With a slight frown, Qi Yun rushed to get a robe for the emperor and put it around his shoulders before closing the window. The wavering candles fire settled.
“Royal Father, you may catch a cold. You should take better care of yourself. Please have the servants put on the heating if your feet get cold at night.”
Qi Yun babbled on. Worried that the emperor wouldn’t listen, he reminded the eunuch to take care of his father as well. The eunuch nodded with a smile as he listened, while the emperor looked at his son gently, moved.
It took an hour for Qi Yun to give the eunuch the rundown. Exhaustion set in after that. He rubbed at his forehead tiredly. The emperor motioned at him to retire back to his place out of consideration and told a eunuch to prepare some soothing medicine.
Qi Yun had been emotionally drained lately. He looked tired even during the day. Although he’d made up his mind to let his father die, it was still difficult to live with the decision. The emperor interpreted his exhaustion differently.
On a sunny day, the emperor decided to go out for a walk. He’d stayed in the bedroom for too long. His muscles were deteriorating. The eunuch put a robe around his shoulders and helped him to the royal garden.
It was autumn, but the scenery in the garden was still beautiful. The myriad of flowers added vibrancy to the desolate season. The emperor strolled along the path with a group of eunuchs and maids. His robe glided over the grass and got wetted by dew.
The view opened up once they passed the crabapple trees. The emperor saw Qi Yun sitting under a pavilion in deep thoughts.
“Your Majesty, it’s the fourth prince,” murmured the old eunuch.
The emperor frowned. He could easily see how tired Qi Yun looked, but he assumed it was because Qi Yun had heard about his unstable condition.
After some musing, he turned to the eunuch and asked in a low voice, “Did he know that I’ve fallen ill yesterday?”
The eunuch nodded. “The royal doctor ran into the prince when he was living yesterday. The prince asked after Your Majesty’s health. It’s common knowledge that the prince is a caring son. The doctor therefore answered him honestly. Originally, the prince was going to visit Your Majesty, but he left after hearing what the doctor said. Later, he came back with a bowl of medicine he made. This old servant was going to let the prince deliver it to you, but he excused himself and said he had business to attend to.”
The emperor frowned, perturbed. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“It was the prince who told this old servant not to bring it up unless Your Majesty asked. What happened last time must have made him wary. He worried that people in the palace may spread rumors.”
The eunuch snuck a glance at the emperor and let out a relieved sigh when he saw that the emperor wasn’t angry.
The emperor sighed after a thoughtful pause. Thinking back to how he’d scolded Qi Yun, he realized that he’d made a mistake. The one who submitted the report was a man of great integrity and a rare pure-hearted official. He’d always refused to take sides. He must have suggested for Qi Yun to be the crown prince out of his appreciation for the young man rather than other reasons.
Qi Chen’s coup had made the emperor paranoid. That was why he overreacted. Fortunately Qi Yun was a mild tempered man. Even after being falsely accused, he still had his father’s best interest in mind. He was the only son who’d ever made the emperor feel loved.
A gust of wind swept through the garden, bringing up the robe around his shoulders and burrowed through his sleeves. He shuddered and started coughing.
Qi Yun looked up with surprise in his eyes and rushed to him.
“Why is Royal Father outside?” Qi Yun smoothed a hand over the emperor’s back with a frown. He glanced at the maids angrily and snapped, “Is this how you’ve been taking care of Royal Father?”
The maids had never seen the gentle Qi Yun be this intimidating. Their knees went weak and they dropped down to the ground, too afraid to make a sound. They didn’t think they deserved the scolding. They couldn’t possibly stop the emperor from leaving the palace, could they?
“Royal Father should take better care of yourself!” Qi Yun shifted his focus to the emperor and didn’t spare a glance for the maids. “What if something happens?”
Everyone broke into sweat, dreading the emperor’s reaction. The emperor, surprisingly, didn’t seem at all angry. Once he stopped coughing, he patted Qi Yun on the back of his hand and said with a smile, “Now you’ve started to scold me as well.”
Qi Yun’s face paled when he realized what he’d said. He dropped down to his knees and bowed down until his head hit the ground. “This son has crossed a line. Royal Father may punish me if you’re angry. Please don’t take it out on yourself.”
“I’m not being serious. You are my son. Are we not allowed this levity?” The emperor bent down to help Qi Yun up, raising an eyebrow.
Qi Yun stared at the ground with his head lowered. “I wouldn’t dare say that.”
His careful attitude bothered the emperor. It was said that being in the company of a lord was as dangerous as being in the company of a tiger. Now even his son started to treat him like a terrifying beast.
“Don’t blame them. I decided on a whim to get some fresh air because of the nice weather.” The emperor looked over at the maids kneeling behind him. He told them to be at ease and go prepare the pavilion. He wanted to stay and talk to Qi Yun.
Qi Yun kept close to the emperor and supported him with a hand. Seeing his sickly look, Qi Yun said, “It’s autumn already. The weather seems nice, but it is windy. This is exactly when people are most likely to catch a cold. Royal Father should stay indoor for the sake of your health. If you’re bored, this son will visit you and chat or play chess with you.”
Without a word, the emperor patted his hand with a smile. The two of them made their way to the pavilion. A few screens had been set up around the pavilion to shield them from the wind. Once the emperor sat down, a maid put another robe around his shoulders before leaving.
The emperor pointed at the desserts on the table and said with a smile, “These were your favorite when you were young. I had them prepared for you. Give it a try.”
Qi Yun tensed up, wondering what the emperor was trying to do. He was old enough to mask his emotions. He smiled with his eyes downcast and picked up a snack. It was too sweet for his liking and appealed more to a young boy. He’d grown out of the taste.
He kept his reaction to himself and forced himself to swallow. He then drank some tea with a smile. The tea was a tribute to the nation. It was a premium brand that peasants couldn’t get their hands on. He was reminded of Jun Huang’s preference for tea. He should gift her some when he could.
The emperor took a sip of his tea and asked, “Is there anything you want?”
Qi Yun looked up at him in surprise. The emperor didn’t look any different from usual. He wondered what his father wanted.
His first reaction was Jun Huang, but he shook the improbable thought away and chuckled. “This son wants nothing but for Royal Father to make a full recovery. Royal Father should let yourself rest and prioritize your health.”
The emperor considered him carefully. Qi Yun lowered his eyes with an earnest expression on his face, which pleased the emperor. It was a pleasant surprise that his son still put his health above all else. Qi Yun thus passed the emperor’s test without realizing it.
After they parted, the emperor made his way back to his chamber. The eunuch could tell that the emperor was in a good mood, and the only explanation was Qi Yun.
“What do you think about Qi Yun?” the emperor stopped to ask him.
The eunuch thought for a moment before saying with a smile, “The prince is well known for his kind heart, and he is a loyal son. His love for art and literature proves him to be educated and caring, and now he’s doing very well with the court affairs. This old servant often hears officials complimenting him for a job well done.”
The emperor brightened up like he was the one being praised. He nodded after a brief bemused pause. “You’re right. Qi Yun has never disappointed me.”
The eunuch agreed enthusiastically and accompanied the emperor back to his room. The emperor thought for some time before he decided to issue a secret decree.
There was no telling how much time he had left in his disease-riddled body. To avoid causing chaos when he passed away, Qi Yun would be a good candidate to take over him.
Over the past few months, Qi Yun had proven himself to be a capable ruler. He wouldn’t leave Northern Qi vulnerable to outside forces.
The eunuch had anticipated the emperor’s decision, but he didn’t expect the time to come so soon. As someone who’d been in the palace almost his entire life, he knew what he had to do. Qi Yun would be his master after the emperor passed away. He, like anyone else in the palace, had to think about his own interests.
It was time that he reinforced his relationship with Qi Yun. That way, Qi Yun would treat him well even if he had no use for him. He silently planned for what he would do.
Once he was dismissed from the emperor’s chamber, he brought the premium sandalwood the emperor gave him to Qi Yun’’s residence. Qi Yun was surprised to see the eunuch. He put on a straight face and waited for the old man to speak.Previous Chapter Next Chapter