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Chapter 86: Immortal
In the spring of the tenth year of Jinghong, an unknown plague spread. Emperor Jinghong sent multiple cohorts of imperial doctors from the imperial hospital and also sent officials to respectfully invite famed doctors from among the people, yet the plague could not be stopped and even showed signs of spreading.
In front of the plague, each person was in danger and no one walked on the streets. Even the most prosperous city of Jing was more desolate than usual. Whenever someone coughed or sneezed, the passersby would anxiously flee, afraid that if they were slow, they would become infected.
Even though Emperor JInghong sent famed doctors and medicines to the disaster area, as the plague grew out of control, some rumors started to spread. For example, Emperor Jinghong did not obtain his throne rightfully, so the heavens sent a punishment for the people to suffer.
Others said that when Immortal Kong Hou was in Emperor Jinghong’s palace, the emperor and empress abused her and starved her. She had to embroider to midnight and was frequently cursed at and beaten. The common people did not know how the important people in the palace lived. They could only think of Kong Hou as a young girl who was being abused by a stepfather or stepmother and pitied her.
The people in areas without the plague hid in their houses, cursed the present emperor for being ungenerous—oneself drank meat porridge and put three spoonfuls of oil in his noodles, but was not willing to let Immortal Kong Hou eat any leftovers. They had just managed to have a few good years, and now they were in misfortune again.
The rumors reached the ears of the officials. These officials did not dare to report this, and only mentioned that “the people were angry” in their reports. Emperor Jinghong knew the rumors were flowing among the people, but this was not the time to haggle about that. He also had no way of haggling about it.
In these days, he invited famed doctor, gathered medicines, and even wrote a statement of his own crimes to burn in sacrifice to the heavens. But the plague still did not ease. Emperor Jinghong appeared fragile after being unable to eat or sleep for a few days. But on the second day of the fourth month of Jinghong Year Ten, he had to start washing and burning incense at three in the morning. He wore black dragon robes and walked, pausing every three steps, and bowing every nine, without riding his carriage or having the support of his attendants, to come in front of the altar the Astronomy Bureau had set up.
The altar had been built overnight by the Astronomy Bureau, the Department of Household Affairs and the Ministry of Works together. While it lacked some magnificence, it had all the parts it needed.
“Father Emperor.” The crown prince saw Emperor Jinghong’s fragile complexion and went up to help him. Emperor Jinghong pushed him away. “No need.”
When one asked the gods, they had to be sincere. He and Ji Kong Hou already had old grudges between them. If he was not polite at the altar, he feared that Kong Hou would be even less willing to appear. When he ascended the immortal altar, Emperor Jinghong picked up his robes and knelt down.
The imperial sons saw Emperor Jinghong kneel down and reacted strongly. Their omnipotent father unexpectedly knelt down like this?
“Do not make noise in front of the altar!” The crown prince’s expression was not good. But thinking of the people who were in hopelessness, he gritted his teeth and knelt down as well. The deposed emperor had shoved the people into fire. He and Father Emperor overthrowing the Ji Family was not wrong.
But why were the heavens so unfair? Ever since Father Emperor took the throne, he worked hard, uprooting corrupting, executing fraudulent officials. He had the people live good and happy lives, and did not violate the path of a ruler. Why did the heavens not tolerate this?
If they could obtain the forgiveness of the heavens to spare the innocent people, so what if they knelt?
The other princes who were full of resentment saw the crown prince kneel. They put away their resentful expressions and knelt down as well.
The martial generals, the scholar officials, the guards, the taijian all knelt down. Everyone present was silent.
The sun gradually moved into the middle of the cloudless blue sky. As time slowly passed, everyone’s hearts sank little by little.
Emperor Jinghong trembled as he moved on his knees to the front of the altar table. He took out a document of his crimes from his sleeves, lit it, and threw it into the cauldron. He then kowtowed nine times towards the jade tablet with Immortal Kong Hou’s name.
The emperor did not easily kowtow unless it was when his elders passed away or he was paying worship to the heavens. At this time, when he knelt and bowed in front of this tablet, it was akin to putting Kong Hou on a higher status and debasing himself.
When one was in a high position for a long time, it was hard to bow one’s head to the once defeated, and kneel. Emperor Jinghong was not willing, but for this world, for this dynasty, his individual honor was not important.
One day later, one hour later, all meant countless lives.
He was not the deposed Ji Emperor who thought nothing of the people. He could not gamble and do as he pleased.
The book of his crimes had finished burning. The last thread of smoke blew in the wind and disappeared. Looking into the empty sky, Emperor Jinghong seemed to age a dozen years in an instant.
He knelt there silently like a withered tree sinking into the water. Other people feared the water and did not dare to go near him. They could not rescue him from the water.
If the plague continued to spread, more and more people would be infected, and more than half the country would not be able to escape the misfortune. He tried to barricade the infected cities but this method was not effective. As long as there was wind and water, the plague could spread to more places.
Did they have to kill everyone who was infected?
Emperor Jinghong could not accept this cruel choice.
The sun slowly climbed up. The time passed. Emperor Jinghong’s figure was already on the verge of collapse. The crown prince moved next to him and sobbed out, “Father Emperor, your health is most important. The young brothers and I will kneel here.”
He wanted to say, it is almost noon and Immortal Kong Hou shows no signs of appearing. She won’t come.
Maybe the immortals and mortals were separate, maybe Immortal Kong Hou was still angry with them for taking the Ji Family’s throne, but no matter what, even if Immortal Kong Hou did not come, they had to think of other methods. Everyone in the world came from something and could be subdued by something else. If there were people who were ill, there would be medicines to heal them, only they had not found them yet.
“If I knew this before, maybe I should not have conquered this world,” Emperor Jinghong said depressedly. “Even if they were ruled by the deposed Ji Emperor, the people could still eke out survival. It would be better than this, when they are are tormented by the plague but I can do nothing.”
Emperor Jinghong, fifty something years old, was tired from kneeling for so long. Now that his hope had shattered, his energy completely collapsed. So he did not call himself “zhen”, but “I.”
“Father Emperor, do not think this. Even if the deposed Ji Emperor was ruling now, when the plague appeared, it would still appear. The deposed Emperor Ji was useless and only knew to enjoy himself. If he ruled the infected people, would they not suffer more?” The crown prince wiped away his tears and said, “Father Emperor, please take care of yourself. The world is still waiting for you.”
Emperor Jinghong grimaced. A ruler was not all-powerful.
When he had fought for the throne, the empress of the deposed Ji Emperor had looked down at him from the Phoenix Sun Palace and said to him, “I hope that the new emperor will treat the people well. One day, you will understand how difficult it is for an emperor to not change his actions or his virtues.”
At the time, he had been full of spirit and only thought the previous empress was cursing him.
Now he understood the previous empress had not lied to him. It was not difficult being an emperor, but difficult being a good one.
“Never mind.” Emperor Jinghong sighed, put his hand in the crown prince’s and prepared to return to the palace. But he had knelt too long. Just as he stood, he felt pain all over and fell to the ground.
Coincidentally at this time, light flashed across the sky. Five-colored clouds roiled, and a jade ship which glowed with light passed through.
“Immortals!” The head of the Astronomy Bureau shouted, losing all composure. “The Immortal has appeared.”
Everyone looked into the sky. They saw the immortal ship flowing with light and wind as it slowly descended.
They bowed and kowtowed, crying in joy.
“The people will be saved!” An official with white hair and a white beard cried as he kowtowed. “They will be saved.”
When the jade ship was halfway down, it stopped moving. The exhilarated crowd noticed this and stopped begging out loud. They continued to kowtow, hoping the immortal would not abandon them.
“Niangniang!” On the palace wall, the female official pointed into the sky. “An immortal is coming out of the ship.”
The empress raised her head and looked dazedly into the sky.
Among the flowing lights, a young girl flew down, her hair dancing, her skin snow-white and untouched by dust. The beauty she had caused people to forget her appearance, forget everything and feel the most beautiful woman in the world was so.
The young girl flew on the wind. The moment her clean shoe touched the altar, her mantle flew in the wind, her eyes as bright as stars.
“Your Majesty.” The young girl took a few steps forward. She looked at the disheveled Emperor Jinghong, and nodded slightly. “Your Majesty does not have to be so—please stand up.”
“You, you …” Emperor Jinghong looked at the immortal girl and could not string together words.
“We have not met for seven years—has Your Majesty been well?” The young girl raised a hand, and the emperor unconsciously stood up from the ground, his soreness fading away. He looked in shock at the young girl and took a step back before kneeling to the ground. “This mortal greets Immortal Kong Hou.”
Other than Ji Kong Hou who had left with the immortal, no one else could say to him they had not met for seven years.
Everyone else was shocked. In their minds, Kong Hou had a small face, and only her eyes were bright and round. Even though they knew she had become an immortal, they could not imagine her appearance.
The immortal standing at the altar was flawless, her clothing flowing with light. No one dared to hold any disrespect for her. She was a completely different person from the princess of the past dynasty.
Standing on the tall altar, Kong Hou looked around over the vast palace. As a girl, she never had a chance to be here, before her country was deposed or after.
She had never thought that her first time stepping here would be welcomed by everyone kneeling.
She looked down the altar. Kneeling there were the imperial sons and grandsons, the hundreds of officials. Here were the imperial sons and grandsons who had bullied her, the officials of the previous dynasty who had surrendered and ignored her.
Suddenly, in this moment, her heart was as still as water.
The past really had nothing to do with her.
“Immortal has come a long way. Would you come with this one to rest?” The crown prince bowed deeply to Kong Hou and wanted to invite her into the palace to stay.
“Wait a moment.” Kong Hou looked towards the jade ship in the sky. “I have two friends who have come along. Will Your Majesty and Your Highness Mind?”
“The good friends of Immortal are our honored guests; we welcome them very much.”
“That’s good.” Kong Hou nodded and turned to gaze towards the jade ship.
They saw a white-robed immortal come flying on his sword, as beautiful and peerless as jade.
Other than immortals, who else in the world could have such perfect beauty?