Chapter 54: Imperial Concubines
“Refused to acknowledge you?” Du Luo’s interest was piqued. “That’s strange. Hua Jianli has been following your orders obediently all this time, why would he suddenly go against you? What ‘good’ thing did you do?”
“Me?” Ye Yin said innocently. “I just squeezed a few women into his harem!”
“Women?” Du Luo’s mouth opened wide. “Did Hua Jianli anger you in some way? With his personality, you… you forced women onto him! Only you could think of something so devious.”
Ye Yin curled his lip. “Brother Du, how can you think that way! What do you mean devious! I have my own reasons too, I was forced. If I didn’t have a good reason, you think Hua Jianli would still obediently give in and accept those women?”
“Reason? What kind of reason?” Du Luo’s voice was filled with doubt.
“He needs concubines for the imperial power to stabilize. Right now, there are few officials from the large clans. In order for the throne and clans to develop relationships, it is natural to let their women become concubines. Actually, the large clans have become much more well behaved over the past four years, so I cannot continue to suppress them. When things reach an extreme, they can only move in the opposite direction. Thus, once these women join his harem, first, it will maintain a balance of power, and second, it will allow the large clans to have a taste of power. For any of their women to be selected will be a great honor. So! Brother Jianli has sat on the throne for four years, but he has never had any concubines, which creates many rumors. It is not proper for the emperor to be gossiped about. It might even cause the neighboring countries to be suspicious. This is why he must accept the concubines.”
Du Luo sneered. “You have the face to use such a reason? Only that idiot Hua Jianli would be tricked!”
“What’s wrong with this reason?” Ye Yin was displeased. “This is a technique of emperors!”
“Technique of emperors? You call that a technique of emperors?”
Du Luo snorted disdainfully. “Give the large clans a taste of power? Is there anyone who doesn’t know that you are the true ruler pulling the strings? What use is the prospect of marrying Hua Jianli? So they can strut around proudly? Or so they get some other kind of benefit? Hua Jianli has listened to your words obediently this whole time, everything is decided by you! They might as well marry you instead!”
“And those rumors have been going on for four years, but you only decided to quell them now? Afraid of arousing suspicion from the neighboring countries? Humph, who’d believe that!” Du Luo did not give Ye Yin the chance to retort, continuing, “Everyone in West Zhi believes that the emperor does not like women, but the renowned prime minister. It is because of the young minister that he does not have any concubines, but lovesick because of the young minister’s loving marriage. Everyone believes it is because of his wife that the young minister and emperor now do not get along. I heard this rumor even at Xili two years ago at a market. If you want to quell the rumors, it’s already far too late!”
“Who said I wanted to quell the rumors?” Ye Yin humphed.
“If you wanted to quell the rumors, you would have done it long ago. You must be tired of those dark gazes those chancellors always give you, so you just decided to drag Hua Jianli down with you. You’re not the type to suffer alone.”
“No matter what you say, I’m not that mean.”
“It shouldn’t just be that. Did Hua Jianli annoy you again? Did he want to desert the throne again? Right now, the generals over at Yulong river are fighting pretty intensely with East Zhi, of course he’s not willing to stay at the palace!”
Ye Yin didn’t say anything, gulping a swig of wine. Du Luo stopped scolding because he knew Ye Yin loved to remember “good” deeds. If he angered him, perhaps he too would suffer like Hua Jianli.
He lied back, using his arms as a pillow. “Little Qi, with Hua Jianli’s personality, he won’t even touch those women. This gives leaves him in a very difficult position. In the future, he will give the throne to Wen Yuanbo, but he can’t just give the women to Wen Yuanbo too. A man does not want another man’s previous women, especially not an emperor. Although Wen Yuanbo is a fairly good ruler, he most likely is not magnanimous enough to accept the women of West Zhi’s harem. What will happen to those women in the future?”
Ye Yin remained silent for a while before speaking. “I understand. Perhaps those women will live in the harem for the rest of their life. But brother Du, these women must enter the harem. Indeed, I was displeased with Hua Jianli, but these women are unrelated to that. I will use these women as a warning to West Zhi’s major clans, because they have started to stir again.”
“What are they planning now?”
“Some of them planned to use women to attain power, trying to play the game of connections through marriage. You know, one of them was originally originally planned to be conferred to Nangong Piaoran! But I killed their plan early on.” Ye Yin sighed. “This might leave Hua Jianli in a difficult position, but he is different from before. He already understands the calculative nature in the struggle for power. How to deal with these women will be the biggest problem he has faced, but I believe he will come up with a way.”
“Whatever, who cares what he does.” Du Luo drank a swig of wine, then said unhappily, “Over the past four years, how many times has he helped you every time you encountered a problem? You can’t help him with this problem anyways. What could you do, marry again? Even if you were willing, there would be people upset who would obstruct the marriage.”
Ye Yin was just about to take a drink, but when he heard these words, he set down the jar of wine. “Hmm? Who would be upset?”
Du Luo, froze, then said unnaturally, “Lan… Lanzhi! Of course it would be Lanzhi. Besides Lanzhi, who could it be? Lanzhi is a pretty violent woman.”
“Don’t say that. Careful she doesn’t hear you.” Ye Yin raised his head and took another gulp. He kept on feeling that something about the way Du Luo spoke was off, but he couldn’t put his finger on it. Just as he was pondering, Du Luo said, “Little Qi, do you remember the days we traveled freely around the world?”
“Yup! I remember. Now that I think about it, it’s been a long time since we last traveled together.”
“Little Qi, every since you became prime minister, you’ve changed a lot. You become more busy, more concealed. Although before, you would hide your emotions, they would not be as deeply hidden as they are now, unable to be seen. Before, although your smiles were rare, they were genuine, but now, all your smiles are fake. Tears are hidden in your every smile.”
Ye Yin stiffened at his words. “Brother Du, I haven’t. I’m still me.”
“No! Although you smile widely, your smile always makes me feel so close, yet so far. Before, you appeared cold and aloof, but at least you were genuine. Little Qi! At Dongling, when you still had time, you would sneak out to travel with me, sometimes finding the time to take care of Fusheng business, but now? How long has it been since you last helped Fusheng?”
Ye Yin froze. After a while, he finally spoke. “Brother Du, I have my hands tied. I long for freedom, I don’t want to be restricted! I wish to find a sky where I can fly freely… I have found the sky, but I have been tied down, and the only person who has trapped me is myself.”
“Do you regret?”
But Ye Yin replied, “I cannot. If I regret, that would mean everything I have done thus far has been meaningless. This is the path I have chosen. No matter how much more bitter or tired I am, I cannot regret. Otherwise, it would mean my last four years have have been a waste of time.”
“The sky is vast and tumultuous, but I will continue to fly with all my might and leave my mark on the world.” Ye Yin’s voice was low. He opened another jar of wine and faced Du Luo with it. “Let’s stop talking about such sad things and drink till we’re drunk.”
Du Luo shook his head, sighing in his heart. He grabbed the jar and drank some gulps, then said, “Little Qi, when I passed through Yulong river this time, it was heavily guarded. West Zhi and East Zhi’s navy appear to have been fighting non stop day and night. I know you want the other countries to believe that West Zhi and East Zhi are still enemies, but is there such a need to make it so grand?”
Ye Yin blinked, then chuckled. “It might appear to be a great fight, but it’s just a practice bout. Real combat experience is the best way to increase their strength. They will have to defend the four estuaries again Nanrong’s navy in the future, so they must be well trained.”
“Once the naval training is complete and the cavalry is established, West Zhi and East Zhi will unify.” Ye Yin leaned back and also used his arms as pillows like Du Luo. “I had been wracking my brains on where to get horses for the cavalry over the past few days, but who would have thought that the Lu clan would contact the young master of the Ke family ranch in Beiqi, Ke Zhonglei, and purchase horses from him.”
“The Lu clan? The clan you said before was the most deceitful and treacherous clan of all of West Zhi? Why would they want horses?”
“Of course because they see the emperor is lacking horses. They plan to buy low and sell high, making a handsome profit as the go between. The major clans of West Zhi are essentially the Lu, Wang, Ping, and Xiao clans. These four are all in cahoots with each other. I simply cannot get a handle of them. Even trying to frame them doesn’t work.”
“Beiqi has always only offered Dongling horses. Why would they start selling West Zhi horses now?” Du Luo did not understand. Suddenly, he had a thought. Did he do something?
“Don’t be so suspicious of them. They don’t have any schemes, they only want to trade horses for what they want. They have already traded horses for five thousand dan* of grain from Dongling! In Xili, they traded horses for weapons, which means they don’t just do business with Dongling now. Today, I ran into young master Ke Zhonglei at Fragrant Wisp. This time, he brought not just the horses they promised the Lu clan, but many more unsold horses! So I ordered them. After talking it out, young master Ke promised to give us their best horses so that the remaining would…”
*dan: measurement for dry items equivalent to one hundred liters.
“So that the remaining would be left for the Lu clan?” Du Luo laughed heartily. “What kind of magic did you use so that he would agree to give you the best horses? No one does business like that. Isn’t he afraid of ruining their reputation?”
Ye Yin humphed. “If anyone lost their reputation, it would be the Lu clan. It was their fault first. They wanted the horses, but didn’t pay upfront. They wanted to drag the time out so they could negotiate for the lowest price. Over the past few days, Ke Zhonglei couldn’t find the Lu clan’s representative, and was already angry! Meanwhile, I already promised to pay him with fifteen dan of salt, so he promised be the best horses happily!”
Du Luo shook his head! Ye Yin smiled. “Salt is so precious and necessary. Just think of bad roasted lamb would taste without salt!”
“Stop being so proud of yourself. Young master Ke must have come to West Zhi specifically for salt. The only thing West Zhi doesn’t lack is edible salt, but you already had control of all the salt lakes over four years ago. The Lu clan is going to lose big this time, it seems.”
“It’s still not enough.” Ye Yin smiled eerily. “Brother Du, don’t you think the Lu clan’s horses that have come from Beiqi won’t be acclimatized to West Zhi?”
“Are you going to…” Du Luo sighed. “Little Qi, you’re too vicious.
Ye Yin smiled brightly. “You flatter me! I gave the Lu clan the chance to bow to me before, but they didn’t treasure it!”
“Little Qi, did you not consider why Beiqi is suddenly trading with different countries?”
Ye Yin answered without hesitation, “That’s very simple. They don’t want to just rely on Dongling any more. In the past four years, the prince of Beiqi has also grown. I hear although his body is weak, he is very intelligent, so they will gradually distance themselves from Dongling. If a country remained closed, it will never develop, But all these years, they only interacted with Dongling! They had to get all their necessities through Dongling, meaning not only do they have to pay at higher prices, they will forever be subject to Dongling’s conditions. Thus… They made up their mind.”
“If Beiqi does that, aren’t they afraid Dongling will…”
“What is there to be afraid of? That Dongling becomes hostile? At most, they could only vent their anger on the Beiqi women in Dongling’s harem. They won’t touch Beiqi. If they plan to take any land, they’ll start with Zhi nation first.”
That means it isn’t that person. That person currently doesn’t have time to look after himself. He wouldn’t have the mind to help Little Qi with the problem of warhorses, even though he had been touched by his silent contributions over the last four years! But Little Qi seemed to have an even better relationship with Nangong Piaoran. He didn’t know what Little Qi was thinking either. Had Little Qi forgotten about that person? If so…
Du Luo broke out in cold sweat. That person’s cunning was unfathomable! He raised his heads, thinking of whether or not to tell Ye Yin about that person, when he heard Ye Yin say, “It’s snowing!”
Snow started to descend in flurries. On their white clothes, they were indiscernible, but when it landed on their faces and necks, they shivered. No wonder it was so cold! It was about to snow!
This was the first snowfall of winter.
This year, the winter weather had been dry. Snow had not fallen for such a long time, but today…
As they watched white swirls, Du Luo knew Ye Yin was in a good mood because of the sudden snow. He thought about it for a moment, then said, “Little Qi , do you still remember Ren Fengyao?”
The person in white paused for a moment. His voice was a little unnatural as he said, “What are you bringing him up for?”
“So he hadn’t forgotten! They he would tell him! After all, they had been husband and wife at one point!
Du Luo said casually, “He was locked up!”
“Because Ren Fengyao defied a decree, he was locked up by Dongfang Chao.”