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He looked as if he was very surprised.
I felt even more astonished.
I narrowed my eyes and looked at the thing between his fingers. It was rather black, and looked like a piece of skin.
He was completely stupefied.
Pushing aside his robes, he knelt down on one knee, the simple action filled with aristocratic grace. He stared at me, then back at his hand, rubbing the thing between his fingers. “What do you usually put on your face…”
The thick, sticky black thing between his fingers slowly fell to land in the water, where it dissolved away. With an unexpected jerk, I touched my face, feeling out a section of skin as smooth as tofu, surrounded by a layer of wrinkly stuff. It felt like if I tugged…then it might…
My eyes widened, and I tore off another piece of skin.
Che, I wasn’t that wrinkly, so why was I shedding?
I lowered my head and rubbed at my face… A handful of black stuff appeared…like pieces of skin were falling off. I cupped a palmful of water and started to furiously wash my face.
A sweet fragrance wafted out, and the sound of rustling clothes and a soft breeze reached my ears.
“Brother Shao.” Han Zichuan’s voice was as soft as spring wind or a fine drizzle, his tone carrying traces of light laughter and a little pity. “How could you be so crude…”
In the next moment, his hands had brushed aside mine, and he started to expertly rub at my face. My eyelashes were soaked with water, so even though I squinted, everything before my still looked blurry.
A gust of wind stirred the tens of thousands of willow catkin heads around us.
He knelt by the shore, back straight as he looked at me with a scholarly air. The wind stirred his sleeves, water soaking the edges of his robes, but he didn’t mind, only wearing a pleasant smile on his face. A finger pointed at my face as if he enjoyed himself too much to look away.
His eyes made me feel a little worried.
“Han Zichuan, you stop that…” I backed away. “I can do this myself.”
He leaned forward and took my hands, gently setting them on his chest. I shook away his hands as if I’d been burned by boiling water, but his grip only tightened, and the heartbeat I felt beneath his robes was pounding wildly.
I was stupefied. He raised his eyebrows with a smile, and the haziness in his eyes disappeared. The astonishment of his face also changed to an expression of amazed excitement, and the hand stroking my face began to tremble, his voice rising to match. “Brother Shao. Unexpectedly, your looks are matchlessly beautiful.”
His sincere gaze came from the bottom of his heart.
It was a clean, pure look, as if he was complimenting me for compliments’ sake, with no ill intentions at all.
“Why did you want to hide a face like this…” He looked as if he didn’t understand, but his eyes didn’t move from me a bit.
Fellow brother, it wasn’t my choice to cover it up.
I’ve looked like this since I was young…
He smiled softly, finally shifting his gaze from my face to my shoulders, then my collarbone…and rubbed it gently.
Surprised, I started to swim backwards, but his hand pressed firmly on my shoulders, unmoving. I could only stutter out, “Y…y-you, what are you doing…”
“Don’t move, I’ll help you clean it up.” His smile was gentle and soft.
There was no hesitation in his hands at all. His movements were clean and dexterous, as if he were skinning a chicken, neat and quick.
It made me feel…like I was shaking all over, and I nearly drowned. What he said was true. After being tossed around a few times beneath his care, my skin began to glow with a new life. The skin on my arm was as white and clear as a woman’s, the complete opposite of what I started with, as if I had changed into a whole new person.
“It’s just a pity…” his face was full of regrets, though his hands kept scrubbing nimbly as if they were a part of my skin.
Old fellow, if you keep taking advantage of me like this, I’m going to report you.
But his expression was so genuine, with his forehead knitted like that, unintentionally betraying his true feelings. It seemed as if he’d met with a problem that caused him profound regrets. What was it?
Could it be…
I touched my face, then looked at my arm, then into the water itself. The surface of the pool was awash in ripples, and gleamed with reflections from the light. It seemed a little different from what I remembered, and it was hard to see underwater…
Did I ruin my face somehow by using too much antidote?
I needed to see a mirror.
I suddenly stood up, preparing to climb ashore. But after half a step, I froze. Han Zichuan was even more shocked than me as he laid sprawled on the ground, staring at me stupidly. “Y-y-y-you…”
I looked down and realized I was naked…
This was very normal. Who would take a bath with their clothes on?
It’s just that living in these secluded woods and mountains had weakened my sense of propriety and rites. I’d gotten used to my days with yifu, and the differences between men and women had blurred quite a bit after ten years…
Sometimes I’d take a bath and see Fang Hua nearby, playing a tune on his qin, so I learned to stop wondering at strange sights. As time passed, I could even rub myself down without giving him half a thought, each of us absorbed in our own tasks…
This was probably retribution for cause and effect.
Between yifu and I, a third person appeared, and now everything had changed…
Now someone was here to tell me the differences between men and women.
When I looked back, Han Zichuan was already out of breath, physically paralyzed on the rocks in a position beautiful to behold. He feebly raised his sleeve to point at me, his finger shaking as he forced out the words. “You… …y-y-you’re actually a girl?!”
And then his eyes roved up and down…he looked completely startled.
Can someone tell me what kind of expression he was making now?
I am a girl…
I came out of the water and he saw everything…
The expression on his face looked startled, and as if he’d been tricked.
I narrowed my eyes and rubbed my chin, my face displeased as I approached him.
“Y-y-you, we can talk about this calmly…it’s not appropriate for girls and boys to mingle.” His clothes were actually drenched with sweat, and a terrified blush had crept onto his face, enough to make the base of his ears turn red.
I leaned down and scooted over. His eyes grew even wider.
My hand groped around him and tugged as he tried to get away and fell over the rocks. “Hmph, respected senior…you’re lying on my clothes, so how can I put them on?”
His face was filled with grief and indignation. He wanted to retort, but hastily retreated, curling up with his back facing me.
“…you’re a female, how could you be so audacious?”
I lowered my head to leisurely tie my sash, putting on the rest of my men’s robe as I took large, elegant strides to stand behind him. I leaned to blow a puff of breath at his ears, and spoke in a careless tone, “Yifu’s never raised me as a girl.”
“Brother Shao!” he suddenly turned around, out of breath.
My eyes curved like crescents and I smiled. He grew astonished, before his face softened to give me an absentminded look. “Hmph…a good man doesn’t fight with women.”
The wind blew past, and the willow catkins stirred. The leaves of the bamboo swayed in the wind.
The fresh scent of bamboo mixed with the breeze to be carried up in the air.
girls and boys to mingle (??????) ?nan nv shou shou bu qing, meaning girls and boys who were similar ages shouldn’t casually seek each others’ company. If I remember it right, in traditional society each gender kept to themselves. It was a breech of etiquette, and borderline scandalous, to go make friends with a boy if you were a girl, and vice versa. base of his ears (??) ?er gen, I think this is the pen name of the author for I Shall Seal the Heavens too! That aside, I’m putting this note here because in English we usually say, “the ends of his ears turned red” when a guy’s embarrassed, but Chinese likes to focus on the opposite, saying the “base of their ears”, or the part connecting their ears to the rest of their head.
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