Gosh, everyone is so worried about Yu Er now that Huo Qu Bing is off to war. I can’t say that Li Yan isn’t up to her tricks, but I can say everything is always more complicated than just simply that. Yu Er doesn’t have one enemy, she has many, and likely her enemies are also fighting each other. I like that she tries to be brave, tries to do the right thing, but once again she gets in over her head and needs to be saved. For all you Jiu Ye fans, just because Yu Er didn’t choose him doesn’t mean he’s out of the picture. I’d argue he’s even more involved in her life than before, this time both of them finally being candid with each other.
Chapter 32: Poisoned
After sending Huo Qu Bing off in the morning, I move back to Hong Gu’s residence. Without him around, I can’t stand living at the Huo Estate. I’m a wife yet not a wife, I’m a guest yet not a guest. It’s just awkward for me to live there.
With a large estate filled with many residents, there is too much gossiping and I am not in the mood to deal with people’s finger pointing. Uncle Chen is very considerate of me and didn’t say anything, just ordering some maids, the chef, and some guards to go with me to Hong Gu’s place. When I walk in with everyone trailing me, she laughs in surprise.
I walk around the courtyard once and then stretch my back “It really is more comfortable in my own home.” Hong Gu softly sighed “What about the Huo Estate?” I smiled “If Qu Bing is there, then that is home. If he’s not, then it’s not home.”
Hong Gu moved some fallen branches in front of me “I don’t know whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing that you met General Huo.” I make a huge smiling face and stick it in front of Hong Gu “See! Do you see this? What is this? I don’t want to hear you saying that ever.”
Hong Gu quickly laughed “I see it, I see it.” She looked at my stomach “I wonder who that child will resemble? Regardless it’s bound to be a demon like you two. It will inherit both of your talents at tormenting people. I wonder if it’ll go easy on anyone in the future.”
When I was in the Huo Estate, the maids couldn’t read, but with Hong Gu keeping me company it’s much more entertaining. We read, play the zither, play chess, or talk about the gossip in Chang An. My days pass in calm comfort. When conversation strays to the past, I don’t have any nostalgia, but Hong Gu does.
She mentions Fang Ru “I thought she wasn’t such a cold person, but now when she sees me all she does is avoid me. Sometimes she sees me walking directly towards her and she pretends she doesn’t see me.” I laugh “Marry a chicken, follow a chicken, marry a dog, follow a dog. Li Yan Nian was already holding a grudge towards me years ago, which was fine when I was still close with Li Yan. Now that we’re now longer on good terms, Fang Gu can’t disobey her husband’s side of the family.”
Hong Gu swiftly covered my mouth “Oh my lord! You watch your mouth, how can you still refer to her by her name.” I coldly huff “Whether or not I call her Li Yan has no bearing on the way she will behave towards me.”
Because I felt sorry for her, I tried to back off. But she keeps pressuring me and our friendship of the past has gradually disappeared. There is still the oath she made me swear. Even though I hold her life in my hands, but I can’t do anything about it. Her life isn’t important enough to outweigh the potential risk towards Qu Bing and Jiu Ye.
Even though I will keep my promise, but she can never feel at ease about me. In the beginning she just wanted to force me to leave Qu Bing and leave Chang An. But now she likely doesn’t even care about my life and death anymore, and the sooner she can get rid of me for good, the sooner she can rest easy. Qu Bing isn’t in Chang An right now and I’m pregnant, so my best approach is to avoid her during this time.
But life is just that way. The more you try to avoid something, the more it comes towards you. I want to avoid Li Yan, and she promptly comes to find me. Li Yan sent an invitation order for me to attend her birthday bash in the Palace. No matter how much the Emperor adores her, she’s still just a concubine and can’t have a banquet where the entire court will fete her. So she’s having a small party with just the ladies attending. But it’s exactly this type of small gathering that worries me more.
Hong Gu said “This is not a good banquet, how about we ask the Empress to help decline it.” I shake my head and give a sad smile while Uncle Chen sighs “Even though it’s not clear whether the Empress knows Ms. Yu is pregnant, but the Empress has always taken care of Ms. Yu. Right now the General isn’t in Chang An and surely the Empress will not be at ease knowing Ms. Yu is going to the Palace by herself. If she could have declined it she would have. It’s clear the Emperor agreed to this so the Empress cannot say anything about it.”
I looked at my figure “I’m showing now and I can’t hide it anymore. Chances are Li Yan probably heard something so wants to check me out. The doctor said the first trimester is the most risky for a miscarriage, but now it’s way past that. At least I got a few months peace and that’s good enough for me.”
Uncle Chen got on his kneels and bowed to me “Ms. Yu, please listen to this old servant and take good care of yourself. No matter what happens, you must endure it for the sake of the child. No matter what insults befall you, you must wait until the General returns.”
I don’t know if I should laugh or cry “I’m the child’s mother, I’m even more nervous than you. I don’t need you to remind me. Has my behavior been that rash and impetuous?” Uncle Chen said nothing and I sighed. Just because I did not try to convince Qu Bing to marry a princess, everyone know thinks I’m someone who doesn’t see the big picture.
Hong Gu grabbed my hand and smiled to Uncle Chen “Yu Er can sometimes be obstinate and extreme in her ways, but she’s not someone who doesn’t know what is important.” I give Hong Gu an exasperated look. Was she trying to compliment me? If so, she likely made me even more flighty in the eyes of Uncle Chen.
It’s the middle of Summer and the trip to the Palace was unbearably hot. Before I even arrive at the party location, a cool breeze blows over and I can hear the sound of rushing water, which immediately invigorates me.
Li Yan knows how to enjoy life. She’s ordered a water wheel brought in, and mixed with ice, the water is carried to a high point and pours over a tarp constructed over a bamboo pavilion. It feels like it’s raining and the banquet is situated right in the middle of a blanket of rain. The ice rain chases away the humidity of the Summer and adds a layer of fun to the proceedings. Some ladies are sitting there admiring the flowers, some are playing with the water, and others are eating fruit placed under the rain curtains to keep cool. It really is a comfortable and relaxing event.
The unmarried maidens see my figure and then notice that I have the same hairstyle as them, indicating I am unmarried. They grow curious and keep checking me out. Some of the married ladies look shocked and hurry their daughters away and order them not to look towards me, as if they would also become an unwed mother if they just took one look at me.
Some of the ladies with more grace, or are afraid to be rude to me because of their husbands, give me a small smile or a quick greeting before avoiding me. It’s like I have the plague and wherever I go, people immediately disperse.
I scoop some grapes up from under the water to eat. Li Yan ought to be pleased to witness what just happened. But I’m really sorry to her, because if she could see how much I could care less about being snubbed, she’d probably be disappointed again. I grew up in the desert without a lot of modesty, so these kinds of snubs can’t hurt me.
In the middle of happily eating, I notice a familiar figure standing alone in the corner. Li Yan must hate this woman who betrayed her, so why was she invited? What was Li Yan planning? I eat my grapes and walk towards her. When she sees me, she looks slightly shy and I hand her some grapes “You look very beautiful wearing the Han style attire.”
She bowed towards me “I’ve heard so much about you from Ri Chan and have been wanting to see you again. But it’s not convenient for us to visit. We heard General Huo takes very good care of you, and even the average servant in the Huo Estate doesn’t get to meet you. I didn’t know it was because you were expecting. When Ri Chan finds out, he’ll be so happy.”
I smile at her, feeling a twinge of happiness “You call him Ri Chan, he allows you to call him that? Then I ought to call you sister-in-law now.” Her cheeks were red but she was proud “You can just call me Wei Ji.” “Fine, you can call me Yu Er, or Xiao Yu.”
I noticed the jade ring on her finger and my heart shook. I grabbed her hand and stared at it. She asked me “As I was leaving today, Ri Chan took it off his hand and put it on mine. I didn’t know why, but now……..” this normally aloof girl suddenly grew misty-eyed.
This ring was left for Ri Chan from his grandfather and it’s never left his hand since he was a child. He purposely made Wei Ji wear it to this party. He’s telling me that he’s leaving this lonely girl in a foreign place in my hands. I let go of her hand “He was worried about you.”
I rubbed my lower back and Wei Ji quickly asked “Do you want to sit?” There was nowhere to sit since all the good spots were already taken and the few remaining ones are in random spots but doesn’t seat two. Wei Ji pointed to a good spot “Let’s go over there, I don’t want to sit, let’s just talk.”
I made a face at her and dragged her to the best spot in the pavilion where some ladies were chatting. They immediately turned quiet and looked at me. When I walked right up to them, they suddenly stood up and gave me a dirty look before walking away.
I smiled at Wei Ji and gave her a victory gesture. I fixed my skirts and blithely sat down. Wei Ji sat down next to me and tried to cover her smile. Those ladies finally figured out what I did and gave me a hateful look. They can’t be too obvious so they purpose talk in a low but loud enough voice “I heard she used to run the dancing houses in Chang An! She plies in the male trade, so of course her behavior is without shame.”
I turn towards the Madam Jiang and smile “This Madam hasn’t heard it all! Don’t you know that Consort Li came out of my very own dancing house?” Her face turned ashen white. The dancing houses of Chang An, in the history of this city, the most successful male trade ever conducted was producing a country toppling beauty that is Consort Li. This Madam Jiang wanted to insult me and forgot about this.
My eyes brushed coldly over everyone of them and they had no choice but to lower their heads. Wei Ji whispered “They are afraid of you?” I shook my head “They are all afraid of Qu Bing. And maybe…..Consort Li. You must’ve heard about Qu Bing’s temper. These ladies might be the wives of the scholarly officials, and their husbands don’t report to Qu Bing, but right now the Emperor favors the military officials over the scholars. They wouldn’t dare use their husband’s lives or livelihood as a gamble to get even with me. And I…..” I coldly huffed “Today this will surely be a Hong Men Banquet (referring to the famous Xiang Yu/Liu Bang banquet in the Chu-Han Contention). Even if I concede defeat I might nut get out alive. Then I should stop laying down and scare these little villains away first.”
As we’re talking, Li Yan and the Empress arrive hand-in-hand. Followed behind him is Liu Che’s newest concubine Yi Jie Shu. Li Yan and the Empress immediately looked at my stomach and then pretended they saw nothing. They both averted their eyes to receive greetings. It was instead Yi Jie Shu who smiled at me and softly said “Congratulations.”
Li Yan was very solicitous and yielded to the Empress on everything, whether it was the dance performed or the games played. Empress Wei laughed and demurred “You are the birthday girl today, you decide everything and I am just a guest.” After Li Yan, Yi Jie Shu, and a few of the other concubines conferred, they decided to pick flower sticks as the game. Li Yan’s maid held all the sticks and all the guest were very into the game to make Li Yan happy. The party became very lively.
Right when everyone was having fun, the Emperor’s delivery arrived. On top of a wooden plank was an intricate nine-leveled jade tower carved with a phoenix design. It was already rare to see such a large piece of jade, and paired with the detailed carving, it truly is one of the priceless wonders of the world.
Lui Che must have went out of his way to come up with this extravagant gift and everyone is just stunned by it. Eyes turn towards Li Yan with awe and she just smiled and had the tower placed in the middle of the party so everyone could admire it.
Liu Bo, who was still unsteady on his feet, wobbled up to his mother to present her with a birthday peach. He looked like a little adult person, saying a very proper birthday greeting to his mom while bowing his head. It was all great until he forget his lines in the middle of his speech and end up sucking on his thumb and looking towards the Crown Prince Liu Ju for help. Liu Ju lowered his head and reminded his younger brother, who got even more nervous with all the eyes trained on him, and end up diving into his older brother’s arms to hide his head so none of us could see him.
What a pair of adorable siblings, and I couldn’t help myself but laugh. Empress Wei shook her head while Li Yan smiled but her eyes were cold. Her maid immediately took Liu Bo away from Liu Ju. I silently sighed. In the Imperial household, there is no such thing as regular brothers. Even if they are innocent now, their mothers will not allow it.
The flower stick arrived in the hands of Madam Jiang who had that run in with us earlier. She plucked a stick and it was read aloud “The holder of the stick can ask anyone at this party to do anything” and then she quickly put the stick back in the can.
Empress Wei looked at Madam Jiang, who acted like she was deep in thought and then turned to look at Wei Ji “I have not been able to forget the dance performance you put on for us, can Madam perform it for us again today?” Even though Wei Ji is of low birth and is not a Han person, but she is still the wife of Sir Guang Lu. There are many dancers here but Madam Jiang specifically asked for Wei Ji in order to insult the scene that day when we fought over Huo Qu Bing, and also to insult Wei Ji even more.
I stare at the person holding the flower sticks and she looked back at me before averting her eyes with some fear. It’s clear they still somewhat fear me, but to Wei Ji…… Wei Ji’s face was bright red but she slowly regained her composure. She grabbed my hand once and then stood up to dance.
Li Yan smiled at me and then picked up her wine to drink. Empress Wei heard that Madam Jiang wanted Wei Ji to perform and she didn’t show any emotion. She just turned her head to converse with Liu Ju. I suddenly remembered this saying, the person who knows you the best is your enemy,
Wei Ji’s dance is beautiful and moving, but no one is watching her, purposely ignoring her or ridiculing her. Only Liu Bo was very into it, clapping and struggling out of his nanny’s arms so he could stand closer to watch. Wei Ji was turning in her dance when I saw three round jewels roll in front of her from an unknown place. Before I can call out “be careful”, she had stepped on the jewels and her body fell backwards. To stop her fall, she reached out and happened to grab the red cloth on the table holding the jade tower. The moment her body hit the floor, the entire jade tower tumbled on the ground and broke into pieces.
Liu Bo saw Wei Ji fall and moved forward to help her. Thank heavens a nearby woman pulled him back quickly, but even then a piece of broken jade glanced over him and drew blood. The nanny started screaming for the royal physician.
It was already a great crime to have broken the jade tower, but to harm a Prince is an even graver crime. Li Yan had her head lowered and relaxed after she saw he was just cut in two small areas. She looked upset still and had tears in her eyes as she berated the nanny and the maids.
I finally released my pent up breath knowing that it was not a serious injury. Thank god, thank god…..but even then…..my heart was nervous. I looked at Wei Ji, and in the commotion, she remained kneeling there in complete calm. Her face was white but she was very composed. She took off her ring and quickly shoved it to me “Wei Ji does not have this good fortune. Please tell Ri Chan that even though I am all alone in a foreign land, meeting him was a true blessing in my life. He need not miss me.”
Li Yan looked at Wei Ji as she held Liu Bo. She looked down at the broken shards on the ground and said to Empress Wei “Everything will be decided as the Empress sees fit.” Wei Ji betrayed Li Yan so Li Yan must want her dead. What happened today is clearly made out to be Wei Ji’s fault, and the Empress will clearly not overturn the boat with Li Yan over the life of a Xi Yu dancer.
Empress Wei did not look at Wei Ji and said calmly “Everything will be dealt with according to the Palace rules. A Prince was injured, so she will be beaten 100 times with a stick. But since the Emperor’s present was also destroyed, he will decide what to do next.” Li Yan nodded.
100 strokes with a stick! Just this is enough to kill Wei Ji, what else can come after. Li Yan was cooing over Liu Bo but she gave me a taunting look. Auntie Yun was shaking her head at me from behind Empress Wei. When the Empress looked at me, her eyes conveyed warning and a plead as she looked at my stomach.
My hand was gripping Ri Chan’s ring so tightly it hurt. For this baby I must endure this, must endure this…..When Ri Chan gave Wei Ji the ring, he did not know I was pregnant. I need to protect this little person as well. I know he will understand and forgive me. And who could have imagined that Li Yan’s trap could have gone off without a hitch, and even better, a Prince was even accidentally hurt. Even though it was a minor injury, it is a grievous offense.
Wei Ji was dragged out by the guards and she closed her eyes, completely at peace.
I kept telling myself all sorts of reasons not to act, but I kept asking myself. If I let Wei Ji die today, can I go on living at ease? This would make me no different than the underhanded and vicious Li Yan. Years ago I hated the fact that Yi Zhi Xie betrayed his friends, and would this be a type of betrayal by me?
I called out “Wait!” Empress Wei gave me a resigned look and pretended she didn’t hear me. Li Yan smiled and nodded at me: Jin Yu, you didn’t disappoint me, welcome to the trap.
I kneel before the Empress and Li Yan “Wei Ji may be at fault, but she was not the cause of what happened.” I open my hands and a round jewel was resting there. In the confusion I could only grab one jewel, but I know this evidence is flimsy. This jewel is so flimsy that it’s just dragging me down and no one can save me. “When Wei Ji was dancing, I saw a few of these jewels roll under her feet, which caused her to trip.”
Li Yan stared at the jewels and said nothing. Her maid said “The prince and princesses were playing with these jewels for fun, so are you saying…..” She shut her mouth “Your servant I deserve to die.”
Li Yan slapped her across the face and screamed “You worthless servant, how dare you speak such nonsense!” Li Yan looked around “Other than Jin Yu, did anyone else see the jewels roll under Wei Ji’s feet.” Everyone vigorously shook their head,
Li Yan looked at the Empress. Now this won’t get resolved as easily as killing Wei Ji. One jewel injured a prince and the rumors have now pointed fingers at the other princes and princesses here. Who could be so hateful as to want to destroy the present their royal father gave to Consort Li? And in turn injured their young brother? Empress Wei had a cold smile “We shall investigate fully. Take Wei Ji and lock her up for now.” Li Yan stared at Empress Wei who continued “And take Jin Yu as well.”
With a definitive slam, the door to the prison cell was secured shut. Wei Ji was crying “Xiao Yu, why did you get yourself involved?” I took her hand and placed the ring back on her finger “Since Ri Chan put this ring on himself, you’ll have to give it back to him yourself.”
Wei Ji was calm in the face of death, but now she’s sobbing wildly. I wipe away her tears and look around the prison “It’s better than I had imagined.” Wei Ji stood up and took the hay on the floor and made a thick mat for me to sit on “There is no sun in a prison cell and the floor is too damp.”
I touch my belly and silently think – I’m sorry, your daddy left not long ago and I’ve taken care of you all the way to the inside of a prison cell. I always considered Li Yan an enemy of the Wei family and never thought of her as my enemy. But from this day forward, she and I no longer have a shred of feeling for each other. She constructed one trap within a trap, but who is her ultimate target? Is Li Yan hoping to use this to harm Liu Ju and Empress Wei? If so this is pretty weak. So what is she looking to do? I can’t figure it out right now.
After two days there has been no movement. I’m sure Uncle Chen and Hong Gu have completely lost their bearing and must’ve tried to visit me already. But they haven’t appeared, which means things must be dire.
Our food is already better than what other prisoners get, but compared to the food at the Huo Estate, it’s comparable to slop. I’m not a picky eater and I can eat anything, but this unborn baby has been spoiled by us and since I got pregnant there are foods I can no longer stomach.
Wei Ji gives me the best portions of her food and I do not resist. But even then, I still have no appetite so I force myself to eat more, but then I throw it right back up. Wei Ji nervously looks at me with tears in her eyes. I’m full of worry and hopelessness, but I don’t want Wei Ji to feel bad so I laugh “I don’t know who he resembles, neither Qu Bing nor I are picky eaters. Yet we’ve raised a picky child. Later I’ll have to teach him a lesson.”
The entire prison has only one area that, during noon time, a sliver of sunshine would come in. In the beam of light, a million flecks of dust dance and make a person feel dazed. Am I the dust, or the dust me, or the entire world is just a fleck of dust?
A pair of thin boots, a form-fitting white robe, with the sunlight behind him, it illuminates him in a halo of golden light. He looks like an illusion that will blow away with the wind. But that smile as warm as the sun feels so completely real it hits me right in the heart. In the dank and cold prison cell, his appearance turned everything warm and bright. I can’t believe it so I close my eyes, but when I open he’s still standing in the sunlight.
Jiu Ye looked at me, his eyes full of worry and fear. He reached his hand to me and without a word I knew he wanted to take my pulse. He needs to immediately make sure I’m fine before he can relax. I wordlessly give him my wrist and his expression turns misty. I want to take my wrist back but he grabs it, grabs it so hard my wrist actually hurts.
He’s still smiling but in the corner of his eyes I see shades of exhaustion. It looks like it was harder on him than me, the person in this prison cell. I feel all these indescribable feelings and after a moment I say “I didn’t endure any hardship.” He slowly released my hand “Madam Chen wouldn’t let anyone inform General Huo. Do you want me to notify him?”
I shake my head “He can’t be distracted on the battlefield. This battle is against the Shan Yu of the Xiong Nu, and it’s his dream since childhood. If he doesn’t give it his all during this battle, it will became one of his life’s greatest regrets. Plus I was in the prison for just a few days, no big deal. Oh right, why are you here?”
He smiled wanly “The Emperor can be considered my uncle, so this favor wasn’t too hard.” He was very casual about it, but the difficulties inherent is clear. I don’t know what sacrifice he made, what promises he gave Liu Che. With his personality, he’ll carry the entire burden all my himself. No matter how I ask he will never tell me. It’s best if I act like I believe him, at least that will not let his efforts go to waste.
“Yu Er, what happened. Tell me so I can decide how best to handle it.” I quietly think and then tell him everything, from my relationship with the Xiong Nu, my friendship with Ri Chan, and the fact that Li Yan must’ve guessed that Ri Chan and I are not casual acquaintances. She used Wei Ji to seamlessly entrap me into her web.
Jiu Ye listened to what I said and his eyebrows furrowed “There is something else you’re not telling me. Everyone in court knows that General Huo and General Wei, even though they are relatives, their relationship is precarious. With the Emperor’s favor, subordinates of General Huo often band together to belittle subordinates of General Wei. If Consort Li wanted the Crown Prince position and to oppose the Wei family, she shouldn’t be upsetting General Huo. She ought to be using the two generals’ shaky relationship and try to win General Huo to her side. Why would she keep targeting you? And this time even the princes and princesses are involved. That means she wants you…..” Jiu Ye did want not to say those words of ill-tidings in the same sentence as me, so he let his words trail off.
I smiled at him “I really can’t keep anything from you.” I tried to sound casual to try to lighten the mood, but it didn’t work and Jiu Ye just stared at me “I do have some personal conflicts with Li Yan, but I can’t reveal it. The fact that she hates me this much is also a surprise to me.” Jiu Ye nodded and didn’t press further. He thought and asked “The critical factor is who released the jewels. Or to find someone who dropped some jewels. Madam Jiang may have started it all, but she’s just a clueless person. Chances are she knows nothing, so we need to find that palace maid to ask.”
“That’s also what I was thinking. She put that flower stick back in the jar so quickly I was already suspicious that she made up the rule. But since Li Yan tasked her with doing this, that means Li Yan trusts her implicitly. And if she’s under Li Yan’s protection, it will be hard to question her and find out anything of value.”
Jiu Ye smiled, different than before, it was cold “Why ask her, all we need is for Li Yan to decide to sacrifice her.” I thought about it, understanding what he means, but unsure of how Jiu Ye can make Li Yan agree to back off. There was a sound of metal banging outside and Jiu Ye looked torn and loathe to leave “I have to go. Please endure for two or three more days.”
Since Jiu Ye walked in, Wei Ji hid in the corner but she kept sneaking glances at him. When she heard he was leaving, she suddenly rushed up and bowed three times to him. Jiu Ye looked at her with shock and he had no time other than to bow back “I will bother the Madam to please take care of Yu Er.” Wei Ji avoided Jiu Ye’s bow and quickly nodded her head.
Jiu Ye’s departure took away the only sunlight in the prison, but he had already left the sunlight on my heart. Wei Ji still looked dazed so I asked her “Do you know Jiu Ye?”
She nodded her head, and then shook her head “I’ve seen him. So you Han people call him Jiu Ye? Not a lot of people have seen him before, but we all envision that he’s someone with a heart as wide as the sky. We Xi Yu people call him “Shi Nan Tian” Xi Yu is drier than the central plains and not a lot of medicinal plants can grow there. Han people always love to sell it at exorbitant prices to us. But Shi Nan Tian opened medicinal plant shops all over Xi Yu, and the prices are the same as in the Han dynasty. When there is an pandemic outbreak because of the war, his shops always give free medicine to homeless people. Before I was selected as a dancer, I saw him once treating a little beggar on the street. That day he wore all white, as spotless as the snow on the highest mountain peak. But that little beggar was covered in smelly boils yet he still held him in his lap. His every gesture was gentle and careful, as if he was afraid that child would hurt, as if he was holding the most precious gem in his arms. Later in the Palace of the Gui Su kingdom, I saw him again. The prince had just tested a new bow and was so excited, wanting to embrace him. It was a priceless gesture people only dream about, but he made no move. Even though he smiled, I can feel his heart was cold and did not want it. I overheard them talking, and thought to myself that he must be the legendary “Shi Nan Tian”, for who else in this world has a heart like his. Even though he is handicapped, but his voice and his form makes you believe that he is more lofty than anyone in this world. Every time I see him, he is smiling, but I feel like he’s carrying an enormous burden. So my biggest respect is not to disturb him. He stayed in the palace for three days and I just observed him from a distance for three days. Everyday I prayed to the Heavens, asking that one day he can live an ordinary life. I cannot imagine that I would see him again today, and in such an unexpected place.”
Wei Ji smiled but it was one full of sadness. “Seeing “Shi Nan Tian” today was wonderful. He has anger, has rage, has true happiness. He doesn’t seem as lonely…..but he….he appears to be so sad.”
I silently turned my head away and stared at a random spot. I don’t know what I’m looking at, I just want to avoid Wei Ji’s questioning look. Shi Nan Tian (the sky which eases suffering), he’s easing other people’s suffering, but who will ease his suffering?
Since Jiu Ye arrived, our accommodations have improved. The food tastes better and we even get a bottle of milk after dinner. Because I’m so picky and the things I can’t eat make me throw up, Wei Ji always let me eat whatever I can keep down, so the two of us switch up our meals that way and I’m full enough. In the darkness Wei Ji softly says “Tomorrow we will be able to leave.”
I murmur my concurrence. Wei Ji trusts Jiu Ye implicitly. She doesn’t care about all the details, she just believes what Jiu Ye said to me about enduring for only two or three more days.
In the middle of the night, I break into a cold sweat and wake up from my sleep due to sharp pain. I want to call out for Wei Ji but I can’t make a sound. My body is alternatively hot or cold and I can’t exert any strength, only shivering. Thank god Wei Ji is a light sleeper and my shaking awakens her. She takes one look at me and is so frightened that she starts to cry. She screams out for someone to come.
I see her reaction and I know something is very wrong. Wei Ji is a very calm and level headed person, so for her to lose her composure like this, the way I look is probably half foot in the grave right now.
Wei Ji calls for some time but there is no response. She takes off her outer robe and covers me with it. My body hurts so much it feels like it’s splintering into small pieces, and all I want to do is vaporize so I can avoid this torturous pain. My consciousness slowly drifts into darkness.
No, I can’t fall asleep. If I sleep there might be no more pain, but someone will be devastated. I promised Qu Bing that I would take care of myself….and the baby. My mind snapped back into focus and I used my last bit of conscious thought to bite down hard on my tongue. The blood in my mouth awakens me a bit.
This pain came out of nowhere, it’s not an illness, but more like poison. I can’t talk and can only use my eyes to communicate with Wei Ji. She really is very smart and when she sees me eyeing the jar she brings it over. She props me up and feeds me the milk. The taste of the milk mixed with the blood in my mouth goes down my throat and it tastes disgusting but I force myself to drink it all. Every gulp might increase my chances of surviving.
Wei Ji holds me and keeps crying “Xiao Yu, if someone has to die it ought to be me. I was the one who betrayed Consort Li and then broke the jade tower. Why am I fine…..” She suddenly realizing something and her face was regret and fear “We switched our food so you have ingested poison meant for two people.”
My entire mouth was bloody and even if I bit my tongue again I cannot stay awake. With the sound of Wei Ji’s sobbing and pleading, I slowly drift into a darkened world.