Widow Li carried a bowl of food and a bowl of medicine from the kitchen to a small chamber.
‘Older cousin, eat your meal,’ widow Li said.
‘Why are you feeding rubbish for someone ill to eat?’ old Li asked and knocked over the bowl of food.
Widow Li cried while she was kneeling and picking up the fallen food and broken bowl.
‘The cost of your medicine rose,’ widow Li said. ‘There is only a few silver taels left.’
‘Don’t you know how to demand more silver taels?’ old Li asked.
‘Princess Kang Hua said she’s not going to give me anymore silver taels,’ widow Li said.
Old Li threw a cup at widow Li’s head. ‘You have a hold of Princess Kang Hua’s tail but you’re scared of her. If you’re this dumb then die.’
Widow Li’s head hurt and more tears flowed down her face.
‘You only know how to cry!’ old Li said. ‘You won’t be satisfied until I die. In the past it was a waste to take care of you.’
‘It’s not like that,’ widow Li said.
‘If it’s not like that then hurry and go to the Yan Manor and demand more silver taels!’ old Li said. ‘You can threaten Princess Kang Hua that you’ll tell Prime Minister Yan and ninth prince’s wife if Princess Kang Hua doesn’t give you the silver taels. If I wasn’t bedridden I’ll go there myself. Go! Buy proper food on the way back… useless woman!’
Widow Li tidied the small chamber, changed into dry clothes and walked toward the Yan Manor.
Xiao Zai who Pei Jin asked to follow widow Li was hiding on the roof. Pei Jin instructed if he didn’t find out about widow Li’s situation then he wasn’t allowed to return to the manor. But he didn’t expect to find out Princess Kang Hua was had a secret she didn’t want Yan Shi Ning to know. He was anticipating Pei Jin’s praises and finally the other guards couldn’t mock him anymore for his poor fighting skills.
Xiao Zai spat on old Li’s head through a roof hole.
‘Coward old man!’ Xiao Zai cursed softly and rushed back to the manor.
On the way to the Yan Manor, widow Li was burdened with guilt and anxiety. She didn’t like going to the Yan Manor to ask Princess Kang Hua for silver taels. She wished she never betrayed her conscience and never confided her secret to her older cousin.
Widow Li remembered her life with her older cousin far south from the imperial city. Although they worked hard to survive, he didn’t verbally or physically abuse her. She thought perhaps it was her retribution. Every year on the anniversary of big sister Dung Thi’s death, she would have nightmares and mumble in her sleep. Her cousin asked her why she had nightmares, she confessed what she did and everything changed for the worse.
Widow Li’s older cousin dragged her to the imperial city, called her a dumb woman for being easily chased away by one thousand taels and intimidated her to go to the Yan Manor. She listened and asked for money for the first time in her life. Princess Kang Hua gave her another two thousand silver taels. Her older cousin spent all the two thousand silver taels on gambling and women at brothels.
The second time widow Li’s older cousin told her to go ask for silver taels, Princess Kang Hua gave her another one thousand silver taels. But her older cousin also received retribution, he fell off a horse and his legs were crippled. She spent the one thousand silver taels to buy his medicine.
So that day it was the third time widow Li was forced to ask for money, she was truly scared what Princess Kang Hua would do to her. She vowed it was going to be the last time she asked for money and her older cousin’s health would be left up to his fate.
Half a shichen hour later widow Li left the Yan Manor with a paper note worth one thousand silver taels.
Inside the Yan Manor, Princess Kang Hua sat on a chair in her chamber and thought of a deadly plan to kill widow Li.
‘Widow Li is more daring by the day,’ old nurse maid said. ‘She dared to threaten princess. Last time princess warned her it was the last time. Princess, you need to get rid of her.’
Princess Kang Hua hated throwing paper notes out the window, especially paper notes she saved for her elderly years.
‘I know,’ Princess Kang Hua. ‘Go and send someone to eliminate her.’
Princess Kang Hua smiled coldly, soon there would be no one left to threaten her.
At Pei Jin’s Manor, Xiao Zai reported widow Li’s situation to Pei Jin.
‘Are you certain you heard properly?’ Pei Jin asked.
‘Ninth prince, you know I’m not a good fighter but everything else about me is good,’ Xiao Zai said. ‘If I don’t have good ears then you wouldn’t have asked me to eavesdrop.’
Pei Jin laughed. ‘Then why didn’t you follow her to the Yan Manor to eavesdrop?’
Xiao Zai looked pitifully at Pei Jin. ‘Ninth prince, I did want to follow her to the Yan Manor but the wall there is too high for me to climb. In the future I’ll learn how to climb high walls.’
‘Nonsense, hurry and go follow her,’ Pei Jin said. ‘But this time be careful.’
Xiao Zai left Bei Dou’s chamber and Pei Jin’s complexion darkened.
‘What secret do you think Princess Kang Hua is hiding from your wife?’ Bei Dou asked.
Pei Jin took a deep breath. ‘I fear the death of my wife’s mother wasn’t natural.’
Bei Dou was shocked speechless.
‘Princess Kang Hua isn’t someone who can easily be threatened,’ Pei Jin said. ‘To be safe I want you to send Xiao Hui to accompany Xiao Zai. Instruct Xiao Hui to protect widow Li and don’t let widow Li be assassinated. Also, you can’t tell my wife about this.’
Yan Shi Ning loved her mother, Pei Jin feared she would do something reckless if she found out.
That evening, west of Pei Jin’s manor, widow Li got out of bed and walked to the toilet hole outside.
‘Why is there only one person home?’ Xiao Hui asked. ‘Where’s widow Li?’
Xiao Hui rolled old Li’s body over. ‘Ah! Did I kill someone?’
‘Nonsense,’ Xiao Hui said.
Xiao Hui suspected Princess Kang Hua sent an assassin to kill widow Li.
In that moment widow Li walked back toward her chamber but she saw two dark figures who were standing in front of her older cousin’s bed. She didn’t see her older cousin move and was about to scream but one of dark figures covered her mouth.
Xiao Hui and Xiao Zai carried widow Li to an abandoned shelter nearby.
‘We’re not bad people,’ Xiao Zai said. ‘Right now our master is sleeping with our mistress. It’s safe for you to sleep here tonight, tomorrow you can see our master.’
‘Who is your master?’ widow Li asked.
‘You don’t need to worry,’ Xiao Hui said. ‘What you need to know you’ll know. What you don’t need to know even if you ask no one will tell you.’
Xiao Hui and Xiao Zai walked outside the shelter. Xiao Hui locked the door while Xiao Zai cried and held Xiao Hui’s arm.
‘Someone died… scary…’ Xiao Zai muttered.
Xiao Hui pulled his arm free. ‘You can die too.’
At Pei Jin’s Manor, Yan Shi Ning was dreaming. She dreamt her mother was hugging her and singing her a song. Suddenly her mother’s body began to bleed and her mother held her hand, ‘Shi Ning, you need to live a good life. I only want you to be safe. Don’t become like me…’
‘Mother… don’t go!’ Yan Shi Ning mumbled in her sleep. ‘Don’t leave me by myself…’
‘Shi Ning, Shi Ning!’ Pei Jin called.
Yan Shi Ning was startled awake, she opened her eyes and cried loudly. ‘Pei Jin, my mother…’
‘Don’t cry,’ Pei Jin said. ‘You have me.’
Yan Shi Ning hugged Pei Jin tightly. ‘Why did you go to Southern Jiang and didn’t come back to visit me… I was by myself…’
In Xuan Qing Yan Shi Ning didn’t have any friends because of hers and her mother’s status. Although Pei Jin bullied her, she knew that he cared about her and someone who would protect her. But when she needed him the most he disappeared to Southern Jiang.
‘In the future I won’t leave you by yourself again,’ Pei Jin promised.
End of Chapter Thirty-Two