The Human Emperor Chapter 689
Chapter 689: Palace Debate
Translated by: Hypersheep325
Edited by: Michyrr
The two thin sheets of paper seemed to fall on the ground as if they weighed one thousand jun, instantly capturing the attention of the people within the hall. A soft jeer could faintly be heard, and some people already seemed able to see how Li Heng would end up.
Li Heng said nothing. After remaining quiet for a few moments, he kneeled on the ground and picked up the papers.
These were two letters. One of them was from a Great Tang border general, the Fort Inspector General Zhang Yang of Beiting. Anyone with an understanding of the borders of the Great Tang would know that the Great Tang's north had a very long border.
Although the entire north belonged to the Beiting Protectorate, under the command of Vice Protector-General An Sishun, the Beiting Protectorate had also established many forts on the extensive border, with important generals holding them down.
These generals would normally not be under the command of Beiting, and were only responsible for defending their own areas and sending information to the Beiting Protectorate. Once something happened, the Beiting Protectorate would immediately send out reinforcements.
In this aspect, these forts were actually their own miniature courts, with their own independent politics and militaries.
For this reason, the generals in charge of these military forts had a great deal of influence. In addition, the importance of the areas they guarded meant that these generals were also quite powerful. They were all titled generals at the minimum. These two traits meant that all the princes of the palace wished to draw them close.
This Zhang Yang was this kind of border general.
This letter seemed very ordinary, and it discussed a few battles on the border. But in various places, Zhang Yang described his admiration and willingness to follow a certain prince.
Li Heng was quiet for a few moments and then turned to the second letter. But the moment he saw it, his pupils constricted and his complexion paled.
"Unfilial son, is that letter your handwriting?"
The Sage Emperor's voice came from the upper reaches of the hall like a peal of thunder.
Li Heng straightened his body and calmly said, "It truly does appear very similar to this son's writing."
"Hmph, Fifth Brother, you're truly very stubborn. You still dare to argue in front of Imperial Father. Can you not even recognize your own handwriting?"
Third Prince Li Ju sneered and took two steps forward, his face filled with disdain.
"Fifth Prince, just confess. While it's true that forming factions and colluding with officials and generals of the court is a serious crime, lying in front of His Majesty carries the charge of deceiving the sovereign, a much heavier crime. Why does Your Highness insist on deceiving yourself and deceiving others by keeping up this resistance?"
The Third Prince's teacher, Yao Zongping, also spoke up at this time.
"Why should this Li Heng have to admit to something he did not do?" Li Heng sternly said.
"Your Highness, the evidence confirms without a doubt that you were exchanging letters and colluding with the Fort Inspector General Zhang Yang. Even your objections are useless. Zhang Yang has already been stripped of his rank and is currently being sent back to the capital. Your Highness should stop with the denials In truth, His Majesty is still giving you a chance!"
Grand Tutor Chen Yong shook his head, his face filled with disappointment.
A gentleman did not treat their words lightly, and even though princes had committed offenses in the past, the majority of the time, they had admitted their wrongs, allowing the Sage Emperor to lighten the punishment. No one had ever been as confrontational as the Fifth Prince.
And this was certainly no wise course of action.
He originally still had a good impression of the newly-ascendant Fifth Prince, but even that last shred of optimism was now gone.
"There is no need for Grand Tutor to say any more. We shall handle this."
The Sage Emperor's voice was devoid of emotion.
"Unfilial son, these letters serve as unimpeachable evidence of your crime of colluding with a border general and attempting to form a faction. Since you are not willing to confess, then We will not force you. We ordered someone to search your study for this list of names. Do you recognize the handwriting?"
Thwish! A third sheet of paper cut through the air like a knife as it flew toward Li Heng.
Li Heng extended both hands and took the letter. In an instant, that mighty energy carrying the letter along vanished into nothing.
Li Heng lowered his head and saw that the paper was covered in names. This was the same list of officials that he had given to Wang Chong to review.
"Zuo Honglin, Su Guosheng, Qi Haiqing, Wei Shaoyou, Cui Yi, Lu Jianjin, Li Han, and even Wei Lan and Wei Zhi of the Wei Clan Unfilial son, just what are you up to?"
With these last words, the Sage Emperor thumped a palm down. For a moment, the entire hall quaked. All the princes and teachers, even the Grand Tutor and Grand Preceptor, paled and fell silent.
After spending so many years at the Sage Emperor's side, the Grand Tutor and Grand Preceptor were both well aware that in this situation, the Sage Emperor was truly furious.
If Fifth Prince Li Heng maintained his denial and remained insensible to reason, then what awaited him was a punishment far more severe than the one for forming factions.
Fifth Prince Li Heng might not only end up being imprisoned. His future prospects would all be ruined, and he might not even be able to live as a normal commoner. Even his teacher and his servants could be punished.
In the worst situation, Li Heng might not even be able to keep his life.
And all this depended on Li Heng's next few words.
"Imperial Father, this son knows that no matter what I say, you will not believe it, and if Imperial Father says that this list was found in my study, then this son knows that this must be true."
Li Heng's voice rang out in everyone's ears.
"But this son can confess to Imperial Father that this list was not written by your son. I do not know who is framing your son, nor how they entered my study and placed this list within. However, no matter how much thought they put into it, all the safeguards they had planned, even the wisest sage pondering a matter one thousand times can still make a single mistake and leave behind a flaw."
Li Heng's words immediately attracted the attention of everyone in the hall, and the solemn air also began to waver. A few of the princes standing by the walls began to look a little uneasy.
"Your meaning is that this list and these letters were forged?"
The Sage Emperor seemed pensive.
It was clear that no one had predicted this sight.
Li Heng straightened his body and raised his head to that majestic figure above, his expression carefree and fearless.
The Fifth Prince's words were like a stone cast into a pond, making the entire hall restless. The grim and frowning figures of the Grand Tutor and Grand Preceptor looked at each other, the stern faces slightly relaxing.
Although the Sage Emperor could not have made a mistake, Fifth Prince Li Heng also did not seem like he was lying. Moreover, princes had been framing each other throughout all the dynasties.
For a moment, the Grand Tutor and Grand Preceptor both glanced at Third Prince Li Ju.
"Li Heng, you're speaking nonsense! You dare commit the crime but not dare to admit it!"
Li Ju's face turned red.
"Since you were so bold as to do such a thing, why do you lack the boldness to confess?"
"So, all this was the work of Third Imperial Brother, correct?"
Li Heng turned to Li Ju. If he still didn't know who the culprit was at the start, everything became clear the moment the Third Prince spoke up. The orchestrator behind the curtains had to be Third Prince Li Ju.
Li Ju paused for a moment, immediately knowing that he had made a misstep. However, he quickly began to laugh.
"Fifth Brother, anything you say now is useless. Everything depends on Imperial Father's divine judgment."
Li Ju turned and gave a deep bow to the Sage Emperor. He wasn't worried about the matter being exposed and Li Heng holding a grudge, but if the Sage Emperor misunderstood this as him framing his own brother, then it would be no laughing matter.
The Sage Emperor said nothing, did not even glance at Li Ju. His gaze remained fixed on Li Heng.
Li Ju's face turned red and he hurriedly retreated back to the wall and shut his mouth.
The Sage Emperor spoke only a word, neither too loud nor too soft, yet it resounded in everyone's ears with a supreme majesty.
"Imperial Father, with regards to Third Brother framing me of colluding with Fort Inspector General Zhang Yang, I have nothing to say nor any means to clear my name. As for this list of officials that Third Brother has forged, if it were true, your son would just confess, but one can be too intelligent for one's own good. No matter how diligent and careful one is, they still made a mistake."
Li Heng's lips curved into a confident smile.
"Li Heng! Don't slander others! What does your making of a list with an intention of colluding with the officials of court have to do with me?" Li Ju fumed. If the Sage Emperor had not been present, he would have already charged over.
"Hmph, the honest don't do anything underhanded. You yourself know if you did it or not."
Li Heng raised his head and sneered at his older brother. In the past, he might have been more reserved and admitted to the crime, but since they wanted to force him into desperate straits, he would not give a single concession.
The Sage Emperor's voice was as flat as the water of an ancient well. Nobody could tell what he was thinking.
Li Heng gave a deep bow and then raised his head to continue speaking.
"Senior Official Zuo Honglin, Deputy Secretary Su Guosheng, Border Cavalry General Wu Yanqing, Grand Judge Supervisor Cui Yi, Transportation Legate of the North Wei Shaoyou, and Wei Lan and Wei Zhi of the capital's Wei lineage this son has nothing to say about these names. Alas, even the wise can make mistakes, and no matter how cautious the creator of this list was, he still made an irrecoverable mistake: the last name on the list, Palace Library Director Chen Wenxiao!
"A few days ago, Master Xu was discussing the imperial curators with your son. If this son remembered correctly, of the twenty-four Directors of the Palace Library, none of them is called Chen Wenxiao."
As he reached the end of his words, Li Heng's posture grew more erect, his expression more confident. For an instant, everyone in the hall couldn't help but be captivated.
The princes standing to the left and right as well as the assembled teachers all widened their eyes. Third Prince Li Ju in particular turned ghastly pale.
The post of Director of the Palace Library was a minor post, lower-grade rank three1. It didn't have much status in the court and did not have the authority to participate in court sessions. As a result, no one in the court paid it any attention, much less remembered any Imperial Curator Chen Wenxiao.
(TN: In truth, lower-grade rank three isn't a minor post at all. Chinese officials were divided into nine ranks, each rank further divided into upper and lower. Director of the Palace Library was lower-grade rank three, but one must consider that a minister of one of the Six Bureaus was upper-grade rank three, only one sub-rank better.)
But no one could have ever imagined that the Chen Wenxiao named on that list simply didn't exist. If Chen Wenxiao didn't exist, then the list wasn't trustworthy at all.
In other words, it meant that someone was trying to frame Li Heng.
If this was the case, then this was no trifling matter. In a flash, many gazes turned toward Third Prince Li Ju.
1. In truth, lower-grade rank three isn't a minor post at all. Chinese officials were divided into nine ranks, each rank further divided into upper and lower. Director of the Palace Library was lower-grade rank three, but one must consider that a minister of one of the Six Bureaus was upper-grade rank three, only one sub-rank better.