When the next day he arrived, Jing He was still sleeping soundly. It had been a long time since he had stayed up that late and with having walked around half the night, his thoughts occupied with thinking about everything that Qiu Ling said, he had been tense all the time. Thus by the time they had been on the lake, he had been tired in both mind and body and couldn’t help but sleep longer.
His usual guards arrived outside and couldn’t help but exchange glances when they heard nothing from inside. Normally, the crown prince would already be up and about at this time of the day, either tending to the garden, making some curtsy calls or sitting inside and reading something. Every now and then, they would be able to hear his steps from inside.
But today, everything was quiet. The couldn’t help but feel that it was odd but there were no grounds for inquiring further. They knew that the crown prince liked to keep up to himself. The reason why they had been able to be his guards for such a long time was also that they knew the limits of what they could and couldn’t do.
Bothering him just because they felt that something was unusual really wasn’t the right thing to do. At most, they could go and request his uncle to take a look. That way, he wouldn’t feel too disturbed.
For the time being, that wasn’t an option though. After all, it wasn’t like they had heard anything suspicious. It was just that he was even more quiet than usual. But who knew? He might just be inside and practicing calligraphy or reading in the study. If he didn’t take a break in between or went to get himself a pot of tea or something of the like, then they naturally wouldn’t hear anything.
Before they had the time to ponder any further, steps sounded from close by. It wasn’t the crown prince that had woken up though but instead the Heavenly Empress that was coming by for a visit.
The guards bowed and then stepped to the side, one of them clearing his throat to announce her. “The Heavenly Empress came to visit His Highness, the crown prince.”
Bai Fen smiled at the two of them and patted their shoulders while she walked past. “Sometimes I feel that I only ever get to see the two of you here. Aren’t you getting tired at all?”
Huang Lan and Mu Kun both smiled. “The Heavenly Empress is praising us too much. It is our honor to be able to serve His Highness.”
Bai Fen almost wanted to make a joke about how that had to be because of her son’s good looks but she reconsidered when she thought of just who might be inside with her son. She stopped in her tracks and then motioned to the door. “The dragon king wouldn’t have come by, would he?”
The two guards exchanged a glance, feeling awkward. “If he did, then he did not announce himself.”
Bai Fen chuckled and shook her head. “I guess we will have to remind him one day that it would be better if he did.” With that, she finally stepped through the door, and past the screen on the other side.
As soon as she did, she stopped in her tracks though. This … Wasn’t that her son who was still asleep? What time was it again? Could it be that she had woken up extremely early today?
Bai Fen took a step back and looked out of the door, checking the sky. No, it was bright blue with the sun shining brightly as well.
The two guards gave her an alarmed look but Bai Fen waved. Her son was only asleep. That might be strange but it really was nothing to make a fuss about. It wasn’t like he had been lying there in a pool of blood.
Bai Fen walked over and sat down at the edge of the bed, her lips curling into a smile. In fact, this was quite nice. When was the last time she had seen her son like this?
Jing He was always guarded against everybody. Even though she didn’t doubt that he trusted her and her brother and husband, she still knew that her son still wasn’t quite open with them.
Even in front of his family, he still tried to hide his pain and fear. He never allowed himself to be anything but perfect. Whenever she teased him about Longjun, he had that embarrassed expression and tried to somehow get out of the situation. She always did so because she just wanted to see a glimpse of the child he had once been. But he made that very difficult for her.
Now, he was fast asleep. For once, he also wasn’t lying there in perfect posture but instead just seemed tired. While one hand was resting on his chest, his other arm was resting to his side, half covered by his hair. This kind of scene was something she hadn’t seen a long time. Also, there were some wrinkles in his robe and he hadn’t even taken off his outer robe. She couldn’t even bear to wake him up.
Bai Fen continued to sit there until Jing He finally stirred. Seeing him like this, she reached out and patted his hand. “Jing He.”
His eyelids fluttered and he opened his eyes, feeling disoriented for a moment. Then, he realized that he had just heard his mother’s voice and sat up, looking at her vigilantly. “Mo … Mother.” He brushed back his hair, looking quite disconcerted.
Bai Fen laughed. “What are you getting all anxious for? You think I haven’t seen you looking even worse? Don’t forget that I’m the one who gave birth to you.”
Jing He’s cheeks flushed and he looked down, his hair shielding his face for the most part. He would never understand how his mother was able to say something like that with a straight face.
Bai Fen took a moment to look at her son, sighing inwardly. This was precisely what she had thought of just moments prior. As soon as he was awake, he reverted back to being that person who couldn’t allow himself any mistakes. It really made her wonder if she had done anything wrong raising him. “Aren’t you feeling well?”
Jing He looked up, not quite understanding what she meant. “No, I … I’m alright.”
“So? It’s not quite like you to sleep in. Did you stay up long yesterday?”
Jing He blinked his eyes, thinking back to last night. Staying up late … It could probably be called that way. He had already wanted to go to sleep when Longjun had asked him to come out. After that, they had strolled around for quite some time, talking naturally, even telling each other a story, and then …
Jing He’s eyes widened and his cheeks flushed even redder, even the rest of his face turning a shade of pink. He … He seemed to have fallen asleep in the boat? Then … How had he gotten back to his palace?!
The Heavenly Empress watched her son’s awkward expression in stunned silence. Even though she had seen him embarrassed a few times before, it had never been like this. He looked downright mortified. “Jing He … Are you really alright?”
Jing He wanted to answer but couldn’t get a single word out. He could only remember these last moments before he had fallen asleep. He had actually leaned against the dragon king’s shoulder, his eyes slowly falling shut and his breath evening out. It had been so peaceful that he had hardly thought about what he did.
But now, he was terrified of his own actions. He should have told him that he was tired and wanted to go back. That would’ve been the right thing to do. How could he … But it was already too late. Now, things had already happened. So since he had woken up in his own palace just now, it meant that the dragon king …
Jing He tightly gripped onto the blanket and then looked up at his mother in confusion and fear. “Mother …”
Bai Fen couldn’t help but worry as well when she saw him like this. She reached over and brushed back his hair, watching his expression. “What is it? Just tell me. I’m sure we can find a way to deal with whatever it is.” She had no idea just what it could be though.
While her son was always trying to keep up appearances, there was hardly anything that could happen that would justify such a reaction. Just how bad would it have to be for him to react like this? She couldn’t imagine anything that would qualify for this.
Jing He rubbed the rim of his sleeve, his gaze darting around. “I … I don’t even know how to explain. Yesterday night … Longjun came by and …” He took a shaky breath, unsure of how to continue.
His mother finally calmed down though. So this was about the dragon king once again. Well, she probably should’ve expected that. If anybody was able to make her son this flustered, it was only that man. And he was probably also the only one that was daring enough to do something that would cause such a huge reaction. Still, she couldn’t help but be a little curious just what he had done this time. “What is it, my dear?”
Jing He really didn’t want to say it but since he had already started, he couldn’t take the words back now. Anyway, this really was a problem. He probably ruined his own image in Longjun’s mind like this. “I must have fallen asleep while he visited and … ” He stopped once again, looking even more flustered. Just the image in his head was enough to make his heart beat strongly.
He could imagine it much too well: The way that Qiu Ling noticed how he had fallen asleep, how he picked him up and then carried him on his arms, finally putting him down on the bed. Something this intimate … How could it be done by two people who had no relationship between them?
Bai Fen tsked. “Jing He, you better speak now. If you continue like this, I really have to doubt the dragon king’s integrity. Just what did he do this time?”
Jing He closed his eyes when he heard that. Right, this wasn’t just about him. Since he had already spoken up and mentioned Longjun, this would also impact him if he said something wrong. “We had gone outside to spend some time with each other but I was already tired so I fell asleep. He … He must’ve carried me back.”
Bai Fen stared at her son that was not even daring to look her in the eye and didn’t know whether she should laugh or cry. Did he really have to make it out as if it was such a huge issue? Wasn’t it just carrying him on his arms? It wasn’t like they had been naked or anything. Well, even if they had been, it wasn’t like anybody else knew. There probably would’ve been a way to salvage the situation.
“Well, it seems that you’ll have to marry him then. That would only be right and proper, don’t you think so?”
Jing He looked up in a panic, unsure what to say. “But … Is that … Isn’t that too much? I mean I … I only fell asleep. And it’s not like he touched me or anything.” At the very least, he hoped that nothing had happened. It probably shouldn’t? After all, Longjun had been holding back a lot in the last few weeks. He had been on such good behavior, that he had completely let down his guard. It was no wonder something like this had happened.
Jing He grabbed his lapel, trying to reassure himself. “Longjun really just carried me back inside and put me on the bed. He —”
“He did what?!”
Both Jing He and his mother flinched and turned to the door at the same time, Jing He’s face paling visibly. Out of all the people to come by and hear them, it just had to be his father.