C123 – Are You Being Held There to Wash Dishes?

Zhang Chun walked in a contemplative manner, eventually returning to the Crown Prince’s Palace. His face bore the weight of regret as he offered a respectful gesture before the Crown Prince and his companion.

Letting out a sigh, he wore an expression of solitude and shared, “Since my birth, I’ve never had the chance to lay eyes on my parents. Their memory eludes me completely. Today, when I visited the Loyal and Brave Marquis Prefecture in Ye City, I couldn’t help but ponder their past life in this place. Each time, it stirred deep emotions.”

Tang Yue gazed at Zhang Chun, who had seemingly slipped into a dramatic role. It was evident that his talent for acting was less than stellar. Observing his demeanor and tone, it was hard not to be swayed by his words.

Wang Dingjun stood silently behind him, opting not to expose his falsehood. Nonetheless, if the Crown Prince inquired, he would certainly divulge the truth.

Although he had driven away the refugees, the extensive mansion would still require a year and a half of repairs.

“The Old Marquis made significant contributions to South Jin. He was not only a renowned general but also achieved remarkable political feats. His legacy is truly worthy of remembrance.”

A bitter smile crossed Zhang Chun’s face. “It’s an honor for them to receive praise from Your Highness. Regrettably, I cannot fully appreciate my ancestors’ character and wisdom or benefit from their teachings.”

“What’s the impediment? The inner court possesses the life story of the Loyal and Brave Marquis. I can have a copy made for you,” Crown Prince Zhao stated with a meaningful look. “I’ve often heard my Royal Father speak of the old duke. He explicitly mentioned that he was a wise man who knew when to yield and when to act decisively.”

Tang Yue discreetly rubbed his nose. He found it challenging to witness Zhang Chun’s expression. Crown Prince’s words appeared to carry a veiled warning, indicating that he still harbored some resentment.

Zhang Chun made an effort to feign ignorance of the underlying message. He bowed respectfully and said, “Thank you for your guidance, Your Highness. I shall strive to emulate my ancestors and serve the country’s people.”

Tang Yue couldn’t help but interject, “How about staying at Yueyang Marquis’s Mansion for a period until the mansion is fully restored? This way, you can also foster a stronger connection.”

Zhang Chun immediately beamed with gratitude, about to express his thanks to Tang Yue when the Crown Prince interjected, “No need to trouble Yueyang Marquis. I had the privilege of meeting the old marquis once and received his regards. I will take responsibility for his descendants.”

Zhang Chun’s smile froze in place. However, Crown Prince Zhao made it clear he had no intention of considering his feelings. He continued, “Moreover, you’ve acknowledged Protector Wang as your mentor. It would be more convenient for you to receive instruction within the Crown Prince’s Palace. I entrust this matter to Protector Wang.”

“Yes,” Wang Dingjun responded, his expression stoic as he ushered Zhang Chun out of the hall.

Tang Yue glanced at the departing figure and smiled. “He’s still young. Let’s not be too hard on him.”

“He’s quite immature. Failing to instill some discipline now may lead to unnecessary conflicts in the future.”

“Alright, you make a valid point. We’ll follow your advice.”

“This time, you won’t resort to claiming he’s mentally unstable, will you?” Crown Prince Zhao wore a mocking grin as he exposed Tang Yue’s previous deception.

Tang Yue remained unfazed, extending his arms wide. “I simply pitied him due to his youth and orphaned status.”

“Your compassion is admirable, but you must choose your allies wisely. Huangfu Chun is astute; he could either become a valuable minister or a dangerous traitor depending on circumstances.”

“It’s clear Your Highness holds him in high regard. This suggests he has a promising future.”

“Father may have granted him the title of city lord, but that doesn’t mean he’s bound to serve us forever. A pre-established Loyal and Brave Marquis is far easier to nurture than an ordinary individual.”

“So, does Your Highness believe he possesses the potential to be molded into a talent?”

“As long as he’s not completely devoid of potential, he can be cultivated. He’s only ten years old and already quite intelligent—a piece of uncut jade.”

Tang Yue silently pondered, “It’s truly surprising how highly Zhang Chun is regarded, but it’s understandable. He possesses the knowledge of a twenty-year-old in a ten-year-old body, thanks to his modern-day origins. To others, he must seem like a prodigy.”

Nevertheless, Zhang Chun’s ability to thrive in this society for several years indicated that he was better equipped to adapt to this unfamiliar environment than Tang Yue.

“I’d like to visit the apothecary. Would Your Highness care to join me?”

Crown Prince Zhao agreed and ordered a carriage to be prepared. However, Tang Yue stopped him and suggested, “I’ve been in Ye City for a while and haven’t had the chance to explore it properly. Why don’t Your Highness accompany me for a stroll?”

Crown Prince Zhao’s eyes twinkled with amusement at the suggestion. He guided Tang Yue to change into ordinary attire, and they walked out together.

The Crown Prince’s Palace was undoubtedly the finest residence. It was said to align with the palace’s dragon vein, serving as the designated abode for the Crown Princes upon their designation.

Crown Prince Zhao’s ability to maintain his position was owed to his unique status and the unspoken recognition of his authority.

Outside the Crown Prince’s Palace, there stretched a vast open expanse. After a walk lasting more than ten minutes, they could finally glimpse the surroundings. The area was dotted with grand gates and expansive courtyards, making it evident that this was the abode of the nobility.

“Ye City is divided into four districts: east, south, west, and north. The palace is situated in the east district, where the nobles congregate. The remaining two districts are inhabited by commoners. The main street serves as the thoroughfare that separates the east and west districts, thus making it the busiest area.”

“His Highness spent his formative years within the palace. Subsequently, he embarked on military campaigns and was away from Ye City for many years. I doubt he is familiar with this palace anymore, wouldn’t you agree?”

Crown Prince Zhao observed the passersby. They were engrossed in their daily routines or leisurely savoring the scenery. It seemed that this was his first time strolling through the imperial city streets in such a relaxed manner.

“In my youth, someone once told me that… Beyond the palace walls lies a world marred by squalor and chaos, while life within the palace is opulent and comfortable. I couldn’t fathom it, so I ventured out of the palace, eager to experience the gritty and tumultuous life beyond.”

“What occurred afterward? How did His Highness perceive life outside the palace?”

Crown Prince Zhao clasped his hands and slowed his pace. “It was a harsh winter, even colder than this year. Snow was falling heavily. I wore a thick cotton coat and a brand-new red fox fur cloak. Accompanied by only two maids, I slipped out from a secret passage in the harem.

Initially, it was uneventful, and I avoided encountering others along the way. I came across well-off households that, apart from lacking the palace’s refinement, didn’t seem dirty or chaotic.

However, as we ventured deeper, we found ourselves amidst destitute civilians. There were no familiar faces, and the houses lining the streets teetered on the brink of collapse under the weight of snow. Along the way, we encountered individuals who had succumbed to the cold by the roadside, as well as those on the verge of freezing to death.”

“Gu was filled with curiosity at the time. She approached a person huddled in a corner and inquired, ‘Why aren’t you going home? Why don’t you wear warm clothes?’ ‘Why sit in the snow?’ I still recall the look in his eyes when he gazed at me—despair, hopelessness, numbness, and self-derision. Then, gradually, it transformed into a mixture of longing and fervor.”

Tang Yue instinctively tightened his grip. His heart raced as he held his breath, engrossed in Crown Prince Zhao’s narrative.

He had always wondered why a child raised within the palace, with loving parents, would depart from home at such a tender age, remaining absent for four years, and harboring aspirations to reshape the world.

“As he inched closer to Gu and extended his hand, she asked, ‘What do you desire?’ He responded, ‘I desire life.’ ‘I want to survive and return to reunite with my wife and son.’

“Gu inquired further, ‘How do you intend to survive?’ He replied, ‘It’s simple: if you’re not hungry, you won’t freeze.'”

Gu found himself perplexed. [Isn’t this a simple task?] Consequently, Gu led him to the closest eatery, treated him to a meal, and arranged for the purchase of a cotton coat. The eatery owner was astounded by Gu’s opulent attire.

After the individual had satisfied his hunger and donned the cotton robe, he inquired of Gu Wen, “Why couldn’t you manage such a straightforward matter yourself?”

Tang Yue’s optimism dwindled as he came to realize that the plot of the story might not be as melodramatic as he had initially presumed.

“I was a mere five years old back then, unaware of the intricacies of the world. I could barely recite a few passages and clumsily wield a saber and spear. He retorted by asking me: Do you comprehend the origins of this food? Or the source of this fabric? How many people in South Jin succumb to hunger each year, and how many to cold? Gu was left utterly dumbfounded.

He remarked, ‘The word “full” carries great weight, capable of bowing even the stoutest back. Obtaining these two words might require a lifetime of toil.’ I couldn’t fathom it, so I inquired further: If you’re full now, shouldn’t you don warm clothing? Isn’t the word ‘full’ that simple?

With a derisive smile, he departed without addressing Gu’s query. Can you guess what lay ahead for me?” Crown Prince Zhao asked with self-deprecation.

Tang Yue responded in a straightforward manner, “Well, you didn’t have any money with you at the time, did you?”

Wang Zizhao nodded, wearing a grin. “Indeed, I was well-acquainted with gold and silver, but I had no inkling of their practical uses. That’s why I couldn’t produce any when the restaurant owner demanded payment.”

“And then? Were you detained to wash dishes?” Tang Yue quipped.

“The proprietor believed that the fur coat you were wearing was sufficient. It barely covered the cost of the meal and the clothing, so he took my fur coat.”

“Your fur coat could probably buy his entire restaurant!” What a squandered opportunity, trading it for a single meal and a cotton garment!

“At the time, I was only aware of bartering with goods as a common practice among the people. Without much thought, I handed it over and continued on my way… Do you wish to hear the rest of the tale?”

Tang Yue contemplated for a moment and nodded. Despite his sense that trouble lay ahead, he remained curious about the experiences of a five-year-old encountering the unfamiliar world beyond.

“I should have returned to the palace then, but I found it hard to leave. Ignoring their counsel, I pressed on. I was careless and ignorant of the importance of concealing my wealth. Although I didn’t possess a single sword coin at the time, to those with a keen eye, I appeared as a tempting piece of prey.”

After another hour’s journey, I traded the jade pendant on my person for ten sword coins. I gifted them to two sisters who were using their bodies to raise money for their father’s burial. The sisters were immensely grateful and even offered to sell themselves as slaves to accompany me back. Considering the multitude of palace maids, I agreed, thinking they would keep their word.

They both expressed their intention to return home and give their father a proper burial. After they packed their belongings, they accompanied me back. Since it was still early, I decided to go along with them. Little did I know… when we reached their residence, I had a bowl of hot water and promptly passed out. Reflecting on these past events, I can’t help but still feel embarrassed.”

“One must be wary of others. Your Highness, there’s no need for shame. The ones who should feel ashamed are those who exploit others’ kindness for nefarious purposes!”

Crown Prince Zhao lightly grazed Tang Yue’s palm with his fingernail, casting a fleeting, suffocating sensation over Tang Yue.

“Upon awakening, I found myself bound to a bed, clad only in thin undergarments, and covered with a musty straw blanket. The two maids were nowhere in sight. It was then that I realized the gravity of the situation.”

“Subsequently… for the next five days, I was confined in a dark room, deprived of any freedom. Each day, I received a hard rice ball tossed in through a broken window. I never saw anyone during this time.”

“On the first day, I couldn’t bring myself to eat. By the second day, hunger drove me to consume half of the meager meal. Despite its coarseness, the sustenance became surprisingly palatable as my hunger intensified from the third day onward.”

“The most excruciating days of my life weren’t on the battlefield, but during that period of captivity and isolation. My fate hung in the balance, with no one to speak to or even acknowledge my existence.”

“On the sixth day, I was finally taken out of the dimly lit chamber. I encountered several menacing bandits. Naively, I thought that by revealing my royal identity, I could compel these criminals to surrender, return me to the palace, and admit their guilt. Unfortunately, this was another grave error on my part.”

Tang Yue chuckled unkindly. Indeed, in such dire circumstances, if the “meat ticket” lacked the necessary wit and resilience, it would only heighten the risk of dire consequences.

“Just imagine, in such a setting, when Crown Prince Zhao claimed to be the royal prince and the queen’s son, those bandits likely had only two reactions. First, they might burst into laughter and exclaim, ‘If you’re a prince, then I’m the Jade Emperor!’ before rendering Crown Prince Zhao unconscious with a single blow to attend to their business.”

“The second scenario involved them scrutinizing Crown Prince Zhao with suspicion. Even if they believed his claim, fear would grip their hearts, realizing they couldn’t afford to release him. Their only option would be to take drastic measures, perhaps even ending his life to eliminate the risk completely.”

Tang Yue’s curiosity deepened. Under such dire circumstances, how did a five-year-old child manage to escape imminent danger in the end?

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