Zhao Xiaobao grew embarrassed. He hid his face and kept his mouth shut. He was so embarrassed, his already fair and rosy cheeks grew even redder, making him even more irresistible among the courtesans. In turn, the courtesans laughed and made remarks about his reaction.
Chengfeng yelled back to the courtesans, “Hey ladies, walk the talk! If you really wanna have fun with him, come get it!”
One of the bolder courtesans, who stood on one of the red boats, laughed in return, “Oh young master! You’re so talented and unconventional, your name is known to everyone here in Cheng'an. Why don’t you walk the talk, and come practice your kisses with us?”
The surrounding courtesans laughed in response. Xiaobao covered his face, cowering in embarrassment, whereas Chengfeng revelled in the attention and puffed out his chest. He replied, “Oh? Practice my kisses with you? I have something else to practice down there, wanna try?”
The bold courtesan who engaged in conversation with Chengfeng shot back, “Master Li, don’t you love only Miss Zhixin? Why would you even care to look at us subpar, unwanted leftovers?”
Chengfeng sighed dramatically, and in mock sorrow, replied, “The Heavens are cruel! They test me with great sorrows and bitterness, my brains are tortured, my mortal body tormented…”
The courtesans listened as Chengfeng rambled his nonsensical statements, and guffawed in response. As they strolled, Chengfeng continued to flirt and conversed with the courtesans. They spent quite an effort to cross various streets and alleys. Alas, they’ve reached Cailian Alley, which is Cheng'an’s famed Golden Dust Spiritual Land. It was quite late into the night. On a normal day, the area would be bustling with traffic.
Although the most noticeable sight of Cailian Bridge would be the lake’s numerous courtesan boats, what the area was really known for was the maidens at Cailian Alley. It was only the senior-ranked oirans who were allowed to mingle with clients at the alley. They are not your ordinary courtesans.
But among all the oirans and courtesans, no one was as sought after and famed as the stunning and multi-talented Liu Zhixin. On any given day, clients would queue from dawn to dusk just to have a chance with her, and the halls would be packed with them. However, as Chengfeng approached the hall, there was no one to be seen. No carriage, no person. It was absolutely silent. Chengfeng was puzzled, “That’s weird. Where’s the crowd?”
As if on cue, the door to the hall cracked open. A petite female servant nervously hurried out of the door. Chengfeng recognized her to be Zhixin’s personal female servant, Silver Hairpin. The minute she saw Chengfeng, she exclaimed gleefully, “Thank god you’re here Master, Miss Zhixin has been waiting to meet you!”
Upon hearing her statement, Chengfeng was thrilled, and replied, his voice nearly cracking, “Really?”
Silver Hairpin giggled, “You’ll soon find out! Come, follow me.”
Chengfeng became giddy and excited. His steps and movements became dainty and light, it was as if he was on cloud nine. He turned to tell Xiaobao, “You go home first, I uh… may not come home tonight. Don’t wait up!” And with that, he gleefully followed Silver Hairpin into the halls of the Zhixin house.
As the pair entered into the hall and disappeared behind the doors, Xiaobao was suspicious. Everything felt so odd. He stood there, unsure of the situation.
Although everyone spoke very highly of Zhixin, her house was not as impressive as one may come to expect. The entrance is a pair of ordinary red doors with bronze handles. The interior of the house is not as spacious as other houses, but it was well-decorated and intricately furnished. The front yard had all sorts of peculiar stones and gems and a little stream with its own bridge. It was unique and quaint. There was a mix of the rough Northern architecture and the freshness that came from the decorations.
Chengfeng may have come to visit many times prior, but walking past the entrance and into the yard, it was like his first time all over again. He admired and praised the scenery and designs, “Such intricate woodwork, and amazing craftsmanship. Miss Zhixin has good taste!”
Silver Hairpin briefly turned to reply Chengfeng, with a forced smile on her face, “It takes someone of equal standing to recognise the other’s beauty. You too have taste, Master Li, as you recognise the beauty of the designs. Unlike the other men, who have neither taste nor refinement.”
Chengfeng was ecstatic at her comment. “Thank you for your kind words! You smell great, what fragrance are you using?”
“Is it that noticeable?” she replied, surprised.
Chengfeng pointed to his nose, and replied, “This nose is for the ladies. That’s my speciality.”
Silver Hairpin laughed but did not say anything else. She led around a corridor and into a backroom. Afterwards, she slightly bowed towards Chengfeng and said, “Miss Zhixin is inside there, Master Li. I’ll excuse myself now.”
Chengfeng took a deep breath and readied himself. He watched the servant walk away and he approached the door, lightly knocking it.
When he first saw Zhixin, he was merely interested in her. But under the moonlight, he saw her play the Guqin, and ever since then, he was absolutely entranced. She was all he ever wanted.
But today, she was within his reach. He was at her doorstep and with a push, he would be with her.
He was nervous.
“Miss… Zhixin?” He called out politely. Turns out a dishonourable scum like him does have some manners after all.
But no one replied. Not a single noise.
He waited, and slowly pushed the door open.
The room was clean but basic. On the left, all sorts of instruments hung tidily on the wall. On the right, a wooden desk was positioned. On the table, there were the usual stationeries, such as ink, brushes, and paper. There was also a written poem on the table, written in impeccable handwriting.
A bed was positioned against the wall, covered in netting and partially shrouded by curtains. Through the netting, a fair, voluptuous body could be faintly seen, as if beckoning Chengfeng to come closer.
Chengfeng had countlessly fantasized himself meeting Zhixin, always replaying the imaginary scenario in his head. But this was not what he expected.
He gulped and took a step forward. He called out, “Miss Zhixin… is that you?”
The body on the bed did not move. Chengfeng inched closer towards the bed, and as he was about to call out again, a painful cry came from the body. Chengfeng was briefly stunned, but he quickly approached the bed. He pulled the netting aside and was taken aback by what he saw!
The person on the bed was partially nude, clad only in undergarment. Her body was contorted, her face the shape of a melon, her lips full and her eyes are like that of a phoenix’s. A cinnabar mole is located at the corner of her mouth. A ball of cloth is stuffed into her mouth, and her hands are tied behind her back. Her teary eyes turned to face Chengfeng, her pleas for help muffled by the cloth.
Chengfeng had never directly seen Zhixin’s face before, so it’s only natural that he wouldn’t how she really looks like. But he knows the girl in front of him. He’s met her before.
A month ago he followed his mother down to a prefectural palace for a banquet, where he saw this alluring beauty.
She was Prefecture Chief Zhang Junheng’s most beloved darling at that time: Su Zhixian!
What was she doing here?
Where was Zhixin?
Chengfeng was shocked senseless. He stood there, frozen for a few seconds. And then it hit him: it was a set up!
His usual swagger and confidence abandoned him, Chengfeng was suddenly panicking. He turned to leave, but the sound of many shuffling footsteps could be heard outside of the room, from all directions. He could hear low voices giving out sharp orders. He dashed to a nearby window to peek and assessed the situation. The room was surrounded by countless men, who were all clad in black!
His panic doubled. Several questions ran through his mind. His family had no qualms with the Zhang family. So who planned this? Where was Zhixin and her family? Why was Silver Hairpin involved? Why would Su Zhixian, of all people, be in Zhixin’s room? Don’t tell me the Spiritual Mountain Sect is behind this?!