What was I Thinking when I Ditch the Second Male Protagonist Chapter 70

Chapter 70

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Han Jiao’s mood was very complicated due to Xie Duo’s new essay.

On the positive side, Xie Duo surprisingly followed the traditional format, presenting the topic with cited examples, meeting the standard model of an essay.

It was clear that it was just to get by without much innovation, but the article was logically sound, with no flaws to be found. As the prince’s homework, it was already of a very high standard.

However, Xie Duo still had not given up on inserting that extensive “Code of Conduct for National Civil Servants,” spanning a thousand words!

“Your Highness,” Han Jiao weakly shook the essay in his hand, his gaze cool as he looked at Xie Duo, who sat with crossed legs, eagerly anticipating approval, “Since you’re willing to try traditional writing, wouldn’t adding one more example be enough for the word count? Why do you have to stuff this lengthy document into every essay?”

Xie Duo’s face remained unashamedly calm. “Didn’t you mention that Father Emperor might conduct random checks?”

“So you still dare to include this section?”

“It’s the first time I’m writing an essay by the rules. If I don’t include this part, Father Emperor might think I had someone else ghostwrite it. I don’t want to be punished again.”

Han Jiao: “……”

Well, this “Code of Conduct” section was a characteristic of Xie Duo’s shortcut methods. Now that the prince’s writing format had made significant progress, it needed to be gradual, or else it would truly seem like someone else wrote it.

So, Han Jiao happily accepted Xie Duo’s homework.

After the lesson, he immediately joined the casual conversation among the princes, looking for an opportunity to mention Prince Duan.

Approaching Prince Duan seemed abrupt to Han Jiao. If he privately asked Xie Duo for an introduction, it would appear as though his motives were impure, as if he were attempting to find an alternative path after being forsaken by Prince Yan.

Xie Duo was very clever, and Han Jiao could confide in him about his true intentions — that if he could help Prince Duan overcome his psychological trauma and mend the strained brotherly relationship with Prince Yan, it could fundamentally resolve the political discord.

This approach might seem overly idealistic, but it wasn’t entirely impossible because Prince Duan’s struggle with Prince Yan wasn’t solely about power and status.

Prince Duan’s condition was the root cause of their fraternal conflicts. It was the leverage that Senior Minister Li exploited, but it also served as proof of Prince Duan’s reluctant involvement in the political strife.

Prince Duan didn’t truly desire the throne. What he needed was to rebuild his sense of security, let go of the excessive defenses caused by his trauma, and minimize the symptoms of stress. Only then could he rediscover his true self and the goodwill of others, restoring the meaning of his existence.

To be frank, Han Jiao’s attempt to heal Prince Duan had another personal motive.

He suspected that in the novel, Xie Duo turning to the dark side was related to Prince Duan’s death.

The timing was too close: Prince Duan’s death, Xie Duo’s descent into darkness, one following the other.

The cause of Prince Duan’s death, ruled as suicide, also raised suspicions.

Could it be the handiwork of Prince Yan’s faction?

Or would Xie Duo suspect it to be Prince Yan’s doing?

Currently, Xie Duo hadn’t considered that this political rivalry might escalate to a life-or-death situation.

He believed that Father Emperor would make the final decision on who became the Crown Prince, and the other side would simply accept it. After all, they were true brothers, and it wasn’t a matter of winning or losing.

In his view, the daily grind of reviewing hundreds or even thousands of essays was hardly worth the fuss.

So, Prince Duan’s death was undoubtedly an unexpected blow, likely connected to some sudden eccentricity from the big boss. Han Jiao hoped that this stinky little brother could continue to be carefree.

He wanted to save Prince Duan. Rather than saying it was to clear obstacles for Prince Yan, it was more accurate to say it was to guard against suspicious incentives that might make the big boss go rogue.

Compared to helping Prince Yan ascend to the throne, Han Jiao seemed more concerned about the big boss’ future safety.


Although he didn’t want to admit it, but…

Han Jiao felt that his concern for Xie Duo seemed to go beyond a reasonable limit. This unexplainable concern made him oddly uneasy, so he decided not to dwell on it and focused on executing the plan.

With the presence of the Eighth Prince and the Tenth Prince, the conversation swiftly shifted, and the princes naturally started discussing the peculiar Prince Duan, Xie Xiu.

“He ignores us, that’s one thing, but he won’t even let Old Ninth interact with us,” complained the Eighth Prince with a dissatisfied expression. “Every time he hears Old Ninth call me ‘Big Brother,’ he feels the need to reprimand him.”

Han Jiao was surprised. “Prince Duan doesn’t allow the Ninth Prince to address you as ‘Big Brother’?”

“Exactly! Seventh Brother imitates him like this.” The Tenth Prince stood up and mimicked Prince Duan’s nervous posture, shrugging his shoulders and gazing forward with vacant eyes. “A’Duo, be cautious, don’t casually call others ‘Big Brother.'”

“You’ve got it down to a tee, hahaha!” the Eighth Prince applauded. “Just like that! And after saying it, you have to purse your lips.”

So, the Tenth Prince reenacted Prince Duan’s peculiar behavior once more.

Han Jiao smiled in cooperation, and he noticed that Xie Duo also smiled, but it seemed quite forced.

Xie Duo probably didn’t like others making fun of Prince Duan’s odd actions. But unlike Prince Duan, who lived in a confined world, Xie Duo needed to maintain a similar pace with everyone. He couldn’t display excessive displeasure towards the game of mocking Prince Duan that everyone enjoyed.

Prince Duan’s strange behavior had hurt those around him. Xie Duo understood that people not liking Prince Duan was only natural. When he was young, he also had many arguments with Prince Duan because of this.

Xie Duo didn’t understand why Xie Xiu excessively shuns the outside world. In his eyes, Seventh Brother was usually a knowledgeable and intelligent elder brother. But once an outsider tried to get close, Seventh Brother’s reactions seemed… like there was something wrong with his mind.

It was quite embarrassing.

When Xie Duo was still young, he used to brag to others about how amazing Seventh Brother was. But when others saw Xie Xiu, all they saw was a wooden, lifeless figure.

Every time people left, young Xie Duo would get very angry, blaming Xie Xiu for being too shy. That was the only explanation he could come up with.

Strangely, Xie Xiu had always been sensitive to anger. Anyone getting angry at him would make him lose control. The only exception was when his younger brother got upset. He would still feel safe and even smile. “They are very noisy and dangerous.”

Xie Xiu easily fell into panic due to severe psychological trauma. Fragmented and terrifying memories could flash in his mind at any time. These flashes caused three instinctive reactions: fight, flight, or numbness.

Once he lost control, Xie Xiu could suddenly attack the person causing fear. When this happened, Senior Minister Li would step in and take all the blame, attributing everything to not teaching his student properly.

This heightened Xie Xiu’s nervousness and sensitivity. Gradually, in order to prevent causing harm to Senior Minister Li, he opted to escape from the situation and emotionally desensitize himself.

But this was something his younger brother could not accept.

The two brothers almost had a falling out because of this.

It happened on a winter day three years ago.

That year, there was an especially heavy snowfall in the capital, so they organized an ice sculpting competition. The princes from the palace also came to watch.

Hand-carving was Xie Xiu’s specialty.

Xie Duo didn’t participate himself. He helped build a small snowy hill for Seventh Brother, eagerly waiting for Seventh Brother to show his skills and prove their elder brothers, who looked down on him, wrong.

Xie Xiu wanted to meet his little brother’s expectations.

He worked tirelessly for over half an hour, creating the outline of a phoenix ice sculpture, quickly drawing a crowd of onlookers and admirers.

Xie Duo was extremely proud and pulled his older brothers over to see.

Unexpectedly, right at that moment, a child playing with snow accidentally hit Xie Xiu’s arm.

It was a lightly compacted small snowball, causing minimal discomfort, so it appeared rather insignificant.

However, this snowball made Xie Xiu start to notice the children around who were chasing and roughhousing.

When he turned around, Xie Xiu saw not far away two kids play-fighting, with one on top of the other. In his mind, an instant image flashed — the picture of Sixth Brother pinning someone down and beating them up.

Blood rushed to Xie Xiu’s brain in an instant, and he dropped the carving knife, clutching his head as he began to shout loudly.

People around started gossiping and pointing fingers.

“Sixth Brother didn’t come, so why is he acting crazy?” The Fourth Prince, who was brought to watch, rolled his eyes.

“Hurry up and take him back to the palace. Why bring him out? It’s embarrassing!” The Second Prince looked disgusted and quickly sent a eunuch to fetch the Seventh Prince.

“So noisy!” The thirteen-year-old Xie Duo suddenly shouted like an irate little lion with his hair standing on end. He stepped forward, raised his hand, and forcefully pushed the Second Prince. “Shut up! Seventh Brother is fine. His ice sculpture is about to win. You’re not allowed to talk!”

The Second Prince was infuriated, his face turning pale. No younger brother had ever been so rude to him. But this little rascal had Father Emperor’s favor. After weighing his options, he didn’t start a conflict, only smiling and saying that he would wait to see the Seventh Prince win.

However, a miracle didn’t happen. Xie Xiu’s breakdown continued until the end of the ice sculpting competition.

During this time, Xie Duo tried to hold his hand to make him continue carving the phoenix, but it was in vain. It was only after the crowd had dispersed that Xie Xiu gradually regained his composure.

The princes came to greet them one by one and then left.

“Let’s go, A’Duo, I’ll take you back to the palace,” the now composed Xie Xiu said, as if nothing had happened.

Xie Duo looked at him with a cold expression. “You promised to finish the phoenix sculpture.”

Xie Xiu turned to look at his partially finished work and then told his brother, “I haven’t finished it yet, but the competition is over. We can try again next year.”

Xie Duo stubbornly turned his head away.

Xie Xiu reached out to grab his brother’s arm. “Let’s go, it’s getting late and chilly.”

Xie Duo dodged his hand. “I don’t want to go back to the palace with you.”

“Why?” Xie Xiu looked puzzled, but his brother didn’t answer. He silently mounted his horse and disappeared into the vast snow.

After returning to the palace, Xie Duo retreated to his own chambers. Even the Eighth Prince didn’t dare to speak with him, and the eunuchs didn’t dare to offer any words of comfort.

He remained upset until nightfall, then a eunuch rushed in, reporting an urgent matter.

Xie Duo listened, then immediately jumped out of bed. He rushed into the courtyard, got on a horse, and left the palace under the cover of night.

The north wind howled, and what was a bustling city market in the afternoon was now desolate. The hundreds of ice sculptures were buried under snow, their original shapes indistinguishable. In the dim moonlight, they resembled graves.

Only the distant, translucent phoenix still stood proud in the midst of the storm.

The eunuchs who were supposed to be holding lanterns had sought refuge in nearby inn for warmth. Lanterns were placed around the phoenix.

Xie Xiu stood alone in the moonlight, using his frozen right hand to continue carving the phoenix’s wings.

He heard hurried footsteps approaching and turned his head, alert.

Just the faint moonlight was enough for him to recognize his brother’s silhouette. Xie Xiu excitedly brushed the snow off the phoenix’s back and shouted to his brother, “I’ll finish it soon!”

Xie Duo briskly approached but didn’t even glance at the phoenix. He ripped off his own cloak, used it to wrap Xie Xiu, hoisted him onto his shoulder, and headed to the inn.

Xie Duo had the innkeeper bring five charcoal braziers in succession and surrounded the frozen Xie Xiu with them.

“Only five feathers left, and it will be finished,” Xie Xiu reported his progress.

“I don’t want you to finish it.”

Xie Xiu was puzzled. “Then why are you angry?”

“I don’t want to talk about this anymore.”

It seemed Xie Xiu could never understand the meaning of honor and dignity. Xie Duo poured the hot medicinal soup into a bowl and handed it to Xie Xiu in frustration.

Xie Xiu reached for the bowl, but his fingers remained curled and couldn’t open.

Xie Duo grabbed his hand to inspect it closely and discovered that all of his finger joints had cracked from the cold.

There was a crisp “crack” sound.

The bowl of medicine was smashed by Xie Duo.

Xie Xiu flinched, helplessly watching his brother, who suddenly covered his eyes tightly. “Are you angry?”

Xie Duo held his breath to suppress a sob.

Xie Xiu nervously stood up, his frozen right hand gently stroking his brother’s hair. After a while, he heard his brother’s low voice.

“Fuxk your mother…”

Xie Xiu gasped in surprise, then uneasily admonished his brother, “But she’s your Mother Empress.”

From that day on, Xie Duo no longer attempted to change Xie Xiu’s odd personality.

He accepted it.

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