Chapter 1 – Buried Alive with the Dead 
Quality Check: Noa
First Published on Ainushi.
In the winter of Jing Yuan’s seventh year, on the third day of October, the snow was falling heavily.
“What are you people so frightened for? If he’s not cured, each and every one of you will be buried alive with him!” The voice of a man that still sounded a little young and childish echoed within the emperor’s chamber. He turned back and sobbed in grief, “Elder brother…”
A man lay on the imperial bed with both eyes closed tight. His face that was of matchless handsomeness was now shaded pale with sickness.
Even so, his whole body still emitted an unconcealable imperial dignity that demanded respect. This person was the emperor of this dynasty, His Majesty Yu Jin Tang, the emperor of the era of Jing Yuan.
The emperor of Jing Yuan ascended the throne at 25, and even though he had only been emperor for 7 years, His Majesty had done all he could to make his country prosperous.
When the Huns attacked last May, the emperor personally led the army to fight against the attackers and was able to drive them back over 300 li. The whole nation jubilantly celebrated his feat. And so, when the news of the emperor’s severe injury reached them, the army couldn’t help but rush back to the capital.
Within the emperor’s chambers, outside the hall for state ceremonies, the long jade staircase glowed greyish white under the cloudy skies. The slowly falling snow carpeted the surface of the stairs, and yet no one took the initiative to clean it up.
Armored imperial guards stonily stood along the sides of the staircase, giving the already heavy atmosphere an even grimmer feeling.
The dynasty of Great Yu was at its prime, and for it to suffer such a sudden catastrophe… Not only was the younger brother of the emperor sobbing painfully on his knees, outside the hall, even the general that brought the emperor back couldn’t stop the tears from pooling within his fierce eyes.
The emperor had no sons, but he had appointed his younger brother as his heir and successor early on. However, the emperor’s younger brother was still young in age and if His Majesty were to be unable to make it through, everyone was afraid that the Great Yu dynasty could fall into a precarious state.
Because of this reason, the general couldn’t refrain from spitting on the man that was tied against the dragon-wreathed column just outside the hall. Even after that, he still felt that his wrath hadn’t subsided, and the general raised his fist to punch him.
“A scholar would rather die than be humiliated. I, Zhang Xiao Ren, wholeheartedly only have the best interest of our country in my mind. Despite that, why do you raise your fist against me?”
The man tied against the dragon-wreathed column wore the court dress of a civil official, and just by looking at the intricate design of the dress, one could tell that it was of high quality. He seemed to be around 40 years old, and he held his chin up, firm and unyielding.
“For the good of the country? You’re the one who plotted with the Huns and tried to assassinate the emperor!” With bloodshot red eyes, the general punched Zhang Xiao Ren in his face, wiping that serious and proud expression off his face.
“Pah,” Zhang Xiao Ren spat out a mouthful of blood, “The emperor was too obstinate in his own arbitrary path. He had to make some male his empress, going against the heavenly principles! I did this for our nation, our…” Before he could finish his words, the general punched him again on his solar plexus.
“Clang!” The sound of clashing armor resonated within the area, startling the soldiers that were lost in their sadness and wrath. Everyone in the vicinity raised their heads dazedly to look at the origin of the sound.
The armed imperial soldiers that were standing on both sides of the staircase knelt down one after another. At the end of the jade staircase, stood a man in a yellow, phoenix-patterned, wide-sleeved robe. The man climbed the steps one at a time, slowly going up.
The man was young and elegant, possessing clear and bright features as well as a body like tall bamboo. Even as the greyish light from the cloudy skies shone upon his slightly pale, handsome face, it couldn’t conceal his beauty.
“Paying respect to His Highness the Empress!” The general immediately knelt down in greeting, but Zhang Xiao Ren beside him closed his mouth and sniffed disdainfully instead.
The person who had arrived was the very first male empress since the founding of the Great Yu empire—Song Xiao.
He had passed the provincial civil service examination at the young age of 14, and participated in the metropolitan examination at the age of 17. Because of his overwhelming talent at such a young age, he became a Zhuang Yuan that was noticed by the previous emperor and rose to become the vice minister of the ministry of revenue in his early twenties.
He had a limitless future, and even the always frigid Zhang Xiao Ren acknowledged his talent. But two years ago, because of an imperial edict, the vice minister became an empress…
His Highness the Empress didn’t pay any mind to Zhang Xiao Ren’s disrespect, and unlike the usual, didn’t return the greetings of the general. Instead, he maintained his even and unhurried steps, walking into the imperial chamber.
The room was filled with medicinal fragrance, and 13 imperial physicians were kneeling with their foreheads on the ground, not uttering a single word. Wearing the apricot yellow uniform of the crown prince, the imperial brother knelt before the dragon bed with his head buried in the blanket, his expression could not be ascertained.
A bony hand slowly reached out from under the bright yellow cover and moved to pat the emperor’s younger brother’s head. “You’ve memorized it?” A low, deep and pleasant voice spoke up, not sounding feeble in the least.
“Uuu….” The younger brother raised his head and nodded at his elder brother. When he felt the presence of someone behind him, he slowly turned his head back to see the empress standing next to some imperial physicians, face devoid of any feelings. He stood there, silently, not speaking or moving forward.
Song Xiao, who was talking to an imperial physician in a low voice, felt the gaze of the two brothers on him, so he too turned his head to look at them.
Although the emperor’s face was still ashen, it was better than how it had been. The paleness had now receded, even having some semblance of color on it. At the very least, the emperor looked more spirited than the pale-faced Song Xiao.
“… His Majesty’s old disease isn’t cured yet, and the weather of the northern wall is severely cold. Not to mention, the arrow managed to damage his heart. We are powerless to help him….” The head of the imperial physicians shakily said, knees to the ground.
Song Xiao raised his hand slightly, stopping the imperial physician from speaking any further.
“Leave us alone, I… cough cough… have something to say to the empress.” The emperor started to cough before he even finished his sentence, the vibration of his cough affecting the injury on his chest, and a thin line of cold sweat appeared above his brows.
“Elder brother!” The younger brother of the emperor wanted to rush over to support him, but he was waved away, so he could only walk out with the rest while turning his head back worriedly with each step he took.
The emperor leaned back against a thick pillow and watched as Song Xiao came closer step by step. The scene in front of him started to blur, and for a moment he saw Song Xiao wearing the uniform of a Zhuang Yuan, smiling proudly. Another blink and he saw him wearing a bright red phoenix robe, both eyes full of trepidation but still trying to act calm…
After blinking his eyes rapidly, the days of spring at Lu Ming feast, the red candles of the bridal chamber all faded away, and the only thing that remained was his ever delicate and pretty face, gazing silently at him.
“Does it hurt?” Song Xiao slowly raised his hands and touched the part of the bandage that has been dyed in blood, fingers quivering slightly.
A warm and strong hand reached forward to tightly grip onto Song Xiao’s. After a moment of silence, he suddenly said, “I have written my imperial edict, you have to give me a burial with the living!”
Song Xiao raised his head and silently stared at him. There is an almost scarlet glint within the emperor’s deep dark eyes, stubbornness obvious within those frenzied eyes.
On the year that he turned 22, ever since the Lu Ming banquet where Yu Jin Tang saw that Zhuang Yuan with his face full of smiles, he had decided to make him his empress.
Since it was impossible without the throne, he went ahead and snatched the throne for himself. Even as his relatives opposed him and his courtiers threatened him with death, saying that the emperor is capricious, causing internal disturbance during times of foreign aggression, he went ahead and quelled the country, driving away the Huns.
Now, with him on his deathbed, how could he be willing to let go of the love that he exhausted everything in order to obtain.
“Since Your Majesty wishes for my death, if I were to not die, it would be disloyal.” Song Xiao lowered his eyes, not feeling the slightest surprise at the fact that the emperor wished for him to follow even in death. The emperor had always been this kind of person, no matter what he did, he never asked for Song Xiao’s opinion, but made the decision for him instead.
The emperor frowned slightly, tightly gripping onto Song Xiao’s hand. A sharp pain spread from his chest, his face starting to pale, losing the color that was there before. As his strength slowly faded together with the pain, he stubbornly stared at Song Xiao and replied hoarsely, “You are mine, and can only be mine alone!”
Because of the tight grip, those slender fingers began to turn white, and a ring of purple appeared on Song Xiao’s wrist. And then, it started to loosen slowly, before falling lifelessly onto the yellow sheets with a thud.
Song Xiao absent-mindedly grasped onto that unmoving hand, feeling a suffocating numbness starting to spread through his whole body. He wheezed three times before slowly getting his breath back.
Slowly, he removed the pillow behind the emperor for him to be more comfortable, and carefully smoothed out the emperor’s messy hair.
“Yu Jin Tang, did you die just like that?” Song Xiao raised a finger and softly caressed the face that was now very pale. “I have just become the empress, and you haven’t even given me this year’s salary…” It was you who told me the salary of an empress is higher than that of a vice minister, that was the reason why I agreed to marry you.
He spoke silently, again and again by the bedside. After the realization that that person would never be able to answer him ever again dawned upon him, Song Xiao stood up, and took the double-edged sword that was hanging on the wall.
Mo Ye is the name of this sword, something the emperor found accidentally beyond the great wall. According to the legends, it is a sword of the gods, and if placed within the imperial chamber, it could repel evil spirits and misfortune.
“Shiiiing–” The removal of the blade from its sheath made a sound like a dragon’s cry, and the light reflected on its sharp blade blinded Song Xiao for a moment. He wielded the sword and positioned it by his neck.
“Brother-in-law, you can’t!” The imperial brother pushed the door open with a loud bang, and rushed over as fast as an arrow to remove the blade from Song Xiao’s hands.
“Oh, Your Majesty!” The general who rushed in together immediately threw himself by the imperial bed, kneeling down with a loud thud, and started to cry loudly.
The supervisor-in-chief eunuch Cao presented them a box, and the imperial brother held the sword in one hand while giving the box to Song Xiao with his other hand. With his eyes still red, he said, “Brother-in-law, this is the imperial edict. You should be the one who read it out.”
Song Xiao wanted to take back the sword, but the younger brother was skilled, definitely not someone a frail scholar like him could take on. He spared a glance to the soldiers standing guard outside before looking back into the imperial brother’s pair of determined eyes. This person is now the new emperor, and he couldn’t disobey, so he could only extend his hands to take the imperial edict within the box.
“I ascended the throne at 25, and have worked day and night for the good of my country, not one thing left incomplete. In my seven years of ruling, there has been no strife within the country, no trouble with our relationship with countries other than mine, and I was able to drive away the enemies from the north, bringing peace to the land. And yet I feel that I have let down the heavens and earth, let down my forefathers…” Song Xiao stood at the front of the chamber, reading the words on the imperial edict one by one, word by word. These were the words of Yu Jin Tang from the bottom of his heart.
Hundreds of officials kneeled by the stairs, listening to the clear and strong voice of the empress, and started to cry.
“…. Unfortunately, I have no sons, and the one to succeed me is my younger brother Jin Lin. My brother is 15, still young and inexperienced, so I appoint empress Song Xiao as Prince of Duan Hui to act as the regent to assist the new emperor…” That person had already planned everything out for him. As for the emperor telling him to bury himself along with him, perhaps it was a last minute regret the moment when the emperor saw him.
Song Xiao slowly closed the imperial edict, raised both hands above his head, kneeled down and submitted to the new emperor.
“Brother-in-law, look, elder brother didn’t say anything about you being buried alive along with him!” After reading through the imperial edict, the new emperor went to help Song Xiao up, looking at him with eyes full of hope, his baby face still tear-stained.
Song Xiao slowly nodded, “I know.” He turned his eyes to look at Zhang Xiao Ren who was tied against the dragon-wreathed column.
“Hmph, he went against the will of the heavens, deviating from the yin and yang relationship, yet still talks about not living up to his forefathers!” Zhang Xiao Ren knew that he won’t be able to die a natural death, and so he let out his true self openly.
“Zhang Xiao Ren, I ask you, what is loyalty? What is righteousness?” Song Xiao asked softly, snatching the sword back.
“You did not care for the safety of this country, plotted together with our enemy, and assassinated our emperor. Is this your so-called loyalty? You caused the death of a wise ruler, not considering the well-being of the citizens, this is your so-called righteousness?”
Zhang Xiao Ren’s pupils dilated, but he still left his neck bare.
“The current peace and prosperity of our country are all because of his hard work. The only thing that Yu Jin Tang ever wished for was to spend the rest of his life together with a vice minister of the ministry of revenue. He has done so much for the world, and yet why won’t the world allow him to be happy!”
Song Xiao became increasingly agitated as he spoke, and pierced the heart of Zhang Xiao Ren. Yu Jin Tang was a great emperor, always decisive in making his decisions, expanding the country’s territory. To say that he was Great Yu’s best emperor wouldn’t be strange at all. He was worthy of this honour!
With fresh blood splattering everywhere, the new emperor couldn’t stop himself from closing his eyes. When he opened them, he saw that Song Xiao had already pulled out the double-edged sword and sliced his own neck with a swing of his sword.
“Brother-in-law!” The new emperor was too slow to stop him, and fresh blood had already dyed the yellow phoenix robe red.
Song Xiao stared at the cloudy skies above him, eyes blinking slowly. The first emperor of Great Yu should have him, this first empress, to be buried along with him. Otherwise, when he crossed to the netherworld and met the previous emperor, Yu Jin Tang who had always been poor at speaking would be punched by his father again.
On the seventh year of Jing Yuan, October the third, His Highness the emperor passed away, and not long afterward, His Majesty empress Song Xiao, was buried along with him.
 殉葬 : Otherwise known as 陪葬. A tradition in ancient China where you buried the emperor along with things that he loved, be it his wife, subordinates (in which they are buried alive) or prized possession, for them to follow the emperor even in death.
 狀元 : A title bestowed on the one who placed first in the imperial examination (科舉)
 鹿鳴宴 : A celebration that is held for those who passed the imperial examination.
Thank you for reading! I hope you enjoy this story as much as I did ^^