Jun Huailang smiled and said, half-jokingly, “Why wouldn’t I dare? Is that ghost concubine so stingy that she won’t even let people sit on the swing?”

Fuyi hastily chanted Amitabha[1] and caught up to him.
He said repeatedly, “You can’t say stuff like that!”

Jun Huailang laughed so hard his eyes creased, and continued forward.

After passing a few palaces, dazzling red maples greeted them.
This was the season when the maple leaves were most beautiful.
A field of blazing red suddenly appeared in front of them, and Fuyi gasped.
“So pretty!” he whispered.

Jun Huailang smiled.
“Now you’re not afraid of ghosts?”

“Young Master, please don’t tease me!” Fuyi smiled bashfully, and the two of them continued into the maple grove.

There was the faint sound of laughing and talking in front of them. In the distance, Jun Huailang saw several little palace maids gathered together.
Jun Huailang was astonished to find the swing they had been searching for was there.

The swing had been there a long time, and the paint on it was flaking.
A little maid stood recklessly on the seat and swayed leisurely.
Other palace maids sat nearby.
In the midst of the maple trees they snacked on melon seeds, giggling and gossiping.

How could the maids of this palace be so idle?

Jun Huailang scanned the surroundings and saw the dead concubine’s dilapidated palace nearby.
The gate looked abandoned, full of dust and dead leaves, but it was not locked. 

Did someone live here or not? Jun Huailang thought this was strange.

Just then, a palace maid caught sight of him and nudged her companion.
The maids hurriedly stood up.
Seeing that he was well-dressed but his face was unfamiliar to them, they exchanged glances of dismay and haltingly said, “Paying our respects to Your Highness.”

Jun Huailang was preoccupied with the closed off palace and absently said, “I’m not a prince, I’m just…”

A heavy muffled sound mixed with an ear-piercing shriek interrupted him.
Rusted hinges creaked and groaned as the heavy mottled red door swung open.
Unexpectedly, it was Xue Yan who emerged from inside.

Jun Huailang froze.

Xue Yan carried a wooden bucket to the well by the entrance.
There was a eunuch sitting by the well, but instead of helping Xue Yan, he shifted away as if afraid of making contact with him.
Xue Yan did not seem to notice.
His steps were awkward as he slowly walked to the well.
When he bent to hoist the bucket in the well, Jun Huailang saw a dark blood stain had soaked through the back of his robe. 

The scene of what happened that night on the steps in front of Yongle Hall suddenly appeared in Jun Huailang’s mind. Only a few days had passed since that day.
Those sticks could break bone, and even if Xue Yan was fortunate enough to not have fractures, he must have been seriously injured.

The sound of those sticks hitting flesh rang in Jun Huailang’s ear.

Xue Yan filled the bucket and cranked it up in practiced movements.
Under his robe, the muscular lines of his shoulders and back were clearly visible.
But fresh blood suddenly seeped through the robes where the original dark bloodstain was; his wounds had split open.
Except for the maids whose eyes were on Jun Huailang, the other maids and the eunuch acted as if they didn’t see him, bustling around and doing their own thing.

No one cared about the grievous wounds on Xue Yan’s body.
No one even treated him as a prince.
If a stray dog with a broken leg appeared in front of them, these people would not have treated it as coldly as they treated Xue Yan.
But Jun Huailang saw that every time Xue Yan moved, it affected the wounds on his back.

More blood seeped out, and his shoulders trembled imperceptibly. Suddenly Xue Yan’s hand slipped.
The bucket dropped with a shrieking sound.

Jun Huailang startled.

By the time he came to his senses, his hand was holding the crank in Xue Yan’s hand.
Jun Huailang was taken aback for a moment.
Only then did he realize what he had done.

… What am I doing?!

Even if Xue Yan was in difficult straits right now, it’s not something that he, a person who holds a grudge from the previous life, should care about! 

But when he lowered his eyes, he could see Xue Yan’s hand gripping the crank.
Blue veins loomed on the back of the strong yet unnaturally wan hand.

Jun Huailang berated his own excessively soft heart, and decided that after this, he would never do anything impulsive again.

“Get out of the way,” Jun Huailang said coldly, without making eye contact.

Xue Yan didn’t expect this little young master would appear in such a remote place after so many days.
He was a bit surprised and stared at Jun Huailang. 

This young master seemed to like wearing cyan colors.
Today he was wearing a crabshell blue overcoat, clean and light in color.
It suited his refined and indifferent face.
He stubbornly turned his face away, had a cold expression, and his voice was fierce.
Even though he had clearly come to help, he insisted on presenting an unwilling front.

Xue Yan didn’t expect Jun Huailang would meddle in his business.

He needed to fetch water to clean his wounds so they wouldn’t get infected and fester.
This level of pain was nothing to him, he could still move through it.
There was no need to rely on others for such a small matter, and he was long accustomed to licking his wounds alone.
It was just a bit difficult and his wounds had reopened.
Rewrapping the wounds all over again would be annoying.

Who would’ve thought that this sticky rice dumpling of a young master would be moved to such compassion?

This was such a novelty that Xue Yan looked on with interest.
He gave a light “oh,” and released the crank handle. 

Without his grip, the bucket of water abruptly crashed to the bottom of the well.
Jun Huailang had never fetched water before.
He was caught off guard and the crank handle swung around many times.
Holding the handle, Jun Huailang was knocked against the edge of the well and fell straight in. 

Jun Huailang’s foot slipped.
He couldn’t even cry out as gravity carried him towards the bottomless depths of the well.
A chill rose from its depths, surrounded him, and pulled him downwards. 

Suddenly, his arm was grabbed by a slender and powerful hand.
It held him steadily and pulled him up.

The fear of death dissipated and Jun Huailang’s numb body gradually regained its senses.
His arm was sore from the hand gripping it, and he seemed to have hit his elbow against the well edge.
It throbbed with pain. 

Fuyi screamed and ran forward.
Xue Yan easily pulled Jun Huailang back away from the well and let him go.

“Young Master, are you alright? Where were you hit?” Fuyi hurried forward to check on him.
As soon as he touched Jun Huailang’s arm, Jun Huailang inhaled sharply and withdrew his arm.

Fuyi quickly lifted his sleeve.

On the slender white arm, there was a horrible bruise.
Because it had scraped against the edge of the well, the skin was broken and traces of blood oozed out.

Fuyi cried out in alarm.

Xue Yan was standing nearby and raised his eyebrows imperceptibly.
This little young master’s skin was surprisingly tender, just a bump left such a big bruise.
He really was more pampered and delicate than porcelain. 

Immediately after, he saw that little master put down his sleeve in embarrassment to cover the wound.
Then, with a cold expression, the little master looked sideways at the eunuch next to them and said, “Are you blind? Does the palace pay you every month just to sit here and enjoy the shade?”

He was born with a noble bearing.
This elegant demeanor became ice-cold when he was angry, and made the eunuch tremble with fright.
The eunuch hurriedly knelt down in front of him to confess his crime.
However, Xue Yan saw what seemed to be a petrified peacock finally come back to his senses.
The little peacock shook his tail feathers, arrogantly raised his chin two degrees, and showed a look of disdain again.

He had always believed that all living things were ugly.
Even if they were wrapped in a layer of human skin, inside they were all demons and monsters. [2] This was the first time he felt that a person was quite interesting and pleasing to the eye, even… cute.

As if when the little peacock shook its tail, the feathers brushed right over his heart.
It itched, light as a feather.

It was ephemeral.[3]

As for Jun Huailang, he stood there with a cold and calm expression, but inside he was especially embarrassed.

Extending a hand to help the enemy from the previous life was fine, it was just an impulse.
But he not only failed to help, he almost caused a catastrophe.
The enemy from the previous life even had to save his life.

It was extremely embarrassing for him.
Jun Huailang managed to regain his composure and looked at the group of palace servants before him.
The servants had come to their senses and were kowtowing and begging for forgiveness.

Jun Huailang said coldly, “Even though I am not a prince, if something happened here not a single one of you would escape punishment.
Let alone His Highness, the fifth prince.
He may not be favored, but if an accident happened, which one of you would live until tomorrow?”

Jun Huailang did not lie.
Even if the emperor did not like Xue Yan, he was still a legitimate prince.
If he died or was disabled, even if the emperor didn’t want to investigate it, the historians were watching and all levels of society would not approve.

It’s just that Xue Yan was tenacious.
No matter how much he was tormented, he wouldn’t die.

When the group of servants heard this, they all trembled like chaff in fright.
Jun Huailang just found it ridiculous, and continued, “The feelings between the emperor and the fifth prince are the imperial family’s business, what does it have to do with you? You just serve your master.
If the slightest thing goes wrong you will all lose your heads.”

The group of servants kneeling on the ground had long lost their insolent attitude, all they did was continue to kowtow. Jun Huailang was not interested in nagging them any further.
In any case, Xue Yan would move into Consort Shu’s palace soon.
He just needed to focus on finding out who was responsible for this plot. 

In a cold voice, he asked one of the palace servants to go to the Imperial Hospital and ask for an imperial doctor.
He also ordered the servants to quickly fetch water, then turned around to leave.

But he met Xue Yan’s eyes accidentally. 

The amber eyes were light in color but had bottomless depths.

Jun Huailang recalled his unsuccessful attempt to help, and the embarrassment of almost falling into the well.
He thought to himself, hurry up and leave, let’s just pretend today never happened.

But before he could leave, Xue Yan stepped forward and grabbed his arm.
Jun Huailang couldn’t dodge in time, and Xue Yan pushed up his sleeve to reveal that horrible bruise again. 

Jun Huailang hurriedly pulled his arm back.
But even though Xue Yan didn’t exert himself at all, Jun Huailang couldn’t move.
He could only let Xue Yan hold his arm and watch a slender hand settle on his wound, search around, and press down.

Jun Huailang was caught off guard and cried out in pain.

Xue Yan’s hand was extremely precise, it pressed right in the middle of his bruise.
He massaged it several times, and before Jun Huailang could speak, Xue Yan met his eyes and said calmly, “It’s ok, your bones weren’t injured.”




[1] 阿弥陀佛 Amitabha Buddha, often called on for protection https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amit%C4%81bha [2] 魑魅魍魉 lit.
demons and monsters.
There’s no other info I just love this idiom because of the characters. [3] 稍纵即逝 transient, fleeting

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