Drawing out a sword from the guard beside him, Murong Heng moved to protect Shen Ci, who was behind. That imperial bodyguard’s objective was very obvious as he charged at him, so Murong Heng had Shen Ci get into the carriage before darting over to face him.
With a bang, the two swords clashed with each other, making a clear sound. Murong Heng stared directly into the eyes of the guard opposing him and sneered, “This Prince has been waiting ages for you, and you’ve finally made a move. Today is the day you die.”
When he heard the words, the guard across from him was dumbfounded. As Murong Heng’s subordinates continued to fight with him, his expression became confused. Unexpectedly, Murong Heng had already figured out his scheme and was anticipating his move. Was it possible that he’d carelessly revealed himself?
Noticing the guard’s inner doubts, Murong Heng stabbed his sword at the man’s midsection. Despite being able to dodge in time, it still managed to sufficiently wound him, and blood instantly spurted out of the cut.
While both of them were exchanging blows there, Shen Ci stayed hidden in the carriage, paying heed to the noises outside and then sensing his own weakness. Although he knew that person was in a dangerous situation, he couldn’t help in any way.
As the figures of Murong Heng and the bodyguard were locked in battle, he stared fixedly into his opponent’s eyes and said in a cold tone, “Do you know when This Prince found out about you?”
The guard didn’t answer, but the scepticism in his gaze belied his longing to know.
“Would you believe it? This Prince is a ghost.” Murong Heng said with a mirthless smile. He observed the guard’s expression alter drastically, then cast him a look of disbelief. Murong Heng continued: “It is clearly because This Prince is a ghost that I already realised early on your intention to kill me. Therefore, I’ve made all the preparations and have been lying in wait for you to take the bait.”
“You lie! Impossible!” The guard’s face was filled with doubt as he eyed Murong Heng who was facing him, and refused to trust his lies. However, what he said after was exactly like his action plan as well as the crown prince’s schemes. His limbs had gone rigid, and he wore a panicked expression.
Taking advantage of his daze, one of Murong Heng’s subordinates forcefully kicked him behind the knees before shoving him to the ground. He then pressed his sword against his neck, but due to too much pressure, it left a thin mark and blood slowly trickled out.
“This Prince has said earlier that if you’re loyal to me, This Prince shall ensure your survival needs are taken care of for the rest of your life.” Murong Heng crouched down to face the guard, the mirthless look in his eyes growing chillier, “Of course, if you go against This Prince, I’ll have you hacked to pieces and suffer a fate worse than death!”
Once he was done speaking, Murong Heng turned back to the carriage and left the traitorous guard for the other bodyguards to dispense with. When he climbed into the carriage and discovered Shen Ci, who’d hidden himself away inside, he instinctively reached out to cover his ears with his hands to seal him off from the blood-curdling screams outside before the guard died.
Since Shen Ci had lost his sight in both eyes, his hearing was of course better than that of the average person’s. As such, how could he miss the sounds outside? However, his focus wasn’t on the outside right now; rather, it was on the big palms on either side of his cheeks. Murong Heng’s palms were closely moulded onto his face, covering his ears. The warmth from the centres of his palms pressed against his skin, and Shen Ci felt his face bloom red unconsciously.
After the outside sounds ceased, Murong Heng withdrew his hands and ordered the guards to move on ahead as he sat next to Shen Ci. After some time, he said softly, “That was a guard who betrayed This Prince. He wanted to kill me.”
Having heard what he’d said, Shen Ci nodded lightly to acknowledge that he understood. He then quickly turned his face away to avoid being embarrassed again.
Following another hour’s drive, the two arrived in Qingzhou at last. The Hundred Flowers Exhibition had started not long ago. Murong Heng brought Shen Ci to weave back and forth through the crowds. Knowing that Shen Ci couldn’t see, he meticulously described all sorts of flowers to him. How attentive he was!
After meandering a whole circuit, Shen Ci was somewhat tired from walking, so Murong Heng aptly guided him to arrive at a famous restaurant and order a lot of delicious dishes.
The waiter stood before them. “Guests, would you like sample some? Our restaurant is exceedingly famous for our peach blossom wine. We’ve only got this restaurant and no other outlets.” He observed that the two men’s features were similar and that the man dressed in green was blind. However, the comportment of this person was something that commoners like himself wouldn’t be able to learn. He’d been in the restaurant business for many years, and he had naturally mastered the ability to read people. He was certain that the two people in front of him definitely had connections, especially the imposing man. He was either wealthy or a nobleman.
“Is that so? Then we need two jars.” Murong Heng’s interest was piqued when he heard the words, so he bade the waiter serve them wine. After eating some hot food, he smacked* the wine jars open. He revelled in the pure aroma of wine that immediately filled his nose.
(*TN : Ancient Chinese wine jars were sealed using glue and paper. One of the faster ways to open the wine jar was to poke a hole through the paper.)
Murong Heng held the wine bowl to take a sip and couldn’t help praising, “Good wine!” Despite being weak-tasting upon entering the palate, the after-effect was ten out of ten.
Shen Ci also picked up the wine bowl after hearing his praise. He’d never drank alcohol before and thus wasn’t sure about his capacity for liquor. After downing a bowl of peach blossom wine, he felt that the liquor was very delicious and couldn’t resist craving for another bowl.
“Gentleman Shen, I toast to you.” Murong Heng picked up his wine bowl and clinked it with Shen Ci who was opposite, then raised his head and gulped down the wine. He couldn’t recall how long it had been since he’d drunk wine without abandon and chatted without restraint like this. If his revenge on his enemies could be achieved, he would be even happier.
Shen Ci didn’t refuse when he heard Murong Heng’s voice. He felt that his mind was still very clear, so he continued to raise the wine bowl to his lips and imbibe. After finishing another bowl, he discovered that he was a little tipsy, and he couldn’t stabilise himself enough to walk.
Noticing that Shen Ci appeared to be drunk, Murong Heng immediately asked the waiter for two rooms in order for them to rest the night before leaving. He assisted Shen Ci in walking into the room. Most of his body was already leaning against Murong Heng’s. When he detected the strong smell of alcohol from Shen Ci’s body, he chided himself for serving him wine without properly enquiring about his tolerance for drink.
Upon entering the room, Murong Heng placed Shen Ci on the bed, but the moment his body touched the bedding, he pitched sideways and vomited out all the wine he had just drunk. Murong Heng hastily ordered the bodyguard outside the room to summon a doctor over.
After the doctor arrived, he prescribed two alcohol-dispelling medicines and left. Seeing that Shen Ci was feeling wretched and that his brow was suffused with sweat, Murong Heng fished out his brocade handkerchief from within his clothes to place it on his forehead.
“Ng…” Shen Ci’s eyes were closed, and he felt like the entire world was spinning. He was in such discomfort that he couldn’t utter a word. Then he felt someone bracing his body and making him drink something, but he still felt poorly.
Once Shen Ci had drank the hangover medicine, Murong Heng saw that he slowly quieted down. Presuming he’d gone to sleep, Murong Heng helped him tuck in the corners of the quilt, and prepare to get up, and head into another room. Surprisingly, when he stood up, he sensed that something was holding onto his wrist. Murong Heng angled his head back, and noticed Shen Ci on the bed clutching his hand with remarkable strength and not allowing him to leave. Murong Heng wanted to separate their hands but couldn’t, so he had to continue sitting by the bed, and letting Shen Ci hold firmly onto him.
As Shen Ci lay on the bed, the discomfort in his body still did not abate. He tossed his head from side to side, often biting his lower lip to endure the agonising sensations emanating from his body. All of a sudden, the scene from the time when the Shen residence caught fire resurfaced in his mind. The raging blaze had engulfed his parents’ ashes, and he was hauled away by Feng Nan. He’d stretched out his hand intending to go in, but he could only watch helplessly as fierce flames devoured his home.
Murong Heng’s mind was filled with complicated thoughts as he sat by the bed. He was mulling over what to do next after returning. Just then, he observed that the corners of Shen Ci’s eyes seemed to be wet. Teardrops started to trickle out, and soon, they were streaming down his face. Murong Heng stared wide-eyed, unsure what he should do.
Could it be that he was dreaming of something bad?
Murong Heng looked at Shen Ci on the bed, whose tears were flowing more and more intensely. Strangely, Murong Heng reached out his hand and wiped away the tears on his face with his fingertips. He then held his hand tightly; silently comforting him.
A short while later, Shen Ci reasonably calmed down and gradually loosened his grip on Murong Heng. Murong Heng stood up, turned back to look at him before going next door.
Shen Ci awoke from his slumber the following day. Both of them were prepared to depart Qingzhou and return to the capital. It seemed as if Shen Ci couldn’t remember what happened yesterday, so Murong Heng also remained close-lipped and didn’t say a word.
At this moment, Emperor Chongde was strolling about in the imperial gardens, followed by Wen Lin, and had arrived at a pavilion. His thoughts were full of the rumours of the common folk, and there wasn’t a moment of inner peace.
Just then, Emperor Chongde turned to look at Wen Lin and asked in a low voice, “Wen Lin, tell me. Do you think the crown prince truly wishes to usurp the throne?”
Wen Lin was caught off guard and knelt on the ground, saying, “Your Majesty, this subordinate doesn’t dare speak carelessly.” This concerned the high-stakes matter of his life, so he didn’t have the nerve to make irresponsible remarks. If he accidentally said the wrong thing, he would lose his head.
When he noticed his demeanour, Emperor Chongde didn’t press him. He sat on the stone chair in the pavilion, gazing at the beautiful scenery in the distance as his thoughts continued to multiply.
During this time, Murong Heng and Shen Ci had arrived back in the capital. The two of them first stopped outside the Shen residence, where Murong Heng personally guided Shen Ci in. After they had removed their disguises, Murong then returned to his own mansion.
When Feng Nan noticed that the corners of his young master’s lips were slightly curled up, and he looked to be in an excellent mood, he felt even more miserable on the inside. He moved closer to Shen Ci, and after a while, he couldn’t stop himself from asking: “Young Master, are you aware of what you’re doing? Nothing good will come from being too close to Prince Heng.”
Upon hearing the word, Shen Ci’s smile vanished. After a moment’s silence, he replied: “Since I’ve already been doused by the muddy water, there will absolutely be no reason to withdraw and leave halfway; neither has it ever crossed my mind that I would emerge untainted.” Prior to that, he’d already made preparations for the inevitable, but as long as he could get revenge, he wasn’t concerned. After he’d finished speaking, he turned around and went back to the room, leaving Feng Nan standing on the same spot, his expression filled with distress.
Shen Ci sat at the side of the bed inside the room and inadvertently brushed over a mechanism by the edge. He pressed hard with his fingertips, and a secret compartment sprang out. Shen Ci felt around until he located a delicate jade pendant, then stroked it with the palm of his hand. This piece of jade pendant was the only keepsake left to him by his parents. He wasn’t willing to wear it on his person, and he feared it would attract trouble; therefore, he’d always kept it away and never recklessly took it out.
After handling it for a while, Shen Ci placed the jade pendant on his chest and held it against his heart. He lowered his head, and spoke very softly; the words were barely audible: “Father, mother, this child will surely avenge you.”
What Feng Nan said was true. It wasn’t a good thing to be too close to a dangerous person like Prince Heng, but he could no longer turn back. He can only bravely forge ahead. For the sake of revenge, there wasn’t anything he wouldn’t do!
At this very moment, Murong Heng had already returned to his mansion. Shen Ci’s strangeness yesterday came to mind. Such a gentle and calm person like him would have moments like that when he would lose control. Just then, interest in Shen Ci’s past suddenly emerged in him.
With this in mind, Murong Heng summoned the guard from outside the door and instructed him to look into matters related to Shen Ci, especially major events from past years. It was impossible for Shen Ci to hate Emperor Chongde like this for no reason. There must be some unspeakable past between the two of them.
The next day, the guard returned from outside. The information he relayed caused Murong Heng to be utterly taken aback. After the guard withdrew, Murong Heng regained his senses and was appalled at the blood debt harboured by Shen Ci.
It was no surprise he wanted revenge; no wonder he never disclosed his real name to strangers and maintained a low profile to seem like he didn’t exist at all. Murong Heng was shocked by his past and even more shocked that Emperor Chongde would actually be this heartless to have such a loyal minister killed and a wonderful family destroyed.
From the looks of it, it appears that he has indeed found the right person!