Li Chengjing walked to the dragon bed and was about to lift the last layer of the curtain when a voice suddenly came from behind him.
Li Chengjing paused, turned around, and frowned when he saw the caller: “Why are you here?”
Cheng Yujin didn’t even stop to catch her breath. Still breathing heavily, she quickly rushed to Li Chengjing’s side, stopped the hand holding the bed curtain, and pulled it away, “Your Highness, the Emperor is resting. We shouldn’t disturb him.”
Cheng Yujin’s eyes were wide open, fully displaying her eagerness and panic. Li Chengjing held Cheng Yujin’s hand, shook it firmly, and lifted the curtain with his other hand.
The Emperor was lying with his back facing them, making it impossible to see his face. Cheng Yujin grabbed Li Chengjing’s sleeve and whispered, “Your Highness…”
“It’s okay.” Li Chengjing turned to block Cheng Yujin’s eyes and said, “Don’t look if you’re afraid.”
Li Chengjing then stretched out his hand and slowly turned the Emperor over. Cheng Yujin wanted to look but didn’t dare to, so she hid behind Li Chengjing, very entangled. After a while, she noticed that Li Chengjing hadn’t made a single movement, so she slowly opened her eyes and called, “Your Highness?”
Li Chengjing withdrew his hand from under the Emperor’s nose. Looking closely, Cheng Yujin could see his fingers trembling.
Without him to say a word, Cheng Yujin had already understood everything. Li Chengjing silently lifted the hem of his robes and knelt beside the bed, with Cheng Yujin following suit.
This time Cheng Yujin also saw it clearly. The Emperor was lying flat on the dragon bed, but his chest was no longer heaving. His lips were black, and his face extremely pale — he was clearly dead, and it did not look like a natural death.
Cheng Yujin vaguely heard Li Chengjing whisper, “Father.” It was such a soft, almost inaudible whisper, so much that Cheng Yujin almost thought she had misheard it.
“This Son has been away from you for fourteen years and is unfilial, unable to take care of you. Even after I returned two years ago, I was always busy with governmental affairs and have rarely served by your side. When I was young, I remembered the honor you gave me by personally raising me for three years. You meticulously took care of my every need, insisting on seeing my medicine tested under your own eyes before allowing me to drink it. This body, as well as this name, was given by my parents, but as a son, I have never served my parents well. This Son is unfilial and begs Your Majesty’s forgiveness.”
Li Chengjing kowtowed three times to the Emperor’s body. Cheng Yujin sighed inside and followed him to give the Emperor the highest degree of kowtow. Even if the monarch and the subject ended up being suspicious of each other, the Emperor was Li Chengjing’s father after all.
When Li Chengjing was kowtowing for the second time, there was a sudden noise outside, clearly made by a group of people barging in. Yet Li Chengjing turned a deaf ear and continued giving the Emperor the third kowtow.
The one who broke in was Li Chengjun, bringing with him a group of cabinet ministers. Finding that Li Chengjing was paying obeisance to the Emperor, he suddenly shouted, “Crown Prince, what are you doing!”
Li Chengjun quickly opened the outermost layer of bed curtains, glanced at the inner part, and immediately showed an unbelievable look, “Father Emperor is dead?! Did you kill him? How dare you!”
Li Chengjun’s words were like a thunderbolt, and the old ministers who followed him were terribly shocked: “Wh-what’s wrong with His Majesty?!”
Li Chengjing didn’t even give Li Chengjun a glance and simply reached out to help Cheng Yujin up. Li Chengjun was still shouting loudly, and finally knelt down in place and cried, “Father Emperor, This Son is unfilial, forgive me for coming too late!”
The current Senior Grand Secretary, that is, the former Secondary Grand Secretary promoted after Yang Fucheng’s downfall, stepped forward tremblingly and put his fingers under the Emperor’s nostrils. Moments later, he fell to his knees with a loud thump, crying, “His Majesty… His Majesty has passed away.”
The remaining ministers looked at each other, knelt down together, and wept, “Your Majesty!”
Compared with Li Chengjun’s heartbreaking cries, Li Chengjing was much more restrained, making him look out of tune. The weeping ministers covered their faces ad cried for a while, but when they raised their heads again, the lights in their eyes were as sharp as before.
“Crown Prince, Shou Wang, what on earth is going on?”
Li Chengjun stood up suddenly, pointed at Li Chengjing, and shouted: “It must be him; he killed Father Emperor! He was alone with Father Emperor until we came, and we heard him admitting to being unfilial and giving Father Emperor a kowtow as we entered. If it wasn’t him, who else could it be?”
At this moment, Li Chengjun was full of tears, looking emotional enough that it seemed he was about to break down at any moment. It didn’t look like he was pretending. Hearing Li Chengjun’s words, the ministers stood up one after another, keeping a distance from each other as they looked back and forth between Li Chengjing and Li Chengjun, as if trying to find out some details.
Taoist Chongxu also came with Li Chengjun, but took his time as he slowly entered the chamber. Seeing the stalemate, he pretended to perform some mudra1 with both hands. After a long while, he sighed and shook his head, “His Majesty has been inflicted by a poison that seals his throat with bloody phlegms. At this moment, his soul has dissipated and can never return to heaven.”
Li Chengjun raised his head and asked, “Father Emperor actually died of poison?”
“That’s right. This is a quick-acting poison, erupts as soon as it enters one’s body and occurs in an instant. His Majesty was poisoned to death just a moment ago, and we came one step too late.”
Just a moment ago? But the Crown Prince and Crown Princess were the only ones by the Emperor’s side when they came in.
Everyone’s eyes turned to Li Chengjing, whose expression did not change in the slightest.
Seeing this, Li Chengjun was even more excited, “Father Emperor’s body is in front of you, yet why don’t you cry or look sad? It shows that you are the one who harmed him. Someone come, take this criminal down!”
The ministers looked at each other in dismay. Finally, Senior Grand Secretary stepped out and cupped his hands, asking the question that the rest of them was eager to know, “Your Highness, can you tell us why you are here? What is going on?”
Li Chengjing said: “I was summoned by His Majesty’s order. When I came in, His Majesty had already… passed away.”
“Sure enough, it’s you!” Li Chengjun cut in, “Father Emperor summoned you, which meant that he was fine at the time. But when the ministers and I entered the door, Father Emperor had already died. If it wasn’t you who murdered him, who else could it be? You have confessed it yourself!”
Li Chengjun’s arguments sounded reasonable, so the Senior Grand Secretary looked at Li Chengjing and asked again, “Your Highness, how do you explain this?”
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