Chapter 688: Li Heng's Disaster!
Translated by: Hypersheep325
Edited by: Michyrr
"Your Highness, we've arrived!"
While Li Heng was in a daze, the voice of the driver suddenly rose from outside the carriage. With a faint smile, Li Heng quickly came back to his senses.
"Let's go! We'll first head to Gold Brocade Row. I've always felt like the clothes in the palace are too extravagant and don't match you, so this time, I've invited the best seamstress of the Great Tang to take your measurements and make clothes for you."
As he spoke, Li Heng embraced Du Zhiqi, causing her to yelp in alarm. He opened the door and got off the carriage.
Dusk was settling in over the capital of the Great Tang, but Gold Brocade Row, the greatest silk business in the capital, was brightly lit. The managers of the shop were refusing most guests at the door and taking in only a few select customers.
From dusk to dawn, Li Heng brought Du Zhiqi around the capital, to the tea market of Heaven Street, Shou-an Archway, All-Peace Bridge, the Temple of Burning Lanterns… At daybreak, Li Heng's carriage mixed in with the carriages of the other accompanying students and entered the palace, returning to his own residence.
"Qi-er, I'm a little tired. In a little while, I'll go and pay respects to Teacher. I'll probably be back a little late, so you go and rest first. If you wake up and I still haven't returned, just play around for a while here. I've already ordered that you have complete freedom in this estate, but you absolutely cannot enter my study," Li Heng said.
"It's fine. No matter how late it is, I'll wait for you," Du Zhiqi said gently. "Besides, you're also tired. I'll go and prepare a few fruits for you. When you go and pay respects to your teacher, you can eat them on the way."
Li Heng nodded, his heart warm and his eyes gentle. By meeting such an understanding partner, Li Heng felt like his life had been fulfilled.
Li Heng quickly left with Du Zhiqi's fruits, leaving Du Zhiqi alone in the residence with the palace maids.
"I'm a little tired. There's no need to take care of me. All of you go and rest," Du Zhiqi said with a wave of her hand.
The palace maids quickly dispersed. Du Zhiqi seemed to be tired, brushing her hair out of her eyes as she slowly walked to the bed.
After some time, all the maids had withdrawn, and the room was silent. Whoosh! There was a gentle gust of wind, lifting the curtains over the bed. An exquisite figure appeared by the bed. It was Du Zhiqi, who had just moments ago been sound asleep.
Du Zhiqi was still Du Zhiqi, but her entire demeanor had changed, making her seem like a completely different person.
If the first Du Zhiqi had been a gentle, generous, and timid girl, the Du Zhiqi now was a sword unsheathed, her aura sharp and edged.
Swish! Du Zhiqi vigilantly took stock of her surroundings and then leaped through the window like a cat. It took only a few seconds to arrive at Li Heng's study, which wasn't very far from the bedroom.
Looking around the room, Du Zhiqi's eyes glimmered as she noticed the list on the desk.
"I've found it! I'll make a copy and send it to the First Prince."
Taking a brush, she swiftly made a copy and left.
In this entire process, she never noticed that in a nearby place, a pair of bright eyes had been silently observing her.
A few moments later, a carrier pigeon took off from Li Heng's bedroom. This pigeon did not leave the bounds of the Imperial Palace, but flew only a short while before landing in the residence of the First Prince.
Day after day passed, and seven days quickly went by.
In the early morning, when the day was at its most peaceful, a voice shattered the serenity. "Your Highness, something bad has happened."
A guard rushed into the Fifth Prince's bedroom. "His Majesty has ordered your immediate summons! The First Prince, the Second Prince, and the Third Prince are all present, as are the Grand Tutor, Grand Preceptor, and the other teachers of the palace!"
The Fifth Prince pushed away his bedding in alarm and got out of bed.
"Your Highness, you should quickly go! His Majesty is furious and everyone is waiting there. Your Highness must move as quickly as possible!"
"Zhiqi, you rest. I'll be back in a moment."
Without time for anything more, Li Heng put on a set of clothes and left his residence.
The depths of the Imperial Palace, Yongfu Palace.
When the Fifth Prince Li Heng opened the doors and entered the hall, the atmosphere was somber. In the upper reaches of the hall, the grim-faced Sage Emperor sat unmoving.
To his left and right were the rarely seen Grand Preceptor and Grand Tutor, their expressions just as grim. Arrayed below them were the teachers of the princes, all of them standing in a row and appearing very afraid.
In front of the teachers were the princes of the palace. The First Prince, the Second Prince, the Third Prince… these princes that were usually very difficult to gather together were all present today.
When Li Heng opened the door and walked in, everyone began to look over. There were sneering gazes, proud ones, scornful ones, sympathetic ones, and ones that were fearful for their own safety.
As Li Heng surveyed the hall and saw those derisive looks that seemed to be awaiting the start of a play, he began to understand what was going on, but he remained unafraid.
"This son Li Heng pays respects to Imperial Father!"
With a wave of his sleeve, Li Heng strode forward and gave a deep bow. As he kneeled, his expression was confident and relaxed.
"Your Highness, His Majesty is present, so why aren't you admitting your wrongs and apologizing!"
On the side, Li Heng's teacher, Master Xu Shao, was rebuking Li Heng before he could even properly kneel, his expression very uneasy.
"Master Xu, His Majesty is present, and when were you permitted to speak? Are you trying to make some distance with His Fifth Highness?"
Grand Tutor Chen Yong's reprimand was swift and harsh.
The Grand Tutor was the head of all the teachers and had the highest rank. His words immediately caused Xu Shao to choke back his words and fall silent. He did not dare to say another word, only look to Li Heng and mentally sigh.
He had personally taught the Fifth Prince and watched him mature. It had been no easy task to watch him slowly mature and gain the Sage Emperor's favor, and he had never expected him to do something like this.
All that work wasted!
Xu Shao gave a deep sigh and closed his eyes, unwilling to watch what was about to happen.
"Heng-er, We will give you one chance."
The Sage Emperor's complexion was ashen, but his voice was abnormally calm.
"Tell Us: just which people have you recruited, and which officials and generals are you colluding with?"
The moment the Sage Emperor spoke, the atmosphere in the hall seemed to grow ten times heavier. Everyone—the Grand Tutor, the Grand Preceptor, the teachers, and the princes—fell silent, even beginning to breathe more quietly.
Everyone watched Li Heng.
Forming factions for personal gain and colluding with the officials of court had always been a great taboo of the palace. It was akin to fomenting rebellion and carried a heavy penalty.
Since ancient times, across every dynasty and generation, everyone had done things like this, but keeping it a secret was one thing and being arrested was another.
The charge of forming factions was enough to strip Li Heng of his right to the throne. He would be lucky to not be exiled to the border and made a commoner.
The Fifth Prince Li Heng had been slowly gaining the favor of the Sage Emperor as of late, making many of the princes uneasy, but now, all of them could relax.
"Imperial Father, your son and servant has never colluded with any official or general. May Imperial Father serve as witness to my words!"
Unexpectedly, Li Heng stood up and clasped his hands, his expression relaxed, neither humble nor domineering.
The Sage Emperor's expression sank upon hearing Li Heng's words.
An elderly voice spoke. "Your Highness, before the Sage Emperor, is there any need to quibble over semantics? If there was no evidence, His Majesty would not have summoned Your Highness. Your Highness should quickly confess to avoid provoking His Divine Majesty's anger." With a sigh, the greying Grand Preceptor Pei Guangting had finally decided to speak.
Pei Guangting was already seventy or eighty and carried on the tradition of the restrained Confucian teachings. He was famed for his virtue and prestige in the court and was extremely respected. Although his accomplishments in battle and status in the court were inferior to the former Prime Minister Wang Jiuling, in terms of seniority and prestige, even Wang Chong's grandfather had to call him Lord Pei.
Pei Guangting was already greatly respected in the reign of the previous Emperor, and his status had only risen. He was deeply trusted and respected by the Sage Emperor.
Pei Guangting was very old and normally did not leave his residence or entertain guests. Even the princes rarely saw him. But this time, Fifth Prince Li Heng had been caught colluding with influential officials and forming a faction for his personal gain. Such a great crime with such heavy punishment had alarmed even Pei Guangting.
If punishment were levied according to the rules of the palace, Li Heng would probably be stripped of all his privileges.
"Lord Grand Preceptor, Li Heng is not quibbling, as Li Heng has never done the deed. Since nothing has been done, why should Li Heng admit to it?"
Li Heng continued to push forward his position, still fearless, even before the much-admired Grand Preceptor.
The gathered teachers couldn't help but sigh and shake their heads. Meanwhile, Li Heng's teacher, Xu Shao, felt his heart sink like a stone.
"To argue at a time like this, you're truly asking for trouble!"
Near the wall, the Second Prince Li Yao was all sneers.
"To dare argue with Grand Preceptor Pei Guangting in front of Imperial Father, is this fellow an idiot? Does he not know that Imperial Father has always respected and trusted the Grand Preceptor?"
Third Prince Li Ju looked down at Li Heng with a contemptful gaze.
The Sage Emperor had always admired filial piety. All Li Heng was doing with his actions was harming his own status in the Sage Emperor's heart. This was called making trouble for oneself.
Li Ju could already guess how Li Heng would end up.
"Ah, Fifth Imperial Brother, is there any need for this? He clearly knows that Imperial Father is extremely perceptive. Without firm evidence, he definitely wouldn't have been summoned. What's the point in denying it now?"
Near the left wall, the side opposite of Li Yao and Li Ju, only the seventeen-year-old Tenth Prince Li Qi looked at Li Heng with any sympathy, shaking his head. Just like Li Heng, he had never had much standing in the palace, and he had also been suppressed by the other princes.
Of the gathered princes, only he felt a deep sympathy for Li Heng, but this was the extent of his feelings. He strenuously objected toward Li Heng's attitude in front of the Sage Emperor and the Grand Preceptor.
To argue with their imperial father and the Grand Preceptor while knowing full well that they had been caught red-handed was not a wise course of action.
The Fourth Prince, Sixth Prince, Seventh Prince, and the other princes were all jeering. Li Heng's words meant that it would be very difficult for this matter to end well for him.
Just as expected, Li Heng's words elicited a thunderous fury from the Sage Emperor. The entire hall trembled at his words as a majestic pressure descended. All the princes quivered in fear and lowered their heads.
"Unfilial son, even at this stage, you still dare to argue! Just see this for yourself!"
There was a flash of light as that heaven-shaking voice spoke. Two sheets of paper were cast down from above to land in front of Li Heng.