The Regent’s Secret Chapter 56

Chapter 56

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The shopkeeper continued to explain, “The more delicate and exquisite the erotic paintings are, and the more elegant the coloring is, the higher the price they can fetch. I have a fixed client base here. Not to mention the old gentlemen of the Hanlin Academy, even the sons of wealthy merchants are willing to pay a high price for a good painting.”

Li Yi suddenly understood that the palace had collected quite a few of these paintings, not to mention the homes of literati.

It was indeed rare to find someone who could paint these well. Most of the painters were anonymous, and anyone with some reputation wouldn’t want to lower their status by painting these. If they were recognized, they would lose all their reputation and future prospects.

However, this was a classic case where the greater the risk, the greater the reward. Li Yi thought for a moment and decided to accept the offer. He was currently short on funds and needed to deal with this first. After the New Year, he could slowly look for book merchants to collaborate with and paint some paintings.

The owner of the house was surprised to see that Li Yi had really come, and quickly had the shop assistants bring out a stack of erotic picture books, indicating that Li Yi could take a rough look at them and get an idea of what they were about.

Li Yi had seen such books before in the palace, but those were all refined and elegant works of art. Today, he was seeing what was popular in the streets, and it really opened his eyes.

Not to mention the various positions depicted in the pictures, even the locations were beyond his imagination. Back gardens, rockeries – those were all standard. There were phrases like “a deserted ferry crossing with no one in sight,” “a pearl curtain rolled up at dusk with rain falling on the western mountain,” “the ancient temple of bamboo and cypress trees in the south of the city,” and even “three thousand miles outside of Yumen Pass.”

And then there were the people, old and young, individuals, groups, men and women, women with women, men with men… Wait, men with men? There seemed to be quite a few of those.

Li Yi pointed to a picture and asked the owner of the bookstore, “Do people really want this kind of thing?”

“Of course they do. Many young masters can’t find what they’re looking for,” said the owner, unable to hide his excitement. “Can you draw these?”

Li Yi nodded.

“Then it’s settled. The price will be higher than usual, and I’ll add another ten percent. If it sells well, I won’t shortchange you.”

After leaving Qingteng Bookstore, Li Yi returned to the ink shop to meet Zhao Yuan. On the way back to Pan Palace, Zhao Yuan noticed that Li Yi seemed preoccupied with something.

After spending most of the day out, Li Yi was feeling tired. He and Zhao Yuan had dinner together and didn’t do much more studying that night. Ping An was already waiting to help Li Yi wash and prepare for bed, so Li Yi went to rest early.

When Li Yi was seriously ill before, Zhao Yuan stayed by his side day and night. Now that Li Yi was much better, Zhao Yuan would wait in the outer room for a while, and only leave after Li Yi had fallen asleep and there was no danger.

After flipping through some books for a while, Zhao Yuan estimated that Li Yi had fallen asleep and got up to go into the inner room. When he got to the bed, he was about to pull the canopy down as usual, but he suddenly realized that the person inside was only pretending to be asleep.

Zhao Yuan had been guarding Li Yi for some time now. He knew every expression on his face, whether he was sleeping soundly, restlessly, pretending to be asleep, or even drugged and unconscious. There was no sleeping face that Zhao Yuan didn’t recognize.

He could tell whether Li Yi was truly sleeping or just pretending at a glance, but he didn’t show any sign of it. He worried that Li Yi might have encountered some difficulties during the day, perhaps from the news brought by Chen Banban. He planned to ask him about it when he found him more relaxed tomorrow.

The next day, Li Yi had dark circles under his eyes, obviously not having slept well. Zhao Yuan saw this and asked his young follower, “His Highness did not sleep well last night?”

Ping An replied with a serious face, “His Highness specifically instructed me that if the Shizi asks about his affairs in the near future, I must not say anything.”

Zhao Yuan heard this and not only did he not back down, but he also smiled, “Good job, Ping An. Since you listen to His Highness so well, I will reward you.”

Ping An declined at first, but eventually accepted the reward. He pouted and said, “Your Highness, don’t try to bribe me.”

Zhao Yuan laughed heartily and joked with his young apprentice, “No, no, I won’t. I won’t ask about His Highness’s affairs anymore. I’ll only ask about yours.”

Ping An breathed a sigh of relief when he heard that he wouldn’t be asked about Li Yi’s affairs anymore. He nodded and waited for the Shizi to ask his own questions.

“When did you go to bed yesterday? I noticed that your reaction today wasn’t as agile as usual. If this continues, you won’t be able to improve your martial arts skills.”

Ping An became anxious when he heard this and said, “I went to bed late yesterday… but Your Highness, please don’t worry. No matter how late I go to bed, it won’t affect my martial arts practice. If I didn’t do well today, I’ll immediately make it up! Let’s try it again now.”

Zhao Yuan didn’t respond immediately. His face was full of disbelief, “His Highness doesn’t even need you to stand guard, and he’s always concerned that you’re too young and need more sleep. Are you saying that you slept late because you were lazy?”

“How could that be! It was His Highness who wanted to paint, so I followed him for a while. But His Highness refused, and even sent me to bed,” Ping An replied.

As soon as the words left his mouth, Ping An felt that something was not quite right, but he couldn’t put his finger on it.

Zhao Yuan continued to ask, “Why did His Highness get up to paint at night?”

Ping An lowered his head and replied, “I don’t know. Perhaps he couldn’t sleep.”

Zhao Yuan spoke softly to comfort him, “What did you see His Highness painting?”

After being asked by Zhao Yuan, Ping An felt even more negligent and quietly admitted his mistake: “His Highness only allows me to grind ink and serve tea, and then sends me off to sleep. Perhaps he thinks I cannot handle calligraphy and painting like the high-ranking officials in the Ministry of Rites. I don’t even know what His Highness is painting…”

Heavens forbid, Li Yi just didn’t want the child to witness him painting an R-rated scene. How could he face himself in the future if he did that?

Zhao Yuan sensed that something was amiss. Although he didn’t know the reason, he could infer a few suspicious points. Li Yi knew he was still recovering from a serious illness and should not be overworked, yet he avoided him and even his own little attendant at night just to paint.

There was something strange going on, and he had to figure it out.

That night, Li Yi used his health as an excuse and went to bed early as usual.

Zhao Yuan stayed in his own room, reading until the third watch of the night. He changed into his night clothes and couldn’t help but laugh at himself before sneaking out of his dormitory like a thief.

A dim light came from afar. Zhao Yuan easily avoided the palace guards and swiftly moved to the back of Li Yi’s house. He cat-like approached the back window of Li Yi’s room, estimating the position of his large painting desk.

Zhao Yuan slowly crouched down and lifted a tile with ease. In the bright candlelight, Li Yi was fully engrossed in his drawing.

The first thing that caught Zhao Yuan’s eye was a large and beautifully colored scene of the Wuling Mountains. The sunset glow shone on the mountains and the nearby Bi Bo Lake where he and Li Yi often visited.

Almost simultaneously, the central figure of the painting suddenly caught his attention. A handsome scholar was being pressed down by a young martial artist at the foot of a waterfall. White waves splashed all over them, soaking their clothes.

The scholar’s hair was scattered and his clothes were torn open. The person pressing down on him lifted his neck with one hand and reached deep into his robes with the other, revealing a seductive and alluring sight…

Zhao Yuan was shocked and almost lost his composure. This excitement was simply too much, and he almost made a sound.

Zhao Yuan didn’t know how he got back to his room. Zhao Xi called him, but he didn’t hear anything. His mind was blank, and when the blankness passed, his mind was filled with the people, scenes, and objects from the painting.

The scholar in the painting was moving his waist and had a reddish face, as if he was drunk and filled with a spring-like charm. His deer-like eyes were slightly closed, and his long eyelashes fluttered like butterfly wings.

Zhao Yuan’s body was already burning like a fire, and he suddenly sat up and started practicing his inner energy to calm down.

The scholar who looked like Li Yi was actually a demon who turned into a monster. He silently sneaked out of the painting and entered Zhao Yuan’s mind. At this moment, he was causing chaos in his mind and wouldn’t stop until he drained him completely.

Zhao Yuan fought with the demon for most of the night before he became exhausted and fell asleep.

He woke up before dawn, and the strong reaction he had in the morning tortured him again for a while.

When Li Yi and Zhao Yuan met in the mountains, both of them looked like they hadn’t slept well. Li Yi wanted to ask Zhao Yuan why he seemed so tired, but he was afraid of being asked the same question.

Zhao Yuan looked at Li Yi with annoyance. He knew exactly what he wanted to ask, and he thought to himself that it was all Li Yi’s fault.

Who could have thought that the gentle and refined gentleman in public would stay up all night drawing erotic pictures in private?

Zhao Yuan was angry that he suffered innocently that day, and he was so exhausted from practicing that his legs were weak when he walked.

At night, as soon as Zhao Yuan returned to his own room, he felt as if countless ants were crawling up his heart. He couldn’t wait for a moment and changed into his night clothes to go to Li Yi’s rooftop again.

This went on for four or five days. The desire was so strong that Zhao Yuan was powerless to resist it at first, but gradually it subsided, and he was able to control it like a flat boat floating along.

After the initial shock, Zhao Yuan began to ponder why Li Yi was doing this.

He didn’t believe that Li Yi, who had just recovered from a serious illness, had the strength and energy to think about such things, and even to sneak around and draw them in the middle of the night to avoid being seen.

Moreover, Li Yi was not a wastrel, he was still carrying the heavy burden of the Crown Prince’s family, so how could he waste his time on this?

Thinking of this, Zhao Yuan suddenly realized that Li Yi began drawing after they went to the Spring Blessing Building. Could it be that Chen Banban had said something to him?

Was it for someone, for a certain purpose, or for exchanging something?

Zhao Yuan decided not to guess blindly anymore. Since the painting must have a use, he would wait for Li Yi to finish it and then focus only on where the painting goes.

Finally, the painting was finished, and both Zhao Yuan and Li Yi breathed a sigh of relief. They both laid in their own rooms and slept soundly.

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