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Year by year, those atop Fullmoon River were annually different, but the sights were always similar. The spring wind passed the ten-li-long shore once, separating people by nine steps and three turns of the head.
All the vermilion was observed turning to teal.
The year’s song on the River was missed, along with the night of the Lantern Festival. Once Jing Qi caught sight of the distant gates of the capital, some sort of continuously stifling yearning faintly arose in his heart.
Yearning for the remote and carefree Prince Estate, the nagging Ping An, and even the neighboring little monster, Wu Xi.
He couldn’t resist laughing. “In your opinion,” he said to Ji Xiang, who was attending at the side, “will that conscienceless sable at the Estate still recognize me?”
Ji Xiang quickly smiled ingratiatingly. “You’ve spoken baseless words, Master. That little thing has been kept beside you the whole time and would never let anyone else close. How could it not recognize you?”
As if he had remembered something, Jing Qi smiled as well. “Yes, animals are much more conscientious than humans… hey, do you know why that is?” It was idle chatter, but it took Ji Xiang a bit aback, and he didn’t understand what the Junior Prince meant — why had he dragged the topic here? Was it homesickness? Thus, he shook his head.
“Humans have too many things they worry about, such as parents, siblings, friends, family, wives, children, elders, and juniors, along with daily socializing that can’t be skipped, and there’s constantly untold amounts of temptations that they might get ensnared in,” Jing Qi explained, with some apparent feeling. “Animals are different, though; their daily worries are no more than living, eating, and drinking. Raise them, and you’ll be the only one they will normally look at and recognize. You have this great big mortal world outside, yet they remember your kindness alone…” Talking up to there, he stopped.
Ji Xiang was at a loss and didn’t get it, so he was obliged to smile deferentially, nod, and say “right.”
“Prince, why is what you’ve said so… so painful to hear?” Liang Jiuxiao suddenly asked, however. He inhaled through his nose, thought for a long spell, then had to say, “Prince, you’re coming home from an assignment, and I’m able to meet my sect-brother I haven’t seen in a while. Those are both happy events, so let’s not say things like that, okay? They make one feel sour in the heart listening to them.”
Jing Qi cast a glance at him. “I was just weighing the matter offhand. What’s painful about it?” he asked mildly.
Liang Jiuxiao’s entire face wrinkled up, and he shook his head. “No, it sounds painful, like a breath’s caught up in my chest. It’s an uncomfortable feeling, as if… if… as if I’ve gotten disappointed with something so many times, I refuse to think about it anymore.”
The corner of Jing Qi’s mouth curved. He said nothing.
He believed that, sometimes, the Heavens were extraordinarily impartial; what one’s aptitude was would also be their shortcoming. The greater part of intelligent people, for instance, thought more, but their lives wouldn’t necessarily pass by easier than fools’. Shrewd, deep-thinking people that were constantly mulling over the minds of others, for another instance, always had an intrinsic perspective when viewing people, but were often inferior to honest-natured folk, ill-versed in the ways of the world, that had near-mystical intuition.
Wu Xi had that type of intuition, as did Liang Jiuxiao.
Jing Qi was convinced that, in actuality, everybody had it when they were newborns, but as more and more time passed… even their own hearts wouldn’t believe in it.
Suddenly, the carriage stopped, startling him. Ji Xiang promptly poked his head out to ask after it. The front side said something in answer, and he hopped off, coming back a short moment later with joy seemingly across his features. “Guess who’s here, Master.”
“Hm?” The rays of light were somewhat dim, and he wasn’t taking note of Ji Xiang’s expression, so his brows nevertheless furrowed once he heard that, tumult immediately roiling in his mind. He was lightly decorated and simply accompanied, walking ahead of Cui Yingshu for the sake of sneakily returning to the capital; no one had been informed of that so he could go directly into the palace, come before the Emperor, and explain the incident’s settlement, preventing there from being a time where Helian Qi would kick up a fuss out of nothing. Yet, his footprints had been discovered here…
Who was it that was so magically talented? Where had the stake been hammered in? Near him? Not possible — they might be near Zhou Zishu…
And what was the meaning of obstructing him here?
Silent for a time, he then reached his hand out, his surface yet undisturbed with no emotion to be seen. “Help me down. I’ll take a look at what kind of friend has such magical abilities.”
As soon as he disembarked, however, he was stunned.
On an ancient road in the capital’s outskirts, there was a wine pavilion-turned-‘rest pavilion’. Three willows were at its doors, pedestrians passing them by, and the snapping off of a branch would transmit yearning for a thousand li out. Were one to walk any further out, they would go beyond the city gates.
Currently, in the open area at the pavilion’s entrance, a single person was seated.
The teen had grown fast. Having not seen him for the greater half of a year, he almost couldn’t recognize him. His height had risen by a good amount, rather like a crane amongst a crowd of chickens. There was no veil on his face, and the forever slightly-boyish curvature from his memory had nevertheless seemingly been polished by time; he had grown up overnight by virtue of a gust of wind. The eyes he gazed at him with were extraordinarily bright, even bringing a smile with them.
Jing Qi had never seen such a gentle smile on the young man’s face before, and for a moment, he felt somewhat unfamiliar.
Of course, he wasn’t the only one who had never witnessed a smile like that on Wu Xi. Even the accompanying Ashinlae and Nuahar couldn’t help but be horrified. Following the day their Shamanet had spoken those words that scared the world and made spirits cry, the two’s minds had continuously been in chaos.
Forget about Ashinlae — not even Nuahar could understand why the Shamanet was fond of a man.
What was so great about this guy? Not nice-smelling, not soft, and solid-bodied; he couldn’t speak in a delicate voice, nor would he wash clothes, cook food, bear children, or manage the household. Nuahar peered at Ashinlae, silently imagining the same man being labelled a wife and taken back home… he immediately got goosebumps all over and narrowly vomited up food he had eaten last night.
He increasingly felt that the Shamanet was hexed.
Every day, he would be overcome with boredom as he escorted Wu Xi to sit in this lousy little wine pavilion for a while, and he wasn’t sure what the other was doing, either, since he didn’t eat anything. He did the same stuff each time where he would ask for a pot of wine, then pay and leave once he finished it, taking a longing look at the towering city walls on his departure — that was it.
But the instant Prince Jing got off the carriage, both Wu Xi’s eyes and smile suddenly shone, like a thunderclap that struck Nuahar’s heart. He understood at a glance that this wasn’t the Shamanet being hexed; it was heartfelt.
Back in the day, when his own older brother would pick a daily small basket of Nanjiang’s most beautiful silkgrass from highly dangerous areas — braving the peril of losing his life at any time — and then bring it home to his wife, he frequently would have an unconscious expression like this on his face.
Upon seeing that someone, it was a look akin to a plant on the verge of withering getting a second of sweet nectar, its entire form coming alive.
For that reason, Nuahar’s mood was complicated as he followed after Wu Xi to go meet him. He secretly took a measure of the familiar man. Jing Qi’s looks were indeed good, and not a woman’s type of good — he was tall-statured, his apparel sharp as a jade tree facing the wind, and his entire person held an indescribable refinement and sophistication. While within this impeccable dressing, his speech and conduct nonetheless involuntarily held a brand of unrestrainedness that minded nothing, and could relinquish anything; a bit overly perceptive, but, as a friend, able to be bonded with out of admiration.
This was a fine person, but… he was a man! Nuahar automatically cast a stealthy look at Ashinlae. Contemplating how the one the Shamanet liked was a big ol’ manfolk like him, Nuahar was all the more in a snag.
Naturally, Jing Qi was unaware that at this very moment, someone else was in the process of mentally establishing a description-defying connection between him and the big-and-rough Ashinlae. All he was thinking about was that his recent vigilance had been a bit ridiculous.
He was accustomed to meticulous caution, even being slightly skittish.
For some reason, he relaxed as soon as he saw Wu Xi. Despite knowing on the inside that the little brat had a poisonous heart, poisonous hands, and poisonous everything else, he still had a sincere sense of security. In any case, on the whole, he didn’t need to have his mind calculating before him; he could relax some, smile when he was in a good mood, and not force a joyful appearance when he wasn’t, as if he was going by his nature, too.
“I didn’t expect that the first person I’d bump into at the capital would be you,” Jing Qi said with a grin.
Wu Xi abruptly reached out and hugged him. Stupefied, Jing Qi adjusted only after a short moment had passed, and clapped the other forcefully on the back. “You ran off into a farm and pilfered some peasant family’s compost to eat, eh? I haven’t seen you for a few days, and it seems you’ve gone mad.”
Wu Xi detected the man’s bones pressing painfully into his arms, as if he had gotten thinner compared to before he had left, and his heart ached dully, having a feeling of sadness and joy weaving together. He had never known previously that there could be so very many subtle feelings in a person’s heart, and half a year’s worth of pining tilted out, the flood turning into a disaster.
In the end, all he sullenly said was, “I missed you.”
Jing Qi’s heart warmed — Helian Pei was awaiting the list of equity he had taken inventory of, Helian Yi was awaiting the collection of corrupt officials he had caught, Helian Zhao was awaiting news that he himself had been washed clean, Zhou Zishu was awaiting his sect-brother… not one would have come to this rest pavilion on an old road, where noise and dust were liable to scatter about, to hug him tight and say I missed you.
Nothing else. Just missing you, just you alone.
“So you do still have something of a conscience.” He couldn’t resist laughing.
A long time later, Wu Xi let him go, watching him unblinkingly with dark black eyes. “Why are you here?” Jing Qi asked.
“I have nothing else to do regardless. I heard you would come back down this road, so I’ve been coming to watch every day.”
Jing Qi’s eyes widened. “Every day?” he blurted out. “I left for over half a year. You, every single day…”
Wu Xi nodded like it was by rights. “I sit here for a while, then go back. I didn’t expect you would be gone for so long.”
How was this kid so affection-invoking…? Abruptly feeling pretty gratified, Jing Qi thus beckoned for Ji Xiang to bring a small box over, then took it and passed it to Wu Xi. “I bought little trinkets for you.”
Wu Xi accepted it mutely, an odd look suddenly emerging on his face that resembled extreme happiness, which was then forcibly repressed. “For me?” he whispered.
Jing Qi nodded. “Folk specialties of the Guangs. They’re not worth anything, but I was thinking that you might not have seen them before, so you can take them back home and do with them what you will.”
“Then… they’re for me alone?” Wu Xi asked again.
Those who have grown to independence are indeed grown, Jing Qi thought to himself. Something one would regard as important had to be carefully planned for (and baubles for cajoling small children were naturally unfit to be seen in public), so he nodded. “Who else would I get them for?”
Fully satisfied, Wu Xi carefully opened the satin-wrapped box. Inside was an intricate ivory case, its surface decorated with the designs of fauna that were all nothing short of exquisite. Since time immemorial, the signature of tusk and horn had been juxtaposed with the jade of the Kunlun mountains, the pearl of the bright moon, the pendant of the night’s brilliance, and other such things, the shine and affluence to it not needing to be said. The case was opened, and inside that were twelve small figurines of the Zodiac animals, all carved in ivory, and each painstakingly crafted with palpable innocuity.
Wu Xi cautiously accepted it, placed it exceptionally preciously on his chest, then gave a smile that didn’t have the slightest affectation. “I really like it.” Saying that, he took a dark-green, jadeite ring that he was wearing off his finger. “You gave me a gift. I will give you one also.”
Nuahar and Ashinlae’s eyeballs nearly bulged out — Shamanet, that’s been passed down through generations of Great Shamans! The Great Shaman had given it to him prior to his exodus, instructing him to keep it safe, and if he didn’t bring it with him in the future, then it definitely had to have been gifted to his wife… that’s… but then…
Ashinlae opened his mouth, wanting to speak, and Nuahar stomped on his foot hard. He choked it back down with an ashen face.
Jing Qi waved him off and smiled. “You’re no fun, huh? They’re but some curios. Gifts are just gifts; mess around with them when you want to, toss them to the side if you don’t.”
“What you give me, I will absolutely never toss to the side — this is different, too. You must accept it,” Wu Xi replied earnestly.
Jing Qi blinked. Taking the jadeite ring, he observed it in the light. He knew it was a good item, but, as Prince Nan’ning, he had hitherto seen genuinely too many good things, so he didn’t care much about this piece of jade, either. “What’s different about it?” he questioned, teasing.
Wu Xi went quiet for a bit. “I can’t tell you right now. Anyways, it’s different.”
Delighted at the prospect of mystery, Jing Qi went to speak, but he noticed Wu Xi looking at him with utter seriousness. “You must accept this,” he insisted.
There was no need to wrangle with him over this trifle. Mood good, Jing Qi readily went along with him. “Very well. It would be rude to decline.”
He compared it to his hand. It wouldn’t go on his thumb, but it was a bit bigger than the rest of his fingers. The attentive Ji Xiang swiftly got a section of string from wherever and strung it for him to hang around his neck.
Wu Xi smiled silently.
Prince, you have received a token of this one’s love…
The author says: Sometimes, the Prince really… makes people hate him so much their teeth itch, just a little~~
The translator says: Straight boys don’t know shit.