The following morning Xiao Hui and Xiao Zai returned to the manor.
Pei Jin was awoken by Xiao Hui and Xiao Zai’s whistles outside the chamber.
Pei Jin got out of bed and reassured Yan Shi Ning. ‘Wife, I’m going out for an inspection. After I come back we’ll go to the Yan Manor to visit your father.’
Pei Jin kissed Yan Shi Ning, dressed and entered the horse carriage.
Inside the horse carriage Xiao Zai was eating a bowl of noodles while Xiao Hui glared at Xiao Zai.
‘Ninth prince, have you eaten a morning meal?’ Xiao Zai asked. ‘Do you want to taste the noodles Xiao Hui cooked? It’s delicious.’
‘Do you think I’ll let you eat my bowl of noodles if you didn’t spit in it?’ Xiao Hui asked.
Pei Jin patted Xiao Hui’s shoulder. ‘Xiao Hui, next time Xiao Zai spits, you can vomit and see if he’ll dare to eat it.’
Xiao Zai smiled sweetly at Xiao Hui. ‘Xiao Hui, I like your saliva.’
If Pei Jin wasn’t a witness, Xiao Hui would have pushed Xiao Zai outside the horse carriage.
The horse carriage stopped in front of a locked shelter west of Pei Jin’s manor.
Widow Li heard the door opened and turned her head to the door. Her eyes adjusted to the sunlight that shone into the dark room and she was shocked to see Pei Jin.
‘Ninth prince,’ widow Li said.
Pei Jin sat on the chair opposite widow Li and looked coldly at her. ‘Widow Li, how did my wife’s mother die?’
‘Ninth prince, it was Princess Kang Hua’s plan,’ widow Li said in a shaky voice.
‘Widow Li, you don’t need to be anxious,’ Pei Jin said. ‘Slowly explain everything.’
‘I was widowed before I was thirty years old,’ widow Li said. ‘Old nurse maid caught me in bed with her son-in-law and wanted to report me to the magistrate. I begged old nurse maid not to report me and promised her I would willingly be a work horse if she forgives my offence. Old nurse maid agreed on the condition I go to Xuan Qing and spy on big sister Dung Thi… old nurse maid setup coincidental meetings between me and big sister Dung Thi and that’s how I became big sister Dung Thi and your wife’s maid.’
Widow Li cried tears of guilt while she confessed. ‘If Yan Jing sent letters to big sister Dung Thi, old nurse maid ordered me to intercept the letters and send them back to Yan Jing. For two years I listened to old nurse maid’s orders because aside from sending back letters, I didn’t have to do anything that would hurt big sister Dung Thi or your wife… Dung Thi was good to me and treated me like a blood sister. Your wife was a mischievous little girl, but she was filial and treated me like her aunt.’
Widow Li clasped her hands tightly. ‘But three years ago after I sent back one of Yan Jing’s many letters… Princess Kang Hua delivered me a bottle of herbs and a letter. She ordered me to put some herbs into big sister Dung Thi’s bowl of soup each day… I didn’t know what the herbs were but I suspected it was poison. I followed Princess Kang Hua’s order and big sister Dung Thi was slowly poisoned… after a year the bottle of herbs was empty and big sister Dung Thi returned to the heavens.’
Pei Jin fisted his hands while he listened to widow Li’s confession. ‘Widow Li, what was in the letter that Yan Jing sent to my wife’s mother?’
Widow Li pulled out an old letter she carried around in her pouch and passed it to Pei Jin.
Pei Jin read the old letter, ‘Dung Dung, looking at the past I can only see my heavy conscience. Today I feel like I have received my retribution for abandoning you to take responsibility of a child I thought was mine. I don’t dare to hope you’ll forgive me. I only want you to return to me so I can compensate you for the rest of my life.’
Pei Jin was shocked, Yan Jing doubted Yan Shi Ting was his blood daughter.
Pei Jin regained his composure and spoke coldly. ‘Widow Li, if you’re holding onto this old letter then perhaps you’re holding onto another old letter.’
Widow Li’s shaky hands pulled out Princess Kang Hua’s letter about the bottle of herbs out of her pouch and passed it to Pei Jin.
Pei Jin laughed coldly. ‘Widow Li, you thought of a way to protect yourself long ago. Did you keep these old letters to prove your innocence or to exhort money from Princess Kang Hua?’
Widow Li nodded her head. At first she kept the letters because she was scared old nurse maid and Princess Kang Hua would report her to the magistrate for adultery and murder. She didn’t expect Princess Kang Hua would send someone to kill her.
‘Did Princess Kang Hua send someone to kill me and my older cousin?’ widow Li asked.
Pei Jin put the letters in his inner robes. ‘Widow Li, if it wasn’t Princess Kang Hua then who else would waste their energy to send someone to kill you?’
‘Your wife… does she know…’ widow Li asked.
‘Do you want my wife to know?’ Pei Jin asked.
Widow Li shook her head.
Pei Jin left the shelter and returned to the manor.
Yan Shi Ning was waiting anxiously in the chamber for a long time and she was relieved Pei Jin finally returned.
‘Where did you go?’ Yan Shi Ning asked. ‘It’s the middle of the afternoon!’
Pei Jin smiled and passed Yan Shi Ning a stick of dried dates. ‘I went to buy dried dates for you.’
Yan Shi Ning scoffed and accepted the dried dates.
Later that afternoon Pei Jin and Yan Shi Ning ate an afternoon meal with Yan Jing and Yan Shi Ting, but Princess Kang Hua was absent. After the afternoon moon meal Yan Jing pulled Pei Jin to the calligraphy room and Yan Shi Ting pulled Yan Shi Ning to a chamber because Yan Shi Ting wanted to boast about the wedding dress.
Yan Shi Ting came out from behind a screen, raised her chin and showed her wedding dress to Yan Shi Ning.
‘Is my wedding dress beautiful?’ Yan Shi Ting asked.
‘Beautiful, little sister will be a beautiful bride,’ Yan Shi Ning praised.
‘Do you want to see me wear it?’ Yan Shi Ting asked.
Yan Shi Ning nodded her head.
Yan Shi Ting walked behind the screen. Yan Shi Ning signalled a maid to leave and Yan Shi Ning followed Yan Shi Ting.
Yan Shi Ning was curious what a pregnant Yan Shi Ting would look like, because Yan Shi Ting didn’t behave like an expectant mother. Behind the screen Yan Shi Ting’s back faced her and Yan Shi Ting was wearing white undergarments. There was nothing unusual about the white undergarments except the blood specks on Yan Shi Ting’s bottom.
Yan Shi Ting turned her head around. ‘Big sister, why are you here?’
Yan Shi Ning hid her suspicions and smiled at Yan Shi Ting. ‘Little sister is about to be married off. Of course your big sister wants to help you put on your wedding dress.’
Yan Shi Ning glanced at the blood specks beneath Yan Shi Ting’s flat stomach and immediately she wanted to go and find Pei Jin. When she and Pei Jin received the crown prince and Yan Shi Ting’s wedding invitation they thought that Yan Shi Ting was pregnant so Pei Jin sent a guard to investigate. The guard reported that the empress and the crown prince told the emperor about Yan Shi Ting’s pregnancy.
Yan Shi Ning helped Yan Shi Ting put on the wedding dress faster than she wore a dress. Then she ran to Pei Jin and dragged him to her old chamber.
‘Wife, why are you amused?’ Pei Jin asked.
‘I discovered a secret,’ Yan Shi Ning said.
Pei Jin listened to Yan Shi Ning’s discovery. Afterward he glanced in four directions and whispered in her ear. ‘Wife, should we tell imperial father?’
‘Pei Jin, I can’t do something despicable like that,’ Yan Shi Ning said.
‘Did you forget she did something despicable toward you on the night of the harvest festival?’ Pei Jin said.
Yan Shi Ning remembered how she nearly died that day and her back turned cold.
Pei Jin hugged Yan Shi Ning and he looked out the window. His eyes turned cold the moment he saw Princess Kang Hua in the gardens.
In the gardens Princess Kang Hua was panicking. She received news that an old man and an assassin’s dead bodies were found west of the imperial city. But no one heard news about widow Li. She knew that widow Li couldn’t have killed the assassin she sent and suspected that someone was protecting widow Li. Before she could find out where widow Li was, a young beggar came to the Yan Manor. The young beggar showed her two letters and demanded one thousand silver taels… the calligraphy of the two letters were identical to hers and Yan Jing’s calligraphy. It meant the person who was protecting widow Li knew her biggest secrets about Dung Thi and Yan Shi Ting.
Princess Kang Hua was too anxious to notice Pei Jin was smiling coldly above the gardens.
End of Chapter Thirty-Three