Chapter 27: Suppressing Qi Chen
It wasn’t just Nan Xun who’d noticed the officials’ attitudes, but Qi Chen as well. He’d sought out his compatriots for a drink during the celebration banquet that the emperor was holding for him, but all of them had actually fobbed him off with various excuses! This greatly irritated him, but he could let his anger roil within him for the time being. He had no idea why the officials who were normally close to him were avoiding him like they would a snake or scorpion. He cornered the Senior Grandmaster 1 when the banquet was over, someone who’d once heroically declared that he would follow the second prince.
“And where might Your Honor be headed to?” Qi Chen was the picture of genteel grace, a welcoming smile on his face without the slightest flaw. It was as if the greedy playboy he was in private was but an illusion.
The Senior Grandmaster hadn’t thought that he’d be cornered so quickly and mutely watched his fellow officials quietly disperse from around him. They offered him nothing more than a helpless look as they deftly made themselves scarce. He himself wanted to cry, but raised his hands in a cupped fist salute. “What might Your Highness need from this old official at such a late hour?”
Qi Chen sneered inwardly as he studied the official’s face, but kept his own expressionless. “This prince would only like to know why Senior Grandmaster and the other officials avoid me like one would when faced with a snake or scorpion.” By the end of his words, his tone had hardened to that of wintry ice. “Have you and the others forgotten all about me in the time that I was gone?”
The Senior Grandmaster shuddered as he looked down at the ground. His knees gave way as he sank to the ground. “Your Highness speaks too harshly, how would we dare?”
“Then you better give me a reasonable explanation. Otherwise, your death will be long and agonizing!” Qi Chen’s tone was low and vicious, as if newly risen from the depths of hell.
The Senior Grandmaster was prostrate on the floor, shaking as beads of sweat dripped into the dust. However, he didn’t say a word. At that moment, Qi Yun walked over leisurely. He took one glance at the Senior Grandmaster sprawled on the floor, and his eyes flicked toward his second brother Qi Chen. He laughed softly, covering his thin lips with a brandish of his fan, leaving two long and narrow eyes rippling like a water’s surface above it. He spoke slowly, “Second brother has just made his triumphant return, and our royal father has rewarded you heavily. How has the Senior Grandmaster vexed you?”
There was no love lost between brothers in an imperial family. There were simply too many instances of fratricide for the dragon throne. Qi Yun had always given off the impression of a recluse set apart from matters of the court, but Qi Chen was particularly sensitive in this regard. He’d always felt that some obscure power had to be backing Qi Yun’s detached indifference. In fact, the second prince had mentally placed the strength of this power on par with that of the one backing the crown prince.
Qi Chen looked at the Senior Grandmaster at his feet, then at Qi Yun who stood concealed in the shadows. He smiled, “This prince was only joking with the Senior Grandmaster, but it seems I’ve rather frightened him instead.” He even bent down and reached out to pull the old official up. How would the Senior Grandmaster dare speak of the truth? He cowered and nodded, his court robes covered with dust as he reached a shaking hand to wipe off the cold sweat on his brow.
Qi Yun looked at the old man and spoke noncommittally, “Since royal brother was joking, then you don’t need to overly worry. Senior Grandmaster, it’s already late, please take your leave.”
The Senior Grandmaster instantly nodded and bowed at Qi Yun’s words, running off before Qi Chen even drew a breath to speak.
“Third brother is as nosy as ever. Don’t you know that many troubles are born like this? You should spend more time in your residence.” Qi Chen spoke coldly.
Qi Yun smiled and responded in a neither humble nor arrogant manner. “Many thanks for second brother’s teachings. I will surely commit them to heart.”
“Hmph.” Qi Chen snorted coldly and left with a flourish of his sleeves. Qi Yun remained behind, still standing in the darkness. There was a pond next to him, and the lotus flowers within were in full bloom, glistening with the faint moonlight that spilled out over the ground.
Nan Xun was standing in the pavilion in the middle of the pond. He’d seen everything just now, but hadn’t revealed himself. In fact, he’d hid himself behind the pavilion when Qi Yun looked in his direction. He only slowly walked out after Qi Yun left, lifting his head to gaze upon the night sky. The skies in the imperial capital weren’t as bleak as the ones outside. There were fires and lamps a-plenty in the royal palace, so it was much less desolate compared to the borders. After a brief moment of contemplation, he too departed the palace. His face betrayed no hint of his emotions or thoughts as he made his way home.
Qi Chen rose early the next day, taking a walk in the gardens in his court robes as he waited for morning court to begin. Jun Huang was used to rising early and came out for a look when she heard that Qi Chen had risen.
“Why have you risen so early, Brother Feng? Why not rest some more?” Qi Chen asked curiously when he saw Jun Huang.
“I have nothing commanding my time, or it could be that I’m used to rising early. I find it hard to sleep once the sky has brightened. Instead of lying in bed, whiling the hours away, I might as well get up and walk around.” Jun Huang responded coolly and then frowned when she saw Qi Chen’s court robes. “Are you headed to the palace, Your Highness?’
“Royal father sent eunuchs to the manor early this morning to convey that he wants me to enter the palace earlier.” Qi Chen nodded, a proud smile on his lips.