The Rise of Phoenixes (天盛长歌) - Chapter 1 (Fanfiction)

Note: This is something between a recap and fanfiction. For the moment, it is a retelling of the original story as shown in the TV series with some bits added, exploring and developing the relationship between Ning Yi and Feng Zhiwei further. As we move along, I might start changing the story so that I can give them a sizzling romance with some skinship and a happy ending eventually.

An Interesting Person (the First Encounter)

written by kakashi
edited by Bunny

They all died because of you. You do not deserve to live such a happy life.

When the sixth prince of Tiansheng Kingdom, Ning Yi left the confines of Zongzheng Temple, his nightmares followed closely behind.



On most days, he managed to draw determination from them. He took the restless whispers of ghosts as a reminder; not of his guilt, but that the horrors of the past would not repeat themselves. He would see to it: Tiansheng Kingdom would prosper in peace, all evil would be eradicated.

But there were other days, when a strange melancholy came over him, when the mistakes of the past weighed heavy on his conscience and made him want to do nothing but weave silk brocades to forget what difficult path he had chosen to tread.

Today was one of the latter.

The walls of a prison had their benefits - if one was placid enough, they became like city walls, shielding their inhabitants from the woes and foes of the outside world. Now that he was out, his enemies’ eyes were on him once again, leaving him on edge. His three brothers were meeting at the Crown Prince’s Residence at this very moment to discuss how this wayward sibling, the disgraced prince who did a woman’s job, was a threat to their position.

“There will be no wedding”, Ning Yi said with determination, wishing for one of his few trusted allies, Headmaster of Qingming Academy Xin Ziyan, to change the subject. He really had no use of a woman in his life right now.

But marriage was one of Ziyan’s favorite topics. He liked to talk about the benefits of that institution frequently, adamant that every man was only half a man without a warm and soft body in his bed. He loved his own wife, Dahua, dearly, but like many other men, he had a certain weakness for the beautiful ladies at the House of Lanxiang, which often ignited a spectacular kind of jealousy in his feisty betrothed.

“But I wanted to wear the clothes you are making me to your wedding banquet,” he was currently complaining.

His father had “granted” Ning Yi marriage with Colonel Qiu Shangqi’s daughter, Qiu Yuluo, only yesterday. Ning Yi understood that his father sought to protect him this way. Colonel Qiu was a typical fence-sitter, turning hither and thither with the wind. The wind was currently blowing stiffly from the direction of the Changs – one of the most powerful families in Tiangsheng and therefore a latent threat to the Nings. But would Colonel Qiu not change his position once he had a Prince for a son-in-law?

“That sly fox Qiu Shangqi cannot be trusted,” Ziyan said more seriously once Ning Yi was done taking his measures and began drawing a design for a loose robe in the Headmaster’s style, “I agree, we need to think of a way to get you out of this.”

“I believe Colonel Qiu is doing the thinking already,” Ning Yi replied, not looking up from what he was sketching, “who would willingly give his precious daughter to a precarious Prince like me?”

“You may be right,” Ziyan chuckled, helping himself to some grapes from a bowl on Ning Yi’s table, “he will be afraid of angering the Crown Prince and his Chang household, who are very wary of you. You better start thinking how to survive past this spring!”

“Hm,” Ning Yi replied with a smirk, “sacrificing my life to save everyone else’s doesn’t seem like a bad idea.”

Hearing him say this, even if in jest, did not please Headmaster Xin at all. It was Ning Yi’s late, righteous brother Ning Qiao, unjustly put to death and labeled a traitor, who had asked this man to make sure his younger brother would become a competent ruler one day. Ziyan took this task very seriously.

But Ning Yi did not really plan something as stupid as sacrificing his own life. He had to avenge his brother and to rid the world of the evil that was like a festering wound in the sacred flesh of this country.

And had he not been pardoned by his Father, the Emperor, to do exactly that? The evil’s name was Chang and it was time that the Nings reestablished their power. He would be the nail in the Emperor’s hand – a nail to prick those who needed pricking and kill those who did not deserve to live.

***

Just like Ziyan, Ning Yi also liked to go to the House of Lanxiang. In fact, it was well known that he, the tailor “Liulang” to them, was one of the ladies’ favorites. He had no reason to be other than his most amiable with the courtesans, who worked so hard day and night to please their customers. On top of that, he greatly enjoyed to make spectacular dresses for these girls – it allowed him to try out designs no noble woman would ever wear.

The one who “favored“ him the most at House of Lanxiang was Zhuyin - the daughter of one of Ning Qiao's trusted generals, forced into prostitution after the events that had shaken his world eight years ago. Thanks to her extraordinary zither playing skill and her natural elegance, Zhuyin was often called upon by officials for their private entertainment.

That made her the perfect spy for Ning Yi. As her fable favorite, meeting her at the House of Lanxiang was the perfect cover.

Today, like on so many other days, he was conversing with her in her room, fabric and scissors in hand. The day before, it had been Colonel Qiu who had called for her services and Ning Yi was very eager to hear her report. Colonel Qiu had entertained the Crown Prince’s closest advisor, Duke Chang Hai, at this residence - clearly to assure the Chang family he was not going to jump ship anytime soon despite the Emperor’s “gift“.

“It must have been tough for you,” Ning Yi observed.

“It wasn’t easy, of course,” Zhuyin agreed, her face briefly betraying her disgust, “but I had an interesting encounter there.”

“Oh?” Ning Yi said, his interest piqued.

“Yes, I met an interesting person,” Zhuyin continued, “and his person is connected to you. It brightened up my day considerably.”

What an odd thing to say, Ning Yi thought, but before he could learn more about that encounter, loud female voices made them both lift their heads in surprise. Three shadows outside the paper walls were heading straight for Zhuyin’s room, one intruder in front, two of the girls behind, interchangeably trying to question and stop her.

Quickly, Ning Yi slid behind a folding screen. It was better to be cautious, always. He heard the paper doors be opened.

“Jie Jie!” a happy voice said.

“Oh, it’s you, Mei Mei!” Zhuyin replied, sounding just as merry. To Ning Yi’s knowledge, Zhuyin had no little sister. The rest of her family was dead, killed by the Changs.

The one calling Zhuyin Jie Jie had come to deliver a hairpin, Ning Yi learned from his hiding place. “You really are an interesting person!” the courtesan said with strange emphasis.

An interesting person? Ning Yi frowned, turned and… toppled over the folding screen by accident. Horrified, but rather childishly he pressed his eyes shut and balled his hands into fists… what a mishap. A similar mistake in front of his brother, the Crown Prince, could easily cost him his life.

“Who are you!” the intruder demanded to know sharply.

Ning Yi opened his eyes.

He beheld a young woman, dressed rather simply in dark colors, wearing no jewelry nor hair ornaments and hardly any makeup, but with a very fine figure, a graceful, long neck and flawless skin, standing protectively in front of Zhuyin.

“Why are you holding scissors!” the girl exclaimed and pushed Zhuyin a little further back.

Ning Yi, you better get your act together, the Prince told himself and started to approach slowly, making sure he did not appear threatening. How interesting indeed. This girl was clearly no maid, and her bearing did not only speak of much willpower, but also a good upbringing, yet she was inside a brothel as if it was the most natural thing in the world. Her eyes were stormy right now, and she seemed ready to pounce at him in Zhuyin’s defence. She reminded him of a little racoon he had once tried to pet, earning him a painfully swollen hand from the little animal’s bite.

Posing as Liulang the Tailor at House of Lianxiang was the perfect cover, since he didn’t even have to act most of the time. What he had told his father in court not long ago was true, at least in part: he loved nothing better than to make silk brocades and clothes. And because he was impersonating a tailor, his eyes were naturally caught by something sticking out from her dress.

“Don’t move!” he demanded.

Approaching further he completely closed the distances between himself and the girl.

“There is a loose thread,“ he explained and brought up his scissors to cut it.

They were standing very close. She smelled nice, he thought, like jasmin and white tea.

As expected, his strange behavior had rendered her quiet. This trick worked on all of them… the stranger he behaved, the more people were ready to turn away and leave him alone.

“Ah,” he started to explain as he was taking a few steps back, “I am a tailor who makes clothes for the girls here.

“Yes, he only cares about clothes,” Zhuyin came to his aid cheekily, “nothing else catches his eyes.”

He threw her a look. Really? Was this the time for remarks like this?

“But like you, he is also an interesting person,” she continued.

The intruder girl continued to frown at him. So this was the interesting person Zhuyin had met at the Qiu residence yesterday?

“Now that you’re done, I will see you out,” Zhuyin said, giving him the cue to leave. Yes, he probably should.

“I will get going then!” Ning Yi replied and bowed on his way out.

“Jie Jie,” he heard the girl whisper, “this man is so impolite!”

Impolite? Ning Yi shook his head laughing as he walked towards the stairs, picking up the two girls who had chased the intruder on the way. What a shock that intruder would get if he were really impolite! He was almost looking forward to a second meeting to try it out.

Linking arms with him as they descended down to the ground floor, the girls were quizzing him about the upcoming party at the Prince of Chu’s Residence for which they had been hired and whether, perchance, he thought there was any silk brocade to be had afterwards?

“Of course,” he smiled and gifted one of them the cloth he had been holding on impulse. His brocade was a much sought-after commodity in the capital, he could not meet the demand with his limited production capacity and prices for it were soaring sky-high.

He was about to head for the door, thinking about buying another loom and hiring more people, when somebody demanded his attention by tipping a finger against his arm. Still smiling, he turned around. It was the intruder girl. She had put on a much friendlier face, highlighting her expressive eyes under fearless eyebrows.

“Mr. Tailor,” she said, “you must know Prince of Chu well?”

She must have heard him speak about the party at Prince of Chu’s residence with familiarity, he assumed.

“Of course,” Ning Yi replied. “There is no one else in the world who knows him better than I do.”

“How can you be so certain?” asked the intruder, sounding a bit irritated. “I do not believe you. Tell me what Prince of Chu does in his daily life. Does he throw feasts, ride horses and get into fights all the time?”

“You are wrong, young lady,” Ning Yi said, “Prince of Chu is not interested in any of those. He is just like me! He likes to observe people, dye fabrics and weave brocades.”

“He is a prince of an empire. Why is he so eccentric?” she scoffed.

“Eccentric?” Was she deliberately trying to be offensive?

“That’s right.”

“What’s wrong with that?” He would not take such words from anyone, least of all a strange girl who walked around a brothel like there was nothing to it.

“Will his siblings not look down on him?” she asked, “he must have been bullied a lot.“

That surprised him. This stranger was concerned for him like this? “His siblings? They are ambitious people, but he is completely different from them. The only thing on his mind is how to turn his residence into a fabric-dyeing center.”

She looked puzzled, so he leaned closer a little and watched her pupils dilate with fascination. “I believe he just wants to be a commoner. He is not so eccentric now, is he?”

“In that case, I am more curious about him now,” she replied and that answer, for inexplicable reasons, made his stomach flutter ever so briefly.

“Why do you keep asking about him?” What a question though, he already knew the answer. “Every girl is fond of Prince of Chu,” he began to boast, but “Liulang!” Zhuyin interrupted from the stairs, approaching fast, “may I have a word with you?”

She took his arm and drew him away. Why? He had been enjoying himself.

“It is rare to see you in such a good mood,” she observed. It came to his attention that she had been smirking ever since that wild girl had appeared.

“Who is she?“ he asked, since it was true, he was in a good mood, which was rare indeed and that strange girl had a lot to do with it.

“When I went to the Qiu residence, I heard her be referred to as ‘Princess’”, Zhuyin declared with apparent glee.

“Oh, is this Qiu Yuluo?“ how extraordinary. “She is quite interesting.”

He turned his head to get a last good look at her, stretching his mouth into a broad smile – maybe a bit too broad. What had come over him? But she didn’t seem to mind and smiled back at him sweetly. A bit too sweetly.

Indeed. Very interesting.

Second Encounter