Jing Rong’s voice was barely audible through the clamour of the crowd, yet Ji Yunshu did not miss a single word.
“How I feel… Do you really not know?” These two sentences sank into her heart like a cauldron of boiling oil.
Ji Yunshu trembled nervously. The only answer she had was a long silence.
The anger dimmed in Jing Rong’s eyes, replaced by a deep look of affection as he started to speak again, “Did you know, the first time I saw you, I guessed that you were actually a girl. I goaded you time and time again, but in the end, what I did only pricked deeper and deeper into my own heart. You tugged my heartstrings until they became an unsortable mess. I couldn’t find solace in the sweet embrace of sleep, and even the most delicate food became tasteless. On several occasions, I had to control my burning desire to remove that crown from your head and ascertain my guess. Even after I found out about your true identity, I felt a confusion, a hesitation I’ve never experienced before. Now I am certain that you and you alone can impart this upon me.”
This time, Ji Yunshu heard each and every word clearly. Oh, he… he’s confessing to me, isn’t he? Wait, wait. Wake up, Your Highness! Do you not understand that it’s simply not possible between us?
“Your Highness, I… I don’t understand what you are saying... Let me go…” Ji Yunshu fought against Jing Rong’s grip and dove sideways in an attempt to escape, but Jing Rong blocked her firmly.
Jing Rong repeated again, this time with more emphasis, “You claim to not understand what I mean. Very well, I shall repeat it again. Is the pleasure from whirling in water not only known to two fish who can chase one another? A solitary mandarin duck  does not fly far. And you… you are not just a fleeting dream. I know it. You are real, as real as the stone upon which I walk.”
The blossoms of the fireworks accompanied Jing Rong’s last word. The multi-coloured flare gradually faded in the sky, leaving nothing but a vivid mark in the eyes and the minds of those who saw it. A loud cheer was heard coming from the crowd, but Jing Rong’s eyes did not budge in the slightest.
Ji Yunshu looked at his eyes and stopped struggling. They stared at the other party, unable to detach their eyes from each other. She puckered her lips and lowered her brows. “Your Highness, the joy of fish matters little against the drought that will dry the stream in which they swim; and there are certain tempests even the closest pair of mandarin ducks cannot brave. Your Highness’s feelings… I simply cannot reciprocate them,” said Ji Yunshu in a tone that softened her refusal.
The noise from the exploding fireworks completed eclipsed Ji Yunshu’s soft voice, but Jing Rong heard her reply quite clearly. The affection between his brows quietly retracted into his thin and long eyes, replaced by a despair which climbed up his countenance. He dropped his hands down, as threads do when their hold onto a button is cut loose, “Very well, I understand.”
After being freed from her cage, Ji Yunshu took two steps back from Jing Rong’s embrace. She held her own arms and had an expression of panic mixed with something she herself couldn’t quite grasp. The two stood with their backs against each other, one with his mood sinking like dust slowly settling, whereas the other was stricken by a nervousness that brought sweat to her palms.
Ji Yunshu raised her head and suddenly noticed Ji Muqing amidst the crowd, walking seemingly towards her. She was dressed in a scarlet robe, and her shoulders were covered with a blue and snow white cape. Her hair was neatly arranged into tresses shaped like bamboo sprouts. A golden hairpin pierced the hair knot over her head, the first of a shower of silver and golden ornaments. She carried a four-sided lantern which was sewn together using gold-laminated thread. Red bamboo made up the frame of the lantern, and a single string of silver beads, threaded the center and hung from the base. Four maids followed behind.
I would have mistaken her for a royal concubine with that kind of attire and that many followers, thought Ji Yunshu. The latter hesitated between 'bumping' into her or avoiding her completely. By pure coincidence, Ji Muqing shifted her attention and looked in her direction, but a split second before Ji Muqing could notice her, Ji Yunshu felt a strong pull on her side, and her body spun, letting nothing except her back get seen.
Ji Yunshu’s back was once again pressed against the wall as she came around. Jing Rong squeezed her pointed chin between two of his thin fingers and gently flicked it upward. Her tiny figure was completely hidden by his towering frame. She was forced to stare into Jing Rong’s angry, disappointed, almost bloodthirsty eyes.
“Please let me go, Your Highness.”
“Yunshu,” he whispered. The next moment, he lowered his head and raised Ji Yunshu’s chin a little more. He wrapped an arm around her svelte waist and brought her closer. His cold lips approached Ji Yunshu’s lips which were tinted a vivid scarlet. Their lips touched. The scene was lit up by blooming fireworks in the background, had an odd beauty to it.
Ji Yunshu was dumbstruck by this sudden kiss. She remained paralysed and had a vacant expression, even forgetting to breathe for a moment or two. Even Ji Pei had never been so intimate with her. Her thoughts whirled and swirled until nothing clear could come out of them. She was at a complete loss and even forgot to resist.
But Jing Rong sought even more than what he already had. Ji Yunshu’s small lips were the spring of an indistinct aroma which penetrated deeply into his throat and made his body shiver with joy. He continued savouring the kiss ever more greedily, but Ji Yunshu finally came to her senses and pushed at his chest with both of her hands, making him release her.
Ji Yunshu brought one of her pale fingers to her lips and slowly wiped them. She blushed and threw an incredulous look at Jing Rong. Suddenly, she turned around and escaped.
“Yunshu…” Jing Rong had barely the time to call out her name.
Ji Yunshu vanished into the crowd before Jing Rong could pull her back. Jing Rong chased after her with all of his might, brushing passers-by onto the side as he crashed into them, but his efforts were fruitless: it was as if Ji Yunshu had simply disappeared. She’s a fast one, thought Jing Rong as a passerby grazed his shoulder. His lips quirked, and he touched them with his finger, bringing an icy sensation. He could still smell the remnants of that sweet aroma. I was a little too greedy.
After escaping from Jing Rong, Ji Yunshu walked mechanically, as if she had lost her soul, and she arrived at the Wei Mansion before she knew it. When she entered the courtyard leading to her own room, she saw Wei Yi sitting on the stone stairs with an extinguished plum flower lantern. He looked very desolate.
Upon hearing her steps, he raised his head. As soon as he saw Ji Yunshu, he ran to meet her, “Shu’er.”
“Did you come back by yourself?” she asked.
Wei Yi shook his head. “No, Big Sister Luan’er and that dark-skinned Big Brother brought me back.”
Dark-skinned Big Brother? Oh, it must be Lang Po. thought Ji Yunshu. She nodded and stayed silent.
Wei Yi noticed her unusual mood, so he asked in curiousity, “Shu’er, are you unhappy?”
Was is that obvious? Ji Yunshu forced a smile and shook her head, “Wei Yi, it’s getting late now. You should go rest.”
“What is it?”
Wei Yi raised his lantern, “Look, Shu’er, I haven’t hung my lantern yet.”
During the Lantern Festival, it was an established tradition to try to hang a lantern as high as possible. The higher it was, the more good fortune it would bring.
Ji Yunshu saw the disappointment in Wei Yi’s eyes and felt guilty about letting the night conclude unhappily. However, her own lantern had been lost during her struggle with that bastard, so she could not do it with Wei Yi. She searched for an idea in her head and suddenly came up with a great one. She smiled and said, “Wei Yi, let’s not bother with this lantern anymore. How about we try launching a Kongming lantern ?”
“A Kongming lantern?”
“Alright, alright! Let’s fly a Kongming lantern!”
Ji Yunshu called Luan’er into the room and asked her to fetch two Kongming lanterns from the other servants in the mansion. She then brought in some brushes and an ink stone. When the lanterns arrived, she put them onto a small desk and picked up a brush.
“Wei Yi, this is a Kongming Lantern. It’ll fly very very high, and a lot people use them to wish for things. If you have any wishes, you could write them on this lantern.”
“Really. Now, what is your wish?”
Wei Yi thought about the answer for a while, picked up a brush, and started to write on his lantern. Ji Yunshu had no clue about what his wish was, so she started writing on her own lantern too. It did not take too long before she finished writing a line of delicate calligraphy.
May my heart be untroubled and the dead rest in their graves.
Ji Yunshu’s wishes were always a little unusual.
Luan’er looked at the characters and asked out of curiousity, “Miss, don’t people usually ask for things like health and safety? Why did you write that?”
Ji Yunshu dropped her brush and explained, “You can only find rest in death if you have lived without worries. Such is the key to happiness in life and serenity in death: a healthy mentality."
“What? Oh.” Luan’er seemed to not have completely understood.
At that moment, Wei Yi said with a smile, “Shu’er, look. I’ve finished mine!”
Ji Yunshu walked over and saw a crude drawing of four people together on the lantern. They were tall and short, large and skinny.
Wei Yi pointed toward the tall one, “This one is me.”
He pointed toward the large figure, “This is Father.”
Then toward the slightly chubby one, “This is Mother.”
Finally, he moved his finger toward the skinniest one, “This is you, Shu’er.” Wei Yi grinned with happiness. For a moment, it seemed like his face shone with a strange radiance.
Ji Yunshu was deeply moved, but she was also stricken by a sense of guilt which almost brought tears to her eyes. She recollected her thoughts and said gently, “Okay Wei Yi, let’s light these Kongming lanterns up and launch them into the sky, okay?”
The two Kongming lanterns slowly took off into the inky sky, until they became nothing but two shrinking amber halos that flew further and further away. Wei Yi, with his head raised, kept talking to Ji Yunshu, but she could not pay attention to what he said. She stared at the lanterns, deep within her own thoughts.
That was my first kiss! Being toyed around like that… that guy… Ji Yunshu felt her heart throbbed in her chest like a drum, and even now she was still not able to calm down ...
At the same time, in Grand Canal Manor, Jing Rong stood under the roof with his hands behind his back. A gust of cold wind blew into his black cape. He raised his head and saw two Kongming lanterns in the sky, and he puckered his lips into a smile. He relived the kiss he had with Ji Yunshu in his mind once again and felt its warmth reach all the way into his heart.
At that moment, Lang Po approached in a hurry and said, “Your Highness, a letter from the Capital.”
The smile vanished from Jing Rong’s face, and his countenance became grave. He received the envelope from Lang Po’s hands and opened it. After reading its contents, he suddenly crushed the paper into a tight ball with his hand. Coldness flashed in his eyes.
“It seems like Jing Yi has been planning it for a long time.”
Jing Yi, or Prince Yi, the third Prince of the Great Lin dynasty!
Grenn's Rants Corner
 A mandarin duck is known in asian culture as a type of duck that stay faithful to their mate, thus becoming the symbol of love. For more information: https://goodlucksymbols.com/mandarin-ducks/
 Kongming lantern is basically a Chinese hot air balloon. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sky_lanternPrevious Chapter Next Chapter