Ye Hua had all his life overheard when others raved, and carried on about the Fox Empress’s immense attraction in her days as a youthful unmarried woman. During her maidenhood, desired was she by immortal men from all eight realms and four seas.
Among her countless suitors of the highest reputation such as her now husband, High God Bai Zhi, the Fox Emperor. There was also High God Zhe Yan and even Ye Hua’s imperial grandfather, the previous Skylord, who was a known romantic vulnerable to her beauty, and appeal had coveted her to be his Empress.
She was stunning, the Fox Empress. Now he understood from where Qian Qian’s beauty derived, and in her gentle gaze there wasn’t any hostility or judgment. It was like looking into the big, innocent eyes of a gentle doe. Warm and trustworthy.
“Heavenly Lord, please excuse my sudden appearance without invitation.” She said with a graceful curtsy. The Empress had a pleasant voice. “I was hoping we could chat, and this remote location is perhaps the most private place I could think for us to meet.”
Her sudden appearance though unexpected wasn’t unwelcome or undesirable, and he bowed to his once secret ally as he approached her. “Empress.” He addressed her as such. In return, she smiled kindly and in her face, Ye Hua instantly recognized his son, A-Li’s, wide captivating grin that was heredity. Through genetics, he had clearly acquired from his Fox grandmother, his dazzling Fox smile.
“Empress, the setting is humble but would you care to come inside and I’ll serve tea,” Ye Hua suggested to the woman who by all rights, should have been his mother-in-law.
The Empress wordlessly replied with her friendly body language. It was merely a dainty tilt of her head in acceptance to his invite. Without taking her tender gaze from Ye Hua’s face, she signaled with a subtle wave of her hand towards her personal entourage – bodyguards – that had surrounded the area, and were sinking back into the densely wooded growth of the forest to remain undercover stealthily.
This meeting was their first but the space between them felt comfortable, and cordial without pretense. And while Ye Hua prepared their tea, the Empress quietly strolled around the site that had been Qian Qian’s home during her heavenly trial with a tiny smile on her lovely face. She paused now and then. Items such as the bamboo framed bed, and the small table in the center of the bedroom where Qian Qian used to fall asleep drew her touch. Without hesitation, her fingertips caressed and lingered a bit on the articles of her focus, as he heard her chuckle faintly.
Without prompt, Ye Hua’s guest explained the reason behind her laughter, “I can certainly understand how first love bloomed here.” Said the Empress, “The isolated location is such that there isn’t anything else to do for entertainment other than make babies. Had your and SuSu’s relationship not been discovered, I might have had a dozen grandchildren by now.”
Her graceful steps were soundless, as she crossed the short distance of the quaint cottage, and reached the little table by the window where he had just finished setting their refreshments. “My daughter told me that her time spent here was the best of her life, here with you in the very beginning.” She confessed as she sat across from him. “I’m a bit overwhelmed as to where I should begin… Ye Hua, I’ve always liked you and consider you to be a man of honor.” The Empress paused to take small sips of her tea but she appeared distracted. Or perhaps, she was searching for the right words.
It would have been decorous, entirely proper for him to allow the Empress to speak first, but Ye Hua couldn’t wait any longer, and his shortage of patience was notable when he blurted, “Are the girls… Are the twins my daughters?” He asked. His voice was ever smooth, but there was a tension in his strained tone as he questioned in earnest.
The Empress’s arched brows knitted as her forehead creased. Her pinkish rouged lips pressed into a tight line as she looked searchingly at his face, but mostly into his eyes then spoke somberly, “If you’re asking me this question then you or I should say, Dongmei did not deliver my daughter’s message to you. And of course, you would know nothing about the gold either.”
The heavy sigh was from deep down when she exhaled. After gingerly setting her teacup down with regal elegance, she folded her slender hands one over and on top the other, then straightened her already perfect posture before the Empress spoke, “What do you know about Qingqiu’s martial laws? Probably nothing.”
“Your clan, the Celestial, don’t consider marriages performed during mortal or heavenly trials legal, but in Qingqiu they are licit and absolutely legitimate. This means Mo Yuan married a woman who already had a husband, which is prohibited by Qingqiu’s law and their wedded union is worthless, voided. But then that was all a part of her elaborate plan.”
“My daughter, Bai Qian, didn’t know about your trial…no, let me go back further. Before she awoke from her coma, your brother, Mo Yuan, devised and carried out the trial after he convinced Sujin, and the other witnesses to testify against you.”
Her porcelain complexion was beginning to redden, as fresh crimson crept up her smooth neck, “Mo Yuan convinced everyone the babies were his, while my husband and Zhe Yan put too much trust in him due to their history, and in addition their prejudices against you for what happened to SuSu…”
The Empress emphasized that was their opinions not shared by her with her facial expressions, which were still sympathetic and kind without partiality. “They were blind, and deaf even after Bai Qian told everyone she wanted to be with you; they completely ignored her wishes… I, however, was not as…as you would say, easily deceived by Mo Yuan’s charade. As a woman, as her mother, I sensed his distorted and highly toxic obsession with his once disciple.”
“And honestly, that was all they were really… Shifu and disciple. Considering it was my husband who pushed Bai Qian to accept Mo Yuan’s proposal. She was on the fence, didn’t know what to do, but then I’m going off course and getting distracted. Let me go back…” The Empress now spoke with her eyes shut as if it helped her concentration.
“Then the threats on your and A-Li’s even the unborn twins’ lives began, as he started to manipulate Bai Qian to his will with fear and intimidation. Your old bodyguard, Tian Shu, and Nai Nai’s deaths were not freak accidents but they were spies. Mo Yuan’s spies.” Ye Hua interrupted her, “A-Li’s nanny, Nai Nai, is not dead. It was her twin sister who was Tian Shu’s lover who died with him.”
“I should have known! It was another one of Mo Yuan’s tricks to strike despair in my daughter’s heart!” The Empress’s hands fisted tensely, and she sneered through her clenched teeth angrily, “My daughter wedded him knowing their marriage would be invalid. She did this to buy time but first sent Dongmei to you. And since at that time, there were so many of Mo Yuan’s informants around you.”
She opened her eyes, and a single tear slid down her cheek when she said in a low whisper, “Her gift was misused when Bai Qian taught Dongmei the Fox spell to appear like her. She stated that you were a cautious man and wouldn’t readily trust a stranger, or someone you didn’t know but to someone with her face, you would concede. Dongmei had the message or she had the answers.”
Now the Empress placed on the tabletop two scrolls. One was the official decree Qian Qian had issued that cleared his name, and released him of his all accusations. Ye Hua instantly recognized but the other he had never before set his sights. The other document was comprised of all numbers.
1, 49, 99, 100, 104, 135, 143, 151, 167, 171…..
“Dongmei’s purpose was to deliver this communication first before the other.” She pushed the numerical manuscript to Ye Hua and explained. “As you can see, it’s dated two days before the other proclamation and if you look at them together, you’ll see Bai Qian’s hidden letter to you. The numbers correspond with the characters. Let me show you.”
The Empress placed both scrolls opened side by side before him to connect.
I, High Goddess Bai Qian, Queen of Qing Qiu, of sound body and mind, am making this confession of my heinous crimes against Crown Prince Ye Hua of my own free volition.
During my Heavenly trial as the mortal SuSu, in a fit of rage and jealousy over his pending nuptials with Sujin, I purposely blinded Consort Sujin and staged the entire incident at Zhuxian Terrace. It was also I who tricked, and led Ye Hua to follow me to the punishment platform on the day of SuSu’s death. My real goal was to kill him but accidentally slipped in before achieving my aim.
1, 49, 99, 100, 104, 135, 143, 151, 167, 171…..
“Count the characters. The first one is I… 1 equals I. 49 is M. 99 P, 100 R, 104 E, 135 G, 143 N, 151 A, 167 N, 171 is T”
“Do you see the pattern now, Ye Hua? It’s childish but understandable in my opinion. It was Dongmei’s responsibility to make contact with you, and deliver her portion two days before Bai Qian’s other announcement along with the gold reserves to finance your escape. Had Dongmei done so, then you would have understood the entire confession were falsifications, and pure nonsense.”
He was trembling…violently. Ye Hua’s stinging eyes burned hot like two pieces of red burning coal in his head from the intensely growing rage, as he swiftly scanned the rest of the digits and in his mind, the rest of Qian Qian’s letter read:
I’m pregnant with your babies– Don’t trust Mo Yuan– You and Ali are in grave danger. Surrounded by enemies– I’ll explain the rest when we meet. I love you.
Then there was a date, a specific time, and unknown location outside Qingqiu where they were to meet in secret. Ye Hua’s heart pounded painfully in his tight chest, but what the Empress went on to say made him temporarily insane.
“My daughter walked away from everything to be with you. She forced her father – the man who lives and breathes for his daughter – to disown her. Because she knew she would be causing a great offense to Mo Yuan, and didn’t want to bring misfortune to Qingqui or the family when you two ran away.”
There were more tears now endlessly trailing down her cheeks, and the Empress uttered a whisper soft in a voice drenched in sadness, “Then Bai Qian did something that I could scarcely understand, and I still don’t in all honesty. My daughter felt a sacrifice or at least a semblance of a tribute was necessary to strengthen your defense to show you were innocent, but framed by Dongmei and Sujin. Although, it was mostly to fool Mo Yuan when she privately went to Sujin before marrying him.”
“To the woman who tried to destroy her, the twins and cut off her face. To the woman who broke her heart, made her cry more times than you and I can count. My desperate daughter on her knees begged Sujin to take her life as a show of regret for falsely accusing you…but she promised to bring Sujin back to life with her Fox Blood and after she gave birth, Bai Qian made an oath with Sujin that she would take her own life as payback for saving you.”
The room began to spin. It felt as if he was falling. He was already breathless and hyperventilating but when the Empress said, “Bai Qian kept her deal and fed Sujin blood from her heart after slashing her throat. Ye Hua, I know this all sounds incredibly wild and insane but it’s the truth. Sujin told me and you can hear it for yourself because she isn’t dead. A-Li had her hidden all this time.”
He heard nothing more. Not another sound did Ye Hua hear because of the howling… The wretched, anguish-filled howling that echoed in the quiet forest atmosphere overwhelmed all other sounds, and the terrible beastly noise was coming from his lips.
To be continued…