“There’s a reason old fifth is this way.”
Luo Huai Yuan sighed and meticulously told Yan Yan.
It turned out that someone called Attendant Li had given birth to the fifth prince Luo Jing in secret back then.
This matter involved the struggles between Empress Xiao and Senior Concubine Xu.
When Senior Concubine Xu entered the palace initially, she revealed an outstanding strength and was promoted from the lowest level of attendant to an imperial concubine. Towards this sort of threat, Empress Xiao naturally wouldn’t let her continue developing.
One was the mistress of the six palaces and the other was a concubine favored by the emperor. They were evenly matched as they fought.
As the saying goes, the fish in the pool suffer calamity when the city gates burn. The other concubines in the palace were all fish that suffered calamity.
Empress Xiao appeared magnanimous on the surface but her methods were sinister and vicious.
The concubines couldn’t tell on the surface initially, but over time none of them remained fools. Emperor Xi had never had many children ever since he married as the crown prince all the way until he ascended the throne.
Before Senior Concubine Xu gave birth to the second prince, she had been pregnant another time. However, she had miscarried due to the empress’s moves. Ever since then, Senior Concubine Xu’s personality changed drastically, and started struggling fiercely with the empress. The rear palace’s situation started tensing up. Those with some means all started choosing sides. The empress held the dominant position and naturally had many people she could use. However, Senior Concubine Xu was extremely favored by Emperor Xi so she also had some backing. The rear palace gradually split into two sides, but there was a small group of people who weren’t wanted by either side.
Attendant Li was one of those people.
Due to a coincidental encounter, Attendant Li was graced and got pregnant.
At that time, the rear palace’s situation was extremely tense.
Emperor Xi had just ascended the throne not too long ago and wasn’t sitting stably. There were two vassal princes of the previous dynasty who hopped around in the capital colluding with officials. In the rear, there was the empress dowager causing mischief. The rear palace was in turmoil and there were always concubines who miscarried for no reason or had their babies die after a difficult birth. Over several years, apart from Senior Concubine Xu and the empress, no one had successfully given birth.
Attendant Li was timid and always afraid of being harmed by others. Miscarriage was one thing, but she was afraid she would lose her life as well. After thinking it over, she ended up making a preposterous decision. She decided to hide her pregnancy and find the right opportunity to announce it later.
Anyone else wouldn’t have been able to do so. However, Attendant Li lived in a remote location. Because she was timid, she didn’t like interacting with others and didn’t have many friends in the palace. She was also a lowly attendant who barely saw the emperor once a year. Within the large rear palace, she wasn’t even worth as much as one of the more reputable servants.
The fifth prince was born under such circumstances. Attendant Li naturally suffered quite a bit during this time.
In theory, after the child was born the matter could be made public. But Senior Concubine Xu and the empress’s struggle had reached a new boiling point at that time. Senior Concubine Xu had once again miscarried after giving birth to the second prince. The empress’s newly born third prince also died prematurely when he was two. Attendant Li became even less willing to say anything.
This concealment lasted for almost six years.
During these years, the rear palace started stabilizing. The empress dowager passed away and Emperor Xi also dealt with all the matters of the previous dynasty. It would be a bit out of line if the rear palace continued to be chaotic after this celebration of peace. Empress Xiao and Senior Concubine Xu also understood neither could do anything about the other and gradually became harmonious on the surface despite disagreeing in their hearts.
The fifth prince was already like that when he was discovered. He had been worse back then, just like a little wooden doll. He didn’t cry, laugh, or talk. He even rarely blinked.
At the same time, Attendant Li also fell into the spotlight. However, she had already gone insane.
Apparently, for the sake of keeping the fifth prince hidden, she had kept him in a dark hidden room for six whole years. Afraid that his crying would be heard, she gagged his mouth with rope and only left his nose free for him to breathe. She also never taught him to speak and didn’t let her aides teach him either. She was afraid if the child became intelligent, he would make a fuss about going outside.
Emperor Xi had few descendants. He was first wildly happy before becoming wildly furious.
But since things had already turned out this way and Attendant Li’s appearance was also extremely pitiful, he could only get an imperial physician to slowly treat them. However, nothing seemed to work. The imperial physicians said the fifth prince didn’t have any physical defects and he could also hear. However, he became shut off due to being shut in as a child.
Attendant Li was conferred the status of concubine but passed away soon after. Due to his muteness, the fifth prince remained safe and was able to grow up.
Luo Huai Yuan often thought himself as rather tragic. In his past lives he had also felt the same, which was why he never considered trying to transmigrate back to the modern world. Apart from his mental state being tougher than others, another reason was because there was another even more tragic person acting as a foil.
Happiness only comes when comparing with others. At least he still had a protective albeit fussy mom. At least he wasn’t all by himself.
Human nature is just so laughable and preposterous sometimes.
A certain number of years ago, when they were still children, the fourth prince had played with the fifth prince before.
He felt that this child was rather amusing. No matter how much he messed around or tried to make him laugh, he would never laugh. Furthermore, the fifth prince was good looking. When he was young, he looked like a porcelain doll. Everyone liked beautiful things. Therefore, the little fourth prince would occasionally chat with the fifth prince, although very rarely and only in secret.
The little fourth prince had once told the fifth prince that actually his situation was also pretty good, unlike his own.
The fifth prince revealed something that could be called an emotion for the first time: confusion. Afterwards, he raised his head towards the sky that was enclosed by the palace walls. The fourth prince had also looked up along with him, but didn’t know what he was looking at.
However, he had also found something out. Old fifth wasn’t a block of wood.
Yan Yan felt very uncomfortable in her heart. An indescribable coldness flooded into her heart, making her feel uncomfortably choked up.
“Are you resentful?
Luo Huai Yuan laughed: “What should I resent? It isn’t possible to decide the circumstances of your birth, but you must believe you can decide your own future. See? I wanted to leave the palace so I did. Although we’re back for the moment, we can definitely leave again. See? I wanted to marry you so I put in all my efforts to trick you into coming home with me and becoming my wife.”
Yan Yan was a little between laughter and tears. Every time he started saying something serious, he would always end up making one feel weird.
Weren’t they both just downhearted earlier?
On the first day of the New Year, the palace had the convention of putting on a “Grand Banquet of Blessing”.
This banquet was a national banquet. First of all it was for the various foreign dignitaries and to show off the splendor of the Grand Xi. Secondly, it was to reward the many officials, and could be counted as a get-together between the monarch and his officials. There were three levels of national banquets. Banquets on this level were usually held in the Jiying1 Hall.
The Jiying Hall was rather spacious. It was located in the north and faced the south. It was divided into a front hall and a rear hall, with two auxiliary halls to the east and west. It could fit over a thousand people at the same time for a banquet. The Grand Banquet of Blessing started in the afternoon. It lasted all the way until late evening before ending. This celebration of peace and prosperity was a rarely seen lively event in the palace.
After returning to the Xianyun Hall, Yan Yan and Luo Huai Yuan took a nap before taking a fragrant bath, changing into their outfits and going to the Jiying Hall. This sort of banquet required the princes and consorts to attend.
By the time they arrived in their carriage, the Jiying Hall was already extremely lively.
As a prince, Luo Huai Yuan was in the main hall. Yan Yan was with the empress and the concubines in the western side hall, along with the outside noblewomen.
The western side hall was already filled with many noblewomen, each wearing ceremonial robes. The faces became a blur, making it hard to distinguish who was who. However, Yan Yan had already seen two people. They were her own grandmother the Zhenguo madam and her aunt Second Madam Shen. The Zhenguo madam was a first-ranked duke’s wife. Her status was high and her character impeccable. She sat in the first row’s first seat on the right.
Yan Yan who was behind the empress winked at the two of them.
The noblewomen all stood up and knelt three times, kowtowing nine times, calling loudly for the empress to live long and prosper. Before the Zhenguo madam could do so, she was personally helped up by the empress who smiled and said: “How can I let aunt worship me?”
The Zhenguo madam said: “This is etiquette. This old lady should pay respects to the empress.”
The matter was ultimately still dropped as the crowd sat in their assigned seats.
Lu Xiu Ling sat next to Yan Yan but Yan Yan ignored her. She merely sat with her head lowered, like a meditating monk.
Before long, the banquet started.
A ceremonial official called out and everyone in the hall stood up. They knelt three times and kowtowed nine times, calling for their emperor to live long and prosper. After the worship, they each returned to their seats. Soon, the playing of instruments sounded from the western stage. A group of lithe performers arrived on the scene, dancing along with the music.
There wasn’t much to eat at this sort of banquet. Although the dishes that were brought out looked magnificent and extremely exquisite, they had all gone cold after such a long time. They were merely for decoration. Another name for the dishes at these banquets was “viewing dishes”, meaning they were just to be seen. Of course they wouldn’t let everyone go hungry, so there would be some snacks and alcohol to fill their stomachs.
Yan Yan and Luo Huai Yuan hadn’t eaten prior to coming because the two had accidentally overslept. When they woke up, they could only hurry over. Those with experience would all eat their fill prior to coming. This way, they won’t look impolite by eating too much, and they wouldn’t go hungry either.
The banquet at the western side hall was extremely boring. The bunch of noblewomen upheld their statuses as they smiled without showing teeth and didn’t touch the food on the table. At a glance, apart from the dancing performers, everyone seemed to be spacing out. There was occasional laughter from the main hall as well as exclamations of praise. It sounded like the men’s banquet was much more interesting than the women’s. Not only was there dancing, but there were also various performances and martial arts contests.
The extremely bored Yan Yan was very envious of Luo Huai Yuan. She also wanted to watch the liveliness.
The main hall was truly lively. The princes and officials were all within the hall, as well as ambassadors from various nations who came to pay tribute. These foreigners were dressed weirdly, and also looked different from the people of the Grand Xi. When the banquet first started, a few of the foreigners presented Emperor Xi with some rare treasures, making him extremely pleased as he exclaimed in praise.
Luo Huai Yuan who was seated underneath rolled his eyes in his mind and used his chopsticks to clear out the food in front of him. Rare treasures? They were merely some trinkets that were local to those countries. Others were naturally unaware, but the experienced Luo Huai Yuan used the saying “their hair was long but their sight was short” to judge these people.
The foreigners included those from Ryukyu, Fusang, Siam, Korea and various other smaller countries. Ever since the Grand Xi lifted the embargo, merchants from these small countries rushed into the Grand Xi. Part of it was to get in on this prosperous trade and another part was to establish friendly ties between their nations.
The Grand Xi held an important place in the hearts of these smaller nations. Many of them were vassals of the Grand Xi. Korea for example, had always been the Grand Xi’s vassal nation. They would send tributes over every year. Therefore, the one who came to present tribute this time, Prince Misong, was looked upon rather favorably by Emperor Xi.
Apart from vassal nations, there were also allied nations like Siam and Ryukyu. These two places were rather distant from the Grand Xi and were separated by a stretch of ocean. They naturally didn’t need to suck up to the Grand Xi like Korea who was on their doorstep. Fusang was another example. The relationship between Fusang and the Grand Xi had never been great. When the Grand Xi was being harassed by pirates, many of them were ronins from Fusang.
The Grand Xi’s people had an innate dislike of Fusang people due to those pirates. The people from Fusang also looked down on the people from Grand Xi, thinking that such a grand nation was merely so so. They felt it was a disgrace for them to be struggling against some vagrant ronin who weren’t even able to muddle along back home.
However, since the Grand Xi lifted the embargo, the merchants flocked in like carp leaping over the river. Fusang was lacking in natural resources. Trading with the Grand Xi greatly alleviated their nation’s poverty. Therefore, they held complicated emotions as they sent ambassadors to the Grand Xi.
Since the two nations held grudges, along with the Fusang people’s lack of understanding towards etiquette, the ceremonial officials and the officials in charge of receiving them were rather disdainful of these barbarians. They would purposefully ignore them and entertain the ambassadors from other nations instead.
The person from Fusang was a Daimyo2 from the Edoku Bakufu. His name was Kana Jougen, and he was known as Daimyo Kana. Although he was called a “daimyo”, he was merely subordinate official of the local bakufu. He was similar to a countryside landlord in the Grand Xi. Because he had offered a large amount of his land to the local bakufu’s general, he received a daimyo title in exchange.
This was also why the ceremonial official and receiving officials looked down on these Fusang barbarians. Who sends a local landlord as an ambassador? The one they were meeting was the Grand Xi’s emperor. The difference in status was obvious. The people of Grand Xi felt this was an insult.
However, this couldn’t be blamed on the Fusang people. There was civil unrest in Fusang and the shogunate only remained in name. According to the Grand Xi’s principles, they should have sent at least a noble over. However, if the general of the bakufu really came over, the Grand Xi’s people would probably still mutter about them sending a soldier.
Therefore, the so-called bakufu’s general was merely the equivalent of a centurion in the Grand Xi, not even a chilarch. Of course, the influence he wielded was naturally different. However, he was still a general, and people merely looked at the amount of subordinates he had under him.
However, the Grand Xi was a grand nation after all, and their bearing was naturally extraordinary. Therefore, Fusang was still invited to this banquet. However, their seating and Emperor Xi’s regard of them was naturally not as well as countries like Korea.
This was Daimyo Kana’s first time in the Grand Xi and he was naturally impressed. Especially after coming to the capital, his horizons were repeatedly expanded.
Of course, he also wasn’t a fool. He naturally understood his group was being disdained. After being looked down upon repeatedly, anyone would get angry! Seeing Emperor Xi repeatedly showing goodwill (toasts) to the other small nations but ignoring him made him even angrier.
He stood up with a swish and spoke in broken Chinese: “Grand Xi’s emperor, majesty. This one has something to say.”
Actually, the reason Daimyo Kana was sent this time was because he could speak Chinese, albeit not fluently. There were many daimyos under the bakufu, and they struggled fiercely amongst themselves. To obtain the rights to act as ambassador to the Grand Xi, Daimyo Kana had spent a lot of effort. This was all thanks to the concubines from Grand Xi he had obtained from the pirates. With native teachers at his side, he was naturally able to progress faster than others.
This won’t be mentioned for now. Emperor Xi saw the Fusang ambassador’s lack of etiquette and his face turned cold. He gestured with his eyes and Zheng Hai Quan stepped forwards: “Daimyo Kana, please speak.”
Kana Jougen cupped his hands: “I’ve heard the Grand Xi has a powerful army. Martial arts is revered and there are many skilled martial artists. I’ve heard about this back in Fusang. But the samurais of Fusang are also renowned. This one wonders if we can use this lively gathering to have people compare in martial arts. Firstly we can improve the relationship between our nations and secondly, we can see who is better.
Was this person trying to mess with the event?
The ambassadors from Ryukyu and the other nations looked weirdly at Kana Jougen. He actually made such a request at this sort of event. If he lost, he would lose face in front of everyone and become a laughing stock. If he won, would the Grand Xi’s emperor be angered due to the humiliation and send troops to wipe out Fusang?
As for why these ambassadors guessed Fusang might win, it was because the samurais of Fusang were truly famously fierce. Those people committed seppuku when they lost. They would fight with their lives on the line, which would obviously raise their fighting prowess.
“This one has five foster sons. I’ve heard your noble nation also has five princes. How about having them compete?”
Kana Jougen’s words startled the crowd.
Without mentioning anything else, everyone knew princes lived blessed lives. To say they were skilled in martial arts was just flattery. There was one who was indeed skilled. That was the third prince. However, he was only eighteen this year. How could he compete with those bloodthirsty samurais from Fusang?
Furthermore, the foster sons were also fishy. The daimyos of Fusang would always have deathsworn warriors under their name. To put it plainly, they were hired thugs. Only those truly skilled would be accepted as foster sons. This was an honored status and they lived a life of luxury.
Very few Grand Xi’s people were aware of this, but as neighbors, Ryukyu and Korea had suffered attacks from Fusang’s shameless ronin as well. They were naturally well aware of the inner details.
However, who could voice a warning under these circumstances?
Not only would they offend Daimyo Kana, if Emperor Xi was arrogant and conceited, contradicting him in front of the crowd might also draw his ire.
Emperor Xi wasn’t a useless person. Seeing the expressions of the other ambassadors, he could already guess something wasn’t right.
Unexpectedly, before he could speak up and investigate, the crown prince stood up and walked out. He pointed directly at Daimyo Kana: “Your arrogance knows no bounds. Today, I will let you experience my Grand Xi’s might.”
Emperor Xi’s face turned rigid. Luo Huai Yuan face-palmed.
What was having a pig for a teammate?
This was precisely it!
The crown prince’s words essentially put all the princes over a fire. It was naturally good if they won. However, if they lost, they would lose a huge amount of face. Furthermore, what was the crown prince thinking to have the majestic princes of the Grand Xi go spar with some foster sons of a small country?
Luo Huai Yuan was sure that with so many military and civil officials present, they would have been able to send Daimyo Kana back home crying for his mother.
However, since the situation was already like this, it was hard to dismount the tiger after getting on its back.
The crown prince hadn’t realized he had done something stupid yet. He held one hand in front while his other hand was behind him, looking extremely majestic.
He scarcely imagined that countless people were cursing him below. This was also why some people would support the second prince’s side despite the crown prince being the proper candidate. It had nothing to do with status. It was because they were afraid their nation’s foundation would be lost due to his impetuousness.
The second prince maintained a dignified smile and didn’t speak, planning on watching the crown prince’s performance.
When the empress was informed of this matter, her dignified smile finally turned rigid.
She no longer cared that the crowd was watching and turned her head to give detailed instructions to her people.
The empress’s actions naturally attracted attention. Soon, the entire side hall found out what had happened.
These women all felt the people from Fusang were devils. They all clutched their chests, deeply afraid of hearing some horrible news.
Yan Yan thought a little further. If they really sparred, what is the fatty going to do?
This counts as a fat chapter, right? This is because this matter will affect many things moving forward.