Chapter 36 The Desert Kiss Part 1
On the eighth day of May, summer came early. This season’s period was named Chonghu (Wuyin) Shanan, which meant it was a suitable time to marry.
Outside the Donghua Gate of Ming Palace, the magnificent eldest son of the Dongyun Kingdom and the group of eighty-four people sent off marriage came to a halt.
Xuanji was dressed in a big red wedding dress embroidered with golden silk and auspicious clouds. A nine phoenix beaded crown sat on her head. Xuanji sat in an intricately carved sedan chair gilded in gold, being carried by sixteen people. She stretched out a delicate and graceful hand.
With just this motion, she silently commanded everyone in the crowd to hold their breath and avoid eye contact.
Dongyun men established black as their noble colour, thus Helian Rongchuan was dressed in a gorgeous black suit with golden clouds. He stretched out his hand to welcome Xuanji out of the sedan chair.
“This bracelet is beautiful.” Helian Rongchuan swept his fingers across Xuanji’s slender wrist with praise.
Xuanji lowered her head and gently stroked the two-finger-thick pure gold bracelet embedded with diamonds on her wrist. She said, “Your Royal Highness is very well-spoken. You don’t compliment a person’s beauty, only the bracelet’s beauty.”
Helian Rongchuan laughed: “Well, we will find out later whether the person is beautiful or not.”
Xuanji lowered her head shyly. Her face like a newly blooming flower looked even more beautiful in the light of the red bridal veil.
The official of the ceremony stepped forward and briefly informed them what to do according to Dongyun wedding traditions. The bridegroom and the bride should ascend forty-nine steps together and enter the hall to thank the emperor’s goodwill and look for his blessing. Because the bride is covered by the veil making it difficult for her to move, the bridegroom usually carried the bride into the temple to show the good intention for the union.
Carry the bride?
Helian Rongchuan looked down and smiled. He found himself thinking of that one morning a few months ago. He had also been dressed in a bridegroom’s clothes, and in his arms clutched a cold and proud person. It has snowed that day, it was like carrying an ice sculpture. The air between them was saturated by a faint but clear scent of ice and snow. He remembered feeling refreshed and happy. It’s a pity that at that time, Helian Rongchuan was still thinking about making fun of him, completely unaware of what a wrong thing he was about to do.
But that person was willing to forgive him later. He was even willing to destroy his future for his little wishful thinking.
And what did he do? He was obviously an eagle flying above the nine heavens. Why did he think about how to break his wings and hide him away in a golden cage?
Helian Rongchuan sighed inaudibly and shook his head.
“Your Royal Highness?” Xuanji covered by her bridal veil couldn’t see Helian Rongchuan’s expression. He seemed to be in a daze, standing motionlessly, so she couldn’t help but try and get his attention.
Her voice interrupted Helian Rongchuan’s trip down memory lane. Music started playing. It was time to start the wedding. The officiant said loudly: “Enter—— the ceremony!”
Helian Rongchuan picked up a piece of red silk and handed it to Xuanji.
“This prince’s injury is not yet fully healed. I am asking Princess Xuanji to walk up the steps together with this prince.”
Xuanji was taken aback. She touched the bracelet on her wrist and nodded empathetically.
The two of them did not rush into the hall with the attendant. Inside the magnificent imperial palace, King Dongyun leaned back on his dragon throne. He was already impatient due to the complications with the wedding etiquette. His index and middle fingers tapped out an erratic rhythm on the lifelike pure gold dragon head carved on the armrest.
King Dongyun was over fifty now. But he had always been pampered and looked much younger than his actual age. The amber eyes and deep facial contours were signatures of the noble blood of the Helian royal family. If one looked closely under his royal demeanour one could still see the handsome young man he had once been. However, his pronounced cheekbones, and the greed that flashed through his eyes from time to time, made him appear a bit unhealthy and sick.
Crown Prince Helian Tao, wearing a golden crown on his head and a robe embroidered with gold and jade belts, nodded at Helian Rongchuan with a smile. He said to King Dongyun in a low and respectful tone: “Royal Father, the time for religious practice has not yet arrived, we can come back later and still won’t miss a thing.”
“Come back later? Waiting for this ceremony’s start will also push back my religious practice for today!” King Dongyun impatiently waved his sleeve: “How could you not even worry for me?”
Crown Prince Helian Tao replied, respect still colouring his tone: “I dare not. Everything is subject to the arrangements of Royal Father.”
“Now, this sounds like my Crown Prince.” King Dongyun glanced at his eldest, most beloved and most obedient son with satisfaction. Without waiting for the ceremonial officials to sing praises and salutes, he picked up a cloud jade Ruyi in the vermilion lacquer tray and walked off the stage.
According to the Dongyun tradition, the Prince will enter the temple and bow down to the court, and then start the ceremony. After the ceremony, he will receive the gift of jade from the king. This represented the intent of having all their hopes fulfilled and many blessings shining down on this married couple. However, King Dongyun was eager to rush to his newly built Xiuxian platform made with white jade with pillars and gold at the top. He was obsessed with getting into the heavens and becoming immortal after his death and really couldn’t care for much else.
He squeezed the jade Ruyi into Helian Rongchuan and Xuanji’s hands. King Dongyun immediately seemed as if relieved from a great burden. He had always thought that Helian Rongchuan was a fool. But after taking another look at his second son a previously unknown feeling passed through him. After all, this was a day of joy and celebration for both the father and the son. When the Crown Prince got married two years ago, not only did he wave his big hand in approval but he gave the prince gifts of gold and silver without hesitation. He also braved the heavy snow for that occasion and took the Jiulongyuzi to send his precious prince out of the palace.
The King’s second son was from a humble background. His biological mother was poor and lacked any social status and this made the rest of the Royal family look down upon him very much. But after all, today was his big day. It shouldn’t be too obvious that he favoured one son over the other.
King Dongyun stroked his beard, coughed lightly, and said: “Well, then I wish you…Well, a hundred years of a happy relationship, forever linked together. I give you–”
Before he could finish speaking, the window frame of the hall let out a creaking sound. A gust of wind came in and lifted the bride’s red veil and most of Xuanji’s face was revealed.
This face looked painfully familiar to King Dongyun.
King Dongyun’s eyes widened in shock. He took a step back, and wailed: “You —??!”
But it was too late. Xuanji suddenly straightened up and flicked her wrist. With a click, her gold bracelet split into two revealing the sharp jagged blade hidden inside. A cold light flashed and the weapon slammed straight into the King of Dongyun.
King Dongyun was too slow to dodge and the knife sliced into his abdomen. He fell to his knees, vomiting blood in disbelief. He pointed to Xuanji and could only repeat: “You!”
The moment the blade pierced the body of King Dongyun, his eyes filled with astonishment and fear. Xuanji felt an unprecedented pleasure which usually accompanies revenge.
So he knew how to feel fear too! When he set fire to their home, when he robbed their people, he did know all too well that they would be afraid too!
The Crown Prince Helian Tao rushed over and wrestled Xuanji to the ground, shouting: “An assassin!”
However, Xuanji’s movements were faster than the soldiers outside the hall. She ripped off the red veil and the phoenix crown in her hair. Her left hand flashed with a chilling light, killing intent crystal clear behind her actions. She rushed toward King Dongyun not thinking about her safety. A pair of beautiful eyes burned with a raging fire. There was no hesitation, she was ready to destroy everything and everyone in her path.
She wanted revenge so much that she didn’t even have time to think about why her almost-husband remained so calm. Or why Helian Rongchuan behind her didn’t bother to make a move against her since her first stab at the King.
She was about to be free! Revenge was about to come straight into her hands!
But suddenly a figure flashed in front of her.
The short sword on her wrist didn’t slow down but it did not hit the one she wanted.
Xuanji’s face changed drastically, and she glared at Helian Rongchuan in disbelief. Before she had time to speak, she was caught off guard by a sturdy palm on her chest.
Xuanji was hit by this palm and fell straight down, like a broken kite with a cut line. She struggled to get up but a sharp dagger was already at her neck.
The man who almost became her husband used his flesh and blood to block the deadly blade that was coming toward the King of Dongyun. Crimson blood poured out from the shoulder of Helian Rongchuan, dyeing a large piece of his black wedding clothes, like a magnificent peony blooming amidst a night. In contrast to these vibrant colours, Helian Rongchuan’s face was as cold and pale as snow. He held a dagger, his eyes like amber embedded in ice, no warmth lingering in them.
What kind of a bridegroom official would carry a dagger with him on his big day? An instant later a wave of realization came over Xuanji.
It turns out that there are still people in the world who can put on such a brilliant act.
Heh, heh, heh.
The wry sound coming from her hoarse throat was not just her laughing at herself, but also laughing at how unfair the world was.
The guards rushed in and imprisoned Xuanji without waiting for any explanations.
Several imperial doctors rushed over to King Dongyun to stop the bleeding, feeling out his pulse. The knife Xuanji stabbed him with hurt his abdomen, but because the blade was too short, although dangerous, the wound was not fatal.
So the imperial doctors chanted “The god’s blessing” and carefully carried King Dongyun out of the main hall.
The hall turned eerily quiet. Like a sea turning calm after a raging storm.
The crown prince Helian Tao lowered his eyes to look at King Dongyun who had lost consciousness. Then he turned to Helian Rongchuan, who was silent and standing in a small pool of his blood.
He asked calmly,
“What do you mean to achieve by this?”
Helian Rongchuan raised his head and met Helian Tao’s gaze. He stared straight into the pair of gray-brown eyes that were completely different from his own.
“I figured that we couldn’t let him die so easily. That would be going too easy on him.”
Helian Rongchuan smiled a pale smile and his figure swayed lightly due to the blood loss:
“Anyways, your goal has been achieved. Hasn’t it?”