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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. 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 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.
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?”
“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 least let me enter the rooms and serve him.”
“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.”
— 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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 want 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.
When did he wake up?!
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.”
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.
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 seventy 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.
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.
*Please note that the web version of this chapter originally had no title.
 cold palace (??) ?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.
 white silk (??) ?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.
 trials of a beauty (???) ?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.
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