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In the imperial study, Jin Yang looked at Zhang Zhong Han who was standing with his head bowed and suddenly said, “Minister Zhang, how is the military governor of Qingbei, Wei Ting?”
Qingbei was an important fortress bordering Gaoluo and Duobao. Over the years, Great Feng had always stationed troops there. The military governor didn’t have the power to command the army directly, but in emergency situations, they could join the army and discuss important issues with the border generals.
This was to avoid the border army not listening to the commands of the court. The military governor and the army would supervise and balance each other.
Hearing His Majesty suddenly ask about the military governor of Qingbei, Zhang Zhong Han bowed and said, “Your Majesty, Wei Ting is widely read. The previous emperor once praised him for having the talent to govern the world.”
“Oh?” Jin Yang raised an eyebrow. Someone the previous emperor had praised—were they worthy of the name or…
Zhang Zhong Han understood what His Majesty didn’t say and explained, “This person entered court at the recommendation of Official Sima, and originally held a position in the Ministry of War, and then was promoted to assistant minister in the Ministry of War. Later, the military governor of Qingbei betrayed the country. After his entire family was executed, Wei Ting took over the important position of military governor of Qingbei.”
“It appears that Wei Ting was very trusted by Father-Emperor back then. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have been promoted to such a position.” Jin Yang closed the memorandum in his hand and said sarcastically, “Wei Ting has sent a memorandum that the General Commandant of Qingbei, Zhao Jin, has a close relationship with Gaoluo. What does Official Zhang think?”
Zhang Zhong Han stilled upon hearing this and then said, “Your Majesty, this subject does not dare to speak before the matter is investigated and cleared.”
“Yes, before the matter is investigated, even you, the prime minister, doesn’t dare to speak. But how does Wei Ting, the military governor, using just a few letters of dubious veracity, say confidently that the general guarding the border has betrayed the country?!” Jin Yang threw the memorandum heavily on the ground. “Zhen thinks that some military governors are getting bolder and bolder.”
Zhang Zhong Han saw Jin Yang’s rage and a fine sweat broke out on his forehead. He glanced at the memorandum thrown on the ground. He didn’t dare to pick it up and urged in a small voice, “Your Majesty, please don’t be angry and harm yourself for such villains.”
Jin Yang snorted. Standing up and putting his hands behind his back, he said in a cold tone, “Official Zhang, when Zhen was in Jin Prefecture, Zhen heard that the retainers of the Sima Family are all over the world. Is this true?”
“All lands under heaven are imperial lands. Even the Sima Family are Your Majesty’s subjects.” Zhang Zhong Han’s cold sweat soaked his inner robe. He bowed and stayed in this position. “Your Majesty, this realm’s surname is Jin, not Sima or Li.”
Jin Yang laughed softly upon hearing this. But in Zhang Zhong Han’s ears, this was particularly awe-inspiring.
“The people frequently say, aristocratic families of steel, and dynasties of water.” Jin Yang stood by the window and looked at the tree branches outside swaying in the wind. “How can Zhen, this emperor of water, compare to the prestige of the Sima and Li families?”
“Your Majesty.” Zhang Zhong Han sweated heavily. But he could not go wipe that away now. He looked at the emperor by the window, gritted his teeth and knelt down. “Your Majesty, in this subject’s eyes, there is only Your Majesty in the world, no Sima and Li families.”
Jin Yang looked back at Zhang Zhong Han kowtowing respectfully with his forehead pressed to the ground. He went up and helped the other up. “Zhen believes Minister Zhang’s loyalty.”
“Thanking Your Majesty for your trust.” Zhang Zhong Han felt the hand helping him up was thirty thousand catties heavy. But in this moment, his wavering heart finally made a decision.
Learn the literary and martial arts, sell to the monarch. He, this prime minister from a poor family, was always suppressed by the Sima and Li parties. It was better to be loyal to the emperor, and overthrow the Sima and Li families to become the true prime minister.
His Majesty was displeased with Wei Ting right now. How was this not displeasure towards the Sima and Li families as well? Which emperor in the world was willing to let his subject override him?
“Proclaim Zhen‘s decree to summon the military governor of Qingbei, Wei Ting, and the Qingbei Guard Army General Zhao Jin into the capital to report on their duties.” Jin Yang paused and then added. “Tell them to immediately return without delay.”
“Yes.” Zhang Zhong Han knew that His Majesty was going to act against the Sima Family now.
In Purple Imperial Hall, Gu Ru Jiu was flipping through the reports the Department of Household Affairs had presented regarding the expenses of each palace. Other than the report on Kangquan Palace that she returned to the Department of Household Affairs, she read through the detailed reports on all other palaces.
After seeing the expenses of the consorts during the previous emperor’s time, Gu Ru Jiu shook her head inside. If all Feng dynasty emperors had been like the previous emperor, she feared Great Feng would have ended long ago.
“When this Dowager Consort Wei was in imperial favour, her clothes and food were even more luxurious than mine, the present empress.” Gu Ru Jiu put down the report. “No wonder these dowager consorts hate her so much. I don’t know whether to say she is pitiful or hateful.”
“Whether pitiful or hateful, it is all karma.” Qiu Luo kneaded her shoulders gently for her and whispered, “Dowager Consort Wei’s paternal family has fallen; no one cares about this. She deserves it.”
Gu Ru Jiu smiled. “Although the Wei Family has lost power, Dowager Consort Wei still has an uncle with real power. As long as her uncle is there, the people of the capital won’t embarrass the Wei Family too much.”
Also, in this court, the ones who deserved to die the most were not those consorts, but the emperor who caused numerous women to bury their youth.
If the previous emperor hadn’t been so lusty, taking one woman after another into the palace, and been so incompetent, how could there have been the arrogant Wei Family, and those consorts who lived a life worse than death?
The man who should be cursed the most was now buried in the imperial tombs, enjoying the tribute of his descendants and the worship of the people. Whereas the women he had ruined were being scared and reviled. Who could they go to to get justice?
“The Wei Family still has someone with real power?” Qiu Luo, as a servant of an aristocratic family, had some knowledge but had never received proper education, so her knowledge of the court officials’ relationships was limited.
“The Qingbei military governor is the uncle of Dowager Consort Wei. Dowager Consorts Qian and Wu are constrained by him, so they left Dowager Consort Wei alive.” Gu Ru Jiu threw the report in her hand to the side and exhaled in relief. “The capital is full of twists and turns, truths and falsehoods. It’s like an enormous net. Us people standing in the net cannot escape the net.”
For example, Wei Ting who was one of the Sima party, and also that Grand Princess Deyi who had great intentions in having good relations with the Li and Sima families.
But she would talk to Qiu Liu about these matters, and didn’t even think to talk to other people.
She remembered when she had been very young, one of the families on the neighbouring street had been ransacked. Mother had taken her and her old sister to sit in the carriage, and pointed at the chaotic doorway.
“This world never lacks smart people, but lacks smart people who aren’t talkative.”
She still remembered the crying, pleading, and screaming coming out of the household, and a disheveled half-grown boy running towards their carriage who was dragged back by soldiers after a few steps.
That boy cried so miserably that she saw for the first time what was power, what was the imperial family, and what was status.
She heard that this family was new nobility in court, and popular with the emperor. Their family had a concubine who was greatly favoured by the emperor. Not long after, she heard the favoured consort had done something wrong. The family, due to speaking arrogantly about government matters outside, had been punished as well when the favoured concubine was sentenced to death.
The momentarily glorious new nobility vanished like this from the capital and no one ever mentioned them again.
Only she remembered the endless terror and despair in the eyes of the boy being dragged away.
“Your Majesty, today, the wife of the heir to Commandery Prince Ping delivered an invitation. Do you wish to meet her?” Bao Lu came in with a cup of tea. Seeing Qiu Luo kneading Gu Ru Jiu’s shoulders, she placed the teacup in a place that Gu Ru Jiu could reach. Then she sat on the footstool and gently kneaded Gu Ru Jiu’s calves. “Grand Princess Deyi entered the capital yesterday and will probably enter the palace in the next few days to visit you.”
“Grand Princess Deyi?” Gu Ru Jiu said thoughtfully. “The Shen family has moved to the capital?”
“I think so. Otherwise, why would Grand Princess Deyi enter the capital?” Bao Lu said with a smile. “I hear the Shen Family has a great reputation in Sanggan Commandery. When they departed, numerous people sent them off with tears.”
Gu Ru Jiu said with a smile, “This Shen family has really won the hearts of the people.”
Bao Lu and the others felt the empress’ words were not quite right. She changed the topic. “The Ping heiress consort has delivered an invitation. Should this servant go refuse?”
“No need. The Ping heiress consort is a descendant of a famed family. If she comes, how can I refuse?” Gu Ru Jiu waved her hand to stop Bao Lu and Qiu Luo’s massage. She reached out to take a drink from the tea placed down earlier. “Also, she counts as my elder. I cannot neglect her. Have her enter the palace tomorrow.”
“If Grand Princess Deyi enters the palace tomorrow as well…”
“Isn’t that perfect? The heiress consort is from the Sima Family, the eldest granddaughter-in-law of Grand Princess Deyi is also from the Sima Family. We are all of the imperial house. When there are many people, it is lively.” Gu Ru Jiu put down the teacup. “I like liveliness the most.”
“As long as you like it.” Jin Yang strode in from outside and sat down next to Gu Ru Jiu. He smiled as he flipped through the reports placed aside. After a few glances, he put them down with disinterest. “I heard He Ming mention the palace has a juggling troupe. If you are bored, have them perform for you, and it will be livelier.”
Gu Ru Jiu saw his forehead was beaded with sweat, and reached out behind his neck to touch his back. As expected, there was fine sweat on his back as well. She had Qiu Luo go bring a dry towel and then placed it on his back. “Your Majesty, why were you walking in such a hurry? It is the end of spring, and the weather goes hot and cold. What if you become ill?”
Jin Yang twisted uncomfortably with a towel on his back.
“Don’t move. You are sweating now, so I don’t dare to go have you change.” Gu Ru Jiu took out a handkerchief to wipe his forehead. “It is best to have a towel inside. If you keep on twisting, I will add another towel.”
“All right, Jiu Jiu, it is my mistake, my mistake. I made you worry.” Jin Yang wasn’t angry at being lectured by Gu Ru Jiu. He smiled instead and pulled her hand. “Don’t be angry. Otherwise, I would have sinned.”
Gu Ru Jiu wiped the sweat from Jin Yang’s forehead and sighed helplessly. “If Your Majesty does this again, I will move to Luanhe Palace tomorrow. At least, I won’t be irritated when it is out of my sight.”
“It has not yet been a hundred days. How can Jiu Jiu leave my sight?” Jin Yang hurriedly grabbed her hand and said pleadingly, “Also, if you go to Luanhe Palace, I will go there daily. How could you not see me?”
Seeing his handsome face with an ingratiating expression, Gu Ru Jiu could not keep her grave expression and laughed. She reached with her left hand to pinch Jin Yang’s cheek. She relaxed her shoulders and said, “Your Majesty, as the master of the world, how can you use the scheme of beauty against me?”
“As long as I can get a smile from the beauty, so what if I use the scheme of beauty, or the scheme of ugliness?” Jin Yang moved his head closer and sneaked a kiss on Gu Ru Jiu’s face.
Then Gu Ru Jiu rubbed his handsome face hard. “Your Majesty’s face has grown thicker. You don’t fear people laughing at you.”
The servants in the room all bowed their heads and took a step back to express they heard nothing. Even if they heard, they would pretend not to have heard.
“I love my own treasure—who will laugh?” Jin Yang allowed Gu Ru Jiu to scrub his face and then put his arms around her waist with a smile.
“Really…” Gu Ru Jiu saw his face slightly red from the rubbing and still wearing a silly smile. She felt sweet and sour inside, like she had eaten a ripe date. She also felt full and warm inside, like she had drunk slightly sour hot orange juice.
“Your Majesty, please allow this servant to add something,” Bai Xian whispered. “His Majesty saw that noon had passed, and worried you would wait for him with an empty stomach, so he hurried back and sweated.”
“There’s no need for you to talk more. Go.” Jin Yang glared at Bai Xian and propped his chin on Gu Ru Jiu’s shoulder. “Don’t listen to his nonsense. I just forgot for a moment, so I walked quickly.”
“Your Majesty.” Gu Ru Jiu gently caressed the back of Jin Yang’s head and whispered with a small smile, “I read a novel a few days ago. The story is very interesting. Does Your Majesty want to hear?”
Jin Yang was still leaning on Gu Ru Jiu. “What story?”
“The story is about a very loving couple. The wife did not have good health, and so she wanted the husband to take a concubine to take care of him. But her general husband made an oath. The two of them were not born on the same day of the same month, but they would die on the same day of the same month. He did not want a concubine, nor anyone else, only wanted her company. If she were no longer alive, he would go to the Yellow Springs with her.
“The general said, ‘Wife, you are not in good health. If I am not with you, who will take care of you?’
“So his wife no longer talked about taking a concubine. The two were deeply in love and promised each other to live until they were ninety-nine. If someone broke their promise, the other would not live alone.
“Later, war started on the border, and the general led the army to defend the country. His wife waited and waited at home, one year after another. Three years later, the border sent a letter. The general would never come back.
“His wife did not cry or make a fuss. She changed into her most beautiful clothing and put on her most beautiful jewelry, and then she drank poisoned wine, lying in the room where she and the general once lived together.”
Jin Yang dazedly straightened, and did not speak as he looked at Gu Ru Jiu.
“Your Majesty.” Gu Ru Jiu smiled gently at him. “What is the meaning in living alone if one’s love is gone? It is better to go to the Yellow Springs together and not be lonely.”
“Jiu Jiu!” Jin Yang hugged her tightly, as though he wanted to merge with her and never part.
“I will accompany Jiu Jiu until we are a hundred years old. I will not go a step ahead of Jiu Jiu.” His eyes felt heated and his words were extremely solemn. “Zhen will take good care of my body. Even if for you and me, we will live well and in good health.”
Bai Xian looked at the embracing emperor and empress with red eyes. He beckoned to everyone else and then left silently.
The imperial doctors all said that His Majesty was born weak and would not live long. But now, the emperor had the empress and the world. How would he bear to leave before the empress?
He wiped the corners of his eyes with his sleeve. He turned and saw He Ming look at him. He swung his whisk and stood expressionlessly at the side.
This time, He Ming did not argue with him. The two stood on both sides of the entrance with their heads bowed.
“Empress Dowager.” Matron Liu knelt in front of the empress dowager, and narrated the story Gu Ru Jiu had told in Purple Imperial Hall.
The empress dowager was silent for a long time before saying, “True love is rare in the world. My son is luckier than me.”
“I think Spiritual Master Chu Yun is very accurate,” Matron Liu said. “His Majesty and Her Majesty are really each other’s auspicious stars.”
The empress dowager gave a small smile. “I hope so.”
She turned to look out the window. In this life, she would not experience this emotion that surpassed life and death. But if Jiu Jiu and the emperor could really live their life well, she would have no regrets.
In the establishment of the grand princess, Grand Princess Deyi called her eldest grandson and granddaughter-in-law to dine with her in the evening. After the meal, she said, “Granddaughter-in-law, you have a relationship with the empress?”
“Before this granddaughter-in-law married, I only had a nodding acquaintance with the empress, and not a close relationship,” Sima Ling said unhurriedly. “The Gu Family does not have much contact with the Sima Family.”
“Yes.” Grand Princess Deyi nodded. “I heard about that. But I also heard this empress is an easy person to get along with. Tomorrow, I go to the palace to see the empress dowager and the empress. You can come with me.”
Sima Ling turned to glance back at her husband Shen Qinghe and nodded.
Sensing his wife looking at him, Shen Qinghe said, “Grandmother, this grandson and Gu Zhi Yu are officials in the same department. I feel this Heir Gu is a talented and capable person. After I assumed my position, he has taken care of me, and it can be seen the Gu Family is not a narrow-minded family that takes their anger out on the undeserving.”
Grand Princess Deyi said coldly, “He dares?!” In her view, the Gu Family only managed to get their entire family titled because they produced an empress. Even if there was trouble between the Sima third branch and the Gu Family, even though a Miss Sima had married into their family, the Gu Family wouldn’t dare to vent their again on the Shen Family and on her, the grand princess.
Seeing his grandmother respond like this, Shen Qinghe’s expression froze slightly. He then explained, “The Gu Family is noble and virtuous, and not people like that.”
“It’s best that they are not.” Grand Princess Deyi nodded minutely. “If that’s the case, you can return to your own yard.”
Leaving the main yard, Sima Ling exhaled deeply.
Seeing her like this, Shen Qinghe said with a smile, “Grandmother is authoritative, but a very reasonable person. You do not have to be afraid.”
“I know. But I have only interacted with Grandmother for two days, so I am slightly nervous.” Sima Ling smiled and did not show any unhappiness.
But she knew inside that this Grand Princess Deyi was not an easy person to get along with. Fortunately, she was only the grandmother, and not the mother-in-law. Otherwise, she could not endure interacting like this.
In the morning, a ray of sunlight sneaked in through the crack in the window. Gu Ru Jiu slowly opened her eyes and saw Jin Yang sitting at the bedside and peeking at her.
“Jiu Jiu is awake?” Jin Yang saw her wake up and bent down to kiss her forehead. “I had the imperial kitchen prepare your favourite breakfast.”
Gu Ru Jiu rubbed her waist and rolled on the bed, unwilling to get up. Yesterday night, someone, to prove the health of his body, had kept on going until very late, causing her to feel sore all over and not want to get up.
Seeing her like this, Jin Yang carried her up in her blankets and sat her on his knees. “Today, there is no court session. I can play with you.”
“Dalang does not have many government affairs today, but I have matters that cannot be gotten rid of.” Gu Ru Jiu felt like she was a silkworm in a cocoon and rubbed herself on Jin Yang. “Grand Princess Deyi and the Ping Commandery Prince heiress consort are visiting the palace today.”
“What are they coming for?” Jin Yang rubbed his chin on top of Gu Ru Jiu’s head, and reached out to caress her silky hair. “Later, I will keep you company to see them so you won’t be bored alone.”
“Good.” Gu Ru Jiu saw him playing with her hair and reached out to scratch his chin.
“Careful of the cold.” Seeing her white arm reach out of the blanket, Jin Yang shoved her arm back in. “It appears that I need to change your clothes first.”
“Is Dalang worried I will get cold, or…” She reached out with her arms to wrap around Jin Yang’s arm. “—or do you not bear for others to see my arms.”
When the soft and smooth arm touched the skin of his neck, Jin Yang felt his neck go numb. He wanted to consume the person in his arms and lock her up so no one could see.
“Jiu Jiu knows me.” Jin Yang carried her back onto the bed, and then turned to go get her clothing.
“Dalang has to remember—” Gu Ru Jiu stretched her head out of the bedding and said to Jin Yang, “—I also do not bear for anyone to see any part of Dalang.”
Jin Yang carried Gu Ru Jiu’s clothing back to the bed, and bent down to look into her eyes. He nodded. “All right.”
Staring into his eyes, Gu Ru Jiu smiled and suddenly reached out to hug Jin Yang.
Bam! Jin Yang’s chin hit the edge of the bed.
The two exchanged a look. Jin Yang covered his chin. Gu Ru Jiu stared innocently. And then the two of them laughed foolishly.