Chapter 713: A Commoner Facing The Emperor Alone (3)
Translator: Nyoi-Bo Studio Editor: Nyoi-Bo Studio
In the winter, people wore cheap but warm cotton clothing and sat on heated benches while drinking clear and burning alcohol. In the spring, the waterwheel in Jiangnan’s waterways turned slowly as the seemingly unremarkable water conservancy facilities silently exhibited their effectiveness. In the summer, large-leaved fans wafted cold wind in the homes of the wealthy. All kinds of carriages and ships left the workshops and delivered the goods into the hands of those who needed it.
The foundational water conservancy facilities all over the Qing Kingdom, the glass and porcelain in each family, and the air spread through all the space were actually all related to the palace treasury. The palace treasury was not just the three large workshops in North Min. In reality, it covered the entire Qing Kingdom. For example, border industries like the Xishang Bookstore. Furthermore, the production of the palace treasury was not just large industries such as military weapons connected to the fate of the kingdom. It also included the small things in that were in the lives of the common people. These small items headed toward the other end of the sea and were scattered among the people. Seemingly unremarkable, they successfully gathered a startling amount of wealth of the Qing Kingdom.
The palace treasury created, for the Qing Kingdom, military equipment and weapons that a powerful army needed, the battleships for the three major navies, and used this endless source of wealth to fund the supplies that the Qing Kingdom needed for its expansion in every direction. More importantly, the Qing Kingdom ruled this kingdom and needed this wealth to stabilize the people and maintain the effective running of the court officialdom system.
Perhaps the hundreds of millions of people of the Qing Kingdom had long grown accustomed to the palace treasury being in their lives. At least, it had become natural, so they had gradually forgotten the importance of the palace treasury or at least underestimated its importance. But the Qing Emperor would not. Any official of the Qing Kingdom with a brain would not. The Northern Qi court, which had long salivated after the palace treasury, would also not forget.
Otherwise, the Qing Kingdom would not gather elite soldiers in North Min and set up a defense around the three large workshops that were comparable to the one around Jingdou. All of this was to prevent the leaking of craft secrets from the palace treasury.
However, the fire in the Royal Palace clearly demonstrated to the Qing Emperor that, for Fan Xian, the Qing Kingdom’s greatest secret was not a secret at all. It could even be considered a bargaining chip for him to play with as he wished. Once all the processes for the industrial crafts were destroyed and the old craftsmen died, if the three large workshops were destroyed again, the foundation of the Qing Kingdom would suffer a fatal blow.
The Emperor’s cold face still demonstrated that he was not worried about the palace treasury being destroyed. He knew that Fan Xian also cared greatly about the palace treasury. He would not destroy such a treasure of the world just like that. He believed that although Fan Xian acted in Jiangnan and destroyed that copy of the processes, before he did these things, he must have already made a copy of these processes.
Only things that were still useful could be used as bargaining chips in a negotiation. The Emperor coldly withdrew his gaze from the black smoke and glanced at Fan Xian. “You have indeed lost all reason to do such a thing as a subject of the Qing Kingdom.”
Fan Xian was silent for a moment and then said, “I just think that, in the end, this is a matter between you and me. It is truly not my wish for disaster to befall the world.”
These words made things clear. The Emperor controlled the world. If Fan Xian did not have a bargaining chip in his hands that he cared about sufficiently, how could this Emperor fully restrain his Emperor’s heart and limit this battle within the walls of the Royal Palace? The Emperor had sufficient means to deal with the people who leaned toward Fan Xian. All Fan Xian wanted to do was to force the Emperor to not act against them.
It seemed like a naïve and childish request, almost like he was playing at house. Your Majesty, I am about to rebel. However, if my rebellion fails, please do not trouble those subordinates that followed me… However, there was a death-like silence in the snowy Palace. Neither Fan Xian, who had made this suggestion, nor the calm Emperor considered this as playing house. Fan Xian did hold a weapon that could harm the foundations of the Qing Kingdom.
The Emperor was not someone who could be threatened, even though Fan Xian held the fatal weakness of the palace treasury in his hand. He glanced coldly at him and said, “Continue.”
Fan Xian bowed sincerely and said, “Your Majesty is overflowing with talent. Presently, the Qing Kingdom’s treasury is filled. The people’s energy can be used with brave soldiers in armor. Although there is a lack of famous generals, looking at Ye Wan, one can see that there is still top talent within the Qing army. Even if the palace treasury is destroyed by me, it will not completely collapse within a short time. Given Your Majesty’s strength, no matter how firmly the Northern Qi Emperor and Shang Shanhu resists, the Qing military will forge North and swallow up the land with the strength of tigers and wolves. Your Majesty will certainly be able to complete the ambitious desire to unite the world within your lifetime.”
“No one can stop this process. Even though I hold the heart of the palace treasury, I still have to admit that I cannot threaten you. You could not care about any of this,” Fan Xian said calmly with his head down. “However, Your Majesty’s gaze reaches far. How can it be just at one place and one time?”
He raised his head and looked calmly into the Qing Emperor’s eyes. “Your Majesty wants to unite the world to create a large empire, end the continuous battles on this land, forge a peaceful future for the millions of common people, and leave a glorious and legendary name in the annals of history for thousands of years. Thus, what you seek is for the Qing Kingdom is thousands of years of unity.”
“If you live, you could swallow up Northern Qi and Dongyi, quash all resistance with force, and curb the people’s hearts with wisdom and intelligence. You would be able to ensure the unity of the world. But, what if you die?”
The corners of Fan Xian’s lips quirked into a smile. “There is not another like Your Majesty in the world. Where would the Qing court, which had just taken over the world, seek out another shockingly talented ruler? Who can stand in opposition when the millions of foreign subjects raise their soldiers in resistance? Can the Qing Kingdom only rely on its powerful army to kill left, right, and center? I’m afraid that the newly united world would sink again into the fires of battle. At that time, when the world rises in rebellion, Jingdou itself may be in danger, never mind whether the Qing Kingdom could ensure the unity of its territory.”
“Your Majesty is well-versed in history. Naturally, you know that those who rule through blood never last long. There have been Emperors who killed their way through the world. In the end, nothing lasted past the second generation.”
“For three years, I have thought on Your Majesty’s grand plan. Naturally, it depends on the palace treasury, this endless resource, to ensure the Qing Kingdom’s court’s absolute strength advantage over its new territory, intimidate the remaining people on the new land, and exchange the advantage of national power for time and the power of harmonization in the name of communication. It needs to be used as a push to establish multiple generations so that the previous dynasty is forgotten and the hearts of the new subjects belong to the Qing Kingdom. Only this is true unification.”
“However, if the palace treasury is destroyed, what will ensure the Qing Kingdom’s present advantage in national and military power? If you’re alive, there are no foundational changes. If you die and there is no palace treasury, who will maintain the situation in this territory?”
“And, all people eventually die,” Fan Xian said as he looked calmly into the Emperor’s eyes. “Even Your Majesty is no exception. Even you cannot escape aging and illness. Looking at the plans of the court these three years, Your Majesty has also been thinking about the future.”
“You are a confident person who has every right to be confident. You don’t believe that the Northern Qi Emperor and Shang Shanhu would be able to oppose your determination to sweep across the world,” Fan Xian calmly said. “Even without the existence of the palace treasury, you would still be able to complete the grand undertaking you have worked decades for.”
“What you want isn’t the dazzling blossom of a lifetime only for the Qing Kingdom to fall under the storm of rebellion afterward. The history books are always written by the victors. If the united world cannot persist for thousands of generations, even someone as grand as you in history will only leave behind a violent and short-sighted reputation.”
Fan Xian smiled slightly. “You want the Qing Kingdom to persist for thousands of generations. Thus, you need the palace treasury in my hands.”
“What can you promise me?” The Emperor suddenly laughed. His laugh was very gratified. It was clear that this unfathomable Emperor took great delight in his favorite son. His every word came closer to his unapproachable true heart, smoothly coming close to his grand intentions.
“If I die, the recorded copy of the processes would return to the court and the destruction in North Min would also immediately stop. As you know, I always have some loyal subordinates,” Fan Xian answered sincerely. He didn’t say defeated because he had come alone in the Palace to change the Royal Palace into a battlefield. Whoever lost would naturally die. What other path was there?
As he spoke, Fan Xian turned his body and stood shoulder to shoulder with the Emperor. He looked at the snowy ground that shimmered like silver among the overgrown grass. His gaze landed to his left. He said, “Under Your Majesty’s attack, the Chief on the grasslands will never have the strength to rise again. However, beneath the mountains to the very west, there are still seven thousand Man riders that moved from the snowy plains. This military force is very powerful. If Your Majesty agrees to my request, I can promise that this group of riders will never come near Xiliang again.”
The Emperor’s gaze followed his and landed on the snow to his left. He furrowed his brows slightly and said, “During the great battle of Qingzhou this time, Su Bida’s court came out in force but only brought around 3,000 Man riders. According to Gong Dian’s report, the battle power of these Man riders is indeed very powerful. If not for the unfairness of heaven that granted three years of snowstorms to the snowy plains of the North, they would not have had to come so far as the grasslands of the Western Hu. Looking at it this way, Shang Shanhu was truly remarkable to be able to stand against the Man people in the North for so many years.”
“In the end, there were not enough people to affect the situation.” The Emperor’s brows relaxed. He coldly shook his head, clearly not willing to accept Fan Xian’s bargaining chip.
“We are speaking of thousands of generations.” Fan Xian’s tone was frivolous. He even dared to use such treasonous language as “we.” With a smile, he said, “There are indeed only 7,000 young men, but their attainment in self-cultivation is very high. There are also a large number of women. In addition, now that Western Hu has suffered such heavy losses, this group of Northern Man riders are certain to become an important strength on the grasslands. If they want to go to various tribes to capture women, who could stop them? As Your Majesty knows, the Hu people are famously fertile. In, at most, a decade or two, the entire tribe will be very powerful.”
“If no one can suppress, control, or guide this newly risen tribe, would they not become a second grasslands court?” Fan Xian looked at the snowy ground to his left and shook his head. “The lives of the common people in Xiliang are very tragic. Do they have to endure more decades?”
The Emperor smiled slightly and said, “I don’t understand. Your forces in Xiliang Road and the grasslands have almost been wiped out by me. What power do you have left to influence those Man people?”
“Songzhi Xianling,” Fan Xian said with a smile. “Although she is a princess of an old tribe and her status is honorable, she has little real power to give orders. However, her status remains. Furthermore, her position presently on the grasslands is lofty, and she is also very powerful. She is already able to congregate most of the strength of the Man people. As long as we can control her, we can control these Man people.”
“Is it only you who can control her and not I or the court?” the Emperor asked mockingly.
Fan Xian sighed and said, “Songzhi Xianling is Haitang Duoduo. She is my woman. Of course, only I can control her.”
The Emperor could not resist laughing after a moment of silence. Shaking his head, he didn’t say anything more and directly turned his gaze to the southeast corner of the snowy ground in front of the two of them. The Emperor pointed there and said, “You’ll deliver back the processes of the palace treasury. Is there anything else? Jiangnan cannot fall into chaos because I have already made it chaotic. The level of loyalty your subordinates have toward you truly shocks me, but Xia Qifei won’t be around for much longer. Even if Su Wenmao hid people in the palace treasury, he can’t go on.”
“I have also summoned Cheng Jialin back. Ren Bo’an’s relative has also been summoned back from the military of the three large workshops,” the Emperor said calmly with his hands behind his back as he looked at the flawless snowy ground with Fan Xian.
Fan Xian’s gaze also landed on the southeast corner of the snowy ground. He said with a smile, “Jiangnan can still fall into chaos. The palace treasury has already been promised to Your Majesty, so I will not bring down more misfortune on it. However, Jiangnan thrives on commerce. Including the palace treasury, it is responsible for about 40 percent of the court’s taxation. If Jiangnan falls into chaos, how will the court survive?”
From the beginning of their conversation, Fan Xian’s calm tone had carried a hint of frivolousness. It was naked and without fear. Such frivolousness, such fearlessness could truly be considered as words like icy peaks as he carried out negotiations with the Emperor without giving up a single inch. It was related to his confidence, as well as his current frame of mind.
Just like he said earlier, he could not find a perfect way of control, so he could only choose the simplest method. Because this method was straightforward, its power seemed sufficient.
Very straightforwardly, he asked the Emperor what the court would do if Jiangnan fell into chaos. The Emperor smiled and directly asked him in reply, “If I kill all of your people, how could Jiangnan fall into chaos?”
“I have Zhaoshang money house,” Fan Xian calmly replied. “Jiangnan flourishes on trade. The most important is cash flow. Zhaoshang money house has been in Jiangnan for a number of years and secretly holds some of the lifelines of the Ming, Sun, and Xiong industries. Once the money house strikes, it would not be difficult for Jiangnan to fall into chaos.”
“Much of Zhaoshang’s money has long been transferred away.” The Emperor glanced at Fan Xian mockingly. He didn’t directly expose the fact that the shocking amount of silver had returned to the royal family of Northern Qi. “It is nothing more than some paper. With a sweep of my brush, what does this matter?”
“Things can’t be put like that. After all, Quanzhou has not achieved the effect imagined. Relations with foreign nations are still handled in Dongyi.” Fan Xian did not retreat at all and straightforwardly said, “All loan receipts are paper. Will a sweep of Your Majesty’s brush make all of it invalid? Then Zhaoshang money house will probably not have to do anything for Jiangnan to fall into chaos.”
The Emperor did not understand commerce. In reality, Fan Xian did not much understand it either. There was only a fledgling understanding of just how much Jiangnan relied on its commercial activities. When it came to undeveloped financial credit, no one had an accurate grasp of it. However, Fan Xian believed that everything in the world had rules, particularly the commercial activity that had operated in Jiangnan for over a hundred years. If the Emperor actually did that, Jiangnan would certainly be thrown into chaos.
Just because the Qing Emperor and Fan Xian did not understand commerce, it did not mean that the officials of the court and Fan Xian’s subordinates did not understand it. Earlier, they had all done their homework. Fan Xian only knew that a very important part of commerce was the flow of cash. It was equivalent to the flow of fresh blood in one’s veins. If the money house was undermined, the blood in the veins would run dry. And, commercial activity would become unusually difficult and dry.
“I took back Hua Garden from Yang Jimei,” the Emperor coldly reminded him. This Emperor could truly be considered a wise ruler. He did not understand the commercial operations in Jiangnan, but it did not mean that he acted as he wished with the authority of an Emperor. He handed professional matters to professional officials to operate. He knew the Zhaoshang money house in Fan Xian’s hands had the ability to rock Jiangnan’s commercial domain. Last autumn, when the first unrest started in Jiangnan, the court was already prepared.
The merchants with the most abundant cash in the world and relied least on dealings with money houses were the various salt merchants in Jiangnan. The Yang Jimei the Emperor mentioned earlier was one of the leading salt merchants in Jiangnan. The court had long been on guard against the money house pulling out their cash and had brought the salt merchants into this system with an eye on the silver the salt merchants had hidden all over the world. The court set up a new exchange system. Although it was difficult, at least they would not be caught in Fan Xian’s death grip.
“Just salt merchants is not enough,” Fan Xian said, closed his eyes slightly. “In my hands, there is also Taiping.”
Taiping money house was the foremost money house in the world. It had operated for countless years and could influence the lives and livelihoods of countless people. This money house had always been in Dongyi. Its owner had always been a mystery. No one had ever seen his true appearance. It was not until Fan Xian took over as the Master of the Sword Hut in Dongyi that he found out, to his surprise, that the Taiping money house had always been under the control of the Sword Hut, under the control of Sigu Jian.
Each time he thought of this, Fan Xian could not help but feel shock and admiration. He admired Sigu Jian’s vision and sagacity. Probably only the master of Dongyi could have seen the importance of a money house amidst the increasingly flourishing trade and commerce to leave behind such a powerful weapon.
Hearing the word Taiping, the Emperor’s eyes narrowed and flashed with a cold light. It was clear that, just like when Fan Xian first learned of this secret, the Emperor also felt a chill.
“Sigu Jian left me Taiping money house,” Fan Xian added quietly.
The Emperor suddenly laughed. His laughter was filled with a sense of absurdity. It was probably because he suddenly realized that all of his enemies in this world that were worth respecting had all handed their last weapon against him to his favorite son. This absurd reality slightly shook the heart of this seemingly cold and heartless ruler.
“Your Majesty, let us look at Dongyi again.” Fan Xian’s gaze moved up from the lower right corner of the snowy ground to the abdomen of this patch of lonely and snowy ground. There was a pile of overgrown grass there. It looked like the East Sea in summer, with large waves that seemed to pierce the dome of heaven.
The Emperor gradually restrained his laughter. His expression became calm and gentle. “There is no need to speak more on Dongyi. Only the dozen men in the Sword Hut are a problem. In the end, they are no match for an army.”
“Ninth-level aces are useless at building, but they’re quite good at destruction. For example, they could carry out some assassinations and cause some destruction in the heart of the Qing Kingdom.” Fan Xian’s gaze lingered to the right and center of the snowy ground.
The Emperor and his son’s question and answer continued. The snow continued to wall in the Palace. Some landed on this strange father and son pair, and some landed on the snowy ground and wild grass in front of them.
There were no lines on the snowy ground, no country borders, no differentiation between snowy mountains and green grasslands. There wasn’t even a shape. However, the Qing Emperor and Fan Xian looked at this silent and cold snow covered ground as they discussed the world.
When their gazes were on the left, it was the grasslands. On the right was Dongyi. On the lower right corner was Jiangnan. Far in front of them was the Northern territory of the Qi Kingdom. Wherever they looked was the world.
The snow gradually fell heavier, swirling through the rundown palace, gradually piling thicker. The blue robe Fan Xian wore and the Emperor’s bright yellow dragon robe both began to turn white. The remnants of snow beneath their feet was also covered with a thick layer of snow. It was no longer possible to see any trace of grass or earth, just like the world. The white covering was clean. In their eyes, how could there be any man-made separations?
“I have the power to turn this world upside-down. Even if I died right now, I can make Your Majesty’s generational ambitions become like this snowfall. Everything melting with the rising of the sun and never to become reality again.” Fan Xian extended his tongue and licked his dry lips. He had said too much today, so his mouth felt dry. He seriously said to the Emperor, “Thus, I ask to fight you fairly.”
“What is fair?” the Emperor asked with his eyes narrowed.
“Please release Ruoruo from the Palace. I only have this one sister. Please allow Wan’er and my poor family to return to Danzhou to live their lives. I only have this one family. Please be lenient and do not carry out a massive purge after my death. The officials who are loyal to me are all useful talents.” Fan Xian paused for a moment. He then said with a bitter smile, “If I die, they no longer have a reason to oppose the court, please believe this.”
The world had already been condensed in the small snow-covered ground in front of the Emperor and subject. The battlefield of war had become this quiet Royal Palace. Fan Xian had done so much and said so much, seemingly in the hopes that the split between father and son could be controlled within a small area, to give those who were implicated in this matter a chance to survive.
The Emperor held his hands behind his back. The snow fell with a rustle off his shoulders. After a long silence, he said, with some tiredness, “I just don’t understand why you must do this.”