Chapter 77.1: Cold Plum

When the Emperor woke up, he saw Prince Han and Sheng Xiaojing kneeling in front of his bed. 

Prince Han leaned on the bed. “Imperial Father, I heard that you fainted and I was so scared. Imperial Mother has already left me, you cannot leave me behind.”

The Emperor sighed, “Your Imperial Mother left before me and missed seeing the big changes happening to this country. She is actually lucky. Grand Prince Liang is creating trouble again. He actually brought people to silence and beat up You Jianming, an Imperial Censor. If it was just that, I could have just sent him to the feudal land. However, the member of the Ministry of Revenue, Du Ning, whom I had sent to gain experience in the Sheng Country, has also been killed by assassins from the Sheng Country. Did you all hear about it?” The urgent news from Lu Yunji had been delivered by the Crown Prince.

Prince Han and Sheng Xiaojing nodded at the same time. The Emperor asked, “What are your thoughts?”

“I believe that this situation was definitely…” Prince Han almost blurted out the Crown Prince’s name. 

Sheng Xiaojing nudged Prince Han lightly. 

Prince Han altered his sentence. “This...was...was definitely a pity. Du Ning is a smart young man. If not for the assassin, in a few more years, he would have been a valuable asset to Great Tang.”

The Emperor was in deep thought. “Yes, what a pity. Young men can be smart but they must know how to conceal their talents and abide by time so as to protect themselves. If they are dead, what future do they have? Sheng Xiaojing, when you were younger, you had ample spirit as well. However, you were luckier than Du Ning and could always escape death. If you died back then, how would you have obtained your title Duke Lu, a famous general of your generation?”

“The reason why I was able to live for so long and make a name for myself is because of Your Majesty’s grace.” If he landed into the hands of someone like Lu Yunji, it would have been hard for him to live as well. Therefore, he chose to highlight the importance of a brilliant ruler. “I am extremely grateful to Your Majesty. Even if I had ten mouths, I won’t be able to finish saying what I am grateful for.”

“No one can escape the effects of ageing. Those that fought for the world with me have all grown old and are slowly dying. Every year, more and more passes away. Today, there are only you, Lu Yunji and a few others left. I awarded both of you with feudal nobility, money and supported your sons because I haven’t forgotten the contributions from the both of you. I hope that all my ministers could have a good life. The most difficult thing on earth is to finish what one has started. I only hope that you all can understand my efforts and work together with me.” However, it is not enough to just hope.

Sheng Xiaojing replied, “Your Majesty’s benevolence has moved the world. Although I am old, I will still go to battle with anyone that dares to betray Your Majesty. I will take down the heads of those ungrateful people.”

Prince Han wore a crying face. “Imperial Father, your body isn’t well and you just woke up, you cannot be agitated. As soon as a person is agitated, it is easy for their illness to relapse.”

The Emperor saw his son’s earnest and concerned look and felt consoled. “This old father of yours will not die just yet.”

“Why is it that the more you say, the more worried I become?” Prince Han thought of Sheng Chumu as he saw Sheng Xiaojing. He then thought of Sheng Chumu’s suggestion. “Imperial Father, I have something that I hope you can promise me. Please allow me to stay in the palace for a while to serve you medicine. Let me express my filial piety.”

“You have been staying in the Han Mansion and are used to your freedom. If you enter the palace, you will face restrictions.” Actually, Prince Han was someone that could make him happy. “I don’t want you to be tired.”

Prince Han persisted, “I am doing my filial duty, no matter how tired I become, I am willing.”

“Your Majesty, no matter how well other people serve you, they will never be as considerate as your own son.” Sheng Xiaojing demonstrated his support for Prince Han. “Your Majesty should just agree to it.”

The Emperor was deep in thought. “Filial piety is the first amongst all good things. I cannot let Prince Han’s filial side down. Move in then. But where should Prince Han stay?”

Chief Cao caught the Emperor’s gaze and replied that Wude Palace was currently unoccupied. 

“It is a good place. It is suitable for Prince Han to stay.” The Emperor gave permission. 

Prince Han smiled. 

 

When the Crown Prince and Du He returned to the Eastern Palace, Fu Shui and Sheng Chujun greeted them. All four of them wore grim expressions. 

Fu Shui was the first to ask, “Your Highness, how is His Majesty?”

Du He snorted, “His Majesty is great but Prince Han is even better. The Emperor has allowed Prince Han to stay in Wude Palace. He was even conferred the title of Left Wuhou General and will be leading the Yong City Government. As the Yong City Official, he will be the senior official that manages the entire Chang’an. Once this position is stable, the entire Chang’an will be in Prince Han’s hands.”

The Crown Prince massaged his eyebrows. “Imperial Father has always favoured Prince Han. Now that Imperial Mother is no longer around, who else will speak up for me.” Only after his Imperial Mother passed away, did he regret being stubborn towards her. “What about you? Why are you so anxious?”

Fu Shui replied, “Sheng Chumu has captured Mao Shouping. Although I shot an arrow, it exposed my position and I was not able to determine if Mao Shouping is still alive.”

The Crown Prince frowned even deeper.

Fu Shui saw how the Crown Prince turned silent. “As long as Mao Shouping is still alive, Prince Han will be able to ask what happened with Zhan Xuanzhi. He can then use this issue to create trouble in front of the Emperor. A huge disaster is about to happen. Your Highness, you have to make a move.”

The Crown Prince laughed helplessly, “How can I make a move? It is not like I can kill him.”

A cold gaze flitted through Fu Shui’s eyes. “Why not?”

Everyone was stunned. Fu Shui lowered his voice, “Wude Palace is just outside of Eastern Palace. The wolves are already pacing around. Your Highness, your sword has to be sharp.”

The Crown Prince was extremely hesitant. Fu Shui persisted, “The person who strikes first will have an advantage. Do we have any other choice?”

Sheng Chujun suddenly spoke, “Prince Han killed my sister and Lingwei. He should have paid for his life.”

Du He looked distressed. “Prince Han is no ordinary person, if we want to kill him…”

The Crown Prince suddenly placed his finger on his lips as he looked to the left and right in alarm. He lowered his voice, “Let’s talk in the study.”

Everyone headed into the Crown Prince’s study room.

The net had been spread open for a while. It was time to reel in the net.

 

On this day, Imperial Concubine Wang held a banquet. Grand Prince Liang and his consort were invited to enter the palace. However, both Grand Prince Liang and Lu Yingying walked separately.

Grand Prince Liang had developed some good feelings towards Lu Yingying. However, when he tried to get close to her yesterday, she avoided him and his embarrassment turned into anger. He knew that she had rejected him because of the person in her heart. This made him even angrier. However, he did not know that this feeling was already considered jealousy because no matter how angry he was, he did not hurt her at all. Now, he could not bear to injure her.

Lu Yingying felt that she deserved it but she could not betray her true feelings and pretend to be nice to Grand Prince Liang. She stuck to her true self and accepted the consequence whether it was good or bad. Her view of Grand Prince Liang changed as well. She felt like he was a spoiled child. Because of the Grand Emperor and the fact that he was the brother of the Emperor, he had no true friends. Therefore, he would always fight for what he wanted. The more he could not get the person he liked, he would simply give up being kind. However, deep in his heart, he knew the basics of behaving. If people treated him well, he would treat them well, even if his way of demonstrating it was slightly awkward.

Fu Rou walked towards her and saw that Lu Yingying was looking a lot better than before. Fu Rou felt assured. “Consort Liang.” 

Lu Yingying recalled the small clash that they had previously but smartly decided not to bring it up. “Court Lady Fu, it has been long. The banquet has yet to start. Would you like to have a chat with me?”

Fu Rou turned. “Let me lead the way.”

They walked one in front of the other. Lu Yingying spoke first, “Grand Prince Liang has angered the Emperor and is worried of being sent out of Chang’an, do you have any idea as to how to help him?”

“You want to help Grand Prince Liang share his worries?” Fu Rou was surprised. 

Lu Yingying nodded.

“The first time I saw you, I thought you were a spoiled noble lady. Later on, I realised that you were a good person. You helped me send the message to Chen Ji without asking for more. After that, you even saved me from the house in the forest. After you became Consort Liang, I saw that you grew skinnier and could tell that Grand Prince Liang was not treating you well. However, you are worried for him now.” Each time, she made Fu Rou see her in a different light. 

“Everyone is innately kind and gentle. No matter how evil someone is, there are times when they are nice.” Lu Yingying remembered the good side of people. 

Fu Rou was curious. “Have you ever hated and wished misfortune on someone?”

Lu Yingying thought of Yan Zifang. “Maybe I have hated someone. But I do not wish for misfortune to befall them. I just want them to be safe.”

Fu Rou could not help but laugh. “All the kindness in Duke Chen Residence is concentrated in you.”

Lu Yingying pouted slightly. “Why are you laughing? You shouldn’t be laughing at me. Look at this world, look at Chang’an and the Royal Palace. If everyone were the same, only caring about calculating their gains and losses, thinking about revenge, scheming to climb up, how scary would it be? There should be different kinds of people. More people like you, who are attentive to details and won’t step over others. More good people like me and the world would be more wonderful.”

“I highly agree with that.”

Lu Yingying turned serious again. “So do you have any way to help Grand Prince Liang out?”

Fu Rou thought for a moment. “Rather than saying it as helping Grand Prince Liang overcome this difficulty, how about finding Grand Prince Liang a new backing in the palace?”

Lu Yingying understood. “Are you referring to Imperial Concubine Wang? Will she be willing to speak up for Grand Prince Liang?”

Fu Rou was very confident. “As long as Grand Prince Liang helps Imperial Concubine Wang do one thing, Imperial Concubine Wang will definitely look at Grand Prince Liang differently.” She leaned in and whispered into Lu Yingying’s ear.

Delight shone on Lu Yingying’s face. “That is a good idea. You have helped us greatly this time.”

“I can only help him this one time. What about you? Do you intend to be his good wife from now on? Grand Prince Liang creates the most trouble. Can you always help clean up after him?” Fu Rou has seen Grand Prince Liang’s troublemaker side before.

Lu Yingying had no complaints. “I will help him however much I can. Since we are already husband and wife, I have to share hardships with him and live and die together.”

Fu Rou left first as she had something to do. Lu Yingying strolled back by herself. There had been a heavy snowfall a few days ago and the wintersweet flowers in Fu An Palace were emitting a beautiful and alluring scent. All of a sudden, a shadow across the flowers.

“Your Highness, I know that it is you. Come on out.” Lu Yingying had known that Grand Prince Liang was hiding behind a tree.

Grand Prince Liang was slightly awkward as he walked out. However, he lightly held onto Lu Yingying’s hand. Lu Yingying’s hand froze but she allowed him to hold onto her. 

Grand Prince Liang did not look at Lu Yingying but kept his eyes focused in front of him. “You are my consort but you don’t allow me to get close to you. It is only natural that I get angry with you. However, since I am magnanimous, I have decided...decided…” He suddenly fell silent. 

“What have you decided? Lu Yingying asked.

Grand Prince Liang halted and turned his head. He asked seriously, “Other men can find the women they truly love. As a prince, why don’t I have this blessing?”

“Because in order to gain another person’s heart, you first have to show your sincerity.”

“What if I have shown my sincerity but I still cannot get the woman I like to forget about another man and think only of me?” Grand Prince Liang never thought that he would need courage in his lifetime. 

“I don’t know.” Lu Yingying did not want to lie. Grand Prince Liang’s eyebrows creased before relaxing. He then said stiffly, “Good.”

Lu Yingying froze. “What is good?”

“It is better than getting rejected by you.” Grand Prince Liang held onto Lu Yingying’s hand. “What good idea did Court Lady Fu give you?”

Lu Yingying laughed lightly, “So you were eavesdropping on us?” If time goes by, would she like him?

Grand Prince Liang was obstinate. “Who is eavesdropping? I happened to pass by. Quick tell me. What idea?”

As the two of them talked, they walked towards the main palace. The light fragrance of plum flowers that came after the bitter cold surrounded the air.

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