After a peaceful death as emperor, Jingyan goes back in time as his nineteen-year-old self and manages to stop the Chiyan tragedy from happening. However, he cannot mend the gap of suspicion between his Father and Prince Qi. Caught between outside invasions and inner strifes within the court, Jingyan decides to give the empire the best future possible by ensuring his brother Prince Qi’s succession to the throne.
Last life, his strategist Mei Changsu once told him that he chose to support him because he had no other choice. So in this life, it is easy to imagine given the choice between Prince Qi and Jingyan, which one Lin Shu would choose. He would definitely choose Prince Qi.
Jingyan vows to himself, as long as he lives, he would not allow Cliff Mei to be stained with blood, and he would not allow Lin Shu to become Mei Changsu. He would preserve all 70,000 lives of the Chiyan army, give the world a just and competent emperor, and let Lin Shu live a happy and carefree life. Even at the cost of his own life.
This time, you can go see the grandeur of mountains and the serenity of the streams like you’ve always wanted, experience the glory of life, even though I will not be by your side.
Everything is frozen in this harsh winter.
Despite the burning coals in the imperial chambers, an unseen chill permeates through the space.
The Imperial physicians are scurrying around in a frenzy, cold sweat on their foreheads, and no one dares to utter a word.
The Empress stands just outside the emperor’s bedchamber, dressed impeccably in her elaborate formal robes, her features look not a day past when she first became the Princess Consort, some twenty years ago. She used to feel so much love and longing for her husband, now, all that's left are calm and serenity. She would accept whatever fate has in store for her in the future.
She knows with such certainty and calmness--likely the silent snow outside--that her son will inherit the throne. After all, even in his sickness, her husband has diligently paved the roads for them.
As a ruler and a husband, he has truly fulfilled every duty to its perfection.
In these past twenty years, he defended the kingdom against invasions and filled the Court with the most competent men; he has taught both Tingsheng and his own son personally, while fulfilling his filial duties to the Empress Dowager.
During the late autumn of last year, after the death of the Empress Dowager, it seemed that all the burdens left him. He ordered the Crown Prince to act in his stead in the Court, then fell rapidly ill. Everyone panicked, yet he was the only calm one. He settled his affairs meticulously, as if looking forward to this last day.
Even in these last hours, he quietly summoned them into his chamber and bid the most mundane goodbyes, then ushered them all out to wait-- for when he takes his last breath, and takes off the mantle of being the emperor.
The empress looks outside, as the snow falls heavily onto the paths illuminated by lanterns.
In this stormy weather, my dear husband, can you find your way to Cliff Mei?
Tingsheng walks into the bed chamber. The emperor turns his head with great difficulty on the bed, and smiles gently.
"I thought I couldn't wait until you came. "
Tingsheng is no longer the timid child from the servant prison all those years ago, he now stands taller than his father, and years of military life has given him a hardened edge.
He kneels by the bed and says quietly, "Master Lin does not like bidding goodbyes, so he has given me this gift to pass along."
"... What beautiful plum blossoms..." whispers the emperor, his eyes soft as he gazes at the blooming flowers.
"Yes, " says Tingsheng, trying to stop the quiver in his voice, "Fei Liu picked them from your old residence as Prince."
"Fei Liu, how is he?"
"He's well, there have been more people to come to challenge him in martial arts, but since he's well protected by the master of Langya Hall, no one dares to do him harm." Tingsheng steers the conversation in lighter directions, as if it was only yesterday that his father was gently reading him bedtime stories.
At this moment, his grief would only make his father uneasy before his departure. He has done more than enough, he has more than earned his rights for a respite. If he cannot be free in life, then please let him be free in the afterlife.
Jingyan feels something being pressed into his palm. He lifts his hand slowly and squints in the dim light. It is the pearl he gave to Xiaoshu.
“Don’t worry, I took it away without anyone knowing. Nobody saw.”
The emperor nods in relief, holding the pearl close to his heart, along with the love he harbored for that person. Years ago when he first found this pearl in the East Sea, he was so taken with its beauty that he fell asleep looking at it in his hands. All this time has passed, it is still so beautiful.
Xiaoshu has always been impatient, never been the one to wait. He’s been kept waiting long enough on the other side of the Lethe. He must be so anxious. It is time to go.
The emperor exhales slowly and deeply, as if expelling every last drop of energy in his body. The image of Tingsheng wavers and dims in his vision.
“Tingsheng…” he calls.
“Yes, Father, I am here.”
Jingyan smiles and says softly, “I miss Xiaoshu…”
In his drifting consciousness, he hears the gentle rustling of waves.
When he opens his eyes, the sight that greets him is the army tent above his head, like a lifetime ago.
His hand is clasped tightly around the pearl. That pearl he found for Xiaoshu, when he was the nineteen year-old general stationed in the East Sea.