Chapter 70: Sideways Glance of Beautiful Eyes
Translated by Vivian of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
When Shen Jue came back, Xiahou Lian was sitting on the threshold and tying lanterns. Behind him was the dark reddish brown door, and above his head were bright red lanterns with tassels hanging from them. In the soft light and shadows, he was a light ink mark. The broken eave bells rang, swaying in a long line. When Xiahou Lian heard his footsteps, he looked up, still with a gentle smile. The reddish brown light and shadows and fluttering rings of bells were crushed into a bundle of light, dissolving inside of his black pupils.
Shen Jue felt that it was too dirty on the threshold and wanted him to sit under the corridor in front of the hall to talk.
Xiahou Lian moved the basin and sat beside Shen Jue, picking the macerated reeds up again, pressing and picking them between his fingers. Shen Jue watched him tie the lantern frame for a while and asked, “Why target Zhu Xia?”
“I don’t like her.” Xiahou Lian said, “She’s the empress dowager’s person, so you can’t do much to her. You care about your identity and can’t make fun of her at will,” he turned his head and smiled, “so I will. I’m just a rogue anyway, so I talk improperly like this. She has to keep her grievances to herself and can’t do anything to me.”
Shen Jue made a “tch,” his face filled with disdain. “Are you still worried that I’ll suffer losses? I need you to vent my anger for me?”
Xiahou Lian looked down and touched the reeds, saying, “I’m not worried that you’ll suffer losses, I’m worried that you aren’t happy.”
Shen Jue was stunned and immediately said indifferently, “I’m used to it.”
Xiahou Lian gazed at the ceiling of the corridor for a while and suddenly said, “Have you heard of when I was still mixing around in the streets before and had imposing prestige for those few years? My name of the Nameless Ghost was even on ‘List of Garan’s Ghosts.’”
Shen Jue looked at him quite disdainfully. “What, you’re idle and have nothing to do, so you’re going to list your heroic ancient history with me?”
“Of course not,” Xiahou Lian muttered a little helplessly, “how would I dare to show off in front of you? What I mean to say is, at that time, everyone thought that I was awesome and formidable. Hengbo Saber swept over all of the martial arts world, sealing the throat of whoever saw it. But it actually wasn’t like that at all. You’ll see ghosts if you walk at night. They died under your saber on the killing field, and at night when you dream, they’ll come back to find you, calling your name in your ears. And at that time, you can’t kill them no matter how many times you swing your saber.”
He touched the arrow scar on his hand. “At that time, I developed a habit of holding Hengbo when I slept. Others said that I was vigilant and was even on guard against enemies coming at night. I actually wasn’t. What I was on guard against weren’t enemies coming through the gate, it was the ones coming from my dreams.”
He was clearly a young man who was only in his twenties and was even an assassin, yet he was always like an old man, his mouth full of spirits and ghosts. Shen Jue was very helpless, but he also understood him. He held his wrist and said, “Don’t be afraid of that. You’ve changed your face now, so the ghosts also can’t find you.”
“So, the imposing prestige on the surface was actually false.” Xiahou Lian said slowly, “Young Master, you don’t have to hide from me. If you don’t feel happy, you don’t have to hold it back in your heart.”
Shen Jue understood what this guy had wanted to say after saying a big heap of beating around the bush. It turned out that he was afraid that he was unhappy and was hiding it, not saying anything. Was he unhappy? By now, he already didn’t have much feeling anymore. It was already effortless for him to find amusement when the occasion arose. Not only was it effortless, he had perfected it. He could act false ones to be true, and he could also pretend that bad ones were good. What happiness or unhappiness, wasn’t it good to achieve his goal? He knitted his brows and said, “Don’t worry about pickled radish not being salty enough every day. You ponder about others when you yourself are at peace, I don’t need your worry.” He paused and then said, “Nor do I need your sympathy.”
He had always been proud, and even when he was as lowly as dust, he would still stand up stiffly. Xiahou Lian smiled and didn’t reply to him. He merely said, “Young Master, let’s not smile if we can in the future.”
“What, you think it’s ugly?” Shen Jue sneered.
“Not ugly. Young Master, you’re the best-looking, how can you be ugly?” Xiahou Lian said, “It’s just that it makes my heart ache to see it.”
It wasn’t sympathy, it was care.
Xiahou Lian turned his head slightly to the side, a faint smile at the corners of his eyes and the tips of his brows.
Shen Jue kept silent. In the silence, he heard his heart thump.
He knew best what he himself was like. The higher he went, the harder he would fall, and if he left the small and insignificant area of gold bricks under his feet, he was nothing. He was either the governor of the Eastern Depot who was admired by tens of thousands of people, or he was a prisoner with disheveled hair, disliked by people and hated by dogs. He operated with care, as if treading on thin ice with every step.
But who cared about these things about him? They either hoped to reap profit from him or for him to fall from power so they could stand out. No one cared whether he hurt or not, and even he himself had also forgotten.
“Idiot,” said Shen Jue.
“I care about you and you still scold me, you’re disregarding the feudal ethics,” Xiahou Lian jokingly complained before looking down to continue tying the lantern. The lantern frame had already been woven, so he began pasting paper. It was still a rabbit lantern, but it was bigger and rounder this time, with its ears standing up like two cattail leaf fans.
Shen Jue silently looked at his focused eyes. He was only tying a shabby lantern, yet it was as if he was carving jade, his eyes not even blinking. He was always boring like this. The children asked him for lanterns, so he tied one after another.
But Shen Jue just liked this kind of Xiahou Lian, unable to give him up and unable to part with him.
He used his gaze to trace the lines of Xiahou Lian’s forehead, eyelashes, nasal bridge, cheeks, and chin, going down bit by bit, until it was at his thin fingers which held the kraft paper. A demon emerged in his heart, whispering in his ears.
I don’t want your care either, idiot. Shen Jue thought, What I want is you.
He lifted his hand and put it lightly on Xiahou Lian’s shoulder. Xiahou Lian didn’t react and was still pasting on the second layer of kraft paper. His pale fingertips slowly tightened. He felt the front edge of Xiahou Lian’s shoulder bone, as well as the uneven old scars. He imperceptibly used his thumb to caress him lightly, and a dark taste of ecstasy seemed to erode his bones, even more intoxicating than blatant intimacy.
Xiahou Lian was pasting the third layer of kraft paper. He half-closed his eyes and slowly neared.
“It’s been accomplished!” Xiahou Lian suddenly said. He picked the lantern up and shook it in front of Shen Jue. “Here, it’s for you.”
Shen Jue slowly drew back and glanced at the rabbit lantern in Xiahou Lian’s hands, saying, “I’m not a child.”
“Everyone has a share. The young ones have them, and the old ones also have them.” Xiahou Lian put the lantern into Shen Jue’s arms.
When he reached his hand over, Shen Jue saw the wound on his fingertip from being cut by a reed. It was an extremely small line, revealing the faint red of his blood.
“No matter.” Xiahou Lian was dismissive.
Shen Jue drew his hand back from behind his shoulders. His cool fingertips swept across the back of Xiahou Lian’s neck, chilly. His hand slid down from his shoulder and pinched Xiahou Lian’s wrist. Before Xiahou Lian could react, Shen Jue had already put the tip of his finger into his mouth.
Xiahou Lian: “!”
It was as if his mind had exploded, a blank white expanse. Xiahou Lian subconsciously wanted to pull his finger out, but Shen Jue restrained his wrist. He squinted slightly as he glanced at him in warning, and then lowered his eyes again, lightly licking the tip of his finger.
Warmth, wetness, and softness wrapped around the tip of his finger. The small wound was the most sensitive, and he felt Shen Jue’s tongue sweep across it again and again, waves of numbness rising along his finger. He wanted to flee, but Shen Jue just wouldn’t let go. His teeth bit threateningly, as if he would bite off his finger if he dared to escape, a row of solid texture against it. Xiahou Lian’s entire body began to heat up from the tip of his finger.
What the fuck is this! Xiahou Lian wanted to stop him, and he shouted, “Y-Y-Y-Y-Y-Young…!” His head was dizzy, and he couldn’t speak clearly anymore. Only after biting his own tongue did he say “Young Master” entirely.
Shen Jue finally let him go. His full lips left the tip of his finger, bringing out a trace of saliva. Xiahou Lian looked at that bit of silver light connecting his finger and Shen Jue’s mouth. His gaze seemed to be rusted, unable to be shifted away even if he died.
“What is it?” Shen Jue’s gaze contained confusion, feigning innocence. “Didn’t you see that you’re injured? If you don’t deal with it properly, what if you die in a bit?”
Does he think I’m a fool! If I would die from a small wound, how could I have survived until now? Xiahou Lian roared in his mind.
Shen Jue was still speaking. “There was an underling last time who seemed to have been from the first division. He was cut by a fishing net hook, went back and had a fever for a few days, and he was gone.”
Was this really a thing! Xiahou Lian stood up and didn’t dare to face Shen Jue. He turned his back to him and said, “I’m going home to rest, see you tomorrow!”
After he said this, he left hurriedly, not even having time to clear away the kraft paper and reeds. Shen Jue watched him leave and saw him nearly fall when he went down the steps. Shen Jue leaned against a pillar and smiled slightly. Xiahou Lian disappeared behind the side gate. He lowered his quiet and deep eyelashes and put his finger on his lips, his smile becoming more and more unrestrained.
Xiahou Lian’s finger was very sweet, too delicious. He still wanted… more.
Xiahou Lian rushed back home, closed the door, and leaned on the door panel, looking down at his finger that had been licked by Shen Jue. The saliva had already dried, and under the dim light, he seemed to see Shen Jue’s lips caressing his finger again. Those full lips pursed into a faint line, naturally red.
He heard his own rapid panting, and the waves in his blood vessels crashed over as if in hindsight. He didn’t need to look to know how red his face was. He hastily walked outside the kitchen, fetched water from the well, and poured bucket by bucket onto himself. The icy well water dispersed the scorching heat on his body, yet it couldn’t drive away the Shen Jue who occupied his mind. A trace of saliva sticking to his lips, glossy and lustrous. Lifting his eyes and looking over, his charming gaze was like silk.
Shen Jue really was a demon! If he was going to treat the wound then treat the wound, but why did he have to lick it!
Xiahou Lian did a few sets of punches and then did Garan’s saber techniques from start to finish. Only when he was completely exhausted did he go back inside and go to sleep.
The days were on track. Xiahou Lian got up every morning, brushed his teeth, rinsed his mouth, and washed his face, went to the yamen for morning roll call, listened to to his superiors lecture, and then followed Xu Ruoyu to walk through the streets and alleys to investigate cases and fight events. Using the yamen’s money, their fifth division had hired a group of beggars who would specially ask about information for them. Things such as the chief minister of the Court of Judicial Review’s eldest son was impotent and that the baby his wife had given birth to was actually his younger brother’s, or that Landlord Zhang’s family in the city outskirts had given birth to another daughter and it was already their twelfth child yet they hadn’t had a son yet, and so on and so forth.
Xiahou Lian had been responsible for transcribing these bits and pieces of trivial matters onto records and handing it to the eunuchs in charge of clerical work to file them, and the eunuchs in charge of clerical work would choose the ones they thought were most important and pass it up to Shen Jue to look at. Later, Xu Ruoyu had glanced at his handwriting and wording, and decided to give this job to another colleague whose surname was Bai.
Although the monthly payment for being an underling wasn’t a lot, only two taels of silver, when they received cases sometimes to search the homes of those officials, they could get many extra benefits. Once, the wife of the vice minister of the Ministry of Rites had inexplicably drowned herself in a river. His wife’s and the empress dowager’s family were related through relatives and friends, so when the wife’s family reported the case, the empress dowager sent the case to the Eastern Depot.
This case happened to be in the territory of their fifth division’s jurisdiction, so Xu Ruoyu had taken Xiahou Lian and a few people to investigate from door to door. Upon seeing them, the vice minister of the Ministry of Rites had held out a plate of gold ingots, well-behavedly holding it out under Xu Ruoyu’s nose. Xu Ruoyu had taken three ingots himself and distributed the rest to his brothers. After not seeing gold in a long time, Xiahou Lian couldn’t help but sigh a little emotionally. He had instantly treated all of the brothers in the fifth division to a banquet, booking Chu Building and calling over showgirls and inviting female guests, and the gold that he had just gotten had all been spent.
It had been very peaceful in the past few days, and nothing big had happened. Sometimes after getting off work, Xu Ruoyu would invite him to go to Yunxian Building to drink wine, or to prostitutes’ places to listen to songs. He had asked a bit about whether an underling in the Eastern Depot had died from being cut by a hook, and Xu Ruoyu had nodded and said yes. The hook had been dirty from touching fish, the underling hadn’t noticed, and he had gone home and had a fever for a few days before he was gone. It seemed that it was still this brat Shen Jue making a big fuss over nothing. How could macerated reeds be the same as fishing net hooks?
The next day when he went back to the yamen for morning roll call, a higher-up had somehow found out about this matter and scolded them for drinking and having fun before the national mourning was over, so they were each fined three months’ salary. Originally, the higher-ups had always turned a blind eye to this matter of drinking and eating, so someone must have reported them behind their backs. Xu Ruoyu had cursed a few sentences.
Xiahou Lian didn’t have other income, so he could only go to Lian Xiang’s every day to get free meals.
The emperor was going to leave the palace to offer incense at a temple next month, so Xiahou Lian became busy at once. After all, the emperor was going to travel, so it must be made sure that there was no danger of anything going wrong. The number of guards in the capital doubled, and they were sent everywhere to investigate and arrest refugees, either putting them in prison or ordering them to leave the capital. They would sometimes squat on the road and look to see who was shifty-eyed, then go up to them to interrogate them. Only after checking their travel permit and household registration and then searching for a few maces of silver would they be let off.
Today, Shen Jue was preparing the carriage at his doorway, about to go into the palace. It was Xiahou Lian’s turn to be on duty as a guard, so he and his brothers rode on their horses behind the carriage, waiting.
Shen Jue wasn’t close to him in front of others. He was very dignified in the Eastern Depot, with strict and impartial laws, and although he often smiled toward others, the aura of his pride and high position still made people flinch upon seeing him. When he didn’t speak, the people below didn’t dare to make a sound. He was a lot more casual in private, and recently, he even frequently put his hand around Xiahou Lian’s shoulders. Xiahou Lian sometimes couldn’t help thinking that he and Shen Jue looked a little like the master and servant in storybooks who were having a secret relationship, an affair. As he thought about it, he would make himself nauseous.
Shen Jue came out of the manor, and Shen Wenxing trotted to the carriage, moving the low stool out and placing it on the ground. Xiahou Lian and the underlings saluted with folded hands in unison, calling respectfully, “Governor.”
When Shen Jue had just stepped onto the carriage, an eight- or nine-year-old boy with straight brows and eyes ran over along the wall. He was holding a handful of green foxtail grass in his hand as he shouted, “What a handsome big brother! I’ll give you flowers!”
An underling stopped him, and everyone pursed their lips in smiles.
An underling said, “Little kid, this is green foxtail grass, not flowers!”
The child looked at his hands blankly and then looked at Shen Jue, saying, “But just then, that brother said that these were flowers!”
Shen Jue over there suddenly said, “Open his hands!”
The underling’s expression changed, and he hastily opened the child’s fist that was holding the foxtail grass. A poisonous needle was hidden in it. Under the sun, the point of the needle had an eerie blue. The child suddenly screamed and recklessly charged at Shen Jue. Xiahou Lian stepped forward and pulled Shen Jue, protecting him behind himself. Another underling rushed up and kicked the child to the ground.
The child fell to the ground and didn’t get up again. The underling flipped him over and saw that he was bleeding from the mouth and eyes, already dead.
“Cong-ge’er!” There was another scream as a woman ran over from the entrance of an alley. She hugged the child on the ground as she wailed, “My Cong-ge’er! What a Eunuch Shen, he was only a child and accidentally bumped into you, yet you killed him!”
A crowd of people gradually gathered at the entrance of the alley, standing there as they murmured and pointed.
“Eunuch Shen! You regard human lives as weeds, give me back my child’s life! Everyone, hurry and look, hurry and look! At the foot of the emperor, Shen Jue doesn’t take into account the laws and bullies us common people, disregarding the feudal ethics!” The woman emitted loud cries. “An Eunuch Wei left, but a Eunuch Shen came! There’s no way out!”
Shen Jue said in a cold voice, “Guards, take this woman away!”
The underlings went to drag her, but the woman rushed around blindly as if she had gone mad. In the end, someone pushed her, and the woman staggered backward, hitting her head on the stone lion at Shen Jue’s doorway, dying from the impact.
In an instant, two corpses were laying at Shen Jue’s doorway, blood dripped from the stone lion’s pedestal, and the common people were in an uproar.