Cheng Yujin sighed. Humans were the most difficult and complex beings, and a person’s strengths were often also their fatal flaws.
The Emperor’s temperament was peace-loving. He had been compromising throughout his life and wanted all sides to coexist peacefully. This had been the case when he was merely an unfavored prince, and remained the same even after he ascended the throne.
He was patient and gentle with Li Chengjing, but it was also this gentle personality of his that almost killed his young son. The Emperor didn’t want a falling out with the Yang family, so he tried to compromise. As a result, Li Chengjing almost died in a man-made accident and had to live under an alias for the next fourteen years.
Through age, the most difficult entanglements have always happened within one’s family. Cheng Yujin knew this was the knot between Li Chengjing and his father. She didn’t try to solve the knot for Li Chengjing. Instead, she held his hand gently and offered him her silent support.
She was Li Chengjing’s wife — no matter what decision he made, she would support him unconditionally.
Li Chengjing noticed that his emotions were out of control today. He quickly gathered himself and laughed in self-deprecation, “Look at me, already such an adult, yet still affected by the past. Very unbecoming.”
“How come?” Cheng Yujin muttered softly. “Your Highness, then… are your maternal side of the family still alive?”
Li Chengjing seemed to fall into a trance for a moment, and he finally shook his head slowly: “I don’t know either. I haven’t heard from them for many years.
“My mother was originally the daughter of a small literati family. My maternal grandfather, Zhong Bi, was an upright official and was somewhat famous among the literati. Grandfather never took a concubine in his life, and, together with my grandmother, had only a son and a daughter. My mother was born somewhat late, so she was very much doted on both by her parents and elder brother, resulting in her docile and gentle temperament. It took a long time for His Majesty, the then Kang Wang, to finally take her back to the capital after Empress Dowager Yang summoned him. Despite being the Kang Wangfei, my mother wasn’t granted status after she entered the palace, and she had to live in obscurity for quite some time as if she was just a mere concubine of Kang Wang. In the second month of the first year of Jianwu, a group of officials publicly proposed to the Emperor to establish another woman as an empress. The person they proposed was naturally the daughter of Senior Grand Secretary Yang, Yang Miao, who they claimed had fallen in love with the Emperor at first sight. The Emperor refused and spent six months fending off the Yang family’s demand. In the end, the Yang family couldn’t stand the pressure of public opinion, so they reluctantly took a step back and allowed the original Kang Wangfei to be crowned empress. And during those past six months, my mother was living in the palace without an identity, neither a wife nor a concubine. Her status was very embarrassing.”
“After Mother was made Empress, Empress Dowager Yang kept reprimanding her for being childless. Mother relented to her a lot and even showed respect to Yang Miao. It was not until the eighth month of the following year that she became pregnant after great difficulty. But then she accidentally fell during a flower-viewing banquet she attended under the Empress Dowager’s invitation, nearly having a miscarriage as a result. For three months afterward, she spent her time lying in bed, not daring to walk around until her pregnancy reached the fifth month.”
Cheng Yujin couldn’t help but sigh. She was also a woman of the inner palace, and listening to Li Chengjing’s story only raised countless doubts in her heart. Why did Empress Dowager Yang invite the stepdaughter-in-law she disliked for a flower-viewing banquet? And during this exact appointment, the pregnant Empress Zhong fell down and almost had a miscarriage. How could there be such a coincidence? It was almost certain that some malicious plan had taken effect.
“My mother’s due date was originally in the sixth month, but on the fifth day of the fifth month, she suddenly started labor without reason and gave birth to me after a whole day of pain. Although we both survived, Mother’s health became worse after that. She was becoming increasingly ill and passed away after only two years. Because of the delay in Mother’s coronation, my maternal grandfather was furious and impeached Yang Fucheng several times in public. When Mother’s health turned for the worse, grandfather’s career was already in ruin, and he was demoted. Mother’s death gave grandmother a heavy blow, and she soon fell ill and passed away in the same year. My grandfather was full of grief and anger, so he finally resigned and left the capital with my uncle. I tried to track their whereabouts, and got the news that grandfather had long passed away of illness on the road less than two years after. Uncle was harder to track, but later I found that he had moved to a small town in the southwest and settled there. He no longer serves as an official and now makes a living as a teacher.”
Cheng Yujin sighed again. They were such a good family, and they ended up so tragically. After the Zhong family father and son left the capital, they should have resolved to cut themselves off from the power struggle in the capital. Yet Zhong Bi died soon after. It was said that he died of illness, but could it be that the Yang family was behind this? Li Chengjing’s maternal uncle survived, but was forced to retire to a remote town and left the officialdom altogether. Was it also related to the Yang family’s machination?
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