Fu Nian withdrew his gaze from the amused Ze Wang and lowered his head to look at the floor.
He couldn’t fathom Chu Zhaoyi’s intentions, but the Emperor’s words sounded somewhat strange.
“I failed in my duty, and I won’t let this happen again in the future. I just thought of Fu Bie, severely injured and alone in the prison, with no one to rely on, so I visited him along the way,” Fu Nian replied, carefully choosing his words.
“He was severely injured, does that mean Zhen acted ruthlessly?”
“I dare not,” Fu Nian hurriedly replied.
“Cough, cough, cough, cough, cough…”
After Fu Nian’s response, he heard Chu Zhaoyi coughing violently.
Ze Wang, who had been suppressing his laughter earlier, quickly stood up and went behind Chu Zhaoyi to help him with his back.
Fu Nian didn’t dare to move, standing there silently.
Earlier, when he had asked Li Gonggong, the eunuch had only said that His Majesty had an old ailment but didn’t provide specific details.
After some consideration, Fu Nian didn’t dare to ask any further questions.
“Water. Drink slowly, don’t rush.”
“Even if your body is overheating, you can’t wear so little. At night, you should add more charcoal to the underground dragon’s furnace…”
Listening to Ze Wang patiently conversing with Chu Zhaoyi for a while, the alarming coughing seemed to subside a bit, and Fu Nian finally spoke, “Your Majesty, the night dew is heavy. How about I report my findings as soon as possible to avoid delaying your rest?”
“Mmm,” Chu Zhaoyi grunted in agreement.
Fu Nian organized his thoughts and began recounting everything he had seen at the Distant Moon Sect, all the bewildering scenes, information about Fu Nineteen, and his plan to leave the palace to search for Fu Nineteen.
As he finished, he noticed the furrowed brows on Chu Zhaoyi’s face. “My ability to describe is limited,” Fu Nian added.
“That’s fine. I already know everything you said,” Chu Zhaoyi replied, his face still showing no emotion. “But your senior brother nearly killed you back then, why do you want to leave the palace now to find him?”
Fu Nian didn’t immediately respond.
In his past life, discussions about the gu and their sect had always led to heated arguments between them. Although they were called arguments, most of the time, Fu Nian didn’t have room to argue back.
Especially when it came to the matter of the heart-connecting gu.
“It’s not out of old affections; I just have some suspicions and need to ask Fu Nineteen.” After thinking for a while, Fu Nian cautiously broached the topic, carefully avoiding any pitfalls.
He had thought that Chu Zhaoyi would explode in anger.
However, what he received was silence. After a long pause, Fu Nian heard the sound of coughing.
Fu Nian resisted the urge to inquire about Chu Zhaoyi’s physical condition.
After a long time, Chu Zhaoyi finally spoke in a hoarse voice, “I am pleased that you took the initiative to talk about this instead of sneaking out alone, acting first and reporting later. There’s progress in that.”
Fu Nian: …
This technique of complimenting in a roundabout way while subtly criticizing was truly perfected by this man.
“However, there’s no need for you to leave the palace to find your Senior Brother Nineteen. It’s dangerous outside the palace, and if you go alone, you’ll likely be apprehended by the soldiers and brought back. I’ve been planning to settle the score with that person surnamed Fu during this period. There will be an opportunity for you to meet Fu Nineteen.”
Fu Nian wanted to mention that Fu Nineteen’s current condition was dire, and there might not be much time.
But leaving the palace alone…
Putting aside the trauma from his last life, even with his current three-day bouts of dizziness and fatigue for no apparent reason, going to the Distant Moon Sect on his own didn’t offer much hope for survival.
“Fu Nian, Zhen knows what you’re thinking. You think I’m not trustworthy, and the outcome of the settlement might not satisfy you, so it’s more reliable to take matters into your own hands, right?”
It felt like he had been hit in the head, and his innermost thoughts were left bewildered. “No,” Fu Nian hurriedly denied, but his slightly trembling left hand had already betrayed him.
“This time, Zhen promises to let you see Fu Nineteen as you wish, and I guarantee I will keep my word. There have indeed been many things I haven’t explained to you before… I will explain them slowly in the future,” Chu Zhaoyi said, pausing for a moment. “So, the only thing I ask of you this time is to stay alive in my sight. If you can’t even do that…”
As he spoke, a trace of sternness flashed in Chu Zhaoyi’s eyes.
Fu Nian understood.
Chu Zhaoyi meant that he didn’t want to repeat the “house arrest” of the previous life.
As Fu Nian observed Chu Zhaoyi’s stern expression, he couldn’t help but recall whispers from the past.
They were not sweet nothings or affectionate words, but rather, they sent shivers down his spine when he thought about them.
“Ah Nian, you see this collar. It matches the scars on your throat perfectly. Why would I confine you? You were injured, and the imperial physician advised you to recuperate. Yet, you insist on wandering around, so I had this ‘accessory’ specially crafted with gold, silver, and jade.”
“Your prosthetics have been taken for repairs. During this period, please rest here to recover. If you wish to go out, just tell me, and I will carry you. All right?”
“Is it uncomfortable living in the Chengyuan Hall? When court affairs calm down in a while, would you like to visit the Summer Palace for a change of scenery?”
“We should have removed your left hand and left leg along with the prosthetics back then!… Ah Nian, I love you very much.”
When Fu Nian snapped back to reality, he pinched the palm of his hand.
The current Chu Zhaoyi sitting before him did not exhibit the same paranoid madness as in his memories. Instead, he was sitting at the desk, coughing weakly.
“This subordinate understands,” Fu Nian acknowledged. After saying this, he bowed and added, “I will take my leave now.”
“Your Majesty, may I step outside for a moment?”
Almost simultaneously, Ze Wang spoke up.
After leaving the Imperial Study, Fu Nian finally relaxed a little.
Indeed, he had felt that Chu Zhaoyi didn’t trust him completely. Despite their intimate bond as monarch and minister and their close relationship, Chu Zhaoyi never seemed willing to share everything with him.
But maybe, for a long time now, he hadn’t trusted Chu Zhaoyi as unconditionally as before. To put it nicely, they each handled their own affairs, so as not to burden Chu Zhaoyi unnecessarily.
“Your Highness, the restroom is on the west side,” Fu Nian reminded Ze Wang in a hushed voice, realizing that they were still standing there without moving.
After speaking, he sensed that Ze Wang hadn’t responded and had instead turned to face him.
Fu Nian understood that Ze Wang might have something to say, so he turned around and nodded slightly.
After a long while, Ze Wang finally spoke, “Lord Fu, it seems you have indeed returned.”
“Fu Nian greets Your Highness Ze Wang,” Fu Nian hurriedly saluted.
Listening to Ze Wang’s tone, it didn’t seem surprising, and there was even a hint of relief.
“No need for excessive courtesy. I have arranged for someone to take good care of your junior brother in prison. Although he’s in custody, his medications won’t be lacking. Please don’t worry too much, Lord Fu.”
“Thank you, Your Highness,” Fu Nian found it strange but still expressed his gratitude.
Ze Wang had no reason to care about his recently picked up junior brother.
After pondering for a while, Ze Wang hesitated several times, wanting to speak but stopping himself. Finally, he slowly said, “I have never experienced what you described, Lord Fu, whether it’s the severe lashing or the incessant coughing and high fever through the night. According to medical texts, the former is a physical injury, and most of the pain can be alleviated with a large quantity of pain-relieving medicine. The latter, however, is both a physical and mental strain. Even the most skilled physicians can’t cure it instantly; they can only provide temporary relief with medicinal decoctions. We have an abundant supply of pain-relieving medicine for your junior brother.”
Even if Fu Nian’s mind wasn’t very sharp, he understood.
“This Wang is unaware of Lord Fu’s personal matters, and I don’t intend to interfere…” Ze Wang paused here, covering his emotionless face with a folding fan, “The secret door in the southeastern corner of the sleeping palace has been reopened, and the kitchen’s southwest storeroom is at your disposal. Hengchang Palace was where His Majesty resided in his youth and remains preserved as it was when the Empress left. Furthermore, occasionally, His Majesty invites officials to taste the pastries you personally made and asks for poems of praise. The kitchen is filled with smoke from cooking, so please take care of your health and try to avoid exposure to smoke. The first two sentences are His Majesty’s instructions, and the last sentence is my heartfelt advice, as a substitute for the officials’ concerns for you.”
With that said, Ze Wang put away his fan, called his maidservant, and strode toward the restroom.
Fu Nian: …
Upon returning to his room, Fu Nian laid on his back on the bed, unable to fall asleep for a long time.
He realized that he knew very little about Chu Zhaoyi’s early life.
He only knew that Chu Zhaoyi’s mother had left when he was very young. After her departure, he had an older sister from the same mother to take care of him. However, his sister had married a long way from home and died there. The coffin containing her remains had only recently returned to the capital when Chu Zhaoyi ascended to the throne. Beyond that, Chu Zhaoyi hadn’t talked much about his past.
Fu Nian decided that he would visit Hengchang Palace tomorrow.
Setting aside everything else, he was genuinely curious about Chu Zhaoyi’s childhood life.
After lying down for a while, Fu Nian sat up.
He knew that being lashed twenty times wasn’t particularly painful, even though it caused cuts and bruises; it wasn’t as painful as when his master used to punish him in his youth. However, seeing Chu Zhaoyi unwell genuinely pained him.
He walked to the medicinal room and saw the medicine brewing on the stove.
Judging from the fire’s intensity, it should be almost ready.
He explained his purpose to a palace maid and received the task of delivering the medicine.
Outside, the snow was still deep, with each step sinking into the fluffy white blanket. When he arrived at the sleeping palace, Fu Nian didn’t pull down the veil covering his face. He simply displayed his waistplate, indicating his intention to enter.
“Imperial Guard Lian, His Majesty has retired for the night. To administer the medicine properly, it must be poured slowly using a narrow-mouthed pot. It’s a meticulous task and takes nearly an hour to complete. Would you like the servants to handle it?”
How could he not be proficient?
This was a task he was much more skilled at than any palace maid or eunuch, especially when the recipient of the medicine was Chu Zhaoyi.
Quietly entering the sleeping palace, he wondered if he could hear the faint sound of a lamp’s wick crackling.
The room was dimly lit, and Fu Nian carefully poured the medicine into the narrow-mouthed pot at the medicine table.
After pouring, he dripped a few drops onto his palm to ensure the temperature was suitable. Then, he touched his lips with the bitter liquid.
Once he confirmed everything was fine, he knelt on the floor and used a cushion to glide toward the bed.
Although Chu Zhaoyi had already waived his kneeling etiquette, sliding was much quieter than walking.
Approaching the bedside, Fu Nian gradually adjusted to the darkness, gazing at the man before him, a man with love and hate intertwined.
He wondered why Chu Zhaoyi, even while asleep, still had such a furrowed brow. Fu Nian pondered.
Listening to Chu Zhaoyi’s labored breathing, the frequent opening of his mouth to take in air, Fu Nian carefully brought the narrow-mouthed pot closer. After administering the first sip, while gently massaging Chu Zhaoyi’s chest, suddenly, Chu Zhaoyi experienced a violent fit of coughing. The liquid he had just poured in threatened to trickle down the corner of his lips, and a few damp strands of hair clung to his moist, plump lips.
Luckily, Chu Zhaoyi didn’t wake up.
Fu Nian breathed a sigh of relief.
He recalled how he used to administer medicine to the sleeping Chu Zhaoyi.
Fu Nian remembered that it used to be an effortless task, and he couldn’t understand why it was so difficult now to get even a single sip down.
“Oh, I see.” Fu Nian suddenly murmured to himself.
He remembered that in his previous life, whether he was administering medicine to Chu Zhaoyi or vice versa, it was almost always done mouth to mouth.
There was no need for unnecessary items like a medicine pot and a spoon.
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