Wei Luo: main character
Zhao Jie: male lead
Wei Kun / Sheng Ming: Wei Luo’s father
Madam Qin: Wei Luo’s 4th aunt
Wei Changhong: Wei Luo’s twin brother
Li Zhiliang/ Prince Ruyang: Li Song’s father, general
Li Song: bullied Changhong
Zhu Geng: Zhao Jie’s bodyguard, previously saved Wei Luo from Madam Du’s plot
Zhao Liuli/ Princess Tianji: Zhao Jie’s younger sister
When they arrived at the lake shore, there were already many people there – high officials from the imperial court, nobles from influential families, and also palace servants who had rushed to the rescue… Wei Luo noticed a person lying on the ground in the distance, soaked through and motionless. Wei Kun was crouching beside him, continuously pressing his acupoints, but the person had no reaction.
Wei Luo paled. She crawled down from Madam Qin and bolted towards them on her short legs, “Changhong!”
It was early summer and the lake wasn’t too cold, but it was deep. If he had sunk to the bottom, it would’ve been difficult to save him quickly enough. If he wasn’t rescued in time… Only just thinking of it frightened Wei Luo. Not daring to dwell on it, she grabbed Changhong’s arm tightly and called his name, “Changhong, wake up…”
She was afraid. Though she was perfectly aware that Changhong couldn’t possibly die today, she didn’t feel reassured. What if her own rebirth had influenced fixed events and made them deviate?
She had promised she’d protect Changhong, yet she hadn’t watched over him well enough, and had let him have such an accident.
With these thoughts, Wei Luo raised her head and looked maliciously at the young boy across from her, who was wearing a sapphire robe. The boy was seven or eight years old. His appearance was pretty, yet his pair of eyes were arrogant, giving him a wild look. Right now, he was pursing his rosy lips. As he glanced over, he caught Wei Luo’s line of sight. At first he gawked at her, but scoffed soon after and turned his head, no longer looking at her.
That was Prince Ruyang’s son, Li Song. Even if he didn’t look quite the same as to when he grew up, Wei Luo could still recognize him. Because there was an obvious feature on his face. That was a small birthmark under his left eye, light pink in a swallow tail shape. It made his face very eye-catching. Standing next to him was the tall and sturdy Prince Ruyang. Prince Ruyang was in the middle of lecturing him with a serious face, his voice so loud, almost half the palace could hear.
Prince Ruyang was devoted to the military. His body was robust, his martial skill was out of the ordinary. He had once followed Emperor Chong Zhen through fire and water, taking over the world together. When Emperor Chong Zhen gained power, he conferred him the rank of Prince, regarding him as a close brother (in arms). Prince Ruyang married Emperor Chong Zhen’s younger sister, the Princess Gaoyang, Zhao Xuan. Zhao Xuan had been a famous beauty in the capital several years ago, her body was delicate, her face bright like the moon, her temper pure. One was a pampered and fragile princess, the other was a rough fellow from an army camp. No matter how one looked, they weren’t a suitable match. At the time, none of the people in the capital were optimistic about the marriage, including princess Gaoyang. She wasn’t fond of these types of military men. The type she liked was the mild and gentle, scholarly youths. Rumors said she had rebelled against Emperor Chong Zhen once, but it was unfortunately useless. In the end, she had to marry according to her brother’s decision.
Fortunately, after getting married, Li Zhiliang didn’t treat her badly, he favored her. Soon after, they gave birth to a son and a daughter. Li Song was eight this year, the daughter Li Xiang was five.
Why did the past Li Song make life difficult for Changhong? For what reason did he both destroy his future, and ruin his reputation?
Wei Luo knew the reason.
At that time, Duke Ying’s house and Prince Ruyang’s palace were discussing a marriage between Changhong and Li Xiang. The 14 year old Li Xiang already had someone in mind, and didn’t like Changhong. She liked the heroic bearing of the champion in the Imperial military exam. In order to get rid of this marriage without destroying her own reputation, Li Xiang begged her big brother Li Song to find a way to ruin Changhong’s reputation, so when the time came, she wouldn’t need to do a thing and let her parents refuse the marriage themselves. Thus, Li Song tricked Changhong into taking Five Minerals Powder, causing him to be muddleheaded all day, dazed, passing his days unproductively. Recalling the despicable thing this pair of brother and sister had done, Wei Luo gnashed her teeth in hatred.
Li Xiang’s heart wasn’t into it, but she just had to drag Changhong down. When had he ever wronged her? She herself was dirty, yet had to throw dirty water on Changhong as well, like a prostitute keeping up a pure image. Wei Luo had never met such a low person.
Thinking of these matters, she was so furious, her whole body was trembling. Changhong’s current state was still uncertain, on what basis were they properly alive? Were their lives more valuable than Changhong’s?
She lowered her head, her thin small shoulders violently shivering. To others it seemed like she was crying, but only she knew it was out of loathing.
Wishing she could let them die right now, wishing they could immediately suffer their retribution.
She was biting her pink lips, unknowingly causing them to bleed, but she didn’t feel any pain. The scarlet blood dripped on the back of Changhong’s hand, offending the eyes with its stark red contrast. She used her thumb to earnestly wipe it away. Her throat seemed to be blocked up, letting out a whimper. The current and the past lifetime’s memories overlapped. She said: “Changhong, don’t die… Don’t die.”
The words had just come out of her mouth, when a pair of hands lifted her up from behind. Zhao Jie’s voice was calm and slow, “He won’t die. This Prince will have someone save him.”
As he said that, Zhu Geng came forward and took Wei Kun’s spot. Placing both hands on Changhong’s chest, he started pushing rhythmically (CPR). Zhao Jie placed Wei Luo to the side, but she simply disregarded him. She was staring unwaveringly at the activity taking place, until Changhong spat out a mouthful of lake water, his body curling up as he coughed.
Wei Luo felt joy, as if a heavy stone had lifted from her heart. Her feet flew as she dashed in his direction, but Zhao Jie’s arm unexpectedly blocked her path. Wei Luo couldn’t stop in time, so her whole body crashed into Zhao Jie’s arms, knocking into his chest and hurting her nose. Zhao Jie laughed softly. Extricating her from his embrace, he bent down to pinch her small nose, “Why the rush? The person’s right there, he won’t run away.”
She saw Changhong sit up, while Wei Kun was worriedly asking him where he felt uncomfortable. He shook his head twice, silent the whole time. He’d always been reserved. Now that he’d been pushed into the water, he felt even worse at heart, but he didn’t say anything. He always kept his feelings bottled up inside.
Wei Luo got more anxious as she observed. She pushed away Zhao Jie’s hand. “I want to see my younger brother…”
Zhao Jie, however, was determined not to let her pass. Since they happened to be standing behind the crowd, they weren’t too noticeable. Zhao Jie held out a thumb to gently rub at her soft pink lips a few times. Finding it a little painful, she wrinkled her eyebrows and mewled in complaint. He let her go, then looked at the blood on his thumb and asked solemnly, “Whom were you loathing a moment ago?”
Other people may not have found out, but he had been paying attention to her, so he saw a lot more compared to others. The little girl had been barely restraining her emotions. When she had looked at Li Song, her eyes had been ice-cold, containing an enormous amount of anger and hatred. This side of her was a little different from his impression of her, yet he didn’t find it conflicting. This kind of feeling was very strange, as if anything she did was natural – whether it was her viciously biting him, or her sweetly calling him “big brother”, or her struggling to contain her anger just now, every side of her felt fresh to him. She had many hidden sides, enough for him to discover them one by one.
Wei Luo tightly pursed her lips, a speck of blood lingering at the corner. She looked like a small stubborn wild beast, waiting for a person to tame her slowly.
Zhao Jie smiled. “Let This Prince guess, is it Li Song or Wei Kun?”
She paused, her clear large black eyes boring into him. She didn’t admit nor refute it.
She hated both of them. She hated Li Song for ruining Changhong, and hated Wei Kun for failing to protect Changhong.
However currently, she hated Li Song more.
Zhao Jie evidently guessed her train of thoughts, and asked neither too fast, nor too slow, “Why do you hate him? Because he pushed your younger brother in the water?”
Wei Luo was silent for a long time, then she opened her mouth slowly, “He bullied Changhong.”
Indeed, wasn’t it precisely bullying Changhong, that Li Song did? Wei Luo didn’t want to let Zhao Jie know too much, neither did she want him to discover her sinister side. Right now, she could only pretend and try to cover up that side. She was only a six year old girl, why would she know what bitter hatred was?
Zhao Jie curved his lips. Whether he believed her or not wasn’t known. He looked at her for a good while, then touched her head as he asked softly, “Do you want to bully him back?”
Wei Luo raised her head in surprise, meeting his eyes. She didn’t understand why he wanted to ask that.
What did he mean? What if she wanted to?
Wei Luo’s pretty little face had wariness all over it. She did not answer his question.
Not far from them, Wei Kun was looking high and low for her. When he couldn’t find her, he parted the crowd, just in time to see her speaking with Zhao Jie. Greeting him, he said, “This official has seen Your Highness Prince Jing. Did Your Highness have any matter with my daughter?”
Zhao Jie straightened up, wiping off the smile on his face. When he turned around, he’d already switched to a cool expression. He said: “Fourth Miss cried just now, this prince was calming her down.”
Wei Kun didn’t doubt him, saying quite sincerely: “Many thanks, Your Highness, for going through the trouble…”
Wei Luo had the opportunity to break free from Zhao Jie at last, running back to Wei Changhong’s side. The imperial physician had rushed over just then. After he had treated Changhong, there were no longer any issues. Changhong noticed her coming over, and finally opened his mouth to speak his first sentence, “Ah Luo…”
However, he appeared sluggish and not too cheerful.
Wei Luo raised her sleeve to wipe the water droplets on his face, making a small noise in response. Others weren’t able to hear what was said.
Even if they couldn’t hear, they were able to feel the deep affection between the siblings. It was no wonder really, as the two children had no mother, they had to rely on each other.
As this beautiful scene fell into the bystanders’ eyes, it made them feel envious for no reason.
Zhao Jie stood with his hands behind his back, looking at the siblings serenely. No one could tell what he was actually thinking.
After some questioning from Wei Luo, Changhong finally told her how the dispute with Li Song had come to be.
Changhong and her were twins of different gender. Their appearance was 70% similar, with beautiful and delicate features. That was good for Wei Luo, but a little inconvenient to Changhong. He was young right now and had yet to develop. At first glance, he resembled a girl. Usually, there were people who discussed Changhong’s appearance, but they did so quietly among themselves. No one had dared to do it so openly before. This Prince Ruyang’s son, Li Song, was the first.
He not only ridiculed Changhong for being effeminate, but also wanted him to imitate the little girls’ manner of speaking. He even pulled out a silk flower from some palace maid’s hair, and insisted that Changhong put it on his head. Changhong naturally didn’t agree. Just because he didn’t speak, didn’t mean he was willing to be ordered around. Li Song saw he wasn’t complying and also absolutely refusing to put things on his head, and the two of them had entered a dispute like that, even involving hands and feet. Changhong was two years younger than Li Song, he was no match for him in the end. His belly suffered several hits, and he was eventually lifted by the collar and directly thrown into the big lake.
When Wei Luo heard his belly was hit, she hurriedly made him lift up his clothes, “Let me see.”
They were outside, with many people surrounding them. Changhong was naturally unwilling, grabbing his clothes as he spoke: “It’s nothing… It doesn’t hurt.”
It would be odd if it didn’t hurt! Li Song was born to a military commander dad, his own skill would definitely not fall short. Having suffered his two fists, Changhong was certainly unable to endure them.
Yet he deceived her, claiming it didn’t hurt.
Wei Luo raised her eyes to glare at the standing across Li Song. Her icy gaze seemed able to penetrate through, she didn’t conceal her anger at all. It was a first for Li Song to receive such a look from a little girl. He jumped in fright, before he quickly collected himself, saying obstinately: “What are you looking at? You two look so much alike, you’re female, and he’s male, how can I clearly tell you apart? It’s not strange at all if I get it wrong.”
Twisting words and forcing logic.
Hearing him, Prince Ruyang scolded, “disgraceful”, before pulling him in front of Changhong, and then flung him to the ground harshly, “What did I tell you just now? Still not apologizing.”
Li Song stumbled a few steps, coming to a stop. His eyes looked at Changhong, then at Wei Luo again. He didn’t have the slightest intention of sincerely apologizing.
The people around were dispersed, only leaving behind a few eunuchs, as well as people from the Ying residence and the Ruyang palace. Li Zhiliang saluted Wei Kun and spoke rather remorsefully: “It’s This Prince’s fault for not teaching my child properly and for offending the young master, but also seeking brother Sheng Ming superior’s magnanimity to forgive the child.”
What use was it to apologize now? And even calling himself “This Prince”. Then what about Wei Kun’s son? Wei Kun’s complexion didn’t look too well, but he still returned the courtesy, “Small children are mischievous, being boisterous is common. The Prince need not blame yourself.” He paused. A mild person could also have a temper. “It’s just that Changhong’s life is only one, he can’t withstand being tossed about. I hope there won’t be a next time.”
Prince Ruyang smiled and promptly said,“Brother Sheng Ming’s words are very true. This Prince will carefully discipline this child when we go back.”
At the same time, Li Song was still dawdling on his apology to Changhong. Finally, after Prince Ruyang waved his fist threateningly, he curled his lip and spoke with a complete lack of sincerity, “It was my bad just now, I shouldn’t have thrown you in the water. Anyway, you’re fine, so we can consider the matter settled.”
Wei Luo smiled stiffly. What “anyway, you’re fine”? If something had happened, wouldn’t it be too late?
Prince Ruyang also felt these words were improper, angrily shaking his fist as if to hit him, “Speak properly for your father…”
Wei Luo looked at him, a sly light flashing through her eyes. Her tone was indignant, bringing out a young girl’s unique frailty: “You pushed my brother into the water. If you let me also push you in once, we’ll forgive you.”
Wei Kun yelled: “Ah Luo!”
However, no one went to stop her. That was a matter between their children, and sometimes it wasn’t good for the adults to interfere. In addition, Wei Luo was a girl. Her age was also small. No matter what she said, it would be taken as a child’s words having no filter.
He glanced at Li Zhiliang. Li Zhiliang furrowed his brows, seemingly thinking her request was a little unreasonable.
Li Zhiliang hadn’t opened his mouth yet, when Li Song laughed. Having something else in mind, he conceitedly agreed: “So what? Let alone doing it once, even if you push me a hundred times, it won’t be a problem.”
Li Song relied on his beginner martial arts, and he had learned how to swim as a child. He simply wasn’t concerned with Wei Luo’s words. Finding them amusing instead, he complied without a moment’s hesitation. Treat it as taking a bath. He was broad-minded and wouldn’t haggle with her.
Li Zhiliang was reluctant to agree, fearing that his son could be harmed. But since he was going to watch over them from the side, he didn’t say anything. This way, he would appear to make amends sincerely, and not like someone using his rank to bully others.
Seeing Li Song’s confidence, Wei Luo sneered slightly.
Laugh, laugh while you still can.
At this time, Emperor Chong Zhen and Empress Chen still hadn’t arrived, but it was only a matter of time. Everybody was waiting for them in the Wild Goose house and Riverside house, thus not many were paying attention to Wei Luo’s situation over here.
The great lake’s shore was smooth, built in stone and about a foot and a half higher than the water surface. It was the same height everywhere. Wei Luo stood at the shore and raised her head to look at Li Song, “I’ll push you from here. If you can come up, we’ll regard the matter settled.”
She imitated his previous words, her young voice tinted with childishness. She was obviously still a child, who didn’t understand anything, yet her face was stiff, carrying a solemn appearance. Li Song found it funny, and basically didn’t care about her as he nodded carelessly: “Good. Do it quickly, don’t…”
He wasn’t done speaking, when Wei Luo raised her hand to place it on his chest and resolutely pushed. Li Song fell backwards from the shore all of a sudden. With both eyes wide open, “splash”, he was dunked into the water.
The lake water quickly covered his head. Fortunately, he could swim, and only took a moment to get adjusted. Holding his breath, he even swam in a circle leisurely, pleased with himself. Floating up to the surface again, he looked at Wei Luo complacently. Prince Ruyang Li Zhiliang sighed in relief from the side, and called out: “You unruly child, still not coming out!”
His arms cut through the water as he swam forward. He intended to climb up from the same place he was pushed in a moment ago, however, his hand had barely taken hold of the stone wall, when he thought something seemed wrong. Wei Luo was crouching in front of him with a smile on her small face. That smile looked so strange, it bewildered him. It gave him the impression he had fallen into a trap. He frowned, “Go away, let me go up!”
Originally, Wei Luo had picked this spot, because the stones were full of moss, wet and slippery. It wouldn’t be easy to get out. Normally, it wouldn’t be too difficult for Li Song, but Wei Luo was squatting at the shore right now, holding a thin twig in her hand. With her back to the crowd, she used the twig to poke the back of his hand maliciously, smiling as she looked at him disdainfully, “Go down.”
Li Song’s expression changed, fuming with rage: “You dare…”
Without waiting for him to finish, Wei Luo increased her strength. The twig firmly dug into his flesh, while she smiled innocently: “Not going down?”
Li Song cried out in pain and quickly removed his hand, falling back into the water.
The people at the shore couldn’t see what happened clearly, believing Li Song wasn’t able to stand firmly and fell down by himself. In the end, Li Zhiliang felt distressed for his son, calling for the bodyguards in a hurry: “Make haste, help the little prince up.”
His voice just fell, when another voice interrupted.
Zhao Jie was standing to the side, his gaze pointed at Wei Luo’s figure full of interest. Having seen enough, he said to Li Zhiliang: “Didn’t Prince Ruyang agree just now? This is something between the two of them. The little prince went into the water voluntarily, naturally he also has to come out by himself. Why, does Prince Ruyang have no confidence in his own son?”
Not expecting Prince Jing to get involved, Li Zhiliang stiffened up, smiling reluctantly as he said: “It’s not like that… It’s only…”
Zhao Jie didn’t give him the opportunity to speak. He moved his line of sight away and said: “In that case, just wait.”
Li Zhiliang was forced to keep waiting.
Under the water, Li Song wanted to come out from another spot, but after swimming around once, he couldn’t help but wish to curse her out. Did that little girl do it deliberately? She knew the lake was full of water plants right now, winding and twisting around in spirals, there was simply no way to approach them. Getting near them, it was possible to get tangled up and sink to the bottom of the lake. It seemed that he could only come up from the spot, where Wei Luo was guarding. He got extremely angry, choking on the mouthful of air he’d been barely holding in, as the lake water rushed to his nose and mouth. He swallowed a few mouthfuls of water before his head resurfaced, glaring indignantly at Wei Luo: “You, on purpose?”
Wei Luo stood up and laughed sweetly, “What purpose? What do you mean?”
But her expression clearly said, “That’s right, it’s on purpose.”
Li Song had never met such a hateful little girl before. He wished he could swallow her whole. “Let me go up!”
One on the shore, the other in the water, his imposing manner dropped by a large chunk. Li Song was no longer as conceited and arrogant as he previously was, and he felt a little anxious. He’d stayed in the water for too long, and due to his rush, his left leg was gradually starting to hurt, which he feared was a sign of an oncoming cramp.
Yet he didn’t want to ask for help from his father. He was a boy after all, he had to save face. What would it look like if he lost to a little girl? Moreover, she was two years younger than him!
Wei Luo was obviously smiling, but her eyes were completely cold, “I’m not stopping you.”
Li Song clenched his teeth. She wasn’t stopping him, but she actually didn’t leave him a way out. Was she really six years old? Her scheming was too good!
Neither of them backed down, looking at each other, waiting to see who would last till the end.
In the end, it was Li Song’s loss as expected. His left leg cramped. As he was increasingly unable to support his body’s weight, he slowly sank. The lake water covered the top of his head. Wei Luo didn’t make a sound. A few moments passed before the people on shore realized something was amiss. Prince Ruyang took off his outer coat and jumped into the water to personally pull up his son, “Song’er, Song’er!”
Li Song had drank a belly full of water, but he hadn’t died. Only his mind was somewhat hazy. He sought out Wei Luo’s form, pointing at her and repeating “you” for quite a while, but nothing else came out. His head drooped to the side as he fainted.
The matter was regarded as having concluded in a draw. Li Song had thrown Changhong into the lake, and Wei Luo had pushed Li Song into the water. No one owed each other, and no one was qualified to speak further.
Even though Prince Ruyang was angered, the opposite party had Prince Jing’s protection. It wouldn’t be good to say anything, so he had no choice but to swallow down his grievances.
This year’s birthday banquet followed the usual customs. After congratulating Empress Chen, Emperor Chong Zhen ordered his servants to set up a stage at the shore of the great lake for a play. Famous actors elegantly waved their sleeves as they sang “Return of the Phoenix” on the stage. The voices were high-pitched, the meaning of the poems – difficult to understand. Empress Chen wasn’t used to listening to opera. She barely persevered through half of it, then got up to bid goodbye to Emperor Chong Zhen.
Emperor Chong Zhen had a decorated black hat on his head. Dressed in his imperial robes, he was still vigorous despite the years gone by, the heroic bearing from his youth could be clearly glimpsed on his face. Hearing that Empress Chen wanted to leave the banquet, his gaze deepened as a smile soon showed up within his expression, turning into an infinitely gentle appearance: “If the Empress leaves, what am I supposed to do here all alone? We might as well go back together.”
“No, I came together with ChangSheng (longevity), and I just so happen to have something to talk to him about. Your Majesty is busy with government affairs and rarely has free time. It would be better to accompany the ministers and speak a few words.” Empress Chen rejected the emperor to his face and didn’t even wait for him to open his mouth. She then said to Zhao Jie who was sitting below: “Come, help your mother go back.”
ChangSheng was Zhao Jie’s childhood name. It was said that a name represented a wish. Empress Chen’s wish was precisely for her two children to have a long and peaceful life.
Zhao Jie got up, similarly bidding Emperor Chong Zhen goodbye, then supported Empress Chen as they departed.
The emperor sat on the dragon chair. For a long time his face remained expressionless.
Qingxi Palace, Zhaoyang palace hall.
Empress Chen was sitting on the ironwood imperial consort couch, listening to Nurse Qiu actively recount the earlier events, when Wei Luo had convinced Princess Tianji to drink the medicine, “…Then the princess said she wanted to drink the medicine right away. Empress, the fourth miss of Duke Ying’s house is really competent.”
Empress Chen reclined on the couch, holding an ivory snuff bottle in her hands and listened earnestly, “Didn’t you say she was six, how can she be this fierce?”
She managed to control Liuli in a few words, making Liuli whole-heartedly listen to her. If it wasn’t for Nurse Qiu and the other palace maids’ assurances, the empress really wouldn’t be able to believe it.
Nurse Qiu nodded repeatedly, and couldn’t help but add: “Not only that, that fourth miss also kicks a shuttlecock very attractively…”
Sitting on a fragrant rosewood tutor chair below, Zhao Jie maintained his calm and collected manner, but the corners of his eyes held a smile. Listening to Nurse Qiu praise Wei Luo, he couldn’t help but recall the sight he had witnessed himself at that time. The red ribbons in her hair brushed against her face with the wind. Her eyes were focused, only staring at the shuttlecock in the air. She simply hadn’t noticed he was also there looking at her.
Those eyes were filled with a spring-like vivacity, bright and turbulent, shining brilliantly. She would deceive people with her words. When she used those eyes to look at you innocently, perhaps her mind was also planning how to make you suffer… Really interesting. Zhao Jie rested his cheek on his palm, thinking of today’s scene of Wei Luo bullying Li Song. How could he forget? She was the little chilli pepper who used a hairpin to cut a person’s face, not a sheltered greenhouse flower. Whoever tried to bully her wouldn’t have a good outcome.
Zhao Jie looked at Empress Chen, raising his lips as he asked, “Mother, have you decided on Liuli’s study companion?”
Notes: Tueysaloewa helped with proofreading.
Because of my long pause, she couldn’t go over everything, so there might still be rough spots here and there. I usually fix whatever I notice within a few days. If anyone wants to help me with the editing, just write down the mistakes you find in the comments, or in the contact form. I’d be grateful for the help.
Edited by Lili ❤
*He wished he could swallow her whole. – Means he wants to kill (?) her on the spot. Anyway, he’s angry.
*Didn’t you say she was six, how can she be this fierce? – ‘fierce’ is closer to the modern meaning of ‘awesome’ in this context.
Return of the Phoenix – Movie version. I think that’s the correct play…
I’ve put some links to google images instead of uploading the pictures here (saving space huhu). Anyway, here’s a drawing of how I see Wei Luo’s innocent smile.