Emperor Tian Ke stood solemnly by the bedside as the attending imperial physician diagnosed the little prince. The emperor who was in his young thirties had a dignified bearing and was clad entirely in splendid gold. From Feng Mian's point of view, she saw the emperor taking several glimpses at Concubine Zhou.
She wasn't quite sure if it was her misconception, but she saw Concubine Zhou's adamant attempts at dodging the emperor's heated eyes. The old physician was sullen as he took in the baby's pulse beat.
The physician pried open the baby's mouth with a flat stick and several instruments were subsequently taken out of his medical layered box. An incense stick fully burned before he finally came to a conclusion.
He cupped his hand. "Your Majesty, niangniang, this I'm afraid…"
"Zhen is willing to listen. Taiyi please say."
"The young prince… is mute."
As soon as word got out that the newborn fourth prince is a mute, there had been an implicit consensus among everyone in the Cold Palace to treat this matter as if Concubine Zhou had never given birth. Every once in a while, there are gossiping servants chattering among themselves but gossips stray far from the ears of the mother involved.
Ever since his birth, the mother of the Fifth Prince had not come to visit him once. He was left in the care of the wet nurses and maids around. Fortunately the emperor still remembered him and a month later, an edict came and named the Fifth Prince Tian Junli.
Everyone thought that Concubine Zhou was a phoenix that had its feathers plucked. When she first arrived at the palace, she had been heavily favoured, the emperor treating her like a candy that he was afraid would melt in his mouth. But an incident happened and she somehow angered the emperor and was later sent to the Cold Palace.
During these three years, the emperor had visited thrice and had hit a home run on his third visit. Now, she had given birth to a disabled son. Concubine Zhou was a drowning person who had her lifeline taken away so it came as a surprise to everyone when the emperor's personal eunuch graced the hall of the Cold Palace.
Feng Mian led the rest of the maids to gather and kneel to receive the edict along with Concubine Zhou.
The head eunuch Zheng He had a voice that could pass for a girl but he sounded loud and imposing. "Concubine Zhou has given birth to an imperial son for zhen and as such had done a meritorious deed for the dragon throne. She is worthy of being a role model for all the women in the nation. Zhen decrees that she shall be reinstated to her former title and is pardoned from house arrest. Concubine Zhou shall reside in Penglai Pavilion and is bestowed the following rewards: Snow mountain ginseng from the Heilongjiang province, twenty bolts of silk…"
Feng Mian: If everyone takes Concubine Zhou as a global role model for mothers, then there would be orphans running about everywhere.
The bestowments flowed in like river water into the Cold Palace, filling the barren hall up with priceless treasures. Concubine Zhou, however, had a dull reaction; not putting these riches into her eyes.
She kowtowed and said perfunctorily, "This concubine thanks the emperor for his grace."
Feng Mian had been carrying the little prince as Concubine Zhou's ensemble made way to their new home.
The difference between the Cold Palace and Penglai Pavilion was like comparing dirt to the sky, Penglai Pavilion was peerlessly magnificent. A large pond housed fragrant lotuses in the backyard, silk curtains decorated the hallways to keep out the scorching sun, and several species of colourful flowers serve to heighten the grandeur of the cobbled pathways.
Eunuch Zheng He ushered Concubine Zhou inside. "His Majesty had personally chosen these new maids for the residence. He said you may do as you wish with them. How do you like them Your Highness?"
"They're fine. Bengong is tired and wants to rest for a while." Concubine Zhou had not spared the maids a glance and only kneaded her temples.
"Ah, if that's the case this one won't bother niangniang anymore. If anything happens please let this servant know. Then… niangniang should have a good rest."
"En. Wan Mei see Eunuch Zheng out."
"Eunuch Zheng, please follow me." Eunuch Zheng followed Feng Mian until they reached the pavilion's gate.
Zheng He stopped a foot away from her and leaned in. "Did Her Highness mention anything about the emperor?"
Feng Mian feigned nonchalance. "Like what?"
Zheng He clicked his tongue. "Don't be so obtuse. Did she say anything about missing His Majesty or maybe… felt disheartened after being house arrested? Could she probably still be mad at His Majesty?"
'How could any woman not be mad after being abandoned for three years? Are you seriously asking?'
"… She hasn't. Not a word."
Zheng He exhaled a long sigh. "You should advise Her Highness to let go of the past. To meet fire with fire is not a good thing. Compromise is needed. In the palace, the emperor's favour determines how well you live. If niangniang could let bygones be bygones it would be for the best."
He lost Feng Mian at compromise. 'Then you tell your emperor to compromise.'
The eunuch slid in a jade pendant into her hands. "This is a little something from the emperor. If something should happen to niangniang the emperor hopes that he'll be the first to know."
'Hoho, is the emperor bribing her to spy on the concubine?'
Feng Mian politely thanked the eunuch. "Wan Mei understands. This is where this one will send you off then Eunuch Zheng."
"En, it's good if everything goes well between the masters. You serve your niangniang well."
As soon as the eunuch disappeared from her sights, Feng Mian walked a little further and dunked the jade pendant into the nearest pond.