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The Li Family likely did not think Prince Zhong would leave so easily. They stilled, and then exchanged bows with Gu Cun Jing.
Li Huai Gu and Gu Cun Jing were of the same generation. It was most suitable for him to discuss such an awkward matter with Gu Cun Jing. The other elders of the Li Family liked their faces, and Prince Zhong was stomping on their faces to the ground. They were burning with anger inside. After a few polite words with Gu Cun Jing, they all returned home.
“Official Gu.” Li Huai Gu bowed to Gu Cun Jing. “The summer is hot—how about coming to my humble abode to drink some tea?”
“This one came on His Majesty’s orders today. Since the matter is finished, this one should return to the palace to report.” Gu Cun Jing returned the bow, and then said, conflicted, “How did things get like this?”
Li Huai Gu had complicated feelings towards Gu Cun Jing. Because of the past matters, he rarely interacted with the Gu Family. Now he saw Gu Cun Jing being full of energy and remembered that three years ago, when the accident happened at the race course, it had been Gu Cun Jing who came to take Gu Ru Jiu away.
He had once been curious how the Gu Family raised their daughters. The eldest daughter had married into the Zhang Family, and all of them were willing to treat her like a treasure. The second daughter married the emperor, enchanting the emperor to the point he was not willing to take a consort, and only favored her alone.
In reality, not just the two Gu Family daughters—even the two sons were very welcome by the capital’s women. Gu Zhi Yu, a man with a dead wife, could cause countless women to fall for him. He did not know what skills the Gu Family had.
No matter how complicated he felt, when facing Gu Cun Jing, Li Huai Gu was polite, and recounted what had happened yesterday.
“My father planned to visit His Highness Prince Zhong in person today. But His Highness’ personality was like this…” Li Huai Gu grimaced. He looked back at the black gates, and at the onlookers. “The prince is very noble, and the Li Family does not dare to offend him. But Father is a first-rank official, and is bullied by Prince Zhong like this. It really is…”
When he said this, he had an embarrassed expression. Then he looked up at Gu Cun Jing. Seeing the other seemed to be listening intently, he said, “Since Official Gu has important duties, this one will not disturb you any longer.”
Gu Cun Jing nodded, and got on his horse. He said to Li Huai Gu, “Young Master Li, this one will go first.”
Li Huai Gu seemed to say nothing, but in reality, said everything. He just did not say clearly that Prince Zhong was bullying His Majesty’s subjects and dismissing His Majesty’s authority. The Li Family feared making things difficult, so they endured and did not confront Prince Zhong.
The Li Family was putting themselves in a position of accepting a compromise.
“This one will tell His Majesty faithfully this matter between your family and His Highness Prince Zhong.” Gu Cun Jing had average feelings towards the Li Family. Otherwise, he would not have objected so strongly to his little sister marrying into the Li Family back then.
He glanced at the stone lions on the two sides of the gates. Both lions were speckled with black ink dots. He feared they could not be washed off.
“Farewell.” Gu Cun Jing pulled on the reins, turned his horse and moved in the direction of the imperial palace.
After returning to the palace, Gu Cun Jing entered the imperial study after He Ming reported. Who knew that not just the emperor was there, but so was his family’s little sister.
He was just going to bow when Jin Yang said, “You are part of the family—no need to be so polite. Second Brother-in-law, tell me, what has happened between Prince Zhong and the Li Family?”
Gu Cun Jing glanced at his sister who was sitting lazily in the corner. She looked like she was not yet awake. Even though she was holding a book, her eyes were closed.
As though she just found that there were other people in the room, Gu Ru Jiu opened her eyes. After seeing it was him, she smiled. “Second Brother.”
Gu Cun Jing looked at his sister and then at Jin Yang. He bowed and said, “Your Majesty.”
How much did the emperor spoil his sister that she was more lazy than even at home? This was worrisome.
Hearing her second brother call her “Your Majesty,” Gu Ru Jiu’s smile faded slightly. But she knew that Second Brother’s way was the most safe. So she jerked her lips and said, “You have things you need to talk about. I will go out first.”
She put down the book in her hand, and slowly stood. When she passed by Gu Cun Jing, she saw that he was flushed and had sweat on his forehead. She left the imperial study and went to prepare heat-relief soup for her second brother.
Gu Cun Jing had seen that his sister was not very happy just now, but he could not let the emperor have the impression that the Gu Family was proud. After a time, this would affect the feelings between the emperor and his sister.
Jin Yang could guess what the Gu Family thought. He wanted to say they did not have to do this, but he worried that after he spoke, the Gu Family would be even more careful in the future. So he pretended not to see. He had Gu Cun Jing get seated, and had a palace maid serve tea. Seeing him so hot, he had someone move the ice near Gu Cun Jing.
After telling Jin Yang what he had seen, Gu Cun Jing said, “Your Majesty, this subject has found something strange. With Prince Zhong’s personality, if he was as arrogant and domineering as the rumors say, then even if this subject went, he should not have agreed to leave so easily.”
After hearing this, Jin Yang smiled. “Before seeing with one’s own eyes, no one knows if rumors are true or false.”
He made Gu Cun Jing the captain of the dragon guard because Gu Cun Jing was trustworthy, and he liked Gu Cun Jing’s way of action. For example, today’s events. If other people encountered this, they would not have told him this, because it was “insignificant.” But Gu Cun Jing told him, and also voiced his own doubts.
“Maybe Prince Zhong admires you,” Jin Yang said in a teasing tone, “or he is using his attitude towards you to express loyalty to Zhen.”
The meaning likely was, You see, while I dare to smash the gates of the Li Family, when Your Majesty’s people come, I am stopping. So I am not discontent with Your Majesty, just at odds with the Li Family.
Prince Zhong looked rash, but in reality, he had intelligence in his rashness. If this person was loyal to the imperial family, then it was good. But if he had other thoughts, then there likely would be some trouble.
“So that’s why.” Gu Cun Jing smiled with realization. “I was wondering why Prince Zhong was so polite to me. So this subject had face in front of Prince Zhong because of Your Majesty.”
Knowing that his second brother-in-law was subtly flattering him, Jin Yang smiled, and then chatted about other things. Because Gu Cun Jing was very good at talking and knew what distance to keep, the two talked happily and only stopped when Gu Ru Jiu’s voice came from outside.
“You are talking so happily you even forgot the time.” Gu Ru Jiu stood for a moment outside before coming into the imperial study. She looked over the two, and then put down the tray in her hand. “I had them make sour plum soup. Use some.”
The two sour plum soups looked the same in color, and seemed to come from the same pot. But one bowl had ice, and the other did not.
Jin Yang looked several times at the bowl with ice. Then Gu Ru Jiu placed the bowl with ice in Gu Cun Jing’s hands, and even looked back at Jin Yang at this time.
Jin Yang shrank back, and obediently went to drink his warm version of sour plum soup. To show that he liked this soup very much, he finished the bowl in a few gulps, and then praised Gu Ru Jiu after he wiped his mouth.
Gu Cun Jing looked down at the sour plum soup that he had just taken two mouthfuls of, and then at His Majesty who was complimenting his sister. He felt that the sour plum soup was so sweet it was sore to his teeth.
His Majesty could even eat the sour oranges from his sister’s yard. Facing his sister, what could he not do?
He had to be calm.
He drank his soup faster, and then found an excuse to leave the imperial study.
Walking out the gates, he finally sighed. After seeing His Majesty and his sister interact, he felt that he could be better to Hu shi.
“Official Gu.” He Ming saw Gu Cun Jing come out and said with a smile, “You are done with the matter?”
“Oh.” Gu Cun Jing nodded, and said to He Ming with a smile. “Farewell.”
“Take care.” He Ming smiled even more brightly, and watched Gu Cun Jing leave. Inside, he thought, the imperial brother-in-law did not have enough knowledge. Who could understand the complex emotions of people like him who personally served the emperor and empress each day, and saw these things everyday?
“Father- Prince, you really smashed in the gates of the Li Family?” Jin Hong came back and heard that his father had thrown ink at the Li Family gates, so he ran quickly to Prince Zhong’s rooms. “What if Li Guang Ji does things in the shadows when we return to Rong Prefecture?”
“What are you afraid of?” Prince Zhong happily took a sip of tea, and then raised his eyebrows. “After we came to the capital this time, it will not be so easy to return to Rong Prefecture.”
Jin Hong changed expression. “Why can’t we return to Rong Prefecture?”
“The children of Prince Cheng have been in the capital for more than a year. Have you heard His Majesty say for them to go back to Jin Prefecture?” Prince Zhong raised his chin and pointed in the direction of the imperial palace. “That one is much more capable than the previous emperor.”
“It makes sense that His Majesty will not let the children of Prince Cheng return, but we never had any grudges with him. He…” Jin Hong suddenly stopped and said in disbelief, “His Majesty wants to centralize power by eliminating the vassal fiefdoms?”
“Centralize power?” Prince Zhong looked amusedly at Jin Hong. “Right now, only me and Prince Rui have our own lands in the country. Prince Rui is on the path of going to his own death. What power is there to centralize?
“As for our Prince Zhong establishment…” Prince Zhong was slightly emotional and also slightly at ease. “Our title is one of a hereditary prince, not a vassal prince. Even if His Majesty does not want us to return to Rong Prefecture but stay in the capital to be good princes, he does not even need to find an excuse.”
Jin Hong had seen the imperial decree passed down from his ancestors which gave them the title of prince. Now that his Father-Prince mentioned it, that decree did not clearly state that Prince Zhong’s establishment could stay in Rong Prefecture and always be vassal princes.
Thinking of this, his face turned black. These emperors were very cunning.
Seeing his son like this, Prince Zhong laughed out loud. “Son, there are two paths in front of us. One is to go with Prince Rui. We may die, or we may get glory and half of the country. The other path is to be a hereditary prince at leisure. Maybe we will live well for the next hundred years, but in the future, an emperor may dislike us and take away our title.”
Throughout history, there was never a prince title that kept on being passed down.
“I…” Jin Hong stammered. After a moment, he said, “Father-Prince, haven’t you already made a choice?”
There seemed to be two paths, but there was really only one path for them—give their loyalty to the emperor, and do it before he demanded it.
“When I was young, your grandfather and great-grandfather always said to me to be content with what I have.” Prince Zhong put down the teacup. “Only a content person will live long and secure.”
“This son… understands.” Jin Hong did not know why his father feared the present emperor so much, but he trusted in his father’s choice.
The third day of the emperor’s birthday celebrations, the ruler of Li came to the capital, and then knelt in front of Jin Yang . He stated that the people of Li admired the culture of Great Feng, and the Li country was willing to become part of Great Feng, asking His Majesty to accept them.
The Feng, from the officials to the people, were all shocked. They had seen people come to Great Feng to get benefits or to submit to Great Feng, but never seen a country as honest as the Li who directly wanted to merge their country with Great Feng.
No matter how small Li was, it was a country. Now, this country, without wasting a soldier of Great Feng, was proactively saying they wanted to be part of Great Feng, and appeared they were willing to die to do so.
What did this mean? It meant Great Feng was strong, so there were those from all over coming to congratulate Great Feng. Some countries even had such a yearning for Great Feng that they were willing to merge with Great Feng!
Not just the officials were excited, so were the common people. There were even merchants in the capital that started to sell the Li’s special fruits and other products. It was so lively it was like New Year’s.
The scholars wrote countless essays praising the emperor’s deeds. The general meaning was—Your Majesty, you are the light, you are the sun, you are the only god, a rare once-in-a-thousand-years ruler. We all bow under your dragon robe.
Then news came out, His Majesty had been very moved by the Li, but still refused the ruler of Li.
But the ruler of Li was not at ease and stated that if His Majesty was not willing, he would kneel at Qiankun Palace—please, Your Majesty, have pity etc. etc.
His Majesty could only agree out of helplessness to the ruler of Li’s request. Then he made the ruler of Li the Duke of Dingbei, his son the duke’s heir and his daughter a commandery princess. They were bestowed the surname Li.
Their surname now sounded the same as their former country, and had a good meaning. The ruler of Li had red eyes when he heard this. He wiped his tears and said that he would change his name to Li Tan, his son to Li Ke, and his daughter to Li Qiu.
Li Tan was so good at flattery that Gu Ru Jiu, as an onlooker, felt slightly embarrassed.
She remembered a few months ago, the Li were prepared to send a princess as a consort. After Jin Yang refused, they left behind their prince Bei Duo Ke in the capital to be a hostage. She had not expected the official letters which the Li sent back then were not tools to obtain grain for disaster relief and to delay for time, but because the Li truly and eagerly wanted to join Great Feng.
After the matter ended, Gu Ru Jiu summoned Li Qiu, the former Princess Qiu Lier.
When Li Qiu entered the palace this time, she did not wear the clothes of Li, but the proper robes of a Feng commandery princess.
Li Qiu looked less fierce and more graceful in her new clothing. Her features, slightly different from the Feng people, were exceptionally harmonious with her clothes.
“This subject greets Your Majesty.” Li Qiu performed a standard Feng bow. While not as elegant as the aristocratic women’s, it had no flaw.
“Commandery Princess does not have to be so polite. Please sit.” Gu Ru Jiu had her take a seat, and then asked, “Have you been unused to anything after coming to the capital—has anyone neglected you?”
“Your Majesty, everything is good,” Li Qiu said, her head slightly down. “Everyone has been very welcoming to us, and there is nothing wrong.”
While it was only a Ducal Establishment, the residence was more refined than the Li palace. Li Qiu realized again that the Li country was not necessary to Great Feng.
The current result was not bad. Starting now, the people of the Li did not have to worry about losing their lives because of natural disasters, or that they would be bullied by other countries.
“That is good.” Gu Ru Jiu smiled and nodded. “If there is anything you need, come and tell this palace. This palace will not let a beautiful girl like you be slighted.”
Hearing the empress praise her for being beautiful, Li Qiu blushed slightly, and said bashfully, “Your Majesty is too complimentary.”
“This palace will say the truth.” Gu Ru Jiu smiled and said, “You are beautiful, so what if you are praised?”
Li Qiu did not know what to say, so embarrassed she did not know what to do.
Seeing her like this, Gu Ru Jiu stopped teasing her, and said, “The weather is good today, neither hot nor cold. If Commandery Princess does not mind, come walk in the garden with this palace?”
“It is this subject’s honor.” Li Qiu hurriedly agreed.
This was the first time Li Qiu admired the imperial garden. She finally knew what the residences of the gods described in the novels should look like.
“So beautiful—even the residences of the gods could not be better.” Li Qiu praised. “Don’t these flowers bloom in the spring—why are they still so beautiful now?”
“This is likely due to the magic skills of the gardener.” Gu Ru Jiu did not know why, and said, “This palace does not know.”
Li Qiu also felt that her words were not appropriate. The ones taking care of the flowers must be servants of the palace. Her Majesty was so noble; she would not understand this.
At such a thought, she said, “This subject was in the wrong.”
Seeing her so careful, Gu Ru Jiu took her to the next place to admire, so she would not be so nervous that she would faint.
So strange. She remembered the first time she met Li Qiu, she did not seem to be so nervous. Why was she so careful now?
When Jin Yang returned to Purple Imperial Hall, he found that Gu Ru Jiu was not there. After asking, he learned that Jiu Jiu had taken the Li princess to tour the imperial gardens.
Thinking of how Jiu Jiu was like when facing a beauty, Jin Yang’s face darkened, and he turned to walk towards the gardens.
Bai Xian and He Ming followed behind His Majesty, chasing with large steps. What was with His Majesty? The Li princess, no matter how beautiful, was just a woman. Why be so nervous?
When they hurriedly arrived at the imperial garden, they saw the empress holding Commandery Princess Dingbei’s hand and saying something. The commandery princess was blushing. This scene really was…
Bai Xian peeked at His Majesty’s face. His Majesty looked black, like he could charge up at any moment and slap the commandery princess aside.
Your Majesty, you have to be calm!
“Your Majesty, His Majesty is here.” Qiu Luo saw Jin Yang and whispered, “This servant sees that His Majesty does not have a good expression.”
Gu Ru Jiu turned to look and saw Jin Yang hurrying toward her. His expression… did not seem very good.
Releasing Li Qiu’s hand, Gu Ru Jiu took several steps toward Jin Yang. “Your Majesty, how come you are here?”
Jin Yang grabbed the hand she had been holding the commandery princess with. He smiled and said, “I heard the palace maids say you came to tour the gardens, so I came to look.”
He pulled Gu Ru Jiu forward a few steps, and then looked at Li Qiu. “This is… Commandery Princess Dingbei?”
Li Qiu hurriedly bowed to Jin Yang. “This subject greets Your Majesty.”
Gu Ru Jiu raised an eyebrow. Hadn’t they met a few months ago?
Jin Yang had an expression of “I do not have any memory of you” and nodded reservedly. “The scenery here is very good. Usually, Zhen and the empress like to come here.”
Li Qiu heard this, and looked curiously at the two people’s hands clasped together. She flushed slightly. His Majesty and the empress had such good feelings.
Because Jin Yang had come here, Li Qiu could not continue to tour. She found a reason and left.
After Li Qiu left, Jin Yang sniffled and said, slightly hurt, “What were you doing now holding Commandery Princess Dingbei’s hand?”
“I was reading her palm.” Gu Ru Jiu smiled at Jin Yang’s aggrieved expression. “Recently, I read a book on palm reading, and I wanted to try.”
“What is there to see from someone else’s hand? Why not look at mine?” Jin Yang presented his hand to Gu Ru Jiu as he said this.
His hand was as white as jade, but there was a white scar on his palm near his wrist that was offending to the eye.
Gu Ru Jiu gently touched this scar, and then held Jin Yang’s hand to read his palm.
The life line of Jin Yang’s palm grew strangely. The front part was a bit twisted, and there was a branch. The branch was very short and thin. There was a clear separation between the main line and the branch, but the main line was very long after that.
“What do you see?” Jin Yang saw Gu Ru Jiu’s serious face and said with a smile, “Master Gu?”
“You call me Master, so how can I not see?” Gu Ru Jiu closed his palm, and then held his hand with both of hers. “Chenjun’s life line is very long. You will live to be at least a hundred years old.”
“I do not need a hundred years.” Jin Yang laughed happily. “Just enough to live and die together with Jiu Jiu.”
Gu Ru Jiu looked at Jin Yang and smiled silently.
“Your Majesty,” He Ming said in a whisper, “just now, an eunuch came to report. Official Sima has passed away.”
Jin Yang’s smile receded. He held Gu Ru Jiu’s hand and looked back at Bai Xian. “When was this?”
“I heard it was near noon,” He Ming said quietly.
Passed away near noon, and the news was coming just around evening. He would not believe that someone had not delayed passing this on.