Lin Haihai hesitated. She wanted to say yes, but she worried that she would lose her calm.
“Consort Lin couldn’t make it, but Sir Xiao is welcomed to the Prince Residence as a guest when you’re free.” Guihua turned down the invitation for Lin Haihai. She had a feeling that the two men had ulterior motives. The man in white, especially, had been staring at the princess consort. It would be better not to invite trouble.
She grabbed Lin Haihai and urged her to go, but Lin Haihai dragged her laden feet and turned around to chance a glance at Yang Shaolun. He had turned to look at her as well with the pain he hadn’t been able to conceal still in his eyes. That struck her heart like a thunderbolt, and her misty eyes made it difficult for her to even make out the man before her.
“We should go, Consort Lin!” Even the densest minds would have figured out what was going on. It dawned on Guihua that Consort Lin must have feelings for the man as well. Otherwise, she wouldn’t have seemed so pained at the prospect of departure.
Lin Haihai turned and walked slowly away. Yang Shaolun’s eyes dimmed. He took a deep breath, feeling the lingering pain in his heart. A smile tugged at his lips, but it was with such sadness that it made Xiao Yuan tear up. Yang Shaolun turned away too with wind rustling his collars and sleeves. His steps were reluctant as he walked away.
“Brother Yang!” The quiet call made him turn around. He saw her rushing to him with reckless abandon and throwing herself into his arms. She buried her face into his warm embrace. Breath hitched, he put his arms around her tightly, his heart shattering to pieces. His mind focused on only this moment, reason be damned.
Xiao Yuan looked at the couple, moved. His Majesty had been waiting for this moment for so long, but what would their future entail?
Guihua went weak in the knees. They were in public! Although it was late at night, there would still be passersby. How could the princess consort embrace the man so openly? What if the sixth prince saw them? She would be held responsible as well! Trembling, she went up to them and said, “Consort Lin, His Highness is going to return soon!”
Consort Lin. That was enough to banish the couple from heaven to hell. Lin Haihai pushed Yang Shaolun away and gave Guihua an awkward glance. Her maid was so terrified that all colors had drained from her face. Lin Haihai turned to Yang Shaolun, who returned her gaze with deep emotions in his eyes. It took her breath away. In a quiet voice, she said, “We met at the wrong time!” Then she whirled around and left with Guihua hurriedly trailing after her.
Yang Shaolun stood rooted to the spot, his eyes fixed on her parting figure until she disappeared into the dark. Even then he remained unmoving. The faint medicinal fragrance following her around lingered in his arms, and he could still recall the feel of her silky hair. He could recall every detail with such vivid clarity, but they met at the wrong time, the wrong time! That was the greatest tragedy. Not even the emperor could rewind time. However, he realized with resignation that he had fallen too hard to pull away from this inopportune love.
The evening wind whipped past Lin Haihai. She could no longer contain her tears. We met at the wrong time. She had put all her resigned sorrow into that single statement. Yang Shaolun was a husband and a father to his family, and the thousands of beauties in his harem were his wives. Where would she fit then? Moreover, she was the sixth princess consort. Everyone knew her as such. Although the truth was she had been divorced, she would always be his consort until he announced the divorce himself.
They had an agreement. He would keep their divorce a secret to preserve her reputation. It would be humiliating for her to have been divorced only days after getting married. She had in her possession the divorce paper. She might be able to just release it for all to see, but what would the sixth prince think? Would he resent his imperial elder brother for that? The ten thousand soldiers under his command was a timebomb! Perhaps we’re never meant to be, Brother Yang!
“Consort Lin, do you...” Guihua couldn’t help but voice her concerns, but she wasn’t sure how to finish that question.
“You never saw anything, Guihua. There’s nothing between us. Even if there was, it would all be in the past tonight. No, that’s not right. There has been nothing between us, and there never will be!”
She wiped her tears away and managed a smile, but Guihua didn’t miss the sadness in her eyes. Without a word, the maid nodded. Love can be so hurtful, she lamented, especially when you’ve fallen for the wrong person.
When they reached the North Court, Xiao Ju was putting Tang Tang to bed. Flute and Sword stood guard in the backyard. The Lin family had come uninvited a few times, but they drove them away.
Lin Haihai ordered the others to keep watch outside the door, while she entered the room herself. Li Meilian’s condition had visibly improved. She coughed a lot less and was currently staring into the distance on the bed. She turned to Lin Haihai with a conflicted look. She could feel life returning to her body the past few days. The young woman she had hated since forever had rescued her from the clutch of the reaper, and she had hurled such hateful words at her only two days ago.
Lin Haihai went up to the bed to check on Lin Meilian without thinking. Her patient had made great progress, and could be discharged in maybe a fortnight. She didn’t leave immediately after the checkup. She wanted to stay by herself for some time. Pulling a chair to take a seat, she stared outside the window at the sky. The darkness was boundless.
“You seem unhappy.” Li Meilian broke the silence. It wasn’t until she said those words that she realized how concerned her tone was. She turned away awkwardly, but there was warmth in her heart. She had never said anything but hurtful words to this young woman, but surprisingly, it felt right to ask after her, to care about her. She felt no lingering resentment.
Lin Haihai gave Li Meilian a hesitant look and swallowed her response. The woman wasn’t her mother. She couldn’t talk to her about matters of the heart.
Li Meilian didn’t press. A bout of coughing overtook her. She doubled over as she covered her mouth. Lin Haihai went up to her and soothed over her back until she stopped coughing. Li Meilian looked at Lin Haihai with her face flushed and said from the bottom of her heart, “I’m sorry, I’ve made you suffer! I was petty. I was… cough… selfish.”
Lin Haihai smiled faintly in response. “That’s all in the past. We should all let bygones be bygones.”
Li Meilian nodded, touched. She had always wanted a daughter, but her husband never spent nights with her after she gave birth to two sons. That was why she bore this hatred in her heart even after that woman died. The hatred was a double-edged sword. It cut those around her but also herself.
Lin Haihai didn’t leave until Li Meilian fell asleep. Flute and Sword could see the sorrow in her eyes, but Lin Haihai walked away before they could ask her anything.
Li Junyue was used to going to bed late. He wandered to the Carefree Tavern on his own. He’d been to the tavern with Xiao’hai. It was an establishment with class and reminded him of the modern times. He entered the tavern since he had nothing better to do.
There were only a few patrons under the dim light of the tavern. The two men sitting by the window were familiar. Li Junyue approached them to take a closer look, and regretted it immediately. It was the emperor and Xiao Yuan.
“You may as well take a seat.” Yang Shaolun took a sip and threw him a glance. After a thoughtful pause, Li Junyue sat down without showing any hesitation.
Yang Shaolun poured him a cup of wine, which Li Junyue downed in one go.
“It’s potent. You’ll get drunk!” Yang Shaolun reminded him.
“It’s the Heart Wine. It won’t get you drunk as long as there's nothing troubling you. You’re the one who should watch how much you’re drinking.”
No sooner had Li Junyue made the response than the owner of the tavern turned to look at him.
“Heart Wine?” Yang Shaolun chuckled. “That’s a good name. However, it’s a ludicrous claim that one wouldn’t get drunk if they’re free of worry.”
“I’m telling the truth!” Li Junyue said seriously. What he didn’t understand was how the wine got here. It was an ancient brew he’d tried in India. The doctor with him told him about the Heart Wine, saying it would give a troubled drinker the answer they sought.
“What are you to her?” Yang Shaolun filled his cup and took another drink. His words were as bitter as the wine in the cup. He levelled his eyes on Li Junyue, looking for any minute changes in his expression.
“I’m the most important man in the Daxing Dynasty to her!” Li Junyue said with a taunting smile at his lips. It was obvious that this man couldn’t let go of Xiao’hai. His love might run deep, but he was the emperor. An emperor who had married a palace full of women. Xiao’hai would never settle for someone like him.
Yang Shaolun crushed the cup in his hand. White porcelain shards buried into his palm, and crimson blood gushed out, dripping to the table one drop at a time.
“Your Majesty, you’re torturing yourself!” Xiao Yuan’s heart clenched as he tore off a piece of his collar to bandage him.
Li Junyue was caught off guard by this display of love. He would be lying if he said it didn’t move him, but their identities… Li Junyue sighed, putting some of the medicinal powder he had on his person onto Yang Shaolun’s wounds.
Yang Shaolun was still staring at Li Junyue. His mind was muddled by the numerous cups of wine he’d drunk, and he couldn’t feel the pain in his hand. Instead, it was the stabbing pain in his heart that threatened to tear him apart. In a hoarse voice, he said, “Leave her. Stay far far away from her. Don’t ever show up before her.”
Li Junyue was stunned. Is he ordering me or begging me? He couldn’t bear to keep on this charade, so he slowly explained, “There’s no romantic love between us!” That was the best he could do. Anything else would only be lies with too many holes to be convincing. He couldn’t possibly tell the emperor that they were childhood friends from the future who ended up meeting again in the ancient times. The emperor would think he was having a laugh at his expense.
“Really?” Yang Shaolun’s eyes lit up.
The sudden ecstasy in his expression lasted only for a moment before it dimmed. What lay between them was never Li Junyue!
“Didn’t you say the wine would give the drinker an answer? Why didn’t it tell me anything even after I drank this much?” Yang Shaolun stared at the pristine white porcelain bottle. The red plum blossom drawn on it was as red as blood - like the blood coming from his broken heart.
“You know the answer already. There’s no use looking for any! You simply refuse to believe that this is it. You’re a man possessed!”
His words pierced Yang Shaolun’s heart like an arrow. He looked up with an impassive mask and asked, “Has she ever loved me?”
Lin Junyue paused and said, “I don’t know. But it’s not a matter of if she loves you or not!”
Yang Shaolun didn’t say another word. Li Junyue’s chest tightened when he looked at the man’s sculpted features. He really loves Xiao’hai, but where can this love go? Xiao’hai will never be able to stand living deep in the inner palace, among his numerous wives! The only way for them to be together is for the emperor to disband his harem or abdicate his throne, or they will never have a future.
Li Junyue sighed and bade them farewell before taking his leave. Outside help was possible for many matters, but not love. No one should ever interfere with matters of the heart. There were answers the emperor would have to come to on his own. But Xiao’hai, will you be able to forget a man who loves you so deeply? Li Junyue turned to look at the lone figure in the tavern. What a tragedy!Previous Chapter Next Chapter