Yan Jing spent days at home thinking about how to kill Kang Hua without witnesses.
Princess Kang Hua sat by the window and the sunlight shone on her grey hair strands. In the past she would pluck grey hair, but she knew there was no need to anymore.
Princess Kang Hua heard the door opened, she raised her head and she was surprised to see Yan Jing as much as she was surprised to see flowers blossomed during autumn.
A few nights ago most of the maids and servants ran away from the Yan Manor. Only the older maids and servants stayed because there was nowhere else for them to serve. So the Yan Manor was quiet enough for a door creak to sound loud.
Yan Jing threw a basket of three long white fabrics in front of Kang Hua. ‘It’s the emperor’s edict, you can kill yourself.’
‘Why should I?’ Princess Kang Hua asked. ‘Didn’t the emperor ask you to kill me?’
‘You should have killed yourself long ago!’ Yan Jing said.
‘Why should I die before you?’ Princess Kang Hua said.
Yan Jing didn’t want to admit he would be killed after Kang Hua died. ‘I told you, I’m not going to die with you!’
Princess Kang Hua laughed coldly.
Yan Jing regretted he couldn’t kill someone with his own hands. ‘If you kill yourself, I’ll take care of your bastard child.’
Princess Kang Hua prolonged ingesting the bottle of poison because her heart wasn’t at ease about Yan Shi Ting.
Princess Kang Hua didn’t get a chance to accept Yan Jing’s bribe, an old maid entered the chamber.
‘Master, ninth prince’s wife is here,’ the old maid said.
Yan Jing ignored the resentment in Kang Hua’s eyes.
‘It’s your choice,’ Yan Jing said and left the chamber.
Yan Shi Ning was surprised at the quiet and dirty state of the Yan Manor. It was different to the first day she arrived at the Yan Manor two years ago. That day the arrogant Princess Kang Hua and Yan Shi Ting waited for her at the entrance of the Yan Manor between the clean two lion statues. Afterward for two years, Princess Kang Hua and Yan Shi Ting always reminded her that she was eating and living in their home.
An old maid escorted Yan Shi Ning to the courtyard and she sat opposite her father.
The old maid poured tea for Yan Shi Ning, she drank it and thought it didn’t taste half as delicious as it did two months ago.
‘Shi Ning, this is a bad time for you to visit,’ Yan Jing said.
Yan Jing didn’t want his daughter to see the poor state of the Yan Manor.
Yan Shi Ning smiled gently at her father. ‘Father, a few days ago my body was unwell and I couldn’t come to visit sooner.’
Yan Jing saw how much his daughter looked like Dung Thi and he sighed sadly. ‘Shi Ning, all these years have you ever resented me?’
Yan Shi Ning was surprised by her father’s question and quietly drank tea.
Yan Jing knew his daughter’s silence meant she did resent him. ‘You have the right to resent me. I’m to blame for everything that has happened.’
Yan Shi Ning didn’t want to hear her father’s regrets. ‘The emperor… did father receive an edict from the emperor?’
Yan Shi Ning knew her question was as rhetorical as her father’s earlier question.
Yan Jing wanted to leave at least one good impression of him in front of his daughter. ‘I don’t know what the emperor will do. But I’ve resigned and the emperor gave his permission for me to return to Xuan Qing.’
Yan Shi Ning felt a little pity to see an old man chased away from the imperial court. ‘That’s good. When I married ninth prince, people told me to live a peaceful life. Father, distancing yourself from the imperial court will let you live a peaceful life. Having power is good but it comes with anxiety.’
Yan Jing lowered his head and drank tea. He didn’t think his daughter could be that kind.
‘I heard little sister’s health is poor,’ Yan Shi Ning said. ‘I came here to visit little sister.’
‘Shi Ning, there’s nothing good for you to see,’ Yan Jing said.
‘Father, she’s still my little sister,’ Yan Shi Ning said.
Yan Shi Ning put the cup on table and she walked to the gardens.
In the gardens Yan Shi Ting was dribbling and smiling at the sky like a fool. She saw Yan Shi Ning in front of her and grabbed Yan Shi Ning’s dress.
‘You hurt me!’ Yan Shi Ting said.
Yan Shi Ning felt guilty seeing the beautiful Yan Shi Ting became a fool. But Yan Shi Ting’s shrieks scared her and she stepped back from Yan Shi Ting.
‘Shi Ting, let go of my dress,’ Yan Shi Ning said.
Yan Shi Ting teared off a sleeve of Yan Shi Ning’s dress. The dress was one of the new expensive dresses Lady Su’s dressmakers delivered to Pei Jin’s manor. She didn’t get to pity her dress because Yan Shi Ting was touching the collar of her dress.
Yan Shi Ting thought she found a treasure.
‘What a beautiful dress,’ Yan Shi Ting said.
Yan Shi Ning felt relieved Yan Shi Ting wasn’t going to tear the other sleeve off her dress.
Suddenly Yan Shi Ting grabbed Yan Shi Ning’s collar. ‘This is my dress! Take off my dress! You’re a bad person! You stole my dress!’
Yan Shi Ning pushed Yan Shi Ting away from her and took many steps back.
Yan Shi Ting fell on the ground and cried loudly. ‘You’re a bad person! You want to hurt me! Why do you want to hurt me? Why? I’m the crown prince’s wife!’
Yan Shi Ning heard Yan Shi Ting was insane but she didn’t know how insane until she witnessed Yan Shi Ting’s crying one moment and laughing the next moment.
‘Shi Ting, I’m truly sorry,’ Yan Shi Ning said. ‘I didn’t think I’ll cause you to become like this. But don’t worry, after she dies, I’ll take good care of you.’
Yan Shi Ning left Yan Shi Ting in the gardens to look for her mother’s killer.
After Yan Shi Ning left, Pei Lam stepped out from the shadows. He watched Yan Shi Ting sit on the ground while tearing petals and leaves off flowers.
‘Big brother crown prince, I love big brother,’ Yan Shi Ting said to the flower. ‘Big brother, do you love me?’
‘Um,’ Pei Lam said.
‘Then in the future will you marry me?’ Yan Shi Ting asked the flower.
‘Um,’ Pei Lam said.
Pei Lam couldn’t believe the Yan Shi Ting in front of him was the same young girl with bright eyes in his memories. He thought those early childhood years were beautiful.
Yan Shi Ting felt that someone was standing behind her. She turned around and smiled. She stood and grabbed Pei Lam’s sleeve. ‘Big brother crown prince, you’re here. I knew big brother would come.’
Pei Lam let Yan Shi Ting wrap her arms around his neck.
Yan Shi Ting felt happy. ‘Big brother crown prince, do you know long I waited for big brother? I thought big brother wouldn’t come. Big brother crown prince, why isn’t big brother talking? Is it because you don’t love Shi Ting? Big brother crown prince, you can’t hate Shi Ting. Shi Ting will be the crown prince’s wife.’
Yan Shi Ting remembered something and began to take off her dress. ‘Big brother crown prince, today my dress is easy to take off. Big brother come behind me. I know big brother loves that position the most-’
Pei Lam hands squeezed Yan Shi Ting’s neck.
Yan Shi Ting tried to push away the hands around her neck, but the hands were too strong. She gasped for air and felt like she was slowly choking.
A while later Yan Shi Ting stopped struggling. She silently cried, suspicions were gone and everything beautiful died. Why was the crown prince crying? She wanted to wipe his tears but she had no strength left.
Pei Lam’s hands let go of Yan Shi Ting’s neck and he silently cried.
‘For you dying is better than living,’ Pei Lam said. ‘If you die, you can escape.’
Afterward the body of one of the imperial city’s beauties fell into cold water. But Yan Shi Ting’s eyes were wide opened as though she was asking, ‘Big brother crown prince, why did you kill me?’
Pei Lam stood in the gardens, pulled out an old letter and teared it to pieces, ‘Big brother crown prince, I’ll open the small western door of the Yan Manor. If big brother wants me, big brother can come there to find me. I’m waiting for you.’
End of Chapter Forty-Three
Chapter Fifteen (Part 3 of 3)
The horse carriage traveled toward the Yan Manor.
Inside the horse carriage Pei Jin kissed Yan Shi Ning. Instead of tasting her, he tasted makeup. ‘Wife, why do you need to wear makeup to visit your family?’
Yan Shi Ning glared at Pei Jin. Of course she needed to wear makeup to protect herself. She decided to wear makeup on her body at night too that way he wouldn’t dare kiss her impulsively.
Yan Shi Ning remembered last night mouthy boy crawled under her undergarments and he bit sensitive spots on her body. She blushed and considered putting sleeping powder on her face at night too.
The Yan Manor wasn’t far away from Pei Jin’s manor, about half a shichen hour by horse carriage.
Pei Jin and Yan Shi Ning were greeted by loud fireworks at the Yan Manor entrance.
Yan Jing saw how Pei Jin treated his oldest daughter lovingly and he smiled faster than he could say what a good son-in-law.
Princess Kang Hua hated seeing how Pei Jin loved Yan Shi Ning, but she smiled politely.
Earlier in the morning Yan Shi Ting ordered a maid to put makeup on her and fussed for a long time to choose earrings compatible with her dress. But Pei Jin only nodded to greet her politely. Like in the past his attention was never focused on her. Even the cold and arrogant seventh prince wanted to gain her favour, but Pei Jin would always ignore her.
Yan Shi Ting almost vomited blood after seeing Pei Jin doted on Yan Shi Ning as though Yan Shi Ning was a treasure.
Yan Shi Ting wanted to protest. What did Yan Shi Ning possess that she didn’t? She looked resentfully at Pei Jin and Yan Shi Ning until she felt a sudden pain on her arm. It was her mother who whispered a warning to her, ‘maintain your image properly.’
Yan Shi Ting hugged her pinched arm, pouted and followed her mother into the Yan Manor.
Everyone sat in the courtyard and gossiped while the celebratory banquet food and wine were prepared.
Yan Jing led the conversation and it gave Yan Shi Ning a headache, her father gossiped about court official Liu Guo. Although it was an inappropriate conversation, her father, Princess Kang Hua and Yan Shi Ting didn’t care about her family life with Pei Jin. After Pei Jin answered her father politely, everyone quietly drank tea for a while.
Pei Jin smiled and purposely peeled a fruit to neutralize conversation. ‘This is a fruit from Southern Jiang. I eat it often.’
Yan Jing’s heart was deeply moved. He knew his son-in-law was being considerate.
‘I heard the landscape in Southern Jiang is different to the imperial city,’ Yan Jing said. ‘Gentle ninth prince, tell us what Southern Jiang is like.’
Everyone at the table sat upright and were interested to hear Pei Jin talk about the mysterious Southern Jiang.
Pei Jin could see everyone’s ears were sharpened. He passed the peeled fruit to Yan Shi Ning. Then he talked about life in Southern Jiang while occasionally smiling warmly at Yan Shi Ning.
Initially Yan Shi Ting was interested to hear Pei Jin talk about Southern Jiang. But she felt frustrated seeing Pei Jin’s consideration toward Yan Shi Ning. Even the fruits her maid peeled for her didn’t taste delicious.
Yan Shi Ning noticed Yan Shi Ting’s strange behaviour. She didn’t understand why it felt like Yan Shi Ting’s body released a sour stench. Yan Shi Ting’s eyes resentfully looked at her. She wondered if Yan Shi Ting was secretly intimate with Pei Jin. But in the past she never noticed anything shady between Yan Shi Ting and Pei Jin.
Yan Shi Ning looked suspiciously at Pei Jin. But Pei Jin always smiled warmly at her… she couldn’t tolerate the demon’s excessive loving act and she looked away.
Pei Jin noticed Yan Shi Ning’s anger gradually increased so he continued to lavish affectionate attention on her in front of her family.
After the banquet ended Yan Shi Ning and Pei Jin were resting in the chamber prepared for them.
‘Big brother, are you close to my little sister?’ Yan Shi Ning asked.
Pei Jin predicted Yan Shi Ning would ask him about Yan Shi Ting.
‘I’m not close to her,’ Pei Jin said.
‘Big brother, why do I feel the way my little sister looks at you is strange?’ Yan Shi Ning asked.
Pei Jin laughed. ‘Wife, you should understand her personality.’
‘What?’ Yan Shi Ning asked confusedly.
‘Wife, come here and I’ll tell you,’ Pei Jin said.
Yan Shi Ning listened to Pei Jin talked about how in the past there was a period Yan Shi Ting followed him around to gain his favour. She thought in the past he would have found Yan Shi Ting’s attention scary and laughable.
Yan Shi Ning realised even the beautiful and haughty Yan Shi Ting didn’t want to be rejected by anyone. In the past Yan Shi Ning saw many men lower themselves beneath Yan Shi Ting’s dress, but Yan Shi Ting dismissed them. Yan Shi Ting was indeed haughty. If a man coldly dismissed Yan Shi Ting then Yan Shi Ting wouldn’t easily accept rejection. Instead Yan Shi Ting would use a thousand schemes to attract the man who didn’t want to pursue Yan Shi Ting. Yan Shi Ting was a natural seductress, which was why if Yan Shi Ting purposely seduced a man usually the man would fall into a deadly trance.
Yan Shi Ning knew that the rare man who wouldn’t be seduced by Yan Shi Ting was Pei Jin.
Yan Shi Ning thought that Yan Shi Ting’s life would have flowed smoothly until Yan Shi Ting met Pei Jin at a banquet in the palace and Yan Shi Ting got to taste failure. No matter if Yan Shi Ting wore a beautiful dress and makeup or ‘accidently’ touched Pei Jin inappropriately, Pei Jin wouldn’t glance at Yan Shi Ting. Yan Shi Ning could see in her head how frustrated Yan Shi Ting would have been to hear Pei Jin coldly warn, ‘respect yourself.’
Yan Shi Ning remembered how Yan Shi Ting looked resentfully at her during the banquet and she smiled. ‘Big brother, were you excessively acting during the banquet to provoke my little sister?’
‘Wife, what do you think?’ Pei Jin asked and innocently looked at Yan Shi Ning.
In another chamber Princess Kang Hua scolded Yan Shi Ting. ‘Your behaviour is poorer by the day! Don’t forget, you’ll be the crown prince’s wife!’
‘What’s the point of being the crown prince’s wife?’ Yan Shi Ting asked. ‘The crown prince has always been cold toward me. He doesn’t care about me like the way ninth prince cares about Yan Shi Ning. The crown prince doesn’t love me!’
‘That’s because you’re lacking!’ Princess Kang Hua criticized. ‘Even if ninth prince is gentle and loving, he’s still a useless prince!’
Yan Shi Ting closed her mouth. She wished the crown prince was ninth prince. She didn’t understand why she wasn’t the one ninth prince cared about as though he held a grudge against her.
Princess Kang Hua’s old nurse maid knocked on the door and entered the chamber. ‘Princess, widow Li is here again.’
Princess Kang Hua frowned and spoke softly. ‘I know. Bring her to my courtyard, I’ll go there first.’
Yan Shi Ting watched them leave hurriedly and she thought it was strange. Who was widow Li? Why did nurse maid Liu speak in an anxious tone? Also, her mother’s expression was strange too. She suspected they were hiding a secret.
End of Chapter Fifteen (Part 3 of 3)