Chapter 43 Chip Chip Chip!
The Emperor’s fingers traced over his back, and a chill ran down Huo Caiyu’s spine.
He winced as they brushed over scars he had long forgotten.
The sensation was almost too much to bear.
As Huo Caiyu gritted his teeth through the pain, a loud splash interrupted his thoughts.
Without hesitation, he rose to his feet and spun around to face the commotion, his voice thick with concern, “Is Your Majesty alright?”
He reached up to remove the silk scarf covering his eyes, but hesitated as he heard the Emperor’s panicked voice.
“Don’t take it off! Cough cough!”
Huo Caiyu froze, his hand hovering inches from his forehead.
He could hear the Emperor struggling, coughing and choking on water.
He maintained his position, resisting the urge to remove the scarf.
His head turned nervously towards the sound of splashing water.
The water continued to splash, and the Emperor coughed and sputtered as he tried to regain his breath.
“Is Your Majesty alright?”
“Cough, cough…Zhen is fine,” Li Jinyu’s voice trembled as he tried to calm his racing heart.
He winced as he rubbed his throbbing buttocks, which had collided painfully with the marble bottom of the bathing pool.
Finally, he managed to expel the water he had choked on earlier, his breaths coming in ragged gasps.
“Just…just a little fall.
Don’t take off your blindfold.”
Although puzzled by the Emperor’s insistence, Huo Caiyu sensed the genuine fear lacing Li Jinyu’s words.
Consumed by an overwhelming surge of concern and anxiety, he retreated a step, lowering his hand and speaking with gentle resolve, “This official promises, he will never remove it.
Your Majesty, please don’t worry.”
Having received repeated assurances from Huo Caiyu, Li Jinyu’s apprehension eased a bit.
He regarded Huo Caiyu warily, his right hand tentatively reaching up to touch one of the ears now sitting blissfully atop his head.
It wasn’t a trick of the light.
His ears had truly transformed!
His ears were drenched from the fall, the fur matted and dripping with water.
Droplets fell steadily, carrying a chill that made him shiver.
The cold water droplets from his damp hair and ears pelted against his exposed skin, causing him to tremble involuntarily.
Li Jinyu felt an involuntary shudder course through his body.
Overwhelmed by a sense of panic and confusion, he felt an urge to withdraw and hide.
Limping unsteadily, he retreated to the edge of the bathing pool.
Unexpectedly, a stable hand reached out towards him, halting him in his tracks.
Startled, Li Jinyu lifted his head in surprise.
Standing tall before him, Huo Caiyu’s eyes remained shrouded by the fabric blindfold, his imposing figure presenting an outstretched right hand, palm facing upwards, positioned at a distance of half a meter from Li Jinyu.
The gap between them was just right.
Should Li Jinyu choose to accept the offered hand, he could easily extend his own and clasp it within his grasp.
Conversely, if he chose to decline the gesture, he could simply step aside and avoid it altogether.
“Your Majesty,” Huo Caiyu spoke with great care, his voice deep and resonant, conveying a subtle undercurrent of concern, “This official shall never lay eyes on anything that Your Majesty do not wish for him to see.”
Why was he suddenly saying those words?
Li Jinyu’s ears perked up, flicking off a few droplets of water as his heart raced with anxiety.
Did Huo Caiyu discover something?
Though Huo Caiyu was blindfolded, he seemed to sense the guarded expression on Li Jinyu’s face.
Pressing on, he continued, “This official will never actively seek out anything that Your Majesty wishes to keep hidden.
Your Majesty’s wishes are this official’s own wishes, and he will always remain loyal to Your Majesty.
“He pledges to stand by Your Majesty through thick and thin.
Your Majesty can trust and rely on this official.
Whenever and wherever the need arises, this official will always be here.”
Huo Caiyu understood the delicate balance that His Majesty had to maintain between power and vulnerability.
Living in a world where danger lurked at every corner had made the Emperor wary of others, even those closest to him.
To others, His Majesty might merely be a symbol of supreme authority as the “Son of Heaven”, but to Huo Caiyu, His Majesty held a place within his heart that transcended titles.
Beyond being the “Emperor”, His Majesty represented the epitome of purity and clarity.
He couldn’t promise forever, but in this moment, he vowed to give his all for His Majesty.
He would suppress his curiosity, resist the urge to get closer, and stand at a distance that wouldn’t alarm His Majesty.
More than anything, Huo Caiyu yearned for his Majesty’s trust and reliance, longing for a bond that surpassed mere duty.
He was committed to creating a protective bubble around His Majesty, a space where he could do anything he wanted without worrying about anyone, without showing that fragile and fearful look because of anyone or anything.
A flurry of emotions swirled within Huo Caiyu’s chest, but he knew better than to let them out.
He couldn’t risk overwhelming His Majesty with his fervor, so he chose his words carefully, speaking softly yet firmly, with an undercurrent of longing and devotion.
He held back the more intense and fervent expressions of his heart, patiently waiting for the right moment to reveal them.
For now, he would keep them tucked away in the depths of his soul, like precious gems waiting to be unveiled.
Li Jinyu gazed up at Huo Caiyu in a daze.
The mist that surrounded them added an air of mystery, obscuring Huo Caiyu’s features.
Water droplets cascaded down Huo Caiyu’s hair, tracing intricate patterns along the contours of his well-built frame, before eventually disappearing into the drenched fabric that clung to his legs.
As Huo Caiyu’s hand extended towards Li Jinyu, the calluses on his palm served as a testament to his hard work and steadfastness.
His words, like his touch, were calm and steady, conveying a sense of unwavering loyalty and commitment.
Li Jinyu’s nose suddenly twitched.
As the reincarnated Emperor Jingchang, he lived every moment with the constant fear of his true identity being revealed.
His anxiety intensified at the mere thought of humans seeking out powerful monks and Daoist priests to exorcise him.
He feared that Heavenly Dao might not deem him worthy of returning to his original form.
His mind was a whirlwind of worries, an endless cycle of “what if’s”.
Despite having transcended into the spiritual realm, his innate cowardice lingered.
Although he feared and mistrusted humans, he was forced to pretend to be one.
The only one who knew his identity, a fellow demon, was a black cat who wanted to eat him.
Huo Caiyu’s words struck a chord in the deepest, most secret part of his heart.
Through their adventures together, from navigating the treacherous palace politics to traversing the rugged wilderness of Qingshui Prefecture and beyond, Huo Caiyu had become more than just a two-dimensional main character in a novel.
He had become a real, flesh-and-blood companion, someone he could depend on.
Li Jinyu gradually began to understand why Huo Caiyu was chosen by Heavenly Dao to become a wise ruler.
It wasn’t just because he was Heaven’s favorite, but because he possessed an abundance of shining qualities that earned him the respect and loyalty of all those who knew him.
At this moment, Li Jinyu felt a sudden urge to lift the blindfold from Huo Caiyu’s face, revealing his own ears and tail, and confess his true identity to him…
If Huo Caiyu could embrace him as he was, he would be willing to usurp the throne and take his place.
At last, he could cast off the constant weight of paranoia that burdened him.
The impulse faded quickly, but the comfort and security Huo Caiyu brought remained steadfast in Li Jinyu’s heart.
Li Jinyu’s eyes grew misty, and a warmth bloomed within him.
If he hadn’t been reborn as a tyrannical Emperor, he would have gladly been friends or even brothers with Huo Caiyu.
Of all the people he had encountered, only Huo Caiyu had given him such a sense of security that was beyond compare.
Li Jinyu felt a new and unfamiliar sensation in his heart, a feeling that dissipated as quickly as ink in water before it could fully surface.
He pressed his lips together and let his hand slowly slip into Huo Caiyu’s open palm.
Despite the possibility of one day facing Huo Caiyu in battle, for now, he chose to believe in Huo Caiyu’s sincerity with all his heart.
Huo Caiyu’s lips curved into a gentle smile as he held Li Jinyu’s hand firmly and led him towards the edge of bathing pool.
“Did Your Majesty sustain any injuries?”
“Once we return to the palace, this official will apply some medicinal wine to ease Your Majesty’s pain.”
Li Jinyu’s fall left him unscathed, and after flexing his legs a bit, he felt only a slight discomfort.
With the permission to remove the blindfold, Huo Caiyu’s eyes fell upon His Majesty, dressed in an inner garment and with his hair tied up high.
A black and gold patterned cloth covered his head.
Huo Caiyu’s gaze fixed on the soft cloth.
Li Jinyu caught on to Huo Caiyu’s stare and cleared his throat.
“Perhaps Zhen has spent too long in the pool.
Zhen is feeling a bit dizzy.”
Uncertain whether Huo Caiyu believed his explanation, Li Jinyu spoke on.
“It’s getting late, Huo Aiqing should rest.”
As if something had just occurred to him, Li Jinyu added, “Zhen won’t be attending tomorrow’s morning court.”
This announcement took Huo Caiyu aback.
He had planned to discuss a few strategies with His Majesty during the morning court session to counter the Prime Minister’s attacks on public opinion.
Unable to reveal the true reason for his absence, Li Jinyu resorted to his long-neglected capricious persona and simply stated, “Zhen does’n’t feel like going.”
Huo Caiyu was taken aback by the Emperor’s brazen attitude, which he hadn’t seen in a long time.
He stared at him for a while before finally giving in, “As you wish, Your Majesty.”
Huo Caiyu knew that some government affairs were better left untouched during the morning court.
“This official has already come up with a plan to quell the rumors circulating among the common people.”
Li Jinyu anxiously propped up his head with one hand, worrying that the satin scarf wrapped around his head might slip off and reveal his true identity.
“However, this plan requires Your Majesty’s cooperation.”
“What kind of cooperation?” Li Jinyu shifted in his seat, feeling a bit numb from sitting for too long.
Huo Caiyu’s eyes lingered on the black hair that fell from under the cloth wrapped around His Majesty’s head.
After a brief moment of silence, he cleared his throat and spoke up, “Your Majesty will need to go on a journey – in person.”
The entire night was spent by Li Jinyu worrying about how to conceal his ears.
He woke up only after Huo Caiyu had left for the morning court and hurried to the mirror.
He untied the silk scarf that was wrapped around his head and turned his ears around in front of the polished copper mirror, furrowing his brows.
A whole night had passed, but his ears were still there.
It was his ears they were talking about! Unlike a tail that could be hidden behind one’s back, ears could only flap around on top of one’s head.
Even though hamster ears were not too large, they could not be hidden by hair or a golden crown!
Li Jinyu scratched his head irritably, his mind racing for a solution.
He pulled the blankets over himself, contemplating the problem at hand.
How could he cover his head? He couldn’t keep it wrapped up in front of others, could he? Not only would it draw suspicion, but the thick silk fabric was suffocatingly hot in the summer weather.
The capital was in the midst of summer, and everyday citizens had already changed into lighter clothing.
The palace’s layout and architecture were immaculate, with springs scattered throughout and ice bowls readily available, making it far cooler than the rest of the city.
However, a long satin that covered his head would be unbearable.
To make matters worse, according to Huo Caiyu’s plan, he had to ride on a dragon chariot and travel throughout the capital.
It would be impossible to keep his ears hidden!
Li Jinyu buried his head in the quilt, but the sweltering heat suffocated him.
He emerged from the covers and paced back and forth in his quarters, his mind discarding one useless scheme after another.
Why not just pretend to be seriously ill?
But he knew better than to attempt to fool the Imperial Institute of Medicine, and with Huo Caiyu’s expertise in medicine, he would easily see through such a ruse.
Perhaps he could wear a headband and claim to be sporting a fashionable mouse ear decoration? Would they buy it?
As desperation set in, Li Jinyu realized he was running out of options.
A familiar voice behind him made Li Jinyu’s spine tingle.
“Ha, I was thinking why you hadn’t attended court yet.
So your ears have grown.”
He turned around abruptly, finding the elegant black cat sitting on the table with one paw picking up some peanuts.
After sniffing them, the cat dropped them disdainfully.
“Don’t you have any meat or fish here? Hamsters are such boring animals.”
Li Jinyu wasn’t as scared as before because the black cat had promised not to eat him for the time being.
He boldly asked, “Aren’t you supposed to be at court?”
Li Jinyu had thought that Huo Caiyu could control the black cat and that it would not be able to harm Huo Caiyu in Taihe Hall.
Thus, he was relieved to see Huo Caiyu off!
The black cat’s voice sent shivers down Li Jinyu’s spine.
“I heard you reported sick today,” it said, shaking with satisfaction at the sight of Li Jinyu’s fear.
As the Prime Minister, the black cat had certain privileges.
Li Jinyu mustered up the courage to ask, “What do you want from me?”
The black cat’s paw hesitated for a moment before dropping back down.
“I’m just bored and came to take a look.”
“It seems like you don’t want to talk about that,” the green-eyed cat returned its attention to Li Jinyu’s head, its bright red tongue licking its nose.
“You’re easy to expose with those ears.
Should I just chew them off for you?”
Li Jinyu took a step back, shuddering in fear.
He knew the black cat had ill intentions, even if the timing of his ears’ appearance was off.
He couldn’t let the cat chew him!
The black cat sneered when it saw him scared.
“As timid as a mouse.”
Li Jinyu was furious but dared not speak.
He was originally a hamster!
On the other hand, the fear that once gripped Dumpling, the hamster gifted by Huo Caiyu, disappeared quickly.
Now, it relentlessly gnawed on its cage, its eyes blazing with an unwavering desire to sink its tiny teeth into the black cat, should it dare to cross its path.
The tantalizing sound of Dumpling’s constant gnawing was too much for the black cat to ignore, drawing its attention towards the cage.
Concerned for Dumpling’s safety, Li Jinyu quickly intervened, snatching the hamster cage and shielding it from the watchful gaze of the black cat.
Though not one for sentimentality, Li Jinyu had grown somewhat attached to the rodent.
After all, he had cared for Dumpling for a considerable amount of time.
He refused to let his ignorant and foolish little junior meet its untimely end at the mouth of the black cat.
The black cat’s paw twitched in a sudden spasm, causing it to become agitated and begin flicking its tail in an irate manner.
“I’ll teach you how to hide your ears, and you’ll do me a favor.”
“What favor?” Li Jinyu’s first reaction was to refuse.
“I won’t harm Huo Caiyu.”
“It has nothing to do with him.” A hint of depression flashed in the black cat’s eyes.
“I have a petition, and you need to approve it for me.”
Li Jinyu was stunned for a moment and asked cautiously, “What petition? Can’t you just give it to the Regent?”
“It’s precisely because he wouldn’t grant my request that I’ve come to you.” The black cat slapped its paw on the table with a “pop”, and then its momentum weakened a bit.
“Don’t worry, it’s a personal matter.
It has nothing to do with the court.”
Li Jinyu couldn’t shake off his suspicions as he listened.
“Why are you being so polite?”
Could there be some nefarious scheme at play?
“Hmph, what makes you think you have something valuable enough for me to plot and scheme over?” The black cat lifted its head with a contemptuous sneer.
“I’m assisting you simply because we’re both demons.
You’re aware of my true nature, and if you were to get caught and reveal my identity, it would cause a great deal of trouble for me.”
Li Jinyu touched his furry ears and gritted his teeth.
“Okay, but if there’s any harm that comes to Huo Caiyu, I won’t grant your request.”
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