Chapter 6: A Beautiful and Tragic Fate
On the day of the Lantern Festival, the skies over the imperial city were overcast all day, indicating a night of strong winds and heavy rain.
However, lanterns were still displayed in the bustling streets, and firecrackers never ceased to explode.
Duan Se had first arrived in the imperial city with her father on that very day, which coincided with the Lantern Festival. The city was adorned with a dazzling array of lanterns that made her squint her eyes.
She was only ten years old at the time, unfamiliar with the Wei characters and unable to speak the Wei language. Nevertheless, her father had left her in the imperial city as a hostage while he secretly returned to the southern border of the Yue Clan, planning a shocking assassination.
Emperor Yongan and his crown prince were both assassinated, and their decapitated heads rolled down the palace steps.
It was recorded in history as the “Yongan Incident.”
Soon after, the Yue Clan faced retaliation from Wei, and their country was destroyed in an instant.
The royal family of the Yue Clan became prisoners under Wei, subjected to endless torture and abuse.
Starting from the age of ten, Duan Se endured daily beatings and curses, never experiencing a single good day.
Later, an accidental drunken incident once again changed her life. Because of an affair with a notorious Yue Clan member and the birth of a child, Emperor Changping, who was then the Crown Prince, was nearly dethroned.
Later, when Emperor Changping ascended to the throne, he ordered her to be permanently imprisoned, and a long chain once again bound this girl for fifteen years.
Fifteen years of imprisonment, and she never thought she would regain her freedom one day.
When she was first taken to the Chu residence in the deep winter night, she couldn’t sleep out of excitement.
She held onto her child’s arm and said, “Yu Er, we are free now. Truly free… In half a month, it will be the Lantern Festival. Mother will take you to see the lanterns, okay?”
“Lanterns… They’re really beautiful.”
His mother was like this.
She couldn’t remember the trampling humiliations she suffered from others, nor the twenty years of torture and suffering.
But she remembered the lanterns on the night she first entered the imperial city, brilliant and magnificent.
Jiang Yanchi’s voice was unusually gentle, even carrying a hint of indulgence, “Alright.”
Fortunately, everything had passed.
Today was the fifteenth day of the first month.
But something seemed amiss.
Uncharacteristically, Chu Xie ordered someone to watch over him and kept him confined to the room. He overheard people outside saying that someone had arrived at the Duke Yue’s mansion.
As the sky darkened, Jiang Yanchi waited in the room for a long time but didn’t see his mother return.
A sense of foreboding crept over him.
He couldn’t wait any longer.
He tore a piece of cloth from his clothes, bound his hands and legs tightly, and quietly slipped out of the window, sneaking into Duke Yue’s mansion. He climbed onto the roof of Chu Xie’s bedroom.
His movements were extremely light as he lifted a piece of roofing tile.
Instantly, his face turned pale.
“Your Grace, are you finally at ease with this?” Chu Xie’s voice came through, “The last of the Yue Clan imperial bloodline has been cut off, and it’s a matter from three generations ago. Jiang Yanchi is now the only bloodline left for His Majesty. Surely, we don’t need to cling to this matter so tightly.”
“Zhangyin handled everything efficiently.”
Duke Yue remarked in a deep voice. “It’s a good thing we kept the mother and child confined to the mansion from the beginning. Lord Chu, your foresight is remarkable. If this situation had spread to the chaos outside the Imperial City, it would have been much more troublesome to eliminate it.”
What… does this mean?
His gaze shifted down, and his eye sockets immediately felt like they were tearing apart.
His frail mother laid lifeless on the steps, her lips stained with a glaring trace of blood, her face pale and devoid of any vitality.
She was dead.
Chu Xie had killed her.
How could he? How dare he?
Trembling all over, he nearly fell from the rooftop.
His mind buzzed and went into chaos. He stumbled onto the street, where he saw the lanterns shining brightly. It felt like the scenes he had witnessed earlier were just a dream.
From the very beginning, Chu Xie had planned to kill his mother when he brought them out of the Cold Palace.
Raindrops fell on his cheeks, cold as ice.
The sun had not yet set, but the heavy rain poured down.
Jiang Yanchi walked on the street like a lifeless body, unable to regain his senses for a long time. A stall vendor, seeing the pitiful child, gave him a beautiful lotus lantern and said, “Child, you won’t be able to see the lanterns this year. Hurry back home.”
Drenched from head to toe, he wandered around in circles but found himself back at the Chu residence.
The lotus lantern he held in his hand had been soaked by the rain.
He stared coldly at the giant ‘Chu’ character.
His fingers were trembling.
After a while, Chu Xie came out, holding an umbrella over his head.
He supported Jiang Yanchi’s shoulder with one hand and asked with concern, “Oh, Little Highness, why didn’t you bring an attendant when you went out? Rain in winter can be harmful to your health. Come inside quickly.”
He used a dry cloth to wipe his hair and ordered someone to bring him dry clothes.
While keeping an eye on the person heating water, he said, “Did you want to see the lanterns, Your Highness? There’s been a lot of rain this winter, so you probably won’t be able to see them… However, the lanterns during the Qiqiao Festival are also beautiful. When the time comes…”
Jiang Yanchi held tightly onto the wet lotus lantern in his hand.
His voice was hoarse as he asked, “I bought… I bought a lantern for my mother. Where is she?”
Chu Xie hesitated for a moment.
“She loved lanterns the most… I thought it might rain soon, and I was afraid I couldn’t buy one, so I went out… Fortunately, I managed to buy a lantern…”
“She has returned to the Southern Jiang…” Chu Xie took out a letter from his bosom and placed it in the Little Highness’s hand. “Last night, she requested the carriage and horses I prepared for her. She couldn’t bear to say goodbye to you in person, so she asked me to pass this on…”
“Even though her homeland is gone, she can still return to her native soil. Little Highness, your mother… has never liked the imperial city.”
Jiang Yanchi remained silent for a long time.
“Can I still see my mother…. in the future?”
Chu Xie smiled.
“Of course, you can. When you grow up, I’ll take you to find her.”
He finished speaking and gently rubbed the top of the Little Highness’s head.
“Your mother has gone home. There’s no need to worry, she said she would write you a letter every month, Your Highness.”
There was not a single truthful word in this person’s mouth.
Jiang Yanchi kept his head down, clenched his teeth tightly, and didn’t let Chu Xie see his true emotions.
After a while, he said, “Alright. When I grow up, Lord Chu, you must take me to find my mother.”
In this world, there were no gratuitous acts of kindness, only the cold-hearted use and abandonment of others!
His Royal Father was like this, and so was Chu Xie.
“Alright, it’s a promise,” Chu Xie’s voice still carried his feigned tenderness.
They both deserved to die.
Jiang Yanchi raised his eyes, gazing at Chu Xie with an innocent look as if he were truly pure-hearted. “Alright.”
On the night of the Lantern Festival, the wind and rain were biting. Due to personally bringing Jiang Yanchi back, Chu Xie caught a chill and developed a high fever that night.
Jiang Yanchi was surprised to see a resident physician in the mansion, raising his suspicions further. After a busy night, Chu Xie unusually ordered that he wouldn’t attend the morning court and fell unconscious, unaware of his surroundings.
This must be karma catching up to him, Jiang Yanchi thought.
As he watched the servants coming and going with unfamiliar coldness in their eyes, he hoped that he would die of illness tonight.
In the middle of the night, he sneaked into Chu Xie’s room, holding a sharp blade. He accidentally knocked over a red empty medicine bottle, and it rolled several feet with a muffled sound. Jiang Yanchi picked it up and smelled it.
It was He Ding Hong.
A poison used to seal one’s throat with blood.
A few hours ago, Chu Xie had used this to force his mother to death.
He clenched the blade even tighter and closed all the open windows as he wondered why Chu Xie, who was seriously ill, would leave them open to the cold breeze.
Tonight, the mansion was in chaos. Jiang Yanchi had observed that the palace guards were stationed at a distance, mainly guarding the perimeter of the mansion, as if they were determined to keep Chu Xie’s illness a secret.
It was a rare opportunity.
Jiang Yanchi approached the bed and saw that Chu Xie’s usually fair and snowy complexion was now flushed with a delicate rosy hue, as if the petals of a blooming peach tree in spring.
His brows were furrowed, as if he was still uneasy in his sleep. He was breathing softly, with his chest rising and falling in a way that gave the illusion of a flickering candle nearing its end.
Beads of sweat covered his forehead.
The blade in Jiang Yanchi’s hand was raised high. His butterfly-like eyelashes fluttered, and he slowly opened his eyes, his vision blurry. He saw someone in front of him and reached out to grab Jiang Yanchi’s hand.
That hand felt scorching hot, as if it were about to catch fire.
“Go… open… the window…”
Chu Xie weakly instructed, his voice like a fragile thread, and he couldn’t even see who the person was clearly. “Quickly…”
Jiang Yanchi remained unmoved, and as he saw Chu Xie gradually waking up and struggling for breath, he raised the dagger even higher. Just as he was about to strike, he noticed Chu Xie becoming slightly more conscious, but at the same time, it seemed like he was having even more difficulty breathing. He released his grip on Jiang Yanchi’s arm, clutching his chest, and curled up in pain.
Open what? Jiang Yanchi furrowed his brow.
Chu Xie’s coughing fit suddenly intensified, the sound vibrating through his chest as if it were about to crush his internal organs.
Footsteps quickly approached from outside the door. Jiang Yanchi swiftly moved aside, concealing himself in the shadow of the inner room.
“Oh, why are the windows closed!”
The maids immediately opened all the windows in the room and rushed to wipe the sweat from Chu Xie’s body. They changed his clothes while saying, “Hurry, go and fetch Doctor Zhu! The master seems to be in a bad condition!”