The moon was bright tonight.
“This Empress greets Your Majesty!” The empress curtsied elegantly.
“What have you visited this Emperor for, Empress?” Yang Shaolun asked in a cool, steady voice.
The empress looked up at him. “Your Majesty knows how late it is. Why haven’t you retired to bed?”
“This Emperor has state affairs to tend to,” Yang Shaolun responded in an aloof tone. “Please return if you have nothing important to say, Empress. This Emperor has no time to humor you!”
“This Empress was entrusted to take care of Your Majesty,” the empress said worriedly. “Would Your Majesty please allow this Empress to fulfil the promise?”
Yang Shaolun had been going over reports and discussing state affairs with officials day and night. Meanwhile, Lin Haihai had been paying visits to the Blackhill Village and treating the old general’s vision in the General Residence during the day, and then helping at the plantation during the night. Or she would go on an investigation with Wangchen with no one privy to what she was looking into.
The sixth prince had gotten into the habit of waiting for her at the hospital, often until late at night. Then they would walk their way back to the Prince Residence, but they never exchanged even a word!
That was what Wangchen had revealed to the empress. The former consort had completely come around regarding Lin Haihai and begged to become her disciple. Although Lin Haihai hadn’t officially accepted her request, she hadn’t stopped Wangchen from calling her “master”.
Yang Shaolun grew still, but his expression remained impassive. “Please tell her that this Emperor is doing well!”
“This Empress will tell her the truth.” After a bemused pause, the empress continued, “The day of concubine selection is coming up next month. Would Your Majesty like it to be organized as per tradition?”
“Cancel it!” Yang Shaolun raised his voice and said, his brows furrowed in annoyance. “This Emperor is too preoccupied with state affairs to spend time on such frivolous matters! Please take your leave if there’s nothing else, Empress!”
“Alas, this Empress does not have the final say. Imperial Mother has ordered the local officials to begin the preliminary selections, and the candidates will be sent to the capital the tenth day of the upcoming month!” The empress had assumed that he knew about it.
Yang Shaolun dropped the writing brush in his hand and complained, “Ridiculous! It’s not the month of concubine selection next month. Imperial Mother is being meddlesome!”
“Imperial Mother is simply worried about how empty the harem is...”
“Whatever, she can do what she wants!” Yang Shaolun interrupted angrily before the empress could finish. “Hold the selection, but this Emperor will not take in any of them!”
The empress quietly listened while he threw a tantrum. In the end, she said, “If it’s impossible to be with her, Your Majesty, why wouldn’t you make her feel more at ease? How is she supposed to move on while you torment yourself?”
Yang Shaolun’s eyes stung. He lowered his head and stayed silent for a good while before he asked, “How is she?”
The empress sighed. “She’s fine, but she’s as busy as you are!”
“That’s good!” Yang Shaolun laughed bitterly. “Is it her idea, holding a concubine selection for me?”
The empress didn’t respond. Saying yes would be akin to stabbing him in the heart, while saying no would give him false hope. He was bound to be disappointed.
Yang Shaolun stared at the empress, waiting for her to cut him with her response. Her silence confirmed his speculation in the most terrible way. The sliver of hope he was waiting for never came. In the end, he returned to the reports on his desk and said tiredly, “Go ahead with the selection. You should take your leave if you have no other matter to discuss with me, Empress. This Emperor is very busy!”
“This Empress will take my leave!” the empress said with a sigh and left him in the silent room.
Xiao Yuan, having recovered from his injury, watched as the calm expression on Yang Shaolun’s face crumbled. His heart ached for his master. The emperor might be the supreme ruler of the nation, but he was a man, made of flesh and blood and a mess of emotions. He had sacrificed enough for the Daxing Dynasty. Xiao Yuan had been by his side since the day he took over the throne, witnessing the cruelty of the world with him.
He had always respected his Imperial Uncle, and yet his uncle had started a coup against him. In order to protect the nation, he had obtained a variety of skills and forged his warm heart into steel. He never dared fall for any women carelessly, for he was the emperor, and he had a heavy burden on his shoulders. Even his smiles were a calculated act.
It wasn’t until he met her that Xiao Yuan finally saw the return of his warm smiles, reminiscent of the young man who smiled shyly when he took over the throne. The warmth of his gaze that day had imprinted itself into Xiao Yuan’s memory. Even after the emperor lost the warmth in his gaze to coldness and aloofness, Xiao Yuan still thought about the young men as warm as spring often.
Yang Shaolun put away his writing brush and stared dumbly at the red string on his wrist. “Do you really want me to fall for another woman? Won’t you be sad? Would you cry? I want to tell you my answer. I’ll be sad, and I’ll even shed tears!”
Xiao Yuan turned away, or he might not be able to keep down the sorrow that had filled his chest to the brim.
It was close to midnight when Lin Haihai and Wangchen finally returned from the plantation. Yang Hanlun was already waiting for her at the Linhai Hospital. It had been a month. Their interaction remained civil but distant.
“Busy today?” Yang Hanlun broke the silence. He regretted his silly question as soon as it left his mouth. She wouldn’t return so late at night if she wasn’t busy.
Lin Haihai didn’t notice anything wrong and answered, “A little.”
“It’s been a while since you came home for a meal,” Yang Hanlun said with difficulty. He was basically pleading. “Why don’t you make some time to share a meal with me tomorrow? I’ll have the cooks prepare something delicious!”
Lin Haihai stared ahead at the darkness, saying with disinterest, “Alright, I’ll make the time.‘
“Really?” Yang Hanlun asked in delight. He had thought she would turn him down. He didn’t expect to be pleasantly surprised by her response.
Lin Haihai looked at him, stunned by his obvious joy. Her heart ached. She had been cold to a man who loved her, hadn’t she? He had behaved uncharacteristically and swallowed his pride because of his feelings for her. He had done nothing wrong!
She managed a smile. “I only have to visit Blackhill Village and General Xie tomorrow. You don’t have to wait for me at the hospital. Nothing will happen to me with Wangchen by my side!”
“Alright, I’ll order the cooks to prepare your favorite dishes. What would you like to eat? Tell me!” His face became flushed with delight, and he rubbed his hands on his fine clothes in excitement.
Lin Haihai would like to say it didn’t matter, but she didn’t have the heart to rain on his parade when he was this excited. “My favorite is of course broccoli stir fry with ginger. Sauteed bamboo shoots and braised aubergine will be appreciated. If it’s not too much trouble, I’d like orange steamed egg as well!”
Orange steamed egg was her mother’s specialty dessert. She had never had any since she transmigrated to the ancient times. Talking about it made her crave the dish.
Her gluttonous look made Yang Hanlun laugh. Tipping his chin up, he said in a prideful tone, “Why would it be too much trouble? It’s their honor to be cooking for my princess consort!”
Lin Haihai smiled faintly, but the shadow of sorrow remained between her brows. Wangchen silently listened to their conversation, her face a perfect mask of impassiveness. She knew Lin Haihai’s heart was occupied by a warm-hearted man. Wangchen had been deeply in love with that man as well.
Lin Haihai put her hand on her waist and touched the solid item under the fabric. She had been carrying with her the wooden figurine he gifted her. It seemed to exude warmth and supply her with strength when her heart was feeling cold and numb. She hadn’t lived a soulless life or tormented herself for him recently. Instead, she had been more productive than ever. Love isn’t the be all and end all in life! she reassured herself.
Yang Hanlun walked her back to her room. Lin Haihai gave him a gentle smile, but it was still distant. He didn’t want to pressure her. They had all the time in the world.
Guihua was waiting in the room when Lin Haihai returned. She went up to her and said, “You’re back, Consort Lin!”
“I’ve told you not to wait for me, Guihua!” Lin Haihai reprimanded gently.
Guihua responded with a small smile, “This maid isn’t tired!”
“Stop calling yourself a maid or a servant. I don’t like it. From now on, address yourself as ‘I’ when you’re talking to me, understand?” Lin Haihai propped her head up with a hand. She might have overexerted herself the past couple of days. She had been easily tired and losing her appetite.
“Are you unwell, Consort Lin?” Guihua asked worriedly.
“I’m fine. Just a little tired!” Lin Haihai smiled weakly. She had never felt like this before. What was happening?
“Then you should stop working yourself into the ground. Stop visiting the Blackhill Village, won’t you? Didn’t you say the treatment would take twenty days? You’ve been visiting the village for more than a month!” Guihua disapproved of how she had been treating herself.
“There are patients who suffer from critical conditions, and I’d like to open a clinic in the Blackhill Village as a pilot plan. I’m now laying the groundwork!” Lin Haihai had always been honest to Guihua. She had only been visiting the village without her because she was worried it would be too exhausting for Guihua. Wangchen knew martial arts, and stamina wouldn’t be a concern.
“I don’t get it. Why are you making yourself so busy?” Guihua grumbled as she found sleepwear for Lin Haihai. “The Prince Residence doesn’t lack money. Your hospital has been running a deficit as well. The prince is the only one who calls you greedy all the time. It can’t be further from the truth!”
Lin Haihai entered the bath and submerged herself into the warm water. Yang Shaolun’s face came to her mind, unbidden. She closed her eyes, searching for her memory with him. She looked at the figurine he had sculpted after her, holding it in her hand carefully. The figurine had a mischievous smile on her face, and her eyes were warm like the spring.
It’s been a month. Has he forgotten about me? She looked at the wooden figurine and murmured, “I’ve never felt so conflicted. On one hand, I’d like you to forget about me so that you wouldn’t be tormented by this yearning we share. On the other hand, I’m worried that you’d forget about me and fall for another woman!”
She closed her eyes to stop her tears from dropping. She wanted to show him through action that she was fine. She didn’t want him to worry.
Wangchen sat on the bed and hugged her knees, reluctant to fall asleep. A month had quietly gone by since she became Lin Haihai’s personal guard, and her distaste for Lin Haihai had given way to acceptance during the short period of time. Her father’s vision was recovering. Although he couldn’t see as well as he had been able to see, it was an outcome better than their wildest dream. Her father had told her to stay by her master and learned. Even if she couldn’t learn Lin Haihai’s skills, she should learn from the way Lin Haihai lived her life.
Since her youth, no one other than the emperor had ever won her strict father over. It surprised her that her father would hold Master in such high regard. Fate sure worked in a mysterious way. She had wanted Lin Haihai dead only a month ago. Now, however, she was serving Lin Haihai and following her order willingly. Her new life was much better than the life of endless waiting in her palace. Through the effort of those in the imperial palace, Consort Zhuang had been dealt with properly. Not only hadn’t she become known for her crime, she was said to have died when going after an intruder, allowing her to go down in history as a hero.
Gone was Consort Zhuang. May her past fade away along with her old identity. From now on, she was no one but Wangchen!Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Aaaaand our angsty pair is being angsty again