Song Ci looked at Rong Bai’s serious expression and went silent. He thought, if I hadn’t made a trip into your dream in person, I’d have really believed your crap.
But what could he do if Rong Bai could lie so smoothly with such a straight face? Song Ci felt awkward to expose him, so he merely crawled out of the brocade quilt slowly.
“Where are you going?” Right at once, Rong Bai grabbed his wrist.
This reaction was a little extreme. Song Ci was momentarily stunned before he replied, “Getting up, of course. Or am I supposed to lie in bed for the whole day?”
On hearing this, Rong Bai released his hand and lifted the quilt as well.
Song Ci waited for him to get down and watched as he slowly draped his robe over himself. He suddenly asked, “From what I remember, you should be heading for the Divine Realm Academy now?”
Rong Bai’s hands, which were in the process of fastening his clasps, paused in mid-action. He looked right at Song Ci. “I don’t feel like going today.”
Song Ci could tell at a glance what he was thinking. He said earnestly, “Just go without a worry. I won’t leave.”
Rong Bai lowered his eyes and said nothing as he slowly put on his clothes. Then he said in a murmur, “If you leave, I won’t know where to find you.”
Song Ci scratched his head, not knowing how to persuade him as he had never experienced this kind of situation before. He could only say, “As long as you are still here, I won’t leave.”
Rong Bai’s eyes brightened and shone. He walked over to the bedside to embrace him. Then, he patted him on the back.
His actions were like that of a child expressing his happiness to another. He said to Song Ci, “If there’s anything you need, just look for Peining. You don’t have to make a trip yourself. If you want to take a stroll, wait for me to return.”
With that, he added, “I’ll be back soon.”
Song Ci obediently nodded his head. “Don’t worry.”
Song Ci did not expect Rong Bai to be so concerned to such an extent. Actually, there was no need for Rong Bai to warn him since there was no way Song Ci would venture outdoors these two days.
After all, he had only just destroyed that disciplinary whip last night. He had to lie low for a day or two.
Song Ci felt bored again after Rong Bai left. There was nothing he could do at all. He zoned out in a soft chair and subconsciously let out a sigh.
“Why are you sighing for no rhyme or reason?” Feng Zhuojun materialized and sat at the side. “Aren’t you living comfortably now that you are being raised by Rong Bai in his palace? You play the lovey-dovey couple with him every day and stick to him like glue. There’s nothing you have to worry about.”
Song Ci raised his eyebrows. “Lovey-dovey? Stick to him like glue? Are those the right words to describe me? “
“What’s wrong with it?” Feng Zhuojun asked him in amusement. “Is there a second person in this palace who can sleep on Rong Bai’s bed?”
“He was the one who made the request.” Song Ci said, “I just couldn’t bear to turn him down.”
“But the way I see it, you’ve been sleeping rather comfortably too. Not a single trace of discomfort.” Feng Zhuojun said.
“What discomfort would I have?” Song Ci was doubtful. “Rong Bai’s bed is so big and soft. I’ll fall asleep after lying down on it for a while. I can’t find any fault with it.”
Song Ci could not tell what Feng Zhuojun meant. The latter shook his head and laughed, “Seems you still haven’t noticed it yourself.”
“What?” Song Ci asked.
“Haven’t you noticed…” Feng Zhuojun asked him point-blank, “that you’ve fallen in love with Rong Bai?”
This sentence was spoken in a flat tone, but it caught Song Ci off-guard and struck him right in the heart, messing up his heartbeat. Song Ci’s face burned. “What are you talking about?! How could I…”
“What?” Feng Zhuojun raised his eyebrows.
“We are just on good terms with each other!” It finally hit Song Ci what Feng Zhuojun had meant earlier. “We are both men. What’s wrong with sleeping together?”
“Would normal men hug each other while sleeping together?” Feng Zhuojun said, “It’s not like you need to keep warm.”
“That’s because he is a fox. It’s his nature to sleep while huddling with warm things. What’s wrong with that?” Song Ci put on a bold front.
Feng Zhuojun gave him a strange look. “I think you are just being a little too obstinate.”
Song Ci said, “And I think you are just babbling a little too much nonsense.”
Vexed, Feng Zhuojun felt that he had to put Song Ci in his place. He pointed to the soft chair. “Lie down. I’ll show you a treasure.”
Song Ci muttered. “What kind of treasure is it that I still have to lie down and watch?”
Nevertheless, he adjusted his posture and lay down on the soft chair. Feng Zhuojun twirled two fingers to conjure up a faint yellow light before raising his hand to fling it between Song Ci’s eyebrows.
Song Ci immediately yawned. Before he could react to this sudden drowsiness, he fell asleep.
He was sleeping soundly when someone suddenly whispered to him, “Young Master. Young Master…”
Song Ci found this voice familiar. He opened his eyes. It was his former personal attendant, You Wen, who was standing beside him and calling out to him, “Young Master, it’s mealtime. Madam has sent someone to hurry you.”
Song Ci sprang up from the table and noticed his arm pressing down on the four treasures of the study1 along with the calligraphy he had been practicing.
Song Ci was stupefied. He suddenly raised his head and glanced all around him, only to realize that he was in his study. The window was half-opened, and the breeze was blowing in gently, bringing along with it the sounds of birds chirping. The rice paper2 rustled as the wind blew across it.
He hurriedly stood up from the desk, and the cloak that had been draped over him fell to the ground. Ignoring it, he strode to the door and opened it for a look. His eyes reflected a familiar scene.
Stunned, Song Ci’s eyes widened in a stare. His line of sight moved from left to right to take in the scene before him carefully. Only then did he gasp for breath.
It was his house. The Liang Residence in Jinling.
The beams of sunlight from above blurred the scene before him. He blinked hard and shook his head to clear his head.
This was impossible. He was clearly in Rong Bai’s inner chamber in the Divine Realm. How could he have appeared here?
“Young Master.” You Wen picked up the cloak and walked out to him. “Let’s go to the front hall for your meal. Madam and Old Master should be anxious by now.”
Song Ci was stumped. His feet seemed as if they were nailed to the ground. There was only one thought running through his head: how was this possible?
Was everything he had experienced after leaving home merely a dream?
Rong Bai, Wen Changchu, Feng Zhuojun. Were they all people he had dreamt of?
He suddenly raised his hand and gave himself a hard pinch. Pain hit him so hard that his eyes blurred and his long eyelashes were wet with tears. He wanted to laugh, but then he thought it would be weird.
“Young Master…” You Wen was a little frightened. “What’s with you?”
“I’m fine. Let’s go to the front hall first.” Song Ci tried to level his tone.
He led You Wen through the familiar path with every brick and tile reflected in his eyes. Every plant and tree looked the same as they did in his memory. He was born here. He grew up here. This was the home he had not returned to for a very long time.
Right before he stepped into the front hall, Song Ci took a deep breath. He was afraid he would not be able to control his emotions. But this preparation went down the drain the instant he saw his parents.
The very moment he stepped through the door and saw his mother raised her head to give him a gentle smile, his tears could not help but fall. It stunned his parents.
They hurriedly stood up to ask him. “Ci-er,3 what’s with you?”
Song Ci fumbled to wipe his tears. “Mother, I’m fine. I probably pressed down on my eyes too hard when I slept on the table earlier. They don’t feel too good at the moment.”
“How can you sleep on the table? What if you get frozen from the cold? Why not ask the resident physician to feel your pulse?” Madam Liang asked anxiously. “You Wen, what’s the matter with you? How could you let the young master sleep on the table?”
You Wen bowed hastily. “It was this slave’s negligence. I did not notice the Young Master dozing off at the desk. Please punish me, Madam.”
“Forget it, Mother. I wasn’t paying attention to it myself. It has nothing to do with You Wen.” Song Ci wiped his reddened eyes. This all felt real to him now.
His parents. The servants in his residence. All the objects beside him.
“All right, let’s have our meal first. Else, the food will go cold.” Lord Liang waved his hand at them.
Madam Liang hurriedly pulled him to his seat. “Come, come. They are all your favorite food.”
Song Ci looked around. It was indeed all his favorite dishes. He suddenly smiled. His eyes brimmed with tears as he said in a quiet voice, “Why are they all my favorite food? I thought…”
“Uncle, Auntie.” A sudden yell rang out. Song Ci looked up and saw Liang Yanbei, all dressed in an apricot-colored robe, walking over with a smile of his handsome face. “I’ve come for my free meal.”
“Oh, it’s Yan-er. Come over and have a seat.” Madam Liang greeted him. “I heard you came back to Jinling two days ago. I was wondering when you would come to see us.”
Liang Yanbei still looked the same as he grinned and sat down beside Song Ci. He greeted him obediently, “Elder Cousin Brother.”
Song Ci immediately pouted. “Who told you to come?”
“What a child.” Mrs. Liang chided him. “It wasn’t easy for your younger brother to return to Jinling. Even if you don’t miss him, we do.”
Liang Yanbei looked as if he did not care at all as he smiled and said, “I’ve been indeed busy these two days after returning to Jinling. Once I found the time, I rushed all the way over for my free meal. Uncle and Auntie wouldn’t blame me for being rude, would you?”
“How would we?” Lord Liang said, “We haven’t seen you for years. We are only too happy now that we finally get to see you. How would we blame you?”
Liang Yanbei nodded. “That’s great.”
He tilted his head to look at Song Ci. “It’s just that Elder Cousin Brother doesn’t seem to be happy? Why are your eyes red? “
Song Ci rubbed his eyes with both hands. “Just some discomfort.”
“Elder Cousin Brother, have you missed me these few years I was away?” Liang Yanbei did not stand on ceremony as he picked up Song Ci’s chopsticks and began to eat with his uncle and auntie.
Song Ci glanced at him. “Can you stay farther away from me? It annoys me to see you.”
Liang Yanbei burst out laughing and patted his shoulder affectionately. “You haven’t changed the least bit. Still the same old you!”
Song Ci replied, “You too. Still as annoying as ever.”
Song Ci did not know what was the problem with this younger cousin brother. Ever since the latter was young, he loved to stick to him. Even when Song Ci put on such a blatant display of dislike, he still behaved as though he was oblivious to it. Instead, he kept thinking Song Ci was horsing around with him.
Even now, he was his usual thick-skinned self as he squeezed beside Song Ci to freeload off them.
Song Ci shifted to the side. Just as he was thinking of an excuse to leave the table, he heard Liang Yanbei say, “Ci~ Once I finish eating later, I’ll take you to look for Ah Chan.”4
On hearing this, Song Ci’s butt stayed put. All thoughts of leaving were instantly dispelled. He looked at Liang Yanbei and endured it for a long time before he choked out a word, “How disrespectful. Address me as Elder Cousin Brother!”
Liang Yanbei nodded, “Fine, fine, fine. Elder Cousin Brother. Eat quickly. Once you’re done, we’ll go together.”
Song Ci did not want to come to a compromise with him, but when he thought of his old friend whom he had not seen in years, he picked up his chopsticks and ate a few mouthfuls.
He thought, no matter what, he should see Wen Chan first.
文房四宝 literally, Four Treasures of the Study or also the Scholar’s Four Jewels. Namely the writing brush, ink stick, ink slab, and paper.
- 宣纸 Xuan paper, or rice paper, is a kind of paper originating in ancient China used for writing and painting. It is renowned for being soft and fine-textured, suitable for conveying the artistic expression of both Chinese calligraphy and painting.
- “~er” (which also means ‘son’) is a suffix normally used as a term of endearment.
- “Ah” is a prefix used before monosyllabic names to indicate kinship and/or familiarity.