“What you have to understand is, four days ago he was only my brother in name. And this morning we had pancakes.”
--Charlie Babbitt, 'Rain Man'
Chapter 227 – Reconciled
Chu Xiong could not believe it.
He stared at his princely brother, his mouth agog. Chu Feng on the other hand was as red as a ripe fruit, hands clenched in desperate embarrassment.
“You… ah… eh…” Chu Xiong stuttered as the implication sunk in. His brother, the direct rival for the throne; had all but admitted to having his chrysanthemum deflowered!
In another time, he would have immediately ridiculed his brother. Where would he find another opportunity to see his brother is such precarious vulnerability?
Between the royal siblings there were only ill-feeling. At first it was verbal jabs and condescension, later; it evolved to suspicion and political intrigue. Chu Xiong was lazy and frivolous; Chu Feng was overbearing and the bully. They were natural opposites.
Yet, seeing his strapped and warlike brother standing before him visibly shaken and in distress evoked an unfamiliar feeling of sympathy. What was it that Huang Ming had said to him?
“You eat, drink and sleep all day, how popular are you going to be?”
He had never even thought of getting to know his royal sibling, how close are they going to be?
“Are… are you alright? What happened?” he asked.
The look of genuine concern on his face was convincingly truthful, because a flood of relief washed over Chu Feng. The prince visibly trembled, for he had no confidant of his own to share his personal worries with.
His entire life he grew up willful and inclined towards the warrior arts, because that was one area he knew his mother had no control over. His royal father was obviously pleased with a well-built, powerful son and so encouraged his martial pursuits, much to his mother’s annoyance.
However, it meant he outranked everyone else in the army, while his maids and servants were his mother’s creatures. There were no friends, there were only instructors. There were no peers, there were only subordinates. Even the bedwarmers were picked by his mother.
Prince Chu Feng was quite the lonely man.
Perhaps that was why he found such comfort when he finally fell asleep in Bian Qing’s arms that night, enveloped by her warm embrace.
Chu Feng’s eyes reddened when he saw Chu Xiong’s worried look. He knew admitting what had happened would open himself to ridicule. But one could easily discern how desperate he was for someone to talk to, that he had to resort to seek his brother Chu Xiong even though they are direct rivals for the throne. There was simply no one else for him to turn to.
Besides, it was a private conversation. Even if Chu Xiong was to spread news of this, it could be brushed off as mere slander.
Thus when Chu Xiong asked, it was easy for Chu Feng to open his mouth and poured his heart out.
When it was all said and done, Chu Xiong shook his head. Half in stunned wonder, half in awe. He had listened with a slack jaw as Bian Qing’s skill was described. How frightened he had been, how Bian Qing’s rough ministrations became gentle through the night…
Was it his imagination or was Chu Feng actually bragging?
“So… what do you plan to do now? Take revenge on her?” Chu Xiong ventured to ask at the end.
Chu Feng sighed. “I have see anyone like her. I do not think I could ever defeat her,” he confessed.
Chu Xiong saw his brother had visibly matured overnight. The clichés might say a man would age overnight after such an ordeal, but judging from Chu Feng’s outlook; it seemed he found relief instead. Despite the dubious nature of the relief, Chu Feng seemed more laid back than before. Except for the occasional wincing as he gingerly adjusted his seating, of course.
“Well, not to make fun of you or anything, but I have not partook in such an, er, experience,” Chu Xiong said without malice. “But it shouldn’t be too worrying. I mean, there are people who, er; enjoy it. Like our Third Uncle.”
Chu Feng’s eyes boggled. “Third Uncle? Duke He?” he exclaimed in disbelief.
“You mean you don’t know?” Chu Xiong returned.
“But he swings his great axe like it’s made of paper! He can kill a wild boar with his bare hands! And he commands the dreaded Blue Legion!”
“That’s not the only thing blue about him, if you know what I mean,” Chu Xiong said. “Ever notice how his aide-de-camp follows him wherever he goes?”
Chu Feng’s brows crinkled in thought as he tried to recall the person. Then his eyes widened.
Chu Xiong nodded. “Yes… only, that is not a ‘guy’ at all.”
“What!? His second in command is a woman!?”
Chu Xiong raised an eyebrow. “Why is that so strange? You have seen first hand how a woman can be more than a match for a man.
“Well, yes…” Chu Feng admitted.
“They say that she has him under her heel. Literally. Why else do you think our royal father had him posted outside of the capital? Our father respects Duke He, but he does not like the woman giving him orders from the bedroom.”
Chu Feng eyed his brother suspiciously. “And how do you know all this?”
“Oh please. How do you not know? Oh, that’s right. You spend your time away clearing bandits and pirates. When was the last time you actually attended a family banquet? You never stayed on for the full course.”
“They are very boring,” Chu Feng said defensively.
“I know, which is why I end up roaring drunk most of the time,” Chu Xiong said. “But loose lips sink ships, and I get to hear a lot of juicy stuff. For instance, do you know that some of our cousins think that you actually prefer men, since you stay with the army most of the time?”
Chu Feng was enraged. “What? Who said that! I’ll kill them!”
“I never believed them,” Chu Xiong said quickly. “Besides, it’s all just idle gossip.”
“I absolutely do not prefer men,” Chu Feng emphasized with a snarl.
“Of course, of course,” his brother placated. “But back to your original query. I think you should be fine. From what you said, she used plenty of, er, lubrication. You’re not bleeding, are you?”
“What? No!” Chu Feng said in shock. Then he lowered his voice: “I thought only women would bleed.”
Chu Xiong too lowered his voice. “Well, I am not too sure myself but I think anything violent going up there is going to tear something.”
“She was not violent,” Chu Feng insisted. “I’m just… not used to such a thing.”
“Well, as long as it is done consensually and not harm others, I don’t see why it should be a big deal,” Chu Xiong shrugged.
Chu Feng blinked, and it was as if he had truly seen his brother in a new light.
“I never wanted to fight for the throne,” he muttered.
“Neither did I,” Chu Xiong said softly.
“I just wanted to command a great army and to be a hero of the ages; to leave my name in the annals of history,” Chu Feng said.
“And I just want to stay in bed all day, drinking and sleeping,” Chu Xiong replied.
The two brothers looked at each other and chuckled at the irony of it all.
“What’s so funny?” Huang Ming asked, causing the two royal siblings to turn like startled deer.
Huang Ming had just arrived at the courtyard and to see the two deadly contenders to be the next King of Chu sharing a laugh together was incongruous, to say the least.
His arrival quickly sobered up Chu Feng., The prince eyed his brother worriedly; wondering if he would betray him.
“None of your business,” Chu Xiong said airily. “We are just having a chat.”
“A chat, you say,” Huang Ming repeated as he looked at their faces. There was no deceit nor scheme to be seen.
“We are brothers after all, is it so strange?” Chu Xiong demanded.
“Not at all, that is how brothers should be,” Huang Ming smiled faintly, recalling how he himself had repaired relations with Huang Lang and Huang Ke.
“Now leave us, we brothers have some things to discuss,” Chu Xiong ordered.
“As you command,” Huang Ming replied and even bowed.
As he withdrew, he gave the brothers one last look.
They really were having a chat.
It might be stretching it,
But their quarrel might quit.