“I heard the beastkin eat humans.” One of the dancers raised her brows at the others while she painted her lips in a bright red. “I wonder who they’d choose if they want to eat one today.”
Another girl laughed in response. “Just one? I heard they’re all big, burly men. I doubt one of us would even be enough to fill the gaps between their teeth.”
Yu Fen looked from one to the other, not quite understanding what they were talking about. “I heard their leader is supposed to be very handsome.”
The two girls laughed and the other dancers joined in.
“Handsome? How could he be handsome? Haven’t you heard that they’re beastkin? They’re basically just like animals. Even if they can turn into a human form, they’d still not be like us. There’s nothing to compare at all so how will he be handsome?”
Yu Fen lowered his head and tied his sash more tightly. That was what he had heard though. Even though it had been the people of the beastkin tribe that had been talking, it still didn’t have to be wrong. Anyway, those envoys he had seen hadn’t all been ugly either. Sure, there were some more burly men among them but there were also others. They were probably not that different from humans. At the very least, he wouldn’t have been able to tell them apart at a glance.
Before the others could tease him any longer, the head of their envoy turned around and hushed them. “Don’t talk nonsense. Is it important whether or not they’re handsome? Our kingdom of Ming has started affiliations with the beastkin tribe. You don’t have to know anything else and just do what you’re best at so their leader will be happy with you and us as well.”
The dancers shut up and nodded obediently, turning back to their mirrors and finishing with their make-up. Yu Fen also checked himself in the mirror again. Yes, as long as they danced well, it was alright. Everything else was useless thoughts. Anyway, the leader of a country would never care about lowly dancers like them. So whether he was handsome or not didn’t have anything to do with them anyway.
From outside, music could be heard. Right now, all of the countries that had allied with the beastkin tribe were offering their presents and giving their performances. If the tribe’s leader liked it, it might be beneficial for their future relationship.
The head of the envoys furrowed his brows when he watched the performance outside. The Li empire was very good. They had some of the best musicians and the beastkin seemed to like the performance. This wasn’t good. Even if their Ming kingdom’s dancers weren’t bad, their music wasn’t as enchanting and the dance relied greatly on the music. Right now, it was too late to try and change the time when they had to go out. He could only hope that the dancers would be able to somehow make up for what they were lacking.
He sighed and turned back to the dancers just when the music outside ended. “Alright, get ready.”
The dancers got up and filed into two lines, waiting for their cue. The head of the envoy looked back outside, waiting for the people of the Li empire to leave before he waved at the dancers.
He stepped outside, the shuffling of light steps following behind him. He walked until he reached the middle of the hall and then bowed to the tribe’s leader. “The king of Ming sends his regards. We do not have much to offer but we have brought this crimson ether root that is said to be good for health.” He handed a small chest over to a servant standing to the side that brought it over to the leader.
The dancers couldn’t resist their curiosity and glanced over. Some of them gaped. The tribe’s leader was sitting on a low chair with fur draped across the armrests and the back. His back was ramrod straight, his shoulders broad and his chest way too obviously muscular below the tight-fitting robe. A few women couldn’t help but blush. He was everything but the hairy beast that they had imagined. Instead, he looked like a general that had just returned from a victorious battle: A strong man prepared to wrestle down an enemy with bare hands if need be.
Yu Fen also blinked his eyes in surprise but what he had imagined wasn’t that far off so his shock wasn’t as big. He only looked for a moment and then lowered his head again, focusing on the task he’d have to do in a few moments.
The head of the envoy didn’t have the time to care about the dancers. He watched as the tribe leader glanced at the root inside the chest and nodded. He didn’t know how he had reacted to the other gifts but this seemed quite good. He motioned at the people behind him next. “For your entertainment, we have brought a group of dancers with us. Our kingdom of Ming might not be the best but we are unique our dances that feature both female and male dancers. I hope you will enjoy their performance.”
The tribe leader nodded again and raised his chin to indicate for them to begin. The head of the envoy went to sit down at the seat that the servant indicated while the dancers got into position. The musicians they had brought with them also settled down and then started to play.
The song they had chosen was one that alternated between two themes: A hunting tune played by drums and a rural dance. It was called ‘Chasing the Butterfly’ and was one of the songs that was the most liked by some of the higher-ranking people of the kingdom of Ming because it managed to showcase the abilities of their dancers and the specialty of mixed dances the best.
The tune started off with the women’s part. The men knelt at the back and the women started to dance, lightly fluttering their sleeves, changing their positions, as if they were a butterfly fluttering about.
Yu Fen glanced over to the man seated in the middle. He didn’t seem impressed. In fact, his gaze seemed dark as if he didn’t like at all what he saw.
Yu Fen looked down, his heart jumping madly. He didn’t believe that the beastkin really ate humans but their own king would be unhappy if they displeased the leader of the tribe. Who knew what he would do to them?
Soon enough, the sound of drums mixed into the melody of the flute and guzheng. The men left their position in the back, closing in on the butterflies before they leaped in front. Yu Fen stopped thinking and just focused on the music and his own body. He stretched his limbs, twisted his waist, made his hair fly as if a breeze was going through it until he finally spiraled down to that place in the back again, giving way for the next part of the butterflies’ dance.
The beastkin tribe’s leader scrunched up his nose, once again looking as if he didn’t like this performance at all. The head of the envoy felt cold sweat coat his forehead. He knew that their dancers weren’t the best out there but they shouldn’t be that bad, right? He watched the dance for a while but he couldn’t see anything wrong with their movements. They weren’t any less focused than they had been when the performed back in the kingdom of Ming for their own dignitaries. Maybe the beastkin had a different taste after all? But the music from before hadn’t been that different to their own! Who could explain this to him?
The women also noticed that something seemed to be up, their movements getting stiffer the longer they had to dance. Thankfully, there were only two more parts, one for the men and one for the women. After that, they could leave. The women exchanged glances when they switched positions with the men next time. All of them couldn’t help but think that if the rumors were true …
The men took over and the expression of the leader smoothed out. Who knew what it was that he disliked but it seemed it had to do with the women’s dance. Maybe the beastkin didn’t like dancing women?
The head of the envoy signaled the musicians to cut the dance short. It was better to have a shorter performance that the leader liked at least half than to have a full performance that he hated for the most part. The musicians nodded and with the last movement of the men, the song came to an end. The women heaved a sigh of relief and only got up when the men had stepped back in line, building a wall before them.
The tribe’s leader nodded. “Very good. I liked that dance.”
The head of the envoy gave a strained smile. If you liked it, why did you look like you hated every second of it? He still nodded and gave his thanks though. The dancers left the hall and went back to take off their make-up and switch back to their other clothes. The women couldn’t help but heave a sigh of relief when they sat down.
“I can’t believe this! I thought he was handsome when I saw him for the first time but he was looking so frightening!”
“Yes! I thought my heart would stop beating. I was sure they’d drag us off to cook us or something.”
Yu Fen didn’t say anything and just took off his make-up. He also didn’t know why the leader had looked like this but the pressure on the men had been less than that on the women so it was normal that he hadn’t been as nervous. He disappeared behind the folding screens for the men and changed out of his dance clothes, putting on his robe again before he stretched.
Even though he hadn’t been as nervous, it had still been straining. Thankfully, their task was done now and they could even go and enjoy the festivities a bit. They naturally weren’t allowed into the hall where the tribe’s leader and the dignitaries sat but the guards and the servants could eat and drink outside. That was already very good. Back in their kingdom of Ming, they probably wouldn’t have been allowed to do that. The beastkin people were really more relaxed in that regard.
Yu Fen left the room and started to explore. The palace of the beastkin wasn’t too different from their own king’s palace, just that the decorations were different. There were no intricate carvings on the doors and windows, no sophisticated painting scrolls on the walls, no delicate vases standing around … Instead, there were furs cushioning every seat, antlers mounted on the walls, and horns morphed into trinkets. It had a kind of rough charm.
Yu Fen wandered down one of the corridors, looking at all these things, and trying to understand the beastkin a little better. If he didn’t, he really wouldn’t dare to talk to any of them. He didn’t want to make trouble for their group of envoys, after all.
When he almost reached the end of the corridor, a pair of feet in leather boots appeared in front of him. Yu Fen blinked his eyes and looked up at them, finding a pair of pants wrapping a muscled pair of legs, and above that … Haish! That robe wasn’t any different from their robes but somebody had closed that belt really haphazardly. The abdominal muscles were peeking out and the broad chest was displayed above them. Mn, actually, with that kind of body, it wasn’t a pity not to close the robe all the way …
Yu Fen stared a moment longer. He had already noticed when they arrived that these beastkin people were very fit. If they wanted to, they could easily become dancers themselves. Although the men were often more muscular than the people of the Ming kingdom would like their dancers to be.
The person in front of him finally raised his hand and patted his chest. “You like it?”
The voice was deep, finally attracting Yu Fen’s attention to the face. When he saw … his face fell and his skin lost its color. This … “Tr … Tribe leader!” He stared at him with wide eyes. What was this guy doing here?! Shouldn’t he be inside, enjoying the festivities?! Why was he on this random corridor?!
“Mn. What is your name?” The tribe leader stepped closer, bringing that broad chest and those abdominal muscles closer to Yu Fen.
The dancer cursed himself inwardly but couldn’t help but glance down again. Mn … Since he would get into trouble anyway, he might as well take a bit more advantage first!
The tribe leader didn’t seem to mind at all. In fact, when he saw that unabashed interest, he gently pulled at his belt, making the robe open a little further.
Yu Fen continued to stare. He still remembered that he had to answer a question though. “Uh … This one … this one’s name is Yu Fen.”
“Mn.” The tribe leader leaned forward, his nose twitching. “You smell nice.”
“Thanks?” Yu Fen looked up again, finding a pleased expression on the tribe leader’s face. This time, it was the face he stared at. Even before in the hall, he had paid more attention to his body than his face but there was nothing wrong with that. In fact, he was one good-looking man … A pair of very kiss-able thin lips, and narrow eyes that didn’t look quite human but were still similar enough not to scare him. His eyebrows were thick, making him seem more strict. Under this gaze, Yu Fen couldn’t help but twist on the spot.
The tribe leader reached out and grabbed his hand, pulling him to his side and wrapping an arm around his waist. “How about spending the rest of the day with me?”
“The festival …”
“Mn. You can also stay afterward if you want.”
“Ah …” Yu Fen lowered his gaze, this time looking at that sharp jaw. Had he just been invited to share the bed with the tribe leader of the beastkin? What would their Ming kingdom’s envoy have to say to that?
Since Yu Fen didn’t disagree, the leader pulled him along. “You can also stay next week.”
“Mn. Don’t the envoys leave next week?”
“I think so …” Before Yu Fen could think through what the man meant with that, they were back in the hall. More than just a few pairs of eyes swept toward them and Yu Fen saw the jaw of the head of their envoy drop. He shot him a glance, trying to communicate that he could explain! Although … no, actually, he couldn’t. He also didn’t know what was happening.
The beastkin didn’t seem surprised at all. When their leader sat back down with a strange person at his side, they merely added another cup for him, filled it with wine and then added some food onto the plates and another fur so they would sit more comfortably.
Yu Fen blinked his eyes, trying to process what was going on. He silently watched on as the other dignitaries stepped forward and presented their gifts and let their people perform.
The tribe’s leader watched with him, leaning close to him until his chin rested on Yu Fen’s head. He narrowed his eyes in pleasure and couldn’t help but raise one of the black strands of hair to his face and take a whiff of it.
It smelled of some kind of flower. A little sweet but also fresh and most importantly very natural. Mn, he didn’t know what exactly it was but … this was much better than that over-the-top fragrance those women wore that would make him feel like he had to sneeze. No, this was a soothing scent that relaxed him and elevated his mood. It would be good if he could smell it every day from now on.