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    Chapter 98: Causing Trouble

    With no outsiders present, only the Empress's personal attendants stood in two orderly rows. Upon hearing this, they all cast her sideways glances, highly offended.

    Chang Nian offered a subtle smile. "To receive Father Emperor's favor is this son's good fortune."

    What Meng-shi disliked the most was Chang Nian's calm demeanor. It reminded her so much of Concubine Qin, with her aloof expression and ability to captivate men's hearts with just a glance.

    "Be on your way if you have nothing else," she waved dismissively, clearly impatient.

    In the past, the Empress had myriad ways to make life difficult for Princess Chang Nian. But now, not only was Princess Chang Nian on the Emperor's mind, she also had Duke Fu Guo as her protector. Some tactics could no longer be executed openly.

    Chang Nian stood straight without showing any intention of taking her leave. Instead, she bowed to her mother once more and said, "Mother, now that your son has established his own residence, may I ask if I can retrieve the late Concubine Qin's belongings?"

    When Concubine Qin passed away from illness, the Autumn Palace was thoroughly searched by the central palace. It was claimed that Concubine Qin was guilty, and thus all imperial gifts were seized. As a result, not even a single personal item was left behind for her.

    Madame Meng gave a faint smile and replied, "Why are you asking this Empress for Concubine Qin's belongings? This Empress has no idea where they are."

    She was refusing to acknowledge any knowledge of the matter.

    Chang Nian took a silent breath, softening his tone. "It has been over a decade since Concubine Qin passed away. I beg you, Mother, for the sake of my longing for my late mother, grant me this wish."

    Lady Meng shook her head, speaking with dignity. "Nian'er is filial. If I were able to fulfill your request, why would I stand in your way?"

    Chang Nian lifted his gaze, meeting hers. Both understood each other's intentions. She knew that he knew the item was in her possession, and he knew that she knew he knew. Yet, she refused to yield it.

    Didn't you gain the Emperor's favor? Aren't you powerful? If you're capable, find the artifact yourself.

    Chang Nian felt that the Empress was indeed very petty, lacking the grand generosity that outsiders perceived as fit for an Empress of the land.

    "Your servant shall come to pay respects again tomorrow," she said, bowing gracefully.

    Lady Meng smiled, concealing her lips behind her hand. "If I'm unable to grant you my greetings today, would it be possible for me to do so tomorrow? Nian'er, how old are you now? Are you still throwing childish tantrums?"

    Chang Nian lowered his gaze and whispered, "How can I earn it, so that Mother Empress would be willing to give it to me?"

    The Empress rose, gracefully taking the hand of her senior concubine as she strolled toward Ning'er. With a hint of a smile playing on her lips, she said, "Ning'er, you've grown skilled, daring to bargain with this Empress. Very well, if you can do something to please me, I shall consider helping you. What do you think?"

    "It's settled then." Chang Nian nodded, cast a glance at the attendants beside her, and retreated from the main palace with a graceful step.

    The palace attendants followed and led him to a secluded spot before whispering, "Her Highness is preoccupied with Prince Heir. Anything that can bring Her Highness joy would naturally be related to His Highness. As of late, the Third Prince has gained favor, putting the Prince Heir's position in jeopardy. If Your Highness could assist, Her Highness would surely support you."

    It was as expected. Chang Nian clenched her fists and replied coldly, "I hope Her Majesty keeps her promise."

    "Once the Empress speaks, even a thousand horses cannot turn her back."

    With a wave of her sleeve, Chang Nian dismissed the palace attendant without further ado and left Chungmu Palace with a grim expression.

    Upon leaving, she didn't see Ye Jiangbai's figure. Chang Nian met Huang Ningzhong at Chongyang Gate and, draped in a thin cloak with a hat on, headed for Prince Wu's residence, Chungmu Palace.

    Prince Wu had lived in the depths of the palace for a long time. The emperor had explicitly ordered that no prince was to disturb his uncle's rest unless it was an urgent matter. Chang Nian had only seen him during the annual New Year's banquet, observing him from afar. She found him to be very serious and distant.

    However, she was still his niece by blood. It shouldn't be too difficult to strike up a conversation.

    Thanks to Huang Ningzhong's arrangements, Chang Nian sneaked into Chungmu Palace through a side entrance, constantly looking around. Finally, by a flower garden, she spotted a palace attendant digging soil.

    "Excuse me," Chang Nian approached, "Could you show me the way?"

    The palace attendant turned around, covered in dirt. As he wiped his face, he asked, "Where do you need to go?"

    Chang Nian said, "The Seventh Prince, confined in the Autumn Palace, wishes to have an audience with Prince Wu."

    Eyeing her up and down, the palace attendant shook his head. "His Majesty has decreed that princes are not to enter or leave this place at will."

    "I understand," Chang Nian replied, squatting down beside him with a chuckle. "But I'm not here on a whim; there's truly an urgent matter. Can't you make an exception?"

    Her smile curved her eyes into two crescent moons, revealing dimples that were utterly endearing.

    The palace attendant, however, remained stern. "What if I can't?"

    "Well then..." Chang Nian's face fell. Glancing at the flower soil he was digging, she rolled up her sleeves and proposed, "I'll help you with this. When Uncle Prince takes his stroll, I'll pay my respects then."

    The attendant was taken aback, not yet able to respond when she promptly squatted down, examined the seeds, and raised an eyebrow. "Big Flower Flying Swallow, this is an easy flower to cultivate."

    "Easy?" The attendant frowned. "This is the third pot, and it still hasn't sprouted. How can it be easy?"

    "Why wouldn't it sprout? Unless, of course, you don't know how to plant them properly." Chang Nian deftly transferred the soil into the pot and handed the small box of seeds to the attendant. "Soak them in warm water for two hours."

    The attendant looked skeptical. "Won't soaking them for so long spoil the seeds?"

    "Trust me on this," Chang Nian assured. "I've been tending to the flowers in the Autumn Palace for over a decade. I know every flower's nature inside out."

    The palace attendant spoke frankly, even frowning. "A prince of high birth, engrossed in such trifles with flowers and plants – don't you think it's beneath you?"

    If it were any other prince, they would have had the attendant punished for such insubordination. But not Chang Nian; he didn't concern himself with prestige, nor did he take offense. Instead, he laughed while loosening the soil. "Yes, it might seem unproductive, but what could I do? I was confined to the Autumn Palace with no way out. Apart from tending to the flowers, what else was there for me to do?"

    The attendant was taken aback, his expression a mix of emotions, sympathy lurking beneath.

    Chang Nian comforted him, "There's no need to pity me. Now that I'm allowed out, it's like the clouds have cleared, and I can finally see the moon again."

    Pausing, she glanced in the direction of the main palace. "Unlike Uncle Emperor, who can't bear to see the world beyond these walls."

    Upon hearing this, the palace attendant's expression turned even more sorrowful.

    "What's wrong with you?" Chang Nian looked at him curiously. "Why are you about to cry?"

    With his large, tear-filled eyes reddened, he would have been fine if she hadn't asked. But her question caused the palace attendant to burst into tears, his voice echoing like a loud gong, which startled Chang Nian so much that she sat down on the ground.

    "Oh... please don't cry!" Looking around nervously, Chang Nian covered his mouth. "If you draw attention, I'll never get to see Uncle Emperor again!"

    Tears streaked down her face like rivulets of mud, and the person paid no heed to Chang Nian's comforting words, still weeping even with her mouth covered.

    Moments later, a palace servant in the distance was indeed startled and hastily rushed over. Chang Nian sensed trouble and turned to make a getaway.

    To her surprise, the guard from afar leaped forward, blocking her path, and sternly reprimanded, "Who dares to bully His Highness?"

    Chang Nian was dumbfounded.

    She glanced at the fiercely intimidating guard and then down at the "palace servant" who was still holding onto her sleeve and crying. Three monumental words exploded in her mind with a loud boom:

    She had caused a huge mess!

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