- Moonblossom -
Chapter 3 – Part 2 of 2
“Miss?”“No.” She is used to her own clothing. It feels more natural and safer.
“Hmm?” She did not turn back. “The people of Cloud Manor has prepared a change of clothing. Do you wish to change?”
“Do you wish me to comb your hair?”
“That will be good.” And she sat on a big rock. She stroked the jade flute that she always had with her. Her eyes landed on a small creek and she started to contemplate at the reflection of the crescent moon on the waters.
He Zai deftly removed her hair ring and gently combed her long hair.
“What is Miss thinking of?”
She said rather listlessly: “I am thinking if someone would fall for a beauty’s temptation and done the deed in a moment of folly.”
“Is Miss referring to Protector Che and Gong Sun Yun?”Who else could there be? Once night has fallen, she has hastily grabbed some food and led He Zai away from base camp. She would not peep, would not eavesdrop. Even if the images were guaranteed to be stimulating, she would remain calm as water and would not let her imagination run wild.
Although she was still curious what expression would cross the face of Gentleman Xian Yun? Would his iceberg façade finally slip? If it did, what could one find underneath?
She mumbled more to herself. “I did not notice in the past but have she ever missed when she goes hunting?”
“Miss was young and would not have noticed. What Protector Che wants, she would definitely find a way to get it.” He has completed tying her hair. “Would Miss like to touch up your make-up?”
She thought about it and nodded. “What will be good.” Seemed like Gong Sun Yun would not be able to escape tonight.
He Zai turned to face her and applied her make-up with expert strokes under the dim light. She looked at him and asked suddenly: “He Zai, you are from the Central Plains too so you should understand Gong Sun Yun better in some aspects. People from the Central Plains are usually more restrained so most would not be able to withstand the onslaught of a hot-blooded young woman, is that right?”
“For someone who came to a high post when young, the person must have a strong will. Oherwise there is no way he could have held on to the position for long.” He could only reply as such.
She did not quite buy his words. “It would depend on what is at stake. No one is perfect, and Gong Sun Yun is bound to have some weakness. Furthermore, the beauty trap is one trap which most heroes would find difficult to resist… "
“He Zai, there is still time if you turn back now. Even if you have the Sky Slave mark, He Rong Hua would not abandon you.”
He Zai was silent. After a while he answered: “I will follow Miss.”
She did not ask for his reason. In any case, she believed he would regret it in the end. Whatever moving or touching words that she is hearing now cannot be trusted.
“Do you think Sect Leader would let me off if I return with a head of white hair?”
“Unless Miss is dead, Sect Leader would never let you off.”
“There is no need for you to sound so sure.” She is already disheartened as it is; he do not need to punch her to the ground.
“Miss would have guessed that Sect Leader would bring us back if you let me return for my father’s funeral, but you still permitted my trip. Why?”
Her face remained expressionless as she stroked her precious jade flute. She closed her eyes to enjoy the night breeze. “Because… I respect the elderly.”
He Zai gazed at her face. “That is not how this phrase is used.”
She laughed. “That is the only way I know how to talk. If He Zai wants to follow me, you must learn to be accustomed to the way I speak.”
He Zai nodded. “Miss is correct. Since I have decided to be with Miss, it is only right I get used to the way you speak.”
Her face was still expressionless but the hand that was touching the flute trembled.
“Go take a look at Che Yan Yan and see if she has succeeded. If both of them are still lovey-dovey, go figure where Gong Sun Zhi and the rest of the Sky Slaves are, and we will stick with them tonight to prevent any mishaps.”
He Zai left silently.
The breezy summer night contained a hint of humidity. Looks like there will be a thunderstorm tomorrow. She started to pace to and fro but when she realized that her fingers were still trembling, she gave a wan laugh. So He Rong Hua was not diseased-stricken, he was merely overwhelmed by his brother’s return.
There was little semblance between today’s He Zai and his younger self. The fact that He Rong Hua could recognize him instantly, especially in his heavy make-up, indicated that he has been planning this reunion for quite some time. She looked at her own shaking fingers and realized that she has quite a number of weaknesses to overcome since she was behaving like He Zai’s brother when excited.
Although He Zai did not say so explicitly, she knew that the word “follow” encompasses one lifetime.
She also knew this was easier said than done. Although He Rong Hua has hoped that his brother could stay in Tian He Manor, she knew He Zai has chosen to follow her because it was not just his looks that has changed. Whoever he is inside has also changed. He is no longer suited to live in the Central Plains so his only choice was to be with her.
And she is very happy to have him.
The warm breeze blew her thoughts back to the present. They will be out of the Central Plains in another two days. Sect Leader will definitely do something. She will stake her life that Che Yan Yan’s appearance cannot be simply to bring her back. What will happen? He will pass his master’s seat to his successor within the year, what will he do to force her hand?
She was pondering on this when she felt a chill at her back. There was little light in the woods, but she could see the slender outline of a man about ten paces away. If not for the gentle movement of his clothing in the wind, she could almost believe there was no one.
The voice was clear as a stream flowing down the mountains.
“Gentleman Xian Yun. It is late….” So one of the lovebirds have flown. She wondered how he managed to escape.
“Precisely because it is late, Miss should return to the camp and rest.” His voice contained his customary aloofness but when he stepped out from the shadows into the moonlight, she saw that he was smiling.
She eyes rounded in surprise while he brushed past her to sit on a rock. “If you are wondering how I managed to find you, it is because of the bell you are wearing.” When she did not reply, he continued smiling: “Or are you mesmerized by my smile?”
“…surely you jest, Gentleman Xian Yun.” She has to shake herself out of her reverie with god-almighty effort but her voice still sounded a trifle hoarse. She took a step a forward and studied him. What did she just see? When he smiled…. she dazed off again.
“… slim throat and curving neck, the pale flesh lies open to view …red lips that shed their light abroad, pearl-like teeth gleaming within…. Bright eyes skilled at glances, ….” [Sidenote: this is a verse from the poetic essay on Luo Shen, the Water Fairy. The next verse is “a dimple to round off the base of the cheek”]
“Please ignore me. Recently I seem to have an affinity with Luo Shen… Do you have dimples, Gentleman Xian Yun?”
He gave a start and appeared to be smiling again. “Miss Yun must be paying close attention to have found out.”
She recovered from her daze and coughed. So Gentleman Xian Yun has dimples. Would it benefit her in any way if she spread the news?
He turned serious. “There are some things that is inconvenient for me to say during the day. Now that there are only two of us, I shall be frank. If you wish to leave Bai Ming Sect, Cloud Manor could offer you assistance.”
They stared at each other for a long time before she broke the silence. “Cloud Manor is a neutral entity and I have heard pugilists recounting the adventures of its Gentlemen over their cup of afternoon tea. However, I do not recall hearing any stories that the Manor or its disciples are life-saving bodhisattvas.
“That is because I am not on close terms with them.”
“If you are making an exception for me because I saved you before, your sums do not seem to add up. To be frank, you are not the only prominent pugilist I rescued in the last few years…”
His gaze sharpened and he sounded strange. “Did all of them came from Tian Bi cliff?”
“Of course not. You are the only one who came from Tian Bi Cliff. What I am trying to say that is that my help is simple and is no different from lifting a hand. But what you are offering is as good as pitting yourself against Bai Ming Sect. If I accepted your offer, would I not end up owing you big time?”
“Is it important who owes who? Why don’t you give it some thought? If you say the word, I would be very glad to help.”
No, it is not really important who owes who. Besides, defaulting on payment is not unusual. The question is - what is Gong Sun Yun really after?
Ding dang, ding dang… someone was approaching. He got up from the rock and folded his sleeves. “Different sects from Central Plains have been sending people to follow us ever since we left Tian He Manor. I have already told them to back off, as well as gotten other Gentleman to persuade them to drop the trail. Although Miss is innocent, your identity makes you an easy target.” He looked at a point behind her shoulder. “I will do my utmost to protect Miss and not let anyone have a chance to strike.”
“Thank you Gentleman. With your promise, I feel more at ease now.”
“Then let us return to camp.”
She smiled and followed his footsteps. If Che Yan Yan was unsuccessful tonight, she should not blame it on her. If anything, she could only blame deity-from-nine-heavens for his will power. Or maybe he was simply not the kind who would fall for beauty traps?
He Zai has followed behind her and she asked him in low tones. “Are there people trailing us?”
“Yes. They are some young men who started trailing us since Tian He Manor.”
She sighed and replied in the same low tone. “Our Sky Slaves have always been a sore point with pugilists from Central Plains. I think they will wait until Gong Sun Yun leaves before they strike. But if Gong Sun Yun is persuading them to leave, I think they would respect his request. My only worry now is Sect Leader…” It was such a headache. It was not difficult to second-guess a normal person. But to predict the actions of a mad man was sheer torture. How could she guess what he thinks when she is not a whacko? The only thing she could be sure is that something will definitely happen because Sect Leader would never have passed up such an opportunity!
When they returned, she saw Gong Sun Yun resting together with Gong Sun Zhi, while Che Yan Yan was resting in another corner with her Sky Slaves. She was sitting very straight and her eyes were blazing with anger while her face was flushed.
“What happened to her?”
He Zai: “Someone has immobilized her.”
She couldn’t help looking at Gong Sun Yun. Is this man straight? Che Yan Yan is like a fresh bloom and instead of plucking it, he actually planted her back to the soil? He felt her gaze on him and returned her look, his eyes calm as water.
Her heart skipped a beat and she looked away. She sat down and He Zai put a blanket over her knees. “You can sleep behind me.”
He Zai proceeded to sit crossed legged behind her, his back to her back. From afar, they looked like they were garnering warmth from each other, but it was also a position for watching each other’s back. She was very accustomed to this arrangement but someone was apparently not used to their habit.
Gong Sun Yun looked at her, his normally expressionless eyes rippling like water. She closed her eyes to shut him out. Recently, verses from the Luo Shen poem has wandered unbidden into her mind when she least expects them to, and she has no intention to continue her recollection of the poetic essay on the Water Fairy.
She felt very happy tonight. For one, she received a promise from He Zai - an easier-said-then-done promise is still a promise. At the same time, another man has smiled at her.
A parent to everyone… the people of Cloud Manor must have seen him like this frequently. If his martial arts were as good as reported, she was likely his only savior which was why he would treat her like family and care for her like one.
His smile was not mesmerizing because it lit up his features, but because of its warmth. She took it as much as the woods would welcome a spring breeze and the feeling was like having received a precious gift. No wonder he was always expressionless; he probably reserved his expressions only for his family. It was a pity she did not have a family, so she will not dwell on it or harbor any regrets.
She closed her eyes. She felt very safe leaning on He Zai, and she quickly fell asleep thinking of smiles like warm spring breezes. She knew such smiles are like drugs and cannot be indulged. Even in sleep, she resisted their pull while her sub-consciousness continued to ponder on her future path with He Zai.