“You must first tell me your reason for seeking an audience with Prince Yan.”
After talking for a while, Elder Lin saw that Han Jiao was still being evasive, so his kind attitude turned serious. “If you don’t explain yourself clearly, I won’t interfere in this matter.”
Han Jiao lowered his head. After pondering for a moment, he looked up at Elder Lin with a hint of sadness in his eyes. “I should not involve my teacher in this matter. Forgive my impudence. I’ll take my leave.”
Elder Lin’s gaze softened. Sighing, he kindly said, “I’m just worried that if you rashly seek an audience with Prince Yan, you won’t be able to save your father, and instead, you will anger His Highness. That’s why I want to ask you clearly”
Han Jiao felt a pang in his heart. He didn’t want to reveal everything that happened and his plans to Elder Lin, fearing that Elder Lin would become an accomplice.
If he couldn’t achieve his goal and also involved his teacher, it would be a complete disaster.
Therefore, it was better for Elder Lin to know as little as possible. The more he knew, the more difficult it would be for him to help. Declining Han Jiao’s request outright was the best option.
“I didn’t intend to beg Prince Yan to save my father. Instead, I wanted to visit and offer some advice to Prince Yan,” Han Jiao spoke frankly, “This matter involves the secret cases of the Three Law Departments, so I can’t be explicit with you.”
Elder Lin was briefly taken aback, realizing that Han Jiao had made up his mind not to involve him. He sighed lightly, hesitated for a moment, and then firmly said, “Tomorrow, Prince Yan will visit the palace to listen to my expository. I’ll find an opportunity to request an invitation for you.”
After his initial shock, Han Jiao looked gratefully at Elder Lin. “I feel unworthy of such kindness from my teacher…”
“No need to say more,” Elder Lin interrupted Han Jiao’s refusal, speaking seriously, “You’re still young, and those little thoughts of yours can’t be hidden from me. I know you don’t want to burden me.”
Han Jiao closed his eyes, suppressing the bitterness in his heart. He looked up at Elder Lin, his voice slightly hoarse, “I’m just an ordinary and reckless person. How can I deserve such great kindness from you?”
Elder Lin gazed at Han Jiao for a long time. “The first time we talked in the study, I felt a certain kinship in your character. You are somewhat similar to my late son, both being precocious and proud young men, disregarding worldly conventions and experiencing setbacks…”
As he spoke, Elder Lin shook his head and lowered his eyes, discreetly wiping away the tears from the corners of his eyes.
Hearing these words, Han Jiao felt a pang in his heart, difficult to bear the bitterness.
He had heard earlier that Elder Lin had a son who was a famous young talent. Unfortunately, fate played a cruel hand, and he passed away at a young age during a journey to Shuzhou.
Little did he expect that Elder Lin’s fondness for him was due to his character, reminding Elder Lin of his departed son.
Han Jiao stood up and bowed deeply to Elder Lin. “I am unworthy to accept such kindness, but I vow to serve my teacher with filial respect in the future.”
Study room, 10 AM.
After the advisor’s lecture on the Classics, the Princes relaxed in their chairs, chatting casually.
“Sixth Brother, you’re not coming for the hunt tomorrow?” Xie Jing looked unhappy.
Prince Yan, who was absentmindedly reading a book, placed it heavily on the table, sighed deeply, and replied irritably, “You’ve asked eight hundred times.”
“If you don’t go, I won’t go either!” Xie Jing used a special way of acting spoiled to coerce him.
Prince Yan shot him a sharp glance. “You said it yourself. If you dare to leave the palace tomorrow…”
“Fine, fine, fine!” Xie Jing immediately regretted it, “I won’t say it again, alright? I just wanted to persuade you to relax a bit…”
“Eighth Brother, you feel unconvinced about losing to Sixth Brother on the last hunt, so you want to challenge him again, right?” Xie An exposed Xie Jing’s little scheme without any mercy.
“Nonsense!” Xie Jing quickly covered Xie An’s mouth to stop him from talking.
Prince Yan’s brow furrowed deeper and deeper. Normally, he enjoyed fooling around with his younger brothers whenever he visited the palace, but at this moment, the border case weighed heavily on his mind, leaving him no moment of relaxation.
He turned and asked his two brothers, “Where’s Old Ninth?”
Xie An: “Ninth Brother is still recovering from his injuries.”
“Good, a few strokes of the paddle allows him to skip lessons for a few days. If this continues, Ninth Brother will become addicted to getting punished.” Prince Yan turned to glance at the eunuch standing nearby.
The eunuch promptly hurried forward, ready to serve.
“Go to Nansan Hall and summon my brother here. Tell him I asked him to come to the study for a lesson,” Prince Yan commanded sternly.
“Yes,” the eunuch acknowledged and swiftly left the room.
After waiting for a while, the eunuch finally brought the Ninth Prince into the study.
“Why did it take so long?” Prince Yan demanded. He saw Xie Duo walking in with sweat on his forehead, sitting down on a chair, and letting out a long sigh of relief.
Prince Yan’s face darkened. He turned to the eunuch. “Did you find this little rascal from the courtyard, or did you drag him down from the cuju field?”
Squinting, Xie Duo quickly pretended to be weak. He slumped in the chair, making it look like he hadn’t fully recovered from his injuries and had no involvement in the cuju match.
The eunuch giggled and covered for Ninth Prince, “His Highness was resting on the bed just now. I was waiting outside to help him get dressed and freshen up, which took some time.”
Prince Yan no longer pursued the matter and turned to look at his brother. “Is your hand still hurting?”
Xie Duo immediately extended his left hand to show Sixth Brother, indicating that the swelling hadn’t completely subsided. He would need at least seven more days to skip classes.
Prince Yan glanced at the exposed fingers on his brother’s bandaged left hand, noting the spreading bruise. He was shocked by the severity of the beating and wondered which thoughtless eunuch had done it.
Nevertheless, as usual, he sternly raised his eyes and coldly said, “Deserved!”
Xie Duo withdrew his hand and responded indifferently, “From now on, we are no longer brothers.”
“I feel embarrassed to admit that you are my brother,” Prince Yan said with anger, “That essay homework was assigned during the last court discussion. It’s been a month and a half, and you still haven’t started writing. You waited until the last minute to deceive a junior scholar-official. I’m truly ashamed of you!”
Xie Duo, who had been stepped on his sore spot, retaliated fiercely, “This is the first time I’ve been punished by Father Emperor’s paddling. Big Brother, when you were still in the palace, your hand was beaten so badly that the swelling never fully subsided. Don’t pretend like I’m the only one who’s ever copied an essay. Don’t tell me you were paddled for stealing your younger brother’s candy?”
“Yes, he got paddled for copying his younger brother’s essay,” Xie Jing, who had been exploited for years, understood deeply.
“Hahaha! Hahahaha!” Xie An, being younger and not having been a mischievous student like Sixth Brother, couldn’t contain his laughter. “Big Brother, you copied essays too! Hahaha!”
Prince Yan’s tense face couldn’t help but relax, still maintaining a firm tone as he retorted, “I never said copying an essay was shameful. I meant you foolishly copied a junior scholar-official’s essay. Father Emperor loves you, and if you had copied your brother’s essay, there wouldn’t have been such a severe punishment.”
Xie Duo intended to retort but suddenly heard the Expositor-in-waiting clearing his throat behind him.
Another lecturer came to give a lecture, so the brothers immediately straightened their postures and stopped chatting.
Elder Lin was teaching this class. After finishing his lecture, Elder Lin allowed the Princes to discuss freely to deepen their understanding.
Taking advantage of the Princes lowering their heads to read, Elder Lin stepped down from the lectern and strolled over to Prince Yan, speaking softly, “This humble subject has an unusual request.”
Taken aback, closed his book, Prince Yan turned to look up at Elder Lin standing beside him. “Please go ahead, Master.”
Elder Lin bent down and approached Prince Yan’s ear, making a quiet request.
Prince Yan listened with some confusion and asked Elder Lin, “Is he your student?”
Elder Lin nodded. “Yes.”
Prince Yan blinked. “What kind of plan does he want to present to this Prince? What is it about?”
“This humble subject doesn’t know. I’m only relaying the message on his behalf.”
Prince Yan looked puzzled, nodded, and was about to agree, but then asked, “What’s his name?”
Elder Lin replied in a low voice.
Unexpectedly, Prince Yan suddenly exclaimed, “Han Jiao? The youngest successful candidate in this year’s imperial examination?”
Elder Lin was taken aback. He hadn’t anticipated that Prince Yan knew Han Jiao. Judging from Prince Yan’s expression, he seemed somewhat displeased, leaving Elder Lin momentarily at a loss for words.
Before he could respond, the Ninth Prince, who was nearby, also looked surprised and asked loudly, “What are you talking about?”
Prince Yan glanced at him sideways and said, “Focus on your studies.”
Xie Duo tossed his book aside and pressed further, “What are you asking Han Jiao for?”
“You know Han Jiao too?”
“He’s the one who wrote that essay.”
Prince Yan’s eyes widened in surprise, memories of the bold young man’s face under the moonlight at the birthday banquet resurfacing. After a moment, he chuckled and said, “What a small world.”
Xie Duo spoke seriously, “You don’t plan to seek revenge from him on my behalf, do you?”
Prince Yan glanced at his naive younger brother and replied, “It’s not that I want to find him. He sought an audience with me and specially conveyed his message through Master Yang.”
Xie An, who was nearby, overheard and turned curiously, “Why does Xiaobai seek an audience with Sixth Brother?”
Remembering how the child prodigy had rejected him last time, saying that he would rather flatter Prince Yan, Xie Duo’s expression darkened. He warned Sixth Brother with a sidelong glance, “You’re not allowed to see him.”
This intrigued Prince Yan. “Why not?”
“No reason.” Xie Duo’s bossy temperament kicked up again.
Xie Jing laughed. “Our Sixth Brother is busy with official duties, Master Yang. If Master Han has any business, he can come to me.”
“You’re not allowed to see him either.” Xie Duo fixed a stern gaze on Xie Jing.
“Am I not allowed too?” Xie Jing laughed. “Why? Is Master Han only allowed to present his policy essays to you?”
Xie An tilted his head curiously. “Now that Xiaobai can’t write essays for you, can’t he find another way by approaching us? Ninth Brother, you aren’t be jealous, are you?”
“Nonsense!” Xie Jing stopped his little brother’s blunt words. “You’re still young. Mind your words…”
Startled, Xie An pouted and stuck out his tongue. Unexpectedly, Xie Jing suddenly wiggled his eyebrows and playfully looked at Xie Duo, teasing, “Hit a nerve!”
“Get lost,” Xie Duo roared with anger, “That kid is nothing but a troublemaker. Go ahead and meet him if you want!”
The brothers burst into laughter.
Elder Lin, who was sitting restlessly on the side, finally breathed a sigh of relief. He had intended to test Prince Yan’s attitude for Han Jiao and found an opportunity to answer Prince Yan’s questions and explain things at length.
Xie Duo observed Elder Lin from the corner of his eye, feeling that he seemed more attentive to Sixth Brother than he had been to himself.
Did the officials from the Hanlin Academy really prefer to flatter Sixth Brother?
The Ninth Prince, who had never experienced neglect before, felt the reality of the world for the first time. He interrupted Elder Lin’s teaching and opened his book, asking a question for the first time, subtly hinting for Elder Lin to take care of him.
However, Elder Lin’s attention was entirely focused on Prince Yan at the moment. After answering Ninth Prince’s question succinctly, he immediately continued with his lecture for Prince Yan.
Xie Duo: “……”
This old man seemed to be treating him less and less like a person.