Xiao Huang and I sat on the third floor of Jin Xiu Pavillion as we listened to the sound of the city gates being smashed open. The Great Chen that had stood for decades was now coming to an end. The Great Qi’s armies invaded the imperial city in a rather fast manner. We could hear the sound of horses from afar. From the sound of it, they should be near the little bridge near Bi Tao Forest.
Peach blossoms did not understand humanly worries, they simply exists to dye the land with the color of rouge. I wonder if Feng Zhao Wen’s cavalry would slow down their pace as they rode past the colorful forest.
The palace’s servants who were busy transporting firewoods underneath the Jin Xiu Pavillion gradually panicked upon hearing the sound of hooves. They ran around to all directions, no longer willing to listen to the emperor’s command.
Jin Xiu Pavillion was made of wood, it should be able to catch fire easily even though there were not enough firewood below. Xiao Huang clutched my sleeve as he desperately screeched, “Xiao Yi, don’t…… I don’t want to die…. I still hasn’t eaten enough lotus shortcake and chrysanthemum shortcake!”
I stuffed a bunch of pastries into his mouth to shut him up. “Sit quietly and be obedient. I will take you away.”
He munched on those pastries before forcibly swallowing them. He looked at me helplessly, “Xiao Yi will not lie to me, right? You will not burn me to death, right?”
I glanced at him with an ached head and saw his round face staring back at me in blind trust. His tears weren’t even wiped yet, but he was already laughing happily, “As long as you take me away…… I am going to die soon from my imperial mother’s pestering….”
I had been keeping Xiao Huang company in Zhong Hua Palace for the last two days. Amidst the national crisis, it seemed like I had forgotten about the empress dowager. I was truly sorry to her for planning to kidnap her son.
But still, the empress dowager’s livelihood was completely in her own hand, it had nothing to do with me at all.
I lit the torch that I had prepared beforehand before patting his soft head, “Your Majesty, wait for me here. I will return soon.” I ran downstairs and lit all the firewoods that were scattered around the pavilion. And then, I locked the entrance before running back to the third floor. Xiao Huang was still waiting for me there.
When he saw me coming back, he leapt towards me and grabbed me by the sleeve. A joyful smile appeared on his face, “I knew Xiao Yi will not let me. The past 6 months in which you were gone were the hardest point of my life.”
I laughed, teasing him while glancing out of the window, “You sleeps all day in Jin Luan Palace, how difficult must it be! The ones who truly have it hard are the ministers!”
He lifted his sleeves. Marks and scars could be seen on his arm, it looked like wounds inflicted by a woman’s pinch. It looked horrifying.
“This…. The empress dowager…..”
The empress dowager was too cruel as a mother! Even though the son was stupid, he was still her son! The son was stupid because of her karma anyway; she committed too much sins.
Xiao Huang shook his head, his eyes getting moist as though he was about to cry, “It was Cousin Hui. She would always secretly pinched me when she came to the palace to pay respect. All the servants in Zhong Hua Palace knew this, but no one dared to do anything about it. Even imperial mother told me to listen to Cousin Hui.”
I truly respect this Miss Hui who dared to pinch the emperor black and blue.
She was the empress dowager’s niece, she was Xiao Huang’s uncle’s only daughter. She was excessively spoilt. Even if she disliked Xiao Huang’s silliness, she shouldn’t have been so heavy-handed.
Xiao Huang pursed his lips, “Imperial mother wanted me to marry her and make her the empress. Everytime she came here, she would pinch me and secretly called me stupid. But everything will be fine now…” He looked at me eagerly. “I won’t have to marry her once you takes me away. She can marry whoever she wants now, she can pinch him to her liking too!”
——– Your Majesty ah, this shouldn’t be the thing you were worrying about!
The fire raged on as we spoke, the waves of heat entering through the window. I held Xiao Huang’s hand, preparing to go down. The sound of hooves came like a roaring thunder. I could see the silhouette of someone rushing by; in the blink of an eye, he arrived in front of the pavilion. His handsome face immediately paled, “An Yi, what are you doing? Why are you climbing over there?”
At that moment, the Crown Prince of Great Qi, Feng Zhao Wen was worried about my life I suppose. Separated by a big fire, I laughed casually, “An Yi is grateful for your care, for the past half a year.”
Actually, what I really wanted to say was, “From now on, we have nothing to do with each other. Don’t even try to cheat me anymore. Stop putting on that affectionate face. It’s not like I haven’t been lied to before!” But there were so many people around, I didn’t want to embarrass myself so I kept everything inside.
I was an exceptional prisoner of war; I allowed the enemy to do this and that to me. I almost got brainwashed. Had I continue to stay by his side and obliviously made him my lover, I would have probably die in a harem battle. I would have died under such a wrongful manner ah!
Yan Ping who was beside him, stared at me tensely. At that moment, I finally realized the benefit of looking from above. Yan Ping’s face was pale, like a ghost. He could not bring himself to even say anything.
Feng Zhao Wen was flustered and exasperated, he positioned his horse as though he was going to jump into the sea of fire. I froze: Your Highness, are you for real? This fire is enough ruin your face!
So many maidens were in love with his face! I shivered, suddenly feeling like I would be a disgraced person for so many people soon.
Lucky, a lot of his soldiers persistently stopped him, so he did not jump straight into the fire.
Yan Ping’s head was constantly directed towards my direction, his eyes were weirdly anxious. But now, I truly was not interested in whatever he was thinking about anymore.
Xiao Huang’s eyes were on Feng Zhao Wen, then he directed it on me, then on Feng Zhao Wen again, “Is the Crown Prince of Great Qi planning to run with us? I do not like him! I do not want to go with him!”
I glared at him. The part of my heart that was a little bit touched earlier on, quickly disappeared because of him. I turned around and earnestly attempt to persuade Feng Zhao Wen, “The Great Chen’s palace is now yours! You should start anchoring your clout and create a peaceful world for the common people! Why must you do such a pointless and self-destructive thing?”
He suddenly turned around and took a bow from behind his horse. He loaded it with an arrow as he trained his menacing eyes on me, “Come down. If you don’t, I will shoot you to death with my own arrow!”
Yan Ping leapt up and anxiously grabbed his arms, “Your Highness… Your Highness….. An Yi is stubborn by nature. Let’s persuade him properly!”
He shrugged him off, “This heartless brat deserves to be striked by this prince in the heart!”
I shivered. Feng Zhao Wen said that while gritting his teeth, he wasn’t joking.
Xiao Huang grasped my sleeve in fear, “Xiao Yi! Xiao Yi, he really intends to kill!” His fair, round face was twisted, he looked like he was going to cry.
I patted Xiao Huang’s head to comfort him. Before I even put my hand down, an arrow pierced through the air into the window frame. It managed to pierce Xiao Huang’s headgear; had I been any slower, it would have hit my wrist for sure.
Feng Zhao Wen drew his bow again, “Come down!” He turned around and kicked a nearby guard, “What are you waiting for? Go and get people to extinguish the fire!”
That guard immediately ran off. My heart jumped, this man meant every single thing he said. I clutched my head, “I…. I will come down….”
Feng Zhao Wen ordered his people to drew their arrows before throwing his to the ground. “You jump out… I will catch you. If you don’t-“ he gave me a sharp look. I thought the look he gave was so sharp, it might as well contain blade. “If you don’t jump down, I will turn you into a porcupine. You will die in an unpleasant manner.”
Xiao Huang anxiously clutches my sleeve, “Xiao Yi, are you going to abandon me?”
I whispered to his ear, “I will pretend to jump. Then, you and I will close the window and run to the first floor. We need to leave before it is too late.”
He listened well, this time. As I pretended to prepare myself to jump, he closed the window in a flash. I could see the traces of smile on Feng Zhao Wen’s face as he jumped over a wall of fire with his two arms outstretched, trying to catch me.
I seemed to have vaguely heard the sound of Yan Ping calling for me as well, in a voice I had never heard from him.
The fire engulfed the entire Jin Xiu Pavilion. When Xiao Huang and I ran to the first floor, all the windows were gone from the fire. Smokes were everywhere as Xiao Huang grabbed onto me. The me who was selected as the Crown Prince’s companion many years ago would have never thought we would have this moment.
Father once gave me the map of secret passages of the palace. He forced me to memorize them.
He said, if anyone dared to bully his child, I should secretly run back home and get him. If anything happens, he would be there to cover for me.
I trembled as I opened the secret passage. On the wall, there was a little cave that was large enough to fit one person at a time. I pushed Xiao Huang, he managed to drill half of his body in, but the other half of his body was stuck. Turns out, being too fat could really kill you…
I kicked him hard on his shoulder. He yelped in pain. Then, I kicked his other shoulder and he yelped in pain again. In the midst of the sound of the fire, I could hear the mess that was unfolding outside. Some of the guards were yelling, “Your Highness, you must not….. Please think thrice…..”
Xiao Huang finally managed to enter the passage. I followed him from behind before slowly closing the door of the secret passage. Cold and moist air greeted us, a complete contrast from outside. My joys, my resentments and my dream-like life in the Great Chen’s palace, I left them all in that cold cave. Everything I was obsessing over, all my tears; I abandoned them all there.
After four hours of going through the passage with Xiao Huang, we reached the end of the passage. It brought us to Qing Mountain that was located outside the capital. We were greeted by a sea of stars. As I looked at them, I never want to return to the palace of Great Chen again.
Living in Qing Mountain until I grew old didn’t seem like a bad idea.