A month ago Wang Fu Mu secretly met Xiao Nu in the palace.
‘Official Wang, on the day of the emperor’s birthday banquet I heard Consort Mu said seventh prince’s second wife’s son must be killed,’ Xiao Nu said. ‘Official Wang, ninth prince’s wife was framed…’
Wang Fu Mu inwardly smiled while he listened to Xiao Nu confessing Consort Mu’s scheme to gain his favor.
That day the emperor summoned Pei Jin to the palace to receive an edict to go to Xuan Qing. Wang Fu Mu secretly passed a folded note to Pei Jin before Pei Jin left the palace.
Later that day Pei Jin read the note in the horse carriage, ‘hates bastard son.’
Pei Jin didn’t expect Pei Zhang wore a headdress of a fool and understood why Pei Zhang killed Dian Thi’s son, the boy wasn’t Pei Zhang’s blood son.
Pei Jin knew Pei Zhang’s motive so he sent his guards to Pei Zhang’s manor to find evidence he and Yan Shi Ning were framed. His guards reported in the last three months there were two deaths in Pei Zhang’s manor, a guard named Feng Lang and Dian Thi’s personal maid Xiao Hai.
Pei Jin smiled coldly, Feng Lang was the father of Dian Thi’s son. Pei Jin thought of a plan to spread the news to his father without being implicated.
‘Why are you so calm?’ Bei Dou asked. ‘Don’t you want your wife and my wife to return to the manor?’
‘Wait another three days,’ Pei Jin said.
Bei Dou glared at Pei Jin, another three days they would be in Xuan Qing. He hated suffering with Pei Jin.
After three days Pei Jin and Bei Dou arrived in Xuan Qing. Bei Dou hated the way Pei Jin wasn’t anxious being away from the imperial city while their wives were held captive in the palace.
‘Wait another ten days,’ Pei Jin said. ‘We’ll return home and be reunited with our wives.’
In a busy restaurant in the imperial city two gentlemen were gossiping about Pei Zhang.
‘Did you hear seventh prince is wearing a beautiful headdress of a fool?’ the first gentleman asked.
‘How do you know this rumor is true?’ the second gentleman asked.
‘I’ll tell you how I found out but you have to promise not to tell another person,’ the first gentleman said. ‘I heard seventh prince’s second wife’s dead son isn’t his blood son.’
‘Truly?’ the second gentleman asked.
‘Of course,’ the first gentleman said. ‘I have a close acquaintance who works at seventh prince’s manor.’
‘I see… but who would dare to sleep with seventh prince’s woman?’ the second gentleman asked.
‘Didn’t you hear about how seventh prince’s trusted guard Feng Lang mysteriously died?’ the first gentleman asked.
‘Um, how is Feng Lang’s death related to this rumor?’ the second gentleman asked.
‘You fool… think about why a healthy man like Feng Lang would die at a young age,’ the first gentleman said.
‘I see… you’re saying-’ the second gentleman said.
‘It’s a secret!’ the first gentleman said. ‘You can’t say the secret.’
The two gentleman looked in four directions, everyone in the busy restaurant were eavesdropping on their conversation.
The two gentleman left the restaurant and took off their disguises in a remote alley and looked like their usual selves, Xiao Hui and Xiao Zai.
Xiao Hui and Xiao Zai’s secret conversation spread throughout the imperial city within a few days.
Pei Zhang was furious after he heard everyone in the imperial city knew the truth about the bastard child. Pei Zhang beat Dian Thi to vent his anger and summoned everyone from his manor into the courtyard. He knew someone inside the manor betrayed him. Everyone in the manor denied they didn’t betray him and blamed each other.
After the interrogation because of Pei Zhang’s panicked reaction to the rumor, he realised he fell into Pei Jin’s trap and soon their father would find out the truth.
At Pei Jin’s manor Yan Shi Ning thought the Pei Jin fox was impressive.
‘Wife, do you think your husband is impressive?’ Pei Jin asked.
‘Husband, how did imperial father find out?’ Yan Shi Ning asked.
‘Imperial father likes to pass by remote areas in the palace gardens… to eavesdrop on eunuchs and palace maids gossiping,’ Pei Jin said. ‘Thanks to Xiao Hui and Xiao Zai, seventh brother’s secret was spread to the palace.’
‘Are you saying imperial father sent people to investigate the rumor at seventh prince’s manor and confirmed seventh prince framed us?’ Yan Shi Ning asked.
‘Imperial father suspected Dian Thi committed adultery long ago and that seventh prince framed us,’ Pei Jin. ‘Imperial father knows seventh brother would rather die than admit the truth. So imperial father let you go and he can only curse seventh brother.’
‘Seventh prince still wins if imperial father can’t punish him,’ Yan Shi Ning said.
‘Shi Ning, be patient and you can eat hot tofu,’ Pei Jin said. ‘Seventh brother knows imperial father is watching him closely and he won’t dare to make any moves otherwise he’ll make imperial father angrier.’
In the palace Pei Zhang knelt in front of his father and hit his forehead on the floor.
‘Imperial father, I haven’t mistreated Dian Thi… but she betrayed me like this,’ Pei Zhang said. ‘I’m heart broken. I didn’t want to hide the truth but I considered Dian Thi’s family so I kept it a secret.’
‘Are you certain you didn’t keep it a secret so after Dian Thi gives birth you can become the crown prince?’ the emperor asked.
‘Imperial father, I was foolish,’ Pei Zhang said. ‘Imperial father, forgive me. I know I deserve to die. But I promise it wasn’t me who framed ninth brother. That day I was angry someone harmed Dian Thi and said those heavy words to ninth sister… imperial father, I promise I don’t have an ulterior motive. It wasn’t me.’
Pei Zhang hit his forehead pitifully on the ground and hid his resentment toward Pei Jin.
Pei Zhang knew deceiving the emperor by using a bastard son as a bridge to become the crown prince and attempting to kill Pei Jin and Yan Shi Ning’s son were crimes that wouldn’t escape death. Of course Pei Zhang would never admit the truth.
The emperor’s head ached to see Pei Zhang acting convincingly in a I’ll-tear-my-heart-out state of mind. It was a frustrating to death to witness it. Even though in the past he was guilty of using similar tactics, he still didn’t condone Pei Zhang’s actions. He felt helpless. Did he choose the wrong son?
‘Imperial father, I have something important I want to report,’ Pei Zhang said.
‘Say it,’ the emperor said.
‘Recently I’ve been suspicious of ninth brother and my guards have followed him… ninth brother is stronger than he appears,’ Pei Zhang said.
‘How?’ the emperor asked.
Pei Zhang was impressed his mother was right about his father’s weariness toward Pei Jin.
‘Imperial father, my guards discovered ninth brother’s guards are exceptionally strong,’ Pei Zhang said. ‘If ninth brother is gentle and weak then how can he afford to raise strong guards?’
Pei Zhang was happy to see his father silently planning to expose Pei Jin’s real capabilities. His mother was right, his father hated Pei Jin.
After the emperor dismissed Pei Zhang, he put down his brush. He didn’t know if Pei Zhang was truly a filial son and he wasn’t certain Pei Jin was hiding ulterior motives. He smiled coldly, he planned a way to see his sons’ true hearts.
End of Chapter Seventy-Three