At the end of autumn.
‘You bastard child!’ the empress cursed and sobbed.
‘Imperial mother, this time I’m leaving the imperial city forever,’ Pei Lam said. ‘Imperial mother, take good care of your health.’
‘No!’ the empress said. ‘You’ll come back. Wait until your imperial father calms down and sees Pei Lam’s false heart and you’ll be called back.’
The empress didn’t want to accept all her years of scheming would fail. She only had one son, how could she accept being separated from her son?
‘Imperial mother, status, power and money will turn to smoke,’ Pei Lam said. ‘Your heart doesn’t need to waste energy about smoke.’
Pei Lam knelt in front of his mother, hit his forehead on the floor and left his mother’s chamber.
Pei Lam’s words prompted the empress to remember a year ago the grandmaster she met told her the same fortune that everything will turn to smoke and it was better to let go of swords to free the heart.
Pei Lam’s father had refused to see him since that day he stabbed himself. He didn’t know if his father would be willing to see him before he left the palace.
Pei Lam stood in front of his father’s chamber and looked at the fallen flower petals. He knew his father was too angry to see him but he was amused at his childish father.
Wang Fu Mu was frightened how Pei Lam could smile in Pei Lam’s situation. ‘Crown prince.’
Pei Lam turned around and he saw Wang Fu Mu who served his father for more than twenty years. Wang Fu Mu was a little eunuch at the age of ten and later became his father’s advisor. He knew Wang Fu Mu was someone who was capable otherwise Wang Fu Mu wouldn’t be the closest person to his father.
Wang Fu Mu was even more frightened after Pei Lam bowed to him. ‘Crown prince, what are you doing? Your servant doesn’t dare to receive.’
‘You have a fast mouth,’ Pei Lam said.
Wang Fu Mu thought Pei Lam was possessed by a demon. ‘Crown prince, the emperor doesn’t want to see you. It’s better if crown prince visit another day that isn’t cold like today.’
‘I don’t know if I can see my imperial father when he isn’t angry anymore,’ Pei Lam said.
Earlier Wang Fu Mu informed the emperor that Pei Lam wanted to see the emperor and thought it was pitiful to see how disappointed the emperor was in Pei Lam. He thought perhaps after the emperor calms down and couldn’t tolerate Pei Zhang anymore then the emperor would summon Pei Lam to return to the palace.
Pei Lam knew Wang Fu Mu was a fox who would survive many more years in the palace. He bowed to Wang Fu Mu to force Wang Fu Mu to do him a favor and pass on his warning to his father.
Wang Fu Mu bowed his head lower than Pei Lam’s bowed head.
‘Wang Fu Mu, if my imperial father doesn’t want to see me then I’ll trouble you to pass my warning to my imperial father,’ Pei Lam said. ‘I trust you’ll pass on my warning to my imperial father.’
‘Your servant will listen to crown prince’s words carefully,’ Wang Fu Mu said.
‘Warn my imperial father to be careful of ninth brother,’ Pei Lam said.
‘Crown prince, what does that mean?’ Wang Fu Mu asked.
‘Ninth brother was involved in the harvest festival incident,’ Pei Lam said.
‘Your servant understands,’ Wang Fu Mu said.
Pei Lam knelt in front of his father’s chamber, hit his forehead on the ground and left the palace.
Wang Fu Mu entered the emperor’s chamber and he didn’t know what the emperor was thinking while staring out the window. He thought out of the princes, Pei Jin was the most similar to the emperor but he didn’t know why the emperor treated Pei Jin coldly.
‘Your majesty, the crown prince has left the palace,’ Wang Fu Mu said.
The emperor turned around and glared at Wang Fu Mu. ‘He is no longer the crown prince.’
Wang Fu Mu knew the emperor wasn’t angry at him but was angry to be reminded of why Pei Lam wasn’t the crown prince anymore.
‘What did he say?’ the emperor asked.
‘The crown prince wants your majesty to take care of your majesty’s health,’ Wang Fu Mu said. ‘The crown prince also warned you to be careful of seventh prince.’
Wang Fu Mu knew if there was a day Pei Lam returned to the palace then he would be executed for deceiving the emperor. But he was willing to risk his life for Pei Jin to succeed.
‘Be careful of seventh prince?’ the emperor asked. ‘Why did the crown prince say that to you?’
‘The crown prince didn’t say why,’ Wang Fu Mu said.
‘I understand,’ the emperor said.
Outside the palace gates many imperial guards escorted Pei Lam outside the imperial city because the empress was concerned about Pei Lam’s safety.
Pei Lam thought his mother’s concern for his safety was wasted.
The horse carriage travelled for a long time then it suddenly it stopped.
Pei Lam closed his eyes and he could feel there was bad news outside the horse carriage.
‘Crown prince, ninth prince is in front of the horse carriage,’ an imperial guard said.
Pei Lam opened the curtains and he saw Pei Jin sat on a horse with the sunlight glaring behind Pei Jin.
‘Tenth brother,’ Pei Jin said.
‘Ninth brother, why are you here?’ Pei Lam asked.
‘We’re close brothers like arms and legs,’ Pei Jin said. ‘Of course I’m here to escort you outside the imperial city.’
‘Ninth brother, you’re wasting your heart’s energy,’ Pei Lam said.
‘I heard you’re going to a remote town that’s extremely cold,’ Pei Jin said. ‘Did you bring enough warm clothes?’
‘I brought enough,’ Pei Lam said.
Pei Jin frowned. ‘Your ninth sister asked me to say farewell to you on her behalf.’
Pei Lam hated thinking of Yan Shi Ning as Pei Jin’s wife but he smiled politely. ‘Ninth brother, other people are envious you’re married to ninth sister.’
‘Tenth brother, for many years I still can’t see through your true heart,’ Pei Jin said.
‘Ninth brother, aren’t you also someone that’s hard for other people to see your true heart?’ Pei Lam asked.
Pei Jin’s back turned cold at the sight of Pei Lam’s disturbing smile. ‘Your ninth brother is a simpleton.’
‘The day is late,’ Pei Lam said. ‘Ninth brother should return home.’
‘Tenth brother, take care of your health,’ Pei Jin said. ‘We’ll see each other again.’
‘We won’t see each other again,’ Pei Lam said.
Pei Jin was startled at the calm conviction in Pei Lam’s tone. He didn’t know what Pei Lam’s intentions were.
Pei Jin watched Pei Lam’s horse carriage leave for a while then Bei Dou appeared next to him.
‘There are twenty-eight imperial guards,’ Pei Jin said. ‘Can you cope?’
Bei Dou nodded his head.
‘Alright then go smooth as the wind,’ Pei Jin said.
Inside the horse carriage Pei Lam closed his eyes and ignored the bumpy ground. What Yan Shi Ning said to Yan Shi Ting at the Yan Manor echoed in his ears, ‘Shi Ting, I’m truly sorry. 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.’
Pei Lam realised Yan Shi Ning wasn’t as beautiful and good as he thought. She was involved in his disastrous wedding day and Pei Jin was the person behind everything. Luckily he found out before he left the palace. He left his father a final warning for his father to see Pei Jin’s true black heart and the palace would no longer be peaceful.
End of Chapter Fifty
Consort La refrained from scolding Pei Wen Cai.
Yan Shi Ning saw Consort La’s sad eyes and she realised Consort La felt powerless to protect Pei Khan.
‘Xiao Khan, stop holding onto your ninth brother and come down,’ Consort La said.
Pei Khan hugged Pei Jin tighter.
‘Mother, it’s alright,’ Pei Jin said. ‘Thirteenth brother still can’t speak?’
Consort La nodded her head and her eyes saddened. Pei Khan was three years old but he couldn’t say more than two consecutive words. It was rumored Pei Khan was foolish thirteenth prince. The emperor favored Consort La after Pei Khan was born, but Consort La lost the emperor’s favor when Pei Khan was slow to speak.
Pei Jin stroked Pei Khan’s head affectionately. ‘Mother, you don’t need to worry. Thirteenth brother looks intelligent. He’ll be able to speak in the future.’
Consort La sighed helplessly.
Yan Shi Ning looked lovingly at Pei Khan while he sat on Pei Jin’s shoulders.
Pei Jin saw Yan Shi Ning smiling warmly at Pei Khan and he realised the little lion loved children.
Yan Shi Ning looked lovingly at Pei Khan because Pei Khan looked like a loveable fool and her heart encouraged her to tease Pei Khan.
The tree branches in the gardens were decorated with fabrics and lanterns and banquet tables were set in the gardens for guests to view the moon on the night of the harvest festival. Yan Shi Ning smelt delicious aromas of food and wine. She happily ate fruits, drank wine and listened to singers. She would have been happier if she wasn’t sitting near two people who were staring at her strangely.
Pei Jin sat on the left of Yan Shi Ning, he was talking to a diplomat visiting from another kingdom. On the right of her was Yan Shi Ting who sat between her and the crown prince.
According to palace protocols Yan Shi Ting wasn’t allowed to sit next to the crown prince if she wasn’t his wife. But the empress said to the emperor, ‘I haven’t seen Yan Shi Ting for a few days and I miss her. Let her sit here.’
Yan Shi Ting acted reluctant to sit next to the crown prince. Yan Shi Ting and the crown prince side by side looked like a stunning painting and everyone knew Yan Shi Ting would become the crown prince’s wife.
Unfortunately Yan Shi Ting’s usual haughtiness wavered a little after sitting next to Yan Shi Ning. She wore a dress that took days to make, but it wasn’t even expensive as half of the dress Yan Shi Ning wore.
In the past Yan Shi Ting looked more beautiful than Yan Shi Ning because Yan Shi Ting wore beautiful dresses and makeup. But after Yan Shi Ning married Pei Jin, Yan Shi Ning was no longer the poor daughter from Xuan Qing.
Yan Shi Ting was unhappy everyone were admiring Yan Shi Ning instead of her. She even caught the crown prince staring at Yan Shi Ning many times.
Yan Shi Ting was jealous and frustrated but she knew where she was sitting and controlled her tongue.
‘Big brother crown prince, eat this fruit,’ Yan Shi Ting said.
‘Thank you,’ Pei Lam said and looked at Yan Shi Ning. ‘Ninth sister, you should eat this fruit too.’
Afterward Pei Lam pretended to watch the dancers. But his heart lingered on the image of Yan Shi Ning adjusting her collar and showed a glimpse of the red kiss mark on her snow white neck. Then his little brother hardened.
Yan Shi Ning sighed happily after Yan Shi Ting and the crown prince stopped staring at her.
Yan Shi Ning saw a palace nurse maid was holding Pei Khan’s hand while walking around the gardens.
‘Nin, Nin,’ Pei Khan said after he saw Pei Jin.
Pei Khan let go of his nurse maid’s hand and he ran toward Pei Jin. But he accidently bumped into Yan Shi Ting and fell on the ground. He cried, pulled Yan Shi Ting’s dress to stand up and the dirt on his hands stained Yan Shi Ting’s dress.
Yan Shi Ting wanted to vent her jealousy and frustrations on the rumored foolish thirteenth prince who dared to stain her dress.
Yan Shi Ning picked up Pei Khan and consoled him. ‘Why is a little man like you crying like an old man, your face will come off.’
Pei Khan startled Yan Shi Ning, she had spoken softly but he heard her.
Pei Khan heard Yan Shi Ning’s soft voice. He looked at her, sniffed and stopped crying.
The palace nurse maid saw Pei Khan holding onto ninth prince’s wife. She quickly walked to them to carry Pei Khan away but Pei Khan hugged ninth prince’s wife’s neck tightly.
‘It’s alright, let thirteenth prince play here with me,’ Yan Shi Ning said.
Pei Khan wiped his nose on Yan Shi Ning’s dress while she was distracted. She gently pinched his bottom.
Pei Khan retaliated by patting Yan Shi Ning’s dress and spoke in a serious tone. ‘Small, small.’
Pei Jin laughed and nearly spat out the tea in his mouth. He leaned close to Yan Shi Ning and whispered in her ear. ‘Wife, your chest is truly small.’
Yan Shi Ning’s head spun insanely. Mouthy boy and little boy were truly brothers!
Yan Shi Ning was about to curse Pei Jin but suddenly a piercing shriek was heard.
‘Assassins!’ a guest cried out.
Yan Shi Ning was shocked to see the assassins and the palace guards’ swords clashing in front of her and chaos around her.
Pei Khan was scared to death and buried his head into Yan Shi Ning’s chest like a little scared turtle putting its head in its shell.
There were many assassins in all directions of the gardens. Some assassins were disguised as palace guards. Most of the assassins’ target was the emperor. But some of them were fighting their way toward Yan Shi Ning’s direction, where there were three princes near her.
Yan Shi Ting screamed loudly, hid behind Pei Lam and gripped his outer robe. His face darkened and he grabbed two wine jars. One to shield his chest from an assassin’s sword and he used the other to smash the assassin’s head. Then he kicked the assassin’s little brother.
While another assassin was attacking Pei Jin, Yan Shi Ning hugged Pei Khan tightly.
Pei Jin stood in front of Yan Shi Ning and Pei Khan. He picked up a cup and aimed it at the assassin’s face. The assassin’s sword struck the cup and aimed the sword at the unprotected Yan Shi Ting.
Yan Shi Ting screamed and used all her strength to pull Yan Shi Ning in front of her to shield her from the assassin’s sword.
‘Shi Ning!’ Pei Jin warned.
Pei Jin leapt and kicked the assassin’s chest. The assassin’s sword sliced the sleeve of Yan Shi Ning’s dress before the assassin fell on the ground.
In that moment Yan Shi Ning’s whole body stiffened from shock and she couldn’t stop tears falling down her face.
Pei Jin hugged Yan Shi Ning.
‘Don’t be scared, I’m here,’ Pei Jin said.
Pei Jin’s eyes stung, he was scared to death he almost lost Yan Shi Ning.
Pei Lam watched Pei Jin hug Yan Shi Ning for a while. Then he glanced at Yan Shi Ting, remembered Yan Shi Ting’s reaction and he smiled cryptically.
Pei Jin and Yan Shi Ning were hugging each other tightly after a life and death situation. After their hearts calmed a little they felt something move between them.
Pei Khan raised his head and he exhaled. ‘No air, no air.’
Pei Jin and Yan Shi Ning laughed. Afterward he hugged both Yan Shi Ning and Pei Khan tightly. But his eyes looked menacingly at Yan Shi Ting.
Yan Shi Ting was shocked by Pei Jin who was usually a gentle man, because there was deadly cold aura in his eyes and her body shook uncontrollably.
End of Chapter Nineteen