Yan Shi Ning entered Princess Kang Hua’s chamber.
The chamber was quiet and dusty. Princess Kang Hua glanced at Yan Shi Ning and Princess Kang Hua laughed coldly. She couldn’t believe Princess Kang Hua wanted to enter a grave arrogantly.
‘Why did you come here?’ Princess Kang Hua asked coldly.
‘I came to see how you’ll die,’ Yan Shi Ning said.
Princess Kang Hua pursed her lips.
Yan Shi Ning noticed the white fabrics on the table. ‘The past few days I thought about how you’re feeling. Do you feel like you’ve lost everything?’
Princess Kang Hua heard Yan Shi Ning’s condescending tone. She turned to look at Yan Shi Ning who no longer acted gentle instead looked down on her. The way Yan Shi Ning smiled coldly was the same way Yan Shi Ning smiled at her on Yan Shi Ting’s wedding day.
Princess Kang Hua stood straight. ‘It was you!’
‘What do you think?’ Yan Shi Ning asked.
‘Why?’ Princess Kang Hua asked.
‘Why?’ Yan Shi Ning asked. ‘Shouldn’t I be the one asking you why?’
Princess Kang Hua took a step back.
‘Why did you poison my mother to death?’ Yan Shi Ning asked. ‘My mother never fought with you. Why did you kill my mother?’
Yan Shi Ning couldn’t control the pain in her heart. She couldn’t kill Princess Kang Hua and couldn’t stop her tears from falling.
‘She deserved to die!’ Princess Kang Hua said. ‘Who is she to dare to compete with me? She’s only scum.’
‘You’re scum!’ Yan Shi Ning said. ‘You stole someone else’s husband. You committed adultery, you’re deceitful and shameless!’
‘She deserves to die!’ Princess Kang Hua said. ‘She’s scum. Who is she to deserve him? I’m a princess, why do I need to lower myself under a scum and be a second wife? It’s an insult to me! Scum like her deserves to die! I should have killed her earlier! Each day she lives is another day of insults to me! You should die too! You and your mother are scums and deserve to die!’
Yan Shi Ning slapped Princess Kang Hua’s cheek.
‘You’re the one who deserves to die!’ Yan Shi Ning said. ‘You’re a woman who has a cruel snake heart!’
Princess Kang Hua was startled by Yan Shi Ning’s slap.
‘This is your retribution,’ Yan Shi Ning said. ‘Your big sister betrayed you and your only daughter is insane. The husband you stole is the man who gave you these white fabrics. You’ve lost everything and left with two empty hands. Kang Hua, do you know how I wanted you to die after I found out you killed my mother? Didn’t you want your daughter to be the crown prince’s wife? I stopped your daughter from marrying the crown prince. Didn’t you want to steal my mother’s husband? I made certain he turned his back on you. Didn’t you always want to maintain your arrogance? I kicked you onto dirt. I won’t let you die peacefully. I want you to lose everything you cared about. I want you to die suffering. I want you and everyone you care about to pay for killing my mother.’
‘You’re dreaming-’ Princess Kang Hua said.
‘Second mistress fell into the well!’ an old maid cried out from outside the chamber. ‘Madam, second mistress died!’
Princess Kang Hua pushed Yan Shi Ning away and ran outside.
‘What did you say?’ Princess Kang Hua asked.
‘Madam, second mistress died,’ the old maid said.
‘Where is she?’ Princess Kang Hua asked in a shaky voice.
‘Second mistress… she’s in the gardens…’ the old maid stuttered.
Princess Kang Hua ran to the gardens and a shocked Yan Shi Ning followed Princess Kang Hua.
At the well, the old maids and servants were finding a way to pull Yan Shi Ting out of the well.
Yan Jing stood away from the well, he didn’t know if he was happy or sad.
Princess Kang Hua pushed the old maids and servants out of the way. She looked down at her daughter who died with her eyes opened and she screamed loudly.
‘Shi Ting!’ Princess Kang Hua cried out. ‘My daughter! Who did this? Who?’
Princess Kang Hua looked at everyone around the well.
‘Madam, I don’t know who,’ Yan Shi Ting’s personal maid said. ‘Earlier ninth prince’s wife came to the gardens to see second mistress. Then I went to brew medicine for second mistress in the kitchen. When I came back here, I didn’t see second mistress anywhere. So I walked around the gardens and found second mistress dead in the well. I don’t know who killed second mistress.’
Princess Kang Hua turned around and she wanted to kill Yan Shi Ning.
Yan Shi Ning stepped back away from Princess Kang Hua.
‘I didn’t kill her,’ Yan Shi Ning said.
‘She’s like this and you still didn’t spare her!’ Princess Kang Hua said. ‘I want to kill you!’
Princess Kang Hua pulled out a dagger and stabbed Yan Shi Ning’s chest.
Xiao Zai jumped out of the shadows and pushed Princess Kang Hua away from Yan Shi Ning.
‘Shi Ning!’ Yan Jing cried out.
Princess Kang Hua stood up from the ground. ‘I should have killed you sooner! That year I killed your mother, I should have killed you too! You’re a cruel demoness! I want to kill you!’
Yan Jing thought he misheard Kang Hua’s words. What that year killed your mother? What did that mean?
Yan Shi Ning’s chest hurt and her face whitened. ‘Didn’t you try to kill me? You used Fu Gui to poison me.’
‘Fu Gui?’ Princess Kang Hua asked and looked confusedly at Yan Shi Ning.
Yan Shi Ning was confused why Princess Kang Hua didn’t know what Fu Gui was.
‘Shi Ning, how did your mother die?’ Yan Jing asked.
‘How my mother died?’ Yan Shi Ning asked. ‘She ordered widow Li to poison my mother to death!’
‘Widow Li?’ Yan Jing asked. ‘How is that possible?’
Yan Shi Ning laughed coldly. ‘Father, didn’t you know you’ve been living with a cruel woman for many years? Even now, do you truly don’t know you married a black hearted woman?’
Yan Jing was saddened by his daughter’s look of hatred toward him.
Yan Shi Ning cried. ‘I have a good father. My father let my innocent mother be killed. My mother was killed by you and that woman!’
‘That’s why she wants to take revenge on her father and me,’ Princess Kang Hua said and she laughed bitterly. ‘Yan Jing, did you hear your daughter say she hates you? Yan Jing, you’re in your position today because of your good daughter. Everything was her plan. She sent the letters, she’s the one that ruined our marriage and she’s the one that killed Shi Ting! Yan Jing open your eyes and look at your good daughter. She destroyed everything you have.’
Yan Jing heard everything and his heart froze. He didn’t want to believe his daughter did everything Kang Hua said. In that moment he felt like he lived his whole life in vain and everything bad that happened was his retribution.
‘Shi Ning, go home,’ Yan Jing said and looked at his daughter for the last time.
A lot of blood flowed out of Yan Shi Ning’s stab wound. She felt her body weakened, the sky darkened and she fainted.
‘Mistress!’ Xiao Zai cried out.
Xiao Zai ran to Yan Shi Ning and carried her to the horse carriage. He knew after they returned to the manor, ninth prince was going to skin him alive.
After Yan Shi Ning left the Yan Manor, Yan Jing ordered the servants to bound and lock Kang Hua in her chamber.
Later that night Yan Jing gathered all the old maids and servants. He poured wine for everyone until they were all drunk and collapsed on the table. Then he used the three white fabrics to make a noose and suspend it from the ceiling of Kang Hua’s chamber.
Yan Jing wrapped the noose around the bound Kang Hua’s neck. She screamed but he stabbed her heart with a dagger and she died.
Yan Jing picked up the small bottle on Kang Hua’s table, lit the Yan Manor on fire and ingested everything in the small bottle.
Before Yan Jing died, he remembered the ten years he studied and Dung Thi was by his side. She loved him, cooked for him and supported him. He wanted to give her everything in the world, money, status and for everyone to envy her. He studied day and night and thirsted for success. Finally he passed the imperial examination, earned money and status. But afterward his fate changed for the worst, he lost her… he watched the fire burn everything and everyone inside the Yan Manor and he laughed. Everything that happened in the past became a dream. If that was so then he accepted all his wasted energy to pursue everything was pointless.
End of Chapter Forty-Four
Chapter Sixteen (Part 1)
Yan Jing invited his oldest daughter and son-in-law to stay at the Yan Manor for an evening meal.
Pei Jin felt that Yan Shi Ning didn’t want to stay in the Yan Manor longer than necessary and he politely declined Yan Jing’s invitation.
Yan Jing and Yan Shi Ting escorted Pei Jin and Yan Shi Ning to the front door.
‘Where’s your mother?’ Yan Jing asked Yan Shi Ting.
Yan Jing didn’t see Princess Kang Hua since the banquet ended.
‘Mother is unwell,’ Yan Shi Ting said. ‘She’s resting in her chamber.’
Yan Shi Ting was suspicious why her mother was suddenly unwell after seeing widow Li.
Yan Jing frowned and shook his head. He thought Princess Kang Hua was uncourteous by the day.
Yan Shi Ning saw the clear guilt on her father’s face. She didn’t want to waste energy being in his presence and politely bid him farewell. ‘Father, husband and I will leave first. Little sister, mother is unwell, you should take good care of her.’
Yan Jing felt guiltier, his oldest daughter was indeed filial.
Pei Jin and Yan Shi Ning sat in the humid horse carriage. She parted the window curtains and waved her fan.
Outside the sky was still bright and imperial city streets were crowded with people.
‘Are we going home?’ Yan Shi Ning asked.
Pei Jin drank too many cups of wine at the banquet. He used the horse carriage ride as an opportunity to become sober. His eyes were closed but he heard the playfulness in Yan Shi Ning’s tone.
‘You’re right,’ Pei Jin said. ‘The day is still early.’
Pei Jin pulled Yan Shi Ning’s arm closer to him as a subtle signal for her to cool his face with the fan.
‘What do you mean?’ Yan Shi Ning asked.
Yan Shi Ning was in a good mood. She obliged and waved the fan in front of Pei Jin’s face.
‘Nothing amusing has happened since marriage life,’ Pei Jin said cryptically. ‘Then we should go find a little amusement. Your husband has planned our carefree future. We’ll play in the imperial city for a while then we’ll play everywhere outside the imperial city.’ He leaned his face close to Yan Shi Ning’s face. ‘Wife, what do you think?’
Yan Shi Ning’s eyes shone excitedly. ‘Truly?’
The heavens knew she hated living in the imperial city to death.
Pei Jin smiled and nodded his head. ‘Would I lie to you?’
‘Big brother, have you ever not lied to me?’ Yan Shi Ning asked.
Pei Jin hugged Yan Shi Ning. ‘Wife, remember to be gentle.’
‘Big brother, aren’t you a prince?’ Yan Shi Ning asked. ‘How can you play outside the imperial city?’
Pei Jin laughed. ‘Don’t forget, I’m a carefree prince.’
Yan Shi Ning fell into deep thought.
Pei Jin was known as ninth gentle prince and also carefree prince. His duties and position in the imperial court were insignificant. During peaceful periods he was privileged to live the life of a carefree prince. But during catastrophic periods his services were summoned. Like the flooding in Xuan Qing six years ago and the rebellion in South Jiang two years ago.
During those times seventh prince and crown prince didn’t want to risk their lives. But an imperial figure was needed to restore peace and Pei Jin became the best candidate. Pei Jin understood the situation and volunteered his services. Afterward civilians referred to Pei Jin as gentle ninth prince.
After Pei Jin dealt with threats to the kingdom he would return to his carefree life. He only wanted to perform his duties as a prince and didn’t want any power in the imperial court. He was seen as terracotta mixture, transported to places where needed then stored aside to be used in the future. In a less flattering light, he was used as a shield to protect his favored brothers.
Yan Shi Ning wondered if Pei Jin truly didn’t want to be acknowledged for his abilities. She remembered a night long ago she brought food to him, he was diligently writing strategies to reduce the damages of flooding under candlelight. But someone else took credit for his strategies.
Yan Shi Ning thought perhaps Pei Jin purposely wanted to appear as a useless and unloved prince to survive life in the cruel palace. Otherwise why else would he let go of control over an army after subduing the rebels in Southern Jiang, return to the imperial city and continued being a carefree prince?
Yan Shi Ning peered at Pei Jin. His head was resting on her thighs and she thought he was a complex person. She didn’t want to admit he was a brilliant strategist, his talents were invaluable but he hid his true potential under a gentle and kind mask to deceive the world. It was a pity someone like him didn’t want to be emperor… that thought startled her.
Yan Shi Ning sat still for a long time. Pei Jin opened his eyes and saw her startled face.
‘Wife, what are you thinking?’ Pei Jin asked.
Yan Shi Ning looked closely at Pei Jin’s eyes and she smiled. ‘I’m thinking about if you have a weakness.’
Yan Shi Ning thought Pei Jin was a strong person and it was hard for her to see what his weakness was. If she discovered his weakness then in the future he couldn’t bully her anymore.
Pei Jin laughed. He held Yan Shi Ning’s neck, pulled her head down and kissed her until she forgot to breathe.
‘You,’ Pei Jin said.
Yan Shi Ning was curious what Pei Jin meant. But she pushed his chest away, he kissed her while she was distracted.
Yan Shi Ning looked out the window. The atmosphere in the streets were lively. She saw a stall that sold steamed buns. A woman bought the steamed buns and walked away from the stall. She frowned, the woman’s back looked familiar.
‘What are you looking at?’ Pei Jin asked.
‘Perhaps I saw someone familiar,’ Yan Shi Ning said.
‘Who?’ Pei Jin asked.
‘Big brother, do you remember widow Li in Xuan Qing?’ Yan Shi Ning asked.
Pei Jin vaguely remembered a gentle old woman who was a maid in aunty Dung and Yan Shi Ning’s home. ‘Um. I remember the cong you bings (Chinese scallion pancakes) she made were delicious. Why? Did you see her before?’
Yan Shi Ning shook her head. ‘I’m not certain. I only saw the woman’s back. I don’t think it’s her. I wanted to bring her with me to the imperial city. But she said she wants to go south to unite with relatives and couldn’t follow me north. She doesn’t have any relatives or acquaintances in the imperial city… perhaps she’s looking for me.’
Yan Shi Ning looked out the window again, but the woman disappeared.
‘If she’s looking for you then she can easily find you,’ Pei Jin said. ‘She can ask anyone in the imperial city directions to the Yan Manor and our home to find you.’
Yan Shi Ning nodded in agreement.
The horse carriage halted. Yan Shi Ning was happy to return to Pei Jin’s manor.
Pei Jin parted the door curtains and saw a familiar messenger. He turned around and smiled apologetically at Yan Shi Ning who was about to stand up. ‘It appears we need to stay in the horse carriage for a little longer.’
‘Ninth prince, mistress, court official Huang Guo is hosting a banquet and requested both of you to attend,’ the messenger said.
‘Wife, it appears tonight we need to perform,’ Pei Jin said.
End of Chapter Sixteen (Part 1)