CH 21: Defeat

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tuzhi-translations13-16 minutes 23.07.2022

When Yang Feng said that someone would take the initiative to contact him, Han Ruzi thought it would be one of the young nobles who accompanied him, or one of his teachers.
He never thought it would be someone from within the palace, let alone that it would be Meng E.

Han Ruzi could not help but suspect that he had heard wrong.
He leaned closer and asked in a low voice, “Is that you?”

“It’s me.” That was undoubtedly Meng E’s cold voice.

Han Ruzi looked towards the window.
Although he could not see anything, he knew that there was a servant-girl sleeping there, and any noise could wake her up.

Meng E guessed the Emperor’s thoughts, “Don’t worry about her.
She’s deeply asleep will not wake up before dawn.”

Han Ruzi was even more surprised.
He collected his emotions and asked, “You want to teach me martial arts?”

“If you want to learn, ask me.”

This was a strange answer.
It was Meng E who came to him in the middle of the night, yet she wanted the Emperor to “ask” her to teach her martial arts.

“Uh… you are already my martial arts trainer.” Han Ruzi said carefully.

“There are true legacies of martial arts and fake ones.
You only get fake ones from a trainer.  Raise your hand.” Meng E said.

Han Ruzi raised his right arm, and soon a cool palm pressed against his hand.

“Sit still,” Meng E said.

Han Ruzi grunted in acknowledgement, finding things strange.
But on further thought, if Meng E really wanted to assassinate him, she would not need to wake him up.
Hence, Han Ruzi calmed down.

A force of some kind passed through the palm of his hand, and Han Ruzi felt breathless.
He felt like his internal organs were caught on hooks as his body was lifted into the air.

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Han Ruzi rolled over and fell onto the corner of the bed.
He sat up, but felt like a cloud of turbid Qi was stuck in his chest, unable to be let out.

“Don’t force it.
Let it go naturally,” Meng E said.

After a while, the turbid Qi finally disappeared.
Han Ruzi took a deep breath of fresh air and asked in surprise, “What kind of martial arts is this?”

“Inner qi, which none of you seemed interested in.”

Meng Che said that he was well-versed in fists, swords and inner qi.
But everyone, including the Emperor, was more interested in the first two.
There were some who asked about inner qi, but Meng Che’s few words caused all curiosity to dwindle.
“I train in a technique that requires celibacy.
After ten years, I achieved some initial success, but though it has been eighteen years since I started, I have barely begun to scratch the surface.”

Meng E’s single move had caused the Emperor to be burning with interest towards inner qi.

“Can I learn that? Trainer Meng had said…”

“You may.
There are many types of inner qi.
My brother trains in one that requires celibacy, but the one I train in does not.
If you are willing to put in the effort, you will see results in three to five years.”

“I am willing to work hard.” Han Ruzi sat up straight on the bed with great excitement.
“Would I be able to leap up to the beam of the ceiling like you?”

“Inner qi is one’s foundation.
After the foundation is laid, learning other techniques will become easier.”

“Wow, three to five years… If I worked harder, could I get results in less time?” Han Ruzi was worried that he did not have the luxury of time.

“That is hard to say.
Most people require three to five years to see results.
Unless your powers of comprehension exceed those of ordinary people.”

“After I train in it, would I be able to freely move around the palace like you?”

Meng E did not answer.
It seemed like she was listening out for something, causing Han Ruzi to strain his ear, but he did not hear anything.

“No one can move around the palace freely,” Meng E said, a tinge of reprimand in her tone.
“Even the most adept martial artist is not a god.
I am able to come here only because I am on duty tonight.”

“On duty? So you have always been protecting me.”

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“We don’t have time for idle chat.
I can teach you inner qi, but you must keep quiet about it.”

Han Ruzi hesitated for a moment, before quickly deciding that he would not mention this to Yang Feng.
Hence, he promised, “I will not speak a word of this.”

“Remember.
I am doing you a favor, and you must repay me in the future.” Meng E’s tone grew slightly sharper.

“Of course, as long as I can do what you ask.
What would you want?” Han Ruzi felt like Meng E had changed personalities.
He would expect such words from Yang Feng, but not her.

“There’s no use telling you now.
We can speak of it when you’re able to make your own decisions.
There’s not much time now; I have to go.
I will come back in three days to teach you the basics.”

“Wait, wait… Are you still there?” Han Ruzi looked into the darkness, reaching out with his hands to confirm that Meng E had truly left.

Han Ruzi had one important question that he had yet to ask: Since martial arts would not grant him freedom of movement within the palace, what would be the point? Fend off assassins? If his guards could not stop them, he surely would not able to either.
Seize back imperial authority? If martial arts could accomplish such things, the Meng siblings would not be reluctantly taking orders within the palace.

He actually hid a small fantasy in his heart: not learning the art of rulership to become a true Emperor, but to escape from the palace to return to his mother.

Martial arts seemed like it would be able to realize this fantasy, but Meng E’s words had caused this hope to shatter.

“I should not have promised her.” Han Ruzi said to himself before lying down.
He decided that he would tell Meng E that he did not wish to learn inner qi and would not grant her any promise so easily.

The next morning’s lesson was boring.
The teacher speaking on the Book of Documents sat there mumbling to himself, often pausing for long periods of time, as though he himself had forgotten what he had to say.

The two eunuchs by the Emperor’s side were rather pleased by this as they stood idly by the door.
Prince Donghai slumped over the desk as he snored lightly Han Ruzi tried his best to keep his eyes open, but all he could hear were the sounds of wind and the rustling of leaves outside the window, as well as the occasional voices outside.

Those young nobles need not be in the classroom, and were enjoying themselves in the imperial garden.
These were the men who would probably fill the Imperial Court in ten years’ time.

Han Ruzi fantasized about the life a normal Emperor would be able to lead.
Such an Emperor would not be as isolated as him.
He would surely become a target for the young noble attendants to curry favor with.
Prince Donghai would also be more well-behaved.
He then thought of Meng E.
His refusal would surely disappoint her, though he wondered what repayment she wanted.
Actually, he was very willing to help her, she did not need to teach him inner qi for that.

Han Ruzi nearly dozed off when a commotion went off outside.
Many shocked shouts meshed together.
It seemed like two groups were having a fight.

Nobody dared to fight in the Imperial Gardens.
The decorum officials might turn a blind eye towards some minor pranks of the young nobles, but would surely not permit them to run amok.
Such a commotion was highly unusual.

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The old teacher was still mumbling away, but the two eunuchs by the door were alarmed.
One of them quickly ran down the pavilion while Prince Donghai sat up with a jolt.
He rubbed his eyes and asked, “What’s going on? Is there an assassin?”

“Prince Donghai, do not speak nonsense.
How can there be an assassin in broad daylight?” The eunuch by the door quickly said.

The old teacher finally noticed the commotion outside and looked around distractedly.

Prince Donghai rose up and ran to the window side.
he looked out and said, “Something big must have happened.
There’re people sitting on the ground and crying.”

“Prince Donghai, please return to your seat,” the old eunuch said.

Prince Donghai ignored him and shouted, “What’s going on?”

Han Ruzi could sit still no longer.
He got up and went to the window, standing side by side with Prince Donghai.
He saw three young nobles sitting on an open ground in the Imperial Gardens, crying bitterly.
The grandson of Marquis Piyuan, the Marquis of Penetrating Distance, Zhang Yanghao, was waving his fists at the sky, as though trying to put on a show of force for the heavens.
The other young nobles looked panicked, and the decorum officials were helpless in relieving the situation.
The many eunuchs around were helpless as well — each of them seemed to be quaking on their feet.

Prince Donghai turned around and ran out.
“It must be something really big.
Incredibly big.”

The old eunuch blocked the doorway.
“Your Highness, you must not go out…”

Just as the two of them scuffled about at the doorway, the eunuch Zuo Ji came running in.
His face was pale and dripping with sweat.
Prince Donghai was rather weary of him, so he retreated to one side.

“Your Majesty is still here… That’s fine then.” Zuo Ji heaved a sigh of relief.

“What about me?” Han Ruzi asked.

“Nothing, nothing.
Your Majesty should remain here… I shall go see the Empress Dowager… No, no, I shall remain here and send someone… No, no, may Your Majesty come with me to go see the Empress Dowager…” Zuo Ji was completely flustered and could not come to a decision.

“What has happened! Tell me!” Han Ruzi shouted loudly.

Zuo Ji trembled for a moment as he wiped the sweat off his forehead.
“The Grand General of Eastern Pacification Cui Hong has met with defeat.
Prince Qi… Prince Qi is marching his army west and will reach the Capital soon!”

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Han Ruzi had not paid attention to the war in the east these past days.
Upon hearing this sudden news, he did not have much of a reaction.
But Prince Donghai by his side looked thunderstruck.
He tripped over himself as he went before Zuo Ji and said sharply, “What did you say? How can my uncle be defeated? Everything was going smoothly and he was about to attack Prince Qi’s seat of administration.”

Zuo Ji was truly terrified, the usual smile on his face was all gone, nor did he put on the airs of one favored by the Empress Dowager.
He said dully, “I… I don’t know.
That was the news…”

Han Ruzi looked out the window, finally understanding why the young nobles outside were crying.
Many of them had fathers or brothers in the army.
With defeat upon the battlefield, many of them would not be returning home.

“I don’t believe this.
I shall get to the bottom of this!” Prince Donghai stormed out.
Zuo Ji and the other eunuchs did not dare stop him.

But someone coming from outside forced Prince Donghai back in.
Yang Feng strode into the room, sweeping his gaze across the room.
He grabbed Prince Donghai by the wrist and dragged him to the Emperor.
With his other hand, he held the Emperor’s wrist.
“May Your Majesty follow me.”

Han Ruzi was willing to comply, but Prince Donghai struggled to free his wrist.
As his voice grew louder, he said, “Let me go! I wish to see the Empress Dowager! My uncle…

Yang Feng stopped in his tracks and said fiercely, “Grand Tutor Cui is still alive, and the Empire remains secure.
May Prince Donghai conduct yourself with appropriate dignity.”

Prince Donghai quietened down and obediently followed Yang Feng down the pavillion.

Zuo Ji stood in place for a while before coming to his senses and hurriedly following Yang Feng.

Only the old teacher remained in the Soaring Clouds Pavilion.
He could not get up by himself without assistance, and hence remained seated on the stool.
After staring blankly for a moment, he continued his lecture on the Book of Documents, speaking into thin air.

The young noble attendants were dispersed.
Under the escort of a group of eunuchs, the Emperor and Prince Donghai hurriedly returned to the palace.
They did not return to their quarters, nor did they go to the Empress Dowager’s palace, Cishun Palace — the ‘Palace of Kindness and Submission’.
Instead, they went to a different palace.

“This is the Grand Consort’s palace, Cining Palace — the ‘Palace of Kindness and Tranquility’.
May Your Majesty stay here temporarily.”

Soon, the Meng siblings along with four palace guards arrived.
After they checked the quarters for security, Meng E remained while the others left.
She stood stoically at a corner, not looking at the Emperor even once.

Prince Donghai was unusually well-behaved.
He sat on a chair and remained motionless.
After some time, he raised his head slowly and said to the Emperor, “How could my uncle be defeated?”

“Victory and defeat are both common in battle,” Han Ruzi said encouragingly, though he remained rather indifferent in his heart.

“Impossible.
Prince Qi does not have such ability.” Prince Donghai glared with his eyes wide open.
“If Prince Qi breaks through the walls of the Capital… both of us will be killed!”

The doors to the room opened as two servant-girls entered and stood on both sides of the doorway.
Following that, Grand Consort Shang-guan entered the room, giving Prince Donghai a glance before turning to the Emperor.
“Your Majesty, please follow me to the Hall of Diligent Administration.
It is time to prove to the world that you are the Emperor.”

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