Zhenming Gate was a side gate of the Royal Palace. Its appearance was rather different from its name; rather than being bright, it was quiet and gloomy, and a bit scary to look at.
Seeing the long and gloomy passageway of the gate, the little emperor remembered what the people of the palace had told him, and his face turned pale.
Given his temperament, he wanted to turn around and go back home immediately, to enjoy his status of the son of King Hejian. Yet, his mother told him five years ago that all he needed to do was remember two things if he would go to the capital someday:
Show adequate filial piety to the Empress; don't offend Master Eunuch He.
However, he didn't understand why that eunuch was so formidable, and all of the chancellors of Zhao State fell silent like the winter cicadas in front of him. He also failed to comprehend why he still needed to keep a low profile before a eunuch after becoming the emperor. Regardless of how unfathomable it was, he remembered clearly what his mother warned him about, because she used the cruelest method to make him remember it.
His mother died of illness five years ago, soon after she warned him.
Everybody knew that she had no choice but to die.
It was impossible for a state to have two emperors; likewise, an emperor couldn't have two mothers.
Recalling all this, the youth's face grew paler. He took a deep breath and entered through the palace gate.
Seeing this, those officials finally felt relieved.
According to the history book, the Master Eunuch He only said one sentence during the ceremony of crowning the new emperor. This was of course not true.
It was only that nobody heard what he said to the little emperor.
The lighting was a bit dim in the side hall of the Wenhua Hall. Seeing He Zhan hiding in the shadows in the hall, the little emperor felt even more nervous; he looked toward the outside of the hall reflexively.
The old servants he brought with him from the King Hejian's Manor were waiting outside the hall. They were not dismissed, or replaced.
Yet, he still didn't feel safe or any relief because of this arrangement; it was because this indicated that the people in the Royal Palace had absolute confidence in controlling him.
He Zhan said, "The Emperor should have let the Crown Prince come to the palace to learn how to govern the state, yet someone stopped that from happening. Rumor has it that it was I who did it, but that's actually not the truth."
Hearing this, the little emperor was of the misguided notion that Master Eunuch He was scared, which is why he wanted to allege his loyalty. The expression on the little emperor's face changed slightly, showing a strange hue to it.
Fortunately, Master Eunuch He spoke again quickly enough; otherwise, a farce might occur on the first day when the new emperor was crowned due to the misunderstanding between the new emperor and the Master Eunuch.
"It's not because I'm scared or that I'm trying to explain something. All I want to tell you is that it was you who didn't wish to come to the palace in the first place."
He Zhan continued, "Yet, this day has finally arrived. Regardless of whether you like it or not, you have no choice but to come to the palace. I advise you to enjoy your life in the palace as much as you can, now that you are here."
His voice was very even, and his tone was very serene; but the words he used and the attitude conveyed made the little emperor feel extreme fury, and then extremely dread.
His fury stemmed from his feeling of being unable to do anything, which then aroused fear. The little emperor intended to speak out with trembling lips, but in the end was unable to utter a single word.
"Those people sent in the capital by the King Hejian's Manor in the last five years have all been captured. I believe they are all dead by now."
He Zhan said in a calm tone, "Your Majesty, from now on, you won't be harassed by those who might attempt to rebel against you."
The little emperor was quite pale on his face.
King Hejian's Manor had done a good deal of preparation. They had sent ample amount of money, many kamikaze assassins and advisors to the capital in the last five years, in an effort to help him solidify his power in the imperial court.
But, they didn't expect that all these activities were watched closely by the Intelligence Bureau. It merely took one night to wipe out all of them.
"The people I brought with me…will they be all killed as well?"
The little emperor couldn't control his anger any longer. "Master Eunuch, you are not going to save the slightest face for the royal family!" he exclaimed furiously while staring into He Zhan's eyes.
"Of course, I will save your face," He Zhan said. "You should know that from this day on you are the son of the late emperor, the ruler of Zhao State; so I will pay you adequate respect."
The sequence of the titles was very important.
He Zhan wanted him to remember that he was first of all the son of the late emperor; so he had nothing to do with the Hejian King Manor anymore.
If he didn't remember this, more people would die, and he might even lose the position of the new emperor of Zhao State.
After a long moment of silence, the little emperor asked in the dejected and mocking tone, "How should I address the Master Eunuch in the future?"
"You are allowed to call me Uncle in private," He Zhan said.
Having said that, he headed for the outside of the Wenhua Hall.
Seeing the dark back of He Zhan's, the astonishment and absurdity were written all over the little emperor's face. In the end his expression was that of extreme fear.
The Yuan Palace was the bedchamber of the Empress.
Though the Empress had become the Royal Dowager that day, she still lived here.
The Royal Dowager and the late Emperor had a close and affectionate relationship. She had been developing her supporters in the palace in the last five years. As such, she had a tense relationship with the Master Eunuch He.
He Zhan walked into the Yuan Palace, feeling rather tired. Seeing his weary expression, the Royal Dowager cheered up a bit, and sneered at him.
"I have talked to the Emperor. The outcome is quite good."
He Zhan continued, "As we discussed before, Your Highness will govern behind the curtains, and I'm not going to appear in public."
"I think that you are fully aware of the difference between not willing to appear in public and unable to appear in public."
The Royal Dowager continued, "It's always impossible for a eunuch to appear in public. I don't understand why you are still holding onto your position. This empress can issue a decree to have you killed."
"Your Highness should call yourself the Royal Dowager."
He Zhan corrected her and said, "There is no more people like Master Mo in the world. The imperial court is under my control, and nobody in the world can hand me a death sentence. Even if you could, you shouldn't do so."
The Royal Dowager raised her chin up slightly and declared proudly, "Without help of this royal dowager, you won't be able to achieve anything."
He Zhan said, "You are on the same boat. Relying on your dim-witted brothers, you will lose the control of the imperial court in ten years and be locked in the Cold Palace; and all of your clan will be slaughtered."
The shady chestnut tree was still in the Royal Palace, so their relationship was still the mutually beneficial one.
After a moment of silence, the Royal Dowager remarked, "But today's event won't be resolved easily."
Everybody in the imperial court knew the difference between Zhenming Gate and Xihua Gate, and understood the relationship between the young emperor and the Master Eunuch He. Those officials who were opportunistic and brave enough to take responsibilities didn't want to miss the opportunity. The officials of the Censorate led the others in the verbal attack on He Zhan. The students of the Royal School and the scholars of the Wansong Institute were even more vehement in their verbal attacks. According to the investigation of the Intelligence Bureau, all these attacks were supported by the Scholar Palace of Qi State, and all the clues pointed to one scholar, whose name was Yun Qi.
The verbal attacks against He Zhan entered a new stage twenty days later. Neither the chancellors of the imperial court nor the Royal Dowager in the Royal Palace reacted to them, even if they were themselves the target of the verbal attacks.
Once He Zhan came out to suppress it, his reputation would get worse and more shortcomings of his would show up, no matter what the outcome would be.
He Zhan didn't pay any attention to it and hadn't shown up either. After he obtained the materials from the Intelligence Bureau, He Zhan entered the palace and asked to see the Royal Dowager one late night.
Though the Royal Dowager intended to postpone the meeting by stating that the night was too late to receive him, the royal guards and her bodyguards had no way to stop the Master Eunuch He.
Seeing He Zhan in front of her, the Royal Dowager buttoned up her dress. She was so furious that she couldn't control her anger anymore, as she yelled sternly, "What are you trying to do?"
Without a word, He Zhan placed the files before her.
After glancing at the files, she grew more furious, demanding, "Are you trying to frame this royal dowager?"
"This is something done by your parents. Your Highness doesn't know anything about it, and it's not a scheme."
He Zhan continued, "Forcefully possessing others' crop fields, pressuring the officials of the town to commit suicide, and bullying others and snatching others' daughters and women are relatively trivial matters in comparison to collaborating with Qi State. If the populace found out that the members of your parents' families are supported by the merchants of Qi State, what would they think of the matter?"
Having said that, he left the Royal Palace, leaving those files behind.
The Royal Dowager remained reticent for the whole night while facing the files. She finally made a decision the next morning. She called a few designated chancellors into the palace and issued several decrees. The chancellors took the decrees and cleaned up the Censorate; some of the censors were imprisoned, and others exiled. The Wansong Institute was closed; the Royal School was suspended for rebuilding the grand hall…
Though these actions were terrifying, the stick-beating of the officials outside the Royal Palace was even more frightening.
Some of the officials had a strong Dao Heart, and some were unyielding; but their buttocks were flesh nonetheless. After being beaten more than ten times by the stick, their official uniforms were soaked in blood.
The turbulence had eventually died down. Though the agents of the Intelligence Bureau and the Master Eunuch He hadn't done anything during the whole event, it was inevitable that the populace blamed He Zhan for being responsible for all of the evildoings, just like what had happened before.
The reputation of the Master Eunuch He got much worse. It seemed that he became a true demon. For those obnoxious children who would cry and make a fuss at night, the mentioning of the Master Eunuch He was even more effective in scaring them into submission than that of the terrible Emperor Bai of Qin State.
Since the new emperor was still young, the Royal Dowager governed the state behind the curtains.
But everybody in the world knew that the Master Eunuch He, standing in the shadows, was the true ruler of the state; he was called "His Highness".
The history had a few, though not so many, chancellors like He Zhan who had absolute power inside and outside the imperial court and controlled the emperor like a puppet; but they usually didn't last long and would meet their death pretty soon. Barely any of them could rule the imperial court as long as He Zhan had done.
However, He Zhan was not the only one in the world of the Green Sky Mirror who ruled the state as a chancellor. The other one was the Grand Scholar Zhang of Chu State, or called respectfully by the populace "Mister Shaoyue".
The Chu Emperor had been locked up in the Cold Palace for ten years, and he was almost forgotten by the populace of this world.
Many children only knew of the Grand Scholar, and they didn't even know there was an emperor in Chu State.
Though the Grand Scholar Zhang still governed the state skillfully, his temper somehow grew worse and worse; and the methods he used to govern the state became increasingly more forceful. Though nobody dared complain about his behavior, more and more people grew indignant nonetheless.
One night, after having read the petitions and reports, the Grand Scholar suddenly felt dizzy. As he stood up and swaggered to the window, looking at the setting sun, he suddenly figured out something.
The late emperor of Qin State had died almost twenty years earlier; the Qin Emperor of the Beihai County had been dead ten years; and the young Zhao Emperor had passed away for five years already.
The Grand Scholar went to the Royal Palace.
The news of his going to the palace shocked the whole capital, and soon it spread to
Zhao State and Qin State.
The eunuchs and the palace servant girls were kneeling somewhere not far from the grand hall. As they saw the Grand Scholar approach, they felt at a loss, not knowing what to do.
The door of the grand hall had so many cracks on it to make it look like a painting; the iron lock was so rusty that it couldn't be opened. The eaves on the other side of the hall showed the traces of long overdue repairs.
Looking at the palace hall that had been ignored for many years, the Grand Scholar Zhang experienced a complicated emotion. He straightened his clothes and slowly knelt down on the ground.
"This chancellor pleads to see the Emperor."
A crisp and cold voice came out from the palace hall, "As I said, don't bother me for trivial matters."
For many eunuchs and the palace servant girls present, this was the first time hearing the voice of the Emperor; there was a complicated look on their faces.
The Grand Scholar Zhang said, "This chancellor has something to talk to Your Majesty."
"What's the matter?" the crisp and cold voice asked.
The Grand Scholar Zhang bowed to the palace door solemnly and then said, "This chancellor is old, on the verge of dying."
After a moment of silence, the crisp and cold voice rang out again, "Come in."
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