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Chapter 2: Brothers, Ferret And Fox

Translator: EndlessFantasy Translation Editor: EndlessFantasy Translation

In the howling of the heavy snow, its chilling wind was like piercing daggers.

Everything within the imperial city was covered in a sheet of white.

The eunuch at the lead held a lantern before him as he held out an umbrella to shield a skinny noble from the snow.

Behind him were several maids carrying food containers, silently walking by the tall walls of the royal quarters.

"Hmph. Wait here!"

Raising his head to look at the dust covered plaque of Eternal Happiness Palace, the noble in the white fox fur coat frowned slightly, seemingly unhappy.

His voice was cold like the wind that seeped into one's bone and bit into skin, sending chills down their spines.

"Your Highness, this…The Queen instructed to never—"

The eunuch said hesitantly while bending over respectfully.

Smack!

The noble with a cold expression slapped him with the back of his hand.

The strength of that slap caused the eunuch's face to quickly swell up.

"Useless servant! Her Majesty's words are of course inerrant. However, what reasons do you have to interrupt my speech? Could it be that you're disrespecting the prestige of the imperial family, or perhaps you're thinking that I'm easily fooled due to my age?"

Upon hearing the serious questioning, the eunuch who held the lantern quickly covered his face. His legs buckled and immediately knelt to the ground in the snow.

He kowtowed repeatedly while mumbling, "I wouldn't dare."

"You useless trash that only knows how to throw your weight around. Having people like you in the harem would only soil the good name of the Queen!"

The noble's face grew bright with anger, then reached for the lantern and food containers the maid held. He barked, "Continue kneeling and stay down!"

After that, he strode into the dilapidated palace complex named 'Eternal Happiness Palace'.

Snow was fluttering everywhere. In a short time, his shoulders were completely covered by a layer of snow.

However, that young noble in his teens thought nothing of it.

He paused at the doors of Longevity Hall. On his angry face, he squeezed out a hint of a sincere smile before entering.

"Brother, I'm here."

The noble seemed to be familiar with the layout of the building. He went to the side hall's bed chamber on his own and saw the handsome young man lying on the bed, reading a book.

"Why did you hit him and punish him to kneel? If you treat the servants of the Zhengyang Palace so terribly, I'm afraid you'll get in trouble when Her Majesty gets wind of this."

Zhao Mu put down the book in his hand and lectured.

The noble wearing the snow-white fox fur coat looked rather similar to Zhao Mu.

The only difference was that Zhao Mu appeared to be more calm and collected.

That elegant face had star-like eyes and sharp brows like that of swords, giving off a strong air of nobility.

Meanwhile, the young noble had a touch of femininity in his appearance, giving him an air of gentleness.

"So what if the Queen hears about it? What's wrong with me teaching servants from her palace who don't behave a lesson?"

The noble huffed in annoyance, but his voice was a lot softer.

"Why did you come today? The harem should be having a snow watching banquet. Why are you here instead of attending that event?"

Zhao Mu shook his head. After not seeing him for half a year, his little brother still behaved the same way.

"There's a snow watching banquet every year. It's just to celebrate with those in the harem, partake in wine and appreciate the scenery. It's nothing interesting."

The Eleventh Prince, Zhao Yuan, chuckled, then changed his downcast expression to one of obedience as he said, "I still prefer to be with you when I'm free. Just some small talks and jokes are fine."

Zhao Yuan sat on the edge of the bed and opened up the steaming food containers.

He took out a few plates of desserts, a mix of vegetable and meat dishes, two bottles of wine, and a pot of duck soup.

"How thoughtful of you to bring food and wine along."

Zhao Mu was quite touched and his gaze turned gentle.

Zhao Yuan was his biological brother from the same parents.

Ever since his biological mother, Consort Ning, passed away, they have been relying on each other.

"Within the palace, most of them are just vile people that would leech onto the powerful. I'm sure they won't put in the effort to serve you properly."

A cold glint flashed in Zhao Yuan's eyes as he huffed angrily, "Although they don't skimp on your daily necessities, you're not treated like the Crown Prince, Seventh Brother, and Eight Brother where they are only given the best luxuries."

"The Longevity Hall is cold to begin with. Furthermore, the coal you're burning here is not the smokeless animal charcoal, but regular charcoal instead.

"There's not even a heating tunnel1 built-in. It's so damn cold in here.

"Also, the ferret fur coat on you is such a mismatch of colors. In this Winter season, you don't even have a eunuch by your side to run errands for you, nor maids to serve you…"

The more Zhao Yuan ranted, the worse he felt.

For a regular family, his treatment would be considered luxurious.

However, as a highly respectable prince of the Zhou Kingdom, such treatment could only be considered shabby!

Bang!

Getting angrier as he thought about it, Zhao Yuan slapped hard on the desk, causing the wine bottle and cups to shake.

"How long has it been? Why did your temper grow so much?"

Zhao Mu chuckled, then gently poked his little brother's forehead with two fingers.

"Enjoying luxurious food for my daily meals, a balanced diet, dressed in silk and satin, staying in such a big palace hall, and having my needs fulfilled by ordering servants around.

"Beyond the imperial city, how many people could only wish to have such a lifestyle. What else should I be dissatisfied with..."

Zhao Yuan pouted. Hearing his brother's self deprecating talk, his eyes teared up as he countered, "But you're born in the imperial family! You're a descendent of the emperor!

"You should be developing the nation, anointing nobles, and ruling your own territory! You should put on the royal attire adorned with nine beads1. You should be second only to one…

"Even if you're not fighting for the throne with the Crown Prince, or any of the other princes, you can be a carefree prince!

"But look at you now… Ever since your birth, you've never set foot beyond the Eternal Happiness Palace! Do you know what the world out there looks like?

"Father has imprisoned you here for 15 years. It's already been 15 years!

"All because of the imperial astronomer's fortune of 'Nine out of ten will be met with tragedy!'

"That old man is just spewing nonsense, claiming that you show the signs of a flood dragon swallowing the python and would be destined to bring misfortune to father and brothers, cursed by fate!

"He claimed that if you're not watched carefully, you'll surely cause a calamity!"

Zhao Yuan suppressed his voice that was whimpering as watched his brother who was imprisoned in the side hall of the cold palace.

He harbored hatred in his heart. It was like a sludge that could not be thinned out that filled his heart.

"You've been locked up for fifteen years because of a fortune telling! I'm afraid it'd be the same for the next ten or twenty years!

"Earlier, the Crown Prince even suggested for Father to send you to Tong Province to fulfill your filial duty by guarding the imperial tomb…"

Zhao Mu, the Eleventh Prince, gripped tightly on the corner of the table as the veins on his forehead pulsated.

On his effeminate and handsome little face were signs of indignance and also a hint of suppressed viciousness.

Being born in the imperial family should have been a great fortune.

It was the same as being born with a silver spoon in one's mouth where everything was provided for.

If one was not interested in the fight for power, then it would be no problem to enjoy a peaceful life.

However, in Zhao Mu's case, what difference was his treatment from someone in jail?

Growing up for 15 years, yet having never once seen his parents. Even their mother never tried to ask for mercy in his stead.

Apart from the eunuchs and maids of Eternal Happiness Palace, he had never met any other people.

Just the thought of his brother having to endure this kind of life day after day, year after year, Zhao Yuan felt his hatred and anger grow.

"That's enough. Once you stepped out of Longevity Hall, it'll be as though I never heard anything you said."

Zhao Mu poured two cups of wine, then took a sip from his own.

It was smooth and had a lingering taste.

That was a top grade wine!

"I planned to only share these words with you anyway."

Zhao Yuan quietened down and regained his composure. His naive little face had a lonely expression.

"I heard that His Majesty has allowed you to start learning martial arts."

Zhao Mu intentionally changed the topic.

"Yeah. I've found an instructor from the royal guards. I just started learning the Rumbling Thunder Force for Form Shaping and Body Tempering," Zhao Yuan replied honestly.

He opened his mouth, at first trying to say 'If you want to learn, I can teach you in secret.'

However, he immediately remembered that his father had placed an order to forbid anyone from teaching Zhao Mu martial arts. With that, he held his tongue.

The great Kingdom of Zhou was built on a foundation of martial arts, therefore the entire kingdom held great interest in martial arts.

Although the founding emperor had long established the ideals of an education and culture based government, the Zhou Kingdom was still in a system where the people had to rise up through martial arts.

Even literatis had to learn breathing techniques to improve Qi circulation.

The so-called educated men who only knew how to recite poems and had no physical strength were looked down upon.

Forbidden from practicing martial arts!

That act was meant to strip Zhao Mu of his future, turning him into a cripple within the cold palace for life.

"The royal guard's Commander He said that I have the root bone and have a bright future ahead."

Zhao Yuan was not in the mood to eat and drink. He supported his cheek with one hand, then stared at his brother calmly and said in a firm tone, "Brother, I'll definitely work hard on practicing martial arts! I'll be an Innate Grandmaster and make Father change his mind to let you out of the cold palace, granting you freedom."

"Sure. I'll be waiting for that day."

Zhao Mu smiled gently, then patted his little brother's head.

However, he knew in his heart that it would not be that easy for him to get out of the cold palace.

That fortune of "The flood dragon swallows the python, bringing misfortune to the father and brothers" had condemned his fate to be stuck in this place.

By the time the Crown Prince or the other princes succeed the throne, he would probably be assigned to Tong Province to fulfill his filial duty of watching over the imperial tomb for the rest of his life.

Or it could be worse.

Putting his hopes in his brother Zhao Yuan to become an Innate Grandmaster to break the status quo was just wishful thinking.

The Kingdom of Zhou had a vast territory, the biggest of the four kingdoms.

How many within its borders managed the reversive transformation to the Innate Stage, achieving the status of grandmaster?

Zhao Mu maintained a calm expression, but he was refuting himself internally.

"It's turning late. You should go back now or Father is going to be angry again."

After finishing the food, Zhao Mu moved the bottle of wine that was in front of Zhao Yuan toward himself and said with a smile, "You're still young and shouldn't be drinking so much wine. This bottle shall be mine."

Seeing his brother's childish behavior, Zhao Yuan's solemn mood turned bright, as if it was the sunshine piercing through a curtain of clouds.

"I'll bring an even better wine next time!" The young Eleventh Prince declared firmly.

The next time they met would be half a year later.

However, neither brought up the topic. Both parties might have just forgotten about it.

"It better be the Tipsy Immortal that's aged for a century from the Cloud Abode. Rumor has it that drinking one cup will feel as though one had transcended and the feeling of intoxication will last for ten days."

Zhao Mu laughed, then watched his little brother pack up the food container and sent him off to the door.

"Brother, there's something I need to ask of you."

Zhao Yuan exited Longevity Hall and pointed through the door.

"I want that ferret fur coat that you're wearing."

Zhao Mu was caught off guard for a moment as he stood by the door.

After that, a warm feeling filled his heart.

"Oh you little smarty pants!"

Zhao Mu chuckled helplessly, then gently prodded his little brother's forehead.

Zhao Yuan took off his expensive snow-white fox fur coat with a bright smile on his face.

"I've taken your ferret fur coat, but I can't just leave you in the cold like that. I'll trade for it with my fox fur coat!"

Having said that, he did not wait for Zhao Mu's agreement and grabbed that ferret fur coat of mismatched colors. He then put it on and ran off quickly while holding onto the food container.

"Where's the elegant behavior a prince should have?" Zhao Mu said in a low voice as he held onto the white fox fur coat that had some lingering warmth.

He stood quietly by the door as the chilling wind blew inward.

The imprisoned Tenth Prince seemed to feel nothing of it as he stood there in a daze, looking at the lone figure disappearing into the snow.

Soon after, his black robe was stained with water droplets, eventually drenching his clothes.

The snow fell like goose feathers. It went on for a long time before the gates of Longevity Hall closed shut.

  1. 地龙 (heating tunnel / Di Long, or literally, Earth Dragon) - An ancient Chinese architecture where a tunnel is built under the flooring for the heated air of a furnace to pass through. The tunnel has holes for the hot air to flow and heat up the flooring.
  2. 九珠 (nine beads) - In ancient Imperial China, the crown of the emperor/king himself would be adorned with nine beads, followed by eight beads for the crown prince, and seven beads for the next in line, etc.

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