This chapter has been brought to you by me and Adnana.
“Wu shi, you shut up!” Li Guang Ji could no longer maintain his aristocratic demeanor, and walked next to Wu Li shi with an ashen expression, wanting to stop her from talking more. But just as he stood up, he was stopped by the eunuch behind him.
The doors to the imperial study opened. Several imperial dragon guards carrying blades came in. At the front was Gu Cun Jing, followed by Hu Yun Qi and Jin Xiang.
Seeing them enter, Li Guang Ji suddenly turned back to look at Jin Yang. No wonder such a fuss was made in the capital when a woman came out of nowhere to accuse him, like he had committed a great crime. So the uproar over the crime was false, and the emperor just wanted to suppress the Li Family.
Why did the emperor know all this? With Wu shi‘s means alone, how could she have gotten so much evidence?
Li Guang Ji stared at the things in Li Wu shi‘s hands, and watched as they fell into Jin Yang’s hands. Li Family’s outstanding reputation of nearly a hundred years had made countless people yearn and admire. Naturally, in that time they had also done a lot of dirty deeds. If these things were revealed, what awaited the Li Family was complete and utter ruin.
The Li Family may have lost everything because of Li Wu shi‘s actions. Li Guang Ji wanted to eat her flesh and chew on her bones. “Wu shi!”
Wu shi did not look at Li Guang Ji, whose face was twisted in anger. After handing the evidence to Jin Yang, she turned to look at Li Huai Gu. She had complicated emotions towards this son. Love, and resentment, but not much hate.
Her child had passed away from illness. Li Guang Ji wanted to compete against his other brothers for the position of the family head, so he secretly brought in the child that he had with his mistress. While she was unwilling, she silently endured it. After she gave birth to her daughter, Li Guang Ji gradually did not like to come to her courtyard. But he did not bring a concubine into the home, so she only thought that he was usually too tired, and needed to take care of himself.
Later, she learned that taking care of himself was a joke. He just wanted a good reputation, but was also lusty, so he had mistresses outside the home. Later, after an illness, he could no longer have children. She thought, with Huai Gu present, when her daughter married in the future, she would have a brother as support. Her son was dead, her husband a false gentleman. The only motivation for her to live was her daughter.
After her daughter was gone, there was no more significance.
“Mother…” Li Huai Gu saw Wu shi looking at him, and could not help but take a few steps forward. But thinking of what Li Wu shi had said, he hesitated.
“You are a good child. I did not treat you well in these years—do not hate me.” Li Wu shi‘s legs faltered. She turned to Jin Yang and Gu Ru Jiu, bowing deeply. “Your Majesties, the Li Clan has done all kinds of wrongs, but Huai Gu was not involved. Please, see clearly.”
Gu Ru Jiu felt slightly heartsore. Wu shi had maternal feelings towards Li Huai Gu, but Li Guang Ji was so bad that she was constantly reminded of the past, and even held hate towards an innocent person like Li Huai Gu. She glanced at Jin Yang and nodded. “Do not worry, this palace and His Majesty will investigate the truth.”
“This is good.” Seeing Gu Ru Jiu speak, Wu shi smiled in relief. She turned and said to Li Huai Gu, “Do you remember what I said to you back then?”
“This child remembers.” Li Huai Gu’s eyes were red, and his voice hoarse. “Do not be proud, do not indulge, do not be too happy, do not be too satisfied.”
Wu shi nodded in satisfaction. Then she vomited a mouthful of black-red blood. She covered her mouth with a handkerchief, swayed, and then fell down.
“Mother!” Li Huai Gu went forward in shock, and took Wu shi into his arms. “Mother, what is it?”
“Not good—she ingested poison before coming here.” Gu Ru Jiu had someone call for the palace physician. She stood and walked until she was three steps from Li Huai Gu and Wu shi. She looked dazedly at the sobbing Li Huai Gu and did not know what to say.
No wonder Wu shi brought all the evidence, and said everything she should say and should not say. So she wanted to die.
“Why did you do this?” Li Huai Gu wiped away the blood at the corners of Wu shi‘s mouth. But the more he wiped away, the more there was, until his hand was dyed red.
“Sometimes, death is better than life.” Wu shi saw Li Huai Gu’s panic, and grinned. Blood came out of her nose. “Do not copy me, or your father. A life is short—live for yourself.”
“Yes, this child will remember.” Li Huai Gu saw blood coming out of Wu shi‘s mouth and nose. He nodded, suppressing his tears.
“Just remember.” Wu shi looked at the empress a few steps away. Her sight started to blur. She remembered that year when Huai Gu had come to her excitedly to say he wanted to marry the second miss of the Gu Family.
Back then, what had she said?
She seemed to have said, “If you like her, Mother will go ask for you.”
Back then, Li Guang Ji had not been pleased, and the matchmaker who went was not sincere enough, and did not convince the Gu Family.
She wanted to open her eyes again and look at the son she had neglected for many years, but she only saw white, and heard faint sobbing.
“There is nothing to cry about. I am going now, and this is a release from this evil…”
“Mother!” Li Huai Gu put a finger to Wu shi‘s nose, and then pulled his finger back as though he was burned. He was dazed for a moment, and then broke out in loud cries, hugging Wu shi.
From childhood, what he received from his father was only lectures and teachings of how to scheme. The only relaxation and warmth came from Wu shi. Even though Wu shi said that she was not his birth mother, he did not feel hate, only gratefulness.
But now she was gone—the only person who gave him warmth and relief was gone.
Gu Ru Jiu looked blankly at Li Huai Gu who cried without any regard for his image. The Li Huai Gu of her memories was always confident and proud. She had never seen him in such a sorry state. He cried like a young child. She suddenly realized that even the talented Young Master Li was only a normal person.
She felt uncomfortable, like a stone was stuck in her chest, not going up or down.
A warm hand held her hand. She looked back and saw Jin Yang smile comfortingly at her. He then said, “Take Li Guang Ji into the heavenly prison, to be tried on another day.”
Li Guang Ji did not resist. He looked at Wu shi on the ground and his sobbing son. He dazedly allowed the dragon guards to drag him out. When he reached the door, he suddenly looked back at Li Huai Gu.
Li Huai Gu looked back at Li Guang Ji, gently put Wu shi on the ground, and used his sleeve to wipe the blood from Wu shi‘s face.
Gu Ru Jiu could not bear it, and handed her own handkerchief to him.
“Thank you, Your Majesty.” He took the handkerchief and wiped Wu shi‘s face clean. Then he walked in front of Li Guang Ji, and knelt down.
Bam, bam, bam.
Li Huai Gu kowtowed three times loudly, and then stood up, saying to Li Guang Ji, “Father, please take care.”
As a son, he should be torn between Wu shi and Li Guang Ji. As a subject, the Li Clan had done too many wrong things. He could not argue.
He kowtowed to Li Guang Ji because he could not do anything for the Li Family and felt guilty.
Li Guang Ji silently watched his son and then turned back, letting the dragon guard lead him away.
“Emperor, Empress.” Li Huai Gu bowed to Gu Ru Jiu and Jin Yang. “This subject will take Mother home.”
Gu Ru Jiu nodded.
Jin Yang did not make things difficult for him, and even had He Ming prepare a carriage. Zhang Zhong Han took the chance to say farewell.
The imperial study fell silent. Gu Ru Jiu looked at the thick pile of evidence on the table. There were letters, account books, and some writings. She could not help but think, if Wu shi had possession of these things a long time ago, why did she wait until now to erupt?
She suddenly thought of a piece of gossip. Supposedly, last year, a woman appeared around Li Guang Ji. This woman was greatly favored by him, and even became his concubine, frequently serving him.
“Who was the woman who accused Li Guang Ji?” Gu Ru Jiu looked at Jin Yang. Her feeling was that Jin Yang was involved in this matter.
“That woman was a dancer of the Li Residence, and later, it was exposed that she accidentally killed someone trying to get into the Li Family. So she was given a serious punishment.” Jin Yang thought for a moment. “This was something from more than a decade ago.”
Gu Ru Jiu frowned. A dancer in a murder case. These were either exiled or executed—why would they be imprisoned?
This woman has an older sister that once received Li Guang Ji’s favor.” When Jin Yang mentioned Li Guang Ji, his expression turned cold. “Later, her sister disappeared.”
Received favor, disappeared…
“Was her older sister Li Huai Gu’s birth mother?” Gu Ru Jiu changed expression. “So she did all she could to enter the Li Family as a dancer and investigate the disappearance of her older sister?”
“Maybe for her sister, or maybe she was also greedy for the riches and glory,” Jin Yang said noncommittally. “Other than her, no one would know.”
Gu Ru Jiu said in a daze, “You are right.”
Sometimes, the truth was more cruel and ruthless than in the novels. It was better to not know some truths too clearly. For example, Li Guang Ji. He would likely never know that a certain dancer who entered the Li Residence had once been Li Huai Gu’s aunt. Li Huai Gu would also not know that his birth mother had died a suspicious death and the culprit was his father.
Maybe Li Huai Gu did know, but pretended not to know.
A month later, the Li Family had their properties all confiscated due to treason against the country, corruption, and murder. Many men lost their positions and were exiled. Many women were sentenced to the lowest class, and would spend their entire lives in hardship.
To the shock of the people in the capital, they managed to find several million taels of silver from the Li Family, and countless treasures.
Coral treasure trees twice the height of a man, fake mountains made out of jade, statues out of gold and silver. Boxes and boxes of gold, jade, and precious gems, and even the gifts that other countries had presented to Great Feng were in the Li Family warehouses.
When the list was released, the court was in uproar. This Li Family was so daring to hide away tributes to the imperial house!
In the end, Li Guang Ji was sentenced to exile three thousand miles away. Jin Yang did not pursue Li Huai Gu’s crimes, but he voluntarily resigned from his positions in court.
Standing outside Vermillion Bird Gates, Li Huai Gu looked silently in the direction of Purple Imperial Hall. When the sun was rising high up in the sky, he turned and prepared to leave.
“Young Master Li.” Gu Cun Jing came out of the Vermillion Bird Gates and saw Li Huai Gu standing nearby. He tapped his horse and hurried to Li Huai Gu’s side. “Young Master Li, what are you doing here?”
“Official Gu”—Li Huai Gu bowed to Gu Cun Jing and smiled warmly—”I just came here to take a look.”
Gu Cun Jing turned to glance at the imperial palace and then at Li Huai Gu. He found the other was wearing normal clean cloth robes. While not as luxurious as usual, he looked more free.
“The emperor did not pursue your crimes—why did you resign your court positions?” Gu Cun Jing had no ill feelings towards Li Huai Gu and sympathized with his experience. He could not help but urge, “If you work a few years, you will be able to advance.” That was better than now. The Li Family had fallen, and Li Huai Gu, full of talent, had resigned. What would he do in the future?
“Something like fame is not something you are born with, or that you can take with you when you die. What is the use in having it?” Li Huai Gu said with a smile. “It is fate to see Young Master Gu today. I do not know when I will see you again.”
“You…” Gu Cun Jing said in shock, “You are prepared to leave the capital?”
“Yes, the sky is high, the sea is wide—this is a blessing,” Li Huai Gu said with a smile. “Fortunately, Miss Shen and I have not married. I do not have to worry about affecting the innocent.”
“This is good.” After the Li Family’s fall, there were many who were laughing and throwing stones. Li Huai Gu leaving the capital was actually a good thing. Gu Cun Jing bowed to him and said, “I hope that you will have a safe journey, and achieve what you want.”
Achieve what you want?
Li Huai Gu smiled in relief, and bowed back to Gu Cun Jing. “Thank you for your words.” He mounted his horse, and raised his chin slightly, like he was that proud noble young master again. “This one wishes Official Gu and your family great joy in life, no illness or disasters.”
Gu Cun Jing looked at him and bowed silently.
The hoofbeats sounded. Gu Cun Jing watched the rider and the horse leave, and gave a long sigh. Back then, how noble had the Sima and Li families been. Now, they were just dust and smoke.
Li Huai Gu was right. Something like fame was not something one was born with, or could take with them after death. If one was not content, it would overflow.
He rode his horse and when he rode past a street, he found a marriage procession beating drums and blowing trumpets. The rider moving by was the son of Duke Yang, Yang Chui Wen.
Yang Chui Wen had ranked first in the imperial examination, and was now having his wedding. He had the two of the three blessings in life.
Some were happy, some were sad; some left, some came together. All of this, joy and sorrow, made up an entire life.
The destruction of the Li Family caused the entire court to realize the power of the imperial family. They were anxious during court, worried that they would be the next Li Guang Ji. They did not dare to gesticulate around and argue like they usually did.
But His Majesty did not seem to have blamed other people because of the Li Family. When the next spring came and the flowers were blooming, they finally sighed in relief.
Maybe Jin Yang also realized that the major actions last year had frightened many court officials, so he hosted a Hundred Flowers Banquet at Taihe Palace for everyone to relax.
After three rounds of drinks, when everyone was slightly drunk, Prince Rui suddenly said, “Your Majesty, this subject has something to say.”
Jin Yang looked at Prince Rui with a smile. “Today is a day for everyone to have fun. If Imperial Uncle has something, you can wait for court tomorrow to mention it.”
“I just fear that Your Majesty will not make it to court tomorrow.” Prince Rui sneered.
Gu Ru Jiu found the words were not right. She put down her chopsticks, and looked with worry at Jin Yang.
Jin Yang patted the back of her hand. Then he smiled indifferently at Prince Rui. “Imperial Uncle, what do you mean?”
“You favor the empress, and allow the evil empress to destroy the country. You suppress the descendants of the loyal, you are vicious and tyrannical—you are not worthy to be emperor,” Prince Rui said, full of pain. “Your Majesty, please write a proclamation of your crimes, depose the demon empress, and right the court.”
Gu Ru Jiu looked coldly at Prince Rui and was amused by his explanation. “Imperial Uncle, if you want to rebel, then do so—why use a weak woman like me as an excuse?” She stood up, and looked at the officials present. “Ever since this palace became the empress, has this palace been extravagant, worked for my paternal family’s benefit, or been tyrannical and arrogant?”
“The empress is kind and virtuous, and you speak nonsense!” Zhang Zhong Han stood up and scolded harshly. “Prince Rui, you are ambitious and shameful!”
Prince Rui looked scornfully at Zhang Zhong Han and then at Gu Ru Jiu. “You are the empress, but you reside long-term in Purple Imperial Hall—is this what an empress should do?”
“It is the right way for the husbands and wives of the world to live in the same room. Why cannot Zhen and the empress live together?” Jin Yang looked coldly at Prince Rui. “Imperial Uncle has drunk too much today. Zhen will not hold you accountable for your mistake—you may leave.”
“Boy, do not pretend to be a good person.” Prince Rui used the arms of his wheelchair to slowly stand up. “This prince has come today to defend the emperor and remove the evil ministers . Emperor, do not protect this demon empress.”
As he finished speaking, sounds of fighting came from outside. Some officials paled. But more people stood up and came in front of the emperor and empress.
“Prince Rui, what are you doing?” An old official rebuked angrily. “You want to rebel?”
“This world belongs to the Jin Clan, this prince’s family name is Jin—how is this rebellion?” Prince Rui slowly took two steps, and looked at the officials in front of the emperor and empress. “You want to die with the empress?”
The officials looked at Prince Rui’s legs in shock. So Prince Rui was able to walk?
“You find it strange that this prince can walk?” Prince Rui sneered. “Back then, if the empress did not poison this prince’s mother-consort when she was pregnant, would this prince have had such a disability? Pity that this prince has a good life, and encountered a genius physician who healed my legs.”
“If walking a few steps can count as healed—” Gu Ru Jiu sneered and said in a loud voice, “—then we people walk like we are flying.”
“Shut up!” Prince Rui’s facing darkened, and his eyes were murderous. His disabled legs were always his weak spot. Now, he finally managed to stand up, but he was mocked by Gu Ru Jiu. How could he not be angry?
“You tell this palace to shut up, and this palace shuts up—who are you to say such a thing?” Gu Ru Jiu looked scornful. “A son that Imperial Grandfather looked down upon can only shout in front of this palace due to his seniority.”
In front of Gu Ru Jiu, Gu Cun Jing could not stop his lips from twitching. Little Sister, if you continue, Prince Rui will die from anger.
“Shut up! Shut up!” Prince Rui was furious. He turned to the guards behind him, and said, “Kill this whore—kill her!”
At his words, the dragon guards protecting the emperor and empress pulled out their blades. The air grew very tense.
“This prince has surrounded the entire mountain; the people outside think that they are just guarding the mountain.” Seeing the other side pull out their blades, Prince Rui calmed down. He put his hands behind his back and smiled coldly. “Come—take these people out and execute them. If His Majesty is not willing to write a letter of abdication in half an hour, then this will continue.”
He waited for a moment, and there was no movement. He turned back. The guards behind him were standing still, like statues.
Woosh! An arrow passed through his legs. He felt pain at his knees, and fell to the ground.
Seeing Prince Rui on the ground, Gu Ru Jiu patted her second brother’s shoulder in satisfaction and said, “This is called, the villains die because they talk too much.”
Gu Cun Jing coughed dryly. “Your Majesty, careful of the stairs—do not fall.”
Prince Rui could not understand why the guards he had so carefully arranged did not listen to his orders. These were the people he had raised on his lands. How come they did not listen to him?
“Come—help Prince Rui up.” Jin Yang had the officials retreat. Then he looked at the officials who were hiding in the corner. “Imperial Uncle, Zhen does not know why you rebelled.”
“Do not pretend! Even if I did not rebel today, you would not be able to tolerate me.” Prince Rui twisted his face, and pulled the arrow out of his legs. Then he sat down, supporting himself with the arms of his chair. “You schemed so long to centralize power. This prince will not sit by. Do you want this prince to be like Prince Zhong, and give up all power for you to kill me as you please?”
Prince Zhong hurriedly stood up when he was mentioned. “Your Majesty, this subject is loyal to Your Majesty, and has no other thoughts.”
Was something wrong with this person, rebelling in the capital, and pulling him in as well? This was incomprehensible!
Gu Ru Jiu looked at the arrow that Prince Rui had thrown to the side, covered in blood and flesh. She could not help but inhale sharply. She felt it painful to see. How did Prince Rui do it? This was a man who was ruthless to others, and more ruthless to himself.
Hearing Prince Zhong’s words, Prince Rui snorted. Then he looked at Jin Yang. “Even if this prince loses, it will be while understanding. What is going on with these guards?”
He had schemed for everything, except that these soldiers would not listen to his orders.
Gu Ru Jiu jerked Jin Yang’s sleeve, and then said, “You want to know?”
Prince Rui looked at Gu Ru Jiu and waited for her answer.
“But His Majesty and this palace do not really want to tell you.” Gu Ru Jiu smiled. “Just remember that you lost.”
He called her a demon empress—she wanted him irritated his entire life!
As expected, at such words, Prince Rui vomited blood in anger. The officials looked down and pretended they saw nothing.
“Demoness!” Prince Rui wiped the blood away from his mouth and glared with hate at Gu Ru Jiu.
“Take him away,” Jin Yang said, his expression darkening. “Imperial Uncle, Zhen gave you a chance. If you insult the empress again, Zhen can have your children keep you company.”
Prince Rui changed expression, tempered himself, and in the end, he did not say a word.
The third month of the seventh year of Delong, Prince Rui rebelled in Taihe Palace. The empress was enraged and argued with Prince Rui in front of the emperor. Prince Rui lost and, due to his anger, he vomited blood, and was captured by the imperial guards.
In the sixth month of the seventh year of Delong, Prince Rui was demoted to commoner due to assassinating Dowager Consort Sun, conspiring with the enemy and betraying the country, and rebellion. He was imprisoned in the capital’s suburbs, with his wife and children being punished the same as him.
“It is snowing again.” Gu Ru Jiu leaned on the windowsill, and exhaled a white breath. Then she reached out to catch the falling snow.
“It is cold out.” Jin Yang put a fox fur cloak on her. “You are like a child.”
“The ancients say that fortunate women are usually childish.” Gu Ru Jiu waved her index finger, her expression smug. “This is all your merit.”
Jin Yang smiled and hugged her from behind. He asked in a low voice, “Which ancient had such knowledge?”
Gu Ru Jiu touched her ears, tickled by his warm breath. “Who cares who it was, as long as it makes sense.”
“Yes, you are right.” Jin Yang rubbed his chin on her shoulder. “But the ancients also say another thing.”
“What?” Gu Ru Jiu blew at the snowflakes in her hand and watched them fall to the ground, merging with the accumulated snow.
“That is… a man should love his beloved like pearl and jade.” Jin Yang kissed Gu Ru Jiu’s ear. “To me, a pearl cannot rival Jiu Jiu.”
“Then what am I to you?”
“You are my life. With you by my side, I am alive.”
Gu Ru Jiu leaned against the warm chest behind her, looked at the snowflakes falling outside, and smiled brightly.
Translator Ramblings: And we finally get to the title statement!