There was no response to Bai Qian’s call. If Mo Yuan could sense there was no one in the Fox Den, surely she could as well.
Someone was nervous about being alone with him.
Bai Qian proceeded to a nook in the wall. Reaching her hand inside a hole in the rock, she paused before pulling out a piece of parchment. “Migu left me a message,” she explained with a bit of a grumble, clearly suspecting what the contents were. She opened her other hand. With a flicker of magic, a clear white crystal appeared in her palm. Bai Qian felt around the edges of the paper until she came to a notched corner which guided her to turn it to its proper orientation.
Mo Yuan watched and listened in fascination as Bai Qian skimmed the surface of the paper with the crystal and the Fox King’s voice emerged, reading the words aloud for her. What an ingenious creation! The man was a master craftsman indeed.
Gu Gu, I forgot that this evening is the one night I have this week to trim my roots and water them. The vegetables for dinner are all on the counter for you. Have a good night. Don’t be mad, Zhe Yan saiiiii—
The Fox King’s voice just about yelped before abruptly cutting off when Bai Qian yanked the crystal off the page. Brows raised, Mo Yuan was torn between mirth and sympathy as he regarded Bai Qian who once more was blushing a lovely shade of pink.
The last rays of daylight shone straight in from the entryway, casting long shadows of what few items there were in the main area of the Den. For the residence of a royal family, it was modestly furnished. Mo Yuan hadn’t really dwelled on that when he was last here. Bai Zhi had escorted him straight to his workshop in a separate area.
A simple, flat outcrop of rock served as a gathering table. It was surrounded by stone seats cushioned with pillows. There was the odd wooden chair here and there but not much else. The walls were bare of any decorations save sconces with unlit candles; beeswax as Zhe Yan had said. Mo Yuan could tell from their honey scent.
“Well then.” Bai Qian wadded up Migu’s note and tossed it perfectly back into the hole. She sent the reading crystal back from whence it came. “I can’t very well leave you to sit here alone while I go prepare dinner, now can I.” She gave a wry smile. “At least there’ll be no batter-making involved this time.” Bai Qian froze as she realized what she’d said, then hastily tried to cover her blunder with a blurted, “We must have glasses for wine in the kitchen!”
Not fooled for a moment by her reaction, Mo Yuan chuckled under his breath. “Do you not know if you have glasses? Don’t you drink wine with Zhe Yan here sometimes?”
“That’s not it.” Bai Qian’s expression turned sheepish. “It’s just that, umm, Zhe Yan and I always drink, uh…”
“…straight out of the jugs?” he ventured.
Bai Qian nodded and Mo Yuan laughed.
“This is your home, Qian Qian. And unless you haven’t noticed, I am not one to stand on ceremony.” He untied the rope holding together the two large jugs of wine Zhe Yan had given him. Pulling out a stopper, Mo Yuan extended a jug so that its side touched Bai Qian’s hand. With a shy dip of her head, she clutched its neck, whereupon he opened the other jug in the same manner for himself and took a swig.
Bai Qian broke into a grin at the loud smacking of his lips.
“Well?” She was laughing now. “What do you think of Zhe Yan’s prized peach wine? He keeps his brewing recipe a secret from everyone, you know.”
“A wise bird, that Phoenix,” Mo Yuan replied. “It’s very good. I’m sure he secretly wishes he were a pelican instead. He could guzzle more of it all at once.”
“Ha!” Bai Qian replied with the Phoenix’s favourite interjection.
Sitting at a small wooden table in the Den’s cozy kitchen, the two had their half-empty jugs of peach wine on the table between them. The fish soup Bai Qian had prepared with as much skill and dexterity, if not more, as the jianbing, was simmering in a pot on a low flame.
“It would taste better with fresh fish,” Bai Qian repeated for the umpteenth time. She wiped her lips with her thumb after taking another swallow from her jug. Mo Yuan’s gaze instantly fixated on her mouth. “Had I thought there was even a chance of not getting fish at market today, I would have had Migu collect other ingredients, nevermind what Zhe Yan prefers.”
‘The Grey Wolf is always here. Or at least it would seem so whenever I am.’
“Zhe Yan seemed to enjoy teasing you about the fishmonger,” Mo Yuan said. He took a swallow as well from his jug. The Phoenix’s wine truly was excellent.
Bai Qian scoffed. “The Grey Wolf is always polite and considerate. Not like certain imposing Phoenixes with tail feathers to spare.”
“Isn’t it unusual for market vendors to be absent during a high season such as autumn harvest?” Mo Yuan asked.
Bai Qian cocked her head. The end ties of her band slipped down over her shoulder. “No… not really. Fenfang runs the market with an easy hand. Vendors aren’t always there everyday. They have other matters to tend to sometimes. It’s true that the Wolf lives alone. If he’s not there tomorrow, Fenfang will have one of her sprites look in on him. Why do you ask? Do you regret not getting the chance to see the Wolf make “fishy eyes”, whatever that means, as Zhe Yan said?” She reached for her jug again, laughing.
I may regret not seeing anything at all shortly.
A faint smile played on Mo Yuan’s lips as he glanced sideways at the low flame of the stove, the light of which just happened to be the only source of illumination about them.
As the evening had passed and nightfall come, an interesting situation had presented itself. The Den, having grown darker and darker, was now plunged in total shadow. That it seemed not to have occurred to Bai Qian to light the candles and what torches there were, revealed to Mo Yuan just how unused the Queen of Qing Qiu was to receiving visitors. Not wishing to embarrass her, Mo Yuan had said nothing so far. As a dragon, his eyesight was excellent but he was by no means a nocturnal creature. Moonlight, starlight, hearth fires, sunlight, a low cooking flame… a dragon still needed something whereby to see with.
He was going to have to bring it up at some point however, seeing as he didn’t relish walking into walls or furniture though he could always redirect the air currents to guide him partially. Mo Yuan suspected if he took the liberty of lighting the candles himself it would embarrass her even more.
“Mo Yuan?” Her hesitant voice brought his complete attention back to her. “Da Bao and Zi Lan talked about you playing your guqin last night…”
Bai Qian’s song began to play in his mind again.
“I’d meant to ask you about your guqin, Mo Yuan. That very first evening Zhe Yan and I were in your chamber? I could smell its peachwood, but mixed with dust. What made you play it now? The faint traces of calluses on your fingers from the strings suggested you hadn’t played in a long time.”
Surprised, Mo Yuan squinted down at the toughened skin of his palms, barely visible to him in the dim light of the stove. The pads of his fingers did bear distinct calluses not from his sword. He’d never given them much thought before. Yet Bai Qian had recognized them for exactly what they were. Now that he thought about it, he could not recall seeing nor feeling such calluses on her fingers when he’d held her hand.
‘Qian Qian enjoys listening but she refuses to play. A guqin I would make for her would be strictly ornamental.’
Golden eyes flashed, then narrowed, at the Fox King’s words from their conversation of long ago. ‘She is the one who helps me do a final tuning of strings on any new guqin. Her hearing is exceptionally acute, much, much better than mine.’
Yes, Bai Zhi. I have come to know this of her… as well as other things…
…but not everything.
Not all battles were fought with weapons forged. The truth, when wielded with precision, oftentimes served much more effectively.
“I was inspired,” Mo Yuan finally answered, “by a song I’d heard.” What remained of the wine in his jug sloshed lightly as he rocked it gently side to side with his hands.
“Oh?” Bai Qian was lifting the spout of hers to her mouth again. “What song was it to have motivated you after so long?”
“The one you hummed in your sleep as you nuzzled the side of my neck while I carried you to bed.”
Bai Qian’s jug wavered in the air, suspended in her hand.
“A guqin song of your mother’s,” the God of War continued unabashed. “I recognized Queen Ying Yue’s musical signature even if it was being hummed.”
Bai Qian set her jug down hard. The legs of her chair scraped jarringly against the rock floor as she pushed away from the table and stood up.
“That is why your father told me back then that you didn’t play your guqin, isn’t it, Qian Qian?” Mo Yuan had risen from his chair as well. “Because it reminds you of her and thus your loss? I recall no calluses on your fingertips at all when I held your hand that day in the garden, though something definitely left all those nicks and scars and burn mark traces I did see on it.”
Bai Qian began shaking her head and backing away from the table. Mo Yuan moved around it towards her.
“This… this wasn’t a good idea,” Bai Qian murmured, “I think it will be best if we return to Kunlun right now.”
“We can, but then I’d only be asking you the same there.” For every step Bai Qian retreated, Mo Yuan advanced. And when she backed into a wall and remained still, he approached until he stood right up before her.
“What happened to your hands, Qian Qian?” Mo Yuan asked gently. “The band you wear over your eyes has something to do with it, I know.”
Bai Qian went to move to the right. With blinding speed, Mo Yuan’s arm shot out and braced the wall next to her ear, blocking her. She froze, then went to turn to the left instead only for his other arm to do the same, locking her in.
Time for the strategic strike.
“Bai Qian, you may rest assured,” he lowered his head to murmur close to her ear, his tone carrying an edge of danger, “I am no tiger boy.” He raised his head to look at her.
And there it was… An answer of sorts, an affirmation of what he suspected.
A spot of wetness appeared over where her right eye was, spreading in a circular bloom in the silk.
The Phoenix had said her tears had upset him enough to make him stop pursuing the issue. As for Mo Yuan, Bai Qian’s crying caused a different reaction. It triggered a near violent urge within him, one to go off and hunt tiger.
Bai Qian’s lips were pressed into a tight pale line. Had he gone too far?
“If you tell me to, I will step away, Qian Qian,” Mo Yuan said quietly.
But she said not a word, remaining where she was, neither pushing him away nor protesting what he said.
A second dab of moisture appeared over her other eye.
Bringing his hands to her temples, as he’d done back in the kitchens of Kunlun, Mo Yuan raised the silk band off her head. He let it fall to the ground this time. Still she said not a word.
Tears rather than flour clung to her lashes. But instead of wiping them away with his thumbs, Mo Yuan tilted his head down and placed a light kiss upon an eyelid. Bai Qian stiffened and she gave a soft gasp but otherwise she did not try to move away. Gently, Mo Yuan placed another light kiss upon her other eyelid. Brushing the edge of his cheek against hers, he drew in her scent which was spiking from the heat of her skin deeply into his lungs, unable to stop himself. A low growl rumbled from his chest. That spice to her peach blossom scent was not just intoxicating this time, it was maddening.
“If you tell me to, I will step away,” he repeated under his breath, his mouth remaining partially open along the side of her neck where her pulse thrummed strongest under her exposed flesh.
Then she moved, but not as Mo Yuan expected.
Ever so slowly, Bai Qian raised a shaking hand to his chest. Placing her palm flat, she slid it over to where his heart lay. With fingers splayed she held her hand in place, as if taking the measure of his increasing heartbeat. Silent still, Bai Qian slowly slid her hand upwards to the side of his neck and then along the line of his jaw until trembling fingertips settled in his beard where they stayed.
She wasn’t going to answer his questions, he knew. At least not the ones he’d posed, not yet. But she was responding to him, answering a different set of questions his body posed instead. Mo Yuan’s growls grew deeper. The strain of holding himself in check had his body taut and aching with every nerve strung tight. But he had to make absolutely certain of something first… before he…
“Do you really want to go back to Kunlun, Qian Qian?” He would take her back there now, if she said yes.
Mo Yuan gently clasped the slender wrist of her hand touching his chin and waited.
“No,” she whispered. Fingertips that had been touching his beard slid up to trail lightly across his lips. “I don’t want to leave.”
With a shudder and the deepest growl of all so far, Mo Yuan lowered his mouth upon hers.
The petal-like softness of her lips, her sweet breaths sweetened even further with the wine… He let his kiss linger long and deep so as to completely absorb the feel and taste of Bai Qian’s mouth upon his. The way her heartbeat fluttered and her body swayed set his pulse humming in his ears.
Bai Qian pulled her lips away to bury her face into the side of his neck. Mo Yuan scooped her up into his arms and she circled her own about the top of his shoulders.
With concentrated effort, Mo Yuan focused his senses, stirring the air currents within the Den; redirecting them towards him so he may scent the air… seeking… seeking… there. He found another other source of peach blossom scent he knew would be nearby. Bai Qian’s chamber…
Before leaving the kitchen with her in his arms, Mo Yuan looked to the stove and its bubbling pot of soup. With a flash of gold from his eyes, the cooking flame leapt out from under the pot to hover in the air. And as Mo Yuan began to walk, the flame came to float ahead of him, lighting his way.
Mo Yuan’s steps faltered a moment when nine white fox tails suddenly emerged from beneath Bai Qian to drape themselves over his shoulders and curl lightly about his waist. Bai Qian’s cheek lightly rubbed against the column of his throat as every bounce and flick of her tails against him grew more insistent with his every step.
The concentrated scent of peach blossoms other than Bai Qian was just ahead. Mo Yuan quickened his pace. And the timbre of his growls changed when the outline of a chamber doorway became visible.
Entering Bai Qian’s chamber, Mo Yuan carried her to the bed therein. He lay her down upon the soft blankets that were there and did not resist when tails slipped off his shoulders to completely encircle his waist and pull him down gently to her.
His fingers threaded through her hair, Mo Yuan coaxed her mouth with his until Bai Qian’s lips parted. And the Dragon began to take possession of that which was now his.
The flame that had entered before them and hovered overhead went out in a curling wisp of smoke.
⇛ Next part: 24(第二十四章) The Blind Fox
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