Edited and Proofread by KitKat
Three days later, the court was still unable to come up with a solution.
The Crown Prince’s party insisted that the claims were groundless. Whether it was the censor officer’s betrayal or the corruption within the Taifu Temple, they wanted to have things investigated and presented with hard evidence before making any other moves.
Apart from these people, there were also many like An Zhi Ke who preferred to stay on the sideline and simply stated that the war should be prioritized but refused to talk about the course of action.
Only those who truly cared for the safety of the Da Ye Empire advised Emperor An Qing to fund the purchase as quickly as possible and send the grains to Yanzhou.
The Great General Shen Tu Bei who had been a close confidant of the Emperor couldn’t help but speak up for Yanzhou, “Regardless of any evidence that can be found later, Yanzhou’s current plight is undeniable. Unless we want Yanzhou to be lost, we should raise funds and send support as soon as possible. If Yanzhou is lost, the Da Ye Empire will be in danger!”
Shen Tu Bei watched over Suzhou and Chenzhou. Due to his old age and ill stricken body, he had been staying in Yejing to recuperate. Suzhou was left to his son, Shen Tu Xu, to overlook. If Yanzhou were to fall, Suzhou would be one of the first provinces to be affected. Furthermore, Chenzhou, which had been defending the border with Yanzhou, was guarded by Zhou Ji, a student he had personally nurtured. These provinces had always been mutually dependent, when the lips are lost, the teeth will naturally feel the cold1.
He looked at the grumpy Emperor An Qing sitting on his throne and persisted, “Your Majesty is wise, please send support to Yanzhou with haste.”
“Support? The treasury is empty! Where can I get the gold to send for support?”
These few days, the courtiers’ argument had even haunted Emperor An Qing in his sleep. Hearing Shen Tu Bei’s insistence at this point only aggravated his annoyance.
He did not think that Xiao Zhige would dare to fabricate these serious crimes but the Crown Prince’s accusations provided him a justifiable argument for postponing the delivery of grains. After all, the treasury had been emptied. No matter how urgent the war in Yanzhou was, they couldn’t possibly demand what was not there.
As of now, Xiao Zhige had united the three northern provinces to fight at the border. With the whole country watching, he could not simply refute their call for help, that would cause displeasure to both the court officials and the generals at war. Emperor An Qing could only find an excuse to drag out this discussion.
“Speak no more. Since we can’t reach an agreement, let’s compromise. The Taifu Temple will gather whatever provisions they have left and send it over. Have the Imperial Supervisor do a thorough investigation. I demand to know what truly happened.”
Shen Tu Bei cast a worried look at the court filled with shrewd officers and sighed bitterly.
Back at the Wang Manor, An Chang Qing waited restlessly for three days only to feel his heart turning to stone after hearing Tie Hu’s report of the court’s decision. He stated that the treasury was empty and the Taifu Temple’s inability to even come up with 10, 000 buckets of rice. And on top of that, the Imperial Supervisor was to conduct a thorough investigation regarding the crimes that had happened in Yanzhou.
Just as he had feared, things had turned for the worst. If this followed the path of his previous life, the batch of grains from the Taifu Temple might not even reach Yanzhou in full.
Tie Hu did not look good either. He asked with great concern, “What should we do?”
He had been stationed at the border for many years and therefore, was fully aware of what would happen if there was a food shortage during times of war.
“Ready the carriage, I’m going to the Palace!” An Chang Qing glanced towards the north and said with a hardened resolve.
He resolutely returned to his room and after changing into his ceremonial gown, he got on the carriage and headed for the Palace.
When Emperor An Qing heard that the Northern Warlord’s Wangfei was seeking an audience, he rubbed his temples and grumbled, “What is he doing here? Send him away!”
The eunuch touched the large chunk of silver in his sleeve and after some deliberation, he added, “Upon hearing that Yanzhou was in need of rations, he has volunteered to procure the remaining portion to support Yanzhou.”
“Hm?” Emperor An Qing opened his eyes. He pushed away the beauty massaging his feet and said, “Bring him in.”
An Chang Qing was then led into the inner hall. He gave the eunuch an undetectable glance before coming forward to kneel before the Emperor.
Emperor An Qing sized him up but did not allow him to rise, “Wangfei wants to donate grains to Yanzhou?”
“Yes.” An Chang Qing calmly knelt on the ground and began to say the speech he had carefully prepared, “I heard that Yanzhou was facing food shortages. It just so happened that I managed several grain stores and was able to find a way to obtain a large quantity of grains. This is why I had ventured here to speak to Your Majesty today.”
Emperor An Qing smiled with an ambiguous implication, “Wangfei seems to be quite well informed about the situations at court.”
“This…” An Chang Qing hesitated. He stammered, “I am indeed concerned about the war in Yanzhou.”
Emperor An Qing looked at him with cold eyes.
An Chang Qing lowered his head and continued, “I do not know much about warfare but I am deeply concerned for Wangye’s safety. Since our marriage, we have never been apart. Now that Wangye is on the battlefield, I couldn’t help but worry even in my sleep. This is why I have been paying attention to the happenings in Yanzhou. Knowing that Yanzhou is in need of provisions, I came to see Your Majesty to offer my humble assistance, hoping to relieve Your Majesty of this burden and also to lend Wangye a hand.”
After speaking, An Chang Qing kept his head down, looking genuinely concerned for his husband.
Emperor An Qing’s annoyance was slightly lifted. He told An Chang Qing to rise and said, “It’s good that you have the heart. However, the amount of grains needed is too large, it may exceed your capabilities.”
“Please allow Chang Qing a chance to try,” An Chang Qing then kowtowed and beseeched, “Chang Qing has one more request hoping for Your Majesty’s approval.”
“Oh? What is your request?”
An Chang Qing responded, “If I can gather enough grains, I hope that Your Majesty would allow me to escort it to Yanzhou.”
“Yanzhou has harsh weather and is currently in the state of war, why do you want to go there?”
An Chang Qing smiled awkwardly, “It has been a month since I last saw Wangye. I want to see how he is doing. Your Majesty, rest assured, I will not get in the way of Wangye’s work.”
Although the families of military personnel were not allowed to leave the capital, Xiao Zhige was still a prince. Furthermore, if An Chang Qing could really come up with the provisions, there was no harm in letting him leave. After all, he was just an unfavored son, what threat could he pose?
After thinking it through, Emperor An Qing made his decision, “Fine. If you can really meet the demand, I will allow you to go to Yanzhou.”
An Chang Qing was elated. He looked at the Emperor with innocence and gratefulness, “Thank you for your kindness!”
Coming out of the Palace gate, An Chang Qing was finally able to relax after he had gotten on the carriage.
“Wangfei, can we go to Yanzhou?” Tie Hu asked from outside the carriage.
“His Majesty has promised,” An Chang Qing calmed his heart and said, “We have to find ways to obtain 50,000 rice buckets in three days. There is too little time to gather 100,000.”
“50,000 will suffice! The Commander will definitely seek other places for help. He will not put all his hopes in Yejing!” Tie Hu said with glee.
“Turn around and head for the warehouse. Gather the shop managers for me.”
An Chang Qing assembled the shop managers and emptied the accounts. After scouring all over, he was able to find and purchase 20,000 buckets of rice. Nonetheless, this was not even half of the amount he had hoped for. This was just the beginning of spring, many farmers’ grain reserves had been sold or used for planting. Getting 50,000 buckets in such a short time seemed an improbable feat.
The shop managers had visited all the grain merchants in Yejing but still could not acquire more.
After asking around to no avail, An Chang Qing was beginning to feel distress when Li Hai Yun came to visit with unexpected news.
“I have a close acquaintance who is in the rice business in Chang Yang. I’ve sent an express letter to inquire and he had agreed to put aside 20,000 buckets for Wangfei. However, Chang Yang is too far from Yejing, I’m afraid it will take five to six days for the shipment to arrive.”
“That is fine,” An Chang Qing bowed with gratitude, “Thank you cousin. It doesn’t matter if it’s a little slow but please have him send it directly to Yanzhou. I will leave first with the current batch.”
Li Hai Yun saw An Chang Qing’s haggardness and comforted, “Wangfei, please take care of yourself. Wangye has always been undefeated, I believe it will be no different this time.”
An Chang Qing pursed his lips and said, “That’s true but I just can’t help worrying.”
Li Hai Yun saw the look in his eyes and held back his words. To him, An Chang Qing might seem to be suffering but to An Chang Qing, that might not be the case. Despite how much he did not want to give in, he could only let his feelings slowly die out.
“In that case, I will send a letter to inform my contact in Chang Yang.”
“Let Tie Hu come with you. He will help to escort the second batch of grains northward,” An Chang Qing said.
Li Hai Yun agreed. He cupped his hand and greeted, “I wish Wangfei a safe journey.”
“Thank you,” An Chang Qing thanked him sincerely and personally sent him to the door.
After sending Li Hai Yun off, An Chang Qing once again entered the Palace. Words had already spread that he had managed to raise 40,000 buckets of rice, half of which will be sent first due to the time constraint.
Although the number was far from what was agreed, it could still sustain the army for some time. Most importantly, the treasury did not have to pay for it, making Emperor An Qing particularly jubilant, “You have my permission to go. Tell Shen Tu Bei to arrange for the grains to be delivered to Yanzhou.”
Shen Tu Bei was nearly seventy this year. On the day of departure, he went to send An Chang Qing off in a low-key carriage. Seeing An Chang Qing’s skin-and-bone body, he shook his head and sighed, “Thank you Wangfei for your patriotism in this matter.”
An Chang Qing smiled, “Wangye is fighting in the North, doing this is out of my personal interest.”
“But it has helped to save countless lives in this war,” Shen Tu Bei praised him loudly, “There is no need to distinguish whether it was for personal motives or doing the right thing.”
Seeing that no one was looking, Shen Tu Bei leaned in and whispered, “Leave by the water through Suzhou. If anything happens, you can seek help from my son, Shen Tu Xu.”
He then cupped his hand and watched as An Chang Qing began his journey.
An Chang Qing was in the same boat as the Imperial Supervisor. Because Tie Hu had to stay behind to escort the second batch of grains, An Chang Qing had brought along Zhou He Lan and Zhao Shi instead.
The Imperial Supervisor was a quiet and impartial man who An Chang Qing tried not to bother. Instead, he stayed at the stern and counted down the days they would reach Yanzhou.
From Yejing to Yanzhou, it would take six days of continuous riding on horseback. And if they had to bring along a large quantity of provisions, it would take at least half a month. Traversing by boat would reduce the time but it would still take eight to nine days.
In eight to nine days, how will the situation in Yanzhou change?
The pressing news from Yanzhou had come on the 28th of March. Now it is the 5th day of April. By the time they arrived, Yanzhou would have already run out of food.
An Chang Qing clenched the jade pendant on his waist, praying for Yanzhou to hold out just a little longer.
The naval fleet traveled for six days. After passing Suzhou, the group traveled another three days on land before finally reaching the outer vicinity of Yanzhou.
Even far from the towering citadel, one could already faintly smell the blood drifting in the wind.
When Qi Wei was listening to the report of their arrival, he was sipping on a bowl of porridge that was mostly liquid with only a few grains of rice. Unable to believe his ears, he asked, “What did you say?”
The soldier repeated, “Yejing’s grain support has arrived! They’re only twenty miles outside the city! Food, food has arrived!”
“Food?” Qi Wei put aside the bowl of porridge and wiped his mouth enthusiastically, “Follow me to receive the rations!”
An Chang Qing was sitting on horseback when he saw a large group of soldiers kicking up a cloud of sand as they approached. Seeing the large flag with the word ‘Ge’ fluttering in the distance, the frown that had been plastered on his face the past few days finally lifted.
He had arrived at Yanzhou.
1↪ 唇亡齿寒 when the lips are gone, the teeth will be exposed to the cold. In reference to things that are interdependent, losing one would cause the other to be in danger.