Lu Chengxiao carried a basket full of unidentified grass, looking towards the woman sitting halfway on a large rock by the water’s edge. She was also looking in his direction, and the surprise on her face turned to delight when she saw his face.
“It’s you!” Her voice was filled with joy.
Lu Chengxiao keenly felt his momentary happiness and excitement. He thought fate was incredibly mysterious. In such an unlikely time and place, they had once again encountered each other.
Lu Chengxiao quickly took a few steps to reach the water’s edge, stopping three steps away from her. “Miss, what are you doing here?”
Only after he spoke did he notice her slightly disheveled appearance. A few strands of hair had fallen by her cheek, her skirt had some grass stains, and when she saw him approaching, she hadn’t stood up. She remained half-sitting on the rock, with her hand resting on a river stone. Her left foot was on the ground, but her right foot was suspended in the air, and the outer side of her right shoe was smeared with mud.
Realizing Lu Chengxiao’s scrutinizing gaze, Liu Yu lowered her head. When she noticed her shoe was not covered by her skirt, her face grew warm. Subconsciously, she pulled her foot back, and with this movement, her whole body trembled in pain. She couldn’t help but inhale a sharp breath of air.
Lu Chengxiao’s heart tightened. “Are you injured?”
Liu Yu blushed slightly. “Just a moment ago, I was startled by a snake that crawled by my feet on that side path over there. In my panic, I twisted my ankle.”
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Tla hsknl oyp hlau psqv, zkjl vbl tldvzl yde oyax prakdt okde sq vbl Kkydtdyd altksd.
Wszzsokdt bla osaep, Nw Ubldtmkys zssjle vsoyaep vbl dlyacu xswdvykd ryvb. Mblal olal ds pktdp sq vbl pdyjl cu vbl pkel ryvb, ps kv pllxle vs byhl clld qaktbvldle yoyu.
Nw Ubldtmkys vwadle vs bla yde ypjle, “Elal usw ckvvld?”
Nkw Zw pbssj bla blye. “Ls, R fwpv praykdle xu ydjzl.”
Nw Ubldtmkys qlzv y pzktbv pldpl sq alzklq yde bkp tygl qlzz sd Nkw Zw’p pwprldele qssv yp bl kdiwkale, “Rp kv bwavkdt cyezu?”
Tl alyzkgle sdzu yqvla prlyjkdt vbyv bkp osaep pswdele shlazu kdvkxyvl, ps bl iwknjzu yeele, “Vzlypl esd’v xkpwdelapvyde, Ykpp. R oyp iwkvl xkpnbklhswp kd xu uswdtla eyup, yde R’hl zlyadle psxl xyavkyz yavp qasx svblap. R nyd bydezl nsxxsd cwxrp yde kdfwaklp xuplzq. Gd ydjzl vokpv nyd hyau kd plhlakvu. Rq kv bwavp y zsv, ol pbswze cl nsdnladle ycswv y rsppkczl csdl qaynvwal. Rv’p clvvla vs yeealpp kv lyazu qsa y iwknjla alnshlau. Rq kv’p dltzlnvle, kv xyu cl ekqqknwzv vs alnshla zyvla.”
Nkw Zw’p blyav pjkrrle y clyv. Fbl oyp vyjld ycynj cu vbkp wdlmrlnvle jdsozletl qasx Nw Ubldtmkys, y uswdt xyd qasx y xlanbydv qyxkzu. Fbl dyvwayzzu oypd’v kd rykd; pbl bye sdzu qlktdle vbl ydjzl vokpv yp y rzsu. Fbl nswzed’v clzklhl bl jdlo bso vs bydezl pwnb kdfwaklp.
Tso nswze pbl alyzzu vokpv bla qssv? Rq pbl eked’v qyjl bla ynnkeldv, bso nswze pbl qszzso vbl alpv sq bla pnblxlp.
Her face turned slightly pale as she bit her lip and nodded softly, “It’s quite painful, and I can’t put weight on my right foot.”
Her voice remained soft, like the gentle waters of March, not much different from before, equally melodious, but to Lu Chengxiao, it was full of distress.
“Miss, if you don’t mind, I can take a look at your injury first, is that okay?”
“Sir, you mustn’t!” In her urgency, Liu Yu concealed her foot under her skirt, but this movement caused her even more pain, and her complexion changed.
Lu Chengxiao suddenly became flustered, extremely nervous, and even spoke less confidently, “No, Miss, don’t worry. I won’t examine your injury. Please, don’t move your injured foot anymore to avoid worsening the injury.”
He understood the apprehension between men and women, and her hesitation as a woman who hasn’t come out of her boudoir was quite normal. In a moment of desperation, he thought for a moment and asked, “Did you have a companion with you when you entered the mountains? If you have one, I can go and find them to help you.”
Liu Yu had no companion at this critical moment. She shook her head, “I live in Liujiacun at the foot of the mountain. I came out alone today, and I have no companions.”
Her delicate and lovely face was now filled with a hint of confusion and worry about what to do next.
Upon hearing “Liujiacun,” a look of surprise flashed in Lu Chengxiao’s eyes. It turned out her family was from the Liujiacun.
“I was just heading down towards the Liujiacun as well. We’re on the same path. If we descend from here, I remember correctly; we’ll have to cross five or six mountains at the very least,” he said, glancing at the setting sun in the distance. “It’s getting late, and if I were to go and find someone for you, it might be completely dark before I return. It’s not safe for you to stay here alone.”
Liu Yu was suddenly startled, and her complexion paled. She instinctively grabbed Lu Chengxiao’s sleeve and then quickly let go, saying, “Don’t leave me here alone. I… I’m afraid there might still be snakes.”
Clearly, the earlier fright from the snake was still haunting her, and just mentioning the word “snake” made her lips lose their color.
Lu Chengxiao had brought snake-repellent powder with him in the morning, but it was all used up by now.
While he was contemplating, Liu Yu softly pleaded, “There’s no other option. Can you assist me, sir? My left foot is unaffected, and with someone to support me, I can still walk.”
Clearly, she felt her request was somewhat impolite. She glanced at Lu Chengxiao, and for a moment, he didn’t respond, which embarrassed her. She lowered her eyelashes and turned her face slightly to the side.
From Lu Chengxiao’s perspective, the girl’s slender neck was as white as jade, but there was a hint of a blush at the base of her ear. This blush added to the breathtaking beauty of her profile, making it even more captivating.
It wasn’t their first meeting, but he was still momentarily entranced. It was as though the forest had fallen silent for a moment, and Lu Chengxiao couldn’t distinguish whether his heart was beating faster or slower, an experience he had never had before.
Was she afraid of being rejected? Lu Chengxiao wondered. Who could refuse her?
He heard himself say, “Alright,” and he extended his hand towards her.
When his arm met a delicate and radiant hand, Lu Chengxiao’s heartbeat, which he couldn’t determine whether it was faster or slower, suddenly became clear, pounding like a drum in his eardrums.
It was so loud that he couldn’t help but worry if the young lady by his side could hear it too.
Liu Yu stood up with the support of his arms, and most of her strength fell on Lu Chengxiao. The young man’s arm strength was astonishing. He helped her up effortlessly, and he secretly felt a lot of joy in his heart.
He was delighted by this seemingly fated encounter, delighted by her trust, and delighted to be so close to her.
Finally, he could openly gaze at her without the need to quickly avert his eyes.
“Be careful,” he watched over her, step by step, fearing that she might injure her right foot again.
Yet, Liu Yu still stepped onto an unstable stone. Standing on one foot with an already unsteady balance, she tumbled backward.
In his urgency, Lu Chengxiao grasped Liu Yu’s arm with a slight force, and in the next moment, he had pulled her back. He couldn’t control the strength, and she ended up falling into his embrace. The throbbing of his heart was no longer hidden.
Liu Yu’s cheeks turned bright red. Even though she had initiated this maneuver intentionally, she wasn’t as composed as she had thought.
In the past two years in the Xian Pavilion, she had spent most of her time in various training exercises, never really having contact with men. Even her chosen savior, Liu Yanzheng, the son of a wealthy merchant from Yangzhou, had never touched even a finger of hers.
At this moment, she felt her cheeks burning intensely, and the heat seemed to be growing. She placed her hand against his chest, trying to create some distance between them. In that moment of panic, all her calculations and acting were forgotten.
Lu Chengxiao lowered his gaze to look at her. She was so embarrassed that she buried her head, and from his angle, he could only see her raven-black hair and the reddened tips of her ears.
After days of longing, all the emotions surged in this moment, making him realize one thing: he liked her. He had developed feelings for her since their first encounter.
As a young, inexperienced man, it was his first time liking a woman, and this newfound awareness, combined with the pounding of his heart, didn’t seem sufficient to express the intensity of his emotions. His blood seemed to boil as well.
He suppressed the surging emotions and spoke softly, “Is your foot hurt?”
Liu Yu shook her head, still not daring to lift her head.
Lu Chengxiao looked at the path ahead. There was a waterfall running through it, and the ground were scattered with variously shaped water stones where the stream passed. After this section, they would have to cross the mountain.
His gaze returned to Liu Yu, and he said, “I can carry you. The path ahead is difficult, and if your foot gets injured again, it could be very dangerous. There’s no one in these mountains, and my hearing is sharp. If I hear anyone approaching, I’ll put you down immediately to avoid anyone seeing.”
Liu Yu raised her head, looking at him in disbelief, and then glanced at the path home. In the starry depths of her eyes, there was a mixture of hesitation and curiosity.
Lu Chengxiao continued, “You can trust me. I promise that no one else will know about me carrying you down the mountain. It won’t tarnish your reputation, I guarantee it.”
He gazed intensely at her, wishing to make a lifelong commitment, to ask her name, to tell her his age and lineage, to tell her he was unmarried, to express his fondness for her. However, the words remained difficult to utter. All he could say was a promise not to tarnish her reputation.
Liu Yu lowered her eyelashes and nodded gently, saying, “Thank you.”
This whispered “thank you” entered Lu Chengxiao’s heart, trembling softly. It ignited a radiant something inside him, and it curved into a smile that could melt hearts, showing in his eyes.
Lu Chengxiao set down the basket he had been carrying in his other hand and then turned to crouch in front of her.
Liu Yu subtly pressed her hand against her cheek, trying to cool the warmth on her face.
A pair of gentle, warm hands encircled him, causing Lu Chengxiao’s heart to beat uncontrollably faster.
He lifted her onto his back, and just as he was about to start walking, he heard her ask, “Aren’t you going to keep your basket?”
His warm breath brushed against his ear, and Lu Chengxiao’s earlobes turned visibly red. He didn’t stop his steps, explaining, “It’s not something valuable. I can come back for it tomorrow.”
The basket was light in his hands, but he couldn’t bear to ask her to carry it when he looked at her hands, so delicate and boneless, circling around him.
Liu Yu responded with a low “Mmm” and fell silent.
As they walked to the spot where she had dropped the herbs, Lu Chengxiao halted and turned his head to ask her, “Is this yours?”
Liu Yu nodded, then realized he might not see her gesture and replied, “Yes.”
“Stay steady; I’ll pick it up for you.”
He reminded her and bent over to collect the herb bundle. Liu Yu lost her balance momentarily, and a surprised gasp was trapped in her throat, but her hand, which had been loosely circling around him, tightened for a moment.
Lu Chengxiao’s body stiffened, and he quickly stood up with the bundle of herbs in his hand, his earlobes turning bright red. He said, “I’m sorry.”
Originally, Liu Yu’s cheeks were burning as well, but as she watched the young man’s earlobes slowly turn red, her embarrassment turned into a smile.
She whispered, “It’s alright.”
Lu Chengxiao finally felt less awkward and continued walking with her on his back.
They had to cross five or six mountain ranges on their way. As they ascended the second mountain, Liu Yu asked quietly, “Are you tired?”
Maybe the atmosphere was too pleasant, or perhaps the tranquil beauty of the mountains and forests had an effect, but Lu Chengxiao couldn’t help but curl his lips and said, “Not at all.”
After a brief pause, fearing that she might think he was too quiet, Lu Chengxiao added, “You’re not heavy.”
In reality, she was very light, and Lu Chengxiao was surprised to discover how light a woman’s body could be.
Liu Yu knew he was telling the truth because he had been walking steadily all the way, and the only thing that had changed was the warmth of his body, radiating through his clothes.
This was the first time Liu Yu had been so close to a man, and she couldn’t help but steal a glance at his profile.
If everything went smoothly, he would be her husband.
Was she content? Liu Yu felt that the heavens had been kind to her.
Neither of them spoke any further, and the sounds of insects and birds in the trees became the best accompaniment for their journey.
Time slipped away quietly in their silence, and when the Golden Crow began to set in the west, Lu Chengxiao had already carried Liu Yu over five mountain ranges. His steps had slowed, and privately, he wished the path could be longer, even longer.
But that thought quickly passed, as he thought about her injury. He didn’t dare to risk any delay.
Because of this thought, carrying her out of the mountains was faster than walking alone. When they reached the mouth of the mountain path, he set her down and helped her sit on an old tree stump.
Not far away, there were fields, and there were often farmers and villagers passing by on the paths. All she had to do was wait, and it would be easy to find a villager to help her. For the sake of her reputation, Lu Chengxiao couldn’t afford to linger any longer.
However, he felt as if his feet were weighed down, firmly rooted to the ground.
“Miss.” The young man curled his fingers and gazed at her with his black eyes. When she looked back at him, he finally uttered the words that had been turning in his mind countless times, “My surname is Lu, and my name is Chengxiao.”
During their journey out of the mountains, Liu Yu had thought many times about when he would introduce himself and when he would dare to ask for her name. But this young man had remained silent throughout the journey, displaying the utmost courtesy.
If it weren’t for his youthful, admiring eyes that couldn’t hide his feelings, Liu Yu would have almost doubted the possibility of her plan succeeding once again.
She repeated the three words “Lu Chengxiao” in her mind and a smile graced her lips as she looked at Lu Chengxiao and agreed, “I’ll remember that.”
Lu Chengxiao was about to say something else when he faintly heard voices in the distance. Afraid of tarnishing the woman’s reputation if he stayed here, he handed the bundle of herbs he had been carrying to Liu Yu, whispered that someone was approaching, bowed respectfully, and then bid farewell to her.
“Lu Gongzi1Master Lu!” Liu Yu saw him turning away and hurriedly called him back.
When Lu Chengxiao turned back, her eyes held a smile as she said, “My surname is Liu, and my single name is Yu.”
Sansukini: It’s kinda sweet, and it’s not all fake from Liu Yu’s end.
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