Chapter Five (Part 1)
Outside the Yan Manor the nightwatchman struck bamboo sticks together.
Pei Jin awoken by the sounds of the struck bamboo sticks. He heard the nightwatchman signalled it was the hour of the ox (1am to 3am). He watched Yan Shi Ning who was sleeping peacefully next to him for a while. Then he parted the beaded curtains, got out of bed and stepped toward the table.
On the table incense sticks were burning, giving off a faint scent. Pei Jin’s eyes darkened. The last time he met Yan Shi Ning in the palace, he had smelt the same faint scent on her body. At that time he thought the scent was familiar and didn’t think too much about it. It wasn’t until he laid in bed next to Yan Shi Ning did it occur to him that the scent was eerily familiar. He didn’t want to make Yan Shi Ning anxious so he kept quiet about the scent. It was the same scent his adoptive mother, Consort Chen used that year.
His birth mother was a palace maid who died after giving birth to him. When his mother died, Consort Chen didn’t have children. Consort Chen asked his father to let her adopt him and his father consented.
Consort Chen was a gentle and kind person. She had a healthy body and was pregnant near the age of thirty. But during her pregnancy her health slowly declined. The imperial physicians who examined her reported the same outcome, she had a mysterious illness.
Consort Chen was isolated in a cold chamber of the palace and a rumor was spread about the ‘Jin curse,’ whoever was his mother wouldn’t survive a pregnancy. Consort Chen died when she was four months pregnant. Before she died she gripped the incense sticks in her hand, cried and told him that someone poisoned her.
Pei Jin became ill after Consort Chen died. But a young physician entered the palace and examined him. The physician told him that the incense sticks were poisoned. After he recovered, the physician resigned and left the palace. He hid the incense sticks and studied medicine under the guidance of the imperial physicians to secretly find out what was the poison added to the incense sticks. The incense sticks he hid didn’t have wings, but it flew away. He searched for them but he didn’t find out who had taken them.
Pei Jin regretted that Consort Chen’s death was still unresolved. Unexpectedly twelve years later the incense sticks reappeared in the Yan Manor, inside Yan Shi Ning’s chamber. His eyes narrowed while thinking about who wanted to harm Yan Shi Ning. His intuition conjured an image in his mind of the haughty and cold face of Yan Shi Ning’s step-mother, Princess Kang Hua.
Princess Kang Hua and the empress’ relationship was good whereas Princess Kang Hua and Yan Shi Ning’s relationship was bad. His heart pounded endlessly, luckily he discovered the incense sticks before it could seriously harm Yan Shi Ning.
Pei Jin contemplated for a while and decided to take the incense sticks away to show someone at his manor. He searched for fabrics around the chamber and found Yan Shi Ning’s undergarments. He smiled, picked up her undergarments and wrapped the incense sticks.
Pei Jing was about the leap out of the window when he remembered the purpose of his visit. He took out a jade pendant, walked to the bed and carefully put it on Yan Shi Ning’s palm.
‘This is something I won from an elder in Southern Jiang,’ Pei Jin whispered. ‘I thought it was a fake jade but it turned out to be a rare jade pendant. I was going to sell it but I thought about you. Apart from the tao (a Chinese toy drum) I gave you, I haven’t given you anything else. This will be my love token to you. It took a long time to carve the jade pendant for you, forgive me for my amateur craftsmanship.’
Pei Jin gently stroked Yan Shi Ning’s head and quickly leapt out the window.
The nightwatchman signalled it was the hour of the tiger (3am to 5am) and Pei Jin couldn’t wait until his and Yan Shi Ning’s wedding ceremony.
Yan Shi Ning awoken from a nightmare. In the nightmare she was a six-year-old again, the first time she met Pei Jin. That year she heard Pei Jin’s adoptive mother, Consort Chen who was four months pregnant had died. Pei Jin’s teacher resigned but Pei Jin’s teacher asked the emperor if he could take Pei Jin to stay with him in his country home while Pei Jin was grieving. The emperor could see Pei Jin’s grief and agreed.
Unfortunately Pei Jin’s teacher’s country home was in Xuan Qing, next to Dung Thi and Yan Shi Ning’s home.
In Yan Shi Ning’s nightmare it was that afternoon she was on her way home after a fight with other children, she saw Pei Jin stood with the sunset behind his back.
Yan Shi Ning thought Pei Jin was a handsome boy. But she was curious why Pei Jin was staring up at the sky.
‘Big brother, what are you looking at?’ Yan Shi Ning asked.
‘I’m looking at the rice noodle rolls fallen from the sky,’ Pei Jin said.
‘Liar, only bird poo fall from the sky,’ Yan Shi Ning said.
‘Little sister, I’m not lying,’ Pei Jin said. ‘I caught this rice noodle roll from the sky.’
Pei Jin showed Yan Shi Ning the rice noodle roll in his hand and ate it.
Yan Shi Ning saw the serious expression on Pei Jin’s face and she believed him. Afterward she tilted her head back and she stared up at the sky.
‘Little sister, you can’t stand here,’ Pei Jin said. ‘You need to stand over there.’
Yan Shi Ning walked to the spot Pei Jin pointed to then she fell into the hole he dug and concealed!
Yan Shi Ning sobbed loudly. Pei Jin’s teacher heard the commotion and ran outside his home.
‘Pei Jin, what are you doing?’ Pei Jin’s teacher asked.
‘Teacher, I saw a little girl fell into a hole,’ Pei Jin said. ‘When I walked to the hole, little sister was crying. I wanted to give her the rice noodle roll that teacher’s wife made to console her. But I don’t know how to pull little sister up from the hole.’
Yan Shi Ning’s body shook with anger while she sobbed. She didn’t know how Pei Jin maintained a serious expression while lying smoothly. She cried louder, she was fooled by the liar!
Luckily Yan Shi Ning’s nightmare ended at that moment. She looked at her surroundings and sighed in relief when she saw the spot next to her on the bed was empty. The morning sunlight shone through the window and she reluctantly sat up on the bed.
‘Heavens!’ Yan Shi Ning cursed.
The six-year-old Yan Shi Ning fell into a hole but was quickly pulled out of the hole. Unfortunately twelve years later she fell into a hole for life. There wouldn’t be escape even after death.
Yan Shi Ning cursed mouthy boy. What danger? What grieving? Mouthy boy was allowed to leave the palace because his teacher feared his life was in danger and didn’t want him to grieve deeply by himself. But she saw his real personality behind his grieving mask.
Yan Shi Ning didn’t know how mouthy boy could deceive other people. What gentle ninth prince? He was a deadly liar! She reasoned that other people must be blind if they believed he was capable of being gentle and kind.
Yan Shi Ning felt insanely angry. She wanted to break apart her bed but when she fisted her hands, she felt something hard. It was a beautiful jade pendant. She looked closer at the jade pendant and she almost spatted out blood. Little lion was engraved at the top of the jade pendant. She didn’t need to think too deeply to know who the owner of the jade pendant was.
Yan Shi Ning got out of bed and searched everywhere in the chamber for her undergarments but it was missing.
‘Big brother, why did you take my undergarments?’ Yan Shi Ning mumbled.
End of Chapter Five (Part 1)