Chapter 4 – A So-Called Side Dude
Ever since that day, Xiao Han soon adapted to his mind-blowingly cool new identity.
Never been an emperor before? Doesn’t matter, there’s the script.
Don’t know how to mark memorials to the throne? Doesn’t matter, there’s the script.
Don’t know how to govern the country, or play political mind games, or expand territory, or balance the powers of the imperial court? None of that matters! Everything’s fine as long as you know how to fall in love!
As students, everyone would have harboured fantasies of having their own Doraemon, and using all sorts of amazing props to cram all sorts of information directly into their brains. Xiao Han was no exception. Yet, although he seemed to have somewhat realized this childish wish, he could not feel happy about it.
So, in the eyes of ministers, eunuchs and concubines, Emperor Qing’s capricious temperament grew worse and became more daunting than ever.
In time, it started snowing, and the palace seemed covered in silver.
Xianfu trotted along with a lamp in his hand. He stopped in front of the Evergreen Palace and tidied up his clothes before slowly making his way inside. The tall, red-lacquered wooden doors kept the wind and snow out.
He entered, bowing, and saw Emperor Qing reclining on a couch made of pear-blossom wood, which was covered with warm and thick white tiger pelt. Next to him, the heater was burning vigorously. The celadon vase on the incense altar contained a few stalks of plum blossoms, sent yesterday by Assistant Minister Zhuo, from the Ministry of Rites.
Hearing the sound of footsteps, Emperor Qing gradually opened his eyes. Xianfu rushed over with the hot tea. While secretly observing His Majesty’s face, Xianfu said in a low voice, “The snow is heavy outside. Your Majesty must be careful not to catch a cold sleeping like this.”
Emperor Qing rose from his couch in a lazy manner. His cloak, made of fox fur, slipped down from his shoulders, revealing a well-fitted black robe with fine golden embroidery. His broad shoulders and narrow waist made him seem even taller and more handsome.
“It’s snowing again?” Despite asking this question, Xiao Han did not look at the window. Instead, his eyes fell on the plum blossoms in the vase. The blossoms were already wilting even though it had only been a day.
“Yes, Your Majesty.” Xianfu noticed Emperor Qing’s line of sight and hurriedly said, “This lowly servant just met Assistant Minister Zhuo a moment ago. He even told this servant that if the plum blossoms had wilted, he’d like to pick some fresh ones for Your Majesty to enjoy.”
Not long ago, Zhuo Fan was appointed as the Assistant Minister of Rites. Although no one at court dared to state anything directly, rumors flew all over the palace. In the dark, everyone was gossiping about how Zhuo Fan must have achieved his position so smoothly by climbing onto the imperial bed and serving the emperor with his body.
Although the words sounded ugly, they told the truth.
Zhuo Fan was reserved and aloof by nature. Now, given his speedy rise in court due to the emperor’s grace, the court had become jealous of him, making him unpopular amongst the officials. Except for those toadies who would fawn over anyone in the emperor’s favour, the only person who was somewhat close to him was Shao Ze, who took the examinations together with Zhuo Fan and ranked third. On one hand, Zhuo Fan was disdainful of interacting with the sycophants. On the other hand, despite their bond as schoolmates, Shao Ze had always been contemptuous of Zhuo Fan’s suggestive entanglements with Emperor Qing. He would always advice Zhuo Fan against his misguided infatuation and urge him to break off his clandestine liaison with the emperor. Naturally, such remarks made Zhuo Fan angry, and made him unwilling to talk with Shao Ze anymore. As a result, Zhuo Fan remained alone at court, day in and day out.
Not long ago, things began to change: Wen Muyan, the son and successor of Prince Wen, had returned to the capital to receive the formal bestowment and blessings from Emperor Qing.
Thinking about it, Xiao Han gave a cold laugh in his heart while his eyes turned gentle. Fingertips brushed against the soft red petals of plum blossoms, as if caressing a lover’s cheek. “How could his thin, frail body withstand such heavy snow? Call him into the hall.”
Xianfu left at his command.
After the doors were closed, Xiao Han flicked his sleeves and sent the red blooms scattering all over the ground. Only a few petals remained on the branches, looking lonely and pitiful.
Zhuo Fan came very quickly.
In fact, the next day after that night, he was appointed as the Assistant Minister of Rites. Just as his new rank filled him with pride and hope, Emperor Qing seemed to be gradually losing interest in him. The emperor no longer bestowed his favour upon him every night. Although he still received some warmth and affection from time to time, he seemed more like a kitten or a puppy at Emperor Qing’s foot — to be spared a glance or a teasing cuddle whenever fancy struck the emperor, and to be ignored as soon as the emperor’s head was turned.
People in love are always subject to negative IQ. Anyone could see that Zhuo Fan was falling out of favor, but he still clung on to a final shred of hope. Burning anxiety and uncertainty tormented him every day. However, Emperor Qing called on him less and less, while more and more beauties began appearing in the palace. At last, seeing that he was about to become one of the countless jilted lovers forgotten by Emperor Qing, Zhuo Fan could not hold back anymore.
“This humble subject offers his respectful greetings to Your Majesty. Long live Your Majesty.”
Xiao Han turned and took a leisurely look at the Assistant Minister of Rites kneeling before him. Today, Zhuo Fan did not even cover himself with a coat. His shoulders were covered with snow. Perhaps because he had been standing in the snow for a long time, his face had turned pale from the cold, his nose a little reddish. His eyes his eyes were filled with sorrow and bitterness. His long, dark hair hung loose and clung to his back like silk, making his body look even more fragile and pitiful.
“Rise,” Xiao Han spat out indifferently. He wrinkled his eyebrows with slight mockery. He really could not understand the script’s bizarre preferences. Despite being a pillar of the country, this man did not serve the court. Instead, he spent his days moping, thinking all day long about nothing but the increasing numbers of people who had received the emperor’s favour. What’s so fascinating about such a wuss?
You think you’re acting in Empresses in the Palace?
“Your Majesty, these plum —” Zhuo Fan was carrying a few freshly picked branches of plum blossoms in his arms. When he looked up, however, he saw that the celadon vase was filled instead with a few stalks of budding orchids.
Following his gaze, Xiao Han looked at the orchids in the vase and smiled meaningfully. He said in an indifferent voice: “Those were sent in by Mo Lan just now. I saw that the plum blossoms had fallen and asked for them to be changed. Such a dampener on the spirit to have petals strewn all over the ground.”
Hearing Mo Lan’s name, Zhuo Fan’s heart trembled. Wasn’t this the man who had just entered the palace the day before yesterday? He had won the favor of Emperor Qing in just two days?
“So Your Majesty doesn’t like plum blossoms. It seem that this humble subject has done something unnecessary…” Zhuo Fan tightly clutched the branches to his bosom, and his burning heart gradually cooled down. He wished that Emperor Qing would speak to him just a little more, but the emperor said nothing.
So… so, he had been a fool from beginning to end, over-flattering himself…
Xiao Han did not feel much at the sight of how lost Zhuo Fan looked. Although he had no intention to hurt Zhuo Fan, he had no intention to love him either.
Xiao Han merely repeated the lines in the script with indifference, “Does my dear subject have anything else to report? If there is nothing, you may leave.”
Zhuo Fan seemed as if he wanted to say something. However, unfortunately, Xianfu’s voice came from the other side of the door: “Your Majesty, Mo Lan is outside requesting to meet you.”
“Let him in.” Xiao Han could not be bothered with Zhuo Fan anymore. He returned to the soft couch and closed his eyes.
Blankly, Zhuo Fan remained rooted to the spot. Reason told him that he should leave this cold palace as soon as possible. But the sound of Mo Lan opening the doors, as well as his light footsteps, seemed to have nailed Zhuo Fan to the ground. He could not move.
Mo Lan was a beautiful youth, with a rather refined appearance, as well as a keen sense of sensibility. He turned his head to smile prettily at Zhuo Fan, but his smile was full of mockery.
“Mo Lan pays his respects to Your Majesty. After hearing from Eunuch Xian that Your Majesty has been working hard, this lowly servant has specially prepared some snow fungus porridge for Your Majesty. Please enjoy it.”
Although Mo Lan was also not Xiao Han’s type, he was still somewhat sensible and tactful. Xiao Han waved to him. At once, the youth nimbly moved next to him and began serving the porridge, suggestively blowing at every spoonful of porridge before feeding Xiao Han.
“What does Your Majesty think?” Mo Lan stroked the emperor’s chest with a fawning touch, drawing circles lightly with his fingertips.
Upon receiving such affirmation, Mo Lan laughed happily, like a toy dog wagging its tail with pride.
Forgotten and ignored, Zhuo Fan watched the affectionate exchange between the two of them and felt as if he had fallen into an ice cave. He did not know how he eventually left the Evergreen Palace. The snow was very heavy now, and there was also sleet. In the freezing wind, Zhuo Fan’s face became as white as joss paper. Dazed, he stood at the window outside the Evergreen Palace, listening as Mo Lan’s laughter and sweet panting drifted out from time to time. Thinking about how the object of the emperor’s caresses and pampering had now changed to someone else, Zhuo Fan felt as though his heart had been stabbed by a knife. He wished he could die at once.
He loved Emperor Qing so much; how could Emperor Qing be so cruel to him?
However, Xiao Han did not feel any better despite playing along with the beautiful youth. He really could not feel any hint of interest at the sight of this “childish face” of sixteen or seventeen years old. He merely reached into the youth’s clothes to give him a couple of strokes, but the youth’s cries sounded even sluttier than a rutting cat. Besides, what made his balls ached even more was that he did not want to eat that at all: fucking snow – fungus – porridge!!!
Fucking hell, it was either ginseng tea or all sorts of porridge; either osmanthus cake or walnut pastry. As an emperor, he also had the right to eat some chicken drumsticks!
Xiao Han was about to gag from all the sweet stuff. He wondered if this Mo Lan was some kind of angel who died from eating too much salt in his last life. Will this life be filled with misery for him if he doesn’t stuff himself to death with sweets?!
Xiao Han suddenly had a wish. He wished that one day he could have a pasture filled with donkeys, so that he could stand in the yard every day and shout: You motherfucking asses! You motherfucking asses!
To be honest, this bizarre mix of serious drama and scathing inward taunts feels rather odd. Can it be that all slag tops, just like him, actually have ever-screaming hearts hiding under their long-suffering and romantic facades?
Xiao Han cleared his throat and darkened his expression, signaling Mo Lan to take away the porridge. Then, Xiao Han put on his clothes, walked to the window, and silently raised a corner. From his angle, he could see an unsteady figure in the distance.
At this stage in the plot, it should be time for the appearance of the so-called smitten supporting actor.
Having been relegated to the backseat in the plot, Emperor Qing grabbed a small handful of melon seeds and began snacking on them while he got ready to enjoy the show. Behind him, Mo Lan’s face was puzzled. He was about to come forward and try his best to serve the emperor, but was kicked away instead.
What the hell was going on?
The snow lessened, but the rain got heavier. Even if Zhuo Fan hid under the eaves, he still got drenched quickly . His limbs were ice-cold, his face was bloodless, and his wet black hair clung to his body. Yet, no matter how hard Xiao Han looked, he could not find any of the beautifully tragic imagery used in the script. He saw nothing of “wet clothes outlining a slender figure,” “skin so pale it was nearly translucent,” or “a lonely figure looking especially stoic, aloof as the flower of the mountain top.”
It would have been more apt to describe him as a newborn water ghost.
Xiao Han was a little speechless. It wasn’t that he wanted to ridicule Zhuo Fan, but… Even as the script delighted in torturing the trash bottom and putting him in the position of a pathetic victim, it heaped upon him a variety of phrases that sounded beautiful and caused people to pity him. The script’s preferences really made Xiao Han sick.
Zhuo Fan felt that he was very cold: his body was cold, and his heart was even colder. But his head was very hot, burning as if it was about to explode.
Hazily, Zhuo Fan seemed to see someone approaching him with an umbrella. Raindrops fell densely and rapidly onto the top of the umbrella. His eyes had long slipped out of focus. In this silvery world, he felt a tall figure wrapping him up with a warm cloak, holding an umbrella over his head to shield him from the rain and snow.
If only… it was Emperor Qing.
Thus thinking, Zhuo Fan fainted.
Naturally, this man was not Emperor Qing; Xiao Han was still hiding behind the window watching the show.
This person had a tall and magnificent figure. His face was handsome and gentle. His dark and deep eyes were especially warm: slender and hooded, they always gave the impression that they brimmed with tenderness and endless affection.
This was Wen Muyan, who had just inherited the title of Prince Wen, the only non-relative king in the dynasty.
In the snow, Prince Wen held an umbrella in one hand, and wrapped his other hand around Zhuo Fan’s shoulders. Lowering his gaze, he looked at the man in his arms. The snow and raindrops that could not be blocked by the umbrella fell upon on his black cloak and long hair. From a distance, the scene resembled a most moving and poetic ink painting.
Xiao Han ate the last melon seed and clapped his hands with a smile. The flurry of snow over that head, he supposed, could create the illusion of an enduring romance lasting well into old age. What a scene.
Mo Lan did not know what Emperor Qing saw, nor what he was laughing at. He merely brought over some hot tea in silence.
Of course, Xiao Han did not care about what others thought. His eyes were following Wen Muyan, who was attempting to carry Zhuo Fan with his arms. Remembering that the ultimate fate of this perfect side dude was to be kicked away by the bottom, Xiao Han could not help lamenting: Why put yourself through such suffering? Why waste your affection like this?
Brushing his fingertips across the rim of the cup, Xiao Han lowered his head and drank the tea. When he raised his eyes again, he happened to see Wen Muyan stumble and almost throw Zhuo Fan out of his arms.
Xiao Han was a little surprised and amused. Unexpectedly, Prince Wen stopped walking after a few steps and put Zhuo Fan down for a break. After some rest, he lifted the other man again and continued.
This nearly made Xiao Han laugh out loud — according to his guess, this was definitely because Zhuo Fan was too heavy for Wen Muyan to carry him. Hahahaha!
Xiao Han watched as the pair made it to the corner of the corridor. Maybe because Prince Wen really was not strong enough, or perhaps it was too hard to walk in the snowstorm, the prince could not hold up the full-grown man in his arms anymore.
He had no choice but to put Zhuo Fan down. Seeing nobody around after looking left and right, Wen Muyan squatted down to rest for a while. He rubbed his palms together and breathed on his freezing hands while shaking off the snow on his cloak. Finally, he circled around Zhuo Fan twice and thought of a good idea — grabbing Zhuo Fan by his hands, Prince Wen dragged the unconscious man away like a sack…
Dragged him away…
Mo Lan watched in astonishment as the solemn and calm-faced Emperor Qing spit out his tea in a spray. The youth was so frightened that his soul lost its senses. He knelt knelt on the ground, trembling, and pleaded guilty.
“Your Majesty, was the tea too hot? This lowly servant deserves to die! This lowly servant deserves to die! Your Majesty, please forgive me!”
“It’s none of your business. Leave.” Xiao Han put the tea cup aside and waved his hand indifferently. When he cracked the window open and looked out again, the corridor was empty.
He stood quietly in front of the window and listened to the storm for a while, a slight smile on his lips. This Wen Muyan seemed a little more interesting than he had been in their last life.