So, at present, the salted fish big boss, was not a concern. The biggest enemy of Prince Yan was Prince Duan’s faction led by Senior Minister Li.
The Seventh Prince, Prince Duan, in the novel, wasn’t a very bad person. He was just somewhat reserved and reclusive. Throughout his life, he trusted only Senior Minister Li, willingly becoming a puppet.
The Empress’ three sons had vastly different personalities. The most upright and virtuous son was undoubtedly Prince Yan, Xie Guang, while the most unruly one was big boss Xie Duo.
The boss’ salted fish personality musn’t be underestimated. That was just his lack of power demand during his juvenile period. This conveniently allowed him to avoid the initial struggles between Prince Duan and Prince Yan, ultimately leveling up to become the final boss.
As for Prince Duan, his name was Xie Xiu, and he had a very cold personality.
He seemed to be wary of everyone and had a very eccentric personality.
The reason for this might be due to an unfortunate childhood experience.
A year before Xie Xiu’s birth, there was trouble on the Empress’ maternal side. Specifically, the relatives from her side had an ugly confrontation, which reached the Emperor’s ears. The Empress’ maternal family was severely punished.
After this incident, the Emperor had to pretend to be angry with the Empress to discipline her relatives.
As a result, the Empress was greatly neglected, living a life similar to the concubines in the cold palace. During this time, she was already five months pregnant with Xie Xiu.
Women are often emotionally unstable during pregnancy.
Her husband, who used to adore her, distanced himself due to her family’s mistake. The sudden change in treatment left the Empress feeling deeply wronged, with her only hope being that the child in her belly might soften the Emperor’s heart toward her.
Despite waiting and hoping for the Emperor to change his mind, the Empress’ expectations turned into resentment, even extending to the child the man left inside her.
The sadness during her pregnancy made the Empress lose her appetite and sleep, quickly taking a toll on her health. Compounded by a difficult childbirth, she was on the brink of death.
With a baby carrying the burden of pain and resentment from the day of birth, he was destined never to receive the Empress’ joy.
After Xie Xiu was born, he was only held by his wetnurse, and for the entire first month, his birth mother didn’t even touch him.
Recollections in the novel painted a truly grim picture of Prince Duan’s childhood. As a legitimate second-born son, his treatment was far worse than the children of concubines.
His deteriorating relationship with the Empress was like a snowball effect, worsening over time, and the reason was his wetnurse.
If there was anyone in this world who truly made Xie Xiu feel a bit of motherly love, it was only his wetnurse.
After giving birth, the Empress didn’t want to see this unlucky child. She didn’t arrange a rotating set of wetnurses. She just kept one wetnurse living in the palace to feed Xie Xiu whenever necessary, ensuring he wouldn’t starve.
The wetnurse had her own son who was only a few months older than Xie Xiu. However, shortly after birth, they were separated, so Xie Xiu became her emotional anchor.
She didn’t miss out on all the things a real mother would do, like collecting his baby hair or observing the shape of his stool.
So, during his early years, Xie Xiu, despite receiving less favor than the other Imperial Princes, still had enough care.
Xie Xiu became overly reliant on his wetnurse, always demanding her presence.
By the time he turned four, the Empress, who wanted to repair her relationship with him, tried to keep Xie Xiu close to her. However, he insisted on having his wetnurse around.
In her anger, the Empress expelled his wetnurse from the palace.
For the first two weeks, Xie Xiu just cried every day for his wetnurse. But after a month, this small child somehow managed to sneak out of the Western Palace and tried to search for his wetnurse with his short legs. He was only apprehended by the guards at the palace gates and returned to the Empress.
The Empress was very upset and felt that her reputation as a mother was tarnished, so she confined Xie Xiu to a warm room for him to reflect.
Xie Xiu, even angrier, was too young to retaliate. He could only take out his frustration on himself, so he protested by going on a hunger strike.
Matters escalated, and the Emperor, who arrived late to the scene, personally carried his son back to the inner palace to feed him.
If Xie Xiu’s hunger strike hadn’t stirred up the Imperial Institute of Medicine, the Emperor might have forgotten when this son suddenly appeared.
He felt somewhat guilty and wanted to make amends, showing genuine paternal affection.
However, Xie Xiu, who rarely met the Emperor, was quite shy. He refused to eat the food the Emperor offered and didn’t respond to the Emperor’s affection.
Such behavior cooled the rare moments of paternal love in the Emperor’s heart. He gave up on any parent-child interaction, only sending someone to bring Xie Xiu’s wetnurse back and subtly requesting the Empress not to dismiss the Seventh Prince’s wetnurse again.
Afterward, the Empress did indeed refrain from separating Xie Xiu from his wetnurse, but she also effectively ignored the existence of this son.
Misfortune continued, as Xie Xiu’s wetnurse passed away when he was eleven years old.
From that point on, this child became an “orphan” with both parents, not speaking for a long time. When he went to the study room with other young princes to study, he was often teased.
He didn’t get angry and accepted everything with a blank expression until others lost interest in teasing him.
His eccentric personality made it increasingly difficult for Xie Xiu to fit in with his brothers, and his lack of response made the Expositors-in-waiting at the Hanlin Academy quite distressed.
Gradually, even the teachers regarded him as an oddity. Everyone unconsciously started to ignore the unlucky mute young prince’s presence.
Perhaps by misfortune or fortune, an Expositor-in-waiting of the Hanlin Academy at the time noticed this peculiar mute Prince.
Whether out of curiosity or a sense of responsibility, the Expositor-in-waiting, whenever he had free time, would leave Xie Xiu alone in the study room for one-on-one lessons, patiently.
At first, Xie Xiu remained as unresponsive as before, like a wooden figure.
Unlike others who quickly lost patience and gave up on him, the Expositor-in-waiting always sincerely and warmly communicated with Xie Xiu, never treating the child like a stone.
Because Xie Xiu didn’t respond, the Expositor-in-waiting even developed the ability to understand Xie Xiu’s emotions from his gaze.
This nearly lifeless block of wood, Xie Xiu, began to thaw after about half a year, thanks to the warmth from the Expositor-in-waiting.
After a year, Xie Xiu gradually became more like a normal child, able to interact with others, yet still reserved.
That Expositor-in-waiting was none other than today’s Deputy Prime Minister – Senior Minister Li.
To Xie Xiu, Senior Minister Li was a true mentor and a father figure.
In the novel, Xie Xiu willingly played the role of a puppet for Senior Minister Li for his entire life.
He accepted everything calmly, faced his older brother, Prince Yan, in a calm manner, faced failure calmly, and died calmly.
Despite being Prince Yan’s primary adversary in the early stages, Xie Xiu’s presence was overshadowed by Senior Minister Li.
Interestingly, this youth raised in such an abnormal environment had a good relationship with the big boss, Xie Duo, thanks to his domineering personality.
In stark contrast to Xie Xiu, Xie Duo was born after the Emperor and Empress rekindled their old flame.
His arrival marked the return of their lost status and affection, rejuvenating the Empress’ life. Consequently, Xie Duo received abundant maternal love in return.
After his birth, the Empress was in the honeymoon phase of their renewed love, making Xie Duo the child who spent the most time with the Emperor.
This child possessed remarkable natural strength, reminding the warlike Emperor of his own youth. So, he lavished love on Xie Duo without question.
Little Xie Duo couldn’t understand why his seventh brother, Xie Xiu, didn’t play with him like his other brothers did.
Therefore, this little troublemaker often forcibly dragged the ostracized Xie Xiu to play cuju, attempting to make him more like their other brothers.
Thus, Xie Duo unexpectedly became Xie Xiu’s sole childhood playmate.
From the later plot in the novel, although Xie Xiu was not expressive, his feelings for his ninth brother might have been deeper than Prince Yan’s affection for his ninth brother.
That was because, in Xie Xiu’s world, there were only three people: Xie Duo, his late wetnurse, and Senior Minister Li.
This unlucky child, as the early-stage boss in the novel, had far less ability to attract enmity than Senior Minister Li. Han Jiao also didn’t have much of an impression of him.
If Xie Xiu could see through Senior Minister Li’s manipulation, perhaps Prince Yan might have one less rival.
However, this seems nearly impossible. From Xie Xiu’s behavior in the novel, he couldn’t possibly doubt Senior Minister Li’s feelings and loyalty towards him.
Xie Xiu had experienced too little genuine affection. He didn’t know what real paternal love or the bond between teacher and student should be. He only knew that Senior Minister Li was the one who rescued him from an icy abyss, the one person in this world who couldn’t possibly harm him.
But he was mistaken.
So, trying to cut the ties between Senior Minister Li and Prince Duan at the source might be impossible. Han Jiao was sure to clash with Senior Minister Li’s faction.
Timing was crucial. Currently, he couldn’t confront Senior Minister Li’s son-in-law head-on because Prince Yan didn’t have the strength for it.
If he were to reveal all the findings from this investigation to Prince Yan, Han Jiao wasn’t sure if Prince Yan would start the confrontation with Prince Duan’s faction ahead of schedule.
That would be too dangerous.
Perhaps Han Jiao should fabricate some false records and erase Senior Minister Li’s son-in-law from the list of names.
Han Jiao was deeply conflicted.
This was his first battle to gain the trust of Prince Yan, and this false record might be exposed in the future.
But if he confessed honestly, he might not be able to convince Prince Yan to temporarily spare Senior Minister Li’s son-in-law.
Caught between a rock and a hard place.
Soon, by midday, Mrs. Han came to the study with food.
“Didn’t you say that everything is already settled?” She looked at her son, who was sitting bent over in a circle chair, his forehead supported in exhaustion. “Did you make a mistake in the accounts? A’Jiao, you can’t keep tormenting yourself like this. It’s only been a couple of days. If you’re anxious and make a mistake, have a nap and start afresh when you wake up.”
“No mistakes,” Han Jiao, his voice hoarse from the entire night’s work, looked up at his mother, fatigue evident in his face, and murmured to himself, “If I reveal the findings I discovered to Prince Yan in detail, it could very likely get him into big trouble.”
Mrs. Han was taken aback and placed the meal on the desk. She frowned and asked, “What trouble could Prince Yan possibly get into? He’s the future Emperor!”
“This trouble might prevent him from becoming the Emperor.”
Mrs. Han was getting worried. “You’re too kind, my son. How could us common folks possibly influence the heart of Prince Yan?”
Han Jiao shook his head. “Prince Yan’s trouble is my trouble.”
Mrs. Han didn’t quite grasp her son’s meaning. She thought her child was just like his father, burdening himself with the nation’s concerns and the sovereign’s worries. She suddenly felt a lump in her throat. “You should worry less! Your father’s worries have landed him in prison. You still have the energy to care about others. Who becomes the Emperor is Heaven’s will. It’s not something you or anyone else can change!”
Han Jiao was suddenly awakened by his mother’s words.
Prince Yan was the male lead. He should have the male lead aura. Perhaps one should have more confidence in the idea that destiny favored him and that Prince Yan would be capable of discerning priorities when the pivotal moment arrived.
Regaining his determination, Han Jiao suddenly stood up.
Mrs. Han hurriedly asked, “What’s wrong?”
Han Jiao picked up the document he had organized all night and looked at his mother with certainty. “I’m going to see Prince Yan right now.”
To avoid appearing too worn out, Han Jiao tidied himself up before heading out.
As soon as he arrived at Prince Yan’s mansion, the guards immediately warmly ushered him into the outer courtyard. A eunuch escorted Han Jiao into the inner courtyard without even asking for an invitation, likely due to a special order from Prince Yan.
Han Jiao walked boldly into the hall, circled around a folding screen, only to find that the person he saw was not Prince Yan.
It was the Third Prince and the big boss!
What did it feel like to run into two adversaries at the same time?
Han Jiao momentarily couldn’t react, even forgetting to greet them.
Noticing him in the corner of his eye, Xie Duo’s indifferent expression suddenly changed. He looked around to confirm that he was indeed in the residence of Sixth Brother.
“How did you know I was here?” Xie Duo asked the little child prodigy in confusion.
Han Jiao: “……”
I didn’t come to find you, okay! Come on! Who sobbed and asked for your help that day? Explain it to me!