Edited and Proofread by KitKat
After handing Steward Wang the plum blossom cakes, Xiao Zhige went to the study. This was a room in the southeast corner of the main courtyard and located right opposite the main room.
It was early in the evening and the sky was still lit, allowing one to see that in front of the main room, a maid was kneeling and Xiao Zhige could hear her sobbing voice. This should be the one Steward Wang mentioned who had angered An Chang Qing.
Xiao Zhige did not have much of an impression of her. For many years, he had been stationed at Yanzhou and rarely returned to Yejing. Even after he was called back to Yejing, most of his time was spent at the barracks. The matters of the Wang Manor had all been relinquished to Steward Wang. He himself might not even remember the faces of everyone in this household.
In fact, he was more interested in how An Chang Qing would deal with this maid.
From the information his subordinates gathered, An Chang Qing and his younger sister, An Xianyu, both had their mother’s mellow temperament, making their lives very difficult in the Xiang Manor’s arduous environment. Even the maids would brazenly bully them at will. If it wasn’t so, he wouldn’t have brought him back to the Wang Manor. At least here, he could provide him with a safe and peaceful environment.
Xiao Zhige watched as Steward Wang entered the main room’s door.
An Chang Qing was sorting out the books that he had brought with him. Although he had been married off, Madame Li had said that he was a man, everything should be simple unlike when a girl was married off. As such, she had sent him off without any dowry, his possessions were only some useless items they had given him out of spite and the rest were books.
An Chang Qing and Anfu were tidying their things when Steward Wang came in.
Steward Wang bowed low holding the pastry box in his hand. His attitude was much more respectful than before, even his tone was more humble, “Wangfei, Wangye has ordered this to be given to you.”
It was just a box of snacks, any other lower-ranked servants could’ve sent it but Steward Wang was a man with experienced insights. From his master’s behavior, he could detect that there was something more to this Wangfei. Thinking of his cockiness this morning, he felt a chill and had to redeem himself by personally delivering the item.
An Chang Qing looked at the box with some uncertainty. Opening it, there was a piece of oil paper and on top were eight plum-shaped pastries. A light pink stuffing was wrapped with a white layer of flour, looking delicate and appetizing.
“Wangye told you to send this over?” An Chang Qing blinked as he looked at the chic delicacy in his hand, unable to relate it with the majestic and fearsome Northern Warlord.
“Yes, these are plum blossom cakes of San Wei Zhai. Wangye most likely went to get it especially for you,” Steward Wang said with a smile.
“Thank you Steward Wang for your trouble,” An Chang Qing tried to visualize the scene where Xiao Zhige went into the snack shop to get this for him and found that it was too unimaginable. But looking at the pastries in his hand, the restlessness from last night seemed to have dissipated.
“Where is Wangye now?”
Steward Wang: “He went to the study.”
An Chang Qing considered and said, “I’m going there to see him.”
Steward Wang thought of Yan Hong who was still kneeling at the door and said, “Yan Hong, that unruly girl, I’ll have someone take her away. The ya po1 will be coming tomorrow, does Wangfei want to replace the girls with people in the Manor or have the ya po bring someone new?”
“Tell her to bring a few boys over.”
Having received his order, Steward Wang retreated. He also dragged Yan Hong away while she cried and begged, “Godfather, godfather, please let me see Wangye! He won’t treat me this way…”
Steward Wang had seen the situation too clearly. Although he was a little unwilling, after hearing from the other servants and knowing that An Chang Qing was actually a kind-hearted employer, he dared not take her side anymore. He pulled a long face and reprimanded, “You think Wangye is someone you can see just because you want to?” He signaled to a servant boy and he understood. He came over and covered her mouth while dragging her away.
Unexpectedly, Yan Hong bit him and broke free from his grasp. Picking up her skirt, she ran towards the southeast corner, heading for the study. All the way, she was crying out, “Wangye save me! Wangye save Yan Hong…”
Yan Hong had beauty. Her hair scattered as she ran and when she reached the doorstep of Xiao Zhige’s study, she fell weakly on the ground and sobbed. Seeing this scene, anyone would want to rush over to help and comfort her.
It’s a pity that Xiao Zhige was not just anyone.
Xiao Zhige remained unmoved. He looked at Yan Hong with indifference and scolded the servant boy, “Why are you still standing there? Take her away and make sure that she doesn’t bother Wangfei.”
The servant boy frantically complied. He quickly covered her mouth and pulled her away.
An Chang Qing saw the scene from a distance and his brows eased up. He looked at the bowl of noodles in his hand and thought that it was not for nothing.
Growing up in the Xiang Manor, he had learned how to tread carefully in front of others. He had to depend on himself for many things and thus the idea that a gentleman should stay away from the kitchen did not apply to him. When he heard that Xiao Zhige was in the study, he went to the kitchen to make him a bowl of noodles in return for the plum blossom cakes. At the same time, attempt to coax him back to the main room with him. If they continued to live apart like this, there would be many more Yan Hongs who would come between them in the future.
When An Chang Qing brought the noodles to the study, Xiao Zhige was sitting at the window reading a book on warfare. He sent Anfu out and placed the noodles directly in front of Xiao Zhige, “Has Chang Qing done something to make Wangye unhappy?”
Xiao Zhige’s ear moved. He put down the book and looked at him, “No such thing.”
“Then Wangye doesn’t like Chang Qing?”
Xiao Zhige paused briefly before answering, “No.”
“Then why didn’t Wangye sleep with me last night?” An Chang Qing looked at him with red eyes. In fact, he did not want to cry. A man shouldn’t casually shed tears. Even when he had suffered countless grievances in his last life, he hadn’t cried. But simply asking Xiao Zhige a few questions had made his eyes red and nose sour.
An Chang Qing was ashamed of himself and tried to stop the tears from flowing. “If you don’t like me, why did you want this marriage? As a man, did you think I would have wanted to marry you?”
Xiao Zhige saw his red eyes and his raised hands were at a loss for what to do. He was not well-versed in comforting others and could only frown and say, “I know you weren’t willing. Do not worry, I won’t force anything on you. In the future… If in the future, you really do not want to stay in the Wang manor, I will let you leave.”
An Chang Qing did not know when this ‘future’ would be from his words but the part where he said he would let him go made something snap in his head. The tears rolled uncontrollably down his cheeks, “You just denied disliking me but now you want to send me away. And here I thought we could spend our lives together…”
“Let’s not wait any longer, you might as well send me back right now!” An Chang Qing was agitated and upset. He raised his hand and wiped a handful of tears. He sniffed and picked up the bowl of noodles and threw it out the window. “Since Wangye dislikes me so, then you probably wouldn’t even want to eat the food I make!”
Xiao Zhige had remorse on his face but when he saw a blister on An Chang Qing’s finger, he grabbed it and asked sternly, “What happened?”
An Chang Qing’s mood was still boiling. To think that he had thrown himself at this person and wanted to spend his life with him, “It’s none of Wangye’s concern!”
Xiao Zhige sighed. He carefully avoided his hand and opened his arms to embrace him. With some helplessness in his voice, he said, “It’s not that I don’t like you, it’s just…” Xiao Zhige did not continue.
He had initially wanted to protect him under his wings, at least in this way, his days would be better. But when the wedding was about to start, he had heard that An Chang Qing had rebelled against An Zhi Ke because he refused to be wedded to him, leading him to be dosed with an anesthetic and locked up. It was then that he realized maybe An Chang Qing did not need his wishful protection. To An Chang Qing, he was probably only a stranger with a bad reputation who had forced him into an unwanted marriage.
It was just that after they had gotten married, letting him go had become a lot harder. He could only stay away so as not to scare him. Although he did not expect An Chang Qing to like him, he did not want to see the fear in his eyes towards him like those of the general public.
“Then why didn’t you sleep with me on the wedding night?” Since he’d blown this out of proportion, An Chang Qing no longer knew shame. He raised his head and asked, “Do you know what the maids said about me? They said that I’m a Wangfei only in title and I can never win your favor because I can’t even have babies…”
Xiao Zhige became silent again. He was vexed about his inability to coax the other person. Without a doubt, he wanted to consummate this marriage but not when An Chang Qing felt that he was forced to compromise under his power. He did not want him to have any regrets.
Not getting a response, An Chang Qing started his waterworks again. He was born a delicate beauty, the red eyes and pink cheeks were giving Xiao Zhige a heartache. He almost wanted to lick the tears off his face but exercising his restraint, he wiped them with his thumb instead and said softly, “I don’t dislike you. Whoever dares to insult you, I will deal with them on your behalf.”
The pitiful Northern Warlord had braved countless battles all these years but he never knew how to coax someone. The only times he had ever shown any gentleness were to the Wangfei in his arms.
But this fuming Wangfei was not easy to please.
In truth, An Chang Qing had already been appeased the moment he was wrapped in his embrace, but seeing that he was taking the lead, he took a leap. He sniffed and looked at Xiao Zhige, “Really?”
Relieved, Xiao Zhige nodded, “You have my word.”
An Chang Qing looked at him and his mind was freed of doubt. He made a request with his boosted confidence, “Then come back to the main room and sleep with me.”
Xiao Zhige took a deep breath, “Alright.” Worst comes to worse, he could always spend more time each day practicing his spear to maintain his restraint.
“Change all the maids in the main yard to boys, I don’t like to be waited on by maids.”
“Everything is up to you.”
An Chang Qing was finally satisfied. He stopped making a fuss and relaxed in Xiao Zhige’s arms.
Feeling the person in his arms loosening up, Xiao Zhige heaved a sigh. He then held An Chang Qing’s hand and asked, “What happened here?”
An Chang Qing curled up his finger and said without much care, “I accidentally scalded it when making the noodles.” He was born with sensitive skin, just a little graze on the boiling pot could easily form a blister on his skin. It was not a big deal but to think Xiao Zhige would be this attentive to it…
“Stop touching it, I’ll apply some medicine for you,” Xiao Zhige frowned and sat him down by the window. He then brought over a candle and a needle which he sterilized with the heat from the candle flame. Holding his hand, he carefully burst the blister before applying medicinal powder to it.
Xiao Zhige treated An Chang Qing’s wound with utmost care and efficiency for fear that he would be in pain. The general with a cold-hearted appearance was holding his hand like it was a fragile treasure.
An Chang Qing observed his every move and his tears jerked again. All his life, other than his mother and sister, no one else had ever been this meticulous towards him.
Xiao Zhige on the other hand, thought that An Chang Qing was crying due to the pain. His movements became gentler and with a wooden face of a puppet, he said softly, “It’ll stop hurting in a bit.”
An Chang Qing gave out a muffled ‘en’ and looked out the window. He said with a little embarrassment, “I’ll make you another bowl of noodles tomorrow.”
Xiao Zhige objected immediately, “Don’t. Leave those to the servants. You have to look after your wound.”
An Chang Qing looked at his neatly bandaged finger and smiled smugly.
Now that’s better.
1 ya po is a person that trades slaves and other types of workers that the rich and noble ask for. In present day, she could be charged with human trafficking but in ancient times, she’s like a recruitment center for employers.