Xia Xun woke up thirsty.
His throat was dry and painful, his tongue and his palate seemed to be stuck together, and when he tried to swallow, he felt that his throat was on fire.
He sat up with his eyes closed, looking for water to drink, touched the side of the bed casually, and was firmly caught by a pair of soft, fluid hands.
He woke up immediately.
When he looked up, he saw Zhi Gui’s face. Her eyes were very light in colour, glowing like ambers.
Before he could speak, Zhi Gui put a cup of warm tea into his hand.
After Xia Xun drank three or two sips, she added more. They repeated it several times, and finally Xia Xun drank a pot of tea in one go.
He drank in a hurry and there was water trickling on his chin. He wiped it off casually with his sleeve and felt a few strands of hair sticking to his face.
The hairpin He Cong had given him disappeared at some point and his hair was loose, unusual for him.
He asked Zhi Gui: “Where’s my hairpin?”
Zhi Gui glanced at the brazier hesitatingly. Xia Xun followed her gaze.
In the charcoal fire, the shape of a charred wooden hairpin was vaguely visible, together with the remains of a handkerchief next to it.
Zhi Gui told Xia Xun that it was Qi Yan who burned them. She said that after he fainted, Qi Yan carried him back.
The wounds on Qi Yan’s back kept bleeding and as he walked with Xia Xun in his arms, he left a trail of bloody footprints.
While Xia Xun was unconscious, the servants in the mansion cleaned up the mess for a long time.
“Qi Hui invited all the doctors from the nearby clinics. At that time, you were sleeping and couldn’t wake up. Some doctors treated you while others bandaged the lord. The room was full of blood. When the lord took off his clothes, he was bleeding—”
Seeing that Xia Xun remained unconcerned, Zhi Gui did not continue.
Xia Xun sat on the bed for a while before realizing that the sun in the sky was not rising but setting.
He lay down for a whole day.
His head was still hurting and the wound on his neck also felt very uncomfortable.
He watched the sunset for a while and asked Zhi Gui: “Do you have any food?”
The dinner was quickly served; Xia Xun tore off a piece of cloth from the bed curtain, tied his hair up and sat down at the table.
When he saw the dishes on the table, his appetite disappeared.
“Within only one night, did your Qi Mansion fall? Can’t you even afford to eat meat?”
There was porridge and side dishes on the table, and no trace of meat. There was also a bowl of dark liquid next to it. At first glance, it was some medicine.
The smell from the liquid quickly hit him in the face.
Zhi Gui comforted him:
“It’s all made for you in accordance with the doctor’s instructions. The doctor said that your diet should be light and not greasy. When your injuries are healed, you can eat whatever you want.”
Xia Xun frowned, picked up the crystal clear rice porridge, clamped his nose and poured it down.
Colourless and odourless white porridge was more difficult to drink than bitter medicine.
Seeing that he was suffering from this food, Zhi Gui kept looking for something to talk to him:
“This slave was really worried last night. Knowing that you were gone, and hearing that they said that Yuzhu was dead, this slave thought… Who wouldn’t think so for a while…? I was terrified!”
Xia Xun put down the bowl. “Don’t you blame me for drugging you? Don’t you blame me for not telling you anything, causing you to be punished by Qi Yan?”
Zhi Gui paused:
“Actually… My lord is not like you think. He is very serious, but he is not tyrannical at all. He never looks for us servants to vent his anger, and even if we do something wrong, he would not scold us.”
Xia Xun picked up some vegetables and put them in his mouth. Zhi Gui stared at his face and said tentatively:
“Just like… he treated your dog Yuzhu the same.”
Xia Xun’s hand shook but he didn’t stop.
Zhi Gui calmed down and continued: “Yuzhu didn’t like the lord and the lord didn’t want to see it. Over the years, he kept it in a separate courtyard and told us not to let it out. But having said that, the lord asked Qi Hui to take care of it personally, not allowing him to leave it to others and feeding it excellent food. Everyone says that fulin dogs have only a life span of five years, and Yuzhu has lived for more than seven years, all because of proper care.”
She stopped and asked: “What do you say, did the lord like Yuzhu or not?”
Xia Xun didn’t know.
He used to think that Qi Yan liked him, but later found that he was ridiculously wrong.
Now, he couldn’t guess Qi Yan’s thoughts.
He put down his chopsticks. “Where is Yuzhu’s body?”
Zhi Gui replied: “The lord, according to your wishes, buried your hairpin in the same place with it.”
Xia Xun nodded, picked up the medicine bowl, took a deep breath, and drank it all.
When Qi Yan walked in, his mouth was still full of the pungent bitter taste.
Zhi Gui retreated wisely.
Qi Yan carried a pot of wine and walked up to Xia Xun.
His face was pale, his lips bloodless, and his eyes that were originally sharp as blades looked dim tonight.
Thick bandages covered his upper body, his movements not as free as before.
He sat at the table next to Xia Xun and placed the jug on the table. The pain of the wounds made his movements strenuous and slow.
Xia Xun held the medicine bowl and ignored him.
Qi Yan didn’t look at him or speak, so the two sat in silence.
The sky was completely dark; then the moonlight shone and the rustle of the wind blowing through the treetops vaguely reached them.
Qi Yan suddenly raised his hand and brushed his fingers over Xia Xun’s neck lightly.
“Your injury… does it still hurt?”
The wound on Xia Xun’s neck was wrapped with bandage and Qi Yan’s touch did not feel painful or itchy.
But he still shrank sideways, as if Qi Yan had spikes on his fingers.
His movement was so abrupt that it pulled the wound. The pain made his breath hitch, his eyes filling with tears.
He took a breath of cool air, clenched his fists hard and waited for the pain to pass.
Qi Yan looked at Xia Xun steadily.
Watching him avoid him as if he was a beast, watching him resist pain in silence.
After a while, he raised his hand and wiped away the tears in the corners of Xia Xun’s eyes.
Xia Xun didn’t have the strength to dodge anymore.
Qi Yan put down his hand. “Today hasn’t passed yet, it’s still your birthday. Do you have anything you want?”
Xia Xun did not hesitate. “I want to go back to Lingnan, can you let me go?”
Qi Yan didn’t answer and pushed the jug in front of Xia Xun.
“I can’t give you what you want… This pot of wine, just take it as a gift.”
Xia Xun shook his head. “I don’t drink wine and I don’t want this gift.”
Qi Yan didn’t seem to hear him. He ignored Xia Xun and said to himself:
“I brewed this pot of wine the year you died. At that time, I was sick. When I was finally able to stand up, it was the tenth day after your death, and your first seven days had already passed. The man who brought the news said that you had been buried.”
As he slid into the painful memories, a gloomy expression appeared on his face.
“I didn’t know how to pay respects to you. Later, I made this pot of wine and buried it under the tree that you often stepped on when you came over the wall. I always remembered how you appeared from the blooming branches, saw me but didn’t rush down, hugged the branch and smiled at me.
“I was always worried that you would fall, but you were very nimble and didn’t miss your step even once. Even when you held Yuzhu, you could climb up and down easily.”
He held the handle of the jug with such force that his fingers turned white.
“I buried the pot of wine under the tree and did not allow anyone to approach it. I told Qi Hui that when I die, he should spill this jar of wine in front of my grave. In this way, when I go underground, I might be able to see you…”
He took two wine cups and poured clear liquid from the jug.
“Now, since you are back, it is useless to keep this wine. A cup of murky wine, I know you won’t find it enjoyable, just think of it as…… drink with me.”
Qi Yan poured and drank by himself, drinking three cups in a row.
Xia Xun remained motionless.
Since he came in, Xia Xun kept feeling a faint salty smell. He knew very well that it was the smell of blood. It might come from his own wound, or it might come from Qi Yan.
None of them should have risked their wounds opening, drinking alcohol at this time.
Xia Xun suddenly picked up the cup and drank it in one breath.
“I’m done, you can go.”
Xia Xun’s alcohol tolerance was actually very poor.
In Douzhou, local people would drink medicinal wine made from various insects and snakes in order to get rid of poisonous humidity. Grain was scarce and underdeveloped there, and very few people made wine according to traditional techniques.
In the first few years, the brothers had a very difficult time. They worked hard every day to make a living, worked hard from the beginning of the year to the end of the year, but saw no profit and made no money.
Xia Wen felt depressed and often went to find some wine to relieve his worries. In the absence of wine made from grain, he learned from the local Bai Yue people to drink wine made from insects.
Xia Xun also tried it a few times.
When he drank, even if just a sip, his face would flush and his head would feel dizzy.
He didn’t like that feeling and stopped drinking.
Later, the lives of the brothers gradually improved. Xia Wen married a wife and had children, so he quit drinking.
Qi Yan, who said that Xia Xun would not find the wine he made enjoyable, thought too highly of him.
Xia Xun couldn’t tell whether the wine was good or bad at all. No matter how sweet and golden in colour the wine was, he just felt it was burning his throat.
He had just drunk a full cup and it didn’t take long for him to blush all the way from his forehead to his neck.
He didn’t want Qi Yan to see it, so he put the cup on the table, stood up and walked to the back of the room.
When Qi Yan grasped his hand, he didn’t look back.
“I’ve finished drinking the wine, what else do you want?”
Qi Yan’s hand was very cold, the chill spreading upwards from the wrist he was holding, gradually reaching Xia Xun’s heart.
Qi Yan pulled him back, and Xia Xun sat down on his lap.
Without waiting for Xia Xun to react, Qi Yan grabbed the back of his head and kissed him on the lips.
He still had wine in his mouth.
During the scorching kiss, Xia Xun swallowed the wine against his will.
The wine was very spicy, much more spicy than the medicinal wine with poisonous insects, and his throat all down to his belly felt boiling hot.
Xia Xun pushed Qi Yan away abruptly, trying to stand up. Qi Yan refused to give up, drank another cup of wine, and kissed him again with a wine-filled mouth.
Xia Xun was forced to drink another cup.
Qi Yan kissed him, clasping his hands behind his back.
Xia Xun struggled.
Qi Yan tore off his hairband and tied his hands tightly together.
Xia Xun’s hair fell down.
His face was very red and hot, just like when Qi Yan kissed him for the first time.
His head felt groggy and he knew that he would be very drunk soon.