“That’s right,” Xie Duo replied with certainty. “We’ve never seen this kind of grass in the palace.”
Looking up, Xie Xiu said unhappily, “I told you to tell them, if we plant two Qianqi plants, this grass won’t grow in the field anymore. But they still didn’t plant it.”
Xie Duo struggled to recall Seventh Brother’s last instructions. “Yes, I told them last time that this is a grass with a very… temper…”
“It’s a very ill-tempered grass,” Xie Xiu firmly added to complete the sentence, emphasizing the seriousness of the matte, “If you don’t subdue it from the beginning, the soil here will deteriorate and become its accomplice. Many well-behaved grasses won’t grow.”
Xie Duo furrowed his brow in concern, glanced at the “ill-tempered grass,” and then at his Seventh Brother, who seemed on the verge of madness. He nodded solemnly and said, “I’ll immediately have Big Brother pull out all the bad grass.”
Xie Xiu’s tense expression finally relaxed. He raised his muddy hand and patted his brother’s head, just like Senior Minister Li did after each of his lectures. “Good boy.”
Xie Duo finally breathed a sigh of relief, lowered his head, and accepted Seventh Brother’s approving pat on the head.
“You’ve grown taller,” Xie Xiu frowned, realizing something was amiss, and nervously said, “You’ve grown taller again!”
“How is that possible? The ground here isn’t very even, and I happen to be standing on a small mound.” Xie Duo quickly acted as if he was stepping down the stairs, took a step to the side, slightly bent his knees, and maintained a firm stance. “I’ve always been this height.”
The Ninth Prince’s life a few years ago wasn’t this challenging.
The Seventh Prince was originally an easily satisfied person. His only interest was various types of herbs, and his only demand was for things to remain unchanged around him, nothing more.
Maybe it was because he saw his wetnurse lose weight when he was young, followed by her passing away shortly after. Xie Xiu feared any significant changes in the people he cared about.
For instance, his Ninth Brother used to be much shorter than him as a child, but in the past two years, he had been continuously growing taller, almost reaching his own height. This made it more difficult for him to pat his Ninth Brother’s head, unlike before.
Such a significant change triggered Xie Xiu’s stress response. If Xie Duo didn’t half crouch down, Xie Xiu might have a big temper tantrum on the spot, demanding his brother to stop growing taller. This had happened once six months ago.
Once Xie Xiu lost his temper, the eunuchs and maids present would spread the news about the eccentric prince’s behavior throughout the palace, becoming a topic of gossip during tea and meals.
People would mock Prince Duan for his abnormal behavior, but at least no one dared to mock Prince Duan for being foolish, because Prince Duan was anything but foolish, and could even be considered a genius.
He could read at lightning speed, had a perfect memory, and could calculate things in his head that would take others an entire morning to figure out.
He simply didn’t like interacting with people.
Or rather, he only interacted with two people — his younger brother and his teacher.
These two were the ones who made him feel as safe as his herbs or his wetnurse would.
“You’re being disobedient again,” Xie Xiu got angry, and started repeating this sentence with his head lowered, “You’re being disobedient again, you’re being disobedient again, you’re being disobedient again…”
“It’s because the ground is too high.” Xie Duo exerted force with his foot, kicking up a thick layer of soil and pushing it back to where he had just stood. “If you don’t believe me, come over and try.”
“You’ve crushed all the grass and piled up the soil,” Xie Xiu heartlessly exposed his brother’s tricks. “You’re just like them, thinking I’m a fool?”
Xie Xiu had always been like this. Sometimes, he could be fooled by very simple things, and sometimes, he was more clear-headed than anyone else.
The two brothers fell into a silent stare.
Xie Duo suddenly questioned sternly, “Who said that? Who said you’re a fool?”
Ignoring the question he didn’t want to answer, Xie Xiu analyzed seriously, “I just touched your head, and you’ve grown half an inch taller since the sixth day of the fourth lunar month.”
Xie Duo gave up the pretense, stood up straight, locked eyes with Seventh Brother, and asked again, word by word, “Who said you’re a fool?”
“Are you trying to fight again?” Xie Xiu said angrily. “If you continue like this, you’ll grow into a bad grass, very bad, just like…” Xie Xiu raised the typical example in his hand, warning his brother, “Uncontrollable, disobedient, and harmful to others, just like it.”
“Bad grass can’t grow up with good grass,” Xie Duo softly argued, “but I’ve grown up right beside you.”
Because the Seventh Prince was the best grass, the Ninth Prince, who grew up with him, couldn’t turn out too bad.
Xie Xiu paused, thought it over, and was convinced by his brother’s argument. He finally patted his brother’s head to show reconciliation.
Watching this peculiar exchange between the two brothers from a distance, Han Jiao’s initial confusion gradually faded away.
This Prince Duan’s behavior was somewhat like someone with Asperger’s syndrome, commonly known as “genius syndrome.”
It was no wonder this unfortunate child appeared so contradictory in the novel—disinterested in literature and history, yet able to recite classics flawlessly, extremely starved for affection but a social recluse, emotionally distant from humans yet occasionally exploding in anger over trivial matters.
Initially, it was believed that this unfortunate child’s strange behavior was a result of childhood trauma, but it turned out to be an innate physiological condition. No wonder both the Empress and the Emperor, who had tried to restore a parent-child relationship with him, gave up, and those who tried to win his favor also abandoned their efforts.
The social deficits of such individuals weren’t something that others could easily compensate for with patience. Prince Duan likely left those around him puzzled, not knowing how to approach him.
It was truly a disheartening discovery.
Han Jiao had initially held a glimmer of hope, aiming to gain Prince Duan’s trust and gradually make him realize Senior Minister Li’s ambition, in hopes that this unfortunate child would give up on vying for the throne against the male lead. Now, it seemed hopeless.
However, one thing was surprising: the big boss, this violent little demon, was treating his brother, who had Asperger’s syndrome, with such patience.
It was evident that these two brothers have a rather skilled way of communicating, which suggested that the big boss who avoided all kinds of work might had memorized the entire Compendium of Materia Medica.
Upon hearing the call from Prince Yan, Han Jiao quickly turned to look and saw Prince Yan walking towards this place with the Third Prince.
Probably due to an unpleasant first encounter, Han Jiao felt nervous upon seeing the school bully, the Third Prince, but still approached with a smile and greeted him.
“This is the brilliant Master Xiaobai I mentioned,” Prince Yan joyfully introduced to his third brother, “These days, I’ve been listening to Master Xiaobai’s teachings daily and have gained insight into many things I couldn’t understand before. For example, the problem of land consolidation throughout various dynasties that’s hard to mitigate, Master Xiaobai told me that collusion between officials and merchants has led to the manipulation of trade risks. The safest way for common merchants and landowners to expand their estates is by consolidating land and leasing it to tenant farmers. To change this outcome, we must first monitor and restrain our…”
“Alright, that’s enough. You can discuss these matters with your Master Han privately,” the Third Prince interrupted his younger brother’s lengthy discourse and gazed confidently at Han Jiao. “The last time we met in the palace, it coincided with Ninth Brother getting a beating. I, without distinguishing between right and wrong, irritated Master Han. Please forgive my impudence!”
The Third Prince clasped his fist.
Han Jiao returned the courtesy. “Your Highness, there’s no need to worry about it. We were all concerned about the Ninth Prince’s injuries.”
Prince Yan exclaimed, “Do you two know each other?”
The Third Prince casually waved his hand. “Not exactly, just a previous encounter. I read one of his policy essays before, and it was decent!”
Prince Yan looked at his suddenly changing Third Brother with confusion and asked, “Third Brother, you were just praising Master Han’s policy essay about… umph!”
Prince Yan received an elbow jab from the Third Prince, and while holding his arm in puzzlement, he said, “Why did you hit me? Weren’t you the one who asked me to bring you here to consult with Master Xiaobai? He… umph!”
Prince Yan’s words were interrupted by the Third Prince’s attack, followed by being pulled aside. The Third Prince glared and softly warned his younger brother, “Don’t talk so much nonsense. I brought you here to ask that young man about how he deduced that case!”
Han Jiao, who looked bewildered on the side, watched Prince Yan return with the Third Prince. This time, there was no small talk as they got straight to the point. “Master Han, please teach us how you deduced that case. Third Brother said he’s quite curious.”
Han Jiao: “……”
The Third Prince’s face turned slightly red. He raised his head with a hint of shyness in his voice as he asked, “C-Can you reveal it? If it’s convenient?”
“Of course.” Han Jiao cleared his throat, organized his thoughts a bit, and looked up at the Third Prince. He earnestly replied, “In the beginning, when I was in the study, I saw the scrolls my father brought back. At that time, I found the sudden attack by the Tatars on the military camp very unusual.”
“Unusual? They’ve attacked the border at night before.”
“It’s not the method that’s unusual, but the timing,” Han Jiao analyzed seriously. “Tatars typically harass the border when resources are most scarce each year. They constantly request our country to open border trade and commerce with them, fundamentally because their foreign land can’t produce tools and clothing, leading to resource scarcity. Since I became a member of the Hanlin Academy, I’ve frequently read records of Tatar border violations and found that they rarely launch organized and premeditated attacks during times of ample resources. So, I believed this sudden night attack was quite unusual. Furthermore, not long ago, my colleagues were discussing the replacement of the border defense general. Upon closer inspection, I realized that this attack occurred only fifteen days after General Zhao Liang of Qining Pass was reassigned. This was the main reason that raised my suspicions.”
Prince Yan had initially assumed that Master Han purely deduced the case from accounting records. He hadn’t expected that this extraordinary child prodigy could actually detect abnormalities through such subtle psychological reasoning. He was truly amazed.
“Next, let’s consider the conditions of Qining Pass itself,” Han Jiao continued, “A few years ago, a batch of new soldiers were just conscripted to this pass. Judging by the overall combat capability, the Tatars would need at least five thousand or more troops if they were to attack this pass. There’s no reason they’d send just over a thousand to rush into the pass and meet their deaths. If they had truly mobilized just over a thousand troops to attack a small pass thirty miles away, their chances of success would be much higher. This also seems illogical.”
“Excellent!” Prince Yan clapped his hands and proudly said, “Third Brother, you were just saying that Master Han is young, but how is it now? Have you seen it? Age doesn’t matter. This young man’s mind is sharper than yours!”
“What did you say?” The Third Prince glared.
Prince Yan, aware of his slip of the tongue, turned around and ran, grabbing Eldest Prince who was passing by not far away to suppress the Third Prince with the Eldest Prince’s age.
“I was just looking for you!” The Eldest Prince grabbed Prince Yan and took him to a quiet corner where no one was present. He asked quietly, “The young man you brought today, is he Han Jiao?”
“This surnamed Han is causing trouble!” The Eldest Prince furrowed his brow. “Old Second’s man just reported that he got wine poured all over him. He was just complaining about it.”
Prince Yan frowned and glanced at the Second Prince in the distance. He turned back to his older brother and said coldly, “I know the person I brought. If there’s really trouble, it’s definitely those underlings from Second Brother’s side who can’t control their mouths. They dare to complain? Tell him to come to me and report it.”
“You, this young man… You’re too straightforward, you know? It makes you gullible, and your stubbornness worries Big Brother. Let me remind you: that guy surnamef Han might be a pawn planted by Senior Minister Li. Be more cautious and don’t sell yourself short just because someone offers you a treasure!”
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