Please update your browser: Your browser is obsolete, you need to update or switch! Missing var() support! Missing grid support! Missing (flex-) gap support! Missing aspect-ratio support! Missing container query support! Missing clamp() support! Missing -webkit-line-clamp support!
    Header Background Image

    Asianovel

    The world's first crowdsourcing-driven asian bl novel translation community

    Chapter 57: Sowing Discord

    Rong Bi was indeed confined to her quarters for three months without any real punishment. Unbothered, she pondered how to write a letter to Third Brother. However, the Crown Prince was under strict surveillance and confinement; any items entering or leaving the Precious Scroll Palace were thoroughly searched. The same scrutiny applied to Shen Anlin when he came and went. Each book borrowed by the Crown Prince was meticulously examined page by page before it was allowed inside, and any food prepared for him could only leave the palace if it was offered to the emperor.

    Even attending the wedding banquet of the Second Prince, the Crown Prince was escorted by two imperial eunuchs appointed by the emperor, making private communication impossible. To risk such danger just to send a letter to Third Brother was too risky.

    It was remarkable that the Crown Prince could remain calm and focused on reading despite being confined for almost a year. Surely, his ability to occasionally switch souls with someone outside the palace prevented him from going mad?

    Perhaps she had to wait until the Lotus Pavilion was restored? Rong Bi felt frustrated. If only she had sent a letter to Third Brother while they were in Jingbei. But now that he was in the capital, studying diligently for the exams, and the Crown Prince had entrusted his care to Shen Anlin, it would be best to avoid contact. Otherwise, attracting the attention of the emperor and empress might bring disaster upon them.

    ===

    Unaware of his sister's quandary within the Crown Prince's body, Rong Mo devoted himself to tutoring and revising his own studies. The children were obedient, the master's family generous—life was truly quite comfortable. He even entertained the thought that, should he fail the imperial examination, there would be no rush to return to his hometown. Instead, he could linger in the capital, discreetly gather information, and cultivate connections with those who held influence within the palace, exploring any possibilities of transferring his sister back from Jingbei.

    On this day, a fellow townsman reached out to him: "Aren't you looking for someone in the palace who knows your sister? I've found an imperial eunuch named Feng from our hometown. Coincidentally, I'm treating him to dinner tonight for a favor. Why don't you join us and keep the guests company?"

    Rong Mo naturally attended the banquet, and Eunuch Feng indeed turned out to be from the same hometown. Upon seeing him, he sighed, "Your sister is truly exceptionally beautiful. When the Empress was selecting ladies-in-waiting for the Crown Prince, she picked Rong Bi on the spot. Back then, all of us who served her only congratulated her, saying that her ancestors must have been praying for her, as she got to be near the Crown Prince. However, it's no secret that the Crown Prince has always had some friction with Empress Luo... You understand what I mean."

    He whispered, "After all, she's not his birth mother, so there's always suspicion that she might harm him... No wonder it's said that being a stepmother is a difficult role. Not a single comptroller lady-in-waiting sent to the Crown Prince's side has been able to keep her position. They're found fault with every other day, either being punished to wash clothes or banished from the palace. Ah! I heard Lady Rong was slapped on the face just two days after she went there..."

    Upon hearing this, Rong Mo's heart skipped a beat, and a somber expression fell upon his face. "Then did the Crown Prince punish her?"

    Eunuch Feng shook his head and said, "Who dares to question what happens in front of the master? Even when she was sent to serve at a banquet, she returned with her face swollen and red, clearly having been slapped. Then someone came to deliver a message, saying that the prince had given her to Princess Yi Yang's residence. Who would dare to stop it? Everyone knows that Princess Yi Yang is the prince's own sister. Sent to the princess' palace, who knows how much more she must have suffered there!"

    Rong Mo's face was as dark as a pot, and Eunuch Feng continued, "Moreover, that Princess Yi Yang has quite the scandalous reputation... She secretly keeps many... Beautiful guards come and go from her palace every day... It's rumored that she even has a questionable relationship with the famous Zheng Tanhua, the third-ranked scholar. Ah, it's likely that even the Emperor couldn't bear to see this go on any longer. He issued an imperial edict to marry the princess off to Jingbei. Poor Rong Lady, with her appearance... Tsk, the princess picked a few ladies-in-waiting, and I heard she let those who originally served her return to the Palace Ladies Bureau. Yet, she specifically chose Rong Lady... They say that the Jingbei Prince is brutal and bloodthirsty, enjoying throwing people to the wild beasts. For the princess to win over such a person won't be easy. Naturally, she would want to prepare some attractive ladies-in-waiting as part of her dowry. The edict was issued urgently, leaving no time for farewells. Pitiful!"

    Eunuch Feng's account sparked Rong Mo's imagination, and her expression turned stony. She asked, "Even if she's married far away, my sister still managed to send letters home, saying she was doing well. Is there any way to get her transferred back to the capital? After all, she's almost of age to leave the palace."

    Eunuch Feng sighed and shook his head. "Difficult! Unless..."

    Rong Mo inquired, "Unless what?"

    Eunuch Feng explained, "Your sister's registration as a palace resident is still within the imperial grounds. Unless you can find a trustworthy person to seek favor with Empress Lu and have her select a few lady officials to bring your sister back, there might be a chance. But if Princess Yi Yang and Prince Jingbei don't consent, then there truly is no solution."

    Rong Mo inquired further, "Does Eunuch Feng have any connections? Our Rong family is willing to provide silver to smooth things over, so as not to burden you."

    Eunuch Feng shook his head. "That's the Empress we're talking about. I'm just a negligible figure in the palace. The only reason I know your sister is because of my previous service in the imperial kitchen. I don't have the influence to associate with the attendants and lady officials close to the Empress."

    Rong Mo pleaded earnestly, "I beg of you, Eunuch Feng, please guide us on the right path."

    Eunuch Feng hesitated, "I'll inquire more when I return and see what I can do."

    Rong Mo felt a whirlwind of emotions, but Eunuch Feng continued, "Speaking of which, I know an eunuch serving in the Ministry of Rites who mentioned that the princess is currently pregnant and trapped within the city. Yet, Prince Jingbei has disregarded her and led his troops to attack the Bei Xi royal court. People are saying that Prince Jingbei loves his kingdom more than his beauty, preferring to abandon the princess carrying his future heir for the glory of conquering the enemy."

    "Eh, who knows if your sister might also be in that city..."

    Rong Mo panicked, "Is this news true?"

    Eunuch Feng replied, "Why wouldn't it be? The military reports are sent with utmost urgency, eight hundred li a day. It's all over the palace, and even the Emperor is worried about the princess. Rumor has it that upon receiving the urgent military dispatch, he ordered the Third Prince and Duke Ding to lead the rescue mission! But with all this back and forth, time is being wasted! If she's truly trapped inside, once the city falls, the Bei Xi barbarians are known for their cruelty..." Eunuch Feng sighed deeply, expressing deep regret.

    Rong Mo gritted his teeth, feeling anxious yet reminding himself that with his older brother accompanying his sister, perhaps she would be safe. However...it was a battlefield! Who could look after whom? Moreover, his sister had always been strikingly beautiful, and as she grew up, she undoubtedly became even more so. She was chosen by the Empress to serve as the Crown Prince's comptroller and then suspected of intrigue, sent to accompany the princess to that harsh, cold land. He wondered how much suffering she had endured.

    He grew increasingly frustrated with his own helplessness.

    Seeing resentment in Rong Mo's eyes, Eunuch Feng knew he had struck the right chord and had accomplished his task. He casually said some comforting words, "These are just rumors. Your sister is a lady official, and it's not certain that she would accompany the princess on such a campaign. She's a fortunate one, she'll surely be fine."

    This only increased Rong Mo's anxiety. Since his sister was a lady official accompanying the princess, wouldn't she naturally be by the princess's side? If he had known this, he wouldn't have come to the capital; he should have gone with his elder brother to Jingbei. Who would have thought there would be a war?

    Lost in thought, he somehow finished his meal. Rong Mo paid the bill hastily and returned to Qiu's residence in Jinhuan Lane, his heart heavy with worry. Unable to sleep, he tossed and turned throughout the night. The next day, he decided to seek out his employer, Lord Qiu.

    Lord Qiu Yuanshu, an official in charge of the Ministry of Finance, was a seasoned and prudent administrator. His wife was distantly related to the Marquis Cheng'en's family, resulting in some interaction between the two households. Taking the Marquis Cheng'en's request into account, he had hired Rong Mo to tutor his son. These past few days, Lord Qiu had observed that although Rong Mo's talent wasn't extraordinary, his diligence and mastery of classics were exceptional, and he had a grounded personality, unlike those impractical scholars. Rong Mo proved to be an excellent tutor for his young son, and Lord Qiu held him in high regard. Upon hearing Rong Mo's request for a meeting, he promptly welcomed him in.

    Rong Mo was also straightforward and immediately inquired about the military situation in Jingbei. Qiu Yuanshu was slightly surprised and replied, "I've heard that Prince Jingbei has been victorious all the way, pushing straight towards the royal court. It seems he might really be able to reclaim the thirteen provinces lost by the previous dynasty, which would be a great achievement."

    However, Rong Mo asked, "I've heard that in his haste to conquer the royal court, Prince Jingbei left his pregnant wife behind in a city they had just captured, while he led the army forward. Now, it's said that the Princess is under attack by Bei Xi forces. Is this true?"

    This was not top-secret military intelligence; many ministers who were concerned with military affairs knew of it. But Qiu Yuanshu was surprised that even a candidate like Rong Mo was aware. He asked, "How did you come to know this? This is a matter of great military significance." Could someone have deliberately spread the news?

    Reading Qiu Yuanshu's expression, Rong Mo's heart sank. "So it's true, then? I mustn't hide anything from you, Sir. I have a younger sister who entered the palace at a young age and later became a lady-in-waiting to a princess. Now that the princess is trapped in the city, I wonder if my sister is also in danger. I'm truly worried and trying to find out more. As you're in charge of the Ministry of Household Affairs, I'm sure you know some inside information."

    Qiu Yuanshu's face changed slightly. Rong Mo stood up and bowed deeply. "Sir Qiu, I understand that you've been entrusted to look after me. Otherwise, as an ordinary scholar without any recommendations, how could I have caught your attention and gained your trust? The person who asked for your help must be a highly respected noble. Now, with my concern for my sister, I'm desperate. It would be better if that noble who entrusted you to assist me steps forward to see what I have that others might seek. If it can ensure my sister's safety, I'd be willing to go through fire and water."

    Qiu Yuanshu didn't expect Rong Mo to be so direct. His expression shifted, and after a moment of contemplation, he said, "I cannot make decisions on my own, but the princess must have a guard detail. She shouldn't easily fall into a perilous situation. For now, please remain calm. I'll inquire about the situation and get back to you."

    Rong Mo knew that Qiu Yuanshu needed to report back to the noble behind the scenes. He bowed deeply and withdrew.

    Qiu Yuanshu was efficient, and as expected, that very night, a carriage transported Rong Mo to a magnificent and grand residence. With red gates adorned with beast rings and deep courtyards, he was led by a butler through several doors into a study. A page boy lifted the curtain and announced, "Marquis, Third Master Rong is here."

    A marquis? Which marquis?

    Rong Mo wondered as he walked in and saw an elderly man with a clear, sharp gaze. Though his clothing wasn't particularly extravagant – just an ordinary, slightly worn blue linen robe – he exuded dignity. The old man looked at Rong Mo and said, "Rong Mo? I am Shen Pingye. By virtue of my ancestors' legacy, I inherited the title of Marquis Cheng'en."

    Marquis Cheng'en! Rong Mo quickly deduced that this was none other than the Empress Shen's brother, the current state uncle... The current crown prince and Princess Yi Yang were both siblings, born to this state uncle's sister, Empress Shen.

    As he guessed, he bowed respectfully, "This humble one has come to pay his respects to Lord Marquis."

    Marquis Cheng'en looked at him kindly and spoke, "A while ago, I received instructions from both the princess and the crown prince to look after your sister, Palace Attendant Rong Bi's brother. Due to my son's inappropriate words, I couldn't invite you to our residence, so I instead entrusted the matter to Mister Qiu, the chief of the Ministry of Revenue, to take care of you."

    Rong Mo felt a pang in his heart but still expressed his gratitude, "I am ashamed. When I first arrived in the capital, I didn't know the situation. When Young Master Shen inquired, I thought he was an important figure and dared not disturb him. Now, knowing that my sister is in great peril, I am anxious. Considering Mister Qiu is a high-ranking official and Young Master Shen carries himself with dignity, he must have influential patrons behind him who might be able to rescue my sister from her plight. That's why I dared to seek an audience, and for any offense caused, I humbly beg for Lord Marquis's forgiveness for my rudeness."

    Marquis Cheng'en appreciated Rong Mo's straightforwardness and thought to himself, No wonder the crown prince ordered someone to look after him. With such a brother, it's no wonder Palace Attendant Rong is a capable person. It's intriguing that even while confined and under surveillance, the crown prince would entrust the Shen family with the task of looking out for this man, attempting to gain his allegiance.

    He spoke slowly, "There's no need to be too formal. Your sister serves as a close attendant to the princess and is highly valued. That's why the crown prince extends his favor to you, as well."

    However, Rong Mo was anxious, "But do the rumors about Princess Yi Yang being trapped in a besieged city, with a dire situation, hold any truth?"

    Marquis Cheng'en did not hide the truth, "Yes, they're true, and the situation is even more critical than the rumors suggest."

    Rong Mo took a step forward, urgency in his voice, "Didn't the Emperor order Third Prince and Duke Ding to lead troops to relieve the siege?"

    Marquis Cheng'en gave him a look, "A general may not always follow the emperor's orders when on the battlefield. Duke Ding's eldest son, Song Heng, was Princess Yi Yang's former husband. After his untimely death, the princess remarried to the Prince of Jingbei. Although their marriage was brief, they had a deep bond, and the princess treated Duke Ding with great respect. Their relationship was quite good. As Third Prince is also the princess's younger brother, with Duke Ding leading a large army at the border, he could have easily sought Third Prince's consent and immediately sent reinforcements. However, Duke Ding and Third Prince chose to send an urgent military report asking for the emperor's permission to rescue the princess. The delay in receiving and issuing the imperial edict might have missed the opportunity. Do you know why?"

    Rong Mo's heart jolted with shock: "The court doesn't want to save the princess!"

    Marquis Cheng'en spoke with profound implications: "Indeed, the princess is also the Jingbei Wangfei. Why would Jingbei Wang bring his pregnant wife on a military campaign against Bei Xi, and then leave her in a vulnerable city to draw the enemy's attention, hoping they would split their forces? And why did the court send the inexperienced Third Prince and the mature Duke Ding to supervise the troops without actually rescuing her? Once you understand these two points, you'll realize that the imperial army will definitely not arrive before the city falls."

    Rong Mo gritted his teeth: "The court wants to take advantage of this situation to subdue Jingbei? I've heard that the Second Prince just married the princess of Bei Xi as his royal concubine! Surely they wouldn't invite a wolf into their own house and form an alliance with outsiders to kill their own people, right? That would be utterly disgraceful!"

    Marquis Cheng'en replied: "Jingbei Wang's rebellious intentions are well-known to all. By abandoning Princess Yi Yang halfway through, he might have lured the court into a trap."

    Rong Mo said: "But she is still one of our own, a subject of our dynasty. The court can educate, soothe, or even punish her, but how can they ally with foreign tribes and use them against their own people?" His eyes blazed with indignation, veins pulsing visibly on his forehead, revealing his extreme righteous anger.

    Marquis Cheng'en gazed at him intently. "It's rare to see you so perceptive, Rong Mo."

    Rong Mo, his heart pounding, stood up anxiously. "There are villains in the court who are misleading the Emperor! Why doesn't Marquis rectify this chaos and advise His Majesty? If there is any way I can be of use, I will not decline. I am willing to strike the court drum and request an audience with the Emperor. Even if it means committing the crime of deceiving the sovereign, I must voice my concerns!"

    Marquis Cheng'en looked at Rong Mo. "The princess was abandoned during the siege. This is a military matter. Who informed you, Rong Mo?"

    Rong Mo was taken aback. "Was it not Marquis who wished to utilize me and had someone convey this indirectly?" He suddenly realized that Eunuch Feng's every word had been leading him to resent the crown prince and the princess. If Marquis Cheng'en was inherently loyal to the princess and the crown prince, why would he give such information?

    Marquis Cheng'en said coolly, "The crown prince only instructed the Shen family to take good care of Rong Mo's brother, considering the loyalty Rong's family has shown to the princess. There was not a single word suggesting that you be put in harm's way."

    "If someone truly persuades you to strike the Drum of Appeal, thereby ruining your prospects, that person is indeed a despicable character."

    0 Comments

    Enter your details or log in with:
    Heads up! Your comment will be invisible to other guests and subscribers (except for replies), including you after a grace period. But if you submit an email address and toggle the bell icon, you will be sent replies until you cancel.