Ji Yunshu walked toward the object, compelled perhaps by her woman’s intuition. The blade was one with the wall due to the accretion of rust, and reddened specks covered the body of the blade. The edge was severely chipped, which made the knife seem more like a deformed cogwheel rather than a tool made to cut things.
Jing Rong approached and asked, “Is there something special about this knife?”
“Yes,” answered Ji Yunshu with a nod. Ji Yunshu unfolded a handkerchief from her pockets, swathed it around her hand, and removed the little knife from where it hung. She then carefully wrapped the tissue around the blade and placed it inside her sleeves.
This little girl, she’ll even steal a knife from a peasant’s home! thought Jing Rong.“
It’s getting late. We should head back to the docks. If it gets any later, even a mountain of silver from Your Highness will not suffice to convince the boatman,” said Ji Yunshu as she opened her umbrella against the wind and led the way.
Jing Rong followed Ji Yunshu and paid close attention to her struggles to walk on the slippery road. On several occasions, Ji Yunshu lost her footing and had to stretch her limbs unnaturally to maintain her balance. Instead of hiding his hands in the pockets of his robe to retain warmth, Jing Rong extended his arms out slightly so that he would be able to catch Ji Yunshu if she ever faced the risk of hitting the ground.
The two passed by the ruins and hurried to the village’s docks. When they arrived, to their disappointment, they saw nothing but foam and forth on the river as waves crashed into each other.
“It’ll turn dark soon. There won’t be any ships today,” said Jing Rong, who, instead of being worried, felt a secret joy.
“Had I known, I would have told that boatman to wait for a bit,” bemoaned Ji Yunshu in a low voice.
“We’ll have to stay here for the night.”
“Any other ideas to get us out of here, Your Highness?”
“I do have an idea,” said Jing Rong as he raised his brows.
Ji Yunshu promptly asked, “What is it?”
Jing Rong pointed towards the mountains in the distance, “We take a detour.”
Are you kidding me?
“The roads through the mountains will take more than a day. We might as well wait for another boat,” said Ji Yunshu.
A subtle smile appeared on the corners of Jing Rong’s lips, but he hid it with a look of concern and furrowed his brows, “I don’t think that we can hope for a boat today. If we stay in Zhao village tonight, we’ll have trouble finding a house big enough to accommodate both of us. But…”
“Well, on our way here, I remember passing by a temple. Perhaps we will find it to be a suitable shelter.”
“A temple?” asked Ji Yunshu.
I don’t remember seeing something like that! Should I trust him? thought Ji Yunshu as she ruminated over Jing Rong’s proposal.
“Fine, let’s head there.” Ji Yunshu followed Jing Rong as they headed towards the temple. Not only did the unpleasant conditions of the road worsen, the torrential rain and the darkling sky exacerbated the problem, thus making the two even more miserable.
A sudden gust of wind yanked the umbrella from Ji Yunshu’s hand, launching it into a shrub nearby and tearing it to shreds against the branches. The instant Ji Yunshu felt the weight in her hands disappear, the rain mercilessly attacked her. She felt a tingling cold descend from her hair to her face, running down her neck and spreading throughout her body.
However, before she could feel it down in her feet, another umbrella appeared over her head, shielding her from the rain and the raging tempest.
Ji Yunshu raised her head and saw Jing Rong in the rain two feet away from her, with his arms extended to bring the umbrella to her.
“Your Highness,” said Ji Yunshu as she put her hand on his and pushed the umbrella towards him, “You are more worthy of its protection than I am.”
“I’m not as frail as you think I am. Keep it,” said Jing Rong as he pulled his hand back, turned around, and marched into the rain.
Playing cool, is he?
Ji Yunshu jogged to catch up to Jing Rong, held him by his sleeves and brought the umbrella above both of them. The two were now separated by only mere inches, and although their shoulders remained exposed, both of them, tall and short, were both somewhat sheltered from the storm.
Jing Rong seemed a little surprised by her initiative, but above all, he was deeply moved by it. He lowered his brows and cast a look that revealed a deep affection.
Ji Yunshu raised her head. When she saw the flame burning within Jing Rong`s eyes, she hoped that she had made a mistake. She hurriedly looked away and said, “I hope that Your Highness does not mind sharing the umbrella.”
“Of course not!”
How could I be unhappy? Jing Rong had a grin on his face, and returned to his usual playful mood. He took the handle from Ji Yunshu and raised it high. With his other hand, he gently pulled on Ji Yunshu’s wrist and guided her steps. Ji Yunshu did not resist.
They walked for a few minutes more and finally arrived to the temple Jing Rong mentioned. It was more of a family memorial hall than a temple . Despite the desolation and the dilapidation of the building, it sufficed as a temporary shelter.
Upon entering, Ji Yunshu examined the interior; no one had been there for a long time. A wooden panel hung diagonally above the doorframe and seemed like it was going to fall down at any moment. A layer of dust had accumulated on it, and covering it was several more layers of spider webs. Two words, “Zhao Memorial”, were barely legible.
The floor was cluttered with ornaments and piles of straw, which were connected by more spider webs. Fortunately, the giant Buddha statue was still standing, but the gold laminated copper tiles, which used to form the outer layer of the statue, were removed quite brutally as indicated by the knife markings on what remained of it.
“It’s disorderly, but it should be good enough for the night. I’ll think of a way for us to return tomorrow,” remarked Jing Rong as he scrutinised the surroundings and set down his umbrella. “Teacher, we can dry our clothes if you make a fire for us.”
Jing Rong did not wait for an answer, he quickly cleaned up a large area on the floor and brought one of the broken wooden pillars. He then covered the wood with some straw and used his flint and stone to set it ablaze.
Clean and quick, I would have thought that he grew up in the wilderness!
Night had fallen, and the small fire seemed to glow stronger thanks to the darkness which surrounded it. The hall, battered by the wind and the rain from the outside, was becoming quite comfortable inside.
Jing Rong assembled a makeshift hanger and suggested, “Teacher Ji, we should dry our clothes here. With your fragile health, you wouldn’t want to catch a cold.”
As Jing Rong said so, he started removing his clothes. Ji Yunshu turned around and held her freezing arms to her body.
“Hey, come here,” called Jing Rong.
Ji Yunshu did not budge; she held onto her wet robe, feeling a little panicked. Seeing that she did not answer, Jing Rong approached her and dragged her by the wrist to the fire.
“This humble one is just fine. Please dry your clothes, Your Highness,” said Ji Yunshu as she lowered her head, not daring to look at him.
“I’m just telling you to remove your clothes. Why are you so shy? Do you need help for that?” asked Jing Rong, who pretended to be surprised, but the playfulness in his mood grew by the second.
Ji Yunshu took a few steps back and forced a smile, “This humble one does not dare to compare his body to your highness’. It’ll be fine.”
“Pfft, meaningless bickering,” said Jing Rong as he approached her and extended his arms toward her. “Come on, what are you so scared of? If you don’t want to remove your clothes, I’ll help you do it.” Jing Rong raised the corners of his lips.
“There’s no need, really.”
“Oh, of course, there is.” Jing Rong’s firm grip locked Ji Yunshu’s arms, so that no matter how hard she struggled, she could only hold onto the collar of her robe in a symbolic gesture of resistance.
No! Ji Yunshu knew that it would be of no use even if she tore her throat yelling for help. She lowered her head even further and her breath quickened.
Jing Rong looked at Ji Yunshu’s long and curled eyelashes fervidly: a flame burned within his eyes. He held Ji Yunshu’s arm tightly with his hands, feeling the soaked cloth and her cold flesh. He felt his own blood freeze as the frigidness climbed from Ji Yunshu into his palm. Jing Rong was suddenly seized by an urge to capture Ji Yunshu and her whole being in his embrace, but the more reasonable part of him checked his folly before he could enact it.
“Teacher, your clothes are soaked. If you don’t want to remove your garments in front of me, then I suggest that we use our clothes as a curtain to grant ourselves some privacy.”
Wow, I’m impressed now, thought Ji Yunshu.
Jing Rong released her and seemed very serious. He moved the makeshift hanger between them and said, “I won’t look at you. I give you my word. Just get rid of your wet clothes; it will do you no good to hesitate.”
Jing Rong removed both of his shirts and placed them on the makeshift hanger. He then sat down on a pile of straw and put his boots, decorated by golden motifs sewn onto the fabric with silvery threads, upside down, right beside the fire.
Jing Rong’s 'obedience' calmed Ji Yunshu down. She trusted him enough to remove her own belt and robe and put them onto the hanger. She then imitated Jing Rong, sat down on a pile of straw and put her own boots, made with rough fabrics, upside down by the fire.
The two of them sat, separated only by the improvised curtain. Both felt the warmth of the fire gently caress them and appreciated the comfort of having a roof over their heads to shield them from the downpour.
“Teacher Ji,” called out Jing Rong all of sudden.
“Have you ever been to… the Capital?” asked Jing Rong as he picked up a small bamboo stick and poked at the fire.
Ji Yunshu looked in his direction. She saw a hand holding a bamboo stick emerge from behind the curtain and cause the fire to crackle in a small explosion of sparks. She held her own legs with one hand and imitated Jing Rong with the other. “No, I haven’t been there.”
“Do you want to go then?”
“How’s the air quality over there?”
“I’m talking about the smog.”
Jing Rong was perplexed and stopped poking, “Smog?”
Ji Yunshu smiled and answered, “Oh, it’s nothing.” Ji Yunshu was thinking about Beijing in modern times.
Jing Rong was confused by her question. He wanted to remove the curtain and ask her about the 'air quality' or 'smog' she was talking about.
He shook his head and moved onto another topic. “If I asked you to go back to the Capital with me, would you agree?”
Grenn's Rants Corner
Erff... x_X Suddenly the chapters got longer.
 It is Chinese custom for wealthy families (or even not so wealthy ones) to gather small versions of their ancestors' tombstone in a place and pray to them as if they were gods.Previous Chapter Next Chapter