After dinner, there was still an hour before he had to return to the palace, so Zhou Yun Sheng deliberately called Zhao Bi Xuan’s younger brother, Zhao Ji Dong, over to ask about his schooling. Zhao Ji Dong was very knowledgeable, and his personality was impeccable, even though it was his first time facing a holy figure, he was neither overly humble nor overbearing, his attitude calm. Zhou Yun Sheng remembered that in the last life, he came third in the Imperial examinations, and with the Emperor’s support, he climbed all the way to the top of his career. Although he didn’t get the Marquess Wen Yuan title, he used his own abilities to become a high ranked official. However, while working for Zhou Yun Sheng, he also served the Gong Prince, even the order for the Gong Prince to send troops to the capital to rescue the king were his writings. Written with stunning rhetoric and enlightenment, he attracted a large number of literati followers.
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In this rebirth, Zhou Yun Sheng intended to raise him up, directly giving him the Marquess Wen Yuan title. The title that should belong to the first wife’s youngest son was snatched away by a common born son, and a concubine that was promoted to second wife was also openly suppressing the first wife, the arrogant Marchioness Wen Yuan would certainly not be able to take this lying down.
With abnormal treatment of sons of the first wife and common born sons as the source of family strife, Zhou Yun Sheng just needed to have the Wen Yuan March cut their interests from one another, brewing mutual hatred, then Zhao Xuan would naturally choose the best team. Zhou Yun Sheng didn’t want to deprive his lover of his military power or suppress him, and although he currently didn’t know the relationship between the Gong Prince and Zhao Bi Xuan, the man was smart, he would find out sooner or later. If he still insisted on supporting the Gong Prince afterwards, Zhou Yun Sheng would really have nothing more to say, he could only admit that he was his true love, and directly leave this world to save on embarrassment.
The more he thought about this, the more sullen he felt, Zhou Yun Sheng simply glanced over Zhao Ji Dong’s schooling and ordered the imperial carriage to be prepared.
“Your Majesty the Emperor, how is Ji Dong’s learning? Is he very undisciplined?” Zhao Bi Xuan walked up to his side and probed. Her younger brother would soon participate in the Imperial examinations, if he could get one or two compliments from the Emperor, it would definitely be an asset.
“Ji Dong is very knowledgeable and talented.” Zhou Yun Sheng forcefully pulled up the corners of his mouth.
During their chat, the imperial carriage was prepared, Zhou Yun Sheng lifted a foot to step onto the raised steps then paused slightly, beckoning to Zhao Xuan, who was kneeling in front of the door, “Duke Yu Gou, come here.”
Zhao Xuan frowned and walked over, bowing, “Your Majesty, is there something you need?”
“I am aware of my confused behavior today, my dear courtier has no need to agonize over this matter, forget as soon as possible.” Zhou Yun Sheng lifted a hand to the man’s shoulder and lowered his voice, “Do you understand?”
Zhao Xuan pushed down the anger in his heart and respectfully replied, “Yes, this small official understands.”
Zhou Yun Sheng put on a smile that didn’t reach his eyes and turned into the imperial carriage. Was Zhao Xuan really a virtuous person? In the past lives, before the two even expressed mutual love, the man would get hard as soon as he saw him, even while playing a virtuous character. In this ‘virtuous’ life, his indifferent reaction to his seduction made Zhou Yun Sheng almost bleed out while comforting himself with his own hand. This debt was written in stone, sooner or later, he’d make Zhao Xuan taste this torment!
“Back to the palace.” He snapped out an order.
Openly promoting a concubine to a second wife, this was a challenge to the clan’s system of rites, many officials wrote letters of admonition, but Zhou Yun Sheng suppressed them with his power, and things finally calmed down half a month later. Zhou Yun Sheng has always been industrious and hard-working, in his past life as the Emperor of Da Qi, he’d wanted to carefully manage the country, but he was helpless against the villain system, which only gave him outlandish tasks such as ‘Summon Zhao Bi Xuan to wait upon you in bed’, ‘Send assassins after Qi Jin Yu’, ‘Provoke the Empress Dowager’s hatred’ and so on. Unexpectedly, time to manage the country’s affairs were never set aside for him.
The system also made him hand over a few big cases to Qi Jin Yu, allowing Qi Jin Yu to earn fierce public approval, completely forcing Zhou Yun Sheng down the path of death.
This life, with no system to control him, as long as he sat on the throne he needed to manage this turbulent country to a state of prosperity. He spent a month probing, gaining a clear understanding of the direction the tide of civil and military officials was flowing, then began a bold and decisive rectification. As a result, the courtiers found their days becoming insufferable. In the past, the imperial court’s morning roll call only required them to stand in the palace hall and fill the numbers, then the Emperor would casually ask for a few details and toss the important matters to a few ministers to deal with, then return to his palace to accompany his Imperial Consort. But now, the ministers had to hand over the account books within two minutes of the door opening and wait until he read them, then he dealt with each matter one by one in order of priority, and also handed the responsibility to a specifically chosen minister .
If the governmental affair was not resolved within the arranged time, the minister’s name would be recorded by the Emperor and the Ministry of Appointments, then forget about a promotion, it’d be a blessing if they weren’t demoted. In this way, after one month, the imperial court’s atmosphere was changed beyond recognition, there was no more fishing in troubled waters and the disorder of sinecures, as long as the Emperor ordered it, it would be carried out, making the people concealing ulterior motives feel apprehensive.
This day, the Minister of Revenue fell into some bad luck. Because of clearly poor management, some of the sliver in the storehouse went missing, so the Emperor pulled him out front and was rigorously scolding him, he’d even smashed an ink stone during his ferocious outburst, dying the Minster of Revenue in ink. The Emperor’s majesty was flourishing day by day, and his sharp words drew more blood than a blade. The reprimanded courtier resembled a lowly quail, and the rest all had dropping heads and shoulders, afraid to breathe.
However, Zhao Xuan was the exception, hidden behind the crowd of senior officials, he spied on the Emperor’s face through the gap. He told him to forget the events of that day, but it was etched into his memories, how could he forget? Almost every night, he dreamt of that scene, allowing himself to push the incomparably beautiful Emperor down into that soft couch. He was the ruler of Da Qi, his bones were naturally very arrogant, he glared at him in indignation while crying tears of frustration, and sometimes, he’d bite his lips in-between uneven moans, red blood spilling, making Zhao Xuan’s own blood boil, and he’d lose his self-control.
Once, he even dreamt that he made love to the Emperor on the large dragon throne, almost crushing his thin waist as he entered him from behind. The man glared back at him, his eyes burning with humiliation, but also ignited in desire. Zhao Xuan roared in madness and bit his neck then, leaving behind a mark that seemed to overflow with blood beads.
Despite the crazy dreams, he always woke up to emptiness and boredom, so Zhao Xuan felt very irritable recently, and only seeing the Emperor’s handsome face every day and hearing his calm or angry voice in the imperial court could make him feel a little calmer. Currently, because of his anger, the Emperor’s cheeks were flushed red, and his pitch black eyes seemed to glitter like cold stars, his expression was unexpectedly exactly like in his dreams.
If his frown had some pleasure with a hint of pain, it’d be even better. Zhao Xuan’s expression was solemn, but his chest was burning with raging lust, if he wasn’t using his internal force to suppress his body, he feared he would climax on the spot. The Emperor apparently felt his line of sight, so he immediately lowered his head, quickly curbing the fervor in his eyes.
Zhou Yun Sheng felt someone ogling him, but whenever he looked in his lover’s direction, he always had his head bowed, his attitude resembling reverence, no different than the rest of the courtiers. After reacting a few times, he lost interest, withdrawing from the imperial court after punishing the offending courtier. The Emperor left, and the courtiers sighed in relief as if receiving amnesty, getting up from the ground and chatting in groups of twos and threes. Zhao Xuan walked up to the Minister of Revenue, gestured to his forehead where the smashed ink stone had left a red imprint, and asked, “Master Wang, are you all right?”
“It’s nothing, the Emperor was being merciful.” Master Wang laughed bitterly and waved his hand, noticed that his lapel was stained in ink, and quickly took his leave.
Zhao Xuan stood in place, pondering over that person’s angry, flushed red cheeks and bright shining eyes, his heart throbbing, morbidly thinking, if he got angry at me, will he also reach for something to smash over my head? That would definitely feel amazing. He walked aimlessly, his mind filled with all sorts of erotic scenes, unconsciously arriving at the palace gate.
“This subordinate greets the Grand General!” A simple and honest young man enthusiastically approached him.
“Meng Kang, how have you been recently?” Zhao Xuan immediately put away his fantasies and looked the boy up and down, seeing his court dress, his pupils contracted for a moment. Imperial front guard, that person actually appointed Meng Kang as an imperial front guard? He was just a boy barely out of puberty, why did he fancy him so much?
“Replying to the Grand General, this subordinate has been in very good health recently. I just got an assignment, I’m on duty today.” Meng Kang tugged on his new court dress, flushing in embarrassment. Serving as an Imperial front guard was like crashing headfirst into great fortune, and his speed of promotion and his opportunities were greater than others. Truly, as long as the Emperor said a word, rising up in the world wasn’t difficult. Therefore, he lived very comfortably recently, and that previously infallible Wu Chang March was now too afraid to bother him, this kindness from the Emperor really was a great blessing.
“You’re now an imperial front guard, you’re no longer under my command. Since you’re on duty, you need to quickly go back to work. We’ll go out for celebratory drinks on your day off.” Zhao Xuan smiled amiably and slapped the boy’s shoulder.
Meng Kang nodded enthusiastically and turned away.
Zhao Xuan stared at his tall back for a long time, his easy expression gradually becoming gloomy.
Zhou Yun Sheng walked to Feng Yi Palace immediately after leaving the imperial court, but Zhao Bi Xuan didn’t come out to greet him. She was reclining on a soft couch by the window, reading a title record, her posture very relaxed.
“What are you looking at?” Zhou Yun Sheng took the list and scanned it, not mentioning her discourteous behavior.
“I’m helping my sister find a betrothed. I think Ji Gou Duchy’s eldest son is not bad. He not only looks proper, his talent and learning is very extraordinary, he ought to be a good match.” Zhao Bi Xuan raised a lily-white hand to cover up her slight smirk.
Duke Ji Guo’s eldest son? His looks and learning were indeed very good, and his mother was the noble Yu Min Princess. He really seemed to be a good marriage partner, but in fact, he was born impotent, he was incapable of sexual intercourse. In the whole of Da Qi, no more than 10 people knew of this matter, but Zhao Bi Xuan, who was buried deep inside the palace, was somehow aware of this, who would believe that she had no one backing her?
Qi Jin Yu’s feelings for Zhao Bi Xuan was really awfully deep. He was fully aware that the person she was scheming against was Zhao Xuan’s sister, but he didn’t even try to stop her, who knew how Zhao Xuan would react if he found out.
Should he or should he not agree? Thinking of Zhao Xuan’s coffin face, Zhou Yun Sheng smiled mischievously, then pointed to the list and said, “Then it’s settled as the Ji Guo Duchy. I’ll pass down an imperial decree in a few days.”
“I thank the Emperor for his kindness in my sister’s place.” Zhao Bi Xuan put on an act of accepting a blessing, her lips pulling up in a slight smile of schadenfreude.
Zhou Yun Sheng was tired of seeing her gloating expressions, he tossed the list onto the table and sighed, “My sixth younger brother is already 18 years old this year, he also ought to take a wife. You have some time, why don’t you visit the Empress Dowager and ask her if she has a suitable person in mind. I have already started making arrangements.”
Zhao Bi Xuan’s smile instantly froze, after taking two slow deep breaths, she whispered an agreement. Zhou Yun Sheng still refused to let her get away, without delay, he brought her with him to the Ci Ning Palace to have an audience. The Empress Dowager was resting her aged body on a couch, cuddling and playing with the chubby Second Prince, her smile filled with love. Noticing the two approaching, she kept the same expression, but the warmth in her eyes faded.
Zhou Yun Sheng observed her behavior and guessed that she knew about Qi Jin Yu and Zhao Bi Xuan’s adultery, otherwise, she wouldn’t be so doting on the Second Prince. Before Zhou Yun Sheng arrived, Qi Yi Ning already had a son, 5 years old this year, cute and sensible, but the Empress Dowager always put on a sour face when she looked at him. Whenever Su Jie Yu brought over the First Prince to pay respects, she pushed them away, claiming a headache, letting the two kneel outside the palace hall for a while before leaving. She couldn’t truly accept Qi Yi Ning’s heir, because she’d always felt that Qi Yi Ning had taken away the throne that should’ve belonged to her son.
She also didn’t like Zhao Bi Xuan this Jezebel, but Zhao Bi Xuan could bewitch Qi Yi Ning, making him indulge in passion while neglecting politics. For that purpose, her value was quite high, so the Empress Dowager reluctantly accepted her presence. Qi Jin Yu no doubt loved Zhao Bi Xuan, forget about a wife and concubines, he didn’t even keep a house girl, so the eager for grandchildren Empress Dowager felt very frustrated. Because of this, although the Second Prince’s birth was a point on contention, she wasn’t willing to quietly deal with him, contrarily, she always brought him to her side to personally feed him.
“Your Majesty has not visited for a long time, please sit down.”
“This son wanted to ask something of Mother Empress. Do you have a candidate in mind for my sixth brother’s marriage?”
“What are the Emperor’s plans?” Under Zhao Bi Xuan’s bewitchment, Qi Yi Ning’s control over imperial court politics became increasingly loose, giving Qi Jin Yu many opportunities. But in recent months, something seemed to have awakened him, and he suddenly started governing properly, nearly clearing out all the connections Qi Jin Yu had set up in the imperial court. The Empress Dowager didn’t know exactly how much he’d noticed, so her response was particularly guarded, she didn’t dare reveal her true feelings.
“I’ve chosen these candidates, what does Mother Empress think?” Zhou Yun Sheng handed over the long ago picked out list of noble women, among these was former Qi Jin Yu’s previous wife, the second branch of the Jing Guo Duchy’s eldest daughter, Luo Lan.
The Empress Dowager glanced over the list and immediately noticed her grandnephew’s daughter’s name, then she held the list up, pretending to ponder.
Even without Qi Yi Ning’s suppression, the Jing Guo Duchy would sooner or later decline, because the main branch raised a bunch of prodigals that only knew how to eat and drink. However, the second branch’s Luo Zhen was a special case, he passed the imperial examinations at 16, and began an official’s career at 18, now he was 40 years old, but he was already ranked 2nd in the Ministry of Appointments. His connections in the imperial court went very deep, and his reputation was quite clean, so it was better to go to him than a grand house with a title but no real power. In fact, although the past Qi Yi Ning held a grudge against Jing Guo Duchy, Lou Zhen’s career was unaffected, this showed that his talent and capability was very high.
The Empress Dowager’s heart had already settled on Luo Lan. Because she’d granted the marriage in the last life, she succeeded in raising up her maternal home, and also helped her son find a great ally in Lou Zhen.
Luo Zhen was a genius, he advised Qi Jin Yu and followed him everywhere, and in only 7 years, he helped him win over most of the imperial court officials. Without him, Qi Jin Yu’s throne stealing wouldn’t have been as easy. Luo Zhen worked so hard, one, because he was increasingly disappointed in Qi Yi Ning’s muddle-headedness, and two, his daughter was joined by marriage to the Jing Guo Duchy.
Zhou Yun Sheng died early, so he didn’t know if Jing Guo Duchy sailed smoothly to the other side on this ship named Qi Jin Yu, but he’d seen the fate of his daughter Luo Lan, so he could only guess that their outcome was also a tragedy. Luo Lan was married to Qi Jin Yu for seven years, but she was unable to bear children, and she suddenly died of illness on the eve of the rebellion. Qi Jin Yu treated her very kindly, and even though she was unable to get pregnant, he never thought about accepting a concubine or a favorite servant girl, always assuring her that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her. As a result, he gained a reputation as a faithful husband, and Luo Zhen was even more grateful to him, becoming loyal and devoted. Luo Zhen had five sons, but Luo Lan was his only daughter, she was naturally the apple of his eye.
However, this was all just a funny joke to Zhou Yun Sheng. Qi Jin Yu really did want to spend his life with one person, but that person was never Lou Lan. Why was she infertile? Why did she die on the eve of the rebellion? Expect for making room for Zhao Bi Xuan to occupy the position as the Gong Prince’s wife, there was no other reason. All her value had been squeezed out, she obviously needed to be dismissed, but the poor thing, till the very end, she thought she was the luckiest woman in the world.
That Luo Zhen was so capable, Zhou Yun Sheng absolutely wouldn’t just give him to Qi Jin Yu, therefore, Luo Lan would become his excellent pawn. When he saw the Empress Dowager pretending to hesitate, he pointed to Luo Lan’s name and said, “In my opinion, marrying within the family is best. Mother Empress, what do you think?”
The Empress Dowager’s pupils twinkled as she nodded in agreement. The two of them chatted about the marriage, the harmonious atmosphere unprecedented. Zhao Bi Xuan sat beside them, smiling obsequiously, but her heart was throbbing in pain, if the Second Prince’s crying wasn’t disturbing her mind, she feared that she would cause a scene.
The news that Zhou Yun Sheng agreed to Zhao Bi Xuan’s plan to marry her sister to Ji Guo Duchy spread.
Li-shi had been worried that Zhao Bi Xuan would give her daughter to a lousy home, she didn’t expect the marriage candidate to be within the imperial household, Ji Guo Duchy. Immediately overjoyed, she knelt in front of the shrines and recited Amitabha. Old Marquess Wen Yuan was also very pleased, he immediately sent for his daughter to be brought back home.
Three days later, the mother and daughter met again and huddled together, weeping in joy.
“Everybody says that the Lady is always magnanimous, she would never scheme against you, now can you see? You’ve been granted a marriage decree, you should travel to the palace to thank the Lady for her kindness. If not for the Lady, our family would not be as well off as now.” Old Marquess Wen Yuan cautiously advised.
“We know, I’ve already prepared gifts, Marquess, you should examine them.” Li-shi took out a very generous gift list. Her husband was hopeless, so her children were her lifeblood, as long as Zhao Bi Xuan didn’t hurt them, she was willing to submit to her.
Old Marquess Wen Yuan took a look, then gave her some gold tickets to purchase the gifts, but he also asked Fang-shi to pack up, so she could go along with them. Fang-shi already knew the mysterious intent behind the marriage proposal. Marriage was marriage, with such powerful in-laws like Yu Min Princess, Zhao Xin Ran could only swallow her misfortune and bear it. If she dared complain out loud, Yu Min Princess would make her life a living hell.
Fang-shi covered her smirk as she agreed, a touch of ridicule glinting in her eyes.
“Milord, the Madam has asked you to return home, she said that the 2nd Miss has returned.” An imperial guard stood outside the door and reported.
“Okay.” Zhao Xuan absentmindedly replied, his hand wrapped around a very fine brush, illustrating last night’s dream on paper in full detail. After finishing, he looked over the drawing for a long time, waiting for the ink to dry before carefully packing it up. His body felt perpetually hot, especially his stretched taut to bursting groin. Every day, he needed to repeatedly rinse in cold water before going to bed and after waking up just to feel slight relief. Especially during imperial court sessions, seeing that man’s more and more handsome face, there were several times when he almost couldn’t hold back his tsunami like, landslide of desire. He was starting to feel certain that the man had drugged him, or perhaps did some witchcraft on him, to make him completely lose his self-control.
If he knew that things would become so unbearable, he would’ve taken him on the couch that day, then kidnap and imprison him in the Northwest, so only he could look at him, so only he could touch him, not Zhao Bi Xuan, not Meng Kang, and no demons and monsters could disturb them.
His mind whirling with all kinds of dark and outrageous ideas, Zhao Xuan washed the ink off his hands and left Yu Guo Duchy.
“Xuan-er, you finally came back. Xin Ran was standing in the doorway and looking out for so long, I fear that her neck has grown longer.”
“Big Brother, Xin Ran missed you so much.”
“Big Brother you came back! Can you take me out riding on the big pony?!”
Li-shi quickly walked over with her young daughter and son to greet her eldest son.
Zhao Xuan was indifferent, he just nodded slightly and walked into the back room, not even saying a greeting. But he’d always been reticent, so Li-shi was used to it. As soon as he sat down, Li-shi excitedly praised Zhao Bi Xuan’s marriage arrangement with Duke Ji Guo’s heir, saying that this was a good marriage, one in a million. Duke Ji Guo’s eldest son got his looks from Yu Min Princess, in the capital, he was known as the Jade Prince, the dream husband of many young ladies.
“The Jade Prince?” Zhao Xuan raised an eyebrow, that title somehow reminded him of that man’s jade white skin. Feeling his lower body waking up, he changed his posture and said in a heavy voice, “This marriage can’t happen, I’ll think of a way to reject it.”
The warm atmosphere in the room instantly froze, Li-shi and her daughter stared at him in disbelief.
“Duke Ji Guo’s eldest son is impotent.” Although Zhao Xuan spent three years in the Northwest, he was well aware of everything that went on in the capital. As long as he was determined to find out, there was no secret this country could hide from him.
“Impossible!” Although Li-shi denied it out loud, her heart was already convinced. Her son would never joke about such a thing.
Zhao Xin Ran covered her face, on the verge of collapse, using her confused younger brother’s arm for support, she cursed between gritted teeth, “I knew Zhao Bi Xuan would never let me go. An impotent, she even wants to marry me off to an impotent man, I’ll have to live half-dead for the rest of my life! She wants to kill me, big brother you have to get revenge for me!” She knew that it was useless to ask Old Marquess Wen Yuan for help with such a thing, he not only wouldn’t believe her, he’d definitely call her ungrateful.
Before Zhao Xuan could reply, Li-shi broke out in sobs, choking, “How can your brother get revenge for you? That slut is protected by the Emperor, no one can touch her. Don’t make trouble Xin Ran, it’s enough to let your brother quietly decline the marriage, there’s no benefit to making a big scene. From now on, we’ll stay far away from these people, we’ll never provoke them.” She was afraid, but her heart was also filling with resentment.
Zhao Xin Ran was helpless to vent her anger and hate, she flopped onto the couch and cried bitterly. The barely 6 years old, confused Zhao Xu also started crying, almost passing out from exhaustion.
Zhao Xuan’s pupils darkened, leaving behind an ‘I’ll go talk to Ji Guo Duchy’, he strode away. He and Duke Ji Guo talked for half an hour, the next day, Duke Ji Guo’s eldest son suddenly fell seriously ill and was bed ridden. The invited senior monk looked over him and saw a shadow of approaching death, then urged for recuperation in the temple until the death shadow passed over. This could last three or five moons, or three or five years, they were unable to say, but passing through a death shadow really wasn’t an easy matter, an unlucky man could die, and if that person was someone’s betrothed, wouldn’t that woman live a tragic life of early widowhood?
Fortunately, the marriage decree had not yet been passed down, there was still time to intercede. Yu Min Princess quickly visited the palace to explain the circumstances, persuading the Emperor to stop the marriage.
Zhao Bi Xuan seethed in anger when she heard the news, but when she later learned that Li-shi took her children and moved to Yu Guo Duchy, she felt a little better. With them gone, wasn’t Wen Yuan March under her younger brother and mother’s control?