Prior to daybreak, the carriage halted outside of a thatched cottage in the countryside, and Zhu Yunxuan disembarked from it with the help of Gao’an. As soon as the young lad who was currently tidying the yard spotted them, he let out an “Ah” before throwing down the broom in his hands, turning around hurriedly, and going back inside the house with a sprint.
Moments later, an gray-haired elder led his entire family outside and knelt before Zhu Yunxuan with utter solemnity: “This peasant has come to pay his courtesies, may our emperor be long lived!”
“Lao shi, please raise.” Zhu Yunxuan stride forward, and bend over to personally support the man up himself.
After a quarter of an hour had passed, they sat opposite to each other in the study room with two cups of green tea before them. Zhu Yunxuan swept a glance at the crude yet elegant furnishing sets inside the room and faintly smiled: “How has your days been in the countryside, lao shi?”
The elder sighed: “I am merely a recluse that has no fixed place of abode and is already content with myself. At present, having a carefree life at retirement age and spending time gardening is rather my pleasure.”
“This indeed sounds not bad,” Zhu Yunxuan nodded slightly, and took a sip from his tea cup. After remaining silent for a while, he said: “Would lao shi be willing to return…… and lend a helping hand to me?”
“Does your majesty have any adversities?”
Zhu Yunxuan smiled bitterly: “This solitary one was pushed around by others in all aspects at the beginning of my career. The council of ministers is presently deserted, all the officials in court are two-faced, and very few are able to provide service to this solitary one.”
Zhu Yunxuan reminisced about the past with helplessness in his speech, and the elder listened on with mixed feelings: “After years of not meeting, your majesty has grown up quite a lot.”
“Maturing is an obligation.”
This elder was once a mentor for the crowned prince of the eastern palace, surname Zeng Huai, as well as the initial teacher of Zhu Yunjin, the abolished prince.
Zhu Yunxuan would clinged onto his elder brother everyday during his childhood and would study under this old mentor for several years.
But five years ago, all the officials in the Eastern Palace were investigated and managed accordingly due to their involvement in the cases of voodooism. Zeng Huai was also discharged from his position as well, so he brought his family back to the countryside and has never inquired about domestic matters from then on.
In Zeng Huai’s memories, the young prince who often adhered to the heir apparent has always been clever, perverse and full of vitality. Yet in the face of the gloomy looking emperor who is laden with anxiety, both of them were completely discriminated against. Since it has already come to this point, it is honestly the god of destiny who is making a fool out of people.
Zhu Yunxuan pleaded: “Lao shi, please return and provide this solitary one some assistance, there’s genuinely no one that can be of service to me and I am truly powerless……”
Zeng Huai is uncertain: “This peasant’s governing position was demoted by the former emperor, so I am afraid that if I were to return now, it would only provoke criticisms and implicate your majesty.”
“There’s no need to be concerned, the cases of voodooism have long been justified. So naturally, Lao shi doesn’t need to be troubled by this prejudiced case anymore and should’ve made peace with it long ago.”
The eastern palace was given justification as earlier on as when Lord Yu, Zhu Yunxun, was executed for plotting rebellion. Yet Emperor Zhaoyang refused to allow Zhu Yunjing to return from the dead and undoubtedly would not appoint any former subordinate officials from the eastern palace ever again. So at present, there’s no one available for Zhu Yunxuan to use.
[T/N: Zhu Yunxun is the Second Prince mentioned in ch1 by Liang Zhen]
Zeng Huai was someone that has been mentioned in Zhu Yunjin’s letter to him. This old gentleman is indeed a capable individual with a mind concealing more knowledge than five cartloads of books and possesses both political integrity as well as ability. He also has a wide range of connections and is highly respected among civil officials, so his presence can likewise reduce the disputes and skepticism caused by the execution of Zhang Nianling as well as the others.
Seeing that the old man was still hesitant, Zhu Yunxuan pleaded again: “Lao shi, for the sake of my elder brother, please lend me your assistance for once.”
Zeng Huai heaved out a sigh. He and Zhu Yunjin shared a relationship as masters and disciples for more than ten years. Even if Zhu Yunjin may not be a student that he is incredibly satisfied with, it is nevertheless a matter of regret in his heart after he is wrongfully executed in the end. But if serving the new emperor can pacify his regrets, then let it be.
After thinking up to this point, Zeng Huai formally knelt down to express his gratitude: “This old minister will deeply remember your majesty’s generosity and is willing to do everything in my power to serve you!”
Zhu Yunxuan supported the man up with both arms: “Please get on your feet Lao shi, I should be the one who is obligated to give you my thanks.”
After conversing with Zeng Huai for an hour, Zhu Yunxuan bid farewell and departed. On the trip back, a slight rain started drizzling down from the perpetually clouded sky. Zhu Yunxuan urged the others to pick up the speed, with the intention of returning to the palace before noon.
Yet things turn out to be unexpected. The density of the rain heightened as soon as they entered the city, and overcasted sky became increasingly bleak. Vendors on both sides of the street put away their stalls in succession and quite a few even closed their stalls directly.
Followed by the first clap of thunder in spring, the torrential rain drizzled down and the last glimmer of light from the sky was concealed by the dense black clouds.
It was so dim outside that one couldn’t even see their five fingers.
There was a burst of irritation in Zhu Yunxuan’s heart without any rhyme or reason. As the carriage suddenly came to a halt, Gao’an’s voice transmitted inside: “Your Majesty, Lord Zhao’s residence is up ahead. He has sent someone over to invite you for a rest in his residence.”
Zhu Yunxuan opened the carriage window and took a glance outside.
Today, he was traveling in casual clothing, with a total of ten imperial bodyguards accompanying him. And at present, they were all in an awkward predicament while being drenched thoroughly.
In front of the carriage, the person who was sent over from Lord Zhao’s residence was kneeling on the ground, waiting for him to make up his mind.
After a brief moment of hesitation, Zhu Yunxuan gave his consent: “Then I’ll have to trouble Lord Zhao.”
The gate of Lord Zhao’s residence was wide open, dozens of retainers rushed out together with Liang Zhen while carrying lanterns as the light from their hands illuminated the dim street.
Liang Zhen strolled to the side of the carriage and smiled as he watched Zhu Yunxuan disembark from it: “Please pardon my lack of hospitality your majesty, for I do not know of your arrival.”
Zhu Yunxuan nodded his head slightly: “Lord Zhao shouldn’t prattle on about something so trivial.”
Liang Zhen received the umbrella from Gao’an and held it up for Zhu Yunxuan personally.
Zhu Yunxuan’s footsteps paused for a moment, after meeting Liang Zhen’s gaze, the other party winked at him with a smile. Zhu Yunxuan ultimately didn’t say the words on the tip of his tongue and entered the estate’s gate together with Liang Zhen.
This estate was bestowed to Liang Zhen by Emperor Zhaoyang himself, so the feng shui here is both abundant and utterly lavish, a complete contrast to Zhu Yunxuan when he first acquired his title as a prince and has to live in the palace because he didn’t have his own residence considering that he is unmarried.
It was too dim to see the surrounding scenery clearly, and Zhu Yunxuan wasn’t curious about it either. He remained silent the whole way as he followed Liang Zhen to his main courtyard.
An attendant prepared them tea as Zhu Yunxuan’s gaze inadvertently swept over a couple of delicately curvaceous maidservants. He was met with Liang Zhen’s eyes that carried a hint of a smile after retracting his gaze.
Letting out a faint cough, he asked: “How did Lord Zhao know that this solitary one will just so happen to pass by your residence?”
“I will know as long as I am aware,” Liang Zhen smiled as he asked Zhu Yunxuan a question in return, “Where have you been after departing from the palace in disguise, your majesty?”
“Since you are already aware of it, there’s no need to ask.” Zhu Yunxuan’s tone was both distant and harsh. No emperor would be delighted if their subordinates are able to track down their whereabouts completely.
Liang Zhen wisely shifted the topic: “I’ve requested someone to make lunch preparations, why don’t your majesty stay for a meal?”
Zhu Yunxuan raised his eyes to cast a look at the perpetual murky sky outside and did not object.
The cuisine in Lord Zhao’s residence is particularly abundant, yet Zhu Yunxuan doesn’t really have much appetite, so he settles down his chopsticks after having a taste at everything. Liang Zhen once again requested someone to serve him a bowl of soup: “Is your majesty not accustomed to the cuisines at my residence? This chef was invited from Jiangnan, are these dishes not to your majesty’s liking?”
“Lord Zhao seems to be enjoying yourself.” Zhu Yunxuan spoke with indifference. In the past, he was also someone who enjoys feasting on fine cuisines, wine and idling away in other sorts of entertainment. Yet ever since his elder brother was abolished and sentenced to execution, he has been in a constant state of uneasiness everyday, not daring to let his guard down for a moment. Even in the days after his ascension to the throne, he often feels like he is sitting on pins and needles, so he isn’t in the mood at all to indulge in amusement like Liang Zhen.
“If your majesty has taken a liking to it, then I’ll send these two chefs over to the palace tomorrow for you.”
Liang Zhen looked at him beamingly, yet Zhu Yunxuan did not respond as he quietly lowered his head to finish the soup.
After having the midday meal, Liang Zhen invited Zhu Yunxuan over to his study. Upon entering, Zhu Yunxuan casually swept a glance around. The study has gone through a meticulous revision and it is very spacious as well as exquisite, a complete contrast to the cottage in the countryside he visited this morning. He strolled to a wall full of bookshelves, and casually pulled one out to flip through it.
The book is actually an ancient record of marine warfare.
Despite Liang Zhen being a military general, he had never been on the battlefield, let alone a warfare at sea. Zhu Yunxuan didn’t expect that he would look at this type of stuff during his leisure time, so he quietly muttered to himself for a moment. Just as he was in a state of confusion, the man from behind advanced closer to him and whispered beside his ear: “Your Majesty, how about I accompany you for a game of chess?”
Zhu Yunxuan placed the book in his hand back onto the shelf, and gave him a noncommittal sideways glance which can be considered his tacit consent.
The chessboard is placed onto a small counter in the lounge, and the two of them are seated on the couch.
When a female servant brought in the hot tea, Zhu Yunxuan swept a glance at the meeky young maiden with a slight fluctuation in his heart. After they departed, he suddenly asked Liang Zhen: “You are already in your twenties, yet you still haven’t taken in a wife, Lord Zhao?”
The hand in which Liang Zhen is currently using to fiddle with a chess piece paused, and the corners of his lip curled up: “Just when has your majesty become so concerned and curious about such an important event in my life?”
Zhu Yunxuan placed down his tea cup: “I am just casually asking. Lord Zhao is a capable young talent in court that bears a great deal of political authority. Various females from a multitude of clans are keeping their eyes on you, so it is time for you to get engaged the sooner the better……”
Liang Zhen leaned forward, closing in on Zhu Yunxuan’s face as the tips of their noses were practically touching. Their breaths interlaced, and he stared at him with a beaming smile contained in his eyes.
Zhu Yunxuan’s unfinished sentence was interrupted, and his eyes widened slightly as a spark of panic flashed before his gaze. Yet he regained his composure quickly: “What is the meaning of this Lord Zhao?”
Liang Zhen smiled as he raised his hand to gently stroke his cheeks, whispering: “What do you think, your majesty?”
Zhu Yunxuan coldly sneered: “Are all the beauties in your estate still not enough to satisfy you? If Lord Zhao genuinely has no place to vent, it should only be reasonable for you to soon get engaged and establish a family.”
His warm breaths approached Zhu Yunxuan, as a tone carrying a chuckle sounded beside his ear: “Since your majesty is so curious as to whether or not I’ll get engaged, why don’t you take my hand in marriage and become my spouse instead?
Zhu Yunxuan turned his face away and ordered with his teeth clenched: “Back off.”
Liang Zhen let out a soft chuckle, and planted a kiss on his lip that is akin to a dragonfly skimming over the surface of the water, then he stepped back.
Zhu Yunxuan’s eyes turned crimson, as he furiously glared at Liang Zhen.
Liang Zhen softly let out a “tsk”, it’s rather amusing how this little emperor has always been unable to stand even a little bit of teasing.
After placing a piece on the chessboard, he unhurriedly spoke up: “Your majesty doesn’t have to be concerned over these matters, and you also don’t have to bother yourself with feigning ignorance. I am not interested in these females, so there’s no need for you to waste your efforts for nothing.”
Zhu Yunxuan indifferently gave him a reminder: “Aren’t you also wasting your efforts over nothing Lord Zhao.”
Liang Zhen didn’t move a muscle in his countenance, and simply smiled: “That may not be the case.”