Jiang Yanli was searching through the castle for her little brother. He wasn’t in his room where he should be, to pack and get ready for the departure. He wasn’t in the kitchen to steal some sweets and flirt with the ladies, the maidens haven’t seen him either. Jiang Yanli went to the stable to ask the stable boy if Wei Wuxian went for a horse ride to relax a bit like he always does but the stable boy also shook his head. Nobody has seen Wei Wuxian. It was weird, he is always chatting with everyone, everywhere, the palace always echoes his loud laugh.
Then Jiang Yanli suddenly remembered where she did not look.
There she found him.
Not so far from the Jiang Castle there was a small village, called Lotus Pier. The royal guards’ families and some merchants lived there. Next to the village there was a big lotus pond. Wei Wuxian often came here to swim or just to chill a bit, to forget about his royal duties, even if it’s only for some hours. Sometimes his brother, Jiang Cheng joins him when he has time but being the crown prince comes with more royal duties and less free time.
Now Wei Wuxian was sitting at the end of the docks, leaning on his hands behind him, feet dangling in the warm water. He looked at the trees around him, the green leaves were turning red and brown. The summer is over, his birthday is coming. This is the first time he wasn’t excited over his birthday.
He turned around when he heard his sister’s voice and smiled brightly at her. “A-Jie!”
Jiang Yanli’s handmaiden placed a pillow next to him so the princess could sit down too.
“What’s wrong, A-Xian?” she asked. “You are so quiet today.”
Wei Wuxian sighed. “I don’t want to go. I want to stay here.”
“I know. But you have to. You probably want to meet your fiance before the wedding.”
“That’s the problem. I don’t want to get married. At least yet. Especially not to someone I don’t even know!”
“You will have one month to get to know each other.”
“That’s not the same and you know it! You had more time to get to know beforehand you got engaged to that peacock.”
“A-Xian!” she scolded him gently but she was smiling. “Jin Zixuan is a good person if you know him better.”
Wei Wuxian pulled a face.
After a moment of silence. “But why I’m the one who has to get married? Okay, I’m the second prince but I’m adopted. Jiang Cheng is the crown prince!”
"A-Cheng also has an engagement but he is still too young. My parents need you to help strengthen the friendship between the kingdoms."
"Ah, so they use my personal life for politics," he looked away.
"You are a prince, A-Xian, it's your duty."
"But I'm adopted, I'm not a real prince." He threw a small rock into the pond.
"You are still part of the Jiang family and that's enough." Yanli gently put her brother's hair behind his ear so she could see his face. "And you will only marry the second prince, not the crown prince."
Wei Wuxian looked at her. "I haven't even met this Second Jade of Gusu… Lan Wangji? It's his name?" Yanli nodded. "See? What if we won't like each other and we have to spend our entire life together…" he sighed. "I would rather marry a maiden from the palace than spend my life with someone I don't know."
"A maiden?" Yanli asked. "Or a stable boy?"
A faint pink blush appeared on his cheeks. "What? No! Noooo!" He coughed. "Where did you get this idea?"
"I can see how you look at him," she smiled.
"Yuandao and I are just friends!"
Yanli raised her eyebrows.
His face got a deeper shade of red. "Okay, okay! I might have… asked him out last month… he said he appreciates that the second prince has a crush on him but he already has a wife," he smiled sadly. "He dumped me very politely."
"Don't worry, A-Jie, I'm okay." He sighed. "I'm probably never seeing him again after my departure to Gusu tomorrow. Unless my fiancé will hate me and calls off the marriage."
She shook her head. "No one can hate my Xianxian!" she booped his nose. "You are a lovely person, A-Xian, I'm sure Lan Wangji will like you."
"And you will also get to like him. I heard that he is a good person."
"At least try to be kind to him, okay?"
"Mm," Wei Wuxian nodded.
Jiang Yanli stood up then fixed her robes. "Come, A-Xian, we have to go back, you still have to pack your things."
Wei Wuxian got to his feet, put on his boots and accompanied his sister back to the palace.
The royal guards put the last package on the backside of the carriage.
"We are ready for leaving, Your Majesty" said one of the knights.
"Thank you, Song Lan." Emperor Jiang Fengmian waved to his sons. "A-Cheng, A-Xian, come here!"
The boys said their goodbyes to their sister.
“Don’t forget to send a letter to me when you arrive safely!” The boys nodded. “And Xianxian, don’t forget to write how your meeting was with your fiancé!” she smiled.
Jiang Yanli laughed. “You promised that you will be kind to him.”
“I know” he pouted.
“Wei Wuxian!” Empress Yu Ziyuan suddenly yelled at him after she finished saying her goodbyes to Jiang Cheng. Wei Wuxian jumped a bit. “Do not bring shame to our name like you always do! Behave and do not disrespect the other kingdom! Understood?”
Wei Wuxian bowed to her. “Yes, Madam Yu, I understood.”
“A-Cheng, A-Xian!” Jiang Fengmian called again.
“Xian-ge, we have to go,” said Jiang Cheng sadly. He was sad because he had to leave his sister but he was also excited. He had never been in another country. The reason why he has to go with his brother and father is to learn about politics between the two kingdoms.
Wei Wuxian nodded and turned to the carriage.
“Xian-gege! Xian-gege!” came a loud voice behind him.
“A-Yuan!” Wei Wuxian turned back, smile on his face and welcoming the four years old boy with open arms.
“Xian-gege, I want to go with you!”
“Sorry, A-Yuan, you can’t,” he shook his head.
“Why?” The kid looked at Wei Wuxian with puppy eyes.
He sighed. “Because… I have a…hm... mission!”
“A-Yuan wants to help Xian-gege do the mission!”
“Hmm, A-Yuan, you know, that’s a good idea!” A-Yuan’s eyes sparkled with excitement. “Or… I give you your own mission!”
The kid jumped in his arms happily. “A-Yuan has a mission! A-Yuan has a mission! What is it Xian-gege?”
Jiang Yanli chuckled, courtesily hiding her smile behind her sleeve.
“Well… hm…” Wei Wuxian was thinking. “What about that A-Yuan listens to his aunt and uncle and be a good boy?”
“Un!” A-Yuan nodded. Wei Wuxian booped the kid’s nose who started giggling.
“Now go back to Qing-jie! She is probably very worried not knowing where you are!” He pinched A-Yuan’s cheeks. “Ay, A-Yuan!” Wei Wuxian called after the kid when he started to rush back to the castle. A-Yuan turned. “When we meet again I want to hear your report on your mission!” he winked.
“Yes, Xian-gege! A-Yuan does his mission! Bye-bye, Xian-gege!” A-Yuan waved then disappeared behind a small hump.
Wei Wuxian looked after the small child. When three people showed up at the Jiang Castle two weeks ago to ask for permission to study about medical practices and herbs used in Yunmeng, Wei Wuxian did not expect to get so close to all three of them. Wen Qing was very smart, confident and Wei Wuxian was certain that she is the best doctor in all kingdoms. Wen Ning, Wen Qing’s little brother, was a bit shy but a very good archer. Wei Wuxian showed him some tricks on how to get better and since then he follows the prince to almost everywhere. Wen Yuan was their nephew. The little kid was very adorable, no one could resist him (even Empress Yu Ziyuan!). They bonded with Wei Wuxian very fast, Jiang Yanli said that because “Xianxian is three years old and kids at similar age bond easily.”
He will miss A-Yuan in Gusu, he seriously asked Wen Qing if he can bring A-Yuan with him but Wen Qing said no. He could’ve plotted a kidnap but he liked his body without Wen Qing’s needles in it. Wei Wuxian tried to look at the bright side: The three Wens only planned their stay for a month then they will travel further to the next kingdom for the same reason and for Wei Wuxian’s delight, their next stop is in Gusu. So they can even attend his wedding! If his fiancé doesn’t call off the engagement after meeting him, of course.
“Xian-ge," Jiang Cheng touched his arm, snapping him back to the present. “We have to go or we won’t arrive at Cloud Recesses in two days.”
“Ah, mm” he nodded.
Both of them bowed to Jiang Yanli and Empress Yu Ziyuan then they finally walked to Jiang Fengmian.
“Hurry up!” the emperor said. “Get in your carriage!”
There were two carriages: one for the princes and one for the emperor, so all of them got in their respective one. Already sitting, Wei Wuxian took off his sword from his belt and placed it next to himself, Jiang Cheng did the same. The crown prince silently watched how the usually bubbly and happy Wei Wuxian sadly looked out the window as the carriage took the road to Gusu.
Lan Wangji knocked on the door.
"Come in, Wangji!" He heard his brother's voice.
He opened the door, stepped inside and greeted his brother. "Xiongzhang. Did you call for me?"
Lan Xichen was sitting at his table, papers, books and tea before him. He smiled at Lan Wangji.
"I just wanted to inform you that the delegation from Yunmeng Jiang arrived a few hours ago."
Oh. So this means his fiance is here.
"No, Wangji, Wei Wuxian is roomed in the guest quarters along with the rest of the delegation. He will move into his assigned room tomorrow, after the formal introduction."
Lan Wangji nodded. His brother always knows what he thinks or wants to ask.
With this he excused himself to go on his usual night patrol. As the prince, it's not his duty to patrol but Lan Wangji liked to walk around the Cloud Castle, he enjoyed the quiet peace of the night after curfew so he often volunteered for the job.
Lan Wangji walked past the Wall of Rules - on which his family's 3000 rules are carved - when he noticed a dark figure climbing up the gates and hopping down in the courtyard. Lan Wangji hid behind a pillar. The person had two dark and round… things in his hands, Lan Wangji was too far to recognise it, and a sword on his side. He looked around carefully and when he saw no one, he rushed towards the castle, towards where Lan Wangji was hiding.
Lan Wangji waited till the footsteps came closer to him, unsheathed his sword, Bichen, and with a turn, he appeared before the intruder, pointing his sword at the other's throat.
The stranger let out a surprised yelp. The things in his hand clicked as he stopped. Now Lan Wangji saw what are those. Alcohol. Two jars of Emperor's smile.
The moonlight faintly revealed the other man's features. Narrow waist, slim body, slightly broad shoulders. His long, dark hair was collected in a high ponytail, strong eyebrows bracketed the dark eyes. His jawline was sharp but his face still had some babyfat.
He was the most beautiful person Lan Wangji ever laid his eyes on.
"What are you doing here?" Lan Wangji asked. "It's prohibited to walk around after curfew."
"Ah," The man licked his lips. He lifted his hand with the jars in it. "I went out to get some drinks. I wanted to taste the famous Emperor's smile."
"Alcohol is prohibited in Cloud Recesses."
"What? Noooooo" he pouted. Lan Wangji found it adorable.
He mentally shook his head and put these sudden thoughts aside.
"If I share it with you, would you overlook it for me, handsome-gege?" the stranger smiled flirtatiously.
Lan Wangji was almost caught off guard. Almost. But he collected himself quickly, he won't be a victim of that beautiful smile. He won't. (Although he was curious how that smile looked in daylight. Would it outshine the sun? Probably.)
Lan Wangji frowned. "Are you trying to bribe me?"
The corners of the other's lips turned down but after a second he went back to smiling and laughed awkwardly. The man put his index finger on the tip of Lan Wangj's sword and guided it away from his throat. "Aiya, handsome-gege, why would I bribe you, it was just a friendly offer!" Lan Wangji was still frowning. "I count it as a no, then." He clicked his tongue. "Gege, don't be this fuddy-duddy, I only arrived here today and I didn't know any of the rules."
"Did you come with the Yunmeng delegation?"
Lan Wangji sheathed his sword and the stranger's eyes went wide then he smiled again.
"Thank you, handsome-gege, for your generosity" he bowed.
"It won't happen tonight but you still should be punished." The man's smile froze at that. "Present yourself tomorrow one hour after the betrothed prince's introduction at the Library Pavillion."
The other man's face was pained. "You can't be serious. I just arrived here. You can't just punish me, what would the Head of Punishments say to this?"
"That is me."
"The Head of Punishments. It is me."
"Shit." It slipped out of the man's mouth but he immediately covered his mouth with his hand after he realized what he said.
Lan Wangji raised his eyebrow slightly.
The Yunmeng delegate laughed awkwardly. "Ahahaha." He bowed deeply. "This humble one sincerely apologises for his behavior, gongzi. I'll watch out for my attitude next time."
Wow, he can act courtly! He still did not realize who he really is talking to. But Lan Wangji won't tell him that he is the Second prince, this conversation is taking too long for his liking.
Lan Wangji turned away from the still bowing figure. "Now go! Be on time tomorrow!" With this, he continued his patrolling, he did not look back if the other disappeared or not. That man's smile did strange things to him, he didn't need heart palpitations.
“Xian-ge! Wake up!”
Wei Wuxian growled and pulled the blanket over his head.
“Xian-ge, you will be late from the introduction.” The older man murmured something, not moving a bit. Jiang Cheng sighed. “Did you drink again?” Oh, he noticed the jars on the table. “Xian-ge! You promised Mother that you will behave!”
“A-Cheng, don’t shout, my head hurts, I’m tired,” Wei Wuxian mumbled.
Jiang Cheng pulled the blanket off him.
“Hey! This is how you treat your poor gege?” he sat up, betrayed.
His brother scowled. “Father sent me to wake you up. If you don’t hurry, we will be late from the introduction! Don’t you want to meet with your fiance? I heard he is very handsome.”
“No,” Wei Wuxian moaned. He closed his eyes and fell back to the bed. He covered his face with his hands. “A-Cheng!” he whined, voice muffled.
“Yesterday night I…”
Jiang Cheng sighed. “What did you do?”
Wei Wuxian took away his hands and looked at his brother. “I escaped to buy drinks and when I got back I… I got caught.”
“Oh, Xian-ge, why are you like this?!” he grumbled.
“So, after the ceremony I have to attend the punishment.”
"Ge, you promised…!"
"I know, I know! But the hell wants to have an arranged marriage! Let me drink out my sorrow!" Jiang Cheng only rolled his eyes. "And I still haven't said the worst part…"
"The one who caught me is the Head of Punishments! And the most beautiful man I have ever seen!" Wei Wuxian covered his face again with his hands.
Jiang Cheng huffed. "That's indeed the worst. Ge, you can't have a crush on someone else when you have a fiance!"
"Hm, maybe I can make him at least my concubine…"
"Only Lan-er-dianxia has a right to have concubines because you are the one who is marrying into the family."
Wei Wuxian pouted. "It's not fair."
"Now, stop your nonsense and dress up! We have to get to the ceremony in an hour!" With this, Jiang Cheng left Wei Wuxian's room.
The boy sighed then stood up to get ready to meet someone he doesn't want to marry.
When the Yunmeng delegation arrived in a huge room, called Lanshi, four people were already sitting at their table. They stood up and bowed to welcome the guests.
Wei Wuxian straightened up from the bow and his eyes met with a familiar one before him.
His eyes widened. What is the Head of Punishments doing here?
Wei Wuxian quickly got over his surprise and flirtatiously smiled at the man then winked. He only got a frown as an answer. Wei Wuxian pouted.
He then realized that Jiang Fengmian started introducing them.
"...my son, the Crown Prince, Jiang Cheng, courtesy Wanyin." Jiang Cheng bowed again. Jiang Fengmian now looked at Wei Wuxian. "And he is my adopted son, the Second Prince, Wei Ying, courtesy Wuxian, who we are willing to wed to your Second Prince."
Wei Wuxian saw that the Head of Punishments' eyes widened and his lips slightly parted. Wow, his face can show emotions! Fascinating!
"Thank you for your hospitality!" bowed Wei Wuxian before the royal family.
Now how will you punish me that you know who I am, huh, handsome-gege?
"We welcome Yunmeng Jiang in Gusu" said the person in the middle, Emperor Lan Qingheng. "I hope you will enjoy your stay here in Cloud Recesses." The emperor turned his head and gestured towards the man on his right. "Let me introduce my younger brother, Duke Lan Qiren," After the bowing, the emperor gestured to the young man next to his brother. "He is my first son, the Crown Prince, Lan Huan, courtesy Xichen."
Wow, he is beautiful! What's in the Gusu water that everyone is so beautiful?
When the emperor turned to his left, where the Head of Punishments stood, Wei Wuxian got a very bad feeling.
"And he is my second son, the Second Prince, Lan Zhan, courtesy Wangji, to whom we are willing to wed to your Second Prince."