The rumor about the heavenly stones of retribution took at least half a month to reach the court. Any faster would be unbelievable. However, the Emperor expected Qiao Song to provide observation and divination results within two days.
If Master Qin’s conclusion was overturned, the consequences of the Emperor’s wrath were unpredictable.
Many court officials were aware that Master Qin was aligned with the Eldest Prince. If the Eldest Prince intervened, it would be impossible to disassociate himself.
Members of the Eldest Prince’s faction, including the Prime Minister, had been using various secret channels to send messages, urging the Eldest Prince not to interfere within two days.
The officials were not clear on whether Master Qin was acting on the Eldest Prince’s orders and could not fathom the sudden opposition of the Eldest Prince to the construction of the Road to Shu. However, if the Eldest Prince pled on behalf of Master Qin, the Emperor’s suspicions would certainly extend to the Eldest Prince.
Qin Zhaoxuan himself does not wish for the Eldest Prince to step forward on his behalf.
When the Eldest Prince explained the reasons for not constructing the Road to Shu to him, he simply could not agree.
Even if this matter were to escalate to the point of causing minor public discontent, the Eldest Prince should not intervene.
The construction of the Road to Shu was inevitable, but it should not be rushed. If the Emperor didn’t address this issue, he wouldn’t fully grasp its seriousness. Allowing it to progress naturally might have been a better approach.
For the Eldest Prince to offend the Emperor over this issue would not be worth it.
Qin Zhaoxuan was an exemplary official who cared for the people, but his perspective was one of considering the bigger picture.
The prospect of the Eldest Prince earning the Emperor’s displeasure over this matter was deemed a grievous trade-off.
Qin Zhaoxuan, an upright magistrate who held the welfare of the common people close to his heart, remained guided by a vision of safeguarding the grander scheme.
The people’s suffering due to the project was only temporary. However, if the Eldest Prince were to incur the Emperor’s displeasure, it would provide Consort Tong with an opportunity to meddle, potentially subjecting the populace to a lifetime of suffering.
Though the Eldest Prince was still young, he had never disappointed his officials.
Qin Zhaoxuan couldn’t understand why the Eldest Prince was so determined to discourage the Emperor this time. In order to prevent the Eldest Prince from getting involved, he had no choice but to steel himself and wade into this muddy water.
Having prepared for the worst, he had mentally braced himself for the possibility of severe punishment, even to the point of being maimed. But the Emperor would not take his life.
Firstly, he was a divine official of the Directorate of Astronomy, and secondly, there was a superstition preceding significant projects — one must not shed blood for the sake of the construction.
Considering it solely for the sake of safeguarding a benevolent future for the common people, Qin Zhaoxuan calmly awaited his impending ordeal at home, having completely severed communication with the Eldest Prince.
The Eldest Prince sat in the Eastern Palace like a pin on a cushion.
It wasn’t sweltering on this late summer evening. The ice mirror in the hall was open, yet beads of sweat continued to trickle down his forehead, over his cheeks and nose. His usual cool dark red robe with intricate black patterns was now drenched with sweat on the back.
The palace maids fervently waved their fans for their master, oblivious to the fact that at this moment, the Eldest Prince’s limbs were all icy cold.
Qiao Song should be in the process of reporting the observation results to the Emperor right now.
Although this individual was not a staunch supporter of the Eldest Prince, he had no other backing, so in theory, he should be wary of offending Qin Zhaoxuan.
Qiao Song’s reported observation results certainly would not dare to defy the Emperor’s will. How he skillfully phrased his report to avoid offending either side would depend on Qiao Song’s ability.
The Eldest Prince feared that Qiao Song might lack the skill to balance both sides and be too fixated on pleasing Father Emperor.
As the sun gradually set and palace lanterns began to illuminate, a eunuch finally entered the room without a sound and relayed Qiao Song’s report to the Eldest Prince in meticulous detail.
The Eldest Prince closed his eyes, moved slowly to the tea table, and took a deep breath.
It was close to what he had expected.
Qiao Song reported that initially, his divination results were like Master Qin’s, but later, he accidentally discovered that during the stationary period of Yinghuo star [Mars], there was a missing star in the consecutive orbit. This indicated a flaw in the divination results.
The conclusion was that this celestial omen was not a dire one, and Master Qin might have made a momentary error. The Road to Shu could indeed be constructed.
By stating this, it served two purposes: it provided an excuse for Master Qin’s “mistake,” implying that he wasn’t acting under someone’s orders, and it also aligned with the Emperor’s desires, thus avoiding offending both sides.
Qiao Song had distanced himself, hoping only that the Emperor would not hold Qin Zhaoxuan accountable.
However, the following day, around nine in the morning, a scout brought news, “The Emperor has ordered Qin Zhaoxuan to be apprehended and sentenced to twenty strokes.”
Qin Zhaoxuan was escorted to the front of the Meridian Gate, and against all hopes of the officials, the unthinkable happened — thr Eldest Prince went to Yangxin Hall to intercede on his behalf.
The Eldest Prince feigned ignorance of Qin Zhaoxuan’s attempt to dissuade the construction of the Road to Shu. His plea was based on the reason that “it’s inappropriate to punish the divine officials of the Directorate of Astronomy before commencing the project.”
The Emperor had remained silent throughout, but when his eldest son finished speaking, he raised his head and cast a piercing, hawk-like gaze at the Eldest Prince, uttering a derisive chuckle.
Beads of sweat formed on the Eldest Prince’s forehead, trickling down slowly, yet his face remained calm and composed. He lowered his eyes and inclined his head.
“Jinan, Chongshan always tells me that you’re overly harsh with him,” the Emperor said in a seemingly playful manner, mentioning the Third Prince’s private complaints. “But I believe you’re right in managing him. That boy needs guidance, and as the eldest brother, you should display that responsibility.”
“Many thanks, Father Emperor, for your understanding,” the Eldest Prince replied with a courteous bow.
“Now, is it because of my leniency that your heart for managing everything has become more unruly?” The Emperor leaned back in his dragon chair, his right hand clenched into a fist on top of the memorial, fixing a stern gaze upon the Eldest Prince. In a low, forceful tone, he added, “You’ve gone too far.”
The Eldest Prince immediately knelt, adjusting his robes. “Father Emperor, please, I only worry that going against customs before commencing the project might disrupt the order of the Ministry of Works!”
Yesterday, Xue Yao gave away the last box of chocolates, and now he was truly at the end of his resources.
The old father couldn’t bear to face the eager, shiny-eyed eyes of his chubby cub.
He had thought before that, once the kid finished the last box of chocolate milk, he would go out and buy some regular milk, sweetened with sugar. Even if the taste was a bit different, it might just pass.
But yesterday evening, he strolled through the market and realized that the common folks of the capital rarely had the habit of drinking milk. Tea was their primary beverage, so it was virtually impossible to find milk in most markets. Even those who did drink milk didn’t sell it to the public.
In the palace, there were indeed cows specially raised for their milk, but that wasn’t a common practice either.
In ancient times, the imperial family consumed human milk, believing it to be more nutritious. They had women specifically for milk production, even more than they had cows.
No wonder the chubby cub loved drinking chocolate milk so much. The taste of human milk was milder than that of cow’s milk, and even with added sugar, it couldn’t match the texture of chocolate milk.
Xue Yao refreshed the store three times a day, but he hadn’t seen chocolate milk on the shelves again.
The only time he encountered milk, it was a carton of Mengniu fermented milk. Because it came in a substantial serving size and was comparatively cost-effective, he bought a portion.
However, the Seventh Prince didn’t like the taste of fermented milk. After taking one sip, he scrunched up his face and refused to drink it. Xue Yao had no choice but to keep it for himself.
At this moment, Xue Yao was standing in front of the Foodmart, preparing to use his last refresh opportunity.
He clasped his hands together, silently chanted “chocolate milk” three times, reached out, and tapped—
Still no chocolate milk!
Xue Yao felt utterly dejected.
He raised his head and tapped the Level 2 Foodmart, but the interface demanded 150 Whitewashing Points and completion of the main quest that involved unblocking the Ren and Du meridians.
It was disheartening.
Xue Yao’s eyes darted to the bottom right corner, checking his Whitewashing Points balance: 47.
He couldn’t help but let out a sigh of financial distress.
Just at that moment, an alarm suddenly sounded in his mental space!
【Host’s intervention in the storyline resulted in the injury of a righteous official named Qin Zhaoxuan. Depending on the severity of the injury and responsibility ratio, 12 Whitewashing Points will be deducted from the host. Please continue to make efforts.】
Xue Yao: “? ? ?”
Who got injured? Qin who? He didn’t even know the guy! What kind of system was this!
Glancing down, he saw that his Whitewashing Points were now reduced to 35.
Xue Yao’s heart ached so much he could hardly breathe, considering he had scrimped and saved for days without spending more than a dozen points.
After a while, he calmed down and thought, “An unheard-of official getting injured… Could something have happened with the Eldest Prince’s situation, perhaps?”
Xue Yao wasn’t in the mood for shopping. He waited anxiously until the following day, planning to inquire about the situation at Qingqiong Hall after school.
However, he received distressing news right in the classroom.
The Fifth Prince said that his eldest brother had been grounded by Father Emperor the day before, not allowed to leave the palace for a whole month.
It was an unprecedented punishment for the Eldest Prince.
Xue Yao’s heart instantly sank, and he urgently sought to understand the situation, trying to coax information from the Fifth Prince.
A nine-year-old child wouldn’t grasp the specific details of what had happened. After much talking, the Fifth Prince could only say that Father Emperor had been in a foul mood recently.
The three little princes sat together, each afraid of Father Emperor, pondering why he wasn’t pleased.
The Fifth Prince suggested, “Two days ago, our lecturer prepared some of our essays for Father Emperor to review. Could it be that Father Emperor found our handwriting too ugly?”
The Sixth Prince, feeling uneasy, lowered his head. “Fifth Brother, your handwriting is excellent, but mine is far from it. I must be the one who upset Father Emperor.”
The Fifth Prince patted the Sixth Prince on the shoulder and assured him, “Your writing has improved a lot compared to last month. It can’t be because of you.”
The Seventh Prince, raising his chubby hand, mimicked his brothers, and, with a personal grudge in his tone, declared, “It’s Third Brother.”
Xue Yao: “……”
Your Highness, the one with the worst handwriting is obviously you!
Wake up, chubby cub!
The little princes weren’t in the mood for play. They sat in a pavilion discussing Father Emperor.
The Seventh Prince rarely got a word in, so Xue Yao took him to the small garden to chase butterflies for a while.
As they rested in the shade of a tree at a stone table, Xue Yao began poking the chubby belly of the little prince again.
He had been persistently poking for two days now.
In the novel, the Seventh Prince’s Ren and Du meridians were unblocked after being kicked in the lower half-inch below the navel. That was exactly where Xue Yao was poking, although he didn’t dare to apply too much force.
The chubby little prince’s body was accustomed to being pinched all over, so he didn’t notice anything amiss in Xue Yao’s strange behavior.
His Highness was focused on nibbling on a cream puff, when suddenly, he retched and spat out some foam.
Xue Yao quickly withdrew his guilty hand and pulled out a handkerchief to wipe the little prince’s mouth.
“Are you alright, Your Highness?”
The Seventh Prince looked up at him with a bewildered expression. He scratched the itchy spot Xue Yao had poked on his little tummy. Then, belatedly, he started feeling upset, kicking his chubby legs and tilting his head to signal to the confused Xue Yao that he should pinch his cheeks instead of his belly. It was uncomfortable!
If he poked the cub’s belly again, he would elicit a warning growl. Xue Yao had no choice but to desist.
However, Xue Yao’s weird behavior of poking the Seventh Prince had already been spotted by a young eunuch who was secretly trailing them. The eunuch promptly reported it to the chief palace maid serving the prince.
The chief palace maid dared not voice her displeasure. The little prince was different from the other royal babies. He used to be aloof, hardly recognizing anyone. Save for Consort Xi, he didn’t show affection to anyone. Because of this, they wondered what kind of spell the little reader-in-waiting had used to make the little prince willingly spend time with him every day.
A few days ago, when Xue Yao took a leave of absence, the little prince had displayed a few tantrums over four days.
Normally, he was well-behaved as long as he had his milk. However, those days, as soon as he had his milk, he thought of Xue Yao, kicking his chubby legs and demanding, “Bring him!” He wanted the palace maids to fetch the little reader-in-waiting for him.
On one occasion, His Highness had even disappeared for a while and was later brought back by Xue Yao. It was truly baffling.
Upon hearing the strange actions Xue Yao had made, as told by the young eunuch, the palace maids became suspicious and decided to report it to Yiqiu when they got back.
In the evening, Xue Yao accompanied the chubby cub back to Qingqiong Hall, but Consort Xi wasn’t there. The palace maid asked him to come back another day.
Usually, he could wait in the reception hall even when Consort Xi wasn’t around, but Xue Yao suspected that this palace maid was deliberately making things difficult. However, he had no choice. Leaving the palace at this hour meant he couldn’t return, so he had to brazenly insist on staying.
The palace maid continued to wear an unfriendly expression, so Xue Yao decided to be more assertive. He fabricated a story, claiming that the Seventh Prince wanted to tell him a bedtime story and had specifically instructed him to remain in Qingqiong Hall.
The palace maid’s face suddenly registered a shock, then she lowered her head, bowing respectfully.
Xue Yao initially thought she was bowing to him but noticed from the corner of his eye that all the palace maids in the room were lowering their heads and bowing toward the doorway. Only then did he turn to see—
The Seventh Prince stood at the door, holding a stuffed toy and staring at him with a puzzled expression.
Xue Yao: “……”
Oh no, the chubby cub had no intention of telling him bedtime stories!
“How did Your Highness come here?” Xue Yao appeared rather awkward.
The chief palace maid had already approached and deliberately tried to get the little prince to speak. “Is Your Highness planning to tell Second Master Xue stories tonight?”
The Seventh Prince tilted his head and shot Xue Yao a mischievous grin, showing a triumphant little smirk.
It turned out that Silly Yaoyao indeed wanted His Highness to tell him a story!
Xue Yao wore a nervous expression, unsure of what the chubby cub was grinning about.
“Yaoyao,” the Seventh Prince finally spoke.
“Ah?” Xue Yao felt incredibly self-conscious.
“You and milk wait obediently,” the Seventh Prince arrogantly accepted Silly Yaoyao’s request, “Your grandpa tells the story, and you two can listen.”
Xue Yao: “……”
He didn’t say he wanted to listen to the story with milk included, did he?
Chubby dumpling, please wake up!
The milk has all been drunk!
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