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Nirvana In Fire Chapter 109

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The eighth month of the year normally marked the arrival of two extremely important days for both the court and the common people. The first was the fifteenth day of the eighth month, Mid-Autumn Festival, and the second was the thirtieth day of the eighth month, the Emperor's birthday. However, because of the Grand Empress Dowager's recent pa.s.sing, all celebrations were suspended during the period of mourning, and so the former only warranted a holiday off from work, while the second was heralded by the arrival of gifts from all over the city and several small banquets held by senior officials, the imperial family, and the Inner Palace.

Though the banquets were small, the imperial family and high-ranking officials still had to abide by the usual custom of arranging for birthday gifts for the Emperor. This was typically a chance for them to compete for royal favour and attention, and so everyone took the task very seriously. The Crown Prince presented a beautiful nine-fold screen delicately embroidered with brightly coloured flying dragons, which drew gasps of admiration as it was unfurled before the Emperor. Prince Yu somehow managed to produce a huge taihu rock naturally carved into the character ‘shou‘, a stunning, strange treasure that one could hardly hope to find again in this lifetime. The other princes came forward with rare copies of coveted ancient scrolls, or exquisitely carved jade pieces of G.o.ds and G.o.ddesses, each undoubtedly worth hundreds of thousands of gold pieces in value. Prince Jing's gift was merely a handsome falcon, perfectly trained, which sat with great dignity on the Emperor's arm and gazed steadily into his eyes with its head crooked, drawing a sudden bout of cheerful laughter from its new master.

Initially, the Emperor had expressed similar words of pleasure and admiration for all the gifts he had received, but as the sounds of his laughter rang through the hall, quite a few of those present seemed to be realizing something.

Because there could be no playing of music during the period of national mourning, the atmosphere of the banquet remained somewhat lacking despite the best efforts of the guests, and the Emperor's spirits were still not high, so after receiving a few customary toasts in his honour, he set out to return to the Inner Palace.

In the Inner Palace, the Empress had led the Six Palaces in arranging a more intimate banquet to await the Emperor. The Emperor had already had a few cups of wine, and now he reclined on his chair and accepted the well-wishes and gifts the Inner Palace brought to him. After some time, his back began to ache, and after the gift-giving ceremony ended, he ordered Consort Jing to sit by his side to ma.s.sage his back, as he sat watching the great hall, his eyes drifting close now and then.

Because it was both the Emperor's birthday and still the period of national mourning, no one dared to wear the plain white clothes of mourning, but neither did they dare to dress too exuberantly. At a glance, there were not the gaudy colours and extravagant silks of the previous years, and as a result, the overall atmosphere appeared all the more refined for it.

When the wives of officials and other external guests had paid their respects and left, there remained only the Emperor's consorts and the princesses. The Emperess was of course the first to raise her cup to toast the Emperor's health, and after her came n.o.ble Consort Yue. Ever since the Crown Prince's punishments, n.o.ble Consort Yue had become much more subdued. Today, she had only lined her long slender brows, and had not powdered her face or lined her lips. There was a thin smile on her pale, plain face, and the stark contrast to her previous stunning beauty drew pitiful looks from everyone around her.

The Emperor accepted the golden cup from her ivory-white hands and sipped. He looked at her downcast eyes and thought of the Crown Prince, who had also looked drawn and thin at the larger banquet, and his heart softened.

Although he had been furious at the Crown Prince's conduct, he had nonetheless doted on this mother and son pair for many years, and the mutual affection ran deep. Besides, he was feeling his age of late, and found himself constantly worrying about the future as he gazed at his greying hair in the mirror, and so he could no longer bear to act as harshly as he had done in the past.

“You have grown thinner, are you unwell? We should have the imperial physician attend to you…….” The Emperor put a hand on Consort Yue's forehead as he continued gently, “The Qin province has sent over some eyebrow pigment. We will have it delivered to you tonight.”

“I thank Your Majesty.” n.o.ble Consort Yue's eyes were rimmed in red, but this was no occasion for tears, so she hurriedly forced them down, her eyes a little damp. The Emperor's heart softened even further when he saw this, and he took her hand and sat her down to his right, talking to her in a soft voice.

The Empress, a little unhappy, turned her gaze involuntarily to Consort Jing, who was behind the Emperor, ma.s.saging his back. Her eyes were lowered and her expressiom peaceful, as if she felt nothing at all, and the Empress knew she could hardly rely on her to divert the Emperor's attention. As she was considering, she caught sight of a few of the younger princesses, and hurriedly beckoned them over, instructing them to go forward to present their toasts to the Emperor.

Just like the banquet in the outer palace, this banquet did not last long. After three rounds of wine, the Emperor was tired and ordered the Empress to dissolve the banquet and hand out the ceremonial gifts, after which he finally returned to his own rooms to rest.

Perhaps he had overexerted himself, or perhaps it was the wine, but the Emperor awoke the next day unwell with indigestion, and sent orders for the court to rest for a day. The Imperial Physicians rushed to the palace, but after a detailed examination, they found no major illness, and so could only prescribe some general soothing remedies. The Emperor himself also felt it was only a mild case of indigestion, and did not feel any great discomfort, and so, not wanting to cause a great fuss, he pa.s.sed on orders for the imperial relations and officials not to visit the palace inquiring after his health, and instead took his medicine and slept for a few hours. In the afternoon, he woke again much refreshed.

Although he was feeling better, the Emperor still did not want to deal with official matters, and so he read a few pages of his book before suddenly remembering n.o.ble Consort Yue and the Crown Prince's wan appearances the day before, and he immediately summoned Gao Zhan and had him prepare a palanquin so he could quietly visit the Eastern Palace to visit the Crown Prince and show his favour.

The Emperor had specified that he wanted to go quietly, so naturally he did not wish his arrival to be announced in advance. Accordingly, Gao Zhan only notified Commander General of the Imperial Guard, Meng Zhi, and when they set out, it was with a small group of guards, less than ten altogether including Meng Zhi himself. They walked along the path beside the high wall that separated the Forbidden Gardens from the Eastern Palace and soon arrived at the gates of the latter.

The abrupt and unexpected arrival of His Imperial Majesty sent the guards at the gates into a panic, and they rushed forward and knelt in a circle before the Emperor. Because the Emperor was already standing before them and everyone was busy bowing, no one dared to rise to run inside to pa.s.s on the message of the Emperor's arrival, and so no one notified the Crown Prince.

“What is the Crown Prince doing?” The Emperor asked idly.

A man wearing the robes of a sixth-ranked official answered, trembling with fear, “Your……your Majesty, the Crown Prince is……is……inside…….”

“What nonsense! Where else would he be if not inside? We are asking what he is doing inside?!”

“Your, your Majesty……your servant is, is not sure…….”

Gao Zhan saw that his answer was truly improper, and hurriedly interjected, “Your Majesty, perhaps we may have them notify the Crown Prince to come receive Your Majesty?”

The Emperor grunted in approval. Gao Zhan pointed at the official who had just spoken and said softly, “What are you still kneeling there for, go quickly!”

The official touched his to the ground, scrambled to his feet and ran towards the Eastern Palace. But in his frenzy, he tripped over his robes and fell face-first onto the ground, struggling to rise as he tripped and lurched his way towards the palace.

The Emperor watched him go and couldn't hold back his laughter, but after a few moments, he stopped again abruptly, a suspicion arising in his mind. He vaguely recognized this official, who frequently served by the Crown Prince's side, and though his rank was low, he was not a newcomer who had never been in the Emperor's presence before. And although he had arrived unexpectedly today, it still should not have frightened him into such a state….

“Call him back!”

Gao Zhan hurriedly ordered one of the eunuchs to bring the official back, dropping him before the Emperor where he knelt, still shaking.

“You said just now……you aren't sure what the Crown Prince is doing inside?”

The official fell prostate to the ground, not daring to lift his head as he answered in a trembling voice, “Your servant is indeed not……not sure…….”

The Emperor gazed steadily at him for a long moment, and then said coldly, “All of you, kneel. Do not pa.s.s on any messages, amd do not move from your positions. Meng Zhi, Gao Zhan, follow us!”

“Yes, Your Majesty.”

As he bowed, Gao Zhan felt uneasiness stir in his heart. Though he did not know the situation inside the palace, he felt that something was not right. He snuck a glance at Meng Zhi, hoping to catch some sign of what he meant to do, but there was no expression on the Commander General's face as he followed the Emperor silently. And so Gao Zhan could only bend even lower as he hurried to catch up to the Emperor, who was walking faster with every step.

Although the size of the Eastern Palace could not be compared to the Emperor's own residence, it was nonetheless the residence of the heir to the throne, and there was no short distance between the gate and Changxin Hall, where the Crown Prince liked to spend most of his time. The Emperor suspected the Crown Prince was engaging in inappropriate affairs in his own palace, and so had decided to make his way there in secret to see for himself. But he was no longer young, and so it was not long before he grew short of breath.

Gao Zhan, well-attuned to the Emperor's every wish, had made preparations for this occasion. With a wave of his hand, the six-man carriage that had been trailing behind them came forward. The Emperor stepped onto it, and their pace immediately doubled. As they continued on their way, they came across many servants and guards, and although they did not understand what was happening, they understood Meng Zhi's gesture for silence, and prostrated themselves by the side of the road, not daring to move as the entourage pa.s.sed.

As they neared Changxin Hall, the Emperor got off the carriage. As soon as he stepped into the wooden walkways outside the hall, he heard the sound of music playing. Fury rose instantly in his heart, and his steps redoubled.

The proper ceremonial rites dictated a national ban on music during the mourning period. However, the three-year period of pietous mourning was considered long, and near its end, many of the commoners tended to violate the ban. So long as it was not done in public, not overly ostentatious, and not reported to the authorities, the court turned a blind eye. But the Crown Prince was an entirely different story – he was firstly the heir to the throne, and secondly the direct grandson of the Grand Empress Dowager, and so bore the double responsibility of national and familial piety. Not to mention that this was not the end of the mourning period – in fact, not even half a year had pa.s.sed. And so, for the Eastern Palace to play music at such a time was an insult and a violation of the highest order.

Of course, it was not as if the Crown Prince was unaware that playing music at such a time was a gross violation. It was only that he had grown accustomed to having music, and couldn't wait until the end of the mourning period, not to mention that he had been feeling depressed and low-spirited of late, and so had wanted something to take his mind off his troubles. Besides, he figured that so long as he kept the doors and windows of Changxin Hall firmly closed, there was no way anyone would find out, and so he relaxed and allowed himself to indulge a little. As for his Father Emperor's sudden and unannounced arrival, this had simply never happened before in his entire life, and so he could not in his worst nightmares have imagined its occurrence.

The Emperor stood for a while in the hallway outside the tightly closed doors of the hall, listening to the deliberately quiet sounds of the music playing within. His expression was difficult to behold, but at this moment, he still retained the capacity for logical reasoning. He knew that if he burst into the hall now, the Crown Prince's great sin of violating the period of National Mourning would become irrevocable reality. To Da Liang, which had throughout history governed its people by upholding the values of filial piety and respect, this was no small crime, certainly enough to destroy what little was left of the Crown Prince's good name. And then, not only would he lose his place as heir, everyone in or related to the Eastern Palace would suffer as well. On the other hand, though there was great anger in his heart now for the Crown Prince and what he was doing, and though he had no intention of showing this son of his any more mercy, the Emperor nonetheless preferred to handle this quietly, not wanting something he had stumbled upon entirely on accident to become the catalyst for the destruction of his heir.

And so, the Emperor suppressed the anger in his heart and turned silently away, intending to leave as quietly as he had come, when suddenly he heard voices from within the hall.

“Your Highness……have another cup……. After all, His Majesty is ill and will not summon Your Highness today, so what does it matter if you are drunk…….”

The Crown Prince's cold scoff followed these gentle words. “Even if Father Emperor were not ill, he still would not summon me. Who does he have eyes for now, other than Prince Yu?”

“Why is Your Highness speaking in this way, you are the heir to the throne, the future Emperor, and so in His Majesty's eyes, surely there is only you….”

“It doesn't matter, I saw through it all long ago. Father Emperor is heartless and overly suspicious, always scolding me for not improving my morals and conduct…. But does he not realize that, if he had not supported Prince Yu in rising to become my opponent, I would not have had cause to act as I did? If my moral integrity is so tainted, does that mean Father Emperor's is not?” The Crown Prince's laugh rang out bitterly, followed by the sounds of swallowing and the clinking of wine cups.

The Emperor's face was livid, his entire body shaking. Gao Zhan, worried, came closer and reached out a hand to support the Emperor, but was shoved aside so violently that he fell onto his back on the ground. The Emperor didn't even look at him as he strode down the stairs in two great steps, grabbed a long curved sword from Meng Zhi's belt, and then turned around and rushed back up the stairs. Gao zhan, ashen with fear, crawled on his knees over to the Emperor and wrapped his arms around his leg, crying in a soft voice, “Your Majesty, consider carefully! Your Majesty, have a care!”

In truth, the Emperor was simply in a rage, and he himself did not know what he meant to do. He had seized the sword and rushed at the closed doors, but now he stood there at a loss, and finally, he swung the sword in a vicious slice, carving a deep rut into one of the vermillion pillars that stood before the door of Changxin Hall, and then flung the sword onto the ground and stalked away.

The whole commotion had not been quiet, and the Crown Prince was finally realizing something was wrong. But by the time he stumbled out of the hall, all he saw was the Emperor's golden yellow robe disappearing around the corner, and when he turned and saw the sword mark on the pillar, he started to sway, feeling as if his bones had turned to water, sweat pouring off his forehead and his ears ringing until at last, he collapsed onto the ground.

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Nirvana In Fire Chapter 109 summary

You're reading Nirvana In Fire. This manga has been translated by Updating. Author(s): Hai Yan. Already has 1525 views.

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