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“Boooring.” I held a book between my fingers, heaving a sigh as I leaned on my chin, spacing out. My eyes stared at the lamp light as one hand waved the flame back and forth. The window was shut tight, leaving only the sound of waving bamboo like the sea.
This uninhabited junk of a place had no place for strolls or anywhere to go. I could endure that, I could even deal with the lack of music, but there ought to be other diversions….curses, there was nothing on the bookshelves but medical texts, not even one of those popular pornography books.
The candle flame gave a sputter, sending the odor of hot wax into the air. I withdrew my hand from the heat, tossing aside the book in my hands as I swept the tabletop of peanut shells. My brows furrowed as I banged the table angrily and stood up.
“Ahhhhhhhhhh, I can’t live like this anymore!”
A spark of something called ‘discontentment’ burned in my chest. Lofty and unyielding, I waved aside my sleeves and strode out the doors. By the time I reached the back corridors, half of my arrogant bluster vanished when I realized no one was in the courtyard. Besides the sound of wind through the bamboo, there was nothing else. Even the usually noisy parrot stared at me dispiritedly from a branch…his eyes gleaming. A thrill of horror ran through me as I backed up three steps.
The despicable bird was looking at me like I was a thief. A wild wind swept through the withered branches as girl and bird stared face-to-face in a silent battle.
“Hungry. Food, food,” The parrot’s claws stepped on the branches as it leapt a few times, retracting its gaze in a show of conciliation while it lowered its head to peck at its feathers, as if blinding searching for bugs to eat.
Ever since the day Fang Hua randomly took me in, he’d given me a giant pile of candles, each brand new and wrapped in white paper packaging. But he…rarely used them. Sometimes, he’d stand outside my room to take advantage of the light. After I’d shut him out, he’d use the moonlight as a guide to walk back, his retreating figure ever desolate and lonely…
I stamped my feet a few times until I warmed up, thinking hard. It’d be good to take the chance and convince him not to be so economical. When I returned to the palace, I’ll get the emperor to give him some silver. With the nights so dark, how was a person to pass their days?
I earnestly nodded to myself before rushing back into the room, crunching my way past peanut shells. Squatting on my heels, I crawled under my bed until I found a candle and proudly patted it a few times. Then I walked to Fang Hua’s door by moonlight and lightly knocked a few times.
“Are you asleep?”
There was the faint sound of a bed creaking, followed by the rustling noise of someone putting on their clothes.
“I’ll open the door shortly.”
“How about you keep lying down, I’ll let myself in,” I replied carelessly, taking a hairpin out of my hair to insert between a crack in the door. I jiggled it up and down a few times before pushing it open. The moment I raised my eyes, I saw a figure still in shock.
“That…” he seemed to be smiling, before leisurely adding, “So it’s true that no manner of door can stop you, no matter how good the quality.”
“Heh, heheheh,” I smirked, laughing until I suddenly stopped. My expression shifted, and I stared astonished at my nimble hands. What had happened…when did I become a thief? The movements were so clean and easy, smooth and dextrous. How strange. A soft cough sounded from the darkness. I knitted my brows and groped forwards with my hands.
“Are you feeling unwell? There’s nothing urgent about your health, right.”
There was silence for quite a while.
“Aiyo!” A weird cry fell from my lips.
He hurriedly spoke, “It’s dark here, be careful where you walk…”
“I hit a chair.”
He seemed to be laughing lightly.
My hands fumbled their way along the table as I cried, doing my best to open my eyes wide. I still couldn’t see a thing with everything so gloomy.
“Why not light a lamp?”
Where’s the flint?”
He hmm’d for a long time, as if thinking it over.
I gave up on relying on him but felt everything in the dark until my hand came in contact with a wooden cupboard in a corner. Its surface was hard and slippery, and a spark lit in my brain as I felt along the wood until I forced open a door. Reaching in, I touched a small object that should’ve been flint. My face lit up in joy as I grabbed the candle from my robes and ignited the tip.
Turning around, I saw the waiting Fang Hua looking at me with rapt attention. The expression in his eyes was like someone using every second of his remaining life to look at me, as if missing a glance would be missing a view. As if he couldn’t get enough of me, even if he stared for an entire lifetime…
I stood stunned until a scalding hot sensation hit my arm. I nearly knocked over the candle as I placed it on the table, head lowered to readjust my sleeves after the accidental drop of wax.
Sheesh, it was embarrassing to have him stare when it was just the two of us in a room.
The sound of coughing traveled over. When I looked up again, Fang Hua was calmly reclining on his side, his expression a little tired. Was what I saw before an apparition? Shaking my head to cover my awkward face, I took the chance to look around.
The room was simple and unadorned, but tasteful. Besides a bed, the only thing that caught my eye was a dressing table. On it were a bronze mirror and a smooth, glossy wooden comb. It was curved like a crescent moon, and most of the red lacquer had faded. Various other items and things were scattered about a small makeup box, a thin collection that seemed to indicate the owner’s decline in wealth.
Why were there female items in this room?
Fang Hua’s hair hung loosely about him as he covered his mouth with his sleeve to stifle the sound of coughing. I withdrew my gaze to rush to the table, pouring a cup of water before handing it over. His ashen face looked sickly with that light smile as he accepted my cup with both hands. Those ice cold fingers held my own and gave me an unexpected feeling of alarm.
I withdrew my hands, splattering quite a bit of water on his robes. His expression turned dejected.
“Why are you so cold?”
“It’s of no consequence. The weather’s chilly, so I feel a bit cold.” He looked up at me with a smile.
I felt a little shamefaced as I changed the topic. “Are you the only one living here?”
“There was once another person who lived with me for ten years,” his tone was light as a warm smile crept on his features, as if he was losing himself to memories. The hazy yellow light shrouded him in a gentle, mild glow, showing a tender expression on such a calm and collected face. My heart stirred slightly, and I sat next to him on the bed.
Quietly, I asked, “Was it the emperor?”
His reaction was like someone woken from a dream, and his face turned complicated as he looked at me. Lowering his head, Fang Hua coughed a few times before taking some deep breaths. Slowly, he spoke. “He’s lived here as well, when he was younger.”
“What was he like back then? Did he always make serious faces?”
He laughed a few times, raising a hand to pat my sleeves before pressing down. “He wasn’t like this in the past. At that time, compared to you…” His words stopped as he turned away, pulling at the bedcovers. Desolation filled his eyes when he spoke again. “Compared to anyone, he was much more well-behaved. Actually, the one who always kicked up a row was my foster son. Zichuan was very frightened of him and didn’t dare to talk back. He used to serve him tea and pour him water like he was treating an esteemed elder.” There was a soft smile on his face, as if he couldn’t free himself from reminscencing about former days. That was a story only between himself and Han Zichuan.
Meanwhile, I was only a bystander from beginning to end, listening to him talk.
“With three people living here, it must have been lively,” I looked around with a grin. “What did the emperor like to eat when he was little? Which room did he sleep in?”
The hand on my sleeve tightened. His fingers were long and skinny enough to highlight the bones, so it hurt when he gripped me. Aiya, I wanted to draw back but I couldn’t move. Instead, I gave him a surprised look as he slowly smiled back, though it made him look particularly miserable when he gazed at me.
He said, “Let’s not talk about him, all right…?” It sounded like he was begging me, a bit. At that instant, my heart felt like something had suddenly rammed into it.
“I…I’m….sorry…” I was a bit depressed.
You and him are already separated, I shouldn’t keep bringing up your past with him and making you speak of sad things.
Yet he only wore a gentle smile as he patted me, expression relaxed. The look in his eyes was warm enough to melt an entire river of ice. This was a well-bred, warm and cultured man. Why couldn’t such a perfect person find his own true love…
“That’s right…” After staring blankly for a while, I hastily helped to tuck him under the covers. “You’re sick, so why isn’t there any sign of your foster son?”
“He won’t come.”
“Early on, he went to make a living wandering the jianghu and made companions out of his Seven Princes. Why would he come back to this old place?” So speaking, he gave me a deep look.
“That’s an outrage! How can a person act that way. A father for a day means a father for a lifetime!”
“He has his own affairs. How could I have control over him?”
“Don’t let that fellow off so easily. If I were you, I’d tie him up and bring him back to kneel before the memorial tablet of his ancestors. Then I’d starve him for eight or ten days without food.”
He laughed out loud, gazing at me warmly. “Then I’ll do as you say in the future.”
I was still lost in my own thoughts…
No wonder. I’d been here for a while, but there was nobody in these rooms except for him. An entire day would pass with nothing but the parrot crying out by itself. So it turned out that he had such an unfilial son. But…why did his smile turn me cold and flustered?
I must be getting the wrong impressions…
Suddenly, the wind blew open the windows. I got up to close them, but the gale filled the room, chilling my body and making me shiver. I couldn’t take it and sneezed multiple times.
What an evil wind…
So frigid, almost enough to make me cry.
Fang Hua’s gaze was fixed on me as he rose up, about to get out of bed. Just as he lifted a corner of the corners, I sat down and pressed against the bedding. “Hey, what do you want to do?”
He focused on looking at me, eyes filled with enough warmth to drown a person as he lay back down, smiling affably. I grew a little apprehensive as I gave him a doubtful look. But he continued to wave a friendly hand my way. “Come here…”
There was a trick. For him to be so agreeable without reason, there was definitely something afoot. My neck shrank back as I recoiled, preparing to slip away. Yet he rose up to grab me from behind. I panicked as my heart started beating wildly. Laughing aloud, his hands moved from my waist to my fingers, lifting up my hands. With his body pressed against mine, he gesticulated a few times, head tilted to the side as he gave me a friendly look. “You’ve been negligent while attending to me. The weather’s so cold and yet you’re wearing so little. There should be clothes for you in this room.”
I felt a little muddle-headed as he maintained his advantageous position, feeling a bit left in the dark. He was very quiet as he watched my expressions, not revealing anything as he carefully touched my hands, before meekly resting his own on my shoulders. “Look at you, your body’s turned so cold.
His hands were clearly colder than mine. I lifted my eyes to glance at him. Did he always lie with such a straight face?
I really couldn’t keep myself from asking as I turned towards him. “How long are you planning to hold me?”
“I…” he seemed to release me reluctantly. “I measured you a bit, it should just fit. The length of the robes should be just right, you wait…” And he lifted the covers.
But I pressed them back in place.
Fang Hua was so close to me. With his long eyelashes, he looked towards my hands in surprise before smiling. He didn’t struggle, reject, or try to throw me off, but adopted a conniving expression on his face. Did this guy’s illness fry his brains? If he had clothes, he should’ve mentioned them earlier. Did he really have to stick so close and take my measurements. I could just try on the clothes to see if they fit.
Seeing him trying to move again, I held him in place and spoke. “Your body’s not well, so keep still for me.”
His complexion wasn’t good as his chest rose and fell. Unable to hold it in, he turned to cover his face with his sleeves and coughed again, speaking intermittently. “I want to get some clothes for you to keep out the chill. The nights are cold…and the mornings are chilly, why not…let me prepare some thicker cotton quilts for you.”
“Are you done yet? Lie down…” I glared at him, but my voice softened. “Where did you put the robes? Don’t get off the bed, I’ll get them myself.”
His eyes curved into a smile as he held me with a cold hand, the fingertips tickling my skin. “It’s in the third compartment over there, just take a few sets…they’re all new, so pick what you like.”
I suppressed a noise.
After opening the cabinet, I finally understood what he meant by ‘pick what you like’.
Two or three partitions in the entire cabinet were filled with clothing. There were plain white robes, blue-green robes, simple and elegant robes or gaudy, flowery ones…every one was folded up neatly. The third level was a bit older than the rest, and the size was a bit off. Mixed up with the bunch was even a set of woman’s clothes…
Why would there be women’s clothing here?!
Shocked, I touched the robes.
“I wanted to find you some clothes in the morning, but ended up lying here for half the day because of weariness.” He looked at me with a remorseful face.
My hand drew back as I looked for other robes, replying carelessly, “It’s no matter.”
Why would he treat me so well? This was going beyond the boundaries of friendship. Fang Hua’s voice drifted over from behind me. “Have you finished choosing?”
“No.” I said in a low voice, hand exploring the second level of robes. The clothing all felt new, and the sizes were obviously much bigger than the previous level. I shook open some robes and compared them to my body…oh, too small. The colors of the robes weren’t half bad, just that the pattern…
Un, these were all male robes, like those for a young man.
“The clothes at the bottom all have smaller measurements. The first compartment has clothes that were all newly made a few days ago.”
“Whose clothes are these?”
They didn’t look like Fang Hua’s because they’d be too small on them. I measured a few of the top level robes and found them my perfect size. However, the measurements for these thick piles of clothing seemed to get larger and larger. Yet none of them had an owner, but all of them were new, how strange.
“It’s my disciple’s,” he said in a low voice.
“This one as well?” I pinched out a robe and shook it out. It was very beautiful, and seemed to be made for a teenage girl. The fabric emanated a sweet-smelling fragrance.
He seemed to be smiling. “That’s right.”
Those two words dismissed me…as if he didn’t want to discuss the matter any more.
“What a waste, making all these clothes with no one to wear them,” I casually draped one over my shoulders, head lowered to tie the sash.
He gave a leisurely reply. “These were all prepared by me over the years for that unworthy child of mine. Although he’s left me for many years, I still make a few sets for him every year out of habit. He used to always blame me for buying clothes that were too big for him. Now that they fit him, he’s not by my side anymore.”
I stood there dumbly, hands stiffening as I stopped moving.
“I used to imagine what he’d be like after he grew up.” The pale yellow light shone on his figure, gentle and mild. He patiently endured another round of coughing on the bed as he smoothed out his brow, an exhausted expression on his face. “I’m really sorry, I’m telling you things you don’t want to hear.”
I sprawled across his bed and burst out laughing as I tucked him in, speaking lightly, “You’re tired. Sleep early.”
In the stillness of the night, the moonlight shone down softly.
Fang Hua sat on the bed, the moon illuminating his figure in an extremely touching manner. It was a long while before he turned over and said one more thing. “…I wanted him to stay longer by my side, but why didn’t he understand?”
A long, long time afterwards, I would always remember this line.
He told me, “Actually, it’s not that I didn’t want to spend the family silver. And when I made the robes bigger than usual, it wasn’t because I wanted him to wear it in until they were old. In fact…I just wanted him to stay awhile longer by my side because I didn’t have much time.”
He slowly smiled at me, a simple but elegant smile.
When his eyebrows suddenly knitted together, they were like the misty depths of a rain shower in a landscape painting, filled with anxious worry that embellished the red teardrop mole by his eye.
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