Then the Eastern Depot would no longer be pinned between the pen-holding eunuchs and court councilors, and in one leap become part of the Son of Heaven’s inner circle.

If Xue Yan guessed correctly, they were planning a risky move.
They wanted to surreptitiously spy on him and evaluate his value and reliability as a prince. After all, a drowning dog bullied by everyone would rely on them, trust them, and never turn against them.

Xue Yan smirked.

People in the palace seldom made it clear who they hated.
Only by provoking them could one see the malice in their hearts, brought out for everyone to see.

He had exploited that trash of a second prince in order to feign weakness through injury.
Now he attracted a large fish.
But this fish was very vigilant, lingering around but not taking the bait.
Xue Yan needed to add more bargaining chips to make the other party feel that he really was cornered, and that they could use him.

At this time, who would use whom was still unknown.

“Has something major happened in the Eastern Depot recently?” Xue Yan asked.

Jinbao didn’t move for a long time.
Xue Yan frowned and raised his eyes.
Looking through the mirror, he saw Jin Bao kneeling on the ground with an expression of despair like he was about to die.

Xue Yan was speechless for a moment.
He could tell with a glance what the little eunuch was afraid of.

Xue Yan turned his gaze away and continued focusing on treating his wounds.
“The palace is Ling Fu’s domain, and the Eastern Depot doesn’t let anyone in.
That messenger was just a small fry who was bribed by them.
They won’t find you and they won’t kill you. 

Jinbao seemed to come back from death’s door hearing this, and his face showed vitality again.

“But you need to keep watching him,” Xue Yan said indifferently.
“Even a nobody is smarter than you.
If you aren’t careful, the people of the Eastern Depot will naturally dispose of you without leaving any trace.”

“Master, save me!” Jinbao cried out in fright.

Without turning his head, Xue Yan placed the empty medicine bottle on the table with a crisp sound.

“Do as I say, and naturally you won’t die.”

The dimsum that the queen asked Jun Huailang to bring back suited Consort Shu’s taste, which made Consort Shu happy for a few days.

But within a few days, the atmosphere in Mingluan Palace became freezing cold.

Since the day that Consort Shu received the imperial decree, she had been constantly crying in the palace.
No one could console her.
The emperor came to see her once, but she unexpectedly kicked him out without even seeing him.
Emperor Qingping actually had a good temper.
Jun Huailang glimpsed Emperor Qingping standing helplessly in the middle of the courtyard, coaxing Consort Shu through the window as she cried.

If it were in the past, Jun Huailang would definitely have felt that Emperor Qingping’s love for Consort Shu was deep and moving.

But Jun Huailang knew that Emperor Qingping was only using Consort Shu to suppress some evil star.
On the surface he found some pompous reasons, but exploited the other party behind their backs.
His display of affection really made people sneer.

Jun Huailang had never realized so clearly before just how ruthless the imperial family was. No matter how deep the emperor’s relationship with Consort Shu was, it could not compare to a single decree from the astrologist.

Jun Linghuan had been scared by the depression in the palace these few days.
Jun Huailang had to go to Wenhua Hall to study every day, so only Jun Linghuan and Consort Shu were in the palace together.
Although Consort Shu wouldn’t lose her temper at her, Jun Linghuan was very sensitive.
She still felt that her aunt was not happy these days.

One day when Jun Huailang returned from Wenhua Palace, Jun Linghuan threw herself into his arms and asked in a whisper, “Who made Gumu[5] unhappy?”

Jun Huailang thought to himself, a stinky brat about the same age as your brother, someone who will plot to bully you in the future.

He hugged Jun Linghuan and laughed.
“No one, It’s just adult business.
Gumu will be fine in a few days.”

Jun Linghuan felt relieved and nodded.

“Your gege is resting tomorrow, I’ll come teach Linghuan how to play qin, okay? There is a big table in the pavilion in the courtyard that is just right for gege’s qin.”[6] 

Jun Linghuan replied, “Today I played the qin for Gumu, and she laughed at me for not being good at it.”

Jun Huailang couldn’t help but laugh, and said, “Alright, then Linghuan can’t sleep in tomorrow.”

Jun Linghuan nodded quickly.

Jun Huailang had been intelligent since childhood.
Whether it was verse, poetry, or the four arts,[7] he was proficient in everything.
It was also because of this that his reputation for being brilliant had spread in Chang’an a few years ago.
Naturally, teaching Jun Linghuan how to play the qin was no problem.

In the early morning of the next day, Jun Huailang got up early and asked Fuyi to lead people to set up the qin rack in the center of the pavilion.

As soon as Fuyi opened the door, he exclaimed.
He turned around, face full of surprise, and said to Jun Huailang, “Young Master, it’s snowing!”

“It’s snowing?” Jun Huailang was surprised and followed him out the door.
Outside, he saw fine snow floating down.
Winter had just begun, and the trees in the courtyard had not yet finished shedding its leaves but had already amassed a layer of snow.
A blanket of glittering white covered the green tiles of the roof. 

The air was full of the fresh smell of snowfall.
Jun Huailang took a deep breath, raised his head, and looked at the lofty sky.

It had been a long time.
He had forgotten that this year’s snow came especially early.



[1] 内务府 historically managed the internal affairs of the imperial family in the Qing dynasty [2] 东华门 the eastern gate of the imperial palace [3] 东缉事厂 the Eastern Depot was a spy and secret police agency in the Ming Dynasty that suppressed dissidents. [4] from the idiom 过街老鼠,人人喊打 lit.
when a rat crosses the street, people chase it down.
In this case it’s used to mean lowlife/scorned by all. [5] 姑母 paternal aunt [6] 琴 zither, sounds like this [7] 琴棋书画 the four arts are zither, chess, calligraphy and painting.
Being accomplished in all 4 artistic disciplines was the mark of a well-educated person.

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