Revelation: That night, Miaofu lay silently with her eyes closed listening carefully to the sound of breathing from the person next to her.
When she was sure he was asleep, she quickly opened her eyes, and slowly and quietly got out of bed.
They were in a small inn. Night had fallen when they entered the town, but their journey to Xiangcheng was still going to take another seven days, so they found a place to rest.
There had only been two rooms left in the inn. Of course it was impossible for the two young masters to share a room with their carriage driver, therefore, she and Qin Yaotang shared the larger room.
In short, she had to share a bed with Qin.
When she heard, she had to fight not to swear. She would rather sleep in the same room as the coachman than share a room with Qin.
But she could not do this because it was alright for “brothers” to sleep together, even if she didn’t want to, she had no choice.
Now she was wondering whether she was driving her own bad luck, and how could she stop it? She clearly wanted to be far away from Qin, but inexplicably kept being thrown into his path.
Moreover, she was unable to see through Qin’s intentions, could only be wary and vigilant. Yet, Qin had done nothing, not paid any attention to her, like things were back to normal; seeing Shaoqing as nothing. He had taken off his overcoat, prepared for bed and went to sleep without even glancing at her.
In light of this, Miaofu thought she should be relieved but she only felt it was weird and was unable to let go of her wariness. She did not believe Qin would let her off easily like this.
After a hasty dinner, she could only use a wet handkerchief to wipe her hands. They arrived late at the inn, so she could not order a bath; could only wash her hands and feet. Although, the weather was not hot currently and she hadn’t been sweating, Miaofu was a modern person, it was uncomfortable not to bathe in a day. (Zuben: I know many modern persons who don’t bathe)
Plus, she wasn’t sleeping alone, so she didn’t dare untie the bindings around her chest. Having it all day but not able to undo it at night so she could at least breathe. Maybe it was psychological, but she felt very sticky and uncomfortable. And there was the danger lying next to her, she wasn’t able to relax and sleep.
She really couldn’t stand it!
Gingerly, she made sure Qin was asleep, put on her overcoat, loosely tied up her hair, gently opened the door, tiptoed out and gently closed the door behind her.
The moment the door closed, she let out the breath she had been holding. She relaxed and walked down the stairs. She saw the innkeeper sleeping at his desk with his head propped up on his hand. He did not wake up as she walked out of the inn.
She remembered she had seen the place when they first entered the city. She walked through the empty streets; the night was cold and clear and every household had their doors tightly shut. Only one place was still lively this time of the night.
She stopped before it. The restaurant stood before her. The place had red lanterns hung high and sheer red tulle fluttering in the wing, and a plaque on top of the entrance read “Lin xian lou”.
It was so late, yet they were still so lively, Miaofu suspected that this was not a simple eating establishment. She entered.
As soon as she saw the scene in the main dining hall, her mouth twitched.
There was no woman in the hall except for the glamorously dressed woman who was walking up to her. Miaofu was stunned. She had guessed that the place was a brothel but she would never have suspected...looking at the beautiful teenage boys being pawed by the patrons of the establishment, she felt a grimace on her face.
Xiǎo guān guǎn - she had heard of it but she had never imagined she’d ever come across it.
‘Yo! Gōngzǐ is a new face; this servant has not seen you here before. Is Gōngzǐ from out of town?’
As soon as she saw the new guest, the proprietress greeted them warmly. At a glance, she could see that her new guest was wearing high quality clothes; this was a rich playboy.
‘Nuija is called Gui Mama. Gōngzǐ looks so imposing; you must not be an ordinary person. Come, tell me your name?’ The woman talked loudly and tried to press her abundant flesh against Miaofu. Her fragrance was too cloying irritating Miaofu.
Miaofu pulled away from her, and held out a gold coin, ‘Gui Mama, give me a room, I want a very private one,’ she said in a domineering tone, ‘And send someone with a tub of hot water for me.’
As soon as she saw the gold, Gui Mama’s eyes widened in delight and quickly pocketed it, ‘No problem at all, would you like someone to serve you? Do you want someone pure or someone with a little more experience? We have everything in Lin Xian Lou.’
‘No, just give me a room; I do not want to be disturbed.’ Miaofu replied as she gave her another gold coin.
Not looking for game in this hall? What is this strange guest? However, he was very generous with the gold, so she would not ask too much. It was better to have money.
‘Hao-hao, no problem. Gōngzǐ will follow me.’
Gui Mama twisted her hips and led Miaofu to a gorgeous room, ‘This is your room. I will send people with hot water right away. If you would like service, please let me know.’
Miaofu nodded and watched Gui Mama leave. She looked round the room. The vulgarity of the decorations made her shake her head. She sat in a chair and poured a cup of water for herself.
After the bath, relax a bit and return.
She touched her belly; she hadn’t eaten well at dinner, just a few bites of rice. Now that she was relaxed, she was suddenly hungry.
Miaofu sat drinking some tea while waiting for her hot water. She did not realise she had been followed. (Zuben: he’s better at feigning sleep than she is)
When he saw Shaoqing walking into Lin Xian Lou, he raised his eyebrows in surprise.
It was one thing to realise that Shaoqing was no longer interested in him, but it was another matter to see him enter a xiǎo guān guǎn. After all, he had never seen Shaoqing playing with a man before. But the moment he left home, the first thing he does is to sneak out in the middle of the night and come to xiǎo guān guǎn.
Yaotang sat on the roof watching Shaoqing drink tea through a hole he’d made in the roof tiles. (Zuben: Shoddy workmanship for a boy brothel). He didn’t care about Shaoqing’s preferences as long as he didn’t turn to him. (Zuben: you sure ‘bout that?)
But, hadn’t he heard the old woman say Shaoqing didn’t want any service? If he wasn’t here for a prostitute then what was he doing in a xiǎo guān guǎn?
Just then there was a knock on the door of the room below.
‘Gōngzǐ, we have brought the hot water.’ the two servants brought the buckets to the tub and filled it with the hot water.
‘In half an hour, send someone up with some food.’ Miaofu instructed as she rewarded them with silver coins.
‘Yes, thank you for the reward.’ the maids bowed, thanking her and closed the door.
Miaofu reached out and touched the water, the temperature made her smile. She untied her robes and took down her hair.
The long hair around the small face made him look more beautiful. This look Yaotang had seen at the inn and he didn’t care. After all, Shaoqing was just a pampered young man who had never suffered. Some weaknesses were normal.
Miaofu took off her outer shirt and her under clothes, and draped them on a chair. Yaotang wasn’t interested in watching a man bathe, and since Shaoqing came to the brothel to get some joy, he did not want to see that.
As he prepared to return the roof tiles to their place, he saw something that stopped him. Shaoqing’s chest was wrapped with cloth. He paused, was Shaoqing’s chest injured? That wasn’t it, he realised as he continued to watch Shaoqing unwrap the cloth over and over. As more skin was exposed, the puzzlement in his eyes deepened.
Until he saw a full pair of breasts.
Qin Yaotang was horrified.
How could this…?
‘Hate it so much. Too tight, my skin is all red.’ Miaofu muttered as she rubbed the skin of her breasts. She took off her trousers and stepped into the tub.
The warm water made her sigh in pleasure; she washed her hair and then leaned back against the tub to relax. She tilted her head back and stilled…
There was a hole in the roof and through it, she saw a face.
Her heart suddenly tightened and her eyes narrowed, she and the voyeur stared at each other…
No one in the main hall reacted to the screaming, they had long been accustomed to such things; this was the sound of cumulated happiness.
The voyeur had climbed into the room through the window. Cold, sullen and indifferent. The fierce black eyes stared at Miaofu. (Zuben: I don’t think anyone can do all those things at once with their eyes)
Miaofu cringed in the tub; she had only had time to pull her shirt to cover herself. No chance to climb out of the tub.
‘You’re still looking?! Not turning around yet?’ What a weirdo! She would not have guessed he was a voyeur who peeked at people bathing; metamorphosis!
Yaotang did not speak but he turned around.
Miaofu climbed out of the tub. Her outer shirt was now wet, so she had to use her overcoat to cover her body and quickly climb into the bed to wrap cover herself with a quilt.
She looked up to find that Yaotang had turned around, ‘When did you turn around? I didn’t say you could. Why would you turn around?’ She hadn’t expected the ice-man to have such a hobby.
A blush of embarrassment stole over her face; realised not only was she exposed as a woman. He had seen everything. The whole loss was extreme.
‘You followed me!’ she said with an accusatory glare. And like a pervert he was spying on her from the roof.
‘Are you Pei Shaoqing?’ he asked, ignoring her contempt, he only wanted to know the root of the matter.
‘Of course I am!’ she replied with a look of disdain, ‘I was raised as a boy. As for the reason…’ she shot him another dirty look, ‘you should guess without me having to explain.’
Yaotang could probably guess why the first Lady did this; nothing more than retaining the status and the wealth of the family, but he really could not believe that Pei Shaoqing was actually a woman.
This made him feel awkward, and he did not know how to respond to this.
Taking in Yaotang’s look of horror, she ground her teeth, anger still coursed through her, ‘You were following me?’
‘Who told you to sneak out in the middle of the night…’
‘That doesn’t mean you have the right to follow me! And then peek at me taking a bath!’ she screamed back at him, interrupting him. ‘To actually peek at a man taking a shower, Qin Yaotang, you are a pervert!’
Yaotang did not understand what being a pervert was, but he subconsciously replied, ‘But you’re not a man…’ (Zuben: Ya didn’t know until you saw. And why doesn’t anybody know what a pervert is in this dynasty?)
Her angry eyes took him aback, and he had a touch of embarrassment.
Pei Shaoqing was a woman. He had seen her body. Not only that, while sleeping at the inn, they had shared the same bed...Yaotang suddenly had a headache.
How were they going to explain this? To pretend that nothing had happened did not conform to his personality; even if he hadn’t known that Shaoqing was a woman, he had taken advantage of her,
‘I will take responsibility…’ he finally spat after a long time.
‘Huh?’ Responsibility? What was he being responsible for? Miaofu blinked as she watched him recover his indifference, like the decision has been made.
‘We will return to Uncle Pei.’
‘Hold on!’ Miaofu called, something was really wrong here, ‘what are you planning on telling him? That I am a woman?’
‘Yes.’ he said with a nod, ‘I saw your naked body and slept with you in the same bed.’
She suddenly had a bad feeling, ‘Hold on a minute,’ she said her voice had a little tremor in it, ‘When you talk about responsibility, do you mean marrying me?’
‘I don’t want to!’ she shouted in horror, and jumped up, ‘I don’t want to marry you! Go die!’
She was not crazy or stupid, why would she want to marry him?
The fierce refusal surprised Yaotang, her dislike was too obvious; even if he didn’t want to marry her, to be so directly rejected was a bit of a blow.
‘And, isn’t Die-er your fiancée? Do you want to abandon her? Oh! So, you want to enjoy the happiness of two wives?’ She said with a despicable glare, ‘you like to behave you’re above us all with your loftiness but in the end you’re just a shameless pervert.’
Yaotang’s head throbbed slightly. Anyone who was insulted this way would not be indifferent. His black eyes flashed at the stared at the savage Shaoqing.
‘Don’t you like me?’ (Zuben: OMG I can’t believe he actually went there)
‘What? Who likes you?’ How could someone be so narcissistic?
Turning a blind eye to the roll of her eyes, he said quietly, ‘I remember that Shaoqing liked me.’
‘That’s Shaoqing and not…’ Miaofu stopped herself in time. Her heart thumped, she had almost spilled the beans. Avoiding the black eyes, she said, ‘That was the Shaoqing before the fall. After the accident, I let it go.’
She turned back to him with her eyes hard and her chin raised,
‘Qin Yaotang, I no longer have feelings for you. I advise you not be so damned arrogant.’
‘I would not have expected falling off a horse could make a person clever, but your speech has also gotten sharper.’ and her insults were very smooth, without any dirty words.
‘Yes,’ she smiled in agreement, ‘It had turned out to be a good thing to have fallen off the horse.’
Yaotang knelt on the bed and leaned towards her.
Seeing him come close, Miaofu leaned back, ‘What are you doing?’ she asked; he wouldn’t be trying to get back at her would he?
He reached out and grabbed her chin, leaning closer to her, he stroked her face. Miaofu wanted to get free, but she could not compete with his strength.
She could only blink, hold down the fear inside and glared at him.
If he wanted to beat her, she would kill him.
Seeing the intent in her eyes, Yaotang stroked her lips, ‘If this face wasn’t exactly the same as Shaoqing, I really would think you would have thought you were another person.’ The change of mannerism was too much, though he had doubts, he could not find a flaw.
‘Why? Because, Shaoqing’s love for you is gone, your ego is bruised?’ She knew it was best not to provoke him at this moment, but Miaofu could not control her mouth.
In the face of her taunt, Yaotang was not angry. He just wanted to know. He raised an eyebrow, ‘Why do you call yourself Pei Shaoqing?’
‘Because I was born after the resurrection of Pei Shaoqing, the former Pei Shaoqing is my past.’ she snarled. It was a reasonable explanation but it was impossible to refute. (Zuben: huh…)
‘Is that so?’ Qin Yaotang said with a smile.
What was he laughing at? Miaofu wanted to shout.
He let go of her chin, and wrapped her wet hair around his fingers, and sniffed it while staring at her. (Zuben: Weirdo)
‘You’ve become very interesting now.’ Very interesting! ‘I don’t believe that someone could suddenly change their character, so…’ (Zuben: Remember you didn’t see her for four months…?)
‘So don’t let me discover your secrets, don’t let me find out you are here to harm the Pei family, or else…’ he paused and licked his lips; his face darkly handsome and compelling. (Zuben: Writer-sifu, there are times when lip licking is inappropriate. This is one of them)
Miaofu skin broke out in goose-bumps. He didn’t have to say anything, she understood what he meant. Inviting the wrath of the emperor was not going to be a good idea.
(Zuben: The reply here should be “ew, get off me before I slap you with a shoe”)
‘I am a member of the family, why would I want to harm them?’ though her face was pale, her gaze was still hard and direct, she was not cowed.
‘That’s for the best.’ he replied, he unravelled his fingers from her hair and stroked her face.
There was a knock on the door.
‘Gōngzǐ, your meal…’
‘When you finish eating, return to the inn.’ he whispered and left silently through the window.
After he was gone, Miaofu's body immediately began jelly. From her fingers through to her body, she began to tremble and could not stop.
That surnamed Qing was as terrible as she had suspected. She should not provoke such a person, but she knew that she could not escape.
She was staring at him.
Miaofu was sitting in a corner at the other side of the carriage with her legs tucked under her, looking out at the scenery through the window.
The carriage was silent except sound of the carriage wheels on the official road.
Qin Yaotang was reading the accounts book, occasionally sipping on is tea, behaving calmly as though nothing had happened.
Miaofu glanced at frowned, her brow furrowed and her heart was full of depression. She felt like she was being controlled in the palm of his hand, could not escape, could not hide, could only feel soundly beaten.
This made her feel worse, but she could not find an outlet to vent. Her heart was full of stagnating anger.
The look of resentment was too obvious; Yaotang could not help but laugh. He glanced up to catch her eyes widen and she quickly turned back to the window, not knowing her movement exposed her.
He smiled and spoke, ‘There are snacks in the food box.’
She ignored him pretending she didn’t hear him.
Yaotang did not care about her attitude; he opened the food box letting the scent of the delicate sweet snacks fill the carriage.
‘You barely had any breakfast, eat it when you’re hungry. You can’t get away from a hungry stomach.’ he said and returned to the book.
Miaofu remained silent, but the sweet scent lured her in. Saliva filled her mouth. She had not eaten breakfast, so she was really hungry. Looking at Qin again, he was reading his book; thinking about it, why should she be hungry because of him, was that not a sin? (Zuben: Should have thought about that at breakfast then)
She grabbed a piece of cake and had a bite. The rich almond scent filled her mouth; the cake was soft and fragrant.
‘I remember you don’t dare eat almonds.’ he suddenly said, his black eyes staring at her.
Miaofu glanced at him; she put the remaining cake in her mouth and chewed it. Once she was done eating, she raised an eyebrow and asked,
‘When did Qin Dàgē, who never even looked at me, know what I liked or didn’t dare eat?’
‘Touché,’ he said, although he didn’t feel contrite. Instead he reached out and wiped the crumbs from her mouth and licked it.
‘It tastes good.’ he remarked and returned to his reading.
Miaofu was shocked by his action, especially when he licked the cake off his fingertips, her heart trembled inexplicably.
She tried to keep her expression calm, but her mind could not be indifferent. Her brain was ringing an alarm at his intimate behaviour. It was difficult to retain a calm mind.
Isn’t this something sweethearts do? And was Qin Yaotang the kind of person who would be this gentle?
But he had!
She could still feel the heat of his fingers on her lips, the heat spread making her ears pink.
Realising her panic, Miaofu quickly tried to converge her impetuous mind.
This must be a trick, he wanted her confused. It must be.
Miaofu, don’t read anything into it.
Clenching her fists, she warned herself not to get flustered whatever he did. She did not realise a pair of black eyes were watching her.
A deep light flashed, and those good looking lips gave a secret smile.
Apologies for any seemingly glaring typos. I know they are there...lurking.
♢ Chapter 4