At first, Song Yuan didn’t think of taking Rong Ting with her for dinner. After all, he disliked her having contact with other, unfamiliar men. Although he had changed a lot, and his way of thinking had also changed, he would still be uncomfortable with it. But on second thought, it seemed more inappropriate to leave him home alone, right?
B City couldn’t compare to her hometown. She knew all the neighbors in her hometown; here, the people, life, and land were unfamiliar. New Year’s was approaching, and all sorts of people were starting to stir1.
If she was going to bring Rong Ting, she would have to speak with him in advance. Otherwise, he’d inevitably be upset and become disgruntled. Moreover, she needed to discuss with him about learning calligraphy.
B City was in a heated area. When they finished washing up that night, they were very warm in their thin pajamas. As Rong Ting sat on the sofa, he used his iPad to watch Animal Planet. This house wasn’t equipped with a projector, which was rather inconvenient, so she could only wrong him for a bit.
Several times, Song Yuan went back and forth about speaking up.
Rong Ting reluctantly pressed pause and looked at Song Yuan. “Mother Empress, if you have something to say, just say it.”
“Gugu, do you remember that day I brought back a copybook for you? That was given to me by a friend. He’s a friend I met very recently. So Mom, you know, wants to ask him to dinner and bring you too.”
“Mm, he or she2?”
Child, must you be so good at grasping the key point! She couldn’t muddle her way through like this.
Song Yuan chose to tell the truth. “Well, so, it’s an uncle. This uncle is very good and has helped me. One time, I had a gathering with my classmates from my club, and he paid for us. I felt like I owed him for the meal, and I tried to transfer money to him, but he wouldn’t accept it. So I told him that next time I had the chance, I would invite him to dinner. One is only as good as one’s words, right?”
Rong Ting made a noise of assent. “Mother Empress’s words are reasonable. Let us eat together, then.”
Gugu was quite reasonable now; it was a great improvement. Song Yuan was particularly thrilled by this.
“There’s one more thing I wanted to ask your opinion about. Like I just said, this uncle is very nice, and he knows that you like calligraphy and have very good handwriting. So he helped me contact a great and famous calligrapher. He can help connect us to this calligrapher, and if you have fate, you can study under him.”
Rong Ting finally felt that something was off. He was very astute, and based on Mother Empress’s character, she definitely would have agreed to such a good thing without discussing it with him. She had done the same thing when she signed him up for trial classes without discussing with him. Why would she discuss it with him this time? And it seemed that his opinion would be given priority?
“So then?” Rong Ting asked. “Does Mother Empress have any concerns?”
Song Yuan let out a sigh of relief. At times like these, it was easier to communicate with a bright child. She didn’t beat around the bush and got straight to the point. “When I first met this uncle, I didn’t know who he was; I just thought it would be nice to talk to him. He was also nice and gentle. Later, when your grandpa saw me with him, he told me that he was not an ordinary person. B City is very different from other cities, and the situation here is much more complicated than our hometown. He’s from a very famous family in B City…Well, it’s said that he’s known as Crown Prince Xie in the circle, or sometimes Crown Prince. His background is not simple. It’s very complicated in such an elite family. Your grandpa told me not to get too close to him before I get into trouble for no good reason.”
Seeing Rong Ting deep in thought, she added, “This is a rare opportunity. I know that it’ll be of great help to your future, but I’m also worried it will bring us unnecessary trouble. Gugu, what do you think?”
Rong Ting was silent for a moment before raising his head to look at her. “Mother Empress, I know a saying. Father Emperor often instructed me that one who is unaccountably solicitous is harboring evil intentions3.”
It was unknown when it started, but Rong Ting would no longer call himself “gu” in front of her. He would sometimes call himself “er chen4,” but Song Yuan thought it felt too much like something out of a drama, so she made him change it. Now, he would only call himself “I” in front of her or on necessary occasions.
“Oh?” Song Yuan raised her eyebrows. Was this how His Highness the Emperor taught children?
“This uncle Mother Empress speaks of hails from an elite family in B City. How did he and Mother Empress meet?”
Song Yuan thought back. “One time was when there was a rear-end collision. He was behind me and helped me out. Later, I ran into him on the bus. He was staying in a hotel near our house, and he happened to have something going on near my company.”
“Is there such coincidence in this world? He is from an elite family in B City. For what reason would he not take a car when going out? For what reason would he take a bus?”
“Well, he told me later that he had lost his memories after getting injured. When he saw me, he felt I was very familiar, so he wanted to get to know me to see if he could remember something.”
“This makes sense. This person may not have ulterior motives.” Rong Ting frowned. “Regardless, Mother Empress, I advise you not to get too close to this person. Just as Grandfather says, this person is wealthy and noble. It’s alright if he has good intentions. If he has ulterior motives, Mother Empress will not be able to handle it.”
“I think so, too. So what about learning calligraphy, then?” Song Yuan was slowly, like many other mothers, placing Rong Ting first before all other matters. She was willing to try anything for her child, but she also couldn’t make up her mind about this matter.
“Mother Empress, I once heard Father Emperor say, if you want something from someone, you must first lower the other’s vigilance, then cast out a bargaining chip they desperately want, and finally haul in the net5. If Grandfather had not accidentally seen him, perhaps Mother Empress would have already lowered her guard. He has already taken the first step. Now, learning calligraphy is his bargaining chip; he likely is aware of my importance to Mother Empress and knows that Mother Empress hopes for me to learn calligraphy.” Rong Ting pursed his lips, looking worriedly at Song Yuan. “Mother Empress must stay vigilant and must not easily believe outsiders.”
Although Song Yuan felt that Rong Ting was exaggerating, she was still deeply moved. “Are all children from ancient times so fierce, or is it that children born in the palace are inherently sensitive to palace schemes6? You’re much more shrewd than I am. People like me couldn’t survive for more than half an episode after transmigrating to the ancient times.”
She could transmigrate to ancient times and become empress; the heavens really gave her a golden finger!
Rong Ting laughed when he heard this, but afterwards he solemnly said to Song Yuan, “Mother Empress, I do not wish for you to force yourself for me. There’s no need to feel pity. As the saying goes, a setback may be a blessing in disguise. A sugarcoated bullet 7 is unacceptable.”
“Alright. After we eat tomorrow, I’ll just reject him, then I won’t contact him again.”
“Mother Empress is wise.” Rong Ting praised.
Being praised as wise by a five- or six-year old child wasn’t something to be proud of.
Rong Ting sighed, “People on this side are unexpectedly so crafty. This person is bound to have evil intentions.”
Song Yuan was amused by his words.
Although she couldn’t tell exactly what Mr. Xie was thinking, she could still tell that the other party was not malicious. But considering his family and background, it did seem that there was no need for them to get along.
Song Yuan and Rong Heng made an appointment at a slightly famous Mongolian hot-pot8 shop that was near the community. In the winter, eating hot instant-boiled mutton was a kind of treat.
It just so happened that this place’s soup base was not spicy, making it suitable to bring kids to.
She received a message from him asking whether she had reserved a private room.
Private room? It seemed unnecessary for just two adults and a child, though? But since he mentioned it, she as the host naturally had to make the proper arrangements. She immediately called the store again and reserved a private room.
Song Yuan specially arranged for matching parent-child outfits. Some time ago, she had come across some down jackets while shopping, and she’d bought one for her and one for Rong Ting.
Both the jackets were red. They were warm and festive, very much in the spirit of the winter and New Year.
Rong Ting wore a beanie hat. Looking at him now, he no longer seemed like a child from the ancient times; now, he was no different from those handsome and adorable little boys from the modern times. However, his back was very straight. After all, he had been crown prince for several years, and he had a certain presence that was innate.
“Our Gugu is so handsome!” Before they left, Song Yuan looked Rong Ting up and down once more. “I’m so happy to think that such a handsome boy is my son!”
Rong Ting stuck his hands in his coat pockets. He gave Song Yuan a glance, barely managing to press down the corners of his mouth that were about to rise up. “Mother Empress need not flatter me. I will not be emotional today. I will not say anything; I will just lower my head and eat.”
“Remember to greet people–it’s polite. Here, children need to be polite and respect their elders.”
Alright, this child was completely unpretentious.
Just one long-winded sentence, and he was already impatient and referred to himself as “gu” again.
The hot-pot shop wasn’t very far from the community, and it only took ten minutes to get there by foot. Today’s weather was nice; even if the sun had already set, and the sky was dark, it wasn’t too cold while walking. Song Yuan didn’t take a taxi, but instead walked with Rong Ting.
Along the way, she also bought Rong Ting the tanghulu9 he had been craving.
Song Yuan watched him eat the tanghulu with a content expression and thought, maybe this was the kind of life she wanted to live. She had to protect Gugu and make sure he grew up healthy and happy.
They arrived at the store. Since today was not a weekend, nor peak tourist season, there weren’t many customers. She and Rong Ting were led by the water to a small compartment on the second floor.
The private room was very small. It could only fit a table, and the space for free movement was negligible.
Rong Heng had not arrived, and Song Yuan didn’t want to press him. It was nearly peak rush hour, and if he was coming from elsewhere, it was likely he was stuck in traffic.
Worried that Rong Ting would be hungry, Song Yuan ordered a bowl of black bean noodles10 to pad his stomach.
Just as the noodles were served and Song Yuan had finished mixing it, the compartment door opened. Song Yuan subconsciously looked up.
Rong Heng was a tall man, and the private room seemed a bit cramped for him, but he was still gentle and refined, and he took the initiative to apologize to Song Yuan. “Miss Song, I apologize for being late.”
Song Yuan stood to welcome him. Seeing him being so polite, she waved her hand. “It’s alright, traffic is very congested at this time. Come, I haven’t ordered food yet. I’ll call in the waiter now.”
After she said this, she turned her head again to look at Rong Ting.
She saw Rong Ting with a blank look, staring absentmindedly.
Song Yuan tugged him and reminded him quietly, “Gugu, hurry and greet Uncle.”
Rong Ting couldn’t believe what he was seeing. He was unable to take his eyes off of Rong Heng. With a shocked expression, he cried, “Father Emperor!”
 A roundabout way of saying that it’s dangerous to leave the child at home, in case someone breaks in
 The pronouns for “he” and “she” are pronounced the same out loud
 儿臣: literally “child + subject.” A first-person pronoun used by a male sovereign when referring to himself to the empress dowager, empress mother, etc.
 一网打尽: to catch everything in one net; to capture all in one go
 宫斗: literally palace + fight/struggle. As the name suggests, it refers to the harem and court struggles for power
 糖衣1炮1弹: 糖衣炮弹 was originally used by Mao Zedong to refer to the corrupted bourgeois influences, but it can be used to describe anything that tempts you into “corruption”
 涮羊肉: instant-boiled mutton, or Mongolian Fire Pot/dip-boil mutton. At the risk of sounding ignorant, it looks similar in concept to shabu shabu–dip thinly sliced strips of meat into hot water to cook them and eat with vegetables
 糖葫芦: candied hawthorn, though there are some variants using more common fruits like kiwi, strawberries, and oranges
 炸酱面: noodles in soybean paste? Translated names always sound so unappetizing… but trust me, it’s delicious
Cheese: rong ting really has to lay it all out for song yuan to understand that rong heng is kinda fishy… smh how did this lady survive in the palace??