I was too shocked to say something. My mind was completely blank. I saw him running towards me and pulling me into a tight hug.
“I’ve missed you,”he whispered against my ear. His voice sounded full of unspoken emotions.
After sensing that I wasn’t reacting, he slowly and gently pushed me away. His hands were still on my shoulders, but now his body is apart from mine. I looked at the familiar face. The face that I loved yet hated at the same time. The face that I saw in my dreams and in my nightmares.
He has become more manly than before. His body felt stronger, with more muscles. He must’ve been training. He didn’t shave. I could see the whiskers. In his black eyes, I could see my own reflection. The mouth that can put everyone to death, isn’t smiling now. He seemed tired. Being an emperor, he must have a heavy workload. Even though he didn’t become the emperor for long, everyone can see the changes that he made. The commoners love him. He gained their hearts, but lost mine in the process.
I looked at him, he looked at me. No one spoke a word. I don’t know how much time has passed. Finally, I broke the silence.
He walked behind me to my room. I motioned him to sit down and poured tea. I felt his gaze never left me once. Those black eyes penetrated me. What is he doing here. What is he thinking about when looking at me? As always I don’t know what he’s thinking. I felt uncomfortable with him looking at me. I tried my hardest to not show my discomfort.
“Do you like it here?”
I looked up at him. He didn’t show any emotion. His voice sounded casual like, but his hands were fisted. Is he trying to control himself?
“Yes, it’s really comfortable here.”
“You don’t like the palace?”
It didn’t sound like a question. We both know the answer to that. Suddenly I remembered the courtesan’s words. Never show my true self in front of the enemy. Always wear a mask.
I took a sip of my tea.
“Why won’t I like it there? Who doesn’t like the palace? Isn’t that why people fight? Everyone wants to live in the palace.”
“An Ning, I know you’re sad. I also know that no matter what I say, I can’t lessen the hurt I gave you. I won’t ask for your forgiveness. I can only promise you that I’ll remember for the rest of my life, how I hurt the one I love the most in this world.”
What does he want me to say against that? That I’ll forgive him or that I’ll forget? Now I can’t anger him. He’ll be my pillar when I take my revenge. I need to think carefully about what I’ll say.
“Xuan Chen, I don’t blame you. I really don’t blame you. I know why you did it. My father started it all. He wanted power. You’ve done nothing wrong. My…my family deserved to die. It’s the law.”
My left hand was under the table. I clutched my clothes. With my right hand, I lifted the cup against my lip. My right hand was slightly trembling.
“You know An Ning, you’re bad at lying.”
Hearing him say that, another person’s face appeared before my eyes. That person has said the same thing to me.
“You don’t need to force yourself to say things you don’t mean.”
“Xuan Chen, why did you come?”
His black eyes darkened. He looked at me with a sad expression as in saying “don’t you really know why?”.
I pretended not to understand his expression.
“I said in my letter that I’ll surely go back to the palace. I only need a little more time.”
“I know. I’ve received your letter. You didn’t answer any letter. I was so happy to receive that letter.” His tone didn’t sound that happy. His unspoken words were: “ And it turned out to be such a letter.”
He gave me a smile that was not really a smile. My heart twitched. It pained me to see him sad.
Deep in my heart, I do know that my family can’t be spared. I just hoped that because of me, he’ll make an exception. I know I’m selfish. Who isn’t? If he had made that exception, nobody in court will side with him. He can’t take the risk of having the court turn against him. After all his power is still not so strong. I know all of that. My head knows, but my heart don’t. I took a deep breath.
“Xuan Chen, what happened between us was a mistake. I really want to turn back time. If I didn’t meet you before the marriage, we won’t be hurting so much. I wouldn’t have known you and you wouldn’t have known me. I was, after all, the prime minister’s daughter. You wouldn’t have looked at me knowing that. I really regret meeting you.” And losing Sweet corn.
“I don’t regret it!”
He looked at me straight in the eye with a determined expression.
“I can regret everything, but I would never regret meeting you.”
“Xuan Chen, there will be a day when you’ll regret it. From the beginning, all was a mistake. If my father didn’t want more power, we wouldn’t be here. I resent my father for selling me. I resent him for making everyone suffer. I resent him because I loved you. I resent him for everything that I’m going through. Aixin-Jueluo Xuan Chen, can you let me go? Pretend that you’ve never met me?”
He hugged me.
“I’ll never let you go. The only thing that I’m thanking your father for, is for arranging our marriage. In this lifetime you’re destined to be my wife. I’ll never ever let anyone separate us.”
“Not even the emperor?”