Lady Wen only realized that the empress and Lin Haihai were with the empress dowager as well when she arrived. She greeted them in order. Since she had been staying in the imperial harem, she didn’t know that Lin Haihai was no longer the sixth princess consort, and she still addressed her as such. Lin Haihai nodded at her with a faint smile.
“Have a seat!” the empress dowager said with a smile. She couldn’t yet sit up, so the dining table was placed by her bed with Lihua serving her food.
Lady Wen took a look to see the spot next to the emperor empty. The empress was sitting on his right, while Lin Haihai was beside the empress dowager. After a moment of hesitation, she walked up to them and took the seat next to the emperor.
The empress dowager smiled. “It’s said that you’re a proper, educated woman, and it turns out to be true!”
Lady Wen kept her expression schooled and said in a soft voice, “You’re too kind, Your Majesty. Those are exaggerations that shouldn’t be taken to heart!”
“This Empress Dowager meant my compliments. You must devote yourself to supporting the empress in managing the imperial harem from now on in order to shoulder this Empress Dowager’s concern. Do you understand?”
“This lowly concubine dares not dream of it!” Lady Wen said nervously.
“The empress told me about your good virtues and said that she would like to become sworn sisters with you. You shall make an oath with your blood with this Empress Dowager as the witness. Lady Wen will then be Imperial Consort Wen and move to Yunyi Palace. Do you agree, Your Majesty?”
The empress dowager turned to Yang Shaolun. She had talked to him beforehand about finding the empress a helper. Naturally he wouldn’t say no to that.
“This concubine thanks Your Majesty the Empress Dowager for your kindness!” Lady Wen might not be a greedy woman, but even she couldn’t help being overjoyed about becoming the imperial consort. She hurriedly knelt on the floor in gratitude.
The empress dowager’s eyes dimmed. “Rise. Aren’t you going to make a blood oath with Imperial Consort Wen, Empress Chen? Go right ahead!”
“Would Imperial Consort Wen like to be this Empress’s sister?” the empress asked with a faint smile.
“This consort couldn’t ask for anything better!” Imperial Consort Wen was visibly delighted.
Yang Shaolun’s heart trembled at Lin Haihai’s forced smile. He wanted nothing but to pull her into his arms and wipe away the sorrow in her eyes.
“Wonderful,” the empress said with feigned happiness. “This Empress has been exhausted managing the great imperial harem on my own. With Sister’s support, this Empress would have free time to help at the plantation, killing two birds with one stone!”
“Fetch us a bowl of water!” the empress dowager ordered.
Defu came up to them with a bowl of water readily. Lin Haihai blanched, her eyes fixed on Yang Shaolun. Yang Shaolun gave her a warm smile that exhausted all his strength.
Lady Wen bit her finger open and dripped her blood into the bowl, which immediately disappeared into the water. The empress wasn’t going to put her blood inside, of course. When the bowl was served to her, a palace maid rushed in and hurriedly reported with a bow, “Your Majesty the Empress, the princess has a stomachache and has been throwing a tantrum! Please go check on her!”
The empress shot to her feet and said to Imperial Consort Wen, “This Empress will only take a moment, Sister. Please come with me, Xiao’hai!”
Lin Haihai rose to her feet and stared at Yang Shaolun, who gave her a gentle nod. She didn’t notice that he hadn’t said a word tonight. In fact, he had been unable to utter a word with his throat tight. His heart was so cold and hurt so much. The woman he loved had been going out of her way to prevent him from getting hurt, willingly suffering both physically and mentally in the process. And yet there was nothing he could do but to watch. There was no greater cruelty in the world!
Lady Wen hurriedly stood up to see the empress off. The empress dowager ordered, “Put the bowl away until the empress returns, Defu!”
Lin Haihai almost collapsed to the floor when she got out of the door. The empress hurriedly caught her. She pressed her palm into her chest. It hurt, it hurt so much!
The two of them returned after a while. Defu emerged with another bowl for the empress to drop her blood into. Then the empress and Imperial Consort Wen drank the water together.
After the meal, the empress dowager sent the imperial consort away. Then she told the empress, “Please stay to chat with me, Empress. Give the couple some time alone!”
The empress smiled. “As you wish. You should go with her, Your Majesty.”
“This son will be taking my leave, Imperial Mother.”
“I’m going as well!”
Yang Shaolun and Lin Haihai stood up at the same time. He caught her hand in his and slowly walked out of the room. As soon as they left, the smile on the two women’s faces crumbled. The empress dowager grabbed the empress’s hand and said, “This Empress Dowager’s heart feels empty, Empress...”
“You must be strong, Imperial Mother!” The empress’s eyes turned red. “Xiao’hai insists on giving him the pill herself, most likely to force herself to face the reality. She has been so strong. We must support her!”
“What will happen in the future? Will this Empress Dowager lose Xiao’hai?” The empress dowager sobbed. “Then this Empress Dowager will rather die!”
No one could be free of the influence of emotions. During the past months she had spent with Xiao’hai, they became closer than mother and daughter. She couldn’t bear losing her!
“This Empress doesn’t know for sure. Perhaps she will find a way back!” the empress said weakly. If there’s a way, she won’t be cutting off her ties here. His Majesty will forget about her from now on! It’s clear that there’s no way for her to return!
“Would there really be a way?” the empress dowager asked with hopeful eyes.
“Nothing is certain in this world,” the empress reassured the empress dowager for her own sake as well. “Remember the emperor’s ring? No one had been able to find it, but it ended up on Xiao’hai’s finger. That’s fate, isn’t it?”
A hopeful glint ignited in the empress dowager’s eyes. “That’s right. They’re fated to be together. This Empress Dowager remembers our forefather saying the ring was meant for Shao’er’s bride. Their relationship was predestined and blessed by our ancestors!”
The empress was still wallowing in depression, but she held onto the same hope.
“Sorry for what you have to go through, Empress,” the empress dowager said apologetically. “Shao’er hasn’t been paying attention to you!”
“This Empress is glad and not at all unhappy, Imperial Mother.” Realizing that she had been acting too generously, she added, “This Empress sees Xiao’hai as my own sister!”
“This maid will help you up to take a short walk, Your Majesty!” Lihua’s chest tightened. She knew the emperor had actually found out about everything, but had been playing ignorant!
Lin Haihai rested her head on Yang Shaolun’s shoulder. The two sat on a wooden bench in the Imperial Garden. The chilly wind brought colorful leaves into the air.
“Are you cold?” Yang Shaolun asked. Moonlight gently washed over the two of them. Lin Haihai’s pale lips trembled a little. Yang Shaolun held her in his arms, caressing her belly.
“You’re warm,” Lin Haihai said softly.
“We’ll continue to love each other forever, Xiao’hai!” Yang Shaolun swore.
Lin Haihai’s heart pounded as bitterness spread through her entire being. They wouldn’t. She would be the only one loving him in the future. She would be the only one holding onto their promise to each other.
Still, she had to say, “I know. We’ll love each other forever!”
I have him now, but what about the next moment?
“Ah, what are we going to name our child?” Lin Haihai asked. She wanted to come up with a name when he still remembered the child as theirs.
“Xi’an for either a boy or a girl,” Yang Shaolun said seriously. “It’s a wish for all of us in the family to be safe and sound!”
“A wish for the family to be safe and sound,” Lin Haihai murmured. Oh she sure hoped so. She snuggled closer to Yang Shaolun with a smile. All her smiles tonight had been nothing but pretense. “Do you want a boy or a girl?”
“Doesn’t matter. As long as you are the mother, I’ll love the child!”
He didn’t like the child at all. She had to endure tremendous pain every day for the child. Why would he like them?
“I want a boy who looks like you. He’ll be so handsome!” Lin Haihai stroked his face, memorizing his brows, eyes, lips, and the sharp angles.
Yang Shaolun closed his eyes, savoring the warmth of her fingertips. He then opened his eyes suddenly with a gaze so adoring that anyone would melt under it. He stared at Lin Haihai and said, “Promise me that you’ll do everything in your power to come back for me should we become separated. Don’t leave me on my own!”
Lin Haihai inspected his face to make sure that he hadn’t seen through her plan before smiling gently. “I’ll do my best to find you!”
And she meant it. She would gladly accept the reality if she managed to return while he hadn’t recovered his memory for her.
“Then I’ll rest easy.” Yang Shaolun smiled sadly. “I know nothing can keep us apart!”
The moon had taken cover behind the clouds, while the stars shone ever so brightly. Light from tens of thousands of years reached her eyes. The stars seemed so close, but they were so far away. It was the same for them. They were close but actually worlds apart!
Lin Haihai fell asleep gradually. Yang Shaolun’s heart clenched as he looked at the sadness furrowing her brows. If he wasn’t mistaken, she would give him the water tampered with the Forgetness Pill tomorrow morning. It was only natural that her heart would be torn asunder tonight.
He carried her back to his room. He didn’t sleep that night. She had fallen asleep only because he had put sleeping powder on her clothes, which would put her to sleep without hurting her.
He rose to replace the pill in her clothes before tossing the real one into the brazier.
He got up at dawn to attend the morning meeting. Lin Haihai woke up then and said to him, “I’m not going anywhere today. I’ll be waiting here for you. Would you come back early after the meeting?”
He nodded and gave her a gentle parting smile.
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