The following morning Yan Shi Ning woke up refreshed.
In contrast Pei Jin woke up frustrated. Yan Shi Ning was smiling mockingly at him and his frustrations calmed.
‘Wife, you can hide at the start of a month but you’ll be caught before the middle of a month,’ Pei Jin said.
Yan Shi Ning didn’t refute Pei Jin’s words. Instead she glanced in all four directions. She was satisfied they were alone and spoke softly. ‘Big brother, who do you think sent the assassins?’
‘Wife, you’re home,’ Pei Jin said. ‘You don’t need to be weary at home.’
Yan Shi Ning remembered everyone inside Pei Jin’s manor were within control of his palm, she realised she worried pointlessly. ‘Big brother, what do you think?’
‘Wife, what do you think?’ Pei Jin asked.
‘Anyone is possible,’ Yan Shi Ning said.
‘Why?’ Pei Jin asked.
‘The assassins attacked the emperor and the princes,’ Yan Shi Ning said. ‘It looks like they wanted to kill the Dian Kingdom’s emperor and heirs and cause chaos throughout the Dian Kingdom. If that’s true then who are the Dian Kingdom’s strongest enemies?’
Pei Jin nodded in agreement. ‘That’s a possibility.’
‘But there’s a flaw in that logic,’ Yan Shi Ning said. ‘Diplomats from Dian Kingdom’s strongest enemy kingdoms attended the banquet. If they sent the assassins then there’s no reason for them to risk sending their most talented ministers and warriors.’
‘Um, you’re right,’ Pei Jin said. ‘Besides imperial father wouldn’t allow diplomats from enemy kingdoms to enter the palace without having them followed to find out if they were planning an ambush.’
Yan Shi Ning glanced in all directions and she smiled. ‘You and your father share that same trait.’
‘Of course, we’re father and son after all,’ Pei Jin said. ‘If they won’t sent by an enemy kingdom then who do you think is the culprit?’
Yan Shi Ning shook her head. ‘I’m not certain. But I think that anyone else is a possibility.’
‘Who else?’ Pei Jin said.
Yan Shi Ning thought Pei Jin looked like he was in deep thought. ‘Big brother, I think you know who the suspects are.’
Pei Jin nodded his head. ‘But I want to hear your thoughts since my little lion loves to solve mysteries the most.’
‘I think the first suspect is seventh prince,’ Yan Shi Ning said. ‘Even if he saved the emperor, who can be certain it’s not a ruse to escape suspicion? He and the crown prince are the strongest candidate to become emperor. If he saves the emperor then his bond with the emperor would be stronger than the emperor’s bond with the crown prince. Also, the assassins attacked the emperor, the crown prince and big brother. But the assassins didn’t attack him. It’s possible he wants to earn the emperor’s gratitude and if the crown prince and big brother died during the attack then he’ll have less threats.’
Pei Jin poured tea into two cups. ‘Indeed seventh brother is a suspect. But if they were sent by seventh brother, he wouldn’t leave a trail to trace back to him.’
‘I thought about that too,’ Yan Shi Ning said. ‘It’s also a possibility someone wants to frame seventh prince.’
‘Alternately, he purposely ordered them not to attack him to make him less suspicious,’ Pei Jin said. ‘Mixing truths and lies together is a tactic seventh brother likes to use to fool others.’
Yan Shi Ning remembered when she attended her first banquet in the palace, she wasn’t familiar with the surroundings and accidently bumped into Pei Zhang. He looked at her condescendingly and his cold arrogance made him hateful.
Pei Jin noticed Yan Shi Ning was frowning while he drank tea. ‘What are you thinking?’
‘I don’t like Pei Zhang,’ Yan Shi Ning said. ‘I think he’s a dangerous person.’
‘More dangerous than me?’ Pei Jin teased.
‘No, big brother is a lot more dangerous than him,’ Yan Shi Ning said.
Yan Shi Ning spoke truthfully. Although Pei Zhang was cold hearted and wasn’t someone a person could easily befriend, Pei Zhang wasn’t as dangerous as Pei Jin. Because Pei Jin’s gentle and kind act allowed other people to dare to come closer to Pei Jin with their guards down.
Pei Jin saw Yan Shi Ning gritted her teeth and he smiled. ‘If you could choose to marry seventh brother or me, who would you choose?’
Heavens! Yan Shi Ning thought Pei Jin was asking her to choose between a dangerous man and a more dangerous man to marry.
Yan Shi Ning picked up a sweet bun and tucked it in Pei Jin’s mouth. ‘Eat!’
Pei Jin happily ate the sweet bun. ‘Who else do you suspect?’
Yan Shi Ning felt like talking to Pei Jin was like walking in different directions, from jests to sincere conversations.
‘The second and third suspects are the empress and the crown prince,’ Yan Shi Ning said. ‘They could have sent assassins to frame seventh prince. Big brother, think about why it’s strange the assassins attacked the crown prince and big brother but didn’t attack seventh prince. It’s a possibility the empress and the crown prince wants other people to suspect seventh prince. It’s a pity if they sent the assassins, they wouldn’t have anticipated seventh prince would risk his life to save the emperor.’
‘But to frame seventh brother by directly attacking imperial father wouldn’t benefit the empress,’ Pei Jin said. ‘If seventh brother didn’t protect imperial father… what would be the consequences? Supporters for seventh brother and the crown prince are strong on both sides. If the empress knows when victory is uncertain, she wouldn’t use that tactic.’
Yan Shi Ning realised Pei Jin understood everyone in the palace as much as he was familiar with his fingers.
‘Who else?’ Pei Jin asked.
‘Someone from Huang Guo’s manor,’ Yan Shi Ning said.
Pei Jin’s forehead creased, he didn’t expect Yan Shi Ning would also think people from Huang Guo’s side were suspects.
‘After the assassins were captured they killed themselves,’ Yan Shi Ning said. ‘To train assassins to be loyal and protect their master’s identity, their master needs to be someone who is powerful enough that the assassins would be scared to betray them. I did think about Consort La being a suspect. But Consort La’s relatives doesn’t have powerful connections.’
Pei Jin shook her head. ‘Wife, that’s a naive notion. Even if Consort La’s relatives doesn’t have powerful connections, thirteenth brother could become emperor and her relatives will gain more power. There are some people who are willing to gamble once for the biggest gain.’
‘Big brother, do you suspect Consort La?’ Yan Shi Ning asked.
Yan Shi Ning felt that Consort La was a gentle and sincere person and the loveable fool Pei Khan would struggle to become emperor.
‘I wanted to say that you shouldn’t dismiss someone if they don’t have powerful connections,’ Pei Jin said. ‘Because sometimes a person purposely make themselves appear like they have no powerful connections to hide their powerful connections.’
Yan Shi Ning thought Pei Jin was alluding to himself and she was curious if he secretly built powerful connections. ‘What about big brother?’
Pei Jin held Yan Shi Ning’s hand and his finger wrote yes on her palm.
Yan Shi Ning raised her head and looked closely at Pei Jin’s expression. In that moment the wind rattled the window.
‘Wife, it appears you’re fooled again,’ Pei Jin said.
Yan Shi Ning heard Pei Jin’s laugh until he was breathless and her heart pounded angrily. She couldn’t believe earlier she was willing to give herself to an expert liar.
Pei Jin felt that Yan Shi Ning was truly angry. He pulled her onto his lap and hastily consoled her. ‘I was teasing you. You were right about Huang Guo. He could have sent the assassins. Think about it, I wasn’t armed but the assassins were armed and they didn’t injure me. But if he sent the assassins, it’s strange why the assassins didn’t attack seventh brother.’
Pei Jin hugged Yan Shi Ning tightly. She ignored his shameless hands on her body and listened to his persuasive reasoning.
‘Big brother, if everyone is capable then who is the culprit?’ Yan Shi Ning asked.
Pei Jin nibbled Yan Shi Ning’s earlobe and blew in her ear. ‘Wife, you forgot someone.’
‘Who?’ Yan Shi Ning asked.
‘Your husband,’ Pei Jin said.
End of Chapter Twenty-One