Gu Fang Bu Zi Shang Vol02 Ch32
The secluded mountain residence was very peaceful.
The guards stood outside whilst the young maids worked inside, looks were exchanged as familiar faces greeted one another with occasional encounters. Love was in the air.
Hongqiang upon noting that Zuiju was accompanying Pingting, smiled as she slipped outside to play. Pingting and Zuiju did not mind.
There was little snowfall these days, and the sun shone brightly. Its warm rays melted the thin layer of ice and snow on the ground. Zuiju was always worried about Pingting slipping hence insisted on accompanying her every time she went for a walk.
“Please take care, the ground is slippery.”
Pingting stood beneath the plum blossom tree, stretching to pluck the buds. She laughed, “Every single time I take a step you keep reminding me. If you’re that worried, you may as well help me then.”
Helpless, Zuiju could only move to help Pingting with her task by pulling down the plum tree branches, allowing her to pluck the buds.
“Didn’t you wish to display these in your room?”
“No,” Pingting mischievously replied, revealing a cheeky smile, “for cooking.”
She could just imagine the fragrant smell of crane boiled in a mixture of herbs and plum blossom buds.
Pingting cheerfully placed the flower buds and blossoms into a small dish as she began, “I suddenly recall reading in an old text about the medical properties of plum blossoms. I plan to add these buds together with some sugar, salt, wine and winter vegetables and make some preserves in the traditional Gui Le style. When the Duke returns, we can enjoy some together.”
Zuiju quickly reminded, “I have never heard of the idea of using plum blossoms in medicine, so I have no idea of its effects. It should be fine for the Duke to try some but you must take care.”
“I know”, Pingting replied, “Haven’t I followed your nutritional guidelines?”
Realising how far her thoughts had wandered and the truth in Zuiju’s words, Pingting cheeks darkened in embarrassment.
“It’s such a shame that it’s winter, there are very few flowers in bloom. Once Spring and Summer arrive there will be many more to choose from and we can make so many dishes. For example, there are more than five ways of cooking to cook a peony.” Pingting continued whilst picking more buds. After a while however she began to feel a bit tired. Since she was currently pregnant with Chu Beijie’s child, she must never risk overexerting herself. Pingting handed her plate to Zuiju, and the two of them returned to Pingting’s quarters.
“It’s sunset already.” Pingting remarked, “The Duke should have received the command flag by now.”
She was only half correct.
Chu Beijie had long received the command flag but he had still yet to depart.
Chu Beijie was guarding Concubine Li’s residence. On the outside he looked calm and collected as always, inside he was very anxious.
On the dawning of the fifth day, he had already missed his planned departure date.
He wondered how Pingting was coping. She was eager to celebrate his birthday together. He feared how greatly she would be hurt by his broken promise.
He wouldn’t be able to bear it if he caused that utterly desolate look to appear in her eyes again.
“Will Duke keep me company? It will snow tomorrow. Please allow me to play some music for you to appreciate the snowfall.”
She had already been disappointed by him once before.
Yet she would be disappointed once more.
His Brother, his Sister-in-Law, Concubine Li, Chu Zairan and all of the citizens would never understand the way her music, her voice, her slender fingers, her pale red lips and her elegant composure haunted his every thought. He longed for her presence.
The palace was grand but empty. There was fine food and great beauties yet no cure for this feeling of longing.
“I will try my best.”
He longed to wrap his arms around her delicate frame and admire the blossoming Spring and the waxing autumn moon together with her to travel to the very ends of the world with her, admiring nature’s gifts and never to be parted. He would protect her, never allowing the slightest harm to befall her or allow her to feel any pain.
Yet he was faced with a dilemma. It was a decision that would make or break his very country. How could he possibly choose a woman over the peace and prosperity of his very people, even if she was the only woman he would ever love? Birthdays come and go each year without fail. As for the bloodline of the Dong Lin King…this was the final ray of hope.
Little did he know, the messengers Chu Beijie sent out to Pingting had in fact been intercepted by the Queen.
The Queen’s face was pale with shock as she slowly stepped into the King’s residence and greeted the King. She waved for the palace attendents to leave.
“My Queen, why do you look so pale?” Asked the King once they were alone, “Hasn’t my Brother stayed back?”
The Queen’s head was decorated with a pearl phoenix ornament. With a stiffly straight back she slowly sat down as if she had a world of troubles and no idea where to start.
After finally calming down her pounding heart, the Queen retrieved a letter from her belt and placed it before the King and said with a raspy voice, “This was just intercepted, the receiver is the Duke of Zhen-Bei, I believe King will find the identity of the sender quite shocking.”
The King picked up the letter and glanced at it before exclaiming, “Bei Mo’s General Ze Yin?” The Queen appeared very anxious. Biting her lip, she stammered out, “The contents are very shocking, King.”
It was a very long letter but the King dared not to dismiss any word. He carefully read the contents before finally ending up at the final line – the mastermind behind this was He Xia. The final words kept reverberating in his mind, mocking him. After a while he finally let out a long breath and looked up at his Queen’s pained expression. “What does my Queen think of this?”
“I have already ordered for people to confirm the identity of the sender; this is indeed Ze Yin’s handwriting. This seal is also his personal seal; there is no mistake.”
“Ze Yin shouldn’t have any connection with my Brother so why would he send a letter to him?”
“No matter what, Ze Yin has no need to lie in his letter. Revealing the plot between He Xia and the King of Bei Mo, puts himself in a position of unnecessary danger.” The Queen’s eyes were watery as she gazed at the King. She shutted her eyes as if they would shield her from this reality. He painfully cried out, “He Xia…my poor children, it was He Xia…”
Unable to hold back the pain, the Queen cried against the King’s shoulder.
With a pained expression in his eyes, the King slowly rubbed the Queen’s back to comfort her. “If this is true, then Bai Pingting wasn’t the culprit. Does my Brother know of this?”
The Queen sobbed and shook her head. After finally getting a hold of her emotions, she finally asked, “If Bai Pingting isn’t the murderer,then what should we do after the plan for He Xia to kidnap her?”
The King remained silent.
He stood up, a troubled expression pasted on his face. He turned away from the Queen and solemnly stated, “Bai Pingting is not the culprit, but that is an entirely different issue from the situation at hand. We are doing this for the lives of countless soldiers; we must hand her over to He Xia. As members of the royal family of Dong Lin, we must above all do what is necessary for our people regardless of personal desires.”
The Queen stared at her husband’s back with deep respect in her eyes. Those strong shoulders bear the weight of the entire nation.
“I understand,” she nodded, “Regardless of whether Bai Pingting is innocent or guilty, we must resolve the issue with the army pressing against our borders. He Xia’s troops should reach the Beijie’s secluded residence by nightfall tomorrow. He’s been focused on protecting Concubine Li’s unborn child. We must ensure he does not leave.”
Upon realising that they must bargain with the man who murdered her children, the Queen felt a wave of disgust. Yet as the Queen, as the mother of her nation, how could she put her feelings above her duty?
“By the way, concerning Concubine Li,” the King began with furrowed brow, “last night the imperial doctor reported that she received a shock and that the baby’s condition is a little…”
The Queen was noticeably startled by this. In order to keep Chu Beijie in the palace she arranged for Concubine Li to be threatened and sent servants to advise her to plead help from him.
As long as Concubine Li was unaware of what was truly going on, she would be able to truthfully trick Chu Beijie into staying. Without such a serious situation, once the issue regarding the potential heir to the throne has been resolved, there would be no way to keep Chu Beijie away from Bai Pingting.
Concubine Li’s baby is the only remaining child of the King. If something were to go amiss …What could they do?
“The baby’s condition is amiss? Please do not worry King. The baby is the continuation of your legacy and that of our ancestors; they will definitely be protecting him from above in the heavens. I will go and check…””
A sudden flurry of footsteps interrupted the Queen’s words.
“K-K-K…King!” Concubine Li’s personal maid stumbled into the room and knelt before him, her breathing heavy and stammered out, “Concubine Li’s baby, the fetus has moved, she will be giving birth soon!”
The Queen hesitated before stepping forward and addressing the maid, “Why is this happening so early? At the last health check, the doctor said she should have another 7 to 8 days before delivery?”
The maid peered at the Queen and recalled how her mistress may have actually been harmed by the Queen and bowed her head replying, “I do not know. Concubine Li was sitting calmly in the building atrium before suddenly crying out that her stomach hurt. She fell screaming in pain. I was so frightened by this I had no idea what to do.”
The Queen felt no emotional attachment to Concubine Li, but her unborn child was of utmost important. Her husband was a wise and just ruler. How could his line end with him? Upon hearing the maid’s words, she felt panicked and shouted, “What is the doctor doing? Has he arrived yet?”
The maid stuttered out “Al…already sent for.”
The King’s eyes also revealed his internal panic, but he maintained a strong façade and grasped the Queen’s hand comfortingly, “My Queen, do not fear. Concubine Li’s body has been healthy and strong. Besides, delivering 7 to 8 days early is not an uncommon thing.”
With the Queen, he rushed towards Concubine Li’s residence.
There was chaos outside the building as maids and several elderly midwives rushed about.
“Hot water! Hurry up and bring hot water!”
“Ginseng soup! Quickly, go and bring me the ginseng soup!” The attendants hurried about.
“Ahhhh! Ahhhhh! No! Ahhh, King…!” Concubine Li’s pained cries became louder and louder, overpowering the panicked voices of the countless midwives.
Chu Beijie was upholding his promise and stood outside the residence with sword in hand, awaiting the birth of the child. Upon seeing the King and Queen he bowed and greeted them, “Brother, Sister in law.”
The King arrived leading his entourage and addressed the imperial doctor, “What is their condition?”
“King, I’m afraid Concubine Li has been restless and unable to eat or sleep properly these past few days. It has affected the baby.” The imperial doctor’s forehead was drenched in sweat, “I fear that she will be giving birth early.”
“Ahhhhh! Ahhhhh!” Concubine Li’s cries pierced the room.
The doctor immediately rushed inside again.
The King stood facing the door and spoke out, “My beloved please do not fear; I am here for you. The doctor has said that the baby is healthy, everything will be alright soon.”
Concubine Li’s screams continued to pierce the room, unaffected by the King’s attempt to comfort her.
“King, what shall we do?” The Queen quietly asked unable to hide the panic in her eyes. By using Concubine Li in her scheme, she didn’t consider the possibility of harming the baby.
If anything happened to the child, death would be her only means of apology.
Chu Beijie stood to the side and examined the King and Queen’s expression, feeling a little suspicious.
Although the Queen was panicked, she still maintained some control over her senses. Noticing the look in Chu Beijie’s eyes, she quickly composed herself. The King also noticed and exchanged a glance with the Queen. They could feel each other’s unease.
They were originally counting on Concubine Li giving birth in another 7 to 8 days which would be more than enough to ensure that Bai Pingting would fall into He Xia’s hands thus guaranteeing the retreat of the pressing armies.
With this sudden event, the time they would be able to delay Chu Beijie’s return was significantly shortened.
In addition to all this, Chu Beijie was anything but a fool. With his astute senses, even the best of plots would be unravelled by him eventually.
The Queen forced herself to remain calm. By now, there was little more they could do. The most important thing was to ensure the safe delivery of the child, and so she stood beside the King and awaited the news.
Not far in the forest, a flock of birds were shocked into flight.
Pingting suddenly opened her eyes and sat up in bed.
The full moon hung high up in the sky, its pale light reflecting off the thin layer of ice and snow. The stars were hidden this night.
“Miss?” Zuiju had been sleeping in Pingting’s room to keep her company. Rubbing her eyes and putting on a cloak, she got out of her bed and walked toward Pingting. “Are you thirsty?”
Pingting shook her head.
The moonlight lit up her delicate face and shrouded it in an air of sorrow.
“The birds have been shocked into flight. There are people heading up the mountain.”
Zuiju looked out the window towards the forest. In the darkness she could not make out much, “Perhaps it’s the woodcutter?”
“What would a woodcutter be doing out there this late at night? In the darkness, the wild animals must be hungry and roaming. No, he would go out in the day.” Pinging looked down in deep in thought. After a while her eyes flickered as if with some realisation. “Find me Moran.”
Zuiju nodded and opened the door to order the night maid waiting outside.
Moran arrived not long after, his clothes were neat and tidy and not a hair was out of place. He looked nothing like something who had just been roused from bed. Stepping into the room he looked toward Pingting and asked, “Is there anything I can do for you Miss Bai?”
“It’s already quite late, why are you not resting?” Pingting assessed him, “Has something happened?”
Moran replied, “As the commander of the guards, I make my rounds at this hour every night. A while ago a flock of birds were shocked into flight. I ordered a few of the guards to investigate; everything should be fine but it is better to be cautious.” With a sudden change in expression he asked, “Was Miss Bai awoken by the birds?”
Upon hearing that he had already sent guards to investigate, Pingting appeared noticeably calmer and nodded, “I have accompanied armies to battle before. In the dead of night, the sudden flight of birds usually indicates enclosing enemy soldiers.”
Moran revealed a smile and nodded, “Indeed. After spending years in the army, hearing the sound of birds inevitably puts one on guard. Miss Bai need not worry. Myself and the guards will look after this matter. The night wind is chilly; you should rest soon.”
With more tasks awaiting him, he offered a few words of comfort and departed.
Zuiju yawned and tiredly said, “You heard from Moran himself; everything is fine. He is looking after the matter. The night wind is chilly, may I close the window now?”
Pingting had always been a light sleeper, after this commotion she was unable to fall back asleep. She felt full of spirit and so was understandably unwilling to lie back down. “The winter full moon is so beautiful, shining down on the glittering snow like a quilt. It will not be cold.”
Zuiju shook her head at Pingting’s stubbornness. Knowing that there was no way she could possibly convince her to sleep, she sighed, “You’re usually so mature. Where is this sudden burst of childishness coming from?” Crawling under the covers next to Pingting, she also looked up at the moon.
“The Duke should be back soon right?” Staring at the moon, Pingting softly asked with a tender look in her eyes.
Zuiju giggled at this and gleefully said, “I just knew you would say that. I bet you have been thinking about it constantly.” Moving to hold Pingting’s wrist and check her pulse she sighed, “Love is such an interesting thing. The Duke is such a feared and admired man yet you are a calm and easy going person. After encountering love, you have both become so foolish at times.”
Pingting turned to look at Zuiju, “Sure, laugh at me now. Love is something you won’t understand until you encounter it.” Turning away to gaze into the moonlit night again, she whispered tenderly, “Such a beautiful moon. If I could sit on the snow covered ground and play the zither accompanied by its gentle rays, it would be so perfect.”
Zuiju immediately stopped her train of thought, “Don’t ever think about it. It’s such a cold night. If you sit out in the snow playing the qin, you might get sick again. You finally got better after taking medicine for so long. Are you really going to risk it?”
Pingting understood that she was right and said nothing more.
Although it was nice to play music by moonlight, the desired listener was not present.
Silently admiring the snow covered ground, Pingting suddenly recalled that day in the Hua Residence when Chu Beijie first visited to request a song. Granted one, he then asked for another.
At the time she had no idea who Chu Beijie was but already guessed that he was using an alias . “Mister wanted a piece from me so I did you a favour. Of course you should use your real name.”
“Does My Lady not want anything?” Chu Beijie asked.
“What do I want?
“What My Lady wants is naturally a music critic.”
The sound of his pleasant laugh, full of confidence and ease, echoed in her mind.
So determined as if nothing in the world could bring him down.
Looking back she realised that she has not forgotten a single word or act by Chu Beijie from that day. She could recall every second together vividly.
She never would have thought that things would unfold to bring them to this day.
If this were a gift from the gods, then they would indeed generous. She had a tiny child inside of her, growing with each passing day, quietly sleeping in her womb.
The first pregnancy is always the hardest, in another two months it will become clear that another life is growing inside of her.
Pingting caressed her lower abdomen, it is still flat and the warmth spreads from her fingertips to her heart as if that tiny life inside of her was already protecting her like his father.
She turned around and whispered, “Zuiju, thank you.”
“Thank you for allowing me to personally tell the Duke this news.” Her gaze was tender and full of dreams, “It will no doubt be the happiest moment of my life.”
Pingting looked out the window towards the east. It is calm. The tall trees formed a wall, blocking her sight.
That is the direction from which Chu Beijie would be returning.
The sky was slowly lightening.
A baby’s cries interrupted the tension in the room, faint but creeping through the gap in the door. The sound made its mark on everyone’s hearts.
The Dong Ling King jumped up from his seat.
“The child is born?”
The doctor ran out of the room, his face pale with fatigue, and immediately kowtowed to the King and Queen announcing, “Congratulations, both mother and child are well.”
“Is it a boy or a girl?” The Queen interrupted.
All eyes were focussed on the imperial doctor’s mouth.
“Dear Queen, it is a beautiful little princess.”
The faces of nearly everyone present darkened.
Not a prince.
Dong Lin remained without a crown prince.
The doctor understood that it was not the anticipated news and so sneaking a look at the King quietly continued, “Concubine Li and the baby are well, would King like to see them?”
“Yes.” The King nodded, relaxing his furrowed brow “It has been hard on Concubine Li.” He then turned his gaze onto his younger brother.
“Congratulations Brother,” Chu Beijie walked over and bowed before continuing, “The war is still looming. There is no time to waste; I have received the command flag and shall now head to the frontlines. Once I return victorious we can have some celebratory drinks together.”
The King was noticeably startled by this but quickly collected himself, “Brother there is no need to be so hasty. For such an important battle you should at least allow me to send you off at the city entrance.”
Chu Beijie gravely replied, “Military matters are of utmost importance. There is no luxury for grand motions at this moment.” Although he was speaking to the King, Beijie’s eyes were assessing the Queen’s every expression.
The Queen felt uneasy but managed to maintain a façade of calm and addressed the King, “King, Chu Beijie’s words are not without merit. Military matters are of utmost importance. He has already stayed in the palace for several days now. I’m sure the soldiers are awaiting his command.”
The King exchanged a quick glance with the Queen and nodded, “Then let you be off brother. Stay safe. I will await your triumphant return so we may celebrate together.”
Chu Beijie hummed in agreement. He turned and left his footsteps loud and heavy.
After his figure finally disappeared in the distance, the Queen gestured for the newly appointed captain of the guard. “Immediately block off Zhao Qing Residence. Do as I previously ordered.”
“Queen, everything has been prepared as ordered. The arrows have been exchanged for practice unsharpened ones. These will only penetrate a maximum of half an inch. None of the guards on duty have been trained by the Duke before.”
“Good.” The Queen nodded before looking up at the King, her eyes shining with determination, “Go then.”