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Helian Yi’s heart suddenly beat irregularly. If… that man actually was his blood brother, what would happen?
A burst of footsteps was heard. He quickly returned to his senses, rapidly stuffed the scroll and box back into the hidden compartment, then stood up, acting like nothing was wrong as he lowered his head and adjusted his sleeves. The one entering happened to be young Eunuch Wang Wu, who whispered, “Your Highness, Sir Lu of the Ministry of Revenue has come.”
Only then did he remember that he had called Lu Shen over to discuss business, so he composed himself. “I know.” He thus turned and left with slightly hurried steps, like he was itching to get away from Helian Pei’s bedroom.
Wang Wu affirmed obediently, standing to the side like a person made of wood. There were altogether two useful people at Helian Pei’s side — one was Eunuch Xi, and one was Wang Wu. The former was capable of handling affairs and had followed him for a long time now, nearly being considered his right-hand man. The latter was different; he stood next to him, not speaking nor moving, and did not try to make himself likeable. Total inattention could make one overlook the giant living man that he was.
He didn’t bootlick, absolutely never said anything that shouldn’t be said, and did what he was called to do. Back in the day, Eunuch Xi had looked upon his rare dutifulness and had the mind to promote him. For servants in the palace, many were clever, and many were talented, but not many were dutiful.
Coming and going every day, he saw all of the most respectable people, the most priceless things, and the most heart-pumping power. There were those gentlemen that read sacred texts intensively in a place such as this, yet how many of them could still clear-headedly remember how to advance and retreat?
For that reason, Eunuch Xi felt that Wang Wu was gifted.
At this moment in the big, lonely hall, there was only one muddleheaded old Emperor that was sleeping like a dead pig. The imperial guards were all at the doorway, having just been sent out by Helian Yi. After about an incense stick’s amount of time, the eyelids of Wang Wu, who was standing there like he wasn’t alive, lifted, and his eyes turned about once, gaze ultimately landing on the spot Helian Yi had just been standing at.
Under his panic, Helian Yi hadn’t taken good care of that secret compartment. A crack exposed on the outside just so happened to fall into Wang Wu’s sights.
He stared at the small slit, mute for a long while, not even blinking.
In the end, he cautiously surveyed the ordained Son of Heaven on the dragon’s bed. Soon after, he slowly stooped over, his finger feeling about until it got to where the gap was to poke about inside. Then, after a bit more feeling about, he found the mechanism, gently twisted it, and opened the hidden panel. That improperly-placed scroll fell out.
He swiftly seized it, ultimately disallowing it from landing on the ground, and couldn’t help but lightly exhale. Maintaining his stooping posture, he looked at Helian Pei, following which he swiftly opened the scroll to take a look. He paused, brows creased slightly, then scrolled it back up, put it away, and closed the panel up snugly.
Afterwards, he just stood there like a motionless mannequin, as if nothing had just happened.
Ever since business dealings started between Wu Xi and Zhou Zishu, the former had gotten rather busy with some things. Yet, in these days living at the Prince Estate, he had gotten quite a bit of the desire to have fun and forget his job, and Nuahar eventually couldn’t help but drop by to come look for him.
Whatever was happening on the outside, Jing Qi naturally wouldn’t discuss it whenever he returned. So long as the man didn’t leave home, he would read books and paint as ever, occasionally practicing a couple of martial arts moves in the courtyard when the mood arose. There was never any negative emotion on his face, giving him an apparent leisurely and contented look.
…Of course, considering he was missing his important schedule of going out and loitering around, his life seemed to be more relaxed than it had been before.
This Lord had always felt that, in the event that there was collapse on the outside and he had to come shoulder it by himself, he would shed a layer of skin, and not even be able to bring that dead flesh back home.
Home was the place where he used to hear Ping An chatter on as he did his daily chores, and now where he additionally kept Wu Xi and the sable, two toxins of different sizes. There was only one Prince in this estate; other people’s obligations were to eat, drink, have fun, and care for money and family. It wasn’t their duty to listen to those vexing outer matters.
Yet, even if he said he didn’t, it wasn’t like Wu Xi didn’t know of them. He was someone who had experienced the war between the Great Qing and Nanjiang when he was young, after all. In secret, he had an expert he had brought with him from Nanjiang to see off Jing Qi to and from Court on the sly, never showing himself; he followed after him from the time he left in the morning to when he returned to being in front of Wu Xi’s eyes in the Estate.
Satisfied, he believed that the man was now entirely in his line of sight. Even if there was a sky-high flood outside, as long as the Great Qing wasn’t fighting with Nanjiang, he had no feeling of crisis whatsoever.
When it was afternoon. Wu Xi was in the middle of coaching Jing Qi in martial arts. He had a good foundation to begin with, so, with the addition of ten years of hard, relentless training, he had pretty much already left Jing Qi in the dust. His moves were all the more extremely measured. The two had no weapons, merely exchanging blows with bare hands.
Upon getting to it, Wu Xi discovered that the man’s innate talent was still not bad, and he was highly perceptive. That he had put in some real effort before shone through, but it likely wasn’t much, as he put a lot of tricky and opportunity-seeking momentum into his movements. Ping An placed a hand towel down nearby, as well as pickled plum soup pressed down in ice. From the bottom of his heart, Wu Xi felt that since Jing Qi grew up in the forbidden city as a child, he ought to have been taught by a famed, expert master, yet his arts weren’t going anywhere. The other was most likely accustomed to this group, headed by Ping An, making big fusses out of little matters.
Summer in the capital was very stuffy. One slight movement could easily make someone drenched in sweat, but Jing Qi had nonetheless began to train in boxing at this time.
Ping An was already used to his Master’s whimsical behavior and didn’t take it seriously. Wu Xi, however, could see that he was earnest, and likely so at this time due to one thing; the war in the Northwest.
With that in mind, he felt some pain in his heart. Seeing that Jing Qi’s physical strength slightly couldn’t hold up, he suddenly grabbed his wrist and gently pinned it behind his back. The other was just shy of plunging headfirst into his embrace, his steps staggering to a stop, and he bent down slightly, swiftly panting for a couple of breaths.
“No more training today,” Wu Xi said mildly. “Martial arts isn’t like other things, it needs to be built up over time in increments. Doing this last-minute will, at most, make yourself sore for a while, and do nothing to empower you.”
Jing Qi was quiet for a minute. When he picked up the iced plum soup from the side and was about to drink it, Wu Xi quickly stopped him, used internal force to warm it up, then handed it back. “Don’t drink cold stuff. Sudden cold and sudden heat can injure the body. Next time, don’t let them prepare it chilled.”
Jing Qi finally ascertained himself to be useless mud that couldn’t even stick to a wall, so he smiled and said nothing.
Helian Zhao’s army and the Vakurahs unexpectedly clashed in a mountain city of Gansu, attacking and defending. The gridlock had already gone on for quite some days. Helian Zhao relied on the Ministry of Revenue for supplies, but the national treasury had been empty for decades, and encouragement and support were just not enough. The Vakurahs, though, went about burning, killing, and looting, which was a trade of no cost.
This scene of battle forced one to act against their will, and not fighting was not an option, but if it got drawn out, the cost of taxes would make a lot of citizens hang themselves.
Hidden diseases were born early; taking advantage of this juncture, everything exploded out at the same time, and the successively-flooding South already had a calamity of rioting mobs. When Helian Yi dissolved a string of officials that had milked the people’s wealth dry and hurriedly seized their properties to put the money into the treasury, it was still ultimately only a cup of water for burning firewood. The wave of revolting citizens did not pacify before it was raised again, and the Guang troops didn’t have the slightest bit of mobilization, despite everything.
Helian Yi was also overwrought, feeling like he was tearing down the east wall to fix the west wall, but even after half a repair, the country was still leaking air all over the place.
Wu Xi personally picked up the hand towel and wiped his sweat off for him. His hand’s actions were gentle, but the words coming out of his mouth were incredibly blunt. “Look at you. Such a short period of martial arts should have been fine, but it was too much. You didn’t lay a good foundation when you should have worked hard at it as a child, so no matter how much you want to make up for it now, it’ll be nothing but an empty fantasy framework, and won’t make you proficient.”
The soup in Jing Qi’s mouth got stuck in his throat, nearly making him choke to death on the scene.
Wu Xi pat him on the back, smiling. “Hearing me say empty and gentle things won’t be of any use. It’s better to tell you these truths.”
Jing Qi choked for a good while, then squeezed a sentence out from the cracks between his teeth. “Thanks for the advice.”
Wu Xi put down the towel, sighed, and hugged him from behind. “I can’t speak of the matters you all have, but when I’m unhappy, I also like to find things to do; practicing martial arts, trampling the plants in the garden, and so on. It doesn’t matter, anyways, it’d be better to come with—“
Before he got to finish that sentence, Ping An suddenly came in. “Shamanet, Nuahar is here.”
Ping An was a thoughtful one, as he said this phrase swiftly and without even raising his eyelids, seeing no evil. After speaking, there was immediately no longer any trace of him left. Wu Xi had no choice but to let Jing Qi go with some awkwardness, thinking Nuahar to be really annoying.
Nuahar came in with an expression of deep bitterness and hate. In his big string of jargon, there was only one central idea: Shamanet, you haven’t returned to your own home for days, you know? You should be making decisions on things, are you abandoning all your responsibilities?
Wu Xi frowned, but Jing Qi laughed from beside him. “Alright, go on back and take a look. I’ll invite people over and keep myself occupied, not train.”
The other stood up, but still wasn’t at ease, turning to Jing Qi. “If you want to practice martial arts more, keeping fit and healthy is always good, but you need to be accompanied, lest you injure yourself or drink something cold and freezing that ruins your health.”
Although those words were unpleasant to hear, Jing Qi nevertheless accepted his good intention, beaming as he nodded.
Wu Xi walked two steps away, but felt really reluctant to have to part from him for one minute, so he turned back around again, hugged Jing Qi by the neck, and kissed him on the lips at flying speed, all right in front of Nuahar. Only then did he feel he had gotten enough.
Nuahar watched, wide-eyed and dumbstruck, as their Shamanet coolly came over, threw out a “let’s go”, then made to leave first. He busily gave Jing Qi a big, supplementary bow, then chased after the other one in a compliant run.
He thought to himself: what’s that thing Great Qing people said? Not seeing someone for three days gives you a whole new level of respect for them?
The Shamanet was indeed wise and powerful, to have finally succeeded after a good many years.
Jing Qi restrained his grin, bowed his head to look at the lines of his palm for a while, then drank all the warm, not-very-refreshing soup down, after which he ordered, “Ping An, I’m changing clothes. Get someone to prepare a carriage, I want to go out on a trip.”
Ping An affirmed, passing the order down. Jing Qi tidied himself up, switched into an inconspicuous changpao, and got onto the carriage with a scroll from the study carried in his arms.
Once it came to a small restaurant with a worn-out doorsill, air leaking in all over, and a desolate front yard, he came out from the carriage, went to a private room on the second floor, then lightly knocked on it thrice.
The door opened in response. The dark-clothed person inside gave him a quick glance, then promptly let him in, shutting the door behind him.
This so-called ‘private room’ was actually no more than an extremely creaky, shabby door, with windows that could only be half-shut, and no soundproofing.
The dark-clothed person was precisely Wang Wu of the palace. He had been loyally doing his role for many years and possessed his own connections, allowing him to soundlessly drift out of the place.
Neither of them had words. Jing Qi got straight to the main point, silently unfurling the scroll; the painting had been made by the Senior Prince himself, and his personal seal covered the signature spot, the words “Year of the Monkey of Armor, the Seventh of March, a Gift for My Beloved Wife” written on it. He peered up at Wang Wu, looking very solemn. Wang Wu carefully viewed the painting for a short moment, then slowly nodded.
No mood could be deciphered from Jing Qi’s expression, and he looked neither happy nor angry, eyes flashing. He lowered his head, unhurriedly put the scroll away, then fished out a pouch from his sleeve. Stuffing it into Wang Wu’s hand, he gave him a profound look, and clasped his hands in thanks to him.
Wang Wu was a servant, so he of course didn’t dare to accept such a huge gesture, hurriedly side-stepping it. Jing Qi just waved his hand, telling him to go back to the palace on his own, then sat down himself, calling for a pot of wine and minor dishes.
Wang Wu left quickly in the same exact manner as when he arrived, scarcely causing anyone to notice. The weight of the pouch in his hand was quite heavy, feeling different from the gold and silver of the past. After he went out the door, he secretly looked inside it — the bag was filled with cat’s eye gems. He softly exhaled in relief and put it away in trepidation, knowing that the gift really wasn’t that heavy at all — the Prince gave a thank-you gift not to say thanks for the information, but to say thanks for him saving his life.
Jing Qi hugged the scroll as he called for Ping An to wait in the non-eye-catching carriage. He leaned against the decrepit window for a time, with that small dish of slightly burnt peanuts and drinking half a pot of inferior wine. After that, he put down tip money and quietly left.
For the first time in a few hundred years, he learned of the relationship between His Majesty and his mother, whose face he had long been unable to remember clearly. He laughed bitterly like he was mocking himself, thinking: for being as addled as this, Jing Beiyuan can die without it being an injustice.
He mounted the carriage, returning without a sound.
The translator says: I feel like… I should fight Helian Yi. Just a gut feeling.
Edit: I’m really not sure why people are confused about this (no offense?), but Jing Qi wasn’t given the Emperor’s painting of his own mom. He has his own. It literally says the Senior Prince made his, meaning its been in his Estate the whole time, and there’s two. Wang Wu was confirming her identity by matching them.
 I really don’t want to get into the sexagenary cycle again, so please refer to my chapter 36 notes.