We’ve had drunken kissing, passionate life-and-death kissing, and now we’re getting some angry kissing? I can handle that, so bring it on! Da Mo Yao is quite an active novel, and really a marked departure from the simmering held-in-check intensity of Bu Bu Jing Xin (and also from the snowballing angst that is Yun Zhong Ge). I chalk it up to the characters of Yu Er and Huo Qu Bing and how they almost combust when they are together. Even if Yu Er and Jiu Ye were the OTP, the physical passion just wouldn’t be at this level of pawing, which is not necessarily a prerequisite to a happy marriage, but sure doesn’t hurt. At this point those two are twenty and eighteen years old, adult enough in those times to bear children, but really still young at heart and in their souls. But one thing that is certain is that they are people who see love as an explosive and all-consuming choice, and it’s a choice that once made they are willing to walk any path to reach fruition.
Chapter 26: Angry Kiss
A twenty year old Huo Qu Bing is the shiniest star in Chang An. The vibe around him is as if following him will mean untold riches and an unlimited future, ready to be made a Duke or a General. Huo Qu Bing remains brash and arrogant in the way he behaves, his aura so bright it hurts the eyes. Admiration, dislike, hatred, jealousy, toadies, there remains an entire assortment of feelings about him amongst the people in court. But regardless of whether one is a minister or a royal, there is not a single person who dares to directly oppose Huo Qu Bing’s intensity.
In comparison, Wei Qing becomes even more low key. In his tens of years commanding his forces, he has built up a long standing loyalty with his subordinates stemming from surviving battles together. His grace and valor is remains present, leaving him as sturdy as a mountain that the Emperor still cannot touch.
I hold a bamboo ledger, appearing to read it, but my mind is nowhere near it. That day, when Huo Qu Bing found me crying on Jiu Ye’s shoulder, I thought he would get mad at me. Instead, after we returned home, he just held me in the dark, not saying a single word or making a single movement. He was like a statue. After a long time, he gently placed me on the pallet and laid down next to me. I was afraid of his silence so as I was about to say something, he put his hand on my mouth “I don’t want to hear anything. Just get some sleep.” In his voice I could hear the faint anxiety and fear.
After that, he acted like nothing happened, treating me the same as always. But every night, if he didn’t come to my house, then he had someone pick me up to go to his estate. Because he has to attend court every day, and often the Emperor keeps him around afterwards, he oftentimes comes home drunk. I find myself usually staying at his place.
“Yu Er….” Huo Qu Bing called out. I had no idea when he actually entered the room, and I quickly put down the bamboo ledger “What’s going on?” He sat down next to me “There is a banquet tonight in the Palace, I…..” I asked “Planning to get drunk again?” He looked at me apologetically and I said “You can’t keep getting drunk so that Emperor has no chance to talk to you.” I handed him a summons and he opened it, turning his eyes icy cold “You’ve been summoned into the Palace.”
It’s a cool day, like its been washed clean by water, and the few clouds add a sense of liveliness. The female attendees at this banquet are strolling, their laughter mixed with their fragrance permeates the air. I’m leaning against a tree with my head raised looking at the sky. I suddenly sense someone staring at me. I turn and see a tall handsome man wearing a very rich attire staring me straight in the eyes. His face shows his disbelief and shock. I look at him and smile, and his shock disappears to be replaced with joy and unshed tears.
In a few moments, he’s composed himself again. He subtly walks around a few times, taking one more look at me before walking away.
Li Yan came out of nowhere and smiled at me “Ms. Jin appears to find admirers wherever you go. One Great General of the Han dynasty is devoted to you, and now a new addition to the court Sir Guang Lu appears to be quite taken with you. Jin Ri Chan arrived in Chang An only a short while ago. Because General Huo handled the defection of the Xiong Nu, the rumor is that he’s close friends with General Huo now.”
I felt a shock thinking about how she, of all people, happened to notice what just happened. I smiled and looked at a far away Li Gan “Your highness has been in the Palace for much too long if you’re only noticing romantic possibilities around you. Please don’t project your feelings onto someone else.” Li Yan glanced at Li Gan and with a cold smile “Ms. Jin appears to have lost weight lately?” and I reply “Your highness looks rather wan lately.”
Li Yan wants to marry me to Li Guang Li which means she fears me. More importantly, she wants to use this seemingly minor matter to test the Emperor’s intentions in this potential battle with the Wei family. Too bad for her, the Emperor may adore her, but he still refused to do as she asked. He did not favor the Li family over the Wei family. Instead, he chose to try and control Huo Qu Bing for his own benefit.
Empress Wei walked up to us “What are you talking about? What’s so amusing?”
Li Yan quickly bowed while Empress Wei helped her up “I’ve heard you haven’t been feeling well lately. In the future please spare these courtesies. When you have time, read some medical wellness books, and try not to think too much about taxing matters. If you can let it go, just let it go.”
Li Yan smiled “Whatever big sister says, little sister I will follow your advice. Compared to big sister, I suppose I am too narrow-minded.” Li Yan snuck a peek at me “Little sister I am very pressed with big sister’s vast kindness, to be able to let go of things in the past.”
Empress Wei smiled softly and asked Auntie Yun “Jin Yu is not familiar with the Palace, please take care of her.” She took Li Yan’s hand and they walked away together “A few of the other sisters are curious about a new hairstyle you created, all asking me to get you to teach them.”
Auntie Yun gently smoothed my hair “You and Qu Bing have both lost weight.” I softly called her name, my heart fill with an ache that I can’t express.
Auntie Yun continued “Since following the Empress into the Palace, over the years I’ve seen so much sadness. I’m older now, and my heart is colder. I want to urge you both to take a step back. A man cannot help but have three or four wives. As long as he loves you, that is all that matters. Putting Qu Bing’s personality aside, I can’t believe you’re also so stubborn. The Emperor is not saying you can’t marry Qu Bing. And with a princess as the first wife, as a concubine that does not lessen your status. Any other woman out there would have happily accepted this arrangement. Initially I was wondering why you can’t be more understanding. In such a complicated environment, why can’t you take a step back and must now cause everyone headache. Ay!” Auntie Yun sighed “Hearing Qu Bing talking about you, you seem like such a vibrant person. But seeing you like this today, I suddenly feel like it’s not important anymore. I feel like you two are living the romantic girlish dreams of the youngsters. “To have one person’s heart, to never be apart until the hair is white.” But how many women in this world actually experience this? Even the famed love stories of the past, the man ended up cheating on the woman and finding a new love.”
From the moment Huo Qu Bing entered the Palace, he was surrounded by all the young military officials and placed on a worshiping pedestal. My status is like dirt to his shiniest star so there is no way we could be seated together. When he sees Auntie Yun is by my side, his demeanor seems to relax.
We are separated by the torches and the crowds of revelers. People are talking and dining, the gold and the silver flashing. But all of this seems to disappears from our eyes. In this moment, I feel like we’re intimately close to each other. I feel like everything he’s thinking, I can understand it all. Yet we are physically apart from each other, so far apart that I feel like no matter how I reach my hand out I can never touch his hand.
Liu Che smiled at Huo Qu Bing “Your majesty I have ordered an estate built for you, the best in Chang An. It will start construction soon. And with a new home, all it needs is a lady of the house…..”
I lower my head and play with the wine cup in my hand. This is a long time coming and to be expected, it cannot be avoided. I’ve reminded myself numerous times, but for some reason my hand still shakes uncontrollably. The wine splashes out of the cup and lands on my new skirt. The little drops, the wet scars, it looks like a departing person’s tears.
Perhaps tomorrow will be the day I leave Chang An. Here in the wealth and power of the exalted and the royalty, within this largest and most luxurious city, where people from everywhere mingle, this place is not able to find space for my happiness…..
Perhaps it is like Li Yan once said. I belong to Xi Yu, I belong to the desert. There might not be well-tended peonies in ponds there, but there are never ending blue skies and a sea of verdant grass.
My mind tried to think about all the wonders of the desert, but the blood in my body continues to chill. It becomes so cold that no matter how I try to contain myself, I cannot help but shiver. The wine in my cup, drop by drop, drop by drop, it continues to fall.
All the eyes at the banquet train with envy on Huo Qu Bing, but he looks aloof and with a barely concealed look of pain. Liu Che smiled and looked toward the side of the banquet where all the princesses were sitting, and right as he was about to say something, Huo Qu Bing suddenly stood up and walked to face Liu Che. He kneeled down and bowed his head on the ground and said in a resounding and certain voice “Your servant I thank your majesty for the generous grace. But your servant I have already decided. For every day the Xiong Nu is not eradicated, I shall never have a family. I cannot accept this estate!”
Huo Qu Bing’s words are tantamount to him making an oath that he is never getting married in his entire life. In a split second, the entire banquet falls silent, and the sound of a pin drop could be heard. Everyone looked confused, wondering why the normally brash accepting Huo Qu Bing would decline something as minor as an estate when he’s gotten much more rewards from Liu Che and he’s accepted it all. For someone raised in luxury like Huo Qu Bing, why would starting a family have any relation to eradicating the Xiong Nu?
I raise my head and stare in shock at Huo Qu Bing, my heart quivering with a sliver of happiness, but hurting more from the pain. Slowly that little bit of happiness also turned to sorrow and heartache. The cup in my hand shatters, but my heart hurts so much that I actually don’t feel the pain in my hand. I just feel my palm is hot, and I sense the drops of blood slowly dropping on my skirt. Thank goodness I wore a red outfit today, so it’s not going to be visible in the darkness.
Li Yan looked flabbergasted and shaken, while Empress Wei merely raised an eyebrow and continued smiling. Only Liu Che barely blinked an eyelash, keeping his original cool and smiling at Huo Qu Bing “The old saying is that a man needs to have a family first then a career. You’ve already defeated the Xiong Nu many times, and your name is world reknowned. As for eradicating the Xiong Nu, I merely want to push them out of the desert South region and force them to stay in the desert North. I did not seek to eradicate them, only keeping them from being able to attack the Han territories.”
Huo Qu Bing stared at Liu CHe, his demeanor chilly and somber “Your servant I have already made up my mind on this.”
Liu Che stared at Huo Qu Bing, his eyes as sharp as knives, his imperial aura radiating from the throne. Everyone looking at this scene is already lowering their heads but Huo Qu Bing remains with his head held high staring Liu Che in the eyes. The silence seems to make this face-off even more pressure filled until the air is thick with tension, but suddenly Liu Che starts laughing “Fine! Whatever you want. I will keep the estate for you until you eradicate the Xiong Nu, and then I will bestow it on you then.”
I lightly released my pent up breath. Liu Che backed down on this and Huo Qu Bing claimed a victory. But at what price? My heart hurt and my eyes are heavy with unshed tears. I hold the tears back, I cannot let them use my behavior to see through what Huo Qu Bing just did. I raise my head to look at the sky where there is a lone crescent moon and a few twinkling stars. My tears slowly stop coming, my heart was like a crane lightly flying away. In a second I’m a thousand miles away, flying back to the desert where we once rode side-by-side. That day there were people pursuing us with arrows, but we were free…..
A soft sigh came from Auntie Yun “Qu Bing said it and he did it. If it’s not you, then he’s not marrying anyone.” After the banquet ended, Auntie Yun walked me to the front gates. Huo Qu Bing was already waiting for me beside the carriage. We stare at each other from across the sea of people moving about. My heart churned and my tears bubbled forth. This moment, this second, it was like another lifetime. Auntie Yun said nothing and just quietly departed.
I pack away all my myriad emotions, skipping forward and waving at him. My face has a brilliant smile and I quickly run towards him. I could care less if there are people around us and I leap into his embrace. I wrap my arms around his waist and softly whisper “The Palace food didn’t taste very good so I’m still hungry. Let’s hurry home and have the chef make me something yummy to eat.”
Huo Qu Bing tightly embraced me and smiled. Before his expression was dark and solemn, but in a split second he turned back into the sunshine boy I knew “Let’s go straight home then.”
The ministers around us, some looked away because they didn’t want to cause trouble, but some of the more arrogant ministers stared at us with looks of disgust. Someone whispered loudly “In public? What shameful behavior!” Only Jin Ri Chan remained expressionless, but in his eyes was laughter and warmth. Huo Qu Bing directed his coldest look at the person who said that. The person initially shrank from Huo Qu Bing’s stare, but then puffed up his chest as if taunting him.
I held Huo Qu Bing’s hand and laughingly touched his nose, saying in a loud voice “So where could that crazy dog have come from? Running around randomly biting people. If someone was bitten by a crazy hound, it’s not like we can bite back. I guess we have to let the dog be a dog and do his crazy howling. I guess we can find amusement in that.” I purposely made a gesture like I was listening for something. That person wanted to say something but couldn’t without admitting he was the “dog” that I just referred to. He just bit his tongue and glared at me.
Huo Qu Bing laughed and tapped my forehead. He helped me on the carriage and I lifted the curtain to peek outside. I quickly dropped the curtain and he asked “Jin Ri Chan recognized you?” I nodded “He was very careful and discreet. He looked at me and then walked away.” Huo Qu Bing pulled me down to rest on his shoulder “Seeing how he cares about you, I ought to take him out to drink.”
He suddenly noticed the blood droplets on my skirt and his face changed color. He immediately pulled the hand I was keeping hidden in my sleeve out “You…..what is this…..” His voice was stuck in his throat and he couldn’t finish his sentence.
I smiled, wanting to explain but finding no good explanation. Even if I had an excuse he wouldn’t believe me. So I just stared at him with a smile, indicating he doesn’t have to fret. Huo Qu Bing silently stared at me, his eyes filled with hurt and self-blame. His finger lightly traced my smile and he lowered his head to kiss my palm. His lips traced the wound lightly, over and over again.
Qu Bing, the way you treat me, I do not feel the slightest bit of grievance.
“Yu Er, a lady is here to see you.” Hong Gu looked nervous, causing me to wonder who it was. She explained the person was a Madam Chen. I startled for a moment before realizing who it was. I’ve been staying at Huo Qu Bing’s Estate for the past few days and today is the first day I’m back in Luo Yu House. And immediately Wei Shao Er is here to see me. Looks like she’s been keeping track of my whereabouts, and is looking to keep this from Huo Qu Bing.
I walk to the mirror and look at myself, asking Hong Gu “Please invite Madam Chen inside! It’s not convenient to talk outside.”
Hong Gu didn’t leave but gave me another look “Xiao Yu, I’ve heard about what happened in the Palace. General Huo refusing the estate given to him by the Emperor, and vowing to eradicate the Xiong Nu before starting a family. We were all in awe of his patriotism, but there is no way the Xiong Nu can be easily eradicated. So if the Xiong Nu remains for one day, he’s not willing to marry and have kids? The Great General Wei has three sons already, and he’s had two wives, one of them a Princess. But the Great General Wei still goes on the battlefield to fight the wars.”
I didn’t get to answer her before seeing a stressed middle aged woman walking into the courtyard. She smiled to see me “You must be Jin Yu? Hong Gu didn’t come out for quite some time and I was worried you wouldn’t see me, so I was presumptuous and walked inside.” I hurry over to welcome her and apologize for making her wait. Hong Gu and Xing Yen politely greeted her and then left.
Wei Shao Er looked around my yard and her smile disappeared “I don’t want to beat around the bush. If there is anything I say that makes you uncomfortable, I apologize in advance.” I smile and nod, knowing my place in Chang An as but an orphan with limited connections, so might as well appear to be magnanimous.
“Gong Xun Aou told me that you don’t know your place and is just a hussy. Qu Bing’s bad behavior in the army base, you don’t try to stop him, and instead let him be. I heard this and felt terrible. I wasn’t expecting Qu Bing to marry a well-educated and virtuous woman, but at least she would behave appropriately. Right now the people in court are criticizing Qu Bing, and as a mother it hurts me to know this. I asked the Empress for her thoughts, and she surprisingly took your side. She requested that none of us pressure you. To know my sister likes you is something else, so likely you’re not as bad as Gong Xun Aou described. The way I see it, I just want to talk to you as a mother today.” Wei Shao Er talked and took notice of my demeanor.
I bowed “Madam please continue, Jin Yu is willing to listen.”
Her face showed a sliver of sadness “Qu Bing’s birthright you must have heard already. Since I did it, I’m not afraid of own up to it. I had him out of wedlock, and shortly after he was born, his father married another woman. In the Princess’ Estate, Qu Bing grew up following his uncle around, but he really longed for his own family. So today, you are causing him…..” She bitterly shook her head “They say “The worst unfilial act is to not have a descendant”, and how many twenty year old young men in Chang An doesn’t have a child already? Jin Yu, I’m here today as Qu Bing’s mother. Can you please reconsider. If…..” She stared at me “If you can leave Qu Bing, I would be eternally grateful.”
I stared at the ground in silence for quite some time. If it was someone else, nothing they could say would affect me. But this woman is Qu Bing’s mother. Without her, there would be no Qu Bing. Right now his mother is sitting me pleading with me to leave him. My heart is hurting bit by bit, but outwardly I retain my composure.
Wei Shao Er waited for some time but saw that I remained sitting there with my head down “Jin Yu, I was also young once. It’s not that I don’t understand you kids, but people need to learn to adapt to reality…..”
The door opened with a resounding slam and Huo Qu Bing strode into the courtyard. He took notice of me and Wei Shao Er before bowing to greet his mother “How did mother come to be here today?” Wei Shao Er looked at me with a hint of disgust “I’ve never met Jin Yu before, so I came to see her.” Huo Qu Bing replied “If mother wanted to meet Yu Er, all you need to do is let me know and I would have brought her to meet you.”
Before Wei Shao Er could respond, I quickly jumped in “Madam was just discussing the latest Chang An fashions with me, which you couldn’t possibly be interested in.” Huo Qu Bing looked at me and then at his mom, before nodding “You ladies do have your private chats. I’ve been out too long and must return now.” Huo Qu Bing followed behind Wei Shao Er “I need to escort mother back to her estate first.”
Even though it’s Winter already, the sun remains bright and the light blankets the entire courtyard. But when I see their departing backs, all I feel is a sense of chill. “Yu Er, what’s wrong? Why are you all ashen?” Hong Gu supported me and asked. I shook my head “Did you send someone to let Qu Bing know?” She sighed “Madam Chen suddenly showing up here, and I know whatever she wanted you would just suffer in silence because of General Huo. I’m afraid you’ll be hurt, so I sent someone to get him.”
I force a laugh “Madam Chen is a weak lone woman, what could possibly happen to me? If this happens again, don’t let Qu Bing know, I can handle it.” Wei Shao Er must think I was trying to stall her because I was waiting for Qu Bing to arrive, so now she must dislike me even more. Hong Gu hesitated and then nodded her head. She escorted me into the room and poured me some tea “Yu Er, did you hear? The Shi Enterprises have split up.” I don’t even drink my tea “What?”
Hong Gu explained “In the last few days, the Shi Enterprises have suddenly split. The businesses have been split amongst the four Feng, Yu, Lei, Dian (Wind, Rain, Lightning and Thunder), and there is already discord among them. The prices for precious rocks and herbal medicine have been skyrocketing because people are unsure of whether these guys can run the businesses. Lu Feng has things under control because Shi Tian Cao is helping him. Rumor is the Jiu Ye is ill and doesn’t want to run it anymore. Yu Er, shall we find time to visit Jiu Ye in the next few days?”
My heart was roiling. He said he was going to do it, and he actually did it. He really was planning to set aside his long time family enterprise. Then I realized something was missing “What about Shi Sheng Xing and Shi Jing Yen? What are they doing?” Hong Gu shook her head, she didn’t know, other than Jing Yen left Chang An possibly because he was cheated out of his portion, and Sheng Xing followed him because they are as close as real brothers.”
Both Shi brothers have left Chang An, and are likely never coming back. Where could they go? Hong Gu asked me “Should we sell yet?” I hesitated and then said “Sell it to Zhang Dian, having him run the dancing houses leaves me feeling more relief.” Hong Gu nodded and looked around nostalgically “I’ve been here since I was young, so I want to keep this back portion where we live and just sell the front to Zhang Dian. We can just wall up the connecting portions.”
I thought a bit “Fine. Lower the price and Zhang Dian won’t object. I’m also used to living here, and as long as I don’t leave Chang An, I am too lazy to move.” Hong Gu teased “Even when you marry someone, you’ll still live here?” And then she realized what she said and immediately looked apologetic “Yu Er…..” I shook my head “Hong Gu, I’m not such a sensitive person.”
Hong Gu hesitated and then sighed “In the past, I prayed for you to marry high. So I hoped that you would reciprocate General Huo’s feelings, but you were always hot and cold with him. I hoped you would have a change of heart and can marry him someday. But look at things now……I suddenly think that you following him will bring about only suffering. His branch is simply too high. Up there, the wind is cold and brisk, and there are predators lurking underneath. If you can marry a normal person, and live a simple life, it will be better than what you have now.”
I grabbed Hong Gu’s hand “Having a big sister like you, always worrying about me, I’m already more blessed than most of the girls here. I’m not that weak, the cold and brisk wind won’t do anything to me.” Hong Gu patted my hand “Since you left, the Shi Enterprises have been very good to Luo Yu House. What’s happening now is causing quite a stir outside. Are you going to check on them? If so, please give my best to Jiu Ye.” I turn my head and softly murmur “I’ll take care of this, big sister you needn’t worry.”
The first snow of this Winter season didn’t come down hard, with small and large flakes trickling down intermittently. But it lasted for quite some time, snowing for four straight days. The rooftops and the tree tops are stacked high with snow, and the melted snow on the ground is quickly covered with fresh powder, slowly turning into ice. Often you see a pedestrian slip on the ice and land on the ground.
“Big sister Yu, are you going or not?” asked the former Shi Feng, and now called Lu Feng. I softly answered “Why so impatient still? I don’t know how you manage to run a business.” Lu Feng laughed coldly “I’m not like this when I’m doing business. Because you’re my older sister, that’s why I’m like this. But seeing as you are singlemindedly determined to become Madam Huo, likely you don’t care for a younger brother like me nowadays. It’s my grandpa that wants to see you, so if you refuse to make the trip, I’ll have to let him know and have him come see you. But I’m not sure if you’ll be willing to see him, so just tell me now so I can let him know.”
I looked at the falling snow outside the window for some time and then said “You can go back first, I’ll be by the Shi Estate shortly.”
To make an elderly person happy and more cheerful, I wore a red outer robe to make myself more energetic. The carriage rumbles over the street and crunches over the ice on the ground, the sound hitting my ears steadily. How many times did I take this road before? Sometimes with joy, other times with anticipation, and even with sadness and despair. But today is the first time it feels torturous.
Other than Xiao Feng still living in the Shi Estate, everyone else has moved out. The Shi Estate was always on the quiet side, but now it’s even more lonely. Everywhere there is only solitary white. I’m holding a red umbrella and wearing a red outer robe, walking in the snow. I laugh to think of how eye catching I must look right now, a bright red spot within the white Winter wonderland.
Past the front living room and next to the lake, my eyes sudden see a sea of green foliage growing there that wasn’t there before. When did they plant something there? I take a closer look and my hurt aches, in a second my eyes fill with tears and I can’t see clearly anymore. In what feels like ages ago, someone told me that the Gold Silver Flowers were also called Enduring Winter, because the leaves remained green even during the Winter. He refused to say their other name that day, and refused to view the flowers with me. So this patch of Lover’s Vines growing next to the lake, who did he plant them for?
The entire world descends into silence, so silent that I can hear a snowflake landing on my umbrella. I stand in front of the Lover’s Vine for some time, the memories of the past have faded, but my tears fall nonetheless on the leaves of the vines. After some time, I stare ahead and force a smile on my face before turning and walking away.
Someone wearing a green robe is sitting on the ice of the lake ice fishing. The snowflakes slowly fall and the view is obscured, but based on what he’s wearing, it looks like Tian Cao. I hold my umbrella and slowly walk on the ice surface, being careful because it’s so slippery. It’s a short distance but it takes me a good while to traverse it.
On the lake someone has drilled a hole that is the size of a bucket. A fishing pole is placed on a rack while the fisherman has his hands tucked inside his robe. He has a jug of wine next to him, and he sits there very relaxed and casual. I softly call out “Third brother Shi, the soft snow, the solitary fisherman on an icy lake, what an enjoyable experience!”
He heard my voice and turned around, and immediately my smile froze. I stand in place, unable to move forward and unable to retreat. Jiu Ye smiled warmly at me, like he didn’t have a care in the world. He softly called out “Just waiting for the fish to bite. You walk over slowly so you don’t scare them.” I think for a moment before I slowly walk to stand next to him. I ask in a low voice “I’m off to see grandpa. Thank you….for letting Xiao Dian take over the dancing houses. If you don’t want to run the dancing houses, then you can do whatever you want. But if it’s because of me, then you needn’t have.”
He appeared not to hear what I said, only pointing to a small stool next to him “Sit!” I stood there unmoving so Jiu Ye looked up at me “Why are you wearing so little? I was just planning on heading back, let’s go together!” He slowly pulled up the fishing rod and reached over to pick up the crutch that was stuck in the snow. He just picked up the crutch and stood up when the crutch slid on the snow. He was about to fall on the ice and I quickly reached forward to support him.
My one hand was holding the umbrella and I didn’t balance myself correctly in the haste, so my feet were also like it had been coated in oil. The two of us were slipping and barely able to support each other from both falling on the ice. Jiu Ye appeared not to care about himself and was only staring at me. He suddenly smiled and tossed his crutch aside, grabbing my arms and pulling me into his embrace. With his sudden gesture, I was so shocked that I wasn’t able to cry out before we had both fallen on the ice. My umbrella also flew out and went sliding away on the ice.
Our bodies are pressed together and our faces are inches apart. This is the closest Jiu Ye and I have ever gotten to each other. My body was alternating between boiling hot and freezing cold. The snowflakes landed on my face and he reached over to brush it off. I turn my face to avoid him but he didn’t seem to care and caressed my cheeks. I can’t avoid him so I cry out “Jiu Ye, what you are doing? It’s impossible between us now, I……”
He put his finger on my lips and shushed me. He smiled and shook his head “Yu Er, there is nothing that is impossible. I will not let you go this time. Huo Qu Bing is good to you, I will be even better to you. Huo Qu Bing can’t marry you, but I can. Huo Qu Bing can’t take you away from Chang An, but I can. What he can give you, I can also give you. What he can’t give you, I can still give you. So Yu Er, you should marry me…..” He was half smiling but it couldn’t hid his anguish. His eyes remain steadfast “Next Summer, the Lover’s Vines next to the lake will bloom. This time we will definitely view the flowers together.”
He finished talking and lifted his finger from my lips, but the moment it was raised, he lowered it again and lightly brushed over my lips. His caress was filled with longing and regret, and his dark eyes turned passionate as he lowered his head to kiss me. I tried to avoid his kiss at the same time I tried to push him away. But my hands had no strength so the two of us became entangled in the snow. His lips would graze over my cheek or my forehead as we continued to roll around on the ice.
I suddenly heard the loud and unmistakeable sound of the ice beneath us cracking. In a split second, the little ice fishing hole began to crack swiftly. I was so startled and realized the ice could not sustain the weight of both of us. In my haste all I could think of was that nothing must happen to Jiu Ye, and I’ve forgotten everything else. I bite down hard on his neck and taste his blood in my mouth. He made a pained noise and his grip on my arms weakened. I used all my might to push him off me away from the cracking ice, which sent me flying backwards into the hole in the lake. My body hit the icy water immediately.
I try my best to swim but the cracked ice is so slippery I cannot grab on. In the bone chilling cold of the ice water, in moments my arms and legs no longer work. There is an undercurrent in the lake that quickly pulls me away from the hole and I look up and see only a layer of ice above my head. I know my chances of survival are none. I can vaguely hear Jiu Ye’s anguished cry, and in my quickly blackening out mind all I can see is the smiling face of Huo Qu Bing. I quietly apologized to him. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Maybe the princess will be a wonderful woman.
In the beginning my chest hurt from the lack of oxygen, but after some time, I began to lose consciousness and even my body stops feeling cold or pain. I feel like I’m so light I could fly away. Suddenly I’m grabbed tightly by the arm of someone holding me. Lips are pressed against mine to feed me oxygen and that wakes me up. Immediately my body hurts so badly and I force my eyes open. Jiu Ye’s dark eyes are staring at me with warmth even though his face is ice white with cold. One of his arms is entwined on a fishing line and he’s desperately holding on to it and trying to pull us against the current back to the opening in the lake. The fishing line is fast digging into his arms and the blood is trickling out. I can see the red seeping into the water around us.
His movements become slower and slower and his ashen white face starts turning blue. But the hole in the lake is still very far from us. I use my eyes to tell him not to save me, and I try to push myself away from him. But his unwavering eyes staring at me never change. It communicates one simple message: either we live together, or we die together!
I feel anger and hopelessness. How can you die like this? Everything I just did was for naught? The pain and despair in my heart makes me unable to hold on and I slowly slip away into unconsciousness.
A day and a night’s accumulation of snow makes the entire world frosty, but I’m instead so hot I’m sweating. My mouth is so parched it hurts, causing me so much discomfort I wake up suddenly. I realize then that I’m under heavy blankets and there is a hot burning pit of coal in the room that is roasting me.
I sit up but my body feels stiff and hard to move. I try my best but can barely move my arm. Huo Qu Bing, who had his head down on the pallet napping, woke up and looked at me with unfettered joy “You’re awake!”
I had thought that I would never see him again, so seeing him smiling at me, my heart was filled with both anguish and happiness. I croaked out “So hot, so thristy” and he quickly got up and poured me a cup of water. He eased me into his embrace and slowly helped me drink the water “The doctor said you are suffering from moderate frost bite and the cold has seeped deep into your body. You need to rest for a few days, but thankfully you’re quite hearty to begin with so a bout of fever and you’ve warmed up again. If it was any other woman, you’d likely be dead or at least suffering permanent damage.
His voice sounded scratchy and I can see his ravaged face, making my eyes redden “How many days have I been sick? Have you been here the entire time? I will get better eventually, but why didn’t you get any rest?” He gently caressed my face “Three days and two nights. How can I possibly fall asleep? It was only this morning that your fever broke, and that was when I finally let out a sigh of relief.” I was worried about Jiu Ye but afraid to ask how he was doing, so I murmured “I….how was I rescued?”
How can I possibly ever conceal anything from Qu Bing, and he clearly knows what I’m getting at. He was silent for a moment and then casually said “Meng Jiu secured the fishing rod on a tree branch and then followed the fishing line into the water to retrieve you. The servants of the Shi Estate showed up just in time and saved you both. Meng Jiu was wearing a fox vest that protected him from the cold, plus he entered the water later than you, so even though his arm is injured and he lost quite a lot of blood, but he’s recovered nicely these past few days. He ought to be arriving shortly to check on you.”
I suddenly realized that this was my old room in the Bamboo Residence “I….why are we here?” Huo Qu Bing lightly smiled “Meng Jiu said you couldn’t be moved because you were so chilled, and the best royal physician I summoned from the Palace also said the same thing. I had no choice but to keep you here until you recovered. Yu Er, how did you lose your footing and fall into an ice hole?” I didn’t know how to answer so all I could say was “I’m sorry, I promise to be more careful in the future.”
He tightly hugged me “Yu Er, promise me that this can never happen again. Never.” One look at his haggard face and his cracking scratchy voice and my hurt just swells with anguish so that all I can do is nod vigorously.
The door is gently opened and Xiao Feng wheels Jiu Ye inside. He takes a look at Huo Qu Bing and quietly leaves. Jiu Ye’s arm is securely wrapped in a sling and his face is white as he stares at Huo Qu Bing “I need to listen to her heartbeat.”
Huo Qu Bing shifted slightly to give him space, but he still kept me resting against his chest. Jiu Ye looked at Huo Qu Bing as if he was about to say something, so I quickly spoke up “Can you see when I’ll get better. I can’t move my body and it’s so hot, I’m terribly uncomfortable.”
A quick flash of pain passed through Jiu Ye’s face and he nodded. Huo Qu Bing had a slight smile as he pulled out my arm from under the blanket. Jiu Ye listened to my heartbeat and then checked out my countenance.
I suddenly felt Huo Qu Bing’s body stiffen behind me. I turn to give him a questioning look and I see that his eyes are staring directly at Jiu Ye’s neck. Right there is a clear and visible set of teeth marks. He turns to look at me with disbelief and doubt. My heart was beating so fast I was afraid to look him in the eye so I quickly turn away.
Huo Qu Bing’s entire body is rigid and I can feel the coldness emanating from him. I was originally burning up but quickly I feel cold again. Jiu Ye looks confused and tries to reach out his hand to touch my forehead but Huo Qu Bing immediately brushes his hand aside and asks coldly “When can we leave?”
I give Jiu Ye a pleading look and he notices how distressed I look. His eyes show his concern for me, so after hesitating for a moment “Her chill is almost all gone. If you find a carriage and pack it full of blankets, you can take Yu Er home.”
The moment Huo Qu Bing carries me into the carriage, he bites me hard on my neck. He draws blood and I bite my lips from crying out. I endure this pain on my neck, and the even more painful hurt in my heart. He raised his head to stare at me, his lips red with my blood, his eyes burning with anger. He just stares at me, as if seeking from me a denial, an explanation, a promise. The tears come to my eyes but I cannot say a single word. I see all these emotions in his eyes: pain, rage, despair. He lowered his head and roughly kissed me, the taste of the blood seeping through from the touch of our lips and tongues, a potent acrid sweetness in the rage.