A lot has happened this year.
Lin Xie left with half of the Chiyan army to quell the unrest in the Western borders. The emperor asked several of his high-ranking captains to stay in the capital, claiming that the city needed the best protection from elite troops.
In July, words reached the capital about the declining health of Lord Mu. Different from last life, he did not die on the battlefield with the Southern Chu, but fell victim to some poisonous gas in a forest when he was fighting with local insurgents. The emperor sent Princess Nihuang back to take over duties for her father, much to the dismay of of the Grand Empress. In the meantime, he has kept Mu Qing in the capital, saying that he was too young to face the unstable environment in the South.
Prince Qi has suggested more than once to recall the Chiyan men stationed in the north, but the emperor has been firm in his opposition. Words have it that father and son even had verbal arguments on several occasions.
Prince Xian’s mother, Consort Yue, has been favored by the emperor in the past months, and in August she was promoted to Noble Consort. On the other hand, the emperor seems to reduce his visits to the residences of Noble Consort Chen and Concubine Jing.
When it came to the annual selection of new officials, the emperor has broken his habit of leaving the entire process in the hands of Prince Qi, and has further taken some of the suggestions from Prince Xian. Some officials showed signs of dissent right away, and were rebuked harshly by the emperor without exception, including the much respected royal tutor Li Chong.
Stunned by the cold treatment, Master Li Chong nearly tripped as he took a step back, only to be caught by the steady hands of Prince Jing. The movement drew the emperor’s eyes to his seventh son.
“Tell me what you think, Jingyan.” he ordered.
“I have always been in the military…”
“No matter, you need to learn these things sooner or later. This is not a formal audience, you may speak your mind,” said the emperor without much patience, not expecting anything pleasant from the son who’s practically been raised by Prince Qi.
Jingyan lowered his eyes and saw the snickers from Prince Xian and Prince Yu. If he answered wrongly, it would be blamed on the royal tutor and his Brother Qi.
“In my humble opinion…” In his last life, while he was Crown Prince, he had to select new officials for the court, he insisted on a merit-based system. His strategist Mei Changsu had smiled knowingly and compiled a list of these officials according to his wishes, but then told him, ‘ The emperor would not be happy with you, if he opposes, you must have a backup plan that makes him think that you’ve taken a step back while preserving your bottom-line .’
So now he presented the backup plan, leaving a few deliberate mistakes to show his inexperience.
When he finished, Prince Yu’s smirk was replaced by utter surprise, and all eyes from the officials were trained on him, as if noticing him for the first time.
The emperor nodded several times in satisfaction, while pointing out the holes in his plan, “Good thinking! But you are still young, it is inappropriate to leave such important matters in your hands. The royal tutor did a good job instructing you all these years. This time, pay attention and learn from your Brother Qi, eventually you may have your turn too.”
The first son of Prince Qi is born near the Winter Solstice.
When the news reaches his manor, Jingyan is in his rooms reading letters from Lin Shu in the East Sea, and smiles happily when he hears that it is a boy. This time he finally knows that child’s real birthday.
The emperor appears very happy as well--sending along many gifts and well wishes--yet still hasn’t chosen a name for the child.
Jingyan has been busy with reforms on transportation policies, and hasn’t found time to visit the newborn until his one-month celebration. It is a family banquet, during which many court officials have flocked to congratulate the Prince, some of them very close friends with him. Prince Qi certainly has his political supporters in court, but he also has many personal friends who admire him for his character and strength.
But their Father does not know this. Even if he knew, he would not care and would only become more suspicious.
“Jingyan, there you are!” Prince Qi waves Jingyan over happily, taking his brother directly into the family room. From their intimacy, no one would guess that these two had a heated argument in front of the emperor just a few days ago over one of the political reforms.
That is the charm of Prince Qi: he is fair and never holds a grudge.
“We have decided on a name, it just needs to be officially registered in the imperial records,” Prince Qi tells Jingyan as they are walking. “Since you are here, I have to tell you, this child is a bit...odd.”
“Don’t worry yet, I mean, he has never cried,” the expression on his face softens at the mention of his son. Jingyan is reminded of the first time he shot a bird from the sky with his arrow, his Brother Qi had the same warm, proud smile on his face when he went around telling everyone, Look what my brother caught!
“Yes, ever since he was born. We were so concerned that we had the imperial physicians examine him. They said nothing was wrong, he just doesn’t cry. He sleeps through the entire night, even the nanny says she’s never handled an easier baby.”
Jingyan walks into the inner room and sees the baby in the nanny’s arms. Heart racing, he steps forward, wanting to see the child up close. Prince Qi takes him in his arms, the baby really does not make a sound, even as he fiddles with the jade pendant that was Jingyan’s gift. His bright eyes dart across the room until they come to rest on Jingyan.
“.....Can I hold him?” asks Jingyan.
“Sure,” Prince Jing hands him the baby with a small sigh. “Try to make him laugh?”
The baby bursts into tears as soon as he settles in Jingyan’s arms.
Prince Qi and the nanny are stunned into silence, even the princess comes rushing into the room, “Is that our child crying??”
Jingyan has absolutely no clue what to do. He has never taken care of a child this small. Last time his own son was this age, he was so deeply embroiled in reforming the court that he barely had time to sleep, let alone spend time with the baby. The loud cries send him into a panic, “Wh--what’s wrong, is he sick? Ting--”
The nanny tries to take the baby back to check on him, but the little hands are so tightly clasped around Jingyan’s sleeves, any attempt of prying them apart results in even louder howls.
After frantically making sure that the baby isn’t ill, Prince Qi says, relieved, “Maybe he just really likes you, Jingyan, try to calm him down!”
Jingyan is at a complete loss for what to do, so he sticks his tongue out in a half-smile, just as Lin Shu would do to him when they were young.
The baby lets out a happy giggle.
All the maids and servants are gathered around the baby to witness this rare phenomenon.
“Wow, our little prince is finally crying!”
“Yeah, right in the arms of Prince Jing, look how tightly he’s holding on!”
“Before nobody could make him cry.”
“Nobody could make him laugh either, even the Princess tried so many different ways, he just never laughed.”
“But look how happy he is in Prince Jing’s arms!”
Princess Qi eventually scatters the crowd and returns to the banquet with her husband, leaving Jingyan alone with the baby rocking in his arms.
Suddenly, the child feels a droplet land on his cheek. He lifts his innocent eyes up to the person holding him to find him silently weeping, rivulets of tears gliding down his face.