The empress and the crown prince died the same year and winter season.
While everyone in the palace were grieving for the empress and the crown prince’s deaths, Consort Mu’s imperial physician, Gentleman Zheng was sent to examine Yan Shi Ning at Pei Jin’s manor.
‘Gentleman Zheng, you can call me Xiao Zai,’ Xiao Zai said. ‘I waited a long time for your arrival. Why are you wearing thin clothes? What if you get a chest infection? Gentleman Zheng, follow me to ninth prince’s wife’s chamber.’
Gentleman Zheng thought Xiao Zai was friendly like Pei Jin. Everyone else treated him kindly too like they owed him a hundred silver taels.
Inside the chamber the incense fragrance made Gentleman Zheng feel relaxed and he knew a master physician had brewed the incense fragrance. He heard rumors about a master physician living in Pei Jin’s manor and he was happy to finally meet Bei Dou. But he didn’t expect Bei Dou was a young man with a cold face.
Bei Dou only glanced once at Gentleman Zheng.
Gentleman Zheng sat on a chair in front of the bed hidden by a beaded curtain.
‘Ninth prince’s wife, please give me your arm,’ Gentleman Zheng said.
Gentleman Zheng heard a cough then an arm appeared through the beaded curtain.
‘Ninth prince’s wife has a weak pulse,’ Gentleman Zheng said. ‘She has been ill with a chest infection for a long period. I’ll give a maid a list of herbs to buy for ninth prince’s wife. After she drinks the remedy between three to five days her body will improve.’
Pei Jin sighed in relief, passed Gentleman Zheng a paper note of one hundred silver taels and Gentleman Zheng left the manor.
Later at the palace Gentleman Zheng reported that Yan Shi Ning had a chest infection to Consort Mu and Pei Zhang.
‘My speculation was wrong,’ Consort Mu said.
‘It’s good she’s not pregnant,’ Pei Zhang said. ‘Today is a good day. Both tenth brother and the empress are gone. Anyone left that choose to oppose me will be easily turned to dust.’
Consort Mu was also happy. The empress who she battled for decades was finally dead.
‘I didn’t expect she would kill herself,’ Consort Mu said. ‘I thought she would have wanted to kill us to avenge her son’s death before she died.’
‘The empress had high expectations of tenth brother,’ Pei Zhang said. ‘Her life dream dissolved in the ocean so it’s understandable she would kill herself. Mother, didn’t you hear how the empress was hysterical after she found out about tenth brother’s death?’
‘Xiao Zheng, the truth is the empress is a fool like Kang Hua,’ Consort Mu said. ‘The empress was only able to survive many years in the palace because she had a powerful family supporting her.’
‘Mother, now our rivals that need to die have died and everyone else has aged,’ Pei Zhang said. ‘The young are incompetent and easily to defeat. Now that the empress and the crown prince are gone, their supporters aren’t foolish and will resign like everyone at Guo Huang’s manor. Mother, why do you think Guo Huang lost power that year?’
‘The higher Guo Huang was the lower he fell,’ Consort Mu said.
‘Mother, I understand,’ Pei Zhang said.
‘Today our biggest rivals are gone and your ninth brother has no heir,’ Consort Mu said. ‘The right opportunity for you to be crown prince will arrive soon.’
At Pei Jin’s manor the beaded curtains were parted the moment Gentleman Zheng left.
On the bed Yan Shi Ning and Xiao Tu were laying side by side and smiling cheekily.
Yan Shi Ning got out of the bed and smiled at Pei Jin. ‘How was the performance?’
Pei Jin helped Yan Shi Ning stand. ‘Of course it was a convincing performance. This time we need to thank Xiao Tu.’
Xiao Tu got out of the bed and was about to say there was no need to thank her but Bei Dou scoffed loudly.
‘What is there to scoff about?’ Pei Jin asked Bei Dou.
Bei Dou looked at Xiao Tu’s wrist and he scoffed. How dare that old man Zheng touch Xiao Tu’s wrist even though a thin handkerchief covered her wrist. He scoffed because he didn’t get to touch Xiao Tu’s wrist yet.
Yan Shi Ning noticed Bei Dou’s attention was solely focused on Xiao Tu.
‘It’s been a long time since there’s been something to celebrate at the manor,’ Yan Shi Ning said.
Pei Jin understood Yan Shi Ning’s words and he saw Bei Dou relaxed.
‘Bei Dou, you’re not young anymore,’ Pei Jin said. ‘Xiao Tu is sixteen years old… a good age to marry… Shi Ning, is there an auspicious day soon?’
‘What auspicious day?’ Yan Shi Ning said. ‘If they’re happy then any day is an auspicious day.’
‘Shi Ning is right,’ Pei Jin said. ‘Tomorrow is an auspicious day if Bei Dou is happy.’
Bei Dou looked out the window like he wasn’t happy in front of the married pair who was mocking him. Then Bei Dou looked at Xiao Tu, she looked calm so he looked out the window again.
‘It appears Gentleman Bei isn’t happy,’ Pei Jin teased. ‘What do we do now?’
‘Gentleman Bei isn’t unhappy,’ Xiao Tu said.
‘How do you know he isn’t unhappy?’ Pei Jin asked.
‘When Gentleman Bei’s ears are red it means he’s happy,’ Xiao Tu said. ‘Gentleman Bei’s ears are red.’
Bei Dou was speechless like trouble flew past his head.
Pei Jin and Yan Shi Ning saw Bei Dou’s red ears and they smiled.
‘Then tomorrow is an auspicious day for a wedding day,’ Pei Jin said.
‘But it’s a grieving period for the empress and the crown prince’s deaths,’ Xiao Tu said. ‘No one is allowed to marry.’
Pei Jin and Yan Shi Ning stopped smiling while Bei Dou felt trouble flew past his head again.
‘But we can secretly marry… and not let outsiders know…’ Xiao Tu said.
Pei Jin and Yan Shi Ning both laughed because Bei Dou’s ears turned a shade of red brighter.
Short Side Story Four
Four possible scenarios that could happen after Bei Dou and Xiao Tu’s wedding ceremony:
Scenario One – Bei Dou and Xiao Tu sat on a bed together and their faces were flushed red. Bei Dou initiated a kiss and they both fell onto the bed… it was a misty night… the following day…
Scenario Two – Xiao Tu stripped Bei Dou’s clothes and bound him. She held incense sticks in one hand and a whip in the other hand and she smiled at him.
Bei Dou’s eyes widened and he mumbled, ‘No need… kiss… no need…’
Scenario Three – On Bei Dou and Xiao Tu’s wedding night…
Bei Dou: Tonight’s our wedding night.
Xiao Tu: Yes.
Bei Dou: We should sleep early tonight.
Xiao Tu: Yes.
A while later a steady snore was heard in their chamber.
Scenario Four – On Bei Dou and Xiao Tu’s wedding day everyone at the gentle ninth prince’s manor were happy the whole day. The following day the atmosphere was good…
End of Chapter Fifty-Five
Chapter Twenty-Three (Part 1)
A rumor spread throughout the Dian Kingdom about the assassination attempt in the palace.
Some citizens speculated a foolish enemy kingdom dared to send assassins to kill their emperor and princes. Their purpose was to seize the kingdom. Those citizens heard the emperor ordered the northern army to move back thirty li and seize three territories of an enemy kingdom.
Other citizens gossiped about how seventh prince heroically used his body to save the emperor. They thought although seventh prince was stabbed, he was also the person who benefited the most from the assassination attempt.
In the palace, seventh prince was recovering in bed while Consort Mu took care of his injury. Seventh prince and Consort Mu’s servants reported to them about the rumors spread outside the palace. Seventh prince and Consort Mu smiled with each other and they rewarded their servants.
The crown prince’s supporters were worried about seventh prince’s heroic reputation so they spread a rumor outside the palace that seventh prince was the person who sent the assassins to the palace.
In contrast to the chaos in the palace, the atmosphere inside Pei Jin’s manor was tranquil.
Since the day Pei Jin returned from the Chi Ruan chamber he followed his father’s order and stayed home with Yan Shi Ning. Of course he stayed home while Yan Shi Ning was in an inconvenienced state otherwise he would have taken her sightseeing.
That morning Pei Jin was sitting in Bei Dou’s chamber and rubbing a herbal remedy on his knees. The shattered stone pieces pierced through his knees deeper than expected.
‘It appears it’ll leave a scar,’ Pei Jin said.
‘Why won’t you more attentive that day?’ Bei Dou asked.
‘If I didn’t kneel on the shattered stone pieces then how can I feign shock that day?’ Pei Jin asked. ‘Isn’t it good that I’m learning from seventh brother’s tactic? Besides, I’m happy I got to see how worried little lion was about me.’
Pei Jin remembered that day he returned home from the palace, Yan Shi Ning saw the blood stains on his knees and she was worried enough for her soul to float away.
‘I didn’t think Pei Zhang would use his body to save the emperor,’ Bei Dou said.
Pei Jin pulled his pants down and stood to wash his hands. ‘Seventh brother was certain he wouldn’t die. A shallow stab isn’t going to harm his healthy body.’
‘It’s a pity he was rewarded,’ Bei Dou said.
Pei Jin smiled. ‘That’s uncertain.’
‘Why?’ Bei Dou asked suspiciously.
‘My imperial father isn’t a fool,’ Pei Jin said. ‘Imperial father saw that seventh brother could have easily pushed the sword away but seventh brother chose to let the sword stab him. It’s a pity imperial father hates other people acting in front of him the most. Seventh brother’s heroic display was only rewarded by imperial father’s disdain. Imperial father is naturally a suspicious person. It looks like he is favoring seventh brother by letting seventh brother stay in the palace to recover… but imperial father purposely detained seventh brother in the palace to make it easier for him to investigate who sent the assassins. If seventh brother had behaved and focused on recovering in the palace, he would have earned imperial father’s trust… a pity Consort Mu impatiently sent servants to spread news about seventh brother’s heroic deed and made imperial father more suspicious of seventh brother.’
Bei Dou listened to Pei Jin’s explanation and he realised his assumptions were naive.
‘The crown prince is more intelligent than seventh prince,’ Pei Jin said. ‘After the assassination attempt the crown prince acted like his body’s weak and stayed in the Eastern chamber to rest. It made the empress angry enough to break off fingernails. I’m uncertain whether the crown prince is truly giving up his position or if he’s waiting for a good opportunity to retaliate.’
‘If you had let me enter the palace to assassinate the crown prince then you wouldn’t be as troubled as you are now,’ Bei Dou said.
Pei Jin knew if he had let Bei Dou wield a sword at the palace that day then the crown prince would no longer be under the same sky as them.
‘Bei Dou, I didn’t send the two assassins to kill people,’ Pei Jin said.
‘Then what was the purpose?’ Bei Dou asked.
Pei Jin looked out the window and he saw the cloudy sky and the palace in the distance. ‘I merely wanted them to be in a chaotic state. If imperial father is more suspicious of them then they would be too busy retreating to cause trouble for me. Indeed being a carefree prince isn’t bad.’
Pei Jin picked up a fan Yan Shi Ning gave him and waved it in front of him to blow away the worries in his head.
Of course Bei Dou didn’t believe Pei Jin’s simple reason. According to the news Bei Dou received, the emperor was suspicious of seventh prince and the crown prince. The emperor also demoted all the court officials that were secretly cooperating with Huang Guo. That news startled him. He realised if Pei Jin had listened to his advice and cooperated with Huang Guo then no one in Pei Jin’s manor would be safe.
‘You knew long ago the emperor was suspicious of Huang Guo’s motives,’ Bei Dou said.
Pei Jin looked at the words beautifully embroidered on the fan and smiled. ‘In the past I wasn’t certain but after imperial father demoted their positions, it confirmed my intuition. Twelve years ago Huang Guo’s sudden resignation would make people suspicious.’
Bei Dou thought that Pei Jin’s strategic skills were better than he expected.
‘I’m going back to my chamber to play with the little lion,’ Pei Jin said.
Pei Jin walked to the door but he remembered something he forgot to ask Bei Dou and turned his head around to face Bei Dou. ‘I almost forgot why I came here.’
Bei Dou was curious what else Pei Jin wanted to discuss.
‘Honestly, how long does a woman’s inconvenience time last?’ Pei Jin asked. ‘Last time I asked, you said it lasts for four to five days. But it’s past six days, why isn’t my wife well?’
Bei Dou glared at Pei Jin, he wanted to vomit blood. Heavens! What was he? A woman? How was he supposed to know? He brushed his sleeves to vent his anger and left his chamber.
Pei Jin watched Bei Dou leave in an angry state. Afterward he rubbed his chin and realised the little lion wasn’t inconvenienced.
End of Chapter Twenty-Three (Part 1)