Chapter 35: Departure All reproductions of this work not on volaretranslations are stolen copies.
Taking a deep breath, I backed away, only sparing a single glance inside. I told myself not to think too much and ran down the steps, calling a young eunuch to tell Nongyu to make two bowls of soup for sobering up.
The candles of the the Cold Palace had all been reserved for the main house.
Pitch-darkness covered the courtyard, but someone was quietly giving orders before everyone scattered to busy themselves with their tasks. Their footsteps were very light, and the soles of their shoes exceptionally soft, so that there was no sound when they walked.
My feet felt a little wooden, and my legs rather stiff. I couldn’t help casting backward glances at the room with every few steps. Thanks to the rising wind, the paper coverings on the windows were rattling with noise.
I stood for a while before sitting on a stone bench to space out. A hand propped up my head as I looked at the candlelit reflections of two figures against the windows. Though I knew these were only shadows, the flickering flames distorted their shapes and made them seem very intimate.
There was a thread of bitterness within my heart.
I suppressed my grief as a sudden warmth rose up to fill my eyes. My sleeve roughly rubbed at my face as I stood up, feeling at a loss.
Yifu was mine.
He was Shao’er’s Fang Hua.
My hands clenched, but the stuffy feeling in my chest remained.
“The soup was prepared long beforehand by the imperial kitchens, shall we deliver them now?” Little Li asked as he walked over, carrying two bowls. His gaze settled on me in astonishment. I ignored him, staring fixedly at a point as coldness penetrated to the depths of my heart.
The shadows in the window seemed to draw closer and closer to each other, and the shabby paper covering rustled in the wind, enough for me to vaguely discern that person’s brilliant yellow robes.
Only then did I notice someone pulling at my own clothes, and lose my concentration.
“What’s happened with you?” Little Li gave me a rather caring look.
“Nothing.” I turned away, my heart filled with agony. Though I wanted to grin, just trying to move my lips made my eyes grow hot.
“You were fine just awhile ago, but who provoked you now?” he said and stopped, glancing in the direction of the room before smiling mysteriously. “How fortunate, we don’t even need to deliver the sober-up soup this time.”
Why did he say that…?
My body shook as I followed his gaze to the room. There were no more shadows in the window, only darkness…the lights had gone out inside. Abruptly, my mind grew blank.
I didn’t think of anything, nor could I think of anything.
I only knew that Fang Hua and Han Zichuan were the only ones in that room. I don’t know where my viciousness came from, but I suddenly lost my head and seized the soup from Little Li’s hands, valiantly pushing him aside to charge inside.
“You can’t go in, hey…little ancestor, why aren’t you listening to what I say?” Little Li’s voice grew smaller and smaller until he shrank back and retreated…because I’d already used three parts of my internal energy to push against the door with a creak until it opened. Without a lantern, the lighting in the room was very dim. However, the moonlight coming in from another window was enough to illuminate everything.
The table was empty besides a single jug of wine.
My vision swept past to see Han Zichuan leaning over to lie on the bed. A pair of hands looped around his neck to rest upon his shoulders, but I couldn’t see the expression of the person beneath him…
My frame of mind now, how to put it…
It was indescribable.
It felt like a weight had rammed into my heart until I’d forgotten how to breathe. I didn’t know when my hands started shaking, too weak to support something so heavy. An ear-piercing noise caught my attention from the floor, causing me to retreat a few steps.
Stunned, I realized just then that the soup bowls were cracked, and the floor was covered in porcelain fragments. The spilled soup was still surging across the floors, drenching my shoes and forcing me back like the sight before me. They both left me at my wit’s end.
“Who told you to come in?” An angry voice filled with reproach came from the side of the bed, infused with a rare boldness.
“Your servant will leave as soon as she’s cleared the mess.”
I hurriedly knelt down. Strange, wasn’t it, that something kept flowing uncontrollably from my eyes. I lowered my head and split my mouth into a grin, wiping my face with my sleeves as my heart shivered in pain.
Han Zichuan kept his reclining position, lying over Fang Hua with a hand supporting his head. He seemed flabbergasted…a complicated expression in his eyes as he prepared to get off the bed. “Come here, let me take a better look.”
I stubbornly remained kneeling on the floor.
There was the sound of someone getting off the bed. I took a deep breath and crawled towards the door, my hands trembling as I prepared to rush out.
Someone firmly gripped me by the shoulder.
That person had monstrous strength, as if his fingers were digging into my flesh.
“Let go.” I waved my hand and shook him off, but forgot that he was the crown prince. Before me, all the eunuchs were either kneeling or flat on their stomachs.
“I won’t…I know it’s you. Shao’er…”
Han Zichuan embraced me from behind, arms fastened tightly around my waist. My throat burned like fire, as if he was squeezing all the air from my lungs. Still, I kept up my stubborn struggling.
“I almost went with Nongyu back to our house in the forest to look for medicinal plants. But my spies told me the house was empty, and no one lived inside…you followed me back to the palace a long time ago, right?”
His face rubbed against me, the words pitiful and weak. “Why didn’t you tell me?” In the end, he roughly turned me around and spoke word by word. “You should know how much I worried about you.”
I stared at him with wide eyes. He was drunk to the point of expressing tender feelings, fingers unhurriedly brushing towards my face, my eyebrows…but I raised my brows and turned around, feeling extremely uncomfortable. Yet he forcefully resisted me with his hands, leaning over to look at my face.
“I should have realized early on that you changed your looks. Who taught you, was it Nongyu?”
I couldn’t make out anything from his tone, but only felt…there were many things I couldn’t grasp. All I could see was the image of him lying on Fang Hua, the latter holding him in his embrace.
“Your highness, please conduct yourself with dignity,” The words were squeezed out from the gaps in my teeth. I didn’t know how long I could bear it…
“Conduct myself with dignity?” he smiled brightly, his mouth filled with ridicule. “I’m going to be the only ruler of a country very soon. There’s nothing I want that I can’t have.”
This person, where did he get such self-confidence?
I fixed him with a look. Exactly how much of him was drunk, and how much was sober?
“Ah, you…” his gaze shifted, and his hand rested on my throat. “You even fixed your voice…did you really want to avoid me? Yet you clearly got closer to Fang Hua, that really saddens me.”
“You and my yifu, just what exactly…” The last few words were stuck in my throat and refused to come out. It was very difficult to speak them.
He raised his eyebrows and said nothing, but gave me a significant look. Using his hands, he clutched me in a full embrace.
“I can’t say it, and also…I definitely can’t tell you.”
My body stiffened, vision filled with his frenetic, concealed gaze. He paused before adding something without rhyme or reason. “We’ve been together for so long, yet you didn’t realize I liked you?”
Like me to the point that you’d hug me…even as he said those words, he felt the hair on my temples with his fingers, pinching part of the skin…
My lips slowly curved up and I only thought it was very funny…as well as sad.
Yifu, is this the sort of person you like?
There was a slight noise. The unlocked door behind us opened with a creak. I gave an astonished look behind Han Zichuan. Something brushed before my eyes, and my face suddenly grew cool. A face mask was lifted onto his fingers as Han Zichuan raised his eyebrows to give me a pleased look.
And yet I was completely fixated on the person behind him.
Beneath the vast and boundless moon, Fang Hua leaned by the door, his face at a complete loss. He was only wearing a simple, single layer of white robes as his gaze slowly drifted to Han Zichuan and me.
“Yifu,” I called out hoarsely.
The two arms around my waist had never let go.
He strove to put on an expressionless face of surprise, but the hand pinching the front of his jacket was shaking. The mole by the corner of one eye looked as if it was about to slide down his face, glistening a scarlet red.
He was probably very sad.
Because at this moment, I could feel my heart twisting in pain like it would split open. So this was what they called a chill that pierced the liver and spleen.
He looked at me with a trace of a gentle, peaceful smile. A pair of twinkling pupils, pure and limpid as spring water, made a captivating sight. Yet to me, they only seemed like a source of endless sorrow. His outwardly mournfulness increased.
I suddenly felt listless and empty.
Han Zichuan lowered his head while hugging me. Between the confusion and shock, the shattered mess of the past flashed before me like a dreamscape.
“Shao Hua, I know you.”
“Shao Hua, I’ll be living here now with you and Fang Hua.”
That day the willow catkins were swirling in the air and Han Zichuan charged into our lives without warning. Was now a time to settle everything…? Perhaps this had been the truth from the beginning, but I had refused to believe it.
“Someone I used to know very well once fell in love with a person unable to return his feelings. The person he loved already had a wife, but he was still attracted to that person like a moth to a flame. The second half of his life was spent in grief so heavy that he wished he was dead…”
Han Zichuan had his head lowered to play the qin. Behind him stood Fang Hua, instructing him with his fingers.
The sunlight seeped past the bamboo woods to shine upon them both, dazzling slightly. A fresh gale blew past, lifting their sashes in the air while flowers fell like rain.
All these scenes flashed through my mind’s eye…
How could I have forgotten?
An aching sadness settled itself in my heart.
I’d never forgotten…I just didn’t want to accept it.
I think…I was really tired. I softly covered Han Zichuan’s hands and stiffly pushed him away to take a deep breath. My hands and feet had no support, and there was no hope for me to cling to. The secret anguish of my heart had become a vivid reality.
Yifu, you raised me.
Shao’er once promised that I’d risk my life to protect you…
As for now, if you can be happy, then I’ll leave…
As long as you are happy.
My heart grew weary as my hands slackened, and I made a choice to turn and walk off without any hint of reluctance. From the beginning to end, I dared not look back towards that hazy, foggy white image of a figure. I relaxed my body and closed my eyes, afraid that if I saw…I wouldn’t be able to bear leaving him.
There was only his voice by my ear. “Shao’er, if you think it’s worthwhile, then don’t come back.”
A very, very long time afterwards, my heart would twitch whenever I recall these words, which kept me restless for a long time. Everything originated from a misunderstanding. Suppose I had turned around then, maybe things would have been different.
Sadly, there wasn’t enough room for maybe in this world.
-o- All reproductions of this work not on volaretranslations are stolen copies.
 little ancestor (???) ?xiao zuzong, a respectful title to call one’s senior in a family (or perhaps a family unit like this one).