Due to my request to keep the assassination attempt on the down-low, news about this matter didn’t reach the outside world, fortunately preventing me from drowning in the condolences of bootlicking officials.
I start to make arrangements for the little emperor’s escapade- sorry, “undercover private investigation”. I know that there’s bound to be people from every faction at his side, like that one wet nurse the other day; she had to be from the Weiqi faction. The Qingliu faction saw such a thing as beneath them, so their straightforward song-and-dance of throwing their hat into the ring was to have one of their own be his teacher. Zhang Qinglian is also sure to have someone in there, I just don’t know who it is, and the only one I can ask is the only one who knows about my “amnesia”, Yao Jinzi.
I wasn’t expecting him to know, but against all odds, he actually had an answer for me; “You and Imperial Court Eunuch Wang Fugui and have a good relationship.”
I feel like Yao Jinzi’s been very peculiar these days. It’s not unreasonable to say that I’m the enemy that disgraced him and killed his father; even if we have a three-year treaty, it doesn’t seem like he should be so cooperative like this.
Even though I have a tendency to be narcissistic, I’m not far-gone enough to think that he likes me. There has to be something going on that I don’t know about.
This kid isn’t very old, but he’s actually not easy to read.
I went to the palace following court. I ran into a young eunuch near Yangxin Temple’s rear palace and absent-mindedly asked him where Eunuch Wang was.
“He’s been in the Office of Eunuch Affairs with the tea eunuchs for a while," the eunuch told me with a shrill voice, staring at me with eyes full of curiosity and wonder.
I’ve encountered a lot of these sorts of gazes as of recent, and I don’t like them very much. I don’t know if Zhang Qinglian was psychologically affected by this as a child. As it goes, for a man to look too beautiful is definitely not a good thing, especially not this feminine and delicate kind of pretty. No matter how learned or good at martial arts you are, the first thing people think of when they see you is that you’re all looks, nothing more.
I asked him to take me there. I hadn’t yet reached the Office when I heard the sound of swearing, crying, and calls for mercy. A loud and sharp voice was harshly reprimanding, “…We aren’t purposefully finding fault with you, Xiao Zhengzi, but to serve His Majesty you need to have a good head on your shoulders, and you need to remember that or you'll lose it! …You lot still haven’t dragged him out, give him twenty strikes with the rod, and not one less!”
A child’s voice was wailing and begging for forgiveness. The noise is beyond awful.
I frown. Walking in, the scene really is the pinnacle of chaos; there’s about forty middle-aged men in the attire of fourth-rank palace eunuchs, their skin clear and faces hairless, looking a lot like those groups of powerful, disaster-bringing eunuchs seen in novels and on TV. A small eunuch is kneeling in front, his crying face a muddled mess of tears and dripping snot, porcelain fragments and spilled tea on the ground in front of him. A few not-old, not-young eunuchs were standing to the side, the expressions on their faces showing that they wanted to soothe him but dared not to.
With one look, I can understand most of what’s gone on, so I smiled and said, “Eunuch Wang, what’s going on here?”
Upon seeing me, Wang Fugui had already jumped up, pleasantly surprised as he scuttled over to me. “Sir Zhang, how did you make the time to come here?” He acted as if he’d just seen his father.
I chuckle. "I made time to come see you."
The young eunuch on the ground is still sobbing. Ah, how pitiful. A child of a poor household cannot live within the palace walls without being made neither male nor female, and I don’t know how much bullying or how many beatings he’s endured. It’s little wonder that those big traitorous eunuchs in history, once they’ve secured a position of power, all become so perverted.
My heart full of sorrow, I decide to help plea for his leniency. “Poor thing. Let him off this time, Eunuch Wang.”
Wang Fugui wrung his hands and laughed, “Very well. What request of Sir Zhang’s wouldn’t be granted?" Upon saying this, he kicked the little eunuch kneeling on the ground and shouted, “Inconsiderate little brat, not being quick to thank Sir Zhang for speaking on your behalf!”
The little eunuch sobbed and sniffled as he kowtowed to me. I smiled. “Alright, get up. Be more careful next time.”
He promised to do so.
A great numbers of things in this world are fantastical. For example, what I said just now was on a whim and a bit of a lack of restraint, to speak for the sake of an irrelevant person based on nothing but emotion. There isn’t much compassion and humanitarianism in my heart, so where in it would be the thought that this insignificant little eunuch would one day save my life?
I naturally can’t know of this now, so I didn’t pay any more attention to the little eunuch, turning to Wang Fugui to concentrate on the business I planned today. “Eunuch Wang, I’m going to the inner study. Please accompany me.”
Wang Fugui understood at once, saying quickly, “Yes yes, as you wish, Sir Zhang.”
The imperial palace is a place of treachery and conspiracy; every single wall has ears. For that reason, a wide open road is a good spot to talk.
I ask Wang Fugui what had happened in the palace in the past few days. He thinks about it, then says, “Nothing major. Wet nurse Liu had overstepped her bounds; she had recently been managing His Majesty strictly, so the day before yesterday he got heated and expelled her from Yangxin Temple and won’t allow her back in. Haha, the Emperor is young, but his imperial power isn’t lacking.”
Nurse Liu needs some ice for that burn,  he's apparently too cool.
She’s the nanny who interrupted my emotional bonding session with the little emperor that one time, and the suspected ear of Weiqi in the palace.
"Sir Gu went to the palace every day to teach His Majesty, who is now very fed up with him. However, Sir Gu has been busy with official matters these days, so he allowed the Imperial Hanlin Academy’s Sir Zhou to teach in his stead. His Majesty seems to greatly prefer Sir Zhou.”
This is all extremely useful information. Influencing the rightful emperor is always a big deal; even if said emperor is currently small, it cannot be overlooked.
I took a box from my sleeve and stuffed it into Wang Fugui’s hands. Inside is a thousand liang worth of banknotes and a tiny Maitreya made of pure gold that I had grabbed in passing from the storehouse. “Eunuch Wang, the weather’s getting cold. You should buy yourself two pots of wine to drink for all your hard work on duty.
The desire eunuchs have, after having a certain something nixed, transfers to coveting wealth and material things. Wang Fugui received it with an open smile, slipping it into his bosom, and said on repeat, “I’ve troubled you, Sir.”
We arrived at the inner study in an instant. The young eunuch on duty at the doorway respectfully called Wang Fugui “Master”. Mm, it seems that they’re on the same team, so this’ll be easy to deal with.
I say, “Eunuch Wang, from now on I will come to the palace from time to time to teach His Majesty. If I am, you need to select a trustworthy person to be on watch.”
Wang Fugui spoke at once, “Just leave this matter to our Office, Sir.”
I thank him with a smile that reaches my eyes, then go in.
The little emperor is already waiting for me, sitting upright. Seeing me come in, the pupils of his black eyes are painted with a trace of excitement.
I kowtow in respect in a show of good manners. The little emperor suppressed his impatience and spoke in his childish voice, “You may rise, Beloved Subject Zhang.” When I stood up, he immediately jumped up and said, “Beloved Subject, what you mentioned last time, um… going in disguise to observe how people live?”
I kept down my smile. “Your Majesty has spoken well. This servant has a plan.” I take out a very small court eunuch uniform that I’d had custom-made. “Your Majesty, your subject humbly asks that you change.”
The emperor quickly takes it, itching to change into them, but he is too young and has never had to dress himself, so he can’t find the sleeves amidst all his eagerness.
I kneel in front of him to help him put it on, but I’m unfortunately also new to this, having little understanding of the structure of men’s clothes in this era, especially for eunuchs, and I don't normally have to dress myself either. The two of us are a mess of arms and limbs in our rush. A short time later, his inner robe’s belt was tied on the outside, his outer robe ended up inside-out at some point, and after I had helped him put on his boots, we were both sweating heavily and laughing softly on the ground.
I applied a little makeup to the emperor’s face, hid his original clothes, and went out of the room with a newly-born teeny palace eunuch. I spoke seriously to the attending eunuch at the door, “His Majesty is beginning to study the Book of Changes today. He must meditate for half a day. No one is allowed to enter or disrupt him, no matter who or what!”
The eunuch took the order, from beginning to end not sparing a single look for the extra little eunuch I had emerged with. Mm, sure enough… there’s a future prospect here.
I successfully get the little emperor out of the palace and into my carriage. Honestly speaking, I’m sweating like a pig.
Jinzi was waiting in the car for us. I spoke up, “Emperor, in order to not expose us, this servant must be rude. Starting now, standard etiquette cannot be used. I will not be calling you Emperor, and you will not be calling me Beloved Subject Zhang.”
The little emperor says, “What should we- no, I call Beloved Subject… you?”
I thought about it. “Your Majesty may call me Seventh Uncle, and him… Second Brother. We will call you, um… Xiao Bi.”
The little emperor mouthed the words to himself, keeping them in his mind.
I yet again pulled out a set of clothes, these ones typical of what the young son of a noble family would wear, for the emperor to change into. Jinzi can’t bear to watch my awful skill at work, so this time it was him playing the role of the wet nurse/palace maid and helped him get dressed.
Each day in the palace, every word and action of the little emperor sets the example for the whole realm, which is surely stuffy and suffocating for one at his age of be fun and activity. Now is a chance for this wild horse to run free. Though the adventure hasn’t truly begun, this game of disguises is already extremely exciting.
Jinzi eventually helped the emperor put on his clothes. The emperor didn’t pay him any attention at first, merely regarding him as an insignificant follower of mine. Upon a careless glance towards him, however, his eyes suddenly shot wide open, shouting;
…I guess the little emperor doesn’t have an actual name???
 Office of Eunuch Affairs – lit. "Respectful Affairs Office". And yeah, tea eunuchs were a thing. Tea was a big deal in ancient China; they were basically in charge of ordering tea, making it, and serving it in the Palace.
 The original literally said "Wet nurse Liu ate turtle", because in TCM, soft-shelled turtle shell is used to treat heat-based illnesses. Make people you don't like eat turtle. Chuck an entire turtle at their face