Yan Zifang was drinking in his garden when he saw Ma Hainiu return with a jewel box. She wore an unsatisfied expression.
“Is the Belle Shop not doing well?” As the leader and an investor, he should show a bit of concern.
“The Belle Shop is doing well. Today, I went to visit Consort Han and brought a lot of new jewellery for her to see but she did not want any of them. In the past, she has been my most loyal customer!” Therefore, Ma Hainiu was bothered.
“Why didn’t she want any?” Yan Zifang asked.
“Now that the Crown Prince and Prince Han are on such bad terms, she has no mood.” Ma Hainiu shook her head. “They are biological brothers!”
Yan Zifang’s mouth pulled up in a sneer. “Royals are emotionless.”
“Oh right, Consort Han told me that when the Crown Princess was still a lady from the Sun family, it was Consort Han and Prince Han that helped her when she came to the Han Mansion to get the attention of the Crown Prince. The Crown Princess did not have any chance of winning initially and she only won because of the idea Fu Rou gave her to add ribbons and flower petals under her skirt. When she danced, the flower petals fell like rain and she managed to defeat Lu Yingying and become the Crown Princess. Clearly, the Han Mansion did a favour for the Crown Princess. But now that the Crown Prince and Prince Han are not getting along, not only is she not helping, she is making matters worse.”
Yan Zifang seemed to ponder. “Since the Crown Princess is ungrateful, then you should speak up for justice and tell her ugly side to everyone.”
Ma Hainiu hesitated, “But leader, if I do that, won’t it cause the relationship between the Han Mansion and the Eastern Palace to worsen? I don’t think it is right.”
Yan Zifang raised his brows. “Does Consort Han treat you well?”
Ma Hainiu nodded. “Very well.”
Yan Zifang continued asking, “Do you want to help Consort Han punish the Crown Princess?”
Ma Hainiu spoke frankly, “Yes.”
Yan Zifang spoke in a slightly commanding tone, “Then you should do as I say.”
Ma Hainiu did not sense his tone but simply thought that this was not right.
“Do you think that the relationship between the Eastern Palace and Han Mansion will improve if you do not do anything? Now, the two families have irreconcilable differences. We can either not do anything or we can help Prince Han.” If ordering her would not work, he would try to use reason.
Now, Ma Hainiu understood reasoning very well. “Helping would definitely be better than sitting around.”
Alas, Ma Hainiu listened to reason better. She would definitely help Prince Han’s side. In three days, she would ruin the Crown Princess’ reputation!
Three days later.
“What!” Sun Lingshu threw a teacup on the floor.
“Those women ganged up together and are making fun of this. I don’t know how the news of what happened on the Crown Princess Selection day spread.” Shuangxi told Sun Lingshu of the rumours that had been spreading wildly outside the palace.
“Is there a need to ask? Who else would it be other than Consort Han? Despicable!” Sun Lingshu did not even need to think. Now that the Crown Prince was targeting the Literature School, Prince Han would naturally be anxious. However, she did not expect for things to turn in her direction.
The internal attendant announced that Chief Yu had arrived.
Sun Lingshu calmed down slightly before ordering the mess to be cleaned up. She then allowed Yu He to enter. “Greeting, Your Highness.” Yu He kneeled to greet her.
“Chief Yu, what major thing brings you here personally?” From Sun Lingshu’s expression, it was clear that she appreciated Yu He’s big greeting.
“Concubine Yan heard that the Crown Prince is helping to review memorials on behalf of the Emperor and hasn’t been sleeping well. She asked me to send some lingzhi over to help replenish His Highness’ energy.” Yu He presented the lingzhi.
“Concubine Yan is so thoughtful.” Sun Lingshu gestured to Shuangxi to accept it. “Chief Yu, please help me to thank Concubine Yan when you return.”
Yu He politely took his leave. Shuangxi looked at the lingzhi. “I never thought that Concubine Yan would give the Crown Prince a gift.”
Sun Lingshu spoke arrogantly, “Imperial Father is not around now and the Crown Prince is the one managing the country and has absolute power. Do you think that she and Prince Zhou dares to try anything? On the other hand, the Han Mansion is not tactful.”
Yu He did not walk very far before he heard laughter. He walked to a desolated old wall in the Eastern Palace. There was already somebody there waiting for him.
Yu He spoke, “With you in the Eastern Palace and Yan Zifang outside, the relationship between the Eastern Palace and Han Mansion is up in flames. We are just waiting for the last strike and everything will go up in flames. Fu Shui, you have done well.”
That person turned around. Fu Shui was polite. “You are too generous with your praises, Father.”
From Hong Yide all the way to Xiahan, the Crown Prince was repeatedly met with bad luck. Furthermore, they were getting closer to their goal. Zhan Xuanzhi was absolutely right. His Fu Shui was treacherous and nasty. But he would never be a Chen Ji because Chen Ji was way too foolish.
On this day, there was a sumptuous banquet at Lizheng Palace.
Empress Zhangsun thought that after she reprimanded the Crown Prince, he would reflect. Unexpectedly, the Crown Prince became even more harsh and reduced the Literature School’s funds. The scholars were all dismissed and it was obvious as to how Prince Han would react. Moreover, she had also roughly heard about the rumours that the woman in the city were spreading. She did not expect that Consort Han and the Crown Princess were also at loggerheads. All these were making her worried. She could not eat nor sleep well and thought that it was strange that things came to this stage.
Fu Rou saw that Empress Zhangsun was becoming more frail by the day and suggested holding a family banquet. Perhaps the brothers and their wives could talk things out and resolve their conflict.
“It is the Crown Princess’ birthday. Our family should gather and celebrate.” Empress Zhangsun smiled as she waved her hand. A palace maid walked up with a tray in her hands. “Crown Princess, this is a new sable fur coat that I had just gotten and thought that it looked nice. The weather is getting cold and it is about time to use it. Take this as my present for you.”
Sun Lingshu got up. Her makeup made her look happy as her eyes narrowed in a smile. “I am younger than you, I wouldn’t dare to ask Imperial Mother to remember my birthday, much less give me a gift.”
Sun Lingshu was pretending to be courteous. Before she came, she had already known that Empress Zhangsun had recently received two sable fur coats. Empress Zhangsun had kept the white one for herself and intended to give the black one to her. Sun Lingshu was actually feeling annoyed that the weather was turning cold and she had nothing to wear. She was waiting to receive the fur coat at the banquet.
Empress Zhangsun said, “There is nothing to be courteous about. You have been serving the Crown Prince in the Eastern Palace and also taking care of the young Imperial Grandson. I know it must be difficult on you. Today, everyone is part of the family, there is no need to be courteous.”
It was then that Sun Lingshu thanked the Empress and took the fur coat. She could not hide the pride in her eyes as she looked at Consort Han.
Empress Zhangsun noticed that Consort Han made a gesture to stop at the palace maid that was helping her pour drinks. She asked in concern, “Consort Han, why aren’t you letting them pour you anymore drinks? Are you not feeling well?”
Consort Han became shy and did not speak. As she saw Prince Han about to answer on her behalf, she immediately pinched him. Prince Han obediently shut his mouth and simply let out a silly breath.
Fu Rou saw this and spoke softly. “Perhaps it is not convenient for her body?”
Empress Zhangsun came to a realisation. “Are you pregnant?” Seeing how Consort Han still did not reply, she knew that Consort Han was silently acknowledging. She could not help but be overjoyed. “It is such a joyful matter, how can you hide it from me?”
Seeing how things had already been exposed, Prince Han smiled. “Imperial Mother, the Imperial Physician has not confirmed it. I had intended to wait for the confirmation in about half a month before telling you.”
Empress Zhangsun found it weird. “Wait? It is about time. I have waited for this day for so long that my neck has grown. After hearing this news today, I feel as if I have recovered by a lot. Come servants, help to top up the wine. I am going to drink a cup. Consort Han, you don’t have to drink. Give her honey.”
Consort Han took a sip of honey and suddenly coughed lightly. Prince Han immediately became anxious. “Why are you coughing? Have you caught a cold?”
Empress Zhangsun was even more anxious. “Quick. Bring my white sable fur coat. Help Consort Han wear it. She must not catch a cold now.”
The internal attendants rushed to get the white sable fur coat and handed it over to Prince Han.
Prince Han hurried to place it over Consort Han. He did not forget to butter up to his mother. “Imperial Mother, this sable fur coat is really beautiful. What a good item.”
Empress Zhangsun smiled. “You have discerning eyes. This had also just been given. I haven’t even used it before giving it to Consort Han.”
Consort Han wanted to stand up to thank her but Zhangsun waved her hand. “You don’t have to get up to thank me. I said that today’s banquet is for our family and there is no need to be courteous.”
Sun Lingshu pulled a long face as jealousy and hatred grew within her. Consort Han had ruined her reputation. Not only that, she was pregnant and even got the white fur coat as a gift. Prince Han was so attentive to her as well. Consort Han had gotten everything good and she was still lacking compared to her. How could she not get angry?
Empress Zhangsun did not notice the change in Sun Lingshu’s expression. “Crown Prince, Prince Han, both of you have not been visiting me together recently. Have you all been busy?”
The Crown Prince replied, “I have been busy with official duties and could not come to greet you often. It is my fault. Please forgive me.”
Prince Han replied, “I have been busy…” Just thinking about the Crown Prince has made him so busy he did not have time for anything else. “...with writing.”
Empress Zhangsun found it strange. “Haven’t you already completed your book <<Broad Geography>>? Are you trying to write another extraordinary book?”
Prince Han laughed in embarrassment. “I wanted to write a book to showcase Great Tang’s culture. But I don’t know who the Literature School offended recently, we are facing trouble after trouble. I am having a headache because of it. Imperial Father is not around and I don’t know what to do with my troubles.”
“You are too foolish.” Empress Zhangsun played dumb. “Although your Imperial Father is not around, your brother is here. The Crown Prince is managing the country and oversees everything. Don’t you know how to ask the Crown Prince for help?”
Prince Han snorted, “Of course I want to ask him for help. But I am afraid that even if I ask, there would be no use. If I try to ask for too much, the Crown Prince might blame me. It might not be worth it.”
“Nonsense. The Crown Prince is your older brother and he loves you very much. He will not ignore you if he sees that you are struggling. Crown Prince, don’t you agree?” Empress Zhangsun directed.
The Crown Prince was indifferent. “Imperial Mother is right. We are biological brothers and should love and respect each other.”
Zhangsun looked at Prince Han. “Did you hear that? Your brother will not ignore you.”
The Crown Prince’s tone changed. “Speaking of respect, if a younger brother offends the older brother a little, the older brother can be generous and let it go. However, if the younger brother goes overboard, disrespecting and conspiring against the older brother. Imperial Mother, what do you think the older brother should do?”
Prince Han called out, “Imperial Mother, I don’t understand. Everyone in my Literature School has been out of luck and even got their pays cut. How did I end up being the one that is conspiring?”
The Crown Prince directly bellowed at Prince Han, “You know in your heart who has been plotting against whom.”
Prince Han jumped up. “Speak clearly. Who is plotting against whom?”
The Crown Prince snorted, “If we were to speak clearly in front of Mother, you won’t be able to hold your head up.”
Prince Han retorted, “You dare to tell the truth in front of Imperial Mother? Ever since Imperial Father went to the Hot Spring Palace to recuperate, what have you been doing? We are biological brothers and I have always been helping you. On the other hand, you keep trying to put me down. What are you trying to do?”
“Pretending to be a good person on the surface yet conspiring with officials beneath the surface to write a signed appeal to Imperial Father to impeach me. What are you trying to do?” Don’t think that he did not know what Prince Han was trying to do!
“I...what appeal?” Prince Han was slightly guilty. Although he was not the one that led them, the group of scholars that had suffered because of the Crown Prince’s actions had jointly signed an appeal. It was because the Crown Prince had pushed them too far.
The Crown Prince was stern. “If you dare to say nothing like this has happened, then swear in front of Imperial Mother. If you lie, you will suffer heaven’s punishment and be punished in hell forever!”
Bam! Empress Zhangsun slammed her cup on the table.
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