Meng Fuyao tidied her hair and applied some ginger juice onto her face before covering it with a black cloth and jumping down to intercept the carriage.
"I paved this mountain..."
On the winding road, Meng Fuyao placed her hands on her hips, looking exceptionally energetic and attention-seeking. The other member in her bandit crew was Yao Xun, who had stealthily held onto the back of the carriage.
"Redstone Mountain has been paved since the expedition of Wuji and Xuanji emperors. Wuji's emperor had ordered 800,000 soldiers to open a path in a month's time, in order to meet his enemy head-on. In that case, you're not the paver of this mountain," a voice trailed from within the carriage.
It was gentle and warm, and somewhat distant.
Meng Fuyao choked, once again shouting, "I planted this tree..."
"The mountain is located near Red River, and floods occur yearly, causing severe loss of soil. Eight years ago, the crown prince of Wuji had ordered the common people from the suburbs to plant trees on the plains and mountain range. In that case, you're not the one who planted this tree."
Another choke could be heard before Meng Fuyao lost her patience. "I did not pave this mountain. Neither did I care enough to plant this tree. Offer your valuables if you want to pass through."
After a short while, someone slid the curtain to the side.
Under the sunlight, Meng Fuyao narrowed her eyes.
The chilly wind blew over, instantly producing mist as she exhaled. The Redstone Mountain had already frosted, enhancing the redness of the rocks and the greenness of the plants growing between the cracks.
It was an extremely cold winter, and all scenery had been stripped by it, save for the resilient trees.
The dusky carriage dimmed the appearance of the man inside, but he was visibly wearing a snow-white robe. He seemed to have light cherry-red lips, calm and soft yet able to dwindle the strength of the cutting wind.
Meng Fuyao crooked her head, mumbling, "How I hate these men in white, only trying to appear pure and innocent."
The man in the carriage smiled and lifted a hand. He made no major moves, but in the next moment, Yao Xun was thrown off and left howling in pain.
"Trying to plunder my valuables with this, Lady? Doesn't seem to make sense."
Unmoved, Meng Fuyao snapped, "I don't know him. Anyways, you don't look that appealing after all. How about we just let this go. Till we meet again, bye."
She slapped her hands together and turned around with no intention of helping Yao Xun up.
"It's cold out here, and it will be good to have something to warm up against. You may not find my body appealing, but I'm sure you don't have anything against a Vessel of Spring?" he spoke, without any deliberate attempt to entice, but his suggestion did manage to captivate a certain someone.
The Vessel of Spring was a top quality wine, famous throughout the whole of the Five Region Continent. Every drop was as valuable as gold, and even noblemen couldn't obtain it easily. Even if they did manage to obtain it, they would hide it in their wine cellars. Ordinary citizens hadn't heard of such wine, and Meng Fuyao had only been exposed to it through that old Daoist priest, or rather, drunkard. Whenever alcoholism struck, he would travel the world, flipping boxes and cupboards, and breaking into doors and graves to seek this wine out. Meng Fuyao had tasted it out of curiosity once, and it had left a deep impression on her.
The wine was velvety and rich. As she swirled it around the tip of her tongue, its texture and taste exploded, rocketing her straight into the heavens.
'Aye... the wine is perfect for the cold weather... what a good life he has...'
A smile started to form on her lips, and in the next moment, her thighs were attached to the side of the carriage. "If you insist, dear noble sir, it'd be impolite for me to refuse, wouldn't it? Seems like you're rather wealthy actually, and looks wise... not shabby either."
"Thank you for your kind words," the man humbly accepted and subconsciously started shifting to the side upon seeing her climb in, but stopped midway.
Meng Fuyao was greeted by the plain and delicate decor inside of the carriage. There was a small table in the center and three seatable sides. There were also a luxurious ferret overcoat and an object wrapped in cotton-padded jacket lying on each unoccupied side. As she wanted more space, she reached to push it aside.
The cotton-padded jacket flew up and into the man's arm, loosening in the process as a pot of flowers with deep purple leaves revealed itself.
Eyes opened wide, Meng Fuyao stammered, "You... you're offering a jacket to a pot of flowers? What top quality plant is this?"
"Just an ordinary purple plant," he stated, keeping it carefully. "Someone left it outside the village, and it was about to be frozen, so I picked it up. Plants are sentient creatures, and they fear cold too."
Not knowing whether to laugh or cry, Meng Fuyao swept her gaze over his face, her heart immediately skipping a beat. Wasn't he the clean freak in white that had been following Qi Xunyi at the foot of the Xuanyuan Mountain? She still had his belt with her.
Subconsciously feeling her own face, Meng Fuyao remembered that she had on a mask that day and also ginger juice on at the moment. Not worrying about her identity being exposed, she smiled confidently. "Your name, Noble Sir?"
"You can drop the formalities. My family name is Zong," answered Zong Yue quietly, his eyes shining as he retrieved the wine and offered her a glass. "Please."
"I have a companion," she added with a smile.
Zong Yue turned his head slightly, catching sight of a shadow flashing past his carriage. The next second, Yao Xun was being thrown into the carriage behind. Meng Fuyao's eyes contracted her gaze toward him turning friendlier.
She raised the wine cup, its content a goose yellow. Its unique color made it hard for poison to be added because any contamination would muddy it. The wine she saw was pure, like the beaks of ducks swimming in the Three Springs Mountain River. There wasn't a need to worry about it being toxic.
As the mood was significantly lightened, Meng Fuyao drank a few consecutive cups. Still unsatisfied, she attacked the wine pot straight. As she reached for it her fingers almost brushed against Zong Yue's, the latter hurriedly withdrawing his.
Meng Fuyao acted ignorantly and quickly got intoxicated. Soon after, she started spinning and singing. Her voice brought shivers to the horseman, which then led to a bumpy ride as if the carriage could overturn at any moment. Upon finishing her song, Meng Fuyao flipped her pockets out for Zong Yue to see. "...Brother... broke... leave it... to... you..."
She made three unstable swirls, her left foot stamping on her right, before plopping onto Zong Yue's seat.
Her limbs were spread as she let out a long burp, momentarily filling the carriage with the smell of alcohol.
Zong Yue frowned slightly, looking as though he couldn't wait to steer clear of Meng Fuyao. Worried that she would clumsily destroy the potted plant, he retreated a few steps and relocated it before opening the window.
A cool breeze swept in, dispersing the scent of alcohol. Turning back around he saw that a certain someone had already stretched herself comfortably across all three benches; head on his cotton-padded jacket, legs on the other side and a hand on his overcoat.
Her dirty shoes had thoroughly stained his precious overcoat. Zong Yue stared frustrated at it in frustration but hesitated before alighting and moving to the back carriage.
The moment he exited the carriage, Meng Fuyao's eyes shot open. They were as bright and clear as the purest spring water. It appeared that she was in no way intoxicated.
With a flip she rolled down the seats, her hand reaching over to the jacket. She stopped briefly before slipping it underneath.
Suddenly, someone lifted the curtains, and a beam of light shone onto a certain thief's back and also the copper mirror within the carriage. Through it was a visibly long, white-robed man who had a tray in his hand.
Meng Fuyao's heart jumped, her hands stiff and still underneath the jacket.
Unable to retract her hand, she curled her fingers up and dragged the whole jacket onto the ground.
With a strong motion, the jacket covered her body nicely, and she rested against the wall, throwing her feet onto the bench and plastering a dreamy look on her face to appear sound asleep.
She could vaguely feel Zong Yue bending down and retrieving the jacket, albeit stopping halfway, as if noticing something.
Meng Fuyao's eyes were closed shut as various thoughts were rushing through her mind. What was he looking at? Aye, not good, his belt was still with her. Could her big movement from earlier have exposed it? Could he have seen it?
And what was that thin and long thing that she had felt? Why was he back so soon?
Zong Yue turned to scan his surroundings but spotted nothing. Meng Fuyao was relieved and allowed herself to relax. She started to feel tipsy and drowsy, and eventually fell into a good sleep.
It was a quality sleep, as it was already daytime when she woke up. The morning rays penetrated the curtains and landed upon Zong Yue's face, highlighting his already lusciously red lips and sparkly fair skin.
He was dressed in white and was resting on a pure-white fox fur rug. He appeared like a ball of snow-cloud, so pure and clean that those on the highest mountain peaks.
Yuan Zhaoxu was a nobly graceful man who had much poise. Zhan Beiye was fresh and had a powerful bearing. Yun Hen was as tall as a tree, his eyes as fiery as meteors. All three were rare characters whom Meng Fuyao was fortunate enough to have gotten acquainted with. Having seen such beautiful faces, she hadn't imagined it possible for her to be blown away by another man's appearance. Yet, Zong Yue had managed to do exactly that. The flawless complexion of his took her breath away and left her in sighs.
As Meng Fuyao was done admiring his features, she shook her head and crawled out of the carriage.
"Where are you going?" a voice sounded from behind her.
"I have something urgent to attend to, Brother Zong. We'll part ways now," Meng Fuyao turned to answer. "I'll always be thankful for your utmost generosity. Farewell."
Zong Yue lifted his eyes to look at her, a smile slowly forming.
"Why leave after a simple thanks then?"
"A Vessel of Spring is extremely precious," he reminded. "Most don't realize that it has healing ingredients like snow lotus herbs, blood-headed crows and jade cicadas in it. Kept underground through the winter months and only opened in spring. Cures illnesses related to the meridians of the body."
"So?" asked while Meng Fuyao picking her brows. She felt that something was amiss.
"Remember the pot we drank yesterday? King De of Zhongzhou had someone pass it to me. He has overtrained his body. His energy and blood flow are in a dangerous state, and he had contacted me out of desperation. I have sought out the three ingredients, and am on the way back to prepare the wine." He extended his long finger and pointed at the empty pot before adding, "But what happened last night? A robber blocked my path and plundered this pot of rare wine that was supposed to save another life."