Spring Once More - novelonlinefull.com
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Why does Fu Qingshu have to come on my business trip?
So I ask the emperor, “The young marquess is but the future heir of Marquess Anguo, a martial official above all. He has no hand in the annual tribute, has he?”
“It wasn’t I but Empress Mother and the consort dowager,” he explains while rubbing his forehead.
Princess Yong’an chose the li’l marquess out of the three candidates. The emperor was satisfied, and the empress was satisfied, but the princess’ own mother was not – the consort dowager only had her daughter in mind. She disliked that Fu Qingshu is from a martial background. Marquess Anguo holds great military power, so if the situation at the frontiers becomes dire, he must lead troops into battle. If he fights, she becomes a virtual widow; if he dies, she becomes a true widow; and if he survives with injuries and handicaps, she needs to take care of him for the rest of her life. After considering the possibilities, she went to the empress dowager for a favour so that the emperor might grant a civil position to Fu Qingshu.
“Only accomplishments warrant a position,” concludes the emperor fanning himself on the throne. “Incidentally, Prince Ren and Prince Kang gave us a marvellous idea to send him with you so that we may grant him a position in the Ministry of Justice or Rites.”
“My dear brother,” I chuckle dryly, “does the possibility of relapse not concern you? It might be inappropriate for the young marquess to travel with me lest I tarnish his name.”
I had to pull this card! This is so sad!
The emperor shuts his fan and props his chin up with a grin. “Empress Mother and our fellow brothers have all commended your new comportment. The seriousness of the issue is evident to you.”
For some reason, my knees feel weak.
“May I bring personnel from my manor on this trip?” G.o.dammit it’s just a corruption investigation! Bring it on!
The emperor twirls the fan in his hand. “Who do you wish to bring?” His glance makes me uncertain.
“None other than Su Yanzhi in my manor,” I answer politely.
His brows twitch. “Oh, Su Yanzhi. We heard that you have been reorganizing your household. Last time you brought him back after the investigation, so perhaps you plan to take him back this time. So be it. As long as you keep things quiet and covert, you may bring whomever.”
Standing below, I can do nothing but express my grat.i.tude to my emperor brother and excuse myself.
Xiao-Shun and Xiao-Quan have learned from experience what to expect after I visit the palace. As soon as my b.u.t.t touches a seat, Xiao-Shun comes to me and probes gingerly, “Milord, have you any commands?”
I give him a look of approval. “Go pack some of my belongings. I have affairs in the South.” Xiao-Shun leaves with his task. Then I turn to Xiao-Quan. “Go fetch Master Su and bring him to the library for me.” But then after a quick thought, I change my mind. “Never mind, I will go myself.”
The eastern courtyard staff sends word that Master Su is in the library, so once again I see him there. He’s flipping through some pages when I bring up the issue straightforwardly.
“Master Su, the emperor asked me to investigate corruption in the Jianghuai region. I’d like to invite you along, if you would be so kind.”
As expected, he gladly consents. I bring my fists together. “Then I’ll be counting on you.”
Since it’s an official trip, the money is coming from the pockets of the state. I guess the treasury is not doing too well these days because the emperor is super stingy. The supposed imperial warriors look as if they haven’t had a full meal in three months, their faces droopy and dark. Not that I mind too much. These guys are on a mission to protect me in the dark. Since we won’t be travelling together, I won’t lose any face as the imperial appointed investigator. But when I learn of my mode of transport, I become downright furious – a used carriage pulled by two mules!
But the emperor says he allotted the mules for a purpose. Word is going around in the court that the emperor is sending someone to investigate the situation of the annual tribute in the Jianghuai region, and those local officials are sure to plant eyes and ears along the state highway and points of entry and exit. If I were to ride in with a glamorous carriage and shiny horses, I would be recognized immediately.
Prince Ren comes to see me off. “Look at this, Ol’ Seven. Our brother, His Majesty, is so thoughtful. He knows the roads between the rivers Huang and Huai are not peaceful, so he made sure that you travel with light baggage. This way you won’t be taken hostage by bandits. You see these two mules? We had to search high and low in the palace to find them! Mules are a rare commodity in that place!”
On the first day of the fifth lunar month, I set off for Jianghuai, rickety and rackety in that s.h.i.tty carriage, accompanied by Master Su.
Waiting on us are only Zhong-shu and Xiao-Shun. The old butler drives while the boy serves us. We arranged to meet the li’l marquess at a lookout point a little ways outside the capital. The noisy carriage climbs its way up the hill. I push the curtains apart and get out to see Fu Qingshu approaching from the base of a tree. We bring our fists together in greeting, and I flash a smile.
“Brother Fu, let us have an agreeable journey.”
Fu Qingshu takes a look at the carriage and mules, his lips jerking. He packed lightly as well, only bringing one servant boy with him. Two people, two horses. I glance at the two handsome steeds being led by the servant. What the h.e.l.l is this? The servant rides a horse while the prince drives a mule?!
Fu Qingshu looks up at the sky. “The hour is late. We should hurry along, Your Highness. Please.”
He takes a whip from the servant and is about to jump on his horse when his eyes suddenly narrow in on the carriage.
I follow his gaze. Xiao-Shun is standing to the side holding the curtain for me. Fu Qingshu’s lips jerk upward a little as he peeks in.
“I see Your Highness has brought along a trusty counselor.” His volume is just enough to ride the wind and reach the person inside.
Head lowered, Master Su steps out and brings his fists together, greeting the marquess from afar. “Su Yanzhi, in the presence of Your Lordship.”
“You may forego the etiquette.” Fu Qingshu nods. “So this is the eminent Master Su. It’s a pleasure.”
His brows arch, and he shoots me a glance before jumping onto his horse.
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