Chapter 7: Calling a Deer a Horse
In an instant, several more people entered the room. Jiang Yanchi hid in the shadows, slightly bowing his head. He could only see Chu Xie being helped to sit up, his shirt removed to reveal his fair and frail back. The butterfly-like bone structure cast a graceful shadow beneath, and his head hung weakly in the hands of the maids, as if he had no strength left.
After wiping away the sweat, the maids quickly dressed him in clean clothes and tucked him into thick blankets.
Then, several bowls of medicinal soup were prepared, and they pinched their noses as they poured it into his mouth.
The doctor arrived promptly and, after taking a quick look at Chu Xie’s complexion, said in a grave tone, “It’s not looking good.”
He prepared his needle bag, selected some silver needles, and began acupuncture at several acupoints. As he did so, Chu Xie began to cough weakly again, but this time it was not as severe. After a few coughs, he gradually caught his breath and started breathing more comfortably.
“Lord Chu? Can you hear me?” the doctor asked as he continued to needle Chu Xie.
Jiang Yanchi heard a weak response.
“First, swallow these herbal pills,” Doctor Zhu handed a black pill to the maids, who crushed it and mixed it with water before feeding it to Chu Xie.
After a while, his breathing gradually stabilized.
“Thank you,” Chu Xie said weakly, coughing a few more times. “I’m feeling… much better now….”
“In January, the cold rain can be quite harmful to the body. Sir, you should not have gone out, let alone get wet in the rain,” Doctor Zhu’s voice carried a hint of reprimand. “Now that the cold has entered your body, your vitality is compromised… If Lord Chu doesn’t take care of himself, even if Hua Tuo were alive, it would be difficult to guarantee your health!”
These words were quite harsh.
However, Chu Xie didn’t seem to be angry. “I understand. I won’t do it again.”
There were actually moments when he can get along nicely with others.
“Sir, a message has arrived from the Grand Tutor’s residence. They plan to visit in half an hour…” a servant at the door said, “Should we decline their visit?”
“Decline them,” the doctor immediately said.
“No, do not decline,” Chu Xie stopped them.
“Sir, with your current condition, how can you receive guests?” Doctor Zhu’s voice became even more serious as he pointed outside the window. “Moreover, it’s already the third watch of the night!”
“It’s precisely because it’s the third watch of the night that we must not decline.”
Chu Xie, supported by the maids, half-sat up against the bedpost and called for someone to fetch a large cloak.
His voice sounded somewhat hoarse.
“Right now is a critical moment, and there’s no room for error. We mustn’t make any mistakes.” He used his hand to support the blankets, but he couldn’t muster any strength.
“But the Grand Tutor’s residence is full of cunning old foxes…”
“Doctor Zhu, I’m very weak right now, but is there any way to help me?”
Chu Xie interrupted him, and his gaze swept over, making Doctor Zhu understand that he was determined to meet with them.
“Prepare a medicinal bath,” Doctor Zhu ordered. He pulled up the blankets a bit higher, covering Chu Xie’s chin, and said, “You must not attend the morning court tomorrow.”
Chu Xie conceded, “Mmm, I’ll follow your advice.”
The crowded room quickly emptied, and servants brought in a wooden bathtub. Chu Xie, wearing a thin layer of gauzy robes, submerged his whole body in the medicinal bath. Steam wafted up, soaking his temples and causing his hair to stick to his skin in wet strands, some falling gently, while others adhered to his contours.
A drop of water slid down his chin, making a clear and crisp sound in the stillness of the late night.
Jiang Yanchi took a step forward, gazing at the slender neck exposed outside the tub.
The black strands of hair scattered in the water gave Chu Xie a somewhat different appearance from his usual majestic and dignified self when his hair was tightly bound.
He moved closer, and just as he did, the person lifted a jade-like arm and rested it lightly on the edge of a bucket. Strands of hair clung to their creamy skin, damp with moisture.
The mist veiled their eyebrows and eyes. As Jiang Yanchi approached even closer, he could distinctly hear the person’s labored breathing.
Glistening droplets of water clung to their pointed chin.
After a brief moment of shock, he heard footsteps approaching from outside.
This time, Jiang Yanchi knew he had no chance. He silently retreated a few steps and slipped out through the window of the adjacent room as the footsteps grew nearer.
“Have you heard? Chu Zhangyin seems to have encountered bad luck. He hasn’t left his mansion for several days.”
“Well, I heard he might be facing retribution. Maybe the exiled Crown Prince’s vengeful spirit is after him…”
“Hey, don’t speak recklessly, don’t speak recklessly… The problem is, now that the Emperor is seriously ill and Chu Zhangyin has taken leave…”
Dong, dong, dong.
Footsteps drew nearer.
Wearing a black robe, Chu Xie finally entered the court. He wore an eye-catching official’s uniform adorned with the Three-Clawed Golden Chi Lin pattern—a design only allowed for princes and crown princes.
People had heard of his illness, but upon seeing his complexion at this moment, it appeared that there was nothing out of the ordinary aside from looking slightly paler than usual.
With a jade-like face and a graceful demeanor, skin fairer than winter snow, eyes like a pair of autumn gems, a slender neck like a crane’s, and finely arched brows resembling distant mountains.
If one were to disregard his ruthless methods and merciless nature in the seven years since he entered the palace, and only look at his appearance and figure, he could be described with the phrase “peerless beauty.”
It was a pity that he was a bona fide serpent-hearted beauty, capable of delivering a deadly bite with a single word.
Admire from a distance, but do not indulge.
Chu Xie sat on the long bench to the right of the Emperor’s throne. After the courtiers began to perform their bows, a faint voice came from above, “Who just mentioned the phrase ‘vengeful spirit seeking revenge’?”
The hall suddenly fell silent, and you could hear a pin drop.
“Who mentioned it again? I will personally experience the retribution that someone spoke of.” Chu Xie leaned forward, propping his elbow on his knee, and his gaze swept from left to right within the hall.
No one dared to answer.
Chu Xie sneered and waved outside, saying, “Bring it here.”
The onlookers sidestepped, creating a wide path down the middle. Then they formed a circle, carefully observing the magnificent deer placed at the center.
Chu Xie adjusted his robes meticulously, smoothed out the last wrinkle with precision, and stood up. He joined the onlookers as the last one.
“A few days ago, when I took leave, I was filled with enthusiasm to hunt in the outskirts of the capital. And now, I’ve brought back a splendid wild horse for all of you to admire.”
People were puzzled; this was clearly a deer.
Someone wanted to say, “Isn’t this just a deer?” but before they could finish, someone next to them pulled them aside, silencing them. They slowly caught on.
Chu Xie cleared his throat softly and scanned the crowd as if he didn’t want to miss a single expression. “Do you all think this is a good horse?”
“Good!” The Minister of Rites, Chang Xu, was the first to touch the deer’s antler. He praised repeatedly, “It’s truly a rare sight, a thousand-mile horse. Chu Zhangyin has captured such a treasure. It’s undoubtedly an auspicious sign for Great Wei!”
Chu Xie’s gaze then fell on the other ministers.
His lips curved, but there was no trace of a smile in his eyes.
It sent chills down people’s spines.
“It’s a horse. This, this horse is indeed beautiful!” The Minister of War, who stepped forward, patted the deer’s rear, and with a hearty voice, repeatedly exclaimed, “I’ve been on the battlefield for over a decade, and I’ve never seen such a magnificent horse!”
Following that, more people began to praise the beauty of the horse. Some suggested inviting an artist to capture the horse’s grace in a painting, others proposed composing poems and songs tonight, and dedicating them to the horse in a poetic collection. Some even suggested incorporating the horse into the imperial stables for breeding, believing it would strengthen the military power of Great Wei.
The Minister of Personnel, Xue Shi, remained unusually silent, his face slightly pale.
Early in the morning, the gloomy atmosphere of the court reached Jiang Yanchi’s ears.
At that time, he was practicing horseback archery at the training grounds. Hearing about the absurd “calling a deer a horse” incident, a fierce light flashed in his eyes.
However, he quickly concealed it, drew the bowstring taut, and shot an arrow that pierced three trees, causing a flock of birds to scatter into the sky.
Not long after, he returned to his desolate Cold Palace, where he saw a large group of people kneeling on the ground, bowing to him respectfully.
At the forefront was a eunuch holding a lacquered wooden tray, on which sat a dazzling golden crown—the Crown Prince’s headdress.
In just three days.
Chu Xie had indeed snatched away the title of Crown Prince and forcibly placed it on his own head.
He didn’t know how that man had done it, but everything that had happened in the past few days was a clear reminder to him:
Chu Xie was no good person.
Just the day before yesterday, he had appeared on the verge of death, but today, he was strutting around arrogantly, behaving wildly in the court, and “calling a deer a horse.”
“Congratulations, Your Second Highness. You’re the Crown Prince now!”
The chief eunuch first expressed his joy and then began to read out the imperial edict, holding the magnificent golden decree over his head and handing it to Jiang Yanchi.
He gazed at the golden decree.
From his robes, he retrieved the empty He Ding Hong vial, holding it tightly with trembling hands, almost causing the bottle to shatter.
With a grim face, he stood there for quite some time, and the eunuch thought he was overjoyed, so he gently reminded, “Crown Prince?”
He took the imperial edict in a low, obedient tone.
He even timidly muttered a word of thanks to the eunuch.
Chu Xie was like a venomous snake, lurking around, not allowing anyone a moment’s respite.
However, Jiang Yanchi, who was born in the Cold Palace, had managed to survive for fourteen years. He hadn’t learned much else, but he excelled at biding his time under oppressive authority, waiting until he could seize the opportunity to strike back with precision.
Just as he was thinking this, he saw a large group of people heading from the Cold Palace towards the training grounds. He discreetly retreated, using the surrounding trees to hide himself, covering himself with a cloak.
He watched as several ministers and deputy ministers escorted Chu Xie to the training grounds, where they had selected a fine Ferghana horse for him.
Without waiting for a mounting block to be brought over, Chu Xie directly stepped on the back of a horse trainer and mounted the horse. He appeared unsure of how to ride, even pulling the reins in a manner that indicated he was inexperienced.
From a distance, his ink-black robe with dark red fur trim complemented Chu Xie’s fair and delicate skin. His lips had a faint, infuriatingly charming smile.
It made people want to draw their bows from afar, release their arrows, and shoot that demon in human disguise.
“I’ve given this fine horse to you,” Chu Xie said, his lips curved like a crescent moon. He gestured for the deer to be brought closer and even added a playful tone, “If you still can’t catch up to me, do you need some punishment?”
He was addressing the newly appointed top scholar.
The top scholar was only seventeen years old, looking very young. He had just lightly offended him in the court by saying, “Where do horses have long horns?”
Now, he was being publicly humiliated.
“That’s only fair. Top scholar, why don’t you compete with the Zhangyin…”
Several officials of the fifth and sixth rank in the vicinity were urging him on.
The top scholar’s face turned very pale.
He watched as the horse trainer put the reins on the deer in front of him and was then requested, almost in a begging manner, to mount the “horse” immediately.
Jiang Yanchi, observing from a distance, furrowed his brow tightly.
The top scholar was eventually forced to mount the deer, but due to the deer’s struggles, he fell off immediately, not even covering ten steps.
His pristine court attire was now covered in dirt.
Laughter erupted from the onlookers.
He staggered to his feet, his face as red as if it were about to bleed.
“Ah, it seems that the top scholar is skilled with a pen but not with reins. Even when given such a good horse, you can’t defeat me,” Chu Xie remarked. He didn’t intend to do anything more than humiliate and ridicule the top scholar severely. “It’s alright if you can’t ride a horse well, but please, hold onto your principles. If you can’t even do that, it’s truly a disgrace.”
The top scholar kept his head down and remained silent for a long time.
This was simply an outrageous act.
“Dare I ask, Lord Chu, if I could exchange my horse to compete with you,” the top scholar suddenly raised his head, determination flashing in his eyes.
The laughter faded away, replaced by an oppressive silence.
The officials exchanged glances, and a few even shot disapproving looks at the top scholar, suggesting he should swallow his pride for now.
Chu Xie noticed that the faces of those around him suddenly froze. He didn’t pay too much attention to it and lazily replied, “Oh? You want to ride my horse?”
“Yes,” the top scholar clenched his lips, his face turning red. He pointed to the deer behind him and said, “Will Chu Zhangyin be willing to exchange horses with me for a test ride?”
This newly appointed top scholar was destined to become a significant figure in the court in the future. He was talented and innovative, eventually becoming the Left Prime Minister of Great Wei fifteen years later, assisting the protagonist Jiang Yanchi in establishing a prosperous era.
Chu Xie’s intention was to deliberately offend him right now, as it was all part of following the script meticulously. The more this top scholar resented him, the more he would become an asset to the protagonist in the future.
It was all just going through the motions. However, Chu Xie didn’t anticipate that this top scholar also had a bit of backbone.
He couldn’t help but admire him.
His admiring gaze wasn’t concealed and was caught by the top scholar. This momentarily left the top scholar bewildered, as if he doubted whether he had misunderstood something.