The Fourth Prince was uncertain whether the Third Prince was just venting his frustration or genuinely intended to share this rare pastry with him, so he quickly refused, “Borui’s sweets are known throughout the world. It would be a pity if Third Brother would not try them.”
The Third Prince, his face darkening, let out a cold laugh and indirectly insulted the Seventh Prince, “What can those foreigners from distant lands produce, anyway? They’re no different from pillows with fancy embroidery! Fourth Brother, I don’t want to see this worthless thing. If you like it, take it away to enjoy, just don’t let me catch sight of it!”
The Fourth Prince couldn’t hide his surprise in his eyes. His throat constricted as he couldn’t help but steal a glance at that precious confection. He quickly steadied his emotions and continued to persuade and decline.
Consort Tong, by now, had lost her earlier good-natured disposition. She gazed at her son with a smile that was not entirely friendly. “An embroidered pillow is certainly better than being a complete failure from the inside out.”
The Third Prince was momentarily bewildered, looking at his Mother Consort with a mix of frustration and shock.
Consort Tong’s lips curled into a gentle smile as she turned to the Fourth Prince. “If you don’t mind, take the pastry back and enjoy it while it’s still fresh.”
The Fourth Prince was taken aback by the unexpected favor.
With Consort Tong’s permission, he no longer needed to pretend to decline. He sensed Consort Tong’s subtle hint for him to leave, so he graciously expressed his thanks, took the pastry, and bid his farewell.
The room was now empty, with only Consort Tong and her son, the Third Prince, who appeared visibly restless.
He knew that his Mother Consort wouldn’t embarrass him in front of others. Now that they were alone, the Third Prince dared not act out. He remained silent, keeping his head down.
“Why the silence?” Consort Tong sat down in the armchair the Fourth Prince had occupied earlier, wearing a half-smile. She turned to face the Third Prince and said, “Your Highness, feel free to express your frustrations and grievances. You didn’t hesitate to speak your mind in front of the scheming Fourth Prince, so why hold back in my presence?”
The Third Prince didn’t speak, his head bowed, a look of fear on his face.
“What’s the matter?” Consort Tong sneered. “You’ve become so reserved in front of your Mother Consort now. This isn’t like your usual straightforward self. In my opinion, why don’t Your Highness go and tell the Emperor that Old Seventh is a barbaric mongrel? Let His Majesty reward you with a good thrashing and throw me, your so-called mother, into the Cold Palace. That way, we’d all be at peace. No need for me to keep people watching your every move while you fret away in Linyou Palace.”
“Mother Consort, your words make me feel like I have no place at all.” The Third Prince dared not raise his head, but he couldn’t help but resent Consort Tong’s exaggeration.
Consort Tong’s expression suddenly darkened as she spoke in a hushed tone, “Do you think we, mother and son, have much of a place in this palace? Since the day you were born, the Emperor handed you over to the care of Noble Consort Ying. For years, if I wanted to see you, I had to please and curry favor with Noble Consort Ying’s servants. If it weren’t for your uncle’s recent string of victorious battles, you wouldn’t even have the status of a foreigner’s bastard!”
Consort Tong locked her eyes onto her son’s face. “Do you think that the Noble Consort treats you more generously than your own mother? Little do you know, that woman intentionally indulges your temperament, waiting for the day you act recklessly and commit a grave mistake!”
At the mere mention of Noble Consort Ying, the Third Prince’s heart filled with a sense of injustice.
Until he turned eight, he was raised by Noble Consort Ying. For him, Noble Consort Ying’s indulgence and tolerance were what a mother should be.
Ever since Consort Tong gained power and took him back, he had to be cautious in every aspect of his life.
But the Third Prince didn’t dare to express his true feelings directly. Seeing his mother furious at the moment, he had to pretend to yield. “I understand Your Highness’ concerns. I won’t be willful in the future.”
The Fourth Prince carefully carried the pastry box and hurried to the side hall of the Chunxi Hall to find Noble Lady Yi.
Noble Lady Yi was his birth mother, residing in the Chunxi Hall along with two other Noble Ladies.
Despite giving birth to a son, Noble Lady Yi still lived in a side hall. The Emperor hadn’t visited her in the past ten years, making her life no different from that of a woman in the Cold Palace.
The Fourth Prince entered the side hall and saw Noble Lady Yi’s personal palace maid chattering and playing with the sweeping maids, showing a lack of decorum.
He immediately adopted a stern expression. “Do you know where you are?”
The palace maid was taken aback but, upon seeing the Fourth Prince, showed no fear. She merely bowed and made no excuses.
Palace maids and eunuchs dreaded being assigned to serve in the Cold Palace, as their masters had no extra funds to reward them. They also lost face compared to servants of the same rank in other parts of the palace.
“Where is Liu Fang?” The Fourth Prince asked the palace maid, restraining his anger.
Liu Fang was the eunuch in charge of Noble Lady Yi’s residence. He was currently in the servant’s quarters gambling with other eunuchs. The palace maid didn’t dare to admit it outright and only said, “I’ll go find him right away.”
After a moment, the eunuchs and palace maids were all present.
The Fourth Prince cleared his throat and, with an air of authority, called for Noble Lady Yi, requesting her presence for a conversation.
Noble Lady Yi was in the middle of embroidery work when she heard her son’s voice. She hurriedly came out to greet him. Even though she rarely had her own palace maids and eunuchs present in her courtyard, she didn’t feel comfortable. She nervously offered tea to the Fourth Prince.
Once all were assembled, the Fourth Prince presented the Borui tribute pastries with an air of pretense. “These are pastries bestowed by Father Emperor, Borui’s tribute. There are only two boxes in total. The other box Father Emperor has gifted to the Empress Dowager. This box is for Noble Lady Yi’s enjoyment.”
He intentionally spoke ambiguously, hoping to mislead the palace maids and eunuchs into believing that the pastries were a special reward from the Emperor to Noble Lady Yi, even presented alongside the Empress Dowager, elevating Noble Lady Yi’s status in the Emperor’s eyes.
This group of servants usually doesn’t hold his birth mother in high regard. The Fourth Prince used to assert his authority and discipline them a few times, but in return, they became even more adept at causing trouble for Noble Lady Yi.
The Fourth Prince had already moved to the Eastern Palace and couldn’t protect Noble Lady Yi at all times, so he didn’t dare to offend these crafty servants and had to resort to intimidation.
The palace maids and eunuchs all raised their eyes to steal glances at the tribute bestowed by the Emperor, their faces full of suspicion.
Noble Lady Yi, who had served as a palace maid in the past and tended to unprivileged masters, understood well that her son was trying to save face for her.
The Emperor wasn’t an ordinary man from the common populace. He wouldn’t shower gifts upon a woman he hadn’t seen for many years for no reason.
Generally, the order would be the other way around: pleasing the Emperor during intimate moments would potentially lead to rewards afterward. The sequence couldn’t be reversed.
However, she didn’t reveal the truth. She only thought that having a son like this, her life didn’t seem entirely desolate. She couldn’t contain her joy as she accepted the pastries, opened the box, and offered the first taste to the Fourth Prince.
The Fourth Prince didn’t refuse either. He instructed a palace maid to fetch dishes and, right then and there, they devoured the pastries together with Noble Lady Yi.
It wasn’t that he was greedy for this delicacy. He knew that if he were to depart, this box of precious pastries would end up in the hands and mouths of these cunning servants.
These servants, even if they enjoyed delicious treats, wouldn’t hold any goodwill toward Noble Lady Yi. They’d only develop larger appetites, eagerly awaiting the next windfall. In fact, they would be more inclined to squeeze the unprivileged master further.
The Fourth Prince had no way to deal with these people. In the past, he naively believed that if he distributed rewards to them on behalf of his Father Emperor, Noble Lady Yi would have a better life among the other imperial concubines.
He would appease the Third Prince daily, and all the benefits he received would be shared with this group of servants. Little did he expect that these cunning servants not only refused to mend their ways but also intentionally contaminated Noble Lady Yi’s meals with sand and gravel on days they didn’t receive rewards!
After the mother and son savored the pastries, the Fourth Prince began boasting about how the Third Prince treated him generously, how Father Emperor commended him for his accomplishments, and how he was a person with limitless prospects who would surely be granted a noble title in the future.
This talk was still meant to intimidate the palace maids and eunuchs, a customary practice. The Fourth Prince always blew his own horn when he visited.
Noble Lady Yi, however, half-believed and half-doubted these words. She took pride in her son’s performance in front of the Emperor but also worried about his close relationship with the Third Prince.
After the tea was finished, Noble Lady Yi asked the Fourth Prince to join her in the inner chamber for a private conversation.
Noble Lady Yi watched her son and softly reminded him, “Qingyu, don’t just take care of Third Prince. You need to take care of your other brothers as well. In your daily life, ask your Eldest Brother for advice. If you get anything good to eat or play with, remember to take care of your Seventh Brother.”
Noble Lady Yi had a clear perspective as an observer. At present, the Third Prince was only basking in the glory of his uncle’s military successes. His current popularity was but a fleeting moment. It was the Eldest Prince whom he should be ingratiating.
Furthermore, the Third Prince had been making enemies left and right and had an arrogant attitude. His future as a great ruler seemed unlikely, and supporting him would likely lead to trouble.
Besides, the ones who truly held the Emperor’s favor and power were Consort Xi and her son.
Consort Xi was a rare beauty and, by chance, had given birth to a prodigious son. Setting aside the Eldest Prince’s legitimate claim to the throne and the Third Prince’s connections, the Emperor favored Consort Xi and her child the most. So, they were the ones to befriend.
Noble Lady Yi had subtly hinted to her son multiple times in the past to befriend the Eldest Prince, but her intelligent and smooth-talking son remained oblivious.
This time, the Fourth Prince made an excuse, “I have indeed taken care of both my Eldest Brother and Seventh Brother. It’s just that my Eldest Brother is significantly older than me. He concerns himself with matters of state and discusses things I can hardly relate to. My Seventh Brother is still learning to speak. He often takes a long time to respond, and what he says is often incomprehensible. So, I resort to giving him toys, which make him happy.”
The first part of the statement was untrue. The Eldest Prince barely paid any attention to the Fourth Prince.
It was true that the Seventh Prince’s way of speaking was often difficult to understand. His brilliant mind operated uniquely, perhaps causing a generation gap.
The Seventh Prince’s emotions had been quite low after a recent shock.
Xue Yao had planned to accompany the Seventh Prince back to Qingqiong Hall today, showcasing the results of his upbringing and having the Seventh Prince tell a story to Consort Xi.
He intended to use this opportunity to discuss the Emperor’s plan to visit Bashu with Consort Xi.
According to the original plot timeline, when the Seventh Prince was around six years old, Consort Xi had suffered from bullying and accusations due to her lethal beauty.
By the time the Seventh Prince turned six, the Road to Shu had been under construction for over two years. Timing-wise, the Emperor might have discussed taking Consort Xi on a tour to Bashu during this period.
With this imminent danger, Xue Yao had to provide an early warning.
However, he wasn’t sure if Consort Xi would heed the advice of an eight-year-old.
Transmigrating into the body of a young child had its pros and cons. The biggest advantage was being able to use his knowledge to alter the course of events and save his own life and reputation before the Seventh Prince’s character darkened.
The downside was that at this age, many things were beyond his ability.
Xue Yao turned to look at the Seventh Prince, feeling uncertain and disheartened.
Just after waking from a nap, the Seventh Prince and the Sixth Prince sat at the Eight Immortals table in the warm pavilion.
Palace maids brought in sweets and delicacies, placing them in front of the two frightened little princes.
The Sixth Prince, with a gloomy mood, accepted the pastries handed to him by a palace maid but didn’t start eating. He simply stared at the tabletop lost in thought.
The Seventh Prince’s mood was also quite low. He couldn’t contain his anger as he devoured a piece of pastry, then pointed his chubby finger toward a roasted chicken leg.
A close palace maid of the Sixth Prince approached and advised, “Your Highness, have a few bites to calm your nerves.”
“I have no appetite,” the Sixth Prince muttered dejectedly in a soft voice.
The palace maid coaxed him, “These hawthorn pastries are appetizing, Your Highness. How about trying a bite?” She offered a neatly wrapped hawthorn pastry to the Sixth Prince’s lips, but the cub shook his head unhappily.
Meanwhile, the Seventh Prince was nearly finished with his chicken leg.
Feeling sorry for the little darling, Xue Yao approached and tried to soothe him, “Your Highness, are you afraid it’s too oily? How about having a bit of milk to moisten your throat?”
Upon hearing the word “milk,” the Seventh Prince’s round face lit up with surprise. He immediately stopped nibbling on the chicken leg, waiting patiently for Xue Yao to ask if His Highness wanted milk.
“Not eating will make your tummy hungry,” Xue Yao was still focused on the Sixth Prince, completely oblivious to the chubby cub’s anticipation.
Unable to receive the “ask for milk” cue, the Seventh Prince analyzed the situation, learned his lesson, and pushed the chicken leg bone that he had nibbled on in front of the Sixth Prince, pretending it was the Sixth Prince’s accomplishment.
The Seventh Prince still hadn’t eaten yet. He was very hungry and wanted to drink milk!
“I have no appetite,” the Sixth Prince hopped down from the little stool, looking dejected, and headed towards the door. “Where’s Fifth Brother? Let’s continue practicing cuju.”
Xue Yao helplessly turned around, only to notice the Seventh Prince’s clear and sparkling eyes!
He smiled, approached the chubby cub, and leaned down to whisper, “Your Highness, if you’d like to have some milk, will you promise me one thing? When we return to the palace today, will you tell Consort Xi a story? Is that alright?”
If you enjoy this novel, support the Translator ginevre on her ko-fi account :))