Inner Residence arc ー Chapter 17 (Part 1): Three Tenths The Past, Seven Tenths The Future
Xie Zhaoying placed the goose drumstick down and wiped his mouth. “When did you know?”
I smiled as I said, “His Majesty is so prudent and the tiger tally is such a crucial token. If it hadn’t been Prince Yan who personally came to take it, would he have given it?” Actually, I have already long suspected after the first time I met Empress Zhao. I hadn’t mentioned it up until now was because it wasn’t time yet.
Xie Zhaoying didn’t speak. I was still not used to his solemn expression which was just like seeing a comedian performing in a literary romance Peking opera. To be honest, Xie Zhaoying was extremely handsome. When he became solemn, he would have a kind of steady and collected temperament like military personnel. It’s just that I kept feeling that there was a kind of swiftness and fierceness in it. Just a little of carelessness will result in being wounded by stabbing.
I asked, “Does Father know?”
Xie Zhaoying said, “Father knows but Mother and the others all do not know.”
I said, “It’s good that they don’t know.” There were some matters where the less one knows about it, the better.
I asked, “Did I know in the past?”
Xie Zhaoying curved his mouth. “You only knew that I usually climb over the wall in the middle of the night and will meet some strangers at times.”
“Hence you made a promise with me, wanting me to not say it out and spread.”
Xie Zhaoying nodded his head and smiled. “So intelligent.”
I sat beside him. After contemplating for a very long time, I ultimately still asked, “Second Elder Brother……Then, what about my real Second Elder Brother?”
Xie Zhaoying didn’t look at me. His face was shrouded with a layer of a complex expression, like clouds and mist shrouding the distant mountains. It’s just that in his eyes, there was a kind of pain clearly written as if my words flipped over some painful memory of his.
I was ill at ease as I sat beside him. The candle flame suddenly gently burst into a spark. I heard Xie Zhaoying start to speak faintly.
“I’m the sixth child among my siblings. I have three elder sisters and five elder brothers above me. My mother is Madam Xie’s concubine-born younger sister and quite a few years younger than my Eldest Brother. She had a lively disposition, was intelligent and deft, always greatly receiving the late Emperor’s favour. That year when I was four years old, my Mother passed away due to difficult labour. The next year, the late Emperor also departed from this world. Eldest Brother ascended the throne.” He paused for a moment before he continued, “Eldest Brother greatly suppressed his other brothers while to me, probably because I was young, he doted on me very much instead.”
“His Majesty’s first wife was Empress Liu. She was a benign person except that she didn’t have a child for many years, while née Zhao gave birth to the eldest imperial prince. That time, née Zhao was lovable and clever in front of people, skilled in handling the relationship between superiors and subordinates and her position gradually rose. The Zhao family thus rose to power and position like this. After Empress Liu passed away from illness, it goes without saying that née Zhao sat on the seat of the Empress while the eldest imperial prince was also conferred the crown prince. I was of the same age as the Crown Prince but a generation senior to him. We grew up together since young. The Crown Prince was not steady and wise like the His Majesty, not crafty and adroit like née Zhao but an honest and gentle person. During the autumn of the fifth year of the Yong Ping Period, when going to the imperial hunting ground to hunt, the Crown Prince couldn’t bear to shoot and kill wild rabbits and got reprimanded by His Majesty. Starkly contrasting that was that I devised a plan to capture a leopard alive. As His Majesty commended me on the spot in every way, I saw née Zhao’s facial expression change.”
I got an inkling. “She was afraid that you would threaten the Crown Prince’s position?”
Xie Zhaoying nodded his head.
“The Zhao family was a waning aristocratic family of officials. Née Zhao was formerly just a concubine. Later on, she became more honorable due to her son becoming more honorable. The Zhao family rose from commoners to a highly influential family that could overturn the world. The more they obtained, the more they were afraid of losing them. How could she tolerate a variable like me?”
“She wanted to kill you?”
Xie Zhaoying sneered.
“I was still young at that time. She only wanted to give me a little lesson to let me know how to be tactful. His Majesty noticed it very quickly. However, at that time, his body was already not very well, there were manifold national affairs and the Zhao faction was growing successfully in a short time, so he had no way to protect me thoroughly. I suffered a little hardship.”
He mentioned it casually but I suddenly remembered his body of wounds. No matter how I looked at them, those didn’t seem like what a little hardship can cause. Men always trivialised their difficulties and hardships because they had already experienced too many vicissitudes of life.
“I was originally not interested in the throne and kept giving in to them, only waiting for me to come of age, be conferred a title of prince and leave the capital for my fief. But that year when I was fourteen years old, the Bi Luo River changed its course. Numerous fertile farmland was flooded and hundreds of thousands of common people were rendered homeless. His Majesty had the intention of letting the Crown Prince toughen up through experience a little so he dispatched him to send relief in disaster-stricken areas; He also wanted me to be far away from née Zhao’s persecution, thus dispatching me at the same time. Upon reaching the disaster area, I found out that née Zhao’s relatives along with the local officials had embezzled the grains and funds for disaster relief and meted out illegal punishments by beating to death those who exposed them and reported to the higher authorities. The Crown Prince was weak and cowardly while I was young and aggressive and lacked mature consideration. I only thought of it as having found a great method to overthrow the whole Zhao clan….”
He paused a moment and said, “At that time, I had a group of followers, Han Yanyu, Yu Zhengxun and Xie Zhaoying and the others were also included. They were all youngsters from the Imperial Academy* whose disposition were compatible with each other. Second Xie and I had the best friendship. We studied and practised martial arts together. We were cousin brothers and looked alike. When I was young and got into trouble, he would always disguise as me to be punished.” As he was speaking, he smiled. “Only regarding this matter, he was firmly against me impeaching the Zhao Family. But I only felt that I had enough of that woman née Zhao’s manner. How could I listen that much? However, the results were just as he had expected. The Zhao family was like a big tree with deep roots. How could they be so easily pulled down? The ministers who originally supported my impeachment were merely thinking of taking this opportunity to safeguard their own rights and interests. When they saw that the direction the events were developing in wasn’t right, they immediately adjusted the sail and changed the direction of the helm and abandoned me.”
*T/n: Also known as ‘Taixue’ and a few other similar names. Basically, it was kind of like the highest educational institution in ancient China.
“That was the first bloody failure in my life, the first time I realized my own superficial knowledge and childishness, and was also the first time I clearly witnessed and experienced the might of this double-edged called power. His Majesty was anxious and his chronic ailment flared up. He immediately wrote an imperial edict confer me as Prince Yan in advance and sent me to Xi Yao City which was remotely far away, wanting me to stay away from the vortex of power. However, he still underestimated née Zhao’s treachery and viciousness. He thought that as long as he sent me away, née Zhao would give up and I would then be safe……”The candle flame swayed gently. I suddenly felt a little cold and pulled the cape tightly. Xie Zhaoying——Xiao Xuan’s firm and determined side profile was plated with a layer of golden light. I seemed to see a bloody massacre from those eyes congealed with frosty austerity.
Translated and Edited by: HaruOngy and LalaKurouds
I’m splitting this chapter up into three parts but I’ll try to release the next two parts faster ><