Feng Zhao Wen developed a new kind of illness lately. Every time he returned from the court, he would stare at me with eyes full of grief and pain. From time to time, he would call for physicians to check my pulse.
I had grown numb to that. I could only stuff my stomach with tonics.
Today, taking advantage of him going to the morning court, I took E Huang with me to the physician’s courtyard. I wanted to see the diagnosis that I was given, as well as the ingredients of the tonic that I had been constantly fed with. Physician Shi Qing explained everything with the air of a doctor, using loads and loads of medical jargons.
I could not understand anything other than the possibility of me being heavily sick. The way he threw medical terminologies around made me felt so ignorant.
I returned to Zhong Hua Palace with a crushed heart. I laid deep in the corner of the dragon bed and refused to come down. When Feng Zhao Wen returned from court, E Huang described my depressed state of mind to him vividly.
All of a sudden, I fell into Feng Zhao Wen’s embrace.
He had pulled me from the corner I was nesting at and had placed me against his chest. He stared at me solemnly for a long time before he was finally convinced that I was indeed sad. He swayed my body comfortingly for a couple of times; I turned dizzy because of it. I pulled at his ears while repeatedly telling him to stop. His face was tight as he stared at me, “Why did you pulled on zhen’s ears?”
I sighed gently, “Your Majesty, Physician Shi told me I will not live for long. He told me to take advantage of what little time I have to do things I have always wanted to do but cannot do in the past. At least I can die in peace!”
His phoenix eyes were narrowed into slits, completely forgetting about me pulling his ears. He gritted his teeth, “Shi Qing said that?”
I nodded repeatedly.
Physician Shi, I’m sorry!
“Even though I cannot understand what he said completely, I drank so much medicine everyday but I still cannot see any result. He said, my head and body is sick beyond help.”
He looked dumbfounded. He sighed after a while, “Your head is really broken. It is all my fault…..”
He seemed to be really blaming himself at the moment; what a rare chance! I quickly seized the chance to beg him, “Actually, Your Majesty…. Even though my head is not very good, I am sure I will get sick if I simply stay in Zhong Hua Palace all day. I heard Phyisician Shi’s medicinal knowledge is really high. Why don’t I learn medicine from him?”
He swept his phoenix eyes over me in suspicion. I quickly burrow my head into his chest in heartache as I sobbed, “Your Majesty, I only want to study medicine. I want to do it to comfort my own heart. Can’t you at least let me do that?”
The next day, I brought E Huang to the physician’s courtyard happily.
Official Shi’s eyes froze when he saw me.
I stepped forward and paid him respect the way a disciple would to a teacher. He was still in a daze, “Miss, what are you doing here?”
I smiled happily, “Shifu, His Majesty already allowed this disciple to study medicine from you. That was this disciple paying respect to you!” I signaled E Huang to take out the ink stone I got from Feng Zhao Wen’s desk this morning.
E Huang placed that ink stone in Physician Shi’s palm while eyeing me hesitantly.
I knew she was worried for her own head.
Stealing the emperor’s ink stone from Zhong Hua Palace was a crime; someone was bound to take the blame.
As Physician Shi received the gift, he still had not snapped out of his daze.
I continued speaking, “After I came to the courtyard yesterday, I realized that listening to shifu is better than reading books for ten years.”
Physician Shi stroke his beard as he looked at me with stirred eyes. He must be planning to make me his bosom friend. I gathered my courage to speak more, “Shifu need not constrain yourself. You can just do your own thing. If this disciple does not understand anything, I will ask for your teaching.”
He lowered his head to look at the ink stone, clearly looking torn. I heard, Physician Shi liked ink stones very much. He must be contemplating whether or not he should receive this ink stone; if he did, he would have to take me in as his student.
In my life, I enjoyed watching hesitant people the most. Watching them getting torn over the choices was simply enjoyable. E Huang who was standing on the sideline pulled my sleeves before whispering to me, “Miss, I think it is better if we just take the ink stone back and return to Zhong Hua Palace.”
I patted her head before kindly teaching her, “How can one take back the things they have given others?” Then, I raised my tone a little, “I get that this ink stone is precious. Isn’t it fitting for us to give it as a gift for my apprenticeship? How can you ask me to take it back?”
I glanced at Physician Shi from the corner of my eyes; his eyes had flashed. Then, he placed the ink stone in a drawer on his desk. Then, he sighed.
An item from the emperor’s desk was indeed precious.
Ever since I visited the physician’s courtyard, E Huang said that Physician Shi’s life was in dire state.
I refused to acknowledge that. Was a shifu accepting an eager student something bad?
Feng Zhao Wen said that I had been more diligent in my studies than him in court. I would wake up at the same time as him every morning. Before the sun even rise, I would rush to the physician’s courtyard. Even when the tables were set during dinner time, I still had not returned. I comforted him, “A person’s life is short and there are so many things we can learn.”
The court was coincidentally busier too. I heard, a couple of former officials from the Great Chen had been spreading ideas about restoring the kingdom in a couple of counties. That enraged him. He ordered the military department to investigate this matter thoroughly. They were busy in ways I could never fathom.
What I could fathom though, was the busyness of my Physician Shi.
The physician’s courtyard was a wondrous place. There were so many kinds of medicines. There were also health reports of emperors, ministers and consorts from the previous years.
I was an ignorant person when it came to medicines; it was inevitable for me to be asking them around.
One day, I took out Ruo Cong Rong and Yin Yan Huo from the medicine’s warehouse and took them to Physician Shi’s office. “Shifu, what are these? What are their effects?”
His beard shook a little before he gave me a vague answer, “They are for men to take.”
That day, I secretly cooked and fed those medicines to the rabbit that was kept behind the courtyard.
The next day, the rabbit died. I heard she jumped around all night before she died.
I expressed my deepest condolences on that matter. When the physician was hell-bent on finding who was responsible for the rabbit’s death, I innocently peered up to him, “I only wanted to see what effects those medicines will bring to a female rabbit. You said they were only for men.”
He was very angry. His beard was shaking as he glared at me for the longest time. In the end, he was summoned into the empress dowager’s palace to check her pulse.
I was only a disciple, albeit an eager one; and my memory was not that good either. Because of all the factors above, I constantly went to my teacher to ask things up. I occasionally took the wrong medicine and always mixed them in another container; but honestly, in my opinion, my mistakes weren’t really that bad.
Lately, the person in charge of overseeing the medicinal store frowned whenever he saw me coming. I comfortingly patted him in the back. “Stop frowning, brother. Once I memorized all these medicines and herbs, I will help you manage this storeroom.” As I said that, I casually picked up some stick-like thing from a container that I planned to ask my teacher about.
My teacher was frowning too, that day. He was sitting in front of a bunch of medical reports, almost disregarding the stick like herbs that I showed him.
No matter how detailed his explanation was, I would remember it for that moment but would forget all about it the next day. Then, I would bring the same thing over and over again, asking for his teaching——- The emperor could be my witness, my head had really been broken beyond repair!
He hesitantly glanced at me, “My student-ah, let me check your pulse and give you your prescription.”
I shook my head ambitiously, “No need, shifu. Once I studied well, I will check my own pulse and prescribe my own medicine!’
He jumped up, “Prescribe all you want, but give them to shifu! You must not eat them yourself!” After he said that, he gave my tummy a worried glance.
He was probably still shook over the death of the rabbit.
I really could not bear this. I was such a disobedient disciple for making my elder so worried like this.
“Do not panic, shifu. Even though I still cannot remember all the medicines in the store room, one day, I will……”
He cut me off and hastily pulled out a medical report from one of his drawers, “No need to wait for ‘one day’, you can analyze your own prescription here!”
I shook my head, “I think it is better for me to study first. One day——“
“You do not have to wait for ‘one day’, I will tell you all about it right now! There is nothing wrong with your body, His Majesty is only feeding you tonics to induce pregnancy!”
Feng Zhao Wen, you animal!
I gritted my teeth to force myself to smile. Let me finish this first before settling the score with you!
I said, “Shifu ah, actually, I never really wanted to know what my prescription is. Since shifu is thoughtful towards me, I will repay your kindness one day! I hear the physician’s courtyard has medical reports from the previous dynasties. I only wanted to see the medical report of the previous dynasty’s regent.”
His face turned solemn, “He was your……?”
I replied him in honesty, “He was my father.”
His expression turned complex, “His Majesty already forbade us from disclosing the previous dynasty’s regent’s medical report.” I looked at him tensely for a long time.
He pulled out a file from a large cabinet behind him. Then, he took out a report from inside it and handed it over to me.
“Since you are his daughter, it should be alright.”
I analyzed the report; honestly, other than his rank, I could barely understand anything else. Back then, I had planned to go to this courtyard to search for his report, but after the physician in charge of him died, this courtyard became a taboo place to me. It was hard for me to even approach it.
“Shifu, do you think I can understand this?”
He took the report from me and read it carefully before summing everything up, “The previous dynasty’s regent died from poisoning.”
I looked at him, stunned. Shifu-ah, please don’t tell me that’s what you just said.
He repeated his words, “The previous dynasty’s regent died from poisoning.”
I felt as though my heart had been hammered heavily. My limbs became numb before I came crashing to the ground. My head was filled with loud buzzing and all I could hear was E Huang’s scream that was becoming farther and farther away from me….