Book I The spring day’s apricot flowers scatter above, who is the youth who walks elegant and quick?
Chapter 36: Nothing to break this seductive spell
To restore themselves to full power before potentially confronting any further dangers, the group rested on the mountaintop shortly, waiting for Chu Yu to recover from her ordeal. They quickly descended the mountain after that. No matter how closely Yue Jiefei searched, he couldn’t find anything on the assassins that might provide him with a clue.
Liu Sang returned to the Princess’s dwellings first, coming back for Chu Yu with a chariot. Her current appearance would probably draw even more stares than when they arrived.
On their way back to the palace, Huan Yuan remained strangely silent. Although he had never been one to go out of his way to talk in front of Chu Yu, his current silence seemed different somehow, as if something inside him had permenantly sunken in. It was a cold silence.
They entered the palace together. After a few minutes of walking, it came time for them to separate at the intersection between the East and West dwellings. Huan Yuan took a few steps away, then suddenly turned around.
“If Hua Cuo hadn’t arrived, if things had gone on for only a bit longer, we would have fallen down the cliff. If that had happened, would you still hold me?”
Chu Yu was somewhat surprised. Studying Huan Yuan, she saw a lost and disappointed look in the beautiful youth’s eyes, as if he couldn’t find his way anymore. After a moment of thought, she spoke again.
“I don’t know. What happens in moments of life or death like those aren’t decided by a person’s own will. Maybe in that moment, I might release your hand for fear of death. But…” Her eyes still fixed on him, she continued sincerely. “Just now…at least in that moment, I really didn’t want to let go.”
Huan Yuan stood still for a moment. When he spoke again his voice was low. “I believe you,” he said, before turning away and leaving.
Chu Yu sighed before heading in the opposite direction.
Although everything she said just now was true, she said it now with a different purpose in mind.
Huan Yuan’s determination had wavered just now. She needed to take full control of the situation.
Returning to her room, she changed into clean clothes and asked You Lan to comb through her hair. Because the assassins had cut open her neatly done hair, much of it had been cut away. The bottom half especially was uneven and needed to be cut again.
After a haircut, however, her hair was shorter once again. Coming to this time and place, Chu Yu had initially inherited Princess Shan Yin’s waist-length hair. She had cut it a little to better play the role of a man, but now that she was cutting it again it only came down to her shoulders. It would be much harder to pin together in complex hairstyles now.
Chu Yu, however, was happy with that. She didn’t have the patience or endurance to have so much hair weighing her head down. When she tried it a few days ago, it almost crushed her neck, even if it did clear up her field of vision.
Although she was feeling much better, You Lan was now left with the puzzle of how to comb the princess’s hair into a presentable style. She angled the comb left and right, yet couldn’t make her mind up. Just then, Rong Zhi’s soft voice drifted into the room from outside.
“Is the princess back yet?”
Chu Yu hesitated for a moment before commanding You Lan to leave. Draping a shawl over her shoulders, she went out to see Rong Zhi.
It was good timing. She had planned to meet with him anyways.
The two of them walked side by side, each thinking their own thoughts, neither of them willing to speak first. It was Chu Yu who finally broke the silence with a sigh. “Go ahead. What do you come for?”
A slight smile fluttered to Rong Zhi’s face. “I was concerned for your safety, Princess, and asked Hua Cuo to look after you. He once was a man steeped in martial arts and society, and has a wild, unrestrained personality. I must beg for forgiveness for any offense he may have committed.”
Without waiting for Chu Yu to ask, Rong Zhi had given her the answers she sought, surprising her. Concealing it with a cool expression, she answered, “It’s of no concern.” He had saved her the trouble of asking why Hua Cuo had appeared on the scene. As to why Liu Sang carried a sword, why he appeared with Huan Yuan, she knew Rong Zhi’s answers to those as well: his concern for her safety.
In that case, she didn’t have any more questions to ask. Yet somehow she still felt a strange uneasiness in her heart. Suppressing it, she asked, “Is that all you came for?”
Looking at her with a tilt in his head, Rong Zhi’s face unfurled into a smile. “Of course not.”
The two of them had reached the apricot trees where the banquet had been hosted. Although some time had pa.s.sed, the apricot flowers had yet to wither and were blooming at their brightest. The snow white petals cl.u.s.tered together, concealing the branches. One flower stuck out at a slant, almost brus.h.i.+ng against Rong Zhi’s face. Reflected in his quiet, deep black eyes, they seemed almost too bright, too seductive.
Was she thinking about the flowers? Or the person before her?
Chu Yu felt herself waver, then came back to immediately. Clasping her hands together, she felt her nails sink into her skin; before this man, she couldn’t let her guard down.
Rong Zhi was still smiling. “I have another matter to discuss with you, Princess, but I can’t state it here.” He glanced back at Yue Jiefei, who had followed the two all the way here, and said politely, “May I ask you to depart the forest? I have important matters to discuss with the princess.”
Yue Jiefei didn’t budge. He glanced instead at Chu Yu, as if asking for her opinion. Chu Yu’s heart contorted in a struggle: should she say yes? Or no?
If she said yes, she didn’t know what might happen to her when she entered the forest. After all, she still hadn’t managed to puzzle out Rong Zhi’s intentions.
But if she said no? Judging from his current stance, if she refused to let Yue Jiefei leave, he wouldn’t be willing to reveal anything, and she would have even less from which to judge his intentions.
Her hesitation lasted only a moment. Chu Yu made her decision quickly, nodding at Yue Jiefei, “Don’t go too far.”
Yue Jiefei’s expression looked strange, but he obeyed his orders. Chu Yu lingered, before turning around and realizing what had happened. Yue Jiefei probably thought she and Rong Zhi planned to do something unsightly while there was no one around…it looked like the Princess had left a lot of trauma in her wake.
They walked amidst the trees. The snow white blossoms occasionally fell like rain when either of them brushed against the branches. The scenery was reminiscent of some kind of paradise. Chu Yu kept walking. The fact that she had already been startled once today left her tired, and her heightened sense of alarm gradually relaxed. Soon she forgot Rong Zhi was next to her, and turned most of her attention to the apricot flowers before her.
A gentle voice, so gentle that it didn’t alarm her so much as relax her even further, came to her. “What is your name?”
“Chu Yu.” Almost without thinking, Chu Yu said her name. It was only after the words left her mouth that she realized with a jolt who had asked, and what his intentions were.
Princess Shan Yin’s name was Liu Chuyu, while her surname was Chu and her name Yu. The two were only a word apart. If they hadn’t been so similar, she would have revealed herself!
Her heart cold with alarm, Chu Yu glared Rong Zhi down.