This is one very likable chapter, with my favorite quip in the book – the men, the sea, they are all waiting for you. As for who is waiting for who, I’ll leave it to you to read and find out.
In epilogues 1 & 2, we learn about Gong Sun Ling, Jiang Jiu, and how Xu Zhi inadvertently rescued their souls by providing a physical and emotional haven for them. In this last epilogue, it is time for Zhou Wen Wu’s redemption and he has truly come a long way from the proud, violent, angry man at the start of the book.
To all my readers, thank you for following the story. I have not expected to take 7 months to complete this when I first started so it may be pretty frustrating for a reader. Still, I hope that you have enjoyed the story and its characters because they are not your garden-variety kind of crazy, I mean romantic heros and heroines. If you have friends who may like the story, do let them know about my website for it feels nice when I still see new readers for “Rice Pot Next Door” or “Gentleman Free Float Cloud”.
Until the next post, take care.
Epilogue 3: The Consequence of being a Harem’s Man
Many years ago, on the last day of Chinese New Year.
The Second Prince spotted a familiar figure among the crowd from his balcony at the second storey of a tea house. Thinking that she must be here to watch the fireworks, he sent his servants to invite her to his comfortable viewing spot while cursing her dratted servants for not persuading her to take a sedan today. In such a crowd, it is not unheard of for women to be molested.
From his elevated point, he can see his servants weaving painfully through the crowd in order to get to her. They said something to her which is too far for him to hear, but her response is to wave them away in disinterest. Her attendant Jiang Jiu whispered something into her ear and she turns towards the teahouse, brought up her hands in a gesture of thanks, before turn back to talk to her assistant.
So polite and distant.
He continued watching her as she squeezed through the crowd when suddenly, a burst of colorful light lit up the sky. She tilted her face towards the fireworks which reflects off her face in a madid of colors, much like in a kaleidoscope. She lean very close to Jiang Jiu and appeared to be in deep discussion, with her pointing here and there at the fireworks. Someone nearly bumped into her but Jiang Jiu quickly move a step and blocked the man with his body.
Looking at the pair, a wave of unfamiliar emotion washed over him.
Perhaps, it was wrong from the start.
Perhaps in Xi Xuan, in this lifetime, he and Xu Zhi can only be 2 parallel lines.
Xu Zhi has just left the main street when she hears her name and turns around to see 2 scholars from the Scholars Hall hurrying up after her. “Scholar Xu, we have been looking for you. So glad to find you here.”
Considering that they have just crossed path at the school not long ago and here they are again, Xu Zhi wonders to herself if the Capital too small, or if she simply have too much affinity with these 2.
The 2 scholars eye the meat bun in her eye and find it hard to adjust that this is the same woman whose attendants are always around to serve her a full meal, no matter how busy she is. How can she accept such a simple meal? Still…
“Scholar Xu, we are worried for your safety when we saw you being separated from Jiang Jiu and your harem’s man by the sudden crowd at main street.”
“This is but a small matter.” answers Xu Zhi. “I am not a child who needs to be constantly watched over.” Furthermore, she has been cured of her headache and no longer needs someone to be always around her to catch her if she faints.
“Scholar Xu, is your harem’s man…. a foreigner?”
When she eye them curiously and did not reply, he continues. “Da Gu Niang, we heard that you have fallen ill last year and we were all deeply concerned about you. We are really glad to see that you have recovered since.” Peering at her loose hair beneath her hood, he thinks that there must be some truth to the rumor that her illness has something to do with her head.
“Are you from Wei?” she asks suddenly.
“Have you met Xu Da before?”
“Ah? Ha. Ha. The Empress of Wei is not someone whom anyone can meet easily.”
“Oh…. Thank you for helping me at Bao Yuan Lou previously. When you do meet Xu Da in future, tell her that I understand her intentions.” She pauses before continuing. “While being a scholar may not be your true calling, I think you should put more effort into studying and not waste the few years you have spent at the school.”
The 2 men have not expected their covers to be blown. Where is their mistake? Does the Xi Xuan Emperor also know about them? Finally, one of the scholar found his nerves. “Scholar Xu, have you fully recovered?”
“Yes, I have fully recovered.” Xu Zhi knows that they will relate her words to Xu Da and continues patiently. “At the moment, I am very well, Xi Xuan is very well. If there are replacements for the both of you in future, they are more than welcome to bring along rare and unusual artifacts from Wei for me.”
Since their cover is blown, the first scholar decides that he should be brave all the way. “Sure, Scholar Xu. In fact, we want to tell you that we have excellent schools in Wei too.”
So what if they are spies from Wei with a double role to protect Xu Zhi in case of danger? Now that Wei has their Golden Sword Empress and is growing more prosperous every year, why, they can easily become the most prestigious state if Xu Zhi also decides to set up shop in Wei. Maybe they can even merge the world into their fold…“Scholar Xu. Our men in Wei are excellent!”
When Xu Zhi eyes him curiously, his partner continues enthusiastically. “Wei borders the sea. Is Scholar Xu interested to sail the seas? If so, Wei can build a research boat for you!”
Seeing her big eyes and the sparkles beneath, the 2 men are very happy to have finally caught her interest. “If you are in Wei, our Emperor will never behave like the Emperor here. At least, he will never order you killed just because someone cast a spell on him.”
After the incident, the 2 men have also heard the most astonishing news. Although the chief proprietor has died on the spot – that will be the eunuch who tried to place Zhou Wen Cheng under a spell – the Emperor has ordered his flesh to be sliced from his corpse before burying his organs in different corners of Xi Xuan so that he can never be reborn. What a contrast to his benevolent nature! Perhaps the Emperor is still under a spell?
“Scholar Xu, we can build a mansion for you, just like your house in Xi Xuan, and staff it with servants and cooks. If you want to start a harem – be it 1 or 2 or 3 – we will be happy to source the people for you. Xi Xuan men cannot make it after 30 but Wei men can easily last till 60.” The scholar nearly blushes at the last statement but steels himself to think of Xu Zhi as a man so that he can continue.
When she finally opens her mouth, her answer is. “I see my harem’s man coming.”
The 2 men shake their head for having to stop their sales pitch and bow respectfully. “Scholar Xu, we will take our leave since your man is here. Please consider our offer seriously.”
Shortly after they left, Zhou Wen Wu catches up with her. He eyes the departing men from beneath his mask. “Those 2 men….”
“They are sent by Xu Da.”
At the mention of the name, he watches her face carefully for any reaction but she only mutters “I am hungry”’ before lowering her face to nibble the bun. Today is the last day of Chinese New Year and Xu Zhi has thought to join the festivities after leaving the Scholar’s Hall. When she felt hungry, she bought a snack from a roadside stall and lost her attendants in the process.
At her disinterest in the subject – with Xu Da or with him? – Zhou Wen Wu is angered. Taking out a mask he just bought, he fastens it over her face and adjusts her hood so that it rest properly over her head.
Feeling a weight over her forehead, cheek and nose, she stops chewing her bun. “What is this?”
He backs her to a nearby wall instead of answering, and raises both arms on either side of her face so that her body is safely cocoon from the increasing crowd. “Continue eating.”
Thinking that this man is not your garden-variety kind of Crazy, she decides that she has nothing more to say him. She tries to eat her bun in the narrow enclosure between his arms but it is not an easy feat as she can feel his burning gaze on her face. While she may not be looking at him, it is really impossible to ignore his closeness and scrutiny. “Ah Wu, are you thinking of kissing me?”
“If I do so, others will see how you look when your face is flushed. Do you think I am stupid to allow that to happen?”
He cradles the back of her head with one hand so that it forms a cushion between her head and the wall. He moves a step closer and makes her small enclosure even smaller. At first, she thinks that he must be pushed by the crowd to move closer but when she peers around her protective “wall”, it occurs to her that this man just does not want others to see her while she is eating. Hmm, is he just over-possessive streak or is her eating manners too unsightly?
From the distance, she heard love songs. Her eyes brightened and she pushes her half-eaten bun to him. “Ah Wu, let us check out the singers. I just know that there will be plenty of people singing love songs tonight and I want to know if they will sing with emotion.”
“Xu Zhi, are you not here for the fireworks?”
“I have no interest in fireworks. I have made an effort to see them once because I heard that the fireworks are from Wei and I like to know the difference between their fireworks and ours.”
Before he can fully register her words, she has slipped into the crowd, leaving him to curse silently. This woman is impossible! How dare she wander around – in a crowded place like this no less – before her hair has grown past her shoulders? First she has insisted on going to the school to check out a special drum brought by a foreign scholar and now she has no qualms about becoming a human sandwich? If he is still a prince, he would have ordered her to be tied to her bed but since he is not….
He finally catches up with her while she is listening intently to a singer, arms folded across her chest. “This singer has injected emotions in his voice. What is the woman feeling now? Will a woman be moved only when the song is injected with emotions, or can it be otherwise?” Lost in the songs around her and her thoughts, she is oblivious to the man standing behind her who is preventing people from bumping into her by blocking them with his body.
It is only when fireworks lit up the sky and a pair of warm hands covers her ears that she turns around to eye him in surprise. “Ah Wu, you are so ….” considerate to ensure that the sudden loud bang does not startle her. But she would never say the last word aloud because it is such an ironic term for a person known for his violence.
“Have you finished thinking? Why is it your business when other people are singing love songs?”
“Ah Wu, have you ever wondered how it feels like to kiss Xu Da?”
At her question, the noise of the crowd fade away and even when there are colourful fireworks in the sky, she can only see the shape of his lips in her eyes.
When she “ohh….” In response, he tries to elaborate. “Xu Zhi, my feelings for her….”
Before he can complete his sentence, she speaks again. “Strange, I feel tired suddenly. You know, those 2 scholars…”
Annoyed of the people that keep pushing him, he pulls her into his arms while elbowing someone away. “Yes, what about the 2 scholars?”
“They have promised to build me a ship if I go to Wei.”
“How dare they!” That cursed Li Rong Zhi! First he stole Xu Da. And now he still dares to extend his claws to Xu Zhi?!
“And they also said that they have strong men in Wei.” Scanning the crowd, she points to one particular man. “That guy should be from Wei, with his slender build like a bamboo. Ah Wu, do you think he is strong? If we are to compare, even you are stronger than him yes?”
It is hard to be happy with her backhanded compliment – wha.t an insult to compare him with a punny Wei man! And to add insult to injury, how dare Wei try to lure her with men? Before he can flare up however, he sees the tiredness in her eyes and remembers that this is her first trip outside the house since her operation. He hoists her up with one hand and starts walking. Caught by surprise, she quickly wraps both hands around his neck.
He tilts her around slightly so that they see eye to eye. “Men from Wei can never carry a woman this way. They simply don’t have the strength.”
Err, so he is showing her the comparison?
“And since you have a mask on, no one will recognize you. Rest your head on my shoulder and nap while I carry you home?”
She remembers that he has carried her in the same manner when they are kidnapped outside the clinic. “You are correct.” She says and nestles closer, uncaring of the curious looks sent their way. As she entrust her weight on him, all so naturally, she thinks to herself that habit is indeed a very scary thing. She seems to have gotten used to his warmth and he too seems to be accustomed to her. At least, he no longer stiffens like a log when she leans against hm.
What happens after a habit is formed? Will any, or both of them get tired of it one day. Who, what, if….
Thinking, thinking, she fell asleep.
When Zhou Wen Wu opens the door to her room, he eyes narrow dangerously at the sight of Xu Zhi on top of Jiu Xing on the bed.
From behind him, Tong Mo steps into the room. A few days back, she has recovered sufficiently to get down from bed and she would make it a point to visit Xu Zhi’s room every night, to make sure that the room is comfortable before leaving again. Jiu Xing sees her expression turning rigid and pushes Xu Zhi away hurriedly. Uncaring that he has almost pushed Xu Zhi to the floor, he hurries after Tong Mo as she leaves the room. “Tong Mo!”
Xu Zhi wraps both arms around her head by instinct as Zhou Wen Zhou runs to her side. As she stands, she looks around and recognizes this to be her room. She remembers coming here to read but she must have dozed off. When Jiu Xing has came to check on her, he has tried to help her to her bed, only to trip and fall on her bed while she fell on top of him.
When Zhou Wen Wu heard her explaination, he flicks a grey spec off his shoulder. “And here I was wondering if you have fallen for that chap. He is so young with a pretty face, yes?”
She waits for him to continue but when he said nothing more and starts unbuttoning his robe. She wonders if she should tell him that she is tired. As he discards his outmost robe and starts unbuttoning the inner layer, Xu Zhi mentally checks her conditions and confirms that she is in no shape to respond, no matter how he tries to arouse her tonight. If so, is it not better to spend her time to rest?
Still, he has proven over the weeks that he is perfectly happy doing what he does even if she does not respond while he gets all excited only to pull away in the end. This brain of his, she thinks, is something that she can never truly understand. But when she sees his broad chest that is crisscrossed with scars, she lost track of whatever words she has planned to say.
He walks towards her until he is an arm’s length away and eyes her coldly. “Xu Zhi, do you know my nightmare?!”
When he does not reply and only look at her resolutely, Xu Zhi gives in. “Fine, since you have nightmares, let me accompany you tonight.” She may have conceded to share a bed tonight, but do not blame her if she does not respond.
As she unties her belt, she hears a male voice sing. “My shoulders are broad and sturdy, my maiden, are you willing to lean on me? My body is muscled and strong, my maiden, are you willing to touch? I have enough strength to bring you pleasure, as we roll around in waves of desire. Please do not let my longing for you feel like a year.”
His voice is mellow and resonates with emotions. It fills the air between them with temptation, promise and something else. Looking at her straight in the eye, he continues his song. “Each day feels like a year. My maiden Xu Zhi, I hope to love you, and for you to love me. My maiden, are you willing?”
When there is no answer, Zhou Wen Wu laughs. “I am singing merely because I feel like singing and you have not obligation to reply me. However, I wish we can have a fair exchange.”
After a moment, he speaks again. “What I want is your body and heart and I want it at any cost. I also know that you have no feelings for me so what I want is your promise – the day that you fall for another man will be the day that I will no longer lay a finger on you. When that day comes, there is no need for us to be buried together as I do not like to share. I will still stay with you to witness how Zhou Wen Cheng ends up but promise me that until the day I can make you fall for me, you cannot seek out another bed partner.”
The corner of his mouth curls up viciously. “What a pitiful prince, to end up like this. Indeed, the saying is true that whoever who love first, loses first. But rest assured that my heart has thousands of scars, hundreds of scabs and has nothing much to see. By the time you are sick of me, I should have also grown tired of you and when that day comes, I promise I will never pester you again.”
Xu Zhi mutters a sound and reaches out a hand to gently trace a particularly deep scar on his chest. “All these – they are suffered in my name. I recall that there is one local tradition where they believe that a person’s soul is hidden in our eyes. if you look at someone long and intently before you die, your soul will follow that person. If there is a next life, there will be a chance for the 2 to meet again.”
“The same group of people have another belief that a person can find his destined soulmate by kissing. They believe that our lips are like crescent moons and when a pair of lips fit perfectly against each other, their deepest emotions within will be able to pass over to the other person through their lips, hence creating an extra-satisfactory sexual relationship.”
“The people with this custom are well-known to be gentle, considerate, and it is really hard to associate these words with you Zhou Wen Wu.”
“No wonder that I find your method of seduction strange. Of the hundred and one things you can do, why do you spend so much time kissing? At one time, I even considered the possibility that you have a lip fetish but now when I think about it, I figure that you are hoping for us to form an emotional, on top of physical bond, when we make love? What a surprise to know that you like me so much.”
Before he can burst out in embarrassment or frustration, her fingers slip to his waist and unties the lovers knot there. He pales when he sees the string in her hands. “This is yours. Who are you intending to give it to?”
“I bought it on a whim as I find the phoenix jade carving interesting. Zhou Wen Wu, do you really want a lover’s knot that is tied by someone else?” Untangling the knot, she quickly ties the string into another, more complicated knot and slips the completed knot into her sleeve. Smiling, she looks at him. “Zhou Wen Wu, I like your love song. Although there are people who have sang it to me before, I cannot remember their faces but when you sing it to me, it makes me feel… special.” And an urge to willingly follow you to wherever you want to go. Thinking back to her question on emotions and love songs, she realizes that listener is also a key factor when talking about the impact of a song. “Can you help me with an experiment?”
“If your love song can keep us bonded, we will bury this lover’s knot with us as proof that it works. You and me, shall form a full moon with our hearts. This will take our entire lifetime to prove so are you willing?”
“Only you and me?”
Her smile broadens. “Because I am not like you Ah Wu. Your passion can be ignited in a flash and that never fails to amaze me. Zhou Wen Wu, your love song gives me a special feel, so what do you say? Shall we give it a try tonight? To join flesh and soul together?”
They stare at each other for a long time before he pulls her towards him in a forceful tug she has grown accustomed to. His action may look rough but it always within an intensity that she can accept. The instant his lips touch hers, Xu Zhi kisses him back with all her heart.