Chapter 174: Valiant Camp
“Wang Ye,” a hurried person outside the door handed over an envelope. “It has been confirmed there that the porcelain bottle indeed contains the Bi Hongzi from Jinxiu Ying. There is no mistake.”
Mu Jingyan repeatedly read the paper several times, slowly exhaling a breath.
Many things were well-known to everyone. Why did the three brothers have to listen to the trial from behind the folding screen?
If they were simply listening to the trial, that would be one thing, but why was Rong Jiuan sitting beside them?
One Ling He, one Rong Jiuan, both disciples of Lin Xiang, with the same tough temperament as Lin Xiang.
If it were last year, he would have been worried about the relationship between these two and Qi Wang. After all, Rong Jiuan visited Mu Jingde privately at occassions.
Now that Mu Jingde was no longer here, it was widely known that people drift apart when someone is gone. This worry was unnecessary.
Relying on his vast knowledge of poetry and books, as well as his excellent calligraphy, Rong Jiuan served in the Imperial Study. It was said that he would soon be promoted to a position in the Imperial Library.
Mu Jingyan had sent people to test Rong Jiuan privately several times, but there was no response at all. He had a rough idea in his heart. As for Ling He, there was no need to say anything.
With these two present, Ling He would be interrogating Qu Chenzhou while Rong Jiuan would be observing the three of them. They would report back to the meeting later.
Fortunately, no matter how suspicious the emperor was, their side only had Rong Jiuan accompanying them. After all, they couldn’t compare to Qu Chenzhou’s former master, the one personally selected by the emperor for the game and to be tested.
When he took his seat in the side hall, he felt somewhat gleeful—it seemed that the task he wanted to do was taken care of by the emperor, saving him some trouble.
But after the Bi Hongzi was administered, not only did Mu Jingzhao, that useless waste, barely hold on before his eyes rolled back and he slid down from the chair, but even he felt a chill throughout his body.
He hadn’t personally interrogated anyone, but he had heard about the Bi Hongzi from Jinxiu Ying.
The extremely tragic screams, as if they were coming from sinners boiling in an oil cauldron in h*ll, echoed in his ears. The excruciating pain felt like it was happening to his own body.
Not long after, Mu Jingchen also stood up, his face pale, and left. He didn’t need to forcibly pretend to be strong. He followed closely behind until the sunlight outside fell on his body, feeling like he had returned to the mortal world. He took a few deep breaths as if relieved of a heavy burden.
Just one bottle was enough to make someone go through h*ll and back, yet Liu Zhongming brazenly brought three bottles, without any regard for Qu Chenzhou’s life or death.
It is said that even this proposal was brought up to the emperor by Liu Zhongming, stating that Qu Sitian was too precious to touch directly, but there was a simple way to make him speak without causing any harm.
It seemed that he couldn’t hide his resentment for not being able to personally interrogate Qu Chenzhou.
Before leaving, he took a bottle of Bi Hongzi with him. Although Rong Jiuan was somewhat surprised, he didn’t say anything.
Even if he didn’t take action, the emperor would undoubtedly send someone to verify the authenticity of the Bi Hongzi. With the emperor’s meticulous character, taking one bottle would actually clear his name.
Now that the results were out and it turned out to be real, a huge weight was lifted off his heart.
“It’s quite something,” he laughed at himself.
Qu Chenzhou’s past was easily traceable. He was sold to the capital at the age of three and lived under constant surveillance. It was only two years ago, after the incident at Qisheng Building, that he ended up in Liu Zhongming’s hands.
Only two years, not to mention being treated as a lowly plaything in the courtyard, even if he was treated with gold and silver as an honored guest, he couldn’t imagine anyone being so devoted and willing to resort to such extreme measures.
Even if Liu Zhongming was willing, Qu Chenzhou wasn’t a reckless madman. How could he willingly put himself in a dangerous situation?
He had overthought it.
“What’s the emperor’s attitude?” he asked.
The person standing below the steps replied, “These past few days, the emperor has been visiting Qu Sitian almost every day. Judging by the situation, Qu Sitian is likely to be promoted again.”
“That’s not a bad thing,” Mu Jingyan nodded knowingly. “If the emperor is promoting him, it means he believes there is no one behind him. This matter can be considered settled.”
The person lowered his voice and asked, “Wang Ye, now that Qu Sitian is in favor, should we go and investigate?”
“No need. He has climbed to the highest branch and would never look down. He would only lower his own value if he fell,” Mu Jingyan tossed the paper into the incense burner.
“Someone as vain and power-hungry as him is like a weather vane. Whoever occupies that position, he will climb up to them.”
“Inform Royal Moother not to cause any more troubles in the palace for now.”
“Yes!” The person responded and, seeing that he had no further instructions, considered the matter settled and continued speaking.
“Wang Ye, they are awaiting your orders at Ten Li Pavillion. They say that Ning Wang has been frequenting the place lately, even refraining from drinking alcohol much and investing his thoughts there. It seems he has received some indication from Tang Shizhong and has developed some grievances with them, leading to conflicts.”
Mu Jingyan rubbed his temples with some annoyance.
“That idiot is making a big deal out of nothing, thinking that his status badge gives him the right to show off.”
“He knows nothing about leading troops. No matter what he does, he has to rely on them. If they don’t give the orders, who will listen? What’s there to be afraid of!”
“So what if Mu Jingzhao is dissatisfied? At most, he will complain to the emperor. I have my ways to show the emperor his stupidity.”
“Tell them, don’t they understand the concept of going against my orders in secret? Can’t they even deceive people properly? They constantly rely on me to protect their official positions. They might as well give up their heads! What do I need them for!”
The person dared not utter a word, simply nodding and obediently retreating.
“Idiot!” Mu Jingyan suddenly exclaimed in frustration.
It wasn’t just the people at Ten Li Pavillion; he felt as if he were dragging along a ship filled with increasingly heavy deadweight. These individuals not only failed to be of any help, but they also constantly hindered his progress.
Unable to be born from the Empress’s womb and without the military power of the Mingfei family, everything he had achieved thus far was earned with his own hands.
As for others, it was understandable, but his own mother had more failures than successes. His two uncles hadn’t gained anything either, yet they knew how to guard against him and were afraid of him. If it weren’t for him using his mother as a shield between them, his uncles would likely have rebelled long ago.
Give up? That was impossible.
He was unwilling. If others could do it, he could do it better. If others had something, he should have it too, even if he was just a wild b*stard.
Every time the emperor looked at him, every time the military power slipped from his grasp into someone else’s hands, he felt as if everyone around him was mocking him—a wild b*stard!
So what if he was a wild b*stard? One day, he would trample everyone under his feet!
Mu Jingyan’s hands suddenly slammed on the table. He slowed his breathing, allowing himself to calm down gradually.
“As for that Qu Sitian… since he’s a free agent, it wouldn’t hurt to make contact… not a bad idea.”
Living in the palace, Qu Chenzhou had a keen sense of his surroundings. He had already awakened as soon as he heard the footsteps on the first step of the staircase.
The curtains hung low, allowing only the afternoon sunlight to filter through, casting a gentle, yellowish hue.
The footsteps outside the curtain took two steps, reminding him of the time when Zhongming paced beside his bed in the same way after being sent to the separate courtyard. Zhongming would then sit at the table and read, patiently watching him pretend to sleep.
Back then, the days were filled with a bitter taste, but now, looking back, he realized they were unexpectedly sweet. At least they were still together.
The curtain was quickly lifted halfway, allowing sunlight to stream in. He instinctively shielded his eyes with the back of his hand and heard Yu Dexi’s voice from above.
“Qu Sitian, are you awake? The Emperor has come to see you.”
He had been pretending to be bedridden for six or seven days. Every time the Emperor came, he would feign unconsciousness.
The imperial physicians, having been scolded a few times, gathered at the head of his bed, fretting. They wanted to invite their teacher again, but the Shizi refused to allow their teacher to see Qu Sitian. Without their teacher’s presence, they couldn’t make a decision and would still end up being scolded.
It was a difficult cycle to break.
In the end, the Emperor issued an edict, and Doctor Qin came to see him once more.
When the medicine box was opened, it was filled with the meals Madam Bai had prepared for him. Biting into a lotus root box, tears welled up in his eyes.
If this path led to the end, and if he could still survive, he wanted to go back, to return to their side.
“Qu Sitian?” Yu Dexi tugged at his sleeve and called again.
Qu Chenzhou slowly opened his eyes, groggy. With Yu Dexi’s support, he tried to get out of bed, but he was stopped.
“No need for formalities. Your body is still weak. Just stay in bed.”
A soft cushion was placed behind his back, and he pulled the blanket around himself, bowing slightly. “Thank you, Your Majesty.”
When he raised his head, he noticed that Yu Dexi was also heading downstairs. Soon, the sound of palace servants leaving could be heard from below. He couldn’t help feeling a bit anxious. “Your Majesty…”
Emperor Yu sat down at the table, pressing his hand downward, signaling for him to stay still.
“Chenzhou, I have some questions for you.”
“Please, Your Majesty.”
“After the incident last time, the Empress told me that you shouldn’t be living in the palace. Recently, the Imperial Censorate has also submitted memorials criticizing your impropriety.”
“Your Majesty!” Qu Chenzhou struggled to throw off the blanket and fell to the floor. “I…”
“I’m only asking you,” the Emperor interrupted him, “do you want to leave the palace and live elsewhere?”
Qu Chenzhou couldn’t utter a word, but his eyes were already filled with tears.
“Your Majesty, outside the palace, I have no one to rely on, no attachments. Where does Your Majesty want me to go?”
Emperor Yu looked at him calmly. “I will grant you a fine residence, with attendants and servants of your choosing. You are different now, why do you need any reliance or attachment?”
“I don’t want to leave the palace,” Qu Chenzhou sobbed lowly, prostrating himself on the ground. “The people outside are unkind to me. They beat and curse at me, but only Your Majesty has always protected me!”
A flicker crossed Emperor Yu’s gaze as he asked in a deep voice, “During this period when you were bedridden, did you forget that Ling He used disciplinary measures on you at my command?”
“I… I have endured beatings since I was young,” Qu Chenzhou finally realized his momentary loss of composure. “I can bear this suffering, and I also understand Your Majesty’s concerns.”
“When I was a slave at Qisheng Building, there were guests who didn’t believe in me, and the Boss would push me to them.”
“The Boss said to let them use whatever means necessary, as long as they could make me tell a lie, he wouldn’t charge a single penny.”
“The guests used whips dipped in ice-cold water to lash me…”
Biting his sleeve, tears streamed down Qu Chenzhou’s face. He trembled as he unbuttoned his clothes and took off his upper garment, crawling on the ground.
“The Shizi also didn’t believe… Your Majesty, you are the ruler of the world, and my life is in your hands. But you have never truly harmed me. Instead, you have provided me with the best physicians, ensuring that I am well-fed and clothed every day. If I dare to bear any resentment towards Your Majesty, I would be worse than a pig or a dog!”
Emperor Yu stood up, seeing the scattered black hair against the porcelain-white skin, accentuating the old whip marks that remained after years, a repulsive sight.
“Put on your clothes.”
Qu Chenzhou fastened his belt and crawled on his knees for a few steps, grabbing hold of Emperor Yu’s robe, pleading repeatedly, “Your Majesty, I beg to be re-enslaved.”
Emperor Yu’s expression shifted. “Why?”
“If I am re-enslaved, I will only recognize Your Majesty as my master in this lifetime. Life and death will be in Your Majesty’s hands. If outsiders want to shame or humiliate me, they will need Your Majesty’s approval.”
“I understand that now the entire court accuses me of being a shameless servant who betrays his master. But I am still a human being, not a beast. I cannot endure such days.”
“I would like to ask those nobles who condemn me: if they were reduced to being a plaything, humiliated and toyed with, would they just accept their fate for the rest of their lives!”
“Stop talking nonsense!” Emperor Yu couldn’t help but laugh at his somewhat childish resentment.
Qu Chenzhou stammered, “I’m not talking nonsense. I just want to say that I will never betray Your Majesty, or I won’t have a good death.”
Silence fell over his head, and no one responded to his words.
He looked down at the ground, unable to see Emperor Yu’s gaze, but he could sense the scrutinizing scrutiny.
After a long time, a sigh sounded, and someone asked, “Chenzhou, you say you are content now that you can eat and dress well, but do you have any other wishes?”
Qu Chenzhou hurriedly shook his head. “I am very content! I dare not ask for anything else!”
“Dare not? So, you do have something?” Emperor Yu smiled. “Tell me about it.”
Qu Chenzhou hesitated for a long time and only whispered, “I dare not…”
Emperor Yu sneered. “You come and go freely in front of me, disregarding the Empress and the Noble Consort. You rampage through the palace at midnight, causing chaos in Jinxiu Ying, cursing and breaking Zhongming’s leg. What else do you dare not do? Don’t think I don’t know. You are not so obedient in front of others.”
“I…,” Qu Chenzhou finally spoke, “since my childhood, I have always been bullied by others. I only beg Your Majesty to protect me and not let others bully me anymore…”
Emperor Yu burst into laughter and called out loudly, “Bo Yan!”
The heavy footsteps of Bo Yan echoed on the staircase, and soon he entered the room, responding, “Greetings, Your Majesty. Greetings, Qu Sitian.”
“Give the things to Chenzhou.”
Bo Yan half knelt down, his outstretched hands holding two waist plaques.
Qu Chenzhou took them, looking up in confusion. “Your Majesty, what are these?”
“If you want to live in the palace, you can continue to stay,” Emperor Yu gestured for him to take a closer look. “But as my Si Tian Guan, you can’t be easily bullied. From today onwards, you will be in charge of these two divisions in the South Bureau.”
Qu Chenzhou lowered his head to look at the waist plaques shining with golden bronze.
The Left Valiant Camp, the Right Valiant Camp.