The accompanying Censor was called Yu Xiaozai, a low ranking Investigating Censor of the seventh grade. This position was the same as the Chief Supervising Secretary of the various offices. It was a low-ranking post, but came with great authority. He had the power to inspect and supervise, so it was the most appropriate for him to step forth and mediate between both men.
It was the dead of winter at the moment, but Yu Xiaozai was so anxious that he was sweating buckets. Even though he often ventured out on field works and inspection rounds to run assignments, he had never been put in such a difficult position before. He could not afford to offend both sides! This was just great—at his yells, both men who had been in a heated exchange were now looking at him.
Yu Xiaozai earnestly did his best to persuade them. “T’is early still. I’ll give over the search warrant in a while to the Viceroy to look over slowly. I have it with me.”
As he spoke, he took out the document from his bosom and handed it to Xiao Chiye.
Xiao Chiye flipped through it briefly and looked towards Chen Yang, who immediately said, “This way, Your Excellency the Judge.”
Yu Xiaozai clasped his hands again and continued in his accent, “T’is how it should be done. Should always go by the book. All o’ us are doing official business fo’ His Majesty. Ain’t no need fo’ everyone to get all flustered.”
“It’s cold outside. Gu Jin, please invite this…” Xiao Chiye hesitantly came to a pause.
Yu Xiaozai cleared his throat tactfully and resumed his official speech, “This humble official’s surname is Yu. I’m Yu Xiaozai. My humble courtesy name is Youjing. I thank the Viceroy in advance for your kindness, but I’ll give the tea a miss. There’s still official business to be done, so this humble official still has to follow after His Excellency the Judge.”
Xiao Chiye did not continue to make things difficult for him and gave a slight nod of his head. Gu Jin stepped forward and bowed in respect to Yu Xiaozai, then led him to the courtyard.
◈ ◈ ◈
Shen Zechuan ascended the stone steps. Xiao Chiye’s study was already open. Attendants, with all their heads bowed, stood on both sides.
Chen Yang said, “This is the Viceroy’s study. Your Excellency, please go ahead.”
Shen Zechuan raised his hand, and Ge Qingqing turned to the side to nod to the Imperial Bodyguards behind him. Everyone then dispersed and began to look through the books on the open shelves.
Chen Yang motioned to Ding Tao to keep watch here and continued to lead Shen Zechuan further. After turning around the veranda and passing through the gate, they arrived at Xiao Chiye’s bedchamber.
Chen Yang said, “This is the Viceroy’s bedroom. There are many objects bestowed by the Emperor. Thus, I’d like to ask of His Excellency the Judge to examine them personally.”
After thanking him for the trouble, Shen Zechuan strode in.
Xiao Chiye’s room was large, but it was surprisingly simple and tidy. A table with horse-hooves legs sat behind the screen, with a few military books set on top of it. There were no floral decorations or antique calligraphy and paintings, only a territory map of the Empire of Dazhou hanging horizontally on the wall.
Shen Zechuan picked up the military book and opened it for a look. It was clean inside, as if no one had ever read it.
After a while, the door closed.
With his eyes never leaving the book, Shen Zechuan said, “Accompanying Censor Yu will be coming here once he has finished checking the study.”
Xiao Chiye undid his overcoat and said, “Just checking the study alone will keep him occupied until noon. Fu Linye sure is something. To dodge me, he shoved you here.”
Shen Zechuan gently flipped through the pages and said, “He just wants to complete the investigation quickly and close the case, all without offending anyone.”
Xiao Chiye turned his head sideways and looked at Shen Zechuan’s silhouette through the screen. He asked, “Why are you hiding in there?”
Shen Zechuan replied, “Checking the accounts.”
Xiao Chiye said, “The stuff you want to audit isn’t there.”
Shen Zechuan closed the book, put it back on the tabletop, and said, “I wouldn’t know until I’m done checking.”
Xiao Chiye raised a finger to tap on the screen. He said, “Why does it sound like you’re checking something else?”
“Treasonable texts, bribery ledgers, military correspondences.” Shen Zechuan said to the screen, “I have to check for them all.”
“You missed something out, didn’t you?” Xiao Chiye said. “Aren’t you going to check for lewd poems and erotic arts?”
“I’m here on official business.” Shen Zechuan said softly. “Besides, it’s broad daylight. I wouldn’t dare to be impetuous.”
The screen was translucent, so both men’s figures were faintly visible. Xiao Chiye’s fingers slid along the shadow to the position where Shen Zechuan’s neck was. Although there was no physical contact, it still ignited a heat in Shen Zechuan, as if he was being caressed.
“Xi Hongxuan has invited you for a drink.” Xiao Chiye said with certainty.
“Hm.” Shen Zechuan’s response was nonchalant.
The pulps of Xiao Chiye’s finger slid to Shen Zechuan’s collar. He asked, “Was it good drinking with the courtesans?”
Shen Zechuan replied unhurriedly, “Yes.”
Xiao Chiye asked, “Did you drink until you felt hot?”
Shen Zechuan replied, “I did.”
Xiao Chiye was hot too. Three of his fingers slid down, seemingly along Shen Zechuan’s neck, to pry apart the front flaps of his clothes before slipping further down. Instead of retreating, Shen Zechuan advanced and let Xiao Chiye’s fingers slid across his chest through the mist-like ink painting screen.
“Do you wear earrings?” Xiao Chiye suddenly asked.
“Nope.” Shen Zechuan tilted his head slightly to expose his ear. “Do you want me to wear?”
“Second Young Master will make a little jasper earring and gift it to you to play with.” Xiao Chiye said.
“One.” With his eyes closely following Shen Zechuan’s hazy neck and ear, Xiao Chiye said, “Wear it on the right ear.”
Xiao Chiye was used to scoop him up with his right hand. He just had to lower his head slightly when he turned him over, and he would be able to take his earlobe into his mouth. Jasper set against satiny white. His dazed and satiated expression, as his sweat-drenched hair at his ears were brushed aside, would surely be a sight to behold.
Shen Zechuan did not answer, but revealed a meaningful smile through the screen. Xiao Chiye could not see his eyes clearly, but he could see the corners of his lips; he was exuding that kind of subconscious invitation again.
Xiao Chiye closed his eyes, feeling that Shen Zechuan always left room for more every time. These kind of voiceless lines seemed to urge his surging waves of desire to crash over him even more violently. He swore that he was not originally a man who could be this easily aroused. His desires initially lay in the blue dome of heaven and the grassy wildernesses.
“The wine at Ouhua Pavillion is delicious, as is the wine at Xiangyun Villa.” Shen Zechuan was unaware of the implications of his silence. “But you’ve been hanging out in Xiangyun Villa for years. I supposed you didn’t expect the courtesans of Xiangyun Villa to throw themselves into someone else’s arms too.”
“There’s always a difference between the new lover and the old flames.” Xiao Chiye said, “It’s only natural for them to be jealous now that I’m indulging myself in you.”
“I didn’t know that Xiangyun Villa was under Xi Hongxuan’s control either.” Shen Zechuan said. “What are you to do now that they are unanimously claiming that you took bribes? Are you going to get these old flames to amend their testimonies by melting them with tenderness?”
Xiao Chiye retracted his hand and said, “The owner of Xiangyun Villa is not Xi Hongxuan. At least not while I was still hanging around there. Courtesan Xiangyun of Xiangyun Villa is resourceful. She has a reputation for being talented among the civil officials and even the students of the Imperial College. With that bit of learning Xi Hongxuan has, he would never be able to bring her under his control.”
“There are only two possibilities that can make Xiangyun commit perjury. One is that she fell in love with some noble young master and was willing to stomp on me for the sake of the other party. The second is that she was coerced by someone and had no other choice but to submit fake testimony.” Xiao Chiye said, “If it’s the latter, we’ll need to investigate it properly.”
“Seems like your old flame still carries some weight in your heart.” Shen Zechuan smiled and said.
Xiao Chiye said, “Xiangyun was the one who leaked news of the surveillance deployment in Qudu every time. Now that she has abruptly switched allegiances… I can’t bear to see her suffer too.”
“What a considerate man.” Shen Zechuan said, “The period after the new year is crucial. Whether or not you can turn the table around and make a comeback at the start of spring depends on how you take a beating now. So don’t you lose your head and go around messing your plan up for the sake of a beauty.”
“I’m idling away at home at present. I can’t get out, so I’ll have to ask you to help me investigate.” Xiao Chiye said, “During your investigation, please pass a message to Xiangyun while you are at it. Tell her that the Second Young Master is still thinking of rekindling old flames with her.”
Shen Zechuan pushed away the screen gently and said, “I’m busy with work these days. I’m afraid I don’t have the time. Why not ask Ding Tao or Gu Jin to make a trip for you?”
Finally able to get a clear look at him, Xiao Chiye said, “Why? Don’t you just happen to be residing on Donglong Street?”
Shen Zechuan was about to answer when he suddenly heard the sounds of footsteps outside. Before he could move, Xiao Chiye suddenly bent over and hoisted him over his shoulder. In a few steps, he leaped over the long table and brought Shen Zechuan into the inner chamber.
Yu Xiaozai lifted the hem of his robe and ascended the stairs. He knocked on the door and called out, “Your Excellency the Judge?”
His Excellency the Judge was pressed up so close against the wall behind the cloth racks that he could not answer. That civilian clothing was covering his body all over. Shen Zechuan backhandedly pressed his palm against Xiao Chiye’s chest and turned his neck to the side, wanting to reply—but Xiao Chiye suddenly held him high. Shen Zechuan bumped into the clothes rack. Seeing that the clothes rack was about to tilt over to the ground, he immediately raised his leg to stop it in its track. Xiao Chiye exploited the opening and lifted Shen Zechuan’s other leg to his waist, thereby trapping the latter before him.
“He has the authority to present the memorial directly to the Emperor for the Emperor’s viewing.” Xiao Chiye said slowly. “If he were to see you and me together, there’ll be no way we can ever explain our way out of this.”
Yu Xiaozai knocked on the door again and asked, “Is Your Excellency the Judge here?”
Shen Zechuan grabbed hold of Xiao Chiye’s hand and said in a hushed tone, “Taking advantage of someone in a predicament is not what a gentleman should do.”
“Me? Taking advantage?” With his hands cupping Shen Zechuan’s buttocks, Xiao Chiye pressed his nose in and smiled, “That’s right. I’m taking advantage of you while you are in a predicament.”
Shen Zechuan locked eyes with him, his chest heaving slightly.
After quite a while of not getting a response, Yu Xiaozai pushed the door open. With the search warrant under his arm, Yu Xiaozai strode in and started to survey the room as he readied himself to search.
Shen Zechuan slowly hooked his long leg back to return the clothes rack into place. His waist and buttocks had to move ever so slightly as he stretched out his leg. But now, they were being cupped in Xiao Chiye’s palms. It was only after he broke out in a thin layer of sweat that he steadied the clothes racks.
Once the clothes rack was stabilized, Xiao Chiye pressed in against his ear and whispered very softly, “Actually, it won’t topple over.”
Shen Zechuan looked at him out of the corners of his eyes and mouthed the words with a smile: You—Son—Of—A—Bitch.
Xiao Chiye readily accepted it and said into his ear, “So, wear an earring. Lanzhou.”
Yu Xiaozai mumbled something to himself. After looking through the antechamber, he headed for the inner chamber.
Shen Zechuan wanted to move, but Xiao Chiye persisted in pressing against him with the stance of one who would not step aside if he did not nod his head.
“Wear it,” Xiao Chiye’s breaths moistened Shen Zechuan’s ears. The heat was breathed so deep inside that Shen Zechuan’s spine tingled with numbness. Xiao Chiye murmured with a smile, “Wear it for my eyes.”
Wear it for my eyes.
What an arrogant and presumptuous request it was. Xiao Chiye no longer avoided his wolfish nature. He pushed and pressed this fervent yet urgent desire towards Shen Zechuan, making sure that Shen Zechuan felt this scalding heat.
The intercourse both men had that night when they plunged into the abyss was one of desperation and despair, where their bloody chests and abdomens clung inseparably close together as their vulnerabilities lay exposed before the other party’s eyes. Xiao Chiye did not intend to relive it all alone after daybreak. He wanted to grab hold of Shen Zechuan by the ankle and haul him back little by little to confine him in the sea of desires where there were only the two of them riding its waves.
Yu Xiaozai had already walked to the side of the hanging curtain. Shen Zechuan held on tightly to the fabric on Xiao Chiye’s chest and, in this moment of emergency, looked face to face at him in close quarters.
Yu Xiaozai lifted the curtain again and saw no one in the inner chamber. The clothes rack in the corner was cluttered with everyday clothes. It was inconvenient for him to rummage through them, so he could only use his eyes to size up the place.
Shen Zechuan, who was lying under the bed, had difficulty breathing. There was no room under the bed for two people to lay over one another at all. The weight of Xiao Chiye’s chest as the latter pressed down on him forced him to open his mouth to breathe slowly. This strong and well-built body was truly too heavy.
Xiao Chiye lowered his head to stare at him.
Shen Zechuan immediately sensed it and said soundlessly: No way. Nope. No—
Xiao Chiye kissed him, robbing him of the chance to gasp for breath. Shen Zechuan tightened his grip on his back, gripping him so hard it hurt. But Xiao Chiye still lured him gradually into a state of suffocation. The sensation of being on the verge of fainting rendered Shen Zechuan incapable of warding off Xiao Chiye’s offensive.
It was like he was drowning in deep waters, and only Xiao Chiye was the driftwood that could save Shen Zechuan. Yet this driftwood was forcefully staking his claim on his territory like huge swells of raging waves battering away at him, wanting him to remember deeply his ruthlessness this very moment, along with the trepidation of being progressively invaded by him.