The Rise of Phoenixes (天盛长歌) - Chapter 11 (Fanfiction)

Chapter 11 - Getting a Father's Love is a Blessing from Heaven

written by kakashi
edited by bunny

When his sixth son was in the room, Ning Shizheng always felt a vague sense of unease, a strange feeling like the throne he sat on suddenly got a fraction harder, the collar of his robe tightened a few inches and started chafing, or his golden headpiece wore him down with a previously unnoticed heaviness.

It wasn't only that this son's looks reminded him painfully of a woman he had lost much too early. It was also that the presence of his son was like that of a tiger - waiting in the shadows to strike the surprised prey so swiftly, the hunted had no chance to see his death approaching.

An Emperor did not want to feel like the hunted. Tigers such as Ning Yi, however magnificent they were, were hunted down and killed in the royal hunt. And it was always the Emperor who had the privilege to deliver the death blow.

After his release from Zongzheng Temple, Ning Yi had shamelessly played the dumb imbecile and Ning Shizheng had humored him even though he was not fooled even once. They might be estranged now, but he actually knew his son well: Of all his children, this one was most vengeful, the least filial, but also the most truthful to the point of being impertinent. But punishment had only ever made him more defiant, sullen and headstrong. The more one put one's foot on this one, the taller he stood.

Today, the Emperor of Tiansheng Kingdom had called his sixth son to find out how deep Ning Yi's hatred ran. The Emperor had unjustly killed the one brother who had meant the world to him and it was not likely he would ever be able to forgive his father. Just how much of a danger he was... it was to be seen. And depending on what he found today, the Emperor would act to protect himself.

"Have you gotten what you wanted? Are you satisfied?" Ning Shizheng asked his silent son who just stood there in front of him looking wary. Tomorrow, he would inform the court of Ning Qiao's unjust death. Tomorrow, the Crown Prince would lose his title, would face lifelong imprisonment. Ning Yi must already know this. He had won, so why did he not look happy?

"Not yet," the reply came abruptly and emotionless.

"Not yet? Why not? You won't rest until the Crown Prince is dead? Or will you only be satisfied after gaining the title of Crown Prince?" he challenged him.

Ning Yi lifted his head a fraction and a small smile appeared on his face, though his eyes never met his father's almost as if he wanted to hide his true thoughts from the Emperor a little longer. "If I follow my heart, I only wish for my eldest brother, Ning Chuan, who was a noble man, to receive the throne. If I follow my desire, I wish none of these things had happened, so Ning Qiao would still be alive. As well as Ning Yan," he added quickly. "We could still be a happy family."

The Emperor snorted. What a brat. "How eloquent," he remarked cynically.

"I mean every word of it," Ning Yi said. "Father, I never wanted any of this."

"What about the title of Crown Prince?" he asked him again.

"I have no interest in that," Ning Yi replied firmly.

But someone as intelligent as Ning Yi would of course know what to say to ease his father's natural distrust. But it was also like Ning Yi to have this conversation standing up, unafraid, not hiding his displeasure. Should he make him kneel? But that would just appear petty.

"You spent eight years planning and preparing," the Emperor continued quizzing him, watching a smug expression spread on his son's face as if he had received praise. "You finally brought the Crown Prince down. Was that all only for Ning Qiao?"

"That's correct," Ning Yi sounded way too satisfied.

"Why are you so obsessed with him?" the Emperor challenged him roughly. The smile was wiped away instantly and there he was, his dangerous opponent, now looking him straight in the eyes: A son, but definitely not a friend.

"What? Why can't you speak?" the Emperor continued poking the tiger.

Ning Yi chose his words carefully when he spoke again. "You are my emperor and my father. Are you talking to me right now as my emperor or my father?"

Without even a moment of hesitation, Ning Shizheng replied: "As your father."

Ah, but did the six prince not know that he was always both things at the same time? There were no different versions of him. He was the Emperor. Always. It was what the throne did to a person, it took away his individuality, his hopes and dreams, and forged him into a heaven-sent being serving his kingdom with every breath he took. A Father? He was a father to all his citizens. His sons had no special right to call him that, no special place at his feet.

Ning Yi walked right up to the Emperor's desk where he lowered himself and sat down on the steps, but only after briefly looking down on his father. "I was merely eight years old when my mother died," he began softly. "Since then, I had no mother and my father began to shun me. During the years after that, only Ning Qiao kept me company. He was all I had."

He smiled a sad smile. "Ah, but I forgot, Father. You may not remember that." Barbed, pointed words, wrapped in softness.

The Emperor exhaled. "Are you blaming me?"

Like a saint, Ning Yi continued to smile gently. "No, I understand. Parental love is a luxury for the imperial family." But already, the saintly smile disappeared, too easily exposed as falsehood by the seething anger that was looking for a way out. "That's why I've tried my utmost to remember the people and things that have brought me warmth. But..."

"What? So you are blaming me?" the Emperor asked again, more forcefully.

"Yes! I'm blaming my father!" Ning Yi pressed out. "I remember clearly that my father used to love my mother deeply. But when she died of illness overnight, my father did nothing and turned a blind eye, believing the rumors about her!"

It wasn't that the Emperor did not know how much all children yearned for their mother's love. Especially the princes had a hard life, having to excel in a lot of things early, always feeling the pressure of having to continue the bloodline, of fulfilling their manifold duties. It had been the same for him. His father had not allowed him to see his mother too often because he thought it made a boy soft to be cuddled. He himself had not treated his sons any different, since that's how things were done. To be grateful to one's birth mother for going through the trouble of bringing you into the world - that was expected of any son, but that was also where it ended. What did this brazen son of his even think he had a right to? A mother to hold him? A mother to wipe away his tears? No prince could think to have such comfort.

"What do you want? Your mother died of an illness, everybody knows about it!" The Emperor said angrily. Ning Yi turned his back on him, but only after pulling a face expressing his displeasure. 
"What? Do you want to investigate me, your own father?"

"You insisted my mother died of illness because you believed the rumors about her were true," Ning Yi accused him with his back to him. "Father, didn't you believe that Ning Qiao was a treacherous son until recently too? What about now? Are you not capable of..."

The Emperor slammed his hand on the table, getting some satisfaction out of seeing Ning Yi flinch and cower instinctively. "Do you want to look into your mother's death?" he bellowed.

"I believe that is a son's duty," Ning Yi said, his voice quivering. "If I don't do that, I don't deserve to be her son!"

"What if I don't allow it?" The Emperor spat out.

Ning Yi got up, walked down the steps and lifted his arms for the first step of a proper bow.

"Who doesn't allow it?" Ning Yi demanded to know, his eyes flashing, his mouth an angry line. "The emperor or the father?"

Ning Shizheng got up swiftly and walked down to face him directly, eye to eye. "The emperor and the father!" Ning Shizheng said dangerously.

Do you think you can manipulate me, just because you have more intelligence than the rest of my children? Do you think I will tolerate a son who puts his dead mother above me, his living father? You will obey me or you will have to disappear.

Ning Yi laughed bitterly. "I fail to understand. Is it because you have too many sons and do not know what to do with them? I know, because you have told me: getting a father's love is a blessing from heaven - you can only get it by working really hard. But Father.. I do not want to work hard. You should just send me to be with my mother."

Tears started filling his son's eyes. So much like his mother's. So much! The emotions so close to the surface, passionate to the very end.

"How about that, Father?" the Prince of Chu whispered, choking on tears. "How about that?"

You, my son, the Emperor thought as he fought down his own emotions of remorse, his guilt, his pity, you will not die young. You will stay a thorn in my side for a very long time. If I pull you out and hold you in my hand carefully, I can use you to prick others.

Prince of Chu had revealed a weakness to his father. The Emperor was glad about it. Because now he was much more confident he would be able to control this wayward child in ways much opportune to his own agenda.

Chapter 12