I knelt in front of Father’s altar, sobbing my heart out. The sky was dark, everything else that surrounded me was dim. My voice had turned hoarse from crying. Only when my eyes had turned deep red did I finally showed the sign of stopping.
Uncle Tong gave my return a tearful welcome. He stroked his beard while tears fell from his old eyes. He comforted me with a hoarse voice, “Since Xiao Lang has returned, why don’t you lit incense for the Old Master? You had been gone for three years, I thought…… I thought you were long gone….”
I took a bunch of lit incense from Feng Zhao Wen’s hand and placed them in the incense burner. When I raised my head as I knelt, I finally realized that someone else was kneeling with me. Uncle Tong tried to help him up, “Your Majesty, this is too inappropriate. The Old Master is already at peace now with Xiao Lang’s return, how can we make you kneel to him?”
Feng Zhao Wen pushed his hand away, “The Old General is worthy of my respect.” After that, he kow-towed in front of Father with me.
Later, Uncle Tong questioned me behind Feng Zhao Wen’s back, “Xiao Lang….. What is going on between you and His Majesty?” He still called me by my old nickname.
After crying, my heart had became a lot more relaxed. I sat on the old courtyard, watching the flowers and trees. The grasses and weeds seemed to have flourished a lot. Seeing that view and remembering the person who was no longer there, tears pooled in my eyes once again. I looked at Uncle Tong with my swollen eyes; I must have looked really ugly, “What do you think is going on between me and him, Uncle Tong?”
He patted my head. In the three years I had not seen him, his hair and beard had turned completely white. He had aged really hard, though his hand remained just as warm, “I could see that he dotes on you a lot…… However, before Old Master died, the thing he didn’t want the most was you entering the palace….” He turned around to wipe his tears: “I must have gotten really old. I shouldn’t have bring up the Old Master in front of you.”
For the first time in my life, I raised my head to look at Uncle Tong with no guilt at all, “Were you angry at me, three years ago? You must have really hated me for….”
In the end, I simply lowered my head, no longer had it in me to continue talking.
He caressed my head with his large palm, wiping my tears with his coarse fingers, “The Old Master treasured you like you were a pearl. If anything, he would blame that Yan brat for not having discerning eyes. He would never be angry at you, he was simply worried. There were waves of instability in the court back then; you were a simple girl, how would you understand the intrigue behind every turn of events?”
My voice trembled as I tried to reaffirm what I just heard, “Father really didn’t blame me?”
Uncle Tong hugged me with one arm and let my tears fell on his chest, “You foolish child. No parents would blame their children over anything. Besides, back then, the Old Master drank a tea that was presented by an official from the military department. After that, he got sick. That person was a trusted aide of the previous empress dowager. How could he not understand when things had transpired in that manner?”
My nose was filled with the familiar scent of Uncle Tong. When Father was busy when I was younger, I would glue myself to Uncle Tong. I would lazily sleep in his embrace. Just like Father, he watched me grew. After everything I had been through, I was finally home. I quietly cried in his embrace.
Lucky he was still here.
He spoke on, “The previous emperor was a little muddle-headed. There were rumors outside that he was actually the son of a maid from the empress dowager’s palace. She had only pretended to be pregnant back then. I do not know if the rumors are true. What I do know is she had been coveting power after the late emperor died. She wanted to be involved in politics, just like Empress Lu. Unfortunately, there were Yan Yu and the Old Master in court. She had wanted to pull one to her side and kills the other. The Old Master was righteous and Yan Yu was crafty, so she had the Old Master raised a little so that his fall would be harder. That treacherous woman!” His voice was gradually consumed by hate. The frail old man that was holding me was filled with poison and fury, even my heart ended up twisting a little.
He continued his words, “Unfortunately, her opportunities ran dry. The Great Chen perished and she was captured by Yan Yu, presented to the Great Qi’s new emperor. Not long later, she died in prison. Because of Yan Yu’s craftiness, he was stabbed to death by a Great Chen’s official when he least expect it. Even in death, he did not have the honor our Old Master had.”
This was a news to me, I did not think Uncle Yan would die after joining force with the Great Qi.
Uncle Tong laughed lightly, “Speaking about that, remember that Rui Wang? When the Great Qi took over the kingdom, he lowered his head and surrendered. He even presented his daughter to the Great Qi’s emperor. The emperor back then, stashed her over to the Crown Prince. At least, he managed to keep his glory. He even has a flashy title now, the Duke of Xiao Yao.”
I laughed along with him before poking my head out of his chest. I grabbed him by the hand while I laughed, “I met that Consort Yu in the palace.”
Uncle Tong was immediately worried, “Did she make things hard for you? The harem is always full of fight. This is not good. Why don’t you ask His Majesty to let you out of the palace?”
I comforted him, “I had always been with His Majesty in Zhong Hua Palace. She couldn’t enter the palace even if she wanted to.”
Uncle Tong nodded, “Oh.” And then, he suddenly yelped out loud, as though he was frightened to death, “You lived with the emperor in Zhong Hua Palace?”
“In a side-chamber?”
“No, in the main palace.”
Uncle Tong was really weird; the look in his eyes was a mix of joy and worry.
“Did you…. Co-exist well with the other concubines?”
I thought for a while, “It was alright. They have their own palaces. Consort De forced her way in once, so she got banned from going near Zhong Hua Palace, shortly after.
Uncle Tong stared at me, his expression becoming even more peculiar. He seemed to be in a sticky spot. “This…. This shouldn’t be asked by me, but the Old Master is no longer here….. But even if he is still here, he will find it hard to ask as well…. There were rumors out there saying His Majesty has a hidden disease….. His concubines….. I mean, had he done anything to you?”
I finally understood him after thinking for a long time. He too seemed embarrassed, avoiding eye-contact. He then raised his neck, saying, “The Madam and Master are no longer here. Only I am in charge of keeping this manor. Naturally, this matter lies on my shoulder as well.”
My face burned up. I yielded under his shiny eyes. I lowered my head and whispered the following words, “H-He told me to give him a son…. He also wants to make me his empress.” Then, I proudly raised my head and righteously speaks on, “I didn’t answer him! I naturally will not….. I mean, this is treason!”
I stood up as the smile in Uncle Tong’s face became more and more apparent, “I want to visit Father’s room! Mine too…..” I walked away in large strides as Uncle Tong laughed, “Xiao Lang, an occasional treason or two is not a big matter.”
I paused in my steps for a moment before running away under his boisterous laughter.
Uncle Tong, he….. He was truly unpatriotic!
Feng Zhao Wen was strolling around in the back courtyard. When he saw me hastily walking, he questioned me, “Xiao Yi, why is your face so red?”
Remembering what Uncle Tong said, I was suddenly embarrassed. I glared at him, “It was all your fault!” I turned around to enter my room and slammed the door shut. I suddenly remembered that my room was turned into a complete mess by imperial guards back then. Even the tiles were pried open. I did not want to see that scene. I wanted to walk out, but I knew that man was still out there. I helplessly stayed where I was.
When I turned around, I was greeted with a shocking scene.
My entire room was clean, it was as though I was back to the old times. All my things were in their original place. The tiles had been repaired and the curtain had been replaced to my favorite blue color.
I stared at my room in a daze; it felt as though I had entered the wrong place.
There was a knock on the door. I opened the door in a trance. Feng Zhao Wen was standing there, with the bright sunlight shining on him from behind. His facial features were deep, he looked really handsome; slowly entering my heart like the sunlight entering my room.
My heart jumped. This situation was really weird.
“This- this room…..” After I thought about it deeply, it must have been Uncle Tong’s doing. He was in charge of the residence after all. My heart soured a little, but I was still happy nonetheless.
Feng Zhao Wen unexpectedly nodded, “Uncle Tong told you? I only sent some people to repair the residence; I didn’t do it myself, so you don’t have to give me that tearful look. Come, smile for zhen to see.”
I stared at him speechlessly. Then, I went past him and went straight to my Father’s room.
After opening the door, I found it hard for me to contain my feeling even though I had prepared myself beforehand. The style of this room had not changed. The nightmares that plagued me suddenly felt so distant. My heart soured nevertheless. When I turned around, my eyes fell on that handsome young man that had followed me. I contained my tears and laughed teasingly at him, “Your Majesty, you will have to pay for every smile you want to see! Will you be able to afford it?”
I felt the small bag that was hanging from my waist; it rattled. “I knew it! ‘Your Majesty’ only sounds good in name. The truth is you are a pauper.”
I looked up. The sunlight was brilliant but I had a feeling that the smile on my face shined even more. I ignored the tears hanging from the corner of my eyes. All the joy and sorrow, the high and low was completely ignored. What could be better than going through your life with someone by your side?