CH 7: The Emperor’s Confession

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Sure enough, something major happened that very night.
Han Ruzi was sitting by his bedside while two eunuchs were combing his hair, as though the Emperor had to maintain a dignified look even in his dreams.

The two eunuchs were in their thirties.
They mostly kept silent and served the Emperor immaculately.
Han Ruzi had just tricked the two of them the night before, and so felt a little guilty.
Hence, he smiled at them and said, “Thank you.” The two of them looked at each other and appeared extremely nervous.
They quickly bowed and withdrew, standing several steps away in rapt attention.
 They had to wait until the Emperor had gone to sleep before they could rest — one would remain on the couch in the room, while the other would be guarding outside.

At this point, Zuo Ji arrived.
Nobody announced his arrival and his walked right into the room as though he was the true owner of the place.
He said nothing after arriving, casually strolled about the room, and looked about everywhere.
After making half a round, he stopped in front of the bed.

The two eunuchs quickly knelt.
Han Ruzi raised his head to look at the Empress Dowager’s personal attendant, and knew that the matter had been exposed.
From the night before when he had written the “secret edict”, it had been exactly one day.

Zuo Ji stood for a while before bowing.
He then stood up straight and said, “Your Majesty has disappointed the Empress Dowager.”

As matters stood, Han Ruzi did not wish to say anything.
He even held a little hope that the Empress Dowager would depose him in a fit of anger.

“What did Your Majesty write on the note?” Zuo Ji asked.
His tone was not stern, but friendly and curious instead.

Han Ruzi kept his mouth shut.

Zuo Ji heaved a sign.
“Your Majesty is sovereign of all under heaven and can do anything.
But Your Majesty also has a responsibility to the world.
Your Majesty’s every word and every deed can have unimaginable consequences.
If the upper beam is not straight, the lower ones will go aslant.
Even the smallest actions by Your Majesty may destroy the foundations of the Chu Empire.
The Empress Dowager has ordered me to remind Your Majesty: the Chu Empire was left to Your Majesty by the ancestors; it does not belong to Your Majesty alone.”

“I have never thought of the Chu Empire as mine,” Han Ruzi finally said.
The two kneeling eunuchs prostrated themselves even lower on the ground until they were nearly against the ground.

Zuo Ji heaved a sigh and turned to the two eunuchs.
“It was you two who were taking care of His Majesty last night?”

“Yes…” The two eunuchs trembled.
From their voices to their bodies, they trembled.

“It has nothing to do with them,” Han Ruzi got out of bed, standing on his bare feet.

“It was Your Majesty’s own idea?”

“It was all my idea.” Han Ruzi did not sell out Prince Donghai.

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Zuo Ji laughed.
The doors of the room opened again, and this time it was the Director of Palace Attendants Jing Yao who entered, followed by Prince Donghai.
Prince Donghai forewent his usual domineering demeanor and appeared to be cautious and apprehensive.
Once he stepped into the room, he had hardly stood still before crying aloud, “I don’t know anything! He made me pretend to fall! I had no choice but to obey the Emperor’s orders! I don’t know about anything else!”

Jing Yao looked at Zuo Ji.
Zuo Ji said, “That was what His Majesty said too.”

Prince Donghai heaved a sigh of relief.
“Do you two not believe me? Even if I want to conspire with the senior officials, I have no need to choose the Minister of Rites.”

Jing Yao knelt before the Emperor as Zuo Ji stepped to the side.

“May Your Majesty place paramount importance on the well-being of the Empire,” said Jing Yao.

“Fine.” Han Ruzi felt like matters were not that bad.

“What did Your Majesty write on the note?” Jing Yao asked the same question as Zuo Ji.

“Have you not seen it?”

“This matter must be corroborated, so we hope to get a direct answer from Your Majesty personally.”

Prince Donghai pointed at Jing Yao.
“Hah! You are lying! You have not gotten the note!”

Jing Yao turned and shot Prince Donghai a look.
Prince Donghai promptly shut up.

Han Ruzi thought for a moment.
“I am the Emperor.
I have no need to answer your questions.”

Zuo Ji knelt down as well.
Prince Donghai gave Han Ruzi a look of approval, but suddenly realized that Jing Yao was staring at him.
He hurriedly knelt down as well, leaving the Emperor the only person in the room left standing.

“May Your Majesty grant the Empress Dowager’s painstaking efforts some consideration.” Jing Yao continued to apply pressure.

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Han Ruzi continued to reject disclosing what was written on the note.
He wanted to see the extent of the authority he held as Emperor.
Prince Donghai wanted to know this as well, and his gaze darted between Jing Yao and Zuo Ji.

Jing Yao respectfully kowtowed before getting up.
He said in a low voice, “Someone, attend here.”

Four eunuchs entered the room.
Prince Donghai was shocked.
“You all dare lay hands on the Emperor?”

The goal of these four men was not the Emperor, but the two unlucky eunuchs prostrating on the ground who were shivering in fear.
They were grabbed and dragged out of the room.

“Lord Jing, have mercy!” The two of them knew whom to plead to.

“I said that it had nothing to do with them.” Han Ruzi was shocked.

Jing Yao stood there, motionless.
His usual friendly demeanor was replaced by a dark sullenness.
This time, it was him who remained silent.

Not long later, cries of anguish sounded from outside, making the dark night appear especially desolate.

Han Ruzi stepped forward.
“May the two attendants inform the Empress Dowager that I beg forgiveness for my moment of recklessness.
Let those two men go, and I shall inform you of the contents of the note.”

Prince Donghai creased his brows but dared not interject.
Jing Yao kowtowed once again.
“Your Majesty is not in the wrong.
Your Majesty has only just ascended to this venerable position so it is only normal that some rules are inadvertently omitted.
It is the fault of those two detestable servants who should have known better and who did not fulfill their responsibilities to take care of Your Majesty.
Their crimes are unforgiveable.
As for the note, it can be discussed later.”

The cries outside grew louder.
After a while, only the dull sounds of cudgels bashing human bodies could be heard.

Zuo Ji stood up and prepared paper and ink.
He turned around and said, “May Your Majesty write out the contents of the note again.
That would allow us to report to the Empress Dowager.”

A pale-faced Han Ruzi did not refuse.
He already knew the extent of the “Emperor’s authority”.
He walked barefooted to the table and lifted up a brush, ready to write.
Zuo 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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