WEI LI LIAN
MILITARY GROUNDS CAMP
The first thing she recognized was the rich captivating scent of viburnum flowers. She languorously stretched herself on where she lay and opened her eyes to an aphotic lit room. Finally she had rested, something she had desired most.
Silk material caressed her skin as she sat up. She looked around and saw a lamp by her bedside, and a large bronze censer in the middle of the room that released the viburnum scent which was so relaxing and enticing. Few mahogany cabinets stuck to the wall; they did not appear to be ones meant to store clothes in.
"Is she awake yet?" the Grand General's husky voice jolted her, coming from the outside.
"No, My Lord," a man responded.
'How insolent! Seems like the General had placed someone to guard me from leaving.' She bit her thumb nail, considering what to do next.
"Any problems caused?" Grand General asked.
"Nothing since you left, My Lord."
She clambered to the floor and ran in snaky circles before darting next to the door where she exerted herself against the wall. She heard a few footsteps nearing then held her breath. This was the man who had almost killed her earlier. She had to survive.
The doors opened to the outside and as soon as someone entered, she pounced on him with intent to knock him out. Swiftly, he turned around and took hold of her in his arms. He securely huddled her small body while her feet wiggled in the air. She wrestled against him to put her down and it was like he hesitated for a moment before slamming her to the floor.
"Owh…" she grimaced, her back shuddering from acute pain. She wreathed around the floor and helplessly rubbed her sensitive back.
"Was that necessary?" the Grand General ridiculed her though sounding amazed, as he towered her. He wore white silks that were traced by gold intrinsic embroidery. His front hair was pulled together and tied at the back, letting the rest of his lengthy hair fall freely past his shoulders.
"Worth a try," she moaned and squinted her eyes closed, still under intense pain.
"Come here," he offered and bent to lift her up in bridal style. His divine ylang ylang scent intoxicated her, making her toes curl. His damp hair feathered her cheeks which meant that he was probably coming out from taking another bathe.
"Did you bathe again?" she asked curiously, looking up at him.
He smiled. "Did you want to join?"
Her cheeks flushed and she was thankful for the dimness of the room to hide this unacceptable weakness of hers. He carefully let her down on the bed and naturally pushed the skirt of his robes aside, seating himself beside her. Every movement of his was engrossed with a sense of class.
"Hmm?" he looked down at her. "Did you want to join?"
"Of course not," she blunt out rejected.
"What a shame," his hand inclined to touch her and instinctively, she held him up to stop him. After what had happened earlier, she was more alert for her life around him. But it seemed like to him personal space was something she had no entitlement to for he always hovered over her whenever she was in his presence.
"You almost killed me earlier," she accused.
"You just passed out," he said it like it was no big deal. Magnetic hazel-brown eyes watched her like she was the most captivating art piece before him, though she felt far from it.
"Or what? Scared of dying?" he probed.
"General said it, not I." If she was scared of death, she wouldn't be staying in a nation that hated where she was from.
He retracted his hand from her and shifted towards the small bedside table which had the lamp. Lifting up the lamp, he drew it close to her face.
'Is he going to burn me?'
His face frowned as if in deep thought, his head nodding. It was the kind of facial expressions that pawn shop owners have when examining the legitimacy of a gem.
Her hands frantically patted her face and she became conscious of the absence of her cloth. He knew now what she looked like. She closed her eyes anxiously, feeling uncomfortable.
"You look a little bit like her, but uglier." He remarked, placing the lamp back by the bed.
"Who?" It was hard to mask the twinge of hurt from her voice. It was the first time someone had looked at her and uttered the word 'ugly.' Looking at him, he looked totally unaffected by her, a sign that he was telling the truth about her looks being lackslidal.
"Someone." he dismissed.
And she got the more curious. One of his concubines? Courtesan from a manor? Who was the 'someone'? She kind of wanted to know but neither did she have the right to demand for an answer.
He shifted again and took some items that were on the bedside table. Her eyes widened when she saw them.
"Knife, a letter and pass tags?" he examined them with his big hands, "What a surprise that you actually know how to use the front entrance," he grinned.
"I always use the front entrance, only thieves use the back entrance."
"However you were seen in impermissible areas."
She froze at those words. How did he know that she had been caught wandering around on unauthorized grounds?
He broke the seal of the letter and she flanked herself up to snatch the letter back like a wild mother hen that had just spotted someone steal its chicks.
He chuckled and stood up, his hand held up high.
"Give me that!" she demanded, going after him. He then backed away, avoiding her easily and so she started to aimlessly hope around him. She hit his chest so that he could lower his hands yet he continued to open the letter.
"Aiyah! It's not meant for your prying eyes," she jumped, failing miserably to bring him down due to his domineering height.
"Code blue…" he began to read.
"Hey, stop it." She toiled herself, clutching her aching back. Powerlessly, she tried to tickle him but he was not as ticklish as she had imagined.
"Have... his majesty go see the Grand Dowager Empress... and keep him from the palace," he finished. The seal was broken, how she would deliver the letter without being heavily punished was besides her.
"You disgust me," she spat as she pushed herself back to the bed. Anger flooded her veins. She couldn't stand him. Throwing the covers over herself, she faced the wall, her back towards him.
He stationed himself on the bed again.
"Little fox," he shook her.
"Leave me alone."
"What happened at the palace?" he inquired sounding modulated.
She couldn't believe her ears. After tearing open the letter, he had the guts to demand for more information. She ignored him.
"Little fox." He pulled the covers and yanked her around so that she could look at him. "Don't be like this." Her head now lay on his palm, the heat from it kind of subduing. She rolled her eyes and pushed his hand from beneath her.
"In case no one taught you this General, there is something called privacy, and that letter there was private and not meant for you."
"What do you mean by privacy? After all, the world belongs to me."
"Huh! Such treasonous words. The world is the emperor's, you imbecile, do you wish to die?" she tsked. She didn't know what it was about him, but he brought out her unlady animastilic habits.
"The people belong to the emperor, but the world is the general's." A coy smile played on his full lips.
She looked at him in disbelief.
"Will you now tell me what happened at the palace?" He picked up her hand and kissed the back of it. It was like he was trying to soften her up to spill the beans.
"No." She responded with as much firmness.
"No?" He released her hand and picked up her knife. With copious skill, he swung it into the air and it blade up before he easily caught it as it fell. Slowly, holding his gaze with hers, he jabbed the blade down directed toward her stomach, and she screamed in panic.
"You idiot!" she ruggedly breathed, entranced with fear and bewilderment. Looking down, she realized that he had just ripped the blankets.
Her heart was drumming. 'Next time it's going to be you,' was his silent threat. If she was not clever about this, he would kill her.
He rubbed his thumb on the sharp blade and looked at her again, "Still no?" She took a deep breath, her mind buzzing. This man was the pure definition of manipulation.
'I cannot tell him, I cannot tell him.' Her mind rang wildly.
And it was like he could tell what was going through it as he next brushed her neck, "Does it still hurt here?"
It was a sore reminder of his earlier attack on her poor neck. She could see it in his eyes that he was willing to slit her throat this time.
'You have to survive, Le-anne,' she told herself. It had come to this, either she talked or he would strike her dead.
"You have to promise me that this will not reach the emperor's ears until he sees the Grand Dowager Empress." She searched his eyes, and he nodded. She could trust him, that she could only do for she had no other option.
"It's the prince," she started.
"What about the prince?"
"He got poisoned." There, she had said it.
The minute she told him the news, she felt the sanity of the man beside her disappear. It was bearable earlier that though he was unpredictable, he still held the air of softness but now he was a complete stone. She could see a fist of rage form in his hands, his breath raging anger.
"You have to promise," she emphasized.
He gave her a brooded look. "I will not tell, instead I will have your letter delivered to Court Lady Nam for you." He picked up the letter he had placed back on the bedside table earlier. Not caring to pass his kind regards to announce his leave, he stood up and strode towards the doors before stopping.
"I will have them prepare you some food to eat and something for your back. Sleep afterwards and one of my men will escort you back to the palace tomorrow morning."
And just like that, he left. The man who could rock her world left and right left, and for the first time since forever she felt like she could breathe.
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