The critical talking stemmed from his customary silent impassivity. What many characterized as his callous, cold indifference treatment toward them that the women in his harem described Ye Hua as being only partly man, and the other half of him was reportedly unmovable stone.
There wasn’t any intended praise, or flattery in their blunt description of him. The females weren’t referring to his manhood being rock, but his heart and soul. Though the very man they believed was made of stone, was in truth, the leading authority when it came to suppressing his emotions, and self-control.
Except… Except when he was around his Qian Qian; he was no better than an open book. Forever at a disadvantage in her presence like now, and on Ye Hua’s usually set as a granite cast, was quite oppositely his deepest anxieties, and worries exposed themselves most sincerely.
The drastic change in her was painful for him to look upon.
To Ye Hua, it had been nothing other than pointless conversation, when he and his uncle spoke earlier in the day. Groundless and trivial words said in passing he’d dismissed them as such. Now looking at her stiff but submissive posturing, he wondered if Uncle Lian Song’s warning remarks rang truth, as they resounded as if bellowed into a canyon, and repeatedly echoed in his ears.
“The years with Mo Yuan has killed her spirit. Bai Qian is an astonishingly devoted mother but as a woman, she’s nothing but a fragment of the fiery person she used to be.”
“She’s lost her claws.”
“Bai Qian is now as harmless as a claw less baby Fox. It won’t be much longer before the catty women in your harem eat her up alive. Ye Hua, perhaps granting her petition to resign in seclusion at a remote, distant temple would be best for her sake. But more importantly, for her peace of mind. If anyone deserves the peace of mind, it’s Bai Qian. She’s suffered long enough…”
Ye Hua scrutinized the demurely kneeling woman, his wife with an expression of the utmost concern. Low to the ground, she was submissively bowing at the distant edge. Clothed in beige, and blending into the golden runner near the very entry at his bedchamber away from him, she kept her distance.
What had happened to the brazen woman who used to saunter around, as if she owned everything within her path, and why was Qian Qian now so timid? It was as if she were afraid; terrified to be noticed. Just as she currently dressed only in dull, muted colors; her deflective demeanor of not wanting to gain any attention came through.
After a week of sidestepping him, and most politely rejecting his many calls for her company, Qian Qian had come to him. She’d come to his bedchamber without summons, and Ye Hua could scarcely contain his profound excitement, when they announced her arrival. But now, after seeing her, the onslaught of sorrow and distress in him, was overwhelming creating an unswallowable lump in his throat.
Forcibly he gulped to clear his knotted throat. The sadness was because she was the image of someone broken, and this made Ye Hua resent his brother more. Mo Yuan had destroyed her with his toxic love. Like the beaten woman she had become, with her gaze lowered to the carpet and her head dropped, Qian Qian now spoke too softly and stayed too far away. “Your Grace, forgive my interruption during your time of rest.”
How disheartening it was for him to hear her address him in such a formal manner? Ye Hua could feel the distance she was putting between them, and drawing invisible lines with her choice of verbiage. It felt unnatural. Considering she had never before spoken to him using honorifics, or his title. Not even when she was SuSu.
Ye Hua had never felt so disconnected from her, not even when he believed she was dead. The void created by the many misunderstandings, and their separation was chilling; he wanted to close the gap between them. “Come closer, Qian Qian. I can’t hear you.” He asked, wondering if she would come to him and she did without delay.
Although it made very little difference, only three tiny, small steps forward did she take. Ye Hua frowned when she assumed the same resigned position, as she had a few paces back, “Heavenly Lord, I’ve received great news. Changying will be coming tomorrow to join us.” Her voice was still faint and soft.
Under normal circumstances, Ye Hua would have been overjoyed to have his other daughter by his side. But currently, the vastness between himself and the woman he was dying to hold and kiss, consumed his every thoughts. “Tell me, is there an us? Is there an ‘us’ for our daughter, Changying, to join, Qian Qian?”
He asked while rising from his sitting stance. His lumbar audibly cracked from being seated too long. At the far front of his bedchamber, Ye Hua stood and with quick, deliberate footsteps crossed the room’s distance. While walking toward her, noted she was beginning to shake. That wasn’t the only visible sign of her discomfort. There was greater tension in Qian Qian’s already tightly fisted, and blanched knuckles that were turning whiter. But he couldn’t control the urge to move nearer to his desired point, by her.
It took less than a dozen steps to reach her, but the emotional chasm between them remained, as if he was still across the room. When he crouched directly in front of her less than his foreman’s reach away, she didn’t budge or shift away but did refuse to raise her gaze. Ye Hua wasn’t the only one in the room who could be described as half stone; she likewise remained perfectly still. In the end, it was his touch that finally made her react to his fingertips lightly caressing her lips, Qian Qian swiftly recoiled as if his fingers were instead poisonous vipers.
“Do you find me that repulsive?” Breathlessly because it felt as if his heart was ripping, Ye Hua uttered. “Does my touch revolt you so, that you feel the need to pull away with such force?”
Qian Qian’s delicate voice almost faltered when she answered, “Your Grace…” Hearing the formality in her speech was infuriating. Ye Hua punched the floor with his fist. “Ye Hua! My name is Ye Hua! Not your grace! Not SkyLord! Just Ye Hua!” He exploded.
Her full lips quivered and trembled as tears began to roll down her cheeks. Qian Qian replied in barely a whisper, “Your… Your Grace. It’s not you but it’s me. I’m no longer suitable for you. I’m a tainted woman. Sinfully I have laid with your brother, Mo Yuan, for hundreds of years. I was fortunate not to birth any children from his seeds. But the fact remains, he still impregnated me. My body is sullied.”
“Qian Qian, I don’t care about the past or Mo Yuan. After I disband my harem, it will be just you and me as it should have been…” Due to his excitement, hurriedly his reply sprang forth from his mouth. Ye Hua couldn’t respond fast enough. But firmly her fingertips pressed against his lips, and prevented him from saying any more, then the soothing warmth from her hands surrounded his skin.
Spontaneously his entire body slackened. Instantly his body lost all its strength from the euphoric sensation of her touch. During their separation, how he’d longed to feel her caress, and wanted to weep when she took his face, and tenderly held him between her hands. Tears of joy, tears of fulfilled longing overflowed his eyes. Ye Hua cried, too overcome by the rawness of his sincerest emotions that drowned, and flooded over his controlled composure.
“Oh, Qian Qian…” Wet faced, he murmured while rolling and pressing his cheek into her open palm.
Her palms curved around his face as if they were trying to hug him, and there was new intensity behind her thin voice that sounded stronger, when Qian Qian spoke with firm resolve. “Let me finish… Ye Hua.”
“During my short time here in Nine Heavens, I’ve received sixty-four appeals requesting that I voluntarily step down from the Empress seat. And if I refuse, they’ve threatened to pull their support for you…”
“I know you don’t care and would take my side until the end of time. However, I must weigh all the factors. Each of the families has a minimum of 2000 men in their private armies. If they abandoned you, that’s 128,000 fewer troops protecting you if there’s a war between you and Mo Yuan.”
Ye Hua wasn’t the only one obviously overcome by his emotions. Temporarily, just for a brief moment, Qian Qian hesitated as she successfuly held back her weeping. But the tears, the endless tears continued to trail down her tear stained cheeks, “I can’t take that chance. Nor should you. If it comes down to either me or you dying, let it be me because I can’t live in a world that you don’t exist in. Don’t make me, Ye Hua.”
Breathily Qian Qian exhaled and spoke in between faint panting sighs. “Send me away to a temple far from you. Forget all about me and start over with your harem the right way this time. Find a virtuous woman who deserves both you, and the Empress crown.”
“I’m sorry, Ye Hua.” A repressed and muffled sob escaped her lips. His Qian Qian’s indefinable longing and pining for him, Ye Hua felt it from her when she pressed her forehead into his, before rushing out of his bedchamber in tears.
To be continued…..