Prince Wei glanced at Feng Sheng, not saying anything.
He approached the bed, sat on a nearby chair, and undid his clothes.
Prince Wei was indeed injured, and the gravity of it wasn’t light. He was stabbed against the shoulder blade, inflicting a wound half a palm long with fresh blood still trickling down from it, looking quite terrifying.
“You’re injured. Why don’t you call for a doctor?” Feng Sheng said.
“I can’t be injured.”
Feng Sheng hadn’t initially caught on, but she soon understood. Prince Wei was inferring that ‘Gou Qing’ couldn’t afford to be injured, and even if he were injured, no one must find out.
“He wounded you. Won’t he know it himself?” Anyway, Feng Sheng knew nothing about the obscure mix-ups of the Jianghu, competitions within the gang, and the like.
“If he knew, we wouldn’t be standing here right now.”
“What about your wound? Are you just going to endure?”
“That can only be up to you.”
Prince Wei’s alleged ‘up to you’ was to have Feng Sheng dab medicine on him and dress his wounds.
To truly confront blood, hideous wounds, and other such lurid things was actually a first for Feng Sheng. Fortunately, she was on no account an ordinary woman, and although slightly nervous, she did a satisfactory job.
Feng Sheng tidied up the mess and finally felt relieved, but fatigue immediately crept in.
She trudged towards the washbasin, cleansed her hands with water, ambled to the bed, slid off her coat, and clambered on the opposite end of the bed. Already accustomed to Prince Wei’s existence, she executed this series of actions with an uncanny familiarity. Moreover, sleeping on the same bed as him no longer fazed her. This only proved that people were more resilient than one could imagine. When faced with the prospect of death, the so-called sense of propriety, justice, honesty, and honor were just skin, and if one was unwilling to accept this reality, one would perish.
He slept on the outer side, while she slept on the inner side.
Sniffing the faint scent of blood in the air, Feng Sheng found Prince Wei a little pitiful. Had he not been around, and had it been her who had suffered an injury, someone surely would have taken care of her, and she would have been supplied with nutritious supplements along with three meals a day. On the other hand, he was afflicted by copious amounts of blood loss, which was considered such dire straits for a dignified prince.
Yet, he could only suffer in silence and had to make do with her catastrophic bandaging of his wounds. Feng Sheng recalled the messy cloth wrapped around his chest just now and felt a little ashamed.
“Hey, are we just going to stay here all this time? What exactly are you planning?”
“What do you want me to plan?” In the midst of the gloom, Prince Wei replied.
“Your Magnificent Highness Prince Wei must have preeminent ability and wisdom. Why do you need a young woman to interpose?”
Prince Wei scoffed.
Chill teased Feng Sheng’s flesh, and she burrowed inside her quilt to combat it.
Amid silence, she mused to herself: it was better not to ask. This person was too cryptic and simply made things happen without warning. His reason for coming here must not be so simple. He must have cooked up a scheme and had already factored in when to leave.
After entertaining all sorts of blind and disorderly conjectures, Feng Sheng’s thinking gradually stagnated, and half her consciousness torpidly drifted into slumber.
Just as she was about to fall into the Duke of Zhou’s1 embrace, she was suddenly tugged from behind. When she opened her eyes, she saw a pair of choleric eyes in the murk burning brightly before her.
“How can you just fall asleep like that?”
Feng Sheng revealed an innocent expression. “Why can’t I sleep? You should sleep early too. The wound won’t hurt if you’re asleep.”
She heard a heavy exhale, as if out of anger, and was about to say something to ease the tension, when he caught her lips.
He bit her lips, and it hurt. Before she could yelp out in pain, he swallowed her up.
The taste of wine infiltrated her mouth, and the whiff of blood penetrated her nose.
As she tried to reach out to push him, she thought about the wound in his chest and switched sides. However, this brief moment of hesitation was enough for him to do plenty of things, and the opportunity to shove him away had slipped by.
Just before Feng Sheng was on the verge of suffocating, Prince Wei finally released her.
She gasped like a fish that had been out of water for too long.
“This prince doesn’t believe that you don’t understand why this prince is here!”
Their foreheads were only a hair’s breadth apart. With nowhere to hide, Feng Sheng could only look at him.
She was suddenly so aggrieved. She couldn’t fathom why she had to weather through all this. She couldn’t understand. She couldn’t understand. She really didn’t want to understand! All she yearned for was to reverse her father’s case. Why was she propelled into such a mire?
Between heaves, Feng Sheng realized that she had uttered those words aloud.
Powerless against Prince Wei’s affront, and somewhat flustered, she abruptly shut her eyes. It was an indication of cowardice and retreat, but she couldn’t care less.
“Be this prince’s princess consort, and I’ll help you reverse the case.”
Feng Sheng didn’t expect him to convey such words. She opened her eyes and closed them again.
She slowly sucked in her breath then spat out, “For a woman, is it worth it for Your Highness to provoke a man below only one person and above ten thousand people? Or is Your Highness planning to use an insignificant person to fool me?”2
Prince Wei gradually backed away. He sat up and peered at Feng Sheng.
Feng Sheng had no desire to rise, but she found it too strange to be scrutinized in such a manner, so she could only prop herself up as well.
“How did you know?”
“I guessed.” After a pause, she added, “Court Elder Song doesn’t have that much of a face for the officials of Liang Huai to look at.”
“Then, are you aware of what you’re going to face if you continue to torment yourself?”
She was quiet for an instant before answering, “I am”
“You’re unwilling to overlook nor spare even if you’re aware?”
“Why should I overlook or spare? When one owes a debt, one pays money. When one commits murder, one pays with one’s own life. If a prince violates the law, he must be punished like an ordinary person. Alright, I know that’s a phrase used to trick children, but how will we know if we don’t try? Liang Huai is riddled with political malpractices. If I fuel His Majesty’s determination to tidy things up, I don’t believe I can’t borrow that knife above ten thousand people to kill that one man below him!”
In the darkness, her eyes gleamed.
Even Prince Wei was at a loss for words.
Only after a while did he warn, “You’re playing with fire.”
Feng Sheng chuckled and lay back down. “I’m not playing with fire, I’m playing with life. Therefore, Your Highness Prince Wei, to avoid implication, you, a prince, should stay away from me. I understand your intentions, but what you want to give me is not what I want.”
She shifted and turned over, facing in.
Prince Wei lay down as well, silence shrouding the narrow space.
“What about Fan Zi Jin?” After an unknown length of time, Prince Wei suddenly asked.
No one answered. Ashamed into rage, Prince Wei suspected that she had dozed off, until a voice rang out.
“He’s just a fool.”
For the next few days, Prince Wei and Feng Sheng never broached this subject again.
Both became abnormally quiet, and even when they did speak, all were idle chatter.
Although Prince Wei’s gash was deep and long, such an injury was actually the type that healed the fastest. There was only that solitary wound, and they plainly needed to change the medicine and dressing twice before it displayed signs of recovery.
One day, Prince Wei prompted Feng Sheng that if she heard any noise at night, she shouldn’t care nor ask. She should just assume that something was about to transpire.
Sure enough, at night, chaos ensued outside.
Through the window, Feng Sheng could catch a glimpse of the illuminating flames ablaze far into the distance, and she could also vaguely detect the commotion. Here, however, the only proper way to describe the courtyard was that it was in a rare stillness.
She waited for something to happen until drowsiness overcame her. Incapable of staying awake, she plodded to the bed and drifted into slumber. Amidst her stupor, someone draped a cloth over her and lifted her up. She attempted to squirm but was held down.
While wrapped in a cloak, she could perceive that they were heading out the door. Through the gap in the cloak, Feng Sheng spotted a fire in the courtyard and a team of soldiers in distinctive armor, wielding weapons and standing erect with bated breath.
Prince Wei carried her like this all the while, sauntering through several places. Soldiers donned in armor scattered everywhere. Feng Sheng deduced that Prince Wei had deployed his soldiers to eradicate the salt gang.
She could vaguely determine that they seemed to have boarded a ship and entered a room. Prince Wei set her on the bed and let her succumb to sleep, under the impression that she understood or knew nothing about all this. If she didn’t want anything bad to happen, she better behave.
On the deck of the warship stood two soldiers in radiant armor.
Catching sight of Prince Wei striding over, one of them bumped the other with his elbow.
“What do you think is His Highness Prince Wei holding in his arms?”
“What else can it be? A woman.”
Upon hearing him guess that it was a woman, the one who asked question was rather unconvinced. “Didn’t Prince Wei practice Buddhism? Isn’t he averse to women? “
“Well, who knows? But I see a lock of hair falling out of the cloak, so it must be a woman, not a man.”
“You saying it that way is the same as not saying it.”3
“Come on, what are you so curious for? You should keep a close eye on your men below to check if they’re doing their work.”
After getting off the ship, Feng Sheng was settled in a mansion.
She was unable to make out what kind of place it was, but all things considered, it was quite tranquil. The servants were obedient, thoughtful and attentive, and careful in every possible way. Judging from the daily meals, the furnishings, and the maids’ attire, Feng Sheng had an inkling that she was in Yangzhou.
Even if this place wasn’t Yangzhou, it should at least be nearby.
She was back in the mundane and secular world, not still on that unknown island.
Figuring all this out, Feng Sheng came to her senses.
She waited for Prince Wei to show up so she could tell him she wanted to leave, but he never showed up. And although these maids serving her acceded to her every plea and let her stroll in the garden, leaving this place didn’t seem to be an option. For all twenty-four hours a day, she had people watching over her.
Unknowingly, Feng Sheng had actually stayed here for more than half a month.
Now deciphering that Prince Wei was clearly trying to confine her, Feng Sheng grew furious. No longer passive, she began displaying her temper and smashing objects. However, no matter how badly she tossed about, the maids would all just shiver as they watched her, appearing rather helpless and clueless.
Feng Sheng asked them to help deliver a message again, but they had no idea how and to whom to deliver it. According to them, they had arrived here after they were released from the clutches of a middleman, and they had no idea what this place was, who the owner was, and who was in charge.
It was another fine and sunny day. Feng Sheng took a maid to the garden to enjoy the fish.
There was a large fish pond in this garden with several koi carp in it.
Feng Sheng grasped crumbs of steamed bread from the maid’s hand and tossed them into the pond.
Observing the surface of the water reflecting people’s figures, an idea suddenly bloomed in her head.
When Feng Sheng jumped in, it was actually calculated.
This pond was shallow, and she herself could swim, so nothing crucial would happen. But she didn’t expect those maids to be so stupid. Witnessing her tumble into the water, no one came to her rescue, but they were instead flustered in a frenzy.
She had allowed herself to sink deeper down to render authenticity. When they finally mustered a response, she had already choked and passed out. She had overestimated her own body’s physical ability.
But it wasn’t without gain. When she awoke, she saw Prince Wei leering at her with a darkened visage.
“You dare seek death?!”
Studying his face seething with fury, Feng Sheng concluded that it was not appropriate to act foolhardy. She wanted to leave, but if she was too resolute in her conviction, it wouldn’t do. It would only infuriate him completely. During the time she had spent with him, she gained somewhat of an understanding of Prince Wei. This person was immune to both soft and hard tactics. Occasionally when in a good mood, he would yield to some soft.
She moistened her lips and explained, “I wasn’t seeking death, I just slipped. But it’s finally time to meet Your Highness. When will Your Highness let me leave?”
“Are you in such a hurry to leave?”
“The new policy is at a critical juncture. I really can’t afford to not be in a hurry.”
“Not for Fan Zi Jin?”
Feng Sheng stiffened. “Why does Your Highness always bring up Brother Fan? Him and me wanting to leave, there’s no direct connection between the two.”
Prince Wei no longer spoke. He simply gazed at her, his raging eyes obscure and inexplicable.
Suddenly, he chuckled darkly and uttered in a tone laced with sarcasm, “Fang Feng Sheng, have you forgotten something?”
“What thing?” Feng Sheng instinctively raised her eyes at him.
“Our bet. Have you forgotten what you once promised me? You told me that if you succeed, we will reconcile and make peace, but if you fail, you will withdraw and comply to my wishes. This prince saved your life twice. Let’s not mention the first time, this time, without this prince, you would have been trapped in a den of thieves, unable to protect yourself. How could you succeed?”
1 周公 (Zhōu gōng): Duke of Zhou is also known as the “God of Dreams”. The Analects record Confucius saying, “How I have gone downhill! It has been such a long time since I dreamt of the Duke of Zhou.” This was meant as a lamentation of how the governmental ideals of the Duke of Zhou had faded, but was later taken literally. In Chinese legends, if an important thing is going to happen to someone, the Duke of Zhou will let the person know through dreams: hence the Chinese expression “Dreaming of Zhou Gong”.
2 In case you guys don’t understand what she’s trying to say. Below one and above ten thousand, meaning second only to the emperor, refers to the Crown Prince. She’s implying that Zong Yue plans to use a scapegoat to fool her into thinking that he has overturned her father’s case. She fears he would do it half-heartedly just to please her, as well as to avoid involving his big brother.
3 Just gonna expound. Since both women and men had long hair, it seemed futile to judge Feng Sheng’s gender (while in Zong Yue’s arms) just based on that.