Did His Majesty suspect that he had said something to the Lord Empress that made the Lord Empress refuse to come back?
“No, no, no.” Zhou Zhao waved his hand again and again: “The Empress Dowager really just asked this slave to visit. Your Majesty, please don’t misunderstand. Even if the Empress Dowager said something, it would be only for your own good and the good of the Lord Empress…”
The long sword cut like iron through mud, and half of Zhou Zhao’s ears fell to the ground.
Liu Ziru’s pupils contracted, and he couldn’t believe what he was really seeing. The people around him fell to the ground face down, one after another. Their bodies trembled, they didn’t dare to breathe.
There was a brief silence.
Warm blood slid down from the remnants of Zhou Zhao’s ears.
It hurt, but Zhou Zhao didn’t dare to scream, because the long sword was still pressed to his shoulder. Li Ying didn’t say anything, but all his actions showed that if he didn’t get a satisfactory answer, next time it would be Zhou Zhao’s head that fell.
“The Empress Dowager… let this slave go to the Lord Empress… with ideas… to help His Majesty.”
“As long as the Lord Empress can work hard to hurt himself, Master Yun will definitely come to intercede for him…” Zhou Zhao kowtowed like crazy: “This slave doesn’t lie, Your Majesty. Your Majesty knows it, this slave absolutely did not deliberately provoke separation and did not hinder the Lord Empress from returning to the palace!”
“How many times?”
“First, first time, it’s really the first time. The Lord Empress, the Lord Empress is afraid of pain… Before, never, never before…” Zhou Zhao cried weakly. He slowly spread on the ground, not daring to look up again, his heart chilly. Didn’t His Majesty hate the Lord Empress? Why was he suddenly bothered now?
The long sword shook, and Li Ying looked hideous: “You still know that he is afraid of pain…”
Liu Ziru’s face twitched, and he finally knew why Li Ying was so angry. In the past, His Majesty and the Lord Empress used to have a cold war and Liu Ziru often witnessed it. He had seen Yun Qingci gesticulating while pointing at his wrist, but every time the emperor would look away coldly, and nothing else happened.
Yun Qingci also had his pride. Liu Ziru didn’t know how many psychological constructions he had secretly built before he collapsed and hurt himself yesterday.
No wonder that in the past two years, Yun Qingci’s personality was getting more and more extreme and his behavior more and more ruthless. He dared to do these things to entrap the Emperor, and it turned out that behind him, someone had been encouraging it.
“Your Majesty.” Liu Ziru took two steps on his knees and said, “Your Majesty, please calm down. If Zhou Zhao dies, it’s no pity, but now the Lord Empress is still in the prime minister’s mansion. If he learns about this, in case he is scared…”
This was quite a roundabout way to put it.
Li Ying’s change in behavior was so sudden that even Liu Ziru had difficulty adapting to it for a while. If Yun Qingci found out about it, the result might be even more extreme.
What if he didn’t dare return to the palace because he was afraid of Li Ying?
The reason was actually a bit far-fetched, but as the supervisor of the Son of Heaven, Liu Ziru always had to remind the Emperor to correct his words and deeds. After all, he was the ruler of the country. What’s more, Yun Qingci had always loved the Li Ying who was gentle and decent.
Liu Ziru didn’t know if Li Ying cared about the Emperor’s face or about Yun Qingci, but in the end, he dropped the sword and walked to the desk behind the screen.
Liu Ziru ordered someone to take Zhou Zhao to the Taiyuan Hospital. While picking up the sword from the ground, he warned everyone not to talk too much and not to undermine the virtues of the Son of Heaven. Then he wiped the sword, hung it up again and followed the Emperor.
Li Ying sat at the desk case without saying a word. He used to overturn the desk when angry with Yun Qingci, but even when the emperor was angry, Liu Ziru still could talk to him to pacify him. Now the water was too deep and the surface too still, no waves at all, so Liu Ziru couldn’t even begin talking.
“Does teacher think I’m crazy?”
Li Ying smiled strangely, then lowered his gaze and said: “I am crazy.”
Liu Ziru didn’t dare to say anything, but he knew what Li Ying wanted most at the moment, and he skillfully changed the subject: “The snow has been heavy in the past few days, and soon there will be the Ice Festival. The next few days will be very lively. Would Your Majesty like to accompany the Lord Empress to Canglan Lake for a stroll? I remember that the Lord Empress used to like it very much.”
“Ice Festival?” In the Prime Minister’s mansion Yun Qingci smashed the bright red plum blossom petals in the mortar and unexpectedly raised his eyes, asking suspiciously: “Fourth brother wants to go with me?”
“Father said that you are bored at home all day, which is not conducive to recuperation.” Yun Qingsu sat down opposite him, grabbed a snack and stuffed it into his mouth. He said, “He originally wanted second brother to accompany you, but the Criminal Department is busy, so I’ll take you instead.”
Yun Qingxiao was the head of the Criminal Justice Department and was in charge of the prison. Most of the time, he was entangled in solving cases. His third brother, Yun Qingjun, was the deputy commander of the Western Camp of the City Protection Division and had to go to the military camp every day. Yun Qingsu’s position was a captain in the patrol division.
Yun Qingci’s eyes lit up, and he said happily, “Okay.”
In addition to eating with his family every day in the past few days, Yun Qingci was not really close to anyone. He stayed at home by himself most of the time. He used to be very alone in his previous life, so he was still a little unable to adapt for a while.
The active closeness of his father and brothers undoubtedly made him feel a lot easier. Yun Qingsu didn’t dare to say that their father had some other purposes for letting him approach Yun Qingci. His father hoped his elder brothers could cheer him up and when Yun Qingci finally relieved his guard, feeling they were the closest people…
Then… they would persuade him to leave Li Ying.
Yun Qingsu was actually a little reluctant. After his mother died, Yun Qingci completely cut off his relationship with the Yun family. Now that he had been wronged by others, he knew how to come back to find his father and brothers? Why did he come here?
He twisted in the chair, looking at the content face of his younger brother. Anyway, he told what he was supposed to tell, so he might as well withdraw.
He walked around Yun Qingci, partly unable to keep his curiosity, partly looking for a topic, then asked: “What are you doing?”
“Making pigments.” Yun Qingci explained seriously: “This flower juice is very strong, it can be used on ceramics. It holds the heat well and the color is very bright after firing.”
“Why did you suddenly think of doing this?”
Because he was always clinging to Li Ying, Li Ying found a lot of teachers to teach him various crafts in order to make him less clingy. He wanted to distract Yun Qingci to free up his time and attention. Yun Qingci learned everything to make Li Ying happy. He also fired an excellent set of porcelain in his previous life and happily took it to Li Ying to show his learning results. That day, Li Ying happened to come back from the council chamber. He was very unhappy because of the tight situation on the frontier. When he saw Yun Qingci, he was annoyed and made him drop it.
When the old master who taught Yun Qingci porcelain-making skills heard that, he was very angry for him wasting resources.
Yun Qingci’s expression grew slightly cold. Then he smiled again and said, “You can sell it. And doesn’t father like it? I want to fire perfect porcelain for him. This is a surprise, brother, don’t tell him secretly.”
Yun Qingsu was in a daze for a while, then asked: “Do you want to give father a gift?”
“Yes.” Yun Qingci lowered his head, continuing to mash the flower juice. “I want to make Daddy happy.”
Yun Qingsu didn’t think he could fire any good thing, but this intention was enough to soften his heart. He raised his hand to touch Yun Qingci’s head but then shrank it back silently.
Although Yun Qingci asked him to keep a secret, Yun Qingsu still couldn’t hold back. As soon as he got out of his brother’s yard, he went straight to the main house: “Father, Xiao Ci said he wanted to give you a surprise!”
Prime Minister Yun wondered how old he was to behave like that, and his tone was somewhat impolite: “You say it was a surprise, so why did you tell me about it?”
“Oh.” Yun Qingsu was splashed with a pot of cold water and said blankly: “This child talks too much.”
He turned to leave, but was stopped again. Prime Minister Yun sternly asked, “What is the surprise?”
Yun Qingsu snickered and turned around solemnly: “He said it will be the best porcelain you have ever seen.”
The Prime Minister Yun knew it was empty talk when he heard it: “You young people just don’t know how high the sky is and how thick the earth is. What does he know about porcelain? Do you believe his words? Even if you burn a kiln for a lifetime, you can’t guarantee that you can produce the best.”
“That’s what he said, believe it or not.”
The Prime Minister Yun snorted, waved his hand and drove his son out.
On the next day during the court meeting, Secretary Han quietly leaned towards Prime Minister Yun: “I heard that His Majesty went to your mansion the day before yesterday.”
Prime Minister Yun raised his head and asked casually, “How do you know?”
“Someone recognized Mr. Liu in front of the carriage.” Secretary Han sighed and said, “Why didn’t you smear the Emperor’s face and not allow the Lord Empress to go back with him?”
Prime Minister Yun shook his head. Even in front of his old friend, he couldn’t confide everything, so he just said, “His Majesty didn’t specifically come to pick him up. It’s not like you don’t know how he treats Xiao Ci.”
“So that’s it…” Secretary Han suddenly realized: “But if His Majesty has not achieved his goal, can he give up easily?”
The Prime Minister Yun pretended to sigh sorrowfully, and Secretary Han patted him on the shoulder comfortingly: “But if the Lord Empress is willing to live in the mansion now, you can be relieved.”
When Yun Qingci made the traditional visit to his parents’ house this year, he just went to the prime minister’s mansion to make a scene, and then went directly to the suburban courtyard where he lived with his mother when he was young. Everyone knew about the discord between father and son.
Prime Minister Yun nodded and said mysteriously: “Have you ever seen the perfect porcelain?”
“You know the industry, and you know true perfect porcelain is unattainable.” Secretary Han was not in the mood. “Even if it existed, it would be sent to the palace. Have you seen it?”
Prime Minister Yun was immediately relieved. Everyone knew that perfect porcelain was impossible, but Yun Qingci had the intention to give it to him. With this kind of filial piety, what else can one wish for?
Of course, he knew that Yun Qingci couldn’t fire it, so he didn’t say anything else. Anyway, his heart was full enough for him to be happy for a long time.
Secretary Han continued: “Speaking of which, Bazhenju seems to have opened a boutique. I heard that Grand Commander Qiu had already visited in advance. Would you like to go and have a look together?”
The Prime Minister Yun was surprised: “Bazhenju?”
He remembered that he also had visited.
“Master Yun.” There was a voice from behind, and Secretary Han smiled and turned to greet: “Grand Commander Qiu.”
Prime Minister Yun’s expression was subtle as Grand Commander Qiu stepped forward with a worried expression on his face: “I heard that Xiao Ci was injured and was recuperating at home. I don’t know how he is now… is the injury serious?”
“Grand Commander doesn’t need to worry, everything is fine with the child.”
“I wanted to ask my wife to visit, but I thought that there are no female relatives in your Yun family, and it won’t be very convenient, so I decided to ask in person… Is Xiao Ci behaving himself?”
There were only two female members in the Yun family. The eldest sister married the Shuofang envoy early. Now she was stationed in Lingzhou with her husband and couldn’t return to the capital unless summoned. Lady Yun’s health was weak, and when Yun Qingci was wounded during the assassination attempt, she disregarded her health completely worrying about him. When Yun Qingci, who was eight years old then, regained consciousness, he saw his mother lying next to him on the pillow. He thought that she was too tired taking care of him and fell asleep.
He reluctantly ate something, and then touched her, only to find that her body was cold and she passed away while guarding him.
Yun Qingci always believed that although his father did not directly kill him, he indirectly killed his mother.
Everyone in the Yun family knew that while Yun Qingci was in a coma, Lady Yun and Prime Minister Yun completely broke up and Lady Yun did not allow her husband to visit their courtyard. Therefore, Yun Qingci did not let the Prime Minister Yun attend the funeral, and the Prime Minister Yun didn’t bother him. He just followed from a distance and watched his wife be sealed in the tomb forever.
Grand Commander Qiu’s words could be described as cruel, but Prime Minister Yun looked as calm as always. He remembered how well-behaved and sensible his youngest son was in the past few days, and even smiled: “I won’t talk about house matters here. If Grand Commander is interested, we can sit in a teahouse. I also happen to want to ask about the recent situation of the students Qiu Wei and Qiu Yang.”
Those two were Grand Commander Qiu’s third and fourth sons, and they had to call the Prime Minister Yun “teacher”. One of the two brothers could only play around without learning or skill, and the other often went to places where there were many girls. Except for the eldest son Qiu Xian, who was quite worry-free, those two seemed to be born specially to anger their father.
A sneer appeared on Grand Commander Qiu’s face. “No matter how my Qiu family’s children are, they don’t chase men all day long. Now that His Majesty has even deprived the Lord Empress of the ceremonial escort while sending him back to his family, now only the abolishment hasn’t been announced… I would like to see what a good show Young Master Yun, who is unable to live without His Majesty, will stage for us.”
He flung his sleeves and left. The Prime Minister Yun frowned slightly, because it was also what he was most worried about.
It was imperative for Yun Qingci to dispel his desire to play hard to get as soon as possible, and make a complete separation with the emperor.
He bid farewell to Secretary Han: “I need to go to Bazhenju again.”
Good things couldn’t be robbed by rivals.
The ice on Canglan Lake was frozen thick, and the Ice Festival arrived.
The wound on Yun Qingci’s forehead was already scabbed, so he took off the gauze. Fortunately, in winter, the brim of his hat was big enough to hide the wound. He got up early in the morning, dressed up and went out in the carriage with his fourth brother.
Li Ying was a step late, and Liu Ziru came back from the mansion’s gate saying: “The Lord Empress and the fourth young master went out together, also to Canglan Lake.”
Vendors gathered on the shores of Canglan Lake, and it was getting more and more crowded. On this clear day, there was snow everywhere, and the sky was white and blue, very beautiful.
Yun Qingci got out of the carriage, closed his eyes and took a breath. The cold snow air filled his lungs, refreshing his whole body.
A familiar voice came: “Qingsu.”
Yun Qingci raised his eyes, while Yun Qingsu was already greeting: “Little Master Hou.”
It was Princess Yan Zhao’s only child, Li Ying’s study companion in the imperial college since childhood, Lin Huaijin.
He had a good relationship with Yun Qingsu. To be precise, he had a good relationship with Li Ying and Yun Qingci.
More than a year ago, Yun Qingci killed a palace slave who was close to Li Ying. Lin Huaijin happened to pass by. Relying on their close age and their past affection, he severely reprimanded Yun Qingci and the two had a bit of a quarrel.
Then Li Ying arrived. At that time, Li Ying still knew to say good things about Yun Qingci. He told Lin Huaijin: “He is not like that by nature, he just loves me too much. I will take care of him.”
Yun Qingci never understood why Li Ying would say such relatively private things in front of Lin Huaijin, but at that time he was extremely satisfied, thinking that Li Ying understood him.
Later when he was thrown to the Cold Palace, Lin Huaijin went to help him, pleading with Li Ying for him: “Even if the Prime Minister is guilty of forming a party, what crime did the Lord Empress commit? After so many years, can’t you really see through his heart? Has Your Majesty forgotten?” He even questioned Li Ying in front of Yun Qingci: “You said that he is not paranoid by nature, it’s just because he loves you. Now, you want to treat him so forcefully and disdainfully. Is this Your Majesty’s plan to kill him?”
Li Ying ordered to drag him out in anger and hit him with twenty boards.
It wasn’t until then that Yun Qingci understood that Li Ying had said those words not for his sake, but for Lin Huaijin’s.
There was noise in his ears, but Yun Qingci’s face was as delicate as ever. The white brim of the hat made his face look even more pleasant. Lin Huaijin stepped forward and bowed to greet him: “Greeting the Lord Empress.”
“Call him Xiao Ci,” Yun Qingsu said. “There’re many people around, it’ll be safer.”
Lin Huaijin was silent for a while, then said in a slightly muffled voice: “Xiao Ci.”
Not far away, Li Ying’s carriage stopped. He lifted the curtain and saw Lin Huaijin next to Yun Qingci.
Liu Ziru felt the surrounding temperature drop rapidly in an instant.