Jing Jiu looked at her quietly.
The little princess looked at him quietly as well.
The two of them looked at each others' eyes; neither of them said anything.
After a long while, the little princess was probably tired; her knees gave in, and she failed to support herself with her hands. She fell forward and dropped into Jing Jiu's chest.
The voice of quarrel suddenly occurred in the hall. The two emperors were arguing about something.
The little princess gathered her courage and kissed on his cheek. And then she quickly sat back, as if she was burned by the fire. Afterwards, she giggled at Jing Jiu.
Since Jing Jiu didn't have the sword fire with him, he had no choice but to wipe the saliva off his cheek with his sleeve. "What if you mistake me for someone else?" he asked.
The little princess was startled. "You…you know who I am?" she said shyly while covering her face with her hands.
"As I said," Jing Jiu replied, "I'll be able to recognize you if we meet."
The little princess looked at him through the cracks between her fingers, and pleaded, "Could you…could you pretend you haven't recognized me?"
The Emperor of Chu State and the Emperor of Qin State had finished their talk. The gate of the hall was pushed open, and the old maidservants and servant girls walked out.
The little princess felt like she was just released from a prison; she slid off the bed hurriedly and held the hand of the Qin Emperor, heading toward the outside of the palace.
Seeing the little girl bound and hop happily and recalling her elegant and feeble appearance in the real world, Jing Jiu thought that she had a better personality here.
He turned to the window and said to the green bird on the tree branch, "I don't want this episode to be seen by anyone, and I believe she doesn't want it to be seen either."
The people outside of the valley could only see the fast moving scenes; all they could learn from the scenes were merely a general notion of what was actually happening no matter how high their Cultivation states were. The details they could see on the light screen depended on what the spirit of the Green Sky Mirror, which was the green bird flying back and forth, chose to let them see.
The green bird was the Green Girl. She had a close relationship with Bai Zao, and also she had an unspeakable affectionate feeling toward Jing Jiu. As a result, she listened to Jing Jiu's advice and didn't play the scenes in which two little lovers interacted in the Royal Palace of Chu State.
Yet, He Zhan's tragic experience was entirely witnessed by the crowd. Though they couldn't see the specific scene in which he was castrated, they could somehow all imagine how painful his experience was.
Sese clenched the dried fish tightly while staring at the light screen in the sky. "Who is that kid from the east village?" she asked.
The young woman of the Water-Moon Nunnery shook her head and said, "He seems to be a free-traveling practitioner. He Zhan should have known him before."
Sese brought the dried fish to her mouth and had a forceful bite of it, saying, "I'll kill him."
Hearing this, the young woman of the Water-Moon Nunnery was startled. "It happened in the Illusionary Realm. It can't be carried out in the real world."
Sese chewed the dried fish vigorously, with bulging cheeks. "It means I can't kill him?!" she said grudgingly.
"No," the young woman of the Water-Moon Nunnery said, "this is the rule."
Sese had a hard time chewing the dried fish since it was very unyielding. She spat it out onto the ground and said, "I'll kill him secretly then."
The Qin Emperor stayed in the Royal Palace of Chu State for quite a few days.
The little princess wanted to see the Ninth Prince by kicking and crying every day. The accompanying old maidservants and young servant girls were all baffled, wondering why their obedient and comprehensible princess suddenly changed her temperament. Though the Ninth Prince of Chu State had good looks, he had mostly an empty shell, very boring as a person; why did their princess wish to play with him?
In fact, the little princess and Jing Jiu didn't play games or chess; all they did was tell stories each other.
Because there were always some servants staying by their side, she hadn't thrown herself into Jing Jiu's bosom again, save for smiling sweetly at him.
Sometimes she would go to the royal garden with him while holding his hand, telling him that the Royal Palace in the north was almost desolate, and it didn't have as many beautiful flowers as here.
The reason Jing Jiu let her do whatever she wanted with him was not that he intended to spoil her, but it was because she was very strong since she was not born with a feeble body in this world; so he was not strong enough to refuse her.
He was in a situation similar to an infant who couldn't refuse the breast feeding or a mortal who couldn't refuse death.
The departure will always follow the meeting, either in the real world or in the illusionary world. It was time for the diplomatic mission of Qin State to return to their homeland.
The Chu Emperor and the Qin Emperor were talking while holding each others' hands. Not far away, the little princess of Qin State and the Ninth Prince of Chu State were talking while holding each others' hands.
Seeing this, the chancellors and populace of the two states couldn't help chuckling.
"I'm afraid…I won't remember you in the future, so I came here to see you first."
The little princess looked into the Ninth Prince's eyes, as she continued in a serious tone, "We will be opponents later. No need to be kind to me when we fought against each other."
"Okay," Jing Jiu consented.
From that day on, the old maidservants and young servant girls in the palace enjoyed making fun of the Ninth Prince, saying, "The little princess has left; do you miss her? Shouldn't you tell your father, the Emperor, to marry her as your wife?"
One day the act of poking fun at him suddenly stopped. An old maidservant patted the Ninth Prince softly on his back and sighed uncontrollably, and she would wipe the tears off the corners of her eyes once in a while.
The Ninth Prince opened his eyes and looked at her quietly.
He knew that he didn't need to ask her, and all he needed to do was look at her and she would tell him what he needed to know, either here or in the real world.
As expected, after a while the old maidservant said, "My poor prince, you don't even know. That little princess who liked you is in big trouble now…"
The diplomatic mission of Qin State suddenly disappeared after passing through Cangzhou. Until the Qin and Cu armies arrived, they found out that the mission was attacked by an ambush. The corpses were everywhere in the field, the identities of which were hard to recognize. All they could do was determine that the Qin Emperor had already died based on the royal robe and other traits on the corpse; but they couldn't determine whether the little princess was dead or not.
Not long afterwards, the younger brother of the Qin Emperor, State Duke Pei, brought twenty thousand armored cavalrymen with him back to the capital of Qin State, Xianyang, from the frontline in the north.
A bloody massacre occurred in Xianyang City on the same night; the next day State Duke Pei became the Emperor.
On the same day of claiming the throne, the new emperor announced that his elder brother had died in the hands of the Jing King of Chu State who mounted a sneak attack.
He demanded Chu State to hand over the culprit and also give up more than half of their land as the retribution.
There was no evidence to back the accusation by the new Qin Emperor. Many events that happened later on vaguely pointed to the new emperor as the real murderer. He hadn't invaded Chu State during his lifetime, and always sent agents out to find out whereabouts of the little princess.
Though the people of Qin State were rather disciplined, it didn't mean that they would obey any unreasonable order. Within twenty days, a dozen voluntary armies appeared in Qin State. They launched attack on the capital, Xianyang, with a common goal, which was to avenge the late emperor and help the princess take back the throne. No matter what their true goals were, could they find the little princess in time?
Jing Jiu thought the chance was very slim.
She was still very young, so it was impossible for her Cultivation state to match that of an adult. And it would be hard for other disciples of the Center Sect to come to her rescue. As a result, it would be hard for her to survive in such turmoil. Yet, what he didn't understand was that the son of Jing King should be Tong Yan now that Bai Zao was the princess of Qin State; why didn't Tong Yan predict this and make some arrangement beforehand?
Jing Jiu, however, didn't spend too much time thinking about all this. He kept on sleeping in the Royal Palace, or cultivating, in fact.
Normally, he should receive the traditional education a prince needed, like the knowledge in the books and the education of rituals.
He had been a prince before, so he had enough experience to go through all this education quickly and easily. Yet, he didn't want to waste time on these matters; he chose to ignore all of it.
As a result, the rumor that he was slow had spread far and wide.
When he was ten years old, the Ninth Prince faced the first test of his life in this world.
The Chu Emperor died.
One day he missed his late wife so dearly that he intended to pick up the stars on the lake in the Royal Palace to make a necklace for his late wife when being drunk. Unfortunately, he fell into the water and caught cold.
The cold grew worse very quickly, and the Emperor passed away on the same night.
This event seemed to be quite suspicious, but nobody bothered investigating it.
It was perhaps because the Chu Emperor seldom took care of the state affairs in recent years, or perhaps because the person who would become the next emperor was slow.
The next morning, before dawn, the Ninth Prince was met by a few chancellors outside the hall and carried to the Grand Hall in the royal sedan, where he received the greetings of all the chancellors and listened to their blessings.
Each of those chancellors had their own intention, but he didn't care about it. Fortunately, those chancellors didn't care about him either. As such, he was brought back to the palace hall in the rear soon.
However, he couldn't live in the same place anymore; he lived in the residence palace for the emperor.
He was the Emperor of Chu State now.
An emperor had the power an emperor should possess. Though he was a puppet emperor, he still could make many people fear him and then listen to him. The first thing he did after taking the throne was request the eunuchs to gather many workmen to peel off the skin of the floor with small knives, making the floor look like a net with many tiny holes.
The House of Peeled Skin in the Yinxian Valley on the Cloud-Dream Mountain was made this way; Jing Jiu had a good impression of the house there.
Though the project was a big one, it wouldn't cost too much; however, it was nonetheless time-consuming. The others thought it was an extravagant thing to do.
Soon the news spread out from the Royal Palace. Instigated by some ambitious individuals, the situation changed in the direction desired by some.
The new emperor had done such an excessive thing right after the death of the late emperor. It aroused anger among many people. The critiques soon filled the streets of the capital, calling the new emperor "retard" and "drunkard". And many officials handed in their petitions to criticize the Emperor.
The petitions arrived like snowflakes in the Department of Interior Affairs. The petitions were then piled up and carried by the royal teacher to the Royal Palace. The royal teacher reprimanded him acutely for his absurd behavior, and advised him to study hard to learn how to be a good emperor. The royal teacher told the new emperor clearly that he would come to the palace every day to give lessons to the emperor from now on.
The new emperor didn't pay much attention to him; it was because he was neither slow nor an emperor. He was Jing Jiu.
The project of peeling skins off the floor for the whole palace was halted.
In the following two days, three designated chancellors and two royal uncles came to the palace one after the other. They either advised him with tears on their cheeks, or instigated him with a loyal expression.
Jing Jiu sat on the smooth floor, cultivating with his eyes closed; he paid no attention to them.
On the third day, he finally saw the person he waited to see.
The Grand Scholar had a sharp chin and handsome looks. He didn't have the gloomy appearance often seen in Chu State. His long beard reached his stomach. The expression in his eyes was calm and composed, and he displayed an intimidating aura even though he was not angry at the moment.
He was very famous. Even Jing Jiu knew about him.
If the army of Chu State was controlled by the Jing King, then the imperial court was under the control of this grand scholar.
During the ten years when the late emperor indulged himself in alcohol, the Grand Scholar overthrew three prime ministers one after the other. He was the top one among the five designated chancellors. Those inside and outside the imperial court all had a high evaluation of the Grand Scholar. Even the eunuchs and the old maidservants showed tremendous reverence toward him whenever his name was mentioned. He was respected more than the late emperor by them. And they only dared call him the "Grand Scholar".
The Grand Scholar was indeed different from other designated chancellors. He didn't recollect his close relationship with the late emperor in front of the new emperor, or try to teach him openly and reprimand him secretly. He drank up a cup of tea quietly, and said, "As far as this chancellor knew, those who had come earlier were not served any tea. This is the first cup of tea offered by Your Majesty."
He put down the teacup and continued, "Your Majesty is not someone who doesn't know the rules, and he is not slow; why did you do those things?"
"What do you think of it?" This was the first sentence Jing Jiu said after taking the throne.
The Grand Scholar said after a moment of silence, "Many people in the imperial court have malicious intentions, and there is a restless tendency among the populace. King Jing is far away in Cangzhou; nobody knows what is on his mind. The reason we have such an unstable situation is because Your Majesty has shown to the world that you are weak and inept. If the turmoil really occurred, the battles would take place one after another; the soldiers would shed their blood, and the populace would lose their homes. Can Your Majesty stand seeing all this happen? If you have pretended to be weak all this time, this chancellor suggests that it be the time for you to become stronger and more powerful."
Jing Jiu asked, "Have you heard that I was indulged in playing games and mischief during the ten years I have been in the Royal Palace?"
"I have never heard of it. That is why this chancellor is always puzzled," said the Grand Scholar.
Jing Jiu asked, "Did you kill the late emperor?"
This question was like a thunder.
If it were anybody else, they would be shocked unconscious.
Yet, the Grand Scholar was rather calm, as he said, "No."
"What is your family name?" Jing Jiu asked.
Startled, the Grand Scholar lifted his eyes to take a look at the emperor and found he was not kidding. "Zhang from Jinglin," he said.
"It's a pretty good last name," Jing Jiu remarked. "You will have to work hard from now on. I don't want to attend the court meetings. Don't bother me if you have nothing important to talk to me. Actually, don't bother me even if you have."
The son of Jing King had already formed his own supporting group when he was ten years old. It was both due to his inborn intelligence, and his father's trust in him.
He had found three participants; most importantly, one of the participants was Xiang Wanshu.
Recently, he paid close attention to the situation in the capital.
The late emperor passed away due to illness. He was curious of how the little prince would deal with the current situation, and how he would tackle the career of an emperor.
The news arrived one after another in the following days.
A construction project started on the same day the new emperor took the throne. This caused a great deal of discontent inside and outside the imperial court.
A few designated chancellors and royal family members entered the Royal Palace one after the other.
One day, the Grand Scholar Zhang entered the palace and talked to the new emperor for a long time. Afterwards, the construction project that had been halted not long ago restarted. The sounds of peeling the skin of the wood by the carving knives were heard constantly in the Royal Palace. It seemed that the grand hall would soon become the House of Peeled Skin similar to that in the Yingxian Valley.
The son of Jing King had thought about it for a long time, but he couldn't figure out why the new emperor did this.
Soon after, the shocking news arrived.
The royal teacher died.
The unrest occurred in the capital. The commissioners of the Supervision Bureau attacked each other. The Grand Scholar remained silent. Many officials were deposed of their official positions, and some of them were imprisoned.
When the unrest was settled in the end, people found that the officials who were still in the imperial court were mostly on the side of the Grand Scholar.
The son of Jing King knitted his thick eyebrows, as he felt it more and more suspicious.
Was it a scheme of driving away the wolves by the threat of a tiger? what if the violent tiger took a break and turned around to eat you in the end?
He let the Grand Scholar manage the government. Did he really plan to give up the position of the emperor? It was not an issue of looking down on the fame and wealth. It was indeed his temperament to be so lazy. However, without the imperial court and the protection of the identity of an emperor, how could he survive in the future chaotic environment?
He was not Jing Jiu in this world.
Or, this new emperor had different idea from his own.
What was he going to do then?
This question used up a lot of mental energy of the son of King Jing. He could even feel the heat producing in the spot between his eyebrows.
He took a bamboo stick to push open the window and let the fresh air come in the room. As a result, he felt better.
He felt the coldness as the breeze blew in his face. As he gazed at the snowy mountains in the west, he was suddenly dazed a little, and soon recovered.
His face displayed a cautious expression. He opened a hidden draw and took out a book from it.
The words were sort of strange in the book. Those were the words created by him. To say nothing of his father and teacher, the green bird couldn't even understand the meaning of these words.
The meaning of the first line was: "I am Tong Yan."
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