Fanfic: A Cypress in Winter – Chapter 8 (Ice Fantasy - 幻城)

Chapter 8

Written By UnicornSlippers
Editing By SakiVI
Consultation By Charistia

Shi sat in his room in Mirage Hall, once again toying idly with chess pieces strewn in front of him. He was feeling unsettled this morning. He had sent for Lan Shang, intending to explain to her his reasons for sending her back to Seven Bay Island, but she had left Snow Blade City without a word as soon as the sun had crested the frozen horizon. Upon hearing of her departure, Shi had sent a senior maid to fetch Xing Jiu from the Imperial Library, but he was also nowhere to be found.

Shi did not dislike Lan Shang or desire to make her unhappy. She was his second cousin and the only living blood relative that he had left. He knew how deeply she had loved Kasuo, and that love had bound her in misery to Snow Blade City for over a decade. He had trouble believing that her stubborn commitment to the memory of his brother had been erased by a tenderness towards Xing Jiu. No matter the outcome of their mission to save Kasuo, Xing Jiu would be hurt by Lan Shang. Her destiny was tied to Kasuo. If they continued their relationship, it would surely risk everything Shi had worked for these past ten years.

Shi would also do Lan Shang no favors by allowing her to continue to live at the palace in Snow Blade City. It was true that her people were prosperous, but Wu Zan had informed him that Mermaid Tribe was growing unhappy with their absentee Queen. Lan Shang had not married nor produced an heir since she had inherited the throne, and many in the Mermaid Tribe were grumbling that she had abandoned them for Ice Tribe. It was time for his cousin to grow up and become the Queen that she was meant to become. She could not realize her potential if she remained pampered in his palace at Snow Blade City and distracted by a secret affair with Xing Jiu and her grief over Kasuo.

Shi knew that Xing Jiu would resent him for sending Lan Shang away, but he also knew that it was the right thing to do. A good King had to be strong enough to make tough decisions, even if he knew he would be judged harshly by the people closest to him. His brother had taught him that lesson, even though Kasuo was unable to follow his own advice when it had mattered the most. Shi intended to be a strong ruler, so that when he revitalized his brother with the Blood Red Lotus, the Ice Tribe would not demand that Kasuo take the crown from him. His brother could live his life free from the political machinations of Snow Blade City, as he had always dreamed.

As his thoughts turned towards the Blood Red Lotus, Shi pushed himself back from the table and stood, tired of brooding over his cousin and advisor. It was time to find Song Bai and learn more about the intriguing birthmark on her shoulder.

He stepped out of his room and turned down the hallway leading to the Earth Tribe Princess’ quarters, but was nearly knocked over by a woman amid a flurry of hair pins, crystals and fabric. Song Bai had pushed past him in a rush, and then abruptly stopped to turn and face him. She bowed and apologized for her discourtesy.

“My deepest apologies, your Highness. I was in a hurry and did not see you standing there.”

Shi noted with a self-satisfied smile that she was wearing the dress he had sent to her room earlier that morning. She looked lovely, her cheeks flushed and dark tendrils of hair slipping out of their pins to frame her oval face. He was reminded of a violet saffron flower, standing out vibrant and bold against the inexhaustible sea of white on a snow-covered hillside. He blinked in surprise, wondering why he was suddenly thinking of flowers.

“Apology accepted, and you may call me Shi,” he replied, his tone relaxed and but with a hint of playfulness. “I would suggest you stop galloping around the palace like a war horse and slow down before you trip on that gown and hurt yourself or someone else.”

Song Bai straightened from her bow and Shi stepped closer, his gaze drifting from her clothing and hair to the anxious expression on her face. He immediately noticed that she had been crying.

“What’s wrong?” he said, turning serious. “Why have you been crying?”

Song Bai looked embarrassed and self-consciously swiped at her eyes with the back of one hand. “It’s nothing, your Highness... I mean Shi. I’m fine.”

“Did someone at the palace say or do something unkind to you?” Shi pressed, concern etched on his features.

Song Bai shook her head. “No, your Highness. Xun Ru and I just had a discussion and he…”

At the precise moment that Song Bai mentioned Xun Ru’s name, Shi noticed that the bodice of her dress was loose in the front, one of her hands gathering the material firmly and pressing it against her chest to keep it from slipping down.

“Xun Ru?! What did he do to you, Song Bai?” he demanded, his eye color shifting from sapphire to copper as he stared at the front of her gown, his left hand clenched in a tight fist.

Song Bai was taken aback as she felt an icy blast whip around her face. The Ice Tribe King had instantly gone from calm and ethereal to fierce and dangerous. She had just felt the biting touch of his ice magic and it frightened her. Song Bai would not let him see her fear, however, and she straightened her shoulders in challenge. Anyway, it was none of his business what went on between her and Xun Ru, she thought.

“As I said before, your Highness, it was nothing of consequence. Xun Ru had some things to say about my father and I didn’t appreciate it. It isn’t something to concern yourself with. Now, if you don’t mind I would like to go to my room and rest.” She did not wait for a response, but turned on her heel and marched quickly down the hallway to her room, sweeping past the guards and slamming her door shut with a noisy bang.

Shi stood alone for several minutes in the silent hallway, still simmering with anger as he considered Song Bai’s words. She was clearly lying to him, but why? If Xun Ru had taken advantage of her, why would she protect him? Shi wheeled around and went back into his room, heading straight for the wall mount that held his sword, the Deicide. He hefted the wicked looking blade in one hand, mouth set in a grim line as he set a course for the soldier’s barracks. Regardless of what Song Bai had claimed, Xun Ru had undoubtedly disrespected her in some way. She might be a stranger, but she was Shi’s honored guest, and he would not tolerate such behavior. It was time to teach the Earth Tribe barbarian a lesson in manners.

Shi rushed out the door of his room and barreled directly into Zu Wan, narrowly avoiding a tragic accident with the Deicide as the two crashed together. Shi was furious.

“Wu Zan!” Shi growled. “I nearly cut you in half! What are you doing?!” Shi’s eyes sparked with a tawny flash and Wu Zan gaped at Shi’s agitated state and the massive sword he was wielding.

He quickly recovered his senses and bowed deeply in front of his Master. “Please forgive your humble servant, Highness. I was coming to speak to you about the Earth Tribe guard, Xun Ru.”

“Xun Ru? Did you see him with Song Bai earlier?” Shi asked impatiently.

Wu Zan looked surprised at the question, but nodded. “Yes, your Highness. She went to visit him this morning in the barracks.”

Shi considered Wu Zan’s words for a long moment and finally slackened his grip on his sword. He motioned for Wu Zan to follow him to his room. “Come inside and tell me what you saw.”

Wu Zan explained the entire exchange between Xun Ru and Song Bai in excruciating detail, concluding with the altercation between himself and the Earth Tribe guard in the practice yard. Shi sat quietly and listened, and Wu Zan saw him finally relax, his eyes melting back to brilliant blue as he reflected on the Servant Master’s words.

“So, Song Bai welcomed his advances?” Shi asked, troubled by what Wu Zan had told him, but unsure why. “She seems to care for him?”

“There appears to be something between them, but when he went too far, she stopped him,” Wu Zan replied smoothly.

“He is an idiot. Why did he say something so cruel to her?” Shi wondered, shaking his head in incredulity.

Wu Zan shrugged. “I assume desperation, your Highness. Clearly he hasn’t mastered the finer points of courting a woman.” He smiled slyly, indicated that he had, in fact, mastered the finer points of courting a woman.

Shi gave Wu Zan a baleful look and stood. “Go fetch the Ice Tribe Guard Captain, Bing Zhanshi, and then find Xing Jiu. I want to speak to both of them immediately.”

Wu Zan bowed and turned to carry out his assignment, but before he left, Shi called out to him.

“Wu Zan, how did you know that Xun Ru was weak in Earth magic?”

Wu Zan flashed another sly grin. “Song Bai’s eldest sister, Jingfei, was happy to share the information with me after a few glasses of ice wine and a friendly game of chess.”

Shi raised an eyebrow. “Be careful, Wu Zan. She is a Princess and an honored guest. I also believe I heard Song Bai say she is married. Don’t overstep.”

“Of course, your Highness,” replied Wu Zan, and he left to retrieve Shi’s advisor and the Ice Tribe guard captain, a knowing chuckle escaping his lips as soon as he was out of earshot.