Huo Changyuan’s group bowed their heads in a formal salutation. Feeling the Emperor’s procession was getting nearer, they lowered their postures even more. When the Emperor walked in front of Cheng Yuanjing, Cheng Yujin sensed the Emperor’s footsteps paused for a while.
Cheng Yujin lowered her head and stared silently at the cracks on the ground, avoiding seeing the golden dragon embroidery patterns with open teeth and claws that were fluttering before her eyes. The attendant eunuchs had re-arranged the pavilion. All the things that belonged to Cheng or Huo family were removed and replaced with a set belonged to imperial yellow.
The Emperor returned to his mind and continued to walk forward. As he sat down, he said to them in a relaxed manner: “Zhen just wants to take a short walk and doesn’t want to make a big commotion. You people don’t have to be so formal. Just get up.”
Huo Changyuan got up first with reverence and trepidation. After he got up, his head was still lowered, not daring to look at the Emperor casually. Cheng Yumo’s face was still pale. She followed Huo Changyuan’s movement, hiding half of her body behind him.
The emperor seemed to be very easy-going. Like a gentle elder, he asked: “Zhen remembers you. Have you got your Huo family’s marquis title safely?”
Huo Changyuan did not expect the Emperor to be so kind. After a long time, he still remembered about Huo family’s title. Huo Changyuan was flattered by this unexpected favor. He answered respectfully: “Replying the Emperor, this subject has gotten the Marquis Jingyong title. This subject thanked the Emperor for his kindness!”
The Emperor just smiled and nodded. In fact, he knew about it a long time ago, and merely used this topic as a reason to start a conversation.
Sure enough, as the Emperor spoke, his eyes gently fell on the rest of the people: “They are your relatives?”
Cheng Yumo was dressed as a newlywed and nestled behind Huo Changyuan. It was not difficult to guess her identity. Huo Changyuan felt that the Emperor was too easygoing today, even asking about his family affairs. Still overwhelmed, he cautiously began to introduce: “Many thanks for the Emperor’s grace. This is this subject’s wife. This one is…”
Huo Changyuan was about to introduce the other three one by one, but when his hand pointed to Cheng Yuanjing, Cheng Yuanjing moved a step sideway, avoided Huo Changyuan’s hand, and opened his mouth: “This subject Cheng Yuanjing is paying homage to Your Majesty. May Your Majesty be blessed with a healthy body and peaceful era.”
The Emperor could finally look at Cheng Yuanjing directly and openly. These two sentences made his eyes sore, and he almost burst into tears. Since the eight years of Jianwu, father and son had to live separately. For fourteen years, he hadn’t heard his son spoke in person. Every New Year and his longevity, Cheng Yuanjing would personally write a congratulatory message to be sent to the palace secretly by his confidant eunuchs. However, a letter was far away from having his son stand in front of his eyes and speak in person.
Moreover, for safety purpose, any correspondence with Cheng Yuanjing had to be burned after being read, leaving not a single one as a memento. Except for those two occasions, on other times during the year, the Emperor missed his late wife and eldest son dearly.
The Emperor lived in the palace, surrounded by a large number of staff all the time. It was impossible for him to meet someone in secret. Cheng Yuanjing’s identity was the ninth son of Yichun Marquis Manor, and there was no reason to have him summoned to the palace. The Emperor knew where his eldest son was and how was his daily life. But for so many years, the Emperor hadn’t seen the child in person.
The last time he saw his eldest son was in the palace exam in the nineteenth year of Jianwu. At that time, many scholars entering the palace, and Cheng Yuanjing was one of them, standing among the crowd and bowing his head in respect.
Although father and son were at the same place, they couldn’t admit each other. After Cheng Yuanjing was sent to Qingxuan Temple at the age of six, this was the first time the Emperor saw him again. Even so, under so many eyes, the Emperor had to endure his emotions and couldn’t show even the slightest abnormal behavior. These people were merely scholars attending the examination. They were strangers to the Emperor, and he shouldn’t know any of them.
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During the palace exam, the Emperor couldn’t bear his longing anymore and walked down in person to see the candidates writing the exam. The Emperor didn’t dare to stop directly at Cheng Yuanjing’s seat. He could only pretend to be curious, standing beside the person next to Cheng Yuanjing, and secretly stole a glance at his son.
In a blink of an eye, more than ten years had passed, and this child had grown up. His back was straight and tall, with an elegant posture. When he was young, he was sick almost all the time, but no trace of feebleness could be seen in this healthy-looking youth. Cheng Yuanjing noticed the Emperor’s gaze, but of course he couldn’t look back. The Emperor could only take a glimpse at the exam paper, and noticed that his son’s handwriting was excellent.
Later, the Emperor fulfilled Cheng Yuanjing’s request and sent him on a post outside the capital to gain experience. Once again, he was separated from his son for three full years.
Today was the closest distance the father and son had ever been in these fourteen years, and could even be said to be their only direct meeting after being separated.
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