Chapter Eight Captivity
Li Yi was standing in Su Wang’s palace, touching the familiar osmanthus tree and remembering many old things from his childhood.
For no reason, the place chosen to become Su Wang’s residence happened to be the residence of Jin Gong (Duke, highest of five orders of nobility) in the previous dynasty. This was Li Yi’s maternal house. Except for the palace, this house was the one he used to visit the most.
When the crown prince died violently, Li Yi’s grandfather, Jin Gong, was very old. When he suddenly heard that his daughter had followed the crown prince and died in the palace for unknown reasons, the sad news crushed him like a mountain of a thousand jun (30000 catties). The old Gong had a stroke that night and was bedridden till he died a few months later.
The new emperor unceremoniously revoked the title of Jin Gong. He didn’t even bother to find a high-sounding reason to condemn him for some crime. He just said that the Gong’s reputation and virtue were not worthy of the position. Soon, the residence of the Gong fell into disrepair. The house had been empty for seven or eight years.
Li Yi never thought that he would be able to enter this residence again in his lifetime.
“Young master, does the noise outside disturb you?”
Li Yi took two steps back from under the osmanthus tree when he heard the voice and turned to look. It was Shuang Li, the maid Zhao Yuan sent to serve him.
Only after being reminded did Li Yi return to his senses. At a distance, there were the sounds of something crashing down, and if one listened carefully, there was also a continuous tinkling sound.
After thinking for a while, he understood, “The residence is expanding, right?”
Shuang Li replied attentively, “The young master is right. The east side is being renovated first and also the main house. I have heard that the house was originally the residence of the former Jin Gong. It was a bit inferior to the specifications of the Regent’s residence. It has not been used much for many years and most of it needs to be renovated before it can be lived in.”
Li Yi nodded.
It had been seven or eight days since he arrived at the residence of Su Wang and he was increasingly confused about what Zhao Yuan had in mind.
The courtyard where he was confined, looking at its location and layout, should have been the original courtyard where Jin Gong’s guests used to be entertained, except that it had been carefully renovated from the inside out.
He was lost in his thoughts again and Shuang Li reminded him: “Young master, it’s time to take your medicine.”
Li Yi would not neglect his health and obediently followed Shuang Li back to the house. After drinking the medicine from an exquisite white porcelain bowl, he continued to think.
All the appliances he used in this courtyard came from the palace. Su Wang was the regent; of course, it was right for him to use them but for the waste grandson of the past emperor, it was somewhat inappropriate.
It was not only excessive but also completely inexplicable.
Although there were not many furnishings in the room, all of them were precious. Li Yi looked at small bronze tripods on the shelf, celadon incense burners, pastel vases and exotic stones from Jiangnan that were no worse than those he used to collect when he was the emperor’s grandson.
There was even a special half-studio in the room, with a mahogany desk set up inside, with a lot of painting tools on it and brushes of various sizes hanging in the brush holder.
It was as if the person who arranged the house knew that he was good at painting.
There was a shelf on the west wall of the studio with many types of ore pigments, dozens of white porcelain plates specially used for color grading and paper of various colors, with alum and glue all fully prepared.
On the east wall there was a drawing of a jackdaw playing in the water. It was painted by an artist Li Yi liked very much. Only two of his masterpieces were hidden in the palace.
Li Yi really couldn’t figure it out. If this room was not prepared according to his preferences, how could there be such a coincidence in the world?
Moreover, even if the owner of this house happened to have the same likings as him, there was no need to arrange for him to live in this courtyard. If one wanted to keep a prisoner, the residence of Jin Gong had rooms for servants.
Li Yi even felt that Su Wang should not have imprisoned him in the royal residence at all and that it would have been better to find a remote village.
This was not like captivity at all, it was more like a golden house cage.
Li Yi was taken aback by the thought that suddenly popped in his mind. Zhao Yuan didn’t know him at all. The only one who could know his preferences was Zhao Shen. Could it be that Zhao Shen originally wanted to imprison him here and humiliate him? But the calculations of people were not as good as the calculations of heaven, and Zhao Shen died just after entering the capital?
This was the only way to explain it, but now he was facing Su Wang. Why Su Wang was following his elder brother’s plan and what he was thinking at this moment, Li Yi could not guess.
At night, Zhao Yuan would come to look for Li Yi. Since Li Yi was confined in this courtyard, Zhao Yuan came to visit him from time to time.
Li Yi looked at Zhao Yuan in the candle light. His face was exactly the same mold as Zhao Shen’s. Li Yi didn’t really want to see this face, but he was a fish on the chopping block, so he couldn’t say Su Wang was not welcome.
Shuang Li served the tea as usual. Zhao Yuan lowered his head, gently skimmed the foam with the teacup lid and took a small sip.
Li Yi thought these two brothers were identical to the bone. Not only did they look alike, they even drank tea in exactly the same way.
While Li Yi was absent-minded, Shuang Li was answering Zhao Yuan’s questions.
“The imperial doctor said that the young master’s illness is not a serious problem, that is, his body will be well once he recuperates for a while. After a long time of being in deficit, it will take about half a year to a year to fully recover.”
The last two times Zhao Yuan left after asking. Li Yi thought to himself, just bear with him for a while. He sat there silently. Because he didn’t want to look at Zhao Yuan’s face, his gaze gradually fell down to Zhao Yuan’s clothes.
Lifelike golden dragons were embroidered on the pale blue ice yarn. He remembered that he had a similar garment, except that the ice yarn was moon white and the dragons were embroidered in a more detailed way with gold and silver silk.
Zhao Yuan following Li Yi’s gaze glanced at his clothes and knew what he was thinking. Raising the corner of his mouth, he ordered Shuang Li: “Go get the chess box.”
A pair of black lacquer chess boxes with gold lining was brought to the table, and Zhao Yuan sat down on the couch next to the bed, so Li Yi reluctantly had to move over and accompany him to chat.
The mahogany chess board was placed on the rattan couch. Shuang Li opened the lids of the small chess boxes, and chess pieces of white and green jade inside looked warm and precious.
Zhao Yuan pushed the box of white jade towards Li Yi. The man in front of him overlapped with Li Yi of his teenage years. It was also at the end of summer like now, and he was wearing moon white ice yarn, his hand holding a white chess piece delayed in landing.
At that time, Li Yi leaned sideways on the couch with his legs crossed. He almost never sat upright. When he swung his right leg absent-mindedly, gold and silver threads of the dragon embroidery on the hem of his robe swayed lightly in response. Li Yi would swing his leg because he was inspired and then finally place his piece on the board with a crisp sound.
Zhao Yuan, who was sitting opposite, was originally looking at him in a daze and was brought out of his reverie by the sound of the landing chess piece. He withdrew his gaze and went to look at the chessboard…
The cloud and dragon pattern in his memory was so vivid and tantalizing that when the Dressing Bureau presented him with this pale blue ice yarn, Zhao Yuan didn’t even think twice about choosing it for his summer dress.
He didn’t expect that Li Yi still remembered that dress.
Zhao Yuan was in a good mood, and the ending of his good mood was that Li Yi was defeated thoroughly.
“Yi is not an opponent for His Highness,” Li Yi admitted generously.
He even felt that Zhao Yuan’s chess moves seemed familiar; perhaps he was taught by the same person as Zhao Shen? However, his chess skills were much more advanced and courageous than Zhao Shen’s.
The questions rose again in Li Yi’s mind. What was the purpose of Su Wang playing chess with him and treating a prisoner with such courtesy?
Thinking of this, Li Yi decided that it was better to ask than to keep holding back, so he couldn’t help but say, “I wonder what is the reason for this courtesy from His Highness?”
He didn’t expect Zhao Yuan to answer; he just felt that there was nothing to lose by asking.
Zhao Yuan had already stood up at this moment and was about to leave when he heard Li Yi speak. He turned his head again.
He looked at Li Yi condescendingly. “If this lord can keep you safe,” Zhao Yuan said, sweeping his eyes over the whole room, from the antique shelves to the painting studio. Everything was neat and good, everything was carefully prepared by him.
In the end, his gaze fell back on the man in front of him. The years passing had taken away Li Yi’s delicate beauty that belonged exclusively to the emperor’s grandson, leaving him tranquil like water. Except those bright pupils that never lied, they were still as clear as ever.
Zhao Yuan asked this pair of bright pupils, “Is it so bad just to follow this lord?”
Li Yi couldn’t understand what Zhao Yuan meant. He raised his head and looked up at the face that was exactly the same as Zhao Shen’s and frowned subconsciously, “Yi is a sinner. Yi cannot think of any benefit to His Majesty if Yi follows him, other than to bring him trouble.”
Hearing this, Zhao Yuan took a step forward and bent his tall body slightly. He raised Li Yi’s chin with one hand, and the pad of his thumb touched Li Yi’s lower lip, rubbing over it again and again.
The pale lips that had been discolored due to illness turned bright red from rubbing.
Zhao Yuan took a step back. Li Yi couldn’t see his expression clearly. His voice sounded gentle but his tone was extremely domineering, “It is not up to you to decide whether it is beneficial or not and whether it brings trouble to this lord or not. Li Yi, from the moment you step into this lord’s house, everything is up to this lord.”
Li Yi looked at Su Wang’s hard jaw and thought in a daze that if the young man back then could stand in front of him today, he would look exactly like this overlord.
That night Li Yi had another nightmare.
Next day Shuang Li came to tell him that Su Wang went to the palace and was about to preside over the ceremony of the new emperor’s enthronement. He would not be able to return to the residence for a few days.
Li Yi’s mind was buzzing and he could not help but have a daring thought. He wanted to escape. Before Zhao Yuan returned to the residence, he would seize the opportunity to escape from the city with Ping An.