“Each man recalls not the enemy he hated, but the champion who engaged him with such valor.”
--Steven Pressfield, ‘Last of the Amazons’
Chapter 225 – Subdued
A half-naked and despondent Prince Chu Feng gritted his teeth as he applied a refreshing ointment on his sores and bruises. His body had been battered from the punishment Bian Qing had given him over the past few days. Yet his mind was consumed by his desire to defeat her, more concerned by the humiliation rather than the physical pain or the soothing feeling from rubbing the balm.
“How could someone like her exist?” he muttered resentfully as he rubbed the medication on himself.
Every move he tried did not work. Whether with weapons or barehanded, her strength was too overwhelming. And when he did manage to get close to land a hit, she simply shrugged it off. Instead, her big, beefy hands would grab him and… that would be the end of the spar. She would throw him around like a rag doll, slamming him to the ground this way and that; covering him in a cloud of dust.
Though, today was a little different.
Today, instead of throwing him around; she wrapped her powerful arms around him in a bear hug and squeezed. Was it his imagination or was she wearing a fragrance? He was certainly close enough to smell her…
After he had shouted to admit defeat, she even looked at him in concern. Usually she would just laugh loudly and stomp off without so much as giving him a glance.
The prince winced as he felt the pain from his back. Strangely though, his chest and ribs were not much affected. Maybe it was because her front was softer than expected when compared to her muscled arms that had circled around his back. He did not expect her to be so impressively endowed in the upper chest area…
He shook his head angrily even as he felt a rising heat in his body. It was just a natural reaction, he was definitely not attracted to the brutish woman! Sure, she looked was exotic and unfamiliar. The shock of long red hair and the faded scar on her cheek gave her a wild sort of look, a female personification of a force of nature.
She was a challenge, and he can’t wait to defeat her and establish his dominance. How dare she humiliate him, a prince! He not only wanted to defeat her in a spar, but to also break her spirit.
The prince smiled with sadistic anticipation.
Suddenly, there was a knock on his door. He nearly jumped with fright, as if someone had detected his evil thoughts.
“Who is it?” he managed to croak.
There was no answer, but the knocks became impatiently louder. But before the prince could issue another challenge, the door thrown open violently.
“So slow!” Bian Qing complained as she barged into the room. She paused when she noticed his state of undress.
Prince Chu Feng gaped at her. The brazen, red-haired she-devil had walked into his room without a care in the world; as if it was the most natural thing in the world.
“What are you doing here?” he asked with shock.
“Just to check up on ya. I used too much strength earlier, sorry about that,” she apologized unconvincingly.
“Are you making fun of me?” he snarled.
“Why would I make fun of you?” Bian Qing asked with genuine surprise.
The medicinal balm he used gave his muscular body a slight sheen; and the smell of camphor was refreshing and enticing. Bian Qing’s eyes roved all over his body without restraint, causing Chu Feng’s nostrils to flare angrily.
“Seen enough?” he sneered, thoroughly astounded that a woman would greedily look at him this way. He recalled the way he had leered at the women that were ordered to his bed, they were all delicate and timid creatures that allowed him to have his way with them. It was disconcerting to on the receiving end, particularly from such a powerful woman.
“You’re not a scrawny ponce after all,” Bian Qing said light-heartedly. The smirk accentuated the faded scar on her cheek, causing Chu Feng’s eyes to be drawn to it.
Bian Qing grew self-conscious by his stare. “What are you looking at?” she growled as she jutted her chin out proudly, deliberately turning her face slightly to show off the scar.
“How did you get that scar?” Chu Feng asked. All the women that he had known were maidens: jade-skinned beauties with unblemished skin… until he was done with them. So too were the concubines and maids in the palace: all hand-picked for their grace and beauty.
Growing up in the palace and familiar with the infighting within the harem, he was no stranger to vicious plots where the royal concubines and maids would disfigure a rival’s face and thus cause her to fall out of favour from the king. Some would return to their home in shame, others who could not bear the shame would take their own life.
Yet, Bian Qing was here before him: proud, fearless, unbowed.
Maybe because he had met her in continuous sparring sessions, but he felt this gigantic woman was guileless. He did not sense duplicity or trickery from her.
Sure, he may have been duped by that blasted Huang Ming before the first duel, but thereafter she had honestly exploited her superior strength and skill to overcome him time and again.
“None of your business,” she grunted.
How many would dare say that to his face? A woman, no less. Well, a big, strong woman. But still, a woman…
He shook his head.
“More importantly, are you really alright? I’m pretty good with a massage, you know,” Bian Qing offered clumsily.
Was it his imagination or was she actually blushing?
What is this, what is going on?
Suddenly keenly aware that he was stripped to the waist, he mustered what remained of his dignity.
“I think you should leave,” he said stiffly.
It instantly wiped the smirk away from Bian Qing’s face. The red flush in her face remained, but the hesitant look was replaced with one with of anger.
“Make me,” she said, her eyes glowering at him. As if to emphasize her point, she planted herself on a stool, her hands on her thighs and her legs spread apart like a grand general dominating the entire room.
She looked very valiant and awe-inspiring, despite wearing common, sleeveless robes. There was an aura of implacable might surrounding her, and for a brief moment the prince feared the possibility of violence. Despite his bravado, he knew there was little chance of him removing Bian Qing. In fact, it was more likely that he would suffer the indignity of being thrown out of his own room instead.
“Fine. You stay, I’ll go,” the prince said with a huff.
But as he turned to leave, a bear paw clamped on his wrist to stop him.
“Where do you think you’re going at this hour?” Bian Qing demanded.
The whole situation was completely out of the prince’s imagination: the female was the overbearing tyrant while the male was the one trying to flee.
“Let go of me,” the prince said.
Bian Qing grinned wolfishly and with a forceful tug; pulled the prince into her arms. She quickly wrapped an arm around his naked waist and squeezed him into her embrace.
“What are you doing!” the prince exclaimed as his face turned white.
“We’re all alone here, what do you think?” Bian Qing said as her breath quickened.
Somewhere, a flower shed a petal in sympathy…
Pain and pleasure,
Both in equal measure.