When Liu Jue woke up early in the morning, his eyes glanced impulsively at the wall and seeing its emptiness, he couldn’t help laughing. Many days had passed since the painting had been sent to the Fourth Prince’s residence. His heart jolted. On the day of his marriage, Zi Li had told him not to mistake her eyes for another. That night, the Ge forces had reported that Zi Li left his residence late at night and had gone to the backyard of the Minister’s residence, could it be? Liu Jue began to ruminate. He picked up a brush and wrote a letter, sealed it with wax, then pulled out a hidden compartment in his bookshelf and placed it inside. Then he pulled out a strand of his hair and lightly pressed it against the gap of the hidden compartment. Looking at it carefully several times, he smiled with satisfaction.
Si Shi came in to help Liu Jue dress. Liu Jue looked at her and chuckled, “Suddenly found out that Si Shi has grown into a young lady. Is there anyone you like? Master will let you decide.”
Si Shi’s face turned red, her hands continuing to move as she lowered her head and said, “Master is being improper as always. Si Shi will stay in Song Feng Hall for her whole life.”
Liu Jue laughed and said, “Since you’re not denying it, then that means you have one? Who is it?”
Si Shi blushed and neatened Liu Jue’s clothes, then turned around and ran out without another word.
Liu Jue watched her thoughtfully. At the moment that she went out the door, he smiled and said, “Go and ask them to prepare two horses. I’m going out with my future princess today.”
Cheng Si Yue was scheduled to marry Qing Fei on 5th of August. The Minister’s residence was busy all throughout. During the day, Eldest Mistress would gather the other mistresses, Qing Fei, and Ah Luo in the garden pavilion to embroider all day. Ah Luo hadn’t learned embroidery. It wasn’t that she couldn’t learn, it was just that she was unable to embroider such exquisite and elegant flowers. Sitting together with them, she could only act as an assistant, sewing cloth buttons and the like. Women in this era were truly boring, with no entertainment, passing time by embroidering things. Ah Luo was really bored, being monitored while sewing things. She was secretly anxious about how she would be able to prepare in time if it continued on like this. At this moment, a maid came to report that the Young Prince of the An Qing Palace had come.
Minister Li had gone to the imperial palace to discuss official business. Eldest Mistress took charge, “Ah Luo, get along well with the Young Prince. Remember what your father said.”
Ah Luo glanced at Seventh Mistress. With a smile, she placed down her needlework and fled out of the dreary garden. She thought inwardly that if she deserted Liu Jue after going out, then she would have a lot of time. She decided to invite Liu Jue over to the Minister’s residence more. It would be great if she had a phone, she could send a message and he would come when needed. If not for anything else, it was more comfortable to spend time with him than with Minister Li’s wife and mistresses.
Hence, when Liu Jue saw Ah Luo, her expression still showed excitement. Liu Jue couldn’t help but smile, “How strange, when has Third Miss been this happy when seeing this Young Prince?”
Ah Luo had many things that she needed to do outside of the residence. Yet she showed no irritation. Beaming radiantly, she said, “What? Will you be happy if I ignore you with a sour face?”
Liu Jue smiled slightly, “Since you’re so happy, how about going out with me?”
“What do you want to do?”
With a sudden thought, Ah Luo said, “I still haven’t been to the Dou Ning River, what is it like? Shall I go see today?”
Liu Jue agreed with a smile. After exiting the Minister’s residence, the attendants led the horses over and Liu Jue ordered, “Today, I will accompany Third Miss to the river for a stroll. You all need not follow.”
The two of them rode out through the South Gate and arrived at the Dou Ning River after a while. Ah Luo saw a wooden pontoon bridge lying across the river and hesitated slightly. “Ride across the pontoon bridge?”
Liu Jue answered with his actions and with a flick of his whip, he rushed onto the bridge. Ah Luo slowly rode the horse forward. She looked closely at the pontoon bridge. Below it was a boat that was around ten metres long, strung with iron chains and covered with wooden boards. There were locks on the iron chains between the boats that could be unlocked at any time. This was to conveniently allow the water to flow through during the flood season. The boats would become square shaped and could be rowed away. The entire pontoon bridge was about 200 metres long. After looking at it for a while, she urged the horse across the bridge onto the shore and asked, “If the bridge is broken, then wouldn’t the path be disconnected?”
Liu Jue smiled and said, “There are trained soldiers located in the two docks outside the South Gate. Even if the entire bridge was destroyed, it would be rebuilt within four hours. It’s very convenient. Should there be an enemy, it would become a natural barrier.”
Ah Luo looked closely at the terrain near the South Gate. Without a word, she followed Liu Jue forward. After riding for a while, the mood became more cheerful. The world was so wide, it was depressing to be locked inside the city. Even though it was the middle of summer, the breeze from riding was very comfortable.
Liu Jue halted his horse and smiling at Ah Luo, he said, “It’s serene here and the scenery is beautiful. Let’s dismount and sit down for a while, let the horses drink water from the stream. It’s pleasantly cool in the shade.”
Without moving, Ah Luo looked at him and said slowly, “The scenery is indeed beautiful, it is a good place to chat about love and romance. However, Young Prince, I have no plans to marry you. I’m grateful to you for taking me out and thank you for your horse. Let me borrow it to ride home, you can take a rest and enjoy the scenery here by yourself!”
Liu Jue smiled and said, “If you acted obediently and married me, I would be surprised. No matter, there’s still a year left and I am patient, my future princess!”
With a smile, Ah Luo urged the horse to leave. As soon as she turned the horse around, she felt someone behind her. Liu Jue had leapt onto the horse, his body pressed against hers, whispering into her ear, “Discarding when you’re done using me, you really are straightforward. Where do you intend on going after throwing me away?”
Ah Luo felt angry and thrust her elbow backwards. Liu Jue lightly blocked her, wrapping his arm around and hugging her like an octopus, chuckling, “If you keep being disobedient, I will push your acupressure points. Do you want to try being unable to move or speak again?”
Ah Luo immediately stopped struggling and said sarcastically, “Is this interesting? Marrying someone who doesn’t want to marry you?”
Liu Jue laughed nonstop, “Of course it’s interesting. I think marrying someone who is obedient and meek would be boring.”
The two of them were very close and the position was rather ambiguous. Liu Jue was almost intoxicated by the faint fragrance emitted from Ah Luo. It felt good to hold Ah Luo this way. Liu Jue’s breath blew hotly around Ah Luo’s neck. She couldn’t help shouting, “Baking sesame seed bread on a hot day, are you sick? Let me go!”
Liu Jue laughed, “I don’t think so, it’s very comfortable!”
Ah Luo rolled her eyes and said, “An unequal contest brings no honor to the victor! Do you dare to dismount and compete with me? Don’t forget how I taught the perverted thief a lesson in the peach blossom forest!”
As soon as she finished saying this, her body lightened and Liu Jue jumped to the ground with his arms around her. His face was full of arrogance, his eyes were smiling. Liu Jue raised his eyebrows and said, “Before you said that, I’d almost forgotten. You have a weird style of Chinese boxing, where did you learn it?”
Ah Luo lifted her chin and also raised her eyebrows, “My master, even if I told you, you wouldn’t know them. However, I can’t do Qinggong, nor can I do Acupressure. If you are going to use those to compete, then there’s no need since I can’t do them. Even if you win, I won’t accept it!”
Liu Jue looked at Ah Luo profoundly and thought that if he didn’t subdue this girl, she would bully him after marriage. He agreed happily, “Very well, I will only fight you using Chinese boxing, I won’t use Qinggong nor Acupressure. If you lose, you will obediently wait for me to marry you.”
Ah Luo replied with a grin, “That’s fine, but what if I hurt you?”
Liu Jue looked at her scornfully, “Even if I stood here without moving, you wouldn’t be able to hurt me with eight to ten punches. It’ll just be like scratching an itch.”
“Really? Then how come you collapsed like a dead pig when I only rammed into you once, and struck you twice last time?”
It would have been better to not mention it, now Liu Jue was angry again, “I was unprepared last time. I was almost knocked infertile by you, how can you have the nerve to say that! Hmph, let’s start afresh today, watch how I’ll teach you a lesson!”
Ah Luo said in a panicked manner, “That serious? I don’t dare anymore. If I did it again and the An Qing Palace has no descendants, my little life would be difficult to save.”
“Do you think you still have a chance? Last time I saw a little girl, I spoke carelessly. This time though, haha!”
“Forget it, how about we compete with words instead?”
Ah Luo remembered a scene from The Legend of the Condor Heroes by Jing Yong, with Huang Rong and Ouyang. She looked around, picked up a branch, drew a large circle on the ground and said, “You just stand here in this circle. If you are pushed out of this circle by me no matter what method I use, you lose! Of course, if you step out of the circle by yourself, you also lose, how about that?”
“Will you cheat?”
“I, Liu Jue, always keep my word, I will never cheat!”
“Well then, can you not bother me anymore if you lose?”
“It’s a deal!”
Liu Jue smiled and walked into the circle, saying lazily, “Even if I stand here and don’t move, you won’t be able to push, hit, nor kick me out.”
Ah Luo walked around the circle twice. She grinned cheerfully and said, “Then you can just stand here and wait, this little girl has to leave. Remember, if you step out of the circle, then you lose. If you lose then you can’t bother me. Bye! Young Prince!”
Liu Jue stuttered speechlessly, “You, how can you cheat?”
Ah Luo mounted the horse. She walked around the circle again and smiled, “Is this called cheating? It seems to be a little, but I hadn’t said I wouldn’t cheat although you did.” At this point, Ah Luo’s face turned serious and copied Liu Jue’s tone from earlier, “I, Liu Jue, always keep my word, I will never cheat!” After saying this, she laughed loudly and urged the horse away.
Standing in the circle, Liu Jue could neither laugh nor cry and watched Ah Luo’s distant figure. He couldn’t help but smile. Slowly, he walked out of the circle and looked at the time. It was time for Ah Luo to leave anyway, if she hadn’t left, he would have taken her back to the city.
Liu Jue fled on horseback back to the palace and stealthily entered from the backyard. Along a familiar road, he skillfully evaded the secret Qing Yi sentry and snuck quietly into the Song Feng Hall. He went to the hidden compartment and took a look, finding that the hair was still in place, though it was slightly more exposed than when he had left it. Liu Jue couldn’t help but laugh. He pulled open the hidden compartment and saw that the book was still in place, they truly moved fast.
Liu Ying came in silently and fell onto his knees, “My Lord!”
Liu Jue looked at him coldly, “Liu Ying, how long have you been with me?”
“Replying to my Lord, this subordinate was orphaned at six years of age and it was the Master who brought me to this palace. It has been 18 years now!”
“What did I say to do to the painting last time?”
“Destroy the original painting, mount the new one like the one on the wall and deliver it to the Fourth Prince’s residence!” Liu Ying answered fluently, yet he was soaked in cold sweat, “This subordinate deserves to die. Just when it was about to be burnt, Miss Si Shi came and asked to look again at the Fourth Prince’s beautiful wife. I was softhearted and gave it to her, telling her to burn it after she looked at it. She stared at it unblinkingly with tears falling down and said it was so beautiful, no wonder the Lord stared at it day and night. She was so infatuated with Master, she cried until she couldn’t speak. I couldn’t bear to watch and turned around. After the crying stopped a moment later, I turned back and she was holding the painting, saying she wanted to burn it herself. I watched her as she burnt the painting.”
“I mounted the new painting and handed it to Chamberlain Lin who ordered someone to deliver it to the Fourth Prince’s residence! Could it have been swapped?”
Liu Jue snorted, “When did my subordinates become so softhearted?”
Liu Ying kowtowed, “Let my Lord give his punishment!”
Liu Jue didn’t say a word for a while, an authoritative aura radiating from his body. This master was usually no different from any other noble’s spoiled son. Liu Ying grew up with him yet he still couldn’t understand him completely, however, he knows that Liu Jue was extremely angry. Liu Ying only felt that his body was being crushed by a giant mountain, the icy air rushing over like a tidal wave, so heavy that he was unable to breathe and the coldness piercing his bones. It felt like a toxic viper was entwining him.
Liu Jue closed his eyes and his aura dissipated, “Go and get whipped 30 times, watch Si Shi and the others in the residence closely. When did Song Feng Hall become a garden, allowing people to come and go as they please!”
As soon as Liu Ying relaxed his body, he was shocked again, “This subordinate deserves to die! The Qing forces will each take ten lashes, and I will add another ten to myself!” Liu Jue kowtowed heavily and turned around to leave.
“Wait! This is the best treatment for lashing!”
Liu Ying caught what Liu Jue threw at him and his eyes reddened, “Thank you, my Lord, for your compassion!”
“Forget it, how can wounded soldiers guard well.”