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The windows were open with the pear blossoms in bloom, their petals floating in the air. A few had landed on Fang Hua’s shoulder, releasing their sweet fragrance into the room.
“Lord Fang Hua.” Nongyu nudged my shoulder as he called out to him.
He nodded back, somewhat befuddled. Those eyelashes shook as if passing through 1,000 years of time before he opened them. I heard Nongyu exhale. It wasn’t just him; my heart started beating rapidly as well.
His plain white face made the mole beneath his eye extremely distinct and colorful. Though only a few days had passed since I’d seen him, he seemed to have changed slightly…I couldn’t say what it was, but the eyebrows and hair on his temples, along with the quiet, drooping eyes, seemed to make his face a bit more bewitching. He was no less delicate and pretty, but there was a hint of anxiety between his brows. This feeling seemed to hang still for an instant; then it was gone like fading mist…
It seemed that he could disappear at a moment’s notice.
While I wasn’t paying attention, he’d already resumed his cool, indifferent expression. Two eyes gave a chilly glance at Nongyu, who stared blankly for a while before he recovered to point at the group of trembling people with a smile. “I happened to see these court ladies loitering outside, why not let them serve you indoors? Could it be that they’ve upset Lord Fang?”
“I want to drink water.”
“They didn’t give you water?”
“They did,” Before that merciless, level voice could settle down, a frosty sentence followed. “But I don’t like coming in contact with others.”
So he drove them rather unskillfully outdoors.
I could completely understand. Nodding my head, I resisted the urge to smile as I stole a peek. Nongyu’s facial expression was stuck in place, his smile blatantly forced.
“Lord Fang isn’t to blame…it’s because they weren’t clever enough, so I brought you someone who can work today.” He reached behind and grabbed me, pushing me over. Fang Hua didn’t spare me a glance but turned away, lifting the teapot on the table to pour himself a cup of tea. He pinched it between his hands and raised it closer…before his brow furrowed.
He replaced the cup in its original spot, as if disgusted. “You came here…for what reason, exactly?”
Nongyu didn’t seem to understand his dismissal, but walked forward a few steps as if planning to set a chair by his table and make small talk. Before he could take a seat, a young eunuch hurriedly ran inside, his robes covered in sweat and his face exceptionally anxious. He didn’t even have time to pay respects before creeping close to say something…
My ears pricked, but I couldn’t hear clearly.
Nongyu suddenly stood up and clasped his hands towards Fang Hua. “There’s a matter in the court, so I’ll take my leave now.” Afterwards, he glanced over at me with a pensive smile. “Take good care of Lord Fang Hua.”
He’s probably really leaving.
The rooms suddenly became absolutely deserted. Court ladies and eunuchs clustered outside with their heads bowed all properly, yet afraid to come in. Fang Hua sat upright at the table, a face filled with solemnity.
It was just an empty front.
His inner thoughts were very simple. He was taciturn and expressed little with his face. But for the servants of the palace, who were used to acting according to the situation and cues…this attitude really was a bit frightening.
Tsk, tsk, see how many days he can last in the palace.
I plopped my butt to sit down directly across him. Each of the people outside were jolted into stupefaction, but not one made a sound to stop me.
Fang Hua only lifted an eyelid to give me one glance, head on his hands as his fingers fiddled with the wood patterns…then stared at the table until he started blanking out.
He was really easy to bully.
He had no concept that lords and servants couldn’t sit at the same table. Though he appeared to have an elegant, graceful carriage, his heart was in a mess…
I recalled him saying that he wanted to drink some water.
Rolling up my sleeves, I grabbed the teapot, lifting the lid to look inside…and my eyebrows knitted. After pouring a cup, there was only a mouthful left. I stood up and raised my hand towards an eunuch whose face was filled with fear and trepidation. “You, come here.”
Fang Hua looked at me, flabbergasted.
Such revolting behavior…
I ignored him.
I smiled and rested my arm around the eunuch’s shoulders, stuffing the teapot in his hands as I spoke below my voice. “In the future, prepare two teapots for this house. Leave tea leaves out of one but put them in the other, and make sure that one’s kept scalding hot at all times.”
He was obviously surprised. I gave him a side glance. “Understood?”
“Y…y-yes, Little Li will do it right away.”
Fang Hua’s habits were a bit different from ordinary humans, and this went for drinking water as well. One cold, one hot. You had to boil spring water or well water and wait for it to cool before he drank it.
As for the water with tea leaves, it had to be poured while it was scalding hot…even on a warm day, he’d hold it and drink it slowly… As soon as the water turned lukewarm and acceptable for humans, he couldn’t bear it, or touch it even if he was dying.
The people in the palace really did their jobs fast. It took a moment’s effort to send over the tea water. Pouring a cup, I carried it over to him.
His eyelashes shook slightly as he stared at my hands, before moving upwards to rest on my face with a smile. Under the gaze of countless eyes, he actually drank it. The court ladies and eunuchs by the door were all shocked.
Afterwards, when I became more familiar with them, I learned that although Fang Hua had come to the palace for many days, he rarely drank the water handed over by other people. Don’t ask me why, but I think it was probably because the water didn’t meet his standards…
“Don’t block my way, all of you get lost.” a delicate, pampered voice drifted over, both tender and crisp. The ‘get lost’ part was especially forceful. Light, quick footsteps came from outdoors, followed by the sound of silver bells. With a shuaa, the people outside all grew fearful and fell to their knees as a light yellow silhouette charged inside, filling the rooms with flowery fragrance.
“Lord Hua, your servant picked some flowers for you again.”
A pair of vivid eyes stared at me from a 13 to 14 year old girl. She was wearing the clothes of a court lady and looked extremely cute. Within the folds of some satiny fabric was wrapped the budding heads and gorgeous blooms of various flowers. She looked at Fang Hua, then at me. “…huh? This is…”
That’s what I wanted to ask, too.
Don’t you know a girl can’t just charge into a grown man’s quarters? Especially…if those were my family’s Fang Hua’s rooms.
Fang Hua pointed at the girl. “Little Huang.” In the end…he pointed at me as well as he spoke to her. “This is someone who’s serving me.”
What a terse introduction to each other. Little Huang…does he think he’s keeping a dog?
Though I was worse off, seeing as I didn’t even have a name.
I knitted my eyebrows and looked at her, my heart full of uncertain thoughts. Fang Hua tended to avoid trouble whenever possible, but he was being very benevolent today by speaking so much.
The hostility from that girl became clearer.
Although her expression was resentful, that bright red face was like a tender flower, and she really was a small and beautiful person. I chanced a look and kept my gaze on the vast variety of flowers…pear blossoms, Chinese peonies, tree peonies…
Fang Hua’s eyes and mine both focused on one point.
This girl, was she here to deliver edibles…or poison someone? Although Fang Hua’s skill in dispelling poisons was singlehandedly brilliant, the imperial palace differed from his own place…the flowers here didn’t even bloom according to the seasons, so who knew how many times more poisonous the sweet-scented oleander could be?
Fang Hua was absolutely still. Heart sinking, I squeezed my way through and grabbed an armful from the pile of flowers wrapped up in the satin. I bent down, my eyes crafty as I spoke. “Many thanks to Miss Little Huang…seeing you carry all these, they must be heavy, so allow me.”
Her eyebrows narrowed. “You’re calling me ‘Little Huang’ as well?!”
This child didn’t like it when people made mistakes.
I rubbed my nose and quickly back up a few steps. Originally I wanted to shut the door, but I gave an eeee? of surprise as my eyes narrowed. A silhouette covered in purple gauze leisurely arrived, surrounded by a cluster of eunuchs and court ladies.
Abruptly, two hands propped themselves on the doors. I started as an eunuch gave me a look to kneel before rubbing his throat to announce, “The noble consort has arrived.”
Little Huang seemed to have seen her and flustered, moved to hide behind Fang Hua.
I stared at Fang Hua, who also looked at a loss.
“Well…it’s certainly lively in this room,” said a gentle, demure voice. Three parts as delicate and frail as the willow, seven parts filled with sumptuous luxury and wealth, a very beautiful woman had appeared….though she still looked inferior to Fang Hua.
Her pretty eyes looked about the room and a impressive, imposing voice pressed on, “Xuan’er, come out.”
That tiny brat of a child hiding behind Fang Hua dawdled for a while before stepping out and hastily running over to hug the woman’s leg.
“You’re wearing court ladies’ clothes to run around and play again. I’ll need to punish you when we return,” that woman raised her hand to pinch the tiny face, though she didn’t dare to use much strength. Her face was even smiling. Then she looked at Fang Hua, and the eyes above her smile turned cold. “These few days my child has always been running over here, I really am sorry for the inconvenience.”
Fang Hua’s mouth still stayed as before, and he neither spoke nor answered. There was only a magnificent and peerless smile.
The noble consort’s gaze grew dim and she gave a light wave. Quickly, the eunuch behind her carried over a lunch box and handed it over.
“I specifically instructed the imperial kitchens to make a few pastries and edibles. Kindly accept this small gift of mine, Lord Hua.” She turned to look around a few times before speaking. “I was wondering why the servant girls I sent out to pick flowers couldn’t find any. It seems like they were all sent to you.”
“If the noble consort likes them, she may take them all.”
“How could that be good? I just prefer for my servants to pick fresh flowers as hairpins. Originally, I thought only females would enjoy these things. I never expected Lord Hua to like them as well.” Her hand touched a flower and paused as she spoke, smiling. “I’ve long heard that Lord Hua not only has exceptional medical skills, but handsome looks as well. Though you’ve entered the palace for a few days now, the emperor’s illness hasn’t improved. But your looks really do match your reputation…dazzling both men and women, old and young alike. No wonder the crown prince invited you here from a thousand li away.”
This woman’s words were filled with barbs. I gave Fang Hua a rather anxious glance, yet he was sitting upright at the table, leisurely sipping tea with a cool, indifferent smile. Little Huang gazed at him with an expression of utmost adoration.
“Help mother pick one of the bigger flowers,” the beautiful woman lightly pinched her cheeks, though the girl was clearly unwilling.
I hurriedly used both hands to respectfully present the most beautifully blooming peony. Her eyes crinkled into a smile as she raised it with her hand and looked into the mirror, inserting it into her hair in an extremely elegant and graceful manner.
She really was very beautiful…
The woman glanced sideways and gave an eunuch a meaningful look. That person immediately moved forward to fold up the satin cloth and carry away the remaining flowers. She too, raised herself higher to speak a few conventional amenities, before valiantly dragging away her resisting child, who turned to look back reluctantly every three steps.
Outside, she was still using her hands to touch her hair, conveniently smoothing her face along the way.
I had a rather devious smile. Go and touch…touch as much as you want…
You dared to find faults with yifu in front of me? I’ll make you taste suffering. By chance, my hands had been itching to do something, so I put some poisoned powder into the flowers, although it wasn’t much…enough to have your face break out in a rash and confine you to bed from ten days to half a month.
The people and happenings within the imperial court were even more complicated than I imagined…
I closed the door and sucked in a breath. How did Fang Hua endure these few days? I followed his shadow to look at him, my thoughts in another world. He was in the middle of turning around, back to me and head lowered as he busied himself with something.
I stuck my neck over.
He spread open a small fold of ragged cloth. As if holding the most precious treasure, he raised the pastries gifted by the noble consort and gave it a sniff, selecting a few to put into the snow-white material. Then he folded it up and placed it within his robes.
This material looked very familiar… It was a piece of cloth from the inner robes he often wore at home.
“Sire, what exactly are you doing?” I was curious. Could it be that he’d gotten sick of eating flowers…and was now eating pastries? Even so, a change like that wasn’t worth hiding in his clothing.
“I’m going to save it for Shao’er,” he muttered to himself. “She’s never eaten anything this good…”
His tone was faint, but extremely soft and tender, as if recounting something very ordinary. But my heart suddenly trembled as I came to a realization.
If he kept it in his robes like this, wouldn’t they spoil by the time he left the palace?
Around midday, I began to get drowsy, and my eyelids drooped ferociously. Court ladies had no time to break at noon. While in the imperial physicians’ courtyard, I had occasional small breaks, but Fang Hua had very few eunuchs and court ladies, so even one missing person was very conspicuous. Thus, I had to make do in spite of the hardships.
The crown prince arrived around lunchtime and had stayed until now with no intention of leaving…
I fished out the red lotus from my robes and sniffed it to invigorate myself, before my hand reached out to block Little Li and take the tea from his hands. I pushed open the door to the room, lowered my head, and walked forward.
Han Zichuan seemed to be discussing something with Fang Hua, and the atmosphere seemed somewhat strange…
The crown prince was holding a work of calligraphy between his fingers… Beside Fang Hua’s elbow sprawled book after book of poetry. I gave it a glance but kept silent, quietly serving the tea.
It wasn’t strange to see Fang Hua reading medical texts…but when did he pick up poetry? That was a strange story.
“Fang Hua’s skills in the qin and chess can be recognized as the best, but I didn’t foresee that your calligraphy and painting skills would leave me with no hope of catching up. Why…” Han Zichuan tilted his head, finger sliding past the pages as his smiling eyes patiently swept over Fang Hua. He spoke in a low voice. “…does Shao’er not know anything?”
Talking about me behind my back…
“Shao’er’s innate talents are excellent, but her personality is indolent and careless,” Fang Hua sipped a mouthful of tea. “If she wants to learn, I’ll teach her. If she doesn’t, she can do as she pleases. A person only has one life. To live a day happily is a worthy day.”
My eyes curved into a smile, though I could only listen from a corner without doing anything.
Fang Hua raised his head to ask a question. “You’ve come here to rest for ages. Is there anything else?”
Han Zichuan inclined slightly and spoke in an easy tone, “I did come for a purpose, but this time I forgot.” He lowered his head and scooped up his sleeves, using the fabric as a buffer to raise his tea and blow on it furiously.
He and I acted the same way…
After staying with Fang Hua for so long, we understood his habits. Every time we had tea with him we had to save ourselves by blowing until the water was lukewarm before we dared to drink it.
He lifted an eye towards Fang Hua as if recalling something, and sighed. “That’s right. This morning, the imperial physicians came with news that father’s illness has gotten worse. This time, you really have to go help take a look.”
His own father was close to dying from sickness, yet he still felt carefree enough for idle chatter…how impressive.
Fang Hua didn’t speak, but muttered to himself. From my perspective, he would refuse this time. Yet his eyebrows furrowed and he raised his head, fingers knocking against the table. “It’s not advisable to delay. Show me the way.”
Then he rose and slowly spoke to me. “Take the acupuncture needles in the pouch on the rack, you’ll be coming with me.”
Wait, I can see the emperor now.
 Little Huang (??) ?xiao huang, or “Little Yellow.” Huang is most likely a surname.
 keeping a dog (????) ?dang yang gou mo, another way to say ‘does he think he’s keeping pets’. Little Huang is a type of nickname you’d find on dogs…
 Xuan’er (??) ?diminutive form for Xuan (probably a given name). The literal definition is a “circle”, or “to revolve/spin, come back.”
 a thousand li away (????) ?qianli tiaotiao, which could mean a thousand li away or stand in as an idiom for any far away distance.
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