Han Jiao estimated that Prince Yan still required five steps to reach the big boss.
He now had two choices, one was to tell the boss, “This is your sixth brother’s seat, please make way.” Clearly, this was a life-threatening option.
So, the only remaining choice was to turn and stop Prince Yan, persuading him to switch seats.
Thus, Han Jiao abruptly turned and said, “Your Highness!”
Prince Yan: “Huh?”
Ninth Prince: “Hmm.”
Both imperial Princes fixed their gaze on Han Jiao, waiting for his next words.
“…The scenery here is really nice!” Han Jiao tactically avoided the crucial question.
“Not bad.” Prince Yan didn’t actually find the scenery impressive, but he played along, taking two steps to stand beside his ninth brother, gesturing for him to move. “Why are you sitting in Sixth Brother’s seat? Go over there with Old Eighth and Ninth. We’re here to have a drink with Eldest Brother. Can you handle your liquor?”
A hint of surprise crossed the boss’ face, and then his eyes turned menacing as he looked towards the little child prodigy!
He suspected that the little child prodigy was working hard to move the table, perhaps to sit next to Sixth Brother!
Han Jiao’s survival instinct kicked in, and he immediately switched to actor mode. He glanced around, feigned confusion, and murmured, “So, this is Sixth Prince’s seat, huh?”
The anger on the boss’ face finally dissipated.
The alarm was lifted.
“Is Sixth Brother’s name written on this seat?” Xie Duo confidently lounged in his seat.
“You, young man…” Prince Yan pointed towards the main seat not far away and patiently showed his younger brother, “Start counting from Eldest Brother’s seat, and when you reach here, it’s the sixth. See it now?”
“Is counting such a big deal?” The Ninth Prince skillfully shifted the conflict, challenging his Sixth Brother.
“Stop fooling around!” Prince Yan walked behind Xie Duo, took hold of his brother’s arm. “Hurry up and take your seat. Our brothers are about to sit down.”
Xie Duo remained unfazed, his face cool as he lowered his gaze, employing a surprising move. He picked up the teacup in front of him, took a sip, and told his Sixth Brother, “I’ve used this tea set.”
Prince Yan, quick to counter, said in a stern voice, “It’s fine, I don’t mind. Get up and leave.”
Han Jiao stepped forward to mediate, “Your Highness, how about you switch seats?”
A slight smirk curved at the corner of the big boss’ mouth, revealing a victorious smile.
Prince Yan turned to Han Jiao. “This seat will be used for the wine later. I’m afraid this little rascal might sneak a drink. If Mother Empress sees him when he returns to the palace, she’ll scold me!”
Xie Duo’s face darkened as he defiantly stated, “What do you mean ‘sneak a drink’? If I want a drink, do I need to be sneaky about it?”
“You really do want to sneak a drink!” Thinking he had guessed his brother’s intentions, Prince Yan squatted down, his face intense. With determination, he actually grabbed his stubborn brother and lifted him from his seat!
Han Jiao barely registered the blur of movement before him, not quite seeing the big boss’ action. He only witnessed Prince Yan being dumped on the ground, half-lying on a low table…
“I’m fine! I’m fine!” Prince Yan raised a hand to stop Master Han who looked terrified and came over to assist him.
Upholding his dignity as the older brother, Prince Yan did a quick recovery and looked down at his ninth brother, who refused to get up from his seat. He said, “Good boy, daring to challenge your big brother!”
“Big Brother, didn’t you slip on your own?” Xie Duo played to the weaknesses of his Sixth Brother, escaping blame by flattering, “How could little brother be a match for you?”
“Ah… right…” Prince Yan gave a sidelong glance at Master Han nearby. In order to maintain his high image, he sheepishly added, “The ground was just too slippery.”
Han Jiao: “……” Whatever makes you happy.
“Don’t you dare move!” Prince Yan was determined to discipline his younger brother today. He vigilantly pinched Xie Duo’s left ear, ready to employ the ear-pulling technique passed down from their mother.
Xie Duo’s gaze sharpened, his displeasure evident.
Han Jiao couldn’t help but hope that this trivial matter wouldn’t escalate into a brotherly conflict.
Just as he was about to step in to stop Prince Yan from pulling the boss’ ear, he saw the boss’ gaze shift and heard him shout fiercely towards the lotus pond, “Third Brother!”
Prince Yan released Xie Duo’s ear. He turned around in shock and saw the Third Prince, summoned like an unleashed wild dog, charging towards them.
With the intervention of the Third Prince, who was protective of his younger brother, the seat dispute finally forced Prince Yan to compromise.
However, the outcome of their squabble amounted to nothing.
At this moment, the female musicians on the stage had begun to play the pipa. Their melodious and lazy voices meandered through the cheerful chatter of the surrounding Princes.
Only the Ninth Prince, seated in the sixth place, had not relaxed his expression. His brow furrowed, and he cast a disdainful glance at the person sitting next to him—
Prince Yan, who received that disdainful glance, couldn’t be bothered to argue. After all, he was just sitting there, and he doubted his brother could sneak a drink anyway.
That was right, the Sixth Prince and the Ninth Prince ended up sitting together.
The princes’ guests occupied seats specially arranged on the north side of the courtyard.
The low table that Han Jiao had struggled to move became the seat for Prince Yan in the end.
Currently, Han Jiao sat with a group of young men, a total of eight people, including young masters from the Duke’s residence and young military officers. They had varying social statuses, but all were in their early twenties.
Among this group of young masters, Han Jiao dressed the most simply. During their toasts and conversations, he was often overlooked by the others.
As the feast continued, the young master seated beside him learned that he was the recent child prodigy who had been brought under Prince Yan’s wing. This neighboring young master became quite friendly with Han Jiao.
However, the five young masters seated in the front appeared even more indifferent to Han Jiao. These five were the guests brought by the Second Prince, Fourth Prince, and Fifth Prince.
Only the two guests brought by the Third Prince treated Han Jiao as one of their own, using him as a cushion to sit on and engaging in conversation.
Han Jiao asked a few questions and quickly understood the factional divisions among the princes.
Back when they were still in the palace, the Sixth Prince and Eighth Prince, as well as the Ninth Prince, were followers of the Third Prince, while the Fourth Prince and Fifth Prince were followers of the Second Prince.
The Eldest Prince, being considerably older, had left the palace to establish his residence early on, so he hadn’t taken sides.
The Tenth Prince, being very young, hadn’t had the chance to pick a faction as his older brothers left the palace to set up their households.
The Seventh Prince, Prince Duan, was treated as if he were invisible.
The Second Prince’s faction and Prince Yan’s faction didn’t get along. In the spirit of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” the Second Prince’s faction had a decent relationship with Senior Minister Li and could be considered part of Prince Duan’s faction.
Han Jiao was a guest brought by Prince Yan, so he naturally found himself in the opposing camp with those five individuals.
While Han Jiao was privately contemplating the relationships between the princes, he heard the military officer in front of him turn and call out with a hostile gaze fixed on him.
“Hey” was not a polite way of greeting, and since Han Jiao was associated with Prince Yan, he had no need to be overly courteous. He responded with a stoic expression, “Are you talking to me?”
The military officer closed his eyes briefly, then spoke arrogantly, “Are you truly a child prodigy?”
Han Jiao looked at him steadily, concerned that he might be looking for trouble under the influence of alcohol. He replied coldly, “You jest, my age is eighteen, long past the age of being called a child prodigy.”
“So, you were a child prodigy when you were young, huh?” The military officer grinned. “How remarkable! Master Han, could you recite ‘Sigh for Zhongyong’ for us?”
Han Jiao instinctively clenched his fist.
“Sigh for Zhongyong” was about a child prodigy named Fang Zhongyong who was raised into an ordinary person. Having Han Jiao recite this was clearly meant as a taunt.
“Master Wonderchild, don’t just stand there. Hurry up and recite it for us,” the military officer grinned, while those around him turned to mockingly examine Prince Yan’s new favorite.
With a smile, Han Jiao confidently declared, “I haven’t heard of ‘Sigh for Zhongyong,’ but I can recite ‘A Decree to Conquer Cao Cao.’ Would you like to hear it?”
He was mocking these people for siding with Senior Minister Li, going against tradition, and attempting to seize Prince Yan’s Crown Prince position.
Among the five, only two understood Han Jiao’s sarcasm, while the other three looked bewildered and quietly asked each other what “A Decree to Conquer Cao Cao” was.
The military officer, being a martial man, naturally didn’t understand, but he could tell Han Jiao was provoking. He raised his head and urged, “You’re a top scholar, how could you not have heard of ‘Sigh for Zhongyong’? We’re regular guests at the Prince’s residence, and you’re a newcomer. Let’s have you show off your knowledge a bit. It shouldn’t be too difficult, right?”
“I really haven’t heard of it,” Han Jiao retorted with a mocking smile. “Brother, you’re a martial man, so you probably aren’t familiar with the content of the imperial scholar’s examination.”
The veins on the martial officer’s forehead bulged. “Very well, since you can’t recite it, let’s have the Master Wonderchild drink a whole barrel of wine as punishment!”
Han Jiao frowned, about to refuse, but the man immediately uncorked a barrel of wine and held it up to his lips, pouring it down directly!
“What are you all doing?” Two of Han Jiao’s allies by his side immediately tried to push the wine barrel away. However, with five people against them, they quickly overpowered Han Jiao’s helpers and joined the military officer in pouring the wine.
Han Jiao gave a forceful kick to the low table in front of him, using it to shove the military officer away. Nevertheless, his face and hair were already drenched in wine.
“Do you have no respect for the Princes sitting here!” Han Jiao berated loudly, but the commotion from the stage was too loud to alert the distant princes.
The five men leaned and laughed heartily. “Oh, our dear Master Han, we’re just encouraging you to have a drink. No need to get confrontational, right?”
Han Jiao shot them a stern look, then turned and walked to a nearby corridor, intending to find a servant to help him get a dry cloth to wipe his face.
Just as he entered the corner of the corridor, Han Jiao saw a servant girl standing beneath a lantern, tilting her head while talking to someone.
The servant girl held a tray with several jugs of wine, and the person she was speaking to was mostly hidden by a column, but Han Jiao could recognize it was the big boss from his voice.
Han Jiao was quite curious, wondering if the boss was trying to charm the girl. Why else would her face be so red?
He thought of the boss’ charisma level. As a single guy, Han Jiao quickly walked a few steps closer, squatting by the corner to discreetly learn the art.
“So, you’re saying this side door also leads to the back entrance?” Xie Duo lowered his head with a serious expression, peering at the servant girl. He raised a hand, deliberately pointing in the wrong direction.
The servant girl hadn’t expected that even after explaining it twice, the Ninth Prince would still mistake the direction.
If it were any other Prince, the servant girl would’ve probably thought the Prince’s mind wasn’t functioning well. But with the shining youth before her, the servant girl found this prince incredibly endearing! He seemed like such an adorable scatterbrain.
So, the servant girl turned her head towards the southern corner door and extended her hand, pointing it out to the Ninth Prince. “Your Highness, it’s that door!”
Turning back, the servant girl’s eyes immediately landed on the Ninth Prince’s face. Her cheeks flushed.
Xie Duo nodded with a solemn expression. “Understood, you can go now.”
The servant girl left reluctantly.
It was only then that the Ninth Prince took out the hidden jug of wine from behind him and curiously sniffed at it.
But the earlier scene, where the Ninth Prince had used a diversion to confuse the servant girl and stealthily snatched a jug of wine, did not escape Han Jiao’s keen observation!
The big boss actually intended to steal wine!
At sixteen, he should be accustomed to the taste of alcohol. Han Jiao felt he didn’t need to stop the big boss, so he tried to sneak away quietly.
A cold voice from behind made Han Jiao realize it wasn’t a good situation. He knew he couldn’t outrun the boss, so he obediently stopped.
“It’s you again.” Xie Duo recognized the person squatting in the corner.
Han Jiao turned around and saw the boss with a face that seemed to say, “Why do you keep secretly following me?”
“I was just trying to…” Han Jiao felt hopeless. After all, the boss had already decided that he was a stalker, and he couldn’t defend himself.
“What happened to you? Did you fall into the river?” Xie Duo noticed the top half of the little child prodigy was drenched, but the lower half remained dry.
“It’s wine,” Han Jiao replied with a wry smile. “The guests had a bit too much to drink, and I was trying to help them sober up.”
Xie Duo found it hard to believe that trying to sober people up resulted in this drenched appearance. His gaze turned cold, and he asked in a serious tone, “Who poured it on you?”
Han Jiao hesitated for a moment, sensing that the big boss wanted to stand up for him. He felt a warmth in his heart and advised, “Forget it. Don’t spoil the Eldest Prince’s mood.”
Xie Duo took a step closer, his eyes focused on the child prodigy. “Listen, Han Xiaobai, every cotton-stuffed man has one chance in their life to become a true man of steel. If you let yourself be drenched like a wet chicken and give in today, you’ll never stand tall in your entire life. Tell me, who did it?”
Han Jiao: “……”
What kind of twisted reasoning is this?
Why does it sound like a call to action that gets your blood boiling?
And who are you calling a cotton-stuffed man?
I couldn’t push that corpse last time because I was lacking oxygen, not strength, okay!
Who’s made of cotton anyway!
Are you trying to pick a fight, Little Brother? Oh well, Han Jiao didn’t want to fight because he might not win.
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