At home Pei Jin reflected about Wang Fu Mu’s note.
Yan Shi Ning felt Pei Jin toss and turn on the bed.
‘Pei Jin, are you a cong you bing?’ Yan Shi Ning asked.
Yan Shi Ning kicked Pei Jin who was crawling under her inner robe.
‘Shi Ning, your temper is worse by the day,’ Pei Jin teased.
Yan Shi Ning didn’t want to admit Pei Jin was right about her temper.
‘What are you going to do if you can’t tolerate my temper?’ Yan Shi Ning asked.
‘Of course I can tolerate your temper,’ Pei Jin said.
Pei Jin knew if he teased Yan Shi Ning too much then she would kick him outside their chamber.
Yan Shi Ning knew Pei Jin was troubled about something otherwise he wouldn’t have trouble sleeping. ‘Pei Jin, what’s wrong? Did something happen in the palace?’
‘Shi Ning, what do you think about tenth brother?’ Pei Jin asked.
‘He’s soft, calm and beautiful,’ Yan Shi Ning said. ‘At a glance he looks like someone harmless.’
‘What if my harmless tenth brother wants to harm me?’ Pei Jin asked.
‘What?’ Yan Shi Ning asked.
Pei Jin explained to Yan Shi Ning about Wang Fu Mu’s note.
‘We didn’t leave a trace at the harvest festival,’ Yan Shi Ning said. ‘How did the crown prince know we were involved?’
‘I don’t know why he knows but he wouldn’t want to warn imperial father unless he has evidence,’ Pei Jin said.
Yan Shi Ning thought perhaps it was her fault that the crown prince found evidence. She slowly recalled everything that happened at the Yan Manor and she suspected the crown prince was involved in Yan Shi Ting’s death.
‘Pei Jin, do you remember I told you Yan Shi Ting’s death was suspicious?’ Yan Shi Ning asked.
Pei Jin nodded his head. He remembered Yan Shi Ning wasn’t certain if someone pushed Yan Shi Ting into the well or Yan Shi Ting accidently fell into the well.
‘Shi Ning are you saying that tenth brother killed Yan Shi Ting?’ Pei Jin asked.
‘That day Yan Shi Ting scared me and I left her in the gardens,’ Yan Shi Ning said. ‘A while later her body was found in the well. I remember in the gardens there’s a sculpture. Perhaps the crown prince was hiding behind it that day, overheard what I said to Yan Shi Ting and that’s how he knows we were involved in the wedding incident.’
‘Shi Ning if your speculations are true then why would tenth brother kill Yan Shi Ting?’ Pei Jin asked.
Yan Shi Ning couldn’t believe someone who looked harmless like the crown prince would push Yan Shi Ting into the well. ‘Pei Jin, perhaps my speculations are wrong and the crown prince didn’t kill Yan Shi Ting.’
Pei Jin knew Yan Shi Ning was frightened that a harmless Pei Lam was capable of heartlessly killing Yan Shi Ting. ‘Shi Ning, I didn’t want to go see tenth brother but now I need to go see him.’
Yan Shi Ning heard the sadness in Pei Jin’s tone. After Bei Dou captured the crown prince, Bei Dou locked the crown prince in a secure place. But Pei Jin never visited the crown prince and she thought perhaps Pei Jin wanted to maintain the small brotherly bond between them.
‘In the past I was reluctant to let Bei Dou deal with the crown prince,’ Pei Jin said. ‘But now I know I was naive. If imperial father found out the truth then three years of firewood collected would be burned within a shichen hour.’
Yan Shi Ning was scared Pei Jin’s fear was true and the emperor would kill Pei Jin if the emperor found out the truth.
‘Pei Jin, why does the emperor hate you?’ Yan Shi Ning asked.
‘I thought about why for many years,’ Pei Jin said. ‘I even suspected I wasn’t imperial father’s blood son.’
‘Pei Jin, you know that’s not true,’ Yan Shi Ning said. ‘If you’re not the emperor’s blood son then you wouldn’t be alive now.’
‘That’s why at the right opportunity I need to ask my imperial father why he hates me,’ Pei Jin said.
Yan Shi Ning’s heart ached for Pei Jin because it was something that troubled his heart for years.
‘Pei Jin, there’s something else,’ Yan Shi Ning said.
‘What?’ Pei Jin asked.
‘Why would Wang Fu Mu who is the closest person to the emperor pass a note to you?’ Yan Shi Ning asked suspiciously.
Pei Jin hesitated to answer.
‘Last time you promised you wouldn’t hide anything else from me!’ Yan Shi Ning said.
‘Shi Ning… you didn’t ask me about this so I didn’t lie to you,’ Pei Jin said. ‘Shi Ning… I’ll tell you another secret I haven’t told anyone else before.’
Yan Shi Ning silently listened to Pei Jin talk about Wang Fu Mu.
‘When Wang Fu Mu was a young eunuch he was bullied in the palace,’ Pei Jin said. ‘Like when he was thirteen years old he knocked over a vase and was nearly beaten to death. He used the strength he had left to run and hide in a chamber. Inside the chamber was a young man who pulled out a pill and put it in Wang Fu Mu’s life. The young man climbed the window after he heard other people chasing after Wang Fu Mu. The pill Wang Fu Mu swallowed was a rare pill that protected a person’s qi. It saved Wang Fu Mu’s life. At that time Wang Fu Mu didn’t know who his mysterious young savor was. But it motivated Wang Fu Mu to survive long enough to repay his savor so he slowly built connections in the palace.’
Pei Jin held Yan Shi Ning’s hand. ‘Three years later Wang Fu Mu met his savor again. It was my imperial uncle, Prince Chen Nan who returned to the palace on horseback after conquering Southern Jiang. Wang Fu Mu didn’t dare to say that he knew the heroic Prince Chen Nan. So imperial uncle didn’t recognise Wang Fu Mu. Later their fates changed. Wang Fu Mu crawled into a high position and my imperial uncle’s status slowly diminished. Wang Fu Mu’s heart ached for his savor. Wang Fu Mu secretly followed imperial uncle to help imperial uncle at the right opportunity. But he failed to find out imperial father had put a sleeping pill into imperial uncle’s wine cup until after imperial uncle fell off a horse and died.’
Yan Shi Ning felt Pei Jin’s sadness.
‘Wang Fu Mu secretly grieved for imperial uncle’s death while serving imperial father,’ Pei Jin said. ‘Wang Fu Mu failed to repay imperial uncle for saving his life. But Wang Fu Mu remembered out of all the emperor’s sons, imperial uncle loved me the most. So Wang Fu Mu secretly protected me to repay imperial uncle. Imperial father regards Wang Fu Mu highly because imperial father believes Wang Fu Mu doesn’t favor any of imperial father’s sons. Even I didn’t know Wang Fu Mu was secretly protecting me for a long time.’
‘How did you find out?’ Yan Shi Ning asked.
‘Shi Ning, do you remember the first day I arrived in Xuan Qing?’ Pei Jin asked.
Yan Shi Ning’s teeth itched while she remembered her pitiful six-year-old self who was bullied by Pei Jin.
‘During that period Consort Chen died,’ Pei Jin said. ‘Assassins were sent to kill me but Wang Fu Mu warned me to be careful otherwise I wouldn’t be alive now… like during Consort Chen’s funeral, Wang Fu Mu warned me to be careful of my food and drinks. The empress sent a bowl of soup to me and I listened to Wang Fu Mu’s warning. I used a silver needle to test the bowl of soup, it was poisoned. Afterward I looked for Wang Fu Mu and he told me about how imperial uncle saved his life. Then he advised me to follow my teacher to Xuan Qing on the pretence that I’m grieving for Consort Chen’s death…’
‘Is that why you came to Xuan Qing?’ Yan Shi Ning asked.
‘Yes,’ Pei Jin said.
‘Imperial uncle said he was powerless to help you but he helped you a lot,’ Yan Shi Ning said.
‘That’s right,’ Pei Jin said. ‘Without imperial uncle then I would have died long ago. I wouldn’t have met you and we wouldn’t have conceived a child together… Shi Ning, we can’t hide your pregnancy for much longer.’
‘Why?’ Yan Shi Ning asked.
‘Imperial father wants me to follow seventh brother’s example,’ Pei Jin said. ‘Imperial father asked me if he could choose a second wife and concubines for me.’
Yan Shi Ning hid the sadness in her heart and smiled. ‘That’s a good suggestion. I think our home is a little cold. If there are more people then it’ll become lively.’
Pei Jin and Yan Shi Ning silently looked at each other’s eyes while smiling.
‘Wife, how can you lie this well?’ Pei Jin asked.
Yan Shi Ning looked innocently at Pei Jin. ‘What I said earlier was sincere.’
Pei Jin’s hands moved closer to Yan Shi Ning’s body. ‘Truly?’
‘Yes,’ Yan Shi Ning said.
‘Shi Ning, why aren’t you scared of being tickled anymore?’ Pei Jin asked.
‘I’m used to you,’ Yan Shi Ning said.
Pei Jin frowned, he couldn’t tickle Yan Shi Ning to force her to tell the truth.
‘When will we need to tell others I’m pregnant?’ Yan Shi Ning asked.
‘We’ll wait a little longer to protect our child,’ Pei Jin said.
‘I’ll be more cautious after others know I’m pregnant,’ Yan Shi Ning promised.
Pei Jin hugged Yan Shi Ning. ‘Shi Ning, don’t worry. I’m here to protect you. When I’m not here I’ll ask my guards to secretly protect you.’
The night sky darkened but Yan Shi Ning couldn’t sleep.
Pei Jin remembered Xiao Zai’s confession and his eyes brightened.
‘Wife, tonight we can’t sleep,’ Pei Jin said. ‘Why don’t we do it together?’
‘No,’ Yan Shi Ning said.
‘Yes,’ Pei Jin said.
Pei Jin took off Yan Shi Ning’s inner robe and his head crawled under her undergarments.
Yan Shi Ning felt Pei Jin’s warm mouth suckled her breasts and her body turned limp.
Pei Jin nibbled Yan Shi Ning’s erect nipples.
‘It hurts…’ Yan Shi Ning said.
‘Shi Ning, does your chest wound hurt?’ Pei Jin asked.
Yan Shi Ning blushed and shook her head. ‘You bit too hard.’
‘Shi Ning… later I’ll let you bite me,’ Pei Jin said.
End of Chapter Fifty-Three
The following morning Yan Shi Ning woke up refreshed.
In contrast Pei Jin woke up frustrated. Yan Shi Ning was smiling mockingly at him and his frustrations calmed.
‘Wife, you can hide at the start of a month but you’ll be caught before the middle of a month,’ Pei Jin said.
Yan Shi Ning didn’t refute Pei Jin’s words. Instead she glanced in all four directions. She was satisfied they were alone and spoke softly. ‘Big brother, who do you think sent the assassins?’
‘Wife, you’re home,’ Pei Jin said. ‘You don’t need to be weary at home.’
Yan Shi Ning remembered everyone inside Pei Jin’s manor were within control of his palm, she realised she worried pointlessly. ‘Big brother, what do you think?’
‘Wife, what do you think?’ Pei Jin asked.
‘Anyone is possible,’ Yan Shi Ning said.
‘Why?’ Pei Jin asked.
‘The assassins attacked the emperor and the princes,’ Yan Shi Ning said. ‘It looks like they wanted to kill the Dian Kingdom’s emperor and heirs and cause chaos throughout the Dian Kingdom. If that’s true then who are the Dian Kingdom’s strongest enemies?’
Pei Jin nodded in agreement. ‘That’s a possibility.’
‘But there’s a flaw in that logic,’ Yan Shi Ning said. ‘Diplomats from Dian Kingdom’s strongest enemy kingdoms attended the banquet. If they sent the assassins then there’s no reason for them to risk sending their most talented ministers and warriors.’
‘Um, you’re right,’ Pei Jin said. ‘Besides imperial father wouldn’t allow diplomats from enemy kingdoms to enter the palace without having them followed to find out if they were planning an ambush.’
Yan Shi Ning glanced in all directions and she smiled. ‘You and your father share that same trait.’
‘Of course, we’re father and son after all,’ Pei Jin said. ‘If they won’t sent by an enemy kingdom then who do you think is the culprit?’
Yan Shi Ning shook her head. ‘I’m not certain. But I think that anyone else is a possibility.’
‘Who else?’ Pei Jin said.
Yan Shi Ning thought Pei Jin looked like he was in deep thought. ‘Big brother, I think you know who the suspects are.’
Pei Jin nodded his head. ‘But I want to hear your thoughts since my little lion loves to solve mysteries the most.’
‘I think the first suspect is seventh prince,’ Yan Shi Ning said. ‘Even if he saved the emperor, who can be certain it’s not a ruse to escape suspicion? He and the crown prince are the strongest candidate to become emperor. If he saves the emperor then his bond with the emperor would be stronger than the emperor’s bond with the crown prince. Also, the assassins attacked the emperor, the crown prince and big brother. But the assassins didn’t attack him. It’s possible he wants to earn the emperor’s gratitude and if the crown prince and big brother died during the attack then he’ll have less threats.’
Pei Jin poured tea into two cups. ‘Indeed seventh brother is a suspect. But if they were sent by seventh brother, he wouldn’t leave a trail to trace back to him.’
‘I thought about that too,’ Yan Shi Ning said. ‘It’s also a possibility someone wants to frame seventh prince.’
‘Alternately, he purposely ordered them not to attack him to make him less suspicious,’ Pei Jin said. ‘Mixing truths and lies together is a tactic seventh brother likes to use to fool others.’
Yan Shi Ning remembered when she attended her first banquet in the palace, she wasn’t familiar with the surroundings and accidently bumped into Pei Zhang. He looked at her condescendingly and his cold arrogance made him hateful.
Pei Jin noticed Yan Shi Ning was frowning while he drank tea. ‘What are you thinking?’
‘I don’t like Pei Zhang,’ Yan Shi Ning said. ‘I think he’s a dangerous person.’
‘More dangerous than me?’ Pei Jin teased.
‘No, big brother is a lot more dangerous than him,’ Yan Shi Ning said.
Yan Shi Ning spoke truthfully. Although Pei Zhang was cold hearted and wasn’t someone a person could easily befriend, Pei Zhang wasn’t as dangerous as Pei Jin. Because Pei Jin’s gentle and kind act allowed other people to dare to come closer to Pei Jin with their guards down.
Pei Jin saw Yan Shi Ning gritted her teeth and he smiled. ‘If you could choose to marry seventh brother or me, who would you choose?’
Heavens! Yan Shi Ning thought Pei Jin was asking her to choose between a dangerous man and a more dangerous man to marry.
Yan Shi Ning picked up a sweet bun and tucked it in Pei Jin’s mouth. ‘Eat!’
Pei Jin happily ate the sweet bun. ‘Who else do you suspect?’
Yan Shi Ning felt like talking to Pei Jin was like walking in different directions, from jests to sincere conversations.
‘The second and third suspects are the empress and the crown prince,’ Yan Shi Ning said. ‘They could have sent assassins to frame seventh prince. Big brother, think about why it’s strange the assassins attacked the crown prince and big brother but didn’t attack seventh prince. It’s a possibility the empress and the crown prince wants other people to suspect seventh prince. It’s a pity if they sent the assassins, they wouldn’t have anticipated seventh prince would risk his life to save the emperor.’
‘But to frame seventh brother by directly attacking imperial father wouldn’t benefit the empress,’ Pei Jin said. ‘If seventh brother didn’t protect imperial father… what would be the consequences? Supporters for seventh brother and the crown prince are strong on both sides. If the empress knows when victory is uncertain, she wouldn’t use that tactic.’
Yan Shi Ning realised Pei Jin understood everyone in the palace as much as he was familiar with his fingers.
‘Who else?’ Pei Jin asked.
‘Someone from Huang Guo’s manor,’ Yan Shi Ning said.
Pei Jin’s forehead creased, he didn’t expect Yan Shi Ning would also think people from Huang Guo’s side were suspects.
‘After the assassins were captured they killed themselves,’ Yan Shi Ning said. ‘To train assassins to be loyal and protect their master’s identity, their master needs to be someone who is powerful enough that the assassins would be scared to betray them. I did think about Consort La being a suspect. But Consort La’s relatives doesn’t have powerful connections.’
Pei Jin shook her head. ‘Wife, that’s a naive notion. Even if Consort La’s relatives doesn’t have powerful connections, thirteenth brother could become emperor and her relatives will gain more power. There are some people who are willing to gamble once for the biggest gain.’
‘Big brother, do you suspect Consort La?’ Yan Shi Ning asked.
Yan Shi Ning felt that Consort La was a gentle and sincere person and the loveable fool Pei Khan would struggle to become emperor.
‘I wanted to say that you shouldn’t dismiss someone if they don’t have powerful connections,’ Pei Jin said. ‘Because sometimes a person purposely make themselves appear like they have no powerful connections to hide their powerful connections.’
Yan Shi Ning thought Pei Jin was alluding to himself and she was curious if he secretly built powerful connections. ‘What about big brother?’
Pei Jin held Yan Shi Ning’s hand and his finger wrote yes on her palm.
Yan Shi Ning raised her head and looked closely at Pei Jin’s expression. In that moment the wind rattled the window.
‘Wife, it appears you’re fooled again,’ Pei Jin said.
Yan Shi Ning heard Pei Jin’s laugh until he was breathless and her heart pounded angrily. She couldn’t believe earlier she was willing to give herself to an expert liar.
Pei Jin felt that Yan Shi Ning was truly angry. He pulled her onto his lap and hastily consoled her. ‘I was teasing you. You were right about Huang Guo. He could have sent the assassins. Think about it, I wasn’t armed but the assassins were armed and they didn’t injure me. But if he sent the assassins, it’s strange why the assassins didn’t attack seventh brother.’
Pei Jin hugged Yan Shi Ning tightly. She ignored his shameless hands on her body and listened to his persuasive reasoning.
‘Big brother, if everyone is capable then who is the culprit?’ Yan Shi Ning asked.
Pei Jin nibbled Yan Shi Ning’s earlobe and blew in her ear. ‘Wife, you forgot someone.’
‘Who?’ Yan Shi Ning asked.
‘Your husband,’ Pei Jin said.
End of Chapter Twenty-One