Proofreaders: Red & Mion Sakamaki
Cold Sands ch7
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I roll over with the blankets wrapped around me. Gentle light shines in through the windows and I pull the covers over my head. After a nice long rest, I sit up and roll out of the bed. I shiver from the loss of warmth and it wakes me up quite a bit.
My head still aches with a dull pain and I close my eyes. I guess I need to watch the alcohol from now on—it’s as though my head’s going to crack open. I roughly comb my messy hair and when I open my eyes, I’m shocked because I’m shirtless.
I’m pretty sure I don’t have any weird habit of sleeping nude.
Last night. What happened last night?
I try really hard to conjure up the memory but it’s like looking through thick fog—nothing seems real. The last thing I remember is seeing the old geezer, and getting in an argument with him and then drinking with Murong Yu. I look down and spot some bluish and reddish marks but I’m pretty sure I didn’t get hurt. So where did these come from?
I scour every corner of my brain but when I get no answers I simply give up.
I leave my room after washing up. The morning sun paints large golden blots on the limestone path. The cool, moist morning breeze hits my face. I look up at the sky; the weather is gorgeous, not a cloud in sight. The sky’s a clear solid blue. I can hear faint sounds of splashing streams and of windy grasslands from outside the city walls.
It was spring when I accompanied General Zhou here and now autumn’s coming. Time has gone by so fast.
I feel kind of guilty when I remember the old geezer’s angered expression from last night. It was my first time seeing him since I entered the army and now I really regret driving him away like that. Maybe if I had just been a bit more patient he might’ve given in and brought me away from this place. Yet, what can I do but sigh in regret now that he’s left?
I head towards Murong Yu’s room, wondering how he would punish me for waking up late when a few of the personal retinues of his appear from around the corner ahead with plates and glasses in their arms. They all have tense, anxious expressions on their faces and sneak whispers to each other from time to time but when one of them spots me his troubled expression immediately disappears.
“My friend!” He claps my shoulder, beaming. “Why don’t you do us a favour and bring these to His Highness for us?”
Puzzled, I inquire. “But didn’t you just come from over there?”
Without waiting for me to finish, they stick the things into my arms.
“His Highness has been in a really bad mood since He awakened, for some reason, and we’re all too scared to go in—what if His Highness puts us on the block even when we didn’t do anything wrong?”
Unsatisfied with their explanation, I retort. “Oh, so I’m not scared? For your information, I don’t wanna be on the block either!”
“Oh no, no, no. That wouldn’t happen. We all see how His Highness treats you. Don’t you worry about it, my friend!”
In the end, I can’t out-talk them so I brace myself and march over to his room. Looking through the window, I see that his back’s to me. He doesn’t have his armour on, just a loosely-fitted robe and his hair has only been gathered simply into a single bunch. Several pieces of paper lie open on his desk as if he’s writing military reports but there are only a few messy lines. A small mountain of crumpled balls of ink-blotted paper rests on one side of the desk.
He’s still in a bad mood?
I glance down at the things in my arm: a cold bowl of congee and a few pastries. It’s obviously breakfast. He hasn’t eaten yet, although it’s completely past the time for breakfast?
I finally speak after lots of deliberating.
“I…I brought you your breakfast.”
His figure moves the slightest bit. Dazzling sunlight pours through the window sill and onto his shoulders, dragging his tall figure onto the grey floor into a long, desolate shadow.
“Han Xin…just put it on the table.” His head turns slightly during his moment of hesitation.
I gently put the food on the table and turn to leave but turn back around when I get to the door.
“Um…At least try to take a bite or two, even if you’re in a bad mood.” I whisper.
He might’ve said something but I’m not sure. Quietly I tidy up the pile of paper and just when I’m about to get out the door he halts me. When he turns around, I see an exhausted face of someone who hasn’t slept the whole night. His brows tightly knit together and his gaze wanders.
He mumbles after a long silence. “Did you…have a good night’s rest?”
I nod though I’m not sure why he asked such a bizarre question. “I drank too much last night. I slept well but my head hurt when I got up.”
He has a strange expression and his eyes start wandering again. Then he nods. “You’re a light drinker alright.”
Why is he acting so weird today? Discussing drinking with me instead of writing his reports.
He holds my gaze, a blade-like wrinkle in between his brows. His cheeks seem to turn faintly pink but I can’t be sure.
Does he have a fever?
“Hey.” I point at him. “Maybe you should go see the army doctor. Look at you, all flushed. You’re probably sick or something.”
I can’t help but secretly snicker at this crown prince who can’t even take care of himself. I go over to the table and pour a cup of tea for him. He takes it and grins, playing with the cup instead of drinking it.
“I’ll go call the doctor.” I walk towards the door without looking at him. “Better solve the problem early on. I need to see him too anyways.”
He whips around and looks at me. “Wha-what’s wrong?”
I shrug and point at my neck. “I don’t know. These weird bluish reddish marks just appeared out of nowhere.”
He seems to hesitate for a moment before tossing his cup aside, his uneasiness nowhere to be found the next moment.
“Where? Let me see.”
He comes quickly towards me but I frown and wave my hand. “No, thank you, Your Highness; I think I’ll just get the doctor.”
I slip out of there before he gets close.
He’s clearly acting strange today since morning. Normally, when I’m serving him, he would bicker with me if he’s free. We would throw retorts back and forth and it would generally be a good time.
But today, the atmosphere is very unusual, no, strange, to be precise.
By lunchtime, he still has an anxious look, his gaze remains jittery and he doesn’t talk to me as much. And when I serve lunch, he eats one more helping than usual. Also, he would mutter to himself ‘Why? Why?’ or have a serious look as if he’s brooding over something very important.
Finally he is able to settle down and sweep all the paper balls and inky paper off of his desk and then spread brand new pages out to write on. I turn to leave after I prepare ink and make tea.
What a nice afternoon; it’d be a waste to not take a nice long na-
“Where do you think you’re going?”
I stop in my tracks and meet his focused gaze.
“To take a nap of course. My head still kind of hurts for some reason.” I casually say.
He looks as though he choked on his own spit when he heard what I said. He looks around and points to a chair behind him. “Don’t go anywhere. Sit here. So I can keep my eyes on you.”
I bite down angrily and shuffle grudgingly over to the chair. He perks his lips and goes back to his work.
For moments, the sound of ink brush gliding across quality rice paper fills the room. A faint fragrance of ink hovers in the air and the blazing sun coming from the back of the room warms the whole room up.
I don’t know when the book I have been reading falls into my lap. I lean back into the chair, my eyes drooping down. Finally I give into the Sandman’s invitation to some high tea. My sleep is light as always; I can still hear some tiny rustling of paper through my dozing.
Then it’s heavy footsteps, of a soldier, and also clanging of metal against the ground.
The person’s words seem to be interrupted. Then there is ruffling of cloth.
“Let us take this outside.”
Tranquility returns to the room. Unintentionally I shift in the chair. The chair’s arm digs into me and I open my eyes.
The sunlight is still pouring into the room leisurely, sprinkling golden spots everywhere. I yawn silently and sit up straight.
“Are you certain?”
“Yes, Your Highness, the prisoner has been identified as Duke Yu Qing of Rui.”
I hear Murong Yu’s delightfully proud laughter. “Let us see what else they have got up their sleeves now that all the dukes of Rui have either been killed or captured.”
My insides knot up.
The proud and elegant Duke Yu Qing is the only person in the royal family who doesn’t have a care for status or wealth and has never got involved with the court and politics. He has spent all his gifts and talents on a grand project to collect literature of numerous famous poets and writers. Is Great Rui in such danger that even Duke Yu Qing must go to battle for it?
My brain is a cluster. My knuckles are turning white from holding onto the chair.
Even Duke Yu Qing has gotten captured?
“Rui has been going downhill since Duke Zhao Rui’s uprising twelve years ago. The members of the royal family have declined and now even Lord Book-Worm here has been forced to go into battle.” His voice is filled with vain and contempt.
“It is common knowledge that the current Emperor Wen is ill and stays within the confines of his palace all year long. With no royal heir present, I wonder what will become of the throne if he dies of stress from this war.”
“Well put, Your Highness,” the person speaks in a low tone in an effort to suppress delight. “Presently our men’s spirits are high. If we take this opportunity to attack, surely we can take South Hill Pass with no problem and aim straight for the capital city!”
“No. South Hill Pass is easy to defend but difficult to attack, not to mention Zhou Zhenluan himself is stationed there. We must not act hastily if we are to be victorious.”
“According to our double agents, Zhou Zhenluan has much on his plate. The Minister of Defense, Xie Yun, has placed many of his own people into the army to restrict Zhou Zhenluan’s actions. Conflict between the two is becoming more heated by the minute.”
“Tsk, tsk. To think that they would fight amongst themselves at a time like this. Well, better for us that they do; victory looks more promising by the minute. Only South Hill Pass still stands—but not for much longer!”
“Your Highness, once South Hill Pass falls under your steeds, your military accomplishments will stack higher than ever. With enormous military power in hand, fighting for the throne will be like taking candy from a baby-”
“Silence!” Murong Yu barks.
The person immediately slaps his own mouth three times as punishment.
“I shall not hear such words again. Not even I can protect you if they get out.” After a moment’s pause he calmly speaks again. “Taking the Pass down in the shortest amount of time is the only thing that should be on your minds presently.”
The person tentatively continues. “Your Highness, You’re out here all by Yourself while, from what our people back in the capital tell us, Your brothers, they’ve began to take action. And His Majesty’s health has been unstable lately, Your Highness…”
The entire yard is quiet save for the wind and the leaves that it disturbs, disturbing the peaceful afternoon at the same time.
“I-I shall consider what you have said. You may leave.”
“Thank you, Your Highness. I shall take my leave now.”
Hearing all this, I feel kind of down. I’m not sure whether for the inevitable conflict between his brothers or for the seemingly dim future of Great Rui, or perhaps for my own unknown path.
Murong Yu doesn’t speak another word for the rest of the afternoon. He just puts on his armour and goes to the training field without a word.
I witness his army’s might from afar—a wave of black that knows no boundaries. Metallic sunlight flashes coldly off the iron plates and stings my eyes. A black gold-embroidered general’s flag flies up into the air, billowing in the wind, a single character ‘Yan’ written boldly in silver. Black helmets and iron plates stand in rigid formation below the platform.
Murong Yu stands in glistening silver armour, not a hair out of place, the white eagle feathers on his helmet glow as if alive, emitting beams of icy light. A scorching but dazzling light radiates from his body that forces you to shy away.
A blessed son of god.
I can’t help but admit, such a person means fortune for Yan but doom for Great Rui.
With prestige flowing in his blood, he cannot allow any disdain, therefore the battlefield is his best stage. On the battlefield, he is a soldier who slays his foes with a wave of his sword but in the near future he will reach the absolute pinnacle and become the sovereign ruler of the Yan Empire.
I chuckle to myself.
God has never been fair.
And the difference between me and him would be understated if I said he is the clouds and I’m the dirt.
But it’s all right because I’m okay with what I have and what I can and cannot have.
Murong Yu gathers many of his men in his room after supper. It looks as if they’ve got very important matters to discuss.
I sneakily head to the prison. The guards know that I’m Murong Yu’s personal retinue so they don’t give me a hard time.
It becomes colder as I pass through the dim walkways and deeper into the prison. A rotten, moldy smell hits me and I have to hold my breath. The torches squeak and wheeze on the walls and cast shadows and figures everywhere, making it all the more creepier. I don’t stop until I reach the innermost cell.
Is that famous scholar of a lord locked in that tiny cramped place?
Under the dim torch light, I catch a glimpse of a person sitting in silence in the corner. His light body frame seems weak and frail. He looks miserable under the flickering lights; his face is so pale it’s transparent. His eyes are tightly shut as if in deep sleep but his pale slender fingers are slightly quivering.
I gently crouch down, not wanting to disturb him.
It is him, after all, Duke Yu Qing.
Suddenly he starts coughing violently and my heart clenches. “Are you alright, my Lordship?”
His eyes slowly open and he stares at me, fazed, like he doesn’t know me. Only after a minute does he slowly but surely call out my name, “Han Xin.”
“I knew you were still alive.” He sits up a little and moves towards me with a light smile.
I nod guiltily and he smiles again. “It’s not easy at times like these.”
“Did they hurt you, Your Lordship?”
He shakes his head and his smile disappears.
“No. I’m a duke, after all. They would not dare.” He looks up at me and asks. “But I bet they put you through a lot, huh?”
I lower my gaze. “Just a few whippings, nothing really.”
After a long silence, I continue. “Your Lordship, has it really gotten to the point that even you must…?”
I fall quiet.
“Yes,” he says with such ease it’s like he’s talking about someone else. “It has.”
He heaves a deep sigh and the sparkle in his eyes fades. “I’m just a book lover; I’ve devoted my life to ink and paper. Now that I’ve failed, I do not wish for anything but a clean, noble death.”
I bite my lips and gaze at him. His eyes are dark and his expression clear as usual as if he’s seen past life and death. I’m not sure what to say all of a sudden.
He studies me from the corners of his eyes. “I haven’t seen you for quite some time; you look more and more like him.”
“I beg your pardon?” My body shakes and I look up, shocked.
He stares at the half-feet-wide hole in the wall as if he hasn’t heard me, as if he’s forgotten about my existence, as if he’s talking to himself.
“Twelve years. If only he had succeeded twelve years ago, Great Rui wouldn’t be what it is today…”
“Great Rui’s establishment was based on scholarship; many of the royals are scholars. But only him, only he was skilled in martial arts, if only he was the emperor now, if only…”
I can’t help it any longer and I reach in through the bars to grab his shoulders.
“Who is he? Your Lordship, who is he? And what does he have to do with me?”
Duke Yu Qing looks steadily at me as if trying to find something from my face and then he shakes his head. He grabs onto my hands with strength as though he wants to break my wrists.
“Promise me one thing, Han Xin!”
I try hard to suppress my surprise and anxiety and nod. “Anything, Your Lordship. As long as it’s within my abilities, consider it done.”
“Return! You must return!”
I blink in confusion.
He holds my gaze and smiles hopelessly. “I have one son, not yet one. I hope you can take care of him for me.”
“Why does Your Lordship say such things? You shall return too!”
I don’t understand. Why is he, Duke Yu Qing, suddenly asking me to take care of his son?
I glance back at him but I feel his smile has turned cold.
“You really take after him. Perhaps, perhaps you can fulfill his will.”
He suddenly releases my hand and sighs again. He cups my face with soft hands and he looks lovingly at me in the way a father looks at his son.
I cautiously ask him after much thought. “Can Your Lordship tell me, who this ‘he’ is? And what does he have to do with me?”
“Do you really want to know?” He leans motionless against the cell door and cracks a tired smile.
“There is no need to know!”
A thunderous voice booms near my ears and I quickly turn around. A silhouette is standing a couple of steps away in between the torch and me.
His figure is stiff and tense like metal. I can’t decipher anything from those midnight orbs that are raven like the night sky. He rushes forth, grabs me by the wrist and drags me out before I get a word of complaint out of my mouth. I only feel a sharp pain from my wrist amidst the push and shove.
“Let go of me, Murong Yu!”
He keeps pushing on pretending to not have heard me. We’re outside in the blink of an eye. Everything is covered in a light veil of white by the cool moonlight.
I stop after prying his grip off and yell at him. “Are you crazy? He’s just someone I’ve known for a long time! And why did you have to interrupt him?”
He whips around with a ridiculous smile and steps towards me. I automatically back away. I can feel a cold aura coming from his eyes.
“I am crazy.” He says as he comes closer. I back up step by step. He seems like a completely different person today.
I feel my back press against the wall and I start panicking. With nowhere to go I can only look him straight in the eye.
“Do you really not remember what happened last night?”
I feel something heavy in the air pushing me down and I squeeze out a few weak words. “I told you, I got drunk and forgot everything.”
“Lies. You do remember.”
Are you kidding me? I don’t need you to tell me what is in my own brain or not!
“You’re acting up. Go take a cold shower!” I don’t want to continue this conversation so I lift up an arm to push him away and leave.
His voice sounds extremely close. I instinctively raise a hand to block him but the moment my hand touches him it’s tightly restricted by his. His hand’s cool just like glacial ice. I wiggle my hand around in an attempt to break free but he only tightens his grip.
“I told you to not move, Han Xin.” His lips feel really close to my ears.
“Alright, okay, tell me what you want then.”
We stare at each other and the silence seems to freeze time. He suddenly steps closer, imprisons me in between his arms without answering my question and brings his body closer. I struggle but to no avail.
“Just what are you doing?” I hiss.
Little blasts of hot air brush my face. It’s a bit ticklish. He lifts my face up and studies it with a burning look. Before I know it his lips are on mine—a bit cool like his hand. My body freezes over, letting him do as he pleases.
My head spins, my limbs are restricted, my breath is stolen and an irresistible power replaces the cool sensation from before with an overwhelming heat.
He releases me only after a long, long kiss. I can’t help but pant for fresh air.
“This is what I wanted.” His voice is husky and stiff.
I calm myself down and glare at him with clenched jaw.
Don’t think you can do as you please with me just because I’m a prisoner.
“I said before, if you like men you can go to a brothel! I won’t let you belittle me like this just because I’m your prisoner!”
He stops and the grip on my arm quickly tightens. “You think I’m belittling you, Han Xin?” He sounds a bit upset.
“If not, what is it then that you’re doing right now?” I question.
I glare at him and buckle around trying to break free.
A playful smile dances on his lips. “You really think so, Han Xin?”
I look daggers at him while he laughs softly by my ears. I think his jaw is clenched.
He leans in, his breath brushing my neck. “I really want to crack that thick skull of yours open and see what exactly you have inside.”
I frown. What shit is this guy spewing? I can’t make head or tails of this.
His lips are on mine again before I get anything sorted out. He pries open my teeth and his tongue swipes over every single place in my mouth, not allowing me to hide, forcing me to respond.
“Mmm.” My head spins from anger and I try to push him away with all my might.
The next moment a frightened shriek disturbs the peaceful night.
“Yu! Wh-What are you two doing?!”
Dairytea's comment: Pardon my language, but what's with the c✿ckblock again! >//w//<
*ଘ(੭*ˊᵕˋ)੭* ੈ✩‧₊˚w-well then...see you next week~<3
Cold Sands - English Translation by ayszhang is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.