Author: Chai Jidan
Yunxi’s Capital, the thirtieth year:
Inside the Celestial Empire’s prison, several prison guards were seated near a large wooden table while drinking and eating meat. In front of a captive was a bowl of soup and two mouldy wotou, which had been untouched for the past two days. He was still full of spirits when he first arrived; but now, he looked haggard, his lips were dry and his eyes were deeply sunken.
( 「窝头」also called Chinese cornbread, is a type of steamed bread made from cornmeal in Northern China.)
The captive was the son of the Imperial Tutor Mu, Mu Xueshi. He has been detained for two days for the crime of parricide. He should have been executed immediately. It was still unclear as to why the execution had been delayed. The Third Prince was responsible for investigating Mu Xueshi’s case. This was the first time in history that a prince was setting foot in the royal court to be a judge in a case. Primarily, all prison guards stood by earnestly, not daring to make the slightest mistake. Today, an imperial order was announced to change the location of the interrogation. The officials came to collect the captive. To some prison guards, this was a sigh of relief.
“Your Highness, we have brought the prisoner.”
The Third Prince was holding a porcelain teacup in his hand. He paused for a moment. His eyes intently swept to the eunuch who was standing beside him. His face was expressionless. He groaned in response. It became quiet inside the house. The Third Prince gently blew a mouth of air on the cup and took a sip. Then, he continued to frown while reading the scroll on top of his knees.
The noble and virtuous Third Prince was typically a proud and aloof person. He rarely interacts with other princes. His mother was mostly disfavored, but the Third Prince has deeply obtained the emperor’s favor. Since he was young, he was outstandingly intelligent; yet, it was never displayed. Most of the time, he was calm. Moreover, he loved to be in total solitude. He would never take part in exchanging communication with anyone. Even when the emperor wanted to chat with him, he has to take the initiative just to hear a few words out of him.
The room was so quiet that even the sound of a needle falling on the ground could be clearly heard. Roughly after an hour , Third Prince, at last, slowly put down the scroll and glanced at the eunuch standing beside him. The eunuch immediately understood. He took a stride with small quick steps to the door, gently pushed it open and went out.
( 「时辰」 one of the 12 two-hour periods of the day in Ancient China. It is the traditional Chinese hour equaling 2 western hours. There are 12 時辰s in one day.)
After a while, Mu Xueshi was brought into the house. The Third Prince hinted at everyone to leave the room. Almost quietly, in a split second, there were only two people remaining inside the house.
The Third Prince, slightly narrowing his eyes, took a glimpse at the person who was kneeling on the ground. He took the criminal charge written on the accusation scroll from his side and slowly read: “A virtuous ancestor once said: All subjects under heaven should place filial piety as it’s first priority, especially to his father. Killing your own father is tantamount to killing the king and should be sentenced to death, do you object?”
Mu Xueshi gently opened his thin lips and indifferently replied: “I agree.”
The Third Prince sneered as he rose from his seat. He took a few steps towards Mu Xueshi and used two fingers to firmly pinch Mu Xueshi’s lower jaw and slightly pulled down Mu Xueshi’s thin skin to reveal his true inner self. However, his face did not make the slightest change even if he had not eaten for a number of days; it was still delicate and smooth as ever. This took the man’s breath away.
From the begining to end, Mu Xueshi stayed quiet and tranquil. His eyes were cold like water that never rippled. The Third Prince chuckled as he offered his hand to help the man kneeling on the ground stand up. Mu Xueshi was without gratitude and was really unwilling to follow the Third Prince’s orders.
After getting up, the Third Prince carefully admired the person in front of him who was looking fresh and elegant, even though he was wearing prisoner’s clothing. He could not help but wonder whether he was really a mundane being. It was a pity that this kind of beauty had to face imminent death before the world could even marvel at his beauty. The Third Prince pondered about this, but at the same time, he felt lucky for himself. If it was not for the time that he saw him playing in the Jing Yun River five years ago, he would not have believed that such a man would exist in this world. It was as if a fairy had unluckily fallen down from the mountain streams. Just his smile alone could stun the people passing by. Unfortunately, after searching for a few days, he realized that this person had concealed his identity. He found out from his search that this person was the son of the Imperial Tutor, whom he had hated since he was young. The Third Prince was not one to indulge in beauty. No matter how breathtaking Mu Xueshi was, it was not enough for him to offset the hatred that he had for all the people in the Imperial Tutor’s manor.
Initially, the Third Prince was carefully thinking of how he could torment this man. But unexpectedly, Mu Xueshi was extremely ice-cold. The Third Prince already used up all of his might but still failed to make Mu Xueshi’s expression change. It was the first time that the Third Prince had met a man that was so difficult for him to get close to; Mu Xueshi was like a block of ice — no blood and no meat — just like a dead person facing everything.
“Be my man for a day and I will spare your life!” The Third Prince’s voice resounded in Mu Xueshi’s ear.
Mu Xueshi coldly responded: “No need!”
The Third Prince had already anticipated this answer, whether it was a yes or a no, the result would be the same. The day was still long. A person can not endure continuous torment. So that you would not have to die, you must accept merciless and endless torment; tormenting until you reach a compromise. After the compromise, there would be more long-term torture.
“Mu Xueshi, the one decision that your father made back then, has bounded you to bear all his guilt.”
Long and slender fingers touch the cinnabar and Mu Xueshi’s fingerprint clearly stamped on the accusation scroll. The Third Prince took the hand that Mu Xueshi used to stamp his fingerprint and slightly wiped off the leftover traces on his finger.
“Enjoy your life in your exile to the frontier.”
Mu Xueshi was silent. It seemed that this outcome had nothing to do with him. The Third Prince served Mu Xueshi a bowl of light, but nourishing hot soup. If you die of starvation along the way, it would be too easy for you. The Third Prince silently said to himself.
He watched as Mu Xueshi drank the soup that the servants had brewed that day. With the the Third Prince personally helping him apply makeup, an absolutely beautiful face in an instant became ugly. The Third Prince eyes revealed a happy expression.
Mu Xueshi, our game is just about to begin…