Not long after Li Miao Lian’s wedding, Zhuo’er and Yi Yi celebrated their first birthday.
They didn’t really celebrate their third wash ceremony, but the same couldn’t be done for their first birthday. Even though the Jing Prince had started preparing himself for this over a year ago, he still didn’t feel quite proper once it arrived.
Instead, it was Xiao Hua who didn’t express anything. The palace maids and eunuchs also had happy expressions, and didn’t mention any birthday feast or what not.
The day of their birthday, the western pavilion was busily setting up for Zhuo’er and Yi Yi’s lot drawing.1
Xiao Hua and the Jing Prince were both present, as well as Eunuch Fu, Eunuch Chang, Auntie Qi and the rest. A large table covered in red cloth was placed in the center of the reception. There were various objects placed on the table. There was a brush, ink, paper, inkwell, book, abacus, coins, account ledger, seal, bow and arrow and so on. Because of Yi Yi, there were also some objects for women such as scissors, jewelry and makeup.
Zhuo’er was the older brother so he had to go first.
The little fellow was already able to crawl smoothly by himself. Xiao Hua placed him on the table but he didn’t move, sitting there looking at his mom.
“Good Zhuo’er. Look at all these things. Choose one randomly and give it to mom.” Xiao Hua spoke and pointed to towards the table.
Zhuo’er looked at the table’s surface and gave Xiao Hua another glance before crawling to the center. He liked to simplify matters, and after crawling for a bit he sat down and picked up what was right by his hand.
Eunuch Fu was staring the entire time, and seeing Zhuo’er grab the seal, he immediately said: “The little young master will embody heaven’s grace and our ancestor’s virtues when he grows up. He will be extraordinary.”
Next it was Yi Yi’s turn. She was much livelier than her brother, and crawled to the center of the table without Xiao Hua saying anything. She looked left and then right, picking up one thing and then another, unwilling to leave anything behind. In the end, she decided to gather everything in front of her.
Everyone watching started laughing. Eunuch Fu laughed until his tears started flowing. His lips trembled but he couldn’t get any words out.
“Our Yi Yi will be a master of all trades in the future. The key point is that her personality won’t let her lose out on anything.”
The Jing Prince’s gaze was soft, and his lips also curved in a smile. But he then seemed to recall something and furrowed his brow.
The small kitchen prepared several tables of food for lunch. One table was placed in the main residence, and the rest were placed elsewhere.
Seeing the smiling Xiao Hua instruct Ding Xiang to bring a jug of wine over, the Jing Prince felt for the first time that it wasn’t good for her to be so sensible. He would rather her be able to cry and complain about being wronged instead of busying herself while pretending everything was fine. It made him feel rather upset, and he even felt like scolding himself harshly.
The other places were lively but the main residence was silent. It might be because the Jing Prince’s expression wasn’t good, making Ding Xiang, Ding Lan and the rest keep quiet out of fear.
“What’s wrong, highness? Why aren’t you eating? This is tasty, eat more of it.”
Seeing the dish, the Jing Prince silently grabbed some with his chopsticks and put it in his mouth. His other hand lifted his cup of alcohol and slowly poured it into his mouth. The Jing Prince normally didn’t drink, but for some reason he had drank several cups today.
Xiao Hua put her chopsticks down and said while smiling: “Forgot there was alcohol. This servant concubine will give highness a toast.”
The white jade cup contained rose colored Drunken Rouge. This was precisely the “Drunken Rouge” that women could drink a lot of. The Jing Prince’s cup was filled and he lifted it up and drained it once more.
With the presence of alcohol, the two people didn’t just focus on eating anymore. The two finished the jug of alcohol and ate a little more before clearing the table.
The room fell silent once again. Xiao Hua looked at the Jing Prince who sat there stuffily, and finally opened her mouth and said: “Highness, are you feeling uncomfortable?”
The Jing Prince gave her a glance and didn’t speak.
“I don’t mind and the children don’t mind. What need is there to brood over things?”
The Jing Prince wasn’t able to say anything about making up for it in the future. He felt such words would sound superficial if said out loud. He couldn’t only pull her into his arms and quietly stroke her hair.
The sound of Yi Yi’s laughter rang out. Only then did Xiao Hua remember she had Ding Xiang go bring the two children over so the wet nurses could enjoy the feast as well. She hurriedly sat up from the Jing Prince’s arms and received the children, putting their daughter in the Jing Prince’s arms while holding her son.
“Alright, you guys can leave. It’s a good day today, no need to remain on duty.”
Yi Yi was very happy to see her father, and warbled several unclear notes, smiling extremely brightly in his arms. The things she had gathered up in the morning were all sent to her room. The wet nurses had sorted through them and given her everything that she was able to play with. Yi Yi was pleased to death.
“Matron Xu said that after turning a year old, children can slowly learn to speak. I’ve tried teaching them many times but nothing seems to work.”
“Only just turned one, no hurry.”
Xiao Hua nodded, but still teased Zhuo’er with her mouth, “Good Zhuo’er. Say father.”
She wasn’t expecting anything this time, but Zhuo’er hummed a couple of times, and from his little mouth came the word “wolf”.
Xiao Hua extrapolated and figured out that her son was calling mom.2
“Our Zhuo’er actually knows how to say mom?” She teased him while she spoke, “Say it again.”
This time the sound was clearer, “wolf.”
“Not wolf. Mom.”
“It’s mom, not wolf.”
After emphasizing it several times, it still didn’t work. Xiao Hua thus helplessly became a wolf. Only then did she remember there was still dad. She gave the Jing Prince a glance and hurriedly turned her son towards him.
“Zhuo’er, say fa—-ther.”
Zhuo’er glanced at the Jing Prince and turned his head away again.
Who told you to only cherish our daughter normally? Now he’s ignoring you. Xiao Hua secretly thought in amusement, but was also afraid of making the Jing Prince’s mood even worse. She left her son to play by himself and tried to make Yi Yi say father.
Unfortunately, after trying for a long while, Yi Yi only looked confused, letting out yips and yaps with her mouth.
“Little Yi Yi is too dumb.” Mom said in jest.
“Daughter isn’t dumb.”
Fine. This biased father immediately spoke on her behalf.
The people on the crown prince’s side felt as though someone had forcibly fed them a fly.
They wanted to spit it out but they couldn’t. They had to force down their disgust and swallow it.
Emperor Xi’s decree called on famous doctors from all over, and thus they came. The crown prince’s side also sent people to find doctors.
Wasn’t this just like swallowing a fly?
They felt unjustly accused to begin with, and now they couldn’t justify it. They clearly wanted to cry out, but instead had to fake a smile, act magnanimous and act unconcerned. They pinned their hopes on being able to find a doctor to cure the Jin Prince’s leg and have him scram back to his vassal state, not letting him continue hanging around the capital.
Of course, the crown prince’s side also doubted the Jin Prince’s limp. But countless imperial physicians had said that this problem truly might be due to things not healing properly.
The key point was that his majesty seemed to believe it. Could anyone say otherwise? Even if they didn’t believe in their hearts, they couldn’t show it on the surface. The crown prince’s side could only shove famous doctors at the Jin Prince, hoping to expose his deception.
But the results showed that it was of no use. The Jin Prince still walked with a limp.
In the Fengqi Palace.
All the palace maids had left, leaving only Empress Xiao and the crown prince.
“Mother empress, your son doesn’t want to endure any longer. The Jin Prince is so shameless. This humble one can guarantee that no matter what doctor we find, his leg still wouldn’t be cured. He’s clearly pretending!”
The crown prince had been tormented quite harshly this past year. He had to suffer his father’s accusations on one side while still handling the eastern palace’s various matters. Even when he had free time he would feel disgusted by the Jin Prince.
The upright and dignified man seemed to be extremely haggard these days, and his temper became more and more violent, his eyes bloodshot. Many people would walk the other way when they saw him, deeply afraid they would get whipped by the increasingly irritable crown prince.
“Zhao’er, mother can understand your feelings. But the closer we get to the end, the more we have to endure. Your impetuousness won’t do us any good. What we rely on now is our patience. You must adjust your temper. The palace is filled with talk of your violent temper, having palace maids and eunuchs whipped for no reason. You even had Imperial Tutor Bai beaten the day before….you’re breaking your mother’s heart with worry….”
Empress Xiao sat on the phoenix throne, her heart and soul weary. The pitch black hair from the past had turned white on the sides.
The crown prince paced back and forth like a caged animal, his fists clenching and unclenching.
“He deserved a beating, lecturing this humble one all day, telling this humble one to endure all day….endure….I’ve endured……”
He mumbled neurotically, the whip in his hand striking at the red carpet on the floor. After a few strokes, the fine Persian rug was left full of marks.
Empress Xiao’s insides split as she watched. She knew her son had a restless personality, and that he was unsteady. He had suffered quite a lot of humiliation in this past year. Although his majesty didn’t say it, his gaze grew more and more frightening every day. It was clearly full of loathing for Zhao’er.
Even if she tried harder, she wouldn’t be able to resolve things. As of now, Empress Xiao could no longer confidently say she understood Emperor Xi. The man whom she married when they were both teenagers had become extremely frightening, his mood changing with the weather. It wasn’t clear if it was related to his health, or whether it was because he knew he didn’t have much time left.
Empress Xiao thought that it probably had to do with both, but she was helpless. She no longer had the energy to worry about Emperor Xi. She couldn’t even take care of her own son, and there was still the Jin Prince who was messing things up on the side.
“Zhao’er, don’t be like this. Mother empress will definitely think of a way to deal with the Jin Prince.”
“Mother empress, you have to think faster, think faster, faster…..kill him, once he’s dead, killed off…this humble one doesn’t want to see him anymore. He limps around in front of this humble one every day, limping around in front of royal father…..this humble one wants him dead, dead…..”
The crown prince’s gaze froze, his mouth continuously repeating the same thing. Suddenly, his eyes shone with a peculiar light.
“Mother empress, wouldn’t you say that if we killed him off, this humble one would naturally become the emperor?”
The crown prince suddenly spoke, his voice exceedingly low. He let out a neurotic smile, looking both sinister and nefarious. The quiet words echoed around the hall, adding a few degrees of eeriness.
Empress Xiao couldn’t help but shiver, squeezing out her words through her throat, “Who? Who are you talking about?”
“Who am I talking about?” The crown prince suddenly yelled loudly before muttering in a low voice once again, “Yes, this is a great plan. Killing him off would naturally make this humble one the emperor…..”
Empress Xiao turned pale with fright as she rushed forward and held the crown prince fast, “Zhao’er, snap out of it. Such thoughts are heresy. He is your royal father….”
The crown prince’s gaze snapped back into focus, his appearance becoming normal. He patted Empress Xiao and said softly: “Mother empress, do you feel like he’s treating me as a son? Do you? At this rate, the Jin Prince’s power will only continue to grow, and our chances of victory continues to diminish. We might as well take care of things earlier. He doesn’t have much time left anyone, it’s no big deal if it happens a little earlier. It’s the one last thing he can do for his son…..”
Hearing these words, Empress Xiao’s eyes were vacant. The words were mumbled and her hand involuntarily clenched and unclenched.
“It’s ok, mother empress.”
Seeing Empress Xiao’s attitude wavering, the crown prince seized upon it like a lifeline. “Mother empress, this humble one is still the crown prince today. If he dies, it’s only natural for me to inherit the throne. If he suddenly changes his mind and strips this humble one’s position and gives it to the Jin Prince, it’ll be too late.”
The crown prince’s words weighed heavily on Empress Xiao. She should have scoffed at this possibility, but the current her no longer had the confidence to do so.
Emperor Xi’s temper was too weird recently, making his thoughts impossible to figure out. He seemed to favor the Jin Prince a lot….if the Jin Prince’s leg turned out to be fine, would he end up handing Zhao’er’s position to him….or was this a plan he and that bitch surnamed Xu had cooked up all along to swindle her and Zhao’er….
Empress Xiao looked at her son’s excited face and bloodshot eyes.
Zhao’er was under too much pressure…..
Rumors were going around the palace recently about the crown prince’s viciousness. Empress Xiao had tried to suppress them several times but hadn’t been successful. There was even an imperial censor who moved to impeach the crown prince for his lack of morals a couple days ago…..
The crown prince getting impeached was Empress Xiao’s biggest taboo and her biggest fear. The Grand Xi Dynasty had always emphasized the principal wife and seniority. As long as he was the crown prince, if there wasn’t sufficient reason, even Emperor Xi couldn’t randomly strip him of his title. Impeachment due to lack of morals was one way it could happen…
This was also why Empress Xiao continuously asked the crown prince to endure. The crown prince couldn’t make mistakes. Any mistake would be magnified endlessly. There would be those trying to fish in troubled waters. Those who supported their side would waver, giving those with designs an opportunity.
But the Jin Prince’s injury kept adding onto the crown prince’s worsening reputation, and along with his unsteady temperament, Empress Xiao could sense the voices crying for impeachment grow louder….currently there was only one imperial censor behind it, but Empress Xiao believed there would only be more people over time, whether or not there was someone egging them on…..
Could they still endure?
For some reason, Empress Xiao actually felt a thrill in her heart upon hearing her son’s words!
But she had always been cautious, and would think things through carefully. Despite knowing her answer in her heart, she still said: “Let your mother empress think it over. You can’t do anything until I’m done. Behave, and don’t provoke anymore trouble….”
The crown prince looked closely at Empress Xiao’s face, and slowly nodded…
- I’ve also seen it called “one-year-old catch. It refers to the tradition where a bunch of objects are placed around the child, and the one that gets picked up first indicates their future prospects. Still a tradition nowadays. Examples of objects would be a stethoscope, paint brush, instrument, calculator.
- The word for wolf (lang) kind of sounds like the word for mom (niang). Considered making it work in English somehow, but after coming up with “bomb” as the best rhyming word, I gave up.