If one wanted to discuss, was Crown Prince Li Zheng's fate good or bad?
It would be tough if one were to only look at it from one point of view.
He was born by the Empress of the late Emperor Long An, but he was not the eldest. There was an ambitious elder brother above him. According to common sense, when he grew up, he would probably take the road of competing with his elder brother for his mother's favor and fight to the death for the title of Crown Prince.
The Crown Prince's nature was gentle and quiet - the gentleness was from his grandfather, and the tranquility was from his mother. Neither of these qualities were anything good, judging from a ruler's standpoint.
His mother was sentimental and sickly. Her family had no influence, could not be considered ambitious, and had no backbone, very suitable to Long An Emperor Li Feng's temper. She once relied on favors to achieve the title of Empress.
However, after sitting in this position, mud still couldn’t hold up to the wall; compared with the First Prince and Consort Lu's influence, she would most likely be used as cannon fodder in the future.
However, fate was always changeable. When the young Crown Prince Li Zheng was only six or seven years old, peace was broken, and the nation was in disorder.
Li Zheng, who lived in the Deep Palace during those difficult years of war, did not have a direct impression. He only remembered that there were very few cases in that year. In the early summer, the capital was as hot as a boiler, the western sky overflowed with purple gas, and people inside and outside the palace walls were in a panic. There was no smile on the faces of the maids and servants coming in and out.
The little crown prince was stuck by his mother's side, who was bedridden, and he had not seen his father for a few days. Whenever he awoke in the middle of the night, he could always hear the servants reporting the situations outside in a hushed tone.
The crown prince was too young to understand what the adults were saying. However, he remembered that the topic was always accompanied by the sound of his mother’s low sobbing.
Later, as the young crown prince grew up, he began to understand the world around him, and the situation of Great Liang became clearer and clearer.
Then the situation in the Imperial Court changed. Concubine Lu's party fell down overnight, the Lu's were punished for rebellion. Consort Lu lost her position and was transferred to the Cold Palace, and the First Prince fell down from then on.
At that time, the Eastern Palace suddenly became the most favored. For the first time, the Crown Prince felt the ups and downs of power. But he did not have any interest in it. The books of the wise men still had not mentioned these ugly details. Yet he had already felt uneasy beyond his age with his innate sensitivity. He always felt that ups and downs meant turbulence, when there were times when people were bustling about happily, there would be a time when it was quiet enough to catch a bird in the front yard.
Emperor Long An had few children, his eldest son was weakened, and the Third Prince was too young, his mother's status was low. Everyone thought that Prince Li Zheng was the noblest heir in Great Liang. But before he could share this same illusion with everyone else, he witnessed his father die in the chaos.
That day, the little crown prince held on his Fourth Uncle's hand tightly amid chaos. He was still a child at heart, witnessing the truth of power with a child's eyes, without any concealment.
For Great Liang, it was the starting point of the new emperor's accession to the throne, a new era, and new politics.
For the little crown prince in the Deep Palace, the whole world seemed to have changed.
The empress was born weak, always telling him over and over to try and please his Fourth Uncle, for the fate of the two of them widowed mother and orphan child now hung on his imperial uncle's goodwill. No one in the court could say for certain that he could remain a crown prince until he grew up.
Li Zheng used to like to be close to Imperial Uncle Li Min, but at that time, there was a period when he would feel enormous pressure in the face of his Fourth Uncle. The kind and knowledgeable young imperial uncle suddenly turned into the Emperor. For a time, even the way of addressing him had to be changed. Every day, the little Crown Prince braced himself to listen to the government affairs he only half-understood, bore all kinds of calculating or meaningful gazes around him, braced himself to pay respect to his imperial uncle, then went back to the Eastern Palace to listen to his mother's endless worries.
His mother could not be compared to Consort Lu. She did not have her own trusted confidant and no definite plans. She would only transfer the pressure to her son and tell him an empty sentence of "strive for success" every day.
But she did not have an idea of what he was going to fight for, or what kind of person he was expected to grow into in the future.
Everyone had their own confusions and dilemmas when they were a teenager. For example, Gu Yun's predicament was the scattered Black Iron Camp, and the plight of Emperor Tai Shi Li Min was the terrifying Bone of Impurity. The plight of the little Crown Prince Li Zheng was his uncertain future.
But behind Gu Yun, there were tens of thousands of Wind Slashers of the ancestors hanging in the hall of Gu Residence. Beside Chang Geng was a little yifu who carefully watched over him, leading him.
Li Zheng's surroundings were full of unbearable dread, and there was no one to show him a clear path.
In the autumn of the fourth year of Tai Shi, after the First Frost, Li Zheng's mother passed away in endless fear and worry. The Emperor ordered for her funeral to go according to the system of rites properly.
The fifteen-year-old crown prince had grown into a teenager, becoming quieter and quieter day after day.
After the funeral, Chang Geng dismissed all the people around, walked in slowly, and gently pressed Li Zheng's shoulder, who was ready to pay courtesy to him. Li Zheng did not insist. Under the supervision of his mother, every day, he tried to guess the likes and dislikes of his Fourth Uncle, and knew that he did not like others to be overly courteous in private.
Li Zheng: "Your Majesty."
Chang Geng took a look at him, and the young man immediately changed his words and said, "Imperial Uncle."
"Please restrain your grief." Chang Geng said, then paid homage to his imperial sister-in-law, whom he had only seen a handful of times.
As soon as he straightened up, he heard the young crown prince say in a teenage's changing voice with some difficulty: "I have no talent, no virtue, and cannot bear to be in a position of power. Imperial Uncle, please abolish my title as Crown Prince."
Chang Geng frowned and raised his head.
The appearance of his nephew was not as dignified as his father's, but rather too delicate. The young man was pale and thin, with a melancholy that had not changed for years on his features. He did not look like a valuable bloodline of dragon and phoenix.
After Li Zheng said that sentence, as if he had frightened himself, his expression became nervous; coincidentally, a gust of wind outside rushed through the hall's half-closed door, the small decoration under the steam lamp clinked a few times, hitting one side of the memorial plaque, causing it to fall, making the young Crown Prince shudder.
Chang Geng stood up quietly and respectfully picked up the plaque. He waved off the servants who rushed in with fear. He turned to his nephew and asked, "I heard that you read very well and are smart. Why do you suddenly think so?"
Li Zheng lowered his head and did not dare to speak.
Chang Geng stopped and said, "When you were a child, you often ran to me to ask questions. I would weave grass insects for you to play with. How come you're so distant with your Fourth Uncle now that you've grown up?"
Li Zheng was speechless and murmured: "There is a difference between the ruler and the subject, I... "
Thinking about it, when he was young, Li Zheng did not need his young imperial uncle to give him anything, Li Zheng simply liked him; therefore, he did not show restraint. Although he still lived in the palace these recent years, he always felt that he was living in someone else's place and was dependent on others. When facing his imperial uncle, he would involuntarily mix in a lot of flattery and caution. On the contrary, it caused things to be different.
When Li Zheng looked into Chang Geng's eyes, he knew that his Fourth Uncle 's heart who could shoulder a tilting building was as clear as a mirror, understanding every matter, causing him to feel even more ashamed of himself.
"It's a big thing to abolish and establish the crown prince," Chang Geng replied quietly. "It's not up to you and me to decide the law of state at will."
Li Zheng's face turned red, as if he was someone whose affection got reciprocated.
Chang Geng: "If there are things you find inconvenient to tell me, you can go talk to the Marquis of Order. He will leave the capital next month to inspect the military affairs of the four frontiers. If you want to, you can ask him to take you along."
Li Zheng was stunned.
He heard Chang Geng smilingly say, "When I was your age, your Fourth Uncle was also full of confusion. That year, my yifu and I, the one who was ordered to take care of me, the Marquis of Order, had a big quarrel, I insisted on running away from home. With Master Liao Ran and General Zhong, I traveled all over Great Liang, went to many places. I have seen countless families making a living, and have also seen the unruly bandits running rampant. In the world of separation and death, you can see more joys and sorrows, the things you put in your heart would also become smaller."
Even the young crown prince understood the importance of the Marquis of Order who held the Black Tiger emblem both in court and in the military. He was very curious about this legendary hero when he was young, clung to him and begged him to write a calligraphy note. Later, he no longer dared to. When his mother was alive, she tightly locked him in the palace and did not let him go out to interact with the court officials, afraid that her son would overstep the line in front of the new emperor’s eyes. She did not let him set foot in the Marquis's Manor either.
"Don't be afraid of him. When you were a child, he loved you very much, remember?" When Chang Geng mentioned Gu Yun, his eyes changed involuntarily, and he naturally showed a gentle smile.
The crown prince didn't know how to respond for a moment: "Marshal...Marshal Gu?"
Chang Geng walked out of the hall. The Prince was stunned for a moment then quickly followed after him. The internal servants on both sides seemed to know that both uncle and nephew wanted to have a talk, they automatically retreated. The young new Emperor walked ahead with his hands behind his back and said to Li Zheng, "I don't have any other successors for the time being. After a few years, the throne will be handed over to you, but the country will be a different place then. When you sit in this position, you may find that even a ruler's words are not absolute. The whole court and even the whole world has its own rules of operation. There are rules on the top of the head of the court. The monarch and his ministers, the ministers and the people, all restrict each other. You may even feel like a noble puppet. "
Li Zheng was stunned listening to this remark that the world had never heard of before.
Chang Geng turned his head and looked at him: "I don't know if you can accept it."
Li Zheng: "I..."
"You don't have to reply to me right now," Chang Geng said with a smile. He put his hand on the boy's head and patted it. "You can go and see the outside world first, think clearly, then come back. If it doesn't work, I can find a way to adopt other offspring from the family, there's no need for you to think too much about it."
After saying this, Chang Geng left on his own. He came to visit the grave in a hurry and went back to live outside the palace.
"Your Majes—Imperial Uncle," Li Zheng suddenly stopped him, "Why don't you want your own children? "
"I've found my final destination. I don't have any regrets before or after my death, I do not need to leave behind my bloodline either." Chang Geng stopped and looked at Li Zheng's innocent face. He shook his head and said with a smile, "You don't understand it now, but you will when you grow up."
Li Zheng: "..."
Half a month later, Emperor Tai Shi, with his superb skill and ability, silenced countless objections, and approved the Crown Prince's request to patrol the four frontiers with the Marquis of Order.
Li Zheng and Gu Yun spent three months travelling through three mountains and six rivers from the air, from the water, and from the train tracks. Afterwards, as if addicted, he often found an excuse to leave the capital. Within a year, there would always be six months where he was not in the palace.
Three years later, when Li Zheng was eighteen years old, he went to the place that was once Yan Wang Manor - currently a private quarters of the Emperor, and chatted with Chang Geng for a whole night. After that, Chang Geng agreed for him to bring along bodyguards and board the sea caravan ships led by Master Du to travel to the broader areas overseas.
They said it was a caravan, but in fact, it was accompanied by dozens of large and small Jiaos. In addition to the young masters of the Du family leading the ship, there were also elite soldiers of the Great Liang Navy and experts of the Lin Yuan Pavilion headed by Cao Chun Hua and Master Liao Ran protecting him.
In addition to trading goods, they also brought along national documents and negotiation treaties to travel around the east and west, wandering around the world for five years.
After Li Zheng came back, he mocked himself: with his dull and mediocre talent, he could not be ranked among the generations of the Li family. However, if discussing who had travelled the farthest, he had to be the first.
In the 18th year of Tai Shi, Gu Yun handed back the Black Tiger emblem and retired. A few months later, the Crown Prince Li Zheng took over the throne from his imperial uncle, abolished the title of the Emperor's reign, and established a new calendar that was universally applicable. He carried on the peaceful new era that the previous generation had struggled to build throughout eighteen years.
At this time, the mountains and rivers remained as they were before, and the whole country was at peace.