Proofreaders: Gwen, Mion, & Red
Cold Sands ch13
Onto another exciting chapter of Cold Sands~
I can only look to the sky helplessly once I hear him say that.
How the hell did he know I was hiding outside the door? Did he grow a third eye or something?
Murong Yu’s been tied up with dealing with the front line for the past few days so I haven’t been bothered. I’ve had enough alone time too but I really do not want to revisit our last talk. So the best way to go would be to avoid him, but turns out that tactic isn’t working out either.
So I hesitantly shuffle over.
Murong Yu doesn’t look up. The light is behind him, concealing his eyes and his emotions in shadows. He continues to flip through the mound of scrolls laid out before him without a word, his forehead propped up by his hand.
What the hell is this? Does he not see me standing here? Or does he just want to make it hard on me?
The air in the room is almost still. I take a quick peep at him and just as I’m about to sneak out he speaks,
“Did I say you could leave?”
He didn’t speak very loudly but his voice still had the usual power and coolness to it. It makes me realize the awkward spot I’m in—a prisoner who has his life and future in the hands of someone else. So I stand still with my head bowed and ask in a polite voice, “What may I do for you, your highness?”
He picks up his brush and dips it in the inkwell while pointing to the tray on the table with his left hand. “Take that out.”
I can’t object to his command so I edge over to the table warily and run straight towards the door after taking the tray. A question pops into my mind just as I get to the door.
“How did you know I was outside?” I turn around to ask him.
He stops for a moment before returning to his previous unblinking, unmoving state and continues reading his reports. “I doubt that brat knows how to serve. Did you honestly expect me to believe she could make the temperature just right?”
Okay, whatever. I must be coming down with something to be asking such a random question.
Just as I’m about to leave, I hear him coughing behind me. I quickly turn to look only to see him grimacing and covering his mouth, one hand reaching out for the teapot. For some reason I hurry back and grab that hand.
“Don’t drink while coughing,” I instruct.
He looks up at me with a confused look.
“You’ll choke if you do,” I explain. “Just drink it in a bit.”
He watches me.
Feeling sort of self-conscious of my actions, I let go of his hand while chuckling nervously. “Um, so I’m going to leave you to your business then, your-.”
He snatches my wrist before I can finish.
The sky outside is getting all the more gloomy. A storm is about to break.
Murong Yu keeps his unreadable gaze on me, his lips curving up slightly. “You...care for me?”
I stop in my track. He tightens his grip after studying my face for quite a while. His thin, long fingers are strangely cold. Only the palm contains a shred of warmth.
I pull my hand away and take a step back, keeping him in my sight.
“You overstate matters, your highness.” I let my nerves settle before turning to leave out the door.
He suddenly yanks me back by the arm. “Did I dismiss you?” He interrogates flatly while pushing aside the paper and brush.
“Your highness has made orders for me to refrain from roaming after the hour of the Pig. I’m merely following orders.”
He didn’t seem to expect that and starts chuckling. “I should’ve known better. You are the best when it comes to battles of the tongue.”
I can’t spot any trace of the usual fierceness or aloofness from his amiable smile under the dim, yellow candlelight.
I finally give up from the eye contact and start laughing as well. The two of us have been in a strop lately. All we’ve exchanged are sharp glares; not a word. Well, of course, there had been a bunch of soldiers behind him every time we bumped into each other, and I hadn’t wanted to speak with him.
This is the first time we’re alone by ourselves since that night.
I’m so tired of it. Always being stony-faced. It’s just not how I do.
“Whatcha thinking about?” He asks unusually softly.
I shrug and then pick up his cloak and put it around his shoulders. “You don’t wanna catch a cold. Aren’t you old enough to take care of yourself by now?”
He flashes a smile, his long brows dancing up, and wraps his cloak around himself.
I pick up the tray again and turn my head to say to him, “It’s getting late. You’d better head to bed.”
Before I manage to make the turn, he reaches over my shoulders, taking away the things I’m holding, and holds onto my hands. I almost jump out of my skin. I briskly whip my head around only to look into the mysterious depths of his eyes.
“Don’t go.” He breathes against my ear. “Stay with me for a bit.”
I shudder and quickly tilt my head away. “Why should I? You’ve got your fiancée for company.”
Kind of pissed off, I try to shove him away. Amidst the scuffle I elbow him in the chest very hard.
Ummphf. He frowns and purses his lips while clutching his chest, hissing for air.
I clench my jaw hard. My mind suddenly goes blank.
Shit. He’s sick to begin with and now I’ve just hit him. It’s got to hurt.
Murong Yu puts his entire body weight on me, brows tightly knit as he pants softly. I help him over to his bed after seeing him not saying a word with his brows all furrowed up. I pour some hot tea out in a cup and feed it into his mouth a little bit at a time.
He looks all better after letting out a deep breath. Only then do my nerves settle.
“You ok?” I inquire.
“Is that how you treat a sick person?” He peers at me out of the corner of his eyes.
I feel a pang of guilt but I mustn’t lose this battle. “You could’ve dodged it, really. You expect me to believe that you couldn’t even do that?”
“I didn’t think you’d actually hit that hard though.”
I scoff and get up to unfasten his cloak. “Whatever. Just go to sleep if you’re not feeling well.”
He’s still leaning on the bed with a small grin. Suddenly he locks onto my hands. I frown as I try to break free but he doesn’t budge.
“Sleep with me,” he adds with a friendly expression.
The hell? This guy’s pushing his luck here.
Maybe detecting my mood, he grins. “Don’t get the wrong idea. I’m ill and I’ve just gotten wounded again by you. Don’t you think I need someone to look after me?”
Wounded by me? What a load of bullshit! Considering his physique, he should be fine by now. What a big, fat liar.
“How could you be so ungrateful?” His smile fades as he looks at me seriously. “I stayed by your bedside every one of those times you got hurt.”
I’m a bit caught off guard and he continues before I get to say anything, “Don’t worry. I can’t do much in my state right now so I won’t be trying anything funny.”
I shoot him an angry look. “Then where am I supposed to sleep? ‘Cuz I am not sleepin’ on the ground!”
He beams as he shifts over a little. “How ‘bout here?”
Wh-what? I sincerely feel like beating him up right now.
“Here, or the ground,” he offers as he pats the bed, “Your choice. Don’t come running to me later saying I didn’t give you any.”
I take a look at the warm and soft bed. I take another look at the cold floor. I take one last look at that crafty asshole.
I take my shoes off and sit by the edge of the bed.
He raises a brow in discontent. “What’re you doing all the way over there? We can’t even talk properly. I’m a nice guy; I don’t bite.”
I roll my eyes at him.
Hmmph! It’s not like you haven’t before.
His face looks sallow under the murky, shaky candlelight. The dark circles under his eyes make him look tired but it doesn’t take away from his usual air.
It’s gotten late and it’s dead silent outside. The two of us are still awake, also silent.
I hum a reply.
“Do you do this kinda stuff a lot?” He asks, his voice coming from my side, “Serving others?”
I turn away. “I’ve always had to take care of myself so I don’t mind it in particular.”
“Always?” He turns too. I can kind of smell his scent from behind.
I feel a rush of bitter pain gnawing at my heart and I shut my eyes.
“Got used to it,” I answer nonchalantly, “Living under someone else’s roof and all.”
I feel someone tucking me in carefully, making sure to get all the crevices. Soon I’m surrounded by that familiar scent of his. I glumly turn my head away, not wanting to open my eyes. I feel an arm wrapping around my waist and fingers starting to stroke the hair by my temple. Extremely lightly but extremely clumsily. So gently. So gently it’s as if he’s a completely different person.
I don’t think anyone has ever made me feel this way in the past twenty years. Not even close.
I have no idea why Uncle always looks so coldly at me, no idea why I don’t have any parents and no idea why certain people give me such strange looks.
The empress dowager’s surname is Han. Uncle’s surname is Han. My surname is also Han. Then who was my father? Why couldn’t I receive my father’s name? For what reason did I have to take my mother’s? Why can’t I remember the things before I was nine?
Usually I would make sure I don’t think about these because I know that’s just asking for trouble. When I had asked Uncle these questions when I was young, he got so angry he was shaking and locked me in the log shed. I got used to it in the end. I wouldn’t think. I wouldn’t ask.
It seems there’s a whole lot I don’t know.
I smile but I’m filled with bitterness.
You don’t have a past, Han Xin, or a future.
I feel tears wetting my eyes.
Thanks to the darkness, I can cover my tracks as long as I don’t make a noise. Everything will be silent. I’ve got no need to hold back.
Tears keep streaming out, wetting my cheeks. I feel a cold finger reaching up to my face and wiping at my tears. His scent gets closer and finally envelops me.
“Let it out if you want. You don’t have to hide anything. I won’t judge.”
I spit a quiet curse while trying to push him away. He lets out a sigh before hugging me close and putting his chin against my neck.
“Go away! You hear me?”
With my eyes closed, I try to pry his hands off but he only holds me tighter and tighter, not letting me fight. Feeling my tears being gently kissed away, I finally give up struggling and wrap my arms around his shoulders.
It doesn’t matter now. All I want is a little warmth. Even if it’ll be gone the next instant, I’d be fine with that, too.
He’s gently patting my back while comforting me quietly by my ears, “You’ll feel better after you cry.”
“You’re not me.” More tears. “How would you know?”
“Why wouldn’t I? Silly. No one can be cheerful all the time.” He sighs. “You must have so much bottled up.”
“Okay, okay. ‘Nuh-uh’ it is.”
His hand is still patting my back. Gently. Lightly. I quickly settle down and open my eyes. His smoldering eyes are watching me like the stars on a cloudy night. I try to communicate the thoughts I can’t speak through my eyes.
I bury my face in the nook of his shoulder and let my eyes close while taking in his faint scent.
“All good now?” He asks.
I give a small nod and hold him tighter. He chuckles and then takes off my cloak before pulling the blankets back. “No more tears, right? Then let’s go to sleep,” he coaxes.
His body heat sneaks in through the thin fabrics. I rest on his shoulders, listening to his muffled heartbeat. He suddenly dips down and plants a kiss on my forehead with his cold lips. Lightly. Slowly. Extremely gently.
I’ve cried. I’ve shed tears, too. But my heart is still weighed down to the point it’s a little painful.
“Sleep now. I’ll be with you.”
Everything falls silent once more. Soon I let my lids fall down like black curtains with his light snoring in the background.
After some time...
I turn my head, bewildered, only to see the sky painted brilliantly orange by the fiery sun. The blue sky seems to have been ignited with gold and blazing red clouds. There’s farmland off in the distance being burnt away by roaring flames. A wave of cavalrymen in black helmets rides past on white horses, whizzing by me like the wind. There’s a handsome man in a black helmet and red cape mounted on a warhorse, magnificent blade in hand. I can’t quite make out his face but the bloody stain by his lips stands out to me. In the blink of an eye, a sword is drawn and red rains down in every direction. The smell of blood drifts up my nose. My mind seems to implode with a boom and my chest pains as if it’s going to tear open.
The scene before me blurs.
A young woman clad in green cotton is kneeling before a splendidly dressed older woman, her pretty face wet with crystal-like tears. She’s pleading with all her might, her body huddled against her knees. The older woman remains emotionless behind a curtain of extravagant beads dangling in front of her forehead like a mien of bereavement. The cotton-clad young woman smiles through her tears and rises. She looks up and flicks her wrist up. The same moment, a blade flashes and she falls over limply, a stream of red flowing out from her neck.
I back away in horror. Unbearable pain attacks me like a wild beast. The scene before me vanishes.
I struggle in the dark. I thrash as if it’s the end of the world.
What is this?
What in the world is this? I don’t want to see it. I don’t want to. I don’t want to!
Let me die. I don’t want to live anymore. Just let me die!
I howl in pain. It’s as though my brain is being stung open. My body convulses. Why won’t you just let me die?!
“Wake up! Wake up!”
I snap my eyes open. A chill sets in, cooling my hands and feet. I try to move but I get held back. Murong Yu takes me into his embrace and wipes away the sweat on my forehead.
I turn my head away and pant breathlessly. I’m so exhausted but I’m afraid to close my eyes. What if I see those two bloodied people again?
It was a nightmare—a perplexing nightmare.
He takes my fingers into his hand and start rubbing them while whispering sweet nothings into my ear. I lie quietly in his arms, desperately seeking his body heat.
“Murong Yu,” I finally manage to croak.
“I’m right here,” he answers softly.
Even his hot breath somehow eases my unsettled heart.
“You weren’t sleeping well. Kept thrashing around and screaming.” He watches me as he rubs my back. “Did you have a nightmare?”
I’m not even sure whether I give him an answer or not, but I wrap my arms around him and whisper, “Hold me tight.”
I feel him shudder against me but he doesn’t speak. He just takes off my sweat-soaked clothes and throws them out the drapes before taking off his own and bringing me closer than ever.
“Don’t be afraid. I’m right here.”
Our naked bodies come together and slowly I start to warm up, the terror from earlier receding away. I fall asleep in his embrace.
Great Yan was established through martial means, in particular through the art of fire, and has esteemed the colour red through all generations.
The flags of the Yan army cover everywhere the eyes can see. The glaring red seems to swallow up the world as if the army has hailed from the skies. The picture is overwhelming.
A black and red war flag flaps wildly in the wind. The white wolf upon it seems to come alive under the golden sunlight and howl in the wind. The Three Wings are fully armed and standing parted in the middle. The jet black handle and tassels of the soldiers’ spears form a forest. Only the silver blades reflect cold, menacing light that seems to shoot through your soul.
The flag of the wolf draws near and a man with deep contours comes forth, armoured in shining iron plates. He grins as he strolls through the forest of spears and stops before Murong Yu. Murong Yu is sitting at the end of a long table, adorned with a silver helmet and red cape as usual. The top half of his face remains hidden in the shadows of his helmet. His expression is hard to identify but his lips are tightly pursed as always.
The man kneels down on one knee and the men behind him follow suit, their metallic armour clanging against the ground, the sound sharp and hollow. The man raises his hands and lifts a gilt-edged scroll sealed with wax above his head.
“A decree written by His Majesty, Emperor of Great Yan,” he declares in a clear voice. “‘The Lupine Blood Mounts under my command shall be entrusted entirely to Prince Lie! The Prince shall expand our borders to the utmost without fail!’”
Murong Yu’s lips curve at an angle, a steady smile showing through the shade.
The Lupine Blood Mounted Squadron is a cavalry that directly answers to the Yan Emperor. All of them armoured in red iron plates have proven their courage on the battlefield, striding over their opponents’ mangled remains and polishing their mail with the shed blood of their enemies.
They are a pack of merciless wolves that will do whatever it takes to take down their prey, and that man is none other than Yuwen Yuan, the general of the Lupine Blood Mounted Squadron.
He was born into a family of Yan nobility and is a warrior so fierce, he murders and raids, buries war prisoners alive and massacres commoners, all without a moment’s hesitation. I’m afraid his arrival along with the Lupine Blood Mounted Squadron means the Yan Emperor has put all his chips in.
I gaze at the scene. It’s sunny, the skies are clear, yet I’m shivering.
The Lupine Blood Mounted Squadron—it had once swept across the Yan borders, cutting down everything in its way. It had trampled beneath its steeds flesh and bone; it had forked upon its blades heads. Numberless states and tribes have cried out beneath its mighty hooves and trembled beneath its gleaming blades. And now, this bloodthirsty beast has turned its glistening fangs towards Great Rui that is still catching its breath, and is biding its time.
Yuwen Yuan grins and quickly turns towards all the men behind him. “We shall follow Prince Lie until our deaths, crush all the enemies before us and expand our borders to the utmost!” He bellows.
“Crush all enemies! Expand our borders!” The soldiers wave their weapons in the air and howl to the sky, shaking the earth itself.
The shouting gets louder each time around but Murong Yu stays unflinching with a light smile on his face and a sword hilt in his right hand.
The evening winds are thick with the smell of alcohol. The smell of roast meat makes the mouth water. Murong Yu heads the table and toasts to Yuwen Yuan who isn’t far away. Once in a while there are drunken soldiers bumping into and hollering at each other, laughing and singing without restraint.
I keep walking, past the Central Wing Camp, past Murong Yu’s quarters, all the way to the back of the yard. The laughter and noise from the welcome party is far behind me, the luminous lanterns naught but small dots twinkling vaguely in the background.
The back of the yard doesn’t have a wall; I can spot the vast plains in the distance. There’s not a sound. It’s so quiet it’s suffocating. It’s so dark it’s suffocating.
The sun has long set. Even the dazzling twilight has dissipated into the sky, the remaining glow fading out slowly until all that’s left shining upon the deserted land is the cool, clear moonlight.
I might have decided to escape right now if I were the Han Xin from the time of my capture. Now, however, I wouldn’t even consider it because I know that beyond this seemingly peaceful piece of grassland are murderous Yan soldiers.
I take out a small bottle. The light fragrances of wine not unlike that of pears fill my nostrils the moment I twist open the lid. I tilt the bottle upside down as I start quaffing it down. This is the most famous wine of Yan, Jade Green Soul, and is the hardest of hard liquor. A burning sensation arises as the cool liquid slides into my mouth. I take big gulps as though to drown the bitterness in my heart.
Am I…in denial?
The bottle gets lighter and lighter. I tilt my head back to get that last bit when my hand closes in on itself—the bottle’s gone!
Someone has taken it from behind. I bark at them without sparing a look, “Givit back!”
“But brother, alcohol’s bad for you!”
“Bad? Doesn’t matter.”
Yeah, it really doesn’t matter. I’d rather die of intoxication than live in vain. I can’t do anything but watch these people who are going to trample over my country and murder my people. Watch them feast and indulge themselves before mounting their horses, arming their swords and charging at my country like a pack of hungry wolves. Watch while I cannot do anything.
I roll around shakily. I can’t see through my misty eyes so I squint and put on a smile. “C’mere hun, pass me that bottle.”
Xiao Qinyun jumps out from behind, shaking the bottle frustratingly. I lunge for it but she steps out of the way.
“Brother! Do you know what this is? How could you drink that much?” She shoots me a disapproving look.
“It’s just Green Soul from Yan. What’s the big deal!”
“This is so strong that people have died drinking it! You can’t do this even if you’re a man!”
I wobble a bit as I look at her and shake my head like a drunken man. I reach for the bottle again but she remains determined, swinging her arm up. The liquor splashes out and hits me all over the face.
“I’ve always hated drinkers!”
I instantly sober up quite a bit after the chilly wine hits me. I see Xiao Qinyun standing in front of me with a troubled look, wearing a light-coloured dress and holding a xiao in her left hand. My feet start feeling shaky after I cough a few times so I rest on a rock nearby. I finally catch my breath with my head propped up with my right hand.
I look up and question, “What’re ya doing here instead of joining them?”
She tosses the bottle and it tumbles away, spilling out the last few drops of wine and adding a sliver of its fragrance into the brisk evening wind. She sits down right next to me. I gaze into the distance as she watches me with those round, raven eyes of hers.
I chuckle. “I heard ghosts roam in dark places like this.”
“Brother!” She yelps and raps me lightly. “And here I was so worried for you! How could you scare me like that?”
I don’t want to laugh anymore. I just can’t anymore.
“Go back inside,” I order glumly. “It’s too windy here for a girl.”
She stubbornly shakes her head and moves even closer to me.
The clouds and stars in the skies above the frontiers are thin and sparse. The moonlight shines down and coats everything in a light silvery gleam.
Out of nowhere, Xiao Qinyun hooks onto my arms like a kid and puts her head on my shoulder. I put my head down on my hand and leave her be.
“I know, brother,” she starts speaking faintly. “It’s hard on you and you don’t wanna be near those people. I really don’t like them either. So rude and loud, every one of them. And then they start shouting when they get drunk like they’re crazy. I don’t know how my sweetie can stand them.”
“Silly you....” I murmur. To her or to myself? I’m not sure.
Those soldiers who are enjoying themselves and having the time of their lives are the enemies who are soon going to storm over the lands of Great Rui, while I’m here, helpless, not able to do anything except drink to ease my troubles.
I put my hand over my face so she doesn’t see the pained look on it.
But what am I now? I’m just a prisoner whose fate is in someone else’s hands. I’m afraid my name has already been written on some casualty report. No one would remember me, and that includes my so-called relatives.
Han Xin, oh, Han Xin, I utter to myself, what a dilemma you’re in right now. You can’t return to your country nor can you leave. It doesn’t look like your dream of abandoning all worldly matters and leaving everything behind to become a free soul is going to come true anymore.
So…. So what do you reckon you should do?
Are you going to keep living like this and wait for destiny’s final call?
Are you going to take that? Are you?
I shut my eyes tightly and inhale sharply. I feel the alcohol buzzing within me along with all the frustrations and anger that I had kept bottled in and is lurching around wildly.
“Brother?” She sounds worried and starts shaking me. “Brother?”
I’m in a stupor. I don’t even want to answer.
The evening wind scoops up sand and rattles the branches as it sweeps across the earth.
“Why can’t you leave me alone?” I blurt out harshly.
She stares at me, only releasing my shirt after some time.
I pull a forced smile as I look at her. “Let me be alone for a bit, my Duchess.”
She lets her arm fall limply to her side and gets up. She says after a short silence, “You might think I’m just a kid, brother, but I…I know why you’re like this.”
I close my eyes and sigh silently.
Her words make me all the sadder. So sad I can’t breathe.
Her light footsteps get quieter and quieter. I open my eyes to see her petite figure almost disappearing into the dark from the corner of my eye.
“Long time no see, Duchess,” A man’s deep, rich voice breaks the peace.
I immediately leap up. Xiao Qinyun lets out a yelp before quickly covering her mouth.
The man, armoured in shining iron plates, steps out from the shadows.
Dairytea's comment: Oh my, who is this armored man? Σ(ﾟ口ﾟ;
See you all next week when we have piles of gifts for you to enjoy. (*￣▽￣*)
Cold Sands - English Translation by ayszhang is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.