Royal Courts, Hanjian
"Your Highness, you must reconsider!" Cries of protest arose throughout the court.
Yu Zhen sat upon a throne with an aloof expression. His eyebrows drew together slightly out of agitation. He had his eyes closed, almost as if he didn't care about their opinions. Quite frankly, he didn't. They could all drop dead in front of him and he wouldn't flinch.
"You shouldn't take such a lowly woman as your wife, Your Highness. For the wellbeing of this country, we need someone who's as accomplished as you. The Empress is the mother of our country. If she's a commoner, how will the people think?!"
Hu Dengxiao glanced at the Crown Prince. The Emperor of Hanjian was nowhere to be found. This throne was meant for the Emperor, yet Yu Zhen sat there as if it was made for him. There was not a single flaw in sight. This throne had always belonged to the Second Prince.
'What exactly are you thinking, Zhenzhen? Who the hell is that random woman? Where did she come from?' Hu Dengxiao thought to himself as he glanced at the feeble girl below the golden staircase. She didn't seem bothered by the Ministers who were appalled at the sight of her.
"Your Highness," Hu Dengxiao mumbled in a quiet voice. The Ministers continued to bicker amongst themselves as they fought for the opportunity to voice their opinions.
"What is going on, Your Highness? I thought you said you'd take Li Xueyue as your Empress," Hu Dengxiao whispered. He made sure to keep his tone low. If the Ministers overheard this conversation, they'd surely jump to conclusions.
When Yu Zhen didn't respond, Hu Dengxiao wondered if he fell asleep. "Pst pst Zhenzhen, do you hear me?!" he muttered.
Hu Dengxiao nervously glanced away when he saw the tick in Yu Zhen's clenched jaw. The Crown Prince was definitely awake and aware of this chaos.
"The basics of bargaining," Yu Zhen responded as he kept his lip movement small.
"First you give them an absurd deal they'll have to refuse. Then you counter with a much better deal that they'll instantly accept after the trauma of the first offer."
Hu Dengxiao's eyes widened. His attention snapped to the bottom of the golden staircase where the pretty servant stood. How much would she be awarded for her bravery?
How did Yu Zhen manage to find such a stoic-faced woman?
The woman kept her face neutral, despite the angry men glowering at her. Hu Dengxiao recognized her. She was a fallen aristocrat who used to be the eldest daughter of a prominent family. They had disowned her for unknown reasons, but there were dark rumors of her past. She was raised in luxury, but now, she was a mere servant with soft hands and a beautiful face.
"Zhenzhen, you're so intelligent," Hu Dengxiao whispered. "No wonder Princess Li likes you so much. Hey, you know, I heard Lu Tianbi has an off-day but I don't. So uhm, I was wondering—"
Hu Dengxiao's heart sank. Disappointment flashed in his eyes as he began to sulk to himself. He kept his expression polite, for he was in front of the entire court. Hu Dengxiao knew he would be scolded if the advisor of the Crown Prince wasn't able to contain his emotions.
Yu Zhen let out an aggravated sigh. He cracked one eye open to peer at his pouting advisor. Hu Dengxiao stood beside the throne, but one could see the melancholy in his eyes from miles away.
"Only if you get these squabbling Ministers to shut up," Yu Zhen muttered as he shut his eyes and continued learning the side of his face onto a propped up fist.
Hu Dengxiao's face brightened. But then he paused. Wait a minute! Did Zhenzhen use that bargaining trick against him?! Hu Dengxiao gaped at the Crown Prince, realizing he had fallen right into the trap.
Hu Dengxiao cried on the inside. 'How can I be so stupid?! He literally revealed that trick of his less than a minute ago.'
"Okay, I'll accept the deal, Your Highness," Hu Dengxiao reluctantly said. He loudly cleared his throat and adjusted his collar.
In the loudest voice possible, he roared, "SILENCE!"
The Ministers all paused their chaotic bickering. The noise in the Throne Room finally settled down. An awkward stillness passed over them.
The new Advisor of Hanjian rarely raised his voice. Everyone knew him as an impartial and welcoming man. Hu Dengxiao was easier to get along with than Yu Zhen and many people saw that as a good thing. So many people always attempted to get on Hu Dengxiao's good side, hoping for a favor or two.
If only they knew, Hu Dengxiao was actually collecting information from these Ministers.
"Your less than thoughtful advice and subpar counselling abilities were laughable," Yu Zhen mused. He opened his eyes, revealing a dark glower that frightened the Ministers in their boots.
The people averted their gaze to the ground, unable to meet the intimidating stare of the Crown Prince. They were the one who chose the Second Prince to be seated on the throne, yet they were also fearful of him.
"Nonetheless, it seems this decision has upset the entire court. For the sake of this glorious country and my dear Ministers, I will reconsider my decision."
The Ministers instantly perked up at the Crown Prince's words. They knew they could rely on him! As ruthless as the Crown Prince was, they were used to this tyrannical behavior. The Emperor was very much like this. Except… the Second Prince was a lot more cruel. They wondered why.
"The royal blood shouldn't be tainted by someone of a lowly status, even if she hailed from a prestigious background," Yu Zhen concluded. He took a lazy drawl in the direction of his Ministers. Never once did he pay any mind to the woman whose expression finally morphed.
The woman glanced up at Hu Dengxiao with an indistinguishable look in her eyes.
Hu Dengxiao was puzzled. Why was she glancing at him? She seemed upset, but it wasn't because of this news. No, her stare, it resembled someone else. He had seen it many times before, but on whom? He couldn't pinpoint it. It was then Hu Dengxiao realized something.
The woman wasn't looking at him. She was looking at the Crown Prince.
"We agree, Your Highness!" a Minister readily said as he stepped forward. "Therefore, we'd like to propose the idea of—"
"Did you receive permission to speak?" Yu Zhen questioned. It was a simple question asked in a quiet tone, but it held more power than anything else. The calm before the storm.
The Minister immediately bowed his head. "Your Highness, this foolish Minister dearly apologizes."
Yu Zhen flicked his wrist. "Get him out."
"Your Highness, please!" the Minister cried out as panic filled him. He had to recommend his daughter as the Crown Princess. He must! She had begged for that position for so long. It would tear them apart if she doesn't become the future Empress of Hanijan.
Yu Zhen didn't even look in the Minister's direction as guards rushed forward to escort the Minister out. He needed to gut a big fish and hang it up as an example. This Minister would do the trick.
Yu Zhen didn't need someone who would openly speak out so quickly. He had no need for disobedience.
"Our relationship with Wuyi has always been strained," Yu Zhen stated. His dark stare traveled across the room, landing on each and every Minister presented before him.
A murmur of agreement arose. Indeed, Wuyi had gotten too bold with their refusals. But then again, wasn't there a new family seizing the monarchy?
They had heard great things about this family. Afterall, the Patriarch of the family was the Prime Minister. After his return, Wuyi began to prosper even more. Was that why they had the guts to deny Hanjian?
"As you're aware, there is a new family in power. The Wang Dynasty has come to an end," Yu Zhen began.
Yu Zhen surveyed their reaction. As always, it was a mix of curiosity, awe, and fear. He enjoyed keeping them on their toes. The longer he took to reach a conclusion, the more they eagerly waited for him to speak.
The strategy held their attention, but Yu Zhen didn't want to dwell on it for too long. Or else, the Ministers would grow tired of waiting. Yu Zhen always knew the perfect balance of time and attention.
"Under my jurisdiction, the alliance has been finalized without qualms. Wuyi will not seize territory from us, just as we won't take from them. The restrictive regulations governing the trade routes have also lessened."
A loud uproar of excitement surfaced. The Ministers excitedly whispered amongst themselves. Finally! They could get a good night's sleep, knowing their borders were safe, and the country's wealth would be increasing exponentially. What the Emperor couldn't accomplish, the Crown Prince has done so in less than a month.
"This is such great news, Your Highness!" a Minister quipped up. The other Ministers were quick to lick the Crown Prince's boots as well.
"We must thank you, Your Highness. This issue has finally come to a conclusion, and it's all because of your regime, Crown Prince!"
"Indeed. Without you, Hanjian would've plunged into another war, Your Highness. We must rejoice!"
"The future of Hanjian is always bright as the sun with your help, Your Highness."
Yu Zhen nearly rolled his eyes. They were so easy to please. It was tiring as the Crown Prince. He would have to do all the work of an Emperor, but without the outstanding title.
"In addition, to show their sincerity and loyalty to this alliance, they're sending us a gift," Yu Zhen began. "It is one that will ensure this peace treaty will last for centuries to come."
The Ministers eagerly opened their ears. They were brimming with excitement at the previous good news. Could this be another one?
"The patriarch of the newfound Li Dynasty has offered their favored daughter's hand in marriage. The daughter of a Prime Minister and Duchess—their daughter is a third-rank Princess."
At the new proposal, the Ministers were a lot more accepting. Especially when they recalled the previous dreadful idea. Their gaze landed on the lowly servant in front of them.
Compared to that woman, the daughter of a Prime Minister whose title of a third-rank Princess was much more appealing. Besides, this marriage would solidify the deal. If the patriarch's favorite daughter was in Hanjian, Wuyi would never dream of attacking this place.
"The proposal has been accepted by yours truly," Yu Zhen concluded.
The Ministers hurriedly whispered amongst themselves. An internal struggle broke out as they fought to speak as the representative. Eventually, someone finally spoke up.
"It is such great news, Your Highness! We must rejoice at this newfound marriage. At last, Hanjian has found their Crown Princess! It is news worth celebrating over."
"Yes, Your Highness. Our bond will be strengthened with this marriage. It is more than we could have ever asked for!"
"Hurrah, your Highness. Hanjian must welcome this Princess with open arms!"
The corner of Yu Zhen's lips curled into a devious smirk. And just like that, the Ministers had all fallen into his trap.
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