I had no idea how long I was bed-ridden. I had a fever. Sometimes I woke up with a clear head, sometimes my head would get all fuzzy. Once I was well enough to climb out of the dragon bed, E Huang happily thank the gods. She said, when I was clear-headed, I would call Feng Zhao Wen ‘Your Majesty’ and when I was not, I would call him ‘Father’. When the emperor was on the court, he became His Majesty and when he went out of court, he became ‘Father’. He was so busy that he had gotten thin; he was really pitiful, she said.
I reflected on everything as I clutched my head in the nestle of the dragon bed. It was the prime example of dishonorable behavior.
When he returned from the morning court later, I was already eating. There were more than ten dishes on the table; ranging from spicy dishes to pastries. E Huang advised me from the sideline, “Miss, slow down…. You look like you haven’t eaten for more than ten days.”
I swallowed the Mei Mao Su in my mouth before drinking a mouthful of milk. Then, I turned around and glared at her, “I have been hungry for days!” In the corner of my eyes, I caught the silhouette of Feng Zhao Wen standing in the doorway in a daze. I beckoned him with my hand that was holding the remaining Mei Mao Su, laughing, “Have you just returned from court, Your Majesty? Come eat with me. Today’s Mei Mao Su is so delicious!”
He regained his thoughts. He sat in front of me, his eyes sweeping the table before turning stern. He glared at E Huang, “She has only gotten better, why are you giving her oily food? Hurry and change them to healthier ones!”
I watched as my favorite caramelized pork hock and spicy beef wrapped in lotus leaves were taken away. In the blink of an eye, the table became empty.
E Huang bowed, “This servant will personally oversee them in the kitchen and bring more light-flavored food for Miss.” After saying that, she practically flew out of the door. In the blink of an eye, she was seen no more.
I stared at the empty table and then at him, “Your Majesty, are you upset that I was eating too much?”
He sat so close and upon closer look, I discovered that his eyes had eye-bags around them. His usually clear phoenix eyes were red. E Huang was not lying, he had gotten thin.
Feng Zhao Wen must had been worried about me.
He frowned, his eyes filled with gentleness, “That report was discovered by Shi Qing in a hidden compartment of a drawer after we took over the palace. It was an accidental discovery. Since it was stored in a secretive manner, he knew it would be important, so he handed it over to me. Back then, I told him to hang onto it….” He seemed to hesitate as he looked at me, not sure if he should continue.
I confidently looked at him, sitting upright like a mountain. My facial muscle seemed to be out of my control. I smiled lightly. I could hear my own warm voice speaking, “No worries, Your Majesty. Continue talking.”
He held out a hand towards my face and caressed it, “Xiao Yi, if you want to cry, cry on. Shi Qing said you had a lot of things pent up inside you. Your body and mind could not control it anymore, that was why you fell ill.”
I stubbornly looked at him; I could feel the things I ate just now falling heavily into my stomach like large stones. As expected, one should not eat too much oily meals.
I shook my head, signaling him to continue speaking.
He spoke on, “Then, we asked the original official in charge of maintaining the medicine’s store room. He said, the report was written by a previous physician who had the surname Zhang. That physician used to receive the previous empress dowager’s trust.”
I stared at his face tensely; everything did not fall too far from my original speculation. The previous empress dowager only knew to do things in that manner. Father was only regent for a couple of days yet he was already blocking her way. He wholeheartedly had wanted to protect the Great Chen. Even though he knew it would be hard to protect Xiao Huang’s position amidst the political turmoil, he invested his heart and soul into this cause. Who would’ve thought…….. Who would’ve thought that in the end….
Feng Zhao Wen’s anxious face inched closer to me as he spoke to my ears in a loud tone, “Xiao Yi…… Xiao Yi…… Let go of your hand…. Stop biting yourself…” It was as though there was another me, coldly watching as he hastily pried my fisted hands away before pinching my jaw to stop me from biting my lips…… Everything felt so distant.
It was as though my soul had flown out of my body and had looked at myself from outside. My fists were tightly clenched and my teeth were biting on my lower lip. My entire body simply froze. Tian Bing Qing hastily ran in with an anxious face, “What is wrong with her?” He helped Feng Zhao Wen slowly unravel my fingers. My hands were already stained red from blood.
Feng Zhao Wen took out a yellow handkerchief and stuffed it in my mouth that he had pried open. “Somebody come and bring Shi Qing here!”
The head physician practically flew here. He shakes his beard as he checked my pulse. Then, he gave my face a heavy pat as he spoke loudly, “Wake up!”
I could hear Feng Zhao Wen saying, “It is useless, Official Shi. She has lost her perception of physical pain. Maybe she was too shocked by the regent’s death, back then. She had an entanglement in her heart because she thought she angered him to death. The regent only had this one daughter, he doted on her so much…..”
The physician pulled my ears before speaking in a hard tone, “An Xiao Yi…. My disciple…. Your Father did not die because of you. He was killed by the previous empress dowager. Wake up and pay her back for it…..”
Something burst within me and before I knew it, I sprayed a mouthful of warm blood on Feng Zhao Wen’s face. I stared at him, whose face was a sight of delight, “She is awake now! She is awake now!” He did not care for the blood that had been splattered on his face and instead hugged me tight.
I regained my awareness.
Official Shi checked on my pulse, but I simply took my hand away, “I am fine. I am just a little tired. I want to rest.”
Feng Zhao Wen furtively shook his head at him. He and Tian Bing Qing then, retreated away. Feng Zhao Wen helped me get up, “Zhen will rest with you.”
I pushed him away, “Go away. Your entire body is full of the smell of blood, it is so uncomfortable.”
“Then let me at least send you to the bed first,” the emperor pleaded in a low voice.
I looked at him. His phoenix eyes were curved and he was trying to hide the anxiety that was lingering within them. I could see my own reflection in his eyes; that deep imprint of teeth under my lower lips. For some reasons, I could not bring myself to reject him. He helped me get on the bed before covering me with a blanket. Then, he deftly got off the bed.
I could hear the sound of water and before long, he returned with a cleansing cloth in his hand. He used it to gently wipe my face and when he got on my lips, he whispered to me, “This will hurt a little. Bear with this for a moment.”
I heard him just now; telling Physician Shi that I had lost my perception of pain and yet he went around saying this. How pointless. I fixed my eyes on him, feeling the gentle way he cleaned my lips. The eyes in which he looked at me with were sorrowful; the way he was behaving was unlike the Feng Zhao Wen I knew. I had never seen this kind of worried and sad him.
He only went to bath after cleaning my hand and face.
Before he even came back, I already entered the world of deep sleep.
I dreamed of a barren land. I kept walking, not knowing where I came from and where I was heading. The world was vast and empty.
When I woke up, the sky was already bright. I massaged my numb and painful neck. I could feel a warm body practically glued to me from behind. It was summer; even though there were ice blocks on every corner of the palace, sweats continued to be formed on my forehead.
I was laying supine when I saw a red phoenix eyes looking at me. I looked at the sky outside before laughing mockingly at myself, “Your Majesty, you looked like Yi Wang’s shizi before he was sent to the countryside. If the emperor does not go to court, will I be labeled as the demoness who ruined a kingdom?”
He pinched me in the cheeks, looking calm as usual, “You are so ugly when you laugh. Cry for zhen to see.”
I stared at him, “What kind of preference is this, Your Majesty? Do you want me to call all the Niang Niangs and everyone else and tell them cry in front of you? Will you be bestowing the Niang Niang who cry the hardest with treasures?”
He looked at me thoughtfully before he lowered his head and bite me in the nose, “Are you going to cry or not? Zhen’s words must be obeyed. Hurry and cry in front of zhen!”
I leaned onto his chest and rubbed against his body hard, “This commoner intends to disobey a decree. If you want to cut off my head, go ahead ah! Go ahead!”
His Majesty laughed loudly before going down the dragon bed, “You are acting roguish early in the morning. Just wait and see!”
Feng Zhao Wen was a willful person, so after eating breakfast, I waited for him. What came was the news that I was to go out of the palace. Tian Bing Qing hastily ran over with a joyful face, “Miss, His Majesty said you will be taken out of the palace today to stroll around the capital. He told you to get ready.”
I looked around Zhong Hua Palace; other than the gold and silver ornaments that I found, there seemed to be nothing I could prepare.
After seeing me pulling and tossing the content of the dressing container, Tian Bing Qing pursed his lips, “Miss, this small bag and it’s content are prepared for you. As for your dress, just choose something simple that doesn’t draw people’s eyes.”
E Huang helped me dig out a simple, snow-colored dress before taking off the flashy ornaments I had on my head. She replaced it with a simple flower hair pin. That girl was really smart and careful, it was better to be as inconspicuous as possible when going out of the palace.
Today, Feng Zhao Wen wore a simple blue robe, contrasting his usually luxurious look. He looked like some lad who was preparing to enter the national exam. Our horses quickly took us out of the palace. I looked out of the curtain, sighing softly. I had been in the palace for a good few months, I finally had the chance to take fresh air.
Tian Bing Qing was sitting next to the coachman in the shaft. He laughed at me, “Today is all because of Miss’s fortune. It had been long since this servant went out of the palace.”
I replied him as I looked at the scenery outside, “Blessings are to be enjoyed together, while hardness are to be endured by only you.”
(TN: There is saying that says ‘Happiness and hardship are to be endured together’. She is twisting that up.)
Feng Zhao Wen pinched my cheeks, “Come, cry for zhen to see.” I glared at him.
He signaled me to look at his palm; he slowly opened it to reveal a red object. I blinked, freezing for a moment before wrestling the object off of him. I stared at it in disbelief.
I was right! This was the little fish my Father carved for me! Even though the golden ball in it’s mouth hadn’t fade in color, the double-fish knot that my Father personally made had been affected greatly by the years.
I held it carefully with my two hands, my eyes starting to turn blurry. I turned to Feng Zhao Wen in gratitude, “This little wooden fish was made by my Father…. Where did you find it? I’ve always thought I lost it in Huang He Valley.”
He caressed my face, “Things were chaotic while we were treating you so I kept it in your behalf. I kept forgetting to return it to you. Be good and cry for zhen to see.”
My eyes were full of tears as I placed it near my heart. Then, I turned to him mockingly, “You did not return it to me on purpose. You petty man!”
He nodded, “Correct, I covet your things.”
Had the carriage not been small, I would have kicked him long ago.
He was the esteemed ruler of a kingdom, he had seen all kinds of treasures. How dare he said that?
I stared at him blankly, it was as though I didn’t know him. Before I could even dissect the meaning of his words, Tian Bing Qing spoke from outside, “ Your Majesty, Miss, we have arrived.”
I looked out of the curtain. Then, I froze.
I could almost see the yesterday me chirping around while riding a horse, on the way back home. I would knock on the door and the door would be opened, but not unaccompanied by a flying door-latch.
“You unfilial child, you still know the way home?”
My heart crumbled.
I quickly put down the curtain, “Let’s go back to the palace.”
Feng Zhao Wen outstretched his arms and hugged me, “Since we are here, might as well take a look.”
I curled up into a ball, my heart overcame with terror. My old memories were suppressed in this small space. If I did not open the door, I could stay here, laughing and singing happily. I could live my life happily, with the blessing of my Father. My days would be bright and I had never experienced all of those dark moments.
If I did not open the door, my Father would still be alive in the courtyard. He would be hiding behind the door and threw the latch off.
Feng Zhao Wen led me in front with large strides. The more steps we took, the harder I trembled. Fear and terror were overpowering me, I screamed and jumped away from him. I kicked him away with force and vented all my fear and pain to him.
He spread out his arms before he tried to comfort me, “Be obedient, Xiao Yi….. Let’s look around and pay him our respect.”
I hated him! I hated this world!
I screamed loudly, wanting to cover my eyes with my arms so I wouldn’t have to see the sight in front of me. He buried me in his arms only to receive another kick from me. Once he hugged me, he knocked on the door. I buried my head on his chest, trembling as I cried in sorrow. A familiar voice came from the other side of the door, “Who is it?”
The mottled door was squeaked open and amidst the hazy tears in my eyes, I could see Uncle Tong’s old face. Feng Zhao Wen smiled, “Uncle Tong, I brought Xiao Yi home to pay respect to her Father.”
My tears fell even harder.
As though my Father had only died today.