Ah Yi climbed up along the pole and sat up before saying, “Dage, what reward are you going to give me? I don’t want anything common!”
Cang Ji pinched the flower buds back in place. He was even more amused on hearing him and said, “Then what do you want? Go ahead and tell me.”
Ah Yi was about to speak, but then he glanced at Jing Lin. In the end, he merely mumbled, “I’ll tell you later when we go drinking together.”
Standing at the top with his sleeves hanging down, Jing Lin saw through Ah Yi’s mind. There was a rustle as the little stone figure popped out beside his leg and folded its arms to look askance at Ah Yi together with Jing Lin. Jing Lin was in no hurry to speak and merely stared at Ah Yi until the latter was about to flee before he said, “Li Rong’s tribulation is predestined by fate. If you get involved, you will inevitably end up affected.”
Being exposed, on the contrary, set Ah Yi’s mind at ease. He jumped to his feet and followed after Cang Ji while muttering, “He almost caused us to die in the snow, and he showed no kinship towards Yue-jie at such a crucial juncture. If the life registry can make him a woman and let him suffer the same, then I’ll let it go. If not, I’ll go looking for him to settle scores.”
The steps beneath his feet gradually turned into jade that reflected the blue sky like an expanse of water. With the flowers in his arms, Cang Ji ascended the stairs and walked side by side with Jing Lin. He turned his head back to look at Ah Yi and said, “You want to settle scores with him. But if your cultivation isn’t on par with his, then you will be just making a fool of yourself, no? Even though his Po Zheng Spear is currently sealed, he is, after all, still a man who once ranked as a divine lord. Your Jiu-ge has your own interests at heart by telling you not to go. Drop the topic already. Have you delivered the invitations?”
“Of course.” Ah Yi answered. “Who would dare to refuse it when I’m the one delivering it personally? Fei Luo is coming too. It’s just that I didn’t get to see Dong Jun. I don’t know what his intention is.”
“There’s excellent wine prepared at the banquet. He and Zui Shan Seng will naturally follow the aroma of wine over.” Cang Ji walked a few steps, then turned his head back again and asked, “Why are you still following us?”
Ah Yi hurriedly spread out his palm and said, “Waiting for my reward!”
The little stone figure climbed onto Cang Ji’s shoulder and poked its head out to sprinkle a handful of scattered flowers it had picked into Ah Yi’s palm. Cang Ji burst out laughing and said, “See? This is the treasure your Jiu-ge bestows upon you. It’s not a common object. So take it back and treat it well. Now, scram.”
Ah Yi caught the flowers. Seeing that Jing Lin had already entered the palace, he wanted to deny the gift and shamelessly ask Cang Ji for his reward. But then he saw the stone clinging on tightly to Cang Ji’s neck and staring at him with its little pair of black beady eyes. Promptly stumped for words, Ah Yi snorted a couple of times as he clutched the flowers and said with a bad taste in his mouth, “Even when you go out, you have to stick together. How sickening! Forget it if you don’t want me to go looking for him. Dage, I have to welcome and receive you on the wedding day, so remember to give me the first share of the wedding wine.”
“If you want to drink, then you should know what to do.” Cang Ji said.
Ah Yi promptly understood and said, “I’ll shout the form of address loud and clear that day for sure!”
“How sensible.” Cang Ji casually tossed him an object. “Go play by yourself.”
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With that, he strode into the palace.
Ah Yi lifted that object for a look. It was an ordinary stone that had been polished until it was white and smooth. Not thinking anything else of it, he tossed it into his sleeve and strolled away with his hands at his back, bored to the max.
◈ ◈ ◈
The moment Cang Ji entered the palace, the stone slid down along the front flaps of his clothes. He set aside the flower branch and pressed down on the stone’s head with a finger and said, “I’ve walked a long way. Reward me with a cup of water.”
The stone rolled over under his finger and clung close to the edge of the table as it ran around it. It then tottered its way back, carrying a cup of tea on its head. Cang Ji’ did not take the teacup. Instead, he placed his fingers in the direction it was hobbling towards, causing it to nearly see stars from all the detours it had to take as it staggered.
As Cang Ji drank his tea, he turned to look inside, but he did not see Jing Lin. He grabbed up the stone and put it into his sleeve, then set aside the cup and passed through the corridor at the back. He stepped through the moon gate facing it into a vibrant purplish-red landscape of gorgeous, sweet-smelling flowers.
Cang Ji did not walk far. He sat on a stone bench under a flower tree.
Stepping through this little moon gate could be likened to arriving at the ford of peach blossoms.1 An inexhaustible barrier separated the world within from all external noises. This continuous stretch of flower trees on the mountain top was their “inner chamber”, one which no one else had access to. Further in, past the three thousand-fold of flower trees, lay the coffins of the True Buddha and Shengyue.
Jing Lin was about to get married. Naturally, he would want to have a few words with his mother.
◈ ◈ ◈
Cang Ji leaned back and folded his arms. Mottled sunlight shone through the gaps between the blooming flowers and landed upon his chest. Gradually, he closed his eyes. Even as he waited, there was a delicate fragrance drifting through the air.
He heard Jing Lin’s fingers brushing aside the flower branches. Those fingertips were so smooth as they gently grazed across the flower petals, causing a slight itch as the sound of it tickled his ears.
Cang Ji let out a slight hint of a smile.
He did not know how long he had been listening. But he listened as the sound of footsteps emerged from the flowers among the stones and stepped across the small, gradual steps to stand silently before him.
Cang Ji pretended to be sound asleep.
Jing Lin stood for a moment before he suddenly bent over to scrutinize Cang Ji close up. His fingertips traced over Cang Ji’s eyebrows and slid down to the side of his lips. Out of prudence, he waited a little longer. Seeing Cang Ji still not stirring, he tilted his head and kissed him.
The moment their lips touched, Cang Ji tugged him down and took him into his arms, then chased after his retreating lips and pressed down on them.
“What are you doing?” Cang Ji pressed against Jing Lin and said, “Which household is this gentleman2 from? How rude to kiss me without so much a greeting. Now my heart is pounding like a rabbit bouncing.”
Jing Lin said, “I’ve come to slay demons and subdue devils. Seeing how you look so… so good-looking, you must be a great demon.”
“Lord Lin Song even pants when he speaks.” Cang Ji bit down on his chin. “How do you want to subdue me? If you are only going to rely on that mouth of yours, then you’re really belittling me. Besides, if I’m a great demon when it comes to being good-looking, then won’t you be a little devil?”
Cang Ji’s bite left a red mark on him. Jing Lin covered his chin and said, “I’ll jab you with my sword until your tail sticks up!”
Cang Ji leaned back and laughed out loud. He playfully jolted his legs with Jing Lin on them and teased, “I’ll hold a grudge against you if you jab me. How are you going to return the debt?”
Jing Lin said, “See you at the mountain summit. We can start the fight once we take the oath to become sworn brothers.”
“I’m not becoming sworn brothers with you.” Cang Ji reached out his hand to grab Jing Lin’s hand and pulled him towards himself. He said, “I want to hoist you over my shoulder and carry you into my den.”
Jing Lin gazed at him with his eyes and said, “I’m not going with you.”
“Is that up to you to choose?” Cang Ji gazed back at him. “Once you enter my territory, you become my darling. I’ll carry you into my den, light a few red candles, and take you for a few tumbles under the wedding quilt. That’d be consummating our nuptials in the nuptial chamber.”3
Jing Lin sniffed the flower scent on Cang Ji’s neck and said, “Nonsense. We still need to go through the wedding rituals.”
“I don’t have an old man.” Cang Ji laughed in spite of himself. We don’t need to bow to Heaven and Earth, nor do we need to bow to our parents.4 You and I will just hold hands after we bow to each other, and this matter is considered done. Then, it is time to head to the bridal chamber to consummate our nuptials. This is the right procedure. We have to go through all the steps as dictated in the rules.”
Jing Lin said, “The way you are so familiar with this makes me think you have really gotten married before.”
Cang Ji bumped his forehead into Jing Lin’s forehead and said, “I have.”
Jing Lin instantly looked at him suspiciously.
Cang Ji said, “I have gotten married hundreds and thousands of times in my heart before. A pity I was always missing this one person every single time.”
Jing Lin was silent as he let Cang Ji hold him. The wind above their heads caressed past the branches, and a few delicate flower petals fluttered down. Cang Ji caught a piece of purple-red and pressed it into Jing Lin’s mouth. Jing Lin took the petal in his mouth, but Cang Ji did not withdraw his fingers.
Cang Ji said, “The lord is so good-looking, and he is also a man who has performed great meritorious deeds with Yan Quan in hand. Today, I’m going to ask you a question. Think it over carefully, and answer me after you have think it through.”
Those fingers, with the petal clamped in between, lay buried within thin lips. Wet with saliva, they left a smear of watery sheen on Jing Lin’s lips.
“To be married to me—are you happy?”
Jing Lin grasped on to Cang Ji’s sleeve and bit down on his fingertip when he heard him. Reflected in his eyes were speckles of sunlight that soon blossomed into sparkles.
Cang Ji retracted his finger and said softly, “Hm?”
Jing Lin suddenly brought his head closer and pressed against the tip of his tongue to ask vaguely, “You really want to know?”
Cang Ji said, “Yeah.”
Pleased, Jing Lin said, “I can’t tell you for nothing.”
“Why are you flirting with me in broad daylight?” Cang Ji said, “Isn’t that something we do at night?”
Jing Lin said, “You roll by yourself!”
“Then where’s the fun in that?” Cang Ji swiftly pinched Jing Lin’s chin and shook it. “We roll together if you want to roll.”
The spot where Jing Lin had been bitten was still red. He let out an almost imperceptible snort and merely said with his usual expression, “Then I’m not telling you.”
“So that’s how it is.” Cang Ji said wistfully. “When all is said and done, you are an almighty. It’s so hard to pry even a word out of you.”
Jing Lin raised his eyebrows slightly and said, “It’s expensive.”
Cang Ji, however, changed his tone and said, “You are currently sitting on my lap, grasping my sleeve, with my flower in your mouth, and my scent on you. You’ve taken advantage of me all over from head to toe. So how do you want to settle this account?”
Jing Lin promptly said, “That doesn’t count!”
Cang Ji smiled and held his arm to tug him towards himself. He said dangerously, “You think it doesn’t count just because you say it doesn’t count? You want to tame me even before you get married to me. Am I such a wanton man?”
Leaning back slightly as Cang Ji pressed in towards him, Jing Lin hooked him with his little finger and said in a small voice, “You are my gege.”
“Oh, so it’s gege now.” Cang Ji let out a few laughs. “Too late! The eyes you are looking at me with are already glistening with water that’s about to reach the tip of my nose. Don’t expect me to let you off the hook when you tantalize me like that.”
With that, Cang Ji picked him up. As he rose to his feet, he clutched him around his waist and hoisted him over his shoulder.
“You look so tender with your fair skin tinged with red. It’s too much of a pity to throw you into the pot. It’ll be best for you to lie on top of my body.” Cang Ji turned around. “Once we get married, we’ll head for Zhenchan Courtyard at the eastern sea every spring and summer and come here every autumn and winter. I’ll build a little courtyard for you here, with walls built with gold and windows inlaid with the finest pearls in the world.”
Jing Lin lowered his hand to fish out the little stone figure from Cang Ji’s sleeve. In response, he said, “Extravagant!”
“I want it extravagant.” Cang Ji took a few steps into the air and laughed out loud, “My Jing Lin must sleep on a bed made of white jade and rest upon the pillow of canglong. Even when you venture out, there must be lotuses stretching for ten li5 emitting fragrance every step of the way! Who in this world dares to say no?”
Jing Lin covered up his sleeves in the air and sighed. “Emperor Cang is out of his mind!”
Before he could finish his words, he felt his body going light as Cang Ji tossed him up in the air. The next instant, the roar of canglong rang out. With his massive body carrying Jing Lin, he stirred up a thousand-tiered wave of flowers. Canglong rolled over amid the waves of flowers, and the ensuing wind sent Jing Lin’s hair fluttering.
Cang Ji put down Jing Lin and swung his tail to slap up the flowers, coloring the entire sky in hues of purplish red. Bathed in the shower of petals, Jing Lin and the little stone figure sneezed in unison. Once the flowers had all fallen, Jing Lin saw the behemoth sprawl to the ground suddenly and huff out a puff of air at him. Then, the behemoth turned over to the ground and noisily rolled an entire circle.
Among the petals that were stirred up once again, Jing Lin hugged the stone and watched this dragon roll round after round. He inexplicably felt as if he was floating on air too and let loose a laugh amidst the rain of flowers.
Jing Lin stood up, took a deep breath, and shouted,
Cang Ji instantly transformed back into his human form. Before he could stride a step forward, Jing Lin’s head butted into his chest. Cang Ji embraced him and laughed out loud for no reason too.
“I want to be in conjugal bliss with you.” Jing Lin hooked his little finger with Cang Ji’s finger and raised his head to say, “I want to be in conjugal bliss with you always.”
That little finger hook turned Cang Ji into mush. He kissed Jing Lin, but then he wanted more, so he hugged him and lifted him up to kiss him hard. He kissed him until he himself went weak in the knees. Only then did he feel a little more comfortable.
Special thanks to eggy and kotoni! ❤
- 桃源(津); Peach Blossoms (ford)—an idyllic land of peace and happiness, free from wars; an utopia; a haven
- 郎君 langjun; young gentleman; it’s also a wife’s way to address her husband
- 洞房花烛 refers to the wedding night. What Cang Ji literally said was to carry him into the cave/den (洞), light a few red candles (烛) and tumbled around under the wedding quilt (花被). (Consummating the nuptials is also known as 洞房). All of these form to make up the word “洞房花烛”. Basically, Cang Ji is saying he doesn’t want to be sworn brothers but husband and
- 拜堂 ritual bows by the bride and groom in a traditional wedding ceremony. There are three bows to perform before they are considered formally married.
“First bow to heaven and earth; second bow to the parents; third bow to each other.”
- 里 li, an ancient measure of length, approx. 500m