It’s amusing to watch how the main leads have really struck a chord with the readers, so much so that I’ve seen sadness over Jing leaving and clamoring for more Xiang Liu who hasn’t shown up for two chapters. Rest assured all three male leads are here to stay, but Lost You Forever is still first and foremost Xiao Yao’s story so expect the male leads to be around here and there and sometimes one or more may be missing for chapters on end. It doesn’t mean anything other than the story is bigger than just the romance element. Now that Xiao Yao is back in Gao Xing but not yet announced as a princess, she gets to observe and take in this world of royalty and power plays that she has left behind for three hundred years. She was never born for it, her personality as a kid was always the say it like it is type and she doesn’t have either Zhuan Xu’s ability to socialize and fit in nor Jing’s ability to see everything as a business deal he can close. Unlike the kids of royals and nobles, the one thing Xiao Yao does have is the ability to let it all go. She really doesn’t care about wealth and power and the trappings of luxury, she can live in a shack pretending to be a nobody as long as she has someone to keep her company. She’s given Jing a fifteen year promise to wait for him, but neither of them have thought about what to do after those fifteen years? Go back to Qing Shui Town together? He marries into the Gao Xing royal family? I like that she has the freedom to pick her man and like even more that she actually picks Jing. I worried she would be too scared to pick, forget not having a clue how she feels about the guys in her life. For now she like Jing and I hope she gets more happy times with him before she returns to life as a princess.
Chapter 11 – A Grand Gathering For What Time:
Little Zhu Rong was a direct descendant of the Sheng Nong imperial family, born into royalty and his father was the world renowned big hero Zhu Rong. When Little Zhu Rong surrendered to the Yellow Emperor, he married the only daughter of the Chi Sui clan Chi Sui Xiao Ye. He was greatly utilized by the Yellow Emperor and became one of his top officials. He was given the entire Middle Plains to govern, an area that used to be under the control of the Sheng Nong Kingdom.
Initially people didn’t dare publicly critique the appointment since Little Zhu Rong was royalty, but behind his back people derided him for surrendering since both his parents died for Sheng Nong in the battle with Xuan Yuan. But in the hundred or so years since, his management of the Middle Plains transformed it from a formerly lawless decrepit region into one filled with bustling activity and thriving with life. His rule was just and fair so the people slowly returned to the region and settled there.
Word was Little Zhu Rong never tried to hide his Sheng Nong background and would openly ask the Yellow Emperor for things that would benefit the people of the Middle Plains. He never hid his thoughts before the Yellow Emperor of his intention that the people of the Middle Plains who have suffered through a war could return to a life of prosperous peace. Gradually the people of the Middle Plains no longer were suspicious of Little Zhu Rong and was instead very respectful. Zhu Rong’s death was an imperial courage to his homeland, Little Zhu Rong’s living was a different type of imperial responsibility to his people.
The Chi Sui Autumn Tournament was initially started by Little Zhu Rong as a small affair to let the families of the Middle Plains have a fun competition, to learn and grow, to meet more people. It was a resounding success and more and more families and clans wanted to participate until eventually the Autumn Tournament became one of the biggest events in the vast wilderness. This tournament was unique in that it didn’t matter the nationality and was instead a competition between families and clans. Each time the Yellow Emperor and the Grand Emperor would send officials bringing great rewards as an enticement for more young people to participate.
This time the Grand Emperor sent Ru So to lead a team to deliver the prize. Zhuan Xu joined the group and Xiao Liu of course tagged along. Ah Nian also wheedled the Grand Emperor allowing her to go as well.
Xiao Liu initially thought Zhuan Xu attended the tournament many times before and was surprised to learn this was also his first time. Xiao Liu thought about it and realized why. In the vast wilderness, all the great families and clans always sent their best to participate, to make connections, to prepare to take over family affairs down the line. Zhuan Xu didn’t go before because he didn’t want to catch the attention of his Xuan Yuan relatives and make them start plotting to take him out. Now he was going because he didn’t care anymore whether he was noticed since he was already preparing to return to Xuan Yuan soon.
Gao Xing was a kingdom of water, with many lakes, rivers, and streams flowing through the entire region. Like usual, Ru So chose to take the water route.
Zhuan Xu worried that Ah Nian and Xiao Liu would butt heads on the same ship but to his surprise the two got along well, and sometimes would be whispering off to the side. Zhuan Xu asked quizzically “How did you tame Ah Nian?”
Xiao Liu smiled “Secret.”
Along the way they encountered many families headed to the tournament, with the more powerful families in boats that could seat over 10, and the smaller families in smaller boats for 3-5 people. Zhuan Xu and Ru So would greet people and then got off their big ship to take a smaller boat following behind. Xiao Liu, Ah Nian, and Hai Tang got off with them.
Folks thought they were representing a small family and were very friendly towards them, lots of people would come by to chat whenever they stopped for a rest. Along the way they made many friends.
As they got closer to Chi Sui, there were more and more boats in the waterway and Little Zhu Rong had many people directing traffic along the shore so everything was orderly.
Entering Chi Sui, the waterway widened and both sides were farmland. It was wheat cropping time and as far as the eye could see there was golden wheat stalks glistening under the sun like a sea of gold. Many farmers were hunched over cropping wheat and it was a busy sight to see of a bountiful Autumn harvest.
The wind blew the bust of sweet musty wheat that make everyone feel heady. Even Ah Nian smiled “Those people onshore seem really happy.”
Zhuan Xu looked around and seemed rather sad but he smiled. Xiao Liu asked “Why are you feeling torn?”
Zhuan Xu said in a low voice “Zhu Rong caused my father’s death, and the death of one’s father is a vengeance greater than the Heavens. When Little Zhu Rong surrendered, I was still in Xuan Yuan and Grandfather asked me to decide his life or death. I wanted to kill him but in the end I decided not to. Seeing the scenes today, I feel comforted that my decision was correct. But I also feel like I’ve failed my parents….Aish!” Zhuan Xu sighed softly.
Xiao Liu said “You chose the path of greater responsibility to the world. You let go of you personal feelings, and since you made the choice, stop dwelling on it. I think Uncle and Auntie would support your decision.”
Zhuan Xu smiled “I understand.”
The boat continued and the scenery suddenly changed. The Southern shore was still verdant forest but the Northern shore was as barren as a dry desert and it extended so far North it didn’t seem to have an end.
Ah Nian wondered “Chi Sui is very lush and full of water all four seasons, how could there be a barren desert here?”
This was Zhuan Xu’s first time in Chi Sui as was for Xiao Liu as well. Xiao Liu wandered the vast wilderness for many hundreds of years but never came to Chi Sui because it was close to Yi Province where her mom died in battle. She purposely avoided it so she also never came to Chi Sui before. The two had no answer for her.
Their boat master often came to Chi Sui so explained “Legend has it that a hundred or so years ago this area did not have a barren desert. But no one knows when the land one day became a desert. There is a rumor of a giant peach blossom forest in the middle of that desert region, and living in the peach blossom desert is a demon beast that is like a flame that scorched the earth. Because that demon brought a drought, the people call it Han Kui (drought beast).”
Zhuan Xu asked “The Gods didn’t send soldiers to kill it?”
“Some brave adventurous young Gods tried to take out the beast but the desert is very strange, it gets hotter as one walks deeper into it. No one has been able to reach the peach blossom forest before almost getting incinerated and quickly retreating. But the demon beast has never harmed anyone so whether there really is a demon in there no one knows for sure. So the people don’t care and gradually this area remains this way.”
Ah Nian was angry “That’s horrible! This area was lush and green for thousands of miles and a monster destroyed it. Too bad it’s Xuan Yuan territory, if it’s Gao Xing territory I would tell my dad to send soldiers to eliminate it.”
Xiao Liu stared at the vast desert “That monster isn’t bad.”
Ah Nian didn’t understand but Zhuan Xu explained “This area is the most water plenty region in the vast wilderness. So for this area to have a desert because the monster is here, imagine the devastation that would be wrought if the monster went elsewhere. Clearly the monster has no intention of harming anyone.”
Ah Nian felt that Zhuan Xu’s explanation made sense but she still wanted to get rid of the monster. But she was used to listening to her dad and Zhuan Xu’s words since she was small so she said nothing more.
The boat traveled until it gradually become a dense fruit orchard ahead filled with all sorts of delicious varieties and the monster matter was quickly forgotten. By dusk the boat slowed and a harbor came into sight. Everyone returned to the big ship and the boat master slowly maneuvered it to shore.
An official came to welcome them and knew their group contained the Gao Xing Princess and the Xuan Yuan Prince, but since neither Ah Nian nor Zhuan Xu identified themselves, no one paid them any heed. Everyone was settled into a residence arranged by the official and Ru So went to handle administrative matters and left them alone.
Ru So was the son of one of the Grand Emperor’s cousins, and also a was taught by the Grand Emperor and was one of his close subordinates. He asked Zhuan Xu directly what their plans were.
Zhuan Xu replied “Get a good night’s rest and tomorrow head out for a stroll. When the tournament starts the day after, we’ll go watch the tournament and you don’t need to worry about us.”
Ru So said “It’s the best of the various families and clans who are here to attend the tournament. Some will be naturally very cocky so if Prince runs into them, just ignore them and avoid any direct confrontation. We came as spectators and not participants so there is no need to get into any tussles. If the other side is truly rude, then let me handle it.”
Zhuan Xu knew that Ru So’s words were intended for Ah Nian and smiled “Understood.”
Ah Nian hated being lectured at but since Ru So was her cousin she just pouted “Fine, you handle things and we’ll act clueless, is that okay?”
Ru So grimaced at Zhuan Xu and left with his servants to attend the welcoming banquet Little Zhu Rong organized for him.
The next morning, Xiao Liu and Ah Nian both slept late and woke up after the sun was long overhead. Zhuan Xu was gone and they didn’t know where he went. Xiao Liu and Ah Nian sat in opposite corners of the room and slowly ate their lunch. After eating, Ah Nian yelled over “Hey, you know what to do, right?”
Xiao Liu replied “I know, I promised so don’t worry, I won’t let your dad marry you to me.”
The two of them leisurely drank some tea and then Zhuan Xu came back. Ah Nian pouted “Gege, where did you go?”
Zhuan Xu smiled “Just outside for a stroll to ask around where to take you later.”
Ah Nian beamed in happiness and Xiao Liu rolled her eyes. Zhuan Xu, that mouth on him was so sweet it was like his honeyed words were free. It was like he would sell you and you would still think he was the best.
Zhuan Xu knew Xiao Liu was mocking him so tapped her on the back of her head and said “Let’s go.”
Zhuan Xu and Xiao Liu took Ah Nian and Hai Tang out of the residence and it was like everyone in the vast wilderness was here as the entire city was teeming with people. The normally expansive Chi Sui Castle felt small and cramped. The entire Chi Sui Castle contained waterways throughout the interior so most people chose to tour the castle on boat. But Zhuan Xu’s group was tired of being on boats so chose to walk.
Zhuan Xu spent the last two hundred years running all through Gao Xing territories but he was unfamiliar with a city within Xuan Yuan territory. He spent his time keenly observing while Ah Nian had been here before but this was her first time out and about without guards so she was also extra excited. All those knick knacks that the commoner ladies used interested her. Zhuan Xu noticed that she liked it so picked out a few silver bracelets for her. Ah Nian gave two to Hai Tang and the two girls happily put them on.
Xiao Liu wandered for two hundred years and had seen everything and anything so nothing piqued her interest other than the snacks. She bought some and ate all along the way. She would glance at Zhuan Xu and he would glance back, the two of them saying very little but feeling a peaceful contentment.
When Xiao Liu ate something delicious, she would buy more for Zhuan Xu and Ah Nian, but Ah Nian complained that it was dirty so wouldn’t eat, and then neither would Hai Tang. Zhuan Xu would take big bites and enjoy it happily, and when Ah Nian saw them both enjoying their food she wanted to try some but couldn’t bring herself to ask after she turned it down already. She could only stare at them.
Perhaps it was due Zhuan Xu and the Grand Emperor, but lately Xiao Liu was rather fond of Ah Nian and knew exactly what was on her mind. She took a piece and neatly peeled off the exterior and handed it to Ah Nian while coaxing her “Try it, the inside isn’t dirty at all.”
Ah Nian said no until Xiao Liu urged her a few more times and then she accepted reluctantly. The food on the street was always unique unlike anything in the Palace, and girls always loved to enjoy something delicious, so Ah Nian was quickly fond of the street snacks and started happily trying them out along with Hai Tang and Xiao Liu.
The four of them ate, played, shopped, and was very happy.
In the afternoon, they took an ox carriage out of Chi Sui Castle to the largest ship yard in the Middle Plains that belonged to the Chi Sui clan. Normal ships could be sold to anyone but there was a special pact between the Yellow Emperor and the Chi Sui clan where the best ships could only be sold to the Yellow Emperor. The Grand Emperor commissioned a ship from the clan but was turned down.
The ship building expertise of the Chi Sui clan was a family secret and no one was allowed inside the ship yard. But admirers still came from far and wide not to steal their secrets but to be able to go home and say they saw the latest Chi Sui ships that were built.
Reportedly with the suggestion of Little Zhu Rong, the Chi Sui clan would hold special ship christening ceremonies from time to time, allowing the clan to show off its prowess as well as indulging the visitors to the ship yard.
When Xiao Liu and them arrived, it was almost dusk and there wasn’t a lot of people left by the river banks admiring the sunset. There was suddenly an ocean horn calling signaling a new ship was launching. Xiao Liu and them stopped to watch the shoreline.
They saw the huge waterway gate to the ship yard open and a large ship slowly enter the river. Xiao Liu didn’t know a good ship from bad but thought this ship was rather unique. It was narrow in the front and wider in the back, resembling a flower about to bloom. Clearly it was designed for a girl in mind.
Ah Nian had seen plenty of ships and scoffed “The Chi Sui clan ships are clearly nothing to write home about.”
A young girl wearing purple turned her head and walked over glaring at Ah Nian “What’s wrong with that ship?” The girl had pearly white skin and a pair of bright almond shaped eyes that tilted upward in the corners and made her seem flirtatious even when she wasn’t smiling.
Ah Nian gave the girl a once over and said “That ship was clearly built to make a girl happy but it’s design is awkward. What kind of flower is it? It can’t go fast now and it’s exterior isn’t all that striking. Might as well pick one of the two strengths. The Chi Sui clan wanted both when designing this ship and ended up with neither.”
The purple robed girl said coldly “Even if you want one you can”t get one!”
Ah Nian was so angry she was about to retort when the purple robed girl vaulted onto the ship and turned around to glare at Ah Nian one more time for good measure. Ah Nian realized that the girl was the owner of the new ship so snarked “Just a lousy ship, what’s she’s so proud of?”
It was late and the group discussed where to grab dinner. None of them wanted to go back to the residence so Xiao Liu suggested taking a boat cruise of the lake “The lake folk are great at cooking fresh water seafood. Let’s rent a clean boat, borrow a net from the boat master, catch some seafood and cook it directly on the boat. Fish, clams, shrimp, there are so many ways to cook it over a grill with the scent bursting and its juices oozing……” Xiao Liu was fairly drooling and even Ah Nian was getting into it.
Zhuan Xu was feeling very torn, Xiao Liu was describing it so fun and tasty but it came from her experiences living a tough life. He didn’t show any sadness and instead rapped her on the head and laughed “You useless thing, other than eat you can’t do anything.”
Xiao Liu knew how to pick a ship and took a glance around at all the boats docked and selected a very nicely tended one and negotiated a price with the boat master. She then sent the boat master off to buy some vegetables, fruits, and alcohol from another boat and brought it over.
The four of them got on the boat and everyone watched Xiao Liu busy at work. Hai Tang wanted to help but Xiao Liu shooed her away and borrowed a net and tossed it overboard and pulled back some fish, a couple of shrimps and crabs. Xiao Liu prepped the seafood and pulled out some herbs from inside her robe and seasoned the caught seafood.
Ah Nian asked about the clams Xiao Liu promised and Xiao Liu said “Whether we get some depends on you.”
Xiao Liu pointed to the lake “Can you split the water for me, it doesn’t need to be very wide.”
Ah Nian may be spoiled but her powers weren’t low. She put her hand in the water and the water split open to show the bottom of the lake. Xiao Liu jumped into the water with a basket and walked along the lake floor picking up clams.
This was the first time Ah Nian caught her own food so she was super excited and yelled “Over there, I see a big one.”
Xiao Liu walked in the direction Ah Nian pointed and indeed found a huge clam under a rock.
Xiao Liu got back on the boat and put the clams in front of Ah Nian “You caught this so I’ll cook it for you.”
Ah Nian asked “When can we eat?”
Zhuan Xu pulled Xiao Liu over next to the fire and took a towel to dry her hair “Are you cold? Drink some wine.”
Hai Tang brought over some wine and Xiao Liu drank a few sips and instantly warmed up. She waved “Stop, stop, I’ll be grilling so I’ll be plenty hot soon!”
The four sat around the grill and started cooking and eating the clams. Ah Nian copied Xiao Liu and started spreading seasoning, and whether it was the fresh clams being delicious or her own cooking, but Ah Nian felt she had never eaten such delicious clams in her entire life.
Xiao Liu ate some clams and after her clothes were dry, she took out the three fish she cleaned earlier and wrapped them in lotus leaves before placing them to the side to slowly roast.
The four ate and laughed and the night passed until the moon was high overhead.
There were other boats on the lake and the delicious scent of roasting fish wafted from their boat and many passerbys on other boats offered to buy it from them. Ah Nian turned them all down “We have just enough for us to eat.”
Zhuan Xu said to Xiao Liu “Whatever cooking method you used, even people who are sick and tired of eating this kind of fish like Ah Nian and myself are actually eager to try it.”
Xiao Liu giggled “Secret recipe, not for divulging.” She was really not boasting, she had long since memorized all the herbs and concoctions in the world and used the taste and smell of it for cooking spices rather than making medicine. She found many unique mixes that guaranteed the food she cooked was one of a kind.
A fog rose in the lake and enveloped the ship just as the sound of a zither playing surrounded them. The tune was especially lovely with the fog surrounding them, but the tune appeared to be moving further and further away from them. Xiao Liu sighed “The tune is being faint.”
Zhuan Xu said “If you want to keep on listening to it, it’s not hard for me to make it happen.”
Xiao Liu laughed “Are you going to yell at her to come back? Even I wouldn’t dare do that.”
Ah Nian nudged Hai Tang and she quickly took out a flute from their belongings and handed it to Zhuan Xu. Ah Nian said to Xiao Liu “My dad is a master at music and he taught Gege everything about it. Gege might not be the equal of the incomparable Young Master of Qing Qiu Tu Shan Jing, but otherwise he’s impressive.”
Zhuan Xu brought the flute to his lips and started whistling the tune. It was the same as the one played by the zither, but with changes so that it become a companion piece that was full of playful casualness. Even a music novice like Xiao Liu could tell it was amazing and the zither player definitely thought so as well because the zither tune started getting louder and blending in harmony with the flute. The two were playing and testing each other, the sounds of the flute and zither dancing in the fog, soaring high and then dipping low. Gradually the zither tune appeared to be subdued by the flute tune and followed along in perfect synchronicity.
Ah Nian got more and more annoyed and suddenly grabbed the flute. The tune stopped abruptly but Zhuan Xu wasn’t angry and gently asked “What’s wrong?”
The zither lost the flute and appeared to be seeking its counterpart and sounded lonely in the fog.
Ah Nian felt her heart was uneasy and said “I don’t want to listen anymore.” Xiao Liu lowered her head and muffled her grin, going back to eating her crab.
The zither played for a bit longer and after hearing no response from the flute, appeared to get angry and suddenly stopped as well.
Zhuan Xu grabbed a crab and peeled it for Ah Nian and placed it before her. She smiled and happily ate it. He did the same for Xiao Liu who had a mouthful of crab and mumbled “Crab has to be eaten by oneself to be tasty.”
Xiao Liu handed a fish to Zhuan Xu “You try this.” He opened the lotus leaf and a thick fragrance reached his nostril and even Ah Nian and Hai Tang rushed to grab their fish. Xiao Liu told them to go ahead and eat and threw some drunken shrimp on the grill. The smell of the lotus fish and the grilling drunken shrimp was indescribably fragrant and from a distance a loud voice boomed “Hey! That boat over there. Bring some of the food over. If my lady likes it, there will be a great reward.”
Ah Nian huffed “A little bit of money and this horrible attitude? No!”
Hai Tang immediately loudly called back “My lady said “Who cares about a little bit of money? The answer is no!”
The ship steered over and it was the new ship from this afternoon. The maid stood on the ship and realized the mistake when she saw them. But her apology was disingenuous “There was a lot of fog so we couldn’t see clearly and thought this was a food boat. Sorry for the impolite tone, but if you can sell the fish to us, you can name your price.”
Ah Nian remembered the girl from earlier and was even more pissed. She shot Hai Tang a look indicating she wasn’t talking to a maid so Hai Tang stood up and bowed “Money, we don’t need any. If you want to exchange with something, we might be willing. But not sure if you have it.”
The maid checked out Hai Tang and haughtily said “There is very little we don’t have. Say it!”
Hai Tang smiled sweetly “We don’t want anything too precious. There is reportedly a mulberry wood from Yang Valley that can burn without fire. If you can give us a stack then we can use it to cook the rest of our drunken shrimp.”
Xiao Liu covered her mouth to muffle her laughter. The Yang Valley mulberry wood was so rare it was measured in finger tip lengths and this was the first time it was ever mentioned in the context of a stack. It was likely only Ah Nian who dared say something so absurd.
The maid realized she had been mocked and huffed “You dare mock me?”
Hai Tang laughed “You said for us to tell, how could I have mocked you. Just be careful when you talk to people, in case you can’t make it happen!”
The maid was enraged and fired some water strikes towards Hai Tang who didn’t hesitate and flung it right back. The maid was drenched and in tears “If you have guts then don’t run!” before running into the interior of the ship.
Moments later the purple robed girl and a red robed girl came running out. The red robbed girl wasn’t an unfamiliar face – it was Fang Feng Yi Yang.
Xiao Liu quickly darted into the interior of the boat and hid in the shadows. Zhuan Xu sat down next to her and used his body to shield her and asked without turning around “You know her?”
Xiao Liu said in a low voice “The red-robed girl is Fang Feng Yi Yang.” Wen Xiao Liu’s face was recognizable in Qing Shui Town but nowhere else, but people in the town rarely left unless they had to so Xiao Liu wasn’t worried people would recognize her. That’s why she was so surprised to see Fang Feng Yi Yang here.
The purple robed girl sternly chastised “You guys are so rude! The maid came to buy some food, if you don’t want to then say no, there was no need for insults.”
Ah Nian stood up “Who are you to point out insults? Who was the rude one first? Who started it first?”
The purple robed girl recognized Ah Nian and huffed “The maid reflects her master, I should known who was rude first.”
Ah Nian raged “Your ship is a piece of crap so why can’t people say it? Who do you think you are? I’m going to keep saying it – a crappy ship!”
The purple robed girl wanted to fight but appeared to hesitate and hold down her anger but it was threatening to burst forth.
Fang Feng Yi Yang gently said “Little sister, this is all my fault since I smelled the fragrant food and wanted to eat it. If it wasn’t for me, then there would be no need for you to be insulted by such little people. Since I started this, let me handle it. That way your dad and brother won’t get mad at you afterwards.”
Fang Feng Yi Yang turned towards Ah Nian and Hai Tang and her face was chilly “You apologize immediately otherwise don’t blame me for what I’m going to do!”
Ah Nian was once kidnapped by the most notorious demon in the vast wilderness that was Xiang Liu along with Xiao Liu’s help and she never once backed down. How could she be scared now? She coldly laughed back “Fine, let me see what you’re going to do.”
The boat master knew something big was going down and hurriedly jumped into the water.
Fang Feng Yi Yang waved her hand and pulled out a bow and arrow from her sleeve. The arrows went flying and it was all towards Zhuan Xu, and it wasn’t clear if it was the fog causing it or she shot wild.
Zhuan Xu knew she was Fang Feng Yi Yang so he used his powers to create a protective shield around Ah Nian and Hai Tang. They were fine but he was worried about Xiao Liu. Most of the arrows landed on the boat and it was so powerful it caused the entire boat to quake and then collapse in the water. The four of them fell in the water as the boat sank.
Xiao Liu was happy since everyone who grew up in Gao Xing knew how to swim. That was why she was shocked to see that neither Zhuan Xu nor Ah Nian knew how to swim. Hai Tang currently was under direct attack from the maid so she had her hands full and couldn’t rescue Ah Nian. Xiao Liu swam towards Zhuan Xu and Ah Nian to save them. Zhuan Xu didn’t know how to swim but he used his powers to transform his legs into wood so he was floating in the water safely. Ah Nian swallowed some water and was about to sink. Zhuan Xu said “Don’t worry about me, save Ah Nian.”
Xiao Liu swam towards Ah Nian and said back “You be careful.”
Ah Nian grabbed onto Xiao Liu like an octopus when she reached her, not even caring about male-female etiquette. Xiao Liu didn’t have much powers so Ah Nian was dragging her down with her struggling. Xiao Liu hit Ah Nian hard on the back of her neck and she passed out. She quickly swam to shore with her.
Xiao Liu woke Ah Nian up and said “I need to go back for Zhuan Xu, can you keep yourself safe?”
The fog was dense and thick like it could conceal monsters all around. Ah Nian was shivering but she nodded her head bravely. Xiao Liu patted her on the cheek “Hide well and no matter what happens don’t come out.”
Xiao Liu jumped back into the lake in search of Zhuan Xu. She swam back to where they entered the water but there was nothing there anymore. She searched around everywhere for Zhuan Xu but found nothing other than Hai Tang floating in the lake with an arrow in her leg. Finally she couldn’t hold it in anymore to hide and called out “Gege, Gege……”
Xiao Liu pulled Hai Tang and swam back to shore will calling out for Zhuan Xu but no one answered.
Ah Nian was curled up hiding in the water reeds, the dense fog making her blind and even the sound of birds made her frightened out of wits. She heard the sound of water lapping and stared nervously ahead. A black shape emerged and walked towards her and she was so scared until she saw it was Xiao Liu carrying Ah Nian. She rushed out “Xiao Liu.”
Xiao Liu saw the tears in Ah Nian’s eyes and remembered her first time outdoors at night by herself and the fear she felt. She patted Ah Nian on the shoulder and complimented “You were very brave!”
Ah Nian was embarrassed and put on a whatever expression “Where’s Gege? And what happened to Hai Tang?”
Xiao Liu put Hai Tang down “She was struck in the back and got an arrow in the leg. But I’m here so no worries.”
Xiao Liu fed Hai Tang a pill and leaned down to rip her pant leg but Ah Nian’s face reddened “Can’t we treat her after we get back?”
“This huge fog, do you know the way back? This arrow didn’t hit a major artery but I don’t want to underestimate that Miss Fang Feng. If I don’t treat it soon Hai Tang might end up crippled.”
“But, but, you’re a man!”
Xiao Liu ripped Hai Tang’s pants “So the worst is that I’ll marry her!”
Ah Nian thought about it and decided that made sense but it didn’t feel right “Humph, that’s lucky for you!”
Xiao Liu pulled out the arrow and said to Ah Nian “Take out your best medicines.”
Ah Nian handed her a bottle with Yang Valley water soaked in mulberry flowers, and when Xiao Liu poured it on the wound it ate away at the blackened charred flesh and revealed healthy healing flesh. Ah Nian handed another bottle over containing pills that stopped the bleeding which then allowed her to bandage the wound.
Ah Nian asked worriedly “What happened to Gege?”
Xiao Liu shook her head “I don’t know, but we have to go back to the residence and ask Ru So to search.”
Xiao Liu piggybacked Hai Tang and said “Let’s go.” Ah Nian followed behind Xiao Liu stumbling along the way because of the dense fog and the marshy riverbank. Ah Nian initially struggled because she couldn’t see and her footsteps were uneven, but ahead of her Xiao Liu was carrying Ah Nian and was walking steadily without any trepidation. Ah Nian felt bad and gritted her teeth to catch up and didn’t even make a sound even when she felt snakes slithering beside her.
Xiao Liu arrived at a sloped area and called out “Boat master, double the price, take us to Chi Sui Castle.” A voice responded “Sure” and then a lamp was lit. Xiao Liu and Ah Nian got on the boat with Hai Tang, and once they were onboard Ah Nian incredulously asked Xiao Liu “How did you know there was a boat here?”
Xiao Liu set Hai Tang down “Yesterday when we traveled down the river I saw houseboats docked here and people cooking meals.” Ah Nian was in disbelief “Once glance and you remembered? It’s not like you were expecting us to encounter danger.”
Xiao Liu smiled “When one lives in constant danger, not remembering can mean death, remembering more is a chance to survive. It’s become a habit even if I don’t intentionally try to remember.”
Ah Nian stared at Xiao Liu and said nothing else. The boat floated down river during the thick fog as Xiao Liu suggested to the boat master, and when the fog lifted the boat sped up and soon they were back in the castle where the boat master stopped in front of their residence.
The servant opened the door and saw the completely mucked up group and immediately went to summon Ru So. He heard Hai Tang was hurt and rushed out, only letting out a sigh of relief when he saw Ah Nian was unharmed. He said to Ah Nian “As long as you’re around, I just knew something was going to happen. It’s not if but whether it’s a big thing or a little thing.”
Hai Tang was taken inside to be seen by the doctor while Ah Nian immediately reported “Zhuan Xu gege is missing.”
Ru So’s just relaxed brows furrowed together immediately and he said “Tell me everything that happened in detail from the beginning.”
Ah Nian explained everything and only when she got to the end did Xiao Liu speak up to add “The woman who started the attack was Fang Feng Yi Yang.”
Ru So was shocked “It was her!”
Ah Nian asked “Who is she? Is she famous? I’ve never heard of her?”
Ru So explained “She’s the fiancee of the Young Master of Qing Qiu Tu Shan Jing.”
“That’s who she is!” Ah Nian slapped the table and stood up “I’ll go ask the Tu Shan clan whether they are looking for all their businesses to be shuttered within Gao Xing.”
Ru So cautioned “Even though she started it, but she was standing up for the other girl. The matter is really between you guys and the other girl, plus you guys didn’t reveal your identities, so it’s hard to blame her for hurting you guys.”
Xiao Liu seconded that “Now is not the time to stir up more trouble, we need to find out where Zhuan Xu went.”
Ru So told them “Since we know she is Miss Fang Feng, we can find her quickly and then find where the Prince went. I’ll handle it so you two go take a hot bath and get some rest.”
Ah Nian returned to her room but Xiao Liu took the long way and then returned to Ru So. He didn’t know Xiao Liu’s real identity but the Grand Emperor personally asked him to take good care of Xiao Liu so he asked “Does young master need me for anything else?”
Xiao Liu tried to be careful in her warning “Be careful of Miss Fang Feng, I didn’t get the impression that she was doing this for her friend. I suspect she recognized Ah Nian and Zhuan Xu.”
Ru So “I will be on alert and if I hear anything I will immediately let you know.”
Xiao Liu bowed “Thank you.”
Xiao Liu took a bath but couldn’t sleep afterwards. Zhuan Xu, Fang Feng Yi Yang, Tu Shan Jing, Xiang Liu…..Everyone swirled in her mind like a horse parade until Xiao Liu felt like her head hurt so much it was splitting.
Xiao Liu felt this was pointless, best get a good rest so that after Ru So brought news she could go help him. She took a pill and used it to drowsily fall asleep.
When she woke up it was noon and she headed down to eat lunch. She found Ah Nian in a daze by the window, black circles under her eyes, clearly haven’t slept a wink. Xiao Liu sat down and started wolfing down her food. Ah Nian angrily berated “My Gege treats you so well. There is no news of him and you can still eat?”
Xiao Liu replied “If I don’t eat or sleep, will he come back?”
Ah Nian spit out “Cold blooded!”
Xiao Liu knew she was worried so ignored her and ate her food. After some time, Ah Nian looked out the window and asked “Am I really a troublemaker? If it wasn’t for me, there would have been no altercation last night?”
Xiao Liu replied “Trouble is the exclusive right for a beautiful woman to have. If women didn’t cause trouble, how else would it show a man’s greatness. Plus last night there would have been a fight with or without you.”
“I wouldn’t have sold the fish to that snotty maid either.”
Ah Nian thought about it while Xiao Liu asked “You’re from Gao Xing, how can you not know how to swim?”
Ah Nian awkwardly answered “My mom is very fearful and she had a hard birth to have me. She’s afraid I’ll drown so when I was small she wouldn’t let me swim. Later on it’s harder for a girl to go swimming. Plus I don’t like it so I never learned.”
Ru So walked in and Ah Nian stood up “Did you find Gege?”
Ru So bowed “Prince Zhuan Xu is fine. You both need not worry.”
“Where is he?”
“In the Chi Sui clan residence.”
Ah Nian was confused “How did he end up there?”
Ru So explained “The young lady who got into an altercation with you last night was Sheng Nong Xing Yue, the daughter of Little Zhu Rong. She is the granddaughter of the current head of the Chi Sui clan, and the younger sister of the future head of the clan.”
Ah Nian’s face was furious and she smashed all the plates on the table to the ground.
Ru So and Xiao Liu remained calm and Xiao Liu said quietly “It sounds so complicated. This Miss Sheng Nong Xing Yue is the direct descendant of the Sheng Nong royal family bloodline, then how come her older brother is the next Chi Sui clan leader?”
Ru So quietly explained “Little Zhu Rong married the only daughter of the current Chi Sui clan leader. Her name is Chi Sui Xiao Ye. The Chi Sui clan leader is not just Little Zhu Rong’s father-in-law, he’s also his uncle. Little Zhu Rong sees him as a second father and he agreed that if later on he had two kids, a son would be given to the Chi Sui clan and take their name. His wife had a pair of male-female fraternal twins so the older brother was born the future leader of the Chi Sui clan and grew up beside his grandfather the current clan leader. The ship you saw yesterday was designed by Miss Sheng Nong Xing Yue and her brother built it for her.
Xiao Liu softly asked “If that Miss Sheng Nong has such a huge background, and we insulted her, how come Prince Zhuan Xu is staying at the Chi Sui residence.”
Ru So replied “I don’t know either, all I know is that the Prince is very safe.”
Ah Nian slammed the table “Did you see him? How do we know he’s safe if they say it!”
Ru So quickly clarified “Of course I was wary so asked to see him and they gladly brought me inside to see the Prince. He suffered an arrow to the shoulder and was in the water for some time so he looked rather wan. Otherwise he was fine. The Prince told me not to worry and sent be back. He’ll return when he’s injury has healed a bit.”
Ah Nian huffed “They must know Gege’s identity so they are afraid of upsetting my Daddy and the Yellow Emperor so they are being overly solicitous.”
Ru So was about to say something but hesitated so Ah Nian yelled “Just say it!”
Ru So said “I don’t think they know the Prince’s real identity. The Prince said he was a distant relative of the Grand Emperor so they think he’s one of the scions of the Gao Xing four tribes.”
Ah Nian angrily slammed the table again but didn’t have anything else to say so she stood up and stormed out of the room.
Xiao Liu asked “Did you see Miss Fang Feng?”
“I saw her and it was from her that I learned the young lady was the daughter of Little Zhu Yen. She was very courteous and kept apologizing, explaining she didn’t know we were sent by the Grand Emperor. But she was so courteous that it leads one to think…..” Ru So shook his head “Just remind the Prince to be more careful from now on. It’s hard to dodge secret arrows and Miss Fang Feng is one of the best archers in the entire vast wilderness.”
Xiao Liu said “Based on what happened, Miss Fang Feng was clearly trying to kill Prince Zhuan Xu, but something happened suddenly and Miss Sheng Nong stopped her and saved the Prince.” Xiao Liu didn’t think it was because Miss Sheng Nong was a kind person. The powerful and rich held the lives of their retainers and commoners in their hands from birth, life and death wasn’t a big deal to them.
Ru So coughed and said “Actually I already sent someone to dig for details.”
Xiao Liu wasn’t surprised. A great clan like Chi Sui, the Grand Emperor was of course keeping an eye on them and clearly had someone there inside at all times.
Ru So looked at Xiao Liu and marveled at how he didn’t ask any probing questions and understood immediately “A maid on the ship said that the Prince took an arrow and was sinking. Miss Sheng Nong was turning the ship around to leave when a flute rose to the surface. She paused and then dove into the water to rescue the Prince.”
Xiao Liu thought about it and then explained the zither and flute melody from last night. “I’m thinking this Miss Sheng Nong is very adept at the zither.” If she was the one harmonizing with Zhuan Xu on the flute, then it would explain why she would save him after she saw the flute.
Xiao Liu smiled and was about to leave the room when she stopped and casually asked “Did the Tu Shan clan send only Miss Fang Feng?”
“Young master Jing is also here.”
Xiao Liu said a casual Oh and then left.
Xiao Liu slept deeply in the afternoon compared to the morning time when she needed a pill to help her fall asleep. She woke up at dinner time but wasn’t really hungry since she slept all day. She brought a plate of fruit and ate it in the corridor. Ah Nian came by and did the same thing since she wasn’t hungry either. The two of them sat a distance away but Xiao Liu could see the dark circles under her eyes that indicated she didn’t rest well in the afternoon either. She said “Have the maid make you some hot soup and warm milk, then sleep well tonight.”
Ah Nian just ate and said nothing.
Ru So came in after watching an afternoon worth of tournament matches and asked what they wanted to watch tomorrow and he would arrange it. Ah Nian thought “Okay! I want to watch Gao Xing’s four tribes versus the Chi Sui clan.”
Ru So smiled wanly “Yes, that can be arranged.”
Since Xiao Liu had her powers stripped, she was uninterested in battles and fighting so she was happy not to have to accompany Zhuan Xu to watch the matches and quickly declined to go tomorrow.
The next day, Xiao Liu slept til noon and found the entire residence empty as everyone went to watch the tournament. She didn’t feel like stoking the kitchen fires so ran off to eat street food.
She ate two bowls of clam leek soup and afterwards sat under the riverbank wall under the sun watching the activity on the river. A boat passed with a green robed man sitting with his back to Xiao Liu and he was enjoyed the view beside a blue robed man. The familiar figure was instantly recognizable as Jing, and since he couldn’t see Xiao Liu, then Xiao Liu stared at him directly.
Jing suddenly turned his head and looked at the shore. Xiao Liu didn’t move and just looked at him, not sure if he saw her. The boat moved past and the green disappeared into the distance.
He knew she was here, she knew he was here. But it was no longer like when they were in Qing Shui Town, when she would wave and call Shi Qi and he would show up beside her.
Xiao Liu didn’t know how long she sat there until a person walked by and sat down beside her. The faint herbal scent wafted over but Xiao Liu didn’t turn her head because she knew that even if he saw her face, it was not her real face. She smiled at the passing boats and her heart fluttered with a small happiness.
After some moments, Xiao Liu asked “Not afraid of being followed?”
“My ancestor is the fox. There is only my following, few can track me.”
Xiao Liu remembered being captured by Xiang Liu the first time and how he found her. The second time when Zhuan Xu tossed her in prison, he again found her. He really was very adept at tracking.
Xiao Liu asked “Have you gone to watch the tournament?”
“The Tu Shan clan doesn’t fight, we come here to discuss business and find talent.”
Xiao Liu said nothing more and Shi Qi silently kept Xiao Liu company under the sun. Xiao Liu never turned around but his herbal scent was very calming. Until the sun was setting over the river, Shi Qi softly said “I need to leave. When are you going back?”
“I need to go back too.”
“Then you go first.”
Xiao Liu felt a sliver of warmth in her heart and stood up to leave. She walked slowly down the river edge towards the residence, knowing someone was sending her off with his eyes. It made this walk feel less lonely with someone keeping her company.
But the person sending her off gave her the warmth while he kept the loneliness of watching her gradually disappear from sight.
Xiao Liu rested for five days until the final day of the tournament and she was dragged by Ah Nian and Ru So to go watch the final match.
The final match was between a man and a woman. The man was named Yu Jiang from one of the Gao Xing four tribes. The woman was named Xian and came from the most powerful of the Four Great Clans the Chi Sui clan. Yu Jiang had a baby face and always looked like he was smiling whereas Xian was cold and aloof with the aura of fury. Both were adept water type powers but Yu Jiang trained in water while Xian was in ice.
Everyone was anticipating this water and ice battle and most rooted for Yu Jiang since he seemed so friendly, but thought Xian appeared more ruthless so likely would win.
Xiao Liu didn’t want to run into Fang Feng Yi Yang but also didn’t want to change her face. Luckily Ah Nian wore a hat cover so Xiao Liu did as well.
Xiao Liu saw Zhuan Xu and a girl wearing a hat cover walking in. Xiao Liu’s head hurt and she acted like she didn’t see them. Ah Nian stood up and waved her hands while calling “Gege!”
Zhuan Xu and the girl walked over and Ah Nian finally realized who she could be and was completely tense now “Gege, who is she?”
Zhuan Xu smiled and introduced them “This is my little sister Ah Nian. Xing Yue, you can call her Ah Nian as well. This is Sheng Nong Xing Yue. Ah Nian, call her Xing Ye. And this is…..” Zhuan Xu looked around for Xiao Liu who was nowhere in sight.
Xiao Liu sneaked out along with Ru So and then went to squeeze in with the spectators in the Gao Xing tribal group section. Ru So laughed “Chi Sui Xian will obviously be freezing everything soon, it’ll be cold then so this is perfect to stay warm.”
Xiao Liu had been pretending to be a man for two hundred years so was fine with it, squeezing in and finally feeling the mood of watching a tournament match.
The match began and it was intense, ice versus water, and just like Ru So said Xian froze all the water and it was like there was snow falling just on the match ring. Xiao Liu’s powers were low and the entire arena was like the middle of the Winter so she started shivering. Ru So saw it and put his hand on hers and passed her some power to warm her up. He also lowered his head to explain what was happening on the match ring between two opponents.
Xiao Liu suddenly felt like someone was staring at her and she looked towards the VIP section where there was a curtain covering one area. She asked Ru So “Who is sitting over there?” Ru So looked “The Tu Shan clan.”
Xiao Liu was silent and then started laughing and muttering “You made me promise not to date a guy for fifteen years, you didn’t say I couldn’t talk to guys.”
Ru So asked “What did you say?”
Xiao Liu laughed “Nothing, keep on explaining.”
Ru So and Xiao Liu continued to keep their heads close and talk to each other throughout the match.
Yu Jiang and Xian were battling not just on power but also on strategy. In the end these two powerful opponents showcased a thrilling match for the spectators, with Xian losing because all her powers were depleted and she collapsed in a faint. Yu Jiang fared no better and had to be carried to remain standing. He was declared the victor and all the Gao Xing tribes erupted in cheers.
The two of them headed out among the departing crowds, with Ru So keeping a hand on Xiao Liu’s shoulder to protect her and avoid being separated by the crowds. A lot of people in the VIP section knew Ru So and teased him that the Gao Xing grand prizes would be going home with him this year. Ru So laughed and accepted the ribbing.
The Four Great Clans were leaving and everyone parted for them respectfully.
The Autumn Tournament is where families got to win glory and the Four Great Clans represented the everlasting continuation of bloodlines that could never be changed. Kingdoms and Emperors can change, but families remained forever as long as each generation begat the next generation.
The Chi Sui clan, the Xi Ling clan, the Tu Shan clan, and the Gui Fang clan all walked past. Jing and Fang Feng Yi Yang walked side by side and when they passed Ru So, Fang Feng Yi Yang purposely slowed her steps and smiled at him. Jing glanced at Ru So, his eyes lingering on his hand on Xiao Liu’s shoulder. He said nothing and merely nodded at Ru So.
Xiao Liu pulled Ru So into the crowd and made a quick exit. Outside they ran into Zhuan Xu and Ah Nian, with Zhuan Xu glaring at Xiao Liu before asking Ru So “You two disappeared quickly, where did you go?”
Ru So just smiled and said nothing. Xiao Liu noticed Ah Nian was all smiles and in a great mood. Ah Nian whispered “Why did you run off? You should have seen the thunderous look on that Sheng Nong Xing Yue’s face when Chi Sui Xian lost. It was supremely satisfying to watch.”
Xiao Liu asked “Did you fight with her?”
“No, she’s Gege’s guest and I don’t want him in a bind. Plus she doesn’t know who I am so I was secretly happy.”
Xiao Liu remembered Ah Nian in Qing Shui Town, despite how much she hated Xiao Liu, when Zhuan Xu told her not to cause trouble she didn’t. No matter how anyone in Gao Xing looked down on Zhuan Xu, Ah Nian never did. Xiao Liu was thinking in a daze when Ah Nian rapped Xiao Liu on the forehead mimicking Zhuan Xu “What are you thinking?”
Xiao Liu smiled “Of you!”
“I warned you, you’re not allowed to like me!” Ah Nian’s face changed and then she remembered that she forgot all about having Xiao Liu make a fool of himself so her daddy wouldn’t marry her to him.
Xiao Liu said solemnly “I promised so don’t worry, your daddy won’t marry you to me.”
Ah Nian realized in the last few days that Xiao Liu was someone who said something and followed through so she relaxed.
Back at the residence, Xiao Liu went looking for Zhuan Xu. “How’s your injury?’
Zhuan Xu patted his shoulder “It’s all better but I can’t move it freely yet.”
Xiao Liu grabbed his arm and checked it out “The Chi Sui doctors are good, keep on resting up.”
Xiao Liu turned to leave but Zhuan Xu grabbed her arm “Scaring you like that, are you mad at me?”
Xiao Liu sat down “You know I won’t.” She used her finger to poke his shoulder “If one’s life wasn’t in danger, who would want to risk injury to put on a show.”
Zhuan Xu explained “Last time in Qing Shui Town, I investigated Fang Feng Yi Yang and learned she had two maids which were also on the ship that night. If I really fought back, then she would allow us to kill one of her maids and thus escalate it for Sheng Nong Xing Yue. Things would get dicey so I decided to play useless since I could tell she only wanted to kill me and didn’t want to harm Ah Nian. When I saw you had taken Ah Nian to safety, I pretended to sink to the bottom thinking Fang Feng Yi Yang couldn’t openly continue to kill me and finish the job and she would have to leave. The only thing I wasn’t expecting was Sheng Nong Xing Yue diving in to save me.”
Xiao Liu smiled “You need to thank me. If I didn’t want to listen to her zither, you wouldn’t have played the flute which led her to like you.”
Zhuan Xu huffed “Thank you? If I didn’t play the flute then I wouldn’t have lured them back, then we wouldn’t have run into them and this whole altercation wouldn’t have happened.”
Xiao Liu retorted “If we didn’t run into them, how would you have made the connection with the Chi Sui clan. This is bad luck begetting good tidings.”
Zhuan Xu gave up “Fine fine, I thank you.”
Xiao Liu suddenly sighed “I feel like fate is so magical. So many coincidences yet it’s all headed towards an inevitable. The Chi Sui clan and the Sheng Nong family are two families you have to get on your side. I just never thought it would come by this way.”
“You! You claim to have seen it all, yet you’re still a girl who dreams!” Zhuan Xu rapped her on the head “There is no real coincidence, there is only a must happen. The Sheng Nong tribe and Chi Sui clans, whether they stand with me is not based on coincidence, it’s based on what I can give them. These coincidences are merely the thin veil wrapped around something that must and will happen.”
“Ay! Gege you are too rational, and too cold hearted……” Xiao Liu pouted and then laughed at herself “I guess it’s good that I still dream.”
Zhuan Xu tenderly stroked her head.