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He scared three souls out of my seven.
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?”
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.
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?
“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.
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.
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.
 three souls out of my seven (?????) ?qihun shile san, ancient Chinese belief spoke of the human bodies having multiple souls. You can read more on the details here.
 moving a stone to stub my own toe (????????) ? banshitou zazijidejiao, idiom for “shooting oneself in the foot”, etc.
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