No one noticed Hu Sang's crying nor anyone helped her up. The spectators held their pose from before, fixing their eyes on the scene unfolding beyond the curtains. They were watching a handsome man and a beautiful woman dancing in close embrace under the subtly lit sky and long breezes.
An everlasting waltz.
Their dance touched every heart present.
Like a photograph, the young lady's face was forever engraved in their memory.
Together with soccer, the waltz became fashionable in the Five Region Continent as well, and both activities became the most elegant sport and entertainment respectively. A waltz competition was held every year, and a dancing king and queen were picked out. Citizens of Yaocheng agreed that it was the most beautiful dance in the world, never before seen, but there never had been a year that could surpass the night they had witnessed in January, in the 17th year under Wuji governor's reign.
Nevertheless, it seemed that nothing beautiful was destined to last in this world, just as how the dance that stunned the world couldn't be finished.
That night, the instrumental version of "Blue Danube River" played on like a calm river flow, separated by space and countless centuries of classical music, displaying its vivid charm amid the silent garden, drifting wind and controlled breaths.
Yet, there were also hooves clattering.
The horseman made no sound. Instead, he guided the horse to the entrance of the office, from which a guard dressed in black appeared. The horseman handed a letter to him before turning around.
The man in black studied the special symbol on the letter and hesitated a little before entering the garden.
He dashed from roof to roof, finally reaching that of the meditation hall and tapping on it thrice, rhythmically.
Yuan Zhaoxu shook lightly.
He looked up, his misty eyes instantly turning clear and sharp.
Three taps... it was an urgent report.
Meng Fuyao detected a change and subconsciously messed up her steps.
The sound of string breaking traveled from the room beside.
The musicians, enchanted by the couple's whirling dance and engrossed in their own instruments, were startled by Meng Fuyao's sudden mistake. It was as if the smooth babbling of springwater was disrupted by a splashing stone.
Meng Fuyao sighed, slowly letting go and stepping back, while the musicians stopped as well.
She looked up and smiled. "Things that are too perfect will not last, as they say. This "Blue Danube River" will end here. It's pretty good this way."
Yuan Zhaoxu looked at her, and after a brief silence he said, "I hope we can complete it one day."
Meng Fuyao smiled without answering. Mortal affairs flowed like water and were ever changing. Who would dare promise a tomorrow?
Just as how that moment of warmth on a peaceful night had just been broken by tens of thousands of urgent military situations.
Yuan Zhaoxu waved to draw the curtains, and upon opening the report his face altered slightly.
Meng Fuyao looked at him, wondering what it was that could have caused such a change. She did not ask, did not speak, did not disturb, and instead, chose to give him space to think.
Some time later, Yuan Zhaoxu rubbed the letter gently with a finger, instantly turning it to mere particles. He stood up, informing, "Fuyao, Gaoluo, the neighboring nation of the northern line, has started a rebellion. Gather 500,000 soldiers to attack from the sea route. I have to rush back to Zhongzhou."
Meng Fuyao jumped. A battle on two fronts! It was a disaster for any nation possible.
Yuan Zhaoxu reached a hand out to pat her shoulder, adding, "Gaoluo has always pledged its alliance to Wuji, but in recent years a batch of ambitious figures and a competitive, high-ranking military officer came into the picture. The brothel owner cum business merchant, Tory, was their agent. I figured that they would make a move after the sealing of Deepspring Brothel, and indeed they have done so. But don't worry, it will be alright, but I'll need to make a trip back."
As if comprehending something, Meng Fuyao responded, "You've long predicted that Gaoluo would take action, haven't you? Which means, you should've stayed to watch over Zhongzhou, but you came..."
Yuan Zhaoxu turned to the side and smiled, his eyes glowing under the light. "I do what I think worth, and I think I'm worth it."
He stood up and walked toward the door but turned around again a few steps later. "I wish I was the type of man who could put aside all national affairs to chase after a beautiful woman, Fuyao, but I'm sorry that I'm not."
Meng Fuyao blinked. "A man with a sense of responsibility is a real man, and this responsibility shouldn't just be toward friends and family but also his nation."
"You're always making me sigh," replied Yuan Zhaoxu, looking straight into her eyes. "Because of your difficulties you've been pushing love aside, but you're unaware that your existence and your careless expression of everything are irresistibly attractive to some."
Meng Fuyao fell silent for a moment before letting out a bitter smile. "Because my existence is a mistake to begin with."
"You stubborn little fool..." Yuan Zhaoxu smiled, without discouragement, and gave her forehead a feather-light kiss. "But I still feel that meeting you has filled the void in my life."
His movement released a faint fragrance that drifted along with the cool breeze of dawn and into the dazzling meditation hall. The atmosphere inside was light and peaceful, and the birds that had just woken up were flapping their wings and chirping from afar, their voices creating a beautiful tune for the night that had just ended.
"You look really beautiful."
Yuan Zhaoxu left on a quick horse and made his way to Yaocheng, but not before leaving a letter for Meng Fuyao. Upon reading it, she pondered for a long time, eventually burning it.
Lord Yuan Bao had been forced to stay as well and had scuttled somewhere to heal his broken heart, for the 108th time. Wanting to return to his master upon recovery, he bumped into his grinning love rival, who gloatingly informed him that his dear owner had given him to her.
As if struck by lightning, Lord Yuan Bao winced in pain, scampering out of the building and jumping onto a horse. However, before he could move off, Meng Fuyao pulled him down and chided, "Don't torment my horse. You chewed the neck of the previous horse so badly that it hasn't recovered yet."
Failing to woo his love interest and then being passed on to another person, Lord Yuan Bao's premenstrual stress intensified. Nevertheless, Meng Fuyao ignored him, knowing that this guinea pig's healing ability surpassed that of a cockroach. She had observed that no matter how hard Lord Yuan Hao hammered his chest in sorrow, he had never once skipped a meal out of grief.
Basically, Meng Fuyao believed that when one's appetite was not affected, one was not truly broken-hearted.
She stayed in the official residence every day, occasionally watching soccer. Ever since her identity as a woman had been exposed that night, many young lads had fallen head over heels with her. Unable to put up with their pursuit, she had to put on a disguise every time she snuck out. Having managed Yaocheng for quite some time, she suddenly felt that a departure was inevitable. Knowing that money was necessary for traveling, she had to get some for herself by getting into contact with a big family within the city and agreeing on raising funds to establish a club.
Meng Fuyao specially selected a few nimble and tall ladies to dance in a brothel in Yaocheng, and had them sign a contract that restricted them to only selling their art and not body. At the same time, they would get to enjoy privileges and benefits. Soon, Yaocheng citizens flocked over like ducks and were greeted by a big advertising sign outside the club: "The waltz, a dance of love. You deserve it!"
It worked like a charm, as people who believed that they deserved it poured in like an endless wave, even damaging the door sills.
Days passed quietly, but VIP Meng's international dance business blew up, and she constantly dreamed about the amazing life she was going to have with the money. What she did not know was the danger that was soundlessly closing in.
On 28th January of the 16th year under Wuji's reign, Yaocheng was as peaceful as usual.
The sky was a pretty blue, and the first rays of morning sun revealed themselves from beyond the horizon. The morning breeze of southern winter was chilly, and Boss Liu, who was rushing out of the city, tightened the collar around his neck.
He was heading to the neighboring county to buy and sell cloth. Dance outfits were all the rage in Yaocheng recently, and Boss Liu, an opportunist, had opened a fabric business and woken up early to get stock. In fact, he was the first to exit Yaocheng.
Covering not more than five kilometers outside the city, he saw from afar a ginormous puff of rising black smoke. It was as if an eagle had just spread his wings, effectively covering the whole of sky and earth.
Boss Liu opened his eyes wide, studying it for some time and vaguely making out the formation that was emerging before his eyes. He could gradually see multicolored leather armors, a fluttering flag with a two-headed snake on it, and many light-reflecting scimitars.
He trembled, dropping the horsewhip on the carriage. After some time, he screamed wildly, turning around and fleeing.
"The Rongs are here!"
On 28th January, just after the New Year Festival, armored horses and horsemen appeared in Yaocheng without any warning. The southern and northern Rong army had clearly surrounded Suishui from both wings and should've been ready to battle King De's troops, but they altered their route, traversing Suishui and appearing before Yaocheng and surrounding it instead.
Meng Fuyao was watching soccer when news arrived and was shocked by it since she had been guarding against this. She had dispatched investigators to scout for intruders. Why hadn't she gotten any update when the Rong army was already nearing the city?
Of course, it wasn't the time to wonder about the specifics. Meng Fuyao immediately sent two troops, one to assist King De and the other 15 kilometers away to assist Yaocheng's defense army stationed in White Pavilion. She then shut the city gates and ordered all private soldiers to guard it.
The good thing was that Yaocheng had weapons of all types in the storehouse. In fear that the Rongsmen in the city would cause trouble, Meng Fuyao had confiscated their weapons and also used the money she had earned from soccer to replace and repair the old rusty weapons within the storage. She had even prepared a series of guarding tools, but there were simply too few defenders within the city. She only had about 800 people, and from Boss Liu's estimates, there were about 50,000 of them. 800 versus 50,000... how were they going to fight?