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 because of the Yang family?”
Li Chengjing was listening in silence. His hands clenched subconsciously, so hard that blue veins almost burst out. So it turned out like this. Right, after all, they had been married for almost 20 years. Even if the Emperor was not madly in love with Empress Yang, she was still his wife, and he couldn’t bear to embarrass her too much.
Then what about him? What?
Li Chengjing held back a sarcastic sneer. How ridiculous. Just because the Emperor had never abolished his position as the crown prince, he had always been moved. Over the years, he was full of pressure, always restrained himself by the standard of a crown prince, and never dared to slack off in the slightest. Yet, when he was about to fulfill his original promise to his mother… his father, his monarch, denied all his efforts in one sentence.
The Emperor accused him of being unbenevolent. As a crown prince, the future ruler of the country, this was a fundamental denial. His ability was nothing; his efforts no longer counted. As a crown prince who lacked benevolence, no amount of hard work was useful, because he was already unworthy from the root.
Over the years, Li Chengjing’s feelings for the Emperor were always complicated and mired with contradictions. As a son, he naturally had a yearning for his father. The Emperor resisted years of pressure from the Yang faction in the court to make him the crown prince and keep the position intact. For this, Li Chengjing was very grateful and did not dare to slack off. However, precisely because they were father and son that he also had a grudge against the Emperor.
If it weren’t for the Emperor’s inaction, he would not have been stranded outside, his mother would not have died in futile, and the Zhong family would not get destroyed.
For years, Li Chengjing had been grateful and resentful, feeling longing yet also detached. It was for this reason that he refused to call the Emperor ‘Father.’
Such awkwardness was untypical for Li Chengjing, but precisely because he cared that he became emotional. Took Cheng Yujin, for example. She cared not about the Cheng family and the Emperor, which was why she was able to face them calmly and rationally, and with the behavior they expected from her.
At this moment, a coldness was spreading in Li Chengjing’s heart. He finally understood. So it turned out that the fatherly love that he was yearning for many years, yet afraid to approach, was just a phantom of his imagination.
For the Emperor, both Li Chengjing and Empress Yang were just roles. As the son, it was a given that Li Chengjing must do everything according to his wish. He wanted Li Chengjing to work hard, then Li Chengjing must work hard; he wanted Li Chengjing to let go, then Li Chengjing must let go of his and his mother’s many years of hatred. He eliminated the Yang family, but he still wanted Empress Yang to obediently continue to be a good wife and virtuous mother. She must not have grudges because of the destruction of her family, and she must never neglect her duty just because she saw no hope for the future.
In the end, Li Chengjing, the Yang family, and Empress Yang were just the same — they were nothing but a pawn in the hands of the Emperor, and everything they did must satisfy the ideal he had in mind.
In the Emperor’s heart, he and he alone was the center of the universe. Everyone else could not have emotions that went against his own, and they had to fully dedicate themselves to his will and whim. Since he wanted them to play the drama of a benevolent ruler and loyal subjects, then they must be loyal subjects under him. Since he wanted them to maintain the portrait of a harmonious family, then they must be in harmony with one another.
At this moment, Li Chengjing suddenly found himself naive and laughable. He actually longed for the Emperor to love him and have guilt towards Empress Zhong, which was nothing more than a bad joke.
Li Chengjing’s heart became cold, and his tone slowly turned icy, “Your Majesty seems to care about the relationship between husband and wife now, but what about my mother? Did she deserve to die just because she married you?”
“Presumptuous!” The Emperor slapped the table hard. The eunuchs waiting inside and outside the imperial study immediately fell to their knees in fear, not daring to make a single noise. For a moment, the entire Qianqing Palace was engulfed in heavy silence. The Emperor stared angrily at Li Chengjing, who in turn just kept standing with his back straight, not evading the stare.
Until the end, Li Chengjing never made a word of apology. He simply cupped his hand and bowed, “This son retires. Your Majesty, please take care of your health.”
Li Chengjing turned around and left the Qianqing Palace. As he stepped out, another loud bang sounded from behind, and he could hear the faint voices of eunuchs appeasing and flattering the Emperor.
Yet he did not slow his pace. Li Chengjing did not even look back as he walked out of the palace gate. Outside, the sunlight fell upon his figure, making him suddenly a bit dizzy.
In the end, he and the Emperor came to this point. As a monarch and a subject, a father and a son, they finally became suspicious of each other.
In the first month after Empress Dowager Yang’s passing, the Emperor slowly discovered the sweetness of having the ultimate supremacy, of having unchecked power in his hand. Whatever he wanted to do in the court, he no longer needed the consent of Yang Fucheng. When it came to the inner palace, he could visit any woman he liked whenever he wanted to, without having to worry about Empress Yang. He also no longer had to endure anyone, as with Empress Dowager Yang’s passing, he was also freed of the duty of a filial son he had to perform for the past twenty-five years.
Both in the court and inner palace, there was no longer a single person who could restrain him. The Emperor gradually became addicted to the feeling of total control, but his health was getting increasingly worse, and the frequent headache was taking most of his energy.
Like so many rulers in the past, the Emperor suddenly started to seek immortality.
The Second Prince came to visit every day, greeted the Emperor warmly, and brought various tea and medicinal ingredients. It was such a contrast to the Emperor’s relationship with Li Chengjing, which had become rather stiff recently.
The job of an emperor never finished. The Emperor was plagued with headaches and had no energy to manage the governmental affairs, but work kept piling up one after another. Piles of memorials, from emergencies to daily trivialities, streamed in endlessly and could not be delayed.
The Emperor enjoyed the newly found sense of absolute power, but transferred all the responsibilities and obligations to Li Chengjing. The Second Prince accompanied the Emperor every day, fulfilling his duty as a filial son. Meanwhile, Li Chengjing had to handle government affairs and discuss various matters with the court officials, so busy that he only had time at night to visit the Qianqing Palace to make a report. At a glance, it was clear which son was close and which one was distant, and who was receiving more favor.
Li Chengjing never said a word of complaint, but Cheng Yujin was particularly distressed for him.
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