In the end, Long Feiye pulled Han Yunxi back over and hugged her tight, calming much of the waves of the strongest desire he’d ever felt in his life. She, on the other hand, had suddenly grown cowardly and allowed him to hold her as he liked. Yet despite her trembling heart, she still liked the attention and was even looking forward to more. Of course, she wasn’t crazy enough to forget that they were still in a carriage.
It was a long time before she felt Long Feiye calm down and stole a peek at him, only to see that he’d been staring at her the entire time. She’d long pushed any other questions about Celestial Mountain to the back of her head. Seeing his cold pupils and silent face, she went right back to burying her face against his chest.
We should have finished walking our 100 steps by now, right? Even if I’m not sure who had to walk the longer way.
There was a saying that there existed a road of no return. Once you started walking on it, the step behind you would disappear. There was no room to retreat, much less backtrack. Perhaps the 100 steps between us are like that too. Once we’re done, we’re done. No turning back, no retracing our steps.
For her at least, that was an absolute.
After a long, drawn-out silence, Han Yunxi finally muttered, “Long Feiye.”
“Mm,” he replied instantly despite his icy face.
“Have you heard about the ‘100 steps?’” she asked.
“What ‘100 steps?’” he would never have heard about these topics before meeting Han Yunxi. Even if he did, it probably flew right out of his head.
“In truth, every man and woman in the world has a distance of 100 steps between them. But if one of them starts taking a step towards the other, then that’s the start of developing feelings between them. Some people finish the 100 steps very fast, while others won’t make it even if they tried their entire lives. Others simply back away and increase the distance instead,” Han Yunxi explained.
Long Feiye listened without expressing his opinion, causing Han Yunxi to knit her brows. “What do you think of that?”
Long Feiye mused a bit before declaring, “There should be another type.”
Han Yunxi didn’t understand. She only wanted to ask what he thought of the saying, but Long Feiye continued, “There should be people who walk to the very end and then walk right past the other, right?”
Han Yunxi gave a slight start. Zhao mama was the one who told her about the 100 steps, but she had never considered this possibility. It had to be said that Long Feiye’s description was the most tragic one of all. She muttered to herself, “They’d only walk past the other if they were trying too hard, isn’t that right?”
Long Feiye was very smart, but he had no idea where to start when it came to foreign topics like this one. Of course, he didn’t like the saying to begin with. As long as he fancied someone, 100 steps---no, even 1,000 steps---wouldn’t be too far for him. He’d walk to the very end, no matter how far.
“What nonsense are you thinking of now?” he asked her with creased brows.
Han Yunxi didn’t answer, but she couldn’t help but turn over Long Feiye’s words in her head. “Some people will go over the 100 steps and brush right past their person, is it?”
She felt sadder the more she thought on it, so she furiously shook her head to clear her mind. Soon enough, they had arrived at the Carefree Restaurant. The first person Han Yunxi saw after getting off the carriage was Duanmu Baiye, which left her extremely disappointed. “It looks like he can’t be deposed just yet!”
“He’s the crown prince of an entire nation. Would a few poorly spoken words be enough to depose him?” Long Feiye murmured in return.
“You…” Han Yunxi was startled You mean you weren’t provoking Duanmu Baiye just so he could lose his position?
“Emperor Kang Cheng is smarter than Emperor Tianhui; moreover, Duanmu Baiye’s maternal clan holds massive clout in Western Zhou. It’ll take more than a day to remove him. Even for Duanmu Yao, the most he did was banish her from the imperial clan after she was found to be colluding with Jun Yixie. He never sent any men to capture her back from Celestial Mountain. All of these things have reasons. I’ll explain them to you in length when we go back home,” Long Feiye added in a low voice.
Now, Han Yunxi was more convinced than ever that Long Feiye had made Duanmu Baiye explode just so he could help her vent. Her heart grew warm at the thought as she resolved not to waste his efforts or her own tolerance. Duanmu Baiye would definitely have to pay!
As before, Long Feiye and Emperor Kang Cheng only exchanged nods once they were out of their respective carriages. Long Feiye completely disregarded Duanmu Baiye, while Han Yunxi didn’t even look at him. She politely nodded towards Emperor Kang Cheng as well before stopping the motion halfway, because the man was completely ignoring her existence. Mentally shrugging it off, she pretended nothing had happened. Duanmu Baiye noticed this and curved his lips into a mocking lilt. Han Yunxi let that pass as well, and stood tall and straight as she walked shoulder by shoulder with Long Feiye. She didn’t pay her greetings to Emperor Kang Cheng because she was inferior, or because she wanted to be friends, but only because it was basic etiquette. Yet, Emperor Kang Cheng’s response only revealed his true face as a narrow-minded, intolerant petty man. There was nothing to feel awkward about on her end.
Emperor Kang Cheng did end up glancing at Han Yunxi from the corner of his eye. Although he detested the woman who had snatched away his potential son-in-law, he still had to admire her for her manner and strength of character. Any other woman in her place---even someone from the imperial clan---would be hard-pressed to match her free and easy air.
Naturally, Long Feiye witnessed everything and kept his thoughts to himself.
The entirety of the Carefree Restaurant had been reserved for their use, so the inside was completely empty. As the retainers led the way, Emperor Kang Cheng gestured for Long Feiye to go ahead first. He remained silent and extended the same gesture to Emperor Kang Cheng instead.
Thus, the two of them ended up going forward at the same time, neither overtaking the other. Although one was an emperor and the other was the Duke of Qin, making them equals like this gave the advantage to the latter party. Han Yunxi grandly walked next to Long Feiye, while Duanmu Baiye followed respectfully behind Emperor Kang Cheng. He looked the lowest of the lot, but was far too stupid to realize his position and kept sending hateful glares towards Long Feiye and Han Yunxi.
They ended up settling down at a pavilion located in the middle of a lake. Western Zhou’s people were like the Northern Li, preferring wine over tea. Carefree Restaurant was one of the country’s rarely-seen high-class tea shops. They had a certain type of tea called Thorny Thistle that was a famous Western Zhou speciality. After sitting down with their tea, Emperor Kang Cheng was in no rush to get to business, but chose to introduce Thorny Thistle instead.
“Duke of Qin, this tea is from the thistles and brambles that grow in the desert. One plant can only produce a hundred or so tea leaves a year. Thus, only two tins of tea are made annually from the harvests of the entire desert. One tin belongs to the Carefree Restaurant, while the other is in Zhen’s own hands,” Emperor Kang Cheng said as he invited Long Feiye to taste. “Try some. You didn’t get to during your last visit seven or eight years ago. Today you have make sure to savor it properly.”
Long Feiye nodded before taking the offered teacup and handing it to Han Yunxi. Then he remarked, “I had wanted to bring you here seven to eight years ago just so you could try this Thorny Thistle tea. Unfortunately, you didn’t want to come.”
Urk… Han Yunxi was rather surprised. What is Long Feiye saying? Seven to eight years ago, we weren’t just 100 steps apart, but 1,000 years apart!
Both Emperor Kang Cheng and Duanmu Baiye were stunned as well. The two of them exchanged glances of astonishment. Were Long Feiye and Han Yunxi on friendly terms as far back as that!? Does this mean he’s never once been interested in Yao Yao?
Although the idea was startling, it made sense when they considered it seriously. Han Yunxi had been betrothed to Long Feiye before she was even born, so of course she would’ve known Long Feiye much earlier than Yao Yao had. Perhaps she was even faking her uselessness during her days back at the Han Clan!
Han Yunxi quickly took the proffered tea cup and had a few sips, before intoning, “It’s sweet. You hate sweet things the most.”
At that, both Emperor Kang Cheng and Duanmu Baiye felt awkward. As Long Feiye took back the cup for a sniff, he asked Emperor Kang Cheng, “This is a sweet tea?”
“Yes,” Emperor Kang Cheng admitted.
Long Feiye didn’t state his flavor preferences, but merely nodded and set down the cup without another sip. Emperor Kang Cheng was embarrassed, but he quickly recovered to call for Tianning’s imported red tea. Duanmu Baiye didn’t even dare to meet his father’s eyes. How was I supposed to know that Long Feiye didn’t like sweet things?!
Though the flames of war were absent here, the husband and wife pair had already put on a show of strength.
After drinking a few cups of red tea, Duanmu Baiye rose to his feet with his cup in hand. Despite being spoiled and haughty, he still retained enough common sense to know what to do. Using the tea in place of the more traditional wine, he raised it to Long Feiye and said, “Your Highness Duke of Qin, just then this one was impetuous and crass. I was indiscreet with my words, but that wasn’t my true intention. I wish that Your Excellency will not hold a grudge against this junior and forgive me this once.”
It was already quite adequate for a dignified crown prince to lower himself so much. Duanmu Baiye next downed the cup of tea, but Long Feiye was too busy pouring more tea for Han Yunxi to treat him as anything but air. The situation was a complete copy of the one at the Court of Dependencies. Once again, Duanmu Baiye raised his tea---two cups this time---and downed them both to apologize for his offense.
And once again, Long Feiye ignored him.
Duanmu Baiye sent a helpless, innocent glance towards Emperor Kang Cheng, whose face was wooden. He didn’t know whether to get angry at his son or at Long Feiye, but kept quiet as well. The crown prince found himself in a dilemma. Was I supposed kowtow in apology instead? How could that be possible with my current rank? Retreating wasn’t an option either, because that would ruin the whole point of this meeting. Although imperial father’s expression was gloomy, he had no choice but to ask him for help.
In the quiet pavilion, Han Yunxi was calm and self-composed as she enjoyed her tea as well as the scenery. After Long Feiye had refilled her cup a few times, he even went to pour tea for Emperor Kang Cheng. The emperor was polite as well, chatting about inane topics with the Duke of Qin as he seemingly gave up on Duanmu Baiye. In truth, the crown prince was naught but an idiot. Both Emperor Kang Cheng and Han Yunxi knew that as long as he apologized to her, the Duke of Qin would stop being angry and everything would be over with.
But Duanmu Baiye couldn’t wrap his mind around the concept, much less accept it with his overly inflated ego. Thus, he only stuck it out and waited. The longer he waited, the angrier Emperor Kang Cheng felt. Originally, he wasn’t even planning to penalize his son despite the fact that he’d been led on by Long Feiye. Now it seemed his idiocy truly deserved a sound punishment.
Drinking tea was different from eating a meal or taking wine. Unless the parties had something to talk about, they would finish very quickly. Soon enough, Long Feiye was ready to take his leave. This made Duanmu Baiye desperate, and he cried, “Your Highness Duke of Qin, it was this one who was wrong! Just what will it take for Your Highness to forgive me?”
It would have been better if he said nothing at all! Now Emperor Kang Cheng had to resist the urge to break his teacup! And Long Feiye? He simply ignored Duanmu Baiye as always to instead send Emperor Kang Cheng a long, meaningful look, as if expressing his disdain for his son.
Emperor Kang Cheng had planned to come out in casual clothing so that he could keep the Duke of Qin here while the crown prince apologized properly. Now it seemed he’d have to do the job himself to actually make things work out.
He finally shifted his gaze towards Han Yunxi…