The world he knew had dramatically changed overnight. Without warning, certain people he had known as long as he could remember had vanished into thin air. Every morning, every single morning before opening his eyes, Yingpei had a moment when he was afraid.
He feared his new happier life with his Empress mother, Bai Qian, who embraced, kissed and showered him with the kind of affection that he’d never before tasted; affectionately called him Xiao Sì (Little Fourth) and his older sister, Changchang, who held his hand while they slept together in their mother’s bed was nothing but a dream. He was scared he would awaken to find himself reverted to his previous life of loneliness, when he was the unseen boy.
Inflicted with a curse of invisibility was he from birth. This unusual condition made others such as his parents; Heavenly Lord father and Consort mother; his Dà Gēgē, Crown Prince A-Li; other consorts and attendants never noticed when he was there. They didn’t regard him or any of his wants, because Second Prince Yingpei was the transparent monarch, and nobody acknowledged his presence until Bai Qian.
From the first time on the day she suddenly appeared in Nine Heavens; Yingpei somehow knew. He grasped she was someone special and would have profound meaning in his life, because she was the only person who could see him even though he was cursed, and invisible. It had felt magical when Bai Qian noticed him instantly, smiled and winked at him, while surrounded by a fierce looking squad of his mother’s personal guards that were escorting her to his mother’s residence, Xiaofu Palace.
He had followed after Bai Qian and Yingpei was fully aware. If his temperamental mother discovered him loitering around, she would punish him with the switch for bothering her, and coming without any summons. Pushing all his apprehensions of a spanking aside, he still chased after the entourage because he was afraid for Bai Qian.
Bai Qian was breaking one of the imperial commands set by his mother. By wearing an imperial yellow hued dress, the forbidden color, she was breaking the law, and the punishment for such a violation was most unmerciful.
In the past, a part of the penalty was his mother ordering her male servants, who inappropriately leered and fondled the women’s bodies, then tearing off their clothes to strip them down, before his mother severely disciplined the offenders for committing such a transgression against her. With her leather bullwhip, she’d flogged them until the women’s backs were bloodied and marked, as she would presumably do to Bai Qian.
He wasn’t the only one who anticipated such a shocking scene, there were women from his father’s harem everywhere, but they didn’t seem to share his concern for Bai Qian’s well-being. Instead, they were giggling and making inappropriate comments, when Yingpei scurried in under the feet of the adults, before ducking under the card table to watch. And just as he’d surmised, his mother was furiously scolding Bai Qian.
His mother lectured while shaking the whip in her hand, “I know you’re the Shimu of Kunlun Mountain but in reality, that’s nothing but the wife of a teacher compared to the position of an Imperial Consort.” His mother’s voice was full of arrogance, “Bai Qian, your sorry excuse of an apology for your wild, and disobedient daughter barely pacifies my irritation. But then, you have the gall to dress in the imperial color only the Empress is allowed to wear! If that isn’t a blatant challenge of my authority, I don’t know what is?”
“Imperial Consort, forgive me. It’s been too long since I last attended court, and I find myself unfamiliar with Celestial laws.” Bai Qian said in response as she inclined with a curtsy, and she was so polite when she asked. “If you’ll release my daughter, I’ll take her home and promise to punish her accordingly.”
His mother snorted to illustrate her annoyance with an excessive eye-rolling, and complained, “Yes, Bai Qian. Every year, in order to keep you in the loop, I’ve taken time out of my precious life to send you invitations to all our events and festivals. And every year, you haven’t even the courtesy to reply.” His mother continued to preach, “Luckily for you, I don’t hold grudges and that’s all in the past, but I’m relieved to hear we both agree Changchang should be punished. One hundred lashes of the whip then I’ll release her.”
Yingpei trembled with horror for the pretty little jie jie with green eyes like A-Li, because 100 lashes could kill her. He knew of her and saw her face because he happened to be present, when his mother discovered Bai Qian’s daughter in her bedchamber rummaging around. She appeared to be looking for something.
“Changchang is only a child and 100 strokes of the whip is over the top. Too extreme and inhumane. I don’t practice physical forms of punishment but I’ll make sure she suffers.” Bai Qian answered with her pleasant voice that sounded more musical than the zither Consort Shu played, compared to his mother who sounded like a barking dog, as she grouchily snapped when she rudely interrupted her, “Shimu, both you and she have offended me greatly. It’s only fair that one of you pay. Bai Qian, make up your mind. It’s you or her to undergo the rod and on your body, still the color that causes me great unhappiness remains.”
Yingpei had never seen his mother behave so rudely to another, and expected Bai Qian to become angry but instead, she said in her courteous voice, “My daughter’s body isn’t yours to punish, but if you feel a debt must be collected then I will gladly pay that debt with my body.”
Abruptly she began to disrobe in front of everyone. The guards and male servants stared at her body with lustful eyes, while the other women were snickering at her as Bai Qian’s yellow gown dropped, and pooled at her feet. Dressed only in her intimate white chemise, she folded over, picked up the dress then threw it into his mother’s fireplace. She gestured towards the leather switch in his mother’s hand, before kneeling low at her feet with her back exposed.
It was pure wickedness like seeing a monster standing there instead of his mother.
The evil smirk on his mother’s face was nearly enough to make him wet his pants. He didn’t understand why seeing Bai Qian in such a state made his eyes water but it did, and he silently sobbed into his palms for her injustice until Yingpei heard a strange gagging sound. He opened his blurry, tear-filled eyes to behold his choking mother’s face turning blue while she frantically kicked her feet. She gasped for breath while being held up in the air by one hand wrapped tightly around her throat. His father, Heavenly Lord’s, fist was like a clamp compressing her neck more and more.
It was terrifying to see his usually reserved, and quiet father growling like an irritated bear awoken too early from hibernation while choking his mother. His father snarled as he shook his mother with such intensity, her red dress looked like a flag violently flying in a windstorm.
Seeing his father so infuriated had made Yingpei shiver uncontrollably, as he cowered low to the ground trying to make himself further invisible so his father wouldn’t see him, and shake him in the air too but he heard someone say, “Don’t be afraid and come out. Nobody will hurt you, Little Fourth.” It was Bai Qian who still hadn’t dressed, on her knees in front of the table blocking his entire view of his fighting parents with her arms wide, and Yingpei ran to her.
To be continued…