This chapter has been brought to you by me and Adnana.
The ennobling of the imperial son was not a major matter in reality. His tomb was repaired, his tablet was remade, and everything was to the regulations of a prince of first rank.
Dead people could not enjoy the benefits of reality, but at least, in the history books, he could leave behind his name, and not just a remark of “sudden death.”
Back then, the previous emperor mentioned in court to make the imperial son the crown prince, and the court and inner palace all called him the crown prince. But the imperial son died soon after. He did not go through the ceremony to become the crown prince, and was not even recorded into the genealogy of the imperial family. So in terms of status, he was just an unknown imperial son.
In reality, this was one of the reasons why Empress Dowager Zhou hated the previous emperor. If the previous emperor had not been so high-key and yet incapable of protecting his son, then her child might not have died. Never mind this. After the child died, he never again mentioned making him the crown prince. If her child could have been made the crown prince after his death, she would not worry that her child would be lonely after his death and would have no incense to enjoy.
Empress Dowager Zhou hated the previous emperor. She was very sad when her daughter died, and after her son died as well, she wanted to die. Later, after the case was investigated again and again, after two years, the crime fell on Lin shi.
At that time, she even thought hatefully, rather than Lin shi having committed the crime, it was the other women of the inner palace hoping that she had done it. The emperor had just found a new plaything, so Lin shi became unnecessary.
She then watched this man live more than ten years until his body finally broke down because of his absurd actions. The imperial physicians said that he could recover if he rested, but how could she be willing to let him slowly recover?
Should she wait for him to recover and ruin other women? To her disgust, this man liked to write some stories in his rooms, and let the women of the inner palace act them out.
Scholars and misses, rogue and widows. Some of the things were too disgusting to even think about.
Wasn’t it better for him to be dead than alive? At least, the country would have hope then.
Later, as his health declined as she wished, he had to summon the children of Prince Cheng and Prince Rui to the capital. But this man was not willing to admit that he was going to die, so he avoided meeting the young masters of these prince establishments. She was also happy to see this.
Rather than having him choose an heir, it was better for her to choose. At least, the emperor she chose would have some gratefulness toward her.
Empress Dowager Zhou saw at a glance that Jin Yang was different from the other children. Even though he had no mistakes in his movements, she could sense that this child had something that the children from the other prince establishments did not have.
When she asked about Jin Yang’s life, she understood. So he had been Sima shi‘s child, but she heard that after his mother passed, Prince Cheng was not good to him. His stepmother and half-siblings liked to bully him. How could such a child learn his manners so well?
She wanted an emperor with courage and abilities. At least, he should not be as lusty as the previous emperor. Jin Yang also had something that she wanted—a decisive killing nature that an emperor should have.
A person who could achieve this step in a difficult situation, when he came to rule the court, would rise to meet all difficulties.
So she chose Jin Yang, and Jin Yang had not disappointed her. Studious, talented, hardworking, farsighted, and daring.
This was an emperor who dared to be vicious to himself and to other people.
Empress Dowager Zhou was much better after the knot in her heart was resolved. She looked at the snow outside, and sighed. “This snow is getting heavier and heavier.”
“You are thinking of the empress?” Matron Liu put a warming pot in her hands, and said with a smile, “The empress will not come out on a day like this.”
“Her belly is growing bigger, so even if she wants to come, I am not willing.” Empress Dowager Zhou smiled and shook her head. “I think in such weather, Jiu Jiu and His Majesty will be hiding in their rooms and eating hot pot.” Then she ordered people from her kitchen to also make hot pot for her, and called Matron Liu to eat with her.
Matron Liu saw that the empress dowager was finally relieved a bit about the past. She sighed in relief inside. If one kept too many matters inside, if they did not relax, who could bear it?
Empress Dowager Zhou was right. Gu Ru Jiu and Jin Yang were hiding in their rooms, admiring the snow and eating hot pot. Because she was pregnant, the soup for the hot pot was both fragrant and nutritious. Gu Ru Jiu and Jin Yang ate until they sweated, but their appetites were very good.
“How come there is no rabbit meat?” Gu Ru Jiu looked around the table, and then looked back with some regret. She could only pick up a piece of tender mushroom into the sauce bowl before she ate it.
“Your Majesty, you cannot eat rabbit meat right now,” Bai Xian said sternly. “There is a saying among the common people that those who are pregnant should not eat rabbit meat.” Bai Xian did not dare to say there was a saying that children born after eating rabbit meat may grow rabbit lips.
Gu Ru Jiu did not say why she could not eat, and teased, “You understand this pretty well.”
“Your Majesty, you are laughing at this servant.” Bai Xian blushed, and explained in a whisper. “After knowing Your Majesty was pregnant, this servant went to study the people’s sayings, and learned of this.”
“It is good that you think of Her Majesty. You should be rewarded.” Jin Yang could not help but laugh. He smiled and awarded Bai Xian a cup of hot milk tea. Bai Xian joyfully took it to drink.
At the side, He Ming glanced over, and secretly cursed the other for being a bootlicker.
“Zhen thinks that you do not have an eunuch who serves you whole-heartedly.” Jin Yang glanced at Bai Xian and said to Gu Ru Jiu, “What do you think about Bai Xian?”
For Gu Ru Jiu, Bai Xian was a good choice. He was a good choice, perceptive, and he knew Jin Yang’s preferences. She said with a smile, “He is someone that you are used to having on your side—how can you give him to me?”
“There is no difference between serving you and serving me. This is just for him to fill the empty position of the chief steward of Luanhe Palace. Having him be the vice-steward of Qiankun Palace and the chief steward of Luanhe Palace is pretty good.” Jin Yang saw that Gu Ru Jiu did not have any objections, and looked at Bai Xian. “Bai Xian, what do you think?”
“It is this servant’s fortune of many lifetimes to serve Your Majesties.” Bai Xian bowed deeply to Jin Yang and Gu Ru Jiu.
Gu Ru Jiu laughed. “How can there be such a position?”
“How can there not be?” Jin Yang put the cooked beef in her bowl. “You are the master of Luanhe Palace, and the mistress of Qiankun Palace. Your chief steward is naturally the vice-steward of Qiankun Palace.”
“So that is how it is.” Gu Ru Jiu smiled at Bai Xian and said, “Why are you not thanking your master?”
“This servant thanks the emperor.” Bai Xian stated his thanks. This was a good thing. Two positions, two wages, and he could gain favor with both the emperor and empress. Why not?
“Since you gave Bai Xian to me, then I will give He Ming a reward.” Gu Ru Jiu looked at He Ming who was standing silently behind Jin Yang. “He Ming can be the vice-steward of Luanhe Palace. Now it is fair.”
“This servant thanks the empress for your grace.” He Ming walked out with a smile, bowed to Gu Ru Jiu, and then turned his head, meeting Bai Xian’s gaze before both turned away disdainfully.
“This is good,” Jin Yang said with a smile. “Jiu Jiu, you are so considerate.” What made him happy was that Jiu Jiu was not treating him like an outsider, but like an ordinary woman treated her husband.
“It will be the spring examinations after the winter?” Gu Ru Jiu ate two bowls of rice after the hot pot. Jin Yang had stopped eating long ago, and was just serving her food with his chopsticks, preparing them in the sauce bowl for her to eat.
“Yes.” Jin Yang nodded. “It has been more than three years since the last spring examinations.”
Back then, Jin Yang did not know enough about governing. Likely, the rankings had been picked by the court officials, and he just put his stamp on them.
This time, the imperial examinations were different. These were the first examinations after Jin Yang started to govern on his own. It had a special significance.
“I worry that Prince Rui…” Gu Ru Jiu frowned. The imperial examinations were good for the country and the people. But she just feared that people would make serious trouble.
“Do not worry—I will not let him mess around.” Jin Yang knew what Jiu Jiu was worried about, and smiled comfortingly at her.
Jiu Jiu was more than five months pregnant. Sometimes, he could feel the child moving in Jiu Jiu’s belly. So he became even more careful of the little life. He felt that Jiu Jiu had a hard time with a child in her, and did not bear for her to worry about other people.
“I know that you will do well, but I still worry.” Gu Ru Jiu glared at him. “I stay in the palace, eat and drink well, but you still worry that I might fall, my stomach will hurt, and I will be uncomfortable!”
“Right, right, right, I was wrong. I know you are worried for me.” Imperial Physician Zhao said many women, when pregnant, would have a hot temper.
As Jiu Jiu’s man, he could not make her angry. Anger harmed the body.
“As long as you understand.” Gu Ru Jiu was very satisfied with Jin Yang’s proactive attitude of admitting wrong. She nodded. “Tomorrow, you have morning court—sleep early. I am also a bit sleepy.”
“We just ate; let’s wait a bit before sleeping.” Jin Yang knew that Jiu Jiu was sleepy after she was pregnant, but he did not dare to let her sleep like this. Otherwise, she might have indigestion. So he had the palace attendants get hot water, and the two of them soaked their feet together.
After soaking their feet, Jin Yang lay on the bed with Gu Ru Jiu. Jin Yang spoke for half an hour with the baby in Jiu Jiu’s stomach before he said to Gu Ru Jiu, “When our child is born, they will be smart and good-looking.”
“Why?” Gu Ru Jiu found that Jin Yang seemed to have a confusing confidence in their child.
“Because they have such good parents, they will be better. So how can they not be smart and good-looking?” Jin Yang was full of confidence. “So you do not have to worry.”
Gu Ru Jiu now knew why he was saying this. He felt that she was worried for the child. She stilled, and then laughed.
Wind and snow mixed outside, but it was warm in the rooms.
Gu Ru Jiu leaned against Jin Yang’s chest, listening to which officials embarrassed themselves, which officials were not reliable, and gradually fell asleep.
Jin Yang talked until he discovered there was no sound from the person in his arms. He looked down, and found that she had already fallen asleep. He smiled helplessly, letting her pillow herself on his arms, and then covered her with a blanket.
After closing his eyes and sleeping for a while, he opened his eyes again, kissed the corner of her lips, and then went to sleep satisfied.
The winter left and the spring came. The snow turned to blooming flowers. The green grasses started to grow. The large inns in the capital were filled with scholars and students who came from all over to attend the exams.
In the days of the examinations, the people from the Ministry of Rites were always on their feet, most of their energies on these candidates.
After the test was over, they started to grade the test papers. Before the papers were graded, all the subjects that were part of the exams could not leave, much less pass news outside. Their food and sleep was served by the people of the palace.
When there were many scholars, there was excitement. So soon, many people knew that the heir of Prince Rui was ill.
This Heir Rui was young but capable. Compared to his younger brother, in terms of appearance and talent, he far surpassed his younger brother.
But this son that Prince Rui was somewhat satisfied with became ill starting from the new year. To Prince Rui’s fury, the cause of his wife-born eldest son’s illness was due to his second son.
The second son of Prince Rui was born of a concubine. He had taken along this son to the capital because Prince Rui wanted to leave him in the capital for “study.” In other words, to be a hostage. But the emperor did not mention this, and he could not speak of his own accord. Adding on that Prince Zhong’s entire family was willing to move to the capital, if he suggested leaving his concubine-born son in the capital, it would be more awkward. So he did not mention this matter, and said that he was bringing his sons to the capital to expand their horizons.
Prince Rui did not mention it, but his concubine-born son had vaguely guessed his intentions. As a son, he did not dare to hate Prince Rui, but he hated his innocent older brother, so he used a scheme that women liked to use.
After the matter was discovered, Prince Rui was furious, and beat his second son half to death. He was worried for his eldest son, and had no attention to spare for other matters. When his wife-born eldest son was finally safe, the examinations were finished and the ranking was published.
“Ignorant child that ruined things!” Prince Rui disliked his second son very much, but no matter what, this was his child so he could not take the other’s life.
But thinking of how it was due to this farce that he lost the chance to meddle in the examinations, he was very unhappy, and went to lecture his second son again.
His second son was not very valued by Prince Rui to start with. After he was beaten, the people around him did not try to give him good care. So he took a long time to recover. After he heard Prince Rui’s lecture, his pale face turned bloodless.
“If I had known that you would be such a bastard, I should not have let you live back then!” Prince Rui said, and then turned, having his attendant push him away without even looking at his son on the bed.
The second son bit the corner of his lips, and looked at Prince Rui’s departing back with undisguised hate.
“Where are you going?” Princess Consort Cheng saw her son was going out again, and frowned. “There are scholars all over the capital right now—do not cause trouble.”
“What trouble can I cause?” the youth she stopped said unhappily. “Even if someone has to feel guilty, it should be Jin Yang. What should we be afraid of?
“I am Father-Prince’s legitimate son. After his death, I should have inherited the title. But he has us staying here, obscurely. Even if the scholars know, they will only laugh at him, and not at me,” the youth said and turned to leave.
“You.” Princess Consort Cheng saw her son leave without looking back and was very angry, taking a long time to recover.
When the youth walked outside, he encountered a man of similar age. He immediately frowned and said, “Get out of the way—do not be in my sight.” In Prince Cheng’s establishment in the past, except for Jin Yang, he disliked this concubine-born younger brother the most.
The other did not react at being cursed at. He bowed, and then moved to the side.
The youth was satisfied with this, and left, humming a tune.
“Third Young Master…” The manservant behind the other saw Second Young Master bullying his master again, and was both angry and helpless.
“Hmm?” The third young master looked coolly back at his manservant and then looked down. “Ignore him.”
“Yes.” The servant saw that his master had no temper. As a servant, he could only close his mouth.
Third Young Master thought, why would he argue with a person fated to not have a good outcome? Pity for his younger sister that his legitimate mother had married to an unreliable man.
However… he could always bring his sister back.
In the evening, when Third Young Master was eating in his courtyard, he suddenly heard noise from the main courtyard. It seemed to be the sound of howling.
He frowned in confusion. Had something happened?
“Young Master!” His manservant ran in, panicked. He panted out, “Second Young Master… he has passed away.”
“Passed away?” Third Young Master was stunned for a moment, and then pulled his foot back. “What happened?”
The manservant looked around, and made sure that no one was around before he went into the room and whispered, “This one heard that Second Young Master went out today to drink with others. In the afternoon, when he was listening to a play, he wanted the same performer as someone else. The other was also a young master of an aristocratic family. The two argued, and then started to fight. The other accidentally pushed Second Young Master down from the guardrail on the second floor.”
Third Young Master frowned even more deeply. “A fall from such a height would not kill someone.”
“It should have been like this. But Second Young Master did not have good luck. There was a brick where he fell. His head hit the brick, and then…” The manservant’s shoulders went up. “I heard that when he was carried back, his body was already stiff. The princess consort is crying so hard she cannot breathe. Do not go there. If you go, she will vent her anger on you.”
If this was in the past, Third Young Master would have gone long ago. But today was different. He thought for a moment, and decided not to go.
“Then… who killed Second Brother?” Third Young Master wanted to know who had done such a stupid thing.
“I heard that it was an in-law of Duke Gu.” The manservant was not very sure.
“The Hu Family?” Third Young Master was puzzled. With the Hu Family’s conduct, they could not have raised such stupid family members.
“This one heard that the family name was Chen. Princess Consort is angry and wants to go into the palace to demand an explanation from the empress.” The manservant was confused. Even if this was the Gu Family’s in-laws that accidentally killed Second Young Master, what did it have to do with the empress? The connection was too far.
“Chen?” Third Young Master finally recalled that Heir Gu’s first wife had the family name Chen. But this Chen shi had died three years ago. Did this matter have much at all to do with the Gu Family?
“Princess Consort, that Chen boy says that his family is a relative of the empress. He does not care about prince heirs or duke heirs.” The manservants who had left with Second Young Master feared for their lives, and did their best to speak badly of the other person. “And he also said that we are poor people, and cannot even compare to the gatekeepers of the empress’ paternal family!”
“Very good!” Princess Consort Cheng heard this and her eyes turned red. “I want that whore surnamed Gu to pay for my son with the life!”
The manservants saw the princess consort charge out madly, and shrank to the side.
The news that the second young master of Prince Cheng’s establishment was killed reached Jin Yang’s ears before Princess Consort Cheng reached the palace. He laughed coldly after hearing this. He did not have many feelings towards his second younger brother in name.
“Zhen had not yet settled accounts with him, and he died already,” Jin Yang said neutrally. “Send a decree—let him be buried with the honors of a prince’s heir.”
A prince’s heir, to put it nicely, was a legal heir. But it was not a title in reality.
After Grand Princess Deyi once cursed at the Vermillion Bird Gates, Princess Consort Cheng now took her turn. However, she was more crazy than the grand princess, less well-mannered, and even cruder in her words.
“Gu shi you whore, come out!”
“Gu shi, you allow your relatives to kill my son—you do not fear being punished by the heavens?!”
But not long after she started, someone kicked her to the ground. This person seemed to want to stomp on her, but was pulled back by his colleagues.
“Cun Jing, be calm.” Hu Yun Qi pulled Gu Cun Jing, and whispered, “It is a great crime for her to curse the empress, but she is a princess consort, and you are a man. If this spreads…”
“Who cares if she is a man or a woman? Because she is a woman, I should allow her to curse my sister?!” Gu Cun Jing said angrily, “If I cannot even be a big brother, then what kind of man am I?”
Hu Yun Qi grimaced. He knew that Gu Cun Jing was right, but he could not do this. He looked up and saw some eunuchs had taken hold of the princess consort. An old matron covered her mouth. He sighed in relief. “Calm down. If the empress saw you like this, what would she think?”
Just as he finished, a grand carriage slowly came out from the gates. There were flying dragons and lucky clouds carved on the carriage, and it was very majestic.
“Long live the emperor!”
No one had expected that Princess Consort Cheng’s fuss did not attract the empress or the palace attendants in charge, but the emperor.
The curtain of the imperial carriage was lifted. Inside, Jin Yang was sitting expressionless. But the close dragon guards like Hu Yun Qi could see that the emperor was in a state of great fury.
“Princess Consort Cheng lost her composure in front of the emperor, and will be demoted to commandery princess consort. Her daughter is arrogant and cruel, not fitting the virtues of a commandery princess, and will be demoted to county mistress.”
Her husband was already dead, and she was demoted from princess consort to commandery princess consort. This really was… a rare thing.
And also from commandery princess to county mistress. How many ranks was that? Between commandery princess and county mistress, there were still the titles of commandery mistress and county princess.
“A person who kills pays with their life. The person who killed the son of Prince Cheng will be beheaded.”