Chapter 22 — Special Birthday Commemoration
In the center of the Great Hall, palace girls swathed in dancing robes were immersed in performing a meticulous dance, but alas, there’d always be a few restless dancers who would repeatedly send flirtatious winks towards the sons of the palace officials.
The three most handsome men in the Great Hall were met with no exceptions.
Shang Wuxin wore a smile on her lips as she watched the coquettish dancers, but who knew what she was laughing at? One could suggest that maybe a dancer had caught the crown prince’s eye, but that didn’t seem right.
A majority of the onlookers agreed that compared to His Majesty’s, the crown prince’s thoughts were much harder to surmise.
Leng Yu Feng did not spare a single glance for the dancers and instead focused solely on drinking the wine in front of him on the table. To him, women weren’t even as appeasing as good wine.
If it weren’t for the event being His Majesty’s birthday commemoration, Leng Yu Feng would’ve thrown the dancers out already.
Huan Mo Che took in the Hall’s scenery with a warm and mild gaze, but he didn’t look at the dancers. The looks they cast him were openly ignored.
He suddenly felt that no matter how beautiful these women appeared, they were only soiling his eyes, for they could not compare to the crown prince.
With the dance performance, the Hall’s ambiance improved significantly, inducing a much more harmonious atmosphere. Earlier, because of Consort Xin, the atmosphere had turned cold, but now it was becoming lively again.
It was, after all, His Majesty’s birthday, so why wouldn’t everyone wear a joyous expression?
“Fuhuang1, erchen2 wishes fuhuang boundless longevity and good health!” Eldest Prince Shang Cheng Zhao knelt down respectfully and held up a landscape painting that he’d personally painted.
The painting itself was not particularly striking, but its eminence was in the fact that he’d painted it with his own hands.
“En3, Eldest Prince’s efforts are indeed genuine!” Emperor Shang was quite satisfied with the gift and gestured for Eunuch Xu to stow it away.
Emperor Shang never called his children by their given names, and numerous officials were aware that he treated each prince with equal favor. This gave rise to several divisions of power and influence within the imperial court, and the great emperor himself also carried some influence.
“Fuhuang, erchen sincerely wishes fuhuang an auspicious life and good health!” Second Prince Shang Lan Hai said ceremoniously. His body was clad in a cyan robe lined with gold. As he spoke, he offered a lotus flower that he’d exerted great effort to find.
The colors violet and blue coincided on its petals, making the lotus truly a wondrous and beautiful sight to behold.
The second prince was Consort Ning’s son. In the palace, Consort Ning was known to be a placid consort who didn’t fight nor vy for the emperor’s attention. She retained her tranquil nature in both the past and the present, so there were scarcely any consorts who held enmity towards her.
Furthermore, she devoted herself to Buddha, so she spent most of her time secluded inside the palace fo tang4 Consort Ning had 2 children: Second Prince Shang Lan Hai and Third Princess Shang Zhou Mo.
Emperor Shang studied the phenomenal lotus and pleasantly nodded his head. Many knew that today, the second prince seemed to have garnered the most satisfaction from His Majesty.
“Fuhuang, erchen sincerely wishes fuhuang longevity parallel to the Southern Mountains and happiness as immense as the Eastern Sea!” Third Prince Shang Cheng Yin congratulated.
His gift was a statue sculpted from fine jade. Just one glance at its luster was enough to confirm its exceptional value.
Originally, the third prince had believed that today, he would definitely be able to curry favor from fuhuang, but with the interference of his mufei5‘s blunders, Third Prince Shang Cheng Yin was afraid that no matter what type of gift he gave, fuhuang would not regard him as anything special.
Amongst Emperor Shang’s five princes and four princesses, Shang Wuxin was the youngest of the young. In truth, having only nine children in the imperial family was actually considered a pitiful amount.
That small number was due to the fact that since the year Empress Qiu entered the palace, Emperor Shang had not touched any other women, which in turn resulted in the sparse amount of offspring in the imperial family.
After the other princes and princesses brought up their gifts, only Shang Wuxin remained in her seat, incessantly trying the dishes on the table.
When she came across something that tasted decent, she’d take a few bites, and when she encountered something that she didn’t like, she’d frown, scrunch her eyebrows together, and not touch it again.
Others might not have noticed these little actions of hers, but Leng Yu Feng and Huan Mo Che were sitting next to her and saw them clearly. Simultaneously, they thought that the crown prince’s gluttonous behavior was extremely lovable–so lovable that they wanted to preserve and treasure the sight of it.
“This.. it seems like the crown prince hasn’t given his gift yet!” Consort Qin said hesitantly. She’d just witnessed the crown prince’s cruelty, so although she wanted to damage his reputation, she couldn’t do it blatantly.
Remembering the failures of the assassins she’d hired, she felt that the crown prince wasn’t as simple as he seemed.
At her words, everyone turned their attention to Shang Wuxin. Though they didn’t dare behave as rudely as Consort Xin had, they were still nonetheless curious about the crown prince’s gift. After all, during His Majesty’s birthday accommodations in the past, the crown prince never attended and instead hid away in his estate.
Shang Wuxin put down the snacks she was holding and then took a box out of Wu Wei’s hands.
“Fuhuang, erchen sincerely wishes fuhuang good health!”
What an insincere commendation! Or rather, there was no heart put in it at all! Several people thought that perhaps the crown prince was too spontaneous, or perhaps he was too reckless, but those who were wise felt that the crown prince was truly a laudable figure–he hadn’t bothered to put on a display of false adulation.
Emperor Shang didn’t look at the box’s contents even after Eunuch Xi retrieved it. As it was about to put it away, the fourth prince made a sound.
“I wonder what type of gift the crown prince has bestowed? Crown Prince, you may as well let us feast our eyes upon it?”
It seemed like Fourth Prince Shang An Cang simply just wanted a peek at what the crown prince had prepared, but it was actually because he knew distinctly that Taiji Estate6 was poor. With his estate in that condition, how could the crown prince possibly be able to produce a quality gift?
Letting the crown prince publicly lose face before these ranks of spectators would bring the fourth prince great pleasure.
Due to an illness, Fourth Prince Shang An Cong’s mufei had an early passing, but with his own hands, he had rose in power. His capability was not to be underestimated.
“Let it be opened!” Emperor Shang declared, and thus, under everyone’s watchful eyes, Eunuch Xu opened the brocade box. Immediately, the gift revealed itself to the multitude of gazes that were looking upon it.
They were shocked, and some even stood up in disbelief.
Huan Mo Che glanced at the gift and then concernedly at the crown prince, thinking that in case His Majesty decided to blame the prince, Huan Mo Che would protect him at all costs.
Leng Yu Feng saw what was inside the box and became somewhat lost, not knowing what exactly the crown prince was attempting to do, but he believed that the crown prince wasn’t someone who engaged in futile activities.
Leng Yu Feng felt like he was too drawn to the crown prince today. The crown prince really was quite eye-catching and attention-attracting.
Leng Yu Feng could tell that even his good friend Huan Mo Che was compelled, because Leng Yu Feng had seen him look at the crown prince several times now.
“Crown Prince, today is fuhuang’s birthday commemoration. Even if your estate is poor, you cannot just gift fuhuang a few tarnished grains of rice. What do you mean by this?” Eldest Prince Shang Cheng Zhao berated. The other princes were also standing on the side that disapproved of the crown prince.
Although the princes were not as amicable with each other as they appeared, the incompetent Shang Wuxin that they’d once disregarded was now too big of a threat. And since the title of crown prince was with Shang Wuxin, they needed to first strip him of it.
“Crown Prince, what is the meaning of this?” Emperor Shang stared at the box as his voice seemed to take on an accusatory tone.
“Fuhuang!” Shang Wuxin went to Eunuch Xu and retrieved the box before holding it high above her head so that everyone could see the mottled grains inside.
“These days, the south is going through a period of famine7 Amongst the people, even this kind of rice is sought after. In merely a few months, the famine has led to the death of countless citizens in the south. Hence, erchen presented this gift today to bring awareness of this plight to my imperial brothers and sisters. Taiji Estate may be impecunious, but there are innocent citizens who aret even more poor. Erchen knows that fuhuang wholeheartedly loves our empire’s citizens, so erchen wanted to especially enlighten fuhuang on this matter!”
Bang! Emperor Shang slammed a heavy fist on the table. “Such a tremendous matter, and yet none of zhen8‘s aijings9 thought to submit a report on it? Good, very good!”
“Your Majesty, please cease your anger!” Every official fell to their knees. Some really didn’t know, while some hadn’t bothered to write a report.
After all, such a troublesome predicament meant great responsibility for the officials who supervised the south. In the eyes of the privileged, the common people were of low standing.
“Eldest huangxiong10, what do you think of this gift? It allows fuhuang to know of the people’s hardships. Do you think this gift is shabby?”
While everyone held their breath, not letting out any sound, Shang Wuxin walked over to the kneeling Eldest Prince Shang Cheng Zhao, standing in front of him as she looked down on the princes.
“I… I…” Eldest Prince Shang Cheng Zhao could not utter a word. He hadn’t thought that a few measly grains would carry with it such a deep, unexpected meaning.
Emperor Shang flew into a fit of anger and glared at his subjects. “Something that even the crown prince knows, you all are ignorant to. It seems that you’re all muddle-headed and blind! Now, what do you say should be done?”
No one dared to speak, and since Emperor Shang was enraged, even less people dared to stroke the dragon’s whiskers. He scrutinized the officials and said in a slightly more affable voice, “Huan gongzi11, you are an intelligent man. What do you think should be done about this famine?”