3 years passed and I would occasionally reminisce the scene in Jin Xiu Pavilion. The fire raged on for three days and three nights. After the fire was extinguished, the Crown Prince gritted his teeth before ordering his people to scour through the ashes. His eyes were red like vermilion.
After they cleaned up quite a bit of the ashes there, no traces of human remain could be found.
At that moment, the Crown Prince pointed at the base of the scorched Jin Xiu Pavilion, “Dig it up to 3 feet deep. This prince does not believe she could fly.”
He was just like me, unable to rest for the past three days.
The Great Qi’s emperor was in the Great Qi’s palace. He did not come with the Crown Prince in this campaign. That was why the Crown Prince was able to ignore everything else and concentrates on the site of fire for so long.
When the secret passage was discovered, my heart was filled with hope. The Crown Prince patted me on the shoulder. He ordered me to lead people to search for her.
Within the next three years, my Father died. Then, the Great Qi’s late emperor passed away. The Crown Prince inherited the throne and ruled over the land.
There were many women shoved to him by the late emperor and the empress dowager, but he never graced any of them. Rumors were running rampant that His Majesty had a ‘hidden disease’.
Only I knew the truth. His Majesty did not have a hidden disease, he was just attracted to people of the same gender.
When I was in a remote village, I encountered a fight between the villagers. I released an arrow to warn them. When I got nearer, I was shocked to discover how thin and unkempt she had become. Memories flashed in my head as I stared at her in disbelief.
She was raised with care; gold and silver were like dirt to her. She was dandy and frivolous and had lived in privilege without a care for the world. I stared dazedly at the shabby hut that she and Qin Hui had been living in. Inside, there were two pairs of chopsticks and a bowl on top of a broken table. There was half a plate of stir-fried vegetables and a bowl of rice.
I never thought she would ever live such a hard life. Never in my life would I imagine seeing her looking at me in embarrassment like that.
I picked up a piece of the charred vegetable and placed it in my mouth. The bitterness pierced through my heart.
There were a couple of guards behind me. They were His Majesty’s personal guards. He ordered them to scourge through the lands with me in search for her.
When she was put in jail, she smiled beautifully at me and said, “An Yi is originally a girl, of course I would like men.”
That confession was like a thunder blaring through a sunny sky. In that instant, everything that happened in the past became a joke.
Everything seemed so dark and my heart felt so tight. The memory of her chasing me while calling me ‘daughter-in-law’ suddenly seemed so sweet that I became light-headed.
For the past 3 years, His Majesty ordered people to search for her all over the place. Perhaps, something bad had happened during the half a year in which he took her captive….
I thought she would be upset that Qin Hui was taken away….
But in the end, I was wrong. We had known each other since we were small. I watched with my own eyes, how I extinguished every last bit of liveliness out of her. As I closed my eyes while sharing a carriage with her, regret rose within me, little by little. Never before had I regretted my youthful haughtiness until that very moment.
The palace was as deep as a mysterious sea. Surrounded by His Majesty’s people, I personally sent her to the palace; personally sent her to him.
I did not know when her story with him had started…
Perhaps, it was during His Majesty’s visit as the Crown Prince years ago. Or perhaps, it was during her captivity for half a year.
He knew she was a girl from the start, so he got a huge upper-hand.
No matter what, this was not something I would like to see.
What I wanted to see was His Majesty’s hatred for her. I would plead for her life under the meritous acts that my Father and I had done for His Majesty. Then, I would travel the world with her and we would live a dream-like life together.
I would use all the love I had in this entire lifetime in exchange for a smile from her and we would go back to our younger years.
On the second day, I rushed into the palace and went to the imperial guards’ station to gauge the situation. When I found out that she spent the night in Zhong Hua Palace, my mind felt numb as a heavy rock settled at the pit of my stomach.
When I saw her standing near the Biluo Forest with Qin Yu Zheng, regretful tears pooled in my eyes.
The An Xiao Lang who was famous alongside me for having ‘broken sleeves’ was beautiful beyond words
If time could turn backwards and the world could be at peace, this beautiful and exquisite woman would be mine. This woman who was like a pure lotus under the moonlight…. This woman whose heart was larger than life…. How beautiful would it be if both of us stood side by side…
I did not have the guts to even imagine that, but my mind could not help from conjuring that scene, filling my heart with regret.
She, who was dressed in female clothing, smiled at me with a sense of alienation. There was not a single trace of love in her clear eyes…… It was I who broke the most precious thing without realizing it.
Rumors started to spread in the palace about how His Majesty had taken a liking on an unknown woman. Even the ministers had started to admonish them in the morning court. Their leader was naturally General Hu Guo.
General Hu Guo was the empress dowager’s biological brother and Consort De’s father.
I heard, the empress dowager had tried to instate Consort De as the empress, but His Majesty rejected that suggestion, the reason being Consort De did not bear any children.
The people in the palace gossiped with each other; the emperor never summoned anyone to serve him in bed, how would Consort De bear him any children?
Now that rumors about His Majesty summoning an unknown woman to serve him every night had spread; how could General Hu Guo swallow his anger?
When my inner conflict collided with other’s, I knelt in front of Zhong Hua Palace, requesting for a marriage bestowment. His Majesty was furious.
In front of General An’s tomb, she told me, “Don’t tell me you think I would still carry those silly notions with me? Willing to unconditionally give my everything to someone….”
I thought I could turn back time, back to the most beautiful moments of my life. I thought I could keep her love and affection, make her eyes follow me like it used to. Everything was only wishful thinking on my part.
I watched with my own eyes as the woman that I deeply loved changed into a phoenix dress. The emperor held her hand as they climbed the 99 staircase to the top of the platform.
I was destined to always be creeping under her foot, looking up to her.
I had seen an overbearing An Xiaolang, a willful An Xiaolang, a deeply in love An Xiaolang, a laughing An Xiaolang and a cold An Xiaolang. I had seen so many sides of her that without my realization, every single one of it had been engraved in my heart. I could no longer erase it.
His Majesty once told me that his imperial sister was of age; he asked me if I was willing to be paired off with her.
I politely declined his suggestion.
Once, Consort Yu blocked my way near the Biluo Forest. She looked enraged and demented, “Brother Ping, don’t tell me you are still yearning for An Yi, that slut?”
I sighed softly. The difference between them was glaring. One does not hate and blame. She was not arrogant and snappy. If one compared her with Consort Yu, the difference between them would be as big as the heaven and earth.
“Please be mindful of your words, Your Ladyship.”
Tears flowed from Qin Yu Zheng’s eyes. “Brother Ping, she is now the empress and is even carrying the emperor’s child. Everyone in the palace knows just how much His Majesty dotes on her!”
I was willing to protect this palace just like how she protected me back when we were young.
I never knew that she was protecting me, waiting for me to grow up, back then. For her, protecting me was like protecting a beautiful dream, never mind that I was older than her by two years.
After Prince Qing Jun was born, I always saw her strolling around the palace while carrying him. The emperor would be by her side, accompanying her. They looked like a common pair of husband and wife. They looked beautiful together, lovingly walking side by side.
They could only see each other in their eyes and no one else.
And I, in their eyes, was no different than the maids and guards in the background.
Serene: This chapter was brought to you by Meropi!
Synopsis: The online game <