This was supposed to be cut but in the end I thought it was a shame to do so. Apologies if readers are annoyed by the pacing, recent changes in work shifts really threw a monkey wrench.



“Hey there, kitty. Girls like this, right?”
--Seishū Handa, ‘Handa-kun’


Chapter 230 – Locked

Altogether there were little more than 30 souls that went down the mountain and headed towards the capital. It was a motley collection comprising of the Chu Princes Xiong and Feng, Huang Ming, Qiong Ying, Zhao Sunli, Bian Qing, some of the warrior nuns and a retinue of their trusted guards that had been waiting below the mountain.


The vast entourage that had accompanied the two princes to the temple had long dispersed. They were only to assemble to escort them on the return journey on a set date which was still far off.


The few personal bodyguards the two princes had dwindled further after they were ordered to send letters to various lords and governors of the kingdom, intending to rally their support.


But as planned, the two princes did not wait for the nobles to heed the call. Instead, they rode quickly but discreetly towards the capital.


They could have arrived much faster if not for the need to rest the horses… and the need for the two princes to ‘stretch their legs’.


It did not take long for Huang Ming to deduce that Chu Xiong was covering for his brother. The martial and powerful Chu Feng sweated heavily and was ill at ease while on horseback, forcing them to ride at a slower pace. Such was his discomfort that he did not question the need for the ‘widow’ Qiong Ying to accompany them.


At first Huang Ming thought that the prince was trying to sabotage the journey for some reason. His condition was so bad that the irritated Bian Qing wrapped a beefy arm around the weakened prince’s waist and pulled him over to her own horse. Much to the prince’s embarrassment, he was forced to sit in front of her; as if he was a complete novice.


Of course, he tried to protest but a glare from Bian Qing ended any potential argument. Besides, it was actually quite comfortable, seeing how the powerful woman had the foresight to drape a fur blanket over the saddle.


“What the hell is going on with the prince? Is he ill?” Huang Ming muttered. The complaint caused his two women to snicker, but when questioned they shied away from answering him.


“This is no time to be coy,” he said. “We are pressed for time and the prince’s mysterious condition is slowing us down.”


“Be charitable,” Qiong Ying admonished. “He is truly indisposed.”


“So you know what happened?”


“Of course,” she answered smugly, while Sunli turned her head away to avoid Huang Ming’s stare.


“Well?” Huang Ming demanded.


“It is not our place to say,” Qiong Ying said, all prim and proper-like.


And so Huang Ming did not press the issue. He allowed all the stops the princes wanted along the way to the capital. It meant a slight delay of a few days, but it also allowed them to send scouts ahead to gather news of the capital.


One night they camped some distance away from the main road. It was Bian Qing and Chu Feng’s turn to patrol.


The prince could have avoided this duty, but he did not object. Despite their recent close proximity, Bian Qing and Chu Feng had hardly exchanged words. There was a tense atmosphere between them and nobody in the group dared to gossip about it. Other than Sunli and Qiong Ying, everyone else assumed that the prince was still smarting from being bested in their duels.


The two found themselves walking the perimeter of the camp side in silence.


Eventually the prince could not bear the silence any longer.


“Hey,” he grunted.


The rough tone immediately annoyed Bian Qing, and the red-haired woman gave him a cold look before snarling back.


“What?”


“We need to talk,” the prince said slowly.


“What is there to talk about?” Bian Qing replied brusquely, looking everywhere else but at his face.


“What do you think?” the prince demanded.


Bian Qing’s face remained impassive, but inside she was marvelling at Qiong Ying’s foresight. As she had predicted, the prince would make the first attempt to settle matters.


Bian Qing folded her arms and stood before him with her feet apart.


“Speak, then,” she said imperiously.


A part of Chu Feng bristled at her rude impertinence. But in the night, seeing this warrior woman posing so confidently in the moonlight caused him to pause and gulp.


“Well?” Bian Qing prompted.


Having lost the initiative, the prince became flustered. “What sort of woman are you?” he blurted out.


Bian Qing’s eyes narrowed. Her arm suddenly shot out, her hand immediately grabbing a hold on the prince. In one swift motion, she pulled him close and spun him around so that his back was to a tree. Before the prince could even react, Bian Qing cornered him by slapping both her hands on the tree.


She leaned in close so that one could see one’s self mirrored in the eyes of the other.


“Why are you so hot and bothered? I thought men are more casual about such things. What sort of a man are you?” she leered down at him.


They were so close that they could feel the other’s breath.


Stung by her domineering action, Prince Chu Feng glared up at the tall woman. He was entirely hemmed in, stuck between her muscular arms.


He could smell her scent, and his nostrils instinctively flared.


It provoked a self conscious reaction from Bian Qing. When she saw his nose move, it reminded her that they have been riding for several days. Suddenly shy, she drew back half a step.


It was Chu Feng’s turn to grab hold of her. It was his first time to see her reveal a moment of weakness and his instinct kicked in. In a bold, sudden move his arms reached up and past her head. His fingers linked behind her and sunk into her hair.


She did not really resist when he pulled her down to him.


After all, this was what Qiong Ying had predicted for her.

 

Over him did she tower,
Yet, she was overpowered.​