‘If I didn’t save Bei Dou’s life then I wouldn’t have known the empress secretly used the Thinh Household’s support to secure the crown prince’s position,’ Pei Jin said.
‘Then why was the Thinh Household framed?’ Yan Shi Ning asked.
‘It was a complicated situation,’ Pei Jin said. ‘The Thinh Household became too rich and powerful and imperial father became weary of the Thinh Household. The empress and the crown prince’s supporters found out about the emperor’s plan to investigate the Thinh Household so they sent people to frame the Thinh Household to get rid of evidence of their connection with the Thinh Household. But many court officials received bribes from the Thinh Household and those court officials were implicated too. Imperial father couldn’t demote almost half of his court officials so he could only sacrifice the Thinh Household, and the empress and the crown prince escaped death by association with someone convicted of treason.’
‘Does that mean the empress and the crown prince betrayed the Thinh Household to protect themselves?’ Yan Shi Ning asked.
‘That’s right,’ Pei Jin said. ‘Imperial father only wanted to take away the Thinh Household’s properties. He didn’t intend to kill them because he didn’t want another rebellion in Southern Jiang. But the empress and the crown prince framing the Thinh Household meant imperial father couldn’t spare anyone from the Thinh household… Shi Ning, I want to tell you a secret that I haven’t told anyone before.’
‘What secret?’ Yan Shi Ning asked.
‘Shi Ning, apart from the emperor everyone else involved in this secret were killed,’ Pei Jin said.
Yan Shi Ning shivered.
‘Shi Ning, my imperial grandfather intended for my imperial uncle to be emperor,’ Pei Jin said. ‘But my imperial father changed the name of imperial grandfather’s intended heir to my imperial father’s name.’
‘Is that true?’ Yan Shi Ning asked.
Pei Jin rubbed his chin.
‘Pei Jin, the emperor sat on the throne before you were born,’ Yan Shi Ning said. ‘How did you find out?’
‘My imperial uncle cryptically told me when I was a boy,’ Pei Jin said. ‘I didn’t understand what his words meant until I became an adult.’
Pei Jin remembered how his father pretended to have a close bond with his imperial uncle, Prince Chen Nan.
Prince Chen Nan was the person who led army forces to conquer Southern Jiang. But after Prince Chen Nan returned to the imperial city he behaved like a carefree prince so citizens of the Dian Kingdom would forget about his contribution.
Up until Pei Jin was six years old, he was close to his imperial uncle who always tossed him in the air and asked about his life each time his imperial uncle returned to the imperial city. In the past he felt his imperial uncle was more of a father to him than his own father who never showed any affections toward him.
The empress gave birth to the crown prince when Pei Jin was six years old. His imperial uncle pretended he drank a lot of wine and carried him outside the palace, ‘Xiao Jin, your uncle will take you horse riding.’
Pei Jin’s imperial uncle held him tightly on a horse and his imperial uncle rode as fast as the wind.
‘Xiao Jin, your imperial uncle loves you,’ Prince Chen Nan said. ‘But your uncle is powerless to help you. The crown prince is born, he’ll become my imperial older brother’s heir. It’s a pity, I thought I could see you become emperor. In the past if I could predict the future then I wouldn’t pretend I didn’t know my imperial older brother, your father changed your imperial grandfather’s edict… Xiao Jin, your imperial father… still thinks I don’t know. Your imperial father has a rock head. All these years he never intended to spare me. If I wanted to be emperor then I wouldn’t have given up control over my army forces. But why is your imperial father this cruel toward me? Xiao Jin, in the future you need to act close with your imperial father.’
Pei Jin was only a six-year-old boy, he didn’t know if he misheard his imperial uncle’s words while his imperial uncle rode the horse fast as the wind. At that time he didn’t understand his imperial uncle’s words. His imperial uncle brought him back to the palace after he was tired from horse riding.
‘Xiao Jin, sit here and wait for your imperial uncle,’ Prince Chen Nan said. ‘I’m going to go ride my horse a little longer. In the past twelve years I haven’t ridden a horse this comfortably. Xiao Jin, wait for me to come back.’
Pei Jin always remembered his imperial uncle’s words that day because it was the last day his imperial uncle was alive.
That day Pei Jin waited a long time for his imperial uncle but he didn’t see his imperial uncle return to the palace. He only saw imperial guards ran into the palace, but he didn’t know what happened. He only knew his imperial uncle never appeared in front of him since that day. A long time later, he asked Consort Chen about his imperial uncle. Consort Chen told him his imperial uncle drank too much wine and rode a horse with a broken leg. His imperial uncle was flung off the horse and his head hit a rock and his imperial uncle died.
Yan Shi Ning held Pei Jin’s hand while he was crying and telling her about Prince Chen Nan.
‘Years later I sent guards to investigate my imperial uncle’s life outside the imperial city,’ Pei Jin said. ‘I didn’t expect my imperial uncle’s presence as a twenty-year-old man had a deep impact on the people of Southern Jiang. There’s a memorial in Southern Jiang to honor my imperial uncle. When I arrived in Southern Jiang, I stayed at a villa that my imperial uncle built. My imperial uncle was a good person… but my imperial father is a cruel person.’
Yan Shi Ning wondered if Pei Jin became emperor whether he would become ruthless like his father and kill anyone that was a threat.
‘My imperial uncle’s words helped warn me about my life in the palace,’ Pei Jin said. ‘He said he was powerless to help me, but it was him who helped me with everything. He told me the truth about my environment for me to protect myself and be a step ahead of other people. Shi Ning, you said I understand my imperial father. Of course I need to understand him if I want to survive under his reign.’
Pei Jin thought it was a tragedy for a father and son to live their whole lives being weary of each other.
‘I know my imperial father used many schemes to obtain the throne,’ Pei Jin said. ‘Whoever was a threat to steal his throne would die a pitiful death. So he didn’t hold a grudge against the crown prince after he found out the empress and the crown prince framed the Thinh Household. After my imperial father waited for the Southern Jiang rebels to finally be subdued, he was disappointed the crown prince had no desire to be emperor.’
Yan Shi Ning shivered, the battles in the palace was scarier than the battles in the Yan Manor.
‘Pei Jin, did the Thinh Household truly commit treason?’ Yan Shi Ning asked.
‘No one knows for certain whether it’s true or a lie,’ Pei Jin said. ‘Bei Dou wasn’t involved in his family’s trade so he didn’t know what happened. Like other people, he only knew all his family members were killed. He’s not certain if his family committed treason or if his family was the sacrifice to protect other people.’
‘Pei Jin, how are you going to deal with the empress?’ Yan Shi Ning asked.
‘If the empress didn’t kill Consort Chen then I don’t need to take revenge on the empress,’ Pei Jin said. ‘But Bei Dou resents the empress deeply. If it wasn’t the empress, the crown prince and their supporters’ betrayal then Bei Dou’s family members wouldn’t have died such pitiful deaths.’
‘Pei Jin, are you saying that Bei Dou will deal with the empress?’ Yan Shi Ning asked.
‘Yes, I agreed with Bei Dou to let him deal with the empress,’ Pei Jin said.
‘What will he do?’ Yan Shi Ning asked.
‘In a few days the crown prince will leave the imperial city,’ Pei Jin said. ‘Bei Dou will use that opportunity as the first step of his plan. Shi Ning, what are you thinking?’
‘I’m worried about what will happen to you… if someone finds out about Bei Dou’s real identity then they’ll report it to the emperor,’ Yan Shi Ning said.
Yan Shi Ning was scared she would lose Pei Jin if the emperor found out Pei Jin saved Bei Dou’s life.
‘Shi Ning, don’t worry,’ Pei Jin said. ‘We’ll use all our abilities to protect Bei Dou’s real identity.’
Pei Jin and Yan Shi Ning heard the sounds of a maid’s footsteps running toward their chamber.
Pei Jin got out of the bed and stood in front of the door. ‘What is it?’
‘Ninth prince, earlier a messenger delivered news that the Yan Manor is on fire,’ the maid said.
Pei Jin and Yan Shi Ning looked concerned at each other.
That night the Yan Manor was destroyed. No one from the Yan Manor could be saved, other people could only stand at a distance and watch the Yan Manor being burned.
Yan Shi Ning’s father’s last words haunted her, ‘Shi Ning, go home…’
Yan Shi Ning realised what her father’s last words meant and she knew who lit the Yan Manor on fire. Her father protected her by destroying the Yan Manor.
Although Yan Shi Ning didn’t kill Yan Shi Ting, but her father knew it would be hard for other people to believe she didn’t kill Yan Shi Ting. If the witnesses at the Yan Manor reported what happened that day to the emperor then the emperor wouldn’t spare her, Pei Jin and everyone else in Pei Jin’s manor.
Yan Shi Ning was uncertain about her feelings toward her father that neglected her for years. He was also the man that her mother wanted to forget but couldn’t forget while her mother was alive. She resented for father for years but he used his life to compensate her.
Yan Shi Ning’s mother’s death was avenged. Princess Kang Hua, her father, Yan Shi Ting and all the witnesses in the Yan Manor were dead.
Yan Shi Ning only had Pei Jin left in the world. She couldn’t predict the future but she could use all her abilities to protect herself and those she cared about.
End of Chapter Forty-Eight
Chapter Eighteen (Part 1)
Pei Jin understood the saying a day equals a year.
During the nights Pei Jin fisted his hands and during the early mornings his intuition warned him Bei Dou was omitting something from him.
‘Bei Dou is it today?’ Pei Jin asked.
Bei Dou silently cursed Pei Jin. Pei Jin woke him up too early in the mornings.
Pei Jin smiled, he never seen Bei Dou silently holding back words to that extent.
Bei Dou passed Pei Jin a small bottle.
‘What is this?’ Pei Jin asked.
‘Prevents pregnancy,’ Bei Dou said.
Suddenly the small bottle felt heavy in Pei Jin’s hand and his face darkened.
‘If you don’t care about the throne then you’re not impatient to have children,’ Bei Dou said.
They both knew Yan Shi Ning’s life would be endanger if she was pregnant with Pei Jin’s child. Pei Jin put the small bottle in a pouch.
‘I forgot to tell you the remedy will be harmful to the body if used over a long period,’ Bei Dou said.
‘You’ve been playing me!’ Pei Jin said.
Pei Jin realised it was safe for him to eat Yan Shi Ning long ago, but Bei Dou poured cold water on him by purposely making him wait a long time.
Bei Dou didn’t care about Pei Jin’s resentful eyes of daggers.
Pei Jin left the Bei Dou’s chamber in an angry state. When he returned to his and Yan Shi Ning’s chamber, he saw Yan Shi Ning rubbing her neck and his anger disappeared.
Pei Jin remembered he was too excited in the middle of night and suckled Yan Shi Ning’s neck.
‘Big brother, you dare smile!’ Yan Shi Ning said. ‘Tonight is the harvest festival banquet. What am I going to wear to hide this?’
Yan Shi Ning picked up a spoonful of chicken congee and ate it but she was too angry to taste anything.
‘Wear a dress with a high collar,’ Pei Jin said.
Pei Jin sat next to Yan Shi Ning at the table and he ate half of her bowl of chicken congee.
‘Big brother, that’s my bowl of chicken congee,’ Yan Shi Ning said.
Pei Jin licked his lips and smiled like a demon. ‘What can saliva do?’
Yan Shi Ning thought about Pei Jin kissing her each night and she blushed. What saliva? What prince? If Pei Jin was a prince, how could he shamelessly eat her half eaten bowl of congee?
‘Ninth prince, mistress, Lady Su’s messenger delivered a chest,’ a maid said from outside the chamber.
Pei Jin accepted the chest from the maid and showed it to Yan Shi Ning. Lady Su was the best dressmaker in the imperial city. He asked Lady Su to make a heavenly dress for Yan Shi Ning. He opened the chest and the dress inside satisfied his request.
‘Wife, come here and see if this dress fits,’ Pei Jin said.
‘Is this dress for me?’ Yan Shi Ning asked.
Pei Jin laughed. ‘Do you think it’s for me?’
Yan Shi Ning’s shaky hands picked up the light blue dress that shone like stars. She was overwhelmed by awe, she had never seen such a beautiful dress like it before.
‘This is the first dress from me,’ Pei Jin said. ‘In the future I’ll give you many dresses.’
Yan Shi Ning raised her head and looked at Pei Jin suspiciously.
‘Quickly go change,’ Pei Jin said. ‘You’re wearing this dress to tonight’s harvest festival banquet.’
Yan Shi Ning happily ran to the screen to change into the dress and warmth itched Pei Jin’s heart.
‘In the past didn’t I promise you one day I would give you the most beautiful dress in the world?’ Pei Jin asked.
The twelve-year-old Yan Shi Ning wasn’t the same as the six-year-old Yan Shi Ning who only knew how to eat, play and sleep. The twelve-year-old Yan Shi Ning slowly pass by the dressmaker’s shop in Xuan Qing and admired the beautiful dress fabrics. But her mother never accepted her father’s silver taels so all her dresses could only be ordinary.
At that time Pei Jin was only given a small monthly allowance from the palace, but it was used to build good connections. He didn’t have enough money to buy Yan Shi Ning beautiful dresses and he could only promise her, ‘one day I’ll give you the most beautiful dress in the world.’
Of course Yan Shi Ning would deny she loved beautiful dresses, ‘who would want a beautiful dress?’
Yan Shi Ning couldn’t believe she finally wore a heavenly dress. She turned around and saw Pei Jin behind her.
‘Big brother, why are you standing here?’ Yan Shi Ning asked.
‘You don’t need to be shy,’ Pei Jin said. ‘I’ve seen and touched it before.’
Goose bumps surfaced on Yan Shi Ning’s whole body. ‘Big brother, did you ask a dressmaker to make this dress for me?’
Pei Jin nodded his head.
‘Big brother, then how did you know my body measurements?’ Yan Shi Ning asked.
Pei Jin waved his hands. ‘I told you I’ve seen and touched it. Why wouldn’t I know your body measurements?’
‘Go to your grave!’ Yan Shi Ning said.
Pei Jin laughed shamelessly. Of course he would know Yan Shi Ning’s body measurements after measuring one of her dresses.
Yan Shi Ning calmed her temper, stepped in front of the screen and sat next to Pei Jin.
‘Big brother, why did you give me a dress?’ Yan Shi Ning asked.
‘I was scared you would throw away all your ugly dresses,’ Pei Jin said.
‘Big brother, you’re too generous,’ Yan Shi Ning mocked.
‘Of course, your husband is always generous,’ Pei Jin said.
‘But… this dress must be expensive,’ Yan Shi Ning said.
Yan Shi Ning knew Lady Su’s dresses were the most expensive dresses in the imperial city. At the banquet in the palace more than a month ago, Yan Shi Ting wore a dress made by Lady Su and it was almost expensive as half of the prime minister’s yearly allowance. She only needed to glance at the dress she wore to know that it was more expensive than the dress Yan Shi Ting wore that day.
‘Wife, are you sad for your husband’s lost silver taels?’ Pei Jin asked. ‘You don’t need to be sad. As long as you’re happy, your husband is willing to lose all his property.’
Yan Shi Ning suspected Pei Jin was secretly rich. She shook her head. What property? Pei Jin had little property to lose.
End of Chapter Eighteen (Part 1)