Chapter 22 Chip
Li Jinyu was roused from his slumber, his eyes fluttering open to the sight of a dark, foreboding figure looming over him. It was Huo Caiyu, his face twisted with tension and worry.
For a moment, Li Jinyu was disoriented, his mind still fogged by sleep. He yawned and asked drowsily, “Huo Aiqing, why are you up so early?”
Huo Caiyu was standing against a backdrop of night sky and stars, his face tense and almost gritted his teeth as he answered, “It’s not early, Your Majesty.”
Li Jinyu sat up, rubbed his eyes, and realized that it was already nighttime.
“May this official ask why Your Majesty is here?”
He had been preparing to take a rest when a loud “thump” echoed through the carriage. At first, he assumed that something had simply fallen from the luggage, but as he clambered out of the carriage, he saw something that made his blood run cold.
There, lying on the ground beneath the carriage, was His Majesty himself!
For a moment, Huo Caiyu was frozen with shock and fear. The carriage had been moving at breakneck speed, the wheels spinning furiously. If anything had gone wrong, if His Majesty had been caught under those wheels…
Blaming himself for not checking the carriage carefully, Huo Caiyu quickly carried His Majesty back onto the carriage. After a brief inspection, he found that Li Jinyu had not even grazed his skin. He breathed a sigh of relief and only then did he wake Li Jinyu up.
Regaining his consciousness and composure, Li Jinyu feigned confusion and asked, “Huh, isn’t Zhen just enjoying the wine and music with Concubine Wei? How did Zhen end up here all of a sudden?”
Hearing the name of a concubine from Li Jinyu’s mouth made Huo Caiyu’s mood even worse.
With a tense face, he turned his head to pull the rein. “This official will take Your Majesty back to the palace.”
“Wait!” As things were not going according to his plan, Li Jinyu pounced on Huo Caiyu and tightly hugged his waist, refusing to let him turn the horse’s head.
Huo Caiyu looked down and saw Li Jinyu’s bright eyes. His breathing shortened for a moment. When Li Jinyu’s grip loosened, he took back the reins.
Li Jinyu held onto Huo Caiyu’s waist and rubbed against his chest with his chin, saying, “Zhen doesn’t want to go back. Zhen doesn’t want to go back!”
Huo Caiyu’s voice was somewhat strained and hoarse, “Your Majesty, please get up first.”
“No! Unless you promise Zhen!”
“Get up first, Your Majesty!”
Huo Caiyu’s breathing quickened as His Majesty rubbed against him.
Finally, he couldn’t bear it any longer and gritted his teeth. “This offical promises. Your Majesty, please get up first.”
After finally wearing down Huo Caiyu, Li Jinyu couldn’t help but beam as he straightened up. With the reins held casually behind his back, he watched as Huo Caiyu sat up straight with an air of vigilance. “Huo Aiqing, you must keep your promise.”
The future Emperor does not go against his words!
Huo Caiyu silently glanced at him.
Just now, when His Majesty hugged him, his heart had raced with nerves. However, when the embrace ended, he felt a sense of emptiness once more.
What was wrong with him?
Huo Caiyu couldn’t help but despise himself inwardly. He straightened his clothes, and spoke in a slightly hoarse voice, “This offical understands.”
Seeing that Huo Caiyu seemed to be cooperating, Li Jinyu was slightly relieved and sat down again in satisfaction.
“How did Your Majesty climb under the carriage? It’s too risky. Your Majesty must not do this in the future…”
“Zhen knows, don’t nag.” Li Jinyu raised his hand, muttering in his heart, “Why is this future Emperor so talkative? Where is his domineering aura?”
Looking at His Majesty’s carefree appearance, Huo Caiyu couldn’t help but sigh inwardly.
Ever since he got to know His Majesty, he often felt the need to mature quickly despite being of similar ages.
“Your Majesty must listen to this official’s arrangements on the way.”
Simply being able to stay with Huo Caiyu was enough to make Li Jinyu content, so he didn’t mind. “No problem.”
Huo Caiyu gave a few more instructions, but Li Jinyu had no objections. Finally, he couldn’t wait and asked, “Zhen approves everything, what about dinner?”
“… Your Majesty, please wait a moment. This official will heat up some dry rations.”
“No need.” Li Jinyu took out the dried fruits and snacks he had prepared from the carriage’s chest, and said enthusiastically, “Zhen can eat this.”
Huo Caiyu pursed his lips, feeling somewhat uncomfortable watching Li Jinyu eat with such enthusiasm. He had previously believed that His Majesty’s words of “using these beloved items to accompany Aiqing” were sincere, and was even moved by it for a long time. But now it turned out that His Majesty had prepared them for himself.
Huo Caiyu’s original plan was to go to the county yamen of Qingshui Prefecture to supervise the implementation of the new tax policy. If necessary, he’d go down to various towns and villages to inspect them. But now that he was with Li Jinyu, he couldn’t delay it like that.
The current situation outside was chaotic, and while Huo Caiyu was skilled in horseback combat, he lacked proficiency in fighting on foot. This made him worry that he may not be able to protect His Majesty as effectively as he would like.
Subconsciously, Huo Caiyu had already put Li Jinyu into the category of people he needed to protect at all cost.
Huo Caiyu planned to immediately notify the county magistrate upon arrival in Qingshui Prefecture, to ensure the proper protection of His Majesty. Then, he would proceed to inspect the implementation of the new tax policy in various towns and villages.
From the political situation he had observed in recent days, it seemed that the Prime Minister’s faction only wanted to monopolize power, and had no intention of rebelling. They even preferred a figurehead Emperor instead of taking power themselves.
With the disappearance of the Emperor, the Prime Minister should be even more panicked.
After thinking about it, Huo Caiyu revised his plan and looked at the Emperor who was contentedly eating melon seeds. Feeling slightly frustrated, he turned his head and got off the carriage to start a campfire.
Typically, officials would travel with a specific station and convoy designated for their use, and would be ceremoniously received and entertained at each destination. Both the travelers and hosts would derive pleasure from this arrangement, as the hosts could utilize the opportunity to extract funds from the official budget under the guise of hospitality. However, any lack of funds resulting from this practice would ultimately be compensated for by taxing the common people to a significant extent.
Huo Caiyu was aware of this practice, so he did not inform the relay stations and local officials along the way. Instead, he traveled alone on more direct and remote paths to Qingshui Prefecture.
A person on horseback could cover this distance in two or three days with all haste. But now that he was with the Emperor, he could no longer travel like this.
Huo Caiyu lit the campfire and roasted the dried rations on the fire, tearing off small pieces to chew on while he pondered where the nearest relay station was.
Li Jinyu ate a few pieces of delicate snacks and cracked a handful of melon seeds. He felt somewhat ashamed as he watched Huo Caiyu gnawing on the dried rations.
A counterfeit and shoddy thing like me eats the delicacies prepared by the Imperial Kitchen, while the future ruler of the world is eating dried rations…
He clapped his hands, picked up the food box and walked over, taking a piece of pear blossom soft jujube cake and offering it to him. “Eat this.”
Huo Caiyu woke up from his reverie, parted his lips to refuse, but Li Jinyu had already plugged his mouth with the entire piece of cake.
Huo Caiyu couldn’t refuse, so he had to open his mouth wider and accept it.
The lips and teeth felt the sweetness of the pastry, but even clearer was the inexplicable feeling when His Majesty’s fingertips inadvertently touched his lower lip.
Huo Caiyu felt that this piece of pastry in his mouth was even sweeter than the ones he had eaten in the palace.
Did the Imperial Kitchen accidentally put too much sugar in it?
Previously, he had fed His Majesty a piece of preserved fruit candy with his hand when he had a fever. At that time, the feeling he got when His Majesty’s cracked lips touched his fingers was so similar to what he was feeling right now.
Huo Caiyu slowly chewed on the snack, and when he looked up, he could see His Majesty’s bright and flawless smile.
That smile, like a grand and ink-splattered scroll in the night sky, adorned with shining stars, was even purer than moonlight.
Huo Caiyu’s heart began to quiver once more. There was no discernible cause or motive behind this sudden surge of emotion. It could have been due to the clear night sky, or the overpowering stillness of his surroundings.
He suddenly realized that his attention had been increasingly focused on His Majesty himself, rather than His Majesty’s exquisite policies.
He vaguely felt the presence of a huge, dark, bottomless abyss looming before him. The mere thought of taking a single step forward made his bones ache with the fear of what might befall him. Yet, even as he hesitated, his senses were tantalized by the alluring fragrance of something sweet and pure, beckoning to him from the other side of the chasm.
After feeding Huo Caiyu a pastry, Li Jinyu saw Huo Caiyu sitting there chewing on it, holding a piece of dry bread in his hand, which was almost burnt by the fire. He couldn’t help but feel a little strange and asked, “Huo Aiqing?”
Huo Caiyu seemed to have been pulled by his voice, looked at him deeply, and then lowered his head to continue eating the dry bread.
Li Jinyu had a feeling that there was something in Huo Caiyu’s eyes just now that he couldn’t understand, but upon reflection, it seemed to be just an illusion.
At night, Li Jinyu rested inside the carriage with a comfortable woolen blanket to keep him warm, while Huo Caiyu stayed awake outside by the campfire to stand guard.
Li Jinyu initially felt embarrassed and tried to invite Huo Caiyu to sleep in the carriage with him. Unexpectedly, Huo Caiyu flatly refused, “Your Majesty has promised this official that he would take charge of everything outside. Your Majesty’s words are as good as gold.”
Alright, if the future Emperor didn’t even feel sorry for himself, then he didn’t have to insist.
As a lowly little demon, being able to enjoy the treatment of a national ruler keeping watch for him was quite remarkable. It would be quite impressive to speak of it in the future.
The next day, Li Jinyu was still sleeping in the carriage when Huo Caiyu drove off.
It was almost noon when Li Jinyu woke up from the swaying of the carriage.
Huo Caiyu was sitting on the shaft of the carriage and noticed that Li Jinyu had woken up. “Your Majesty is awake? Have some pastries first. It will not be possible to arrive at the station until evening.”
Casting a brief glance out of the window, Li Jinyu was reassured to see that the landscape remained untouched by the imposing architecture of the palace.
He opened the food box, and saw that only a few pieces of pastry were left. Li Jinyu took one and estimated the remaining amount before closing the food box again.
He left the rest for Huo Caiyu to eat.
He took out some melon seeds and ate them while looking out the window.
Huo Caiyu heard the “crack crack crack” sound of melon seeds inside the carriage and felt somewhat helpless.
“Your Majesty, eating too many of these snacks can cause excessive internal heat.”
Li Jinyu remembered his recent toothache caused by excessive internal heat. His hand paused and reluctantly stow away the melon seeds, emphasizing, “Zhen is not being greedy, it’s simply a desire to chew on something.”
Huo Caiyu smiled slightly and replied, “This official understands.”
“Zhen really just wants to chew on something!”
But before Huo Caiyu could respond, his attention was drawn to something in the distance. In one swift motion, he raised his riding crop and struck an object with a sharp “whoosh.” The object was sent flying through the air before landing on the ground with a metallic clink.
It was an iron arrow!
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