The carriage was getting closer.
The man in front of Chaoyang Palace slowly walked forward, came up to the carriage, raised his eyes and stretched out his hand.
Yun Qingci suppressed the emotions in his heart. He calmly put his hand in the palm of the emperor, got out of the sedan chair and said curiously: “What is Your Majesty doing here?”
“The court is closed today, and the day after tomorrow is New Year’s Eve, so I want to spend more time with you during these days.”
“Your Majesty has worked really hard this year,” Yun Qingci said, “Would you like to enjoy a song?”
Clenching his hand tighter, Li Ying asked in a low voice, “Do you still want to see him?”
“Who?” Yun Qingci reacted quickly, “Do you mean Ruan Lian?”
Li Ying did not answer.
Yun Qingci’s eyes lit up with interest as he said, “When it comes to a beauty pleasing to the eyes, my heart is naturally in the same place as His Majesty’s.”
Li Ying quietly led him inside and casually ordered: “Go to the music department and send someone to Chaoyang Palace.”
“Then is Your Majesty going to listen to music here today?”
“You have a point. It’s approaching the New Year, so we should relax.”
Yun Qingci nodded. When he entered the palace, Li Ying personally helped him take off the cloak and handed it to Yinxi.
Yun Qingci suddenly got a craving and said, “I really want to eat a fresh meat puff pastry.”
Li Ying’s eyes shifted slightly. Yun Qingci walked two steps to the table, put a peanut into his mouth and turned his head to look at Li Ying, who said slowly: “I will tell the imperial dining room to make it.”
Yun Qingci blinked and said, “I’m afraid the imperial dining room can’t make the taste that I want to eat…”
He paused, smiled again and said, “I can always eat in the future.”
The fresh meat puff pastry he mentioned was an extremely popular snack in Shangyang in the later years.
The reason why it got popular was because he and Li Ying went out to eat it once and later often sent people to buy it. The store used to advertise it as the Lord Empress’s favorite food, which made a lot of people follow suit.
Before he was thrown into the Cold Palace, the shop selling the puff pastry had already opened four branches in the city. A few days before Yun Qingci jumped off the building, he sent Yinxi to buy it.
When Yinxi came back, he quietly complained to Jin Huan: “When I went out today, I met Cui Xi and she sneered at me. She said that the Lord Empress had been sent to the Cold Palace and still rushed his servants out to buy food. He really can’t bear grievances, the body of a nobleman but the life of a b*tch.”
Cui Xi was a maidservant beside Concubine Ning. Jin Huan comforted Yinxi after hearing this: “I believe we will be able to go back. That Concubine Ning, even if she adds the word ‘imperial’’ to her title, as long as His Majesty doesn’t support her, she will always just be a concubine.”
Yun Qingci stopped when hearing it, and then returned to his room silently without alerting them.
He’d spent only half a month in the Cold Palace. Everything was fine for the first ten days, and Yun Qingci was longing for the day when his father and brothers would be released and he would be taken back. But the change finally happened in the last few days. It could be said that the world was turned upside down overnight.
In the last few days, people around him died tragically. His clothes were taken away. In such cold weather, he had no cotton-padded clothes to protect him from the cold, no bedding to warm him up, and no charcoal fire to heat his room. It was then that Yun Qingci realized that Li Ying was really going to kill him.
Perhaps, as Cui Xi said, he really had the body of a nobleman and the life of a b*tch. For more than twenty years of his life, Yun Qingci had always been clothed the best and fed the best; he had never suffered such grievances. Instead of freezing to death in a deserted corner, he would rather kill himself by climbing up the tower. At least then he could choose what he saw before he died.
At this moment, in addition to really craving that puff pastry, he was actually testing Li Ying.
If he really were the Li Ying who was reborn, he would have said that he would send someone to buy it, because he would instinctively think that the puff pastry was something you could get outside the palace, like it was in his previous life. If he answered like this, Yun Qingci could infer that he was indeed from eight years later.
But whether Li Ying was from eight years later or not, his answer revealed nothing. Saying that he’d make the imperial dining room do it was quite in line with his identity as the emperor who didn’t know much about food. It also completely circumvented the question whether he was reborn .
If he didn’t come from eight years later, it made sense. But if he really came from eight years later, then concealing it from Yun Qingci must have had ulterior motives.
He needed to investigate this hypothesis as soon as possible.
Yun Qingci only mentioned the puff pastry casually and did not continue to ask further to avoid alarming the snake.
He hadn’t thought that Li Ying would be reborn like him, so he never deliberately concealed anything in front of him. Unsurprisingly, the other party must have already known that he was from eight years later.
But if this was true, why should Li Ying deliberately conceal his rebirth? Li Ying had killed him once in his previous life, and he could kill him a second time in this life. Was he afraid that after Yun Qingci knew, he would refuse to be his hostage again?
How could Li Ying, who had the memory of the future, be so weak and still need his chess piece to contain the Prime Minister’s Mansion?
He should have been so strong that he could have killed everyone in his path, shouldn’t he?
After Yun Qingci was reborn, he was as arrogant and overbearing as before, because he was sure that Li Ying could not give up his chess piece. He was deliberately trying to ride roughshod over Li Ying’s head and spill the beans, so that he could only scorn but dare not speak.
But now, this method still might apply.
If it were the Li Ying who was reborn, he would never put up with his antics for this long.
Li Ying before the rebirth might not dare to kill him, but Li Ying after the rebirth was very likely to kill him.
Let’s just observe his attitude and actions.
“If you want to eat it, you can notify the imperial dining room. Why should you wrong yourself and wait for later?”
Yun Qingci didn’t mention it anymore, but Li Ying rushed to continue.
This vaguely ingratiating look… if it was the Li Ying of his previous life, he really couldn’t stand it.
Yun Qingci had no choice but to say, “If I notify them now, by the time they make it I will be asleep.”
Li Ying opened his mouth and said, “Then let’s eat it tomorrow.”
The musicians came soon, and there were graceful dancers who came with them. The table was full of precious dishes. Yun Qingci sat at the table on a padded chair, together with Li Ying. When his gaze fell on the musicians, he was slightly startled.
“Ruan Lian, why are you here again?”
Ruan Lian got up and saluted, replying, “Master thought that the Lord Empress wanted to see all of us together, so he called on this little one.”
He hesitated a little: “If Lord Empress doesn’t want to see…”
“No, no,” Yun Qingci said hastily, “I want to, but I am worried about your injury.”
Li Ying glanced at Ruan Lian briefly. The latter seemed to be a little flattered and said cautiously: “This little one is grateful for Lord Empress’s kind attention.”
After speaking, he covered his mouth and coughed a few times. A faint trace of blood appeared on his lips. His lips were pale at the moment, and the little smear of blood was particularly obvious.
Yun Qingci immediately stood up and said worriedly, “What’s wrong with you?”
Li Ying spoke in a low voice, with a gloomy tone: “If Ruan Lian feels unwell, he should go back and rest first.”
Ruan Lian had already put his fingers on the strings, and he subconsciously raised his head to look up at Yun Qingci after hearing it. The latter felt that it was a rare case when Li Ying made sense. As soon as Yun Qungci was about to agree, Ruan Lian looked at him with autumn water eyes and said quietly: “Receiving the favor of His Majesty, having His Majesty feel concern, letting Lord Empress… and His Majesty have a good time is most important.”
Yun Qingci interpreted it as Ruan Lian trying to say that it was the most important thing to make him happy, and Li Ying was just extra baggage, so he couldn’t help feeling happy.
In the past, everyone just mentioned the Lord Empress in passing, but this Ruan Lian was very up to speed.
He glanced at Li Ying; the latter’s eyes were dark, neither joy nor anger visible there.
The reborn Li Ying… how long can he endure such a situation?
But if Li Ying didn’t want to endure him, he would definitely deal with Ruan Lian first. Yun Qingci sat down contentedly, thinking that he would have to notify the Qing Division and send someone to protect Ruan Lian secretly. If Li Ying made a move, he would also know in time.
Li Ying spoke again, in a gentle tone: “No need to force it. Someone, send Ruan Lian back to the music department.”
As soon as Liu Ziru was about to make arrangements, Yun Qingci said, “One moment.”
“Since you’re here, just sit on the side for a while and go back with everyone later.” He ordered again: “Jin Huan, you can arrange another set of bowls and chopsticks. The musician is injured, he needs to recuperate.”
Ruan Lian felt more and more flattered: “This little one dares not…”
“Sit down.” After Yun Qingci gave the order, he looked at Li Ying again, tilted his head and said, “Does Your Majesty think there is something wrong with this subject’s arrangement?”
Li Ying looked at him. His jet-black eyes were deep like an abyss. With his breath as heavy as if there was a boulder pressing on his chest, he said slowly, “We will follow Lord Empress’s orders.”
Yun Qingci curved his eyes.
Yun Qingci was very happy with the singing and dancing in front of him, and he turned his face to talk to Ruan Lian: “Where is Ah Lian’s hometown?”
“This little one is from Lingzhou.”
“I think you’re very well-mannered, you should be from a good family. Why did you end up in the music department in the palace?”
“My family was in decline, it’s hard to talk about it.” Ruan Lian lowered his eyelashes and said, “This little one played music in the Manchun Building in Shangyang City but later met Mr. Yuan from the music department and was able to find a job in the palace.”
Yun Qingci nodded, a look of pity passing through his eyes. He was a man who had lived a hard life, and the days before he died were the hardest days of his life, and could be said to be engraved in his bones.
It was hard to imagine that Ruan Lian had to change from a wealthy young master to an actor.
And when he came to the palace, the dog emperor bullied him.
Yun Qingci suddenly glared at Li Ying.
The latter was examining Ruan Lian and looked slightly stunned upon receiving this eye-knife. He averted his eyes, poured himself a glass of wine without saying a word, tilted his head and drank it down in one go.
A small amount of liquor leaked from the corner of his mouth to his neck, over his Adam’s apple, and trickled down into the neckline of his clothes.
Yun Qingci put down his glass and talked to Ruan Lian again. He looked relaxed and at ease, not bothering to avoid suspicion because Li Ying was sitting next to him.
So frankly, there was no longer any semblance of the affection Yun Qingci used to have for him.
By the time Yun Qingci realized it, Li Ying had already had a whole pot of wine in his stomach. He waved to the attendant and ordered, “Another pot.”
Liu Ziru said, “Your Majesty, if you drink too much, I’m afraid you will have another headache when you get up tomorrow morning.”
“I am relaxing and enjoying myself.“ Li Ying’s eyes were dampened by the wine as he said, “Let’s get drunk tonight.”
Yun Qingci said, “Go and get a few more pots. Anyway, it’s going to be the New Year. There will be no court sessions in the next few days. Let His Majesty relax.”
Liu Ziru could hardly believe that these words came out of the Lord Empress’s mouth.
Li Ying used to have some mild migraines since he ascended to the throne. It was fine usually, but once he drank alcohol, his headache would be splitting. Yun Qingci always remembered it and no matter how grand the occasion was, he wouldn’t let him drink too much.
He glanced at Li Ying who curved the corners of his mouth silently. The moisture in his eyes grew heavier. He said, “Look, Lord Empress doesn’t mind… So you mind your own business, hurry up, go quickly.”
Liu Ziru had no choice but to go. He glanced at Yun Qingci with a complicated expression. The latter had already turned to Ruan Lian again and chatted with him about the scenery of Lingzhou: “I only heard about it, I have never been there. I haven’t left Shangyang much… Ah Lian knows a lot.”
Ruan Lian smiled shyly.
He poured himself a cup of tea. The tip of his bitten tongue was somewhat painful, and he kept drinking tea to wash the blood from his lips.
He glanced at the emperor again as if inadvertently. The latter was already lying on the table with his back to the Lord Empress, holding a jade pot high with his hand and pouring the wine down his mouth. It was hard to tell whether the wine went down his throat or leaked into his collar.
He said softly: “I heard that Lord Empress’s eldest sister married the Xiao family in Lingzhou. Haven’t you visited your relatives?”
Li Ying’s pupils shrank slightly as he drank to drown his sorrows.
Yun Qingci said, “No, the mountains are far away and the carriage is bumpy, so I didn’t want to be tossed and turned.”
Ruan Lian’s tone contained a smile: “Lord Empress’s body is delicate, so it is indeed inconvenient to be tossed and turned.”
Yun Qingci laughed.
Suddenly there was the sound of a broken teacup.
The long flowing sleeves fell abruptly as the dancers tensed. The musicians stopped playing and looked in the direction where the sound came from.
The Son of Heaven seemed to be drunk and laid motionless on the table. He must have swept his sleeves and accidentally knocked something over.
Yun Qingci glanced at it and said, “His Majesty is drunk, so today, let’s all disperse.”
Ruan Lian got up and stood with everyone, saluting, and preparing to retire.
There was a soft trembling sound as Ruan Lian picked up his qin. He was the last one to leave. Covering his mouth, he coughed a few more times. Only then did Yun Qingci withdraw his gaze from the emperor, remembered his injury and ordered: “You go back and have a good rest. No need to participate in the banquet in the palace the day after tomorrow.”
“Thanking Lord Empress for his grace.”
Ruan Lian glanced at the emperor for the last time, then turned and left.
Li Ying remained motionless, his eyelids tightly closed, the corners of his eyes flushed.
Yun Qingci got up and walked around him.
Li Ying’s fair face was now blushed, and the blush spread from his neck all the way down to his collarbone, like a layer of fine powder.
He reeked of wine, his chest was wet, and there were traces of liquor on his face and neck. Yun Qingci pushed him and pushed him again, saying, “Your Majesty?”
Li Ying lifted his eyelashes halfway, then closed them again solemnly and drew his eyebrows together with a muffled snort.
Liu Ziru said, “His Majesty’s headaches grew worse recently. After drinking so much wine today, I am afraid that he will not be able to bear it tomorrow.”
“He is happy.” Yun Qingci said, “It’s not like anyone was forcing him.”
“…Then this servant will order someone to prepare a hangover soup?”
“Go ahead.” Yun Qingci tilted his head to look at the drunken emperor, stretched out his hand and poked his flushed face, saying, “Li Ying, Li Ying, look at me?”
Li Ying opened his eyes in confusion.
It was a good time to pry. Li Ying didn’t drink often, because when he was drunk, he basically answered whatever he asked, and he was answering honestly. Yun Qingci leaned towards him and continued, “Who am I?”
Li Ying made no sound.
He continued to lean closer and said softly, “You can see clearly, who am I?”
His gaze was also extremely soft, but at this moment, it seemed Li Ying could see something else in his meaningful eyes.
The Yun Qingci in front of him was changing his appearance, his long black hair slowly soaking with blood. Li Ying panted heavily, his moist eyes widening.
“Li Ying…” Yun Qingci raised his chin, his lips close to Li Ying’s ear, and said even softer, “Have you seen my corpse?”
“En…” Li Ying suddenly hugged his head.
It seemed like countless sharp needles pierced into his skull, stirring frantically.
His eyes flashed red, filling with blood, and blue veins appeared on his forehead.
Yun Qingci held his breath. He stretched out his hand and grabbed Li Ying, staring straight at him: “Li Ying, do you remember me?”
“Ah Ci…” Li Ying exhaled with difficulty, and a grimace of pain distorted his face: “I… it hurts.”