The Rise of Phoenixes (天盛长歌) - Chapter 19 (Fanfiction)

Chapter 19 - An Interrupted Pillow Talk 

written by Kakashi, edited by Bunny

*some passages in this chapter are from the original novel

If Feng Zhiwei was honest, moving closer to Ning Yi was not really necessary. It was warm enough where she was, in that space underneath the blanket that she shared with him, even if her right side was considerably warmer than her left that was only barely covered.

Yet, she considered it.

The reason was, as soon as Ning Yi had somewhat reluctantly fallen into a restless slumber, Feng Zhiwei started to feel very uneasy about the creepy place they were in. Without anything to occupy herself with as she lay idly, she became acutely aware of strange sounds echoing through the large hall, a moaning and sighing, soft, but very mournful, and when she strained her senses, she even thought she heard footsteps behind the panels.

Feng Zhiwei decidedly did not like ghosts.

So, when the fire in one of the basins suddenly let out a loud pop, sending a flare of flame upwards, she got such a scare she squealed like a little piglet and grabbed his arm, sidling right up to him in the process.

The Prince of Chu mumbled something unintelligible and she braced herself expecting him to wake up, but the faint smell of medicine around him told her he was sleeping off the effects of a pill he had taken earlier.

So, here she was. Cuddled up against him and his solid, comforting warmth, in that space where the other’s breath became a sound you inevitably paid attention to, where the other’s scent engulfed you like a living cocoon.

However fearful she was of ghosts, it seemed to Feng Zhiwei that lying this close to him was something she might like doing under any circumstance, and that the confusing mixture of elation and fear she felt about this situation was not unwelcome. Frankly, Ning Yi could be truly horrible and mean, but being punished to take her clothes off had been more than just frightening.

It had been exciting.

For the first time in her life, she had felt she had power over somebody not because of working her mind as hard as she could, but because of what she had been born with. Feng Zhiwei knew too little about men and their desires, and all she knew she had heard at a brothel, but she understood she had won a round against the Prince of Chu because her body in its state of semi-undress had rendered him speechless. It wasn’t necessarily because she was beautiful, she would not go as far in her assumption, but even somebody as ruthless as Ning Yi had been raised with a strict sense of propriety. She knew she would no longer have surprise on her side in the next round, but this small victory, it felt good.

Possibly because she was not used to feeling victorious, she became a little too reckless. As she lay there pressed up against his solid warmth, it occurred to her that the longer she remained like this doing nothing, the more time worked against her and he would wake up. Whatever Ning Yi would decide to do then, Feng Zhiwei could be sure it would come with unwanted consequences for her. Hence, so her logic, she needed to exploit this situation as long as she had a chance to be the one in control.

Besides, her hands were itching to again go where they had no business to be. That scar… she was so extremely curious about it.

Her hand slipped between his undergarments and his skin with ease, finding an immediate point of entry where the fabric was crossed over his chest. Once inside, she marveled at the difference in temperature between her colder fingers and his heated skin, in the process finding the jagged edges of his scar. The difference between the smooth part of his skin and the tarnished part was like touching silk, then touching a file used to make furniture. How long ago had this happened? Had nobody tried to prevent the extreme scarring? It probably still hurt.

The scar ended below his navel and ran all the way up to the his left collarbone. Those had an interesting shape, she found as she traced both of them, markedly different from hers. His shoulders were very muscular. He probably regularly practiced with the sword, she surmised. Ah, and archery - that was also something the nobility was proficient at.

“You,” Ning Yi whispered into her ear rather unexpectedly, “are too cruel.”

She froze. His hand grabbed hers forcefully, immobilizing it completely. His speech sounded a little slurred, like he wasn’t fully attuned to a wakeful state yet, but she would never take him lightly, not even half-asleep.

“What is it you want to touch?” he asked. “Here?”

And he moved her hand to his stomach and slightly below.

“Or here?”

Up to his chest again.

Resistance seemed futile, he was very strong however weakened currently and there wasn't much point in struggling, especially since these were parts of his body she had already touched and did not mind touching again. The silken skin of a pampered prince, the muscular strength of a soldier, the mystery of a ghastly scar that dominated half his body - all of it was intriguing. Afraid? Yes, she was. But that had never held her back in her life, not even once.

“You see,” he whispered, “I can restrain myself and I will. You are not my wife. You are not someone who takes money for these kind of services. Neither are you a lowly servant who hops into the beds of royals in the hopes of begetting a bastard son. But if you were any of those…,” his one hand was suddenly on her stomach, his index finger circling her belly button through her garments, just on the verge of tickling, making goosebumps spring up all over her body. “You know what I would do?”

“No,” she whispered expectantly.

“Should I tell you?”

“Yes,” she breathed.

“Of course you’d charge right ahead,” he said and chuckled a little breathlessly. “Then listen, Feng Zhiwei.”

He paused and she swallowed, breathing in his alluring scent one more time. Abruptly, he removed his hand from her belly, she wasn’t sure whether she to be glad or disappointed.

“I would undress you completely, but very, very slowly,” he whispered. The tone of his voice was gentle enough, yet there was a feral undertone, a suppressed energy that hit the sensitive skin of her ear with every word of his. “I like nothing better than the sound of soft fabric gliding along a woman’s naked skin. Yes, the process of unpacking a present is a special pleasure because it heightens anticipation.”

He paused.

“Please continue,” she breathed.

“Once your clothes are off, I will move my fingers over your skin,” he complied. “When I weave cloth, I first use my eyes and then my touch to ensure its of the finest quality. My fingers are very skilled. There is a lot of skin on a woman’s body, and a lot of it is never touched with the proper reverence. The skin between your toes. The skin on the soles of your feet. The skin at the back of your knees. I know how to make a woman purr, and then beg, Feng Zhiwei, because I do not touch where she wants to be touched the most. Once you purr and once you beg, I will use my lips to taste what I have just touched. I will lick the salt and fragrance off your skin. Your body,” he paused again, “your body will ready itself for more, but you will not get it. Not yet.”

She listened to his breathing, finding satisfaction in the fact that it was quickened like hers.

“And what do I do, oh Prince?” she asked.

“Lie entirely still and wait for me to continue,” his response came. “I’m not done.”

“I think not. Methinks it works better if I return what is given.”

And as the sweet ache between her legs grew, she whispered back words of desire into his ear, feeling how a faint tremble began to shake his limbs.

“These lips of yours, I remember them well and fondly. Once you have licked off the salt from my skin, I will press mine to yours to taste myself on them.”

“Mmmhhhh,” Ning Yi purred, “hold that thought.”

“Your skin is so incredibly soft,” she continued, suppressing another urge to paw him this very instance, “I want to feel it against mine. Skin on skin. The warmth, the softness… no fabric can compare, surely.”

“Isn’t it unfair that you went ahead and explored further while I never got a real chance?” he interrupted her.

“No, His Highness,” she said with a smile. “You pledged to restrain yourself. I never did.”

“Do you know there are other places on your body I would touch next?”

"I can guess what they are,” she answered with an anticipatory shudder.

“Then let me tell you that you wouldn’t be this in control if I did.”

“And how do you know this, Prince of Chu?”

“From experience, Feng Zhiwei. Not one of them managed.”

“Pah!” she scoffed. “I’m not like other women.”

“Oh, indeed you’re not,” he said and it almost sounded tender.

A sound like a gate being pushed open made both of them scramble up. They held their breaths, but no other sounds were heard, only the steady roar of the wind and the rain outside.

“Nobody saw you when you came in, right?” he asked soberly.

“I don't know,” she answered, her heart beating very fast.

“Do you know where this is?”

“I don't,” she answered truthfully.

“This is where my mother lived after she died. For ten years,” Ning Yi said softly and moved backwards to be able to lean against the wood of the bedframe.

“What?” she asked, thinking she must have misunderstood. Suppressing a shiver, Zhi Wei belatedly remembered what everyone knew about Ning Yi. His mother was the princess of some small tribe and was captured by the Emperor before he established the Tiansheng empire. The exquisitely beautiful woman died a few months after giving birth due to hemorrhaging, or so the stories went.

Zhi Wei remembered that the first time she heard of Ning Yi’s story, something had felt off. Now she realized why: hemorrhaging a few months after giving birth? That was not how things usually went. So the truth actually was, that woman didn’t die back then and lived for another ten years…hiding away in such an out-of-the-way place?

“My mother was a sorceress from a mysterious tribe living deep in the mountain range. I think my father once loved her… but then, things happened to turn him against her. One day… one day it was said she had died. I remember a pain like a fiery metal ball stuck in my throat. It just did not want to come out, however hard I retched.”

Feng Zhiwei shivered. Ning Yi’s face was shrouded in shadows and she barely dared breathe, lest he thought better of telling her such intimate things.

“At that time, my father was considerate of the fact that I lost my mother at a young age and ordered I should be taken care of by the Empress…. After 10 days time, I started to be deathly ill and everyone, including my father, gave up hope on me. But on the night when I was about to die, the Empress’ place suddenly started to have sightings of ghosts. There was an old nursemaid who spotted a white figure drifting by and started to scream loudly. When everyone rushed over they discovered that I was covered in sweat but was no longer at death’s door. From that night on, the Empress’ place started to have sighting of ghosts quite frequently.”

“Oh,” Feng Zhiwei said, her mouth forming a surprised ‘o’ itself. A warm smile flashed across Ning Yi’s face as he bent forward a little to look at her. Ning Yi’s voice was strangely calm as if he was telling someone else’s story, a story where all the characters’ sorrow had long since been frozen in the past.

“After a few more rounds of ruckus with the ghost business, the Empress gave me over to Royal Concubine Chang where I grew up without much incident until Tiansheng Empire was established when I was seven.”

The fire in the basin was slowly dying down, making the room even darker.

“You… when did you see her again?” After holding the question in for a long while, Zhiwei finally asked.

“Aren’t you so very smart…,” Ning Yi lifted his hand and began to gently caresses her hair. “I was nine years old at the time. You probably do not know how big the palace grounds are… at the time, there was a lot of renovations going on… the old Dacheng palaces were all being dismantled and rebuilt and there were so many places I had never been to. One time while I was fetching a kite for the Crown Prince I hurt my leg. My brothers took the kite and ran off telling me that they were going to find my a physician but none ever came. Unable to stand the pain, I accidentally rolled down a hill and ended up discovering a small manor. I thought it was one of the abandoned ones but that day, the door was open.”

A smile formed on Ning Yi’s lips as his expression unconsciously filled with happiness at the memory, “…the door opened, a long haired woman walked out…so very beautiful...”

Ning Yi coughed twice and turned his face away but not before Zhiwei caught sight of something glistening in the corner of his eye.

“I didn’t know who she was at that time.” Ning Yi quickly recovered his composure and continued calmly, “I just thought she was like a fairy with eyes that were filled with kindness and warmth. Up to that point in my life, I had never experienced that sort of warmth so I completely forgot to be guarded and even allowed her to get close, carry me into the house and take care of my wound. She made a special sort of cake for me. I was already nine years old but she still tried to feed me like a young kid. I stayed there for about two hours and she didn’t say a word during all that time but cried when I politely bid her goodbye.”

It was Zhiwei’s turn to feel a rush of tears. The heart of a mother!

“… After I went back I couldn’t forget her so I snuck back a few more times. I knew it was forbidden to go to her place so I was always extra careful. However, my schooling was intense and my brothers kept a close watch on me so I could only find a few times a year to go. But every time I showed up she was always overjoyed and rushed around to prepare things for me. One time I was too tired and accidentally fell asleep. When I woke up four hours later her wrist was swollen from fanning me the whole time to keep me cool.”

Ning Yi paused, softly touching his own wrist, probably trying to imagine the ache his mother must’ve felt. His movement was gentle but his eyes slowly turned cold.

“Seven times… I went seven times…the eighth time…the place was empty.”

He was nine that year. He met his mother for the first time at nine then lost her forever at the age of ten. Zhiwei understood what it must have felt like, those joyful stolen moments he spent with her. Seven times, each time a mark on the heart to be counted.

Zhi Wei stared up at him and couldn’t bring herself to ask the ending. Tragedy… in stories, it was moving, sometimes entertaining, but when it hit people close to you, there was always so much regret. Perhaps his mother had struggled to stay alive for ten years just to have a chance to see her son again, wanting her love to shine on her child who was destined to walk down a long unforgiving path, to give her child light to carry in his heart… hoping it would be enough and last a while, knowing it would inevitably be darkened by the ruthless palace life.

“I found out later, her death anniversary is today,” Ning Yi said bitterly. “On this day that is feasts and celebrations for all people, no one remembers her death. When I found out who she was… I was beset with regrets. If I had known she was waiting for me, no matter how overwhelming my studies were, no matter how difficult my conniving brothers, I should’ve gone and visited her more even if it meant sacrificing food and sleep. Ah… the most precious years of my life were wasted.”

“No, it wasn’t a waste,” Zhi Wei said sincerely, “You did see her. You spent precious time with her. She was happy on those days and so were you. It was worth it.”

“Happy?” Ning Yi paused, then repeated, “Happy? Here? Like this?” He broke into a low laugh that soon turned into another cough. Was he still not well?

After hesitating for a moment, Zhiwei slowly reached out a hand and grabbed his wrist. His pulse was stronger than before, he would be fine.

“I can only imagine what she had to endure for a few precious moments with her oblivious son,” he said bitterly after wiping his mouth.

He turned his eyes at Zhi Wei as the last of the fire cast a gentle amber light on his face along with the slightest sign of pain. “Zhiwei,” he said and somehow, the way he said it made her shiver, “Zhiwei…”

Ning Yi grabbed her hand. Shaken by the intensity of his gaze, she could only blink in confusion.

“Zhiwei, even if the whole world is against me, the only thing I care about is that you are not one of them.”

Her body trembled at Ning Yi’s words. In contrast to the paleness of his face, Ning Yi’s eyes seemed especially dark as if a deep bottomless abyss was hiding in them. She had never seen such expression before nor had she ever imagined that he would say such heartfelt words to her one day. From the moment they’ve met, they were mired in each other’s tumultuous lives. Conspiracy, suspicion, avoidance, fear, everything you could think of… Except for trust… they had never had that. Yet, right at this moment he was holding her hand, at the most intimate distance, calling her name with such earnesty.

Returning his stare, the words “How could I!” almost burst out of her but sudden loud yells from a crowd of people broke through the sound of rain outside. “Check over here!” someone shouted and many footsteps drew closer.

Zhi Wei and Ning Yi both jumped in alarm.

What chaos would it cause if Prince Helian’s “fiancée” and Ning Yi were found together in a state of undress? In one smooth move, Zhi Wei jumped up, grabbed her clothes and began putting them on as she darted over to the window only to see a group of guards had already arrived. A group of guards… and Princess Shaoning.

“Damit,” Zhiwei cursed, earning her an amused look from the Prince of Chu who was also hastily putting on his fine clothes. He had a nerve. There was little she found amusing about their current situation.

Princess Shaoning’s triumphant laugh could be heard now as the crowd got closer. “Prince Helian, I have been here once when I was young. It has long been abandoned but it will probably be good to check anyway. Who knows perhaps Zhiwei mistakenly came this way.”

Zhiwei and Ning Yi exchanged a look.

“After my mother died, Yilan Palace was sealed,” Ning Yi explained. “Father ordered that nobody come near this place. Those who disobeyed would be killed. You came here so recklessly. They probably know you're here. They'll try to make a big deal out of it.”

They both instantly realized what Princess Shaoning was planning. A simple, yet effective plan: Princess Shaoning wanted to catch Ning Yi at this forbidden place on his Father’s birthday - there would be little Ning Yi could say to clear his name. As for herself...

Feng Zhiwei shrugged. “I'm Feng Zhiwei right now. I'm just a hideous peasant girl. Your Majesty is lenient. He won't punish an ignorant peasant. I’ll go out to meet them! Find a safe place to hide, Your Highness. They'll just whip me a few times.”

“No!” Ning Yi said. “What I'm worried about is someone recognizing you as Wei Zhi. You could be killed. I have another idea…”

Diving back to the bedside, Ning Yi quickly kicked the fire basin under the bed, ripped the bed sheets apart and made sure all the chairs were scattered around on the floor instead of standing upright. Confused by Ning Yi’s actions, Zhiwei looked up questioningly only to see Ning Yi casting a look towards the backyard before promptly diving out of the window.

Excuse me?! Stunned, Zhiwei was at a loss what to do. Had he just abandoned her and ran off by himself? By the time Zhiwei had followed Ning Yi out of the window she could hear the guards coming in the outer gates. The Prince of Chu had not left… he was calmly searching the garden for something as he told Zhiwei “Get your disguise on your face again.”

Hastily taking out the makeup and fake eyebrows she carried with her, Zhiwei quickly turned her face back to the yellowish and ugly appearance.

“Found it!” Ning Yi let out a low cheer as he grabbed a small red fruit from a half dead plant, “Eat it!”

Zhiwei swallowed the fruit he put into her mouth without asking a single question. A gush of heat rushed through her body the moment she swallowed the fruit. Then, she felt her face heat up. Her head got dizzy and her heart raced. Ning Yi froze for a moment as he stared at her face, but then, he grabbed her hand to take her pulse.

“I hope it wasn’t too much…,” he said, frowning.

Getting a general gist of what Ning Yi was planning now, Zhiwei managed a lopsided smile at him. And just as someone was pushing the door open behind them, followed by a clatter of sounds and the exclamation “It looks like someone was here before!”, she grabbed the first thing that seemed suitable - a rusty shovel - and swung it widely.

“I am going to kill you!” Letting out a loud strange sounding howl, Zhiwei aimed it straight for Ning Yi’s head.

Ning Yi dodged out of the way as a hint of laughter flashed across his face. So she had guessed right, this was what he was planning. Acting like a lunatic? She could do it. Her hair was a mess, her face must look horrible and his hair, though recently combed by her, could pass for the hair of a man who had been assaulted by a madwoman.

Hearing the commotion, the guards all rushed over. Princess Shaoning and a deeply scowling Prince Helian strolled into the garden past the long line of guards. Her eyebrow raised, Princess Shaoning’s eyes gleamed with excited anticipation.

“I am going to kill you! You disgusting reprobate!” Zhiwei yelled, going after Ning Yi with renewed fervor.

With his hands at his back, Ning Yi gracefully avoided her deliberately clumsy hacking. Soon, the garden was littered with flowers and branches, innocent victims of her assaults.

“What’s going on?” Princess Shaoning sounded stunned.

Ning Yi shouted: “Enough! Stop! Cease your crazy antics! Somebody do something!”

“Zhi…,” equally stunned, Helian promptly joined the chaos. “Feng Zhi Wei! Why are you here! What are you doing!”

Her hand pulled unexpectedly by Helian, the shovel in Zhiwei’s hand jerked back and made a loud “bang”-sound when it made contact with Helian’s head.

“Ahh!” Remembering to keep hold of Zhiwei with one hand while putting his other hand on the bump that had instantly formed on his head, Helian asked nervously, “What’s wrong? What’s wrong?”

Seemingly as if she hadn’t heard him, Zhiwei continued to wield the shovel around “Kill him! Demon! Demon!!!!” Her eyes vacant of expression, Zhiwei aimed for Helian’s head again. “Death! Go away!”

Jumping out of harm's way, Helian had to let Zhiwei go and she used to opportunity to run towards a guard, shovel pointed at him like a sword, yelling “Death, you want to catch me too don’t you? Die!”

With her chasing someone else, Ning Yi finally had a chance to stop darting around and explain the situation. “This woman is plain crazy!” he yelled. “I had ducked into the palace garden to avoid the rain and this woman suddenly showed up. I didn’t want any trouble so I tried to avoid her but who knew she would chase me all the way to here…is she Prince Helian’s companion? That’s great, please take your thing away.”

Notwithstanding being preoccupied with pretending to be a crazy woman chasing random guards around with a shovel, Zhiwei took the time to glare at Ning Yi – a thing? She would get her revenge for this!

Her hesitation was brief, but sufficient for Prince Helian to wrap his arm around Zhiwei’s waist and pull her to him. The strong scent of horses and leather confused her for a bit. “I’ve got this,” he whispered, which confused her even more.

“Your Highness’ fiancée suffers from episodes of madness? It’s something she had in the past?” Not mincing words, Princess Shao Ning asked directly, sounding very sour.

Still wielding her shovel around, Zhiwei felt mildly nervous. She could not be certain what Helian would say. If he expressed his doubts then even if she and Ning Yi could cover this up today, they would face major trouble in the future.

“She…,” Helian tightened his arms around Zhiwei and smiled at her. “She…”

He was enjoying this, wasn’t he. He lifted his hand to caress her face. “She…,” Helian was still dragging his answer out as everyone stared at him expectantly. Unable to take it anymore, Zhi Wei secretly pinched Helian hard.

Promptly turning serious, Helian answered: “Yes.”

“Oh…,” Princess Shaoning said with disappointment.

“As you guys know,” Helian continued to pat Zhi Wei’s head while she continued her pinching. With eyes bright and even a hint of shyness, Helian explained, “last time I went over to Qiu manor to ask for her hand and was chased out…um…in actuality, it was because of this…”

“Ohhhhh…!” Everyone replied in unison this time.

The whole capital knew that Prince Helian was chased out of Qiu Manor and there were many versions of what had happened. Among the many versions, one of them was that Miss Feng had gone crazy but no one believed it…until now.

“Your Highness is really devoted to Miss Feng,” Shaoning said.

“Devoted…,” smiling proudly, Helian replied, “of course, the men of the grassland like their women special.”

Standing across from Helian, Ning Yi who had stayed silent the whole time suddenly smiled: “Your Highness’ taste is indeed particular, I applaud you.”

Why did those words sound a bit strange? Thinking she needed to keep up with her pretense, Zhiwei tried to wave her shovel around again, but Helian tightened his hold on her waist and whispered sharply, “stop pretending already, aren’t you tired?”

With a glance at Ning Yi, who was making his most unconcerned face, Helian grabbed her waist in such a way he could be sure Ning Yi would see it. Taking the shovel from Zhiwei’s hand, Helian tossed it away offhandedly. Clink! It landed right by Ning Yi’s foot, missing it just by a few inches.

Not moving at all, Ning Yi didn’t look at the shovel nor did he bother to look at Helian. But he looked at her. And as Helian turned to Princess Shaoning, explaining that he would take ‘his woman’ to a palace physician to check, Ning Yi sighed. Very briefly, his mouth tightened as if in apology before he turned away haughtily, muttering to himself about mannerless people from the grassland and their crazy choices for wives.

Ouf. That had been close. Looking at Helian’s frozen grin, Feng Zhiwei braced herself. They still had the feast to get through. And all the royals would be there.