Edited and Proofread by KitKat
TN: I’ll be translating this novel with the assumption that you guys already know the basic terms like what the garments are called, how they address the royalties, etc. Therefore, several terms like the titles ‘wang ye’ and ‘wang fei’ will not be translated or explained. But if there’s something you need me to clarify, feel free to ask.
The first wave of snow fell on Yejing in the early winter of the third year of Yuanxi. The specks of white were like feathers floating to the ground, covering the droplets of blood. A carriage sped down the street with urgency, disturbing the resting snow.
On the silent street, a man’s roar awakened the slumbering town.
“Faster! Go faster!”
Xiao Zhige’s eyes were red as he hugged a feeble person in his arms. He calmed his voice and said, “Don’t be afraid, I’m taking you back to the palace. It’s going to be fine…” The man’s voice was lowered into a soft whisper for fear of alarming the person in his embrace.
And the person in his arms was a handsome man dressed in a golden robe with a white jade crown adorned on his hair. He had long brows and eyes of the phoenix. His nose arched tall like a mountain and his lips were moist and pink. There was a little tear mole under the left corner of his eye, adding a touch of gentleness to the already stunning visage. If he was not in a debilitated state and had blood dripping from his mouth, the man would have incited many heartthrobs.
The long eyelashes trembled as An Chang Qing struggled to open his eyes and parted his lips to speak. The first image that he saw was Xiao Zhige’s frightened look.
He was a little confused. They have been married for ten years but they were not intimate. Back then, Xiao Zhige did not ask for his consent before requesting their marriage from the Empress Dowager. An Chang Qing had been filled with fear and reluctance towards Xiao Zhige and thus, they had always been estranged from each other.
Xiao Zhige saw through his unwillingness and did not force him either. The two had lived their separate lives in the Wang Manor through the years. Later, when Xiao Zhige ascended the throne, they changed their residence but still went on to live their separate lives.
Being this intimate, it was the first time. Although they were not close, An Chang Qing could tell the anxiety in Xiao Zhige’s eyes was sincere. He thought to himself, those rumors outside, they were not all true.
“Chang Qing…” Xiao Zhige looked into his eyes, his voice was shaking, “Does it hurt?”
An Chang Qing wanted to shake his head but his insides suddenly burst with pain as though someone had stabbed and twisted the knife deep into his organs.
“It hurts…” An Chang Qing writhed in pain. He clenched his teeth but more blood kept gushing out.
Xiao Zhige hugged him tighter. He wanted to help him but there was nothing he could do. He stroked his hair and softly comforted him over and over, “We’re almost there, we’re almost there…”
The sound of the rapid horses passed through the palace gates and headed straight for Qiwu Palace.
Over ten imperial physicians had been kneeling outside the hall. Xiao Zhige carried the man in his arms inside and carefully placed him on the bed. The imperial physicians dared not make a sound. They could only take turns checking his pulse.
An Chang Qing had his eyes closed. Sweat was dripping down his forehead and the blood that flowed from his mouth could not be wiped clean with a single handkerchief, it gradually dyed his clothes red.
The imperial physicians finished their examination and looked at each other. Finally, they all knelt down and a white-haired physician spoke for the group in a trembling voice, “Your Majesty, forgive our incompetence!”
In one sentence, his end had been determined.
“What’s the use of keeping you bunch of wastes?!” Xiao Zhige kicked the old physician in the chest. His temper had always been violent. With his years of training, that one kick flung the old physician a few feet away. The old physician coughed out a mouthful of blood which he did not have the time to wipe off before kneeling down once again and begged, “Your Majesty, please have mercy!”
“Your Majesty, please spare our lives!” The other physicians bowed low and begged with him.
Xiao Zhige breathed heavily as though something was about to snap in his head. He managed to control his anger and swept a merciless glance at the group of imperial physicians, “Find a cure! If you can’t, then all of you will be buried with the Empress!”
An Chang Qing woke up to the sound of howling cries. He opened his eyes in a daze and felt that the pain which tormented him was gone. His body felt light as air, as though he could float away any minute.
As he thought so, his body elevated and drifted to the door. At the bottom of the stairs, all the eunuchs and maids of Qiwu palace were kneeling and wailing at the top of their voices. On their faces were fear and misery.
Xiao Zhige donned a bright golden dragon robe with a rising dragon crown. He was standing alone on top of the staircase with a ferocious expression in his eyes. The strange thing was, An Chang Qing had always been scared of him and had avoided him at all costs, but looking at him now, An Chang Qing only felt that there were many hidden emotions underneath the man’s violent appearance; Emotions that he had yet to understand.
An Chang Qing observed him for a while until the arrival of the An family was announced. When he saw them being escorted to the front, he could partially guess Xiao Zhige’s intentions.
Yesterday was his father’s, the Prime Minister of Daye Empire’s, 65th birthday. A grand banquet had been held and Xiao Zhige and himself had attended. Unexpectedly, it had been a trap that his father had conspired with the former crown prince in order to kill them both.
Xiao Zhige had managed to avoid the onslaught but An Chang Qing had been served with poisoned wine. Before the rebellion could be quenched, the poison had kicked in. Looking at his translucent hands, An Chang Qing scoffed and no longer felt any lingering attachment to the An family.
On this day, blood flowed like a river in front of Qiwu Palace. Over fifty members from the An family were beheaded by ten experienced executioners. Their blood spread on the ground into a large pool, filling the air with a pungent smell. The palace attendees who were still kneeling dared not move even when their knees were soaked with blood.
The current Emperor, Xiao Zhige, had always been known for his cruelty ever since the time he killed over sixty thousand Beidi soldiers in his youth. Three years later when he ascended the throne of the Daye Empire, he continued to engage in war, piling up corpses and causing unrest among the people. Adding in today’s episode, his reputation would only get worse.
But all this had never concerned Xiao Zhige.
He ordered the guards to throw the bodies of the An family in an unmarked gravesite then went back to Qiwu Palace alone.
Qiwu Palace had now been cleaned up. A bronze gilt stove was placed in the corner to warm the room. In the center of the hall was a large carved sandalwood bed with golden curtains hanging down. A figure laid motionless on the bed.
Xiao Zhige’s face softened unconsciously as he walked over and lifted the curtain.
The bloodstains on An Chang Qing’s face had been wiped clean and his long black hair was bundled up in a turquoise crown. There was only peace on his face.
Xiao Zhige watched him in silence. He reached out, wanting to touch his face but halfway there, he drew back his hand. There was a bitter smile on the man’s lips, “Forget it, you’ve never liked me, I shouldn’t make you unhappy anymore.”
An Chang Qing floating by his side wanting to say ‘no’. It was not that he didn’t like him, he had just never tried to understand him. Every time he saw those fierce brows and thought of the terrifying stories, fear would instinctively fill his being. That was why he never took the initiative to get close to him.
But no matter what he wanted to say now, it was already too late.
Xiao Zhige stayed with him for a while before calling in the palace attendees to send An Chang Qing’s body to the royal burial grounds.
When An Chang Qing’s body was carried out, Xiao Zhige was the only one left.
An Chang Qing looked at his back and only felt that the once vigorous and dignified King was turning lethargic under the setting sun.
“Young master, would you like something to eat?”
A familiar voice suddenly rang through his ears. An Chang Qing opened his eyes in a trance and saw Anfu’s jubilant face. Seeing that An Chang Qing was still in a daze, Anfu called again, “Young Master?”
An Chang Qing tried to move his body but only felt overwhelming weakness like he was a cotton ball, soft and light but unable to move on his own. His actions were clumsy like his body was not his own.
That’s right, this shouldn’t be his body. After all, he had died a long time ago and his soul was turned into a ball of wisp, wandering the earth for many years.
Anfu was worried seeing him like this. He frantically wanted to call for someone, “Could it be that there was something wrong with the medicine? Young Master, you wait here, I’m going to call for a physician right away!”
After speaking, Anfu ran out in a hurry but on the way, he bumped into a group of people.
“We’re leaving soon, where are you running off to?”
The one who spoke was a middle-aged man with clear features and a pair of phoenix eyes, just like An Chang Qing’s. He was An Chang Qing’s father, An Zhi Ke, and also the current Marquis of Jin An. By his side was the Madame of the family, Li Shi standing with her maid. Behind them were several sturdy servants.
Anfu immediately knelt down and replied, “The Young Master is not feeling well, maybe it’s because he took too much medicine yesterday…”
An Chang Qing did not consent to this marriage from the beginning. Although the Daye Empire did not restrict it, having a male wife in the royal family was unprecedented. Moreover, the Northern Warlord Xiao Zhige had a notorious reputation in the capital city of Yejing. Rumors had it that he was temperamental, ruthless, and bloodthirsty. Every month, there would be bodies of brutally beaten servants being thrown out. Even if An Chang Qing was only an unfavored son of a concubine, making him live in such a dangerous environment as a Wangfei, he was very unwilling.
All he wanted was to become an official and protect his mother and sister.
Marrying the Northern Warlord destroyed everything that he had planned.
He had tried to retaliate only to be served with a dose of paralyzing powder, turning his muscles into jelly. He could only sit still while the servants dressed him up in red like a puppet.
“Ignore that. The people from the Wang Manor have already arrived,” An Zhi Ke waved his hand and looked at An Chang Qing, “Help the Third Young Master out.”
The still hazy An Chang Qing was then covered with a red headpiece and escorted out by two servants.
An Chang Qing was powerless but in his confusion, he could still feel the pain on his arms being held by the two servants. This did not seem like a dream at all.
When he got on the sedan, the escorting troop began to play their horns. The carriage then made a few rounds through the streets of Yejing before reaching the Northern Warlord’s Manor.
The Wang manor was filled with guests. They were all talking and laughing as though they were about to watch a good show.
The Northern Warlord’s mother had died early. At the age of ten, a Taoist master had read his fortune and stated that he had a disharmonic aura and would attract evil, causing him to lose the love of Emperor AnQing. Before he even reached the age of twelve, he had enrolled himself in the army. In eight years, Xiao Zhige had risen from a nobody to becoming one of the Daye Empire’s twelve generals, holding the military power of Yanzhou. This position had been earned by piling up mountains of corpses and forming seas of blood belonging to the Beidi people. The title Northern Warlord Xiao Zhige not only brought fear to the Beidi people but also his own people.
Even children sang a song in his name: In the heavens, there’s the God Killer. On earth, there’s Tai Sui2. In hell, there’s Asura. In Xiao Zhige, there lurked a part of each of them.
The bigger Xiao Zhige’s reputation became, the more Emperor AnQing disliked him. But seeing his fighting prowess against the Beidi people in Yanzhou, he could only tolerate him. Initially, he feared that Xiao Zhige would develop intentions that he shouldn’t have but ever since he had claimed that he preferred men and wanted to marry the Marquis’s third son, the Emperor, although thinking that it was ridiculous, had been reassured at the same time.
In great joy, Emperor AnQing ordered Zong Zheng Temple to make preparations and hence, the wedding in Wang Manor had pulled in a large number of guests. It was even more lively than when the crown prince was wedded. It was just that whether the guests were there to watch the Northern Warlord’s comedy or to congratulate him, only they knew the answer.
During the banquet, many expressed sympathy towards the Third Young Master of the Marquis’s Manor; A beautiful youth being forced into the arms of the violent Northern Warlord. What would he become? Could he even survive the wedding night?
It had to be said that the Third Young Master was also quite a famous figure in Yejing. His biological mother, Marquis An’s concubine, was a jing guan3 who hailed from Yejing’s most prominent brothel. She was born gorgeous and graceful and blessed with a beautiful voice and a talent for dancing. At that time, she was known as the first beauty of Yejing. An Chang Qing had his mother’s beauty. He was exquisitely adorable as an infant and stunningly charming as an adult. But beauty is as it is, just an outer shell. It was said that he once angered his father and was removed from the An family’s ancestry.
The guests lamented for An Chang Qing with their mouths but on their faces was an expression of curiosity as they watched him being helped by the xi po4 to alight the sedan.
An Chang Qing was covered in a veil and could only stare at his feet. The dizziness had subsided and his mind was somewhat clearer. The paralysis had also dissipated but now he was filled with doubts. He dared not act rashly and could only rely on the xi po to help him get down.
As he managed to stand firm, a well-defined palm covered with calluses reached out to him. One could tell from the first glance that this was the hand of someone well-versed in weapons. Looking up, there were the long sleeves of the wedding robe and further up was blocked from An Chang Qing’s sight.
… This was Xiao Zhige’s hand.
An Chang Qing’s heart was pounding. He remembered it now. Back then when they got married, the same hand had reached out to him. But at that time, he was still brimming with reluctance that the fear and anger towards Xiao Zhige had caused him to reject his hand in silence.
He did not even take a look at this hand that had weathered countless storms.
As he lightly pursed his lips, An Chang Qing recalled the years after his death, in Qiwu Palace, an Emperor drank alone with desolation in his eyes.
Gone were the days he had lived. At that time, he had chosen the rockiest path and ended up hurting himself and the other person. Although he did not know how and why he had returned to this day, An Chang Qing wanted to try another path.
Before the hand pulled back, An Chang Qing slowly reached for it and held it firmly.
The hand was indeed as rough as it looked. The calluses rubbed against his tender skin, it was ticklish but at the same time, gave him a sense of unshakable assurance.
Xiao Zhige felt the softness in his palm and a strange light swept across those unfathomable eyes. The fury between his brows eased up as his rigid lips bent slightly into an imperceptible smile.
They walked hand in hand to the main hall before letting go to hold the ends of a red piece of cloth.
The ceremonial eunuch announced in a high-pitched voice, “The first bow to worship Heaven and Earth…”
The two stood facing each other. Connected by a piece of red silk, they slowly bowed according to the ceremonial proceedings…
1 A little clarification: The country in this story is called Daye Empire. Its capital, where they are currently at, is Yejing. Yanzhou is a province that Xiao Zhige currently holds military power. Several characters and places have 2 to 3 different ways they are called but I’ll stick to one so it’s not too confusing.
2 Name of a deity
3 virgin girls in the brothel who only sell their talents and not their bodies
4 an old lady who guides the bride through the wedding process