The emperor’s birthday banquet was held at the end of May.
Early that morning Yan Shi Ning felt the day was going to be a dangerous day.
‘Pei Jin, I’m scared something bad will happen,’ Yan Shi Ning said.
‘Don’t worry, we’re prepared,’ Pei Jin said. ‘In the palace I can’t be beside you the whole visit but Xiao Tu will be there. Xiao Tu is Bei Dou’s wife, he taught her well. She’ll be able to detect any poisonous fragrances, food and drinks. He taught her some Kung Fu skills too.’
Pei Jin failed to reassure himself and Yan Shi Ning. He couldn’t get rid of the invisible bad omen.
Recently Pei Jin and his guards protected Yan Shi Ning, their child and Pei Khan well against Pei Zhang’s guards. Pei Jin knew that his father’s birthday banquet was the last opportunity for Pei Zhang to target Pei Jin’s family.
Pei Jin didn’t know what Pei Zhang and Consort Mu’s plan of attack was and it worried Pei Jin.
In Bei Dou’s chamber, he watched Xiao Tu pack medicine and tools. He was also worried about the emperor’s birthday banquet.
‘Be careful in the palace,’ Bei Dou warned.
‘Yes, can I bring a dagger?’ Xiao Tu asked.
Bei Dou silently looked at the dagger Xiao Tu held.
‘I’m teasing you,’ Xiao Tu said. ‘I packed a lot of medicine, nutritious food and herbal drinks for ninth prince’s wife.’
In the courtyard Xiao Zai was coaxing Pei Khan to speak. After Bei Dou examined Pei Khan, Bei Dou reassured everyone Pei Khan was intelligent and capable of speaking. It was Pei Khan’s environment in the past that traumatized Pei Khan.
For several days Xiao Zai failed to trick Pei Khan to speak even though Pei Khan was happy living at the manor.
‘Thirteenth prince, you can say anything good or bad,’ Xiao Zai begged on his knees. ‘What about two words? I made a bet with Xiao Hui. I said you will say two words by this morning.’
Pei Khan pitied Xiao Zai and patted Xiao Zai’s head.
‘Be good,’ Pei Khan said.
Pei Khan saw Pei Jin and Yan Shi Ning come out of their chamber and he ran to them.
Xiao Zai stood and touched his head. ‘Be good? Why does thirteenth prince sound like my grandfather?’
Xiao Hui patted Xiao Zai’s head.
‘Be good,’ Xiao Hui said and ran away.
‘Your grandfather!’ Xiao Zai cursed and chased Xiao Hui.
Pei Jin escorted his family and his guards to the palace.
At the palace Pei Jin’s horse carriage arrived at the same time as Pei Zhang’s horse carriage.
Pei Jin waited for Pei Zhang’s group to enter the palace first.
‘Pei Jin, did you notice there is something strange about Dian Thi?’ Yan Shi Ning asked softly.
Pei Jin looked at Dian Thi in the distance. Although Dian Thi wore makeup and a beautiful dress, it couldn’t hide her withered aura like someone attending a funeral.
Inside Consort Mu’s chamber, she wore a more elaborate dress than usual. She wasn’t pleased to see Chu Thi but she hated seeing Dian Thi.
‘Don’t act like a corpse… if you exposed anything… you know what will happen to you,’ Consort Mu threatened Dian Thi.
‘Yes aunt,’ Dian Thi said.
‘I considered your mother, my cousin who is like a sister to me so I spared your life this time,’ Consort Mu said. ‘But don’t you dare to act shameless and ruin my plan.’
‘But… I’ve carried the child for nine months,’ Dian Thi said.
‘Don’t worry, I’ll spare your life,’ Consort Mu said.
Dian Thi clasped her trembling hands helplessly.
Consort Mu took off her bracelet and gave it Dian Thi to wear. Consort Mu wasn’t pleased to see fresh bruises on Dian Thi’s wrist and she looked disapprovingly at her son.
Pei Zhang resented he couldn’t kill the scum. Each time he saw her, he could only hit her. He was careful not to leave visible bruises on her but he forgot to check her wrists.
‘It’s time to go to the banquet hall,’ Consort Mu said.
Consort Mu’s family left the chamber while Xiao Nu hid behind a window. Xiao Nu found the bracelet a palace maid ordered her to find. Xiao Nu also found out Consort Mu’s secret.
The emperor’s birthday banquet was held in the imperial banquet hall. There were dancers, singers, musicians and actors who performed at the banquet. The guests ate food and drank wine.
Pei Jin was too anxious to appreciate the performers’ skills. At his father’s birthday banquet the men and women sat at different banquet tables. Pei Jin couldn’t sit next to Yan Shi Ning, he could only look at her. He noticed Consort Mu and Pei Zhang were watching Yan Shi Ning too closely.
Yan Shi Ning didn’t dare touch the delicious food and wine in front of her. She was worried Consort Mu would dare to poison the food and wine to kill her and her son.
Yan Shi Ning was also weary of the venomous Chu Thi who sat next to her, Chu Thi was smiling at her but she felt Chu Thi was displaying fangs.
Yan Shi Ning calmly picked up a cup of wine and pretended to sip the wine while spilling it into her sleeve.
‘Seventh sister, forgive me,’ Yan Shi Ning said. ‘I need to go relieve myself.’
Xiao Tu escorted Yan Shi Ning to a chamber the emperor reserved for his daughter-in-laws in the palace.
‘Mistress, calm down,’ Xiao Tu advised.
Yan Shi Ning watched Xiao Tu help her wipe her dress too calmly.
‘Little sister Xiao Tu, wait until you’re pregnant then you’ll understand how I’m feeling,’ Yan Shi Ning said.
Xiao Tu thought Yan Shi Ning’s words were reasonable and nodded her head.
Yan Shi Ning sat on a chair near a window. ‘I want to stay here and rest. I don’t want to go back to the banquet hall.’
Xiao Tu quietly opened a small chest she packed. She used a silver needle to check if the food and drinks were safe. Then she passed the small chest to Yan Shi Ning.
Yan Shi Ning’s eyes brightened to see the familiar nutritious food and drinks.
‘Ninth prince said his wife wouldn’t dare eat the food at the palace so I secretly brought food into the palace,’ Xiao Tu said.
Yan Shi Ning smiled, she thought Pei Jin was more considerate by the day.
Yan Shi Ning and Xiao Tu happily ate and drank together but Dian Thi entered the chamber.
‘What are you two doing?’ Dian Thi asked.
Yan Shi Ning raised her head and saw a maid help Dian Thi walk.
Dian Thi was nine months pregnant and had trouble walking. The maid helped Dian Thi sit next to Yan Shi Ning.
Dian Thi looked at the small chest of food and drinks and smiled. ‘Little sister, does your body ache when you stand or sit still for too long?’
‘Yes,’ Yan Shi Ning said politely. ‘Big sister, your complexion looks pale. Do you want to call an imperial physician?’
‘It’s alright, perhaps it’s because I’ll be giving birth soon,’ Dian Thi said.
Dian Thi turned to face the maid. ‘Go and bring me lavender oil. I feel a little faint.’
Yan Shi Ning was suspicious of the gleam in Dian Thi’s eyes. ‘Big sister, I rested enough. I’ll go back to the banquet hall first.’
‘Wait,’ Dian Thi said. ‘Little sister can you help me pour a cup of tea. I’m thirsty after eating salty food.’
Yan Shi Ning reluctantly asked Xiao Tu to pour a cup of tea.
Dian Thi accepted the cup of tea, lowered her head and blew.
Yan Shi Ning was startled to see Dian Thi swirl the tea with a fingernail. Yan Shi Ning remembered she and Pei Jin used to same tactic to deal with Su Yue.
Dian Thi spatted blood on her dress.
‘Someone! Help!’ Dian Thi screamed. ‘What did you put in the tea?’
The maid rushed into the chamber and the maid screamed too.
Yan Shi Ning’s back turned cold. Consort Mu didn’t want to poison her… Consort Mu wanted to frame her.
End of Chapter Sixty-Eight
‘Widow Li sent me to receive one thousand silver taels,’ the young beggar said.
Princess Kang Hua’s eyes were on the verge of falling out. For the last few days a different young beggar delivered copies of the same two letters and demanded one thousand taels each morning. Each morning she was furious, anxious and helpless. She sent a servant to follow the young beggars but the servant would always report the same bad news, the young beggars would disappear amongst the crowded imperial city.
Princess Kang Hua’s fears ate her silver taels and her health, she fell ill.
Yan Shi Ting didn’t understand why her mother who was always healthy was suddenly ill.
That day the owner of Lady Su’s dressmaker’s shop, Gentleman Su visited the Yan Manor and showed Yan Shi Ting new fabrics and dress samples.
‘Lady Yan, I personally came here to show you the new fabrics that ninth prince’s wife doesn’t own,’ Gentleman Su said.
Yan Shi Ting knew Gentleman Su wanted to gain her favor. She was frustrated to death that Gentleman Su used to show the worthless Yan Shi Ning new fabrics and dresses before her. She was going to be the crown prince’s wife, how could she lose to Yan Shi Ning who was married to an unfavored prince?
‘I’ll buy all the new fabrics you brought here this morning,’ Yan Shi Ting said. ‘Wait here, I’ll go get a paper note to pay you.’
Yan Shi Ting walked to her mother’s room and asked her mother for one thousand silver taels.
‘Shi Ting, you have enough dresses for you to wear after your wedding,’ Princess Kang Hua said. ‘Why do you need to buy more new fabrics?’
‘Mother, I love the new fabrics,’ Yan Shi Ting sulked.
Princess Kang Hua lost most of her silver taels but she couldn’t tell her daughter the truth. ‘Shi Ting, be reasonable!’
Yan Shi Ting was used to getting everything she wanted so her mother’s refusal hurt her ears. ‘Mother, it’s only fabrics. Why did you say I’m being unreasonable? These past few days you have been acting strange. Last time the owner of the jade shop visited, you said I could buy as many jade bracelets that I wanted. Mother, if you’re not going to let me spend the silver taels then who are you saving the silver taels for?’
Princess Kang Hua slapped her daughter’s cheek. ‘Shi Ting, close your mouth!’
Yan Shi Ting touched her sore cheek and cried, no one had ever hit her before.
‘Mother, you hit me!’ Yan Shi Ting shrieked and ran out of her mother’s chamber.
‘Princess, what happened?’ old nursemaid asked. ‘Why did you hit second mistress?’
‘What do I do now?’ Princess Kang Hua asked.
‘Princess, wake up,’ old nursemaid said. ‘You can’t fall like this.’
‘That’s right,’ Princess Kang Hua muttered. ‘I can’t fall like this… I didn’t do anything wrong! It’s all their fault! Why should I be scared of them?’
‘Princess, that’s right,’ old nursemaid said. ‘You shouldn’t be scared of them.’
Princess Kang Hua felt her usual cold arrogance returned.
Gentleman Su acted disappointed Yan Shi Ting changed her mind and didn’t want to buy the new fabrics. But on the way to Pei Jin’s manor, his grin was wider than the new fabrics next to him.
At Pei Jin’s manor, Gentleman Su discussed Princess Kang Hua’s situation with Pei Jin and Bei Dou.
‘It appears Princess Kang Hua is a pauper,’ Gentleman Su said. ‘She’s paranoid and in a depressed state. Earlier I saw Lady Yan ran out of Princess Kang Hua’s chamber crying. Xiao Jin, indeed you know how to use another person’s dagger to slowly cut flesh off.’
‘I didn’t do anything,’ Pei Jin said innocently.
Gentleman Su laughed. ‘You’re right. You didn’t do anything. You only found some young beggars to do it for you. Today one of the young beggars asked me why I didn’t ask them to do it three times a day. Morning, afternoon and evening instead of once a day.’
‘Once a day is enough,’ Pei Jin said. ‘Anymore I fear Princess Kang Hua can’t cope. I need her alive for the crown prince and Yan Shi Ting’s wedding day. It’s more amusing to see her slowly rot.’
‘Luckily I haven’t done anything to offend you,’ Gentleman Su said. ‘Otherwise I wouldn’t know I was dying slowly.’
‘Of course you have offended me,’ Pei Jin said. ‘Each time you send a new dress here, you raise the price.’
‘What offence?’ Gentleman Su asked. ‘My money is your money. Think of it as me helping invest your money. Look at the profits I’ve given you all these years. But you haven’t even thanked me once. Of course after you succeed, remember to let me become the treasurer. At that time it doesn’t matter how much money is in the palace, I’m certain I’ll help you double it.’
Pei Jin laughed. ‘Do you think it’s easy to be a treasurer?’
‘How hard can it be?’ Gentleman Su asked. ‘I think you’re father-in-law does have brain. What do you want me to do next? Do you want me to send gifts to the Yan Manor?’
‘For now let my father-in-law find out on his own,’ Pei Jin said.
‘I understand,’ Gentleman Su said. ‘I’ll choose a good day to show the accounting books of dresses, shoes and jewellery Lady Yan bought. It’s a large sum, Yan Jing wouldn’t have that many silver taels. He’ll ask me to look for Princess Kang Hua… she’ll ask me to look for Yan Jing and he’ll wonder why she’s a pauper. What about Lady Yan’s fake pregnancy?’
‘I want Yan Shi Ting’s pregnancy to be exposed in front of imperial father,’ Pei Jin said. ‘So I need to wait until the crown prince and Yan Shi Ting’s wedding day. But I haven’t thought of a way to expose her without leaving a trace.’
‘You can borrow someone else’s dagger,’ Bei Dou said.
‘Whose dagger?’ Pei Jin asked.
‘Xiao Dou is right,’ Gentleman Su said. ‘How can this news spread to seventh prince?’
One of Pei Jin’s guards, Xiao Ping entered Bei Dou’s chamber.
‘Ninth prince, I found out who owns Fu Qing,’ Xiao Ping said.
‘Who?’ Bei Dou asked.
‘Seventh prince,’ Xiao Ping said.
Pei Jin smiled and looked at Bei Dou. ‘Bei Dou, it appears tonight you’ll need to climb walls.’
Bei Dou’s goose bumps warned him that he would also be taking three warm baths that night.
Yan Shi Ning didn’t ask what Pei Jin did during the day. All she knew was the MF Pei Jin ate her in bed from night to dawn. Each morning she would wake up with a sore waist, back, neck and thighs. After a few nights rolling on the bed with him, she began to adjust to the different positions. But she hadn’t adjusted to waking up late in the mornings, neither did her temper. Because she overheard a new rumor spread throughout the imperial city, gentle ninth prince’s wife loves to sleep and doesn’t wake up until midday.
Yan Shi Ning thought her gentle lady image was ruined. How could a gentle lady wake up at midday? So that night she carried a blanket and pillow to sleep in a different chamber. But the following morning she woke up and saw the MF Pei Jin laid next to her. Afterward he ate her until midday.
Finally Yan Shi Ning couldn’t hold back her temper and gave Pei Jin three conditions if he wanted to sleep with her.
‘Only once a day?’ Pei Jin asked.
‘Yes,’ Yan Shi Ning said.
‘Each time no longer than half a shichen hour?’ Pei Jin asked.
‘Yes,’ Yan Shi Ning said.
Pei Jin held Yan Shi Ning’s shoulders and shook her body. ‘Wife, wake up. Don’t dream anymore.’
Yan Shi Ning felt pitiful, day or night there were red kiss marks all over her body.
Pei Jin pulled the blanket over his and Yan Shi Ning’s naked bodies. He watched her fall asleep. He knew she wanted a carefree life so he wanted to give her a carefree life. He was willing to silently help her chase away her shadows.
End of Chapter Thirty-Four