The Rise of Phoenixes (天盛长歌) - Chapter 13 (Fanfiction)

Chapter 13 -Tasting a Sweetness He Never Imagined Existed

written by kakashi
edited by Bunny

It was an entirely new experience to walk alongside Feng Zhiwei in an all relaxed manner, chatting friendly about trivial things. New but rather pleasant. Thus, Prince of Chu walked a bit slower than he usually did just so they would reach their destination a bit less quickly.

“I haven't thanked Your Highness yet for the property title to keep my uncle quiet,” Feng Zhiwei said shyly.

Ah, but that had been such an easy thing to get. Besides, making trouble for Colonel Qiu brought him much satisfaction on any day. That that man had threatened to kick out her brother and mother if Zhiwei did not leave her position at the palace made him angry, but luckily, Ning Yi had a lot of dirt on a lot of people. And Colonel Qiu was neck-deep into the dirt by greedily receiving property that was not his to have from the Changs.

He liked that Feng Zhiwei had come to see him at his residence to ask him for this favor. Not wanting to make it too obvious that he was ready to do almost anything for her, he had teased her about the payment he wanted: her to work for him.

Of course, Feng Zhiwei had walked away after that.

Of course, he had helped her anyway and gotten proof of Colonel Qiu’s wrongdoings. Ning Yi’s attempts to keep his own involvement a secret had been thwarted by one of the servants - who had babbled didn’t matter, though Ning Yi had quite liked the feeling of being the noble savior pulling strings from the shadows. But then again, her open gratefulness was pleasing him too.

“I thought you forgot,” he smiled. “It seems it's extremely difficult to hear you say thank you. Especially in front of people…”

“Your Highness has misunderstood,” she replied quickly. “I won't ever forget Your Highness' great kindness. It's just... inconvenient to thank you in front of others. I hope Your Highness understands.”

He did, but he did not want to. He was not that horrible a person in comparison to most other courtiers. He had even backed her excellent idea to bring back one of his younger brothers to the Capital to take on the incarcerated Chang Hai’s responsibilities: Ning Qi. Sent away to the border a long time ago because his mother had a somewhat lowly status - meaning the Changs didn’t like her. That Zhiwei had had this idea by herself was highly doubtful, Ning Yi suspected his father had asked her to propose this in government. Many people did not like it one bit, like for example his second brother. Ning Qi’s return would not only stir things up and give Ning Yi some breathing space… it also meant Zhiwei had exposed herself and might soon have to come to him for protection. Ning Yi was more than content.

“Well, it may have been easy for me to get this document, but please, don't forget what I did. Don't always go against me.”

“I am not always…” Zhiwei was beginning to protest.

In front of them, an angry, swaying woman made an appearance. Shaoning. She reeked of wine and her little face was reddened in the most ugly way. What an inconvenience. Did she really have to disturb his pleasant walk?

“Shaoning,” Ning Yi said nicely enough. “It's not good to let people see you drunk here. Go back and rest.”

But his sister went straight for his companion, not even looking his way. “Wei Zhi,” she accused Feng Zhiwei, “I just want to ask you one thing today. Why are you deliberately hiding from me? Tell me clearly today and let me stop wondering.”

Ning Yi rolled his eyes. Ridiculous.

“How would I dare hide from you?”, Zhiwei stammered, her head between her outstretched hands, “Princess, it’s just that the Inner Court and the Royal Court must be kept separate. A man and woman should be wary of rumors. I couldn't help but distance myself.”

Good reasoning, Ning Yi approved. And now, Shaoning would go away and leave them to it.


“All right,” Shaoning slurred, “Since we met by chance today, I'll ask you directly: That day, outside of Chengming Palace, why did he shoot you with an arrow when you’re obviously thick as thieves?”

Her finger pointed at Prince of Chu in an accusing and very rude way. This brat of a sister and him had never gotten along, but of course, recent events had soured their relationship even more. He found himself very sick of her.

“Shaoning. How would Scholar Wei dare answer you?” he came to Zhiwei’s help, trying to be patient. “Let me. Ning Chuan committed treason. At that time, whoever dared to stop me would be treated the same way as Ning Chuan. Now, Ning Chuan is dead. What's done is done. Accept it.”

“Yes,” his sister said in a small voice and began to cry. “My brother, Ning Chuan, will never come back to life. In this palace, I'm probably the only one who wishes for him to still be here.”

And you think it was easy for me? Ning Yi wanted to ask. But it's not my first time being someone's scapegoat. Used … we are used by our Father and there is nothing we can do about it.

Shaoning rushed past Ning Yi and grabbed Zhiwei’s arm. “Wei Zhi. Don't hide from me anymore. To whom shall I express my sorrows? Should I tell those who wished death for the Crown Prince? Come on. Drink with me!”

Shaoning started pulling at Wei Zhi’s arm. Ning Yi’s displeasure grew rapidly at seeing Zhiwei so discomforted.

“A royal princess gets drunk daily and bothers government officials. Is that proper decorum? You should know to have shame,” he said sharply. Shaoning being spoilt senseless as their Father’s only daughter had always been a huge nuisance. Now, it had become a real problem.

“Shame?” she stepped in front of him, hitting him with her spittle as she talked herself into a frenzy. “In this palace, that's very hard to come by. Shameless people live. Yet people with shame died. You shamelessly killed Ning Chuan.”

“You're drunk,” Ning Yi said, even though his anger was starting to boil for being talked to with no respect at all. “Servants. Bring Princess Shaoning home.”

“I'm not drunk!” the brat shouted. “You and that Consort Yan you call your mother are the same. Back then, she betrayed the country and released her lover. Shameless!”


Shaoning fell, more from surprise than the force of his smack. The end of his patience had been reached a long time ago and only, only because of Feng Zhiwei was Shaoning still able to bother him this way.

“Shaoning,” he told her dangerously. “This is my last warning. If you continue to test my limits, I'll send you to accompany Ning Chuan. I don't care if I end up at Zongzheng Temple for it, I am already familiar enough with the place to make it my home.”

But she had the audacity to retort: “All right. I'll wait for you. If you don't dare to come, I'll go look for you!”

So be it. Did she really think she could win this fight? Against him? But now his afternoon was thoroughly ruined.


Ning Yi was lifting his hands so that his servants could put a belt around his midriff. Holding his favorite wool sachet in his hand, he was thinking about Feng Zhiwei and how he could invite her to have a drink with him here at his residence. Dimly, he registered that Ning Cheng’s voice was shaking from outrage as he read the note that had been delivered to their door just a few moments ago.

"To Ning Yi. Since you said tough words in front of Wei Zhi, please follow through. I can't get over your insults yesterday. I swear I'll fight you until the end. If you won't come, I'll kill Wei Zhi, so he won't tell others about yesterday's insult and embarrass me in front of others. Otherwise, you'll have to collect Wei Zhi's body."

The sachet went to his belt and he was fully dressed. Ning Yi turned a little here and there, all was perfect.

“Shaoning really wants to die! She insulted your mother. Now, she sent a written challenge. I… I think she's gone insane!” Ning Cheng shouted, walking up and down the room in an agitated manner. But suddenly, he stopped and fell silent. Ning Yi looked up and into his troubled face. Apparently, Ning Cheng was unhappy about his lack of reaction.

“Your Highness, are you going or not?”

“You said she's gone insane. Why should I listen to her?” Ning Yi answered with a frown. Shaoning really wasn’t on his list of concerns today.

“But she said if you don't go, she'd kill that woman.”

“She can kill her if she wants,” Ning Yi said smoothly. “What does it have to do with me?”

"She can kill her if she w...", Ning Cheng repeated astonished.

“Yes, you heard me,” Ning Yi said, feeling increasingly annoyed.

That feeling of annoyance first changed to a feeling of slight worry when Yan Huaishi was announced an hour or so later, one of the people living with Feng Zhiwei at her residence.

“Prince of Chu,” the man bowed. He was a rich merchant’s son from Minghai, Ning Yi knew. He seemed utterly loyal and not likely to get the wrong ideas about Zhiwei either, so he had no reason to dislike him.

“You may rise,” he said benevolently. “What's the matter?”

The merchant cleared his throat and said politely: “Scholar Wei ordered me to tell Your Highness not to go to Wei Residence no matter what Princess Shaoning does.”


“Shaoning went to Wei Residence? Did anything happen?” Ning Yi asked, feeling a tightening of his stomach.

“Nothing happened. Princess Shaoning is having drinks at Wei Residence. However, when Scholar Wei gave me the order, he looked very nervous.”

That information took some mulling over. After dismissing the man, Ning Yi put his book aside and went in search of his bodyguard. As always, he wasn’t to be found when he was truly needed. Wu Ying, an eunuch sent to spy on Ning Yi by the Emperor, but who had decided to remain faithful to the prince after hearing the truth behind his schemes, would know more.

“Where's Ning Cheng?” he asked the eunuch, still trying to sound nonchalant. It was embarrassing to be caught worrying about people when it was unnecessary.

“Your Highness,” Wu Ying smiled pleasantly. “Ning Cheng came over earlier. I told him Your Highness had left by yourself. He kept mumbling about Your Highness being embarrassed and going to the Wei Residence. Then he left hurriedly.”

Embarrassed? “That presumptuous jerk,” Ning Yi murmured.

He briefly considered going to Wei Residence after all, also because he wouldn’t mind chatting with Zhiwei. But then he was thinking he would wait for that useless Ning Cheng to come back to report that all was well.

Only… he didn’t come back.

It was getting dark outside when Ning Yi and two of his best guards arrived at the Wei Residence. Once before he had not gone to see her when his heart had urged him to go and it had ended with her almost dying at Qingming Academy. Was he not capable of learning anything? he thought as he stepped into the dark premises through an unguarded gate. Why had he not gone right after Yan Huaishi had come to see him?

Ning Yi immediately felt that something was amiss. There was a prickling at the back of his neck, this ominous feeling when somebody was watching you. Confirmation of foul play came quickly when they found Ning Cheng’s hairpin embedded in a pole. He sent his guards away to search for his bodyguard and ventured forward into the dark grounds by himself.

Almost as if his steps were guided to the right place by fate, he soon beheld Zhiwei in an upstairs room that looked to be used for storage, her hands tied to a beam, her eyes bound with a black cloth. From the way she struggled against her bonds, he could guess she was unhurt.

Quickly, he lit a torch and rushed up the stairs to that part of the building. It did occur to him that it could be a trap - but frankly, he cared little for it.

But when he approached her, she heard him and her sudden warning sent a chill through him: “There are explosives on the roof!”

Immediately, he blew out his light. The room was full of gossamer like fabric, gently blowing in the wind, tickling his face like the fingers of playful ghosts. With no light, he could see almost nothing so he walked forward slowly, carefully… luckily, his hearing was above average and his senses were heightened so that he heard and felt the attacker way before he could reach him. He felt the draft of air and ducked, hitting the assailant skillfully at one of the vial pressure points. He went down.

Something else hit the floor with a whelp. Zhiwei? She would be able to help herself, she was very capable.

The danger was not over, he could feel it - he could kill with his hands if he had to and he would not hesitate one second. He heard the sound of a knife being pulled, the very next moment, something came flying at him and more by instinct than reason, he caught it, a woman’s body… her body. Familiar to the touch, a familiar scent.

“It's you,” he breathed, feeling relieved she was fine. “Why are you so rash?”

But there was no time to exchange notes on what had happened. Another swordsman attacked and Ning Yi barely managed to push Zhiwei aside to get her out of harm’s way. And then, they were being attacked from all sides, beginning to turn in synchronized movements like they had never done anything else in their lives. Their backs touching one moment, their legs kicking in unison another.

Had it been less serious, he would have greatly enjoyed this.

There was a short moment when it became very quiet around them, a time to catch one’s breath… right before something heavy was thrown on them both.

“Explosives!” Feng Zhiwei gasped. “She showed them to me!”

“Throw it out!” he yelled.

A light was lit, briefly illuminating Shaoning’s face to the side and just as Zhiwei managed to throw the explosives out into the garden, Ning Yi managed to catch the fuse his sister had thrown in their direction. He was temporarily distracted enough with blowing it out not to pay sufficient attention to Shaoning who came rushing at him with a knife - but Zhiwei jumped at him, grappled his whole body and made him fall, using the momentum to roll out of harm's way.

Ning Yi heaved a sigh of relief. If those attackers had been any better… Voices outside.

“Hurry. Save His Highness!”

“There's an assassin. Save Prince of Chu!”

He was still catching his breath and trying to calm his nerves and before he could call out to them, his men had directed their feet elsewhere, imbeciles that they were. Shaoning seemed to have retreated too. All became quiet, only the gentle wind coming through the open door whispered softly through the billowing fabric around them.

He became aware of her then… aware in a most acute, physical way. Feng Zhiwei was lying underneath him, her body pleasantly warm against his. There was an unexpected softness to her where the eye would never have suspected it since her womanly shapes were always hidden by a man’s clothing.

Her sweet jasmine scent filled his nose and as if they were inevitably captured and drawn to them, his eyes fell on her lips, those red, wet lips forming her small mouth. His heart started to pick up pace and he soon found it racing, making him breathless and lightheaded.

I want to kiss her. Very much.

When had this happened? Maybe it was only natural, seeing they had very closely escaped death together. Maybe it was just hard to resist a shapely mouth such as hers at this proximity. But if he was honest with himself, wanting to kiss her was a sentiment he seemed to have been carrying around with him for a while.

But if I kiss her, I will probably not want to stop there, he surmised. Which means I cannot kiss her. It might lead to something shockingly improper. And…

He better not think any further or else he might kiss her just because his body was telling him that those shockingly improper things were exactly what it wanted to do.

No, he thought firmly, even if I want to do it a lot, I know we cannot. At the very least, we should be in a bed and not on a dirty floor and I should take my time to look at her, every inch of her… Stop! What am I even thinking.

Ah, what a dilemma. He had to stop thinking but really couldn't or else he would start big trouble.

I will kiss her despite my trepidation, he decided stubbornly, I can control myself, and moved his head down, brushed his lips against her cheek, let the tip of his nose graze against her skin, travel down to her ear. It was like he had known this smell of her forever, it was so familiar to him, so welcoming.

Anticipation made his mouth go dry.

But her hand pressed against his throat all of a sudden, clutching his favorite sachet that she must have picked off his belt. He became aware of her large, frightened eyes, the quivering of her body underneath his. It wasn’t excitement, it was fear.

He took her hand in his, gently removing it from his throat, but she turned her head away, a clear sign that she was not interested in his advances. And while he regretted it keenly, he knew that she was right to be afraid of him.

One last time he lowered his head, a kind of farewell - he would try to remember this moment when the darkness he found himself in might be chased away by thinking of sweet things.

“Aren’t you tired?” he asked her softly. “I’m so tired.”

But with you, I can come to rest.


He is thinking about kissing me, Feng Zhiwei thought in panic as she observed how his eyes honed in on her lips and a dazed kind of look came into them. This cannot happen! I don’t want this. He should just go away! She pressed her hand against his throat, clutching something her fingers had grasped moments earlier. He looked surprised then a bit sad as he removed it very gently. The way his fingers touched hers made her warm all over.

Or… actually, I do.

The realization came as a surprise to her and it rendered her temporarily frozen.

I want him to kiss me. But it is not proper, I cannot want him to kiss me. Hmmmm, but he smells nice.

Not only that, he also felt right, the shape of his muscular body on top of her, like it belonged. She had listened to the girls at House of Lanxiang talk about what men came for when they entered the premises and ever since, she had been quite curious about it. She had heard them say it was sometimes pleasant, though they had also spoken about pain, but only when they thought she couldn’t hear them. Zhiwei had gathered from their conversations that some men were more considerate than others and the more considerate a man, the more likely it was to be pleasant. The Prince of Chu… she understood he was one of the considerate ones. But... she was not a girl working at that brothel and this man was not her husband and never would be.

But what about kissing? Nobody ever told me it was something wrong, Feng Zhiwei pondered. Mothers kiss their children. I have kissed my mother. She has kissed my brother. Can I not kiss whom I want?

She didn’t recall the girls talking about kissing often. Only once, one had joked “kiss the Prince of Chu and forget about all your woes.” Zhiwei thought she wanted to forget about all her woes too. Just for a moment. Maybe a long moment.

But suddenly, she felt how he was beginning to lift himself off her. What… no! Quickly, she brought up her hands and put them around his neck to pull him back.

His eyes grew a little larger.

“Feng Zhiwei,” he whispered. Goosebumps broke out all over her body. He had never before said her name this way.

“Mhmmm…?” she gulped.

“Feng Zhiwei… I…,” he was breathing rather rapidly, she realized and wasn’t sure that was a good thing.

“My men will be here any minute,” he said hoarsely, “and yours…too...”

So why was he wasting time? Knowing an opportunity when it presented itself, she pulled at his neck a bit more strongly, bringing his nose back down to hers. He wouldn’t mind, would he? After all the teasing, threatening, bullying he had done, he would not begrudge her this, would he?

She puckered up her lips until they touched his.

It was only a quick, superficial contact, but it sent a bolt of energy through her like she had never experienced before. She felt like a flower that opened her petals to the sun and the rain, a quickening of the pulse, of her heart, of all her senses.

This… this was extraordinary and she wanted more. Already, she felt like she didn’t even remember what woes were. She pulled at that stubborn neck some more so that that taunting mouth of his came to rest on top of hers.

His lips… so surprisingly soft and warm. She tried to feel more of them and opened her mouth a little, pleased when he did the same. Her breath was coming as rapid as his now. Was this how it was done? It felt very, very nice. His hands that had rested on the floor above her shoulders moved up to encircle her head, digging into her hair.

And then his tongue began to probe her lips, circling around them like it wanted to have a better taste of her. She liked it. A lot. She brought hers forward too, just a little, but inevitably, hers met his. In surprise, it retreated back into his mouth. Daringly, hers followed after.

She felt like she was falling. Hold me, she wanted to tell him, don’t let go. But how could one speak if one’s tongue was entwined with another’s? His tongue caressed hers and she his, a sensual dance that moved back and forth and made her certain those girls had been utterly right about him and kissing and if they had been, they had to be right about the other things.

Those other things… I cannot. I must tell him to stop. I cannot want … those other things.
Her body was of a different opinion. She felt it awaken even further, eagerly preparing itself for what else a man had to offer a woman. But wasn’t wanting it a sin already? Wanting to be touched by those hands that were a little rough where they often held a sword but so soft where they didn’t? Was it not wrong to want to feel his naked skin underneath her fingers? Wrong wanting to see… everything? Wanting to feel… more, him, fully…

Feng Zhiwei wrapped her arms around his strong shoulders as she pulled him even closer, pressing her entire body against his. She heard him draw a sharp breath and his fingers digged deeper into her hair as he shifted his weight on top of hers.

“Master? Master?”

Go away, Feng Zhiwei thought angrily, leave us alone.

But at his bodyguard’s voice at the door, Ning Yi pulled away from her like he had been burnt by the fire blazing inside of her and was on his feet so fast she could barely see him move.

“Here,” he said breathlessly. And louder, clearing his throat, hastily stepping forward and away from her. “I am here.”

“Master!” Ning Cheng said, “Are you alright, oh, I was so worried, what happened?”

“Shaoning,” Ning Yi pressed out, “she…”

“Are you hurt, Master,” Ning Cheng interrupted him, “you sound pained. Let me...”

“Get your hands off me,” Ning Yi growled, “you call yourself my bodyguard yet let yourself be captured so that I have to come after you to help?”

“I am so sorry, Master,” Ning Cheng said tearfully. “Oh, have you seen that imposter? Her servants are extremely worried about her, she is missing, they say and....”

“She is fine,” Zhiwei heard Prince of Chu say. And then, as he was walking away, he added, half-laughing: “Very fine.”

Zhiwei lay on the floor and looked up at the wooden ceiling for a while even after they had left.

Very fine?

Her hand kneaded the sachet she had involuntarily snatched off his belt. Very fine. She was… and she most decidedly wasn’t.


Ning Yi sighed, watching the scene below from the hill he stood on. How could a heart feel heavy and elated at the same time?

Zhiwei was talking to Shaoning. Had he not told her the princess was trouble? Would she see reason after being taken hostage by her a second time? But why did he even think she would. Feng Zhiwei had a heart as large as Tiansheng Empire and when that heart wanted one thing, the head would not follow.

After making a scene as usual, Shaoning rode away. She would live on as a nuisance or worse. All he knew was that she would certainly not give up; she would continue plotting against him again and again. But he would not move against her. If it was that important to Zhiwei, he would live with it.

Below, Feng Zhiwei was running away merrily from her bodyguard, the utterly strange Gu Nanyi.

“Your Highness,” Ning Cheng said, confident about being back in his master’s good graces, “Feng Zhiwei has successfully dealt with Shaoning. Let's get going!”

But why the rush? He liked to see her this playful. For a brief moment, he wished he were that bodyguard getting fed flowers. He wished he could run after her and tackle her to the ground.

“I hope that she can keep her smile in the treacherous palace,” Ning Yi sighed.

Ning Yi closed his eyes, feeling the warmth of the sun on his skin, remembering a different warmth. Hoping he could do more than remember one day, but knowing he could not allow anything like this to ever happen again. Could not but wanted to… and that was a big, big problem, only a total fool would not know that his past and her heritage made them natural enemies… true enemies, of the kind who did not exchange pleasantries in the hallways of the Palace.

“Master?” the annoying Ning Cheng said.

“We can sunbathe here. It's warm”, Ning Yi said.

What an idiot he was for believing his own lies about pawns and playing Go, when from the very moment he had seen her at House of Lanxiang, she had struck a chord in him. What an idiot he was for not realizing that like a zither being played by skillful hands, he had continued humming ever since. He should have stayed far away from her right after their first meeting.

“Master! Master?”

So how… how could he stay away, how could he stop wanting more than just memories of something so short that had left such an impression? How could he end what had not started when everything inside of him yearned for more?

Whose lips could be so sweet? The first touch had stunned his soul, followed by a total loss of reason so severe that he could do nothing but lose himself in the flood of emotions flowing from a dam that had seemingly filled up for thousands of years. The moment he touched that world’s tenderest softness he had felt like an exhausted traveler who had suddenly arrived at the warmest refuge, forevermore unwilling to leave. After years of endless struggle, he had finally tasted a sweetness he never imagined existed. The only thing Ning Yi wanted at that moment was to be drunk with her sweetness forever.*

(* this paragraph is partially from the original novel) 

Chapter 14