It was slightly hot during noon. A cool breeze passed through the window’s muslin curtains and entered the hot and stuffy room. Zhao Jie was sleeping on an arhat bed that was decoratively carved with dragons for his afternoon nap. One hand was placed over the other and they were both resting on his stomach. Perhaps, he was having an unpleasant dream. His expression was very ugly. His sword-like eyebrows furrowed more and more. In the end, both of his hands clenched into fists and pounded the bed. “Ah Luo!”
The bed made a loud sound and woke Zhao Jie up from his dream.
His forehead was soaked in sweat and his eyes were pitch-black. He slowly sat up from the bed. As he rubbed the area between his eyebrows, he called for a servant.
Hearing Zhao Jie’s voice, a young eunuch wearing a light green uniform hurriedly came into the room and respectfully saluted before saying, “Your Majesty.”
Zhao Jie said, “Where’s the empress?”
The young eunuch said, “To respond to Your Majesty, the empress is currently in the back garden with the crown prince and little princess.”
Zhao Jie lowered his eyes and seemed as if he was heavily sighing in relief. A while later, he finally waved his hand and said, “You can withdraw.”
The young eunuch bowed and left the room. Zhao Jie’s fists clenched tighter before loosening. His black eyes stared at a certain place. He couldn’t help remembering his recent dream.
That dream had undoubtedly been Zhao Jie’s most terrifying nightmare.
In the dream, neither Zhao Xi nor his younger sister existed. Zhao Jie also hadn’t appeared in the dream. Zhao Jie had watched as little Ah Luo was sold to slavers by Du-shi, as she desperately fled from the slavers, and finally ended in a place called Long Shou Village. He watched as she was forced by her foster parents to marry a ghost, as she staggered to the capital to find her family… And later on… Zhao Jie clenched his fists so tightly that there was a cracking sound. He wasn’t willing to remember the things that happened after she arrived in the capital. In the dream, he hadn’t been able to will himself into appearing or say any words. He could only watch as Li Song appeared and did the things that he wanted to do. He helped that pitiful and helpless Wei Luo return to her home. He gave her a life of luxury, high rank, and great wealth. In the end, he even married her.
Zhao Jie closed his eyes. That dream had felt too realistic. He couldn’t move past the feeling of rage that he had experienced in the dream.
The helplessness and anger that he had felt in the dream remained fresh in his memory. Watching as his precious treasure fall into someone else’s hand had felt too real. Zhao Jie walked down from the dragon bed, put on a golden robe that was embroidered with dragons and clouds, and called Zhu Geng and Yang Hao over. Standing by the bed, he said, “Find out Li Song’s location. This emperor wants to know where he is right now.”
Zhu Geng and Yang Hao were Zhao Jie’s imperial bodyguards with high ranks. They would normally stayed close to Zhao Jie. Whenever there was a matter that required confidentiality, Zhao Jie would arrange for the two of them to handle it. When the two of them heard Zhao Jie’s order, their first reaction was surprise. After all, Li Song’s name hadn’t been mentioned by anyone for a long time. Perhaps, most people had already forgotten him. If Zhao Jie hadn’t just brought up his name, they would have almost forgotten his existence too.
Zhu Geng and Yang Hao were diligent and conscientious hidden guards. They quickly overcame that moment of surprise and said, “Understood.”
After Zhao Jie stipulated a deadline, he waved his hand to indicate for them to withdraw. He stood by the window for a long time by himself. He remembered the young eunuch’s words. Wei Luo and their children were all in the back garden. He didn’t think any further before striding over there. Right now, he urgently wanted to see and hug Wei Luo. He wouldn’t be able to let go of his worries until he confirmed that she was with him and not Li Song.
The capital was slightly stuffy and hot in August, but this heat only lasted during the afternoon. Once it was evening, the temperature became much cooler. When Wei Luo wasn’t napping in the afternoon, she liked to take her two children to the garden behind Wu Shuang Hall to play. There was a swing and lattice for flowering vines here. There was also a meandering stream. Zhao Xi and Ran Ran liked to come here the most to play.
When Zhao Jie arrived, Wei Luo was sitting beneath the wisteria lattice to enjoy the cool air. She was holding a baby girl that looked as if she was carved from white jade. The baby girl was wearing a pink jacket and skirt that was embroidered with white butterflies and there was a little hair bun on each side of her head. There was a golden chain hairpin with precious stones inserted into each of the hair buns. She was currently raising her head to babble at Wei Luo. The side of her face looked very similar to Wei Luo’s. She had Wei Luo’s large eyes, little nose, red lips, and snow-white skin. It was only that one of them was a beautiful, young married woman and the other was cute, young girl.
There was also another child sitting near Wei Luo’s legs on the beech couch. Zhao Xi was holding a burr puzzle and seriously moving the pieces back and forth. There were also several other burr puzzles with different shapes by his hands: there were ones shaped like plum blossoms, eight-side ones, twenty-four-sided ones, and so on.
This little fellow figure out these puzzles very smoothly. It only took him twenty-four moves to dissemble and put back together the burr puzzle that he was playing with. After he finished assembling it, he raised his elegant and exquisite little face and blinked his large, bright and limpid, black eyes. When he smiled, his dimples would be revealed. He brought the burr puzzle in front of Wei Luo to take credit for his achievement, “Mother, I finished. Aren’t I amazing?”
When Zhao Xi had been born, he had resembled Wei Luo. But, as his face matured, he looked quite similar to Zhao Jie.
As Wei Luo looked at the burr puzzle in his hand, she lightly lowered her long eyelashes. Although she was twenty-year-old now, her exquisite and soft skin was still the same as fourteen-year-old girls’. It was as soft and delicate as green onions. She stroked Zhao Xi’s face and praised, “Amazing.”
Zhao Xi’s eyes brightened. His little face gradually revealed a bit of pride. He expectantly asked, “More amazing than imperial father?”
In the eyes of three and a half year old Zhao Xi, imperial father was the most amazing person in the world. Countless court officials and ordinary citizens would obey his words just from him moving his lips. His words were all-powerful and no one dared to voice dissenting opinions. Zhao Xi thought that his imperial father could even call forth the wind and summon the rain without any problems.
Wei Luo chuckled. She coaxed him, “Xi-er‘s amazingness is different from your imperial father’s. Xi-er is very amazing. Your imperial father is also very amazing. But, Xi-er is young right now. Wait until you grow up, then compare yourself to your imperial father to see who’s more amazing.
Zhao Xi immediately dropped the burr puzzle and climbed onto Wei Luo’s lap. One hand held his younger sister’s soft and chubby little hand and the other hand held his mother’s hand. He said, “When I grow up and become more amazing than imperial father, can I hold younger sister?”
He was too young and didn’t have sufficient strength to hold Ran Ran properly. Wei Luo was worried that he would accidentally drop her, so she rarely let him hold Ran Ran. But, he constantly thought about it. He whole-heartedly wanted to hold his rosy-cheeked young sister that resembled a rice ball.
Wei Luo said, “Of course.”
Zhao Xi was overjoyed.
The two little children were face to face as they babbled with each other in high spirits. One child was sitting on Wei Luo’s lap and the other child was lying down by Wei Luo’s legs. Ran Ran had just turned one year old and only knew simple words. She had a very obedient temperament and was slightly shy. When outsiders tried to play with her, she wouldn’t say much. But, in front of her parents and older brother, she would frequently laugh happily. Right now, with Zhao Xi playing with her, her limpid, almond-shaped eyes were curved into crescent moons as she bit her bottom lip and giggled.
Zhao Xi held Ran Ran’s hand and asked Wei Luo, “Mommy, can I bring younger sister with me to pick grapes? I’ll peel the ripe grapes for her.”
Ran Ran hadn’t learned how to walk yet. She was only able to stumble along a few steps when there was an adult to hold her hand. Most of the time she would totter a few steps before falling against Wei Luo’s leg. And so, Wei Luo was slightly worried. She thought for a moment before saying, “Let Jin Lu accompany the two of you. Be careful, don’t let your younger sister fall.”
A year ago, Wei Luo had made the decision to find husbands for her servant girls. Bai Lan had been married off, but Jin Lu refused to leave and continued to serve at Wei Luo’s side. By now, Jin Lu was considered an old maid. Wei Luo didn’t want to continue delaying her marriage and had recently started looking for a good marriage partner for her. Wei Luo had taken note that whenever Zhu Geng came over with Zhao Jie, his gaze would always intentionally or otherwise fall on Jin Lu. However, Jin Lu would always lower her head and not look back. Wei Luo had paid attention to all of this and an idea had almost formed in her mind.
Wei Luo had taken note that whenever Zhu Geng came over with Zhao Jie, his gaze would always intentionally or otherwise fall on Jin Lu. However, Jin Lu would always lower her head and not look back. Wei Luo had paid attention to all of this and an idea had almost formed in her mind.
Right now, Jin Lu was carrying Ran Ran and walking with Zhao Xi towards the grape lattice that was across from the wisteria lattice.
After only taking a few steps, Zhao Xi raised his head and saw the person standing by the banana tree. He retracted the smile on his face and immediately showed a proper, serious expression. He quickly walked to Zhao Jie and greeted, “Imperial father.”
Although Zhao Xi was mischievous and lively, he revered Zhao Jie from the bottom of his heart. He could act cutely spoiled and show off in front of Wei Luo. But, he could also curb his natural tendencies in front of Zhao Jie and change his demeanor into a straightforward and composed one. Moreover, he didn’t dare to be so sticky with his mother when Zhao Jie was around. Because if he did that, Zhao Jie would look at him with a cold and threatening gaze. This gaze made him feel odd and it also made him want to timidly retreat.
Later on, Zhao Xi finally found out that it was because his imperial father had been very jealous over what happened when he was recently born. During that period, his mother had always been holding him and wholeheartedly only caring about him. And so, even now, his imperial father would still feel jealous and that was why he would look at him with that expression.
Zhao Jie nodded and asked, “Where are you going?”
Zhao Xi pointed at the grape trellis. “I’m bringing younger sister to pick grapes over there. Younger sister likes to eat grapes.”
Zhao Jie looked at the rosy-cheeked rice ball that Jin Lu was carrying. In comparison to his gaze when he had been looking at Zhao Xi, his expression was much gentler when he looked at Ran Ran. Perhaps, it was because Ran Ran looked similar to Wei Luo, so he would frequently hug and hold her. Today was the same. He took Ran Ran from Jin Lu and scratched her little nose while holding her in his arms. He curved his lips and said a few words to little Ran Ran.
Little Ran Ran didn’t understand what he was saying. She only knew how to softly and sweetly call him, “Daddy.” The milky scent from her body diluted Zhao Jie’s recently irritable and anxious feelings and let him gradually calm down.
Zhao Jie asked, “Does Ran Ran like eat grapes?”
Little Ran Ran blinked her large eyes. It took a while for her pink, pouty lips to stammer out, “L-like… eat… eat”
Zhao Jie chuckled. He kissed her cheeks, “You’re the same as your mother. You’re both gluttonous.”
Little Ran Ran quietly said, “Oh.” She only understood one of the words that he had said, “mother”. But, seeing daddy laughed, she also started laughing and revealed two baby milk teeth. She spread her hands and mimicked his words, “Mother… gluttonous.”
After the father and daughter talked for a bit, as Zhao Jie was about to hand Ran Ran over to Jin Lu, he happened to lower his head and see the other little white radish.
Zhao Xi had raised his little face to watch them. Although he didn’t say anything, his large eyes exuded his hopeful expectation. His little mouth was slightly pursed and revealed a trace of a smile. He was probably thinking that his younger sister was too cute and couldn’t help smiling along with her. When Zhao Xi’s eyes met Zhao Jie’s, he blankly stared for a moment before putting back the solemn expression on his little face. He obediently called out, “Imperial father.”
Zhao Jie slightly paused in his movement, then he said, “You can go play.”
“En.” Zhao Xi nodded and led Jin Lu and Ran Ran to the nearby grape trellis. Although the little fellow hid his feelings well, Zhao Jie still saw the longing in his eyes. He had probably been too harsh towards him during the past few years.
Zhao Xi had only walked two steps before Zhao Jie’s voice stopped him again. He turned his head and swiftly walked back, “Imperial father, is there something else?
Zhao Jie raised his hand, gently rubbed Zhao Xi’s head, and warned him, “Be careful, don’t eat too many grapes. Otherwise, you’ll get a stomachache.”
He remembered how Wei Luo had once eaten too many grapes and ended up throwing up after she returned home. In the end, she had to lay in bed for few days before she felt better.
A light flashed through Zhao Xi’s large eyes and his little mouth split into a smile. His two deep dimples were showing as he repeatedly nodded, “Will do!”
Zhao Jie lightly smiled, “You can go.”
The little fellow ran off while feeling very satisfied. He was so happy that it seemed as if there was wind beneath his steps.
Zhao Jie looked at Zhao Xi’s back figure, curved his lips into a smile, and finally turned around to walk towards Wei Luo. Wei Luo was sitting underneath the wisteria trellis and had seen everything. When Zhao Jie reached her side, her tone was slightly distressed as she said, “Don’t be so strict towards little watermelon. He’s still young. He’ll feel bad that you’re always hugging Ran Ran, but you never hug him.”
Zhao Jie sat down by her side, carried her onto his lap, and held her small hand in his big hand. He said, “He’s a boy. It’s only right that I act stricter towards him. This is the only way for him to grow up to be an outstanding man.”
But, Wei Luo didn’t agree. Both of these children were beloved to her and she didn’t want either of them to suffer. She really couldn’t stand watching how Zhao Jie was so biased. “That won’t do. He’s not even four years old yet. He doesn’t know anything. He just wants you to hug him sometimes, but you always show a stern face towards him. I feel bad for Xi-er just from looking at him. If you continue this, I’ll really get angry.”
Then, she deliberated before adding, “I know that you want to train him to be independent earlier. But, isn’t this too early? Can’t you wait until he’s ten years old? Moreover, he’s not that clingy anymore. He’s only fond of Ran Ran. When Liuli’s little Jin-er wanted to play with him, Zhao Xi would put on airs…”
Liuli had given birth to a daughter two years ago. Her nickname was Jin-er. Every time she came to the palace, she would look for Zhao Xi to play with.
Zhao Xi’s relationship with Jin-er had originally been pretty good. But, the two of them had started arguing for an unknown reason during Jin-er’s last visit. Neither of them had spoken to anyone else for several days after. Jin-er also hadn’t come to the palace in half a month.
Zhao Xi didn’t say anything, but Wei Luo could tell that he definitely missed Jin-er. Because he was young, he was worried about losing face, so he wouldn’t ask why Jin-er hadn’t been coming to the palace.
Zhao Jie wrapped his arms around Wei Luo and rested his chin against her cheek. He lazily said, “En.” He couldn’t help laughing before saying, “Okay, I’ll do everything that you say. Whatever Ah Luo says is right.”
Wei Luo cast a rebuking glance at him.
Zhao Jie inwardly thought that she must be thinking he was acting improper again. He chuckled, rubbed his face against her face, and said, “Isn’t it because you treated him too well at the beginning and gave me the cold shoulder for over half a year? I’m still feeling bad over this.”
Wei Luo used her elbow to jab his chest. Then, she smiled at him and said, “Big brother, why are you so petty? That was years ago.”
Zhao Jie declined to comment. He thought of something else and his phoenix eyes sunk. He slowly said, “When its something related to you… I can’t be magnanimous.”
Wei Luo didn’t reply. She was already used to his pettiness. The corner of her mouth dropped for a moment before she went back to gently smiling.
After a long time passed, Zhao Jie continued to hug Wei Luo. His arms were like metal pliers that tightly surrounded Wei Luo without loosening.
Feeling uncomfortable, Wei Luo tried to shift around. Finding his behavior strange, she said, “It’s too hot like this. What’s wrong? You seem kind of off today.”
Zhao Jie didn’t move and asked in a low voice, “Ah Luo, would you marry Li Song if you hadn’t met me?”
Wei Luo immediately stopped squirming. She widened her eyes in surprise and tried to turn around to look at Zhao Jie’s expression. Unfortunately, she still couldn’t move her body and could only say, “What did you say?”
Zhao Jie didn’t say a word. He lowered his head to rest his forehead in the spot between her shoulder and neck. He was clearly trying to suppress his emotions. His arms were hugging her tighter and tighter.
Wei Luo noticed that something was wrong. She asked again, “Why are you asking this?”
Zhao Jie was silent for a moment before he told Wei Luo everything that had happened in his dream. Wei Luo incredulously widened her eyes as she listened. She would have never expected that Zhao Jie would dream about her past life. Every aspect of his dream was completely identical to her past experience.
A long time later, Wei Luo recovered from her shock and grasped the important point. “So, you dreamed that I was with Li Song?”
Zhao Jie furrowed his eyebrows. He was unhappy just by hearing that person’s name.
Wei Luo pondered for a moment before bursting out in laughter. She turned around, wrapped her arms around Zhao Jie’s waist, and snuggled her face against his hard chest. “I also had a dream. Big brother, do you want to hear about it?”
Zhao Jie asked, “What dream?”
Wei Luo tirelessly recounted everything, “My dream was very similar to yours. My stepmother sold me to slavers when I was six years old. When I was fifteen years old, I escaped from Long Shou Village and came to the capital…” She thought of her previous life. It felt as if it was something that happened a long time ago. But, because Zhao Jie had mentioned this topic, her memory became clearer.
“But, I didn’t meet Li Song or marry him. I dreamed that Li Xiang and Li Song worked together to ruin Chang Hong’s future career prospects so that Li Xiang could cancel her engagement with him. Later on, I wasn’t able to see daddy even once. Wei Zheng and Du-shi ruined my appearance. And after that, I died.”
After saying everything, she stopped and raised her head to look at Zhao Jie, “Wasn’t the dream me very pitiful?”
Zhao Jie lowered his eyes and tilted her little face with one hand. “Is this why you asked me to take you to Long Shou Village when you were seven years old?”
Wei Luo nodded. Her eyes were full of trust. “I wanted to go there to confirm by seeing if that place was the same as my dream…. Unexpectedly, that village actually existed.” She cuddled in Zhao Jie’s embrace for a few moments. She didn’t forget to comfort him. “How can we treat a dream as reality? Right now, I’m already married to you and gave birth to little watermelon and little Ran Ran. I’ll only be with you in this lifetime. I won’t marry anyone else. There’s no one as good as big brother.”
Zhao Jie turned around while holding her, so that she was straddling him. His forehead touched her forehead. “You have to be with me in the next lifetime too and the lifetime after that one as well.”
Wei Luo pursed her lips and lightly laughed. She nodded.
Zhao Jie pecked her lips, but it wasn’t satisfying enough. So, he sucked her lip, pried open her teeth, and deeply kissed her.
Wei Luo gasped for a moment and slightly retreated. Her eyelashes fluttered as she said, “Xi-er and Ran Ran are still here…”
Zhao Jie hoarsely said, “They can’t see us.”
Zhao Jie gradually swallowed Wei Luo’s protests. As they continued kissing, the two of them became unwilling to separate. From far away, they seemed like one person.
Zhao Xi was holding two large bunches of grapes as he walked back. Just as he was about to wash them before giving them to his mother and father to eat, he stopped after walking a few steps. Zhao Xi looked at the nearby scene of those two people. Imperial father was biting mother’s lip and his upper body was pressing mother down. It seemed as if he was doing a tasting of a rare delicacy. He was eating with great relish.
Mother’s face was flushed and her eyes were closed. She didn’t even notice that he had come back. Zhao Xi looked at them for a moment with his long eyelashes fluttering before he tactfully turned around and ran away.
En, imperial father and mother are in the middle of official business. It’ll be better if he went back to look for his younger sister to play with.