“Nothing much. When I was at the Xi Wang Residence in the past, Xi Wang would often mix up names or surnames. While I’m not sure how your Junior Brother’s name is written, there is indeed a ‘Nian’ character in my name, so I habitually stopped.” Fu Nian calmly explained without turning around while speaking.
“I see. Then it’s all good, you can go.”
Listening to Fu Zhen, there seemed to be a hint of impatience in his sigh.
“I’ll take my leave then.”
After saying that, Fu Nian left without looking back.
When he was called “Fu Nian,” his heart did indeed skip a beat for a moment. However, upon hearing that he was called by mistake, he felt relieved. Since childhood, his Senior Brother had never believed in these superstitious things, and from his tone, it sounded like his Senior Brother couldn’t wait to be rid of him. If he had really exposed himself, he should be getting a thorough beating right now, rather than being able to walk and move freely.
In the palace, life as an ordinary guard was rather uneventful. Even after leaving the ranks of new recruits and starting patrol duties, it was still much more relaxed than his time as a Shadow Guard by the Emperor’s side. There were even dedicated days for resting.
Having a day off was something Fu Nian could only dream of in the past.
Despite the decrease in financial income compared to before, things were much easier now.
On his day off today, Fu Nian had just picked up a twig and was holding it like a blade, practicing the blade techniques he had learned in the past based on his memory.
To avoid being noticed, he deliberately chose a corner with no one around. There had been people attempting to use techniques to probe his identity, so Fu Nian believed that from now on, it was better not to let others see his blade, stick, and concealed weapons techniques.
He hadn’t practiced for long when he heard footsteps approaching. He quickly dropped the twig he was holding.
The voice of Rendong.
Fu Nian slightly eased his guard, turning around, “What’s the matter, Rendong? Why are you in such a hurry?”
“Look at this! The Mid-Year Festival is coming, and it seems like the palace holds these events every year…”
As Rendong spoke, Fu Nian saw him hand over a piece of paper. The ink marks on it hadn’t dried completely, indicating it had just been printed.
Fu Nian took it and glanced, “Mid-Year Festival, Martial Arts Challenge…” Before he could finish reading, his attention was drawn to the small characters below, “Winner rewarded with a hundred taels of gold, monthly royal meal preparation…”
“What hundred taels of gold, what royal meal preparation?” Hearing these key words, Rendong eagerly asked, “Big Brother, read it carefully. I can’t read…”
Fu Nian read through the text more carefully, “It roughly says that during the Mid-Year Festival, there will be a martial arts competition. All guards can participate, and it’s elimination-based. The winner will receive a hundred taels of gold and can have the royal kitchen prepare a meal every month. Families back home will also receive certain support. That’s the general idea, though there are some characters I can’t fully recognize.”
“Is it really that good? I also want to participate.”
“Sure.” Fu Nian responded.
When he was still in the palace, the Mid-Year Festival was always bustling, but Fu Nian never had time to take part. Apart from accompanying Chu Zhaoyi to ancestral temples on occasion, the rest of the time was spent assisting Chu Zhaoyi with official matters and being as busy as ever.
“Aren’t you excited? With such a huge reward, you defeated so many of Ze Wang’s men last time. You should give it a try.”
“I am excited.” Fu Nian’s voice didn’t carry a hint of excitement. It remained as calm and even as usual.
The reward was indeed tempting, but he didn’t feel like drawing attention in front of everyone. Fu Nian wasn’t keen on taking the spotlight, especially considering Chu Zhaoyi would also be watching.
“But even if I’m excited, I’m not really interested,” Fu Nian added.
“I heard that if you perform well, you might even get a position directly in front of the Emperor! Such a great opportunity…” Rendong’s voice trailed off with a sigh.
Upon hearing the phrase “directly in front of the Emperor,” Fu Nian involuntarily shuddered. “Then I’m even less interested.”
Rendong looked at Fu Nian, puzzled, eyes full of questions, “Ordinary people would be overjoyed by the chance to work directly in front of the Emperor. Why are you acting so differently?”
Fu Nian didn’t want to explain his past conflicts and resentments with Chu Zhaoyi, as well as the pile of past issues from his previous life. However, looking at the genuinely curious child in front of him, he thought for a moment and decided to tease him a bit, “Come closer, and I’ll tell you a secret, something not spread around the Chengyuan Hall, something I overheard before.”
At the mention of a secret, Rendong’s excitement was completely piqued, and he leaned in eagerly, “What! Let me hear it!”
Fu Nian leaned in close to Rendong’s ear, feigning mystery, and whispered for quite some time before pulling back.
“So, after all that, you’re saying you saw a mouse embroidered on the Emperor’s sleeve? I thought it was something rare, like how to get promoted to the Chengyuan Hall, or some earth-shattering secret.”
“A mouse embroidered on the sleeve isn’t a secret? Even if enemy spies came, they wouldn’t be able to find out about that, right?” Seeing Rendong’s disappointed reaction, Fu Nian did his best to keep from laughing.
“Why would enemy spies care about what’s embroidered on the Emperor’s sleeve?”
Fu Nian: “You’ve got a point.”
After speaking, Fu Nian went around Rendong and found another spot to quietly practice his blade techniques, neatly avoiding the question of why he didn’t want to work in the Chengyuan Hall.
Compared to actual blades and knives, a twig lacked strength, even if he tied a stone to it. The feel wasn’t quite right.
As evening approached, Fu Nian put down the twig in his hand, still wanting more practice.
When he had moved to the southern region after leaving the palace, he had hidden some copied blade manuals he brought from the sect in his residence there. He wondered if after his death, the estate and the property inside had been confiscated.
Summer evenings weren’t particularly cool. Fu Nian laid under a tree, staring at the shifting shadows above, lost in thought.
Was his Senior Brother reliable or not? If he wasn’t, Fu Nian pondered the Mid-Year Festival. Chu Zhaoyi would definitely leave the palace to pay respects at the ancestral temple, and the vigilance of the Chengyuan Hall would likely slacken. Should he wait until that time to go in? However, without entrusting his Senior Brother, he would have a hard time finding out about the “frost-cold ginseng.”
Fu Nian realized belatedly that the traitors and even the powerful eunuchs by the Emperor’s side, why they would select palace attendants to train as their spies and assassins.
Individuals like him, who were so straightforward, only knew how to be Chu Zhaoyi’s lapdogs. Generally, they wouldn’t live to an age where they would be remembered in history.
“It seems like I now understand why I was despised and cursed by so many back then.” Fu Nian muttered softly to the shadows of the trees.
Just as he finished sighing, he felt a tap on his forehead.
He quickly jumped up, cautiously surveying his surroundings.
Suddenly, the disdainful yet helpless voice of his Senior Brother sounded behind him.
Fu Nian turned around.
Indeed, someone from the same sect. His Senior Brother was always more adept at these minor tricks than he was.
“It’s you. From our last encounter, I only remember that your surname is Fu—”
“Quit pretending. You know my name,” Fu Zhen interrupted directly before the person in front could continue their smooth talk.
“I recall your esteemed name… It should be the two characters Fu Zhen,” Fu Nian, exposed, still answered honestly, “May I ask, Lord Fu, have you found out the purpose of Ze Wang using the frost-cold ginseng?”
“Don’t call me Lord. The one who could be called Lord is already dead in the palace, that dog. If anyone else was called the dog’s name, beware of the one in dragon robes, for they are merciless.” Fu Zhen added, “I found out. Ze Wang has been frail and sickly since childhood. He first used the frost-cold ginseng in his medicine when he was three and a half years old. After that… his ailments grew more numerous and varied, especially as he moved between various imperial consorts after his birth mother passed away. This led to many prescriptions, so the Imperial Hospital hasn’t been able to organize them all. The records of prescriptions from his sixth to fourteenth year are incomplete.”
“Please continue,” Fu Nian didn’t really expect Fu Zhen to actually help him.
However, he didn’t expect… it was all well-detailed.
“To sum it up, I’ve copied all the prescriptions Ze Wang has taken since childhood,” Fu Zhen continued, unfastening his cloak and pulling out a stack of neatly wrapped papers from his pocket, “I briefly skimmed through them. There are quite a few prescriptions that include the frost-cold ginseng. I didn’t bother reading them all, so I brought them all.”
Fu Nian didn’t expect such good news, “Thank you. I am indebted to you.”
After speaking, Fu Nian instinctively reached out to take the stack of papers from Fu Zhen’s hand.
However, his hand grasped at empty air.
Fu Zhen took a step back on purpose, raising the package in his hand, “I can’t bear such great kindness. Money will do.”
Fu Nian’s usually expressionless face turned more rigid.
Could he win against Senior Brother? But if he couldn’t… it wasn’t worth revealing his techniques, and given that the other had the ability to gather this information, there would likely be further interaction between them. He couldn’t act rashly.
Fu Zhen saw him silent and continued nonchalantly, “Ah, you don’t think this is free, do you? I risked my life moving back and forth within the palace. It won’t be much, only sixty taels of gold.”
It’s not much.
It’s enough to feed a regular person for several lifetimes, and it’s still considered not much.
Fu Nian thought for a moment. Even if he added up the compensation and property he received after he was disabled, he wouldn’t be able to come up with this much. However, he knew it must have taken quite a bit of effort to collect all this information.
Fu Nian gritted his teeth. He should have checked how much property he had left from his previous life before entering the palace.
“Temporarily… I don’t have that much,” after a long silence, Fu Nian reluctantly said, “Could I get a credit line? I can only afford forty-five taels of silver monthly… if I use my food expenses, I might be able to change a few more taels of silver. But I can’t come up with sixty taels of gold right now.”
As he discussed matters, Fu Nian started to consider where he could obtain so much money. He had been dead for so long that the property in the southern estate had likely been confiscated, and going back might just be a waste of effort and likely not yield the inheritance from his previous life.
Borrowing money… he didn’t know anyone.
After thinking for a while, Fu Nian remembered what Rendong had told him earlier, that the palace would hold a martial arts competition during the Mid-Year Festival, with a reward of a hundred taels of gold for the winner.
“That works too. I won’t require your signature and seal. If I’m caught illegally searching for palace medicine recipes and they are subsequently sold at a high price, I won’t be able to escape debt either. You can give me a deposit of forty-five taels of silver for now.” After considering it for a moment, Fu Zhen answered cheerfully.
You also know this violates palace regulations?
Fu Nian couldn’t help but mutter in his heart.
As expected, after he handed over the money, Fu Nian received the painstakingly collected prescription copies from Fu Zhen.
When he saw the first chapter, Fu Nian was utterly dumbfounded.
It seemed like Fu Zhen had copied these himself.
Seeing the familiar messy and unruly handwriting, Fu Nian couldn’t help but laugh and cry at the same time.
It really was his Senior Brother…
Fu Nian feigned calmness as he flipped through the pages.
As he reached the end, he found that there was still a book sandwiched between the papers.
There was no title written on the book cover, just some traces of cinnabar ink.
Aside from being used in medicine or when the Emperor approved memorials, there didn’t seem to be any special purpose for cinnabar ink.
Curious, Fu Nian couldn’t resist opening the book.
There were even more traces of cinnabar ink on the title page. Soon after, as he finished the first page, Fu Nian began to frown.
The book combined pictures with sparse explanations. It had many illustrations but very few accompanying explanations. As he flipped through, it described how to preserve a corpse from decomposition, even mimicking the appearance of a sleeping person, and storing it for a long time in a normal living environment.
Before he could finish reading, Fu Nian’s features twisted in a frown.
“Apologies, I gave you the wrong one. This isn’t something you should be reading.”
Before he could finish reading, Fu Nian suddenly felt the book being snatched back from his hand.
His new prosthetic limbs couldn’t yet grasp books or other delicate objects; it was a disadvantage to be handless.
Fu Nian didn’t dare ask where this strange book came from.
Fu Zhen put away the peculiar book and impatiently asked again, “Have you finished reading the prescriptions?”
Fu Nian fell silent and frankly stated that he couldn’t understand the characters Fu Zhen wrote, as it seemed a bit too hurtful.
After a long contemplation, Fu Nian politely said, “Your handwriting… bears a resemblance to the style of Wang Xizhi from ancient times, but I’m just an ordinary person and lack the ability to appreciate it fully. So, could I trouble you, Lord, to explain a bit?”
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