After Li Chengjing arrived at Qianqing Palace, he did not mention the encounter with Li Chengjun outside, nor did the Emperor say a single word of it.
Both father and son knew very well that the Second Prince had just left, but neither mentioned a word, as if they were tacitly avoiding the topic.
Seeing the Emperor massaging his forehead, Li Chengjing stepped forward and asked, “Does Your Majesty have a headache again?”
The Emperor sighed, “It has been getting worse recently. Just by using my brain to think a bit, the headache will flare again.”
Li Chengjing frowned, “Your Majesty, let’s summon an imperial physician.”
The emperor waved his hand dismissively, “No need. It’s the same old problem anyway, so it’s useless for imperial physicians to come. Rather than that, there is another missive from the Jiangnan region. Take it and have a look.”
The Emperor picked up a roll from the pile of memorials and handed it to Li Chengjing. The eunuch on the side quickly received the memorial with a tray and presented it to Li Chengjing.
Li Chengjing opened the roll and took a quick glance. The words were dense, full of flowery compliments addressed at him.
Li Chengjing’s expression changed very slightly, but no traces could be seen on his face when he put down the memorial again. Li Chengjing returned the memorial back to the Emperor, cupped his hands, and said, “They are exaggerating. This son is not worthy of such excessive praises, for I just borrowed His Majesty’s prestige to gain the respect of the local officials. If not for my imperial blood, the errand in Jiangnan wouldn’t have gone so smoothly, nor would I gain such praises.”
The Emperor threw the memorial back into the pile that he had read and then said with a meaningful tone, “You don’t need to be so humble. Real fame needs no false reputation. So many officials took you in high regard, and even the people of Jiangnan seem to worship you so much. Of course you have done a good job. By the way, there is another one. Take a look. What do you think of this?”
The Emperor threw another memorial, which Li Chengjing opened and read. This one turned out to be a memorial impeaching Empress Yang. Dense letters filled the page, accusing the Emperor of condoning the inner palace’s involvement with political affairs, allowing the Yang family to grow rampant and harm the previous empress. Now that the Yang family had been convicted, the daughter of Yang Fucheng was no longer qualified as the head of the inner palace and should be deposed.
Li Chengjing read the memorial carefully this time. He actually finished reading it in no time, but pretended to ponder the content word by word. Only after counting the time did he put the memorial down, “This person is the official from the Censorate Office, famous for never tolerating even the smallest misconduct. Among hundreds of officials in the central government, few have not been criticized for what he perceives as the violation of standards behavior demanded from an official. Now that the matter of the Yang family was in the teeth of the storm, it is understandable that he is targeting the Empress, although his method is considered crude.”
“Oh?” The Emperor responded with a light glance, “Then what do you think about it?”
Li Chengjing lowered his gaze, suppressing emotions from showing in his eyes. His tone was as calm as usual as he replied, “Since this matter involves the Empress, this son dares not speak bluntly. However, those in positions of power must treat everyone equally and not show a double standard in one’s conduct. When dealing with disputes, one should be objective and make judgments according to the law.”
According to the law… hearing Li Chengjing’s answer, the Emperor put his hand on the memorial and said in a heavy tone, “You are still young, and it’s understandable that you are full of vigor and aggressiveness. But the world isn’t made up of blacks and whites. A monarch shouldn’t judge things based on right and wrong only. You have to know there are relationships and feelings outside the law.”
“This son understands that interpersonal relationships constitute society. It’s also natural that feelings cannot be measured by rules. One’s destiny is decided by heaven’s will, and this son has no way to control others’ feelings. However, since the country has laws, we should fulfill our obligation to the public.”
The Emperor was starting to get angry. Putting on a cold face, he questioned Li Chengjing solemnly, “In other words, you agree with their demands and want to depose the Empress?”
Li Chengjing closed his eyes and said nothing, but his silence was already an answer. The Emperor waited for a long time only to receive Li Chengjing’s silence, which annoyed him even more: “Zhen thought you were cautious and steady, but never expected that you were so aggressive inside. As a Crown Prince, you should be benevolent, and as a ruler, you should look at the overall situation instead of being so rigid and intolerant.”
Facing the angry criticism, Li Chengjing remained silent. He knew better how his stance would definitely offend the Emperor, but he didn’t expect the person to make such an evaluation out of him.
After a long silence, Li Chengjing raised his eyes and looked up at the Emperor, “Your Majesty thinks that I am not benevolent?”
Facing his eldest son’s inquiry, the Emperor felt bad for a moment. He was the one who contributed the most to the Yang family’s downfall after all. But the Emperor’s guilt was like a wave and soon dissipated after a brief roll. Still putting on a cold face, he said to Li Chengjing, “You have seen your father’s hard work over the years, but you are taking it for granted. What is right? What is wrong? Law is no match for human feelings, and people only acknowledge the truth that benefits the majority the most. If most people are dissatisfied, then what’s right will become wrong. The Empress has presided over the inner palace for twenty years and has given birth to several children for Zhen. She is your second brother’s biological mother, and according to etiquette, you should call her ‘Mother’ too. We are one family here. Disputes within the family should be solved behind closed door. Why are you so ignorant and insist on bringing the law?”
Family? Li Chengjing’s face was still calm, but there was an unseen emotion deep within his eyes. “Your Majesty, it’s not long ago that you ordered the destruction of Yang-shi’s family, confiscated their family property, and cut off Yang Fucheng and Yang Shilong from the officialdom. Even Dou-shi was deprived of her title and demoted to the commoner rank. You are so heartless towards a mere niece of the Yang family, so why are you bringing family affection when it comes to Empress Yang?”
The Emperor was even more annoyed by this question. He frowned, “Presumptuous. How can the Yang family and the Empress be the same? The Yang family controls the government and causes disturbance in the country. Of course they must be cut off. But the Empress married the imperial family and has been Zhen’s wife for so many years. How can you disregard her years of hard work and want to cast her off from her position as Zhen’s wife just because of the Yang family?”
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