The Rise of Phoenixes (天盛长歌) - Chapter 15 (Fanfiction)

Chapter 15 - Jinshi Horses eat Lunch and Dinner

written by kakashi
edited by Bunny

“Scholar Wei!” Ning Yi called out, quickening his steps to catch up to her outside the Palace.

Feng Zhiwei stopped and turned around to face him. He found it hard to read her expression today. Had she been worried at all? Or was she getting used to the endless games of intrigue played in the palace, to seeing him stagger from one deadly trap to the next.

“You're getting bolder,” he accused her but realized it sounded more like praise. “You dared serve me poisonous hangover soup.”

“Poisonous?” she replied lightly and without the slightest sign of guilt. “According to what you're saying, I was also the one who risked my life earlier when I served poisonous tea to all the officials in the palace. That’s the epitome of bold.”

Ning Yi snorted at her audacity. He would not thank her for providing a cure to the sickness she had given him, even though he was impressed. Only if she had taken Shaoning’s substance herself could she have known it would make marks appear on his body. What she could not have known was that Ning Sheng would claim the marks were proof he was not the Emperor’s son, but Zhanbi’s, because these marks appeared on the men of his tribe after they turned 18 years old.

Ah, the shame of having to strip in front of all these officials. The indignation at his ever-suspicious father for allowing this mistreatment of one of his sons! But ah, the satisfaction of seeing his brother grovel in fear mere moments later, when Zhiwei had stepped forward wondering innocently why she was seeing the same marks on her arms, why, indeed, everybody in the room had them.

“So you're saying you didn't know if the poison in the soup was fatal. Had you poisoned me to death, wouldn't that have pleased a lot of people?” Ning Yi stepped closer almost compulsively.

He had not forgotten the wetness of her eyes when he had insisted on drinking the soup. No, she could not have known for certain there would be no harm. She was ruthless, this woman, and ready to sacrifice him for things she loved - like her family. Why should that bother him?

“Your Highness, you're very fortunate. You're standing right before me now,” she said with a faint smile and stepped a little closer too, looking at him cheekily from innocent eyes.

Ah, this woman, this woman. He would visit her at her residence tomorrow and give her a gift. Would she like a beautiful dress? He had just the fabric in mind that would go very well with her eyes and her lovely complexion. But… no, that was too conspicuous, his clothes were well known and Feng Zhiwei should not be seen in a dress of his making. A hairpin then? He was thinking a silver one with some gemstones would be lovely in her hair… but that was too extravagant and she would most certainly refuse such a gift. So maybe … a bird? A colorful bird to brighten up her days. One that talked and said: “Feng Zhiwei, you are too stupid, you will never find a husband.” Or: “Feng Zhiwei, serve the Prince of Chu without resistance.” Or...

“Zhanbi wouldn't commit suicide without a reason!” a loud and thickly accented voice rang out behind Ning Yi, rudely interrupting his pleasant thoughts. “He died in a Tiansheng prison and I want an explanation from you. I won't take it sitting down!”

Prince Helian. Who had made a huge fuss in court over the news of Zhanbi’s death. He was ill-mannered and hot blooded and really not somebody Ning Yi felt like interacting with at the moment. But, as Ziyan liked to point out, this prince was an honored guest and Ning Yi had to be polite.

“Prince Helian,” Ning Yi said, hardly looking at the uncouth appearance with the unruly hair and beard, but letting only a little bit of his annoyance seep into his voice. “It's not my style to investigate cases sloppily. Furthermore, Tiansheng is more complicated than you think. But I'll give you an explanation sooner or later.”

The explanation was simple, even if Helian would not believe it. Ning Yi was certain Zhanbi had hanged himself in order to protect him, the son of the woman he had loved very dearly. Ning Sheng must have nudged him to do it, probably telling Zhanbi that if Ning Yi freed him from prison, like he had earlier told Zhanbi he would, the Emperor would make sure to kill Ning Yi for it.

Ning Yi expected Prince Helian to accept his explanation and go away, but people from Jinshi had different customs and this prince was already making a name for himself about being tenacious and annoying.

Running behind Ning Yi and Feng Zhiwei, Prince Helian jumped in front of them and blocked their way.

“I'll trust you this time,” he declared magnanimously. “However, I have one favor to ask.”

Favors? Now that was asking a lot for nothing.

“Tell me,” Ning Yi replied haughtily.

Helian took a step in his direction. Too close! Ning Yi stepped back, but Helian closed the gap again. He smelled of horses and leather and something that had to be hair oil. There was a huge grin plastered to that face, but Ning Yi refused to be won over by it.

“Your Highness, please tell me the rules of marriage in Tiansheng. I want to get another concubine.”

Hm, what now? Ning Yi lifted his eyebrows in surprise. Of all possible topics, this one he had expected the least.

“I have my eye on a girl,” the Jinshi prince continued enthusiastically. “She's not pretty, yet she's bold.”

“Who is this fortunate girl?” Ning Yi heard himself say, just as he felt a strange, rather unpleasant sensation come over him.

“It's Colonel Qiu's niece, Feng Zhiwei!” the prince from Jinshi declared. “I will ask His Majesty's permission to take her with me.”

Zhiwei, who had tried to sneak away behind his back, erupted into a coughing fit that wouldn’t cease. Ning Yi felt like grasping her hand and running away, but the Prince from Jinshi had made him back up so much he was now standing against a pillar, seeing himself unable to move at all.

“The blessing from His Majesty for a marriage is an honor,” was all he could come up with. “Yet you're using it just to get a concubine.”

It was quite outrageous, really, that this boor thought someone as prickly and opinionated as Feng Zhiwei would willingly follow him into the dull grasslands of his home to live a life behind walls without any real status.

“If you have too much luck or success, bad luck certainly comes,” he thought of teaching the man a lesson. “Be careful.”

“Huh?” Helian frowned. “Lunch? Did you say, lunch? My horses eat lunch and dinner. That's why they can carry me and my heavy weapons. But your horses only eat lunch, which is sufficient to carry the weak men of Tiansheng.”

“Oh?” Ning Yi coughed, not sure whether to laugh or scream.

“It's such a shame for Tiansheng women to be your wives,” Helian tried to provoke him further. “It would be such an honor for that Feng Zhiwei to marry me.”

Just then, Ning Yi caught a glimpse of a smirk on Feng Zhiwei’s face. Oh really? She thought this dolt and his insults funny? She would laugh at Tiansheng men being called weak?

“Then on the day of your wedding, when you thank His Majesty at the palace, I'll surely bring nice gifts for you,” he said, quickly changing his mind about this situation altogether. He would teach her a lesson too. Insolent woman.

Feng Zhiwei thought it an opportune moment to make a quick exit, but if she believed he would let her go this easily, she did not know him at all. Poisoning him and then not checking how he was doing even once? Never had he met a more heartless creature.

“Scholar Wei?” Ning Yi called after her sweetly.

“Scholar Wei, wait!” Helian commanded, noting her attempt to escape too, and took a few steps that brought him to stand in front of her. “I still have something to discuss with you. Do you know Feng Zhiwei of the Qiu family?”

Oh good, Ning Yi thought, now he was beginning to have fun. Seeing Zhiwei squirm was always enjoyable and she must be squirming so much inside those large courtier’s clothes she was about to lose her undergarments.

“I'm a man,” she coughed embarrassed and tried to catch Ning Yi’s eye, probably for support. “How would I know a woman who's refrained from going outside of her house?”

“I originally wanted you to pass on my message,” Helian said thoughtfully. “Now it seems you can't do that.”

“This Feng Zhiwei is just one of the thousands of women in Tiansheng!” Zhiwei tried to save her own skin. “I don't see anything special in her. Why do you like her so much?”

“I haven't met any other woman who dares to hit me,” Prince Helian gushed, an expression of angry admiration on his face. “How can I let her get away from me?”

Ning Yi nodded his approval for Feng Zhiwei to see. She shot him a very dark look, but how was it his problem if she made unrefined men fall in love with her?

“Aren't Tiansheng women submissive? From now on, she'll submit to me,” Helian continued. “She needs to wash my feet if I tell her to. She needs to massage my legs if I tell her to. Also, she needs to serve my ten other concubines. No matter how fierce she is, I'll let her know that she's just a mouse under a Jinshi eagle's claw.”

“Your Highness,” Ning Yi called out, feeling like he could be very good friends with this person after all. “If you want to torment Feng Zhiwei, I can help you with that.”

“Prince of Chu is willing to help me?” Helian said, sounding impressed.

Zhiwei’s expression was one of surprised outrage now. Yes, one did not easily play with the Prince of Chu’s sincerity. Time she was put in her place.

“I'm close to Colonel Qiu. It's easy for me to help you with this,” Ning Yi said and took a few steps away from the other two, only to have Zhiwei grasp his sleeve and pull at it viciously. He ripped himself free and continued enthusiastically. “She'll wash your feet. She'll massage your legs. Let her serve all ten wives. You can even save on the maids. Great. That'll soothe your anger. Really great.”

“Prince of Chu,” Prince Helian said behind him after a short silence. “Come to think of it, I can't ask a blessing from His Majesty to marry a concubine. I'll wait for such blessing when I get a noble consort.”

Ning Yi’s mood turned abruptly sour again. What? Now she had been upgraded to a much better status? He turned around with a frown, only to see Prince Helian stare at Feng Zhiwei with much intensity. Had he…

Suddenly, Prince Helian laughed out loud and walked away, looking over his shoulder at the two of them once more with a very stormy expression.

Maybe this Prince from the grasslands wasn’t quite as stupid as Ning Yi had thought him. It looked very much like he was suspicious of Wei Zhi’s true identity.

“Lousy tailor,” Feng Zhiwei hissed at him as she scurried away herself. “Wash his feet? Massage his legs? I’d rather rip his head off. And yours too.”

She really had murderous intentions, this impudent, bold wench, Ning Yi thought. Control her? Nobody could control her. Let this Jinshi prince find out the hard way - and let her realize that other men were not even half as understanding and nice as him.


After this occurrence, Ning Yi’s mood was thoroughly ruined and he spent the rest of the afternoon angrily trying to read without being distracted by thoughts of Feng Zhiwei massaging a half-naked Prince Helian’s legs and feet.

Probably to cheer him up with a prank, his guards decided to put on some strange charade after nightfall, with Ning Cheng whimpering on the floor and Ning Qing and Ning Zhuo pretending to be very concerned about him.

“What’s the matter?” Prince of Chu asked after stepping into the room.

“Your Highness!” Ning Zhuo said, “Ning Cheng ate too much lamb.”

“Your Highness,” Ning Qing added, “Ning Cheng secretly drank your wine last night. He said meat and wine is the best thing in life.”

That had Ning Cheng on his feet within seconds, protesting this statement vehemently and beginning to hit the other two. So vehemently it was probably true. Sitting down, Ning Yi sighed heavily.

“Stop it already,” he said rather annoyed. Did they have to behave like children?

“Your Highness,” Ning Cheng said sweetly after rushing to his side. “Don't listen to them. You had Feng Zhiwei's poisonous soup and I was so worried about your safety. I don't know how many medications I've tried for you, my stomach can no longer take it! I'm almost turning into an herbal medication residue.”

Aha, so somebody felt neglected.

“Are you asking me to reward you?” Ning Yi asked sweetly.

Ning Cheng should know him well enough to realize he was on dangerous territory if he took this tone with him.

“Even if you don't reward me,” his bodyguard replied with a sheepish grin, “do you see that girl's malicious heart now and how it pales in comparison to my loyalty? She really wants to harm you.”

This comment was hitting too close to home. Getting rid of this substance inside his bloodstream was one thing, but forgetting and forgiving Feng Zhiwei’s impudence and complete lack of remorse was another. Ning Yi exhaled angrily.

“You want to show your loyalty, right?” he asked his bodyguard who nodded. “Go to Qiu Residence now. Don't sleep, and watch them all day and all night. That Jinshi guy will definitely go to Qiu Residence soon and I want to know about it the moment that happens. Go.”

But instead of following his command, Ning Cheng blurted out: “Is Your Highness afraid that he'll force her to marry him?”

Ning Yi glared at him ready to commit murder. But Ning Cheng was very bold tonight, almost as bold as a certain woman, when he asked: “Could it be… that you're jealous?”

“What's that? Jealous?” Ning Yi asked back.

“Ah,” Ning Cheng started explaining with flourish. “Being jealous means seeing someone else propose to the woman you love. And you can feel bitterness in your heart.”

“It seems like you have the experience based on how detailed you're telling me about it,” Ning Yi remarked snippily.

“Oh yes!” Ning Cheng excitedly said and rushed to his side again. “I'm so well-acquainted with the ways of the world, of course, I know how it feels.”

Having his bodyguard explain his feelings to him in such an impudent way was definitely the last thing Ning Yi wanted on this wretched day. Jealous! Him! Of that ruffian smelling of horse and hair oil? But why had she smiled at his insults? Did she think that guy funny? Why did she not go with him then!

“Ning Qing, Ning Zhuo,” he said.

“Your Highness,” the two guards bowed in unison.

“Buy ten bottles of good vinegar. Tie up Ning Cheng and let him drink it in one shot. Drink it in one shot, and then let me know how it tastes. Go!”

“Yes, Your Highness.”

“Nooooo,” Ning Cheng wailed as his cousins dragged him away, “Your Highness! Your Highness, have mercy! You can't be that cruel, right? Your Highness! Help! I'm being killed! Your Highness is killing his own guard!”

Any other night, Ning Yi would have laughed. But on this night, he only felt … jealous. Jealous and confused because why should he be jealous of something he could not have? Of course Feng Zhiwei would get married. Soon, probably, because she was a very beautiful young woman with a reputable background. The man she would marry wasn't him. He knew it and yet…

“Jealous? I'm not jealous of anyone,” Ning Yi said to himself, but of course, a lie was a lie and lying to oneself was entirely useless because however much one tried to hide it, one always knew the truth.


Too much perfume in the air, too much useless, fancy things hanging from the ceiling, Prince Helian observed as he slouched in the living room of the Qiu Residence. Tiansheng furniture was finicky and filigrane so that one had to fear breaking something by just looking at it too hard. Just like their women, weak and filigrane, with arms and legs as thin as twigs and faces that would blush helplessly when being met by a man’s eye.

Helian shuddered. It was a constant amazement to him that such a timid people had founded this Empire. But then again, his recent experience had taught him not to underestimate some of them. Like that Prince of Chu.

The rustling of fabric made him look towards the door. A matron had entered the room, a smile plastered on her powdered face. There were gold trinkets all over her hair and body, but it most certainly did not make her one bit more beautiful.

“Madam Qiu pays respect to Prince Helian of Jinshi,” she chirped like one of those fat bird’s his father kept for special feasts.

Helian rose, taking his time to study the voluptuous appearance. “Madam Qiu, it is my pleasure,” he greeted back, stacking his fists on top of each other like it was custom in Jinshi. Before he had set out, his father had hammered into him that Tiansheng people valued being polite and were all about doing “what was right” and that he should try his very best to do and value the same as long as he was a guest in the Capital.

“We're honored by your gracious presence, but my husband is not home today. We're really sorry,” Madam Qiu smiled.

“I came unannounced!” Helian said, adjusting his tone and trying to make his accent less poignant. “Colonel Qiu is handling the horse market in Dayue, which benefits citizens in the borders and favors both countries. Jinshi should learn from Colonel Qiu’s great deeds.”

How did one even talk to these kind of women? Was flattery okay? But the smile looked frozen and pained, so maybe not.

“Since Colonel Qiu is not here today, then I'll just take a look around your residence,” Helian suggested, thinking just getting out of this stifling room would be nice, “and wait for him to come back.”

No? The smile became even more pained. How awkward. Walking around a residence was obviously impolite, but he was sure stating why he had really come was even more impolite.

“Mother,” a voice was to be heard outside then, “that Feng Zhiwei is back again. I don't want to see her.”

A girl came storming in, looking silly in her pastel dress and fancy hairdo, like a little girl even though she was clearly of the marrying age.

“She's evil, she wants to harm me!” she ranted, making Helian raise his eyebrows. Feng Zhiwei sure was a bully! He liked it a lot.

“How dare you!” Madam Qiu snapped at her. “Yuluo. Pay respect to Prince Helian of Jinshi.”

The pastel girl, who was as ugly as a sheep, seemed to notice him only now. “Qiu Yuluo pays respect to Your Highness,” she piped up, her hands pointlessly trying to bring her rat-tail hair in order.

“It's Colonel Qiu's daughter,” Helian observed with a broad smile. “A beautiful lady indeed.” Lying was good sometimes and his words had the desired effect on the obviously stupid woman, who started to giggle in a most annoying way. “If someone dares bully you, that person is an utter fool. How about letting me take the opportunity to teach that Feng Zhiwei a lesson?”

When would he finally be able to see whom he had come to see?

“Your Highness is so righteous,” the pastel girl said, her voice as ugly as the rest of her. “Mother, ask Feng Zhiwei to come see His Highness.”

“Stop your nonsense,” the mother snapped. But clearly, this Yuluo was a spoilt brat who was hardly ever told how annoying she was. In Jinshi, someone like her would be whipped regularly until she would become more sensible a long time ago. “Your Highness, I apologize,” the mother explained. “That Feng Zhiwei is my husband's niece. She grew up with Yuluo. They're just playing around, please don't take it seriously.”

Ah, just hearing her name mentioned so frequently quickened his pulse and made his impatience surge.

“Madam, don't be nervous,” he said. “When I first came to the capital, I heard that Feng Zhiwei is quite talented. I am happy to hear she is present and now I just want to meet her today. I hope you'll allow it.”

“Ah,” the Madam said in some confusion. “In that case, please wait a moment. Let me prepare some tea and snacks.”

Just bring her already, Helian thought. I’ve been patient enough.

As soon as her mother had left the room, the Yuluo girl launched into a flirting mode and came really close. The heavy flower scent of her perfume made Helian’s head swim.

“Your Highness. How do you plan to teach that Feng Zhiwei a lesson?” She hopped up and down in front of him like her bladder had to be emptied urgently.

“Well,” Helian said, taking a few steps back to escape the wafts of that sweet stench. “I'll ask her some questions. If she cannot answer, I'll take her back to Jinshi as my concubine right away. That way, she won't bully you again.”

“Then what kind of question do you plan to ask her?” Yuluo demanded to know.

“I want to let her guess an object,” he declared, looking over to his two bodyguards with a broad smile. They would love it too.

“An object? What object?” the Tiansheng woman asked.

Ah, but how she got on his nerves.

“Why? Do you also want to guess that object?” Helian asked, then turned and went back to the low table he had been sitting on before, indicating to his male bodyguard to hand him his belt pouch. Smiling in anticipation, he passed it on to the Qiu daughter.

“This…,” she said puzzled as she turned the rather plain leather pouch around in her little hands.

“It's a sacred object in Jinshi,” Helian boasted. “It maintains beauty. It even makes your body fragrant after ingesting.”

“How amaaaaaaazing,” Yuluo cooed.

“How about I let you taste it?” Helian bared his teeth in anticipation.

Excitedly, Yuluo opened the pouch and used a golden spoon to take out some of its content. Trying not to burst out laughing, Helian bit his lips. Yuluo inspected the white grains on her spoon reverently from all sides before she put it into her mouth … and spit it out immediately.

“Isn't this salt?” she cried.

Helian burst out laughing and his two bodyguards joined in. That face! So stupid! Priceless.

“Prince of Jinshi is teasing a daughter of a Tiansheng colonel,” somebody interjected from the door. “Do you think so lowly of Tiansheng?”

Feng Zhiwei! She was finally here. His eyes drank in her sight, as thirsty as somebody who had eaten a very salty meal. Nothing about her was finicky or useless. The color of her skin was as white and unsullied as the first snow on the distant mountains of his home. Her bearing was elegant, but resolute. And that tongue of hers… sharper than the sharpest Jinshi blade.

“I respect Tiansheng very much,” he retorted. “I respect Colonel Qiu even more. Or else, why would I let his daughter taste a sacred object?”

That Yuluo protested loudly, but Helian would happily explain and impress Feng Zhiwei with his wit. “It's salt indeed. But I brought it with me from Jinshi to Tiansheng. It's filled with the sweat of Prince of Jinshi. Isn't it Jinshi's sacred object then?” He started laughing again.

Yuluo started retching and then cried: “Feng Zhiwei. Why don't you teach this horrible prince a lesson for me?”

What a mean person. “What did you say earlier? You said Feng Zhiwei is evil,” Helian scolded her. “She wants to harm you. Why are you begging her to help you now?”

“You… You're all bullying me,” Yuluo cried.

“Don't be mad,” Prince Helian said conciliatory though bullying this stupid girl was exactly what he wanted to do. “I'll help you bully her in turn! Feng Zhiwei! Guess what this sacred object is used for in Jinshi.”

“Prince Helian,” she said pleasantly, maintaining a sweet smile he knew concealed more than it revealed. “They say, ‘Salt plays an important role and assumes a huge responsibility.’ Salt must be vital in your country. I'm guessing... it might be the betrothal gift for marriage.”

It made him happy that she had guessed so easily and that he could finally do what he had come to do. “You're right!” he declared proudly. “And since you accepted my betrothal gift, come back to Jinshi with me now. I want…”

Snap, an arm had appeared out of thin air, barring his way towards Zhiwei, even pushing him back violently. That little handmaid that followed Zhiwei around!

“What were you saying?” Zhiwei said amiably.

“Why don't you become my concubine?” Helian suggested and smiled eagerly. He had imagined various things he would like to do to Feng Zhiwei once she was safely in his palace, but now that she was standing in front of him like this, radiant and regal, he did not recall the details. He only wanted her to be there with him.

“It's not hard to make me do that,” she agreed. “But I also have a question. If you answer it right, I'll go to Jinshi with you and wash the feet and massage the legs of your ten wives. What do you think?”

Oh yes. He had seen through her disguise the other day and it had only made him covet her more. How daring! Posing as a man in the palace was almost like walking naked into a bear cave.

“You can ask me more than one question,” he grinned. “You can do anything you want with me.”

“All I want is for you to listen to these four lines: ‘Salt and plum are required for cooking / Wine is required for drinking / Regardless of whether its texture is soft or hard / it's full of thorns like the puncture vine.’ Please tell me these two seasons in Tiansheng.”

“Excuse me? What should I tell you?” What kind of gibberish was coming out of her beautiful mouth? Prince Helian suddenly felt far less in control of the situation.

“The seasons,” she said patiently, but he saw the triumph in her pretty eyes even before she turned to go. “Since you can't answer,” she declared with a shake of her head, “then I'll leave now. What a shame. What a shame.”

What, what, what?

“Feng Zhiwei!” Helian cried, rushing after her, catching her at the top of the outside stairs. “I didn't say you may leave, so you may not.”

“You're asking for a beating,” that handmaid of hers said menacingly.

That little wench! “I remember! You're that handmaid who kicked me and hurt my horses,” Helian said angrily. “Why? You want to challenge me?”

“Good idea,” Feng Zhiwei said. “If you win, I'll go with you to Jinshi. But if you lose…”

“Haha,” Helian laughed, looking that handmaid over. “Lose? I never lose. I was unprepared last time. How would I lose to a weak and thin handmaid?”

“What if you lose?” the handmaid said evenly.

What a strange voice she had. Helian furrowed his brow. “If I lose, I'll eat all of this salt?”

“Not only that, you need to call me your aunt!” Feng Zhiwei demanded.

“Fine,” Prince Helian laughed. “You really think I'll lose to her? Come on, you little thing, come!”

He walked down to the courtyard confidently, waiting for that strange person to join him.

“Your Highness, be careful,” his bodyguard cautioned in a low voice. “It seems she's had some training.”

Really? Prince Helian pulled a face. As a result, the handmaid put her hands behind her back and declared: “If I use my hands today, then I lose.”

What the… What an insult! “You little handmaid!” Helian smirked, folding his hands behind his back too. “All right. If I use my hands today, then I lose.”

And he attacked.

Prince Helian knew himself to be an excellent fighter. A Jinshi Prince had to be or he would be killed first chance his opponents got, because there were many duels, with all kinds of weapons.

The first time he thought he might have misjudged this situation was when he saw how quietly and confidently Feng Zhiwei surveilled the fight from the height of the stairs.

The second time was when that little wench that was his opponent kicked him in the shin so hard, Helian wanted to scream in pain.

He went at it with renewed energy and more effort and… used his hands without even thinking.

Damn this.

“I lose,” he ground out. Ah, what bad luck. He was feeling a lot of regret. Turning around, he addressed Feng Zhiwei with a rueful smile: “Aunt Zhiwei. Your nephew pays respect to you.”

“Dear nephew,” she said, “eat your betrothal gift.”


“Your Highness, you were too rash. I really can't help you,” his bodyguard shrugged and handed him the pouch. Fine then! Helian put salt on his hand. Then some more. Until there was a little mountain.

“You bet, you pay,” Helian said and threw it into his mouth, making the rest of the pouch’s content follow. Who among his ancestors had decided that there had to be this much salt for a betrothal gift? Damned be their souls!

“Jinshi men are men of their words,” he heard her say as he was trying to keep the contents of his stomach down but everything inside of him wanted to rush out of his mouth to cleanse him of salt forever. “You really impressed me today.”

Helian felt like dying and then dying some more, but it passed eventually and after his watering eyes had cleared, he looked up at her again with no less admiration than before.

“Aunt Zhiwei. I finished the salt,” he pressed out.

“That quickly? Then go home!” she quipped. “And don't forget to drink water!”

Helian turned to leave, for he knew when a battle had been lost. But if today’s meeting had done one thing, it was to let his heart catch fire and his desire for this woman burn ever more brightly.

“Aunt Zhiwei,” he called out lovingly. “I forgot to tell you. In Jinshi, we can marry our aunts!”

Would he give up? Most certainly not. This woman was much too fine!

Chapter 16