This day, the Crown Prince and Prince Han were in conflict during the morning court.
A few days ago, the Crown Prince brought up the Court Official Examination and placed Lu Yunji in charge of it. At that point, Prince Han raised an objection. Using Official Hu Ningwu from Sheng Country as an example of a greedy court official who took advantage of the citizens and robbed women among various other misdeeds, Prince Han wondered why Lu Yunji had given Hu Ningwu a positive referral. The Crown Prince felt that Prince Han was targetting him but Prince Han had evidence of Lu Yunji accepting bribes.
The Emperor saw this matter with great importance and he immediately ordered for the Ministry of Appointments Assistant Minister to oversee the investigation.
The Crown Prince returned to the Eastern Palace, fuming. “What nonsense! He tried to poison me but on behalf of Imperial Mother’s face, I took it out only on Consort Han and let him go. However, he is suddenly acting outrageous by publicly offending me in court!”
Fu Shui stood by and commented, “Your Highness, you should have hardened your resolve to go against Prince Han earlier on. It was a pity that you were fooled multiple times by his acts of loyalty.”
Sun Lingshu chimed in, “I tried to persuade Your Highness many times. There isn’t a single good person in the Han Mansion. Your Highness is too kind.”
Fu Shui added, “Speaking of which, the Crown Princess’ sister had to sacrifice her life to expose Prince Han’s true face. Your Highness, you must treat the Crown Princess better in the future.”
Sun Lingshu immediately shot a glance at Fu Shui but Fu Shui maintained calm.
“I do not need you to remind me. I know how the Crown Princess feels towards me.” The Crown Prince frowned. “Now, how are we going to teach Prince Han a lesson?”
“It is very easy.” Fu Shui’s tone was calm. “Prince Han wants to use Lu Yunji to drag you down, you must not let him succeed.”
“I am well aware of Lu Yunji’s greed. I am afraid that he really accepted bribes through the Court Official Examination. Imperial Father’s decision to take away the authority of the Court Official Examination from Lu Yunji and give it to Assistant Minister Zhao means that Imperial Father has suspicions against Lu Yunji. If the investigators get a testimony from Hu Ningwu giving bribes to Lu Yunji, things could worsen.”
Evil thoughts once again raced through Sun Lingshu’s mind. “Are we going to give up Lu Yunji?”
“If I can’t even keep Lu Yunji by my side, what power do I have as the Crown Prince? If Imperial Father was still at Hot Spring Palace, is there anything I can’t do here? Now that Imperial Father is at Chang’an, my hands and feet are bound and I can’t do anything.”
“If we can’t do anything within Chang’an, we can take actions outside Chang’an.”
Fu Shui was confident.
“Are you suggesting that we settle it with Hu Ningwu?” The Crown Prince asked.
“Silence him?” Sun Lingshu was more vicious.
“It is no use to silence Hu Ningwu. If Lu Yunji accepted bribes, he must have accepted bribes from others besides Hu Ningwu. Since Prince Han has his eyes on this matter, he will definitely see it to the end. Without Hu Ningwu, there will still be Zhou Ningwu and Zhang Ningwu.” Fu Shui was the most vicious. “Going against Sheng Country. The Emperor is not happy with Lu Yunji’s greed but he did not arrest Lu Yunji and interrogate him in jail. Firstly, this is because of Lu Yunji’s past merits. Secondly, this is also because of his military talents. If Sheng Country revolts, Great Tang must send the military out to suppress the revolt. Your Highness, who do you think the Emperor’s first choice of military general would be?”
The Crown Prince answered, “It must be Lu Yunji. It was Lu Yunji who led the military to victory in Sheng Country the last time too. However, Sheng Country is not revolting now.”
Fu Shui laughed. “They are not revolting but we can force them to revolt. Since the public sentiment in Sheng Country is not good, we can give them a little fire and let them burn.”
The Crown Prince hesitated before gritting his teeth together. “Good. Prince Han and I will be on opposite sides till death!”
Empress Zhangsun passed away beside the Emperor in her sleep.
The day before she passed away, it seemed like she knew that her time was near and she pleaded to the Emperor to agree to Xinnan and Sheng Chuling’s marriage. She also prayed for a protective amulet for the Crown Prince and Prince Han. There was nothing she could do for things that had already occurred and she did not know if she could prevent the inevitable from happening. Hence, she used her last breath to pray.
The Emperor was in despair. The two of them had walked through thick and thin and the Empress had never complained while she helped him, took charge of the harem and took care of his parents and brother. No matter what happened, she had always supported him and her illness had been the result of her hard work. Although he pleaded that she should rest, she did not give up her duties. In the end, she passed away from exhaustion. She could finally take a break now.
The Crown Prince and Prince Han kneeled in the Mourning Hall, it was rare that they were face to face with each other again. However, the hatred and anger in their eyes could not hide their overwhelming grief of losing their mother.
The Emperor now understood roughly why the Empress had pleaded that he spared their lives no matter what trouble they gave and how much they fought with each other. He just wished that things would not turn out that badly and the kinship between the brothers would wake them up from their hatred towards each other.
Xinnan could not stop crying. Although she was stubborn, she was pure and innocent and she received the love from the Emperor and Empress.
“Xinnan, you have already kneeled for a whole day and night. There is still the Crown Prince and Prince Han who needs to pay their respects.” The Emperor called for men to bring her away.
Xinnan cried as she walked away. Finally, she stopped beside the lake.
The light from the sun reflected off the surface of the lake and showed her face full of tears. She did not know what happened between her brothers since the two did not speak at all. Personally, she could not even find a chance to speak to them. Either the Crown Princess would pull the Crown Prince away or Prince Han would explain that he had matters to attend to. She felt that not only had she lost her Imperial Mother, she had also lost her Imperial Brothers.
Xinnan was even more upset and she sobbed loudly. Suddenly, someone grabbed her hand. In shock, she turned around to see Sheng Chuling.
“You...why are you here?” Xinnan cried. She wanted to smile at him but only tears fell down her face.
“When Elder Brother was met with an accident before, you stayed by my side while I was sad. Now that the Empress has passed away and you are in grief, I must stay by your side and accompany her.” He had been there all along, silently accompanying her.
“As much as I am sad, you cannot enter the Royal Palace secretly. If you are caught, you will be executed.” She had been rash the previous time and caused a scene. Luckily, her Imperial Mother had protected them. However, her Imperial Mother was no longer around. “Go quickly, don’t let anyone discover you.”
He patted his chest confidently. “Who said I snuck in here secretly?”
“The Crown Prince didn’t dismiss you from your position as a guard of the Eastern Palace?” She did not understand.
“It is true that I am no longer a guard of the Eastern Palace. I am now a Secret Guard beside you.” He had to use another method if the first one did not work.
“How can this be? You are lying.” She could not believe it.
“I saw the Emperor.” A man must take responsibility. “I begged the Emperor and told him that you must be very sad now and you might need someone to console you. I wanted to see you.”
“Imperial Father actually agreed?” Could she be dreaming?
“The Emperor said that the Empress had been worrying about Your Highness’ marriage before she passed on. She must have been very worried about Your Highness. For the Empress to be at peace in heaven, the Emperor wanted to take care of Your Highness on the Empress’ behalf. Therefore, I was sent to be a Secret Guard by your side.”
“Imperial Mother…… You are so good to me but I have always made you angry and I did not listen to your words… Imperial Mother! Imperial Mother!” Princess Xinnan cried again as she leaned against Sheng Chuling’s shoulder.
He winced in pain.
Princess Xinnan was worried. “Did I press on your wound? Is your injury still not well?” She wanted to take her head off his shoulder.
Sheng Chuling made a proud expression. “Isn’t a man’s shoulder for his woman to lean on? I can handle it.”
Princess Xinnan was touched. Although she continued to lean on his shoulder, she secretly supported herself with the tree beside them, easing some weight off his shoulder.
He was all she had. From this day onwards, they would be each other’s burden and each other’s happiness.
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