The Rise of Phoenixes

Chapter 256

Chapter 256: Chapter 256

Feng Zhiwei met Helian Zheng’s eyes and nodded. Beside them, Mudan Hua’s face went unnaturally still and she turned away.

Feng Zhiwei followed Liu Mudan as they went off to choose rooms, arranging for her people to house close together. The steppes were not as prudish as the Central Plains and did not force men and women into separate yards, the barriers between rooms considered sufficient decency. Narta was thus fittingly crammed between Zong Chen and Gu Nanyi’s rooms, much to her pale horror.

Once everyone was settled in, Liu Mudan held her baby and turned to leave, but Feng Zhiwei called her back and invited her to tea.

After some sips, the woman begged off to go to the bathroom, hoisting the baby once again and walking off. Feng Zhiwei chuckled and called out, telling her she did not need to carry off the baby just to use the toilet — what if the baby accidentally fell in?

When the Queen Dowager returned, the older woman soon explained that she missed the pond in the back courtyard and wanted to check if the servants and dirtied it by washing clothes there. Feng Zhiwei smiled and scooped up the baby, easily offering to watch over Tsamuttu while she went to check the water.

The mother-in-law and daughter chattered the evening away and finished dinner together. Liu Mudan seemed to sigh with some relief, hugging Tsamuttu once more as she said: “I’ve been here for most of the day, it’s time for me to go back and sleep.”

“Take care, be well.” Feng Zhiwei replied, noticing Liu Mudan’s eyes gleaming as she left, hurrying away as if her butt was on fire.

Feng Zhiwei sat quietly for a moment, listening to the fierce steppe wind outside, its howl like that of a tortured, lonely wolf.

As the moment passed she stood, walking over to where Young Master Gu waited by the door, her cape already in his hand.

“How did you know I wanted to leave?” Feng Zhiwei asked with some surprise, tilting her head at him.

Young Master Gu pondered deeply before replying: “You are troubled.”

Feng Zhiwei stared. The jade statue who had never cared for anything beyond the one and half feet before[1] him, never blinking even as people died around him, was now able to sense that she was troubled and understand that she wished to leave?

When had this miraculous change begun?

Feng Zhiwei pulled the warm, heavy cape over her shoulders and reached back to tie the bands. To her surprise, Gu Nanyi had also reached over to tie the bands and their fingers touched for a moment before he snatched his hands away.

Feng Zhiwei was surprised again. He had moved away so much quicker than he used to; he had never had any problem sweeping his hands to check her entire body much less a simple touching of fingers.

Was his newfound understanding of the world linked to her?[2]

Feng Zhiwei bit her lips, her heart a mess of thoughts and emotions. She slowly finished tying the bands, not turning to meet the handsome man’s eyes as she quietly spoke: “Let’s go.”

Gu Nanyi wordlessly followed. Since he had begun taking care of Gu Zhixiao, he had not been able to snack on walnuts, so now in this rare moment, he took one out and began slowly chewing.

Perhaps the walnut had sat in the bag for too long, but for whatever reason the nut was no longer richly sweet, but rather unevenly bitter.

The uneven bitterness reminded Gu Nanyi of South Sea moss as he slept on the rooftop in the rain while Feng Zhiwei lay in her sickbed below. It reminded him of snow as he followed her after the burial of her mother and brother, the trail of her footsteps and his against the vast white hills of snow stretching back to two lonely tombs.

The walnut slowly grew tasteless, but he continued chewing.

Finally there was only the few crumbs left on his fingers and he gently licked them off, ever so slowly. Behind the fragrance of the walnut lay another smell, faint like midnight mist, nowhere and everywhere at the same time.

He carefully smelled his fingers, bringing them gently against his warm, red lips…

Feng Zhiwei never turned.

Moonlight shone down on the pure white-stone path and he followed a step behind her, his slender shadow covering hers.

The buildings of the Second Potala Palace were far apart and few guards manned the posts, fitting for the steppe people’s generous customs and frank character.

Each building stood almost alone, no true rule or discernible relation in their plotting; Mudan Hua’s hand shone through.

Past a section of short wall and down a turn, Liu Mudan’s bright red bedroom and its tightly shut windows finally came into view.

Mudan Hua loved openness and always threw open the windows wherever she went, but today she had closed her bedroom off from the world.

Feng Zhiwei smiled at Mudan Hua’s silhouette, lit against the paper windows by tallow candles.

She held Tsamuttu and paced gently around the room, humming a quiet lullaby.

A quiet fragrance spilled outwards, a blue flower that bloomed quietly in lovely and romantic blossoms. The moonlight was bright and true and the wind between the buildings brisk and refreshing, and the lullaby seemed to drift outwards from the room like a little boat floating in the breeze.

It was beautiful and peaceful and for a moment Feng Zhiwei wondered if she had been to paranoid.

Mudan Hua rocked Tsamuttu, her song never ending as she swept over to the bed, pulling the curtains closed.

The melody drifted outwards and Feng Zhiwei could focus and make out the lyrics.

“Small little baby, like a daisy, blown by the wind, drenched in the rain…”

The moonlight dimmed as clouds floated by overhead; the shadows of the veranda grew dark and long, but still the song rang out, muffled but true. The quiet lyrics swept by, unknowably eerie.

“blown by the wind, drenched in the rain…”

As she sang, Liu Mudan reached up and grabbed the curtain band.

“drenched in the rain…”

With one hand, she tied the band into a loop.

“drenched in the rain…”

Feng Zhiwei lurched forward, slamming the door open and stepping inside.

Liu Mudan froze, her song stalled as she looked up in shock from where she stood by the bed.

Tears poured down her face as she readied the looped band.

Trails of thick powder were washing away as fat, salty drops fell downward.

Feng Zhiwei’s eyes flicked from the woman’s face to the band to the sleeping baby suckling his fingers.

Weeping, singing, readying a noose to hang her own son!

“Why…” Feng Zhiwei finally managed, barely recognizing the husky croak of her own voice.

There are certain mothers who strike fear into hearts for their love cannot be understood.

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