Lin Haihai paused. She knew? The woman was not only shrewd, but also smart and observant. No wonder she came after me, Lin Haihai thought with a wry smile. That was what she deserved for seducing someone else’s husband. Although Consort Zhuang was a mistress as well, her relationship with Yang Shaolun was official. Unlike Lin Haihai, who was a secret lover that had to hide. Consort Zhuang had the moral high ground no matter what the perspective was.
Faced with Lin Haihai’s silence, Consort Zhuang laughed and said, “Do you think anyone would be able to save you? The empress dowager has taken those idiotic women to the imperial garden to observe the flowers, and all the guards are with them, awaiting orders. The sixth prince has been held up by his brothers and wouldn’t be able to take his leave anytime soon. As for His Majesty, he’s too busy taking care of himself to think about you! Fate has granted me the perfect opening. Even though he cannot have spicy food, he ate so much just to spite you. Doesn’t that make your heart ache? It does for me!
“It’s been years. He’s never even spared me a glance. I’m a fixture in the harem. More of a forgotten wife than a consort. Even the empress is shown some care every once in a while. Although it is common knowledge in the palace that they no longer act like husband and wife, he still visits her some nights to preserve her reputation. But me? I’ve been in the palace for three years. He’s only visited me thrice during that time.
“How can he treat me like that? I fell in love with him the day I was selected. Not because he is the emperor. Not because he can grant me a lifetime of fortune. I would love and stay with him even if he were a poor scholar or even a beggar. Heavens know how much I wish he were a poor scholar. Then all the women would stay away from him, and he would be mine alone!
“But no. He has to be the great ruler of this nation, surrounded by a harem of women while I grow old in my palace hall with no hope of gaining his pity.”
Consort Zhuang had just about lost her sanity as she rattled on. Her sharp gaze was fixed on Lin Haihai, her expression lost but menacing.
Lin Haihai’s expression dimmed. She was but a poor woman. Perhaps that was the fate awaiting everyone who fell for an emperor. Would Lin Haihai end up like her in the future? Throughout history, emperors were often fickle regarding matters of the heart. Would he treat her like he treated Consort Zhuang once he lost the passionate love he felt for her?
“I understand,” Lin Haihai said bitterly. “It’s painful to fall in love with the wrong person!”
Consort Zhuang scoffed. “Are you pitying me? Pah, I don’t need it. You shameless bitch, how dare you covet His Majesty?! I thought he was in love with Imperial Consort Li, but after going to such lengths to get rid of her, I realized that he was in love with you! How laughable, he’s fallen for his own sister-in-law! Doesn’t he understand how unacceptable that is? Poor Sixth Prince, kept in the dark as his princess consort and his imperial brother flirted when no one was watching!”
She burst out laughing, but her gaze was filled with sorrow. “How pathetic of me. I had thought His Majesty would spare me some attention after getting rid of Imperial Consort Li’s child, but I was fooling myself! He’s long forgotten about me, while I only ever have him on my mind! There’s no turning back now, I know that. You have to die. If you don’t die, he’ll never turn around to look at me. He’ll never know I’ve been waiting for him!”
She’s responsible for Imperial Consort Li’s miscarriage! Lin Haihai watched her as her face twisted with madness and her eyes blazed with hatred. She’s a martial artist! Lin Haihai suddenly realized. And a strong one at that. Who is she? Why hasn’t anyone seen her true nature over the years she’s in the harem?
She walked up to Lin Haihai in the patterns of the eight trigrams. Lin Haihai stepped back reflexively, and Consort Zhuang smiled wolfishly. “Scared? Don’t be. I don’t pull my punches, and you’ll die without feeling any pain. I promise. This is what you deserve. He’s mine. He can only be mine. Do you understand? He’ll fall for me once all insidious women like you have been driven away from him. Don’t blame me. You’re the ones who have done something wrong. You’re the ones who deserve death!”
Her expression turned frosty and her eyes flickered as she struck out with both palms, sending vicious torrents toward Lin Haihai. Lin Haihai was unwilling to harm her out of sympathy, and she hadn’t yet figured out what to do in the heat of the moment. If Consort Zhuang wants me dead, then I should play along! She took two steps back and pretended to have been thrown off her feet when Consort Zhuang’s fierce attack hit her chest. She fell into the lotus pond.
Thankfully, the pond was deep enough to hide her, and it was cool. She held her breath and dived toward the bottom of the pond. The power of the spiritual pearl spread through her body. She waited leisurely for someone to come to her rescue. Given her power, it would be a piece of cake for her to stay underwater for a couple days. With the spiritual pearl protecting her, someone like Consort Zhuang wouldn’t be able to leave even a scratch on her.
Consort Zhuang waited for a good moment until the surface of the pond calmed down. With a scoff, she made a speedy escape.
After handing the medicine to the empress, Guihua hurriedly returned to Lin Haihai, but she ran into a palace maid, who had lost an earring and pleaded for her help. Guihua had always been quick to offer her help, so she stopped to look for the earring with the palace maid when she noted her anxious expression.
After some time, the maid delightedly declared that she had found her earring. Guihua was happy for her. Once she left, Guihua found her way to the lotus pond, but Lin Haihai was nowhere to be seen. There was only a shoe left in the pavilion.
That confused Guihua. Where could the princess consort possibly go without her shoes? Panic rose in her heart. The peaceful pond gave her a sense of foreboding, and she began calling out for Lin Haihai.
Lin Haihai couldn’t answer her since she was faking her death, and she couldn’t help feeling anxious. She had been underwater for more than ten minutes. How was she supposed to “come back to life” if she wasn’t rescued soon?
It would be easier if Consort Zhuang had “killed” her with a palm strike and left her on the ground. Then she could just pretend to have survived out of luck. It was too far-fetched for her to have survived a couple hours in the pond. She would be suspected of being a spirit or monster again.
Noting the way her long hair danced and her silk jacket puffed out underwater, an idea came to her. She took off her jacket and allowed its natural buoyancy to take it to the surface, manipulating the currents of the water with the force of her palms to send the jacket to the pavilion.
Guihua noticed a familiar red silk jacket by the pavilion. She took a closer look and was scared witless. Immediately, she raised her voice and cried out, “Help, help!”
Scrambling away, she continued to wail as she ran, “Help! Please help! Consort Lin has fallen into the pond! Help!”
The patrolling guards heard Guihua’s cry and rushed to her. She dropped to her knees and bawled, “Please save the princess consort, Brother Guards! She’s fallen into the pond!”
Shocked, the guards hurriedly dived into the pond to search for Lin Haihai. Hearing the sounds of water sloshing about, Lin Haihai knew someone was coming to her rescue, and she took a few gulps of water, filling her stomach with vital essence and closing her eyes to fake her death.
The empress had come to seek out Lin Haihai, but instead she found Guihua bawling on the ground. She hurriedly asked, “What happened?”
Guihua curled into herself and wailed, “Consort Lin has fallen into the water. The guards are looking for her!”
Shocked, the empress turned to her servant and said, “Find the imperial physicians and notify His Majesty!” Once the servant had rushed away, the empress lost her balance and choked out, “How did this happen?”
Guihua wiped away her tears and said in a trembling voice, “This maid doesn’t know. When this maid returned, Consort Lin was nowhere to be found. Then I saw the jacket Consort Lin was wearing today floating in the pond, and I called out for help. Heavens bless my princess consort. May fate have mercy and let her return safely!”
Guihua knocked her head against the ground and muttered incessantly. Her explanation made the empress lightheaded. Could someone survive underwater for so long? She closed her eyes and tears streamed down her face. She stared at the pond waiting for the guards to come back with something, anything.
The lotus pond wasn’t big, but it would still take some time to search for a person. The guards emerged to take a deep breath before diving back into the pond to keep searching. Finally, Lin Haihai’s red figure was spotted. The guards immediately swam to her and dragged her to the bank together.
A pair of watchful eyes had been looking from a distance. She sneered when she saw a pale Lin Haihai lifted out of the water. In a low voice, she said, “Don’t blame me. You asked for this. Why couldn’t you be satisfied as the Sixth Princess Consort? His Majesty is mine!” She let out a peel of chilling laughter, which echoed in the mountain like the cries of a crow, chilling and terrifying.
Back in the main hall, Yang Shaolun endured his stomach pain and shared drinks with his brothers, having had his medicine. It was rare for them to be able to spend time together, so they drank and chatted to their hearts’ content. Chen Luoqing and Luo Kuangyuan had joined them at some point. Yang Shaolun enjoyed such occasions the most, where he and his brothers were close together. He didn’t like being the high and mighty emperor, but preferred laughing and making trouble with his brothers like they had in their youth.
Casting a look at Yang Hanlun, he couldn’t help but feel a little guilty. At the end of the day, he had wronged his brother, who had always seen him as a role model! Perhaps Xiao’hai was right. They shouldn’t rush it. They had to take it slow to avoid hurting Yang Hanlun.
The joyful moment was interrupted by two eunuchs, who rushed in with obvious panic and dropped to their knees, crying out, “Your Majesty, the Sixth Princess Consort has fallen into the lotus pond!”
Yang Shaolun felt as if his soul had suddenly left his body, and his heart spasmed painfully. He shot to his feet, at a loss of words. All he could do was to rush toward the lotus pond.
Following close behind was Yang Hanlun, who shared his brother’s fear. His mind imploded and his heart pounded against his ribcage. Panic spread from his heart to every nerve in his body. The others gathered their energy and made their way to the lotus pond as quickly as they could as well.
Yang Shaolun and Yang Hanlun arrived just in time to see the guards dragging Lin Haihai ashore. Yang Shaolun felt as if there was a knife twisting in his heart. He was about to rush up to her to hold her, but Chen Luoqing stopped him.
Yang Hanlun had long lost his calm when he saw Lin Haihai’s pale and lifeless arm. He ran up to her and growled, “Where are the imperial physicians?! Get them here!”
Imperial Physician Shangguan and Imperial Physician Chen came in hurry. Their hearts sank when they saw Lin Haihai in Yang Hanlun’s arms. Master!
“Please lay Consort Lin on the ground, Your Highness!” said Imperial Physician Shangguan. Yang Hanlun hurriedly followed his instruction. Then everyone present noticed with shock the clear handprints on her clothes. It was murder. She fell into the water after getting hit. If that was the case, her chance of survival was slim!
Yang Shaolun tightened his fists. His entire body trembled with the sheer force concentrated in his hands. He felt the urge to punch the ground, but Chen Luoqing was doing all he could to stop him. Yang Shaolun watched from the sideline with fire burning in his heart. He watched as the imperial physicians resuscitated her. He stared at her lifeless face and her lowered eyelashes. Fear seized his heart. He had never felt so afraid his entire life. He couldn’t think about the possibility of… No, that would never happen. He wouldn’t allow that to happen!
The thick sorrow and the tension coming from the man she loved saddened Lin Haihai. If one day they must be separated by life and death, she didn’t want to be the one being left behind. She would rather be the one passing away first.
With her soul separated from her body, she looked at the group of men. All of them showed some degree of sadness, while Yang Hanlun stayed by her side with a heart-wrenching look on his face. She made her way to Yang Shaolun, her heart clenching at the pain radiating from him. No, no, she would rather be the one being left behind if they were to part in the future. She couldn’t leave him first when she knew he would be in such great pain.
That was the moment Lin Haihai realized that she was so deeply in love with the man that there was no turning back. Her heart broke even when she was merely looking at him. She wanted to return to her body and resurrect herself, but there were too many keen eyes watching. She would attract suspicion if she regained consciousness too easily. She had to wait for the right moment.
Consort Zhuang was pitiful, but those who were pitiful often were hateful as well. Lin Haihai wouldn’t just let her off the hook. What should she do, though? Should she just identify her as the culprit? But then she would surely be killed. Lin Haihai didn’t know what to do. She had never been in such situations.
Lin Haihai watched as Imperial Physician Shangguan attempted to resuscitate her with the techniques she had taught him. It filled her with pride seeing how well he was doing. Now she understood what her professor had said back when she was in medical school, “My greatest pride is seeing you come to your own as doctors!” She didn’t understand him then, but she now knew what her professor must be feeling at the time.Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Hi, House here. I'm officially taking over as novel lead here. Hope you all enjoy the ride ahead :)