The Feng Zhao villa was a tranquil place.
Yan Shi Ning’s stomach was big and she was expected to give birth within two months.
While everyone from Pei Jin’s manor were excited to meet their young master, in Pei Zhang’s manor was only chaos.
Pei Zhang’s second wife, Dian Thi was the one who was secretly anxious.
Dian Thi sat anxiously in her chamber and rubbed her round stomach, she was seven months pregnant.
Dian Thi’s personal maid Xiao Hai entered her chamber.
‘How is it?’ Dian Thi asked.
Xiao Hai looked in four directions for spies and spoke softly. ‘It’s done.’
‘Did anyone see you?’ Dian Thi asked.
‘Mistress, don’t worry,’ Xiao Hai said. ‘I saw him swallow it myself.’
Dian Thi stared out the window. ‘Feng Lang, you can’t blame me. For our child… you should rest.’
Feng Lang was Pei Zhang’s guard. Dian Thi met Feng Lang after she married Pei Zhang, she thought Feng Lang was young and handsome. She would flirt with Feng Lang and over time Feng Lang fell deeply in love with her. But they didn’t commit adultery until seven months ago.
Dian Thi was young and beautiful so Pei Zhang doted on Dian Thi. Pei Zhang’s official wife Chu Thi was jealous of Dian Thi. After a few years, Dian Thi noticed Pei Zhang spent less nights in her chamber. Two autumns ago Dian Thi found out Chu Thi made Pei Zhang suspicious of Dian Thi.
‘Husband, little sister had been married into the imperial family for many years but she’s still not pregnant,’ Chu Thi said.
Dian Thi was furious Chu Thi brought concubines younger and more beautiful than Dian Thi into Pei Zhang’s chamber. Gradually Pei Zhang was colder toward Dian Thi and her temper grew hotter. Pei Zhang wanted an heir but Dian Thi wasn’t pregnant.
Dian Thi used wine to forget her troubles. One night when she was drunk she remembered Feng Lang and from that night they secretly slept together.
Dian Thi was pregnant after sleeping with Feng Lang a few nights. She wasn’t happy she was finally pregnant because she worried she would die a gruesome death. Before she could abort the child, Chu Thi found out she was pregnant. Dian Thi saw the joy on Pei Zhang’s face so she swallowed her anxiety and acted like she was happy to be pregnant.
Pei Zhang doted on Dian Thi again because she was pregnant. Dian Thi was happy to see Chu Thi’s grind teeth. But Dian Thi’s feelings toward the child inside her was complex. She was scared the identity of the child’s father would be exposed.
Dian Thi secretly met Feng Lang and coaxed him to keep their secret. Feng Lang loved her enough to promise her that he would take their secret to his coffin. Dian Thi was grateful toward him on their last night together and they promised each other they would be husband and wife in their next lifetime. After their last night together they acted like strangers.
Dian Thi’s life as a pregnant woman apart from her anxiety was good. Pei Zhang doted on her and the emperor rewarded her with many valuable gifts.
Unfortunately after Dian Thi was seven months pregnant an incident happened. Pei Zhang’s guards were drunk and they challenged each other who could climb into Feng Lang’s chamber without being caught. A young guard found a woman’s undergarments inside Feng Lang’s chamber… it was Dian Thi’s undergarments that Feng Lang kept as a love token.
While the guards were speculating who the owner of the undergarments was, Chu Thi walked past them and recognised the embroidery on the undergarments belonged to Dian Thi.
Chu Thi interrogated Feng Lang why he dared to keep Pei Zhang’s second wife’s undergarments in Feng Lang’s chamber.
Feng Lang protected Dian Thi and lied that he stole Dian Thi’s undergarments because he admired her.
Although Feng Lang didn’t betray Dian Thi, she was even more anxious and discussed with Xiao Hai how to deal with the dilemma. So Dian Thi pretended to hang herself to prove her innocence.
Chu Thi thought perhaps her suspicions were wrong. Since Feng Lang admitted his crime and Dian Thi proved her innocence, Feng Lang was beaten as punishment.
Pei Zhang wanted to kill Feng Lang but the emperor criticized Pei Zhang that he didn’t know how to punish others according to their crime. Even though Pei Zhang couldn’t punish Feng Lang harshly, Pei Zhang had Chu Thi to punish Feng Lang for Pei Zhang.
Chu Thi purposely sent news to Dian Thi that Feng Lang was severely injured and Chu Thi was suspicious why Dian Thi acted strange to receive the news since Dian Thi said she had no relations with Feng Lang.
After Dian Thi heard the news she resented Feng Lang for not killing himself. So she sent Xiao Hai to remind him he promised to take their secret to his coffin.
While Xiao Hai reported to Dian Thi that Xiao Hai saw Feng Lang swallowed the poison, Pei Zhang and Chu Thi appeared in Feng Lang’s chamber.
Chu Thi was happy to see Pei Zhang’s rage after he found out Dian Thi committed adultery with another man.
‘Seventh prince, earlier did you see and hear everything?’ Chu Thi asked. ‘Xiao Hai is Dian Thi’s personal maid. Xiao Hai said to Feng Lang that her mistress remembered he promised to take their secret to his coffin…’
‘Close your mouth!’ Pei Zhang ordered.
Pei Zhang was deceived. He thought he finally had an heir but it was a bastard child!
‘Someone go and tie up that woman scum!’ Pei Zhang ordered.
Pei Zhang left the chamber and Chu Thi smiled at the imposter Feng Lang.
‘Go and receive your reward,’ Chu Thi said.
The imposter Feng Lang thanked Chu Thi and left the chamber.
Xiao Hai met the imposter Feng Lang. The real Feng Lang had bitten off his tongue to prove Dian Thi’s innocence.
It was a pity Dian Thi wasn’t sincerely grateful the real Feng Lang killed himself to protect Dian Thi and their child.
Chu Thi purposely imprisoned Feng Lang to see how Dian Thi would react. If Dian Thi was guilty then Dian Thi would react recklessly. Chu Thi thought it was laughable Dian Thi was fooled by a simple tactic.
In Dian Thi’s chamber she was more anxious because she thought Feng Lang died too smoothly… her anxiety was right, she heard footsteps approached her chamber. She saw guards kicked her door open and her beautiful face whitened.
In the palace Consort Mu knocked over a teapot.
‘Is that true?’ Consort Mu asked.
‘Dian Thi confessed,’ one of Pei Zhang’s personal guards said.
‘Escort me to seventh prince’s manor!’ Consort Mu said.
Consort Mu lied to the emperor that Dian Thi was ill and the emperor consented.
Pei Zhang destroyed everything in the courtyard but no one conscious knew why except for Chu Thi.
After Consort Mu visited the manor, everyone else knew Pei Zhang wasn’t angry over something minor.
Consort Mu frowned to see fear in everyone’s eyes but she calmly walked toward Pei Zhang’s chamber.
Inside Pei Zhang’s chamber he held a leather whip and Dian Thi was bound and unconscious on the floor. It was the fresh blood on Dian Thi’s body that startled Consort Mu.
‘Xiao Zhang, do you want to beat her to death?’ Consort Mu asked.
‘Beating her to death is too soft,’ Pei Zhang said.
‘Xiao Zhang!’ Consort Mu said. ‘Wake up! If you beat her to death, how are you going to explain her death to your imperial father?’
‘I only want to cut this scum into pieces!’ Pei Zhang said.
‘It’s useless to be angry,’ Consort Mu said. ‘How many outsiders know about this?’
‘Two,’ Pei Zhang said.
‘Is there a chance this secret will be exposed?’ Consort Mu asked.
‘No, they’re dead,’ Pei Zhang said.
‘Good, if that fox Huang Guo finds out… I don’t know what your imperial father would do,’ Consort Mu said.
‘How should I deal with this scum?’ Pei Zhang asked.
‘Of course the child can’t be spared,’ Consort Mu said. ‘But if this child dies, it’ll be a disadvantage for us while your ninth brother’s wife is pregnant.’
Consort Mu and Pei Zhang were in deep thought.
‘If the child looks like her then the child can live until you have an heir… but if the child looks like him…’ Consort Mu said.
‘What do we do?’ Pei Zhang asked.
‘If this child must die then your ninth brother’s child must die too!’ Consort Mu said.
End of Chapter Sixty-Five
Pei Jin read a letter from Elder Ma in the calligraphy room.
Elder Ma’s messenger also sent Pei Jin dried fishes. In the letter Elder Ma wrote the dried fishs were raised by Pei Jin in Southern Jiang and they tasted delicious.
Pei Jin hid the letter. He knew it was Elder Ma’s code that Elder Ma received his letter about what happened in the palace.
Pei Jin thought whether it was a blessing or a curse to born into an imperial family where the father was suspicious of sons and the sons fought each other. Was he supposed to be defensive and protect his own family or did he need to take revenge to survive?
Later that morning Pei Jin and Yan Shi Ning visited the palace for a family gathering.
Yan Shi Ning’s body wasn’t as sore as last night and she wore a light dress and it helped her walk easier.
Consort Mu was taking care of the injured seventh prince. So apart from Pei Jin and Yan Shi Ning, only the emperor, the empress, the crown prince, Consort La and Pei Khan were at the family gathering.
Pei Khan wanted to run to Pei Jin but he was scared the emperor would scold him and stood next to Consort La.
‘If you want to go there then go,’ the emperor said to Pei Khan. ‘You don’t need to stand there and wrinkle a small face.’
Pei Khan didn’t understand what the emperor meant until Consort La explained to him then he ran to Pei Jin.
The empress watched Pei Jin carry Pei Khan in his arms and she smiled politely. ‘Indeed ninth prince and thirteenth prince are loving brothers.’
‘Are they not allowed to be?’ the emperor asked.
The empress closed her mouth and didn’t dare to criticize Pei Jin and Pei Khan anymore.
Consort La saw the tension between the emperor and empress and she wanted to ease their tension.
‘Yesterday I received the crown prince and Yan Shi Ting’s wedding invitation,’ Consort La said. ‘It’ll be a happy occasion.’
Pei Lam’s heart sank. He stared longingly at Yan Shi Ning but she was focused on playing with Pei Khan.
Pei Jin noticed the way the crown prince was staring at Yan Shi Ning and it confirmed his suspicions about the crown prince’s feelings toward Yan Shi Ning.
‘Consort La is right,’ Pei Jin said. ‘It’ll be a happy occasion. Congratulations tenth brother.’
Pei Lam knew the warning look in Pei Jin’s eyes didn’t match Pei Jin’s happy tone. He nodded his head and politely thanked Pei Jin.
The empress only regretted the crown prince didn’t marry Yan Shi Ting earlier. After seventh prince saved the emperor, some of the crown prince’s supporters became restless. The sooner the crown prince married Prime Minister Yan’s youngest daughter the sooner she would be at ease that the emperor wouldn’t give the crown prince’s position to seventh prince.
The emperor drank tea slowly. In the past he didn’t care the empress wanted the crown prince to marry Prime Minister Yan’s youngest daughter who had a status that matched the crown prince. But after the assassination attempt, he didn’t approve of Yan Shi Ting marrying the crown prince. That day Yan Shi Ting’s first reaction was to hide behind the crown prince then Yan Shi Ting pulled her older sister in front of her to save herself. A woman who was scared of death wasn’t suited to be the crown prince’s wife.
The tension between the emperor and empress increased and it made everyone else around them uneasy too.
Pei Jin and Yan Shi Ning exchanged a look, understood what each other’s thoughts and they continued to play with Pei Khan.
Consort La broke the tensed silence. ‘Their wedding day is an auspicious day.’
The emperor hid his frown behind the cup of tea. In the past he only thought Consort La was naive and kind but recently he thought her intelligence lessened by the day. He glanced at Pei Khan who only knew how to eat and play, sighed and put the cup down.
The empress’ back stiffened. She lived with the emperor for many year and knew when he was in a bad mood. Regardless of the emperor’s disapproval, she would ensure the crown prince married Yan Shi Ting on the sixth day of the ninth month.
Pei Lam drank tea and thought the tea tasted more bitter than usual.
After the family gathering ended the emperor, the crown prince and Pei Jin discussed imperial court matters while Consort La invited Yan Shi Ning to her chamber.
Yan Shi Ning did hesitate to accept Consort La’s invitation because she knew Pei Jin didn’t want her to be close to anyone else in the imperial family. But Pei Jin nodded his head to signal she could spend time with Pei Khan and Consort La.
The flowers were in full bloom along the garden path toward Consort La’s chamber.
Pei Khan’s feet were tired from walking too long. The nurse maid was about the pick him up but he pulled the sleeve of Yan Shi Ning’s dress.
‘Carry, carry,’ Pei Khan said.
‘Xiao Khan, don’t trouble your ninth sister,’ Consort La said.
‘Mother, it’s alright,’ Yan Shi Ning said and carried Pei Khan in her arms.
Pei Khan wrapped an arm around Yan Shi Ning’s neck and held a sweet bun with his free hand. He happily ate and wiped the crumbs stuck on his fingers onto Yan Shi Ning’s neck.
Yan Shi Ning felt something sticky on her neck and realised it was Pei Khan’s saliva and sweet bun crumbs. She glanced at Consort La who wasn’t looking at them so she lightly hit Pei Khan’s bottom.
Inside Consort La’s chamber, Pei Khan sat on Yan Shi Ning’s lap opposite Consort La.
‘Shi Ning, thank you for saving Pei Khan’s life,’ Consort La said sincerely.
‘Mother, you don’t need to be courteous,’ Yan Shi Ning said. ‘Thirteenth prince is a good child.’
‘Xiao Ning, you’re a good person,’ Consort La praised.
A maid entered the chamber and passed a small chest to Consort La.
Consort La opened the chest, picked up the butterfly hairpin decorated with gems and gave it to Yan Shi Ning.
‘This hairpin is for you,’ Consort La said.
‘Mother, this is too valuable for me to accept,’ Yan Shi Ning said.
‘Take it,’ Consort La said. ‘This is only a hairpin. Xiao Khan’s safety means more to me.’
Yan Shi Ning heard the sadness in Consort La’s tone.
‘I’m only six years older than you but my body can’t cope much longer,’ Consort La said.
‘What?’ Yan Shi Ning asked.
‘The makeup hides my body condition,’ Consort La said. ‘I was born with a weak body and after giving birth to Xiao Khan, my body became weaker. My family has no status and I have no friends in the palace. I’m worried about what’s going to happen to Xiao Khan after I…’
Yan Shi Ning didn’t know Consort La well. But she thought Consort La was a sincere person. Unlike other people, Consort La never arranged coincidental meetings with her or Pei Jin. Consort La only cared about Pei Khan’s safety and didn’t desire power.
‘Shi Ning, forgive me for being bold,’ Consort La said. ‘I’m asking you as a mother… if something happens to me, I hope that you and ninth prince will protect Xiao Khan.’
Yan Shi Ning saw the desperation in Consort La’s eyes. Consort La’s sudden request shocked her and she didn’t know how to react.
A while later Yan Shi Ning opened her mouth. ‘Mother, don’t talk about something bad. You need to take good care of yours and Pei Khan’s health. No one can predict the future.’
Consort La was a little disappointed. She understood Yan Shi Ning didn’t want to accept her request.
‘You’re right,’ Consort La said. ‘No one can predict the future. Forgive my boldness earlier.’
‘Mother, it’s nothing,’ Yan Shi Ning said.
Afterward Consort La and Yan Shi Ning talked about less heavy matters and they played with Pei Khan until Pei Jin escorted Yan Shi Ning to the horse carriage.
Consort La watched Yan Shi Ning leave then she looked sadly at the butterfly hairpin Yan Shi Ning left on the table.
In the evening Yan Shi Ning laid next to Pei Jin on their bed and recounted her conversation with Consort La.
‘You did well,’ Pei Jin praised.
‘In the future if something happens to Consort La, should we take care of Pei Khan or not?’ Yan Shi Ning asked.
‘Wife, do you want to take care of Pei Khan or not?’ Pei Jin asked.
‘Pei Khan is pitiful,’ Yan Shi Ning said.
‘Then we’ll take care of Pei Khan,’ Pei Jin said and took off Yan Shi Ning’s clothes.
‘Pei Khan has a loveable face,’ Yan Shi Ning said. ‘If I was younger I would tease him… ah… that hurts… don’t need to!’
Pei Jin bit Yan Shi Ning’s breast. ‘Of course we need to conceive a child together soon. How else can you have a child you can tease comfortably?’
End of Chapter Thirty-One