The group walked slowly toward the inn. Chilling autumn wind swept through their fingers, taking away what little warmth and humidity there was. It then swept through the East Street and rustled the bamboo at its end, the sound breaking the silence and instilling in the group a sense of apprehension. It was as if terror and tragedy awaited them at the end of their unknown future.
Suddenly, the wind stopped. The fallen leaves dancing in the sky seemed to have disappeared altogether. Lin Haihai looked at the emerging figures, her heart bitter and sad. “I’ve been looking for you,” she said quietly. “Zheng Feng, go back with Wangchen and Suqiu!”
Zheng Feng looked at the woman of the pair and was about to say something when Lin Haihai snapped, “Go!”
Expression darkened, Zheng Feng told Wangchen and Suqiu, “Come. Let’s return to the inn!”
“Why are you looking for me?” The woman’s expression was faint. Her pristine white clothes fluttered softly even though there was no wind.
“Is there a pill that will make whoever consumes it forget the person they love?” Lin Haihai asked, her eyes glinting with grim determination.
The woman smiled coolly, her eyes matching her smile. “There is. Are you sure you want it?”
“I’m sure!” Lin Haihai responded weakly. I am sure, I am absolutely certain!
“It’s best not to resort to this unless absolutely necessary. He’ll forget about you forever once he consumes it. All the memories you’ve accumulated together will be forgotten. You’ve been warned!” The woman took out an unassuming red pill that looked like a simple vitamin. With a flick of her wrist, she sent it flying toward Lin Haihai. Lin Haihai caught it and thanked her.
The woman turned around. Waiting a few steps behind her was a man with a smile as warm as the autumn sun, seemingly capable of driving away all gloom and shadow.
Lin Haihai watched the pair walk away bitterly. Scarecrow’s hand remained on Passerby’s shoulder, never letting her go.
Lin Haihai had dreamed of such a future, but it was too much for her to ask for!
Zheng Feng had left on his own to get drunk in a tavern. Lin Haihai asked Wangchen to look for him when she didn’t see him upon returning to the inn. Wangchen swallowed her words and eventually did as she said without saying anything.
Lin Haihai put away the pill. Suqiu had gone home for the day. They would meet up tomorrow. She stayed in the room, staring into the distance. The autumn sun streamed in from the open window and cast a gentle light on her fair face. The serenity was interrupted when Zheng Feng barged in reeking of alcohol. Lin Haihai frowned at him, irritated. It was unbecoming of him to get drunk just because she had been a little harsh.
Before Lin Haihai could say anything, Wangchen rushed in and grabbed Zheng Feng with a sorrowful look on her face. “If you say it, there will be no turning back for us. Are you sure that’s what you want?”
Zheng Feng was stunned. His heart spasmed at the pain on Wangchen’s face. Noting their exchange, Lin Haihai asked, “What’s going on?”
Zheng Feng peered at Lin Haihai with conflicted emotions. He knew something had happened to her recently. She never talked about the reason why she suffered great pain every day. She never told them about any of her problems so that they could help, but instead shouldered everything on her own.
This time, she had only taken them with her to reassure the emperor! That made Zheng Feng mad; furious, even. He was furious that she didn’t trust them. That she would make decisions without counseling them. That she held the misguided belief that she knew better. Didn’t she know that the less she told them, the more they were worried about her?
“What’s going on?” Lin Haihai asked in a softer voice, her brows furrowed.
Zheng Feng felt the sudden urge to retaliate. With an icy gaze fixed on Lin Haihai, he said, “Nothing. It’s none of your business!”
With that, he turned to leave. Wangchen only had to take a look at Lin Haihai to figure out what Zheng Feng was trying to do. He wanted Lin Haihai to know how hurtful she had been. The stunned look on Lin Haihai’s face made Wangchen feel a sympathetic pang. She knew Lin Haihai had kept her lips sealed because there was nothing they could do to help.
She must be exhausted, facing so many problems on her own, and yet she keeps running herself to the ground for those around her. Has she ever lived for herself for even a moment?
Lin Haihai sat down on a chair weakly. She understood Zheng Feng’s unusual action. She was moved, but also saddened. Yang Shaolun wasn’t the only one she would be separated from. She would have to leave behind everyone she had gotten to know here. She had gotten used to their concern and care. How was she going to live without them?
Wangchen sighed. She was about to go find Zheng Feng when Lin Haihai called out to her, “Let me have a talk with him, Wangchen!”
Wangchen lowered her head silently and nodded.
Zheng Feng had rushed to the riverside in a fit of anger. He grabbed a pebble from the ground and threw it at the clear river, scattering the fish. Lin Haihai quietly approached him and said in a soft voice, “I’m sorry, Zheng Feng!”
Zheng Feng turned to her to meet her gloomy gaze. Her eyes were brimming with tears, and she bit her bottom lip in worry. Zheng Feng’s heart clenched. The torture she underwent had pushed him to the edge. He was at his limit, seeing her twisting and turning in pain. He wanted nothing but to take her place, but she never answered when he asked her what was going on. Instead, she kept everything bottled up, pushed to the bottom of her heart. She didn’t understand how painful it was for them to witness everything.
“What’s going on? Won’t you tell me?” Zheng Feng stared at her and pleaded. He wanted an answer from her. It was better to know the ugly truth than to speculate wildly.
Lin Haihai smiled wistfully and said, “I didn’t want to hide it from you, but I thought it would do nothing but burden you if I tell the truth. It’s been troubling me for a while. I don’t want to make the two of you worry for me!”
“We’ll worry even more if you leave us guessing!” Zheng Feng said, his eyes fixed on her.
Lin Haihai sat down on the grass-cushioned ground and hugged her knees to her chest, staring at the green beneath her feet. The shoots showed a stubborn vitality. Although they were yellowed and aged, they would come back anew in the next spring. Chest tight, Lin Haihai told Zheng Feng everything, including where she had come from and what would happen, leaving nothing unsaid.
Zheng Feng was stunned. Then there was the sound of things hitting the ground. The two of them turned to find that Wangchen had dropped the fruit in her hands. Face covered in tears, Wangchen gave Lin Haihai an indiscernible look before running away.
Lin Haihai rushed to catch up with her and grabbed her sleeve. Wangchen wiped away her tears and said, “There must be a way! I’m not letting you go!” She sounded like a child who didn’t want her parents to abandon her!
“Silly girl, you still have Zheng Feng after I’m gone!” Lin Haihai’s voice trembled, on the verge of tears. She turned to Zheng Feng and said, “Wangchen is my disciple. You must take care of her in the future. Don’t let me worry about her!”
“I will!” Zheng Feng promised even though his face was pale.
Lin Haihai smiled, relieved. She had to make sure to tie up all the loose ends before she departed.
Wangchen’s eyes shifted from Zheng Feng to Lin Haihai, her heart feeling suddenly empty. Zheng Feng would be with her, but he couldn’t replace Lin Haihai. Lin Haihai had a special place in her heart!
The next day, Wen Xuan left with Lin Haihai’s group after packing some clothes. Qiujing had naturally joined them as well. Lin Haihai didn’t comment on that. It was a matter between the sisters. She was in no place to intervene.
During the trip, Lin Haihai was almost always silent. She often held the red pill in her hand. She had been happy, but she had to let go. Every day, she would be in great pain for two hours. Still, it didn’t compare to the constant pain her heart was in, which threatened to tear her to pieces!
Since they had taken two additional passengers, they travelled completely by horse carriage on their way back to the capital. Zheng Feng often threw brooding glances at Lin Haihai. There were a million things he would like to say, but he knew he must not voice them!
Love begot pain.
The empress leaned against the door, waiting patiently. All her past memories with the man she loved flashed through her mind. Their joy, intimacy, passion, sorrow, pain, separation, life and death. She recalled so clearly the man with adoring eyes, faint smile, and a personality as warm as the sun. Are you truly still alive, Wenxuan?
Yang Shaolun ordered the palace maids to leave the empress alone before walking up to her. Ever since Lin Haihai moved to the palace, he had been visiting the An’ning Palace after morning meetings under the guise of visiting the empress. Even after Lin Haihai had left, he couldn’t stop himself from making his way here, yearning for her.
He felt a sympathetic pang in his heart when he saw the wistful and desperate look on the empress’ face. For the past decade, she had dutifully managed the harem. Imperial Consort Li had brought her a lot of trouble and difficulties with her overbearing behavior, which he never paid much attention to.
She had been tending to Imperial Mother’s everyday life as well and personally taking care of Imperial Mother in sickness and pain. He had always envied the empress for the love she had. It was a happy thing to have someone you love so much that it hurt. He understood her, and he respected her.
“Don’t worry. Xiao’hai will arrive soon!” Yang Shaolun reassured her in a low voice, his handsome face arranged into a look of sympathy.
The empress hurriedly turned to bow to him. “Greetings, Your Majesty!”
She was grateful to Yang Shaolun. It was unimaginable that an emperor, the supreme ruler of a nation, would tolerate his empress being in love with another man. In order to preserve her reputation, he had even treated Chuting like she was his own daughter. Moreover, he had been visiting her two to three times every month during the past decade to maintain her foothold in the palace without asking her to do anything. The accommodation he showed her was enough for her to want to repay him.
“This Emperor is feeling impatient as well. It’s been days since I last saw her!” Yang Shaolun sat down on a chair and thought about the woman who smiled with both her lips and eyes. A faint smile bloomed on his face.
“Your Majesty must really love Xiao’hai!” The empress gave him a rueful look, knowing what would happen in the future. She couldn’t imagine how heartbroken the man would be once Lin Haihai was no longer around.
“I love her. I believe in the same way you love Wen Xuan. It’ll never fade even after we part for ten or a hundred years!” Yang Shaolun admitted readily. He had always been open about his love.
The empress almost cried out in pain. What if it was a millennium? She kept it to herself. The excruciating pain was still fresh on her mind, and she didn’t want anyone to suffer like she had, especially not the emperor and Lin Haihai. They were good people, and they didn’t deserve the torture!
“This Empress wishes for Your Majesty and Xiao’hai to be together forever!” the empress said with difficulty, but a faint smile remained on her face. It turned out it was easy to smile when you wanted to cry.
“We will. This Emperor will love her forever.” Yang Shaolun accepted her blessing with a warm smile. He was content as long as he had Lin Haihai in his life.
Their conversation was interrupted when Xiao Yuan rushed in. “In response to Your Majesty, Physician Lin and the others have arrived at the capital. Should we welcome them?”
“No need. Gather a group of experts and have them dress plainly to accompany this Emperor. Do not attract any attention!” Yang Shaolun was cautious. Prince Pingnan had been keeping a low profile and refraining from making a move. Yang Shaolun must be careful as well. He would not do anything reckless while his enemy remained inactive. It bothered him that the messengers they sent to Rong still hadn’t returned with any good news.
“This Empress wants to go with you!” She shot to her feet, her eyes burning with want.
Yang Shaolun thought for a moment. “Then you should change into peasant clothes first. This Emperor will take you with me!”
He understood her feelings. Such powerful yearning could drive anyone mad!
The empress turned around to let her tears fall. You’re finally here, Wen Xuan!
As soon as Yang Shaolun left the entrance of the palace, he found Lin Haihai’s group approaching in a horse carriage. Yang Shaolun got off the vehicle to stare at Lin Haihai, watching as she returned from a long trip. Yearning flooded his heart, and he rushed to embrace her. Lin Haihai was just as overwhelmed. They had been apart for only ten days, and yet it was already painful enough. What if they couldn’t see each other again in their lifetime? How should they cope?
The empress stood against the wind and stared at the gentle-looking man from her memory, but she saw only aloofness and numbness in his eyes rather than joy. His heart sank deep into a freezing pit, the warmth of their reunion long evaporated. She had remained unchanged for the past ten years, but he had moved on!
Qiujing got off the horse carriage and went up to the empress. “Sister!”
Suqiu emerged later. Seeing Qiujing standing before the empress, she bowed to greet the empress before saying, “Teacher’s wife, would you like to come with us or find another place to stay?”
The way she was addressed banished the empress to hell. She felt cold, so cold. Her ten years of waiting in isolation turned out to be a joke! A complete farce!
She turned away, exhausted both physically and mentally. The road seemed unsteady under her feet. She clenched her teeth and told herself to be strong. She had to stay strong for Chuting. I’ve gotten used to living without him, haven’t I? It’s fine! I’ll be fine!
“Qiuyang!” Lin Haihai stopped her. Scanning around, there were too many unwanted eyes and ears here. “Let’s go back to the palace first!”
Wen Xuan watched the empress’s eyes go from ecstatic to despairing, his heart throbbing painfully. Has Qiujing really been lying to me? Qiuyang has never received any of my letters? He turned to Qiujing, and she met his eyes seemingly without anything to hide. He frowned. Who among them was lying?Previous Chapter Next Chapter