So Prince #3 wants his marriage moved up immediately so he can be with and protect A’Wu against further insult. Meanwhile, A’Wu is disturbed that Wan’ru is going to marry the guy who raped her (although given that they were both under the influence…mitigating circumstances?)
Back at our actual hero, however, XQ is finally unable to avoid a visit from Grand Vizier Dad, there to extend his thanks for saving his daughter. And also some other stuff, namely: what he actually wants is for A’Wu to marry XQ and form an alliance. XQ’s reaction is…bemusement.
The Emperor, meanwhile, is going to agree to the marriage of #3 to A’Wu…next month. I have a feeling that delay is not going to work out well…
XQ, meanwhile, has deep reservations about this idea. But, lol, Dad is at his most Grand Vizierish when he says: No hurry. And then smirks.
I haz a suspicious.
Afterwards, snerk, Sidekick is marvelling at the amount of money/presents XQ got for saving A’Wu: “If I’d known there was this much money in saving people in the capital, I’d be out doing it all day!” XQ orders the money distributed to the families of the men killed in battle.
A’Wu goes to visit Wan’ru. Wan’ru is at the resigned stage of despair. Plus, it’s dawning on her that marrying the Crown Prince = becoming the future empress. Also, it means not having to marry A COMMONER, EW. And, anyhow, being noblewomen, this is their lot in life, after all…
Anyway, that evening, A’Wu and #3 get to Pyramus-and-Thisbe it up a little (the jagged stump where the escape tree used to be, LOL.)
So Wan’ru and he Crown Prince get married off and neither of them are happy in the slightest. But the Crown Prince apologizes to her and promises to go away and leave her be. Wan’ru asks: are you going to ignore me, then? He says: look, I’m aware that this is all my fault and I feel regret (also, people have been beating up on me ever since it happened.)
Wan’ru seems to realize that he is at least as much a pawn of outside forces as she is, and they seem to reach an understanding and agree to be good to each other. So…well, that’s nice.
Naturally, the Empress is waiting outside with a sour face, because of course she is.
So! Elsewhere, Prince #2 is meeting with Another Old Guy (Duke Huan) for some chess and gloating. Their plan is to stand back and let the pot roil for a while.
Meanwhile, the Grand Vizier is up to something nefarious. OH SHIT OKAY THE MUTE PRIEST WAS ACTUALLY A SPY FOR THE WANG FAMILY. He’s….he’s going to poison the Emperor, isn’t he…?
So Grand Vizier Dad goes off to pay a visit to the Crown Prince. Turns out, the missing imperial jade seal was in the care and keeping of the Wang Family this whole 100 years it’s been lost. His plan is for Prince #1 to immediately go and hand it over to the Emperor. Now. Tonight. No matter who he’s sleeping with. Also, (smack) don’t touch it.
As predicted, the Emperor is overjoyed and is pleased with the Crown Prince in particular. He calls for wine! Aaaaaaaand collapses.
He’s survived, but is comatose and may or may not wake up again. The doctor is about to conclude that the poison must not have come from Concubine Xie, but promptly gets threatened into saying whatever the Grand Vizier wants him to say.
The Grand Vizier wants to move fast and consolidate power, imprison and destroy the Xie family, and ally himself with XQ…with the aid of the Empress. If she will stand by her family.
Meanwhile, everyone is gathered at the Emperor’s bedside. Including the poor, dense Crown Prince, who is holding the water bowl and doing brow-mopping and probably doesn’t even realize he was the one who killed his father. GUYS I FEEL REALLY SORRY FOR THIS CHARACTER, HE’S JUST TOO STUPID TO BE A THREAT AND HE’S WELL-MEANING UNDERNEATH. A’Wu rushes in and is just as distraught as everyone else. Probably even more so when Grand Vizier Dad shows up to get the ball rolling. A’Wu does her best to plead for leniency and sanity, and is about to try drinking the wine herself, but Dad hustles her out before she can shame the Empress into behaving like a decent person. Concubine Xie and #3 cower, uncertain as to whether they’re also going to be dragged out.
And, at this instant, XQ arrives! He starts asking actual investigative questions–enough so that even the idiot Crown Prince pokes his head up to say that yeah, indeed, maybe Grand Vizier Wang should slow his roll a bit.
Grand Vizier Wang chooses his most likely opponent–Xiao Qi–and attacks him directly instead of responding to anyone else. But, then on finding out that XQ and Sidekick are alone (and actually unarmed, as is the rule for people in the palace), he continues right on. The Empress looks uneasy but says nothing.
In the council chamber, Prince #2 is, meanwhile, stirring the pot a little….and XQ arrives along with the Empress and Crown Prince. Aaaaand…the Grand Vizier.
I’m liking the fact that the plot moves at a fast pace without drawing out the misery porn.