The emperor vomited blood.
Pei Zhang was dead. It was an unspoken understanding that Pei Jin was the unofficial crown prince.
The imperial guards escorted the emperor back to the palace.
The maids and servants cleaned Pei Jin’s manor. But they were repulsed by Pei Zhang’s blood.
Inside Pei Jin’s chamber, Yan Shi Ning hugged Pei Jin. Her heart was overwhelmed with happiness and relief. She was happy and relieved her family survived that dangerous night.
‘Pei Jin, did we win?’ Yan Shi Ning asked.
‘Yes,’ Pei Jin said.
‘Pei Jin, when do you think imperial father’s edict will be delivered?’ Yan Shi Ning asked. ‘He never wanted you to be crown prince. I don’t think we should accept it.’
Although Pei Jin won, he didn’t feel triumphant. He looked out the window and thought of the distant past. He wondered when he cared about the throne. Was it when his imperial uncle was alive? Or was it Huang Guo’s continual persuasion?
Pei Jin struggled a lot in the past. He was grateful toward the people who silently helped him built his strengths. For years he hid his real self. If his father or his brothers detected his real self then between him and them the first person to die would have been him.
Even though Pei Jin’s biggest rivals have fallen, he didn’t know why he felt even more anxious.
The following day the court officials were surprised the emperor appeared in the imperial court after a night’s ordeal.
The emperor sat arrogantly on his throne. He wanted everyone to know he was still the powerful emperor that couldn’t be easily defeated.
There were many court officials missing that day. Some were killed during the night and others were locked in the palace dungeon awaiting execution.
Those court officials killed and detained were surprisingly supporters of ninth prince. The emperor replaced their positions with ordinary people.
The court officials who were spared shivered during the meeting until the emperor dismissed them.
The emperor wasn’t foolish. He eliminated the biggest threats to his survival. As long as he and Pei Jin were alive, the threat of rebellion would exist unless he eliminated Pei Jin’s supporters.
The court officials who escaped death and punishment walked outside the imperial court and were frightened to hear screams of torture.
‘Where are the screams coming from?’ the first official asked.
‘Sounds like it’s from the imperial physicians’ chamber,’ the second officials said.
‘What?’ the first official asked.
‘It’s death by a thousand cuts… the emperor hates anyone who deceives him,’ the second official said.
They quickly returned to their manors to protect their heads.
Gentleman Tao was a gentleman. But he was unrecognisable after his flesh was slowly cut to pieces. Each time a piece of flesh fell off, the eunuchs were ordered to throw salt onto his exposed muscles under his skin.
The emperor knew one of his four trusted imperial physicians had exposed his plan. His imperial guards found secret letters Gentleman Tao wrote to Consort Mu so he awarded Gentleman Tao the harshest punishment, death by a thousand cuts.
Consort Mu was fearful throughout the night. She was anxious about Pei Zhang. She wanted to send her servants to see what was happening at Pei Zhang’s manor, but the emperor’s imperial guards detained her in her chamber and didn’t let anyone enter or leave her chamber.
In the morning Consort Mu was the last to know Pei Zhang and his men were killed for treason. She didn’t know what happened but she knew Pei Zhang died because of his biggest weakness, his impatience.
Consort Mu thought about escaping. But the emperor’s imperial guards dragged her into Gentleman Tao’s chamber and forced her to watch Gentleman Tao being cut to death. She knew she had no hope of escaping.
The emperor watched Consort Mu silently cried after Gentleman Tao died.
‘I’m rewarding you three white fabrics,’ the emperor said.
The emperor glanced scornfully at Consort Mu and left the chamber.
Pei Jin and Wang Fu Mu reacted differently to Gentleman Tao’s punishment, they were relieved it wasn’t them in Gentleman Tao’s position.
Wang Fu Mu followed the emperor outside the chamber.
‘It was you!’ Consort Mu accused Pei Jin.
It didn’t matter if Consort Mu was intelligent, she was deceived many years by Pei Jin’s weak appearance.
‘Pei Jin, you’re a cruel man!’ Consort Mu said.
‘Thank you Consort Mu,’ Pei Jin said.
Consort Mu’s throat felt choked.
‘I’m only returning the cruelty you showed my family,’ Pei Jin said. ‘You killed Consort Chen, harmed my wife and son and tried to send me into death’s corner many times.’
‘Is this your revenge?’ Consort Mu asked.
Pei Jin didn’t deny Consort Mu’s accusation.
Consort Mu laughed coldly. ‘You think I killed Consort Chen?’
‘Who else can it be?’ Pei Jin asked. ‘You used Fu Gui to poison my wife, it’s the same poison you used to kill Consort Chen.’
‘Pei Jin, the person who killed Consort Chen wasn’t me,’ Consort Mu said. ‘It’s your imperial father.’
Pei Jin was shocked but he listened to Consort Mu’s recount of what happened to Consort Chen.
‘That year Huang Guo’s army was becoming too powerful,’ Consort Mu said. ‘Huang Guo planned a rebellion after Consort Chen was pregnant. Huang Guo was behind the assassination attempts on your imperial father’s life. Your imperial father survived and knew Consort Chen and her son must be killed otherwise Huang Guo would rebel if his grandson lived. Your imperial father used Fu Gui to kill Consort Mu and her son.’
Consort Mu laughed at Pei Jin’s shock. ‘Pei Jin, now you know who killed Consort Chen. What are you going to do to avenge her death?’
Pei Jin’s whole body was cold.
‘No one completely won this battle,’ Consort Mu said. ‘But I lost my son because your scheme is more treacherous than mine. So you win and I die. Pei Jin, you should be cautious, your imperial father hates to be deceived. If he knows you deceived him, you’ll die more pitifully than us!’
Pei Jin regained his composure. ‘Thank you mother for reminding me.’
Pei Jin left the chamber.
A while later the white fabrics choked Consort Mu to death.
End of Chapter Seventy-Nine