Dawn broke with light cyan seeping into the sky, seemingly signifying their unclear and murky future. Yang Shaolun held onto Lin Haihai and muttered, “I don’t wanna go to the morning court meeting!”
Lin Haihai looked out of the window at the brightening sky. “If you never attend a morning meeting again, won’t I be taking the blame for generations to come?”
“Why do people want to be the emperor?” Yang Shaolun asked lazily. “Power comes with a heavy price. It’s not a good bargain!”
“That’s because you’ve never been a peasant and don’t understand their helplessness!” No matter the era, no matter how wise and competent the ruler was, peasants were always riddled with trouble they couldn’t resolve. That was why they held onto the wishful belief that they would be completely free of worldly concerns if only they were the supreme power ruling over the world.
“Peasants have their problems, while emperors have their own pains.” Yang Shaolun had never had peace since the moment he took the throne more than ten years ago. Floods, storms, earthquakes, droughts, wars - There was not a single day when he didn’t dread whatever bad news he would receive as he sat on the throne.
Lin Haihai caught his hand. “That’s life. We must face it head on no matter what’s waiting for us!”
She sat up and put her arms around his neck, her lips curled into a small smile. “I’ll lift you up. It’s time to go to morning court!”
Yang Shaolun gazed at her deeply. Life was different with her by his side. It was much more colorful and exciting now.
Petite hands busied themselves to dress him. Although she was clearly unfamiliar with what she was doing, it was the thoughts that mattered. Yang Shaolun was filled with warmth. Before leaving her room, he said earnestly, “You should be careful now that you’re no longer on your own. I’ll have Zheng Feng guard you closely. Remember to always have someone by your side!”
He would like to hide her in his Qian’kun Palace if possible so that no one would ever get near her.
Lin Haihai brushed a strand of hair off his shoulder. It was hers. “I get it. You should be careful as well. I'll greet Imperial Mother and leave the palace soon. You should attend to your business. Don’t worry about me!”
Yang Shaolun kissed her on the cheek and said reluctantly, “I’m leaving!”
Lin Haihai nodded, her eyes lingering on him as he took his leave.
She went back to bed for a short nap before getting up. A palace maid brought her hot water to wash herself. She quickly cleaned her teeth and face before asking, “Has Empress Chen woken up?”
“In response to Consort Lin,” the maid meekly responded. “Her Majesty has woken up, and is waiting for Consort Lin in the main hall to have breakfast with you!”
Lin Haihai thanked her and made her way out of the room. As she walked through the hallway, she ran her fingers through her hair and twirled it into a bun before fixing it in place with a hairpin. Her movement suggested a practiced ease, which shocked the palace maid. She had never seen a consort with such blatant disregard for her appearance!
The empress sat on a chair with several consorts and concubine candidates kneeling before her in greeting. Lin Haihai raised an eyebrow. Ever since Imperial Consort Li had been dealt with, there was no one in the harem who dared challenge the empress’s authority.
“Greetings, Consort Lin!” The concubine candidates hurriedly bowed to Lin Haihai, having recognized her from yesterday.
“Rise,” Lin Haihai gently said. She had to show proper etiquette before the imperial consorts. “Greetings, Sisters-in-Law!”
“No need for the formalities, Sister-in-Law!” the consorts said in unison. Lin Haihai was someone the empress dowager favored the most. They couldn’t afford to offend her.
“Why didn’t you sleep a little more?” the empress said kindly. “Come, sit by my side.”
“I have things to attend to, so I wake up early. Do you have time today? Would you like to accompany me to the plantation?” Lin Haihai took a seat. Looking at the breakfast on the table made her sick. She hurriedly averted her gaze.
“I don’t have anything to do today. I’ll go with you. It’s been a while since I last went to the mountains!” The empress was excited. She had almost gone crazy being stuck in the palace. She didn’t know how she managed to live her life in captivity in the past. Such was the nature of humans. They dared not wish for something they had never had, but once they got a taste of freedom and joy, they could never go back to the monotonous life they used to lead.
“Then we’ll go at once!” Lin Haihai didn’t want to have breakfast. She had been unwilling to eat anything this early in the morning.
“If you’re in such a rush, I’ll forgo breakfast as well.” The empress turned to the consorts and said coolly, “This Empress is leaving for business. You may go!”
Consort Zhen threw the empress a glance and asked hesitantly, “How about this consort’s request, Your Majesty?”
“We’ll discuss it once this Empress returns!” The empress rose to her feet. She couldn’t wait any longer.
“Farewell, Your Majesty!” The concubine candidates knelt down and sent her off.
Once outside the palace, Lin Haihai asked, “What does Consort Zhen want?”
“Her cousin used to work in the palace, but he resigned for personal matters. Consort Zhen hoped that I would ask Commander Zheng to keep the spot open for him so that he may return to his post after coming to his senses.”
Lin Haihai remembered what Zheng Feng had told her. “What’s her cousin’s name?”
The empress thought for a moment before the name came to her. “Zhou Junpeng!”
Lin Haihai smirked. Sure enough, it’s him!
Everyone was busy at the plantation. Lin Haihai looked over at what they had achieved in the past few months, and she felt a great sense of satisfaction. She wandered slowly through the plantation. In a moment of carelessness, she almost tripped and fell. A figure quickly rushed to her to catch her. Lin Haihai muttered her thanks with a smile, and was surprised to see that it was Lin Yuchen, the second young master of the Lin Family.
“Watch where you’re going, stupid girl!”
Warmth bloomed in Lin Haihai’s chest. He might have put on a long face, but his gaze showed his care for her. Their past grievances were finally resolved.
“It’s you, charcoal skin! I almost didn’t recognize you!”
It had only been a little more than two months, but Lin Yuchen had become a tanned, handsome man who bore some resemblance to Gu Tianle.
“What are you doing here?” It’s the middle of nowhere. A woman would be courting trouble by coming!
“I came to check if you were slacking off!” Lin Haihai said. “Since you’ve been pretty diligent, I’ll forget about the slavery contract. You should return home!”
At the end of the day, he was a scion who had lived a life of luxury. If he worked himself this hard for any longer, their mother would be aching for him.
“Men should honor their promises. I’m not going, or you’ll laugh at me!” Lin Yuchen scowled. He had finally found something he enjoyed. Why would he leave?
Lin Haihai shrugged. “Work hard then, Second Brother!”
She left after that, leaving Lin Yuchen staring after her. Second Brother? Doesn’t she hate me? His cold expression belied the warmth rising in his heart.
“Master, Your Majesty, here you are!” Flute was passing by with a hoe. He went up to Lin Haihai to greet her when he saw her.
“That’s right,” the empress said with a faint smile. “We happen to have the time to check on you today!”
“Alright, let’s sit down and talk!” Flute sat down on the grass, and the empress and Lin Haihai followed suit. Status and titles didn’t matter at all here.
“You must’ve been busy!” Lin Haihai said caringly.
“It’s fine. It’s hard work, but we’ve had it much worse before. I heard that there’s still a shortage of medicines, though, and it makes me worried.” Flute rubbed at his face. Autumn wind left their skin dry. They had been working hard without seeing obvious results, which would naturally make anyone agitated.
“That’s why I came!” Lin Haihai said. “We plan to get some herbs from Chen, and I would like the twelve of you to be in charge of transportation along with a group of soldiers. What do you think?”
“Has Chen agreed to the deal?” Flute asked hurriedly.
“There shouldn’t be a problem with our Empress here!” Lin Haihai turned to her with a questioning look.
“Father will agree to it unless something drastic happens,” promised the empress.
“That’ll be great!” Flute said openly. “The twelve of us will be more than willing to serve Master!”
“I feel sorry for dragging you into this, though.” Lin Haihai was conflicted. They had retired to a peaceful life, away from the trouble of the mundane world.
“We have no regrets as long as it’s for a just cause and for the people!” That was what they had learned from Lin Haihai. She was their role model!
“Good men!” the empress praised. “Your followers are all wise people who serve the greater good, Xiao’hai!”
“And I’m proud of them!” Lin Haihai smiled in satisfaction.
“Your Majesty is too kind. Men must pick their battles and hold onto their principles. I’m simply doing what I should do. Everyone has their duty when the nation’s existence is threatened. How can I possibly sit by and do nothing when I’m able to do something?”
Again, it was something Lin Haihai had taught him.
The empress looked at him with appreciation. “Then you should make your preparations. You’ll be setting out in two days!”
“Alright, I’ll tell the boys!” Flute rose to his feet, his eyes burning with passion.
The empress stayed at the plantation, while Lin Haihai would return to the hospital. After bidding farewell, Lin Haihai went straight down the mountain. She could see that all the medicinal herbs had been harvested by her disciples, leaving only stems. She sighed. When will this crisis pass?
She wandered around the marketplace. She was hungry, but she didn’t want to have anything. When she went past the River View Tavern, she was reminded of the vegetable dishes she had with Zhou Junpeng last time. Suddenly, she wanted to have them again.
Just when she was about to enter though, she remembered how expensive the food was. It was such a waste to spend so much money on a meal. She turned to leave.
“Why didn’t you go in?” asked a captivating voice. Lin Haihai looked over her shoulder to find Nangong Zixuan behind her.
Nangong Zixuan had just returned to his establishment and found Lin Haihai hesitating at the door. When she was about to leave, he called out to stop her.
“I want to have a meal here, but it’s too expensive,” Lin Haihai said with a smile. “I was hesitating, and I just decided to not eat here.”
“Our food is expensive for a reason!” Nangong Zixuan said seriously.
“I know, but I don’t want to spend so much on a single meal. You’re free to mock me if you want!” Lin Haihai had run into him a few times the past month. Although they weren’t exactly familiar with each other, they were able to share a few words. He still held some prejudices against her, but he maintained this rapport with her out of curiosity.
“Linhai Hospital must be earning tens of thousands of gold every day. You can afford a meal here.” His voice was dripping with sarcasm. “What’s a dozen silvers to you?”
“Forget it. I’ve decided not to eat here!”
After some deliberation, Lin Haihai made up her mind. She would return to the hospital to have Qing Feng’s soup noodle instead.
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