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A few rays of sunlight shone on my face, it was early morning. Squinting, I rolled over with my feet on the covers, withdrawing my hands into the bedding. I knitted my brows as I hugged the warm covers before suddenly letting out a loud sneeze. It was enough to shock me fully awake. As I sat up, I noticed more than a few green feathers scattered across my bed.
Something was off…
I scrubbed at my nose with my sleeves, accidently getting a downy feather on the tip of my tongue. I say, was this little parrot trying to do a striptease over there? I remembered shutting the door last night, so where did it come from? Glancing at the windows, I saw the bolt was loose enough to leave a chink. Wind was blowing into the room at this very instant. I was surprised that the parrot could fit through such a tiny crack. No wonder it’d scattered feathers everywhere.
My face was black as I dressed myself and lifted the covers.
“Huh, where are my stockings?”
I looked around as my hands searched, even sweeping my eyes beneath the bed…but there was no sign of them. I suspected that little thing had taken it away in its beak again. That thief had gotten addicted to stealing my things and was quite capable. It’d take the sweets I hid beneath my pillow, or my face cloth to use for its nest. Last time I got my period, it even stole my cotton strips of cloth until Fang Hua gave them back personally. He said he’d found them in his room, much to my embarrassment.
My eyes drifted to the bird sticking up its butt at me from the table. Currently, it was busy bending over to peck at something in delight. Realization dawned on my face as I quietly put on my shoes and tiptoed over. One hand stuck out and snatched him while I scooped up the white fabric he’d been treading on all this time…well, well, what do you know? It really was one of my stockings. The parrot was getting bolder and bolder, taking high quality things like this. It didn’t even seem to mind whether it smelled.
It seemed like there was something inside the stocking. I kept calm, one hand pressing down on the wiggling bird, the other twisting the stocking to reveal…
…a cascade of paper cranes. Some had been torn to pieces by its beak, others seemed to have been soaked in water and was now mushy to the touch. But all of them had been folded with charm paper, and sniffing them revealed a vague scent of sandalwood.
“You collected all these?”
It turned its head and refused to answer.
“Look at your temper. I might as well pluck out your feathers and boil you,” I threatened.
As it turned out, it was the wrong thing to do. This bird had the temper of a spoiled child, thanks to its master.
“Ow, that hurts. You pecked me?! Just you wait…” I ran out of breath.
It flapped its little wings, giving me a disdainful look from its beady green eyes before boring for the crack in the window and disappearing from sight. Hmph, it even had the gall to look down on people. Well today I’d make things even.
With my hair in disarray, I burst out the doors, trampling the wooden floors beneath my creaking footsteps. I could spot a mass of green flying wildly in the air before turning and disappearing. Huffing and puffing, I leaned against a door to catch my breath but couldn’t resist looking back and forth. This residence wasn’t very large, but the scenery was exquisite. Beyond the houses was nothing but bamboo forest. Each and every one of the doors to the rooms were closed, and the walkways were empty as well. There was only a single feather left behind on the ground.
There was no logic to this. I can’t imagine that it’d hid itself away so easily.
I walked up to door after door, each of the paper windows adorned with bamboo in ink in a tasteful and refined manner. At the foot of one was a tortoise that I’d added last night in a fit of poetic inspiration, but that was another story. Wait…
Where was the tortoise?
I went up to the windows to look, only to see a giant hole on the left side, completely ruining my painted tortoise. The wind blew against the tattered remains of the paper and made it tremble.
I laughed darkly to myself before pushing open the door. It was quiet inside, with only the sound of my breathing in the beautiful room. The scent of sandalwood mixed with ancient wood filled my nostrils as I looked around. The room was neither light nor dark, but filled with warmth.
Volumes of books rested on a wooden rack, filling up the walls. Besides that, there was only a table and chair in the humongous room. A white robe rested over the chair, looking almost transparent in the light that streamed inside. It also illuminated a very familiar silhouette hiding behind it, because a feather had been left outside.
I softly shut the door.
“Sheesh, that little parrot must have hidden in the trees,” I said, looking slowly towards the bird. Then I turned my head aside and spoke again. “Maybe I should get a few kernels of grain to lure him out.”
There was no movement from beneath the robes.
“How about I paint a beautiful parrot to seduce him to me?”
My eyes flashed as I leaned against the table, pretending to reach for a brush. Then I held my breath and jumped on my prey.
Chaos ensued, and feathers flew everywhere…
It flapped its feathers furiously to try to fly, fleeing to the bookshelves while hurling curses at me. Its words made me even more determined to catch it, and as we scuffled, the bookshelves began to rock and sway…
Volume after volume of books fell down…but I had no idea as I pounced towards my target. When I got up again, the rows of bookshelves fell into each other before crashing to the ground, raising a huge layer of dust. I covered my mouth with my sleeves as I coughed. With the room in a mess and mountains of books on the floor, I could see a small form struggling in the chaos. Kneeling on the ground, I took away a splayed opened book to see the green parrot stepping atop a roll of thin, tough silk. It trembled as it looked at me with its eyes.
“What’s wrong with you now?” I asked good-naturedly.
It seemed to have been injured by the crash, its body shaking as if it didn’t dare to move. Still kneeling, I showed pity and took it into my hands, examining it carefully. Though it allowed me to do as I pleased, its eyes never stopped darting around while I touched its head.
“Hey, hey, where did you get injured? Your grandaunt will bind you up,” I teased the parrot. Usually, this bird and its cursing tongue would hurl expletives at me, but this time it was quiet. Looks like we were both types that bullied the weak while fearing the strong. I caught one of its talons and gave it a close look, before tearing off a strip of the tough silk by its side, ready to tie…no, really to bind its injuries.
“Hey, don’t stir up trouble. I’m not feeding you this, what are you pecking for…” I tugged away the cloth it was holding in its beak. Suddenly, my eyes caught sight of something and couldn’t look away. It seemed like there were densely packed characters written on the surface.
Though intuition was telling me not to stick my nose into others’ business, I couldn’t stop my eyes from reading.
As it turned out…something big happened.
As to exactly what had happened, it’s a long story. If I’d known things would turn out that way, I definitely wouldn’t have done such foolish actions, or spoken such foolish words. My regrets afterwards made me grieved at heart.
The mess in the study was currently too tragic to look at. This so-called parrot named Shào’er had a piece of tough silk in its mouth, its surface covered with words. Weird, what was this? Curious, I squinted at the writing, muttering to myself as I read, “The Fang Hua Beast is a primarily male animal…”
A feeling of intimacy suddenly rose from within my heart, followed by a stab of pain. I released the parrot with a noise and seem to feel it fly past me. But I was too busy to pay attention to such things, eyes fixated on that section of silk. These words weren’t hard to understand, but the meaning behind them seemed to shake me.
Fang Hua Beast…
I repeated those three words, feeling my heart palpitate. Pinching the silk between my fingers, I read it line by line, feeling more and more shocked as I read. It seemed as if I’d uncovered some great secret, enough to chill my entire body. I couldn’t keep calm for a long time.
A teardrop-shaped mole at the corner of one eye, exuding a sweet fragrance year round, appearance resembling a handsome man, dallying with plants while enjoying feeding on flowers, the silk explaining all the particulars of the Fang Hua Beast. My eyebrows wrinkled as I puzzled it out. Fang Hua was indeed very similar to this…though I couldn’t know if he always ate flowers year round, since he barely ate any food nowadays since he was ill.
But perhaps this was simply a myth. Who could believe that a piece of Fang Hua Wood could transform itself into a human form, and grow so big? I hadn’t even seen monsters or goblins before.
My head lowered, I felt the silk. The texture was pleasant, probably perfect for blowing my nose on as a daily handkerchief. Too bad the surface was filled with words. I’d have to ask Fang Hua where he bought this stuff later. Thus thinking, I placed the piece of silk inside my robes. Maybe I’d been squatting for too long because my legs had turned numb. As soon as I stood up, the blood rushed down and left my head dizzy. I closed my eyes and the image of Fang Hua twisting the stems of lotus blossoms to eat appeared in my mind. The foggy image was wearing robes of white silk, adding to his elegance. His jadelike fingers were long and slender, resting beneath a dainty red lotus before raising it to his mouth. Those lips quirked up as if he was eating the most delicious food in the world…
My eyes suddenly flew open.
Why would such an image appear all of a sudden in my head? And even one of him eating a lotus flower?
My head grew heavy, and I held onto a wooden table to steady myself. Could it be… that he really was a Fang Hua Beast? This couldn’t be the reason that he left the imperial harem? There were many people in the palace, and tongues liked to wag. Moreover, evil plots liked to shadow the emperor’s footsteps. If anyone discovered that he wasn’t a human and had an affair with Han Zichuan, he’d be chased away even if he didn’t wanted to leave.
If that was the case…then it was really a pity.
I closed and opened my eyes again, abruptly recalling something. Again, I pulled the silk from my robes and kept reading…nine characters jumped out from the surface and seemed to expand before my vision. The calligraphy was delicate and fine, as if nailed onto the silk: the color of the Beast’s mole is paler when he is younger, but will naturally darken to blackish red, dark red, and pitch black, upon which the Fang Hua Beast will die.
My breath caught in my throat, unable to escape. It was extremely uncomfortable, and my heart seemed to burn in my chest. I didn’t know what this feeling was, only that it was bitter beyond compare…perhaps this was what they called sorrow.
How strange. Taking a deep breath, I shook my head, wondering why I felt this way. I vigorously rubbed my eyes with my sleeve, unable to believe the dampness came from unconscious tears. In the space of a moment, my heart had grown quite uncomfortable. From the moment I’d woken up, the mole by Lord Hua’s eye had been quite dark. It shouldn’t be blackish red, so that meant…
I sucked in a breath, turning away to look towards the window. My hand gripped the section of silk while I didn’t make a sound. Those feelings in my heart I couldn’t puzzle out with my head…what did it matter if he died? I’d only met him recently, that’s all. There was nothing between us.
I bent over to think, deciding to stuff the silk into a random book somewhere and pretend I’d never read it. Before leaving the room I looked around, wondering when the parrot had slipped away…
I looked over the messy books and overturned bookcases in the room before heroically stepping over the mess and out the room, shutting the door behind me. Dusting off my clothes, I acted as if nothing had happened at all before leisurely returning to my room to take a nap. After waking up, I felt quite bored, so I happily went to seek out Fang Hua. As it turned out, he found me first.
There was a heavy sound of impact.
The door shook from his repeating kicking, enough to loosen dirt from the eaves. He stood outside the door, his spirits somewhat recovered as he carried a jug of wine in his left hand.
“That, what’s your name…help me move these in.” As soon as he saw me, he began to order me about.
‘What’s your name?!’ He couldn’t be asking me to carry wine, I couldn’t do heavy jobs. Smiling, he tilted to one side before giving me a significant look and stepping inside the room with wine in tow. As it turned out, he really didn’t expect me to carry the wine. It was only after he entered that I realized the place where he was standing was stocked with books, brushes, inkstones and slabs…in pieces on the ground. If I’d known this earlier, I’d have gone to carry the wine jugs instead. It took nearly all my strength to finishing carrying them away. Fang Hua was already standing cheerfully on the table, writing words with his brush while smelling rich and delicately intoxicating.
“Lord Hua, you seem to be in an aesthetic mood today.”
“Of course.” He thought I was praising him, and wore a most refined smile. “Help me grind some ink.”
I gnashed my teeth. Hey…this guy was really taking advantage of all weaknesses. If it wasn’t for the wine, he wouldn’t dare to make me to even small favors for him. Well…this wasn’t right.
“Lord Hua,” I frowned, leaning over the desk to remind him kindly. “If I’m not mistaken, this is my room?”
He stopped his brush, only turning slightly to look at me. “Then it’s fine if you carry my things to the study instead.”
The study…wasn’t a good place to go…not after I made a mess inside. There probably wasn’t even room for a person to stand. Did this person find out beforehand and came to find fault with me?
“That’s right,” he looked at me with bright eyes. “I haven’t seen Shào’er all afternoon, have you?”
My bluster suddenly died down significantly as I obediently bent my head to grind him ink. What if Fang Hua’s treasured parrot met with trouble after escaping from my clutches? I was uneasy and fidgety for a long while before stealing a look at him. He didn’t seem to mind that I hadn’t replied.
Forget it, I won’t ask him why he didn’t go to his own study to paint and write. I estimated that he’d just say only my room had a desk or something. The one in his room couldn’t be called a desk, but more of a dressing table.
In any case…all the rooms in this house were his. A hand supported my head as I ground ink for him. My heart wasn’t in it though, my eyes too focused on straying to the red teardrop-shaped mole beneath his eye. It made him look like he was weeping…
The section of silk said that the color of the Beast’s mole is paler when he is younger, but will naturally darken to blackish red, dark red, and pitch black, upon which the Fang Hua Beast will die. After thinking it over for a while, my hand stopped moving and I grew still.
“There’s no more ink,” a light, leisurely voice floated above my head.
“What are you thinking about?”
My head was lowered as I scooped up my sleeves, dripping clear water on the inkslab. Then I took the inkstone to the surface to grind, all flustered as I said in a rush, “I was wondering when you’d die.”
After that line, he gave a mournful smile, one that reached his eyes and made his face ashen pale. This was worse than no smile at all, and made the mole by his eye stand out like a plum blossom in the midst of snow, a cruel but profound sort of beauty. I felt at a loss, before adding on, “You know…I, I didn’t meant it in that way.”
His smile was light, but he stopped the movements of his brush and didn’t say a word.
I didn’t want to curse him to his death. Just that…just that I didn’t want to believe the words on the silk. If they were true, then the beautiful man before me didn’t have much time left. The silence in the room was a little abnormal. I knew I was in the wrong, and continued to ground the ink with my head lowered. Though I made careful motions with the ink stick, my hands were still shaking.
Really…I regretted so much that I even felt like ripping my mouth off.
“It’s been a while, but I still haven’t died yet. I’ve troubled you.”
Fang Hua put his brush aside and idled in his chair, looking at me. He didn’t say much, but poured himself a cup of wine and slowly sniffed it, saying softly, “This was the wine we brewed together awhile ago, do you want a cup?”
I didn’t take it.
He smiled, eyebrows arching slightly before emptying the entire cup and refilling it again. There was a hint of indescribable sorrow in his eyes, and his brows seemed rather desolate.
“Don’t drink so much…” At a loss, I could only watch him helplessly.
“There’s no harm,” he said gently, before covering his mouth with his right hand. It wasn’t hard to see that he’d choked on the wine, enough to cough until a hint of red bloomed on his white face.
“Why do you suffer so, fighting with your body like this?” My voice was small and weak. Recently, Fang Hua’s body had gotten weakened, but he drank more than before. Only a short while had left his snow white robes stained with alcohol, his whole body smelling of the scent of flowers mixed with wine. I couldn’t bear to look anymore, and reached out to snatch the jug away from him.
“A bit of wine lifts the spirits,” he scooped up his sleeves and snatched it back.
“…you’re drinking like an ox.”
He wasn’t so much drinking wine as he was pouring it down. I wanted to rage and laugh at the same time, but I couldn’t figure out what to do with him.
“I may be drinking like an ox, but elegant drinking comes from the heart,” his eyebrows knitted in a way that inspired empathy, one hand swaying as it pointed to his head. Those pale fingers used strength to grip onto the front of his shirt jacket as he glanced at him, before he toppled forwards onto the table. His body relaxed, elegant fingers pinching the wine cup as he took a breath to roll on his back. Staring at the roofbeams, he laughed. “I don’t have the heart, so why should I care so much? You only live this life once, so live in a way that makes your heart happy.”
Finished, he looked towards me, all elegant eyebrows and neat hair framing a pair of long and narrow eyes half-closed from tipsiness. The golden sunlight from the window shone on his body and seemed to form its own separate layer, making him as beautiful as a painting.
My gaze turned soft.
This person always did exactly as he wished. From the beginning, I’d never taking his insight or experiences into consideration.
“It’s lonely for one person to drink. Why don’t you have a cup with me?” he managed to prop himself up with difficulty, his clothes still in somewhat order. He assumed a comfortable sprawl on the desk and reached over to grab me. I stilled, before shaking my head. He didn’t hold his liquor well. If I got drunk with him, who’d take care of him afterwards? Fang Hua managed with difficulty as he looked at me, before smiling slightly as he rested his head on his hand. With his robes draped over his form, he turned to the side and hugged to wine jar in his lap and spaced out…
He seemed to be thinking of something, or perhaps he was reminiscing. He was probably remembering his beautiful days at the imperial court, maybe when Han Zichuan spent nights drinking with him…
“Don’t drink anymore,” I caught him by the hand and paused. “Cold wine will hurt the body.”
His thin lips quirked up at the corners, sinking into his skin in a helpless smile, yet so tragic…
After a breath, I raised my robes before settling to sit by his side, quietly watching him as I took the wine jug away from his hands. He struggled slightly before letting me take it away.
“Recently, I’ve been remembering things from the past constantly day and night…I think, I really do regret.”
A simple and honest voice rose mixed with the tones of drunken stupor to float in the air, gentle yet somehow suffocating. My entire body seized up, suddenly sensing a heavy weight by my shoulder. I looked and saw him appearing weary, his head resting on my shoulder. His eyes were closed and his face was deathly pale. The air around us turned equivocal, and my helpless limbs remained in place as I sat stock straight, trying to think of a conversation topic to break this abnormal mood. But the meaning of my words changed as soon as they left my mouth.
“The emperor has a higher alcohol tolerance than you, he wouldn’t get drunk so quickly.”
“Han Zichuan looks like he’d be hard to talk to, but he’s a good person. Just like how the servants say he speaks easily but treats people certain ways with reason, you have to get close to him before he treats you well.”
“Un.” He seemed to tire, exhaustion resting on his eyelids. “Han Zichuan likes women, he likes you.” I fell silent, nerves taut enough to explode. Now the atmosphere was even stranger than before.
I suddenly rose to my feet. “The firewood hasn’t been split yet, I’ll go do that.”
He tugged me by the hand, saying softly, “There’s no need.”
“Ah…clothes. Yesterday night’s robes were still soaking in the water and need to be washed, I’ll take them to the stream.”
“When have I ever let you go wash the clothes?” he raised his head to look at me, slipping his hand through my fingers in a show of tender care.
That’s right. I’ve been in the wrong.
While he was sick and said I was taking care of him, he was still doing these sorts of chores. His medicine…most of it had gotten into my stomach instead. In one moment, I fully experienced the condemnation of my conscience.
“I-I-I-I….it’s time for you to take your medicine, I’ll see if it’s finished boiling yet,” I will so filled to bursting that my neck had started turning red. I couldn’t decide where to put my hands and feet, but he managed to grab my robes as he sprawled on the table, his face red from intoxication. He stood up and gave a sharp tug…and in the next moment, had me pressed to the ground in surprise. A body thick with the fumes of alcohol rested atop me, and the hands he’d pressed above my head hurt from the force used on them.
“The Heavens told me that I’d meet someone who could be by my side my entire life in this reincarnation. I believed in that firmly without any doubt.” He slowly drew closer to me, reaching a hand out to comfort my cheek as he stared. The mole beneath his eye still resembled a red teardrop. “I’ve already confirmed it with my eyes. You clearly love me, but you just don’t realize it.” He wanted to cry, yet persist in speaking. I’m not blaming you. I really don’t.
At this moment, he held me tight in his arms, his hot breath brushing past my neck. My heart was on the verge of stopping, so alarmed and confused did I feel. Still, my eyes softened as he whispered a person’s name in my ear. Three quiet characters, like a ladle of cold water pouring down until my hands and feet turned cold.
“You’ve mistaken me for someone else,” I forcefully pushed him aside. He propped a hand on the ground and turned away to muffled his coughing in his sleeves. It seemed to put him in agony, but he only smiled helplessly.
“…Lord Hua, are you all right?” I couldn’t help but press nearer for a better look.
And yet he suddenly grabbed my hand again, pulling me towards him. He was so drunk he couldn’t even tell people apart anymore. His head rested on my shoulders, black hair pooling down past my neck as his warm body held me tight. Word by word, he spoke.
“Don’t leave me.”
Between our positions I could hear the sound of a heart pounding, but I couldn’t tell if it was his or mine.. The sweet-smelling fragrance of alcohol filled both our nostrils. My heart wasn’t happy at all, but slowly returned to its calm state. As soon as he drank, he’d start rambling nonsense. Last time he got drunk he even chased after the parrot, calling it Shao’er and saying it was time to bathe him. But this time I had clearly heard the name he’d spoken…
Fang Hua had already closed his eyes and fallen asleep on my knee. He clutched my hands to his chest, those snow white robes showing a hint of the blue robes within. His drooping eyes caught the warm light and used it to block his expressions.
Did he think I was ‘that’ person?
This fool really felt deeply, but it was so hard to hate him for it.
Outside the window, the wind blew through the bamboo, stirring up the mourning calls of swallows. It sounded as if someone was crying…
I stole a peek at his knitted eyebrows, that exceptional desolation on his sleeping features, my heart heaving up and down. I was filled with a guilty conscience. This person deserved someone to love him as well. Within his remaining days, I’d do everything to treat him better.
 grandaunt (姑奶奶) － gunainai, apparently used by a woman when she’s quarreling. A way of referring to oneself as an elder, or superior, to the other party.
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