C104 – Brother You’ve Gone too Far!
Lee Zhao, the Crown Prince, donned a black robe adorned with golden lines running down its sides. A belt with python patterns graced his waist, and a jade crown adorned his head, exuding an air of both nobility and dignity.
Tang Yue discreetly observed him, thinking to himself, “I doubt anyone would notice the minor blemish on his lips. Who would dare to stare at his countenance?”
As they walked out of the courtyard together, Tang Yue inquired, “Why has His Highness chosen to visit this particular courtyard?”
Lee Zhao halted and turned to gaze at Tang Yue with significance. “This is my new residence.”
“A new residence?” Tang Yue was taken aback, blinking a couple of times as he reexamined the yard. It was undeniably more exquisite than the one Lee Zhao used to inhabit.
“Ahem, Your Highness, your thoughtfulness is truly remarkable.”
“Are you still pleased with it?” Lee Zhao couldn’t fathom why he had decided to switch courtyards. During Tang Yue’s tenure in the royal mansion, he had never expressed dissatisfaction with the surroundings. He simply desired to offer him a superior environment.
Previously, this mansion lacked both a lady of the house and a male owner. Lee Zhao had always been away, so he paid little heed to the flora and fauna. As long as he could reside there, it was sufficient.
However, circumstances had changed; a place called home couldn’t remain simple and unadorned.
Tang Yue hesitated briefly before nodding in approval. This courtyard had transformed into a veritable garden, replete with flowers, grass, trees, and ponds. Living amidst such an environment was inherently serene and soothing.
The two of them entered the living room together. Lee Zhao deliberately paused at the entrance and proceeded to walk in alongside Tang Yue.
Such treatment was likely reserved for no more than a handful of individuals in the world.
The living room had already filled with people, but the lively atmosphere had hushed upon the Crown Prince’s arrival.
Everyone respectfully bowed, affording Tang Yue an opportunity to rejoin the camp of the Yueyang Marquis’s Mansion.
A group of younger ladies knelt behind the Marquis’s Wife, casting furtive winks at Tang Yue when they caught sight of his return.
Instantly, Tang Yue felt a rush of embarrassment wash over him, causing him to force a smile while pursing his lips.
“Ladies, please stand,” Crown Prince Zhao’s somewhat raspy voice commanded. Tang Yue averted his gaze and knelt respectfully behind the Yueyang Marquis.
This gathering at Prince Zhao’s Mansion was notably more relaxed and vibrant compared to previous occasions when they hosted guests. The absence of Wang Zixian meant there was no disruption to the atmosphere, but it also left Crown Prince feeling somewhat uneasy during these days.
As the sumptuous dishes were placed on the table, the chefs from the Crown Prince’s Palace continued to astonish everyone. Ever since Tang Yue shared a few recipes with them, it seemed as though they had stumbled upon a treasure trove of culinary inspiration. Their dedication to research and innovation was evident.
Tang Yue savored a type of cake, reminiscent of an ice-skin mooncake, filled with delectable jam. It was a hit among his younger siblings at home.
Furthermore, Tang Yue had brought back various delicacies from Qinyang City on his last trip. This time, several braised dishes adorned the dining table. However, some of the more exotic animal organs and delicacies typical of banquets were conspicuously absent. Otherwise, Tang Yue might have praised dishes like braised duck tongue or braised duck neck even more highly.
After a satisfying meal, no one was in a hurry to leave. State Duke Heng jokingly expressed a desire to send a chef to the Crown Prince’s residence to learn culinary skills. To everyone’s surprise, Crown Prince Zhao replied, “I’ve noticed Noble Heir’s culinary talent. If the Duke is willing, why not let him stay at the residence for a few days to learn culinary arts?”
State Duke Heng beamed with pride when his son was mentioned. While his son might not be exceptionally talented, he was at least able to make his father proud by accompanying him on this occasion.
Furthermore, he had received commendation from the king for joining Crown Prince Zhao in eliminating the bandits. As a result, he had been granted a minor military position. Whenever he met someone, he couldn’t help but share stories of his son’s bravery in dealing with the bandits.
This perfectly exemplified the saying, “A father’s love knows no bounds!”
In contrast to State Duke Heng, State Protector showed little resemblance to his biological father. His attitude toward Zhao Sanlang remained unchanged, and not even the king’s rewards could elicit a smile. Instead, he strongly criticized his brother’s past misconduct.
Due to this situation, Zhao Sanlang refrained from clashing with his half-brother. He would often mutter, “This is good news; he must have gone to our father to complain again.”
Tensions simmered within State Protector Prefecture, increasing the likelihood of Tang Yue encountering Zhao Sanlang. Even the prospect of Tang Yue’s visit to State Protector had been postponed for an extended period.
It wasn’t that Zhao Sanlang lacked filial piety; it was that he couldn’t find an opportune moment to speak up. Every time he broached the topic of treating a patient, State Protector would berate him as if he had committed a grave offense.
Tang Yue had encountered many patients with similarly difficult temperaments. Besides offering soothing words, there was little else he could do.
Following the conclusion of the banquet, Zhao Sanlang discreetly beckoned Tang Yue aside, wearing an enigmatic expression as he remarked, “So, this is the revelation I’ve been kept in the dark about, my dear friend.”
Tang Yue found himself bewildered, his lips pursed as he regarded Zhao Sanlang, wondering if his companion had suddenly suffered a lapse of reason. Why did he persistently engage in peculiar behavior?
“No need to feign innocence. I’ve conducted a thorough inquiry. You established a connection with the Crown Prince while tending to his injuries. One could surmise that you were quite taken with him at the time, correct?”
What on earth! Where did this outrageous rumor originate?
Tang Yue vigorously shook his head in denial. “This is utterly groundless. Such an incident never transpired. Where on earth did you pick up this baseless gossip?”
Zhao Sanlang leveled a look of disdain and disappointment at him. “I believed we were as close as brothers, yet you harbored such a momentous secret from me. My disillusionment knows no bounds.”
He gestured toward Tang Yue’s lips, motioning towards the injury, and let out a resigned sigh. “Despite the gravity of the situation, you still persist in deception. Tang Xiaolang, oh Tang Xiaolang. I’m truly at a loss for words!”
Rolling his eyes, Tang Yue swatted away Zhao Sanlang’s hand. “Is that all you have to say? In that case, I’ll take my leave.”
Zhao Sanlang was reluctant to let him go, tugging at his sleeve and proposing, “Tang Xiaolang, you appear to be on the brink of marriage. How about I pay a final visit to the Marquis’s Mansion to spend some quality time with you?”
“Are you suggesting a visit to my residence?” Tang Yue didn’t immediately agree, instead casting a scrutinizing gaze at his companion.
“It’s not a matter of permission. I’m simply curious as to why you’d want to stay at the Marquis’s Mansion.” Tang Yue interrupted Zhao Sanlang before he could explain further. “Don’t tell me you wish to stay with me.”
Zhao Sanlang wasn’t foolish. He invoked the name of Ping Shun. “You’ve been occupied lately. Ping Shun reached his limit and returned home on his own. I felt sorry for him, so I thought I’d go and keep him company.”
“Very well, you’ve made your point.” Tang Yue didn’t bother delving into Zhao Sanlang’s motives. Even if he had committed any transgressions, Tang Yue had no intention of covering for him. Besides, he had a busy schedule ahead, and he didn’t want Ping Shun to remain in the State Duke Heng’s Mansion without any companionship. Having someone to keep him company would be beneficial.
“In that case, I’ll arrange for someone to transport the luggage right away!” Zhao Sanlang replied enthusiastically.
Tang Yue, concerned about his young master’s health, repeatedly advised, “You should only pack a few clothing sets when staying at the Marquis’s Mansion.” There’s no need to bring your entire wardrobe.
Zhao Sanlang grumbled a bit but eventually conceded. As he departed, Tang Yue overheard him muttering under his breath, “You’re not very discerning with your friends…”
Tang Yue wished he could give him a good kick. If anyone lacked discernment in making friends, it should be him.
One friend was Zhao Sanlang, another was the Heir of the State Duke Heng, one was eccentric, and the last was a simpleton. Tang Yue wondered about the company his young master was keeping.
“Who were you talking to?” Crown Prince Zhao emerged from the shadows, only catching a glimpse of Zhao Sanlang’s retreating figure.
Tang Yue didn’t conceal anything. “Sanlang mentioned he’d be staying at the Yueyang Marquis’s Mansion for a while.”
Crown Prince Zhao raised an eyebrow and offered no objections. It was only days later, upon Tang Yue’s return, that he realized Zhao Sanlang, who had claimed he’d stay, hadn’t arrived.
In due course, he inquired and learned that Zhao Sanlang had been conscripted into the military to continue his service as a grain officer. Even the Heir of the State Duke Heng had joined the army and assumed a minor leadership role.
Naturally, these details emerged later on.
“Your Highness, may I inquire if the case of Zhang Chun has been resolved?” Tang Yue finally recollected his hometown.
“Who is Zhang Chun?”
Tang Yue was alarmed. He hastily uttered Zhang Chun’s true name.
Wait, what was the name of the local lad here? Given his circumstances, the likelihood of sharing the same name was quite slim.
An idea struck Tang Yue, and he innocently commented, “Could it be that I recalled the wrong name? It’s the young lord of Qinyang City. I assisted him with his ailment, confirming it was a heart condition. He hasn’t fully recovered yet.”
Crown Prince Zhao’s eyebrows twitched. He chose not to expose the falsehood and replied, “Huangfu Chun is young and inexperienced. Although his medical skills are lacking, it’s understandable. His Majesty has made a decision, and it will be announced tomorrow.”
“Is he very sick?”
“It’s not that… it’s just that he hasn’t been under observation for very long, and his condition has deteriorated. You see, a heart patient like him can have sudden attacks,” Tang Yue said, avoiding eye contact and gazing up at the sky.
“Follow me,” Crown Prince Zhao turned and led the way in a different direction, signaling for Tang Yue to come along.
Tang Yue patted his own chest and tried to console Crown Prince Zhao. “I can understand your struggle. It must be hard to lie in front of your master.”
After following Crown Prince Zhao through about half of the mansion, Tang Yue arrived at a secluded courtyard. It was surrounded by armed soldiers holding large weapons, creating an almost cage-like enclosure.
In reality, this place was indeed something of a cage. As soon as Tang Yue entered, he sensed an eerie atmosphere. The courtyard was dimly lit, and the adjoining rooms were shrouded in darkness. Occasional shouts would break the silence.
“Let me out… please, let me out quickly…”
Tang Yue couldn’t help but shiver. “Is this where Huangfu Chun is confined?” He couldn’t help but feel sorry for the young man, thinking about the difficult life he must have had since arriving in this world.
“Not exactly. It’s more like house arrest. Apart from restricted freedom, everything else is fine.”
Tang Yue’s eyes gradually adjusted to the low light. He observed the courtyard and found it to be quite ordinary, resembling the courtyard where Lee Zhao used to reside.
This place was undoubtedly a hundred times more comfortable than a prison cell. Moreover, judging from the passionate cries of the person earlier, there seemed to be no issue with food.
Crown Prince Zhao signaled to a nearby guard who took a key and opened the door to a room on the west side. Tang Yue followed and stood at the doorway, softly calling out, “Is Huangfu Chun here?”
The room remained silent; there was no response. Tang Yue thought the guard might be asleep, so he instructed someone to light a lamp and entered the room.
Crown Prince Zhao held Tang Yue’s hand, remaining close behind. As they stepped into the room, they heard a muffled groan ahead. The guard collapsed to the ground, and the oil lamp fell to the floor.
Crown Prince Zhao pulled Tang Yue behind him, drawing his sword and aiming it under a table. He spoke in a deep voice, “Come out!”
The room remained eerily quiet. Tang Yue leaned out from behind Lee Zhao and whispered, “Huangfu Chun, it’s me, Tang Yue.”
Shortly after, a young boy emerged from beneath the table and rushed into Tang Yue’s arms. “Big brother, you’ve finally come to rescue me. If you hadn’t come, I would have suffocated…”
Tang Yue winced when he noticed Lee Zhao’s disheveled appearance. He approached Lee and pulled him aside, urging, “Don’t address everyone as your brother. Open your eyes and recognize who’s before you!”
Claiming to be Crown Prince’s brother was quite an audacious move. It seemed Lee Zhao had quite a talent for self-flattery.
Zhang Chun burst into tears. Upon realizing the person he was embracing, fear gripped him, causing his limbs to go limp. He tumbled to the ground.
“This isn’t… this isn’t…”
“Ahem, this is South Jin’s Crown Prince. Have you met him before?” Tang Yue offered a gentle reminder.
“Ah, Crown Prince…” Geez, such a prestigious figure. What should I do now?
Zhang Chun picked himself up from the floor, forced a smile, and greeted Crown Prince Zhao, “Your Highness, when do you think you can let me out of here? The people in this room are going a bit crazy.”
Crown Prince Zhao sneered, “Really? I can see you’re quite comfortable here. You even managed to knock out my guards.”
Tang Yue, observing the burly man on the ground, silently commended Zhang Chun’s unexpected prowess. What secrets did this young man hold? How could he overpower such a robust opponent with his diminutive stature?
Perhaps all those who played minor roles possessed impressive martial skills?
Zhang Chun awkwardly scratched his head. “You need to hear me out first. This courtyard is filled with eerie noises and wails at night. I’m quite young and not very robust. I was so terrified that I couldn’t sleep all night, and that’s why I was a bit jumpy. Isn’t that understandable?”
He winked at Tang Yue and inquired, “Brother Tang, you’re a doctor. Don’t you think so?”
Tang Yue contemplated it seriously and responded professionally, “Some patients indeed experience such situations. They may be mentally fragile, and minor stimuli can disrupt their delicate mental balance, leading to inappropriate reactions.”
“Exactly, exactly, that’s what happened… Oh dear, my head feels like a jumbled mess right now…”
Tang Yue shot him a stern look, signaling him to cease the charade. He hadn’t even bothered to look at the person standing in front of them.
Crown Prince Zhao remained silent for a prolonged moment before finally suggesting, “In that case, let’s relocate City Lord Huangfu to a different place for confinement.”