Ji said lightly, “The Empress Dowager is kind and forgiving and will surely forgive Your Majesty.
May Your Majesty refrain from alarming the Empress Dowager with selfishness.
These are hard times for the Empire…”

Han Ruzi put down the brush dipped in ink.
He turned around and said, “I wish to see the Empress Dowager.”

Zuo Ji was stunned.
“See the Empress Dowager? Why?”

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“Ever since I’ve entered the palace I have not seen the Empress Dowager herself.
And I must explain this matter to the Empress Dowager personally.”

“Your Majesty sees the Empress Dowager every morning.” The smile on Zuo Ji’s face grew stiff.

“That is not so.
All I do is face the Empress Dowager’s palace-chambers while paying respect.
I have never seen the Empress Dowager herself.”

“It’s all the same.
The Empress Dowager is in her chambers.
She is not feeling well so she cannot meet with outsiders…”

“I am not an outsider.
You’ve said it yourself, the Empress Dowager is my only mother.
I think so as well.
We are mother and son; you and Lord Jing are outsiders.
A son wishes to meet his mother — surely this is not too much to ask for.”

Kneeling at the door, Prince Donghai let out a breath of laughter.
He had experience of the Emperor using one’s words against oneself, and was not surprised by this at all.
Zuo Ji was stunned into silence.
He did not expect the usually dull Emperor to suddenly be adept at arguing.

Zuo Ji’s face kept changing color and he turned to look at Jing Yao.

Jing Yao stood up, his heart filled with contempt for this eunuch who had earned favor through his beauty, yet outwardly expressed no distaste.
Instead, he nodded in tacit understanding, implying that everything was under control.

The old eunuch walked slowly before the Emperor.
He looked at the paper on the desk.
“Does Your Majesty nurse a grievance for those two eunuchs who were punished?”

“Since they had committed an unforgiveable crime, what more can I say?” Han Ruzi said evenly.

Prince Donghai stood up as well, watching this scene unfold with great interest.
He was curious how long the Emperor could maintain his obstinancy.

Jing Yao sighed lightly.
“Does Your Majesty still trust those senior officials outside the palace? This old servant has served four Emperors; let this servant tell Your Majesty the truth: the senior officials have their own vested interests.
They will always talk about their loyalty as subjects to their sovereign, but in their hearts, what they wish is to hoodwink those above and bully those below.
Just catch a random senior official and throw him in prison — within three days, he will testify to a long list of co-conspirators.
Those people are constantly politicking in Court during the day, but at night they will make merry with wine with one another.
Their goal is but one: to pull wool over the Emperor’s eyes so as to secure benefits for themselves.
Behind every petition, every self-righteous sentence, hides an ulterior motive.
When they impeach their rivals, they are always able to subtly praise their allies.
Not to mention their penchant for quid pro quo: today you nominate me for office, tomorrow I shall promote you.
Eunuchs are lowly, but we hold no infidelity, nor is it possible for us to be disloyal.
The Empress Dowager and Your Majesty are all we can rely on.
Cast aside, we are less than dirt.”

Zuo Ji nodded repeatedly in agreement, while Prince Donghai rolled his eyes in disdain.
Han Ruzi said, “Matters are not as severe as you think.
I only handed the Minister of Rites… It was just a note.
The note does not contain what you are worried about.”

The old eunuch placed a hand on the Emperor’s shoulder.
Such an act was rather disrespectful but he felt like he had the standing to do so.
He heaved a sigh again.
“We will handle the affair with the note.
There is no hurry, we can let it fester for a few days.
If Yuan Jiu-ding is smart, he would hand the note over tomorrow.
It would have been better if he had done so today, but he is not that smart.
If he refuses to hand it over, we shall see how many senior officials he can rally to his cause.
This might just be the opportunity to get rid of a bunch of treacherous officials in the Imperial Court.”

Han Ruzi felt like something was stuck in his throat.
The last thing he wanted was for others to suffer because of him.
But as matters stood, things were not up to him.
He could only choose to “confess” to display his submission.
Regardless of what he did, the eunuchs would use every excuse to strike at the senior officials.

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Prince Donghai laughed in adulation.
“A brilliant plan, Lord Jing, laying a long line to catch a big fish…” He did not continue so as to avoid offending the Emperor by revealing the whole truth.

“Lord Jing, you said, ‘we shall see’.
Who is ‘we’?” Han Ruzi asked.

Jing Yao’s expression darkened.
This young Emperor was still being stubborn — this was something he did not expect.

Zuo Ji laughed.
“When Lord Jing said ‘we’, of course he meant Your Majesty and the Empress Dowager.
By revealing what was written on the note, Your Majesty would undoubtedly express genuine filial piety towards the Empress Dowager, not your other mother.” Zuo Ji’s smile abated and asked Jing Yao, “Has Maiden Wang moved to her new quarters?”

Jing Yao nodded.

Han Ruzi felt extremely furious, the bottom-line in his heart having been breached.
But he did not shout, and just grabbed the brush.
On the paper that had been prepared, he wrote five words.

As the other three watched, Prince Donghai said absently, “The Emperor’s gone mad.” Zuo Ji laughed while shaking his head, “Your Majesty has failed to live up to the Empress Dowager’s hard work.” Jing Yao’s expression was even more sullen.
“Is Your Majesty joking?”

“I am not joking.
This is just it…” Han Ruzi had yet to finish when someone entered from outside.

It was Yang Feng who had not made an appearance in so long.
He did not bother with the necessary courtesies, nor did he kowtow.
He just bowed slightly and said, “The matter ends here.”

Zuo Ji let out a laugh while Jing Yao stared at Yang Feng coldly.
“Lord Yang, what do you mean? We are carrying out the Empress Dowager’s edict, how can matters just end here?”

Yang Feng took a small ball of paper from his sleeves.
“This is the original.
The Empress Dowager has already seen it — it is no big deal.”

Jing Yao and Zuo Ji were stunned, and Prince Donghai was even more shocked.
The Emperor sending a plea for rescue to senior officials was not a big deal?!

Jing Yao walked over and took the paper ball.
His mind full of doubt, he stared at Yang Feng for a while before unfurling the ball of paper.
Just one look and he displayed a shocked expression.
Zuo ji walked over and also appeared quite embarrassed.
Prince Donghai could not control his curiosity, and he looked at what was written on the note.

The original note brought by Yang Feng contained the same five words as the paper on the desk: I want to eat meat.

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