I’m a prince consort — that is to say, a professional toyboy.[1]

Of course, I wasn’t the one who came up with that shameless job description.
It’s actually something that the Yan Empire’s other prince consorts have tried hard to drum into my head.

The day I received my title was a fine one, with a light breeze and just a few wisps of cloud in the sky.
The faint scent of osmanthus blossoms hung in the air.
I knelt in the middle of the throne room, with rank upon rank of court officials assembled to my left and right.
The fluttering of their colourful robes gave me a slight headache.

I heard the Emperor of Yan proclaim, with a note of joy brightening his stately tones, that the imperial scholar Wei Zisong — having been found unimpeachable in both character and appearance, and having displayed great skill in both the scholarly and martial arts — had won the favour of the emperor.
Accordingly, that same Wei Zisong was granted the title of Prince Consort, and the hand of the emperor’s eldest daughter, the Yongyan Princess.[2]

Of course, I had been expecting this.
Yet amidst all the commotion of my fellow officials joining me on their knees and ceremonially chanting ‘Your Majesty is wise’ three times in unison, I couldn’t help turning pale.

It was probably because my ashen face looked frightful that after court had adjourned for the day, the other prince consorts insisted on steadying my nerves with a drink (or several).
The gathering was to take place at the Second Prince Consort’s manor.
Before heading over, I put some effort into working out what I should wear.
There was of course no need for full court dress, but it was still a royal residence after all.
If I dressed too casually, I risked polluting the Second Princess’ blue-blooded eyes.

As it turned out, I needn’t have worried.[3] The Second Princess was absent; she clearly had no intention of giving a personal audience to someone who had only been granted the title of Prince Consort, but was not yet formally married to her sister.
I was still on my trial period, as it were.

I heaved a huge sigh of relief.

The pains I had taken over my appearance did not go wholly unnoticed, however.
Ji Ruosong, the Fourth Prince Consort, clasped my hand warmly and said, ‘No wonder the Eldest Princess has taken such a fancy to you, Zisong.
I’m so used to seeing you in court robes.
In these informal clothes you look so elegant, yet not pretentious.
It makes me realise how extraordinarily handsome you are!’

The over-familiarity of his calling me ‘Zisong’ made me break out in goosebumps.
I was still gawking at him when I heard a new voice say, ‘Ruosong, when you see a handsome man, you forget all your manners.
Wei xiong isn’t some male courtesan from Chunyi House; you shouldn’t be teasing him in that way.’

Embarrassed, Ji Ruosong let go of my hand.
A little awkwardly, I picked up my wine cup and turned towards the owner of the voice.
He was a stranger, and looked as handsome as if he had stepped out of a painting.[4]

The host of our little gathering, Wei Zhuoyang — the Second Prince Consort — broke in hurriedly.
‘We’re all brothers-in-law here, so we don’t really stand on ceremony when speaking to each other.
Yishu, you’ve been absent from court since you were injured, so you two haven’t met yet.
This is Wei xiong, Wei Zisong, who received the title of Eldest Prince Consort from our imperial father today.’

I raised my cup to the stranger in greeting.
Still smiling enigmatically, he drained his own.

‘Yishu’. Zhao Yishu.

Although this was the first time I had met the man, the name was very familiar.
Everyone in the capital had heard of the heroic exploits of Zhao Yishu, Vice-Minister Zhao Tingxuan’s eldest son.
At sixteen, he had won first place in the imperial military examinations.
He had later married the Third Princess, the most beautiful woman in the Yan Empire.
Most recently he had been given his own military command and had personally led three hundred mounted soldiers in a raid on the Xiongnu camp, beheading their general in his own tent and forcing them into a retreat.
He had returned to the capital in triumph, and the Emperor had positively smiled upon him.
Not only ha

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