Chapter 396: A sincere heart
Long Feiye's voice was colder than the dead of winter, but his hands were still scorching hot. The warmth against her eyes made Han Yunxi feel like never opening them again. Better than seeing this man's existence with her own eyes was feeling his existence through her other senses. Although she knew this couldn't last forever, she did wish the sensation would linger for a bit longer. Her eyes shut, Han Yunxi enjoyed the rare moment of warmth as she waited.
Unexpectedly, Long Feiye suddenly picked her up in a princess carry and walked with large strides towards the door. "Don't open your eyes yet."
There's really a surprise? Han Yunxi had been looking forward to it the whole trip, but when it actually became reality, she was still left in surprise. She even felt a little nervous as she allowed him to carry her away, her eyes squeezed shut.
They walked for a very long time. Besides the sound of Long Feiye's footsteps, Han Yunxi didn't hear anything else. Her heart pounded in her chest the whole way until he put her down.
"Your Highness, can I open my eyes now?" Han Yunxi asked cautiously.
"Mhm," Long Feiye made a murmur of consent.
Han Yunxi's eyelids immediately flew open before she was rendered speechless by the sight. "It's so beautiful!"
She found herself standing in the middle of a plum blossom orchard, lost in a silvery white world where the snow-covered flowers seemed to hail from a celestial fairyland. Han Yunxi looked around her and discovered endless plum blossom trees stretching out in all directions. Rather than an orchard, it was more accurate to call this place a plum blossom sea. Each way they walked led to a limitless expanse of trees. In this world, there existed nothing but snow, flowers, him and her-a pure and unadulterated Shangri-La.
While Han Yunxi was struck with wonder at the sight, Long Feiye began to recite poetry behind her.
"Wind and rain herald the onset of spring, flying snowflakes welcome its arrival. Amidst one hundred zhang1 of overhanging ice, pretty flower sprigs hang as before..."
"Their beauty competes not with the spring, but exist only to tell of its presence. When the mountains finally bloom with blossoms, she stands amongst them and smiles."
Wasn't this poem none other than the one she'd composed at last year's Plum Blossom Meet after being forcefully invited by Princess Changping? Or rather, she'd borrowed the verses and used them for herself. But it was this very poem that left a loud slap against the faces of Princess Changping and company. Its existence had even banned the talented Duanmu Yao from ever composing poems of her own again!
She'd won that match brilliantly! But she had always assumed that her lonely days of struggle had always gone unnoticed by that man. Somehow, he'd memorized all the verses. When Han Yunxi turned around, she was filled with an inexpressible delight. The true surprise gift wasn't this sea of plum blossoms, but his recitation of her poem!
"Your Highness, so you know about that poem!" Han Yunxi's spotlessly white dress and fox-fur cloak, coupled with her resplendent smile in the plum blossom orchard, made her a subject that matched the last verse of her poem perfectly!
Long Feiye hadn't prepared this surprise ahead of time; the scenery had reminded him of the verse on the spur of the moment. Truthfully speaking, he'd been keeping a secret eye on Princess Changping's Plum Blossom Meet last year.
"I've heard of it before," he said mildly.
"You memorized it?" Han Yunxi probed.
Long Feiye glanced at her without answering, before shifting his steps to head deeper into the plum blossom sea. Han Yunxi stood unmoving in place and watched him walk away. When Long Feiye had gone far enough to realize Han Yunxi wasn't following, he stopped and said, "It's a good poem, so I memorized it."
She was waiting for those very words!
A fully satisfied Han Yunxi chased after him and said, "Your Highness, what kind of place is this? It's rare to see such a large orchard."
"Jiangnan's Plum Blossom Sea. I'm giving this orchard to you as a New Year's gift, we can spend the New Year's here." Long Feiye was admiring the blossoms as he spoke, as if he was conversing on something as casual as the weather.
But Han Yunxi was rendered speechless!
Jiangnan's Plum Blossom Sea! That was the most well-known of the three great orchards in Jiangnan. Every year at the end of winter, the flowers would bloom so profusely that it looked like an ocean of blossoms from afar. This entire forest of plum blossom trees took up a space three times as big as the Duke of Qin's estate back at the capital. It would take three days and three nights just to walk the length of it. The orchard owner's identity had always been shrouded in mystery, but she never expected him to be Long Feiye!
Did he just say he's giving it to me?
The first time he'd given her a gift, it was a bracelet worth the value of an entire nation. The second time turned out to be a priceless orchard. Even though they were legally husband and wife, did this fellow need to be so generous and heroic with his gestures? When Han Yunxi's surprise faded, she even felt a little intimidated. Just how many properties does he have? She was still standing there by the time Long Feiye had wandered off again.
He turned back and gestured to her with his finger. "Come here."
"Your Highness, it's much too valuable for a gift," Han Yunxi said honestly.
"You don't like it?" Long Feiye asked.
Han Yunxi instantly shook her head in denial. How could she ever dislike her double surprise of poem and orchard?
"It's good that you like it. All of these are just material possessions, there's no 'valuable' or not valuable involved," Long Feiye said as he took out a token engraved with a plum blossom from his sleeve and placed it in Han Yunxi's hand. Anyone who owned this token would be recognized as the owner of this plum blossom sea. All of the servants and guards in the property would listen to their orders as well. Since the token was already in her hands, Han Yunxi gave up arguing in light of his personality and accepted it. There was no more room to refuse.
"Then what does Your Highness consider valuable?" she asked curiously.
Long Feiye turned to look at her. "What do you think?"
Han Yunxi stared at Long Feiye before she said without any hesitation, "Someone who treats you with a sincere heart, and stays with you until your hairs turn white with old age." Long Feiye, so you know all those things are just material possessions, too! No matter how valuable something is-even if it's giving me entire world as a gift-it can't compare to you walking one more step towards me.
How many steps separate us still, in your eyes?
When Long Feiye saw Han Yunxi's earnest, unbending gaze, he didn't say a word. But after a while, he slowly drew her into an embrace. Snowflakes fell soundlessly around them, settling to rest on their hair and shoulders. Amidst the sea of flowers, the two of them silenced the entire world.
A sincere heart, and a companion until old age.
Long Feiye, if you have to make a choice one day, what will take precedence in your heart?
In the middle of this orchard was a low-lying, symmetrical shaped residence fashioned in the Japanese style. In the center of the building was a tea room, flanked on both sides by separate wings. Out in the back was a natural hot spring. Long Feiye and Han Yunxi settled down here, where the latter found out the true meaning behind 'we can spend the New Year's here.'
The two of them were the only people here to celebrate the New Year, with no sign of the Tang Clan anywhere.
This seemed...even better!
On the night of New Year's Eve, fine wine and delicacies were placed on the table. Long Feiye and Han Yunxi sat facing each other as they drank together. Only three servants stood on the side to serve them. Meanwhile, snow fell upon the landscape outside while the hot springs bubbled in the back, sending steam into the air. The entire scene was as quiet as a picture, peaceful without being cold.
Long Feiye wasn't an alcohol addict, and drank wine like he drank tea, his movements noble and elegant. Han Yunxi wasn't interested in wine either, but she took careful note of the taste today. For the first time, she realized that wine drinking was a type of pleasure as well.
In the distance, a tolling bell heralded the advent of midnight. Han Yunxi stood up and made a grand, formal bow.
"Your Highness, chenqie wishes you a Happy New Year. I hope that this year will be filled with smooth sailing and good health for Your Highness." He was the master of the house and her husband, so a courtesy like this was both appropriate and mandatory.
"This year..." Long Feiye muttered to himself, his tone half caught between thoughtfulness and expectation. He awarded Han Yunxi with a large red packet and said, "Forget about the formalities." Then he left the wine table to sit by the door, staring blankly at the snowy scene outside.
"Your Highness, is there something on your mind?" Han Yunxi asked in concern. Instead of speaking, Long Feiye gestured for her to join him. Han Yunxi sat down next to him, assuming that he'd talk, but all he did was remain silent.
After sitting for awhile, Han Yunxi grew weary. Moreover, she'd been spending so much time in the detox system over the past few days that she was easily tired and couldn't manage late nights. As she sat and waited, she slowly slipped into drowsiness until she was leaning on Long Feiye's shoulder. He glanced at her, but allowed her to stay. Soon enough, Han Yunxi really did fall asleep, resting her entire weight against him.
"Bring over wangfei's fox-fur cloak," Long Feiye ordered in a low voice. Then he carefully pulled the sleeping figure into his lap and draped the cloak over her so she could sleep more comfortably.
"Your Highness, it's cold. Perhaps it'd be better to sleep in the rooms?" the servant girl murmured.
Long Feiye only gestured for them all to withdraw. The servants didn't dare to persuade him any further, and left the rooms. The snow outside fell faster and thicker, but all was as still as before. Long Feiye's hooded eyes stared at the icy landscape before him as he sank into thought.
In the New Year's Eve of years past, Grand Concubine Yi would always fall asleep after midnight. Then his real mother would appear in the back courtyard of the Peaceful Palace, standing beneath the plum blossom trees as she waited for him to perform his traditional New Year's greetings.
Every year, his mufei would only ask him one question: "Ye'er, it's another year. Are you ready?"
Ever since his mother passed away, he'd never stayed up late to greet the new year.
"Another year has come... Someone who treats you with a sincere heart, and stays with you until your hairs turn white with old age..."
"Han Yunxi, when the time comes for you to make your choice, what will take precedence in your heart?" Long Feiye muttered to himself as he took the Perplexing Butterfly Illusion from Han Yunxi's sleeve and toyed with it in his fingers.
Han Yunxi spent the night in blissful slumber on Long Feiye's lap, completely oblivious to the thousands of thoughts running through his head. She had a beautiful dream, where spring came in winter's wake to send the plum blossoms flying through the air. Long Feiye was standing amongst the blossoms, and he turned around to beckon her over.
When Han Yunxi woke up the next morning, she found herself back in her room. As soon as she came out, it was to see a guard reporting news to Long Feiye. They'd hardly spent a few days in peace before Emperor Tianhui had come to cause trouble again.
"Your Highness, this morning the county magistrates from all three disaster regions were kneeling in front of the provincial official's estate. They say they won't go back until they see you personally," the guard said.
"Then let them keep kneeling!" Han Yunxi said unhappily. The only reason such small fry could to be so audacious was because Emperor Tianhui instigated them. It wasn't likely that grain was their true motive for hanging around. Even though supplies were still lacking, the people wouldn't starve for grain during the New Year's. What was Emperor Tianhui trying to do now? Long Feiye might have won the people's hearts, but he was also maintaining social stability for Tianning's disaster regions!
If Long Feiye hadn't been able to take the imperial uncle's grain in the first place, Emperor Tianhui wouldn't have an easy New Year's, either! The guard was left in a tight spot. There were a dozen or so total county magistrates from the three disaster regions, so it was really an inappropriate sight to leave them kneeling there on the first day of the New Year's.
Unexpectedly, Long Feiye agreed with Han Yunxi. "Let them kneel. Your lordship won't be back until the 15th."
The 15th... Han Yunxi narrowly avoided laughing out loud. If those county magistrates heard him now, they'd probably give up before the day was done and run back in fear.
"Your Highness, are we going to look for grain?" Han Yunxi asked curiously. She knew that Long Feiye had a handle on things, but she really couldn't fathom the fine details of his plans!
"Make preparations, we'll set out this afternoon," Long Feiye replied simply. Since they had already celebrated the new year, it was about time for Emperor Tianhui to beg them back...
1. zhang () - Chinese unit of measurement equal to ~3.3 meters.