CH 3: A Clever Child

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On the third night after being detained in the Empress Dowager’s palace chambers, Han Ruzi was curled up on the couch.
He silently recalled his experiences the past few days.
As the night grew darker, he did not feel like sleeping.
Prince Donghai lay on the large bed alone, flipping and turning.
Not being enthroned on the day he entered the Imperial Palace made him terribly angry.

“It must be treacherous subjects hindering my ascension to the throne.
Yang Feng? He is a bad fellow, but his rank is too low.
It must be the Chief Censor of the Right, Shen Zhiming.
But could it be that Chancellor Yin Wuhai and Chief Commander Han Xing have turned traitor as well?” Prince Donghai muttered to himself, not daring to raise his voice.

Finally, Prince Donghai stopped his antics for a while.
He whispered, “I am surprised that you don’t seem to be afraid.”

“Mm?” Han Ruzi had thought things through.
Though he was unable to reach any conclusions, he felt more reassured.
“I think that is because… I don’t want to be Emperor.”

“Heh, stupid fool.
Don’t you know the benefits of being Emperor? Being the Emperor means you can do whatever you want, have anything you want.
‘All land under heaven belong to the king, all men on earth are subjects of the king.’ Only the Emperor is the master of all under heaven.
Everyone else is just a serf who needs to pay rent and taxes.”

“I just want to be with Mother.”

“Silly fool.
Only the Emperor gets his heart’s desires.
Everyone else depends on his beneficence.
If you want to go back to your mother, you need the Emperor’s leave — that is, my leave.” Prince Donghai turned around and went back to sleep, his light snores sounding within the room.

Han Ruzi was sleepy as well.
He closed his ears and listened for noise coming from outside the room.
He did not know if he was imagining things, but he thought he could hear the sound of sobbing.

The Emperor is the master of all under heaven.
But other than his mother, nobody else would truly feel sad if he were to die.
Upon thinking of this, Han Ruzi felt sympathy for his older brother who had just died.
They had lived in the same manor for nearly ten years, yet they had never met each other.
At least, not that Han Ruzi could remember.

He did not sleep for long before being shaken awake.
In a daze, he thought he was still at home, but suddenly realized that the scents were all wrong.
He immediately opened his eyes.
In the dark, he could recognize the shadow before him.

“I see that you are sleeping soundly.” That was Prince Donghai’s voice.

Han Ruzi got up, rubbing his eyes and yawning.

Prince Donghai sat down on the couch, shoving Han Ruzi to the side a little.
He said in a quiet voice, “I have thought things through.
We are brothers by blood, descendents of the Han Imperial Clan.
The blood of the Martial Emperor flows through our veins.
When I become Emperor, I will not kill you — in fact, I will even grant you a Princely title.
I might even let you and your mother leave the Capital, and go be a minor Prince in some tiny little Princedom.”

“Th… Thank you.” Han Ruzi did not know what to say.

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“Brothers who are united can cut through metal.
We must be united as one.
So we should talk more to get to know each other better.”


The two brothers sat in the dark, but no one could think of a suitable topic of conversation.
Prince Donghai was irritated.
“You are dull as a log — can’t you think of something to talk about? Alright then, let us take turns.
You first.”

Han Ruzi thought for a moment and asked, “Why do you always say ‘my Cui clan’? Are you not surnamed Han?”

“Of course I am a Han! But…” Prince Donghai’s voice was very soft, but it grew even softer.
“The Han clan has too many descendants, so being a prince is not a big deal.
Everyone has their eyes fixed on the Emperor alone.
But in the Cui clan, everyone loves me.
Even though I am just the Prince of Donghai, they like me, so I like them more as well.”

Maybe it was because he had accidentally spoken the truth, so Prince Donghai quickly changed his tune.
“But I am indeed surnamed Han.
I am called Han Shu.
An imperial prince through and through.
Everyone says that I am the one who looks most like the Martial Emperor.
You are called Ruzi? Why such a strange name? This is surely not your true given name, our generation’s given names must all have a wood radical.”

“I… I am just called Ruzi.” Han Ruzi said hesitantly.
“My mother said that when the Martial Emperor saw me, he said, ‘This Ruzi is worth teaching.’[1] So…”

Prince Donghai laughed loudly before quickly keeping quiet.
He listened for a while, before confirming that his laughter had not drawn attention from outside.
He laughed again and said, “Your mother sure knows how to make up a story.
Do you believe it?”

Han Ruzi kept silent.

Prince Donghai shoved Han Ruzi’s shoulders.
“How boring.
Your mother was a servant-girl in the palace.
Did she not teach you how to curry favor with others?”

Han Ruzi continued to keep silent and Prince Donghai lost interest quickly.
He leapt off the couch and returned to the bed and lay down.

Han Ruzi could not fall asleep.
He missed his mother.
He did not like the Imperial Palace at all.
Nor did he like being in the same room as his half-brother.
Eventually, he thought of Yang Feng, imagining that eunuch trading verbal blows with a horde of enemies so that… Han Ruzi hoped that Yang Feng would emerge victorious, but he truly did not wish to be Emperor.

Prince Donghai creeped back to the couch.
He knelt before the window, and said apprehensively, “Things are not right.
Not right at all.
The Emperor’s dead, and the only legitimate claimants are the two of us.
The Empress Dowager should have proclaimed me Emperor long ago.
What is she waiting for?”

“The Empress Dowager is mourning the Emperor.
That was her trueborn son.”

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“Pah! How can someone be as stupid as you? Even if she is heartbroken, she must still establish a new Emperor.
That is what the precedents say.
That… That is the Empress Dowager’s duty.
She has detained the both of us by her side — that means that she is of very sound mind.”

Prince Donghai pushed against the window lightly.
“Come, help”


“I want to escape.
The senior officials will proclaim me Emperor.
I really regret that I did not go with the university students at Dongqing Gate.
It is all their fault, only shouting and nobody daring to use force.
Jing Yao, that old eunuch, kept me firmly in custody.”

Han Ruzi got up but did not help to push the window.
“You cannot escape.
This is the Empress Dowager’s palace-chambers.
To leave you would have to go through two passes.
Then to get to Penglai Gate, you’d have to go through a three more passes, and four long alleyways.
Not to mention the imperial guards who are on patrol everywhere.”

“You… you actually remember the way in?” Prince Donghai was astonished.

“Not very clearly.”

Prince Donghai muttered, “What a pretentious fellow, almost tricking me.
How can such a person be left alive?”

A  sound came from the door of the room.
Prince Donghai could not make it to the bed on time, so he quickly turned to sit properly on the couch.
An idea came to him, and he grabbed one of Han Ruzi’s arms, and pressed him against the window sill.

Han Ruzi was shocked, but Prince Donghai did not use much force so he did not put up much of a resistance either.

“You are trying to escape out the window!” Prince Donghai shouted loudly.
The door opened, the light from outside shining in.
He shouted even louder, “Someone come quickly! Ruzi is trying to escape!”

Unable to tolerate such unfair accusations, Han Ruzi started to resist but he had the same strength as Prince Donghai.
Having lost the initiative, he was unable to overpower Prince Donghai, and was pressed harder and harder.

A gentle voice sounded.
“You are all brothers, why are you fighting?”

Prince Donghai had achieved what he wanted so he let go of Han Ruzi.
He leapt to the ground and said, “This child pays his respect to the Grand Consort.
Ruzi was trying to escape but I caught him in the act.”

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“You know who I am?” Grand Consort Shang-guan looked at Prince Donghai curiously.
By her side, eunuch Zuo Ji carried a lantern while a servant-girl carried a long wooden case.

“On the tenth day of Lord Father’s ascension to the throne, a family banquet was held.
This child had paid his respects to the Empress Dowager and the Grand Consort then.” Prince Donghai stood with immaculate posture, the epitome of proper behavior.

Grand Consort Shang-guan let out a smile.
“That’s right, I remember now.
Back then you were only this tall.
Children grow up so fast — now you are about the same height as me.”

“Mother often complains about my tall height.
She says that it is because of me that she can no longer pay her respects to the Empress Dowager and the Grand Consort every day.”

The Grand Consort smiled and nodded, before turning her gaze on Han Ruzi.
“I don’t think I saw you during that family banquet.”

 Han Ruzi had no idea what this family banquet was.
Prince Donghai quickly interjected, “Three years ago when Lord Father ascended to the throne, it was a time of great joy and celebration.
But Maiden Wang was found secretly crying within the palace, and hence was impeached for her grave disrespect.
Hence, Lord Father did not invite the two of them to that family banquet.”

 The Grand Consort nodded her head as her smile faded slightly.
“Why were you trying to escape?”

Han Ruzi raised his hand to point at Prince Donghai, and was just about to say that he had been farmed.
But Prince Donghai was a step ahead again and said, “He wants to go back to Maiden Wang’s side.
Ever since he entered the palace he has been crying about missing his mother.
Am I not right, Ruzi, did you not say that?”

Han Ruzi was trying to figure out how to reply such a question laden with half-truths when the Grand Consort laughed and said, “You have grown up and yet you still have the temperament of a child.
Come with me, I shall take the both of you somewhere else.”

“When can we see the Empress Dowager?” Prince Donghai was immediately suspicious.

The Grand Consort laughed but did not answer.
She turned to leave the chamber, and Prince Donghai had no choice but to follow, with Han Ruzi behind him, and the case bearing servant-girl furthest behind.
Zuo Ji carried the lantern and walked alongside the Grand Consort.

There were two servant-girls in the central hall.
They guarded the way to the eastern chamber where the Empress Dowager was.
She had summoned the two princes but did not make an apperance.
Prince Donghai and Han Ruzi could not help but look over curiously.
Prince Donghai slowed down his steps, and suddenly rushed towards the two servant-girls guarding the way.
He shouted loudly, “Empress Dowager! I am Prince Donghai! I wish to see you!”

The case-bearing servant-girl stepped forward, reached out and pulled Prince Donghai towards the exit.
Prince Donghai could not do anything but stumble about, almost tripping over the door.
The servant-girl turned her head at the other prince — Han Ruzi picked up his pace on his own accord, secretly thinking that the servant-girl seemed very strange.
She did not have the curvatures of a woman, and instead seemed… like a man.

Grand Consort Shang-guan turned around and laughed.
“The cleverer the child, the more disobedient.”

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Prince Donghai did not bother about the servant-girl, and instead broke out into sobs.
“I miss Mother too, hence I forgot my place momentarily.
The Empress Dowager is my true mother.”

Grand Consort Shang-guan smiled but said nothing.

Outside the palace chambers was a sedan and tens of eunuchs and servant-girls.
The Grand Consort motioned for the princes to enter the sedan, while she walked beside it. 

The sedan jolted forward.
Inside, Prince Donghai nudged Han Ruzi and said in a panic, “Do you understand?”

“Understand what?”

“We have not even seen the Empress Dowager.
It is very possible… that she has been killed.
We have not been detained, we have been kidnapped.
We might…” Prince Donghai pressed himself against Han Ruzi, so as to better use him as a shield if an assassin were to make an attack.

Han Ruzi considered this for a moment.
“If the both of us are dead, who would become Emperor?”

“You fool, of course it would be someone from the Shang-guan clan.” Prince Donghai then realized that his answer was too stupid and quickly changed his tune.
“They will select someone from the Imperial Clan to be a puppet emperor.
Our ages are too old, they would choose an infant two or three years of age.
That’s right, such things have happened before in previous dynasties.
Oh heavens, I am going to be killed!”

Prince Donghai nervously grabbed Han Ruzi’s wrists, his entire body trembling.

Han Ruzi struggled for a moment but was not able to escape his grasp.
He could only comfort Prince Donghai by saying, “No, that will not happen.
If the Cui clan is as powerful as you say, the Empress Dowager would not kill you.”

“Are you sure? Oh, that’s right, killing me would be tantamount to forcing the Cui clan into open rebellion.
Hehe…” Prince Donghai let go of Han Ruzi, but he was not all that reassured.
He kept silent the rest of the way.

The sedan was placed on the ground, and eunuch Zuo Ji opened the curtains of the sedan and peeked his head in.
“We have arrived at the Imperial Ancestral Temple, may the two princes disembark.”

Prince Donghai shoved Han Ruzi in excitement.
“The Imperial Ancestral Temple is where rites involving ancestral worship are held! I am going to become Emperor!”

[1] Ruzi literally means ‘child’, so the saying actually means “This child is worth teaching”.
Hence, the title of this story can also be translated as “The Ruzi Emperor”.

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