Chapter 159: Dragon Tiger Battle
This year, it started off with ups and downs. Originally thinking that there would be a good omen in the middle, it turned out to be a relatively peaceful year. However, right before the end of the year, turmoil erupted within the court.
In fact, when there were rumors in the hunting ground, discerning people knew exactly who was behind it.
There were already few children born successfully in the palace, and Zhu Meiren did not have a strong background from her maternal family.
What was unexpected was that a chain of events unfolded, and the one who became pregnant was none other than Concubine Liu, who had been quiet for a long time. Although she had experienced some difficulties, she managed to preserve the pregnancy.
Due to the recent loss of a child, the Emperor cherished the child in Concubine Liu’s womb immensely. The Liu family lacked nothing, and the Lijing Palace was heavily guarded. Even a mosquito would be thoroughly investigated if it tried to enter.
Everyone knew in their hearts that a storm was brewing.
Soon after, the storm arrived much faster than anyone had imagined.
The first was An Ding Marquis’ Shizi, Liu Zhongming, suddenly becoming the new leader of the Jinxiu Ying.
In the eyes of the public, the young shizi was only known for his extravagant lifestyle of making money, drinking, and indulging in pleasures. However, the newly appointed Commander Liu, swiftly transformed Jinxiu Ying.
The Liu and Bai families had no shortage of manpower or money. With a dual approach, the spies infiltrating the Jinxiu Ying were expelled, and even the remaining old members became obedient and loyal.
From that point on, Jinxiu Ying bore the surname Liu.
Previously, people thought that the Jinxiu Ying under the surname Liao was unruly, but they never expected that the current Jinxiu Ying would be an even more formidable force.
As if that wasn’t enough, the first thing Commander Liu did was something that Liao Guangming had never dared to imagine—heading straight to the Southern Bureau’s Left Valiant Camp. He locked up dozens of people, including the madman Ren Rui and his subordinates, in the Jinxiu Ying’s prison.
Even after Qi Wang knelt outside Yangxin Palace for two days, the Emperor didn’t relent. There were even rumors that the Emperor was blaming Qi Wang for something.
From that moment on, everyone fell silent and held their breath.
No one knew what the Left Valiant Camp, which had been flourishing before, had done wrong. All they knew was that the young Shizi who used to be scolded mercilessly by the Emperor due to his willfulness had now become a rising star.
Concubine Liu and the Liu Shizi suddenly thrust the long-peaceful Liu family into the center of attention overnight.
The incident involving the Left Valiant Camp did not end there. Although Ren Rui bit his tongue and took his own life out of fear, there were still thirty or forty people undergoing relentless interrogation day and night.
The once silent Jinxiu Ying, armed with testimonies, began to arrest people throughout the city, causing widespread fear and unease.
Those who were observant carefully pondered if the actions of Liu Shizi were clearly paving the way for the child in Concubine Liu’s womb.
Many people silently rejoiced, grateful that they hadn’t taken sides prematurely, considering the Emperor’s indulgent attitude.
Perhaps… a change of regime was truly on the horizon.
It wasn’t until Marquis Liu and Lin Xiang stepped forward to intervene that the turmoil gradually subsided. However, not a single person could truly have a peaceful year.
No matter how arrogant Liu Shizi acted, he was, after all, someone who knew the ropes. It would be best to maintain a good relationship with him.
What made people even more uneasy was the appearance of another rising star in the palace.
The previous Si Tian Guan was still firmly seated in his position, but out of the blue, the Emperor appointed another Si Tian Guan.
Although people had grown accustomed to frequent changes in this position, having two Si Tian Guans simultaneously was unprecedented.
News from the palace revealed that the beginning of the chaos, triggered by Liu Zhongming’s appointment and the ensuing confusion in the capital, was due to Seventh Prince Mu Jingchen bringing this new appointee into the palace.
Many had noticed that the newly appointed Si Tian Guan was not a stranger; he was none other than Little Brother Qu from Liu Shizi’s residence, whom Liu Zhongming had proudly showcased throughout the year. There was hardly anyone who didn’t recognize him.
Before anyone could come up with untimely speculations, the cause and effect had already been untangled.
It was said that although the Shizi enjoyed his favorite slave, he treated the other harshly and strictly adhered to rules without any leniency. The injuries on that young slave never healed, and anyone who had drunk with the Shizi could see it with their own eyes.
Over a month ago, many people in the city witnessed with their own eyes as the Shizi tied someone to a horse and dragged them all the way back from outside the city. It seemed that the young slave couldn’t bear the torture and took advantage of the Shizi’s absence to escape once again.
When they arrived in the capital, the young slave was in a dazed state from being dragged, but the Shizi showed no mercy and ordered the judicial officers stationed outside another courtyard to administer branding as a punishment.
Initially, it was thought to be a trivial incident, but less than half a month later, the young slave escaped from the courtyard once again.
This time, the Shizi was completely enraged, and if it hadn’t been for the Wangye’s timely arrival, he would have nearly beaten the person to death in the street.
Many people witnessed it firsthand, and there was no need to ask the Shizi about these matters. Even Ning Wang spoke about it vividly during a gathering, and no one could doubt it, especially considering that it was Ning Wang and the Seventh Prince who had rescued the person in the first place.
Ning Wang even showed a hint of regret on his face.
Everyone knew what he was regretting. If it had been Ning Wang’s robes firmly grasped by the young slave on the street that day, the Wangye would probably never want to leave his residence again.
It was even more impossible for another Si Tian Guan to suddenly appear out of nowhere.
Having learned the details, countless pairs of eyes were waiting eagerly to witness the encounter between the former master and servant in the court, anticipating the sparks that would fly.
But the heavens, with their penchant for teasing, insisted on keeping the spectators on edge.
The Emperor seemed to particularly favor the newly appointed Si Tian Guan, Qu Sitian, to the point where he went against the usual practice and did not release him from the palace to establish his own residence. Instead, he had the Wulan Pavilion in the palace reorganized and renamed it the Star Gazing Pavilion.
The plaque, personally inscribed by the Emperor, had already been hung up early on.
Opinions varied widely regarding this immense favor bestowed upon Qu Sitian. Half of the people’s gazes were fixed on Qu Sitian’s aloof and captivating face, their eyes silently conveying their understanding.
Even the Empress couldn’t help but confront the Emperor. It was said that they had an unpleasant argument inside their chambers, and the Empress left in anger. But the Emperor still refused to release the person.
It was at this moment that Lu Si Tian, the other Si Tian Guan, realized that he had inexplicably become the subject of gossip among the people. Perhaps he had been privately manipulated or had finally mustered the courage himself, but now he had turned the tables. He openly named and scolded Qu Sitian during the morning court session, accusing him of having a lowly birth and using bewitching words to captivate the Emperor. He earnestly implored the Emperor to immediately eradicate this menace.
With just a few words, it was evident to discerning individuals that Lu Si Tian was done for.
After all, it was the Emperor himself who had appointed Qu Sitian.
True to everyone’s expectations, the Emperor immediately ordered the executioner to prepare and rewarded Lu with a punishment of being dismembered.
In this small disturbance, Qu Sitian didn’t even personally make an appearance.
The more this happened, the more speculation arose in private. Some people even quietly suggested that Qu Sitian might actually be a fox in disguise.
However, such words could only be whispered discreetly.
The grand drama unfolded with rapid and intense beats, captivating the audience’s attention. But no one could guess the twists and turns that laid ahead.
Sure enough, not even two days later, the favored consort, Wen Jieyu, unexpectedly encountered Qu Sitian by the Qianlian Pond. Without exchanging a single greeting, she asked Qu Sitian to divine her fortune.
Without any mercy, Qu Sitian flatly refused, stating that he only followed the Emperor’s orders and did not provide divination services for others privately.
Reliant on the Empress’s authority in the past, Wen Jieyu had never experienced such cold rejection. Immediately, she delivered a slap to Qu Sitian’s face, forcing him to kneel by the Qianlian Pond for self-reflection.
Qu Sitian was already plagued with injuries and was in the midst of recuperation. Kneeling for nearly half an hour, he eventually fainted at the edge of the pond, just as the Emperor hurriedly arrived.
For the entire afternoon, the palace resounded with Wen Jieyu’s agonizing screams under the punishment of the court rods.
The Empress, her face covered, returned to the palace amidst the bloodshed and flying flesh.
While the Empress’s side fell silent, Qu Sitian took a step forward. He appeared alongside the Emperor at the Taiji Palace banquet.
All eyes were fixed on Qu Sitian, and his piercing heterochromatic eyes finally settled on a palace attendant named Xuan Yilang.
Xuan Yilang was swiftly dragged away by the Jinwu Guards, leaving everyone astonished—because Xuan Yilang was from the Tang family.
It was only a few days later that news spread.
Hidden in Xuan Yilang’s sleeve was a forbidden drug. He had bribed the palace attendants who entered and exited the Star Gazing Pavillion to pour the drug into the water, intending to frame someone with the crime of corrupting the court.
No one dared to directly meet those bewitching eyes anymore.
The entire new year was enveloped in this restless atmosphere, and conversations about these matters arose at every corner and in social gatherings.
Whether it was baseless rumors or wild speculations, they added plenty of topics for discussion during the new year.
The interpretations were varied, but the only thing that remained unchanged was this:
——The Emperor bestowed favor upon both Liu Shizi and Qu Sitian. The unresolved grievances between these two individuals had gone beyond mere sparks, and it seemed they were engaged in an endless struggle for dominance.
A loud explosion echoed in the distance, illuminating the river in an instant, only to fade away amidst scattered sparks.
Liu Zhongming leaned against the ship’s railing, silently watching the reflection of the fireworks on the water’s surface.
Year after year.
He had once thought that he would forever celebrate the Lantern Festival in such a lively manner, indulging in feasts, lantern-viewing, and river cruises to welcome the new year.
But someone gave him a different kind of year. They watched fireworks together on the rooftop, savoring each other’s presence in their intimate moments. Amidst the vast expanse of the starry sky, it felt as if only the two of them existed in the world.
Since then, his heart had been taken away by that person.
“Have you heard?” someone approached and leaned against the railing, handing him a cup of wine. “Have a sip to warm yourself. It’s really cold this winter.”
“Yes, it’s so cold…” He took the wine, his favorite White Pear Blossom, just the scent alone made his nose tingle with a bittersweet sensation.
That person left him again, going alone to a place he couldn’t reach, leaving behind the place they had lived together for two years.
It was so cold.
Last night, he was still curled up in that person’s bed, reluctant to even wash. But over time, even the faint scent began to fade away.
In such a desolate place, Chenzhou was locked away, trapped in a chilling environment, subjected to nightly humiliation by him.
The bridal chamber filled with promises had turned into poisonous arrows that pierced Chenzhou.
It was all self-inflicted.
“Hear what?” He took a sip, asking in confusion.
“About Chenzhou…” Bai Shiyan carefully spoke that name, observing Liu Zhongming’s expression.
“They say he and I are like fire and water. If one of us were to lose power, there would be no place to bury the dead. Is that so?”
Bai Shiyan didn’t know how to respond.
Having witnessed Liu Zhongming’s breakdown and agonizing tears before, he had thought that was the peak of Liu Zhongming’s madness. But later, he realized that an invisible dagger had taken root in Liu Zhongming’s flesh and blood, and it was impossible to remove.
Behind that door in the courtyard, there were two different Liu Zhongmings, distinctly separated. Concealed within the increasingly calm and strong facade was a hidden hysteria.
When he found Zhongming in that bundle of bedding, he already knew that if no one talked to him about Chenzhou, Zhongming would likely shatter into fragments the next moment.
He remained silent, and Zhongming began speaking to himself.
“I dreamt of him again. Actually… he left me with many memories. I watched him grow up slowly twice…. and there are quite a few things I can remember.”
Bai Shiyan had only heard Zhongming mention “remembering the past” a few times, but he never heard the details. Yet, from Qu Chenzhou’s hurried account, he knew that for both of them, it was an extremely painful and tragic memory.
“Zhongming,” although he knew his attempts at consolation were futile, Bai Shiyan couldn’t help but say, “Reaching this point was also something Chenzhou had planned for a long time. He… wouldn’t blame you.”
As if becoming drunk after just two sips, Liu Zhongming leaned on the railing and flicked the wine cup into the water with a snap of his fingers.
“Shiyan, what you see as willingly accepting is actually begrudging acceptance. He wanted me to trust him, but unfortunately, I didn’t, so he had no choice but to take desperate measures.”
He thought, Shiyan hadn’t heard the agonizing screams of Chenzhou, bound to the torture rack, the pain penetrating deep into his bones.
No one willingly accepts being harmed by others, and no one willingly accepts being doubted.
“You were willing to follow his arrangements because deep down, you also knew that I didn’t believe him.”
“He gave me numerous chances, and I missed them all. He waited for me for a long time, but I hesitated about whether I should catch up with him.”
“And what I thought was good was not what he wanted.”
“In the past and now… if I had been willing to listen to him a bit more…”
Bai Shiyan thought he would ramble on for a long time, but he only heard half a sentence, with the rest being lost in a dazed trance.
As if waking from a dream, Liu Zhongming curved his lips and suddenly asked, “That hairpin, did you give it to him?”
“I did. I secretly gave it to him during the palace banquet, and he… accepted it.”
Bai Shiyan’s words came out hesitantly. Seeing Zhongming’s gaze directed at him, he knew he was waiting for the continuation, and he could also imagine Qu Chenzhou’s attitude. He could only steel himself and continue.
“I had just turned around… and he broke the hairpin…”
Zhongming’s gaze returned to the surface of the river, and after a long time, he sighed.
“It’s a new year. I hope he can live well, live longer than me.”