In this way, Jun Huailang and Jun Linghuan moved in to Mingluan Palace.
Consort Shu specially had him study with the other princes in Wenhua Hall so that he wouldn’t fall behind in his studies.

Knowing that Jun Huailang would attend school with him, Xue Yunhuan who normally went to Wenhua Hall like he was facing execution, for the first time was interested in going to school.
At daybreak on the first day, he specially came to Mingluan Palace and shouted for Jun Huailang to go with him.

Contrary to what one might expect, this little tyrant did not shy away from inconvenience.
Every day he stubbornly left a quarter hour early in order to catch Jun Huailang.

Nowadays, the princes were only studying the Four Books and Five Classics.[1] In the morning they studied literature and in the afternoon they had martial training.
In his previous life, Jun Huailang had long learned them by heart, so the classes now were effortless to him.
He was therefore able to make the time to obey the empress’s decree and encourage the little tyrant’s studies.

Several days passed peacefully.
It was just that an empty desk stood in the corner of Wenhua Hall all this time. 

After half a month, lychee from Lingnan[2] came into season and were sent on fast horses to the palace.
That day happened to be a rest day for the princes, they only had class in the morning and could relax in the afternoon.

Consort Shu was the favorite so she received the most lychee in the whole palace.
Despite that, the empress still specially sent people to Wenhua Hall to invite Jun Huailang to her palace to eat fruit together.

Jun Huailang understood that the empress wanted to thank him.
These past few days Xue Yunhuan’s homework was done well and the imperial tutors’ praise must have reached her ear.

So Jun Huailang did not decline, after class he went to the empress’s palace together with Xue Yunhuan.

Qifeng Palace was bustling inside.
The empress’s senior maid waited at the door.
Seeing the two of them, she said, “His Majesty is also inside.”

Jun Huailang thanked her and entered Qifeng Palace’s main hall with Xue Yunhuan.

Emperor Qingping was in the middle of chatting with Empress Jiang and the atmosphere was a bit chilly.
Jun Huailang had just entered when he heard Empress Jiang hesitantly say, “When all’s said and done, the fifth prince is already grown and Consort Shu is quite young, I fear she will not agree.”

Fifth prince? Jun Huailang slowed down hearing these words.

Emperor Qingping was displeased and said, “Only Consort Shu can suppress Xue Yan’s evil aura.”

Empress Jiang replied softly, “But the Head Astrologist’s report is only a prophecy, it should not be blindly believed…”

The senior maid hurriedly announced from the outer room, “Reporting to Your Majesties, Sixth Highness and Heir Jun has arrived.”

The two of them immediately stopped their discussion.
Emperor Qingping did not speak.
Empress Jiang smiled and said, “Enter.
After studying all morning, you must be tired?”

Xue Yunhuan did not pay attention to what his father and mother were discussing, he was only concerned with the glistening fresh lychee and charged in.

Jun Huailang followed behind him.

Hearing what the empress said just then, could it be that the emperor wanted Consort Shu to raise Xue Yan because of the head astrologist’s divination?

Jun Huailang believed in gods and ghosts.
After all, Jun Huailang would not have been reborn if not for them.
But this divination was clearly creating something from nothing.

From the start Xue Yan did not harm the emperor’s star, on the contrary he had a noble destiny.
Consort Shu also could not suppress his inauspicious aura and would pass away in a few years.

It seemed as if there was someone hidden in the shadows who had already calculated each step needed to push Xue Yan to Consort Shu’s side.
Although it was only a few lines of prophecy, Jun Huailang perceived a large hidden net entangling not just the Jun family, but also the entire imperial household. 

Jun Huailang considered all this without showing anything on his face, and entered the hall to greet the emperor and empress.

“Rise.” Emperor Qingping looked slightly mollified, and bade them sit at his side.
The empress ordered the maids to bring forth refreshments and lychees.
She said, “Huan-er has been studying much harder these days thanks to Huailang.”

Emperor Qingping hummed in approval and said, “Children from the Jun family have always been outstanding.”

Jun Huailang promptly expressed his gratitude for their excessive praise.
On the side, the palace maids brought exquisite plates one after another.
In addition to fresh lychees, there were a lot of lychee pastries in unique styles.
The sweet scent of lychee perfumed the air.

“This subject made these lychee cakes today and they taste not bad.
Try them, Your Majesty,” the empress smiled as she gave Emperor Qingping a piece.

“Huailang, your aunt usually likes sweets the most.
I’ve prepared a few plates for her, take them for her to try later.”

Jun Huailang bowed and expressed his thanks.

Beside him, Xue Yunhuan had long set his heart on eating.
But Jun Huailang noticed that Emperor Qingping did not take the pastry in the empress’s hand.
Instead he watched Jun Huailang and asked, “Huailang, I’ve selected a playmate for you, are you willing?”

A wholeass teenager like him, why would he need a playmate? Jun Huailang knew that the emperor was dissatisfied with the previous discussion, and deliberately revived the subject.
He said he’d listen to the empress, but borrowed Jun Huailang’s mouth to bring word to Consort Shu.

Before Jun Huailang could speak, Xue Yunhuan interrupted.
His half-peeled lychee fell back on the plate as he said, “Imperial Father, Huailang and I already play well!” 

Emperor Qingping glanced at his foolish son and did not respond.
Instead, he continued to Jun Huailang, “I know that your aunt likes children.
I want her to adopt and raise a child, but your aunt does not have a patient temper.
Having her raise an older child would spare us some worry.”

If Jun Huailang hadn’t heard their discussion earlier, perhaps he might have believed these words a little.
But now, he felt that this elder was a complete hypocrite.

It was one thing to rely on Consort Shu, a concubine in the imperial harem, to control Xue Yan’s so-called inauspicious aura.
But he even had the audacity to create such a false show of lofty reasons for the younger generation. 

Naturally Jun Huailang could not openly defy the emperor.
Not only him, but even the empress could not change Emperor Qingping’s mind once he had made a decision.

Jun Huailang smiled and replied to the emperor, “That’s wonderful.
My aunt will rejoice to hear that Your Majesty considers her so much.”

Empress Jiang, who was seated above, could not help but sigh.

Emperor Qingping was pleased when he heard Jun Huailang’s words.
He did not linger long afterwards, only drinking half a cup of tea before departing.

Everyone in the hall rose to see him off.

Outside the hall, the emperor’s palanquin was already waiting.
Senior eunuch Lin Fu helped Emperor Qingping enter the palanquin, and heard him say displeased, “The empress doesn’t understand propriety.”

Ling Fu immediately understood his meaning.
He said flatteringly, “Her Majesty has lived deep in the palace for a long time after all.
She doesn’t know about important matters and doesn’t have Your Majesty’s foresight.”

Emperor Qingping snorted coldly.
Once he was settled, Ling Fu hurriedly ordered the palanquin bearers to set off and followed alongside.

Emperor Qingping supported his head with one hand and dozed in the palanquin.

Xue Yan had weighed heavily on his heart ever since he came back to Chang’an.
Although the Astrology Bureau calculated that the emperor’s star horoscope was flourishing and would not be affected by the inauspicious aura, he was not reassured.
He was only able to relax two days ago, when the head astrologist gave him another path.

The Daoist master said that the evil star was aligned with yin[3] and could be suppressed by yang.[4] The yang in the palace was really strong.
He calculated for some time and finally divined that the most suppressive place was Mingluan Palace.

And exactly on those few days, Consort Shu was bothering him, stubbornly asking to adopt a child.

Wasn’t this just killing two birds with one stone? Emperor Qingping at last had a temporary solution to the issue dogging his thoughts, and could rest.

The court officials always told him to not be so superstitious and not trust divinations.
But Emperor Qingping knew in his heart that divinations could be trusted, it was the flock of court officials that were untrustworthy.

Every single one of them made their livelihood in his court, and every single one of them had selfish motives.
On the Dragon Throne, all under heaven depended on him, but all under heaven also schemed against him.

Only his head astrologist, the Daoist master, had no demands on him and approached him with absolute sincerity.

In the whole world, the only person he could trust was the Daoist master. 

After the emperor left, the empress wanted to say something to Jun Huailang but hesitated.
After a moment, she said, “Your aunt is proud and arrogant, she won’t be happy when she receives the imperial edict.
You must console her.”

Jun Huailang nodded in response.

He knew that although the empress spoke compassionately, she also dreaded Xue Yan’s killing fate and always kept a respectful distance from him.
In her mind, the emperor’s rash decision to place Xue Yan with Consort Shu would likely fail to suppress evil, and even invite calamity. 

In addition, Consort Shu’s temperament was one that did not handle setbacks well.

She wanted to persuade the emperor but their relationship had never been good.
And as soon as anything concerned this sort of mystical divination, no one could reason with Emperor Qingping.

She had no alternative.

Jun Huailang understood her intent and didn’t bat an eye.
He only nodded as if he didn’t really understand.
After eating the fruit, the empress had him stay for lunch.
She instructed the maids to assemble a three-layer dimsum box and had Fuyi carry it.

In this way Jun Huailang departed.

It was afternoon.
The sunlight was strong and the late autumn wind was not very chilly.
The little eunuch escorting him out of Qifeng Palace was very talkative.
Seeing that the front courtyard was full of falling yellow leaves, he told Jun Huailang that the southwest corner of the imperial city had beautiful maple leaves.
It was a shame that the lovely scenery was wasted since no one lived there.

Jun Huailang had an impression of it.
He had entered the palace in autumn once when he was seven or eight, and Xue Yunhuan brought him there to look at maple leaves.
That maple grove was somewhat remote, but back then a concubine lived nearby.
In the expansive trees someone had hung a swing.

He didn’t know if that swing was still there, but if he found it he could take Linghuan to play there.

Jun Huailang had just finished a meal and wanted to walk to aid digestion.
He was already interested in the maple grove, but when the eunuch pointed in its direction, he wandered off in that direction to search.
He followed the little eunuch’s directions, walking and walking until he felt some vague familiarity.
After walking for half an hour, he saw the unusual eaves of the palace by the maple grove in the distance. 

The palace was three stories high and gold bells hung on its corner eaves.
From a distance it looked quite elaborate.
He could faintly see the red maples on the ground surrounding the palace.

Six or seven years had passed.
Those unique eaves had not been restored in a few years, even from a distance they looked shabby.
Jun Huailang recognized them with a glance and smiled.
“It’s over there,” he said, and sped up.

Fuyi hefted the dimsum box and jogged after him.

“Young master has a good memory!” Fuyi said.
“But that palace is so beautiful, why has it remained unoccupied these past few years?”

“I heard the previous concubine that lived here died in a bizarre manner.
Afterwards it became haunted and no one dared live inside,” Jun Huailang said.

Fuyi shivered.
“Then… Young Master still dares to sit on that concubine’s swing?”

Jun Huailang had already died once.
Naturally he was not scared of ghosts.
He turned around and saw that Fuyi was so scared he had stopped and was hugging the dimsum box tightly.

Jun Huailang could not help smiling.

A single baseless female ghost had already scared him like this.
If Fuyi knew that Jun Huailang had died and been reborn, how terrified would he be?




[1] 四书五经 the foundational books of Confucianism and the basis of the civil exam in imperial China [2] 岭南 old term for southern China, esp Guangdong and Guangxi, area south of the Nanling Mountains. [3] 阴 Yin is the dark/feminine/passive aspect in Chinese cosmology. [4] 阳 Yang is the light/male/active aspect in Chinese cosmology.

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