TTBE 11

Chapter 11

Edited and Proofread by KitKat

After he left the last clinic, An Chang Qing almost thought that after his rebirth, he had become overly paranoid and that there was no conspiracy regarding his mother’s death; she really had died of natural causes.

He had been to every renowned clinic in the whole of Yejing but to no avail. An Chang Qing sat in the carriage and pondered. He finally decided to make one last-ditch attempt, “Go to Yong Le Lane.”

Yong Le Lane was a remote area in Yejing and the clinic An Chang Qing sought was situated in the innermost part of an alleyway. This clinic was much smaller than those in the main street and did not even have a name. It was mostly frequented by peasants. From the rumor An Chang Qing had heard, the doctor here had a strange temperament but was highly skillful. Those he had treated had all recovered to the pink of health.

The carriage stopped right at the entrance of Yong Le Lane. The path was narrow with dilapidated houses on both sides. The evening sun was not enough to brighten the place and a moldy smell filled the air. 

“Wangfei, the carriage can’t go any further,” Anfu alighted and said with a frown, “Is there really a clinic here?”

Apart from them, everything in this place seemed run-down and impoverished. How could someone earn a living from running a clinic here?

An Chang Qing hesitated but now that they were already here, there were only a few more steps to go, “Let’s just go in and have a look.”

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An Chang Qing and Anfu left the carriage and walked deeper into the alleyway. At the end of the road, they saw a house with a red broken door. A piece of cloth was pasted on it with the word ‘clinic’ written in messy handwriting.

It really did not even have a proper name.

Anfu knocked on the door. In the quiet neighborhood, the sound echoed loudly but no one answered. Instead, it was the rusty old door that creaked and opened by itself. Anfu was startled as he turned to look at An Chang Qing.

“Let’s go in and have a look.” An Chang Qing walked past him and entered the clinic.

Inside was a small yard without much gardening. Instead, there were many pots with winter herbs being planted. Beyond the yard was a hall for consulting patients.

An Chang Qing raised his voice and asked, “Is anyone here?”

There was a long silence before a lazy voice from somewhere replied, “Who is it? I’m off today, no consultation.”

An Chang Qing bowed his head and said politely, “It won’t take long. I just need you to take a look at this prescription.”

A middle-aged man with a scruffy beard popped his head out of a small window of the house and said lethargically, “I can take a look but pay up ten silver taels first.”

Anfu was furious, “Even the doctors from De Ren Hall dare not ask for this price!”

“Too expensive for you?” The man grinned, “Then why don’t you just go to De Ren Hall? This is the price I charge all the rich people who come here. Accept it or not is up to you.”

Anfu choked up and stared at him in rage.

An Chang Qing, on the other hand, remained unchanged. He took out ten taels of silver and placed them on the counter together with the prescription, “Sir, please have a look.”

The man turned his head and once he saw An Chang Qing’s face clearly, his eyes lit up. He immediately turned his wheelchair and came out of the house, all the while scanning An Chang Qing rudely. 

An Chang Qing frowned and asked patiently, “Sir?”

The man withdrew his sight and took a quick glance at the prescription. He grinned and said, “I don’t want the money but you have to let me draw a portrait of you.”

“Please sir, do not make fun of me,” An Chang Qing was getting uncomfortable. He knew the man was rumored to be eccentric but his request was highly inappropriate.

He was about to refuse but the man continued, “No one has been able to tell you what is wrong with this prescription, am I right?”

An Chang Qing hesitated, “…Yes.”

“Let me draw you and I’ll tell you how to detoxify it,” The man tapped on the table while his eyes were fixed on An Chang Qing’s face.

“Detoxify? There’s really poison in this prescription?” An Chang Qing turned pale with shock.

But the man did not say much, he kept knocking on the table and said, “Portrait.”

An Chang Qing inhaled heavily. Thinking of his mother’s health, he bit his lip and cast aside his pride, “What is your purpose for drawing me?”

“It’s for my collection of course,” he smiled, “I’ve been collecting portraits of beautiful people, and someone as good-looking as yourself is a rarity.”

An Chang Qing looked down and considered. After thinking of how all the other clinics could not find fault with this prescription, he could only bite the bullet and accept: “Tell me what is wrong with this prescription first.”

The man moved his wheelchair closer to An Chang Qing. He sniffed and said, “There’s nothing wrong with this prescription…”

An Chang Qing was about to flip when the man continued, “But if combined with the fragrance of the qian chong jin that’s on your body, it will become poisonous. Where have you been the last three days?”

Qian chong jin?” An Chang Qing recalled the unknown flowers in Rainbow Garden that were always in bloom even in the winter, “Is the flower lavender in color and has six petals? Its stalk can grow up to two feet tall and blooms all year round?”

“That’s right. Qian chong jin looks like a flower but it’s actually a medicinal herb. There’s an ingredient in this prescription that conflicts with the properties of qian chong jin. The poison only manifests itself when the person who takes this medicine comes in contact with the pollen or inhales the fragrance when the flower is in bloom. This property of qian chong jin is rarely known, ordinary people would not even notice this.”

An Chang Qing thought of the qian chong jin field behind Rainbow Garden that was growing in excellent condition. This herb had been planted all over the An Manor. An Chang Qing had assumed that it was due to An Zhi Ke or Madame Li’s special fondness for the flowers but it turned out that it had been to hide an intent to murder. 

But who could it be? Does An Zhi Ke know about this?

An Chang Qing clenched his fingers and tried to calm himself, “Do you have a cure?”

“That goes without saying,” The man said, “But you have to let me draw you first.”

This time, An Chang Qing did not continue to haggle with him. Since the man could spot the problem with the prescription, he would most likely be able to remedy it. Between saving his mother and allowing someone to draw a portrait of him, the choice was obvious.

“Alright.” An Chang Qing agreed, “Where would you like to draw? After drawing, can you come with me for a few days to treat my mother? I’ll be eternally grateful.”

The man waved his hand, “Keep quiet and sit still in the yard.”

“…” An Chang Qing sat on a stool in the courtyard. The man rang a small bell and a boy came to deliver a few painting tools to him. He then sat and drew An Chang Qing with utmost seriousness.

The session lasted almost half an hour. In the open yard, the chilling winter breeze had been blowing and An Chang Qing did not have on his warm clothes. By the time the portrait was done, An Chang Qing had turned white from cold.

As soon as the man put away his brush, Anfu hurriedly gave him a hand warmer. An Chang Qing’s lips trembled as he spoke, “Can you come with me now?”

The man was about to answer when his expression suddenly changed. He turned his wheelchair backward and said, “What’re you doing here?”

This sentence was obviously not addressed to An Chang Qing but he still turned back to find a familiar figure standing at the door.

Xiao Zhige was also surprised to see him. Seeing that his hands had turned purplish due to the cold, he took off the cloak on his back and draped it over An Chang Qing, “Wear more layers when you go out.”

The warmth from Xiao Zhige’s body still lingered on the cloak. An Chang Qing shrunk himself into it, raising the collar over his cheeks, he responded with a soft ‘en’.

The middle-aged man had his mouth wide open. He looked at Xiao Zhige then back at An Chang Qing with eyeballs that were almost dropping off, “You two know each other?”

“An Chang Qing, my Wangfei.”

“Hu Shifei, a military doctor.”

Xiao Zhige briefly introduced them before his eyes landed on the portrait that had yet to be hidden. His eyes squinted and he questioned, “What is this?”

Hu Shifei instantly tried to pull back the painting but he was one step behind. In a flash, Xiao Zhige had gotten his hand on the painting.

Xiao Zhige unfolded the scroll and looked at it carefully. He then turned to Hu Shifei and said coldly, “Oh? You even know how to paint.” His voice was low and anyone familiar with his temperament like Hu Shifei could tell that he was in a bad mood.

But Hu Shifei did not give up, “This is the consultancy fee Wangfei paid me.” He turned to wink at An Chang Qing and with a drastic change in attitude, he spoke politely, “Wangfei, isn’t that right?”

An Chang Qing remained silent while smiling back at him devilishly. He then turned to Xiao Zhige and looked at him with innocent eyes.

Hu Shifei pulled a black face and said, “Then I will not be examining the patient.”

Xiao Zhige carefully put away the painting and glanced at him with a blank expression. He called out, “Tie Hu.”

Through the door came a muscular man like an iron tower. He bowed to Xiao Zhige, ready to receive his orders, “General.”

“Take him away,” Xiao Zhige instructed.

Tie Hu immediately took big strides towards Hu Shifei. He carried his wheelchair with him still sitting in place and walked out, “Doctor Hu, the General has ordered, please bear with it.”

Hu Shifei, “…” Pei!

An Chang Qing was stunned by Xiao Zhige’s dictatorial moves. He asked softly, “Is it alright for you to do that?”

Xiao Zhige reached out to button up his cloak and said, “He owes me a favor.”

After which, he thought briefly and added, “Tell me next time.”

An Chang Qing did not respond right away. After following him a few steps, An Chang Qing finally grasped what he meant: tell him if he needed anything. Thinking back, the man had come here instead of the Wang Manor right after returning from the barracks, it must’ve been to find Hu Shifei in regards to his mother’s illness.

An Chang Qing felt touched and reached out to hold his hand. He looked at him sweetly and said, “Next time, you’ll be the first to know.”

TTBE 10

Chapter 10

Edited and Proofread by KitKat

After dinner, Steward Wang came to report that the ya po had selected a few suitable hires and asked when An Chang Qing would like to meet them. 

An Chang Qing: “I’ll have a look tomorrow afternoon.”

Steward Wang bowed respectfully and was about to retreat when Xiao Zhige stopped him, “Sort out the account books for the Manor and the stores outside. From now on, Wangfei will be in charge of them.”

Steward Wang had a change in expression. He wanted to say something but seeing Xiao Zhige’s decisiveness, he kept it in and bowed, “Yes.”

After Steward Wang left, An Chang Qing looked at Xiao Zhige and smiled smugly, “You’re giving me control over the businesses as well? Is Wangye not afraid that I will squander all your gold?”

Xiao Zhige was undressing when he heard An Chang Qing’s words. He replied, “No.”

Briefly after, worrying that An Chang Qing would exercise undue caution, he added, “There is no shortage of gold in the Manor.”

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The smile on An Chang Qing’s face widened. He rested his chin over his hand and looked at him. An Chang Qing had always known that the Wang Manor housed a massive amount of wealth. In his last life, when Xiao Zhige ascended the throne, due to the previous Emperor’s need for extravagance, the nation’s treasury was almost empty. At one point during the war against the Beidi people, there was not enough gold to procure rations for the soldiers. In the cold winter, the starving soldiers had to kill their warhorses for food. Having heard the news, Xiao Zhige donated chests upon chests of gold to the border to elevate the famine.

But even the An Chang Qing who was ignorant about war knew that that was only enough for the soldiers to drink bland soup. Later, Xiao Zhige had executed a group of corrupt ministers and seized their wealth, all of which he had sent to the border. The battle which had dragged out for months eventually came to an end with the Da Ye soldiers being victorious.

This was the reason why the hundred thousand soldiers had been unshakably loyal to Xiao Zhige. But at the same time, Xiao Zhige’s reputation as a tyrant had become worse amongst the people.

The ignorant citizens could only see the ruthlessness when he killed the ministers and confiscated their gold but they did not know that without the gold, the starving frontier soldiers would have lost the border, allowing the barbaric Beidi people to charge right into Yejing.

The events from his past stirred his heart. An Chang Qing looked at Xiao Zhige and smiled warmly, “Since Wangye has put your trust in me, I will not disappoint you.”

Again, Xiao Zhige did not want to put any pressure on An Chang Qing and simply said, “I will not be disappointed” before leaving to take a bath. When he was done, it was An Chang Qing’s turn. After finishing his bath, An Chang Qing came out and saw that Xiao Zhige was already lying in bed reading a book.

Seeing An Chang Qing, he put the book away and patted the space next to him, “Come into bed, it’s cold outside.”

There was heating in the room but An Chang Qing did not refuse him. He obediently climbed into his side of the bed. It was then that he realized that the mattress was particularly warm. He looked up at the expressionless man and smiled. The Northern Warlord must’ve pre-warmed the bed for him.

After being together for three days, An Chang Qing found that Xiao Zhige would only do things in silence. Unless asked, he would not mention it. What an awkward man.

An Chang Qing pulled up the blanket but despite being immersed in warmth, he still shifted towards Xiao Zhige all the way until he was in his arms. 

Feeling the heat against his body, Xiao Zhige was pleased yet helpless. He put out the light and hugged him back, “Sleep.”

“I can’t sleep.” An Chang Qing who was comfortably wrapped up by the warm body whispered, “You haven’t told me how to use Fei Cui.”      

Before, Xiao Zhige only told him to think and did not give him an answer yet.

Xiao Zhige lowered his head and his chin rested nicely on An Chang Qing’s head, “What do you think?”

An Chang Qing thought for a while and hesitated, “Design a plan to expose Fei Cui’s identity to An Zhi Zhou and his wife?”

Xiao Zhige shook his head, “Now’s not the right time. An Zhi Ke can still easily make up excuses and it would not drive the brothers apart.”

“Then what should I do?”

“Wait.” Xiao Zhige replied, “Wait for An Changqi’s death then divulge hints about Fei Cui’s identity. Leave the rest to An Zhi Zhou and his wife to find out. A lot of times, people are more prone to believe what they discovered by themselves.”

“But what if An Changqi doesn’t die?” An Chang Qing was in doubt.

Xiao Zhige looked towards him in the dark, “He won’t live past tomorrow’s night.”

The reason Xiao Zhige agreed to spare An Changqi’s life was that he had done the calculation. With a broken hand and the degree of amputation on his leg that even included his reproductive organ, unless the gods intervened, his death was ascertained. 

An Zhi Ke was inexperienced with medicine but Xiao Zhige had been in the army for many years, he was quite well informed about the human anatomy. 

An Chang Qing widened his eyes in surprise, “So you’ve planned this ahead. But what if An Zhi Zhou and his wife still sided with An Zhi Ke? After all, we don’t have evidence that he had ordered her to do anything.”

“The doctor who is treating An Changqi comes from De Ren Hall,” Xiao Zhige felt the body in his arms getting closer with excitement, “De Ren Hall is the property of Madame Li’s maternal family.”

An Chang Qing was flabbergasted. Not to mention how An Zhi Zhou would react, his wife, Madame Sun who loved their son as her life would definitely find a place to vent her grief. She couldn’t take it out on the Northern Warlord and his Wangfei but if at this time, she discovered that Fei Cui had been planted beside An Changqi and had caused the dispute between An Changqi and An Chang Qing, she would definitely not let this go. As her suspicion grew, what would happen once she also found out that the doctor who had treated her precious son was related to Madame Li?

Even without substantial evidence, she would still turn against An Zhi Ke. 

A scorned woman was difficult to deal with. Especially one who had just lost her son. Besides, An Zhi Zhou had always been dependent on his wife. When this matter turned for the worse, the entire An household would not be able to live in peace.

It was indeed killing two birds with one stone.

After analyzing the situation, An Chang Qing’s eyes were filled with admiration towards Xiao Zhige, “Was that why you stopped me from killing him?”

Xiao Zhige patted him on the back. With words meant as guidance, he said, “If you lose eight hundred just to kill a thousand, that’s not a desirable outcome.”

An Chang Qing thought over his words and nodded, “I understand.”

Xiao Zhige touched his head, “Go to sleep. You’ll be able to think clearer tomorrow.”

The next day, Xiao Zhige had to leave for the barracks. After An Chang Qing sent him out, Steward Wang brought the ya po to see him.

The ya po brought with her ten youths who were all carefully selected. Although wearing commoner’s clothes, the boys all had a bright appearance. 

An Chang Qing interviewed each of them and picked out four honest-looking ones. He did not put them to work in the yard but instructed Steward Wang to find a mentor to teach them how to read.

Steward Wang could not comprehend his intentions and thought that he was inexperienced with handling the servants. He advised, “They are just a few servants meant for labor work, teaching them how to read and write could make them sprout misguided ambitions.” 

“I have my methods. Steward Wang only needs to find them a mentor.”

Steward Wang had more to say but thinking about Xiao Zhige’s instructions yesterday, he could only keep silent.

After arranging for the boys, An Chang Qing continued, “When will the account books be ready?”

Steward Wang hesitated, “It’ll have to take a while to get them all up to date.” 

“It’s alright, just send me those that are ready,” An Chang Qing withdrew his smile and said solemnly, “Wangye has left me in charge of the Wang Manor, I have to show him good results or else he’ll blame me.”

Steward Wang’s expression turned bitter. He knew An Chang Qing was insinuating him to do his job well. Based on his observations over the last few days, the new Wangfei was very much pampered by Wangye, he would not do anything to upset him.

Thinking of the shop’s accounts, Steward Wang was sweating bullets. He bit his teeth and said, “In three days, I will instruct them to finish it and send it here.”

With that, An Chang Qing was satisfied and let him leave.

After lunch, An Chang Qing went out with Anfu. The people Xiao Zhige said he would allocate for him were still unavailable. While Zhao Shi was assigned to the An Manor, he could only take Anfu along. 

An Chang Qing got changed and left on a carriage to the western part of the city. In this area, there were brothels, gambling houses, and other facilities that catered to people from all walks of life. 

An Chang Qing entered a restaurant discreetly. He sat in a private room and sent Anfu to bring back a couple of older beggars.

Anfu was puzzled. Lately, his master’s reasoning had grown beyond his understanding but it was not his place to question. He nodded and did as told. Moments later, he came back with two beggars in tattered rags.

An Chang Qing was sitting behind a screen and the two beggars could only see his silhouette. They dared not linger their eyes on him and asked humbly, “How may we be of service to you Sire?”

“Marquis Wu’s son, Wu Junshu, do you know of him?” An Chang Qing asked in a deep voice.

The two beggars looked at each other and one of them answered cautiously, “We have heard of him.”

An Chang Qing beckoned Anfu to hand them five taels of silver and said, “Follow him and tell me everything. This is just the deposit, you’ll receive fifteen more once this is done.”

The two beggars’ eyes were wide open seeing the five taels of silver. They kowtowed and thanked him several times.

“Do not let him discover you.”

After taking the silver, the beggars set up a time and place to exchange the news with Anfu before leaving. After they left, Anfu was still doubtful, “What information can two beggars find?”

An Chang Qing assured him, “They’re more capable than anyone in gathering information.”

These beggars were found all over Yejing and formed a big network amongst themselves. The amount of information they could gather was quite impressive. In his last life, it was thanks to them that he knew the truth behind his sister’s death and the hardship she had gone through in the Wu manor.

At that time, Wu Junshu had already officially brought his mistress into the main house and he had been unable to trace her background. This time, he would be able to do so with the beggars’ help.

Anfu was still muddled-headed. He scratched his head and giggled. 

An Chang Qing knew Anfu’s brain capacity and did not further elaborate. Next, they left the restaurant and went to the eastern side of the city.

Looking out from the carriage, An Chang Qing ordered for the coachman to stop once he saw the high hanging plaque of a large medical institute.

Other than the matter concerning Wu Junshu, this trip was also to find a doctor for his mother. Although he told An Zhi Ke that he would be bringing a doctor from the Wang Manor, the truth was, there was no such person. With his mother’s background, it was impossible to have the imperial doctors treat her. He could only seek help from the renowned doctors in Yejing.

He could still remember that his mother was in perfect health until he turned ten. It was after he had fallen ill that she had to take care of him for several nights without rest. When he finally woke up, her health had started deteriorating ever since.

The doctors all claimed that she had been too worried which had permanently damaged her internal health and could only take medicines consistently to cure. Later when An Chang Qing was married off, his mother’s illness had become worse and she had died shortly after. After unearthing the truth behind his sister’s death, An Chang Qing had learned that many things were more than what meets the eye. He had always felt that his mother’s illness was a little strange and after his rebirth, he had decided to look into it.

But after consulting with every doctor available, they all stated that there was nothing wrong with the prescription according to his mother’s symptoms.

TTBE 9

Chapter 9

Edited and Proofread by KitKat

Xiao Zhige led An Chang Qing forward at a moderate pace. The man was tall and upright, much like the sharp spear behind him. Standing by his side, even without any words or action from him, could give An Chang Qing an unparalleled sense of security. 

After taking another two steps, An Chang Qing had to ask again, “Will you protect me no matter what I do?”

Xiao Zhige gave him a puzzled look and answered with certainty, “Of course. You are my Wangfei.”

The man’s expression was serious as he replied, as though it was an implied logic.

An Chang Qing secretly smiled and pulled him onto a different route, “Let’s not go back yet. Accompany me to the west courtyard.”

Xiao Zhige did not know his intentions but he kept up with him.

The An family lived in a five-entrance manor. The old matriarch lived in the main yard while the two eldest brothers, An Zhi Ke and An Zhi Zhou, lived in the east and west yards respectively. An Chang Qing led Xiao Zhige past a veranda and then through a flower gate before arriving at the West courtyard.

The west courtyard was currently bustling with people and occasional cries could be heard. 

As An Chang Qing and Xiao Zhige came in, the servants running about were taken aback but they quickly recovered and continued their work, except for a well-dressed maid who stared at An Chang Qing grudgingly. She bit her lips and pushed the other servants in front to enter the room.

“That’s An Changqi’s handmaid and mistress, Fei Cui,” An Chang Qing complained to Xiao Zhige, “An Changqi’s tricks against me were all thought up by her.”

Fei Cui was probably aware of An Changqi’s intention towards him which was why she had never liked him. On the surface, she would give him advice on how to force An Chang Qing into submission while behind his back, she would find every opportunity to humiliate him. Back then, he was young and timid, he could only swallow the anger and endure the grievances in silence. 

But now, he knew someone was there to support him.

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The young man used a partly lamenting tone filled with coquettishness to voice his grievances to Xiao Zhige. The large eyes that looked at him were like those of a kid telling his family how he had been wronged. Xiao Zhige’s heart softened. He lightly squeezed the hand within his palm and whispered in his ears, “She reports to An Zhi Ke.”

“!!!” An Chang Qing’s eyes widened in surprise.

This was not a good place to talk after all. Xiao Zhige only pointed out, “She’s a very useful pawn. Use her well and not only can you kill An Changqi but also drive a wedge between the An brothers.”

An Chang Qing had not fully digested the information and could not figure out a plan. He asked impatiently, “How?”

“Think.” Xiao Zhige did not give him an immediate answer. Instead, he walked with him towards the room. Before An Chang Qing could ask further, he was interrupted by a roar.

“How dare you even come here!” Madame Sun, An Zhi Zhou’s wife, screamed and charged at An Chang Qing. “Whore! It was not enough that you seduced him, now you even did this to him. I want you to pay with your life!”

An Chang Qing could not react in time. He was about to have his eyes clawed out by the woman’s sharp nails when he saw Xiao Zhige shielding him and the next moment, a kick had sent Madame Sun backwards into a rosewood chair.

Xiao Zhige had on a murderous expression. He warned, “On the day Wangfei came back to visit, An Changqi was not only impolite but he even dared to offend Wangfei. I was lenient to merely cut off his hand and leg. If it wasn’t for Wangfei’s plea, do you think he could still be alive?” He cast an oppressive glare at Madame Sun whose hair had now scattered messily over her forehead and questioned her in a cold voice, “Or does Madame Sun think that this punishment was too light?”

An Zhi Zhou helped his wife up but her legs had turned soft. She wobbled and knelt on the ground. An Zhi Zhou also knelt and spoke in fear, “My wife is ignorant and she loves our son too much, she meant Wangfei no disrespect. Wangye please forgive her.”

Xiao Zhige ignored the couple kneeling on the ground and turned to An Zhi Ke, “Minister An shouldn’t only immerse yourself in work all day. It’s about time you straighten out this family, otherwise, sooner or later, the An legacy is bound to fall.”

An Zhi Ke pulled a black face and bowed, “Wangye’s teaching is right.” He then looked at An Chang Qing with intense dissatisfaction. However, with Xiao Zhige present, he dared not step out of line and could only force a smile, “Is there anything else that Wangfei needs?”

An Chang Qing’s purpose here was to find him so he got straight to the point, “Lady Yu has been ill for a long time, even the current herbs are not helping. It just so happens that the Wang Manor has a skillful physician and with Wangye’s approval, I’ll be bringing him here in two days to have a check on her.”

An Zhi Ke’s eye twitched. Before he could respond, Madame Li interjected, “The doctor who gave Lady Yu the prescriptions hailed from De Ren Hall and has years of experience under his belt, even if you change to someone else, I’m afraid…”

“We’ll keep changing till we find someone who can treat her,” An Chang Qing cut her off, “Father, do you think this is a logical approach?” 

An Zhi Ke’s face was turning worse by the minute. The one standing in front of him was no longer the outcast son of a concubine but the Wangfei of the Northern Warlord. An Zhi Ke could only bow and agree, “It is indeed so.”

An Chang Qing slowly continued, “On a side note, Rainbow Garden is quite secluded and there’s no one around. Wangye was concerned so he had left Zhao Shi behind.”

An Zhi Ke’s face was distorted. He grit his teeth for a while before responding, “That’s how it should be, it’s my negligence.”

After having achieved all his goals, An Chang Qing beamed with satisfaction. He said to An Zhi Zhou and his wife who were still kneeling, “There’s much to be done in the Wang Manor, I’ll come back to visit my cousin some other day.” 

Madame Sun’s fingers dug deep into her skin but she managed to remain silent. An Zhi Zhou hurriedly said, “We dare not trouble Wangfei.”

An Chang Qing nodded politely and left with Xiao Zhige.

On the way back, An Chang Qing sat in the carriage as before and Xiao Zhige rode his horse alongside him.

It was already late noon and the sun was hanging lazily in the winter sky, giving off a warm light. An Chang Qing lifted the carriage’s curtain to look at Xiao Zhige. The man was still wearing his clothes from this morning and sat tall and straight on a black horse. Against the light, An Chang Qing’s sight was partially obscured but he still thought that his husband looked particularly dashing.

On one side of the street came the bustling noises from a certain store. An Chang Qing looked with curiosity and saw that ‘San Wei Zhai’ was written on the store’s plaque. His eyes showed a hint of mischief.

He reached out and tugged at Xiao Zhige’s sleeve, “I want to eat plum blossom cakes.”

Xiao Zhige stopped and looked at the young man who was giving him an expectant look. The orange sunlight fell on his face, giving it an angelic glow. 

“I’ll buy it for you,” Xiao Zhige ordered for the carriage to stop. He got off his horse and walked towards San Wei Zhai.

San Wei Zhai had good business and there was always a crowd in front of the store. But once Xiao Zhige entered the scene, the crowd parted like a sword had split the land to make way for him. Xiao Zhige was used to this reaction. He proceeded as usual to buy a freshly baked box of pastries.

“You can only have two,” Xiao Zhige handed him the box and said, “It’s almost dinner time.”

The plum blossom cakes that were freshly baked were even more fragrant. An Chang Qing took a bite and sulked after hearing his words, “It won’t be as delicious when it’s cooled. It’ll be a waste.”

Xiao Zhige said, “I’ll buy it for you again.”

An Chang Qing shook his head. His eyes sparkled as he stretched out his hand and placed a piece in front of Xiao Zhige, “Share with me.”

Xiao Zhige looked at the plum blossom cake in his hand and reduced his speed. Soft gasps could be heard from behind them which triggered An Chang Qing and Xiao Zhige to look back but the people around them had then turned away instantly, pretending to mind their business. 

An Chang Qing turned to Xiao Zhige and urged, “Eat or it’ll turn cold.”

Xiao Zhige could only lower his head and bite into the piece of cake in his hand. The pastry was little in size with stuffing made of plum blossom. There shouldn’t be any sugar and yet a sense of sweetness flowed into his heart. 

“Let’s go back,” Xiao Zhige cleared his throat, “I’ll eat those that you can’t finish.”

An Chang Qing responded with an ‘oh’ and put another piece into his mouth.

……

Arriving at the Wang Manor, Steward Wang went to greet them with a few servants. An Chang Qing stepped out of the carriage and noticed that he was limping, “What’s wrong with your leg? If you’re not feeling well, you should take a rest.”

Steward Wang was at a loss for words. He did not know how to explain and could only look at Xiao Zhige.

“He was punished for his misdeed,” Xiao Zhige said.

An Chang Qing’s eyes moved but he did not ask further. He left for the main courtyard with Xiao Zhige. The two cleaned up while the servants prepared their dinner. When the food was served, An Chang Qing let the servants retreat as he was not used to having them around, leaving only Xiao Zhige and himself in the room.

Xiao Zhige scooped a piece of fish and began picking the bones with a certain degree of seriousness. 

An Chang Qing looked at him and asked, “Is it because of me?”

“Hm?” Xiao Zhige looked up.

“Steward Wang’s injury.”

Xiao Zhige nodded and continued with the task at hand, “Your homecoming gifts should’ve long been prepared. He neglected his duties, his punishment was just.”

“What if I was also bullied by someone else in the manor?” An Chang Qing leaned in and looked at him with bright, shiny eyes. 

“Someone bullied you?” Xiao Zhige frowned.

“No. I’m only asking,” An Chang Qing shook his head and smiled.

Xiao Zhige‘s frown eased up, “I will get rid of that person.” 

“But what if I want to personally teach them a lesson?” Having felt the man’s indulgence, An Chang Qing came out of his shell and wanted to test the man’s bottom line.

“Personally teach them a lesson?” Xiao Zhige was a little puzzled, “There’s a torture chamber in the Manor, just get someone to deal with them for you.” Xiao Zhige was hesitant to let An Chang Qing have access to those places as he was too delicate. He feared that An Chang Qing would hurt himself before he could do any ‘teaching’.

An Chang Qing knew that Xiao Zhige had misunderstood and couldn’t help laughing. He clarified his intentions, “What I meant was, now that I’m your Wangfei, I should learn how to take care of the Wang Manor. Before you had to let Steward Wang handle everything because there was no one else to do it, now, I would like to give it a try.”

He then looked at Xiao Zhige expectantly.

Just as An Chang Qing thought he couldn’t get his approval, Xiao Zhige said matter-of-factly, “Of course, the Wang Manor is under your charge. You can do whatever you want.”

An Chang Qing was speechless. It took him some time to understand that this person’s mentality was actually quite simple: Because he was his Wangfei, it was needless to say that he would protect him; because he was his Wangfei, it was needless to say that the Wang Manor was his to overlook.

Because of all these presumptions, Xiao Zhige was always confused with An Chang Qing’s requests. To him, whatever it was that An Chang Qing wanted, he would naturally comply because as his Wangfei, he deserved everything that he could offer. Unfortunately, An Chang Qing did not realize this in his last life. His cowardice had made him pass over these opportunities.

“I got it,” An Chang Qing smiled at him with eyes filled with radiance.

Xiao Zhige was infected by his smile and his lips slightly curved up. He placed the plate of boneless fish in front of him and said, “Let’s eat.”

TTBE 8

Chapter 8

Edited and Proofread by KitKat

The Northern Warlord’s reputation was known to all who lived in Yejing, or rather, the whole of Da Ye Empire. Naturally, Lady Yu would also have heard of his infamous temper.

The Northern Warlord had made great accomplishments but did not receive any love. It was said that on the day he was born, the sky showed omens of great disasters, causing the Emperor to demand his death. It was thanks to his mother, Concubine Li, who begged for his life in exchange for her death that the Emperor had spared Xiao Zhige but since then, the mother and son had been cast aside. Losing the Emperor’s favor, they lived a difficult life and several years later, Concubine Li committed suicide due to the hardship.

After his mother’s death, Xiao Zhige’s situation deteriorated. No other concubines were willing to raise him and in the end, he was left under the care of the Empress. But as though his fate was meant to be bitter, he could not get along with the Empress and the Prince. It was also at this time that the rumor of him being disqualified for the throne began.

The rumors also said that because he knew he had been cast aside, the Northern Warlord had turned unruly ever since, killing his servants at will. In Yanzhou, the corpses of people who died at his hands piled as high as his mansion’s walls. Even the lanterns were made with human skin…

All this information, Lady Yu had heard from Lady Liu’s handmaid. She had been out of favor for many years but Lady Liu would still find ways to upset her. 

Now that her only son had been forced to marry the infamous Northern Warlord, she had deliberately sent her personal maid to talk about him right outside her yard.

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Lady Yu was not an illiterate and ignorant woman; she knew that rumors were not to be trusted. But even so, with An Chang Qing’s timid nature and the Northern Warlord’s notorious temper, she had never dared to hope that they could get along. The day An Chang Qing had been forced into the sedan, she did not even get to see her son one last time. The torment had aggravated her illness and only waiting for his homecoming could give her solace.

Seeing An Chang Qing leading a tall man over with a blushing face and void of any visible wounds, Lady Yu was partially surprised but at the same time slightly alarmed. She hurriedly stood up to salute Xiao Zhige and reprimanded An Chang Qing, “How could you bring Wangye here to see me? This is not customary.”

“Chang Qing’s mother is also my mother,” Xiao Zhige rushed to help her up. The allegedly ruthless warlord with lanterns made of human skin tried to smile kindly at her. Although his features were still fierce, it did not make one feel unapproachable, “We’re a family, there’s no need for these formalities.”

After being helped into the room to sit down, Lady Yu could then take a closer look at Xiao Zhige.

She found that the rumors were very much exaggerated, more than she could have ever imagined. Although, at first glance, Xiao Zhige always had a ferocious expression that repelled most people, the occasional glances he cast at An Chang Qing were kind and gentle. She was raised in a brothel and could easily judge a person’s gaze. After carefully observing Xiao Zhige for a while, her heart was mostly at ease.

In contrast, seeing her haggard appearance and frequent coughing, An Chang Qing was incredibly concerned, “Have you seen a physician? Did you take your medicine?”

He could still remember that in his last life when he had been married off, his mother’s illness had taken a turn for the worse, and not long after, she had passed away. When he had heard the news, it had already been too late for he hadn’t even gotten to see his mother one last time.

An Chang Qing lowered his eyes and said softly, “You’ve taken the same medicines all these years but never gotten better, why don’t I ask another physician to check for you?”

“It’s been the same old sickness, changing another physician would not change anything,” Lady Yu smiled, “As long as you and your sister are well, I’ll be fine. I still have to see your sister get married.”

“Mother!” An Xian Yu sitting next to her called out shyly. Only in front of her close ones did she express herself freely.

“The date has already been set? Isn’t it a little early?” An Chang Qing clenched his fingers looking at An Xian Yu. Although timid and weak, she was still delicate and lively like a peony about to bloom, very much unlike the last time had seen her in his previous life, withered and decadent.

“It’s already been fixed for the fifth day of March,” Lady Yu touched her daughter’s head lovingly, with some reluctance, she said, “Your sister will only be fifteen after the New Year, I wanted it to be later… But the Wu family was anxious, they said that there won’t be any more auspicious days for another half a year. Your father and the old Matriarch had also agreed.”

An Xiang Yu’s fiance was Wu Junshu, the third son of Marquis Wu and currently a third-grade officer. Although his position was not high, he was charming with a good reputation for being a gentleman. They seemed to be a good match. Furthermore, the Wu and An families were in the same circle, marrying within themselves was the perfect choice to prevent any secrets from slipping out. As a result, the two families had made this arrangement a long time ago, they were just waiting for An Xian Yu to come of age.

In his last life, An Chang Qing had also assumed that An Xian Yu had found a good husband but he regretted it when she had died less than two years later because of a miscarriage. At that time, An Chang Qing had once again been too late and could only see her one last time before she had passed away. According to the people from the Marquis’s Manor, an ignorant servant had tripped An Xian Yu over on an icy path in the winter, resulting in her miscarriage.

But An Chang Qing had never believed any of it. His sister, although six months pregnant, had been skinny and pale, he could clearly tell that her life in the manor had been difficult. 

An Chang Qing had then begun to investigate and found that Wu Junshu had a concubine that he treasured above all else. Because she was of common birth, he hadn’t been allowed to make her the lady of the house. Shortly after marrying An Xian Yu, he had brought his sweetheart into the main house, pampering her to the sky and ignoring his wife. The concubine had eventually become obnoxious and had no respect towards An Xian Yu. Her miscarriage had also been orchestrated by her.

An Xian Yu had always been honest and esteemed, she had no knowledge on how to curry favor or compete for her husband’s attention. Living in the bitter environment, she had never once cried to her mother and brother. It was only after her death that An Chang Qing had known of her grievances.

But at that time, An Chang Qing had been powerless. He could only watch as Wu Junshu’s concubine replaced his sister as the main wife. It was after Xiao Zhige’s ascension to the throne that he had punished the Marquis’s family for disrespecting the royal family and had his whole family beheaded.

After hearing about their execution, An Chang Qing had been elated for a long time. 

In his opinion, Marquis Wu and the An family were all birds of a feather– Respectable in appearance but under those masks, they were all poisonous snakes, none more decent than the other.

Back then, they had let An Xian Yu die and used a servant girl as a scapegoat, protecting a murderer. In this life, An Chang Qing would not let An Xian Yu enter this fire pit. Moreover, he still wanted to pay them back for what they had done to her.

After brainstorming, he came up with an idea. Seeing An Xian Yu blushing, he believed he had to put this plan into action immediately lest she developed feelings for a worthless scum.

An Chang Qing threaded carefully and said, “This marriage would have to wait. I heard…A bad rumor regarding Wu Junshu.”

Lady Yu was in doubt, “How’s that possible? I had asked Anfu to make some inquiries before. Wu Junshu has no concubines, he doesn’t go to the brothels and is always busy with his duties. And Marquis Wu’s family has always been void of scandals.”

“I was uncertain so I asked Wangye to check on them,” An Chang Qing looked at Xiao Zhige with guilty eyes. He stayed strong and kept to his story, “It turned out that Wu Junshu has been secretly keeping a lover. The both of them meet regularly and are extremely intimate. I’m afraid that Yu’er will be bullied after she marries.”

It wasn’t that he had wanted to use Xiao Zhige’s name but Wu Junshu was just too proficient at pretending and covering his tracks. If he did not see it with his own eyes, he would never believe that the honorable Marquis Manor was a place filled with such evil. And Wu Junshu, the seemingly upright scholar, was an incredibly prejudiced person who would unconditionally pamper his mistress and mistreat his wife.

If An Chang Qing had told this to his mother out of the blue, she would not believe him entirely but if it came from Xiao Zhige, then things would be different.

Sure enough, Lady Yu grimaced and said, “Is that so? But everything’s been decided, your father will not agree to annul this engagement.”

An Xian Yu had turned pale. She nodded in silence while twisting her handkerchief.

“I have a plan,” An Chang Qing assured An Xian Yu, “I will never let Yu’er marry into the Wu family.”

Lady Yu was about to say something but seeing his determined look, she only touched his head gently, “Nuo Nuo has grown up and can protect your sister now.”

An Chang Qing hugged her and said softly, “Mother, look after yourself. I won’t let anyone bully you and Yu’er again.”

Lady Yu patted him on the back and smiled. When they separated, both their eyes were slightly red. An Chang Qing still had much to say to his mother but annulling An Xian Yu’s engagement was more pressing. He had to put everything else aside first.

Before leaving, An Chang Qing had left Zhao Shi behind.

An Chang Qing saw Lady Yu’s puzzled look and decided to tell her a little about his meeting with An Changqi. Now that An Changqi had lost an arm and the possibility of having any descendants, An Zhi Zhou and his wife would never let this matter go. They dare not touch Xiao Zhige and An Chang Qing and so the only way to have their revenge was against the helpless Lady Yu and An Xian Yu.

With Zhao Shi around, their safety was guaranteed.

After bidding his mother farewell, An Chang Qing left for the front yard with Xiao Zhige. The two walked side by side in silence. Xiao Zhige was quiet as always while An Chang Qing kept glancing at him with uneasiness. After a long while, he stopped walking and finally voiced his concerns, “Aren’t you going to ask me?”

Xiao Zhige raised his brows and looked at him, “About what?”

“About investigating Wu Junshu, and also regarding Zhao Shi.”

An Chang Qing had never asked Xiao Zhige to check on Wu Junshu for him. Furthermore, as they had only reconciled last night, even if Xiao Zhige was willing to help, it would still be too late.

“I’ll assign a few more people for you to use. The secrets of the Wu Manor are darker than you think.” Xiao Zhige raised his hand to touch An Chang Qing’s head and coached, “Always strike where it truly hurts. Wu Junshu is backed by Marquis Wu, if the Marquis doesn’t fall, you cannot hope to destroy him.”

An Chang Qing looked at him in surprise.

Xiao Zhige took his hand and continued walking. The hand around his wrist was rough but powerful. Xiao Zhige continued, “As for Zhao Shi, I’ve already assigned him to you, you don’t have to seek my approval.”

TTBE 7

Chapter 7

Edited and Proofread by KitKat

An Changqi had once been An Chang Qing’s nightmare for a long time.

An Chang Qing had been gifted with beauty since birth. When he was still an adolescent and his features had not fully developed, he had an androgynous appearance. The girls were jealous for he looked prettier than themselves while the boys hated him for being too feminine. For a long time, he had spent his childhood in darkness. The only one who ever reached out to him was An Changqi.

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As the only child of the second branch, An Changqi had been showered with affection the moment he was born. He was five years older than An Chang Qing. When An Chang Qing was twelve, he was already a young man of sixteen to seventeen. In addition to the eldest grandson, An Chang Yu, he was one of the Grand Matriarch’s favorite grandchildren.

After he had reprimanded the other younger children and rescued An Chang Qing from the woodshed, An Chang Qing really did admire and respect this brother.  An Changqi had also been good to him since then, always saving him from the bullies and buying him delicious snacks and beautiful clothes.

If it wasn’t on his twelve birthday that An Changqi had tried to rape him, everything would’ve been fine.

An Chang Qing could vividly recall that day in the spring. His birthday was on the 15th of February, the exact day of the spring equinox. The entire An family was preparing for the spring banquet but no one remembered that the Third Young Master had also been born on this day.

After eating the longevity noodles that his mother had cooked for him, An Chang Qing was about to go gather some herbs when An Changqi had gone to see him.

An Changqi had seemed particularly happy that day and An Chang Qing could still remember his every word:

“Third brother, today is your birthday. I have prepared a present for you, do you want to see it?”

The naive An Chang Qing had happily followed him, never doubting that he was being led into an empty room to fulfill An Changqi’s desires. At that moment, An Changqi had completely shown his true face. Speaking words of affection while his eyes were filled with lust, he had tried to talk An Chang Qing into submission.

Although An Chang Qing had been naive, he wasn’t a fool. He had grabbed a brass candlestick and whacked him on the head. While An Changqi had been distracted by the pain, he had climbed out the window and jumped into the rockscape pond. Because An Changqi did not know how to swim and a servant happened to be passing by, An Chang Qing had managed to escape that traumatizing ordeal.

But after that event, An Changqi completely tore off his mask. He no longer stood up for him and had even instigated the others to bully him. When they happened to meet, his eyes had been those of a hungry wolf wanting to eat him alive. An Chang Qing’s life since then had gotten a lot harder, apart from having to deal with the malice in his own family, he even had to avoid the young master of the second branch.

Until after An Changqi turned eighteen and had married, only then did An Chang Qing have better days and eventually, managed to put this matter behind.

It’s just that he had always assumed that apart from An Changqi and himself, no one else had known about this disgusting past.

To think that An Zhi Ke had always known. If he knew that An Changqi had once treated him well, then how could he not know the misdeeds An Changqi did to him later? The reason for this change, as the head of the family, how could he not know?

Moreover, after getting out of the pond, he had been pale and shivering due to the cold and fear. He hadn’t returned to Rainbow Garden in order to not worry his mother. He could only carry a fickle hope and ran to his father but An Zhi Ke did not even want to hear him. He had given him a scolding and driven him back to Rainbow Garden.

At that time, An Chang Qing had only thought that An Zhi Ke did not like him. But now he clearly understood, An Zhi Ke had been well aware of what had happened, he just did not want to sow discord with An Zhi Zhou over an unimportant son, and hence, he had feigned ignorance.

When hatred had reached a certain depth, only a burst of emptiness remained. Looking at An Zhi Ke in panic, An Chang Qing suddenly laughed, “You want me to let him go? I don’t think so! If An Changqi dies, what kind of reaction do you think the second uncle and his wife will have?”

His voice was drifting like a ghost’s, making Xiao Zhige incredibly worried. He called out to him softly.

“What are going to do?” An Zhi Ke saw the malevolence in his eyes and frowned. He softened his tone, “You’ll gain nothing from killing him. Why don’t you let him see a doctor first? After that, everything else is up to you.”

An Chang Qing sneered, “Do you think I’m as gullible as a three-year-old?”

He then pulled out a dagger and slowly walked towards An Changqi who had passed out due to the pain.

“Chang Qing!” Xiao Zhige saw what he was about to do and held him back.

An Chang Qing turned to look at him with emptiness in his eyes. Xiao Zhige was deeply concerned. He gently caressed his face and whispered in his ears, “I’m here, do not dirty your hands.”

An Chang Qing lowered his hand and Xiao Zhige seized the chance and forcefully retrieved the dagger from his grip. He then threw it in the grass and approached An Changqi with his spear in hand.

“Wangye!” An Zhi Ke exclaimed. He wanted to come forward but was paralyzed by the ferocity in his eyes. For a moment, he could only stay rooted in place.

“The Prime Minister does not have to worry, I will not kill him,” Xiao Zhige cast him a sinister smile. Like a debt-collecting demon, he chopped off An Changqi’s ‘leg’ with his spear.

Being struck with another pang of severe pain, the unconscious An Changqi woke up and covered his crotch area. He uttered a shrill cry before passing out again. In the withered grass where he laid, a pool of blood was forming under his body.

Xiao Zhige retrieved his spear and looked at the flabbergasted An Zhi Ke. Implying a threat, he said, “I’ve spared his life, the rest is up to Prime Minister An to deal with. I don’t suppose you’ll be willing to address this matter to the Emperor with me, right?”

An Zhi Ke knew that An Changqi was the one at fault. Moreover, him harboring an indecent lust for his cousin was an unacceptable scandal that would tarnish the An family’s hundred-year reputation. An Zhi Ke could only grit his teeth and concede to Xiao Zhige’s threat.

Seeing the blood-soaked An Changqi, he hastily bowed and called for someone to carry him away.

When no outsiders were around, Xiao Zhige tenderly touched An Chang Qing’s cheek. He sighed, “Why are you so foolish? Killing him is too merciful. And you’ll be taking the blame for An Zhi Ke.”

“Let me teach you how to get your revenge,” Xiao Zhige rubbed the corner of his red eyes, “An Changqi will definitely die in three days and An Zhi Ke will no longer know peace. How about that?”

An Chang Qing looked up at him. The brim of his eyes were thoroughly red but he stubbornly refused to cry. Although there was anger in his eyes, the sight of him gritting his teeth with wide-opened eyes was still endearing. 

Xiao Zhige sighed. He placed An Chang Qing’s head on his shoulder and the powerful hand gently patted his back, “If you want to cry, go ahead.”

An Chang Qing opened his mouth and wailed as his tears flowed down uncontrollably, wetting Xiao Zhige’s shoulder. Xiao Zhige continued to stroke his back slowly. His movements, although unnatural, were extremely gentle.

An Chang Qing cried in his arms for a long time before simmering down. He sniffed and said in a dull voice, “Thank you.”

Xiao Zhige rubbed his red eyes, “You don’t have to use this word with me.”

There was a faint sound of footsteps in the distance. Xiao Zhige assumed he would not want to be seen in such a state and suggested, “Should we go back first?”

An Chang Qing shook his head, “Let’s visit mother first or she’ll worry.”

Because An Chang Qing’s eyes were still swollen, he did not want to go to the Rainbow Garden yet. Instead, he took Xiao Zhige to an isolated part of the manor. 

He was silent for a while before pointing to a room right across the pond, “An Changqi lured me in there.”

Xiao Zhige reached out to hold his hand.

An Chang Qing’s hand was cold and his voice was shaking but he went on, “But I did not let him touch me and even opened a hole in his head. He had to stay in bed for almost a month.”

As though he only needed someone to listen, he continued, “I’ve never understood. I’m also his son, why does he hate me so much? I used to think that it was because of my mother’s background but now I think I know…”

His expression hardened as he came to a conclusion, “He had never seen me as his son.”

No father would feign ignorance when his child was attacked by his nephew.

Xiao Zhige’s brows creased together. He was not good at comforting others. After racking his brains for a long time, he said, “The day I was born, the sky had turned ominous. My father once tried to drown me but I narrowly survived and did not die. Later, my mother had to threaten him with her death to save my life.”

Although both of them did not deserve to be fathers, Emperor An Qing was probably the more unscrupulous of the two.

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An Chang Qing turned to look at Xiao Zhige. Seeing that there was no sadness in his expression and only indifference, An Chang Qing’s gloomy mood was lifted. That’s right, Xiao Zhige was born in the royal family. With his mother’s early departure and his father’s loathing, he had to enlist into the army and fight at the border. The harsh conditions, the danger, and the sufferings, he had to endure it all by himself.

And the unyielding Northern Warlord never had anyone to talk to.

Compared to Xiao Zhige, what he had gone through seemed minuscule. He grabbed Xiao Zhige’s sleeve to wipe his face and then smiled at him, “If he doesn’t take me as his son, then I’ll just take it as I don’t have this father. It’s not worth grieving over him.”

“En.” Xiao Zhige touched his tear mole and said, “You still have me.”

The mighty Northern Warlord knew not how to sweet talk but every word he said sunk deep into An Chang Qing’s heart. He looked at him in a trance, reflecting on his last life. Back then, if he did not fear Xiao Zhige and went to him whenever he was wronged, An Chang Qing believed that this person would’ve stood by him no matter what.

An Chang Qing leaned in and wrapped his arms around him. He felt the man’s beating heart and said in an inaudible voice, “I’m sorry.”

Xiao Zhige thought that he was still upset and started patting his back gently. 

“Let me take you to meet my mom?” An Chang Qing fidgeted in his arms and raised his head.

Xiao Zhige lowered his eyes to look at the person in his embrace. The corners of his eyes were still red but his lips had started to smile again. His voice was a little hoarse but filled with vigor.

“Alright.” Xiao Zhige’s heart was tugged at and his eyes softened unconsciously.

An Chang Qing used the pond’s reflection to tidy up his appearance. After which, he led Xiao Zhige to the Rainbow Garden.

Rainbow Garden was not large. It used to look magnificent but due to neglect, the place had fallen apart.

Before Xiao Zhige even entered the premises, he was already frowning. An Chang Qing on the other hand had long been used to the dilapidated landscape. He stood outside the building and called cheerfully for his mother.

An Xian Yu was embroidering in the yard with the nanny when she heard his voice. She eagerly ran to him but froze up when she saw Xiao Zhige beside him. She looked at An Chang Qing timidly, not knowing how to address him.

An Chang Qing saw her fear but he knew her cowardice was not something he could fix in a short time. Without forcing her, he said kindly, “Where’s mother? I’ve brought Wangye to see her.”

“Nuo Nuo?” A cough came from inside the house and a skinny woman appeared at the door, holding onto the door frame for support. She had on a thick cotton cloak and wore no jewelry, looking plain and ordinary. But when she lifted her head, her beautiful face could light up the shabby-looking environment. Even the old and faded cloak she was wearing became pleasing to the eyes.

Xiao Zhige looked at her then back to his Wangfei who had run into her arms. It was just as the rumors had said, An Chang Qing mainly took after his mother. The only part he got from An Zhi Ke was the pair of phoenix eyes which added a touch of nobility to his looks.

When An Chang Qing finally saw his biological mother who had been dead for many years, he rushed into her arms and his tears fell uncontrollably. 

After a while, he remembered that Xiao Zhige was still watching and said embarrassedly to his mother, “I’m already eighteen. Mom, stop calling me Nuo Nuo.”

Lady Yu touched his head lovingly, “No matter how old you are, you’ll always be my Nuo Nuo.”

An Chang Qing blushed and could only hope to change the subject. He went to grab Xiao Zhige standing at the door and introduce him to his mother, “Mom, this is the Northern Warlord, I’ve brought him here to see you.”

TTBE 6

Chapter 6

Edited and Proofread by KitKat

“I remember Ge’er has reached the age to be betrothed, hasn’t she? She is not a child anymore,” An Chang Qing looked at his half-sister who was younger than him by four years without any affection.

He remembered the winter when he was ten, the doll-like and innocent An Xian Ge had giggled as she pushed his sister, An Xian Yu, who was one year older than herself into the lake.

Like him, An Xian Yu had been bullied since childhood which had caused her to develop a timid and weak personality. And because they were not well-provided for, she was much skinnier and weaker than the younger An Xian Ge who had shoved her into the lake effortlessly. An Chang Qing was lucky to have witnessed it and jumped down to save her, almost drowning in the process. After that, he was inflicted with a high fever and it had been since then that his body became averse to the cold.

As for An Xian Ge, An Zhi Ke only said that she was still young and did not pursue the matter.

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An Chang Qing lowered his head and sneered, he was not going to swallow this insult in silence. Bestowed with a second chance, he was not going to let anyone trample over him.

“If she is still this insolent after entering her husband’s family, I’m afraid she would implicate her in-laws with the crime of disrespecting the royal family.” He looked towards An Zhi Ke and smiled faintly, “Father, as a minister serving in court, you should know the danger of thoughtless words and how it could bring disaster to the whole family.”

Looking at the An family’s distorted looks, An Chang Qing daintily sipped his tea, “Although we’re a family, we should still maintain a separation of status. Even if I’m not bothered by it, Wangye, who has always attached great importance to rules might be angered should he find out about this.”

“Wangye’s temper… I’m sure you’re all aware,” An Chang Qing fixed his gaze upon the pale-faced An Xian Ge and smiled deviously, “If Wangye’s wrath was incurred and he wanted to pass out punishment, even I dare not stop him. Ge’er, do you think I’m right?”

An Xian Ge looked at him in disbelief. She opened her mouth to retort but was pinched by Lady Liu sitting next to her. She bit her lips and almost tore off her handkerchief before grudgingly saying, “Wangfei is right, Ge’er was wrong.”

An Chang Qing nodded. He then ignored her and turned to talk to An Xian Yu. At present, only his sister, An Xian Yu was present. His mother, Lady Yu, had stayed in the backyard and did not come.

According to the rules, his mother could be present but she wasn’t. As An Chang Qing’s biological mother, the An family would’ve let her come if they had respected him as a Wangfei. But no one in the An family took him seriously and naturally, they did not call for Lady Yu to attend his homecoming.

An Xian Yu was just as he remembered, quiet and shy. She was obviously beautiful like their mother but she always held her head low and never dared to speak up. An Chang Qing sighed and touched her head with much heartache and asked about her studies. 

The An family came from a long line of scholars. Even the misses were all academically equipped before they were married off. An Xian Yu was quiet by nature. Her only hobby was reading and writing which she had excelled in.

But when An Chang Qing raised the question, she drooped her head and answered skittishly, “I… I’ve stopped going to the classroom.”

An Xian Ge finally found the right nerve to poke at. She interjected with a sneer, “An Xian Yu cheated in a test and was expelled by the teacher,” She continued, “It’s true that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”

She was referring to the fact that An Chang Qing had also once been expelled from class. The An family’s classrooms were divided by gender and separated by a brick wall. The male students were all from prestigious backgrounds and were taught by famous scholars to be specially trained for the imperial exams.

Although An Chang Qing loved to read, his choice of books were all on medicine and agriculture, he had little interest in learning the eight-part essay. This along with his background had made the teacher look down on him. Later, he had been framed by An Chang Duan and a female student for cheating and without even hearing his side of the story, the teacher had expelled him from the class.

An Zhi Ke knew about this and had found out the truth. But between the second son who was clever and likable and the third son whom he hated, An Zhi Ke had chosen to protect his second son’s reputation. It was also then that An Chang Qing’s feelings towards his father turned stale.

An Chang Qing glanced at his father and An Chang Duan, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree… Ge’er’s words are very reasonable, what do father and second brother think?”

Their expressions immediately turned a shade darker.

As a high-ranking official, An Zhi Ke had only enjoyed the flattery of the people around him. Never before had he received such mockery and it even came from the son he despised the most. An Zhi Ke was deeply insulted by the sarcasm in his tone but there was nothing he could do. In the end, he diverted his anger towards An Xian Ge.

“What happened to the rules that you’ve learned? If you can’t so much as learn that then don’t you dare leave the house!” His words were overly harsh for An Xian Ge to bear. She had been pampered since young and had never been publicly reprimanded. The brim of her eyes turned red. She did not see the fault in her words and continued to stare at An Chang Qing with a hatred that she was powerless to act on.

Being continuously smacked with An Chang Qing’s show of authority, the An family came to realize this: the once unfavored son had grown a pair of hardened wings. He was no longer the boy they could bully at will like in the past. Being protected by him, even the timid An Xian Yu had become someone untouchable.

*

As the hours went by, it was time for lunch but An Chang Qing did not budge, making the old Matriarch pull out a long face. She leaned on her crutch and gently reminded him, “Chang Qing has now grown up and so has your endurance.”

An Chang Qing looked down and responded nonchalantly, “Having lived here all these years, the things I had to hear and see every day, I was bound to learn something from them. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have been able to see your grandson sitting here today.”

The old Matriarch’s face turned unsightly but she did not say another word. After all, she was not blind so how could she not see the bullying An Chang Qing and his mother had to put up with through the years? It all came down to the fact that she had been prejudiced against An Chang Qing’s mother due to her lowly background that she had allowed their mistreatment to go on.

The maids brought in the dishes just in time to save her from the dreary conversation.

After eating, An Chang Qing requested a visit to his mother who was living in the backyard. At this point, An Zhi Ke had become increasingly agitated the longer he had looked at An Chang Qing. He told him that his mother was ill and let Madame Li accompany him to the backyard while he himself went to his study in the front yard.

Hearing that his mother was ill, An Chang Qing became worried. He did not need Madame Li’s company and went straight to the backyard.

The mother and son had been living in the Rainbow garden which was located in the farthest corner of the Xiang Manor. The road leading there twisted and turned. Because no one tended to it in the winter, it was overgrown with weeds and had become desolate. An Chang Qing had left this place for many years but he had never forgotten this path. 

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He eagerly strode forward but someone stopped him in his tracks.

“Third brother is looking impressive today.” The speaker was leaning on a tree and with his beady eyes, he looked at An Chang Qing from head to bottom. Like a poisonous snake, he slithered his tongue to lick his lips.

An Chang Qing froze in place and looked at him with disgust, “What are you doing here?”

“Waiting to see my good cousin of course. Have you turned your back on me now that you’re a Wangfei? You’re not even willing to call me brother?” An Changqi sneered and stood up straight, “Before, you wouldn’t have dared to behave as such.”

An Chang Qing straightened his back. He looked unfazed but his body was tense. He caught a glimpse of the big and muscular Zhao Shi standing behind and only then did he relax. This was the guard Xiao Zhige had left for him. 

“Times are different now and people will change.”

An Changqi smiled, “Looks like you’ve done a good job serving the Northern Warlord. How was it? I heard that the Northern Warlord has peculiar interests, do you think you can stand it?”

The words he said were explicit and unpleasant. Seeing that An Chang Qing’s face, although pale, enhanced his eyes and brows to look more beautiful. He couldn’t help but take a step forward and reached out to touch it. But before his finger even reached his cheek, a long and cold blade was pointed at his neck. The tall-built Zhao Shi had moved in front of An Chang Qing and cast him a deathly look. He issued a cold warning, “On Wangye’s orders, those who disrespect Wangfei are to be killed without amnesty!”

“Oh, it’s only been a few days and you’ve already learned how to bark with your master’s power1?” An Changqi said with a distorted look and vileness in his eyes, “Third brother is quite skillful…”

“Zhao Shi, do it!” Refusing to hear another foul word from him, An Chang Qing gave Zhao Shi a direct order.

Having received the words, Zhao Shi exerted his arm’s strength and thrust the blade at An Changqi’s neck without hesitation.

An Changqi fell backward and after the pain had kicked in, he touched his neck and saw that his hand was filled with blood. 

His eyes widened and his expression turned twisted as he glared at An Chang Qing. He grit his teeth and screamed, “Little whore! How dare you!”

***

Thinking of An Chang Qing, Xiao Zhige immediately left the barracks for the Xiang Manor right after his work there had concluded. Having heard the news, An Zhi Ke went out to greet him in person.

When Xiao Zhige said that he wanted to see An Chang Qing, An Zhi Ke was a little surprised. “Wangfei went to visit Lady Yu in the back garden.”

“I want to see him,” Xiao Zhige said, “Lead the way.”

Xiao Zhige’s commandeering attitude gave An Zhi Ke great annoyance but he dared not disobey and led Xiao Zhige to the backyard.

Halfway there, they could hear someone speaking in a sarcastic voice, “Looks like you’ve done a good job serving the Northern Warlord. How was it? I heard that the Northern Warlord has peculiar interests, do you think you can stand it?”

An Zhi Ke’s face had a drastic change. He wanted to rush over and stop that voice but was held back by Xiao Zhige.

Xiao Zhige’s complexion had turned ghastly pale and his eyes gleamed with a powerful killing intent.

But the person speaking was still oblivious to his looming demise and continued, “Oh, it’s only been a few days and you’ve already learned how to bark with your master’s power… Third brother is quite skillful…”

Xiao Zhige’s figure disappeared from An Zhi Ke’s side. And while he was pondering on how to smooth out this matter, a bitter cry pierced his ears.

The voice was very familiar. An Zhi Ke froze and realized that the owner of that voice seemed to be An Changqi, his nephew from the second branch. He ran forward and saw that Xiao Zhige was holding An Chang Qing with one hand while whispering something to him. On his other hand was his black and gold spear with blood stains on its tip. And in the withered grass not far from them was An Changqi clutching a broken hand, wailing and rolling in pain.

An Zhi Ke knew that this would not end well.

If only the person who had spoken ill of An Chang Qing was anyone else but the one in their family lineage, he could have easily dealt with him and let this matter be closed, but unfortunately, it just had to be An Changqi!

An Changqi was the only son of his second brother, An Zhi Zhou. Although An Zhi Zhou did not follow the path of an official, he had become a successful businessman. His wife was also the apple in the eyes of Xuchang Prefecture’s largest merchant. With the backing from his wife’s family, An Zhi Zhou’s businesses had all flourished in a large-scale. Although An Zhi Ke was the eldest son and an appointed minister, his salary alone could not support both the expenses of the massive Xiang Manor and the fees to maintain his social connections. All these years, it had been the second branch that had handled these expenditures.

This was why even though An Changqi was a first-rate lecher, An Zhi Ke was still quite fond of this nephew.

But now that An Changqi had expressed indecent thoughts towards his cousin while also in the presence of the Northern Warlord, An Zhi Ke couldn’t possibly smooth this out when he was not even sure he could help preserve An Changqi’s life.

Countless calculations swirled in his head as An Zhi Ke looked at his third son being covered by Xiao Zhige. He calmed himself and bowed to Xiao Zhige, “Wangye please have mercy. Chang Qing and Changqi have always been close since childhood. Their jokes could get a little vulgar but by no means was it meant to disrespect Wangye. Please forgive him this once. I will make sure to give him a good scolding and will not let this happen again!”

An Zhi Ke had a silver tongue, used to twisting the truths to his liking. Clearly it had been An Changqi who had harbored improper thoughts for An Chang Qing but in his mouth, it had become a mere joke between cousins.

He eyed An Chang Qing and deliberately slowed down his speech and added a hint of authority to his tone, “Chang Qing, you’re well aware of your cousin’s temperament. He had always been good to you when you were young. Although you both had a little misunderstanding and his words are unpleasant to hear, he is not a bad person. You won’t let your cousin be killed over a joke, right?”

An Chang Qing was trembling with anger. He turned his face from Xiao Zhige’s embrace and looked at An Zhi Ke with ominous eyes, “Father wants me to spare him?”

An Zhi Ke’s face twitched but he continued to persuade humbly, “You’ve always been special to Changqi.”

“You knew?” An Chang Qing had a sinister smile on his face. His eyes were filled with hatred and even his voice started trembling, “So you’ve always known!”


1 狗仗人势 is directly translated as a “dog acting on its master’s influence.” It means someone being haughty because of their powerful backer.

TTBE 5

Chapter 5

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. 

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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.

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“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

TTBE 4

Chapter 4

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.

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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.”

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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.

TTBE 3

Chapter 3

Edited and Proofread by KitKat

Watching the man leave without looking back, An Chang Qing was both depressed and aggrieved. There was also a tinge of anxiety. 

He had poured himself into getting intimate with him and even had the cheek to kiss him but as it turned out, they still followed the same track as his last life – they did not consummate their marriage and Xiao Zhige had still slept in the study.

Following this development, this matter would spread the next day and everyone would come to the conclusion that the Marquis’s Third Young Master was just a decoration who was rejected by the Northern Warlord on the night of their wedding. Even the servants of the Wang Manor did not have him in their eyes, blatantly throwing sarcastic words in front of him.

An Chang Qing used to disregard these things, but for some reason, the thought of Xiao Zhige leaving without looking back just made him upset. He wondered if it was just his wishful thinking and that Xiao Zhige might not have liked him at all. As his thought snowballed, he wondered if god was punishing him for failing Xiao Zhige in his last life. Xiao Zhige had indulged him so much and yet he had turned a blind eye. Now that he had opened his eyes, Xiao Zhige no longer liked him.

He was even more afraid that despite his second chance at life, he could not fix their ending; he would still die of poison and Xiao Zhige would turn into a tyrant and die alone in Qiwu Palace, holding on to his jade pendant.

Tossing and turning in bed, An Chang Qing only managed to doze off at midnight. But even in his sleep, he saw the events from his past life play out on a loop. He had returned to the time of his death and felt his insides twisting and stirring, the pain was too horrible that he just wanted to die.

When Anfu came to call him in the early morning, he found that An Chang Qing was drenched in sweat like a fish just out of water. His face was pale and his eyes were red with dark patches underneath them, looking completely haggard. 

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“Young Master?” Anfu certainly knew what had happened last night. He anxiously said, “Wangye had someone pass on a message, you don’t have to go to the Palace today.”

An Chang Qing showed him a soothing smile and rubbed his temples, “Have someone fetch some water, I’m taking a bath.”

Anfu received his order and immediately went to carry it out. An Chang Qing sat for a while before entering the bathroom. The hot water was ready and two maids were standing by with his clothes. An Chang Qing was not used to being served so he sent them out.

When no one was left, he stripped and entered the water.

Soaking in the warm water, the swelling pain in his head was lifted considerably. An Chang Qing then changed into a new attire and went back to the main room. A maid helped him dry his hair and used a red coral embedded crown to gather his long hair. An Chang Qing gazed at the person in the mirror. Although looking much more lively, there were still traces of weariness.

After straightening up his clothes, he took Anfu to the study to find Xiao Zhige yet there was only the old steward, Wang Fu Gui, in the room. Xiao Zhige was nowhere to be found.

“Wangye is not in?”

Wang Fu Gui bowed respectfully and replied, “Wangye went to the barracks in the outskirts early in the morning.”

An Chang Qing was upset. Xiao Zhige definitely did it on purpose! Who would leave for the barracks right after their wedding?

“Did Wangye say when he’ll be back?”

Wang Fu Gui: “No.”

The housekeeper had a neutral attitude and An Chang Qing could not get any more information out of him. He could only leave in vain. 

As he was leaving with Anfu, a clear voice was heard nearby, “Did you hear? Wangye left for barracks very early this morning.”

Another voice chimed in, “I heard. And Wangye also slept in the study last night. Did you see Wangfei’s face this morning?It was so scary, we didn’t dare to say anything.”

“What do you have to fear?” The previous voice spoke again, “Wangye obviously does not like Wangfei, it’s just an empty title. What’s more, he’s a man, he can’t even give birth…”

“He can’t even be compared to us servant girls. We get to serve Wangye every day. Who knows, maybe one of these days, Wangye will come to notice us and we’ll have a good life after giving birth to his children…”

After she finished speaking, a series of laughter entailed.

An Chang Qing’s expression remained unchanged but Anfu could not hold back his anger, he raised his voice and said, “The audacity! Who are you to discuss the masters’ affairs?” 

The giggling maids were startled. They immediately knelt down and looked at An Chang Qing cautiously.

An Chang Qing walked slowly over and swept a glance at the row of maids. In a light voice, he said, “Raise your heads.”

The row of maids lifted their faces. They were all young and attractive, slim and graceful. Especially the one amongst them who wore a green skirt with a red cotton waist sash. She had a pair of bright and shimmering eyes that could soften anyone’s heart.

An Chang Qing smiled. He knew this girl was the one who initiated this conversation. It had been such a long time and he could not remember the trifling things of his previous life but after hearing the sweet bird-like voice, he recalled a particular person – 

Xiao Zhige’s head maid, Yan Hong.

In his last life, she was also the first one to spread words that he and Xiao Zhige were not getting along. And assuming that he was not favored, she even dared to make things difficult for him. Back then, he had always been estranged from Xiao Zhige so even when he was wronged in the Wang Manor, he could only bear it in silence. Later on, although Yan Hong could not get into Xiao Zhige’s bed, she managed to marry the old steward’s godson and took to it like a fish in water. When the civil war broke out between Xiao Zhige and the Crown Prince, having received a ludicrous amount of bribery, she had sold a lot of the Wang Manor’s secrets to the enemy.

An Chang Qing observed her silently. 

Yan Hong was feeling a little weak being watched by him. But she remembered that he was not in favor and she was Wangye’s person, whatever he wanted to do to her, he had to go through Wangye first.

The thought emboldened her and she asked An Chang Qing in an aggrieved tone, “May I ask what wrong have we done?”

An Chang Qing saw that her tears had already started flowing. Her behavior was nothing like a maid, more like a concubine competing for favors with trickery. He knew she had thought that because she was Xiao Zhige’s maid that there was nothing he could do to her.

Smirking, An Chang Qing ignored her. He instead said to Anfu, “Go get Steward Wang.”

Anfu did not understand his intentions but he still promptly complied. A moment later, he came back with Steward Wang.

Steward Wang, full name Wang Fu Gui, was a man in his fifties with a thin face and small build. He always had his hands together and walked at a decent pace, the image was just like that of his last life. He was the person next to Xiao Zhige and in the Wang manor, it was his job to take care of the internal affairs. He had absolute loyalty towards Xiao Zhige but everyone had their own set of ideas. He had assumed that Xiao Zhige did not treasure this Wangfei and hence, had treated him half-heartedly.

Especially if it was a valued servant girl like Yan Hong who had insulted the Wangfei, as long as he didn’t blow up the matter, he would just keep one eye closed.

But times have changed and so had An Chang Qing. Now that he knew his place in Xiao Zhige’s heart, he planned to have a good life with him. Naturally, he could not be the laughing stock both inside and outside the manor that brought shame to Xiao Zhige.

“For what reason might Wangfei have called for this old servant?” Steward Wang bowed and said. On the surface, there was nothing wrong but every little gesture was too perfunctory.

An Chang Qing was not offended. He lifted his hem and sat down on the chair Anfu had brought over. He said coldly, “What are the punishments for spreading rumors about their employers in the Wang Manor?”

Steward Wang was taken aback. He glanced at Yan Hong and hesitated, “Wangfei, this…”

“If you don’t have any regulations yet, then I’ll make one,” An Chang Qing interrupted. The pair of phoenix eyes were looking straight at him, “From now on, servants who dare to discuss their employers’ affairs will receive thirty slaps to the mouth. A repeated offender will be sent off. This time, I don’t mind the fellow conformists, just make them do some extra labor, but the ringleader, Steward Wang, you can directly send her away.”

Steward Wang’s expression stiffened. He said cautiously, “About this…Why don’t we wait for Wangye to come back and make a decision…?”

“Steward Wang feels that when Wangye is away, I can’t do so much as throw out a maid?” An Chang Qing’s tone turned harsh as he fixed his eyes on him.

“I dare not,” Steward Wang quickly knelt down and explained, “But these maids are used to serving Wangye, if it’s not them, I’m afraid Wangye will not be pleased…”

“You only need to cast her out. I will explain to Wangye,” An Chang Qing did not give him room to argue. After saying his piece, he immediately got up and left with Anfu.

Steward Wang could only look at him leaving and said with reluctance, “Yes.”

When no one else was in earshot, Yan Hong rushed over to him and cried, “Godfather, I don’t want to be sent away…”

Steward Wang fidgeted his hand and looked at her, “Please behave yourself from now on. When Wangye returns, I will talk to him on your behalf.”

*

Xiao Zhige left the Wang Manor early in the morning for the barracks in the outskirts of the city. He couldn’t sleep last night and decided to take off with his horse in the wee hours of dawn. However, his body might have left the Wang Manor but his heart still lingered back there. Even during his training, he was somewhat absent-minded.

He stayed in the barracks until noon passed and when he realized it, it was almost time for dinner. Xiao Zhige changed out of his armor and prepared to head back.

As he was about to leave, General Zhao Yue entered the camp. The moment Zhao Yue saw him, he smiled broadly and greeted, “It’s just the second day after your wedding, why didn’t you spend more time with Wangfei?”

Xiao Zhige frowned and ignored him. He gently tugged the horse’s reins and led it out. 

Zhao Yue did not relent. He continued to poke, “Did Wangfei make Wangye unhappy? Just nice, I happened to know some new beauties in town, why don’t I send them to your place tomorrow?”

As one of the twelve generals, Zhao Yue and Xiao Zhige had never liked each other.

The Da Ye Empire was divided into a capital city and twelve prefectures. Six great generals, namely Zhao, Chu, Xue, Shi, Xia Hou, and Shen Tu were in charge of two prefectures each and under them were twelve generals, one for each prefecture.

Zhao Yue’s grandfather, Zhao XinChong was one of the six Great Generals. 

The Zhao family was the Empress Dowager’s maternal family and the current Empress was a distant niece of hers. As such, the Zhao family had always sided with the Crown Prince, Xiao Qi An. Since Xiao Zhige and Xiao Qi An were at odds and coupled with his outstanding achievements, Zhao Yue had always found him an eyesore. He would taunt and jab at him whenever the opportunities arose.

Any other day, Xiao Zhige would’ve been too lazy to be bothered with him but today, he was in an especially bad mood. His sword-like eyebrows closed in as he stared at Zhao Yue coldly.

Zhao Yue laughed out triumphantly, “Oh? Or is it that Wangye doesn’t like beautiful women and prefers someone more manly? I’ve heard that Wangfei has an exquisite…”

Before Zhao Yue could finish, a double-bladed black and gold spear pierced the ground at his feet, causing a humming vibration.

Xiao Zhige rode over and pulled up the spear which was three inches into the ground. He warned discreetly, “Weapons do not have eyes. General Zhao should watch out.”

Xiao Zhige rode off as the horse kicked up dust in Zhao Yue’s face.

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After exiting the barracks, the horse trotted towards the capital. The east gate of Yejing was connected to ChangLe Street. The two ends of ChangLe Street were filled with shops and restaurants. In the east were the marketplace and boutiques while the west housed brothels, teahouses, and taverns.

Yejing had no curfews and even before the sky had turned dark, the place was already bustling with people and varied sounds.

But as Xiao Zhige rode by, only silence ensued. And when he was far away, the place turned lively again. This was something Xiao Zhige was used to. As he was passing a pastry shop, he hesitated and stopped. The shop was called San Wei Zhai, the only shop in Yejing that sold a variety of unique snacks. Every day, many queued up to buy from them including the servants sent by high-ranking officials and the royalty.

After mulling over, Xiao Zhige decided to go in. The people lining up saw him and moved aside. Xiao Zhige did not mind. He said to the shopkeeper, “A box of plum blossom cakes.” He remembered his vice general once said that the plum blossom cakes from San Wei Zhai were the best. His wife loved them and whenever he made her angry, buying her a box of these would surely help in coaxing her.

The shopkeeper packed the cakes in a box and handed Xiao Zhige with trembling hands. He dared not even ask for money. He forced a smile and said, “Would Wangye like something else?”

Xiao Zhige threw him a small silver ingot as payment and rode away. 

Back at the manor, Steward Wang went to greet him and Xiao Zhige handed him the box of pastries, “Deliver this to Wangfei.”

Steward Wang was stunned. He carefully observed Xiao Zhige. It’s just that Xiao Zhige rarely showed his emotions and it was difficult to tell what his likes and dislikes were. Steward Wang could only rephrase what he wanted to say, “I’ll have someone send it over right away. This morning, Wangfei went to the study to look for you.”

There was an untraceable twinkle in Xiao Zhige’s eyes, “Wangfei… How is he doing?”

Steward Wang bowed his head, “Today, Yan Hong and the others were careless, they upset Wangfei and he wants to send them away…”

Xiao Zhige responded with a ‘hmm’.

Seeing that he was not going to say anything else, Steward Wang couldn’t help but speak up, “Yan Hong has been waiting on you for many years, sending her away like this is a little inappropriate…”

“Isn’t it just a few servants?” Xiao Zhige looked at him with dominance, “Do as Wangfei says.”

Steward Wang’s heart jumped as he reassessed An Chang Qing’s status. Not daring to say another word, he nodded in compliance.

TTBE 2

Chapter 2

Edited and Proofread by KitKat

After the ceremony, the newlyweds were escorted to their wedding chamber.

The room in the Wang Manor’s main courtyard had always been barren. The tiny bit of red-colored decorations did nothing to elevate the missing sense of festivity.

The two sat facing each other next to the bridal bed while the xipo handed Xiao Zhige a golden weighing rod1 saying, “Wangye please lift the veil.”

Xiao Zhige did not respond. He solemnly looked at the person in front of him, deep in thought.

Seeing his inaction, the xipo awkwardly called out to him, “Wangye?”

Xiao Zhige came back from his daze and cast her glance, “You all can leave now.”

The xipo had long heard of his infamous temper. His joyless face even on his wedding day could only mean that he did not like the future wangfei. She glanced at An Chang Qing with sympathy and put down the golden rod, then left quickly, closing the door behind.

In the room, Xiao Zhige lifted the veil without using the golden rod and was relieved to see that An Chang Qing was not in girly make-up. He then frowned and mulled over what to say. Briefly after, he managed to think of something, “Are you hungry?”

An Chang Qing looked at him in surprise. Before, all he could do was look down. Now that he could raise his head, he attentively observed the man in front of him, his new husband.

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Previously, in the many years that they had cohabited, he had never looked twice at this person who was tied to a fearsome reputation. Only with a closer look did he discover that he was a man of outstanding facial features. At present, he was only known as the emperor’s unloved son. In the eyes of the courtiers, he was the prince who had lost all qualifications to succeed the throne. In the eyes of the common people, he was the bloodthirsty warlord who had killed tens of thousands without blinking.

But at this moment, An Chang Qing was using his heart to look at him. What he saw was a weak young man who still had much to grow. Although he had a brooding expression, it had not reached the later stage where it could stop infants from crying. His eyebrows were sharp as swords with a shallow ‘川’ in the middle. His black eyes were like bottomless pits sitting in a deep pair of sockets. Combined with his high nose and thin lips, it gave his face a majestic and dignified look.

An Chang Qing smoothed his brows and gave him a soft smile. Whether this was real or fantasy, he still had to take the first step. He had once believed the rumors and not only trapped himself but had also wronged Xiao Zhige. This time, he would try to get to know this person.

No one was born cruel. The cold-blooded Emperor of the future was also once a soft-hearted young man who had asked his wangfei on their wedding day if he was hungry. It was just that everyone else had chosen to ignore these trivial details… Including himself.

“Shouldn’t we drink the hejin2 wine first?” An Chang Qing smiled at him sweetly and asked.

Once again, he was stricken with surprise. Xiao Zhige did not expect An Chang Qing would present such an attitude towards him. He was stunned briefly before pouring them each a cup of hejin wine, “Alright.”

Their arms crossed as they drank the wine, like a pair of mandarin ducks.

Xiao Zhige stood up after drinking the wine, ready to go out to entertain the guests. When he walked to the door, he turned back and said, “The kitchen has prepared some snacks, if you’re hungry, send someone to get it.”

Without waiting for An Chang Qing’s response, he strode out the door.

An Chang Qing looked at his back as he was leaving. There exuded a sense of firmness and vigor, like that of a pine tree, many times more alive than the gloomy Emperor he had once become.

Xiao Zhige went out to entertain the guests in the front yard while An Chang Qing stayed behind in the bridal room. Judging from his attitude, Xiao Zhige did not treat him like a woman just because An Chang Qing was married to him.

An Chang Qing was not reserved either. He took off the heavy crown and cumbersome clothes to stretch his muscles. Without the weight, his body felt a whole lot lighter.

He put on a casual dark red overcoat and tied his long hair back then called for Anfu to get some snacks from the kitchen. 

The kitchen had prepared a variety of pastries. An Chang Qing ate a few pieces to appease his hunger before he could calmly analyze the situation.

In the beginning, he had thought that it was only a dream.

After he had died, his spirit hadn’t disappeared but had been trapped inside the huge palace. It was there that he had watched as Xiao Zhige became more violent and increasingly reckless. In the three years after his death, Xiao Zhige had launched five wars. Although he had managed to drive the Bei Di people to the edge of the grassland and occupied almost half of the Xi Wei Empire, the DaYe Empire had suffered heavy losses. Due to the continuous years of war, countless fields had been abandoned and as winter dawned, severe famine had spread for thousands of miles. As it had escalated, the commoners could only resort to cannibalism. Da Ye Empire had turned into an abyss of suffering.

The people at the bottom of the pit were then united by a movement established by the abolished prince, Xiao Qi An. With the support of Zhu An Liang and Shi Le Zheng, two big generals of the Zhu State, he had gathered two hundred thousand refugees and surrounded the capital city of Yejing. That was the start of what would then be called “The Battle to Slay the Dragon”.

This had been a fierce battle. Xiao Zhige, with over ten years of battling experiences, had guided his troop of fifty thousand men like a god of war to defeat the two hundred thousand refugees. In less than a month, corpses had piled along the borders of Yejing, reaching almost as high as its walls. The refugees had had to climb over the corpses of their brethren while Xiao Zhige stood over the wall, looking down at them like the grim reaper.

However, a month later, the gates of Yejing were opened. But it hadn’t been because the refugees had managed to break through but because it was opened by a guard who had been ordered to do so.

The abolished prince and the two generals led their troops into the palace. After a quick search, they found Xiao Zhige alone in the secluded Qiwu Palace.

The lonely Emperor had sat by the window of Qiwu Palace and had ended his life with a sharp knife.

The abolished prince chopped off his head and hung it on the gate of Yejing while his body had been thrown into the mass graves and eaten by wild dogs. He had claimed to have killed the tyrant under heaven’s mandate.

Only An Chang Qing, who had been watching him in silence, knew that Xiao Zhige was actually winning. The imperial army personally trained by him was one of the most formidable troops and they were absolutely loyal to him. Although the refugees had numbers, their fighting capabilities were inferior. Furthermore, their troops had been reduced to fifty thousand, it was just a matter of time before they were annihilated.

But that night, Xiao Zhige called in his second-in-command and gave him one last military order: to open the gates of Yejing and surrender.

The man then sat in Qiwu Palace with a piece of jade in his hand. He looked at it all night and at the break of dawn had decided to end his life.

No one knew what his last thoughts were, only An Chang Qing had been able to get a glimpse. 

The late Emperor had in his hand a piece of jade carved with a twin-fish symbol, the very same one his mother had given him on his tenth birthday. It had followed him for eighteen years until the day he died. An Chang Qing thought of the memento that had been buried with him, he did not expect it would be in Xiao Zhige’s hands.

Because it hadn’t been buried with him and kept in the hands of the dead Emperor, it had accompanied his corpse when it was thrown into the wild graves. At that time, An Chang Qing had wanted to cover his body with a straw mat but he could not even do so. He could only watch the headless body of the Emperor being eaten by vultures and wild dogs until only the bones were left. Without the flesh and blood, the piece of twin-fish jade was exposed and picked up by a beggar passing through the grave.

That day, looking at the empty palm of the skeleton, An Chang Qing had suddenly cried. He had only felt an overwhelming sadness like never before. The intense crying had sent his consciousness into chaos and when he woke up, he was back to the winter of Qingli year fifteen, the day he was wedded to Xiao Zhige.

An Chang Qing looked down at his opaque hands and gave his cheek a pinch. The touch was so real, it was not like a dream at all.

Maybe this was a blessing from the heavens. Maybe because he had lived a muddled life and made too many mistakes, he had been given a second chance to do it again.

Being able to do things over, he couldn’t possibly follow the footsteps of an overthrown chariot.

As he was in deep thoughts, Anfu’s voice outside the room sounded and the door creaked open. An Chang Qing turned and saw the youthful Xiao Zhige walking calmly towards him. 

“Wangye,” An Chang Qing got up and greeted him with a smile.

As he got closer, An Chang Qing realized that he had a strong smell of alcohol, probably from having too much wine. He reached forward to support him and found that Xiao Zhige was taller than him by half a head. His body was robust and his arms were hardened with muscles.

Fortunately, although he had too much to drink, his mind was still clear. He let An Chang Qing walk him to the bed and sat down.

After settling him down, An Chang Qing took Anfu to the kitchen to make some hangover soup. When he got back to the room, he found that Xiao Zhige was watching him unblinkingly. His eyes were obscured and the slightly frowning eyebrows added a tint of ferocity to his serious face.

An Chang Qing was somewhat taken aback. He had a timid nature to begin with. But remembering the gentleness of the man who had held him in his arms, comforting him over and over, his heart eased up again.

Picking up his courage, An Chang Qing sat beside Xiao Zhige and handed him a small bowl, “Wangye, have some hangover soup first.”

Xiao Zhige’s eyes trembled as they fell on An Chang Qing’s white fingers holding the porcelain bowl. His hands were beautiful, slender and white with fingertips shaped into a lovely arch. Under the flickering light, his skin gave off a pinkish hue.

Xiao Zhige’s Adam’s apple rolled. He took the bowl without another word.

After drinking the soup, Xiao Zhige put the bowl aside and the air turned heavy again. Xiao Zhige had always been a man of few words while An Chang Qing was getting nervous with the upcoming part of the wedding.

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In their previous lives, they had never consummated.

At that time, he only had fear and dislike towards Xiao Zhige. Not crying at the sight of him was already his best effort. Even when they had exchanged the hejin wine, one was carrying a frightened expression while the other was expressionless. Xiao Zhige seemed to have seen his fear and had gone to sleep in the study without saying anything. And he continued to do so for a long time. Back then, he had been relieved to have escaped this stage.

But in this life, this had to change.

An Chang Qing had a little knowledge about how two men would do it. He comforted himself that with proper preparations, it shouldn’t hurt. Moreover, rumors were not credible, he had learned this the hard way in his last life. Xiao Zhige shouldn’t be brutish in this aspect like in the rumors… Right?

An Chang Qing’s face turned red. He sneaked a glance at the top of the bed and saw two small porcelain jars. It should be for them to use for doing that.

He clenched his fingers nervously. An Chang Qing tried to make his voice sound natural, “Wangye, it’s getting late. Why don’t we go to bed?” He sounded calm but even his exposed neck had turned red.

Xiao Zhige remained motionless, only his eyes turned a shade darker.

His silence caused An Chang Qing to feel unease. The blush on his face also faded as he looked at him at a loss.

They sat on the bed side by side in speechlessness. Even though Xiao Zhige did not make a move, he did not seem to reject him either. Thinking of how the once Emperor had clutched the piece of jade in his hand even in death, An Chang Qing’s courage grew a little. Not minding his thumping heart and blushing face, he moved in closer to Xiao Zhige, grabbed his shoulder, and planted a kiss on the man’s lips.

Since the mountain refused to come to him, he would go to it!

The man’s lips were partially dry but unexpectedly soft and carried a touch of warmth. An Chang Qing nudged at it for a while but did not know what to do next. For two lifetimes, he was never in a relationship, whether it was with a man or woman. Regarding the topic of making love, he really had no experience, kissing was the limit.

When he was thinking if he should withdraw, a powerful force held onto his waist. The man who had been stirred up by him had suddenly turned from being a guest to a host, brazenly locking onto his lips. An Chang Qing’s lips were pried open and the man’s tongue drilled straight in. Even kissing was like war to him, always on the offense and leaving the other person no room to retreat.

An Chang Qing was kissed till he was almost out of breath. His arms unknowingly wrapped around Xiao Zhige’s neck and hung there powerlessly.

It took a long time before Xiao Zhige let him go. The rugged hand moved along the side of An Chang Qing’s cheek and lightly pinched his chin. With observance in his eyes, he asked, “Do you not fear me?”

He had expected An Chang Qing to oppose this marriage. After all, he was the one who forced this marriage on him. Moreover, according to his investigation, An Chang Qing had an elder cousin who was attentive towards him. The two appeared to be quite close…

Xiao Zhige was ready to face his wrath or cold shoulder but he never would have expected that An Chang Qing would take the initiative to be … Intimate towards him.

Xiao Zhige’s heart was tugged at. He did not ease the strength of his hand and looked straight into his eyes, as though he could see through his heart and find any trace of deception.

They stared at each other for quite sometime before An Chang Qing shifted his gaze first. He licked his lips instinctively and felt a salty taste of blood. It was then that he found out how boorish the man could become; to think that he had caused his lips to bleed…

He glared back at Xiao Zhige but discovered that Xiao Zhige’s ears had turned crimson red. His annoyance subsided and his heart was floating. He thought of their past lives again and felt aggrieved for the man. An Chang Qing tightened his arms around Xiao Zhige’s neck and leaned in nostalgically, “I’m not afraid of you, I’m only afraid of pain…” 

The youth who had yet to come of age had a white face and an elegant figure. His voice was soft and endearing. Even if he was not deliberately seducing him, the man still wished he could hold him in his hands and never let him suffer any injustice.

Xiao Zhige’s fingers trembled as he released the grip of his hand. Recovering his senses, he realized that he had probably been too vulgar before. Had he hurt him?

Sensing the man’s sudden change, An Chang Qing now had an inkling of how his mind worked. He secretly smiled to himself and he was even more courageous to go down this path.

This person might look vicious on the surface but on a closer look, he was very attentive and gentle. An Chang Qing recalled the past and realized how much Xiao Zhige had indulged him. He laid down his worries and nestled into his arms. With a bright blush on his cheeks, he whispered, “Wangye, later… Please be gentle…”

Xiao Zhige’s body tensed up instantly. He pushed An Chang Qing away and stood up. With his back against him, he said stiffly, “You don’t need to be afraid. I will not force you.” 

After that, without looking back, he walked briskly out of the bridal chamber. It was just that his reaction was too abrupt that it reeked of the embarrassment of someone trying to escape.


1weighing rod Raising the bride’s veil with a rod is a wedding tradition, signifying getting what one wished for.
2hejin Wine meant for the newlyweds to drink on their wedding night.