Fanfiction3: A-Li's Three Lives, Three Worlds - Chapter 37 (Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms 三生三世十里桃花)

Chapter 37

written by LigayaCroft
edited by Panda and kakashi

She was determined to reach Chángyíng as fast as they could.

A baby waited for no one, she always said, and Huo Zheng was determined to be there for the birth. Thus, she refused the carriage the Duke had offered for them to ride in which caused the company to split into two — one consisted of the carriage and supplies, and the smaller one, theirs, was equipped with the fastest warhorses to race back to Chángyíng.

Huo Zheng was an excellent rider and her borrowed giant steed like putty in her hands. It followed her every direction — whether it was to trot, gallop or clear through various obstacles. A-Li watched her form in awe. He appreciated the gracefulness shown by the straight line of her back as she rode, and got explicitly attracted to the way her long legs gripped the horse’s flanks through the saddle — but he was not the only one. It didn’t pass his notice that she had a bigger audience admiring her every move and so he shot a warning look at all the soldiers whom he caught doing the same thing he was doing.

A-Li’s powers returned to him in one fell swoop the very moment they passed the expansive glacier’s borders. The sudden intense pressure that fell on his head and the tingling sensation that flooded through his entire body caused him to momentarily stop his own horse so he could catch his breath.

To his surprise, a gloved hand wrapped around his right wrist. Despite the pain at the back of his skull, A-Li was pleased to see Huo Zheng there, silently holding on to him, her expression etched with worry. Her mortal breath came out in small puffs of visible air from her sweet lips, which betrayed the amount of exertion it took for her to ride as fast as any of the company. A-Li wanted to feel the tiny puffs so he removed the glove from his right hand and reached out. His thumb softly landed on her lower lip, her chin rested on the side crook of his index finger, and yet she didn't resist his touch.

Heavens, but everything about her just took his immortal breath away.

And it didn’t make full sense.

The worlds were naturally beset with patterns of hierarchy that even the immortal realms bowed down to; a natural order that tied back to history, cultivation, and power. Most powerful since the time of Pangu were the handful of Primordial Gods who had all returned to Húndún, then the Old Gods such as his Lǎoye [1] and Dàyé [2], then the High Gods like his parents, then there were the High Immortals like him and Gun Gun. After them, regular immortals assumed their stature from their lineage or the tribes they belonged to. Because of this, as a Celestial, A-Li had grown up feeling a distinct edge of superiority over Demons, Ghosts, Fairies, Ghouls and lastly, over mortals.

Now with his immortal stature back in full force, A-Li would normally have felt the innate superiority of his lineage over her — felt thousands of years of his inborn and acquired cultivation trump her fortitude — and be able to look at her just the same as how a mortal would subconsciously look down on an ant.

After all, an ant could be the best ant in an anthill, and yet that was all the ant could ever be: an ant. The same logic went for a mortal, especially under scrutiny of an immortal like him.

But not her.

She was mortal but she shone so bright even as A-Li looked at her in the lamp-lit darkness with his immortal eyes. His heart thundered a relentless rhythm inside his chest, and a smile dawned on his face as he recognized the damning truth: that he did love her, even in his real form.

People were watching.

A-Li returned to the present but not without giving himself a taste of her.

The kiss was short, possessive and simply not enough. Why did she always smell so clean and so naturally fragrant? Her mouth — today she tasted like juicy oranges — easily softened and opened up to him, and it gave him the opportunity to give her a taste of things to come.

She looked a little dazed after he released her, which pleased him so.


He would have her later.

“How much longer to your manor?” He asked the fascinated Duke who had also stopped to watch them.

“Not soon enough, it seems,” the Duke heartily guffawed and the rest of his soldiers followed. “We can ride through the night and get there by sunrise but Bai Li, your wife looks like she is about to keel over.”

Huo Zheng did look tired especially since it was already midway through the pig hour [3] but A-Li knew her better by now.

“She's fine. We continue to ride.”

The look of relief and gratitude on her face was palpable before she turned her horse so she could ride on.

They continued to ride. Unknown to his companions, A-Li had used his powers to grant their company safe passage from savage wild animals, as well as to temporarily increase the horses’ stamina. At the same time, he also hid the company from immortal eyes.

Normally, his use of magick would have sent a beacon to anyone who would have been looking for him and opened him up to the occurrence of magickal biteback but thanks to his Shifu’s training, he suffered none of both. As this was the first time that he had actively drawn magick past this world’s Liánzi into Húndún, A-Li felt powerful as well as responsible. Not everyone had the ability to trump the immutable laws of magick that were put into place by Father Immortal. In fact, A-Li’s own Shifu said he would be the only one.


As soon as he could afford to step away from this world and part his eyes from Huo Zheng for several moments, A-Li needed to see her. There were many things he needed to ask her, things he needed to confirm.

But those could all be postponed until later.

At around the hour of the ox [4], Huo Zheng finally succumbed to exhaustion and tipped over.

A-Li deftly caught her by the waist before she fell from her horse and had her transferred to sit between his legs with little effort. She didn't resist but raised her chin and sleepily opened her eyes to look up at him as he secured her back against his chest and supported her position by wrapping his left arm around her torso.

“I’ve got you,” he whispered against the skin of her right temple.

She mumbled something incoherent and snuggled the side of her face against his clavicle. Her even breathing told him she was already fast asleep moments after.

“Not as tough as she looks now, isn't she?” asked the Duke’s right-hand man whose name it turned out was Cai Jin. “But your woman is made of steel, that much I can tell.”

A-Li wrapped his arm a little tighter around Huo Zheng as he remembered Huo Mao’s words right before they left.

Her beauty makes men take a second look; her intelligence and character make warrior-men want to keep her. If I had allowed her to go on her own, she would never have come back. Bring my granddaughter back to me. Swear it!

“Bai Li,” the Duke called out from beside Cai Jin. “I hope you don't mind but when we get home, can I ask you for a consult regarding my troops’ training?”

It was a little request that could help him pass the time as Huo Zheng attended to the Duchess so A-Li easily nodded his assent.

“Where did you learn to fight like that?”

The question made him smile and miss Lian Song and Cheng Yu. Had it really only been an immortal day?

“Wuji Island,” he answered. “It is located down south from the mainland, barely a tiny dot in the Red Sea.”

“I have never heard of that place.” The duke said thoughtfully, then his brows raised. “But that explains why you and that silver-haired man you had with you looked strange. What first brought you to Huicūn?”

“The tea.”

“I admit I heard about this town and its tea but understandably, I was distracted.”

“I have stocks and samples that I have brought along.” He referred to the saddlebags tied to his horse where he had packed more tea than clothing. “Perhaps in exchange for my consult, you and some of your guests can taste our teas, and perhaps after, we can talk trade? Most of our market is to the West, and we haven’t had opportunity to trade with the people of the North. I can guarantee you haven't tasted tea as good as the ones we produce in Huicūn.”

“Really? And why is that?”

It had been a spur of the moment decision when A-Li had brought along his house’s supply of Huicūn teas. He and Gun Gun had always wondered why their market was restricted to cities to the West of Huicūn given their teas were hands-down the best teas that any mortal world had ever produced. By bringing teas for taste sampling, A-Li had hoped to be able to talk shop with one of the tradesmen in Chángyíng but now that the opportunity had presented itself, he was also glad to be able to talk to the Duke directly about it. As he gave his tea talk, even he amazed himself with how much of a tea farmer and an expert he sounded, but more than that, he surprised himself that he even had an enterprising bone in his body, to begin with.

When the topic of teas ran dry, in turn, the Duke told A-Li of his plan to expand his territory to the Northeastern prefectures, currently riddled with bandit tribes and vicious folklore. The current Emperor had no care as to whoever ruled over the territory, and the Duke desired its fertile plains for agriculture and farming.

A-Li no longer needed to be told that the Duke was ambitious enough to dream of going to war with his distant cousin, the Emperor. The arrival of a son would surely make him feel even more bullish later on.

They arrived in Chányíng just as the sun peeked from the East through the tallest mountain peak. The Duke’s Sìhéyuàn [5] gates looked like the entrance to a palace, as befitting the great-grandson of the former Northern King before the family bowed down to Central Imperial powers.

Huo Zheng woke up just as the gates were being opened.

“How long was I out?” She asked as she took in the towering walls and metal gates while they rode past. It did not escape A-Li’s notice that her grip on his hand and forearm had tightened.

The fact that she had slept for hours through a rough ride spoke volumes about how tired she must have been; but knowing her quirks by now, A-Li knew she would have been embarrassed to admit it. Instead, he held her even tighter against him and whispered close to her ear, “You should get ready for your meeting with the Duchess.”

“Oh! Right!” One hand ran through her braided hair while the other searched through her pockets. Her backside innocently rubbed against A-Li’s front as she moved this way and that in her seat, which made him grit his teeth and he thought of gross things to try to calm himself down. Finally, she stopped and her hand came back out with a teeth cleaning twig. A-Li shook his head at just how hygiene-conscious Huo Zheng was — she even got Mei Lin brushing her teeth and cleaning her hands every so often.

“Don’t you need one too?” She asked a little bit later, holding up a new twig close to his face.

Being in his immortal form again made paying close attention to personal hygiene at Huo Zheng’s level somewhat unnecessary. “I already had one,” he lied and declined.

“Mmm,” and to A-Li’s surprise, she tipped her head up, twig and all, to give the side of his face an indelicate sniff. “That’s strange.”

“What is?”

Her nose crinkled. “You smell like you, but different. I still like it though.”

“I have a scent?”

She looked forward and once again, A-Li only had a view of the back of her head until they stopped in front of the imposing steps that led up to the ducal mansion. Without further ado, she struggled against his left arm and gracefully slid off the horse but her eyes were on him as she matter-of-factly said, “Scent is very important to the mating behavior of animals. Of course, I knew how you smelled like and liked it, else I would not have wanted to mate with you.”

A-Li was only too glad that she had already climbed off the horse because damn it, he had very little self-control remaining with this woman whose mouth and actions hid no inhibitions.


Just her.

He would have her.


“Lead the way to my wife!” The Duke shouted to the servants as he and A-Li followed right behind Huo Zheng. The servants alertly scurried to do as they were told.

As they all walked along the compound, in surroundings much grander than what had been his environment during the past year, A-Li could not help but somehow miss his Celestial home.

He missed having servants to attend to his every need. He missed having access to hot baths. He missed having a soft bed to lie on, goose down pillows under his head, and silk sheets against his skin.

But reality beckoned. A servant rushed past on Huo Zheng’s orders to fetch her supplies and to bring them to the Duchess’ birthing room.

They turned the corner to the wing of the house where even more servants were gathered outside, alertly waiting. The Duke hurried past Huo Zheng, flew up two steps at a time, flung the doors open and called for his wife.

“Hua’er, I am home! And I have brought you the best healer in the land.”

During their journey, the Duke had painted his beloved as a genteel wife, which was why A-Li was surprised at the woman’s response when she threw a cup toward her husband, who deftly caught it in his hand.

“You! Why don’t you just let me die?”

Xin Hua was a tiny woman of delicate beauty whose height barely cleared A-Li’s chest. The feral look in her eyes reminded him of a caged animal. And why wouldn’t she be, when there were about twenty people who hovered about inside her room? A-Li knew from his own experience that having that many servants in a confined space like this room could only be described as stifling.

“Everybody except the Duchess’ chief attendant, out,” came Huo Zheng’s stern command, her eyes solely fixed on the tiny woman. “That includes you, Doctor,” she told the capped man who was sizing her up as she approached.

“You heard her,” A-Li warned just as the man opened his mouth to speak. “Out.”

The Doctor whimpered but stooped to pick up his medicinal chest and hurried outside. A-Li’s immortal ears picked up his mumblings about cursing Huo Zheng with a failed delivery as if wishing ill of his Master’s child was sufficient payment for his wounded pride.

Next, Huo Zheng told the remaining maid to remove the windshield curtains from three of the room’s windows and she approached Xin Hua, her hand held out for the woman’s left arm.

“Hello, Xin Hua Gōng Zhǔ [6]. I am Huo Zheng from Huicūn and I am here to assist you as you give birth.”

Xin Hua grabbed Huo Zheng’s arm and violently pulled her close. The side of her hip slammed on the bed’s wood frame before A-Li could move to save her. But Huo Zheng looked back at him with calm in her eyes, which momentarily made him doubt whether he only imagined the sound of her hipbone meeting the bed’s hardwood railing.

“This baby is going to kill me, Huo Zheng. I just know it.”

Huo Zheng gently pried her wrist away from Xin Hua’s death grip. Half-moon marks left by the woman’s fingernails — some of which, bled — showed when she successfully took it back. Then she gently laid her hands on the pregnant woman’s stomach — probing, scanning.

“I will not give you false expectations: it might,” She finally said after she raised her hands. “But we’re going to give a good fight, alright?”

The two women shared a look, and strangely enough, Xin Hua visibly calmed down. The Duke took the opportunity to rush to his wife’s side, who was now apologetic as she embraced her husband back.

“Are you alright?” A-Li asked as Huo Zheng straightened, clutching her injured forearm. She ignored him and told the maid to bring her supplies inside. A-Li stepped in front of Huo Zheng after the maid rushed off. He gently held her by the shoulders and leaned closer to make her look up at him. “Xiăohŭ, should we get your arm treated?”

She shook her head. “It is unnecessary as there will be more later.”


“Oh, yes. Women who are about to give birth are not to be trifled with. They are so strong,” she said with a small smile and a long sigh as she looked past him to the view outside the window. “Fear and desperation can do that to even the gentlest of women, and there is nothing scarier for us than giving birth.“

Fair enough. Qianling was a wonderful child but A-Li could only imagine the terror Huo Zheng must have gone through while giving birth to her.

“Will you be fine while you are here? How can I help?”

“Take the Duke out. He adds to his wife’s nerves. Look at her, she’s shaking again.”

A-Li nodded.

“I will know more after I do an internal exam but I worry that the baby is still breech,” she whispered after making sure that the couple would not hear them. “Do you think he will have us killed if his wife dies on me? Not that this would be the first time someone would attempt to but we’re so far away from home, I cannot help but feel a bit uncertain about our chances. If either the baby or the mother dies, I need you to run and hide. Try to get back to Huicūn. Nǎinai will figure something out.”

It was sweet that she thought about his safety, too. A-Li remained in wonder at her heart, her strength. Something lodged in his throat, a feather or a stone, but at that point, who he was — high immortal prince, ‘mortal’ tea farmer, son of Ye Hua, somebody who could very well be as shameless as his own Father — none of those identities mattered.

All that mattered was her.

“Not a hair on your head will be harmed,” he swore. The thought that anything could happen to her, especially when he was in his original form, was plain preposterous. “Do you believe me?”

Her right hand clasped his left on her shoulder, and with soft glowing eyes, she eagerly nodded.

He was about to say more when the maid returned followed by several attendants carrying Huo Zheng’s supplies.

She turned to go but he pulled her back to whisper one more word to her ear.


He loved seeing her eyes darken as her pupils widened. Her cheeks reddened and a tiny wisp of orange-scented breath escaped her slightly-opened mouth.

A-Li reluctantly let her go and left her to ruminate in her flustered state.


If she was not too tired.



The Duke was initially inconsolable from worry upon finding out the breech position of his unborn child so A-Li and Cai Jin decided to bring a small contingent with him to hunt geese and deer.

It worked. It turned out that as much as the Duke adored his wife, he was still the bloodthirsty sort. Soon, the thrill of the chase had the Duke more than sufficiently distracted for the rest of the day.

From this hunting trip, A-Li found out that though the Emperor forbade the formation of any militia, the Duke of Chángyíng was granted special dispensation given that he had to protect the Northern borders from bandit tribes. Most of the officers had originally come from the Emperor’s cavalry then eager locals conscripted themselves to be the Duke’s soldiers, most of which were still going through training. This explained the deficiency A-Li had experienced when he and Gun Gun fought with some of them back in Huicūn.

He may have hurt their male pride by beating them up in Huicūn, but upon finding out that A-Li was coming along, the men were eager to be around him and did not hesitate asking how they could serve their liege better.

“You're a natural leader, Bai Li,” the Duke remarked as the two of them shared a roasted rabbit for lunch. “The way people naturally gravitate toward you, that's an inborn skill. I suppose the men of Huicūn follow you, too.”

“Hardly,” he shook his head as he took a piece and offered the rabbit back to the Duke. A-Li had never thought about his stature in Huicūn but now that the Duke mentioned it, it came along clearly that the men back in Huicūn did follow him around. Even the hazardous trip up the mountain to free up their water source had been his idea, and the men had seen nothing wrong with the dangers it entailed. Still, he could only attribute their behavior back to the camaraderie he had been able to build with the Huicūn locals, and not because of a leadership skill that the Duke was talking about.

They returned to Chángyíng around ribu [7]. Upon their arrival, the Doctor that he had met earlier that morning rushed toward the Duke to inform him that the Duchess was still with Huo Zheng.

“That healer, Huo Zheng, turned down the trifoliate orange decoction I have been giving my Lady since her 5th month. And as if she was set on overturning my role in this household, she once again vetoed me when I recommended we boil the head of a male dog of white color, and called the time-tested remedy of using dog blood for childbirth complications useless! Useless? What does she know? Instead, Huo Zheng has been continuously making suspicious concoctions using various herbs which she has been asking my Lady to either drink or apply topically in poultices all over my Lady’s body!”

“Herbs like what?” The Duke asked as he climbed down and handed his horse’s reins to a stable boy.

The Doctor signaled for an assistant to step forward. The frail man carried a ledger and a quill, and recited, “Angelica, mallow seeds, plantago seeds, ginseng, Sichuan pepper, dianthus, typha pollen, licorice, achyranthes, ligusticum, ovate atryctulodes, scutellaria, dried ginger, evodia, peony, fritillary, and cinnamon bark — were what we have observed so far. She moved so fast we couldn’t catch the exact measurements of her recipes. As her methods are unknown to us, we have reason to believe what she is doing is dangerous.”

“Then—” the Doctor latched on and continued his own tirade, his face getting even redder, “to stimulate contractions, I recommended that our Lady ingest some vinegar, which Huo Zheng also turned down. And since Huo Zheng overturned feeding our Lady with boiled dog’s head to treat the baby’s breech presentation, I had my assistants prepare three other traditional concoctions: the hair we collected from our Lord’s privates before our Lord left for Nanking, which we had dry-roasted then mixed with cinnabar paste; our Lord’s kind fingernail clippings, which we had charred and ground into fine powder; and lastly, my Lord’s belt that we had burnt to ashes and mixed with liquor— all to be given to our Lady — and that Huo Zheng just threw them all away!”

A-Li’s lips curved into a bemused smile even before he was able to stop it from happening. Of course, Huo Zheng would throw the nasty concoctions away. Fingernails and pubic hair — they would be too repulsive for somebody as hyper-hygienic as her.

“Furthermore—” The Doctor shouted, his index finger raised to the heavens, “when I demanded it was time to use a thick needle to poke the fetus’ hands and feet by about two fen [8], she laughed at me and called it a ridiculous and dangerous method. Nor did she permit we apply salt, pure cinnabar, black soot, or cart grease on the fetus’ soles. Instead, she got mad and threw us out of our Lady’s birthing room. Later on, we found out from the attendants who had delivered items to the birthing room that Huo Zheng was simply massaging the fetus into a head-first position. We have received reports that our Lady had already begun having abdominal pains. Huo Zheng was adamant that we would wait for the baby but I say we should get the baby out now! Our Lady is in so much pain, oh Duke, she might die!”

A-Li reached over and laid a hand on the Duke’s tense shoulder.

“What does my wife say she wants to do?” The Duke asked after a long sigh. “Clearly, she is still lucid. What does she want?”

At this, the Doctor stilled and then he started mumbling his words, making it almost impossible to hear that the Duchess had chosen to wait for the baby.

“Very well,” said the Duke. “Let’s all drink to my wife’s choice.”

The soldiers behind them cheered and everybody who had joined the hunt all headed toward the hall to be entertained by courtesans with food and liquor.

The Duke took his seat at the head of the gathering and allowed a courtesan to pour him a drink.

Even in view of such revelry, the Duke’s eyes remained stormy. Finally, he turned to A-Li, who sat beside him, and whispered menacingly, “I do hope your wife knows what she is doing because if my wife dies, I cannot guarantee nor can you blame me for what I will do next.”

A-Li could understand where the posturing was coming from, but he didn’t appreciate it regardless.

“I cannot guarantee your wife and child will come out of the delivery unscathed,” he whispered back. “But, I can promise my wife is doing her very best under the conditions she walked into this morning. From one man who loves his wife to another, I suggest you brace yourself for the worst because if you even dare to lift a finger toward my wife’s direction, I can guarantee I will unleash the full wrath of heaven upon you. Have I made myself clear?”

The Duke looked probingly into his eyes and remarked, “Your eyes. They are suddenly golden. I have always wondered why the trip back from Huicūn was uneventful. Are you of the faerie folk?”

“No,” A-Li downed the rest of the contents of his cup and gently placed it back on the table. The Northerners were more prone to believe in enchanted forests, raving goblins, and mischievous fairies. They were also wise enough to still believe in gods, and so A-Li was certain the Duke understood it when he slowly said, “I am worse. Much worse. Consider yourself warned.”

Chapter 38

* * *


1.  (老爺) Maternal Grandfather
2.  (大爺) Uncle, Father’s Older Brother
3.  Between 9pm to 11pm
4.  Between 1am to 3am
5.  (四合院) Courtyard House
6.  (公主) princess, title for female nobility
7.  (日晡) Late afternoon
8.  (分) One fen equals to one-tenth of a