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The sun shone in the courtyard, scattering dappled shadows across the ground. Beneath the Wutong Tree was Fang Hua dressed in white robes, sitting across First with a game of weiqi spread out between them. He raised a finger and silently set down a black game piece.
First rose to his feet, grasping his flute in a refined and urbane manner.
“Lord Fang’s skill in weiqi is exquisite, as expected of the master to the Carefree Idler.”
Fang Hua only looked at him with a hint of a smile.
“If you two are going to play, just play. Don’t change the topic to me,” I said in mock-anger as I walked over. Unfortunately, the rest of the princes were sweeping the room as I went past, and a blast of wind blew the dust into my face.
I rubbed my nose as they laughed and closed the doors. Fang Hua was smiling too, but he looked weary as well, and the sight made my heart ache. I quietly went over to kneel by his side, holding his hand as I spoke. “I found someone to fell some bamboo and make a chair for you, want to try it?”
“Master…” First looked at me directly before continuing, “There’s still some things to sort out at the store, so I’ll be off.”
Though he said this, he made no move to leave. I nodded, but didn’t pay him any attention as I led Fang Hua from the tree to the chair. First looked at me again before taking his leave, his form a bit cold and dismal.
“Look at you. Since your body’s not well you should stay in the sun, not the shade, or else your knees will get sore,” I said.
“Yes. I’ll listen to what you say.”
I happily carried over some sun-soaked bedcovers, burying my face in them as I spread them across his lower body. Although I’d set some tea aside as well, I found myself falling to the ground to lean by his side with a goofy smile when I finished.
“That First really does resemble me in my youth,” his hand rested on his forehead as he sighed, tiredly looking in the direction he had gone.
“Look at what you’re saying. Yifu is still as young as the first time Shao’er met you. Thinking back to that time at the temple…” I looked at him, preparing to say more, but suddenly stopped.
He seemed to tire more these days, and just one game of weiqi had put him to sleep in the chair. A part of my heart softened as I quietly watched, tucking him beneath the covers. With his eyes closed and his face bathed in sunlight, he looked less human and more like a visiting Immortal.
It was so beautiful I couldn’t tear my eyes away.
His hand grasped mine silently. When I raised my head to look at him, he didn’t open his eyes, but his lips crept up into a smile. Surprised, I shifted my gaze to his sleeves, made with the finest cloud-pattern brocade and embroidered with peonies. I held his hand and stroked it lightly, lifting aside the sleeve to see. As expected, he hadn’t bound his wounds well, and last night’s rain must have worsened the infection. I took out a small porcelain bottle from my robes and shook out a bit of medicinal powder, before spreading it on his injuries beneath a gauze wrapping. He gave me a warm look as I worked.
“Why are you so foolish?” I asked. His cuts were so deep that it hurt to see them.
Fang Hua changed the topic instead, lightly grasping my hands. “Do you still have the hairpin from before?”
I made an affirmative noise before tugging it out of my robes to place into his hands. “After I lost my memory, this was left in the imperial palace, but the princes brought it back for me.”
“That’s good. Keep it well. Yifu is very poor, so I have nothing else to give you,” he patted me lightly, replacing the hairpin in my palm and forcing me to accept. “I’ve watched you grow up since you were young. I can’t live much longer, nor do I know if my flesh can truly heal you. They say a Fang Hua Beast is hard to find, so I thought there’d be no harm if you drank that medicine.”
I looked at him. His hand caressed my face, trembling slightly as the fingers brushed past my eyebrows.
“Yifu doesn’t have much abilities in this life. I even promised to roam the jianghu with you in the past, but I don’t think that’s possible anymore.”
I hastily grabbed his hands, forcing myself to smile. “What kind of nonsense are you saying? You’re still so young, you have plenty of years left.”
I won’t let you die, either.
His one smile cleared up all the worries in his brow.
“I’m old. There’s no telling if I’ll wake up tomorrow once I close my eyes. For you to spend my remaining days with me is very good…”
I couldn’t bear it when I heard him talk like that. My eyes started to water, and my heart felt pained. He was such a cold person, so it must have been difficult to say these kinds of words. The teardrop-shaped mole by the corner of his eye was so dark now, and his body was so weak. He must have been affected by sentiment, but how could I save him?
“Yifu, when you left the imperial palace back then, why didn’t you look for me?”
“I did.” He held a small smile as he spoke to me over the warm fragrance of tea. “I saw that you were living very well with those princes, so you probably didn’t want to go back to this lonely house.”
My smile was bitter. Did those days of taking medicine to forget my worries really count as happy memories? If I hadn’t believed the palace rumors about Fang Hua and the emperor, I wouldn’t have suffered in my life, either.
Fang Hua, you should know…
I always hoped that there’d be a day when I could stay with you. No matter how tiring or hard our lives might be, I’d still think it was the happiest life in the world.
Just like now.
I rose to my feet, lifting my face to squint at the warm sunshine, looking at the person sitting quietly in the chair, moving behind him to wrap my arms around his neck and bury my face nearby.
“Yifu, how about I tell you about some things that happened in the jianghu?”
His hand found mine as he smiled.
“There was a rumor in the jianghu about a youth who had a secret treasure map on his back. Whoever owned the map would own everything under Heaven.”
“Is that so.”
“That’s not the only fun thing. There’s also…” I played with his hair, combing through it like I used to in the old days as I rambled. He kept a light smile and listened quietly, very much focused on my words. He’d always said the jianghu was a good place, and wanted to wander it with me from the beginning… I watched his warm expression and felt my heart tie itself into knots.
Fang Hua, did you know?
I want you to hear about the most interesting things I went through these years.
I held the comb in my hand as I paused in brushing, staring blankly at his silent, bland expression. It felt like I was choking back sobs. The black hair cascaded like a waterfall to cover up the lines by his eyes, but there were silver strands lingering by his temples. My shaking hand rose to touch them as my eyes turned red. He was still young, so why was he showing signs of aging already?
“What is it?” his voice was very soft.
I hastily smiled, saying leisurely, “I just remembered something.”
He said nothing more. I continued to comb his hair, making sure my movements were gentle enough not to hurt him.
“You don’t have to worry about pulling them out,” he suddenly spoke. “I’ve already reached the point of no return with my sickness… Old age is inevitable, so a few white hairs here and there aren’t worth the effort to cover them up.”
Fang Hua Beasts are animals who possess pure feelings. If they are injured by sentiment, their every ten days will be equivalent to a cycle of one year in human terms…
How many ten day cycles had he finished by now…? My eyes softened as I knelt down to look at him.
“Tell me what I can do to save you.”
He only shook his head with a silent smile. My heart throbbed in pain.
One after another, the voices called from the kitchen like a Daoist master calling back the spirits of the dead. I heeded them as I stood up, giving Fang Hua one last glance. He’d already closed his eyes again, so I checked his covers before entering the kitchen. Closing the door behind me, I saw Sixth crouched on the ground, tending to the stove fire. Second was brewing something in a pot that smelled particularly fragrant…
“What did you call me in for?” I asked him directly.
“Where are the edible birds’ nests?” Second asked with wide eyes.
“There’s nothing that expensive here.”
He adopted an expression of pity as he looked around. “I wanted to make something for Lord Hua to help bolster his health.”
I smiled. “He doesn’t eat things like that.”
Seeing Second’s frustration, I patted his head. “That’s right, why don’t you make a geng soup from lotus flowers? Maybe he’ll like to eat that.”
“To tell you the truth…I want to eat some too,” I gave him a clever smile and winked.
His eyes immediately brightened, and he excitedly rolled up his sleeves to get busy. “Hey, tell me these things earlier! I’ll make some now.”
My smile faded a bit as I looked out the window where Fang Hua was dozing outside. The silk cloth had said that after a Fang Hua Beast turned ten months old, washing it daily in true love’s blood would preserve its soul. Fang Hua’s body was so weak that it was unlikely he’d live much longer. I’d never forgive the person who made him suffer like this…but I wasn’t sure if my blood was of any help to him…
It didn’t take long for Second to carry over a big pot of lotus flower geng to the table. A single whiff was enough to conjure up various flowery scents, and the scarlet lotus petals floating in the soup had even dyed it red. My heart shifted as I was seized by a slight wave of anxiety.
“Little Sixth, ladle out a bowl for Master, I’ll be right back.” Sixth said, spooning out a bowl to take to Fang Hua. I stopped him before he could go.
“What is it?”
“…give it to him later.”
I took out the hairpin from my head, pulled up my sleeve, and made a sudden gash on my arm. Second gave out a cry of alarm. Sixth immediately ran over to stop the bleeding, but I ducked away from them.
“It’s fine, there’s nothing to worry about.”
The two of them stared at me with strange looks, yet I was wearing a particularly delighted smile. The wound wasn’t very deep, and the blood flowed down past my wrist to drip into the soup. When I thought it was about right, I withdrew my hand and grabbed a spoon to mix it in until it blended.
“Are you seriously going to feed this stuff to your yifu?”
“Is there anything wrong with that?”
“I’ve never read any medical texts about healing illnesses with blood and lotus flowers.”
“I’m just trying something out.”
Second peered out the window to see the sleeping Fang Hua, then back at me. He didn’t say anything, but his face was full of doubts. I laughed a bit, glancing affectionately at the frowning Sixth binding my injuries, and touched him. “The soup in the pot is still clean, my blood hasn’t touched that. If you all want to try some then take it from there.” He nodded.
Second only raised his eyebrows, still lost in thought. I had to say…Second was a good kid, but he always had a penchant to research medicine. How would he know that Fang Hua wasn’t a normal human? This wasn’t an ordinary illness, so perhaps only his beloved’s blood could cure him. As to whether or not that person was me…I didn’t know.
But no matter what, I was bound to try something.
I carefully carried the bowl out the door and into the courtyard. Fang Hua seemed to have heard the noise, and looked at me sleepily through half-opened eyes.
“Those fellows in the kitchen made some lotus flower geng for you. Come…try some while it’s still hot.”
I half encouraged, half urged him, a fake smile on my face. While he was still half-awake, I ladled up a spoonful and fed it towards his mouth. But as soon as the spoon touched his lips, he stopped moving.
“Drink it,” I continued to entice him.
He didn’t reply.
“Is it too hot?” I felt a little guilty, and blew on the soup a few times before trying again.
He slowly peered at me. “What did you put in this bowl?”
His gaze made it impossible for me to look away. Usually, Fang Hua was the type of person who looked like he didn’t understand anything. But at crucial moments like these, he’d suddenly turn alert. My palms began to sweat as I gave him a careful peek.
“What a good lotus flower geng,” he said faintly, repeating my words. Soft as his tone was, his words were somehow ruthless, as if coming from a long distance away.
My heart grew frightened, and I felt a sudden pain in my wrist. He’d gripped me there and used it to shove me aside. Something shattered, and the contents of the bowl spilled onto the dirt. His face was drawn in agitation, his entire body shaking as his hands gripped the chair between uncontrollable coughs.
I fell into a senseless stupor.
“Master, what happened?”
The princes gathered around us and held me in their arms. Under the gazes of everyone, Fang Hua only looked at me with a strange expression. His eyes were very cold as he spoke the very words I dreaded to hear.
What do you think you’re doing? Did you think your blood could save me?
….you know I hate being touched by other people. I hate other people’s blood even more. If you keep doing things like this without my permission, then you better screw off, the farther away the better.
Fang Hua knew how to scold people now. He even said to ‘screw off.’
I couldn’t describe the feeling in my heart right now.
Faltering, I climbed to my feet, my entire body filled with pain. I did walk away from him–far, far away, where I looked at him blankly. It seemed as if there was something unendurable in his gaze, and by the way his lips drew up into an icy smile.
Still, my heart ached for him more than it hated…
My expression turned gloomy as I endured it. It seemed that he’d used up all his energy being angry. Now he was bending over, body wracked with coughing. It hurt my heart to look at him, and I stepped forward to try and help.
But he only waved me aside. There was no expression on his face.
“Shao’er, why do you even bother?”
“I…just really want to do these things for yifu.”
“What do we even hold between us in our hearts?” His hand clutched at his chest, those slender white fingers trembling slightly. “You should know, I…there’s no place in my heart for you.”
“…but I love you, yifu,” my throat felt like it was blocked up, and yet these words came out anyways.
He gave me a mocking smile. It seemed to use up the last of his strength, because he collapsed back onto his chair, a strange moodiness in his eyes. He gave a gentle exhale before speaking in a low voice.
“Don’t do these meaningless things anymore. There’s no use for your blood here.”
In that moment, it was as if my intestines had frozen up and tied themselves in knots. Fang Hua turned away from me and closed his eyes.
When you fell into my lap after getting drunk, every word and every sentence was about that person’s name. Do you think I didn’t know?
Fang Hua, no matter how you treat me…I can’t stop the feelings of my heart.
As it was in the past…as it will be, for the future.
 edible birds’ nests (燕窝) – yanwo, in both Chinese cooking and medicine, certain types of birds’ nests could be eaten (typically in soups). These nests were made from the spittle of the birds who made them and were considered highly nutritious and tasty. You can still order them in certain restaurants today as a specialty dish, but they are very expensive (think shark fin soup!). Read more about the delicacy here.
 geng (羹) – a type of thick soup with a starch thickening agent to make the liquid translucent and smooth.
 silk cloth – For the full text of this cloth mentioned in recent chapters, refer to the italicized text in Chapter 7: Fang Hua Beast.
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