Pei Jin read a letter from Elder Ma in the calligraphy room.
Elder Ma’s messenger also sent Pei Jin dried fishes. In the letter Elder Ma wrote the dried fishs were raised by Pei Jin in Southern Jiang and they tasted delicious.
Pei Jin hid the letter. He knew it was Elder Ma’s code that Elder Ma received his letter about what happened in the palace.
Pei Jin thought whether it was a blessing or a curse to born into an imperial family where the father was suspicious of sons and the sons fought each other. Was he supposed to be defensive and protect his own family or did he need to take revenge to survive?
Later that morning Pei Jin and Yan Shi Ning visited the palace for a family gathering.
Yan Shi Ning’s body wasn’t as sore as last night and she wore a light dress and it helped her walk easier.
Consort Mu was taking care of the injured seventh prince. So apart from Pei Jin and Yan Shi Ning, only the emperor, the empress, the crown prince, Consort La and Pei Khan were at the family gathering.
Pei Khan wanted to run to Pei Jin but he was scared the emperor would scold him and stood next to Consort La.
‘If you want to go there then go,’ the emperor said to Pei Khan. ‘You don’t need to stand there and wrinkle a small face.’
Pei Khan didn’t understand what the emperor meant until Consort La explained to him then he ran to Pei Jin.
The empress watched Pei Jin carry Pei Khan in his arms and she smiled politely. ‘Indeed ninth prince and thirteenth prince are loving brothers.’
‘Are they not allowed to be?’ the emperor asked.
The empress closed her mouth and didn’t dare to criticize Pei Jin and Pei Khan anymore.
Consort La saw the tension between the emperor and empress and she wanted to ease their tension.
‘Yesterday I received the crown prince and Yan Shi Ting’s wedding invitation,’ Consort La said. ‘It’ll be a happy occasion.’
Pei Lam’s heart sank. He stared longingly at Yan Shi Ning but she was focused on playing with Pei Khan.
Pei Jin noticed the way the crown prince was staring at Yan Shi Ning and it confirmed his suspicions about the crown prince’s feelings toward Yan Shi Ning.
‘Consort La is right,’ Pei Jin said. ‘It’ll be a happy occasion. Congratulations tenth brother.’
Pei Lam knew the warning look in Pei Jin’s eyes didn’t match Pei Jin’s happy tone. He nodded his head and politely thanked Pei Jin.
The empress only regretted the crown prince didn’t marry Yan Shi Ting earlier. After seventh prince saved the emperor, some of the crown prince’s supporters became restless. The sooner the crown prince married Prime Minister Yan’s youngest daughter the sooner she would be at ease that the emperor wouldn’t give the crown prince’s position to seventh prince.
The emperor drank tea slowly. In the past he didn’t care the empress wanted the crown prince to marry Prime Minister Yan’s youngest daughter who had a status that matched the crown prince. But after the assassination attempt, he didn’t approve of Yan Shi Ting marrying the crown prince. That day Yan Shi Ting’s first reaction was to hide behind the crown prince then Yan Shi Ting pulled her older sister in front of her to save herself. A woman who was scared of death wasn’t suited to be the crown prince’s wife.
The tension between the emperor and empress increased and it made everyone else around them uneasy too.
Pei Jin and Yan Shi Ning exchanged a look, understood what each other’s thoughts and they continued to play with Pei Khan.
Consort La broke the tensed silence. ‘Their wedding day is an auspicious day.’
The emperor hid his frown behind the cup of tea. In the past he only thought Consort La was naive and kind but recently he thought her intelligence lessened by the day. He glanced at Pei Khan who only knew how to eat and play, sighed and put the cup down.
The empress’ back stiffened. She lived with the emperor for many year and knew when he was in a bad mood. Regardless of the emperor’s disapproval, she would ensure the crown prince married Yan Shi Ting on the sixth day of the ninth month.
Pei Lam drank tea and thought the tea tasted more bitter than usual.
After the family gathering ended the emperor, the crown prince and Pei Jin discussed imperial court matters while Consort La invited Yan Shi Ning to her chamber.
Yan Shi Ning did hesitate to accept Consort La’s invitation because she knew Pei Jin didn’t want her to be close to anyone else in the imperial family. But Pei Jin nodded his head to signal she could spend time with Pei Khan and Consort La.
The flowers were in full bloom along the garden path toward Consort La’s chamber.
Pei Khan’s feet were tired from walking too long. The nurse maid was about the pick him up but he pulled the sleeve of Yan Shi Ning’s dress.
‘Carry, carry,’ Pei Khan said.
‘Xiao Khan, don’t trouble your ninth sister,’ Consort La said.
‘Mother, it’s alright,’ Yan Shi Ning said and carried Pei Khan in her arms.
Pei Khan wrapped an arm around Yan Shi Ning’s neck and held a sweet bun with his free hand. He happily ate and wiped the crumbs stuck on his fingers onto Yan Shi Ning’s neck.
Yan Shi Ning felt something sticky on her neck and realised it was Pei Khan’s saliva and sweet bun crumbs. She glanced at Consort La who wasn’t looking at them so she lightly hit Pei Khan’s bottom.
Inside Consort La’s chamber, Pei Khan sat on Yan Shi Ning’s lap opposite Consort La.
‘Shi Ning, thank you for saving Pei Khan’s life,’ Consort La said sincerely.
‘Mother, you don’t need to be courteous,’ Yan Shi Ning said. ‘Thirteenth prince is a good child.’
‘Xiao Ning, you’re a good person,’ Consort La praised.
A maid entered the chamber and passed a small chest to Consort La.
Consort La opened the chest, picked up the butterfly hairpin decorated with gems and gave it to Yan Shi Ning.
‘This hairpin is for you,’ Consort La said.
‘Mother, this is too valuable for me to accept,’ Yan Shi Ning said.
‘Take it,’ Consort La said. ‘This is only a hairpin. Xiao Khan’s safety means more to me.’
Yan Shi Ning heard the sadness in Consort La’s tone.
‘I’m only six years older than you but my body can’t cope much longer,’ Consort La said.
‘What?’ Yan Shi Ning asked.
‘The makeup hides my body condition,’ Consort La said. ‘I was born with a weak body and after giving birth to Xiao Khan, my body became weaker. My family has no status and I have no friends in the palace. I’m worried about what’s going to happen to Xiao Khan after I…’
Yan Shi Ning didn’t know Consort La well. But she thought Consort La was a sincere person. Unlike other people, Consort La never arranged coincidental meetings with her or Pei Jin. Consort La only cared about Pei Khan’s safety and didn’t desire power.
‘Shi Ning, forgive me for being bold,’ Consort La said. ‘I’m asking you as a mother… if something happens to me, I hope that you and ninth prince will protect Xiao Khan.’
Yan Shi Ning saw the desperation in Consort La’s eyes. Consort La’s sudden request shocked her and she didn’t know how to react.
A while later Yan Shi Ning opened her mouth. ‘Mother, don’t talk about something bad. You need to take good care of yours and Pei Khan’s health. No one can predict the future.’
Consort La was a little disappointed. She understood Yan Shi Ning didn’t want to accept her request.
‘You’re right,’ Consort La said. ‘No one can predict the future. Forgive my boldness earlier.’
‘Mother, it’s nothing,’ Yan Shi Ning said.
Afterward Consort La and Yan Shi Ning talked about less heavy matters and they played with Pei Khan until Pei Jin escorted Yan Shi Ning to the horse carriage.
Consort La watched Yan Shi Ning leave then she looked sadly at the butterfly hairpin Yan Shi Ning left on the table.
In the evening Yan Shi Ning laid next to Pei Jin on their bed and recounted her conversation with Consort La.
‘You did well,’ Pei Jin praised.
‘In the future if something happens to Consort La, should we take care of Pei Khan or not?’ Yan Shi Ning asked.
‘Wife, do you want to take care of Pei Khan or not?’ Pei Jin asked.
‘Pei Khan is pitiful,’ Yan Shi Ning said.
‘Then we’ll take care of Pei Khan,’ Pei Jin said and took off Yan Shi Ning’s clothes.
‘Pei Khan has a loveable face,’ Yan Shi Ning said. ‘If I was younger I would tease him… ah… that hurts… don’t need to!’
Pei Jin bit Yan Shi Ning’s breast. ‘Of course we need to conceive a child together soon. How else can you have a child you can tease comfortably?’
End of Chapter Thirty-One
Yan Shi Ning couldn’t see the intruder clearly in the dark chamber.
She panicked. A thief? A bandit? Too many scary thoughts appeared in her head. She quickly grabbed the pillow and threw it at the intruder.
The pillow hit the intruder’s head, followed by a thud. The intruder fell on the ground.
When Yan Shi Ning arrived at the Yan Manor, she knew she couldn’t live harmoniously with Princess Kang Hua and Yan Shi Ting. She purposely chose the chamber furthest from the mother and daughter pair. But the chamber was upstairs. She rushed to the window to see if the intruder died.
Outside below the chamber the intruder stood but didn’t leave. The intruder whispered something incoherent.
‘Mistress, are you alright?’ a maid asked from outside the chamber door.
Yan Shi Ning finally heard what the intruder whispered, ‘little lion, it’s me.’
Yan Shi Ning didn’t know what do. Heavens! Mouthy boy indeed couldn’t let her live peacefully.
Her first thought was to scream ‘thief.’ Afterward the guards in the Yan Manor would capture mouthy boy and see his true mask. What gentleness? What kindness? Mouthy boy was actually a bandit that climbed through a maiden’s window in the middle of the night.
‘I’m alright,’ Yan Shi Ning said reluctantly to the maid. ‘I was getting a cup of water, you can go back to sleep.’
Her second thought was that it would be pointless for mouthy boy to be caught. He would explain the situation to appear like the perfect gentleman, ‘tomorrow is my wedding day, my heart was restless and I wanted to see my betrothed. I know sneaking into her chamber is wrong, but I couldn’t control how much I missed her. Prime Minister Yan, please forgive me this one time.’
If her prediction became true then mouthy boy’s mask wouldn’t be taken off, but help enhance his reputation and make him appear like a man deeply in love with his betrothed. The more she thought about his cunningness the more she wanted to attack him.
She peered outside the window and saw Pei Jin began to climb the wall into her chamber again. His movements were too swift like he often climbed into a maiden’s chamber.
Half of Pei Jin’s body entered through the window. She quickly closed half the window to stop him from entering the chamber.
‘Big brother, you’re here?’ Yan Shi Ning asked softly.
Pei Jin used one hand to keep the window open and his other hand passed Yan Shi Ning the pillow.
‘Tomorrow is our wedding day,’ Pei Jin said in a tone too sweet. ‘My heart missed you. I rolled on my bed many times and couldn’t sleep. I wanted to see you.’
Yan Shi Ning glared at Pei Jin.
‘But you shouldn’t reward me with a pillow,’ Pei Jin protested. ‘Look at my forehead, it’s swollen. What am I going to do tomorrow?’
‘You deserve it,’ Yan Shi Ning said. ‘Big brother, you should be happy it’s a wooden pillow. If it’s a jade pillow then you wouldn’t have a small lump on your forehead.’
Pei Jin frowned, Yan Shi Ning continued to hold the window to stop him from entering the chamber.
‘If you don’t let me in I’ll fall again,’ Pei Jin said. ‘Then the lower half of my body will be crippled and your future happiness will disappear.’
‘Go ahead and fall,’ Yan Shi Ning said and she wanted to close the other half of the window.
Pei Jin’s grip on the window was slipping. He quickly used both hands to hold onto the window and purposely glanced at Yan Shi Ning’s chest.
‘You’re not wearing undergarments?’ Pei Jin teased.
Yan Shi Ning looked down at her chest. Her loose inner robe was opened and half of her chest was visible. It was the humidity’s fault that she wasn’t wearing undergarments beneath her inner robe.
She quickly pulled the collar of her inner robe together with both hands.
Pei Jin took advantage of her flustered state to enter the chamber and lay on the bed.
‘Big brother, get off the bed!’ Yan Shi Ning said.
She stepped to the bed and wanted to pull him off the bed. But he laughed and rolled away from her reach on the bed.
‘Mistress, are you alright?’ the same maid asked again from outside the chamber.
Yan Shi Ning closed her mouth but Pei Jin sat on the bed and pulled her onto the bed.
He hugged her and he smiled lecherously.
‘I dare you to scream,’ Pei Jin whispered and blew on her ear.
Yan Shi Ning’s face turned bright red. Luckily it was a dark night. He would mock her if he could see her blushing.
Unexpectedly Pei Jin’s wide hand stroked her cheek.
‘Your cheek is hot,’ Pei Jin whispered. ‘Are you embarrass?’
Yan Shi Ning gripped his arm and bit his hand.
‘Ah!’ Pei Jin cried out.
Yan Shi Ning’s mouth wouldn’t let go of his hand so his free hand squeezed her bottom, but he accidently pressed one of the acupuncture points on her waist. His intention was to squeeze her bottom to cause her to use both her hands to remove his hand on her bottom, and her mouth would let go of his hand. He didn’t expect she gained meat on her bottom since the last time he saw her.
The maid didn’t hear her mistress’ response and feared something bad had happened to her mistress. The maid quickly pushed the chamber door open.
Pei Jin reacted faster and pulled the beaded curtains down.
The maid entered the dark chamber and she couldn’t see clearly behind the beaded curtains.
‘Mistress are you alright?’ the maid asked. ‘Why were there strange noises coming from your chamber?’
Yan Shi Ning recovered from her shock and she glanced at Pei Jin hidden on the bed next to her.
‘It’s nothing,’ Yan Shi Ning said. ‘I was hitting a mosquito.’
Yan Shi Ning hit Pei Jin’s arm to demonstrate hitting a mosquito.
The maid was relieved her mistress was alright, left the chamber and closed the door.
‘That was close,’ Pei Jin said. ‘She almost discovered me on your bed.’
Yan Shi Ning laughed. ‘Big brother, do you know how to be scared?’
‘Of course I’m scared,’ Pei Jin teased. ‘If she discovered me on your bed then tomorrow she would spread a rumor that each time the older Lady Yan felt lonely, Lady Yan would sneak a man into Lady Yan’s chamber in the middle of the night.’
‘Big brother, why aren’t you leaving?’ Yan Shi Ning asked resentfully.
‘Leave?’ Pei Jin asked. ‘Of course I need to leave.’ He left the bed to take off his shoes and laid back on the bed. ‘I’ll be leaving in the morning.’
Yan Shi Ning sat abruptly on the bed. She saw his eyes were closed and he was sleeping comfortably.
She knew it was pointless to kick him out of the chamber and she was forced to oblige to let him sleep. She laid back on the bed as far away from him as possible.
After a while Pei Jin opened his mouth. ‘Why didn’t you run away? I came here this late to see if you had ran away.’
Yan Shi Ning looked at him suspiciously. She didn’t know if he was being honest. For every ten sentences he spoke, nine of them were lies.
‘Thank you ninth prince for reminding me,’ Yan Shi Ning said.
‘It appears I can’t leave anymore,’ Pei Jin said and took off his outer robe. ‘Besides, starting tomorrow night we’ll be sleeping together. Tonight is a good experience for us to get used to sleeping together.’
Yan Shi Ning felt choked with suspicions. She pulled the blanket over her body out of fear his arms and legs would wander.
Pei Jin saw her clearly protecting her body. He smiled, the little lion was nervous. It was amusing to tease the little lion.
‘Little lion, are you willingly marrying me?’ Pei Jin asked.
Yan Shi Ning opened her eyes. Although his tone sounded like he was jesting, but his eyes looked serious and it was hard for her to see through him.
‘How can I refuse you?’ Yan Shi Ning asked. She didn’t want fight with him for his amusement. Instead she smiled and spoke in the gentlest tone. ‘Marrying ninth prince is a blessing that will last for three lifetimes.’
Pei Jin frowned. ‘Is that how you feel?’
‘Of course,’ Yan Shi Ning said. ‘Ninth prince is an intelligent and handsome man. There are too many young ladies who wish to marry you. I’m petty and I have no talents. Of course I’m grateful, it’s a miracle that I’m marrying you.’
Yan Shi Ning spoke smoothly enough for her words to sound convincing to other people, but he knew she was mocking him.
Pei Jin laughed. ‘You’re an expert liar.’
‘It’s because you taught me well,’ Yan Shi Ning said and laughed.
‘You actually want to marry me,’ Pei Jin said. ‘It’s a pity that I was forced to marry you.’
‘What do you mean?’ Yan Shi Ning asked.
Yan Shi Ning didn’t expect he was forced to marry her.
Pei Jin stared at Yan Shi Ning and he stopped himself from smiling. He sighed and spoke in a pitiful tone. ‘The crown prince wants to marry your little sister and you’re their obstacle. I was forced to be the sacrifice. I thought you marrying someone had no relation to me. But I returned to the imperial city from Southern Jiang at the wrong time. In the palace I looked in all four directions and feared that I would be the sacrifice. Indeed my fear was real and I became the sacrifice.’
Pei Jin looked seriously at Yan Shi Ning for a while. ‘Think about it. You’re the prime minister’s daughter and in the future your little sister will be married to the crown prince. You need to be married to someone from high in the sky. Before I returned to the imperial city, there wasn’t anyone suitable for you and you could only choose from someone below you. But I’m back in the imperial city and it’s not the same as before. Didn’t you see everyone’s eyes looking at me? I’m a prince with a weak status in imperial court and you’re the prime minister’s daughter with a weak status in the Yan household. We’re a fated pair matched by the heavens.’
Pei Jin paused and sighed. ‘I was forced to marry you.’
Yan Shi Ning looked carefully at Pei Jin. Each of his words clearly entered her ears but when it entered her heart, it made her heart ache. She didn’t care who she would marry and thought perhaps her marriage candidate wouldn’t willingly marry her. But she didn’t expect her thoughts would be voiced by the trouble maker in front of her.
‘Then it must be hard for ninth prince,’ Yan Shi Ning said.
Yan Shi Ning rolled over and her back faced Pei Jing. She closed her eyes and ignored him.
Pei Jin felt frustrated. He expected the little lion would only be angry like earlier and hit him. He thought of those reasonable words to tease her. The heavens knew that seeing her act docile made his heart ache. He didn’t expect she would be angry to that extent. He knew he had to quickly console her and hoped she would be easily consoled like in the past.
‘I was teasing you,’ Pei Jin confessed. ‘Don’t think it’s the truth. The moment I heard about the crown prince and your little sister’s situation, I knew you would need to be married soon and I rushed from Southern Jiang to return to the imperial city. You don’t know how hard it was for me to leave Southern Jiang, the citizens there rather die than let me go. I had to climb the wall in the middle of the night. I resorted to whipping a horse and rode all the way here. How can my little lion marry another man? The heavens know many years I waited for you to become an adult.’
Yan Shi Ning turned her head around and spoke through gritted teeth. ‘Big brother, will you die if you don’t lie?’
Yan Shi Ning heard those familiar lies too many times. In the past each time they met, he would say those sweet words to tease her. If he thought she would easily believe him like the first time he told those familiar lies to her then he was a foolish rabbit prince.
Pei Jin rubbed his chin. ‘It appears I’ve spoken these words before. Next time I need to think of something new to say to you.’
‘Go into your grave!’ Yan Shi Ning said.
Yan Shi Ning couldn’t suppress her anger anymore and kicked in the direction of Pei Jin’s leg.
Pei Jin avoided Yan Shi Ning’s kick and pulled her into his chest. ‘This is more like the real you. Will you believe me if I say I’ll be honest with you in the future?’
Yan Shi Ning looked at Pei Jin suspiciously.
Pei Jin’s eyes swept over Yan Shi Ning’s chest. ‘Like… how I touched your chest before. It feels like compared to when you were a little girl, it hasn’t grown that much.’
Yan Shi Ning mentally cursed mouthy boy. She regretted no one came to kill him.
End of Chapter Four