Bei Dou followed Pei Jin to the palace.
Bei Dou disappeared after Pei Jin entered the emperor’s chamber.
The emperor sat on the highest chair and he wore a somber expression. While Consort Mu and seventh prince sat happily beside the emperor and the empress was in her chamber and her heart was missing the absent crown prince.
‘Xiao Jin, I heard Shi Ning’s body has been unwell,’ Consort Mu said. ‘Is she feeling better today?’
Pei Jin hid Yan Shi Ning’s chest injury for two months. He explained to his imperial family that Yan Shi Ning had a chest infection and he had invited many physicians to clear her chest infection but she was still ill.
Since the harvest festival incident Consort Mu and seventh prince’s spies couldn’t enter Pei Jin’s manor to confirm if Yan Shi Ning was pregnant.
‘Compared to a few days ago Shi Ning’s body is recovering,’ Pei Jin said. ‘But to be safe Shi Ning needs to rest for a few more days. Shi Ning asks for imperial father and mother’s forgiveness.’
The emperor frowned. Even Pei Jin’s wife had a weak body then the Dian Kingdom would have to wait longer for the emperor to have the first grandson.
‘Shi Ning can visit your imperial father and me later,’ Consort Mu said. ‘Shi Ning’s health is more important. But I haven’t seen her for two months… perhaps Xiao Jin’s physicians…’ She turned to look concern at the emperor. ‘Why don’t I send my imperial physician to examine Shi Ning?’
Consort Mu wouldn’t feel at ease until she could confirm if Yan Shi Ning was ill or pregnant. If Pei Jin declined her offer then she would know Yan Shi Ning was pregnant.
‘Mother that is kind of you,’ Pei Jin said.
The emperor was frustrated to hear Consort Mu looking down on Pei Jin. Although Pei Jin didn’t compete with his other sons or request anything from him, Pei Jin was still his son. He couldn’t believe Pei Jin didn’t even request for him to send an imperial physician to examine Shi Ning who was ill for more than two months.
The emperor frowned while assessing his three sons that were in his chamber. One son was too cruel, another son was an enigma and the youngest son still didn’t know how to speak clearly.
Wang Fu Mu rushed into the emperor’s chamber and he could see the emperor’s thoughts.
‘What happened?’ the emperor asked.
‘Your majesty, earlier seventh prince’s second wife’s messenger informed that she fainted,’ Wang Fu Mu said.
The emperor glared at Wang Fu Mu who dared to smile while reporting bad news to him.
‘The imperial physician who examined seventh prince’s second wife said that she is pregnant,’ Wang Fu Mu said.
‘Truly?’ the emperor asked suspiciously.
Wang Fu Mu glanced at Consort Mu and he wondered if Consort Mu would dare to learn from the empress and Princess Kang Hua’s bad example.
‘Emperor, please grant my request to let Long Thi enter the palace for your imperial physician to examine her,’ Consort Mu said. ‘I’m worried she’ll miscarry.’
The emperor nodded his head and he thought perhaps he was going to have his first grandson soon.
Consort Mu and seventh prince exchanged a secret smile at each other.
Consort Mu and seventh prince knew Long Thi was pregnant for a while and purposely sent a messenger to the palace to announce the news to the emperor. As they expected the emperor didn’t need to see Long Thi but sent imperial physicians to confirm Long Thi’s pregnancy.
The imperial physicians returned to the palace and reported to the emperor that Long Thi was pregnant.
‘Congratulations imperial father,’ Pei Jin said. ‘Congratulations mother, congratulations seventh brother!’
‘I hope to hear good news from ninth brother too,’ Pei Zhang said.
‘It’s up to the heavens,’ Pei Jin said.
Pei Zhang didn’t know Yan Shi Ning was pregnant so Pei Zhang felt exhilarated. Pei Zhang knew the crown prince position was within his grasp because there was no one worthy to compete with him.
The emperor wasn’t impressed by Pei Zhang’s arrogance.
‘Wang Fu Mu, ask someone to send valuable gifts to Shi Ning and Long Thi,’ the emperor said.
Pei Zhang was satisfied his father was rewarding Long Thi but he was unhappy his father also rewarded Shi Ning.
Pei Jin understood his father’s dissatisfaction toward Pei Zhang and Pei Jin thought his little lion was the one who benefited from the tension between his father and Pei Zhang.
After the Yan Manor was burned, the emperor compensated Yan Shi Ning with many gifts because the emperor wanted to let other people know Yan Shi Ning wasn’t mistreated marrying into the imperial family.
Pei Jin sighed inwardly, his father was either suspicious of him or used him to provoke other people.
‘Ninth son, seventh son has many wives for the imperial family to thrive,’ the emperor said. ‘Perhaps I should select a second wife and concubines for ninth son.’
Pei Zhang raged after he heard his father’s words implied his father was considering Pei Jin to become crown prince.
Pei Jin only wanted to protect Yan Shi Ning and their child. If his father forced him to marry other women then it would cause chaos in his and Yan Shi Ning’s home. He knew if he declined his father’s offer then his father would know Yan Shi Ning was pregnant… but he was a little happy his father wanted him to have children because it meant his father wasn’t the one who poisoned Yan Shi Ning.
Suddenly an imperial guard charged into the emperor’s chamber.
‘Your majesty, the crown prince’s body was found at the bottom of a mountain,’ the imperial guard said.
The emperor felt like lightning struck him. ‘What did you say?’
‘Your majesty, I don’t dare to identify the crown prince’s body,’ the imperial said.
‘Don’t dare?’ the emperor asked. ‘How can you not dare to identify someone who’s alive and healthy?’
‘Your majesty… the crown prince’s body isn’t whole… but his body was discovered next to the broken body at the bottom of the mountain,’ the imperial guard said.
The imperial guard gave the emperor the pendant the emperor gave Pei Lam long ago.
The emperor’s heart ached to pieces. He remembered memories of his beloved Pei Lam since Pei Lam was a boy to an adult. He didn’t want to believe his precious Pei Lam died a painful death and Pei Lam’s body wasn’t whole.
‘Who?’ the emperor asked. ‘Who killed my only crown prince?’
The emperor cried pitifully. He thought he was temporarily separated from Pei Lam, he never expected they would be separated by death.
‘Give back my crown prince!’ the emperor ordered. ‘I want my crown prince back here and whole!’
Everyone was startled to see the emperor shed tears in front of them.
Consort Mu and seventh prince’s backs were cold and sweaty after the emperor glared accusingly at them. They knew they had a motive to kill Pei Lam but they couldn’t prove their innocence.
Wang Fu Mu didn’t have an opportunity to speak to Pei Jin since Pei Jin entered the palace so Wang Fu Mu wondered if Consort Mu and Pei Zhang did kill Pei Lam.
Pei Jin was startled to realise how deeply his father loved Pei Lam. If he was the one who died instead of Pei Lam, he doubted his father would cry a single tear for him.
Pei Jin wondered how his father would react if his father found out Pei Lam was the one who faked Pei Lam’s death.
‘Everyone leave!’ the emperor ordered.
Before everyone left the emperor’s chamber, Wang Fu Mu exchanged a secret look with Pei Jin so Pei Jin waited nearby the chamber for Wang Fu Mu.
After a while Wang Fu Mu secretly met Pei Jin.
‘How is my imperial father?’ Pei Jin asked.
‘His majesty is grieving and an imperial physician sedated his majesty,’ Wang Fu Mu said.
‘I’ll need to trouble you to take care of my imperial father’s health,’ Pei Jin said and bowed.
‘Your servant doesn’t dare to receive,’ Wang Fu Mu said.
Wang Fu Mu secretly passed a small folded paper to Pei Jin.
‘Then I’ll be leaving first,’ Pei Jin said.
Inside the horse carriage Pei Jin opened the folded paper, ‘I don’t know why tenth prince knows about the harvest festival incident. Tenth prince asked me to warn the emperor to be careful of ninth prince. So tenth prince can’t return to the palace.’
The atmosphere in Consort Mu’s chamber was tensed.
‘Xiao Zhang, did you kill Pei Lam?’ Consort Mu asked.
Pei Zhang shook his head. ‘If I wanted to kill him then I wouldn’t kill him in this critical period.’
‘Then who is the killer?’ Consort Mu asked. ‘Before his unexpected death everything was within our control. Did you see how your imperial father wanted to swallow us whole?’
‘I can see imperial father doesn’t want me to be crown prince,’ Pei Zhang said. ‘Mother, did you hear what imperial father said… my only crown prince. Tenth brother is dead! I want to see apart from me who else imperial father dare to choose as the crown prince.’
‘That’s right,’ Consort Mu said. ‘Even if we did kill him, no one can do anything to us. Your imperial father lost one son, he wouldn’t want to lose another son. We only need to be patient and wait for your imperial father to calm down. But I don’t know what the killer’s motive is.’
‘Perhaps his enemy,’ Pei Zhang said.
‘That’s too simple to be true,’ Consort Mu said. ‘Hurry and send an imperial physician to examine Yan Shi Ning. If she’s pregnant then it’ll cause more trouble for us.’
‘Mother, I understand,’ Pei Zhang said.
‘Xiao Zhang, what do you think about your ninth brother?’ Consort Mu asked.
‘In the past I thought he was a complicated person,’ Pei Zhang said. ‘But looking at the past now I think he is a simpleton. Perhaps he truly wants to be a carefree prince.’
Consort Mu shook her head. ‘I think there is a possibility your ninth brother wants to oppose us.’
‘Mother, what are you saying?’ Pei Zhang asked.
‘He knows I’m involved with the Fu Gui incense sticks,’ Consort Mu said. ‘I think he retaliated by killing Pei Lam to warn us. Xiao Zhang, think about how many calamities happened after he returned to the imperial city from Southern Jiang… the harvest festival, news of Yan Shi Ting’s fake pregnancy was spread to us through his servant… perhaps he intended to borrow our dagger to kill others… also how Yan Shi Ting mysteriously fell into the well is suspicious.’
‘Is ninth brother that dangerous?’ Pei Zhang asked.
Consort Mu silently contemplated deeply.
‘If he wants to fight for the throne then he needs to be a capable person,’ Pei Zhang said. ‘Besides we’re already cautious of him and know who are connected to him. He is someone who has no strong allies and has no power in the imperial court.’
‘But we can’t rely on our assumptions,’ Consort Mu said. ‘We need to continue to spy on his activities.’
End of Chapter Fifty-Two