Zhu Yunxuan did not show up at court for three days straight, and Zeng Huai made a special request to visit him. After witnessing his pale complexion and furrowed eyebrows, he became extra unsettled.
Zhu Yunxuan casually waved his hand: “No need to worry about me.”
Zeng Huai was forced to swallow his consoling words back into his stomach before staying quiet and presented him with the newly proposed candidates that were suitable to become the deputy general of the southern capital army.
A large portion of the participants on the list are generals from the capital’s two main forces. Zhu Yunxuan swept a glance at it and paused at a certain name before asking Zeng Huai: “Does Lord Zhao know about these candidates?”
“From what the ministry of affairs has mentioned, it seems like this was decided through his suggestions.”
“Then so be it.” Zhu Yunxuan softly sighed and marked a circle on that name with his brush.
After Zeng Huai departed, Gao’an came forward and reported to Zhu Yunxuan with profound respect: “Lord Zhao recently delivered a message, saying that he has invited your majesty to visit his manor for a stroll tomorrow.”
Zhu Yunxuan’s expression chilled as he closed his eyes for a while before instructing: “Have someone make the preparations.”
Liang Zhen’s estate was bestowed to him by the former emperor and was located northwest of the capital, away from where the other residences were. It was a favorable location with unique views despite being extremely peaceful. In springtime, the blossoms and trees are sparse and green, so it is a decent place to enjoy the scenery.
Zhu Yunxuan was traveling in casual clothing. After leaving the palace gate, he got onto a carriage which was arranged by Lord Zhao to pick him up and rode out of the city for more than an hour before arriving at the destination where Liang Zhen had been waiting for him.
Zhu Yunxuan disembarked from the carriage with the help of Gao’an while wearing a light silk robe which made him appear seemingly thin. Liang Zhen went forward and received the cloak from a eunuch before draping it on his body: “The weather hasn’t warmed up. Your majesty is recovering from a serious illness and should wear extra layers.”
Zhu Yunxuan’s eyes were silently downcast with a trace of arrogance and estrangement between his brows. Liang Zhen lets out a laugh: “Let’s go, I’ll accompany your majesty for a stroll.”
Liang Zhen’s estate is considerably large and has great living conditions. Walking along the pond, all the way past the blooming spring flowers, there were tender green willows and large lotus leaves on the lake, along with budding flowers that were waiting the arrival of summer to flourish. Liang Zhen wore a smile on his lips before saying to Zhu Yunxuan: “Once the lotus seeds are in season during the next two months, your majesty could have a taste after I sent someone to deliver them over to the palace.”
Zhu Yunxuan dismissively nodded but Liang Zhen didn’t mind and asked him: “Would your majesty like to have a trip on the lake?”
Zhu Yunxuan did not decline his offer so Liang Zhen assumed it was a yes. The boat came to a halt at the shore, and during the process of getting on board, Liang Zhen extended his hand towards Zhu Yunxuan who appears to be slightly puzzled before accepting his help.
The boat sailed away from the shallow waters and paddled into the depths of the lake.
In the cabin, Zhu Yunxuan sat by the window while gazing at the view of the lake without much appreciation or joy in his eyes. Liang Zhen handed him a cup of hot tea: “Why is your majesty so preoccupied today?
Zhu Yunxuan retracted his gaze and shot a glance towards him before making a cold remark: “Nothing, I just didn’t expect the scenery at Lord Zhao’s estate would be so decent, it’s indeed the ideal place for a spring outing.”
Liang Zhen softly laughed: “Your majesty is welcome to visit anytime if you are fond of it.”
Zhu Yunxuan no longer continued the conversation and gazed into the distance once more while holding his teacup.
For a moment, Liang Zhen’s eyes lingered on Zhu Yunxuan’s side profile, as the look of Zhu Yunxuan whimpering and sobbing beneath him that day was still vivid in his mind. The more this young emperor succumbed, the more the indefinable emotions stirring in his heart boiled over, desperately craving for a release.
“Are you getting better now your majesty?”
Liang Zhen inquired him with concern and Zhu Yunxuan was slightly stunned before replying in a calm voice: “I am already doing very well, thanks for your thoughtfulness, Lord Zhao.”
Liang Zhen suddenly raised his hand and embraced him from behind, Zhu Yunxuan’s eyelashes trembled lightly and he was about to close his eyes, but Liang Zhen did nothing else other than plant a light kiss on his cheek before murmuring: “Why is your majesty so well-behaved today?”
Zhu Yunxuan said with indifference: “Would you concede if I don’t obey?”
Without saying anything, Liang Zhen tighten the hold around his waist and Zhu Yunxuan fell back into his embrace, but his barren gaze nevertheless remained to stare in the direction of the window. Liang Zhen frowned as his heart is stretched taut for no reason before he raised his hand and covered the other party’s eyes.
The fluttering feather eyelashes swept through the palm of his hand, and after a moment, he sensed slight wetness from it. Liang Zhen sighed and heard Zhu Yunxuan asking him in a choke that is almost inaudible: “Why does it have to be me?”
“No matter male or female, I can bestow you all the beauties under heaven. But why does it have to be me?”
Liang Zhen withdrew his hand before lowering his head and skimming his lip over the other party’s face: “Your majesty……”
“What will it take for you to leave to me?”
With scarlet eyes, Zhu Yunxuan questioned him and his gaze even carry a hint of pleading. Liang Zhen was silent for a long time before helplessly saying: “Why can you not believe that I’ve genuinely taken an interest in you?”
Zhu Yunxuan sobbed as he shook his head: “……It can’t be.”
“Why not? It is because you are assuming that we are siblings related by blood?”
Zhu Yunxuan was overly consumed by dejectedness and didn’t notice the implication behind his words as he continued sobbing. Liang Zhen sighed once more: “With such a sensitive temperament, how are you able to secure your spot on the throne? Without me, I am afraid that you wouldn’t be aware even if you are being skinned alive by these wild beasts.”
Tears continuously poured out from Zhu Yunxuan’s eyes as he looked at him in a daze: “Wild beasts? Aren’t you one yourself?”
The corners of Liang Zhen’s lip slightly curved upwards: “Am I?”
Zhu Yunxuan unconsciously blinked his eyes a few times, and his mouth twitched, unable to say much as Liang Zhen’s fingers gently rubbed over his lips: “Your majesty, is it true that I have no weight in your heart at all? Are you willing to accommodate me because of the abolished crown prince or are you fearful of the confidential decree?”
Zhu Yunxuan was stunned for a while before saying: “Throughout history…… just how many officials have the guts to act like you?”
“What’s wrong with being like this? Do you really wish to become the loner who stands at the apex and refuses to let anyone in?”
Zhu Yunxuan’s gaze stagnated for a moment as Liang Zhen tilted his body forward before leaning close to his ear and murmured, “Your Majesty, I’ll be satisfied even if you could share half of the affection you had for the former abolished prince with me.
“He is my blood-related brother.” Zhu Yunxuan reminded him in a deep voice.
Liang Zhen disproved: “In this palace, what deep-rooted affection is there to even speak of?”
Zhu Yunxuan is unwilling to explain any further because there’s no way that someone like Liang Zhen could understand. His mother passed away in childbirth, he should be the one indebted to his elder brother. It was rumoured that he was an ill omen that caused his mother’s death and his father never had a favorable impression of him. The palace staff was neglectful, and his days passed by with difficulty. His elder brother wasn’t actually fond of him at first, but he cannot bear the sight of him receiving ridicule therefore he brought him back to the eastern palace. Ever since then, his days have been gradually improving, and for many years, it was his elder brother who sheltered him and ensured that he could grow up safely in this palace. Even if he was asked to offer up his own life when his elder brother is trouble, will there be any harm in doing so?”
At the age of five, his elder brother caressed his head and told him, “You are my little brother, no one can bully you when I’m around.”
Throughout the next ten years, his elder brother has been using practical actions to fulfill this promise. After his elder brother feigned his death and fled, he vowed in his heart that he would seize the throne and protect his brother for the rest of his life.
Liang Zhen wouldn’t understand, he could never.
After being stared at by Liang Zhen’s blatant gaze, Zhu Yunxuan, who was sobbing earlier, was very self-conscious. Seeing his evasive eyes, Liang Zhen laughed softly before lowering his voice: “Your majesty is mistaken. I have no need for any other beauties, you alone is already enough for me.”
Liang Zhen cut his words off: “Does your majesty still have any recollections of our first encounter?”
Although Zhu Yunxuan remained silent, he undoubtedly remembers. At that time, his elder brother has already departed from the capital, leaving him all alone as the Second Prince Zhu Yunxun purposely made things difficult for him. Even though he wasn’t implicated by the abolishment of the crown prince, his situation is gradually becoming trickier, and it was at this precise moment that Liang Zhen showed up. He has been hostile towards this rumored illegitimate son of the emperor since the beginning, but after he was framed by Zhu Yunxun, and almost made a public spectacle of himself when he failed to complete the mission that was assigned by the emperor, it was Liang Zhen, who he has never had any interactions with before, that got him out of this predicament.
Later on, he had occasional visits with Liang Zhen in private. Although he couldn’t figure out Liang Zhen’s intentions, he is nevertheless grateful for Liang Zhen’s assistance on numerous occasions until Liang Zhen asked for him as an exchange.
The first time was when Liang Zhen discover that Zhu Yunxun had colluded with the He family to intercept the military saralry, providing him and his brother the chance to overthrown Zhu Yunxun. It was from this point onwards that Zhu Yunxuan has become aware of Liang Zhen’s expertise in trickery, therefore even if he did ascend to the throne in the future, they would never be on good terms with each other. Liang Zhen is overly capable and has countless needs, but what he desire is something in which Zhu Yunxuan couldn’t afford nor give.
Zhu Yunxuan does not deny that he is equally despicable and will do anything to achieve his goal, even to the extent of selling his own body. Liang Zhen does not owe him anything, but he is unable to get rid of his resentment for him.
Liang Zhen’s eyes narrowed, seemingly immersed in memories as an absented smile appeared on the corners of his lip: “Your majesty, it doesn’t matter if you believe it or not but I genuinely wish to aid you from the very the beginning.”
Zhu Yunxuan was unmoved by this phrase since he has never been able to see through Liang Zhen. His intentions or desires aren’t something that could be easily discern by outsiders, and as for whether his words are false or genuine, Zhu Yunxuan doesn’t even bother wasting his efforts to figure it out.
Liang Zhen let out a soft laugh: “There’s no need for your majesty to be this stubborn. On that day…… It couldn’t be that you did not enjoy it at all, right?”
Zhu Yunxuan’s reaction could not fool him. The fact that they have been physically entangled on many occasions, every subtle change in Zhu Yunxuan’s expression beneath his body could not escape his eyes, and his intoxicated state of mind in the midst the climax was something he could not hide even if he tried his best to conceal it.
“Why do you have to be like this?” Zhu Yunxuan’s heart froze all over and he resented his previous cowardly actions. He is aware from the very beginning that he must learn to be tolerant no matter in the future or the present, but he momentary overlooked this today and revealed his cowardly attitude in front of the other party, allowing him to become extra pleased.
He couldn’t do anything else other than to tolerate, because sooner or later, one of them will emerge victorious while the other in defeat.
Liang Zhen grasped Zhu Yunxuan’s jaw with his hand before lower his head and kissed him on the lips.
As their lips and teeth intimately made contact, Zhu Yunxuan closed his eyes in numbness.