It is a Straight Road - lightnovelgate.com
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One clear, windy day in autumn.
Zhou Wen Wu sits in a quiet courtyard with his mask securely fastened. From time to time, he would swing his Xi Xuan broad sword around him in circles. After a while, he would stop, wait for a few minutes before he starts to swing his sword again.
For the past 4 hours, there have been no movements in the house behind him. But he is not letting down his guard and his patience seems infinite as he repeats his swings over and over, like he is fending off an invisible enemy.
Around noon, Zai Lin joins him in the courtyard. “Your Second Highness, why are you practicing with your sword? Is this something that will help Da Gu Niang?”
Instead of replying, Zhou Wen Wu gives him the once over. “Li Zai Lin, I thought you are supposed to have died from an illness? I have not guessed that you are alive and scouting for a doctor for Xu Zhi all this while. You have seen for yourself how well her first ‘man’ has done for himself after leaving her service. Are you not tempted to follow suit and return to court to claim back your family’s glory?”
“Your Second Highness, I only did what I had to. Da Gu Niang gave me a second lease of life and if I am the kind of person who do not repay gratitude, I will not be fit to call myself a son of the Li family. Besides,” a dark look passes over his scholarly features. “there is no way I can remain loyal to the Xi Xuan Emperor after what he did to my family.”
“Ever since I was assigned to serve Da Gu Niang, I have known about her sickness. Da Gu Nianggot to know about Sun Shi Yang through her artifacts but try as we might, we cannot find any historical records of Sun Shi Yang or his exploits at all. I kept wondering about the strangeness of it until it struck me one day that even if we cannot locate Sun Shi Yang, it does not stop us from training someone to be just like him.”
He has faith that such a person exists since Xu Zhi believes in it and she is the smartest person that he know. If she can piece together sufficient information that opening one’s head may cure headaches, then there must be a way to do it.
This leads Zhou Wen Wu to another question. “Those old books and artifacts in her possession – where did she get them from?”
Zai Lin informs him that from time to time, Xu Hui (Xu Zhi’s youngest sister) would send artifacts to Xu Zhi whenever she came across them in ancient tombs in her travels. He looks at the mask on Zhou Wen Wu’s face and resists the urge to tell him that his mask is also something that came out from a tomb. “Your Second Highness, why are you practicing with your sword?”
Perhaps Zhou Wen Wu needs something to help him while away the time while he waits for Xu Zhi, but he finally answers. “I have discussed with Xu Zhi on how a giant bird would guard the house whenever Sun Shi Yang treats a patient.”
“I have no idea that Sun Shi Yang has a pet bird.”
“There is a mask made from the bird’s bones which is buried in his tomb. What do you think?”
Zai Lin is surprised that Xu Zhi would discuss Sun Shi Yang with Zhou Wen Wu and even more surprised that the man would try to reenact scene of the bird guarding the place. The Second Highness that he knows is not a meticulous person and is arguably the prince who spent the least time studying among all the princes.
Still, his protectiveness is unmistakable and Zai Lin settles down to wait with him. Not long after, Jiu Xing came along and joins them in the wait for Sun Shi Yang to tell them the outcome of the operation.
A few months later.
A woman walks along the foot path that borders the lake. She is wearing a hood that covers her head and she is so engrossed in her thoughts that she would have walked into the lake had a hand not reach out to grab her.
“Be careful Da Gu Niang!. You nearly walked into the lake.”
“A Jiu, do you think…. ohh, you are Jiu Xing.”
“My name also contains a ‘Jiu’ in it and if Da Gu Niang wants to call me ‘Ah Jiu’, I am fine with it too.”
Xu Zhi looks at him for a long time before turning to face the lake. Jiu Xing has no idea what she is thinking but thinks to herself that she probably needs to rest. Sun Shi Yang has said that when her hair grows past her shoulders, it will be the time when she can resume normal activities. But her hair barely reaches her ear at the moment so it will do her no harm if she can rest more.
Before he can ask her to head back, she turns to him. “What are the major things that happened in the house today?”
“His Majesty has sent over more precious herbs with instructions on how to prepare them for your consumption. You also have some visitors from the School but I have told them that you are not well enough to receive guests and have thanked them on your behalf before sending them off.”
Jiu Xing feels strange to be reporting such minor stuff to her. His predecessor has managed all the household matters so that she can fully focus in her books. Why is she so concerned about household matters now?
As she gazes across the lake lost in thought, Jiu Xing remembers Jiang Jiu telling him about her habit to pen down her thoughts and quickly lay out some paper and brush for her. After a while, she did indeed turn to write something on the paper before walking away.
Jiu xing looks at what she has written on the paper but cannot understand its contents. As he prepares to file it away, he recalls an earlier conversation with jiang Jiu when he asked if he understands what Da Gu Niang has wrote and Jiang Jiu has replied rather coolly: I am not stupid, but I have different strengths then Xu Zhi.
In short, Jiang Jiu also does not understand what she wrote either.
After he keeps the brush and paper, Jiu Xing follows Xu Zhi from behind as she continues her stroll. After one round around the lake, she is visibly breathless and Jiu Xing urges her to take a rest.
As he looks at her, Jiu Xing thinks to himself if the act of cutting open one’s head will cause the person to age as Xu Zhi certainly seems to have aged overnight. She is still beautiful, no doubt, but she now looks more like her actual age instead of someone in her early 20s.
Or did she use to take some special brew that keeps her looking young which no one has told him about?
Seeing that she is deep in thoughts again, Jiu Xing lays out more paper but she does not seem to want to write anything this time. “What is your surname?”
“Da Gu Niang, my surname is Liu. My full name is Liu Jiu Xing.”
“Ohh, so you are called Liu Jiu Xing…. I heard from Zai Lin that you gave a long speech about spirits and karma, and how it is only right that they would protect me when I was having my head operation?”
“Well, Master Zhou was very tensed that day I thought that I should say something to lighten his mood.”
“He was tensed? Well, he likes me so it is natural for him to worry about me.”
Jiu Xing is embarrassed at her unbashful statement and tries to keep a straight face. “You can say that. But no matter if my theory is true or not, we are all glad that your operation went smoothly. I am sure that even if there are indeed spirits around the house day, we can never be sure that they are evil spirits. For all you know, they may be there to protect you too.”
Xu Zhi thinks to herself that not only is her newest assistant an imaginative youth, he is definitely the most positive and cheerful assistant that she has so far. When Jiu Xing holds out a brush for her, she asks. “Is Ah Jiu the one who told you about my habit to pen down things in my head?”
After a brief hesitation, he nods.
She takes the brush. “Where is Bai Hua? I seldom see her around these days.”
“She said she is too ashamed to face you so….”
“I understand. Just like I understand that it is not convenient for Zai Lin to follow us to the Capital which is why he is not around. Why is Sun Shi Yang still in the residence?”
“He says that he will leave once you are fully recovered. Errr, Da Gu Niang, why are staring at me?” Did he say something wrong?
Just when he thinks that Xu Zhi has zoned off again, she starts to write a long string of words the paper. When she is done, she asks him to keep the paper ‘wherever Jiang Jiu used to keep such things’ before walking off. “I am tired. Let us return.”
Jiu Xing packs up but discretely leaves her alone when he sees that she is walking towards the backyard where Zhou Wen Wu is staying. When she reaches his courtyard, she stands motionless outside the gate until the door opens from inside and an ominous voice calls out. “Xu Zhi, are you waiting for me to roll out the red carpet for you? Do you really take me for a gigolo?”
“No. I am just thinking of the past and wondering if I should be here.”
He narrows his eyes and pulls her inside. As the door closes behind her, she walks into his room, past a big sword that is placed prominently on a chair, and would have continued walking if a pair of hands did not wrap themselves around her waist in a back hug. She is too accustomed by now to the antics of this over-30-male and does not even bother to question his energy as he nuzzles her neck.
When he senses that her thoughts have wondered off, he turns her around to face him. “How dare you lose attention! And why are you looking at me like this?”
“Well, I am wondering if you are finally going all the way tonight.”
Xu Zhi does not understand this man. He spends a lot of time kissing her which ends up arousing himself more than it arouses her. But never once did he finish what he started. Does really he enjoy setting himself on fire and then let himself cool off naturally? What is he after?
She slips out of his hug, shrugs off her outer robe and climbs into bed. She has gotten used to sleeping with another person when it helps to relief her headache in the past. But now that she has recovered, would she appear ungrateful if she chases him out from her bed now? She muses at her change for had it been in the past, she would not have given 2 hoots about how others feel, but now….
Zhou Wen Wu draws the bed curtains and climbs into the bed behind her. As he wraps one of his hands around her waist, he uses the other to comb through her short hair with his fingers. “Does your head hurt?”
“No.” She can feel herself getting better each day and no longer need to stop in the middle of thinking whenever a headache disrupts her. “Ah Wu, I am no longer as weak as the time when I had my operation. We discussed then that having a person with royal blood guarding me may be better than having a normal guard but now that I am stronger, maybe we should end this arrangement.”
“Oh, so you are telling me that you want to switch bed partners?”
“Hmm? No, that is not what I meant.”
He tips his head towards her to question her further but she mistakes his intentions and pecks his lips by instinct. He is overjoyed by her reaction and starts to kiss her back.
While she is being kissed, Xu Zhi starts to think about her new tendency to be easily distracted these days. She does not suspect that anything is wrong with her head, but rather thinks that it is her heart that has changed. One big change that she has noticed in herself is how much more attention she would pay to the people around her. For instance, she has noticed that if she hugs his waist, he would stiffen.
Is he like that with all his other women in the past? She hugs him in the spirit of experiment and gets this reply. “Xu Zhi, what are you thinking of now!”
She is thinking about him. He has had a lot of lovers but he has never talk about them or show concern about their whereabouts. If she becomes his lover now, would there be a day when he would tire of her and discard her, just like his wives and concubine?
He gives her a nudge. “Xu Zhi?”
His back is blocking the light coming from behind the bed curtains and she cannot see his expression in the shadows. An image of his bloodshot eyes crossed her mind and she raises a finger to trace it gently around his eyes. “Ah Wu, I am very glad that you are alive.”
He senses the direction of her thoughts and hugs her close so that she can hear the steady beat of his heart. “You should not keep thinking about that day. Indeed, it is only one day out of the many, many days you have in this lifetime so just focus on the present.”
She nearly laughs out loud at his uncharacteristic tenderness but in the end, she merely smiles and snuggles closer.