There was always one thing that I feared most ever since I was young; that would be participating in the palace’s annual banquet. An Yi, Uncle An’s only child was too overbearing and kept on pressing me to play with her.
She was full of mischief while I was born weak. I always had to rest in a room to recuperate, and she would always chase after me and dragged me away to play in the grass outside. She would be ecstatic after running a few laps in the imperial garden, but I would be too tired and drained. After I went home, I would have to rest for a couple more days to get better. It was miserable.
Many years later, on that fateful day during which she drifted away from me, I discovered that I feared losing her more than being forced to play with her.
When Crown Prince Qing Jun was one year of age, he was appointed as the Crown Prince. When he was four, the emperor appointed me as the Crown Prince’s tutor. As he stood in front of me with his short legs, I could see her silhouette in his twinkling, grape-like eyes. My heart twisted.
(TN: Crown Prince Qing Jun is Feng Zhao Wen and An Yi’s child. The one she is carrying in the previous chapter.)
His Majesty’s phoenix eyes were domineering and authoritative, while An Yi’s were always twinkling and carrying traces of smile. She had always had her own ideas ever since she was young, she was like a clear lake, too innocent and clueless for this world. Whenever she smiled at me without restrain, the sparkle in her smile could penetrate through my heart.
Perhaps, it was her unmasked joy and sorrow that drew His Majesty to her in the beginning. Perhaps, that was what drew him to her during his visit to the Great Chen.
Back then, fate was making it’s way through everything in a fierce, irrepressible manner. I had really wanted to escape from her who in turn, kept chasing after me heatedly. Despite everything, even I could tell that my resistance to her was really weak.
She was completely clueless to everything back then. She only knew to chase after me and I would run away while panicking, never really getting the chance to take a good look at the person chasing after me.
People in the palace were poking fun of her, calling her ‘the passion of a broken sleeve’. Everytime I went into the palace, people would point at me while gossiping. When I stumbled upon her who was smiling innocently and earnestly, I would get the desire to kick her into a pond.
(TN: The passion of broken sleeve is a slang for homosexuality.)
———— I really did that, in the end. I kicked her into a pond before walking away.
That was not a one-time occurrence, and after time, I got used to treating her with malice.
After the then Crown Prince of the Great Qi left, Father invited me to his study to talk about work. He was worried about our foolish Crown Prince and in the end, decided to change camp. He was in cahoots with the Crown Prince of the Great Qi and promised to help him once war between our kingdoms started.
I was stunned as I stared at my own Father. A good portion of his hair had turned silver, but his face still carried the roughness of someone who had frequented the battlefield. He still looked magnificent and passionate for the land.
The political scene of the Great Chen was muddled. Two years later, the emperor of the Great Chen’s health took a turn for the worse. The empress interfered with politics while the Crown Prince was a foolish furniture who had no understanding for politics at all. That situation sowed discord between the ministers.
Father and Uncle An was stuck in the middle of it.
Uncle An had always been honest and upright; he was not the kind to flatter the ruler. The empress kept complaining about Uncle An in front of Father, complaining about how he refused to cooperate with others. Father always had to advise him to calm him down. The court was only calm from the outside, but not on the inside.
After the emperor of the Great Chen died, that exterior calmness was broken. Father had another discussion with me in his study, talking about a secret seal that was in the possession of Uncle An. It was said that the seal was handed to him by the late emperor so that he could train an army in secret. He was not to use it unless as the last resort.
The Crown Prince of the Great Qi was embroiled in wars on all sides. He had been conquering little kingdoms bordering the Great Qi. Father kept on praising him in the dark, calling him heroic and magnificent. He told me that he made the right decision back then.
He told me, “An Yi that brat has always listened to you. Try to probe the seal’s where-about out of him. It is even better if you manage to trick him into downright telling you.
That pair of sparkling eyes inadvertently rose in my mind. Such reckless innocence, she was not aware of the danger surrounding her at all. How could one be so innocent?
She completely disregarded the threats around her; she was so innocent that it was disgraceful.
That night, on the boat, she kissed me. It was so sweet and gentle that I could not resist her. I lost my mind; there was a voice in my head that kept on clamoring that it was not enough. I wanted more. And it took a long time for me to compose myself as to not press myself against her that night.
How could there be such a tempting man in this world?
I could tell that I could not control myself anymore.
Before I managed to probe the seal’s where-about out of her, a piece of news came from the palace. Uncle An did not have much time left.
That person in the palace used the same method over and over again. Even her own husband was not spared.
Rui Wang was interested in a marriage alliance. That night, Father told me to take Princess Yu Zheng out for a stroll tomorrow. I spent the entire night on that boat with a messy head. I kept asking myself whether I was really interested in another man. The answer was surprising…..
My future wife should have been someone gentle like Princess Yu Zheng…. I kept on admonishing myself for feeling what I felt. However, when I saw An Yi standing in front of my house in the middle of the rain with a pair of lifeless eyes, I almost could not stop myself from comforting her.
I thought, with her skills, she could have dodged that one strike from me.
I really hated that person in front of me. I hated her so much that it was indescribable. Many years later, after a lot of things had passed, I finally came to a realization of what my feeling really was. Even an iron would melt when being relentlessly pursued by that pair of foolish, loving eyes.
….. However, I would no longer see the same foolishness and love in her eyes after that.
She had always loved laughing. Even after Uncle An was buried and she was assigned to the camp of General Huang Jie (who was disliked by the Marshal) as a little captain with a not-so-bright future, I could not see even a trace of displeasure on her face.
There was a kind of grass that was really common and was all over the mountains. Even as spring breeze blew by, as summer passed, as leaves fell in the autumn and as snows covered the land during winter, it would still grow out green shoots the next year.
I used to think that it was inferior to the luxurious peony, but as I stood in the warzone in Sui City, I finally realized how precious the grass was. It was only overlooked and unappreciated because it was too common.
Just like her. I was too used to her. I was used to her eyes chasing after me that when her eyes finally stopped following me, I felt a sense of loss.
Only then did I realized that she was not as idle and dandy as I thought she was. She was the type that adapt easily. She could un-root herself and settle comfortably in another place. She was self-sufficient.
I could not bring myself to say anything to her. I was afraid that once I start talking, I would pour out all the regrets and remorse pooling in my heart.
Before the Battle of Huang He Valley, I gathered my courage to stop her horse. For the first time in my life, I raised my head to look at the youth who used to be behind me. That was the first time I ever saw her looking so confident and formidable. She swept her indifferent eyes over me.
———– Though I bowed down to moral and rejected her feeling, I wanted her to live a long, proper life.
Perhaps, Father did not know about her feelings and my restless nights. That was why he sent me to General Huang Jie’s Qian Feng Camp. General Huang Jie was capable but a little too patriotic, he was a considerable obstruction to the Crown Prince of Qi’s aspiration to unite the world. He was already one of those who were targeted from the Great Chen’s side.
She sat with her back straight, heading for her own death. I watched her distant figure from the city’s entrance.
There were a lot of Father’s confidantes on my side; I had no idea how to help her live on. She probably hated me… She must had really hated me…. But because there were too much hatred and sorrow, not a single thread of feeling could be felt. When she smiled, her round eyes were hollow.
Her eyes were the kind that had already been exhausted of all feelings.
My heart was burning. After waiting for a long time, a piece of news came. She injured her head. There was a blood clot in her brain and she had forgotten everything. There was a wave of contradictory emotions in my heart.
I had hoped that she really lost her memory but at the same time was afraid that she would really completely forget me.
After six months of not meeting, she was still carefree. There were ice and a sense of alienation in her eyes whenever she smiled. Perhaps, it was an emotion one could not understand unless they faced death.
She would never know how hard I tried to restrained my happiness, how I stopped myself from running up to her and welcoming her. The kingdom was about to perish soon, but the both of us, she and I, me and her, would live peacefully in this world.
I did not know then, that she entered the capital with death in mind.
As I followed the Crown Prince to the Jin Xiu Pavilion, I could see her smiling at us while standing inside the burning building. The pain in my heart was unbearable.
She was too innocent, too pure to know how the world worked.
She was just an innocent kid who let her feelings got the better of her.
What would happen if I could no longer see that brilliant smile on her face? The world would be a lot darker.
As the Crown Prince pulled his bow, I waited while holding my breath. When she walked off from the window and closed the very last open window in the burning Jin Xiu Pavilion, I felt as though my heart had jumped out of my chest and into the raging flame. I painfully screamed her name, “Xiao Yi…..”
——- I never got the chance to tell you that I didn’t dislike you…. Not at all….
——- I liked the way your eyes followed after me. Deep inside, I knew I had partiality towards something a lot of people in the society might never comprehend.
You had nothing to hold you back, so I had wanted to quietly hide you away.
There would only be you and me, all by ourselves. No one would be beside us. By then, you could stare at me all you want.
The Crown Prince was like a maniac, trying to rush into the burning pavilion. The imperial guards disobeyed his order and held him back despite him kicking them away. It took dozens of them to held him back. I sat dazedly not far from where he was. Green veins were popping on his face while tears flowed from his eyes.
Everything felt so surreal. I could almost hear a crisp voice giggling while calling me, “Daughter-in-law…. Daughter-in-law….”
I pointed at the Crown Prince, wonderingly asking, “Why are you crying, Your Highness?”
You had only been with her for 6 months.
The Crown Prince laughed hoarsely, like a wounded eagle with a broken wing. He pointed at me, laughing while tears flowed non-stop from his eyes, “What about you? Didn’t you hated him? He annoyed you so much that you kicked him into a pond whenever you two met. Why are you crying, now that he died?”
I patted my own face and discovered that it was full of tears.
“Right, he was such a hateful person….” Even when he was about to die, he wouldn’t spare me a glance.
The Crown Prince replied, “Right. That unreliable and heartless brat is really really hateful!” He covered his face with his palm. Tears flowed from between his fingers, dampening his chest.
Serene: This chapter was brought to you by Meropi!
This was a special chapter from Yan Ping’s pov. Do keep in mind that Yan Ping was under the impression that she was a boy throughout the whole thing.