Xue Yunhuan trotted behind Jun Huailang and retold all the vivid and colorful gossip in the palace surrounding Xue Yan. 

He said that Xue Yan’s mother died right after he was born.
The way she’d died had been extremely strange, but no one knew what happened.
Afterwards, the Astrology Bureau conducted divinations and said that the problem lay with Xue Yan.

Thus his fate was killing.[1]

Ordinarily, a killing fate although vicious and destructive, had potential for great accomplishments.
Used as a destructive weapon, he would be valuable beyond measure.
But the Astrology Bureau’s official report stated that he was Polis descended to earth and his inauspicious aura would be hard to suppress.
He could even eclipse his parents and hinder the emperor’s star. 

As a result, against the opinion of the masses, the emperor sent Xue Yan to Yan Prefecture in the far north for the Prince of Yan to foster.

Because of this, Xue Yan was not even given the imperial princes’ generational name “Yun.”[2] Only a single “Yan”[3] in his name to suppress his fate.

As a result this year, the Tujue invaded and the Yan Prefecture fell into enemy hands.
Most of the Yanyun armored cavalry guarding the border were lost, and even Prince Yan was killed.
Only Xue Yan lived.
He alone raced across thousands of li[4] and abruptly returned to the capital. 

This dynasty placed great emphasis on Confucianism and disdained Buddhism and Daoism.
Originally the Emperor sent the prince to the border because of a divination, which violated ethics and was criticized by the courtiers.
This time Xue Yan ran back to the capital alone, and the emperor had no excuse to send him to other places. 

So Xue Yan was forced to stay in the palace. 

He happened to return when the Emperor was testing the princes, with a set of jade arrows as the winner’s prize.
Originally, the fourth prince was well-versed in both civil and military affairs, and victory was within his reach, but then Xue Yan appeared.
This Xue Yan read military books at the border like they were children’s books.
At thirteen, he entered the battlefield, and at the beginning of the year he had led several hundred cavalry against the Tujue’s countless forces for more than a month.
Naturally he easily won the test and received the jade arrow.

From the emperor to the concubines and princes, everyone was humiliated.

A few days later, the second prince provoked Xue Yan and was beaten until his nose was bloody and face swollen.
Although it was the second prince who started it, only Xue Yan was punished by the emperor and made to kneel at his mother’s memorial tablet.

From then on, the whole palace knew that Xue Yan could be bullied whenever anyone pleased.
His Majesty would never support this evil star. 

Xue Yunhuan sighed and said half enviously, “What a pity that he’s so good at martial arts.”

After saying this, Xue Yunhuan’s attention returned back to his horse and left the topic of Xue Yan behind.
He did not notice that Jun Huailang was silent.

When Jun Huailang returned to Yongle Hall and sat in the banquet, the thoughts that had emerged were still lingering in his mind. 

He thought, It’s understandable that Xue Yan is fierce and destructive.
But this is clearly not destiny, but man-made.

Fate decided he would be an evil star, so everyone treated him as such.
As time passed, he really became a self-fulfilling prophecy.
As for Xue Yan now… it was clear he hadn’t grown into a true killer yet.

Jun Huailang was taken aback by his own thoughts, and quickly came back to his senses.
How could he show mercy to his enemies just because of a few words? If he pitied Xue Yan, who would pity the Jun family?


Jun Huailang reluctantly took a sip of tea and reminded himself solemnly, Xue Yan’s situation has nothing to do with him.
What he needed to care about was what Xue Yan would do to his family, to his sister.

Jun Huailang did not realize, since his family had always been harmonious and his brothers respectful, that his good education had raised him to be quite empathetic.
Xue Yan’s experiences were merely another person’s story, but it sketched an isolating darkness to Jun Huailang.
Even if he refused to admit it, this was the first time he had seen someone born in a quagmire and abandoned by the whole world.

At this moment, an eunuch came and saluted him with a smile.
This eunuch was stout and smiling with joy, like the Laughing Buddha.[5] Jun Huailang recognized him.
He was Ling Fu, the emperor’s scribe.

“Fu-gonggong,”[6] Jun Huailang raised his head and greeted him.

Ling Fu smiled and knelt on one knee in salute.
“Heir Jun is auspicious.[7] His Majesty is drinking tea with a few concubines at the back and Miss Jun is also there.
His Majesty invites you to join them.”

Jun Huailang responded, and rose to follow him.

Through the corner gate and up the vermillion steps was Yongle Hall’s rear hall.
This rear hall had always been a place for the emperor and concubines to relax during banquets, and ordinary courtiers were not allowed to enter without an imperial edict.

Going around an enormous sixteen-sided gilded and painted screen, Jun Huailang saw a group of people surrounded by sheer curtains.

Emperor Qingping was in the hall, drinking tea.
He was not yet fifty now.
His body was still strong and his face lean, still showing the handsomeness of youth.
Seated beside him was Empress Jiang, who was close friends with Madame Shen.
She was elegant, dignified, and gentle.
When she saw Jun Huailang, she smiled and nodded at him.

Seated in rows on both sides were several concubines, all dressed in splendid clothing like bouquets of flowers.
Jun Linghuan was sitting in Consort Shu’s embrace, holding a tea cake[8] to eat.

Seeing Jun Huailang come in, Emperor Qingping smiled and said, “Huailang is here? Come closer, let’s see how much taller you have grown?”

Next to him, Empress Jiang softly said, “Looks like you’ve grown a lot, you might be a few cun[9] taller than Huan-er.”[10]

Seeing Emperor Qingping again, Jun Huailang had mixed feelings in his heart.

Undoubtedly, Jun Huailang had grown up under his loving eyes.
Emperor Qingping was very affectionate towards him and was his revered elder.
But in the past life, because of a ridiculous divination, he insisted on marrying Jun Linghuan into the palace.

No matter what, this cast a shadow in Jun Huailang’s heart.
Even though this saved Jun Linghuan’s life, it was like jumping from one hell into another.

But after one lifetime, Jun Huailang was no longer a youth who could not conceal his feelings.
He advanced and paid his respects to the party with all due courtesy.

Consort Shu, seated to the side, laughed.
Her charming voice said, “Lang-er, we haven’t seen you in so many months, come over quickly so this concubine can take a look at you.”

This Consort Shu was Jun Huailang’s aunt, his father’s younger sister Jun Yaohua.
Consort Shu was only twenty-six years old this year.
She was bright and beautiful, wearing a soft red palace dress and silk peony hairpins, vivid and lifelike.
Her elaborate gold headdress swayed above them. 

Jun Huailang went forward and sat by Consort Shu’s side. 


Emperor Qingping and Consort Shu took turns constantly praising him, and the empress also agreed.
Consort Shu was favored and her temperament was sweet, so she made the emperor laugh frequently.

The concubine sitting opposite Consort Shu was dressed in a white palace dress, adorned in a quiet and exquisite style.
She was Yi Jieyu, the biological mother of the fourth prince.
She also came from an aristocratic family with generations of government officials, but they had always been unremarkable.
It was not until recently when her father rose to a high position and her elder brother fought a few pretty battles, that the Xu family became rich upstarts in the court.
Like a boat lifted by the rising tide, Yi Jueyu’s position also rose and she became quite favored in the last few years.

Yi Jueyu found a pause in the conversation and made use of it, saying warmly, “Huailang really is a child with splendid future prospects,[11] teaching people what to like and how to think.
Consort Shu is also from the Jun household, and if she bore a child for His Majesty it would certainly also be very handsome.”

Consort Shu was smiling at first, but when she heard those words, her smile faded.
She had been in the palace for ten years and heavily favored, but had not gotten pregnant with the dragon seed.
To date she did not have a single child. 

Yi Jueyu struck Consort Shu’s weakness with one blow.[12] Consort Shu knew that this woman was being deliberately backhanded, but when she glared daggers at her, all Consort Shu saw was a gentle and harmless appearance.
Consort Shu was full of anger but could not vent it. 

On the other hand, the empress took good care of her bosom friend’s sister-in-law.
She smiled and tried to smooth things over.
“Children and grandchildren are fate, there is no need to force it.” 

But the anger Consort Shu felt against Yi Jueyu could not be swallowed.
She couldn’t help but sourly say, “This subject doesn’t have this fate.
Naturally I won’t be able to enjoy the blessings of children and grandchildren.”

Jun Linghuan in her arms couldn’t understand the women’s hidden barbs and only knew that her beautiful aunt was unhappy.
She had always been generous, so from the array of desserts she had just sampled, picked up the tastiest one and held it to Consort Shu’s mouth. 

“Gumu[13] eat this.” she said gently.

Emperor Qingping always favored Consort Shu.
Seeing her unhappy, he impulsively said, “Why can’t you enjoy this happiness? If you like children, it is not impossible to bring Linghuan and Huailang to live in the palace.”

Consort Shu’s eyes lit up.
“Are Your Majesty’s words true?” 

“Certainly,” Emperor Qingping said.
He looked at the empress and asked, “What does the empress think?” 

The empress smiled.
“This subject is naturally happy.
Huan-er[14] likes to be together with Huailang, but he doesn’t like to read.
I have hopes that Huailang can guide him.”

Jun Huailang, who was sitting by Consort Shu, paused for a moment.
It seemed as if he knew something.

He had a high fever in his previous life and did not attend this banquet.
After the banquet, Jun Linghuan had stayed in the palace for a few days, it’s just that he didn’t take it to heart.

Could it be that his sister had provoked Xue Yan at this time?

Jun Huailang secretly clenched his fist.

“Lang-er, do you want to accompany your aunt in the palace for a few days?” Consort Shu asked him.

Jun Huailang nodded immediately.
No matter if his guess was true or not, he could not take the chance and risk Jun Linghuan facing Xue Yan.

Yi Jieyu laughed again.
“Yes, having children makes the atmosphere much livelier.
Even if they’re not yours, it doesn’t matter.”

Her words implied something.
Consort Shu did not grasp the meaning behind it but could hear the woman’s insincerity like a needle concealed in silk floss.

At this time, a little eunuch came and said that the fifth prince was here.

The fifth prince was Xue Yan.

The warm and peaceful atmosphere immediately cooled and became a little strange.
The emperor’s smile disappeared, the empress drank tea with her eyes lowered, and several concubines ducked their heads but didn’t speak. 

It was like they didn’t hear anything.

Jun Huailang suddenly felt a strangeness that made him question reality.
All around him were gentle and loving elders, but when they heard Xue Yan’s name, they all changed into unfamiliar people.

Yet these were the people Xue Yan faced.

The higher a person’s status, the more they believed in destiny.
It was extremely mysterious, although it couldn’t be seen nor touched, anyone would be afraid it would really come to pass and bring about great misfortune.

“Announce him,” Emperor Qingping said unenthusiastically.

Jun Huailang saw Xue Yan being led in by a eunuch.
Empty-handed, he walked directly forward and bowed to Emperor Qingping.

Emperor Qingping did not let him rise and asked him point-blank, “Where’s the arrow?”

Every year in the Mid-Autumn Festival, the instructors’ children would use this set of jade arrows to compete in pitch-pot.[15] Before when Emperor Qingping used this jade arrow as a reward, it was to express how much he valued the princes’ studies, and to encourage them to work harder.
But the custom of pitch-pot could not be changed. 

Jun Huailang knew that the arrow had been broken.

For some reason, he suddenly looked at the little eunuch following behind Xue Yan.
His complexion was deathly pale now, and his legs were trembling.
He was also considered unlucky to be appointed to serve Xue Yan.
The ones who bullied Xue Yan would also bully him.

In any case, Xue Yan was still a prince.
But the little eunuch was different, his life was as valuable as mustard greens. 

Jun Huailang suddenly thought, he had witnessed that altercation but since it involved Xue Yan he didn’t say anything.
At first he thought it was right for him to do so, but now he was harming an innocent life.

He clenched his fists impatiently, his nails sinking into his palms.

If he helped, that would be too soft-hearted.
He would be too ashamed to face the family members who suffered at Xue Yan’s hands in the previous life.
But if he didn’t help, if he watched unfeelingly as a man died, he would carry that burden forever…

He suddenly heard Xue Yan’s voice.
Gentle and mild, it was still the clear tones of a youth and unexpectedly pleasant. 

“This son was inattentive and damaged the arrow, it has nothing to do with others.
I humbly request Imperial Father’s punishment,” he said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Notes:

[1] 七杀格 refers to Polis, or the Seven Killings Star, a destructive martial star that signifies conquest and victory. [2] 允 just or fair.
Generational names are usually given to everyone in the family of the same generation.
Xue Yunhuan has the same ‘yun’ as his brother, fourth prince Xue Yunhong. [3] 晏 late, quiet. [4] 里 traditional unit of distance, about 500 meters [5] 弥勒佛 the Laughing Buddha, usually represented as a very stout monk wearing a broad smile with his stomach exposed https://imgur.com/a/ADRd4j1 [6] 公公 term of address for eunuch or maternal grandfather. [7] 吉祥 common greeting wishing the recipient good luck. [8] 茶果 steamed glutinous rice dumpling, looks somewhat like mochi and can have sweet or savory filling. https://imgur.com/a/IhSn92 [9] 寸 traditional unit of measurement, about 3.33 centimeters or 1.3 inches. [10] Referring to her son Xue Yunhuan.
His nickname sounds similar to Jun Linghuan unfortunately. [11] 芝兰玉树 lit.
orchid and jade trees [12] 一棍打到社的七寸 lit.
to hit a snake’s seven inches (weak spot) with one blow. [13]姑母 paternal aunt [14] She’s talking about her son Xue Yunhuan again. [15]投壶 ancient banquet game of throwing arrows into a pot https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pitch-pot

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