345 Too Much To Ask
Yu Zhen vowed to tear down the Emperor's estate once the man dies. Despite the grandeur of shimmering gold and crimson red, everything here was dreary. There were simply too many haunting nightmares created here.
Yu Zhen abhorred this place with a burning passion. He'd personally destroy this place, bit by bit, and have it rebuilt to his liking.
Despite the airy hallways that provided ample sunlight, it was incredibly dark here. The atmosphere that lingered in the Emperor's estate was an unfavorable one. Shadows lingered in corners, waiting to grab helpless souls.
"What is it?" Yu Zhen demanded upon entering the Emperor's bedroom.
Out of the corner of his eyes, he saw the Imperial Physician taking a step back along with a deep bow. Everyone had grim looks on their faces. You'd think the Emperor died or something, but alas, the man let out a wet cough.
"You rascal…" the Emperor breathed out, tossing the blood-coated handkerchief aside.
"Is this how you greet your ill father?" he snarled just as a Eunuch came forward with a clean handkerchief made of silk. It didn't take long for the material to be clenched and wrinkled.
Yu Zhen didn't bother responding. He approached the bed, his nose twitching at the scent of the incense. He hated the smell of eucalyptus. It reminded him of the medicine his father always took.
This man was already on his deathbed. What was the point of prolonging life? The Grim Reaper was already awaiting the Emperor. There was no need to make that man wait.
"Bah, you disappoint me," the Emperor scoffed even before his son said anything. He wiped the blood from his lips.
"The wedding is... in two days," he said with great trouble. He rubbed his chest upon feeling sharp pains there.
"I expect heirs soon," he stated.
Yu Zhen raised a brow. 'What makes this old man think he will ever see his grandchildren? Especially after his treatment towards his own sons?'
"That little Princess…" he heaved, patting his chest.
The Eunuch took that as his cue to rush forward with a tray of freshly poured herbal tea. The Emperor took it without hesitation and drank the medicine down. His scowl deepened at the bitter taste that overwhelmed his senses.
"Her body is weak," he muttered.
Yu Zhen narrowed his eyes. Li Xueyue's body had nothing to do with the Emperor. This ancient tortoise should just lie in bed and peacefully die.
"Be careful not… to hurt her," he coughed out.
Well that was unexpected. Yu Zhen thought his father would be stupid enough to criticize his Xueyue in front of him. His cruel expression softened the slightest bit.
"She seems frail," the Emperor added on. He could no longer endure sitting upwards. With a wave of his hand, people came forward to lower his body onto the bed.
"Is that all?" Yu Zhen demanded in a monotone voice.
It was strange to see his father like this. The man who used to be all big and mighty couldn't even lie down on his bed without help. The Emperor used to smell of spices and blood, but now his scent was of pungent herbs and incense.
Yu Zhen didn't think he would ever live to see the day that his father's health deteriorates. But he enjoyed every moment of it. His father never showed him sympathy, so why should Yu Zhen give it?
Yu Zhen would never forget the day his father tried to kick Xiao Juzi to death. The reason why? Yu Zhen smiled around the animal. Or, the afternoon that the Emperor ordered the near-execution of Hu Dengxiao upon seeing his son was genuinely enjoying life.
"The palace is cruel," the Emperor murmured.
He stared up at his ceiling, where canopies of muslin hung. Dark like midnight, the curtains were slowly draped over his bed, until eventually, he could no longer see the features of his son.
The Second Prince's appearance was a blurry silhouette. Black, hazy, and wavering—like the shadows of a flicking candle in the dead of the night.
"Keep her safe," the Emperor whispered. He was beginning to grow drowsy. His eyelids felt heavy. The medicine was finally kicking in.
Yu Zhen's fingers curled into fists. He didn't need to hear such words from his own father.
"If she does not…" he sighed. "Give you a son. Do not pressure her."
The Emperor felt so weak, he couldn't even lift a limb. Nonetheless, the pain had subdued a bit.
"Wives are meant to be cherished… Mistresses are meant to be mistreated," the Emperor said.
He could no longer keep his eyes open. Slowly, quietly, he drifted off to sleep.
And without another word, Yu Zhen exited the room. He slammed the door shut behind him and stormed off. His mood was already soured twice this morning. And the day was barely beginning.
- - - - -
"I want him," Princess Yu Lingluo said the second she entered her older brother's private study.
Yu Lingluo tucked her hands behind her lower back as she strolled into the room without a care in the world. If her actions were done by anyone else, that person wouldn't have been able to take another step. How could one walk without a head?
But this was Yu Lingluo, the favored Third Princess of Hanjian.
"Who is it this time?" Yu Zhen said without lifting his head from the calligraphy he was working on.
Yu Lingluo pouted at his words. Why did he make it seem like she was gathering a harem of men? Well, that certainly would be fun…
"Aren't you going to reprimand me?"
"You know, for being so shameless," Yu Lingluo stated. She stopped before the enormous parchment that was spread onto the floor mat. As expected of him, the calligraphy was bold and powerful. His strokes were fierce and unique.
"You just want attention," Yu Zhen said.
Yu Lingluo huffed at his words. She crossed her arms. "That's because you've been neglecting me recently."
"It's not my job to entertain you," Yu Zhen boredly responded. He stared at the enormous calligraphy. Without warning, he tossed the large brush onto the ground, surprising her.
"Zhen-gege—" she couldn't finish her sentence before her eyes widened in horror.
Yu Zhen ripped the calligraphy in half. He crushed it between his fingers, crumbling the parchment in disgust. He had haphazardly written whatever came to mind. This time, it was a quote about fathers.
"But it was beautiful…" Yu Lingluo whispered. He scrambled up the parchment and tossed it to the corner of the room. She didn't need to read the calligraphy to know the gist of it.
"Father is sick. Go see him."
Yu Lingluo pressed her lips together. "I just saw him this morning. He told me to go out and take a walk under the sun because his room was too dreary for me."
Yu Zhen didn't respond to her words. He turned his back to her and approached his desk.
"Won't you spare me some of your time?" Yu Lingluo huffed. She was familiar with his cold-shoulders and lack of responses.
Her brother was always nonchalant and apathetic. She was used to that. But sometimes, she wished he would smile. Just a little bit was fine. All she wanted was for him to be happy. Was that too much to ask for?