Chapter Three Bloodline
Outside the capital, hundreds of thousands of troops lined up in formations. The figures of soldiers were as dense as black clouds and everywhere, with no end in sight. There were also banners, iron armour and cold flashes of swords.
Zhao Yuan looked at the lofty, towering walls of the city, and the colour of his eyes gradually turned darker.
The generals who were following Zhao Yuan on his left and right tensed upon seeing his face growing cold, fearing that at this moment even half a sentence could provoke an order of corporal punishment. But Su Wang remained silent.
Everyone was waiting for the attack. It had already been three days, and when a military opportunity was delayed by a minute, it meant that the danger would be greater by a minute. The generals were still patient, but the soldiers were running out of patience.
Su Wang remained motionless like a mountain.
“Report! His Majesty invites Su Wang back to the camp to discuss some matters.”
Zhao Yuan nodded. He grabbed the reins, turned Bai Yucong around and galloped through the army behind him.
The black, boundless dense clouds were split by a white light, like a knife cutting out a straight path.
As soon as he arrived at the opening in front of the main tent, Zhao Yuan jumped down, not waiting for the horse to stop. He straightened the hem of his robe, only to hear the voice of the guard inside while another guard opened the tent curtain. Zhao Yuan lowered his head and walked in quickly.
The main tent was filled with a strong smell of medicine. He could hear a continuous sound of coughing even before he bypassed the screen. Zhao Yuan frowned and his steps became more cautious and respectful.
“Your Majesty.” Zhao Yuan was about to bow in a ceremonial salute.
Zhao Shen, who was reclining on the couch, gazed at his younger brother. Looking at him was like looking in a mirror. He sent away his subordinates and as soon as they were alone, he spoke without warning.
“After I die, you will take the throne.”
Zhao Yuan raised his head in shock and knelt down before speaking. “Your Majesty! How can Your Majesty have such an inconceivable thought!”
“My illness has come too quickly. I couldn’t get up within three days. I don’t believe you didn’t notice.”
Zhao Yuan looked at the emperor. Just a few days of illness made him lose his lustre, his eyes were slightly yellowed, and his face was tinged with green and black.
He was silent for a while, then Zhao Shen continued: “You and I were born together. When you caught typhoid fever during the attack on Lingnan a few years ago and were on the verge of death, I could feel it thousands of miles away. Now that my body is failing, it is impossible for me to hide it from you.”
Zhao Yuan took two steps forward and knelt down in front of the couch bed. “Your Majesty, your younger brother survived unharmed that day. Now that you have the protection of having a true dragon body, you should rest in peace. By no means should you worry!”
He looked up while persuading, his face showing deep concern.
Zhao Shen felt a moment of emotion when he heard this. He stretched out his hand, patted him lightly and blurted out Zhao Yuan’s pet name, “Ah Yuan, get up, sit down and let’s talk.”
Zhao Yuan got up, sat on the sofa beside the couch bed and waited for further instructions from the emperor.
Zhao Shen stopped talking about his health, but turned to ask about the military situation, “These days, is the army still stable?”
At this juncture of the siege, the emperor was too ill to get up. If the news spread, there would be rebellious troops and other forces from outside ready to move, and with no leader inside the consequences would be unimaginable.
This matter was of great importance. The situation was kept secret from the beginning. Except for the imperial doctor, the empress and several close ministers, everyone else knew only that the emperor was suffering from a slight cold, there was no need to mention uninformed outsiders.
“The spirit of the troops is very stable. Your Majesty just needs to relax and recuperate. Once Your Majesty is healed, the city gate will open.”
Zhao Shen only nodded as he heard these words, but did not say anything.
After just a few minutes of conversation, the emperor’s face showed a look of deep fatigue, and Zhao Yuan saw it as the opportunity to resign and leave the tent.
General Yuchi Rui had been waiting for him outside for a long time, and when he saw the gloomy face of Zhao Yuan who was coming back from the emperor, he asked bluntly, “Is there something wrong with His Majesty?”
Zhao Yuan didn’t want to say anything and shook his head.
Yuchi Rui didn’t give up. “Lord, I heard that His Majesty has a slight cold but he is already better.”
Zhao Yuan frowned slightly, stared at Yuchi Rui and said, “Where did you hear these rumours? You dare to comment about the emperor’s body!”
“Lord, forgive me!” If Yuchi Rui could not see at this point that the man in front of him was angry, he would have been following Zhao Yuan in his battles and conquests all these years in vain.
He immediately knelt down and said: “The army marched hurriedly all the way to the city for ten days and finally we got here before anyone else. But now we haven’t heard the Lord’s order to attack the city for three days. If we delay any longer, not only will we suffer from the enemy, but there will inevitably be some speculation in the army…”
Zhao Yuan was silent for a moment before he said, “Don’t let anyone know what I’m going to tell you. The city will be attacked in less than three days. So just restrain your men and wait for orders.”
“Yes! The men will be ready.” There was a faint excitement in Yuchi Rui’s reply. The city was about to be breached.
In the middle of the night, Zhao Yuan stood outside his tent alone. Dew condensed on his armour and the chirping of the insects was the only sound around him.
His expression was as deep as water. The emperor’s body might not be able to last, but the emperor didn’t accept his fate as he seemed to let on on the surface.
Zhao Shen’s delay in ordering the attack was the best proof of it.
He was still hoping that his dragon body would recover quickly and that he would be able to lead his troops to seize the capital and leave a glorious record in the history books.
At this moment, even the emperor who was too sick to get up wanted to delay attacking the city, but no one in the army was more worried than Zhao Yuan.
An urgent report came that day, and after learning that the capital had been invaded by rebel troops, he immediately persuaded his brother to strike the camp and force entry to the capital.
Everyone thought that he was refusing to delay for a moment so that Zhao Shen could sit on the dragon chair in Dacheng Hall rightfully.
Only Zhao Yuan knew that what he was really worried about was the safety of one person. From the moment he left Southern Yunnan, from the moment he saw the little hope of entering the capital, he couldn’t suppress the various thoughts in his heart.
He once thought that he would never see that person again in this life, but now he was only a few steps away from the wall that separated them.
Who would expect that at this last moment, the emperor got seriously ill, and the army had to stop outside the city, easily wasting all the time he had earned. He still didn’t know if that person inside was alive or dead, and this torment drove him insane.
Two more days passed. Zhao Yuan grew more silent, not saying a word for almost an entire day. He used gag orders to combat anxiety, because Su Wang had to stabilise the spirit of the troops, otherwise the hearts of the soldiers would shake.
The emperor summoned him again.
This time Zhao Yuan took a deep breath before stepping into the main tent.
The smell of the medicine was still overwhelming. The moment he saw the emperor’s face, Zhao Yuan knew that his unknown premonition had come true.
Zhao Shen couldn’t last much longer.
With the two brothers alone in the tent, Zhao Shen brought up the old topic again.
“You have built most of the empire, and Heng Er is still too young to take the throne. You and I are twin brothers, and our bloodline is stronger than Heng Er’s. When I am gone, you will be the one to take the throne.”
Although Zhao Shen’s words seemed sincere, Zhao Yuan refused to accept them.
Zhao Shen was about to try to persuade him again, but when he opened his mouth, he coughed incessantly. His thoughts scattered. For the first time, he really felt the threat of death coming near.
Zhao Shen was unwilling. He had been crowned the emperor less than half a month ago, and now he was going to die in this tent in the wilderness outside the capital?
The Zhao family had been planning for generations for this moment when the Qing dynasty had run out of steam and bandits and rebellious troops had risen up all over the country. It was at this moment in which the army of Southern Yunnan would appear under the banner of suppressing the bandits and protecting the emperor.
He, Zhao Shen, was about to invade the capital and truly sit in Dacheng Hall to be worshipped by all the people and become the founding emperor of the new dynasty; but he could no longer hold on.
As the kings with a different surname, the Zhao family has been guarding Southern Yunnan for several generations. Instead of becoming obscene and sluggish because of being idle, they worked hard to govern, and there were talents that emerged in every generation. In the last two generations, they were feared by the imperial family.
They originally thought it would take a few more generations of staying dormant, but who knew that they would be blessed with such a good opportunity. During the past ten years, the Qing Dynasty was full of changes. First, the crown prince was violently killed, and Prince Qin usurped the throne. When he got the power, he was violent. The officials enforcing the government’s harsh taxes caused the people to rebel. When the rebel armies from all over the country had risen, it didn’t take long for it to become a prairie fire. The defenders everywhere were exhausted, and the capital was helpless, and one of those rebel armies accidentally broke into the city.
The last emperor of the Qing Dynasty had died half a month ago. The army of Southern Yunnan went all the way north to suppress many rebellious troops, and Zhao Shen’s reputation was soaring. He took advantage of the situation and established his own state under the name of Great Cheng. Thereafter he became more and more unstoppable and went straight to the capital.
Zhao Shen hated the gods that wanted him to die at this moment, but he had to accept his fate and had to make arrangements for the aftermath.
Fortunately, Zhao Shen had already proclaimed himself the emperor and his status was established. Many things could not be changed even if he died.
He sat up on the couch bed and looked at his younger twin brother.
“That day when father and mother sent you to the capital as a hostage, I did not agree, but I was too weak to speak. Today, since I can’t take care of the world with my own hands, you will take my place. Since you have already done it for me once, why not do it for me again? This is also the will of gods.”
In order to move his brother’s heart, Zhao Shen didn’t even use the imperial form of ‘I’ (zhen) when talking about himself and used a simple ‘I’ (wo).
“Your Majesty, forgive your younger brother for not being able to accept it!”
Zhao Yuan was very clear-headed at this moment. Although Zhao Heng, the emperor’s eldest son, was not an adult yet, he was thirteen years old. It was against common sense to bypass his own child and make him, the younger brother who had been sent to the capital as an outcast, an heir. If Zhao Yuan had believed this, he would have died many times during his time in the capital.
The emperor was just unsure and was testing him again and again. Zhao Yuan knew that if he showed the slightest hesitation in refusing at this moment, he would be taken down before he even left the main tent.
Zhao Yuan refused many times, but the emperor was still persuading him, so it was clear that his suspicions had not yet disappeared.
Zhao Yuan had to throw out a killer weapon. He wanted to keep this secret, but the emperor continued tempting him and refusing to believe him completely, and he was afraid that if he didn’t get rid of his suspicions, the consequences would be unbearable.
It was also good to reveal his secret so that the emperor had something to control him, something that finally would allow him to put his mind at ease.
Zhao Yuan got up from his seat and said solemnly: “Your Majesty, your brother used the power of his bloodline and lost his right of inheritance.”
Zhao Yuan spoke calmly, but Zhao Shen leaned from his couch bed in shock and coughed violently.