Chen Luoqing ate the dishes Lin Haihai made with an impassive look on his face. In fact, all four of them wore unnatural expressions. The empress dowager put a piece of beef into Yang Shaolun’s bowl and said, “My son, your mother cares about you! Have more of this!”
Yang Shaolun stared at the charcoaled beef and swallowed it with his eyes closed. He then picked up some choy sum for Chen Luoqing. “Have more of this, Luoqing. It’s really fresh!”
Chen Luoqing quietly put more beef into Yang Shaolun’s bowl in retaliation. “The beef is good. Have some more!”
The empress suppressed her natural repulsion and picked up a piece of choy sum with a trembling hand. Lin Haihai asked worriedly when she noticed, “Are you unwell, Empress?”
The empress gave Yang Shaolun a pitiful look and got a fierce glare in return. Intimidated, she smiled at Lin Haihai and said, “I’m fine. I’m probably just too hungry!”
Lin Haihai chuckled and poured the plate of bamboo shoots into the empress’s bowl until it’s half empty. The empress stared at her dumbly. A voice reprimanding her for doing this to herself rang in her head.
The other three threw sympathetic looks at her. The empress dowager swallowed down a piece of choy sum before putting her bowl away and announced, “I’ve had enough!”
Yang Shaolun shot her a warning look. The empress dowager looked at the confusion in Lin Haihai’s eyes. The child would feel hurt if she told the truth! She cleared her throat. The food was so salty that she could barely talk. “This empress dowager has a stomach ache. Come check on me, Yuguan!”
Lin Haihai nervously shot to her feet and helped the empress dowager up. “Stomach ache? Go lie down inside! I’ll examine you!”
Lihua hurriedly went up to help support the empress dowager as they moved into another room. The empress dowager made a sweeping gesture with her hands behind her back. Without missing a beat, Yang Shaolun and the others grabbed the large vase by the window and poured everything Lin Haihai made inside before returning the flowers to the container. The eunuchs and maids exchanged knowing looks, their expressions amused.
After some time, Lin Haihai emerged with the empress dowager, who was singing her praises. “This Empress Dowager felt a twisting pain in my stomach earlier, but it went away immediately after Yuguan massaged me. She’s a wonderful physician indeed!”
She swept her gaze over the table, taking in the empty dishes. With feigned disapproval, she said, “You’ve finished everything? You haven’t even left any for this Empress Dowager!”
Lin Haihai beamed when she saw the empty dishes. She cooed at the elderly woman, “Don’t be mad, Imperial Mother. I’ll be your personal cook tomorrow and cook to your heart’s content! Wouldn’t that be great?”
The empress dowager paused and smiled awkwardly. “No, no. You’re too busy, Yuguan. This Empress Dowager doesn’t want to tire you!”
“It’s fine. I just want Imperial Mother to be happy!” Lin Haihai smiled, completely oblivious. “I can cook for all of you if you like my dishes!”
That made them feel a little guilty, but their guilt soon evaporated when they thought about the almost inedible food. “That won’t do,” said the empress. “If we have such cooking sessions too often, we’ll be getting in the way of the imperial cooks. This should just be an occasional thing.”
“That’s true.” Lin Haihai sat down by the table and happily ate what the empress had made. “Tell me whenever you want to have my cooking, though. I’ll make them outside the palace and have it delivered to you!”
And thus marked the end of the little drama at the dining table. Everyone was still reeling from the scare, but finally, they could rest easy. Yang Shaolun looked at the oily patches on Lin Haihai’s face. He felt a little regretful when he remembered the dishes he had disposed of. It was the first time she cooked for him. He should’ve finished everything.
After dinner, Yang Shaolun and Chen Luoqing took their leaves, while Lin Haihai accompanied the empress and the empress dowager on a stroll through the Imperial Garden.
Cool moonlight streamed down from the pitch-black sky. The eunuchs behind them lit their way with a lantern. The empress dowager was happy being around her two daughters-in-law, which made her forget about her exhaustion and become eager to stay up.
The three of them found a resting spot in the garden and chatted. Autumn wind picked up a little. The empress dowager felt a little cold, but she was reluctant to leave. Lin Haihai noted her tremor. An older lady like her shouldn’t stay out in such weather, or she might catch a cold!
She told Lihua to walk the empress dowager back to rest. The empress dowager didn’t want the night to end yet, but she would see Lin Haihai tomorrow, and she was feeling tired. In the end, she obliged and retired to her bedchamber.
The empress turned to look at Lin Haihai’s elegant features. “How have you been?”
Lin Haihai put her hands on her belly and said with a sigh, “I’m pregnant. I wonder if it’s a good sign or a bad sign.”
Shocked, the empress dowager pressed, “Does His Majesty know?”
“I didn’t dare tell him yet, but Hanlun knows. I told him I got pregnant after getting assaulted on the day I went missing.” Lin Haihai’s voice was thick with remorse. Her lie had burdened Yang Hanlun with heavy guilt.
“His Majesty has the right to know. I suggest you talk to him!” The empress frowned. She couldn’t possibly hide something this serious from him!
“How?” Lin Haihai grumbled with a hand propping her chin. “If I tell him I’m pregnant, he’ll throw everything away and elope with me. This isn’t the time for him to leave!”
The empress was troubled as well. They should’ve never gotten together! The first misstep will only lead to more missteps!
Lin Haihai could read her thoughts. She sighed. “I know what you’re thinking, but I was never Hanlun’s consort. Do you know that he divorced me immediately after marrying me? I haven’t been his consort for a long time. That’s why I moved to the North Court with Xiao Ju and my little brother. I don’t know how he fell for me afterwards. Things have gotten completely out of my control!”
Finally, Lin Haihai revealed the secret. The empress was stunned by the surprising truth. “Why did he divorce you?”
“Because he’s in love with Miss Chen!”
“Why didn’t you say something then?” the empress reprimanded.
“I didn’t know I’d fall for Brother Yang!” Lin Haihai whined. “If I did, I would’ve announced my divorce to the world!”
The empress looked at Lin Haihai bemusedly. It was a mistake, but one born out of something wonderful!
“Hanlun said that Chen Birou was the only one he was willing to build a life with, so he had to divorce me. He gave me a large sum of money in exchange for me accepting the divorce paper. I didn’t have any way of supporting myself, so I asked for a residence from him. He then let me stay in the North Court. Everyone in the capital knew the unfavored princess consort had moved into the North Court, but they didn’t know I’d been divorced already!”
LIn Haihai looked up at the dim stars and continued in resignation, “Afterwards, I opened the hospital with the silvers he gave me. I didn’t know how he fell for me. Neither did I know how Brother Yang and I fell for each other. I was trapped in a dilemma from the very start!”
“All this time, you’ve always been single?” the empress asked in disbelief.
“You can say that. But recently, Hanlun went to the North Court to look for the divorce paper. Xiao Ju said he burned it!”
“What did he think he was doing?” the empress fumed. “He was the one who divorced you. Why would he refuse to let you go now?”
“I didn’t want to damage the bond between the two brothers. I didn’t want Brother Yang to be criticized by the general public. I hadn’t made public my divorce when it first happened. I worried that if I did it right before getting together with Brother Yang openly, people would suspect him of taking his brother’s wife away from him with the power of an emperor.” Lin Haihai sighed. “That was my thought process anyway. It’s clear to me how much of a fool I was when I think about it now!”
“What are you going to do now?” The empress frowned at her. “Did His Majesty know you’ve been divorced?”
“He wouldn’t have allowed me to run away if he did. I didn’t know what I was thinking. I should’ve turned Hanlun down at the beginning. After all, I’ve never been his consort!”
She was Lin Haihai, and she had never married anyone. She was a single woman without a boyfriend. She had the right to fall for any man. However, she was too fixated on being Lin Haihai from the modern world, and she couldn’t accept being a mistress.
As an educated woman, she knew how people despised a homewrecker. Yang Shaolun was a married man in her eyes, and he was surrounded by countless beautiful women. It was her fault for having no confidence in him. She didn’t believe that an emperor would truly fall for a regular woman. Now she couldn’t undo the mistakes she had made!
“You should stay in An’ning Palace tonight and think about what you should do,” the empress said, putting her arm around Lin Haihai’s shoulders. “His Majesty will surely visit you. You should consider telling him the truth. I believe honesty is the key to any relationship. You shouldn’t keep everything to yourself!”
“I didn’t want to lose him, Empress!” Lin Haihai said with determination, her eyes bright. “I’ll do everything I can to be with him!”
The empress chuckled, her lips curled into a small smile. “I support you!”
A breeze swept through their sleeves and rustled the leaves. Insects could be heard croaking every once in a while. The two of them walked side by side to the empress’s palace. Silver moonlight cast long shadows behind them.
The rooms in the An’ning Palace were elegant. The empress retired to the main hall, while Lin Haihai was led to a bedroom in a corner of the side hall. The empress had selected the obscure corner for her on purpose, since she knew the emperor would visit Lin Haihai tonight.Previous Chapter Next Chapter