The Child Emperor - Chapter 45: Words from Mother
Chapter 45: Words from Mother
Luo Huan-zhang strode slowly into the room, his footsteps full of solemnity. Even though he was dressed plainly, he had the aura of a sword-trotting and bow-wielding general. Whenever he bowed towards the Emperor, it was never a fluid bend in one motion. Instead, he placed one foot in front of the other and bent slightly, with his hands clasped in front of his eyes. It was a simple yet solemn motion, and also had a tinge of the ancient rites.
There were more eunuchs present today than usual. Eight of them stood by the door in two rows. They neither bowed nor made a sound, appearing rather arrogant. Prince Donghai was very shocked, as his eyes darted around guardedly.
The Director of Palace Attendants, Jing Yao, came into the room, and walked to Prince Donghai’ He said quietly, “Your Highness, please leave with me.”
“To where?” Prince Donghai clenched his fists and placed them on the desk.
“Please follow me.” Jing Yao said with an even graver tone.
Prince Donghai unwillingly got up. He stole a glance at the Emperor and curled his lips before leaving with Jing Yao.
Han Ruzi sat up straight as he looked plainly at Luo Huan-zhang. Clearly, that spare imperial edict had been handed over.
“Today, I shall tell Your Majesty about the Harmonious Emperor,” said Luo Huan-zhang.
The Harmonious Emperor was the son of the Fiery Emperor, the father of the Martial Emperor. He was an Emperor who had served as a link between the past and the future. When he reigned, the realm was at peace, the treasury was full, and the people content. Even though there were some troubles at the border, the Harmonious Emperor merely ordered a strident defense, and never took aggressive action.
The Harmonious Emperor was a wise Emperor, but he had one regret in life.
The Harmonious Emperor was not the Crown Prince designated by the Fiery Emperor during the latter’s lifetime. Instead, he was chosen by the senior officials from amongst the eligible candidates after the Fiery Emperor had died. When he first ascended to the throne, he was modest and compromising, and hardly had any differences with the senior officials. He faithfully followed the Fiery Emperor’s dying wishes, and deliberately suppressed the power of the Imperial In-laws. Regardless of how much his mother, the Empress Dowager, would plead, no one in her family was given noble titles or official positions, just large sums of gold.
In the seventh year of the Harmonious Emperor’s reign, the Empress Dowager died. Before she died, she bemoaned, “Every other Imperial In-law family is exalted when their daughter becomes Empress Dowager. Only the Hua clan lives ignobly because of me. When I die, cover my face with cloth, for I am too ashamed to face my parents in the underworld.”
Upon hearing this, the Harmonious Emperor was greatly distressed. On his mother’s deathbed, he enfeoffed granted Marquis titles to three Hua clan members, and appointed five Hua clan members to vice-ministerial positions.
Empress Dowager Hua died with a smile on her face, but the Harmonious Emperor had always regretted causing her such sorrow. He spent the rest of his life treating the Hua clan well. Through the reigns of the Martial Emperor, the Graceful Emperor, the Thoughtful Emperor, and then current Emperor, the Hua clan stood the test of time with Marquis Junyang’s line still existing.
“The filial son treasures time. He would not wait until his parents are gone to regret his actions. I hope Your Majesty considers this carefully.” Luo Huan-zhang bowed, and that was the end of the morning’s lecture.
Han Ruzi listened more seriously than usual. He asked, “He who renders meritorious service deserves reward; he who is able deserve higher office; he who is virtuous deserves praise. Other than those who fulfill these conditions, who else can be an official and help the Emperor rule the realm? The Harmonious Emperor showered the In-law clan with lavish titles, causing the Empress Dowager to smile. Yet where does this leave the Empire of Chu, and the ancestors of the Han imperial clan?”
The faces of the two rows of eunuchs changed colors.
Luo Huan-zhang’s gaze drooped slightly before he raised it again. He said, “Filial piety comes from the heart, and only a filial person can speak of righteousness. The Emperor’s filial piety affects the entire realm…”
Han Ruzi knew what Luo Huan-zhang wanted to say, and he interrupted him discourteously. “If that is the case, as someone who has abandoned his biological mother, We are truly the most unfilial person in the world.”
The eunuchs’ faces grew panicked. As the Emperor’s teacher, Luo Huan-zhang did not need to kneel. But this time, he knelt and respectfully knocked his head on the ground. “Filial piety comes from the heart, and is in keeping with the proper rites. According to the rites, the Empress Dowager is Your Majesty’s mother.”
Han Ruzi grabbed a book on the table and threw it at Luo Huan-zhang. He shouted, “Luo Huan-zhang, are you not ashamed to see your friends and students?”
The eunuchs no longer stood by. The first row of four eunuchs came forward and held the Emperor down.
Luo Huan-zhang remained motionless, and let the book hit his chest. He said coldly, “I have many students, none as unworthy as Your Majesty. Marquis Piyuan has already confessed to his crimes. Your Majesty should reflect on your actions — have you not disappointed both the Empress Dowager and the people?”
Han Ruzi screamed and shouted while in the hands of the eunuchs. It was a good show he put on. Nobody asked him to do so, he just thought that it would make it more realistic. Moreover, he did need to vent.
It turned out that the person to be sacrificed was Marquis Piyuan. He had just returned from the battlefield in Guan-dong and was recovering from illness at home. He had a small social circle, so the number who would be implicated by him would perhaps be fewer.
The Emperor did not go to the Hall of Diligent Administration, but was sent back to Tai-an Palace. There were at least four eunuchs on guard in the room at all times. Zhang Youcai and Dong Qing E would only enter occasionally, leaving once they had finished their tasks.
Han Ruzi did not act up anymore. He lay in bed, wondering what the Empress Dowager would do.
Lunch was cancelled as a small punishment for the Emperor.
In the evening, Dong Qing E carried a plate of food in. The eunuchs checked it before allowing her to bring it to the Emperor. Han Ruzi ate quickly, and spoke furiously to Dong Qing E. “You bitch. Were you the one to ruin Our plans?”
Dong Qing E withdrew in a panic, but she raised her head and gave a quick look, showing that she understood what the Emperor was doing. At this time, whomever the Emperor was nasty to would be the safest.
Han Ruzi finished his meal, and shouted at the eunuchs guarding him. “Do you dare reveal your names? We remember how you look like. In the future… future…”
He was trying to recall Prince Donghai’s vocabulary and way of speaking, when someone entered from outside.
Zuo Ji’s face was still bruised, and he was unable to display that charming smile of his. In any event, he had no wish to smile to the Emperor.
The two of them stared at each other for a while. Han Ruzi was rather apprehensive. This was the person who hated the Emperor the most in the entire palace.
“Your Majesty is bold.”
“Not as bold as you.”
“Is Your Majesty not afraid of the laws of your ancestors?”
“Are you not afraid of Liang An haunting your dreams?”
Zuo Ji harrumphed. “Save your silver tongue. I shall take Your Majesty to see someone.”
Han Ruzi was startled. “Whom?”
Zuo Ji did not answer and turned around to lead the way. A few eunuchs came forward and walked by the Emperor’s sides, like escorting a prisoner.
Han Ruzi followed. Outside the room, Zhang Youcai and the other servants were as silent as a cicada in cold weather.
Outside Tai-an Palace, was yet another group of eunuchs and guards. They surrounded the Emperor, who was even more like a prisoner now.
The procession walked on, turning corners and going through gates. They walked further and further from Tai-an Palace, but they did not go to the Empress Dowager’s Cishun Palace.
Han Ruzi’s heart started pounding. He could guess whom he was about to see.
At the end of a dark alleyway, the Emperor was sent to a small room. The room had simple furnishing, and poorly lit in the dark. It was even more bare than a commoner’s room. A woman sat blankly under the candle light.
Han Ruzi disregarded everything else and rushed to the woman. He got on his knees and grabbed her leg, sobbing uncontrollably.
“Don’t cry, Your Majesty.” This was Mother’s voice, but it was a little cold.
Zuo Ji stood by the door, coolly watching this mother-son reunion.
“Mother.” Han Ruzi raised his head. He did not think that they would be reunited in such a place.
Your Majesty has grown up a little. Maiden Wang’s voice was still a little cold, but she could not help but touch her son’s face. But she took back her hand upon the barest of touch. She smiled and said, “Your Majesty has already grown up. Why do you cry like a child?”
Han Ruzi wiped away his tears. “I have caused Mother to suffer.”
“Your Majesty must not say such things. Your Majesty is the Emperor, and should keep the entire realm in your thoughts. The Empress Dowager is benevolent…”
Han Ruzi removed his hands from his mother’s knees. “The Empress Dowager… Mother has seen the Empress Dowager?”
Maiden Wang nodded. “Yes. It was the Empress Dowager who brought me into the palace.”
“And let you stay in such a place?” Han Ruzi looked around. The room’s furnishings were much too bear. There wasn’t even a bed.
Maiden Wang smiled. “I only moved here today. Your Majesty… If Your Majesty truly cares about me, you should be a good Emperor.”
“What is a good Emperor?” Han Ruzi increasingly found that his mother’s words were strange.
“A good Emperor would listen to the Empress Dowager, and would not do anything behind the Empress Dowager’s back.”
“And then? When the Empress Dowager…” Han Ruzi could not continue further.
Maiden Wang shook her head. “The Empress Dowager is not the person Your Majesty thinks she is. She is very kind and benevolent. Everything she does is for Your Majesty’s sake. Just wait a few years, and Your Majesty shall reign personally. At that time, the Empress Dowager would retire to the inner palace, and I… I shall be able to see Your Majesty frequently.”
Han Ruzi did not believe the Empress Dowager’s promises in the slightest, but he did not voice objections in front of Zuo Ji. “Mother, what should I do?”
“Do not call me mother. The Empress Dowager is Your Majesty’s mother.” Maiden Wang’s voice was trembling. After a pause, it reverted to normal. “From now on, Your Majesty must do as the Empress Dowager says. The Chu Empire needs an heir. Your Majesty… Your Majesty may be young, but you should do your best.”
Zuo Ji standing by the door coolly interjected, “Maiden Wang is asking Your Majesty to perform your husbandly duties, and conceive an heir for the Empire.”
Han Ruzi turned his head and glared angrily at Zuo Ji. He then said to his mother, “I… shall try my best.”
“Not try your best. You must do it. Only then, will Your Majesty and I be reunited.”
Zuo Ji hurried them on, “Things have been said clearly. Your Majesty, please it is time to make a move.”
Han Ruzi remained kneeling on the ground. Two eunuchs entered and lifted the Emperor by his arms.
“Mother, I will surely bring you to my side.”
Maiden Wang smiled as she watched her son be taken away. She said loudly, “Remember what I said. You must remember.”
Han Ruzi nodded solemnly. He shoved the eunuchs away and started walking on his own.
In the dark of night, the palace was no different from anywhere else, only that there were more people carrying lanterns. There was an unknown fragrance in the alleyway. Han Ruzi breathed in deeply and swore to himself that he would give his all to fight the Empress Dowager. He wanted to be the true lord of this place.
Only he understood the undertones of what Maiden Wang had said. “Remember what I said” did not refer to what she said this day. It was what she had said when Yang Feng had taken Han Ruzi away. His mother had whispered to him: do not believe anyone, and do not offend anyone.
At this moment, the former statement was more important than the latter. His mother was now in the palace, so her words can no longer be believed. The Empress Dowager would not spare them, so he had to resist. And quick.
Zuo Ji walked by the Emperor’s side and said softly, “Is Your Majesty satisfied?”
Han Ruzi gritted his teeth as he walked. He turned his head to Zuo Ji and said, “Take me to Qiuxin Palace to see the Empress.”
Zuo Ji’s still-injured face contorted into an ugly smile.