days. If he must make a transfer, many generals could be employed, but there were no suitable timing and candidates.

The borders of the Ming Dynasty were very long. There were Jurchens in the northeast, Mongolia in the northwest, and Japanese pirates along the southeast coast. The various tribes in the southwest were also unstable. One move could affect the whole body, and a general couldn’t be transferred casually. Among the unemployed generals in the capital, excluding those who were old and frail, without high ambitions, or conceited, there were not many good successors. Fu Tingzhou’s background was suitable, but he had no qualifications.

The emperor had been thinking hard for a long time, and now it was time to decide. After listening to the emperor’s words, Lu Heng already understood the emperor’s orientation.

Lu Heng had already expected it. The Lu family was a family of military officers. How could he not know who was available in court? Lu Heng followed the emperor’s meaning and said: “Wei Huo was only twenty years old when he made his meritorious service. Military officials are unlike government officials who are not hindered by age.”

The older the government officials who governed the country, the better, but generals stationed on the border must be young. Since ancient times, famous generals have been young. Sometimes when people grew old, they became timid on the battlefield.

The emperor obviously thought so too. He followed that train of thought and said: “But he has no experience in leading an army. What if he is young and energetic and falls into someone else’s trap?”

Lu Heng said: “The Marquis of Zhenyuan has no experience, but the Marquis of Wuding has been in the army for many years and has many capable people under his command. I heard that the Marquis of Zhenyuan will be getting married to the third Miss of the Marquis of Yongping soon. When the marriage is completed, the Marquis of Zhenyuan will be the nephew and son-in-law of the Marquis of Wuding. When his nephew and son-in-law goes to the battlefield, the Marquis of Wuding should send a few confidants to accompany and remind him.”

The emperor looked at Lu Heng. Lu Heng lowered his eyes and calmly let the emperor look at him. The emperor’s eyebrows moved, and a look of understanding appeared in his eyes.

So that was the case. He asked why Lu Heng secretly suppressed the Fu family’s confidence some time ago. Now he recommended Fu Tingzhou today, so this was the original purpose.

Lu Heng was very involved in stealing that woman, and he was still in the scene now. Zhang Jinggong used the emperor to suppress his opponents and the emperor was very angry when he figured it out. However, if it was someone like Lu Heng who plotted against political opponents and stole women openly, the emperor found it acceptable.

Was it human nature to indulge in wine, sex, and wealth. Lu Heng knew the importance. Although he suppressed the Fu family, he would not delay the war. He would give in when it was time to give in. He could only use this national event to satisfy his personal desire.

After the emperor figured this out, he felt more relieved about Lu Heng. The more capable an official was, the less likely he was to be afraid of his selfish motives. If he was someone like Hai Rui who had no desires and pursued his ideals wholeheartedly, the emperor would not dare to use him.

The emperor was well aware of Lu Heng’s little plan, and when Lu Heng said this, he also asked the emperor in disguise to satisfy his wishes. The emperor had always been very tolerant towards his officials who had done meritorious service, and this was not a huge matter. The emperor said happily: “You are right to remind me that swords have no eyes on the battlefield. Before going to the battlefield, you must first solve the problem of getting married. Fu Tingzhou and the daughter of the Marquis of Yongping are similar in age, and they are very close to each other. If they can get married, it will be a good story.”

Lu Heng achieved his goal, cupped his hands, and said: “The emperor is wise.”

It was easy for the emperor to bestow a marriage to the Fu and Hong families, but it unexpectedly took care of Lu Heng’s affairs. It was Lu Heng’s own woman and his own efforts, so the emperor would not be the evil person. The emperor said: “Peng Ze is stirring up trouble, and the officials in the Ministry of Appointments may not be unaware of it. You should check the people in the Ministry of Appointments and the Ministry of Revenue, as well as Li Shi and Zhai Luan, and see what they have done during this period.”

Li Shi and Zhai Luan were both cabinet scholars. There were six cabinet members in total. The emperor immediately checked four of them. It seemed that this time there was really going to be a large-scale investigation. Lu Heng accepted the order, bowed, and left.

Lu Heng’s goals today were successfully accomplished. As for seeking a bestowal of marriage between him and Wang Yanqing, he had no intention of asking from the beginning.

The crux of the problem between him and Wang Yanqing was not about formality. If this point was not resolved, even if Wang Yanqing was forced to marry him by imperial decree, she would not forgive Lu Heng, and she might even reject and distance herself from him. These matters must ultimately be personally resolved by Lu Heng.

He had to work on both sides. He had to quickly cultivate Wang Yanqing’s feelings for him, and he couldn’t relax the blow to Fu Tingzhou. Wang Yanqing could be coaxed slowly, but Fu Tingzhou must be suppressed, and he must never give him a chance to fan the flames.

Lu Heng had already settled the Xue Kan case and was going to carry out the second phase of the mission, but Guo Xun and the others were still fighting. With Zhai Luan and Qin Fu, one was trying to smooth things over while the other refused to cooperate, which left Guo Xun and Head Auxiliary Zhang in a struggle.

Head Auxiliary Zhang was impatient and forceful, and intervened in the interrogation of Xue Kan. Guo Xun had long disliked this group of government officials, and without the least bit of courtesy, shunned Head Auxiliary Zhang and made many sarcastic remarks.

Zhang Jinggong couldn’t bear these kinds of annoyances, so he also took action to get back at Guo Xun. Guo Xun was the Marquis of Wuding, he was benevolent to the emperor and could not be easily moved, but other members of the Guo family were not. As the Head Auxiliary, Zhang Jinggong could not touch Guo Xun, but he had more than enough power to deal with the others.

When Guo Xun’s accomplices were implicated, he was enraged. He increasingly implicated the Zhang faction and accused him of participating in establishing the crown prince to whomever. Anyway, the emperor asked Guo Xun to investigate the case but didn’t question how he would find evidence. Guo Xun recklessly implicated people and the prison was overcrowded for a while.

While the two major government and military influences were fighting fiercely, explosive news suddenly came from the harem. The focus of their investigation, the eldest prince who was the protagonist of the memorial that triggered the emperor’s wrath, died of illness late at night.

In the twelfth month of the twelfth year of Jiajing, the eldest son, whom the emperor had longed for many years, died just two months after he was born.

Even the imperial palace was helpless against many diseases, and infant deaths were common, especially for the eldest prince who was born prematurely and was already weak. The emperor was greatly saddened and in a very bad mood. When Guo Xun and others saw that something had happened, and the eldest prince was dead. If they continued to battle over the establishment of the crown prince, wouldn’t they be deliberately adding salt to the emperor’s wounds? Guo Xun and Zhang Jinggong could only stop and come to the palace with their tails between their legs for a debriefing.

The emperor became angry when he saw these people. The emperor sent two groups of people at the same time to find out who instigated the establishment of the crown prince. Lu Heng submitted a complete report a month ago. However, this group of people had the best resources, but could not produce results for a long time. Now only that the candidate for the crown prince had died, did they return for a debriefing. How could the emperor not be angry?

Zhang Jinggong, Guo Xun, and Zhai Luan stood in the Qianqing Palace, shamefully listening to the emperor’s scolding with drooping eyes. It was also their bad luck. The people who stood here were not stupid. They saw that the emperor wanted to use the matter of establishing the crown prince to settle accounts in the court. Didn’t this force them to find sides? At which time could the court form sides without suffering from serious injury with foul wind and bloody rain. In the end, they still couldn’t choose well, the eldest prince died of illness.

Zhang Jinggong and Guo Xun also felt that they were wronged. But luck was also a part of strength, and you could only recognize it yourself. Guo Xun originally wanted to wait until the case was almost fully investigated so that when he came to report to the emperor, he could take advantage of the emperor’s happiness and mention the marriage bestowal casually. In the end, when the prince died in infancy, Guo Xun was scolded instead of reaping the rewards.

Guo Xun did not dare to mention the marriage proposal anymore. The emperor was now experiencing the pain of losing his son. How short-sighted was Guo Xun to ask for marriage at this time.

After the emperor finished scolding them, the mood gradually calmed down. There were several concubines in the harem who were pregnant. Although the emperor was sad to lose his son, it was not to the extent that the world would collapse. After berating his officials, he slowly gave them sweet dates.

The emperor said: “My son was not destined to live in the palace, but as father and son are tied, I can’t bear for him to leave alone. After passing an order, the emperor’s eldest son was named Prince Aichong and buried in Xishan. Imperial Concubine Yan Li lost her son at a young age. I couldn’t bear to see it and made her a noble concubine. The Ministry of Rites issued a general amnesty to the whole country. Starting this month, prisoners on death row will be pardoned and those in exile will be exempted from guilt. To commit less murderous crimes and pray for Prince Aichong.”

All the officials responded. The emperor added: “In the beginning of the year, Empress Dowager Zhang died, and at the end of the year, Prince Aichong also passed away. But even so, the affairs of the nation cannot be left behind. The situation in Datong is becoming increasingly tense and cannot be delayed any longer. Fu Tingzhou, the Marquis of Zhenyuan, was appointed as Datong’s Chief Commander to guard Datong. I remember that Fu Tingzhou is not married yet. After all, he is Fu Yue’s direct bloodline. If there is any trouble on the battlefield, I will feel sorry for General Fu. The third daughter of the Marquis of Yongping is respectful and sensitive, and she is a good match for the Marquis of Zhenyuan. I shall bestow a marriage upon these two, they chose a good time to get married.”

Guo Xun felt happy when he heard the first words, but when he heard the second words, he shuddered fiercely. The marriage bestowal was only mentioned some time ago. Except for a few close friends around him, Guo Xun didn’t tell anyone else. Why did the emperor take the initiative to bestow this marriage? The emperor activated Fu Tingzhou on the front foot and promoted the alliance between the Zhenyuan Marquis, Yongping Marquis, and Wuding Marquis. What was his intention?

The more Guo Xun thought about it, the more frightened he became. After the emperor finished dealing with the affairs of Guo Xun and his faction, he looked at Zhang Jinggong again. Zhang Jinggong straightened his back, lowered his head, and stood solemnly, knowing that the most important thing was coming.

The palace of Qianqing was so quiet that you could even hear the sound of flying air, and the emperor’s voice slowly sounded: “Xue Kan made an arrogant proposal to establish a prince that reduced my people. Peng Ze fabricated a conspiracy, brought trouble to the court, and reduced the front in Datong. Zhang Jinggong served as Head Auxiliary, but he only listened to one side and acted arbitrarily. I order you to retire from your post and reflect upon your errors at home.”

Zhang Jinggong didn’t dare to argue a word, so he cupped his hands and offered his apology. For ordinary officials, dismissal was a big deal, but for a head auxiliary, dismissal and reinstatement were a matter of just one sentence. It just depended on whether the superior was willing to continue to use you. There was leeway in the emperor’s words. Although the emperor obviously resented Zhang Jinggong for being self-willed and rejecting dissenters, he still recognized his abilities.

After Zhang Jinggong entered the cabinet, he resolutely cleaned up the farmland and liquidated the land that had been occupied by eunuchs, monks, and temples. He did not hesitate to offend others and implemented a new imperial examination selection system. The emperor wanted to resolve the land annexation, but this time he was deceived by Zhang Jinggong, which made him lose face and feel angry. He suspended Zhang Jinggong and dismissed him for show, but would call Zhang Jinggong back after a while.

Zhang Jinggong understood this and secretly breathed a sigh of relief. The emperor beat everyone with kindness and power before letting them go out.

Everyone walked out of Qianqing Palace. Guo Xun and Zhang Jinggong had been fighting each other for very long and they had long disliked each other. Now that Guo Xun’s faction had gained military power and been bestowed a marriage, while Zhang Jinggong had been suspended, Guo Xun was inevitably proud. He smiled and cupped his hands toward Zhang Jinggong: “Zhang has been working hard for a year, and now he can have a good rest. Congratulations. Unfortunately, many things are going on at the end of the year, and there is a backlog of duties in my office, so I will be unable to spend time with you. Forgive me Zhang, but I will leave first.”

Zhang Jinggong looked at Guo Xun and sneered: “Please, Marquis of Wuding, I am just a commoner now and I dare not waste the Marquis of Wuding’s time.”

Guo Xun left his mark with satisfaction. Zhai Luan stepped forward to salute Zhang Jinggong, spoke some words, and went back to the pavilion.

Zhang Jinggong was walking alone in the imperial palace. Everyone was busy hustling places and only he was walking out. The eunuchs passing by looked at Zhang Jinggong secretly. Zhang Jinggong didn’t care at all. His career had experienced ups and downs several times. At the worst time, he was almost liquidated to death by Yang Ting. What did this turmoil mean now?

It was only ridiculous that Guo Xun was so proud that he thought Zhang Jinggong’s dismissal was due to him. It was really stupid. The emperor didn’t wait for them to report the investigation results and scolded them when he saw them. This showed that the emperor already knew the truth. If it wasn’t Guo Xun who investigated it, then who could it be?

Guo Xun was just a knife in another person’s hand. Lu Heng was the truly terrifying person for walking through such a sensitive matter yet being able to escape unscathed and hide behind the scenes the entire time.

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