After Li Chengjing ascended the throne, he ordered a re-investigation of the destruction of the Qingxuan Temple in the eighth year of the Jianwu era. The investigation found new leads, proving that the mountain flood was not accidental but was caused by the deliberate destruction of a dam upstream. Hundreds of lives perished in that torrent, murdered.
From the very beginning, this was a conspiracy against the Crown Prince. The masterminds behind this were revealed to be the late Empress Dowager Yang and her brother, the previous Senior Grand Secretary Yang Fucheng.
The revelation of the assassination attempt of the Crown Prince aroused suspicion of Yang Fucheng’s involvement in the murder of the late Empress Zhong. A re-trial was requested, but before the cup of poisonous wine could be delivered, Yang Fucheng passed away from the illness he contracted due to the hardship of living in poverty. Empress Dowager Yang was deprived of her post-mortem honor. She was not allowed to be buried in the imperial mausoleum, nor did she deserve to enjoy the offerings from imperial descendants.
Even death couldn’t write off one’s past sins. After her death, Empress Dowager Yang still had to pay the price for the atrocities she committed in life. Her reputation was torn apart, and she was even deprived of a final resting place. As for Yang Fucheng, he was in control of the government for more than 20 years and had accumulated countless wealth, yet at his final moments, he didn’t even have enough copper coins to buy medicines.
Kang Wangfei Zhong-shi, the first wife and Empress of the late Emperor, was named the Empress Dowager by her son Li Chengjing. However, Empress Dowager Zhong had passed away for decades, so only the Empress had the final say in the inner palace.
In fact, apart from Empress, there was not even a single woman by the Emperor’s side. As a fellow woman, Dowager Consort Shu was naturally very envious. The Emperor held the coronation for the Empress on the same day as his. After the full set of ceremonies, the young new Emperor of the Daqi dynasty made a shocking declaration in the full view of hundreds of subjects who attended his coronation. Citing the old law established by the Great Founding Ancestor that forbade a man from taking a concubine unless he was without a son at the age of forty, the new Emperor claimed that he must become an example for his subjects. He already had a son at the age of twenty-two and thus would no longer take concubines or consorts. In the future, no courtiers were allowed to mention such things as filling the inner palace or opening a draft.
The Emperor had made his intention clear. A monarch’s single word was as heavy as a mountain, and he made such a declaration during his enthronement ceremony. Who dared to object? Sure enough. Following the declaration, no courtiers dared to mention opening an imperial draft. General Dong of the Fifth Battalion Army lost so much face and strictly forbade his daughter from leaving the house. A few days ago, words came around that he had found a husband for Miss Dong.
The Emperor dared to make such a bold declaration in public, which showed his determination. Dowager Consort Shu was very envious of Cheng Yujin, but not for her being an Empress, nor for the pair of lovely children that she had. No. Rather, it was Li Chengjing’s care of Cheng Yujin that made Dowager Consort Shu envious. It was such a fortune to be loved so deeply by one’s husband. Do not mention that Cheng Yujin was also an empress; even if she was just an ordinary folk woman, countless women in the world were willing to spend their life’s glory and wealth to exchange places with her.
What a pity — no matter how much they envied, such a wish would never come true.
Suddenly, a palace maid came in. She first greeted Cheng Yujin and Dowager Consort Shu, then put her hands aside and waited silently. Seeing that the maid had something to report, Dowager Consort Shu made a random excuse and politely took her leave.
Cheng Yujin nodded in response and ordered Lian Qiao to send Dowager Consort Shu out. When Dowager Consort Shu walked away, she vaguely heard the name ‘Marchioness Jingyong’ being mentioned.
Marchioness Jingyong… no wonder the maid waited until the guest was gone before delivering her report. Dowager Consort Shu knew this name, of course. Years ago, she heard from her natal family that Yichun Marquis Manor had twin sisters: the elder sister was smart and dignified, while the younger sister was lively and cheerful. Later, Marquis Jingyong got engaged to the elder sister, but broke the marriage contract in just two months. In the end, he married the younger sister.
All things happened, and the younger sister ended up replacing her older sister to marry into the Jingyong Marquis Manor. A woman married her sister’s former fiance — this matter was enough to attract criticism. It was one thing if Cheng Yumo had a peaceful and happy married life, but even this was not the case. According to rumors, Cheng Yumo was incompatible with her mother-in-law Huo Xue-shi and practically had a quarrel almost every day, sometimes even ending up in physical fights, making themselves a joke in the circle.
With such a wife and mother at home, Huo Changyuan was the one who bore the brunt. Moreover, it seemed that the disputes in the family had also sapped Huo Changyuan of his energy. Over the years, he had not made any progress in his career, and even made several mistakes due to negligence.
A court-appointed official with a notoriously restless family at home and little merit in officialdom — his career had basically come to an end. The title of Marquis Jingyong seemed to be the last in Huo Changyuan, meaning that the next generation wouldn’t even have a title to depend on. At this rate, it wouldn’t take long for the Jingyong Marquis Manor itself to disappear from the capital.
On the contrary, the elder sister stayed at home after her first broken engagement. After her mourning period ended, she ended up marrying the Crown Prince, who previously assumed the identity of the Cheng family’s son. Now, the Crown Prince was the Emperor, and the elder sister was his Empress. Indeed, one never knew what life would bring us.
Accompanied by her personal servant girl, Dowager Consort Shu returned to her new palace. After listening to her mistress sighing about the fate of the two sisters, the servant girl commented, “Dowager Consort, don’t you think that the elder sister made such a great fortune simply because her first engagement was broken up and she couldn’t find another match? It has always been rumored that the Crown Prince married a Cheng family’s daughter because of a request from the late Old Master Cheng. The Old Master relied on the life-saving grace and asked the Crown Prince to marry a Cheng’s daughter in return. The Second Miss was already married, and only one Eldest Miss was left in the family, so…”
Dowager Consort Shu was stunned for a moment, and after realizing what the servant girl was implying, immediately scorned in disdain, “Ridiculous. It’s nothing more than a certain somebody taking herself too highly. Our current Emperor may look gentle and amiable, but who among civil officials, cabinet ministers, and military attaches dare to contradict him in the court? His Majesty is someone who sticks by his principle. If he does not want to, who in the world could force him to marry a woman he doesn’t like? Let alone the late Marquis Yichun; even the late Emperor couldn’t. Just look at His Majesty’s attentiveness to the Empress. This Palace will never believe that he didn’t conspire to marry her from begin with.”
The servant girl was easily persuaded. Indeed, whether it was prior to or after ascending the throne, His Majesty’s love for the Empress was very apparent.
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