Qi Yun knew what the smart thing to do was, but he had his pride. He was upset that his father would jump to conclusions like that. That on top of their past settled uncomfortably in his heart. He wanted the emperor to understand him.
Jun Huang sighed and approached the emperor. “Please quell your anger, Your Majesty. This must be someone else’s doing. The prince has a pure heart. He wouldn’t have colluded with the officials to challenge Your Majesty. An investigation is needed before blame can be cast.”
The emperor scoffed, throwing her a cold glance. She knew it was inappropriate for her to speak up now, but she had to say something to diffuse the emperor. Otherwise there was no telling what he’d do in fury.
“Your Majesty must know better than others how much hardships the prince’s been through for you. Please don’t be misled by the ploy.”
“Enough,” snapped the emperor. “I don’t want to hear another word from either of you. You’re dismissed.”
Qi Yun wanted to say something, but Jun Huang shook her head to stop him. They walked away.
The eunuch who’d been serving at the emperor’s side for decades looked at his master and sighed. “Does Your Majesty really think that the fourth prince has planned this?”
The emperor glanced at him and picked up the report again. After a brief moment, he said, “No matter what, he must be thinking about it. First Qi Chen, now him? If I don’t eliminate the seed of dissent now, he’ll be the next to storm the palace.”
The eunuch fell silent.
Jun Huang and Qi Yun left the emperor’s palace. He had a dark expression on his face, which wasn’t difficult to interpret. Jun Huang waited until they reached Qi Yun’s residence before stopping him. She tried to find the right words. “I know what you’re thinking, and I know you’re not short-sighted enough to do that at this critical juncture. You’ve read the report yourself. Perhaps the officials aren’t trying to set you up on purpose, but simply think that you are the right candidate for the throne.”
“In that case, there’s nothing to gain by arguing with the emperor,” she said bluntly. “You’ll get to vent your frustration, but it won’t help. The emperor’s reaction is a warning. Those are issues we’ve ignored but must face now. Qi Chen storming the palace has made the emperor paranoid and easily triggered. There’s nothing you can say to convince him when he’s most suspicious.”
Qi Yun pursed his lips and scowled. Jun Huang looked at him quietly, her expression impassive but soft under the setting sun.
Qi Yun cleared his throat. “I’m not frustrated because of being hindered. It just upset me that he’d think of me like that. I’ve been so careful and attentive so that he’d willingly let me take the throne. It hurts to be subject to his accusation. I...”
“That’s why you must endure,” Jun Huang said with an eyebrow raised. “You have your ambition. If you can’t even take a little setback, how are you going to shoulder the weight of an entire nation?”
Qi Yun lowered his head, speechless. He exhaled deeply. “I understand. I won’t do it again. What should we do?”
Jun Huang thought for a moment before sighing and shaking her head. “We have to understand the situation before a decision can be made. You should refrain from bringing up the issue for the next few days. We’ll see if the emperor’s going to come around.”
“It’s my mistake. Sorry for troubling you.” Qi Yun blamed himself for stressing her out.
Jun Huang managed to smile at him. She was tired. She bid him farewell before returning to her room.
The next day, when Qi Yun visited the emperor, the man was talking to the ninth prince. The young prince was only seven years old. He didn’t know much about anything. Qi Yun was jealous to see the little boy snuggled close to the emperor as they talked, painting the perfect picture of a caring father and a loving son.
The ninth prince was the first to notice Qi Yun. He grinned and jumped off the emperor’s arms, rushing to Qi Yun and pulling his sleeve. “The fourth brother is finally here,” he said with his head tilted up. “If you don’t, Royal Father is going to ask about my study again. He’ll scold me for not being to answer his questions.”
It was natural for a child to speak his mind. The emperor smiled widely and didn’t hold it against him. Qi Yun, on the other hand, had to force himself to smile. He knelt down before the young prince and patted him on the head, his voice gentle as he asked, “Why have you come? Royal Father hasn’t been feeling well. You shouldn’t bother him.”
“I told him to come,” the emperor spoke up. He waved the ninth prince over without sparing a glance for Qi Yun.
Today’s reports had been delivered. Qi Yun took a deep breath to suppress his frustration and went to pick the reports up, but the emperor stopped him and had the reports brought to the ninth prince. He told the boy to read the reports out loud for him with a smile.
Qi Yun looked at him questioningly. The emperor threw him a cool glance. “You don’t have to come anymore. Your brother is young and there are many things he doesn’t know. He can read the reports for me. If you have the time to spare, you should go deal with the task I assigned you. There’s no need for you to visit me if there’s nothing important to discuss. I’m feeling better now.”
There was a lump in Qi Yun’s throat, stopping him from saying anything. The seven-year-old prince looked between the emperor and Qi Yun with a confused expression. In the end, he looked down at the reports in his hands and started reading out loud like he would in classes.
It pained Qi Yun to see the father and son’s intimacy. He cupped his hands and left the emperor’s chamber.
Once outside, he punched the rust-red pillar next to him, his expression dark. He’d been frustrated enough when the emperor reprimanded him. Now, seeing the emperor’s obvious affection for the ninth prince, the last of his attachment to his father vanished. The emperor’s death seemed like a good solution now.
When he returned to his residence, Jun Huang was sitting in the garden idly watching the flowers. After some deliberation, he approached and sat before her.
Jun Huang noted his dark look. Her mind quickly figured out that Qi Yun must have clashed with the emperor again. She poured him a cup of tea.
Qi Yun wasn’t going to push her away even though he was furious. He drank the tea, letting tension drain out of his body.
“You don’t have to make the cure anymore, Jun Huang,” he said without ceremony.
Jun Huang was surprised by his sudden change of mind. Qi Yun wasn’t someone petty enough to want the emperor dead just because of the scolding he received yesterday. The emperor must have done something today.
Qi Yun took a deep breath and gave her the explanation she wanted. “I tried to reconcile with him. I tried to forget what happened yesterday, but he certainly hasn’t forgotten. He used the ninth brother to humiliate me! He clearly wants the ninth prince to replace me. He even told me not to visit him lately, considering me an eyesore. Why should I care about our relationship when he cut ties with me so easily? It’s better that I seize the opportunity to achieve my goal.”
“The ninth prince?” Jun Huang was bewildered. “Isn’t he a seven-year-old boy?”
Qi Yun let out a sharp laugh and nodded. “Yes, he’s seven and he acts his age. Ha, only my father would prioritize the innocence of a child over all else. He must think that the boy is young and malleable, and that he can shape the boy into the perfect heir. In his eyes, I’ve only just started to show my talents, and the young boy is better than a son who covets the throne.”
Qi Yun closed his eyes. Sunlight shone on him, driving away the darkness even with his eyes closed. It comforted him somewhat.
Jun Huang didn’t respond immediately. She needed to think after the sudden turn of event. They had to reconsider what they were going to do since their original plan was no longer viable.
It took some time for her to clear her head. “There’s nothing we can do to undo what happened. The emperor used to favor you. We may try to relax his guard gradually. Of course, not giving the emperor a cure is a solution in itself. Once he dies, we may use the opportunity to get rid of Prince Duan and Qi Chen.”
“That’s what I think as well,” Qi Yun opened his eyes and said.
“I know you’re upset,” said Jun Huang. “However, remember that impatience can lead to great failure. Don’t let your emotions get in the way of our long term plan. The emperor has told you not to visit him, but you can’t just do as he said. You should deliver some food to him tomorrow. Don’t let him put you out of his mind.”
Qi Yun nodded after some hesitation. He sighed with a mocking smile directed at himself and downed the tea that had gone cold. Bitterness assaulted his taste buds. He swallowed, but it only made the taste stronger.Previous Chapter Next Chapter
I'm back! Things go alright except for me losing my voice after interpreting for two hours without a chance to drink water. Multitasking is hard.