In a flash, Yun Wen disappeared. Xuan Chen entered and I bowed to him. He was wearing a light yellow robe, making him appear more handsome and dignified. He walked towards me and helped me up.
“When we’re in private, you don’t need to bother with palace etiquettes.”
“Chenqie will obey.”
“An Ning, are you still angry?”
“How can chenqie dare to be angry with the emperor?”
Xuan Chen hand turned into fists. We stayed silent like this. Xuan Chen kept staring at me. He seemed like he can see through me. My heart beat faster. My hand holding the handkerchief tightened and I tried to calm myself.
“An Ning, we’ve never sat down and talked. Today you can tell me everything and I’ll also answer your every question. Do you have something that you want to ask me?”
I looked at him in the eyes and asked the only question I really wanted to know. I asked words after word: “Do…you…like…the…throne?”
He seemed taken aback. He thought for a while and then answered: “I don’t know. Being born in the imperial family, the throne is something that all princes will went after. It’s not a matter of like or not like. It’s a matter of surviving. If you can’t sit on that throne, your life can be ended.”
His eyes are without emotions while he talked. It seemed like he was just telling a fact or telling a story about someone else. I sighed.
“Now that you’re sitting on it do you like it?”
“Maybe, it gives me power to do the things I want to do, but it also limits my power. I need to keep every side of the court in balance. Every action I take, I need to think about it carefully. I also need to guard myself against many people. At the same time, I have power to control all my brothers. I have the power to keep my life and I have the power to keep yours. I’m really sorry for killing your family, but you also know that they did many wrong things. I wanted to spare your family but what your father did needed to be punished with the killing the whole clan. I need to appease the official and at the same time I need to take your feelings into account. So I lightened the punishment and only your family is sentenced. Your aunts and uncle’s family are spared.”
“I know. I don’t blame you for that. I’ve thought it through at the temple. Although you’re the emperor, but there are times that you will be tied down by your own court. Beside you must’ve gone through many things to keep me alive. I’m apologizing for being unreasonable when all of that happened.”
“An Ning, when you went to the temple, it was like a punishment for myself. I wanted to kill of all those minister who’ve send you there. I won’t beg for your forgiveness because I can’t even forgive myself for letting the woman that I love go through such humiliation. When get more power and the court is steady, I’ll pay my debt to you back.”
I looked at his handsome determined face. I know he is making a promise that he’ll keep. A twinge went through my heart. I really don’t know what to do. Why did it have to be like this? If he treated me coldly and have forgotten those feelings, then I’ll take revenge for my baby without any remorse. But he is like this. I did feel some guilt that I will be taking his throne from him.
“About the concubines…”
“I know,” I interrupted him.
“Are you not angry?”
“What’s the point in being angry? Beside don’t all man have three wives and four concubines in their homes? You’re the emperor and the back palace is a place for three thousand women.”
“I’ll turn myself more powerful so that I don’t need those alliances. I’ll punish anyone who want to send their daughter into my palace.”
“Xuan Chen, I’m the empress. It’s my duty to select women for you to let the imperial line continue on. Since, I didn’t give you any children even though, I’ve been married to you for two years, do you want to go to other women?”
Pain flashed into his eyes. There seem to be something that he is suppressing.
“Do you have anything you need or want to tell me?”
I looked at him in surprise. What does he mean?
“Do you still love me?”
I looked at him once and then looked down. My heart is a mess. I wanted to say yes I still love you, but I couldn’t get it out of my mouth. Seems like I can’t lie to him.
He stood up turned and walked away. At the door he stopped and said: “I’m sorry for everything that you suffered because of me. No matter what you do or want to do I’ll support you.”
I looked at his leaving back. He seemed so lonely. There was an urge in me to ran to him and hug his back. Before I know it my feet have moved one step forward. I was stopped by the voice coming from behind me: “Let him go. It’ll be easier for you.”
“Feelings are not something that’ll stop just because I want it. You need to go and the next time you want to see me, please give me an announcement first. Don’t appear out of nowhere.”
Back at Qianqing palace, Ming Kuang brought a cloth in and handed it over to Xuan Chen. Xuan Chen waved his hand for Ming Kuang to retreat. Ming Kuang went away. While closing the door, he looked once at Xuan Chen on the dragon seat.
Xuan Chen unpacked it. In it was a memorial tablet with the scripting in gold paint Aixin-Jueluo Yong Juan on it. Xuan Chen trailed his finger over the letters. Pain was visible in his eyes. A tear rolled down his eyes.
“Juan er, sorry that fuhuang couldn’t protect you. I hope you rest well in heaven. Fuhuang will take good care of your muhou. You can be at peace.”
He took the tablet in the hidden room in his bedchamber. In the hidden chamber was different painting of a one beautiful woman hanging on the wall. The woman has black eyes and hair and a small full mouth. On all of the paintings, she is wearing simple clothes. Just looking at the painting you can see that this woman loved to laugh and is mischievous. There was one painting of an older woman in her mid-twenties in the room. She was beautiful and has sad looking eyes. Xuan Chen walked to that painting and said: “Mufei, how are you doing down there? Did you get to meet Juan er. Does he looks like me or An Ning? I really wish to see him, but the heavens didn’t let it. Mufei, maybe you’re happier down there than above here. Now I know how you felt when looking at fuhuang’s back while he went to other consorts. When I felt that other man’s presence in An Ning’s room, my heart felt like it has been cut into thousand pieces.”
“If all continue like this, I think I’ll go crazy. Mufei what do I do? Your unfilial son promised you to never fall in love and to take the throne, but here I am. In love with the worst woman possible. You must be disappointed in me.”
He stared at the painting for a while longer, then he walked away from the painting and put the tablet on bookshelf. He burned an incense stick.
“Fuhuang promise you that after all is finished, fuhuang will make a proper burial for you. Bear with this place for a while.”
He came back into the hall and called Ming Kuang.
“How are the preparations going?”
“All is going according to your highness’s plan.”
Xuan Chen nodded.
“Send some more people to keep an eye on the empress and the empress dowager. If the empress want to do something let her do it, but don’t let the empress dowager harm her. As for the people at eight imperial uncle’s home, let them retreat. Give free space for them to do their thing.”
“Your highness, are you sure you want to do this? Is there really no other way?”
“I’ve never been so sure in my life before. Don’t ask any more. Do what I told you to do. Don’t ever let someone find out, otherwise not to mention my life, even An Ning’s life will be at stake. I’ll never ever let anyone harm her again.”
Ming Kuang nodded.
“Don’t worry, I’ve picked the best out of the best from the secret troop to protect her highness. Beside the man that You majesty trained are the best.”
“Finally, the day is nearing. For this day, I’ve waited twenty years. You’ve also waited long for this day.”
“Is all thanks to your majesty that I that day will come. Ming Kuang will be forever grateful to your majesty.”
“I’ll let them pay for all that we’ve suffered with interest!”