Translator: Atlas Studios Editor: Atlas Studios
Through it all, Yuan Zhaoxu rested on his chair and continued enjoying the pair's endless squabble even in the changing room.
"How was the bath? Refreshing?"
"Can you speak like a human?"
"Oh right, you're a guinea pig, sorry sorry..."
Yuan Zhaoxu crooked his head and listened, his eyes curling into two crescents. It was genuine and warm, unlike his usually deep and hazy smile.
His gaze lingered on the curtain. The fire from the oven cast a statuesque silhouette. He could see her long, slim back and trimmed, delicate shoulders. The width of her chest tapered down to her thin waist in a smooth curve before extending out to her pear-shaped hips in yet another charming arc. She was absolutely beautiful.
Amid the cold winter and inside the warm pavilion with the spring-like curtains was standing a certain someone, not knowing that her body had been scanned thoroughly. Meng Fuyao turned to her side, casting an alluring outline of her breasts. It was hard to imagine that such a well-balanced and perfect figure actually existed.
Yuan Zhaoxu slowly diverted his gaze to the lake and smiled. "Does the tube top fit?"
The figure behind the curtain jumped before scuttling in panic, seeking out the hole through which Yuan Zhaoxu must have been peeping. Making a round and not spotting any gap between the curtains, she soon figured it out and hurriedly put out the flame from the charcoals.
The changing room dimmed, and the feminine body could no longer be seen. Yuan Zhaoxu kept the smile on his face, nevertheless. Unbeknown to Meng Fuyao, the charcoals were made from sago palms, found only on the highest, snow-peaked mountains. The flames they produced were solid and condensed, not something any average being could handle. Even with her strong martial art background, Meng Fuyao wouldn't be able to hold it any much longer. She had turned it off at the perfect timing.
Yuan Zhaoxu grabbed his jade-white cup and sat down lazily. His head was directed at the vast sky as he was waiting.
A short while later the curtains were lifted, and Meng Fuyao strode out, frustrated. She glared at Yuan Zhaoxu with her big, crow-black eyes but was ignored. The intended recipient simply raised his cup, asking, "Does it fit?"
"It's slightly big," she answered with black lines on her face.
Not speaking, Yuan Zhaoxu took his time to sip and savor the wine. As she was feeling pleased over his silence a murmur shot through her eardrums, "Impossible, I've felt those curves... Have your breasts shrunk?"
Meng Fuyao blinked a few times before throwing her head toward the sky and letting out a deep breath, determined not to start another verbal war. She plopped down beside him and, without permission, poured a cup of wine for herself. "Aren't you despicable? Why didn't you save me earlier?"
"There's nothing more pleasurable in life than witnessing a beauty fall into the water. It's a feast for the eyes, and I get to offer clothes and warmth. If the beauty catches a cold, I get to offer a bed, hot tea, and my attention. Am I foolish enough to pass such a wonderful opportunity?"
Meng Fuyao had been sitting on standby, ready to strangle him if he was stupid enough to mock her. Yet, his answer was so precise that it made her blush. While he sounded half-serious and half-teasing, his eyes were clear and sparkly. It was as if all the water from the lake had been drawn into them.
Meng Fuyao's heart skipped a beat as she got reminded of the little moment they had shared on the night in the Taiyuan Palace – the deeply meaningful way he had fixed his slightly smiley gaze on her, and those haze-layered eyes of his that carried a certain mystery she hadn't dared to puncture.
Or rather, she hadn't been willing to.
She let out a noiseless breath before downing her cup. "Why are you here?" she digressed, placing the cup back onto the table.
It wasn't that she hadn't expected to meet Yuan Zhaoxu in Wuji, but she hadn't imagined their reunion to happen that soon. It felt more probable that a certain someone had calculated her arrival and specially waited for her.
The thought left her mind as quickly as it came. How would he know that he was coming to Wuji? And how could he have guessed that she would come to this palace residence? It had been an impromptu decision on her part.
She thought about this and that until she received an answer. "I'm the official in charge of the Canglan residence and also the advisor of the crown prince's Shangyang Palace."
"Oh, Official Yuan." Meng Fuyao smiled, narrowing her eyes. "Not going to take me on a tour around this palace?"
"There will be a chance in the future," he responded while holding her hand. "Go somewhere with me now. You'll be interested."
There existed a type of people who spoke and did things different from the rest, and Yuan Zhaoxu was one of them.
Meng Fuyao hadn't met any man who could so blatantly suggest a visit to the brothel before the girl of his interest.
'Alright then...' thought Meng Fuyao sourly. It was an one-sided affair. When had he ever expressed his liking toward her anyway?
'Alright then...' She told herself again inwardly. Yes, she was into him but had no desire to pursue anything. Love and a romantic relationship weren't a part of her plans.
Was there a need to feel depressed? She couldn't wrap her head around those thoughts and became increasingly vexed, eventually giving herself a tight slap on the cheek.
Appearing not noticing her strange act, Yuan Zhaoxu simply smiled.
Lord Yuan Bao drilled his head out from Yuan Zhaoxu's robe, his eyes lighting up upon seeing Meng Fuyao slap herself. He jumped out and offered her another slap.
Caught off guard, that slap instantly awakened all the rage within her. Yet, Lord Yuanbao continued baring his teeth and squeaking non-stop.
Yuan Zhaoxu stepped in to translate. "He's saying that you look even more beautiful now that it's balanced on both sides."
Meng Fuyao was struck dumb. She extended her hand toward Lord Yuan Bao's mouth and plucked a strand of fur. "It's symmetrical now."
While the pair glared on at each other, Yuan Zhaoxu looked up, his eyes deep and profound, at the exquisitely inscribed board above.
Richspring Pavilion was Zhongzhou's biggest money squandering establishment. It had the best wine, food, music, and beauties.
The owner of the building wasn't local. He was a big merchant named Tory, who had come from the seaside of the Gaoluo Nation.
He had brought a lot of gold and made his way across the sea and spent generously in order to pass through respective bureaucrats in all corners of Zhongzhou. He had started operating the Richspring Pavilion within a few months of his arrival. On the first day of opening, he had his high-nosed, and pale-skinned western lady dancers steal the attention of all customers. The business had flourished since then.
It was said that the owner wasn't the one who had named his own building. He had paid countless visits, each with precious gifts like antique gold watches, in order to get Master Bai, the crown prince's attendant, to create and inscribe a name on the board.
In the Wuji Nation, anyone or anything associated with the crown prince possessed a high status worth envying. The fact that the boss of the Richspring Pavilion had managed to get his hands on such a treasure meant that his building and his own value had gone up immediately as well.
As soon as the group entered the hall, they were attacked by the fragrance of meat and wine mixed with bad breath, body odor and other turbid smells all at once. Those smells, good and bad, were joined by endless waves of laughter and yelling. Red scarves and jade-green sleeves fluttered about on the first floor while western belly dancers filled the second. Gambling and drinking happened on the third floor, and as for the fourth floor... it was quiet.
A pimp approached and greeted them, to which Yuan Zhaoxu smiled and requested, "Something fresh and tender."
With a bow, the pimp laughed. "Fourth floor, please!"
Yuan Zhaoxu pulled Meng Fuyao, who had disguised herself as a male, with him. She dug her nails into the flesh of his palm, thinking to herself, 'Good job, good job. You're a regular, aren't you? Code word and all.'
She finally caught his attention after a long time. He lowered his head and whispered into her ear, "Are you jealous, Fuyao?"
The way her name rolled off his tongue so smoothly and teasingly turned her face beet red. She replied with a hardened voice, "I meant to ask what's 'tender.'"
"You'll know soon," he replied with a smile.
Although Meng Fuyao felt gloomy over his invitation to visit the brothel, she knew that it wasn't his intention to indulge in these vices. She followed him to the fourth floor, which was luxuriously decorated, comparable to that of a prince's hall. Waiters brought dishes and wine to the table, and soon after, Lord Yuan Bao got drunk and fell asleep while holding onto two jujubes.
Meng Fuyao and Yuan Zhaoxu drank on. She had always prided herself as a good drinker and had sworn to take him down in an alcohol battle. Unexpectedly, Yuan Zhaoxu drank on and on, strangely becoming increasingly sober. His eyes lit up more and more while Meng Fuyao only felt a strengthening urge to cry.
Nevertheless, she never was one to give up easily. The more she drank, the more energetic and aggressive she became. She started drinking from the chair but had moved on to the table and then to the rostrum where the wines were placed. A pile of exquisitely painted wine jars was gathered beneath her feet as Meng Fuyao raised yet another one toward Yuan Zhaoxu. "Drink up! Till our stomachs... hole... rot."
Yuan Zhaoxu remained seated throughout. The way he grabbed the pots was indescribably elegant, and there was definitely an obvious disparity between the auras of both individuals.
The curtains slid to the side, and a group of lovely looking girls entered.
Meng Fuyao was already tongue-tied from the alcohol by then. She held onto Yuan Zhaoxu's sleeves, slurring, "Put on... female clothes, alright? For me to see. You'll look stunning..."
The girls exchanged glances while Meng Fuyao looked up. "Hah!" she let out, intoxicated while pointing at them. "...whose... Lolita... wrong door... right..?"
The girls looked extremely young, and Meng Fuyao was convinced that the ages of all four girls did not add up to 40. The youngest one did not even look as she had gone through her puberty!
'6 or 7 at most? Is this a brothel or a childcare center?'
Meng Fuyao burped, feeling the heaviness of her head intensify. She swayed back and forth, taking in the colors within her field of vision. In her eyes, the curtains were flying, and the ladies were spinning. She looked on as Yuan Zhaoxu approached and had a conversation with the youngest girl. The kids first shook their heads and then started crying and kneeling down before him.
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