Chapter Sixteen (Part 1)
Yan Jing invited his oldest daughter and son-in-law to stay at the Yan Manor for an evening meal.
Pei Jin felt that Yan Shi Ning didn’t want to stay in the Yan Manor longer than necessary and he politely declined Yan Jing’s invitation.
Yan Jing and Yan Shi Ting escorted Pei Jin and Yan Shi Ning to the front door.
‘Where’s your mother?’ Yan Jing asked Yan Shi Ting.
Yan Jing didn’t see Princess Kang Hua since the banquet ended.
‘Mother is unwell,’ Yan Shi Ting said. ‘She’s resting in her chamber.’
Yan Shi Ting was suspicious why her mother was suddenly unwell after seeing widow Li.
Yan Jing frowned and shook his head. He thought Princess Kang Hua was uncourteous by the day.
Yan Shi Ning saw the clear guilt on her father’s face. She didn’t want to waste energy being in his presence and politely bid him farewell. ‘Father, husband and I will leave first. Little sister, mother is unwell, you should take good care of her.’
Yan Jing felt guiltier, his oldest daughter was indeed filial.
Pei Jin and Yan Shi Ning sat in the humid horse carriage. She parted the window curtains and waved her fan.
Outside the sky was still bright and imperial city streets were crowded with people.
‘Are we going home?’ Yan Shi Ning asked.
Pei Jin drank too many cups of wine at the banquet. He used the horse carriage ride as an opportunity to become sober. His eyes were closed but he heard the playfulness in Yan Shi Ning’s tone.
‘You’re right,’ Pei Jin said. ‘The day is still early.’
Pei Jin pulled Yan Shi Ning’s arm closer to him as a subtle signal for her to cool his face with the fan.
‘What do you mean?’ Yan Shi Ning asked.
Yan Shi Ning was in a good mood. She obliged and waved the fan in front of Pei Jin’s face.
‘Nothing amusing has happened since marriage life,’ Pei Jin said cryptically. ‘Then we should go find a little amusement. Your husband has planned our carefree future. We’ll play in the imperial city for a while then we’ll play everywhere outside the imperial city.’ He leaned his face close to Yan Shi Ning’s face. ‘Wife, what do you think?’
Yan Shi Ning’s eyes shone excitedly. ‘Truly?’
The heavens knew she hated living in the imperial city to death.
Pei Jin smiled and nodded his head. ‘Would I lie to you?’
‘Big brother, have you ever not lied to me?’ Yan Shi Ning asked.
Pei Jin hugged Yan Shi Ning. ‘Wife, remember to be gentle.’
‘Big brother, aren’t you a prince?’ Yan Shi Ning asked. ‘How can you play outside the imperial city?’
Pei Jin laughed. ‘Don’t forget, I’m a carefree prince.’
Yan Shi Ning fell into deep thought.
Pei Jin was known as ninth gentle prince and also carefree prince. His duties and position in the imperial court were insignificant. During peaceful periods he was privileged to live the life of a carefree prince. But during catastrophic periods his services were summoned. Like the flooding in Xuan Qing six years ago and the rebellion in South Jiang two years ago.
During those times seventh prince and crown prince didn’t want to risk their lives. But an imperial figure was needed to restore peace and Pei Jin became the best candidate. Pei Jin understood the situation and volunteered his services. Afterward civilians referred to Pei Jin as gentle ninth prince.
After Pei Jin dealt with threats to the kingdom he would return to his carefree life. He only wanted to perform his duties as a prince and didn’t want any power in the imperial court. He was seen as terracotta mixture, transported to places where needed then stored aside to be used in the future. In a less flattering light, he was used as a shield to protect his favored brothers.
Yan Shi Ning wondered if Pei Jin truly didn’t want to be acknowledged for his abilities. She remembered a night long ago she brought food to him, he was diligently writing strategies to reduce the damages of flooding under candlelight. But someone else took credit for his strategies.
Yan Shi Ning thought perhaps Pei Jin purposely wanted to appear as a useless and unloved prince to survive life in the cruel palace. Otherwise why else would he let go of control over an army after subduing the rebels in Southern Jiang, return to the imperial city and continued being a carefree prince?
Yan Shi Ning peered at Pei Jin. His head was resting on her thighs and she thought he was a complex person. She didn’t want to admit he was a brilliant strategist, his talents were invaluable but he hid his true potential under a gentle and kind mask to deceive the world. It was a pity someone like him didn’t want to be emperor… that thought startled her.
Yan Shi Ning sat still for a long time. Pei Jin opened his eyes and saw her startled face.
‘Wife, what are you thinking?’ Pei Jin asked.
Yan Shi Ning looked closely at Pei Jin’s eyes and she smiled. ‘I’m thinking about if you have a weakness.’
Yan Shi Ning thought Pei Jin was a strong person and it was hard for her to see what his weakness was. If she discovered his weakness then in the future he couldn’t bully her anymore.
Pei Jin laughed. He held Yan Shi Ning’s neck, pulled her head down and kissed her until she forgot to breathe.
‘You,’ Pei Jin said.
Yan Shi Ning was curious what Pei Jin meant. But she pushed his chest away, he kissed her while she was distracted.
Yan Shi Ning looked out the window. The atmosphere in the streets were lively. She saw a stall that sold steamed buns. A woman bought the steamed buns and walked away from the stall. She frowned, the woman’s back looked familiar.
‘What are you looking at?’ Pei Jin asked.
‘Perhaps I saw someone familiar,’ Yan Shi Ning said.
‘Who?’ Pei Jin asked.
‘Big brother, do you remember widow Li in Xuan Qing?’ Yan Shi Ning asked.
Pei Jin vaguely remembered a gentle old woman who was a maid in aunty Dung and Yan Shi Ning’s home. ‘Um. I remember the cong you bings (Chinese scallion pancakes) she made were delicious. Why? Did you see her before?’
Yan Shi Ning shook her head. ‘I’m not certain. I only saw the woman’s back. I don’t think it’s her. I wanted to bring her with me to the imperial city. But she said she wants to go south to unite with relatives and couldn’t follow me north. She doesn’t have any relatives or acquaintances in the imperial city… perhaps she’s looking for me.’
Yan Shi Ning looked out the window again, but the woman disappeared.
‘If she’s looking for you then she can easily find you,’ Pei Jin said. ‘She can ask anyone in the imperial city directions to the Yan Manor and our home to find you.’
Yan Shi Ning nodded in agreement.
The horse carriage halted. Yan Shi Ning was happy to return to Pei Jin’s manor.
Pei Jin parted the door curtains and saw a familiar messenger. He turned around and smiled apologetically at Yan Shi Ning who was about to stand up. ‘It appears we need to stay in the horse carriage for a little longer.’
‘Ninth prince, mistress, court official Huang Guo is hosting a banquet and requested both of you to attend,’ the messenger said.
‘Wife, it appears tonight we need to perform,’ Pei Jin said.
End of Chapter Sixteen (Part 1)