For all Song Ci’s forethought, he did not expect this.
If he followed the chess path and kissed Rong Bai, then would Rong Bai go on a killing spree and end his life after they broke through the array?
How could a man tolerate kissing another man while in a state of unawareness? This was a fatal dead end, wasn’t it?
Song Ci did not dare to think about the consequences. He shook his head like a rattle drum.1 “Jiang Liang. Oh, Jiang Liang, you are obviously trying to force me to my death…”
While he was speaking, the scene ended. Before he could react to the change of scene, someone pulled his arm and dragged him to the side before pressing him down onto the stool.
“My goodness, what’s up with your eyebrows? Didn’t we shave them yesterday? Why have they grown out again today?” The scene appeared with the voice, and a bronze mirror reflecting his face materialized before Song Ci.
He looked lifeless in the mirror. He raised his head and saw two women standing beside him.
One of the women was holding a small knife that had a strange shape. She dabbed some paste onto Song Ci’s eyebrows. Song Ci subconsciously dodged her.
“What are you dodging me for? Don’t move!” The woman admonished him.
Song Ci was about to speak when he recalled those commoners who had been implicated because he had spoken out of turn. Terrified, he shut his mouth.
If these people ended up sacrificed to the chessboard again because of his words, then even if he broke free of the array at the end, he would still be tormented by guilt for a very long time.
He could accept those people dying while they were within the chessboard array, but he could not accept himself to be their cause of death.
Song Ci clenched his teeth and sat blankly as the woman scraped his eyebrows blade by blade.
“Alright, I’ve shaved it clean this time.” After the woman pulled back, Song Ci saw himself in the mirror.
His pair of pretty eyebrows had been shaved clean. He somehow looked wretched. He frowned. Now he looked even more weird.
“Jiang Liang, you will be going on stage soon. Don’t be nervous. Granny said that if your debut performance is a success, she will give us extra meat for dinner tonight.” Another woman picked up her eyebrow brush and conscientiously drew Song Ci’s eyebrows.
Upon hearing this, Song Ci gulped in nervousness. He knew nothing other than the literary classics. Wouldn’t he ruin the performance if he went on stage like this?
However, the current circumstances did not allow him to shirk away from it. So, he could only brace himself and go onstage as the original plot called for.
The facts proved that even if he braced himself for it, he still would not know what he originally had not known.
Song Ci stood at the side of the stage and adjusted his dress. He thought he would just go up and swing his hips twice as a gesture and that’ll be the end of it.
Then he heard a resounding shout, and the faint sound of gongs2 and flutes rose. Thinking back to the steps Jiang Liang took to walk onstage, Song Ci controlled his trembling legs and walked towards the center of the stage.
“Jiang Liang—You’re walking with the same arm and leg!” Someone at the side of the stage reminded him in a whisper.
Song Ci panicked and hurriedly corrected his limbs. He glanced down and saw dozens of pairs of eyes staring fixedly at him. This was the first time he had received looks of adulation. It flustered him even more.
However, the audience below the stage seemed unable to see Song Chi’s missteps. Gasps of admiration, astonishment, and other various sounds filled the air. It was as if they yearned to go on stage to kneel and bow before Song Ci’s embroidered shoes.
Song Ci relaxed on seeing this. He could not move with such graceful bearing like Jiang Liang, so all he could do was to shift stiffly to the center stage and face the audience.
His eyes drifted for a moment before he turned his sight toward the spot where Feng Zhuojun had sat. The instant his line of sight stopped, Rong Bai was reflected in his eyes.
It was still the Rong Bai who felt unfamiliar to him.
He was in an apricot yellow robe. A snow-white jade crown strung his black hair together and those long strands of hair hung over his outfit. He was leaning lazily against the chair eating his red dates. His eyes met Song Ci’s eyes across the long distance.
They had worn the same attire, but it was obvious Rong Bai was a lot more good looking than Feng Zhuojun. Song Ci’s eyes shone when he saw Feng Zhuojun, but it was only when he saw Rong Bai that he was truly captivated in just a glance.
Rong Bai’s gaze was light and calm, but it still sent waves through Song Ci’s heart.
Rong Bai looked at Song Ci. He was not sizing him up, nor was he admiring him. He was merely watching him in all seriousness.
Song Ci was spellbound by his gaze. It was only when the patrons below started urging him on that he realized that it was time to dance. He hurriedly flung out both of his sleeves and started to dance in a daze.
If this was in the past, Song Ci would never imagine that there would be a day he would dance on stage in a big, fancy skirt, even if his dance movements told a story of bewilderment and half-heartedness.
But it was as if the patrons at the bottom of the stage were blind. They applauded, cheered, and sang his praises. Only Rong Bai was chewing his red dates slowly. He looked at Song Ci’s clumsy poses on the stage and muttered to himself, “What the heck is he dancing?”
Song Ci did not know how he even managed to finish sashaying to this tune. When the sound of the flute ended, he was sent off the stage in a daze by the cheers of the audience. Two women came to meet him and exclaimed in excitement, “Jiang Liang, thanks to you, our extra meal tonight is set!”
Song Ci smiled in embarrassment.
“Your dance is truly marvelous. It’s way better than the last leading performer. It’s our San Chi Tai’s great fortune to have taken you in!”
Song Ci self-consciously thought himself unworthy of this praise. His face burned at the thought of his erratic swinging under the gaze of so many people. He said, “You flatter me. It was just some random twisting.”
“Alright, don’t be so modest. Our theater is counting on you…”
As the two women spoke, they took him to the room and picked one familiar-looking costume out of the many costumes and placed it beside him. “This is the attire for your next performance. Change quickly. We are rushed for time.”
After the door was shut, Song Ci stared at the costume in front of him with complicated feelings.
He tried to strip off the dress on his body, but had no clue where to start. So with brute force, he tore a big seam in the waist area and ripped off the dress. Then, he groped for the costume.
The workmanship of the costume was exquisite. Every bead sparkled, and every stitch was delicate and neat. It felt heavy in his hand. It was the first time Song Ci touched this kind of costume, so he could not figure out how to put it on even after looking it over for quite a while. He was getting so anxious that fine beads of sweat formed on his head.
In the end, Heaven helps those who help themselves. After a struggle with the costume, Song Ci found the buckle in a very secret place and hastily undid it to wear. He was not as slender as Jiang Liang, so it was a little tight in some places. Fortunately, Song Ci was shorter than Jiang Liang, so at the very least, he would not rip the attire apart the moment he moved.
It was not easy for him to put it on. Tired, he sat before the mirror and picked up the handkerchief on the table to wipe the sweat carefully off his forehead. After two wipes, he suddenly wondered why he would be afraid to smear his makeup. He flung down the handkerchief to correct his manly posture.
This chessboard was indeed harmful, causing him to even develop such an effeminate mindset.
Before Song Ci could set his mind straight, there was a knock on the door and a woman’s voice rang out. “Jiang Liang, stop what you’re doing for the moment and accompany this master.”
Song Ci’s heart thumped. What’s meant to happen will happen. And it was all happening so fast!
He was a little flustered, and for a moment he could neither sit nor stand still. Before he could ready himself, the door was pushed open. Song Ci lifted his eyelids to look through the mirror. He saw an unhurried Rong Bai stepping in. The moment Rong Bai’s eyes met his in the mirror, he let out a weary smile.
This was the Rong Bai he knew.
Song Ci was stunned. Almost instantaneously, he noticed the difference between this Rong Bai and the Rong Bai sitting in the audience. There was no alienation and cheerlessness in this Rong Bai’s eyes, only a trace of a warm smile.
But even so, Song Ci still had his doubts and did not dare to act rashly. He was silent for only a short while before he went along with the script. “Young… Young Master Feng, you grace us with your presence. What can I do for you?”
Ambling over to Song Ci’s side, Rong Bai merely smiled and said nothing.
Everything was going as normal. Song Ci breathed a sigh of relief and continued, “Why are you quiet?”
Still no response.
Song Ci stood up trembling. “Let me guess. Is Young Master Feng thinking…”
What was that Jiang Liang was guessing in the latter half of the sentence?
Song Ci’s mind went blank. He braced himself again. “… that I’m like a sissy?”
It’s all about the same, anyway.
On hearing that, Rong Bai let out a laugh. His gaze shifted from his fine eyebrows to his red lips, slowly and ambiguously.
Song Ci was a little flustered. According to the course of events, Young Master Feng should say, “I’m here to apologize”. So why was Rong Bai laughing?
He waited for quite a while, but Rong Bai never said the words. Song Ci’s gaze went from eager to ardent. It was as if Rong Bai could see his anticipation. He replied, “You do look like one.”
What’s this? Had Feng Zhuojun said this?
Song Ci glared at him. Rong Bai thought he was unhappy, so he added, “But still very pleasing to the eyes.”
Song Ci fell silent. He did not know who would be implicated by Rong Bai’s wrong move, so he did not dare to act recklessly. He contemplated how to end this scene in the fastest way.
Rong Bai noted his silence and moved in closer to him to whisper. “What are you thinking?”
Song Ci was thinking about many things in his little brain. Several thoughts flashed by until it finally stopped on the scene he saw in the mirror before. His eyes lit up.
The mirror had probably given him the answer in advance.
Song Ci swallowed hard and looked up to meet Rong Bai’s eyes. There was such an inexplicable righteousness in his gaze that Rong Bai was momentarily stupefied.
Song Ci’s expression made Rong Bai suspected if Song Ci was grasping a blade in his palm, ready to stab him any moment now.
Before Rong Bai could voice his question, Song Ci leaned in and closed the distance between them. They were so near each other that their breath mingled. The temperature rose steadily.
This distance was not the normal range for interaction. When Song Ci drew nearer to him, he still could not suppress his wildly pounding heart even though he had prepared himself for it. Those heartbeats seemed to pummel into his brain, muddling his mind so much he turned into a boor.
He whispered to Rong Bai, “Master Rong, please don’t blame me. I don’t have a choice.”
Rong Bai raised his eyebrows. He was about to speak when Song Ci stood on tiptoes and brought his red lips over, covering Rong Bai’s lips with precision.
The heat flowed along his veins. Song Ci’s ears were so red they were like blood. The color of the rouge on his face intensified. For a moment, his bashfulness added a rare allure to his expression, mesmerizing Rong Bai, who had not closed his eyes.
Like a soft awl, it clearly had no attack power, but it struck with the weight of millions of tons and shattered a corner of the thick ice encasing Rong Bai’s heart, messing up the rhythm of his heartbeat.
Song Ci left Rong Bai’s lips after a touch and retreated hurriedly, fearing that Rong Bai would rip off his two enchanting lips in a moment of fury. He carefully cast a look at Rong Bai. The red rouge had left behind a dark red mark on Rong Bai’s lips, adding a touch of vividness to them.
Rong Bai looked at him, the smile in his eyes thoroughly gone.
“Master Rong, you can be angry, but you can’t…”
This was the last sentence Song Ci delivered in this scene. Before he could finish speaking, the scene around him melted away and Rong Bai vanished before his eyes. Song Ci touched his lips and trembled. His ears were still red.
This is killing me. Song Ci uttered a silent prayer in his heart. Please let the next scene be normal. Don’t put me in a spot like this again.
拨浪鼓 Bolang Gu, also a Chinese rattle drum or a pellet drum, is a typical child toy in China. It’s shaken or rotated from left and right quickly to produce a drumming or rattling sound. You can see it in action in MDZS Drama, Chen Qing Ling, ep. 30 (Jin Guangyao) and ep. 31 (Jiang Yanli).
锣 The Chinese gong is a musical percussion instrument that takes the form of a flat, circular metal disc which is hit with a mallet.