Translated by: Hypersheep325
Edited by: Michyrr
The carriage rolled past red palace walls, bringing Li Taiyi back to Jade Dragon Palace.
But Li Taiyi had just stepped into Jade Dragon Palace when a familiar figure dressed in luxurious clothes came up to welcome him.
"Xuan'er, didn't I tell you not to go to the military examination? Why don't you listen!?"
This noble woman worriedly looked him over to see if he had any injuries. Although she wore clothes that were simple in design and had a few wrinkles around her eyes, none of this concealed her breathtaking beauty, and with that graceful and noble aura that she radiated, she appeared all the more dignified and solemn.
This was none other than Li Taiyi's mother, Virtuous Empress Dou.
"Mother, why are you here?" Li Taiyi exclaimed in shock. But as his gaze passed over the sandalwood table that depicted five dragons playing in the water, he immediately understood.
There was a tray of white jade on the table, a bowl of pitch-black medicinal fluid that was now completely cold, a small dish of candied plums, and a tea pot that had been completely emptied.
It was clear that Virtuous Empress Dou, upon realizing that he wasn't here, had been waiting here for some time.
"If I hadn't come personally to deliver your medicine, I would have had no idea that you had taken part in the military examination!" Virtuous Empress Dou grumbled in response to Li Taiyi's question, her face turning cold.
"Mother, you're not well. Please sit."
Li Taiyi saw that Virtuous Empress Dou's face was pale from worry, and his heart ached as he helped her sit down.
"I cannot defy Imperial Father's orders, and am I not better now?"
Virtuous Empress Dou was the first person in this world that Li Taiyi had seen, and besides Qing Luo, she was the only person to have worried about him and treated him well.
Although 'he' had made many mistakes in the past, and he had known nothing about this world upon his arrival and was unwilling to accept it, Virtuous Empress Dou had patiently and compassionately guided him.
Moreover, Virtuous Empress Dou was so concerned about 'Prince Xuan' that her body had been in no better shape than that of Li Taiyi, who had had his talent crippled, yet she still personally delivered his medicine every day.
The warmth from Virtuous Empress Dou had gradually made Li Taiyi drop his guard and accept his mother.
Virtuous Empress Dou also found it hard to remain angry after seeing Li Taiyi's affectionate smile, and she helplessly shook her head.
"Xuan'er, you've changed a lot since that incident and have become much more reserved. Mother is very happy, but the imperial household is fraught with dangers. You might have been able to avoid one this time, but it won't be guaranteed the next.
"Why not withdraw from the imperial struggle for power and live quietly for the rest of your life?"
Virtuous Empress Dou worriedly grabbed Li Taiyi's hand and gently patted it.
"Mother, do not worry. Everything has its solution. They want to hurt me, and I will not let them do as they please.
"Moreover… I am no longer the person I once was."
Li Taiyi's face was brimming with energy, and he confidently smiled, an aura like never before radiating from his body.
Virtuous Empress Dou was startled by the look of resolve on Li Taiyi's face.
But she quickly got ahold of herself.
"This boy… Servant, come and heat the medicine."
Creeak! The door opened, but rather than a maid, it was a solemn-faced old eunuch coming inside.
"Empress, Your Highness."
Eunuch Fu waved his horsetail whisk, bowed to Virtuous Empress Dou and Li Taiyi, and then began to speak.
"His Majesty has decreed that His Third Highness is to head to Taihe Palace at once."
Virtuous Empress Dou was stunned.
The Emperor had always refused to see her son, and he was in the middle of a court session and discussing state affairs, so he should have been even less inclined to summon him, unless… Virtuous Empress Dou's eyes flickered as she glanced at her son.
She still did not know what had happened on the imperial horse track.
"Mother, be at ease. Your child understands what to do," Li Taiyi softly soothed, his expression composed and unflustered as if he had already predicted the outcome.
"Eunuch Fu, lead the way!"
Outside the resplendent Taihe Palace, Li Taiyi was led by the eunuch over a bridge and onto the white jade steps leading into the hall.
As he stepped into Taihe Palace, he was greeted by the sight of twelve coiling dragon pillars, majestic and imposing, and the gleaming roof only added to the grandeur and solemnity of Taihe Palace.
This was Li Taiyi's first audience at court.
Because of 'his' past brutality and hedonism, the Emperor had stripped him of the right to enter the court. It was clear that the Emperor had not summoned Li Taiyi for no good reason.
Li Taiyi's eyes turned sharp as he looked around.
Within the august space of Taihe Palace, all of the officials had respectful expressions as they looked to that gilded dragon throne atop the cinnabar platform, towering ten feet above the floor. But Li Taiyi could clearly sense them occasionally shooting glances at him, and quite a few of them had hostility and distaste in their gazes.
As for that majestic figure seated upon the throne, attired in golden dragon robes, his eyes were shut, his brow slightly creased, his expression difficult to read.
To his left and right, Grand Preceptor Zhan Zhongmi and Grand Tutor Chen Yong, both of whom rarely made appearances, had solemn expressions as they looked at Li Taiyi. They appeared to be inspecting him.
The Grand Tutor and Grand Preceptor were knowledgeable and revered, and they had many disciples amongst the officials of court. They would only appear for special incidents.
This was because their opinions could change the opinions of many more.
It could not be for just any matter that they would appear here.
"Paying respects to Imperial Father!"
Taking it in stride, Li Taiyi stepped forward and bowed to the enthroned figure.
Li Taiyi's words made that figure open his eyes, and light erupted from them. An intimidating aura that had been honed through countless battles immediately focused on Li Taiyi.
This was the reigning Tang Emperor!
Although the Tang Emperor presided over the court, he had studied military texts and had followed his father on campaigns in his youth. Through these experiences, he had developed the awe-inspiring aura of a general.
Anyone else would have been stifled by the Tang Emperor's ruthless and decisive aura, but Li Taiyi was unmoved, his expression unperturbed, and he stood tall like a pine tree in Taihe Palace.
At this moment, a thunderous rebuke rang out.
"Third Brother, you have committed such a grave mistake. Why are you not kneeling before Imperial Father!?"
The voice came from a tall and imposing figure, his hands placed behind his back and his eyes cold, his body radiating a dignified aura. This was none other than Li Taiyi's 'Second Imperial Brother', Li Chengyi.
Besides the First Prince, who was currently out on campaign, the most favored Prince in the imperial household was undoubtedly Second Prince Li Chengyi.
Not only had he been permitted to participate in state discussions from an early age, he was standing not far from the Emperor and far above the other officials. These were all clear signs of the favor he received.
Moreover, Li Chengyi was able to memorize everything he read, was a diligent student, and knew how to ask questions. When tested on government affairs, he was able to instantly strike at the heart of the matter. There had even been several times when the Emperor had been indecisive, and Li Chengyi found the source of concern and directly brought attention to it, causing the Emperor to look at him in a new light. In this aspect, he was completely different from Li Taiyi.
Later on, the Emperor had even handed over the Bureau of Revenue to Li Chengyi, giving him control over the empire's finances. From this, one could see how favored he was.
But Li Taiyi also knew that this brother of his was extremely shrewd and was not as virtuous and righteous as he put on. All of it was simply a performance for his father and the court officials to see.
In secret, he was doing his utmost to push his younger brother out of the political picture.
Li Taiyi, despite still recovering from his illness, had only been able to participate in the military examination due to Li Chengyi's 'recommendation' to the Emperor.
He appeared to show brotherly love to his father and the court officials, and then there was Li Taiyi, making a fool of himself and earning the hatred of the court.
But Li Taiyi was hostile to Li Chengyi for another reason.
Right after Li Taiyi had awoken in this world, Li Chengyi had come to visit him with feigned anxiety.
He had an excellent reputation both inside and outside the court, so naturally, no one suspected him.
But the moment Li Chengyi arrived, he had 'accidentally' knocked over the medicine that Virtuous Empress Dou had prepared for him, and even used his martial arts to chill it and spill it all over Li Taiyi. Thus, mere moments after waking, Li Taiyi was knocked out by the cold.
Besides that, he had secretly seized all the medicinal ingredients used for the medicines Li Taiyi took, and his subordinates had even seized the ingredients that Virtuous Empress Dou had requested.
This thought made Li Taiyi's eyes grow even colder.
"What does Imperial Brother mean by this?"
Li Taiyi stood straight and coldly smiled.
"Has Third Brother gone senile? Have you forgotten what only just occurred?!" Second Prince Li Chengyi harshly rebuked, raising his chin as he gave a cold and aloof gaze that was subtly tinged with disdain and revulsion.
Li Chengyi had never liked his third brother.
Li Taiyi's mother, Virtuous Empress Dou, was highly favored by the Tang Emperor, and this favor had extended to Li Taiyi.
Even though he was notorious for his brutality, he was always able to turn his big problems into small problems, and his small problems into nothing. Everything was tolerated. And at the age of four, Li Taiyi had even been brought to a morning court session!
There was no precedent for such a thing!
All of these things were extravagances that Li Chengyi could never even dream about, as his mother's status was far beneath Virtuous Empress Dou's.
Of course, the most important thing was that the War of the Princes had always been cruel, no matter the dynasty. There were many cases throughout history of 'clumsy' princes who played the part of a pig so that they could eat the tiger. This was the War of the Princes, the war for the throne.
So long as Li Taiyi lived, he would always be a threat.
So long as Virtuous Empress Dou remained, Li Taiyi had a chance of regaining favor.
He could not permit Li Taiyi a chance to recover.
To cut down a weed, one had to pull it out by the roots!
"Third Brother, it seems that I have always protected you in vain. I know that you have always been stubborn and mischievous, but not to this extent!
"Today, at the imperial horse track, you audaciously chose to publicly strike Huoyuan to death with an arrow. Huoyuan was an official of the court as well as your childhood playmate, yet you spared him no affection. Just because he momentarily misspoke, you exploded in rage and killed him. This is simply unforgivable!
"Such violence! Do the laws of the country still exist in your eyes? Does Imperial Father?!"
Li Chengyi's face was a sheet of frost, and his voice had a biting cold.
The hall was utterly silent. As all the officials looked at Li Taiyi, a mountain of stifling pressure descended on him.
Atop the gilded throne, the Tang Emperor said nothing, but his expression also turned ice-cold.