Book 21 Chapter 7 – Leisurely Chatting Within The Forbidden Palace
Using his grappling hook and the cover of snow, Xiang Shaolong traversed past two palatial buildings and landed within a gra.s.sy knoll located inside a courtyard.
This building was located directly behind the mansion which Dan Meimei had entered earlier. Most likely it was the place where palace servants and maids resided.
He wasn’t worried about running into guards or hounds here, as those would only be stationed outside of the royal palace.
All imperial palaces, whether it be the Zhao palace, the Qin palace, or the Chu palace, were unique places, totally segregated from the universe around them.
Unless the King of Wei came to grace Dan Meimei with his presence, he wouldn’t run into the King of Wei here either.
Right now, the most important thing was to find a place to hide. Only then could he seek out opportunities to procure food and find a way to escape.
Right now, he felt that the best option available was to hide for ten days or half a month. After the hullabaloo had subsided, he would sneak out the palace.
But just as Lord Longyang said, if he continued to steal food and drinks over a long period of time, sooner or later suspicions would be raised.
The ideal option would of course be to masquerade as a palace servant, but asking him to disguise his much taller and stronger than average body frame into a weak, delicate servant’s frame would be nothing more than the ravings of a madman.
Glancing around him, Xiang Shaolong saw that the wind and the snow continued to silently fall down everywhere. But light shone from each and every one of the side rooms.
Earlier, after he had traversed the various mansions, he had already memorized the various buildings like the back of his hand.
These various buildings which surrounded the central palace grounds were themselves surrounded by walls, forming an independent world.
Aside from the sentries stationed on the four surrounding walls, the only guards present were the ones stationed at the entry and exit points. No other security was present.
Dan Meimei naturally would have her own personal guards as well, but they were neither allowed to nor would attempt to enter her dwellings.
So, if he was able to sneak into this beauty’s palace, he would be in the safest of positions.
Right now, he was ensconced with an open air garden. There were gates to the east and the south, but the gates were guarded and tightly shut.
After having determined his path of movement, he made up his mind and once more flipped onto the roof.
Although the rooms of the servants were covered with ice and snow, it wasn’t a third as thick as that of the city walls. In addition, the eaves of the rooms had many locations which his grappling hook could attach to. Although it was not easy to move precisely, the difficulty was hardly insurmountable for him.
When he reached the gardens located next to the inner palace, he dropped down.
Based on the architectural standards of this era, most palaces would be constructed in a place with lots of light and with intersecting river systems.
The palace of the King of Wei was basically based on an array of intersecting lines. It could roughly be divided into the front, middle, and rear districts. Arranged in a rectangular shape, it sat with its rear in the north and facing the south. The northern district was divided into fifteen sections, with the King and Queen’s imperial residences occupying the primary position in the middle.
The central district was where the ‘Three Courts’ were held.
The ‘Three Courts’ referred to the Large Court, the Outer Court, and the Inner Court. Although the names were different, they basically were places where the monarch and his councilors took care of governmental affairs.
The southern district held the main gate to the palace as well as the headquarters of the local guard force. It was separated from the primary palaces by a series of five gates.
The reason why Xiang Shaolong paid so much attention to the layout of the palace was because he knew that most palaces had secret pa.s.sages.
This was something which the n.o.bility of this age would definitely install, in order to save their lives and flee as necessary.
Logically, the King of Wei’s palace should also have this sort of underground escape route. If he could find it, he could sneakily and stealthily depart the capital.
Dan Meimei’s personal rooms most likely had this sort of escape route as well. Most likely, there was at least a 90% chance of one.
With the ‘lock opening tools’ hidden within his shoes, and his previous lockpicking experience, the locks of this day and age would absolutely pose no great difficulty to him.
As long as he could find Dan Meimei’s personal rooms, he would be able to easily slip away.
He contentedly hid within a cl.u.s.ter of underbrush, focusing on observing the activities of the palace.
Dan Meimei had just returned not too long ago. Naturally, she would first bathe and change her clothes before retiring to her bedroom.
Right now, in the palace, the only place that was lit was the place in front of him. This logically indicated that Dan Meimei hadn’t yet gone to sleep.
The blizzard began to weaken, and Xiang Shaolong inwardly exclaimed that this was not a good sign. He decided to first slip into Dan Meimei’s personal rooms.
He scurried out of his hiding place and moved beneath the window of what appeared to be a stockroom. After ascertaining that n.o.body was within, he plucked out the miniature iron crowbar from within his shoes and slid it into the opening within the window, forcing it up.
After leaping into the room, he closed the window.
After accustoming himself to the illumination within the room, he saw rays of light peeking out from behind the door. Moving to the door, he pressed his ear against it to listen.
There was no sound from outside the door. Just as he was about to push the door open, footsteps suddenly could be heard coming from the left.
Xiang Shaolong was startled. He secretly exclaimed, ‘How dangerous!’ He hurriedly retreated and hid behind a large cabinet.
After the footsteps died away, Xiang Shaolong stepped forward. Pushing the door open, he carefully looked outside.
There was a long hallway outside, with three doors on each side of the hallway. It seemed as though this was where Dan Meimei’s personal serving maids resided.
Xiang Shaolong felt that this was a miserably tough situation. If he simply charged out, if he ran into anybody, he would have nowhere to retreat.
But if he refused to take the risk, if Dan Meimei’s serving ladies were to tidy the room up or come to the stockroom to retrieve anything, the chances of him running into someone would be even greater.
Grinding his teeth, Xiang Shaolong rushed out.
The inner palace was divided into two sections, with the middle section being an open air garden. Right now, he was located near the rear entrance. The problem right now was that he didn’t know if Dan Meimei’s bedroom was located in the front section or the rear section. If he knew, he wouldn’t have to blindly fumble about like he was doing right now.
He swiftly arrived at a hallway crossing on the right. Just as he was about to enter the front section, two serving girls appeared headed in his direction, a scant few meters away.
Xiang Shaolong quickly drew back. He pushed open the nearest door and snuck inside without even checking to see if anyone was within.
Before he even had the chance to catch his bearings, the door was pushed open again and the two serving girls entered.
Out of options, Xiang Shaolong was forced to hide behind the opened door. All he could do was pray that they wouldn’t decide to close it.
Lamps were lit. Only now did he see that he was hiding within the inner palace’s dining room.
The two clearly were here to gather some food for Dan Meimei. Busy retrieving and then utilizing some supplies from the nearby cupboards, they didn’t even notice in the slightest the presence of this unwelcomed guest.
One of the serving maids said, “She seems to be in an extremely bad mood. This is the first time I’ve seen her scold someone so ferociously.”
The other maid was much less brave. In a low voice, she reprimanded, “Don’t speak inappropriate things. If those vile gossips catch wind of it, it’ll be terrible.”
After a short period of time, the two maids took two trays of tea and snacks and left the room.
Xiang Shaolong leapt out of his hiding spot. He s.n.a.t.c.hed a piece of leftover cake, then, walking on tiptoes, followed the two of them.
Xiang Shaolong used all of his skills, slithering like a snake and scurrying like a rat, moving fast then moving slow. He avoided several pa.s.sing servants before finally arriving at a main hallway.
The two maids ahead of him entered what appeared to be the inner hallway through a back entrance.
After having found the location of Dan Meimei’s bedroom, he hurriedly flipped on top of the roof. Arriving beneath the eaves, he used his steel tools to push a window open, then hurriedly ducked inside.
He had entered a rectangular shaped side room, gaudily decorated with the floor covered by a thick carpet. His feet felt very comfortable stepping onto it.
Because the stove in the corner had yet to be lit, he felt certain that Dan Meimei would not come to this room.
There was a large door in the southern side of the room. Based on the direction it was in, it most likely led to the inner rooms.
By now, he had attained a thorough grasp of the layout of the palace.
The main entrance gateway towards the north led to the main hall, which was followed by two side rooms to each side of the hall.
And Dan Meimei’s bedroom must be located towards the south, next to that open-air garden spot. The two rooms next door must be where her servants stayed.
He pressed his ear against the large door and listened intently.
He could hear some indistinct sounds, but not the sound of anyone speaking.
If he were to go seeking the pa.s.sageway, this was the best opportunity he would have. Once Dan Meimei returned to her bedroom, he would have missed this golden chance.
Xiang Shaolong once more snuck out of this side room. Soon afterwards, he arrived within Dan Meimei’s bedroom.
This was a very s.p.a.cious room with gaudy furnishings. In one corner, the fireplace was burning brightly, causing the room to be as warm as the spring air. In the middle, there was an enormous embroidered bed that was pressed up against the wall, with thick rugs surrounding it.
The other corner of the room, facing the fireplace, was a large screening wall. Naturally, that is where she would go for relieving herself.
All the other dressing tables were filled with all sorts of necessary cosmetic supplies, ordered neatly and successively.
Xiang Shaolong felt a huge headache coming on. Not only would it be difficult to find a secret tunnel in such a location, the very act of trying would immediately be visible and alert others.
The first thing he would have to do would be to lift up the rugs, and maybe even have to move the couches and other furniture around. That would be the same as moving everything in the room. How could others not help but overhear the sounds?
Even if everyone here was deaf, Dan Meimei might enter the room at any time to go to sleep. How could he have the opportunity to put everything back into its proper order?
The most annoying thing of all was that even if he managed to find the tunnel, there was no way he would be able to rearrange everything above into the proper configuration, to the point where n.o.body would notice that things had been moved. If anyone noticed, it would be as good as directly alerting the soldiers of Wei that he had fled from the tunnel.
Just as he was worrying about what to do, the door opened.
Frightened out of his mind, Xiang Shaolong didn’t have any opportunity to flee through the window. All he could do was hide behind the screen and squat down. Next to him, just as suspected, was a delicately made chamber pot and a steel night pot. Fortunately, both the pots were clean and empty, and didn’t give off any bad odours.
Sneaking a peek, he saw the person who had arrived was, indeed, Dan Meimei, who had now rose to the exalted position of the Queen of Wei. Behind her was a serving girl who looked somewhat familiar. Only after thinking for a moment did he remember that she was one of the maids who had served Dan Meimei at the Drunken Wind Loft.
Dan Meimei’s beauty had blossomed even further.
The exquisitely made formal attire set off her beauty, making up for the aura and presence that she formerly was slightly lacking in.
She gently sat down in front of the copper mirror and allowed the serving girl to remove her formal outer-wear.
The servant said softly, “Madame! Don’t worry. A good man like Master Xiang has Heaven’s blessings upon him. And he is so highly skilled as well. He surely has a way to escape.”
Hearing his own name, Xiang Shaolong first felt a huge shock, followed by a feeling of grat.i.tude.
He hadn’t thought that a lady of the windy, dusty world (ie prost.i.tution) whom he hadn’t previously been on excellent relations with would be more loyal towards him than even Lord Longyang, just because he had helped her once, with little cost to himself.
Underneath the light of the lamp, Dan Meimei’s face didn’t reveal the slightest trace of joy, anger, rage, or grief. She tranquilly said, “What use would worrying be. Xiao Qing, the room is too bright.”
Sighing, Xiao Qing doused the lamps in the room. The light died down, filling the room with a gentle atmosphere.
Xiang Shaolong was indecisive, changing his mind again and again. In the end, he gave up his intention of asking Dan Meimei for a.s.sistance. He didn’t want to risk causing Dan Meimei to lose everything that she now had.
After she fell asleep, he would sneak out and find a place to hide for the night. The next day, he would return and search for the hidden exit.
After having made up his mind, he snuck another peek from behind the screen.
By now, Dan Meimei was only wearing a single, thin, skin-tight shift that exposed every luscious inch of the lithe, voluptuous lines of her form.
Xiang Shaolong inwardly exclaimed to himself, no wonder so many men of worldly experience were wildly infatuated by her. She really was an extraordinarily beautiful woman, blessed through and through by the heavens.
Dan Meimei let out a dispirited sigh, breaking the stillness that seemed to have taken physical form within the room.
Xiao Qing sighed as well. “I’m afraid that his highness won’t be coming tonight.”
Dan Meimei gently said, “Right now, all he wants is Xiang Shaolong’s head. How could he have the energy to come here. It’s very late! Go to sleep!”
Bowing, Xiao Qing pushed the door open and left.
Turning around, Dan Meimei walked towards the screen.
Xiang Shaolong’s scalp suddenly felt numb. Dan Meimei and him were now standing face to face, and their four eyes met.
Dan Meimei let out a quiet cry of surprise, then hurriedly used her hand to cover her mouth. A look of shock in her eyes, she stared disbelievingly while shaking her head.
Xiang Shaolong forced out a smile. “Meimei, did I surprise you?”
After stabilizing herself, Dan Meimei stretched out her jade-like hand and grasped his own large hand. She pulled him to the couch.
Moments later, the two of them were firmly ensconced in each other’s arms on the embroidered couch.
After offering him a series of hot kisses, Dan Meimei quietly said, “What sort of help do you need from me? Alas! Master Xiang, your abilities really are simply remarkable. You were even able to sneak in here and find me.”
Xiang Shaolong didn’t originally intend to find her. Somewhat awkwardly, he said, “Meimei, when you went to the screen, were you planning to…heh heh…”
Dan Meimei’s face turned red. Tossing him a glare, she clasped him firmly around his back. As though she were in a dream, she said, “Wonderful. I finally have a chance to go to bed with you.”
Surprised, Xiang Shaolong said, “Meimei, did you really look upon me with favour?”
Embarra.s.sed, Dan Meimei said, “I’m easily attracted to capable men, but I grow bored easily as well. But towards you, for some reason, it’s different. You should know that here and now, there’s no reason for me not to speak my mind. Originally, I did hate you. Oh, you horrible man! You never paid me any mind. But I didn’t expect that sister Yang Yu was absolutely correct in her a.s.sessment of you. You’re the sort of man who is cold on the outside but hot inside. Only you were able and willing to help me. I hadn’t had the chance to offer you thanks from my own lips!”
Xiang Shaolong laughed, “Hadn’t you just thanked me ‘with your own lips’ just now?”
Fiery colour burning in her jade cheeks, Dan Meimei initiated another scorching kiss, before drawing back. Seeming somewhat forlorn, she said, “Are you not interested in me at all? Why don’t you have any reaction?”
Xiang Shaolong knew that she had a huge amount of experience in handling men. He knew that she had already noticed that he wasn’t showing the normal, expected biological reaction to her attention, and thus was feeling bad about herself. He apologetically said, “For one, I feel that Meimei is a flower who already has a master, whom I shouldn’t violate. But more importantly, right now I am surrounded by danger and am worried about how to escape. That’s why it’s difficult for me to relax with you and enjoy the pleasure that fish feel when they enter the water.”
Dan Meimei was relieved, but then she knit her beautiful eyebrows again. “If you were able to enter, you should have the ability to leave as well, right?”
Laughing bitterly, Xiang Shaolong explained how he had entered on top of her carriage.
After listening to him, Dan Meimei nipped him, then said, “Since you have come to my door, naturally I will send you out safely as well.”
Enjoying the soft and fragrant feeling of “murmuring quietly in the middle of the night” with this beauty, Xiang Shaolong’s heart seemed to have melted. Sighing, he nipped her little ear. “That’s too dangerous for you, and there are too many unknown variables at play. I definitely won’t let you take that sort of risk.”
Dan Meimei felt a surge of emotion. She sighed, “In the entire world, perhaps only Xiang Shaolong would be so considerate. Xiang Shaolong! Hurry up and think of something. As long as I am capable of doing it, I, Dan Meimei, promise you that I will.”
Xiang Shaolong tightly embraced her. Pressing his face against her beautiful hair, he inhaled her fragrant scent. His entire body went weak. In a soft voice, he said, “Has your King ever told you about any secret escape routes located within your palace?”
Dan Meimei’s slender body trembled. In a lovable voice, she exclaimed, “I almost forgot! There is such a tunnel, and it’s located right in my bedroom.”
But then, she looked unhappy. “But the key to open it lies in the hands of the Chief Custodian. There’s no way for me to open it!”
Elated, Xiang Shaolong said, “That’s even better. Even if someone discovered that I had left through the tunnel, you would be able to deny everything.”
Surprised, Dan Meimei asked, “You know how to pick locks?”
Xiang Shaolong withdrew slightly from her. Carefully examining her flowery, jade-like countenance that was softened even further by the glow of the lamps, he smiled and nodded. Taking another whiff of her delicate fragrance, he said, “Do you know where the exit to the tunnel is?”
His mood improving, he was starting to succ.u.mb to the allure of this comfortable blanket and began to feel a fleshly l.u.s.t.
Dan Meimei could feel the pressure of him against her side. Her eyes filled with the stirrings of the desire of spring, she gazed at him for a moment before burying herself into his wide chest and saying, “The King said that the tunnel exit is half a li west of the east city gates, at a stable.”
Xiang Shaolong felt that this was wonderful. This would allow him to pick out a fast horse and flee. However, he would still need to exit through the east gates. He suddenly had a thought, and asked her where she had just been.
Dan Meimei tightly embraced him. Her eyes half closed, she murmured, “I went to visit a sister. She’ll be leaving Qi tomorrow. Oh, Xiang Shaolong! You don’t need to go so urgently! Life here in the palace is so regimented and so stifling. A person can die of boredom in here!”
Xiang Shaolong forced out a smile. “Do you regret coming?”
Dan Meimei opened her beautiful eyes. Staring vacantly, she said, “I don’t know! I really don’t know! Just yesterday, I dreamt of the Drunken Wind Loft, and dreamt of playing games with sister Yang Yu in its garden! Oh! How has she been?”
Xiang Shaolong felt a bitter feeling in his heart. He asked, “Does he treat you well?”
Dan Meimei was speechless for a long moment, then said, “I’m not sure either. Ever since he became the King of Wei, he became very ferocious. Even while he is sleeping, in his dreams, he would sometimes call for the execution of some minister or official who had offended him. If it weren’t for the fact that I’m pregnant, perhaps I would beg you to take me with you.”
Xiang Shaolong’s l.u.s.t immediately cooled to nothingness and he woke up. He told himself that at such a critical juncture, he needed to preserve his strength. He had just suffered a serious illness not too long ago, making it even more inappropriate for himself to be enjoying himself with Dan Meimei right now. Changing the subject, he said, “Was the sister you just visited the leader of the Three Famous Courtesans, Miss Feng Fei?”
Dan Meimei nodded. “Yes! We even discussed you. She esteems you greatly.”
She grew excited. “How about I plead with her to secretly take you outside the city? She is a very capable person!”
Xiang Shaolong abruptly shook his head. “No! I don’t want to implicate any more people. Why is she going to the country of Qi?”
Dan Meimei replied, “It’s for the King of Qi’s 50th birthday. I heard that Shi Sufang and Lan Gongyuan are both planning to go for the celebration. Every country, including even Qin, will be sending representatives to celebrate.”
Xiang Shaolong was growing more and more confused as he listened. Surprised, he said, “Aren’t Yan and Zhao at war with Qi? How did their relations improve so much?”
Dan Meimei shook her head. “I’m not too sure about these sorts of matters either. From what the King said, it seems as though the King of Qi still hasn’t decided who the Crown Prince should be. The choice will implicate Tian Dan’s powerbase, so the King has a decided interest in the question of who the Crown Prince will be.”
Right now, Xiang Shaolong didn’t even have time to take care of himself, much less care about the internal affairs of Qi. In a soft voice, he said, “Dear Meimei! Please tell me where the entrance to the tunnel is!”
Aghast, Dan Meimei said, “Don’t be so quick to leave, alright? I have ways of hiding you here for many days! Wait for the search to die down before leaving. Isn’t that safer?”
Xiang Shaolong kissed her fragrant lips before saying, “No! I need to sneak out now, while the blizzard is still here. Once the snow disappears, it will be impossible for me to leave.”
Unwilling to part from him, Dan Meimei tightly clasped his waist. She mournfully said, “When I embrace you, it feels like I am embracing all of the things which were important to me in the past. But you are so unwilling to remain behind and want to leave so urgently. Xiang Shaolong! Please don’t be so heartless towards me!”
In his heart, Xiang Shaolong felt touched. He knew that Dan Meimei hadn’t really fallen in love with him. What she felt towards him was a complicated mixture of grat.i.tude and memories of the past. With the palace being so stifling, she desperately desired for him to stay behind and accompany her.
But he still felt some degree of empathy for her. He gently sucked on her soft, warm red lips, then gently said, “How could I bear to be heartless towards you? But right now, I have to save my energy, because I have a very difficult road that I must travel.”
Dan Meimei returned his kiss. Her cheeks as scarlet as the setting sun, she said, “Fine, I won’t force you anymore! But you should at least make an expression of good faith, such as caressing my body. That way, in the future, you won’t easily forget about me, Dan Meimei.”
Listening, Xiang Shaolong felt as though his blood was about to boil.
To tell the truth, in a situation like this, where he was embracing the writhing, naked body of this voluptuous woman filled with the energy of youth, while the gentle, warm smell of the blanket entered his nostrils, if he were to claim that his vessels were not expanding to the point of explosion, he would be lying through his teeth.
He couldn’t help but reach out and place his hand on her firm posterior and let his hand roam about.
Dan Meimei immediately began to breathe rapidly. Like an eel, she began to writhe on his lap, her soft body pressing against him, filling Xiang Shaolong with even more fiery l.u.s.t.
Xiang Shaolong’s hands increased their roaming area, sliding from her thighs all the way to her pet.i.te face. The ineffable process of his hands sliding up filled both of them with the ecstatic, stimulating feeling of having a tempestuous affair.
Xiang Shaolong was like a fully drawn bow, with no choice but to shoot. Just as he was about to press her down beneath him, Dan Meimei pushed him away. She panted delicately and thinly, “The entrance to the tunnel is beneath the main armoire. There’s a trapdoor beneath it. Open that up, and you’ll see the locked entrance to the tunnel.”
Xiang Shaolong was shocked awake. He felt a sense of grat.i.tude in his heart. He knew that she was afraid of exhausting his strength, which was why she forcibly controlled her own urges.
After sharing a kiss with her that was so scorching, it nearly set the two of them aflame, he jumped off the couch. Just as he was about to push the armoire aside, he suddenly remembered something. “Are there any other entrances?”
Dan Meimei said, “Thereare two other entrances in the imperial gardens. Everyone in the palace knows about them.”
Xiang Shaolong gave her a last hug. “That makes it even better. With multiple entrances, even if someone finds out that I left through the tunnel, n.o.body would suspect you of any complicity.”
After this last, lingering embrace, he finally stepped down into this road which would save his life.