“Rong Ting, it is not that I did not want to be honest, but that I had no choice.”
After waiting in line for more than ten minutes, it was finally their turn.
It was the first time Rong Ting had been in the cashier lane, and the small shelves by the cash register were full of goodies. He was bored and wanted to take a look at these things.
Chewing gum. Yi, he’d tried it before. The taste wasn’t bad, and it was fun to blow bubbles with it.
He courageously grabbed a pack of fruit-flavored chewing gum and placed it on the conveyor belt.
Seeing that Emperor Father didn’t react, he lowered his head again to see what else he could buy. After a while, he took a pack of Skittles and a silver case. The label didn’t say it was candy, but it should be something to eat ba?
Rong Heng was aware that Rong Ting was grabbing stuff. He gave them a quick glance. They were all brightly colored, so he didn’t pay them any mind.
It was better to line up and check out with a cashier. The cashier would report the total, and he would take out the money from his wallet. Although lining up was slower, it was clearly more convenient.
“Please take your receipt.”
Rong Heng accepted the receipt and placed it in his coat pocket before picking up the shopping bags and walking out of the supermarket with Rong Ting.
Although the supermarket was well-heated, there were too many people, and the air didn’t circulate well, making people feel suffocated while inside and feel better when they left.
The father and son duo didn’t bother to visit other shopping malls and headed straight home.
When they arrived home, Rong Ting took out the pack of instant noodles he had bought and hid it. Then he ran into the kitchen and asked, “Emperor Father, do you need my help?”
He felt like Emperor Father was less capable than him in this matter.
Rong Heng shook his head as he rolled up his sleeves. “No need.”
Although he said there was no need, Rong Ting was still worried. He brought over a small stool and sat down in the kitchen to watch. Seeing that Emperor Father wasn’t preparing to wash the rice before cooking, he hurriedly reminded him, “Emperor Father, you must wash the rice. I always see Empress Mother wash the rice two or three times before cooking.”
Following that, Rong Ting used the opportunity to carefully instruct Rong Heng on how to turn on the gas stove and range hood. This made Rong Ting feel utmost despair. Although he didn’t enjoy going out to eat, in the face of this trial, he very much wanted to say, Emperor Father, why don’t we go out to eat ba.
But he didn’t dare to say it, because Emperor Father seemed to be extremely persistent and serious about this. For now, he could only rejoice that all the kitchen condiments were labeled. Emperor Father should not mistake the sugar as salt or the vinegar as soy sauce.
Rong Heng had no experience in cooking, but he was, after all, a clever person, and the recipe that Sun Qiming had sent him had detailed steps. He went over it several times in his head and got ready to start.
Rong Ting originally didn’t have much hope or expectation for this meal, but after watching, he found that… perhaps he could look forward to it, just a bit.
The person Rong Ting admired most was his Emperor Father. Although he had developed doubts and suspicions about what kind of person his Emperor Father was after arriving to this era, it did not affect his respect.
After speaking out all the doubts and secrets in his heart yesterday, Rong Ting had felt much lighter, but now, after watching his Emperor Father’s earnestly cooking appearance, he couldn’t help but think. The response he had heard from Empress Mother was nothing more than Empress Mother’s guess. Wouldn’t it be better to ask Emperor Father himself? He wanted to ask Emperor Father why he pretended to have amnesia, why he deceived them…
He didn’t know if he should ask or not. He simply walked out of the kitchen and went straight to his room. Closing the door behind him, he quietly dialed Empress Mother’s phone number.
Empress Mother had said that he could ask her about anything he couldn’t make a decision on.
In the hospital, Grandpa Song was clamoring for something sweet. Song Yuan, after asking for the doctor’s advice, headed to the vending machine in the first-floor lobby of the inpatient unit. Before she could put in money, her phone rang. She took out the phone and saw that the caller ID was ‘Little Cutie Gugu.’ She subconsciously smiled and accepted the call, her voice growing much softer without her realizing. “Gugu, what’s the matter?”
“Empress Mother…” Rong Ting held the phone and lowered his voice. “I want to ask Emperor Father why he pretended to have amnesia and why he lied. Empress Mother, may I?”
Song Yuan knew that her son was an earnest person who must find the answer to things he doubted.
Although she didn’t wish for her relationship with Rong Heng to affect him, and in the depths of her heart she also hoped that he wouldn’t find out about these things, she wouldn’t stop him if he really wanted to find an answer. After a moment of silence, she said quietly, “If you really want to ask, then ask ba. He’s your father; you should have a very close father-son relationship.”
“Will Emperor Father blame me? Will he scold me?” Rong Ting asked with uncertainty.
“Has he ever scolded you?” Song Yuan asked in response.
Rong Ting nodded. Then, realizing he was on the phone, he hurriedly replied, “No, Emperor Father has only been strict with me. He has never scolded me.”
“If you want to ask then ask ba. If he scolds you or blames you, you can tell me.”
Rong Ting was no longer afraid when he heard those words!
That’s right ah, it was different from before! Back in the palace, Empress Mother was not there. Now, Empress Mother was by his side. He had a mother.
“Okay! I will ask Emperor Father later!”
Rong Ting’s ‘later’ was dragged out. By the time the dishes were cooked and placed on the table, it was past one. His stomach was already rumbling with hunger, and he decided to wait until they finished eating before speaking.
In fact, it was also a kind of skill to be able to strictly follow the steps of the recipe to cook.
It was impossible for a perfectionist like Rong Heng to make dark cuisine1. He followed the recipe every step of the way, so the braised chicken wings tasted alright. The steamed sea bass demanded even less skill. The pack of instant noodles bought from the supermarket lay forgotten in the corner. When he finished eating, Rong Ting wiped his mouth with a tissue, a satisfied look on his face. It was not that Emperor Father’s culinary skills were excellent–they were still far from Empress Mother’s level–but it was just that he felt… his life felt a bit more fulfilled. He had eaten Empress Mother’s cooking, and now he had also eaten Emperor Father’s cooking. It was indeed something joyous.
Rong Heng looked at his son as he cleared the dishes, feeling somewhat regretful in his heart. If he’d been at least ten years old this year, this sort of task could have been given to him.
Although there was a dishwasher, Rong Heng didn’t know how to operate it. He could only roll up his sleeves once again and wash the dishes himself.
It was the first time in his life he’d done things like cooking and washing the dishes.
Rong Heng gave another helpless, self-deprecating smile. He had pride down to his bones, but in the years after losing her, all those things he thought he’d never do even if he died became things that he desperately wanted to do. For example, taking care of her like an ordinary man, or taking the initiative to give way to her.
Rong Ting had the habit of taking a nap, but today it was just him with Emperor Father, so he didn’t dare to take a nap. He sat on the sofa flipping through a copy of The History of the Fall of the Ming Dynasty, his eyelids fighting to stay open.
“These books are good for reading. There are lessons to be gained from them.” Rong Heng sat down beside him and spoke in a deep voice. “A dynasty has its rise and fall, and many things do not need to be forced. For example, in the Great Ye dynasty, there may be a fatuous ruler decades later, and when the people have no way to live, there will be someone to overthrow him.”
“Emperor Father!” Rong Ting didn’t think that Rong Heng would say such a thing.
“Do not be surprised. As the crown prince, you need only guarantee two things. First, be a good emperor after you have succeeded the throne. Second, select a suitable successor. For many people it is already good to be able to do one, but I hope that you will be able to achieve both.”
Rong Ting clutched the book in his hands. For a moment, he didn’t understand what Emperor Father meant.
He fell silent for a moment before mustering up his courage to turn his head and ask Rong Heng, “Emperor Father, there is something I cannot figure out. Could you answer it?”
“What is it?” Rong Heng was flipping through a newspaper.
“Emperor Father, do you truly not remember anything?”
Rong Heng was not surprised by this question, knowing his son as well as he did. He said quietly, “Why do you ask?”
“I do not think you have amnesia.” Rong Ting stared at him. “I had always felt that something was wrong until you sent Empress Mother those plum blossoms. I do not think it was a coincidence. Emperor Father, yesterday I tested you without your permission. Your expression when you saw the Guanyin jade pendant proves that you have not lost your memories. I just cannot understand why you would do this. Why would you lie?”
Rong Heng went silent, then said, “You told her.”
“En, I told Empress Mother yesterday. Empress Mother told me that there are several types of lies. I do not know which one yours is, and I have not yet figured out your intentions.”
Rong Heng’s expression shifted minutely. “What else did she say?”
Rong Ting thought for a moment. He tilted his head and replied, “Empress Mother said that you are fulfilling your duties as a father and as a monarch, and that perhaps you have your own considerations. Empress Mother did not seem surprised. I asked her, and she said…”
“What did she say.” Rong Heng’s calm had been swept away. He was even a bit tense.
“Empress Mother said that she was already used to it.” Rong Ting didn’t understand, and he mumbled to himself, “Could it be that Grandfather often deceived Empress Mother?”
Endless shock reverberated in Rong Heng’s heart.
Yes, he had thought that her strangeness had been due to Rong Ting, that it was Rong Ting who had said something to her. Thinking about it now, he truly had made a huge mistake. Due to his arrogance, he had even lost the most opportune moment to explain.
Even though he was extremely shocked, and he was inwardly panicked, he still managed to calm himself down.
His son was still waiting for him to answer the question.
Rong Heng’s gaze settled on his hands. Would these hands be able to keep their hold on someone he wanted to grab on to with all his strength?
“Emperor Father…” Rong Ting, upon seeing that he wasn’t speaking, softly called him.
Rong Heng came to his senses and returned to his previously unruffled look. There was even a helpless smile on his face as he said solemnly, “For as long as you live, you will always encounter events that are out of your control2. Lying to you and lying to your Empress Mother was indeed something I did only after careful consideration. Perhaps it won’t be long before you come to understand, but I hope that you will never experience it yourself.
“The person who exhausts all their efforts to tell lies is actually fearful in their heart, afraid that each and every step is wrong.
“Rong Ting, it is not that I did not want to be honest, but that I had no choice.”
Rong Ting’s expression was blank. With his current life experience, he could not understand these words, just as he could not understand Empress Mother’s words.
Rong Heng stretched out a hand, hesitating for a moment, but he still gave a pat on Rong Ting’s shoulder. He said with a smile, “Emperor Father hopes that you can be a strong and fearless ruler, and not become like me.”
 黑暗料理: food that’s so bad it’s figuratively/literally unpalatable. Can also refer to food made with questionable ingredients. The image below is an example of what I’d visualize as dark cuisine
 身不由己: without the freedom to act independently