What was I Thinking when I Ditch the Second Male Protagonist Chapter 78

Chapter 78

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Prince Yan’s expression remained resistant as he coldly asked Han Jiao, “What if it is? Master Han, be straightforward. If this isn’t ingratitude, what would you call it when Old Seventh treats me this way?”

“The way Prince Duan treats you is indeed ungrateful. However, what I want you to consider is not just the judgment of right and wrong but the reasons behind his actions.”

Prince Yan let out a bitter smile. “I’ve already told you the reason. It’s because he made a move on Mother Empress, and I had to intervene. In the heat of the moment, I might have hurt him.”

“Allow me to analyze the whole situation carefully. First of all, why would Prince Duan lay hands on the Empress?”

Prince Yan shook his head. “I’ve already told you. You don’t understand Old Seventh. He’s always been odd. Some of the things he does have no reason behind them. He just does them because he wants to.”

“To publicly strip the Empress’ clothes off, is there really no reason at all? Prince Duan may not understand the thoughts of others, just as others may not understand what’s going on in his mind. But he’s neither foolish nor dumb. He knows what he wants to do. He just can’t express his feelings. He wouldn’t make such a mistake without any cause.”

“Stripping the Empress Dowager in public,” Prince Yan said coldly, “Master Han, do you believe there could be any justification for why Old Seventh would do such a thing?”

Han Jiao frowned. “Your Highness, we’re only discussing the reasons, not passing judgment. It’s clear that Prince Duan was gravely wrong, a mistake beyond forgiveness. I just believe that if you know why he did this, it might ease your mind.”

Prince Yan swallowed his anger. “Very well, what is the reason, Master Han?”

“I don’t know. You know Prince Duan better than anyone, and if you don’t know the reason, how could I? If Your Highness wishes to know, I have a way to make Prince Duan personally explain the reason to you.”

Prince Yan paused, then sneered. “So, after all the talking, you want me to go to him. He did something wrong, and now I should go to him like a dog, tail wagging, to seek his excuses? Why don’t you go and persuade Old Seventh to come to me for reconciliation? Is it because you think I’m more reasonable?”

Han Jiao closed his eyes and slowly shook his head. “It’s because Prince Duan is incapable of understanding your thoughts and feelings. You gave up on understanding him due to your sadness and anger. He doesn’t come to understand you because he can’t. It’s like someone born with missing limbs. The truth is buried under a heavy load. Prince Duan, born with inherent limitations, can’t lift that load. Only you can.”

“What if I don’t want to carry that burden for him?” Prince Yan angrily retorted, “I’ve done so much for him, and in the end, I get this kind of betrayal. Why must you force me?”

“Because avoidance won’t ease your and his suffering,” Han Jiao said urgently, “You, a generous and compassionate person, are still tormented by what happened seven years ago. The Seventh Prince is tormented by it every moment. He didn’t become like this because he held a grudge against you for beating him. The incidents of Fourth Prince and Fifth Prince privately assaulting and mistreating him, he’s been through much more, but he’s never been as fearful of anyone as he is of you now. He used to love being with you because seeing you brought him comfort and happiness. Now he can’t face you because it would take him back to that desperate moment when he lost both his wetnurse and Sixth Brother. He’s been trapped in that day, unable to escape.”

Prince Yan looked at Han Jiao with a complex expression. “You’ve gone to great lengths to make me seek reconciliation with Old Seventh.”

“I only wish to help you understand the reasons behind Prince Duan’s peculiar behavior. He has been a child with defects since birth, and you’ve protected and cared for him for ten years, showing great kindness. I’m saying all this to make you realize that he didn’t act this way to hurt you. No one can expect you to accommodate his flaws once more, but I hope you can forgive yourself and let go of your resentment and pain.”

Prince Yan’s face briefly showed a hint of compassion, which he forcibly suppressed. He lowered his eyes and said softly, “I understand, Master Han, please go for now. I… I need some time to think.”

Han Jiao took his leave.

Seven years of grievances couldn’t be easily resolved with just an outsider’s guidance.

Prince Yan needed time to reexamine his feelings about the entire situation. Even if he didn’t find the courage to accept Xie Xiu again in the end, at least this conversation would help ease his inner distress.


Lately, he had been seeing his mother repeatedly counting the family’s silver, including the 200 taels he received from Prince Yan and the Emperor’s reward for aiding refugees.

“Mother, why are you counting the silver?” Han Jiao found his mother’s actions somewhat strange. “If you fancy something from a particular shop, we can just buy it without meticulously calculating.”

Mrs. Han’s eyes sparkled as she looked at her son. “I have my eyes on a four-section courtyard on Zhengyang Street. If we sell our small courtyard and add another forty taels, we can afford that grand estate. I’ve visited it several times. It’s a beautiful house!”

Han Jiao was taken aback. He had grown accustomed to their small residence and had never thought about changing houses.

Great Chu’s property prices were very affordable, even in the capital. Ordinary folks could save for seven or eight years to buy a small courtyard, as luxurious homes didn’t go over a hundred taels. So, improving their living conditions was a sensible choice.

Han Jiao originally intended to use this money for future business ventures. He had planned to partner with his uncle, who worked in construction, on several projects. Now, having saved this reward money, it seemed like enough to start his own business. He needed to be frugal.

Just forty taels could get him a small luxury estate. It was truly tempting.

Currently, Han Jiao also held the position of “Imperial Steward” in the new county. This provided him with an additional annual income of thirty-six taels. Meeting his mother’s modest wish didn’t seem unreasonable.

“Then go ahead and buy it,” Han Jiao said with a cheerful smile. “When you go to sign the property deed, bring me along so you won’t get cheated.”

Mrs. Han was so excited that she jumped up, came over, and pinched her son’s cheek. “My A’Jiao is so successful! Just one year in office, and you can afford a grand estate! When you return tomorrow, I’ll take you to see that house!”

Han Jiao excused himself, planning to visit another day, as tomorrow was Prince Duan’s birthday. The three Princes had legitimate reasons to leave the palace and visit Prince Duan.

It was rare to be able to act alongside the Princes. Han Jiao planned to visit Prince Duan’s residence right after his duties ended and meet up with the Princes. He wanted to personally observe how Xie Xiu’s treatment had progressed.

In the evening of that day, as Han Jiao arrived at the entrance of Prince Duan’s residence, he asked the gatekeeper to inform the Princes. In his peripheral vision, he noticed a familiar sedan chair arriving at the entrance.

Seeing Senior Minister Li step out of the sedan chair, Han Jiao felt somewhat distressed. He had forgotten that on such occasions, Senior Minister Li would surely visit Prince Duan’s residence. His mule was even tied up at the entrance, and claiming to be passing by wouldn’t be believable. So, he steeled himself and approached with a polite greeting.

Senior Minister Li didn’t show surprise and made a customary gesture of invitation. “Master Han, please.”

Han Jiao remained composed and walked into the Prince’s residence alongside Senior Minister Li.

Along the way, Senior Minister Li smiled and said, “No wonder His Highness has been unusually excited lately, often talking about the Ninth Prince and the Tenth Prince. I should have realized that it’s you, Master Han, who has been advising the young Princes. I should have known that only you could come up with such clever ideas to bring Prince Duan closer to his brothers.”

Han Jiao felt a bit uneasy, worried that the shrewd Senior Minister Li might see through his intentions to gradually mend the relationship between Prince Duan and Prince Yan.

Senior Minister Li likely didn’t consider this because he wasn’t aware that Xie Xiu’s aversion to Prince Yan was due to psychological trauma. Naturally, he wouldn’t know the purpose of treating Xie Xiu’s social difficulties.

Upon entering the main hall, the princes were sitting in a circle, chatting casually. As soon as they saw Han Jiao walking in with Senior Minister Li, they immediately straightened up in their seats. The Ninth Prince even hurriedly put down his raised leg.

“There’s no need to be formal.” Senior Minister Li proactively lightened the atmosphere. After seating themselves, he brought up the recent arithmetic test the Princes had taken. “I heard that the Tenth Prince turned in a blank paper.”

The academically challenged Prince Xie An immediately blushed and stammered, “I… I haven’t learned those math formulas yet, and many of the questions were too complex for me to understand…”

Xie Jing quickly stepped in to defend his younger brother, “The test that day was exceptionally difficult. In the past, we were given direct math problems to solve, but that test included topics like canal transportation and salt and iron taxation. We couldn’t make heads or tails of it and didn’t know what we were supposed to calculate!”

Senior Minister Li nodded, looking apologetic. “I may have been too hasty in thinking that you should be familiar with the Ministry of Revenue’s accounts. I asked the math instructor to create such a test. There’s no need to panic. Tomorrow, I’ll have the results of this test invalidated so His Majesty won’t see them.”

The struggling students were instantly relieved, their gazes toward Senior Minister Li turning warmer.

Senior Minister Li smiled and turned his head to the Ninth Prince. “The examiners told me that Your Highness turned in your paper in less than fifteen minutes and answered all the questions without a single mistake. Did Your Highness ever review various tax and revenue records before?”

Xie Duo shook his head.

“Then you must have extraordinary talent,” Senior Minister Li remarked in surprise.

Xie Duo, in his usual nonchalant manner, smiled, then cast a sidelong glance at Han Jiao and patted the table next to him. “Master Han, sit here.”

In the midst of Senior Minister Li’s bewildered gaze, Han Jiao moved to sit beside the Ninth Prince.

Xie Duo rarely paid attention to Senior Minister Li, and this wasn’t the first time he had shown a lack of courtesy. Fortunately, he treated other officials the same way, so Senior Minister Li had grown used to it.

However, at this moment, Senior Minister Li witnessed Xie Duo actively requesting a certain official to sit beside him for the first time.

It was indeed unusual.

After Han Jiao changed seats, Xie Jing resumed talking about the arithmetic test from a few days ago, “The tax on silk in Hangzhou, where the community must first exchange grain for money to buy silk, initially left me puzzled when dealing with intermediate calculations. But later, after reviewing the algorithms the instructor provided, it appeared to be rather straightforward. If I had been able to understand the questions on the test, I could have solved them easily.”

Senior Minister Li attentively listened to the students’ feedback and nodded. “The math instructor isn’t skilled in writing questions. In the future, we’ll need to replace them with an official from the Hanlin Academy to create the test questions.”

Across the table, Xie Duo heard this and flashed a toothy grin, turning to Xie Jing, “It’s not a problem with the questions. It’s your problem. You should replace your brain.”

Xie Jing’s eyes widened. He immediately began reciting the section from “Code of Conduct for National Civil Servants” that his Ninth Brother kept referring to in his essays.

The serious atmosphere was instantly shattered by the two brothers teasing each other. Han Jiao joined in the laughter, not realizing that Senior Minister Li had been watching him closely with inquisitive eyes.

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