Chapter 674 Madam Dowager Liu’s Message
It seemed that at this point of the letter, the Empress couldn’t continue anymore. There were only tear stains on the paper, followed by wide empty spaces.
Then, the Empress said how reassured she was that Madam Ming would be taking care of her newborn. Madam Ming would be a fine mother. She had also asked someone to watch over Madam Ming and the newborn. Their statuses in the previous dynasty had vanished like smoke. Time was always moving forward and the changing of imperial dynasties was inevitable.
The only tragedy was the eternal separation of her from her husband, and of her from her daughters.
The only reason she had written the letter was that she couldn’t help herself. If she never said anything, her child would never know the truth. That would have been for the best. Yet, she couldn’t accept this, so she would hand the letter to the person who would be looking after Madam Ming. If Ning Ziying’s identity was revealed to the world one day, the letter should be handed to Ning Xueyan.
She didn’t want the sisters to miss the chance to reunite.
As for the engagement that she had decided with her cousin, she would leave it to Ning Ziying and Ning Xueyan to decide whether to acknowledge it. They could accept the engagement if they thought it would be a good one. After all, the engagement was real. But if they didn’t want it, they could ignore it. It would be fine because the two people who decided on the engagement had died.
In the end, the Empress even said that the purpose of the engagement was for the good of two families. With the nation gone, the purpose was as good as defeated. She only wished for eternal happiness for her daughters. It was enough for her that they would grow up without worries and live happy lives.
Both she and the Emperor didn’t need them to take revenge and get drowned in a sea of resentment. They didn’t want their daughters to force themselves into a corner and live unhappily.
This letter ought to be the Empress’ will. It was full of sorrow, anguish, and reluctance but there wasn’t hatred. It was so calm that it was almost aloof. It was almost as if she wasn’t a participant but a bystander. There was even a trace of helplessness in between the lines.
By the time she finished reading the letter, Ning Xueyan cried even harder.
If the Empress didn’t truly love her daughter, why would she sound so aloof about the changing of dynasties? She made it sound as if it didn’t matter at all but how could it not matter? She sounded like she was determined to bear the burden all by herself. She would leave all of the happiness to her daughter and take on all of the unhappiness herself.
This was why when the Empress killed herself in pursuit of her husband, she left nothing but two daughters behind—two daughters who didn’t know anything.
By the time Ao Chenyi returned, Ning Xueyan was still sitting quietly by the window. She continued to clutch the letter in her hands with red eyes.
“Is the letter from the Empress of the previous dynasty?” He had questioned Qingyu before coming in. He knew that Ning Xueyan had been sitting inside the room in silence since getting a letter, forgoing even lunch. She even chased Lanning and the rest out when they tried to come in.
Xinmei had been so worried that she looked for Ao Chenyi.
Ning Xueyan turned her head when she heard his voice. Large drops of tears streamed down her face. Her voice carried an unprecedented uncertainty as she looked pitifully at him. Her eyes were full of anticipation as she asked, “Did she love me?”
“She loved you but she was in a tough spot. On the one hand, there was her love for her children. On the other hand, there was her love for her husband. When she couldn’t have both, she made the only choice that she could. Besides, she thought that you and your sister would be able to live like ordinary girls without her. She thought that no one would be able to discover your identities.”
Ao Chenyi let out a quiet sigh, pulled Ning Xueyan into a hug, and gently consoled her. She looked as fragile as a porcelain doll at the moment.
Ning Xueyan, tucked away in Ao Chenyi’s embrace, closed her eyes. She asked with uncertainty, “Did she do that out of consideration for us?” Even if she had an answer in her heart, she still wanted to hear it from another person. She wanted to hear someone else confirm it for her.
“Of course. With her status and entourage of palace servants, she could be easily discovered by her enemies. Even if she gave birth to you and raised you, you could never live like an ordinary girl. You would have to live as a refugee with her, homeless and miserable.”
Ao Chenyi reached out and gently caressed her beautiful hair. He could tell that she was gradually relaxing under his consolation because her body wasn’t as stiff as before.
Ning Xueyan stopped speaking and sobbed quietly. She didn’t make any noise at first but she began to weep audibly. In the end, she became calm and nestled quietly in Ao Chenyi’s arms.
Ao Chenyi continued to hold her and pat her back gently. Once she had fully calmed down, he carried her and put her down on the bed with the lightest of movements. He pulled the quilt open and tucked her in.
She had already cried herself to sleep.
He kissed away the tear stains on her face gently and stared at her for a long time before turning around and leaving.
Outside the hall, Xinmei, Lanning, and Qingyu were waiting.
“When the Empress wakes up, serve her lunch,” Ao Chenyi ordered. The three girls nodded. They were able to let out a sigh of relief at long last. Ning Xueyan was in such poor condition earlier. They had never seen her this quiet and not allow anyone to go in and accompany her.
It seemed that she was all better now. The three of them could hear her weeping her heart out earlier. She must be asleep now. It wasn’t a bad thing for her to cry. If she had to bury all emotions inside her, she would be in trouble.
Ning Xueyan slept for a long, long time. She didn’t wake up until it was dinnertime. Hearing noise from inside the hall, Lanning immediately entered and helped her wash up. Outside, Qingyu and Xinmei ordered the servants to serve dinner.
Usually, Ao Chenyi wouldn’t have dinner with Ning Xueyan. Even if he did come, he would come at a very late hour.
Lanning and the rest felt fully at ease after seeing Ning Xueyan eating the usual amount at dinner.
When Ning Xueyan was done eating, she wiped her mouth with a handkerchief and told everyone except Qingyu to leave. “Did Madam Dowager Liu say anything else?”
“She said that even though the truth about Miss Ziying isn’t fully in the open, the injustice that she had suffered is at least revealed to the world. She said that it’s a pity that you have never been able to meet Miss Ziying… so, she thought she should hand you the letter,” Qingyu answered.
Qingyu didn’t understand what Madam Dowager Liu said at that time. She could only repeat it verbatim to Ning Xueyan. When they were still living in the Lord Protector’s Manor, Madam Dowager Liu was one of the few who treated her master the best. Even though Madam Dowager Liu was just a guest at the manor, she would help the Bright Frost Garden whenever she could.
“All right. You can leave.” Ning Xueyan nodded. After weeping and falling asleep, she felt much more at peace.
Sure enough, her two foster mothers were simply following the wish of her biological mother.
Over the next few days, Ning Xueyan ordered people to send Commandery Princess Xianyun to the Great National Guardian Temple outside the city. The childless imperial concubines were all sent there to be nuns. Commandery Princess Xianyun had requested to be a nun there as well. Meanwhile, the “concubines” in Prince Yi’s Manor had all fallen ill and died in succession.
That left Ning Xueyan, the Empress, as the only person in the harem.
Usually, ministers would do their best to persuade the Emperor to select and appoint more women as concubines and consorts. But the nation was in the midst of war. Never mind the Emperor not having the desire to do so, even the ministers didn’t think that it was an urgent matter. Their war against Annan was more crucial.
Therefore, the selection of new concubines and consorts was indefinitely postponed.
The war against Annan had fallen into a stalemate. Even though the Annan military had prepared well for the war and was fighting under the name of the prince of the previous dynasty, it was no match for the long legacy of the current imperial family. The people had lived in peace and happiness for so many years that no one wanted another war. Moreover, Ao Chenyi’s father had set aside a large number of troops and horses in preparation to fend off Annan.
Ao Chenyi himself had never underestimated Annan. Therefore, Annan wasn’t able to reap any benefits despite their sudden rebellion. In fact, it seemed as if they would eventually be defeated.
Ming Feiyong fought a stable war and he had more troops in his hands than Annan. They didn’t have to try and catch Annan off guard at all. They were able to win by pressing closer step by step.
Soon, it was time for Ning Ziyan’s execution. Then, it was the Empress and Xia Yuhang’s execution. This was because Ao Mingyu and the assassin had insisted that the murder was all Xia Yuhang’s scheme. Ao Mingyu and Honored Consort Ya were demoted to be ordinary people. Meanwhile, Grand Tutor Ya and his son were found in a relationship with the widow Wu Yao. The scandal ruined Grand Tutor Ya’s reputation and forced him to return to his ancestral home in shame. With that, his years of reputation as a neutral observer to politics were in shambles.
Hua Yueying was sentenced to death by suicide and Hua Manor fell into decline. Chief Hua brought his third daughter back to their ancestral home all by themselves.
Standing in sharp contrast was Ao Mingwan. He continued to be Prince Fu as he wasn’t involved in many matters. After he took Honored Consort Shu out of the imperial harem, he became an idle prince and lived a carefree life.
The day Xia Yuhang was beheaded, Ning Xueyan made a personal visit to witness the execution. She stood in the crowd with her face concealed and looked briefly at the pathetic Xia Yuhang before leaving. Xia Yuhang was someone who was only focused on his benefit.
He got engaged with Ning Ziying for his benefit. He killed Ning Ziying, married Ning Ziyan, and then tried to harm her for the very same reason.
His “affection” was only true when it wasn’t in conflict with his benefit.
With this, the past was truly in the past. She was no longer Ning Ziying, only Ning Xueyan.
She sat inside the carriage with Xinmei and returned to the palace. To her surprise, she found Ao Chenyi inside her room, waiting for her. What a rare guest he was! Usually, at this time, he should be dealing with government affairs in the main hall.
Seeing her come in, Ao Chenyi asked lazily, “Where did you go?”
“The execution ground.” Ning Xueyan put down the cape in her hands. The weather was getting cold. When she went out earlier, Lanning had her wear a cape.
“Why didn’t you watch the whole thing?” Ao Chenyi checked the time. It wasn’t time for the beheading yet. Ning Xueyan must have returned after taking a quick glimpse.
“It’s not fun to watch,” Ning Xueyan replied honestly. She sat on the couch opposite Ao Chenyi. Her bright eyes sparkled as she thought of something, giving her a charming look.
“Why did you go if it’s not fun?” Ao Chenyi raised his beautiful eyes and put down the document in his hand. “You forgot an important day, didn’t you, Yan’er?”
What important day had she forgotten about? She thought about it but couldn’t come up with any answers. She couldn’t help but shake her head. “I can’t think of anything,” she said honestly.
“It’s something very important to you.” Ao Chenyi gave her a hint.
Ning Xueyan blinked in confusion. She really couldn’t remember what it was. Moreover, when she looked at Ao Chenyi’s shapely brows and beautiful, limpid eyes, she had the feeling that the matter wasn’t important to her but him!
She shivered and immediately indicated that she would think harder. She knew how unreasonable this man was. If the matter was truly important to him but she couldn’t remember what it was, he wouldn’t let her off easily.
Her long lashes fluttered as she tried her best to show that she was racking her brain for an answer…