You Shu walked slowly to the carriage and saw that Zhao Yusong was looking at him with a weird expression. His eyes were shining, his brows were furrowed, and the corners of his mouth seemed to rise, but he tried his best to suppress it due to the misgivings in his heart, which instead twisted his handsome face in a distorted manner.
You Shu has studied micro-expressions and knows that he was trying to control the ridicule and contempt in his heart. Was it because of his appearance? Right at that moment, he suddenly understood. How could Wang Shi inquire about the preferences of the Ninth Prince when she had just arrived in the Capital? Naturally, the only way was to ask her sisters-in-law or send a servant. The messages received by the servants are all transmitted by word of mouth, which was far from the facts. And as for those sisters-in-law who had always hated the first branch of the family, how can they sincerely help? What's more, they would release fake information, waiting to see the first branch become a joke.
No matter how unpredictable the Ninth Prince was, Zhao Yusong, who was his study companion, would more or less know his likes and dislikes. The servants sent by Wang Shi would have definitely gone to his courtyard to ask for information. The Zhao family’s clan rules were extremely strict and the second branch of the Zhao family was even more rigorous. It was impossible for Zhao Yusong to not be aware when other people were snooping around his courtyard.
The expression of expectation and suppressed smile on his face was the result of this, right? His outfit choices were probably also his handiwork? Thinking of this, You Shu wanted to remove the accessories and camellia from his head, but saw Wang Shi rushing over, carefully pinning a delicately crafted purse to his waist, and exhorted, "Mother is warning you, these clothes are not allowed to get dirty or messed up, and you are definitely not allowed to change them as you please! Mother rushed all night to finish it and has seen to it that every stitch and thread was perfect. You can wear it again when you have your coming-of-age ceremony!"
You Shu never ignored or even disregarded other people’s goodwill towards him. He couldn’t have been able to receive such a thing in his past life or even his life before that, so he cherished it greatly in this life. It didn't matter whether it was done deliberately to let people ridicule him; he didn’t mind following along, as long as it made his mother happy. Anyway, mother wouldn't know about things that happened outside and he didn't even care about the strange gazes of others.
Thinking like this, You Shu retracted his hand and obediently agreed, as if he hadn't noticed Zhao Yusong's malice.
The two arrived at Huaniao Lane in a carriage. The street was bustling and crowded, so they had to get out of the carriage and walk. Zhao Yusong kept stifling his smile along the way, fearing that he would get noticed by his younger cousin, and used a jade fan to block his mouth. At a glance, his current looks conflicted with his image as an elegant gongzi.
No matter how weird his gaze was, You Shu didn’t care. He found that Wang Shi really understood him well. Instead of putting spices in his purse, she put a lot of pine nuts in instead. He played around with them in his hand, looking around extra leisurely. The two strolled to the vicinity of a teahouse when they saw someone beckoning and shouting from the second floor, "Brother Cangji, here!"
"We’re here!" Zhao Yusong smiled, waved his fan, and walked towards the entrance.
You Shu originally planned to follow after him, but saw an old man across the street carrying a pile of candied haws. The bright red hawthorn looked very attractive and the strong smell of sugar drifted over. In his previous life, when he spent his days with Song mama, he never had any good food to eat. Only when visiting the temple fair, Baishao would secretly buy him a bunch of candied haws. It was the only sweetness in his bitter years and he would never forget that taste.
Even after he followed his Master and led a life without any worries about food and clothing, he would buy one from time to time, hold it in his hand and lick it slowly, reminiscing about the sweetness and bitterness of the past. The lingering feeling of the different flavors in his heart was very peculiar.
He cautiously put the pine nuts back into his embroidered pouch and ran to the old man without even telling his cousin at all.
Zhao Yusong gave up after a few calls, shook his head and went upstairs. He left a young male servant to look after him to wait for him to buy what he wanted before taking him upstairs to the private room.
"What’s with your little cousin's outfit today? It seems like he was gorgeously dressed and full of makeup?"
As soon as he opened the door, someone laughed and teased him. Zhao Yusong looked up and saw that it was Xue Wangjing, the eldest son of Dingguo Gongfu, who was also the Ninth Prince’s companion. It was fine if he was just teasing him, but he looked at the Ninth Prince sitting on the seat of honor with a look of wanting to watch a good show, as if he was intentionally provoking a feeling of disgust from the other party.
Zhao Yusong smiled bitterly, expressing that he was also helpless. However, he was disgusted as well. He hated the senior branch more than anyone else, especially Zhao Youshu, who almost put the Zhao family into a crisis of destruction. The Zhao family seem to lead an extravagant lifestyle, but in fact have had difficulty making ends meet for a long time. The second branch especially, which was responsible for the family’s livelihood, has reached the point of selling their land to scrape a living. His mother's dowry was already scarce, but in order to help the first branch deal with the aftermath, she pawned a lot off and now there was barely anything left.
He usually didn't dare to talk about the valuable objects that he wanted. He held resentment and hatred in his heart, but they were not so strong. But on the day the senior branch returned, they pulled more than a dozen carts of their belongings back and forth and Zhao Youshu was even dressed extravagantly. He casually used expensive things and even put on a naive and innocent face, making Zhao Yusong feel disgusted and contemptuous.
At the age of sixteen, he couldn't pass the Tongsheng examination. A waste-of-space like him was worthy of being on an equal footing with himself? And an even higher standing to boot? Because of the jealousy in the heart and how his parents often repeated about how the first branch almost implicated the Zhao family, how abnormal and how inconsiderate of the overall situation they were, Zhao Yusong's hatred towards Zhao Youshu naturally increased.
He could normally ignore him, but he wanted court death by trying to fawn over the Ninth Prince through him. Didn’t he see the sorry fates of those who had tried to fawn over the Ninth Prince? After feeling conflicted over it for a while, he uttered a few words in front of the Ninth Prince, but was heard by Xue Wangjing, who had a dissolute and unruly temperament, and who came up with today's idea.
A group of people waited in the teahouse early in the morning to appreciate the shameful performance of Zhao Yusong's cousin. Xue Wangjing also brought many attendants, gathered in the private room to have tea and chat, laughing and playing, but he did not dare to provoke the person in the seat of honor.
Others didn't know the temperament of the Ninth Prince, but they knew a little bit. It was said that the Ninth Prince was imposing and powerful, both in civil and military, and he would definitely vigorously develop the country and unite the nine states. However, they vaguely understood that the Ninth Prince’s character was very weird. The strange thing was not his harsh and unpredictable temperament, but because he had no interest in anything in the world.
Indeed, he didn't care about power, status, treasures, or even relatives and friends. His dark eyes were always deadly still, which made people afraid to look straight at him. If he stared at you for a long time, you would feel suffocated unknowingly, as if you were walking in a neverending wilderness or had fallen into the abyss. One moment, he would be talking and laughing, and in a good mood, but the next moment, he would become gloomy and take a person’s life. You will never be able to guess what he was thinking, let alone his preferences.
Although they couldn't guess what he liked, he would occasionally reveal his dislikes, just like now. He used the lid of the cup to lightly hold up the teacup, and said in a deep voice, "I heard that that fifth cousin of yours is also called You Shu? How can there be so many people named You Shu in the world?"
The name was a legend that existed as early as the Great Ming Dynasty. It was said that the prestigious Emperor Zongsheng never married in his life because he was too obsessed with a young man named You Shu. Although he made many great exploits in his life, the various tribulations he faced before he ascended the throne were also quite strange. People from that time actually deified him and only felt that whatever he did was good and had a reason behind it. For this reason, things that were regarded as taboo in the nine provinces, have become popular since the Emperor Zongsheng united the continent.
And the trend of men putting on makeup and wearing jade hairpins also began to rise at that time, and it has not changed until now. Both the common people and the nobles were full of curiosity towards the legendary "You Shu" who had led astray the Emperor of a dynasty with his beauty, and whoever gives birth to a child with an exceptional appearance will almost always take this name.
It was a pity that the portraits of You Shu that were originally collected by the imperial family were divided among the many princes during the power struggle for the nine states, and they were burned in the fires of war over the years. Although the Xia Qi dynasty kept the sole remaining one, it was too old and was often touched by successive emperors, and the ink had long faded away, making the face of the portrait indiscernible.
Until now, it was a mystery how beautiful You Shu was. And since this Zhao family's fifth child was named "You Shu", it can be seen that his appearance when he was a child was certainly not bad. Thus, someone leaned on the window and teased, "Which is your fifth cousin? Show us. That's a legendary beauty!"
"What ugly people are worthy of being called You Shu?" Only now did the Ninth Prince clearly show his disgust, as if he couldn't stand anyone named You Shu in this world. This was why Zhao Yusong brought You Shu to him.
The senior branch wanted to cling to the Ninth Prince? You’ll have to see if he agrees to it first! However, no matter how malicious his heart was, he would not let others notice it, so much so that he pretended to be embarrassed and defended You Shu, "My fifth cousin’s looks aren’t peerless, but he’s not bad. He’s cute and fair like snow."
"Cute and fair like snow? Are you describing a six or seven year old child?" Xue Wangjing slapped the table and laughed.
The Ninth Prince frowned in disgust, and asked, "I heard that he has Yin Yang Eyes and that he can see ghosts? How can there be ghosts and gods in this world? All there is is the filth hidden in people's hearts."
This was a blatant denouncement towards You Shu for trying to please the public with nonsense such as supernatural beings and for having an impure mind. The disdain in his words couldn't be hidden. Xue Wangjing and all his attendants laughed mockingly, while Zhao Yusong had to stand up and bow, trying his best to defend his fifth cousin. He looked sad outwardly, but was very satisfied in his heart.
Surely, after You Shu meets the Ninth Prince today, he would never have a chance to see him again. If he was unlucky, he would be greatly ridiculed and degraded.
You Shu had bought his candied haws and found the private room under the guidance of the young man. Before he opened the door and entered, he heard a very familiar voice. He was ecstatic and rushed in, but when he heard that last sentence, he felt as if a basin of cold water was dunked on his head, causing his heart and blood to freeze. Even after more than six hundred years, the master's hatred and guard against the supernatural remained the same.
No, something has changed after all. He was a few years younger, his elegant and handsome face was stained with evil and violence, and his originally warm and clear eyes were like a deep cold pool, without a trace of warmth. He looked at him as if he was looking at a stranger, with the same face but different souls. He was his master, but not his master.
The Ninth Prince was indeed the reincarnation of the Master. You Shu was already convinced of this. He opened his mouth slightly and foolishly called out "Master”, then the belated sadness and hurt rushed in, and the grievances of being abandoned and exiled surged through his heart. He desperately held back the tears that were threatening to spill from his eyes. Even after six hundred years, his promise to his Master remained unchanged. He will carefully maintain a distance from him and never let his special ability become a hidden danger and cause trouble for him.
Since they already didn’t know each other, was there a need to get to know him again? It’s enough to remain a stranger and just to look at him from afar.
While You Shu was still in a daze, everyone in the room was attracted by the sound of the door slamming open. One after the other, they turned their heads to take a look and then froze. They never expected that the number one rich kid of Lin’An Prefecture, who was said to be ignorant and incompetent, would look like this! Pink lips, a plump round face, round eyes, a small mouth, and even the earlobes of his ears were round and chubby, he really looked cute and fair like snow! He looked so lovable that people's hearts would melt immediately. No matter how tacky he dressed, no one could say a word of harshness.
Among them, the Ninth Prince lost his self-control the most. The teacup in his hand was overturned and the hot tea trailed the edge of the table and dripped onto his legs, but he still didn’t return to his senses. As soon as the young man entered, he drew all his attention towards him. To be honest, his looks were not peerless, but his temperament was exceptionally unique. Even the vulgar clothes couldn't suppress the ethereal feeling he gave out. He was like a cloud, a snowflake, a drop of nectar, quietly digging into your heart, and when you want to explore more after tasting the sweetness, it disappears.
The Ninth Prince was both flustered and happy, and he didn't know where this flustered joy came from. He couldn't be bothered to think of it at all and subconsciously replied, "Master? Who is your master?" If the young man really intended to please him like Zhao Yusong said, he would absolutely follow along. If he said that he was his Master, then he would definitely accept and stay with him everyday. Very good, very good!
He was excited, but he didn't know why he felt this way. He had always followed his feelings. He wanted You Shu, yes, he was the only one in the world who deserved to be called "You Shu", the rest are fakes! They were all damned fakes!
However, due to his nervousness, he forgot to ease his tone and expression. The question had an underlying tinge of disgust. Not only did Zhao Yusong and the others misunderstood, but even You Shu's face turned pale, and his eyes moistened. This scene was just like in his previous life. If his Master had personally driven him out, he probably would’ve used this tone as well. He didn’t want to be his Master anymore, whether it be in his past life or in this life.
You Shu restrained his heart full of sadness and spoke with a faltering tone, "Apologies, Caomin has overstepped the rules. Caomin kowtows to His Highness the Ninth Prince and asks for His Highness’s forgiveness." His words and salute fell in compliance with the current norms and rules of society.
Caomin - common people; if I recall correctly, it’s how people refer to themselves in front of the imperial family
The Ninth Prince felt like his throat was blocked and almost suffocated to death. His face turned red for a moment before he waved his hand and said, "Get up, sit down." He was referring to the empty seat beside him.
Because of his imposing demeanour, even his two study companions dare not get too close to him. As time passed, the positions on his left and right remained empty, and no one was allowed to occupy it. However, he took the initiative to invite someone to sit by him today, and such an unusual behavior immediately attracted everyone's attention. But You Shu didn't want to get too close. If it hadn't been for the task his parents gave him, then he wished to go home now. Thus, he struggled internally and hesitated, and didn’t take a seat even after a long time passed.
The Ninth Prince's fingers itched, wanting to pull the young man to his side, then the attendant standing behind him on his right suddenly exclaimed, "Oh no, Your Highness has been scalded by the tea!" He personally served this cup of tea, so he knew how hot it was and immediately panicked.
If even a strand of hair fell off the Ninth Prince’s head, Emperor Zhongkang would fly into a rage and would hold someone accountable, not to mention scalding a layer of skin. A group of people hurriedly gathered around to check and You Shu took this opportunity to back away. He was concerned and worried, but so what? He clearly heard the conversation between the Master and everyone earlier. To his Master, his current self was just a vile character who clung to the rich and powerful. It was more unbearable compared to his previous life.
So, just keep the good memories in your heart and don't cause trouble in vain. Moreover, he was currently the only one who remembered these memories. If he spoke of it out loud, he would be labeled delusional and held in contempt by others. You Shu walked out the door silently, licking the candied haws, his gaze distant.
When the young man walked out of his sight, the Ninth Prince felt an unprecedented feeling of anxiety. If he had a sword at his waist, he would’ve cut down all those who were in the way.
"Go away!" He kicked the attendant who wanted to roll up his trouser legs, pushed Zhao Yusong and others away, and hurriedly pursued after You Shu. Fortunately, he came face to face with the boy who was licking his candied haws, making contact with his big round eyes. Seeing his distorted and fierce face in the reflection of the other person’s eyes, the Ninth Prince panicked and quickly adjusted his mood. In a blink of an eye, he was the handsome and unrestrained celestial prince again.
"You haven't left yet?" He stopped abruptly and asked in a hoarse voice, his pounding heartbeat slowly returning to normal.
You Shu nodded and looked down to see the hem of his clothes that was wet with tea. Even though he tried to hide it, he couldn’t stop himself from showing a trace of concern.
The Ninth Prince who burned with anxiety suddenly felt like he drank some good wine. His mouth was full of sweetness and he couldn’t help savouring it with his lips and slowly started to smile. This smile was extremely short-lived, as he returned to his unfathomable and unpredictable temperament when he saw the attendant chasing after him.
"Your Highness, how about we return to the palace and consult the imperial physician immediately? It would become very troublesome when the burn starts to blister!" The attendant was already crying anxiously, wishing to kneel down in front of his master.
"It’s fine." The Ninth Prince patted his clothes indifferently.
"Then, it is okay to roll up his trouser leg and let this subject take a look." Zhao Yusong was very cautious, and Xue Wangjing also echoed him.
You Shu was squeezed away by the crowd and had to retreat to the top of the stairs. He thought for a while and felt that he couldn't complete the task assigned by his parents today. The life his master led in this life was very grand. There was no lack of servants around him and there was no lack of people trying to flatter and curry favor with him. And the fact that he has Yin Yang Eyes had been made known in the Capital from Lin’An Prefecture and it would inevitably become his taboo.
It’s fine, if he went home and explained to his parents, they would be understanding. If he couldn't go to Yangzhou, he could also go to Suzhou. Worst comes to worst, he could go to Shuzhou or Guizhou. Although it was a bit further away and riskier, the food was also delicious.
While pondering about this issue, You Shu went downstairs while holding the candied haws. When he walked halfway, he heard someone shouting from behind, "Zhao Youshu, did Benwang allow you to leave? To leave without saying goodbye, which family taught such courtesy?"
Benwang - this king/prince/monarch/emperor/etc.
The Ninth Prince didn’t want to be so harsh on the young man, but if he didn’t, how could he get him to stay? If he really wanted to flatter him like how Zhao Yusong said, he couldn’t wait to stick to him, wishing to hide him away in his palace. That would be great! But he acted contrary to his expectations. His eyes were clear and bright, with not one bit of scheming thoughts. He was not unbridled and arrogant. On the contrary, he was very timid. He almost shed tears when he himself spoke to him. That extremely pitiful appearance of You Shu’s made the Ninth Prince feel distressed.
He was like a ceramic doll, his delicateness made him wish he could hold him in the palm of his hand. However, the doll also seemed slippery; the moment he didn’t grasp him firmly, he would fall and break. The Ninth Prince only saw him for the first time, but he felt as if he had known him for hundreds of years. He was so familiar with his every frown and smile, with his each and every move. He was so familiar with him that he could paint every strand of his hair with his eyes closed.
The Ninth Prince had always had everything going his way ever since he was born. But for the first time, he realized what it meant to be unable to keep, unable to ask for, and to not get tired of someone, but not daring to touch.
He wanted You Shu, but he didn’t know how to get him. Seeing that he wanted to leave, he could only speak fiercely to get him to come back. You Shu was timid and might get frightened, but he couldn’t be bothered about that for now. Wait for the two of them to slowly get acquainted with each other and gradually become close friends. He will treat him well, let him understand that he was also very tender and affectionate. Whatever he wanted, he would give it.
This feeling came very strongly and suddenly, but it miraculously didn't make the Ninth Prince feel any hesitation or confusion. He knew from an early age that he had to fight for what he wanted, otherwise all that was left would be just an empty dream.
If his hesitation resulted in You Shu becoming an empty dream for him, he didn’t dare to think about the terrible consequences.
You Shu really stood still, frowned and looked back, "Then, I shall take my leave now. May I?"
"No." The Ninth Prince tried his best to calm down the anxiety in his heart, beckoning, "Come here, help Benwang go to the hospital to check on my injury."
"Does His Highness not need to return to the palace to consult an imperial physician?" You Shu asked in a soft voice. How can some hospital on the street compare to the imperial hospital? What's more, the master had a prominent position in this life and no one dared to offend him, and naturally no one secretly acted against him.
The two of them conversed in a very familiar manner. The Ninth Prince might seem overbearing and authoritarian, but in fact there was a faint intimacy and gentleness on his face. This was extremely rare and it can even be said to be seldom seen his whole life. The few people who were not very familiar with him have not yet noticed, but the attendants, Zhao Yusong, and Xue Wangjing felt stormy waves rolling in their hearts one after another.
The Ninth Prince seemed to have fallen in love? In the entire Xia Qi dynasty, he was the first one to make His Highness fall in love! Xue Wangjing was full of emotion, but Zhao Yusong was mad with hatred. No one knew better than him the benefits of clinging to the Ninth Prince. He could casually lift you up to the sky, but he could also knock you down into the abyss as he pleased.
It was due to the relationship between Zhao Yusong and the Ninth Prince that the second branch of the Zhao family gradually gained a foothold in the Capital and flourished. If You Shu received his favour instead, everything that the second branch had right now would eventually become the first branch’s. No, he couldn't let that happen!
While Zhao Yusong was mired in worry, You Shu had no choice but to go support the Ninth Prince as he moved downstairs step-by-step. The Ninth Prince, who walked as if he had wings earlier, now looked like he had a broken leg, leaning on the boy's shoulder, making a pained expression. You Shu was shorter than him by a head. He was soaked with sweat when they finally reached the hospital, but he still firmly held the string of candied haws in his left hand, reluctant to let go.
The Ninth Prince secretly felt amused, but he decided to store this information in his heart. After returning home, he planned to make the imperial chef carefully study the art of making candied haws. He had to try all kinds of fruits and syrups, so that he could use them to entice this gluttonous boy.
You Shu was busy licking off the melting maltose, not knowing that someone was staring at the tip of his pink tongue with fire in his eyes.