A country cannot be without an emperor even for a day, lest the court become turbulent. The third prince, Li Yuanmin, ascended the throne in accordance with the late emperor’s will. When the news broke, the country was in an uproar.
Because this Third Prince possessed a dual gender identity, an inauspicious trait, how could such a person ascend the imperial throne? Fearful of the powerful influence of the Sima family, the officials dared not speak out rashly. However, the news spread to the common people, sparking heated discussions.
Amidst the deep mourning, the capital city was draped in white. In this vast sea of white, turmoil stirred, and hidden currents flowed.
Yet, on the tenth day of April, things began to take a turn. In the main hall of the Bei’an Temple, the grand statue of the ancient Bodhisattva was unexpectedly shattered, making a resounding noise. Dust filled the hall, causing pilgrims to flee in all directions. Once the debris settled, a large statue of Avalokiteshvara emerged from where the Buddha’s seat used to be. This statue held a purification bottle and stood on a lotus pedestal, compassionately gazing upon sentient beings. Strangely, the face of the statue bore a resemblance to the Third Prince.
It wasn’t only the imperial temple; such miracles occurred in various places throughout Bei’an. Avalokiteshvara, being a figure of both genders, transcending male and female, the rumor of the Third Prince being the reincarnation of Avalokiteshvara spread like wildfire.
On the nineteenth day of April in the twenty-ninth year of Chu Wu, supported by the influential minister Sima Ji, the third son of Emperor Mingde, Li Yuanmin, ascended the throne and adopted the reign title “Jianzhi,” which also marked the beginning of the Jianhe era.
On the day of his enthronement, after a long period of gloomy and rainy weather, the skies suddenly cleared, almost as if it were a miracle.
The ancient bell tolled ninety-nine times solemnly. Li Yuanmin, assisted by the ritual officials, wore a heavy crown, dressed in the ornate and dignified attire of an emperor. Step by step, he ascended the high platform.
The officials prostrated themselves, and cries of “long live” echoed.
Thus, the fifteenth emperor of the Bei’an Dynasty was enthroned—Emperor Chao Yuan.
Even Nie Lie knelt among the officials, his gaze fixed upon the dignified emperor. Yet what occupied his thoughts was the flushed countenance of the previous night, when Li Yuanmin cried uncontrollably. They had concealed their affair from the world, stolen moments of passion in the private chambers once all others had been dismissed, indulging in reckless passion.
Throughout the night, he had defiled this newly deified bodhisattva, weeping until his nose turned red, trembling all over. Yet the bodhisattva, now deified, did not blame him in the slightest. Instead, with a compassionate Buddha nature, he redeemed him, allowing this twice-over beast to willingly prostrate himself beneath his lotus pedestal, willingly submitting from body to soul.
Nie Lie prostrated himself heavily.
For his one and only master.
In the early summer of the first year of the Jianhe era, the Wala general Liang Haduo, under the banner of seeking vengeance for his sovereign, took advantage of the newly ascended emperor and the unstable political situation. He, along with the Tatar royal court, assembled a massive army of 800,000 troops and grandly marched southward.
General Lin Xi, stationed in Suning, led the defense. By the end of April, Suning fell, and Lin Xi perished in battle.
In the face of crisis, Nie Lie was entrusted with command. He was appointed Grand General of Dingyuan and elevated to the second rank of military marquess, leading troops to confront the enemy.
Under the howling wind, the disciplined and solemn army stood tall and firm, their commander-in-chief stood at the forefront with dignity, accepting the command emblem.
Accompanied by the beating war drums and the blaring of horns, the oath-taking ceremony swept through the mountains and rivers, leaving none untouched.
Li Yuanmin stood on a high platform, watching his lover gradually fade into the distance.
The strong wind howled, and his gaze held the same determination as his lover’s.
As the palace gates opened, palace maids and eunuchs along the way greeted him and stepped aside.
Sima Yu, full of confidence, entered the sleeping chamber.
In the bright light of the lamps, the new emperor, dressed in bright yellow silk, was reading scrolls by the lamplight. His expression was indifferent, as if the surroundings and everyone else had no connection to him.
Sima Yu’s heart slightly tightened; he couldn’t explain why, but he often felt uneasy. Sometimes, he felt like he didn’t recognize the person in front of him anymore.
But he couldn’t pinpoint what had changed.
With a thought, he suddenly remembered—the eyes. The eyes that used to be so clear and translucent when looking at him now lacked the same brilliance. Instead, they held a gentle calmness, like warm water. The emperor would still smile at him, but it was always that gentle smile.
In fact, in their previous life, he had started by disliking him. But his father still wanted to use him to conceive a heir for the Sima family. Although he complied with his father’s request, the thought of his lover’s abnormal body made him feel repulsed. However, he still had to put on a refined facade for him. Over time, he couldn’t keep up the act anymore.
He was a remarkable figure in society, known as the epitome of a gentleman—suave and composed. Yet, in front of Li Yuanmin, he found himself growing worse, fluctuating between extreme emotions. However, Li Yuanmin’s temper was so good that he always tolerated him and easily soothed him. He became like an obedient, well-trained dog that no amount of scolding could drive away. Gradually, he got used to it. Later on, as he grew more attractive, so attractive that Sima Yu thought it might not be so bad to conceive a child with him, he was no longer repulsed by the idea.
But before he could make his final decision, the Red Tiger King rebelled.
He had no other choice but to tell him to use his imperial status to pacify the Red Tiger King. It was the first time Sima Yu patiently discussed pros and cons with him. He remembered that after he finished speaking, Li Yuanmin looked at him for a long time, making him anxious. In the end, he nodded in agreement.
Sima Yu finally felt relieved and slightly guilty. He thought that after dealing with the rebels, he would treat him better. Unexpectedly, he never got the chance. He didn’t wait for the day when he took his own life in such a tragic manner.
At that time, his mind went almost blank, his heart aching intensely, as if someone had plunged a knife into his chest.
Fortunately, Heaven showed him some mercy, giving him a chance to salvage everything. He had owed him so much in his past life; he must have felt desolate too. But he would gradually recover, until the thin armor around his heart could be taken off again.
Sima Yu was certain in his heart and took a step forward.
“Your Majesty, even dragons also get tired. Don’t strain your eyes.”
Li Yuanmin raised his head, a faint smile curving his lips, and tossed the book in his hand aside.
“Why have you come?”
Sima Yu contemplated for a moment, without further ado, he went straight to the point, “During today’s afternoon discussion with father regarding the border situation, I thought of General Dingyuan. Your Majesty, how do you plan to arrange him in the future?”
Li Yuanmin’s expression remained unchanged; he merely smiled and said, “I’ll leave everything to marquis’s arrangements.”
Sima Yu felt reassured, in a soft voice, he said, “Although this person was ambitious in the previous life, and though he has aligned himself with you from a young age in this life, I’m still somewhat wary of him.”
He glanced at him and added, “I was worried you wouldn’t agree.”
Li Yuanmin smiled nonchalantly, “Back then, when I saved him, it was just to change his fate as a rebel general. I wanted to ensure my own survival.”
He paused, a hint of pity appearing in the corner of his eyes. “But after all, he served me for a while. When the time comes, just don’t make it too ugly.”
Upon hearing this, Sima Yu felt greatly relieved and said gently, “I know you’ve always been soft hearted. Don’t worry, at least he’s contributed something. But there’s no rush; this war will go on for three years. It’s just that I wanted to discuss this matter with you in advance, so you can be prepared.”
Li Yuanmin nodded. “Understood.”
Seeing him tiredly rubbing his forehead, Sima Yu felt a flicker of sympathy and approached to offer a massage. However, the person in front of him stiffened, raising a hand to stop him.
“You don’t have to.”
His lips twitched slightly as he stood up, placing the scrolls from the table on the bookshelves. With his movements, the slight curve of his shoulder blades under the bright yellow silk was revealed, and a faint, cold fragrance lingered in the air.
Sima Yu’s heart grew even more tender, understanding that his lover disliked physical contact due to his deformed body. He was about to say something comforting when the person in front of him turned around. With a faint smile, he said, “I’ve been reading for quite a while; I’m a bit tired.”
Seeing the fatigue beneath his eyes, Sima Yu thought about the continuous days of mourning and the coronation ceremonies. His body was indeed struggling. He softly advised for a moment and then respectfully took his leave.
As the figure moved farther away, Li Yuanmin slowly lifted his gaze, a cold light shining within his eyes.
A series of delicate footsteps approached, and Ni Ying entered. She was dressed as a court lady, holding a bowl of calming soup in her hands, which she placed on the table before skillfully handling a spoon.
Watching her movements, Li Yuanmin’s heart ached slightly. Originally, he wanted her to return to Lingnan, to free her from the constraints of the palace. However, Ni Ying refused. Now that she had adjusted her temperament and become more cautious, she had become a great asset to Li Yuanmin. Still, every time he thought of the lively and radiant girl she used to be, he couldn’t help but feel a pang of sadness.
Ni Ying approached, whispering, “Your Majesty, all unrelated palace servants have been dismissed. You can remove your belt now.”
All the people in the palace had already been replaced by Ni Lie’s people.
Li Yuanmin nodded, extending his arms. Ni Ying reached into his robe, untangling the layers of belts that were wrapped around his waist. His once-flat abdomen now had a slight curve.
Ni Ying held the belt in her hand, her eyes filled with sadness. She whispered softly, “My imperial nephew, you’ve truly endured a lot.”
Li Yuanmin stroked his slightly protruding abdomen and remained silent.
Ni Ying worriedly asked, “As your belly keeps growing, you won’t be able to hide it for much longer. What is Your Majesty’s plan?”
Li Yuanmin placed his palm over his lower abdomen, his eyes deep and mysterious. “As long as we can keep it hidden for these three months.”
“Three months?” Ni Ying was a bit puzzled.
Li Yuanmin didn’t explain, only softly reassured her, “A Ying, don’t worry. You must trust your elder brother and also your Highness Gege.”
Hearing the term “Your Highness Gege,” Ni Ying’s eyes welled up with tears. She almost wanted to throw herself at his feet like she used to do in Lingnan, but she managed to restrain herself. Her heart settled, and she nodded firmly.
One month after the new emperor’s enthronement, Sima Ji, the Marquis Zhenbei, was appointed as the Regent Prince and sat beside the dragon throne. He and the new emperor received the kneeling salute of the officials. In less than half a month, more than ten imperial decrees were issued from the inner court, causing numerous personnel changes. Officials who were once aligned with the former crown prince were demoted, and those who were once officials were dismissed. All the positions were filled with trusted aides of the Sima father and son.
Emperor Chao Yuan seemed like a puppet, approving all the requests brought forth by the Sima father and son with his imperial red seal. The vast court of Bei’an had already become the realm of the Sima family.
In the blink of an eye, it was the end of June. News arrived from the frontlines reporting a victory—the Dingyuan army defeated the joint forces of the Wala and Tatar tribes. General Ni Lie led the troops in a pursuit that extended to the vast northern plains, capturing Wala and Tatar princes. The enemy forces were in complete disarray.
This war, which had taken three years in the previous life, had lasted for less than three months in this one.
The entire nation celebrated as the triumphant news spread throughout the capital.
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