Chapter 19: A Shocking Change
Zhao Xuan’s face turned pale as he saw the fierce determination in Jiang Yanchi’s eyes. He realized that something was amiss. He took a few steps back and heard Jiang Yanchi say, “Are you in such a hurry to return to the Duke Yue’s mansion to report this? Shizi, you’ve known him for over eight years. You and the Duke Yue family know what kind of person he is. If, in the future, he faces calamity, will you let the entire Duke Yue’s mansion be implicated and buried with him?”
Zhao Xuan was not very good at deciphering people’s intentions. He knew that Chu Xie had a history of being domineering and had made enemies in the Western Capital. However, in the past, Chu Xie had treated this young Crown Prince quite well. So, why was there such a strong desire for revenge now?
The Crown Prince had a straightforward and honest nature, and at this point, Zhao Xuan would speak frankly.
“Your Highness, after the incident with the Jinhuan Gambling House, Lord Chu has already returned the national seal. There’s no need to push him further… Two years ago, if it weren’t for Lord Chu’s protection, Your Highness would not be sitting in the Eastern Palace today!”
Hearing this, Jiang Yanchi’s gaze sharpened.
He gritted his teeth and retorted, “According to what Shizi just said, have I unjustly become a white eyed wolf? Shizi your words are spoken lightly. Tell me, how can Duke Yue’s mansion, which has enjoyed prestige for a century, be held in the hands of one castrated official?”
“My words are by no means selfish! But Your Highness, resorting to such ruthless measures—killing like a rabbit or dog, leaving no bird alive—can this be the way of a sage and virtuous monarch?” Zhao Xuan knelt on the ground and kowtowed again. “Even if he has wronged the people of the world, he has not wronged Your Highness. The Zhao Prison is a terrible place. I implore Your Highness to grant him a way out…”
Grant him a way out.
Right now, it’s clear that he’s not willing to give me a way out!
It’s always the innocent people around me who suffer, rather than me. Chu Xie is always like this, repeatedly causing the deaths of those closest to me, endlessly, without restraint!
Two years ago, he had to endure it to survive, but now, if he continues to endure, he was afraid that he wouldn’t be able to protect that person anymore!
“Your Highness! Chu Xie will hand over the imperial authority to you, but not now… Why are you in such a hurry! Your Highness, he is not your enemy; please don’t be swayed by malicious rumors….”
Jiang Yanchi’s eyes were filled with icy determination as he walked towards the person under the tree, drawing his long sword and pointing it directly at his heart. “He is the biggest villain. There is no need to mention other villains!”
This furious shout woke up Chu Xie, who had been sleeping soundly.
After getting up, he reached for a piece of clothing, a long shirt that he draped over himself. He didn’t fasten the belt, allowing it to hang near his knees, and when the wind blew, the fabric billowed.
Supporting himself on the door frame, he saw Jiang Yanchi not far away.
Upon waking up, he seemed to have a hint of confusion in his eyes, blinking several times. During this brief moment of daze, Jiang Yanchi had drawn his longsword, pointing it directly at the tip of his nose.
Chu Xie was startled, taking a half step back. He managed to steady himself by leaning on the door frame, his complexion gradually paling.
He looked at the reflection of himself on the mirror-like blade of the sword and asked, “Jiang Yanchi, are you going to kill me?”
“And what if I do? In the case of the Jinhuan Gambling House incident, weren’t you also planning to kill me?”
The wind rustled through the strands of his disheveled hair, creating a casual and relaxed appearance that seemed entirely incongruent with the current confrontation.
A strand of his hair slipped into the collar, grazing against the skin like white jade as it disappeared into the fabric of his clothing.
A fragrant scent of cypress and orchids wafted through the air.
Chu Xie gradually became fully awake, his gaze growing clearer. Then, a frigid and chilling hostility burst forth.
“Your Highness, you’ve become more assertive with your newfound power. I suppose living in the Eastern Palace has been quite comfortable… making you believe that you’re truly the heir apparent of this country.”
“What do you want to say? Go say it in the Zhao Prison.”
“You’re foolish.” Chu Xie’s voice was tinged with a hint of hoarseness. “When Duke Rongguo’s people support you, you’re eager to become their stepping stone. When the Minister of Personnel speaks, you think you can hitch a ride on the Northern Frontier Duke Zhenguo’s mansion… Don’t forget, both of them were initially supported by your cousin, Jiang Jingan. You don’t want to be my pawn, but you’re in a hurry to become someone else’s stepping stone… I’m calling you foolish, and it’s an understatement.”
His words were gentle, as if he had little strength left.
Jiang Yanchi’s sword drew closer.
“I have never needed your approval… even if I have to spend my entire life in the Cold Palace, I…”
“Jiang Yanchi, if you want to send me to Zhao Prison, go ahead.” Chu Xie said, “But wait until the Ministry of Punishment dares to draft evidence, issue a warrant for my arrest, or the Forbidden Army Commander Li Zhou dares to step into my Chu Mansion to arrest me.”
He raised his slender wrist, picked up the tea that Zhao Xuan had prepared earlier, and took a small sip.
“You’re acting too hastily if you want to harm me.”
Surprisingly, Jiang Yanchi did not react with anger, as Chu Xie had expected. Instead, he snorted coldly.
Duke Yue’s Shizi turned black and seemed to want to tell Chu Xie something, but the neat and resolute footsteps behind him interrupted him.
Chu Xie’s pupils suddenly contracted when he saw the Forbidden Army entering the mansion.
And when he saw Xu Changling, who walked in leisurely with his head held high, Chu Xie visibly panicked. He coughed several times in a row, propped himself up against the door frame, and pointed at Jiang Yanchi, saying, “You… as the Crown Prince, how can you arbitrarily replace the Vice Commander of the Forbidden Army….? This is a heinous act!”
“Compared to all the other heinous acts you’ve committed, replacing the Seal of Authority is nothing. In fact, I’m far behind.”
Jiang Yanchi waved his hand, and the Forbidden Army soldiers took a few steps forward, their sinister blades pointing directly at Chu Xie.
“Do you want to go willingly, or shall I ‘invite’ you?”
Chu Xie squinted slightly.
“Your Highness!” Zhao Xuan stepped in front of Chu Xie. “Please reconsider!”
Interrupting the standoff, Chu Xie said calmly, “Very well, I will go.”
“Lord Chu!” Zhao Xuan’s face darkened. “Don’t act recklessly. Let me return to my father first and report…”
Chu Xie’s voice was tinged with a hint of mockery, “Jiang Yanchi, since you’re inviting me in now, I’ll expect you to kneel and beg for my release tomorrow.”
With that, he nonchalantly adjusted his clothing.
He hadn’t even had time to tie up his hair, so he casually used a piece of collar to loosely tie it, allowing his disheveled hair to cover his eyebrows. Under his thin attire, his slender figure was even more pronounced.
As he passed by Xu Changling, he cast a silent glance at Xu Changling’s chin.
The eight-foot-tall general’s Adam’s apple bobbed up and down, nearly captivated by that gaze.
This man’s appearance was even more enticing than Xu Chunmu.
A fragrance wafted from his hair, mingling with the scent of the leaves nearby, causing a burning sensation in the throat.
Duke Rongguo’s Mansion.
“He really went in?” Duke Rongguo pointed southwest with his long sleeves. “To the Zhao Prison?”
“Yes, it’s absolutely true. Chu Xie is quite audacious, daring to poison the Crown Prince so openly… Now that the Crown Prince has removed the Forbidden Army’s power from Duke Yue’s Mansion and transferred it all to the Northern Frontier Xu family… the tide has turned in our favor!”
Duke Rongguo’s heir, Chen Liansheng, was delighted, and he exchanged a glance with his mother. The madam immediately began to add her own perspective, “My lord, do you think it’s a good idea for our nephew to return to the capital again…”
Duke Rongguo, being more composed, pondered for a while with his hands behind his back and then shook his head, rejecting the idea. “Marquis Zhenguo from the Xu family has obtained control of the Imperial Guards, and it’s unclear whether he’s in cahoots with the Crown Prince. Their intentions are uncertain, and our Chen family lacks military power. Ningyuan Wang is also far away. It would be better to proceed cautiously for now, to ensure our safety.”
His son tugged at his mother’s sleeve. “Mother, Father’s words make sense. Chu Xie has always been cunning. Even if Shizi was to return to the capital right now, it might not be feasible. There could be other unexpected developments down the road.”
Duchess Rongguo fell silent.
Duke Rongguo contemplated deeply, full of suspicion.
“If that’s the case, staying idle is even worse,” he said, stroking his beard in thought. “The young crown prince isn’t a concern, the issue lies with Chu Xie and the Xu family’s stance. The Xu family now controls the Forbidden Army in the Western Capital, and they have forty thousand troops on the border. At the moment, even if we join forces with Ningyuan Wang, we might not have the strength to confront the Xu family. The situation is already a delicate balance of power. Slow down, slow down… We not only need to be wary of that eunuch but also of Xu Changling within the Imperial City!”
The Shizi seemed to understand but could only nod in agreement. “Father makes sense.”
“Are you sure that the Duke Rongguo’s Mansion will protect you alongside the Duke Yue’s Mansion?”
In the darkness, a dark purple brocade could be faintly seen in the firelight, and a deep voice came from behind the bars.
Chu Xie lounged on a cotton-padded wooden bed, idly playing with a strand of his black hair. “Mmm, Chen Lianzhou has always been suspicious and cowardly. He has a history of conflict with Marquis Zhenguo, and their relationship has always been strained… Now that he’s wary of Marquis Xu, he’ll likely protect me to counterbalance Marquis Xu’s influence in the Western Capital.”
The person hidden in the darkness finally spoke, “Are you sure everything is clean?”
“Don’t worry, Duke Yue’s Mansion has always been cautious. Zhao Xuan and I share some camaraderie, and he will handle this matter meticulously… There’s no way that the Crown Prince can find any evidence against me.”
Chu Xie was confident.
“Lord Su doesn’t need to get involved in this matter. I can handle it. In a day or two at most, the Crown Prince will have to beg for my release from this prison.”
The person walked closer to the bars, appearing within a halo of light.
“You should still be more discreet in your actions. After suffering this loss, you should have learned when to advance and when to retreat.”
Chu Xie’s long eyelashes concealed the flash of resentment in his eyes.
“When a puppy in your hand doesn’t behave, you should let it fall from the stage to give it a memorable lesson… It’s just a pity that I let him live. Jiang Yanchi isn’t an obedient dog. I should have killed him long ago, why wait until today.”
The person in purple sleeves lightly swayed, looking out of place in this gloomy and damp Zhao Prison.
He said, “Jiang Yanchi isn’t an obedient dog, and neither is Jiang Jingan. Lord Chu, restrain yourself a bit.”
Chu Xie’s lips curled slightly, and he raised an eyebrow, seemingly mocking. “Afraid, are you?”
“I’m not afraid of anything. It’s just that we’ve been meticulous in our steps for so many years, and we’ve finally climbed to this position. We’re on the verge of success, and we can’t afford any missteps now.”
Chu Xie turned his head indifferently and gazed at a small window, lost in thought.
After a long silence, he conceded, “I understand.”
“I know you’re also feeling uncomfortable. Once this matter is resolved, I’ll present Duke Rongguo’s head to you as a gift, so you can find some peace of mind.”
Chu Xie suddenly jumped off the bed, grabbing the bars tightly with his hands, his eyes suddenly filled with fervor. “Is that true?”
“Yes. Even though you were reckless in the assassination attempt, you managed your escape well. After utilizing that old man from the Chen family to get you out of Zhao Prison, I made some arrangements to pin all these dirty charges on Duke Rongguo’s residence.”
Chu Xie first nodded slightly, but as time went on, his head began to nod more heavily, muttering to himself, “Excellent, excellent…”
“I want Chen Lianzhou dead – without leaving a complete corpse!”
“For the next couple of days, you’d better stay here and behave. Don’t cause any more trouble. There’s news from the Northern Border that Xu Chunmu is heading towards the Western Capital, and there might be some unexpected changes.”
Xu Chunmu is coming to the capital?
Chu Xie was taken aback.
“Very well,” Chu Xie made a respectful bow. “I appreciate your help, Lord Su.”
The shadow in the dark purple robe disappeared around the corner of Zhao Prison. There was a creak, and a glimmer of light appeared at the corner. The flickering torches caused the prison to alternate between light and darkness, and then darkness enveloped the corner once more.
The door was only slightly ajar, just for appearances.
Chu Xie pushed open the grille gate and cast his gaze once again at the high window. He took several deep breaths.
It’s best to leave this place early.
It’s too stuffy, and the air still carries a faint odor. He couldn’t stand it any longer.
He hadn’t slept well all night.
At midnight, when it was the darkest hour before dawn, Chu Xie heard approaching footsteps outside Zhao Prison. It sounded like quite a few people.
Before long, a soldier’s voice came from outside, “Here, right in here.”
A hint of a smile appeared in Chu Xie’s eyes—he could finally get out.
It must be someone from Duke Rongguo’s Mansion or the Zhao family, and they had come faster than he had expected, sparing him a lot of suffering.
Chu Xie pretended to still be asleep, but he heard the crisp sound of chains being unfastened, followed by the heavy iron door being pushed open with a loud crash. It seemed like the impact had shaken loose bits of plaster from the walls.
A beam of light shone from the corner, and Chu Xie opened his eyes just a crack. To his surprise, the newcomer was not from Duke Rongguo’s Mansion or the Zhao family—it was Jiang Yanchi.
Why would Jiang Yanchi come at this hour?
Could it be that this guy had come to his senses and realized that he couldn’t confront him head-on? So, he came to surrender?
But both of them had already torn through their last shreds of dignity. Surrendering now seemed pointless. These young minds still didn’t understand the ruthlessness of the power struggle for the throne.
“Why is the prison gate open?” he heard Jiang Yanchi’s low inquiry.
“The, the Lord… Lord Chu didn’t want it closed… and we… we didn’t dare to close it,” stammered the jailer, prostrating himself in fear.
Jiang Yanchi looked at the neatly kept wooden bed inside the cell, complete with a cotton mattress. It didn’t look like a prison at all. There was even a fine purple sandalwood table and a grass mat.
It seemed as if he had come here to be a guest.
Seeing the person sleeping soundly as if without a care in the world, it seemed that even the people from Duke Rongguo residence had deliberately provided him with the evidence last night to ensure his safety. Oh, Chu Xie, truly possessing remarkable skills and connections, making use of every means necessary!
His eyes darkened even further.
Chu Xie originally thought he would hear some soft words from him, but under the cry of a young soldier, the blanket was suddenly lifted, and icy cold water drenched him from head to toe.
He was instantly dumbfounded.
He saw the dark look in Jiang Yanchi’s eyes and his gloomy expression. It seemed as if he was holding something in his hand, and the way he looked at him made it seem like he wanted to tear him apart. Jiang Yanchi said, “Chu Xie, how can you sleep at a time like this?”
“At this hour, what are you doing here?” Chu Xie suppressed his anger and wrung out the water from his sleeves. His voice was laced with frustration. “You’ve been searching my residence all day, and what have you found?”
The young crown prince remained silent, and Chu Xie sneered, “You couldn’t find anything, so you decided to drench me in cold water instead. How is this any different from a barking dog from a grieving family?”
Jiang Yanchi’s anger flared up instantly.
He tossed what he was holding onto the ground.
Chu Xie looked closely and realized it was… the night robe he had worn when he met Jiang Yanchi in secret.
His heart sank.
This was bad, really bad.
Zhao’s family had only covered up the traces related to poisoning, but they didn’t know about his disguise as Xu Chunmu and his secret meeting with the Crown Prince. That day, when he returned to his mansion, he was in such a hurry that he forgot to properly deal with this crucial piece of clothing.
Fortunately, the mask was stored in his spatial pouch.
Chu Xie could only feign ignorance and asked, “What is this?”
Jiang Yanchi grabbed his collar and pointed to the robe on the ground. There was a trace of cold sweat on his nose, and his fingers were trembling. “Where is he?”
“Who are you asking about?”
“I’m asking you, where is he?!” Jiang Yanchi pushed Chu Xie violently, and there was a loud crash as he fell onto the bed. Chu Xie was thrown around, and he coughed a couple of times as he rolled over.
“I don’t know what Your Highness is talking about.”
Seeing that Chu Xie stubbornly refused to cooperate, Jiang Yanchi’s anger flared up, and his face turned pale.
On that day, he should have assigned more people to keep an eye on Xu Chunmu. Chu Xie had always been cunning and treacherous, and he would surely find out who had betrayed him in the Jinhuan Gambling House incident.
Xu Chunmu was naturally simple-minded and had never witnessed the ruthlessness of this man. He might have been captured by Chu Xie shortly after returning to the Chu residence, still partially under the influence of the poison.
Thinking about this, Jiang Yanchi felt a chilling sensation in his heart.
He heard the man cough, and he regained some semblance of consciousness. His lips trembled as he asked, “You killed him, didn’t you? You killed him…”
Chu Xie’s mind couldn’t keep up with the rapidly changing situation, and he felt like the plot had taken a turn that even the author’s mother couldn’t have foreseen.
All he could do for now was try to play dumb.
“Your Highness, I don’t understand. Who are you talking about? In my mansion, we provide these robes to our top servants. They are black and resistant to dirt…”
“Lies. I searched your mansion from top to bottom, and this is the only one I found in your bedroom!” Jiang Yanchi slowly closed his eyes, calming the rapid pounding of his heart.
His mother was killed in his bedroom as well.
Did Chu Xie have a penchant for killing people there?
When he opened his eyes again, they were filled with a deep crimson.
“Did you kill him?”
Chu Xie realized that the situation wasn’t looking good and considered opening the system to discuss. However, as soon as he opened it, he heard a sharp “ahh” that gave him a splitting headache, so he immediately closed it.
He gave the system some time to assess the situation, and then he tried to negotiate with the Crown Prince. “I don’t know who you’re talking about, but in the past few days, it seems like several servants have escaped from my mansion. Is the person you’re looking for related to that? If so, there’s no need to rush. Once I get out of this prison, I’ll help you find them…”
He was unusually polite in his speech.
Drenched and shivering from the cold, Chu Xie’s hands and feet were freezing, and he just wanted to get rid of Jiang Yanchi as soon as possible.
“Who is the Crown Prince looking for? Can you please tell me?”
Jiang Yanchi remained silent and couldn’t speak for a long time.
“I didn’t poison you, this must be a misunderstanding. I’m sure Your Highness hasn’t found any evidence and knows that I’m innocent, right? It’s all a misunderstanding, and it’s not good for both of us to be in such an embarrassing situation now. How about this, after I get out, we both take a step back…”
Before he could finish his sentence, Jiang Yanchi sneered, “Do you think you can still get out?”
This little brat didn’t understand human language, did he?
If soft tactics didn’t work, he had to use a hard approach.
Chu Xie’s smile at the corner of his mouth gradually faded.
“Your Highness, Duke Rongguo’s Chen family and Duke Yue’s Zhao family are both vouching for me. Right now, neither the Zhao Prison nor the Ministry of Punishment can find any evidence. How can you think that you can still hold me here?”
“Ridiculous. You begged for the position of Crown Prince, and you think you can sit securely in it?” Chu Xie spoke mercilessly, “You want to be treated as a person when it suits you and as a dog when it suits you. You’re delusional, Jiang Yanchi. I have the ability to put you on that throne, but I also have the ability to crush you into pieces.”
Jiang Yanchi took a deep breath, his chest heaving. “You keep talking, but are you stalling for time? Are you waiting for someone from Duke Rongguo’s mansion to come and save you? Without evidence, what good does it do? How many innocent people have been wrongfully executed in this prison?!”
Chu Xie’s heart sank, realizing that the male lead’s route was too unpredictable, and he always played his cards differently from the script. Could he be about to meet his end today?
“Chu Xie, whether you talk or not, I won’t let you leave here alive.” Jiang Yanchi waved his hand, and someone immediately came forward to restrain Chu Xie’s thin and weak arms. “I know you poisoned me, and I know you’re highly skilled. Even if we can’t prove this charge, I don’t care. I want you to die here today.”
“Jiang Yanchi, you dare!”
His face showed a rare hint of panic, and he said with a menacing tone, “If you lay a hand on me, you…”
“Take him out and flog him to death.”
Jiang Yanchi watched as the guards dragged Chu Xie out and into the torture chamber. They forcefully stuffed a cloth into his mouth, binding him to a long bench, rendering him unable to move.