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    The moment the divorce papers were handed over, the pent-up emotions resurfaced, overwhelming him with a dense ache that spread from his heart to every limb.

    Gu Changjin knew full well that once they parted ways, their connection would be severed forever.

    For an instant, he wanted to confess that he had never been fond of Wen Xi and never intended to marry her. But as those words reached his lips, reason returned, and he abruptly closed his mouth.

    Aware of Rong Shu's guilt towards Wen Xi, Gu Changjin took the box she offered and softly said, "Thank you, Miss Rong. Don't worry, Wen Xi will be unharmed and won't hold it against you."

    With this, perhaps her guilt would subside.

    His voice was low, sounding slightly impatient, and Rong Shu lifted her gaze to look at him. Seeing his usual expression, she thought perhaps he had been overworked lately due to official duties.

    Considering this, she spoke warmly, "The imperial examination results are about to be announced, and I imagine you must be very busy. Since matters have been settled, I won't take up any more of your time, Sir."

    It was a subtle hint for him to leave.

    Gu Changjin nodded. As he exited, the edge of the box dug painfully into his palm, probably due to how tightly he was holding it.

    Chapter 36

    Both Chang Ji and Heng Ping awaited in the study.

    They were aware of Gu Changjin's visit to Obeying Heaven Mansion the previous day, but they had no idea why their master sought out Magistrate Zhu. That was until they laid eyes on the official divorce document, sealed with an imperial stamp.

    Chang Ji and Heng Ping knew well that for their master to bring the young madam to the Qiu Mountain Retreat indicated a level of trust. Over the years, apart from the three of them, no one else had earned their master's genuine trust.

    Even the lady of Liuyi Hall was met with caution.

    Chang Ji, being more contemplative, wondered if their master had developed feelings for the young madam. No, judging by his understanding of the master, it was not just a mere affection but a genuine love.

    How else could one explain their master's hurried visit to Linjiang Tower that day? Their master was never one to meddle in others' affairs unnecessarily.

    Full of questions yet hesitant to voice them, Chang Ji was more concerned about the reaction from Liuyi Hall than the reason behind the divorce.

    Back then, it was she who issued the order to marry the young madam.

    That person could never tolerate her masters defying her commands. Now that the master has taken it upon himself to separate from the young madam without her consent, given her temperament, she might unleash an immense fury.

    Chang Ji expressed his concern, "Master, what about Lady...?"

    Gu Changjin calmly interrupted him, "It's alright, I have a plan. Heng Ping—"

    He glanced sideways at Heng Ping, "Have you made any progress with the matter I asked you to investigate earlier?"

    Heng Ping nodded and said, "Empress Qi indeed had her eye on the Third Miss of Duke Ying's residence as the Second Prince's consort. However, Concubine Xing managed to seize the opportunity first and secured Miss Song as her son's fiancée."

    In the Great Yin Dynasty, it was customary for imperial princes to be formally betrothed only upon reaching the age of fifteen. The Crown Prince, being two years senior to his second brother, naturally enjoyed an advantage in matters of marriage, thus enabling him to secure Song Yingzhen as his bride with swift precedence.

    Having missed the opportunity with Song Yingzhen, Empress Qi seemed to have lost interest in finding a royal consort for the Second Prince. Now, at the age of eighteen, the prince remains unmarried. It's uncertain whether it is due to Empress Qi's unwillingness or if the Qi family has other plans in mind.

    Empress Qi's father once held the position of Grand Marshal in the Jiande dynasty, commanding fifty thousand elite soldiers of Great Yin.

    Indeed, how could one tolerate another's peaceful slumber beside one's own bed? Emperor Jiande could hardly feel at ease with such a formidable general by his side. Perceiving the emperor's apprehension, Qi Zhan, in his gravely ill and fading state, proactively requested to be relieved of his position as Grand Commander.

    Duke Qi's astuteness greatly pleased Emperor Jiande, who expressed his imperial favor by giving Qi Zhen a grand funeral and issuing an edict to marry her off to the seventh prince, Xiao Yan, who had no hope of inheriting the throne.

    The Qi family fell into obscurity until Emperor Jia'you launched a rebellion, where Qi Heng collaborated with his father's former subordinates, earning great credit for their role in establishing the new reign. This revitalized the Qi family's prestige.

    Compared to his father, Duke Qi Heng was said to have surpassed the master.

    In the early days of Emperor Jia'you's rule, most of Great Yin's military power rested in the hands of the Qi family.

    With a weak ruler and strong ministers, many anticipated that this frail and ailing emperor would become a mere puppet.

    To everyone's surprise, it took Emperor Jia'you over a decade to gradually strip the Qi family of their military authority. He abolished the position of Grand Duke and established the Five Armies Commandery, dividing military power into command and deployment. The command authority was assigned to the Five Armies Commandery, while the deployment authority fell under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of War.

    Simultaneously, he promoted a group of scholarly officials led by Prime Minister Xing Shicong and relied on eunuchs, creating a balanced tripod of power between military officers, civil servants, and eunuchs, each constraining the others.

    Thus, Emperor Jia'you's throne was securely established.

    Qi Heng transitioned from Grand Duke to Left Grand Duke of the Central Army Commandery, his military forces now divided into five parts.

    Despite this, three out of the five armies in the Five Armies Commandery were composed of the Qi family's former loyalists. As the Qi family remained the maternal clan of the second prince, these old subordinates still viewed the Qi family as the dominant force.

    The Duke of Ying, the left commander of the Rear Military Commandery, was an exception.

    If Song Yingzhen were to marry the Second Prince, the entire Five Military Commanderies would unite under the Qi family's command, making their status similar to that of the former Grand Commandery. If she were to wed the First Prince, it would be a union of scholars and martial artists, capable of undermining the alliance within the Five Military Commanderies from within.

    This was precisely why both the Xing and Qi families sought to gain the favor of the Duke of Ying.

    Gu Changjin's gaze darkened. "I'll visit the Liu Mo Hall."

    He had to personally inform Xu Fu about his divorce from Rong Shu.

    Upon arriving at the Liu Mo Hall, when Xu Fu heard about Gu Changjin's divorce, she slammed the teacup in her hand onto the floor with a loud crash.

    "Who allowed you to divorce without permission? Do you know that you've ruined my plans?"

    "What plan?" Gu Changjin frowned. "Nephew has given this matter much thought. The Jiang family is determined to align themselves with the First Prince, believing that befriending the Duke of Ying will secure their place in his faction. However, even if the Duke of Ying becomes an in-law to the First Prince, it remains to be seen where his true loyalties lie. If the Duke of Ying doesn't support the First Prince, the Jiang family will be in grave danger. Now, with Rong's younger sister marrying into the Jiang family, if nephew doesn't divorce her, wouldn't I be dragged into this muddy water? As nephew aspires to walk the path of an upright official, I naturally cannot be involved in factional strife."

    Xu Fu stared at him intently.

    He hadn't said anything wrong.

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