He was used to being neat and tidy, and actually wanted to turn around and tidy up the mess on the table. However, he was entangled by Gu Yun and had a difficult decision to make. In the battle between “neat freak” and “desire,” the Emperor ultimately succumbed to the latter. So, he turned over, extinguished the lamp, and pulled down the bed curtains.

When Chang Geng regained his senses the next day and wanted to tidy up, he discovered that among the pile of important and unimportant things on the table, one letter that he had never mustered the courage to open was missing. That’s when he realized he had been “blinded by desire” and had been fooled by someone.

Gu Yun’s unparalleled skill in pretending ignorance was impeccable. His words were as tightly sealed as the golden box on Xuanjia armor. He adamantly denied the existence of such a “letter,” and the only person who knew the truth, Shen Yi, was well aware of his guilt and played dead every day, refusing to appear as a witness.

Chang Geng had been curious for half a year but had never found out the whereabouts or contents of that letter. Gradually, he stopped dwelling on it.

In retrospect, perhaps he lacked the courage to open it immediately, and that gave Gu Yun the opportunity to deceive him. Maybe it was destined that he and that “final letter” were meant to be apart. Isn’t that an auspicious saying?

The person who truly existed was still lively and cunningly playing mind games with him. Why did he need to know those heartbreaking words?

Chang Geng felt that this time, he could believe Gu Yun’s nonsense once – there had never been such a letter in the world.

Whether Crown Prince Li Zheng’s fate was good or bad is hard to say. It’s difficult to make a general assessment. He was born to the Empress Dowager of Long’an, not the eldest but the legitimate heir. With an ambitious older brother above him, it was reasonable to assume that when he grew up, he would likely embark on a path of competing with his brother for favor and engaging in a battle for the crown.

The Crown Prince had a gentle and quiet nature. His gentleness came from his grandfather, and his tranquility came from his mother. Neither of them set a good example for being a sovereign. His mother, plagued with worries and ailments, came from a family with little influence. The Crown Prince himself had no ambitions or strong will. This matched well with Emperor Long’an’s temperament and led to his mother being made an empress due to imperial favor.

However, even as an empress, she couldn’t accomplish much. Compared to the Empress Lü during her time, she was destined to be nothing more than cannon fodder.

But fate is unpredictable. When Crown Prince Li Zheng was only six or seven years old, peace was shattered, and the country fell into chaos.

During those difficult years of war, the Crown Prince, confined within the palace, didn’t have a clear impression of the events. He only remembered that rations were scarce that year, and the early summer in the capital was as hot as a furnace. The sky to the west was filled with purple haze, and there was an atmosphere of fear both inside and outside the palace. The palace maids and eunuchs came and went without a trace of laughter, trembling with fear. His father, the Emperor, had been absent for days. The young Crown Prince was confined by his ailing mother’s bedside. When he had midnight dreams, he could always hear palace attendants speaking in hushed voices about the ongoing war. War was never far from their lips.

Being too young, the Crown Prince couldn’t understand what the adults were talking about, but he could always hear his mother sobbing softly on this topic.

Later, as the young Crown Prince grew older and began to understand the world around him, the situation in Great Liang gradually improved. The political landscape changed, and the ambitious faction of Empress Lü collapsed overnight. Empress Lü was demoted and sent to the cold palace, and the Crown Prince’s older brother fell from grace.

During that time, the Eastern Palace suddenly became an object of desire. It was the first time the Crown Prince sensed the ebb and flow of power, but he didn’t like it. The teachings of the Grand Tutor’s books on saintly virtues didn’t touch on these sordid affairs, yet the Crown Prince, with his innate sensitivity, felt a sense of unease beyond his years. He always believed that rise and fall signaled instability. If there were prosperous times, there would be times of desolation.

The Emperor of Long’an had few heirs. The Crown Prince’s elder brother held little power, and the Third Prince’s mother came from a humble background and was young. Everyone believed that Crown Prince Li Zheng was the most esteemed crown prince of Great Liang, but he didn’t share the illusion that everyone had. He witnessed his father’s death in the chaos of the war.

That day, the young Crown Prince held the hand of his Fourth Prince uncle amidst the chaos of the army, still thinking of himself as a child, and saw the truth of power with his childlike eyes.

For Great Liang, it was the beginning of a new reign, a new era, and new policies.

For the young Crown Prince in the depths of the palace, the entire world seemed to have changed overnight.

The Empress Dowager was weak-willed and always ordered him to please his Fourth Prince uncle. From then on, his young life as an orphan with a widowed mother depended on his uncle’s conscience and promises. No one could say for sure how long he, as the Crown Prince, would be able to stay in the palace where he grew up.

Li Zheng used to enjoy being close to his Fourth Prince uncle, Li Min, but during that period, he felt immense pressure when facing him. His amiable and knowledgeable little uncle had transformed into the Emperor, and even the form of address had to change accordingly. Every day, the young Crown Prince had to listen to matters of state that he only partially understood and endure various scrutinizing and meaningful gazes. He had to muster the courage to pay his respects to his uncle and then return to the Eastern Palace to listen to his mother’s incessant worries.

His mother was never as formidable as Empress Lü. She had no backbone of her own and no clear ideas. She only transferred her pressures onto her son, constantly urging him to “live up to expectations.”

But she never specified what kind of expectations he should live up to or what kind of person she hoped he would become. She had no insights.

Every young person experiences their own confusion and difficulties during their youth. For example, Gu Yun faced the scattered remnants of the Xuan Iron Battalion scattered across various regions, and Emperor Li Min faced the terrifying Ulgur tribe and Gu Yun. As for Crown Prince Li Zheng, his dilemma lay in his uncertain future.

However, Gu Yun had tens of thousands of Wind-Cutting Blades behind him and the ancestors of the Gu family overlooking him. Chang Geng had his small adoptive father who always watched over and guided him.

But Li Zheng was surrounded by constant fear and had no one to show him a clear path.

In the autumn of the fourth year of Taishi, after a frosty descent, Li Zheng’s mother passed away, succumbing to endless fear and worry in her lifetime. The Emperor ordered the Ministry of Rites to hold a grand burial.

The fifteen-year-old Crown Prince had already grown into a young man, silent day after day.

During the procession, Chang Geng dismissed the attendants and walked in slowly, gently placing his hand on Li Zheng’s shoulder as he prepared to bow. Li Zheng didn’t insist. Under the urging of his mother, he had been calculating the likes and dislikes of his Fourth Prince uncle every day, knowing that his uncle didn’t appreciate excessive formality.

Li Zheng: “Your Majesty.”

Chang Geng glanced at him, and the young boy immediately corrected himself: “Uncle.”

“Offer your condolences.”

Chang Geng instructed, and he respectfully paid tribute to the empress, whom he had never met face-to-face. Just as he straightened his back, he heard the young Crown Prince’s voice, strained due to his changing voice, saying, “I am lacking in talent and virtue, unfit for the position of Crown Prince. I implore Uncle to remove me from this position.”

Chang Geng furrowed his eyebrows and looked up.

The appearance of this dear nephew didn’t exude the same dignity and majesty as his father. Instead, he appeared excessively delicate. The young prince had a pale complexion, a slender figure, and a perennial melancholy in the corners of his eyes and brows. He didn’t resemble a precious prince at all.

After Li Zheng uttered those words, as if he had frightened himself, he looked anxious. It happened that a gust of wind blew into the loosely guarded mourning hall, and the miscellaneous decorations under the steam-powered palace lamps rattled against the spirit tablet a few times, causing it to topple. The young prince shuddered.

Chang Geng calmly stood up, respectfully lifting the spirit tablet. He waved off the eunuchs who rushed in anxiously and turned to his nephew, asking, “I heard the Grand Tutor say that you’re doing well in your studies. Why do you suddenly have such thoughts?”

Li Zheng lowered his head and didn’t dare to speak.

Chang Geng paused and continued, “When you were young, you used to chase after me with questions. I even made a grasshopper toy for you back then. But now that you’re older, why have you distanced yourself from your Fourth Uncle?”

Li Zheng remained silent, stammering, “There’s a distinction between sovereign and subject… I…”

Upon reflection, Li Zheng had never asked anything from his young Fourth Uncle. He simply liked him sincerely. Over the years, although he still lived in the palace, he always felt like a guest, at the mercy of others. When facing his uncle, he couldn’t help but mix in a lot of flattery and caution. The relationship had already changed.

And when Li Zheng looked into Chang Geng’s eyes, he knew that his Fourth Uncle, who supported the crumbling edifice, was like a clear mirror in his heart. He knew everything, making Li Zheng feel even more ashamed.

“To depose a Crown Prince is a significant matter,” Chang Geng replied in a calm tone. “The country has its laws, and it’s not something we can whimsically decide.”

Li Zheng’s face flushed, as if he had been too presumptuous.

Chang Geng continued, “If there’s something you find inconvenient to discuss with me, you can seek a conversation with the Marquis of Anding. He will be leaving the capital next month to inspect the military affairs of the four borders. If you wish, you can ask him to take you along for a visit.”

Li Zheng was taken aback.

Chang Geng smiled and said, “When your Fourth Uncle was your age, he was also filled with confusion. In that year, I had a big argument with my adoptive father, who was in charge of looking after me… It was the Marquis of Anding. He insisted on leaving home and accompanied Ran Da Shi and General Zhong on a journey throughout the Great Liang. He saw the struggles of all living beings, witnessed the hardships of the world, the chaos caused by rebellious commoners, and experienced numerous separations and reunions. Sometimes, the burdens weighing on your heart seem to become lighter when you see more of these things.”

Even the naive Crown Prince understood the weight held by the Marquis of Anding, who held the Xuan Iron Tiger Token. When he was younger, he was very curious about that legendary hero and had persistently asked him for handwriting samples. But he eventually became too afraid. During the lifetime of his mother, she tightly confined him within the palace, forbidding him from interacting with court officials, fearing that her son might overstep his bounds and draw attention from the new Emperor. He had never set foot in the Marquis’s residence again.

“Don’t be afraid of him. He cared for you when you were young. Do you still remember?” Chang Geng mentioned Gu Yun, and his gaze involuntarily softened, naturally carrying a hint of tenderness.

The Crown Prince was momentarily confused. “Gu… Gu Shuai?”

Chang Geng walked towards the outside of the mourning hall, and the Crown Prince was taken aback for a moment before quickly catching up. The eunuchs on both sides seemed to know that the uncle and nephew had something to discuss and automatically stepped aside. The young Emperor walked ahead with his hands behind his back, openly saying to Li Zheng, “Currently, I have no other favored successors. Several years later, I will pass the throne to you. However, by then, it will be a different era. When you occupy this position, you may find that even the highest position is not absolute. The entire court, and even the world, has its own rules of operation, governing principles. The relationship between ruler and subject, subject and people, constrains one another… You may even feel like an esteemed puppet.”

These words were unheard of by the world, and Li Zheng was left dumbfounded.

Chang Geng turned his head slightly and looked at him. “I don’t know if you can accept that.”

Li Zheng: “I…”