Under the blistering sun, Noble Lady Yi stood dazed at the corner of the alley, lost in the memory of the Emperor’s favor just moments ago.
In the past, the palace maids used to hurry her along impatiently, but this time, they remained silent, their eyes fixed on her profile, unwilling to speak, all because of the Emperor’s sudden intimate gesture.
“Noble Lady, Qingqiong Hall is just up ahead,” the palace maid, suffering from the heat, couldn’t help but remind her softly.
“Oh…” Noble Lady Yi seemed to awaken, but only halfway. With stiff steps, she walked a couple of paces toward Qingqiong Hall, then stopped. “No… Consort Xi won’t help me convey my wishes. I need to think… I need to think…”
The palace maid, annoyed by her frenzied behavior, said impatiently, “Noble Lady, don’t you want to pay respects to Consort Xi? On such a scorching day, coming all this way is quite a hassle. You still need to think?”
Noble Lady Yi’s heart was in turmoil, and for the moment, she couldn’t think clearly. Afraid of upsetting the palace maid and seeking to please her, she smiled and said, “You go back and rest for now. I’ll think it over.”
As soon as she displayed this appeasing attitude, the slight awe the palace maid had just felt vanished. She scolded Yi irritably, “A Noble Lady going out without a personal palace maid is against etiquette. If the steward aunt sees it, it’s us maids who will face punishment. You’d be entertained!”
Noble Lady Yi didn’t dare argue back. She accompanied the palace maid back to the residence. She intended to think things through before approaching Consort Xi, to avoid saying the wrong thing and missing out on an opportunity to accompany her.
She wasn’t naturally this timid. It’s just that she had been a palace maid before and understood that life in the cold palace required relying on one’s personal maids and eunuchs.
For instance, fetching the daily meals from the Imperial Kitchen.
Eunuchs were in charge of preparing meals for the various palaces, following the ranking of favored consorts.
The top-ranking consorts received dishes made to order, whatever their preferences.
The second-ranking consorts adhered to prescribed rules based on their titles, with the Chief Food Taster eunuch creating a menu and coordinating the dishes.
The lowest-ranked were the consorts in the cold palace. When it came to meal service, their palace maids had to wait their turn, and they often missed out on the better dishes.
Eunuchs in the Imperial Kitchen kept some choice dishes for themselves, while they casually served the cold leftovers and simple soups to the consorts in the cold palace through their palace maids.
Occasionally, the concubines in the cold palace would spend some personal funds to ensure their palace maids could persuade the eunuchs to provide a better meal. In such cases, the effort put in by the palace maids could influence the final result. Some deliberately made the concubines’ funds go to waste.
The only person who had any say over them, the Emperor, couldn’t even meet them in person. The Empress had no time to deal with their trivial matters, leaving it to their own loyal servants to manage things.
Back in the palace, Noble Lady Yi contemplated it all but couldn’t fathom why the Emperor had Consort Xi convey her message.
If Consort Xi wanted to accompany the Emperor on his tour, what should she do? Would she intentionally claim she didn’t want to?
Noble Lady Yi was nervously restless. She asked a palace maid to check if the Fourth Prince was in the Eastern Palace, planning to have her son join them for a discussion.
This was indeed a rare opportunity.
The Fifth Prince seemed to have picked up some colloquial phrases from one of his palace maids.
Perhaps from reading martial arts novels, he had been practicing Iron Sand Palm techniques and Shadowless Kicks with his two little brothers quite frequently in the past few days.
All this commotion left the Seventh Prince looking perpetually annoyed.
Eunuchs had hung a sandbag from a relatively low branch for the little princes to practice their legwork.
However, “low” was a relative term. The Fifth Prince could barely kick it, and Xue Yao, being more flexible, managed to reach a bit higher.
But in comparison to the round Seventh Prince, the sandbag hung high above.
It was quite a sight.
“Old Seventh, kick faster!” the Fifth Prince encouraged with a stern expression, “Jump and sweep your right leg!”
Xue Yao couldn’t bear to look directly at the chubby cub standing under the sandbag.
Fortunately, this little fellow didn’t repeat offensive words, or he might have started berating his big brother by now.
“Fifth Brother, it seems like Seventh Brother is a bit shorter.” The Sixth Prince, for once, was objective and didn’t take sides with Fifth Brother.
Xue Yao: “……”
More than just “a bit”?
“Without trying hard, how will you know if you can’t overcome difficulties?” The Fifth Prince’s determination flared up again. “Old Seventh, jump and show me! Step back a bit, take a running start, use the strength you used to knock over Third Brother last time!”
The Seventh Prince took a couple of steps back, swung his chubby leg, and leaped forward, slapping the sandbag with his palm!
The Fifth Prince, just as he got excited, was disappointed again. “Use your leg to kick! Step back and try it again! Jump and raise your leg higher!”
Xue Yao couldn’t bear to watch. This was practically child abuse. Even if the chubby cub could raise his leg high enough to do the splits, he still couldn’t reach the sandbag!
He considered trying to talk some sense into the Fifth Prince but hesitated when he saw the determined and serious expression on his face.
The Fifth Prince had an extremely stubborn temper. While he wouldn’t bully others, he was insistent on making logical arguments.
In previous games, Xue Yao had tried to dissuade the chubby cub from overexerting himself due to the Fifth Prince’s demanding physical requirements, but he had been utterly confounded by the Fifth Prince’s lengthy explanations, much like a beeper.
Well, why not let the cub work a bit harder? After all, the Seventh Prince wouldn’t be able to kick it even after ten more tries. The Fifth Prince’s patience would soon run out.
The Seventh Prince naturally disliked the heat, and with his chubby arms piled with layers of flesh, he was drenched in sweat from all the jumping. His agitated expression edged precariously close to a tantrum, but the Fifth Prince was enthusiastically cheering him on.
If they were in Qingqiong Hall, the Seventh Prince would have lost his temper long ago. However, one advantage of sibling playfulness was the competitive spirit. This mindset kept the chubby cub enduring to his limits.
But clearly, he didn’t want to jump again and again. He intended to get it done in one go. So, the stocky little figure stepped back a dozen paces, firmly planted his feet, his pale tea-colored eyes slightly narrowing. Through long lashes, he coldly locked onto the sandbag.
In that moment, the entire garden held its breath. Even the Fifth Prince stopped his cheering. He looked at the Seventh Prince with a sudden appearance of admiring camaraderie in his eyes.
A future general destined for the battlefield could sense the presence of a top-tier adversary. The Fifth Prince felt that every time Old Seventh got serious, there was an aura of a bloodthirsty and cautious wild beast about him.
In the hushed atmosphere, the Seventh Prince narrowed his eyes, took a step back, planted his chubby legs firmly, his pale tea-colored pupils slightly raised, and his gaze through long eyelashes was cool as he stared down the sandbag.
“Whoa!” The Sixth Prince took a deep breath. For the first time, he saw his little brother jump over two centimeters!
The Seventh Prince clung to the sandbag like an octopus!
The chubby cub and the sandbag merged into one, swaying in mid-air. Perhaps his arms couldn’t bear his own weight, so the chubby leg tentatively returned to the ground, but he couldn’t touch it, too scared to jump down. He turned his frightened eyes to Xue Yao. “Does your son want to be carried?”
This Long Aotian cub didn’t care about dignity at all…
Xue Yao hurriedly went up and lifted the chubby cub from the sandbag.
The Fifth Prince was utterly despondent.
They abandoned leg training and turned to practicing Iron Sand Palm techniques.
An attendant fetched a custom-made thin wooden board from the baggage for the Fifth Prince to show off with.
The Sixth Prince, watching his big brother break the board in front of him, immediately cheered excitedly and raised both hands in jubilation. Following that, he moved closer to provide accompaniment. With one strike, the wooden board remained undamaged.
The Fifth Prince began imparting his skills, explaining some tricks to breaking the boards.
The young readers-in-waiting took turns holding the wooden boards for him to strike.
When it was Xue Yao’s turn, the Fifth Prince swung a hand chop down. Perhaps he exerted too much force, and his hand hit Xue Yao’s forehead.
Most of the impact was absorbed by the wooden board, so Xue Yao wasn’t actually hurt.
But the Fifth Prince was terrified and let out a pig-like squeal!
“A’Yao! Are you alright, A’Yao? Call the imperial physician! Quickly! Someone’s life is at stake!” The Fifth Prince rushed over, embracing Xue Yao and forcing him to lie on the ground. His expression was filled with sorrow. “It’s my fault! Hang in there!”
Xue Yao remained expressionless. “Your Highness, I’m fine. Please don’t grip my arm so tightly. It hurts…”
“Don’t speak! I know!” The Fifth Prince, tears in his eyes, gently touched the spot on Xue Yao’s forehead where he had struck. “You’ve been hit by my Iron Sand Palm. Even if it doesn’t kill you, it might make you foolish. Don’t be afraid! I’ll make sure the best physician treats you!”
The Seventh Prince, with his chubby face, looked utterly astonished upon hearing this and quickly crouched next to Xue Yao. After observing for a moment, he curiously glanced up at his big brother. “Can Yaoyao get even sillier, Big Brother?”
Xue Yao: “……”
You can forget about drinking Want Want milk for the rest of your life, Your Highness. I’m just going to throw an entire crate of Want Want milk away and jump from here…
Upon hearing the news of a potential fatality, the Imperial Institute of Medicine urgently dispatched the Chief Physician and two Associate Physicians. This assembly could be considered a top-level national medical consultation event.
After a thorough examination, which involved checking Xue Yao’s pulse and peering into his eyes, the physicians informed the Fifth Prince, “The young master’s condition is not life-threatening.”
“How is that possible?” The Fifth Prince, due to his overconfidence in the power of his Iron Sand Palm, didn’t trust the physicians. He clung tightly to Xue Yao and anxiously said, “He must have sustained severe internal injuries. If you underestimate this, he might not make it through the night!”
Xue Yao remained expressionless. “Your Highness, I’m truly fine. Please release your grip. You’re almost breaking my arm.”
“He must have internal injuries!”
The physicians couldn’t handle the Fifth Prince’s stubbornness, so they had no choice but to take Xue Yao to the Imperial Institute of Medicine for further evaluation and consultation.
The result was still “no external or internal injuries.”
The Fifth Prince had a look that said, “I won’t listen, I won’t listen. Just wait and see what happens tomorrow!”
He returned to the palace, fuming.
His curse only seemed to scare one person: his weak, innocent, and chubby seventh brother.
The Seventh Prince was very worried that Yaoyao might become even sillier tomorrow. He held onto Xue Yao and insisted they return to Qingqiong Hall together for reassurance.
Xue Yao had no choice but to accompany the chubby cub back to the palace.
When they were about to reach the palace gates, they coincidentally encountered the Fourth Prince walking toward them, carrying a small food container.
Upon their meeting, the Fourth Prince smiled at the Seventh Prince as if nothing had happened. “Perfect timing. Fourth Brother has brought you some delicious treats. I just bumped into you before entering. Come take a look—”
The Seventh Prince stood still, his eyes fixed on the Fourth Prince. Just as the Fourth Prince squatted down in front of him with the food container, the Seventh Prince suddenly let go of Xue Yao’s hand, grumpily bypassed the Fourth Prince, and rushed into the palace.
His Highness didn’t want it!
Initially, the Seventh Prince hadn’t felt much hostility toward his Fourth Brother. But ever since the Third Prince had targeted Xue Yao, his disdain for the Third Prince and, by extension, his close association with the Fourth Prince had reached an unprecedented level.
Wouldn’t even let him pinch His Highness’ chubby cheeks anymore!
Seeing the Fourth Prince squatting there with a look of embarrassment, Xue Yao quickly took the food container on behalf of the Seventh Prince. He had the eunuch bring it into the room for His Highness to taste.
“Did Your Highness come here specifically to bring food for the Seventh Prince? Would you like to come in?” Xue Yao remembered the Fourth Prince’s concern for the chubby cub from their previous encounter, so he didn’t hold any animosity toward him.
After all, in the novel, this was a prince with a tragic background. He likely had his reasons for attaching himself to the Third Prince.
Besides, his fate was already quite miserable. There was no need to give him a hard time at this moment.
Another young eunuch came out, returned the food container to the Fourth Prince, and conveyed the message that “the Seventh Prince said he doesn’t like this.”
The Fourth Prince’s expression turned unpleasant. He didn’t know what to say.
Now Xue Yao felt awkward too and hastily whispered in the eunuch’s ear, “Tell His Highness that if he finishes the Fourth Prince’s snacks as requested by Yaoyao, he will be given milk to drink.”
The young eunuch promptly agreed and went back to relay the message.
The Fourth Prince forced a reluctant smile, but he had little confidence in the enticement Xue Yao had provided.
Old Seventh had clearly thrown a tantrum. A mouthful of milk wouldn’t easily appease him.
Before long, a eunuch came rushing out, bowing to the Fourth Prince with a smile. “His Highness instructed this servant to take it back and let him have another taste.”
The Fourth Prince was dumbfounded. He heard someone chuckle beside him, and when he turned, he saw Xue Yao looking at him with a bright smile.
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