Lin Haihai hadn’t allowed herself to see Yang Shaolun since that day. She kept herself busy on purpose. Li Junyue worriedly watched her as she ran around working like a spinning top. She had returned with her neck and hands covered in injuries, and she had bawled her eyes out. She refused to explain what had happened. She went back to her normal self after one night, but she became busier than before.
Lin Haihai entered Xiao Yuan’s ward. He was already able to sit up and eat. She said with a smile, “Your condition has improved quickly. It seems you’ll be able to be discharged very soon!”
“I have Physician Li to thank for saving me from the mouth of hell!” Xiao Yuan said weakly. His pale face had gained some color. He should be able to return to the palace in a week.
“You risked your life saving him. For that, I’m grateful, Xiao Yuan!” Lin Haihai’s heart clenched thinking about Yang Shaolun.
“It is the duty of us servants to protect His Majesty,” Xiao Yuan said seriously. “Why should you thank me? You don’t have to do that, Physician Lin!”
“Does he often run into such dangers?” Lin Haihai asked after some hesitation.
“Prince Pingnan would not give up on his ambition to replace His Majesty, and he sent out waves of assassins against the emperor over the years, all of whom were top experts of the martial art world. There had been many times where His Majesty was almost killed. Thankfully, he ended up safe and sound with the blessing of fortune. Now Prince Pingnan has grown increasingly influential and recruited many martial art experts. Moreover, he’s grown closer and closer to Rong. With the situation in Rong yet to be set in stone, Prince Pingnan will be able to capitalize on the chaos. Once a war breaks out, General Chen and his army will be too preoccupied with dealing with Rong to return to the capital to help. Then the only thing we can rely on to deal with him is the Sixth Prince’s army of a hundred thousand and His Majesty’s personal army of two hundred thousand.”
“Now I understand. The consequences will be dire if the prince and the emperor have a falling out, right?” Lin Haihai looked up at him and said with difficulty, her bright eyes gradually dimming.
“I’ll do everything I can to stop that from happening. What happened this time made me realize that I must not leave anything to chance. His Majesty is an insider, making it difficult for him to see the forest and not just the tree. Even if he can get a clear look of the situation, he won’t be able to give up on trying given how deeply he’s in love with you.”
Xiao Yuan was no longer the person who had accompanied the emperor when he ran into Lin Haihai and had invited her to the Carefree Tavern after noting his master’s sorrow. After escaping death, he knew he must not allow the emperor to take any more risks. If the brothers had a falling out, Prince Pingnan would have an opening. Even if the sixth prince didn’t join Prince Pingnan, the emperor would be in great danger as long as the sixth prince stood on the sideline.
“I get it, Xiao Yuan. I wouldn’t let that happen either. Don’t worry!” Lin Haihai said bitterly. The last of her hope was destroyed. There was no chance for her to be with him.
“Life has been hard on you and His Majesty,” Xiao Yuan sighed and said in a low voice.
Lin Haihai didn’t say anything. She tried her best to control her tears and turned to leave.
Li Junyue walked out of Wang Minghui’s ward and came to a brief stop when he saw Lin Haihai parting the curtains with red eyes. Lin Haihai hurriedly put on a smile and asked, “How’s Official Wang?”
“He’s awake, but disoriented,” Li Junyue said with frustration. “Official Luo was unable to get anything out of him when he visited yesterday. He said that if he couldn’t find out the truth, Official Liang Buoxien and the others would be executed!”
“That serious?” Lin Haihai was startled.
“That’s right. They said there’s a deadline. The men will be executed if they can’t figure out the truth by then!” Li Junyue recalled what Luo Kuangyuan and Chen Luoqing had said. That was about the gist of it.
Lin Haihai thought pensively. “I remember Official Luo saying that Official Wang is the key to the investigation, and he is an honest official. We must save him! I should use my spiritual energy to save him!”
“You mustn’t!” rejected Li Junyue. “Who knows what side effects there will be? If anything goes wrong, we’ll be in trouble!”
“I’ve saved Brother Yang with my spiritual energy and he turned out okay!”
Li Junyue still wanted to err on the side of caution. “Are you sure?”
“I’ll ask an expert!” With that, Lin Haihai rushed outside.
Before the lotus pond of the North Court, Baizi looked at Lin Haihai with a lazy look on his face. He should’ve been taking a nap right now. “What do you want?”
“Spiritual energy can be used to treat illnesses, can’t it?” Lin Haihai asked.
“Of course!” Baizi said proudly.
“Are there any side effects?”
“There are. Everytime you use your spiritual energy, you’ll lose your power for a few hours!”
“But I didn’t feel anything but some exhaustion after saving the emperor!” Lin Haihai voiced her confusion.
“You’re in love with each other, and your magnetic fields are aligned, so treating him didn’t hurt you,” Baizi analyzed in detail. “With the others, it will be different. Like the time you treated Little Xiang’s vision. You hadn’t learned to control your spiritual energy at the time, and more importantly, your magnetic fields clashed with one another. Thankfully, the clash wasn’t serious, so you ended up feeling only a little weak.”
“Now I get it!” Lin Haihai came to a realization.
“I have to leave for a little bit. You must be careful when I’m away! The imperial court is fraught with trouble at the moment. If you truly love the emperor, you should sort through your relationships with the brothers as soon as you can." Otherwise, the matter will be exploited to stir up another trouble!”
Baizi’s usually cold face gained traces of humanity. She was the only one he would be worried about while he was away. It was true that she was powerful, but she wasn’t shrewd enough to protect herself. And Prince Pingnan had laid his gaze on her.
“Where are you going?” Lin Haihai asked, noting the concern on his face.
“Nothing for you to worry about. Take care of yourself!” With that, he vanished into thin air.
Lin Haihai sat down on a stone stool under the pavilion. She hadn’t dared to let herself stop working, or she would remember his angry and pained expression. She had thought he would be rational enough to deal with their separation, but she had overestimated him - or underestimated his feelings for her.
Xiao Ju saw Lin Haihai looking into the distance in the pavilion when she went out on a walk with Tangtang. She went up to Lin Haihai and asked, “What’s wrong, Elder Sister? What happened to make you come here in a daze as soon as you returned?”
Tangtang happily wrapped his arms around Lin Haihai’s neck so that she would hug him. With a smile, Lin Haihai held the chubby child up and said, “Ah, how did our Tangtang become a little piglet?”
Tangtang pouted and glared at her. “Bad sister! Bullying me! I’ll tell Brother Flute to hit you!” That made Lin Haihai and Xiao Ju burst into laughter.
Their conversation was interjected by a ruckus. Lin Haihai and Xiao Ju exchanged a look and walked out to check on the situation.
The source of the noises turned out to be the Lin brothers. As soon as he saw Lin Haihai, Lin Yuchen raised his voice and exclaimed, “Release my mother at once, you brat! Or I’ll burn this place down!”
Tangtang held onto Lin Haihai and trembled at the sight of Lin Yuchen. Flute glared furiously at the unwanted guest with a darkening expression and warned, “Are you looking for a beating? Running your mouth every time you come here. Once I’m done with you, you’ll be looking for your fallen teeth!”
Lin Yuchen flinched and fell silent, while Lin Yuhao said to Lin Haihai, “This brother knows he’s made a mistake, little sister. Please let us have our mother. She’s old, and she’s plagued with serious illness. Come to me if you want to settle a score. I’ll give you whatever you want, as long as you give us Mother. She doesn’t have a lot of time left.”
Lin Yuhao’s eyes were red when he finished his plea. However, Lin Haihai didn’t immediately respond. Her heart ached when she saw Tangtang’s trembling lips. Lin Yuchen must’ve done something really cruel to the boy, or he wouldn’t be this terrified. The thought alone was enough to make her heart burn with rage.
“Will you agree to any condition I make?” Lin Haihai asked, fixing her eyes on Lin Yuchen.
“I will,” Lin Yuhao said seriously. “I’m a businessman, and credibility is the most important thing for a business!”
“Alright.” Lin Haihai pointed at Lin Yuchen. “I want him to sell three years of his service to me!”
Furious, Lin Yuchen was about to snarl at her when Lin Yuhao interjected, “He’s never experienced any hardships in his life. Would it work if I took his place?”
“I don’t want you to do that for me, Brother!” Lin Yuchen bit out. “You have to honor your promise, you brat! I’ll sell myself to you for three years, but you have to let our mother go!”
“Hand him the servitude contract and have him sign it, Flute,” Lin Haihai said with an impassive look on her face. It didn’t take long for Flute to return with a piece of rice paper with fresh ink written on it. Lin Haihai looked over the text before telling Lin Yuchen, “Sign it, and I’ll let your mother go!”
Lin Yuchen turned to his older brother and bit open his finger to put a bloody fingerprint on the contract. Satisfied, Lin Haihai nodded and said to Flute, “We need more people on the mountain, don’t we? I’ll leave you to teach him a good lesson!”
Flute scoffed. “That’ll be ideal!” His lips curled into a devilish smile as he looked at Lin Yuchen. Lin Yuchen took a few steps backward, his face pale.
“Go summon the First Madam!” Lin Haihai said to Xiao Ju.
Lin Yuhao immediately said, “We’ve taken servants with us. Let us carry her out!”
“There’s no need,” Lin Haihai said with a mocking glint in her eyes. “Let her get out on her own. If she can’t, she’ll stay here!”
The brothers exchanged a look before Lin Yuhao pleaded, “Our mother is still ill, little sister. How can she possibly walk out on her own? You’re making things difficult for her!”
“What if I am?” Lin Haihai taunted. “Do you remember them, Tangtang? They’re your biological brothers. How have they treated you after you lost your mother? Do you remember?”
Tangtang held onto Lin Haihai like his life depended on it, his body trembling with fear. “See?” Lin Haihai said. “This is your brother, who shares the same blood with you. You should’ve been his closest family, and yet he sees you as terrible monsters out to get him. How does that make you feel?”
Lin Yuhao felt a heavy weight on his chest. He had never considered Tangtang his brother, but he was of the same blood as he and Yuchen. Meanwhile, Lin Yuchen lowered his head, his expression conflicted.
The Lin brothers gaped when they saw Xiao Ju walking out with Li Meilian, shocked. Li Meilian came up to Lin Haihai and dropped down to her knees with a thud. Startled, Lin Haihai immediately put Tangtang down to help the woman up, saying, “What are you doing? This won’t do. Please get up!”
Li Meilian remained on her knees, her eyes brimming with tears. “I know there’s nothing I can say to make things better, but I have to apologize to you!”
“Mother!” the brothers called out with tears in their eyes.
“Please get up, First Madam. What happened is all in the past, and I didn’t hold a grudge against you. It’s time for you to let go as well!” Lin Haihai felt a myriad of emotions warring in her heart. Who would’ve thought that the arrogant woman would one day kneel down before her? Life was always full of surprises.
Li Meilian rose and cried tears of regret. She held onto Lin Haihai’s hand and said, “I was wrong in the past. I can’t let go even though you’ve forgiven me. My only wish is for you to return home more frequently and give me the chance to make it up to you!”
“I will!” said Lin Haihai.
The Lin brothers went up to support Li Meilian’s weight. Lin Yuhao couldn’t be more mournful at this moment. He had thought his little sister had been trying to get back on them, but instead, she actually cured their mother.
Lin Haihai sighed inwardly as she watched the mother and sons walk away. She was about to return when she saw the empress’s sedan chair approaching. She instructed Xiao Ju to take Tangtang inside, while she stayed outside the door and waited for the empress.
“How did you know I’m here?” Lin Haihai took the empress to the lotus pond and asked coolly. She hadn’t seen the empress since the day in the palace. Subconsciously, she didn’t want to see anyone from the palace, including the empress.
“I went to the hospital to find you, but Li Junyue said you’d left. My instincts told me that you would be here!” The empress sat down and looked at Lin Haihai’s cautious expression.
“Ah,” responded Lin Haihai as she took a seat.
“The investigation has concluded. Imperial Consort Li lost her child some time ago. She didn’t want to lose the emperor’s favor, so she had been keeping that a secret. It was Imperial Physician Li Chaomin who diagnosed her that day. She had Physician Li’s family kidnapped to threaten him, and he had no choice but to cover her miscarriage up for her. That day, she and the other consorts and concubines saw us chatting on our own in the Imperial Garden, and they formulated a plan to frame us. Those women have been banished to the Cold Palace now. As for Li Chaomin, his fate will be left to you to decide.”
The empress summarized what had happened. Lin Haihai had long guessed the truth. With a faint smile, the empress said, “He was under duress. That made him a victim as well. Go easy on him!”
Lin Haihai hadn’t said anything else. Staring at the ring on her finger, the empress sighed softly and said, “You don’t want to know how he is doing?”
“I don’t!” Lin Haihai responded without hesitation, her eyes lowered. She had made up her mind before. She must not waver now.
“He knew I was seeking you out, so he told me to ask you something,” the empress said to her cold face.
Lin Haihai didn’t say anything, staring at the green lotus leaves in the lotus pond. A few dragonflies perched on top of the leaves, and they took flight as soon as there was a breeze.
“Are you sure you don’t want to know?” the empress sighed and asked.
Lin Haihai turned back to her, eyes misty with pain. “Tell me then, is it possible for us to be together?”
The empress fell silent.
“You know we can’t be together. What’s the point to all this, then?” Sorrow seeping into her tone, she continued, “It’s like a wound. As long as I don’t touch it, it’ll scab over and heal. If I touch it often and agitate it, however, it’ll never heal. It’ll always be bloody.”
“Then there’s no point in me asking. I’ll answer him for you!” the empress said in a low voice. She wasn’t sure if she should admire Lin Haihai’s rational mind, or be annoyed with her calmness. However, there was no room for recklessness given the circumstances.
After a pause, Lin Haihai said, “You should go back. I have to return to the hospital!”
The empress nodded. She understood Lin Haihai’s feelings. Her presence would only remind Lin Haihai of what happened that day, and Lin Haihai had been trying to forget. The empress walked along the pebbled path with heavy steps. So be it then. Time would heal any wounds. No one would be able to help her during this process!
Suddenly, Lin Haihai asked, “What did he have you ask me?”
The empress turned to her and said slowly, “He said, and I quote, ‘When you see her, ask her if she’s spent that day with this emperor out of genuine feelings from her heart.’ Do you want to give him an answer?”
“Tell him I refused to listen to his question,” Lin Haihai said bitterly.
“Alright.” The empress turned to leave.
Lin Haihai fell onto the stool, her heart aching like it had been pierced by tens of thousands of arrows. She wanted to stop herself from crying, but she couldn’t.Previous Chapter Next Chapter