Edited (a lot) and Proofread by KitKat
After dressing up An Chang Qing’s wound, Xiao Zhige ordered for the study to be cleaned up. The bowl of noodles An Chang Qing threw out the window still remained.
The servant who came had long heard the commotion. He neither dared to look up nor even breath loudly. When he saw the shattered bowl of noodles, he could only lament for An Chang Qing. It was only their second day as newlyweds and he had already made Wangye lose his temper. It seemed that his days would only get worse.
Xiao Zhige had unknowingly borne a black pot for his Wangfei who was currently leading him back to the main room.
The main room remained unchanged since the wedding night. The red candle still stood on the table and the red golden-python-pattern mattress was still laid out on the bed. The window was pasted with the ‘double happiness’ word and every corner still gave a sense that the wedding was not over yet.
The heating in the room was still burning as a mild fragrance filled the air.
Xiao Zhige’s eyes darkened as it unconsciously glued to An Chang Qing’s back. An Chang Qing had taken off his heavy cloak when they entered the room and now he was only wearing a light blue robe with a silver sash at the waist. A piece of twin-fish jade attached to a flower knot and golden tassel was hung at his waist. As he walked the clanging sound sent an itch right from Xiao Zhige’s ears to his heart.
Xiao Zhige couldn’t help reaching out and realized that An Chang Qing’s waist fit nicely into one of his arms. Like a willow, too thin and fragile that just a little more force would hurt him.
He thought to himself that such a delicate person, he would have to protect him with extra care.
By the time they left the study, it was already nighttime. An Chang Qing first took a bath then changed into moon-white pajamas and waited for Xiao Zhige to go to bed together. He had contemplated for a long time in the bath. Although he still could not figure out why Xiao Zhige refused to make love to him, it was fine as long as he came back to stay in the main room. Such matters cannot be forced and hence, it was best to let fate take its course.
As such, when Xiao Zhige came back from his bath, he immediately saw his Wangfei with his hair down and his face flashing him a sweet smile. In a chirpy voice filled with pride, he said, “I’ve made the bed.”
There was a pause in Xiao Zhige’s step before he could make a straight face and walked calmly towards the bedside, “Let’s turn in early.”
An Chang Qing did not notice his anomaly. He climbed into bed and laid on the inner side. Patting on the empty space beside him, he beckoned Xiao Zhige to come quickly in a soft murmur, “The mattress is a little cold.”
Xiao Zhige touched the bed and it was indeed chilly, even the hand of the person lying on it was cold. He took another deep breath and laid down, hugging An Chang Qing into his arms, “Come closer, I’ll warm you up.”
An Chang Qing was stunned for a moment but he quickly recovered and complied, happily placing his cold hands on Xiao Zhige’s chest for warmth.
The man had been practicing martial arts all year round which gave him a sturdy body that radiated heat. Lying next to him was like lying next to a big stove. And, because An Chang Qing had fallen into a pond when he was younger, his hands and feet had always been sensitive to the cold, especially during the winter months. In fact, An Chang Qing had initially coveted that big heating stove but his skin was not yet thick enough to shamelessly lunge himself at him.
Now that he had offered his body, An Chang Qing naturally accepted it without any qualms.
Maybe because of Xiao Zhige’s meticulous treatment in the study, the estrangement in An Chang Qing’s heart dissipated considerably. With that, even the act of sneaking his cold feet over the man’s leg did not seem too indecent.
Xiao Zhige dared not hug him tightly but An Chang Qing was like a little monster fidgeting and rubbing against him, causing him to feel smitten but at the same time unbearable. After having to endure till he couldn’t anymore, Xiao Zhige held him down and said sternly, “Sleep.”
An Chang Qing who was indulging himself with the warmth said ‘oh’ reluctantly and finally stopped moving.
Xiao Zhige heaved a sigh but right after, he saw the person raised his head again. After a while, he asked, “Is Wangye free tomorrow?”
“…” Xiao Zhige had to steel his nerves again for fear that An Chang Qing would make another request that would perhaps shatter his restraint. “There’s a martial arts competition at the barracks tomorrow, I have to be there. What’s the matter?”
An Chang Qing heard his answer and withered with disappointment. He replied with a dampened tone, “Tomorrow is my san chao hui men1. Since Wangye is busy, I will go back alone, it’s not a big deal.”
Xiao Zhige froze, it quickly dawned on him on what day the san chao hui men was.
Since An Chang Qing was a man and Xiao Zhige was a long-term resident of the barracks who had never concerned himself with traditions, this ritual completely skipped his mind . On top of that, the steward who should’ve made the necessary arrangements, assumed that he did not like An Chang Qing and had neglected this matter.
“I’m sorry. It’s my negligence.” The thought of An Chang Qing’s plight in the Xiang Manor caused Xiao Zhige to feel guilty. He pondered briefly and said, “Tomorrow, I will send you back in the morning. When the competition is over, I will come back to accompany you in the afternoon, is that alright?”
An Chang Qing was not expecting to get an apology. The gloom immediately disappeared and he was happy again, “Ok.”
After that, they both entered a night of good sleep.
The next day at the mao2 hour, Xiao Zhige woke up. An Chang Qing was curled up with his face snuggled close to his chest, still in deep sleep. His cheeks were pinkish and his lips were slightly parted, looking innocent and very much unlike the gremlin that he was when awake. Xiao Zhige observed him fondly for a while before getting out of bed with the quietest of movements. He then tucked him under the blanket and called for Steward Wang to the study.
“What have you prepared for Wangfei’s homecoming?” Xiao Zhige sat on the master’s seat and asked with an indiscernible tone in his voice.
But having served him for many years, Steward Wang instantly knew his implications. He knelt down and pleaded, “It’s my incompetence. Wangye, please pardon my negligence. I will get to it now.”
Xiao Zhige’s eyes were like daggers pointing at him. He then gave Steward Wang a stern warning, “Give yourself the appropriate punishment. Pick the gifts from the inner treasury. Make sure to prepare extravagantly for Wangfei’s mother and the Second Young Miss. And do not let this happen again.”
“Yes, I’m aware of my mistakes.” Steward Wang stood up with trembling legs. He wiped the sweat on his forehead and said, “I will go get the gifts ready. When it’s done, I’ll head over to receive my punishment.”
Xiao Zhige waved his hand, “Go. Make sure to show Wangfei the list when you’re done.”
When An Chang Qing woke up, he saw that Xiao Zhige was already training with his spear. He was wearing a black archer’s sleeve embroidered with silver threads. His black hair was neatly gathered, exposing his straight and muscular back. He moved his golden and black spear with ease as it created a current through the air. An Chang Qing leaned over the window and watched, not realizing that he was being enticed.
No wonder the rumors claimed that he had the spirit of Taisui3. Weapon in hand, his eyes were oppressive and cold. If it wasn’t for the warmth he felt last night, An Chang Qing would not have believed that this brutal general could be so caring and gentle.
An Chang Qing’s eyes softened and couldn’t help calling out to him.
Xiao Zhige heard his voice and immediately put his spear away and walked towards him. There was still a ferocity in his appearance but the light in his eyes was tranquil, “You’re awake. I’ll call someone to get us breakfast? After that, I’ll escort you back to the Xiang Manor.”
“En.” seeing the sweat on his forehead, An Chang Qing took a handkerchief and wiped it for him.
Xiao Zhige tensed up reflexively. But when the soft skin brushed faintly across his cheek, he gradually relaxed as a glow shimmered in his dark eyes.
An Chang Qing did not notice this. After wiping his sweat, he followed Xiao Zhige to have breakfast.
As they finished their breakfast, it was just in time for Steward Wang to finish compiling the list of items. He respectfully handed it to An Chang Qing and asked for his opinion.
Noticing the extra herbs for his mother and jewelry for his sister, An Chang Qing was touched. With Steward Wang’s attitude towards him yesterday, he was certain that this hadn’t been thought up by him. As for who had arranged this, the answer was clear as day.
He looked at the man sitting next to him and flashed him a bright smile, “Thank you Wangye on behalf of my mother and sister.”
Xiao Zhige spoke to him earnestly, “There’s no need for thanks.”
The pair set off for the Xiang Manor afterwards. An Chang Qing did not know how to ride so he sat in the carriage while Xiao Zhige rode alongside it on his horse. The Xiang Manor was located in the Si Xi Lane near the Palace, about fifteen minutes apart from the Wang Manor in Hu Tong Lane. But the time it took for the carriage to reach there was longer and they only arrived at the Xiang Manor at the chen4 hour.
Getting wind that the Northern Warlord’s carriage was approaching their gate, neither An Zhi Ke nor his wife, Madame Li, were thrilled. An Zhi Ke frowned, “He was only married recently, why is he coming back?”
Li Shi knew that he did not like this son. She was about to fan the flames when it hit her, “Today is his homecoming, isn’t it?”
It was then that the residents of Xiang manor began to get busy.
No matter how much he disliked An Chang Qing or how Xiao Zhige was unfavored by the Emperor, their status remained unchanged. One was the Wangye who was a distinguished General with outstanding achievements and the other was his Wangfei. Regardless of how much hostility he felt towards them inside, he still had to keep up an amiable appearance. Disrespecting the royal family was an unpardonable crime.
Li Shi quickly ordered the servants to open the main gate and send word to the rest of the family members and have them dress up appropriately. The men were to change into official clothes and the women to put on their makeup. When everything was in order, the Grand Matriarch and An Zhi Ke led everyone to the main gate to greet Xiao Zhige and An Chang Qing.
When the Wang Manor’s carriage stopped at the gate, An Zhi Ke’s smile was flawless as though they had prepared everything beforehand, “Wangye, Wangfei, please come inside. We’ve been waiting for your arrival.”
Xiao Zhige remained on his horse and only nodded casually at the An Zhi Ke, completely lacking the familiarity between in-laws. With the same expression given to a stranger, he addressed An Zhi Ke, “Marquis An, I still have business to attend to outside the city. I’ll be leaving after sending Chang Qing here.”
He then turned to An Chang Qing and relayed to him that he would come back as soon as possible. After which, without paying much heed to anyone else, he rode away.
An Zhi Ke was brimming with dissatisfaction but thinking of the Northern Warlord’s infamous temper and the rumors that An Chang Qing was not well-liked, such behavior was not too unexpected. Without Xiao Zhige’s presence, the smile on An Zhi Ke’s face faded. The crowd then led An Chang Qing into the manor.
An Chang Qing and his mother did not have An Zhi Ke’s love. They had no voice in the Xiang Manor and even the servants could step on them. Now that An Chang Qing was married to Xiao Zhige, his status in this place had changed overnight.
Although An Chang Qing was originally forced to marry off, seeing him in glorious clothing and sitting on the high seat while they had to address him respectfully, the An family was immensely dissatisfied.
The An family had four branches with An Zhi Ke being the eldest. And because the old Matriarch was still alive, the house had not been divided. These four families currently lived in the five-entrance courtyard. Besides An Chang Qing, the Third Young Master, there were two other sons and three daughters. The eldest son and daughter, An Chang Yu and An Xian Xi, were birthed by Madame Li, An Zhi Ke’s legitimate wife. The Second Young Master, An Chang Duan and the Third Miss, An Xian Ge, were birthed from Lady Liu. As for An Chang Qing and his sister, they were children of Lady Yu, An Zhi Ke’s concubine.
Lady Yu had stoked An Zhi Ke’s wrath for unknown reasons and coupled with the fact that she was born in a brothel, even her two children were not spared from the oppression. In the beginning, everyone was worried that she would regain An Zhi Ke’s favor and dared not go overboard. But after the several times that An Chang Qing was bullied and An Zhi Ke did not speak up for him, they had turned unruly.
And after the several times his father had stood by while he had been faced with injustice, An Chang Qing no longer expected anything from him. Knowing that retaliation would only aggravate the bullying, he slowly learned to endure. In the two years before he was married off, maybe because the young masters and misses had been satiated, they rarely went to look for him for trouble, only throwing a few insults and ridicule at the sight of him.
“A pheasant that thinks it’s a phoenix,” An Xian Ge sitting below grumbled with ample volume to be heard.
The hall had been quiet as no one was speaking, making her voice particularly prominent. Instantly, everyone present had their eyes on her.
An Zhi Ke frowned slightly and reprimanded her without any severity in his voice, “Ge’er.”
“The Third Miss is still young and ignorant, Wangfei, please do not act like her.” Lady Liu tried to mediate and even gave An Chang Qing a pat. She then turned to An Xian Ge and said with leniency, “Quickly apologize to Wangfei.”
1↪san chao hui men: “Homecoming”; ritual of husband and wife visiting the bride’s family 3 days after their wedding.
2↪Mao hour: 5-7am
3↪TaiSui: According to mythology is a celestial general who determines the destiny of human beings.
4↪Chen hour: 7-9am