News of the emperor’s collapse spread across the imperial city.
At Pei Jin’s manor Pei Xiao Niao was crying for his mother but his mother was napping.
Pei Jin picked up Pei Xiao Niao from the cot and played with him on a chair.
It was a sunny day and the chubby Pei Xiao Niao wore thin pink clothes.
Pei Jin happily held the chubby Pei Xiao Niao in one arm and teased Pei Xiao Niao with a small soft colourful cuju ball with his free hand.
Pei Xiao Niao’s round eyes brightened and followed the cuju ball’s movements. His raised his short arms in the air but his father didn’t give him the cuju ball.
Pei Jin moved the cuju ball close to his son. Each time his son was about to grab the cuju ball, he moved the cuju ball away. He smiled while he teased his son but his son’s lips pouted and his son cried loudly.
Pei Jin coaxed his son who loved to cry because he didn’t want to disturb Yan Shi Ning’s nap.
‘Ninth prince, Huang Guo is here to see you,’ a servant said.
‘I understand,’ Pei Jin said.
Pei Jin looked at his son who stopped crying. His son had grabbed the cuju ball while he was distracted. He smiled at his son who was happily playing with the cuju ball.
Pei Jin saw his son was about to eat the cuju ball and gently pulled the cuju ball away from his son’s mouth.
‘Son, why are you a glutton like your mother?’ Pei Jin asked.
Pei Xiao Niao was about to cry because his father stole his food but his father stood and hugged him tightly. He looked over his father’s shoulder and saw a stranger.
‘Ninth prince, your son is handsome,’ Huang Guo praised.
‘Elder is too kind,’ Pei Jin said. ‘My son isn’t handsome.’
Pei Jin thought his son was ugly when his son was a wrinkled one month boy. But after raising his son for two months, his son was growing more handsome by the day.
‘Indeed he has a majestic aura,’ Huang Guo praised.
Pei Jin smiled and gestured for Huang Guo to sit.
Pei Jin sat down on a chair. He hugged his son and bounced his son on his knees.
Pei Xiao Niao happily sucked the soft round bun his father gave him and he looked at the stranger in front of him.
‘I came to discuss something with ninth prince,’ Huang Guo said.
‘Elder’s face looks serious,’ Pei Jin said. ‘It must be important.’
‘Something serious happened,’ Huang Guo said.
‘What?’ Pei Jin asked.
‘The emperor wrote an edict,’ Huang Guo said. ‘Congratulations ninth prince, the emperor chose you to be the crown prince.’
Pei Jin didn’t expect his father would choose him to be the crown prince.
Pei Jin and Yan Shi Ning’s happy reunion was interrupted by the news of his father’s collapse. He heard the rumor about his father only had a few days to left so he sent his guards to the palace to investigate but didn’t find anything unusual. He and Yan Shi Ning could only patiently wait at home.
Huang Guo’s news made Pei Jin’s heart jump chaotically but he maintained his calm appearance.
‘We should seize this opportunity,’ Huang Guo said.
Pei Jin narrowed his eyes.
‘The emperor wrote the edict but he hasn’t announced it,’ Huang Guo said. ‘It means he’s still indecisive. We should act and the throne is yours.’
Pei Jin hugged his son tighter and realised he did care about who his father wanted to give the throne to.
Huang Guo thought finally his years of scheming didn’t become smoke.
‘Everything is prepared,’ Huang Guo said.
Huang Guo’s army only needed his command and his army would march into the palace.
Pei Jin’s son’s cry broke his deep thoughts. His son had urinated on his knees.
Luckily Pei Jin’s son cried otherwise he would have lost sight at what was most important. He had always been cautious and understood his status. His father’s decision and Huang Guo’s persuasion had disrupted his plan… he was truly grateful for his son.
Pei Jin stood, carried his son in his arms and smiled. If he didn’t have his son then in that moment he would have made an irreversible mistake. He had his wife and son, he couldn’t be selfish and risk their lives to make a dangerous chess move. Besides, Wang Fu Mu’s silence was the biggest warning. Wang Fu Mu’s silence meant if he made a reckless move then he and his family would die.
Pei Jin’s chaotic heart calmed. ‘I truly only want to be a carefree prince.’
Huang Guo wanted to vomit blood.
A servant escorted Huang Guo to the horse carriage.
Pei Jin kissed his son’s cheeks and happily ran to the chamber to change his son’s clothes.
‘Son, be good,’ Pei Jin coaxed. ‘You’re my good son. Don’t cry.’
Pei Xiao Niao didn’t know his father was grateful he urinated on his father’s knees and restored his father’s common sense, he continued to cry because his pants were wet.
Pei Xiao Niao’s loud cry woke up Yan Shi Ning.
Pei Xiao Niao saw his mother, stretched his arms toward his mother and cried louder.
‘You’re not allowed to cry!’ Yan Shi Ning said.
Pei Xiao Niao was startled his mother raised her voice. He pouted his lips, buried his head in his father’s chest and didn’t dare to cry.
Yan Shi Ning noticed her son’s pants were wet. She picked up her son from Pei Jin’s arms and changed her son’s clothes.
‘Earlier did Huang Guo visit you?’ Yan Shi Ning asked.
‘Um’ Pei Jin said.
‘What’s happening in the palace?’ Yan Shi Ning asked.
‘I heard imperial father wrote an edict to make seventh brother the crown prince,’ Pei Jin lied.
‘What should we do?’ Yan Shi Ning asked.
‘Wait and see what happens,’ Pei Jin said. ‘I think there’s something suspicious about the news. Huang Guo wants to lend his army to me for me to steal the throne. But I don’t dare. Wan Fu Mu hasn’t send news to me so I don’t want to do anything reckless.’
‘What if the news is true?’ Yan Shi Ning asked. ‘Do we watch Pei Zhang sit on the throne?’
‘If it’s true then we’ll escape to Southern Jiang,’ Pei Jin said. ‘He can’t kill us if we’re not in the imperial city. Besides, I don’t have enough people in our home to defeat Huang Guo’s army.’
‘But it’s not fair,’ Yan Shi Ning said.
Yan Shi Ning wouldn’t accept Pei Zhang as the emperor and she didn’t think the emperor was fair toward Pei Jin.
Pei Jin held Yan Shi Ning’s hand. It wasn’t the right time for him to make a move.
Pei Jin waited days for his father’s edict, each day was like waiting a year. But the edict didn’t come so he didn’t make a move.
In the palace Wang Fu Mu was as anxious as Pei Jin and Yan Shi Ning. Wang Fu Mu hated relying on an outsider, but he had no choice if he wanted to protect Pei Jin and Pei Jin’s family.
Wang Fu Mu walked to the secret spot in the palace gardens where Xiao Nu raised a cat. Luckily Xiao Nu was feeding the cat.
‘Tomorrow give this handkerchief to ninth prince’s wife in the Tang Ming courtyard,’ Wang Fu Mu said. ‘Keep it a secret otherwise both of us will die with no proper burial.’
That night Xiao Nu didn’t sleep. The handkerchief Wang Fu Mu gave her felt too heavy.
Xiao Nu didn’t know why Wang Fu Mu asked her to give the handkerchief to ninth prince’s wife and she wasn’t familiar with ninth prince and ninth prince’s wife. But it was enough that she knew Wang Fu Mu treated her kindly and never bullied her.
Early the following morning she secretly hid in the Tang Ming courtyard and she waited for ninth prince’s wife.
That morning Wang Fu Mu stayed in the emperor’s chamber and gambled everything on Pei Jin’s habit of passing through the Tang Ming courtyard to walk to the emperor’s courtyard.
Later that morning Pei Jin and Yan Shi Ning was passing through the Tang Ming courtyard and they were startled an unfamiliar palace maid stopped them. But they relaxed after the palace maid gave Yan Shi Ning a handkerchief and told them it was from Wang Fu Mu.
Xiao Nu bowed to ninth prince and ninth prince’s wife then she quickly left.
‘What does this handkerchief mean?’ Yan Shi Ning asked.
There was only a riddle on the handkerchief, ‘two people raising their heads smiling, only saying savor.’
Pei Jin knew Wang Fu Mu was more cautious than he was so he was still startled Wang Fu Mu would rely on an outsider to warn him. But he thought deeply about what the handkerchief meant.
Pei Jin stared at the handkerchief for a long time and realised he thought too deeply. Wang Fu Mu wasn’t an educated scholar so for Wang Fu Mu to write a riddle and use an outsider then the situation was serious.
Pei Jin thought about how Wang Fu Mu spoke. Each time Wang Fu Mu spoke, Wang Fu Mu would emphasized the first word. Pei Jin looked at ‘two’ and ‘only.’ ‘Liang Zhi’ sounded similar to ‘Zhao Shu’ which meant edict. Pei Jin shivered, his father was too ruthless.
‘Imperial father isn’t dying,’ Pei Jin said. ‘He’s pretending to be ill and wanted to see who would commit treason after receiving news of the unannounced edict.’
‘Imperial father is too insane,’ Yan Shi Ning said. ‘But if your speculation is true then it’s strange that someone impatient like Pei Zhang hasn’t acted recklessly.’
Pei Jin and Yan Shi Ning thought about why Pei Zhang didn’t kill the emperor then they looked at each other at the same time.
‘Who do you think is their spy in the palace?’ Yan Shi Ning asked.
‘The five people who are allowed to enter imperial father’s chamber are Wang Fu Mu and his four most trusted imperial physicians,’ Pei Jin said. ‘We know it isn’t Wang Fu Mu so it’s one of the four imperial physicians.’
‘Pei Jin, how do you think imperial father will react if he knew we found out what chess piece he’s using?’ Yan Shi Ning asked.
‘Perhaps imperial father will become more insane,’ Pei Jin said.
Pei Jin and Yan Shi Ning smiled at each other.
‘Shi Ning, I wasn’t certain us waiting to see what happens would benefit us but now I know it was the right decision,’ Pei Jin said. ‘What do you think seventh bother wants the most?’
‘He wants us to lose to imperial father’s chess piece,’ Yan Shi Ning said. ‘Why?’
Pei Jin smiled. ‘We’ll grant his wish.’
Pei Jin and Yan Shi Ning walked to the emperor’s courtyard where a large crowd gathered.
Pei Khan was overjoyed to see Pei Jin and Yan Shi Ning.
Pei Khan pulled Yan Shi Ning’s sleeve. ‘Where’s my nephew?’
Yan Shi Ning saw the anticipation in Pei Khan’s eyes and she didn’t want to tell him the bad news. ‘Your nephew is sleeping at… home.’
Pei Khan scrunched his face and frowned. He missed his nephew Xiao Niao a lot.
Later that day Pei Zhang returned to his manor and he was grateful his mother met Gentleman Tao and found out about his father’s plan. Otherwise he would have acted recklessly and lost his life.
Pei Zhang looked at the bright sky and anticipated his new status. He only needed to wait for Pei Jin to make the wrong move. If he was Pei Jin, he wouldn’t do nothing if he found out news about their father’s hidden edict for Pei Jin to be the crown prince. But if Pei Jin didn’t do anything, it meant Pei Jin truly wanted to be a carefree prince. Then he wouldn’t win or lose and their father’s plan was meaningless.
‘Seventh prince, ninth prince made a move,’ a guard said.
‘Hurry and say it,’ Pei Zhang said.
‘Ninth prince is hiding people inside his manor,’ the guard said.
Pei Zhang was happy he ordered his guards to follow Pei Jin closely. He thought Pei Jin must have received news of their father’s edict and secretly hid Huang Guo’s men in Pei Jin’s manor.
‘Seventh prince, I and the other guards secretly searched their horse carriages,’ the guards said. ‘The horse carriages are full of cannon balls and arrows.’
Pei Zhang laughed triumphantly. ‘Keep following him and his guards. Report to me immediately if any of them make any sudden movements.’
Pei Zhang was happy while waiting a few days for Pei Jin to strike. But after a few days he gritted his teeth, Pei Jin didn’t strike and he was worried that Pei Jin decided to retreat.
‘Are you certain he hasn’t made any sudden moves?’ Pei Zhang asked the guard.
‘I’m certain,’ the guards said. ‘But ninth prince’s guards have been collecting water from neighbouring wells.’
‘Water?’ Pei Zhang asked.
‘Yes but I and the guards secretly checked it was only water,’ the guard said.
‘What about his people?’ Pei Zhang asked.
‘None of them made any sudden movements either,’ the guard said.
Half a shichen hour later the guard returned to Pei Zhang’s manor.
‘Ninth prince instructed his guards to prepare to strike!’ the guard said.
Pei Zhang was happy to receive good news again. He waited for another two shichen hours but Pei Jin and his guards were stationary.
‘Are you certain he told his guards to prepare to strike?’ Pei Zhang asked the guard.
‘I’m certain,’ the guard said.
‘Take more guards with you and ensure no one leaves his manor!’ Pei Zhang said. ‘I’m going to the palace.’
At Pei Jin’s manor Pei Jin and Yan Shi Ning were happily playing chess together.
‘Ninth prince, seventh prince’s sent more guards here and seventh prince is travelling to the palace,’ a guard reported and left the chamber.
‘Wife, the fish took the bait,’ Pei Jin said.
‘Checkmate,’ Yan Shi Ning said.
End of Chapter Seventy-Five
Chapter Thirty-Nine (Part 1)
The emperor’s first grandchild wasn’t Pei Wen Cai.
Seventh prince’s official wife miscarried a child before Pei Wen Cai, the emperor’s first grandchild was a boy and he still grieved for his unborn grandson.
The emperor had thirteen children but only four sons were alive. The seventh prince shared a similar fate with the emperor, he had many wives but they had many miscarriages and only Pei Wen Cai was alive.
The citizens of the Dian kingdom were worried about the lack of future imperial heirs. That was why even though the emperor disapproved of Yan Shi Ting, he tolerated her for the sake of his unborn grandchild. So no one in the imperial family was surprised to see the emperor’s concern after seeing Yan Shi Ting bleed.
‘Emperor, you don’t need to summon an imperial physician,’ the empress said. ‘It’ll be bad luck if the imperial physician appears before the end of the wedding ceremony-’
‘Bad luck?’ Consort Mu asked. ‘Big sister, the bride is bleeding. Her life is more important than superstitions.’
Consort Mu’s words stabbed the empress’ heart. The empress saw the feigned concern on Consort Mu’s face and she realised it was the demoness Consort Mu who interfered with her scheme. The empress didn’t doubt that Consort Mu knew about Yan Shi Ting’s fake pregnancy long ago, Consort Mu waited until the wedding day to expose Yan Shi Ting and to appear innocent while opposing the empress.
The emperor ignored the empress and Consort Mu’s battle of words.
‘Hurry and bring an imperial physician here!’ the emperor ordered.
An imperial physician rushed into the ceremonial hall and Yan Shi Ting panicked.
‘I don’t need an imperial physician,’ Yan Shi Ting said.
Yan Shi Ting recognised the imperial physician wasn’t one of the empress’ allies and wouldn’t know about her fake pregnancy. If she was exposed on her wedding day, it would also be the day of her funeral.
Yan Shi Ting knew no one could save her and she couldn’t stop the imperial physician from examining her. She cried helplessly and she couldn’t endure her stomach ache any longer… she farted and soiled her undergarments.
Everyone around Yan Shi Ting pinched their noses and stepped back from Yan Shi Ting’s unpleasant stench.
Yan Shi Ting was angry and embarrassed. She knelt on the floor, covered her face and cried loudly. Her wedding dress was ruined, her makeup disappeared and she looked like a pitiful bride jilted by the groom.
Pei Jin held Yan Shi Ning’s hand. He knew she wasn’t cruel enough to feel happy seeing Yan Shi Ting shed fresh blood from their plan.
‘Imperial physician, what happened to Yan Shi Ting?’ the emperor asked.
‘It was a beautiful wedding ceremony… why did it become like this?’ Consort Mu asked. ‘Imperial physician, stop stalling. Hurry and examine the crown prince’s wife!’
The imperial physician reluctantly stepped closer to Yan Shi Ting. He heard ‘the crown prince’s wife’ and knew the wedding ceremony wouldn’t end happily. ‘Lady Yan, let me examine you.’
The imperial physician knelt beside Yan Shi Ting but she refused to let him hold her wrist.
‘I don’t need to be examined!’ Yan Shi Ting said.
‘Hurry and let the imperial physician examine you,’ Consort Mu said. ‘You’re bleeding. Can’t you see the emperor is worried about you?’
Yan Shi Ting looked at the emperor’s concerned face. Then she looked pleadingly at the empress and the crown prince. ‘Aunt! Big brother crown prince! The imperial physician doesn’t need to examine me.’
The empress saw everyone was looking at her and her heart hardened. ‘Shi Ting, let the imperial physician examine you.’
Yan Shi Ting’s body turned cold, the empress and the crown prince turned their backs on her.
The imperial physician examined Yan Shi Ting while she absently looked at the empress and the crown prince.
‘Strange…’ the imperial physician said.
Most of the wedding guests were worried something was wrong with Yan Shi Ting and the rest anticipated the imperial physician’s explanation.
‘Imperial physician, hurry and report to the emperor,’ Consort Mu said and feigned concern.
Consort Mu heard news about Yan Shi Ting’s fake pregnancy. But the empress’ calmness made Consort Mu uneasy that the news wasn’t true. Whether Consort Mu could defeat the empress and the crown prince depended on the outcome of the imperial physician’s explanation.
‘Strange?’ the emperor asked.
The imperial physician stood and kowtowed in front of the emperor. ‘Your majesty, Lady Yan is healthy. Your majesty, forgive me but I don’t know why she’s bleeding.’
‘Healthy?’ the emperor asked.
The emperor should have been relieved to hear Yan Shi Ting was healthy but he felt like the heavens struck him.
‘Your majesty is right,’ the imperial physician said. ‘Lady Yan is healthy.’
The emperor stepped off the platform, grabbed the imperial physician’s collar and spoke softly. ‘Is she pregnant?’
End of Chapter Thirty-Nine (Part 1)