Fu Nian hurriedly shoved the pill into his mouth, attempting to swallow it.
The bitter taste of the medicine made his slight figure arch repeatedly in discomfort as he choked and coughed.
He tried to suppress the sound, however, the muffled sobbing was still audible.
“Who is it?”
Seeing Chu Zhaoyi about to light the lamp, Fu Nian quickly managed to swallow the pill, then scrambled up from the ground.
At the moment the lamp wick was lit, Fu Nian abandoned the medicine pot and rushed towards the exit, stumbling and crashing into things.
Completely ignoring the sharp shout behind him, Fu Nian, relying on years of professional training and despite his discomfort, quickly fled the scene.
Once outside, Fu Nian breathed a sigh of relief, realizing there was no one around.
With his tension released, Fu Nian continued to swallow the pill, which had felt stuck in his throat.
Without any water and with relatively large-sized pills, it was quite difficult to swallow, especially given his hasty attempts.
For a moment, the pill was lodged in his throat, and he began to feel a choking sensation.
“Hu…” Fu Nian took deep breaths.
Suddenly, he saw a cup of water in front of him.
Although he didn’t know who had brought it, he instinctively took it and drank two big gulps.
With the assistance of water, the pill that had been stuck in his throat finally went down.
Fu Nian set down the cup, intending to express his gratitude, but when he looked up, he saw a face that made him grip the cup even tighter.
Chu Zhaoyi leaned against the railing, his arms crossed, not saying a word, just watching him.
“… Sorry for the disturbance,” Fu Nian said and put down the porcelain cup.
He hadn’t even taken a step when he felt a strong arm encircle his waist. Immediately afterward, he felt a familiar warmth behind him, especially comforting on this cold winter night.
Every slight struggle only seemed to tighten the embrace. The man behind him remained silent, using his actions to keep Fu Nian restrained.
Fu Nian felt himself being pulled backward, and no matter how he struggled, it was futile.
Returning to the West Pavillion, all the lights were now on inside.
Fu Nian knelt on the ground, covered in Chu Zhaoyi’s sable fur cloak, and was reluctantly holding a hot water pouch.
“Earlier, I hurt you with that grip,” Chu Zhaoyi finally broke the silence.
Fu Nian shook his head.
As soon as he shook his head, he felt the man’s hand slip under his collar, parting the fabric and gently caressing the skin beneath his throat.
In the dim light, the crimson marks around his neck were clearly visible, with spots of bruising indicating the recent act of violence.
Fu Nian didn’t feel very comfortable with this touch, but given the other person’s status, he couldn’t just slap the hand away. Instead, he subtly tried to move his head back.
“Don’t move. Applying medicine,” Chu Zhaoyi used his other hand to stabilize Fu Nian’s restless head. “It was my mistake. I mistook you for someone else and acted so harshly…”
Could there really be so many people willing to serve His Majesty wholeheartedly?
Fu Nian only dared to mutter this question silently to himself and didn’t dare to ask it out loud.
“It’s a good thing that Your Majesty is cautious, I apologize for disturbing your rest.”
“I wasn’t asleep anyway,” Chu Zhaoyi replied indifferently. “During this time, it has been you who visits every night, right?”
Fu Nian: “….”
“Clearly, you still care about me, so why hide it?” Chu Zhaoyi didn’t pay attention to Fu Nian’s silence and asked straightforwardly.
Of course, he cared.
If he didn’t care, he wouldn’t have heard the news of Chu Zhaoyi’s marriage and then succumbed to poison.
“You handed over the official seal to me again, isn’t it to remind me not to forget my duty? My duty is to care for you, look after you, protect you, and not ask about your whereabouts or seek fame and recognition.” Fu Nian replied and rubbed his sore neck.
“Is it merely out of duty?” Chu Zhaoyi didn’t expect such a cold and detached response. His low, displeased voice held a hint of dissatisfaction.
Not merely out of duty…
But as soon as Fu Nian thought of how Chu Zhaoyi had almost strangled him earlier and even rewarded another palace maid thinking she was someone else, he seemed to lose the ability to speak properly.
Chu Zhaoyi fell silent for a moment. Suddenly, he stood up and, with one hand still around Fu Nian’s knees, lifted him off the ground without saying a word.
Fu Nian hadn’t expected Chu Zhaoyi to suddenly pick him up, and for a moment, he was flustered and didn’t dare to move.
He hadn’t finished his sentence when the arm between Chu Zhaoyi’s knees tightened even more, showing no intention of loosening. Step by step, they approached the bed screen.
Even though the prosthetic limb was made of stone and much lighter than a normal human body, he was able to hold him with one hand.
Fu Nian didn’t dare to move recklessly and carefully rested his shoulder against Chu Zhaoyi’s chest, hoping to be put down soon.
At the edge of the bed, Chu Zhaoyi had a dark expression, still not releasing his grip on Fu Nian’s hand. He spoke in a low voice, “Since it’s just a duty, if I recall correctly, isn’t sleeping together at night also within your job description?”
Indeed, but to be honest, he didn’t want to take on this responsibility.
“Zhen is asking you a question. Is sharing a bed also within your job description?” Chu Zhaoyi’s voice became sharper.
“…Yes,” Fu Nian replied through clenched teeth after a moment of silence.
After answering, he was slowly placed on the bed.
Fu Nian felt somewhat nervous.
It was evident that this man was angry.
Just as he was about to ask Chu Zhaoyi if there was anything else he needed to do, he saw Chu Zhaoyi unceremoniously placing him under the covers and tightly embracing him, like an octopus.
“Just stay put and be held. This is an order.”
Upon hearing these words, Fu Nian tried to relax his nerves as much as possible and adapt to the feeling of being held by Chu Zhaoyi.
He could feel that Chu Zhaoyi’s grip was strong, as if he were afraid that Fu Nian would run away.
Fu Nian remained still, waiting for further instructions.
In the past, when Chu Zhaoyi was angry, his requests could be quite bizarre…
“Your Majesty, is there anything else you need me to do?” After waiting for a long time without any orders from Chu Zhaoyi, Fu Nian instinctively asked.
Seeing that Chu Zhaoyi didn’t respond, Fu Nian recalled the tasks he used to perform.
It seemed like he had to actively block Chu Zhaoyi and not use the prosthetic limb, which was cold, especially in winter.
Thinking of this, Fu Nian slowly turned his body within the confines of Chu Zhaoyi’s embrace and wrapped his arms around the broad back.
Suddenly, he felt his earlobe being nibbled.
The warm sensation and the soft touch of the lips left him momentarily stunned.
Fu Nian was about to speak when he heard the even breathing in his ear. It seemed that Chu Zhaoyi had fallen asleep.
Fu Nian didn’t say anything more and simply laid there obediently.
“Indeed, sharing a bed is also a duty, as mentioned in the books…” Fu Nian muttered softly to himself and instinctively pressed closer to Chu Zhaoyi’s chest. He recalled the admonitions from the book he had received when he first joined the Shadow Guards.
He had long since lost that book, and he only vaguely remembered its general content. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have been clueless until now that the book he had received initially was actually fabricated by Chu Zhaoyi himself.
The second snowfall in the capital had occurred nearly half a month later.
This snowfall wasn’t as gentle as the first; it had blanketed the Imperial Garden in heavy snow, causing the flower branches to droop or break overnight.
Before four in the morning, Fu Nian got up from the ground.
Since the night when he had been exposed, Fu Nian had been fulfilling his duty conscientiously.
However, as soon as Chu Zhaoyi fell asleep, he would lie down on the floor and sleep by himself.
The floor was hard, but it was more comfortable for his waist, and there was no one to hold him. His breathing was much smoother as well.
Fu Nian remembered that he didn’t have this habit before, and it seemed to have started recently. He didn’t know if it was because of his growing aversion to Chu Zhaoyi.
After getting up, Fu Nian walked to the window, opened a crack, and shivered as he looked at the plain-colored palace outside. During this time, Chu Zhaoyi was recovering from illness, so he would rise a bit later in the morning.
Fu Nian walked quietly to the rack and put on the inner clothing worn beneath the lightweight armor.
Although it was standard attire, it was tailored to fit him. The deep gray inner shirt had a looser cut, with a cinched waistband.
However, today, when he put on this slightly roomier garment, Fu Nian felt it clinging to his body more than usual.
The sleeves were the right length, and it didn’t affect his movements much, but the waist and abdomen were no longer as loose.
Fu Nian tiptoed to the bronze mirror.
Looking at his profile, Fu Nian noticed that the smooth lines of his abdominal muscles seemed slightly uneven, starting from the upper part of his lower abdomen.
Although he hadn’t been given much to do during this period, he hadn’t neglected his training. Fu Nian couldn’t help but find it strange.
After staring at the mirror for a while, Fu Nian fastened his clothes.
After putting on the final layer of lightweight armor, he headed straight to the training grounds.
Perhaps it was just his imagination that he had been neglecting his training. His physique wouldn’t lie, and some additional physical training for half an hour should suffice, Fu Nian thought.
By noon, the heavy snowfall showed no signs of stopping, and Fu Nian’s mission for the day was still empty.
When discussing how to handle the matter of Fu Zhen, Chu Zhaoyi had made it clear that he didn’t want Fu Nian to eavesdrop. Fu Nian didn’t object and returned the responsibility of the West Pavilion to Chu Yao.
At that time, Chu Zhaoyi had urged him not to eavesdrop with such sincere and earnest tones, even speaking about it on the bed. Fu Nian understood what Chu Zhaoyi was worried about – he was afraid that Fu Nian’s personal feelings might interfere with the larger matters.
When he arrived at the Imperial Attendants Bureau, Fu Nian followed his usual practice of leaping onto a wall and hiding among the snow-white tree shadows to signal to Rendong.
It was snowing outside, and the younger palace maids and eunuchs were somewhat negligent in their duties, especially those from the southern regions who found snow to be a novelty.
The older Momos were also taking a break.
“I told you not to throw snowballs at me!” Rendong, who had apparently been hit by a snowball and was in a bad mood, shook the snow off his head.
Fu Nian sat quietly on the wall.
After a long while, Rendong finally realized that it wasn’t his colleagues playing a joke on him, and he looked up.
Fu Nian leaped down from the wall, removing the white fur coat he had used for camouflage.
“Your family is in the South Sea, where it’s warm all year round. Aren’t you fascinated by snow?” Fu Nian asked.
“Why would I be fascinated? In my first year in the palace, I nearly broke my leg in the snow. I’m not fascinated by it anymore,” Rendong replied with a cheerful smile after seeing that it was Fu Nian. “By the way, you asked about Imperial Consort Rou who lived in Hengcheng Palace during the late Emperor’s reign. I’ve gathered some information.”
“What was her person like?”
“Although most of the records about the late Emperor are long gone, the older Momos still remember her. They all praised her as a beautiful and kind-hearted person who treated her servants exceptionally well. She was loved by everyone, a truly benevolent and virtuous woman.”
Upon hearing this, Fu Nian lowered his gaze and remained silent, not adding anything more.
It seemed that he couldn’t gather any useful information.
Rendong continued, “They also mentioned that when His Majesty was young, he was often frail and sickly. Imperial Consort Rou would even cut her own flesh to extract blood for medicinal purposes. There was a time when she fainted due to excessive blood loss. Later, when the late Emperor found out, he was heartbroken and visited His Majesty every day. However, it seemed that His Majesty was afraid of meeting people and clung to Imperial Consort Rou alone. That’s about it. She was truly a kind-hearted person, but it’s a pity she left us early. It’s said that her heart ailment recurred, leaving His Majesty quite heartbroken at the time.”
Can’t wait until next week to see more? Want to show your support? Come to my Patreon where you can get up to 5 more chapters of The Shadow Guard is also the White Moonlight [Rebirth] right away ! Or go donate at Paypal or Ko-fi to show your appreciation! :)