The couple continued to stand on the platform and admire the city’s night-view while enjoying each other’s company. Only when it was late at night and the houses and stores down there had started to extinguish their lamps, did they finally leave the tower.
They went directly to the guesthouse where Zhu Hong had booked a room for them, not up for anything. By now, Zhen Zhu was tired. He had slept quite a lot the night before but this day had been spent running around with hardly a break. Even the one that they had taken to eat lunch had been filled to the brim with new information thanks to meeting the merpeople, not giving him the opportunity to actually relax. Now, he just wanted to fall into bed and sleep for a long, long time.
Zhu Hong was doing a bit better since he had been following Zhen Zhu at a slower pace and had also kept calm the whole time. Thus, to him, while the day had been a bit strenuous, it wasn’t to the same degree as for Zhen Zhu. Still, he was also happy that they would finally get to lie down and just relax.
When they reached the room, Zhen Zhu tiredly opened the door and already untied his belt, throwing the robe off his shoulders as soon as his husband closed the door behind him.
Zhu Hong smiled and hurriedly lit a lamp before he picked up the robe and put it to the side. When he looked up, his little spouse had been petrified. He chuckled and hugged him from behind, resting his chin on his shoulder. “What’s the matter?”
“There’s … there’s a nest.” Zhen Zhu suddenly felt like he was wide awake again. He had thought that they would come in here and just sleep on a bed as they usually would in the dragons’ valley but there was actually a big nest in front of them. It even seemed to be a very comfortable one. At the very least, it was big and he could see some fluffy bits poking out between the twigs.
Even after looking at it for a while, Zhen Zhu still didn’t understand and looked back to his husband. “Why is there one?” In the forest of the phoenixes, he could understand it. But here? This wasn’t a city of the phoenixes. Why would somebody do him the favor of putting a nest here?
Zhu Hong chuckled. “It’s a guesthouse that specializes in members of the bird tribes. There aren’t just the phoenixes around after all so in a city like this, it is still profitable. In any case, I thought that after a long day exploring everything, you’d feel quite happy coming home to this.”
Zhen Zhu nodded eagerly and jumped out of Zhu Hong’s arms, took on his other form, and threw himself right into the nest. He narrowed his eyes in satisfaction, feeling that Zhu Hong really knew him too well. This was just perfect! This place was perfect, the nest was perfect, and his husband was especially perfect.
He looked up at him and cooed, wanting to let him know just how happy he was.
Zhu Hong felt like he was hit right in the heart when he heard that sound. Usually, he didn’t spend much time with Zhen Zhu in this form. So it was still a special treat to see him like this outside of the mornings when he had inadvertently reverted to this form. And he had never seen him act cute in this way. Seeing it now … well, he didn’t even know what to say.
He smiled and also took off his own robe, hanging it to the side before he took on his other form as well and lay down next to Zhen Zhu, curling around him.
He couldn’t help but wriggle around a little and realized that this nest was actually quite comfortable. It seemed a bit different from the one over in the forest of the phoenixes.
He wasn’t sure what exactly it was but probably something in the way it was constructed or in the material that had been used. He should take a closer look at that tomorrow morning. After all, he still hadn’t forgotten about his promise to himself that he would make one for Zhen Zhu. Since he had managed to make true on the one of visiting the city, he should think about this one next.
Zhen Zhu also wriggled around until he had found the most comfortable spot and then, the two of them fell asleep. It really had been a tiresome day but also a very nice one.
The next morning, Zhu Hong woke up first as usual. He lay awake for a moment and then turned his head to glance at his husband who was lying down astoundingly well behaved today, not actually pushing his wings and feathers everywhere. Maybe a nest like this actually had a benefit to a dragon as well.
He mused to himself for a bit and then raised his head to take a closer look at the nest, trying to figure out the differences between this one and the one he had seen in the forest. Just as he had thought, the differences seemed to be in the way they had been made but mostly in the materials.
He thought for a bit and then changed his form, climbing outside and putting his robe back on. Zhen Zhu stirred in the nest so he went over in rubbed the back of his head before leaning down to kiss his beak. “I’ll be back in a moment. I’m just going to organize us some food and take care of some matters. I’ll see you in a bit.” He gave him another kiss and waited for Zhen Zhu’s soft cooing to make sure that he had actually somewhat heard him before he quietly left the room.
On the way down, he made sure to grab a servant, telling him that he was going out and to tell his husband in case he woke up before he returned and couldn’t remember what he had told him. In any case, he was pretty sure that Zhen Zhu would sleep in today but he couldn’t know for sure. He had been pretty tired yesterday but he was also somebody with boundless energy. Who knew if he wouldn’t be up in a bit and already jumping around again? It certainly wouldn’t surprise him.
As for him, after he had organized them something to eat for later, he went out into the city and walked to one of the stores he had noticed yesterday. Stepping inside, he inclined his head toward the woman that was standing behind the counter.
She was giving him a faint smile but also a confused look. Judging from her appearance, she was part of some kind of bird tribe, even though she likely wasn’t a phoenix.
He hadn’t really expected anything else so he just walked over, giving her a faint smile as well. “Can you deliver materials to a place?”
Seeing that he knew what he wanted, the woman seemed relieved and nodded her head. “Of course, we can! Although that might cost extra depending on how far away that place is.”
Zhu Hong nodded, having expected as much. “The dragons’ valley. I’m looking for materials to build a nest for my spouse.”
The woman felt like she understood when he mentioned the dragons’ valley. Before, she had been pretty sure that he wasn’t part of one of the bird tribes so she had been wondering why he would even come here. But if he was a dragon, that explained everything. “Well, do you know how to build one?”
Zhu Hong Zhu Hong rubbed his neck, feeling that this question wasn’t that easy to answer. “I’ve taken a look at some and I feel like I have a general idea but I’m not too sure.”
The woman laughed and then waved him over to a wall that had several images painted on a large scroll. “How about I talk you through everything then? First, we should take a look at the type of nest you want. Depending on the tribe your spouse is from, not all of them will be suitable for him. But I guess that he is a phoenix?”
Zhu Hong nodded. “He is. From what I’ve seen, I think I know what type of nest would be suitable. But if you have some other ideas, please do tell me. I want it to be perfect for him.” He motioned at two of the pictures, feeling that they were pretty much exactly what he had seen in the forest of the phoenixes and in the guesthouse the night before. Both times, Zhen Zhu had seemed quite happy so they should be the right ones for him.
The woman nodded, feeling that he had a good eye for things. “Yes, this is a cup nest, exactly the type I would have suggested for a phoenix. You could also build a platform nest. They might fit better based on size but as long as you make it big enough, a cup nest is very suitable as well and some seem to prefer it.”
Zhu Hong wasn’t sure but considering that this was the nest type he had seen in the phoenixes’ forest, he would rather go with that. “I think the cup nest would suit him better.”
“Alright, that’ll be it then. Now, going from that, you’ll have to decide on the materials. His size and weight will determine the amount you need. In general, the bigger he is, the bigger the nest should be so that it won’t feel cramped.”
Zhu Hong nodded. Right now, Zhen Zhu had almost reached his full size so he didn’t think that there should be any surprises anymore. No, he would be able to build the nest now and it should still fit him in the future. Just in case, it might be better to order some additional materials though. For one, he could still accommodate it if there were some differences between now and next week, and also, in case he messed up somewhere, he still would have enough spare ones to start anew.
The woman gave him a bit of time to gather his thoughts before she continued explaining. “Other than his measurements, you should also decide how deep-set the depression in the middle of the nest should be. Again, considering the size of a phoenix, it might be best not to make it too deep and rather have the middle resemble a platform nest but pile on the rim. This should come down to preference.”
Zhu Hong pondered. Since Zhen Zhu liked to stretch out his wings while he slept, the former might be preferable. But then again, he hadn’t done that tonight either so maybe if he was in the right nest, he didn’t feel the need to do that. Maybe stretching out his wings had been his way of compensating for something he hadn’t had before.
Also, he had to keep the future in mind. “Well, it shouldn’t make a difference right now but in the future, the nest would also be used to hatch our eggs so I think that having a higher rim would be better.”
The woman nodded. In fact, it didn’t matter too much. The eggs could very well be hatched on a pure platform nest as well but she had heard rumors that not many phoenixes were born anymore so they were probably fiercely protective of the little number they had. Also, this decision might make things easier for his partner, especially if this was their first egg.
“Very well, then the last matter you need to decide on is how firm you want it to be. Again, this comes down to preference: Some like it if it is a little harder while others would like it to be soft. Depending on what you prefer, the materials you will need will change, as will their quantity.”
For the first time, Zhu Hong looked a little lost. He had tried to figure out what had been used in the nests he had seen before but he hadn’t had many examples to judge so he couldn’t compare. He simply didn’t know what might be better.
The woman smiled and waved him over to the corner next to the counter. “Come with me. I’ll show you some examples. That should make it easier for you to decide.”
Zhu hong followed her over and she took out some miniature nests that showed the differences she had just talked about. She took two of them out, giving them to Zhu Hong to feel the difference in firmness.
“These are both cup nests with a slightly higher edge. If you wanted to, you could raise or lower this without trouble. In any case, the materials that were used are different.
“The left one was mostly built with branches, twigs, and some grass. Thus, it has a firmer quality. For the other one, there were only some twigs used and more grass, as well as further soft materials like feathers, hair, or silk. As a result, it is very soft.
“Naturally, these are only two examples. There is always the possibility to mix both approaches. The rule of thumb is that softer materials result in a softer nest so any added padding that you want will require more materials.
“Please keep in mind that the amount of materials is huge. Just for such a small nest, you would need about two thousand feathers. You can compensate with other materials, of course, but it will still be a lot. As such, you should think about this well. It is completely possible to only pad parts of the nest. For example, if the rim doesn’t necessarily need to be soft, you can just pad out the bottom of the cup. That would be where the eggs would be lying so it should be the softest part if you are worried about that.”
Zhu Hong nodded, his mind already churning. To him, he didn’t mind the cost. For Zhen Zhu, he was willing to pay a lot. At the same time, he himself didn’t need the nest to be soft. In fact, a firmer one would be preferable. But for Zhen Zhu, he had the feeling that it might be exactly the other way around. And unfortunately, he hadn’t managed to ask him before. So now, he was in a bit of a dilemma.
Judging from tonight, the best way to sleep might be with Zhen Zhu in the middle and him curled around. Thus, he could indeed leave the rim firmer while the middle might need to be soft.
Thinking for a while, he finally handed the miniatures back to her, having made up his mind. “I’m not completely sure on this yet. I think I should just buy all of the materials to make both options. That way, I can still make some adjustments without having to worry how it will turn out.”
The woman didn’t inquire further and just nodded. “Of course, that will be possible. Then, let’s move over to the counter. I still need the sizes so we can figure out how much you will need of which material. If you are unsure about which materials to use, we have samples of all of them on display.”
She motioned at the shelves leading around the room and Zhu Hong gave them a quick glance but he felt that he was cute sure on that part. In any case, he had surveyed two nests before. Going with what had been used to build them shouldn’t be wrong.
Thus, the two of them went back to the counter immediately. Zhu Hong told her Zhen Zhu’s measurements and she made a rough estimate of the size they would need, noting everything down.
Seeing the numbers she wrote, Zhu Hong couldn’t help but clear his throat. “I think I would like some materials extra just in case. I’ve never done this before so it could be that I will need some more time to get it right especially in the beginning. Some of the material might get wasted. Maybe you could add ten percent?” To be honest, this estimate was already rather low but he hoped that he would be able to make it work. In the worst case, he would just need to come back here and or ask one of the others if they could do him the favor and order if they went to the city in the near future.
The woman nodded and added the numbers with a smile. Naturally, she would be happy if he ordered more. In fact, she might have suggested having even more spare materials in that case but she felt that that would really be too much. “You don’t have to worry too much about the building process. We have a small book here for each of the nest types that details the building process.”
Zhu Hong smiled faintly, feeling that they were really too well prepared. “Well, then I guess I’d like one of those for a cup nest as well. Are the firm and the soft nests both detailed?”
She nodded. “Yes, there is just an extra chapter on how to make it softer. You can already take this with you today if you want to. We will bring your materials to the dragons’ valley as soon as we finish.”
“Thank you very much.”
“Is there a specific address we should bring them to?”
Zhu Hong was in a bit of a pinch. This was supposed to be a surprise for Zhen Zhu so he didn’t want to give it away. This was the whole reason why he had sneaked out to do this in the early morning before his husband was even awake. “Well, how about delivering it to Elder Bi’s house?” In any case, there weren’t any streets named in the dragons’ valley so he could only go by the name of the family head.
Since this was the case for quite a few of the tribes’ places, the woman wasn’t too surprised. Places like the city where everything had a name were quite rare. “Well, then we will deliver it to Elder Bi’s house. I think you can expect your order to arrive in the next two or three days.”
“Thank you very much. I will be waiting then.”
They exchanged a few more words while Zhu Hong paid up and finally, he left the store with a book in hand. He put it into his spatial realm as soon as he was a few steps away, not wanting Zhen Zhu to see. Then, he rushed back to the guesthouse, grabbing a servant to ask whether his husband had already woken up. When he realized that he hadn’t, he just asked about the food again before he went up to the room.
Walking inside, he found Zhen Zhu still happily sleeping in the nest. Maybe it was because he had been especially tired or maybe this nest was really too comfortable. In any case, he didn’t look like he would wake up anytime soon.
Zhu Hong laughed to himself and then went to sit down at the side, just observing his little spouse. If he could, he really would’ve liked to gather him into his arms and just hold him. Unfortunately, that would definitely wake him up so he held back. In any case, he’d have the whole day to hold him again.
A few minutes later, there was the faintest of knocks on the door. Zhu Hong got up and silently walked over, not wanting to wake up Zhen Zhu. Outside stood a servant with a tray of food in their hands. Zhu Hong silently thanked them and took the tray, closing the door behind them again.
When he turned around, his little spouse had opened his eyes and was staring straight at him. Or maybe he was actually staring at the food that he was bringing inside.
Zhu Hong chuckled and went to put the tray down on the table. “I see you’re ready to eat. Come on then, get up and join me. They just brought it up.”
Zhen Zhu didn’t need to be told twice. He could actually see the steam wafting off the food. He jumped out of the nest, his wings fluttering, and then changed his form as soon as he had solid ground beneath his feet again.
He hastily threw on his robe and then rushed over to the table. He almost wanted to sit down but then reconsidered and instead rushed over to the other side, jumping into his husband’s arms. “Good morning!” He gave him a resounding kiss before he ran out of his arms again, finally going to sit down after all to dig into the food.
Zhu Hong raised his brows but didn’t say anything about this stormy greeting and just smiled. “Good morning. Let’s eat then.”
With that, the two of them just started to eat before they ventured out again for another exciting day in the city.