The horse carriage picked up pace and arrived at the closed palace door in no time. The guard standing watch hurriedly opened the door. The horse carriage flew past it. Lin Haihai held tightly onto Yang Shaolun. Parting with him was never easy.
“I’ll go find the empress with you!” Yang Shaolun whispered to her.
Lin Haihai looked up at him and reluctantly let go. It wasn’t time for them to hold hands in public yet, but she believed that day would come.
“Okay.” Lin Haihai nodded. “You can be involved. It’s not like we’re telling each other secrets!”
He got off the carriage and had her wait inside. Then he shot Xiao Yuan a glance, who understood him without missing a beat. Once Xiao Yuan dismissed all the palace maids and eunuchs, Yang Shaolun parted the curtains and carried Lin Haihai out of the carriage.
She awkwardly looked at Chen Luoqing and Xiao Yuan. She wasn’t frail enough to warrant that, but she would never shoot down his way of showing her affection. Chen Luoqing and Xiao Yuan politely looked into the distance rather than looking at her.
He took her hand as they walked through the Imperial Garden, which had been emptied on purpose. The two of them shared this moment of happiness. Nothing else mattered as long as they could walk together hand-in-hand like this.
“I’ll go check on the old lady,” Lin Haihai smiled sweetly. “It’s been a while. I’ve been too busy to visit the palace even though she’d summoned me many times. I’ll go find her first before seeking the empress out!”
“Go ahead then!” He would love it for her to meet up with everyone in the palace until tomorrow morning. Then he would have an excuse to spend the night with her.
Lin Haihai pulled her hand away once they left the Imperial Garden and walked forward with steady steps. Yang Shaolun looked at her slim figure from behind. He wanted nothing but to hold her tight. His love for her truly had become part of him.
“His Majesty has arrived! Sixth Princess Consort has arrived! General Chen has arrived!” The eunuch announced in a high-pitched voice, followed by the empress dowager’s delighted “Let them in, let them in!”
Lin Haihai walked in with a faint smile and was stunned by the room of beautiful women. They must be the newly recruited concubine candidates. Gradually, her smile dropped. She had to force herself to curl her lips into a smile. The empress was there as well. She bowed slightly to the empress dowager and said, “Greetings, Imperial Mother!”
Her politeness took the empress dowager by surprise. She took her hand and said, “Come, let your imperial mother take a good look at you. You’ve lost weight! What work have you been doing? You never have any free time. Are you really that busy?”
She was half complaining and half showing her care for her.
The concubine candidates immediately rose and bowed to Yang Shaolun. “Greetings, Your Majesty!”
Yang Shaolun turned to Lin Haihai. She still had a faint smile on her face, but the dejected look in her eyes betrayed her feelings. His heart pounded against his ribcage. Is she mad?
“You may rise!” Yang Shaolun said coolly, his gaze settled resolutely on the figure sitting next to the empress dowager. Lin Haihai purposefully averted his gaze. She knew he hadn’t done anything wrong, but she still felt as if she had swallowed a fly when she saw the group of beautiful young women.
“How do you have the time to visit the palace?” the empress asked teasingly.
Lin Haihai turned to her. “I’m here to discuss something with you!”
“Aren’t you here to visit this old woman?” the empress dowager said in disappointment. “This Empress Dowager thought that was the reason you visited!”
“Of course I am here to visit you, Imperial Mother! I’m just going to discuss something with the empress while I’m here. Look, see what I’ve brought you!” Lin Haihai took out a medicinal sachet. It was developed by her and made by Guihua, capable of soothing the mind, alleviating exhaustion, and easing the heart.
“It’s so finely crafted. Did you make it?” The empress dowager accepted the gift with a smile and smelled it. The fragrance made her feel immediately refreshed. “It smells good!”
“It’s not a regular scented sachet but a medicinal one. You must keep it on you!” Lin Haihai attached it to the empress dowager’s waistband. “If you feel uncomfortable or your chest feels tight, please remember to take it out to smell it!”
“Ah, a medicinal sachet! You’re so considerate!” The empress dowager smiled. The contentment and joy on her face stunned the concubine candidates. The empress dowager was said to be cold and serious, which was the impression they held earlier, too. Now, however, she seemed just like a regular elderly woman!
“What matter do you have to discuss with the empress?” the empress dowager asked as she adjusted the scented sachet.
“I just want to share a few words with her. I’ll do that later in her palace.” She snuggled close to the empress dowager endearingly. She was always willing to make time for elderly people and children. “Why don’t I stay in the palace tonight to keep you company?”
Yang Shaolun smiled. Chen Luoqing felt like a third wheel standing next to him. He took his leave after bidding the empress dowager farewell. The strange look on his face confused Lin Haihai. Youths these days are difficult to understand!
The observant empress had discerned his thoughts, though, and she sighed inwardly. Are there any men in the world who can escape her charm? She’s like a star. Even though she’s unaware of it, everyone will end up being attracted to her!
“That’ll be wonderful! Lihua, Lihua! Send someone to the Sixth Prince Residence and tell Hanlun that his wife will be spending the night with this Empress Dowager!” The empress dowager beamed and ordered the servants to prepare the food and necessities.
Lin Haihai considered the room full of young women. They were all stunning, and it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say they could captivate a city with their beauty. Yang Shaolun’s heart clenched when Lin Haihai kept avoiding his gaze. He said with a darkened expression, “You should all return. This Emperor is going to talk to Imperial Mother!”
The concubine candidates rose and bowed to him before taking their leaves. Most of their gazes shone with adoration as they left. They didn’t expect the emperor to be so handsome!
“This Empress Dowager was going to have you spend some time with them to get to know them since you rarely visit, Shao’er. Fine, we’ll take our time. This Empress Dowager is going to have a good chat with Yuguan today. You should attend whatever business you’re up to!” The empress dowager patted him as she spoke.
Yang Shaolun gave Lin Haihai a reluctant look. She would be spending the night in the palace, though, and they still had time together. He didn’t want to leave, but he did have important matters to attend to. He rose to his feet and told his mother, “I’ll come have dinner with Imperial Mother. You should keep Imperial Mother company in the meantime, Xiao’hai. This Emperor will take my leave now!”
He was going to keep his distance to avoid attracting suspicion, but he couldn’t help but check on her to make sure she wasn’t mad. Surprised, Lin Haihai looked up to see his eyes flashing with concern and fear. She dropped the issue and smiled faintly, “Later, Imperial Elder Brother!”
It was fortunate that the empress dowager was too happy to pay attention to their loaded exchange. Yang Shaolun dragged his feet as he walked away. He even shot Lin Haihai a parting glance. It wasn’t until Lin Haihai widened her eyes to let him see her adoring gaze that he smiled in relief and left.
“What have you been up to, Yuguan?” the empress dowager took Lin Haihai’s hand and asked earnestly. “Tell me!”
“Seeing patients, opening clinics, going into the mountains, and paying medical visits!” Lin Haihai counted her finger as she listed what she had been doing.
The empress dowager shook her head. “Isn’t it too physically taxing for a woman to take on so many responsibilities every day?”
“I’m very durable!” Lin Haihai joked and patted herself on the chest.
The empress dowager considered her and asked suggestively, “When are you going to give this Empress Dowager a grandson, then?”
Lin Haihai looked up at her and smiled thinly. The empress dowager chuckled. “Don’t just smile at me. Give this Empress Dowager a concrete answer!”
The empress moved closer to speak up for Lin Haihai. “Pregnancy can’t be forced, Imperial Mother. Please be patient. Don’t you have something to discuss with me, Xiao’hai?”
Lin Haihai changed the subject immediately. “That’s right. I’d like to buy medicines from Chen to address the supply issue we’re facing. Do you think it’ll work?”
The empress thought for a moment. “Chen has a smaller population, but our land is vast with a plethora of herbs. Farming is people’s favorite activity. Why don’t I send a letter to my father to explain our situation? He’ll give us a hand for the sake of the diplomatic ties between the two nations!”
Lin Haihai was delighted. “That’ll be great! With Chen’s help, Daxing will be able to overcome this difficulty!”
The empress dowager looked at the two of them with appreciation. Although women of the palace shouldn’t get involved in politics, the emperor’s wife should help shoulder the burden when the nation was in trouble. Even if there wasn’t much one could do, it was better than nothing.
“Thankfully, the distance between Chen and Daxing isn’t great. A round trip is possible in about a fortnight. That’s a great idea, Xiao’hai!” The more the empress thought about the idea, the more she believed it would work.
“It’s our last resort.” Lin Haihai smiled faintly before turning to the empress dowager. “I’m going to give you a physical checkup in a few days, Mother. I should’ve done that earlier, but more things always come up. Do you still feel dizzy lately?”
“This Empress Dowager has been feeling better. Sometimes I get lightheaded when I wake up in the morning. Thankfully, Birou has been bringing me medicinal soups to rejuvenate me. By the way, why hasn’t she entered the palace to visit this Empress Dowager?”
It was clear from the empress dowager’s smile that she had a lot of affection for her. Lin Haihai frowned and affected a casual tone as she asked, “Is that so? How long have you been having her soup?”
“About seven to eight days. That child is very considerate. She made the soup herself and personally delivered them to this Empress Dowager!”
She felt lazy and reluctant to move without having any soup lately, and she felt an agitation she didn’t understand. However, she didn’t dare let Lin Haihai know, lest the young woman get mad at her.
Lin Haihai managed a smile. “You’re not old, but it’s better for someone your age to avoid having too much nutritious food, Imperial Mother. You should eat lightly!”
Worried that Lin Haihai would be unhappy, the empress dowager hurriedly nodded and said, “That’s what I think as well. I’ve been eating lightly recently because of your advice!”
“Why don’t we cook for ourselves today, Imperial Mother? Xiao’hai and I would make some homemade dishes for you. What do you think?” The empress suggested. It had been a while since she last cooked. She wondered if she had gone rusty.
“This Empress Dowager had forgotten about the Chen cuisines you are so adept at making. Of course I’d love for you to make our meal today. What dishes are you good at making, Yuguan? I remembered you telling me that you were a good cook when this Empress Dowager asked about what you were good at during your first visit to the palace. This Empress Dowager is eager to try your food today!”
The empress dowager was clearly excited. Lin Haihai suppressed the urge to facepalm. It wasn’t her who was good at cooking, but the real Lin Yuguan. She let out a forced chuckle and said, “The empress and I will show you what we’ve got to satisfy you, Imperial Mother!”
“That’s great! We’ll get on with the preparations!” The empress rose to her feet excitedly. She had been trapped in the harem for more than a month. It was only natural for her to be exuberant when she had company.
Lin Haihai trailed after the empress in resignation. What should I do?
“What’s your specialty?” the empress asked with a smile.
Lin Haihai paused and twisted her lips upward. “Boiled eggs!”
That was the only thing she could make.
The empress laughed. “It’s fine if you want to keep your secrets. I’ll taste your food later, and we can exchange recipes!”
“Let’s not talk about that now. I’m afraid my cooking won’t be that tasty!” Lin Haihai felt like fleeing. Cooking was the bane of her existence. Although she cut things for a living, it was a different kind of cutting!
“Why would that be? Don’t be so humble.” She turned to the maids and eunuchs. “Empty the Imperial Kitchen. Dismiss everyone but a couple helpers.”
The maids immediately rushed out at her instruction.Previous Chapter Next Chapter
When you think about it, boiling eggs isn't actually that easy. Kitchen newbie can easily produce eggs that are impossible to peel with yolk turning grey from overcooking :P