Chapter 38 Chip Chip Chip?
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True to his words, Li Jinyu always kept Huo Caiyu within arm’s reach, maintaining a distance so close that they could have made a human cushion.
As someone who usually slacked off in the palace, he stuck to Huo Caiyu day in and day out, never straying more than three steps from his side.
Even during his court appearances, he insisted on having Huo Caiyu by his side at all times.
Li Jinyu’s unusual request to convert the Emperor’s private restroom into a two-person room left those who followed him puzzled.
What is going in with His Majesty? Does Master Huo has to accompany him to court as well?
Huo Caiyu had just received an unexpected stroke of fortune, causing his thoughts to be consumed with this newfound windfall and leaving him unable to concentrate on the affairs of the state.
Recently, His Majesty had begun to treat him with greater formality, leaving him to ponder whether his true feelings had been revealed, prompting the Emperor’s sudden detachment, or if the Emperor had simply grown tired of his presence.
However, much to his surprise, His Majesty had suddenly become quite clingy, acting almost childishly at times.
Huo Caiyu set aside the official document he had been reading and glanced over at the Emperor, who was leaning nearby. His heart was filled with a mixture of emotions, a blend of sweetness and bitterness.
He felt a sense of sweetness as His Majesty appeared to have had a change of heart and was now more willing to approach him. However, he also felt a twinge of bitterness as His Majesty’s mind was always unpredictable, and he couldn’t be sure if this closeness would last.
Although he had already decided in his heart, Huo Caiyu couldn’t help but occasionally look at his beloved Emperor who was sitting nearby.
Li Jinyu reclined on a specially arranged lounge chair, happily gnawing on walnuts, while a refreshing summer melon sat beside him.
In order to strengthen his teeth, he refused to use a small hammer to crack open the walnut shells, instead choosing to gnaw on them himself.
Hearing the “crack crack crack” sound of His Majesty’s teeth, Huo Caiyu felt a twinge of toothache and couldn’t help but put down his documents and walk over to help Li Jinyu pick up the walnuts.
“This is bad for Your Majesty’s teeth. Allow this official to help,” he said, using a bit of pressure with his fingertips to crack open the hard shell and revealing the intact kernel inside.
Li Jinyu peered at the perfectly shelled walnut in Huo Caiyu’s palm and detected a subtle hint of pride in his expression, like a devoted little dog wagging its tail, eager for recognition and attention.
This imagination made him break out in a cold sweat.
He quickly shook his head, dispelling the hallucination, and once again saw the brave and resolute future Emperor before him.
Li Jinyu accepted the walnut kernel with a bit of apprehension and tossed it into his mouth, studying Huo Caiyu with a trace of unease.
He had just encountered a cat demon. Could it be that Huo Caiyu was a dog demon in disguise?
Shouldn’t the future Emperor be a majestic dragon?
However, as Li Jinyu glanced around, Huo Caiyu was still just Huo Caiyu, reaching for another walnut without a care in the world.
Li Jinyu quickly intervened, “No need, Huo Aiqing. Please focus on your work. Zhen can do this.”
“This official has completed his tasks for today,” Huo Caiyu responded calmly.
Li Jinyu found this hard to believe. Only a few days ago, Huo Caiyu had to work late into the night before returning to the palace to rest. How could he suddenly have finished everything so soon?
Seeing the disbelief on Li Jinyu’s face, Huo Caiyu smiled and presented a document, “The spring examinations are just a few days away, and all the necessary preparations have been taken care of. We shall see how it goes.”
Li Jinyu’s face brightened, and he leaned forward, placing his hands on the table and asking in a hushed tone, “How do you feel? Are you confident?”
“Perfection is not guaranteed, but this official will certainly give his all,” Huo Caiyu replied with composure. “It should be alright.”
Li Jinyu trusted Huo Caiyu’s judgement and breathed a sigh of relief. “That’s great news.”
He was eager to rid himself of the pesky cat demon and get back to business.
“There’s one more matter that requires Your Majesty’s decree,” Huo Caiyu said, crushing a walnut in his palm before extending it to Li Jinyu. “Please grant permission for the Prime Minister and this official to serve as the chief examiners for the spring exams.”
Li Jinyu looked at the walnut shells crushed in Huo Caiyu’s palm with sympathy, and asked in surprise, “Why?”
Wasn’t it giving the Prime Minister a chance to cheat?
Huo Caiyu’s lips curved up in a small smile as he passed a walnut kernel to Li Jinyu. “If the Prime Minister is honest, it’s all good. But if he cheats, he’ll be caught red-handed.”
Li Jinyu still didn’t fully grasp the plan, but seeing the confident look on Huo Caiyu’s face, he nodded and agreed, “Zhen will issue the decree now.”
As Huo Caiyu reached for another walnut, Li Jinyu gently grabbed his hand and said, “Huo Aiqing has been working hard. It’s time to rest.”
Huo Caiyu paused, his hand held motionless in Li Jinyu’s grasp, feeling a warm sensation spread through his body.
Li Jinyu didn’t want his precious walnuts, which he used to grind his teeth, to meet their demise under Huo Caiyu’s grasp, so he quickly changed the subject. “Did you manage to find any dogs to keep in the palace, as Zhen requested?”
Huo Caiyu regained his composure and continued to hold Li Jinyu’s hand as if nothing had happened. “This official did some inquiries, but it seems that the Imperial Guards keeps guard dogs. However, they are all quite fierce and even the guards are afraid of them. It might not be safe for Your Majesty to have them around.”
Li Jinyu said without hesitation, “The fiercer, the better!”
It would be best if all the cats were scared away!
Huo Caiyu was very satisfied with the fact that they were now sleeping together in the palace. He looked at His Majesty, who was only scared by the cats, and said tactfully, “In addition, Your Majesty, these guard dogs have a wild temperament and consume raw meat regularly. This may result in them defecating in inappropriate places, which could disrupt the peace and cleanliness of the palace.”
Hearing this, Li Jinyu began to hesitate.
It was fine if the dogs were just fierce. As a demon, he was much stronger than ordinary canines. However, the thought of them defecating everywhere made him uneasy.
Li Jinyu, who had grown up in a spotless hamster cage with soft sand to bathe in, really didn’t want to compromise his standards.
Seeing Li Jinyu’s hesitation, Huo Caiyu persisted, “This official has prepared another pet which can accompany Your Majesty at all times.”
Li Jinyu’s curiosity was aroused. “What pet?”
It couldn’t be a cat, could it?
Since he had to give something to the Emperor, Huo Caiyu reluctantly let go of Li Jinyu’s hand, got up, and came back shortly with a small square cage in his hands.
Li Jinyu couldn’t help but take note of the cage’s familiar size, leading him to speculate. “This is…?”
The soft veil covering the cage was lifted, unveiling a tiny gray hamster with adorable white cheeks and eyebrows.
Li Jinyu: “…”
It was like seeing his former self.
“This is a hamster that this official carefully selected,” Huo Caiyu spoke softly, placing the cage on the elegant vermilion table. His eyes held a hint of eagerness as he waited for the Emperor’s response. “Does Your Majesty like it?”
Li Jinyu lowered his head and locked eyes with the tiny rodent, studying its features with keen interest.
The little hamster in the cage felt Li Jinyu’s breath and shrank back, revealing its natural instinct of wariness.
Li Jinyu looked up at Huo Caiyu, a touch of bemusement in his expression. He managed to squeeze out a brief response, “It’s alright.”
This Huo Caiyu was not out of his mind, right?
After observing the hamster for a while, Li Jinyu confirmed that it was just an ordinary, plain hamster with no sign of being a spirit, which made him feel relieved.
However, the idea of a hamster keeping another hamster as a pet felt strange to him…
After all, hamsters were notorious for their lack of affection towards their own kind. Even the slightest mistake by the owner, such as keeping two hamsters together in the same cage, often resulted in one being viciously bitten to death.
Li Jinyu, despite being a spiritual creature himself, didn’t want to engage in a dispute with this petty creature, but he couldn’t help feeling indignant that it dared to show off in front of him.
How dare it even raise its tail!
Li Jinyu released a small amount of spiritual power, causing the little creature in the cage to cower in fear.
Seeing that the little hamster had retreated in submission, Li Jinyu nodded in satisfaction, secretly feeling proud of his superiority.
This hamster’s fur was inferior to his own, with less rounded ears, a less elegant tail, and a less graceful body.
He wouldn’t stoop to competing with such a lowly creature.
Li Jinyu withdrew his hand from the cage and straightened his posture, feeling a sense of superiority. He lifted his chin with dignity and declared, “Very well, then keep it.”
It made no difference to him whether the hamster was there or not.
Huo Caiyu observed His Majesty’s sudden change in temperament towards the tiny hamster and couldn’t help but smile. Seeing the two of them together, she realized that His Majesty’s temperament was remarkably similar to that of the hamster in the cage.
How could His Majesty be so lovable?
“Perhaps Your Majesty would like to give it a name?”
As Li Jinyu gazed at the small gray creature, his mind wandered in search of a fitting name. After all, even a mere hamster deserved a name befitting its existence in the imperial palace.
The hamster lay there, plump and furry, resembling a fluffy gray dumpling, and had a sudden inspiration, “Let’s call it Dumpling.”
Huo Caiyu couldn’t help but smile at the adorable name and made a mental note to have the Imperial Kitchen prepare glutinous rice dumplings for His Majesty’s snack.
As Li Jinyu made his announcement that Prime Minister Ye and Huo Caiyu would serve as the chief examiners for the upcoming Spring Imperial Examinations, the officials whispered amongst themselves, expressing a range of opinions.
The Prime Minister’s faction felt that His Majesty’s decision to place the head of the court officials and Huo Caiyu, who rose to power by selling himself, on the same level was an insult to the Prime Minister.
Meanwhile, the Grand Marshal’s faction speculated that His Majesty’s decision was a compromise, intended to placate the Prime Minister’s supporters and ensure that their leader would have a share of the spoils in the new examinations.
The neutral faction, however, had already been swayed by Huo Caiyu and was confident that they would perform better than the Prime Minister, whom they regarded as incompetent.
The Prime Minister himself showed no surprise at the announcement and readily agreed to follow the order, “As Your Majesty commands.”
Li Jinyu had been concerned that the Prime Minister might resist the appointment, but was relieved to see his immediate compliance.
Following the morning court session, Li Jinyu was instructing his juniors to observe the rules and regulations while munching on melon seeds, when Chief Kang arrived with a report, “Your Majesty, the Prime Minister requests an audience.”
Surprised, Li Jinyu cast a glance at Huo Caiyu, who sat next to him.
Huo Caiyu frowned, his face showing no surprise. “The Prime Minister must be here about the matter of the chief examiners.”
“What should we do?”
“Your Majesty, please listen to what he has to say.” Huo Caiyu stood up. “This official will step aside for now.”
He knew that if he stayed here, Prime Minister Ye wouldn’t provide any useful information.
Li Jinyu comprehended his point, but he worried that during this time, the black cat’s assassins would target Huo Caiyu. Quickly popping some melon seeds into his mouth, he grabbed Huo Caiyu’s sleeve and said, “Wait, Zhen will go with you to take a look.”
With his accumulated spiritual power, he could easily set up warning and protection measures around the area where Huo Caiyu would be staying.
Having not used his spiritual power for a while, he had built up a considerable amount of it.
Once he had ensured that Huo Caiyu was settled in a secure side hall, he meticulously surveyed the surrounding environment before telling him to come find him in the main hall within the time it would take to drink a cup of tea. Li Jinyu then made his way back to his palace’s main hall, where he overheard Prime Minister Ye’s voice saying, “You’re obedient now. This gives me a chance to get rid of Huo Caiyu.”
Li Jinyu was stunned, then entered the room and saw Prime Minister Ye sitting next to a hamster cage, talking to Dumpling, who was lying in the sawdust inside the cage and munching on melon seeds. Prime Minister Ye was stroking his beard with a look of confusion. “You’re not so afraid of me today.”
Li Jinyu: “…”
A sudden, immense feeling of cold, mysterious dread welled up within him, causing him to shudder involuntarily.
The impulse to turn and flee overwhelmed him in an instant.
But it was too late.
As he stepped into the main hall, Li Jinyu saw that Prime Minister Ye had already taken notice of his presence and was staring at him with a puzzled expression. Prime Minister Ye then glanced down at Dumpling, who was still obliviously munching on melon seeds inside his cage, before returning his gaze to the Emperor who had frozen at the entrance. Prime Minister Ye’s expression abruptly turned inscrutable.
Li Jinyu’s own expression also shifted into one of ambiguity.
The two stood there motionless for a while before Prime Minister Ye sneered, “Who would have thought that you know how to play tricks with the eyes?”
Li Jinyu gathered his courage and retorted, “It was clearly you who made the mistake! How could Dumpling and I be alike?”
Prime Minister Ye stood up, “Hmph. You rats all look the same.”
Mistaken for Dumpling, Li Jinyu reluctantly held his nose and endured it. After all, he didn’t even recognize the black cat before. But being called a rat was too much for him to bear. “Hamsters and rats are two different animals!”
“They’re all the same,” Prime Minister Ye took two steps forward, but before he could say anything more, Chief Kang’s voice suddenly echoed from outside the hall, “General Meng has arrived!”
The two men’s expressions immediately changed.
Upon entering the hall, General Meng took in the sight of the Emperor and Prime Minister seated far apart from each other, one playing with a small pet while the other sipped tea in silence.
In the past, General Meng had witnessed the Emperor and Prime Minister’s close relationship during their meetings. It was often the Prime Minister who was fawning and the Emperor being proud. However, the current atmosphere was frigid and distant, which was a rare occurrence.
The Emperor was now openly vying for more power from the Prime Minister, leading to a deterioration of their once harmonious relationship. It was no surprise that their interactions were now strained.
General Meng was keenly aware of Prime Minister Ye’s cunning and devious nature. It was his personal opinion that the Emperor should distance himself from him as soon as possible.
Despite his own ambitions in court, General Meng held a deep desire for the Emperor and the court to prosper and endure for eternity.
Prime Minister Ye, who was greedy and only cared about his own wealth and glory, had never considered the stability and prosperity of the country.
Thinking like this in his heart, General Meng’s attitude towards Prime Minister Ye was always relatively cold.
Prime Minister Ye probably also knew that he did not have a good image in General Meng’s heart, so he always kept his distance from him.
When the two met with the Emperor this time, they avoided each other.
Li Jinyu clutched onto General Meng as though he had found a savior. “General Meng, do you have anything to say to Zhen?”
With a sharp gaze, General Meng scanned the room, lingering on Prime Minister Ye before answering bluntly, “This general came here today to discuss the matter of tribute from the Kingdom of Jiao.”
“The envoy from Jiao has probably already set out this year.” Since the Emperor had requested his presence, General Meng didn’t mince words and continued, “In recent years, the Kingdom of Jiao has become increasingly restless, so we must plan accordingly.”
The Kingdom of Jiao was located in the northeast and was primarily inhabited by nomads. They had repeatedly violated the border with their iron cavalry, causing headaches for all the emperors of the Di Empire. By the time the current Emperor ascended the throne, the border had already been fortified with thousands of miles of defenses. The Emperor spent ten years consolidating the border and thoroughly defeating the Kingdom of Jiao, forcing them to pay tribute every year in exchange for peace.
But time had passed, and the military of Di Empire was no longer as formidable as it once was, while the Kingdom of Jiao had grown stronger and more rebellious than ever before.
Li Jinyu remembered from the novel that the Kingdom of Jiao had launched an invasion not long after Huo Caiyu had ascended to the throne, throwing the fledgling dynasty into chaos and threatening its very existence.
General Meng’s foresight had warned of this danger, but his advice had fallen on deaf ears. Emperor Jingchang had refused to listen, and Prime Minister Ye had blocked funding, leaving the nation defenseless and vulnerable.
As for now…
Li Jinyu’s heart burned with a fierce determination to defend the land that Huo Caiyu had worked so hard to conquer. He refused to stand by and watch the country fall into the hands of foreign invaders. “We must train the troops!”
General Meng was surprised by the Emperor’s sudden cooperation, but he quickly composed himself and turned to Prime Minister Ye. “Prime Minister, if His Majesty agrees, does the Ministry of Revenue have any plans?”
The training of troops was no small task, as it required a constant supply of silver and provisions to sustain the army.
With a serene expression, Prime Minister Ye savored the tea’s aroma before setting the cup down gently. “Since His Majesty has given the order, this minister will naturally do everything in his power to assist.”
General Meng was stunned again.
Why was everything going so smoothly this time?
In the past, the Emperor had been indecisive, and the Prime Minister had been evasive, resulting in endless delays.
Li Jinyu noticed Prime Minister Ye’s subtle gesture out of the corner of his eye and couldn’t help but question Prime Minister Ye’s motives.
Prime Minister Ye looked back, and a hint of greed flickered in his eyes, making Li Jinyu sit up straight in fright.
He realized at this moment that Prime Minister Ye only cared about wealth and power. If the Di Dynasty were to fall, where would he find the wealth and power to enjoy?
In the novel, Prime Minister Ye was blinded by his own arrogance and believed that the small border officials would not pose a threat to the powerful country. He was too focused on internal fighting. However, the current Prime Minister Ye had read the novel and naturally knew the enemy’s threat. Li Jinyu felt somewhat relieved that at least they had a common stance in this regard.
General Meng was perplexed by the unusual cooperation between the two. However, with the funds from the Ministry of Revenue coming through without any delay, he wasted no time and made his exit to handle the matter at hand.
Li Jinyu grabbed him again and said, “Wait, General Meng!”
Don’t leave me alone with the black cat!
General Meng was very surprised and asked, “Your Majesty?”
“Why don’t you sit a little longer, General Meng?” Li Jinyu grabbed General Meng’s arm and pleaded pitifully.
General Meng was actually the uncle of Emperor Jingchang. Back then, General Meng accompanied the young Crown Prince, who was still a soft and squishy little bundle, with other family elders.
At that time, the Crown Prince was still naive and obedient, and he was not as indulgent as other spoiled children. He earnestly studied his lessons with his chubby baby face, which melted General Meng’s heart.
It was only later that the Crown Prince became the Emperor, and took the path of a tyrant that he shed his innocence and never again displayed his childhood cuteness.
The sudden gesture of the Emperor touched a chord in General Meng’s heart, evoking memories of the past and melting the heart of this tough warrior.
“Since Your Majesty …”
Before the General’s words were finished, he heard Chief Kang outside announcing, “Master Huo has arrived!”
Li Jinyu’s fingers went rigid. A cup of tea had passed so soon?
As Huo Caiyu entered the room, he saw the Emperor leaning against General Meng, while the Prime Minister sat nearby, leisurely sipping his tea.
Li Jinyu read a hint of grievance in Huo Caiyu’s eyes, as if he was a scum who had caused chaos and then abandoned it. He instinctively let go of General Meng’s sleeve, and the three of them turned to him in unison. Li Jinyu began to sweat profusely, feeling a strong sense of awkwardness in the air.
After pondering for a moment, he suddenly had an idea and clapped his hands together, exclaiming, “Why don’t the three Aiqing dine with Zhen?”
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