Xia Xun was drunk.
His eyes were moist and his earlobes were red.
Qi Yan kept kissing him, but he did not respond.
He also no longer closed his eyes tightly like before when Qi Yan kissed him, willingly or not. He kept his eyes open from beginning to end, but he didn’t look at Qi Yan. He stared at some point in the void aimlessly, his gaze unfocused.
Qi Yan bit his lower lip lightly. Xia Xun felt a slight pain, frowned a little and did not struggle.
He was extremely drunk.
Qi Yan loosened the strip of cloth that tied his hands, picked him up and put him on the bed.
He lay down obediently.
Qi Yan lay on his side next to him, hugged him and kissed him carefully starting from the hair on top of his head.
In seven years, Qi Yan hadn’t dreamed of Xia Xun, not once.
So he knew very well that Xia Xun, who was snuggled in his arms at this moment, was not his dream or illusion.
Xia Xun was really alive.
After Xia Xun’s death, the greediest of Qi Yan’s wishes was for Xia Xun just to come to his dream.
For Xia Xun to be alive, he could have never hoped for it.
Now, Xia Xun was lying on his bed, lying in his arms. And he felt that Xia Xun seemed to be farther away from him than ever before.
Pressing his lips against Xia Xun’s, Qi Yan murmured:
“Xia Xun… Xia Xun…do you like He Cong?”
Xia Xun felt itchy and turned his head to avoid him.
Qi Yan stroked his face gently along his hairline.
“Tell me, consider it your good deed……”
Xia Xun felt that it was too hot in Qi Yan’s arms and wanted to get free.
Qi Yan leaned forward to hold him down and hugged him tighter:
“If you tell me, I’ll let you go, okay?”
His tone was almost pleading.
He paid attention to the subtlest changes in Xia Xun’s expression, trying to read the answer in his face.
Xia Xun’s eyelashes trembled, as if he tried to regain his senses.
Qi Yan coaxed him softly:
“Good boy, tell me, do you… like He Cong?”
Xia Xun suddenly woke up and shook his head impatiently.
Qi Yan tried to ask:
“Then you… do you have anyone you like now? He… who is he?”
Xia Xun’s lips moved:
Whose name was he going to say?
Qi Yan suddenly leaned over and kissed his mouth.
He did not dare to listen.
He was afraid that it was not his name he would hear; he did not dare to expect Xia Xun to like him as before.
He thought perhaps the only thing Xia Xun felt for him now was resentment.
Qi Yan hugged him tightly, buried his face against his shoulder and murmured with a sigh:
“It’s fine… it’s fine… it doesn’t matter who it is… since I got you back, I will never let you leave…”
After that, Xia Xun didn’t see Qi Yan for a few days.
He heard Zhi Gui say that Qi Yan had taken some people to He Cong’s mansion to find him that night and had a very unpleasant quarrel with He Cong.
On the next day after the incident, He Cong went to the imperial palace to complain.
Naturally, he would not mention Xia Xun but only that Qi Yan had surrounded the He family’s mansion with his guards and tried to break in, scaring his two children so much that they cried day and night and fell ill from the shock.
Qi Yan’s back was injured and he could have taken a day off. But he expected that He Cong would attack him and went to the court with bandages all over his body.
Facing He Cong’s accusations, he replied unhurriedly:
“This subject encountered an assassin attempt the day before yesterday. As His Majesty knows, I led my men to surround He Mansion last night, but only because I searched for the assassins’ movements nearby and feared that the bandits might be detrimental to Lord He. Please don’t get me wrong, Lord He.”
He Cong was unrelenting and insisted that the emperor demand an explanation on his behalf.
When the two sides were in a stalemate, Qi Yan took out the clothes he wore yesterday.
It was the robe he was wearing when he fell on the broken porcelain pieces. Right now, this brocade robe was covered in slashes and blood stains:
“This is the clothes that this subject was wearing when he was attacked by the assassins. Such bloody clothes should not have been taken to the palace to disturb the Son of Heaven, but I can’t bear the thought of being suspected by His Majesty, so I had to bring them to prove that the assassination attempt was not a fraud.”
When the emperor saw the bloody clothes, he only asked about Qi Yan’s injuries and completely ignored He Cong.
Qi Yan had come prepared, and He Cong could not do anything, so he had to give up and leave the court in anger.
After listening to Zhi Gui, Xia Xun shook his head secretly.
With He Cong’s brains, how would it be possible for him to win against Qi Yan?
He spent the next few days in peace; the wound on his neck got better, but the bump on his head never went away.
There was strychnine in the medicine prescribed by the doctor. It had a miraculous effect on activating blood and reducing stasis, but it was poisonous in itself. If you consume too much of it, you will have convulsions and die.
When Xia Xun was in Lingnan, he heard that a child from someone’s family had swallowed it by mistake and died.
This kind of medicinal material was not available in the Central Plains and only grew next to the border of Lingnan, so it was extremely expensive in the capital.
Xia Xun and his elder brother used to be medicine pickers for a while, gathering various herbs and other materials,including strychnine, in the dense forest that stretched for hundreds of miles.
Picking medicine was a hard job, earning little money. You had to beware of scorpions and poisonous snakes in the mountains.
As soon as Xia Xun heard that there was strychnine in the prescription, he refused to drink it and every time Zhi Gui didn’t pay attention, he secretly emptied the bowl.
In the past, in Xia Mansion, he also didn’t like to drink medicine and often quietly poured it out.
Every time he sneaked out to pour medicine, Yuzhu would always find out, and when he found out, he would bark loudly, wishing to spread the news and let everyone in the world know that Xia Xun was doing something bad.
Now he was sleeping underground forever and would never bark again.
Xia Xun pressed the bump on the top of his head, and the painful swelling sensation reminded him that this was the punishment for not following the doctor’s instructions.
He had nothing to do, so he sat by the pond and fed the fish. A bunch of koi carp were fed so fat by him that looked like a group of floating rice cakes from a distance.
Zhi Gui once asked him:
“Young master, I heard that you like carving wood? The lord has prepared all the tools for you. Why don’t you go and have a look? It’s good to pass the time by doing something.”
Xia Xun asked her rhetorically:
“I asked you to count the red carp before, did you count them? How many are there in total?”
She was startled: “This… slave…”
Xia Xun tossed the fish food to the pond. The koi weaved and undulated around each other, their colourful bodies glistening gold in the sun.
At this moment, Qi Hui appeared, walked up to Xia Xun and bowed in front of him in a salute:
“Young Master, His Majesty has given an order. My lord is leaving for Qingzhou in a few days, and he asked me to come and inform you that you will be invited to go with him.”
Xia Xun felt puzzled: “Why?!”
Qi Hui explained patiently:
“As my lord said, if he leaves the capital, the young master will definitely escape.”
Xia Xun stood up abruptly:
“Where is he? I’m going to find him!”
Qi Hui said that Qi Yan had official duties and would not be able to come back until late at night.
Xia Xun glared at him; Qi Hui avoided his eyes.
Xia Xun sneered:
“So he sent you to deliver a message? He thinks I’ll be too ashamed to give you a hard time?”
Qi Hui lowered his head respectfully, silent, his expression unchanging.
Xia Xun looked at his submissive appearance, so angry that he couldn’t breathe in or out.
“…forget it.” He waved his hand, “You can go.”
Qi Hui quickly left.
After he left, the bump on Xia Xun’s head hurt again. He didn’t feel like looking at the carp anymore, so he turned and went back to the house.
Zhi Gui followed him, looking like she wanted to say something.
When Xia Xun sat down at the table, she walked over and saluted quietly.
Xia Xun immediately said: “Don’t salute me! When you, the servants of Qi Mansion, salute, it’s definitely not a good thing.
Zhi Gui smiled shyly:
“Young Master is right, this slave… does have an unpleasant request.”
Xia Xun turned his head:
“Don’t look at me, go to your lord.”
Zhi Gui stopped talking.
She poured a cup of tea for Xia Xun, stood quietly beside him with her eyes lowered and waited for his next order, neither complaining nor begging.
Xia Xun picked up the teacup and took a sip, glancing at her out of the corner of his eye.
She noticed and smiled slightly.
In the end, Xia Xun gave in. He sighed for a long time and put down the teacup:
“…all right! Come on, what do you want me to do?”
Zhi Gui’s eyes lit up:
“Young Master, if you are going to Qingzhou this time, can you please ask the lord to allow this slave to go with you? Along the way, I can keep serving you!”
When Xia Xun thought of going with Qi Yan, his mood instantly turned bad, so he asked impatiently:
“Qingzhou is not a scenic place and has no local delicacies, what are you going to do there? Watch the city walls?”
Zhi Gui twisted her handkerchief and said that this was not the case.
She told Xia Xun:
“Qingzhou is my hometown. I was sold to Qi Mansion by my family when I was nine years old. Since then, I have never been back in my hometown and haven’t received a letter from home for several years. I don’t know if my parents are still alive. If they are still there, I promise I will only look at them from a distance and will never see them again! If both my parents have passed away, I… can at least cry in front of their graves, which can be regarded as paying back my filial affection.”
Xia Xun thought for a while and asked, “Are you really from Qingzhou?”
Zhi Guigui nodded.
“But I thought…” He paused: “If it’s just that, then I promise you.”
Zhi Gui was going to kneel down and kowtow.
Xia Xun stopped her:
“Don’t thank me, I also have one thing to ask from you.”
Zhi Gui raised her moist eyes and looked at him brightly:
“Young Master, please tell me, this Zhi will go through fire and water for you.”
Xia Xun said: “You don’t need to go through fire and water. As long as you go to your lord and convince him not to take me along, I will kowtow to you.”
Zhi Gui thought for a while and said:
“Why doesn’t… this slave try?”
Xia Xun was taken aback and waved his hand:
“Never mind, I’m kidding, are you serious? If Qi Yan hears this, he will drive you out, what are you going to do then?”
Zhi Gui said: “This slave is not brave, this slave sees you being so reluctant and thinks…”
Xia Xun interrupted her:
“Don’t think, just wait to go home.”
Zhi Guigui thanked him again and again.
She was very happy; Xia Xun was dispirited.
On the day of departure, Xia Xun saw a simple carriage outside Qi Mansion. The carriage had no complicated decorations, its style not different from what ordinary people would use.
The entourage was very small, surprisingly consisting of only one man, Qi Hui.
Qi Yan waited by the carriage.
Zhi Gui followed Xia Xun, obviously nervous.
As soon as Xia Xun saw Qi Yan, he said: “I want to take her with me.”
Qi Yan looked past him and stared at Zhi Gui with scrutiny.
Zhi Gui clenched her sleeves tightly, her hands trembling slightly.
Qi Yan stared at her for a while, then finally said: “Fine, as long as you are happy.”
The taut string in Zhi Gui’s heart suddenly loosened and her legs became soft. She barely managed to stay on her feet. Xia Xun saw it and ordered her:
“Why don’t you help me get in the carriage?”
Zhi Gui hurriedly stepped forward.
While pretending to use her help, he secretly held her arm, supporting her and whispering to her:
“Hold on, don’t let Qi Yan notice.”
Zhi Gui glanced at him gratefully and quickly lowered her head.
Qingzhou was to the north of the capital, less than ten days away by carriage.
For Xia Xun, ten days was long enough.
He sat by the window and looked out of the carriage through the thin window screens.
There was a pouch made of sheep’s belly in Qi Yan’s hand, containing, among other things, the medicine he was to drink.
His injury was not completely healed.
He raised the pouch, opened it, and a sour, pungent smell filled the entire carriage.
Xia Xun smelled it, and the tip of his tongue couldn’t help but feel bitter.
The dark concoction was still quite hot and the bitterness became stronger as the heat evaporated.
Qi Yan frowned, brought the pouch to his lips and poured the concoction into his mouth, holding his breath.
He drank too quickly, and as soon as he swallowed a few mouthfuls, he choked.
He covered his mouth with his hand and coughed violently. The concoction leaked between his fingers and fell to the ground, as if he was vomiting blood.
The black concoction smeared his nose and mouth, and some of it flowed down his chin to his neck, staining the neckline of his clothes.
“Lord Zhongshu can’t even drink medicine without making a mess?” Xia Xun said coldly.
Qi Yan kept coughing.
Xia Xun couldn’t watch it anymore, sat closer and asked with disgust:
“I don’t have a handkerchief on me, where is yours?”
Qi Yan said haltingly:
“Today, I was in a hurry… Ahem—! Many things… did not bring…”
Xia Xun looked at him for a while.
His lips were pale and his cheeks unnaturally red because of his violent cough.
Xia Xun raised his hand, pressed his sleeve to the back of Qi Yan’s hand and wiped away the leaking concoction.
Qi Yan’s cough gradually subsided, and he slowly raised his eyes and looked at Xia Xun.
In the dark carriage, his eyes were hot and bright.
Xia Xun was startled and was about to withdraw his hand when he was suddenly held firmly by Qi Yan.
Qi Yan grabbed his hand, pressed his palm against his lips, gently rubbed the back of his hand, and bit his fingers hard.
Xia Xun quickly pulled away his hand, angry and annoyed:
“What are you doing again?!”
Qi Yan didn’t answer, staring at him with unfathomable eyes
Xia Xun looked away.
“If you finished coughing, drink the medicine, don’t let it stink here. It smells disgusting!”
He sat down as far from Qi Yan as possible.
Qi Yan touched his lips, as if remembering the sensation of Xia Xun’s fingers there.
He wiped the concoction off his chin with the back of his hand, raised the pouch and drank all the liquid in it in one go.