The longest-reigning emperor in the history of the Great Yan, Wei Su was just an ordinary prince when he was born.
Among the sons of Emperor Shenzong, Wei Su was the ninth and didn’t have any advantages at all. Wei Su’s mother, Concubine He from the Sun family, in the harem of Emperor Shenzong also belonged to the kind that was neither at the top nor at the bottom. She was neither the favourite concubine in the Six Palaces, nor a forgotten existence.
In terms of origin and family affection, she was not as good as Empress Gu who was the eldest daughter of Gong Qi, a childhood sweetheart of Emperor Shenzong and gave birth to dragon and phoenix twins(1). And Wei Su’s mother was just an unappreciated daughter of a concubine of Gong Guo’s mansion. It was purely a coincidence that she entered the palace. The Sun family didn’t care what status she could achieve in the palace, as long as she didn’t make mistakes that could hurt the Sun family. What’s more, she didn’t have a son and gave birth only to three princesses.
In terms of beauty and favour, Concubine He wasn’t as good as Consort Li, who was from a lowly family that could barely be considered a clan and had long fallen into decline, with no one in the family excelling for several generations. Unfortunately, the emperor liked Consort Li. He thought she was good looking, she could talk, she understood his mind, and she could tell what the emperor was thinking just by looking at him. Concubine He wasn’t completely unpopular, otherwise she wouldn’t have given birth to three princesses, but in the mind of Emperor Shenzong, she was a dispensable type, making no difference whether she was there or not, nothing special to hold on to.
Originally, Empress Gu gave birth to the emperor’s eldest son, and other princes no longer had to think about the position of the Crown Prince. However, before the Emperor Shenzong officially made the eldest prince Wei Feng the Crown Prince, Wei Feng fell ill and died at the age of ten, leaving the emperor and empress devastated and grieving.
Although the emperor posthumously named his beloved son who died untimely Prince Xiaozhen, the Great Yan dynasty still needed to have a crown prince after all.
It was the common practice since ancient times to make the empress’s eldest son the Crown Prince, and in the absence of the empress’s son, the eldest son of the emperor. After Wei Feng, the second and third sons of Emperor Shenzong died early, and Wei Zhou, the Fourth Prince born of Consort Li, became the de facto eldest son of the emperor.
When Wei Su was two years old, after some deliberation, Emperor Shenzong made Consort Li the imperial consort and made the twelve-year-old Fourth Prince the head of the Eastern Palace.
In the years to come, had Consort Li and her son not made some mistakes of their own accord, Wei Su would basically have missed the position of the Son of Heaven.
In the 9th year of Xiande, Tiele invaded Yanzhou and occupied the two northwestern counties. The Great Yan was defeated. The two sides negotiated peace, and Tiele requested a marriage of a true-born princess as a token of peace.
Tiele Khan Boyatt’s request was sent to Yujing, and the court was in an uproar like a pot of boiling water.
For more than two hundred years, the Great Yan and Tiele had been at war; occasionally they had made peace, but they had always married off female relatives and even palace ladies under the name of princesses. A true-born princess of the Wei family had never been married as a token of peace.
There were different opinions among the officials and in the army. Some said they would fight Tiele until their dying breath; while some also raised objections, saying that fighting was good but there was no money and no people. So what would they use to fight Tiele’s invincible iron cavalry?
Emperor Shenzong discussed it with his ministers for three days and three nights, and came to the conclusion that the situation wasn’t good, so he could only agree to Tiele’s request for the time being. In this way, it was time for the ladies of the harem to become nervous, as no one wanted their baby daughter to marry into the barren land.
The emperor had many daughters, but not many were suitable for marriage. There were only Wei Huang, the daughter of Empress Gu, and Princess Xin’an, the eldest daughter of Concubine He.
In terms of age, the eighteen-year-old Princess Guchang was clearly more suitable than the fifteen-year-old Princess Xin’an. However, Empress Gu had only one son and one daughter, and with her son gone and only her daughter left by her side, she was still very ill, and Emperor Shenzong, who had always been soft-hearted, couldn’t speak to her about this matter at all.
At this point, Consort Li suddenly jumped out and said to the emperor that Empress Gu was seriously ill and that it would be inhumane to marry her only daughter far away, and that it would be better to let her share the empress’s worries by allowing Princess Baling to marry instead of her sister.
Consort Li’s words seemed to be sincere, but her only daughter, Princess Baling, was just ten years old, far less than the age of marriage. Even Concubine He’s second daughter, Princess Nanyang, was three years older than Princess Baling. No matter who replaced Wei Huang, it would not be Princess Baling’s turn(2).
With Consort Li saying something like this, how could Concubine He remain silent? She was a smart woman. She could see from the beginning that the emperor was unwilling to let Wei Huang go, so no matter how reluctant she was, she took the initiative to say in front of the emperor that Princess Xin’an should marry Tiele.
As a result, when Wei Su was three years old, his beloved eldest sister was forced to marry into a foreign country, and the two siblings never saw each other again for the rest of their lives. It was at this time that Wei Su’s hatred for Tiele and his determination to get rid of them was planted.
Two months after Princess Xin’an was married, Empress Gu passed away, with the posthumous name “Jing”. The harem couldn’t be left without a master for a day. Consort Li had the highest position and was the birth mother of the Crown Prince. It was only logical that she would take charge of the phoenix seal and take control of the Six Palaces.
If Consort Li behaved sensibly and did her job well, it made sense for her to be named the new empress after the mourning period had passed. It was a pity that Consort Li was too impatient. Before she became the empress, she was already acting like one. What was even worse, she was very harsh on low-ranking concubines and she was always at odds with Concubine He, picking on her and making trouble for her.
It was true that Emperor Shenzong didn’t favour Concubine He too much, but she was the daughter of Gong Guo’s family, her father and brother had a place in the court, and Princess Xin’an had gone to Tiele to marry, so the emperor, not for the monk’s sake but for the Buddha’s sake, had a much warmer attitude towards Concubine He than in the past.
Consort Li’s obvious suppression of Concubine He attracted the attention of the emperor, and he began to think about whether Consort Li was really qualified for the position of empress. When Empress Gu was alive, there were no such things in the palace. It seemed that Consort Li’s low birth was indeed a fatal flaw.
As the emperor, Emperor Shenzong could barely be regarded as qualified, but his mind was extremely delicate. Because of his poor health, he often worried that after he passed away, the young Wei Su and others would be treated harshly. Once, the emperor summoned Consort Li to bed and inadvertently mentioned that after his demise, he hoped that Consort Li and the Crown Prince would treat the other concubines in the palace and their sons and daughters well.
If the woman had any brains, she would have smiled and agreed even if she was unhappy. When the emperor said this, it was clear that he had the idea of entrusting his widows and orphans to her because he was going to make her his empress. Who else needed to look after the concubines and children of the late emperor except for the empress dowager and the new emperor?
But after hearing this, instead of agreeing to it, Consort Li became angry. She was not willing to take care of the women who had competed with her for favour and their children! Emperor Shenzong was stunned and laughed in anger, just short of having a fit of rage. He simply had no words.
From that moment on, the emperor had the idea of replacing the Crown Prince. He couldn’t make Consort Li the empress, but as long as Wei Zhou ascended to the throne, she would still become the Empress Dowager as his mother, so he had no choice but to replace the Crown Prince as well.
Emperor Shenzong had many sons, but unfortunately, there weren’t many who stood out. Most of them were born of humble birth mothers, and only the Ninth Prince Wei Su was born to a daughter of a proper noble family. The emperor disliked the Crown Prince’s mother and even lost his affection for the Crown Prince, so he began to pay attention to Wei Su.
Feeling the emperor’s snub, Consort Li didn’t think about saving the situation, but made a foul move that eventually killed her and her son.
Consort Li poisoned Wei Su, intending to kill him and directly solve the problem once and for all. Who knew that Wei Su was lucky; he didn’t eat the crystal hibiscus cake that was poisoned, but gave it to Ji Qing, the son of Wang Changning who came to the palace to play with him.
Ji Qing suffered on Wei Chou’s behalf and almost lost his life. He was saved, but his muscles and veins were injured and his martial arts were ruined.
When the matter came to light, the emperor was furious. The people in Wang Changning’s family were sparse and almost every generation had a single heir. Consort Li ruined Ji Qing; did she want to leave the Ji family without a successor? Besides, Consort Li’s original intention was to get rid of Wei Su, and the emperor definitely couldn’t tolerate it anymore.
In the 12th year of Xiande, Wei Zhou was deposed as the Crown Prince and given the title of the wang. He immediately went to his fief. Consort Li was demoted to a commoner and imprisoned permanently. The following year, Wei Zhou committed suicide in his fief at the age of seventeen. When Commoner Tian heard the news, she died of grief and anger.
In the 15th year of Xiande, Emperor Shenzong made Concubine He the empress. The following year, Wei Su became the Crown Prince.
The emperor was sickly and weak in temperament, and the power of the court was in the hands of the Empress Dowager Xie Yi for a long time. Xie Yi wasn’t the emperor’s biological parent but his adoptive mother(3). Xie Yi’s biological son was Wang Chu. The emperor was afraid that the young Crown Prince wouldn’t be able to restrain Xie Yi in the future, so he wanted to give Wei Su a powerful marriage.
Unexpectedly, when Wei Su heard that his father’s favourite candidate was Ji Yang, Xianyou County Lord from Wang Changning’s family, he refused on the spot.
Wei Su had always felt that brother and sister Ji Qing and Ji Yang were born with the wrong gender. The elder brother was modest and elegant, gentle as jade, and the younger sister was savage and violent, without any ladylike manners at all. The first and only time Wei Su saw Ji Yang was when he was six years old. He said the wrong thing and was beaten up by her. His whole body was in terrible pain, but no trace of being beaten could be seen. Including Concubine He, everyone was praising Ji Yang, saying that she was a tiger girl from the general’s family who lived up to her name. No one cared about Wei Su who was injured, except for Ji Qing who gave him a sympathetic glance.
Due to Wei Su’s insistence, his marriage to Ji Yang was stillborn before it was formally proposed, and the rumours about it didn’t spread.
Two years later, the news that Xianyou County Lord married the young master of the Jun family broke out, and the world was shocked. Because in everyone’s opinion, the Ji family and the Jun family were two completely unrelated families. It would be strange to see them interacting with each other, not to mention being united in a marriage.
The Ji family, needless to say, was the family of one of the two wangs with different surnames, descending from the founder of the Great Yan, and was the top of the world’s family along with the Jiang family of Wang Yong’an.
Wang Changning’s family started with military merit, with its children and grandchildren proficient in the art of war, horse riding and archery. The successive county lords of the Ji family either entered the palace as empresses or married into a clan family. There had never been a case of marrying into a humble family, not even once.
Ji Yang setting such a precedent couldn’t help but surprise everyone, and there was a lot of discussion about it. Of course, the Jun family of Langya was not an ordinary family. Although they did not have the identity of a clan, they were a very special existence in the Great Yan, and no one dared to despise them.
The Jun family was a family of poets and writers, and their family heirloom was not just some books, but the history books of all the dynasties and countries in the Central Plains since the beginning of time.
Without the efforts of the ancestors of the Jun family, the history of the Central Plains before the Shenchuan Dynasty would probably have disappeared in the flames of war. Therefore, from the Shenchuan Dynasty to the Great Yan Dynasty, although the direct children of the Jun family never served in the court, the status of their family was absolutely transcendent.
The young master of the Jun family, Jun Ya, was so famous for his talent that his senior brother Yu Zong once said that if Jun Ya were willing to take the imperial examination, he wouldn’t be able to keep his title of Zhuangyuan(4). Unfortunately Jun Ya never came to participate in the examination, and Emperor Shenzong could only sigh helplessly.
Jun Ya married Ji Yang, Ji Yang married Jun Ya…
Wei Su felt both amused and relieved when he heard the news. In any case, his father couldn’t force him anymore.
In Wei Su’s view, there was no necessary connection between whether he married Ji Yang or not and whether Wang Changning’s family supported him. The old Wang Changning had already passed away, and Ji Qing was now in charge of the Ji family. Wei Su believed that with the friendship between the two of them, Ji Qing would not hesitate to stand by his side.
In the 22nd year of Xiande, Emperor Shenzong died, with the posthumous name “Hui”, and Wei Su, who was only sixteen years old, ascended the throne as emperor.
Just as the late emperor thought, the Empress Dowager Xie Yi firmly controlled the court situation and didn’t give the young emperor any chance at all. Wei Su was young and vigorous, how could he endure it? He was not the late emperor, he didn’t have his weak temperament. He wouldn’t be at the mercy of Xie Yi.
In the 1st year of Yongjia, in order to suppress the momentum of the Xie family, Wei Su removed Xie Yi’s nephew Xie Ning from the post of the head of the Central Secretariat and replaced him with Yu Dong. At the same time, he also removed officials Yu Xian and Wei Chuan from their posts and replaced them with Gui Ru and Sun Yan.
Yu Dong was the uncle of Yu Zong, the previous zhuangyuan in the imperial examination and a student of the Jun family. Although he was not siding with Wei Su, he was not siding with Xie Yi either, and he stood very firmly in a neutral position. As for Gui Ru and Sun Yan, the former was Wei Su’s teacher, the latter was his uncle, and they both were his people.
Xie Yi looked at the young emperor’s actions coldly. His face was calm but he thought in his heart: the court that his family had run for decades was not something you could shake by replacing a few officials. If it were that easy, the late emperor would have succeeded a long time ago.
Sure enough, the newly appointed three officials had been in office for less than half a year, and Xie Yi had found faults with them one after another. Yu Dong committed suicide in prison, and Gui Ru and Sun Yan were removed from office and sent home. Wei Su was half-dead with anger, but there was nothing he could do. He found that his power was too small in front of the Empress Dowager.
Wei Su’s crisis did not end there; Xie Yi didn’t stop after removing his people. He was tempted to change the emperor.
Wei Su panicked when he heard the news that the Empress Dowager had summoned Wang Chu to the capital.
Xie Yi was not Wei Su’s biological grandparent, but was the biological parent of Wang Chu. It was obvious who was near and who was far for him. More importantly, in the event that the emperor was at fault, the Empress Dowager Xie Yi or the Empress Dowager Sun had the power to depose the emperor according to the law of the Great Yan.
It was a fact that Wei Su was at fault. Although it didn’t reach the level of being deposed, if Xie Yi was determined to put his own son on the throne, it wasn’t impossible to make a big deal out of it. After all, the court was in the hands of Xie Yi from the time the late emperor ascended to the throne.
Wei Su didn’t want to sit still and wait for death. He rushed out of the palace under the banner of inspecting river works before Wang Chu arrived in the capital. Wei Su was going to Shuozhou; he needed to find Ji Qing. If he really was going to confront Xie Yi, only the military power in Ji Qing’s hands could help him.
Soon after leaving the palace, Wei Su asked his shadow guard to pretend to be him and go to inspect the river works instead of him. He privately took a group of guards, changed his route to the north and went to Ji Qing. The Empress Dowager didn’t want it to happen and sent his men to ambush Wei Su on the road in advance.
The guards fought desperately, but unfortunately they were defeated and gradually surrounded. As the opponent pressed step by step, the encirclement became smaller and smaller and was about to be broken through. Wei Su was barely able to maintain a calm expression on his face, but in his heart he was starting to panic.
He couldn’t help but think what would happen to him if he was captured by the Empress Dowager and taken back to the palace. Perhaps he would be like his great-uncle, Wang Qihuai, who had been dethroned and given a cup of poisoned wine. Wang Qihuai had a younger brother, Wei Su’s imperial grandfather, and although he was forced to commit suicide, he was mourned according to imperial rites. Wei Su only had three sisters, and if he was really dethroned, he would end up worse than Wang Qihuai, and God knows how Xie Yi and Wang Chu would treat him.
At the critical moment, a white figure broke into Wei Su’s line of sight, rushing to the left and right, and approached Wei Su in a few steps.
“Come with me!” The man in white grabbed Wei Su’s arm and flew away with him, moving so fast that the others had no time to intercept.
Wei Su faintly felt that the man’s voice was a bit familiar, but he couldn’t remember where he had heard it before as he was being carried away at a lightning speed. Covering twenty or thirty li in one breath and seeing that there were no chasing soldiers behind them, the man in white put down Wei Su and let him catch his breath.
Although Wei Su practised martial arts, it was just for physical fitness. He had not practised internal skills and qinggong. He was a bit overwhelmed by the experience. He sat under the tree for a while, stared straight at the man in white for a moment, and then suddenly said, “You are Ah Qing, aren’t you?”
Because of a similar age, Wei Su had been playing with Ji Qing, the heir of Wang Changning, from the time they could walk and talk. The relationship between the two was very close. But after Ji Qing was poisoned instead of Wei Su back then, the old Wang Changning sent his son to Kunlun Mountain to recuperate from injuries and expel the poison. Later, the old Wang Changning was assassinated in Shuozhou. After Ji Qing went down the mountain, he rushed directly to Shuozhou to assume his title and take over military power. Wei Su had never been out of the capital before, so he and Ji Qing had not seen each other for more than ten years, and their contact relied on letters.
Ji Qing curled his lips and smiled, saying softly: “Your Majesty, can you go now? This place is more than a thousand li away from Shuozhou, and we must arrive as soon as possible to avoid accidents.” The way he smiled and the tone of his speech made Wei Su feel particularly familiar.
Wei Su jumped up and said excitedly: “Ah Qing, how did you heal from your injuries? I remember that the imperial doctor once said that you could no longer practise martial arts.” Because of this matter, he had been sad for a long time. Why wasn’t he the one who ate that hibiscus cake, he didn’t need to practise martial arts.
“You can usually only listen to half of what the imperial doctors say.” After Ji Qing finished speaking, he picked Wei Su up again and took him to the place where he had hidden his horse.
Wei Su looked at the tall black horse with snow-white hooves and asked in confusion: “Why is there only one horse?”
Ji Qing curled his lips and asked with a smile: “How long has Your Majesty been riding a horse the longest time? No longer than half a shichen, right?” Seeing Wei Su silent, he continued: “We can’t delay on the way to Shuozhou. Your Majesty can’t hold on alone.”
After Ji Qing said that, he got on his horse and then pulled Wei Su up. Wei Su felt a little discontent with what Ji Qing said. He wanted to argue but thought that it would be more convincing to speak with facts, so he remained silent. After a shichen, he didn’t want to say anything.
Galloping all the way for two days and two nights, dispatching three sets of ambushers and two sets of pursuers, Ji Qing finally took Wei Su to Shuozhou Camp.
When he dismounted, Wei Su could no longer feel his legs. He wanted to swear that he would never ride a horse again in his life. But when he saw Ji Qing’s perfectly normal pace, he didn’t have the heart to say it and swallowed his words in silence.
As soon as they walked into the camp, a soldier stepped forward to report. After Ji Qing heard his words, he immediately left Wei Su and ran away.
Wei Su was puzzled and followed him. Before he walked into the tent, he heard Ji Qing’s panicked voice: “Big Brother!”
Big brother?! The old Wang Changning had only one son and two daughters, and Ji Qing was the eldest child. It was really strange; he had no big brother.
- A boy and a girl twins
- There are too many princesses, I know. Anyway, remember Farida’s grandmother, the reason why she looks a bit like Wei Zhao and the reason why Wei Zhao spared her life? It’s Princess Xin’an. Princess Baling, if you remember, will later become the mother of Xiao Feng, the guy who tried to poison Ji Xin
- It was mentioned in Chapter 52 that Xie Yi was one of three male empresses, so yes, Xie Yi is a man
- Top scorer in the imperial examination