Bei Dou paced back and forth in front of Fu Qing’s three entrances.
Bei Dou didn’t know if he should walk through the left or right entrance. He took a deep breath and walked through the right entrance.
Bei Dou thought men wouldn’t want to serve someone like him. The moment he was inside he realised his thoughts were too naive.
Someone named Man Feng served Bei Dou. Bei Dou thought he was in the wrong place because Man Feng looked and walked in a feminine way.
‘Are you a man?’ Bei Dou asked.
‘You’re hateful,’ Man Feng said flirtatiously. ‘If I’m not a man, do you think I’m a woman?’
Man Feng knelt in front of Bei Dou who sat on a bed.
Man Feng usually served regular customers but he made an exception for Bei Dou. He loved serving men like Bei Dou who looked cold on the outside but was naive on the inside.
‘Master, I’ll pour wine for you,’ Man Feng said.
Bei Dou was repulsed by the strong fragrance on Man Feng’s body, he moved back on the bed.
Man Feng raised the cup of wine to Bei Dou’s mouth. ‘Master, I’ll feed you.’
Goose bumps rose on Bei Dou’s skin and he grabbed the cup of wine from Man Feng.
‘I have hands,’ Bei Dou said.
Bei Dou drank the wine and frowned. After he walked into the room he could smell the pouch fragrance but it wasn’t harmful. But combined with the wine it was a strong aphrodisiac. Also, the fragrance and wine brewer needed to be highly skilled to make such a strong aphrodisiac.
Bei Dou thought the brewer’s skills were impressive. He wondered if the purpose was to stimulate their guests or to extract secrets from their vulnerable guests.
Since the brewer wasted a lot of energy to make a strong aphrodisiac then Bei Dou wasn’t going to disappoint the brewer. But he wasn’t affected by the strong aphrodisiac and thought for a while how to act drunk.
‘Ah… my head hurts,’ Bei Dou said and slowly swayed his head side to side.
Man Feng laughed softly. ‘Master, of course your head hurts. You drank too fast. Don’t you know how to drink slowly? Or is it master has many grievances? You can tell me your grievances, it’ll improve your mood.’
Bei Dou felt repulsed being touched by another person. But he needed to act drunk so his body didn’t recoil from Man Feng’s hand on his chest. He decided he was going to wash his body thoroughly after he returned to the manor.
‘Master, what’s upsetting you?’ Man Feng asked.
‘My master forced me to do something I didn’t want to do,’ Bei Dou said.
‘Who is your hateful master?’ Man Feng asked.
Bei Dou continued to sway his head.
‘Master, who is your hateful master that forced you to do something you don’t want to?’ Man Feng asked.
Bei Dou thought Man Feng was a beautiful man and had a persuasive voice. If it was someone else, Man Feng would have extracted all their secrets from birth. But he wasn’t someone else. The strong aphrodisiac and Man Feng’s beauty didn’t affect him. He knew if he wanted to find out why Fu Qing wanted to extract secrets from their guests, he needed to use a little honesty to fool Man Feng.
‘My master is gentle ninth prince,’ Bei Dou said. ‘He forced me to… to…’
Man Feng’s eyes brightened after he heard gentle ninth prince. ‘What did gentle ninth prince force you to do?’
‘He forced me to… too… I can’t say…’ Bei Dou said.
Ma Feng heard ‘I can’t say’ and wanted to vomit blood.
Bei Dou slowly stood and swayed his body. ‘It’s late. I need to return to the manor otherwise gentle ninth prince will be suspicious.’
Man Feng watched Bei Dou staggered outside. He regretted he couldn’t extract secrets from a golden duck like Bei Dou.
After Bei Dou left Fu Qing, Man Feng searched for Gentleman Chen.
Ma Feng found Gentleman Chen outside a guest and a woman server’s room.
‘Gentle ninth prince sent one of his servants here?’ Gentleman Chen asked.
‘Yes,’ Ma Feng said.
‘Gentle ninth prince protects his manor like a steel cage,’ Gentleman Chen said. ‘He doesn’t easily give secrets away. I didn’t expect him to send someone through our door. It’s our good fortune. Did you send someone to follow his servant?’
‘Yes,’ Ma Feng said.
‘Good,’ Gentleman Chen praised. ‘Take good care of this fish for me. I want to see what he plans to do.’
After Bei Dou lost the man Fu Qing sent to follow him, he rushed to his chamber, took three warm baths to rid of the strong fragrance on his body and slept on his bed.
Early the following morning Bei Dou was woken up by loud knocks on the door.
Bei Dou got out of bed, opened the door and saw Pei Jin’s spring smile then he wanted to close the door.
‘Wait,’ Pei Jin said. He entered Bei Dou’s chamber, closed the door and teased Bei Dou with two cooked eggs. ‘This is for you to nourish your body.’
Bei Dou heard ‘nourish your body’ and understood Pei Jin was mocking him.
‘I heard last night you came home in the middle of night,’ Pei Jin said and winked at Bei Dou. ‘Where else did you go?’
Bei Dou refused to answer. He knew Pei Jin knew he was followed.
‘You don’t need to hide where you went,’ Pei Jin said. ‘You don’t need to look at me in that way. We’re both men, I understand. In the future if you want to go there then go. You don’t need to hide it from me. Even if you come back in the middle of the night, you don’t need to climb over the wall. You can walk through the front door and no one will dare to tease you.’
Bei Dou broke the bowl of cooked eggs.
‘Pei Jin, do you want to know what I discovered at Fu Qing?’ Bei Dou asked.
Pei Jin nodded his head. ‘But first tell me where you went. Which of Fu Qing’s entrances did you walk through? The right or left entrance? I made a bet with little lion. She said you’re a gentleman and would walk through the left entrance. I said that because you’re a gentleman you would walk through the right entrance. Were you a gentleman or not?’
Bei Dou broke the table. He didn’t expect a married pair like Pei Jin and Yan Shi Ning were compatible to that extend and enjoyed mocking him.
‘Bei Dou, I was jesting,’ Pei Jin said. ‘You don’t need to be too serious.’
Bei Dou calmed himself then he recounted what happened at Fu Qing, but he didn’t expect Pei Jin would be surprised.
‘Does that mean you didn’t do anything last night?’ Pei Jin asked. ‘You’re still a pure man?’
Bei Dou heard ‘pure man’ and decided he would find a way to make Pei Jin suffer a little.
Pei Jin rubbed his chin. ‘It appears the brothels in Fu Qing aren’t simply brothels. I need to investigate who are involved in this scheme.’ He sighed. ‘Recently there’s been many situations I need to investigate.’
Pei Jin returned to his chamber. Before any investigations were resolved, a messenger delivered an invitation. On the sixth day of the tenth month was the crown prince and Yan Shi Ting’s wedding banquet.
Pei Jin and Yan Shi Ning looked at each other in surprise. The empress had intentions for the crown prince to marry Yan Shi Ting early the following year. They didn’t know what happened for the sudden change in the wedding day… unless Yan Shi Ting’s body suddenly changed.
In the palace the maids and eunuchs quickly left the emperor’s chamber.
The emperor’s veins were visible on his face and neck while the empress and the crown prince knelt on the floor.
‘Good!’ the emperor praised. ‘You dare to do this! I underestimated you! Do you want me to lose all my dignity? You’re not married but you dare to get a lady pregnant!’
‘Emperor don’t be angry,’ the empress said. ‘It’s not unusual for a young man struggling to control their desires.’
‘Are all his maids dead?’ the emperor asked. ‘Why didn’t I see him losing his control with them? Hong Thi, don’t think I don’t know your motives. You don’t suit being the kingdom’s empress. What kind of mother would encourage this to happen?’
The empress’ face paled. ‘Emperor, I-’
‘Close your mouth!’ the emperor ordered and glared at the crown prince. ‘Why did I give birth to such a despicable son like you?’
‘Imperial father, I deserve to die,’ Pei Lam said.
The emperor knocked over a vase but it wasn’t enough to vent his anger.
‘While the stomach’s not showing,’ the emperor said. ‘Hurry and deal with the situation!’
The empress sighed in relief. She knew the emperor was angry but he would eventually relent.
In contrast Pei Lam smiled coldly. He knew there would be some things he couldn’t escape from.
The emperor didn’t want to see the empress and the crown prince any longer and dismissed them from his chamber.
After the emperor was alone in his chamber, he sighed and felt like some things were outside the control of his hand.
At the Yan Manor, Yan Shi Ting was rubbing her stomach anxiously.
‘Mother, this is too risky,’ Yan Shi Ting said. ‘Deceiving the emperor like this is a death penalty crime!’
Princess Kang Hua drank tea and spoke calmly. ‘You only need to know you don’t have one now but in the future you can have one.’
‘What if I’m not pregnant after I marry big brother crown prince?’ Yan Shi Ting asked.
Yan Shi Ting was intimate with the crown prince many times. But each time he asked her to drink the herbal remedy to prevent pregnancy.
Princess Kang Hua put the cup of tea down. ‘Your aunt said that if you can’t get pregnant then you can use another infant as a temporary substitute.’
‘What?’ Yan Shi Ting asked. ‘You want me to raise someone else’s child?’
Princess Kang Hua laughed coldly. ‘Of course not. No one else’s child would have a chance to become emperor. The infant is only a pawn. After you give birth to your own child, the pawn will disappear.’
Yan Shi Ting was frightened to hear her mother’s heartless tone. She felt uneasy about killing an innocent child.
‘Don’t ever forget,’ Princess Kang Hua said. ‘If you want to be empress, you need to be willing to do anything and sacrifice anything.’
Yan Shi Ting hesitated for a while but nodded her head to appease her mother.
End of Chapter Thirty
Chapter Three (Part 2 of 2)
That afternoon Pei Jin discussed his intentions to marry Yan Shi Ning with the emperor.
The emperor was always indifferent toward his ninth son. He thought Pei Jin’s request wasn’t unreasonable and gave his consent.
Early the next morning Pei Jin visited the Yan Manor to ask for Yan Jing’s blessing for him to marry Yan Shi Ning.
Only a day ago Yan Jing returned to Yan Manor shaking his head in a worrisome way, his oldest daughter’s plan to find a husband at the banquet failed.
Yan Jing was happily surprised to have ninth gentle prince visit the Yan Manor and ask to marry his oldest daughter. Yan Jing knew his oldest daughter must be married off, but he never expected she would have a husband from high in the sky.
Yan Jing’s ears were sweetened by ninth gentle prince’s praises and admiration confession toward his oldest daughter.
Princess Kang Hua thought ninth gentle prince had mistaken Yan Shi Ning for Yan Shi Ting.
In contrast after Yan Shi Ning heard mouthy boy’s proposal, she spat out tea from her mouth.
Yan Shi Ning widened her eyes and looked in disbelief at her father who sat opposite her in the courtyard.
‘Shi Ning, ninth gentle prince has a weak status in the imperial court but he is still a prince,’ Yan Jing said. ‘I’ve assessed him for many years, he is a good man. Unlike his brothers, he doesn’t want the throne. If you marry him then you’ll live a peaceful life.’
Yan Jing sighed. He didn’t want to be involved in the princes’ battle for the throne. But his association with Princess Kang Hua forced him to be involved. He knew there were two consequences for supporting a prince for a throne, either staying alive if the prince he supported became emperor or killed if lost the throne. Although the crown prince was powerful, he couldn’t underestimate seventh prince’s power in the imperial court either.
Yan Jing was overjoyed to let his oldest daughter marry ninth gentle prince. Whether the crown prince or seventh prince became emperor, his oldest daughter would be alive and safe.
Yan Shi Ning supressed her fear and composed herself. She heard her father’s words and understood his intention. But she didn’t say anything. She lowered her head and assessed the situation in her heart. She heard rumors of seventh prince and the crown prince battling for the throne. The emperor had fifteen sons and three daughters. But only four of his sons and one of his daughters were alive, the others were dead.
The four princes included seventh prince, Pei Zhang. Pei Zhang’s birth mother was Consort Mu. Ninth prince, Pei Jin and his birth mother was a palace maid. Tenth prince, Pei Lam was the crown prince. Pei Lam’s birth mother was the empress. Thirteenth prince, Pei Khan was three years old and his mother was an unfavored consort.
It was known that Pei Jin had no intention to become emperor and he wanted to be a carefree prince. While Pei Zhang had a black heart. Pei Zhang’s relatives on his mother’s side were as powerful as the empress’ family and his desire to be emperor was infamous.
In the last few years, Pei Zhang and Pei Lam’s support from court officials were split.
Of course Princess Kang Hua supported the empress’ son and wanted Yan Shi Ting to marry Pei Lam.
‘Six years ago, ninth gentle prince had a betrothal with a court official’s daughter,’ Yan Jing said. ‘But the court official’s daughter died before the wedding. He was heartbroken and he remained loyal to her even after her death.’
Yan Jing’s regret of betraying Dung Thi was reflected on his face.
Yan Shi Ning’s mouth tightened. What heartbroken? What loyalty? Six years ago mouthy boy visited her in Xuan Qing. In front of everyone else, mouthy boy acted heartbroken. Behind their backs, he loved to bully and threaten her! Thoughts about the past pained her heart.
‘Ninth gentle prince is handsome too,’ Yan Jing said. ‘I’m certain you will not suffer if you marry him… Shi Ning, what do you think?’
Yan Shi Ning’s heart protested. What no suffering? Mouthy boy would bully her until death. She raised her head and glanced at her father. Her heart laughed coldly. Her father talked for half a day yet he pointlessly asked for her opinion when his decision was made immediately after mouthy boy’s proposal.
Yan Shi Ning nodded and spoke in the gentlest tone. ‘Father, you can make the arrangements.’
Even though she disliked mouthy boy, she understood his higher status didn’t allow her to refuse his proposal.
Yan Shi Ning didn’t want to admit that she couldn’t find a more carefree life than marrying Pei Jin. She would have status, didn’t have to worry about him fighting to be emperor and most importantly she would fulfil her mother’s final request, ‘I want you to be fed, clothed and live a peaceful life.’
Yan Shi Ning accepting Pei Jin’s proposal was her best choice. She predicted that in the future she would be married to the most cunning, thick face and expert liar. It was a prediction scarier than death.
Yan Jing gave his blessing for Pei Jin to marry Yan Shi Ning.
In the palace the emperor presented to Pei Jin two auspicious days for Pei Jin’s wedding. The first day was at the start of the eighth month and the second day was in three months.
‘The start of the eighth month is a good day,’ Pei Jin said. ‘If the wedding is in three months it’ll be too close to the New Year and will detract from little brother’s wedding. Also, the rebels in the south are unpredictable. It’s better for imperial father to prepare a simple wedding for me.’
The emperor was pleased to hear Pei Jin understood the situation well and immediately consented to prepare Pei Jin’s wedding for the start of the eighth month. The emperor didn’t have a deep bond with Pei Jin, but he thought Pei Jin was a reasonable person.
The moment Pei Jin was not within sight of his father, he smiled sadistically. Pei Jin chose the earliest auspicious wedding day, because he couldn’t wait to tease and torment the little lion.
After the wedding gifts were prepared, wedding garments were sewed and invitations were delivered, it was the fifth day of the eighth month which was the day before Pei Jin and Yan Shi Ning’s wedding day.
That hot night Yan Shi Ning couldn’t cope with the humidity. She laid on her bed wearing a loose inner robe. She thought it was surreal that she was marrying mouthy boy the following day. But she didn’t doubt mouthy boy was anticipating their wedding day.
Mouthy boy’s scoundrel face appeared in her head. She didn’t know why there were many women mouthy boy could marry, but he purposely wanted to provoke her. Since their first meeting when she was six years old, each time they met was never a good experience.
Yan Shi Ning felt within the last twelve years that she was a pitiful mouse caught by the cunning cat Pei Jin. Pei Jin didn’t swallow her whole. He preferred to claw her slowly, tease her and frustrate her to death.
Luckily she wasn’t her naive self from twelve years ago.
Suddenly she felt there was something suspicious. She knew Pei Jin’s real personality too well. It was unlike him to let her live peacefully. Their wedding day was set but it was suspicious he didn’t come to see her privately to cause her grief within the last month. Apart from the day he made an appearance at the Yan Manor to give wedding gifts, he didn’t even deliver one message to provoke her.
She didn’t know what mouthy boy was scheming. Suddenly she heard a faint noise from the window. She turned her head toward the window and saw someone climbed through the window.
End of Chapter Three (Part 2 of 2)