C105 – How Petty
Zhang Chun’s complexion paled upon hearing the prospect of his impending confinement. While he didn’t fret over life’s necessities in the cramped cell, the sheer monotony threatened to drive him to madness.
Kneeling before Crown Prince Zhao, Zhang Chun let out a deep sigh and beseeched with genuine emotion, “Your Highness, you speak the truth. I’ve been orphaned since childhood, devoid of any formal education. I can’t even read a single word. How can I possibly be fit to assume the role of a city lord? So many schemers are eyeing my every move, plotting and conniving. How can I hope to contend with them?”
Tang Yue, covering his eyes, mused, “This is quite the performance. A well-rehearsed script, indeed.”
“You must comprehend the dilemmas I face. As the saying goes, ignorance is innocence. Your Highness, with your regal countenance and wisdom, you must be a wise sovereign. Grant me ten years, no, just five. I’ll toil relentlessly to better myself and become a loyal pillar of the nation, serving both the country and its people!”
“Are you finished?” Crown Prince Zhao inquired calmly.
Zhang Chun moistened his parched lips and shook his head. “Allow me to continue. This hereditary system for city lords must undergo reform. Appointing an inexperienced novice as city lord would be akin to placing a duck on a shelf and forcing it to lay eggs. What’s more, it creates ample opportunities for criminal malfeasance.”
No matter how peculiar Zhang Chun’s words sounded, Crown Prince Zhao seemed unperturbed, letting him cling to Tang Yue’s side.
Zhang Chun discerned that his companion was faring well here. Even the esteemed Crown Prince had extended protection earlier.
With such a backing, what was there to worry about?
“Anything said prior to the verdict is moot. The king will make the final decision on this matter,” Crown Prince Zhao declared as he pulled Tang Yue closer. Coincidentally, the previously unconscious guard had regained consciousness and departed with his comrades.
Zhang Chun hesitated briefly, but the guard firmly gripped him and ushered him out of the makeshift cell.
“Could you let me walk on my own?” Zhang Chun asked weakly.
The guard sneered, “Huangfu City’s Mayor may be young and frail, with rather short legs that don’t move swiftly. It’s best for you to be under escort.”
Seriously, even the guards? Zhang Chun pondered this oddity. He held the position of a third-ranking official at the Prime Minister’s residence, after all.
It wasn’t until later that Zhang Chun realized the folly of his actions. Knocking someone out wasn’t the issue; it was knocking out someone who held grudges, with a status and standing no less than his own.
“Hey, what’s your name, buddy? It seems fate brought us together through a scuffle.”
Tang Yue glanced back at them and whispered to Crown Prince Zhao, “Why does that guard look familiar?”
Crown Prince Zhao kept his gaze ahead and replied, “He’s the son of the city lord of Yu Xin City.”
“…” Tang Yue was dumbfounded. He mourned internally for Zhang Chun’s ill fortune. Was this kid truly defying the world?
Sympathetically, he called out to Zhang Chun, “Mayor Huangfu, stay composed. Watch out for resentment; it can be perilous to your mental well-being. Things could get ugly if he holds a grudge.”
Crown Prince Zhao halted and extended an invitation to Tang Yue, suggesting, “Why don’t we spend the night at the palace?”
Tang Yue promptly declined, shaking his head. “We have matters to attend to at home, so I wouldn’t want to impose on you.” He preferred to exercise caution when it came to spending the night at his fiancé’s residence.
It wasn’t that he feared anything untoward would occur; rather, he was concerned about his own lack of restraint and the possibility of surrendering to his emotions in the Crown Prince’s arms, which could be somewhat embarrassing.
After leaving the Crown Prince’s Palace, Tang Yue had a discreet follower trailing him. He concealed his identity by wrapping a scarf around his head, as if he were a fugitive on the run.
“Is all of this really necessary?” Tang Yue couldn’t help but express his disbelief.
“You might not understand,” replied Zhang Chun, “it’s about avoiding undue attention. While you have the Crown Prince’s support, we shouldn’t overly rely on this connection. If word gets out that you’re harboring an imperial prisoner, our future prospects could be jeopardized.” Zhang Chun believed he was acting in the best interests of both parties.
However, as they walked away from the Crown Prince’s Palace, Tang Yue noticed that all the servants they encountered along the way treated him with respect and paid no attention to Zhang Chun. It was only when they were inside the carriage and no one cast a second glance at him that Zhang Chun realized his actions might have been unnecessary.
“Could it be that they’re all oblivious?” Zhang Chun muttered to himself.
Tang Yue responded, “Who in Ye City would recognize you anyway?”
Indeed, upon entering the city, Tang Yue hadn’t been paraded through the streets. Consequently, his reputation in Ye City was virtually non-existent, and most officials from the imperial court had never seen him. Naturally, no one paid much attention to a ten-year-old child like him.
“You should’ve mentioned that earlier. I worried needlessly,” Zhang Chun remarked as he removed the multiple layers of scarf wrapping his head and gazed out of the carriage.
“By the way, what does your family do?” Zhang Chun inquired, puzzled by how a military doctor could have such close ties with the Crown Prince. “And why do people at the Crown Prince’s Palace treat you with such respect?”
Tang Yue chose not to reveal the true nature of his relationship with the Crown Prince’s family. He turned his head and replied, “You’ll find out eventually.”
Zhang Chun wasn’t bothered by the secrecy surrounding Tang Yue’s background. Tang Yue’s identity didn’t affect their bond; he viewed Tang Yue as a lifeline in a world he was still trying to navigate. He was like a drowning man clutching desperately to a lifeline, unwilling to let go.
He felt adrift in this unfamiliar world, and Tang Yue represented his only hope, even if he were just a beggar.
The carriage came to a stop outside the Yueyang Marquis’s Mansion. Zhang Chun alighted from the carriage, but the four characters on the entrance plaque remained indecipherable to him. He followed Tang Yue in a daze.
“I thought I was a decent student, despite my limited education…” Zhang Chun mused with a hint of self-doubt.
Tang Yue reassured him, saying, “Don’t be conflicted. Just think of it as evening the score. I’m a Ph.D. student, yet here I am, illiterate in this era.” Tang Yue chuckled and added, “I’m not actually a Ph.D. student.”
Zhang Chun felt considerably better after hearing Tang Yue’s words. He stood on his tiptoes and draped his arm around Tang Yue’s shoulder, saying, “That means we can be comrades in adversity.”
Tang Yue laughed. “It might be a tad difficult because I’ve already mastered all the words of this era.”
Zhang Chun was taken aback and whispered, “You’re not very loyal!”
The Yueyang Marquis’s Mansion appeared grand, particularly to Zhang Chun, who had never set eyes on an ancient noble residence before.
“Your family… seems quite prosperous.”
Tang Yue modestly responded, “Just average.” In terms of wealth, the Yueyang Marquis’s Mansion was undoubtedly one of the top three in Ye City.
Upon entering Tang Yue’s compound, they beheld sprawling houses covering thousands of square meters. The courtyard-style layout left Zhang Chun even more astounded. “In modern times, this would be the hallmark of a tycoon’s estate.”
“Isn’t your family similar?” Zhang Chun inquired. “You’re the largest in all of Qinyang City. The Prefecture must be even grander and more lavish!”
Zhang Chun made an effort to recollect. Shaking his head, he explained, “I was apprehended as soon as I woke up. It was still nighttime. I never even got a glimpse of what the gate looked like. I can’t say for sure if it’ll ever be considered my home again.”
In truth, Zhang Chun had no intentions of returning to Qinyang. He held a negative view of the place and preferred to reside in Ye City. After all, it was the nation’s capital. Selling the original house to accumulate some capital seemed like the perfect plan.
Imagining the possibility of living a luxurious life in that house was utterly delightful.
As a dedicated idler, eating without working had always been Zhang Chun’s ultimate aspiration.
Tang Yue opened the door, revealing the room’s furnishings clearly. Zhang Chun sighed once more. “It’s spacious,” he remarked. “It’s a shame that I still prefer modern electronic living. When it’s cold or hot, there’s air conditioning. For a bath, there’s a water heater. When bored, you can watch TV and go online. Even in a ten-square-meter apartment, I’d be content.”
Tang Yue couldn’t determine which lifestyle was superior. He could only acknowledge that each had its own merits. Nevertheless, no matter how modern it was, there was no going back.
Just as Tang Yue began to feel homesick, his companion completely disregarded this sentiment, instead ogling the four maids who had just entered the room.
“Brother… Brother Tang, they are…?”
Tang Yue’s four maids had grown more refined under the guidance of their mistress. At least, they no longer appeared to be common servants at first glance.
While Tang Yue was still present, he hadn’t asked them to return and serve him. It was possible that upon learning that the Noble Heir of State Duke Heng had returned, they willingly offered their services.
Observing Zhang Chun’s lustful expression, Tang Yue believed it might be better to send him back to the mistress.
He didn’t mind having a licentious friend, but if that friend directed their licentiousness towards his domain, it would be unbearable.
“Young master, please change your attire,” the four maids surrounded Tang Yue and reached for his belt.
“Ahem…” Zhang Chun could no longer hold back. He reminded them that there were outsiders present and requested they not be so formal.
“I’ll handle it myself. The rest of you, please go prepare a room at the back for Young Master Chun.”
“Certainly.” The four beauties obediently withdrew. It was only when they were completely out of Zhang Chun’s sight that he regained his composure.
“You know, I actually think ancient times had their merits!” Zhang Chun’s mind had temporarily shifted away from the concept of modern technology. He counted on his fingers, saying, “In those days, you could openly have three wives and four concubines. Countless beauties graced the court. There were maids and servants to attend to your every need. A life like that is comparable to living among gods.”
Tang Yue rolled his eyes at him. “Is that all you think about?”
“Isn’t it a universal dream for men? Look at modern times; even when eating, they’re peering into their phones. How can they find any convenience in that?”
Tang Yue had never supported the idea of polygamy, but he refrained from criticizing other people’s choices. “It also requires you to have that charm.”
“Whether it’s about intimacy or love, it’s a personal choice,” Zhang Chun stated. “I can’t say what’s right or wrong.”
After their baths, it was already quite late. Zhang Chun yawned and headed to his room. As he left, he asked, “Can I have some company for the night?”
Tang Yue sneered. “Let’s talk about that when you’ve grown up a bit.”
A young boy with a head of blond hair still wanted to contemplate such matters, seemingly unafraid of losing his innocence.
Following his bath, Tang Yue took out his medical kit and examined his surgical tools one by one. “I wonder if I can lead you all to greater heights in the future.”
Using the carving knife Lee Zhao had gifted him, he fashioned two small toothbrushes, inscribing his and Lee Zhao’s names on the handles, along with a smiling face and an angry face. They seemed to share a special connection.
Just as Tang Yue was about to pack up and retire for the night, a knock at the door startled him, especially in the dead of night.
The voice outside the door sounded eerie, “Brother Tang… are you awake?”
Tang Yue swiftly approached and opened the door. He fixed a stern gaze on Zhang Chun and inquired, “Why are you up in the middle of the night? If you must knock, could you do it more quietly? Or, if you prefer a loud knock, at least don’t sound so ghostly.”
Zhang Chun chuckled and pushed his way into the room, clutching a pillow tightly. He wrapped himself in a blanket and said, “Sleeping alone is scary. Ever since I arrived in this world, I haven’t had a peaceful night’s sleep.”
Tang Yue considered this for a moment and agreed. Zhang Chun had been through quite a lot since his arrival. He’d been taken captive and transported in a prison wagon all the way to Ye City, essentially living under house arrest. His resilience was remarkable.
Tang Yue didn’t argue and simply told Zhang Chun the truth. “I’m gay. If you’re not afraid of being ‘victimized’ by me in the middle of the night, you can sleep here.”
Zhang Chun’s eyes widened, and he opened his mouth in surprise. After a long pause, he responded, “I’m gay too. If you’re not worried about the same happening to you, then I’d be happy to accept your offer. Nice to meet you, friend.”
This time, it was Tang Yue who was left dumbfounded. He stared at Zhang Chun as if he’d seen a ghost. People often said there was a certain connection among like-minded individuals, so why hadn’t he sensed anything from Zhang Chun before?
Naturally, if one were to perceive such an aura emanating from a ten-year-old child, it would likely raise questions about their humanity.
“Then why do you persistently indulge in a lifestyle with three wives and four concubines?” Tang Yue removed his coat as he climbed into bed, reserving half the blanket for himself.
“That’s what we call desire, do you comprehend?” Zhang Chun nestled into Tang Yue’s embrace, contemplating a kiss on Tang Yue’s cheek but was deterred by Tang Yue’s reaction.
“If you intend to sleep, then do so without further ado. Otherwise, I might just toss you out!”
“Such a miser! You won’t even grant me a goodnight kiss.”
Gradually, the two of them drifted off to sleep. In their dreams, they simultaneously shared a familiar vision—their return to their hometown, a world deeply etched in their memories.
The streets bustled with a continuous flow of vehicles, teeming with people, echoing with familiar noises, and the scent of exhaust they knew well.
Tang Yue sat in his office, staring blankly at a medical case in his hands. Beside him, his assistant prattled on about the diagnosis of a particular patient.
Tang Yue turned back to him, wearing a puzzled and astonished expression.
“Chief, when do you think it’s appropriate to schedule the surgery? I’ve checked your calendar, and it’s been a week since you arranged it.”
Tang Yue pinched himself, unsure if he was experiencing reality or a dream. In any case, a frown creased his face.
“Please leave for now. I need some quiet.”
“Director, are you feeling unwell? Would you like to call Xiao Liao? He’s not on the night shift today.” The assistant winked suggestively.
Tang Guo took a while to connect the dots and recall who Xiao Liao was talking about. He had lost track of how long it had been since he last thought about his former boyfriend.
“Is he… is he alright?” Tang Yue had passed away suddenly. Tang Guo wondered if Tang Yue had mourned or shed a tear for him.
“He’s doing well. How could he not be? Thanks to your recommendation, he’s on the brink of going abroad for an academic exchange. You’ve been exceptionally good to him,” the assistant responded, tinged with a hint of envy. “If I’d known being your boyfriend came with such great perks, I would’ve made my move earlier.”
Tang Yue managed a forced smile, recalling that his assistant could be quite the joker, albeit occasionally tactless.
“Please leave the room.”
“Alright. You seem exhausted. Get some rest. I’ll call you around lunchtime,” Tang Yue suggested.
Once the assistant had left the room, Tang Yue rose from his seat and surveyed the office. He had personally chosen every aspect of this workspace, from the furniture to the décor. It was simultaneously familiar and foreign.
“I must be in a dream! This has to be a dream!” Tang Yue muttered to himself. He opened the door and stepped outside, encountering his colleagues along the way and exchanging pleasantries.
“Director Tang, the person who attacked you has been sentenced to eight years in prison for intentional assault. It’s a small consolation, but at least he paid for what he did,” one of his colleagues informed him.
Tang Yue instinctively touched his chest. Why was he still alive? Was he only injured? Was this some sort of joke?
Eagerly, he unbuttoned his shirt and inspected his chest. There, he found a scar the length of a finger, matching the shape of the weapon used that fateful day.
“This can’t be real! Could South Jin have been a dream?” Tang Yue mumbled to himself. He halted a passing nurse, took her pen, tore a piece of paper, and scribbled a few words.
“Huh? Director Tang, what are you writing? It looks like ancient script. I never knew you were into these characters…”
Indeed, if it had all been a dream, why had he written the words “South Jin”?
Tang Yue stumbled out of the hospital and rushed back to his home.