However strongly Xu Chi, Han Qing and other generals in the Northern Army Camp were against the idea, but the Empress took the objections peacefully, and she insisted on her idea to take the Sixth Prince back to Chang'an.
The Golden Palace was coming south and the Northern Borderline of Tang was at risk. The generals had no other choice, and there was no way that they could send a large troop to escort the Empress. The final decision was to send 500 elite riders to escort the Empress.
In the morning of the day when Ning Que was leaving, he went to Xu Chi and said, "Her Majesty and I brought thousands of calvarymen to you, so I think we are qualified to ask you for a few people."
Xu Chi thought to himself and then he said, "500 cavalry soldiers is indeed not enough."
"That's not what I meant."
Ning Que said, "I don't need them alive, dead bodies will do."
Xu Chi understood what Ning Que meant. He frowned and said, "The two generals killed themselves after the assassination attempt failed. How could their dead bodies be helpful to you?"
Ning Que said, "The two generals died, but the hundreds of cavalries involved in the assassination haven't been punished yet. I know they've been disarmed and locked in the barracks by you."
Xu Chi frowned even more and asked, "Mr. Thirteen, are you going to punish them all?"
"They disturbed His Majesty's remains and tried to kill both Her Majesty and the crown prince. That was a capital crime, and I know what you're saving them for."
Ning Que continued, "So I'm not goin to kill all the cavalry. But I need you to promise me that all of them will be sent to the battlefront, the most dangerous one."
"And, should any of them survive the war after several years, I won't punish them anymore. If they die on the battlefield, death would be their atonement."
After saying that, Ning Que turned back to leave.
And he got into trouble as he was leaving.
The heavy pine coffin.
Everyone knew that if Ning Que wanted to bring the Empress and the Sixth Prince back to Chang'an, time and secrecy would be what mattered most. The heavy pine coffin would bring much inconvenience if they brought it along.
Xu Chi suggested that His Majesty's coffin should be kept in the Northern Military Camp temporarily which would also help inspire the generals and soldiers.
The Empress shook her head and answered gently, "His Majesty wanted to go back to Chang'an, so I have to take him back."
"So burn it."
The Empress ordered as she was looking at the heavy grey coffin.
All men in the court were astonished.
The Empress said with a smile, "His Majesty was a very spontaneous man, and he wouldn't care much about this."
That reminded Ning Que of His Majesty's cursing those stupid guys day after day in the palace. Then Ning Que smiled and said, "I'm sure His Majesty wouldn't mind."
The pine coffin was later burnt on a pile of wood.
Bark was cracking, with sparks flying everywhere.
In the end all turned into a box of ashes.
"A leaking house on a rainy night" was far too weak to describe the successive set backs the Empire of Tang was going through. The situation was more precarious than a shabby house shaking in a storm. Terrifying waves, which were rising higher than the ones before, roaring and attacking.
As shocking as the war in Capital Cheng might be for the Tangs, their confidence was seldom influenced by the war. It was when the Golden Palace came south that the Tangs were actually getting alert and uneasy.
In the rescript, the West-Hill Palace called upon the whole world to attack the Empire of Tang. That was the first time when the Tangs had felt the fear of death of their Empire. And the most shocking strike for the Tangs recently was the news about the betrayal and independence of Qinghe County.
The Tangs were felt anger born of anxiety, and anger because of fear. They were angered because they were angry. The whole city of Chang'an was angered. The ministers who used to stand on the Empress' side couldn't bear the situation any more. They started to criticize the new Emperor and the Princess in the royal court and in public.
Officials questioned why the Empress and the Sixth Prince had not returned to Chang'an, and why there was still no news about Helan City. They wondered why the Prince's loyal ally, Qinghe City, betrayed the royal court shamelessly in its hardest times. They asked how the Emperor and the Prince would live with the shame of failing to live up to the late Emperor's expectations.
After the Academy closed its doors, the freshmen of the year were dismissed. Some of the students went back home, with others to be volunteers in departments of the imperial court. Along with the young students in the Imperial College, these students became the most warm-blooded and vibrant group in Chang'an. When dark clouds gathered above the Empire of Tang, finally they paraded on the streets and gathered before the Imperial Palace to present a petition.
The students had no idea as to what the petition was exactly about, but they wanted to change the current situation, and they wanted to see the changes take place.
The rumor was spread among the petitioners that the Defender-general of the Empire, Xu Shi, who was supposed to be back in a few days, had been assassinated by the West-Hill Palace in the southern Xiao Mountain area.
And it was some bigwig in the palace who sold the whereabouts of Xu Shi to the West-Hill Palace!
The reason for the bigwig to do so was obviously because he attained his current position unfairly, and he was afraid General Xu Shi, who was famous for being righteous, would kick him off the throne as soon as he was back in Chang'an.
And when the news was spread from the petitioners to other people in Chang'an, more and more people were parading on the streets to express their anger and suspicion. The streets of Chang'an turned into numerous angry rivers.
Angry rivers were usually muddy. Therefore some people began to make profits in this troubled situation, while others tried to sneak away from the chaos. For hundreds of years the West-Hill Palace had been setting invisible sentries in Chang'an and sending spies there; now those spies couldn't wait to make a bigger mess in the city.
Following the order of the Emperor, Chao Xiaoshu led the Valiant Cavalry Battalion to the east to resist the invaders. And the Yulin Royal Guards went north to join the resistance against the cavalries of the Golden Palace. Chang'an might look tough from the outside, but inside it had only about 800 Yulin Royal Guards, hundreds of Imperial Palace bodyguards and runners of Chang'an's local government to keep the peace and suppress the riot in the city. Chang'an was truly at risk.
The Qinghe County Guild was located on a crowded street in Chang'an. It had been an important watch point of the royal court before the warlords had betrayed the Empire. Now it was heavily guarded. Those warlords' children trapped in the County Guild wore pale looks, waiting for their unknown destiny. However, some of them had come up with other ideas when seeing the situation getting messy.
Li Huiyuan was angry too, even angrier than those petitioners before the Imperial Palace.
He saw himself as innocent. And feelings of being not understood were biting his heart like a viper. It was true that he let He Mingchi make the effort to trace General Xu Shi, and he was the one letting He Mingchi get in touch with the bigwigs in West-Hill Palace.
The situation was quite different back then. Chang'an only lost the Northeast Border Military at that time, and the Empire was still unshakable. When he heard that the Golden Palace was coming south to invade, he told He Mingchi to cease the plan immediately. And he took the risk of revealing his vicious plan to inform Xu Shi.
However, the bigwigs in the West-Hill Palace didn't listen to him. He Mingchi and the Military Ministry failed to contact Xu Shi. "And just like that Xu Shi died. How can that be my fault? If he accepted me as the new Emperor, then why would he leave the Southern Army without my permission? And he wouldn't die if he chose to stay in the Southern Army. Why is everybody blaming me now? Why?"
The hall in the Imperial Palace looked quiet and chilly. Li Huiyuan was sitting in the chair, staring blankly at the night view outside the hall. Ideas were flowing in his mind, they flew away and then flashed back.
The eunuchs and maids were very afraid of him, because he was very angry. And their avoiding him infuriated him even more because through the eyes of those eunuchs and maids, he could clearly see the coldness, estrangement, and contempt.
"I am the Emperor. You stood close to me and looked up to me in awe when I was the crown prince. Why are you leaving me now in such a disrespectful way?"
Li Huiyuan couldn't bear it anymore. He had already had several eunuchs and maids killed since yesterday. Yet still, he couldn't find what he expected to see in those people's eyes.
He became angrier.
Suddenly, he felt the cold and isolated palace no longer a perfect residence for him. He stood up abruptly and shoved the eunuch who was begging him to stay. Then he took Xu Chongshan, who had been guarding outside the hall, and they walked deep into the imperial garden.
It was deep in autumn and the imperial garden looked bleak. There were a few flowers, not many. They were blooming and revealing their beauty in the darkness. Li Huiyuan finally calmed down after seeing those beautiful flowers.
"How can they not understand me?" Li Huiyuan said as he frowned.
Xu Chongshan looked at the animal carvings on the eaves and said after a moment's silence, "Because you are not a man easy to read."
Li Huiyuan didn't notice Xu Chongshan's disrespectful address of him. He asked in confusion, "What does that mean?"
Xu Chongshan said, "No matter how you got the throne, you are the Emperor of the Empire of Tang now. Anyone with a full-functioning brain wouldn't try to do what you're doing. But it's strange that you can always find excuses for what you did, so I guess your brain is actually healthy. A healthy person is always doing abnormal things, that confused everyone."
Li Huiyuan was awoken by the first sentence Xu Chongshan spoke out, but he didn't react much. He kept listening, and the longer he listened, the more displeased he looked.
"It seems you're going to betray me, too." He looked at Xu Chongshan and said coldly.
Xu Chongshan bent forward slightly to salute, and then he arose like a mountain.
"I owed much to His Majesty, so it's been hard for me to kill you. But you've made it easier for me these days because your living in the world is the biggest humiliation to His Majesty."
Li Huiyuan Looked nervous but he didn't turn and run away. He said in sharp voice, "I thought you had lived in the palace long enough to know that there's no way you can kill me here."
"That's why I kept waiting until I brought you to the Imperial Garden to take a walk today."
Xu Chongshan then continued, "Or you have no idea that this is the place that's the furthest away from all other halls. Those animal-carvings on the eaves, they can no longer protect you."