and a group of eunuchs, he left the Hall of Diligent Administration and made his way to the depths of the inner Imperial Palace.
He thought that he would never escape from there again, but his chance came faster than his steps could walk.

The procession had not gone far when hurried steps sounded from behind.
Jing Yao came running breathlessly, and said something that nobody expected.
“May His Majesty return to the Qinzheng Hall.
There… there is something that requires Your Majesty to handle.”

Han Ruzi was not prepared for this, and stood in place not knowing what to do.
His gaze could not help but fall on Yang Feng, and he soon realized that almost everyone was looking at Yang Feng, as though he had arranged for this exact situation.
Especially Jing Yao, whose gaze was fierce, as though he was just about to accuse Yang Feng of something.

Yang Feng seemed very calm, which only served to further everyone’s suspicions.
He asked, “Is this an order from the Empress Dowager?”

“Of course,” Jing Yao said.

Yang Feng reached out his hands.
“May Lord Yao demonstrate proof.”

Jing Yao was shocked.
“You… you…”

“Lord Jing, your forgiveness, but the rules are as such,” said Yang Feng.

Jing Yao’s face grew red and he stamped his feet, turning to return to the Hall of Diligent Administration.
But then another eunuch came running forward.
Zuo Ji held a piece of paper with both hands and showed it to Yang Feng.
“The Empress Dowager’s edict is here.”

Yang Feng received it with both hands and opened it to take a look.
He nodded, “That’s right.
May His Majesty make his way back to the Qinzheng Hall.”

So Han Ruzi walked back.
His legs were sore from the walking he had done this day, and he had not even eaten anything.
Yet he felt mildly excited, and walked stridently to the Hall of Diligent Administration.
Within the sea of attendants he saw Prince Donghai’s shocked expression, and he found it rather amusing.

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Zuo Ji rubbed off the sweat on his forehead and said casually, “The Empress Dowager does know Lord Yang well.
She said that Lord Yang was cautious and would not comply with an unverified order.
And it was indeed so, heh.”

Jing Yao looked at Yang Feng searchingly, the hatred in his heart growing deeper.

The hall was filled with silence, and the Five Trusted Officials stood separately, as though they were afraid that someone might think that they were conspiring with each other.
They had an awkward expression on their faces, and the clerks in the hall had all disappeared.
The door to the Empress Dowager’s room was flanked by two eunuchs, who looked as though they were facing down a great enemy.

Near a pillar at the side of the hall, stood a person.
His attire revealed him to be a eunuch, around forty years old.
His looks were ordinary, but upon his face was an unusual fury.
He hugged an open, silken case, with one leg forward and one leg back, as though he was ready to smash his head onto the pillar.

This was a strange scene.
Han Ruzi had thought of various possibilities on his way back, but he did not think he would encounter such a situation.

Yang Feng was stunned as well.

The Five Trusted Officials had special dispensation from the Martial Emperor relieving them from the kowtow ritual while they were in the Hall of Diligent Administration.
But Shang-guan Xu was not included in this since he was a new addition.
As this was the first time he was participating in the meeting, he was extra careful and knelt down once he saw the Emperor.
The other five looked at each other before following suit.
And with that, Yang Feng and the rest of the eunuchs also knelt down, leaving only the Emperor and the eunuch by the pillar standing.

The young, thirteen year-old Emperor suddenly became the tallest person in the room, and felt rather helpless.
All the etiquette taught to him by officials from the Ministry of Rites and Decorum were useless in such a situation, so all he could do was remain standing, waiting for someone to speak.

Yang Feng straightened his back and said, “Liu Jie, the Hall of Diligent Administration is no place for your insolence.
Dare you not kneel?”

The eunuch named Liu Jie knelt on one knee, and raised the silken case with both hands.
He looked like he was braving death as he shouted loudly, “Your Majesty, take the seal!”

Han Ruzi shot a pleading gaze towards Yang Feng.
He had some impression of Liu Jie.
This eunuch was present during every rehearsal and was one of the Emperor’s many attendants.
He never said a word, and no one had ever introduced him.
Han Ruzi had never known what this person’s duties were.

Yang Feng looked around the room before settling his gaze on Chancellor Yin Wuhai.
“Lord Yin, what is going on?”

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Yin Wuhai gave a forced smile and coughed a few times, as though he were at a loss of words.
The eunuch Liu Jie interjected and said, “Lord Yang need not ask the Lord Chancellor.
This was all my doing alone.” Liu Jie’s eyes were filled with admonishment.
“As the Sealbearer, I bear the Imperial Seal for the Emperor alone.
Even if the Jade Emperor[2] himself were to descend on this mortal realm, he can forget about taking the seal from me willingly.
It seems that I will have to offend the Empress Dowager and Your Lordships today.
I would rather be a shattered vessel of jade than an unbroken clay pot.
Without the Emperor’s commands, I would rather smash myself to death in these halls and spill my blood upon the seal.”

Nobody dared to respond, but Han Ruzi felt a fire in his heart.
It turned out that the Emperor was not just a puppet that no one cared about.
There were still people who were willing to die to protect the dignity of the Emperor.

But still he kept silent.
Instinctively, he knew that this was a delicate and dangerous situation —a careless word by him could cause great harm to befall this loyal Liu Jie.

Amongst those present, Jing Yao appeared the most affected.
As the Director of Palace Attendants, he was Sealbearer Liu Jie’s immediate superior, and yet such a spectacle happened right before the Empress Dowager.
But he did not know what to do.
“Liu Jie, His Majesty is here, why aren’t you handing over the Imperial Seal? Today is His Majesty’s day of ascension.
Your insolence is a crime punishable by clan extermination!”

“I am a eunuch with no family and no clan.
My life is tied to the Imperial Seal, my death is of no concern.” Liu Jie looked towards the Emperor and nodded slightly.
He said in a low tone, “May Your Majesty take the seal.
Out of all under heaven, only Your Majesty may take this seal from my hands.”

“May… Your Majesty… take… the seal.” Chancellor Yin Wuhai was the head of all the officials of the Imperial Court, so he had no choice but to say something, but his voice was as vague as it could be.

Han Ruzi remained motionless.
He looked towards the Empress Dowager’s room where she sat in on court sessions, and then towards Yang Feng by his side.

Yang Feng bowed slightly and nudged lightly to the Emperor’s left side.
He said softly, “May Your Majesty take the seal” Yang Feng’s gaze seemed to contain subtle hints, but on such occasions, some words he would never say.

Han Ruzi took a step forward.
Yang Feng remained where he was; he knelt down and did not follow.

[1] I will be using both Qinzheng Hall and Hall of Diligent Administration interchangeably.

[2] A God of Daoist mythology who rules the upper heavenly realms.

TZT Note: Apologies for the late update.
Heavy RL commitments came in, and will likely cause slow updates for the next two weeks.
Will try to update over the weekend.

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