‘Why does the emperor want to mislead outsiders to believe he’s indecisive between you and seventh prince?’ Yan Shi Ning asked.
‘Imperial father isn’t immortal,’ Pei Jin said.
‘What?’ Yan Shi Ning asked.
‘Imperial father loves to have everything within his control,’ Pei Jin said. ‘He was disappointed tenth brother didn’t want the throne and he’s still grieving for tenth brother. He hasn’t found tenth brother’s killer so he must be angry to death. He hates being forced to do something he doesn’t want to so he hasn’t declared who his heir is. Also, he wants to vent his anger on seventh brother by not feeding seventh brother’s arrogance. Now the two of them can be angry to death together.’
After a day of travelling the horse carriage finally stopped. Pei Jin helped Yan Shi Ning out of the horse carriage and they looked at the beautiful mountain landscape together.
Pei Jin leaned closer to Yan Shi Ning and whispered in her ear. ‘Inside is more enchanting.’
Yan Shi Ning thought Pei Jin was a greedy scoundrel.
Pei Jin led Yan Shi Ning and everyone else into the Feng Zhao villa and they ate a meal together.
‘Bei Dou, am I the most handsome and kindest man in the world?’ Pei Jin asked.
Bei Dou spat out tea and Xiao Tu passed him a handkerchief.
Bei Dou didn’t understand why Pei Jin suddenly asked a strange question.
‘Bathing together is good,’ Pei Jin said softly.
Bei Dou finally understood Pei Jin’s question.
‘Imperial father’s guards are guarding outside,’ Pei Jin said. ‘They’re not allowed to come inside. I dismissed all the villa’s maids and servants. There’s only our people left.’
Bei Dou looked in four directions and nodded his head.
‘Bei Dou, under the sky am I the most handsome and kindest man?’ Pei Jin asked.
‘Um,’ Bei Dou said reluctantly.
Bei Dou hated the cold winter. Xiao Tu didn’t want to do it with him on cold nights… she wouldn’t complain about the cold inside the hot springs.
After Pei Jin secretly bribed Bei Dou, Pei Jin held Yan Shi Ning’s hand toward the hot spings but they were stopped by Xiao Zai.
‘Ninth prince, under the sky you’re the most handsome and kindest man!’ Xiao Zai praised and tugged Xiao Hui’s hand.
Earlier Xiao Zai was hunting wild rabbits with Xiao Hui in the mountains so Xiao Zai only heard part of Pei Jin and Bei Dou’s conversation. But Xiao Zai judged by Bei Dou’s red ears that he would be rewarded if he praised Pei Jin too.
Pei Jin saw Xiao Zai’s bright smile and Xiao Hui’s frown.
‘Xiao Zai, do you want to bathe together too?’ Pei Jin teased.
‘Ninth prince even if it’s too troublesome, you’re still the most handsome and kindest man!’ Xiao Zai said.
Pei Jin realised Xiao Zai thought he was speaking in codes.
‘The two of you… want to do it together?’ Pei Jin asked.
Xiao Zai thought Pei Jin agreed to award him. ‘Yes, together!’
‘Who wants to do it with you?’ Xiao Hui asked. ‘Do you want to die? Ninth prince, is asking if I’ll be scrubbing your back!’
‘Your grandfather!’ Xiao Zai cursed. ‘Fat meat! If I was the one scrubbing your back then my two hands would be tired to death… don’t eat all my chicken feet, you wild chicken! How can you eat your brothers?’
Pei Jin dragged Yan Shi Ning to the springs while Xiao Zai and Xiao Hui were distracted.
The moment Pei Jin and Yan Shi Ning entered the cave, he decided he was going to eat her three hundred times. The cold winter starved him for too many nights.
Unfortunately Bei Dou interrupted Pei Jin and Yan Shi Ning before Pei Jin could undress Yan Shi Ning.
‘I forgot to tell you something,’ Bei Dou said.
Pei Jin didn’t like the bad news look in Bei Dou’s eyes.
‘It’s not safe for pregnant women to bathe in hot springs,’ Bei Dou said. ‘I’ll take Xiao Tu to the hot springs first.’
‘Bei Dou!’ Pei Jin cried out. ‘Come outside! I remember I need your help to do something important!’
Pei Jin believed sworn brothers should share blessings and sufferings together.
That winter was the coldest winter in the imperial city. Pei Zhang endured the cold and worked the whole winter while Pei Jin relaxed in the warm Feng Zhao villa with Yan Shi Ning. Pei Jin couldn’t bathe together with Yan Shi Ning but they listened to singers and musicians perform. When Yan Shi Ning was napping, Pei Jin went hunting for wild birds and rabbits. If he found anything rare, he would ask a messenger deliver it to his father… the messenger would return with news about what happened in the imperial city.
Huang Guo as Pei Jin expected had exploited the weakness of Pei Zhang’s manor. Huang Guo sent his daughter-in-laws to visit Pei Zhang’s official and second wife and ‘accidently’ found out about their internal fights which was spread to the emperor’s ears. Pei Zhang was busy assuring the emperor that Pei Zhang’s manor was a harmonious place. Consort Mu summoned Pei Zhang’s official wife and second wife to the palace to berate them.
Pei Jin was angry after he found out Pei Khan was hit. Apart from the spoiled Pei Wen Cai, no one would dare to hit Pei Khan. Pei Khan couldn’t endure Pei Wen Cai anymore and pushed her to the ground. The emperor wasn’t angry at Consort La but angry at Pei Zhang for not knowing how to discipline Pei Wen Cai.
The news that saddened Pei Jin the most was that the imperial physicians didn’t expect Consort La to live past spring.
End of Chapter Sixty-Four
Bei Dou paced back and forth in front of Fu Qing’s three entrances.
Bei Dou didn’t know if he should walk through the left or right entrance. He took a deep breath and walked through the right entrance.
Bei Dou thought men wouldn’t want to serve someone like him. The moment he was inside he realised his thoughts were too naive.
Someone named Man Feng served Bei Dou. Bei Dou thought he was in the wrong place because Man Feng looked and walked in a feminine way.
‘Are you a man?’ Bei Dou asked.
‘You’re hateful,’ Man Feng said flirtatiously. ‘If I’m not a man, do you think I’m a woman?’
Man Feng knelt in front of Bei Dou who sat on a bed.
Man Feng usually served regular customers but he made an exception for Bei Dou. He loved serving men like Bei Dou who looked cold on the outside but was naive on the inside.
‘Master, I’ll pour wine for you,’ Man Feng said.
Bei Dou was repulsed by the strong fragrance on Man Feng’s body, he moved back on the bed.
Man Feng raised the cup of wine to Bei Dou’s mouth. ‘Master, I’ll feed you.’
Goose bumps rose on Bei Dou’s skin and he grabbed the cup of wine from Man Feng.
‘I have hands,’ Bei Dou said.
Bei Dou drank the wine and frowned. After he walked into the room he could smell the pouch fragrance but it wasn’t harmful. But combined with the wine it was a strong aphrodisiac. Also, the fragrance and wine brewer needed to be highly skilled to make such a strong aphrodisiac.
Bei Dou thought the brewer’s skills were impressive. He wondered if the purpose was to stimulate their guests or to extract secrets from their vulnerable guests.
Since the brewer wasted a lot of energy to make a strong aphrodisiac then Bei Dou wasn’t going to disappoint the brewer. But he wasn’t affected by the strong aphrodisiac and thought for a while how to act drunk.
‘Ah… my head hurts,’ Bei Dou said and slowly swayed his head side to side.
Man Feng laughed softly. ‘Master, of course your head hurts. You drank too fast. Don’t you know how to drink slowly? Or is it master has many grievances? You can tell me your grievances, it’ll improve your mood.’
Bei Dou felt repulsed being touched by another person. But he needed to act drunk so his body didn’t recoil from Man Feng’s hand on his chest. He decided he was going to wash his body thoroughly after he returned to the manor.
‘Master, what’s upsetting you?’ Man Feng asked.
‘My master forced me to do something I didn’t want to do,’ Bei Dou said.
‘Who is your hateful master?’ Man Feng asked.
Bei Dou continued to sway his head.
‘Master, who is your hateful master that forced you to do something you don’t want to?’ Man Feng asked.
Bei Dou thought Man Feng was a beautiful man and had a persuasive voice. If it was someone else, Man Feng would have extracted all their secrets from birth. But he wasn’t someone else. The strong aphrodisiac and Man Feng’s beauty didn’t affect him. He knew if he wanted to find out why Fu Qing wanted to extract secrets from their guests, he needed to use a little honesty to fool Man Feng.
‘My master is gentle ninth prince,’ Bei Dou said. ‘He forced me to… to…’
Man Feng’s eyes brightened after he heard gentle ninth prince. ‘What did gentle ninth prince force you to do?’
‘He forced me to… too… I can’t say…’ Bei Dou said.
Ma Feng heard ‘I can’t say’ and wanted to vomit blood.
Bei Dou slowly stood and swayed his body. ‘It’s late. I need to return to the manor otherwise gentle ninth prince will be suspicious.’
Man Feng watched Bei Dou staggered outside. He regretted he couldn’t extract secrets from a golden duck like Bei Dou.
After Bei Dou left Fu Qing, Man Feng searched for Gentleman Chen.
Ma Feng found Gentleman Chen outside a guest and a woman server’s room.
‘Gentle ninth prince sent one of his servants here?’ Gentleman Chen asked.
‘Yes,’ Ma Feng said.
‘Gentle ninth prince protects his manor like a steel cage,’ Gentleman Chen said. ‘He doesn’t easily give secrets away. I didn’t expect him to send someone through our door. It’s our good fortune. Did you send someone to follow his servant?’
‘Yes,’ Ma Feng said.
‘Good,’ Gentleman Chen praised. ‘Take good care of this fish for me. I want to see what he plans to do.’
After Bei Dou lost the man Fu Qing sent to follow him, he rushed to his chamber, took three warm baths to rid of the strong fragrance on his body and slept on his bed.
Early the following morning Bei Dou was woken up by loud knocks on the door.
Bei Dou got out of bed, opened the door and saw Pei Jin’s spring smile then he wanted to close the door.
‘Wait,’ Pei Jin said. He entered Bei Dou’s chamber, closed the door and teased Bei Dou with two cooked eggs. ‘This is for you to nourish your body.’
Bei Dou heard ‘nourish your body’ and understood Pei Jin was mocking him.
‘I heard last night you came home in the middle of night,’ Pei Jin said and winked at Bei Dou. ‘Where else did you go?’
Bei Dou refused to answer. He knew Pei Jin knew he was followed.
‘You don’t need to hide where you went,’ Pei Jin said. ‘You don’t need to look at me in that way. We’re both men, I understand. In the future if you want to go there then go. You don’t need to hide it from me. Even if you come back in the middle of the night, you don’t need to climb over the wall. You can walk through the front door and no one will dare to tease you.’
Bei Dou broke the bowl of cooked eggs.
‘Pei Jin, do you want to know what I discovered at Fu Qing?’ Bei Dou asked.
Pei Jin nodded his head. ‘But first tell me where you went. Which of Fu Qing’s entrances did you walk through? The right or left entrance? I made a bet with little lion. She said you’re a gentleman and would walk through the left entrance. I said that because you’re a gentleman you would walk through the right entrance. Were you a gentleman or not?’
Bei Dou broke the table. He didn’t expect a married pair like Pei Jin and Yan Shi Ning were compatible to that extend and enjoyed mocking him.
‘Bei Dou, I was jesting,’ Pei Jin said. ‘You don’t need to be too serious.’
Bei Dou calmed himself then he recounted what happened at Fu Qing, but he didn’t expect Pei Jin would be surprised.
‘Does that mean you didn’t do anything last night?’ Pei Jin asked. ‘You’re still a pure man?’
Bei Dou heard ‘pure man’ and decided he would find a way to make Pei Jin suffer a little.
Pei Jin rubbed his chin. ‘It appears the brothels in Fu Qing aren’t simply brothels. I need to investigate who are involved in this scheme.’ He sighed. ‘Recently there’s been many situations I need to investigate.’
Pei Jin returned to his chamber. Before any investigations were resolved, a messenger delivered an invitation. On the sixth day of the tenth month was the crown prince and Yan Shi Ting’s wedding banquet.
Pei Jin and Yan Shi Ning looked at each other in surprise. The empress had intentions for the crown prince to marry Yan Shi Ting early the following year. They didn’t know what happened for the sudden change in the wedding day… unless Yan Shi Ting’s body suddenly changed.
In the palace the maids and eunuchs quickly left the emperor’s chamber.
The emperor’s veins were visible on his face and neck while the empress and the crown prince knelt on the floor.
‘Good!’ the emperor praised. ‘You dare to do this! I underestimated you! Do you want me to lose all my dignity? You’re not married but you dare to get a lady pregnant!’
‘Emperor don’t be angry,’ the empress said. ‘It’s not unusual for a young man struggling to control their desires.’
‘Are all his maids dead?’ the emperor asked. ‘Why didn’t I see him losing his control with them? Hong Thi, don’t think I don’t know your motives. You don’t suit being the kingdom’s empress. What kind of mother would encourage this to happen?’
The empress’ face paled. ‘Emperor, I-’
‘Close your mouth!’ the emperor ordered and glared at the crown prince. ‘Why did I give birth to such a despicable son like you?’
‘Imperial father, I deserve to die,’ Pei Lam said.
The emperor knocked over a vase but it wasn’t enough to vent his anger.
‘While the stomach’s not showing,’ the emperor said. ‘Hurry and deal with the situation!’
The empress sighed in relief. She knew the emperor was angry but he would eventually relent.
In contrast Pei Lam smiled coldly. He knew there would be some things he couldn’t escape from.
The emperor didn’t want to see the empress and the crown prince any longer and dismissed them from his chamber.
After the emperor was alone in his chamber, he sighed and felt like some things were outside the control of his hand.
At the Yan Manor, Yan Shi Ting was rubbing her stomach anxiously.
‘Mother, this is too risky,’ Yan Shi Ting said. ‘Deceiving the emperor like this is a death penalty crime!’
Princess Kang Hua drank tea and spoke calmly. ‘You only need to know you don’t have one now but in the future you can have one.’
‘What if I’m not pregnant after I marry big brother crown prince?’ Yan Shi Ting asked.
Yan Shi Ting was intimate with the crown prince many times. But each time he asked her to drink the herbal remedy to prevent pregnancy.
Princess Kang Hua put the cup of tea down. ‘Your aunt said that if you can’t get pregnant then you can use another infant as a temporary substitute.’
‘What?’ Yan Shi Ting asked. ‘You want me to raise someone else’s child?’
Princess Kang Hua laughed coldly. ‘Of course not. No one else’s child would have a chance to become emperor. The infant is only a pawn. After you give birth to your own child, the pawn will disappear.’
Yan Shi Ting was frightened to hear her mother’s heartless tone. She felt uneasy about killing an innocent child.
‘Don’t ever forget,’ Princess Kang Hua said. ‘If you want to be empress, you need to be willing to do anything and sacrifice anything.’
Yan Shi Ting hesitated for a while but nodded her head to appease her mother.
End of Chapter Thirty