A family banquet, yet everyone’s hearts were not aligned. They each had their own schemes and resentment. But like what Fu Rou said, at least they could fight it out and say whatever they wanted to say.
The Crown Prince wanted Prince Han to swear on his life and Empress Zhangsun became furious as she heard it. She questioned why there was a need to swear with such cruel words.
The Crown Prince immediately kneeled. “Imperial Mother, please calm down.”
Prince Han murmured, “He is already so brazen in front of Imperial Mother. There is no need to think of what happens behind her back.”
Empress Zhangsun turned her head abruptly and glared at Prince Han. Prince Han was startled as he hurried to kneel. “I have spoken too much. Imperial Mother, please calm down.”
Empress Zhangsun asked sternly, “Is it true that there is a joint appeal to impeach the Crown Prince?”
Prince Han stammered, “...Yes.”
Empress Zhangsun continued asking, “Did you sign it?”
“I…” Prince Han felt extremely wronged. “I had no choice. The Crown Prince forced me and I had to protect the Literature School…”
Empress Zhangsun swiped her sleeve and the pot of alcohol fell to the ground. Sun Lingshu and Consort Han ran up and kneeled in fear.
Empress Zhangsun opened her mouth, “You...you all have really done well--” She suddenly spat out blood!
Both couples simultaneously shouted, “Imperial Mother.”
Fu Rou supported Empress Zhangsun and ordered for the palace maids to bring her medicine. She took out one pill from the medicine bottle and gave it to Empress Zhangsun to take.
Empress Zhangsun shook her head and pushed it away. Her eyes were moist. “The Xuanwu Gate Coup is still vivid in everyone’s mind. Crown Prince Li Jiancheng, Prince Zhao Li Yuanji and our Emperor were all biological sons of Empress Dowager Dou. They were biological brothers but in the end they could not coexist and fought against one another. Even after so many years, this is still a wound that His Majesty cannot get rid off. Do you all want that to happen to both of you as well? If you want me to watch as the both of you become enemies and cut off ties, then why don’t I just give up now? Why should I take this medicine and struggle to stay alive!” She snatched the bottle of medicine from Fu Rou’s hands and threw it far away.
The bottle was uncapped and the pills rolled out onto the ground.
The Crown Prince ushered forward on his knees. “I am unfilial. Imperial Mother, please do not be angry. You can scold and hit me but don’t take it out on your own health!”
Prince Han moved forward on his knees as well. He picked up the pills and placed them back in the medicine bottle. Using both hands to hold the bottle, he presented it to Empress Zhangsun.
Empress Zhangsun was pale as fury burned in her eyes. “You can attack even your biological brother, why do you care about your mother? You might as well bring me poison and end my life!”
Prince Han was heartbroken. “Imperial Mother, I deserve to die! I must have been possessed! I…” He started to slap himself with both his hands.
The Crown Prince stopped Prince Han. “Imperial Mother is already not well, she cannot be agitated further. If you hit yourself to death, won’t you be even more unfilial?”
Prince Han nodded. “Yes yes! The Crown Prince is right. I will listen to the Crown Prince.”
Empress Zhangsun sighed at Prince Han. “If you said this earlier and respected your brother more, would things have ended up like this?”
“That’s right. If you said this earlier, why would things become like this?” The Crown Prince recalled the past. “We are brothers after all. We can discuss anything, there is no need to conspire against each other and bring things to court. It will upset both Imperial Father and Imperial Mother.”
Prince Han stared. “But that is because you…”
The Crown Prince was no longer looking at Prince Han. He turned to apologise sincerely to Empress Zhangsun. “Imperial Mother, I am also at fault. It is no wonder Prince Han wants to impeach me in a fit of anger. I was too harsh on the Literature School. I will change it as soon as I get back. Imperial Mother, please take care of yourself. Don’t ruin your health because of things like this. If something happens to you, how will I...be able to respect and be filial to you?”
Prince Han cried as well. “Imperial Mother, I will tear the appeal as soon as I return!”
Empress Zhangsun stretched out her hand, allowing each of her sons to hold a hand. She then held them together and said with tears in her eyes. “Good, good! Crown Prince, Prince Han, you are both my flesh and blood. You have to be united as brothers in the future.”
After a few days, Empress Zhangsun’s health improved. She was wondering about Consort Han’s pregnancy. She invited a priest and asked if Consort Han was going to have a son.
The Taoist Priest did some planchette writing on a sand table. His expression slowly turned bad. In the beginning, he was slightly hesitant and did not want to speak. However, as Empress Zhangsun pressed him, he finally said that not only would Consort Han not have an heir, she would also overthrow her husband.
Empress Zhangsun believed that the priest was talking nonsense and sent him away. However, after he left, she was frowning and felt suffocated. She lifted her hand to press on her chest.
Fu Rou, who was standing by the side, spoke up. “Your Majesty, there is no need to pay attention to him. This priest clearly has not finished practicing austerity and cannot read the signs from heaven. People who are undeserving can only use their words to make a living. Their tactic is to use false words to intimidate people. First they will make you scared, then they will tell you the solution. They will then take the chance to make money from you. If Your Majesty did not chase him away then, he would have told you that if you donated a certain amount of money to the Taoist temple, it will be able to change the inauspicious sign that Consort Han has to a huge auspicious sign.”
Empress Zhangsun laughed, “With a few sentences, you cleared the uncomfortable feeling that I was feeling. Go to the Imperial Physician and ask him to take Consort Han’s pulse. I am feeling anxious.”
Fu Rou agreed and walked out of Lizheng Palace. She looked coldly as the Taoist Priest and his disciples talked as they walked out. They looked excited. What could make them so happy even after they were chased out by Empress Zhangsun? Who would stand to gain by devaluing Consort Han? She had someone in mind but did not want to think of it as a conspiracy.
Empress Zhangsun thought that the family banquet had been useful and very soon, she organised a second family banquet.
Prince Han was friendly towards the Crown Prince again. The Ministry of Revenue sent news that the salary for the Literature School will be given out as per normal. They even gave an additional sum of money for the Literature School to collect the books that were amongst the commoners. The Crown Prince must be backing them.
The Crown Prince was also in a good mood. He told Prince Han to not stand on courtesy; their previous animosity had been resolved.
However, Consort Han and Sun Lingshu were still not friendly towards each other. The smiles plastered on their faces were frozen. Consort Han had heard what the priest told Empress Zhangsun. She believed that Sun Lingshu was the one that instigated that and bought over the priest, making him say those things in front of Imperial Mother to create trouble. To say that she would overthrow her husband and be childless was not a small lesson. She was downright evil!
“Crown Princess, I heard that you have a younger sister that is gentle and educated.” Empress Zhangsun did not notice anything wrong with the expressions of her two daughter-in-laws and suddenly asked the Crown Princess.
The Crown Princess focused on her. “My second sister is called Lingwei. She is truly obedient.”
Empress Zhangsun looked at Consort Han. “Consort Han, has any of your three younger brothers married?”
Consort Han’s hands trembled as the meat that she had picked up with her chopsticks fell to the table. Sun Lingshu, who was drinking water, choked. They both looked at each other and immediately averted their gazes. They both understood Empress Zhangsun’s intention, but they would never let that happen!
Prince Han answered on Consort Han’s behalf. “Imperial Mother, Consort Han’s three younger brothers are all still unmarried. However, as you probably know, the eldest brother, Sheng Chumu, has an illness and cannot marry.”
“Yes I’ve heard of Consort Han’s eldest brother’s illness.” Empress Zhangsun pretended not to notice Consort Han and Sun Lingshu’s reactions. “What about her second and third brother? They are fine right?”
“Ngh...this…” Prince Han looked at Consort Han. As soon as he saw her wide eyes, he immediately understood. “Her second brother, Sheng Chuling, he...he likes to drink and when he is drunk, he hits people. He often abuses the maid that attends to him until she is covered in bruises.”
Sun Lingshu silently pulled on the Crown Prince’s sleeve. The Crown Prince also got her hint. “People who go crazy when they are drunk are not good. If he can hit his maid, he might hit his wife too. Lingwei is small and frail, I am afraid that she would not be able to withstand a few hits.”
Empress Zhangsun did not give up. “Then what about the last one? Is he also abusive?”
“Her third brother, Sheng Chujun...he...he…” Prince Han started to sweat.
“Why are you stammering? Are you trying to think of another excuse?” Empress Zhangsun was more alert than anyone else.
“No, no, how would I dare to make up an excuse?” Prince Han could not find a suitable ‘illness’. “Consort Han’s third brother, Sheng Chujun…”
The Crown Princess interfered, “Imperial Mother, actually the Crown Prince has already helped make preparations for my sister’s marriage.”
The Crown Prince looked at the Crown Princess in astonishment. He never expected that it would be his turn to use his brain juices.
“That’s right, Imperial Mother.” At a time like this, a husband had to take responsibility. “The Crown Princess only has one sister, Sun Lingwei. How can I not care about her marriage? I have already discussed with my father-in-law and made preparations.”
“Oh? Who have you made arrangements with?”
“I have made arrangements with...with…” The Crown Prince blurted out. “Lu Qi!”
“Duke Chen’s son, Lu Qi?”
Empress Zhangsun smiled. “Lu Qi has indeed performed outstandingly in Cangshan Mountain. Speaking of which, in order to help me escape, he put his life on the line and fought the rebel Hong Yide. I owe him one.”
The Crown Princess immediately pushed forth. “Since Imperial Mother also approves of him, then why don’t you take the chance to return his favour by granting him marriage with my second sister?”
Consort Han breathed a sigh of relief and a genuine smile appeared on her face. “That’s right, he is talented and she is beautiful. They are a match made in heaven. Imperial Mother, why don’t you grant them marriage and create a beautiful story?”
Prince Han had to add on. “Since the Crown Prince approves of him, he must be good. Imperial Mother, just agree to the marriage.”
Empress Zhangsun’s gaze softened as she looked at them. “Now that you all are united, how can I not agree? Okay, I will bring it up to His Majesty.”
Fu Rou was standing behind Empress Zhangsun. She did not say anything as she saw this joyful atmosphere. However, she could not help but frown. It was obvious that there was a violent undercurrent between the Eastern Palace and Han Mansion.
The Emperor returned from Hot Spring Palace. Empress Zhangsun waited happily for him to finish his court session. Unexpectedly, Wei Song brought two bad news. The first was that the Imperial Physician had checked Consort Han’s pulse and they had confirmed that she was not pregnant.
Empress Zhangsun was disappointed. “I thought that Prince Han could finally have an heir. Unfortunately, we were excited for nothing. It seems like the priest was accurate, Consort Han is destined to be childless.”
Fu Rou could not help but say, “How can you believe what the priest said? Prince Han and Consort Han are still young. They have many chances in the future. Your Majesty, you have to be patient and you will get what you desire.”
Empress Zhangsun glanced at her. “Consort Han must have treated you very well when you are in the Han Mansion. Even after entering the palace for so long, you never forget to speak up for her.”
Fu Rou was startled and could only be careful with her words. “Consort Han did indeed treat me quite well. Ever since I entered the palace, I have received Your Majesty’s graces on numerous occasions. I just wish that Your Majesty and those around you will live in harmony.”
Empress Zhangsun shook her head. “We are the royal family. How can it be easy for everyone to be happy and harmonious?” She turned to ask Wei Song. “What is the other news?”
Wei Song replied, “During today’s morning court, You Jianming submitted a memorial. He said that the Crown Prince is disabled and cannot be treated. As the foundation of the nation, the fact that the Crown Prince is lacking would mean that Great Tang is lacking. Moreover, up until now, there has never been an emperor that is disabled. He wanted the Emperor to make Prince Han the Crown Prince for Great Tang’s future.”
Empress Zhangsun was shocked and furious. “This You Jianming, who gave him such courage?”
Fu Rou asked Wei Song, “What was His Majesty’s reply?”
Wei Song responded, “The Emperor expressed that he supported the Crown Prince. He even punished You Jianming to fifty strokes of the cane for offending the Crown Prince.”
“That’s good.” Fu Rou turned to Empress Zhangsun. “Your Majesty, as long as His Majesty does not waver, it does not matter what other people say.”
Empress Zhangsun sat down slowly, a gloomy look on her face. “No, it is not so simple. You Jianming has a nickname of Iron Mask Imperial Censor. Even if his words do not influence His Majesty, I am afraid that it will influence the other hundreds of officials. A thousand mile embankment can be ruined by a single ant. Did you think that the officials would not have a knot in their hearts when the Crown Prince got into the accident? They just did not voice it out. Also, it was not easy to finally improve the relationship between the Crown Prince and Prince Han. Now with You Jianming’s memorial, the Crown Prince might think that Prince Han has been conspiring against him.”
“Your Majesty, please do not worry too much. Maybe the Crown Prince does not think that way.”
An announcement was made, declaring the arrival of the Crown Prince.
“Fu Siyan.” Empress Zhangsun looked into Fu Rou’s calm eyes, her smile was laced with pain. “If only everyone’s heart were as clear and pure as yours.”
Fu Siyan did not say anything more as she backed into the corner.
The Crown Prince took big strides into the hall, his eyes were brimming with anger. He pulled his robe aside and kneeled down. “Imperial Mother, during morning court today…”
Empress Zhangsun raised her hand. “I have heard of what happened today. You Jianming offended you and was punished by the Emperor.”
“What about Prince Han?” The Crown Prince was suppressing the fury within him.
“What about Prince Han?” Empress Zhangsun’s expression did not change.
The Crown Prince raised his voice. “Imperial Mother, you said that as biological brothers we should be united. You said that biological brothers should respect…I listened to you. But look at what happened today. Look how Prince Han treats me as his older brother? I became disabled because I was set up. He wants me to be like Wu Taibo (Eldest son of King of Zhou) and give up my position. He wants Imperial Father to dispose of me! Prince Han is your flesh and blood but aren’t I also your flesh and blood?”
“You Jianming was the one that asked to dispose of you, not Prince Han.”
The Crown Prince was in disbelief. “Up till now, you still choose to believe Prince Han?”
Empress Zhangsun frowned. “Crown Prince…” How was she speaking up for Prince Han? He was reacting too rashly!
“Crown Prince? A disabled Crown Prince?” The Crown Prince got up. He tilted his head towards the ceiling and laughed out loud. “Haha! I thought that I had lost a leg. I never thought that it was not only a leg that I lost but my entire self, Li Chengqian!”
Fu Rou could not stand it. “Your Highness, Her Majesty is still ill. She cannot be agitated.”
The Crown Prince suddenly restrained his laughter. He wore a depressed expression. “I deserve to die. I was rude in front of Imperial Mother. I am disabled and should not be a thorn in your eyes. Imperial Mother, I will leave. I will...leave now…”
Empress Zhangsun looked at the Crown Prince as he limped out. She felt dejected and let out a series of coughs.
Fu Rou rubbed her back. “His Highness is just agitated but he is filial. When he calms down, he will ask Your Majesty for forgiveness.”
“Maybe he will come back and apologise to me. But he will never let go of his suspicions and animosity towards Prince Han.” Empress Zhangsun let out a long sigh and felt her energy leave her body.
Fu Rou comforted her. “Your Majesty, every matter depends on the individual. Lies will eventually be exposed and misunderstanding will eventually be cleared.”
Empress Zhangsun held tightly onto Fu Rou’s hand as she smiled blandly. She was hopeful.Previous Chapter Next Chapter