The palace maids and eunuchs ran in different directions.
Some ran to the emperor, others to Pei Zhang, Pei Jin and Wang Fu Mu.
In the chamber, Dian Thi collapsed on the floor and was bleeding continuously. Tears fell down her pale face and her stomach ached unbearably. Even in her pain she didn’t forget to bite the powdered fingernail and swallow it.
Yan Shi Ning was too shocked to move. After she saw Consort Mu and Chu Thi approached the chamber too quickly, she regained her composure.
Yan Shi Ning didn’t know why Dian Thi cooperated with Consort Mu and Chu Thi to kill Dian Thi’s child and frame her. But she knew the consequences, the emperor wouldn’t spare Pei Jin and everyone at his manor for conspiring to kill the emperor’s grandchild.
‘Mistress, inside the tea are powder used to induce labour,’ Xiao Tu said.
Yan Shi Ning didn’t have any other options, she sipped the tea.
‘Mistress!’ Xiao Tu said.
‘Don’t worry, I only drank a sip,’ Yan Shi Ning said. ‘Little sister Xiao Tu, you need to be my midwife.’
‘Midwife?’ Xiao Tu asked.
Yan Shi Ning clutched her stomach, the powder was too concentrated.
‘My child is more than eight months,’ Yan Shi Ning said. ‘It’s possible. I’m begging little sister Xiao Tu!’
Yan Shi Ning laid on the floor. She felt her stomach contract and cried.
Xiao Tu thought about what happened and understood Yan Shi Ning’s logic. Yan Shi Ning wanted to save everyone at Pei Jin’s manor by drinking the dissolved power and giving birth prematurely.
Xiao Tu quickly helped Yan Shi Ning sit on the floor, pulled out a hairpin, pricked a finger and wiped the blood on Yan Shi Ning’s dress.
‘Ninth prince’s wife is bleeding!’ Xiao Tu screamed.
Xiao Tu’s fingers pressed on some of Yan Shi Ning’s vital acupuncture points and inserted a pill into Yan Shi Ning’s mouth.
Everyone rushed to the chamber and saw Dian Thi and Yan Shi Ning were bleeding on the floor.
Consort Mu and Chu Thi were startled Yan Shi Ning was giving birth too.
‘Ninth prince’s wife is in labour!’ Xiao Tu screamed.
A long time later Xiao Tu wiped Yan Shi Ning’s sweaty forehead.
‘Mistress, you need to push harder,’ Xiao Tu said.
‘Ah… ninth prince’s wife is bleeding!’ the palace maids cried out at the same time.
‘Get out of here!’ Xiao Tu ordered the troublesome palace maids.
Xiao Tu looked calmly at the panicked and tired Yan Shi Ning. ‘Mistress, it’s alright. Mistress, you need to push harder.’
Yan Shi Ning bit down on the cloth and pushed hard. She didn’t know her fingernails were piercing her palms because the labour pain overwhelmed her senses.
‘Son… you need to endure and survive,’ Yan Shi Ning murmured.
Outside the chamber Pei Jin saw a maid carry another bowl of blood water.
‘What’s happening inside?’ Pei Jin asked. ‘How is my wife?’
The maid shivered to see the usual gentle ninth prince glare deadly at her. ‘Ninth prince… I don’t know.’
Pei Jin was angry and anxious. His wife and child were healthy. There was no reason for Yan Shi Ning to give birth prematurely unless something happened while she wasn’t inside the banquet hall.
Dian Thi and Yan Shi Ning were in labour in chambers next to each other. Dian Thi gave birth to a stillborn child while Yan Shi Ning gave birth to a healthy child.
Dian Thi looked at her dead son’s purple face and sobbed loudly.
Outside the chamber the emperor heard Dian Thi’s sob.
‘What happened?’ the emperor asked Dian Thi’s midwife coldly. ‘How is my grandchild?’
The midwife knelt in front of the emperor and cried for mercy. ‘Your majesty, seventh prince’s second wife’s child died.’
‘Died?’ the emperor asked.
The emperor didn’t believe what he heard. How was it possible for a woman who had a smooth pregnancy for nine months suddenly lose a child?
Pei Zhang acted shock and slumped on the ground and Consort Mu cried hysterically.
‘My grandchild was healthy,’ Consort Mu said. ‘Why did I lose my grandchild?’
Suddenly a child’s loud cry was heard and Pei Jin stood upright.
Another midwife carried a healthy child outside Yan Shi Ning’s chamber.
‘Congratulations your majesty,’ the midwife said. ‘Congratulations ninth prince, your wife gave birth to a prince.’
Pei Jin didn’t care if his child was a boy or a girl. ‘How is my wife?’
‘Ninth prince, your wife lost a lot of blood,’ the midwife said. ‘Your wife is in a weak condition.’
Pei Jin rushed into the chamber and parted the beaded curtains. Yan Shi Ning was lying on the bed, her whole body was sweaty and her hair was messy.
Yan Shi Ning cried happy tears. ‘Pei Jin…’
Pei Jin held Yan Shi Ning and cried. ‘Shi Ning…’
‘Yan Shi Ning!’ Dian Thi cried out from the neighbouring chamber. ‘I want to kill you! Give back my son!’
Yan Shi Ning gripped Pei Jin’s hand. ‘This is their scheme. Be careful.’
The emperor was sad to hear a grandson died but he was also happy to hear his other grandson was alive.
‘What happened?’ the emperor asked Dian Thi’s maid coldly.
The maid knelt in front of the emperor and cried. ‘Your majesty, I don’t know. I left to get lavender oil for mistress and after I returned I saw mistress lying on the floor and bleeding. I… I heard it was ninth prince’s wife who poisoned the tea.’
‘What poison?’ the emperor asked and signalled an imperial guard to investigate.
A while later the imperial guard reported to the emperor. ‘In ninth prince’s wife and seventh prince’s second wife’s tea are powder to induce labour.’
‘Who dared to do this?’ the emperor asked. ‘Find the culprit! Who were here when it happened? Who poured the tea?’
The palace maids and the eunuchs knelt and cried. ‘Your majesty, we were framed.’
‘Your majesty, the powder was only in their two cups of tea… it’s too coincidental… someone must have contaminated their tea in front of them,’ the imperial guard said.
Dian Thi and Yan Shi Ning were harmed so Xiao Tu was the biggest suspect.
Yan Shi Ning heard the emperor was interrogating Xiao Tu. She was weak but used her little strength to walk outside and kneel in front of the emperor.
‘Imperial father, Xiao Tu is like a little sister to me,’ Yan Shi Ning said. ‘Xiao Tu risked her life to help me give birth. If she wanted to harm me, she could have easily killed me and my son.’
Pei Jin’s heart ached to see Yan Shi Ning kneel too soon after giving birth, he could only kneel next to her.
The emperor believed Yan Shi Ning, he didn’t think the culprit was Xiao Tu.
‘If it isn’t her then who else?’ Consort Mu asked. ‘There were only three of them inside the chamber!’
‘Why did you kill my son?’ Pei Zhang asked. He knelt in front of his father and cried. ‘Imperial father, you need to give my son justice.’
End of Chapter Sixty-Nine
The heavens didn’t grant Pei Jin’s wish.
That day Pei Jin and Bei Dou were out buying medicine while Yan Shi Ning stayed at the manor watching young maids play in the gardens. She wanted to join them, but gentle ninth prince’s wife needed to be dignified. Also, her dresses felt a little tighter than usual. She remembered last night when she was bathing, her breasts looked a little bigger too.
‘Mistress, thirteenth prince is here,’ a servant announced.
Yan Shi Ning wondered if Pei Khan came to visit because a while ago she pinched his cheeks in the palace and said that when he was free, he could visit her and Pei Jin.
Pei Khan never left the palace since he was born. After he heard ninth sister said he could visit her and ninth brother, he was deeply moved.
Consort La thought Pei Khan’s request to visit Yan Shi Ning and Pei Jin was a good opportunity for Pei Khan to bond with Yan Shi Ning. She waited for ninth prince to recover then she asked the emperor’s permission to let Pei Khan visit Pei Jin’s manor.
The emperor consented and sent imperial guards with Pei Khan to Pei Jin’s manor.
The moment Pei Khan saw Yan Shi Ning, he jumped into her arms and looked around for Pei Jin.
‘Nin, Nin?’ Pei Khan asked.
Yan Shi Ning carried Pei Khan to the gardens closer to her chamber.
‘Your ninth brother is out,’ Yan Shi Ning said. She signalled a maid. ‘Bring buns and sweets for thirteenth prince.’
Pei Khan was a little disappointed Pei Jin was out, but he was happy he could to play with Yan Shi Ning.
Yan Shi Ning thought about what she could play with Pei Khan and remembered the cuju ball Pei Jin brought home a while ago. ‘Thirteenth brother, let’s play cuju.’
In the past Yan Shi Ning loved to play cuju in Xuan Qing. She put Pei Khan on the ground and ran to get the cuju ball from the chamber.
Pei Khan happily played with the cuju ball. If he kicked too far, his short legs would run little steps after the cuju ball.
Yan Shi Ning, the maids, the servants and the imperial guards smiled and watched Pei Khan chased the ball. Pei Khan’s expression was serious and he didn’t allow anyone to retrieve the cuju ball for him.
Pei Khan kicked the cuju further after each kick. But after his strongest kick the cuju ball flew and landed in the well.
Yan Shi Ning saw Pei Khan’s sad round eyes and consoled him. ‘Thirteenth brother, I’ll make you a new cuju ball to play with.’
Pei Khan nodded his head. Yan Shi Ning knew it would take too long to make a cuju ball from fabrics and decided it was quicker to use paper. She picked up Pei Khan and carried him to Pei Jin’s calligraphy room.
Inside Pei Jin’s calligraphy room, Yan Shi Ning and Pei Khan collected torn paper on the floor and on the table. Then she showed Pei Khan how to flatten the torn paper and scrunched it into small paper balls.
Pei Khan thought it was too easy and quickly made a pile of small paper balls.
Suddenly Yan Shi Ning glanced at one of the torn paper she picked up… Yan Jing. She read it carefully and the torn paper slipped out of her hands in her shocked state.
Pei Jin returned to the manor and heard Pei Khan came to visit and was inside the calligraphy room with Yan Shi Ning.
Pei Jin entered the calligraphy room and saw Pei Khan was sitting on the floor happily making small paper balls. But Yan Shi Ning sat on a chair in front of the table and she had the look of despair on her face. He glanced at the torn paper on the table and realised he forgot to burn the last copy of the letters.
Pei Jin carried Pei Khan to Bei Dou’s chamber and asked Bei Dou to play with Pei Khan for a while. Then he rushed back to the calligraphy room and sat next to Yan Shi Ning.
‘Pei Jin…’ Yan Shi Ning said.
Pei Jin hugged Yan Shi Ning. ‘Shi Ning, let me explain.’
Yan Shi Ning pushed Pei Jin away. ‘Why do you need to copy my father and Princess Kang Hua’s calligraphy? Why?’
Pei Jin didn’t know what to say.
‘What did she put in my mother’s bowl of soup?’ Yan Shi Ning asked. She looked down at the torn paper on the table that was wet from her tears. ‘Pei Jin, why didn’t you tell me?’
Yan Shi Ning avoided Pei Jin’s touch. ‘Pei Jin, you knew everything that happened but you didn’t tell me anything! Why? Tell me, what did she put in my mother’s bowl of soup?’
Pei Jin’s heart ached to see Yan Shi Ning cry. ‘Poison herbs.’
Yan Shi Ning remembered that year her mother’s health slowly declined… until her mother died. ‘Mother…’
Pei Jin hugged Yan Shi Ning, her body was shaking and she sobbed loudly. ‘Shi Ning, calm down.’
Yan Shi Ning wrapped her arms around Pei Jin’s shoulders and sobbed on his neck. ‘Why did she need to kill my mother? Why? My mother didn’t do anything to her. My mother never fought with her. Why did she still want to kill my mother? Pei Jin, I want to kill her!’
Pei Jin heard Yan Shi Ning sob until her voice became hoarse. He didn’t want her to lose her voice and reluctantly struck her unconscious.
Yan Shi Ning dreamt her father and Princess Kang Hua killed her mother. She was tied to a chair and couldn’t save her mother. ‘Mother… mother…’
Yan Shi Ning was startled awake. She opened her eyes and saw Pei Jin was lying next to her in bed but she didn’t know what time it was.
‘Shi Ning, what’s wrong?’
‘Pei Jin, I want to kill her!’ Yan Shi Ning said. ‘I want them to die suffering!’
‘I’ll help you avenge your mother’s death,’ Pei Jin promised.
Yan Shi Ning knew Pei Jin would keep his promise and she sobbed loudly for her lost mother.
After Yan Shi Ning tired herself to sleep from sobbing, Pei Jin returned to Bei Dou’s chamber. Pei Jin hugged Pei Khan then the imperial guards escorted Pei Khan back to the palace.
‘What happened?’ Bei Dou asked.
‘My wife knows,’ Pei Jin said.
‘That’s good,’ Bei Dou said.
Pei Jin frowned. ‘Why do I feel you’re too happy about it?’
‘If your wife becomes stronger, it’s good for you,’ Bei Dou said.
Pei Jin felt he failed to protect her.
‘Your wife is naturally a strong person,’ Bei Dou said. ‘But you’re too protective of her.’
Pei Jin sighed. ‘You’re right, my wife is a strong person. She’s stronger and is more vengeful than I thought.’
‘Of course a little lion has different blood to an ordinary person,’ Bei Dou said.
Pei Jin turned the jade ring around his finger for a while.
Pei Jin remembered a lost memory. He remembered a drunkard was about to assault Yan Shi Ning’s mother but Yan Shi Ning pulled out a knife and scared the drunkard away.
‘Your wife knows everything?’ Bei Dou asked.
‘Not yet,’ Pei Jin said. ‘She’s in a turmoil state and can’t process too many thoughts. But I think she’ll recover too quickly and force me to tell her everything.’
Pei Jin didn’t want to tell Yan Shi Ning that Princess Kang Hua not only killed her mother, but Princess Kang Hua wanted to kill her too.
‘I don’t know how my wife wants to avenge her mother’s death,’ Pei Jin said. ‘But I know anyone who dares harm her or someone she loves, she would make that person suffer a hundred times more than she suffered.’
‘You and your wife are even more compatible than I thought,’ Bei Dou said.
The following day, Yan Shi Ning quietly sat on a chair and thought for the whole day.
Pei Jin’s biggest fear was hatred consuming Yan Shi Ning’s head.
Pei Jin wasn’t going to let his biggest fear become real. He knelt in front of Yan Shi Ning, propped his chin between her closed knees and looked up pitifully at her. ‘Wife, I’m lonely because you neglected me for the whole day.’
Yan Shi Ning looked at Pei Jin’s pitiful face and her pursed lips relaxed. She knew he was worried about her and wanted to make her laugh. It lessen the cold sensation in her heart.
‘Wife, your husband is a gentleman,’ Pei Jin said pitifully. ‘Why do you want to neglect me?’
Yan Shi Ning stroked Pei Jin’s ears, held his face and kissed his lips.
Pei Jin felt Yan Shi Ning’s kiss was filled with gratefulness and light after a dark night.
The maids and servants quickly left the chamber and closed the door.
‘Pei Jin,’ Yan Shi Ning said.
‘Um?’ Pei Jin asked.
‘Do you want me?’ Yan Shi Ning asked.
Pei Jin understood and carried Yan Shi Ning to their bed.
End of Chapter Thirty-Five