It was late summer but the hot weather had yet to relent. Basked beneath the rays of midday sun, plants had grown droopy and leaves were wilting in the blazing heat. Only the lotuses floating on the lake surface gave off the image of a refreshing, cool scenery.
Located at the center of the lake was a pavilion. Ji Feng Li was currently sitting there by himself and on the table in front of him was the legendary qin, Qing Lian(clear water), which he had once given her.
A warm breeze fleeted by, sweeping across the lake surface, rippling the waters. By the time it reached the pavilion, it had already grown cool, bringing along the faint scent of lotuses as it made his clothes flutter with its passing.
Gliding gently across the strings, his slender fingers evoked a clear, soft melody from the qin but this melody was seemingly incomplete.
On the table, there was also a letter which she had sent, asking for blood lotus. Since they’ve parted ways, it’s been more than 2 months. She was determined to have nothing to do with him any longer yet she placed her pride aside and actually wrote him a letter to ask for blood lotus.
Blood lotus! He was naturally willing to give it to her. As long as it’s something she wants, he won’t refuse, even if it’s to save Xiao Yin.
“Imperial Brother!” Huangfu Wu Shang called out as he rushed through the twist and turns of the overpass. By the time he arrived at the pavilion, he was panting heavily. Dressed in royal blue embroidered robes, a jade coronet fixing his hair in place on top of his head, he seemed to have grown taller. He was no longer that young juvenile, oblivious to the affairs of the world.
“What’s the matter?” Ji Feng Li asked with a raised brow.
“Imperial Brother, I heard that you’re sending blood lotus to Northern Kingdom. I wonder…. who have you chosen to deliver it?” Huangfu Wu Shang asked anxiously.
Ji Feng Li looked at Huangfu Wu Shang’s young, handsome face for a moment and came to an understanding. He asked, “Wu Shang, if I choose you, would you be willing to go?”
Huangfu Wu Shang nodded quickly and answered, “Yes, I’m willing!”
“Willing to go to see someone, right?” Ji Feng Li slowly asked as he gently waved his fan.
Huangfu Wu Shang lowered his head; after a while, he nodded in acknowledgement.
Ji Feng Li placed his fan down and reached for the brush on the table. He proceeded to write a letter, then handed it to Huangfu Wu Shang and instructed, “Go ahead. Hand this letter to the Northern Emperor when it’s convenient.”
Huangfu Wu Shang received the letter gleefully and took his leave.
In the seventh lunar month, Prince Kang, Huangfu Wu Shang, journeyed far to Northern Kingdom to deliver blood lotus to help cure the Northern Emperor’s illness. Afterwards, he handed the letter written by the Southern Emperor to Xiao Yin but he was unaware this was a formal letter seeking engagement. On behalf of Huangfu Wu Shang, the Southern Emperor had asked for Dan Hong, the Northern Kingdom’s princess Zhou Ya’s hand in marriage.
Xiao Yin discussed this matter with Dan Hong and asked for her opinion before coming to an agreement. When she heard this news, Hua Zhu Yu was overjoyed for Dan Hong. She thought that perhaps even Dan Hong didn’t know when she had grown feelings for Huangfu Wu Shang herself.
After consenting to the marriage, the two kingdoms decided that the wedding ceremony was to take place on the 8th day of the eleventh lunar month.
Nearing the end of the tenth lunar month, Huangfu Wu Shang departed Southern Kingdom with a grand wedding procession to escort his bride back from Northern Kingdom. At the city gates, Ji Feng Li saw him off. Once the procession had traveled a far distance and could no longer be seen did he finally return to the palace.
Upon his return, he rode his horse straight towards Tao Yuan Ju. Entering the study, he went to the bookshelf and retrieved a small, vermillion box, intricately designed with symbolic patterns of a union of wealth and honor. This box had been carefully locked and he had thrown the key away some time ago since he thought he would never open this box again.
But seeing Huangfu Wu Shang along with his wedding procession today, the memories of his own wedding suddenly surfaced in his mind along with the sachet she had gifted him.
Placing his hand over the lock, he employed his internal force to shatter the lock into a mess of broken pieces. Then, he opened the lid of the box and retrieved the sachet that he had stowed inside.
This sachet was not well made, its stitches were crooked and the embroidery patterns were not particularly special. The sachet was also quite large, bigger than the usual, bulging with the herbs filled inside which gave off its fragrant scent.
He could still remember how happy he had been to receive this sachet which she had personally made for him like it was just yesterday.
Lifting the sachet to his nose, he took in a whiff of the scent but felt that it smelled quite faint, as if much of the scent had dissipated.
The sachet was bulging with herbs so why has the scent dissipated so quickly? It hasn’t even been that long yet.
As if he had suddenly thought of something, he reached out and untied the silk lace that sealed the top of the sachet. Upon opening it, he was surprised to see that there were no herbs nor flower petals inside, but long strips of silk.
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These fragrant strips of silk must’ve been soaked in a bath of herbs. But over time, the scent had greatly faded.
He reached into the sachet and touched the strips of silk but his eyes suddenly caught sight of something. On the white strips of silk, there was a series of small words written in black ink. Upon seeing this, his heart instantly knotted with an aching pain.
“Well, there’s one matter I never had the courage to tell you face to face; I was once pregnant and the child was yours, ours, but I didn’t protect it well.”
Ji Feng Li took in a sharp breath as his fingers began to tremble. He could barely hold on to the strip of silk. The inked words were somewhat blurry, seemingly having been blotched with tears, making him fathom how she must’ve felt when she had written this.
When he found out that it was her that night in the barracks, he did not dare believe that she had lost a child once, nor that the child was his. He did not even dare to think of it but now these words had pushed him down a deep, abyss of pain and agony.
That night, she had supported herself against a tree and vomited. At that time, she had been carrying his child yet he had sneered at her, saying that she ate both male and female.
Later on, because of Imperial Tutor Wen’s matter, he had stopped her in the streets, sneering at her and even picking a fight. At that time, she had been carrying his child.
On the execution grounds, he vowed to forget her forever. At that time, she had been carrying his child.
The night he thought Yuan Bao was dead, he had unknowingly met her on the streets of the night market. She had staggered and fell towards him. He had supported her but later discovered his hands were stained with blood. That was his child’s blood.
His head felt abuzz as an outpour of pain and sorrow surged through him. Without warning, tears came, stinging his eyes, spilling down his face, falling onto the strip of silk, onto the words she had written, making the ink blurry once more.
He pulled out all the strips of silk in the sachet and spread them out, reading them, one by one.
“That night, I had figured out how to defeat your game of chess and went to find you in your tent. That night, I was in great pain. At that time, I hated you.”
“I had fallen sick for some time but you had suddenly announced that you were going to marry Jin Se. Looking back now, at that time, I think I was a little jealous of her.”
“When you married Jin Se, I came to steal the bride but in truth, only I knew that it was not her that I wanted to steal, but you.”
“I had received a secret report and found out that you had nothing to do with what happened to the Hua Family. On the execution grounds, I had bribed several officials. I planned to seal your accupoint when I stabbed you to fake your death. But before I could do that, you had stopped breathing. In that moment, my heart had seemingly died with you. At that time, I finally realized that I had fallen in love with you.”
“Tang Yu had tried to assassinate me. At that time, I was happy that he came and didn’t hide. I wanted to die with you but Kang saved me and I lived on for the sake of the child.”
“In order to avenge you, I decided to assassinate Wu Shuang.”
“I suspected that Na Lan Xue was you in disguise but when I took off his mask and found that it wasn’t, I was devastated.”
“You were unconscious for 3 days and I had stayed by your side during that time. I told myself then that as long as you woke up, I would remain by your side in the palace no matter how difficult it would be, I would stay with you forever.”
“I was jealous of Wen Wan, she was the woman your mother had chosen to be your wife.”
Ji Feng Li’s heart beated violently as if it could jump out of his chest at any moment.
With the opening of each strip of silk, a vivid scene would flash in his mind like it had happened just yesterday.
It turned out that she loved him as much as he loved her.
Coming to realize this, his heart throbbed with pain and he closed his eyes. The aching sorrow and anguish was more excruciating than the poison, tormenting his whole body and soul. He always thought that she hated him. He always thought that she stayed in the palace to help Hua Mu. Especially after he found out that she was the princess of the former dynasty, he thought she had an ulterior motive for remaining in the palace.
She said she loved him, more than once but he never believed her. He always thought she had someone else in her heart and that she was merely using him. But he was still willing to be used by her as long as she remained by his side. He was always insecure and doubtful, he feared that she would one day leave so he imprisoned her, took advantage of her sympathy. So when he knew that he was severely poisoned and there was no antidote, he decided to let her go.
He never knew that the love he longed for, the love he thought he would never have was already his.
He hugged his chest and coughed violently. He could feel his heart racing as if it was lit with a burning fire.
He could imagine what kind of pain she must’ve been through, suffering all alone. In the palace, she was always seemingly preoccupied. He thought she was missing the person in her heart but in reality, she was suffering from the pain of losing their child.
With trembling fingers, he placed the strips of silk back into the sachet and tightly secured the lace before placing it in his lapel.
He hurried out of Tao Yuan Ju, striding past the twisting corridors until he reached Qin Zheng Hall.
He had made up his mind, he was going to head to Northern Kingdom. In preparation for the journey, he ordered Tang Yu to select a team of guards and left state affairs to Lan Bing to handle for the time being. Then he ordered the eunuchs to prepare the fastest horse for him.
In this moment, he was very calm and composed. He was set on going to Northern Kingdom to take her back with him. Moreover, he was confident he could arrive there before Huangfu Wu Shang.
When everything was prepared, he mounted his horse and was ready to leave. But A’Gui had been informed of the news and he quickly rushed over as fast as he could. Falling to his knees, he pleaded, “Your Majesty, please reconsider! Don’t disregard your health!”
In the midst of winter, the sun was shining brightly, illuminating Ji Feng Li’s face that was pale as snow. However, he did not feel an ounce of warmth at all.
A’Gui had just finished talking when Ji Feng Li’s hands gripping the reins suddenly loosened and his body heavily toppled to the ground.
The saddest part in life was knowing that the person you loved also loved you, but you… you could not live for much longer.