Since young, the Second Prince of Xi Xuan is known for his brutality. Scolding, beatings, even killing people is common occurrence for him. No one can quite remember how young he is when the violent streak starts and overtime, people assumes that brutality is part of his nature.
And “nature” is, but a combination of genes and kharma from one’s past life.
It was rumored that the Great Fortune Teller of Xi Xuan has predicted the fortunes of all the Xi Xuan princes. Although his prophesies on the royal family are a closely guarded secret, some rumours manage to find its way to the marketplace to become a topic of conversation over a cup of tea or after meal.
Perhaps the predicted tragic ending of the Second Prince has caused the Emperor to be more indulgent towards him. So long as he keeps his place, so what if he kills a few lowly servants? Let him be.
One sunny day in the royal gardens, the Second Prince sees someone in the distance which cause his eyes to light up with a feral gleam. His eunuch, seeing the ominous sign, shivers inwardly as he wonders which poor soul is about to suffer today. Despite the hot sun above his head, his back started to sweat, causing his robe to stick uncomfortably to his back. When Second Prince finally raises a languid hand and asks “Who is she?”, the eunuch lifts his head briefly and catches sight of the Emperor’s favourite concubine. Although his lord is a bully, he is a smart bully and generally steers clear of certain people, especially those that are close to the Emperor, so he could not be referring to the concubine.
Besides, this concubine is no simple character. Many years ago, she probably has a hand in causing the death of the Second Prince’s birth mother and the eunuch thinks to himself that it is a blessing that His Highness is unaware of this for he has always been polite to Her Royal Lady. Her Royal Lady is currently talking jovially with another woman who is presumably the person who caught Second Prince’s eye, and although she is back-facing them, it is not hard to guess the her identity because there is only one other female besides the Empress that can get Her Royal Lady to be so civil with.
“She is the Da Gu Niang (Eldest Miss Xu) .”
“Da Gu Niang….” pause. “Xi Xuan Xu Zhi?”
“Yes, Your Highness.” The Eunuch adds hurriedly. “His Majesty has given Miss Xu free access to the Imperial Library and she is likely waylaid by Her Royal Lady on her way to the library today.” The Imperial Library of Xi Xuan contains many valuable books and although it cannot compare to We’s library in terms of numbers, it contains many rare and valuable prints, largely thanks to Xi Xuan Xu Zhi. Although no one really knows how she finds the precious books which she gives unreservedly to His Majesty, it has become a source of national glory and has given His Majesty a reason to hold his head up on several occasions.
The Second Prince has never been a fan of books and has missed Miss Xu on his radar.
“I want her.”
The Eunuch dares not raise his head.
“I want her. I am going to have Xi Xuan Xu Zhi for sure!”
The doors of the prison open and the scuffle of footsteps indicate that there is more than one visitor. When the group stops in front of a cell, a guard answers respectfully. “Da Gu Niang, he is inside.” His voice is a tad softer than just now, as if worried that he is going to offend someone.
Xu Zhi is not concerned. “Open the door.”
A meager light pours into the cell, together with the sight of an exquisite pair of boots peeking out from the bottom of a silk skirt. So long as he refuses to close his eyes, he thinks, he will have to suffer the sight.
“Zhou Wen Wu, to think you will ever have such a day.”
The feminine voice sounds calm but he is sure she must be gloating inside. How can she not be when a thorn in her side has been removed?
“Your dare not even raise your head. Are you ashamed to face me?”
At her words, his expression turns ugly and he looks up threateningly to face the woman whom people address respectfully as Eldest Miss Xu. “Xu Zhi, how dare you!”
Besides Xu Zhi, there are 2 other people standing quietly behind her but he does not bother wasting a second glance on them. Despite the poor lighting, Xu Zhi’s beauty is apparent in the room. She has a pretty face framed by a pair of delicate brows, and her complexion is best described as radiant. Unlike many Xi Xuan citizens, her skin is very fair and without her elegant dressing and refined mannerisms, one may just mistake her for a Nan Ling serf who are framed for their fair beauty.
He knows that she is the same age as the Crown Princess, ops, no, she should be called the Empress now, but she looks a decade younger compared to his sister-in-law. Either the Empress must be worked to the bone consolidating her base with the newly crowned Emperor, or Xu Zhi must have some beauty tips that no one knows about.
Even if it is in a woman’s nature to doll, he figures that Xi Xuan Xu Zhi must be a super vainpot to be able to look the way she does at her age.
Proud, smart, knowledgeable, unyielding, and perhaps scheming… Xu Zhi is probably one of their country’s best known icon, and is a person whom many Xi Xuan people revered in their eyes. And hearts.
A swell of emotions whirled up and finally settles in the depth of his eyes, “I am deeply honoured by the presence of Da Gu Niang to send me off on my last journey.”
Her eyes narrowed slightly and the weak ray of light from outside the cell flickers across her face. “Your Second Highness, Xu Zhi has never send anyone off on their last journey and you will not be the first.”
His reply is a tad mocking. “I still understand what it means to be “winner takes all”. My good royal brother may appear benevolent on surface but deep inside… ha, I am sure he must not be able to sleep well if I am still around. Frankly, I am amazed that he has wait until today to deliver my (poison) wine. So cut the act and serve it to me.” Ever since he has been captured after the coup, he has been waiting for this moment. The appearance of Xu Zhi is a surprise.
Suddenly, Xu Zhi flick her sleeves, squats in front of him, and observes him intently. As she does so, an armed guard appears at the door with a ready hand on his sword. “Da Gu Niang, please consider your safely and keep a distance so that I can answer to His Majesty on your well-being.”
Xu Zhi remains serene. “His Majesty thinks too much. What else can his Second Highness do at this point in time? If he is still resisting at this stage, he is really being a clown for real this time.”
When she slides a finger around Zhou Wen Wu’s neck to loosen his collar, he protests angrily. “What are you trying to do!” But weakened, he is powerless to move even a finger.
“See? Even if you throw him to the Xiao Si Guan (house of male prostitutes) now, he is powerless to resist. All he has left is his smart mouth.”
“Xu Zhi, how dare you!”
She observes his bare chest critically and her calm gaze further angers him. Finally, she sighs. “I am really amazed. There is not a mark on you. Although I am not from the Law Department, even I know that the punishment for treason is death by slicing, and here you are, with nary a whip or slash mark on your body. His Majesty… is really benevolent.” Her voice has gentles at the last remark.
Zhou Wen Wu breathes heavily and glares at her as if wishing he could stab her with his eyes. She is near enough for him to smell her scent and she calmly smooth a streak of his glossy hair from his face. “I have heard that your Second Highness takes after your mother who is known for her great beauty. A pity that true beauty lies from within, which really spoils your good looks on the surface. Now that you are powerless, anybody can bully you, isn’t it so? So silly, this is really all your own making. How dare you try to defy his late Majesty’s edict and try to take the crown? Are you trying to learn from Li Rong Ji (current Emperor of Wei, who ascend to the throne after a successful coup)? Have you considered if you have what it takes to be another Li Rong Ji? “ Although Wei has tried to suppress rumours of how their current Emperor got the throne, how much secret can one keep from spying eyes?
His voice chilled. “Yes, I do not have Li Rong Ji’s good fortune. So what? At most, I only pay with my life. Xu Zhi, you may think I am stupid, but what about Zhou Wen Cheng? Do you think he is really better than me?!”
“Of course, His Majesty is much better than you in a thousand ways. So long as he is our Emperor, you will be able to live well. I am really glad that he is victor in the battle between you two brothers.”
Although she says the words like a matter-of-fact, the Royal Guard outside the cell stares at her straight back and tries to determine if there is a hint of … reverence in her tone?
Unlike the guard, Zhou Wen Wu catches her full-facial expression and the flames of anger leaps up once more to distort his charismatic features. “Who else in Xi Xun does not know that you worship him? Of course you would only say good things about that hypocrite! Benevolent? What a joke! I will give him ten years before he show his true colours and then you will know he is just as low-life as me!” Unable to vent his anger, he continues vengefully. “I can see that you are here to hit a drowning dog on his head. Do you hate me so much, that you will insult me at my last moment?”
She finds the drowning dog analogy a little distasteful. It is a fact he is down and out now. If she does not look down on him, who else is she supposed to look down on? “Precisely, I agree with you.”
Finally, she straightens and looks down at him. “You claim to have chased after me in the past, but ends up falling for my sister Xu Da. But when she is following Li Rong Ji to Wei all those years ago, who is the one who sent assailants after them?
You were so obsessed with her that you even send our army to Wei in an attempt to win her back. Such drastic steps, but too bad she is still not yours after all your efforts. I really do not know if your life is really that wretched, or if Xu Da really leads a blessed life.”
“To want her at such cost your Second Highness, what are you really after? So much so that she ends up with no choice but to leave her homeland?” Although her tone is calm, she kicks at him suddenly with one of her exquisite boot. Although she did not use a lot of strength – kicking a person is only a means of insult – Zhou Wen Wu ends up with his back to the wall given his weakened state. While the Royal Guard prepares for a possible resistence by the prisoner, Zou Wen Wu remains unmoving.
Looking impassively at Xu Zhi, he starts laughing.“To think that I once thought that the relationship between you sisters are superficial for why else have you not caused trouble for me after what I have done to Xu Da. Seems like you are only bidding your time to exact your revenge! What other wrong have I done to you? You might as well exact them all at once before I die.”
“Hmm, Zhou Wen Wu, have you forgotten that night too?”
Zhou Wen Wu tries hard to recall what night the devil is talking about. When he finally locates the memory, he starts to bellow loudly while Xu Zhi looks on without much expression.
“Xu Zhi…ha-ha… so you do remembers what happened that night. That night… you threw yourself at me, but unfortunately, I have no choice but to turn away from your beauty. Shall I tell you why I fell for Xu Da? It is because she is prettier than you! It is really a shame she managed to escape with Li Rong Ji, or I would love to find out if she is indeed a thousand times better than you. Although Li Rong Ji only has one wife, I have often dream about her and me….”
Xu Zhi interrupts with a friendly reminder. “You Second Highness, you really should learn to stop when the going is good. You are talking about the Empress of Wei, and if your words get leaked, not even I will be able to protect you.”
“Ha-ha-ha! Who are you to say such ludicrous thing? H-ha! Are you crazy?”
“Well, getting you to be part of my harem may be asking a bit too much in normal circumstances, but Ah Jiu,” she turns to he man besides her. “Do you think he deserves to be punished?”
The refined-looking young man replies. “Yes, he should be punished. As your man, he should be taught a lesson for allowing his thoughts to stray to another. To prevent future insolence in fact, he should be punished severely.”
Zhou Wen Wu narrows his eyes, not quite following their talk. “What harem? Who are you talking about?”
She squats in front of him again. “Have no one told you? Oh, I forgot, I am the one who requested His Majesty to let me be the first one to break the good news to you. From henceforth, there will no longer be Zhou Wen Wu, Second Prince of Xi Xuan. Instead, there will only exist Zhou Wen Wu of my harem. I think I will call you Ah Wu from henceforth. How do you like the term of address?”
He freezes, and it is a while before what her words sinks in. Struggling to sit up, he bits out. “What crap are you talking about, who dares…?”
“I dare, of course. Who else in Xi Xuan do you think have this ability? Second… Ah Wu, I am the only woman in Xi Xuan who keeps a harem. The rest are all owned by men, do you really want to join them instead? ” Her expression turns mocking, as if envisioning how a former prince of Xi Xuan can serve other men.
“Xu Zhi! I am Xi Xuan royalty! How dare you insult me? Do you wish to die!”
“Why would I not dare? As of today, you are no longer a prince. Although you are a bit old, you do have a beautiful facade for me to overlook that flaw. “ She lifts his hands who finally found their way around her neck. Such a pitiful bit of strength in them! He is really no threat at all.
“Come on, things are not that bad. I am really quite an easy-going Mistress. Besides learning to serve another person, there is really little change to your life. Do you know how many enemies you have made out there? Even if I do not exist today, you will likely be given away to some big court official eventually. And if you do end up with them, I doubt they intend to treat you like a son-in-law. If you think hard, I am really your best bet at the moment.” She can feel his anger as it threatens to overwhelm him and gentles her tone towards the end.
“My surname is Zhou, and in my blood is that of royal lineage! How dare you… dare you talk about keeping me as your man! Get that dratted Zhou Wen Cheng here! Call him here! If he has the capabilities, he can just kill me! Call him here!”
“While you think that your brother intends to kill you, he only has brotherly love for you. Like a truly benevolent ruler, he wishes for you to live on, be it whether that your hand is broken, or if your leg is broken, or if you have turned blind.” Xu Zhi continues feelingly. “I can really feel the deep love between you two. Just this morning, His Majesty has announced that you have died from an illness. From henceforth, there will no longer be any more Second Prince in this world.”
Zhou Wen Wu can only let the flames of anger engulf him in their flames. He has the royal blood in his veins! As a royal, it is his pride to die than to be insulted. Harem?! Since he was born, he is the only one to forlic around with the women; since when does he have to become a “flower” in the courtyard? Zhou Wen Cheng, you cursed man!
Although engulfed in flames of anger, Zhou Wen Wu has not totally lost his wits. The guard! He is sent by Zhou Wen Cheng to protect Xu Zhi, if she gets into danger…
Death, apparently, is something he needs to engineer personally.
Xu Zhi seems to have seen through his thoughts and says bluntly “Living well is better than dying well. Do you think that you can keep your pride by drinking a cup of poisoned wine? Are you sure your body will be buried in Xi Xuan and not some foreign land? If you become my man, not only will you live well, I can at least ensure that you get buried in Xi Xuan after you have died.”
Zhou Wen Wu nearly chokes on the hot breathe in his throat. To a Xi Xuan man, the greatest fear is to die or be buried in a foreign land. What Xu Zhi just said just put a stop to his thoughts of suicide.
Or is this because of Xu Da? By forcing her to leave Xi Xuan, never daring to return and thereby forgoing any chance to be born in Xi Xuan soil in her next life, is this his punishment?
All the while, he has thought that Xu Hui is the most fearsome of the three Xu sisters but today, he has truly experience the power of this woman in front of him. She has kept her hatred for what he did to her sister for nearly 10 years, only to give him the worst punishment he can ever get today.
A young woman behind Xu Zhi stepped forward to persuade him. “Actually, you should not hate Da Gu Niang. Who in Xi Xuan does not yearn to join her household? Besides, you are no longer in the flower of youth and should be thankful there is still a woman who does not mind your age. You may used to be woman serving you, but what you need to do for the rest of your life is merely a reversal to serve like one of those women. I have heard that your wives and concubines used to fight tooth and nail for your affection; I have even heard ofsome who tried to hang themselves over you. But with Da Gu Niang, I promise you will not find such ludicrous happenings and I can ensure that under my supervision, no one will dare try to murder you. Actually, we have persuaded Da Gu Niang not to take in an old man, but Mistress is really soft-hearted to accept you.”
Both the guard and Ah Jiu stares at the maiden’s bold speech but Xu Zhi is unimpressed. “What Bai Hua says makes sense. You have so many wives but is childless at 30, which means you are destined not to have any children in this life. No matter how kind His Majesty is, he has his limits and I really think you should take the hint from heaven to join my harem. If not, why do you think you are born with such beautiful face?”
What a Xu Zhi! Blunt to the extreme and so open about getting her man too. Even the Royal Guard feels sorry for Zhou Wen Wu and turns his eyes away as he thinks to himself that Miss Xu must really hate Zhou Wen Wu.
As for Zhou Wen Wu, his mind is spinning as his world turns upside down. In the past when he likes a woman, the woman will always be given to him, or he can make that happen by some means of trickery. Now that his role is to be reversed, what is going to be life from henceforth? From a mighty prince to a tramp…
”I want to see with my own eyes… how healthy you can remain, how long your idol can protect you …your end… his end… so long as I can live longer than you two, even if it is just for a day…I will wait for the day. This will be my only wish from henceforth.”
His voice is low and hoarse, brimming with hatred, but Xu Zhi hears him clearly and pats his cold cheek. “That’s the right spirit. Survival is an instinct and not something that is easily forsaken. I suggest you spend more time thinking of how to please me in future and I assure you that I will not treat you too badly.” Turning to the Royal Guard, she bids him to report today happenings His Majesty and informs him that she is leaving now for the Scholar’s Hall.
Before she leaves the cell, she suddenly turns around and says half-seriously, half in jest. “I want her. I am going to have Xu Zhi for sure. What a pity Zhou Wen Wu, I am afraid you cannot afford me. I, Xu Zhi, wants you and what I want, I always get.” Smiling, she turns and leaves.
Gagging, Zhou Wen Wo vomited a mouthful of reddish blood as the door closes.