…Why was Xue Yan looking at his bruise?

Jun Huailang was shocked.
He hastily withdrew his arm, unease showing through his cold expression.

What is this situation?

Just then, if Xue Yan hadn’t held him, he would’ve fallen into that deep well.
His own impulsiveness caused his enemy in the previous life to save him.
Before the grievances from his previous life could even occur, he already owed Xue Yan a debt of gratitude.

Jun Huailang had never felt this uncomfortable before.
He lowered his eyes and coldly said thanks, then cast a sidelong glance at Fuyi and turned around to leave.

Fuyi tacitly understood that glance.
He promptly hefted the food box and followed him.
In just a few moments, the two of them disappeared into the blazing maple trees.

Xue Yan watched as Jun Huailang walked away.

Although that little peacock’s steps were measured and back was straight, seemingly arrogant, Xue Yan could discern his discomfort.
Unexpectedly he was quite interesting and cute.

Xue Yan smiled faintly as he withdrew his gaze.

He cast a sidelong glance at the eunuch by the well and turned to fetch water all over again.
The eunuch seemed intimidated by Jun Huailang.
He hesitated a bit before coming forward to draw water for Xue Yan.

But from beginning to end, the eunuch was terrified of bumping into Xue Yan.
It was like he’d seen something monstrous.
He hurriedly set down the water bucket and fled.

It was said that this man was born under an evil star.
His whole body was full of bad luck and would rub off on anyone who touched him.
That inauspicious aura might not kill nobles, but the same might not be said for servants.

It’s better to stay away.

Xue Yan had long been accustomed to this.
He strolled into the palace and closed the door by himself.

The main hall was quite spacious.
It was eight rooms across, with two entrances in the front and back.
But the palace was completely empty, only a few pieces of outdated furniture left by the previous owner remained.
The silk and window screens were tidy but faded and fraying.

Through the broken window paper, overgrown weeds could be seen growing everywhere, even between the floor tiles in the courtyard. 

Xue Yan went to the bronze mirror and took off his robe.
He tore off the bloody bandage that was stuck to his body.
Xue Yan turned around and tilted his head to examine his mangled back in the mirror, then slowly began to clean it up with the fresh water from the bucket.

Wounds on the back were especially difficult to reach and clean.
The muscles in his back stretched when he raised his arms.

When Jinbao pushed open the door and entered, he saw this scene.

A slender and tall young man stood in front of the mirror, upper body bare.
His sharp silhouette when he turned his head revealed a slight frown as he looked at the bronze mirror with apathy.
The wounds on his back were terrifying, but beneath it the muscles were strong and firm.
The muscles of his waist and stomach were well-defined and tensed.
He was like a solitary beast lazily licking its wounds. 

Xue Yan did not look up as the door creaked open.
He continued cleaning a bruise on his shoulder as he asked in a low voice, “Did you find it?”

No one would enter this main hall except for the most bullied servant in the city, Jinbao.
There was no need to look up, Xue Yan already knew who it was.

Jinbao closed the door.
Trembling with fear, he knelt on one knee and said, “Replying to Master, you guessed right.
It is indeed Xiao Weizi from Purchasing who sent the letter.

After Xue Yan cleaned his wounds, he picked up the medicinal powder on the table and applied it to his back.
This medicinal powder was brought from the border station.
Although it had miraculous effects, its strong properties caused unbearable pain when applied to injuries.

Xue Yan breathed through gritted teeth as he applied the medicinal powder.
Then he asked, “Where did he deliver the news?”

Jinbao cautiously wiped his sweat.
“This servant saw him go east as he was delivering goods.
He took four hours to make the trip so it must be far… I did not dare follow him further.”

“East of the Imperial Household Department…”[1] Xue Yan mused, as he applied more medicine in the mirror.
“Four hours is just enough time for a round trip to Donghua Gate.”[2] 

Jinbao became so frightened when he heard the name that his shoulders trembled.

Donghua Gate! Wasn’t that the Eastern Depot?![3] … Could it be that he had been following an Eastern Depot spy!

It was said that the Eastern Depot was vicious and merciless, they killed people like flies.
They had a thousand ways to make men wish they were dead.
If he was caught following their people, he would surely be tortured to death!

Xue Yan was still applying medicine.
In a low voice, he pondered, “The Eastern Depot? They can’t even control the palace, what are they watching me for?”

Xue Yan knew about the recent developments in the Eastern Depot.
It had been established with the founding of the dynasty, and had always served as the emperor’s eyes and ears to monitor the numerous government officials.
But the current Emperor Qingping did not trust the Eastern Depot at all.
Instead he favored the eunuchs who waited upon him.
Most of the power that had originally belonged to the Eastern Depot were transferred to his personal scribe Ling Fu.

Perhaps because the Eastern Depot could not match the power of the eunuchs, they wanted to look for a prince to use.
The Eastern Depot wanted a patron in the palace… or perhaps a pawn?

In the end, the Eastern Depot was notorious.
If not for the founder’s original decree, they would have become laughingstocks[4] long ago.
The usual princes did not wish to sully themselves with the Eastern Depot.
Only Xue Yan, an imperial son but a prince only in name, could be used by them.

If they supported Xue Yan to a higher position, this pawn would also naturally become their patron.
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 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imperial_Household_Department [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 https://youtu.be/gT1kKkQlafw [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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