Later that evening, all five of them were chatting in one of the pavilions after dinner time. They’d opted to have tea instead of wine, after what happened during the Mid-Autumn Festival.
Luo Yu rubbed his temples and asked worriedly, “Do you think maybe we shouldn’t have entered Shizun’s house?”
Qin Jianyue took one of Luo Yu’s hands and held it. “Don’t fret. I’m sure Shizun is a magnanimous person. Her letter sounds amiable enough.”
“Of course she is.” Wang Ke quipped. He tapped his fingers on the table and muttered, “She even has nicknames for all of us.”
Gu Ruohai glanced round the table and said with a smile, “Can we put the matter to rest now?”
Wang Ke shrugged, “I suppose, but we haven’t actually established what she is.”
Qin Jianyue turned to him and smirked, “Forget it, ‘Xiao Ke’. You don’t want to annoy her.” He added in a loud whisper, “She’s watching you…”
Wang Ke threw him a look, then released a long sigh.
Su Huaizhu had been rather quiet all this time. His arms were folded as he looked at his teacup, deep in thought. Gu Ruohai placed a hand on his shoulder and asked, “Zhu Zhi’er?”
Su Huaizhu’s glanced up distractedly and gave a bitter smile, “It’s nothing.” He patted Gu Ruohai’s hand.
Gu Ruohai looked over at Luo Yu and Qin Jianyue, who was still holding Luo Yu’s hand. He was about to say something but Wang Ke beat him to it, “Alright, I have to ask: Are you two together?”
All eyes instantly looked over at them.
Luo Yu hurriedly said “No!” and immediately withdrew his hand out of Qin Jianyue’s grasp. He cast his gaze down.
Qin Jianyue gave Luo Yu a gentle look: “Ah Yu….”
Luo Yu frowned at him.
Wang Ke swiped his face with his hand, then propped up his head on his elbow. “Both of you have been so obvious lately.”
Qin Jianyue turned to Gu Ruohai and Su Huaizhu, smiling, “It was after seeing the both of you that I had the courage to approach Ah Yu.” He took hold of Luo Yu’s hand again and interlaced their fingers.
Luo Yu grumbled, “Ah Yue, we’ve talked about this. It’s……complicated.”
Su Huaizhu raised his eyebrows and said, “More complicated than the Devil Sect’s Young Saint and Tengyun Pavilion’s Young Master being together?”
Qin Jianyue gave a wry smile, “It’s not too far off. Both of you should understand.” He squeezed Luo Yu’s hand and looked at him questioningly.
Luo Yu sighed and returned Qin Jianyue’s look.
Qin Jianyue addressed them: “I’ve mentioned before that my family serves in the imperial army. What I left out is that I’m also a commanding general.”
“—And the younger brother of the emperor.” Luo Yu added with a frown.
Three pairs of stunned eyes stared at Qin Jianyue.
Wang Ke gaped, “So…so…you’re an imperial prince? We should be calling you ‘Wang Ye’*, right?”
(*address for royal princes)
Qin Jianyue cast a side-eye at Wang Ke. Wang Ke quickly held up his hands in submission.
Gu Ruohai interjected, “So a prince is together with a doctor and you’re both men. I suppose that is complicated.” Su Huaizhu nodded thoughtfully.
Luo Yu cleared his throat. “Actually, I’m……” He hesitated and glanced at Qin Jianyue.
Qin Jianyue patted his hand. “It’s alright.”
Luo Yu took a deep breath, “I’m an Eluo Ghost Tent prince. My elder brother is the current king.”
“What?!” Wang Ke exclaimed. “You’re a prince too?!”
This was shocking news. Eluo Ghost Tent was a foreign hostile empire in the north. It was one thing to have both sides coming from royal families. It was another when both were enemies.
Gu Ruohai glanced askance at Su Huaizhu and considered their own relationship. They were also from opposing factions. The Jianghu would never accept them. If they wanted to be together, the only option at the moment was exile.
Gu Ruohai looked at them and said, “Both of you are together now. Be grateful for that. We can’t predict the future, so it’s useless to think about it now.”
He held Su Huaizhu’s hand beneath the table. Su Huaizhu looked at him and gave a slight nod.
Later that night, once everyone had returned to their respective courtyards, Gu Ruohai and Su Huaizhu had washed up and were lying in bed together.
Su Huaizhu kissed Gu Ruohai’s eyelids and he asked, “Hai’er, do you regret being with me?”
Gu Ruohai said, “Why do you ask that now?” He snuggled closer.
“I am the Devil Sect’s Young Saint after all, and you’re Tengyun Pavilion’s Young Pavilion Master. We can’t avoid it forever. I’ve been thinking about it and I’ve yet to come up with a satisfactory solution.”
Su Huaizhu took Gu Ruohai’s hand and placed it on his own cheek. He said in a low voice, “I don’t want to lose you, but I don’t know how we can continue to be together once we leave here.”
Gu Ruohai gave a wry smile.
“How about you come with me to the Devil Sect?” Su Huaizhu couldn’t help asking hopefully, although he already knew the answer.
Gu Ruohai tapped him gently on the nose, “You know as well as I do, whether I go to your sect or you come to mine, it’ll be tantamount to starting a war.”
Su Huaizhu’s eyes abruptly brightened and he smiled as he said, “Let’s fake our deaths!”
Gu Ruohai rolled his eyes and let out a laugh, “How original.”
Then he turned over and released an exaggerated sigh and teased, “What makes you think you won’t tire of me by the time you complete your discipleship?”
Su Huaizhu shifted closer and embraced him. He whispered into Gu Ruohai’s ear, “Nobody makes me lose myself like when I’m with you.” Then he flipped onto Gu Ruohai and began assaulting his mouth with kisses.
Gu Ruohai just smiled.
Early the next morning, Gu Ruohai and Su Huaizhu met Huang shixiong in the courtyard for their morning training. The first thing Su Huaizhu did was request to go into seclusion to accomplish the last of his Six Underworlds Inter Flower technique. Huang shixiong acquiesced.
This was rather out-of-the-blue for Gu Ruohai since Su Huaizhu had never mentioned it to him.
Usually, it would be Huang shixiong who would assist with Su Huaizhu’s meals when he was in seclusion, but Gu Ruohai had already been accustomed with his habits and volunteered.
It would be the final stage of the Six Underworlds Inter Flower technique, therefore, they estimated that Su Huaizhu would probably only exit seclusion in several months time.
Later that night when they were alone, Su Huaizhu hugged Gu Ruohai from behind and kissed his ear. “Hai’er,” he crooned.
Gu Ruohai wanted to ask him about why he didn’t share his plans for going into seclusion but thought twice about it. He didn’t want to sound like a meddlesome wife or appear untrusting. Besides, that was Su Huaizhu’s training and it was good for him to be diligent and hardworking. He himself should also make the most of his time here and focus on improving his own skills.
With that in mind, Gu Ruohai turned in his arms and kissed Su Huaizhu. “You’ll be starting your seclusion tomorrow. We won’t be sharing a bed for months.”
Su Huaizhu picked him up horizontally and moved to the bed. “Then I’ll have to put in more effort to achieve a breakthrough as soon as I can in order to exit seclusion quickly.” He said, smiling as he began to kiss Gu Ruohai’s neck.
Winter had arrived in Lesser Jade House.
There was light snowfall interspersed with a few hours of sunshine everyday. Lesser Jade House had supplied coal braziers in all the common areas where disciples usually gathered. This allowed them to continue to congregate in many of the pavilions and scattered throughout the grounds during non-training hours.
The dining hall’s menu would change according to the seasons. For winter, the cooks prepared more spicy dishes. They even had hot pot for the disciples to enjoy during this time.
In the blink of an eye, over two months had passed since Su Huaizhu had begun seclusion. Gu Ruohai still fetched his meals three times a day. He would often leave it in the steamer in Su Huaizhu’s room to keep warm since he might not eat straight away if he was in the midst of his exercises. Because Su Huaizhu was so engrossed in his training, the time they got to see and chat with each other had sharply reduced.
Gu Ruohai hadn’t been idling either. He’d been working on developing a sword technique but right now, it was still in the early stages. He’d hoped to be able to complete it and test it out in the martial arts field by spring. Based on Huang shixiong’s suggestion, Gu Ruohai would constantly visit Wanjuan Pavilion to study other forms of swordsmanship as research for his technique.
Another frequenter of Wanjuan Pavilion was Luo Yu, who would regularly borrow a stack of books and scrolls with each trip. He was a dedicated student and was slowly but surely going through all the medical-related texts available in Lesser Jade House.
Because they bumped into each other there so often, Gu Ruohai would assist Luo Yu to carry his borrowed literature back to his courtyard where he resided with Old Qi and stop to chat a while.
One such time, they were having tea in Luo Yu’s room.
“Hai Ge.” Luo Yu said. “Do you not worry about your and Su Huaizhu’s future?”
Gu Ruohai sipped his tea and put the cup down. “I do think about it. What about you and Qin Jianyue? What will you do once you leave Lesser Jade House?”
Luo Yu sighed, “I honestly don’t know. It seems the only option is to—”
“—Run away?” Gu Ruohai emitted a bitter smile.
Luo Yu nodded.
“What does Qin Jianyue think?” Gu Ruohai asked curiously.
“He said he would run away with me.” Luo Yu said softly as he looked down at his cup. Then he gave a light cough and asked: “What about Su Huaizhu?”
Gu Ruohai paused a moment before replying, “We haven’t figured it out yet.”
That was the truth. Except for that one time Su Huaizhu had brought it up before he’d gone into seclusion, they hadn’t discussed it in depth.
Luo Yu noticed his forlorn expression and replied, “There’s still time.”
Gu Ruohai gave him a weak smile, then changed the subject: “It must be something having so many siblings around. No shortage of playmates when you were younger.”
Luo Yu retrieved the teapot from the stove and refilled their cups. “Most of them are half-siblings and not all of them are as pleasant as you would think. I do have one full sibling though; a sister. She’s a couple of years younger than me.”
Gu Ruohai pondered and said: “I’m an only child. The closest thing I have to a sibling is my good friend, Qianfeng Villa’s young master, Xu Song, who didn’t make it into Lesser Jade House……” his voice trailed off. “I do have a couple of shixiongs and shidis back in Tengyun Pavilion, however my father is rather discriminating on status.”
He paused for a moment and sighed, “Being the Young Pavilion Master can be terribly frustrating and lonely.”
Luo Yu nodded slowly, “I can imagine.”
After chatting a while longer, Gu Ruohai noted the time. Since it was getting late, he thanked Luo Yu for the tea before saying his goodbyes and returning to Yingyuan courtyard.
When he stepped inside, Huang shixiong was sitting at the table holding a letter. He saw Gu Ruohai had returned, “Ah, there you are.”
Gu Ruohai walked over and cupped his fists, “Shixiong, did you need me for something?”
Huang shixiong said, “Shizun just delivered a letter. Since tomorrow is the Winter Solstice, she has instructed Su Huaizhu to exit seclusion for a day.”