Chapter 1: Little Prince
“Did you hear that there’s a prince living here?”
“Shh, don’t mention him.”
Under the shade of trees, two eunuchs whispered gossip as they glanced at the wall about ten feet away.
The white wall and blue tiles appeared worn out due to their age, with a few cobwebs hanging on them. As they spoke, a moth fluttered its wings and got caught in one of the webs, causing the whole web to shake.
“You arrived in the palace late, so you don’t know about this. It happened years ago, a foolish act by the Emperor when he was drunk. He despises this mother and son pair to the core. The child has never left the Cold Palace since birth, bringing bad luck, but let’s not talk about that.”
“But now, the Crown Prince is imprisoned. What if, by some chance, that person inside manages to turn things around?” Little Xizi asked as he held the food box.
“The Crown Prince? With his uncle being Prime Minister Sun and his aunt being the Duke’s wife, with such a background, can he really fall into the hands of that person?”
Having finished speaking, he glanced at the sky. It was almost time, so he beckoned him to follow along the wall. “Ah, us common folk, we just need to do our own tasks well. The matters of those above us are not something we should gossip about.”
Little Xizi nodded, thinking that this made sense.
“Let’s go, take the food inside. Don’t blame me if I don’t remind you, but don’t talk to him,” the master and disciple pointed to the nearby gate and gave him a push. This was the first time Little Xizi was delivering food to the cold palace, so his master added some advice.
“The Emperor dislikes him. There’s no need to trouble yourself by trying to establish a connection with him. Just listen to me.”
Little Xizi nodded in partial understanding, holding the food box, and walked away.
He pushed open the door with a creak. Through the narrow crack in the door, he saw a twelve or thirteen-year-old child squatting in the middle of the overgrown grassy area, as if digging something. The young boy had rosy lips, white teeth, and a clear and handsome appearance, looking quite well-behaved.
Little Xizi momentarily forgot his mentor’s advice and, after delivering the food box, couldn’t help but call out, “The food is here.”
The boy put down the shovel he was using to dig the soil and wiped away the dirt from his body. Without a word, he slowly walked to the door, picked up the food box, and turned to leave.
It was already late December, and Little Xizi couldn’t help but notice that the young prince was only wearing a thin single-layered robe. He glanced at the impending snowfall and couldn’t resist adding, “You should hurry back inside.”
The dark grape-like eyes of the young prince turned towards him and gave him a glance.
“En,” the young prince’s voice was exceptionally gentle, “Thank you.”
Just as Little Xizi was about to leave, he felt a resistance and turned back to find that the young prince had reached out his dirty hand through the gap in the door, grabbing onto his belt.
“Could you give me some charcoal fire? It’s too cold,” the young prince spoke softly, sounding pitiful.
Little Xizi was taken aback. On such a cold day, the room didn’t have warm clothing or any charcoal fire to keep warm.
Even the lowliest servants shouldn’t live like this.
But secretly delivering things to the Cold Palace was taboo, so Little Xizi hesitated and eventually refused.
However, after taking a few steps, he heard sobbing sounds behind him. Little Xizi’s heart softened, and he crouched down beside the door, asking, “Why are you crying, little prince?”
The second prince, with red eyes and a choked voice, seemed anxious and couldn’t quite express himself clearly. He said, “It’s so cold, my mother is getting sick. Kind Gonggong, could you spare me some charcoal fire, please?” His voice carried a tone of both helplessness and plea.
Looking around to ensure no one was watching and that they were in a secluded area, Little Xizi ran to his own bedroom and brought back a few pieces of charcoal. He pushed them through the gap in the door one by one and handed the young prince a fire starter.
It was an act of kindness. After all, what had this child done to deserve such a life?
As his mentor had said, royal matters were ever-changing. Shortly after delivering the charcoal fire to the young prince, when Little Xizi returned to his room, he saw the chief eunuch responsible for delivering imperial edicts, who was dressed splendidly and neatly, walking proudly out of the main gate. He asked his mentor, “What edict is he delivering?”
Before his mentor could reply, the room fell silent.
Lowering his voice, the mentor took him to a corner of the room and said, “Little Xizi, don’t inquire any further.”
Then, he pulled him out of the room and whispered, “It’s an edict for the exile of Prime Minister Sun.”
Little Xizi couldn’t believe it. Less than half a month after the Crown Prince’s imprisonment, his uncle, Prime Minister Sun, had been exiled. Could it be that the Crown Prince’s faction was really going to fall into the hands of that castrated person?
The edict quickly spread throughout the streets and alleys of the imperial city, and naturally, it reached the prison.
The entire imperial city underwent a dramatic change overnight.
When Prime Minister Sun Yanqin, along with his family, was being transported out of the capital in a prisoner’s carriage, Chu Xie was standing on the city wall, overlooking the departing procession. His eyes reflected a mix of sorrow and joy.
That night, there was a bitterly cold winter rain in the imperial city, with the sound of raindrops tapping on the eaves.
In the Cold Palace, Jiang Yanchi touched his mother’s increasingly feverish body and kneaded the herbs he had gathered from the courtyard into a ball, trying to feed it to her. “Mother, Mother… please eat this.”
“This is charcoal I obtained from someone outside. Once it’s burned, you won’t be cold anymore, Mother. Please, warm yourself by the fire,” he said gently, helping his mother sit up.
“Mother… Mother is afraid she won’t make it.” Duan Se trembled as she reached out her shaking hand to touch her son’s head. “Ah Yu, I’m sorry, I’ve been a burden to you in this life.”
Jiang Yanchi’s expression remained gentle as he comforted her, “Don’t say such things, just eat this, and you’ll be fine.”
“It’s not working, it’s not working…”
Jiang Yanchi gently laid his mother down, glanced at the cold night outside, and rushed into the rain, banging on the door of the Cold Palace. “Gonggong, is Gonggong out there…. Please, my mother is gravely ill, give us some medicine…”
His voice sounded like that of a weak and helpless young animal, pitiable to the extreme.
However, it wasn’t the same Little Xizi who had been on duty a few days ago waiting outside.
It was an old eunuch who had always oppressed them, and now he found himself on duty on this rainy night, which he considered extremely unlucky. Upon hearing that someone inside might be dying, he felt even more annoyed.
“Let her die! It’s better if she dies!”
The old eunuch spat on the ground, “A wretched woman like her should have died long ago. I can’t be bothered to suffer like this because of her. If she’s going to die, let her die quickly!”
“Gonggong, Lord…, Lord Zhao, I beg of you…”
Jiang Yanchi, with red eyes, reached out and tugged at the old eunuch’s sleeve, but he was harshly pushed away. “You’re just a wretched brat. Don’t touch me, you little b*stard.”
The words were sharp and cruel, a kind of insult that he had been subjected to for thirteen years.
Jiang Yanchi withdrew his hand and looked at the long iron chain that had never been unlocked in thirteen years. He also noticed the short knife at the eunuch’s waist.
His voice remained gentle as ever. “Lord Zhao, I beg of you… please bring some medicine for me. Just show us a bit of pity…”
“Spit! Go away, go away! If you’re going to die, then die with your mother. I’ll come to bury you both tomorrow morning.”
His long, outstretched hand grabbed the eunuch’s sleeve once again. This time, the old eunuch grabbed a nearby dead branch and viciously struck his hand twice. “Get lost!”
Frightened, the boy immediately withdrew his hand and dared not reach out again.
As the night wore on into the early hours, the eunuch began to feel drowsy. He leaned against the door and listened to the sound of rain falling from the eaves, eventually falling asleep.
The moths on the web under the eaves had all been devoured by the spider, leaving only a pair of beautiful wings hanging there.
Suddenly, there was a loud clang, the sound of a lock being broken.
Before the old eunuch could open his eyes, he felt a coldness in his throat, and blood sprayed onto a pair of delicate and fair hands. He clutched his neck in shock, staring at the young man before him holding a sharp blade. In the young man’s eyes, which had always been gentle and easily bullied, there was no warmth, only a deep and chilling silence.
A bolt of lightning tore through the night sky, illuminating the young man’s cold and melancholic features.
The light in the old eunuch’s eyes quickly dimmed.
The young man dragged the body inside the room, covered it with a pile of weeds, and then quietly slipped out of the Cold Palace, heading in the direction of the pharmacy.
He boiled the stolen herbs in a clay pot over the charcoal fire, making a thick medicinal soup for his mother. In the middle of the night, the intense fever that had gripped her body for so long finally began to subside, little by little.
The next morning, Duan Se woke up to see Jiang Yanchi digging and filling a hole in a corner of the Cold Palace. She walked over, and Jiang Yanchi stopped his work with a gentle smile, saying, “Is Mother feeling better?”
“Yes, much better,” Duan Se replied softly, rubbing her child’s head. “Thanks to the herbs you got.”
“All of that is because the person who was on duty last night took pity on us,” Jiang Yanchi said with a warm smile, leaning closer to Duan Se and adding, “Mother, please go inside for now.”
“What are you doing?” Duan Se looked at the freshly turned soil on the ground.
“Mother always liked pear blossom trees, right? I want to move the dying pear blossom tree from the backyard to the front yard. The front yard gets more sunlight, so I believe the pear tree will bloom beautifully next spring.”
The child spoke gently and innocently.
Duan Se thought to herself that she had never brought a moment of happiness to this child, but he had grown up to be so gentle and kind, without any cunning. That was a good thing.
Just as she was thinking this, the door suddenly burst open, and a group of people stormed in, saying that the eunuch who had been on duty last night had disappeared, and they wanted to search the place.
They searched inside and outside but found no traces. The leader, Vice Commander Zhao, fixed his gaze on the freshly dug soil and asked, “What are you digging for?”
Duan Se smiled coyly, her tone tinged with a hint of timidity. “My child likes to plant flowers and plants. This… should be okay, right?”
Vice Commander Zhao glanced at Jiang Yanchi, who had clear and innocent eyes, looking harmless. After a moment of contemplation, he waved his hand and led his men out.
With a loud click, the door was locked again.
Days of peace like this passed for more than ten days.
The newly planted pear blossom tree in the courtyard grew exceptionally well, and as winter turned into spring, it was on the verge of blooming again in just two months.
However, Jiang Yanchi was taken away.
No one told him where he was being taken. When they were separated, he saw the fearful look in Duan Se’s eyes as she rushed up and held onto her child. “Where are you taking him… He’s just a child! We’ve fallen to this point, living in this Cold Palace for a lifetime, can’t they let us go…”
As she spoke, she began to cry again.
Jiang Yanchi broke free from those people and walked up to his mother, wiping away her tears. “Mother, don’t be afraid. This Gonggong said he only wants to take me for tailoring clothes. Where do you think I’m going?”
His voice was extremely calm.
The Cold Palace was cut off from the outside world, and Duan Se lived a simple life, still unaware that the faction of the Crown Prince had completely collapsed, and Jiang Yanchi had become the only child of the current Emperor.
He was being taken out of the Cold Palace.
Everything felt like a dream.
Duan Se watched as those people treated Jiang Yanchi with great respect. After they helped him onto a carriage, the sound of the wheels rolling over the cobblestones gradually faded away.
Turning back, she saw that there was an additional person under the pear blossom tree in the Cold Palace, tall and graceful, radiating an aura of serenity.
“You are Duan Se, Jiang Yanchi’s birth mother.”
The voice was also very pleasant.
“I am Chu Xie.”
The corners of the person’s mouth lifted slightly, and there was a hint of chilling coldness in their smile.
They left a few words and then left, saying, “Think it over, then come to Chu Mansion to find me. From now on, no one can confine you and your son… Jiang Yanchi’s lifetime of glory and wealth will also depend on your decision.”
Their footsteps gradually faded away.
Duan Se looked up at the newly planted pear blossom tree and a mist of tears welled up in her eyes, blurring the sight of the withered branches in front of her.
When Jiang Yanchi returned, he keenly noticed that his mother’s eyes were red.
He asked, “Did you cry?”
“It’s tears of joy. Mother is just so happy… I never expected that we would have a day to leave the Cold Palace,” Duan Se said, wiping away her tears.
“Ah Yu, let’s go.”
Duan Se turned back and took another look at the pear tree, taking a deep breath. “Let’s find Chu Xie.”