Guihua came knocking before dawn fully broke. Lin Haihai jumped reflexively. Time to open the hospital! She quickly got changed and opened the door. Guihua was waiting outside for her, wearing red and an agreeable smile. Lin Haihai slapped herself on the forehead. This is the Prince Residence!
“Why haven’t you changed, Consort Lin?” Guihua was surprised to see Lin Haihai dressed in plain clothing.
“Oh, I forgot where I am. Do I have to get changed now? The sun hasn’t come out yet!” Lin Haihai had only just fallen asleep. She was still a little tired.
“It’s already time. Her Majesty the Empress Dowager and His Majesty the Emperor are going to be here soon. Consort Lin has to first pay tribute to the heavens. Then you are to light an incense at the State Protection Temple. Once you return, it’ll be time for the wedding!”
“What? I’m not the one getting married. Why must I do this?” That was enough to clear Lin Haihai’s head. What does that have to do with me? Why can’t I just have a cup of tea and give out an envelope, and be done with it?
“You’re the first consort, and those are your responsibilities!” Guihua responded with a full smile. “It’s a great honor to be entrusted with such tasks. Consort Lin shouldn’t feel troubled!”
“Honor?” Lin Haihai lay bonelessly on the table and burrowed her head into the crook of her arms. “Thanks but no thanks! You can do it for me, Guihua!”
“That won’t do!” Guihua jumped. “It’ll be the utmost disrespect for this maid to take your place. I’d sooner die! Please stop teasing me, Consort Lin!”
Lin Haihai gave her a look before rummaging around for the court attire. Then she remembered it was with Chuntao. Shamelessly, she said, “See, it’s not that I don’t want to go! My robe isn’t here yet. Should we send someone else in my stead?”
Guihua shot her a withering glare and was about to rush out to retrieve her robe when Chuntao walked in, carrying the said robe with both hands. “You came at just the right time, Chuntao,” Guihua said with a smile. “I was about to get the robe from you. Please get changed, Consort Lin!”
Lin Haihai took it and hid behind the screen, dismissing Guihua with a gesture when the maid intended to follow her in. Guihua could only give her her privacy. Anyone can put on clothes! Lin Haihai thought.
The two maids waited. And waited. And waited. Lin Haihai was still behind the screen. All they could hear was her low curses.
“Are you done, Consort Lin?” Guihua was getting impatient. Dawn had illuminated the bottom half of the sky. The Empress Dowager would soon arrive!
“Just give me another moment!” Lin Haihai said hoarsely. Guihua waited, and finally, Lin Haihai emerged.
“My dear consort, you’ve finally… Hahahaha!”
Both maids burst into sudden laughter, making Lin Haihai jump. She looked at herself, then at the two maids, embarrassed and irritated. She stomped her way behind the screen and yelled, “Dress me, Guihua!”
“What’s going on?” Yang Hanlun was here to check on Lin Haihai. When he heard her angry growl, and the two maids were laughing, his expression darkened. Were the servants bullying her?
“Your Highness!” The two maids hurriedly bowed to him.
Meanwhile, Lin Haihai struggled to adjust her robe behind the screen, but still, it didn’t settle on her right. It stayed asymmetrical. How is this supposed to be put on?! Gah, didn’t Guihua put it on me easily last night? “Stay outside, Yang Hanlun! Guihua, come here!”
Guihua rushed to Lin Haihai while a befuddled Yang Hanlun asked, “What’s going on?”
Chuntao chuckled. “Consort Lin doesn’t know how to put on her court attire!”
Yang Hanlun laughed after a brief pause.
“Don’t yank it, Consort Lin. See, there’s a hole here. Just put the waistband through it and wrap it around your waist. Then you put on the gilded silk. There!” Guihua made quick work of the court attire with nimble hands.
Lin Haihai sighed. “Should’ve left this to you. I’m never putting this damn thing on again!”
“You shouldn’t say that,” Guihua reprimanded. “This is your court attire, Consort Lin. It’s a symbol of your status. Only the first consorts have one!”
“Oh?” Lin Haihai asked nonchalantly, but she was all ears. “Then it must be expensive.”
“Of course it is. It’s made of gambiered canton silk, exclusive to the imperial family. It’s cost is measured by gold!” Guihua talked up the court attire so that Lin Haihai wouldn’t have to be convinced to wear it again.
Lin Haihai’s eyes were immediately covered by the dollar signs. “Really? How much would I get if I sell it?”
“Sell it?!” Yang Hanlun spoke up in anger. He couldn’t not say anything. Does she really hate being my consort so much that she wants to sell her court attire? Or is it her greed talking?
Lin Haihai had forgotten about Yang Hanlun’s presence. Hurriedly, she explained, “No, of course not. I’m just asking. Just asking!”
A bad lie revealed the truth as clearly as outright admittance. Yang Hanlun shook his head in exasperation. If she dared sell her court attire, he wouldn’t let her off the hook easily!
Lin Haihai walked slowly as she emerged. The robe was so long that it dragged on the floor as she moved. She had to take her steps carefully. Yang Hanlun’s eyes lit up. The red court attire cast a pink glow on her face. She looked as vibrant as peach blossoms. Her lips were red and her eyebrows dark without any makeup. Her skin was so fair that it seemed as if one could break it by blowing air on it. However, the furrowed brows and the pout made her displeasure clear.
“How am I going to walk like this?” Lin Haihai gave Yang Hanlun a helpless look, who hadn’t yet recovered from the shock of seeing such a beauty. He didn’t expect her to be this stunning after some dressing up. He didn’t want his elder brother to see her like this.
“Walk slowly, and you’ll be fine, Consort Lin! Come have a seat. This maid will comb your hair for you!” Guihua said with a smile, and Chuntao jogged up to help her.
“I’ve done my hair already, look!” She pointed at the simple bun she’d put her hair into.
Yang Hanlun laughed. “That looks like a nest of weeds. No thoughts put into it! Sit down and let Guihua work on your hair!”
“Then make it quick, Guihua! And don’t put a lot of stuff in my hair. Wait, is whatever you put in my hair going to be mine?” Lin Haihai had to ask.
“What are you talking about, Consort Lin?” Guihua answered as she worked. “All the accessories belong to you!”
“Did you hide them from me, Yang Hanlun?” Lin Haihai huffed. They were hers. How could he hide them from her?
“They were gifts from Imperial Mother. Didn’t you take some of them away?” Yang Hanlun remembered what she had done.
Lin Haihai opened the jewelry box to find it filled to the brim with expensive accessories. Jade, agate, pearls, and more gems than she could name. It’s the right decision to return here! Lin Haihai thought happily. I’ve hit the jackpot!
“I took away only a few pieces. I was thinking why Mother would be so stingy and give me so few accessories. Turns out you’ve been hiding them from me!” Lin Haihai took out a small and delicate jade ring and put it on her ring finger. It fit perfectly. So pretty!
Yang Hanlun took a look at the ring and said in a hardened, indiscernible tone, “Take it off!”
“Why? It’s beautiful!” Lin Haihai splayed her hand with the delicate jade ring on her fair finger. It was indeed beautiful. Lin Haihai didn’t want to take it off. “Why wouldn’t you let me put it on? It’s not yours! You aren’t looking to take my accessories away, are you?!”
Alarmed, Lin Haihai held the jewelry box in her arms.
“I don’t want any of your stuff, but the ring...” Yang Hanlun couldn’t continue.
Lin Haihai looked at him strangely. Fine, it’s just a ring! I don’t need it. She was going to take it off, but it stuck to her finger and refused to budge. Stubbornly, Lin Haihai put all her force into pulling the ring, but still, it resisted her effort.
Yang Hanlun took her hand and tried the ring. It moved slightly. It should’ve come off easily. He tried to rotate the ring. It moved as well. However, when he tried to pull it off, it stuck to Lin Haihai’s finger like it was spelled to stay with her.
“Forget it. Just leave it on. It is quite beautiful!” Yang Hanlun’s expression was still a little strange.
Lin Haihai sighed. “So be it then. But then I won’t be able to sell it!”
Guihua and Chuntao snickered. Yang Hanlun shook his head in resignation, tasting bitterness when his gaze landed on the ring. How did it end up here? He remembered he lost the ring when he was messing around as a kid. Imperial Mother gave him a gigantic scolding for that. She had said that the ring was for Imperial Elder Brother to give to his future empress. Imperial Elder Brother wasn’t mad at him. He said simply, “It’ll be found when the time is right!” And here it was, the ring, in Lin Haihai’s jewelry box. Is it fate? he wondered.
“You’re good, Guihua!” Lin Haihai looked at her reflection in the mirror. Her hair was put into an elegant towering bun with a jade hairpin and a golden dangling ornament. Simple, but unique. Lin Haihai tilted her head around to check her hairdo. She couldn’t be happier with it!
“This servant greets Your Highness and Consort Lin! Her Majesty the Empress Dowager, His Majesty the Emperor, and Her Majesty the Empress have arrived!” The steward rushed to announce the arrival of their honored guests. Lin Haihai beamed. Here came the empress. She would like to show the empress her new look. When all was said and done, Lin Haihai was a woman, and she loved being beautiful.
“Why haven’t you gotten changed, Yang Hanlun?” Lin Haihai walked carefully with Guihua staying close by her side. Just in case she tripped and fell!
“His Highness will only get changed before he goes to escort his bride!” Guihua explained with a smile. That’s unfair! Ling Haihai thought. She grumbled, “Why should I put this on so early then? I’m not the one getting married!” It took an entire morning for her to get ready. People would’ve assumed she was the bride here!
Yang Hanlun was filled with anticipation for the wedding. He’d been dreaming of this moment for more than ten years, and it was finally coming true! If Lin Haihai hadn’t barged into his life, he would’ve been so happy that his heart soared into heavens, but alas, Lin Haihai had come and taken away his heart. Nothing could be the same ever again.
Yang Shaolun watched as Lin Haihai emerged with his younger brother. She looked stunning in her red court attire, and her smile was infectious. Is she really happy? Or is it a facade? The emperor couldn’t tell. He quietly watched as she took small steps toward him, holding herself with magnanimous grace.
The empress bit back a smile. She must be afraid of tripping herself. The court attire ran long. If she quickened her steps, she would step onto the hem of her dress and fall. Then it would take even longer for her newly injured face to heal.
Seeing Yang Shaolun’s gaze made Lin Haihai’s heart pound. Just like any other girl, she couldn’t help the butterflies in her stomach when she dressed herself up and saw the person she loved. Bashfully, she lowered her head, but she had quickened her steps. The empress was about to warn her when she stepped onto the hem of her dress and lost her balance.
Yang Shaolun rushed to her and caught her before she fell. Lin Haihai put her hands on his chest to steady herself, so embarrassed that she wanted to bury herself in the ground. Yang Shaolun stared at her, his gaze brimming with adoration, but it didn’t last. He was about to let go when his eyes were caught by the ring on her finger. Why is it here, on her finger? Wasn’t it lost a long time ago?
Yang Hanlun walked up to Lin Haihai and grabbed her, his face impassive. Lin Haihai balled her hands into fists and avoided Yang Shaolun’s gaze. How embarrassing! She walked up to the empress dowager, who reprimanded her with a smile, “You should be old enough to watch your steps! Look at your face. You hurt yourself by tripping, didn’t you?”
Lin Haihai hugged the old woman to cover her embarrassment. “I’m happy to see you, Imperial Mother!”
The empress dowager patted her on the back and smiled. She was usually quite stern, but for some reason, she adored the young princess consort and readily accepted her inappropriate behavior. She especially loved it when Lin Haihai called her “mother”. It filled her with a warmth that belonged only to the mundane families.
“Imperial Mother, Imperial Elder Brother, Sister-in-Law, please come in!” Yang Hanlun gave Lin Haihai a look. She had already steadied herself. He had been ready to catch her when she fell as well, but Imperial Elder Brother was quicker. He must have been watching her very closely. Only then could he catch her as soon as she tripped.
“Empress, come here! I have things to ask you!” Lin Haihai said cheerfully. The empress bowed slightly to the empress dowager and the emperor before making her way to Lin Haihai. Guihua, who had been trailing behind Lin Haihai, stared at the emperor’s back in shock. It’s him! He’s the emperor?!
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