A month ago Wang Fu Mu secretly met Xiao Nu in the palace.
‘Official Wang, on the day of the emperor’s birthday banquet I heard Consort Mu said seventh prince’s second wife’s son must be killed,’ Xiao Nu said. ‘Official Wang, ninth prince’s wife was framed…’
Wang Fu Mu inwardly smiled while he listened to Xiao Nu confessing Consort Mu’s scheme to gain his favor.
That day the emperor summoned Pei Jin to the palace to receive an edict to go to Xuan Qing. Wang Fu Mu secretly passed a folded note to Pei Jin before Pei Jin left the palace.
Later that day Pei Jin read the note in the horse carriage, ‘hates bastard son.’
Pei Jin didn’t expect Pei Zhang wore a headdress of a fool and understood why Pei Zhang killed Dian Thi’s son, the boy wasn’t Pei Zhang’s blood son.
Pei Jin knew Pei Zhang’s motive so he sent his guards to Pei Zhang’s manor to find evidence he and Yan Shi Ning were framed. His guards reported in the last three months there were two deaths in Pei Zhang’s manor, a guard named Feng Lang and Dian Thi’s personal maid Xiao Hai.
Pei Jin smiled coldly, Feng Lang was the father of Dian Thi’s son. Pei Jin thought of a plan to spread the news to his father without being implicated.
‘Why are you so calm?’ Bei Dou asked. ‘Don’t you want your wife and my wife to return to the manor?’
‘Wait another three days,’ Pei Jin said.
Bei Dou glared at Pei Jin, another three days they would be in Xuan Qing. He hated suffering with Pei Jin.
After three days Pei Jin and Bei Dou arrived in Xuan Qing. Bei Dou hated the way Pei Jin wasn’t anxious being away from the imperial city while their wives were held captive in the palace.
‘Wait another ten days,’ Pei Jin said. ‘We’ll return home and be reunited with our wives.’
In a busy restaurant in the imperial city two gentlemen were gossiping about Pei Zhang.
‘Did you hear seventh prince is wearing a beautiful headdress of a fool?’ the first gentleman asked.
‘How do you know this rumor is true?’ the second gentleman asked.
‘I’ll tell you how I found out but you have to promise not to tell another person,’ the first gentleman said. ‘I heard seventh prince’s second wife’s dead son isn’t his blood son.’
‘Truly?’ the second gentleman asked.
‘Of course,’ the first gentleman said. ‘I have a close acquaintance who works at seventh prince’s manor.’
‘I see… but who would dare to sleep with seventh prince’s woman?’ the second gentleman asked.
‘Didn’t you hear about how seventh prince’s trusted guard Feng Lang mysteriously died?’ the first gentleman asked.
‘Um, how is Feng Lang’s death related to this rumor?’ the second gentleman asked.
‘You fool… think about why a healthy man like Feng Lang would die at a young age,’ the first gentleman said.
‘I see… you’re saying-’ the second gentleman said.
‘It’s a secret!’ the first gentleman said. ‘You can’t say the secret.’
The two gentleman looked in four directions, everyone in the busy restaurant were eavesdropping on their conversation.
The two gentleman left the restaurant and took off their disguises in a remote alley and looked like their usual selves, Xiao Hui and Xiao Zai.
Xiao Hui and Xiao Zai’s secret conversation spread throughout the imperial city within a few days.
Pei Zhang was furious after he heard everyone in the imperial city knew the truth about the bastard child. Pei Zhang beat Dian Thi to vent his anger and summoned everyone from his manor into the courtyard. He knew someone inside the manor betrayed him. Everyone in the manor denied they didn’t betray him and blamed each other.
After the interrogation because of Pei Zhang’s panicked reaction to the rumor, he realised he fell into Pei Jin’s trap and soon their father would find out the truth.
At Pei Jin’s manor Yan Shi Ning thought the Pei Jin fox was impressive.
‘Wife, do you think your husband is impressive?’ Pei Jin asked.
‘Husband, how did imperial father find out?’ Yan Shi Ning asked.
‘Imperial father likes to pass by remote areas in the palace gardens… to eavesdrop on eunuchs and palace maids gossiping,’ Pei Jin said. ‘Thanks to Xiao Hui and Xiao Zai, seventh brother’s secret was spread to the palace.’
‘Are you saying imperial father sent people to investigate the rumor at seventh prince’s manor and confirmed seventh prince framed us?’ Yan Shi Ning asked.
‘Imperial father suspected Dian Thi committed adultery long ago and that seventh prince framed us,’ Pei Jin. ‘Imperial father knows seventh brother would rather die than admit the truth. So imperial father let you go and he can only curse seventh brother.’
‘Seventh prince still wins if imperial father can’t punish him,’ Yan Shi Ning said.
‘Shi Ning, be patient and you can eat hot tofu,’ Pei Jin said. ‘Seventh brother knows imperial father is watching him closely and he won’t dare to make any moves otherwise he’ll make imperial father angrier.’
In the palace Pei Zhang knelt in front of his father and hit his forehead on the floor.
‘Imperial father, I haven’t mistreated Dian Thi… but she betrayed me like this,’ Pei Zhang said. ‘I’m heart broken. I didn’t want to hide the truth but I considered Dian Thi’s family so I kept it a secret.’
‘Are you certain you didn’t keep it a secret so after Dian Thi gives birth you can become the crown prince?’ the emperor asked.
‘Imperial father, I was foolish,’ Pei Zhang said. ‘Imperial father, forgive me. I know I deserve to die. But I promise it wasn’t me who framed ninth brother. That day I was angry someone harmed Dian Thi and said those heavy words to ninth sister… imperial father, I promise I don’t have an ulterior motive. It wasn’t me.’
Pei Zhang hit his forehead pitifully on the ground and hid his resentment toward Pei Jin.
Pei Zhang knew deceiving the emperor by using a bastard son as a bridge to become the crown prince and attempting to kill Pei Jin and Yan Shi Ning’s son were crimes that wouldn’t escape death. Of course Pei Zhang would never admit the truth.
The emperor’s head ached to see Pei Zhang acting convincingly in a I’ll-tear-my-heart-out state of mind. It was a frustrating to death to witness it. Even though in the past he was guilty of using similar tactics, he still didn’t condone Pei Zhang’s actions. He felt helpless. Did he choose the wrong son?
‘Imperial father, I have something important I want to report,’ Pei Zhang said.
‘Say it,’ the emperor said.
‘Recently I’ve been suspicious of ninth brother and my guards have followed him… ninth brother is stronger than he appears,’ Pei Zhang said.
‘How?’ the emperor asked.
Pei Zhang was impressed his mother was right about his father’s weariness toward Pei Jin.
‘Imperial father, my guards discovered ninth brother’s guards are exceptionally strong,’ Pei Zhang said. ‘If ninth brother is gentle and weak then how can he afford to raise strong guards?’
Pei Zhang was happy to see his father silently planning to expose Pei Jin’s real capabilities. His mother was right, his father hated Pei Jin.
After the emperor dismissed Pei Zhang, he put down his brush. He didn’t know if Pei Zhang was truly a filial son and he wasn’t certain Pei Jin was hiding ulterior motives. He smiled coldly, he planned a way to see his sons’ true hearts.
End of Chapter Seventy-Three
Chapter Thirty-Eight (Part 1)
The crown prince and Yan Shi Ting’s wedding day was fated to be an auspicious day for some guests.
At the Yan Manor, the bride woke up early, wore her wedding dress and makeup.
‘Mother, have you noticed father has been strange the last three days?’ Yan Shi Ting asked. ‘He acts distant when I talk to him.’
‘Perhaps he’s busy with work,’ Princess Kang Hua lied.
‘Yes, you’re right,’ Yan Shi Ting said.
At Pei Jin’s manor, Yan Shi Ning prepared the wedding gifts.
Pei Jin hugged Yan Shi Ning. ‘Wife, you need to be careful.’
Yan Shi Ning kissed Pei Jin’s lips. ‘If I’m uncertain about the outcome then I won’t act.’
Pei Jin nodded his head. ‘I think seventh brother’s people are prepared too. Let them expose Yan Shi Ting’s deceit so we can watch an amusing performance. If seventh brother acts out a plan, he won’t be merciful.’
Night and day, Pei Jin cautioned Yan Shi Ning enough to make her laugh helplessly. ‘Pei Jin, when did you become a woman?’
Pei Jin rubbed his face on Yan Shi Ning’s neck. ‘I’m scared my little lion will be scared if she sees fresh blood.’
Yan Shi Ning felt Pei Jin’s lips on her neck and pushed him away. ‘Pei Jin, I know. Umm… don’t take off my dress… it took me a long time to wear it… umm…’
Pei Jin pouted his lips. He didn’t get to eat Yan Shi Ning but she got to hit him. ‘Wife, you don’t even let me touch you.’
Yan Shi Ning wanted to vomit blood. ‘If you want someone to touch then you can marry a second wife.’
Pei Jin rubbed his chin and nodded his head. ‘That’s a good sugges-‘
Yan Shi Ning kicked Pei Jin’s leg. ‘Pei Jin, do you dare?’
Pei Jin laughed. He knew it was nearly time for the wedding so he adjusted Yan Shi Ning’s dress. ‘Wife, be careful inside the palace and at the Yan Manor. I’m worried Princess Kang Hua found out about the plan.’
Yan Shi Ning nodded her head.
‘Remember today we need to perform well inside the palace,’ Pei Jin said.
Yan Shi Ning pinched Pei Jin’s ear. ‘I know.’
Pei Jin escorted Yan Shi Ning to the horse carriage. Afterward he instructed Xiao Hui and Xiao Zai. ‘Protect my wife and be weary of the princess.’
‘Yes ninth prince,’ Xiao Hui and Xiao Zai promised.
Unfortunately Pei Jin was the groom’s brother and needed to wait at the palace for the bride while Yan Shi Ning was the bride’s sister and needed to go to the Yan Manor and escort the bride to the palace.
The moment Yan Shi Ning arrived at the Yan Manor, she saw Yan Jing was welcoming guests. Her heart laughed coldly at the fake smile on Yan Jing’s face.
Yan Shi Ning remembered a few days ago after she gave the letter to Yan Jing she returned home and asked Pei Jin to send Xiao Zai to eavesdrop at the Yan Manor.
Pei Jin confided in Yan Shi Ning that Xiao Zai had a special talent for eavesdropping. She didn’t believe Pei Jin until Xiao Zai returned to the manor and reported Yan Jing and Princess Kang Hua’s conversation without omitting anything. Also, Xiao Zai had a special talent of mimicking other people’s voices. She was impressed after hearing Xiao Zai mimicked Yan Jing and Princess Kang Hua’s voices.
Yan Jing spotted Yan Shi Ning, he smiled gratefully at her and escorted her to the bride’s courtyard.
Yan Shi Ning kindly reminded Yan Jing to ‘remember to rest’ then she walked toward the bride’s chamber.
On the way to Yan Shi Ting’s chamber, Yan Shi Ning saw Princess Kang Hua in the courtyard and she smiled politely.
Princess Kang Hua straightened her back and looked wearily at Yan Shi Ning. She didn’t understand why Yan Shi Ning used to lower her head and didn’t dare to look at her but suddenly Yan Shi Ning dared to look at her on Yan Shi Ting’s wedding day. It was Yan Shi Ning’s eyes that looked like a hunter staring at a prey that made her wearier. The longer Yan Shi Ning looked at her the more she thought about the young beggars, the two letters, Yan Jing and who was the mysterious person behind everything.
Princess Kang Hua remembered what old nurse maid reported to her.
‘Who did master meet that day?’ Princess Kang Hua asked. ‘Why did he remember his suspicions about Yan Shi Ting’s identity?’
‘Someone saw ninth prince’s wife visited master that day,’ old nurse maid said.
Suddenly Princess Kang Hua felt breathless in front of Yan Shi Ning. She raised her chin and quickly walked past Yan Shi Ning.
Yan Shi Ning smiled while she watched Princess Kang Hua poorly hide fear.
End of Chapter Thirty-Eight (Part 1)