Pei Jin read a letter from Elder Ma in the calligraphy room.
Elder Ma’s messenger also sent Pei Jin dried fishes. In the letter Elder Ma wrote the dried fishs were raised by Pei Jin in Southern Jiang and they tasted delicious.
Pei Jin hid the letter. He knew it was Elder Ma’s code that Elder Ma received his letter about what happened in the palace.
Pei Jin thought whether it was a blessing or a curse to born into an imperial family where the father was suspicious of sons and the sons fought each other. Was he supposed to be defensive and protect his own family or did he need to take revenge to survive?
Later that morning Pei Jin and Yan Shi Ning visited the palace for a family gathering.
Yan Shi Ning’s body wasn’t as sore as last night and she wore a light dress and it helped her walk easier.
Consort Mu was taking care of the injured seventh prince. So apart from Pei Jin and Yan Shi Ning, only the emperor, the empress, the crown prince, Consort La and Pei Khan were at the family gathering.
Pei Khan wanted to run to Pei Jin but he was scared the emperor would scold him and stood next to Consort La.
‘If you want to go there then go,’ the emperor said to Pei Khan. ‘You don’t need to stand there and wrinkle a small face.’
Pei Khan didn’t understand what the emperor meant until Consort La explained to him then he ran to Pei Jin.
The empress watched Pei Jin carry Pei Khan in his arms and she smiled politely. ‘Indeed ninth prince and thirteenth prince are loving brothers.’
‘Are they not allowed to be?’ the emperor asked.
The empress closed her mouth and didn’t dare to criticize Pei Jin and Pei Khan anymore.
Consort La saw the tension between the emperor and empress and she wanted to ease their tension.
‘Yesterday I received the crown prince and Yan Shi Ting’s wedding invitation,’ Consort La said. ‘It’ll be a happy occasion.’
Pei Lam’s heart sank. He stared longingly at Yan Shi Ning but she was focused on playing with Pei Khan.
Pei Jin noticed the way the crown prince was staring at Yan Shi Ning and it confirmed his suspicions about the crown prince’s feelings toward Yan Shi Ning.
‘Consort La is right,’ Pei Jin said. ‘It’ll be a happy occasion. Congratulations tenth brother.’
Pei Lam knew the warning look in Pei Jin’s eyes didn’t match Pei Jin’s happy tone. He nodded his head and politely thanked Pei Jin.
The empress only regretted the crown prince didn’t marry Yan Shi Ting earlier. After seventh prince saved the emperor, some of the crown prince’s supporters became restless. The sooner the crown prince married Prime Minister Yan’s youngest daughter the sooner she would be at ease that the emperor wouldn’t give the crown prince’s position to seventh prince.
The emperor drank tea slowly. In the past he didn’t care the empress wanted the crown prince to marry Prime Minister Yan’s youngest daughter who had a status that matched the crown prince. But after the assassination attempt, he didn’t approve of Yan Shi Ting marrying the crown prince. That day Yan Shi Ting’s first reaction was to hide behind the crown prince then Yan Shi Ting pulled her older sister in front of her to save herself. A woman who was scared of death wasn’t suited to be the crown prince’s wife.
The tension between the emperor and empress increased and it made everyone else around them uneasy too.
Pei Jin and Yan Shi Ning exchanged a look, understood what each other’s thoughts and they continued to play with Pei Khan.
Consort La broke the tensed silence. ‘Their wedding day is an auspicious day.’
The emperor hid his frown behind the cup of tea. In the past he only thought Consort La was naive and kind but recently he thought her intelligence lessened by the day. He glanced at Pei Khan who only knew how to eat and play, sighed and put the cup down.
The empress’ back stiffened. She lived with the emperor for many year and knew when he was in a bad mood. Regardless of the emperor’s disapproval, she would ensure the crown prince married Yan Shi Ting on the sixth day of the ninth month.
Pei Lam drank tea and thought the tea tasted more bitter than usual.
After the family gathering ended the emperor, the crown prince and Pei Jin discussed imperial court matters while Consort La invited Yan Shi Ning to her chamber.
Yan Shi Ning did hesitate to accept Consort La’s invitation because she knew Pei Jin didn’t want her to be close to anyone else in the imperial family. But Pei Jin nodded his head to signal she could spend time with Pei Khan and Consort La.
The flowers were in full bloom along the garden path toward Consort La’s chamber.
Pei Khan’s feet were tired from walking too long. The nurse maid was about the pick him up but he pulled the sleeve of Yan Shi Ning’s dress.
‘Carry, carry,’ Pei Khan said.
‘Xiao Khan, don’t trouble your ninth sister,’ Consort La said.
‘Mother, it’s alright,’ Yan Shi Ning said and carried Pei Khan in her arms.
Pei Khan wrapped an arm around Yan Shi Ning’s neck and held a sweet bun with his free hand. He happily ate and wiped the crumbs stuck on his fingers onto Yan Shi Ning’s neck.
Yan Shi Ning felt something sticky on her neck and realised it was Pei Khan’s saliva and sweet bun crumbs. She glanced at Consort La who wasn’t looking at them so she lightly hit Pei Khan’s bottom.
Inside Consort La’s chamber, Pei Khan sat on Yan Shi Ning’s lap opposite Consort La.
‘Shi Ning, thank you for saving Pei Khan’s life,’ Consort La said sincerely.
‘Mother, you don’t need to be courteous,’ Yan Shi Ning said. ‘Thirteenth prince is a good child.’
‘Xiao Ning, you’re a good person,’ Consort La praised.
A maid entered the chamber and passed a small chest to Consort La.
Consort La opened the chest, picked up the butterfly hairpin decorated with gems and gave it to Yan Shi Ning.
‘This hairpin is for you,’ Consort La said.
‘Mother, this is too valuable for me to accept,’ Yan Shi Ning said.
‘Take it,’ Consort La said. ‘This is only a hairpin. Xiao Khan’s safety means more to me.’
Yan Shi Ning heard the sadness in Consort La’s tone.
‘I’m only six years older than you but my body can’t cope much longer,’ Consort La said.
‘What?’ Yan Shi Ning asked.
‘The makeup hides my body condition,’ Consort La said. ‘I was born with a weak body and after giving birth to Xiao Khan, my body became weaker. My family has no status and I have no friends in the palace. I’m worried about what’s going to happen to Xiao Khan after I…’
Yan Shi Ning didn’t know Consort La well. But she thought Consort La was a sincere person. Unlike other people, Consort La never arranged coincidental meetings with her or Pei Jin. Consort La only cared about Pei Khan’s safety and didn’t desire power.
‘Shi Ning, forgive me for being bold,’ Consort La said. ‘I’m asking you as a mother… if something happens to me, I hope that you and ninth prince will protect Xiao Khan.’
Yan Shi Ning saw the desperation in Consort La’s eyes. Consort La’s sudden request shocked her and she didn’t know how to react.
A while later Yan Shi Ning opened her mouth. ‘Mother, don’t talk about something bad. You need to take good care of yours and Pei Khan’s health. No one can predict the future.’
Consort La was a little disappointed. She understood Yan Shi Ning didn’t want to accept her request.
‘You’re right,’ Consort La said. ‘No one can predict the future. Forgive my boldness earlier.’
‘Mother, it’s nothing,’ Yan Shi Ning said.
Afterward Consort La and Yan Shi Ning talked about less heavy matters and they played with Pei Khan until Pei Jin escorted Yan Shi Ning to the horse carriage.
Consort La watched Yan Shi Ning leave then she looked sadly at the butterfly hairpin Yan Shi Ning left on the table.
In the evening Yan Shi Ning laid next to Pei Jin on their bed and recounted her conversation with Consort La.
‘You did well,’ Pei Jin praised.
‘In the future if something happens to Consort La, should we take care of Pei Khan or not?’ Yan Shi Ning asked.
‘Wife, do you want to take care of Pei Khan or not?’ Pei Jin asked.
‘Pei Khan is pitiful,’ Yan Shi Ning said.
‘Then we’ll take care of Pei Khan,’ Pei Jin said and took off Yan Shi Ning’s clothes.
‘Pei Khan has a loveable face,’ Yan Shi Ning said. ‘If I was younger I would tease him… ah… that hurts… don’t need to!’
Pei Jin bit Yan Shi Ning’s breast. ‘Of course we need to conceive a child together soon. How else can you have a child you can tease comfortably?’
End of Chapter Thirty-One