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    Chapter 117 - Matters of the Elders

    Chang Nian was startled, taking a small step back as she looked at the emperor with wide-eyed shock.

    "How can that be? You don't believe me?" The emperor chuckled softly. "Nineteen years ago, I did indeed consider defying all opposition to make her my empress. Unfortunately... she sacrificed her own chance at becoming a concubine to protect the Virtuous Consort in the palace at the time. Later on, she provoked me several times—had it not been for those incidents, she would have been enshrined in the imperial temple after her death, rather than having her remains returned home."

    Nineteen years ago, that was before Chang Nian's birth, and no one in the palace had ever mentioned such matters to her. It was only natural that she was unaware of them.

    Still, Chang Nian was surprised. Her seemingly cold and melancholic mother had once had a chance to become the empress? The Virtuous Consort? There had indeed been a Virtuous Consort in the palace, but when Chang Nian was three years old, her son was poisoned, leading the Virtuous Consort to throw herself into a well. After that, no one ever spoke of her again. Chang Nian had only heard fleeting mentions of her in passing conversations between her mother and old acquaintances.

    The emperor was lost in thought, his expression a tangled mix of emotions. When he regained his composure, he had lost interest in idle chatter and simply waved her away. With the help of the grand eunuch, he returned to the Dragon Coiling Palace.

    His back appeared slightly hunched, a testament to his unhealed ailments and advancing age. Even the emperor, it seemed, could not escape the inevitability of old age.

    Chang Nian felt a pang of sadness. Lowering her gaze, she left the palace and couldn't resist asking the elderly palace attendant guiding her, "Do you know Empress Xiaolian?"

    The old attendant was quite talkative. Although hesitant, he eventually replied, "Empress Xiaolian was a cousin from the Beithang family. She entered the palace directly as a concubine, proud and ambitious, often in conflict with others. The year she gave birth to an imperial prince, she was elevated to one of the four consorts, greatly favored by His Majesty. But later... that prince was harmed, and Empress Xiaolian took her own life. It also implicated Concubine Qin, who was subsequently confined to the cold palace."

    Beithang family? Chang Nian was taken aback.

    Mu Shufang observed her distress and softly advised, "The enmities of the older generation are in the past. Why does Princess inquire so much into them?"

    Reasoning that it was indeed true, Chang Nian regained her composure, smiled, and took Mu Shufang's hand. Together, they left the palace for the Ministry of Rites.

    With Zhao Hengxu exiled from the capital, his followers dispersed, leaving many official positions vacant. Observing Ye Jiangbai's actions, it seemed he intended to promote a new batch of officials himself. However, being preoccupied, he could not oversee everything personally, thus providing an opportunity for Chang Nian to seize.

    Throughout history, officials were promoted through examinations, recommendations, or direct appointments. The first two methods involved numerous procedures, while the third only required a meal with the Minister of Rites followed by some discreet dealings.

    Though Chang Nian had reservations about such practices, she had no other choice under these extraordinary circumstances. In the lingering warmth of prosperity, people had lost sight of morality. Wealth and personal connections were the quickest means to achieve one's goals. Since she lacked the power to change this reality, going with the flow to accomplish what she desired was better than futilely decrying the state of the world.

    An oppressive atmosphere inexplicably enveloped the capital. Hurried pedestrians filled the streets, and even the sun struggled to break through the clouds.

    In the Palace of the Coiling Dragon, Ye Jiangbai stood expressionless, softly reporting, "With the Third Prince's departure, His Highness the Crown Prince seems overly joyous. Ignoring the Emperor's ill health, he has arranged a grand feast of meat in the Eastern Palace, accompanied by the sounds of silk harps and gongs."

    The monarch remained silent, his eyes flickering with anger, though he gave no overt reaction.

    Ye Jiangbai did not expect these words to evoke any response. Following him, officials from the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Rites would successively report the Crown Prince's missteps.

    Standing by the imperial bed, Ye Jiangbai watched his father enter, bow in respect, and present the freshly prepared medicinal pills to the Emperor with both hands. His heart remained undisturbed.

    "Your Majesty," the elderly Lord Ye, clad in a Taoist robe, said solemnly, "Your Imperial Health is compromised. It would be wise to consult the imperial physicians."

    "The imperial physicians are of no use," the emperor grumbled. "I've consumed bitter medicine for three days, yet my condition has worsened. Your pill, my dear minister, proved more effective."

    With that, he took the tea offered by the grand eunuch and swallowed the pill whole.

    Afterward, he lifted his gaze and said, "My dear minister, I dreamed of Concubine Qin last night."

    Lord Ye's body jolted, and the hand holding his duster trembled slightly.

    "It must be because Your Majesty has been thinking of her," he said, gently patting his robe. His voice remained relatively calm.

    The emperor sighed and chuckled softly. "I thought she'd at least resent me in my dream. But she didn't. She didn't even spare me a glance, only stared into the distance as if waiting for someone."

    "My dear minister, who do you think Concubine Qin was waiting for?"

    "Can one truly trust the visions of a dream?" Lord Ye lowered his eyes. "Concubine Qin loved Your Majesty deeply all her life. How could she wait for another?"

    "Deeply loved me..." The emperor murmured, gradually furrowing his brows.

    Ye Jiangbai cared little to hear more and bowed his way out.

    As he stepped out of the Dragon Coiling Palace, he could still hear the emperor's sighs, like heavy evening drums intertwined with aged coughs.

    "Master," a palace servant approached, whispering the news, "The tale of the crown prince killing for a wife has already spread among the people. Several officials from the Ministry of Civil Affairs and the Ministry of Justice are on their way to the Dragon Coiling Palace."

    "Excellent," Ye Jiangbai said calmly. "Then we can find a seat, serve tea, and watch the show unfold."

    In the current capital city, only the crown prince and the seventh prince remained. The seventh prince was unknown and couldn't stir up much trouble, while the crown prince had accumulated many grievances and was digging his own grave.

    Ye Jiangbai felt fortunate, fortunate that he was here. Otherwise, the great Zhou dynasty would have faced chaos instead of a peaceful transition of power.

    Exiting the palace, Ye Jiangbai climbed into his carriage and heard Liang Ce's soft voice, "Master, the old residence sent word, asking you to return and wait for a meeting with Father."

    A hint of displeasure flashed across Ye Jiangbai's face. "If there's something, they can send a message themselves."

    "Lady said it must be you who returns in person," Liang Ce shrunk his neck.

    Muttering an oath, Ye Jiangbai crushed the delicate teacup in his hand.

    He had never cared for the Ye family, not a single person in the residence, and his only beloved birth mother had been driven to suicide by the Ye elders when he was twelve. The old Master Ye had shown him no familial affection at all.

    But putting aside family ties, there was still collaboration.

    After discarding the broken porcelain shards, Ye Jiangbai softly said, "Let's go."

    Old Master Ye had exited the palace later than he did. Impatiently waiting in the main hall for a long while, he finally saw the old man arrive tardily.

    "You come here," the old man spoke sternly.

    With an emotionless expression, Ye Jiangbai followed him to the study. Once the door closed, they were alone inside.

    "That medicine can only sustain for seven days," Old Master Ye stated. "Within these seven days, I want you to find a way to settle everyone in the Ye family."

    A mocking curve of his lips, he forcefully suppressed his emotions before calmly responding, "Lord Ye, rest assured. Everyone outside regards you as my kin, so it will be easy to arrange."

    Fixing him with a cold stare, Old Master Ye said, "I hope you keep your word. In the end, I wish to see His Majesty one last time."

    "Lord Ye is too polite; I always mean what I say," Ye Jiangbai lowered his gaze. "Is there anything else? If not, I'll take my leave now."

    "Off you go," the elderly Mr. Ye waved his hand dismissively.

    Ye Jiangbai turned and walked away swiftly, directly passing through the side gate and into his carriage.

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