The arrival of autumn added to the sombre atmosphere in the palace.
It was a windy morning, Pei Lam stood outside his chamber in thin white clothes.
Outside Pei Lam’s chamber there were fresh blood on a wall. The empress had sent someone to kill one of Pei Lam’s palace maids who was a spy and a secret lover of seventh prince.
Pei Lam could have saved the dead palace maid. He caught her reporting to seventh prince. She begged him to spare her life while she was being dragged to his courtyard. Why should he save her? She was another ant trapped in a cage who wasn’t allowed to see her family and friends outside the palace. The wind blew through his cold body and he smiled, death was an escape for her.
‘Xiao Lam, why are you standing here?’ the empress asked. ‘It’s too windy, you’ll be ill.’
Pei Lam didn’t turn around, he continued to stare at the blood stain on a wall.
‘I received news your imperial father is conscious,’ the empress said. ‘You should go and visit him. Seventh prince had been acting like a filial son by his bedside these past few days.’
‘There’s nothing good to see there,’ Pei Lam said.
‘You… this little boy!’ the empress said.
‘Imperial mother, aren’t you tired?’ Pei Lam asked.
‘He’s your imperial father!’ the empress said.
Pei Lam turned around and looked sadly at his mother. ‘Imperial mother, put your hand over your heart and ask yourself if you love imperial father.’
‘What are you implying?’ the empress asked.
‘How much you love imperial father is how much I love him,’ Pei Lam said. ‘So I don’t need to see if he’s conscious.’
The empress couldn’t refute her son’s words. She and the emperor were married for more than twenty years but there was no love between them.
‘Imperial mother, don’t waste your energy anymore,’ Pei Lam said.
‘What are you saying?’ the empress asked.
‘Imperial mother, I’m tired,’ Pei Lam said. ‘I don’t want to battle anymore.’
‘You’re insane!’ the empress said.
Pei Lam let the wind blow through his tired heart.
‘That day did you truly requested your imperial father to take away your crown prince position?’ the empress asked.
Pei Lam nodded his head.
‘I’ll never let that happen!’ the empress said. ‘I’ve planned this future for you for many years. What do you mean you’re not going to battle anymore? You must keep battling even if you don’t want to.’
Pei Lam laughed coldly. ‘Imperial mother, don’t force me.’
The empress felt helpless. Was it her son who was standing in front of her? Why did he become a stranger?
‘Imperial mother, it’s windy,’ Pei Lam said. ‘Go back to your chamber.’
Pei Lam glanced at the blood stain on the wall again then he left his courtyard.
The following day news of the emperor was awake and alert spread outside the palace. It was rumored the emperor was deeply moved by the filial seventh prince who never left the emperor’s bedside while the emperor was ill.
At Pei Jin’s manor, Yan Shi Ning’s body felt tired so she napped on the bed.
During the period the emperor was ill, Pei Jin was free. On those free nights he would bathe together with Yan Shi Ning, roll on the bed with her, let her nap and roll on the bed with her until dawn.
One of Pei Jin’s guards knocked on the door. Pei Jin opened the door and the guard reported the news about the emperor being awake and alert.
Pei Jin closed the door after the guard left and returned to the bed.
Yan Shi Ning opened her eyes and looked at Pei Jin. ‘The emperor’s conscious?’
Pei Jin nodded his head. ‘It’s been three days, of course the emperor needs to be conscious again.’
‘I’m waiting for the emperor’s edict,’ Yan Shi Ning said.
Yan Shi Ning felt lethargic, she didn’t want to move her body but she didn’t want Princess Kang Hua to live another peaceful day.
Pei Jin held Yan Shi Ning’s hand. ‘Shi Ning, I want to hear how you feel about your father.’
Yan Shi Ning frowned. She knew Pei Jin was asking her before the emperor’s edict if she wanted him to ask the emperor to spare her father’s life.
‘Although he’s my father,’ Yan Shi Ning said. ‘We’ve lived together for two years but there’s no love between us. I think only losing his prime minister position is too soft on him. He’s the reason why my mother was killed. But he’s still my father, I don’t want him to lose his life.’
‘I understand,’ Pei Jin said. He hugged Yan Shi Ning. ‘Shi Ning, don’t worry. I’ll ask imperial father to spare his life. Also, Yan Jing isn’t someone who idly wait for death. Yan Jing looks like a weak man, but he wouldn’t have kept his prime minister position all these years if he wasn’t a capable man. That’s why I think he’ll do everything to save his own life.’
‘What will he do?’ Yan Shi Ning asked.
Pei Jin hugged Yan Shi Ning tighter and he looked outside the window.
As Pei Jin expected, after Yan Jing heard the emperor was awake Yan Jing dressed and rushed to the palace to see the emperor.
The emperor was reading reports when Wang Fu Mu entered the emperor’s chamber.
‘Your majesty, Prime Minister Yan requests to see your majesty,’ Wang Fu Mu said.
‘I don’t want to see him,’ the emperor said.
Wang Fu Mu walked outside the emperor’s chamber and Yan Jing begged Wang Fu Mu to persuade the emperor to see him.
Wang Fu Mu sighed and returned to the emperor’s chamber. ‘Your majesty, Yan Jing said he has something important to discuss with you.’
The emperor laughed coldly. ‘He still has something important to discuss? Bring him in here.’
The emperor was amused Yan Jing dared to see him.
Yan Jing wore ordinary clothes, kowtowed in front of the emperor, cried and held up his folded prime minister uniform.
‘Your majesty, I’m here to appease some of the injustices your majesty had to endure,’ Yan Jing said.
‘Appease me?’ the emperor asked.
‘Yes your majesty,’ Yan Jing said. ‘I’m not suited to be the prime minister. My wife and my youngest daughter has committed a grave offence against your majesty. That’s why I came to see your majesty. I’m willing to resign to appease your majesty.’
‘What you’re saying is laughable,’ the emperor said. ‘Don’t you know what the punishment is for deceiving an emperor? Death for everyone involved.’
‘Your majesty, I was deceived too,’ Yan Jing said. ‘I didn’t know anything about it.’
The emperor laughed coldly. Even if the imperial guards reported to him that Yan Jing wasn’t involved in the deception, he was repulsed to see the Yan Jing who was crying and begging in front of him.
‘Your majesty, I have another grievance I want to discuss with you,’ Yan Jing said.
The emperor thought Yan Jing didn’t understand boundaries.
‘Your majesty, I want to divorce Kang Hua,’ Yan Jing said.
‘Do you think I’ll spare you if you divorce her?’ the emperor asked.
‘Your majesty, there is something you don’t know,’ Yan Jing said. ‘Why I want to divorce Kang Hua has nothing to do with her offence. She had deceived me for many years and committed adultery with another man.’
The emperor looked at Yan Jing with contempt.
‘Your majesty, the truth is Yan Shi Ting isn’t my daughter,’ Yan Jing said. ‘Yan Shi Ting is Kang Hua and her older cousin’s daughter. Kang Hua deceived me for more than sixteen years. I only found out the truth recently. I didn’t think Kang Hua was this despicable. That’s why I want to divorce her. Your majesty, please grant my request. If your majesty doesn’t believe me, you can send someone to investigate. If you discover I have lied to you then I’m willing to die.’
The emperor laughed at the sight of Yan Jing’s hypocritical righteousness. He knew Yan Jing was someone who valued dignity and status. He didn’t think there would be a day Yan Jing would cry and beg. Nor did he expect Kang Hua would dare to commit adultery and Yan Shi Ting wasn’t Yan Jing’s daughter.
‘Your majesty, these past few days I’ve thought this is my retribution,’ Yan Jing said. ‘That year I abandoned my first wife and daughter and made them suffer… I have no confidence to face the past. Kang Hua is an unreasonable woman, I’ve suffered under her control for many years. But I can’t swallow her adultery and deceit. Your majesty, I beg you to grant my request to let me divorce her. After divorcing her, I’ll return to Xuan Qing and guard my first wife’s grave until my death.’
Yan Jing acted pitiful in front of the emperor. He wasn’t certain the emperor would spare his life and the emperor’s silence made him more anxious.
‘Yan Jing, I’ve underestimated you,’ the emperor said. ‘If what you said is true then you should accept this token from me and return home. Kang Hua has mistreated you like this then she doesn’t need to live anymore. But she is the empress’ sister and it’s not good for this news to be spread outside. I’ll let you deal with the situation discreetly.’
Yan Jing’s body shook at the sight of the emperor’s token, three long white fabrics. He understood the emperor wanted Kang Hua to die and keep Kang Hua’s adultery a secret. If he couldn’t expose Kang Hua’s adultery then other people would think that it was his decision to kill Kang Hua and the emperor was innocent.
‘Do you have anything else important to discuss?’ the emperor asked.
‘Your majesty, I’ll listen to your advice,’ Yan Jing said.
The emperor laughed. ‘You’re a good man. After you have dealt with the situation, I’ll let you return to Xuan Qing to be with your first wife.’
Yan Jing couldn’t laugh freely as the emperor, he knew he would die before returning to Xuan Qing.
The emperor watched Yan Jing leave hopelessly and his ruthless heart cursed Yan Jing, ‘Yan Jing, I did consider sparing your life. But you overestimated your intelligence. Do you dare to oppose my edict?’
End of Chapter Forty-One
Chapter Fifteen (Part 1)
Yan Shi Ning waved her fan anxiously.
Pei Jin pulled Yan Shi Ning onto his lap and he whispered in her ear. ‘Wife, you don’t need to worry. My spies have secretly investigated everyone in the manor. Now that Su Yue is gone, you’re free to climb walls or roll on the ground.’
‘Who’s worried?’ Yan Shi Ning asked. Pei Jin reminded her of embarrassing childhood memories and she jumped off his lap. ‘What climb walls? It was you who provoked me to climb walls. What roll on the ground? It was you who forced me to roll on the ground.’
Pei Jin smiled happily at the sight of an angry Yan Shi Ning.
Yan Shi Ning ran to sit on the chair opposite Pei Jin. She worried pointlessly, Pei Jin had a dangerous stomach and anyone that dared to wrong him was unlucky.
‘Huang Guo’s messenger sent Su Yue the poison,’ Pei Jin said. ‘I asked Bei Dou to check her chamber long ago. In the past I didn’t hesitate to eliminate spies sent to the manor. But she was Huang Guo’s spy… out of consideration Consort Chen was my adoptive mother, I acted like I didn’t know about Su Yue spying on me. I had her followed and I slowly thought of ways to return her without offending Huang Guo… that was two years ago. After I came back from Southern Jiang I could only avoid her and I waited for the right opportunity to chase her back to Huang Guo’s manor.’
‘Big brother, how are you going to deal with Huang Guo?’ Yan Shi Ning asked.
‘As long as my wife is happy I’ll use all my abilities,’ Pei Jin said.
Yan Shi Ning didn’t know how Pei Jin could talk nonsense while looking serious.
‘Wife, you can see that Huang Guo doesn’t want to only spy on me anymore,’ Pei Jin said. ‘If I didn’t deal with Su Yue then I don’t know what would have happened to us.’
Yan Shi Ning remembered the bottle of poison and her heart shivered fearfully. ‘Big Brother, the poison… is Huang Guo’s scheme?’
Pei Jin nodded and Yan Shi Ning took a deep breath. ‘But in the morning didn’t big brother said Huang Guo… if big brother can’t have children then what’s the purpose of you climbing high?’
In the morning Pei Jin whispered in Yan Shi Ning’s ear, ‘Huang Guo always wanted me to climb high, but I don’t want to.’
Each time Yan Shi Ning remembered Pei Jin’s words, her heart pounded continuously. She thought the battle for the throne was only between seventh prince and crown prince. She didn’t know there were court officials who secretly supported Pei Jin. Although Huang Guo resigned, Huang Guo’s influence in the imperial court wasn’t insignificant.
Yan Shi Ning didn’t know why if Huang Guo was secretly supporting Pei Jin then why Huang Guo sent Su Yue to poison Pei Jin.
‘Shi Ning, you should know in this world there’s something called puppet,’ Pei Jin said.
Yan Shi Ning stayed quiet for a while and thought about the meaning of Pei Jin’s words.
Pei Jin smiled at the sight of Yan Shi Ning’s revelation expression. He leaned back on his chair and he thought about Consort Chen. When Consort Chen was alive, Huang Guo’s desire was for him to become emperor. But Consort Chen didn’t want him to be caught in the deep web of battles. Consort Chen only wanted him to grow into a healthy and carefree man. After Consort Chen died, Huang Guo resigned and to other people it appeared like Huang Guo didn’t have any influence left in the imperial court.
When Pei Jin was eighteen years old, Huang Guo asked him, ‘who do you think suits being emperor?’
‘I don’t know,’ Pei Jin said.
‘What if you are emperor?’ Huang Guo asked.
‘I don’t suit,’ Pei Jin said.
‘I think you suit more than them,’ Huang Guo said.
Huang Guo persuaded some court officials to support Pei Jin, but Pei Jin avoided associations with them.
Yan Shi Ning thought many people who were in Pei Jin’s position, a prince who was unloved was suddenly elevated high in the sky would make their heads spin. But Pei Jin wasn’t like them. Pei Jin knew the day Huang Guo elevated him high in the sky would also be the day Pei Jin would fall onto the ground, shatter bones and flesh.
Ten years ago Pei Jin hid behind a screen and heard Huang Guo said something cryptic to Consort Chen, ‘Boys fight, elders win. Destroy roots, pursue ambition.’
Initially Pei Jin didn’t want to believe the meaning behind Huang Guo’s words until Bei Dou told him that the poison Huang Guo’s messenger gave Su Yue was Diao Jing Ji.
Pei Jin realised the poison was intended for Yan Shi Ning. If Yan Shi Ning couldn’t have his children, Huang Guo wanted Su Yue or another woman Huang Guo sent to have his children. Only then would Huang Guo have absolute control while he would be a powerless puppet who could die unexpectedly anytime and Huang Guo would steal the throne.
Pei Jin thought Huang Guo’s scheme was good. Luckily he evaded Huang Guo’s scheme. He put aside his deep thoughts and saw Yan Shi Ning was standing in front of the window brooding.
‘Wife, what are you thinking about?’ Pei Jin asked.
Yan Shi Ning thought about the cruel battles in the palace. But she didn’t expect one day the battles would involve her. If Pei Jin didn’t discover the scheme in time then the consequences would be severe. Heavens, she only entered Pei Jin’s manor for two days and was faced with such a depressing situation.
Yan Shi Ning looked depressingly up at the sky and spoke softly. ‘I’m thinking about my mother’s wish for me to live a safe and carefree life. But I fear I can’t grant her wish.’
Pei Jin stood in front of Yan Shi Ning. ‘Do you regret marrying me? It’s useless to regret now. It’s your fault for not running away before the wedding.’
‘It’s your fault for wanting to marry me!’ Yan Shi Ning said through gritted teeth.
Pei Jin flicked Yan Shi Ning’s forehead. ‘If you didn’t marry me, I fear your chances of living a safe and carefree life would be less.’
‘What?’ Yan Shi Ning asked confusedly.
‘Perhaps this is a hard path,’ Pei Jin said. ‘Are you scared?’
Yan Shi Ning tilted her head back, looked at Pei Jin for a while and spoke in a fierce tone. ‘I’m married to the scariest person in this world. Big brother, do you think there is anything else for me to be scared of?’
Pei Jin laughed.
‘But Huang Guo invested in his scheme for years,’ Yan Shi Ning said. ‘Will he be willing to let go of it?’
Pei Jin looked at the gardens outside the window. ‘Of course not. But right now that’s not the biggest worry.’
‘What else is there?’ Yan Shi Ning asked.
‘Tomorrow you need to go to the Yan Manor,’ Pei Jin said.
Yan Shi Ning had forgotten about visiting her maiden family home after the third day of marriage.
End of Chapter Fifteen (Part 1)