Displeased, Zhangjun Prince said, “Yuxuan, how can you say that? How could this prince possibly sacrifice your lives in return for this prince's reputation after you three helped me conquered this country? If other people hear of this, who would still be willing to follow this prince?"
After a pause, he continued speaking as if he was being put into a difficult position. "But, the three of you were caught red-handed. If there isn't some sort of justification for the emperor's death, that wouldn't be acceptable either."
Ji Man raised her eyebrow and asked, "Your Highness, how exactly do you want us to justify ourselves?"
Zhao Zhe looked at her, and his gaze softened considerably. "This prince was thinking, how about this prince announces to the public that the three of you were beheaded, then replace your bodies with condemned convicts? After that, this prince will secretly release all of you.”
Release them? Ning Yuxuan sneered. What a conveniently great idea for Zhao Zhe. This would effectively erase them from the world. They would have to conceal their identities forever and become itinerants. Nie Qingyun would no longer have control of Jing Province's army. As for himself, he wouldn't be able to control the six ministries and the imperial court anymore. In one simple move, Zhao Zhe had eliminated two major threats to himself.
Even more terrifying, with Zhao Zhe's ruthlessness, how could they possibly safely leave the capital once they lost their status?
Ji Man slightly smiled and said, “Just as there's no such thing as an airtight wall, secrets will also always be leaked out. Your Highness, if you want to execute us, you might as well just do it directly. This will give everyone a satisfactory justification. Otherwise, if the secret of us being replaced by condemned convicts is exposed, everybody will curse you for trying to deceive them."
Zhao Zhe's expression slightly changed.
On the side, Ning Yuxuan also nodded. "Yes, let's just go straight to the execution. This one isn't afraid of death."
Execute them? How could he execute them? How would he be able to justify his actions to Marquis Jingwen? And, what could he possibly say to appease the imperial court's civil and military officials? Even if he was going to execute them, he had to wait until he had won over the loyalty of all the court officials before he could have a falling out with Marquis Jingwen,
Moreover... he swept his gaze over Ji Man. How could he possibly be willing to execute such a clever, virtuous woman that would be able to control his harem and free him of worries for the future?
After hesitating for a long time, Zhao Zhe let out a long sigh and said, "Let's reconsider this issue later. For now, please put up with this unfair treatment and rest here for a few days. This prince will have the servants deliver clean quilts and food."
"Thank you, Your Highness." Ning Yuxuan saluted.
Zhao Zhe truly seemed reluctant. He looked at them for a long time before finally leaving.
After three days, several important ministers jointly presented a petition to request for Zhao Zhe to ascend the throne. After putting on an initial show of resistance, Zhao Zhe put on the emperor's robe and became the new emperor.
However, there were a lot of confidential governmental documents in Marquis Moyu's possession. Even more importantly, he had many contacts and connections in every area. With him imprisoned and not available, it was exceptionally difficult to sort our governmental matters. Many things were indefinitely delayed because they couldn't be done.
In the midst of this desperation, someone even submitted a report to plead for Marquis Moyu by saying that perhaps it had been an accidental injury, so he shouldn't be punished with a death sentence.
After that episode passed, Marquis Jingwen brought his daughter and grandson to the capital. They knelt down outside of Zichen Hall and enumerated all of the Nie Qingyun's outstanding military service. Errong was even holding her son, who wasn't even two years old yet, when she came to plead with the emperor to spare her husband.
Under this heavy pressure, Zhao Zhe unwillingly paid another visit to the imperial prison.
Looking at Nie Qingyun, Zhao Zhe sighed and said, "Madam Nie has already come and brought along her child. General, since you have a wife and son, you should be more considerate of them. How could you just let yourself die here?"
Nie Qingyun was slightly moved by these words. He looked at Ji Man.
Ji Man looked at Zhao Zhe as she said, “General Nie and the marquis are both people that have accomplished meritorious service for this country. They're indispensable. Sangyu was the one that killed the deposed emperor and is willing to assume all responsibility. Your Majesty, please let off General Nie and the marquis."
Ning Yuxuan pursed his lips. "The deposed emperor was truly killed by this guilty subject. Sangyu is only a weak woman. How could she have been the one that killed him? Your Majesty, please investigate the matter thoroughly."
Nie Qingyun added, “The deposed emperor died of blood loss, and this one is responsible for those injuries.”
The three of them didn't know what was happening outside and thought that Zhao Zhe had to make them abide by the consequences. Zhao Zhe didn't reveal the truth. Instead, he looked at Ji Man and said, "This emperor has an idea that will allow all three of you to keep your lives. Are you willing to listen?"
"What's your idea?" Ji Man raised her eyebrows.
Ning Yuxuan slightly furrowed his brow. He had a foreboding feeling.
“Marquis Moyu and General Nie's offense can be pushed onto you," Zhao Zhe said. He slightly smiled and continued, "As for your offense, this emperor can help you work it off."
Ji Man froze in surprise for a moment. Soon after, she frowned and asked, "Since it's like that, Your Majesty, why have you confined us here for so long?"
"Ai, this emperor just recently thought of this idea. But, if you bear the entire responsibility by yourself, it won't be easy to save your life." Zhao Zhe chuckled. "This emperor is someone that remembers past kindness. This emperor can say that you saved this emperor's life in the past. Although you can be spared the death penalty, you have to stay in the palace for a year to perform religious rituals to help the deposed emperor's soul find peace. This can be considered a way of providing a satisfactory justification to everyone. Are you willing?"
Stay in the palace for a year to perform religious rituals? She wasn't a monk. Why would she go perform religious rituals? While Ji Man was feeling puzzled, Ning Yuxuan's expression had changed.
He asked, "Your Majesty, you can easily find someone to directly replace Sangyu. Why bother putting on an act?"
"She's already been hiding her identity for such a long time. Can you really bear to see her continue living such an ignoble life instead of an honorable one?" Zhao Zhe raised his eyebrows as he looked Ning Yuxuan.
Ning Yuxuan clenched his fist. Zhao Zhe was a person with an evil heart. He should have already guessed his true intentions from the beginning!