Chapter 554, Part I: The Final Boss

A panicked shout interrupted him. “You absolutely must not do this!” An old man with gray hair was hurrying over to him, surrounded by a group of people.

Bi Gan? Zu An frowned when he turned around and saw this man. The memories he had inherited from this body told him that this was his uncle, Bi Gan.

He looked exactly like someone whose top priority was the welfare of his country and its people. He was dressed like a faithful official that was commonly portrayed in the dramas that he used to watch.

“Why not?” Zu An said, not hiding his displeasure. This seemed like someone who he just would not get along with.

Bi Gan interposed himself between Zu An and Ji Chang and said anxiously, “This is the Western Duke. How can he be executed for no reason? Wouldn’t this alarm the other vassal states?”

“No reason?” Zu An sneered. “He was the one who killed my little… aunt, San Cai. Isn’t that a good enough reason? Murderers should pay with their lives! This is right and proper!”

Bi Gan was stunned. He clearly hadn’t expected to run into something like this. Pei Mianman gave him a rough summary of what had happened to San Cai. She knew that the imperial uncle Bi Gan commanded extraordinary prestige within the court. If they could bring him onto their side, this matter would become much easier to deal with.

Bi Gan knew who San Cai was, and hearing what had happened to her caused a deep furrow to appear between his brows as well.

Despite this, he still said, “My king, since all this is in the past, San Cai won’t come back to life even if we execute the Western Duke! We arranged for San Cai’s marriage precisely for the sake of easing tensions between our two states. If we kill the Western Duke, wouldn’t that make San Cai’s death completely meaningless? Besides, strictly speaking, San Cai committed suicide, so the Western Duke wasn’t the one who killed her!”

Zu An laughed when he heard this. “From what I’ve heard, uncle, it seems like you’re blaming San Cai for her own death.”

Bi Gan replied, “That’s not what I am trying to say, my king. I only ask that you think about the bigger picture, and not let your emotions affect your decisions.”

Zu An sneered. “You keep mentioning the bigger picture, but there’s already such great hostility between our two states. Even if we let Ji Chang go, do you think he will somehow think better of us? He will plot his revenge on the Shang Dynasty. We are releasing a tiger into the mountains! Imperial uncle, you are too close-minded.”

He couldn’t be bothered to argue with Bi Gan any further, and immediately carried through with his order. “Where is the executioner? If he doesn’t do his job this instant, then turn him into mincemeat, together with the Western Duke.”

He was utterly furious right now. He was done discussing this matter, and he couldn’t care less if he altered the course of history because of this. The only thing on his mind was getting revenge for San Cai.

The jailor jumped into action, and quickly escorted Ji Chang out for execution.

Bi Gan panicked. “My king, you absolutely must not do this! You will be bringing a huge disaster upon yourself by doing this!”

Zu An let his annoyance show. “Are you the imperial uncle of our Great Shang Dynasty, or the imperial uncle of Western Zhou? You seem eager to speak up for them all the time.” He dismissed the man from his mind, and he and Pei Mianman walked out of the prison together.

“You… you…” Bi Gan was so angry that his entire body was shaking. He was so choked up with rage that he couldn’t even form a proper sentence.

You have successfully trolled Bi Gan for 733… 733… 733…

In the end, Ji Chang was executed. The next day, the entire court rose up in uproar, and countless officials penned letters of admonishment to Zu An.

Ji Chang had always conducted himself well. He had the bearing of a wise man, and had maintained good relationships with the aristocrats and nobles.

Zu An paid close attention to the proceedings of the court. He saw that a faction of the ministers were led by the imperial uncle Bi Gan, while another faction was led by a different imperial uncle, Ji Zi. The two of them shared similar attitudes, and it looked like it would be hard to break them down.

A third faction was controlled by his own brother, Weizi. This Weizi really was unlucky. They clearly shared the same parents, yet because his mother hadn’t yet been appointed the queen when she gave birth to him, Weizi was considered a bastard child. Meanwhile, his mother had already ascended to queenhood when his little brother—Di Xin, whose identity Zu An now assumed—was born, and so it was his little brother who ultimately succeeded to the throne.

Zu An knew that there was bad blood between them. Sure enough, he blasted Zu An with criticism, together with Bi Gan and Ji Zi.

The prime minister Shang Rong and court historian Xin Jia were even more brutal with their verbal attacks.

Yet another faction existed in the court, led by the crown prince Wu Geng. The knowledge that he already had a grown-up son in this world gave Zu An a headache.

He obviously had no personal affection for this son. Fortunately, though, this son was still rather filial, and sometimes spoke out on his behalf.

Wu Geng was birthed by Queen Jiang. Zu An had seen her before in the palace. She was a sweet-tempered woman, but Zu An wasn’t in the mood to fool around at all. All of his attention was placed on completing San Cai’s revenge, as well as completing this trial with Pei Mianman.

When he saw that most of the ministers within the court and the military officials opposed him, Zu An couldn’t help but view Di Xin with contempt. This king really was too much of a failure! He was practically alone in the court. It looked as though he would have to find some new and trustworthy aides.

After wasting much of the day on conflict and bickering, the court finally settled down to deal with the real issue: How were they going to handle the retaliation that was sure to come from Western Zhou?

After all, both Ji Chang and his son had been made into mincemeat. This was a serious offence that would surely shatter any relations with the people of Western Zhou.

Knowing that hostile conflict was inevitable, Zu An and Pei Mianman began to reorganize the military and wait for the people of Western Zhou to make their move.

Unfortunately, even after waiting for several months, the armies of Western Zhou never materialized. While Zu An was left puzzled, news suddenly arrived from the northwest. Western Zhou forces had captured the Li State, within the Taihang Mountains.

Li State was the Shang Dynasty’s northwestern barrier, and had always enjoyed good relations with the Shang State. But now, they have been eradicated by Western Zhou.

Zu An was furious. He hadn’t received any news of this at all, even as it was going on.

He immediately investigated the matter, and discovered that the pleas for help from the Li State had somehow been lost when it reached prime minister Shang Rong.

Even though Shang Rong had a proper reason to excuse himself from this matter, Zu An had already served as king for many, many years. He could see through it all at a glance, and knew that this slip-up had been completely intentional. Aside from the prime minister, no one else would have enough authority to intercept such urgent military intelligence.

He was about to throw him into prison, but Shang Rong was warned of this ahead of time, and fled the city with his family to the Taihang Mountains to live out their lives as bandits. Once there, they declared that they had been persecuted by King Di Xin and his evil wife, Daji. Unable to put up with King Di Xin anymore, they had left to seek asylum.

Historian Xin Jia was also extremely dissatisfied by this matter. He angrily denounced Zu An in the court, then when he heard that the prime minister had fled, he too fled west, and became Western Zhou’s distinguished guest.

Zu An was beyond furious. It was clear that these fellows had sold out their own country, yet public opinion had somehow been distorted to reflect that he was a brutal ruler who mistreated his subjects!

After all, public opinion was completely controlled by the royal lines of Bi Gan and Ji Zi, as well as the rest of the nobility.

King Di Xin was truly an abject failure. That was why, all around him, people were deserting him and rebelling.

However, Zu An did not try to ease the relationship with Bi Gan and the others. He knew that there was no way to get them back on his side.

He had already served as the Shang monarch for several generations, so he could tell that there were too many issues to deal with. There was still tension between factions that held differing views on whether the throne should be passed to a deceased king’s brothers, or to his son. At the same time, the position of High Priest was often controlled by the aristocrats and nobles, which meant that they had power almost equal to the Shang king himself.

Knowing that they would be unwilling to relinquish power so readily, he began to establish his own faction, made up of the different hierarchies within society—lesser nobles, mid-level scholars, commoners, and independent soldiers.

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