“Your Highness…” As the conversation had already reached this point, it was impossible to take it back. Xue Yao could only try his best to bamboozle Consort Xi. “When I was six years old, I accompanied my grandmother to the temple to offer incense. Through a fortunate turn of events, I was taken in as a disciple by a master, and that’s when my inner wisdom started to awaken. Half a year ago, my master predicted that the disaster on the Road to Shu would affect tens of thousands of people, including you and the Seventh Prince. That’s why he ordered me to step in. I had refrained from revealing the true source of the information because my master had no intention of worldly involvement. Now, seeing that I might disappoint my master’s wishes, I have no choice but to disclose this secret to you.”
Consort Xi’s expression shifted between “Is this boy really insane?” and “He does indeed seem different from an ordinary child.” Finally, she asked with skepticism, “Did the master send you to warn me to avoid the calamity? What have I done to deserve this…”
“It’s because of the Seventh Prince.”
“Because of Old Seventh? What’s the matter with Old Seventh?”
“The Seventh Prince is a significant figure in the future of the nation.”
A moment of silence, filled with images of her son munching on mung bean cakes and his awkward, simple manner of speaking, left Consort Xi looking incredulous. “How can that be?”
Xue Yao: “……”
What’s with this look of disdain?
You’re probably not his real mother, are you?
“This is based on my master’s calculations, and I don’t have all the details. All I know is that my master’s predictions have never been wrong.”
Consort Xi pondered briefly, took a deep breath, and spoke gently, “You should rest in the side chamber for a while. We can discuss this matter later.”
Xue Yao felt disheartened. Consort Xi clearly didn’t believe him.
“Your Highness!” Xue Yao exclaimed urgently, “This is our last resort! Even the Eldest Prince has been implicated now. If we don’t take a chance, our future could turn out worse than we anticipate.”
Consort Xi frowned in distress. “Xue Yao, I believe you when you say you’re a disciple of a wise master, but you want me to use superstitious words to try to stop the road construction project. If it doesn’t come true, it’s a more severe failure than what Master Qin faced. It’s a capital crime! How can I trust that your master’s prediction won’t have the slightest mistake? If Old Seventh were already an adult, I might risk it, but he’s still too young. I’d rather endure eternal shame than leave my child helpless.”
Xue Yao was left speechless.
Consort Xi was right. She had no need to risk her life for her reputation. If she lost her life, the Seventh Prince would truly be left without support. Given the choice, she couldn’t take that risk.
Consort Xi reassured, “Alright, we’ve had a long day. Rest for a while, and we’ll have dinner together later.”
Xue Yao gazed steadily at her, making a final effort, “Your Highness, maybe we can avoid obstructing the Road to Shu project. Instead, we could persuade the Emperor to extend the construction period. If we stretch it from three to five years to ten to thirteen years, slow and steady progress will ease the burden on the labor force. This would also prevent arousing public discontent.”
Consort Xi sighed. “The Emperor wishes for the Road to Shu to be completed as soon as possible. He didn’t to wait for over a decade.”
“It’s still easier than convincing the Emperor to abandon the project. When the disaster prediction comes true during the Hungry Ghost Festival, it’s more likely to make him compromise.”
Consort Xi hesitated. Predicting a disaster was quite mystical. She asked softly, “But what if it doesn’t come true? I’d still be guilty of a serious crime.”
Xue Yao took a deep breath, licked his dry lips nervously, his mind racing with thoughts. Then, he looked at Consort Xi with determination, “This prediction, we can have the Seventh Prince convey it to the Emperor.”
Consort Xi was puzzled. “Old Seventh doesn’t understand these matters!”
“Your Highness, the Seventh Prince has an extraordinary memory. We’ll have the blessing practitioner explain the prediction to him, and when he’s with the Emperor, we’ll signal him to recite it. If the Emperor inquires, we can say it’s just a child’s innocent words. The Emperor won’t hold the Seventh Prince responsible.”
Consort Xi furrowed her brow. “But won’t my blessing practitioner be executed?”
“Before a major project, there’s a superstition against shedding blood. Besides, the Emperor isn’t entirely unreasonable. Master Qin was punished because his divination was proven wrong. There are no other blessing practitioners in the palace. If the Emperor wants to discredit the blessing practitioner’s prediction, he’ll have to wait until after the Hungry Ghost Festival! If the prediction comes true, everyone will be overjoyed. If it doesn’t, it won’t implicate you and the Eldest Prince. At most, the blessing practitioner might receive a scolding. But I can assure you, this prediction will definitely come true!”
The room fell into sudden silence.
Consort Xi was now genuinely confident. Her gaze on Xue Yao was almost worshipful.
This clever little fellow was truly remarkable. She was even willing to believe he might be a little deity.
“How do you think, Your Highness?” Xue Yao was getting anxious, his throat dry. “This is the best plan we have at the moment. If the blessing practitioner encounters any trouble, I, Xue Yao, will be the first to bear the consequences.”
Consort Xi agreed.
With a sense of relief, Xue Yao retired to the side chamber for a while. Shortly afterward, Consort Xi called for the meal. A palace maid escorted him to the dining area. The Seventh Prince was brought in and placed beside Consort Xi.
The little prince’s formal meal was supervised by a nutrition palace maid, ensuring a balanced diet and stopping him when he was about seventy percent full.
So, every meal in the palace was like a duel — His Highness desired something, and the nutrition palace maid would advise against it, resulting in some chaotic scenes.
“Want that! Want that!” The Seventh Prince’s chubby fingers pointed at the roast lamb skewers in the center of the table.
“Your Highness, you had a lot of roast meat at noon, didn’t you?”
“Very little roast meat!” the Seventh Prince stubbornly denied.
Xue Yao couldn’t help but laugh.
Consort Xi was also infected by the laughter. She playfully placed a skewer of lamb into her son’s bowl and said, “Enjoy it, my little big shot.”
Xue Yao: “……”
Evidently, Consort Xi still found it amusing that he claimed the Seventh Prince would become a significant figure in the future.
This was quite disrespectful to the Seventh Prince. How could a mother look down on her own son?
His Highness was indeed a bit on the chubby side, but there were faint signs of him being a significant figure.
For instance, at the age of three, he could easily crush a carton of Want Want milk. At three years old, he could consume the combined portions of the Fifth Prince and the Sixth Prince!
Seeing her son with greasy hands clutching the lamb skewer, Consort Xi reached out to help roll up his sleeve to avoid staining his clothes.
However, the instinct to protect his food was triggered in the Seventh Prince when he saw a hand approaching. In an instant, he twisted his chubby little body, turning his back to Consort Xi and shielding the lamb skewer.
Consort Xi was now angry. With her hand lowered, she glared at the back of her son’s head.
The Seventh Prince realized a little too late that the hand that had reached out belonged to his own mother. He quickly turned back, extending his chubby hand, offering the lamb skewer with a small meat cube still attached.
For a toddler of his size, willingly sharing a piece of meat was a display of strong survival instincts. At least he left something for his mother.
Consort Xi’s lips pursed as she felt emotionally wounded by her son’s recent defensive gesture.
The Seventh Prince’s almost non-existent sixth sense might have detected the looming danger.
Seeing Consort Xi reluctant to accept the meat, the prince struggled to reach out and delicately placed the saliva-drenched lamb skewer into the turtle soup before Consort Xi.
The Seventh Prince raised his eyes, his pale pupils peering through long lashes at Consort Xi with a gentle and tender expression on his chubby little face. “Eat, your grandpa is full.”
Consequently, Xue Yao had the privilege of witnessing a domestic scene in Consort Xi’s household…
A moment later, the right half of the Seventh Prince’s ear was slightly redder than his left, appearing to be about a ring size larger.
However, the Seventh Prince dared not show anger or speak. He scratched his itchy and sore right ear with his chubby hand and weakly pointed to the osmanthus honey cake on the table to a palace maid.
Beside them, Consort Xi closed her eyes in despair. She had lost complete faith in Xue Yao’s prophecy about her “son being a significant figure in the future.”
“I’ve heard the Empress mention before that when the Eldest Prince was three years old, he saw her eating fish and a bone pricked her. Since then, whenever the Empress eats fish, the Eldest Prince insists on first transferring it to his own bowl, picking out the bones one by one before giving it back to her.”
Consort Xi looked jealous, after recounting the Empress’ anecdote about her son’s filial piety. She cast a sidelong glance at the chubby cub nibbling on the osmanthus honey cake beside her, her expression saying, “Take a good look at yourself!”
Xue Yao chuckled softly with his head lowered.
It turned out that even Long Aotian, during his childhood, had to endure the cruel comparisons to “other people’s children.”
Speaking of the Eldest Prince picking fish bones for his Mother Empress, it was even mentioned in the novel.
After the Seventh Prince ascended the throne, he honored both Empress Dowagers, not just Consort Xi but also the Empress.
It was well known that Consort Xi had a strained relationship with the Empress. Back when the Empress’ son was the Crown Prince, she had given Consort Xi a hard time. Now, the tables had turned.
While reading the novel, Xue Yao had thought that Lu Qian granted Consort Xi the title of Empress Dowager to allow his mother to outshine the Empress. But now, being a part of the situation, he had a different understanding.
Prince Ning was probably trying to honor his late half-brother, the deposed Crown Prince, by being filial to their shared mother.
It was only after delving deeper into the story that Xue Yao began to comprehend the many contradictions in the original plot.
Consort Xi and the Empress Dowager had a heated argument once. The Empress Dowager taunted her about the time Consort Xi had performed a dance for a foreign prince. Infuriated, Consort Xi went to vent her frustrations to his Emperor son.
The Empress Dowager realized she had gone too far and knew that Prince Ning was ruthless. She felt that her end was approaching.
Not long after, she heard that the Emperor was on his way to her palace. The Empress Dowager steeled herself, deciding to stand firm before her impending death. She even prepared her own white silk and intended to unleash her frustrations in front of the Emperor.
In the novel, this scene appeared highly contradictory. When Xue Yao read it, he felt the author had portrayed the characters in a way that deviated from their usual personalities.
Although Lu Qian honored the Empress as Empress Dowager, he usually paid little attention to her and could hardly be described as respectful.
Prince Ning drew a clear line between his own people and “irrelevant individuals.” He fiercely protected his own, and based on Prince Ning’s character in the novel, the Empress should have met a much grimmer fate.
However, in the novel, Lu Qian, now the Emperor, actually earnestly sought the Empress Dowager’s apology to Consort Xi. This wasn’t a command but a “request,” with an extremely humble and respectful attitude. He even ordered a royal meal for the Empress Dowager to eat and discuss the matter.
The Empress Dowager, who had prepared herself for the worst, went on a rampage, even taking a white silk to hang from the ceiling.
Lu Qian stepped in to stop her.
The Empress Dowager didn’t stop there and accidentally scratched Lu Qian’s handsome face.
Now, the Empress Dowager was shocked, gripping the white silk, frozen in her tracks.
Lu Qian’s previous respectful demeanor vanished, and he coldly said, “Let’s eat.”
The Empress Dowager dropped the white silk and obediently went to the table to eat.
Fearing she might meet the same fate as Consort Tong’s brother, who had been severely punished by Lu Qian, the Empress Dowager was terrified. She ate hastily and began to cry uncontrollably. Astonishingly, she speak something about “if Jinan were still here.”
Lu Jinan was the deceased deposed Crown Prince.
Uttering these words was a clear expression of dissatisfaction with the current Emperor. After the Empress Dowager spoke, she regretted it deeply, fearing that her own tongue might soon be silenced.
She turned her head and saw Lu Qian approaching with an indifferent expression.
His strikingly handsome face, inheriting the beauty of the former Consort, was cold and chilling. He raised the dragon-embroidered robe and sat down next to her.
The Empress Dowager was so frightened that she felt she might pass away on the spot.
However, Lu Qian did not draw his sword to silence her tongue. He simply, without a word, meticulously removed the fishbones, one by one. In the end, he placed them in her bowl and then rose from the palace.
While reading the story, Xue Yao found this part of the plot to be utterly inconsistent, with characters displaying stark contradictions from one moment to the next.
Recalling this part of the plot at this moment, Xue Yao surreptitiously cast a glance at the chubby cub nibbling on his honey cake. Surprisingly, a bittersweet warmth welled up inside him.
It was as if, in the very end, Lu Qian hadn’t turned into a purely cold-hearted weapon.
He still remembered the eldest brother who used to affectionately pinch his bun-like cheeks and wanted to show filial piety on his behalf to the Empress Dowager.
Xue Yao’s heart was filled with mixed emotions, but the chubby cub had already finished his honey cake and eagerly hopped down from the small stool. He swiftly circled around the table and grabbed Xue Yao’s clothing. “Come, Yaoyao, one story for two sips of milk.”
Xue Yao: “……”
We never had such an agreement between us!
Don’t make promises to yourself!
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