It Doesn’t Hurt If I Press Gently
Ming Qin perched atop the treetops the following evening, biding her time until she spotted the serving maid leave the room.
Once she did, Ming Qin ascended the stairs with delicate steps.
Upon seeing her, Murong Yan, who had previously been impassive, set aside her book and extended her hand with a gentle smile.
“Ah Qin,” she greeted.
Ming Qin reciprocated the gesture, clasping the offered hand before enfolding Murong Yan in a tender embrace, propping her up in the process.
With the bamboo tube in hand, she uncorked it and recited, “The crowd at Brother Jiang’s was so dense today that I almost missed my turn! Luckily, I woke up early.”
Ming Qin had consumed yesterday’s chilled chicken soup, so today she swiftly ladled a bowl for Murong Yan while it was still piping hot.
As she observed Murong Yan savoring each spoonful, her lips slick with oil, Ming Qin deftly picked out the bones and added a tender slice of chicken to her bowl with chopsticks.
Observing the woman’s satisfaction with each bite, Ming Qin shifted her attention to the dainty food box that a servant girl had brought for Murong Yan, but had remained untouched.
“Take it slow,” Murong Yan cautioned Ming Qin, who was devouring her meal with haste, fearing that she might choke.
She then scooped out the remaining soup from the bamboo tube and offered it to Ming Qin.
“No, that’s for you,” Ming Qin replied, her chopsticks still in hand, her words slightly garbled by the food in her mouth.
“I can’t eat anymore,” Murong Yan licked her lips and set the bowl in front of Ming Qin, as if to placate her.
The two women consumed their meal in silence, only their contentment visible in their relaxed gazes as they met each other’s eyes.
After they cleared the dishes, Ming Qin cradled Murong Yan in her arms, warming her chilled fingers with her own palms.
“Today, Master visited the palace and left with a smile on his face, so I’m guessing he’ll have a chance to converse with his mother,” Ming Qin prattled on.
“From tomorrow until the third day of the Lunar New Year, I’ll have to go to the palace and be by the Emperor’s side on behalf of Master’s mother.
Although she’s returning to the camp to spend New Year’s Eve with Master, I’m afraid I won’t be able to accompany you.”
“It’s alright,” Murong Yan responded softly.
“How is the Emperor? Is he well?”
Ming Qin furrowed her brow and shook her head.
“Master’s mother mentioned that the Emperor’s health had been compromised since his youth, and his body’s accumulation of gold poison from day and night’s strain did not bode well.”
Murong Yan lowered her gaze and clasped Ming Qin’s fingers, flipping her palm in silence.
Ming Qin gently massaged the temples at the corners of Murong Yan’s eyes, noticing the faint fatigue lurking beneath them.
She extinguished the oil lamp by the window, carried Murong Yan to the washbasin to freshen up, and settled her onto the bed.
After undoing Murong Yan’s hair, Ming Qin deftly removed her prosthetic leg, then extracted a jar of ointment from her pocket.
She scooped out a bit and applied it to the gash on Murong Yan’s right leg, where the skin had been broken.
Murong Yan flinched involuntarily as the cold ointment was applied to her wounded leg.
The woman lifted Murong Yan’s skirt once more and placed her hands on the upper part of her remaining right leg, exerting gentle pressure as she massaged back and forth.
A tingling sensation crept up from Murong Yan’s tailbone to her neck, causing the skin on her arms, hidden by her sleeves, to prickle.
Observing the trembling woman, Ming Qin realized that her touch was too heavy and gently reassured her, “Relax, I asked Uncle Wang and the others back at camp.
They said that pressing it will help alleviate the pain, so you can sleep better tonight.”
Ming Qin adjusted her technique and continued, “See, it’s a little swollen here, but I’ll apply a gentle pressure.
It won’t hurt.”
Murong Yan looked at Ming Qin’s earnest expression and felt a sense of helplessness.
She clutched the blanket tightly, hoping to ignore the strange sensations coursing through her body and the tightness in her chest.
Ming Qin’s technique was remarkably effective.
Murong Yan, who had been tensing up, gradually relaxed and sank into the pillow as she felt the warmth spreading through her legs.
Ming Qin continued to massage for about the time it takes for an incense stick to burn, until she heard Murong Yan’s breathing become steady and regular.
She then removed her hand and carefully lowered Murong Yan’s skirt, tucking her in with the quilt.
“Sleep well,” she whispered, adding more charcoal to the fire.
She gazed at Murong Yan’s peaceful face for a moment before murmuring, “Sweet dreams.”
Ming Qin sat quietly on the roof tiles of the Emperor’s bedchamber, rubbing her eyes out of boredom.
She wanted to eat melon seeds.
It was just past three o’clock, and the surroundings were quiet, with only the soldiers carrying lanterns patrolling outside the palace walls, their silhouettes wandering in the distance.
After a prolonged silence, a layer of snow had accumulated on Ming Qin’s shoulders.
As the chilly gusts of wind swept by, she had to restrain herself from sneezing.
Twitching her ears, she jumped from the roof with anxiety and entered the chamber through the window.
An elderly man, clad in a single coat and with half-white hair, looked at her and signaled for her to keep quiet.
He didn’t call for the palace servants to retrieve the overturned candlestick.
Ming Qin quietly stepped forward to offer her help and then gestured respectfully to the old man to indicate her intention to leave.
However, the old man interrupted her with a slightly wheezy voice, causing her to freeze in place.
She bent down in reverence and kept her gaze lowered, avoiding looking at the tempting snacks in the food box on the nearby table.
The Emperor sat down slowly and asked Ming Qin, “I have heard that you know Princess Chongwen?”
Ming Qin obediently replied, “Yes Your Majesty, this humble servant and the County Princess are friends.”
The Emperor appeared to find this somewhat unbelievable and nodded after contemplating, “I see.” He then asked hesitantly, “And the County Princess, is she… alright?”
Ming Qin pondered the recent events and replied truthfully, “The County Princess is not in good health, Your Majesty.”
The Emperor shook his head and let out a sigh, “Indeed, how could she be after what I have done to her and Prince Yu.”
Ming Qin couldn’t help but feel a bit unhappy upon hearing this.
She turned towards the Emperor with a hint of stubbornness in her voice and declared, “The County Princess will recover.”
Despite not being in the best condition and almost having vomited blood due to her anger, the County Princess was cheerful when she spent time with Ming Qin a few days ago.
“She will improve!”
Upon hearing the shadow guard’s blunt words, the Emperor paused briefly, but instead of getting upset, he gestured for Ming Qin to sit on the wooden chair opposite to him.
With a smile on his lips, he spoke, “I have heard from your master that you are a good and simple child, and today I see that this is indeed the case.”
Ming Qin was surprised to learn that the Emperor, who was so powerful and influential, had heard of her from her master.
The Emperor’s gentle but firm tone made it difficult for Ming Qin to refuse as he opened the food box and pushed it towards her, saying, “Good child, can you help me with one thing?” She nodded quickly in response.
“If something were to happen to me, would you be willing to protect the County Princess and bring her back to the North safely?” the Emperor asked hesitantly.
Ming Qin felt relieved upon hearing these words.
“Absolutely! I will protect the County Princess and won’t let any harm come her way,” Ming Qin declared with conviction, clenching her right hand.
After her statement, Ming Qin suddenly remembered the palace rules her master had taught her and spoke stiffly, “But Your Majesty, please do not speak such words of ill omen.
Your dragon body is meant to enjoy a long and healthy life.
How could you be absent for even a day?”
The Emperor chuckled at Ming Qin’s flustered state and gestured dismissively, “That’s enough, don’t tease me like that, it’s not suitable.”
Ming Qin breathed a sigh of relief upon hearing the Emperor’s response and picked up the food box, swallowing her saliva before taking a bite.
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