Zhuang Zhong was awakened by the heavy weight pressing on top of his body. In his dream, he was passing by the cliff when huge rocks started rolling down. Squashed so hard until he could not breathe, he had then woken up abruptly. However, as soon as he opened his eyes, a large dashing face appeared near his and he could clearly feel the other person’s breath and warmth.
Zhuang Zhong, who was startled, wanted to get away, but he found out that his body was encircled by Feng Huan’s long hands and feet. Only then did he understand where the feeling of suffocation in his dream came from. Meanwhile, Feng Huan was sleeping soundly, and Zhuang Zhong’s movements had evoked some discontentment from him, causing him to hug Zhuang Zhong even more tightly and make him unable to move.
Looking softer and quite different from his usual imposing appearance, Feng Huan’s sleeping appearance made him look like a boy with a smight of childishness. With such a thought, Zhuang Zhong could not help but laugh. To him, Feng Huan’s age was indeed of a child, and it was only the other person’s usual temperament that made him forget about this fact.
Besides, as someone who had never been in such close contact with others, Zhuang Zhong felt uncomfortable with his current position. He wanted to get out of this bind and get away from the warmth radiating near his face. However, any small movement Zhuang Zhong made caused Feng Huan to hug him even more tightly. Notwithstanding the hugging, he even received a smack on his buttocks as a sleepy voice rang in his ear, “Don’t move.”
Zhuang Zhong’s whole body turned stiff as his ears reddened. He clearly felt that there was a warm hard object pressed against his bottom. As a physically healthy man, how could he have not known what it was?
Despite it being a normal physiological reaction, it was still embarrassing. The tone of Feng Huan’s sleepy words was also very dubious and greasy. As Zhuang Zhong felt Feng Huan’s breath on his sensitive ears, his whole body turned numb.
Feng Huan was actually having a spring dream1“春梦” (literally “spring dream”) is another way of referring to a dream of erotic nature.!
Zhuang Zhong silently vented. Unable to bear the embarrassment or move away, he raised his hand and pinched Feng Huan’s nose so that he could not breathe.
Feng Huan, who found it uncomfortable, grabbed Zhuang Zhong’s hand. Flipping over, he proceeded to press Zhuang Zhong under his body and bit him fiercely on the neck.
“Ah-shit, you get the fuck up!”
Unable to stand it, Zhuang Zhong had shouted at him. At this moment, Feng Huan suddenly opened his eyes that gave off a cold light, making Zhuang Zhong’s heart tremble.
Would he just lose his life because of this shout?! Feng Huan’s gaze seemed to indicate that he was about to kill him off any time now, and he had not forgotten the identity of Feng Huan either.
Like that, the both of them, separated only by an inch, looked at each other quietly. No matter the difference between them, Zhuang Zhong was determined not to lose that easily and forced himself not to blink. After all, it was clearly the other person’s fault, so even if he loses his life, he would not bow his head.
Zhuang Zhong did not know how long they remained in a stalemate but he could feel his eyes watering. Unable to stop himself from blinking, it was here that Feng Huan finally got off. As Feng Huan sat on the bed, he rubbed his temples and remarked with a strong tone of dissatisfaction, “It is too noisy in the morning.”
Meanwhile, Zhuang Zhong took the chance to quickly turn over and get out of bed, hoping to avoid any further harassment. He touched the wound on his neck and said angrily, “Are you a blood-sucking creature? You bit my neck early in the morning and with such force that it must be bleeding. If this was seen by others, it might even cause a misunderstanding. Fortunately, I do not have a wife either, otherwise, I would have to kneel on the washboard2 “跪搓衣板” (literally “kneeling on the washboard”) is a traditional Chinese punishment between couples. when I get home!”
Feng Huan swept a glance at the bitemark without any semblance of guilt. “Noisy.”
Zhuang Zhong could not help rolling his eyes. “Fine, since I cannot bear to offend the one with greater power outside of this bed, I will just accept it as my bad luck. Next time, do not expect me to drink with you all night again!”
Last night, they were in an elated state. Taking up their cups and chatting merrily, they did not keep track of the time and slept directly there. As the private rooms of the drinking establishment were styled as courtyards, there was a main house and walkways surrounding it. Its fine and tranquil scenery also made it very popular among nobles to come here for recreation and talk despite the frighteningly expensive fees.
“This is not up to you.”
Just as Zhuang Zhong was about to refute, Feng Huan’s personal guard entered. As the guard whispered something in his ear, Feng Huan’s eyebrows knitted together slightly.
When the guard left, Feng Huan appeared gloomy.
“Did something happen? Leave if you are busy. You can teach me how to ride a horse and shoot arrows in the future.”
Feng Huan suddenly said, “The crown prince is seriously ill.”
Zhuang Zhong was momentarily at a loss. Despite being on friendly terms with each other, they rarely mention things regarding the imperial court besides those investigation cases.
Essentially, although Emperor Qian Xing was at his prime, the greatest worry of the ministers in court was the issue with the crown prince. After all, the emperor did not have many male offsprings. While the crown prince’s body was weak, the second prince was too young. Feng Huan was also particularly doted on by the emperor and was given great power. This, coupled with their past history, had then caused all the ministers to be very worried about the death of Emperor Qian Xing, which would inevitably result in a great mess.
Now, with the crown prince seriously ill, it would certainly cause a big storm. While this might be an opportunity for Feng Huan, it could also be a calamity.
“What are your thoughts?”
Feng Huan raised his eyes. “As long as you are a man, you would want to stand at the top and control everything. I am no exception.”
Zhuang Zhong, who did not expect Feng Huan to give such an answer, was stunned. If such words were spread outside, it would cause an uproar. Currently, Feng Huan’s every action was not seen as a thirst for power but something that was done on a whim, resulting in Emperor Qian Xing’s trust and favor. As Zhuang Zhong stroked the Buddha beads on his wrist, he found it difficult to calm his heart down. He had never thought that Feng Huan would trust him so much.
Feng Huan added, “However, everything has a price.”
Zhuang Zhong smiled. “I do not understand these things. However, no matter what you choose, you have your own reasons. Just don’t drag me down into the water with you. I am just an insignificant commoner that desires stability instead of glory.”
Feng Huan’s eyes flashed. “Since it is like this, why return to the secular world? Is it all just to find the real murderer who killed your brother?”
“As I said before, it is just one of the reasons. I also wanted to do something.”
“Do you have any clues now?”
As Zhuang Zhong hesitated, Feng Huan said angrily, “Is there still something that is unmentionable between the both of us? It is not as if I would stop your revenge!”
“What are you saying? Since Your Highness is willing to help, I am already extremely grateful.”
Feng Huan coldly snorted, “Why are you still calling me Your Highness? We have even slept together.”
Zhuang Zhong, who was currently drinking tea, choked after hearing that. “You really dare to say anything.”
After that, Zhuang Zhong told Feng Huan everything regarding YuanJue’s murder and even showed him the tattoo.
“Are you sure you saw it clearly?”
Zhuang Zhong nodded. “There is absolutely no mistake. After all, it is related to my brother’s death, and I remember it very clearly. Your Highness recognizes this pattern too?”
“Have you ever heard of King ZhenNan?”
Zhuang Zhong was stunned, and an incomprehensible expression appeared on his face. How could this end up being related to that?!
“It is as you thought. This symbol is unique to the YaZi3“睚眦” (YaZi) is one of the nine sons of the dragon according to traditional Chinese culture. More information can be found in the translator’s notes. envoys of King ZhenNan. Ever since King ZhenNan had the intention to revolt, he established nine groups of troops that only served him. As the saying goes, the dragon has nine sons, and none of them resemble each other. Each group was led by King ZhenNan’s descendants, and they each have their own intentions and responsibilities. YaZi is responsible for assassinations.”
Lu Feng’s previous reaction had prepared Zhuang Zhong, and he knew that the people behind the scenes must be unusual. However, he had never thought that the runaway King ZhenNan would be involved.
“Could it be a contract assassination? King ZhenNan suffered a crushing defeat and needs a lot of money to make a comeback, so…”
“King ZhenNan has not fallen to such a state. From the beginning, the first founder gave preferential treatment to his brother, allowing the first King ZhenNan to sit on countless wealth and treasures. So, although several generations have passed, he would not go around for this little money. Besides, at that time when he suffered huge losses, those treasures also vanished, and I am afraid they have already been transferred away. Nonetheless, what I am certain about this matter is that it must be related to someone in the court.” Feng Huan smiled coldly. King ZhenNan’s powers had already infiltrated DaYou, as many of the bandits he annihilated were controlled by him.
Zhuang Zhong frowned. “Are you saying that someone is colluding with the remaining supporters of King ZhenNan? At that time, those people were directly targeting me, or to be exact, Marquis WenYuan. Who does Marquis WenYuan have a grudge against in the capital? No, something is not right. Even if it was like this, they should not have targeted me. I am afraid it is somehow related to the inner courtyard.”
Was it Yin YueHan or Wei YuHua? If it were Wei YuHua, it would not be that bad. However, if it were the Yin family who colluded with King ZhenNan, this would become a big deal, as the mother of the second prince was from the Yin family! Looking at the situation, it also seemed inevitable that the marquis’ household would be implicated. After all, pulling out the radish would only bring out mud, and it appeared as if there was going to be another bloodbath. It was then no wonder that an upright man like Lu Feng would suppress his desire to get revenge for his nephew. There were really too many things involved in this case.
In addition, the Yin family was extremely influential, and they had the support of the second prince and King ZhenNan from behind the scene. Perhaps, the assassination of YuanJue was not done just to suppress the legitimate main son but to target Marquis WenYuan’s power. After all, even though many people in the court disdained the marquis, his position could not be underestimated, and this might be the reason why King ZhenNan was willing to take action. Zhuang Zhong, who originally thought that it was just a dirty matter involving the inner courtyard, had not once thought that it could be connected to the imperial court.
Zhuang Zhong was agitated. Did it mean that he would have to let the matter go like this?!
Feng Huan patted the back of his hand. “Don’t worry, the emperor knows.”
Hearing that, Zhuang Zhong was surprised. “You mean…”
Feng Huan waved a hand and interrupted, “The emperor is still in his prime and will never tolerate others coveting his position now.”
“However, the crown prince is seriously ill now. Will there be a change?”
“I know the crown prince’s physique well. Although there would be some hiccups, it would not be a big problem. Whereas you, on the other hand, should not act rashly now and walk your own path properly. Revenge should not be rushed.”
Zhuang Zhong sighed and stroked the Buddha beads on his wrist. Although he had already known that the path forward would be bumpy, he had never thought that there would be so many implications, inevitably causing him to feel downcast.
Feng Huan patted him on the shoulder and left without much delay. Zhuang Zhong sincerely hoped that the crown prince would live a long life. If the second prince had the opportunity to ascend the throne, notwithstanding revenge, he would also find it difficult to escape the devil’s claws.
Five days later, Zhuang Zhong was called back to Marquis WenYuan’s residence.
When he entered the main hall, he felt that the atmosphere was strange. Wei YuHua’s spirits were much lower than before, while Yin YueHan had slightly raised her chin as she sat down. The joy at the corners of her mouth was unconcealable.
With the crown prince seriously ill, the power struggle became more turbulent, and the ministers who had originally supported the crown prince had lost hope. With a weak body and no offspring, he was also not an ideal choice for the position. Compared with the sick crown prince, the young but healthy second prince had then seemed more reliable.
So, these few days, the door of the Yin family has almost been knocked broken. Every time the crown prince got seriously ill, the number of people who turned towards the Yin family would increase, and Yin YueHan had also benefited. Although she was just a concubine, many lower-ranked main wives were also eager to curry favor with her, which really brought Yin YueHan into the limelight.
That was why even after seeing Zhuang Zhong, she did not take much notice and only swept her eyes over him briefly.
Meanwhile, Wei YuHua had a distressed expression when she saw him. “Look at you. How are you getting thinner? Currently, you are studying in both the Central Judicial Office and law college. You should pay attention to your own body, and if you cannot hold on, there is no need to force yourself. After all, the number of people that are much more capable than you in the capital could be counted with one hand.”
Zhuang Zhong cupped his hands together and bowed. “Thanking Madam for your concern.”
Zhuang Zhong’s polite and distant tone caused Wei YuHua’s expression to worsen as Yin YueHan asked in surprise, “How can Zhuang Zhong still call Sister as Madam? It is really too unfamiliar.”
Wei YuHua’s expression turned uglier. A little concubine dared to address her as Sister!
Zhuang Zhong replied, “Concubine Yin had misunderstood me. I was only showing proper respect as I am not truly part of the Zhuang family currently.”
It was only here that Wei YuHua’s expression changed for the better. She insinuated ambiguously, “Although Zhuang Zhong grew up in the countryside, he knows etiquette well. He is unlike some people, who only have stature but no brain.”
I would first like to say that I got too carried away with the research and provided a ton of information below. However, although I am also not sure whether the other troops would make an appearance and how useful the information would be in the further chapters, I think I would just include my research here in case anyone is interested.
p.s. just saying that you have been warned
The author named the group of envoys/troops as “睚眦” (YaZi) and a quick search of this term led me to the nine sons of the Dragon King found in traditional Chinese culture. Generally, there are many variations but I would only be focusing on one (arranged from the eldest to youngest):
- 赑屃 (BiXi): a hybrid of a dragon and turtle that can carry heavy loads. The hard shell of the turtle represents resilience, toughness, longevity, and good fortune. It can often be found at the bottom of grave monuments.
- 螭吻 (ChiWen): a hybrid of a dragon and fish that controls water. As it likes to look down from a high place, it is usually placed on both ends of the ridgepoles of roofs to pray for rain and ward off fire.
- 蒲牢 (PuLao): looks like a dragon but is smaller in size. As it fears whales, it would roar when faced with one. People then use his image on bells and make the wooden striker into the shape of a whale to get the loudest possible bell sound.
- 狴犴 (BiAn): a hybrid of a dragon and tiger that can differentiate right from wrong. Prisons and Courts or various justice-related institutions often have his image carved over the entrances to remind all who enter of his watchful presence.
- 饕餮 (TaoTie): a creature with a human face and goat’s body. As a gluttonous animal, it loves to eat and usually appears as the motif on dings (Chinese ritual bronze vessels) during the Shang and early Zhou dynasties or food-related ware. The taotie motif characteristically consists of two big eyes, two horns, and a big nose in the middle.
- 蚣蝮 (Gong Fu): looks like a dragon with an oblate head. As a creature that loves water, it is often engraved on top of a stone bridge’s railing and drainage facilities. He is also in control of the floods and his presence protects against them.
- 睚眦 (YaZi): a hybrid of a dragon and jackal/wolf, it has an angry gaze and a fiery temper. Often engraved on knife handles and sword sheaths, it is meant to bring fear to the enemy forces and ensures triumph in military conflicts.
- 狻猊 (SuanNi): a hybrid of a dragon and lion, it was often depicted in a sitting position. Besides liking smoke and fire, it was introduced into China with Buddhism and it can be found on Buddha altars and incense burners.
- 椒图 (JiaoTu): looks like a conch/clam and does not like to be disturbed. It is often engraved on doors or door boards as the guardian of the household to protect the house from burglars, etc.
Do note that there is another well-known order: QiuNiu, YaZi, ChaoFeng, PuLao, SuanNi, BiXi, BiAn, FuXi and ChiWen. Here, instead of the TaoTie, JiaoTu and GongFu, it has 囚牛 (QiuNiu), 嘲風 (ChaoFeng) and 负屃 (FuXi).
-囚牛 (QiuNiu): likes music, it is often found adorned on musical instruments.
-嘲風 (ChaoFeng): a hybrid of a phoenix and dragon, likes to travel and is usually placed on the four corners of the roof.
-负屃 (FuXi): fond of literature, it is found on the sides of grave-monuments.
If interested to read further on the origins, different variations, etc. you can try (last link is in Chinese): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nine_sons_of_the_dragon + https://www.chinaeducationaltours.com/guide/dragon-in-china-mythology.htm +
Updated as of 28 Aug: So sorry but updates will become temporarily sporadic due to work and school commitments. T^T If you want to get ping whenever there is an update, do head to dummynovels discord. Thanks for your understanding!
- 1“春梦” (literally “spring dream”) is another way of referring to a dream of erotic nature.
- 2“跪搓衣板” (literally “kneeling on the washboard”) is a traditional Chinese punishment between couples.
- 3“睚眦” (YaZi) is one of the nine sons of the dragon according to traditional Chinese culture. More information can be found in the translator’s notes.