The Rise of Phoenixes (天盛长歌) - Chapter 2 (Fanfiction)

An Imposter goes Swimming 

written by kakashi
edited by Bunny

What a fortuitous encounter, Feng Zhiwei thought, as she skipped along the street toward Master Zong‘s house, an impolite man had turned out useful to enlighten her about this Prince of Chu she was supposed to marry in her cousin’s stead.

Master Zong was Zhiwei’s teacher. He was a stern, very grave man, but she valued him and the knowledge he gave her greatly. She had been attending his classes disguised as a boy for years, taking her lazy twin brother’s place, even though her mother did not like it that she went outside alone. She was worried about her safety and that her reputation would suffer if people found out about it.

Reputation! Like Zhiwei cared in the least about that.

She did care about her mother Mingying’s well being though, and lately, she had noticed that her quiet sorrow had surged again and the lines of worry on her face had deepened. Uncle Qiu’s household was still displeased about them staying with them, even though it had been many years since Zhiwei had begged them on her knees that they be let in. Their mother didn’t speak about her past often, nor had she said much about their father, but Zhiwei knew he was dead and she also knew he had been somebody people did not talk about openly. Before coming to the capital, their mother Mingying had lived a hard life on the road with her two children. But even though they were unwanted at the Qiu Residence and made to feel it often, at least they were safe there, had food to eat, decent clothes to wear and doctors to call when they were sick.

Closing the gate at Master Zong’s house behind her, Feng Zhiwei heard her mother’s voice from within and quickened her steps.

“Mother!” she called out and pushed open the door. Her enthusiasm turned to worry instantly when her mother turned her wet face away from her to hide her tears. Was she that upset about the marriage issue? Zhiwei felt deep remorse about making an immature fuss the night before. If it was true what Mr. Tailor had told her, she would probably be able to arrange herself with this royal… and as a Princess, she could finally provide her mother with all the things she deserved. She’d even get nice things for her spoilt brother.

Rushing to her mother's side and gently moving a strand of hair away from her forehead, Feng Zhiwei peered at her mournful face. “If you really want me to get married, I will comply, Mother. I hear that Prince of Chu is a humble man,” she said, putting her head against her mother’s shoulder, like she had done since she was little.

But Mr. Zong spoke up sharply: “Nonsense! Your mother will never agree to the marriage!”

What now? Her mother started crying again and exited the room rapidly, leaving Feng Zhiwei very confused. Did they know something of the Prince she did not know? She was suddenly worried that if she did not marry this Prince, Uncle Qiu would not let them stay. But if it caused her mother this much grief… no, Zhiwei thought, I can’t marry him. Whatever the consequences, I cannot.


It was very easy to get into Prince of Chu’s Residence. Feng Zhiwei had put on a dress that belonged to one of the courtesans - it was a bit revealing around the top, but it was currently warm enough and she had grabbed a nice shawl with a flower print to cover her shoulders. She had ridden in Zhuyin’s carriage right to the door and entered with the other girls. Now, she was sneaking around in the inner chambers, trying to find that Prince.

There were voices somewhere ahead of her, so she walked that way cautiously. But, how stupid of her! She had come up with a good plan as how to get past the guards outside, yet had completely forgotten about the security that rich people had inside their mansions!

“Stop right there!” two fierce looking guards bellowed at her, “who are you? How dare you break into a prince’s residence?”

She put on her sweetest face and used her most melodious voice to tell them she was from the House of Lanxiang come for the party, where please was the Prince? But they would not let her walk around anymore, so she asked, curtsying prettily, whether they could at least deliver a message to him? To her annoyance, these men were hard as stone, they only furrowed their brows and were entirely immune to her charms.

She started to fear she might be apprehended and thrown in prison any moment when somebody said “hey!” behind her, making the guards stiffen. It was the Tailor! To her surprise, he was wearing his hair open. Other than her brother’s, she had never seen any man’s hair like this. It was almost as long as hers!

“Oh, Mr. Tailor!” she exclaimed. Realizing she was quite glad to see him, even though he immediately made an impertinent joke after taking in her attire, she stepped closer. “Can you help me out?” she dropped her voice to a whisper and rolled her eyes in the direction of the guards. A third one had come in, he was dressed a little finer than the others, maybe a private bodyguard? Not good.

Mr. Tailor understood instantly. Stammering a little in that clumsy way of his, he told the guards he had seen her before and could vouch for her. Luckily, he seemed to have some authority with them because they left after this without asking any further questions. She thanked him happily for his help and wanted to be on her way, but the Tailor got quite a shock, telling her she was impudent! This was a Prince’s residence, if she was caught, she might be sentenced to death!

He had a point. Ah, but why waste this opportunity? Smiling, she said, “luck is always on my side! I always run into a savior. Look, I ran into you.”

She was close to him again, liking the way he smiled back at her a bit sheepishly. She felt safe with him, thinking he might not have been impolite by design the first time they’d met but was maybe just inept at dealing with women.

“Can you help me all the way?” she asked, using as much of her charm as she knew to. “Since you are the Prince of Chu’s tailor, could you arrange a meeting for me with him?”

“Hmmm,” he said and looked at her thoughtfully with furrowed brows, “if you tell me why you insist on seeing Prince of Chu, I might be able to help you.”

“It’s a serious matter,” Zhiwei said resolutely, “I cannot tell a tailor.”

Understanding this was sensitive, he agreed to arrange the meeting, but insisted on blindfolding her with a heavy cloth. She complied, not thinking much of it: maybe something to do with a royal’s privacy. He led her outside gently enough and handed her to somebody else, she thought she recognized the well-dressed guard’s voice though he spoke very little. Further she was taken until she heard the soft lapping of a lake’s waves and felt uneven wood underneath her feet. The guard had let go of her arm.

“Can I take this off now?” she asked, fingering the blindfold.

“Up to you!” the guard replied from a slight distance. Feng Zhiwei opened the knot at the back of her head and found herself standing on a short footbridge leading to a tiny pagoda on stilts in the water - a landing place for boats.

“Stay put. Don’t go anywhere,” the guard said from behind a wooden door with iron inlays. It was locked, barring her way back to the shore.

“This is a test, right?” Feng Zhiwei asked him smiling, but he just turned around and left. Was everybody at Prince of Chu’s rude and impolite? But it clearly was a test, most likely a test of courage. She had enough of that for sure! Amused, she made herself comfortable on one of the wooden benches and decided to wait for this Prince of Chu.


Ning Yi found himself smiling as he watched the intruder girl slouching without fear and very unladylike in his boat house.

Ning Cheng, Ning Yi's loyal bodyguard, had some trepidations though. “My lord,” he said after approaching, “this is not a good idea. It is getting dark soon. She is a girl after all.”

“Haha,” Ning Yi answered, “does this seem like a girl to you?” pointing at the woman who currently let her head hang backwards over the rails. Ah, but he was getting distracted and he could not be. Tonight was a special night, this imposter did not fit his plans.

Yes, that’s what she was: an imposter. Following his request, Ning Cheng had made inquiries about that Qiu Yuluo and found out that she was completely different from the woman he had met at the House of Lanxiang. Apparently, Yuluo was a spoilt, wealthy, insolent, high-maintenance kind of woman with a bad temper. But who was the one in his boathouse then and what was she doing here? It did not make her less interesting for sure.

Ning Yi forcefully turned his back on her and got mentally ready for what was the beginning of his plan to get rid of his brother, the Crown Prince.

“Give me the pills,” he commanded Ning Cheng and he gave them to him, though very reluctantly. He was a good boy, but rather too concerned for him. Ning Yi would use them later to fake a serious illness, including the coughing up of blood… not pleasant at all, but necessary and leaving only mild side effects.

Ning Yi was hosting his three elder brothers Ning Chuan, the Crown Prince, Ning Sheng, the Prince of Yan, second son of the Emperor of Tiansheng Kingdom and Ning Yan, the Prince of Zhao, fifth son at his Residence tonight. All three were his enemies and he would show no mercy when bringing them down, matching their heartlessness and cruelty one by one.

Of all three, it was Ning Sheng who was the most intelligent, and Ning Yi was the most wary of him - but tonight, he was giving his full attention to the Crown Prince, purring at his feet like a little cat. Playing the dumb, increasingly drunk, embarrassing and completely harmless brother wasn’t the hard part, it was sucking up to this cruel tyrant who had taken from him what he had loved the most. But Ning Yi had not sat in prison and plotted for eight years to be deterred by trifling emotions such as his pride.

Plus, he had prepared a little something in advance.

A guard had been found dead, rumors were making their rounds, rumors of the remnant of the previous Dacheng Empire being alive and seen in Yanzhou, Ning Sheng’s province. It was a warning of Bloody Pagoda, a secret group of assassins that served the previous royal family, people said. To makes sure his elder brothers would soon be at odds with each other, Ning Yi had arranged is so that Ning Yan would hear these rumors first. Knowing his character well, Ning Yi could be sure the fifth prince would use this information to make a move against their second brother.

But when you let in imposters into your life, things didn't go exactly as planned. Almost as if on cue when the brothers were making a move to leave, Ning Cheng came rushing in, bringing word of an assassin jumping into the lake when besieged by the guards.

Emboldened by alcohol, everybody and their guards rushed towards the lake to find and kill that intruder.

Standing at the lakeshore, Ning Yi found himself with an annoying problem. There was no assassin for sure, but there was a certain imposter, who apparently had grown frustrated enough to leave her temporary prison at the most inopportune moment. If she was discovered, the second part of this evening’s plan was in jeopardy.

Nothing moved in the lake, which could only mean two things. Either she had drowned or she was hiding. Ning Yi looked for other signs of her presence while keeping up pretense of being drunk and incompetent and… were those… bubbles he saw near the shore? Indeed! Quickly handing Ning Cheng a straw to throw to that woman, Ning Yi started yelling at his guards to do their job right and search that lake! He then managed to get his brothers back to the house, to drink some more.

Oh, it was all working wonderfully, if only that woman did not do another stupid thing. Soon, the brothers were exchanging verbal barbs about Bloody Pagoda and trying to keep the sighting of the Remnant quiet for their own benefit. Time to stir the pot some more.

Ning Yi, who had been helping himself to more “wine” steadily and appeared very uncertain on his feet, started laughing when the atmosphere was as tense as it could be, and said: “You must all laugh with me! Somebody saw the Remnant? That is nonsense! Crown Prince, I saw it with my own eyes eighteen years ago. You killed the remnant of the Dacheng Empire - it’s what made you the Crown Prince. If the remnant were still alive, then you would not have been the Crown Prince of Tiansheng Empire!”

Usurper, betrayer, who did not deserve this title, had never and would never.

That night… that night was forever edged in his memories, the night that he saw over and over in his nightmares. Him, walking towards Gu Heng slowly, as if he knew no fear, even though his heart was about to jump out of his chest and run away. A royal infant in a brave man’s arms, a promise made by an eight year old boy to keep him alive. So close, so close… if not for the betrayal from his power hungry brother who had given the order to kill at that moment Ning Yi had extended his hands towards the infant that carried Dacheng’s bloodline, turning the tide of fate.

As planned, he got away with this impudence, because his brothers were too easily fooled by his act of incompetence and too busy hating each other to get suspicious of his motives. Or maybe he had just been lucky. Did a lucky man’s heart ache like his though? He felt sullied by his act tonight, dirtied from feigning to be an indifferent imbecile when the fire of hate burnt so hot inside of him.

There was something else to take care of before finishing this charade. As soon as he could steal away for a moment under the pretense of being very drunk, Prince of Chu went to look for the imposter his men had fished out of the lake. Her fault for not doing as told, of course, quite likely she would catch a bad cold, but her rash action had provided an opportunity to seed more doubt, so he was ready to forgive her untoward behavior and send her home without further punishment. He wanted her gone as quickly as possible but had some questions first.

When he entered the room they had brought her to, she was behind one of the folding screens, about to take her soaked clothes off.

“Who is it?” she demanded to know nervously at the sound of his footsteps, “don’t come near me!”

“I brought clothes”, Ning Yi said evenly, though his heart picked up speed as he caught a glimpse of her half-hidden form behind the screen.

“Blow out the candles,” her command rang out after he had deposited a new set of clothes near her.

“Yes,” he complied simply, though frankly, it wasn’t what he felt like doing at all.

He sat himself in a chair after darkening the room according to her wishes. Be a gentleman and avert his eyes? Or be who he usually was and look all he wanted.

Only a woman as foolish as her would believe he could not see her without the candles - the moon was almost full tonight and its soft, white light flowing in through one of the windows illuminated even whiter skin as she began to undress.

How strange, Ning Yi thought in the darkness of his room, which smelled like lake water, jasmin and white tea, that watching this woman shed her clothes one by one so trustful in a strange man’s house soothed the pain in his heart.


The clothes given to her were of the best quality, elegantly cut, with silk so soft it felt like a caress against her skin. The person who had entered had to be the Prince, she had been made to understand this was one of his chambers and the man had given a sharp command to relight the candles as soon as she was done dressing.

A bit nervous, Zhiwei stepped out from behind the screen, eyes downcast as it was proper. The man said nothing and when she lifted her eyes...

“Mr. Tailor!” she exclaimed in surprise.

“You must kneel before a prince!” he barked at her.

She was so stunned she didn’t comply right away and instead stared at the beautiful face with the long, black hair in front of her rather dumbfounded. This was the Prince of Chu? She could immediately believe it, there was nothing sheepish about this man at all, his authority was unmistakable and his eyes were arrogant and unforgiving.

She kneeled down slowly, feeling tricked and angry.

“You lied to me,” she pressed out.

“My last name is Ning, first name, Yi,” he replied coldly, lifting a blue fan to cover half of his face, “I am the sixth child. Everyone at House of Lanxiang knows this. Liulang (liu 六=six, lang 郎 = young gentleman) is Prince of Chu, Ning Yi. If you had just asked around, you would have easily found out that Prince of Chu is only a tailor who weaves silk brocades and makes clothes. All I said was true, not a single lie was spoken.”

Now he was gloating? She felt stupid... and even more annoyed because of it. To be tricked like this so easily, he must have had a good laugh at her.

“Fine,” he said with a mean smile when he saw her darkening face, “so tell me, who are you? I am curious which family you came from. How could someone be so stupid?”

She would not be mocked like this. Pushing herself up, she straightened herself. He, who had gotten on his feet to look down at her, seemed a bit surprised by her action and took a half-step back, holding his fan between them defensively.

“Yes, I admit that I am stupid,” she told him to his face, “Your Highness, you are intelligent and know everything, like you’re the reincarnation of Zhuge. What do you want to hear from a stupid girl like me?” He remained quiet, so she took it as an invitation to continue. “You can see into the future and figure out everything.”

“Well, I nipped my fingers and read your fortune,” he retorted and began to slowly circle her, like a predator. His eyes were of an intensity that almost made her shiver.

“You and I are destined for marriage,” he said and she stiffened, “unfortunately that fate is fake,” he continued. “You came to look for me because you want to call off this marriage.”

Stated like he truly knew everything.

“You sneaked in to find the Prince of Chu and you wanted to tell him your real name in person, to let him know you are not Qiu Yuluo. If you are not Qiu Yuluo, you won’t have to marry me. Did I get it right?”

His smile was very condescending and once again, she felt deeply insulted. Yes, he was right. Of course he was. She hated it.

“You are too stupid,” he smirked, “so it won't be easy for you to find a husband. How about this though? You are a silly woman and I am a useless prince. So actually, we are a good match.”

Insufferable! Mocking her sincerity like this. No longer standing still like the defenseless prey, she began circling him in turn. Apparently, he seemed to enjoy it because his smirk became even broader.

“Even though I am stupid, I have realized something over the past few days.”

“What is it?” he asked eagerly.

“Prince of Chu, you… you are definitely not a useless prince.”

Something changed in his eyes then, even though he pretended to take it just as lightly as the rest of their conversation. “Carry on,” he invited her, his tone voice ever so slightly less mocking.

“Or I should put it this way. You are way too influential. That's why Qiu Shangqi doesn't want his real daughter to marry you. He does not want to bring trouble upon himself.”

“Aha,” he exclaimed, but she wasn’t fooled. He was definitely intrigued! Emboldened, she continued.

“Your Highness, I nipped my fingers and read the fortune. Did I get things right?”

“How did you become so smart all of a sudden?” His eyes were sparkling in a very interesting fashion, she noticed. Daringly, she stepped even closer.

“I might not know what kind of person you are, but I have heard a thing or two about the Crown Prince and Duke Chang. A common man's only crime is to carry intelligence. Your intelligence is just like that of a precious jade. Some people cannot tolerate your existence. Particularly, the Crown Prince is among those people. Being such an intelligent man, you would not be willing to be inferior to others.”

The smile that had appeared on his face was no longer cold and arrogant, but the smile of someone who had gotten a much sought-after reward. She brought distance between the two of them again, adding some cute to her voice.

“Prince of Chu, have mercy on me. Can you spare the life of a silly, common girl?”

His sudden laughter took her by surprise and deflated her courage by a lot. She knew she was eloquent, but who was she in comparison to a Prince like him?

“Zhuyin was right,” he chuckled, “you truly are a very interesting person. Since you were a great help tonight, I will return the favor.”

She perked up, her heart starting to beat very fast.

“I will tell His Majesty to rescind his order.”

“Is that a promise to help me?” could she really be this lucky? She felt like a little mouse who had managed to jump out of the python's mouth before it remembered to swallow.

“Mr. Tailor has given his word. Of course, he will live up to it.”

“You truly are my savior,” heaving a deep sigh of relief, she added, “Prince of Chu. From now on, let's not run into each other.”

She turned to leave with a huge smile on her face, but…

“Ah, Mr. Tailor,” she said turning back once more. “My name is Feng Zhiwei.”

“Who cares what your name is?” he called after her. Did he sound annoyed?

Smiling, Feng Zhiwei skipped away. A good day! A thoroughly good day. Her mother would no longer have to worry.

Chapter 3