The emperor kept his intention to himself, while Qi Yun continued to play the obedient son.
For reasons she couldn’t fathom, Jun Huang was filled with a sense of apprehension. If something happened to upset the careful balance they’d reached, she had a feeling that the emperor would abandon Qi Yun just as easily as he had done with his other sons.
She didn’t voice her concern. It was without basis served no purpose other than worrying Qi Yun.
Afterwards, Qi Yun took Jun Huang to the royal garden. He heard that the flowers had blossomed and wanted to show her. She followed him without a word. She knew Qi Yun must have something to say to her.
They walked for a while with Qi Yun taking the lead. Then he stopped to look at her with a hesitant expression. Jun Huang smiled and asked quietly, “Is something on your mind?”
Qi Yun nodded and took a deep breath. “I’m not a weak man, but my history with father isn’t a simple one. Seeing him declining with age, I started to wonder if we should treat his poison. That way, he’ll be able to live longer and you’ll be able to go to Southern Mu for your cure.”
Jun Huang considered it for a moment. She’d seen for herself how the emperor had treated Qi Yun. It was only natural that the kind-hearted prince would hesitate to let his father die.
“It’s not undoable,” said Jun Huang. “The cure needs time to refine, however. The royal doctors have been trying their best to treat the emperor’s ailment. He should be able to stay alive long enough for us to produce the cure.”
Qi Yun relaxed slightly and chuckled. “Don’t feel pressured. We have time.”
They fell silent. Qi Yun found himself attracted to the scenery in the garden. He’d never felt so serene before when he walked past this place. Perhaps it was because of Jun Huang’s presence.
Jun Huang was thinking about how hard-working Qi Yun had become. He’d changed from the young boy she knew.
Meanwhile, Qi Yun wondered if Jun Huang would come to fall for him if he kept her by his side. He felt apologetic to Nan Xun, yes. The man had never kept his affection for her a secret. But in the end, everyone could only strive for their own happiness.
He didn’t want to let go. He wanted her bright smile for himself.
Qi Yun lost track of time as they strolled in the garden. Jun Huang followed without a word. Hours had passed before he realized it. He was suddenly reminded that she hadn’t fully recovered yet. He nervously turned around and asked, “Are you feeling alright? Sorry for losing track of time. It’s getting windy, and you aren’t in a good condition. We should get back.”
Jun Huang nodded with a faint smile in lieu of a response. She was getting a little cold. She kept quiet, not wanting to dampen Qi Yun’s rare good mood.
Once they returned to their residence, Qi Yun immediately had a servant prepare some hot tea. He got a cloak for Jun Huang suggested her to stay indoor, but she found it more comfortable to stay in the backyard.
Qi Yun rarely went against her will. He stayed and chatted with her.
That was what the maid saw when she came back with a pot of hot tea. She could tell that Qi Yun valued Jun Huang greatly and might marry her one day. On top of that, Jun Huang had always treated the servants well. None of them wanted or dared disrespect her.
“Prince Nan Xun has delivered some osmanthus cake in the morning saying that the lady would like it,” said the maid in a respectful tone. “Are you hungry? If you are, I’ll bring you some.”
Jun Huang looked up at her and thought for a moment. A smile blossomed on her face suddenly. It was faint, but anyone who’d seen her usual smile would be able to tell she was happier now than ever.
The maid was transfixed by Jun Huang’s bright smile.
“I’ll appreciate that,” said Jun Huang, pulling the maid out of her trance. She hurried away with her face flushed.
Jun Huang ate quite a lot of the osmanthus cakes. She had a better appetite than usual.
The next few days, the emperor again asked for Jun Huang’s presence. She gladly followed Qi Yun to visit the emperor and always stayed for some conversation.
She knew a lot about what was happening with the peasants. She hadn’t expected the emperor to be interested, but he was.
Qi Yun sat on the side listening to the two of them talk, his heart swelling. He wanted her to be his lifelong companion.
The thought hit him hard. Heat rose to his cheeks without him realizing.
Noticing his distraction, Jun Huang whispered when the emperor wasn’t paying attention, “What are you thinking?”
Qi Yun broke out of his trance and struggled to find a suitable response to her concerned look. In the end, he stayed silent. She didn’t push and continued to talk to the emperor.
They were interrupted when a eunuch brought a stack of reports to the room. Jun Huang remained seated and the emperor stayed on the bed while Qi Yun retrieved the reports. He read them out loud one by one. Occasionally, the emperor would offer some suggestions. The sun streaming in from the window covered the room in a warm glow.
A report requested for the emperor to lower taxes in a remote area. On the surface, it made sense, but it wouldn’t be a smart decision.
The emperor thought for a moment. “What do you think?”
Qi Yun took some time to consider the proposal. “This son believes that it won’t be the right move.”
“The tax rates are stipulated clearly according to the local economy, not determined by Royal Father’s judgement,” Qi Yun said slowly and carefully. “The taxes are known to all in the nation. If a region’s taxes are lowered simply because of how far it is from the imperial city, residents from the other areas will be dissatisfied. It’s unwise to undermine the state’s credibility for a small region.”
The emperor nodded appreciatively. He agreed. After a brief pause, he continued, “What do you think we should do?”
That was more difficult than the previous question. Qi Yun didn’t respond immediately. He formulated the answer in his head for a good while before saying carefully, “If we agree, people from the other regions will request for a tax reduction as well, which will lead to less tax revenue and depletion of the treasury.”
“Eastern Wu’s ready to strike anytime. We need sufficient fund to support our war effort. The officials must have had the idea for a long time for them to muster the courage to make the request. We can’t ignore the request. If we do, they may make a move the next time they are to deliver the earnings. We can’t deny them either, or the locals may grow dissatisfied. This son believes we may offer them other benefits and help them grow wealthier. Then there will be no complain when we increase the taxes.”
The emperor’s smile deepened as he patted Qi Yun on the shoulder. “Good thinking. It’s a holistic solution no one will question. How about you take on the responsibility?”
Qi Yun nodded and glanced at Jun Huang, who gave him an appreciative smile. She approved of his plan. It was in line with what she’d talked to him some time ago. He’d been listening to her advice.
Qi Yun was pleased to see her smile. He tried to hide it by turning away from her, but his lips still curved a little.
A decision had been made and the task assigned to Qi Yun. He picked up another report, freezing when he saw what was written on it.
He wanted to put it away before the emperor noticed anything wrong, but his father had been looking at him and had noticed his moment of panic.
“What’s wrong?” asked the emperor.
Jun Huang frowned at Qi Yun, wondering what could cause his reaction. Unsettled, she was about to rise and say something, but Qi Yun took a deep breath and started reading.
“The fourth prince possesses both character and talent. He’s a man of… this official and many others believe that among all the princes, only the fourth prince may fill the spot of the crown prince...”
The emperor’s expression darkened. Jun Huang frowned at Qi Yun without a word. There wasn’t much she could say to salvage the moment.
Qi Yun glanced at his father and stopped before finishing reading it.
“What’s that, Qi Yun?” demanded the emperor.
Qi Yun stilled and smiled ruefully, placing the report on the table. “This son doesn’t know how to answer that, Royal Father. I just saw the report myself. I don’t know what’s happening, either.”
“Do you think I’ll believe that? You’ve started to covet the throne after your second brother and third brother fell out of favor, haven’t you? Do you think I’m dead? Do you think I’m blind to my sons’ desires?” The emperor shot to his feet and slammed his fist into the table, his face flushed red in rage.
“This son’s never thought that way. Why is Royal Father making yourself feel bad? This son didn’t want to read the report either, and yet Royal Father thinks that I did it on purpose. This son is wounded by the misunderstanding.”
Qi Yun lowered his eyes, kneeling on the floor with his back straight.
The emperor frowned deeply at him. There was fire in Qi Yun’s determined eyes. The emperor would have commended his son for that any other time, but now, he saw that as a challenge to his authority.
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Dear all, sorry I'll have to take a few days off next week. I have an interpreting job to prepare for and do. So, no updates from Monday to Wednesday.
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