"So wordy, aren't you a mute? You never say anything when you should, why are you talking so much now?"
Slight NSFW on the later part... Is this even 'slight' at this point I do not know, actually...
The two people were still casually talking, but seeing Li Qingcheng come over, they quickly bowed at the same time.
"You've worked hard," Li Qingcheng smiled.
Sun Yán smiled. "Your Highness might as well kill this subject if that is truly considered polite."
Li Qingcheng replied, still with a smile, "During this time at the end of the year, you must be very busy. There is no need for you to move around too much during these days as well; if I have something in mind, I will personally dispatch someone to inform you."
Sun Yán said, "What does Your Highness think about Sun Cheng? He is this subject's clan brother, born of the sixth uncle's concubine. He's usually clever and quick-witted. If he is fortunate enough to catch Your Highness's eye, this subject will make him change his name..."
Gladly, Li Qingcheng said, "That is fine, no need to avoid the taboo word. I command him to travel back and forth between two mansions on a daily basis, and if you're busy, no need to personally come over in person."
Sun Yán nodded, and knowing that Li Qingcheng had no more orders, he asked to be excused and left.
Reaching this point, Li Qingcheng finally breathed a genuine sigh of relief. Tang Hong was still leading the soldiers to pack away and put things in order; he had brought in a mere 25 people into the city, all of which were now scattered around the mansion. As a matter of fact, it was actually rather lively.
Passing through the residence, Li Qingcheng swept his surroundings before settling on the west side, in which there was also a study room.
The very first place Tang Hong's subordinates cleaned was the western courtyard. After it was completely and neatly cleaned up, Li Qingcheng did his own part and sat down, fetching the book he read this afternoon and casually flipping through it, giving out a yawn in the process.
Zhang Mu and Fang Qingyu were on his left and right, respectively.
Li Qingcheng had to clearly survey the situation in the Western Plains first before taking any action, which was why he asked for a lot of books from Sun Yán. There were Political Records of the Western Plains as well as the District Annals of Ting City among many others in the thick pile.
"The sky is getting dark," Fang Qingyu said. "Be careful of injuring your eyes. I'll read it for you ba."
Indifferently focusing his gaze on the book, Zhang Mu figured out where the light reached the accounts book and went to light the lamp.
"No need." Li Qingcheng rejected Fang Qingyu's kindness. Pondering under the bright lighting, his eyebrows knitted ever slightly and created a very nice-looking curve.
Fang Qingyu watched him for a while before taking an envelope out of his bosom and placed it on the table. "Today, I got something."
Li Qingcheng: "What's this?"
Fang Qingyu: "A bribe from the Suns."
Making a tiny gesture, Zhang Mu pointed to the lamp on the shelf.
Li Qingcheng opened the envelope without a care; he took out some thin papers from inside and took a look: two banknotes that could be exchanged for 500 liang. He raised his head to look at Fang Qingyu, his eyes filled with smiles.
Li Qingcheng: "When did Sun Yán slip it into your hands? What else did he say?"
Fang Qingyu: "That time we just moved over."
As soon as Li Qingcheng settled down, Sun Yán began to use his "silver bullet," which was bribing people. Privately bribing followers with money had always been a big taboo, especially towards this person, Li Qingcheng. Within the sea boundaries of the land, all were the king's servants; what was his intention to bribe the crown prince's bodyguard? In addition, Li Qingcheng had already lacked a sense of security from the start, and around him, there were only little to no people, yet Sun Yán still wanted to bribe them with money. His heart couldn't help but feel indignant.
"Understood, I'm rewarding you." Li Qingcheng threw the envelope back.
Fang Qingyu sneered. "With this big show of spending money, most likely, I wasn't Sun Yán's only target."
Li Qingcheng curled his finger, motioning for Fang Qingyu to come over. Fang Qingyu bent down, and Li Qingcheng said, "Come closer and look at me."
Li Qingcheng raised his head, while Fang Qingyu used one hand to support himself on the table as he bowed his head. The tips of their noses had almost touched each other, and those warm breaths exhaled from each other's lips felt both frivolous and flirtatious. Fang Qingyu gazed attentively at both of Li Qingcheng's eyes and said in a low voice, "What else does Your Highness want to reward me with for being so loyal?"
Li Qingcheng fixed his attention on Fang Qingyu's handsome face, giving him his full attention. "Reward you this."
Zhang Mu turned over his head just as Li Qingcheng picked up the inkstone. He then slapped it at Fang Qingyu, patting him all over the head with ink.
"Get lost and wash your face," Li Qingcheng reprimanded.
In a clear voice, Fang Qingyu let out a long laugh before wiping his face and going out, nearly missing Tang Hong who just entered through the door.
Tang Hong shot a glance at Fang Qingyu; he didn't know what this out-of-luck dude had done once again to get on Li Qingcheng's nerves. Standing inside the hall, his eyes examined Li Qingcheng's look in detail.
Li Qingcheng: "All tidied up?"
Tang Hong nodded his head. "The falcon has also been brought over, it's in the side room."
Li Qingcheng: "Anything missing?"
Tang Hong shook his head. "The belongings are all there."
Li Qingcheng: "How about that 'extra'?"
Tang Hong said, "The list of items is not in my hands. Sun Yán had also sent over some goods..."
Li Qingcheng interrupted, "I'm not talking about food and such."
Tang Hong had a blank look all over his face. Li Qingcheng continued, "I'll ask you one more time, the 'extra' thing."
Puzzled, Tang Hong frowned. Li Qingcheng squinted and slowly enunciated, "For example, a banknote and so on. Did you see that guy whose head just got splashed all over with ink?"
Tang Hong was stumped and immediately took an envelope out of his bosom. He hung his head as he moved forward to place it respectfully on the table.
"I... I forgot, Sun Yán slipped it into my hands just now," Tang Hong squeaked. "I received a bribe, you punish me."
Tone cold, Li Qingcheng asked, "How many liang of silver?"
Tang Hong replied, "I don't know, I haven't opened it yet..."
Li Qingcheng contemplated for a moment. Tang Hong most likely took the bribe but had been too busy with work, so he had no time to open nor ponder over it, and he actually didn't seem to be faking it. "Take it back, I'm rewarding you."
Tang Hong swallowed his own saliva; he knew that this matter had been exposed. His eyes went to Zhang Mu and saw that Zhang Mu had just finished lighting the lamp and was currently standing on one side with his hands down. Tang Hong’s heart thought that in all likelihood, it was this mute informing him again.
Li Qingcheng continued reading the book, seemingly waiting for something. After Fang Qingyu had finished washing his face, he came back and proceeded to stand still like there was nothing wrong at all. After more than half a shichen, Li Qingcheng became slightly impatient and threw the book to the table.
"Tang Hong," Li Qingcheng called out coldly. "Call all of your soldiers to gather in the courtyard."
Tang Hong didn't know his intention and just went out to gather the soldiers; 25 people now stood in the courtyard.
Li Qingcheng, sitting inside the study room, said in a deep voice, "Anyone who has accepted a bribe from the Suns, step forward."
There was only silence in the courtyard, and Li Qingcheng said once more, "I will ask again, those who have accepted the bribe, step forward. Otherwise, when I find out, there is no need to follow me anymore. Go out your own way."
A moment later, a person took a step forward, followed by 7 or 8 people afterward.
Li Qingcheng asked, "Li Hu, how much did you receive?"
The first person fished some silver liang out of his bosom and said in a low voice, "Replying Your Highness, this lowly one received 20 liang of silver, and this is the military fund given by General Tang yesterday."
Li Qingcheng said, "Military fund doesn't count. Everyone received 20 liang each? Sun Yán is actually filthy rich."
The soldiers who had stepped forward one by one took out the bribe money and gave it to Li Hu. Li Hu then took off his helmet before coming to offer the money with both hands.
Li Qingcheng still remembered their names and pointed them out one by one. "Li Hu, you're the leader; bring them to the east wing, each gets 5 flogs. Take the silver back, I'm rewarding you."
Li Hu bowed and withdrew. Li Qingcheng said once more, "Remember, who rewarded you?"
The soldiers said in unison, "Your Highness."
Li Qingcheng: "Very good."
At this time, someone immediately reached out to his bosom, but Li Qingcheng denied him in a cold tone, "Too late. Tang Hong, do a body search, don't let a single one off."
Tang Hong went forward and did a thorough body search in order. Each time he found an extra liang of silver, he slapped the soldier's face head-on and beat them to the ground. Not long after that, the search concluded, and indeed, all 25 people had accepted Sun Yán's bribes.
Li Qingcheng asked, "The man who gave you money, what did he say?"
"Rep... replying Your Highness." Outside the hall, a soldier went on his knees before kowtowing and pressing his forehead to the ground. "That person from the Sun family didn't say anything."
Li Qingcheng nodded his head and closed his eyes. When he opened them again, he lazily said, "From now on, you all go ba. No need to follow me any longer."
The soldier's eyes suddenly widened. All of them miserably shouted, "Your Highness, where should we go?"
Li Qingcheng paid no heed to them and just lowered his head to read the book.
Both the inside and outside the room were quiet; nobody knew what Li Qingcheng was thinking. All of the soldiers just knelt down, none of them left, while Tang Hong also couldn't decide whether to drive them out or not.
Li Qingcheng flipped through the book for a while when he suddenly remembered something and asked, "Just now, you've searched everyone?"
Tang Hong didn't understand what Li Qingcheng was implying at and replied, "Sea... searched everyone. All 25 people, excluding the 9 people led by Li Hu..."
Li Qingcheng scratched his neck and answered casually, "I'm afraid that's not everyone ba."
Tang Hong just had a blank look on his face. Li Qingcheng continued, "Are these the only people in this house? Who else do we have?"
There was only a dead silence inside the study. After a moment, Zhang Mu finally understood.
Reaching out inside his bosom, Zhang Mu took out those eagle feathers made of pure gold, his left hand trembling a little as he came forward and put it on the table.
"Ah," Li Qingcheng softly said. He reached out and with a flick, and the golden feathers spread out in the shape of a fan as they glistened brightly.
Zhang Mu knelt down on one knee and focused his gaze on Li Qingcheng's boots.
Zhang Mu said, "Mu-ge doesn't understand. You give me a lesson so I will understand."
Li Qingcheng lost interest and commanded, "I'm not driving you out, get up ba."
This time, Zhang Mu didn't disobey; since Li Qingcheng commanded him to get up, he would do accordingly.
With no expression on his face, Li Qingcheng said, "I'm rewarding you." Then, with a clamor, he pushed away the golden feathers to the edge of the table.
Zhang Mu looked at it and slowly shook his head, but Li Qingcheng shouted, "Keep it!"
Zhang Mu was startled, but he then bowed and accepted it.
"Everyone to the west courtyard, 20 flogs each. Then, it's business as usual," Li Qingcheng said. "Remember, there will be no second time."
The soldiers felt as if they were just relieved from a great burden and thanked Li Qingcheng for the favor, before leaving while Zhang Mu stood still for a while. Once he returned to his senses, he also headed toward the west courtyard. Tang Hong looked at Li Qingcheng again, his gaze full of indescribable emotion.
Li Qingcheng sneered and said, "I really am horrible, am I not?" while casually flipping over the book.
"No," Fang Qingyu smiled as he said, "you're very sharp-witted, and now, you have gained a face; not only on the surface but also in its essence. But Sun Yán ended up being a two-faced person after all, truly unfortunate."
Li Qingcheng smiled. "Tang Hong, if you don't begin to stop this tendency inside the army from now, who could say, maybe one night, there will be a knockout drug inside your wine, or an upas-coated poison needle in your pillow. Enemies from the outside are easy to take care of but the ones from the inside are hard to guard against. At the end of the day, no impenetrable obstacles exist in this world; the only question that rests is whether the amount of silver is enough to buy out your loyalty."
Tang Hong said, "But Zhang Mu, his loyalty......"
Li Qingcheng ensured, "He won't betray me, and that gift is also because of their personal friendship; this thing, I understand it in my heart. But, he still accepted the gift, and since the others aren't allowed to accept them, wouldn't it be biased otherwise? He needs to be flogged even if he was implicated by Sun Yán."
Nighttime. This residence was so much better compared to the house in Feng City. Ever since waking up in Jia City, Li Qingcheng had been tossing around in bed for half a year; finally, he was able to get a good night's sleep.
Zhang Mu, as before, came in carrying a quilt and made a bed before lying down on the outer side of the screen.
Li Qingcheng was about to sleep when Zhang Mu suddenly moved, his elbow touching the screen and made Li Qingcheng wake up.
In a short moment following that, he went to sleep in a daze, yet another sound came through. Li Qingcheng frowned and opened his eyes, his sleepiness completely disappearing.
Several breaths later, Zhang Mu moved once again.
Li Qingcheng got up. "What are you doing? If you can't sleep peacefully then go move to another room."
Zhang Mu staggered and sat up; messily entangled on his back was lacerated skin with flesh torn open from whip marks. Li Qingcheng understood then that Zhang Mu's back was in pain because of the flogging, and while he could endure when he woke up, after he went to sleep, he still subconsciously twitched in his dream because of the ache.
"Sleep on your stomach," Li Qingcheng said.
Zhang Mu nodded his head but didn't lie down. Li Qingcheng, wearing only his undergarments, went back inside. Only then did Zhang Mu lay down on his stomach on the couch.
A moment later, Li Qingcheng came out once more. "Are you mad at me?"
Zhang Mu was busy getting up, but Li Qingcheng held him down.
"No," Zhang Mu stiffly replied.
Li Qingcheng's fingers touched Zhang Mu's back, tracing down the 20 whip marks; his back was whipped until the skin and flesh were torn open. Although medicinal powder had been applied, it was still red.
Li Qingcheng pulled the quilt open, exposing Zhang Mu's healthy, sturdy waist. Zhang Mu moved unnaturally again.
"Go sleep," Zhang Mu suddenly said.
Li Qingcheng said, "Let me see your wound." When the quilt was pulled open, he saw that Zhang Mu was actually without a strand on his body; the male body was completely naked, his buttocks and robust, strong thigh bare to be seen.
Li Qingcheng's face flushed a little. When he touched Zhang Mu's waist, there was a kind of strange emotion in his heart. He immediately pulled the cover more and squeezed inside with Zhang Mu.
"You... You..." Zhang Mu didn't know where to place his hands nor feet.
"Me, me, me." Li Qingcheng laughed. "Lie down. I want to have a talk with you, my bed is cold."
Zhang Mu said, "I'll light the brazier."
Li Qingcheng said, "No, your bed is nice and warm."
Zhang Mu: "You sleep on the inside."
Li Qingcheng: "I'll just sleep on the outer side."
Zhang Mu insisted, "You sleep inside."
"So wordy, aren't you a mute? You never say anything when you should, why are you talking so much now?" Li Qingcheng had been woken up in the middle of his sleep. At this moment, the heat from just waking up had yet to subside, and he was currently sweating a bit as he carefully tucked himself on the inner side of the couch next to the screen.
Li Qingcheng lay down, while Zhang Mu lay on his stomach.
Li Qingcheng turned sideways and looked at Zhang Mu. He suddenly understood why Zhang Mu had insisted on making him sleep on the inside.
Because, when Zhang Mu was lying on his stomach, the burn scar on the side of his face happened to be pressed against the pillow, so Li Qingcheng wouldn't be able to see it.
"Talk about what?" Zhang Mu suddenly asked.
Li Qingcheng said, "The... there's nothing I want to talk about, this stupid mouth of mine." He turned over his body and, gazing at Zhang Mu's lips, he said, "Mu-ge, hug me for a while ba. You haven't hugged me since that day a long time ago when we came down from Mt. Feng, and my mind is not at ease."
Zhang Mu was silent for a long while before finally speaking, "I dare not hug you."
Li Qingcheng didn't utter more words.
After a moment, Zhang Mu turned his body sideways and tucked Li Qingcheng well inside the quilt before lifting an arm and letting him pillow it.
"En......" Li Qingcheng closed his eyes, the corners of his mouth tilting slightly. "Exactly like this."
Zhang Mu let out a "hush" with his scalding, hot breath. With a very gentle and careful manner, he held Li Qingcheng, who was wearing an unlined garment and shorts, in his embrace.
"Mu-ge," Li Qingcheng murmured. "I'm very tired. The road ahead is full of fog."
Zhang Mu didn't reply and just held Li Qingcheng closer, pressing the two people tightly against each other.
Closing his eyes, Li Qingcheng said in a low voice, "The Sun family, the Western Plains' Administrative Assistant, the provincial officials... How should I do it? I don't know who I must win over, and the information at hand is very limited..."
Leaving that sentence, Li Qingcheng then went to sleep.
At midnight, Zhang Mu got up as silently as possible and went toward the chair, casually pulling a wide cloth which he then wrapped around his waist without care. Kneeling before the table, he took a brush and dipped it in ink as he wrote a letter before flashing out of the room.
The snow had stopped, and in this wintry night, a layer of ice had formed on the side of the pool.
"Tang Hong," Zhang Mu passed through the corridor and sounded out.
Tang Hong woke up and put on his robe before coming out, only to see Zhang Mu standing with his upper body totally naked outside the door; his long and jet-black hair was loose and there were wooden clogs on his feet and a wide cloth around his waist.
Zhang Mu: "Dispatch someone to Jia City for an errand."
Tang Hong took the letter with a blank face. "Find who?"
Zhang Mu: "Name is written on it. Go out at the fourth night period. Thank you for the trouble."
When Tang Hong heard this, he looked at Zhang Mu as if he didn't recognize him. Zhang Mu's expression was at ease, and Tang Hong asked, "What's the good news?"
Zhang Mu waved his hand and turned around to leave, and Tang Hong yawned and went to hand the letter over to one of his men.
The sound of wooden clogs was muffled. Zhang Mu was an expert in neigong; his walking steps were deliberately suppressed and were not loud at all. However, once he arrived back outside the main house, he saw Fang Qingyu wearing a wide robe with sleeves fluttering in the breeze, putting hands on his back as he closed the door.
Zhang Mu halted.
The room Fang Qingyu had just gone out from was precisely Li Qingcheng's room. When he left, his collar was disheveled and his face was crimson.
"You..." Zhang Mu's five fingers curled into an eagle talon, his whole body's energy building up, as if wanting to immediately kill Fang Qingyu under his palm.
"Shh." With a smile in his eyes, Fang Qingyu made a silent gesture. "Don't wake him up." As he finished saying that, he went away in a calm and unbothered manner.
Zhang Mu turned and entered the room and saw that Li Qingcheng's quilt was half-open and half-hanging; the person sleeping soundly. For a short moment, he presumed that Fang Qingyu also wouldn't have done anything, and in all likelihoods, he had come just to cover him with a quilt and no longer thought about it. When he was climbing onto the couch, Li Qingcheng breathed heavily again.
Li Qingcheng turned over. Zhang Mu decided to watch him, only to see that the sleeping crown prince's lips were red and he had shortness of breath, and his garments were loose to the point they were wide open. With one look, it was clear that he had been kissed in his sleep; he was just too tired during the day so he hadn't woken up then.
Zhang Mu wanted to get up several times and go to the other room to pummel Fang Qingyu into pieces, but he was afraid of waking Li Qingcheng up. Having second thoughts, he then turned over, but Li Qingcheng's body turned half over and pressed against Zhang Mu. Gently taking a breath, he said something in a low voice before lifting his hand to hug Zhang Mu.
Zhang Mu's eyes widened; in an instant, he blushed all over down to his neck. Down on his crotch, Li Qingcheng's thing had already become hard, and he was pressed against Zhang Mu, his whole body wrapped around Zhang Mu's as he rubbed against him.
Zhang Mu lowered his head and wanted to let Li Qingcheng sleep properly, but surprisingly, Li Qingcheng's warm lips suddenly approached.
All of a sudden, Zhang Mu's body turned stiff all over, and he was bewildered, totally at a loss of what to do. Li Qingcheng's breaths were warm, and while half-sleeping half-awake, he asked, "Mu-ge?"
The thing between Zhang Mu's crotch raised up as straight as a ramrod, and it was swelling so bad to the point it hurt. He hurriedly pushed Li Qingcheng away a little bit, letting him pillow his arm before he vaguely replied.
"Mu-ge......" Li Qingcheng's voice lowered. He leaned on Zhang Mu's chest and rubbed against his neck. Zhang Mu's body scent was warm and nice to sniff at, and Li Qingcheng wished his whole person could just drill into his embrace. Both rubbing and squeezing, their skin was pressed up against each other, giving rise to a boiling desire. Zhang Mu's heart was beating so wildly, his face and ears turning red while his breathing was ever labored. After a while, Li Qingcheng finally quieted down once more.
Another moment following that, Zhang Mu unnaturally bent his knees against the bedding. While still gasping for breath, his hand stretched down to his crotch; he then grabbed that cloth he had previously put around his waist, casually and carelessly wiping his muscular and strong abdominal muscles, which had long been soaked wet.
Just now, Li Qingcheng had suddenly rubbed against him for a while; he had unexpectedly become intoxicated in his spring dream and had involuntarily ejaculated his essence, which in turn, had also made Zhang Mu shoot a lot as well.
Zhang Mu let out a tired and weary breath. He then bundled the cloth into a ball and recklessly threw it under the couch before blankly looked at the ceiling, lost in thought. Li Qingcheng curled in his embrace, his head resting on Zhang Mu's shoulder as he hugged his waist, looking as if he wouldn't let go of his hold for a lifetime.
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), Elestrea.