Chapter 42 A beauty in a peapod
The moment she saw Rong Zhi, Chu Yu couldn’t look away. It wasn’t that he was particularly handsome right now. It was more that his current choice of clothing was rather…idiosyncratic.
Rong Zhi was lying on his side on the stone platform, leaning against the parasol tree near him. Beneath him were four layers of cotton blankets, while even more were draped over him. All these layers turned this slender, elegant beauty into a cocoon. Chu Yu had to control her gaze to prevent herself from counting out how many layers he was wrapped in.
When she was young, Chu Yu had read a fairytale. It was about a prince wanting to find a true princess for his wife. He went through many princesses without finding one ideal match. During a rainy night, a girl arrived at the castle who asked for a place to stay for the night. She claimed that she was a true princess. To prove this, the queen prepared a bed for the girl. She placed a single pea beneath twenty-two mattresses and twenty layers of down blankets.
The second day, they asked if she had slept well. She replied that she barely even fell asleep, as there seemed to be something hard underneath her body that was bruising her skin until it was black and blue. Because of her unbearably tender skin, this princess was determined to be the real deal.
Right now, Chu Yu also felt like putting some kind of pea underneath Rong Zhi’s blankets. Although he looked somewhat ridiculous in his current balled up state, underneath the soft blankets his face was so pale that it was almost transparent, his dark eyes half-lidded. He looked like some kind of expensive but fragile art piece that had been wrapped up in silk for protection, one that couldn’t afford to be hurt.
Seeing Chu Yu’s astonishment, Rong Zhi glanced down at himself and smiled helplessly. “I said I wanted to come out for some air, and Cuo insisted on doing this to me. I apologize for my ridiculous state, Princess.”
He looked calm and at ease, as if everything that had happened yesterday was nothing more than an illusion. Following his intentions, Chu Yu smiled slightly. “He’s also doing it out of concern for you. In the state you’re in now, you can’t suffer the chill of wind. But…wouldn’t such a thick layer of blankets press into your wounds?” Of course she couldn’t forget or forgive what had happened yesterday. But at the moment she still didn’t know Rong Zhi’s true intentions. It was too early to publicly declare him an enemy. Feigning ignorance was perhaps the best plan now.
That was when Chu Yu recalled that she had never seen the ill boy swordsman Hua Cuo. Turning her head quickly toward the redness in the corner of her eye, she expected to see a skinny, pale man. But what she saw instead was a burning, splendid red.
Hua Cuo wasn’t what one would call an exceedingly handsome man. When studied separately, his features looked quite plain. But all together, they emanated a sort of wild pride. His bright red robes made him look dazzling. While his lips were pale and bloodless, they were fixed at a hard, proud angle, almost sharp as a sword that might hurt someone. Chu Yu couldn’t tell at all from looking at him that he relied on expensive medicines to survive.
He looked twenty-three or four. In his hand was a sword that seemed slightly narrower and thinner than normal swords, with a slight taint of red. It wasn’t clear if that was a reflection of his red clothing, or if that was its natural color.
Seeing that Chu Yu forgot to move, Hua Cuo flashed her an arrogant smile. “Princess. I hope you can keep that dog of yours under control, and restrain him from biting people at will. If someone’s hand slipped and he was killed, that would be terrible.”
The meaning veiled behind his words was more than obvious, and was a mere step away from him just pointing at Yue Jiefei and cussing him out. Faced with this kind of humiliation, Yue Jiefei no longer needed to restrain himself. Pulling his sword out, he charged at Hua Cuo at top speed.
That was exactly what Hua Cuo was waiting for. With a cold chuckle, his wrist trembled to deflect Yue Jiefei’s attack. After the first blow landed, neither of them seemed inclined to stop, but instead went back at it with even more rigor. The more they fought the further they drifted, almost seeming to forget Chu Yu and Rong Zhi.
Chu Yu couldn’t quite distinguish their movement. Seeing that Rong Zhi seemed not to care, however, she decided to ignore them for the moment. Yesterday Liu Sang had said that if they really got into a fight, Hua Cuo would likely lose because his lack of stamina would let him down in an extended battle. Right now was the time to see if that guess was correct or not.
Even if she wanted to stop them, she would wait until they finished their “extended battle” and there was a clear view of who would win and who would lose. Hua Cuo had a sharp tongue, and Yue Jiefei couldn’t keep his temper in check; perhaps it was best that they both learned a lesson.
Seeing that Rong Zhi had nothing to do, Chu Yu put the tray in her hands down on the platform and opened the lid on the cup. “I brought you some medicinal porridge. Drink it while it’s hot.”
Rong Zhi stared at her for a moment before his face lapsed into a gentle smile. “Thank you, Princess.” Moving his body, he pulled his uninjured hand from the blankets and picked up the spoon on the tray. He scooped up half a spoonful, and moved it to his mouth slowly.
When it entered his mouth, his hand hesitated. Chu Yu, who had been watching him closely the whole time, asking hurriedly, “What is it?” Was something wrong?
“No.” Rong Zhi’s lips tightened, then he smiled again. “It’s very tasty. Thank you for your concern, Princess.”
Chu Yu sighed in relief. Good. Somehow, she didn’t know why, but she thought that the porridge might be poisoned.
Under Chu Yu’s gaze, Rong Zhi finished the porridge bite by bite. He looked so harmless and soft, with his gentle, quiet smile. Her eyes fixed on him, Chu Yu sighed to herself: if only he were as well-behaved and harmless as he seemed. Wouldn’t that be nice?
But if he acted like that, he wouldn’t be Rong Zhi.
The battle between Hua Cuo and Yue Jiefei seemed also to be reaching its end as he finished the medicinal porridge. Hua Cuo’s face flushed bright red. It made his features look like they were glowing with self-possession. His movements were no longer as focused or harsh, and were starting to fall apart.
The forest around them had become a mess. The bamboos and trees were damaged or broken, shattering the sensation of clarity in the space.
Chu Yu was just ruminating on how she would speak up and stop the two when Rong Zhi stole ahead of her. Without even looking at the two of them, he put the spoon down and said in a leisurely voice, “Are you really so intent on destroying my garden?” After this reminder, his voice suddenly became lower. “Yue Jiefei, Hua Cuo may have provoked you, but you’ve had your chance to take it out on him. Don’t try to take more grace than is offered.”
Almost immediately, the two of them stopped at the same time. Hua Cuo had one hand to his abdomen and was panting nonstop, his head lowered. Yue Jiefei, on the other hand, seemed unsatisfied, yet also appeared bothered by something that stopped him from attacking again.
Chu Yu picked up the tray again, and spoke to Rong Zhi. “If you’re feeling uncomfortable these days, I’ll get Huan Yuan to handle your business for you.”
Rong Zhi smiled. “All right.” His expression was calm and relaxed, as if he saw through every uncertainty, without even the slightest reaction to Chu Yu’s double intentions.
Chu Yu let out a soft sigh. “Rest well.” If only Rong Zhi’s goal were clearer to her. If only he wasn’t so difficult to read, perhaps she wouldn’t keep her guard up like this. She couldn’t stop thinking to herself if what she was doing was the right thing. Even though her plan seemed great in theory, she felt bad carrying it out.
“If you like this porridge, I’ll get someone to make it for you everyday.”
Hearing her say this, Rong Zhi’s expression changed to surprise. He spoke slowly, “Princess, do you know what effect this medicinal porridge has?”
Wasn’t it just a normal tonic? Chu Yu’s heart was clouded with suspicion as he continued to speak in that slow, laidback tone. “Aside from functioning as a tonic for one’s spirit and blood, this porridge has some ingredients that are beneficial for the kidney.”
Beneficial for the kidney. In other words, invigorating for the male organ.*
*In Chinese medicine, the kidney and male organ are linked. Nourishing the former also repairs and replenishes the latter.