26: Death to Rulers
Over the two weeks, the excitement about the hunt subsided and everyone slipped back into their routines. Weishan and Yenay sat in their private balcony, watching the sun set over Lady Gaze. The sky, filled with streaks of pink clouds spreading towards a giant, orange globe, looked beautiful. Yet, it couldn’t distract the empress’s distraught; Joaolong almost died. It evoked painful memories about her own baby and the loss of her family in a fire. Weishan hated her this way and selfishly wondered if she would care as much if it were him that nearly died.
“Do you regret marrying me?” Weishan asked.
“Do you regret marrying another woman to provide sons?” Yenay countered sadly. “Your answer is my own.”
“We should spend too long in the past,” Weishan finally replied after a long silence. “I cannot change anything.”
“If we do not then who will remember our son?”
“Enough!” Weishan shouted and stood, unwilling to delve into such tragedies. After a pitying glance, he left Yenay alone.
For the rest of the fading afternoon and night, Weishan ate and drank his worries away. He ordered maids to fetch him ink and parchment to personally write propaganda. Linlong was the priority, not his wife’s sorrow. By merging Shanhe and Linlong into one kingdom, he could achieve his father’s greatest ambition. History would describe Weishan as the most powerful emperor.
Someone knocked on the door.
“The emperor wishes to be alone,” a eunuch told the people outside. They refused to leave.
Weishan sighed. “Who disturbs the emperor?”
“The Crowned Prince and a humble servant,” Jiang replied.
“Enter.” The door slid open and just as announced, Huli and Jiang entered and bowed. Weishan glanced up from his food and raised an eyebrow at his son. “What brings you here? And with her.”
Jiang annoyed him. Years had passed and he still clearly remembered how profusely she declined his generous offer. No slaves ever had a chance to be a concubine except her. Yet, all she desired was to serve the empress. If she preferred being a slave than be by his side, Weishan bitterly ensured most of her duties were away from the empress. The work aged her poorly and the beauty from her youth had disintegrated. It pleased him.
“I have a question for you,” Huli stated in a hoarse voice. He placed a sword across his legs when he sat down.
“I made myself very clear at the last meeting,” Weishan stated, recalling the cries of bribed councilmen, blood from cut tongues and the returning fear of his subjects. He felt like a true ruler again. “You will lead my men into battle.”
Huli gripped his robes, trying to maintain his anger. “I have other concerns.”
“Then what is it?” Weishan asked, irritated. The prince’s tense figure reminded Weishan of a child about to have a tantrum. He hated his son’s spoilt behaviour. Qiaolian didn’t raise him well.
“Am I filial son?”
“Of course,” Weishan replied. “You came to my chambers at night to ask this?”
“You have the answer you sought. You may leave.”
Huli stood but paused before turning towards the door. “There is something else. Recently, I found myself questioning if you were ever going to give me the throne. I am filial but you criticise me. I am your only son but you act like I am a stranger. I am powerful but you force me to train in the forest with commoners for months. Now, you plan to send me to die by leading the first troupes into Linlong. I cannot determine if you do all this because you care or because I am a threat to your power.”
Weishan sighed, tired and unwilling to listen to his son complain. “I am sending you to war to establish a reputation. If everyone fears a ruthless fighter, they won’t dare rebel when you rule. It is the best I can do for you.”
“The best for me would be for you to die.”
“You die and I can rule,” Huli said with a wicked and confident smile. “Did you mishear me, father?”
Huli unsheathed his weapon and admired it in the candlelight. During his mountain training, Qiaolian bestowed him with this sword. The pure black, decorative handle gave an intimidating aura. It had encountered unyielding use and although it looked clean, it injured many people. Huli named it Viper; it would strike without warning and always cause harm.
Weishan got to his feet and looked to Jiang. “Get the guards and take him away! This is an insult to the emperor!”
“Do not get angry at the pawn in this game. I bribed the guards to leave, just like mother has always bribed the councillors. No one was ever under your control. You never had power and right now, you are at my complete mercy,” Huli chuckled. “Not a single person feared your reputation.”
Like a mouse, Weishan scurried to the corner of the room, completely defenceless and vulnerable. Huli raised his sword to his father’s chest to trap him against the wall.
“Did you ever consider me as a son?”
“O-of course I did! You are my blood!” Weishan stammered. All this time he was fearful of the Fox that he neglected to notice his own son’s hatred simmering at the surface. How foolish he had been!
“But I am not your real son. I will never be the true heir, son of the emperor and empress. I cannot fulfil the expectations granted for him,” Huli seethed and his face twisted into a demonic expression. “I will make sure he will never live up to his name either.”
“What are you talking about?”
“That precious son that you wish was me is alive and in this lifetime, you will never learn his real name. That is the cruelness I am repaying you for the lack of respect you show my mother and I.”
The sword pierced Weishan’s chest and Huli twisted it, opening the wound to ensure the emperor died. When he withdrew, he watched his father crumple to the ground in glee. As Weishan struggled to gasp that final, sweet breath, he recalled the question the empress asked that afternoon.
“Your answer is my own.”
In this situation, when his own son stole his life, Weishan felt more saddened by the truth; Yenay regretted marrying him. He was never worthy of her virtue and kindness, and she knew that all along.