The emperor’s birthday banquet was held at the end of May.
Early that morning Yan Shi Ning felt the day was going to be a dangerous day.
‘Pei Jin, I’m scared something bad will happen,’ Yan Shi Ning said.
‘Don’t worry, we’re prepared,’ Pei Jin said. ‘In the palace I can’t be beside you the whole visit but Xiao Tu will be there. Xiao Tu is Bei Dou’s wife, he taught her well. She’ll be able to detect any poisonous fragrances, food and drinks. He taught her some Kung Fu skills too.’
Pei Jin failed to reassure himself and Yan Shi Ning. He couldn’t get rid of the invisible bad omen.
Recently Pei Jin and his guards protected Yan Shi Ning, their child and Pei Khan well against Pei Zhang’s guards. Pei Jin knew that his father’s birthday banquet was the last opportunity for Pei Zhang to target Pei Jin’s family.
Pei Jin didn’t know what Pei Zhang and Consort Mu’s plan of attack was and it worried Pei Jin.
In Bei Dou’s chamber, he watched Xiao Tu pack medicine and tools. He was also worried about the emperor’s birthday banquet.
‘Be careful in the palace,’ Bei Dou warned.
‘Yes, can I bring a dagger?’ Xiao Tu asked.
Bei Dou silently looked at the dagger Xiao Tu held.
‘I’m teasing you,’ Xiao Tu said. ‘I packed a lot of medicine, nutritious food and herbal drinks for ninth prince’s wife.’
In the courtyard Xiao Zai was coaxing Pei Khan to speak. After Bei Dou examined Pei Khan, Bei Dou reassured everyone Pei Khan was intelligent and capable of speaking. It was Pei Khan’s environment in the past that traumatized Pei Khan.
For several days Xiao Zai failed to trick Pei Khan to speak even though Pei Khan was happy living at the manor.
‘Thirteenth prince, you can say anything good or bad,’ Xiao Zai begged on his knees. ‘What about two words? I made a bet with Xiao Hui. I said you will say two words by this morning.’
Pei Khan pitied Xiao Zai and patted Xiao Zai’s head.
‘Be good,’ Pei Khan said.
Pei Khan saw Pei Jin and Yan Shi Ning come out of their chamber and he ran to them.
Xiao Zai stood and touched his head. ‘Be good? Why does thirteenth prince sound like my grandfather?’
Xiao Hui patted Xiao Zai’s head.
‘Be good,’ Xiao Hui said and ran away.
‘Your grandfather!’ Xiao Zai cursed and chased Xiao Hui.
Pei Jin escorted his family and his guards to the palace.
At the palace Pei Jin’s horse carriage arrived at the same time as Pei Zhang’s horse carriage.
Pei Jin waited for Pei Zhang’s group to enter the palace first.
‘Pei Jin, did you notice there is something strange about Dian Thi?’ Yan Shi Ning asked softly.
Pei Jin looked at Dian Thi in the distance. Although Dian Thi wore makeup and a beautiful dress, it couldn’t hide her withered aura like someone attending a funeral.
Inside Consort Mu’s chamber, she wore a more elaborate dress than usual. She wasn’t pleased to see Chu Thi but she hated seeing Dian Thi.
‘Don’t act like a corpse… if you exposed anything… you know what will happen to you,’ Consort Mu threatened Dian Thi.
‘Yes aunt,’ Dian Thi said.
‘I considered your mother, my cousin who is like a sister to me so I spared your life this time,’ Consort Mu said. ‘But don’t you dare to act shameless and ruin my plan.’
‘But… I’ve carried the child for nine months,’ Dian Thi said.
‘Don’t worry, I’ll spare your life,’ Consort Mu said.
Dian Thi clasped her trembling hands helplessly.
Consort Mu took off her bracelet and gave it Dian Thi to wear. Consort Mu wasn’t pleased to see fresh bruises on Dian Thi’s wrist and she looked disapprovingly at her son.
Pei Zhang resented he couldn’t kill the scum. Each time he saw her, he could only hit her. He was careful not to leave visible bruises on her but he forgot to check her wrists.
‘It’s time to go to the banquet hall,’ Consort Mu said.
Consort Mu’s family left the chamber while Xiao Nu hid behind a window. Xiao Nu found the bracelet a palace maid ordered her to find. Xiao Nu also found out Consort Mu’s secret.
The emperor’s birthday banquet was held in the imperial banquet hall. There were dancers, singers, musicians and actors who performed at the banquet. The guests ate food and drank wine.
Pei Jin was too anxious to appreciate the performers’ skills. At his father’s birthday banquet the men and women sat at different banquet tables. Pei Jin couldn’t sit next to Yan Shi Ning, he could only look at her. He noticed Consort Mu and Pei Zhang were watching Yan Shi Ning too closely.
Yan Shi Ning didn’t dare touch the delicious food and wine in front of her. She was worried Consort Mu would dare to poison the food and wine to kill her and her son.
Yan Shi Ning was also weary of the venomous Chu Thi who sat next to her, Chu Thi was smiling at her but she felt Chu Thi was displaying fangs.
Yan Shi Ning calmly picked up a cup of wine and pretended to sip the wine while spilling it into her sleeve.
‘Seventh sister, forgive me,’ Yan Shi Ning said. ‘I need to go relieve myself.’
Xiao Tu escorted Yan Shi Ning to a chamber the emperor reserved for his daughter-in-laws in the palace.
‘Mistress, calm down,’ Xiao Tu advised.
Yan Shi Ning watched Xiao Tu help her wipe her dress too calmly.
‘Little sister Xiao Tu, wait until you’re pregnant then you’ll understand how I’m feeling,’ Yan Shi Ning said.
Xiao Tu thought Yan Shi Ning’s words were reasonable and nodded her head.
Yan Shi Ning sat on a chair near a window. ‘I want to stay here and rest. I don’t want to go back to the banquet hall.’
Xiao Tu quietly opened a small chest she packed. She used a silver needle to check if the food and drinks were safe. Then she passed the small chest to Yan Shi Ning.
Yan Shi Ning’s eyes brightened to see the familiar nutritious food and drinks.
‘Ninth prince said his wife wouldn’t dare eat the food at the palace so I secretly brought food into the palace,’ Xiao Tu said.
Yan Shi Ning smiled, she thought Pei Jin was more considerate by the day.
Yan Shi Ning and Xiao Tu happily ate and drank together but Dian Thi entered the chamber.
‘What are you two doing?’ Dian Thi asked.
Yan Shi Ning raised her head and saw a maid help Dian Thi walk.
Dian Thi was nine months pregnant and had trouble walking. The maid helped Dian Thi sit next to Yan Shi Ning.
Dian Thi looked at the small chest of food and drinks and smiled. ‘Little sister, does your body ache when you stand or sit still for too long?’
‘Yes,’ Yan Shi Ning said politely. ‘Big sister, your complexion looks pale. Do you want to call an imperial physician?’
‘It’s alright, perhaps it’s because I’ll be giving birth soon,’ Dian Thi said.
Dian Thi turned to face the maid. ‘Go and bring me lavender oil. I feel a little faint.’
Yan Shi Ning was suspicious of the gleam in Dian Thi’s eyes. ‘Big sister, I rested enough. I’ll go back to the banquet hall first.’
‘Wait,’ Dian Thi said. ‘Little sister can you help me pour a cup of tea. I’m thirsty after eating salty food.’
Yan Shi Ning reluctantly asked Xiao Tu to pour a cup of tea.
Dian Thi accepted the cup of tea, lowered her head and blew.
Yan Shi Ning was startled to see Dian Thi swirl the tea with a fingernail. Yan Shi Ning remembered she and Pei Jin used to same tactic to deal with Su Yue.
Dian Thi spatted blood on her dress.
‘Someone! Help!’ Dian Thi screamed. ‘What did you put in the tea?’
The maid rushed into the chamber and the maid screamed too.
Yan Shi Ning’s back turned cold. Consort Mu didn’t want to poison her… Consort Mu wanted to frame her.
End of Chapter Sixty-Eight