CH 10: Waves

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The hall was restored to silence.
Han Ruzi looked at the backs of many people; even their backs revealed a wealth of emotions.
The Empress Dowager’s older brother was trembling — he probably thought that this was a plot against the Shang-guan clan; Prince Donghai’s uncle, Cui Hong, had the most precise kowtow of all those present, but he tried his best to hide behind Chancellor Yin Wuhai; as for the old Chancellor, his back was trembling as well, but this did not reveal fear but feebleness, thus displaying that everything that was happening was beyond his control; Chief Censor of the Right, Shen Mingzhi’s back was raised slightly, as though he might jump up at any moment.

All this could just be Han Ruzi’s imagination, so he stopped his pondering and walked to Sealbearer Liu Jie.

The eunuch placed his other leg on the ground and knelt on both knees.
He rested his gaze downwards and handed the one-of-a-kind Imperial Seal to the Emperor.

Han Ruzi received the silken case.
It felt heavy in his hands — it must have been difficult for Liu Jie to have raised it for so long.  The square-shaped Imperial Seal was encased within, it was a singular piece of white jade, a little worn.
He only stole a glance at it before throwing a look at Yang Feng, unsure of what to do next.

But Yang Feng kept his gaze downwards, unwilling to prompt the Emperor in any way.

The others were so as well.
Only Prince Donghai, who was kneeling at the door, shot looks of hatred and jealousy.

The Emperor had many seals, but this Imperial Seal of historic legacy was the most valuable.
Only when using it could the Emperor issue an official edict.
Take the newly appointed Grand Marshal of the Southern Army, Shang-guan Xu, for example — even though he had already received his seal of office, he could only be called “Acting Grand Marshal”.
Only after an official Imperial Edict could he be truly invested into office.

Han Ruzi’s heart was pounding.
Holding the Imperial Seal meant that he could exercise imperial authority beyond ten steps and within a thousand li.
With just one easy sentence he could get his mother into the palace.

But he had not even properly managed his ten-step radius.
Looking around him, the hall was filled with people whom he could not trust.

“We[1] are young and juvenile… ignorant in matters of state, relying wholly… relying wholly on the Empress Dowager’s guidance.
Please h..
hand the Imperial Seal to the Empress Dowager.” Han Ruzi stuttered.
He was too nervous, even more nervous when he guessed that he would be killed sooner or later.

“As Your Majesty commands,” said Jing Yao, who rose, went before the Emperor, and took the silken case from him.
He heaved a great sigh of relief.
He was just about to turn to go see the Empress Dowager, when Chancellor Wuhai raised his head and said, “Your Majesty’s filial heart is on display before all under heaven.
Perhaps Your Majesty may issue an edict awarding all mothers in the Empire, so as to lead by example.”

Jing Yao wanted to fiercely slap himself in the mouth — he had nearly made the very same mistake.
If he wanted the Empress Dowager to legitimately have use of the Imperial Seal, the Emperor must authorize its use himself.
Hence, he stopped in his tracks and decided to keep silent — the more experienced senior officials should handle this, while he need only think about how to deal with Liu Jie when the matter was settled.

“Yes,” Han Ruzi said concisely.
He felt like his insides were empty.
Even though he knew that the Imperial Seal was not truly his to begin with, he still felt a sense of loss; or rather, one might say he felt a desire to have the seal for himself.
He even felt like he had let down Liu Jie, but upon taking a look at Yang Feng, he believed that his decision to hand over the Imperial Seal was correct: the old eunuch had subtly blinked at him.

The Chancellor arose with great difficulty.
He drafted the edict personally.
This required some time, and with everyone else in the hall still kneeling, Jing Yao regretted that he had acted too quickly.
He held the case with the seal in his hand, awkwardly standing around, yet it would also be awkward to suddenly get on his knees now

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The veil separating the hall from the listening-room was lifted.
A middle-aged servant-girl walked out and said, “The Empress Dowager has issued an edict: The Imperial Seal is an important artifact of state, its manner of holding determined by rules laid down by the ancestors which ought not be changed.
The seal shall remain under the care and custody of the Sealbearer, Liu Jie.”

Everyone within the hall raised their heads and looked at the servant-girl is shock.
The Chancellor, still in the midst of writing, put down his pen-brush, trying to discern the Empress Dowager’s intentions.

Jing Yao was especially shocked, but he was glad to be able to hand over this hot potato.
After only a fleeting moment of hesitation, he walked towards Liu Jie and handed the seal back to him.

This seemed like an incomprehensible game that Han Ruzi could only have a slight inkling of.

The Emperor did not stay long in the Hall of Diligent Administration.
Chancellor Yin Wuhai personally drafted an edict, which received the unanimous approval of the senior officials, and which was sent to the listening-room for the Empress Dowager’s approval.
The Empress Dowager removed some overt flattery from the draft, before sending the edict out for the Emperor’s approval, after which the Imperial Seal was stamped on the edict, giving it official effect.

And just like that, through an edict that praised the virtues of mothers, the right to use the Chu Imperial Seal was delegated to the Empress Dowager.
Han Ruzi was sent out of the hall for the second time.

The eunuch Liu Jie who had protected the seal with his life retreated to a corner with nothing else to say.
Chief Censor of the Right, Shen Mingzhi, who was famed for his straightforwardness, displayed a contemplative expression — he was probably thinking about matters of state.
Cui Hong was still evasive, while the newcomer Shang-guan Xu respectfully looked on the Emperor, trying to hide his immense sense of relief.

Han Ruzi did not gain anything, but he still felt great excitement.
The Emperor was still someone to pay attention to.
His hands may not reach beyond his ten-steps, but outside those ten steps there were those who would reach for him.
For all he knew, as he walked back to the inner Imperial Palace, there were countless of hands reaching for him in the dark, just that he could not see them yet.

Once he returned to his quarters, Yang Feng poured a bucket of cold water over the Emperor’s excitement.
At the door of Han Ruzi’s bedchambers, Yang Feng ignored all propriety and grabbed the Emperor’s arms, pushing him in.
At the same time, he waved his hands ordering everyone else not to enter.
There were two servant-girls tidying up the room who were also chased out by Yang Feng.

“Matters are urgent,” Yang Feng said sternly and with a hint of criticism.
“May Your Majesty speak the truth to me.”

“Of course.” Han Ruzi felt like Yang Feng had lost his bearings a little.

“Has Your Majesty ever been in contact with Sealbearer Liu Jie?”


“Has Your Majesty been in contact with anyone outside of the personal attendants in your chambers?”

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“Did Your Majesty know about what Liu Jie was going to do?”

Han Ruzi shook his head.
“My every action…” The door was opened and Meng E walked in.
She looked at the two of them warily.
Han Ruzi continued speaking, “I had no idea.
May Attendant Yang believe me, I was more shocked than anyone else that this happened.”

Yang Feng looked at the Emperor for a while before nodding.
“I believe Your Majesty.
May Your Majesty believe me as well.
Wait here, and I shall go redeem the situation.”

Han Ruzi swept a look at Meng E before saying to Yang Feng, “I don’t understand.
Has the matter not been resolved?”

Yang Feng did not look back, nor did he ask the servant-girl to withdraw.
“The matter of Liu Jie has been resolved, but the matter of Your Majesty has not.
Luckily, Your Majesty had redeemed yourself a little by handing the seal to the Empress Dowager.
We don’t have much time…” Yang Feng turned around and walked out.
As he passed by Meng E’s side, he said coldly, “Ensure His Majesty’s personal safety.”

If one were to speak of indecorous behavior, Meng E would be the top offender.
It was as though she did not know of such a thing.
Other than an expressionless face, she did not fit in with the others in the palace.
Even faced with Attendant Yang Feng who was of much higher rank, she could not be bothered to answer him, only staring back at him impolitely.

Yang Feng pushed the door open and left.

The eunuchs and servant-girls waiting outside filed into the room, bringing a late lunch.
There were more than ten dishes, half of which consisted of fish and meat.
Han Ruzi was initially very hungry, but at this moment he had no appetite.
Yet the rules of when to eat was beyond his control and the dishes were placed before him.
There was also dimsum and tea — the whole process took nearly an hour before ending.

Han Ruzi sat on his couch, looking at a decorative paper-screen diagonally to his side.
He suddenly found that he was left with nothing to do — rehearsals, fasting, ascension, they were all over.
The Imperial Seal was also handed over, breaking any connection between him and the Emperorship.
Casting his gaze forward, a bland future lay before his eyes, unchanging even until his death.
Most frighteningly, he was sitting here alone, while political battles were raging like a storm outside.

The eunuchs and servant-girls cleared away the dishes in an orderly fashion.
Han Ruzi wanted to ask them what they thought of the Emperor, but he had already learnt his lessons.
He did not wish to harm anyone by speaking carelessly.
All he could do was to smile and praise the few dishes which he tasted.

The events of Hall of Diligent Administration had spread within the inner Imperial Palace.
Even though the Emperor’s gesture of goodwill did not receive any overt response, the servants attending to him appeared to experience flashes of thought, as though guessing at something.

The attendants left, leaving behind Meng E.
She closed the door, took a round stool, and sat by the door.
She stared at the ends of her feet while listening to the sounds outside.

“Have you eaten?” Han Ruzi asked.

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“Mm.” For once, Meng E at least replied.

“Spring this year comes early.
Some plants have even begun sprouting.”

This was not a question, hence Meng E said nothing.

“I am bored sitting here.
May I take a walk outside?”

Han Ruzi thought Meng E would find some righteous justification for why he could not leave.
But in the end, she just said sharply, “No.”

Han Ruzi did not insist.
“Other than sitting here, what can I do?”

“You can go sleep.
I will wake you when it is time for dinner.”

Han Ruzi looked at his bed on the right, and did not feel drowsy at all.
He stared blankly while sitting on the couch.
“You have not been in the palace for a long time, right?”

Meng E turned her head slowly and looked at the Emperor.
“How did you know?”

“I guessed it.” Han Ruzi smiled.
Actually, this was not difficult to guess.
Meng E’s demeanor was too unique within the palace.
Even Han Ruzi, inexperienced as he was, could tell.

Meng E continued to stare at the ends of her feet.

“How long have you been in the palace?”

“Where are you from?”

“Do you have family?”

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“Do you like life in the palace?”

Every few moments, Han Ruzi would ask a question, not caring whether she answered or not.
In the end, he had nothing left to ask, so he started talking about his own life.
“The place I used to live in was very small, but it had many flowers and shrubs.
I once thought that there would be more greenery outside, but since then all I’ve seen were rooms, chambers, buildings, and halls.
I moved house when I was five, to much larger premises.
There were also more servants — everyone was kind to me, always bringing me toys and telling me stories.
I love listening to stories, any kind would do — like those of fox immortals, righteous pugilists, martial generals… I moved house again when I was eight, to a single building.
I would run up and down every day, since Mother said that was good for my body.
Later, when I was ten, I moved into the palace.
Which is a strange thing, because even though I lived here for a month, I have no recollection at all.”

Meng E suddenly got up.
She raised her left hand, gesturing to the Emperor to keep silent.
Her right hand was pressed against the door, and she truly tried to listen.

Han Ruzi was very shocked.
This was the palace, so why did Meng E look like she was about to face a fearsome enemy?

“Sealbearer Liu Jie is a loyal subject, but I had absolutely no knowledge of what he was going to do today.
I had not even heard of his name before today.
I hope… that the Empress Dowager would understand.” Han Ruzi increasingly believed what Yang Feng said, that the events of the day at the Qinzheng Hall were not over.

“Why are you saying this to me?” Meng E asked.

“I think… I’m guessing… I feel… that you might be able to see the Empress Dowager.”

Meng E neither admitted nor denied it.

Han Ruzi kept silent for a while.
He still did not understand why Liu Jie’s actions caused Yang Feng to be so nervous.
As well as Meng E — she was obviously not just a simple servant-girl.

Footsteps sounded unmistakably from outside the room.
Meng E stood up and shifted the stool away.
After a while, she flung open the door fiercely.

Standing outside with his mouth aghast was Prince Donghai.
There was nobody with him.
He ignored the servant-girl and strode into the room.
He looked left and right, before perfunctorily bowing to Han Ruzi.
He said derisively, “Your Majesty, you have landed yourself in great trouble.”

[1] The royal ‘we’ is used when the Chinese equivalent is used in the original.

Note from TZT: Real life continues to be hectic.
Updates to come next weekend.

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