Arc 5: Harem Competing Strategies Chapter 10
The chief eunuch beside Tao Yuan, Yu Gonggong, walked up to Xu Gonggong’s side and whispered a few words in his ear. Xu Gonggong then approached Xiao Junye and quietly conveyed Tao Yuan’s message to him.
Xiao Junye smiled and said, “Since both of you ministers are interested, then write it down and send it over. Let…” Xiao Junye suddenly changed the subject, looking at Prime Minister Ye and said, “Let the Prime Minister judge who writes better.”
The ministers looked at Xiao Junye in confusion, not knowing what he meant by his words. Xiao Junye neither explained nor continued speaking, but instead looked towards the distant horizon at the rapidly approaching white line.
The ministers also turned their heads to look. The tide was getting closer and closer, the sound growing louder. From afar, it resembled a white eagle soaring with outspread wings, and as it drew near, it was like a heavenly army riding thousands of horses, thundering and deafening.
It was a magnificent and awe-inspiring sight, as if it could shake the heavens and earth, impacting one’s vision and brain. Some people were terrified and frightened by what they saw, while others were invigorated and suddenly filled with fighting spirit.
Tao Yuan also witnessed this spectacular and breathtaking tidal phenomenon for the first time. Just now, Xiao Junye mentioned having the two top scholars write poems about the Luojiang tide. Tao Yuan immediately understood Ye Rong’s intentions, so he proposed in front of him that they each write a poem and let the Emperor be the judge.
Ye Rong initially thought it suited his taste, but after a moment’s thought, he realized that Tao Yuan had previously won in a poetry contest, and now he voluntarily suggested competing against him. It seemed that he had the confidence to surpass him. With this in mind, Ye Rong couldn’t help but gather his spirits, focusing his attention completely, determined to give it his all this time.
Because Xiao Junye liked Tao Yuan’s calligraphy, he often asked him to write poems, and he treasured all those poems. Ye Rong occasionally wrote poems as well, and if they weren’t compared to Tao Yuan’s, his poems would be considered excellent. But they couldn’t compare to the ones written by Tao Yuan.
Xiao Junye had great confidence in Tao Yuan’s literary talent, so he intentionally said to leave it to Prime Minister Ye for judgment, just to see what expression Ye Rong would have.
Xiao Junye harbored deep resentment towards the Ye family. Every time he went to Ye Rong, he would pretend to be in a drowsy state, but in reality, he was fully awake. He believed that it was because he had drunk Tao Yuan’s blood that those drugs had no effect on him. Whenever Ye Rong whispered something to his attendant in secret, Xiao Junye could hear it clearly.
That attendant was a person of Yu Wang, specifically responsible for relaying messages between Xiao Junye and Yu Wang. The Ye family was not entirely ignorant of Ye Rong’s relationship with Yu Wang. Xiao Junye felt extremely angry. Even if he couldn’t act against Ye Rong and the Ye family for the time being, he would definitely not let them go when the time was ripe.
Two hours later, Ke Mingji and Zhao Xiu had finished writing. Xu Gonggong carried the tray to collect their poems and presented them to Xiao Junye.
After looking at them, Xiao Junye realized that he still couldn’t determine a winner. So he had the ministers read and select the one they considered to be better.
However, the ministers felt extremely troubled after reading them. If the writing styles were different, they could choose the one they preferred. But these two individuals happened to have extremely similar writing styles, making it difficult to distinguish between them.
Ke Mingji and Zhao Xiu glared at each other, silently competing through their eyes. They disliked each other and wanted to outdo one another, but whether it was in literature or martial skills, they were always told they were evenly matched. They both felt dissatisfied.
Both Tao Yuan and Ye Rong had also finished writing. Tao Yuan asked Yu Gonggong to present it to Xiao Junye.
After reading what the two had written, Xiao Junye smiled and said, “Let everyone take a look, then we’ll leave it to the Prime Minister to judge.”
Ye Rong felt extremely nervous. Whether his poem could be displayed on the Zhentian Stone Carving was an important task within the game. It would depend on this whether he could gain more support and popularity.
“Such excellent calligraphy! Look at these characters, flowing like clouds and water, full of vitality, and elegant and beautiful, truly outstanding.”
“Let me see… Indeed, excellent calligraphy. The form and grace are elegant, the strokes are both soft and strong, subtle yet unrestrained. Excellent calligraphy, excellent.”
Upon hearing their high praise, others couldn’t help but gather around to see how good the calligraphy really was.
“Such excellent calligraphy, truly rare to see.”
“The vitality between the lines of these characters is palpable. Just looking at them brings a sense of joy.”
Xiao Junye had already anticipated their astonishment at Tao Yuan’s calligraphy, so after waiting for a while, he finally spoke up, reminding them, “Gentlemen.”
The ministers quickly stood respectfully.
“Don’t just focus on the calligraphy. Also pay attention to the content. After reading, the Prime Minister will judge.”
Xiao Junye thought for a moment and realized that with so many people, they wouldn’t be willing to let go after reading the content. If they were to pass the poems around, who knows when they would finish reading them.
“Ke Mingji, Zhao Xiu,” Xiao Junye commanded, “Let the two of you take turns reading these two poems.”
“We obey your orders,” the two replied in unison.
Tao Yuan’s poem was still held by someone else, so Ke Mingji took Ye Rong’s poem and began reading it.
The ministers nodded from time to time as they listened. The literary style of this poem was not inferior to the ones Ke Mingji and Zhao Xiu had just written, and it might even surpass them.
After Ke Mingji finished reading, he couldn’t help but praise it in his heart and secretly admire it.
Prime Minister Ye also nodded in his heart. He had already guessed that this was the work of Ye Rong and was very satisfied with thispoem.
After Ke Mingji finished reading, Zhao Xiu picked up Tao Yuan’s poem and began reading it.
At first, the ministers were still savoring the previous poem, but as soon as Zhao Xiu read a small passage, they immediately focused their attention and listened intently. Every subsequent sentence made them marvel at its brilliance. Turning their heads to look at the Luojiang tide while accompanied by the verses, each description touched their hearts, vividly portraying the Luojiang tide. The conveyed artistic conception gave them a higher level of appreciation for the Luojiang tide.
After Zhao Xiu finished reading, they remained entranced for a long time. The ministers felt as though they had developed an ability to remember everything they heard. Each sentence from before still lingered in their ears.
Xiao Junye took a sip of tea and waited for a while before saying, “The first poem was written by Imperial Noble Consort Ye, and the second poem was written by Her Majesty, the Empress. Gentlemen, what do you think?”
After Xiao Junye spoke, the ministers snapped back to reality, but they remained silent. No one spoke because even the military officials could tell that Tao Yuan’s poem was undoubtedly better.
The military officials were waiting for the civilian officials to speak up, wanting to hear them say who did better and how they determined it. The civilian officials were mostly led by Prime Minister Ye. Now that the Prime Minister’s own grandson’s literary talent, nurtured personally by him, was inferior to the Empress who came from a military family, if they were to speak up, wouldn’t it be slapping the Prime Minister’s face?
Seeing that they were all silent, Xiao Junye said expressionlessly, “You cannot determine a winner between Ke Mingji and Zhao Xiu. Are you saying that you also can’t determine a winner between these two poems? Or is it that you know it in your hearts but are unwilling to admit it?”
“His Highness, as expected of the Prime Minister’s grandson, his marvelous penmanship shines brightly, forming a beautiful composition. However… I believe that the Empress’s work surpasses it,” one minister spoke up.
“The Empress’s work combines emotions and literature, every line touches the heart. I also believe that the Empress’s literary talent surpasses it,” another minister added.
“I also think so.”
“So do I.” The ministers all spoke in unison.
Xiao Junye turned to Prime Minister Ye and asked, “What does the Prime Minister think?”
“I believe that the Empress’s work is magnificent and exquisite, as if guided by divine assistance. If it is engraved on the Zhentian Stone in Zhenjiang for future generations to admire, it would be a great fortune for literary figures in later generations.” The Prime Minister stood up and spoke respectfully.
The ministers couldn’t possibly tell blatant lies in front of Xiao Junye, and the Prime Minister couldn’t favor Ye Rong openly in front of Xiao Junye and the other ministers. Therefore, he couldn’t provide a reason why Ye Rong’s work was better than Tao Yuan’s.
“Then, as the Prime Minister suggests, we shall engrave the poem ‘Luojiang Tide,’ written by the Empress, on the rocks of Zhenjiang,” Xiao Junye said, feeling inexplicably pleased. He had a sense of humiliating Prime Minister Ye, and he felt relieved.
If it weren’t for the need to maintain secrecy at the moment, Xiao Junye would definitely mock them thoroughly. He would say that the upbringing of Ye Rong, who comes from the Ye family, is the reason for his corrupt mentality and sinister intentions. He hasn’t devoted his thoughts to the right place, which is why his literary talent is surpassed by Mu Xi, who was born into a family of military generals.
Xiao Junye had Xu Gonggong retrieve the work by Tao Yuan, took a look at it himself, and then handed it back to him, instructing him to keep it safe.
Zhao Xiu’s mind was filled with conflict and hesitation. After seeing the poem being taken away by Xu Gonggong, he finally gathered the courage to kneel down and said, “Please forgive me for my audacity, Your Majesty. I humbly request that Your Majesty bestow upon me the poem ‘Luojiang Tide’ written by the Empress. I promise to study it day and night to improve myself.”
The ministers were stunned. They hadn’t expected Zhao Xiu to make such a request. However, considering the quality of the words and the content of the poem, they also desired to possess it, but they didn’t have the courage to ask for it, especially because it was written by the Empress herself.
On the other hand, Zhao Xiu was enamored with the poem. He marveled at it and admired it greatly. He had a strong desire to personally collect the original copy written by the author. Despite the risk of angering Xiao Junye, he still wanted to try and make a request.
Xiao Junye was also taken aback for a moment, but instead of getting angry, he calmly replied, “That cannot be done. The poem written by the Empress can only be collected by me. However, I might allow you to make a copy for yourself.”
“Thank you, Your Majesty,” Zhao Xiu responded, though he still felt unwilling. Nevertheless, he didn’t dare to continue pleading.
Ye Rong clenched his fist tightly, concealed within his sleeve. He had once again lost, and this time the defeat was severe. He felt a mixture of hatred and unwillingness in his heart. Why would a mere cannon fodder become such a formidable opponent? If things continued like this, Mu Xi would end up as the Empress Dowager while he himself would be utterly defeated. He couldn’t sit idly by. If he couldn’t win against Xiao Junye, then he would have to find another way to deal with him.
Tao Yuan caught a glimpse of the fierce determination that flashed through Ye Rong’s eyes.
After the tide-watching event, Xiao Junye stood up and led everyone back to the imperial villa.
When they reached the place where the carriages were parked, everyone respectfully stood behind, waiting for Xiao Junye and Tao Yuan to board the carriage first.
Xiao Junye turned around and reached out his hand to Tao Yuan, personally helping him onto the carriage before getting on himself.
The concubines, ministers, and noble ladies behind them witnessed this scene and were momentarily stunned. Then, each of them lowered their eyes, harboring their own thoughts.
Those ministers and noble ladies now realized that Xiao Junye’s equal treatment of Tao Yuan and Ye Rong was not due to Mu Yongsheng’s influence, but because of Tao Yuan’s talent and appearance, which surpassed Ye Rong.
Some speculated that Xiao Junye might actually prefer Tao Yuan more, and his favor towards Ye Rong was simply because of the Ye family and Ye Rong’s position as prime minister.
However, most people believed that Xiao Junye liked both of them. After all, both were incredibly beautiful and talented. Being able to have both of them at the same time, they thought Xiao Junye must be very happy.
Upon returning to the imperial villa, it was already getting dark. Xiao Junye and Tao Yuan had their evening meal together before washing up, changing into their sleeping clothes.
Tao Yuan sat in front of the dressing mirror while a palace attendant dried his hair and styled it in a way that would be comfortable for sleeping.
Xiao Junye leaned against the bed, still engrossed in reading the poem written by Tao Yuan, as if he couldn’t get enough of it.
Xiao Junye ordered people to work day and night to carve the poem “Luojiang Tide” written by Tao Yuan onto the Zhenjiang Stone by the riverside. Even if the tides were high, they never submerged this Zhenjiang Stone. In the future, this poem on the Zhenjiang Stone would become another scenic attraction for people to admire.
After Tao Yuan finished styling his hair, he raised his hand to signal the palace attendants to leave and then walked over to Xiao Junye’s side.
“Your Majesty, it’s still early. Allow me to accompany you in a game of chess?” Tao Yuan sat down on the other side of the bed and suggested.
“Very well. Since you have an interest in it, I shall gladly accompany you,” Xiao Junye placed the paper into a long, flat wooden box and called for Xugonggong to take it away for safekeeping.
The palace attendants brought the chessboard and pieces, and the two of them began playing.
“Your Majesty, a few days ago, my father sent me a letter. Although he assured me that everything is fine and I need not worry, I still can’t help but feel concerned…” Tao Yuan trailed off, appearing as if he wanted to continue asking but hesitated. In truth, he wanted to ask about the current situation at the border, but as a member of the harem, he couldn’t directly involve himself in politics.
Xiao Junye put down a chess piece, held Tao Yuan’s hand, and said, “Your father is indeed safe and sound. You need not worry.”
Tao Yuan looked at Xiao Junye and whispered, “I don’t know what will happen to the things I’ve deduced…”
Xiao Junye nodded, and their eyes met. They didn’t need words to communicate. Their unspoken thoughts had already been conveyed.
For the past two or three months, Xiao Junye had maintained close correspondence with Mu Yongsheng and sent people to intercept the true spies of the Yu Wang. He also spread false information to the Yu Wang. Everything was progressing smoothly, and he believed that good news would arrive soon.
Xiao Junye caressed Tao Yuan’s slender fingers and looked at his fair complexion and captivating gaze. Feeling a surge of warmth in his heart, he stood up, pulling Tao Yuan into his embrace.
Tao Yuan leaned against him, their ears close together, occasionally exchanging kisses.
Xiao Junye slipped his hand inside Tao Yuan’s collar, gently nibbling and sucking on his lips.
The night was quiet, and any sound made was particularly distinct. When Tao Yuan let out a soft moan from the slight pain caused by Xiao Junye’s actions, it sounded especially melodious to Xiao Junye’s ears. In order to hear more of his voice, he exerted varying degrees of pressure.
Tao Yuan held onto Xiao Junye’s shoulders, his gaze gradually becoming hazy.
Xiao Junye lifted Tao Yuan and walked towards the bed. “No need to wait any longer, let’s rest early.”
Tao Yuan clung to Xiao Junye’s neck and released his grip only after being placed on the bed.
Xiao Junye kissed Tao Yuan’s lips passionately, sucking forcefully while removing his nightclothes and caressing him with intensity.
The next day, Tao Yuan woke up in Xiao Junye’s embrace. He half-opened his eyes and looked up, meeting Xiao Junye’s gaze. Still a bit drowsy, he called out, “Your Majesty…”
Seeing his adorable and confused state, Xiao Junye couldn’t help but smile. Filled with love, he kissed Tao Yuan on the forehead and then on his nose before slowly moving down.
Although Xiao Junye didn’t have to attend court or practice martial arts, he didn’t want to let go of Tao Yuan. He had already been awake for a while but remained motionless, holding Tao Yuan in his arms. The scent emanating from Tao Yuan’s body brought him comfort both physically and emotionally, so he didn’t want to get up.
The two tangled on the bed for a while before Xiao Junye allowed the palace maids to come in and attend to their washing and grooming.
Since they were not in the palace, neither of them had to attend court or perform greetings. They leisurely and unhurriedly went about their morning routine.
However, they wouldn’t be staying at the imperial villa all day. They planned to visit the Luo’an Temple to pay respects to the Buddha and enjoy themselves. The concubines and ministers had already woken up early, waiting for Xiao Junye’s order to depart. However, Xiao Junye and Tao Yuan were in no rush. After having breakfast and resting for a while, they finally gave the order to prepare for departure.
The city of Luocheng was bustling, second only to the imperial city. It was surrounded by mountains and water, with many beautiful sceneries to explore. Luo’an Temple was a renowned temple, and even many outsiders would come here to worship and pray for peace. However, what made this temple most famous was its reputation for granting marriages.
The scope of Luo’an Temple was quite large, attracting a significant number of tourists and worshippers on ordinary days. However, a month ago, the entire temple underwent a thorough cleaning, and no one was allowed to enter until Xiao Junye arrived with his concubines and ministers.
The vegetation and trees on the mountains were abundant, and the air was fresh. After Xiao Junye and Tao Yuan finished paying their respects at the temple, they proceeded to explore the mountains.
The abbot followed along, introducing various scenic spots to Xiao Junye.
They arrived at a slightly open area with stone slabs, where two large trees were connected by their trunks. The trunks were tied with red ropes, and wooden fences were placed around them.
Xiao Junye stood with his hands behind his back and looked up at the two lush trees, asking, “What kind of trees are these?”
“Your Majesty,” the abbot bowed and replied, “These are the Couple Trees. Newlywed couples often come here to worship, praying for a blissful marriage where they are inseparable and grow old together.”
“Oh?” Xiao Junye found it quite interesting and continued to inquire, “What is the worshiping ritual like?”
“Write the names of the couple on red paper, burn it in the incense burner, and bury the ashes in the ground. Then, take two small red ropes from the tied knots and tie them around your wrists for nine days,” explained the abbot.
“Less than half a year has passed since our grand wedding. Let’s consider ourselves newlyweds,” Xiao Junye said, turning to look at Tao Yuan. “My dear, are you willing to grow old with me?”
Being asked such a question in front of so many people, Tao Yuan was momentarily stunned before replying, “It is my lifelong wish to grow old with Your Majesty.”
“Xu Ming,” Xiao Junye called.
“Here, Your Majesty,” Xu Gonggong promptly responded, stepping forward.
“Go and prepare everything,” Xiao Junye commanded. “We need the finest wine.”
“Yes,” Xu Gonggong acknowledged with a bow, then swiftly turned around and left to arrange what Xiao Junye requested.
The concubines exchanged glances, and the ministers did the same. Everyone’s eyes carried a look of astonishment.
Although the Emperor and Empress were willing to grow old together, there was an issue with the concept of being inseparable. It implied that the couple could not survive if one of them were missing. The Emperor was the Son of Heaven, the supreme ruler. How could he be unable to live without his other half?
Furthermore, all the concubines were present, especially Ye Rong, the noble consort, who stood not far behind Tao Yuan. The ministers felt that Xiao Junye’s actions completely disregarded Ye Rong’s emotions and the feelings of Prime Minister Ye.
“Your Majesty,” a minister stepped forward, bowing and advising, “These Couple Trees are objects for married couples to pray for. Your Majesty is the true dragon Emperor, and the Empress is the true phoenix Empress. It may be inappropriate to use such folk objects for prayers.”
“What’s inappropriate about it?” Xiao Junye said. “Although it is an object for married couples in the folk tradition, as long as it proves effective, and considering it receives the incense from the temple ahead and is regularly worshipped, its power and efficacy are already unknown.”
“While that may be the case, it’s just that…”
“What’s the matter? Are you objecting to my desire to grow old with my Empress?” Xiao Junye interrupted, his expression displeased, his tone stern.
“I did not mean it that way. I beg Your Majesty’s forgiveness,” the minister immediately knelt down and apologized.
“In that case, stop the nonsense!” Xiao Junye’s demeanor indicated that he would not tolerate any further opposition or attempts at persuasion.
Therefore, the ministers dared not offer any further advice.
Chapters are scheduled for the next three months ＼(＾O＾)／
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