The emperor visited the empress and the crown prince’s old chambers.
The emperor didn’t love the empress but he never had to worry the empress would attempt to kill him. Out of his sons, he only loved his and the empress’ son. Pei Lam would never stab a sword at his throat. But the empress and Pei Lam were no longer with him. Pei Zhang’s betrayal was another stab to his heart.
The emperor didn’t understand why whoever he wanted to be the crown prince would die. His tenth son and seventh son were gone… only his ninth son was left who he could give the throne to before he died.
The thought of Pei Jin made the emperor reminisced about his youth. When he was young he loved peace and quiet so he only allowed at most two palace maids to serve him.
The emperor remembered that night clearly. His young self was reading in the calligraphy room. Suddenly his body turned hot, he raised his head and saw a young palace maid was pouring tea. He stood and pushed her onto the table… after he woke up she was gone. He thought she was only a palace maid so he let that night go.
The emperor suspected he drank lust herbs and an imperial physician confirmed his suspicions.
Two months later a eunuch reported to the emperor a palace maid wanted to tell him something important… it was the palace from that night, she was pregnant. At that time he had a wife, many consorts and concubines. But only his seventh son survived. So he prepared a chamber for the palace maid during her pregnancy.
The emperor was ashamed of himself for impregnating a lowly palace maid. But he didn’t hate the palace maid. She was gentle, knew her status and was caring toward other people. He thought if she gave him a son then he would consider marrying her and she would become one of his consorts. But later he found out she wasn’t as gentle and kind as he thought, she had ulterior motives.
When the palace maid was four months pregnant she didn’t want the emperor to spend time with his wives. She planned to feed him a weak poison so he would be bedridden while she was pregnant. Unfortunately for her, an imperial physician discovered her plan and she lost the emperor’s trust.
The last five months of the palace maid’s pregnancy, she behaved and didn’t cause any trouble to show the emperor she was remorseful. It was a pity the emperor no longer trusted her. If she had hid her ulterior motives well then the emperor would have given her a carefree life.
The palace maid thought the emperor would forgive her after she gave birth to a prince. She didn’t expect the emperor secretly killed her for deceiving him.
The emperor didn’t remember what the palace maid looked like but he remembered she had gentle eyes like their son, Pei Jin. Everyone thought Pei Jin’s mother died during childbirth, but he had ordered an assassin to kill Pei Jin’s mother. He would never allow someone who deceived him to stay by his side. Although he killed Pei Jin’s mother, he couldn’t kill Pei Jin. Pei Jin’s mother had no powerful family connections so at that time Pei Jin wasn’t a threat to him.
The emperor thought he could love Pei Jin. But as Pei Jin grew older, Pei Jin only became an eyesore. Each time he looked at Pei Jin it reminded him of his mother’s deceit and that not everything could be within his control.
The emperor felt mentally tired thinking about Pei Jin’s mother and the eyesore Pei Jin. He sat down on the empress’ old bed and rested for a while. His eyes noticed words were written on a corner of the bed… ‘Pei Jin killed me and the crown prince.’
The emperor recognised the calligraphy belonged to the empress. If Pei Jin was the killer then he was deceived for many years!
The court officials and everyone at Pei Jin’s manor awaited the emperor’s edict for many days. During those days Pei Jin attended meetings in the imperial court in the mornings and afterward he would spend time with his family at home.
Finally the emperor sent a messenger to Pei Jin’s manor and requested Pei Jin to see the emperor in the imperial calligraphy room for a private meeting.
Yan Shi Ning helped Pei Jin changed clothes behind a screen.
‘Pei Jin, what do you think imperial father wants to say to you?’ Yan Shi Ning asked.
Pei Jin kissed Yan Shi Ning’s lips. ‘Shi Ning, you don’t have to worry.’
‘Go there quickly and come back quickly,’ Yan Shi Ning said.
Pei Jin nodded his head and he travelled to the palace by horse carriage.
Everyone at the palace smiled at Pei Jin and they wanted to gain his favor. Pei Jin ignored them and he walked toward the imperial calligraphy room.
Pei Jin was anxious, he didn’t know if his father wanted to interrogate him or promote him.
Pei Jin entered the imperial calligraphy room. His father sat on the highest chair while Pei Khan stood and looked at him cryptically.
‘Ninth brother,’ Pei Khan said.
Pei Jin didn’t expect Pei Khan would be in the imperial calligraphy room as well.
‘Thirteenth son, have you memorised the words your teacher taught you?’ the emperor asked.
‘Imperial father, I still need to improve my calligraphy,’ Pei Khan said.
Pei Khan sat and he continued practicing his calligraphy.
Pei Jin knew after their father found out Pei Khan was intelligent and could speak, their father assigned a teacher for Pei Khan. But seeing Pei Khan practicing calligraphy in the imperial calligraphy room reminded Pei Jin of the past. Their father supervised Pei Lam practicing calligraphy when Pei Lam was the same age as Pei Khan. Pei Jin wasn’t given the same treatment when he was younger, their father didn’t care about his education.
‘Ninth son, in the future I’ll leave Dian Kingdom to you,’ the emperor said.
Pei Jin didn’t expect his father would give him the throne in such a direct manner.
‘Don’t you want to?’ the emperor asked.
‘Imperial father, I fear I’m not suited for such heavy responsibilities,’ Pei Jin said.
The emperor smiled. ‘If you’re not suitable then who else is left that is suitable?’
Pei Jin’s body turned cold, he didn’t understand what his father’s words meant.
‘Ninth son, I’m not young anymore,’ the emperor said. ‘I only have a few days left… thirteenth son is still young. Ninth son, I’ll leave your thirteenth brother in yours and your wife’s care. I know both of you love your thirteenth brother.’
‘Yes, imperial father,’ Pei Jin said.
‘Thirteenth son, pour your ninth brother a cup of tea,’ the emperor said. ‘In the future you need to listen to your ninth brother.’
Pei Jin was anxious why his father acted different than usual. In the past his father was never that gentle toward him. He wondered if his father truly let go of everything before his father died.
Pei Khan’s face paled. He remembered what he overheard earlier that day.
Pei Khan was playing with the cuju ball Yan Shi Ning made for him. He accidently kicked the cuju ball in his father’s chamber. No one was allowed inside his father’s chamber without permission. He looked in four directions, no one was around so he quickly entered his father’s chamber to retrieve the cuju ball. Before he could leave, he heard footsteps and quickly hid under the bed. It was his father’s footsteps. He waited a long time for his father to leave and felt sleepy. When he was about to sleep, he was startled by his father’s words, ‘ninth son, I won’t spare you!’
Pei Khan didn’t understand what his father’s words meant but his father’s harsh tone scared him.
‘Ninth son, you killed your brothers!’ the emperor said. ‘So I’ll force your brother to kill you! You’re not the only son left!’
Pei Khan was startled. He didn’t know what happened and why his father wanted to kill Pei Jin.
A while later Pei Khan left his father’s chamber undetected and his teacher taught him how to write more words. He couldn’t sit still during the lesson. Then his father asked him to practice in the imperial calligraphy room. He couldn’t memorise any of the words he learnt because he was worried about how his father intended to kill Pei Jin.
Pei Khan thought about what he overhead his father said. He suspected his father poisoned the tea in the calligraphy room and wanted him to be the person who killed Pei Jin.
Pei Khan’s shaky hands held the warm cup of tea that felt too heavy. What was he supposed to do? On one side was his father and on the other side of him was his brother. He didn’t want Pei Jin to die.
Pei Khan purposely walked slowly and his eyes silently warned Pei Jin not to drink the poisoned tea.
Pei Jin thought Pei Khan was acting strange. But he accepted the cup of tea from Pei Khan and pretended to drink the tea.
Pei Jin raised his head and he was startled to see tears flowed down from Pei Khan’s eyes.
The cup of tea fell out of Pei Jin’s hand. There was a deadly poison inside the tea.
‘It was you who killed them!’ the emperor said.
Pei Jin realised his father found out about his past schemes.
‘You hid your real cruel self for many years!’ the emperor said. ‘You killed your brothers! Did you think you can sit carefree on the throne? I should have killed you from the start!’
‘Imperial father, you killed your brothers and stole the throne from your younger brother,’ Pei Jin said. ‘Have you ever once sat carefree on the throne in the last thirty years?’
The emperor’s face whitened and he clutched his chest.
Pei Jin laughed coldly. ‘Imperial father, who are you to criticize me? Isn’t it true you changed imperial grandfather’s edict to your name instead of imperial uncle’s name? Your hands are stained with your brothers’ blood too.’
‘You!’ the emperor said.
The emperor didn’t expect Pei Jin knew the truth.
‘Did you do this to avenge your imperial uncle?’ the emperor asked. He gritted his teeth and remembered how Pei Jin was close to his younger brother in the past. ‘Don’t forget, I’m your imperial father!’
‘Imperial father?’ Pei Jin asked. ‘I’ve always seen you as my imperial father. But have you ever once seen me as your son?’
Pei Jin looked coldly at the broken tea cup. ‘Earlier you intended for me to die. Is this how you see me as your son?’
‘You deserve to die!’ the emperor said. ‘You killed your tenth brother, the empress and you framed your seventh brother!’
‘Did you want to kill me because you loved tenth brother?’ Pei Jin asked. ‘Or is it because you hate being deceived and feeling everything is outside of your control?’
The emperor braced his hands on the table.
‘Imperial father, you’re unjust,’ Pei Jin said. ‘Why do you hate me?’
The emperor looked at Pei Jin’s eyes. Each time he looked into Pei Jin’s eyes he was reminded of the scum who deceived him. Then he would wonder if Pei Jin was like Pei Jin’s mother and scheme against him too. As Pei Jin grew older, Pei Jin acted gentle and kind like Pei Jin’s mother. The more he couldn’t see through Pei Jin the more he hated Pei Jin. Pei Jin being close to his younger brother intensified his hatred of Pei Jin.
‘I didn’t kill tenth brother,’ Pei Jin said. ‘Tenth brother faked his own death because he hated his life in the palace. I only brought him back to the imperial city and kept him captive. He was tired of living and killed himself. As for seventh brother, if he didn’t have bad intentions to kill me and my family then he would never have fallen into my trap. Imperial father, you clearly know this kind of battle can only have one winner. I only want to survive and live with my wife and son.’
‘Don’t think for a moment that I’ll believe you!’ the emperor said. ‘I’ll never believe you! Someone! Arrest him!’
Wang Fu Mu entered the room. ‘Your majesty.’
‘Where are the imperial guards?’ the emperor asked.
‘There are no imperial guards,’ Wang Fu Mu said.
The emperor saw Pei Jin stood upright and his back turned cold.
‘Wang Fu Mu, you’ve been secretly serving him!’ the emperor said.
‘Ninth prince is a good master,’ Wang Fu Mu said.
‘Do the two of you want to commit treason?’ the emperor asked.
‘Treason?’ Wang Fu Mu asked.
Wang Fu Mu was suspicious why the emperor isolated himself and didn’t let anyone come near the emperor. After he heard the emperor wanted to see Pei Jin privately, he suspected the emperor wanted to kill Pei Jin.
Wang Fu Mu wanted to protect Pei Jin so he lied to the imperial guards the emperor wanted them to guard the palace gates. Of course the imperial guards wouldn’t dare go against the emperor’s orders and they believed Wang Fu Mu wouldn’t dare to lie about the emperor’s orders.
Pei Jin knew his father wouldn’t ask all his imperial guards to guard the palace gates and leave his father vulnerable to an attack from inside the palace. Then he thought it was Wang Fu Mu’s way of warning him. He didn’t know how his father intended to kill him. Whether his father would stab him like he stabbed Pei Zhang or poison him like his father poisoned imperial uncle. After he entered the calligraphy room and saw the teapot he realised his father wanted to poison him.
‘What is it?’ the emperor asked. ‘You don’t dare to kill me? If you don’t kill me then how will you climb onto the throne? Even if you want to be the emperor, you shouldn’t dream about it!’
‘Imperial father, I don’t want to be the emperor,’ Pei Jin said. ‘I only want to be your son.’
Pei Jin knelt in front of his father, hit his forehead on the floor, stood and left the room.
The emperor watched Pei Jin’s back powerlessly. He collapsed on the floor and vomited blood.
Wang Fu Mu wanted to help the emperor stand but the emperor glared at him coldly.
‘Wang Fu Mu, have I mistreated you?’ the emperor asked.
‘Your majesty is good to me but ninth prince is good to me too,’ Wang Fu Mu said.
The emperor silently stood and sat.
Pei Jin left the palace. He didn’t know why his father let him leave without killing him. Inside his sleeve was a hidden poisoned dart contraption. Earlier if his father had picked up a sword when he was kneeling then he wouldn’t hesitate to release the dart.
That summer the emperor died.
Pei Jin announced the emperor’s final edict, ‘Thirteenth prince will become the emperor at the age of sixteen. Ninth prince will rule in thirteenth prince’s stead until thirteenth prince turns sixteen.’
What the citizens of the Dian Kingdom didn’t know was Pei Jin was secretly exceptional at mimicking other people’s calligraphy, especially his father’ calligraphy.
End of Chapter Eighty
‘Wang Fu Mu, summon the crown prince,’ the emperor said.
‘Yes your majesty,’ Wang Fu Mu said.
Pei Lam who had not eaten for a few days, lost a lot of weight and walked weakly into the emperor’s chamber.
‘Other people dream of entering this chamber,’ the emperor said. ‘But you’re impressive, you need an invitation before you’re willing to enter this chamber.’
‘Imperial father, your health is important,’ Pei Lam said. ‘It’s not good for you to upset yourself out of bed.’
‘You’re the only one who understands this much,’ the emperor praised.
‘Imperial father, you taught me everything,’ Pei Lam said.
The emperor threw a report at Pei Lam. ‘Don’t learn to act like ninth prince in front of me!’
Pei Lam didn’t avoid the report and it hit his forehead. ‘I envy ninth brother.’
The emperor gritted his teeth.
‘If I was ninth brother,’ Pei Lam said. ‘Then imperial father wouldn’t be angry. Ninth brother didn’t visit your bedside but you didn’t fault him for not being filial. It doesn’t matter if ninth brother isn’t sincere or distant, imperial father wouldn’t care. That’s why I envy ninth brother.’
‘I don’t care because he is no one in my eyes,’ the emperor said.
‘Is that so?’ Pei Lam asked. ‘Then imperial father, you should see me as no one too.’
‘Bastard child!’ the emperor said.
Pei Lam kowtowed in front of his father. ‘Imperial father, please take away my crown prince position.’
Pei Lam hit his forehead on the floor.
The emperor felt his tenth son that he trained for many years had become a stranger.
‘Tenth son… this is the third time you have asked me this!’ the emperor said.
‘Imperial father, I hope there won’t be a fourth time,’ Pei Lam said.
The emperor knocked over the teapot and cup. ‘Tenth son! You’re the crown prince I put a lot of energy to train for more than eighteen years! Yet you’re asking me to take away your crown prince position. Are you willing to disappoint me?’
‘Imperial father, I’m sorry,’ Pei Lam said. ‘But I don’t want the throne and rule over the kingdom. Imperial father, seventh brother is the one who wants it. You should grant his wish. He’s devoted and decisive, it makes him more suitable to be emperor than me.’
‘Seventh prince?’ the emperor asked. ‘Devoted? He’s a fraud! Who’s seventh prince? I know him better than you. He’s someone who has the most ulterior motives.’
The emperor struggled to stand. Wang Fu Mu rushed to the emperor’s side but the emperor pushed him away.
‘Everyone leave!’ the emperor ordered.
‘Crown prince, take care of the emperor,’ Wang Fu Mu said to Pei Lam and left the chamber.
Pei Lam dismissed Wang Fu Mu’s advice.
‘Although seventh brother has ulterior motives,’ Pei Lam said. ‘But he hasn’t committed any serious offences. But I’ve shamed imperial father beyond acceptable.’
‘So you lied about Yan Shi Ting?’ the emperor asked.
Pei Lam didn’t deny his father’s accusation.
‘I didn’t think there would be a day tenth son knows how to calmly lie,’ the emperor said and laughed coldly. ‘It doesn’t matter, you shouldn’t even dare to think about me taking away your position! I raised you from a child to an adult. I know what you’re thinking like I know my own hand. I know your mother forced you to deceive me. Also, seventh prince isn’t innocent in this deception either. I know clearly who purposely wanted to expose Yan Shi Ting. Seventh prince and Consort Mu knew about Yan Shi Ting’s fake pregnancy long ago and they waited until the wedding to expose Yan Shi Ting. Their black hearts aren’t innocent.’
The emperor hit the table. He acted stern with Pei Lam and appeared to favor Pei Zhang. But it wasn’t his true heart.
The emperor hated situations out of his control. He knew Pei Lam was soft but Pei Lam was also capable, which was why he chose to train Pei Lam. He thought after he died, Pei Lam would have enough power to sit on the throne. But Pei Lam disappointed him before he died.
The emperor didn’t trust Pei Zhang. Pei Zhang was someone who thought too highly of their intelligence, always manipulating situations to benefit themselves and would do anything to gain favor like being stabbed unnecessarily to appear heroic in the eyes of the Dian Kingdom’s citizens.
Pei Lam knew Pei Zhang would never satisfy their father’s expectations. ‘Imperial father, if you’re not satisfied with seventh brother, there’s still ninth brother.’
The emperor’s deadly aura was emitted in all four directions.
‘I will never allow ninth prince sit on the throne!’ the emperor said.
‘Why?’ Pei Lam asked.
Pei Lam was curious why his father treated Pei Jin coldly for more than twenty years. He knew Pei Jin was intelligent and treated others fairly. If he could see Pei Jin’s strengths then their father could also see Pei Jin’s strengths.
‘Tenth son, you only need to worry about being a good crown prince!’ the emperor said. ‘You’re my heir, the kingdom will become yours.’
Pei Lam felt helpless to escape his cage. Would he ever even take one step out of his cage? He remembered the dead palace maid and a familiar suffocating sensation wrapped around his body.
Pei Lam stood. ‘I don’t want it!’
‘Pei Lam!’ the emperor said.
‘Imperial father!’ Pei Lam said.
‘Do you want me to be angry to death?’ the emperor asked.
Pei Lam cried, pulled out a dagger and stabbed his chest. ‘Imperial father, don’t force me!’
The emperor grabbed Pei Lam’s hand. ‘Pei Lam, what do you want to do?’
Pei Lam used his strength to stab the dagger deeper. ‘Imperial father, I want you to grant my request.’
‘Summon an imperial physician!’ the emperor cried out.
Wang Fu Mu rushed into the emperor’s chamber and realised that day was beautiful. Then he wondered if flowers were blooming in Pei Jin’s manor.
Wang Fu Mu hid his thoughts and he acted concern in front of the emperor.
‘Your majesty what happened?’ Wang Fu Mu asked. ‘Ah! Crown prince are you alright?’
That day news about the emperor taking away tenth prince’s crown prince position faster than punishing the Yan Manor surprised many people.
The empress almost died to see her son return with blood on his chest. She collapsed on a chair after she read the emperor’s edict in her son’s hand, her son was no longer the crown prince.
The empress thought her eyes misread the emperor’s edict. She had warned her son not to say any nonsense in front of the emperor. Why would the emperor grant their son’s insane request?
‘Bastard child!’ the empress said. ‘How many people do you want to kill?’
Pei Lam found peace amongst the chaos around him. After more than eighteen years in a cage, the door was opened. He could see sunlight, hear the sounds of birds chirping, smell the scent of blossoms and feel warmth enter his cold body. He had never felt as relaxed and happy as he did that day. He smiled like a fool because finally he escaped the cage.
At Pei Jin’s manor, Yan Shi Ning couldn’t believe the news about the crown prince.
‘He’s no longer the crown prince?’ Yan Shi Ning asked.
Pei Jin nodded his head.
‘Then who will be the new crown prince?’ Yan Shi Ning asked.
‘The emperor is keeping the crown prince position vacant,’ Pei Jin said.
‘Do you think it could be you?’ Yan Shi Ning asked.
Pei Jin shook his head. ‘It’s alright, everything happened according to the plan. But there’s something else…’
‘What?’ Yan Shi Ning asked.
‘Shi Ning, imperial father asked Yan Jing to kill Princess Kang Hua,’ Pei Jin said.
‘Why would the emperor do that?’ Yan Shi Ning asked.
‘It’s hard to see imperial father’s true motives,’ Pei Jin said. ‘Shi Ning, do you want to go to the Yan Manor and give Princess Kang Hua a memorable parting gift? We can let her see clearly whose hands she died under.’
‘Yes,’ Yan Shi Ning said. ‘Of course we need to go. I want to see her die suffering.’
End of Chapter Forty-Two