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Wu Xi was not an especially chatty person. Most of the time, someone else would be doing the talking, and he the listening. Regardless of whether he was absorbing what he heard or not, the majority of his responses were brief questions, or nods and shakes of the head. After getting to know him for a long time, though, Jing Qi found out that his expressions from when he was actually listening versus casually skimping were unalike.
During others’ nonsense talk, Wu Xi’s eyes would generally be looking downwards, half-hooded and motionless, making it hard for him to time his nods with precision. When he was seriously listening, though, his eyes were fixed directly onto the other party, as if he never wanted to blink.
Every time he was looked at with eyes like that, he couldn’t resist talking a bit more.
When one constantly faced some complicated people and complicated emotions, then witnessed simple, unadulterated things, they were particularly prone to soft-heartedness. That was why Jing Qi always had unusual patience towards young children and small animals. What a shame that, despite reincarnating so many times, he had never had his own heirs.
At times, he would abruptly want a son just like Wu Xi, who would open his big, black eyes to soundlessly urge him to keep going whenever he was talking. During any situation, his mind couldn’t get sidetracked, he would clearly identify matters of right and wrong for himself, and he would never wantonly waver — ‘I’ll allow your wind to blast and rain to beat, but I’ll be a motionless peak.’
Having none of those, Jing Qi believed that the type of person Wu Xi was ought to be the luckiest; as he lived, even if he would sometimes get tired, he would not ever be exhausted.
Because he was forever persevering with a few things that were very clear-cut, he would not be at a loss, nor regretful, nor overcautious to the point that he would hesitate and not put his foot forward.
In spite of the admiration, something that was innate nature couldn’t eventually be learned.
Jing Qi collected amusing events of the whole journey as he chatted with him, with Ji Xiang, Ashinlae, Nuahar, Liang Jiuxiao, and the rest of them following behind. “Who is that?” Liang Jiuxiao asked Ji Xiang quietly. “He doesn’t look like someone of our Great Qing.”
“That’s the Nanjiang Shamanet, who lives next to our Estate and visits often.”
Liang Jiuxiao’s eyes shone, and he couldn’t help but feel a bit eager. “He’s the Shamanet? Isn’t he the one that you said had awesome martial arts?”
“Young Master Zhou has praised them before, too,” Ji Xiang replied with a smile. “His other skills are good as well. As it goes, those bottles of precious stuff that the Prince had on hand were also made up by him.”
Hearing of his eldest sect-brother Zhou Zishu, Liang Jiuxiao promptly seemed to get injected with chicken blood, and he itched to rush up and compare notes with Wu Xi. Then, he heard the latter half and couldn’t keep from being astonished. “Oh, that drug that put me down when a little bit got on me?”
The two were trailing them not-closely and in hushed voices, but Wu Xi had extraordinary hearing. He hadn’t been paying attention at first, but once he caught this, he couldn’t resist turning his head with a slight crease of the brows. “Who is that one?”
“Zhou Zishu’s younger sect-brother. He helped me out a lot with this… oh, right. Ji Xiang, when I go into the palace later, you don’t need to follow. Bring Young Master Liang back, have people entertain him properly, then send someone to invite Young Master Zhou to talk with him.”
Ji Xiang nodded and affirmed.
Wu Xi was yet unsure. “Was there any place unclear in the usage of them that I wrote for you, for you to harm him by mistake?”
Jing Qi shook his head and bust out laughing. Liang Jiuxiao’s face went thoroughly red, but he was a straightforward person; before Jing Qi could speak, he stammeringly explained the matter, sneaking a peek at Jing Qi as he talked. Seeing that the other was only taking it as a joke without the slightest trace of moodiness, he therefore said out loud, “Regardless, the Prince is a great benefactor to the people of the Guangs, as well as me. I had transgressed you, yet you didn’t get mad, as you are a truly good man. If there is an errand I can be sent on later, then I, Liang Jiuxiao, will not decline it, even if my head falls to the ground and my blood shoots to the sky!”
Both Nuahar and Ashinlae’s mouths were wide open. They looked at this big-talking brother, then at Wu Xi, having a bit of reverence in their hearts. He dared to admit that he tried to… tried to assassinate the Shamanet’s future wife, to his face. Truly, phenomenally courageous.
“You? You not causing trouble for me is fine by itself. You’re lacking in successes and have an abundance of failures, so how could I dare to trouble you, O Great One?” Jing Qi cheerfully scolded.
Wu Xi narrowed his eyes at Liang Jiuxiao expressionlessly, though. If the look in his eyes that he just had while listening to Jing Qi could be described as being akin to a gluttoned little sable, this one would instead be of a hissing viper’s. Liang Jiuxiao suddenly felt a bit cold, thinking that Nanjiang was a place where barbarians stayed, indeed. Even this guy was so eerie, one look of his made him feel discomfited all over for a very long time.
Wu Xi latched onto Jing Qi. “Did he harm you?”
Before Jing Qi could speak (again), Liang Jiuxiao cried out automatically. “How could I? Had I harmed the Prince, wouldn’t I had to have made up for it with my death?”
Upon peeking at Wu Xi’s face, Jing Qi knew that he was a bit angry. Afraid that he would split hairs over Liang Jiuxiao being some kind of villain, he consequently gave a laugh. “It was a misunderstanding, just a bout. I got to experience Hero Liang’s practiced face-changing arts, so it was worth it.”
That was the truth. Zhou Zishu was even more practiced at it, able to switch out his face like a carousel lantern, but he generally seldom turned himself female. On the occasions he did, they were only in the category of haggard village women, and not like this guy, who displayed originality by turning himself into a major beauty. As was known, although face-changing sounded divine when spoken of, it ultimately wasn’t without flaws, and for that reason, experts usually avoided making themselves up too extravagantly so they wouldn’t look unnatural.
“If it weren’t for that beauty being too tall and robust, I likely wouldn’t have been able to tell anything was amiss,” Jing Qi teased.
Things would’ve been fine if he hadn’t said that. Wu Xi wasn’t an unreasonable person, since the misunderstanding was unmasked and the other wasn’t truly injured, but once he heard those words, he swiftly felt that looking at this stupidly-smiling guy was displeasing to the eye. He had disguised himself as a woman, then went by himself late at night to… to that man’s bedroom.
Good. Very good.
Hence, that very night, Liang Jiuxiao almost puked and trotted himself half to death. The following day, he got a whole body rash, and the fact that it wouldn’t be going down for a few months would temporarily go unmentioned.
Even Zhou Zishu, an old jianghu hat, couldn’t tell what had befallen his sect-brother, and merely took it as him being unadapted.
Anyways, Jing Qi returned to the Estate on the same path as Wu Xi, hastily changed his clothes, then went to the palace.
Junior Eunuch Wang Wu welcomed him, a heap of smiles on his face. “The Emperor invites you inside, Prince.”
Jing Qi walked to him, beaming, then passingly fished out a hefty pouch from his sleeve and handed it over. “Thanks for your trouble, Eunuch Wang. We haven’t met for over half a year. The Emperor is in good health and Eunuch Xi Ning is getting older, so you’ve had a lot of work, eh?”
Wang Wu hurriedly denied this with deference. “Waiting upon the Emperor is a boon that this slave has cultivated over several lifetimes. How could I claim it to be work? The Emperor has just awoken from an afternoon doze, so his energy is currently rather high. He was just reminiscing about you, Prince, and then you return; isn’t that a coincidence?”
Jing Qi exchanged pleasantries with him. As he followed him towards the inside, he heard him speak into his ear in a extremely quiet voice. “The home remedy that you asked the Shamanet for last time was truly effective, Prince. This slave’s old mother took two doses, and her legs have gotten a bit stronger… I thank you for your great kindness and virtue, Prince…”
He swallowed down the latter part. The palace was an important place with ears all around, and some words could be understood implicitly.
Despite Wang Wu’s body being incomplete, he was a most-rare filial son. His mother’s legs were bad, and she took a fall last spring that left them completely paralyzed while Wang Wu had still been on duty in the palace, enduring being right under the Emperor’s nose. Unable to manage both sides, he got overly anxious, and poured out scalding tea due to negligence, thus getting berated by Helian Pei. Jing Qi just-so-happened to be on scene, so he asked after it in private, then sought out Wu Xi to seek a remedy for him, which actually worked.
Jing Qi smiled. “It was no more effort than the lift of a hand,” he said lightly.
Slight effort exchanged for someone’s lifetime of deep gratitude — what wasn’t to love? The wind and waves of the world were easy to dodge, but there were too many hidden ravines to capsize ships. What made things easier for someone else also made it easier for oneself.
Wang Wu sighed. “The Emperor has been excited these days. The Second Highness has acquired many strange creatures from somewhere, and this slave has never seen them before. This act of filial piety has coaxed the Emperor into quite some joy.”
Jing Qi’s peach blossom eyes narrowed slightly, but he didn’t stop in his tracks, merely nodding — Wang Wu was pointedly warning him… that Helian Qi was moving about a lot at the Emperor’s side recently. Evidently, he had dropped a lot of medicine in his eyes, too.
Helian Pei was very affectionate when he saw him, calling him to his side, then saying he was tall, then saying he was thin, continually moaning and groaning about stuff once through. Conversely, he only carelessly listened to his explanation of the Guang event before towing him into some gossip, sighing ruefully during. “Had we known you would be gone for most of a year like this, we wouldn’t have made you go to that place of simultaneous gusts and snowfall. Child, we know without being told that those things were all done by Cui Yingshu and his band of rough-skinned folk. You rushed in to get up close to whatever excitement there was?”
Jing Qi touched his nose and merely smiled.
“You are one of innate wealth. In light of what we’ve said, we don’t request that you do any sort of wondrous feat. Just like with Mingzhe, being safe and sound your whole life is good. There’s only one thing — you mustn’t follow his nature of not being able to let things go,” Helian Pei educated him.
His heart jolted. Carefully, he raised his head to look at the man, only to see a gentle smile on his face without any particular expression. He then knew that Helian Qi must have done a lot of talking in circles to stab him with hidden knives in this segment of time. Mind in a flurry, he put a wronged look on his face, lifted up his sleeve, and came close before Helian Pei in that friendly sort of way, resembling what he had done as a child. “Speaking of that, take a look, Your Majesty.”
Helian Pei looked and saw a scab on his fair arm, dark and outstandingly large. “Oh, how did that happen?”
“It’s a burn.”
“Which slave has forfeited their life to have dared burn your arm so?” Helian Pei asked worriedly. “Have you sought out an imperial physician yet?”
Jing Qi waved his hand and put his sleeve down. “I got a local doctor to take a look at it. It’s fine; he said that it wouldn’t leave a scar, and it’s even close to healed. This subject hadn’t wanted to add to your burden, but when you said such a thing just now, I couldn’t hold back this bit of grievance that I’ve had in my heart the whole journey — this burn was from me myself. Everyone said that the Guangs were a warm place, but, unexpectedly, it became cold once a heavy snowfall came down. This subject unwisely held a portable heater all through the day, and the instant I wasn’t being careful, I burned myself.”
“Oi, look at you!” The man reached out and poked him on the forehead. “How old are you? You weren’t going to tell? Ah, you kids. We watched you all grow up, and the one day you’re not in our sight, you have to add a drop of variety.”
“Right?” Jing Qi replied, aggrieved. “This subject regretted at the time that I wasn’t staying at a good place in the capital, having instead run off to such a distant region. I was just thinking at the time that everyone had already gone out there, and if my business wasn’t settled, I wouldn’t have any face at all to meet my fellow countrymen with, so I forced myself to do it.”
“You still have no face to meet them? Which opera are you singing?” Helian Pei asked him in jest.
Jing Qi’s mouth curled. “Over there, one moment I’d be thinking that I needed to argue on behalf of Royal Uncle and Father Prince, and then another moment I’d be thinking that, later on, I would never listen to someone else conning, meddling, and making trouble again. It sounded easy, but the doing was really awful. Next time, I’ll get beaten to death and still not go.”
Helian Pei was taken aback, as though he was only just now remembering that Jing Qi’s departure to the Guangs was by Helian Qi’s urging. All of a sudden, he had nothing to say.
Jing Qi yet appeared to be ignorant of this, continuing to recount some interesting news from the Guangs, after which he took his leave.
Quietly, he let out a sigh of relief. The mark on his arm was from before leaving on the trip; he suddenly had a thought, so, in order to protect against the unexpected, he had Liang Jiuxiao personally use face-change stuff to make something for him where the fake could be passed off as the real, and others wouldn’t be able to easily tell so.
Against expectations, his worry had come true.
Sure enough, keeping one’s monarch company was akin to keeping a tiger company. In the heavenly family, there was no such thing as father and son, to say nothing of an unverified foster son…
He abruptly recalled that, in his previous life, Helian Pei seemingly didn’t have gripes with him. Back then, his mind was entirely devoted to Helian Yi, as if every other thing up in heaven and down on earth aside from him was no more than a thought. Perhaps it was exactly because of that that Helian Pei was unusually at ease.
In this lifetime… everything was instead too precise, and it narrowly became a pitfall.
The translator says: Poor Ah-Xiao had to pay for his crime.
 These are lines from two different poems by Mao Zedong. He’s a controversial figure, especially in China, but I certainly don’t have any good things to say about him, so let’s leave it at that. The poems are Swimming and Mount Jinggang.