The Rise of Phoenixes (天盛长歌) - Chapter 6 (Fanfiction)

Chapter 6 - Of Poison, Plots and Petty Princes

written by kakashi
edited by Bunny

“Thank you for letting me work at the House of Lanxiang, JieJie.”

Feeling especially grateful on this turbulent day to have found temporary refuge at her establishment, Feng Zhiwei pressed the hand of her friend Zhuyin with fervor.

They were sitting on the couch in the courtesan’s room. Zhiwei was disguised as a man, wearing the simple clothes of a servant. Zhuyin on the other hand was elegant as always, her full hair adorned with elaborate golden hairpins and ornaments, the restrained pastel shades of her gown complementing the tone of her skin in the most flattering ways.

“It is no trouble, MeiMei,” Zhuyin said gently, though she seemed a bit preoccupied with something, putting her free hand on top of Zhiwei’s, “I am just glad you have taken up my offer in the end.”

True, Feng Zhiwei had been highly reluctant the first time Zhuyin had suggested she came to stay. Not because this was a brothel, it was far from her mind to judge any of the talented, witty and beautiful women working here - though personally, she would rather kill herself than sell her body to a man. No, what had made her wary was the Prince of Chu and the mysterious nature of his involvement with this place .

Men, one learned fast in a place like this, were either clueless or cruel. That, however, did not seem to apply to the Prince of Chu, who was the clear favorite among the girls. In the beginning, Zhiwei had always hurried out of the room when the girls had started gushing about him, but lately, she stayed and listened, even though some of the talk left her ears burning.

There was not one among the girls who wouldn’t sing his praises. He was generous, they said, he was kind, he was always polite. He listened to their plights and consoled them. Plus, he was gentle, attentive, and… seeking to give back all the pleasure he received.

Zhiwei had never wanted to know such things about him, because it made her feel deeply ashamed for being so gullible and naive before. Like she didn’t know about men at all, she had slept in his bed! She had changed her clothes with him in the room! What must he be thinking of her?

But Zhiwei had also taken an oath. She had made a promise, to him and to herself, to pay back everything she owed him before disappearing forever, which was her life and the life of her family. But rather than facing his mockery once again, rather than seeing how his eyes sparkled in amusement when he echoed with your life? after she had vowed to repay him like this in a maybe slightly grandiose way, she had decided she would help him in secret. The House of Lanxiang had seemed like the perfect place to be to do this. And indeed - the recent happenings had confirmed it.

Of all the decisions she had been forced to take lately, the best had been to leave Ning Yi’s Residence as fast as possible. It had helped her smarten up quickly - and get her confidence back. If she ever met him again, she was ready. Disguising herself as a man helped, it always had. She would not let herself be rattled again by him and his words. Never again.

Master Zong, her teacher, had been able to explain to her what was happening in the Palace when she had paid him a visit. His words had given this paying-back business a new kind of urgency: I bet that within half a year, either Prince of Chu or the Crown Prince will die.

So the Emperor had released his son from his prison just to use him as a weapon against the Chang Family? To Feng Zhiwei, this sounded almost as cruel as having to live for eight years in the confines of a Temple, not knowing whether one would ever be released. To understand the current tensions in the Palace, one had to know about the Wugu Incident eight years ago. Ning Yi’s third brother had been executed back then, unjustly, as Zhiyin had told her, forever setting Ning Yi and the current Crown Prince at odds with each other.

Even though she had never revealed it to her friend, Zhiyin’s words spoken not too long ago had left a lasting impression on Zhiwei. The courtesan seemed to think that she and the Prince of Chu had a lot in common. More: that he was someone she could trust.

Your minds are so similar. Both of you are mischievous. You were made for each other.
Just like me, his loved ones died in that incident. His life changed completely because of it.
As for me, I came from a rich family, but I became a girl who works in a brothel.
He used to be a carefree prince, but became a prisoner and was held captive in Zongzheng Temple for eight years.
He is different from the other princes. He is a very wise and sentimental person. That's why he has been through so much turmoil in life.
Zhiwei, you can trust me. Although he always says things he doesn't really mean, he is someone you can consider marrying

They would most definitely not get married, but just a few moments ago, something had happened in relation to him Zhiwei felt she needed to discuss with Zhiyin.

“JieJie, why I have come to visit: just now, outside, Prince of Zhao asked me to help him.”

“He asked for your help? To do what?”

From her sleeve, Zhiwei pulled the wooden figurine that was given to her by the prince she had first met at a gathering of the princes only a few days ago. It looked strange… eerie, with carvings that probably didn’t mean good things.

“I am to bury this at the East Palace! There are birth details engraved on this wooden figure,” she said, “look. I am worried he is trying to harm Prince of Chu.”

Ning Yan, the fifth prince, was a lackey of the Crown Prince, she had been able to observe their interactions first hand when they had been drinking here just a few days ago. Ning Yi had not been with the party, because apparently, he had received a punishment from his Father the Emperor. He had to kneel in front of the palace to reflect on his mistakes. It had been a particularly hot day, he must have suffered a lot, but the other princes had laughed about it. Vile men, all of them.

“These aren’t Prince of Chu's birth details,” Zhuyin said after a short inspection. “But whoever’s they are, this is too dangerous. You shouldn't be involved.”

“Zhuyin!” a male voice said from behind the corner. Quickly, Zhiwei grabbed the figurine from Zhuyin’s hand and hid it behind her back. She knew that voice! It belonged to that sleazy old man, the Headmaster of Qingming Academy! He knew she was here under a false identity. A danger to her, but Zhuyin had vouched for his character.

“Zhuyin. She doesn’t have a choice,” he said, stepping forward. What was he doing here? He must have heard every word. “She has accepted Prince of Zhao's hot potato. If she turns it down now, she will be killed.”

“Headmaster Xin,” Zhiwei sneered at him, “What are you doing, sneaking around in Zhuyin's room?”

Was it possible the pervert was here to indecently spy on Zhuyin? Strangely, her JieJie hadn’t shown a strong reaction to his appearance though. Was it possible that…

“Sneaking around?” he chuckled. “That's because we have a secret to hide.”

So it was possible. Zhuyin had sprung up and insisted she would take on this task instead of Zhiwei, but that was out of the question. Zhiwei protested vehemently just as Headmaster Xin echoed her sentiment with more authority.

“Zhuyin. Why don't you go out and guard the door for us? Please allow me to discuss this with Wei Zhi,” Headmaster Xin added. Zhuyin complied, though she looked worried and unhappy.

“Sneaking around you say?” Headmaster Xin huffed and sat down on a step in Zhuyin’s room that separated one part of it from another, leisurely arranging his robes around himself. “All right. Let's sneak around together as well, you and I.”

“Headmaster Xin, do you know what Prince of Zhao's plan is?” Zhiwei challenged him.

“I do,” he said matter-of-factly.

“Does it have something to do with Prince of Chu?” Zhiwei hurried to his side.

“Yes,” the answer came right away.

“Is it good or bad?”

“It's bad.”

Oh no. It was like she had feared. “How can I help him?” she pressed out.

“Why should I tell you?” the Headmaster queried, looking at her for the first time, though only briefly. He was trying to be arrogant, maybe because she had kindly helped him in a most embarrassing moment when his wife had threatened to cut off certain parts of him for coming to this brothel.

...after she had made a complete fool and laughing stock out of him in front of everyone by serving him “infant pee”. Was it her fault he had been fresh with her and she had won a round of wits against him? If he was that resentful, his character was even worse than her impression had been. But he needed to tell her about this matter, so she moved to kneel in front of him.

“What are you doing?”

“I beg you to tell me how I can help Prince of Chu.”

“How are you going to beg me?” Why was her sincerity always such an amusement to these men? She got ready to bow down all the way, but he caught her hands to prevent her.

“All right, all right!” he said with a sigh. “In my opinion, if you actually get it done for Prince of Zhao, it will benefit Prince of Chu greatly.”


“I have never lied to you.”

She looked into his eyes deeply. Would she see it if he was only trying to deceive her? She couldn’t be sure. But she saw friendliness there, some curiosity. A fatherly sparkle, something… trustworthy. Fine, Zhiwei, decided. She would bury the wooden figurine, like Prince of Zhao had asked her to do.

Luckily, there would be an opportunity very soon. The Crown Prince was hosting a feast at the East Palace and had hired a dozen of the girls from Lanxiang for entertainment. It would be easy for Zhiwei to sneak in as a servant and do what had to be done.


His bruised knees still hurt like fire. Ning Yi was also dizzy and slightly nauseous, but maybe it was just the aftereffects of having to kneel in the blazing sun for an entire day. That said, having to fawn friendliness to the Crown Prince and the rest of his brothers would always be like drinking undiluted vinegar. On top, watching that man paw Zhuyin like she was his possession made his anger boil. Ning Yi was pretty certain it was because Zhuyin was known to favor him - something the Crown Prince could not let stand.

Ah, but he was thirsty.

He threw a look at the girl beside him and reached for his cup. But she was faster. “Let me drink this wine for you!” she chirped … and gone was his wine. Huh?

“I will have the grapes then,” he said. But… “I love grapes!” said the girl on the other side. And gone were his grapes. What the…. He caught a shake of the head from Zhuyin at somebody somewhere behind him just when his second brother Ning Sheng said: “I've already heard that the girls from House of Lanxiang truly adore you, Ning Yi. It is a real eye-opener to witness it today.”

Ning Yi caught a glimpse of somebody trying to hide behind a pillar. Was that... Feng Zhiwei disguised as an East Palace servant? No wonder. Only that woman could come up with something as silly as this.

“Ning Yi.”

“Hm?” He turned back around.

“You have always been popular with the girls from House of Lanxiang, haven't you?”

“Oh? Really?” Smiling a foolish smile, Ning Yi leaned over to his companion who went by the name Red Lily.

“You conspired together to pull a prank on me, didn't you?” he whispered to her behind his hand.

“I don't know what is going on either,” the girl said slightly confused. “I was told to think of ways to keep you from eating.”

“Did that newcomer come up with this idea?” he asked her, not sure whether to be amused or annoyed.

“It was Zhuyin's instruction,” the girl explained.

Zhuyin? Well… that was interesting. He pondered the reason for a bit, even resisting an impulse to eat some nuts, but not long and an ice-cold draft against his neck made him turn around to scold the servant behind him. It was very hot outside these days, but the Crown Prince had procured ice blocks from somewhere and was now showing off a great invention - not his, of course - to the guests. Ice was cut and laced in elevated boxes. On top, there was a contraption with a handle and wooden flaps. When turned carefully like a spit over a fire, cold air was fanned towards the guests in the most pleasant way.

This, however … was most unpleasant.

Was he really surprised to see Zhiwei was the one causing him to freeze when he turned around angrily? Maybe not surprised, but a little pleased. He hadn’t seen her in quite a long while, and if he had, only from afar. She scrunched up her face and shook her head here and there, probably trying to indicate she needed to talk to him.

Here? How daring. He liked it.

“Your Royal Highness!” Ning Yi said loudly, until he had his brother’s attention. “It is scorchingly hot out there, but it is breezy in here. This is amazing!”

“Save the compliment. It's nothing remarkable, Ning Yi,” the Crown Prince replied in his usual condescending tone.

“I have to study this trick. Perhaps I can use this in my residence?” Ning Yi smiled and got up.

“The trick itself isn't hard. The difficult part is finding this large amount of ice in this hot weather,” Ning Yan sought it necessary to explain, “Your Royal Highness, only you can enjoy this kind of pleasure.” Of course, trying to suck up to Big Bro. Like that was going to help him… he was going down. Soon. Ning Yi couldn’t wait.

Certain his brothers would not mind him after this, he turned to inspect “the trick”.

“What exactly are you doing?” he addressed Feng Zhiwei. He was quite certain he would always recognize her, whatever disguise she wore, but to others, she must look like a young, slightly feminine man. Her disguise was very good.

“I'm trying to save your life!” she declared in a hushed tone, continuing to turn the handle like it mattered.

“Save my life? Why?”

“You can't eat anything served at this feast. The Crown Prince is trying to poison you.”

Did she really mean what she said? She looked at him angrily and a bit despondent. He lifted his hand again to cover his mouth.

“Poison me? The Crown Prince is going to poison me in his East Palace? The Crown Prince is not as stupid as you. Please stop causing trouble for me. This wind will freeze me to death before the Crown Prince poisons me.”

Seriously. What a troublemaker. And to add insult to injury, she snapped: “I want you to freeze to death.”

She was the only person in the whole wide world who dared to speak to him like this. Well, he could be magnanimous today, he thought, though punishing her would have given him some satisfaction. Instead, he walked over to his eldest brother, flattering him grossly. Right there in front of him, a dizzy spell made him stagger. Poison? Really?

But he seemed not the only one afflicted with something… the Crown Prince claimed he was feeling unwell too. That probably meant one thing: Ning Chuan was starting to pretend he was ill because he wanted to implicate Ning Yan in a case of witchcraft, just like he had implicated his third brother, Ning Qiao eight years ago.


“Your Highness, I have thought it over. I don't think the Crown Prince would lie about something like that.”

He had summoned the impudent Feng Zhiwei to his residence after the party and she was still spouting nonsense. Had he lost his power over her? She was decidedly unafraid, it seemed. Standing and towering over him like she was the royal and he was the commoner.

“Let the imperial doctor examine you!” she was capable of concern at least.

“Kneel!” he barked at her.

She did, but with a considerable delay. She looked worried. Fine, that assuaged him a little.

“I have told you,” he explained. “The Crown Prince isn't that stupid to poison me in his palace. Even if he did intend to do that, I couldn't even have a sip of water because of you and the girls from House of Lanxiang. How could he have poisoned me?”

The woman… laughed. It was unheard of!

“Why are you laughing?” he yelled.

She pulled a face.

“Did you…”

Laughing again. Trying to keep a straight face. Pressing her lips together. Ah, it was good to be reminded about how young she was from time to time.

“Tell me. Did you make up this lie and trick the girls into doing this? So you can torture and play pranks on me in revenge?”

“Well, if that's what you choose to think, it does sound reasonable,” she retorted and ventured to get up.

“Kneel!” he ordered her again. He would have to teach her some respect it seemed if it didn’t come naturally to her!

“You did lock me in Huxin Pavilion and held me captive in your residence. We can call it even now.”

Aha. She held grudges. Fine, he could accept that. “Now that you brought it up, our grudges are resolved, but what about those favors?” he gave back gleefully, “I saved your life and got your family out of prison. How are you going to repay my kindness?”

“The reason I'm staying at House of Lanxiang is to repay my debt of gratitude to you."

What? That did not sound… right. He knew she was staying there disguised as a servant, just as she stood in front of him now. He would have to ask Zhuyin how safe that really was though. There were all kinds of unruly men going to that place.

“I really heard the Crown Prince say, ‘I framed Ning Qiao back then. Now, I'm going to poison Ning Yi’,” she added.

Had she hit him squarely in the head, she would not have delivered a stronger blow. Her words pierced his head like an arrow. The headache had been there all day, but those words nourished it instantly, a pain that cascaded down into his entire body, an ache so strong he wanted to crawl into bed this very instance, lie there in utter darkness and forget everything.

All the hate he felt pooled in his stomach, shot up to his tongue, his lips, rushed out of his mouth. “One day, I'm going to make him admit that he framed Ning Qiao in front of everyone.” It sounded exactly like he felt. So bitter. So hurt. So powerless.

Feng Zhiwei’s voice sounded small and frightened as she scrambled to utter a late apology behind his back. “Please forgive me, Your Highness. I shouldn't have mentioned that.”

Another deep breath. Another. He couldn’t… he could not be this vulnerable to mere words. Luckily, she who had witnessed it was no danger to him. “Since you have, I believe you now.” he told her, turning around. “I will be careful.” He grabbed her hand and pulled her up. “You may rise.”

No defiance left in her now. He looked at her face and suddenly wondered: “But how did you manage to overhear such a private conversation?”

“It was a coincidence!” she claimed.

“A coincidence?” he echoed unbelieving.

“I'm now a servant in House of Lanxiang. I went to East Palace with the girls, so I happened to overhear it.”

Well, well. She was not a particularly good liar. In fact, she was horrible at it. But he did not like one bit what that meant.

“A servant from House of Lanxiang happened to catch a bird in the backyard for Prince of Zhao and become acquainted with him. Then, he happened to sneak into East Palace with Zhu Yin and overhear a confidential matter. Feng Zhiwei. Did you go to East Palace to bury the wooden figure for Ning Yan?”

“How did you know about the wooden figure?” she sounded surprised, shocked even. “Did Headmaster Xin tell you?”

Oh you silly, silly girl. This was all his plan. His doing. He had brought that wooden figurine into existence to mirror the Wugu incident. All they had needed…. was a pawn to execute it. And even though he had claimed, repeatedly, that she was just that to him - a pawn, he did not like it one bit that his pawn was used by others.

“Was Headmaster Xin also involved?” he couldn’t believe the extent of this deception. “Feng Zhiwei, you don't know how serious this matter is!”

Another wave of dizziness overcame him, just like before at his brother’s feast, only stronger. He staggered backwards, would maybe have fallen if not for her catching his arm and guiding him into a sitting position.

“You must have been poisoned! Get the imperial doctor!” she lamented.

But he was not done. “Feng Zhiwei. Do you know that you might get yourself killed?”

Their faces were very close, so close he could feel and smell her breath. It was sweet, like jasmin and white tea and very briefly, with a little skip of his heart, he wondered what she would taste like, But what was he thinking. Her demeanor was very serious and very determined, reminding him of how serious this matter was.

“Your Highness, please don't be upset. I am not as stupid as you think,” she whispered. And that right there, that was the problem. She wasn’t stupid at all. She was intelligent, smarter than most people he had met in his life. It was a blessing and a misfortune at the same time. A pawn… a pawn was not intelligent like her. But if she was not a pawn, what was she then?


A few hours later, Ziyan came to the Residence and upon hearing from Ning Cheng about his Master’s health difficulties, insisted on taking Ning Yi’s pulse. The Prince of Chu had no energy to resist him, he did feel rather weak these days.

“Well,” Ziyan declared after examining him, “Your Highness, you don't show symptoms of being poisoned. But! If the Crown Prince intends to poison you, you must be careful. And your pulse shows that you are deficient in both qi and blood. It is indeed quite strange.”

Not poison then. They could forget about this matter. “We eat all kinds of things,” Ning Yi shrugged, “it's normal to catch some illnesses. Don't worry, Ziyan. Let's focus on how to redress the injustice for Ning Qiao.”

Ziyan seemed little convinced though. “Although that's important, your safety is even more important,” he said resolutely.

“I have told you, Ziyan. There is no need to worry,” Ning Yi repeated. If he said so, it was so.

The Crown Prince was making a big fuss about his own illness these days. He had even summoned the imperial doctor in the middle of the night - clearly, he was running out of patience and was getting more and more anxious. The biggest success for them was that they had managed to drive a wedge between him and his advisor Chang Hai - who had cautioned the Crown Prince not to move against Ning Yan, but in vain.

“We killed two birds with one stone,” Ziyan said happily.

“That's great,” Ning Yi replied. “But things never go as planned.” A meaningful pause after these words, a glance at Ziyan… the Headmaster was alert, knowing Ning Yi well enough by now to get that something was up.

“Ning Yan made Feng Zhiwei sneak into East Palace. Ziyan, you knew about this, didn't you?” he smiled sweetly, but because Ziyan knew him, he knew that this smile was not friendly.

“Are you blaming me?”

Ning Yi shook his head, though maybe he was. It had certainly angered him enough this afternoon.

“That's right. I took the opportunity and dropped a hint about burying the wooden figure to her. But I saved her life by doing so!”

Which was probably true. And rather fortunate. “Since you saved her once, why don't you save her again?”

“Your Highness, what do you have in mind?

“She did something for Ning Yan, so he will get rid of her later. She is in danger now. I think that she should find a shelter and hide for a while.”

Ziyan remained quiet, probably thinking ‘is he seeing her as a pawn or as a woman?’ again, a topic he liked to get back to often. As if Ning Yi needed to be reminded that he couldn’t see her as a woman.

“Qingming Academy is technically the Crown Prince's turf,” he explained. “Feng Zhiwei ran a secret errand for Ning Yan directed against the Crown Prince. Imagine what Ning Yan would think if he saw Feng Zhiwei in Qingming Academy one day. Hm?”

Ziyan was still quiet. "Hm?” Ning Yi asked again.

“Hm,” the answer came. “We can protect Feng Zhiwei and quickly sabotage Ning Yan and the Crown Prince's relationship. It sure is a good idea. But!” Ziyan really was the master of dramatic pauses, “I have a hunch that we are actually looking for trouble.”

Almost like on cue, Ning Cheng’s voice rang out from outside: “Feng Zhiwei, what are you doing here?”

“Is His Highness here?” her clear voice answered, “I'm here to say goodbye to him.”

Ning Yi gestured for Ziyan to go hide himself and positioned himself at his slightly elevated desk before letting his servants know to let her in.

“Your Highness,” she bowed properly.

“Feng Zhiwei, where are you going?” he shouldn’t be worried, but he was. She was good at one thing and that was running away, but she really couldn’t this time.

“House of Lanxiang, of course. Or else, how can I repay your kindness?”

“House of Lanxiang?” What a relief. Though now he wanted to know where she had gone after leaving him earlier in the day. “You are only going to cause Zhu Yin trouble,” Ning Yi declared. “I have a suggestion. Why don't you go to Qingming Academy?”


Ziyan snorted in his hiding place. Yes, I say how things are done, and this is what I have decided, Ning Yi thought, feeling content.

“Is someone else here?” Feng Zhiwei asked, her head whipping around in alarm.

“There is no one else. It's not a person,” Ning Yi claimed. “I… I’ve kept a fox!”

“Oh!” her face broke into the most delighted smile. “A fox? What kind of a fox?”

“Don't change the topic,” he scolded her. Either she was not believing a word he was saying or she was about to ask to see his fox, both bad options. “Will you go to Qingming Academy?”

“Well, Qingming Academy is indeed a good place to study. But Headmaster Xin is a wife-fearing husband, who is also perverted and strange.”

Oh, priceless. “What did you say?” Ning Yi asked innocently, “Come here and speak louder.”

She did as told. “I said Headmaster Xin is strange, perverted, and is afraid of his wife,” Zhiwei said more loudly.

“Is he?” Ning Yi chuckled. “Hm, hm, hm.”

“Or do you actually want me to go undercover and spy on Xin Ziyan?” Zhiwei seemed rather excited about the prospect.

“How did you know that?” Ning Yi feigned surprise. “Didn't you say that you wanted to repay me? Then, help me out. Look carefully into Xin Ziyan for me.” A done deal. Feng Zhiwei would be safe at the Academy - at least as safe as she could be.

Somewhere behind them, something fell to the floor with a bang. Ning Yi smiled - Ziyan must have left, feeling vengeful.

“Your Highness, I think that your fox has knocked something over,” Feng Zhiwei remarked, “Do you need to take a look?”

“Perhaps this fox doesn't like the smell of the raccoon. It's upset with you.”

“Really?” she asked, a haughty smile on her face.

“Yes,” he claimed.

She kneeled down in front of his desk then, putting both of her hands on the wood. Suddenly, Ning Yi felt slightly flustered.

“Your Highness,” she began, “Everyone thinks that you are isolated after being away from the palace for eight years. But based on my observation, you've got eyes everywhere in the palace. You don't need me, a commoner, to serve you. Your Highness. What is the real reason for wanting me to go there?”

“What do you think?” he asked back.

“I told you that I buried the wooden figure for Prince of Zhao. You were worried… very worried that I might get killed. Now you're trying hard to persuade me to go to Qingming Academy. I suppose you want me to go there to hide from Prince of Zhao…,” she leaned forward on her elbows, “because you're concerned about my safety.”

What a sweet little face this woman had.

“You're reading too much into it,” Ning Yi lied with a bright smile to match hers, “I'm sending you to Qingming Academy to keep an eye on what goes on there.”

Now she looked disappointed? She was a fool.

“Can you bear to see me get poisoned by the Crown Prince one day?” he added gravely.

“Hmmm… Yes, I can,” she said sullenly.

“How dare you?” he scolded her. “You have to go, whether you like it or not.”

“All right,” she replied even more sullenly.

She left immediately after this. Yes, she would be safe at Qingming Academy, Ning Yi told himself, even though… even though Qingming Academy was quite far away from the Capital and… he would probably not see her again soon.

That was … good. It was good.

Chapter 7