In this palace, everyone had their own share of sadness and cruelty. Chu Qiao had seen too much and was long used to those bitter defeats under the veneer of prosperity.
Back in Ying Ge court, Yan Xun was drinking in the pavillion within the plum woods. These years, he had always passed with caution, and apart from very necessary situations, he rarely drank. Chu Qiao stood within the corridor and observed the man, who was dressed in pale green, and suddenly felt a rush of emotions surge within her heart. She was suddenly reminded of many years ago, during one of their afternoons, when this young man took a nap, only to be awoken shortly by a nightmare. Still groggy, he weakly inquired, "Chu Qiao, when can I safely let myself get drunk without worry?" At that time, they were too weak and dared not to even take a sip of alcohol without feeling anxious about falling drunk. Now, they had gained much, and although they had the courage to let go and douse themselves in alcohol, their shoulders only carried more burdens. That stress only made them all the more unlikely to lift up the wine cup.
As expected, Yan Xun only took a few sips before he stopped. The winter had passed, and the plum flowers started to fall as the wind blew. With the plum petals falling like rain, the pale green clothes fluttered in the wind with his ink-like hair. With his eyes closed and brow slightly furrowed, he let the falling petals hit his face freely, as the incoming wind fluttered his sleeves as if he was a bird trying to take flight.
Chu Qiao did not head over and only looked quietly from afar at that man who had been standing next to her for many years. Some emotions were impossible for others to understand and some hatred was impossible for others to withstand. Even between them, as partners that hid nothing from each other, she knew she would never be able to share his bone-searing hatred. What she could do, was just to look at him from afar, and if it rained, she could at least pass him the umbrella in her hand.
The most distinguished woman of this empire had passed away, but what she left behind was a huge rock that smashed into the seemingly tranquil lake surface.
Unexpectedly, within the Imperial Harem, the seemingly dominant Lady Shu did not manage to take over Muhe Nayun's position, as many directed their suspicion towards the Wei faction. Lady Shu also became a person of direct suspicion. Officials from the Secretary Office, the Court of Internal Affairs, and the Great Temple Dwellings regularly made their rounds within Shu Yun palace, the home of Lady Shu. After seven days of investigation, there was no conclusion but that had not washed away Lady Shu's suspicion. With the willful manipulation of those in power, Lady Shu's position in the Imperial Harem took a heavy blow, and similarly, the Wei faction was also being ostracized with a bleak future in sight.
But at the same time, within Lan Xuan palace, Concubine Xuan rose out of nowhere. She was arranged for night duty three days in a row, and on the fourth day, gained the title of a Noble Consort, placing her at the same rank as Lady Shu. In fact, right now, she and Lady Shu were the only ones holding that rank. Moreover, the phoenix stamp was bestowed upon her, granting her the responsibility to oversee the funeral of the empress. In practice, that firmly secured her position as number one within the Imperial Harem.
She was different from the Yuan Concubine who had no strong family background, and of course different from Muhe Nayun, whose family had fallen. This woman, whose nickname was Lanxuan, had a resplendent family name that carried the weight of hundreds of years of history. Her full name was Zhuge Lanxuan.
The winds had changed and the Zhuge family, as a result, rose in influence and power, instantly reaching the same level as the Wei faction. This birthday of the Emperor would undoubtedly be a turbulent event. The funeral of the empress was held merely three days before his birthday, and on the same day, he was to marry his beloved daughter to the Prince of Yan Bei. The tension reached its maximum, as the hidden sense of hostility grew even more obvious.
On May 17th, a group of fierce cavalry shattered the peace in the capital. The consul from the Batuha family had arrived. Ba Lei, the youngest brother of Old Batu, cried out loudly upon entering the castle. He leapt onto the empress' statue in Zi Wei Square and he wailed exaggeratedly. Following that, he was summoned to Sheng Jin palace. Due to his loyalty and love for the nation, the Emperor decided to see him personally.
That night, Zhuge Yue, and the Master of the Wei family, Wei Shuye, received letters from the North West. Zhuge Muqing stared at the letter for a long time, before placing it aside. He slowly shook his head. "Just say that the young master is sick and is not in a state to go out."
Zhuge Yue frowned. "Father, why?"
Zhuge Muqing quietly replied, "Our objective has been reached. It would not be a good sight if we received further interference. The power of the family is not yet steady, and Lanxuan needs more time in the palace to solidify her power."
"If we can complete this, the Emperor will only rely on us even more."
Zhuge Muqing slowly raised his head and countered, "Yue Er, do you still not understand? Whether the Emperor gives us his attention or not is not dependant on our contribution, but on your power. General Meng has contributed to the empire over the generations, but even now he is just another general. No land and no wealth. The noble families and royal families are split in terms of power and authority, and there is no way that could be reconciled. As your father, I have taught you this many times."
"Let us not mention this again. From today, we will shut our doors to all visitors. Let us sit and wait for the conclusion three days later."
Zhuge Yue's words were interrupted by his father. Actually, what he intended to say was, "What if that idiot Ba Lei was unable to succeed and Yan Xun managed to escape from the capital alive? What would become of the capital if Yan Xun managed to return to Yan Bei and regain his authority?" The entire empire would let loose a lion that may one day come back to hunt everyone down.
He also wanted to say that father was already old. What remained of his faltering vision was only the benefits of the family but not of the entire world. If the whole country was no more, what would become of the Zhuge family? If Yan Xun really managed to escape, what about her? Would she follow him and head for Yan Bei?
With that said, although Ba Lei was an idiot, there was still Wei Shuye. With the recent loss of political clout, they would definitely grasp this opportunity.
Zhuge Yue slowly raised his head and murmured to himself, "Do not let me down..."
The next day, Wei Shuye brought 18 warriors into the dwellings that belonged to Old Batu, while Zhuge Yue had not turned up at all. Despite meeting for the first time, Ba Lei and Wei Shuye were not awkward. Sitting down, the young General Ba Lei raised his lips and sneered. "Seems like the Zhuge family is intending to give up on this opportunity to contribute to the nation. This chance to prosper will be left to us two brothers alone."
Wei Shuye's expression was rigid as if he did not wish for much banter with Ba Lei. He directly brought up the topic, "General, you are so confident, unlike my foolish self. Do you already have a complete plan?"
Proudly smiling, Ba Lei replied, "Of course!"
On May 18th, late into the night, the young lady stood in front of the map. She repeatedly went through the plan for the day after tomorrow, then finally mentioned, "Everything is going as planned, except this part where you head towards the Ancestral Temple in the south of the city. I am not confident that this is safe."
Raising an eyebrow but without speaking, Yan Xun indicated for her to continue speaking.
"According to the ceremony, you need to head to the ancestral temple to prostrate to the ancestors before following the ceremonial officials to head back to the palace and marrying the princess. In this part, you are no doubt being protected by soldiers, but they are not reliable. If anyone attempts to block you along this road, it will certainly be disastrous."
Yan Xun looked at the map and he said in a deep voice, "This area has an open terrain and is near the Southwest Emissary's Garrison. With many factions coming into the picture, once there is an incident, huge armies will appear, escalating the incident. Moreover, as we had ties with that said emissary before, he may not dare to try anything funny."
Shaking her head, Chu Qiao disagreed, "We have to account for all possibilities and assume the worst. We both should know that the Southwest Emissary's Garrison did not pledged their allegiance neither to you or Yan Bei. We need to have a plan just in case."
Yan Xun nodded and picked up the map. He started planning the potential circumstances and countermeasures. Similarly, Chu Qiao joined in, leaned against the table and continued to plan. After about 15 minutes they exchanged their papers. With just a quick glance, both smiled in relief. If the Xia Emperor dared to play his cards, then all of Zhen Huang City would be forsaken!
The two days passed without any major incidents. On May 20th, all of entire Zhen Huang City blossomed into joy, as red silk carpet was laid down from the Zi Jin gate all the way across Jiu Wai Street to the East Castle gates. The Xia Emperor showed a rare glimpse of his face, as all the officials, merchants, and civilians of the city crowded around, all shouting words of respect, and prostrating themselves to show deference and reverence. It was the image of a glorious and prosperous era.
For this special occasion, many of the criminals, besides those who had commited murder, were pardoned. In Zi Wei Square, the pardoned criminals prostrated themselves, filling up the entire area. Upon the arrival of the carriage of the Emperor, they jovially expressed their thanks and reverence.
All officials, both civil and military, along with emissaries from various lands, all prostrated themselves in front of Zi Jin gate and later followed the line of carriages in the parade. The parade lasted until afternoon, and a huge banquet was held in Sheng Jin palace. Until late at night, colorful lanterns shone bright, and flamboyant colors into the sky. While countless dancers had their turn in the square, with loud music being played to be heard in the distance. The civilians' cheers were so loud, it could be heard from miles away. But just as the waves of cheers resounded in the square, a group of people, neatly dressed, headed towards the Ancestral Temple slowly.
Different from the cheers in the inner city, the area around the Ancestral Temple was anything but bustling. The sounds of ovation that transmitted from afar made this place seem all the more desolate. The moon shone dimly, as the crimson red lanterns lit the way. Yan Xun, dressed in crimson red as well, sat in the carriage with his eyes closed, waiting for the opportunity to strike. After the carriage moved for a while, it suddenly stopped. Yan Xun opened his eyes, frowning. The last bit of hesitation had already vanished from within his heart.
The carriage was dead quiet. Similarly, the outside was filled with a deafening silence. It was as if everyone had forgotten about the origins of this carriage and its destination. Of course, no one would know how the man inside the carriage had already left.
Behind a huge mansion, warriors, with their war horses' hoofs wrapped in cloth, welcomed the incoming man. Ah Jing got off his horse to lead Yan Xun to his horse and whispered, "Your Highness, everything is ready."
Yan Xun nodded and with a quick flip, jumped onto the horse. Immediately, he dashed towards Southwest Emissary's Garrison on the other end of the street. Stationed there were over ten thousand Yan Bei soldiers, transferred to the capital by the Emperor to guard the capital. Although those soldiers were not part of his allegiance, considering that they were part of Yan Bei, Yan Xun decided to drag them into this mess. Now, he would be heading over to seek help.
Suddenly, blades gleamed in the soft moonlight! Shouting arose, and the Ancestral Temple guards, with swords in their hands, appeared. With such agile movements, they were definitely not the real guards but were obviously veterans of the battlefield.
"Yan Xun has committed treason! Kill him!" The assailants, brandishing their weapons, charged forth. The defense line that the ceremonial guards formed was easily washed away by the offensive. Only then, the leader reacted and shouted, "Assassins!"