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Falling Dreams of Fang Hua Chapter 31-40

Chapter31

The imperial palace was extremely luxurious.

The old man emperor lived in a main hall that was resplendent without measure. Wherever the eyes looked, everything glittered…the dragon pearls embellishing the walls were extremely huge, and really made a person drool with envy.

The common people were suffering, but he sure knew how to enjoy himself, though that had stopped now.

A fine vermillion canopy screened a bed from view, its fabric embroidered with gold dragons baring their fangs and claws. A hazy form could be seen within, accompanied by the loud noises of someone gasping for breath.

He sounded very uncomfortable…

For a person confined to bed with a weak body, it was important to maintain proper airflow. With this gauze in the way, wouldn’t it only exacerbate his sickness?

“Your servant pays respects to His Imperial Highness.”

The sudden voice frightened me after I had finally managed to steady Fang Hua’s medical instruments in my arms. Peering from behind, I saw Nongyu catch my eye with a smile that wasn’t quite a smile.

Strange, he was here too. His medical knowledge was exemplary, so he should know these things. Even if the servants had forgotten to open the windows and draw the screens, he should remind them. Why wasn’t he interfering or paying the matter any attention now?

Han Zichuan swept his robes, filled with the imposing air of a crown prince. “Rise. How is father’s illness?”

“After a months-long coma, he awoke briefly to mutter a few things before losing consciousness. Now that Lord Fang Hua’s come to personally treat him, the emperor’s illness will certainly get better.” Nongyu’s expression was one of sincerity, his sleeves spread open in a bow. His figure was infused with ceremony and propriety the whole time he led us to the monarch’s bed.

A servant lifted aside the bed-curtains. Inside was a roughly 40 to 50- year-old man with emaciated features lying on the bed. His face was deathly pale, yet his lips were a blackish red, and the space between his eyebrows seemed a bit dark. As for the original eyebrows, they were already gone.

This was the current emperor? It looked like he was close to dying…

I gave a glance and noticed that Fang Hua had already pulled up his sleeves to lift aside the bedcovers. He didn’t take a pulse, but just pressed on the body in random places. There was no way to know the status of his diagnosis.

An indistinct sound rose as a torrent from the patient’s lips. Fang Hua knitted his brows and didn’t move, but reached behind him towards me… His finger shook impatiently two or three times. I blinked my eyes and fell into thought…

My head lowered to look within the pouch and its varying sizes of acupuncture needles. Which one did he want?

As it turned out, he lost patience waiting and slowly turned to give me another silent look. Those fingers moved over and past me to plunder the bag and take out a handful of needles. There were thick ones and thin ones, long ones and short ones. Their silvery light glinted back and forth in his hands as he poked the emperor like a doll. Casting all caution to the winds, the needles swooped down…until every single point had a needle in place.

I was silent…

Nongyu looked as if he hadn’t processed everything yet, and Han Zichuan was completely floored.

In the beginning, the emperor still had a breath…now there wasn’t a sound. How tragic. Although the emperor had snatched resources from all under the heavens, Fang Hua had now pricked him black and blue all over into silence. That’s why the saying went, ‘no matte

Fang Hua sat down and waited for a while. Han Zichuan and Nongyu must have had plenty of faith in his medical skills because neither expressed any anxiety or misgivings. Instead, both retreated to the sides to talk about state affairs or the price by weight of medicinal ingredients.

My head drooped as I held the cloth bag in my arms, bored into drowsiness. Suddenly, a sleeve flashed before my face, startling me awake…just in time to see Fang Hua extend his hand, warm it up a bit, and start pulling out the needles.

The silver needles had flashed when they were stabbed in and still gleamed as they were pulled out, with no changes in color.

Remarkable.

Just by looking at the emperor’s face, he was definitely poisoned…but there was no way to scope out the source. I held my cloth and reached out to receive the needles, but Fang Hua brushed me aside, shaking his head as he gave me a cold glance. While I was trying to puzzle him out, he blew on a needle held between his fingers.

Goodness… The shiny needle immediately turned black, giving one a sense of dread.

“This poison is very odd and hard to perceive. The needles I stuck inside….most of them changed colors. I’m afraid that the poison has already hurt his internal organs.”

“Is there any possibility of a cure?” Han Zichuan’s face sank as he hurried over.

“I’ll write a prescription first to temporarily restrain the poison. The rest will be left for afterward.” Fang Hua turned his glance towards me, and I took the hint to start grinding some ink from the inkstick.

He raised his sleeves without a second thought, writing words with a brush like floating clouds and flowing water[1] as he recorded the name of the ingredients and its various weights. I cast a sidelong glance and saw that it was a medicine he rarely prescribed… I used to jokingly call it a miracle pill, and had sold it for a high price to Nongyu.

Nongyu took the formula into his hands and carefully reviewed it, before calling for the eunuchs to bring over the stove.

This guy…

He really was lazy, insisting on making his inferiors labor before him. I wanted to help, but Fang Hua lightly held me back, quietly shaking his head. Then he lowered his head and went about his own business, drinking tea. Han Zichuan stared at me with shining eyes, before giving a thoughtful gaze towards Fang Hua, and sat down on a chair to play with a ring on his finger[2].

Two or three eunuchs carefully followed the formula to measure out the weights for each ingredient. Nongyu directed them from the sides and frequently jumped in to do the job himself. I couldn’t hold back a yawn as I closed my eyes, though I suddenly caught a glimpse of a certain young eunuch briefly raising his sleeve. I looked down and fell silent. A decoction of medicinal ingredients had been cooking for around four hours, enough to fill many small bowls. The eunuchs handling the bowls had to drink first, then the imperial physicians, before it reached the emperor. Each of them looked as if they were drinking a rebirth elixir[3], their eyebrows knitted as they held their bowls while shaking in fear. I really wanted to laugh…

They were a bunch of fools. The good fortune they’d cultivated in former lives allowed them this chance to drink such a treasured medicine. Just one sip would prevent light poisons from entering the body for half a year.

I pursed my lips and walked over, getting myself a bowl. Abruptly, I felt a heated stare at my back that put me ill at ease. I started, uncomprehending, before lifting a bowl to take a whiff….before my eyebrows knitted and I took a sip.

Wrong.

This taste was wrong.

The prescription was accurate, but this decoction was missing a certain element.

Nongyu used a sleeve to wipe his mouth. “There are no issues with the medicine. Take it to use on the emperor.” I gave him an astonished glance. Fang Hua’s expression was serene as he raised the bowl to take a whiff. Whatever thoughts he had, he didn’t utter them.

My heart sank slightly as I looked at the ruler on his last breath. A wry smile appeared on my lips. With so many people who wanted you dead… how could you not die?

Nongyu had once bought the pill version of this particular medicine from my very hands. If he had given it to you timely, your illness wouldn’t have dragged on so long or made you suffer so much. Now there was medicine, but someone had intentionally left out one of the ingredients.

What was the use in taking it? How could an imperial physician have such gall? Looks like someone was instigating him behind his back. My eyes drifted past to the filial crown prince on one side, presenting tea and pouring water, and was caught in his gaze. Han Zichuan sat on a chair, his head propped on his hands as he looked at me with a smile that wasn’t a smile. My scalp turned numb, and I made do to slowly lower my head, my hands holding an empty bowl as I stared absently at the ground.

The imperial palace…

Maybe it really was as Fang Hua said, and more complicated than the jianghu.

Six hours finally passed. Watching them hurrying up and down, dismantling the pot and stove, shutting the bed-curtains and closing the doors, I felt a bit faint. I forcefully roused myself and stuck it out for a bit, but my heart felt much more carefree when we left.

The sun set as willow catkins swirled in the air. I closed my eyes. The affair was over, and the circumstances had shifted. Everything seemed to suggest that things had remained the same, but the people had changed.

“These unaffected pear blossoms in the mist, the numerous willow catkins floating in the air, isn’t this a fine scene?” a soft and gentle voice drifted over from behind me. I paid it no mind, but continued walking forward at my own pace. Then, someone clapped me from behind and painfully caught me by the shoulder.

“Shao’er…”

I turned my face, expressionless.

Before me stood Han Zichuan with a slight smile, though his gaze was slightly uncertain. He gave me a fixed stare before asking in a low voice, “Shao’er, it’s you, right?”

“Crown Prince, your highness.” I respectfully hailed him, “Your servant doesn’t quite understand your words.” He slowly released his grip, eyebrows furrowing as he looked at me in surprise.

“Why is it like this….? You don’t look alike or sound alike,” he seemed disappointed as he muttered to himself, “But…why do your figures from the back look so similar?”

He circled me as if wanting to say more. I only smiled with an innocent expression. Fang Hua was walking ahead, but turned to look back and speak in a light tone. “Let’s go.”

My heart eased, and I couldn’t help but hasten my steps to catch up. The whole way I tried to fathom how much Fang Hua had heard, but he didn’t speak a word, nor did he look at me once. When we returned to our rooms, Fang Hua’s expression became noticeably fatigued, and he sat on the bed with a blank face.

I was led aside to have a meal. Since the court ladies and eunuchs had already eaten, there were only leftovers. Fortunately, Little Li had left some wheat flour mantou for me. Though they smelled delicious, their taste had no flavor in my mouth.

Yifu’s behavior today was a bit weird, which made me very restless and uneasy. I chewed on my last bite while I washed my hands, lost in thought for a short while. Then, I slowly carried over some hot water and a clean washcloth to his door and knocked a few times.

“Come in.” The voice was chilly. The wooden door had a heavy sound.
I raised my eyes to see Fang Hua changed into a plain white inner robe, sitting blankly on the bed. In that moment it was as if he’d stolen my breath away…

He was still in the same position as when I’d left him, leaning completely against the wall as he sat on the bed. His expression was lonely and desolate, hand propping up his head as he looked out the window. The whole scene seemed as placid as water. Hazy moonlight shone on his body, and the snow-white robes seemed to emanate a light glow. His eyebrows were especially gentle and soft…

Right now, he seemed to be filled with an indescribable sorrow that weighed him down and made my heart ache.

“Lord Hua, your servant carried over some hot water for you to soak your feet.”

He started, looking at me as if finding it hard to believe, before slow replying with, “Thank you.”

I managed to smile with difficulty, meekly walking forward to set down the basin and quietly keep watch from the bed, raising an eye to look at him. Fang Hua’s expression seemed to hesitate as he lowered his legs from the bed, shifting his snow-white robes upwards while placing his pretty feet over the basin, but not in the water.

I carefully wrapped his feet in the cloth and wiped it lightly with warm water. He shook a bit but didn’t flinch back…

I know he didn’t like touching people, so I avoided directly brushing his skin. From what I heard from the court eunuchs, masters really enjoyed it when servants waited upon them this way. The hot water helped a person to relax, and the various positions on the foot could relieve stress when pressed…though I had yet to learn them, I still wanted to do something for him.

Although this was all I could do now…

It was very clear that my movements were clumsy and awkward.

“I’ve troubled you,” he lowered his head and lightly smiled. I only felt exceedingly embarrassed, and my face started to burn. My hands didn’t know where to go either and waved a few times, splashing water on myself. He sat upright, the corners of his mouth still pulled into a smile. Beneath the moonlight, his expression was particularly temperate and mild. My heart pitter-pattered out of control as I quickly looked away.

Hazy forms rested against the walls, one big, one small. One was sitting, while the other was leaning in by its feet. As the shadows weighed down, a section of hair swept past my face and a delicate fragrance entered my nose. Surprised, I had no time to duck aside.

I only saw a pair of white slender fingers move towards the front of my robes and touched them lightly. He conveniently drew out a red lotus, its petals scattered and near the point of wilting away.

-o- [Original & most up to date translations can be found on volaretranslations.]

[1] floating clouds and flowing water ( ⾏ 云 流 ⽔ ) −xingyun liushui, idiom for something natural and spontaneous

[2] ring on his finger ( 扳指) −banzhi, ornamental thumb ring, usually made from jade and originally worn by ancient archers to protect their thumbs when drawing a bowstring.

[3] rebirth elixir ( 投胎药) −toutaiyao, in which ‘toutai’ describes the spirit undergoing reincarnation after the body dies, and ‘yao’ is medicine/pill/etc.

He scared three souls out of my seven[1].

Nice guy, you still can’t tell the differences between males and females.
You still did…whatever you wanted to do.
“This flower is very beautiful. Did you set it aside for me?” “Unfortunately, I crushed it.” I gave a dead stare to those jade-like,
translucent white fingers around the gorgeous red lotus, lightly stroking the flower…ambiguous enough to make me start. I looked up to see him studying me intently, and my face reddened as I choked back, “…that’s not really it. I saw it growing colorfully by the pond so I sort of wanted to pick one for you.” The more I spoke, the more I sounded like a mosquito, out of breath.

His expression then was very lovely, and the gaze from those long, slender eyes was enough to steal my soul away.

In that instant, my heart had completely fallen to the enemy’s hands.

“The water’s getting cold…” he called out, as if wronged greatly.

I hurriedly wrung my cloth and bent down. Yet he held onto my shoulders and lightly shook his head. “You shouldn’t do things like this.” He took away my cloth and wiped himself dry before retreating to the bed. He resuming covering himself with his robes, and I looked away before he asked lightly, “The jianghu is fine, so why did you come to the palace?”

— [Original & most up to date translations can be found on volaretranslations.]

His indifferent words were enough to scare me out of my wits. Was it possible that…he’d recognized me long ago?
Seized with panic, I stood up a bit helplessly and tried to keep calm. His forehead was knotted in the midst of his tranquility, though his eyes were smiling. That soft, unhurried voice said, “If I had any family, I wouldn’t let them come here. You can still dress warmly and eat your fill among ordinary people. With exceptional natural talents among your generation, it would be simple to make a name for yourself wandering from place to place, living free and unfettered. Why then, would your parents ever send you to become a court lady?”

I lifted my eyes to look at him, seeing no moodiness on his face. I couldn’t figure out whether he was trying to feel me out or simply chat. It was best not to ask him anything now in case he grew suspicious, but I couldn’t help it. There was one thing…that had been on my mind for a long time. If I didn’t ask now and missed my chance, I’d definitely regret it in the future. I resisted with great difficulty and gripped my robes. “Lord Hua… why did you enter the palace?” His mild gaze swept across my face, making me feel a bit flushed before he looked away.

“For a certain person, I had no choice but to act against my will.” He was looking out the window.

“Your beloved?”

He only smiled without speaking.

That was neither a yes or no, but looking at his particularly lonely expression, I lowered my eyes, feeling an indescribably throbbing pain.

Yifu, what exactly am I to you?

The candle flame flickered. Though these rooms were so big, I still felt like there was no place for me to stay.

“I’ve already spoken, but you haven’t answered me in exchange…” He propped himself up and got closer, his line of vision lowering until he asked me softly, “Why were you so insistent on entering the palace?”

He tenderly gazed at me and I looked away, unable to hold my own as I cleared my throat. “I’m not Lord Hua with his consummate medical skills. I have a mother, a young brother and an elder over 80-years-old at home. Our days are rather difficult, so if I entered the palace, my family’s livelihood should be much better.”

He carefully looked at me, the stares raising goosebumps.

“…forget it, I won’t talk with you about these things, ” He shifted back slightly with a smile. “During the emperor’s diagnosis today, did you notice anything suspicious?”

“The eunuchs’ actions were a bit unusual.” “Go on,” His hand rested on his lip as if in deep thought, though the posture was exceedingly elegant.

I could guess his thinking, and paused before speaking, “A certain young eunuch burned a bit of medicinal ingredients into ashes behind his back, instead of adding it into the pot.”

He nodded with a smile.

“Sharp eyes. Can you name which ingredient it was that he burned?”

I opened my mouth, before hastily shutting up. Hold it in…
I couldn’t say it aloud. Wasn’t this moving a stone to stub my own toe?
[2]

“Your servant is only a useless girl and naturally isn’t acquainted with all kinds of plants like Lord Hua. Moreover, the imperial palace has many valuable and precious medicines and that person moved so quickly, so it was hard to see.”

“Your martial arts skills are presumably not bad, or else how could you catch that person’s trickery?”

“Things are naturally complex within the court, unlike the outside world.”

He gave me a close look. “Speak little and do less, or else no one will be able to protect you.”

I gave a start. What else did he want to say…?

But he actually lifted his sleeve and placed his hand on my head, stroking it softly. This action was very familiar and casual to the utmost. It was as if everything had suddenly become a dream, and we were back to our lives at the house. Every time he touched me like this, no matter what earthshaking events had happened, I would calm down without uttering a word. It grew to the extent that he became accustomed to stroking the flowers, the plants, the rabbits…even Zichuan.

At this moment, what did he think I was? I took an obvious step back.
He started, then released me with a cheerless voice. “It’s getting late, you should go to bed.”

I gave him an uncertain glance, but he turned his back to me and didn’t say anything more. My heart sank, and I replied an affirmative before pausing and leaving through the doors.

There, I hesitated again.

My eyes drifted to the figure in the crack between the walls and the door. He was sitting on the bed, digging around until he pulled out some cloth- covered objects from his shirt jacket. In a flash, the indifference on his face shifted to something gentle and soft.

In that instant, my heart softened and shifted.

The night was late, yet I had no desire to sleep. I hugged my knees, squatting outside his rooms for a long time as I was chilled by the winds.

It was supposed to be my turn to keep the night watch, and my bed had already been prepared in one of his side rooms. Now his kind words had urged me outdoors.

A conundrum…

The pale yellow candlelight flickered in the room, looking rather warm. He seemed to have trouble sleeping as well, pacing lightly in his quarter. His clothes rustled as they swayed, and I pressed against the door crack to take another look indoors. He stood before the writing desk with his back to me, fiddling with his hands. And yet the movements of his hands suddenly stilled, as if he was staring at something…he stroked something else for a bit, reluctant to let it go, the gentleness radiating from his form enough to move a person’s heart.

Fang Hua.

I used to think I understood him very well, but after leaving the house, he seemed to hold even more secrets, secrets that no one had the ability to touch. There were too many things I didn’t know or had no ways of finding out…

The candle flame within the rooms finally went out, and spaces within and beyond the rooms became filled with the same cold desolation. I sat by until I couldn’t take it anymore. After sneezing, I wiped my face with my sleeves and snuck in through the doors.

There was the sound of someone turning over on the bed.

I held my breath, originally intending to sneak into the side room with no one the wiser, but my feet carried me over to Fang Hua’s side instead.

He slept calm and steadily, the moonlight falling upon his form like flowing waters. Even his sleeping position was refined and elegant, flooded in the glow of moonbeams. His forehead and his closed eyes were fine to observe…measure by measure, it was a sight a person couldn’t get enough of.

I took a deep breath, resisting the urge to touch him, and got up to survey my surroundings before slowly approaching the writing desk.

There was only one object on the empty table in the darkness. My fingers seemed to touch a bundle wrapped in cloth, and I conveniently took it to the window to open it under the moonlight.

My eyes swept past a container of rouge, a jade ring, a butterfly hairpin, and a carefully cloth-wrapped package of snacks…and saw the pastries from the noble consort that Fang Hua had packed with a section of his inner robes, next to the scattered remains of the red lotus resting on the white cloth, exuding an intoxicatingly delicate scent…

Wait a minute.

My eyes sharpened, and I brushed aside my hand to see…what was this, gold powder? Who knew where he scraped it from…

Fang Hua, you’re ruthless…

Thoroughly ruthless. Anything taken from the imperial palace could sell for a good price outside…was it worth it to scrape stuff off people’s walls as well?

I pinched the powder between my hands to examine it carefully, and sniffed it. The quality was excellent, yellow and glistening. Was it possible that he took advantage and took some from the emperor’s room while treating his illness…?

I looked over to Fang Hua, who was sleeping soundly on his side, and my hand shook.

Although we weren’t well off at our house, it wasn’t worth stealing to this extent. It was hard to tell whether the royal palace’s invitation was a good thing or a bad thing for you.

Even my love of silver paled to this…you have my respects.

-o- [Original & most up to date translations can be found on volaretranslations.]

[1] three souls out of my seven (七魂失了三) −qihun shile san, ancient Chinese belief spoke of the human bodies having multiple souls.
[2] moving a stone to stub my own toe ( 搬 ⽯ 头 砸 ⾃ ⼰ 的 脚 )
− banshitou zazijidejiao, idiom for “shooting oneself in the foot”, etc.

Chapter 32

I awoke with a yawn the next day to discover my bed in a mess. There was a delicate fragrance by my pillow, and a small quantity of ashes that seemed to be the remains of a incense stick for calming and soothing the nerves.

Who put it here?

I looked around, bending over to put on my shoes as I got off the bed. Draping my clothes over my shoulders, I went to the room next door. Fang Hua’s bedcovers were neatly folded, and he was nowhere to be seen.

The sun shone through the window lattices as it spilled into the room. The surface of the writing desk was empty, and the objects lying there last night had also disappeared, as if…

I suddenly realized I had overslept.

The doors opened lightly from outside, and Little Li entered with a basin of water, his head lowered. I turned around, still looking unpresentable, and scratched my head in perplexity. “Do you know where Lord Hua went so early?”

When the young eunuch saw me, his expression was clearly shocked. A shaking finger pointed at me. “It’s already midday and you’ve only just got out of bed?!”

In the end, he placed his hands in his sleeves, clicking his tongue and smiling as he circled me two or three times. “Lord Hua was called away very early in the morning to treat the emperor’s illness at the main hall. You really are something, waking up after your master.”

— [Original & most up to date translations for this series can be found on volaretranslations.]

It’s not like I wanted to…when I figure out who used that incense on me, then they’ll have a good show…

The young eunuch had enough of ridiculing me and was now in profound thought. While staring at me, he suddenly knelt on the ground. Surprised, I backed away, but he only gave a knowing smile before wringing out a wet washcloth from the basin and wiping the floors.

So he was here to clean the floors…I thought he was bowing to me.

It was a novel sight, so I kneeled next to him and raised my own sleeves.
“Doing work? How about I help too?”

“Hey, stop…stop that,” he raised his eyebrows, looking around before pausing on my disorderly bedcovers with a dubious smile. “I can do it myself, so there’s no need to trouble you. Or else, who knows how I’ll be punished?” This fellow, he couldn’t be thinking that last night Fang Hua and I…?

Curses, what kind of thoughts did he keep in his head?!

Helplessly, I left the room without a word. After the wind blew on me, I realized my stomach was empty and I was starving. I searched and pilfered through the rooms before resigning myself to the fact that the court ladies and eunuchs hadn’t left me any food.

My gloomy, dejected wanderings led me to who-knows-where.

Before me now was an expanse of peach blossoms blooming splendidly. A few delicate beauties as fine as jade stood in their midst, surrounding a male figure. A horse with a white mane pawed the dirt on one side with his hooves, whinnying occasionally. Eh? Is horse-riding allowed inside the palace?

I used my sleeves to brush aside the branches, looking over a few more times. This horse was rather handsome with strong, robust legs. I wondered if they’d taste good if I roasted them. Two or three court ladies stood with faces flushed, the peach blossoms setting off their looks to make them all the more beautiful. These figures and those faces, as well as the gazes full of tender, timid affection…were really a captivating sight.

“Imperial physician, my master felt unwell upon waking   up today.” What a pleasant-sounding flirt.

“Imperial Physici

Nongyu stood wordlessly smiling between them, his hand stroking the white horse like a virtuous sage as he gently muttered to himself, irresolute. “I’m busy attending to the emperor’s well-being, so I need to leave the palace to handle some affairs.”

“Really? That’s so unlucky,” the court ladies lowered their heads and held their handkerchiefs, exchanging glances with each other.

“Your masters’ illnesses will be seen to by other imperial physicians,” Nongyu seemed not to have noticed, his smile filled with modest courtesy on his gentle face.

Hmph…

Faker. He looked like a well-read scholar of the Confucian classics, but he was really a bad-intentioned weasel. Those girls were still young, so they didn’t understand…tsk, tsk.

I sighed with emotion and prepared to leave, but he suddenly lifted his face and raised his eyebrows, moving apart from the others…to rest at my face with a thoughtful smile. My expression shifted and I exclaimed, not good! “I still have something to take care of, so I’ll be taking my leave,” He gracefully mounted the horse, the black robes and white jade hairpin evoking the image of an immortal. Pulling back on the reins, his eyes swept towards me with an expression full of tenderness.

I lowered my head and silently walked away.

A burst of horse hooves unhurriedly swept by me. I gave a start and braced myself, but he didn’t even look at me before waving his whip and stalk off, leaving…a big cloud of dust. I heaved a sigh of relief. Thank goodness he was far off now, I thought he’d try something again. He’d scared me enough to set my heart pounding, always touching this and touching that without my permission.

Then my ears pricked up, and an ominous feeling rose from the depths of my heart. Why was the sound of horse hooves getting louder and closer…? The court ladies nearby also sucked in their breaths.

My head turned numb.

Suddenly, a pair of hands found themselves around my waist. There was a light laugh, and someone’s breath tickled the hair on my temples. I blinked, and before I could react, my body was whisked off the ground, into the air…

While I was still badly shaken, a light jacket wrapped me tight in its embrace, its white down tickling my face immensely. Wind rushed past my ears, mixed with the laughter of the court ladies.

“Stupid Nongyu, what are you playing at?!”

“Shh, I want to take you somewhere before I leave the palace…don’t make a fuss. Be careful your noise doesn’t attract the guards.” his finger lightly caressed my face, elegant eyebrows arching towards his temples in a wide smile.

His was an exceedingly handsome face that concentrated all his looks in one point. The sun shone upon it as he looked down at me…the light making it hard for me to open my eyes.

— [Original & most up to date translations for this series can be found on volaretranslations.]

It was a bumpy ride atop the horse. With no way to grab the reins, I was tossed about dizzily, and my empty stomach ached.

“Ah, we made it.”

Finally…

I practically slid off the horse to fall painfully on my butt. The earth was damp here, and a thick fragrance of flowers hovered nearby. I took a deep breath and found myself in the midst of a sea of blossoms.

“Do you like it?” Nongyu smiled as he stood by my side.

“More than like it, this is simply…” Too exciting.

I swallowed wordlessly, so happy I had to use a sleeve to wipe away my drool as my tongue clicked. These flowers were enough to feed Fang Hua for years. If yifu was brought here, he’d definitely find it hard to contain his joy. Then pour him some wine, and maybe he’d voluntarily pledge marriage to someone… These thoughts made me more and more excited as they galloped off without my will.

“Oh, that’s right. Someone asked me to bring these to you.” Nongyu pulled out a cloth bundle from the horse and tossed it to my arms, smiling as he looked at me. “Open it up and take a look.”

I lowered my head uncertainly, weighing the package in my hands. It didn’t feel too strange, and the material was also extremely familiar…

“I have to leave the palace for a trip again today, so I’ll be back at night.” he said, voice like the sound of flowing water.

What did that have to do with me? Fellow brother, you don’t need to tell me these things. It’s fine even if you don’t come back for three years. Not the least interested in his talk, I sat down and untied the knot of the bundle. In turn, golden powder spilled onto my clothes, and the faint forms of a jade ring and butterfly hairpin could be seen within. Still a bit uncertain, I reached in and found a container of rouge as well.

“The emperor’s illness is still missing a certain ingredient to treat it, so I had the idea to look for it around Fang Hua’s house. I’ve heard that many rare and difficult-to-find medicinal plants grow there. And so… when your yifu heard me talk, he told me to bring these things to you.”

I lowered my head and silently dug into the bag.

Finally…I found something edible. My eyes brimmed with tears.

Nongyu sat down beside me, raising his robes to give me a rapt look as I devoured the food, speaking in a low tone. “Have or haven’t you been listening? What misfortune did I incur to meet a personality like yours…”

I curved my eyes into a smile and bit off another large mouthful, my words jumbled. “You try being hungry for half a day without food. I bet you’d be no better.”

His gaze grew increasingly soft as his hands reached behind and around my shoulders to tenderly stroke my hair. “When I return, I’ll tell them they can’t starve you.”

“It’s not their fault. I accidentally slept until noon so of course there was nothing left to eat.”

He gave a start, thoughts swirling as he looked at me again. “Fang Hua sure treats you well…”

I peered at the cloth bag with a stupid grin on my face. “Where do you think he dug up that gold powder from?”

He seriously considered the question, falling silent for quite a while before answering honestly. “I was just trying to figure out why the gold walls in His Majesty’s quarters looked so damaged…” I was speechless. Fang Hua really was uncomplicated when it came to doing things. After burping, I took the chance to weigh the bag’s items in my hands to estimate their worth.

“Did you eat your fill? Hn…” he scooted over, asking quietly.

I continued as before, stuffing the bag into his arms before giving him a simple-minded smile. “The things from the imperial palace really are tasty, so just bring the leftovers to my house. It’s hard to hide these things when I’m living with him…that’s right,” I slowly moved closer to Nongyu and added softly, “Buried beneath the third Wutong tree in the backyard is a jar of fine wine. Just say that I asked you to bring it to yifu.”

“When you open your mouth, it’s always yifu. When have you ever thought of me…?”

I laughed in spite of myself, pulling up a sprig of dog-tailed grass[1] to wave back and forth. “If there’s anything you want over there, just take it yourself.”

“I’m afraid you can’t afford to give me what I want.” Suddenly, the hand around my shoulders tightened as he pulled me into his lap. My eyes widened, and a rain of flowers flew into the air to float about us…as my head sank into the flowering plants, propped up by his hand. He was smiling as he leaned over and whispered gently by my ear, “I want you…”

I narrowed my eyes and looked at him. His gaze seemed to be seven parts joking and three parts serious, a certain banter showing itself through the unrestrained tenderness of his romantic charms.

I raised my hand and quietly touched his face, dumbfounded for a long while. “…why are you so handsome?” Not just handsome, but thick- skinned as well. How could you say such fraudulent words to a virgin girl in broad daylight?

He smiled, holding my hand to his face very comfortably as he gazed at me in rapt attention. Softly he asked, “So you’re pleased with my looks? You like them immensely?” This was some top-tier stuff… I’ve never seen anyone so shameless.

“Un. Your words aren’t wrong, you’re exceedingly handsome.” I stroked him some more before pinching him. He actually closed his eyes as if he enjoyed it. After a few seconds, I gave him a sidelong glance and concluded, “Hard to tell, but it’s probably one of your face masks.”

He seized up before reacting, his expression completely dark. Rolling aside, he drew himself up and gave an embarrassed smile. “You really know how to ruin the mood.”

I kept my head lowered to dust off my robes, speaking casually. “You’ve already had your joke, so it’s time to get serious. Which medicinal ingredient are you missing that you have to look for at my house? Is the emperor’s illness still treatable?”

He lifted his eyes to look at me. “What if I said it’s all very official business?” His tone was light before he finally spoke with a grin. “Between everyone else under Heaven, only you would reject me like this.”

I stilled. His face drew near to gaze fixedly at me, the pupils lit with a depressing air that resembled pale moonlight. It was as if I’d done him a great wrong.

A sham…this was all a sham. I told myself secretly, but that couldn’t ward off the handsome man. His stare made me lose my bearings as he silently crept closer, a hand resting on my shoulder as he suddenly stole a kiss from my face.

I blinked a few times before I could react. The sensation vanished just as quickly, leaving a coolness behind when he pulled away his lips. His eyelashes hid his gaze as he turned away, using a hand to prop up his head to stare at me anew. I touched my face and looked at him doubtfully. His eyes were particularly bright.

So much for that hint of anxiety from before….I’d gotten tricked again. Curses! “Y-y-you, just wait…!” I bent down and started grabbing poisons from my sleeves.

See if I don’t poison you!

He held me still, waving an index finger impressively. “I wasn’t taking advantage of you. That kiss was a token to pledge my love. Who knew you would wear this face mask every day? Each time I see it, I feel so touched that I can’t control myself.”

I couldn’t speak. How else could I infiltrate the palace without wearing this mask? When did it become a love pledge token?

You’re trying to con me again, huh?

That’s right, this dear friend of mine was trying to change the topic. I caught his sleeve and pulled tight. “Why has the emperor’s illness dragged on for so long? Is it still curable?” If it was difficult, then what was the point? Better to take yifu home instead.

“Affairs of the world are hard to ascertain. Many things aren’t as simple as you think,” he smiled a bit. “Actually, it’s not hard to cure at all…besides, Fang Hua’s here, isn’t he?”

I smiled briefly, but didn’t speak. Just from my observations these past few days… There were no problems with Fang Hua’s prescription, but the results were like that…whether or not the real medicine even ended up in the emperor’s stomach was hard to say.

“You can say what you like,” he gradually withdrew his smile, picking up his loose clothing to recover his respectable appearance. His gaze was gentle and soft. “Even if you’re full of ideas, your thoughts are written all over your face. It’s rare to find such a simple person.”

I only forced a smile, lightly rapping his shoulder. “What’s up with you today? You’re acting a bit off.” “Perhaps, but you should listen to my advice.” The laughter in his eyes was replaced with sincerity. His gaze was brilliant. “No matter what you see or hear inside the palace, don’t say anything publicly. It won’t do you any favors.”

I looked at him, completely uncomprehending.

He laughed like the first time I met him, virtuous and sagely, his expression considerate and cordial. “The complexities of the court are ever shifting. It’s hard to read people’s hearts. I don’t know if I should allow you to continue living here, this choice might’ve been a mistake from the start…”

His hand stroked my hair.

“Shao’er, listen to me. You’re not suited for this place.”

I wasn’t used to this. I grew familiar with his dishonest self, but this was the first time he was using such time and energy to advise me. Without even including the strange behaviors of the eunuchs who prepared the emperor’s medicine, his single line here made it seem that a major crisis was imminent at court.

“No more chitchat, it’s already getting late,” he stood up, not even bothering to shake the bits of grass from his robes. “Although this is a fine steed, it’ll still take me over half a day to run back and forth from Fang Hua’s house.”

“You finally remembered that someone’s waiting for you to fetch medicine, huh.”

His lips quirked as he mounted the horse, pausing before he spoke.
“Suppose the emperor got well, what would you do afterward?”

I raised my eyes to stare at him. “I want to stay with yifu. Where he goes, I’ll follow.” He smiled, bending down to look at me beneath the sunlight. “I have vast holdings of fertile land and numerous residences. My accumulated properties aren’t flimsy at all. Moreover…” he drew nearer, as if discussing business. “I have no parents nor siblings, and I’ve yet to marry. Do you want to give me some consideration?

— [Original & most up to date translations for this series can be found on volaretranslations.]

“Imperial Physician Nong, if you don’t leave now…I’m afraid the emperor’s body won’t hold out much longer to take your medicine.”

The horse seemed impatient as well as it shifted from side to side. He held the reins and gave me a smile. “Shao’er, you have to remember my words.” In the end, that smile was filled with deep meaning and urged one to think things over. Before I could react, he whipped his horse and left, leaving me with a face full of dust.

Pah…

After spitting, I stood stupefied. Something didn’t seem right, but I couldn’t figure out what until some time had passed. Grr, seriously…to think one way and act another…

Using those words to describe him was way too appropriate.

Nongyu, oh Nongyu, you look so mild and gentle, but your heart was ruthless. Such a long road back, and you tossed me here…how was I going to get home?

The plants grew with no signs of human habitation. Where the heck was I? I fumbled about the boundless sea of flowers until the sunlight started to fade. I didn’t know when the setting sun starting shining on my back and made everything melancholy.

A fine steed, truly worthy of its title. When Nongyu took me captive on his horse, I was only jostled around on my stomach for a while. After I found the palace on foot and returned to Fang Hua’s quarters, it was already late at night…

-o- [Original & most up to date translations for this series can be found on volaretranslations.]

[1] dog-tailed grass ( 狗尾巴草) −gouweiba cao, most likely a form of Setara viridis, or wild foxtail millet.

Chapter33

The bright moon hung in the skies, but Fang Hua’s residence was dark. There was a faint light shining from indoors when I snuck inside and closed the door behind me. Turning around, I only saw a few young eunuchs waiting in the courtyard with their heads drooping, not daring to make a sound. In fact, their bodies seemed to be trembling.

“What’s wrong, did something happen?” I only just spoke when a storm of footsteps drifted through the darkness. Before I could recover from the shock, I was blinded by the glare reflecting off a group of swords. About a dozen or so guards stood before us in full battle array, their swords drawn.

I trembled and didn’t even have time to back away. The leader of the imperial guards gave us all a frigid look and said, “Seize everyone here.”

Ah… Seize?
Why were they seizing Fang Hua’s people? Not to mention, I’d only just entered this residence…why seize me as well?

My shoulders hurt from someone gripping me, but I didn’t dare use my internal energy. Before anything serious happened, I resolved to endure it. Lack of forbearance in small matters could upset bigger plans.

We were brought before the halls of the old man emperor, where we discovered the eunuchs and court ladies of other masters were kneeling there shaking in fear. It was a chilly night, but the gates to the main hall were wide open, and the scent of medicine drifted out from its depths.

No incense was lit indoors, but all of the lanterns were gleaming. Though the scene was very bright, it also felt particularly empty and desolate. A brilliant yellow robe was spread on the ground where a person knelt by the bed, hands clutching the emperor’s own. His eyes were red and his voice choked with sobs as he said over and over again, “Father…your son has been unfilial.”

But the figure on the bed remained motionless.

The crown prince bent over and tightly embraced that person, body trembling as he slowly slid off the bed, his expression extremely sorrowful. He was the splitting image of a dutiful child and the sight was very moving.

What was this?

What had happened? I stared dazedly from my position kneeling on the ground, blinking furiously. An old eunuch wiped his eye with a sleeve, and announced in a shrill, drawn-out voice, “The emperor has passed away.”

What… Passed away?!
Across the empty halls and quiet spaces of the palace rang the low, mournful peal of bells. Their depressing notes reverberated endlessly in the skies, and the sound was enough to make one’s heart tremble.

The noise shook me until my mind was completely blank. I looked stupidly at the courtyard full of grieving, sobbing people. Some had their faces ashen-white, shivering as they knelt on the ground.

“How audacious, who is this?” “Move aside, move aside…” A figure appeared by the entrance to the palace, raising his robes to hurry inside before bowing with two hands raised in the air, a small box nestled within them. “Your servant came too late, and deserves to die ten thousand deaths.”

Someone else trailed slowly in after him but stilled his steps to look astonished upon the scene. Amidst the chaos, he was the only one who still had a calm and tranquil expression. No matter how tense the surrounding atmosphere was, he was always quiet and elegant.

“Fang Hua, you came too.” Han Zichuan nodded lightly with a gentle smile. He finally turned around and slowly sat down, hands knocking lightly against the surface of a table. Gradually, the smile in his eyes faded as he focused on one person.

“Imperial Physician Nong?” “Your guilty servant is here.”
“These few days, father’s illness had been improving, but why did he pass away so silently today?” his gentle tone seemed calm, but carried hints of an approaching storm. “I really want to hear the reasons behind this.”

“The emperor’s prescription was Lord Hua’s formulas all along, and your servant was in charge of overseeing its decoction. Your servant left this afternoon to search for medicinal ingredients outside, and only hurried back now.” His head hung as he bowed, though he shot Fang Hua a glance on the side.

What did Nongyu mean by these words?

He couldn’t be trying to place the whole blame on…

I raised my head. The Fang Hua standing behind him now wore an aloof, indifferent expression. No, not indifferent, but more like he hadn’t taken the matter to heart at all. His gaze swept over the assembled court ladies and eunuchs to settle on me. I gave a start, and my heart grew anxious. This, he wasn’t even aware of someone framing him! What was he doing, looking at me? Hurry up and say something, Nongyu’s obviously trying to place the blame on you! My heart was restless with worry, and I grew agitated enough to stand up, only to have someone press me down by the shoulders.

“Behave yourself.”

Behave, behave. I’ll behave myself.

Fang Hua’s expression stilled as he looked at me, as if wanting to speak. Han Zichuan beckoned with his hand, not deigning to reply to Nongyu as he muttered to himself. His cold gaze pierced through the court eunuchs as he spoke in a stern voice. “Who was the imperial physician in charge of decocting the medicine today? Bring out the boiling water.”

How efficient…

The people in the court really did things quick.

Before my knees had grown sore from kneeling, an honest and tolerant looking imperial physician, along with two or three eunuchs, were captured and brought before the imperial hall. They tested the boiling water with silver needles and dabbled a bit.

The elderly imperial physician held the needle between shaking fingers as he gave an experimental whiff before his face widened in astonishment. He spoke hoarsely, the voice filled with sorrow. “Your humble servant is incompetent, please allow Your Highness to dole out punishment…the decoction from this afternoon was personally brewed by your servant, but due to my negligence, someone managed to slip in some Broiled Spirit Incense.”

“Broiled Spirit Incense?” Han Zichuan’s eyes swept over him.

The elderly imperial physician was too frightened to utter another word. Nongyu sucked in a breath, pushing the man aside to block him from view as he respectfully paid obeisance to the crown prince. “To answer Your Highness, this incense is made from the fresh juices secreted by the tender stalks of three unique plants. Using it increases the potency of a drug while causing hallucinations. An ordinary person can take it without trouble, but those with serious illnesses wouldn’t be able to bear it.”

I’ve heard of this thing before…

You had to add the stalks to the decoction a few seconds after plucking the stems, and ingest the results within 16 hours. The earlier the drug was taken, the more effective it would be.

“But for the imperial palace to hide a secret store of such incense, moreover one with such strength, suggests that a master of the medical arts had the fortunate timing to pluck a few plants from outside to create the item before throwing it within the decoction. Your Highness, please investigate thoroughly.” Nongyu frowned, sniffing the hand that had dipped into the drug as he continued, “Of course, we can’t eliminate the eunuchs or court ladies, either.”

Han Zichuan propped his head on his hands as he sat in his chair, pointing at the shaking forms of the honest-looking physician and his eunuchs. “Take them away and cut off their heads.”

He seemed to be smiling, speaking such things concerning life and death as if it was nothing special. It didn’t seem like he was ordering their heads cut off, but telling them to pull up some weeds instead.

“Your Highness, what should we do with the rest of these servants?” The court eunuch asked quietly from his position on the side, hands in his sleeves.

“Take them away for investigation, and check to see if any of them are hiding pills or medicines. Anyone who wasn’t serving their masters, or left the palace halls, should be turned over to the Ministry of Justice for questioning via torture.” What…?

Your granny[1]! You’re too cruel, Han Zichuan.

My body felt at a loss as I watched the guards move in to drag people away. Heart pounding, I blanked out, wondering whether I should rise against them…and rebel. Then a figure blocked my view and a voice spoke mildly, “I want to keep this young court lady.”

I could dimly see the side of Fang Hua’s face as he pressed his hands against my shoulders, hauling me off the ground. He softly but surely faced Han Zichuan and spoke, “She’s always served at my side and never left me.”

Nongyu was flabbergasted.

“Naturally, I won’t touch any of your people,” Han Zichuan smiled, his tone exceptionally easy.

I could clearly sense Fang Hua’s grip lessen on my shoulders, and my body relaxed slightly. My eyes gazed at his face, which could dazzle and stun all lookers, and experienced a moment of distraction.

Why did he have to lie? If he was exposed, wouldn’t it…?

Meanwhile, Nongyu had spent the entire time standing behind Han Zichuan. I couldn’t see his expression, but recalling what he said to me…I seemed on the verge of realizing something. But I dared not think it. I didn’t want to look into it, either.

The imperial palace really was a laughable place. My head hung as I occasionally cast glances at the shadows on the ground, before suddenly seizing up. I raised my head, astonished. The shadows on the splendid golden wall, the warm comfort of the colored glass lamps, and the silvery, reflected points of the bed-curtains, were all moving gently despite a lack of wind. Shocked, I could even hear someone’s extremely feeble breaths, struggling and weak, as if it was ready to stop mid-gasp at any time. The foundation of my internal energy wasn’t weak, so my hearing was much keener than normal humans.

Was it possible that…the emperor hadn’t died?

It wasn’t impossible. Although the old man emperor’s sickness was severe, he had a chance of staving off the effects of Broil Spirit Incense. Perhaps his heart only stopped briefly, but if they treated him now, they could even save his life.

Suddenly, Fang Hua took a few steps forward as if intending to lift the bed-curtains. Han Zichuan’s hand rested on his shoulder with a very easy smile, up until that weak breathing faded away…

Only then did he say softly, “Don’t disturb the dead, or else it’ll be seen as a sign of great disrespect.”

I felt like I’d never seen him properly before.

The prince who had once been quick to modesty and tender gentleness… was still gentle now, and still smiled as he had in the past. But hidden beneath the warmth of his smile was something that made my hairs stand on end.

The court eunuch’s respectful, solemn voice rang across the great hall, though his words still weren’t enough to disguise his shrill, sharp tones. “The emperor has passed away and fifteen days on, the crown prince will ascend the throne. The childless concubines of the late emperor shall be buried with the deceased.”

This was the ‘vast and mighty’ ‘benevolence from the emperor.’

Un…it really was vast and mighty. All the things the old man emperor had enjoyed in his life was being taken with him after death. In the midst of the crowds hailing for the new emperor’s longevity[2], Fang Hua gave the dead man a glance and turned to leave. “Lord Hua, what’s wrong?” I hastily followed. He had a mild smile that was exceptionally chilly. I raised my eyebrows, spotting Han Zichuan standing by the door to the great hall, attentively watching the two of us depart with a tender smile.

Though his words were gentle and far away, they were still enough to make me tremble. “Strictly investigate the imperial physicians. Increase the guards looking after Lord Hua, and prohibit anyone from leaving the palace.”

-o- [Original & most up to date translations for this series can be found on volaretranslations.]

[1] your granny ( 奶 奶 的 ) −nainaide, used as an exclamation of surprise/shock/disbelief, or as a curse.

[2] emperor’s longevity ( 万 岁 万 岁 万 万 岁 ) −wansui wansui wanwansui, the ever popular call from an emperor’s subjects, for him to live for 10,000 years, 10,000 years, 10,000 of 10,000 years…

Chapter34

The next day.

An imperial decree was issued, forcing Fang Hua out of the main hall and into a different residence. The new quarters were colder and much more cheerless, and the interiors were simple and unadorned, almost like…a Cold Palace[1]. There was nothing to gain from walking around, yet I refused to sit still, spending my days wandering about the palace and feeling stifled.

Fang Hua didn’t seem to mind at all, but often leaned against the window, occasionally boiling a pot of scented tea to drink alone as if none of this had anything to do with him.

He still hadn’t grasped the situation. The noble consort that had loved plants and flowers was presented with a length of white silk[2] and hung herself yesterday. Rumors had it that she was one of the late emperor’s favorites, and cried for half the night embracing her only daughter before she died. Tongues wagged about this event all through the court. I was very familiar with that daughter…she was the one who once snuck into Fang Hua’s rooms to cling onto him, disguised as a court lady named Little Huang.

When I thought of such a crafty little girl left to survive alone in the depths of this palace, I couldn’t help but sweat in her place. But with things as they were now…what else could be done? There was nothing left but the sense of self-preservation.

Han Zichuan at least recognized old ties of affection. Amongst the eunuchs and court ladies sentenced to prison interrogations, all those who served Fang Hua were returned to him unharmed. The palace was originally a place for talk, and in this way rumors and slanders were spread around. There were many theories, but all of them leaned towards one point. The death of the previous emperor claimed many other lives, even those of insignificant people. Yet Fang Hua remained completely safe, making it clear that…all monarchs under Heaven had difficulties resisting the trials of a beauty[3].

I dug a finger in my ear.

Their topics for gossip really stuck out from the rest.

Fang Hua might have been beautiful, but he was still male. Those using such words to smear him had to be recorded in my notebook…I’d settle accounts with each and every one of them later. Heheh, and I was just thinking the days were getting so boring with nothing else to do.

Thus, I spent every day strolling around with packets of poisoned powders, occasionally scattering them in the wind…stirring up pandemonium in this pure land until I got addicted to my tricks.

And so…looks like I missed dinner again today.

I went back to my residence, stomach grumbling with hunger. I could see the bright lamplights shining from the shabby old windows. On a typical day, it was rare to light lamps at this hour because after we moved into the cold palace we were never distributed enough candles. Today…what had happened?

Could it be that we had an honorable guest?

I thought it was strange, and leaned towards the window to make a hole in the paper covering. Before I could do so, Little Li grabbed my hand and pulled me far away. I rubbed my shoulder and grumbled. “What are you doing, using so much strength?”

“Where did you run off to all day?” “What happened?”

“After Lord Hua returned, he searched for you for half the day. How could a so-called servant who’s ‘always served at his side’ and ‘never left him’ toss aside her master without a thought?”

Could I say I went out to punish the wicked and eliminate evil?

How embarrassing that’d be. I fell silent, twisting my robes in my hands. When I looked up, my voice was slow and leisurely. “So what if I didn’t come back? At

“Lord Hua and the crown prince are currently drinking inside. I heard it was excellent wine brought from his old home, and they’ve been at it for quite a while.”

— [Original & most up to date translations for this series can be found on volaretranslations.] Why did I smell the stench of adultery?

How could Han Zichuan have enough spare time to come here…? However, he probably won’t cause difficulties for Fang Hua. I narrowed my eyes and looked at the tightly closed door, then walked back and forth a few times, before plopping my butt on a stone bench and raising my back. “Is there anything left to eat?”

“I’ve just taken away a few plates of cold dishes that went with the wine. You wait and I’ll get some for you.”

A small plate of shelled peanuts, next to some thin slices of meat and even some juicy cuts of venison appeared. I was stunned by the sight.

“Can Lord Hua eat these things?”

“He can’t, so the crown prince tasted it two or three times before telling someone to take it away.”

My hand picked up the chopsticks, feeling a sense of reverence and awe… These were things that masters ate, and they were now left for me. It felt like I was breaking a rule somewhere. “Originally, the crown prince wanted to eat more, but Lord Hua told someone to pick them up, saying he was leaving it for a hungry ghost…” Little Li covered his face and glanced at me as he laughed into his sleeve.

“Do we still have mantou?” “Yes, yes, you wait a bit.” Hungry ghost…
Was he talking about me?

Che, have there been any ghosts as good-looking as me? He really had no taste. My foot rested on the stone bench as I tore the meat with my hands and ate them chunk by chunk. It was tasty enough to make me want to eat my own fingers.

Suddenly, the door to the rooms creaked open. A figure in brilliant yellow robes staggered out, body swaying.

“I’m going to the lavatory, don’t hold me back.” “Please, it’s this way…”
The small eunuch at his side kept his figure bowed respectfully, occasionally offering a hand to support the crown prince in fear of him falling. I clicked my tongue, now this was a piece of work.

After the bustle died down, the courtyard grew much more quiet. I slowly strolled over to take a look and saw the door wide open. Stuffy air wafted out from the room, mixed with the sweet, sharp scent of wine. A overturned chair laid on the ground, surrounded by scattered peanut shells and broken porcelain.

A few court ladies were wiping the floors with rough cloths, shaking with fear as they cast frequent glances at Fang Hua, who was sprawled across the table. They were probably afraid that he’d wake up… Fang Hua’s room wasn’t a place where anyone could enter and exit freely.

I quietly entered the rooms and gave the court ladies a meaningful glance. Their faces lit up in smiles and grateful looks as they rose to bend forwards and back out of the house, not even forgetting to close the door behind them.

Shutting the door…what did they do that for?


I stared at the tightly closed door and couldn’t help laughing in spite of myself. Although Fang Hua’s moral character turned questionable after getting drunk, it wasn’t so bad that people had to avoid him for fear of repercussions. Actually, I quite liked him when he was intoxicated. At least he wasn’t cold and chilly like usual.

Speaking of which…how much did he drink this time?

I looked around until I saw a familiar jug by his side on table, inlayed with dark-blue lines. Frowning, I lightly touched his shoulder and got no reaction. Fang Hua was now drunk to the point that he was lying senseless on the table.

I had no words to say for Nongyu…

The old Wutong tree had three jugs buried beneath it, and yet he selected the largest one to bring back. This one had enough wine for yifu to drink for a year. He really dissipated the family fortunes this time.

Wait, it couldn’t be…

My hands slipped into my sleeves as I took a step back, peeking into the jug.

Geez… As expected, I could even see the bottom of the jug! Though this nectar wine wasn’t any stronger than the ordinary variety, it was still extremely intoxicating…getting this drunk took effort, and this single jug of wine had used up three years of my preparation time. I clicked my tongue and couldn’t resist peering at the empty jug again. They actually emptied the entire thing. Zichuan and him had quite the ability; admirable, admirable.

I shifted my gaze and spoke softly, “If you sleep here at night, you’ll catch a chill. How about your servant supports you to bed?”

He remained sprawling without uttering a word.

“Lord Hua?” No reaction. “Fang Hua?”
I was completely ignored.

I cleared my throat, pinching my voice box to lower the pitch of this (faked) clear and melodious voice. “Yifu, come back to rest in the rooms.”

His head was lying sideways on the table, and his body looked like it had solidified in place. But the folds of his robes rustled a bit. Finally, he reached out a hand and raised himself above the table to look around, eyes sweeping the scene before throwing himself into empty air.

“Good Shao’er, bring me another flask of wine.”

His tone was filled with tender feelings, the last word arching up in pitch. Hearing it made a person both limp and numb. In the end, he fell into a dead sleep and didn’t move again.

He was definitely drunk.

I relented in a moment of weakness and pulled a chair over to sit down and quietly look at him. His temper hadn’t changed. He still liked to order people around regardless of whether or not he was intoxicated. The pale yellow candlelight flickered incessantly. I stood up to stuff the cracks in the paper-covered windows with a cloth, before dusting off my hands. Looking down, I was surprised.

Fang Hua had buried half his face in his sleeves, his white, jade-like features flushed with wine. There was a conflicted tilt to his eyebrows… This guy, he was as pretty as uncut jade, his entire form shrouded in the warm glow of lamplight. His pitch-black hair cascaded like waterfalls to glow softly, enough to drive me silly to see.

I stroked his hair, feeling the slippery coolness like water, and was reluctant to let it go. His eyebrows were still knitted together, as if he was having a bad dream. My heart sighed.

Why suffer…?

To come here and endure these hardships, yifu, when I’d much rather you were home with me together, forever and ever.

He looked extremely meek as he sprawled on the table, letting me touch him as I’d like. His body was relaxed and his eyes closed as if sunk in a deep dream. Looking at his face inch by inch, my heart began to soften.

You should know that Shao’er has always been watching over you. Yifu.
You said that the jianghu was leisurely and carefree, so let’s not mix in the muddy waters of court life. When we leave the palace, Shao’er will accompany you and make a living wandering from place to place.

He didn’t reply. Eyes closed, he looked beautiful with his elegant, tranquil features, though his forehead was knitted in worry. Why was the teardrop mole beneath his eye so distinct…? I touched him, but my heart was filled with bitter pain.

That mole looked like an actual teardrop, a dark red teardrop, enough to make my chest hurt with feelings of dim depression. Fang Hua said he had to do what he didn’t wanted for a certain person. Thus, he pretended to throw me away and enter the palace.

He should know that I’d do the same–or even more–for my beloved without considering the consequences.

Fang Hua, you should know the depth of my feelings by now.

He didn’t speak, but remained on the table, long robes exuding the dense scent of sweet wine. His face was still calm, as if cut off from the cares of the world. Those eyelashes covered his eyes, leaving nothing behind but an apathetic chill.

I reached out a hand and tenderly caressed his face, as if captivated. My body bent forward, one hand bracing against my chair as I gazed at him while holding my breath. I trembled involuntarily, and lowered my head to kiss his lips.

Slender strands of black hair fell in torrents across my body.

I tasted the pure, sweet flavor of wine on his lips as he suddenly gave a jerk. I assumed he reacted from instinct, and gave him a bit of distance before staring at him tenderly. He was half-lying on his sleeve, eyelashes trembling minutely over his glimmering, drunken irises. The gleaming light reflected in his eyes rivaled that of candle flames as he calmly looked at me with a small, gentle smile.

I stood stunned, and my chair toppled to the side as I fell on the ground, thoroughly frightened.

H….h-h-he….

When did he wake up?!

— All reproductions of this work not on volaretranslations are stolen copies.

He moved closer, eyes shining like blurry moonlight reflected in a disordered pond. They had a brilliant, misty quality to them, and squinted as if trying to see me more clearly. I used my sleeves to cover my mouth, looking at him in a panic as my face heated up. My steps retreated and I only wanted to dig myself in a hole somewhere.

Fang Hua’s entire body swayed before falling over, burying me beneath him. A delicate fragrance mixed with the intoxicating scent of alcohol rolled over and stunned me. I didn’t know whether I should hold onto him, or push him away. He reached out a hand and took my head into his embrace, his whispered voice quivering with complex emotions.

“You…were finally willing to come back.”

Ah?

What did he say?

I looked directly at him, swallowing as I replied in a small voice. “I never went very far. I was right outside before.”

He smiled gently and used a hand to stroke my face, dimly gazing at me. His expression seemed hazy, as if the wind had clouded his thoughts. Being looked at like this from him made my heart pound, and my whole body grew hot. The places where he’d touched me felt as they’d been scalded.

Holding my face, he lowered his eyes to sweep his gaze past me. Uncertainly, I followed his line to vision and saw…a certain gap that almost gave me a nosebleed.

The support I’d gotten from the wall slowly gave way as the other person leaned over me. My body was very stiff…and a ticklish laugh crept past my ear. It was immediately followed by a sweet scent as someone caught my chest in a warm embrace. His half-sober eyes gazed at me with a tender strength as if he was hugging a precious treasure.

My eyes suddenly widened.

A pair of burning lips touched mine like an inexperienced youth’s, and his tongue gently brushed apart my lips. Our two silhouettes reflected in the candle flames seemed like they were about to combine into one, and the scene was soft and warm. I only felt my mind go stark white, stunned and bewildered by the turn of events.

Wait…

What was going on here?

I stole a kiss from him and was caught red-handed, yet the Fang Hua who hated touching people was not only embracing me, but…

My lips turned a bit numb, though my face was burning and my heart beating hard enough to burst out of my chest. Right now, my head felt giddy. I was just about drunk off the intoxicating alcohol fumes wafting off his body.

About seven to eighty percent of his body weight pressed against mine, a familiar warmth that drove me crazy from missing him. To be crushed like this felt a bit inappropriate, so I gave him a light push and crawled away. He turned over and hastily grabbed my sleeve, slowly lifting his eyes to look at me in a mix of laziness and fatigue. The red birthmark by his eyes was like a teardrop, but his expression was soft, and his grip tightened to hold me still.

“Don’t leave…”

He didn’t push me away anymore.

This time, he was telling me not to leave.

I didn’t know how much of him was sober or drunk. I didn’t know who he saw beyond this face mask of mine…

I only knew that the emotions coming from his gaze now was something I’d never seen before.

So even Fang Hua could love a person.

So even he…could wear such an emotional expression. I gently rested my hand on his shoulders, my voice growing firmer as well. “I wouldn’t go anywhere unless it was worthwhile.”

He leaned over, staring hazily as his hand pointed with wavering motions. When he squinted, it seemed as if he was trying to focus on the person before him, before giving up without a smile to encircle my shoulders. “You can’t lie to me…”

I smiled and gave a noise of agreement.

He assumed a dependent position to lean over, smiling lightly as his head vaguely rubbed against me again and again. Suddenly, he fell onto me completely and buried his head into my neck, not moving.

His breaths grow long and level… finally he’d gotten drunk to the point of knocking out.

This time he really acted out for a long time…

Still, even his sleeping self had a certain lovely charm. I abandoned my facilities and held him until I grew tired. The wind beat against the paper windows, making them creak. From outside came the faint noise of staggering footsteps.

“Fang Hua, I’m back.” Abruptly, a voice shattered the serenity of the room.

The door opened with a bang, and a single person barged in, the lingering sound of his laughter stopping with a grunt. “It was really tiring holding it in, but now I feel better…let’s drink another jug, we won’t stop until we’re drunk.”

My body stiffened, and the hand embracing Fang Hua slackened for quite a bit. The other was wearing brilliant yellow robes, but stood on his own. He seemed to be sobering up as he looked at me in astonishment.

How did I forget that Han Zichuan and Fang Hua had been enjoying drinks together all night? He’d only gone to relieve himself, and now he was back… Was Fang Hua waiting for him?
So what did that kiss from before mean?

I couldn’t bow fast enough, one hand supporting Fang Hua as I bit my teeth before that stare. It took strenuous effort to put Fang Hua to bed. I didn’t even take the time to take off his boots before pulling the bedcovers over him.

My heart was already in a mess.

Han Zichuan watched motionlessly as if his sharp gaze could see through me. Under such pressure, I gave him a deferential bow and said in a low voice, “Lord Hua is already hopelessly drunk. If the crown prince wishes to chat with Lord Hua again, your servant will leave immediately and prepare some soup to help sober him up.”

He waved his hand to dismiss me with a blank stare, body swaying as he walked to sit down by the bed and lean over for a look. His voice was not very loud, but enough for me to hear clearly. “Didn’t you say you would wait for me? Why did you knock out first?”

A chill stole over half of my heart.

A desolate moon hung high in the skies. The night breeze also carried a coolness that reached to the bones.

Taking a deep breath, I backed away, only sparing a single glance inside. I told myself not to think too much and ran down the steps, calling a young eunuch to tell Nongyu to make two bowls of soup for sobering up.

-o- All reproductions of this work not on volaretranslations are stolen copies.

*Please note that the web version of this chapter originally had no title. [1] cold palace (冷宫) −lenggong, a place where the emperor typically banished disfavored queens and concubines, significantly less grand (and less well-kept) than the rest of the palace.

[2] white silk ( ⽩ 绢 ) −baijuan, since it wasn’t proper to execute royalty/the emperor’s family, disfavored or unlucky concubines were
presented these silks as a tacit command to commit suicide and end their own lives. Hanging was the most common method, though poison also existed. Being presented a length of white silk was akin to a death sentence.

[3] trials of a beauty (美⼈关) −meirenguan, the sort of tests/temptation any ruler might face at the sight of a beautiful woman (or Beast). Rulers
lured in by beauties frequently treated them well and indulged their whims. Sometimes they were planted by enemy rulers to aid in the downfall of rival kingdoms.

Chapter35

Taking a deep breath, I backed away, only sparing a single glance inside. I told myself not to think too much and ran down the steps, calling a young eunuch to tell Nongyu to make two bowls of soup for sobering up.

The candles of the the Cold Palace had all been reserved for the main house.

Pitch-darkness covered the courtyard, but someone was quietly giving orders before everyone scattered to busy themselves with their tasks. Their footsteps were very light, and the soles of their shoes exceptionally soft, so that there was no sound when they walked.

My feet felt a little wooden, and my legs rather stiff. I couldn’t help casting backward glances at the room with every few steps. Thanks to the rising wind, the paper coverings on the windows were rattling with noise.

I stood for a while before sitting on a stone bench to space out. A hand propped up my head as I looked at the candlelit reflections of two figures against the windows. Though I knew these were only shadows, the flickering flames distorted their shapes and made them seem very intimate.

There was a thread of bitterness within my heart.

I suppressed my grief as a sudden warmth rose up to fill my eyes. My sleeve roughly rubbed at my face as I stood up, feeling at a loss.

Yifu was mine.

He was Shao’er’s Fang Hua. My hands clenched, but the stuffy feeling in my chest remained.

“The soup was prepared long beforehand by the imperial kitchens, shall we deliver them now?” Little Li asked as he walked over, carrying two bowls. His gaze settled on me in astonishment. I ignored him, staring fixedly at a point as coldness penetrated to the depths of my heart.

The shadows in the window seemed to draw closer and closer to each other, and the shabby paper covering rustled in the wind, enough for me to vaguely discern that person’s brilliant yellow robes.

Only then did I notice someone pulling at my own clothes, and lose my concentration.

“What’s happened with you?” Little Li gave me a rather caring look.

“Nothing.” I turned away, my heart filled with agony. Though I wanted to grin, just trying to move my lips made my eyes grow hot.

“You were fine just awhile ago, but who provoked you now?” he said and stopped, glancing in the direction of the room before smiling mysteriously. “How fortunate, we don’t even need to deliver the sober-up soup this time.”

What happened?

Why did he say that…?

My body shook as I followed his gaze to the room. There were no more shadows in the window, only darkness…the lights had gone out inside. Abruptly, my mind grew blank.

I didn’t think of anything, nor could I think of anything.

I only knew that Fang Hua and Han Zichuan were the only ones in that room. I don’t know where my viciousness came from, but I suddenly lost my head and seized the soup from Little Li’s hands, valiantly pushing him aside to charge inside. “You can’t go in, hey…little ancestor[1], why aren’t you listening to what I say?” Little Li’s voice grew smaller and smaller until he shrank back and retreated…because I’d already used three parts of my internal energy to push against the door with a creak until it opened. Without a lantern, the lighting in the room was very dim. However, the moonlight coming in from another window was enough to illuminate everything.

The table was empty besides a single jug of wine.

My vision swept past to see Han Zichuan leaning over to lie on the bed. A pair of hands looped around his neck to rest upon his shoulders, but I couldn’t see the exp

My frame of mind now, how to put it… It was indescribable.
It felt like a weight had rammed into my heart until I’d forgotten how to breathe. I didn’t know when my hands started shaking, too weak to support something so heavy. An ear-piercing noise caught my attention from the floor, causing me to retreat a few steps.

Stunned, I realized just then that the soup bowls were cracked, and the floor was covered in porcelain fragments. The spilled soup was still surging across the floors, drenching my shoes and forcing me back like the sight before me. They both left me at my wit’s end.

“Who told you to come in?” An angry voice filled with reproach came from the side of the bed, infused with a rare boldness.

“Your servant will leave as soon as she’s cleared the mess.”

I hurriedly knelt down. Strange, wasn’t it, that something kept flowing uncontrollably from my eyes. I lowered my head and split my mouth into a grin, wiping my face with my sleeves as my heart shivered in pain.

“You…” Han Zichuan kept his reclining position, lying over Fang Hua with a hand supporting his head. He seemed flabbergasted…a complicated expression in his eyes as he prepared to get off the bed. “Come here, let me take a better look.”

I stubbornly remained kneeling on the floor.

There was the sound of someone getting off the bed. I took a deep breath and crawled towards the door, my hands trembling as I prepared to rush out.

Someone firmly gripped me by the shoulder.

That person had monstrous strength, as if his fingers were digging into my flesh.

“Let go.” I waved my hand and shook him off, but forgot that he was the crown prince. Before me, all the eunuchs were either kneeling or flat on their stomachs.

“I won’t…I know it’s you. Shao’er…”

Han Zichuan embraced me from behind, arms fastened tightly around my waist. My throat burned like fire, as if he was squeezing all the air from my lungs. Still, I kept up my stubborn struggling.

“I almost went with Nongyu back to our house in the forest to look for medicinal plants. But my spies told me the house was empty, and no one lived inside…you followed me back to the palace a long time ago, right?”

His face rubbed against me, the words pitiful and weak. “Why didn’t you tell me?” In the end, he roughly turned me around and spoke word by word. “You should know how much I worried about you.”

I stared at him with wide eyes. He was drunk to the point of expressing tender feelings, fingers unhurriedly brushing towards my face, my eyebrows…but I raised my brows and turned around, feeling extremely uncomfortable. Yet he forcefully resisted me with his hands, leaning over to look at my face. “I should have realized early on that you changed your looks. Who taught you, was it Nongyu?”

I couldn’t make out anything from his tone, but only felt…there were many things I couldn’t grasp. All I could see was the image of him lying on Fang Hua, the latter holding him in his embrace.

“Your highness, please conduct yourself with dignity,” The words were squeezed out from the gaps in my teeth. I didn’t know how long I could bear it…

“Conduct myself with dignity?” he smiled brightly, his mouth filled with ridicule. “I’m going to be the only ruler of a country very soon. There’s nothing I want that I can’t have.”

This person, where did he get such self-confidence?

I fixed him with a look. Exactly how much of him was drunk, and how much was sober?

“Ah, you…” his gaze shifted, and his hand rested on my throat. “You even fixed your voice…did you really want to avoid me? Yet you clearly got closer to Fang Hua, that really saddens me.”

“You and my yifu, just what exactly…” The last few words were stuck in my throat and refused to come out. It was very difficult to speak them.

He raised his eyebrows and said nothing, but gave me a significant look.
Using his hands, he clutched me in a full embrace.

“I can’t say it, and also…I definitely can’t tell you.”

My body stiffened, vision filled with his frenetic, concealed gaze. He paused before adding something without rhyme or reason. “We’ve been together for so long, yet you didn’t realize I liked you?”

Like me? Like me to the point that you’d hug me…even as he said those words, he felt the hair on my temples with his fingers, pinching part of the skin…

My lips slowly curved up and I only thought it was very funny…as well as sad.

Yifu, is this the sort of person you like?

There was a slight noise. The unlocked door behind us opened with a creak. I gave an astonished look behind Han Zichuan. Something brushed before my eyes, and my face suddenly grew cool. A face mask was lifted onto his fingers as Han Zichuan raised his eyebrows to give me a pleased look.

And yet I was completely fixated on the person behind him.

Beneath the vast and boundless moon, Fang Hua leaned by the door, his face at a complete loss. He was only wearing a simple, single layer of white robes as his gaze slowly drifted to Han Zichuan and me.

“Yifu,” I called out hoarsely.

The two arms around my waist had never let go.

He strove to put on an expressionless face of surprise, but the hand pinching the front of his jacket was shaking. The mole by the corner of one eye looked as if it was about to slide down his face, glistening a scarlet red.

He was probably very sad.

Because at this moment, I could feel my heart twisting in pain like it would split open. So this was what they called a chill that pierced the liver and spleen.

He looked at me with a trace of a gentle, peaceful smile. A pair of twinkling pupils, pure and limpid as spring water, made a captivating sight. Yet to me, they only seemed like a source of endless sorrow. His outwardly mournfulness increased. I suddenly felt listless and empty.

Han Zichuan lowered his head while hugging me. Between the confusion and shock, the shattered mess of the past flashed before me like a dreamscape.

“Shao Hua, I know you.”

“Shao Hua, I’ll be living here now with you and Fang Hua.”

That day the willow catkins were swirling in the air and Han Zichuan charged into our lives without warning. Was now a time to settle everything…? Perhaps this had been the truth from the beginning, but I had refused to believe it.

“Someone I used to know very well once fell in love with a person unable to return his feelings. The person he loved already had a wife, but he was still attracted to that person like a moth to a flame. The second half of his life was spent in grief so heavy that he wished he was dead…”

Han Zichuan had his head lowered to play the qin. Behind him stood Fang Hua, instructing him with his fingers.

The sunlight seeped past the bamboo woods to shine upon them both, dazzling slightly. A fresh gale blew past, lifting their sashes in the air while flowers fell like rain.

All these scenes flashed through my mind’s eye… How could I have forgotten?
An aching sadness settled itself in my heart.

I’d never forgotten…I just didn’t want to accept it.

I think…I was really tired. I softly covered Han Zichuan’s hands and stiffly pushed him away to take a deep breath. My hands and feet had no support, and there was no hope for me to cling to. The secret anguish of my heart had become a vivid reality.

Yifu, you raised me.

Shao’er once promised that I’d risk my life to protect you… As for now, if you can be happy, then I’ll leave…
As long as you are happy.

My heart grew weary as my hands slackened, and I made a choice to turn and walk off without any hint of reluctance. From the beginning to end, I dared not look back towards that hazy, foggy white image of a figure. I relaxed my body and closed my eyes, afraid that if I saw…I wouldn’t be able to bear leaving him.

There was only his voice by my ear. “Shao’er, if you think it’s worthwhile, then don’t come back.”

A very, very long time afterwards, my heart would twitch whenever I recall these words, which kept me restless for a long time. Everything originated from a misunderstanding. Suppose I had turned around then, maybe things would have been different.

Sadly, there wasn’t enough room for maybe in this world.

Chapter36

During the year of Qing[1], the sovereign passed away. The crown prince ascended to the throne and changed the name of the dynasty to Yao[2].

Emperor Han took charge over affairs of state and annulled the exorbitant taxies and levies. The country gain prosperity and military might, and he was praised as the brilliant ruler, though he expressed no wish to take in an empress or concubines. The loyal ministers of Emperor Han grew confused and remonstrated with him, but to no avail.

Five years later. Everything grew peaceful.
There were sayings that because Han Zichuan had ascended the throne, the country was extremely peaceful, and its people able to live and work in contentment. However…within the jianghu, people’s hearts trembled in fear at the mention of a certain qin player. At the same time, they took great delight in dwelling on his deeds over tea and meals.

This person wasn’t particularly out of the ordinary.

In fact, nobody knew whether they were male or female. His face was always hidden by a chiffon cloth mask and he dressed like a man, but spoke like a woman. He was used to wandering about like drifting clouds and wild storks–free and unrestrained–and came and went without a trace[3].

He only had one hobby, and that was to collect pretty, charming men. Every time he took a fancy to a young master, he’d sit down at the qin, those fingers playing a tune to stir one’s very soul. His heavenly pieces lingered in the air long after a performance like a celestial melody descended to earth. Only after recovering their bearings would the listeners discovered he’d abducted another young lord.

Rumors had it…that when the leader of the martial arts circles vanished last year, the qin player was involved as well. They were three versions of the story.

1) One day, the leader was leisurely rowing a boat on the river and admiring the scenery of the mountains and waters. Just when he was sighing with feeling over his attractiveness, this top, unmatched martial arts expert under the earth…realized that there was no wife in the world who could match him in looks. He couldn’t help but shed silent tears, feeling rather melancholy. No sooner had he thought than the pond waters billowed with the sweet, plaintive notes of a qin from the mountains. A fairy-like beauty came trippingly over the waters and gave him a shock. He fell in love at first sight and decided to spend the rest of his life at her side. Thus, she effortlessly seduced him and from then on, the martial arts circle leader disappeared.

2) One day, when the leader was resting in bed with his eyes closed, he heard the melody of a qin within his quarters. A highly-skilled figure broke through his windows late at night as a thief, and the two had a fierce battle indoors. The leader was no match for the intruder and was made captive by the notes of the qin. Thus, both him and his incomparable martial prowess vanished from the jianghu.

3) Before the leader became the head of the martial arts circles, he was deeply poisoned by a villainous scoundrel. Fortunately, a mysterious female rescued him. This woman became unforgettable in his memories, so much that he constantly thought of her all day and lost his appetite from melancholy yearning. On a certain day, he was severely shocked to see her masked, fairy-like form playing the qin for a handsome gentleman in the streets. Irritated, he shouted out, “Since you’re here, why not come with me?” Thus, he went to drag over the fairy-like beauty, jealously striking his arm to

After that, two figures disappeared from the world. One was the leader of the martial arts circles, the other a general’s son from the previous dynasty who had been branded a lifelong criminal by the imperial court. His looks were handsome, and he had in possession a treasured map and many unique martial arts manuals. Sadly, he was too frail to practice the techniques himself, and couldn’t talk because he was a mute.
As for the qin, which broke in half upon being flung to the ground… Rumors say it was snatched away by the masses and a single fragment of
its strings or wood could be sold for up to ten thousand gold taels.

But these are all rumors…

However, the qin playing expert gained Seven Princes[5] as followers. No one knew what they looked like, because no one could enter their house.

The First (Yi’er) spoke little but had ruthless business methods and was rich in accumulated properties.

Of the Second (Er’er) and Third (San’er), one was immune to hundreds of poisons while the other poisoned everyone on sight, making them two sides of the same jade.

Fourth (Si’er) was proficient in techniques of the Five Elements and naturally talented in the art of face-changing.

Fifth (Wu’er) was reportedly very ugly, but had unfathomable internal energy.

As for Sixth (Liu’er), he was as beautiful as Fifth was ugly, and his lightness technique[4] was incomparable. Unfortunately, he couldn’t speak.

Seventh (Qi’er) was lively, energetic, and possessed a spirited intelligence. He was the only person the qin player had brought from back home and was the obvious favorite. Typically, he was the one who took charge of everything.

As for this qin playing expert, his courtesy name[6] was Zang (葬) and his given name[7] Hua (华). He self-professed to be carefree idler.
“Hey…has anyone seen my shoes? It’s so early…” I jumped to my feet, feeling about as I searched before collapsing back onto my bed.

“Oh sure, it’s very early,” a youth dressed in gleaming yellow robes gracefully burst inside, smiling irresistibly. For some reason, my whole body felt a chill as he sat down and prepared to tuck me in. “You can almost make it for lunchtime. What made you think of getting up so early today?”

I tugged on the bedcovers, avoiding him as I feigned innocence with a lazy stretch.

“You wasted half the night yesterday at Ugly’s[8] again, right?” So joking, he withdrew his other hand from behind his back, the long fingers waving a pair of shoes before my face. I gave him a mocking smile but involuntarily backed away, afraid to accept them.

He raised his eyebrows, a charming action very much like a certain person. Startled, my smile turned forced.

“Don’t make trouble, Third. Master’s slept for half the day, she must be hungry now that she’s awake.” A 17 to 18 year old young man closed the door as he entered. Rolling up his sleeves, he snatched the shoes from the yellow-robed youth and started to carefully inspect and feel the material, eyebrows knitted. Without a word, the man kneeled down and clasped my feet, as if preparing to put on my shoes for me. I trembled and he raised a face to smile at me. “I’ve checked, he didn’t put poison inside. With Second serving you, you can definitely feel at ease.”

“His tricks were all taught by me, so how could he dare to poison me?
Like I’d be afraid of him trying.” I said, stating the plain truth. Second, the youth in the yellow robes, sighed and glared at me. I shrank back, and he hung his head with a laugh. “Master, you’re afraid of neither Heaven   nor   Earth…but   how   come   you’ve   become    so    timid since cultivating that art?”


“The《Carefree Recollection》has been cultivated to the seventh level, and my internal energy has almost thoroughly dispersed. Nowadays I’m always forgetting things. I’m afraid by the time I get to the eighth level, I’ll even forget all of you. I need safeguards in case I’m accidentally caught by a trap and forget how to make an antidote.”

“Only you would pick such a harmful practice to the internal energies,” the Poison Prince said heatedly as he swiftly stood up. “If you don’t want to fall into traps, then you shouldn’t have cultivated it.”

“Little Third, Master’s body isn’t well, so don’t clash with her.” Second placed a small heated pot[9] on my knees before pulling the bedcovers over my legs. His voice was very low as he spoke with his head bowed. “It’s not bad like this. At least, it’s better than the endless days you spent ingesting the Scattering of Forgotten Sorrows.”

Forgotten sorrows, forget my sorrows…

These words brought up hazy, faded events from the   past.   A pinkie picking through the Scattering of Forgotten Sorrows pills as I downed them with alcohol in my stomach, was a scene of distant days.

My icy fingers warmed considerably next to the heated pot. Holding a headband in his hands, Second tied my hair up in the usual scholar’s topknot (a bun atop the head), held in place by a plain and simple wooden hairstick.

Sunlight streamed from the windows to warm my body, making me comfortably sleepy. I’d obtained the 《Carefree Recollection》by chance, but now it was a necessity. To recollect, free from cares without worrying
about the past… As it turned out, the carefree part came from having no memories of anything from the start.

“The marital techniques manual that Sixth gave to Master is quite strange. Cultivating to the fifth level causes the internal energy to increase each passing day, but after level five, the energy recedes. Yet checking your pulse showed that you haven’t deviated from your cultivation. I don’t know whether this manual of Sixth’s will harm Master’s facilities, so maybe it’s better if you quit.” Second pushed aside his sleeves before handing me a warm towel.

I smiled as I unfolded the cloth and placed it over my face, so comfortable I gave a sigh. “Wouldn’t giving up be a waste of my previous efforts? If I can break through the seventh level and get deep enough into the eighth, I’ll recover both my internal energy and my memories. As long as you keep Little Third from trying anything on me before then, I’ll rest easy.”

“You…” As soon as I heard the exasperated tone, I knew it was the young Poison Prince. He always spoke clumsily when he was angry.

“Keep your distance, don’t touch Master with your poisonous hands.”

Through an opening in the towel, I could see the poisonous so-and-so’s face flushing red with embarrassed rage and hate at his inability to speak properly. The corners of my lips turned up as I regained my confidence and heaved a sigh of relief. Removing the cloth, I carelessly wiped my face before throwing it aside. While the little Poison Prince glowered, I even extended my finger on purpose to raise up Little Second’s face. “Precious darling, only you love me best.”

Little Second gave a furtive grin, very used to me taking liberties.

This child. Even when he smiled, it was laden with grief, as if deliberately provoking my pity.

“Even since Master eliminated Second’s personal enemies, my only thought has been to serve Master well,” he raised his eyes and gave me a soft look filled with affectionate feeling. “Don’t chase me away tonight, all right?”

“That won’t do, won’t do at all…”

My hand trembled and I instantly pulled back, only to see his pupils dim.
But he quickly turned and grabbed his head, smiling awkwardly…


I met Second four years ago.

At that time, I never thought of saving him. The moment when he stood alone, wearing a simple robe and surrounded by a sea of fire, seemed very fearless. It was the people of the jianghu who had set the fire to kill him, but he kept smiling as usual. Even now, I can only vaguely describe his expression then. Looking back to that past makes my heart pound, but at the time I only thought him an exceptionally mesmerizing sight.

Before the fires could swallow him up, he used his final moment of clarity to fight back. I knew that if I ignored him then, I might regret it for a lifetime.

Because his mournful smile unexpectedly reminded me of Fang Hua.

Who would’ve known that after my rescue, I discovered he was the foster son of the Pill King? Rumors said before the Pill King died, he soaked his son in all sorts of medicines, making his body immune to hundreds of different poisons. Even his blood became something as precious as gold. If the late emperor’s men had found him earlier and extracted that blood, then their ruler might have recovered seventy to eighty percent without Fang Hua’s help at all.


I lightly stroked Second’s hair. It was comforting, and made my palm itch. Amongst the others, he was the most obedient and the one who relied on me the most. …only, he relied on me too much. I came back to my senses and sighed.

“Second, last time I told someone to bring me back some precious medicinal ingredients. You haven’t soaked in a medicinal bath for so long, so there’s a cart full of ingredients free for you to use… Half a jin[10] or even three jin is fine, you can bathe to your heart’s content.”

He smiled, and I stroked his face before looking up at the Poison Prince, whose attitude was respectful and solemn. “Don’t wear yellow robes next time, Little Third. Looking at it vexes me.”

The little Poison Prince gave me another glare before swinging his sleeves and barging out of the room. I bore it with a smile as that vulgar yellow again assaulted my eyes. Actually, these robes were probably the most suitable, proper clothes he’d worn in the past few years.

But…

Ever since five years ago, I started treating yellow as a distasteful color…

“Master, was it worth it to tease him? He’s used to being frugal, so it’s rare for him to order robes. This morning he wore it for the first time to stroll back and forth in front of your doors. He was waiting until noon on an empty stomach just so you could see him, but then you made him angry,” Second muttered, “Who knows who he’ll target next as a result? It’ll be up to me to save them again.”

“It’s not that I don’t want him to get more clothes. We’re not short of silver, so there’s no need to save money.” Moreover…wearing yellow from head to toe reminded me of a certain person.

Five years had passed, yet instead of forgetting the things I should, I remembered them clearer than ever.

-o-

Chapter37

While I was lost in thought, Second had already opened the windows. The sunlight was dazzling and there was a refreshing breeze. I drew in a breath, rinsing my mouth out and washing my face before holding onto his shoulder for a lazy stretch. Then I opened the doors and prepared to go out.

“Wear another layer,” Second hurriedly grabbed one of the bedcovers and tried to force it over my shoulders.

“No need, it’s not cold today,” I refused with my hands.

He furrowed his brows without a word to stare at me, eyes slipping down to my chest. I followed his gaze to make my own observations. What was he looking at? My development there was perfectly normal.

“Master shouldn’t be wearing men’s clothes at all,” so saying, he unfolded a set of robes and shook them out three times. He used it to cover me from the back and added, “If outsiders see, it’d be bad.”

I was frustrated.

Even a few extra layers wouldn’t hide the truth of my female gender. Not to mention, everyone in this house was one of my people…

Then I laughed in spite of myself, he sure knew how to learn from others. My finger casually rested beneath his chin and gave it a scratch. “Oh, Second, if you keep worrying over things like this, you’re going to turn into my son.”

His face turned completely red. Draping my robes loosely over myself, I carelessly kicked open the door.
As it turned out, I was greeted by chaos[1].

What did you call this…

Being bad at being good, but good at being bad?

Second had really made a good guess. Standing in the yard, I lifted my eyes to see a yellow-robed youth standing gracefully at a high point, raising his head to curse loudly.

“It’s not like I’ll kill you, so what are you running away for?” As he said this, he rolled up his sleeves and spat. “I refuse to believe that I can’t poison you.”

I heaved a sigh and accepted the cup of tea from Second, sipping in silence as I watched passively.

There was no need to say it. The little Poison Prince had clashed with the others in the house again. Even after staying by my side all these years, his explosive temper hadn’t changed. Hence, now he was swearing as he ran haphazardly through the rooms.

Yet, the person evading him was very fast. It was hard to see his steps as he leapt on roofs and vaulted over walls, weaving in and out of the bamboo forest as pale pink blur.

Good.

Though Sixth’s body was weak, exercising over the years had made his lightness technique better and better. I was full of interest as I tagged along to look, my long robe draped across my shoulders.

A sound floated up from the ground.

I quickly backtracked and looked down, flushed with shame. There was already a man paralyzed on the ground, his scar-covered face turning green with anger. It looked like he’d been poisoned and was now unable to move. Yikes…

Did I step on him by accident?

I was alarmed, but after seeing who it was, I grew used to it. I inspected my surroundings before using my foot to nudge his clothes. “You’re the only straightforward and honest one, you get tricked every time. That can’t be easy.” Finally, I squatted down, head bowed in submission as I thumped his knee. “Fifth…my poor Fifth, it’s fine if you were born ugly, but I just treated you a bit last night and now you’ve been poisoned on your face again.”

“Master, you’re blocking me,” Second clicked his tongue a few times.

“Oh,” I stopped to wipe my face, reluctantly moving aside a few steps.
There was a stone table

“Xiangqi,” answered a rhythmic, sonorous voice. “We were just waiting for Second to finish serving you…so he could come…help treat Fifth’s poison.”

“Ah, Master woke up really early today. Wait…it’s my turn, stop.” a delicate and pretty young lord held his chess piece in the air, muttering indecisively. He couldn’t seem to make up his mind, but the brown mole by his eye made him especially good-looking. I quietly moved over and took a glance, before pointing at a certain spot, my head turned towards the skies in a careless fashion.

He blinked, and it seemed as if the fog had cleared from his eyes. Glancing at me, he hesitated again before slowly lowering his piece. “I’ll move from here to here.”

“General!” A crystal-clear voice spat out the words. That handsome and spirited man sat in an extremely dignified fashion, smiling gently as he set down a piece without a hint of anger. “This time you lost two pieces of fine silver. Your total is nine losses, which converts with interest into 120 taels.” Ah…
When playing with such high stakes, be careful that you’re not ruined. His mouth stiffened as he collected the money, before turning to speak.
“Ah, Little Fifth was poisoned with the Seven Scattering Emotions, so he can’t be touched…but you…” he looked over at Second, who was currently taking Fifth’s pulse, and paused. “Never mind, you’ve already touched him. Well, it’s not like you fear poisons anyways. But poor Fifth will have to endure six more hours of pain now.”


Good grief…did you purposely wait before bringing that up?

He probably saw me spending all that time in Fifth’s room last night and wanted to punish him. As expected, the more beautiful a person was, the more sinister was their heart. I’m afraid no one else in the world could be beautiful and harmless like that person…

My thoughts strayed, and I felt a dull ache in my heart. My hands tightened as I focused on circulating my Qi to compose myself…

There was a hwaaaaa! Astonished, I looked to see someone wave their sleeves, the fabric floating whimsically. The chess pieces scattered off the board and tumbled to the ground.

“No more, I’m not playing, I’ve lost all my pay for the month,” the delicate, pretty young lord with the mole waved his sleeves, digging inside before holding open the fabric for me to see. Exactly as he said…it was completely empty. He probably noticed I was acting strange and got the idea to distract me. With a smile, he spoke. “It was all Master’s fault that I carelessly spent my silver. How many face masks will I have to sell to recover the differences in costs?”

My heart turned warm as I interrupted, “Fourth, didn’t you say last time that one face mask can sell for lots of money?” “Those are human skin face masks…” he cast a sidelong glance at me. “Now that I’m with you, how could I dare tear off human skins? You can’t get much from selling pig skin face masks.”

Limpid pupils turned to peer at me again before he leaned with a whisper.
“Since I’m broke, I’ll eat and drink off you, all right?” “Sure!”
His smile caused the tiny brown mole at the edge of his eyes to raise up. He was exceptionally handsome when he looked at me, making me happy enough to want to hug him in my arms. Unfortunately, it was hard to make a move with everyone else watching.

He struck while the iron was hot and scooted closer, adding in another line. “My bedcovers are a little thin. Originally I wanted to buy new ones with my winnings, but since you lost everything for me, you wouldn’t mind if we share your bed tonight, right?”

“I don’t mind…”

Suddenly, someone kicked my butt from behind, leaving me with a burning pain. My mind blanked out before I regained my bearings.

Wait a sec…

What did he say? Share a bed with me?!


My butt still hurt; it seemed like whoever kicked me went all out. I rubbed it a few times without betraying my feelings, and glanced sideways at the little Prince Mole. “It’s only the ninth month, so how could the nights be chilly? Fourth, this is where you’re wrong. I feed you and raised you and save your life…but you’re still fixated on getting closer in vain hopes of sullying your Master’s purity.”

He wore a shameless smile and stopped talking, though his eyes had the hidden bitterness of someone thwarted in love. Silently, he moved to sit on one side, though he couldn’t resist raising a leg to kick me. Looks like little Prince Mole felt extremely depressed and wronged…

I had the sudden insight that something wasn’t quite right, and uncertainly narrowed my eyes at the chess pieces. “You’re so familiar with those obscure arts of the Five Elements. Something as simple as a board game shouldn’t thwart you, and you even had me lose for you. Were you doing it on purpose…”

He was indignant. “Whatever, I don’t care. Either you come to my room, or I go to yours.” I was dumbfounded, but before I could reply, someone else retorted with a shout.

“Exactly how do you think you’re speaking to Master?”

Before the voice faded, its owner had raised his eyebrows at me. I hastily took the hint and lowered my head to reverently pour him a cup of tea. I then realized that wasn’t right either, but by the time I looked up, he was already lifting the cup to drink.

What was this called…? Servility.
I was born to serve others no matter how grand I looked, or how impressive my reputation was, or how I ridiculed my seven talented, unrivaled young princes. Who didn’t know the suffering and distress behind my impressive image, oh my bitter life…ah, I didn’t even get to say it…as a carefree idler of the jianghu, I was just an idle person they could boss around.

Though I’d saved some of their lives and grew familiar with the rest, I only discovered after returning home that it was easy to invite guests, but hard to send them off…all of them started dawdling around. Especially this guy, the oldest. Though he wasn’t the earliest one to enter these doors, he insisted on being called First. Originally, I thought he had some status in the martial arts circles, at least enough to become their leader. If I hadn’t cured his poison in the past, he might not have let me off so easily. I thought saving him was just as simple as that… As it turned out, he had a good heart, and followed me with his sword for a hundred and eight thousand li[2] to repay his debt of gratitude.

But in order to conceal his identity the past few years, his martial arts skills became less and less outstanding. Fortunately, the so-called Prince Mole, Little Fourth, did a divination and suggested he go into business. Nobody foresaw that the silver would come pouring in afterwards. Nowadays, he paid off all expenses in the house. In short, he came to repay me but ended up getting paid instead.

Although we had lots of people in this house, our lives were pretty satisfactory. I didn’t speak of statutes so we lived rather casually. They all said I couldn’t tell good from bad…

What did they mean by ‘good and bad’? I really had no idea.
“What are you thinking about?” a certain person behind me raised his foot again and gave me a ruthless kick, though it was lighter than before. “Everyone’s been waiting for you to wake up…it’s time to eat.”

I made a noise of agreement.

He brushed my shoulders as he walked past, the clothes swinging with a steady rhythm. This guy really was worthy of being called First with an imposing manner like that. I couldn’t imitate that air even if I cultivated for 800 years.

My mouth opened and closed as I scuttled after him.


There was a round table with seven seats. After everyone sat down, two were still empty, so I counted First, Second, Fourth, Fifth…yikes, Little Fifth’s complexion still looked terrible, he must have been heavily poisoned.

The dishes arrived, nine plates of delicate meats and vegetables all properly arranged, as well as a big bowl of soup with spots of oil floating on the surface[3]. I stretched my neck to look outside, feeling so hungry…

Were they going to eat or not?

“TIME TO EAT!” I raised my internal energy and roared.

The bamboo leaves shuddered in the absence of wind, revealing the pale pink silhouette intermittently weaving back and forth through the air. He was agile and quick, holding onto a bamboo branch as he looked at us from far away with a wretched expression.

“Come down, come down. Get down here if you have any guts,” a figure dressed in yellow robes stuck his hands on his waist, stomping his feet. He had a crafty gaze in his eyes as he looked up, poisonous powders in his hands.

Just like an affectionate lover.

I almost couldn’t bear disturbing their time together.

“Eat,” the oldest ordered angrily.

Maybe his voice hadn’t been loud enough, but he had always been a man of action. Slowly, he raised the chopsticks in his hands and snapped them without so much as a blink. Then he waved his sleeves in a whoosh of wind.

Those two broken chopstick halves were ruthlessly quick and accurate. They shot powerfully through the bamboo grove and into the wetlands beyond, missing the two people there by millimeters.

No wonder he was a martial arts expert…

There was nothing ambiguous about his actions at all. In the twinkling of an eye, a wind surged in from outdoors and rattled the table. Very shortly, all seven chairs of the table were filled, and everyone started pouring wine and picking vegetables as if nothing had happened at all. No one minded while I held the heaving form of the pink-robed youth in my arms, his flushed face even brighter than the peach blossoms. Distressed, I fussily used my sleeve to wipe the sweat from his brow.

“Come, eat a piece of rabbit, it’ll strengthen your legs,” I encouraged him.

Without fail, he obediently picked up his chopsticks and gave a piece to the little Poison Prince.

All right…now the Poison Prince was angry enough to have fire flaming from his eyes.

I’ve got to say…if he can’t catch up to you, then that’s that. To actually use these chopsticks to mock him wasn’t just being heartless and unfair, it was dragging me into danger as well.

I lowered my head to blow on the soup, cooling it. Then I drank it with gusto, not daring to stray my vision a bit. Suddenly, little Fourth Prince Mole raised his head, as if listening in rapt attention. His words came out of the blue. “Master, someone’s come to visit.”

I spat out a mouthful of soup, hastily wiping my mouth with my sleeves.

Curses, who came to call during mealtimes? This was obviously someone who wanted a free meal. I quickly stood up to look, though I couldn’t see anything: only a small, thin sound reached my ears, like wind or something else altogether. Immediately, the sound grew louder, creating a noisy ruckus in the bamboo woods beyond. The green leaves rustled against each other, accompanied by the faint sound of bells and flutes.

I took the time to collect myself. Someone had broken through the spell formation Little Fourth set outside our borders and entered our territory.

Chapter 38

Someone was forcing their way in?!

In my rush to stand up, I rammed against the table edge. This pain…was indescribable.

“Hurry up, what are you all spacing out for? Quick, give me a face mask.”

Fourth Prince Mole held onto the table as he slowly stood up. “What’s the rush? That Seven Steps Bamboo Array is enough to keep him wandering aimlessly for a while.” Right as he finished, a noise shattered the silence of the forest, and the shrill notes of a flute tore through the skies.

“This person has a formidable foundation, what’s going on? He broke through my formation so quickly.” Little Fourth’s face was all astonishment as he dug through his sleeves, finally pulling out an ash- colored pill. “The face masks are inside my rooms, but there might not be enough time to grab one. Eat this face-changing pill first.”

I did as instructed.

, I shot a meaningful glance at the others while I opened my arms with a pout. Someone brought over a set of white robes and dressed me up. Without a mirror, I had to lean over the table and peer into the soup to check my appearance…of course, it couldn’t reflect my looks at all.

I clutched my head. No matter how I looked at it, I still had the air of a woman. Little Fourth was holding a hairband as he undid my hair and tied it up again, hands and feet flying as he fiddled with the black strands. Grinning, I reached out to embrace him, receiving a wordless smile in return. My hands continued to rove up and down until he opened his sleeves and in that moment, I touched his cheek then jerked off his own face mask.

“Y…y-you, what are you doing?!” Looks like the delicate and pretty Prince Mole had his fits of temper, too.

“You’ve already concealed yourself in the jianghu for all these years. Others can’t recognize you since you change your face daily, so lend me this mask for a bit. I’ll return it to you afterwards.” I quickly bent over and pressed it against my face, afraid that he’d steal it from me. He was angry, but had no choice but to smile helplessly.

Actually, everyone in the jianghu knew that the Elder of Mt. Tian had an outstanding disciple with impressive face-changing skills. The disciple also understood mystical techniques related to the Five Elements and Eight Trigrams. Very few people had seen him, but those who did had different descriptions of his looks. The common point between them all was that he was delicate and pretty, like a young lord. Few had seen his true face, or his pair of very seductive eyes…

His hair brushed against me and made me itch. Without that semi- transparent face mask, the mole by his eye was even more obvious. My chest tightened and I quickly looked away, heart pounding. It took me a while to calm down before I spoke. “You, oh you…you definitely have to hide a face like yours, it’s even more attractive than mine.”

Just when I was about to tease him more, First held me back, signaling outside with his eyes. Sunlight spilled over the bamboo groves as a man in a simple ash blue robe appeared before our room. He looked like a servant as he stood with an air of propriety.

“My Master wishes to invite the Carefree Idler for a meeting.”

I pushed everyone aside, arranging my robes before languidly settling into a chair. A finger rested against my temples as I smiled. “As luck would have it, our Master left to wander the lands again.” He looked at me and steadily asked, “May I presume that your excellency is the rumored Seventh Prince?”

I rolled my eyes in thought before leaning over. “What, you nee Scattered laughter rang out about us.
They were used to seeing me stir up trouble, so none of them said a word. Two or three had actually left for the table, watching the drama unfold while eating lunch. I remember meeting each of them for the first time and being impressed by their noble bearing. As their years with me grew, their manners had turned far more crass. Yet despite being undisciplined, slack, and lax, each of them had learned how to truly live their lives.

The servant was neither haughty nor humble when he bowed. “My Master said if I couldn’t meet the Carefree Idler, then the Seventh Prince would do just as well, since there’s no difference between the two.”

One of the Princes in the back choked on tea and burst into a fit of coughing. I was very surprised…

Typically speaking, very few people in the jianghu knew of my disguise as the Seventh Prince. It was true that I’d only taken in six young men to help me in my daily life. Strangely enough, the reputation of the Carefree Idler had grown greatly. I liked sightseeing and amusements too much, so I’d disguise myself as one of the Princes to take care of collecting debts at home, or drinking in wine and rumors at teahouses.

It looked like this person was very familiar with my methods.

I carefully inspected the servant and discovered that although his head was bowed, his gaze kept wandering to Fourth Prince Mole at my side. Not only that…as a mere servant, he shouldn’t have that sort of expression in his eyes.

I snorted. Fourth smiled as he brushed past me to walk forward, resting a hand on the other’s shoulder as he caught him in an embrace. “Martial brother[1], when did you show up? And why are you fooling my Master again?”

Martial brother?

Dark lines appeared on my face…

Sure enough, he tried to dodge, but Little Fourth caught him by the collar and wiped his face…to reveal an intimately familiar one.

Nongyu, you stubborn…

First set his teacup heavily on the table and spoke in a leisurely, unhurried tone. “What are you here for this time?”

I gave Nongyu an embarrassed glance. He didn’t seem to mind at all, his eyes seemingly stuck on Little Fourth as he rested on the other’s shoulders to pinch his face. He looked left and right before heaving a sigh. “You rascal, you wear masks so often that I’ve forgotten what you used to look like…the Elder of Mt. Tian gave you such good things to smear on your face.”

“He’s our Master, it’s rude of you to address him that way,” Fourth replied.

“I only studied under him for three years and never formally took him as my Master. I can’t be counted as a disciple, and you don’t need to call me martial brother.” His smile gradually faded as he looked at me. “Shao’er, I have something to discuss with you.”

Shao’er…

It was a name I rarely heard nowadays.


I dismissed the rest, leaving Nongyu standing by himself before the building. Our secluded surroundings were only interrupted by the occasional breeze, carrying over sweet breaths of air to mix with the scent of bamboo. It was a good place to linger over reminiscences of the past.

But things like this…how long would I still be able to remember them?

A small container of tea was slowly boiling on the simple stone table as the two of us sat silently. He rubbed the fabric on his legs, head lowered before he finally deigned to speak: “These past years, you’ve taken good care of my martial brother.”

He might not have realized that I was familiar with his unconscious movements…there was something that had him ill-at-ease, something he wasn’t sure how to tell me. I didn’t call him out, but gave him a slow look. “Don’t say such things, it’s Fourth that’s been taking care of me. Without him, I wouldn’t have been able to maintain the identity of the Carefree Idler for so long in the jianghu without being discovered.” I smiled lightly, then added, “I never knew his face-changing skills were even better than yours.”

Thinking back, the crown prince had set an imperial decree to seal the capital after I left the palace. Guards were deployed to search all the inns, and even personal residences weren’t spared…

At the time, I thought I had no place to hide. It was Nongyu who found me first, and introduced me to the little Prince Mole from his sect. He was young and innocent, having just descended from the mountains. Despite his youth, he only used the time it took half an incense stick to burn to thoroughly remake me…into a shriveled, sickly, shrunken old woman over eighty years old. Even when the guards pulled at my face, sprinkled it with water, and rubbed it with oil, the mask held firm.

After our successful escape, I   went   with   him   to   wander   about the jianghu. The little Prince Mole had decided to stay with me. According to him, his master told him to gain experience off the mountain by learning about the jianghu world.He thought I was someone plagued with misfortune, so understanding me would help him understand this world as well. Recalling this, my face broke into a smile. “Shao’er,” Nongyu looked at me but remained silent, hands fiddling with the teacup as if he couldn’t figure out how to speak. My line of vision slowly drifted down to rest on his elegant, slender fingers. They held the red sandalwood cup in a very attractive manner, each digit as smooth as jade. I imagined that they’d look just as graceful holding silver acupuncture needles.

Who knew how that person was doing nowadays?

The thought gave rise to bitter agony in my heart, and I looked away with a soft sigh. I was thinking too much of things I shouldn’t today…

Much to my surprise, he came over to comfort me.

“You…do you still resent me?” that alluring, gentle voice seemed to be asking for a concession, the tone extremely soft.

“The tea’s ready now, I’ll pour you a cup.”

“Shao’er…don’t change the topic, all right? Let me finish speaking this time.”

I raised my eyelids to look at him. Finish speaking? What else was there to say?

Say that he could have cured the late emperor’s illness, but “carefully” gave him the wrong medicine?! Say that Broiled Spirit Incense was something he made, but put the blame wholly on Fang Hua? His whole ‘of course, we can’t leave out the eunuchs or court ladies, either‘, that implicated me as well?

All this I understood very well. I neither dared nor desired to think about it in detail, so why was he bringing it up again? Though…if he wanted to speak, I’d just listen. I smiled indifferently, hiding my thoughts as I turned to him. His mouth actually stiffened, as if he was still reluctant.

This person… Whether he really meant me harm or had other designs, why did he risk saving me back then?

“Everything is as you’ve said. The late emperor’s illness was treatable, but I held back on the ingredients for the pills to leave him in a state between life and death. To fulfill his filial duty to his father, the crown prince went to search for a cure outside the palace and slipped into your lives.

Taking Fang Hua to the palace was another pretense. No matter how muddleheaded the emperor became, he knew that someone in the palace wanted to ruin him. But he couldn’t do anything if he couldn’t move or speak. Thus, the crown prince acted filial by personally waiting on him. Being able to bring back a highly-skilled, mythical doctor was enough to support his loyal image.”

At the perfect place and time, the late emperor passed away. The crown prince ascended the throne and I loyally finished my duties.”

He looked straight at me, moving past the objects on the table to tightly grasp my hand. “Shao’er, I never meant to harm you. I don’t know what methods the crown prince used to bring Fang Hua into the palace, but everything was all for the good of the country[2].”

How hilarious.

What was a dynasty, a country? All I had was the jianghu.

Before that, my entire world revolved around a single house, but even that couldn’t compare to my yifu who lived within it.

“Seems like I’ve really troubled you the past few years…how the late emperor died, whether by a subject that poisoned the ruler, or a son’s affections for his father, were all matters of your imperial court.”

He hesitated a short while before speaking again. “The emperor is planning a grand wedding next year where he’ll be matched with the daughter of a prominent official.” “Really.” My mouth split into a grin. “Then congratulations to him. I’ve heard the emperor hasn’t accepted imperial concubines for a long time. If he doesn’t get married soon, I’m afraid his line will be broken before his grandsons.”

He seemed to be angry. I smiled until my face was numb. When he mentioned Han Zichuan, I would inadvertently think of someone else as well. Those wild thoughts would only make me bitter, but I still asked in a low voice, “Is that person doing well?”

He paused, as if realizing who I meant. “I haven’t been an imperial physician for years, so I don’t know any more matters regarding the inner court.”

“Oh. Is that so…” I lowered my eye in consideration. “I never heard you mention that.”

“I was promoted after the crown prince ascended the throne,” he gave me a deep look as he pointed out this fact, “Otherwise, how could I have so much time for idle chatter? Do you still remember my proposal back then? ‘I have vast holdings of fertile land and numerous residences. My accumulated properties aren’t flimsy at all…’“

I smiled. The rest of the words should be, ‘I have no parents nor siblings, and I’ve yet to marry. Do you want to give me some consideration,’ right?

Back then, the valiant and heroic Nongyu who rode on his horse was a refined, tender lord that had fascinated countless admirers. All of that seemed very far away from me now. His words reminded me of the time I’d lived with Fang Hua. Though there was sweetness in the memory, it also brought about great agony. I could still recall everything with painful clarity.

He looked at me as the smile on the corners of his lips faded. “If you wanted a peaceful life, you should have found a quieter place and concealed your identity. Why hide in the jianghu and turn yourself into a household name? You should know the emperor’s still looking for you, even now?” “The two of them are living well together, why look for me…? I don’t want them bothering me.”

“Maybe he’s in the wrong, but what about you? Why pick this kind of life where you do as you please?”

“Do as I please?” I looked at him and grinned. “I just don’t like cold and cheerless rooms. I found people to play theqin, paint, and mix poisons with, and saved some lives here and there. Before I knew it, my house became a lively place.” Though I was used to loneliness, now that things were bustling, I had no desire to go back. I gave a long exhale, speaking languidly, “When they all find wives and have children and grandchildren, this place will be even busier.”

“Shao’er,” his hands touched mine. “You’re still missing a Seventh Prince here. I don’t know if you’ll let me fill in the spot.”

You’ve always liked teasing me, but now you’re suddenly so serious.

There was a distressed look in his eyes. Why was it like this? Everyone admired and envied me as the jianghu’sCarefree Idler, yet he was looking at me with such an expression. How laughable. The wind blew gently, and I suddenly felt moisture gathering around my eyes, as if something was overflowing and trying to spill out. My heart was bitter beyond compare.

Abruptly, coughing sounded from beneath the pavilion. Whoever it was seemed on the verge of heaving up his lungs. Surprised, I grabbed the railings and peered over, seeing the young Poison Prince looking as if he’d caught the pair of us cheating. He casually flipped up and broke a willow branch to stick in his mouth, strolling to Nongyu’s side.

“Lord Nongyu, our oldest said that all the guest rooms are full. Even if we piled up some firewood, that won’t be enough to house a person. But if you insist on staying, you can sleep in the same room as me.”

“There’s no need, I purchased a property around here. I wanted to buy some things when I left the house and decided to drop by along the way.” Nongyu bowed, leaning over to whisper in my ear before he walked past me. “Han Zichuan’s gone crazy trying to find you these past years. You need to be careful.”

Seized with shock, I gave him a complicated look. The young Poison Prince glanced between us and seemed to lose his temper. He snatched the willow branch from his mouth and waved it at Nongyu’s retreating back. “How come he’s moved here and dropping by along his way? He actually disguised himself so thoroughly to pay a call, it’s obvious he came on purpose to take liberties with you, Master…”

His eyes swept past me before skidding to a stop, an uneasy tone creeping into his voice. “Master, what’s wrong with you? Your face doesn’t look so good…” I didn’t know why either, but my mind had blanked out after Nongyu’s parting lines.

“The emperor’s gone on an inspection tour and he’s coming over here.”

With these words, what should have come wasn’t coming, but what shouldn’t have come had arrived…there was nowhere to hide.

Chapter39

Evening came as bright lights illuminated the main hall.

All the handsome men had gathered together, some speaking in low voices. First was wiping clean his jade xiao[1]while his gaze came to rest on Fourth with a derisive smile. As it turned out, the young Fourth Prince Mole was currently filing his nails. On the side, Fifth held a sallow yellow book, staring intently as the light illuminated the scar on his face in savage focus.

“What do you think of my nails?” Fourth asked as he held them up to the lamp light, eyes squinting.

Fifth picked up his book and scooted away when Fourth spoke, keeping some distance between them. There was a fragrant scent in the air that mixed with the flicker of lampwicks and the sound of turning pages. I took a break and cleared my papers, taking a sip of tea before I spoke. “Little Sixth, come to my room today.”

As soon as my words finished, their eyes all turned to me with hot gazes. Little Sixth seemed stupefied. I swallowed my saliva and changed my words. “Or I could go to yours instead.”

One line was enough to cause one thousand waves. The young Poison Prince prepared to rise from the table, but was forced down by First. I stared at everyone. “What’s wrong with you guys?”

Each one of them had complex expressions in their eyes, some shocked, some gleeful, some resentful or uncertain or expectant… Che, they all had problems.

I grabbed the badly shaken Sixth’s hand, squeezing past the crowd towards my private rooms. There was no time to study their expressions as they burst into a spell of discomfited whispers.

The door shut.

I rubbed my hands as I paced back and forth, finally perching by the window to look outside. After verifying the courtyard was empty, I released a breath and tightly shut the windows. Little Sixth looked cramped as he stood on one side, unsure of what he’d done wrong.

“Sit.” He prepared to sit in a chair, but I hurriedly stopped him and pulled him towards the bed. “Don’t, you’ll catch a cold there.”

His face was completely red, and his pale pink robes set off the skin more prettily than brightly-colored peach blossoms. I sat next to him and leaned close, turning his hands in mine as I smiled. “You’ve been here for a long time, right?”

He nodded.

I smiled, touching his shoulders and smoothing out his hair. His hair just was like him, tough but velvety smooth to the touch like something that could be be hated and loved at the same time.

“Sixth…” My grinning face looked at him. “Let me see the 《Carefree Recollection》you copied for me again, okay?”
He widened his bright, beautiful eyes as if he didn’t dare to believe me.

“Look, I’ve already cultivated to the seventh level and my internal energy’s returned to the beginning tiers. As long as I can persist until the ninth, I’ll reach a miraculous breakthrough in my skills.”

His eyebrows knitted. I tugged on his shoulders but he turned away, shaking harder than ever. “Are you afraid that technique is too strange and I’ll have an accident while learning it?” I smiled, ridiculing him. “Or…are you afraid I’ll forget everything in the end if I keep practicing, including you? Hey, you’re not allowed to cry. If you don’t hand it over, I’m going to do a full body search.”

I smirked with my head on his shoulders, my hands preparing to frisk him. With his eyes red, he actually bit his lip and grabbed my hands, his face completely white. Though he couldn’t talk, a dull, hoarse sound rose from his throat.

I knew that h

Frightened that I’d do exactly what he didn’t want.

Although he wasn’t very strong, he gripped my sleeves tightly, his face trying desperately to convey his feelings. He had long lost his ability of speech and couldn’t express things very well, but I understood him completely…

The Carefree Recollection was like a legend. Few people had cultivated it successfully until the end, but many more had been mentally damaged and lost their lives. When I first started cultivating, it was to halt my days of taking medication to forget my sorrows, but now my motives were wholly different. I embraced him gently, patting his back as I spoke in a comforting whisper. “I know my limits, so just let me take a peek.”

He not only refused to smile, but had a strained, serious expression.

Sighing, I stroked his hair. “Ah, when did you turn so stubborn? It’s fine if it’s just that, but you’re now stingy as well.”

His body shook as I held him tight, as if he was extremely uneasy. I wanted to say something, but stopped as my heart softened into knots.

Perhaps his worries were well-founded. Recently my memory was a lot worse than before, and my internal energy had diminished greatly without cause or reason. There wasn’t much time left, though. I had to restore my body to its former state before Han Zichuan found me, or else I’d be at his mercy. The situation now was urgent, even though I had no guarantee of pushing through the eighth level and finishing the ninth.

All I had was a gamble. Risking everything was better than helplessly waiting for Han Zichuan’s forces…

I smiled bitterly as I looked down. Sixth seemed to have calmed down from his explosive feelings before, and I stroked his hair again. “Sixth… before I learned about your past, I only happened to see you on the streets and liked you a lot. Coincidentally, you wanted to follow me as well. I never expected that your father was an admirable general. Though I don’t have much skills, I can at least keep the imperial court from harassing you.” My hand reached out to pat him again, and my voice softened. “If you don’t want me to practice it, I won’t force the issue.”

In a very short time, he had begun to smile.

“You’ve always been the most clever of the Princes, so don’t tell the rest what happened today, all right?” His hand clutched the front of his robes as he drew closer to give me a careful look, before resting his head on my shoulder. It was just a nod, but afraid that I didn’t see, he nodded again a few more times. I smiled and held his face in my hands.

“I only regret not finding your sooner or else I might have saved your voice and had a chance to hear you speak…”

His eyes curved into a smile as he pulled on my clothes, eyelashes quivering as if trying to say he didn’t mind.

“Sixth…I’ve run into some trouble, and I’m afraid you’re the only one who can help me.” I quietly gathered him into my arms, hands lightly running past his shoulders and neck to brush aside his clothes, digging my hands inside. He seemed to shiver slightly.

“Is it alright?” He was very quiet as he lay by my chest, hands shaking minutely as he grasped my robes. I could feel his restlessness. I grinned and gave a forceful tug, loosening all his clothes so that they settled around his waist. Sucking in a deep breath, I quickly got off the bed to grab the candlestick holder by the table. Carefully, I sat down with its light in my hands.

Sixth seemed a little lost as he stared uncertainly my way, but I just pushed him down again. His clothes were spread messily across the bed and the contours of his figure were lovely. The light shone across his glossy, jade-like skin and revealed numerous things written across its surface. My fingers trembled as I held on…so it really was here.

“Curses, you really have secret martial arts manuals on your body?
What’s this thing on your right side, a map?”

His mood seemed to darken. Turning his head, he looked at me, body groping for the bedcovers to hide himself.

“Aiya, you’re a guy, what’re you afraid of? I’m not going to strip you…or did you want to go back on your word to help me?”

He blinked, as if unsure how to react. A face stared at me in a mixture of anger and impatience, and his gaze seemed almost ashamed…

Could it be…he thought I wanted to do this and that tonight with him? Seeing that he looked ready to flee, I stuck out two fingers and sealed his internal passageways[2], effectively freezing him in place. Then I gave a cough.

“Maybe I didn’t explain myself clearly. My deadly foe’s on his way here, so the only solution is to memorize the eighth and ninth levels of the Carefree Recollection and see if I’m lucky enough to break through and complete my cultivation. Don’t worry…I won’t look at the other manuals copied on your back.”

He remained curled up, not moving an inch. “If you want to take offense, now’s the time. Anyways, I said I won’t look.”

He was absolutely still, still half bent over. His difficulties seemed hard to express in words. Of course, who could with their whole body immobile like that? They’d have to be an Immortal.


The night slowly wore on. There was a crescent moon in the skies. Many people were probably awake with this kind of chilly night.

Within a lady’s chambers, a certain beautiful, charming male was half- bent in a rather ambiguous position. to him was a woman dressed as a man, holding a lamp as she bent over to stare at his exposed back. She seemed to be mumbling something under her breath as she gesticulated with her hands. A sleeve carefully shielded the lamplight to prevent wax from dripping on the man’s body.

The secret treasure map drawn on his right side, the coveted gem of the entire imperial court and all the martial arts circles, was neatly covered up a washcloth, courtesy of the woman.

Moonlight brightened as the night drew on… The sun shone high in the skies.
Even wrapped in quilts, I could hear the dim sound of someone fiddling at the door and lock. The slight, subtle noise reached my ears as a continuous stream of sound. I groggily turned over and cracked my eyes open with effort.

Warm, bright sunlight shone on the bed. A purple gauze trailed to the ground as it covered a person’s body, tracing out lovely contours in his shoulders and back. There was even the hint of fine, fair-skinned legs. His head was pillowed on his hands, and he seemed to be sleeping very soundly. I suddenly widened my eyes. Why was Sixth in my room, and why was he lying here after being stripped so thoroughly? I rose up with a few yawns before seeing my clothes all intact, and calmed down. Nabbing a pillow, I raised my foot to kick him off the bed. A few kicks later, I realized something wasn’t right…

When I convinced myself he was actually human and not a block of wood, shock ran through me. Curiosity finally won over, and I scooted closer to poke him with a finger.

My eyebrows rose. He looked pretty comfortable sleeping there, but why was his body so tense? I touched a few places, hands wavering over his creamy skin. His muscles were as stiff as a rock, and his skin was extremely pale as if something had stopped his bloodflow.

Someone sealed his passageways?!

Wait…let me think. This guy was right next to me, yet someone managed to seal him. What exactly happened last night?!

I squinted, hugging my pillow to my chest as I rolled around to ponder. Listless and half-awake, I could only feel mydantian[3] swirling outwards to gather energy towards my head, making me limp and numb. This feeling typically only came after I finished practicing the Carefree Recollection, a cultivation method that worsened the memory the more I cultivated…could it be that again, I had…?

Hold on, now I remember. Last night I forced Little Sixth to take off his clothes and paralyzed him so I could study the techniques…and then…and then what?


Did I forget to un-paralyze him?!

Was he huddled up in the gauze like this all night? This child…it’s not like I paralyzed his voice, why didn’t he remind me before I fell asleep…yah. I clutched my head as I remembered again, he couldn’t speak…

Look at this memory of mine.

I hastily turned over and clapped him on the back before unsealing his passageways. When I saw him knit his eyebrows in response, I relaxed and wrapped him in the covers. He was as cold as ice, last night must have been hard on him.

Suddenly, there was a cough before someone opened the doors from outside. Light footsteps wandered in, surprising me as I tried to get up, only to hit my head against the railings of the bed.

That hurt…

“Master, why are you…”

I yawned, tears gathering in my eyes as I spotted figures by the head of my bed.

“We’ve interrupted Master’s joyous occasion,” said a harsh and sarcastic[4] voice.

I grew wooden.

They looked at the sleeping Little Sixth on the bed, then at me, embracing him in my arms with the covers overturned. Graceful smiles that had been as brilliant as jade flowers immediately turned serious one by one.

“I told you we shouldn’t have picked the lock right now, just look… Master hasn’t gotten out of bed yet.” Little Second stared at me with clear eyes, as if trying to guess how naked I was beneath my covers.

“How long do you plan to lie on him like that?! Is he that great?!” When I heard the explosive tone, I knew it was the young Poison Prince. If it wasn’t for Fourth Prince Mole holding him back, he might have fed Little Sixth his Thousand Year Venomous Insect whole. Sixth seemed oblivious to the threat as he clutched the covers tightly and turned over, still sleeping.

“Don’t disturb Little Sixth, he must be exhausted,” Fifth said in a depressed tone, in obvious low spirits.

At this point, a few uniform pair of eyes drifted to stared at me, who was still pretending to be asleep. I could feel the heat in their gazes move from my torso to my head…it was more uncomfortable than being made into a living pincushion.

First didn’t say a word from beginning to end, but his face was like a board as he stalked over, hand gripping his jadexiao. I squeezed my eyes shut, preparing to brace myself in case he hit me. But the expected pain didn’t come…

Instead, First lifted up my covers and glanced inside, before slowly calming down. Fortunately, I hadn’t taken off any of my clothes yet. I quietly let out a breath.

In an instant, the Sixth lying on the pillow seemed to have awakened. He rubbed his eyes and sat up, looking at the figures gathered around us with no reaction. Wrapping the purple gauze of his inner robes about him, he prepared to get off the bed, but trembled as his foot lost feeling and he crashed to the ground, stunned.

This time he was fully awake, and turned back to give me a resentful glare. Then he grit his teeth, supported himself with the wall, and walked out. This early in the day, he probably wanted to go to the restroom. Seeing his back and legs shake as if he’d pulled some muscles…I think I probably paralyzed him for too long. Now his entire body was numb.

But the other Princes thought differently.

“Very good…he gained some ability.” First tossed his sleeves and spoke icily. With that simple movement, the door that had closed behind them became riddled with cracks and burst into pieces on the ground. He led the crowd of handsome men to storm out the door.

It was only the Fourth Prince Mole that kept looking back as he walked, repeatedly mouthing words as if to say, if you work too hard, it’s easy to injure your body.

I had no reply for that.

I grabbed the robes draped over the folding screen and draped them over myself. Then I picked up a sword and went to the courtyard like an autumn wind sweeping aside fallen leaves. A black shadow was conveniently hiding behind the bamboo to wait for me, his violet and green robes impossible to ignore. He was outwardly cold but inwardly passionate, and the colors he wore were hideous, as if he picked them on purpose to catch my eye…

In this world, there was only one person who would sacrifice himself to tarnish the vision of others, and that was the young Poison Prince.

What did he mean by turning back to find me now?


I stared in silent grief at the big mess of eye-catching colors as he walked towards me.

Pretending I didn’t notice, I turned aside and thought of the mnemonics I’d read last night, lifting my sword and the qi in my feet to rise and dance amongst the bamboo. Five years had passed, and day by day throughout those years I’d soaked in medicinal baths to enhance my internal energy. My martial arts skills naturally ranked amongst the very best in the jianghu.

But after learning the Carefree Recollection, my body grew worse by the day and my internal energy had significantly diminished. In the past it was a piece of cake to leap on roofs and over walls, but now it consumed seventy percent of my strength. I didn’t want to give up completely but had no idea when I could train past the seventh level. To remember without sorrow, the Carefree Recollection.

This technique was extremely ruthless. My memory was far worse than before, but I couldn’t forget the things I dearly wanted to forget. The events of the past seemed to have carved themselves into my bones and dissolved into my very blood. The qi in my chest tossed and turned before the sensation filled up my whole body. With my identity as the Carefree Idler, and my eloquence in lies and poisons, I feared no one. Not to mention, I had so many capable, interesting Princes at my side.

It was just that…

Nongyu’s words would appear in my mind as soon as I grew distracted. Because if what he said was true, then…I cleared my mind, and lifted more qi from my dantian as I floated towards the bamboo. Han Zichuan was taking such great pains to look for me, but for what? So many years had passed but he still hadn’t given up? Did he insist on making me see how close and intimate he was with Fang Hua…?

“Master, be careful!”

I gave a start, the voice like a cool spring flowing through my ears to banish the blankness in my mind. Reacting quickly, I withdrew my sword in a sweeping arc, the metal sending out a peal that sent leaves scattering across the entire bamboo grove. With one leg kneeling on the ground, I propped myself up and forcefully suppressed the true qicirculating wildly inside my body.

Someone hurriedly rushed towards me through the bamboo, wearing a pair of yellow shoes with purple and green robes. The different colors were enough to make me nauseous, and I turned away, unwilling to look at him. He didn’t notice, but focused on helping me up, his usual quarrelsome mood gone. “Master, what happened to you? Why won’t you look at me?”

Not looking.

He grew impatient and cupped my face, trying to meet my eyes. I hastily lowered my head.

He forcefully used a multilayered, multicolored sleeve to wipe away my sweat. I stared at a fixed point and backed away. Before I could take more than a few steps, my endurance reached its limit. I trembled and lurched forwards, spitting up a mouthful of blood.

“I told you not to wear yellow, but you don’t need to ruin yourself.
Dressing up like this to see me…how can I take it?!” “I think I look pretty good in this.”
Again, I couldn’t hold back. Seeing his steps draw closer, I ruthlessly held him by the neck as I sprayed the front of his robes with another mouthful of vile qi and blood. My inner organs felt a lot better afterwards. He paid no attention to my body, but dully lifted the edge of his clothes and lamented, “My robes.” His face looked as if it was hard to bear, but then his voice grew much softer. “Master, did you go astray in your cultivation?

“Nothing so serious,” I waved my hand, pulling myself up with the bamboo. Good thing his voice had called me out back then, or else I really might’ve lost my way and been ruined. But looking at his horrendous getup now, I was too lazy to explain these details.

Right now, my body was in complete turmoil and felt extremely uncomfortable. I took a deep breath and focused on suppressing my chaotic qi, casting him a glance. His face was white and miserable as he searched for something within his robes.

I caught his hand and said smoothly, “Forget it, you can stop looking. There’s nothing good on you besides poisons, so don’t even think of digging up some tonics. Call everyone to the main hall, I need to tell you guys something.”

He seemed stunned.

“Go already…” I raised my volume, voice shaking slightly. But he only looked at me worriedly, his expression exceptionally… I trembled.
“If you’re not going, then I’ll do it myself.” I suddenly leapt up, dusting off my robes before vigorously marching off without a hint of my injuries. He could only stomp after me hatefully. Truthfully, I was in really bad shape…it’d be better if there were less people to worry about me.


The main hall was very quiet.

After the disturbance I’d caused him before, the young Poison Prince looked to be full of indignation. Everyone else kept calm in the face of the unexpected. I forced a smile and sat down stiffly, pouring myself some tea. Even since Nongyu had broken his news to me, I’d been considering the matter. Though taking the first step was always difficult, this was something I had to say…

I raised my eyes to look at each and every one of their carefree, relaxed faces. Still, I couldn’t figure out how to speak, but neither could I drag this on. I’m afraid if I didn’t say it now, I’d forget.

Thinking back to the accident in the bamboo grove, I carefully lifted my cup and moved my hand, experimentally circulating the qi inside my body. I didn’t anticipate that my whole body would turn listless as soon as I brushed against my qi reserves, making me weak. This body really couldn’t compare to before. I leaned against my chair, the hand holding the cup shaking imperceptibly. Still, no traces showed on my face as I took a deep, steadying breath.

Refusing the pastry that Little Second handed my way, I rubbed my hands and surveyed the crowd, saying in a spiritless voice, “…why don’t we all go our own ways.”

“You gathered everyone just to tell us to leave? Are you making fun of us? I was in the middle of a chess game, just a few moves short of winning.” The young Prince Mole rapped the table, but Little Sixth carefully tugged at him before he reconsidered and raised his voice. “Go our own ways? Master, what do you mean?”

“… …” I had no words, sipping from the cup in my hands.

“Are you staring at some silver on the ground? Raise your head to speak,” First said coldly.

I quivered, frightened as I blurted out, “My mortal enemy’s coming this way, so everyone should just pack up and leave this place.”

“Sheesh, was that it? Fine, that’s easy. I’ll go tidy things up and hire a carriage,” Little Second found it too much as he nodded his head, preparing to leave the room. But First held him back, raising his head to speak softly.

“What do you mean by those words? Do you want us all to leave you behind?”

“What?!”

Multiple people stood up, their eyes sharp enough to bore holes in me. I held my cup and wanted to speak, but suddenly didn’t know what to say…

Should I admit that I wanted to train last night and break through before Han Zichuan found me? That I vainly attempted recovering all my internal energy in one shot, but ended up in a far worse state? That after I woke up this morning, I almost forgot who Little Sixth was, even though he was lying right next to me?

Could I say those things? It’d only add to their worries.

In   truth,   the   world’s   most   formidable   foes   didn’t   come   from the jianghu, but the royal court. No matter how much power or influence you had, no matter how great your skills, there was no way to escape from imperial clutches. Not to mention, the Han Zichuan I knew was the sovereign of this country. I refused to implicate my followers with me. This accursed body of mine would be a burden sooner or later. Right now, I could barely muster the third tier’s worth of internal energy reserves. I lowered my head and comforted myself by grasping the glossy cup. Unconsciously, my hand began to use qi against it.

The sudden action made my body feel wrong. Hot qi rushed into my head and turned it numb. Memories began to scatter like strands of silk before I quickly recovered my senses, afraid to use any more. My smile turned into self-ridicule as I settled back in my seat, paralyzed. In the future, it seemed that not only would I be a person who couldn’t use her internal energy, but one whose memory loss would be inevitable. If they continued following me, they’d have no future prospects. Thus, I drew in another breath and tried to persuade them again.

“I’ll stay by myself while the rest of you leave. This was a decision I came to after lots of thought and it’s for your good. I’ll just say this much, so think it over carefully.”

A hand forcefully rested on my sleeve, and First spoke slowly by my side. “We said we’d serve you back then. Wherever you go, that’s where we’ll follow.”

Shocked, I blinked a few times, unable to process his words. “The person searching for me is a very difficult opponent. You’re all no match for him.”

“Not important.”

“I’d like to see just what kind of person has the Carefree Idler at her wit’s end,” the young Prince Mole shouted out cheerfully.

Gradually, my lips drew up in a smile as well.

They didn’t realize, but there were plenty of people I couldn’t stand up against in this world. Just in this very room, I could count one, three, four… six others.

-o- Orginal and most updated translations are from volaretranslations. [1] jade xiao ( ⽟萧) −yuxiao, a vertical end-blown flute usually made from bamboo.

[2] seal his internal passageways (点了他的位) −dianle tade wei, used in wuxia and xianxia novels by skilled practitioners to seal off various energy channels in the body, thus paralyzing their victims. With this, you can stop the flow of Qi, blood, magic, air, etc., as the story requires.

[3] dantian ( 丹⽥) −area around the abdomen used by cultivators to refine their Qi and techniques.

[4] sarcastic ( 冷嘲热讽) −lengchao refeng, literally “with freezing irony and burning satire,” or with “biting sarcasm.”

Chapter40

Nighttime. A crescent moon hung high in the skies.

After soaking in the bath for a while, I climbed out of the wooden tub, my skin wrinkled from the water. I absent-mindedly tossed on some white robes and rolled onto my bed, tossing and turning with my cold, wet hair. My entire head felt numb, making it impossible to go to sleep.

The windows reflected shadows of willow branches swaying in the wind. Abruptly, I heard the melodious notes of a flute. It stirred me up with a quiver, and I climbed off the bed, loosely tying my robes about me to go outside.

“Master, you’re not sleeping?” Little Second sat at the stone table in the courtyard on night watch. When he rose up to see me, the brush in his hands rolled off the table and clattered to the ground, and I bent down to pick it up. A glance showed me the layers and layers of white papers resting on the table, filled with pill formulas. A few stacks of books rested on the side, in between which were papers covered in bold ink strokes that resembled the shape of a human form…

He blocked my view, hands resting against the table with a secretive air as he gave a shamefaced blush. I laughed in spite of myself and said, “You should go rest early. The wind’s so strong here, the lamp light can’t help but flicker. Do you not want to keep your eyes?”

He hurriedly clutched the books to his chest, speaking in a low voice.
“As soon as I clean up here, I’ll go inside.” He was red to the base of his ears. Who hadn’t experienced this before? Look at him, flustered just from looking at acupuncture diagrams of females. Thinking back to the time my secret pornography book was passed off as an acupuncture diagram, I must have had the same helplessly red face. Just remembering it made the corners of my mouth turn up.

“You’re not sleeping even though it’s night, and now you’ve run out here without an extra layer of robes.” Second’s voice interrupted my thoughts as he looked at me. I figured he must have successfully hidden his goods, because his tone was bolder than before.

“I couldn’t sleep. When I heard First playing the flute, I decided to take a look.” I replied with a lazy stretch.

“Master, your hearing’s getting worse as well,” he followed the direction of my gaze to see the pavilion beyond, and laughed. “That’s Fifth playing the flute. First is entertaining a guest inside the hall, how would he have free time for such things?”

“A guest?” What kind of guest dropped by in the middle of the night?

“I think it’s probably one of those bored, curious types that came to see the Carefree Idler. With First dealing with them, Master doesn’t have to worry,” he placed a soft cushion on the stone bench and helped me sit down, gaze drifting hotly in the direction of the pavilion. “Is Fifth’s music annoying? Shall I order him away?”

“It’s been a while since I’ve heard it, so I want to listen.” I said lightly. A weight suddenly lifted off my shoulders as my outer robes fell to the floor. Second gave me a gentle look as he draped it over my shoulders again.

“With the wind this strong, you shouldn’t just sit still. Your body won’t be able to bear it in the long run, so I could warm up some wine for you. Oh, that’s right…” He scratched his head and smiled abashedly. “There’s also some sweet soup in the kitchens. I originally made it on a whim, but purposefully added some calming herbs to the mix. Wait here Master, and I’ll get you a bowl.” I smiled warmly at his retreating figure and made to stand up. I didn’

The water rippled beneath the pavilion to reflect his ugly face and a pair of startlingly bright, crystalline eyes. He seemed to have something weighing on his mind as he played at the moon, the music wistful and somewhat heartbreaking.

I was very familiar with this song.

~~~

I ask the world how many sorrows it held

A single evening brought autumn to the 8,000 year jade[1] Why not wander instead to distant lands
Reckless and unbridled in the jianghu Until this life ends?
The idler drinks a flask of wine alone Leaving behind vast sorrows and joys Far from youth lies the buried flowers[2].
~~~

This was a song that I had written myself after departing for the jianghu.

My courtesy name was Zang, my given name Hua, and I self-professed to be a carefree idler, but the jianghu was just a place for me to run away. I sat on the stone bench, holding a brush in my hands as bitterness rose in my heart. There was no choice but to smile…

A drop of ink splattered against the snow white paper, an eye-catching sight. I thought of Fourth’s mole by his eye. It made him look so clever, with none of the desolate grief that accompanied him. Fifth’s face might have been ruined, but his eyes were as bright and clear as him, free from the wind and dust of the world.

Second’s expressions resembled him most, though he only expressed a third of his gloominess and seventy percent of his sorrow. That person was far more indifferent and desolate…

Yifu had always resembled an Immortal. There was no one who could approach his looks.

The qi in my chest churned wildly as if trying to express my emotions. I propped myself up with one hand as my sleeve swept across the table, and lowered my brush. It was as if everything had been seared into my memories. The things I’d thought I’d forgotten kept crashing over me like tidewaters, just like his looks…

All this time, deep in my memories, I’d never forgotten him.


I gave a final twist to the tip of the brush and set it aside. Fang Hua once told me that you could paint a person’s soul in their portrait. He used to laugh that the blossoms, bugs, birds, and beasts I drew were very lifelike but all looked like him. He should know…even though I missed him terribly now, I could only bring out a third of his essence on paper.

If a person really had the three souls and seven desires…then the Fang Hua on the paper had three souls. As for his seven desires, they must be hidden deep within my heart, fused into my blood where nothing could tear them away…

I reached out my hand and lightly touched my drawing, right on that slightly furrowed forehead. My body bent over as I rested a cheek against the surface. Yifu, though it’s difficult to forget you, I’ll do my best…

Suddenly, the flute stopped playing, and Little Fifth shouted, “Who dares to charge into here!” I raised my head abruptly and saw a mass of lights outside our residence, countless flickers of flame surrounding us on all sides to set the mountains ablaze. There was the qi of a stranger in the courtyard, concealed in the dark. When he slowly revealed himself, it was with a smile.

“Shao’er, it’s been awhile,” he said.


I had to think for a second. Who was this?

Very few people knew me as Shao’er. Also, this person’s voice was quite magnetic, neither quick nor slow but very nostalgic. It couldn’t be…

Something dropped into the pit of my stomach as I heard the rustling of clothing in the dark. He had very heavy steps as he stepped into the moonlight, tall, straight, and handsome. That expression between his eyebrows was something I was intimately familiar with. He still wore the same smile and looked at me the same way, eyes filled with warmth.

But this wasn’t the youth with thriving heroic spirit from all that time ago. After five years, he radiated the steady, mature aura of a refined scholar, gentle and fine.

“…Zichuan.”

His lips quirked up into a smile as he gave me a look pregnant with meaning. “It’s fortunate you still remember me.”

This atmosphere was a bit strange. He spoke so lightly, but I already felt shaken and uncomfortable. I could see First standing by his side, looking at me with a face full of astonishment. Could it be that Zichuan was the guest he’d been receiving tonight?

Curses…

If I’d known Zichuan would come searching houses in the middle of the night, I’d have moved everyone this morning. People in the imperial court were too efficient with their jobs. Nongyu just told me the emperor was making inspection visits incognito, and now he was on my doorstep. Were there seriously so many people in the palace who had nothing better to do than follow the emperor around on manhunts?

“What are you silently disapproving about?” he smiled like the sun, though it didn’t reach his eyes. His line of vision drifted to my hands. “I’ve been worrying over you every day in the imperial court, yet you have enough leisure time to paint here beneath the moon.” The last line came from his lips between gritted teeth.

I clutched my picture tighter, neither willing nor unwilling to let it go. My face felt both hot and cold as I gave an angry laugh and moved the inkstone to hold the paper in place. “You needn’t worry about my personal affairs.”

A hand suddenly grabbed me by the arm, nearly setting me off-balance as he held me in his grip, looking at my drawing expressionlessly. When his gaze drifted to me again, his eyes narrowed with the promise of a threat. Narrowing eyes…who didn’t know how to do that?

I narrowed my eyes back.

“Scoundrel! Let go of our Master!” Little Fifth’s voice called out from the pavilion, flustered and discomfited.

Han Zichuan gave him a once-over. “This is another one of your Princes?” I felt a tightness around my waist as he closed his other arm around me to give Fifth a disdainful glance.

“I’m going to pound you!” Fifth was definitely enraged.

I blinked. He’d yelled his intentions before I could react. Though it didn’t scare any of the surrounding people, it shocked me, and stirred the man by my side into action. His grip on my arm slowly tightened as if punishing me, nearly forcing the air from my lungs. A face leaned over as he spoke in a low voice, his breath hot against my ears. “You still haven’t wholly forgotten him, Shao’er…”

There was a wildly thumping heartbeat. It belonged to him. I could even feel it between the layers of our robes, though I couldn’t tell whether he felt uneasy, wrathful, or something else altogether… My thoughts slipped, and a strong gale blew over, whipping about my hair. An indistinct object flew quickly towards us, aiming at the person gripping me. Yet Zichuan kept his hold with no intention of letting me go.

Suddenly, sword-wielding figures emerged from the shadows to block the blow. There was a flash of light, before a flute was knocked deep into the depths of a willow tree. Little Fifth narrowed his eyes at the men, his scar making him seem even more ferocious.

“Why did you raise such an ugly man?” Zichuan lowered his face to speak by my ear, still smiling. The words were loud enough to ring in the courtyard, and his hands took the opportunity to slip down to my waist, wrapping around the sash there. It was enough to tell me he was angry.

But…angry?

What was he mad about? Angry that I raised someone ugly? Or that I was raising men in the first place?

Little Fifth gave me a glance and grew even more enraged. Yet instead of cursing, he unsheathed his sword and slashed his way over. The shadowy swordsmen quickly surrounded him.

Fifth’s martial arts skills and accomplishments ranked amongst the top ten in the jianghu. If you didn’t count the few top masters who didn’t like to leave seclusion, or had disappeared over the years, then Fifth would rank amongst the top three. But today he seemed a little fatigued. He raised his arm to block the enemies’ swords but kept glancing my way, his face filled with anxiety. On the side, First stared as Han Zichuan embraced me, neither helping Fifth nor speaking a word. He seemed to be considering something, but I was afraid to check his expression.

The fierce fighting continued…

There were many top-level experts within the imperial court, especially those qualified to accompany the emperor’s retinue. Fifth wasn’t their match, and I began to grow anxious while looking at him.

“If your Master wanted me to let go, she would have pushed me away earlier. Can’t you understand something like this?” The voice by my ear spoke with absolution, gloating over his misfortune.

Your Granny! If you had any skills, why not try to kill him with your own hands?

Little Fifth’s mental state was already unsteady, and his moves were wild and erratic. On the verge of being stabbed, he avoided with a flip to the side, readying his sword for another round.

“Hold it…” I spoke up, and he looked at me in surprise. He was already huffing for breath, and his eyes gleamed in the dark.

“Who told you to randomly attack our guests? No sense of propriety, hurry up and leave.”

“Yes, Master.” his face was sullen. Brat, this is for your own good…
He made an obeisance towards me and kept his head lowered as he sheathed his sword, turning to leave with a dejected air…only to silently walk back and scale the willow tree in search of his flute. His body was shaking, yet filled with determination until he recovered the damaged instrument and departed. There was only the lonely image of his back as he walked, carefully replacing the flute in his robes.

This flute…

It was something I gave him on a whim after picking him up from the streets.

A sudden sadness fell upon my heart.

— Little Fifth seemed furious, venting his anger by hitting the willow branches as he stalked off the whole way. First rested a hand on his shoulders, as if trying to comfort him. The moonlight illuminated his form and cast the illusion that he was wearing robes of snow.

“From the back, he really does look like Fang Hua,” There was a disappointed sigh by my side. Han Zichuan gave me a look as he indicated First. I gave a start, hesitantly resting my hands over his on my waist before twisting them off me.

“Shao’er, how cruel,” he smiled wryly as he massaged his hands. Then he bent to retrieve the windswept drawing I’d left on the table. The moment he rested his eyes on it, I grew anxious and tried to snatch it back. He backed away and stared at me before ripping it in half. “Isn’t it just a drawing?” Two pieces of paper fluttered to the ground, the identity of its subject unmistakable with the mole at the corner of his eye.

Should I complain, or should I grieve? My heart grew inflamed, but I held it back, speaking in a light tone. “You bastard Han, what do you think you’re doing?”

“Insolent, you dare to be impertinent before the emp…” Before the random lackey could finish speaking, I killed him with a well-aimed stone.

What a joke. As the Carefree Idler, there were only things I didn’t deal with, not things I couldn’t. Though my strange cultivation had eaten up over half my internal energy, I was adept at putting on airs and bluffing. For a servant, there was a time and place to speak. Things you shouldn’t say should be kept behind your mouth.

I gave the corpse a cold look. Perhaps it was because I’d used my internal energy, but the true qi inside me was in chaos and made my chest feel stuffy. Still, I assumed an expression of indifference. The wind flew past my robes in a riotous dance, drying out most of my hair as it blew messily past my face. A few of the black-robed swordsmen carried fear on their faces as they prepared to attack. But Han Zichuan waved a hand to hold them. Then he gestured again, and everyone retreated from the courtyard, leaving only the two of us. “Your temper resembles your yifu more and more,” he slowly sat down, eyes sweeping over me. “I’ve been searching for you for a long time. I never expected you to hurt my heart as soon as we met.”

A cup of wine poured onto the ground, splattering the drawing there and watering down the ink. My heart twisted in pain as I looked at him. His face was stiff, stuck between a half-smile as he rinsed another cup with wine and poured it on the paper. Was this a hint?

Was he reminding me that Fang Hua was in his hands and at his mercy?

Or that Fang Hua belonged to him, and he wouldn’t tolerate me thinking of him?

After a few years apart, he was nothing like the wide-eyed Han Zichuan I knew. The boy that obediently did my bidding in my house, that gave the utmost consideration to everyone, was now the sovereign of a country. An emperor that had resorted to political trickery to control the lives of the masses now sat by himself in this courtyard in plain robes, bearing still refined, eyes still clear. And yet none of that could hide the commanding, dignified air that emanated naturally from his true self. Extremely unhappy, I poured myself a cup of wine and prepared to drink.

He actually pushed my hand away and spoke coldly. “You’re letting your fancies run wild with that painting, but you don’t have the guts to see him yourself. Why not come back with me to the palace?” I was dumbfounded while he raised the wine to sniff its contents.

He should already know how Fang Hua felt about him…

I gave a pained smile, my heart aching a bit. “Instead of being a proper emperor, you ran around the outside world just to tell me this?”

“I’ve been looking for you constantly for the past five years.”

You’ve been looking for me constantly, but what about him? “Why did you hide from me for so long? I only just found out today…” he trailed off, pouring out a shallow cup of wine to hold the cup in his hands, “That the celebrated Carefree Idler of the jianghu was exactly the Shao’er I was looking for.”

“…is he doing well?”

“Who?” he pretended to ponder my words, before turning to smile at me. But that smile seemed to make my hair stand on end. “Let’s not talk about others, I want to talk about you.” He leaned over and added, “You’re living very well now, right? I heard you took in Seven Princes, each of them highly skilled and beautiful.”

“What, you want them?”

He gnashed his teeth. “Say that again.”

I narrowed my eyes at him. “My name as the Carefree Idler in the jianghu isn’t just for show. Don’t think I’m a pushover or easy to bully. I may dote on and yield to the young Princes in this house because I can’t bear to hurt them, but you’re not the same case.”

“You mean to say that Zhen[3] can’t even compare to the likes of them.”

Oi…he even started using Zhen, the imperial pronoun. Looks like I really pushed him to be angry. I laughed, yet his gaze turned unexpectedly soft.

“I don’t blame you. You can be intelligent sometimes, but you’re always so dense about your own matters. No matter how well-known you are in the jianghu, all lands under Heaven belong to Zhen, and that jianghu is no exception. So…” he embraced me from behind, “Don’t go against me, all right?”

He carried himself humbly, and his voice was soft, even carrying a note of pleading. But none of that matched his actions. Getting this domineering with a person was shameful and detestable! On reflex, I started to circulate internal energy in my palm to strike him down. Yet Fang Hua’s face appeared in my mind, and I forced down my attack impulse.

For him, I’d…

For him, I couldn’t hurt this person. I tried to avoid him instead, but Han Zichuan was more impertinent than I thought. He kept his tight hold on me while reaching for his cup of wine. The moonlight was like white silk, and an unfamiliar gentleness rose from his face. One hand held mine in place while the other raised the wine cup to my lips. The wine was rich and mellow, and his heart pounded within the depths of his warm embrace.

“I won’t blame you for avoiding me,” he tightened his grip on my waist and pressed closer, speaking next to my ear. “Come back with me to the palace and I won’t bring this up again.”

“In your dreams.”

“In my dreams?” he laughed lightly. “You can only wish it was in my dreams. Even if you won’t consider your own self-interests…you should think a bit about theirs.”

He had a point. I didn’t know when, but there were now six familiar figures standing in the courtyard, looking at us both. The black-robed swordsmen stood with torches at our gates, and many more lights illuminated the mountains. It seemed that quite a few people had arrived. Still, the expressions the Princes wore were as easy as ever. Each one of them were as tall and thin as jade trees, with handsome faces.

Yet looking at them, I only wanted to hide away, my heart stirred into a flurry. Sure enough, Han Zichuan glanced at them and laughed in understanding. “Shao’er, are these your Princes? As expected, they all resemble… Well, I really don’t know what kind of impression they’d make on a person who saw them.”

I could only sense multiple gazes coming to rest on me, each one boring holes into my body. “Think it over…” he paused, looking around the house. “I’ll wait for your answer.” My hands felt tied behind my back as he walked towards the rooms.

Hmph, this guy was really acting like he owned the place.
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