Gu Fang Bu Zi Shang Vol02 Ch35
The two were secretly upset.
Moran said, “Although He Xia promised not to move until the sixth, we must not underestimate him. I’d better do a few more adjustments to the defence arrangement of this residence.”
Zuiju nodded and watched Moran turn to leave. She thought of something and said a soft, “Ah,” but stopped herself from calling Moran, letting him leave.
Returning to the room, she saw Hongqian was sitting on a chair taking a nap. Her thoughts were the most shallow and had been recently subjected to much shock. Seeing that Pingting and Moran had safely returned, she realised that the danger had passed and finally slept. Hearing the sound of the door curtain, she slowly opened her eyes and realized Zuiju had returned. She placed a fingertip to her mouth.
“Hush…”She pointed at the inner room, closed her eyes, placed both her hands to one side and tilted her head, imitating a sleeping pose.
Zuiju gave her a look of understanding and quietly crept into the room, quietly probing.
Pingting was lying on the bed, her long hair scattered around. One clump was softly falling from the bed. Her eyes were closed and she seemed to be sleeping.
A thick blanket covered her, but the window was still opened, allowing cold wind to flow inside.
Zuiju whispered, “Such a bad habit ought to be corrected.” She quietly tiptoed towards the bedside, carefully reaching out. She had yet to touch the window when she heard a soft voice coming down from below.
“Don’t close it. The blowing wind refreshes my mind.”
Zuiju lowered her head to look and saw that Pingting had already opened her eyes. How could they be considered sleepy when possessing such brightness?
“It’s better to close it as it won’t be funny if you get a cold.” Zuiju stubbornly closed the window and turned to sit down by the bed. She reached out into the blankets, rummaging for PIngting’s slender wrists which she pressed two fingers against to check her pulse. She calmly listened for a while before lightly laughing, “All good.”
She returned the hand to its original place before lowering her voice. “I’ve already heard from Moran. I don’t know what to say, really.”
Pingting revealed a gentle smile and asked a question in return, “Don’t tell me you’re worried that the Duke won’t be back too?”
Zuiju looked at Pingting in the eye.
She accompanied her teacher when saving lives and was familiar with nobles and officials. She was more or less a friend of all of the ladies of the big families in Dong Lin, perhaps even the concubines of the Royal Residence, yet she had never met someone like Bai Pingting.
Intelligence, joy, and aloofness were soaked into her bones. How could the House of Jing-An produce such a casually elegant He Xia of swords and song whilw looking after a person like Bai Pingting?
Pingting saw that Zuiju was silent and gently returned her stare.
The two pairs of bright eyes looked at each other silently, as if trying to measure the other’s intentions.
Hongqian happened to come in and saw two people staring stupidly at one another. In a surprised voice, she said, “So Miss Bai wasn’t sleeping? I restricted my movements to very small ones so that I wouldn’t wake you. What on earth could you possibly be staring at each other for? A flower can’t be formed from it.”
Zuiju shifted her gaze and turned to look at Hongqian. She half laughed, half scowled, “You’re so noisy, interrupting people when they’re thinking deeply about things.”
Pingting also looked at her, asking, “Why’d you come in?”
“Look at the time,” Hongqian pointed outside. “Seeing that Miss was asleep, I didn’t dare ask before, but aren’t you two hungry?”
Zuiju raised her head to look outside. “True, no wonder I felt hungry. Thanks to all of the suspense today, I completely forgot about eating.”
“The food has been made already, so I’ll bring it over.” Hongqian headed outside.
Although the kitchen’s matron had been shocked all day, her workmanship was still excellent.
Several layers of the food package were brought over. As usual, there were two meat dishes, two vegetable dishes and a few side dishes.
Pingting’s appetite had never been too good. Since she wasn’t in the mood today, she had even less of an appetite than usual. She picked small bits and dropped them with her chopsticks.
Zuiju saw her put down her chopsticks and hurriedly said, “At least drink a bowl of soup and finish a bowl of rice.”
She quickly put in a few slices of meat in Pingting’s bowl, giving her a look.
Pingting had no appetite at all, but seeing Zuiju’s evil look, she touched her lower abdomen before forcing the meal in her bowl down in silence.
Only then did Zuiju smile, satisfied.
After dinner, Zuiju and Hongqian quickly and methodically packed up the food container by loading the plates into it.
Zuiju then said, “Let me go.” She left Hongqian to accompany Pingting and carried the heavy food container across the courtyard when she happened the see the kitchen’s matron coming towards her.
“Miss Zuiju, it is cold. You don’t need to personally return it; I can do it myself.” The matron stopped when she saw Zuiju.
Zuiju handed the food package to her, and took something out from her sleeve.”Nevermind this, I still have to give you the menu for tomorrow. Cook with this prescription and add other ingredients for flavour. Use the best ingredients and don’t forget to use the right amount.”
All of the people in the Zhen-Bei Ducal Residence obeyed her words. The matron looked at the recipe under the moonlight and said, “Such clear instructions. Good work, Miss Zuiju. You’re meticulous enough to even cover diet. No wonder Miss Bai’s face seems to be much healthier than before. However…” The matron’s tone shifted, her expression becoming serious, “The acutiloba on this recipe has been used by Miss Bai a few days ago, so the kitchen has currently run out. The kitchen never had peony petals to begin with, but there’s some aged aster.”
Zuiju replied, “This mustn’t be delayed. Even if I explained, you wouldn’t understand. Just quickly collect or buy some according to my prescription.”
“Geez, Miss must be confused. Who could possibly leave the residence right now? The security of the entrance is even tighter than the capital’s entrance.”
Only then did Zuiju remember that soldiers surrounded them. She slapped her hand against her forehead, “Indeed I must be confused. Speaking of that, does the kitchen have enough resources to last until the sixth?”
“The stocked rice is enough to last a year. It’s unlikely that anyone would die of starvation, but there aren’t enough vegetables. Even though there is a small vegetable garden at the back and poultry, Miss has to think about how many people there are in this residence. Forget the women, they don’t eat much at all, but how could those well-built guards stay away from having a huge bowl of meat and rice? I reckon the meat and vegetables will only last a day.”
The matron looked around them and went closer, lowering her voice, “The pork is sent here every three days and we have already finished all of it in these last two days, so there will be no more pork starting tomorrow. We haven’t any fresh fish either, so chicken and duck will have to do. General Chu said this wasn’t anything of importance and ordered not to inform Miss Bai. I’m telling you this, but please don’t tell her.”
Zuiju nodded. “I’ll come with you to the kitchen, to see what else is left. I’ll see and write another prescription from them. Matron, make sure everyone follows them. No matter how many soldiers are circling outside, I only care that the best possible food is delivered to Miss Bai.”
“Of course. As long as the kitchen has those things in stock, then each will be delivered without error, exact to your prescription.”
The two people slowly walked in the snow. The moon came out of the clouds, but it was not as bright as the previous days. Its yellow light was slightly hazy. Their feet plodded through the somewhat thinner layer of snow. The snow creaked and crunched as they crushed it into pieces under their footsteps.
As they arrived at the kitchen, they sighted a sudden movement.
Zuiju gave a frightened cry as they saw a glowing red light at the gates to the residence. It seemed to be the combination of several flames from fiery torches.
The sound of the heavy door swinging open in the distance was heard. Although it was soft, it brought a dangerous atmosphere.
The matron looked at the flame in the sky, her lips quivering. “Oh God, don’t tell me the attackers are inside?”
Zuiju remained silent and plucked up her courage to leave the kitchen building. She took a side pathway to reach the entrance of the residence. She carefully went towards it, hiding behind the walls. Zuiju saw the person holding the flame outside the entrance. At this time of night, she gussed the person had to be one of He Xia’s men.
Not long later, the door slowly closed, shutting out the flame from the outside, only leaving a dimmer light within the residence.
Zuiju saw Moran with two other guards push a heavily guarded cart, passing the wall she was standing at.
“Who’s there?” Moran suddenly said. The swords of the other two guards were immediately unsheathed.
Moran sighed in relief and was a little reprimanding. “Why are you not accompanying Miss Bai at such a time? Isn’t there enough chaos out here already?”
The two guards made sure it was Zuiju before sheathing their weapons.
“I was planning to go to the kitchen, but came here when I heard movement. What were those people doing?”
“Fresh meat, fresh fish and various differently coloured fruits. I’ve already checked that the cart is not hiding people or weapons.” Moran laughed bitterly and pointed at the cart packed full of things. “You came at the right time. After getting these to the kitchen, use your needle to test if anything’s strange.”
Zuiju looked at the full cart and couldn’t help sigh. “Knowing He Xia, there is no way he’d use such a tactic, but I will examine them properly.”
The two guards helped Zuiju to wheel the cart to the kitchen and unloaded everything. In addition to the pork, beef, fresh fish and vegetables, there were a number of other rare things.
There were a few jars of authentic Gui Le dishes, seasoned dried rare fish, Bei Mo’s delicacies befitting for a queen as well as a plate of both crispy and soft desserts.
The other matrons of the kitchen stood aside while watching Zuiju examine the dishes with a needle. They couldn’t help praising when the saw that each were exquisitely made by the finest, most talented chefs possible. “Just their appearances comply with the saying that Gui Le’s desserts are superb.”
Apart from that, there was also a guilded box wrapped with several layers of silk. It had been placed in the innermost section of the cart. Zuiju unwrapped one layer after the other and realised the contents were not food but various little items women used.
There was a clamshell which contained hand cream of the finest quality, as well as a small
Ay leasy a dozen of small, multicoloured pebbles were placed at the bottom of the box. Zuiju looked at the three objects that were inside, her gaze not moving. She sighed in both praise and envy.
By the time she had examined, everything the sky had already brightened. Zuiju’s back ached with exhaustion. She told the kitchen servants, “These are all fine, eat as much as you like. He Xia really is a good man to even prepare acutiloba that nourishes women. Forget changing the prescription, just use the one from last night.”
“But we still don’t have peony petals.”
“Oh well, just don’t add it. It doesn’t really matter about the peony petals. The acutiloba is the most important.”Zuiju replied, tiredly massaging her shoulders. She then headed for the small building with the gilded box.
Hongqian was already up and was stretching out on the snow. Seeing Zuiju, she asked, “I didn’t see you yesterday evening at all. Before Miss went to sleep, she asked me to go ask what was holding you up at the kitchen.”
“Where is she?”
“Still sleeping.” Hongqian beckoned towards the door with a lift of her chin. “I slept in the same room as her last night. She kept on tossing and turning, unable to sleep. Ah, I heard the guards saying that we’re still surrounded by soldiers? Hadn’t they retreated already when Miss Bai and General Chu returned yesterday? And what’s this about a promise on the sixth? What are we to do if the Duke does not return by the sixth?”
Zuiju lowered her voice, “Even if you wanted to control it, you can’t, so it’s better not to ask.”
Hongqiang had thought that the guard she always joked with her was just trying to scare her. With that, her face paled, understanding the current danger.
Zuiju knew that the current situation was even worse than what Hongqian was thinking but refused to say any more. She patted her on the shoulder and strode up the steps, entering Pingting’s room.
Pingting had awoken long ago and had kicked the blankets to one side. A lilac coat hung from her shoulders as she lazily knelt on the bed. She tilted her head to one side, her hand stroking down her hair. When seeing Zuiju enter with the gilded box, she looked at it, asking, “What’s that?”
Zuiju knew that she was feeling restless and wanted to tease her. She placed the gilded box at the head of the bed, mischeviously smiling, “Guess. If you get it right, then you have my admiration.”
Pingting looked at the box, her light gaze moved aside. “Something annoying again…”
She sighed, not bothering with Zuiju and opened it herself.
She lightly glanced at the three objects in the gilded box and picked up the comb. She stared at it and beyond. She slowly dragged out, “I used to use this a lot at the Jing-An Ducal Residence back then.”
She placed the comb down and didn’t touch the other two objects. She grabbed a handful of the pebbles and carefully counted them before putting them back in. Pingting laughed bitterly, “I used fifteen years of friendship to bargain with him and he uses fifteen years of friendship to trap me.” She slammed the box shut and slipped off the bed.
After washing with hot water, Zuiju approached her to comb her hair. Zuiju held onto the silky black strands and twisted them into a peony bun. She saw that the reflected face was drained of both happiness and worry. She had no clue what she was thinking, just like a thin layer of fog developing on the mirror surface.
“Miss! Why aren’t you saying anything?”
Pingting was silent for a long time before saying, “I am very tired.”
Zuiju replied, “Since you’re so tired, you should sleep since nothing is happening anyway. I’ll get the kitchen to make some red bean porridge and boil it. That way, it can immediately be served when you wake up.”
Pingting shook her head.
When Zuiju had just put down the comb. Pingting looked into the bronze mirror and stood up, lifting the curtain to go outside. Zuiju hurriedly followed her outside. Pingting entered the side room and took out the pot of plum blossom petals out.
“Let me carry it.”
Pingting turned sideways so Zuiju would take it with her hands but then shook her head. She carried the pot down the steps and walked towards the corner where Hongqian had swept the snow away the day before. Although there wasn’t much snow, a night had passed with a thin layer of frost.
Pingting placed the pot down, picked up a broom and swept the floor before grabbing a shovel.
Zuiju didn’t say a word. She actually felt a little afraid. She stood helpless at one side, saying, “Be careful not to strain your back.”
Pingting didn’t hurry. She used the shovel to dig little by little. The uppermost layers of soil were the hardest but after that, it was gradually softer and much easier to dig through.
Several moments later, a small hole began to form. Fine beads of sweat formed on Pingting’s forehead. Her cheeks were several shades redder than before.
She still did not hurry. Pingting placed the shovel down, quietly resting for a while to allow her breath to calm. She then picked up the pot beside her and placed it neatly into the hole. She adjusted left and right until she was satisfied., Pingting did not think it was dirty as she reburied the pot using her own two hands.
After this final use of effort, Pingting breathed out deeply and raised head, smiling at Zuiju who was still standing one side. “All that’s left is the cooking fire on top.”
Her black eyes brightened, a smile in her eyes lifting like a wave with a gentle splash.
Zuiju did not quite understand why her heart seemed to stop for a while. A sour taste stayed in her nose as if preparing to cry. She hurriedly wiped her eyes and pasted on a cheerful face, “Sure, I’ll bring the firewood.”
She got the firewood from the kitchen. The task was exchanged with Hongqian, who then brought them to the new burial site. She lit the pile. Not long later, the dry firewood began to crackle. Its fiery red glow flickered in the snow. It coloured the three people’s cheeks, nice and warm.
Pingting sweated a lot, but she seemed to be a lot better. She gazed at the flames, suddenly saying, “Never just stand around a fireplace. Ask the kitchen for some meat and salt. Let’s eat some roasted meat.”
Although Hongqian was worried about the surrounding troops, she understood the concept that pleasure can also exist in pain. She replied, “I’ll get it.”
She soon returned, crunching the snow with her footsteps while carrying a heavy basket in her hands.
“Pork loin, chicken wings, cleaned duck legs and two fishes with removed intestines and head. I don’t know what Miss would like to roast, so I just got the kitchen matrons to prepare these.” Hongqian settled the basket down, spreaded out a blue blanket in the snow and took out the items one by one. “I’ve also got the salt and allspice. The matrons said that eating roast alone was too dry and will bring some premade soup shortly.”
Pingting clapped her hands, “Well done Hongqian, very thoughtful. If I were a general, I’d appoint you as at least a back up advisor no matter what.”
She sat on the stone bench with an additional thick shawl on her shoulders. Zuiju was afraid that she was cold and had gone back to the room to retrieve it.
Hongqian saw Pingting’s smile. Her heart was much more relaxed. She laughed, “That’s not it. The matrons said not to hold the meat while roasting but use something to skewer them instead, so I have a few thin iron bars here.”
She lowered her head and took out a few thin iron bars from the basket. It had been properly washed while the accompanying guaze was new.
With all preparations complete, the three people sat around the fire ready to enjoy this winter barbeque.
They picked up a thin bar and threaded slices of meat or fish onto it before placing on top of the fire. The red flame softly roasted. The results were both fresh and interesting. The more they did it, the more fun and interesting it seemed.
“My father has a hunter’s stove. When I used to accompany him to hunt, I played with it a few times.” Hongqian appeared to have a lot of experience as she rotated the bar in her hand. She sighed, “After getting into the Zhen-Bei Ducal Residence, such times were no more.”
“How’d you enter the Ducal Residence? The Duke bought you?”
Hongqian hurriedly shook her head. “The Zhen-Bei Ducal Residence has no need to buy people. People would do anything to be admitted. There’s enough food and drinks to go around here, less beating and the Master is our Duke. When my father does hunt something, I’d be half full, but when he doesn’t, I’d be without a meal. It’s a harsh life, but thankfully I was lucky enough to squeeze in here. Occasionally I’d take a few things to my father.”
This was the first time Zuiju had ever heard such a thing from Hongqian. She didn’t hesitate to ask, “Don’t you miss your father after coming to such a remote place?”
“How could I know? My father was sadly not blessed. He died just three years after my entry in the Ducal Residence. The Duke noted family relationships when he left the capital. He knew I had nowhere to go, so he took me along.”
Zuiju then understood why the number of young maids in the residence was very little, yet there were a great number of the older matrons. All of them were old and had no place to return to.
She was roasting duck leg. The meat was thick, so she had to wait patiently until it was fully cooked. Her gaze rested on Pingting, and she gasped, “This fiery red is harsh to the eyes. Roasted food will raise your temperature. This isn’t good to your body at all.”
The fish in Pingting’s hands happened to be cooked. Despite her first time making it personally and her thoughts in the distance, it was still roasted to a golden crisp. Hearing Zuiju’s words, she carefully slid the fish off the bar and put it on the plate. She handed it to them, “Since it’s like that, I won’t have any then. You two may have it.”
Hongqian stared enviously at the fish. She cheered loudly and handed her own wire to Zuiju, “Hold this for me.”
She then took the dish filled with tasty roasted fish.
Zuiju saw that she was thinking the best for her unborn child and smiled admiringly at her. She offered a few words of comfort, “Even though you say you won’t have any, there are still other delicious food. I’ve asked the matrons to prepare steamed pork trotters with acutiloba and red dates.”
Just as she said this, a matron had already entered the courtyard with a food package. She saw everypne was happily playing about and smiled, “Be careful of your hands. Being poked by the wire of the gauze mat and tip of the bars is very sore. I tried it in the kitchen several times before this.”
She opened the food package on the blue cloth and served a bowl to each of the three people. Pingting was indeed served with steamed pork trotters with acutiloba and red dates.
Pingting held onto the spoon. She watched the two people roast their food while steadily eating the contents in her bowl. She smiled.
The activity continued for nearly and hour. Both the food had been depleted, and the firewood was in its final flickers. The three stood up and threw water to extinguish the file.
“Should we remove the pot?” Hongqian asked.
“No need. It’s better for it to soak up the taste of mud, so wait until the Duke returns before collecting.”
Like that, the first half of the day passed. The following half was much slower. Zuiju and Hongqian gossiped in a room, while Pingting went to take a nap. She slept for almost three hours. By the time she had woken, it was already dark.
She hazily got up and pushed the window open. The evening wind was not strong, but the cloud layer was much too thick. She couldn’t see the moon at all.
“Zuiju? Zuiju?” She anxiously called.
Zuiju walked inside, asking, “You’re awake?”
“What time is it? Has the moon passed a half? Is it already the sixth?”
Zuiju paused for a moment. She slowly walked over and sat on the bed. “Miss Bai, the sky has not been dark for long. It is still the fifth,” she replied.
Hearing her words, the anxiety from seeing the sky’s colour lifted. She faintly replied, “Oh,” before her body relaxed, and she fell back onto the bed.
Zuiju then asked, “The kitchen brought dinner over but I rarely see you sleeping so soundly so I told Hongqian not to bother you. It’s currently simmering on the stovetop in the side room. Now that you’re awake, you might as well have some.”
Pingting seemed to be thinking about something. At first, she shook her head at Zuiju’s words, but then thought about it and nodded instead. “Bring it over, I’ll have some.”
Hongqian served up the hot meal.
Pingting managed to finish half a bowl before frowning, “I just can’t eat any more.” She placed her chopsticks down.
Zuiju saw Pingting really couldn’t eat any more based from her expression and knew her mind could not be changed. She softened her voice, “That’s fine.”
Hongqian packed away the dishes and went out of the room with Zuiju. She stopped outside the door, asking, “She was all happy-go-lucky this morning. Why has she forgotten over a nap and become like this? It seems that great intelligence is no good. They have very bizarre emotions.”
Zuiju hurriedly silenced her, lowering her voice as she chattered back, “You know what? If you were her, you’d probably have long gone crazy.”
Hongqian poked out her tongue and entered the side room.
Zuiju stood by herself outside the door and looked at the patch of pale snow on the courtyard. A cold gust of wind seemingly stroked her neck. Just how Pingting would put it, it was quite refreshing.
Pingting wasn’t the only one upset. Her heart seemed to be clawed by a cat too.
The worst thing, she knew, was the dangerous path that led to an abyss-like ridge laying before them.
The war between the four countries was intesifying. It used to be the Dong Lin army attacking Gui Le and Bei Mo, but now it was an alliance of Yun Chang and Bei Mo’s army attacking Dong Lin.
Endlessly causing loss of life.
Everyone understood what the danger meant, even the most stupid of the nobles.
Her teacher, Huo Yunan, was born a noble. He knew Dong Lin’s upperclass and thoroughly understood their reactions.
Who could guarantee that their country would not collapse under the enemy country’s power? Who could stand the eventual demise of their home?
A country was a home, but only with a country could one have a home.
Who wasn’t like that?
Zuiju deeply sighed, her chest so stuffy that it was sore. She grinded her teeth and determinedly undid her clock, letting the cold wind flow inside until the lava churning inside be frozen. She shivered three or four times before buttoning up her clothes and took the hot tea from the side room to Pingting who she then helped to sleep.
That night, she slept in the other bed in Pingting’s room.
She suddenly heard a voice in the middle night. Zuiju got up and rubbed her eyes, seeing that Pingting had woken and sitting on the bed.
“Why have you woken again, Miss Bai?” Zuiju got off the bed, and walked until she was beside her. Her voice was soft as she questioned.
Pingting was silently staring at the sky outside the window. Her gazed remained fixed as she answered, “The moon has come out.”
Zuiju followed her gaze and looked up at the sky. The moon had indeed come out of the clouds some time earlier, but it was dim, listlessly bleak.
Studying the position carefully, she realised that it had passed half the sky.
The moon had passed half the sky.
The sixth had come…
Zuiju’s heart sunk, but her words remained warm. “There is still one day and the Duke must be hurrying back.”
Pingting’s voice was like calm waves. “He must be on the horse, very, very tired. His throat must be dry and hoarse, completely covered dust except for his shoulders where snow has accumulated.”
Zuiju could only think that her voice was drifting from the ends of the earth. It was like a leisurely pluck of a qin string that trembled in to beckon the flowers and trees. She lowered her head to look at her expression but could not find any clues.
She then draped the blankets around Pingting, accompanying her by sitting at the head of the bed. The two watched the moon moving. More than an hour had passed before Zuiju softly encouraged, “Go to sleep.”
Pingting obediently lay down onto the bed and closed her eyes. Zuiju sighed in relief and got off the bed to return to her own. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Pingting’s eyes flicker open.
Pingting glanced at Zuiju, laughing ruefully. “Nothing.” She then obediently closed her eyes once more.
That night at the Hua Residence, Chu Beijie had thought she was Lady Hua’s mute maid and had said, “Sleep,” when seeing she was sick.
That person who did whatever he wanted, without the slightest care for the world’s social conventions. He had not known her well, yet he’d carried her by the waist and took her into her room, placing her on the bed before clumsily covering her with blankets.
His stiff “Sleep” was just like a command he gave to his soldiers, yet it was memorable now that she thought about it.
He will come back; he will definitely be back.
Her slender palm clenched into a tight fist under the blankets.
If such deep love could not withstand such a test and simply melt into running water, what was the point of the two swords, Parting Soul and Divine Spirit?
The moon had passed half the sky.
The sixth had arrived.
Chu Beijie was wildly galloping forwards.
The morning north wind whistled in his ear.
In his life, he had galloped so wildly numerous times, letting his horse’s four hooves fly off. He’d indulge himself in the ride with his cloak fluttering in the wind. Even mountains were unable to stop his approaching figure.
Galloping across the plains was a heroic pleasure.
But at this time, he could not feel any pleasure.
The wind blew hard at him. It was painful like sword wounds on his face. Not only did the wind tear at his face, it tore at his heart.
His heart was like a grill on fire which remained suspended in the air.
The secluded residence was a place inaccessible to his eyes.
Yet the faint fragrance of plum blossoms lingered in his heart.
Chu Beijie deeply understood the King’s intention. He knew from the way his Brother did everything he could to lengthen his stay at the capital that an irresistable force must’ve headed towards the secluded residence.
How could Pingting’s white jade hands that played qin possibly return the King of Dong Lin’s challenge of war?
Was his thin figure heading towards the dazzling white of a sword?
The soft body that he couldn’t hug enough of, the handsome little face that he couldn’t look enough of, the clear singing voice he couldn’t hear enough of…
…Why did those wretched men refused to spare her, gently let go of her?
She had secluded herself.
She no longer cared about the affairs of the outside.
She had had enough sorrow and had been hurt over and over again. She just wanted to do things like the old times, and if she could, be a satisfied woman.
As Chu Beijie’s woman.
“Pingting is not greedy, just hopes that Duke will come to see Pingting once before heading out to the battlefield. On Duke’s birthday, Pingting wants to tell Duke something very important.”
This was a very simple wish.
A wish that even normal men could grant.
Yet he was not a normal man. He was Chu Beijie, Dong Lin’s Duke of Zhen-Bei.
Chu Beijie raised his whip and crazily brought it down, his eyes bloodshot. The wind continued to harshly cut his face, not offering any comfort for the immense irritation in his heart.
A dirty mix of snow and mud scattered on the sides of the long road in the middle that extended forwards, seemingly boundless.
The return home seemed longer than ever.
Chu Beijie rode on, his gaze fixed at the horizon.
Was Pingting still safe, beyond the clouds?
A flag appeared in the distance, jumping into his view. There was a group of horses and men moving towards him. Chu Beijie studied the flag which opened in the wind, to read the familar character for “Mu”.
Chu Beijie’s heart skipped a beat. He whipped his horse which was already foaming at its mouth. He surged towards the group, abruptly pulled back his horse, yelling “Why is Chen Mu here?”He had not drunk any water for a long time, so his voice was very hoarse.
Seeing Chu Beijie, he hurriedly gathered his soldiers forward. He dismounted and bowed, “Duke, Chen Mu is here!”
“How dare you leave the Dragon Tiger Barracks you’re in charge of?”
Chen Mu replied, “I received the King’s Order five days ago to transfer to Luo Meng and report to the Duke of Fu-Lang and is now returning to the capital to report to the King.”
“Who is currently managing the Dragon Tiger Barracks?”
“According to the King’s Order, managing rights have been temporarily transferred to General Fen Min representing the Duke of Fu-Lang.”
General Fen Min received orders from the Duke of Fu-Lang. Even if Pingting used the Precious Divine Soul Sword, her identity was not enough to mobilise the Dragon Tiger Barracks.
The King of Dong Lin had taken extreme measures against his own brother.
Chu Beijie’s fury attacked both his heart and mind, his eyes dizzily blurry.
Pingting had no hope for help, apart from him.
Knowing Pingting’s intelligence, she would definitely remember the promise on the sixth and would do everything to delay the enemy until his return.
Wait for me, you have to wait for me!
Chu Beijie’s palms were full of red blisters, but he did not feel any pain. He suddenly seized the reins and sat up straight.
Chen Mu had followed him onto the battlefield for many years. Seeing his expression, he knew that he had already gone at full speed for a long time. He handed him a water sac, “Please have some water, Duke. Is Duke rushing towards a battlefield emergency? No soldier or horse can withstand such a rabid journey.”
Chu Beijie took over the sac and drained it dry in a series of gulps, before looking back at the three thousand soldiers that had galloped with him for two nights and a day.
Since leaving the capital, they had whipped their fast horses several times, moving at full speed. They had not rested at all and were exhausted. The marks of the reins were bloodstains of their hands. A few dozen were completely unable to stand it and had fallen off their horses.
He had led soldiers for several years but never displayed such lack of care to them.
Chu Beijie’s expression fell as he turned back. He asked Chen Mu, “How many men have you got?”
“Not many, just one thousand seven hundred. All of them are my best.”
“Give them to me.” Chu Beijie took the command flag and raised it high in the air, yelling, “I am commanding all of the country’s troops, so all soldiers here, listen! Among the three thousand, those who can’t stand pain and those whose horses can’t last, go with Chen Mu to the capital. Chen Mu’s one thousand and seven hundred men are also now in my command and we shall immediately set off.” He dismounted, and leapt onto Chen Mu’s energetic horse, lowering his voice, “Lend me your horse.”
“Where is the Duke hurrying to?”
“Before the moon passes halfway of the sixth, I must hurry back to my secluded residence.”
Chen Mu was surprised at this. “It is already the sixth and there are just then hours left. How could you possibly hurry back?”
Chu Beijie did not answer. He gathered the reins, tested the horse before bolting away.
Chen Mu didn’t know the specifics of what was happening, but he knew that the situation was an emergency. As he watched Chu Beijie’s back disappear rapidly into the distance, he grinded his teeth and stopped his vice.
“I shall go with the Duke and you lead the tired soldiers back to the capital. Give me your horse.” Chen Mu mounted on it, brought down the whip and chased after the calvary soldiers.
A cloud of yellow dust blew into sky on the unpaved road.
Pingting, my birthday has already arrived.
The residence’s atmosphere was a fog that prevented people from breathing.
The mountains and forests beyond remained covered in white. The moon had already retreated, while the a whisp of sunlight peeped out of the clouds, creating a heavy light that did not seem to lighten the tension.
Snowflakes had begun to drift down again.
Numerous and sparse, small bits of snow circled and helplessly trembled in the snow.
A light qin sound was not diffused by the snowflakes. It went beyond the wall, untouched like a rainbow on a cloudy, outcast day.
Pingting was touching the qin.
Now that the sixth had arrived, perhaps the surrounding soldiers with swords had become closer?
It was the sixth. That back view like a mountain and his hearty laugh full of heroism had been born on this kind of snowy day.
He was blessed by the Gods.
The Gods had given him a well-rounded life. He had a strong, healthy body, a straight nose, black pupils full of vigour and had innate dignity and self-confidence.
The Gods had created a rare entity known as Chu Beijie, so that she couldn’t help herself but be distracted by him and be conquered.
Today was the sixth.
Pingting plucked a string with her thumb.
She had a deep, special bond with the qin. The qin was her voice, and she was its sound.
Only by letting her two hands softly pressing on the thin strings, could she close the troubles of her mind. She closed her eyes, carefreely, and immersed herself in her memories.
She remembered clearly, the vivid memories that surfaced.
The beating heart she had first felt through the curtains remained.
She seemed to have returned to the chase in the narrow valley. Chu Beijie had pressed towards her on his horse, wrapped his arms around her waist, stopped her, and waited for her reply.
His chest had been boiling warm, and his heart was jumping loudly, thundering against her ear.
And then, when he hadn’t left, he’d held the bowl of soup, clumsily feeding her. He’d encouraged her to sleep, accompanied her while she watched the stars and moon.
Rivalry, anger, and gratitude, it was a sweet predicament and a heartbreaking one too.
How could he not love her?
How could he break his promise and forget it?
How could he just cruelly leave her just for his unstoppable flow of heroic blood to protect his country?
Beijie, if Pingting is truly the most important person in your heart, then no matter how big the world is, what could possibly stop your movement?
I have buried a pot of Locked Away Goodies waiting for your return.
Zuiju stood at one side, her hands lowered as she quietly watched Pingting’s back view. That back was very frail and weak, but her posture was straight. It seemed that a steel frame propped up the thin flesh.
The sound of the qin was like a speech, as if reporting every single event that had occurred. Even if it was not a personal experience to others, they could empathise the grief behind it.
Yet in such a cold, chaotic situation, the tone remained clear.
Was the country or feelings more important?
Would one rather protect the universal feeling of love or protect one’s own country?
Not daring to touch the matters in the heart was a fear like a needle posed high in the air which pierced at Zuiju’s organs, causing a deep sorrow.
Humans were not inanimate objects and could not be heartless.
The thin strings had become a strangling weapon, torturing her until she broke into a cold, blood-like sweat.
No longer able to stand the piercingly harsh qin sound, Zuiju stepped forward, trying to restrain her emotions. She whispered, “Miss, you should stop. The lunch has been sent a while ago.”
Pingting pressed her fingers onto the qin, causing the sound to suddenly stop. She lifted her head, her eyes bright as they flickered towards Zuiju.
“No matter what, at least eat a little.” Zuiju avoided her gaze and helped her up.
Hongqian deftly set up the dishes on the table.
Pingting scanned the table and her gaze stopped. She was shocked to realise that all sorts of different Gui Le dishes had been placed on the table, a variety of delicacies and ordinary dishes. She sat down on the table, squeezed to pick up something and then placed it down.
“All of these are Gui Le dishes personally made by He Xia.” Pingting was silent for a long time and opened her mouth once more. “He sure shows great determination.”
Her sense of danger pressed down on her heart, without barrier.
Hongqian could barely breathe in this heavy silence and boldly offered, “Although the residence is surrounded by soldiers, seeing the Marquess of Jing-An’s latest actions, I’d say that he remembers his old friendship with Miss Bai. Even if…” She was suddenly warned by Zuiju with a zip of her mouth and realised what she had said, immediately closing her mouth.
Pingting did not blame her. A bitter smile played on her lips as she said, “And how much heartfelt remembrance of old friendship is worth?”
It seemed that perhaps He Xia could accept anyone as the owner of Bai Pingting, except for one – Chu Beijie.
Chu Beijie, the only person under the skies who could make He Xia feel afraid.
Chu Beijie, also the only person under the skies who could make He Xia feel jealous.
If the world was a battlefield, how could a contest between old enemies be limited to the smoke of the battlefield?
The snowflakes floated around outside the room. Occasionally one would follow the movement of the door curtain and crashed into the warm room, willingly melt into winter tears.
The head of the sun hung directly upwards, causing slight shadows eastwards.
A half of the sixth had already passed.
Just a half. Twelve hours left.