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The higher you go, the further to fall. Also, a conversation occurs.

Chapter 18 Bathing Together

In the study, He Heng closed the missive in his hands. Looking at the completely darkened sky, he said: “Come, light the way to zhengyuan.”

Ming He, who had been waiting at the door motioned for a little taijian to hold a sectioned off lantern and personally held a tasselled palace lamp. He waited quietly at the side for wang ye to start on his way.

The study and zhengyuan were separated by a garden. He Heng walked to the border of the garden and saw a shadow hidden beside the fake mountain. The person couldn’t be identified from the pale shadow but the sound of a female voice reciting a poem spread.

“When the geese are returning, the full moon shines down on the Western tower. The flowers fall, the waters flow… …”

“Who’s there?” He Heng looked expressionlessly at that shadow. The flickering lamplight made as though his eyes had an additional light.

“Wang ye?!” The voice suddenly stopped, visibly frightened. A woman wearing a pale robe tied at the waist with red eyes kneeled in front of He Heng. A white jade hairpin was the only ornament in her hair, the thin figure kneeling on the ground seemed as pitiful as one could ever be.

Ming He saw the lack of expression on wang ye and spoke: “Yun Qing guniang, what are you doing here? It’s cold these winter nights, you’ve just recovered, you should wear more clothing.”

He Heng’s lips curled. He looked at the insubstantial article of clothing on Yun Qing and started to walk around Yun Qing. Originally, he had felt that she was a little bit interesting, but looking at her pitiful act, he suddenly felt nothing at all. This wasn’t as enticing as when she had acted virtuous and noble. When a virtuous woman suddenly turned to ingratiation, it didn’t seem as interesting.

Yun Qing watched as wang ye walked away. She gritted her teeth and said: “Wang ye.”

He Heng turned his head to look at the woman still kneeling on the ground. He suddenly spoke: “Do you still remember when ben wang wanted to make you my tong fang, what you said?”

“Nu said, to receive the heart and soul of one person, to not separate until the heads turn white.” Yun Qing raised her head to look at He Heng, her eyes full of adoration.

“Then what are you doing now?” He Heng scanned Yun Qing in an interested manner from head to toe before his gaze, at the end, fell upon that pale while chest.

“Nu is truly in love with wang ye,” The tears in Yun Qing’s eyes glimmered, “If nu had the foresight to know what would happen today, nu wouldn’t have stayed in this wang fu in the very beginning.”

“Che,” He Heng raised his eyebrows and spoke to Ming He, “Remember tomorrow to remind ben wang to raise this woman to a tong fang. Send somebody to deliver her back. It’s very late, don’t alarm any others.” Finishing, he turned and walked towards the zheng yuan, not looking even once more upon Yun Qing who was still kneeling.

Ming He smiled and glanced at Yun Qing, “Nucai will remember.” He turned to follow.

After everyone had left, Yun Qing finally stood. She wiped away the tears at the corners of her eyes, staring with wide eyes in the direction that wang ye had left in. Her gaze lit up with unprecedented brightness.

He Heng stepped into the zheng yuan and dismissed the announcement of the servants. He strode directly into the room that Qu Qing Ju lived in. At the doorway, he saw Qu Qing Ju gazing at a jade gourd pendant under the light. Her gaze held a peace that he had never seen before, as though time had stopped within her eyes.

He knew that this jade gourd had been left behind by wang fei’s birth mother, Tian shi. These past days, wang fei had kept it constantly on her neck. Seeing her posture, he assumed that she was reminiscing about her birth mother so he said: “Wang fei, why haven’t you gone to sleep yet?”

“Wang ye’s here?” Qu Qing Ju placed the jade gourd back around her neck. She stood and walked in front of He Heng. She smiled as she saw the familiar palace maids and taijian outside the doorway and said, “It’s so deep into the night, I thought wang ye wouldn’t have come.”

“The long night passes by slowly. Without wang fei at the side, ben wang has no desire for sleep,” He Heng enclosed the person in front into his arms. He lowered his head to kiss Qu Qing Ju’s forehead, “Come, a bath and a change of clothes.”

Hot steam rose from the enormous bathtub. Flower petals floated on the surface as Qu Qing Ju was taken along by He Heng into the water. The two faced each other nakedly and experienced together in the tub the intimacy of skin.

He Heng’s hand’s swept across Qu Qing Ju’s pale chest, his index finger curling around the delicate jade gourd. He gave a deep laugh, “The way Qing Ju looks, nobody could resist,” He bent over to suck on those moist lips. He didn’t like kissing women, but to be this intimate with wang fei, he felt a few stirrings of emotion.

Taking advantage of He Heng’s bent legs as a seat, Qu Qing Ju lifted her hand to wrap around He Heng, pressing her soft chest into He Heng’s embrace. There was an unspeakable charm about her full head of hair spread out in the water, contrasting against the vibrant flower petals.

A warm palm glided across a smooth back, slowly moving downwards and lighting a ferocious fire.

A round of delights of the flesh later, both felt very contented. He Heng offhandedly grabbed a robe, bending down to carry Qu Qing Ju from the slightly cold water. He placed her on the bed and took a towel to personally dry her hair for her.

When men were satisfied, they always were especially caring. That quality could be seen very clearly on He Heng.

Qu Qing Ju slid on an inner robe, and allowed He Heng to continue his attentive behaviour. She yawned: “Why did wang ye come so late this night?”

“Had to take care of something, so it was a bit late,” He Heng saw that the hair was more or less dry and switched for a new towel to dry his own hair. The two wrapped around each other as they sat inside the blankets. In the time as they waited for hair to dry, they started to chit-chat about other things.

“I heard that you had sorted out that group of disobedient stewards?” He Heng inquired suddenly, “That group is truly disgraceful. You were too benevolent to them, this type of people, they should be beaten to death.”

“Lives aren’t that worthless,” Qu Qing Ju laughed, “I saw that they are very sincere in their present duties. They have learned their lesson. If they can fulfill their duties, it would be a great boon for this wang fu.”

“Those disobedient servants, you don’t have to be soft-hearted,” He Heng knew everything about how Qu Qing Ju was handling the affairs of the hou yuan. He didn’t find anything unsound. To take control of the hou yuan and at the same time make others feel appreciated while inspiring respect, that took skill. The wang fei that he, He Heng, wanted, was this kind.

“If a death occurred, it wouldn’t be good for our Duan Wang Fu,” Qu Qing Ju understood He Heng’s intentions and said, “This is enough.”

Upon hearing this, He Heng didn’t continue on the matter and turned to the jade gourd on Qu Qing Ju’s neck: “This jade gourd is very exquisite.”

Qu Qing Ju rubbed the jade gourd when it was mentioned. Her smile became fainter: “This was left behind by qie’s mother, and was always in the possession of stepmother. At the beginning, all possible ways were tried, but this couldn’t be wrested from her hands. Now that qie is Duan Wang Fei, she quickly presents it.” These words praised He Heng and also took a few stabs at Liang shi. Qu Qing Ju felt no pressure doing it.

“This Liang shi is a cruel person,” He Heng’s face darkened as he said, “Now, with me to protect you, she wouldn’t dare to be as bold. It was good fortune that your jiujiu protected you in the past. Otherwise, where would I find such a virtuous wife.”

To call the Tian Family by jiujiu, but to call the Chang De Duke by Duke. Even if he was a member of the Imperial Family and he could use whatever titles he liked, this double standard was a bit too obvious.

“My jiujiu and jiumu always protected qie. Otherwise, how could qie have the hundred and twenty trunks for my dowry when I married into the wang fu. And those properties and stores. All of those were left for me by my mother or added by my aunt on the day of,” Qu Qing Ju laughed lightly, “Qie is both unfortunate but fortunate. At least qie has a protective jiujiu.”

“Jiujiu is kind,” He Heng smiled as he hugged the other, “Now that you are the mistress of the wang fu, if you have free time, you could invite your jiumu over. I also want to meet your two biaodi[1].”

“If wang ye doesn’t distain Jiujiu’s family, qie will definitely let the biaodi pay their respects to you if there is a chance.” Qu Qing Ju raised her head to look at Duan Wang. A smile bloomed on her face as though she was very happy that He Heng was close to her jiujiu.

“We’re brothers of the same family, don’t discuss paying respects,” He Heng was very satisfied with Xiang Qing Hou Fu. The family discipline was tight and proper and their actions were upright. This type of family didn’t dishonour the reputation of the noble families. So to call the Marquis of Xiang Qing by jiujiu, he was very willing to do so.

Qu Qing Ju’s smile didn’t change upon hearing the words: “They wouldn’t dare call themselves brothers of wang ye. Wang ye might not know, those two biaodi of qie’s are very pedantic from studying all day. The only things they talk about all day are the Heaven, Earth, Emperor, Family and Teacher.[2] For them to disregard your position, it would be harder than for them to stop studying.”

“This is a good family,” He Heng caught the closeness that Qu Qing Ju felt towards the Tian family. He patted her back and said, “In future interactions with the Tian Family, don’t doubt yourself. They’re our relatives, there’s no need to be overly cautious.”

Qu Qing Ju naturally agreed. As to what she would do, that was her concern. The conduct of the Tian family was naturally one loyal to the emperor. She didn’t dare be interested in what He Heng thought, but she didn’t want the Tian Family to get swept into this type of matter.

She, Qu Qing Ju, was not a kind person, but she knew an eye for an eye and to repay others for their kindness. She mysteriously possessed this body, so she had to repay the favor.

When she woke on the morning of the second day, Qu Qing Ju sent off He Heng to the Royal Court before taking a beauty nap. She just rose to wash and eat breakfast but heard a curious matter before she finished her meal.

“You are saying that wang ye is taking Yun Qing guniang as a tong fang?” She wiped her hands. Looking at Xiao Gan Zi, she said with a joyless smile, “That being the case, bestow upon Yun Qing a pair of jade bracelets as my congratulations to her.”

“Wang Fei is very kind. Just a tong fang, it isn’t worth your gift,” Xiao Gan Zi replied with a smile, “It was just last night that Yun Qing nagged wang ye in the gardens. Wang ye was too impatient to deal with her so he said to make her a tong fang. It was just a sentence, nothing else has been bestowed down.”

“Nagged wang ye?” Qu Qing Ju smiled thinly. No wonder he was late last night. He had stopped to admire a beautiful woman.

Xiao Gan Zi saw that wang fei had a calm smile and thought to himself that wang fei didn’t seem to care for the matter. His heart went back into his chest and he continued: “Yes, those of inferior birth, they only know those cheap tricks. Nu cai is afraid of dirtying wang fei’s ears if he said them out loud.”

“It must have been hard for Xiao Gan Zi gonggong to be so clear of the matter,” Qu Qing Ju smiled, “The wang fu is getting busier these days. You can help me look at the stewards in charge of purchasing, see if they have been remiss in any areas.”

“Nucai will keep a close look,” Xiao Gan Zi felt a burst of joy. The purchasing of good was a rich duty. With what wang fei had said, those stewards responsible for daily purchases, didn’t they had to carefully worship him on a pedestal?

As expected, the best way was to ingratiate himself with wang fei. He wouldn’t try to compete with Ming He and the others. But to be favoured with wang fei, wasn’t that also a sign of his abilities?

[1] 表弟: male relative from the maternal line (younger)

[2] 天地君亲师: The tradition was that men only knelt for these five. They would kneel for Heaven and Earth while praying, they would kneel to the Emperor (to show fealty and respect) and to their elders of the family and their teachers (filial piety).

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