“If I, this Prince, want you to go back with me to the Capital, will you be willing?”
“No,” She blurted out the word without a second of hesitation.
Jing Rong inquired, “Why?”
Why? Ji Yunshu’s expression immediately sank. She stirred up the campfire which caused the flames to burn more vigorously.
After a long moment of silence, she squeezed out a few more words, “I can’t leave.”
Sometimes Jing Rong really could not fathom what was going through her mind.
A moment filled with silent thoughts settled between them, yet their own thoughts remained difficult to decipher despite their constant contemplation.
Her temper was simply too insipid, inhibiting people from connecting with her mind! Jing Rong pondered, but in the end, he didn’t probe any further.
During that time, her eyes were lowered while her mind fell into deep thought. The bamboo stick in her hand inadvertently caught on fire. The stick ignited and sparkled like a firecracker, throwing a spark onto the back of her hand.
“Ouch!” She let out a painful groan. She immediately released the bamboo stick, letting it fall as she covered her hand to alleviate the painful burning sensation.
The instant she groaned in pain, Jing Rong was already up on his feet. He abruptly tore away the curtain of clothes separating them and nervously walked to Ji Yunshu before crouching in front of her and pulling her burnt hand near him. The flame’s damage was evinced from the several red splotches covering the back of her hand.
Jing Rong carefully blew on it while asking, “Why are you so careless?”
Ji Yunshu froze in surprise for a moment before retracting her hand at once. They were currently only dressed in their inner garments!
Ji Yunshu got up from the ground with haste while wrapping an arm around herself and reached out for the cloth on the frame with her other hand, pulling one toward her. Unfortunately for her, in her haste, the bead securing the hat that held her hair bun came loose. Added to her abrupt movements, her hair came undone, unfurling slowly. Her long black hair spilled out like a waterfall birthed from the high mountains. As a breeze blew in, her hair danced, brushing against her thin waist.
The sight was ephemeral as Ji Yunshu grabbed onto her clothes timely. By the time she tightly wrapped herself with it, her hair was messily scattered past her shoulders. She glanced back and brushed away the hair sticking onto her delicate and rosy cheeks. Her current appearance gave out an otherworldly impression, causing Jing Rong to foolishly stare at her.
Jing Rong stood frozen as he gawked at her while still holding the fallen bead that was securing her hat, in his hand. He was not just surprised; he gasped with amazement!
Many times he had imagined her appearance with unbound hair, but reality offered him a more wondrous sight than his fantasy could ever have created.
Often, he would imagine taking off her hat or fantasized how she would look, groomed in female clothing, standing in front of him. Yet, at this moment, her appearance was simply beautiful. No, extremely beautiful!
He had to admit that his heart was palpitating with excitement despite the lack of words he expressed. His mood was a mix of awe and satisfaction, which he perfectly concealed, since he would like to avoid having his mind completely read by a certain woman with excellent observation skills!
Ji Yunshu shivered from the cold and wrapped her clothes more tightly around her. She glanced at him and faintly spoke, “This humble one lacked manners... I hope Your Highness forgives me for my crime.”
“The crime of duping you.”
“Duping me of what?”
“Ah, that?” He always asked for a tit-for-tat. It caused Ji Yunshu to be at a loss on how to reply.
Suddenly, Jing Rong stated, “Don’t fret over it. As for that crime, this Prince is willing to turn my eyes away from it.” His tone was gentle while his mouth pursed into a smile.
Ji Yunshu did not speak a word and only lowered her head. Her black hair brushed against her cheeks, concealing part of her face with only the bridge of her nose visible.
Jing Rong took two small steps forward and gave back the hat’s bead to her. Ji Yunshu reached out for it, but the bead was tightly held in his palm. “This bead… I still haven’t let go of it.”
“This is just a common bead, is there a need for your Highness to forcibly take it?”
“Common? I feel like this bead is very precious.”
Ji Yunshu’s body stiffened.
Jing Rong played a bit with the bead and sat on the ground. The corner of his mouth hooked up as he looked at the bead reflecting the flame’s colour.
“Teacher Ji… Ah no! It should be Miss Ji. I am very curious on the reason why you would cross-dress and be in contact with a pile of corpses? Don’t the daughters of most families usually stay cooped up in the bedroom and rarely go out half a step? They would spend their time embroidering flowers and searching for a good husband to marry when they come of age.” He summed up the usual behaviour of women of those times quite well.
Ji Yunshu simply replied, “I’m short on money.”
“Short on money?” Jing Rong was flabbergasted. He raised his head and took a good look at her, “The Ji family is prestigious and a wealthy home. How can they be short on money?”
As expected, he had already thoroughly grasped her background information!
“It appears that everything Your Highness did the last time you visited my father - gifting me the Turnip-like cowparsnip root and burning my father’s whip - was completely intentional.”
He rotated the bead with his fingers and smiled, “I didn’t need to lift a finger that much.”
That statement was quite underwhelming.
Jing Rong continued, “Miss Ji, you’re already dressed, so there’s no harm sitting down. This Prince doesn’t like to look up at people.”
Once again, Ji Yunshu wrapped herself tightly before sitting down, keeping a two-step distance away from Jing Rong.
“Are you very afraid of this Prince?” He raised his sharp-like eyebrows.
“Not at all.”
“Then why are you sitting so far away?” Jing Rong was displeased with her reaction. He used his hand and patted a place next to him, “Come and sit here. It’s not like I’m naked. What are you afraid of? Besides, sitting so far away, how are you going to keep yourself warm through this endless night?”
Those words sounded quite wrong for some reason, but Ji Yunshu couldn’t refute them. She grudgingly scooted over toward the fire, “Since Your Highness already knew my identity, why didn’t you expose me?” She voiced out the question that niggled at the back of her mind. Oi, oi, oi! Are you playing with me?’
Her question made Jing Rong’s handsome face break into a rotten smile, stirring a thought-provoking feeling. In reply, he said, “Since you intended to hide it, why should I expose you?”
Ji Yunshu could not argue.
Jing Rong frowned and cast a sidelong glance at her before throwing back the question at her, “I’m truly curious. Aren’t you the third miss of the Ji family? Why would you lack money? And why do you need to endure that old bastard whipping you?”
Old bastard? Ji Yunshu inwardly gave Jing Rong a thumbs up. She lowered her voice and replied, “Every family has their own problems. As someone from the imperial household, Your Highness also has your own share of bitterness. Let alone someone from a common family, a drop of oil, a grain of rice or even a small needle could be a source of conflict. Getting scolded or getting beaten, aren’t they but usual things?”
Her words made Jing Rong pensive, “You’re wasting your talent in this tiny little Jinjiang city.”
“I am unable to understand Your Highness’ meaning.”
“You should know that the Capital is big and filled with crouching tigers and hidden dragons, and the mighty army numbers in thousands. Within the Capital, there’s the palace, but outside, there are the city walls. From the grand Emperor to the common guard overseeing the city gates, everyone follows the rules and laws strictly; efficient administration, bustling streets with the occasional joyous wedding and dowry procession, such a place is where Miss Ji ought to stay.”
His speech was quite convincing. She never expected such eloquence coming from Jing Rong.
Unfortunately… “A place for dragons and phoenixes is where dragons and phoenixes belong. I am but a tiny canary. A small city, a small county is where I could dwell in peacefully.”
“Although the cCapital is big, danger lurks everywhere. Despite a strict administration, justice is not beyond human emotion. A bustling place yet it can’t compare to the idle tranquility of the small roads of Jinjiang.”
Hearing her words, Jing Rong could not help but exclaim, “Such a glib tongue!” But he could not deny that each of her sentences rang true!
Jing Rong stirred the fire with a bamboo stick with a deep smile that never left his mouth, letting the fire burn stronger.
Ji Yunshu wrapped her arms around her knees and walled herself in silence. The conversation in the cold night had come to an end. Both were now sitting side by side, each silent, lost in their own thoughts: one was apprehensive, the other pleasantly surprised. Each of their arguments had their own merits. None of them were wrong, yet neither were completely right.
As the long night slowly passed, Ji Yunshu had pulled her long hair into a bun and leaned on a pillar behind her.
She squinted her eyes. Jing Rong, your thoughts were incorrect.
Jing Rong observed Ji Yunshu. Under the orange and red glow from the fire, her palm-sized face was comparable to the highest quality blood jade, unconsciously attracting people’s gaze. Those closed eyes beneath those small eyelashes that always seemed to be filled with worry and indifference at times, only further made people’s heart itch!
With no other thoughts, Jing Rong took off his dried clothes from the frame and covered Ji Yunshu with them. As for him, he simply added more wood to the fire and rested nearer to the fire.
Throughout the night, the wind and rain whistled outside the temple.
When Ji Yunshu woke up the next day, the rain had already ceased. She discovered Jing Rong’s clothes covering her, but when she swept a glance at the place, he was nowhere in sight.
Just as she was puzzled by his disappearance, Jing Rong came in from outside. In his hands, he held several hot steamed buns, “You're awake?”
Jing Rong handed over a steamed bun, “Eat while it’s still hot.”
Ji Yunshu gave Jing Rong back his clothes and took a few steamed buns from his hands. Then, she asked as she looked at him strangely, “Your Highness, you did not go out dressed like this right?”
At this moment, Jing Rong was only dressed in his inner garments. Although he had boots and wasn’t naked, it was still a bit inappropriate.
“Yeah. No one was looking anyway.” He also nodded and dressed himself in the meantime.
“No one was looking?” Ji Yunshu was puzzled, “Then, where did you get those steamed buns?
”“I just took them on the way.”
Shame on you! Stealing is stealing! Ji Yunshu gained a new level of understanding of this deity!
Which eyes saw him steal? He clearly left money to pay for those steamed buns!
After eating a steamed bun, they cleaned up and left the temple to the pier. Due to the calm waters that morning, many boats were docked at the pier. They picked a boat and quickly returned to the city.
Jing Rong wasn’t reassured leaving her alone, so he wanted to accompany her back.
“No, I’m going to the yamen.”
“At this hour?” Jing Rong could not understand why.
Ji Yunshu nodded before she walked toward the direction of the yamen while explaining herself, “If nothing unexpected occurs, the yin-yang corpse case will be solved today.”
“Have you come to a conclusion?” Jing Rong followed behind her.
“Wait until I’m done checking something, and you will know. However…” She came to a halt and looked at Jing Rong seriously, “I need to ask Your Highness to not expose my gender as to avoid unnecessary trouble.”
With a faint smile, Jing Rong stated, “As a matter of fact, this Prince is used to you wearing male clothing.”
“...” With no retort in hand, Ji Yunshu simply accelerated her pace.
Jing Rong laughed and followed suit. They had yet to reach the yamen’s entrance when Magistrate Liu saw them and was somewhat surprised.