Old Friends From the Past Are Now Enemies
Imperial Concubine Yuan Shu’s glance caused Zhang Yuan to think to himself, “Not good.” Sure enough, everyone’s eyes followed this gaze over. With a hint of resentment, she said: “This concubine was anxious about Your Majesty, and the sedan sent by Zhao He Hall had almost brought this concubine to square; however, it was stopped by Eunuch Yuan. Eunuch Yuan said that this concubine was a source of calamity and a wicked fox spirit, spending all of my time wrapped around Your Majesty, making it impossible for Your Majesty to get enough sleep. He also said that if this concubine went again today, Your Majesty would definitely die tomorrow. Your Majesty! This concubine does not ask or desire anything. I just hope that Your Majesty is in good health. If this concubine’s existence really does harm Your Majesty, this concubine would rather die for the sake of Your Majesty’s peace.”
She spoke through tears and anger, and there was a faint mark from the rope on her neck. She would even cough from time to time. This looked as pitiful as it was possible to look. The Emperor looked at her and felt his heart begin to ache, while his hands continued to caress Imperial Concubine Yuan Shu’s face in an attempt to try and wipe away her tears. But the tears just would not stop flowing no matter how he tried to wipe them dry. He was distressed to the extreme, repeatedly saying: “Beloved imperial concubine, don’t cry. Whoever dares to say my beloved imperial concubine is a source of calamity, We will have them flayed alive!”
Zhang Yuan heard this and dropped to his knees. He looked at Imperial Concubine Yuan Shu in confusion and asked: “Your Highness Imperial Concubine Shu, where is all of this coming from? When has this servant ever said such a thing? His Majesty has penetrating judgment. This servant did indeed advise Your Highness Imperial Concubine Shu not to go to Zhao He Hall, but there was absolutely never any mention of being a source of calamity or a wicked fox spirit! Nor would I ever dare to curse His Majesty! Your Majesty must investigate carefully!”
Today was different from before. If this had happened in the past, regardless of what sort of person vilified Zhang Yuan, Zhang Yuan would not be afraid. This was because he trusted that the Emperor would definitely stand on his side. No matter what was said, he would not believe such things. But now, things were different. The Emperor’s disposition was already strange, and there was an entanglement between him and Imperial Concubine Yuan Shu that he could not describe. It could be said that the current Imperial Concubine Yuan Shu was in a similar position as Imperial Concubine Yun, as the Emperor would not tolerate anyone saying the slightest negative thing about her.
Zhang Yuan’s defense was not met with a response from the Emperor. Instead, the palace maid from Cun Shan Palace, Yue Xiu, kneeled and said: “Why will Eunuch Yuan not admit it? You were extremely haughty when meanly chasing away Her Highness! Your Majesty, this servant can serve as a witness. Eunuch Yuan did indeed say that sort of thing. It was not just this servant. The eunuch who had come to invite Her Highness to Zhao He Hall can also serve as a witness. There are also the sedan bearers who can serve as witnesses. Your Majesty, if you don’t believe it, we can have them come and answer. Her Highness felt pitiful. Having been chased back just before arriving, not to mention being laughed at by others along the way, but the words that Eunuch Yuan said also caused Her Highness even more heartache. Her Highness could not handle it and sought to die immediately after returning. We servants barely managed to save Her Highness; however, there is still a mark from the noose. I beg Your Majesty support Her Highness, Imperial Concubine Shu!”
Following her monologue, everyone in the room dropped to their knees, pleading the Emperor to support Imperial Concubine Yuan Shu. At this time, Imperial Concubine Yuan Shu’s cries became even louder. While crying, she said: “Don’t keep pleading. This One cannot harm His Majesty. As long as His Majesty’s health can be preserved, whether this One lives or dies is not important.”
“Nonsense!” The Emperor became furious, “Without beloved imperial concubine to accompany me, what is the point in living?” After saying this, he turned his head and fiercely glared at Zhang Yuan. The savage ferocity in his eyes caused Zhang Yuan to feel panicked. It that the time when the Emperor also had this sort of look in his eyes when he had thrown Noble Imperial Concubine Bu. As for the relationship that had been built over many years, it had been completely thrown out as a result of a single hurdle.
Zhang Yuan subconsciously retreated a couple steps. He was still kneeling; however, his legs had already begun to tremble. Everyone said that being close to the ruler was like being next to a tiger. He had previously been very close with the Emperor, and he felt that he and this emperor would rely on each other for survival. He would take care of the Emperor until he passed away. After that, he would die with him. But now… “Your Majesty.” He called out in despair, “This servant really never said that sort of thing. Your Majesty, believe this servant once more.”
The Emperor clenched his fists tightly. Where was there any trace of consideration for past friendship in his eyes? Without even thinking, he rushed to say: “Drag him out and execute him!”
Everyone shuddered upon hearing this, as their hearts were filled with shock. Nobody thought that the head eunuch would suddenly fall like this. Imperial Concubine Shu being favored had come too suddenly.
But just as everyone thought that Zhang Yuan was beyond salvation, with Zhang Yuan himself even giving up on hope, Imperial Concubine Yuan Shu, who was laying in bed, felt that letting Zhang Yuan die like this was letting him off too easily. Just how much had she suffered at the hands of this eunuch? Because she was not favored, she had done all that she could to bribe this eunuch just to see the Emperor, yet this eunuch refused to cooperate. She offered him money, but he did not want money. She offered him face, but he refused to be given face. This left her with absolutely no other methods. Now that he had fallen into her grasp, just watching him get executed would not allow her to vent!
“Your Majesty!” She weakly called out and reached to tug the Emperor’s sleeve. “Your Majesty, Eunuch Yuan is someone who has taken care of you for many years. Even if there were no contributions, there was hard work that was done. Would Your Majesty consider the many years of service and pardon him from dying! People who enter the palace as servants do not have it easy. Your Majesty is magnanimous. How about sparing his life?”
The Emperor looked at Imperial Concubine Yuan Shu and felt that his beloved imperial concubine was too understanding. Zhang Yuan had bullied her to such a degree, yet she still pleaded for Zhang Yuan’s forgiveness. Looking at the discoloration on her neck, the flame of anger in the Emperor’s heart burned even brighter. He wanted to ignore what Imperial Concubine Yuan Shu said and insist on having Zhang Yuan executed, but for some reason, when he had this idea, his head suddenly began to hurt for no reason. It seemed that he was against it. This made him extremely perplexed.
“Forget it.” He said: “Then it will be as beloved imperial concubine says. He will be pardoned from the death penalty, but his punishment will be difficult to evade.” He looked toward Zhang Yuan and continued: “You will go out and receive 30 strikes from the boards then head to serve in the department of guilty servants!”
The department of guilty servants was where the palace servants who had made mistakes would be sent to work. All of the dirty, tiring, or difficult work would be left for those in that department to handle. Everyone knew that once a palace servant made a mistake and was sent to the department of guilty servants, the survival rate was below 30 percent. Even if one did not die there, they would lose a layer of skin. A perfectly good person sent in there would have been hassled to the point of becoming nothing but skin and bones. Living would be worse off than dying. There were corpses that were carried out of the department of guilty servants. Nobody would ask too much about how they had died because they were guilty servants. They had died for a good reason.
When Zhang Yuan heard that the Emperor was throwing him to the department of guilty servants, he even thought to himself that it would be best if he died while being beaten. That would save him the trouble of being sent to the department of guilty servants.
Unfortunately, how could things go as he wished? Since the Emperor had said that he would be sent to the department of guilty servants to suffer, the servants responsible for delivering the strikes did not dare to beat him to death. The people inside the bedchamber heard the cries coming from outside. They started out loud and gradually grew weaker. One after another, they caused everyone’s hearts to tremble.
Imperial Concubine Yuan Shu continued to lay in bed while holding the Emperor’s hand. She looked very pitiful on the surface; however, her heart blossomed with joy. She thought to herself that Zhang Yuan had finally also suffered this sort of day. Just wait and see! Gradually, one by one, everyone that had made her suffer, she would tidy them all up. She would definitely settle things in the Imperial Palace to her liking. It would be the foundation for when her Mo’er took over Da Shun.
Without Zhang Yuan obstructing them, Imperial Concubine Yuan Shu and the Emperor became even more affectionate. When the Emperor saw Imperial Concubine Yuan Shu, a feeling of comfort welled up inside him. Because Imperial Concubine Yuan Shu had suffered an injury from trying to hang herself, he simply stayed over in Cun Shan Palace. He no longer troubled Imperial Concubine Yuan Shu with going to Zhao He Hall. The feelings of love between the two aroused feelings of envy from others. There were even some who began to look forward to whether or not Imperial Concubine Yuan Shu would provide the Emperor with another prince in his waning years. This brought a round of headaches for the imperial physicians, as they fear that the Emperor would really have such a thought. That would really make the quite busy.
Zhang Yuan was could not walk after being struck 30 times. Although he was still alive, he had lost half of his lifespan in that beating.
The next day, the Emperor attended morning court, and the eunuch accompanying him had changed. It was the one who had helped Imperial Concubine Yuan Shu. His name was Wu Ying.
Although it was just a change in eunuchs, the people in court were able to understand that the situation had developed even further. Those close to the eighth prince rejoiced at this, while those of the ninth prince’s faction furrowed their brows.
Court sessions were no longer the same as they had been before. Now, the people in the eighth prince’s faction were very lively. On the flip side, the ninth prince’s side was downhearted. It was not that they wanted to be down, but the Emperor completely ignored them. Regardless of what their side said, the Emperor had never looked upon them favorably. There were even times when he would simply refuse to allow them to speak. It was such that there would be times when both the left and right prime ministers, standard first rank officials, would be left unable to speak by the Emperor. This made the two feel very awkward and very frustrated.
After court was dismissed, the left prime minister, Lu Song, could no longer endure and chased after the right prime minister, Fung Qing. He quietly asked: “Continuing like this is no way to do things!”
Fung Qing was no longer as quick to reject Lu Song as before. After all, Lu Song’s behavior for the past year was very good. The two had worked together to cause quite a bit of frustration for those in the eighth prince’s faction. Because of this, their relationship was closer than it had been in the past. Hearing Lu Song say this, Fung Qing also sighed but did not reply directly. His gaze went in the direction of Xuan Tianming; however, he saw Xuan Tianming slightly shake his head, thus he knew that there was nothing that could be done. Only then did he say: “Let’s take it one step at a time! He is the ruler, and we are his subjects. If the ruler does not let the subjects speak, what is there that a subject can do?”
Lu Song helplessly said: “That’s right! Not even the imperial censor is able to speak, so what is there that we can do? I am just worried that if things continue like this, the country… will no longer work as a country!” He let out this sort of a sigh then quickly left, no longer staying to speak with others.
For Lu Song to even say something like the country will no longer work as a country, how could Right Prime Minister Fung Qing not know about it? It was just that the Emperor’s change was too hard to figure out. For the time being, he really did not have any strategies to deal with it.
After court, Xuan Tianming went directly home, bringing along Xuan Tianhua back to the Yu Palace. Today, Xuan Tianhua was not the only guest in the Yu Palace. When they returned, they saw that Yao Xian was also present, and he was currently chatting with Feng Yuheng.
The two were very respectful toward Yao Xian. Upon seeing him, they took the initiative to salute, and Yao Xian returned the courtesy. He did not continue with the courtesies and directly said: “A little while earlier, I went to Xiao Zhou and only just returned. A-Heng told me about the situation with the Emperor. I was thinking of finding a reason to go into the palace to take a look. In the past, the Emperor gave me an identification plate to enter the Imperial Palace; however, I don’t know if it can still be used. If it can’t be used, I wonder if Your Highnesses could make arrangements for me?”