Li Qianxiao wasn’t intending to have dinner with the Yuns, but he did so because of Yun Ruoyan’s presence.
After dinner, the Yun matriarch retired to her quarters on account of tiredness, leaving Madam An to host the crown prince.
Because it was the start of summer, the night air was cool and refreshing, and constellations dappled the night sky. Li Qianxiao toured the Yun family garden with Yun Lan, Yun Ruoyan, and Yun Ruoyao.
Within the garden was a pavilion, a small stream of running water, and all sorts of exotic flowers. The pebbled path, pavilion, and flowerbeds were all inlaid with glowing moonstones, giving the scene an ethereal, otherworldly quality.
As soon as the party gathered by the pavilion, a servant came rushing to Yun Lan to report an urgent affair. After hearing the report, Yun Lan quickly bade the prince farewell and departed to his own quarters.
Li Qianxiao couldn’t have been happier. With an official as high-ranking as Yun Lan present, he’d had to act every bit the noble crown prince, and keeping up the act was tiring.
After Yun Lan’s departure, the Yun sisters were far less reserved than before. They all gathered by the crown prince’s side as they amused him with idle chatter. On the other hand, Yun Ruoyan sat alone on the other side of the pavilion, not joining---nor wishing to join---the conversation.
Li Qianxiao wanted to sit by Yun Ruoyan, but Yun Ruoyu caught him in time. Ever since he was ten, he would often frequent the Yun household and even invite Yun Ruoyu and the others on excursions, so the Yun sisters were all quite familiar with him.
This was why he had to be patient with Yun Ruoyu, even if she was clingy and getting rather bothersome. “Crown Prince, why haven’t you been here in so long?” Yun Ruoyu asked unhappily.
“I had to leave for an official visit to the Yue kingdom, and I just came back recently,” Li Qianxiao answered.
“What were you doing there?”
“Don’t mention it,” Li Qianxiao muttered, somewhat angrily. “It’s all trouble that my uncle got me into!”
His uncle? Wasn’t that Li Mo? As soon as Yun Ruoyan heard these words, she immediately perked up.
“The Slaughtering King!” Yun Ruoyu and the other two girls called out simultaneously.
“What sort of trouble would someone as powerful as the Slaughtering King bring you?” Yun Ruoyao asked curiously. Even Yun Ruoyan shifted her posture as she began listening in.
But Li Qianxiao stopped speaking and suddenly turned to Yun Ruoyan. “Ruoyan, now that Official Yun’s gone, why are you still so reserved?”
The other girls looked at Yun Ruoyan’s proper, upright posture and scoffed. What sort of act does she think she’s putting on now?
“That’s right,” Yun Ruoyu continued. “What’s wrong with you today, sister? Why are you behaving so formally? What happened to all your eloquence from yesterday? Who are you putting on this act for?!”
Yun Ruoyan hadn’t wanted to stir up trouble. All she’d hoped for was for this dreadful prince to leave, so that she could retire to her own rooms to cultivate. But if Yun Ruoyu wanted to provoke her and stir up trouble, then she would gladly accompany her.
She recalled how bashful Yun Ruoyu appeared to be that afternoon and decided to use that as the basis for her attack.
“Sorry to incur such ridicule, Ruoyu, but I’m not as fortunate as the rest of you. After all, this is the first time I’m meeting the crown prince, and I still can’t interact with him as closely as all of you can. I’m a little intimidated by his aura, you see, and I feel a little nervous inside.”
“Ruoyan, don’t worry!” As soon as Li Qianxiao heard these words, he immediately stood up. “We should have met long ago, but it’s still not too late. I’ll be sure to find you more frequently from now on.” He moved away from Yun Ruoyu and moved right beside Yun Ruoyan as he spoke.
Yun Ruoyan was sitting on the side of the pavilion closest to the lake, and the glow of the moonstones projected her beauty on the lake.
Li Qianxiao seemed to be dazed by her reflected appearance.
“Crown Prince, why are you standing? Please, sit!” Yun Ruoyan smiled gently, even as she was inwardly smirking coldly.
Li Qianxiao’s gaze shifted away from the lake and directly onto Yun Ruoyan’s face, his heart thudding so loudly that he was sure she could hear it.
His gaze seemed to be fixated on her, as if he couldn’t bear to look away from her for even a single moment.
Yun Ruoyan patted the stone bench by her side, motioning for Li Qianxiao to sit, and he did so obediently.
Yun Ruoyao pulled on Yun Ruoyu’s sleeve to get her attention as she motioned at Yun Ruoyan and the crown prince. Yun Ruoyu bit her lips as she looked at Li Qianxiao, her gaze filled with a complicated mix of longing, envy, and hate. She didn’t understand why the crown prince, who had always been close to her, seemed to be so besotted with Yun Ruoyan.
He was surely deceived by Yun Ruoyan’s fake appearance, and she could barely restrain herself from rushing up and peeling off the patch of gauze that covered Yun Ruoyan’s birthmark. If she did so, she was sure that her crown prince would finally see the truth and return to her once more.
But because of her father Yun Lan’s presence, she didn’t dare do anything.
Yun Ruoyan glanced askance at Yun Ruoyu. She glared back at Yun Ruoyan, her small face and wrinkled brows making her look like a chrysanthemum flower. Her two hands were clenched into fists, and she was almost vibrating as she tried to restrain herself.
Yun Ruoyan smirked as she leaned against one of the pavilion’s stanchions in a languid fashion. “Crown Prince, I’m getting a little tired. Would you walk me back to my residence?”
Yun Ruoyan and the others hadn’t brought any of their maids with them. There was about a ten-minute walk from the pavilion to her residence, and the prince’s eyes grew bright at the thought of being able to spend all that time alone with a beauty.
Li Qianxiao quickly jumped up from the stone stool. Yun Ruoyan extended a hand to him, allowing him to help her up. He immediately grasped her hand delicately, as though she were a fragile piece of jade. His voice was doting when he exclaimed, “Ruoyan, your body must still be weak! I really shouldn’t have asked you to go on a night excursion through these gardens with me.”
A smile hung on Yun Ruoyan’s face as she glanced at Yun Ruoyu once again. Her face had turned a sickly puce. It’s about time.
“Crown Prince, please don’t say that. It’s my poor health that has ruined your enjoyment of this evening.” Li Qianxiao helped her walk out of the pavilion, but she stumbled on a stone step.
“Oh!” Her body tilted to the side, but Li Qianxiao was agile enough to catch her in an embrace.
“Ruoyan, are you alright? It’s all my fault, I wasn’t looking---” Li Qianxiao kept blaming himself for her stumble, his tone and gaze filled with self-incrimination for almost hurting the beautiful Yun Ruoyan.
“That’s enough!” Just then, Yun Ruoyu suddenly shouted from within the pavilion.
Li Qianxiao looked at her, uncomprehending. She dashed out of the pavilion and reached out to grab Yun Ruoyan’s face!
“Ah!” Yun Ruoyan screamed and buried her head in Li Qianxiao’s lap.
“What are you doing?!” Li Qianxiao thundered as he grabbed Yun Ruoyu’s wrist.
“I, I’m going to tear off her mask.” Yun Ruoyu’s eyes were red. “Crown Prince, she’s an ugly girl in disguise. Don’t be tricked!”
Yun Ruoyan curled up in Li Qianxiao’s lap, murmuring pitifully, “Ruoyu, I know you like the crown prince, and I don’t intend on snatching him from you. I was just hoping he’d be able to help me get back to my residence, but if you don’t like it, I won’t insist…” She attempted to leave Li Qianxiao’s embrace, but he only hugged her even more tightly.
“Ruoyan, don’t worry about her. I must have coddled her too much during my previous visits.” He pushed Yun Ruoyu aside, and she stumbled into Yun Ruoyao’s arms. “Ruoyan, let’s go.”
Li Qianxiao didn’t even turn back to see whether Yun Ruoyu was doing fine. He clutched Yun Ruoyan in her hands and continued to walk away from the pavilion. Behind them, Yun Ruoyu called out, “Yun Ruoyan, do you dare to take off the gauze on your face, revealing your birthmark to the crown prince?! You’ll always be ugly, no matter how hard you try to hide it!”
Hearing Yun Ruoyu’s crazed shout, Li Qianxiao actually did stop. As if she saw a ray of hope, Yun Ruoyu continued, “Crown Prince, aren’t you curious what that patch is hiding?”
Li Qianxiao looked back at Yun Ruoyan in his arms. He turned and frowned, questioning, “Isn’t it the trend these days to wear such gauze patches?”
Li Qianxiao had sent the lotus-leaf shaped patch that Yun Ruoyan had discarded to be inspected, hoping to be able to identify its owner. However, the guards that had been tasked with the investigation reported that such patches had caught the capital by storm, and that there were too many noble ladies with such patches to make identification possible.
“No, no!” Yun Ruoyu hurriedly exclaimed. “Other girls do it to accentuate their features, but Ruoyan’s doing it to hide an ugly birthmark on her right cheek! If you don’t believe me, you can ask Sister Ruoyao or Sister Qianying!”
Li Qianxiao’s gaze swept over the two silent girls. Yi Qianying couldn’t help but take a step back, as if there was something she didn’t dare say.
Neither did Yun Ruoyao answer this question directly. “Won’t you know if you take the patch of gauze off?”
“It’s true that there’s a birthmark on my face,” Yun Ruoyan suddenly said.
“You admit it!” Yun Ruoyu clapped her hands. “You know you can’t hide it, can you?”
“...but, after my treatment, it’s completely gone now.” Yun Ruoyan’s follow-up left the three girls in a daze. “The birthmark on my face has been removed.”
“What?!” Three separate voices came together as one. “Your birthmark’s gone?!”
“That’s right. I consumed the antidote that my grandfather gave me, and my birthmark’s slowly vanishing. There’s still a trace of it at the moment, but it’ll all be gone soon enough.”
“I don’t believe you! None of us will believe you, unless you take off the gauze and show us for yourself.” Yun Ruoyu continued, unrelenting. After all, she’d seen her scar just a few days ago while they were having afternoon tea with their grandmother. There was no way a birthmark could vanish that quickly!
But even if the girls didn’t believe it, someone actually did.
Yun Ruoyan inclined her head to peer into Li Qianxiao’s eyes. “Crown Prince, it’s not that I’m willing to take off my gauze, but there’s still a little remnant of the birthmark left, and I don’t want you to see it and have a bad impression of me. If you insist, however, I’ll take it off…”
As Yun Ruoyan trailed off, she really did put her hand to her right cheek.Previous Chapter Next Chapter