The Empress Dowager was shocked to hear the news of Duke Dingguo’s death in the palace, and her anger and sorrow caused her to faint.
By the time the Emperor arrived, Shen Zhi was still lying unconscious on the bed, and the palace maids and eunuchs were all red-eyed and standing like wooden stakes, with a mixture of fear, worry, and grievance on their faces, as if the unspoken emotions of the main hall were reflected on their faces.
With Duke Dingguo gone, the Shen family quickly collapsed. Although the Emperor gave them great favor and did not show any neglect, the Duke’s son was two years younger than Zhao Heng and was completely incapable of handling matters.
Even if he waited for his ennoblement, he would need to reach the same age as the Emperor when he came to the throne, which would take at least four to five years. By then, the court would have already changed its new favorites, and there would be no place for the Shen family.
From the moment he entered the palace gate, Zhao Heng felt that the people in the Ningan Palace were more respectful than usual. As soon as he entered the side hall, his younger brother, Duan Wang, ran towards him sobbing, his eyes full of panic.
Zhao Heng took his hand and said, “Ah Yu is now a grown-up. In a few days, you will be nine years old. If you keep crying like this, how can the Royal Mother rest and recover?”
Duan Wang hesitated for a moment when he heard this, but soon stopped crying and looked at Zhao Heng with watery eyes, “Your Majesty, will Royal Mother get better?”
Zhao Heng sat down and pulled his brother in front of him, gesturing for the palace maid to wipe his face. He said gently, “Royal Mother has lost both father and uncle in succession and cannot bear the blow. It may take a while for her to recover. Ah Yu, you should study hard and be a well-behaved child. When Royal Mother wakes up, you should accompany her more, make her happy, can you do that?”
“Grand Tutor Zheng often tells me that Your Majesty’s words are like imperial edicts, and I will obey Your Majesty’s orders.”
Zhao Heng smiled and left Zhao Yu outside, entering the inner room alone.
The Empress Dowager was lying quietly on the bed with her eyes tightly closed, but there was still a faint trace of worry between her eyebrows. The Emperor sat on a small round stool beside her and looked at her for a long time.
Shen Zhi was still very young, with a beautiful oval face and distinct eyebrows and nose. It was said that women like her were extremely proud. Shen Zhi pursed her lips, and the Emperor couldn’t help but think that if she could be as peaceful as she was now in the past, he would be willing to visit the Ningan Palace more often.
Zhao Heng slowly stood up. The imperial physicians were still waiting outside the hall. He walked out to the outer chamber and listened to the follow-up treatment plan, nodding his head without making any comments.
The imperial physicians breathed a sigh of relief, but the Emperor said in a low voice, “The Empress Dowager has lost so many loved ones in the past few years, and she has been worrying about me day and night, as well as taking care of Duan Wang. It is too hard for her. I’m afraid she has already suffered a lot of internal damage and needs to be properly recuperated.”
The physicians naturally agreed, and one of them even had the courage to say, “In my opinion, the Empress Dowager has been depressed for several years and has been working too hard, both inside and outside. This time, she may have been hit by bad news, but in fact, it is like a big tree that has been hollowed out inside. It cannot withstand any wind and rain. Although it seems to be fine on the surface and has a deep foundation, it is still necessary to rest and recuperate.”
Zhao Heng listened carefully and looked at the physician named Wang. This person was not afraid of the Emperor’s scrutiny and stood there respectfully and smoothly.
“I think what you said makes some sense,” Zhao Heng said with a smile. “Tell me, when the danger has passed, how do you plan to take care of the Empress Dowager?”
The physician named Wang replied confidently, “I will advise the Empress Dowager to rest and recuperate carefully, and to spend her days leisurely in the palace, avoiding all disturbing matters and only enjoying the leisurely activities such as appreciating flowers, watching fish, listening to music, and strolling in the garden. She must also avoid listening to idle talk and gossip, which can cause various irritations.”
Zhao Heng smiled as he listened, “It seems that you are very knowledgeable in medicine. I think this plan is feasible. From now on, it will be your responsibility to take care of the Empress Dowager’s health.”
Those who specialize in examining the Empress Dowager’s pulse must hold the rank of the Grand Physician in order to do so. When the Emperor spoke favorably of someone, such as when he quickly promoted Wang Yicheng to the rank of Chief Physician, that person would soar to great heights.
At this point, the few imperial physicians understood completely that the Emperor was not asking about the Empress Dowager’s illness, but rather how to allow her to rest without causing any controversy.
Considering the current instability of the court and the recent downfall of the Shen family, whether it was the Emperor or the Prince Regent’s intention, the Empress Dowager must rest.
Three days later, Duke Dingguo held a funeral, which Zhao Heng attended in person. After the commotion at the Duke’s mansion had subsided, Shen Zhi soon moved to Jingyi Palace in the southeast corner of the imperial city. The Emperor claimed that this location was peaceful and more suitable for the Empress Dowager’s recuperation.
Without the leadership of the princes and Duke Dingguo, only a few insignificant officials remained in the court. Zhao Yuan accelerated the process and within a month, he cleared out many of the remnants of the Shen family.
Following the emperor’s wishes, the Regent selected individuals among the newly appointed scholars that Zhao Heng valued and placed them in suitable positions. He also recommended capable officials who had been marginalized in local positions. These individuals were mature and steady, complementing the young talents. They were all devoted ministers who focused on practical matters. However, due to their humble backgrounds and lack of affiliation with any factions, they had only held minor positions despite their advanced age.
Having reached this stage, Zhao Yuan had no more unnecessary words. He directly asked the emperor for personnel arrangements during the court session.
In recent days, Zhao Heng’s complexion had improved, and he was prepared for the Regent to request the person. He had one final matter waiting for Zhao Yuan to bring up, so he could present his conditions.
Although Zhao Yuan had forced Shen Yin to take his own life before, and Duke Dingguo was somewhat responsible for his own fate, he was still the emperor’s uncle. Zhao Heng no longer mentioned this matter, which already showed some partiality towards Zhao Yuan. Now the Empress Dowager was also confined in Jingyi Palace. The emperor and Su Wang were considered even now.
Whether it was the decree to limit the power of the princes or the suppression of the Shen family, it was all about sorting out the power struggles beneath the Prince Regent and the Emperor. Now it was time for the Emperor to confront the Prince Regent himself.
At this critical moment, Zhao Heng had Li Yi, his greatest reliance, and it was time to put him to use.
The Emperor said, “I’m still missing one last thing to settle. Royal Uncle should disband his troops and come back with the tiger talisman to exchange for Li Yi.”
The Emperor spoke so lightly, as if the tiger talisman was just a piece of silver, and once it was obtained, a few silver ingots could be exchanged and the matter would be settled.
All the things the Regent Prince had done before were nothing compared to this one fatal matter.
Lives, wealth, and the entire country lay in this small golden talisman.
Zhao Yuan stood there and looked at the Emperor, saying “okay.”
Before he even finished speaking, he had already lunged at the Emperor.
Although Wei Che was slow by half a step, he still had enough time to block in front of Zhao Heng.
Wei Che shouted urgently, meaning for the Emperor to quickly retreat, but he didn’t expect that Zhao Yuan’s target wasn’t the Emperor at all.
In the next moment, Wei Che had already engaged with Zhao Yuan and had no time to distract himself.
Zhao Heng knew he should retreat, but his feet wouldn’t budge from the golden brick ground.
Wei Che caught a glimpse of the Emperor still not retreating and was slightly distracted. He immediately received two palm strikes from Zhao Yuan and was taken down.
Seeing Wei Che hit, Zhao Heng’s chest tightened, and suddenly, without warning, his heart began to ache. Soon Wei Che fell behind, and the Emperor barely stood straight while clutching his chest.
Wei Che saw sweat on the Emperor’s forehead and told himself to remain calm at this crucial moment.
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