Pei Jin and Yan Shi Ning stood in front of Fu Qing’s three entrances.
Fu Qing was separated into three terraces and each terrace had three floors.
‘Why does Fu Qing have more than one entrance?’ Yan Shi Ning asked. ‘Which entrance do we walk through?’
‘Wife, which entrance do you want to walk through?’ Pei Jin asked.
Yan Shi Ning heard lively songs and the sounds of instruments from the left terrace. ‘I want to walk through the left entrance.’
‘Wife, it’s not suitable for you to walk through the left entrance,’ Pei Jin said.
‘Why?’ Yan Shi Ning asked.
Pei Jin whispered something in Yan Shi Ning’s ear and she blushed. ‘That kind of place exists?’
Pei Jin nodded his head innocently like he heard that place existed but never been inside.
‘What about the middle entrance?’ Yan Shi Ning asked.
‘It’s where proper food is served,’ Pei Jin said.
Yan Shi Ning looked at the right door and she smiled playfully. ‘Then there must be handsome food behind the right entrance.’
Pei Jin had a strange feeling.
Indeed Pei Jin followed Yan Shi Ning through the right entrance. He silently asked the heavens to not let him meet anyone that knew him. If people found out gentle ninth prince visited those kind of places, he feared everyone would be shocked enough for their chins to fall.
‘I’m here to play with handsome beauties,’ Yan Shi Ning said.
A man dressed in black clothes embroidered with flowers greeted Yan Shi Ning and Pei Jin then the man escorted them to the stairs.
Yan Shi Ning was happy to be surrounded by beauties. The beauties were all young men who had pink lips, white teeth and were friendly.
Pei Jin pinched Yan Shi Ning’s waist. ‘Have you leered enough?’
Yan Shi Ning glared at Pei Jin, pulled out a fan and she waved it in front of her face. ‘Of course I haven’t.’
Yan Shi Ning looked at her surroundings and she noticed most of the guests walked to the second floor. So she walked to the second floor too.
A man who greeted guests on the second floor thought Yan Shi Ning was a regular guest by the way Yan Shi Ning confidently walked to the second floor.
‘Master, are you looking for someone familiar?’ the man asked.
Yan Shi Ning thought the handsome man looked about thirty years old who had a soothing voice.
‘Someone familiar?’ Yan Shi Ning asked.
The man saw Yan Shi Ning looked confusedly at Pei Jin. He realised they were new guests and assumed Pei Jin was the guest who carried a heavy pouch.
Pei Jin draped an arm over Yan Shi Ning’s shoulder.
‘No need, take us to a free room,’ Pei Jin said.
A guest interrupted them and passed the man a paper note worth fifty silver taels. ‘Gentleman Chen, tonight I want Yue Feng to serve me.’
Gentleman Chen accepted the paper note and gave the guest Yue Feng’s plaque.
Yan Shi Ning saw the guest and Gentleman Chen’s exchange and she understood what someone familiar meant.
Yan Shi Ning took out one of the ten paper notes worth one hundred silver taels that she exchanged earlier at a pawn shop and gave it to Gentleman Chen. ‘I… we… Gentleman Chen make arrangements for us.’
Pei Jin thought Yan Shi Ning learned bad habits fast.
Gentleman Chen accepted Yan Shi Ning’s paper note, gave Feng Su and Yu Lu’s plaques to Yan Shi Ning and escorted Yan Shi Ning and Pei Jin to a room.
Inside the room was two beds, paintings of handsome men and a marble table. On the table was a vase, a small fragrant pouch, a tea pot and cups.
Yan Shi Ning stared at a painting of a handsome man for too long, Pei Jin pulled the painting off the wall and threw it on the ground.
‘What are you doing?’ Yan Shi Ning asked.
‘Wife, can’t you see your husband is more handsome?’ Pei Jin asked.
Yan Shi Ning looked at Pei Jin from the top of his head to his feet. ‘I can’t see.’
Pei Jin regretted taking Yan Shi Ning outside the manor.
Yan Shi Ning was amused to see Pei Jin was frustrated to death.
Yan Shi Ning and Pei Jin were drinking tea on a bed when Feng Su and Yu Lu entered the room.
Yan Shi Ning put her cup of tea on the nearby marble table. She thought the two young men looked sixteen years old. Their long hair were straight and smooth like a thin fabric, a red flower was painted in the middle of their foreheads and their steps were dainty.
Pei Jin noticed Yan Shi Ning’s mouth and eyes widened. He wondered why he didn’t discover she was a pervert long ago. Then he wondered why she didn’t perve at him in the past. He compared himself to the two young men and thought she must love to perve on handsome weaklings.
Feng Su knelt in front of Yan Shi Ning. ‘Master, Feng Su is here to serve you.’
Yu Lu knelt in front of Pei Jin. ‘Master, Yu Lu is here to serve you.’
Yan Shi Ning didn’t have experience in that kind of situation and felt uncomfortable. But she saw Pei Jin gave her a ‘coming here doesn’t suit you’ look so she straightened her back.
Yan Shi Ning used a fan to lift Feng Su’s chin. ‘How do you want to serve me?’
Pei Jin spatted tea out of his mouth.
Yu Lu quickly pulled out a handkerchief and wanted to wipe the tea off Pei Jin’s face. But Yu Lu’s body was too close to Pei Jin’s body and Pei Jin politely declined.
‘I can do it myself,’ Pei Jin said.
Pei Jin glared at Feng Su. If Feng Su dared to touch Yan Shi Ning’s body, he vowed to toss Feng Su out the window.
Luckily Feng Su didn’t touch Yan Shi Ning’s body. ‘Master, however you want me to serve you.’
Goose bumps rose on Yan Shi Ning’s whole body. ‘Alright.’
In that moment a fuwu brought a platter of food and wine jars into the room.
At the sight of food and wine Yan Shi Ning ignored the handsome beauties in the room. She was about to pick up a pair chopsticks but Feng Su was faster.
Feng Su held a prawn between chopsticks in front of Yan Shi Ning’s mouth. ‘Master, l’ll serve you.’
Yan Shi Ning glanced at Pei Jin. Although he was smiling at her, she knew his smile was a threat, ‘Wife, do you dare to eat?’
Yan Shi Ning smiled at Pei Jin and opened her mouth.
Pei Jin angrily picked up the cup of wine Yu Lu poured and drank it.
Yan Shi Ning sniffed the wine fragrance and thought it smelt sweeter than fruits.
‘Beauty, pour wine for your master,’ Yan Shi Ning said and touched Feng Su’s smooth hand.
Pei Jin’s heart wanted to cut off Yan Shi Ning’s hand after they returned to the manor. He drank another cup of wine.
Yu Lu noticed the cold deadly aura around Pei Jin and quickly poured more wine into Pei Jin’s cup.
Feng Su raised a cup of wine to Yan Shi Ning’s lips. ‘Master, this is Tan Hua Tu. It’s Fu Qing’s best wine.’
Yan Shi Ning drank the cup of wine and nodded her head. ‘It’s good wine.’
‘Master, drink slowly,’ Feng Su said.
Pei Jin gritted his teeth after he saw Feng Su’s chest nearly touched Yan Shi Ning’s chest.
Feng Su pulled out a handkerchief and was about to wipe wine off Yan Shi Ning’s lips but Pei Jin stood and pushed Feng Su away from Yan Shi Ning.
Pei Jin hugged Yan Shi Ning and he smiled at the shocked Feng Su and Yu Lu.
‘You’re both not needed here,’ Pei Jin said. ‘You can both leave and remember to close the door.’
Feng Su and Yu Lu immediately left the room.
Outside the room Yu Lu spoke softly with Feng Su. ‘What did we do wrong?’
‘Nothing, we served them well,’ Feng Su said. ‘The master I was serving liked me.’
‘But the master I was serving didn’t like me,’ Yu Lu said. ‘He didn’t even glance at me once. He only looked at the master you were serving.’
‘Perhaps… they are a pair of lovers,’ Feng Su said. ‘Or the master you were serving loves the master I was serving.’
‘I think that’s possible,’ Yu Lu said.
‘Do you think the master I was serving loves the master you were serving?’ Feng Su asked.
‘I’m not certain,’ Yu Lu said. ‘Even if there’s no love, love could grow later. The master I was serving asked us to close the door. I think he can’t control himself anymore.’
Feng Su nodded his head. ‘The Tan Hua Tu fragrance is an aphrodisiac. But if he’s too forceful it’ll hurt.’
‘It has no relation to us,’ Yu Lu said. ‘That’s between the guests. We need to report to Gentleman Chen. I’ve served many guests, but this is the first time I was asked to leave.’
End of Chapter Twenty-Six
Yan Shi Ning’s peach blossom tree in life was pitiful.
She lived past eighteen years and had yet to see her peach blossom tree blossomed even once.
She wasn’t a bad match, she was sane and beautiful. But she didn’t know why she didn’t even have one suitor. It was an insane situation.
Her father was the prime minister, Yan Jing. It was a pity she wasn’t her father’s golden daughter.
Yan Jing was a poor scholar, he struggled to study for ten years. During that trialling period, Yan Shi Ning’s mother Dung Thi supported him. Yan Jing and Dung Thi had a loving relationship. Unexpectedly after he entered the palace to take the imperial examination, he caught Princess Kang Hua’s attention.
Yan Jing faced a difficult dilemma. On one side he loved Dung Thi and on the other side was his high ambition. His final decision was he wanted both and married Princess Kang Hua.
He thought he would live an ideal life. But on his wedding night with Princess Kang Hua, Dung Thi packed her belongings and returned to her family’s country home. Dung Thi never returned to the imperial city even though she gave birth to Yan Shi Ning in the country.
After Yan Shi Ning’s birth, half of Yan Jing’s heart was in the imperial city and the other half was with Dung Thi. Occasionally he visited his parents and Dung Thi in the country. He missed Dung Thi and wanted to visit more often but Princess Kang Hua was a powerful force and didn’t allow him to visit them often.
More than ten years past by quickly. Dung Thi worked hard to earn a living and died of pneumonia. When Yan Jing found out Dung Thi died, he cried continuously. Then he brought Yan Shi Ning to the imperial city. That year Yan Shi Ning was only sixteen years old.
Usually young ladies at the age of sixteen were the target of many matchmakers. But Yan Shi Ning’s family background wasn’t ideal. Even though she was the prime minister’s daughter, she didn’t have high hopes for an ideal husband. Prominent men wanted to marry someone who was most compatible with them to elevate their status. In the prime minister’s manor behind Yan Shi Ning was his golden daughter. The golden daughter’s mother was a princess and the princess was also the empress’ blood sister.
Compared to Princess Kang Hua’s daughter, Yan Shi Ning didn’t have any powerful family connections and Yan Shi Ning was alone in the world. It was the main reason why many court officials didn’t want to marry Yan Shi Ning. Their eyes focused solely on the prime minister’s golden daughter.
For two years Yan Shi Ning stayed in an endless restless state in the imperial city. No suitors wanted to marry her. When she was free she thought about the two consequences of not having suitors. One, soon she would past the desirable marriage age to start a family then it was logical that the ground below was forced to look at what was above. Second, her father stood behind Princess Kang Hua to support the princess, and Yan Shi Ning’s marriage state wasn’t an exception.
Although Yan Shi Nang aged as each day past, she didn’t care if she became an old maid. When other people pitied her, she smiled and silently maintained her gentle and docile image.
She remembered what her mother instructed her before dying, ‘the imperial city isn’t like Xuan Qing. After you leave Xuan Qing, you can’t follow your impulses. Princess Kang Hua isn’t someone you should offend. If you offend her, she’ll take revenge. You need to be careful of your words and actions.’
Since Yan Shi Ning lived in the imperial city, she listened to her mother’s warning and controlled her words and actions. She quickly became well known in the imperial city for being gentle and docile.
At the beginning she wasn’t used to supressing her impulses. The heavens knew she was someone who had a quick temper and restless. It was hard for her to be a well behaved young lady who never showed her teeth while laughing. Luckily the more she acted gentle and docile, it gradually became a habit.
Within two years living in the imperial city when people were free and talked about the prime minister’s oldest daughter they would associate Yan Shi Ning with gentle and docile. Of course afterward they would say that it was a pity someone so gentle and docile couldn’t be married off.
Yan Shi Ning didn’t feel it was a pity. The heavens knew she didn’t care about being unwed and that she had already prepared to live an independent old maid’s life.
But quickly it became clear that as she aged, someone else would see her marriage state as an obstacle in their path. She waved her fan, looked at the sky and inwardly realised it was possible for a person to be an obstacle in relation to marriage.
End of Chapter One