Chapter 77

Extra: Young Emperor Chu Xi

[Young man, skipping stones is not played like this.]

In the year when Chu Xi first met Empress Dowager, he was just eight years old.

At that time, he had just lost his birth mother and went to the lakeside to skip stones. His mother had not treated him well, as her low status subjected her to contempt, and whenever she faced frustrations outside, she would vent her anger on him. He resented her, hated her, and cursed her, but when she really passed away, he still felt somewhat sad.

Empress Dowager appeared at that moment, back then she was still Imperial Concubine Yan, the most favored woman in the harem.

Her first words to him were, “Young man, skipping stones is not played like this.”

At that time, Chu Xi straightened up and looked back, seeing a gorgeously dressed beautiful woman walking towards him with slightly rough movements. He didn’t want to bother with her, but she behaved as if she was familiar with him, and without any explanation, she began teaching him how to skip stones properly.

Chu Xi pretended to be uninterested, but the woman’s voice persisted in his ears like a nagging melody, and without realizing it, he found himself following her instructions.

Imperial concubine Yan thought he wanted to talk to her, so she became even more enthusiastic, talking incessantly, no matter how cold his attitude was.

They spent the whole afternoon skipping stones, which was evidently a dull activity, yet it somehow consumed their entire afternoon. When Imperial Concubine Yan was about to leave, on an impulse, he called out to her. After that, they squatted on the ground, as he poured out all his unpleasant feelings to her, and he felt relieved after speaking.

Chu Xi remembered saying, [I want to become the tallest and strongest person so that no one can ever look down on me.]

To hold supreme power, to command and overlook the world.

To which Imperial Concubine Yan merely responded, [Your ambition is high, I wish you success.]

Chu Xi made a big promise, but he never really thought he would have a chance to fulfill it. However, as if heaven took pity on him, after enduring eight years of hardship, for the first time, a loving helping hand reached out to him.

Imperial Concubine Yan miscarried, and he was recognized as her child.

As she was favored but childless, she treated him well, he transitioned from using her to genuinely seeing her as a mother. The words “mother empress” and “your son” were said with willing acceptance.

Later, he truly succeeded, like a dream. He bypassed countless hidden enemies, received the imperial edict symbolizing power and reign, and then donned the black dragon robe with golden patterns and a crown that had twelve jade beads hanging down on it, obscuring his vision.

Ascending the one hundred layers of steps made of white marble, sitting on the throne adorned with dragon patterns, receiving the courtiers’ congratulatory blessings, while the resounding cries of “Long live the Emperor” surged toward him like a tidal wave. However, he showed no fear of riding the waves and remained firmly seated on the throne.

An unfavored prince actually had a day when he was actually pushed to the imperial throne. Subconsciously, he glanced in Empress Dowager’s direction and noticed the exchange of glances between her and Lord Shen, leading to a vague guess in his heart that everything had something to do with Lord Shen.

The subsequent developments were unexpected and he discovered a shocking secret—the Empress Dowager and Lord Shen were having an illicit affair.

This revelation left him greatly astonished. After numerous investigations, Chu Xi confirmed the truth of their relationship.

Subsequently, he concealed his abilities for a full decade, consolidating power through his in-laws, and during those ten years, he had considered sparing them. Yet, as their actions became increasingly audacious and conspicuous, the last strand of his rationality snapped.

The dignity of the royal family could not be trampled upon, and the ethics and virtues could not be destroyed. If the law allowed for compassion, how could justice be upheld?

With military power firmly in his hands, he initiated his plan.

As he desired, Lord Shen chose to take poison and end his life. Chu Xi’s hand trembled as he drew the bow and shot the woman, drenched in rain, seemingly going insane and appearing to be on the brink of collapse.

The bow was crimson in color, with golden threads winding into patterns, and its name was—

——Tri-Surge Fury.

Tri Surge Fury was a gift from Lord Shen to him, and in the end, he used this bow to shoot his beloved. Chu Xi laughed self-mockingly, imagining that after Lord Shen learned the truth, he would be in unbearable pain. But he was already dead, unable to witness that scene.

After Empress Dowager’s death, she was magnificently buried, and apart from the necessary annual rituals, he dared not go see her.

It was only after three years that he dared to pay his respects, by which time all those who knew the truth had been eradicated, and no one knew the truth about the deaths of the Empress Dowager and Lord Shen, not even his Empress. The whole world was deceived by the facade he presented.

On the day he went to pay respects to the Empress Dowager, the sky was pouring with heavy rain. Every time he performed the ritual, it rained, just like the day the Empress Dowager died.

Dark clouds covered the sky, pressing heavily on the horizon, and occasional muffled thunder added to the gloomy atmosphere.

An attendant held an oiled paper umbrella over his head. For some reason, no grass grew at the Empress Dowager’s grave, and no plant could survive more than three days there.

Chu Xi reached out and touched the tombstone; it was icy cold, washed by the rain, and dampened with water.

“Mother Empress, your son has come to see you.”

He had selfish intentions and deliberately separated the burial places of the Empress Dowager and Lord Shen, creating a distance as vast as the edge of the sky and the corner of the earth, forever keeping them apart. While the world remained ignorant of the truth, he issued these orders as if attempting to conceal the past, burying those old emotions and memories deep into the soil, as if sealing them inside their coffins.

For quite a while, Chu Xi stood before the same tombstone, speaking as the evening approached. The weather was strange, with almost a whole day of rain. Just as he was about to leave, a muffled thunderclap resounded from the sky, shaking the horizon, and causing some of the casual palace attendants to cover their ears.

Instinctively, he turned around and said, “Mother Empress?”

Of course, there was no response.

Back in the palace, he tried to focus on handling state affairs but eventually succumbed to restlessness. He called his trusted aide.

When the aide arrived, he said, “Bury Lord Shen and the Empress Dowager together. Remember, this is a secret; no one must know.”

The aide remained silent and obediently carried out the order.

Two days later, the aide reported that the matter was taken care of.

Chu Xi, with a strange feeling, wanted to go and see for himself. He had someone prepare an umbrella in case it rained again. Unexpectedly, the weather turned exceptionally good that day, with rare sunshine.

Under the brilliant sunlight, when he approached the Empress Dowager’s grave, he found some fresh greenery sprouting around it, even some unknown pink flowers.

“Mother Empress, you must be happy,” Chu Xi murmured at the sight.

People marveled at the spontaneous growth of vegetation near the Empress Dowager’s tomb, and the weather was no longer gloomy and rainy. They couldn’t understand the reason behind it, but Chu Xi knew. The Empress Dowager had always longed for the day when she would reunite with Lord Shen and be buried together. In her heart, there could be no greater joy.

In life, they shared the same bed, and in death, they shared the same tomb… Chu Xi couldn’t help but recall this phrase inexplicably, shaking his head decisively.

The two stones engraved with “Shen” and “Yan” had disappeared and couldn’t be found. Later, Chu Xi had someone especially carve a new pair for them and secretly buried them behind the tombstone.

Throughout his life, Chu Xi could never comprehend that kind of affection. His relationship with the Empress was a political alliance, and they only treated each other with respect and mutual esteem.

As Chu Xi neared the end of his life, the Empress, Crown Prince, and other sons were all weeping by his bedside. They asked if he had any unfulfilled wishes, but he couldn’t come up with anything at that moment. Memories surged in his mind, recalling the things he had done and the people he had encountered—whether in love or in hate.

He thought of those two individuals buried under the earth, and a sense of inexplicable sadness overwhelmed him. Finally, he let out a long sigh and slowly closed his eyes, his soul returning to the afterlife.

Being an emperor was indeed incredibly lonely.


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