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Prince Nan’ning Jing Beiyuan was typically favored, running amok in the capital with a team of the Emperor plus Crown Prince backing him. The Eldest and Second Scions both deeply hated him for different reasons, but they had no way to apprehend him at any point.
Now, however, he abruptly came under house arrest.
There were secrets all over the place within the depths of the palace, and for that very reason, they would turn into non-secrets; on top of that, Helian Pei had blurted out his inquiry, and the move Jing Qi had made was impromptu, without a painstaking avoidance of taboo. The result was that, in the span of a day, the reason why Prince Nan’ning got a three-month house arrest was pretty much spread throughout the whole Imperial City.
Literally everyone was in an uproar.
In the East Palace, Helian Yi vigorously crushed a cup, the fragments of broken porcelain cutting his regaled hand until it was dripping blood. A couple of young palace maids beside him were terrified, some quickly running out to call for an imperial physician, and another kneeling down, carefully gathering up his hand, then removing the porcelain pieces. Before she had cleaned them, he suddenly flung her away, stood up, and strode outside.
His personal attendant, Yu Kui, happened to be bringing tea in from the outside then, nearly full-on colliding with him, but got pushed away by him. Noticing that his expression was off, Yu Kui didn’t take anything else into consideration as he hurriedly followed him out, repeatedly shouting to him. “Your Highness, Your Highness, where are you going?… You are—”
Helian Yi’s words seemed like they were getting squeezed out from between the cracks in his teeth. “Go… bring people to raid that Yellow Flower or whatever it is for me. Furthermore, that Ming Hua… I want to see what he’s made of. His ambitions are connivingly deviant, to have turned into this seduction of a powerfully-connected, named official of the Dynasty… good. Very good, very good!”
For what reason is something inferior like that perfectly acceptable, while I’m not? A cherishing heart that, for so many years, hasn’t stepped the slightest bit out of line — was it fed entirely to the dogs?
I see you as a treasure, and you reciprocate by letting yourself go like this?
Anxious, Yu Kui rushed up in front of Helian Yi, out of breath, then knelt on the ground with a plop, hugging his leg. “Your Highness, you absolutely must not! Right now, the Prince’s affair is causing a scandal all throughout the city; were you to muster a huge force to arrest one single prostitute at this critical juncture, and word of that got out, what would people say? What would the Emperor think? What would the reputation of the Crown Prince be, too? Y-You’re not thinking of anyone else, nor about our flock of servants in the East Palace, but can you still not think of our Great Qing? You should take your time making decisions on this, Your Highness!”
Helian Yi’s eyes were all red, and he wanted to struggle free, but Yu Kui was hindering him for dear life. He staggered — thinking that there was some blackness before his eyes, he subconsciously reached through the air to grab it. Fortunately, an observant imperial guard nearby noticed that he looked weird, and he promptly came over to support him, disallowing him from collapsing to the ground on-scene.
The Crown Prince, normally slightly smiling when coming across people with neither joy nor anger recognizable on him, had a face white as paper, and with the addition of his hand that was bleeding without cease, he was frightening no matter how one looked at him. Yu Kui frantically stood up, framed by imperial guards on the left and right of him. “Your-Your Highness?! Where’s the physician? Is he dead? Disabled? Why is he still not here?!”
Helian Yi seized his shoulders with all of his strength, eyes opened. Anxiety and fury attacked his heart in that moment, the color of blood in his lips fading all the way to nothing. He spat out a few low words from within his throat. “Arrange for a chariot, and go… to Prince Nan’ning’s Estate.”
It wasn’t a long journey from the palace to the Estate, but he felt like a lifetime had passed. When he had emerged, his mind was blank from rage, but as time passed little by little, he seemed to have a feeling of powerlessness that climbed little by little as well.
He thought of the other’s gradual change from childhood to adulthood. He thought of that pair of vibrant and stained-glass-like, yet bottomless, eyes. He thought of his face smeared with sickly yellow as he grasped a broken cane, a slender finger pointed at the remnant water on the table beside the southern river, telling him in a muted tone that “this word has no affinity.”
It felt like he was rolling on a bed of nails, and he couldn’t say where exactly he hurt.
Do not praise this place as being separate from the world, for it only has Consort Xu‘s half-face of makeup… the realm is to the left, and that man is to the side. Within the human world, there are all sorts of pains from seeking yet not obtaining — from the very beginning, there was no reason that you heavenly, royal descendants would be able to avoid them.
What joy was there… what joy was there in life?
What it was like to have a knife twisted in one’s heart… he now knew.
The ache was awful. He nearly cried, but that wad of melancholic air was felt in his chest, rather like it was going to break it open. It neither went up nor down, getting stuffed up in there like that, where he couldn’t even vent it out.
Year after previous year, several times, he had been heartbroken. Several times, for him. Several times…
He was hardly aware of how he got to the Estate. Somewhat discombobulated, he pushed away the person guarding the entrance, not even waiting for them to give any sort of prior notice as he charged straight in.
All of a sudden, a burst of scintillating sound came through the wind. Helian Yi’s consciousness awoke, and he couldn’t help but pause in his steps. Raising his head for a look, he saw that there was a string of colored silk ribbons hanging from the doorway of Jing Qi’s study. Beneath them was a row of small bells, which split into two segments, a little jade hare hanging from each. As the breeze came, the little bells would sway left and right, bringing the rabbits to bump together from time to time as if they were alive, friendly and frolicking.
The noise of bells and green jade knocking against each other was akin to the music of a pure-hearted immortal. In the span of a seeming second, it strangely made the horribly twisting air in his chest dissipate by more than half.
He stood there dumbly, staring, for half the day, then pointed to the little stringed-together things. “Since when has that been hanging there?”
Ji Xiang, who had been keeping up with him at all speeds the whole journey, quickly answered. “Of that pair of jade hares, one had previously come from the Estate, and the other one was brought back by the Prince out of nowhere from outside. On that day, he had people hang it up there, only saying that it was a present from an old friend; by seeing it often, he would be able to go back to the past, and feel a bit better on the inside, too.”
“Better?” Helian Yi asked, practically sleeptalking. “Is he not doing well?”
Before Ji Xiang had time to speak, someone was heard to interrupt and come in from the side. “The Emperor placed this subject on house arrest for three months. Isn’t that enough to be unwell about?”
Jing Qi appeared from the half-covered study. His hair had not yet been bound, and there was a bloody mark on his forehead — despite this appearance, he was utterly unabashed, as if he had not just been castigated by the Emperor, but instead had just returned from an excursion. Once he caught a glimpse of Helian Yi’s hand that was coated in bloody trails, his expression changed, and he took a few steps forward. “What’s going on, Crown Prince?” He then turned his head to chastise Yu Kui. “Are you dead, or what? Are you even trying at your job?”
Saying so, he carefully bent over, flipped Helian Yi’s palm over, took a careful look at it, then turned to talk to Ji Xiang. “Go fetch the goldsore ointment that Young Master Zhou brought last time, quick!”
Helian Yi laughed coldly. “I’m not dying yet.”
Jing Qi sighed, exasperated. “My dear Highness, who are you getting annoyed with now?” With a turn, Ji Xiang jogged back over while carrying a small box. Jing Qi pulled Helian Yi to sit down at a small stone table in the middle of the courtyard, the latter watching him unblinkingly.
He saw his delicate brows lightly knitted as he leaned over, a sprinkling of his black hair hanging down from behind him. He saw him meticulously clean him up, apply the ointment, and bandage him up. As if feeling no pain, he suddenly reached out to place his other hand on Jing Qi’s shoulder, his fingers touching his neck. He could almost feel his pulse jumping there. Helian Yi thought that, so long as he closed on it and squeezed, this hateful, vile man would never be able to take the reins of his soul again. So long as…
Like he detected something, Jing Qi lifted his head. “What? Does it hurt, Your Highness?” he softly asked.
That countenance being within reach made Helian Yi’s heart jolt, and he automatically released his fingers. He heard Jing Qi sigh. “Why go through this pain anyhow, Your Highness? You can’t be injuring yourself like this when you get angry at whoever,” he said quietly. “In the case that you genuinely displace your muscles or bones, who would be able to compensate for that awful loss?”
Helian Yi was silent for a long time, then smiled wryly. “What does that have to do with you?”
Jing Qi froze, opening his mouth like he wanted to say something, but ultimately only lowered his lashes. Looking at them up close, they were extremely long and seemingly trembling, his expression unspeakably gloomy. Helian Yi raised the hand he had bandaged up, grabbed Jing Qi’s chin, then forced his head up.
Ji Xiang and Yu Kui were both clever people, and gave each other a look. After dismissing the group of surrounding non-working workers, they quietly withdrew to the entrance as well.
Helian Yi’s lips trembled a couple of times, as he momentarily had no idea what he ought to say, merely gazing extremely closely at Jing Qi. The latter sighed again, being the first to speak. “Do you know what this subject and the Emperor talked about, Your Highness?”
The former narrowed his eyes.
“He said… that he would allow me to take Princess Jing’an as a wife.”
Helian Yi’s mood had been going up and down so many times while inside the Prince Estate, it since gotten a nostalgic tang to it. He was startled upon hearing this, already reacting by giving an involuntary cry of “What did you say?”
Jing Qi lowered his voice. “The elder Zheng defeated Duan at Yan. According to the city granted, he waited, waited until the walls were thick enough to overthrow the king… the Princess is to me as the city was to Duan. I am loyal with no place to express so, and it would be better to get rid of the hidden apprehensions in His Majesty’s heart.”
Helian Yi’s eyes were getting wider and wider while he listened to him continue on.
“Now, the legacy of Prince Nan’ning ends with me.”
When subjects were strong, the ruler was then weak. A Prince of a different surname — the first Prince of different surname — had been an ailment in the Emperor’s mind, not allowed to be too close nor too far.
Helian Yi abruptly stood up, remaining silent for a while, then suddenly took Jing Qi into his arms.
A hundred different emotions intersected within him.
The helpless, distraught expression on Jing Qi’s face was discreetly stowed away in a place Helian Yi could not see. He slowly raised his hand and patted him on the back, knowing on the inside that… he could barely force himself to do this much.
Once Helian Yi was seen off, he let out a sigh of relief. He looked up at the darkened sky, then turned back and returned to the study, shutting the door. Someone suddenly walked out from behind the screen.
Zhou Zishu was holding a folding fan with a smile. “You’ve planned for a rainy day with that exhaustive scheme, Prince. Very admirable.”
Jing Qi waved his hand. Without answering him, he sat down at the side, a bit mentally worn out. “I’ll still need to trouble you with Ming Hua, Brother Zishu.”
Zhou Zishu nodded. “That’s only natural, Prince, do be assured. I’ve already made adequate arrangements for Young Master Ming Hua. I definitely won’t let the Crown Prince to do anything in a moment of impulsivity that would dishonor his grace.”
Jing Qi took in a deep breath. “Many thanks to you.”
The emptiness in his heart was indescribable. It was simply that that was once the one greatest to him in both life and death, once the one he relentlessly kept in mind beside the Bridge of Helplessness, underneath the Yellow Springs. Nowadays, he had to excavate his mind like this to calculate the guy’s anger and joy, or his thoughts. He couldn’t resist laughing bitterly. “I don’t even know when this is going to end…”
Zhou Zishu took a mindful measure of Jing Qi’s expression, then suddenly drew a paper out of his lapels and passed it before him. “Speaking of that, this is something that I require an explanation for, Prince.”
Caught off guard, Jing Qi looked up to see that the paper he held was a signed contract, and his face swiftly contorted.
“This commoner is untalented, but a few days prior, I incidentally found a few things out…” Zhou Zishu continued, voice fain, “are you planning to construct a separate manor in some other area, Prince? Your subordinates are truly astute. We went around in one big circle, yet still couldn’t discover the purchaser of these land deeds, and it wasn’t until a bit ago that we could laboriously find out a little. The residences you’ve established in private likely aren’t limited to just this one, right? Is it purely personal capital, or… is it to prepare for the future…?”
Jing Qi shut his eyes, then opened them back up. The look they had showed some vulnerability, along with a smidgen of a plea. He opened his mouth, yet no sound came out, and only his lips were seen to be moving extraordinarily slowly. “Cut me some slack…”
They stared at each other for ages, one sitting and one standing. Zhou Zishu suddenly smiled with some unclear feeling, then hoisted the thin piece of paper up close to the edge of a candle’s flame, watching as it burned bit by bit into ash.
“I owe you one,” Jing Qi said gently.
Zhou Zishu gave a big grin, turning to leave. “When another day comes that we meet by happenstance in the landscape of jianghu, I hope that you’ll grant me a cup of wine to drink, Prince.”
Jing Qi smiled as well. Regardless of whether the other was too far to hear him or not, he yet lowly agreed, “It’s a deal, then.”
He leaned against the chair in relaxation and closed his eyes, feeling a lassitude like all the strength in his body had been sucked dry. He wasn’t sure how long he had been sitting there when he heard Ping An call for him from outside the door. “Master…”
Eyes shut in rest, he didn’t move them at all as he asked back, “What is it?”
“Master, the Shamanet is at the entrance… you’ll go to take a look, yes?”
The translator says: Here he comes! Here comes the boy!!! (Also: Fellas, is it normal to want to strangle the one you like? I don’t think it is.)
 AKA jinchuang ointment, one of the few TCM things that actually has some efficacy, as it’s used for treating sores and helps accelerate wound healing. Still, go to a doctor. (In-depth article here.)