Chapter Fifty-Four (Part 2 of 2)
An imperial guard reported the crown prince’s death to the empress.
The imperial guard gave the empress the crown prince’s clothes they found on his dead body and left the empress’ chamber.
The empress hugged her son’s clothes and cried pitifully. She cursed Consort Mu and Pei Zhang until she lost consciousness.
The emperor visited the empress after she woke up and he ordered an imperial physician to sedate her.
The imperial physician followed the emperor’s order and left the chamber.
The emperor returned to his chamber and sobbed.
Even after the empress was sedated she couldn’t sleep peacefully. She was startled awake by familiar voices.
‘Imperial mother, status, power and money will turn to smoke… your heart doesn’t need to waste energy about smoke… everything will turn to smoke… it’s better to let go of swords to free the heart… pay with your life… retribution…’ Bei Dou taunted the empress.
‘Who’s there?’ the empress asked.
The empress looked in four directions until she saw a tall masked figure.
‘Are you human or a demon?’ the empress asked. ‘Imperial guard!’
‘You don’t need to scream,’ Bei Dou said. ‘Everyone around you is dead.’
‘Who are you?’ the empress asked. ‘What do you want?’
‘I’m a demon… I’m here to take your life… you killed many people… you need to die,’ Bei Dou said and pulled out a sword. ‘You’re familiar with his sword. That year you gave it to my father… I love it and brought it here to escort you to hell.’
‘You’re from the Thinh Household,’ the empress said.
‘I’m not human… I’m a demon,’ Bei Dou said and pointed the sword in the empress’ direction. ‘Come here, you killed too many people. They’re all waiting for you in hell, everyone from the Thinh Household, Consort Chen and her child.’
‘Consort Chen and her child?’ the empress asked confusedly.
‘That’s right,’ Bei Dou said. ‘You killed all of them. They’re all waiting for you.’
‘I didn’t kill Consort Chen and her child!’ the empress cried out.
‘If it wasn’t you then who else would kill them?’ Bei Dou asked.
‘It was…’ the empress said. After her panic waned she looked closely at the tall masked figure. ‘You’re not a demon, you’re a human! What do you want?’
Bei Dou jabbed his sword at the empress’ throat. ‘I’m here to take your life!’
‘Did you kill the crown prince?’ the empress asked.
‘The truth is he’s still alive,’ Bei Dou said.
The empress’ grieving heart felt hope.
‘Whether your son lives or dies depends on you,’ Bei Dou said.
‘What are you implying?’ the empress asked.
‘If you love your son then exchange your life for your son’s life,’ Bei Dou said. ‘I’ll spare your son’s life if you kill yourself.’
‘How can I believe your words alone?’ the empress asked. ‘Let me see my son first.’
Bei Dou pulled out a small chest and threw it at the empress.
The empress opened the small chest and saw two fingers and on one finger was the ring that she gave her son.
‘Do you need me to cut him into pieces for you to see before you kill yourself?’ Bei Dou asked.
‘No!’ the empress said. ‘This is good enough. I believe you.’
The empress looked at her son’s fingers and cried.
‘You have three days,’ Bei Dou said. ‘If I don’t hear news of your death then you’ll see your son’s arm. Think about your decision carefully. If you die, your son can’t be the crown prince but he can live.’
‘Are you Pei Zhang’s servant?’ the empress asked.
‘Compared to your useless son seventh prince is more suitable to sit on the throne,’ Bei said and left the empress’ chamber.
End of Chapter Fifty-Four (Part 2 of 2)
Chapter Twenty-Two (Part 2 of 2)
Pei Jin waited outside the Chi Ruan chamber.
Pei Jin could smell the strong herbal scent of the incense sticks while waiting outside.
A while later the crown prince opened the door. The crown prince looked like he was suppressing his frustrations and a little sadness.
‘Ninth brother,’ Pei Lam said.
‘Tenth brother, you’re here too,’ Pei Jin said.
Wang Fu Mu walked to the door before Pei Lam could answer.
‘Ninth prince, come inside,’ Wang Fu Mu said.
Pei Jin looked at the crown prince, nodded his head and entered the Chi Ruan chamber. He immediately saw shattered stone pieces on the floor and his heart became weary.
The emperor tossed a report at Pei Jin.
‘Do you have something to say?’ the emperor asked.
Pei Jin picked up the report from the floor. He feigned shock and knelt on the shattered stone pieces. ‘Imperial father, I was framed.’
‘Two of the assassins were from Southern Jiang!’ the emperor said coldly. ‘You were in Southern Jiang for two years. Indeed you gathered good people!’
Pei Jin’s face whitened. ‘I was framed.’
‘I’m only giving you one chance to explain,’ the emperor said.
Pei Jin knelt on the cold shattered stone pieces long enough for its coldness to flow to his heart. ‘I have no interest in the emperor’s position.’
The emperor understood the unspoken meaning behind Pei Jin’s words, ‘I don’t want the throne. I’ve given up military power and wasted my earnings. I wish to be a carefree prince. Why would I need to kill my father and brothers?’
The emperor saw Pei Jin’s straight back while Pei Jin knelt and noticed Pei Jin was no longer shocked and fearful like earlier. The emperor slitted his eyes at the eyesore in front of him, he realised he had never been able to see through Pei Jin.
The emperor’s heart knew clearly which two princes were battling for the throne. But those two princes had strengths that satisfied his expectations and weaknesses that he couldn’t tolerate. It was hard for him to choose between the two without seeing their true hearts.
So the emperor ordered Wang Fu Mu to sacrifice some assassins at the harvest festival banquet and chose the seating arrangements for the three princes. He truly wanted to know when he was in danger, who would save him. But two assassins from Southern Jiang turned his plan into chaos. Although seventh prince saved him, it wasn’t the result he wanted.
The emperor wanted to know who dared to send those two assassins into the palace! The imperial guards investigated the two assassins’ backgrounds, but nothing certain was discovered.
The emperor knew the assassins attacking him, the crown prince and ninth prince would make seventh prince the first suspect. But he knew seventh prince wouldn’t use such an obvious tactic. Besides, seventh prince wouldn’t risk dying to save him if seventh prince sent those assassins.
The emperor thought about the crown prince being attacked to frame seventh prince. Especially the crown prince’s mother, the empress saw seventh prince as her biggest eyesore and could have sent the assassins to the palace. So he summoned the crown prince to interrogate the crown prince. But he didn’t expect the crown prince knelt and dared to say, ‘Imperial father if you suspect me then take away my crown prince status.’
The emperor broke his favorite ink stone the moment he heard the crown prince easily threatened to forfeit a privilege position and he felt like the blood in his body flowed backward. In that moment he could have used a sword to stab the crown prince to death! He felt like he wasted many years to train the crown prince.
Of course the third suspect was ninth prince. The emperor received a report from the imperial guards’ investigation, ‘the assassins are soldiers from Southern Jiang and are acquainted with ninth prince.’
A long time past but Pei Jin remained kneeling with his back straight while the emperor’s dagger eyes watched Pei Jin closely.
‘You can stand!’ the emperor said.
Pei Jin bowed his head and stood unsteadily. Wang Fu Mu rushed to him and helped him stand.
‘Thank you official Wang,’ Pei Jin said.
The emperor’s heart was moved when he saw the blood stains on Pei Jin’s knees and on the shattered stone pieces on the floor.
‘At that time, your first reaction was to protect your wife,’ the emperor said in a gentler tone.
Pei Jin’s father’s sudden words startled Pei Jin but he nodded his head and he saw his father’s eyes became clouded.
‘At that time, beside you was the crown prince and your thirteenth brother,’ the emperor said.
‘Everything happened suddenly,’ Pei Jin said. ‘I didn’t have time to think. I hope imperial father can forgive me.’
The emperor understood Pei Jin’s unspoken explanation, ‘I followed my instincts and protected what was most important in my heart.’
‘You can go home,’ the emperor said. ‘You’re a newly wedded man, be happy with your wife.’ He paused for a while. ‘The little girl Shi Ning isn’t bad. In a life and death situation she still wanted to protect Xiao Khan.’
Last night while the emperor was attacked, he carefully assessed the princes’ reactions first. Afterward he noticed Shi Ning hugged Pei Khan tightly then Pei Jin stood in front of them and protected them.
After Pei Jin left the Chi Ruan chamber the emperor sighed and looked at Wang Fu Mu. ‘Find something valuable to send to ninth prince’s manor.’
‘Yes your majesty,’ Wang Fu Mu said. ‘Your majesty never suspected ninth prince then why did you interrogated him in that way?’
Wang Fu Mu saw the emperor only smiled after the emperor read the imperial guards’ report. He knew Pei Jin wouldn’t leave such an obvious trail. Besides, Pei Jin wouldn’t benefit anything from the assassination attempt. He was certain someone purposely wanted to frame Pei Jin. But he didn’t expect the emperor to interrogate Pei Jin in such a ruthless manner.
The emperor stared at the door in deep thought. ‘Out of my sons, he is the hardest one to see through. I wanted to know what ninth prince is thinking inside his heart.’
Wan Fu Mu understood the emperor’s heart had never been at ease toward ninth prince.
‘Perhaps ninth prince’s heart never had that desire,’ Wang Fu Mu said cautiously.
The emperor’s eyes darkened and Wang Fu Mu’s body shook. ‘Your majesty, forgive me for saying too much.’
Outside the palace gates Pei Jin smiled coldly and limped slightly into the horse carriage.
End of Chapter Twenty-Two (Part 2 of 2)