The morning after Bei Dou and Xiao Tu’s wedding.
Bei Dou rolled around from night to dawn and finally he could eat Xiao Tu.
Pei Jin successfully ate Yan Shi Ning.
That morning Yan Shi Ning woke up and saw Pei Jin staring sadly at the ceiling. She knocked her head on his arm. ‘Pei Jin, what are you thinking?’
‘I’m thinking it’s been many days and it’s the right time for me to see tenth brother,’ Pei Jin said.
‘You should go,’ Yan Shi Ning said.
‘Shi Ning, do you want to accompany me?’ Pei Jin asked.
‘I can go outside?’ Yan Shi Ning asked.
Yan Shi Ning was three months pregnant and her stomach was round. If she walked outside the manor then her pregnancy wouldn’t be a secret anymore.
‘Shi Ning, you’ve been locked at home for months,’ Pei Jin said. ‘Don’t you want to go outside?’
‘I do want to go outside but… I decided I want to continue staying home,’ Yan Shi Ning said.
Pei Jin understood Yan Shi Ning didn’t want to risk losing their child and he held her hand. ‘Shi Ning, I’ve made you worried.’
‘It’s enough that you know,’ Yan Shi Ning said. ‘Pei Jin, on the way home remember to buy braised trotters and soft dates at Guo Fu for me.’
Yan Shi Ning licked her lips and felt hungry.
‘Shi Ning, recently you’ve been craving for soft food,’ Pei Jin said.
‘Um, is something wrong with my cravings?’ Yan Shi Ning asked.
‘Elders say if a pregnant woman is carrying a boy then she’ll crave soft food,’ Pei Jin said. He rubbed Yan Shi Ning’s stomach. ‘Do you think our child is a boy?’
Yan Shi Ning kicked Pei Jin, his hands were rubbing past her stomach. ‘Pei Jin, take your hands away.’
Pei Jin kissed Yan Shi Ning, dressed and unwillingly left the chamber. He was happy to eat Yan Shi Ning but he regretted he couldn’t eat her as often as he did before she was pregnant.
West of the imperial city there was a busy shop owned by Gentleman Su Ci. He stood at the front of the shop and greeted customers. He grinned after he saw Pei Jin stepped out of a horse carriage.
‘Ninth prince, what wind brought you here?’ Su Ci asked. ‘Someone bring the rare tea to ninth prince!’
‘Gentleman Su Ci, you’re too generous,’ Pei Jin praised. ‘I heard you have a rare jade bracelet at your shop. I came here because I’m interested in seeing the rare jade bracelet.’
‘Ninth prince, I understand,’ Su Ci said. ‘Please come inside. We can drink tea and talk.’
‘Sorry for troubling Gentleman Su Ci,’ Pei Jin said and walked into the shop.
The rich young gentleman customers who were inside the shop gossiped about Pei Jin.
‘Ninth prince is kind and gentle as rumored,’ the first young man said. ‘A while ago I heard he bought a rare pair of jade bracelets for his wife.’
‘You don’t know how much ninth prince dotes on his wife,’ the second young man said. ‘To ninth prince gold and silver can’t compare to a beauty’s smile.’
‘What about you?’ the first young man asked. ‘Aren’t you going to buy this ring? It’s only five hundred silver taels. Are you not buying it because your heart will miss the silver taels?’
‘No, I have selective vision!’ the second young man said. ‘Fu Wu, are there other rings similar to this ring?’
Su Ci led Pei Jin into a private room.
‘Heavens, I’m begging ninth prince to take the jade away,’ Su Ci said. ‘You caused me to lose peaceful sleep by keeping the jade here.’
‘Your cheeks look a healthy pink and you look livelier than in the past,’ Pei Jin said.
‘It’s an act!’ Su Ci said.
‘Show me the jade,’ Pei Jin said.
Su Ci obediently pushed a hidden clay ornament and exposed a secret passageway through a wall.
Pei Jin looked down at the spacious descending stairway. ‘It’s impressive.’
Su Ci led Pei Jin down the stairs and to a locked door that had light shining through the gaps of the door.
‘He’s inside,’ Su Ci said. ‘I’ll be guarding and waiting for you outside.’
‘Um, is there anything else?’ Pei Jin asked.
‘It’s better if you see him yourself,’ Su Ci said.
Pei Jin thought it wasn’t good news. He watched Su Ci walked upstairs then he unlocked the door.
Inside the room Pei Lam’s hair was messy, his face was pale and he sat gloomily at a table.
‘Ninth brother,’ Pei Lam said.
Pei Jin’s back turned cold to see Pei Lam’s disturbing calmness as though Pei Lam predicted his visit.
Pei Lam stared at the barricaded window. ‘I’ve been asking myself when ninth brother would visit me. I didn’t think ninth brother would visit this soon. Is it twelve or thirteen days… ninth brother, look at this place. It’s hard to see if it’s night or day.’
Pei Jin understood Su Ci’s words, Pei Lam was mumbling to himself.
‘How did you know it was me?’ Pei Jin asked.
Pei Lam turned around and looked at Pei Jin. ‘Ninth prince, what’s scaring you?’
Pei Jin didn’t know why Pei Lam’s eyes looked soulless.
‘Ninth brother, you don’t need to be scared,’ Pei Lam said. ‘I’m your captive and I can’t do anything to harm you. Ninth brother, look at me. Even if you gave me a sword I still wouldn’t be able to do anything.’
Pei Jin looked at Pei Lam’s two missing fingers and he shivered. He didn’t expect saying to Bei Dou that he could deal with the empress and Pei Lam would lead to Bei Dou cutting off two of Pei Lam’s fingers and using it to force the empress to kill herself.
‘Ninth brother, why did you cut off two of my fingers?’ Pei Lam asked. ‘I thought about why for many days. But after I heard the ringing sounds of funeral bells I understood why. Ninth brother, is my imperial mother dead?’
Pei Jin was startled to see Pei Lam calmly treated the empress’ death as something trivial.
‘It’s good that she’s dead,’ Pei Lam said. ‘I’m not the crown prince anymore, she wouldn’t have survived much longer in the palace. Imperial mother had lived a tiring life. The sooner she closes her eyes the sooner she can rest. Death is an escape for her.’
Pei Jin couldn’t believe it was the Pei Lam he knew in the past. He didn’t know how a lively Pei Lam could say such despairing thoughts.
‘Is that why you killed Yan Shi Ting?’ Pei Jin asked.
‘Shi Ting…’ Pei Lam asked. He vaguely remembered Yan Shi Ting. ‘I killed her. She lived a life of suffering. It’s better for her to die.’
Pei Lam looked down at his hands. ‘I used these two hands to choke her to death and pushed her down the well. It’s an unforgiveable crime… but it was worth freeing Shi Ting.’
Pei Jin didn’t know how he could understand Pei Lam’s eerie indifference.
‘Ninth brother, do you think I’m too cruel?’ Pei Lam asked. ‘Ninth brother, did you expect I’m capable of being this cruel?’
Pei Jin didn’t want to admit he suspected Pei Lam was possessed by a demon.
‘Ninth brother, the truth is there’s no one that isn’t cruel,’ Pei Lam said.
‘What are you implying?’ Pei Jin asked.
‘Ninth brother, we’re all cruel,’ Pei Lam said. ‘I killed Yan Shi Ting. But ninth brother, ninth sister and everyone else caused her to become insane. Ninth brother, who do you think is crueller?’
Pei Jin didn’t know what to say.
‘Ninth brother, I only wanted to leave,’ Pei Lam said. ‘I wanted to escape my cage. Ninth brother, why did you detain me?’
‘You truly want to leave?’ Pei Jin asked.
‘If I didn’t want to leave then why did I request many times to take my crown position away?’ Pei Lam asked. ‘Why did I fake my own death? It’s a pity ninth brother ruined everything.’
‘You don’t want to be the crown prince?’ Pei Jin asked.
‘This imperial city is only dust eating people,’ Pei Lam said.
‘If your intention was to leave then why did you need to warn imperial father about me?’ Pei Jin asked.
‘Warn imperial father…’ Pei Lam asked. ‘It appears Wang Fu Mu is ninth brother’s ally.’
Pei Jin was impressed by Pei Lam’s intelligence.
‘Ninth brother, you win!’ Pei Lam said.
‘Do you want me to die?’ Pei Jin asked.
‘No,’ Pei Lam said.
Pei Lam didn’t know why he warned their father. Did he wanted to harm Pei Jin? But he thought Pei Jin was more suited to sit on the throne than Pei Zhang. If he decided to let go of his crown position… why did he need to warn their father?
Pei Lam thought about his father’s disappointment and hurt. Perhaps he wanted to compensate his father’s pain. His father couldn’t see through Pei Jin. So if he warned his father about Pei Jin then his father didn’t need to be troubled about Pei Jin.
‘Pei Lam, do you think your life is full of unbearable sufferings?’ Pei Jin asked. ‘Do you think you can only escape if you leave? Do you think everyone close to you suffered too and they can only escape if they die?’
Pei Lam nodded his head.
‘Pei Lam, why is it that everyone else that suffered can only escape if they die?’ Pei Jin asked. ‘Yet you suffered too but don’t think you need to die to escape.’
Pei Jin grabbed Pei Lam’s collar, teared Pei Lam’s robes opened and exposed Pei Lam’s chest scar.
‘Ninth brother, what are you doing?’ Pei Lam asked.
‘Why didn’t you stab your heart a little deeper?’ Pei Jin asked. ‘Is it because you didn’t want to die? Is it because you’re scared of death?’
Pei Jin pushed Pei Lam onto the bed and looked down at Pei Lam.
‘Pei Lam, do you think you’re clean and innocent?’ Pei Jin asked. ‘The truth is you’re too dirty! You think you’re righteous. Yet you’re scared of death and too deceitful. If you didn’t want to become the emperor then you should have said you didn’t want to before you became the crown prince. If you didn’t want to marry Yan Shi Ting then you should have kept your distance from her at the start and not give her hope. For your own gains, you used others. Do you think your actions are righteous? Pei Lam, you don’t need to act like this, it’s too ugly.’
In Pei Lam’s world, he was the only good and beautiful person inside his world. He thought he didn’t care about the grievances of the outside world but he didn’t expect the world he built for himself was too weak. Pei Jin only said a few words to him and his world turned to dust. He wasn’t good and beautiful as he thought so his world was no longer good and beautiful. He was a bad person so he had built an ugly world.
‘Pei Lam, you’ve only stepped on others’ hopes and good intentions,’ Pei Jin said. ‘You’ve hurt the people who supported you for what you call freedom and escape. Do you know why your imperial mother died? She wanted you to stay alive so she killed herself. The palace isn’t a cage, it’s not dust but you perceived it as a cage to justify your cruel actions in the past.’
Pei Lam fell into a hopeless state.
‘If you think the palace is a scary place then this place doesn’t have any scary battles,’ Pei Jin said. ‘You can be happy on your own here.’
Pei Jin left the room and he didn’t look back at the soulless Pei Lam.
Pei Lam awoken from his dark thoughts after he heard the sound of the door lock.
‘Let me out!’ Pei Lam cried out. ‘You don’t need to trap me here!’
Pei Lam yelled, kicked and punched the door but there was no reply outside the door.
The silence was killing Pei Lam.
‘You don’t need to trap me here… you can kill me but you don’t need to trap me here…’ Pei Lam mumbled.
End of Chapter Fifty-Seven