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The Alpha's Thrall

Chapter Text

Prologue

Shen Qingqiu’s voice was faint as it passed through his blood stained lips. His last words carried away by the wind would haunt Luo Binghe forever. “Everything that’s happened in the past, I’ll pay it back to you today.”

xxx 

After he’d finished his daily ritual of cleansing the meridians and replenishing the qi flow of Shizun’s body, Luo Binghe sat down on the side of the bed to smooth a hand across Shizun’s cheek. Leaning over, he pressed a kiss to the man’s forehead before standing up from the bed and striding over to the door. He picked up Xin Mo’s scabbard as he went, tying it to his sword belt.

Sha Hualing waited for him in the main room of Hua Huan Palace. At her side stood a demon nobleman. The demoness’s body language revealed her unease at calling on Luo Binghe unannounced. She’d learned that lesson the hard way in the past.

“It’s not time for the ritual,” Binghe noted coldly.

“My lord,” Sha Hualing said quickly. “I’ve brought Niu Renshu, a scholar familiar with the demonic arcanum. He knows of an ancient ritual that we believe you may find beneficial. Please grant him audience.”

“Speak,” Binghe commanded, crossing his arms over his chest.

Niu Renshu spoke quickly and concisely as he detailed the purpose, procedure, and results of the ancient ritual. Despite his mistrust of Sha Hualing’s motives and his fury at being called from Shizun’s side, Luo Binghe felt the stirrings of hope beneath his breast as the scholar detailed the ritual.

After the other demon concluded his summary, Luo Binghe nodded in approval. “Sha Hualing, you did well. If we can secure a jar of Meng Po’s tea, I would like to attempt the ritual.”

Sha Hualing brightened. “Yes, my Lord.”

xxx

Luo Binghe considered the treasures he had gathered. The two primary ingredients for the ritual were Meng Po’s five-flavored tea of forgetfulness and his Xin Mo sword. His Xin Mo sword would serve as the catalyst for the ritual because of its ability to slice through reality itself. Meng Po’s five-flavored tea of forgetfulness was served to every soul before reincarnation.

Niu Renshu explained that there were infinite universes arranged one on top of the other. In one universe Luo Binghe was the teacher and Shen Qingqiu the student. In another universe the peak lords from Caing Qing Mountain were demonic nobles, while Mo Beijun, Sha Hualing, and Luo Binghe were leaders of cultivation sects.

The ritual would wipe clean this particular universe as it existed in today and cause everyone to reincarnate into a different reality. The Xin Mo sword would tear a whole in the plane between the universes to allow everyone’s souls to reincarnate into the new reality. Meng Po’s tea would ensure that everyone’s souls would be a blank slate during their reincarnations.

The ritual allowed him to control some of parameters of the world he would enter. Luo Binghe would create a reality where he would have another chance with Shizun.

The participant of the ritual would first give a drop of their blood into the barrel of Mi Hung T’ang. After the tea was activated, they would drop their “anchor,” a token important to them that would allow them to remember their past life. Then they would drop their “arrow,” a token important to the person they love that would allow them to find that person again in their next life. The “anchor” could be used by an individual either aware of unaware of their participation in the ritual. However, only a person aware of their participation was also granted an “arrow.” The final part of the ritual involved heating Xin Mo at the forge and plunging the red-hot sword into the barrel of five-flavored tea of forgetfulness. This act served as a catalyst for the ancient ceremony.

The person who performed the ceremony would be the one to plunge Xin Mo into the tea of forgetfulness to activate the ritual. By holding Xin Mo in their hands and by the drop of their blood in the barrel of Mi Hung T’ang, they would also see that the blade was also reborn and in their control in the world they had created.

Luo Binghe sat at Shizun’s bedside and smoothed his thumb over the jade pendant that his mother had given him all those years ago. He’d found it in Shizun’s robes when he first brought him to Hua Huan Palace. This would serve as Luo Binghe’s “anchor.” He didn’t have access to many of Shizun’s things; all that Luo Binghe had on hand were those things in Shizun’s possession on that terrible day. He had the shards of Xiu Ya and the fan that Luo Binghe had given to Shizun as a gift on the morning of the Immortal Alliance Conference. He’d saved for months to acquire the jade guards of the fan and to contract an artisan at the valley of the Tian Gong Mountain Range to create the fan.

He decided to use the fan as his “arrow” to find Shizun in the different reality and the Xiu Ya sword as Shizun’s “anchor” to allow him to retain his memories of his previous life. Shizun was unaware of his participation in the ritual, so he would not have his own “anchor” to find Luo Binghe in the different reality.

 

 

Chapter One

 

Luo Binghe strode out of the door of his personal chambers, hooking Xin Mo’s scabbard into the leather sword belt around his waist. As First Prince of the Empire and Hero in the War against the Kingdom of Five Sects, he was unrivaled: respected by his allies and feared by his enemies. Luo Binghe utilized the gifts of his divine elven heritage to its fullest potential. It was his victories in the War that allowed him to rise from his position as First Prince. The Emperor would’ve preferred Zhuzhi-Lang to remain First Prince because of his loyalty, but the Emperor could no longer deny Luo Binghe the position because of his power. 

He’d worn a robe lined with silk to keep comfortable against the autumn chill. With his advanced level of cultivation, he could easily maintain a comfortable body temperature using qi alone, but he didn’t rely on that during his spars with his generals. Auntie always fussed at him in her own loving way if he turned up to the spars too lightly dressed during the colder months. 

As he passed a corner on the way to the training grounds in the southern corner of his Hall of Martial Victory, he saw the very same kindly old cook he’d been thinking about balancing a tray as someone opened the door behind her. He smiled fondly as he saw her carrying the tray with selection of all his favorite dim sum and savory or sweet pastries. 

The old beta human woman was more of a mother to him than the woman who’d given birth to him. Luo Binghe’s mother, Su Xiyun, had been a proud and ambitious woman. She was engaged to the Master of Hua Huan Palace, but dissolved her betrothal after seducing Emperor Tianlang-Jun. The Emperor fell in love with her vivacious spirit. Theirs was a brief and passionate love affair. Su Xiyun would be the only person to bear the Emperor’s child. Tragically she hadn’t survived the pregnancy and died shortly after Luo Binghe’s birth.

“First Prince,” the old beta woman said happily as she saw him. “We were just bringing the refreshments for your training session with the young military officials.” Turning to the young man holding the door open for her, she said, “A-Yuan, can you manage the pitcher alright holding the door?” 

Luo Binghe took the tray from her. “Thank you, Auntie.” 

The old woman smiled and said, “Thank you, First Prince.” 

He looked up to meet the gray eyes of the young man holding the tray heavily laden with the pitcher of lemon infused water and six glasses for himself and the other five young military officials he would be sparring with in the courtyard. The young servant looked away with a light blush dusting his cheeks. 

The old beta woman smiled. “This is Shen Yuan. He began working in the kitchens of the Outer Court of the Imperial Palace last month, First Prince.” 

Despite the young man’s simple clothing he had a sharp fresh beauty that many a courtesan of the court would have envied: striking gray eyes, jade-like complexion, sharp cheekbones, smooth black hair, and a lithe pleasing figure. There was something about the young man that was very familiar, though Luo Binghe had trouble placing it. It was something about the color of his eyes and shape of his nose. 

Luo Binghe’s alpha nose could smell a pleasing and fertile scent of orchids, bamboo, and ink. The young man used scent-cancelling soaps to disguise his scent, but Luo Binghe’s nose was too sharp and his intuition too keen to be deceived. Only someone with the keen sense of smell of a divine elf would have noticed a difference. Scent cancelling soaps were very effective at masking the scent of an alpha or omega. It made them smell like a beta. It made them smell like nothing remarkable. 

Betas never developed the scent glands or additional scent receptors in the nose that alpha and omegas possessed. Even though male and female betas didn’t exude a natural scent like an alpha or omega, they very often had the habit of wearing colognes of perfumes to mimic the scents. A beta could still smell the musk of an alpha or the bouquet of an omega, but they weren’t able to differentiate individuals by scent, notice changes in health and mood, or resist the effect of an alpha’s command or an omega’s charm. 

Eighty percent of the population was human and eighty percent of humans were betas, so it wasn’t surprising that over seventy percent of the empire’s population were betas. Alphas made up a little more than twenty percent of the population with the majority being alpha males of elven heritage. Omegas were uncommon among both elves and humans with male omegas being the most rare. Omegas were closely protected as a result, male omegas even more so. Yet here was one serving in the kitchens of the imperial palace.

Luo Binghe said seductively, “It’s a pleasure, Shen Yuan.” 

“F-first Prince,” the young man stuttered, his cheeks burning under his scrutiny.

Luo Binghe grinned wolfishly at the young servant, who turned away again with an adorable blush. Binghe smiled innocently at the old beta woman as she looked over him curiously noticing his intense gaze. As soon as her gaze returned front, he allowed his eyes to drift over at the young omega again.

Luo Binghe indulged in a myriad of conquests with the most beautiful and skilled men and women in the empire: human or elf, and alpha, beta, or omega. Though he’d been sure not to father children or make false promises to his many lovers. Several lovers tried to pass off a baby as his, but it was easily to expose their lies. As an alpha with divine elven blood, he had the unusual ability to prevent his seed from taking root. Luo Binghe wouldn’t father a child unless he chose to.

His choice to avoid fathering a child was due less to a dislike of children or a fear about the dangerous pregnancy when carrying a child with divine elven blood.

It was to avoid the competition of another heir with divine elven blood. Luo Binghe was the First Prince of the Empire and the only child of Emperor Tianlang-Jun. The Second Prince of the Empire was his cousin Zhuzhi-Lang, the son of his father’s sister. If Luo Binghe fathered a child with one of his lovers from an ambitious noble family, he might find a sword in his back and his position usurped by said ambitious noble family using his child to claim legitimacy.

Luo Binghe had seen enough of the competition and politics in the imperial palace between supporters and retractors of each of the three divine elves. He’d rather not bring a fourth one into the picture even it was his own progeny. Those with divine elven heritage had long lifespans, so there was no urgency to produce an heir.

Luo Binghe had his choice of lovers and enjoyed the freedom of casual trysts. Some of his lovers were skilled and beautiful enough for him to return to their beds, but that was more the exception than the rule. He’d never had any interest in finding himself a wife or a concubine. He didn’t want to invite some grasping and ambitious courtesan into his affairs. Bed servants were a different matter, but he’d never had any interest in bringing a servant into his bed.

That is until now.

“Tell me, Shen Yuan, is this your first time in my Hall of Martial Victory? How do you find it compares to the Outer Court of the Imperial Palace?”

The young omega’s voice was a pleasing tenor. He wove his words with the skill of a scholar, offering amusing observations and clever similes at how different the imperial city was from the town where he’d grown up with his older brother. Luo Binghe found himself charmed by the young servant. He wished that the stone portico in the southern part of his palace that held the training grounds stretched miles longer when as they reached their destination much too soon.

Such a diamond in the rough wouldn’t go unnoticed for long. Luo Binghe would need to snatch up this beautiful omega as a bed servant before anyone else got a similar idea. He wanted the first taste. There was something about this beautiful young man that made Luo Binghe unwilling to share.

As they reached the training grounds, the old beta woman cleared the table for him and the young omega servant to place their trays. The five young military officials he would be sparring with that afternoon were all nobles and alphas: two females and three males. Luo Binghe was pleased to see that they’d already begun their practice even before he arrived.

Shen Yuan unclipped the green fan from the sash around his trim waist and opened it up to warm the air around his face. Only the omega’s beautiful gray eyes could be seen over the folds of the fan. It was a well-made fan with a watercolor of a mountain and guards made from green jade and finely carved.

Luo Binghe frowned. How had a kitchen servant come in possession of such a fine piece? Such a finely crafted fan would have seemed more at home in the hand of a nobleman than a servant. Perhaps it was a gift from an admirer? Well Luo Binghe wasn’t afraid of a little competition.

The young omega swept the fan shut with a practiced hand and gave a bow. “This servant should return to the Outer Palace. Please enjoy the refreshments First Prince.”

The kitchen servant hurried away before Luo Binghe could protest.

“Shen Yuan is a sweet boy,” the old beta woman said from Luo Binghe’s side.

“He’s more beautiful than many courtesans.”

The old beta woman tapped one finger against her temple as she reached into her pockets with the other hand. “Oh, I almost forgot. I saw this at the market and thought of you. First Prince, but please accept this humble gift from an old woman.”

Luo Binghe accepted the jade pendant in his gloved hand. He could tell at a glance that it wasn’t as fine as other pendants that he’d received from his lovers or admirers, but the old beta woman’s intentions were purer than the admirers who had tried to curry his favor with priceless gifts. “Thank you, Auntie.”

Putting the jade pendant into the small pouch tucked into his sash, he unsheathed his sword and twirled it in one hand. Luo Binghe considered the pathway the young omega servant before turning back to her. No never had much patience when he saw something he wanted. “Auntie, inform the housekeeper of the inner palace that I have an urgent matter to discuss. Have him meet me in my personal chambers directly after training practice.”

“Yes, First Prince.”

xxx

When Luo Binghe entered his personal chambers, he was pleased to see that the housekeeper was already waiting there for him. Turning to his manservant, he asked him to prepare him a bath before pulling off his dusty outer robes and handing them to him as well. Taking out the small pouch tucked into his sash, he laid it gently on his desk. Meeting the eyes of the other servants in his chambers, he bid them to clear the room.

The housekeeper of the Imperial Palace was an elven man of indeterminable age. He was competent and trustworthy and held in high regard by the Emperor. The servants were a mix of humans and lowborn elves, with the humans primarily serving behind the scenes and the lowborn elves serving as maids and manservants for the noblemen.

“First Prince, This servant was told that the Prince had an urgent matter to discuss with him.”

Luo Binghe took off his gloves and walked over to the water basin to wash his face. After splashing water onto his face and drying it, he turned to the housekeeper. “There is a male omega named Shen Yuan serving in the kitchens of the Outer Court of the Imperial Palace. I wish for him to be transferred to serve me directly in the Hall of Martial Victory as my bed servant.”

The housekeeper nodded. “This servant will see to it that Shen Yuan is transferred to First Prince’s household and in First Prince’s bed tonight.”

Luo Binghe held up a hand. “I do not want an unwilling lover. Please let Shen Yuan know that it is his choice to accept or reject the position as my bed servant. And if he doesn’t wish to serve as a bed servant, I will ensure that none of the other nobles in the imperial palace harass him.”

“Very good, First Prince. This servant will inform him of First Prince’s orders and have his zhuan updated to reflect the change.”

“Thank you, Housekeeper.”

The rest of his day passed by in an excited blur as he waited with bated breath and anticipation. Would Shen Yuan accept the position that he’d offered? Luo Binghe desperately hoped that the young man would. After all, Luo Binghe was known to be a talented lover by his many conquests. If his skill as a lover didn’t convince the beautiful young man then perhaps his position as First Prince would tempt him. Shen Yuan was vulnerable in the imperial palace as a male omega; however, no one would toy with him if he were under First Prince Luo Binghe’s protection.

He had to struggle through a very long and boring meeting in the Outer Court with government and military officials as they discussed the problem in collecting tax revenue from the northern provinces. The government officials claimed the issue was due to increased bandit activity in the Northern Provinces. However, Luo Binghe had a suspicion that it was due more to the noble families that recently came into power after the War against the Kingdom of Five Sects. Nearly all of the ancient noble families from the Northern Provinces became extinct as a result of Rape of the Northern Provinces during the War. The ancient noble families had long had maintained order in the Northern Provinces and always sent their tax shipments to the Imperial Provinces on time. The families that were raised to nobility in the Northern Provinces to fill the vacuum were not as efficient in suppressing the bandit activity. The new nobility were either less efficient in collecting tax revenue or were equally efficient and choose instead to line their pockets with the taxes for the Imperial Provinces.

The thought of that beautiful young omega waiting for him in his chambers helped him to endure the long and painstaking hours. However, when he asked the manservant who opened the door to the Hall of Military Victory for him whether his bed servant was waiting in his personal chambers or the northern courtyard gardens for him, he was surprised to hear that his bed servant wasn’t even in the Inner Court.

However, his manservant informed him that his Auntie from the kitchens of the Outer Court was waiting in the southern courtyard training grounds for him. As he walked along the stone portico from the front gate, he remembered the pouch with the gift from the old cook. As his gaze met the kind eyes of the old cook standing in the training grounds of his Hall of Martial Victory, his bare fingers smoothed across the soft jade pendant that she’d presented him that morning. All of a sudden, visions of another life danced in front of his eyes. With a gasp, he stumbled back at the sensory overload.

“First Prince,” the cook said worriedly as she ran over to him.

Luo Binghe’s eyes cleared and he looked at her as if for the first time. She was more of a mother to him than the woman who’d birthed him in both of his lives. In both lives, she’d given him this same gift. The pendant served as an “anchor” to allow him to remember. It allowed him to remember the man he loved and lost, the man he’d been willing to try anything to bring back, the man that had been reborn into this world with him and the “arrow” that would bring them back together.

Shizun.

Cupping the cheeks of the woman he loved as a mother, he kissed her forehead. “Thank you for everything you’ve done for me, Auntie.”

Even before he’d seen the fan that he realized now was the “arrow”, Luo Binghe had been instantly drawn to Shen Yuan. His soul had called out to the one he’d called Shizun in his prior life. Shen Yuan was Shen Qingqiu. Luo Binghe had found him again and he wasn’t going to let anything or anyone come between them again.

The old cook looked up at him with a concerned face. “It’s not my place to question you, First Prince, but please reconsider. I knew Shen Yuan would catch your eye. Though if I knew he was an omega, I never would’ve placed him in your path. Shen Yuan is a young and beautiful omega without a penny to his name or a family to protect him. What do you think will happen once you’ve grown bored of him?”

Luo Binghe smiled down at the cook. “Auntie, thank you for telling me your concerns. Shen Yuan is lucky to have you advocating for him. I’ll go to the kitchens to see if I can ease his mind.”

Chapter Text

Chapter Two 

Shen Yuan opened his fan and twirled it in his hand. What was he going to do? His older brother, Jiu-xiong, was going to throttle him. Jiu-xiong specifically told him to stay away from the Imperial Palace. Shen Jiu said that divine elves were fickle and dangerous and the imperial palace had the only three that existed in the world. Somehow Shen Yuan had the misfortune of catching the eye of perhaps the most dangerous one of all, First Prince Luo Binghe. 

Jiu-xiong had left for the Northern Provinces two months ago. He told his fiancé that his journey there was to sell his holdings. The proceeds from the sale were to serve as Shen Jiu’s dowry. Shen Yuan had no idea when Jiu-xiong would be back in the Imperial Provinces.   He didn’t know if it would be weeks or years. Maybe his older brother would never learn how careless Shen Yuan had been. 

Shen Yuan’s job while Jiu-xiong was away was to lay low and stay safe. Shen Jiu warned him to remain diligent with scent cancelling soaps and suppressants so no one would know he was omega. It was dangerous for an omega in the imperial city. Omega trafficking rings were more prevalent in the Imperial City than in the Imperial Provinces where Shen Yuan and his older brother had lived for the past nine or so years. 

Above all, Shen Yuan was to stay away from the Imperial Palace. 

Jiu-xiong didn’t want Shen Yuan endangering his covert mission. His older brother had been vague about the specifics, not wanting Shen Yuan to compromise his mission – not that he would! This alliance his brother had made with a powerful cultivator from the Kingdom of Five Sects made him uneasy. Who was this man that Shen Jiu had received a mission from? How had Shen Jiu even gotten into contact with him? Why had Shen Jiu even agreed to take the mission? 

Shen Jiu told him that he’d taken a mission for a powerful cultivator from the Kingdom of the Five Sects over the summer. Then they packed up what little possessions they owned and moved to the Imperial City. 

Was Jiu-xiong’s seduction of Lord Yue part of the mission?   

Yue Qingyuan was the Warden of the Eastern Provinces – though the Eastern Provinces were more northeast than true east relative to the Imperial Provinces. By all accounts, Lord Yue was well regarded both within the Empire and Kingdom of the Five Sects. So why would a powerful cultivator from the Kingdom of the Five Sects want Shen Jiu to seduce Lord Yue of all people? 

The Kingdom of Five Sects had waged a fruitless war on the Empire before Shen Yuan was born. The armistice was signed when Shen Yuan was only six months old.  The Kingdom of the Five Sects wanted to reclaim the Eastern Province, which had been annexed by the elven race during the conquest of Emperor Tianlang-Jun’s ancestor, Hua Cheng. The Chief Cultivator of the Kingdom of the Five Sects, Wen Mao believed he was liberating the Eastern Provinces from their divine elven overlords. 

Though the armies of the Kingdom of the Five Sects had innumerable victories in battle in the end they lost the war. To add insult to injury, the Empire demanded reparations and dominion of the Richu Islands, which had been the jewel of the Kingdom. Wen Mao died during First Prince Luo Binghe’s sack of the capital city. The current Chief Cultivator was his oldest son, Wen Rouhan. The Empire and the Kingdom of the Five Sects maintained an uneasy armistice to this day. 

The Kingdom of the Five Sects was ruled and populated entirely with humans, while the Empire was ruled by elves and populated primarily with humans. The Empire consisted of Four Provinces. The Imperial Provinces were positioned in the center of the empire. They were the most populated of the four provinces. The Northern Province, Eastern, and Southern Provinces bordered the Imperial Province on the north, northeast, and south respectively. To the west was a desert. 

The western part of the Northern Province and much of the Southern Province were barren lands that bordered the desert.   They were scarcely populated with the majority of the population comprised of those of lowborn elves. Elves were hardier than humans and better able to eke out a living in the barren lands. The Imperial Provinces on the other hand were lush and fertile. Many nobles and merchants of human or elven heritage made their homes in the Imperial Provinces. 

Jiu-xiong, under the guise of a nobleman named Hong Tengfei, met Lord Yue at an imperial banquet held on the autumnal equinox in mid-September. He’d seduced the military official into bed and then into an engagement soon after. They would be married during the Imperial Gala that was to be held on next year’s summer soltice. 

Shen Yuan knew Jiu-xiong had both the skill and practical knowledge to pass himself off as a nobleman, but he’d been surprised at how easily his brother had seduced Lord Yue. When he asked his brother if he’d used a love potion or an omega glamour, Jiu-xiong laughed and said love potions didn’t exist and an omega’s glamour ability only lasted as long as the target remained in the omega’s sights. 

The Hong family were one of the three high noble families of the northern provinces: Beijun, Hong, and Yan. All of the members of the direct Hong line lost their lives during the War against the Kingdom of the Five Sects, so there was no one alive to call into question Jiu-xiong’s assertion that he was the young heir of the Hong family who had escaped the Hong estate during the Rape of the Northern Provinces. 

Even still Shen Yuan wasn’t sure if or how Shen Jiu planned to sell the Hong holdings. Though with his brother, Shen Yuan often found that it was better to go along with his plans rather than ask too many questions. Shen Jiu had an eerie prescience. He always seemed to be able to predict how events would unfold or how individuals would react in situations. 

His older brother certainly hadn’t revealed his plans to Shen Yuan. Although his older brother was eighteen years older, Shen Jiu had a youthful appearance due to his strong cultivation base. More often than not, Shen Yuan and Shen Jiu were be mistaken for one another because they had such similar features. Though Shen Yuan’s eyes were gray while Shen Jiu’s eyes were dark brown. 

His older brother, Jiu-xiong, told him simply to trust him. It would take Shen Jiu time to put his plans into motion and complete his mission. After things were settled, Shen Jiu would come to retrieve him. Shen Yuan was to keep his head down and stay where he was until Jiu-xiong came for him. 

He’d obeyed his older brother’s wishes for a time. He worked at the shop of a kindly though ill-paying elderly couple where he’d been employed since he moved to the Imperial City three months ago with his brother. 

While they lived in the Imperial Provinces, Shen Jiu had built up a nest egg working as a calligrapher at the house of a noblewoman. It was the money Jiu-xiong had saved up during that time which paid for housing, food, and other expenses during the month they lived together in the Imperial City. After Shen Jiu left to go to the northern provinces, he took the money he’d earned with him and left Shen Yuan with a small stipend. Shen Yuan didn’t begrudge his brother this. Jiu-xiong earned the money himself and Shen Yuan could do the same. 

His older brother had been generous in securing the costliest of Shen Yuan’s expenses, his housing, and the most dangerous of his expenses, his suppressants. All Shen Yuan needed to finance was food, clothing, and entertainment. 

Although Shen Jiu didn’t tell him about the mission, Shen Yuan did learn that his stay in the Imperial City would be of some duration. Shen Yuan wasn’t sure where Shen Jiu found the money, but his brother had purchased the apartment outright in Shen Yuan’s name. He’d also left a large supply of scent canceling soaps and suppressants in the apartment. The medicines and soaps had a long shelf life. 

With such a supply, Shen Yuan wouldn’t need to buy suppressants for five years! 

How long did Jiu-xiong expect it would take to complete his mission? 

Or did Jiu-xiong not expect that he would be able to complete his mission? 

Was that why he’d left such a supply?

Would the mission from the powerful cultivator from the Kingdom of the Five Sects really take so long to complete, or was his brother trying to do all he could to provide for Shen Yuan in case he wasn’t able to complete the mission? 

Shen Yuan worked at the elderly couple’s shop and scrimped to make the money he earned last. The couple was sweet, but the work tedious and the pay abysmal, so Shen Yuan decided to try his chances elsewhere. Shen Yuan didn’t see any harm in finding work at the Imperial Palace. The palace paid the best and as a servant in the kitchens there would be no chance of him encountering Shen Jiu’s fiancé and compromising his older brother’s mission due to their close resemblance. 

But today he’d done a very stupid thing. 

For the past month he’d been forced to listen to all the servants in the kitchen titter about the weekly training session the First Prince had with his five closest military officials. They giggled about which of the five alphas they believed to be the second most desirable. 

First Prince Luo Binghe was the first most desirable, of course. 

Whenever First Prince Luo Binghe was mentioned, things would devolve into an excited tangent about how handsome and powerful and skilled and sensual First Prince was! What a shame he never employed bed servants! 

In the end it usually came down to a debate between the Liu siblings and whether one preferred a male or a female alpha, but occasionally other names also came up.

x

“Mo Beijun is so sexy,” sighed Dongmei, one of the lowborn elven female omegas. “I can’t deny that Liu Qingqe has a face carved from jade, but she’s human. I’ve always found elves more beautiful than humans.” 

Shen Yuan couldn’t help but agree with that. The elves that lived in the Imperial City had an otherworldly beauty. The elven races native to the imperial and northern provinces were typically more human in appearance than those from the southern provinces. However, they had a quality made them otherworldly, a characteristic of an animal or a part of nature. While such traits made some elves appear monstrous, for other these traits made them even more beautiful. 

Dongmei was very much in the later category than the former. She was as beautiful as she was kind and fun loving. Shen Yuan had been nursing a crush on her almost from the moment that he entered the kitchen of the Outer Palace. It was a shame that Dongmei’s type was alpha male. 

Dongmei looked human, though her pointed ears and winter plum colored hair indicated her elven heritage. Today, the verdant sprigs framing her face were braided in crown behind her head. Shen Yuan had assumed that it was something she braided through her hair as decoration, but it actually grew from her head like hair. She said that in the spring, the sprigs grew white flowers.   

“First Prince is a half-blood elf and Second Prince is a pureblood elf. By your logic Second Prince is more desirable than First Prince,” quipped Shen Yuan as he worked quickly and methodically to pinch the edges of the sweet pastries Dongmei filled next to him. “If you consider those with elven heritage to be the most attractive.” 

“The elven heritage of Second Prince Zhu Zhilang’s father is that of the zhuyin race,” Mingyu offered. “That race has the ability to shed their skin to become large white snakes. The mother’s elven heritage of the divine race helped to offset what could have been a … more memorable appearance.” 

Mingyu was a lowborn elven male beta with hair that looked like quail feathers. Although he was making dim sum for the meeting of the emperor’s counsel, he did it on the preparation table with the kitchen servants making the refreshments for the First Prince’s training session. He wasn’t one to miss out on conversation or gossip. 

Those of elven heritage were the minority in the empire, though they primarily made up the ruling elite. Shen Yuan had never really spent time with elves before, but he found he really hit it off with the lowborn elves working in the kitchens – Dongmei and Mingyu. His older brother always said that elves couldn’t be trusted. Though the elves did have some different and occasionally baffling cultural norms, Shen Yuan found them to be just as kind, good-humored, and easygoing as the humans working in the kitchen. 

The Kingdom of the Five Sects believed that humans and elves could never live together in harmony, but Shen Yuan found the kitchens to be a microcosm reflecting the same diversity of the Empire. There were cliques and competition that one tended find anywhere, but things were quite harmonious. 

The young human female beta that had been making the dim sum for the general’s refreshment put their bamboo steamer onto the tray. She sat on the side of the table to join the conversation. Shen Yuan still hadn’t learned her name. “Yue Qingyuan’s name hasn’t come up once today!” the young woman exclaimed. “I think Yue Qingyuan’s the most desirable of all.” 

Yue Qingyuan? Why did that name sound so familiar? 

There was a chorus of protests from the others at the table and then everyone went on the attack against the young woman who had spoken. 

“How could you mention him?” 

“It’s too painful to think about his upcoming marriage!” 

“We promised not to mention him!” 

“If we do talk about it, the dreaded wedding will surely occur! Our words and unhappiness add power to that omega’s charm.” 

“Yes, if we don’t say his name, he will finally be able to break the omega’s charm!” 

The girl gasped. “I’m so sorry! I didn’t know.” She looked around at the other furious human women. “I was gone for four months to take care of my mother. I only came back this week!” 

Shen Yuan had never learned the name of the fifth alpha that participated in the weekly training session until now. Shen Yuan hadn’t begun working in the palace until after Jiu-xiong’s engagement to Yue Qingyuan. And it seemed that it was in response that very event that the servants in the kitchen made a pact to stop mentioning Yue Qingyuan’s name. 

Shen Yuan wasn’t sure how not mentioning it would help to break Yue Qingyuan’s engagement, but the superstitions about how to break an omega’s charm or an alpha’s command didn’t always seem logical. Shen Yuan never imagined the fifth alpha was his brother’s fiancé. The man his brother was to marry was extremely well connected. 

Jiu-xiong, I hope that you know what you’re doing! 

“Yue Qingyuan is the name of First Prince Luo Binghe’s other top general,” he said to break the tense silence. “No one mentioned his name, so I assumed he must have been rather unfortunate looking.” 

Dongmei, the elven female omega, stage whispered to Shen Yuan with an amused grin, “Indeed, he is very handsome for a human. Before we made the pact to never mention his name again, he was many of the beta humans’ choice of second most desirable, after First Prince Luo Binghe of course.” 

“Of course,” he grinned over at her. “First Prince always tops.”                     

Now that someone else mentioned Yue Qingyuan’s the girl finally felt brave enough to ask again. Her curiosity overcoming her fear at the tirade she was sure to encounter. “He’s engaged? That can’t be true! Who’s his fiancé?” 

“Hong Tengfei,” snarled Liling, one of the human female betas. She used a bit more force than necessary placing a tray of pastries into the oven and then turned back to the others. Liling was unabashedly outspoken and mercilessly ambitious. As the head servant of the Zaixiang, Prime Minister Maigu, she wielded considerable power. The Prime Minister was distrustful of any servants other than the two head servants under his command, so he had his head servants Liling and Xiaodan prepare all of his meals for him.   “He claims to be from a noble family in the northern provinces that everyone thought extinct. Too convenient if you ask me!” 

The Prime Minister's human male servant sitting at the table crossed his arms over his chest. “Lord Yue met this male omega at a military ball last month and proposed marriage days later. He’s under the power of that omega’s charm if you ask me.” 

Dongmei, the elven female omega, countered, “An omega’s charm doesn’t work that way, Xiaodan. The purpose of an omega’s charm ability is to diffuse tension and promote community, but its effects only last for a couple hours… It’s hard to explain.” Dongmei scratched her head and closed her eyes to concentrate, gesturing with her hands as she spoke. “If I focus, I can produce the charm pheromone. I sort of flip a switch and think about calming relaxing memories and think that I want those around me to also be calm and relaxed.” 

Resting his elbow on the table, Shen Yuan looked over at Dongmei with a smile. As an omega himself her charm ability had no effect on him, but he could see all those around him relaxing and calming down as she focused harder. She was a good actress, making such a simple trick seem extraordinarly difficult. Omegas were so rare in the population that there were strange myths about them and their abilities. Having an omega demonstrate the “difficulty” of performing a trick that Shen Yuan could perform to an even larger room as child was amusing. 

With a wry smile, he moved his head to look around at the others around the table. Dongmei had done well. The tension that had appeared at the mere mention of Yue Qingyuan’s marriage to his brother had dissipated. Everyone was more relaxed and the same camaraderie Shen Yuan was so used to in the kitchen returned. The other beta male at the table, Xiaodan, was staring at him with a stupid looking smile. 

Out of the corner of his eye, Shen Yuan saw the cook struggling under the weight of a pitcher of water. He met Xiaodan’s eyes and nodded his head to him. Xiaodan jumped up, like a puppet on a string. “Auntie,” he said at Shen Yuan’s bidding. “Let me help you with that. “ 

Xiaodan helped the old cook with the pitcher of lemon infused water that she’d prepared as refreshment for First Prince and the generals. 

“So, who’s coming with me to carry to pitcher and oglethe generals?” the old cook asked. With a grin, she looked over at him. “Shen Yuan, you always help prepare the refreshments, but you never go to see the practice. Will this be the time you decide to go?” 

Oh, why not. 

Shen Yuan had never seen Yue Qingyuan, Jiu-xiong’s fiancé, and he was curious. 

Also, he’d also never seen First Prince Luo Binghe in the flesh and he was curious. The man was breathtaking in all of his paintings and sculptures, but that surely had to be artistic license. 

“I think I’d like to go with you, Auntie.” 

The others smiled fondly at him. Auntie asked that same question every time for the past month since he started working in the kitchens and Shen Yuan always offered to let one of the others go instead. 

Shen Yuan looked at them in surprise. 

This was not their typical reaction. Their typical reaction was whining! She went last time! Let me go this time, Auntie! He went three weeks ago! I haven’t gone in three months! Please, let me go, Auntie! If I don’t get to see Mo Beijun at least once a month, I’ll surely perish!     

The effect of Dongmei’s charm was more powerful than he expected.

Dongmei dimpled at him. “Tomorrow you’ll be able to tell us which you think is the most handsome. Personally, I think Mo Beijun is the second most desirable of the generals, after First Prince of course.”

Shen Yuan planned to hide behind the fan he’d clipped at his waist so he could take a look at these alpha military officials without them getting a good look at his face. Unfortunately, they came upon the First Prince as they were leaving the kitchens, so Shen Yuan never really had a chance to use his fan to hide behind. Oh, the sculptures hardly did the First Prince justice! 

Shen Yuan always assumed the towering height, broad shoulders, and powerful muscular frame of his statues owed more to the artistic license of the sculptor than reality. First Prince Luo Binghe’s form and appearance in his statues was the epitome of a Martial God. The sculptors crafted an idealized representation of the Prince’s form to demonstrate his martial prowess. The Prince’s eyes were dark and smoldering and Shen Yuan found himself completely lost within their depths. The crimson mark on the Prince’s brow glowed and denoted his noble heritage. 

The likeness of the Prince in those idealized statues hardly did him justice! He was more powerful and beautiful than his statues gave him credit. His statues always had him dressed in full military dress. In his training robes, Shen Yuan could see the Prince’s flawless skin and impressive pectoral muscles from where the collar of the robe hung open across his chest. He’d chosen not to wear an outer robe to allow for better ease of movement and the muscles of his thighs and impressive bulge made Shen Yuan’s blood rush in his veins. The Prince’s alpha scent was a heady mix of amber, cardamom, and bergamot. It was spicy and sharp and made Shen Yuan’s mouth water. 

Needless to say, things had not gone according to plan at all! 

He didn’t get a look at Yue Qingyuan. He didn’t get a chance to look at any of the military officials. Instead, First Prince Luo Binghe had gotten a good look at him! And now the First Prince wanted to see everything! To be honest, Shen Yuan wanted to see First Prince’s everything too. The First Prince’s reputation hardly did him justice. He was a martial god descended: powerful, handsome, commanding, sensual. 

Shen Yuan wanted. Oh, he wanted desperately! 

Shen Yuan was a virgin and the thought of handing himself over to such a handsome and skilled lover for his first sexual experience was almost too good to be true.  He would need to resign his position before too long, not wanting to press his luck in the Imperial Palace because Jiu-xiong’s fiancé spent a lot of time there. Shen Yuan had a sneaking suspicion part of the reason Jiu-xiong wanted him to stay away from the Imperial Palace was because his brother’s mission would be completed there. 

What was the harm in indulging in a once in a lifetime sexual experience before he needed to leave the Imperial Palace? 

The First Prince almost never went back to the same lover again, so Shen Yuan knew his tenure as the First Prince’s bed servant would likely be no longer than one night – even being given the liberty of staying the night in First Prince’s bed would be a coup d'état as far as he was concerned. After all, First Prince Luo Binghe’s longest relationship was two weeks in duration and with a group of omega triplets – yes, with all three triplets at the same time.

If three gorgeous omega triplets couldn’t command First Prince’s attention for more than two weeks, what chance did an unremarkable omega like him have in commanding First Prince’s attention for more than a night?   

Maybe Shen Yuan could even ask First Prince to pay to pluck his chrysanthemum. Or would First Prince find that an insult to his sexual prowess? That he needed to pay to tempt a kitchen servant into his bed while there were men and women ready, willing, and waiting free of charge. 

With a sigh, he flicked his fan shut and then twisted it open, staring down at the watercolor across it. Shen Yuan looked up at the sound of someone calling his name. He looked up over the folds of the fan into the eyes of First Prince Luo Binghe.

Chapter Text

Chapter Three

 

Luo Binghe hid his smile as young Shizun cursed colorfully and dropped his fan to the floor. Luo Binghe bent down to pick it up. Holding it in his hands with a smile, he opened it up to take a closer look. It was the same fan he’d bought for Shizun before the Immortal Alliance Conference. It was the same fan that he dropped into the five-flavored tea of forgetfulness.

Extraordinary. 

The watercolor on the front was a likeness of Qing Jing Peak. Indeed, there was a Qing Jing Peak in this world as well – though it had been home to that traitorous dog Yan Longwei. The coward had taken his own life and those of his household with him in a purifying fire rather than face Luo Binghe’s retribution. The jade guards of the fan were inscribed with cultivation spells and scripts to allow the user to channel his qi into the fan to use as a cultivation weapon. He ran his finger over the symbol at the bottom of the fan – the fan maker’s signature and symbol. 

In their previous life, the artisan who made the fan lived in the village at the valley of the Tian Gong Mountain range. Feng Wencheng made a variety of beautiful trinkets so Luo Binghe commissioned the artisan to make the fan for Shizun and provided the two jade guards himself. The jade was expensive and the merchant would have charged Luo Binghe twice the cost to acquire them himself. 

Luo Binghe had forgotten the man’s name, but now that he saw the signature, he realized that he knew him. In this world Feng Wencheng was a nobleman who lived in the Imperial City. He had been a renowned swordmaster in his prime and still accepted students though he was selective in those he deigned to tutor.   In his old age, he devoted most of his time to art and design. He was wealthy enough that he didn’t need to sell the pieces for his lifelihood. Instead he made fine pieces for his friends as gifts or for his betters to curry favor. He refused to use anything but the very finest of materials . These fine pieces were never sold, so a forger would never know to add the artist’s signature to a reproduction sold to a gullible dealer. 

So it must be an original. How curious. 

How did his young Shizun come to acquire something like this? 

Looking over at the young man, he observed, “A beautiful fan, A-Yuan. Was it a gift from an admirer? The watercolor is stunning. It looks like one of the fine peaks in the Tian Gong Mountain Range, perhaps Qing Jing Peak.” 

Shen Yuan cleared his throat and stood up from the bench, his cheeks flushed prettily. “This servant has never had any admirers present him with gifts before. The fan was a trinket from this servant’s father at the time of his birth.” 

Luo Binghe handed the fan back to him. This wasn’t a gift that could be purchased at the market. Of that he was confident. “If you serve as my bed servant, I’ll see that you want for nothing,” he said. 

Young Shizun looked away embarrassed. 

The facial features and figure of this younger version of Shizun were so familiar to that of the lofty immortal he had been in their previous lives. Though there were small differences that Luo Binghe found charming. 

There was the softness of youth in younger Shizun’s cheeks. While his eyes were as quick and curious as they had been in his previous life, they were an arresting gray in this life where they’d been a dark brown in their previous life. His mouth curved up into the same wry smile, but there was a sharper and more elegant slope to young Shen Yuan’s nose in this lifetime. His shoulders weren’t as broad and his hair was shorter but it still fell over his shoulders as smooth as silk. Peak Lord Shizun had a wiry build with sinewy muscles that belied his strength and power. Young Shizun was slender with lean muscles. Peak Lord Shizun had reached one of the final stages of his golden core formation. Young Shizun had a strong presence, but his golden core was at a lesser stage of development. 

The last thing Luo Binghe could remember from his previous life was the corpse of this man lying on a bed in Hua Huan Palace. 

He felt impatient. 

He would give anything. He would pay any price to have this man in his arms. He’d loved and desired him for so long. And now he was so close. 

This young Shizun was so cute and young and innocent. Luo Binghe could take the young man under his protection. He would see that his Shizun was safe and sound and wanted for nothing. 

Luo Binghe wanted. Oh, he wanted desperately! 

Shen Yuan turned back to him with his arms wrapped around himself protectively. “Would-would you think less of this servant if he asked for payment for plucking his chrysanthemum? This-this servant is a virgin.” 

Luo Binghe smirked. He couldn’t be sure if his young Shizun was telling the truth or not, but what a wonderful thought -- that he could be the one to take Shen Yuan’s virginity. Even if someone had come before to pluck the young omega’s chrysanthemum, he’d see to it that he would be Shen Yuan’s only lover from now on. 

He stepped closer to the young man. Gripping young Shizun’s upper arms gently and letting his alpha pheromones flood out around the young omega, he kissed his way up the young man’s neck. “Money is no object,” Luo Binghe whispered against the young man’s skin. “I won’t be satisfied until you’re in my bed.” 

Shen Yuan went pliant in his arms as Luo Binghe captured his lips. He gripped the young man’s waist tightly as he licked into his mouth. Young Shizun kissed him back eagerly if inexpertly. Oh, he tasted so delicious and so innocent. 

“Tell me the price and I’ll pay it,” Luo Binghe purred. 

Shen Yuan’s gray eyes were dark with lust as he gasped out, “One silver sycee.” 

Kissing Shizun’s neck, he declared, “Done.” 

Luo Binghe pulled Shen Yuan flush against him and claimed the other man’s lips again. He loved the reverberation of young Shizun’s moans from deep in his throat. The young servant wasn’t experienced, but he was a quick study. Luo Binghe pulled their hips flush together. He could feel the outline of the young man’s erect omega cocklet against his own alpha cock. He released another burst of alpha pheromones, causing young Shizun to rut against him with an eager moan. 

“Please,” the young omega whimpered. “Please, Master. This servant is yours." 

With a smirk, he kissed the young man’s forehead. “Become my bed servant. I’ll show you pleasures you’ve never imagined.”

Chapter Text

Chapter Four

Shen Yuan got curious looks as he passed through the checkpoint at Southern Divinity Gate, the gate between the Inner Palace and Outer Palace. He twisted open his fan and flourished it lightly using the qi he passed through it to warm the air around his face. He looked over the folds of his fan at the guard checking his zhuan and the seal granting his authority to pass through the Southern Divinity Gate hoping to hide the tense lines of his face behind the fan. His papers were well in order so he was able to move along quickly to his destination after surrendering the seal to the guard at the Southern Divinity Gate. It was only good for one use. 

The Imperial Palace was in the center of the Imperial City. One needed documentation to pass through the checkpoints at the Southern, Western, or Eastern Glorious Gates that allowed entrance to the Imperial Outer Palace.   The Outer Palace housed the Halls for the Imperial Court and the Imperial Military where matters of state were conducted. The Inner Palace was the residence of the Imperial Majesties. Emperor Tianlang-Jun’s residence was the Hall of Divine Rule,  First Prince Luo Binghe’s residence was the Hall of Military Victory, and Second Prince Zhuzhi-Lang’s residence was the Hall of Scholarly Pursuit. The Inner Palace could either be accessed directly from the Imperial City via the Northern Divinity Gate or through the Imperial Outer Palace via the Southern Divinity Gate. 

The housekeeper revised his papers to reflect his change in employment. The page indicating his employment as a kitchen servant in the Outer Palace and authority to traverse the Western, Eastern, or Southern Glorious Gates was removed. A new page was added indicating his employment as a bed servant in the Inner Palace for Luo Binghe. The zhuan granted him restricted access to the Hall of Military Victory. The housekeeper than handed him a seal to grant him entry into the Inner Palace. 

When Shen Yuan asked what it meant by “restricted access”, the elderly beta male elf explained that bed servants had restricted access to their master’s residence so that no one other than their master would be able to have sex with them. So Shen Yuan couldn’t leave the Hall of Military Victory without First Prince Luo Binghe’s permission. This was the policy for bed servants of the imperial majesties. 

That was a set back. He didn’t like the idea of his ability to leave the Imperial Palace being taken away. However, he’d made up his mind that he wanted to have sex with First Prince Luo Binghe. Not only that but he’d get a silver sycee for his trouble. 

Thought this would only be a temporary set back. First Prince Luo Binghe would give him permission to leave soon after plucking his chrysanthemum. The First Prince wasn’t the type of person to remain with a lover for longer than a night. 

After Shen Yuan entered the Hall of Military Victory, he was escorted to the Prince’s personal chambers in the immense complex. The entire northern wing of the Hall of Military Victory was the Prince’s private residence. His bedchamber was on the second floor of the immense main structure. 

As Shen Yuan walked along the upper western portico, he looked out in wonder at the immense courtyard. The southern wing of the Hall of Military Victory had an immense inner courtyard that functioned as a training field. The training field in the southern wing was large enough that the Prince and his generals could unleash a great deal of power without the concern that they’d damage the Hall of Military Victory. The northern wing of the Hall of Military Victory had an inner courtyard that was nearly twice the size of the inner courtyard of the southern wing. 

The Garden of the Dragon’s Peak was the inner courtyard of the northern wing of the Hall of Military Victory. It was the centerpiece of the Prince’s personal residence. Everything was connected in harmony. The upper and lower porticoes along the western and eastern sides of the Garden of the Dragon’s Peak connected both floors of the northern and southern wings of the Hall of Military together. 

Taking up most of the central and western side of the Garden of the Dragon’s Peak was the Dragon’s Peak itself: a breathtaking arrangement of roughhewn rocks creating a towering mountain at the center of the garden. Several pavilions were set up at various heights along the mountain connected by mountain passes and paths. There was a bamboo forest on one corner of the mountain. Other trees grew out from the rocky soil: pine trees and deciduous trees that had shed their leaves in preparation for the winter. 

The western side of the rough-hewn mountain had a clear pool and a waterfall that rushed headlong into a lake. The lake glistened with shining golden scales of koi fish. Two mandarin ducks glided elegantly across the serene surface of the water. The lake stretched out to fill the entire western side of the courtyard, so the lower western porticoes of the palace abutted the lake. 

The waterfall was a peaceful sound in the garden. The waterfall wasn’t so immense that it drowned out all noise and thought. It was a steady and soothing rush that complimented the whistle of wind through the trees, the delicate twinkling of chimes decorating the pavilions, and the birds in the lake. 

The interior architecture of the Hall of Military Victory was just as stunning as the Garden of the Dragon’s Peak. Where the Garden was a representation of the prevailing and wild beauty of the natural world, the interior architecture was a representation of the order and opulence of the imperial dynasty. 

Shen Yuan admired the white marble floor, and the red lacquered and gilded beams spanning across the hallway. There were tables inlaid with ebony, ivory, and mother of pearl that detailed the symbol of the Divine Elven Dynasty: the dragon. There were vases of porcelain, statues of jade, and tapestries woven with golden thread. The halls were decorated with Equestrian paintings of the Crown Princes who had lived in this palace throughout the years. Shen Yuan lingered first before the painting of the current Emperor and then in front of the painting of Crown Prince Luo Binghe. 

Shen Yuan stopped in front of the immense door to the First Prince’s personal chambers twisting open the fan to hide his flushed face. No wonder First Prince thought nothing of the silver sycee Shen Yuan demanded! 

Shen Yuan would’ve been lucky to earn one copper piece during the four months he planned to work in the palace kitchens. That’s why he’d sought a position at the palace after all -- it paid the best. 

Who knew an evening in the First Prince’s bed would afford such a windfall! 

In one night, he would earn one silver sycee! For anyone other than a nobleman, it was difficult to earn half as much in a lifetime! For a Prince it was pocket change. 

Honestly, he didn’t know why he’d said such a ridiculous number. He’d assumed that First Prince would barter him down to a more reasonable number: maybe five copper pieces. But he wanted to try his luck. He’d found nobility had a different concept of money than those who skimped and saved all their lives. 

Shen Yuan took another deep breath and held the fan before his face to try to hide some of his undisguised anticipation and apprehension. What was he doing? Was he out of his mind? 

First Prince Luo Binghe was an alpha male who probably had more lovers over the years than Shen Yuan had acquaintances. What if Shen Yuan couldn’t please First Prince? Now only that, how painful would it be if it was his first time? He’d never seen an erect alpha cock before, but he’d felt First Prince’s heavenly pillar against him as they were kissing in the kitchen. It seemed impossibly large. 

That monstrosity wasn’t meant to go inside him, right?     

The massive heavy doors to the First Prince’s personal chambers opened and Shen Yuan suddenly found himself out of his depth. First Prince Luo Binghe stood before him in nothing but a loosely belted sheer crimson robe. His tall stately figure and impressive musculature were visible to Shen Yuan’s hungry eyes. Shen Yuan was afraid to look lower because the sight of First Prince’s heavenly pillar might cause him to lose his nerve. 

The First Prince took his hand and gently folded the fan shut before drawing him inside and closing the doors behind them. Then First Prince pushed him back against the door and kissed him hungrily, cupping his face in his hands and smoothing his thumb over Shen Yuan’s cheek tenderly. 

It was First Prince’s kisses in the outer palace kitchen that convinced Shen Yuan to pursue this particular madness. His talented lips and the powerful press of his hands and body against his own promised pleasures that had Shen Yuan feeling dizzy with want.   

Not in the Prince’s personal chambers, Shen Yuan had no idea what he was doing; he wasn’t a skilled or experienced kisser. However, First Prince seemed to be enjoying whatever it was that he was doing. 

The Prince’s kisses deepened as he carried him through his personal chambers towards his bedroom. At any other time, Shen Yuan would have looked around curiously at First Prince Luo Binghe’s stately and impressive chambers, but he was too preoccupied with the Prince’s fervent lips and ravenous hands. 

Shen Yuan gazed up at the First Prince as he laid him gently on his bed. Shen Yuan stared up the canopy of the bed spread with black and red silks. Then at the immense bed frame of carved from ebony wood. He’d never been in the presence of such luxury. The light from the candles around the room cast a warm glow over the dark silks and ebony wood. Kneeling between his legs, the Prince pushed him onto his back and claimed his lips again. 

The Prince’s mouth kissed every inch of his skin revealed as his lover stripped Shen Yuan’s robes from his body. Shen Yuan lost himself in the feeling of lips against his lips, kisses against skin, and skin against skin. 

“If I had my way, you would never leave this bed,” First Prince said in a rumbling purr. “I would drape the finest silk and precious stones across your porcelain skin. I would bring you to the heights of pleasure every day. You would want for nothing.” 

“This servant belongs to his master,” Shen Yuan gasped in worship, “body and soul.” 

Shen Yuan moaned and opened his legs wider at the feeling of two fingers caressing the slick petals of his chrysanthemum. Gripping one of the silk pillows to help ground himself from spinning off into the ether from the Prince’s attention, he let out an embarrassingly needy moan. He’d touched himself down there before, but it had never felt this good. The Prince inserted a third finger while his thumb found a bundle of nerves that had him arching his back and keening little sounds he hardly recognized as his own voice. 

“Your body is very responsive,” the Prince noted with approval as he moved a hand to Shen Yuan’s hip to hold him in place. The prince’s large fist surrounded his omega cocklet easily and pumped it with a steady rhythm, spreading the slick dripping from the head over the length. 

Shen Yuan let out a low cry at the overwhelming sensations. He could feel the pleasure cresting as the First Prince brought him to the precipice with his hands alone. Shen Yuan’s eyes flickered from the dark silks of the canopy to First Prince’s face. The other man studied Shen Yuan’s face intently, like he was trying to memorize it. 

First Prince increased the pressure and pace of his fingers until Shen Yuan’s back arched into a bow and his hips writhed back and forth. He could feel his cunt throbbing and shuddering around First Prince’s three fingers, trying to pull them deeper inside himself. He was breathless and trembling, his heart pounding as he could feel the pleasure building inside himself until he came with a silent scream and,his cocklet spilled slick all over Shen Yuan’s belly and the Prince’s hand. 

The First Prince reached over to his bedside table for a small towel. After he cleaned his hands, he sat on the side of the bed to wipe the trail of slick from Shen Yuan’s belly. Shen Yuan let his limbs sink into the luxurious silk sheets and looked up at his lover with a contented and amazed smile. The concentration of First Prince Luo Binghe’s alpha pheromones in the room made him feel lusty, desired, and safe. 

“You’re very pretty when you orgasm,” First Prince observed. “Though you don’t need to call me Master when you do. Call me by my name, Binghe.” 

Shen Yuan blushed. That seemed far too great of a privilege to give to a mere bed servant. “This servant wouldn’t dare to call First Prince by his given name. This servant is unworthy to have his Master’s name on his lips.” 

The First Prince pulled Shen Yuan into his lap.  Shen Yuan felt hot and overwhelmed with anticipation at the feeling of First Prince’s erection pressing up against his own omega cocklet and belly. The sheer girth and length of the First Prince’s manhood was astounding. His own omega cocklet felt insubstantial next to it. Shen Yuan combed his fingers through the thick curling locks around the First Prince’s face. 

Nipping at Shen Yuan’s bottom lip teasingly, he gave the young omega a brief but passionate kiss. Then as he pulled away from his lips, the Prince picked up a small goblet from the bedside table. Holding it out to Shen Yuan, he explained, “The first time can be painful for an omega. My cock and knot are large even for an alpha. I had this elixir prepared to make it more comfortable for you.” 

Shen Yuan looked down at the sweet-smelling elixir in the goblet and then at the Prince in surprise. “This servant is undeserving of First Prince’s kindness.” 

The Prince smoothed his hands gently Shen Yuan’s sides. “This elixir was specially developed to bring an omega into a pseudo-heat. It’s effects are similar to that of a controlled heat. It’ll allow you to produce more slick so your body will be able to more easily accept my cock and knot.” 

Shen Yuan looked down at the potion dubiously. Beta females and omegas all had the ability to conceive children. Beta females were only fertile during a brief window each month that corresponded with the stages of their menstrual cycles. Omegas on the other hand, both male and female, had estrous cycles. They had an extremely low fertility consistently throughout the year and an extremely high fertility during their heat cycles. It was said that an omega was so fertile during heat that he or she could conceive a child from an alpha’s kiss alone. 

“First Prince, if this omega servant enters his heat, he will surely fall pregnant,” Shen Yuan said with unease. 

The First Prince pressed his hand against Shen Yuan’s belly. “Let me tell you a secret. My divine elven bloodline grants me many abilities. One of which is the ability to control my virility. My seed is sterile unless infused with the power of my heritage. If I don’t wish to father a child, I won’t. This elixir brings you to a pseudo-heat, not a real heat. You’ll experience all of the effects of heat including ovulation, but I won’t allow you to conceive tonight.” 

The sickly-sweet smell of the elixir in his hands and the intensity of First Prince Luo Binghe’s overwhelming alpha pheromones were making his head spin. Shen Yuan didn’t understand how he could be in heat and not be in heat at the same time, but if it would make it easier for his body to accept First Prince’s cock than he was more than willing to try. 

The Prince didn’t have any illegitimate children, so Shen Yuan felt confident the Prince wouldn’t try to conceive one off a lowborn omega like him tonight. 

The elixir was sickly sweet. He wrinkled his nose as he tossed it back. It had the viscosity of honey and coated his bottom lip and the back of his tongue. He wished that he had a sip of water to chase it from his mouth. The First Prince seemed to read his mind because he lifted a jar of wine from the bedside table and filled Shen Yuan’s goblet with the wine. 

Shen Yuan sipped the wine, grateful for something to chase the taste from his tongue. The wine was crisp and delicious. Shen Yuan was pleased to find that the remaining elixir in the goblet hadn’t tainted the taste of the fine wine at all. 

The First Prince replaced the goblet back onto the bedside table and captured Shen Yuan’s lips again, cupping his face gently in his hands. Shen Yuan found himself on his back again in the bed with the Prince’s powerful form covering him. 

Shen Yuan wasn’t a frail or petite omega. He was tall with a slender frame and compact muscles – more of a scholar’s build than that of a warrior. Even still, his brother was a taskmaster in ensuring he practiced his cultivation to build up his muscles and golden core. Even so, First Prince was several inches taller than him with broad shoulders tapering to a trim waist, and powerful and muscular frame. He had a warrior’s build. 

As Shen Yuan moved his hands to the Prince’s shoulders to try to push the sheer silk robe from his shoulders, the Prince sat back and stared down at him with a smile. Gripping Shen Yuan’s hips in his broad hands, the Prince leaned down to kiss the tip of his omega cocklet. A gasp slipped through Shen Yuan’s lips as the Prince pulled his cock into his mouth and kissed it thoroughly. 

He grabbed the Prince’s hair and moaned wantonly. The Prince applied a sucking pressure to his cock that had Shen Yuan quickly losing his mind. “Master,” he keened, his eyelashes brushing against his flushed cheeks. “Please!” 

“Call me by my name,” First Prince reminded. 

The Prince’s fingers moved down to his cunt that was throbbing like a second heartbeat. He moaned as the Prince’s fingers danced along his slick soaked thighs before dipping inside him again. He was drenched. He’d never been so wet before. Was it the effect of the elixir of the Prince’s masterful arousal of Shen Yuan’s body. 

He felt wonderfully relaxed and wanton in the First Prince’s arms. He could feel the pleasuring rising and cresting as First Prince played his body like a guqin. One finger, then two, three, and four fingers thrust inside stretching and preparing Shen Yuan for the Prince. He moaned and came from both inside and out, spilling his release from his cocklet into the Prince’s mouth while a rush of slick spilled between his thighs and into the Prince’s hand. 

The Prince’s sheer silk robes slid from his shoulders as he untied it from around his trim waist. Shen Yuan looked up with apprehensive at the massive alpha cock thick and hard between the Prince’s thighs. 

How was that supposed to fit inside him? 

First Prince gripped Shen Yuan’s thighs to pull them open wider as he knelt between his legs. Taking his massive cock with one hand and holding Shen Yuan’s thighs over his shoulders with the other, he lined himself up with his entrance. The Prince stared intently at his face and into his eyes as he pressed inside. 

He moved slowly, for which Shen Yuan was grateful, but the impossible stretch still pushed Shen Yuan to the limit despite the First Prince’s diligence in preparing Shen Yuan for his cock and the effects of the induced heat increasing his production of slick, relaxing his body, and making him more flexible. 

The Prince kissed away the hot tears of pain dripping down his face. “A-Yuan, tell me if you need me to stop or slow down,” he whispered. 

“Give me a minute to get used to the feeling,” he gasped, shifting his hips and moving his hand down his body to feel where they were joined. He glanced down in dismay. He felt stuffed impossibly full and the First Prince’s monstrous cock wasn’t even a quarter of the way inside him yet. 

The Prince keep carefully still while Shen Yuan adjusted, leaning down to cover his lover’s face in kisses. Shen Yuan moaned at the taste of his own slick on the First Prince’s lips as his lover licked into his mouth and devoured him. After a few minutes, the pain receded and Shen Yuan shifted his hips, urging him to continue. They continued this dance several times until his lover was seated more than halfway inside. 

“You’re doing wonderfully, my love,” the Prince said between kisses. 

Then First Prince pulled out completely and slowly pressed his way back in. Shen Yuan cried out and gripped the Prince’s arms tightly. Oh, that felt really good. The feeling of being stuffed so full and the dizzying scent of his alpha lover’s pheromones made it hard to think straight. 

It felt like hours by the time First Prince was seated fully inside him. He’d moved patiently while Shen Yuan’s body adjusted to the invasion of the Prince’s massive cock. When it started to feel pleasurable instead of painful or uncomfortable, the Prince used faster and harder thrusts, which had Shen Yuan nearly losing his mind at the pleasure of being penetrated so deeply. 

“Master,” he gasped as the Prince groaned and laid a bite on his shoulder. 

“Binghe,” the Prince reminded. “Call me Binghe.” 

The Prince’s eyes were blown wide with lust as he kissed and licked at the mark he’d made on Shen Yuan’s shoulder. When the Prince’s knot pressed inside him, the Prince kissed him deeply. As the knot inflated to tie them together, the Prince thrust in deeper and Shen Yuan saw stars. He cried out unintelligibly as he came hard, spilling slick from his omega cocklet onto his belly. 

The Prince’s eyes were dark and intense as he stared deeply down at him, rutting into him as his knot brushed up against that magical spot inside Shen Yuan that had him keening and his cock spilling again. With one last thrust, the Prince let out a deep groan and then Shen Yuan felt the heat of the Prince’s seed flooding into his womb. 

The Prince stared down into his face before rolling them over to lay side by side, still tied together by his knot. Shen Yuan moaned as the Prince’s knot pressed into that magical spot again. Wrapping Shen Yuan in his arms, the Prince pressed a kiss to his forehead. “How do you feel?” The Prince whispered. 

“This servant has never felt such pleasure before.” He gazed up at the Prince feeling amazingly relaxed and satisfied. “Did this servant also please First Prince?” 

“Immensely,” The Prince noted with a smirk, looking down into his face curiously. The Prince rolled his hips again and Shen Yuan gasped at the stimulation. 

Shen Yuan closed his eyes and let out a gasp of pleasure as the Prince’s knot pressed up against that wonderful spot again. “How long does First Prince’s knot usually stay tied for?” Shen Yuan asked weakly. 

The Prince stretched Shen Yuan’s thighs open wider with a lascivious smile. Shen Yuan let out little mewls of pleasure as First Prince’s started to thrust into him again. His knot stimulated that magical spot inside Shen Yuan with every thrust. 

Shen Yuan lost track of how many times the First Prince brought him to the heights of pleasure and beyond. He hardly recognized his own voice as he keened and moaned at the pleasure. Out of his mind with pleasure, he hardly knew what he was asking for, only knew that he wanted more of this incredible pleasure. 

“Master!” he keened as the pleasure crested again. He reveled in the fullness of his lover’s cock, knot, and seed inside him, but his omega instincts demanded more. “More! More! Please, alpha! Make me yours.” 

After a while the pleasure became too overwhelming and he wept from overstimulation. Even still First Prince wrung two more orgasms from his pleasure-exhausted body before coming inside him again with a groan. Feeling impossibly full and bloated with his lover’s seed, Shen Yuan ran his hands down his belly. 

First Prince kissed him deeply, “I’ve had the servants prepare us a bath while they change the sheets on the bed.”

Chapter Text

Chapter Five

The bath had been large enough to accommodate them both, so Luo Binghe had taken full advantage. Shen Yuan had been so eager and responsive and delicious that Binghe simply couldn’t resist. Pulling young Shizun into his lap, Luo Binghe let the young omega ride him to orgasm. He knotted him again, enjoying how wanton his lover became as Luo Binghe stimulated Shen Yuan’s heat gland continuously with his knot. Shen Yuan mewled and keened half of his mind with pleasure. 

It seemed young Shizun had a number of fascinating kinks. Shen Yuan’s tendency to call Luo Binghe “Master” in bed was unspeakably sexy, but Binghe would rather have Shen Yuan call him by name. He wanted the young omega to know it was Luo Binghe pleasuring him, not some nameless “Master.” When Shen Yuan called him “Master” he felt a thrill of power and desire, but also a fear that his lover was thinking of someone else. 

Luo Binghe had always avoided knotting his lovers. This wasn’t because he didn’t find it pleasurable. Indeed, knotting was enjoyable for both the alpha performing the act and the alpha, beta, or omega receiving the knot. For omegas, it was pure ecstasy. Luo Binghe just didn’t find it enjoyable enough to justify being tied to a lover for thirty minutes after his sexual appetites had been sated. So he would find his pleasure without knotting and leave the bed afterwards. 

Things were different with Shen Yuan. 

An omega’s O-spot, right over his or her heat gland, was difficult to stimulate without an alpha’s knot. Most omegas’ heat glands were near the entrance of their velvet channel and recessed far enough back that it was nearly impossible to stimulate without the pressure of an alpha’s knot. It was stimulated during the first push of an alpha’s knot into an omega’s body. 

Young Shizun’s heat gland appeared to be several inches higher than most omegas’ near the region an alpha’s knot caught to tie the alpha and omega together for an extended period to increase the possibility of conception. Shen Yuan’s heat gland also appeared to be slightly recessed, so a typical alpha’s knot wouldn't be able to stimulate it even after their knot had inflated. Luo Binghe was not a typical alpha. His alpha cock and knot were formidable in size and girth. So, while other omegas had their heat gland stimulated only during the moment an alpha’s inflated knot pressed into them, Shen Yuan had his heat gland stimulated consistently during the period Luo Binghe’s knot was tied inside him. 

If he wasn’t careful, Luo Binghe was going to develop a knotting kink. With Shen Yuan, Luo Binghe treasured the thirty minutes they waited for his knot to deflate as he witnessed his lover totally undone with pleasure. 

It was a lovely sight watching his lover stand up from the bath. The rose scented water dripped down the young omega’s body in gentle rivulets. Luo Binghe let his hungry gaze take it all in. Shen Yuan ran a hand over his cum-bloated belly and then pressed down to push what remained of Luo Binghe’s cum out from his womb. 

Luo Binghe was filled with a strange mixture of pride and discontentment at the sight of his seed spilling from between the omega’s legs. As was his habit, Luo Binghe never suffused his seed with the power of his divine elven blood. So his seed dripping from Shen Yuan’s womb was sterile. They wouldn’t conceive a child tonight. Luo Binghe had never wanted to conceive a child before, not until this very moment.     

For so long, he’d seen any child as a tool by a courtesan to gain power over him. A child was nothing but a threat to his position as First Prince. None of his conquests had ever been able to hold his interest for more than a few days. Why would he want a child with one of those insignificant betas or omegas? 

Things were so different with Shen Yuan. He never wanted the young omega to leave his side. The thought of creating a new life together from their love was tantalizing. He realized this as he gazed at Shen Yuan’s flat belly. He didn’t just want to see his lover’s belly bloated with his seed, he wanted to see it swollen with his child. He wanted to father a child with his adorable young Shizun. 

He wanted it desperately, but there was a fear in the back of his mind about what could happen to young Shizun during a divine elven pregnancy. Neither Luo Binghe’s nor his cousin Zhuzhi-Lang’s mothers had survived their divine elven pregnancies. As desperately as he wanted to have a child with Shen Yuan, would he be willing to risk his lover’s life for one? 

Luo Binghe didn’t want to scare his lover away with the intensity of his affections. He wasn’t sure yet if Shen Yuan remembered their previous life together. He wouldn't conceive a child with his lover until he was sure Shen Yuan wanted the same thing. 

He lifted up young Shizun from the bath and carried him to bed. Shen Yuan’s skin was warm and soft, a delicious mix of his omega scent and the rose water in which they’d bathed. His young Shizun looked languid and satisfied and exhausted with pleasure as he drifted off to sleep in Luo Binghe’s arms. Luo Binghe followed him soon after, falling into a deep and restful sleep. 

xxx 

Shen Yuan was asleep when Luo Binghe awoke the next morning. The sun was high in the sky, indicating Luo Binghe had slept to a later hour than he was accustomed. Luo Binghe breathed deeply his lover’s soothing sent of bamboo, orchids, and ink. It was strong in the room after their lovemaking. 

Luo Binghe stretched with a contented sigh. He’d rather stay in bed all day, but this was a meeting he couldn’t miss. Luo Binghe didn’t trust the fragile peace with their northern neighbors. He knew the Kingdom of Five Sects was planning something and good intelligence was crucial. They’d had to extract their spy early from the Nightless City. They’d received no intelligence up to this point, so their agent would be giving a full report today. 

Shaking Shen Yuan’s shoulder lightly to wake him up, he smiled down at his lover. The young omega whined in protest. Luo Binghe felt affection and love for this young man fill his chest. His young Shizun was sleep-mussed and adorable. There were little shadows of the lofty immortal that Shizun had been in his past life, but many of these qualities were more innocent and eager than in the man he’d fallen in love during his past life. 

Luo Binghe adored it. He couldn’t get enough. 

The slightly sarcastic tilt of the eyebrows and clever quips were the same. The flicks and twirls of his fan and the smiles he tried to hide behind it. But young Shizun was a little different too; he had less of the aloofness of the other Shizun. This one was just as closed off in his thoughts, but his body was eager, sensual, and responsive. 

Now that Luo Binghe had introduced young Shizun to the pleasures of the flesh, he was excited to begin teaching him more advanced ones. Shen Yuan’s beautiful omega body was responsive and flexible. There were a myriad of sexual positions Luo Binghe wanted to teach his young Shizun. 

Luo Binghe decided to keep quiet about his desire to impregnate his Shen Yuan. He wanted to see if his young Shizun brought it up having children himself.

Luo Binghe rose from the bed to put on a fresh pair of robes and tied his sword to the sword belt around his waist. Once dressed, he gave young Shizun a kiss before walking to the door. Pressing gentle kisses to Shen Yuan’s forehead, cheeks, and lips, Luo Binghe murmured, “Wait for me here. I’ll have my manservants bring you breakfast.”

xxx

When he walked into the meeting room just off the training grounds of his Hall of Military Victory, Luo Binghe was surprised to see Mo Beijun, Liu Qingge, and Liu Mingyan sitting silently and staring severely set of at bloody robes on the table. 

Luo Binghe looked around in confusion. “Where’s our agent?” 

His most trusted general rubbed a hand over his eyes and waved at the bloody robes on the table. “Here he is. Six of my elite troops smuggled him from the northern border. He was assassinated at Zhujiajiao, the post city north of Imperial City.” 

Luo Binghe sighed. “Mo Beijun, you said it would be safer to travel using conventional methods rather than having him arrive into the Imperial City through the portal at your northern estate. I can see now that was a mistake.” 

Mo Beijun nodded. “It was a precaution to escape the notice of any spies in the northern provinces living in my estate.” 

“Strange the assassins waited to assassinate him until last night,” Liu Qingge added. “ It would’ve been easier to do in the northern provinces or Nightless City.” 

“The assassins killed Gongyi and the guards inside and outside his room. The other four guards survived, but we have no leads about the identity of the assassins,” Lui Mingyan added. “Qingyuan-shixiong is still questioning the guards in the gatehouse of the Imperial City. He’ll be along soon.” 

Luo Binghe sat down heavily at the table, pulling the bloody robes towards him. The inner robes were crusted scarlet with dried blood. The orange pattern of the outer robes was speckled with blood. “Do you think the assassins could have followed him all the way to the imperial city?” he wondered.   

“If he knew a secret the Kingdom of the Five Sects wanted to protect they would follow him to the ends of the earth,” Mo Beijun countered. “Gongyi Xiao told the six elite guards three important facts that he wanted to ensure reached your ears, First Prince, just in case something happened to him. ” 

Luo Binghe leaned back in his seat. “Alright. What are they?” 

Mo Beijun counted them out on his fingers. “One: The Kingdom of the Five Sects says our Empire wants to expand into their Kingdom. They want to drive off the elven devils and reclaim our eastern province for their Kingdom.”

Luo Binghe snorted. “You think they’d have learned their lesson in Wen Mao’s war. He paid for it with his life. Clearly we were too lenient with Wen Ruohan during the armistice treaty.”

Mo Beijun nodded before continuing, “It appears that they did learn their lesson in some ways, because Wen Rouhan’s looking for other ways to claim the eastern provinces. He’s recognized at least that he can’t hope to be victorious over the Empire on the battlefield.”

Sha Hualing scoffed, “Wen Rouhan won’t easily forget being so easily trounced by the Imperial forces when they were being led by First Prince Luo Binghe.”

“One would hope,” Luo Binghe drawled.

“That relates to the next piece of information that we gathered. The Kingdom of the Five Sects believe that you, First Prince, are the greatest threat to them and the greatest weapon of the empire. Wen Rouhan dispatched agents to assassinate you.”

Luo Binghe’s furrowed his brow. “I’ve foiled countless assassinations over the years, I would have been more surprised if they didn’t want me dead.”

Lui Qingge nodded. “Even still, we’ll increase your guard.”

Mo Beijun nodded to Liu Qingge before rattling off the next piece of intel. “Finally: Yan Longwei bastard son, Yan Julong, survived the fire at the Yan estate. He lived in the Kingdom of the Five Sects for seven years after the end of the War before disappearing without a trace nine years ago. Wen Rouhan promised a substantial reward for anyone who could provide definitive information on the location of his grandnephew Yan Julong. The mother of a woman named Wang Lingjiao, one of Wen Rouhan’s agents in the Imperial City, received the reward for finding Yan Julong. It was given out two months ago, so Yan Julong might still be in the Imperial City with this other agent, Wang Lingjiao.”

Liu Mingyan added, “The news about Yan Julong was unexpected. I didn’t realize that he was related to the Wen clan.”

Mo Beijun sighed. “Yan Longwei’s mother was Wen Xihe, the omega son of Wen Mao and the younger brother of Wen Ruohan. Many years ago, there was an attempt to broker a more lasting peace between the Kingdom of the Five Sects and our Empire, a marriage was arranged between Wen Xihe and my father. My family is the steward of the northern provinces, so it was a good match.

“Wen Mao didn’t see it that way. The Kingdom of the Five Sects is a human kingdom mistrustful of those with elven heritage, so they refused the proposal and provided a counter. Wen Xihe would marry the head of the Hong family and be First Husband.

“Yan Longwei’s father didn’t approve, he saw it as a way for the Hong family to increase their influence in the northern provinces. The Yan lord abducted the omega, gave him a heat expressor, raped him through his heat, and forced a pregnancy on him. By the time the Yan lord and the young man were finally found, Wen Xihe was eight months pregnant. He died in childbirth. Yan Longwei was the result of the pregnancy.”

Liu Mingyan crossed her arms over her breastplate and looked at Mo Beijun with disapproval. “And you didn’t think this was a relevant piece of information to give to me, the First Prince’s intelligence general?”

Luo Binghe sighed. “I was a controversial event the empire tried to have hushed up. It almost sparked a war with the Northern Kingdom at the time.”

Liu Qingge crossed his arms over his chest. “Did the Yan Longwei’s father have to answer for his actions?”

“Wen Mao asked for his head and he received it.” Luo Binghe looked over at his three generals. “They wanted the child, Yan Longwei, as well. However, he was the only surviving heir of the Yan line, so he remained as a noble of the empire.”

Liu Mingyan sighed, “Well I’ll see if I can uncover any information about the whereabouts of Yan Julong or this Wang Lingjiao from my contacts in the city.”

xxx

The meeting was quick, but ended without resolution. The thought of the likeness of Qing Jing Peak on young Shizun’s fan plagued him. Shen Yuan said it was a gift from his father. Yan Longwei’s estate had been on Qing Jing Peak. A beautiful fan with the likeness of the Qing Jing Peak where his family had built his estate would be a thoughtful gift from a father to his newborn son. Yan Julong was a male omega and a cultivation prodigy. He’d survived the fire at his father’s estate. Could Shen Yuan be Yan Julong? Could his purpose in the Imperial City and in Luo Binghe’s bed because he wanted to assassinate him? Yan Julong was the grandnephew of the Chief Cultivator of the Kingdom of the Five Sects. Did he hope to curry favor with Wen Rouhan by assassinating Luo Binghe?

Yan Julong was likely in his mid-thirties by now if memory served. A strong cultivation base typically slowed aging after a cultivator reached adulthood, but if a golden core was formed at a younger age that process could begin even sooner. Shen Yuan looked a bit too young to be in his mid-thirties but wasn’t impossible to manipulate one’s appearance for short periods of time one they had a strong enough cultivation base. Luo Binghe’s ancestor Hua Cheng formed his golden core as a young man and was known for using his cultivation to manipulate his appearance.

Luo Binghe hated the thought that Shen Yuan could be the son of that traitor. He hated the thought that his young Shizun might have taken him to bed because he wanted to stab him in the back. Luo Binghe hated that he doubted him.

He would have to be very careful in his questioning of his lover.

When he strolled into his chambers, he was pleased to see that the light lunch he’d asked to be prepared for him and his lover had arrived. Two of his manservants, young alpha males of elven heritage, had just finished preparing the bath he’d arranged for Shizun to ease his soreness from taking Luo Binghe’s cock last night.

“First Prince,” greeted his manservant Chonglin with a bow. “These servants prepared the bath as requested. This servant placed the salves and elixirs from the palace physician on Master’s bedside table. Please let these servants know if there is anything else Master requires.”

“Very good,” Luo Binghe said as he untied his sword from the sword belt around his waist. He looked around the room wondering where his lover was.

“First Prince’s bed servant is in the Garden of the Dragon’s Peak,” His manservant Jingguo added. The young alpha servant’s eyes drifted towards the sliding rice paper doors to the private courtyard. “He attempted to leave Master’s residence as this servant brought up breakfast. This servant informed Master’s bed servant that he was not at liberty to leave without Master’s permission.”

Luo Binghe raised an eyebrow at his servants. He didn’t like the lustful expression in Jingguo’s eyes. Young Shizun was a beautiful male omega and his scent was fertile and heavy in the room after their lovemaking. It wasn’t unexpected that Luo Binghe’s alpha servants would be affected by it.

Luo Binghe narrowed his eyes at his young alpha servant Jingguo. “This master thanks his servant Jingguo for ensuring master’s bed servant is aware of his responsibilities as part of First Prince’s household.” Turning to Chonglin, Luo Binghe said mildly. “Let the other servants in my household know that if any of my servants are seen looking upon my bed servant with lust, I will take their eyes.”

“Y-yes, Master,” stuttered Chonglin, looking uneasily at his companion Jingguo. The other alpha male servant stood rigid in fear.

“You are both dismissed,” Luo Binghe continued. “Do not disturb me today. I will call upon you if you are needed.”

Both alpha males bowed and hurried away before Luo Binghe changed his mind.

Luo Binghe narrowed his eyes as the two servants hurried away. Chonglin was a good manservant and didn’t show any guilt in his face, but he hadn’t liked the way that his manservant Jingguo’s lustful expression. He hadn’t minded the other man’s proclivities or lustful gazes towards his lovers in the past, but things were different with young Shizun.

He would deal with Jingguo after he’d seen his lover.

As Luo Binghe opened the sliding rice paper door to his Garden of the Dragon’s Peak, his breath caught at the vision that greeted his eyes. Young Shizun sat perched just outside his personal bedchambers on the low stonewall of the upper western portico of the Garden. Shen Yuan’s legs were stretched out in front of him as he looked down into Koi Lake. He held his folded fan in one hand as he looked out across the water with a gentle smile.

His hair was loose around his shoulders. His thin inner robe was white and belted loosely around his trim waist so that it fell slightly off one shoulder to show his creamy skin and a darkening bite that Luo Binghe made last night. The noontime sun spilled into the courtyard, illuminating young Shizun’s beautiful face and making his white inner robes sheer.

Luo Binghe fell in love all over again.

How wanton his lover looked sitting out in the garden in only his inner robes. Luo Binghe half wondered at the young omega’s state of undress. From what he knew of his Shizun from their previous life together and from their interactions yesterday, Luo Binghe wouldn’t have expected Shen Yuan to behave with such shamelessness. But he wasn’t one to look a gift horse in the mouth.

It was cold in the Garden of the Dragon’s Peak. Even so, Shen Yuan looked as comfortable in his light inner robes as if it was late May rather than mid-November. Shen Yuan’s cultivation must be at a high level if he could use his qi to maintain his body temperature.

Luo Binghe smiled. Shen Yuan was already at a level of golden core formation that allowed him to regulate his body temperature. Accomplishing such a skill at such a young age was impressive.

As expected of his Shizun!

Not wanting to disturb the other man’s serenity, Luo Binghe walked silently over to the beautiful young omega and stood beside him, enjoying the sight of his lover so at peace. Shen Yuan looked up at him with surprise.

“First Prince,” he breathed, flicking open the fan in front of his flushed face. “This servant— “

Luo Binghe cupped the young omega’s face in his hands and kissed him hungrily. Young Shizun’s eyes widened and he made an adorable noise in the back of his throat before wrapping his arms around Binghe’s shoulders and melting into the kiss. Binghe slid his hands down to his lover’s thighs and opened them so that he could stand between them.

Young Shizun’s loosely belted inner robe was quickly untied. It gaped open to accommodate Luo Binghe’s ravenous eyes, mouth, and hands. Shen Yuan’s warm breath blew against his chin as Binghe wrapped a hand around his lover’s omega cocklet. Young Shizun made the best noises as Luo Binghe pumped his shaft with one hand and fingered his lover’s delicious cunt with the other. It was still loose and slick from last night’s lovemaking.

Resting his forehead against his lover’s, he watched Young Shizun moan as he spilled his release onto Luo Binghe’s hands. Luo Binghe cleaned his hands on Shen Yuan’s inner robe before stripping it off.

Taking a step back, Luo Binghe took a moment to appreciate the view of his lover’s naked body. Young Shizun was as beautifully formed in this world as he’d been in the last with lithe and strong muscles. Luo Binghe took pride in the little bruises and hickeys on his lover’s porcelain skin. Seeing Shen Yuan reclining in his private courtyard with nothing to cover him except his fan was incredibly erotic. While it was true that his eyes were a different color than they’d been in Shizun’s previous life, a striking gray instead of a mysterious brown, Luo Binghe found young Shizun’s lighter eyes very arresting and attractive.

“I’ve had a bath prepared to help soothe any soreness you may feel from last night,” Luo Binghe said with a smile. “Come inside while the water is warm.”

xxx

Shen Yuan’s bright eyes watched him curiously as Luo Binghe poured the elixir from palace physician Mu Qingfang into the bathwater. The soothing scent of lavender filled the air. The elixir would heal soreness in Shizun’s body and make his skin supple and soft. Luo Binghe then coated his fingers in a healing salve. It would soothe and heal any soreness of tearing to the young omega male’s cunt from last night. Luo Binghe expected Shizun was sore from how Binghe had plundered his delicious body last night. His young Shizun had been a virgin after all.

“First Prince,” young Shizun gasped in surprise as Luo Binghe’s hands dipped below the water and between his legs.   His cheeks were flushed from the warm water.

Using his uncoated hand to spread young Shizun’s thighs, he slipped two fingers coated with the salve inside him. He kissed his lover’s neck as Shizun’s head tipped back against the back of the tub with a moan as Luo Binghe pleasured him.

“Binghe,” he countered. “Call me Binghe.”

He coated his fingers with more salve and wrung two orgasms of out his Shizun until the young omega was moaning his given name. Finally satisfied with the hazy and dreamy look in his Shizun’s eyes, he wiped his hands on a washcloth and handed it to his lover. If he had his way, he’d often see that look in his young Shizun’s eyes.

Resting an elbow against the tub, he smiled at his lover. “How old are you, A-Yuan?”

“Sixteen,” was the young man’s reply as he dipped the washcloth in the water.

“Hm,” Luo Binghe mused. “My manservants said you tried to leave my chambers this morning.”

Shizun blushed. “This servant thought First Prince would want him gone when he returned.”

“When had I indicated such a thing?” he asked in a gentle voice.

Shizun’s cheeks heated as he looked over at Luo Binghe. “This servant can’t compare to your other lovers. What would a powerful and experienced alpha like First Prince want with an inexperienced omega like this servant?”

“Was last night the first time you’ve taken a lover?” he wondered.

“Yes, First Prince. Thank you for your kindness with this bath. This servant felt…um…sore in new places this morning.”

“It was my pleasure, A-Yuan. As my bedservant, I intend to spoil and pamper you. You’re worth more to me than any treasure in my Hall of Military Victory.”

Shizun looked away from Luo Binghe’s eyes with a blush.

Luo Binghe continued, “I was surprised to find you in the Garden of the Dragon’s Peak instead of my bedchambers when I returned. Had my manservants done something to offend you?” He continued.

Shen Yuan looked frightened, as he quickly replied, “Not at all, First Prince. This servant went to the Garden of the Dragon’s Peak so he wouldn’t be in the way of First Prince’s manservants.”

Luo Binghe raised an eyebrow. “I was surprised to find my two alpha manservants in my rooms with my bedservant in nothing but his inner robes in my personal courtyard. Did either of my manservants act inappropriately for you to leave my chambers in such a stage of undress?”

Shen Yuan paled. “N-No, First Prince. This servant forgot his outer robes in your personal chambers. This servant chose to wait for the manservants to leave the room before he retrieved them.”

Luo Binghe pursed his lips. It was obvious from Chonglin’s and Jinggou’s behavior and Shen Yuan’s fearful denials that something had happened. Once Luo Binghe determined what Jinggou had done, he could dole out the correct punishment.

“Did my manservant Jinggou touch you?” he asked mildly.

Shen Yuan turned even paler and shook his head vehemently. “N-No!”

Luo Binghe suspected his manservant Jinggou had done something, but his lover was too afraid to tell the truth for fear of being punished himself. “Don’t be afraid. I merely want to know the truth. There will be no punishement if you tell the truth, no matter how damning you think it to be. Where did Jinggou touch you?”

Shen Yuan trembled. “On the shoulders and chest. When this servant tried to leave your bedchambers, Jinggou took this servant’s outer robes. Then he tried to s-strip off this servant’s inner robes. Chonglin stopped him after he arrived. This servant fled into the Garden of the Dragon’s Peak until First Prince returned. Please don’t punish Jinggou. When this servant returns to the kitchens in the Outer Palace, Jinggou will surely—”

Luo Binghe chuckled, smoothing his hands over his lover’s shoulders. Shen Yuan went rigid under his hands. “A-Yuan, you won’t be returning to the kitchens. You’re not a kitchen servant; you’re my bed servant. Your place is in my Hall of Military Victory not the kitchens of the Outer Palace.”

Shen Yuan searched his eyes. “Of course, First Prince. It’s an honor for this servant to serve and pleasure his Master.”  

Luo Binghe didn’t want to waste any more time talking about his manservants. “Let’s not speak of this anymore. There are much more pleasant things to discuss – you for example. Tell me about yourself, A-Yuan.”

His lover stared at him blankly, likely still worried over the fallout from his encounter with Luo Binghe’s servants earlier in the day. “There’s not much to say.”

Luo Binghe rarely used his alpha powers. He was able to solve most of his problems with his physical strength and intelligence alone. However, he needed to be subtle in questioning his lover. If Shen Yuan really was Yan Julong, Luo Binghe didn’t want his Shizun to realize that he’d been made.  

However, it was extremely difficult to question someone gently without them remembering what sort of information they’d given up. And if Luo Binghe found himself in the worst-case scenario where his lover Shen Yuan was in fact Yan Julong then it would be even more difficult to turn the man away from his mission.

An alpha command could achieve such a thing, but only as long as Luo Binghe and Shen Yuan remained in visual contact with one another. To make matters more difficult, a powerful alpha or omega could resist the effects. The more powerful alpha sway was nearly impossible to resist, but was very short in duration. The ultimate alpha ability, thrall, on the other hand was impossible to resist and didn’t require Luo Binghe to remain in contact with Shen Yuan to maintain the impacts.

With a grin, Luo Binghe pulled his lover out of the bath and dried Shen Yuan in plush silks. He found his lover’s surprised gasp delightful as he pulled him from the water.

Luo Binghe activated his alpha command ability. It required a verbal catalyst, but he kept the impact fairly benign so it was difficult to detect and resist. “Tell me everything there is to know about you, A-Yuan,” Luo Binghe urged.

“Oh, this servant’s favorite poet is definitely Li Bai,” young Shizun mused as he pressed a kiss into the corner of Luo Binghe’s mouth as he carried the young omega to bed. “Li Bai weaves themes and imagery as well as First Prince wields a sword. This servant’s favorite of his poems are ‘Waking from Drunkenness on a Spring Day’ and ‘Question and Answer on the Mountain.’”

“Li Bai?” Luo Binghe wondered. “I would have thought that you would prefer Du Fu to Li Bai. His ‘Song of the Wagons’ is a masterpiece.”

Shen Yuan shrugged. “Li Bai is this servant’s favorite, though this servant’s older brother prefers Du Fu. Which poet does First Prince prefer?”

“Hm,” he mused as he laid his lover on him bed. “It’s hard to decide. But I think I prefer Du Fu myself. His poems about the common solider going off to battle are very powerful.”

Shen Yuan pulled him onto the bed with a lascivious grin and rolled them over until Luo Binghe was on his back in the middle of the wide bed. Shifting his legs so he was straddling him, Shen Yuan’s gray eyes sparkled as he said, “This servant wants to try to pleasure his master with his mouth.”

Luo Binghe smirked up at his lover and gripped his hips. “I didn’t realize that you had a brother, A-Yuan. What’s his name?”  

“Shen Jiu,” his lover explained as he pressed a kiss to Luo Binghe’s chest. “Do you really want to talk about this servant’s older brother at a time like this?”

“I’m curious is all,” Luo Binghe quipped. “How much older is he than you are, A-Yuan? Does he live in the Imperial City too?”

Shen Yuan looked up at him with a raised an eyebrow as he nipped gently at Luo Binghe’s hip with his teeth. “This servant and his older brother lived together in the Imperial Provinces for many years. He’s eighteen years older than this servant.”

“What about your father? He’s the one who gave you that fan, right.”

Shen Yuan sighed, resting his elbows on Luo Binghe’s abdominals. “This servant would prefer not to speak of his father.”

“Why? Is it a sore spot?”

“This servant never met his father. His father was too busy with his wives, his other children, or committing treason to bother with his youngest illegitimate child.” A-Yuan’s eyes widened as he realized what he said. The words had slipped past his lips because of the effect of Luo Binghe’s subtle alpha command.

“Committing treason, eh,” Luo Binghe asked mildly. “What was your father’s name?”

Shen Yuan face turned very pale and his eyes widened as he realized that he was caught in the power of Luo Binghe’s alpha command. His gray eyes turned stormy as he fought against it.

“This servant don’t see why that’s relevant at a moment like this,” Shen Yuan countered.

Luo Binghe flipped Shen Yuan onto his back. Gripping Shen Yuan’s hands tightly, he stretched them over the young omega’s head. He hadn’t expected Shen Yuan would have the power to resist his alpha command. He’s underestimated his young Shizun. His cultivation was stronger than Luo Binghe had expected when he took into account Shen Yuan’s young age and secondary gender.

Shen Yuan’s eyes widened and he struggled in Luo Binghe’s grasp. “Please, First Prince. Let me go! I didn’t mean to say treason. That was- that was a joke.”

This situation had turned sideways. To salvage matters, Luo Binghe would need to exert the ultimate alpha ability over his lover to have him reveal the information Luo Binghe needed to know. A stronger alpha command or the alpha sway ability would have also sufficed to accomplish that particular task, but they would do little to assist him with damage control in the aftermath.

“What-what are you doing?” Shen Yuan trembled.

The alpha thrall ability was extremely rare. As far as Luo Binghe knew the only other alpha that had access to the ability was his father. The power of Luo Binghe’s alpha thrall couldn’t be avoided unless the alpha or omega had an equivalent power. Luo Binghe released the alpha thrall pheromone and watched as the effect started to take hold. Shen Yuan renewed his struggling, as he seemed to realize the danger that he was in.  

To capture someone in an alpha’s thrall ability required a visual, verbal, and scent catalyst. The visual and scent catalysts were typically sent out before the verbal one. So Luo Binghe fully captured his lover in his thrall with a question. “Who was your father?”

Shen Yuan’s eyes were wide with horror as the words came from his lips despite his attempts to keep them a secret. “Yan-Yan Longwei. My father was Yan Longwei.”

“And your older brother? Is he Yan Julong, the bastard son that Yan Longwei legitimized?”

“Y-yes, my older brother Shen Jiu’s courtesy name is Yan Julong. Our father legitimized him.” Shen Yuan trembled. “Please, First Prince, have mercy!”

Shizun was the son of Yan Longwei. It was just as he feared. Though his young Shizun wasn’t Yan Julong; he was his younger brother. Luo Binghe hadn’t even known such a person existed.

Yan Longwei, the traitor, had sent his First Wife, her children with him, and his bastard son, Yan Julong, to the imperial city to ensure they would survive the Kingdom of the Five Sects fierce attack on the nobles of the northern provinces in what would be known as the Rape of the Northern Provinces. At the time, Luo Binghe thought such an action was just another example of the selfish crimes of Yan Longwei. It was ironic to think the man’s selfish behavior had saved the life of the young omega in front of him.

“Why are you in the Imperial Palace? Are you here to assassinate me or to assist someone else in a mission to assassinate me? Are you a spy? Are you assisting someone in their espionage mission?”

“No! I’m not an assassin or a spy!” Shen Yuan shook his head, tears shining in the corner of his eyes. “I-I was living in the Imperial City. I got a position in the kitchens of the Outer Palace because the pay was good. Please, you have to believe me.”

“Why did you agree to become my bed servant?”

“You’re the First Prince, what choice did I have after you asked me?” Shen Yuan asked wide-eyed. “First Prince is renowned as a talented lover, so I decided to have a sexual experience with you before I had to leave to the Imperial Palace.”

Shen Yuan’s cheeks were flushed red in his otherwise pale face. He looked up at Luo Binghe with abject terror. Yet Luo Binghe found himself strangely relieved. His young Shizun had no motives in becoming his bed servant besides wanting to become Luo Binghe’s lover.

Luo Binghe furrowed his brows. “You won’t be leaving the Imperial Palace.”

Shen Yuan let out a trembling breath and asked in a small voice, “What’s going to happen to me now?”

“Have you touched your Xiu Ya sword yet and regained the memories of our previous life together, A-Yuan?”

Shen Yuan looked up at him with fear, “Previous life? Xiu Ya sword? I don’t understand.”

“Where is your brother Yan Julong at the moment? Is he in the Imperial City too?”

“No, Shen Jiu left the Imperial City two months ago for the the Northern Provinces. Please, First Prince. I’ll do anything you ask! Please, have mercy.”

Luo Binghe furrowed his brow. Their agent hadn’t been assassinated until he’d reached the post town north of the Imperial City. Tears shone at the corners of the young omega’s eyes as he trembled in Luo Binghe’s grasp. It broke his heart to see his young lover so upset and frightened of him. He would have to end this interrogation quickly.

“Are you or your brother working for anyone from the Kingdom of the Five Sects?”

Young Shizun’s eyes widened in horror as he said, “Yes, this summer Shen Jiu told me that he’s taken a mission from a powerful cultivator from the Kingdom of the Five Sects. Though he hasn’t given me any details about what his missions is or the identity of the person who gave him the mission.”

Luo Binghe flipped them over again, so his young Shizun was sprawled across his chest. Now that Shen Yuan was no longer pinned under him, the young omega tried to scramble away from him. Luo Binghe was too quick. He grabbed him tightly as his young lover thrashed in his arms as he tried to escape.

Luo Binghe was relieved and exhausted from the revelations of the evening. He just wanted to go to sleep and forget this conversation had ever happened. But he needed to make sure his young Shizun didn’t know his secret had been discovered. Luo Binghe hated the look of fear and terror in young Shizun’s eyes. He never wanted to see it again.

Increasing the power of his alpha thrall, Luo Binghe exerted more control over his lover. Shen Yuan’s eyes became glassy and unfocused as Luo Binghe’s alpha thrall washed over him again.

“You will forget everything from this moment onward.”

“Yes, alpha.”

“You will forget the conversation we had about your family.”

“Yes, alpha,” young Shizun continued in a faraway voice.

“You will forget everything that transpired after you said that you wanted to pleasure me with your mouth.”

“Yes, alpha,” young Shizun repeated.

“Repeat for me the last words of our conversation that you remember.”

Young Shizun repeated the conversation in a flat tone completely void of emotion. “You said: ‘it’s hard to decide. But I think I prefer Du Fu myself. His poems about the common solider going off to battle are very powerful.’ Then I said, ‘This servant wants to try to pleasure his master with his mouth.’ Nothing was said after that.”

“Position us as we were during the last conversation you remember. Then repeat your words again. After you have finished repeating the final word that you remember, you will remember everything from that moment onward.”

“Yes, alpha.”

Luo Binghe loosened the effects of his alpha thrall. While Luo Binghe let his alpha voice and alpha pheromones subside, Shen Yuan moved Luo Binghe closer to the center of the bed and then straddled his hips.

Young Shizun’s eyes were glassy with his alpha thrall as he completed the last order from Luo Binghe. “This servant wants to try to pleasure his master with his mouth.”

As soon as the words left his lips, the dazed look dropped from his lover’s eyes. Leaning forward Shen Yuan pressed a kiss to Luo Binghe’s chest. “Why does First Prince look so skeptical?” Shen Yuan smirked as he smoothed his hands down Binghe’s sides and kissed his way down his chest. “Does First Prince not like receiving oral sex? When First Prince pleasured his servant with his mouth this servant found it very enjoyable.”

At any other time, he would have greatly enjoyed the prospect of his lover’s hot mouth around his cock, but he was so thrown by the revelations about Shen Yuan’s parentage, his older brother’s mission, and abject terror and horror in young Shizun’s eyes a mere moment earlier. The fatigue starting to set in from exerting his alpha thrall didn’t help matters.

So Luo Binghe huffed, “It’s not that, A-Yuan. I don’t want you to be discouraged. You may find my alpha cock a difficult one for a first attempt. It’s large even by alpha standards.”

Chapter Text

Chapter Six

Shen Yuan had a problem. It was an issue few people would see as a problem, but a problem for him nonetheless. A situation entirely out of his control presented itself and he wasn’t sure what to do. When Shen Yuan lost his virginity to the First Prince, he expected that he would be asked to leave after his lover had taken his pleasure. Instead, Shen Yuan had been pleasured thoroughly and often in the days following First Prince Luo Binghe’s initial conquest.

Wasn’t First Prince Luo Binghe a well-known playboy and Casanova? Wasn’t he a powerful and sensual alpha with jilted lovers all over the empire begging for him to return to their beds?

Then why was he so clingy?

Wasn’t Shen Yuan supposed to be the clingy one?

Shen Yuan was the innocent omega that had been seduced and deflowered by the playboy alpha. Wasn’t he supposed to be the naïve omega cast aside and heartbroken by said playboy?

Not that Shen Yuan was complaining.

It was just unexpected!

Shen Yuan wasn’t sure what to do with himself though First Prince Luo Binghe sure hadn’t run out of ideas.

The sex was beyond amazing. The Prince was an attentive lover and generous master. Shen Yuan was surrounded by luxury and spoiled rotten. He lived in First Prince’s Luo Binghe’s personal residence in the Hall of Military Victory. Shen Yuan ate the most delicious and tantalizing dishes prepared by the best chefs. He was clothed in the most luxurious fabrics in the latest fashions. He slept in the most confortable and largest bed that he’d ever encountered in his life. He bathed in a golden tub filled with warm water, rose petals, and scented with rose water. All of the priceless works of art in the Imperial Residence, all of the beautiful architecture, all of the numerous scrolls and writings, all of the beautiful courtyards and gardens…. he was permitted to appreciate them all at his leisure.    

He could get used to this life.

His lover was wealthy, attractive, well connected, sensual, powerful, and skilled beyond belief. He provided Shen Yuan with priceless books of poetry from his favorite authors. He provided Shen Yuan with a beautiful guqin in a dark lacquered wood with inlays of jade and mother of pearl. He provided him with a cultivation master to help him develop his cultivation.

Jiu-xiong had always said Shen Yuan’s fatal flaw was that he was too quick to take the path of least resistance. Gege wasn’t wrong. Shen Yuan planned to milk this unexpected turn of good luck for all it was worth: endless pleasure, inconceivable luxury, and innumerable perks. A lover never maintained First Prince Luo Binghe’s interest for more than two weeks. Shen Yuan was nearing that mark, so he planned to take full advantage of this once in a lifetime opportunity.

However, Shen Yuan couldn’t become careless. First Prince Luo Binghe was a powerful and dangerous man. He was likely the most dangerous person in the Empire. If Shen Yuan spoke out of turn, he could put not only himself and also his older brother in grave danger.

Shen Yuan knew his older brother would throttle him when he learned Shen Yuan had taken a position in the Imperial Palace and used his real name in the process. Shen Yuan hadn’t really thought anything of it at the time. While being the bastard son of a notorious traitor was a dangerous identity to have, Shen Yuan knew seeking out a forger to create a new identity for him would likely be even more dangerous.

Jiu-xiong had always been the one to handle these things. His older brother had a number of falsified identities that Shen Jiu assumed and dropped to help keep them safe. Jiu-xiong wanted to protect Shen Yuan from the danger of working with forgers, so he never had any falsified identities made for Shen Yuan. Besides, bastards were more or less unknown amongst the nobility unless they became either famous or infamous.

Shen Yuan’s anonymity offered him a message of protection.

Even still, Shen Yuan was careful not to give away much information about himself or his background while he was with his lover.

Although he and his older brother were both bastard sons of Yan Longwei, only Shen Jiu, courtesy name Yan Julong, was of any note. Shen Jiu had been legitimized, so he was included in the registrar’s book detailing the descendants of each noble family. Shen Yuan was illegitimate. He wouldn’t appear in any of the records in the capital. His birth certificate in the Northern Provinces had indicated his parentage, but it had been destroyed during the rampant burnings during the Rape of the Northern Provinces.

When he was young, Shen Yuan remembered Jiu-xiong taking him to a registrar’s office in the Imperial Provinces to get his official documents. This was shortly after they moved to the Imperial Provinces. It had been a relief moving there after the short months they spent in the Northern Provinces in Never Night City or whatever-it-was-called where Jiu-xiong worked for a nobleman and Shen Yuan was taken care of by a strict omega woman with hard eyes and flames painted along her wrists. Shen Yuan still remembered the haunted look in his brother’s eyes when Jiu-xiong was finally able to see him again after several months of separation. Then the distress of Jiu-xiong being taken away again caused Shen Yuan to awaken a new omega power. He and his older brother fled for the Imperial Provinces immediately after Shen Yuan’s power was awakened.

Shen Yuan didn’t like thinking about the Never Night City. Maybe the memories of it were so negative because of the inevitable comparison with his happy childhood living in that small apartment near the golden stairs and white peonies of the Golden Tower. Maybe it was merely the veil of childhood that made it feel so idyllic in his mind, but Jiu-xiong also agreed that small apartment in the Northern Provinces near the golden stairs was his favorite place too.    

 

xxx

First Prince had picked up several baffling habits in the weeks that Shen Yuan had been his bed servant. He preferred to dress Shen Yuan himself rather than having anyone else do it. The Prince would not be content unless he was the one to drape the expensive silk outer robes around Shen Yuan’s shoulders and tie the sash around his waist. He’d comb out Shen Yuan’s hair, plaiting and pulling half of it back from his face into a jade ornament at the crown of his head.

The jade ornament in his hair was stunningly beautiful. The ornament that held his hair tightly in place was shaped like a dragon, which was the symbol of the imperial majesties. Shen Yuan had no concept of how much the clothes and finery the prince draped him in must have cost, but he had a suspicion the hair ornament alone probably cost more than the one silver sycee he’d been paid for his virginity.

Shen Yuan looked up at the knock on the First Prince’s chamber door and called for the person outside to enter, twisting open his fan. Dongmei, the elven omega young woman from the kitchens, opened the door. Auntie walked in behind her and smiled warmly at Shen Yuan. Dongmei bowed before looking at Shen Yuan more closely.

“A-Yuan,” said the old cook giving him an embrace. “Is the Prince treating you well?”

“I almost didn’t recognize you,” Dongmei giggled. “You look like a nobleman.”

“It’s so good to see you,” he said with a smile as he shut his fan and went over to hug Auntie and then Dongmei. “What are you both doing here?”

“We wanted to see you, A-Yuan,” said Auntie with a gentle smile. “Is First Prince treating you well? I wanted to make sure that you know that you can come to me if you want me to intercede with First Prince on your behalf.”

Shen Yuan gave them both a hug. He twisted open his fan to cover his face which was quickly turning red. “Thank you, Auntie. That means a great deal. First Prince treats me very well. I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve the gift of his attention and regard. Um…are the other servants in the kitchen aware of my new position as the First Prince’s bed servant? What do they think of it?”

Dongmei laughed. “A lot of people are jealous but few were surprised!”

He raised his eyebrows. “What does that mean? Why wouldn’t they be surprised? “

Dongmei hid her giggles behind her hand. “Sometimes I forget how oblivious you can be. There were many in the kitchens with crushes on you, A-Yuan!”

Shen Yuan stared at her with wide eyes, his heart pounding. He’d been nursing a crush on Dongmei himself. “Did you have a crush on me too, Dongmei?”

Dongmei laughed, “You can be very oblivious.”

“Is that a no?”

“It’s a no longer relevant, A-Yuan,” Dongmei replied blushing as she hurried away.

Auntie chuckled as she watched the young omega female leave the room. Turning to Shen Yuan, she reached into the sash around her waist and pulled out a letter. Holding it out, she said, “This letter arrived for you at the kitchens of the outer palace. An elderly couple dropped it off yesterday. They said that it had arrived last week at their shop.”

Shen Yuan accepted the letter, running his thumb over the red dragon stamp in the corner and noticing his older brother’s familiar handwriting on the outside. He noticed with some discomfort that the seal had already been broken so anyone might have read the letter.

“It’s a letter from my older brother, but it looks as if it’s already been opened,” Shen Yuan said with frustration.

Auntie patted him on the pack. “That’s often a risk when sending mail throughout the Empire, it’s often opened and read along the way to its destination. If you wish to reply to your older brother’s letter, make sure you leave specific instructions for the delivery on the piece of mail. There’s a mail drop off and pick up in the Outer Palace near the Southern, Eastern, and Western Glorious Gates and in the Inner Palace near the Southern Gate of Divine Might. The mail drop offs are collected once a day and sent out from the postal office in the Imperial Palace.”

Shen Yuan raised an eyebrow. “The Imperial Palace has its own postal office? Is there a separate postal office for the rest of the Imperial City?”

Auntie nodded. “Yes, indeed.”

xxx

Shen Yuan hadn’t expected to receive a letter from his older brother, so he was both curious and anxious to read it – especially because it was clear that he hadn’t been the first to read it! The letter was short and sweet and vague. Clearly Jiu-xiong also knew that his letter would likely to be read.

 

 

14th November

Didi-  

You’ve been in my thoughts. I hope that you are well and staying safe in the Imperial City. I apologize for taking so long to write. It took longer than expected to find reliable post in the northern provinces.   It’s a weeklong journey from the northern provinces for a traveler and I’m sure it takes longer for a piece of mail, so it may be some time before my letter reaches you.

I’ve taken out a post box in the post city Yandai Xiejie in the Northern Provinces. If you write to me at that address using the name that I’m now known by in the Northern Provinces, I should receive the letter. When you write, keep in mind mail is often opened and read on the way to its destination, so don’t include anything in your letter that you wish to remain private.

My work in the northern provinces is progressing slower than I hoped. I’m confident that I will be able to accomplish my work here; though it may take longer than I hoped. Things are rougher and more lawless in the northern provinces than when I lived here during my childhood. It gives me comfort knowing you are safe in the Imperial City. I hope that you have been diligent about taking your medicine.

Please write back to let me know things are faring for you in the Imperial City.

- Gege

Shen Yuan looked up from his older brother’s letter to the lavish private bedchambers of First Prince Luo Binghe. He scratched his head with the back of his hand holding the letter from his brother. Things were faring well for him, but he couldn’t very well tell his brother that he was working in the Imperial Palace, let alone that he was the bed servant of First Prince Luo Binghe himself.

Jiu-xiong would be furious that Shen Yuan had done the two things he’d expressly forbidden: avoiding the Imperial Palace and the three divine elves that lived there.

It was foolish to think that Jiu-xiong wouldn’t ask for Shen Yuan to write to him. His older brother had always been fiercely overprotective. Two months of silence and the immense supply of suppressants had caused Shen Yuan to assume he would be on his own for some time. While it was true Shen Yuan would likely be on his own for several months, he should’ve considered that even if his brother wasn’t present he would still want to know if Shen Yuan was safe and obeying his instructions.

Looking at the address on the letter, Shen Yuan could see that his brother expected him to still be working at the eldery couple’s shop near their apartment in the Imperial City. They were a sweet elderly couple. While Shen Yuan had enjoyed working for them, the pay simply hadn’t been good enough to entice him to stay. He was glad he’d maintained a good relationship with the shopowners because they had hand delivered Jiu-xiong’s letter for Shen Yuan to the outer palace kitchens. That was the place where he told them he would be working.

Shen Yuan bit his bottom lip, he would likely be leaving the Imperial Palace in a few short weeks anyway. So there was no harm in stretching the truth a little in the letter to his brother. He didn’t want to worry his brother, so he would simply tell Jiu-xiong what he wanted to know.

The problem as Shen Yuan saw it was having the letter itself sent. He knew there would be a lot of questions as to why First Prince Luo Binghe’s bed servant was sending a letter to Hong Tengfei. Jiu-xiong had written in his letter that it was the name Hong Tengfei that Shen Yuan should send the letter to in Yandai Xiejie. So Shen Yuan couldn’t have someone else put the letter in the mail drop because they would wonder about his connection to Hong Tengfei. He would need to place the letter in the mail drop himself so it wouldn’t be as easily traced to him that way. The ideal situation would be to place the letter into the mail drop so subtly that no one noticed that First Prince Luo Binghe’s bed servant was trying to send a letter.

As he saw it, there were several obstacles that he faced in sending mail. First of all, he would need a postage stamp. Maybe he would be able to find one among the Prince’s things. Surely the Prince sent letters too? Second of all, Shen Yuan didn’t have authorization to leave the Hall of Military Victory. He would be stopped at the door by the guards. Even if he did try to sneak out, he worried that he’d be caught. The inner palace was heavily guarded and warded with cultivation seals.

xxx

In the days that followed, Shen Yuan was able to acquire paper and a postage stamp and write a letter to his brother “Hong Tengfei.” The Prince had a wide variety of postage stamps in his chambers, so Shen Yuan selected one with a red dragon on it. He’d checked and it was identical to the stamp on his brother’s letter. The Prince also had a wide variety of paper in his chambers, so Shen Yuan had selected one that most closely resembled ones that he had bought in the past in either the Imperial City or Imperial Provinces.

Shen Yuan wasn’t a fool. He wasn’t going to use a piece of paper with the Prince’s seal embossed into the page or a stamp with the symbol of the Imperial Majesties. That would make Jiu-xiong suspicious and draw attention to the letter. The letter itself would be sent from the Imperial Palace’s postal office. He hoped that fact wouldn’t make Jiu-xiong suspicious. Maybe Jiu-xiong wouldn’t even notice the postal office endorsement on the envelope. The endorsement from the postal office where Jiu-xiong had sent his letter wasn’t at all distinctive. It simply had the date and the name of the postal branch in Yandai Xiejie. Shen Yuan hoped that his brother wouldn’t look too closely at the endorsement.

He said that he was enjoying working at the shop for the sweet elderly couple and that they sent their regards – which was an obvious lie because he was working in the Imperial Palace and hadn’t spoken to the sweet elderly couple in a month. He said that he was diligent in taking his medicine – which was also a lie, he’d been taken off suppressants and scent cancelling soaps as soon as he became First Prince’s bed servant. He said that he was happy to get the update from his brother about his progress and asked him to be safe and asked when “Hong Tengfei” expected that they would see each other again – that wasn’t a lie; he wanted to know how his brother was doing and when his brother might be returning to the Imperial City so Shen Yuan would have time to cover his tracks and leave the Imperial Palace!

The letter was sealed and stamped and hidden in the sash around his waist.

Shen Yuan paced around the room as he waited for First Prince to return from another meeting with his military generals. He’d finally worked up the nerve to ask First Prince to take him on a walk around the Inner Palace to show him the gardens and the Northern and Southern Gates of Divine Might so he could peek out into the Imperial City and the Outer Palace respectively. He was “curious” what the view of those places was from the Inner Palace. In truth, he was more curious about where the mail drop was near the Southern Gate of Divine Might.

Shen Yuan perked up at the sound of the outer doors of the Prince’s personal chambers opening and took a deep breath. First Prince Luo Binghe opened the door to his bedroom and Shen Yuan pounced on him.

Cupping the Prince’s face between his hands, Shen Yuan kissed his passionately. The Prince let out a soft noise of surprise before wrapping his arms around Shen Yuan and deepening the kiss.

“What a delightful greeting,” the Prince chuckled against his lips. “You make it very difficult to leave my bedchambers, my love. You’re so tempting.”

Shen Yuan stopped the Prince’s hands from untying his robes, very conscious of the letter that he had hidden in the sash around his waist. Smiling up at the Prince, he took the Prince’s hands and pressed a kiss into each palm. Holding their hands together, Shen Yuan decided to press his luck. “This servant is unworthy of his Master’s attention. This servant prays his Master won’t think him audacious with this next request. This servant was hoping that he and First Prince could take a walk through the Inner Palace. This servant is very curious to see the view of the Imperial City and Outer Palace from the Divine Gates.”

The Prince furrowed his brow. “The Divine Gates? Those aren’t particularly noteworthy. There are much more interesting things to see in the Inner Palace.”

“Show me,” Shen Yuan said breathlessly.

xxx

Shen Yuan’s field trip was successful. He was able to sufficiently distract First Prince with a kiss by the mail drop near the Southern Gate of Divine Might so he could put his letter to Jiu-xiong in the mail drop.

Now they stood in the shadow of the Southern Gate of Divine Might looking out into the Outer Palace from the Inner Palace. The hustle and bustle of the imperial outer court echoed through the Southern Gate of Divine Might. Shen Yuan could see into the Outer Palace through the towering gates. In the distance, imperial officials hurried about to meetings and assemblies unaware the First Prince and his bed servant were watching them.

“What are you thinking?” the Prince wondered.

“This servant is thinking about how much more peaceful the Inner Palace is compared to the Outer Palace,” Shen Yuan observed. “It’s so orderly and beautiful in the Hall of Military Victory that this servant can hardly imagine the chaos and clamor of the Outer Palace and the rest of the Imperial City on the doorstep.”

“You prefer the serenity of the Garden of the Dragon’s Peak, I think,” the Prince said with a smile at him.

Shen Yuan blinked at him in surprise. He didn’t expect that First Prince was able to read him so well. “Yes, this servant prefers the serenity of the Garden of the Dragon’s Peak. What does his Master prefer?”

First Prince licked his lips. “I prefer wherever you are, my love. Come, I want to make love to you in the Flower Pavilion in the Imperial Gardens.”

Shen Yuan could feel his face burning in a blush as the Prince took his hand and led him to the Imperial Gardens. The Prince could be so shameless in his lust.

xxx

Shen Yuan was the talk of the imperial city, the male omega that ensnared well-known heartbreaker First Prince Luo Binghe. Everyone was gossiping and hoping to catch a glimpse of the Prince’s new lover. The First Prince’s behavior was unprecedented. He’d never had a lover capture his attention for so long! This young male omega must have been something special to capture First Prince Luo Binghe’s attention for nearly an entire month.

Shen Yuan couldn’t understand it himself.

Shen Yuan had learned First Prince Luo Binghe was unpredictable. It was impossible to guess what he would do next, but inevitably it would be something unexpected. Shen Yuan didn’t have any relationship experience. First Prince Luo Binghe was the only person who’d ever courted him and the only lover he’d had.

The Prince was more worldly and experienced. If the Prince wasn’t ravaging him in bed, then the Prince was teaching him new songs on the guqin, helping him practice his calligraphy, or walking the halls and explaining the paintings and fine décor that Shen Yuan was curious to learn more about. First Prince Luo Binghe seemed to know everything about everything.

Shen Yuan felt innocent and inexperienced when he was in bed with the Prince. His lover could read Shen Yuan’s body like a book and knew instantly how to bring him immeasurable pleasure. Shen Yuan on the other hand felt like he was flailing around helplessly as he tried to pleasure the Prince. He’d become better at kissing, but his first attempt to give the Prince oral sex had been a complete disaster.

It had been so bad that the Prince had asked him to stop. The Prince had been so put off by Shen Yuan’s attempts to pleasure him with his mouth that the Prince decided that they should both get dressed and go walk through the Garden of the Dragon’s Peak together rather than remain in bed a moment longer.

This was Shen Yuan’s first ever relationship. As a male omega, Shen Yuan’s tastes were diverse. While he didn’t find betas particularly attractive, he was attracted to both male alphas and female omegas.

Shen Yuan was attracted to the power and physicality of male alphas – there was something very attractive about being protected, pampered, and penetrated by a powerful alpha. He was also attracted to the sensuality and sweetness of female omegas – there was something very attractive about the supple skin, soft hands, and familiarity of a female omega.    

Shen Yuan was sixteen. While it was enjoyable having exhilarating sex with an experienced lover, he felt out of his element. The Prince learned his body so quickly and expertly. Shen Yuan was intimidated.

While it was true Shen Yuan was quickly developing an addiction to being fucked by the First Prince, he was also curious about what it would be like to be with another omega. He’d seen the myriad of ways the Prince wrung one orgasm after another from his body and was curious what it would be like to do the same himself to another omega.

Part of him yearned for a less experienced lover, someone who was his equal rather than his master, or maybe even a lover where he was the more experienced one. Someone he could hold hands with as they walked through the imperial city’s markets and sneak kisses behind the fountains. In some dreams it was a young alpha male in green robes with thick dark hair and eyes like First Prince’s. In others it was a young omega female with plum colored hair and verdant branches woven through her hair.

But it didn’t matter who or what Shen Yuan wanted. That wasn’t the way with bed servants.

The first day they met ended with the Prince plucking his chrysanthemum. Nearly all of their interactions since were in the Prince’s bedchambers because Shen Yuan was his bed servant. Not that he was complaining about all the sex he was having.

He was a hot-blooded sixteen-year-old after all.

The Prince would no doubt be the best lover he ever had, for who could compare to First Prince Luo Binghe’s intense passion, unwavering regard, or devoted attentions. Not to mention his pectorals, abs, muscular thighs, or his broad shoulders, biceps, ass … oh, Shen Yuan wanted to write poetry about his lover’s alpha cock and knot and how good they made him feel. Everything about his lover was a work of art. Luo Binghe was a martial god descended.

Shen Yuan knew that this would all end soon. It had been nearly four weeks and a lover had never been able to keep the First Prince’s attention this long before.

Shen Yuan thought that it was probably a combination of the autumn chill or the long nights that made the Prince so amorous and clingy. It was warm and comfortable in the Prince’s bed with the soft light of the candles in the room flickering across their naked forms. It was dark and cold, so rather than pursing a new conquest, First Prince wanted to get his money’s worth with his new lover.

Shen Yuan wouldn’t be surprised if the Prince enjoyed the whispers in the imperial court. He no doubt found the ire and confusion of his jilted lovers amusing as they wondered why he preferred having a servant rather than a courtesan in his bed.

Shen Yuan didn’t like all of the attention. It made him uneasy. He hoped that his older brother Shen Jiu hadn’t heard the rumors. Shen Yuan wasn’t sure if his name had been attached to the rumors. The thought made him nervous. He doubted anyone in his or her quest for gossip would piece together that he was Yan Longwei’s bastard. He was more concerned with his older brother finding out that he’d completely disregarded Jiu-xiong’s advice. Not only that but Shen Yuan had done the only two things that Gege had warned him about.

Soon this would all become just a distant and beautiful memory. Shen Yuan knew that though the Prince used flowery words and declarations of love, admiration, and devotion while they were in bed together, First Prince didn’t really mean any of it. So Shen Yuan carefully plucked the feelings of attachment growing in his heart before they bloomed.

Even if Shen Yuan made numerous mistakes – attracting the attention of First Prince Luo Binghe, and being foolish enough to fall for his beautiful but empty words – at least Shen Yuan managed to avoid meeting Yue Qingyuan by refusing to leave First Prince’s bed.

Though perhaps that strategy worked too well.

Shen Yuan knew that he needed to leave the Imperial Palace before too long. He wasn’t sure what Jiu-xiong’s mission for the Kingdom of the Five Sects involved, but having Shen Yuan living at the palace would likely throw a wrench into things. Now with the one silver sycee that Shen Yuan had earned, he’d be able to live like a young nobleman in the Imperial City.

Now Shen Yuan simply needed to wait for the First Prince to lose interest. Any day could be the day that First Prince decided that he’d grown bored of having Shen Yuan in his bed. He was living off borrowed time at this point, right?

xxx

Shen Yuan rested lazily in the circle of his lover’s arms, closing his eyes with a smile. The room was lit with the soft glow of candles and the bright light of the waxing moon. Soft silks and furs were piled high on the bed and the warm press of the Prince’s naked body against his did much to counteract the chill in the air. Autumn was nearly over. The cold began to set in now that they were on the cusp of winter.

This all felt like a beautiful dream. Stolen moments that would one day be sweet memories. He tried to burn this memory into his brain so that one night when he was alone in his own small bed, he would look up at the same autumn moon and think of those magical nights in the Hall of Military Victory.

“What are you thinking about, my love,” the Prince wondered, his dark eyes soft in the glow of the candles.

Shen Yuan brushed a piece of hair out of the Prince’s face and smiled up at him. “This servant was thinking about one of Li Bai’s poems. The autumn moon brought it to this servant’s mind. Does First Prince know the poem ‘Autumn Air?’”

“I do, but I’d very much like to hear it from your lips,” he murmured.

Shen Yuan flushed. He practiced his recitations with his older brother Jiu-xiong from time to time, but he felt embarrassed to attempt one in front of First Prince. First Prince Luo Binghe had likely been to countless recitations performed by the most renowned scholars of the Empire. Shen Yuan worried any attempt he made would reinforce how lowborn and unsophisticated he truly was and would only causing the Prince’s interest in him to wane more quickly.

“This servant wouldn’t do Li Bai’s poetry justice, reciting it from these uncultured lips,” Shen Yuan protested.

The Prince chuckled, running his thumb along Shen Yuan’s kiss-swollen bottom lip. “You’re too modest, A-Yuan. I can attest myself to the talent of these lips. Recite it for me.”

Shen Yuan blushed and cleared his throat, trying to remember the poetry.

The autumn air is clear,

The autumn moon is bright,

Leaves that have fallen gather and scatter,

Jackdaws roosts and start anew.

Yearning for each other, when shall we meet again?

It is hard to love this night 

“You more than did Li Bai’s poetry justice, A-Yuan,” the Prince complemented. “It would please me to hear more recitations from these talented lips. I can see why it came to you mind. I too understand the lover’s feelings of yearning. As First Prince there are many matters that require my attention. Sometimes I feel like the lovers in Li Bai’s poem, like we’re stealing moments together before we part. If I had my way, I’d never leave this bed and the circle of your arms.”

Shen Yuan couldn’t help the giggle that slipped past his lips. First Prince Luo Binghe could be so clingy! Shen Yuan couldn’t imagine that he was truly so wonderful in bed that he made the Prince want to abandon all of his responsibilities. How preposterous!

“Perhaps it’s good then that this servant hasn’t yet mastered pleasuring the Prince with his mouth,” Shen Yuan teased. “For when he does, First Prince may never want to leave his bed.“

The Prince’s eyes smoldered with heat as he rolled Shen Yuan onto his back and claimed his lips in a passionate kiss. “You’re so tempting, my love.”

xxx

Shen Yuan’s head lolled to the side as he closed his eyes with a moan. He hadn’t even finished getting ready for the day before the First Prince wanted another taste. Shen Yuan sat in front of the dressing table, trying to pull back his hair into a tight topknot for his cultivation practice when the Prince pounced.

Spreading his thighs open wider, he tangled his hands in the First Prince’s thick hair as his lover applied a sucking pressure to his omega cocklet that made Shen Yuan lose his mind. The training robes gaped open as he moaned First Prince’s name.

First Prince Luo Binghe pulled him to his feet afterwards. Shen Yuan’s legs were weak after his orgasm, so his lover held him against his muscular chest. The Prince hummed contentedly, scenting him thoroughly and then rearranging Shen Yuan’s training robes into a semblance of respectability.

“Come, I’ve arranged for a cultivation master for you,” the Prince explained as they walked together from his private bedchambers out onto the upper porticos that looked out onto the Garden of the Dragon’s Peak. “Qi Qingqi is an alpha female, but she’s the foremost expert in individual omega cultivation techniques.”

Shen Yuan followed the Prince across the upper western portico and down a spiral staircase next to the waterfall that connected the upper and lower porticos. He twisted open his fan with one hand, looking over the painted silk of his fan at the gardens and the strong line of the Prince’s shoulders.

He quipped, “It must be rare to find a cultivation master willing to teach an omega individual cultivation techniques. This servant wouldn’t be surprised if the majority of cultivation manuals for omegas focus only on dual cultivation methods. Alpha cultivation masters no doubt take advantage and only teach dual cultivation to attractive omega students hoping to learn individual cultivation methods.”

As he looked over the folds of his fan at the Prince with an amused smile, he was pushed forcefully back into the immense retaining wall that surrounded the First Prince’s Residence. Then First Prince Luo Binghe’s hands closed his fan and tucked it into his sash before the Prince’s lips ravaged his own. Wrapping his arms around his lover’s shoulders, Shen Yuan moaned into the kiss as the Prince’s hands slid down to his lower back to press their bodies together.

The Prince growled, “I’ll be the only alpha teaching you dual cultivation.”

“Y-yes, Master,” he moaned in reply.

He could feel qi rushing into his body from the Prince’s lips. Shen Yuan deepened the kiss, enjoying the Prince’s body pressed flush against his own against the cold of the stone at his back. He felt dizzy with pleasure and power as the Prince’s qi flooded into his meridians. The torrent of the Prince’s passion and qi consumed him. The sound of the waterfall in the Garden of the Dragon’s Peak echoed in his ears. The Prince’s qi flowing through him was a similarly powerful force.

He’d only learned the basics of dual cultivation this week. As the prince explained, basic dual cultivation was kissing, intermediate was oral sex, and advanced was penetrative sex. Shen Yuan hadn’t mastered passing qi back using basic dual cultivation, but he could identify and accept the qi that the Prince passed to him using any method.

They kissed for a while against the wall with the Prince’s lips dominating him. His lover’s hands hadn’t even strayed from his lower back as he held him close. The rush of the Prince’s qi made him feel incredibly turned on. It was like the Prince was caressing and pleasuring him from the inside out.

Shen Yuan’s hands fumbled for the Prince’s sash, trying to untie it. He desperately wanted to feel the hot press of the Prince’s cock filling him to the brim and the Prince’s knot tying them together and making him delirious with pleasure. The Prince’s immense alpha cock was only half hard. Shen Yuan wanted to use his hands or his mouth to prepare his lover fully.

With a wry chuckle, First Prince moved Shen Yuan’s hands away and took a step back from him. Pressing a kiss to his forehead, he said huskily, “I don’t want you to be late for your training session with Qi Qingqi. We’ll continue our dual cultivation lesson tonight in my chambers.”

Shen Yuan looked at up at his lover with disappointment. His blood was running so hot, his omega cocklet was impossibly hard, his cunt was throbbing desperately, and his inner thighs were wet with slick. With a piteous whine, he grabbed at the front of First Prince’s robes.

“Please, Binghe,” he begged, hoping his use of the Prince’s given name might convince him where his kisses had not. “You can’t stop after bringing me this close!”

First Prince Luo Binghe pursed his lips as he stared over at his flushed and disheveled lover. With a wolfish smirk, he said, “We have a little bit of time before your training session starts. I would be remiss of me to leave my lover unsatisfied.”

First Prince untied Shen Yuan’s sash and pulled down his pants to his knees. Then he turned Shen Yuan around to face the Garden of the Dragon’s Peak and the waterfall tumbling into Koi Lake. Shen Yuan rested one hand against the cold stonewall of the lower western portico and wrapped the other back around the Prince’s shoulders. Their lips met again as First Prince pumped his alpha cock erect with one hand while his other hand fingered Shen Yuan to the very edge of completion.

Shen Yuan tipped his head back against his lover’s broad shoulder and kissed him deeply. He moaned into his lover’s mouth as the Prince teased him to the edge of a precipice and then eased him back before adding another finger and doing it again.

Shen Yuan’s body accepted the Prince’s cock easily. He mewled wantonly at the feeling of being so filled again. His cunt had taken the Prince’s massive alpha cock so often that Shen felt none of the pain of being penetrated as he did during the first week as the Prince’s bed servant. His body now easily accommodated the shape of his alpha’s cock.  

“Master,” he moaned. “Harder, faster.”

Shen Yuan put one hand on the cold stone and the other on his belly where he could feel the outline of the Prince’s enormous cock pressing deeper inside his cunt. Shen Yuan thrashed and moaned out as he pushed his hips back in time with his lover’s every thrust.

Shen Yuan came with a loud and satisfied moan of his lover’s name, his cocklet spilling all over the stonewall of the portico in front of them. Luo Binghe whispered huskily in his ear. “I’m so close, my love. Do you want me to come inside you? Or would you rather have me fill you up again after your training session?”

Shen Yuan rested his hands over his lover’s. “This servant wants First Prince now and always.”

Chapter Text

Chapter Seven

Luo Binghe leaned back against the arched doorway in the stone portico as he watched young Shizun practice cultivation with Qi Qingqi, who had also been a peak lord in their previous life. Shen Yuan never had formal cultivation training, but he was a quick study and showed a great deal of natural talent.

As expected of his Shizun.

Luo Binghe didn’t know Qi Qingqi well, but she was close with Liu Mingyan. Qi Qingqi was Liu Mingyan’s shifu in this life just as she had in their previous one. It was through Liu Mingyan that Luo Binghe met Qi Qingqi in this life. It was fascinating to see how so many relationships in their previous lives were carried over into this one.

Luo Binghe looked over at the sound of footsteps and raised voices. He sighed, mentally preparing himself for a trying discussion. His two female alpha generals were both talented warriors and good friends. Unfortunately, they mixed like oil and water.

Sha Hualing was a vivacious elven alpha that delighted in mischief and reveled in scandal. She was a fierce and cunning warrior, never hesitating over a ruthless order. If Luo Binghe needed one of his generals to carry out an assassination, execution, or torture, he would usually rely on Sha Hualing or Mo Beijun.

His alpha male human generals were powerful warriors and honorable men. They preferred a more direct approach and found such missions distasteful, so Luo Binghe typically avoided asking Yue Qingyuan or Liu Qingge to get their hands dirty with such missions.

Liu Mingyan was a levelheaded human alpha with a wry sense of humor and a nose for intrigue. She was as powerful and honorable as the alpha male human generals, but she was more pragmatic and wasn’t afraid of getting her hands dirty if it was necessary to get the job done. Her real passion was uncovering scandals and intrigues. Her intelligence network and intuition cut as sharply as her sword.

“What are you doing here, Mingyan?” snapped Sha Hualing.

“I came with shifu to watch the training session,” Lui Mingyan huffed back. “I saw First Prince and wanted to join him.”

Luo Binghe could see Sha Hualing’s sneer as the two women turned the corner. “You just wanted to get a look at the Prince’s omega. I can see right through you!” Turning to Luo Binghe, the elven woman grinned impishly, “First Prince, good morning!”

“Good morning, First Prince,” Lui Mingyan added.

Sha Hualing grinned mischievously. “First Prince, I can see why you decided to take a bed servant! The rumors of his beauty and charms hardly do the young omega justice. You've had so many lovers I never would’ve expected your type to be so similar to Qingyuan-shidi's or Qingge-shidi's! I can see why you’ve haven’t brought your lover to any of our training sessions like you’ve promised.”

Luo Binghe rolled his eyes.

“His eyes are so striking. It’s rare to see someone with gray eyes,” Liu Mingyan noted. “The only other person I know with gray eyes is Qingyuan-shixiong.”

Luo Binghe made a sound of agreement. Gray eyes were very rare. He could count on both hands the people he knew of with gray eyes and have three fingers left. “Qingyuan’s gray eyes are like sharpened steel and A-Yuan’s are like soft rain.”

It was a funny coincidence, now that Liu Mingyan mentioned it. His bed servant did resemble his general Yue Qingyuan in some ways: the gray eyes, elegant sloped nose, and bamboo heart scent. The heart scent was always inherited from the parent of the opposite secondary gender. If an omega’s sire were an alpha, the omega would have the same heart scent as his alpha parent.

Another coincidence was the fact Shen Yuan’s older brother was engaged to Yue Qingyuan. When Luo Binghe intercepted the letter his crafty lover had tried to send through the post, he was surprised to find it addressed to Hong Tengfei of all people!

Last week Luo Binghe had read the letter from Shizun’s older brother; Auntie presented it to him for inspection. He gave her permission to pass it along to young Shizun though she wasn’t to mention the fact Luo Binghe was reading his mail to Shen Yuan. When Shizun’s older brother asked Shen Yuan to write him back, Luo Binghe expected him to simply send the letter through Auntie. He’d already asked her to bring any coorespondance from Shen Yuan to him to inspect as well.

Luo Binghe hadn’t expected Shen Yuan to try to mail the letter himself!

Though it had been clear what the young omega was up to when he asked Luo Binghe to take him on a walk near the Gates of Divine Might. Shen Yuan had been so adorable, trying to distract him with a kiss while he dropped the letter in the mail drop by the Southern Gate of Divine Might. Shen Yuan likely assumed as soon as it went into the mail drop at the Southern Gate of Divine Might it would be disguised with all of the other mail being sent by the residents of the Inner Palace.

Unfortunately, Luo Binghe was onto him.

After a delightful afternoon of making love to Shen Yuan the Flower Pavilion of the Imperial Gardens, Luo Binghe returned his bed servant to his chambers and then went off to the Imperial Palace postal office. The head official of the Imperial Palace postal office brought him over to the five stacks of letters from the mail drops in the Inner Palace. The stacks from the Hall of Divine Might, Hall of Military Victory, and Hall of Scholarly Pursuit were towering. The stacks from the Southern Gate of Divine Might and Northern Gate of Divine Might were very small.

Luo Binghe found Shen Yuan’s letter with little trouble. The forwarding address on the letter made it clear why Shen Yuan went to so much trouble to try to mail this letter himself. Anyone would be suspicious of why First Prince Luo Binghe’s bed servant was sending a letter to Hong Tengfei.

Shen Yuan’s letter was short and sweet … and written entirely in code. His young lover was much more clever and cunning than Luo Binghe expected. Luo Binghe had difficulty making heads or tails of it, so he transcribed the letter to examine later. Then Luo Binghe resealed the original and added it back to the pile.

Yan Julong had given away no useful information in his letter. Yan Longwei had been cunning and calculating, so it was little surprise that the child he’d raised would be too. Perhaps even moreso.   An proud and ambitious man like Yan Longwei wouldn’t waste time and attention on an illegitimate child if the boy hadn’t been something truly special. The fact that Yan Longwei legitimized him proved it.

Shen Yuan had been raised by his older brother. So perhaps it shouldn’t have been a surprise to Luo Binghe how cunning and calculating Shen Yuan could be. His young Shizun took after his father and older brother in some uncomfortable ways.

Yan Julong was Hong Tengfei.

Luo Binghe wasn’t sure what to do with that information yet, so he kept it close to his chest. Yue Qingyuan had met his fiancé nearly eighteen years ago at the Imperial Gala. They exchanged letters for several months before their romance was cut short by the Rape of the Northern Provinces. Hong Tengfei was listed among the dead.

How long had Yan Julong been pretending to be Hong Tengfei? Did Hong Tengfei actually exist or was he an invention of Yan Julong? The Hong family existed. They had been a great and noble family of the Northern Provinces before their entire line was snuffed out in the War Against the Kingdom of the Five Sects and the Rape of the Northern Provinces.

Why did Yan Julong decide to reappear now eighteen years later as Hong Tengfei?

Luo Binghe couldn’t make sense of all of the conflicting information. When he’d questioned Shen Yuan last month using his alpha thrall, the young omega had divulged a great deal of information. Some of that information seemed counter to Shen Yuan’s words in the letter and his secrecy in posting it.

Luo Binghe knew that the information he gathered using his alpha thrall was accurate because Shen Yuan wasn’t powerful enough to resist it. His alpha thrall was absolute and only an alpha or omega with a similar power would be able to fight it off. The only other person with a similar power was his father Emperor Tianlang-Jun who had Luo Binghe had inherited his alpha thrall ability from.

When Luo Binghe questioned him, Shen Yuan said his brother was working for a powerful cultivator from the Kingdom of the Five Sects. Shen Yuan didn’t know what his brother’s mission was or who it was for. All he knew was that Yan Julong had taken the mission over the summer.

Luo Binghe had some theories of what Yan Julong’s mission was and who it was for. Wen Rouhan had given out a reward two months ago to the mother of an agent in the Imperial City who had provided information on the location of Yan Julong. Hong Tengfei reappeared around the same time to reunite with Yue Qingyuan, the Warden of the Eastern Provinces.

Wen Rouhan and his father had been trying to annex the Eastern Provinces for years. Conquest hadn’t worked, so maybe they would try more subtle. Yan Julong was part of the main branch of the Wen family. His grandmother had been Wen Rouhan’s beloved sister after all. If Yan Julong had a child with Yue Qingyuan, the Wen clan could use that child to their advantage and have the child secede from the Empire and join the Kingdom of the Five Sects.

Luo Binghe hadn’t decided what to do with this information yet. Yue Qingyuan was madly in love with his fiancé. Learning about the deception would break his heart. Luo Binghe wanted to make sure his theory was correct before he made a move. He didn’t even need to tell Yue Qingyuan about what his fiancé was up to. He could simply neutralize the threat with his alpha thrall. It would be as simply as washing away Yan Julong’s plans for the male omega’s mind and replacing them with feelings of love and devotion for Yue Qingyuan.

Their wedding was in six months. Luo Binghe could wait until then to make a move against Yan Julong or Hong Tengfei as he was now known.

“I never thought I’d hear the infamous playboy Luo Binghe speak poetry about an omega’s eyes,” Sha Hualing teased, breaking him out of his reverie. “Your bed servant must really be something.”

“Gray eyes are an interesting coincidence,” Liu Mingyan mused. “Gray eyes are recessive, so it’s very rare to see them. I wonder if your bed servant might be related to the Yue family. Qingyuan-shixiong is the most virtuous man in the Empire, but his father was no paragon. Maybe your bed servant was born to Yue Qingyuan’s father on the other side of the blanket.”

“If Yue Qingyuan wasn’t such a hopeless romantic, I’d suspect him of having an illegitimate child,” Sha Hualing snickered. “I’ll have to tease him about—“

Liu Mingyan gave the other alpha female general a dirty look. “Don’t you dare, Sha Hualing, not after Qingyuan-shixiong spent the last sixteen years mourning Hong Tengfei. He believed the man he loved had been killed during the Rape of the Northern Provinces.”

Sha Hualing ignored the other alpha female. Nudging Luo Binghe in the side, she went on, “First Prince, can you imagine how red Qingyuan-shidi’s face would be if we accused him of fathering an illegitimate child? You remember how chaste he was with Hong Tengfei at that Imperial Gala all those years ago? You could cut the unresolved sexual tension between them with a knife. Do you think Qingyuan-shidi’s still a virgin--“

“Sha Hualing!” Liu Mingyan protested.

Luo Binghe chuckled. He could just imagine how embarrassed Yue Qingyuan would become at being accused of “impropriety.” The other man was so chaste and honorable that the idea of Yue Qingyuan fathering a child out of wedlock was laughable. Yue Qingyuan intended to wait until after his wedding to Hong Tengfei – well Yan Julong to be exact -- before making love to his husband. Luo Binghe couldn’t imagine enduring eighteen years of blue balls, but his general Yue Qingyuan was a stronger than than him.

With a glare over at the other alpha female, Liu Mingyan tried to change the conversation. “First Prince, your young omega bed servant is a rare talent. It’s unusual to see an omega skilled in individual cultivation. After all, there are few masters other than Qi Qingqi willing to teach an omega anything other than dual cultivation. Do you know who your omega’s previous master was?”

“A-Yuan said his older brother taught him all he knows.”

Sha Hualing winked at him. “Your omega’s the talk of the imperial city. All of the courtesans in the outer palace are losing their minds over your preoccupation with your bed servant. Luckily I’ve been around to serve as a distraction for them. There have been a number of delicious and desirable lovers who’ve fallen into my bed over this past month hoping to make you jealous, First Prince.”

Liu Mingyan rolled her eyes. “You’re incorrigible, Sha Hualing, though you aren’t wrong. It’s been a month since First Prince took that omega as his bed servant. Everyone in the imperial court has noticed that First Prince hasn’t taken any other lover to bed besides his bed servant.”

“Before this, your longest relationship was with those omega triplets from the Tianyi family,” Sha Hualing observed. Turning to Liu Mingyan, she wondered, “Was it a two-week relationship with omega triplets or a three-week relationship with omega twins?”

“Two weeks with the triplets. Fifteen days to be exact,” Liu Mingyan contributed. “I’m surprised you of all people don’t remember, Sha Hualing.”

The other female general smirked back. “I had a threesome with two of them after First Prince lost interest. They were hoping to make First Prince jealous and got upset when I told them he never really cared about them in the first place. I couldn’t remember if it was just the two omega or there was a third one.”

Liu Mingyan changed the subject as she watched the young omega practice his cultivation techniques with her shifu. “Did you give your lover that fan he’s using? It’s an advanced skill to channel qi into a cultivation weapon. His cultivation is at a higher than I expected. It’s probably better than many government officials in the outer court. He might be ready to have a spiritual sword forged soon.”

xxx

 

Luo Binghe didn’t want to leave his bed where his lover was lying very naked and eager and alone. Shen Yuan pouted as he left the room, but Luo Binghe assured him this would be quick. Imperial Galas were only held once every six years and they took a long time to plan. So, there were a myriad of quick meetings held in the months leading up the Imperial galas making sure everything was on schedule.

His father and his cousin both looked up when Luo Binghe strolled into the emperor’s private office. His cousin’s expression of dismay told Luo Binghe that he’d walked in on his father and his cousin talking about him.

While his cousin looked uneasy at being caught talking about Luo Binghe behind his back, Binghe’s father had no such concerns. Emperor Tianlang-Jun was never one to beat around the bush. “Second Prince Zhuzhi-Lang was telling me about your bed servant. The young omega has been the talk of the imperial city this month. I wish you’d told me he would be sparing with Qi Qingqi yesterday,” his father pouted. “I would have come to watch.”

Luo Binghe sat down at the table and raised his eyebrows at his father. “I didn’t realize you were so interested in my affairs.”

Emperor Tianlang-Jun shrugged. “They usually don’t last long enough for me to become interested. I’ve accepted the sad reality that both my heirs are confirmed bachelors. It’s lucky our bloodline is so long lived; otherwise I would worry about succession. At least I get the enjoyment of watching the drama unfold after you lose interest in your latest conquest. My favorite part of the drama is when one of your scorned female lovers tries to seduce Zhuzhi-Lang to make you jealous.”

The Second Prince paled. “Thossse are not my favoritesss.”

Emperor Tianlang-Jun continued matter-of-factly. “Binghe, you’ve never had a lover capture your attention for longer than two weeks. Not even those omega triplets from the Tianyi family held your attention that long. This male omega must be something. Tell me when I get to meet him.”

Luo Binghe crossed his arms over his chest and said in a voice that invited no debate, “I plan to bring him to the imperial gala. You can meet Shen Yuan then.”

His father pulled over the two large tomes that his father had brought to their meeting that contained a list of all members of noble elven and human families. The first book contained the ancient noble families and the second book had the families elevated by the emperor to nobility during recent generation. Looking up at his son with an eyebrow raised, he quipped, “Ah, and what’s his family name?”

Luo Binghe gritted his teeth. “You won’t find his name in those books, but I don’t care. I’m bringing him to the gala and I’ll announce our engagement there.”

Emperor Tianlang-Jun sighed. “You remind me of myself when I was young. From what I hear, your bed servant is beautiful, sensual, and talented in cultivation. If he were of noble birth, he’d make a fine husband. But he’s lowborn. He’s not fit to be the spouse or concubine of the First Prince.”

Luo Binghe narrowed his eyes at his father. “I won’t accept that.”

His father looked at him coolly. “If you take that lowborn human as a spouse or concubine, I will strip you of your titles, Binghe. You will no longer be a Prince of the Empire. I don’t have any objections to him being your bed servant, but it’s not possible for him to be a concubine or spouse. Your marriage to a lowborn servant would compromise any future alliances we try to strengthen through marriage. It would be considered a great insult while negotiating a marriage treaty for you or Second Prince if your current spouse is to a lowborn servant.”

Luo Binghe stood up from his seat with a growl. “What future alliance? I don’t care what you say, I’ll—“

His father held out his hand to let loose a burst of qi from his palm that knocked Luo Binghe off his feet. He was thrown bodily across the room and slammed back into the wall. The impact knocked the breath from his lungs.

He looked up through the hair falling into his face at his father standing over him.

“I’m not wholly without mercy, Binghe. Your lover is too lowborn to become a member of the imperial family himself; however, I won’t deny any grandchildren of my bloodline their rightful place regardless of the circumstances of their birth.”

Luo Binghe raised an eyebrow as he struggled to his feet. “Zhuzhi-Lang and I are both proof that’s easier said than done. Both of our mothers died giving birth to a divine elven alpha child.”

His father walked back to his chair and crossed his arms over his chest. “Your mother’s death and my sister’s death in childbirth were tragedies. Neither of their pregnancies were easy and their qi reserves were drained almost completely before they entered the birthing bed. Unfortunately, their deaths were preventable. If either had practiced dual cultivation with their baby’s father during their pregnancy, mother and child would have survived. Your mother would have lived if not for the Master of Hua Huan Palace. He and his family paid for his treachery with their lives, but by then it was too late to save your mother. My sister loved Zhuzhi-Lang’s father, but wasn’t attracted to him sexually. She didn’t want to practice dual cultivation with him after they conceived Zhuzhi-Lang.”

“The genitalia of the zhuyin race can be offputting to thossse accussstomed to the genitalia of the more humanoid elven racesss,” Zhuzhi-Lang added quietly.

“Indeed,” replied the Emperor. “I wonder how many of Luo Binghe’s lovers who decide to sleep with Zhuzhi-Lang to make Binghe jealous are willing to see past that?”

“Very few, though perhapsss more than you’d expect,” Zhuzhi-Lang noted. “One of the Tianyi tripletsss wasss able to sssee passst it.”

xxx

Luo Binghe seethed at his father’s unwillingness to entertain the idea of his marriage to young Shizun. His father was always unpredictable, dangerous, and insightful. Emperor Tianlang-Jun had a strange and alarming sense of humor but he never went back on his word. If his father said no, it would be impossible to convince him otherwise. The fact Shen Yuan was the illegitimate son of a nobleman would do little to help his case. If anything, it would hurt his case because Shen Yuan’s father, Yan Longwei was a notorious traitor. It would likely be more acceptable to Emperor Tianlang-Jun for Luo Binghe to take a commoner as a spouse rather than the son of Yan Longwei.

Though, Luo Binghe had been surprised by his father’s willingness to legitimize any children young Shizun bore him. He still wasn’t sure if Shen Yuan wanted to have children. He would need to ask his young lover about that in addition to gathering more information about Shizun’s older brother. He trusted Shen Yuan, but he felt uneasy about Shizun’s older brother Yan Julong.

Yan Julong had assumed the identity of a nobleman named Hong Tengfei. Hong Tengfei would marry Yue Qingyuan in six short months during the Imperial Gala. Luo Binghe could try to dissolve the engagement before the Imperial Gala and expose Yan Julong’s deception, but he didn’t want to do that to Yue Qingyuan. Luo Binghe would give the villain a taste of his own medicine for seducing and plotting to assassinate a good man like Yue Qingyuan. He would use his alpha thrall to force Yan Julong into becoming the Hong Tengfei that Yue Qingyuan fell in love with.

Shen Yuan would probably be happier for it.

Luo Binghe hadn’t asked about Shen Yuan’s older brother since their conversation last month. He knew that Shen Yuan clearly had a trove of information about his older brother. However, Luo Binghe couldn’t forget the look of abject terror in his lover’s eyes as Shen Yuan realized how he’d compromised himself. All of the fear was directed at Luo Binghe. Although Luo Binghe had used his alpha thrall to remove that memory from Shen Yuan’s mind, Luo Binghe would never forget it.

He never wanted his lover to look upon him with such fear again.

After dinner, he began Shizun’s daily lesson in dual cultivation after his lover had been sufficiently aroused. The young omega was a quick study. Young Shizun’s skill in dual cultivation improved greatly every day.

As expected of his Shizun.

Shen Yuan looked up at him through his eyelashes, licking his lips and wiping away the traces of Luo Binghe’s cum from the side of his mouth. “How was that?”

“I hope that you use those powers for good and not evil,” Luo Binghe breathed. His young lover’s ability to pleasure Luo Binghe using his mouth had improved drastically. Binghe knew it was no easy task due to the size and girth of his cock.

“This servant had a great teacher,” he said huskily as he slowly kissed and scented his way up Luo Binghe’s stomach and chest. “This servant will try to pass that qi back to First Prince now. Can First Prince set the timer?”

Luo Binghe reached over to set the timer on the bedside table. “I’ve set it for fifteen minutes.”

Shen Yuan raised an eyebrow. “Master, won’t that be too much time?”

Luo Binghe smoothed his hands down his lover’s sides as the young omega straddled him. “We’ll have to see won’t we?”

Shen Yuan raised an eyebrow curiously at him before leaning forward and pressing his lips to Luo Binghe’s in a kiss. Luo Binghe could feel the gentle and steady flow of qi from his lover. Shizun’s qi was warm and comfortable and steady. It circled around Luo Binghe’s golden core to fill his qi reserves. After kissing him deeply for fifteen minutes, Shizun pulled away from his lips and sat back. He reached for the timer and pushed qi into it to stop it from flashing.

“How is it when First Prince passes this servant qi through his cock a floodgate opens and surrounds this servant’s golden core? This servant barely passed a quarter of what First Prince sent him and he kissed his Master for fifteen minutes.”

Luo Binghe moved his hands to his lover’s hips and pulled them down into his lap as he thrust up. Shizun put his hands over Luo Binghe’s where they gripped the young omega’s hips. Young Shizun moaned at the feeling of Luo Binghe’s erect alpha cock brushing against his slick omega cunt.

“What are the three places from which an alpha male can pass qi to his lover?”

Shizun gasped out, “Mouth, cock, and knot.”

“And an omega male?” Luo Binghe asked innocently as he penetrated his lover.

“Mmmm,” Shen Yuan moaned loudly as his head tipped back. “That feels so good.”

“A-Yuan? How can you send me qi?”

“With this servant’s mouth, cock, or cunt,” he gasped.

Shizun leaned forward and shifted his hips, sinking down onto Luo Binghe’s cock from his position in Luo Binghe’s lap. He cupped Binghe's face in his hands, kissing him passionately and painting his scent onto his neck with the scent glands on his wrists. Luo Binghe groaned with pleasure at the exquisite feeling of being completely surrounded by his lover’s delicious form and scent.

“The mouth and lips are the easiest and most intuitive way to send qi. Compared to the other methods, less qi is transferred and more slowly. However, a well-trained dual cultivator can send large amounts of qi quickly with a kiss. Using a cock or knot allow for a tremendous burst of qi, in a floodgate as you said. But because it’s sent to your lover in a moment, it’s the most difficult to perform.”

Luo Binghe timed his next thrust as Shizun rolled his hips down onto his cock. Pulled his lover’s hips down, he buried himself up to the hilt and knotted his lover. Shizun keened at the depth of the penetration and the stimulation of his heat gland by Luo Binghe’s knot. Luo Binghe could feel his lover’s slick walls shuddering around him as his lover came. With a groan Luo Binghe spilled himself inside his lover, releasing both cum and qi into his lover’s womb.

His lover put his hands to his belly. “This servant can feel a flood of qi. Did First Prince release more qi that time than when this servant used his mouth?”

Luo Binghe shook his head, resting his hands on Shen Yuan’s hips. They would be tied together for thirty minutes by his knot, so it would be good to get comfortable. “No I released half as much qi that time.”

Shizun held a hand over his heart. “How can that be? This servant received so much more qi than when First Prince came in his mouth.”

Luo Binghe placed a hand on Shizun’s belly. “Your cunt can both pass and receive qi. It’s much more efficient in absorbing qi than your mouth. So even though I released half as much qi, you still received three times as much qi into your golden core.”

Shizun looked down at him with excitement. “First Prince has been focused on training this servant’s mouth and lips. If this servant trains his cunt, he’ll get a lot better at dual cultivation, won’t he?”

Luo Binghe rolled Shen Yuan over onto his back. He captured his lover’s lips and Shizun kissed him back eagerly, tangling his hands in Luo Binghe’s hair. Shizun wrapped his legs tightly around Luo Binghe’s waist, moaning as the Prince’s heavenly pillar sunk deeper into his body. Luo Binghe could always tell when his lover had another heat gland stimulated orgasm from the way he clutched at Luo Binghe’s shoulders and the way his hips bucked as he came with a silent scream.  

As Shen Yuan lay panting in the aftermath, Luo Binghe pressed a kiss to the side of his mouth. “You’re already very good, my love. That’s a topic for the advanced class, but I think you might be ready in a couple months.”

He made love to his beautiful omega bed servant for several hours, knotting him twice more for good measure.

Shizun stretched back on the bed languidly and sighed in contentment as he rested in Luo Binghe’s arms as his knot tied them together. Wrapping his arms around Luo Binghe’s shoulders, Shizun pulled him in for a kiss and passed his qi as he did. The power flowed gently from his lover into Luo Binghe’s golden core as Shizun kissed his deeply. Rutting into him gently, he disrupted his lover’s concentration as Shen Yuan moaned as his heat gland was stimulated again. The concentration of qi was cut off as Shizun came again.  

Shizun’s eyes were hazy with lust and satisfaction as he looked up at Luo Binghe. “Who was First Prince’s dual cultivation teacher?”

With a sigh, Luo Binghe gripped his lover’s hips securely before rolling them over so he rested on his back with his lover sprawled on top of his chest. Shizun let out another moan of pleasure as he shifted and rolled his hips to get into a more comfortable position. “I learned from an omega dual cultivation master named Madam Meiyin,” Luo Binghe said in answer to his lover’s question. “She’s the owner of the most famous pleasure house in the imperial city.”

“Hm,” Shen Yuan murmured as he claimed Luo Binghe’s lips again.

They stayed like that until Luo Binghe’s knot subsided with Shizun stealing kisses and Luo Binghe running his hands all over his lover’s body and occasionally rutting into him to make Shen Yuan lose his mind from the stimulation to his heat gland.

Afterwards Luo Binghe rose from the bed to pour out two small glasses of wine.

“Sometimes I worry I’ll wake up one morning and realize that this was just a dream,” murmured Shizun as Luo Binghe sat down next to his lover to handed him the wine.

“What do you mean?”

Shizun sat up and took the glass. He leaned back against the pillows and took a long sip. His gray eyes shone as he explained, “All this is so natural for First Prince. But for this servant everything’s new and exciting. This servant has been able to explore so many things: the Hall of Martial Victory, the Garden of the Dragon’s Peak, the Southern Glorious Gate, and the Flower Pavilion of the Imperial Gardens. This servant never beheld such luxury before. Yet, there’s so much more in the Inner Palace and Outer Palace this servant would like to explore and discover: the lakes and rivers of the Imperial Gardens, the priceless statues, murals, and paintings, and the extensive libraries.”

Luo Binghe chuckled. That was exactly the sort of thing his Shizun would have said. “My love, if you wish to explore my Hall of Martial Victory you have my permission.”

Shen Yuan took a sip of the wine. “This servant would like to explore more of the Inner Palace,” he countered. “But this servant’s zhaun restricts his access. This servant is not authorized to leave the Hall of Military Victory unless First Prince accompanies him or removes his restricted access.”

Luo Binghe nodded. “That’s as it should be. If you wish to explore more of the Inner Palace or the Outer Palace, you only need to ask. I’m happy to accompany you as I did during our visit to the Southern Glorious Gate and the Flower Pavilion of the Imperial Gardens. However, I do not want you wandering through the Imperial Palace without me. It’s full of snakes hiding in the grass. I wouldn’t want you to fall victim to a conniving official’s or scheming courtesan’s machinations.”

Luo Binghe was still wounded by the memory from their previous life of Shizun’s corpse lying on that bed in Hua Huan Palace. He didn’t know what he would do if he had to bear the heartbreak of losing his lover again. So Luo Binghe was not going to let Shen Yuan out of his sight or his protection.

With a bright smile, Shen Yuan said, “First Prince doesn’t need to worry about this servant. Qingqi-shifu herself said this servant’s cultivation is progressing well. She said this servant’s golden core is already at the same level as most junior officials in the outer palace. This servant would be able to protect himself from any kraits or cobras that nest near the lakes and rivers of the Imperial Gardens. Though to be honest, this servant is surprised the gardeners haven’t removed their nests from the area. Kraits and cobras are extremely poisonous.”

Luo Binghe studied his lover with surprise. He forgot sometimes how guileless and naïve his young Shizun was about the ways of the world.

With a sly grin, Luo Binghe teased, “I’m less worried by the kraits and cobras and more by the officials and courtesans of the outer palace. There’s antidote on hand for a cobra or krait venom, but no cure the poisonous words or deeds of an unscrupulous imperial official.”

“Oh,” said the young omega as his cheeks flushed adorably in embarrassment. “First Prince was speaking of metaphorical snakes, not literal snakes. Though this servant is curious about the rumors of actual snakes in the Inner Palace. When this servant worked in the kitchens of the Outer Palace, he heard there were nests of kraits and cobras in the Imperial Gardens of the Inner Palace.”

Luo Binghe nodded. “Divine elves are immune to all poisons, so snakes don’t pose a threat to us. The Emperor and Second Prince admire the animals: Zhuzhi-Lang for their beauty and my father – I can only assume – for the fright they instill in others. So there are several nests of kraits, cobras, and vipers in the Imperial Gardens as well as in the private gardens in the Hall of Scholarly Pursuit.”

The young omega finished his glass of wine and stood up from the bed. Taking Luo Binghe’s empty glass from his hands as well, he placed them on the small table on the other side of the room. Luo Binghe admired his young lover’s beautiful form as he crossed the room, clothed in nothing but moonlight.

Shen Yuan slid back under the silks and furs. Luo Binghe pulled the young omega back into his chest so he could fall asleep spooning his lover. Shizun’s eyes fluttered and he settled deeper into the pillow. “Mhm, I’m tired,” Shen Yuan muttered. “Dual cultivation practice takes a lot out of me.”

“While you’re still learning you’re not as efficient at sending qi. It’ll deplete your reserves and tire you out.” Luo Binghe murmured as pressed a kiss to the back of the young omega’s shoulder.

xxx

 

The candle in his office burned low as Luo Binghe studied the words on the page. He’d read and reread his transcribed version of Shen Yuan’s letter so many times to his older brother that he’d memorized it by now. Glancing into the flickering flames of the candle throwing light over the page, he leaned back in his chair. Rolling up the page, he put the edge of it into the flame and watched it catch.

He placed the burning letter into the small porcelain cup at his elbow that had the last dregs of tea. Closing his eyes, he sighed. He didn’t want to involve anyone else with this business of his with Shen Yuan. If anyone else learned that Shen Yuan was Yan Longwei’s bastard son it could put his bed servant in great danger.

But he couldn’t make heads or tails of this coded message!

Liu Mingyan was good with these sort of things. His cousin Zhuzhi-Lang was even better. Maybe he could ask one of them. Liu Mingyan was obviously the better choice because she was loyal to Luo Binghe. Luo Binghe had been able to piece together parts of the code, but he couldn’t make sense of what they meant when all of the pieces were put together.

 

 

 

18th December

Gege-

Things are going well for me here in the Imperial City. I’m still working at the shop for the sweet elderly couple. They send their regards, Gege. Their shop’s sign broke last month – I don’t know if you remember it, but it has that elaborate red dragon that’s painted in such a way that it looks like it’s about to leap off the sign – so I got a chance to work with one of the carpenters in the city fix it.

A sweet elderly couple own a shop with a red dragon sign that broke.

The dragon was code for the Empire – the red dragon was the symbol of the Empire and the Imperial Dynasty. Luo Binghe had seen that code used numerous times in other coded messages. But who could be the eldery couple and the carpenter? He’d never encountered those used with the dragon before. Maybe the elderly couple represents his father Emperor Tianlang-Jun? They send their regards. Maybe that means that the Emperor is well?

The red dragon sign broke and the carpenter fixed it.

Who is the carpenter? Why did the red dragon sign break?

The red dragon sign was code for Empire itself. The sign breaking would then represent a threat to the Empire. The sign broke last month. Last month – that would be code for a specific period or time or simply a reference to the most recent event. There hadn’t been any threats to the Empire in years. The last one was the War Against the Kingdom of the Five Sects. Maybe the broken sign represents that?

Would that make Luo Binghe the carpenter? Who are the other carpenters in the city? Are they his other generals? But not all of them actually live in the Imperial City. Maybe the other divine elves? The other carpenter could be Zhuzhi-Lang. He lives in the Imperial City. Shen Yuan worked with one of the carpenters. Maybe that was a code for the fact that Shen Yuan is now Luo Binghe’s servant? It would make more sense for the message to be that Shen Yuan is Luo Binghe’s bed servant, but he couldn’t find any coded message to that effect, just that Shen Yuan was serving Luo Binghe in the general sense.

 

 

 

You don’t need to worry, Gege. I’ve been diligent about taking my medicine.

In Yan Julong’s letter, he’d reminded Shen Yuan to take his medicine. Luo Binghe had assumed that was a subtle reminder about the male omega’s suppressants. It was dangerous for an omega in the Imperial City. The omega trafficking rings in the city had grown more daring in recent years. So it made sense for Yan Julong to be worried about his young brother and remind him to conceal his omega identity.

I’ve been diligent about taking my medicine. That’s what Shen Yuan said in his letter. But Shen Yuan had been off suppressants and scent cancelling soaps for the past month. Luo Binghe had taken him off them after young Shizun became his bed servant because he was so delicious with his scent and slick unsuppressed.

So the medicine likely wasn’t code for suppressants after all. So what could it mean?

 

 

 

I’m pleased to hear that your work is progressing, though I’m sure it must be frustrating that it’s taking longer than you hoped. When do you expect that we’ll be able to see each other again?

Please stay safe in the Northern Provinces.

-Didi

The last part was fairly cut and dry. Shen Yuan wanted to know when he and his older brother would be able to see each other again. The Northern Provinces were the Northern Provinces. Shen Yuan had said under his alpha thrall that his older brother was in the Northern Provinces and Yue Qingyuan had corroborated the fact.

 

xxx

As soon as Liu Mingyan put the idea of taking Shizun to get his own spiritual sword into his head, Luo Binghe couldn’t put it down. The moment Shizun touched the metal of his reforged Xiu Ya he would remember their previous life together.

One afternoon as he stared down at his young Shizun sprawled back like a meal on the heavy wooden table in his quarters with one arm resting over his flushed face as Luo Binghe’s seed dribbled out between his thighs, Luo Binghe decided to introduce the topic.

“You’re a talented cultivator, my love. How would you like a spiritual sword of your very own? There’s a well-known sword maker, Wei Qingwei, who lives on Wan Jian Peak in the Tian Gong Mountain Range. He protects the vast sword spirit caves in the area. Once a cultivator bonds with one of the sword spirits in the cave, Wei Qingqwei will forge a sword imbues with that sword spirit. There’s an elegant and powerful sword spirit named Xiu Ya in the sword cave that I believe you may have an affinity with.”

Young Shizun moved his arm away from his flushed face. He sat up partway to stare up at Luo Binghe with wonder. Shizun’s beautiful naked body was as distractingly beautiful as always. “Does First Prince think this servant’s cultivation is at a high enough level to bond with one of the sword spirits in Wan Jian Peak?”

Luo Binghe nodded, resting his hands on the table next to young Shizun’s and leaning forward to give him a kiss. Binghe could feel himself hardening again at the sight of his beautiful lover. “Qi Qingqi says you’re just about at the mid-core stage. It’s at the mid-core stage of golden core development that a cultivator can safely bond with a sword spirit.”

Young Shizun stared up at him with wonder. “This servant doesn’t deserve half of the gifts his Master has given him.”

Luo Binghe scented his lover again, reapplying his strong alpha scent to his adorable young Shizun. Lifting up Shen Yuan’s wrist, Binghe took a deep breath of the omega’s soothing scent before painting his lover’s wonderful scent of bamboo and orchids onto his own chest and over his heart.

“You smell a little different, my love,” Luo Binghe noted, becoming fully erect at the cloying sweetness of his lover’s scent. “Did you not realize you were in pre-heat?”

Shizun looked at him in confusion. “Pre-heat?” he asked. “No, I can’t be in pre-heat.”

Luo Binghe raised an eyebrow. “You came off your suppressants last month. Although it’s unlikely you’d go into heat now, it is possible. We can have the palace physician Mu Qingfang confirm it.”

Shizun shook his head adamantly. “This servant went into heat during the first week he was First Prince’s bed servant from the heat elixirs First Prince gave him. This servant shouldn’t be due for a heat for at least another five months!”

Luo Binghe shook his head. “Those were five separate pseudo-heats. Pseudo-heats shouldn’t have an effect on your estrous cycle. But we can confirm that with Mu Qingfang”

Young Shizun sat up and slid of the table. He ducked under Luo Binghe’s arm and stumbled over to pick up his inner robe. As he dressed himself, he looked over at Luo Binghe with horror. “Did First Prince give this servant a heat expressor? Is that why First Prince didn’t let this servant take suppressants? Because his master wanted to rut this servant through a real heat?”

Luo Binghe frowned over at his lover as young Shizun crouched down to pick up his outer robe before wrapping it around himself. He never took his eyes off Luo Binghe. Shen Yuan was like he was a deer, slowly backing away and refusing to turn his gaze away from the predator stalking him. Afraid that if he looked away or moved too quickly Luo Binghe would pounce.

Luo Binghe kept his face carefully blank, taking a step towards his lover. “Suppressants decrease your body’s natural production of slick and scent. That would have made sex less enjoyable for both of us. You’re not on suppressants so your heat should arrive naturally in five months. What need would there be for me to give you a heat expressor?”

Shen Yuan’s hands twisted like he wished his fan were in them. Luo Binghe slowly pulled him into his arms. Young Shizun went rigid.

Laying a gentle kiss to his lover’s neck, he said softly, “I’ll take care of you through your heat. You’ll find sharing your heat with me can be very pleasurable.”

“I’m just a plaything to you,” Shizun said against his chest in a low dangerous voice. “I don’t know why it took me so long to see this. I’m not a person to you, I’m a plaything. A person would be able to come and go as he pleased. But a plaything could get broken or stolen if it leaves your Hall of Military Victory. A person would be able to have control over his body and take suppressants if he wanted. But a plaything isn’t as much fun if it takes suppressants.”

Luo Binghe looked at his lover with shock. “My love, that’s not…”

Shizun scoffed, rolling his hips against his. Luo Binghe let out a groan of pleasure as his lover ground against his straining erection. “You can’t tell me that you don’t see me as a plaything when you’re fully erect! All you want from me is sex!”

“A-Yuan— “ he began.

“I wish I never met you! I wish I never came here! Don’t touch me! Leave me alone!”

Chapter Text

Chapter Eight

Shen Yuan looked up at the flock of birds flying overhead. The delicate scent on the breeze of the Garden of the Dragon’s Peak’s bamboo forest helped to soothe his anxiety. His favorite pavilion in the Garden of the Dragon’s Peak was the Mountain-in-View Pavilion. It was perfectly situated mid-way up the rough-hewn mountain on the edge of the bamboo forest overlooking Koi Lake. There was an elegant and secluded bamboo house inside the bamboo forest a leisurely walk away from the Mountain-in-View Pavilion that Shen Yuan also enjoyed. He relished the seclusion of the elegant bamboo house and the bird’s eye view of Mountain-in-View Pavilion.

After Shen Yuan’d asked his lover to leave, the Prince couldn’t wait to get away.

Shen Yuan had been so frightened by his pre-heat that he’d said things he shouldn’t have. He knew he’d upset his lover, but he didn’t know how angry the Prince was because he’d left his private chambers with an unreadable expression.

He felt a chill run down his spine.

What would happen when the Prince returned? Would Shen Yuan be punished?

It was the afternoon of the Prince’s sparring session with his five generals. Shen Yuan had avoided it for the past month with one excuse or another. His usual method involved feigning sleep. This week they planned to attend it together as was always the intention. Shen Yuan had been thinking of a new excuse – though an early heat was his last choice as a method to avoid the training session!

Did the Prince regret giving him a heat expressor?

Shen Yuan now knew why the Prince took away his suppressants. The Prince’s stamina far exceeded Shen Yuan’s in bed. Considering how insatiable the Prince’s libido was, it was hardly a surprise the Prince had arranged for Shen Yuan to go into heat. It was perhaps the only way for Shen Yuan to keep up with the Prince’s libido.

He shivered, channeling qi through his fan to warm the air around his face. He twirled his fan in his hands as he contemplated his situation. Did the Prince intend to force Shen Yuan into expressed heats once a month so he could better take his pleasure? Shen Yuan didn’t think he could endure being subjected to that.

It had been a long time since he’d last had a heat. He’d presented earlier than expected, so he hadn’t been taking the suppressants Jiu-xiong planned to start him on to suppress his heat. It had been four years ago. It had been an uncontrolled heat, so his memories were a strange blur of sights, sounds, and sensations.

It had been frightening being holed up in a windowless room in the small apartment they shared in the Imperial Provinces. Shen Jiu stood guard in the front room of the apartment to protect him. The scent of a young omega in heat drew the attention of alphas. If it wasn’t for his brother, he didn’t know what would have happened.

It was agonizing and unsatisfying. He was only twelve years old at the time, so he didn’t really know why it hurt so much. He remembered being hungry. His brother couldn’t leave the front room of the apartment and leave him unguarded, so he wasn’t able to get any food after their meager supplies dwindled down to nothing. Jiu-xiong used inedia to sustain himself, but Shen Yuan couldn’t perform inedia even if he wasn’t heat mad and went hungry.

They needed to leave that particular town in the Imperial Provinces shortly after Shen Yuan’s heat and Jiu-xiong had taken on a new identity as he did every time they moved cities. His older brother assured him that it wasn’t Shen Yuan’s fault, but with the timing of it, Shen Yuan knew better.

At least that particular time they’d enough notice to pack up their meager belongings before moving to a city a new city in the Imperial Provinces that was a three-day journey away. The last two times that they moved within the Northern Provinces had been so sudden that they hadn’t been able to bring anything with them. The first time was when they were forced by the hard-eyed soldiers with red flames along their wrists. The second time was when they fled Never Night City.

Shen Yuan knew his time as the First Prince’s bed servant was over. Shen Yuan had already refused him once. Why would the Prince want an unwilling bed servant?

A voice in the back of his mind worried that he wouldn’t be removed from his position as the First Prince’s bed servant at all. The Prince didn’t see him as a person. Shen Yuan was nothing more than a sexual object for First Prince to slate his lust. Perhaps the First Prince was excited by the thought of taking Shen Yuan against will and having complete control over Shen Yuan.

After all, First Prince had control not only over Shen Yuan’s reproductive system, but also over what he wore, what he ate, and where he went. The First Prince likely wouldn’t think anything of forcing Shen Yuan into a heat once a month and then raping him through it.

But that was simply too frightening to contemplate.

Would the First Prince exile him from his bed before or after his heat? Would First Prince take his pleasure from Shen Yuan one last time or would he leave Shen Yuan at the mercy of the imperial city during his heat?

That seemed almost too cruel, but First Prince Luo Binghe could be cruel and vengeful against those who wronged him. Shen Yuan’s father learned that lesson the hard way.

Shen Yuan knew he’d lose the Prince’s favor before too long. When that time came, he was more or less prepared to leave the Prince’s service when his lover lost interest. He would get to walk away from the Imperial Palace with one silver sycee in his pocket. With such a windfall he would be able to live like a young nobleman. Not only that he wouldn’t have to worrying about whether his actions might endanger his brother’s mission or whether his brother would ever find out that he’d disobeyed him by going to the Imperial Palace.

It would be disappointing to leave behind the luxurious lifestyle he enjoyed as the Prince’s bed servant – though it would be good to do so before he became too accustomed to it. He thought that he would be able to walk away from the Palace with fond memories of his time as the Prince’s bed servant and without any regrets. But feelings for the Prince had taken root in his heart despite his best efforts. He’d tried to pluck out his feelings before they grew roots, but several had dug deep.

He’d never imagined that it’d be like this.  

Shen Yuan couldn’t leave the palace if he was in heat. It was too dangerous for an omega to be alone and vulnerable during an uncontrolled heat. He’d be raped by any lusty alpha on the street and he would beg for it.

His fan trembled in his hands.

Now that he was on the verge of heat all of his emotions were amplified. The thought of being tossed aside by his alpha on the cusp of his heat was devastating and frightening. His mind was in turmoil. His lucid mind wanted him to run away before it was too late, while his omega urges wanted him to beg his alpha for forgiveness and do whatever it took to ensure his place by his lover’s side.

Shen Yuan watched curiously as a man carrying a medical case walked across the lower western portico and into the main floor of the Prince’s Residence. Shen Yuan wondered what the man’s business could be while the Prince himself was just on the other side of the wall in the southern wing of the Hall of Military Victory training with his generals.

By the color of his robes and the medical case he carried, Shen Yuan assumed that the man was likely the Imperial Physician, Mu Qingfang. With a sigh, Shen Yuan shut his fan and unfolded himself from his perch along the stonewall of Mountain-in-View Pavilion. He walked down the roughhewn steps of the Dragon’s Peak, through Pavilion Fronting-the-Water, and up the spiraling staircase towards the upper western portico.

He made it to the sliding rice paper door into the Prince’s personal chambers just as it opened before him. He found himself face to face with who he assumed was the Imperial Physician. Shen Yuan flicked open his fan, considering the other man over the folds of silk.

“I’m Mu Qingfang, the imperial physician,” the man introduced himself. “First Prince Luo Binghe asked me to examine you, Shen Yuan. It seems you’re going into an early heat?”

Shen Yuan narrowed his eyes at the imperial physician. “That’s right. This servant would ask the Imperial Physician to accompany him into the Garden to discuss it.”

Shen Yuan led him Pavilion Fronting-the-Water and closed the red lacquered wooden door behind them. He took the woolen blankets and soft furs off a pair of the chairs. Shen Yuan sat down, unfolding a blanket to rest across his lap. He handed another to the imperial physician as the man sat down next to him.

Imperial Physician Mu Qingfang took the blanket with a grateful nod and arranged it in his lap. “I don’t use my qi to keep myself warm like other cultivators do in the colder months. I preserve my qi in case I’m called to perform a medical procedure.”

The physician opened his wooden medical case up over his lap and looked through it. Taking out a piece of treated paper, he handed to Shen Yuan. The imperial physician explained, “I’m a beta so my sense of smell isn’t as powerful as an alpha or omega’s. First Prince Luo Binghe is a divine elven alpha so he is very attuned to scents. If you both smell a change in your omega scent that you believe indicates the start of pre-heat, you’re likely correct. This paper is treated to indicate the stage of an omega’s heat. You need to rub it against your scent glands. Just a small dab of the oil that’s secreted is enough.”

Shen Yuan looked at the imperial physician with raised eyebrows as he closed his fan and tucked it into his sash. Taking a deep breath, he rubbed the heat paper against his wrists. He watched as five black lines crossed the paper, creating twelve white boxes in four rows and three columns. The lines bled into the paper turning it a soft gray. Then the black lines started to drip down the twelve gray boxes until one whole column was black. Then it dripped down to fill the second column. Only the last column was still gray.

Mu Qingfang nodded. “The gray color on the paper means that you’re in pre-heat. The paper would remain white if you weren’t in estrous. The black ink has filled eight boxes, which means your full heat is four hours away – one hour for each of the remaining gray boxes. The eight black boxes also indicate that your pre-heat started eight hours ago. If the whole paper was black, you would be in full heat. When you reach post-heat, the color of the heat paper will fade to white.

“At that time you can use the heat paper to test if you’re pregnant. The heat paper reacts to the hormones in the oils from your scent glands, so it will require a new sample for this test. If the omega is pregnant, the heat paper will turn blue for an alpha, red for an omega, or yellow for a beta. Variations of those colors represent genders or multiples. So for example if you were pregnant with an alpha and an omega, the heat paper would turn purple.”

Shen Yuan stared down at the paper feeling overwhelmed and faint. It didn’t tell him anything new besides the fact his full heat would strike in a couple hours. That made time of the essence. “Can this servant take a suppressant to stop the heat? I thought that they were supposed to work during pre-heat too.”

The physician shook his head and pointed to the paper. “If only four of the boxes were black, you would be in an early enough stage of pre-heat that a suppressant would suppress your estrous cycle. But as soon as that black color stains the second column of the paper, suppressants don’t have any effect in suppressing an omega’s estrous cycle.”

Looking through his medical case, the imperial physician took out a small packet of gray pills. He put one in Shen Yuan’s hand. Then he poured out a cup of water from his canteen and handed it to him. “This pill will make your heat a controlled heat, so that you’ll maintain your awareness of what’s going on. First Prince asked me to provide you with one. You’ll still be more lustful than you’ve ever been in your life, but you’ll maintain your higher brain functions.”

Shen Yuan put the pill on his tongue and swallowed it with the water. “Thank you. This servant knows how expensive controlled heat pills can be.” He looked at the piece of gray paper. “Is heat paper one use only? Will it work again if this servant rubs it on his scent glands?”

Mu Qingfang nodded. “It will, yes, but I must caution you that it will become less reliable if you apply the oil from your scent glands to it multiple times. The heat paper won’t provide as accurate a reading of the stage of an omega’s heat if there are multiples samples from the omega during different stages of estrous. I have more if you’d like a fresh one. How many would you like?”

“Oh, that would be better,” Shen Yuan nodded. “Two or three, please.”

Shen Yuan accepted three pieces of paper from the Imperial Physician and put them in his lap.

Mu Qingfang explained, “The typical way that an omega uses heat paper is to take a first sample during pre-heat to determine when the first wave of full heat will hit and then take a second sample after post-heat to see if they conceived.”

Shen Yuan didn’t want to get pregnant. He had no interest in having a child. This talk of heat and conception put to mind the conversation he and the Prince had when he first become First Prince’s bed servant. Shen Yuan asked curiously, “First Prince told this servant that his seed is sterile unless he calls upon his divine elven heritage. Is that true?”

Mu Qingfang nodded “Yes, it’s true. Divine alpha or omega elves have control over their reproduction. So the Prince’s sperm will be sterile unless he specifically intends otherwise. I’ve learned a great deal about divine elven biology since becoming the imperial physician.”

Shen Yuan raised an eyebrow. “This servant had never heard of such a thing before. He thought perhaps it was a way for the imperial majesties to avoid acknowledging illegitimate children.”

The physician chuckled. “You’re not the first to think so. Several have tried to test it, thinking they were calling the Prince’s bluff. I’ve lost count of the number of beta woman and omegas that have tried to pass off their children as the Prince’s, but they always fail a paternity test. Paternity tests for divine elves have a 100% accuracy rate. The power of their bloodline is so absolute it cannot be faked.”

Shen Yuan crossed his arms over his chest, narrowing his eyes at the Imperial Physician. “Forgive this servant’s impertinence, but surely some of the more determined mothers wouldn’t accept the results of a paternity test performed by the Imperial Physician and would ask to have their own physician perform the test.”

Mu Qingfang closed his medical case. “You’re very perceptive, Shen Yuan. Several enterprising and ambitious mothers have done just that. As you might imagine, the paternity results from the test I performed and the test their physician performed did not agree. When that’s the case we use an alternate test after the child is born.”

“What sort of test is that?”

“It’s what Emperor Tianlang-Jun calls the cobra test.”

Shen Yuan ran his fingers along the remaining four gray boxes on his heat paper, wondering, “The cobra test?”

The physician’s tone was carefully bland as he explained, “Just as it sounds. If the mother persisted he or she could elect to test the child’s paternity using the cobra test. The baby would be put in a crib with three snakes from the Emperor’s garden – either three cobras or a combination of a cobra, krait, and viper. The selection depended on the Emperor’s mood. If the baby survived the venom from all three snakes than the Imperial Majesties would legitimize the child. Divine elves are immune to poison, so a divine elven baby would be unaffected by snake venom.”

Shen Yuan looked at the imperial physician with horror, “This servant can’t imagine any child, divine elven heritage or not, surviving the venom of three snakes.”

The Imperial Physician took a deep breath. “The cobra test has only been performed six times. Five of the babies died instantly from the first snakebite. Only one survived all three bites. That babe was First Prince Luo Binghe.”

Shen Yuan gaped at him. “This servant was unaware First Prince Luo Binghe’s legitimacy was tested in such a way.”

The Imperial Physician lowered his voice as he explained, “The Master of Hua Huan Palace didn’t take kindly to Lady Su Xiyun falling in love with Emperor Tianlang-Jun and dissolving their engagement. So he kept Lady Su Xiyun prisoner in Hua Huan Palace and tried to force her to marry him. She refused. When he realized that she was pregnant by Emperor Tianlang-Jun, he tried to force her to end that pregnancy. She refused.

“The Master of Hua Huan Palace forged letters to Emperor Tianlang-Jun from her filled with lies about how she didn’t love him, had betrayed his secrets to his enemies, and aborted their baby. The Emperor believed the lies and was heartbroken. When Emperor Tianlang-Jun heard the news that she’d died in childbirth, he was devastated. He still loved Lady Su Xiyun.

“The Emperor and Su Xiyun had conceived an alpha son nine months before Su Xiyun had died in childbirth, so the Emperor went to Hua Huan Palace to prove Su Xiyun’s baby was his and not that of the Master of the Hua Huan Palace as the other man claimed. The Master of Hua Huan Palace and Emperor Tianlang-Jun each had a physician perform a paternity test on the First Prince Luo Binghe, but the tests disagreed. The physician of Hua Huan Palace had manipulated his test so that the results would be in his master’s favor.

“Emperor Tianlang-Jun knew that First Prince Luo Binghe was his son, so he proposed a new test, the cobra test. The Master of Hua Huan Palace was a cunning and cruel man. However, he misread the situation and the Emperor’s intentions. He thought Emperor Tianlang-Jun proposed the test so that he could kill the child of the woman who’d broken his heart. The Master of Hua Huan Palace though the legends of divine elves immunity to poison were simply that – legends. So he asked the Emperor to prove that the cobra venom wouldn’t harm the baby by having the snakes bite the Emperor. The Emperor agree. The snakes bite the Emperor three times and then First Prince Luo Binghe three times. Neither were harmed.

“The Master of the Hua Huan Palace though this cobra test was an elaborate deception. He believed now that the venom had been sucked out of the snakes so that the baby would be unharmed. So he grabbed the snakes to prove his point. The Master of the Hua Huan Palace was bitten three times. He died from the venom in seconds. That’s the story of the legitimization of First Prince Luo Binghe.”  

Shen Yuan gaped at the Imperial Physician. “This servant hadn’t heard that story before. What an amazing tale! Sometimes this servant forgets how powerful and ruthless the First Prince and Emperor can be.”

The physician closed his medical case. “If you wish to survive in the Imperial Palace, Shen Yuan, that’s something you should be careful never to forget. As a physician, I’m well acquainted with the strengths and weaknesses of the body. The power and strength of a divine elf is like nothing I’ve ever encountered before. It inspires awe: both reverence and fear.”

Shen Yuan nodded wide-eyed at the Imperial Physician. Mu Qingfang continued, “The Prince told me you went off your suppressants last month. And you’re entering heat already?”

Shen Yuan nodded. “Does Imperial Physician know why it could have happened so quickly?”

Mu Qingfang scratched his chin. “It’s very rare for this to happen without a heat expressor. That’s the thing that most commonly causes early heats. We’ve already verified with the heat paper if you’re entering a natural or an expressed heat. With natural heat, the twelve boxes are in a rectangle. With an expressed heat, pre-heat is shorter so there are six hours represented as a circle.”

Shen Yuan took out the fan from his sash and flicked it open. He wondered, “So what are some of the rare things that could cause an early heat?”

Mu Qingfang scratched his chin. “In this case there are two rare phenomenon that could cause an omega to go into an early heat. The first is when an alpha and omega couple both have a very strong desire for the omega to become pregnant. Their pheromones will react together if they have nearly perfect biological and sexual compatibility and cause the omega in the couple to go into an early heat. This is extremely rare.”

Yeah, that wasn’t possible. Shen Yuan didn’t want a child. He was an omega, but he was also a young man. He didn’t want to carry a child and be the mother of some mewling infant. He wanted to be a scholar or a cultivator. He took great joy and pleasure in being First Prince’s lover, but he didn’t want to live his whole life on his back and be an alpha’s breeding stock.

Mu Qingfang continued. “The second has to do with an omega’s heat gland. Typically, an omega’s heat gland is stimulated at most a couple times a week. When an omega is knotted, the heat gland one time. First Prince Luo Binghe said your heat gland is stimulated several times when you’re knotted. I know this seems like an impertinent question, but can you estimate for me how many times your heat gland is stimulated during a single knotting?”

Shen Yuan blushed crimson, hiding his face behind the fan. “Um, a lot?”

Mu Qingfang raised an eyebrow. “If you had to estimate a number?”

Shen Yuan bit his bottom lip. He didn’t really keep count. The Prince’s knot tied them together for about thirty minutes. In that time, it always felt like his heat gland was being stimulated constantly. Sometimes it was a toe-curling, earth shattering orgasm and sometimes it was a quieter pleasure that crested like a gentle wave. Either way, it was pure estacy.

Thirty minutes was a long time to be knotted together, so Shen Yuan’s heat gland was probably stimulated at least thirty times each time the Prince knotted him. So he estimated. “Maybe fifty times?”

Mu Qingfang nodded, with his expression making no indication if that was an unusual number. “And the number of times you’re knotted on an average day?”

Shen Yuan pondered the question. It varied from one day to the next. But they did fall into a general routine.

First Prince generally woke up around five in the morning. Most mornings, Shen Yuan would stir awake as the Prince was getting out of bed. If Shen Yuan was awake, the Prince would want to make love to him and knot him before heading off for his early morning training. After that early morning fuck, Shen Yuan would fall back asleep until the Prince returned several hours later to change out of his training robes. They would then have a mid morning sex romp where the Prince would knot him again.

Then the Prince would head off to meetings with various generals and officials and other very important people for the rest of the day. He would return to his personal chambers around high noon for lunch and sex and refused to go to the rest of his meetings for the day until he gotten to knot Shen Yuan again.

In the evenings after dinner, they would make love for the rest of the night. The Prince typically knotted him about five times in the evening. So on a typical day, the Prince knotted him eight times. If the Prince skipped some of his meetings to linger in bed with Shen Yuan, that number could increase to as high as fifteen or sixteen. Though the day after Shen Yuan had been knotted fifteen times, he needed to spend the day in bed or in a warm bath with ointment soothing his overworked cunt.

“On an average day, this servant would say about eight times.”

Mu Qingfang blinked. “So that means on an average day your heat gland is being stimulated about four hundred times.”

“Is that a lot?” Shen Yuan wondered as he blushed behind his fan.

Mu Qingyan nodded once, keeping his expression neutral. “On an average day, your heat gland is getting the same amount of stimulation that a very sexually active omega would get over the course of four to five months. That amount of stimulation on a consistent basis caused your body to go into an early heat.”

“Wow,” Shen Yuan gasped to himself.

He hadn’t realized what a frankly ridiculous amount of sex he was having. He hoped that he didn’t develop a sex addiction, or a knotting addiction after being First Prince Luo Binghe’s bed servant.

Mu Qingfang continued, “After your heat, I recommend taking suppressants again. If you plan to continue being this sexually active, you’ll likely go into a heat once every four weeks or maybe even more often rather than once every six months. I’ll discuss it with the First Prince as soon as your heat is over. There are very many varieties of suppressants, some more rare and expensive than others, but I know of several that should work very well in your particular case.”

Shen Yuan looked at the physician over the folds of his fan. “This servant would rather discuss it with the Imperial Physician privately.”

The imperial physician raised an eyebrow. He replied uneasily, “I’m afraid that won’t be possible. As the bed servant of First Prince Luo Binghe, he has final say in anything that concerns your sexual health and fertility.”

Shen Yuan gripped his fan tightly in one hand, looking away from the imperial physician. He tried to keep his tone light as he replied, “Yes, Imperial Physician. This servant will speak with the First Prince.”

The imperial physician continued, “When was your previous estrous cycle?”

Shen Yuan shrugged. “This servant only had one heat cycle before when he was twelve. This servant don’t really remember how long it took. It felt like a lifetime.”

Mu Qingfang nodded sympathetically. “Your first heat? Unexpected? Uncontrolled? Unaided?” Shen Yuan nodded at all three. The physician continued, “A controlled and aided heat with a sexual partner you trust is very different from an uncontrolled and unaided heat. I can’t speak from personal experience, but I have several omega couples as patients. It’s not uncommon for them to actually schedule heat vacations. For these couples, heats are something that they look forward to for months even if they aren’t trying to conceive. Heats are very pleasurable for both the omega and their partner.”

Shen Yuan shook his head in wonder. “This servant never heard of such a thing.”

The physician nodded. “It’s primarily nobles that have extravagant heat vacations, but commoners do also. Omegas are very rare in the population so it’s not a well-known fact.”

“Thank you, Imperial Physician Mu,” he said looking down at the gray heat paper and following the palace physician inside. “Does the imperial physician have any scent cancelling soaps he could provide for this servant’s use?”

“Yes, of course.”

xxx

Shen Yuan sat in First Prince Luo Binghe’s chambers waiting for him to return. It was a chilly day in mid-December, but he’d opened the windows and doors to try to remove the suffocating and cloying scent of his pre-heat from the room. He’d taken a bath and washed himself with scent cancelling soap that he received from the physician, which lessened the scent of his pre-heat.

After the pill took effect and he’d aired out the room and taken a bath, he felt a lot calmer and more composed. He knew what was happening to him and why it had happened. He knew that he would have control over himself after he went into heat.

For the past month, he’d decided that he would wait until the Prince lost interest in having him as a bed servant. When that happened, Shen Yuan would leave the Imperial Palace. He’d enjoyed such a luxurious and easy lifestyle as the Prince’s bed servant, he was keen to milk it for all it was worth.

Now things had changed. The scales had fallen from his eyes. The luxurious and easy lifestyle as the Prince’s bed servant was a gilded cage. He had been more than happy – exultant even -- to roost in it for a time. Now he wanted to be free.

He was ready to leave the Imperial Palace.

He looked at the small rucksack in the corner. He’d placed two spare inner robes inside as well as one of the fine outer robes. It was a soft green and blue making him think of the Garden of the Dragon’s Peak. It looked the least expensive of the numerous robes that the Prince had bought him. He had two qiankun pouches: one had the one silver sycee he received for his chrysanthemum, and the other had the scent cancelling soap.

Now that he’d taken a bath and used the scent cancelling soap, he could leave the palace and go to his apartment in the city. He looked down at the heat paper on the bed at the two remaining gray boxes. The third box would be completely black any minute now. There was only a sliver of gray remaining in the third box. It always took time to get through the checkpoints of the Imperial Palace. The apartment was south of the Imperial Palace.

Would it be faster and safer to go through the less crowded checkpoint at the Northern Gate of Divine Might that separated the Inner Court of the Imperial Palace from the Imperial City and then make his way through the imperial city? Or would it be faster and safer to go through the checkpoints at the Southern Gate of Divine Might that separated the Inner and Outer Courts and then through the Southern Glorious Gate that separated the Outer Court from the Imperial City?

More checkpoints would add more time and he could run into the risk of going into heat while he was in the Outer Court or even worse while in the Imperial City. Though if he went through the Northern Glorious Gate, he would have to spend nearly all his journey in the Imperial City itself. For an omega in the throes of pre-heat that could be extremely dangerous.

With a sigh, he looked down at his identification papers glumly. He frowned down at the red stamp under the First Prince’s seal that had been added when he became First Prince’s bed servant.

RESTRICTED ACCESS  

Shen Yuan wiped away the sweat from his forehead. He should have paid closer attention when the housekeeper added that stamp to his zhaun under the First Prince’s seal. The elderly beta male elf explained that bed servants had restricted access in the imperial palace for their own protection.

Shen Yuan needed to leave right now if he didn’t want to be kidnapped and raped through his heat. Two gray boxes, that was the deadline that he’d set. It would be too dangerous to leave after the third box turned completely black. He needed to leave right now, but the Prince still hadn’t returned.

Shen Yuan curled up into a ball.

The third box bled black. He was out of time.

He wished he’d never come to the Imperial Palace.

xxx

First Prince Luo Binghe’s training spars with his generals commonly took several hours. Shen Yuan sighed and tossed his rucksack under a table on the other side of the room as the last gray box of the paper bled black. He’d unpacked his rucksack as soon as the third box on his heat paper bled black. He’d then spent the next two hours pacing the room. He would have to wait until after his heat was over before he could leave the Imperial Palace.

He’d even unfolded a second piece of heat paper from the extra pieces that Mu Qingfang had provided just to be sure, but it looked the same as the first. He couldn’t deny it.

His heat had started.

The first hour of his heat passed without event. He was lucid enough to lie back on First Prince’s bed and read a book after the first heat wave subsided. He stripped off his outer robe and folded it on the chair before lying back down on the bed that still smelled like his alpha lover. His white inner robes gaped open as he pumped his omega cocklet to orgasm. Then he went back to his book while he waited for the next wave to hit. The first heat wave was mild, but they would only get more intense. He felt feverish and turned on, though not so far gone yet that he couldn’t focus on the book of Li Bai’s poetry.

Shen Yuan looked up as the door opened and First Prince stepped into his chambers. Sitting up on his elbows where he lay in the middle of the bed, Shen Yuan took in the sight of First Prince dressed in his training robes with a sword at his waist. His heart pounded in his chest. He felt feverish with want. He wanted to feel the Prince’s alpha cock stretching him and filling the deep emptiness inside him. He wanted to be stuffed with his lover’s knot and seed.

First Prince Luo Binghe’s thick hair was tied in a high ponytail, with the dark waves flowing over one shoulder. He didn’t wear armor for training, choosing instead to wearing training robes that allowed for better ease of movement. The robes were tied tightly around his trim waist, but the collar was opened wide. It afforded Shen Yuan’s ravenous eyes a view of the First Prince’s well-built chest. The Prince had abandoned his outer robes, allowing Shen Yuan to fully appreciate the sight of his lover’s muscular thighs and immense cock in the close fitting pants.

Untying his sword from the belt, the First Prince rested his sword on the hook by the door. First Prince strode over to Shen Yuan lying in bed. As the Prince took off his bracers and pulled off his training robes, he observed, “My generals were sorry they didn’t have a chance to meet you this week, but they understood after I explained the situation. Mu Qingfang told me his theory about what caused your early heat.”

Shen Yuan looked away. Maybe if he didn’t see First Prince Luo Binghe, Shen Yuan wouldn’t feel so overwhelmed with lust for his lover. His heat was controlled, so why did he feel so powerless in the wake of his desire for the Prince?

The bed creaked as the Prince sat on the edge of it. Shen Yuan closed his eyes and looked away. “Let me rut you through your heat. I want to ensure that your heat is an enjoyable experience. Allow me a chance to show how much you mean to me.” The Prince pressed a hand to Shen Yuan’s belly. “I love you, Shen Yuan. I want to have a child with you, a physical manifestation of our love for each other.”

Shen Yuan stared dumbly at him, completely taken aback by his words. His blood pounded in his head; he was having trouble thinking straight. The Prince’s words made no sense. “You want to have a child with me?”

The Prince nuzzled his neck and caressed his hands down Shen Yuan’s sides. “You’re too lowborn to be anything other than my bed servant, but that doesn’t mean I won’t love and support you. Any children you bear me I will legitimize. Their divine elven blood will be too potent to be denied.”

Shen Yuan recoiled as his lover pressed a kiss to the corner of his lips. Shen Yuan didn’t want to have a child and he knew that the Prince didn’t want to either. “Stop, that isn’t funny,” Shen Yuan gasped. “Conceiving a child isn’t something to joke about during an omega’s heat.”

While the Prince might enjoy role-playing an impregnation fantasy, Shen Yuan didn’t think his heat-mad body and mind would be able to distinguish fantasy from reality. The press of the First Prince’s hand low on his abdomen and the seductive words in his ear were dangerous. It caused unrest between his mind lucid only from the effect of the heat controller and his wild omega urges crowing in victory at his alpha’s words.

While it was true that the Prince had control over his fertility and obviously wouldn’t try to get him pregnant, this was not something he wanted to risk. The heat controller pills would keep him lucid for only as long as there wasn’t unrest between his conscious mind and his heat-mad omega urges. His alpha trying to engage in a role-playing impregnation fantasy would confuse his heat-mad omega mind and make his heat controller pills less effective.

He’d been through one uncontrolled heat before and it had been terrifying.

The Prince cupped Shen Yuan’s face in his hands gently. “Who said I was joking?” He smiled down at him before claiming his lips, vowing between kisses, “I want you in my life every day for the rest of our days. I want to see you grow heavy with my child again and again. I love you. The fact you fell into an early heat is fate telling us that we should conceive a child together during this heat.”

Shen Yuan broke away from the kiss with a gasp and stared at his lover wide-eyed. “But, I don’t want children. I thought you didn’t either. You can’t joke about this during an omega’s heat. It’ll undo the effectiveness of my heat controller.”

The Prince grinned down at him as he stripped off Shen Yuan’s last piece of clothing. He pressed a kiss to every new inch of Shen Yuan’s skin that was revealed as he stripped off the inner robe still hanging from Shen Yuan’s shoulders. “This is no joke. With you, my love, everything is different. I want everything with you: love and family. You’ll always be first in my heart. Any children you bear me will be Princes and Princesses.”

Shen Yuan’s shook his head. “I don’t want to have a child! Let’s talk about this when I’m not in heat.”

The Prince’s eyes and scent became hypnotic as he gazed down at him with a calculating look in his eyes. “Tell me why you don’t want to have my child, A-Yuan.”

“I’m an omega, but I’m also a man,” he explained honestly. “I dream of one day being a scholar or a cultivator. Just because I’m physically able to conceive doesn’t mean I want to or have to have a child. I don’t want to have your baby. I don’t want to have anyone’s baby. I don’t want children. I’m not even sure I want to be your bed servant anymore. I want to leave the Imperial Palace after my heat is over.”

“Sometimes I forget how young and innocent you are, my love,” the Prince chuckled as he claimed his lips in a heady kiss. Shen Yuan let out a moan at the feeling of the Prince’s very naked and very aroused body pressing him into the bed. “Bearing my child will advantage you in many ways. It’ll increase your influence within the imperial court. You’ll have an easier time achieving your dreams of becoming a scholar or a cultivator if my heir is born from your body. The most renowned scholars and cultivators are in the Imperial Palace, why would you leave if your dream is to become one as well?”

Shen Yuan moaned at the feeling of his alpha’s erect cock hard and hot against his belly. The timing of his second heat wave couldn’t have been any worse. With his mind in turmoil as the second wave of his heat crested, his heat controller failed.

The wild and animalistic urges of his omega mind took over. The next four days would become a strange blur just as they had during his first uncontrolled heat.

Chapter Text

Chapter Nine

Luo Binghe had always found his young Shizun’s unsuppressed scent intoxicating. When his omega lover’s scent of bamboo, orchid, and freshly crushed ink was suffused with the sugary sweet scent of Shen Yuan’s pre-heat, Luo Binghe became incredibly turned on.

Seeing how upset Shen Yuan was at the thought of his heat, Luo Binghe rushed to fetch the Imperial Physician to examine his young lover. He wanted to ensure the young omega was prepared for his heat. Luo Binghe called for his most trusted alpha male manservant to stand outside the locked door of his bedchambers and used his alpha thrall to give strict instructions. He wouldn’t see his lover harmed.

“Every omega reacts different to pre-heat,” Mu Qingfang explained to Luo Binghe when he returned to him after examining Shen Yuan. “Some omegas become aggressive, others anxious, some amorous, and others relaxed and affectionate. These moods are not omega specific; an omega might be anxious during one pre-heat and relaxed during his next pre-heat cycle. The omega’s lover needs to be careful to approach in a way appropriate for the omega's mood.”

Luo Binghe ran a hand through his hair. “Shen Yuan appeared to be very anxious. He asked for me to leave my bedchambers.”

Mu Qingfang nodded, “If the omega is anxious or temperamental during his preheat, this can be exacerbated by the presence of an alpha, even if the alpha is the omega’s mate. This is Shen Yuan’s first heat after he presented so it makes sense that he would react to it with anxiety. He hasn’t had time to prepare for his heat, so I strongly recommend giving him privacy so that he can have the time to become comfortable with the idea before his heat waves start. Your alpha presence is very strong, First Prince, so I recommend waiting until the start of Shen Yuan’s second heat wave before returning to your chambers. Shen Yuan may become anxious and overwhelmed by your presence during his first heat wave.”

He wanted to rush back into his chambers, hold his lover tightly and reassure him everything was going to be fine. “How long will I have to wait?”

“You’ll need to wait four hours through his pre-heat and then another hour after the start of his heat for the second heat wave to crest. When you’re with him for his second heat wave take things slow and let him initiate sex.”

“You gave him the heat controller,” Luo Binghe demanded. “If Shen Yuan’s heat is controlled, why can’t I sit with him during his pre-heat or the start of his full heat?”

Mu Qingfang nodded. “Yes, I gave him a heat controller. First Prince, most omegas have months to prepare for their heats. An omega’s heat causes rapid hormonal shifts even if it’s controlled and Shen Yuan only has hours to prepare. I recommend giving him privacy during this time.”

“Fine,” Luo Binghe sighed. “You mentioned the omega’s lover needs to use different approaches during the omega’s heat depending on the omega’s mood. What are those different approaches?”

Mu Qingfang folded his hands over his medical case. “I’ll provide you with several writings on the topic after Shen Yuan’s heat for you both to read. Moods don’t tend to change once the pre-heat cycle begins, so whatever mood he starts his pre-heat with he’ll end it with.”

“That’s a shame,” Luo Binghe muttered. “I hate seeing him so upset.”

“It’s not common for omegas to be anxious during their pre-heats, usually the amorous or affectionate moods are more common. Though in this situation, it was likely inevitable because Shen Yuan’s heat arrived so unexpectedly.”

Luo Binghe nodded and tapped his pointer finger against his chin as he remembered something else. “I wanted to ask you about the heat controller. I’ve heard that heat controllers can be compromised depending on the strength of the omega’s urges. Is there anything I should be aware so I won’t run the risk of compromising Shen Yuan’s heat controller?”

Mu Qingfang shook his head. “Your omega lover has a strong cultivation; so I prescribed him the most powerful heat controller available. Shen Yuan’s omega urges will be controlled completely. He would need to have formidable omega abilities – at the level of an omega glamour — to be able to compromise the effectiveness of this heat controller. You don’t need to worry.”

“Thank you, Mu Qingfang.”

“I’ll need to examine Shen Yuan after his heat is over.”

“I’ll bring him over after his post heat has broken.”

Itching with restless energy and arousal, Luo Binghe spent the next hours training with his alpha generals. He counted down the minutes to when he could see his lover again.  

xxx

Five hours felt like a lifetime until Luo Binghe was able to return to his private chambers and his bed servant. Young Shizun had been so frightened and anxious about his heat. Luo Binghe was glad the heat controller would allow his lover some modicum of control despite the unexpected situation. He only wished that he could have been able to stay with his lover through his pre-heat to assure Shen Yuan everything was going to be alright.

His alpha manservant Chonglin, who guarded the locked door, turned as Luo Binghe walked up. “First Prince,” he bowed. “This servant has guarded the door as you ordered. No one entered your chambers during your bed servant’s pre-heat.”

“Very good,” Luo Binghe nodded. “You are dismissed. See the housekeeper for your new responsibilities during my bed servant’s heat. There is a new schedule for all of this Master’s servants.”

“Yes, First Prince,” his alpha servant said.

Once Luo Binghe opened the door to his chambers, he was hit by the powerful and cloying scent of his lover’s heat. Closing the door behind him, he walked in and licked his lips. His lover’s heat scent was even more powerful and delicious than Shen Yuan’s pre-heat scent had been. Everything was more intense.

Shen Yuan was a vision where he laid on the bed his naked body stretched out over the silks wearing nothing but his loosened inner robes. Only his beautiful shoulders and arms were concealed from Luo Binghe’s gaze. Shen Yuan sat up on his elbows on the bed to stare over at him. The intensity of the undisguised want in the young omega’s eyes made Luo Binghe ravenous.

Shen Yuan looked away as Luo Binghe stripped off his training robes and training gear to sit on the edge of the bed. He gazed down at his young lover, feeling his heart become overwhelmed with love and his alpha cock become impossible hard.

For decades, Luo Binghe had been seduced or the seducer of countless alphas, betas, and omegas in the Empire and other nations. He’d never felt as deeply and passionately about anyone as he did for Shen Yuan.

It was fate.

Why would fate have seen to designate young Shizun as a male omega in this life if not to conceive a child with Luo Binghe? Why would fate have seen to bring about young Shizun’s heat so unexpectedly if not to have their child conceived this week?

In the anxiety brought on by his pre-heat, Shen Yuan had accused Luo Binghe of seeing him as nothing other than a sexual object. Luo Binghe pressed a gentle hand low on his omega’s belly. “Let me rut you through your heat. I want to ensure that your heat is an enjoyable experience. Allow me a chance to show how much you mean to me. I love you, Shen Yuan. I want to have a child with you, a physical manifestation of our love for each other.”

Shen Yuan gaped at him in surprise. “You want to have a child with me?”

Luo Binghe smiled at his young lover. Leaning closer to the delicious fragrance from the omega’s scent glands, he breathed in the intoxicating scent. Using the scent glands under his jaw, Luo Binghe painted his own scent along Shen Yuan’s neck.

He ran his hands down the warm and soft skin of Shen Yuan’s flank. The Emperor forbid Luo Binghe from taking Shen Yuan as a spouse, but would legitimize any children they had together. As soon as Luo Binghe became Emperor, Shen Yuan would become his first and only spouse.

He didn’t know how long he would have to wait before taking Shen Yuan as his husband. It was difficult to know if and when his father would abdicate the throne and if Luo Binghe would still be favored as First Prince at that time. If he had to wait until his father’s death it might be centuries. Luckily his lover’s strong cultivation ensured that Shen Yuan would have a similar lifespan to his own. However, Luo Binghe had no intention of waiting centuries to take Shen Yuan as his husband. He was impatient.

Luo Binghe murmured, “You’re too lowborn to be anything other than my bed servant, but that doesn’t mean I won’t love and support you. Any children you bear me I will legitimize. Their divine elven blood will be too potent to be denied.”

Young Shizun gasped and protested. He doubted Luo Binghe’s sincerity in wanting to have a child with him, believing it was nothing more than a joke. Shen Yuan worried about the effect such a discussion would have on his heat controller, but Luo Binghe knew from the conversation with Mu Qingfang that Shen Yuan’s omega urges wouldn’t be powerful enough to compromise the effectiveness of the heat controller. Luo Binghe assured his lover of his devotion.

Then Shen Yuan said that he didn’t want to have a child. But Luo Binghe was impatient. He wanted to know why his lover felt that way. He could easily guess several reasons Shen Yuan would be uneasy about having a child with Luo Binghe.

Even though Binghe assured Shen Yuan their children together would be part of the imperial family, Shen Yuan might’ve been concerned whether such an honor would really be bestowed and what it would entail. A more serious concern for Shen Yuan – which was a worry of Luo Binghe’s as well – might be the impact a divine elven pregnancy on Shen Yuan’s health. The last two omegas to carry divine elven children had died in childbirth.

Shen Yuan was young and naïve and sincere. He didn’t want to have a child because he worried he wouldn’t be able to achieve his dream of becoming a scholar or cultivator if he did. The young omega hadn’t realized all of the advantages he would be afforded by bearing Luo Binghe’s child. Not only would it help Shen Yuan achieve his dreams of becoming an official in the palace, but Luo Binghe would love and support Shen Yuan and their child in every way.

In his omega heat driven anxiety, Shen Yuan said he didn’t want to be Luo Binghe’s bed servant and wanted to leave the palace. However, Shen Yuan’s actions and words during the past month painted a completely different picture of the young omega’s motivations and feelings. Shen Yuan was always saying how he wished his time in the palace would last forever.

“Sometimes I forget how young and innocent you are, my love,” Luo Binghe said, his breath hot against his lover’s lips. “Bearing my child will advantage you in many ways. It’ll increase your influence within the imperial court. You’ll have an easier time achieving your dreams of becoming a scholar or a cultivator if my heir is born from your body. The most renowned scholars and cultivators are in the Imperial Palace, why would you leave if your dream is to become one as well?”

As much as Luo Binghe wanted to ravage his lover right here and now, he knew he needed to take things slow. His impossibly erect alpha cock wasn’t happy at taking things slow, nevertheless, Luo Binghe focused on kissing, caressing, and reassuring his lover. Shen Yuan melted into his arms, meeting him kiss for kiss, tangling his hands in Luo Binghe’s hair, and running his hands all over Luo Binghe’s body. When Shen Yuan shifted his hips so that Luo Binghe’s painfully erect cock brushed against the omega’s dripping entrance, Luo Binghe let out a low groan.

“Master,” Shen Yuan’s voice gasped, grabbing Luo Binghe’s cock and lining it up with his entrance. “Please, I want you inside me. I want to feel your cock and your knot.”

Luo Binghe rolled them over so that he was resting on his back in the center of the bed and Shen Yuan straddled him. The young omega’s eyes were dark with lust. Shen Yuan wasted no time getting what he wanted. He lined Luo Binghe up and sunk down onto his erect alpha cock. Luo Binghe leaned up to kiss his lover, capturing every moan and gasp Shen Yuan made with his lips.  

Shen Yuan moved Luo Binghe’s hands from his hips to rest over his belly. Shen Yuan let out a low moan as Luo Binghe tugged gently on the omega’s bottom lip. “I want it. I want you to put a baby in my belly. I want to have your child, First Prince.”

Luo Binghe felt dizzy from the glorious and delirious pressure of his omega’s slick and tight cunt surrounding and gripping his cock. The scent of Shen Yuan’s heat made him feel intoxicated. Resting his head against Shen Yuan’s forehead and thrusting deeper inside his lover, he gasped out, “Shen Yuan. I love you. Let’s start a family together. You’re the only one for me.”

Shen Yuan cupped Luo Binghe’s face in his hands as they came together and Luo Binghe knotted him. Luo Binghe stared up into his lover’s face, feeling overwhelmed from all the sensations. “Let’s have a child together,” Shen Yuan said finally, his eyes gleaming with joy. “I want to have your baby, First Prince.”  

It was fortunate Luo Binghe gave his lover a heat controller because it allowed him to know with certainty that Shen Yuan wanted Luo Binghe’s child. If Shen Yuan hadn’t taken a heat controller, Luo Binghe would’ve needed to wait until his lover’s next heat. He wouldn’t be able to rely on Shen Yuan’s word while under the effect of an uncontrolled heat.

xxx

He’d given young Shizun heat elixirs in the past to make his lover more easily able to produce slick and accept his cock, but there was truly nothing like the real thing. Luo Binghe had never been with an omega during a heat, finding them too clingy before, during, and afterwards for his taste. However, with Shizun everything was different.

Over the past month of having him in his bed, Luo Binghe learned that his lover was sensual, flexible, strong, and had impressive stamina. Shizun needed to be in order to keep up with Luo Binghe’s libido on a typical day. When Shizun was in heat, it was another story. The young omega was desire and lust personified; he was beautiful and wanton and insatiable. The young omega accepted Luo Binghe’s cock and knot voraciously.

He milked Luo Binghe dry after just the first eight hours.

That had never happened to Luo Binghe before, but it did provide a convenient opportunity. He’d expected to be running near empty by the third full day of his lover’s heat. When this happened, Luo Binghe planned to change his seed’s virility as soon as his body needed to create more. Luo Binghe had never infused his seed with the power of his divine elven heritage, so he assumed that it would be easier to start from scratch than to try to change something that had already been sterilized.

His Shizun rested next to him, sleeping off the last heat wave that had the young omega weeping from sheer pleasure. So Luo Binghe concentrated on infusing his sperm with the power of his divine elven blood. He’d never done it before, so he was surprised how quickly he felt a difference. He’d never noticed anything about his seed before, but now that it was infused with the power of divine elven heritage he could sense the intense potency of it.

xxx

Now that his seed was suffused with the power of his divine elven heritage, he was confident that they would conceive a child very soon from the sheer potency of it. Luo Binghe liked the idea of conceiving their child in the elegant bamboo house in his Garden of the Dragon’s Peak, so he brought his lover there after Shen Yuan woken up from his rest.   They would spend most of the second day of Shen Yuan’s heat there.

He made love to his young Shizun in the elegant bamboo house in his Garden of the Dragon’s Peak, reveling in the wonderful smell of both the bamboo and the young omega’s natural scent. Luo Binghe had made new design choices for the elegant bamboo house in his Garden of the Dragon’s Peak. Now the inside resembled Shizun’s bamboo house on Qing Jing Peak where they’d lived in another life.

It was here that they would conceive their first child.

Luo Binghe shifted the young omega onto his hands and knees so that Shen Yuan’s forehead rested on the futon with his ass presented in the air for him. Luo Binghe groaned in pleasure as he gripped his lover’s hips tightly as he thrust into his young Shizun’s hungry cunt. His lover was already so slick and wet from arousal and Luo Binghe’s cum that he accepted his alpha cock easily. In this position, Luo Binghe cock pressed deep inside his lover. Shen Yuan keened in pleasure as reached a new depth inside him.

“You feel so hot and tight and good,” Luo Binghe growled. “You’re going to look so beautiful when you’re heavy with our child.”    

Shen Yuan’s back arched upwards as Luo Binghe stimulated his heat gland as he knotted his lover. “Please, put your baby inside me,” he begged. “I want my belly swollen with my alpha’s child!”

He poured his seed into Shen Yuan’s womb, running his hands over his lover’s cum bloated belly. Shizun’s belly was swollen and warm with his seed. He didn’t have any proof yet that Shizun had conceived, but he felt in his bones that their child would be conceived on this bed. His omega lover smelled so sweet and fertile and his seed felt so potent and virile.

Shen Yuan panted and moaned as Luo Binghe’s knot stimulated his heat gland until he was begging for mercy. Shen Yuan keened in reply, one hand gripping Luo Binghe’s hand while the other one grasped at the futon under his fingers. “Alpha! Master! Please! No more! I can’t take any more.”

“Call me Binghe.”

Luo moved his hands back to Shen Yuan’s hips and rutted inside him so that his knot slammed into the young omega’s heat gland with every thrust until the young omega was sobbing from overstimulation. Binghe! Binghe! Binghe! His lover gasped and cried.

Shen Yuan collapsed weakly onto the bed. Luo Binghe smiled down at his lover as Shen Yuan fell into a tired stupor in Luo Binghe’s arms. Shen Yuan brushed Luo Binghe’s hair back from his face. Looking up at him, Shen Yuan murmured, “I’m tired. Can we rest?”

Kissing his lover’s hair, Luo Binghe chuckled, “Of course, my love. Though it’s strange to have you asking that for a change. It’s been a struggle keeping up with your libido for the past two days of your heat.” Luo Binghe kissed his lover’s forehead and belly. With a smile, he transferred a small amount of qi with a passionate kiss to the lips. “Rest, my love. We still have two days of heat to go. I’ll get you something to eat”

He also planned to use one of the pieces of heat paper to test his theory. Mu Qingfang had given him several yesterday after his training session with his generals. Shen Yuan smelled sweet and fertile. Had he conceived already?

xxx

Towards the end of the fourth day, young Shizun decided that he wanted to sit in the Mountain-in-View Pavilion and play for Luo Binghe on the guqin. He was between heat waves and wanted to leave their bedroom. It smelled too intensely of an omega in heat. So they opened the windows to air out the room and went out into his Garden of the Dragon’s Peak.

During his heat, Shen Yuan had been unrestrained and animalistic in his desires. Luo Binghe was curious to see what sort of music he would make when he was so uninhibited.

Luo Binghe pulled Shen Yuan into his lap. His cock was sheathed inside his lover’s warm cunt. It had the benefit of both providing pleasure and also ensuring that his cum wasn’t able to drip out from Shizun’s womb. Luo Binghe wrapped his arms around lover’s waist. He’d been pouring his seed, virile with his divine elven heritage, into his lover’s womb for three and a half days. A piece of blue heat paper hidden in the elegant bamboo house proved that they’d already conceived a child together. He’d kept that fact secret from his lover, wanting to surprise him after his heat was over with their success.

Luo Binghe was also curious if he might be able to put a second baby in his lover’s belly. Twins weren’t uncommon for alpha-omega couples after all.

As Shizun pulled the guqin into his lap and began to pluck the strings, Luo Binghe pondered, “Do you want a girl or a boy, an alpha or an omega?”

Shizun plucked the strings and a beautiful melody resounded around the Garden. The mandarin ducks in the Koi Pond even quieted to listen. “I’d be happy with any. All I want is your baby, First Prince.”

Shizun finished the song and pressed his hands to the guqin to quiet the strings. He looked at Luo Binghe with an amused smile. Shizun strummed a new chord. Luo Binghe sighed happily as he rested his cheek against his lover’s and closed his eyes as he listened to Shen Yuan play a song on the guqin. With the scent of the bamboo stalks around them and young Shizun’s scent of bamboo, ink, and orchids he felt transported back to some of his happiest memories of Qing Jing Peak.

As his lover hummed along to the song, Luo Binghe decided that this was his new happiest memory. With a deep inhale; he took in Shizun’s scent. It was more cloying and fertile than usual. It was suffused with the scent of honey from his heat along with his typical bamboo and orchid scents heart and head scents. However Shen Yuan’s base scent was spicier than usual. It smelled not like his usual scent of fresh ink but rather Luo Binghe’s base scent of amber.

Shizun put the guqin down beside them and moved Luo Binghe’s hands from his belly as it growled loudly. “I’m hungry.”

Luo Binghe took one of Shizun’s hands from the guqin and kissed his wrist, before holding it up to the side of his nose. “Mmmm, you smell so delicious and fertile. I can smell bamboo and orchids. That’s your natural heart and head scents though they’re more cloying than usual from your heat, like honey on my tongue. Then I can smell something new, the faint scent that tells an alpha that his omega is carrying his child. Your base scent smells like mine, like amber, like the scent our alpha child will inherit from me, its sire.”

Shen Yuan’s eyes gleamed with joy. “Come, Master. Your alpha babe in my belly is making me hungry.”

xxx

Shizun had begun eating before his last heat wave hit several hours ago, so there were still a selection of nuts and fruits from earlier in the day on the table. When Luo Binghe sat down at the table next to his lover as Shizun finished several slices of winter pear, he hadn’t expected Shizun’s interest to shift so quickly from food to sex.

Shizun moved to Luo Binghe’s lap to ride him to completion. Luo Binghe gripped Shen Yuan’s hip in one hand and his other hand sprawled out across his lover’s belly where their child grew inside, rutting into him until the young omega was crying from overstimulation.

“Master,” Shizun wept. “It’s too much. Make me come.”

Shen Yuan gripped the table with a moan, his hands fumbling as he tried to find purchase on the edge of the table. Luo Binghe moved his hands to his omega’s hips with a victorious cry. With a roar, he thrust up and released his seed deep inside his lover. Shizun let out a cry as he came, his strong grip breaking off the corner of the table into his hands. The young omega tossed aside the corner piece of the table and leaned back to collapse against Luo Binghe’s chest.

He closed his eyes and let his head fall back to rest against Luo Binghe’s shoulder. They rested like that, running their hands over Shen Yuan’s flat belly where their child was growing inside him until Luo Binghe’s knot deflated. With a groan, Shizun lifted himself off his alpha’s cock and stood up. His legs trembled like a baby fawn.

With a smile, Luo Binghe swept him up in his arms and carried him over to the bath that had been poured earlier in the day. Steam still rose gently from the water. Shizun kissed him sweetly as Luo Binghe helped him into the water.

“I’m going to be so sore tomorrow,” the young omega murmured as he laid back in the bath with a satisfied moan.

Luo Binghe looked over at his lover with a smile as he walked to the front door to his chambers. He knocked on the door and opened it up to call his manservants.

He recognized his alpha male servant Chonglin standing outside the door. Luo Binghe valued Chonglin’s long and loyal service to him. When his other alpha manservant Jingguo had tried to rape his young Shizun behind Luo Binghe’s back during Shen Yuan’s very first day as Luo Binghe’s bed servant, Chonglin had intervened on Shen Yuan’s behalf and protected him. Luo Binghe had executed Jinggou for daring to harm Shen Yuan, but he had not rewarded Chonglin for saving his bed servant and treating him with respect in the month that followed. Shen Yuan had mentioned more than once to Luo Binghe that he felt safer around Chonglin than some of the other alpha manservants.

The alpha male stood with his hands clasped in front of him trying to hide his erection from Luo Binghe’s notice. Luo Binghe didn’t recognize the beta servant. She must have been new. She was blushing profusely and trying not to look at his naked body as she stood in front of the door.

Luo Binghe raised an eyebrow at Chonglin, his eyes flickering down to the other alpha’s obvious erection. Turning to the beta female servant, he said, “I don’t think I’ve seen you before. What’s your name?”

The beta female’s cheeks turned even redder as he turned his gaze on her. She averted her eyes from his naked form. “This s-servant’s name is Chuntao.”

“How long have you been working in the Hall of Military Victory, Chuntao?” Luo Binghe wondered, resting his hands on his naked hips.

“This servant worked as a maid in the Hall of Military Victory for three years. This servant was recently appointed as one of First Prince’s manservants,” she squeaked.

“Very good.” With a nod into the room, Luo Binghe commanded, “I need the silks on my bed changed.”

“Yes, First Prince,” the beta woman said wide-eyed, staring firmly into his face and trying desperately to avoid looking at his flaccid alpha cock between his legs. “At once.”    

Luo Binghe crossed his arms over his bare chest and said in a even tone to his alpha servant. “You know the rules, Chonglin. If any of my servants are seen looking upon Shen Yuan with lust, I will take their eyes. It’s fortunate you averted your eyes.” Turning to the beta female, Luo Binghe asked, “Will you vouch for this alpha’s behavior, Chuntao?”

The beta female servant trembled as she nodded. “Yes, First Prince. This servant can attest neither of these servants looked upon the Master’s bed servant with lust.”

“Good,” Luo Binghe said mildly. Turning to Chonglin, Luo Binghe continued, “You have served me faithfully for many years, Chonglin. You have treated my bed servant with respect and dignity. This master would like to reward his servant Chonglin. Anything you ask, this master will provide.”

Chonglin gazed over at him in shock. “First Prince, this servant is unworthy.”

Luo Binghe patted the other alpha male on the shoulder. Chonglin blushed and kept his hands folded in front of him to hide his stiffening cock. Luo Binghe was amused that the situation hadn’t caused his alpha servant’s hard-on to abate at all.

“I’ll give you one day to decide what you would like as a reward.” Glancing pointedly at Chonglin’s cock that the other man was desperately trying to hide behind his clasped hands, Luo Binghe added, “I will also give you one hour to deal with your erection.”

“Yes, Master,” Chonglin gasped breathlessly.

Turning back to the beta female servant who gaped at him wordlessly, he added, “The silks, Chuntao.”

Then Luo Binghe returned into his room. He walked over to the bath only to find that his young lover had fallen asleep in the warm water. He smiled down at Shen Yuan, his heart so filled with joy he felt like it would burst out of his chest.

xxx

When he awoke the next morning, his lover slept soundly next to him. Shizun would sleep off his heat for a several more hours. Most omegas spent the twelve hours of pre-heat preparing for their full heat and the twelve hours of post-heat sleeping it off. Luo Binghe pulled his omega into his arms with a broad smile, resting a hand low over his lover’s belly where their child grew inside him. Pressing a kiss to the back of Shizun’s shoulder, he closed his eyes feeling truly blessed. Then he climbed out of bed to let his lover rest.

Putting on his inner and outer robes, he rang the bell for a servant. He went to his desk and wrote a quick note asking for the imperial physician to come to his rooms with the color wheel and folded and sealed the missive so that only the Imperial Physician could read the message. When Chonglin walked into the room, Luo Binghe asked for a plate of breakfast and for the missive to be delivered to Mu Qingfang.

“Have you decided yet on your reward?” Luo Binghe asked him.

The other alpha male shook his head. “Serving his master is reward enough.”

Luo Binghe chuckled. “If you need another day to decide, this master will allow it. This master will provide his most faithful servant whatever he desires: wealth, a noble title, an imperial pardon for a friend or family member.”

Chonglin bit his bottom lip. Luo Binghe could see that his servant had something in mind from how Chonglin searched his eyes, but he was afraid to ask for it. “Take this letter to the Imperial Physician. If you need another day to decide, I’ll allow it.”

“Thank you, First Prince,” the alpha male said with a bow and hurried away.

Mu Qingfang must have been waiting to be called to Luo Binghe’s chambers because the palace physician arrived before his breakfast did. Closing the door to his bedchamber, Luo Binghe brought the palace physician with him to his office and closed the door.

“How is Shen Yuan?” Mu Qingfang wondered. “When I saw him last week, he was very stressed about his heat. I was surprised he didn’t realize that he was in pre-heat until it was nearly over, but he only had one other heat before. So it’s possible that he didn’t recognize the signs. It’s a good thing that you did, First Prince, so your bed servant at least had four hours to prepare for his heat. How is he?”

“He’s resting through his post-heat in my bed chamber,” Luo Binghe explained. “He should be up and about in the afternoon.”

“He’s with child?” the palace physician wondered.

Luo Binghe took out the piece of blue paper from his inner robes and handed it to the imperial physician. “Blue represents an alpha, correct? What does this shade of blue represent?”

Mu Qingfang opened up his medical case and took out a small color wheel, fanning out six different shades of blue. “Whether the baby is a male or a female alpha or if it’s a twins or triplets. Single pregnancies are the norm among omegas and betas, but multiples can occur for omega-alpha couples.”

Luo Binghe could feel his heart pounding as he leaned closer to better see the color wheel fanned out against Shen Yuan’s paper. The color seemed very light as he looked at the darker shades of blue on the wheel.

Looking up at Luo Binghe, Mu Qingfang raised his eyebrows. “As you can see it’s not an exact science. But I can say with confidence that Shen Yuan is pregnant with an alpha male. I can’t discern between these two colors, but it’ll be easy to determine with a new heat paper test. It’s either a single alpha male or twin alpha males.”

Luo Binghe beamed. “That’s wonderful news.”

Mu Qingfang nodded. “Shen Yuan is young and healthy with strong qi reserves. However, his pregnancy will drain his qi reserves, so we’ll need to watch that carefully. I’ll want weekly check-ups with Shen Yuan throughout his pregnancy. It would also be good for you two to practice dual cultivation at the very least once a month to replenish the drain to his qi reserves.”

Mu Qingfang handed over the color wheel to him. “For typical pregnancies, we can’t confirm primary gender or number if the heat paper falls between colors on the wheel unless we’re able to project an image of the womb using the qi that’s been stored there during the pregnancy. This isn’t possible unless one of the parents has a strong level of cultivation and even then it’s usually not possible until four months into the pregnancy at the earliest. Things are a different for divine elves because a divine elves’ qi is so potent. If we use a bloodline test, we can confirm it today.”

“Thank you. After he rested, we’ll come see you.”

Chapter Text

Chapter Ten

The room was bright with the afternoon sun and the doors of the Prince’s bedchamber were wide open when Shen Yuan finally stirred awake. He wasn’t sure how many hours he’d slept. His cheek rested in an unappealing pool of his drool – at least he hoped it was drool. It probably was. He remembered a beta female servant changing the linens on the bed after he’d woken up in the bath last night after his heat broke.

He shivered slightly at the gust of cold air that blew over the bed, and snuggled deeper under the furs thrown on top of the warm silk blankets. It looked like all of the windows in the room were open to air out the scent of heat and sex. Shen Yuan rolled onto his back and stretched his arms and legs.

He felt equal parts satisfied and sore.

The pleasant soreness in his arms, shoulders, thighs, and core was similar to the soreness after an intense cultivation spar. The satisfying ache in other places was exactly like the ache felt after a passionate fucking. He noticed a feeling of stickiness between his thighs and inside his entrance. It felt more like a cream or ointment rather than the remnants of his arousal or the Prince’s seed. He’d had enough experience after a month of being the Prince’s bed servant to tell the difference.

Burrowing deeper under the warm silks and furs, he let his eyes drift closed again as his languid limbs sunk deeper into the Prince’s bed. This was the second heat he’d experienced and it couldn’t have been more different from his first. His alpha lover had rutted him through the waves of his heat and pampered him in between.

He felt safe and cared for and happy.

The past four days were a hazy blur in his mind. His omega urges had more or less taken over after his second heat wave. So his memories after that were vague and those he did remember were extremely embarrassing. He’d been the bed servant of a well-known playboy for over a month now, but his face wasn’t thick enough to be unaffected by the sometimes nebulous and sometimes vivid memories of him begging First Prince Luo Binghe to put a baby in him.

That surely must have put the Prince off.

It served the Prince right for trying to role-play an impregnation fantasy with an omega during his heat. The Prince enjoyed doing a variety role-play in bed. Shen Yuan did too. Their role-playing scenarios typically only lasted for two to three hours. So it was likely the Prince only wanted to role-play this impregnation fantasy for a couple hours. Shen Yuan’s heat-mad omega brain had other ideas. It had taken the concept and run with it for four full days of role-playing.

Maybe the Prince would be so put off by Shen Yuan’s bizarre four-day role-play that he’d dismiss Shen Yuan from his service as bed servant. In that case maybe the strange urges of his animalistic omega brain were a blessing in disguise.

The Prince didn’t have any interest in having a child. That had been one of the first conversations he’d had with him after he agreed to be his bed servant. After all any child with divine elven blood, even one born to a lowborn bastard like Shen Yuan, would be powerful and dangerous.

Shen Yuan felt his face burning as another of the hazy memories became clearer in his mind. He felt mortified at the shameless way he’d ridden the Prince’s cock and pretended it was bloated with the Prince’s alpha child instead of the Prince’s cum.

So embarrassing!

There was one silver lining in all this though. The Prince was likely as embarrassed as Shen Yuan was by the mewling succubus he became during his heat. So Shen Yuan’d be able to leave the Prince’s service on good terms with his former Master – with both mortified by this side of Shen Yuan neither knew existed.

Shen Yuan knew that this particular outcome would be for the best. Shen Yuan had enjoyed being pampered and pleasured by his wealthy, powerful, and experienced lover, but he’d also outgrown his gilded cage. He didn’t want to compromise his older brother’s mission and he absolutely didn’t want Jiu-xiong to know that Shen Yuan had disobeyed him and entered the Imperial Palace.

Jiu-xiong would be furious with him if he found out.

Shen Yuan planned for his brother to never find out. He’d have to think of a clever reason for the one silver sycee that he’d earned for his chrysanthemum. Maybe he could claim that it was a reward from a wealthy nobleman for… saving his daughter or something. Shen Yuan would have to come up with a plausible story because Jiu-xiong was frightening insightful and could see through lies extremely easily, especially Shen Yuan’s.

He heard quiet voices nearing the open door to the bedchamber. He recognized the voices as two beta servants from the kitchens: Liling and Xiaodan. Shen Yuan didn’t know either of them well and was honestly a little afraid of Liling’s capriciousness and temper, so he pretended to still be asleep. Though to be honest, the deciding factor in that decision was the fact he was completely naked under the blankets piled high on the bed.  

He wondered what they were doing in the Hall of Military Victory. Come to think of it, how had they gotten permission to even enter the Inner Palace? He doubted either had permission to be in here. What on earth was going on? Why had one of the Prince’s servants let them into the Prince’s private bedchambers?

“Minister Maigu will be so pleased!” whispered Liling as she stopped by the open door. “Naturally our Master was able to find a way to kill two birds with one stone.”

“Poor choice of words,” Xiaodan hissed back. “Are you sure this is a good idea? Jingguo was executed for merely looking at Shen Yuan with lust in his eyes. If First Prince catches us in his bedchamber while his lover’s here, he’ll have us tortured then executed. This whole plan might not even be possible! How do you even know that paper will be here?”

Jingguo was executed? Was he that alpha servant who’s tried to rape him after he became the Prince’s bed servant? Jinggou probably deserved such a punishment for his actions, but it was strange to think other servants were blaming Shen Yuan for the alpha servant’s fate. If Jinggou had tried to assault Shen Yuan it was likely he’d tried to take advantage of other omegas as well.

“I used to work for the wife of a nobleman,” Liling began.

“I assume that was that before you had an affair with the nobleman and were sent away.” Xiaodan quipped. “You should have known better than to try to rise above your station, Liling.”

“Shut up, Xiaodan,” Liling snapped. “You don’t know anything.”

“Tell me about this paper,” Xiaodan hissed back. “We don’t have time to waste arguing with each other.”

Liling’s tone was vicious as she recounted the story, “Well the little idiot who was my mistress was an omega. Omegas get such special treatment because they’re considered so beautiful, desirable, and fertile. It’s such bullshit. She used heat paper to measure her heats. So I’ve seen plenty of heat paper. Every time I saw it turn yellow after the nobleman got her pregnant during her heat, I gave her pennyroyal tea. The nobleman got frustrated that his beautiful and fertile omega wife hadn’t conceived during three heats in a row. She was devastated and convinced herself that she was infertile. So I convinced her to hand herself with a silken rope to atone for her sin.”

“And that’s when the nobleman fired you from his service. I guess you weren’t as good in bed as you thought, Liling,” Xiaodan scoffed. “Maybe it’s true what they say that omegas really are more desirable and are better in bed than betas. In my experience, I’ve always found omegas to be more desirable than betas, but the handful of omegas that I’ve slept with were frigid.”

Liling scoffed. “Don’t tell me that you were surprised that an omega was frigid in bed when you were raping her? You’re just jealous that you can’t get an omega in your bed except through force. You probably can’t stop thinking about how the Prince has been fucking Shen Yuan nonstop for four days. You probably can’t stop thinking about how amazing Shen Yuan must be in bed to have kept infamous playboy First Prince Luo Binghe’s attention for over a month. You probably can’t stop thinking about how much you wish you’d gotten to taste that omega first.”

“Shen Yuan should have been mine,” Xiaodan snarled back.

Liling snorted. “You waited too long, Xiaodan. You need to start looking elsewhere.”

“Shut up,” the other servant hissed. “How was I supposed to known he’d catch the eye of First Prince Luo Binghe? The First Prince had never taken a bed servant before. How could I have predicted that he’d decide to have Shen Yuan as his first ever bed servant. Shen Yuan uses scent cancelling soaps and suppressants. He was probably only days away from needing to resupply. Then he would’ve been mine.”

“Come on, let’s switch the heat paper,” Liling whispered to Xiaodan as her voice approached the bed. “If First Prince doesn’t murder the omega for betraying him, maybe you’ll be able to have his leftovers.”

Shen Yuan’d already decided that he was going to be faking sleep, so he decided to continue doing so. Their conversation was extremely alarming, so he didn’t want to get involved in that. Oh, and he was naked. So he kept his eyes closed and breathed slowly and steadily.

Worst case scenario, if they tried anything he would use his cultivation to disable both of them and knock them out. Then he would run from the room to get help – completely naked. Well he would attack them completely naked, but then maybe he’d put on some robes when he ran to get help.

“He’s still asleep,” she whispered to Xiaodan.

“What do you think he’s wearing? Do you think he’s naked un...”

“What do I think he’s wearing? Do you hear yourself?” hissed Liling as her voice drifted towards the other side of the room.

Shen Yuan kept his eyes carefully closed and his breathing even. He could sense Xiaodan hovering over him. His heart pounded. If Xiaodan touched him, Shen Yuan would attack. Why was he so naked? Why hadn’t he put on an inner robe before he went to bed to sleep off his post-heat.  

“You’re so beautiful,” Xiaodan whispered.

Liling hissed from across the room. “Xiaodan, for heaven’s sake, help me find the paper. We don’t want the Prince to find us here!”

Shen Yuan didn’t dare open his eyes even as he heard the beta male walk over to the other side of the room.   It was quiet for a moment as they searched the room for Shen Yuan’s heat paper. Lying in bed feigning sleep, he prayed that they never found either piece of heat paper. He couldn’t remember where he’d left the two pieces that had bled black as his full heat started. If they found either of the pieces, it would spell disaster.

Liling whispered excitedly from the side of the room near the tables. “I found it. I’ve swapped his black heat paper for yellow. Come on, let’s go before anyone sees us.”

Shen Yuan laid in bed waiting until he heard the sound of their footsteps receding down the hallway. Then he sat up in bed, pulling the silk blankets up to his chest.

Yellow…yellow would indicate a beta child. That was impossible. The Prince was an alpha who parents were an alpha male and omega female. Shen Yuan was an omega male. So any child they had together would be either alpha or omega. It was impossible for them to conceive a beta child together.

Even if the Prince had tried to play out some impregnation fantasy before Shen Yuan’s second heat wave had hit, he didn’t want Shen Yuan to have his child. Shen Yuan couldn’t possibly be pregnant.

Why had the Prime Minister sent Liling and Xiadan trying to frame Shen Yuan for infidelity? If the Prince saw the yellow heat paper in the room, he would be enraged and vengeful. The Prince would execute any beta male he suspected of being Shen Yuan’s lover. Was the Prime Minister planning to accuse a beta male of being Shen Yuan’s lover to eliminate a rival?  

Would the Prince would be merciful and exile Shen Yuan from the Inner Palace in disgrace? Or would he have him executed? With the piece of yellow heat paper in the room, Shen Yuan knew that he wouldn’t be able to plead his innocence. Any new heat paper would remain white indicating he wasn’t pregnant. That wouldn’t prove his innocence. He would just be accused of ending the pregnancy to cover his tracks.

He needed to find where they’d planted the false evidence and destroy it.

“Good, you’re awake,” said the Prince as he walked into the room from the rice paper door to the private courtyard. Striding across the room, he closed the open doors to his bedchamber.   “I had the servants open all the doors and windows to air out the room. It was thick with the scent of sex and heat. I thought you’d wake up feeling more refreshed if the room didn’t smell like your heat.”

Shen Yuan’s heart pounded with fear as the Prince walked over to the bed and perched on the edge with a smile on his handsome face. Shen Yuan needed to distract the Prince and get him out of the room so that he didn’t see the yellow heat paper the Prime Minister's servants planted.

The Prince carded his hands through Shen Yuan’s hair gently. “I saw Mu Qingfang this morning. I applied the ointment he gave me to your cunt. It’s to soothe any soreness or pain from being rutted and knotted for nearly four straight days. It’s stronger than the ointment you’ve used before.”

Shen Yuan blushed red. “Thank you, First Prince. You are too good to this servant.”

The Prince reached over to the bedside table and took the envelope with the last piece of heat paper folded inside. Shen Yuan felt his blood run cold.

Had First Prince already seen the yellow paper?

He watched the Prince take out the last piece of unused heat paper and unfold it. Shen Yuan’s heart leapt into his throat. Why else would the Prince want him to use the heat paper if not because he’d seen the yellow paper and suspected Shen Yuan had been unfaithful.

Shen Yuan tried to calm himself down. He would have to tread very carefully. Maybe the Prince hadn’t seen the yellow paper that had been planted in the room. It wouldn’t do him any favors if he seemed guilty or nervous.

Maybe the Prince picked up the last piece of heat paper for an unrelated reason?

It was unlikely, but not wrong to hope.

“Is that this servant’s last piece of heat paper?” Shen Yuan asked innocently as he sat up in bed. The luxurious silk sheets pooled in his lap. It was still chilly in the room even now that the windows were closed. He took one of the soft furs from the bed. Wrapping it around his shoulders, he pulled it closed over his bare chest. “This servant could use it to determine if his post heat it over.”

“That’s a good idea,” said the Prince with a pleasant smile as he handed it over.

The Prince was very calm. If anything there was an excited gleam in his eyes as Shen Yuan took the piece of paper from him.

Shen Yuan was completely on edge.

The Prince’s smile wasn’t the expression of a solider that had an enemy at the end of his sword. It was the smug smile of a cat that had gotten the cream.

Shen Yuan flattened the paper slightly before rubbing it over both wrists.

He felt the blood drain from his face as dark blue ink stained the middle of the paper in a small circle. The blue circle in the middle bled to the corners until the entire paper was a pale blue.

Blue? But that meant he was…

“Pregnant?” he felt like he was going to faint in shock. “H-how?”

Luo Binghe pressed one hand low on Shen Yuan’s belly as the smirk on the Prince’s handsome face widened. “I’m happy to give you a demonstration, if you’ve forgotten how the process works,” he teased.

Shen Yuan let the Prince push him back onto the bed. He looked up at the canopy of his lover’s bed as the Prince pressed kisses up his neck. Shen Yuan felt a flood of contrary emotions: relief, confusion, and disquiet.

The Prince pressed a kiss to his lips as he rested both hands low over Shen Yuan’s belly. “I’m going to cherish you and our baby.”

xxx

The first afternoon and evening after he awoke from his post-heat were spent practicing dual cultivation. These lessons weren’t as much fun as other dual cultivation practices had been.

In the past their dual cultivations were focused on Shen Yuan learning and practicing how to pass his qi. There were practicals where the Prince passed qi so Shen Yuan could see how it was done. The Shen Yuan would get to practice passing it back. Those dual cultivation practices involved them sitting together, laying together, or walking together and stealing kisses back and forth. The kissing would then become more and more passionate. It was sweet and innocent and fun.

This time, Shen Yuan didn’t get to practice passing qi.

This time the Prince overwhelmed Shen Yuan with pleasure and qi. The Prince’s power flooded into his womb. After his womb was satisfied, he felt the power flowing into his golden core. After his golden core had absorbed all it could – which had never happened to him before during their dual cultivation sessions -- the Prince’s qi flooded his meridians.

He patted his hair, wondering if was it standing up from the sheer amount of qi flowing through his body. The First Prince explained it was good for the baby, but Shen Yuan felt like he’d been struck by lightning with all of the power flooding his body.

Was this the normal amount of qi running through the Prince’s body every day?

Late in the night after they’d eaten and had several more rounds of dual cultivation Shen Yuan said he was tired and they should go to sleep. First Prince Luo Binghe sighed happily, gently stroking his hands across Shen Yuan’s bare back as Shen Yuan rested his head on the Prince’s beautiful pectorals.

“I love you,” the Prince whispered into the darkness, his breath rustling Shen Yuan’s hair. “I never imagined I could be this happy.”

Shen Yuan felt numb. “Sleep, First Prince,” he whispered into the darkness

Shen Yuan waited until his lover’s breathing evened out and then he untangled himself from the circle of the Prince’s arms. Then he slipped out of bed and hobbled over to the table on the other side of the room. The corner of the table that he’d broken last night was already glued back and clamped while the glue set. He used a silk cloth on the table to wipe the away the remnants of the Prince’s seed dribbling down his thighs. He looked back at the bed to make sure the Prince was still sleeping before lighting the candle on the table.

He was in trouble.

He was in big trouble.

His main challenge, his pregnancy, seemed almost too insurmountable to contemplate. So he decided to focus on fixing the easier challenge at hand. If nothing else, he’d been able to feel a sense of relief and accomplishment in solving his problem. Never mind that his singular focus in correcting this small issue was tantamount to a man focusing on watering a wilted flower in his favorite courtyard while his entire estate burned down around him.

Shen Yuan looked around the table in the corner for the piece of yellow paper that had been planted by the Prime Minister’s servants. He didn’t see it on, under, or around that table. He took the lit candle and moved through the chamber to continue his search.

He moved delicately so as not to wake his lover and because he was sore from the day’s lovemaking. Shen Yuan had been determined to ensure First Prince’s attention didn’t stir from him all day, so he’d pleasured thoroughly by the Prince. After a month of being First Prince Luo Binghe’s servant, Shen Yuan knew just how to distract the Prince. Unfortunately, said distractions often required Shen Yuan to test the limits of his flexibility and core strength.

Shen Yuan suggested they try out several new sexual positions. To be more specific, Shen Yuan told the Prince that he wanted to learn some of the more athletic and acrobatic positions that his lover had he desperately wanted to teach to Shen Yuan over the past couple weeks. Pressing a hand to his belly and looking up at his lover through his eyelashes, Shen Yuan explained that he wanted to learn these new positions before he grew heavy with the Prince’s child. Needless to say, First Prince’s attention hadn’t wavered from Shen Yuan all day and now the muscles of his thighs and core were sore from some of the more acrobatic positions.

He finally found the yellow piece of heat paper that the Prime Minister’s servants Liling and Xioadan had planted earlier in the day. It was on the top of the pile of the First Prince’s correspondence on the writing desk on the other side of the room.

Shen Yuan felt a chill of fear. If he hadn’t woken when he did today, the Prince would have surely found the yellow paper. Picking it up, he stared down at it. This piece of paper couldn’t do anything to him if he destroyed it.

A slightly hysterical voice in the back of his mind said that piece of paper couldn’t do anything to him whether or not he destroyed it because he had irrefutable proof that it was a lie! He was pregnant with the Prince’s alpha child, so he couldn’t also be pregnant with the child of a beta lover. He stamped down that hysterical voice in the back of his mind. He wasn’t ready to think about that yet.

Should Shen Yuan show the paper to the Prince and reveal the Prime Minister’s treachery? Or would it be better to destroy the evidence?

What would Shen Jiu do?

Shen Yuan was a bed servant and a commoner. If it came down to Shen Yuan’s word against the Prime Minister's, the Prime Minister would simply deny everything.

Shen Yuan knew what his brother would do. Unless Jiu-xiong was confident he’d be able to control the outcome of the situation, he wouldn’t attempt to call out the other party. Jiu-xiong had often said that he said/she said conflicts were rarely decided in favor of the party with a lower social standing. This was often the case for Jiu-xiong and was now the case for Shen Yuan. Jiu-xiong would avoid those sort of conflicts unless an ace up his sleeve. A second witness to corroborate the story could be an ace up his sleeve but only if they were known for their honesty or of a higher social standing than the other party involved in the dispute.

Shen Yuan trembled. He did have an ace up his sleeve or well in this case it was in his womb. If he spoke to the Prince and told him what happened, the Prince would stand by him and the Prime Minister would be punished for trying to deceive them. However, this would also thrust Shen Yuan into the limelight of the Imperial Court even more than he already was as First Prince Luo Binghe’s infamous bed servant.

That sort of attention was dangerous.

It was inevitable now that his brother Jiu-xiong would find out that he’d disobeyed him. A slightly hysterical voice in the back of his mind said that he’d disobeyed his older brother in a spectacular way considering the baby in his belly.

He stamped down on that hysterical voice again.

Maybe this was all just a strange post-heat induced nightmare. Tomorrow he would wake up and not be pregnant and not have to worry about the Prime Minister framing him for a crime that he didn’t commit.

Even still, he needed to do something about this yellow heat paper tonight.

He hated the sight of the sallow yellow color on the paper. It might have been better to keep the paper well hidden as evidence of the Prime Minister’s treachery, but it might still be used against Shen Yuan. So he would destroy it.

Looking back at the bed to double check that the Prince was still sleeping soundly, Shen Yuan pulled on a robe of thick silk and tied it around his waist. He picked up the tin of koi fish food before opening and closing the sliding rice paper door to the inner courtyard behind him quietly.

Walking down to Koi Lake, he sat cross-legged on the bank and opened the tin. He fed the koi often, so they swam up to him with excitement. Their large scaly bodies wriggled in the water and their mouths gaped open asking for food. Taking some of the koi food from the tin in one hand, Shen Yuan petted them as he fed them from his other hand. Drying his hands on the grass, he took out the yellow heat paper and tore it into small pieces. He fed the yellow paper to the hungry koi before reaching into the tin for another handful of koi food.

His cheeks felt wet from the hot tears dripping from his eyes. He wiped them with the sleeve of his silk robe. His chest felt tight, like there was a weight over it pressing down. The hazy memories of his heat were becoming clearer in his mind.

During his first uncontrolled heat the most frightening aspect was the pain, the hunger, and the confusion. He’d been out of his mind and not himself, but that wasn’t frightening because in the back of his mind he knew his older brother was there to protect him. During this second heat there hadn’t been pain or hunger; though there had been some confusion at the start.

No, the most frightening aspect was the complete dissociation between his lucid mind and his omega urges. He hadn’t realized the full extent and power of his own omega urges during his first heat. This shouldn’t have been a surprise to him.

An omega’s first heat was the start of puberty. It wasn’t about mating or conception. It was the body preparing itself for sexual maturity. A sexually mature omega’s heats on the other hand are about mating and conception. They are the body prepare itself to carry the child of a powerful and virile alpha and then enticing said alpha into impregnating them.

Shen Yuan’s lover was the most powerful and virile alpha in the Empire. So Shen Yuan should have better prepared himself for the uphill battle against his omega urges desperate to have First Prince Luo Binghe impregnate him. It was probably inevitable that his heat controller would have failed at some point. Maybe he should have asked the Imperial Physician for a stronger dose.

Before his heat controller failed, Shen Yuan said that he didn’t want to have a baby. Then after his heat controller failed, he begged desperately for the Prince to get him pregnant. Shen Yuan learned today that he was in fact the first omega that First Prince Luo Binghe had ever fucked through a heat. The Prince didn’t really reveal why, but Shen Yuan could easily guess. In the past the Prince had likely considered omegas in heat to be too clingy or maybe it was because the Prince couldn’t imagine wasting four days fucking some tedious courtesan.

So the Prince was as unprepared for the urges of an omega in heat as Shen Yuan had been. Even still, the Prince probably should have taken the ravings of a heat-mad omega with a grain of salt. Though maybe he shouldn’t be so hard on the Prince because Shen Yuan had taken a heat controller. The Prince has specifically asked for him to be given a heat controller. So the Prince likely thought that Shen Yuan was still of sound mind when he asked the Prince to put a baby in his belly.

He didn’t blame the Prince for what happened. Though he was still baffled why First Prince Luo Binghe would want to have a child with him. When they’d spoken of it in the past, the Prince told him the many reasons why the Prince hadn’t wanted a child. A grasping courtesean could use a child with the Prince to gain power over him or even supplant him from his position as First Prince. A child would inherit half of their qualities from the Prince, but they would inherit the other half from the child’s mother. The Prince had never felt anyone worthy of carrying a divine elven child.

So why had First Prince decided to have a child with him? The blue heat paper in the room proved that it wasn’t all some fever dream, he was actually pregnant. Was it because … he didn’t know. He had no idea why the Prince would want to have a child with him.

He was nobody, he was nothing, he was worse than nothing. He was lowborn, he was the bastard child of an infamous traitor. What would the Prince think when he found out who Shen Yuan’s father was? What would he do to Shen Yuan? What would he do to their child?

xxx

Shen Yuan wondered what his mother had thought when she’d gotten pregnant with Jiu-xiong. Had she felt overwhelmed? Had she thought about running away? Did she think about ending her pregnancy?

Shen Yuan didn’t have any memories of her. She died when he’d been a baby. She’d become the bed servant of a nobleman at around the same age Shen Yuan was now and become pregnant almost as quick as he –

Nope, he wasn’t going to finish that thought!

Shen Yuan was born eighteen years after his brother. Why had there been so many years between them? Had she miscarried in between? Had she ended pregnancies in between? Had she lost favor with the nobleman whose bed she’d warmed? Had it taken eighteen years for her to regain favor? Had Shen Yuan been a surprise?

Their mother had been an omega just like him and his older brother. Omegas were rare in the population. So young and beautiful ones were prized and desired. With their rarity and fertility, they were sometimes treated more like tools for an alpha to slate his lust rather than people with hopes and dreams and desires of their own. Their mother had no money, no connections, no one she could turn to. She’d been the sole provider for her dying father. Even if she was given a choice, she didn’t have any option but to agree to warm her master’s bed.

She’d been a kitchen servant in the grand estate of the Yan family. The Yan family was one of the Three Great Noble Families of the North: Beijun, Yan, and Hong. Yan Longwei, the head of the Yan family at the time, had an extensive harem of wives and concubines. Even still Shen Yuan’s mother had caught his wandering eye.

Shen Yuan wondered if his mother had tried and failed to pass herself off as a beta or if she’d purposefully gone to the Yan estate as an omega hoping to catch the master’s eye. The other Great Noble Families of the North were upright and honorable. The Yan family had been tainted by scandal since the time of Yan Longwei’s father. So Yan Longwei thought nothing of taking a lowborn omega as his bed servant and having children with her. Some nobleman saw it as an offense to their wives, trueborn children, and other servants in the household to take a servant into their bed.  

Shen Yuan desperately wished Jiu-xiong was here. He wanted his brother to yell at him for disobeying his orders, becoming the bed servant of the most dangerous man in the empire, and then getting pregnant by him. Because after Jiu-xiong sufficiently chastised him, he would tell Shen Yuan what he needed to do to get out of this mess.

Shen Yuan worried he’d already compromised his older brother’s mission. First Prince Luo Binghe had hardly let Shen Yuan out of his sights now that he was preg --

Nope! Not going to finish that thought.

It was becoming more and more difficult to avoid meeting Yue Qingyuan. Shen Yuan knew he had to avoid Lord Yue because it would compromise his brother’s mission for a powerful cultivator from the Kingdom of the Five Sects.

Chapter Text

Chapter Eleven

Mu Qingfang sat back in his chair with a nod and watched the color darken as the blue ink spilled out from the center of the paper. Luo Binghe was having trouble keeping the smile off his face as he watched his young lover. Shen Yuan’s cheeks were flushed and his beautiful gray eyes were wide over the folds of his fan.

Turning to Luo Binghe, Mu Qingfang asked, “Now that we’ve confirmed the pregnancy and our analysis of number, primary and secondary genders, we can fill out the imperial conception record for the registrar’s office, which confirms legitimacy. Would you like to do that now, First Prince? We’ll need your seal for it.”

Luo Binghe reached into the folds of his robe to take out the seal that he’d brought from his inner offices. “Let’s do it now.”

Shizun stared down at the document as Mu Qingfang filled it out. Luo Binghe explained to his lover, “This is a policy that’s been around since before my father was born. The divine elven bloodline is so potent that it can be identified as early as conception. We’re the ruling dynasty, so any heirs need to be recorded before birth. There’s additional paperwork as well after the children are born and named. The imperial conception record begins the paper trail.”

“Alright. I need you to take a sample from both of your scent glands,” Mu Qingfang said as he took out two vials and two swabs.

The imperial physician collected what he needed and went back to filling out the form and adding the drops of their scent gland oils to several special pieces of treated paper.

Shen Yuan stood up from the seat and paced back and forth anxiously. Luo Binghe grabbed him around the waist and pulled the young omega into his lap. Shen Yuan stiffened before leaning back against Binghe’s chest and fluttering the fan in his hands. Luo Binghe plucked the thing from his lover’s hands and tucked it into the sash around his own waist. He wanted to be able to see every emotion that flitted across his lover’s face.

Resting his hand low over Shen Yuan’s belly, Luo Binghe whispered in his lover’s ear. “Don’t be afraid, my love. I’ll take good care of both of you.”

Shen Yuan’s breaths were shallow as he placed his hands over Luo Binghe’s. Luo Binghe moved one hand to his lover’s back, rubbing it soothingly to try to calm his lover down. He didn’t know why Shen Yuan was so anxious. Had Shen Yuan heard about what happened to the last two omegas that carried divine elven children? Was his young lover afraid that the babe inside him was a death sentence?

The imperial physician added a stamp to the top of the page and then heated red sealing wax. He looked over at Luo Binghe. “Are you ready with the seal?”

“Yes,” Luo Binghe nodded as he lifted Shen Yuan out of his lap and stood up. Taking the large imperial seal showing the crest of the Crown Prince out of the qiankun pouch he’d put into the sash around his waist, he walked over the physician.

Mu Qingfang sat back after he dripped the wax onto the center of the page. Luo Binghe pressed the seal into it. Turning to Shen Yuan, the imperial physician continued, “I’d like to continue my examination. I’ll need to ask a couple questions and perform a couple tests, is that alright, Shen Yuan?”

“Y-yes,” Shen Yuan stuttered.

Luo Binghe was worried by how pale his lover’s face had become. Putting a hand on Shen Yuan’s shoulder, he said, “Are you alright, A-Yuan. You look very pale.”

“This-this servant is fine,” Shen Yuan replied softly, his face still much paler than Luo Binghe wanted to see. “This servant is merely anxious about his pregnancy.”

Looking over his lover, Luo Binghe vowed, “I won’t let anything happen to you or our baby. I’ll do everything in my power to ensure that you have the easiest, healthiest pregnancy possible.”

“You’re young and healthy, Shen Yuan,” Mu Qingfang added. “Your qi reserves are strong and you and the Prince plan to practice dual cultivation during your pregnancy. Our weekly check-ups during your pregnancy are merely a precaution, they shouldn’t be any cause for concern for you.”

Shen Yuan nodded and Luo Binghe was pleased to see a little color return to his pale face. Taking a deep breath to steel himself, Shen Yuan said firmly, “This servant is ready for the Imperial Physician’s examination.”

Mu Qingfang looked over at Luo Binghe and then Shen Yuan. “I’ll need to examine the placement of Shen Yuan’s heat gland. We’re aware of the impact its overstimulation has on his heat cycles, but we don’t know whether it also might have an effect on his pregnancy. I’ve never heard of an instance of this such overstimulation of an omega’s heat gland occurring, so there’s no empirical evidence for me to rely on to draw any conclusions about Shen Yuan’s health and pregnancy. I would like to perform an examination of Shen Yuan’s heat gland so that I can begin my research as soon as possible.”

“Do we need to wait until your research is complete before we resume sexual relations?” the Prince wondered. “How long do you think this might take?”

“If I’m able to perform the examination today, I should be finished with the testing in three weeks. You can resume sexual relations; however, you should avoiding knotting and stimulating Shen Yuan’s heat gland until after my testing it complete.”

“The overstimulation of this servant’s heat gland might have an impact on his pregnancy? What does that mean, Imperial Physician? What will this test entail?”

The Imperial Physician took out a very phallic looking medical instrument. Shen Yuan looked at it in horror. “I will need to give you an aphrodisiac and then stimulate you heat gland with this instrument.”

“You must be joking,” Luo Binghe said in a dangerous voice.

“I’ll be taking several readings of Shen Yuan’s hormone levels to see which hormones are released during the overstimulation of his heat gland. The examination shouldn’t take more than thirty minutes. Shen Yuan, are you comfortable with us performing the test today?”

The young omega’s cheeks burned red, but he nodded in agreement. Turning to Luo Binghe, the Imperial Physician asked, “Do I have your permission, First Prince? Would you like to remain in the office during the examination?”

Luo Binghe took in the mortified face of his lover. “I’ll leave it up to A-Yuan. Would you like me to stay or would you prefer for the examination to be conducted privately.”

“Privately,” Shen Yuan answered immediately.

He walked over to his lover who stared up at him nervously. After pressing a kiss to young Shizun’s hair, he closed the door behind him.

He stood outside the door for a minute, hearing the soft murmur of conversation behind the rice paper door. He trusted the Imperial Physician. But not only that, he wanted to make sure young Shizun felt comfortable with Mu Qingfang, who would be monitoring his health and their baby’s health during the course of Shen Yuan’s pregnancy. Luo Binghe had a feeling this wouldn’t be the first awkward examination that would need to be performed during his omega lover’s pregnancy.

The overstimulation of Shen Yuan’s heat gland would be something they would need to monitor in the future, especially if it would bring him into heat so often. Luo Binghe had been excited at the idea of Shen Yuan entering a heat every month until Mu Qingfang explained how damaging it would be to Shen Yuan’s health. A heat took a lot out of an omega. Heats every six months were the ideal, though heats every four months were acceptable in special cases. Any more often, Mu Qingfang explained, and it could weaken the omega’s health and fertility.

The thought that the overstimulation of Shen Yuan’s heat gland might have an adverse impact on his pregnancy was worrying. Might it cause a miscarriage?

The thought that this was a necessary medical procedure the trusted imperial physician was performing on his bed servant lasted only until he heard Shen Yuan’s soft moan of pleasure from the imperial physician’s office.

“Oh,” said Mu Qingfang after Shen Yuan let out a muffled gasp of pleasure. “I forgot to put up the sound proofing seal on the office. Can you hold this, Shen Yuan. I’ll be just a moment.”

The overwhelming urge to storm in and put an end to the examination robbed him of breath. So he decided to go outside to clear his head. As he stepped outside the building, he nearly collided with his father.

Emperor Tianlang-Jun looked unexpectedly elated for someone making a beeline for the imperial physician’s office. “Ah, just the person I was hoping to see,” his father beamed. “Binghe, my son, I don’t give you enough credit. When you set your sights on something you deliver. No half measures. That’s why you’re the Crown Prince.”

Luo Binghe blinked up at his father trying to read between the lines. “I try to act decisively, yes.”

Emperor Tianlang-Jun clapped him on the back. “I heard a rumor that your bed servant is with child. Some of the rumors say that his child is yours. However, the more common rumor is that he was having an affair with a beta male official from the outer court and now carries a beta bastard in his belly.”

Luo Binghe narrowed his eyes. “Who would dare to say that?”

His father raised an eyebrow. “I’ve heard it from a number of senior officials. The Prime Minster himself is clamoring for your bed servant to be exiled from the Imperial Palace. I said that if the rumors were true, I’d have your omega executed for dishonoring the imperial family. Surely that’s why you’re here. To have these rumors put to rest? Or is it as I suspect that there’s a different and more joyous occasion for your visit? I couldn’t stand to be left in suspense, so I wanted to ask Mu Qingfang what he knew.”

“Shen Yuan is pregnant with my child. It’s an alpha male.”

The Emperor grinned. “It will be good to have a third alpha heir of our bloodline. It adds stability to our dynasty. Though I’d hoped for an alpha female. It’s become a boy’s club around here.”

Luo Binghe rolled his eyes. 

His father clapped his hands together with excitement. “Now I’m dying to get a look at your bed servant. I wonder if the baby will resemble you or your lover more.”

Luo Binghe crossed his arms over his chest. “Sometimes I don’t think that I understand you at all, Father. You won’t let me marry, Shen Yuan, because you worry about how that will reflect on the imperial family when it comes to political marriages, but you’re happy to accept any child I have my bed servant into the imperial family.”

The Emperor reached into his robe and pulled out his imperial seal. “I know you, Binghe. You’re a cunning warrior and an insightful scholar. However, for many years your baser instincts ruled you - it’s no surprise you bonded with a sword spirit like Xin Mo at Wan Jian Peak. It’s said the alpha that wields Xin Mo has the power to raze mountains and boil the seas, but will be as consumed by the same blood lust and sexual lust as Xin Mo.”

Luo Binghe narrowed his eyes at his father. “Yet you made me Crown Prince.”

“You’re always immersed in intrigue and scandal. You own up to it so no one can say anything against you; it’s just who you are. Such behavior is fine for the Crown Prince, but it can damage relationships with allies if you aren’t able to keep your lusts in check. It’s hard to negotiate an alliance with the king of another nation if you’re lopping his head from his shoulders or caught fucking his consort.”

Luo Binghe sighed. “I told you last month that I wanted to marry Shen Yuan and you said you’d disown me if I so much as contemplated having him as my concubine. How can you condemn me for failing to keep my lusts in check and then also hold me hostage from marrying the man I love who also carries my child?”

The Emperor looked up at Luo Binghe meaningfully. “Your bed servant sounds like he’s an beautiful and talented omega that will bear you a beautiful child with strong cultivation. You on the other hand are a serial bed hopper. I think in two months you’re going to lose interest in your bed servant and decide you don’t want a child with him anymore. Then you’re going to force him to end the pregnancy.”

“Then let me marry, Shen Yuan.”

“Marrying a servant is scandalous, but you’ve courted scandal,” the Emperor acknowledged. “If anything it’ll probably become a fairy tale in the provinces about the omega who was so beautiful and talented that even playboy First Prince Luo Binghe couldn’t help but fall in love with him. Marrying a servant, divorcing him months later, and forcing him to abort your child isn’t a fairy tale. I’m putting my seal on the imperial conception record to protect your child from your mistakes and from the intrigue and rumors of the imperial court.”

Luo Binghe raised an eyebrow at his father. “I can assure you that I had no intention to harming my unborn child or abandoning my bed servant. You said that you would strip me of my titles if I marry Shen Yuan. Does that still apply?”

“Yes. If you want to become the Emperor after me, you can’t marry Shen Yuan. You’ve done much to strengthen the imperial family’s alliances with the provinces through your friendship with your five alpha generals. However, we may need you to make a political marriage to strengthen our ties with the Kingdom of the Five Sects or the Eastern Provinces of our Empire,” his father said softly.

Luo Binghe crossed his arms over his chest. “The northern provinces were burned and destroyed and the economy of the eastern provinces has suffered in the wake of the trade embargoes that resulted from the armistice. The Kingdom of the Five Sects is hurting just as much as the eastern provinces are. Wen Rouhan thinks I’m a monster; he’d never agree to an alliance with the Empire through marriage. This will be solved with a new treaty, not my marriage. The Kingdom of the Five Sects is sending a delegation to the Imperial Gala to try to improve the relationship between our nations, we can see if they’d be willing to negotiate a new trade deal.”

The Emperor nodded with approval. “Yes, that’ll be an opportunity to negotiate a new trade deal. If Yue Qingyuan can be torn away from his new husband’s bed, we can have him talk with the delegation to work something out. Any marriage alliance would be with the male omega of the Nie clan or the female omega of the Jiang clan because Wen Rouhan doesn’t have any omegas in his direct line. His niece, Wen Qing, is omega, but I expect he’d prefer a marriage alliance between you and Nie Huaisang or you and Jiang Yanli rather than a member of his own family.”

“He does hate me with the fire of a thousand suns,” Luo Binghe mused. “I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again. I’ll have no other husband except Shen Yuan.”

“Yue Qingyuan’s marriage to Hong Tengfei will be an excellent way to strengthen the relationship between the northern and eastern provinces. With the economic pressure and the rhetoric coming from the Kingdom of the Five Sects, we need to do all we can to ensure the Eastern Province’s loyalty and connection to the Empire. Your marriage will be needed to strengthen an alliance, Binghe. If you marry your bed servant that will compromise it. After you become Emperor you can do whatever you want. But until that day, Shen Yuan will remain your bed servant, not your husband and not your concubine.”

Luo Binghe crossed his arms over his chest. “Shen Yuan and I both have strong cultivation and will live for many years; however, I refuse to wait centuries or decades to take him as my husband. I want my son to grow up knowing Shen Yuan as nothing other than my husband and his mother.”

The Emperor nodded. “When I’m confident you’re ready to assume the responsibility I plan to step down. I won’t do that until you have control over your lust – whether it comes from your own heart or whether it’s exacerbated by the bond with your sword spirit.”

Luo Binghe raised an eyebrow. “How do you plan to determine if I’m ready? Will I need to pass a heavenly tribulation?”

The Emperor chuckled, “There hasn’t been one of those in centuries. They can be damned inconvenient to schedule. You’re very close to being ready, Binghe, and I’m very ready to be retired. Especially now that I’ll have a grandchild to play with. So it shouldn’t be long I think.”

“So the Prime Minister himself is spreading rumors about my bedservant?” Luo Binghe wondered. “I’m surprised that he’d sink to that level.”

“He’s determined to have you as a son-in-law,” his father chuckled. “It wouldn’t be a bad match if you married his omega daughter, you know. She’s beautiful and talented and popular in the imperial court. Maigu Xia also has the Yue family connection through her mother, Yue Qingyuan’s older sister.”

Luo Binghe scoffed, “The Prime Minister’s been trying to influence you again. His ambition is dangerous, father. Liu Mingyan and I haven’t yet been able to substantiate any of the rumors about Prime Minister Maigu, but if even a fraction of them are true he’s not the honorable and loyal man you think him to be.”

Emperor Tianlang-Jun drawled, “Binghe, you’re the only one I know that would seek to avoid a marriage to a beautiful omega by framing her father for treason. Prime Minister Maigu is an upstanding nobleman with many decades of loyal service.”

“He tried to have my bedservant framed for infidelity. You know what the sentence is for that particular crime: execution. I want that man’s head.”

“And yet you claim to have control over your blood lust, Binghe.”

“It’s justice, father,” Luo Binghe countered. “He tried to endanger A-Yuan and our unborn child. That’s unforgivable.”

They both looked over as the front door of Mu Qingfang’s office opened and the imperial physician stepped outside with Shen Yuan. The young omega looked over at them wide eyed with a fierce blush on his face, his gaze shifting from Luo Binghe to his father.

“Emperor,” said Mu Qingfang with a bow.

“Emperor,” Shen Yuan repeated, bowing deeply.

Emperor Tianlang-Jun nodded towards the office. “Let’s go inside. It’s chilly out here and I suspect that we have much to discuss. You must be my son’s bed servant. I’ve heard a great deal about you.”

Shizun looked over at Luo Binghe in alarm before stepping back into the office behind the Emperor and Mu Qingfang. The young omega grabbed Luo Binghe’s arm and they walked into the imperial physician’s office. The Emperor picked up the document stamped with both Mu Qingfang’s and Luo Binghe’s seals.

Taking his seal from the folds of his robe, the Emperor nodded to Mu Qingfang. “I will fix my seal to the document as well.”

xxx

The discussion with his father had taken a weight off his shoulders. Luo Binghe was a little insulted that his father had called him a playboy when he’d made it very clear that he was ardently and passionately devoted to Shen Yuan. Thought it had been nice to hear that part of his father’s motivations in wanting to put his own seal on the imperial conception record were to protect Shen Yuan.

His father hadn’t given any indication of when he would want to crown Luo Binghe emperor, but he was patient to wait. As soon as Luo Binghe became Emperor he could do what he wanted. Maybe he could marry Shen Yuan during the coronation and his young lover would become the Emperor’s Consort.

Shen Yuan asked to lie down after their appointment with the Imperial Physician and his unexpected introduction to the Emperor. His lover still looked a bit paler than Luo Binghe liked, so he tucked him into bed and bid him to rest. He pressed a kiss to his lover’s forehead and over his belly before leaving the room.

Shen Yuan grabbed his hand before he left and pressed a kiss into his palm. “This servant will be fine after a rest. He doesn’t want his Master to worry about him.”

“Sleep well, my love,” Luo Binghe whispered back.

Luo Binghe went to his personal office in the private chambers to read through his correspondence. He rolled his eyes at a letter from the Prime Minister asserting the truth of some ridiculous rumors about his bed servant, Shen Yuan, before leaning back in his chair and closing his eyes.

What would their child look like? Would he look more Luo Binghe or more like Shen Yuan? Would he be a mix of both? Luo Binghe hoped that their son had Shen Yuan’s eyes. The gray color was so beautiful and unusual.

Luo Binghe put a hand to the sash around his waist and took out the qiankun pouch that had his imperial seal. He tossed it back onto the desk before taking out the other item tucked into his sash. He smiled at the sight of his lover’s fan. He’d forgotten that he’d tucked it into his waist in the Imperial Physician’s office. He looked up as his manservant Chonglin walked into the room with a tray.

“This servant has brought wine and refreshments for First Prince.”

“Ah, thank you, Chonglin,” Luo Binghe said with approval as the other alpha male poured him a glass of wine. Taking the glass of wine, he smiled up at his servant. “It’s been two days now, have you thought of the reward that you would ask of me for our dedicated service.”

The alpha male servant’s nodded. “This servant thanks First Prince for this great honor. As a reward, this servant wishes to learn cultivation. His first desire is to have three cultivation lessons with the First Prince.”

Luo Binghe nodded. “Your request is granted. Three cultivation lessons it is. Thank you for your loyal service, Chonglin.”

xxx

Luo Binghe sat on the side of the bed as he placed the fan onto the bedside table. Shen Yuan was fast asleep under the furs and silks on his bed. The lines of worry on his face were smoothed out and his cheeks rosy with sleep. Brushing back his lover’s dark hair from his eyes, he pressed a kiss to the top of his head.

He looked over at the fan sitting on the table, a gift from a father to honor the birth of his son. Smoothing his thumb gently over Shen Yuan’s cheek he marveled at the fact a villain like Yan Longwei could create such a person as perfect as Shen Yuan. Shen Yuan was a stunning creature with a clever eyes and a lithe form as deadly on the practice ground as it was sensual in the bedroom.

Shen Yuan hardly resembled Yan Longwei at all. Perhaps he took after his mother.

Luo Binghe had the curiosity, but not the nerve to question his bed servant about Yan Julong’s plans with his marriage to Yue Qingyuan. There was still so much Luo Binghe still didn’t know about Shen Yuan, his older brother, and their plans. Shen Yuan might not have been privy to his older brother’s plans, but he likely knew more than he realized. There was so much at risk and so much to lose. Luo Binghe wanted to learn as much as he could to prepare himself for the trouble brewing on the horizon.

He was loathe to question his lover again. The look of abject fear in Shen Yuan’s eyes when he’d interrogated him the first time wasn’t something he ever wanted to experience again. Not only that, it could be dangerous to both Shen Yuan and their baby to use his alpha thrall on Shen Yuan while he was pregnant. Not only that, but it would also be less effective.

This fan was an interesting puzzle piece. It might be able to provide additional information about Yan Julong. Feng Wencheng had made the fan in both this life and their previous one. In this life, he was nobleman and sword master who lived in the Imperial City. He was an old man, but he was still kicking around to the best of Luo Binghe’s knowledge.

Feng Wencheng only made trinkets for his friends or for his betters. Luo Binghe wondered which category Yan Longwei fell into for Feng Wencheng to make this particular trinket for him. At the time that the fan was made, they were similar in rank but not in influence or wealth. Feng Wencheng had more influence whereas Yan Longwei had more wealth.

Although Yan Longwei was the head of one of the three noble families of the northern Provinces and a well-connected general in the Imperial Army, he wasn’t as influential as Feng Wencheng. Feng Wencheng was a wealthy nobleman in the Imperial City; however, he didn’t have the fabulous wealth of Yan Longwei derived from the extensive zinc and silver mines of Qing Jing Peak.

It was a great honor to have a child tutored in swordplay by Feng Wencheng or a fine trinket made by the artisan. Feng Wencheng asked for a small fee for his tutoring, but the fine trinkets were always gifts. Even before his treason was discovered, Yan Longwei’s was notorious within the noble circles outside of the Northern Provinces. He wasn’t the sort of nobleman that Feng Wencheng typically tried to curry favor with through his gifts.  

So they must have been friends.

Luo Binghe had never realized. Though it wasn’t surprising that Feng Wencheng hadn’t advertised the fact then or now. The Yan family was one of the three noble families of the northern Provinces, but their reputation had suffered after the scandal of Yan Longwei’s birth. Few knew that the scandal was so severe that it had almost caused a war with the Kingdom of the Northern Provinces.

So there were just vague whispers of treachery after Yan Longwei’s father was executed and speculation as to who Yan Longwei’s mother might have been.

So it wouldn’t have been fashionable for a man like Feng Wencheng, who was always trying to curry favor with his betters, to be friends with someone like Yan Longwei before the War against the Kingdom of the Five Sects. After the War it would have been political or social suicide.

And yet Feng Wencheng had made a beautiful fan for Yan Longwei’s illegitimate son. They must have been very close friends for him to make such a beautiful trinket for a nobleman’s bastard child. Shen Yuan was sixteen years old so he would have been born either right before or right after the war ended. Yan Longwei perished in the fire that consumed his estate a month after the war ended, so it was likely that Shen Yuan was born before the end of the war.  

Yan Longwei had sent his First Wife, her son and daughter, along with Yan Julong to the imperial city so they’d all survive the Rape of the Northern Provinces. Maybe Yan Julong brought his infant brother with him too. Maybe that was when Feng Wencheng presented them with the fan.

This sort of investigation was right up Liu Mingyan’s alley. Luo Binghe would have to have his alpha female general sink her teeth into this when she had a chance.

Yan Julong and Hong Tengfei was another interesting puzzle. Luo Binghe couldn’t remember whether or not he met the man during that memorable Imperial Gala eighteen years ago. That Imperial Gala had been memorable to say the least. It was two years into the War against the Kingdom of the Five Sects, so several nobles were unable to attend because they were fighting at the front – including Mo Beijun, and the Liu siblings. Attendance had suffered, but the revelry hadn’t in the least.

Luo Binghe, Yue Qingyuan, and Sha Hualing had spent their evenings drinking and making merry and their days planning a new offensive in the War Against the Kingdom of the Five Sects from Yue Qingyuan’s rooms. Luo Binghe and Sha Hualing often had satisfied paramours sleeping off last night’s assignation in their rooms, so Yue Qingyuan’s rooms provided the group the needed privacy.

Yue Qingyuan met Hong Tengfei, the omega son of General Hong Fengfei, at the Imperial Gala and had fallen hard for him. Though now, Luo Binghe knew that the man Yue Qingyuan had fallen in love with wasn’t Hong Tengfei at all but Yan Julong.

Luo Binghe didn’t remember meeting Hong Tengfei himself, but Sha Hualing did remember. She said that Hong Tengfei was very beautiful. Sha Hualing said that Hong Tengfei must have taken after his mother in appearance and inherited the keen strategic mind of his father. Yue Qingyuan also went starry eyed about A-Fei’s quick wit, which Sha Hualing explained that Hong Tengfei must have also inherited from his mother. Luo Binghe knew General Hong Pengfei to be an excellent military man, but he was a terrible bore at military banquets. General Hong Pengfei was known for his valor and tactical brilliance but not for his looks.

During the Imperial Gala, Luo Binghe and Sha Hualing teased Yue Qingyuan mercilessly about how adorably chaste he and A-Fei were – sneaking kisses in the banquet halls and spending their evenings in the privacy of Yue Qingyuan’s rooms getting to know each other through conversation rather than with their bodies. Yue Qingyuan was a courteous and honorable alpha male. So Luo Binghe could easily imagine the man drinking tea and talking about art, philosophy, and military strategy with the beautiful omega Yue Qingyuan desperately desired. Most alpha males were not as courteous. Most alpha males would be more interested in a beautiful omega’s body than his mind.

Luo Binghe fell into the later camp himself. His young omega lover Shen Yuan was beautiful, sensual, talented, and intellectual. Luo Binghe had been keen to learn the pleasures of A-Yuan’s beautiful body first before learning the depths of A-Yuan’s incredible mind.

Though maybe it was fortunate Yue Qingyuan was so virtuous. While Luo Binghe and Sha Hualing were sleeping their way through the most desirable courtesans at the Imperial Gala, Yue Qingyuan was discussing philosophy and military strategy. Yan Julong had a brilliant strategic mind. He and Yue Qingyuan actually dreamed up several unconventional military tactics together during their conversations that proved extremely effective during the war.

Yan Julong had likely been sent to the Imperial Gala to gather information for his father about the Imperial Forces next offensive. The information Yan Julong passed to the enemy was devastating – it caused tremendous casualties during the next three military offensives and revealed a weakness in the Imperial Forces’ line the Kingdom exploited nearly a year later in the massacre that would be later named the Rape of the Northern Provinces.  

Luo Binghe always wondered how the Kingdom had learned of that particular weakness. Luo Binghe and his generals had been very careful to prevent such flaws, but they were at least aware of a certain set of circumstances that caused the forces at one their strongholds in the Tian Gong Mountain Range to be weakened.

During one of their three military offenses that particular stronghold would be at its weakest. The offensive strike itself had taken that into account. The main objective of that particular offensive was a crucial military installation in the Kingdom used to resupply their troops. The Kingdom’s troops south of that military installation were the ones that primarily threatened the weakened stronghold, so the Imperial forces were to eliminate those forces before taking the military installation.

It was a massacre. The offensive strike failed, nearly half of the Kingdom’s army was waiting for them south of that military installation rather than the small auxiliary force that had remained there for much of the war. The Imperial troops were slaughtered, the stronghold was taken, and the Northern Provinces were invaded.

It was clear now where the information come. It was also clear now what service Yan Julong needed to complete for his father – and Wen Rouhan – to earn the great honor of being legitimized. Yan Julong was a villain and a keen military strategist. He must have known just how damaging the intel he passed to Wen Rouhan was and the risk it posed to the Northern Provinces were he’d spent all of his life.

Though perhaps Yan Julong made the tactical error trying to get the plans by seducing Yue Qingyuan. If he’d tried to gather the information by seducing Luo Binghe or Sha Hualing, he would have likely gotten a good fucking and all of the information he needed. None of them would have expected Hong Pengfei’s omega soon to be a spy in their midst.

Yan Julong had to work so heard to pry the information out of the always sober and impossible to seduce Yue Qingyuan that they’d ended up inventing unconventional military strategies to pass the time and continue their conversation. A year after the Imperial Gala and three months after the Rape of the Northern Provinces, Yue Qingyuan incorporated several of the unconventional strategies into their successful campaign to capture the Wen clan’s stronghold of Nightless City.

Yue Qingyuan had been legitimized by his father in the year before the war broke out and wanted to make a name for himself before he married Hong Tengfei. Yue Qingyuan was the heir to the Warden of the Eastern Provinces and a talented warrior. A marriage to the omega son of Hong Pengfei would be an advantageous match for them both.

Luo Binghe wondered how Yan Julong planned to work around that particular quandary. When Yue Qingyuan met the real Hong Tengfei, Yan Julong’s deception would be discovered. After the war Yan Julong fled to the Kingdom of the Five Sects, so he likely did have an exit strategy in mind from the start.

Throughout the next year of the war, Yue Qingyuan wrote love letters back and forth to Hong Tengfei. His general kept them wrapped in a green ribbon he’d taken from the young omega’s hair during the Imperial Gala. He kept them close to his heart. Luo Binghe wondered who penned the letters sent to Yue Qingyuan. They’d come and gone from the Hong estate. Maybe Yan Julong stayed there during the War before going to the Imperial City just before the Rape of the Northern Provinces was to occur?

Yue Qingyuan more than accomplished his task of achieving renown during the War against the Five Sects. Unfortunately, tragedy stuck before he could marry Hong Tengfei. The Rape of the Northern Provinces caused widespread devastation across the Northern Provinces. Hong Tengfei was reported among the dead.  

xxx

Luo Binghe could see that his lover was anxious about his pregnancy and had suffered many of the trials of a pregnant omega’s first trimester, so he didn’t let him out of his sight. Luo Binghe wanted to ensure his pregnant lover received constant reinforcement of the fact Shen Yuan and their child would be cared for and protected by Luo Binghe.  

There was always a risk of losing a pregnancy during the first trimester, though it was less of a risk for a pregnant omega than for a pregnant beta. However, Luo Binghe was worried that a deceitful imperial official or courtesan might try to slip pennyroyal oil into Shen Yuan’s food to force the omega to miscarry, so he was vigilant and paranoid about the servants preparing his lover’s food. The slightest whiff of mint or hint of impropriety would be cause for exile or execution.

Luo Binghe didn’t tell any of this to Shen Yuan. He didn’t want to worry his young lover who he could tell was already anxious about the pregnancy.

It was with great pride and satisfaction that Luo Binghe heard the results of Mu Qingfang’s examination of Shen Yuan’s heat gland. The conclusions further emphasized in his mind just how much he and Shen Yuan were fated to be together in this life and every life. Not only were they an alpha-omega pair who had conceived a child together, but even their bodies had been designed with the other’s pleasure in mind.

Luo Binghe had stood outside the imperial physician’s office while Mu Qingfang conducted the examination. This had been an extremely infuriating process, hearing the soft moans of pleasure from his bed servant from behind a closed door. If Luo Binghe hadn’t trusted and valued Mu Qingfang so highly, he would’ve had the physician killed for having the audacity to perform such an examination on his lover.

His ire was cooled somewhat when Shen Yuan told him after the fact that Mu Qingfang had been kind and professional, and that Shen Yuan was grateful Luo Binghe had allowed him to have the mortifying examination performed in privacy.

During the examination, Mu Qingfang used a tool that measured the placement of Shen Yuan’s heat gland. It was a thin rod that was inserted into the omega’s cunt and then a ring was inflated until the heat gland was stimulated. The ring was segmented, so that parts could be drawn in and pushed out to determine the exact placement of the gland. It was easier to stimulate the heat gland when the omega was aroused, so it was necessary for Shen Yuan to take an aphrodisiac.

A blood sample was taken before the examination and then six more samples after stimulating Shen Yuan’s heat gland at increasing levels of intensity. Using the samples, Mu Qingfang was able to determine which hormones were affected by Shen Yuan’s heat gland overstimulation. He was able to say definitively that they wasn’t any danger that the overstimulation might cause a miscarriage.

When Luo Binghe asked Shen Yuan if he’d had any orgasms during the examination, the young omega blushed bright red and changed the subject. When Luo Binghe asked the same question privately to the Imperial Physician, Mu Qingfang reported that Shen Yuan had a total of five orgasms during the test and that Shen Yuan was writhing on the examination table and screaming out an incoherent litany of Binghe’s given name and ‘Master’ by the time they reached the final two intensities.

The tool also took a measure of the placement within Shen Yuan’s body. Mu Qingfang had been surprised by the results. He explained that Shen Yuan’s heat gland was higher and more recessed than that of most male or female omegas. The placement made it nearly impossible to be stimulated by an alpha’s knot. It’s placement also, meant it would be stimulated after the alpha and omega were knotted together rather than before as was the case for most omegas.

For an alpha to be able to stimulate Shen Yuan’s heat gland they would need to have an alpha cock and knot that were off the charts: an alpha cock of prodigious length and girth as well as an alpha knot of extraordinary power and circumference.

The following week, Mu Qingfang gave Luo Binghe an aphrodisiac and took measurements of his erect cock and inflated knot. He said that Luo Binghe fit the requirements to stimulate Shen Yuan’s heat gland with barely two millimeters to spare. So only an alpha with a cock and knot as impressive as Luo Binghe’s own would be able to pleasure his lover as well as he did.

Luo Binghe found this to be a great source of pride and accomplishment.

Luo Binghe brushed young Shizun’s hair back from his face and kissed his brow before painting his alpha scent along Shen Yuan’s neck and collarbones to soothe his pregnant lover. Shen Yuan sighed, cuddling in closer to him as the soft silk of his inner robes brushing against Luo Binghe’s bare chest. Luo Binghe pulled their bodies flush together. Luo Binghe pressed a hand reverently to his lover’s flat belly where their child grew inside him.

“This servant begs his master’s pardon. He was unable to fulfill his duty tonight.”

Luo Binghe breathed in the gentle fragrance of his pregnant lover’s scent, reveling in his own base scent profile reflected in it. “My love, you’re carrying our child. It’s my duty to see that you’re happy and healthy. If you’re feeling too unwell to make love tonight, we’ll wait until you feel better. I’m more than content to simply fall asleep with you in my arms. There’s no rush. After all Imperial Physician said dual cultivation isn’t as important during the first trimester because the qi drain won’t have any impact on your qi reserves until midway through your second.”  

“This servant doesn’t deserve his Master’s favor.”

“My love, we’re having a child together. Please, call me by my name.”

Young Shizun nuzzled closer together and painted his own scent on Luo Binghe’s chest using the scent glands on his wrists. “This servant will do his best. He still hasn’t grown accustomed to the great honor his Master bestowed upon him.”

Luo Binghe kissed his lover gently, conveying his love and devotion with his lips. Shen Yuan let out a happy sigh and returned the kiss sweetly, wrapping his arms around Luo Binghe’s neck.

Chapter Text

Chapter Twelve

The imperial physician’s office was in the Inner Palace between the Hall of Martial Victory and the Hall of Scholarly Pursuit. Shen Yuan was dragged there by two of the Prime Minister’s servants, Liling and Xiaodan. The beta male groped him as they brought him to the imperial physician’s office. His outer robes gaped open over his babe-swollen belly. Tears of shame and fear shone in his eyes.

“Minister Maigu said we’d get to plunder your cunt after Imperial Physician Mu’s removed that beta bastard from your belly,” Xiaodan told him with a leer.

“Be glad the Prince was merciful and let you keep your miserable life. I thought for sure he’d strike your traitorous head from your shoulders,” Liling sneered.  

He could hear whispers as they dragged him across the Inner Court.  

“The Prince’s bed servant had an affair with a beta official and now he has the beta’s bastard in his belly.”  

“Shameful omega slut.”  

“His father was Yan Longwei. To be expected from the bastard of such a man.”  

The two guards opened the door to Mu Qingfang’s office and threw Shen Yuan to the floor at his feet. The Imperial Physician looked down at him with disapproval.  

Shen Jiu’s tin of pennyroyal tea was sitting on the imperial physician’s desk next to the same cast iron teapot that sat on the table in the apartment where he’d lived with Shen Jiu before coming to the Imperial Palace. The physician had already brewed the tea. It had the same bitter pungent smell he remembered from the one time his older brother brewed the stuff after coming home after a conquest.  

“Please,” Shen Yuan begged, holding his hands over his very pregnant belly protectively. “Please don’t do this.”  

Mu Qingfang poured the tea and held it out to Shen Yuan. “You have a choice, Shen Yuan. You can drink this tea and get rid of that beta official’s bastard in your belly and then face punishment and exile. Or you can refuse and be executed.”  

Shen Yuan wept, “This servant wants to talk to First Prince. This servant wants to talk to First Prince.”  

Mu Qingfang raised an eyebrow. “First Prince will execute you on the spot. Is that what you want? Drink the tea. You’ll at least walk away with your wretched life.”  

His hands shook as he took the cup from the Imperial Physician. Shen Yuan had never drank pennyroyal tea before. It tasted much worse than it smelled! How had Jiu-xiong maintained his composure when drinking this vile stuff?  

His empty teacup shattered on the ground as he doubled over with a hand to his belly as he was wracked with terrible pains. He coughed wetly, putting a hand to his mouth. It came away bloody. The pain his belly was so strong he fell to his knees. There was a large puddle of blood dripping from between his thighs spreading out across the floor.  

“A-Yuan,” came the Prince’s voice from the front door of the imperial physician’s office. “Wake up.”  

Shen Yuan jolted awake. The Prince’s hair was loose around his face, falling in dark waves down his back. “You were having a nightmare,” the Prince said, running a hand up and down Shen Yuan’s arm soothingly. “It’s over. You’re safe.”  

Shen Yuan felt hot tears dripping down his face. This was the third time he’d had the nightmare this week. It had been plaguing him on and off for the past three weeks. He kept hoping it would just go away. In the nightmare always dreamt that he was noticeably pregnant, but he was actually only seven weeks along. He didn’t even look pregnant. His belly was as flat and toned as ever.  

He liked to fantasize that he wasn’t pregnant and the nausea he felt some mornings was from something he’d eaten the night before. Surely one of the dishes was richer than his stomach was used to.   Perhaps there was an exotic fruit in his meal that had come from far away. Maybe it was past its prime by the time it made its way to the palace kitchens. Surely it was that had him throwing up in the morning rather than a baby in his belly.

He’d been afraid to talk about this nightmare to the Prince. He didn’t know how the Prince would react to the Prime Minister’s treachery. Shen Yuan feared the Prince would take it the wrong way and suspect him of infidelity. He was afraid to risk it.

He rolled over onto his side to face away from his lover and curled his legs up to his chest. He closed his eyes and let out a shaky breath as he tried to calm his furiously pounding heart.

“Was it the same nightmare?” the Prince whispered, rubbing Shen Yuan’s back. “You were crying out you wanted to talk to me. It was just like the last time. Please, A-Yuan, tell me what’s wrong.”

The Prince pulled him back against his chest. The warm skin of his lover’s chest against the thin silk of his inner robes helped to comfort him. His lover painted his scent onto Shen Yuan’s shoulders, chest, and neck using the scent glands on the Prince’s wrists and under his jaw. The heady scent of his alpha calmed his pounding heart. It made him feel safe, secure, and loved. He wanted to surround himself in it.      

Shen Yuan murmured, “There—there was so much blood.“

The Prince kissed the back of his shoulder. “It’s alright, my love. You’re safe. The baby’s safe. Is this the same nightmare that you’ve been having? Tell me what’s wrong, so I can fix it.”

Shen Yuan rolled over to the face the Prince. All he could see was the crimson gleam of the Prince’s in the darkness. “If there was ever a rumor of infidelity, promise that First Prince wouldn’t doubt his servant.”

The Prince pulled him into his arms and kissed his hair gently. “I know that I was your first lover and I plan on being your only lover. I would never doubt your fidelity, my love. If anyone makes an unwelcome advance on you, let me know and I’d put a swift end to them.”

xxx

Two weeks before his seventeenth birthday, he got an amazing gift: another letter from his older brother. He nearly cried tears of joy when Auntie handed the letter to him, he didn’t even care that it had been opened already and probably half of the Imperial Palace had read it. It was a note from his older brother.

Auntie had a second surprise for him later that day. Dongmei stopped by with the old cook from the Outer Palace kitchens with a wide grin. Her transfer to the kitchens of the Hall of Military Victory in the Inner Palace had been approved and she would be working at in the Hall of Military Victory just a stone’s throw from Shen Yuan.

“I didn’t realize that your birthday was in two weeks, A-Yuan,” Auntie said with a smile. “We’ll have to do something special to celebrate.”

Dongmei rubbed her hands together. “You should see the amazing ingredients that are stocked in the kitchens of the Hall of Military Victory. We could make you all sorts of exotic delicacies to celebrate!”

Shen Yuan put a hand to his stomach and wrinkled his nose. “I’ve been so nauseous, Dongmei. The Imperial Physician says that it should improve after my first trimester is done. Maybe we could make some exotic delicacies then. I’m curious to try some of the new fruits and juices that have arrived from the Richu Islands.”

“That would be great!”

“A-Yuan, did you have any fun birthday traditions as a child?” Auntie wondered. “Your birthday is just a couple weeks before the First Prince’s. When he was a child, I would take him to the market and let him pick out a sweet to celebrate. Then we would buy a lantern. When night fell, we would release it from the garden in the Hall of Divine Might in honor of his mother.”

“My birthday is on the Spring Equinox,” Shen Yuan explained. “When I young, my older brother would take me to the spring equinox festival for us to celebrate.”

Dongmei scratched at the verdant braches woven around her head. “I’ve never heard of a spring equinox festival.”

Shen Yuan gaped at her in shock. The annual spring equinox festival that Jiu-xiong had taken him to when he was a young child was one of his favorite memories from when they lived in that small apartment near the golden stairs and white peonies of the Golden Tower.

“How could you have never heard of the spring equinox festival!” he exclaimed. “Those are some of the happiest memories from my childhood: games and sweets and fireworks!”

Auntie laughed. “You grew up in the southern provinces, Dongmei, so I’m not surprised. Humans prefer to celebrate the spring or autumn equinoxes, while elves prefer to celebrate the winter and summer solstices. So solstice festivals are common in the southern, northern, and imperial provinces while equinox festivals are common in the eastern and imperial province.”

“I didn’t know that,” Shen Yuan said with interest. “Why would there be a preference one way over the other for humans and elves? Why can’t we just celebrate all four?”

Auntie crossed her arms over her chest. “I don’t know. Some traditions are so old that it’s hard to remember why they were started. Maybe humans prefer the symmetry of the equinoxes when the amount of light equal to the amount of dark and elves prefer the contrast – the longest day and the longest night? Or maybe something to do with seasons and a preference for winter and summer vs spring and autumn. I’m sure there’s a reason.”

“So the eastern and imperial provinces are the ones that have spring equinox festivals,” Shen Yuan mused. “Strange that I only went to them when I lived in the northern province. When I was a child, I lived in the Northern Provinces and we always went the spring equinox festival on my birthday. We moved to the Imperial Provinces when my seventh birthday, but we never went to a spring equinox festival when we lived there.”

“Did you know that the Kingdom of the Five Sects has some truly lavish festivals for the spring equinox?” Auntie continued. “The Lanling Jin sect from Koi Tower have the most spectacular festival because it always corresponds to the peak blooms of their sparks amid snow peonies. They have a fireworks display from the golden stairs of their Koi Tower that lights up the night sky in amazing colors and patterns.”

Shen Yuan grinned and agreed with Dongmei that it would be amazing to attend it someday if only the Empire and the Kingdom of the Five Sects were at peace. In the back of his mind, Shen Yuan was in turmoil. That sounded a great deal like the spring equinox festival that he remembered from his childhood. He and Jiu-xiong had lived in a small apartment on the golden steps of the Golden Tower.

The noble family’s estate that they lived in the shadow of wasn’t actually called the Golden Tower, but that’s the name that Shen Yuan had given it as a child. Jiu-xiong always chuckled and ruffled his hair, but never corrected him. What was the name of the place?

‘How could they name their palace after a fish in their ornamental pond!’ Shen Yuan remembered giggling as a child as he walked with Jiu-xiong through the white peony garden that bordered the golden steps on both side. ‘If I was a nobleman I would name my estate something grand, like the Golden Tower!’

‘Then that’s what we’ll call it,’ Jiu-xiong agreed as he ruffled Shen Yuan’s hair. ‘The Golden Tower.’

Shen Yuan felt a little faint. Could he really have lived in the Kingdom of the Five Sects during his childhood and never realized? When he was young, he never really knew the names of places and histories. He’d just knew the name of his street and the name of places the little town they lived in. When Shen Yuan and Jiu-xiong moved back to the Imperial Provinces, Jiu-xiong decided it was time to teach him some geography. Though they’d only ever studied maps of the Empire.

“You look pale,” Auntie noted. “Do you need to sit down?”

“I feel a little dizzy.” Shen Yuan nodded with a small smile. “I’m going to lay down.”

xxx

Shen Yuan had just laid down in the Prince’s palatial bed and pulled out the letter from the sash around his waist, when the door opened and First Prince appeared. Quickly tucking the letter back into his sash discretely, he sat up in bed. It was early in the afternoon. More often than not the Prince was usually tied up in meetings until the sun started to set.

“Auntie said you looked pale,” the Prince as he sat on the side of the bed. “How do you feel?”

Shen Yuan nodded with a smile. The Prince had become very overprotective ever since Shen Yuan got pregnant. Shen Yuan was starting to get frustrated at being treated like a piece of glass that might shatter. “Everything is fine. This servant is a little tired. His Master needn’t concern himself.”

The Prince brushed his hair away from his face and kissed his forehead. “Would you like me to stay with you while you sleep in case you have another nightmare?”

Shen Yuan shook his head. He wanted to read his brother’s letter and he couldn’t do that with the Prince in the room. “This servant doesn’t wish to trouble his Master. He will sleep better in a quiet room.”

The Prince’s expression showed clearly that he didn’t want to leave Shen Yuan alone to whatever monsters seemed to chase him in his dreams. Rather than forcing the matter, the Prince pulled back his sleeves and painted his alpha scent onto Shen Yuan’s pillow, collar, and collarbone using the scent glands at his wrists.

“My love, when we’re alone you needn’t be so formal. You can call me by my given name, Binghe,” the Prince said softly as he smiled down at him and smoothed his thumb over Shen Yuan’s cheek.

Shen Yuan searched the Prince’s eyes. The Prince likely didn’t think anything of it. His other lovers had been noblemen and noblewoman, they wouldn’t think anything of using the Prince’s given name with him. Things were different for Shen Yuan. Even though he was favored over all of the Prince’s other lovers and even carried the Prince’s child, he was still a lowborn servant.

There were strict rules of etiquette and station in the Imperial Palace. If a lowborn servant like Shen Yuan started to behave above his station by using one of the Imperial Majesties given names, the other servants and imperial officials would take offense.   Dongmei and Auntie would stand by him. The other servants and officials wouldn’t harm him physically and risk the Prince’s wrath over his child, but they had subtle and psychological ways of causing trouble that could sometimes be worse – the Prime Minister’s treachery was a prime example.

“This servant begs his Master’s forgiveness. He will try to remember.”

“I’ll leave you to rest, my love,” the Prince said softly as he stood up. “I’ll ask your omega female servant friend to remain close by in case you need anything.”

Shen Yuan closed his eyes and laid back, breathing deeply the seductive scent of his lover. He always loved the Prince’s scent, but since he became pregnant it had become like a drug to him. Shen Yuan always felt better when surrounded by it.

“Thank you, Master,” he murmured.

The Prince pressed a kiss to both of his closed eyes. “Sleep well, my love.”

Shen Yuan simply smiled and kept his eyes closed as if he was trying to fall back asleep. He waited until the echo of the Prince’s boots down the hall receded to silence and the only sound was the whistle of the spring breeze through one of the windows. Then he opened his eyes and looked around.

He wasn’t sure why the Prince was so determined to have Shen Yuan call him by his given name. Shen Yuan didn’t see anything wrong with the way things were. If anything it helped to reinforce in his mind his place in the palace. Shen Yuan was the pampered and spoiled lover of First Prince Luo Binghe. Shen Yuan was the omega that had the great honor of bearing an alpha son for First Prince Luo Binghe. Shen Yuan was also a lowborn bed servant.

Shen Yuan didn’t want to put on airs and pretend to be someone else like his brother seemed to do so effortlessly. Shen Yuan wasn’t ashamed of being a servant. Moreover, he wasn’t ashamed of being a bed servant whose principal role was to provide his master sexual pleasure in bed. If anything, this was the best job that he’d ever had – pregnancy none withstanding – being pampered, pleasured and spoiled by a handsome and powerful alpha that treated Shen Yuan with devotion and respect.  

However, that didn’t mean he wanted his brother to find out. Shen Yuan wasn’t ashamed, but he didn’t want to get in trouble. He’d been flagrant in his disobedience of the only two things Jiu-xiong asked him not to do. Though it might be months or years before Jiu-xiong would return to the Imperial City. Maybe he’d never find out.

Now that he was sure of his privacy for the next couple minutes, Shen Yuan took out Jiu-xiong’s letter and unsealed it.

1st March

 

 

 

Didi-

I noticed the endorsement on your letter came from the post office of Imperial Palace Inner Court. My baby brother has become so well connected in my absence!  

You must get the best gossip working in the Imperial Palace. News from the Imperial City travels so slowly to the Northern Provinces that we only ever receive word about new trends and intrigues after they’ve long since become old news. My wonderful fiancé is a noble gentleman and never engages in such gossip, so I’ll have to rely on you to tell me of the new intrigues in the Imperial Palace.  

The latest gossip about the Imperial Palace that’s reached the Northern Provinces concerns First Prince Luo Binghe’s mysterious bed servant, Shen Yuan. No one has captured the Crown Prince’s interest for such a long period of time, so everyone is fascinated with the rumors. Many teahouses have even started betting pools about how long this omega male will remain in the Prince’s bed. I decided to get in on the fun and put in bets at two teahouses while I was in Yandai Xiejie to mail your letter.  

If you have any inside information about this mysterious bed servant, now that you work in the Imperial Palace, let me know. I’ve got two copper pieces on the line. I’ve already asked my fiancé about First Prince Luo Binghe’s mysterious bed servant, but he’s never actually seen the male omega himself. My fiancé said that the Prince himself has been elusive. The gossip there is that his bed servant is so desirable that the Prince is loath to leave his bed and the pleasure of his lover’s nubile form.  

Well enough of this gossip. I’m sure all of this is old news to you. I hope that you have a wonderful birthday later this month.  

-Gege  

Crap!

Shit!

Fuck!

Jiu-xiong knew exactly what Shen Yuan was up to and was going to throttle him when they saw each other again. Shen Yuan looked down at his belly and rested a hand over it.

At least his older brother didn’t know about his pregnancy yet. He didn’t think it had become public knowledge yet. There were definitely rumors in the Imperial City about whether or not First Prince’s bed servant was pregnant, but Shen Yuan didn’t think those rumors had spread outside the city. At least he hoped not.

He was so dead.

He was ten weeks pregnant, but he hadn’t started to show yet. Shen Yuan rested his head back against the pillows and looked up at the black silk canopy above the bed. The imperial physician explained that because it was Shen Yuan’s first pregnancy and because of his excellent muscle definition from his cultivation practice, he likely wouldn’t start to show until his second trimester.

xxx

The Garden of the Dragon’s Peak had been breathtaking during the winter months when Shen Yuan first became the Prince’s bed servant. Now that it was early April spring was in bloom, the trees had budded and flowers blossomed throughout the garden. The fresh scent of the flowering trees and bushes on the rough-hewn mountainside filled the garden: magnolias, lilacs, and cherry blossoms. There was an orchard of fruit trees adjacent to the bamboo forest filled with pear, peach, and apricot trees. The bamboo forest was now strewn with white petals from the trees. The maple trees were starting to bud next to Koi Lake and rows of tulips had sprung up along the eastern corner of the garden among the rows of peony bushes.  

The rough-hewn stairs up the man-made mountain had always been shaded by several trees. It wasn’t until recently that Shen Yuan realized they were in fact cherry trees. Shen Yuan reached his hand up into the cherry tree’s branches to look closer at the blossoms. The trees had budded over the last two weeks. Now that it was early April, the tree had blossomed and strewn its delicate white petals all along the rough-hewn stairs.

Shen Yuan loved spending time in the Prince’s private gardens. They were so beautiful now in early spring. He couldn’t wait to see what they looked like in the summer when the orchard began to bear fruit.

Shen Yuan made his way up the rough-hewn stairs to the Mountain-in-View Pavilion. He waved down with a smile at the omega female gardener weeding the rows of peony bushes along the eastern side of the Dragon’s Peak. Two other gardeners, beta females of elven heritage, were at the edge of Koi Lake. One was feeding the koi fish on one side of the lake while the second dredged the other side of the lake to remove sediment, dead vegetation, and other debris from the bottom.

The bamboo forest was a short walk away from the Mountain-in-View Pavilion. During the winter months, the bamboo forest added the most color to the Garden of the Dragon’s Peak, but now in the spring every inch of the Dragon’s Peak seemed to be bursting with color.

Some days Shen Yuan preferred the bird’s eye view of Mountain-in-View Pavilion and on other days he enjoyed the privacy and seclusion of the elegant bamboo house. The day bed in the elegant bamboo house was more comfortable than the soft cushions arranged in the middle of Mountain-in-View Pavilion.

First Prince liked to assert that it was in on day bed of the elegant bamboo house that their baby had been conceived. Shen Yuan tried to counter by saying that they hadn’t spent much time in the bamboo house during his heat and it could have really been anywhere that they’d conceived their baby. The Prince would then grin and remind him about the blue piece of heat paper in the elegant bamboo house that he’d tested during Shen Yuan’s heat.  

Shen Yuan didn’t like to think about when they conceived the baby in his belly. It made him feel guilty about the fact he never intended to become pregnant. He would love and cherish their baby, but he spent more time trying to deny its existence than celebrating its existence like the Prince did.

Being pregnant wasn’t fun. People spoke of the glow that pregnant betas and omegas would have during their pregnancies, but Shen Yuan hadn’t experienced any of that himself. Instead, Shen Yuan had felt emasculated, overwhelmed, and like a stranger in his own skin as his body changed as it nurtured and accommodated the life growing inside it. He hadn’t started to show yet, but it was just a matter of time now that he was fourteen weeks pregnant.

Shen Yuan wasn’t vain, but he knew that he was an attractive young man and he’d worked hard to develop his cultivation and his muscles. His toned abs and stomach would soon have to give way to a baby bump. After the baby was born he would have to work twice as hard to tone his body back to where it had been before his pregnancy.

For the past three months all he felt was stress, guilt, fatigue, and nausea. The Imperial Physician said the later two would abate now that he was in his second trimester. He wasn’t sure how long it’d be until the first two abated.

He was still stressed about Jiu-xiong, his mission for the enemy, and his activities in the Northern Provinces. The Northern Provinces were wild and lawless ever since the war, he hoped his brother would be okay. Ironically, the fact Jiu-xiong had found out about Shen Yuan’s escapade as First Prince Luo Binghe’s bed servant took a weight off his shoulders.

Jiu-xiong knew and the yet world hadn’t ended.

Shen Yuan still needed to write back to his older brother, but he hadn’t figured out what to say. For the past four months, Shen Yuan’s primary motivation for leaving the Imperial Palace was because he didn’t want Jiu-xiong to find out he’d disobeyed him. That and he didn’t want to risk Yue Qingyuan seeing him and compromising Jiu-xiong’s mission for Wen Rouhan. Shen Yuan himself hadn’t been in any hurry to leave, he’d enjoyed being pampered and pleasured by the Prince. So he’d simply decided to wait until the Prince lost interest before leaving. Shen Yuan assumed that would happen well before Jiu-xiong returned to the Imperial City.

Four months and a pregnancy later, the Prince was just as clingy as he’d ever been.

Shen Yuan smoothed a hand over his still flat belly. He wasn’t sure what to do anymore. What should he write to his brother?

It was insane to think teahouses in the Northern Provinces were putting bets on how much longer Shen Yuan would remain in First Prince Luo Binghe’s bed. Shen Yuan wondered what the odds were for him to leave tomorrow, next week, or next month. What were the odds for him to stay forever?

Shen Yuan watched the clouds drifting through the sky, felt the soft whisper of the wind through the bamboo and across his face. There was a second couch bed outside the elegant bamboo house that Shen Yuan stretched out upon today, putting a cushion behind his head and back before taking out the new set of calligraphy brushes, ink, and a several fine scrolls. They had been a gift from the Prince for Shen Yuan’s seventeenth birthday two weeks ago.

Shen Yuan’s birthday usually fell on the spring equinox. Some of Shen Yuan’s earliest memories were of the spring equinox festivals on his birthdays that Jiu-xiong would take him to celebrate. They took place at the foot of the golden stairs of the noble family’s estate where they had lived until Shen Yuan was seven years old. There were games and treats and white flowers and fireworks that lit the sky like diamonds. Cultivators wearing yellow robes, or purple robes, or white robes or olive green robes or red robes would fly in on their spiritual sword to celebrate. After they finished watching the fireworks, Jiu-xiong would give him a kiss on the forehead and hand him his birthday present.

‘Happy birthday, A-Yuan,’ Jiu-xiong would say with a gentle smile. ‘I can’t believe that you’re a year older again already!’

‘Next year, can I get my spiritual sword!’ Shen Yuan would beg. ‘I’m big and strong now like Gege! I want to fly through the clouds on my own spiritual sword.’

His older brother would ruffle his hair and chuckle. ‘You always hate traveling on Xiu Ya with me. Maybe you should try something different, Didi. You could master fan cultivation instead.’

‘I’ll simply master both!’ he would always proclaim. ‘Besides, if I was flying on my own sword, I’m sure I’d like it better.’

‘I’m sure you would, A-Yuan.’

Birthdays were much more humble affairs when they left their small apartment near the golden stairs to live in the Imperial Provinces. There were no festivals in the small towns where they lived in the Imperial Provinces, but there were still kisses and presents.

Thinking back to his childhood, he had a sinking feeling that he hadn’t grown up in a town in the Northern Provinces like Jiu-xiong always said.

He’d grown up in the Kingdom of the Five Sects.

Was that why Jiu-xiong had only had him learn geography after they returned back to the Empire? Was that why Jiu-xiong never taught him about the Kingdom of the Five Sects beyond the very basics of what most people in the Empire knew?

Why had they lived in Lanling?

Why had they left?

They’d been taken away to Never Night City by hard-eyed soldiers with flames on embroidered on the sleeves of their robes. Flames. That was the symbol of the Wen clan. Never Night City. Nightless City was their capital.

Shen Yuan closed his eyes and tried to push down the panic rising up his chest.

They’d lived there for nine months. He was separated from his brother and looked after by a hard-eyed old woman. He was afraid of the hard-eyed old woman, but her young son A-Ning was around his age and was a fun playmate.

It wasn’t until his birthday he finally got to see his older brother again. Jiu-xiong had lost a lot of weight. Had they been starving him? His eyes were older and sadder and more frightened than Shen Yuan had ever seen before.

To this day, Jiu-xiong refused to talk about his own experiences in Nightless City – or Never Night City as Shen Yuan thought it was called – but the map of bruises across his body in reds, purples, greens, and yellows painted a picture. The finger shaped bruises around his hips had the greatest variety of colors. Shen Yuan didn’t realize what that implied until more recently.

Shen Yuan was seven years old at the time. He still remembered how frightened he was for his brother. He remembered the rage in the pit of his stomach as four guards came to take Jiu-xiong away again. His older brother had looked so defeated and frightened and broken. Shen Yuan couldn’t let the hard-eyed soldiers with the flames on their wrists continue hurting his older brother.

All of that anger and fear just exploded from him in a terrifying rage. No one seemed to understand what was going on. Anyone he looked at just did what he wanted as long as they remained in his sights. Shen Yuan didn’t need to say a single word, he just needed to look at them and think what he wanted them to do and they did it.

No one seemed to understand what was happening except Jiu-xiong. He must have realized after the guards started acting strangely. Jiu-xiong possessed the omega glamour ability himself, so he must have realized when Shen Yuan started using it. His older brother told Shen Yuan to make sure to keep his gaze on the guards.

Then he grabbed Shen Yuan’s hand and talked Shen Yuan through their escape. They followed the guards out of the room, through the checkpoints in Nightless City, and past the gates to freedom. Then the guards handed Jiu-xiong all of their weapons. When they were finally out of the site of the guards at the front gates of the city, his older brother killed the four guards with their own weapons. Then they just ran and didn’t stop until they reached the Imperial Provinces.

Shen Yuan took a deep breath and looked up at the bamboo swaying gently in the wind. He closed his eyes and breathed again to calm his panic. He hadn’t understood what was happening at the time, he and his brother never spoke of their time in Never Night City or the thing that Shen Yuan did to allow them to escape.

Think about something else.

Think about something happy.

He looked down at the new set of calligraphy brushes, ink, and a scrolls in his lap with a smile. The Prince loved to spoil him. Shen Yuan loved to be spoiled. For his birthday this year, he’d been showered with beautiful robes, jades and delicacies, but had enjoyed the calligraphy set the most.

When the Prince gave him the calligraphy set, he said that he couldn’t wait to see what Shen Yuan would pen with it. He urged Shen Yuan to try his hand writing his own poetry. Shen Yuan smiled down at the fine scroll in his lap. It was so beautiful it seemed a waste to spoil it with the random musings in his own mind.

So Shen Yuan had been transcribing the poems of Li Bai onto the scrolls. He planned to work through the poems of Du Fu next, but he hadn’t memorized those well enough yet to begin. Words flowed easily from his brush onto the scroll. This was his favorite of Li Bai’s poems. He knew it by heart.

You ask what reason I stay on this green mountain.

I smile but do not answer; my heart is at leisure.

Peach Blossoms are carried far off by the flowing river.

This is not heaven or earth, nor the place of people.

Shen Yuan looked up with a smile as Dongmei walked up carrying a tray for him. When Shen Yuan had asked the Prince to transfer his friend Dongmei to the Inner Palace to work in the kitchens of the Hall of Military Victory, First Prince had been happy to oblige him. She’d come to work in Hall of Military Victory last month.

She placed the tray of olives, sweet and savory pastries, nuts, and fresh fruits down between them and sat down. Now that he was in the beginning of the second trimester, his appetite had returned and he didn’t feel as nauseous as he did only a month ago.

“Thank you,” he smiled as he sat up and bid her to take a seat beside him.

Shen Yuan took one of the savory pastries from the tray as Dongmei looked out over the bamboo forest. “It’s so beautiful here,” she said excitedly. “I never thought I’d be allowed to enter one of the private gardens in the Inner Palace!”

“Sometimes I can hardly believe it myself,” Shen Yuan laughed.

“How are you feeling?” Dongmei wondered. “Imperial Physician Mu wanted me to make sure that you’re eating well. You’re eating for two now after all. He gave me a tonic that’s supposed to provide you more nutrients during your pregnancy. You can either take it as is or I could mix it into a drink or dessert to help with the taste.”

Shen Yuan wrinkled his noise. “Does it taste like medicine?”

Dongmei winced. “I had a sip to see and it’s really terrible. The Prince made a face when he tried it too.”

“If you can make it taste better, I’m more than willing to try,” Shen Yuan laughed.

Dongmei winked. “I’ll see what I can come up with then.”

“The Prince is still trying all of my food?” Shen Yuan asked mildly.

He hadn’t discovered that fact until Dongmei began working in the kitchens of the Hall of Military Victory. Apparently during Shen Yuan’s pregnancy, First Prince Luo Binghe wouldn’t let any food pass Shen Yuan’s lips unless he’d inspected it. He was paranoid about someone slipping poison or pennyroyal into Shen Yuan’s food.

Dongmei nodded, “Yes. Chonglin said the Prince instituted the policy after you conceived. After you give birth, I’m sure the Prince will become marginally less paranoid. Maybe we’ll be able to have something with mint flavoring again. I thought I’d be murdered when I suggested making mint chutney to go with the lamb dish last week.  Apparently pennyroyal oil smells minty, so the Prince is afraid someone might try to substitute one with the other.”

Shen Yuan picked up one of the fresh fruits to look at it more closely. He’d never seen a fruit with such vibrant yellow flesh. “Well it was delicious even without the mint chutney. These fruits are so vibrant, are they from the Richu Islands?”

Dongmei nodded. “Yes, a supply of goods from the Richu Islands arrived at the Hall of Divine Rule this week. The chefs there are testing out some new recipes for the Imperial Gala. The Outer Palace didn’t receive any of the goods from the Richu Islands, but some of the fruits arrived at the Hall of Military Victory. That’s called a pineapple. Do you like it?”

“It’s delicious,” Shen Yuan agreed. “Have you tried one?”

Dongmei laughed. “Are you kidding? Of course not! I’d get in so much trouble if I had. Do you like it? The Prince ordered them specially for you – though he tested everything himself to make sure nothing was ‘laced with poison’. The yellow one is pineapple, the other yellow one is a banana, this one is coconut. You can eat the white flesh of the fruit and the juice inside is supposed to be very refreshing. There are a handful of other ones for you to try later.”

“Here, try the pineapple,” Shen Yuan said hanging a piece to his friend. “What do you think?”

Her eyes lit up as she took the piece from him and took a bite.

When Dongmei first arrived at the Hall of Military Victory to work in the kitchens, Shen Yuan debated about asking her to procure pennyroyal for him. Miscarriages during the first trimester were fairly common even for omegas, so the Prince wouldn’t have expected that Shen Yuan himself had ended the pregnancy. It was just be a common miscarriage.

Shen Yuan hesitated about taking pennyroyal for two reasons. The first was because Shen Yuan wasn’t sure he could bear to get rid of the child he’d conceived with the alpha he had such strong feelings for. Shen Yuan wasn’t sure if he wanted a child, but the Prince was so in love with the thought of having a child together. He knew even though he hadn’t wanted to have a child he would fall deeply in love with their son as soon as the baby was born.

The second reason was the fact that pennyroyal caused strange side effects in omegas with special abilities, like Shen Yuan and his brother. Jiu-xiong had warned him about it in the past. The advanced omega and alpha abilities of glamour and sway were very mysterious and rare. Most of the scholarship about them concerned their effects and their limitations, how they were inherited, or how they could be strengthened and weakened.

One way to weaken an omega’s glamour ability was for the omega to take pennyroyal to end a pregnancy. Other methods of ending a pregnancy didn’t impact the omega’s ability, only pennyroyal. Pennyroyal alone didn’t have any effect; though it was still a very dangerous and toxic plant. It was the combination that weakened an omega’s glamour ability. Each subsequent use weakened it further. The third time pennyroyal was used to end a pregnancy, an omega’s glamour ability was destroyed completely.

After an omega’s glamour ability was destroyed, there was no way of getting it back. However, subsequent uses of pennyroyal could damage their lesser charm ability as well. Three uses after an omega’s glamour ability was destroyed would destroy their charm ability as well. Ironically this effect only occurred in omegas with the glamour ability. Using pennyroyal to end a pregnancy had no impact at all on the abilities of an omega that only possessed the omega charm.

The vast majority of alpha and omegas didn’t have any special abilities and the few who did only possessed the lesser abilities of charm or command. The advanced abilities of glamour and sway were extremely rare.  There were supreme alpha and omega abilities after that, but they didn’t actually exist. They were myths to explain the remarkable abilities the imperial majesties inherited from their divine elven blood.

Shen Yuan had the omega ability of glamour. He’d used it once as a child and had been too frightened by the experience to try to learn how to harness it. The one time he’d agreed to let his older brother teach him about their omega glamour ability, he’d had a panic attack about Never Night City and they needed to stop. After that, they focused mostly on developing Shen Yuan’s charm ability.

Shen Yuan had seen his older brother use his glamour ability occasionally while they lived in Lanling, but Jiu-xiong never used it while they were in the Imperial Provinces. It was kind of his older brother to refrain from using a power Shen Yuan had such bad associations with, but it might’ve made some things easier for them if Jiu-xiong had used it. Shen Yuan had only used it once and had been astounded by just how powerful it was. He could control anyone by looking at them and he didn’t need to say a word.

It was terrifying.

Shen Yuan had little intention of using his omega glamour ability again so that wasn’t really a concern. So what it really came down to in the end was whether or not Shen Yuan wanted to continue with his pregnancy or not.  While he was still mulling it over, he learned from Dongmei how paranoid the Prince was about pennyroyal. Shen Yuan couldn’t risk endangering his friend, so he decided that he wouldn’t ask for pennyroyal. He would carry his child with the Prince to term. What he would do after their son was born, he didn’t know.

“Any interesting gossip in the kitchens these days?” Shen Yuan wondered. “I don’t hear much gossip anymore. I’m very out of the loop.”

Dongmei proclaimed in a dramatic voice with a sweep of her arm, “You’re a lofty immortal on a mountain peak unconcerned by the drudgeries of the mortals in the foothills below. Look at you, reclining upon silk cushions and writing poetry.”  

“Stay with me for a little while,” Shen Yuan said brightly. “Or do you need to return to the kitchens?”

Dongmei shrugged. “According to First Prince Luo Binghe, the most important duty of the servants in the Hall of Military Victory is to ensure the safety and comfort of his pregnant omega bed servant. After First Prince, you and that baby in your belly are the most important people the First Prince’s household.”

Shen Yuan looked away with a sigh.

Now that the Prince’s son grew in his womb, Shen Yuan wasn’t permitted to leave the Hall of Military Victory by express order of the Emperor. His gilded cage grew tighter around him.

“Do you like working in the Inner Court?” Shen Yuan wondered. “I love having you here with me, Dongmei. You’re my best friend. If there’s anything that I could do for you, you only need to ask. You know that, right?”

Dongmei reached over to pull him into a hug. “You’re so good, Shen Yuan. You don’t even realize it. There’s nothing more that I’d want than to be here with you. You’re my best friend too. You’ve already been so good to me and you don’t even realize it. Things…things weren’t bad in the Outer Palace, but it’s difficult being an omega servant. There were a number of imperial officials who… um… It’s so much better in the Inner Palace. The pay is better and while the other servants are a bit more reserved, they are considerate and helpful.”

Shen Yuan looked down at his hands. “Do you ever feel lonely in the Inner Palace?”

Dongmei shrugged. “Sometimes. I wish Auntie would come work here too, but she prefers the Outer Palace. She revels in all of the rumors and intrigue of the Imperial Court. I guess that’s how she gets the best gossip. She told me the craziest thing. I’m not sure if I believe it, but if Auntie says it's true, it must be true. She said the information came from a reliable source.”

Shen Yuan raised an eyebrow. “What did she say?”

Dongmei looked around to make sure no one was listening before leaning closer and lowering her voice. “You heard the rumors about you, right? They were completely false of course, but Auntie discovered who was behind them. It was the Prime Minister.”

Shen Yuan paled.

Dongmei continued, “The Prime Minister spread a rumors that you were having an affair and had gotten pregnant by a beta male official from the imperial court. The First Prince himself put a stop to the rumors when he filed an imperial conception record at the registrar’s office. The paternity test of an imperial conception record is impossible to fake so everyone knows you’re carrying the Prince’s child.”

“Why did the Prime Minister start such a rumor?” Shen Yuan wondered.

Dongmei continued, “His daughter is an omega female. He intends for First Prince to make her First Wife. The Prime Minister thinks you’re a distraction for First Prince, so he wanted to get you out of the picture. He never imagined that the Prince would actually get you pregnant, which would obviously prove the rumors were false. Auntie found out the truth and told the Emperor. The Emperor suspected the Prime Minister was involved, but was glad Auntie confirmed it.”

“What did the Emperor do?” Shen Yuan whispered.

“He had the Prime Minister gelded as punishment. The Prime Minister’s omega daughter and beta son claimed they were unaware of their father’s treachery, so they were able to avoid punishment.”

Shen Yuan’s eyes widened in surprise.

xxx

Shen Yuan was diligent in avoiding the general’s weekly training session. Though he wasn’t sure how much longer his luck would last. At the very least, he’d still managed to put off meeting Yue Qingyuan. Which was no small feat because he’d met nearly all of the other generals. He met the First Prince’s two female generals during his cultivation lesson with shifu Qi Qingqi. He’d met the First Prince’s elven male general several time. Mo Beijun was First Prince’s most trusted general and he’d come by several times to the Prince’s quarters in the months Shen Yuan had been the Prince’s bed servant.

Luckily he’d managed to avoid meeting the Prince’s other two generals, one of which was his brother’s fiancé. It’d been nearly five months since he became First Prince’s bed servant, so he’d really been scraping the bottom of the barrel for excuses to avoid the countless training sessions.

In recent months his main excuse was his pregnancy. He felt too much nausea, fatigue, or faintness to attend the training session. These particular ailments were common during the first trimester, but now that he was early in his second trimester he’d needed to become more creative. Ironically his fainting spells always seemed to crop up around the time he was due to go to a training session -- what a strange pattern. This had brought First Prince no small amount of concern and at the same time a closer acquaintance with the imperial physician, Mu Qingfang.

Shen Yuan pressed a hand against First Prince’s chest. He smiled weakly up at his lover as Mu Qingfang and Dongmei sat at his bedside with First Prince hovering worriedly over him. “This servant is fine. It was just a mind fainting spell. First Prince should go to his training with the generals and not worry about this servant.”

“A-Yuan, my love,” the First Prince protested. “How could I leave you when you’re feeling ill. I won’t leave your side until you feel like yourself again.”

“My Prince,” Shen Yuan protested, rubbing a hand over belly. “This servant won’t ask First Prince to waste his day at this servant’s bedside. First Prince has so many more important things to attend to. Imperial Physician Mu will see to this servant’s health.”

First Prince frowned down at him, but finally nodded in agreement though it was clear he did so with some reluctance. Bending down, he gave Shen Yuan a kiss on the nose, both cheeks, and then a passionate kiss on the lips. The Prince passed a tremendous amount of qi to him through the kiss. As he pulled away, Shen Yuan felt drunk from the immense power flooding his womb. With one last kiss to Shen Yuan’s still flat but much less toned belly, First Prince left his chambers.

“If the Prince’s bed servant doesn’t wish to attend the First Prince’s training sessions, he should inform his Master rather than pretending to feel faint…again,” came Dongmei’s wry voice from the side of the bed.

Shen Yuan glanced over at her with amusement.

Mu Qingfang sighed. “If you actually were legitimately fainting into his arms so often I’d be concerned. However, I am concerned with the level of your omega stress hormone. It’s come down in the past month, but it remains higher than I’d like to see. Have you still been having those recurring nightmares?”

Shen Yuan looked away.

“First Prince’s bed servant was having a recurring nightmare, but he hasn’t had it for about a month,” Dongmei answered.

Mu Qingfang nodded. “I’m glad to hear that. I recommend that you spend more time in the Garden of the Dragon’s Peak. The fresh air and soothing natural sounds will help to ease your mind and lower your stress levels. If there’s anything else you believe might lessen your stress level discuss it with me, First Prince, or Dongmei. Divine Elven pregnancies can be dangerous for the mother and we want to make sure all of your metrics are within the best possible range.”

“Thank you, Imperial Physician Mu,” Shen said gently.

It was easier said than done. The major stressor for him now was the worry that he would meet Yue Qingyuan and endanger both himself and his brother. Jiu-xiong was the most clever and capable man that he knew, but that didn’t stop Shen Yuan from worrying about him.

x

Shen Yuan had been on edge ever since Shen Jiu began his mission to seduce Lord Yue. His brother was confident and self-assured about his plans, but Shen Yuan couldn’t help but feel like Jiu-xiong was balanced on a knife’s edge. The smallest mistake could lead to catastrophe.

Why had Shen Jiu taken a mission from a powerful cultivator in the Kingdom of the Five Sects? Why was he following in the same footsteps as their father? Did he feel so passionately about the assertion humans should be the ruling class over elves that he was willing to put his life and reputation on the line just as their father had?

What would happen to Shen Jiu if he were to be discovered?

What would that mean for Shen Yuan?

Seduction was a con they’d used a couple of times that had yielded good results.

When Shen Yuan was a baby they’d managed to live off the money Jiu-xiong received from pawning the finery he brought with him from the Yan estate. Jiu-xiong found work several months before the money would have run out working for the noblewoman who lived at the grand estate with the golden stairs. The noblewoman paid well. Jiu-xiong was able to rent a nice apartment for them near the market right at the base of the golden stairs. He was even able to buy back a signet ring he’d pawned years before – he likely paid a lot more to get it back compared to what he received when he pawned it.

When they fled to the Imperial Provinces they hadn’t brought anything except the clothes on their backs. Money was tight. It was difficult for Jiu-xiong to find work. Yan Julong had considerable skills to recommend himself – but he was a public enemy and declared dead. Li Jiu, the identity that his brother assumed during their time in the Imperial Provinces, didn’t have any skills to recommend himself. If a nobody like Li Jiu suddenly appeared with Jiu-xiong’s skills in cultivation and scholarship, it would attract a lot of attention in the small town where they lived.

Attention was the one thing they didn’t want.  

They managed alright for several years in a small town in the Imperial Provinces. Shen Yuan went to bed hungry sometimes, but they weren’t desperate. Though that would come before too long. A month after Shen Yuan’s first heat cycle, Jiu-xiong woke him up in the middle of the night and declared they had to leave immediately. Someone had finally caught up to them and it was too dangerous to stay. They packed up what little they had and ran.

Jiu-xiong needed to use the last of their money to purchase a new identity. Money was becoming a real problem, so his older brother became more creative now that Shen Yuan was older and could look after himself for a couple days alone.

Jiu-xiong would put on his nicest robes; scrub himself clean from head to toe, spray scent enhancers around his scent glands, and go to a banquet looking for a target. In the past Jiu-xiong had always gone to country banquets held by lesser noble families and seduced some foolish beta nobleman who’d never met an omega before and was captivated by whatever guise Shen Jiu slipped on for the night. Shen Jiu would steal whatever he could carry away: copper sycee, jewelry, jade pendants, and whatever else he could carry that they could pawn. Jiu-xiong would then travel to a seedy part of the Imperial City to pawn the items after they’d built up a sufficient supply.

Jiu-xiong explained that he went so far away to sell the goods because he didn’t want the authorities to trace the theft back to their small town in the Imperial Provinces. It also served a dual purpose. Shen Jiu was able to collect information about the latest news and rumors in the Empire

This time Jiu-xiong went to an imperial banquet. An imperial banquet would be full of alphas and omegas. His target at the imperial banquet wouldn’t be as easy to seduce as the foolish betas from country banquets. So Jiu-xiong had purchased finer clothing and assumed the guise of an actual nobleman from the northern provinces.

Two days and then three days passed without any word of his older brother. Shen Yuan became panicked that Jiu-xiong had been caught and was in trouble or imprisoned somewhere. Shen Yuan didn’t know what to do, so he waited for news. Four days passed and still no word about a male omega caught impersonating a noble and stealing from an imperial banquet. One the fifth day, Shen Yuan started to worry about his own safety. Would they think Jiu-xiong had an accomplice and come looking for Shen Yuan?

On the morning of the sixth day, Jiu-xiong reappeared. He was flush with victory and bright eyed with excitement. Shen Yuan was furious. “Where on earth have you been, Gege? I’ve been so worried!”

“I’m sorry that I made you worry, Didi,” his brother apologized as he moved Shen Yuan out of his way and hurried into their small bedroom on the other side of the apartment.

The apartment they rented in the Imperial City was nicer than the ones they’d rented in the Imperial Provinces. The single bedroom was large enough for them to spread out two mattresses instead of just one and it even left enough space for a set of shelves that held their supply of suppressants and scent cancelling soaps.

Shen Yuan followed his older brother into the bedroom and watched Jiu-xiong as he tore through their stock of scent cancelling soaps and suppressants. His brother finally found what he was looking for and opened an ornate and dusty box at the bottom of the pile and pulled out a piece of paper.

As Shen Yuan watched his older brother rub a piece of white paper all over his wrists and neck, he wondered if Jiu-xiong had lost his mind. At the time Shen Yuan didn’t know what heat paper was and what the different colors and patterns symbolized. “Is everything alright?” Shen Yuan had asked.

His brother was silent as he walked back into the kitchen. He glared at the tin of pennyroyal before he brewed a pot of chamomile tea. He stared down at the piece of white paper before folding it up and putting it into the fold of his robe.

“I didn’t think I’d be gone this long,” Jiu-xiong explained as he leaned back against the wall as the tea brewed. “I didn’t expect the agents from the Kingdom of the Five Sects to watch me at the imperial banquet. They must have slipped a heat expressor into my drink while Lord Yue and I waited for his carriage to come around to take us to his siheyuan in the Imperial City.”

“Agents from the Kingdom of the Five Sects?” Shen Yuan paled. “A heat expressor? What’s that?”

Jiu-xiong sighed, “It causes an omega to go into pre-heat almost instantaneously. If I’d noticed sooner, I could’ve taken a suppressant to stop it. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize until my heat started. I didn’t leave Lord Yue’s bed chambers for several days after that.”

“You went into heat?” Shen Yuan gasped. “Why did the agents from the Kingdom of the Five Sects give you a heat expressor?”

Jiu-xiong poured himself a cup of chamomile tea. “I don’t want to speculate.”

Shen Yuan wrung his hands together. “How can you work for the Kingdom of the Five Sects, Gege? This is so insane. You can’t honestly still want to complete this mission for them. We’re in the Empire. Why don’t you report these agents to the imperial guards? What power can agents from the Kingdom of the Five Sects possible have over you here?”

“You don’t need power to slip a knife between someone’s ribs, only a blade. I don’t know how many agents they have in the city and in the empire. I’ve met three of them in the Imperial City, so it’s likely there could be more I don’t know of.”

Shen Yuan bit his nails. “Then we have to go somewhere they can’t find us.”

His older brother scoffed, “The only real way to do that is to go somewhere too dangerous for them to follow. I’m not going to risk that and risk you.”

“Are you okay?” Shen Yuan wondered softly. “I can’t imagine how frightening it must have been going into heat in the presence of a strange alpha. Do you want to talk about it? Did Lord Yue … did he take advantage of you?”

His older brother scowled, “No, he didn’t.”

Shen Yuan stared at his brother in confusion. “Do you want to talk about it?”

“We spent most of my preheat – which we didn’t realize at the time was a preheat – having sex.” He sighed dreamily, looking down into the cup of tea. “It was like heaven when his cock pressed inside me; it was like coming home. And the feeling of his knot tying us together… It was just as amazing as I remembered, better even. And I’ve thought about his knot quite a lot over the years.”

“Gege,” Shen Yuan said absolutely mortified, “I don’t need to know these things.”

Jiu-xiong’s eyes gleamed over the cup of chamomile tea as he continued, “Now, Didi, what have I always told you about penetrative sex?”

Shen Yuan put his hands over his face that was burning hot with embarrassment and rattled off the first thing that came to mind, “Not Without a Knot. Penetrative sex with a beta is never as good as with an alpha despite what the beta might say.”

His older brother laughed out loud. “That’s very true though I confess I’m shocked to hear my baby brother repeating that back to me. I meant the other aphorism.”

Shen Yuan was mortified. He couldn’t believe what he’d just said. Jiu-xiong said that particular saying ‘Not Without a Knot’ so often as joke! Now with all this talk about Lord Yue’s alpha … reproductive parts it was the first thing that came to mind. He couldn’t believe he just said that. He was mortified.

“It’s possible for an omega to conceive between heats so I have to be careful,” Shen Yuan corrected himself quickly. “You never let any of your conquests… Gege, please don’t make me say the rest of it. You’re so embarrassing!”

“At least your preferences are more varied than mine,” Jiu-xiong observed. “Things would be so much simpler if you settled down with a nice omega female. Alpha males have their charms, but sometimes it’s not worth all of the posturing and risk of unplanned pregnancies.”

“You’re so embarrassing,” Shen Yuan muttered under his breath. Taking a deep breath and looking at his brother, he demanded, “I’m very worried about you, Gege. Did something happen during your heat? Was it…um…consensual?”

“Was I fucked well and often?” His older brother asked him with a raised eyebrow. “Thanks for asking. Unfortunately I wasn’t. It was very consensual, but not particularly satisfying. My pre-heat and then my first wave were amazing. It was the best sex I’d had in a very, very long time. The last time I was so well pleasured was actually before you were even born, Didi.”

“You’re incorrigible,” Shen Yuan muttered.

“I don’t want to embarrass you, little brother, so I won’t tell you about how I rode Lord Yue’s alpha cock over and over again until he gave me his knot over and over again. It wasn’t until my second heat wave crested that Lord Yue realized this wasn’t just a fun morning romp and that I might actually be in heat. So he locked me in his chambers and ran to get the imperial physician.”

“Gege, that’s so scary,” Shen Yuan gasped in horror. It was any omega’s nightmare. Being trapped and raped through his or her heat by a strange alpha.

“It was too late for a heat controller at that point, so Qi-ge kept the door locked behind me and stood guard outside through the entirety of my heat. He’d come into his chambers a couple times a day to feed me. We had this whole little dance. I’d try to tear his clothes off and mount his beautiful cock and he’d run away from me terrified. It was infuriating.”

“Gege, I think you’ve lost your mind. You’re scaring me and scarring me a little bit.”

“I was willing to risk it. Especially because there was already a risk. He’d come inside me several times the night before and then during the first heat wave. But, he was just so mortified at the thought I might conceive before our official wedding ceremony. I’ve always known he was prim and proper and straight-laced, but I thought he’d be willing to compromise, especially considering that all those years ago we elo…” His older brother sighed and crossed his arms over his chest. “Well now I know where the lines are drawn in the sand. Consummation is one thing, but conception is another. He cares so much about his reputation and mine, which I suppose is part of the reason I feel in love with him in the first place.”

Shen Yuan blinked. “Okay, there’s a lot to unpack there. You just met Lord Yue and you’re in love with him? Your only interaction is him locking you in his chambers alone for four days! Did you say wedding ceremony?”

His older brother considered him over the top of his cup. “Yes, Lord Yue and I became engaged this morning.”

“Gege, have you lost your mind? You hardly know this man! You can’t marry someone just because… just because you want to sleep with him!”

His older brother let out a laugh. “I’m glad you’re smarter than I was at sixteen, Didi. I’m perfectly sane; I’ve just had a very strange week. But you don’t need to worry, Didi, I’m in possession of all my mental faculties and all my fingers and toes.”

Shen Yuan shook his head in bewilderment. He’d never seen his brother this giddy and discomposed. Shen Yuan wanted to fetch a doctor for his older brother. Were there mind doctors? Should he get a mind doctor for Jiu-xiong? Is this some strange side effect of Jiu-xiong’s heat? “Jiu-xiong, you’re not giving me a lot of confidence in your ‘mental faculties’ at the moment.”

“You’re so cruel, little brother. After I poured my heart and soul to you.”

Shen Yuan huffed, “Jiu-xiong, are you forgetting the obvious problem here? What happens when Lord Yue finds out you’re not Hong Tengfei?”

Jiu-xiong scoffed. “Who’s alive to contradict me? The entire Hong family is dead. Nearly of the noble families from the northern provinces are dead.”

Shen Yuan bit his bottom lip. “We’re in the imperial city now, Gege. This man is a military official. What if he met Hong Pengfei and Yan Longwei during the war? Even if he doesn’t remember them, someone else might. What will you do when someone asks why we don’t look a thing like Hong Pengfei?”

Jiu-xiong raised his eyebrows. “You’re not involved in this, Didi. I need you to stay away from Lord Yue. I don’t want you to endanger yourself or my mission.”

Shen Yuan rose from the table and picked up the teapot to wash it out. He was frightened by what his older brother was doing and what it meant for their future. He was also worried that his older brother might not be entirely sane at the moment. “Then what am I supposed to do, Gege? You can’t marry this nobleman. Do you really intend to spend your whole life pretending to be someone else?”

His brother walked over and leaned against the wall. Jiu-xiong searched his eyes with a small smile. “You have such beautiful eyes. I never realized how much they’re like his.” He put his hand on Shen Yuan’s shoulders. “Didi, it’ll be safer for both of us if you don’t ask too many questions. You have to trust me.”

“You’re not giving me a lot of confidence in your mental facilities at the moment,” he repeated as he put away the teapot.

Jiu-xiong crossed his arms over his chest, his gaze turning serious. “A-Yuan, I need to go to the Northern Provinces to send a message to a friend in Kingdom of the Five Sects.   Then I’ll legitimize my identity as Hong Tengfei there.”

Shen Yuan protested, “Why do you need to complete a mission for the Kingdom of the Five Sects? Don’t you remember what they did to the Northern Provinces? How can you ally yourself with them? What could they possibly offer you?”

Jiu-xiong spread his arms wide. “Freedom,” his older brother said simply, “In the Kingdom of the Five Sects, omegas can become soldiers, diplomats, and scholars. Here an omega male needs to hide his secondary gender if he aspires to be anything more than the husband of a powerful alpha. We could have a life there. We could have a future there, Didi. If I complete this mission.”

Shen Yuan shook his head. “We can have a life and a future here. There are plenty of opportunities for omegas in the Empire. You’re a powerful cultivator. I hope to be as powerful as you someday. We’ve done well for ourselves. Why don’t we…”

Jiu-xiong sighed, “You’re so naïve. Maybe I sheltered you too much. You’ll understand some day. I’ll make a list so we can be sure you have everything you’ll need while I’m gone. Most importantly, I’ll prepare a supply of suppressants and scent canceling soaps. Those can be dangerous for an omega to acquire especially in the Imperial City. I heard a rumor the other day that omega trafficking rings find their targets in apothecaries. It’s just safer being a beta. Make sure no one realizes that you’re an omega. It’s fortunate that your official papers have you listed as a beta too. That just makes everything easier.”

“How long are you going to be gone?”

“I’m not sure yet. It might be difficult to get in touch, so you might have to be on your own for a while, A-Yuan before I can touch base with you. Will you be able to handle that?”

“How long are we talking about exactly?”

“I don’t know, Didi. It’s hard to say until I actually get to the Northern Provinces.”

Chapter Text

Chapter Thirteen

Luo Binghe ran his hands over Shen Yuan’s belly. His lover was four months pregnant, so Shizun had a delightful baby bump where their child grew inside him. Leaning down, he untied his lover’s outer and inner robes to kiss Shen Yuan’s baby bump. Shizun looked and smelled more and more amazing every day. His scent was a delightful mix of both of their scents: bamboo, orchids, and amber.

His lover put a hand under Luo Binghe’s chin. Smiling softly down at him, Shen Yuan asked with a wry grin, “Is this servant’s Master listening?”

“I am now,” Luo Binghe replied with a grin.

Shizun stood up from his chair and rearranged his robes. When he tied his inner and outer robes closed, his baby bump was disguised. No one would know that the young omega was pregnant unless they did what Luo Binghe had and untied said robes to get a closer look.  But then Luo Binghe would likely have to murder them for such disrespect.

“First Prince mentioned it several months ago, but he hadn’t talked about it since.” Shen Yuan picked up his fan from the table and flicked it open. Waving it front of his face so only his gray eyes were visible, he continued, “Did First Prince change his mind about taking this servant to Wan Jian Peak to have a spiritual sword forged? Is this servant’s cultivation not as strong as First Prince initially expected?”

Luo Binghe raised an eyebrow. “That’s not it at all. I haven’t brought it up again because you’re not eligible to perform the bonding ceremony. If you bond with a sword spirit while you’re pregnant, the bond will weaken after birth. That’s because the sword spirit would have bonded with both your spirit and that of our child growing inside you. So we’ll go to Wan Jian Peak after you’ve given birth to ensure that your bond with your sword spirit is strong and will remain strong. ”

Shen Yuan flicked the fan shut. Looking up at Luo Binghe with an amused smile, he said, “So that’s why. This servant thought … never mind.”

Luo Binghe walked over and kissed his lover’s forehead softly. Shizun beamed up at him with joy. He fell in love again. Luo Binghe said softly, “After our child is born, I’ll take to you Wan Jian Peak to have a spiritual sword forged for you.”

They both looked over at the sound of a knock on the door. 

“First Prince,” called Yue Qingyuan’s voice from the other side of the door. “Mo Beijun and I have come to have a word.”

Shizun walked to the other side of the room. As Luo Binghe pulled open the heavy doors of his chambers, his lover slid open the rice paper doors on the other side of the room to walk out into the Prince’s private gardens.

It was amusing seeing all of the ways that Shen Yuan avoided meeting Yue Qingyuan. Luo Binghe assumed that there must be some family resemblance between Shen Yuan and his older brother Yan Julong that caused his young omega lover to go so far out of his way to avoid meeting the alpha general. Yue Qingyuan was a keen tactician and a noble man; however he avoided intrigue, gossip, and rumor like the plague. Unless the resemblance between Shen Yuan and his older brother was really obvious, Luo Binghe doubted Yue Qingyuan would even notice.

Equally amusing was seeing all the ways that Yue Qingyuan avoided meeting Shen Yuan. For the past three months Yue Qingyuan had found excuses for avoiding training sessions where Shen Yuan was supposed to be present. After Luo Binghe learned Hong Tengfei was actually Yan Julong, young Shizun’s older brother, he had assumed Yue Qingyuan’s avoidance was one of Yan Julong’s deceptions. Maybe Yue Qingyuan’s fiancé asked him not to associate with Luo Binghe’s bed servant because he claimed to be jealous of the beautiful omega.

When Luo Binghe asked Yue Qingyuan why he appeared to be avoiding the training sessions and Shen Yuan, his alpha general confessed that he felt awkward and uncomfortable at the thought of Shen Yuan – that Luo Binghe had a servant whose primary responsibility was to pleasure the Prince sexually and that the Prince had fathered a child out of wedlock with said servant. Yue Qingyuan went on to say he meant no disrespect to the Prince or Shen Yuan, simply that Yue Qingyuan himself was uncomfortable with the idea of bed servants and illegitimacy.

Luo Binghe didn’t take offense. It was an understandable position for the other man to take considering Yue Qingyuan’s background. Though a little ironic considering the fact Yue Qingyuan was about to marry ‘Hong Tengfei,’ the son of a bed servant. Yan Julong had been born illegitimate and was only legitimized by his noble father after committing treason against the Empire.

“Mo Beijun, Yue Qingyuan. What are you doing here?” he wondered.

“First Prince, we’re sorry to disturb you,” said Yue Qingyuan. “We need to use Mo Beijun’s portal in the Hall of Military Victory. I received a note from my fiancé that he needs my assistance. He’s been enduring bandit raids and a feud with a new nobleman in the town of his birth. He doesn’t feel safe anymore. He writes to ask what to do and begs for me to come to his aid.”

“Yes, of course. No need to apologize,” he said, clapping Yue Qingyuan on the shoulder. “You have my permission to use the portal. Good luck.”

“Thank you, First Prince,” said Yue Qingyuan. “I’ll be sending weekly reports to keep you abreast of the situation.”

Luo Binghe nodded. “Very good.”

xxx

The phoenix crown was a beautiful hair ornament, made of inlaid kingfisher feathers, golden phoenixes, pearls, rubies, and sapphires. Although the phoenix crown was a sleek tiara, its legend made it an immense crown in the imaginations of the imperial officials and commoners of the Empire. It had been a gift to Luo Binghe’s mother from her fiancé, the Master of the Hua Huan Palace, an evil man whose jealousy would cause her untimely death.

The inlaid kingfisher feathers were crafted into an iridescent sea of flowers, leaves, and vines across the golden frame of the tiara.   From the center of that sea two golden phoenixes raised their wings. The golden wings rose up over the top of the hair ornament decorated with rubies to create an illusion of flames.

Luo Binghe’s mother wore it in her hair the first time she met Luo Binghe’s father.  

As is the way with legends and myths, the phoenix crown became associated with the tragic love story of Luo Binghe’s parents. The phoenix crown of legend developed all manner of amazing powers for the omega whose head it adorned, though the real phoenix crown had nothing magical about it other than its beauty.

The phoenix crown was kept locked away in Imperial Palace vaults with the other treasures of their dynasty. After his mother’s death, the phoenix crown was passed to her son. At Luo Binghe’s request, the phoenix crown was removed from the vaults once a year in mid-April on the anniversary of his mother’s death for cleaning and reflection.

Shen Yuan sat down at the small table on the other side of the room where Luo Binghe had set the phoenix crown on a velvet cushion. The young omega admired the hair ornament. “This servant has never seen inlaid kingfisher feather before,” the young omega breathed in awe. “They’re such a bright intense blue. This servant has never seen anything so beautiful.”

“I’m glad you like it,” Luo Binghe mused. “I’ll have some hair ornaments made for you with inlaid kingfisher feathers. They’ll look beautiful against your gray eyes.”

Shen Yuan gasped and shook his head. “First Prince is too generous.”

“It’s my pleasure,” Luo Binghe said with a wave of his hand as he picked up the phoenix crown. “It brings me joy to see my lover in such luxury.”

Taking out the ornament from young Shizun’s hair, Luo Binghe rearranging the loosened locks so that they flowed unhindered down the omega’s back. Then Luo Binghe set the phoenix crown on his lover’s head. His lover let out a gasp of shock before shutting his eyes tight.

Luo Binghe brushed a curl of hair back from his lover’s face and took in the pleasing sight. “Beautiful,” Luo Binghe decided.

“Please, First Prince,” Shen Yuan said in a small voice, refusing to open his eyes. “It’s too dangerous for this servant to wear the phoenix crown. This servant would never dare to control his master using its power; however, he worries he could activate it unknowingly if he looks at his master.”

Luo Binghe chuckled. “The famed powers of the phoenix crown are legend, but that’s all they are. If an omega is able to bend an alpha to his or her will it is from their own influence, not the influence of the phoenix crown.”

“This servant is unwilling to risk his master,” Shen Yuan said firmly, keeping his eyes tightly closed. “The phoenix crown’s powers can only be activated if the omega looks at his target and issues a command silently or verbally. So this servant will keep his eyes closed.”

“The phoenix crown doesn’t have any mystical powers,” Luo Binghe repeated, smiling at his adorable young lover. “The abilities that legends give to the phoenix crown are merely embellished accounts of my mother’s omega glamour ability – which is a very rare omega ability in its own right. It’s not surprising the two would be conflated together.”

Shen Yuan’s eyes remained shut tight as he lifted a hand to touch the phoenix crown decorating his dark hair. At the last minute he drew his hand away, overwhelmed. “Then if this servant asks First Prince to remove the crown from his head, it will First Prince’s will rather than the influence of the phoenix crown.”

“Indeed,” the Prince agreed.

Shen Yuan took a deep breath and said. “First Prince really should remove the phoenix crown from this servant’s head. The phoenix crown is one of the treasures of the Imperial Dynasty! What if something happens to it?”

“Then something happens to it,” the Prince said with a smirk. “Some of the treasures of the Imperial Dynasty are shared by all three of the imperial majesties; though the majority of them are owned by one of us specifically. The phoenix crown is the property of First Prince Luo Binghe. So, I may use it as I see fit.”

“Please, First Prince. This servant doesn’t want to bewitch his master with the phoenix crown’s power,” Shen Yuan gasped in terror, adorably concerned that he might make Luo Binghe do something against his will.

Young Shizun had caused Luo Binghe to develop all manner of strange kinks in bed. Now with all of this talk of the phoenix crown and A-Yuan’s worry about controlling him accidentally, Luo Binghe was suddenly breathless with the idea of doing more master-servant or teacher-student role-play.

“Come to bed my love, I want to you to ride me wearing nothing but the phoenix crown on your beautiful head. If you’re too afraid to open your eyes for fear of bewitching me, you’ll simply have keep them closed.”

Shen Yuan blushed crimson. Keeping his eyes closed, Shen Yuan held out his hands to Luo Binghe. “Then First Prince will need to lead this servant to the bed.”

With a smirk, Luo Binghe untied his lover’s robes. Luo Binghe mapped the gentle curve of his bed servant’s belly with his hands and kissed the furrow of concern forming on Shen Yuan’s forehead as he kept his eyes tightly closed. Shen Yuan ran his hands up Luo Binghe’s shoulders. The lines of concern on his young bed servant’s face smoothing out as he felt his way around Luo Binghe’s face to hold it between his hands.

Sweeping Shen Yuan into his arms, Luo Binghe carried him to bed. Shen Yuan let out a gasp of surprise and then a giggle, pressing kisses all over Luo Binghe’s face all the while keeping his eyes carefully closed.

xxx

Luo Binghe received his general’s reports the following weeks on the dot as Yue Qingyuan had promised. Conditions were more chaotic than expected in the northern provinces and Hong Tengfei was having more trouble getting things settled than expected. So Yue Qingyuan helped his fiancé work through a tedious legal battle about titles and lordships as well as fight off a group of bandits harassing the northern provinces.

A common family had decided to promote themselves to nobility – doing so without being granted the title by the Emperor– and refused to give up the Hong family estate to Hong Tengfei. They said ‘Hong Tengfei’ was a pretender. They said the real Hong Tengefei died during the Rape of the Northern Provinces and pointed out a grave with his name on it. Yue Qingyuan was able to provide evidence this was a lie. He was able to verify Hong Tengfei's identity.  After all he'd met the omega male at an Imperial Gala nearly eighteen years ago.

Luo Binghe found the situation very ironic. ‘Hong Tengfei’ was a pretender. Hong Tengfei was actually Yan Julong. The omega male had met Yue Qingyuan during an Imperial Gala eighteen years ago when he assumed the identity of Hong Tengfei. Luo Binghe assumed that Yan Julong’s purpose in doing so was to steal the plans for the Empire’s latest military offensive.

Seeing now how much trouble the common family that had taken over the Hong estate caused Yue Qingyuan and Hong Tengfei , it wasn’t surprising ‘Hong Tengfei’ decided to lay low for so long. If Yan Julong tried to claim the Hong estate without the backing of his powerful and well connected fiancé, Yue Qingyuan, it’s likely he would been put in that grave with the real Hong Tengfei.

The Northern Provinces had grown wild in the wake the War against the Kingdom of the Five Sects. Not only were there unscrupulous and conniving families taking advantage of the power vacuum in the wake of the Rape of the Northern Provinces, but also bandits who harassed nobility and commoners alike. 

Things had gotten so bad that Mo Beijun had been forced to close down several of the mines in the Tian Gong Mountains. The mines had been a great source of wealth and employment before the War against the Kingdom of the Five Sects. However, the looting and violence at the nephrite jade and iron ore quarries on Xian Zhu Peak by a well-organized and ruthless gang of bandits and the series of minings accidents they caused forced Mo Beijun’s hand.

The bandits were like smoke on the wind. They evaded Mo Beijun’s troops by hiding in the mountains and using guerilla tactics. It would require combing through the Tian Gong Mountains stone by stone to eliminate the enemy. So Mo Beijun had the mines closed and sealed until the bandits could be neutralized and the mines could once again be operated safely and profitably.

Yue Qingyuan requested permission to establish martial law in the northern provinces. Specifically, Yue Qingyuan requested to have his troops deployed to the north to establish order. Luo Binghe discussed Yue Qingyuan’s report with the other generals while Shizun attended his cultivation training with Qi Qingqi. Luo Binghe wanted to watch his lover’s cultivation training, so he had his discussion with his generals in the alcove near the training grounds.

Luo Binghe originally had Shizun take a break from cultivation training with Qi Qingqi until after the baby was born, but Mu Qingfang said it would still be safe for Shizun to practice his cultivation with Qi Qingqi even up until his third trimester. Shen Yuan was so devastated at the thought of having his cultivation training cancelled that Luo Binghe quickly reinstituted it after he received approval from the Imperial Physician.  

Shizun’s training clothes were less concealing than his more voluminous outer robes. They were tailored close to his body and didn’t do anything to hide the gentle curve of his belly now that he was four months pregnant.   

“So what do you think,” Luo Binghe asked. “Mo Beijun, will your northern troops be comfortable serving under Yue Qingyuan to see to this bandit problem?”

Mo Beijun perched on one of the stone windows of the portico and nodded. “Yes, they’ve worked with him before and hold him in high regard. I appreciate the decision to send northern troops to tend to a northern problem.”

Liu Qingge reminded, “Qingyuan-shidi led them on several skirmishes during the War against the Five Sects.”

Liu Mingyan crossed her arms over her chest. “I can’t imagine the hardship Hong Tengfei had to endure because of those commoners who took over his birthright.”

Sha Hualing nodded. “I hope that Qingyuan-shidi deals out due punishment to them. Imagine how much sooner they might’ve been reunited if Hong Tengfei didn’t need to remain in hiding for so long because of the dangers in the Northern Provinces.”

Mo Beijun admitted, “Yue Qingyuan is right to establish martial law. As Warden of the Northern Provinces, I’ve relied too much on the new noble families to restore order. I will need to take a stronger hand in maintaining order.”

xxx 

Liu Mingyan lingered after the other three generals had left. Her brother Liu Qingge raised an eyebrow at her curiously before following Mo Beijun through the shaded portico for a spar.

“I’ve been investigating Feng Wencheng like you asked,” Liu Mingyan said simply, pulling herself up to perch on the stone portico that Mo Beijun had recently vacated.

Luo Binghe looked out at the practice field as Shen Yuan parried a blow with his practice sword before going on the offensive. His footwork was precise and elegant like a dancer’s. Qi Qingqi moving to counter each strike.

“What did you discover?” Luo Binghe asked quietly. “Was there any connection between him, Yan Longwei, and Yan Julong?”

Liu Mingyan pulled a knee up into her chest. Looking back into the practice arena behind them, she sighed. “I didn’t want to arouse suspicion, so I haven’t dug very deeply yet. Feng Wencheng made a veil for my mother to celebrate my older brother’s birth, so I tried to get an introduction to entreat him to make something for me too.”

Luo Binghe nodded. “Clever.”

Liu Mingyan ran her hand over the hair at the top of her head pulled tightly back into a topknot. “Did you know Feng Wencheng died nine months ago? Rumors of his death and the young man due to inherit everything spread through the back channels of my intelligence network about a year ago. Those rumors were created by Feng Wencheng himself to lure someone out of hiding. But now he’s really dead.”

Luo Binghe crossed his arms over his chest. “Very suspicious. A man turns up dead several months after spreading rumors of his death. Are you positive he’s really dead this time?” 

Liu Mingyan nodded. “This time, yes. Though I was surprised his death wasn’t announced so people would know to pay their respects. Feng Wencheng’s two sons didn’t even want to speak of it with me. There’s been difficulty with Feng Wencheng’s estate that’s caused discord. They said after everything’s been settled with the executor they’ll have a funeral, even if it needs to be a year or two later.”

“That’s strange,” Luo Binghe rubbed his chin. “What kind of discord?”

“Apparently all of Feng Wencheng’s wealth is due to be inherited by his bastard son. The two legitimate sons won’t get even a copper piece. They’re trying to prove that the bastard son died during the Rape of the Northern Provinces.”

Luo Binghe raised an eyebrow. “Many people died in the Rape of the Northern Provinces, it shouldn’t be too difficult to get a death certificate.”

Liu Mingyan nodded. “Exactly. Though getting any information out of Feng Wencheng’s two sons about the inheritance of their father’s estate was like pulling teeth. I didn’t want to use my alpha sway because they might get suspicious. So I tried to gather what information I could about the fan.”

“What did you find out?”

“I asked if Feng Wencheng kept any records of pieces he’d made in the past. I explained there was a fan he made many years ago that I’d admired and if Feng Wencheng couldn’t make it for me himself then I would commission someone else to make something similar using his sketches and models. They agreed to show me to his workshop and let me look through his records if I commissioned the fan from them instead of another artisan. Apparently money is tight while the estate’s tied up with this lingering question of inheritance.”

“Did you find any record of my bed servant’s fan?”

Liu Mingyan shook her head. “Feng Wencheng kept detailed sketches of every trinket he made and their intended recipients. He listed on the back of the sketch the intended recipient, details about their title or position or connection to him, the date, and the cost to track what he’d made. I was able to find the his sketch of your bedservant's fan. It was missing all of that information. All it said was ‘For A-Yuan.’”

Luo Binghe blinked. “For A-Yuan?”

“Yes. I found a handful of other sketches that were similarly marked: for A-Jie or A-Jun. Those were gifts for Feng Wencheng’s two sons. None of the other gifts were marked so casually.”

“Hm,” Luo Binghe mused.  How very strange.  “Did you discover any connection between Feng Wenchang and Yan Longwei or Yan Julong?”

Liu Mingyan rubbed a hand over her eyes. “No. I’d need to use my alpha sway ability to get that information. Then they would know we were looking into Feng Wencheng’s connection with the Yan family. I wanted to speak to you first before going forward with such a direct method.”

Luo Binghe nodded. “Thank you, Mingyan. You did well. If we get the information with my alpha thrall, they'll remain unaware. We’ll go together to question the Feng brothers. I was thinking just the other day I wanted to commission a set of hair ornaments for Shen Yuan from inlaid kingfisher feathers. He was very taken with the ones in my mother’s phoenix crown.”

Liu Mingyan winced. “The Feng brothers don’t have any of their father’s talent for fine craftsmanship. I had the misfortune of actually seeing some of their work. I also had the misfortune of paying a ridiculous price to commission something myself.  It'll be based on the designs of a fan Feng Wencheng made for the Prime Minister’s omega daughter. I'm sure the fan she received was beautiful.  I don't even want to think how horrible it's going to look when made by their hands.  For my sake, please don’t have them ruin something as beautiful and expensive as inlaid kingfisher feathers. I could never afford an ornament from inlaid kingfisher feathers and the thought of the Feng brothers ruining something so beautiful makes me want to cry.”

Luo Binghe chuckled, “Then I’ll commission the hair ornaments from someone else and commission a fan from the Feng brothers. If they attempt to make two from Feng Wencheng's design maybe one’ll be passable.”

Liu Mingyuan snorted, “I doubt it, but I’m happy to give the more passable one to Shen Yuan and the less passable one to the back of my closet.”

Chapter Text

Chapter Fourteen

It was a blessing and a curse when Yue Qingyuan went north to assist Jiu-xiong. Shen Yuan was grateful there was no longer danger Yue Qingyuan would see him and wonder about the uncanny resemblance between him and his older brother. However along with Yue Qingyuan’s absence came the knowledge that the man was gone because his older brother was in danger.

The Prince’s general was dedicated and precise in sending missives once a week to update the Prince and the other generals on the situation in the Northern Province. This was a great comfort to Shen Yuan because for the first time he was receiving news of his brother and knew that Jiu-xiong was in safe and capable hands. Shen Yuan tried not to think about how happy his brother likely was to be back in Lord Yue’s capable hands.

Jiu-xiong was so embarrassing sometimes.

In the two letters Shen Yuan had received from Jiu-xiong, he hadn’t given any information about what his brother was really up to in the Northern Provinces. Likely because Jiu-xiong didn’t want to risk the chance that others could be reading their letters. Yue Qingyuan’s letters to First Prince on the other hand were enlightening! 

“Hong Tengfei” had been successful in securing his birthright! Shen Yuan could hardly believe his brother had pulled it off. Though Shen Yuan still had no idea what Jiu-xiong’s mission for the Kingdom of the Five Sects was about. Was it to convince Yue Qingyuan to allow the Kingdom of the Five Sects to annex the Eastern Province?

As much as he worried about the danger his brother was in and the risky con in assuming the identity of a dead nobleman, Shen Yuan liked to imagine the sort of adventures his brother was getting up to in the Northern Provinces. Shen Yuan would sometimes fantasize about becoming a rogue cultivator in the Northern Provinces, fighting bandits, rescuing damsels, and saving villages.

Shen Yuan would have to ask the Prince if they could go on a night hunt together after the baby was born. There were spars and melees and tests of skill during the Imperial Gala, but Shen Yuan wasn’t a nobleman and wouldn’t be allowed to participate. He was also likely not invited and also pregnant, which meant he won’t be participating.

xxx

 

Shen Yuan’s sex drive really picked up after the sixteenth week of his pregnancy. It was as if their lovemaking with the phoenix crown had kicked his libido into high gear and it showed no sign of slowing down.

When Shen Yuan first became First Prince’s bed servant, he and the Prince made love so often they’d ended up causing Shen Yuan to fall into an unexpected heat. After Shen Yuan conceived, they didn’t have sex as often. During his first trimester he’d felt so stressed, nauseous, and fatigued from the pregnancy that sometimes a full day would go by and Shen Yuan wouldn’t feel well enough to pleasure the Prince. Shen Yuan felt guilty about it, because what good was having a bed servant who wasn't able to pleasure his master in bed?  Though Prince was understanding and patient about it.

Well Shen Yuan's libido decided during his second trimester that it wanted to make up for lost time. Shen Yuan wasn’t satisfied unless the Prince was knotted deep inside him and flooding his womb with qi and seed four times a day at a bare minimum. He rode his alpha without mercy. Shen Yuan was not allowed to pass any qi for fear of depleting his qi reserves already taxed from his divine elven pregnancy. Nevertheless, he’d become extremely skilled in receiving the Prince’s qi through dual cultivation and Shen Yuan was ravenous for his lover.

First Prince Luo Binghe started to call Shen Yuan his succubus, his own personal sex demon who stole all of the qi from his body. Shen Yuan didn’t think it was a very nice thing to call him, but it was unfortunately somewhat accurate.

There was also now a gentle curve to Shen Yuan’s belly. The Prince found it delightful, wanting to smooth his hands over the small bump and kiss it every day. Shen Yuan found himself rubbing his belly and smiling down at it fondly. It was around his sixteenth week of pregnancy that he started to show. Now his belly started to swell more each week as their baby grew and developed.

xxx

Shen Yuan closed his eyes and let out an embarrassingly loud moan of pleasure. This particular position was fairly easy for Shen Yuan, he just needed to kneel over his lover lying supine under him and let his alpha do all the work, moving his hips as the Prince thrust up into him. He didn’t need to focus on anything other than the pleasure and accepting the Prince’s qi from his cock. Prince was stretched on the ground under him with his legs up on the bed as he fucked Shen Yuan with a vigorous passion.

“Ah! Ah!   More! Please!” Shen Yuan moaned. “Knot me! I need my master’s knot.” 

“Master?” the Prince repeated, surprisingly calm and coherent despite the fact he’d been fucking Shen Yuan silly for nearly thirty minutes and sending him a continuous flow of qi from his magical alpha cock.

Just how much qi did the Prince have to spare? Shen Yuan knew that he himself was an above average cultivator with strong qi reserves, but his qi seemed like a pond compared to the ocean of the Prince’s qi.

“Binghe! Binghe! Please!” he whined. “I need your knot!”

The Prince surged upward pressing his lips to Shen Yuan’s. Dropping his legs off the bed so he could stand, the Prince lifted Shen Yuan like up he weighed nothing. Shen Yuan wrapped his legs around the Prince’s hips and his arms around his lover’s shoulders as the Prince carried him to the bed. The Prince kissed him deeply as he shuffled them to the center of the bed where they could rest comfortably after they were knotted together. It was always a careful dance to make sure they were knotted together in a comfortable position because they’d have to stay like that for the thirty or so minutes it took the Prince’s knot to deflate.  

Turning Shen Yuan around gently so he could spoon him, the Prince lifted up one of Shen Yuan’s legs and rested his other hand on Shen Yuan’s pregnant belly. Then the Prince fucked him one, two, three more times before coming inside him with a groan and knotting them together. The dizzying pleasure that crested over Shen Yuan when receiving the initial press of the Prince’s knot always made Shen Yuan lose his composure for a couple minutes afterwards.

“I love you,” Shen Yuan wept in ecstasy, gripping the Prince’s hand resting over his babe-swollen belly tightly in both of his. “I love you so much.”

The Prince rutted into him for a couple minutes until Shen Yuan was no longer coherent enough to continue receiving the Prince’s qi into his body. The immense power of his lover’s qi filled his womb, golden core, and flooded his meridians.

The Prince ran his hands over Shen Yuan’s babe-swollen belly in the aftermath as they lay together waiting for the Prince's knot to deflate.  

“My love, there’s going to be a recitation at the Outer Palace next week. I would normally skip them unless it’s someone with real talent. Next week the foremost scholar of Du Fu’s work, Yue Weizhe, will be doing a recitation of ‘Song of the Wagons.’ It’s been decades since Yue Weizhe has done a recitation, so it would be a shame for you to miss it. I can introduce you to him afterwards.”

Shen Yuan felt his heart pound with excitement. Putting his hands over his lover’s, he asked, “This servant accompany his Master to the Outer Palace for a recitation? Did this servant hear his Master correctly?”

“Mm, yes,” the Prince mused, brushing Shen Yuan’s hair over one shoulder. “Your hair’s become so thick and lustrous and your skin is so smooth and soft.  You're just glowing with vitality.”

Shen Yuan glanced back at his lover with an amused glance. “Master, did you pass too much qi to this servant? This servant worries his master might be delirious from too much dual cultivation.”

The Prince chuckled, “Sometimes I worry my beautiful lover has become a succubus. Though it would be a fitting way to die for First Prince Luo Binghe, wouldn’t it? From too much sex?”

“That’s hardly something to joke about,” Shen Yuan protested. “Does this servant need to become concerned about his Master’s sanity? Imagine First Prince bringing a lowborn bed servant to a recitation. The imperial officials of the outer palace will speak of little else for months.” 

“You’re probably right,” the Prince agreed. “You’ll be just as much of a draw as Yue Weizhe. Though considering the imperial court’s fascination with us, you’ll might be more of a draw than Yue Weizhe. But if they come to get a look at you, they’ll get a little culture too, the snakes. Would you still like to attend, A-Yuan? If you’re uncomfortable being gawked at, we could always have Yue Weizhe perform a private recitation for us at the Hall of Military Victory.”

“Is Yue Weizhe a relation of Lord Yue Qingyuan’s?” Shen Yuan wondered.

“Yes, Yue Weizhe is Yue Qingyuan’s older half-brother,” the Prince answered.

Well that wasn't good!  Lord Yue might be there!  If that was the case he definitely couldn't attend even though it sounded wonderful.

“Does this servant’s Master think Lord Yue Qingyuan might attend his half-brother’s recitation?”

The Prince chuckled darkly, “Hardly. They’re estranged. I guess you don’t know the whole story."

Shen Yuan shook his head.  "No, this servant doesn't know the story."

"Yue Weizhe and his mother had Yue Qingyuan’s mother executed and Yue Qingyuan exiled from his father’s estate when he was a baby,” the Prince said softly.

Shen Yuan turned back to look at the Prince in surprise. “This servant was unaware Lord Yue Qingyuan experienced such tribulation in his youth. It’s understandable then that Lord Yue Qingyuan would be estranged from his older brother. But this servant doesn’t understand how Yue Qingyuan would be the Warden of the Eastern Provinces and the lord of his estate if he’s the younger brother.”

The Prince pressed a kiss to his shoulder and shifted Shen Yuan’s leg thigh gently so they could be closer entwined. Shen Yuan moaned as the Prince’s beautiful cock and knot pressed deeper inside him. The Prince sprawled his hands out across the swell of Shen Yuan’s belly. “Do you want to hear about the Yue family’s sordid history, my love? When I’m tied inside you, my time is yours.”

Shen Yuan put his hands over the Prince’s and nodded. “This servant would like to hear the story if his Master would oblige.”

“It’s a cautionary tale of harem politics,” the Prince began, his voice deep and soothing. Shen Yuan closed his eyes as he listened, shifting his hips into a more comfortable position. “The late Lord Yue had a harem of three wives: two betas and an omega. The omega was the youngest of the three and extraordinarily beautiful with strong cultivation. She entered the household as First Wife demoting Yue Weizhe’s mother to Second Wife.

“Yue Weizhe was five years older than his father’s new First Wife and desired her.  He had hoped the omega would be his first wife rather than his father’s. Yue Weizhe is a beta male with low cultivation and his younger half-sister by his father's Third Wife is a beta with low cultivation.  Both Yue Weizhe and Second Wife felt threatened by his father’s new First Wife. If First Wife bore Lord Yue a child that baby would take Yue Weizhe’s place as his father’s heir.”

“Because the baby would be the child of the First Wife?” Shen Yuan wondered. “This servant confesses he doesn’t have a good understanding of the laws of inheritance. Could his master explain them?”

“Of course, my love,” the Prince mused, kissing Shen Yuan’s neck. “In the Empire, the oldest alpha child of the Highest Ranked Spouse inherits first. Alphas before Omegas and Omegas before Betas. So if the First Spouse has a beta son and the Second Spouse has an alpha daughter who do you think would inherit first?”

“The alpha daughter would inherit first.” Shen Yuan replied. “But surely First Prince misspoke, omegas before betas? An omega daughter would inherit before a beta son? This servant didn’t realize such was the case.

“Yes,” the Prince said, nuzzling his nose against the scent gland under Shen Yuan’s jaw and breathing it in like it was an expensive perfume.  

Shen Yuan doubted he smelled particularly fresh after making love for several hours.  Shen Yuan felt sweaty and likely smelled as such.  The Prince on the other hand always smelled amazing to Shen Yuan's pregnant-omega-influenced nose and his alpha's scent would always be especially intense after they made love.  The heady scent of the Prince's alpha pheromones always made him feel a cocktail of content and safe and loved and horny.    

“The laws of inheritance in the Empire were influenced by the ancient elven laws of inheritance," the Prince explained.  "Omegas have stronger cultivation than betas and nearly one third are born with the omega charm ability. Only one in twenty alphas are born with the alpha command ability.  So omegas are more capable of influencing others or resisting an alpha’s command than a beta would be. It’s rare to see an omega inherit however, because the majority of nobles are alphas. Alphas lord prefer to sire alpha heirs. So even if the first-born is omega, there will usually be a younger alpha sibling to inherit. Even still it’s important for a lord to ensure that their omega child marries a worthy spouse.  After all their omega child and the omega's spouse could rule the lord’s lands after the lord’s death.  So the lord will engage their omega child to a loyal, powerful, or wealthy alpha.  Loyal if the lord wants his family to maintain their influence after his death, powerful is the lord wants his family to grow their influence after his death, and wealthy if the lord wants his family to maintain their material comfort after his death."

“Ah, this servant understands now. Thank you for explaining, Master. Would Master like to continue the story?”

“I want whatever you want, my love. Would you like to hear the rest?”

“Yes, very much so.”

“Where was I?"

"Lord Yue Qingyuan's mother just married his father and became First Wife," Shen Yuan prompted.  "Lord Yue's other wives and children were worried that she'd bear the Lord a child."

"First Wife gave birth to Yue Qingyuan, a healthy alpha male who showed promise of achieving strong cultivation. One of the Lord Yue’s most trusted guards, an alpha male, helped protect First Wife against Second Wife’s attempts at ending her pregnancy or harming First Wife’s baby. So Second Wife accused First Wife of having an affair with the trusted alpha male guard and declared Yue Qingyuan was the bastard of the guard rather than Lord Yue.  Yue Weizhe, Third Wife, and two other guards substantiated the story. So the trusted guard was exiled, First Wife was handed a piece of white silk to hang herself for her crimes, and Yue Qingyuan was left at an orphanage when he was four months old. Lord Yue was devastated by the loss of his favorite wife and alpha son.”

“That’s so terrible,” Shen Yuan gasped. “How did Lord Yue Qingyuan regain his birthright?”

“Yue Qingyuan was raised in the orphanage. After living in squalor and abuse for twelve years he ran away and lived on the streets. One day he stole the purse of a old drunk with a fine sword. It was the trusted alpha male guard of Lord Yue, who had been exiled from the grand Yue estate. The guard recognized Yue Qingyuan because of his gray eyes and the similarity of his appearance to the Lord Yue’s beautiful omega wife. So the trusted guard offered to teach Yue Qingyuan swordplay and told him of his heritage. When Yue Qingyuan turned eighteen, he went to Lord Yue and demanded a paternity test. The Imperial Physician, Mu Qingfang’s predecessor, came to perform the paternity test. Lord Yue was overjoyed to discover Yue Qingyuan was his biological son after all and welcomed him back into the Yue family with open arms. Yue Qingyuan was legitimized and became Lord Yue’s heir.”

“What happened to Second Wife and Yue Weizhe?” Shen Yuan wondered as the Prince ran a hand up and down Shen Yuan’s naked hip absentmindedly.

“Second Wife was given a piece of white silk by the late Lord Yue after he discovered her treachery. Yue Weizhe was exiled from the Eastern Provinces and removed from the line of succession for his involvement. His legitimacy was not revoked.  Though Lord Yue had wished to disown him. Yue Qingyuan interceded on his half-brother’s behalf. He didn’t want anyone to endure the same misfortune he had, living nearly all of his life as an illegitimate child.”

“What an incredible story,” Shen Yuan said in amazement. “Thank you for recounting it, First Prince.”

“Would you still like to go to the recitation, A-Yuan? Yue Weizhe is a talented scholar of Du Fu despite his sordid past. I think you’ll enjoy it.”

Even if Yue Qingyuan didn’t attend the recitation, the whole rest of the imperial court might. Not only that, they would likely study him closely because of all the gossip about him and the Prince!  Jiu-xiong’s wedding to Yue Qingyuan was next month. If they saw Shen Yuan at the recitation as the Prince’s bed servant and then Jiu-xiong next month as ‘Hong Tengfei’ there would be a lot of questions!  

“This servant entreats his Master for permission to wear a veil to attend the recitation in the Outer Palace. This servant would like to afford himself a measure of privacy if his Master does not object.”

“That’s a good idea, my love. It’ll add to your mystique,” the Prince agreed as he smoothed his hands over Shen Yuan’s belly. “I’ll have a weimao hat with a veil made for you.”

xxx

Maybe Shen Yuan had been too quick to dismiss this mysterious ‘glow’ that pregnant betas and omegas had during their pregnancies. Now that he was five months pregnant everyone seemed to comment on it. How healthy and lustrous his skin and nails and hair were. How bright and happy he seemed to be.

The Imperial Physician explained that part of it the reason his hair, skin, and nails were looking so healthy and lustrous was partly from the hormones during his pregnancy, partly because of the supplements Mu Qingfang had given him to provide nutrients and vitamins for the baby, and partly because of the qi he received from the dual cultivation with his alpha lover.

Shen Yuan felt happy. He felt happier than he had in months.

Now that he didn’t need to worry about Jiu-xiong finding out his secret or Yue Qingyuan wondering about their resemblance, Shen Yuan was much more relaxed. The constant flush of sexual satisfaction and qi to his womb, golden core, and meridians certainly didn’t hurt his mood.  

He was relieved that Jiu-xiong knew his secret, but he wasn’t sure what to write back especially because everyone and their mother would probably read the missive on its way back to the Northern Provinces. It had almost been three months now since he received the letter from Jiu-xiong, so Shen Yuan knew that he needed to write back. 

Jiu-xiong would be getting married next month. Shen Yuan wanted to write a letter to congratulate his brother on his wedding because he knew that he wouldn’t be there to celebrate it with him. Shen Yuan hadn’t been given permission to attend the Imperial Gala by express order of the Emperor.

Which in and of itself was a bit baffling. Why did the Emperor not want Shen Yuan, First Prince Luo Binghe’s bed servant, to attend the Imperial Gala? The Prince had explained that it was for Shen Yuan’s protection. An unscrupulous imperial official could try to do harm to the Prince’s unborn child and so the pregnant bed servant would have to stay in the Imperial Palace where he’d be safe.

Shen Yuan didn’t mind. The thought of attending the recitation itself in front of the imperial officials was daunting even though he’d be hidden under a veil – thank goodness he’d thought of that. He couldn’t imagine being gawked at for a month straight if he went to the Imperial Gala with the Prince.

The Prince.

Shen Yuan ran his hands over his belly where the Prince’s baby grew inside him and smiled softly down at the swell of his pregnant belly. Mu Qingfang said that he would soon be able to feel his baby moving around in his womb. He couldn’t wait. The Prince would be so excited to feel their son moving around.

“Are you thinking about the Prince again?” Dongmei wondered as she stared at him over the weiqi board.

Shen Yuan was beating her soundly. He’d almost completely surrounded her white pieces on the board. Whenever Shen Yuan played the Prince in weiqi, the Prince liked to use the black stones and would always trounce Shen Yuan. Even when they switched colors, the Prince would always win easily. So when Shen Yuan played against Dongmei, he liked to use the black tiles because they made him think of the Prince. He wanted to get better at the game so he could finally beat his lover.

Shen Yuan stilled his hands over his belly and looked down at the board. He furrowed his brow. It looked like Dongmei had made an illegal move – capturing one of his pieces that she hadn't surrounded and putting on three of her own on the board when he hadn’t been looking.

“No, I’m thinking about my next move,” he lied.

Dongmei snorted. “No, you aren’t. You’ve just been sitting there rubbing your babe-swollen belly and smiling vacantly. You’re daydreaming about First Prince Luo Binghe again. I was able to take off three of your pieces and put on six of mine and you didn’t even notice.”

“That’s cheating!”

“If you’re too busy daydreaming about the Prince to actually play the game, maybe we should do something else. Should I have Chonglin change his hourly update for the Prince? Are your qi reserves feeling depleted? Do you need the Prince?”

“What? No, that isn’t necessary,” Shen Yuan protested, blushing profusely. “Don’t tell Chonglin to change the message. I don’t want to bother First Prince.”

He’d only made the realization last month that the servants in the Hall of Military Victory passed along hourly updates about Shen Yuan to First Prince. During his first and second trimesters, Shen Yuan assumed the Prince’s appearances in his personal chambers to check on Shen Yuan cooresponded to the time between the Prince’s meetings. The Prince’s appearances were like clockwork then – every one to two hours. So Shen Yuan simply assumed that was how long the meetings were! He didn’t realize that First Prince’s meetings typically ran about four hours long.

Now, Shen Yuan knew the Prince’s appearances cooresponded with the updates about Shen Yuan that Chonglin gave to the Prince every hour on the hour. Depending on the message, the Prince might leave his meeting or end it early so that he could check in on Shen Yuan.

During Shen Yuan’s first trimester, First Prince Luo Binghe never made it all the way through a meeting without needing to skip out early to check up on Shen Yuan. Had Shen Yuan really seemed so needy and delicate during his first trimester that the Prince felt the need to check up on him every one to two hours? During Shen Yuan’s second and third trimesters, First Prince was able to make it all the way through most meetings before he would need to check on his pregnant bed servant.  

“I’m sure he wouldn’t mind,” Dongmei countered. “Are you hungry? Should I make you a tray? It’s been several hours since you’ve eaten. You’ve been too busy daydreaming about the Prince.”

xxx

The Prince had commissioned a weimao hat for Shen Yuan to wear, complete with two beautiful and elaborate hairpins made from inlaid kingfisher feathers. The iridescent blue was just as bright and stunning as the inlaid kingfisher feathers decorating the phoenix crown. The translucent white silk of the weimao hat helped to keep him cool as the days became warmer now that it was may. The white silk veil of the weimao hat helped to concealed his face so that no one would be able to see his features too clearly and wonder at his resemblance to ‘Hong Tengfei’

He’d worn his favorite green silk outer robe today, though it wasn’t tied as tightly around his waist as when he first arrived to the Hall of Military Victory. The outer robe gaped open a little bit to accommodate the swell of his pregnant belly, so he’d worn a second robe of rich blue silk over his thin white inner robe that complimented the green silk of his outer robes.

The Prince was as handsome as ever in his black and crimson robes. Shen Yuan kept close to the Prince, afraid to be separated. It was amazing how quickly and easily they passed through the Southern Glorious Gate and into the Outer Palace. First Prince Luo Binghe could go wherever he wanted in the Imperial Palace and as long as Shen Yuan stayed closed by, so could he.

The Outer Palace kitchens were recessed into the towering walls of the Imperial Palace along with the majority of the servant’s quarters and work areas. Official business was primarily conducted in one of the three Halls in the Outer Palace.

Well that’s not really accurate.

All official business was primarily conducted in the Hall of Supreme Harmony. It was an immense wooden building four stories high. The whole first floor contained the throne room for important gatherings with the imperial majesties and the remaining three floors contained an vast honeycomb of smaller rooms and offices for imperial officials. The more influential imperial officials had suites of offices on the second floor of the Hall of Supreme Harmony. The less influential imperial officials had rooms that were little more than closets on the fourth floor of the Hall of Supreme Victory. For example, Mo Beijun, Yue Qingyuan, and Zhuzhi Yuanti, the Wardens of the Northern, Eastern, and Southern Provinces respectively, all had vast suites of rooms on the second floor of the Hall of Supreme Harmony.

The Hall of Central Harmony was on the western side of the Hall of Supreme Harmony and served as a space for ceremonies: weddings, recitations, banquets and the like. The Hall of Central Harmony was about a third the size of the Hall of Supreme Harmony. Only ceremonies sponsored by the imperial majesties could be held in the immense throne room of the Hall of Supreme Harmony. It was in the Hall of Central Harmony that the Du Fu recitation by Yue Weizhe would take place.

The Hall Preserving Harmony was on the eastern side of the Hall of Supreme Harmony and was the same size as the Hall of Central Harmony. The examinations to become an imperial official were held in the Hall of Preserving Harmony. Shen Yuan hoped to take his own examinations there someday.

“Come,” the Prince said, taking Shen Yuan’s hand in his. “It can get crowded in the Hall of Central Harmony during these recitations. I don’t want to get separated. We’re going to stand up on the third floor balcony to listen. I’ve had the third floor blocked off for us. I had a feeling Yue Weizhe’s first recitation in decades would draw a crowd and I didn’t want you to be jostled about during your pregnancy by the unwashed masses. Stay close to me.”

“Look over there, that’s First Prince’s omega,” whispered one beta man to his wife.

“Is that him? First Prince’s bed servant?” the woman replied loudly.

“The rumors are true. The Prince’s bed servant is with child.”

Shen Yuan gripped his lover’s hand tightly in his and tried to ignore the whispers and stares. The Hall of Central Harmony was packed solid. Nevertheless, the Prince held his hand tightly and pushed through. First Luo Binghe was tall and muscular and easily recognizable, so the crowds parted as he walked through the Hall of Central Harmony. Everyone greeted First Prince with a bow and then stared unabashedly at Shen Yuan.

“First Prince,” bowed two alpha male officials as the Prince pushed his way through the crowd, tugging Shen Yuan along behind him.

“Prince Luo Binghe,” said an old beta man, his joints creaking as he bowed.

Shen Yuan felt thousands of eyes on him. He felt conspicuous and self-conscious. He was glad he had a veil to hide behind. He felt out of his element, too young, and too uncultured amidst all of the talented scholars and cultivators of the imperial court. He felt shy and bloated compared to the beautiful courtesans waving their fans in the air with an air of sophistication and mystery Shen Yuan doubted he’d be able to mimic. How did they look so cool, composed, and refined in what was on the verge of becoming a mosh pit?

“That omega must be extraordinarily beautiful and talented for First Prince to find him worthy to bear his child. I wish he wasn’t wearing that weimao hat. I can’t see his face at all,” whined a young and pockmarked alpha male to his beta friend as they bowed along with the rest of the crowd.

“That’s because you’re unworthy to look upon such beauty,” sneered his beta friend.

“You can’t see him either,” the other alpha whined. “You’re just as unworthy.”

How did Jiu-xiong walk into Imperial Banquets like he owned the place? Shen Yuan felt so intimidated being the center of attention. He found himself longing for the peace and tranquility of the Garden of the Dragon’s Peak in the Prince’s Hall of Military Victory.

“This is a bigger crowd than I ever expected,” the Prince said into his ear through his veil of silk as they paused near the set of marble stairs up to the third floor. The two guards serving as gatekeepers bowed to the Prince.   Wrapping his arm around Shen Yuan’s shoulders, the Prince continued, “Maybe I should’ve requested a private recitation after all.”

Shen Yuan brushed aside the silk from his face and pressed a quick kiss to the Prince’s lips before dropping his veil again. “Thank you for thinking to reserve the third floor, First Prince. This servant is relieved to have some privacy to listen to the recitation with his Master.”

The Prince laced their fingers together and smiled down at him. “I hope this doesn’t put you off from future recitations or a career in the imperial court. I’ve never seen it this crowded before. The entire imperial court must be here today. If I’d known it would be so overcrowded, I would’ve sponsored it in the Hall of Supreme Harmony. The Hall of Central Harmony not suited for this large of a crowd.”

“It’s not very harmonious,” Shen Yuan quipped.

The Prince kissed the inside of Shen Yuan’s palm and looked into his eyes through the translucent white silk veil. “It’ll be better upstairs, I promise.”

“This servant is fine, he’s not put off in any way,” Shen Yuan smiled. “This servant is honored to have been invited to attend this recitation by his Master.”

Shen Yuan glanced to the side as he heard two voices cutting through the noise. It must have been a quirk of the acoustics in the room because Shen Yuan heard them almost as clearly as if they’d been standing beside him even though they too distant to be overheard normally. It was clear they didn’t know they could be heard by the Prince and his bedservant from the content of their conversation. Shen Yuan could see them in his line of sight standing in a corner across from them: an alpha male and omega female, likely brother and sister based on their similar features.

“Lady Maigu is seething. You can just tell behind that fan and polite smile,” chuckled the omega female to her alpha brother. “She’s such a prima donna. I’m glad someone’s here to cut her down to size.”

“I’m so glad father forced us to go to this recitation. I thought I’d have to listen to some boorish scholar drone on about wagons,” her brother replied. “But this looks like it’ll be much more entertaining.”

“Oh, she’s walking over. This is going to be good.   Let’s try to get closer to eavesdrop on them.”

“You’re a terrible influence on me, jiejie.”

“Shut up and follow me, A-Gu.”

“First Prince,” said a sweet voice behind them. “I heard a rumor that you might be attending he recitation with your bedservant.”

Shen Yuan didn’t even need to turn around to guess the owner of the sweet and seductive female voice behind him. He’d heard most of the conversation from the alpha and omega siblings after all. So this was Prime Minister Maigu’s omega daughter. The omega that’d been happy to scheme and frame Shen Yuan just so she could get closer to First Prince.

“Lady Maigu Xia,” the Prince greeted as he turned around. “How is your father?”

“He’s well, thank you,” the young noblewoman replied with an elegant nod.

She had a beautiful voice and a figure. Her gray eyes sparkled as she stared up at the Prince through her long eyelashes. She had a stunning figure lithe as a willow branch, plump red lips, delicate features, and a waterfall of dark hair as smooth and luxurious as silk. Shen Yuan thought she was the most beautiful omega that he’d ever seen. He could feel his cheeks heating up as he stared at her.

“He’s recovering from his gelding?” the Prince asked with cruel smile.

“An omega never speaks of such things,” the noblewoman replied breathlessly. “My father’s health is fine. First Prince needn’t worry on his behalf.”

“I’m sorry then if I offended you,” the Prince grinned. “My father was merciful with the Prime Minister. I asked for his head for his treachery, but the emperor was more gracious and forgiving and only took the Prime Minister’s testicles.”

Shen Yuan wrung his hands together feeling out of place. Surely this wasn’t how nobles spoke to each other? If the Prince was trying to make her so uncomfortable that she’d simply leave, he’d apparently have to try a little harder. The young noblewoman had walked up the Prince bold as brass, so she was clearly made of sterner stuff. She probably had to be as an omega in the imperial court.

She was so pretty. It was distracting.

“Aren’t you going to introduce me to your lover?” the noblewoman continued after an awkward pause. “It’s always a pleasure to meet another omega, especially one as accomplished as your bed servant is rumored to be. I’d hope we might be friends. It can be difficult for a new comer to navigate the imperial court. I’d be happy to take Shen Yuan under my wing.”

“That’s very generous of you, Lady Maigu,” the Prince grinned. “Now if you don’t mind, it looks like the recitation is about to begin.”

“Yes, of course. Enjoy the recitation, First Prince. Lovely to meet you, Shen Yuan.”

Shen Yuan watched her go. She strode down through the crowds with an innate elegance that had Shen Yuan spellbound.  Everyone else in the crowd seemed to stare at her as she walked by. She was beautiful and dangerous – she reminded Shen Yuan a little bit of his older brother because of her confidence and intelligence. He wished that he could someday display even a fraction of her elegance and confidence. If she didn’t want him framed for a crime he didn't commit and then executed, Shen Yuan wouldn’t have minded being taken under her wing. 

There were two chairs set up by the third floor balcony looking down over the platform set up for Yue Weizhe’s recitation. Shen Yuan sat down next to the Prince and breathed a sigh of relief to be away from the crowds.  

Brushing the silk veil out of the way, Shen Yuan looked over at his lover. “This servant thought it unusual First Prince, a famous general and warrior, would enjoy ‘Song of the Wagons’ which speaks of the cost of war rather than the glory.”

The Prince grinned over at him. “You’re very wise, my love. That’s why I like it. Because it feels more real, more authentic. War is bloody and chaotic. It brings glory and wealth and conquest, but also death and destruction. One can’t exist without the other.”

The Prince shifted his chair closer to Shen Yuan’s and rested one hand on Shen Yuan’s babe-swollen belly, moving his hand in a small circle on Shen Yuan’s belly in a slow caress. Shen Yuan felt his heart pounding again just like it had as they pushed through the crowd. The fluttering in his belly felt like love and butterflies.

“A-Yuan, I’ve been meaning to speak with you about the imperial official examinations,” the Prince mused as he mapped Shen Yuan’s babe-swollen belly in his hands. “They’re offered every three years. The next examination’ll be in August after the Imperial Gala. It’s too late to enroll for this August; however this is the time to begin preparing for the imperial official examination in three years time.”

Shen Yuan gaped at him. “This servant has heard of the rigor of the imperial official examiniations; however, he didn’t realize it required three years of study to be adequately prepared.”

The Prince took Shen Yuan’s hand and kissed it. “Many young men and women looking to take the imperial official examination conduct years of intense study in history, languages, literature, natural science, alchemy, philosophy, mathematics, economics, and various other topics. Those who are the most successful in the also enroll in a reading course with a scholar to help solidify their knowledge on the various topics on the imperial official examination.”

Shen Yuan felt the blood drain from his face. He was aware that the imperial official examinations were difficult, but he hadn’t realized just how rigorous they were!  Jiu-xiong taught him a variety of topics when Shen Yuan was a child, but they didn’t have any printed books and Shen Yuan only focused on the subjects that interested him. Books were too expensive when their main concern was putting food on the table. Most of the knowledge came directly from Jiu-xiong’s head, which he had read from books in his youth. Shen Yuan had a feeling it would be a steep road ahead if he wanted to build the knowledge necessary to be successful in the imperial official examination.

“What did First Prince wish to speak with this servant about?” Shen Yuan wondered as the Prince pressed a kiss to his palm. 

“Would you like to enroll in a reading course, A-Yuan? Naturally, I’ll hire a private tutor for you as well, but it might be a nice experience for you to enroll in a reading course. The discussions and debates with the scholar leading the course and the others studying for the imperial official examination can be valuable, not the mention the friendships forged.”

Shen Yuan bit his bottom lip. It would be a wonderful experience, but he was nowhere near prepared! He didn’t know anything about anything! He would just embarrass himself. He was also so pregnant and an omega. Would he be the only omega in the reading course? Were omegas even allowed to take reading courses and sit for the imperial official examinations?

“First Prince is too generous with his servant,” Shen Yuan demurred. “This servant would prefer to focus on self-study. Perhaps after the baby is born, this servant will be ready to study with a private tutuor. However, until this servant is confident in his base knowledge, he would like to wait to enroll in a reading course.”

“Whatever you think is best, my love.” The Prince smiled at him.

“First Prince, are there many imperal officials who are omegas?”

“A few, yes,” the Prince said with a nod. “Omegas are rare in the population, so not many take the imperial official examinations.  There are several couples in which both the alpha and omega are imperial officials.  An alpha and omega couple in which both members have an alpha and omega ability can be extremely influential; though there hasn't been a power couple like that in many years."

“Hm,” Shen Yuan muttered.

Shen Yuan sighed and sat back in his seat, watching as the crowds quieted as a man with dark hair streaked through with gray walked towards the platform. Yue Weizhe took the stage and the crowd finally quieted. The man had a deep resonant voice that filled the entirety of the Hall of Central Harmony. Shen Yuan found himself leaning forward to listen.

“My sister’s husband and my good friend Prime Minister Maigu asked me why I decided to perform a recitation of Du Fu’s ‘Song of the Wagons.’ After all, it had been twenty years since my last recitation, which had also been of ‘Song of the Wagons.’ Prime Minister Maigu wondered if perhaps I thought it took the imperial court a full twenty years to develop an adequate appreciation for Du Fu’s masterpiece and if he would have to wait another twenty years after today before he would be able to hear it again.”

Shen Yuan chuckled along with the rest of the audience. It was so fun to be part of such a large performance. Everyone, practically all of the imperial court, was hanging on Yue Weizhe’s every word with baited breath. It was truly extraordinary watching a master orator command a room.

“Twenty years ago, my recitation of Du Fu’s ‘Song of the Wagons’ was an entreaty to Emperor Tianlang-Jun. Twenty years ago, war had just been declared on the Kingdom of the Five Sects after they invaded our Empire. Twenty years ago, my younger brother Yue Qingyuan picked up a sword to fight for the Empire. Twenty years ago, I spoke the words of Du Fu to the imperial court and urged the Emperor to find a peaceful resolution to war, but what are the words of a scholar against an Emperor’s lust for glory and conquest?”

Shen Yuan took a deep breath and looked uneasily over at First Prince Luo Binghe. The Prince was smiling down at Shen Yuan’s belly, more concerned with the movement of his own hand over the generous curve of Shen Yuan’s pregnant belly than the harsh words of the orator below.  

“Next month the imperial court will attend the Imperial Gala in the Richu Islands. Next month, my younger brother Yue Qingyuan will marry the love of his life, Hong Tengfei, once thought lost in the aftermath of the Rape of the Northern Provinces. The Richu Islands were once the jewel of the Kingdom of the Five Sects. Now it’s the plunder of the Empire. Next month Emperor Tianlang-Jun will open the doors of his new Imperial Residence recently constructed on the islands for two weeks of revelry. I hope my recitation of the ‘Song of the Wagons’ today on the seventeenth anniversary of the Rape of the Northern Provinces will remind everyone of the blood that was spilt and the lives that were lost to the horrors of war.”

“The wagons rumble and roll,

The horses whinny and neigh,

The conscripts each have bows and arrows at their waists.

Their parents, wives and children run to see them off,

So much dust's stirred up, it hides the Xianyang bridge.

 

They pull clothes, stamp their feet and, weeping, bar the way,

The weeping voices rise straight up and strike the clouds.

A passer-by at the roadside asks a conscript why,

The conscript answers only that drafting happens often.

 

"At fifteen, many were sent north to guard the river,

Even at forty, they had to till fields in the west.

When we went away, the elders bound our heads,

Returning with heads white, we're sent back off to the frontier.

At the border posts, shed blood becomes a sea,

The martial emperor's dream of expansion has no end.

 

Have you not seen the two hundred districts east of the mountains,

Where thorns and brambles grow in countless villages and hamlets?

Although there are strong women to grasp the hoe and the plough,

They grow some crops, but there's no order in the fields.

 

What's more, we soldiers of Qin withstand the bitterest fighting,

We're always driven onwards just like dogs and chickens.

Although an elder can ask me this,

How can a soldier dare to complain?

 

Even in this wintertime,

Soldiers from west of the pass keep moving.

The magistrate is eager for taxes,

But how can we afford to pay?

 

We know now having boys is bad,

While having girls is for the best;

Our girls can still be married to the neighbors,

Our sons are merely buried amid the grass.

 

Have you not seen on the border of Qinghai,

The ancient bleached bones no man's gathered in?

The new ghosts are angered by injustice, the old ghosts weep,

Moistening rain falls from dark heaven on the voices' screeching." 

Shen Yuan rested his hands in his lap and the Prince took a hold of one of them in his own with gentle smile. The Prince had promised to introduce Shen Yuan to Yue Weizhe after the recitation. However, hearing his introduction and his mention of a close friendship with the Prime Minister, Shen Yuan had second thoughts. Prime Minister Maigu was the husband of Yue Weizhe’s sister? But that meant the Prime Minister was also the brother-in-law of Yue Qingyuan!

What did that mean exactly?

Chapter Text

Chapter Fifteen

Liu Mingyan tucked her zhaun back into the sash around her waist and nodded to the guards at the Southern Glorious Gate as she and Luo Binghe strode out of the Outer Palace and into the Imperial City.

“What did you think of Yue Weizhe’s recitation?” his alpha female general wondered. “It looked like you and Shen Yuan were very cozy up in that third floor balcony. It’s all anyone in the imperial court wants to talk about.”

“I could’ve done without the rhetoric. The insolence of that man standing in front of the imperial court feigning morality and accusing the imperial majesties of war mongering,” Luo Binghe scoffed as they strode through the winding streets of the Imperial City. “He made it sound like we were the aggressors in the War against the Kingdom of the Five Sects.”

“Do you remember what he said during his recitation twenty years ago during the early days of the War against the Kingdom of the Five Sects?” Liu Mingyan wondered. “I was only five at the time, so I didn’t hear much about the recitation.”

Luo Binghe sighed, “Twenty years ago, Yue Weizhe recited the ‘Song of the Wagons’ and begged my father and the late Lord Yue to annex the Eastern Provinces to the Kingdom of the Five Sects. Annexation had broad support across the Eastern Province, especially from the human noble families. Yue Weizhe supported annexation while the late lord Yue and Yue Qingyuan opposed it. It wasn’t until the Rape of the Northern Provinces that support for annexation in the Eastern Provinces changed. When annexation lost its popularity in the Eastern Provinces, Yue Weizhe was quick to abandon it.”

Liu Mingyan nodded. “Yue Weizhe has lived in the Imperial City since he was exiled from the Eastern Provinces. He has a well-placed office in the third floor of the Hall of Supreme Harmony. He owns a nice siheyuan in official’s row in the Imperial City. He’s well respected and has devoted students. He’s done well for himself despite being disiherited.”

Luo Binghe nodded. “Indeed. He landed on his feet to be sure.”

“His close relationship with his sister Yue Meirong, the Prime Minister’s wife certainly helped matters,” Liu Mingyan agreed. “She certainly ensured that her husband and her brother would form a close relationship. They become especially close after their mother’s death.”

“First Prince. Lady Liu,” said a young alpha woman wearing dark robes and a scholar’s cap as they passed.

“Good day,” Liu Mingyan smiled at the young woman as they passed.

“First Prince,” said a young alpha man with a bow as they passed.

“First Prince,” bowed a beta man as he balanced several scrolls in his arms.

Liu Mingyan looked around at the tall walls of the siheyuans along Katsura Lane. The most influential families of the Imperial City made their homes in the one square li that made up official’s row. Magnolia Boulevard was the main thoroughfare of official’s row and it was criss crossed and paralled by a number of smaller streets and lanes all bearing the names of trees, plants, or blossoms. The beautiful siheyuan homes that lined official’s row were south of the Imperial Palace and an easy thirty-minute walk to the Southern Glorious Gate.

There were only one hundred siheyuan homes in official’s row, so it was a great honor for an imperial official or noble to be own one. After all there were nearly twenty thousand imperial officials who worked in the Imperial City and nearly a total of eighty noble families in the Empire. Ownership of one of the siheyuan’s in official’s row was a great honor that many imperial officials aspired to. Liu Mingyuan’s family had a siheyuan themselves along Magnolia Boulevard.

“Here we are,” Liu Mingyan said walking up to the one with the painted blue door. She knocked twice on the door with the brass knocker. “I told them that we’d be stopping by to see their progress on our fans.”

“Hm,” Luo Binghe nodded.

The door opened and the two people who meet him at the door bowed low. They said in chorus: “First Prince Luo Binghe! We are so honored to have you our home! Please come inside.”

xxx

Feng Wencheng’s studio was a complete disaster. His two sons obviously hadn’t taken enough interest in Feng Wencheng’s work while their father had lived. They had moved around and broken some of the delicate tools and instruments that their father used to make all of his intricate pieces of craftsmanship.

Feng Yingjie was the older of the two brothers and looked to be in his mid-forties. He was an alpha male, tall and thin with thinning brown hair. His young brother, Feng Yuanjun, was a beta male who was shorter than his older brother with similarly colored brown hair at an earlier state of thinning.

The older brother did most of the talking as he presented the sketches of a fan to Luo Binghe. The paper was yellowed with age, so it was clearly one of his father’s sketches. “This is the design, First Prince. I apologize that we don’t have anything to present yet. We’ve had some trouble acquiring the jade for the fan blades.”

“Fan guards,” his younger beta brother hissed.

Feng Yingjie, the older brother, smiled uncertainly at Luo Binghe.

Luo Binghe cleared his throat and focused on activating his alpha thrall. This looked to be a tedious errand. He wanted to get this out of his way quickly so he could return to the Hall of Military Victory and his beautiful pregnant lover.

Keeping both brothers in his sights, he commanded, “From this moment onward, you will be unaware of our conversation. You will answer all of our questions fully and completely.”

“Yes, First Prince.”

“Tell me of the connection between Feng Wencheng and Yan Longwei. Start at the beginning and give a thorough recounting of their dealings.”

Feng Yingjie, the alpha male, nodded as he explained. “As far as I know, father didn’t have much of a connection to Yan Longwei. Though like many other nobles, Yan Longwei petitioned father to teach his son swordplay.” The alpha made a thrusting motion with his hips and laughed. “And Yan Longwei’s omega bastard sure learned sword play from father!”

“Feng Wencheng tutored Yan Julong?” Luo Binghe asked.

The alpha male, continued, “Father charged Yan Longwei twice the usual fee to tutor his omega son, called it an omega surcharge. Yan Julong, or Shen Jiu as he was known at the time, had a specialized curriculum of different types of swordplay.” The man laughed out loud. “Father required the omega to learn dual cultivation with him once a week and the payment for that was the omega’s virginity.”

Liu Mingyuan was aghast, “And Shen Jiu agreed to this?”

It was a great honor for a young noble to be able to call Feng Wencheng his or her shifu. Luo Binghe wasn’t surprised Yan Longwei would seek to improve his status by having his son train with the famous swordmaster. If Shen Jiu were to be legitimized, it would benefit him to be a former student of Feng Wencheng.

Luo Binghe knew many cultivation masters preyed on omegas by requiring dual cultivation lessons as well or only teaching dual cultivation. Indeed many of these unscrupulous cultivation masters didn’t even teach dual cultivation, they just used it as an excuse to coerce their young omega students into bed. Though Feng Wencheng was so well regarded, Luo Binghe hadn’t expected him to do the same.

The beta male, nodded. “After he finished father’s training, Yan Longwei promised to legitimize Shen Jiu. Shen Jiu must have wanted to be legitimized really bad.”

The alpha laughed, “Or maybe he wanted father’s cock really bad, especially after he got pregnant. I know we should’ve forced the omega to end his pregnancy, but Shen Jiu was crafty. He knew he had a golden ticket to get money out of father with father’s baby in his belly.”

Luo Binghe raised an eyebrow. “Yan Julong had a son by Feng Wencheng? Is he the half brother that’s caused this issue with your inheritance? He’s due to inherit everything including this siheyuan in official’s row?”

Feng Yingjie, the alpha male, complained, “It’s the siheyuan that’s worth the most. Why should father’s bastard get to have it? Especially because father only changed the will to try to lure Yan Julong out of hiding after the Prime Minister’s servant goaded him into it.”

“What?” Liu Mingyan gasped. “The Prime Minister was involved?”

“His servant was, so he had to be, right? But I don’t have the balls to ask him about it! What was the servant’s name again, A-Jun?”

“Lingjiao, Wang Lingjiao,” the beta male answered. “That bitch screwed us over. Father thought Yan Julong was dead. So the thought of luring him out of hiding and coercing him back into bed was too exciting for him to pass up, the horny old man.”

Luo Binghe had heard that name before several months previously. Liu Minyan glanced over at him and raised an eyebrow. She’d been the one who’d given the report, so it was clear that she remembered the name as well.

Wang Lingjiao was the name of the Wen agent who’d received a reward in the autumn from Wen Rouhan for bringing Yan Julong out into the open. It was clear now what she’d done for her mother to earn the reward. However, the revelation that she might have also been working for the Prime Minister was surprising.

“What happened after Feng Wencheng changed his will to lure Yan Julong out of hiding?” Luo Binghe wondered.

“Well he came sniffing around is what happened,” the beta male answered. “Just like Lingjiao thought he might. Then it all went to hell. Father’s imperial official friend who was acting as the executor of the will turned up dead. Then father was murdered. Yan Julong killed them both and then snuck back under the rock that he’d crawled out from.”

“It definitely didn’t happen like father hoped,” the alpha male said with a sigh. “Now we’re in a bind. The Inheritance is all mixed up and the authorities think we killed father and his friend. They don’t believe that Yan Julong did it. He’s supposed to be dead. The Prime Minister’s bitch beta servant hasn’t been any help.”

Luo Binghe asked the question he felt he’d already learned the answer to. But he needed to have it confirmed. “What’s the name of Yan Julong’s son?”

“Shen Yuan.”

Liu Mingyan looked at him in surprise.

Luo Binghe had drawn the same conclusion during the discussion; however, that didn’t mean he wasn’t any less taken aback by the revelation. Shen Yuan thought he was Yan Julong’s younger brother. He was much younger than his older brother nearly eighteen years separated them.

Could Shen Yuan really be the son of Yan Julong and Feng Wencheng?

“I never imagined our half-brother would still be alive,” the alpha male said. “He and Yan Julong left when he was still a baby.”

“We don’t know if he’s actually our half-brother,” the beta male countered. “I still think it’s suspicious A-Yuan was born two months early. He didn’t smell beta and Shen Jiu wouldn’t let anyone get a look at the thing long enough to check. If he was an omega he couldn’t be father’s son.”

“Do you know where Shen Yuan is now?” Luo Binghe wondered.

“The person who’s been using his identity is your bed servant, First Prince. Whether or not he’s the real Shen Yuan, we know for sure that he’s not our half-brother because he’s a smale omega. Despite that, he’s the heir to our father’s estate.”

“Why can’t he be your half-brother if he’s omega?” Luo Binghe asked mildly.

“Our mother was omega and we’re the only only children he had with father – an alpha and beta. Father’s parents were alpha and beta, so it would have been impossible for him to concieve an omega child with Yan Julong,” the alpha male explained. “Father’s bastard born to Yan Julong would have to be alpha or beta.”

“So my bedservant is standing in the way of your ability to collect your inheritance,” Luo Binghe said in a dangerous voice. “What do you intend to do about that?”

The Feng brothers eyes widened in alarm as the truth was pulled from their lips by Luo Binghe’s thrall. “You said the fan was for your bedservant. We’re modifying father’s design so that it’ll kill him. The executor of father’s will won’t be happy unless we get a death certificate for Shen Yuan.”

“Indeed?” Luo Binghe said mildly. “When I opened the fan, would I be killed?”

They shook their heads. “No, it’s a slow acting poison. As a divine elf, you should have an immunity to it.”

“What is the punishment for conspiring against the imperial majesties?” asked Luo Binghe as he took a step forward and gripped them both around their treasonous necks.

“D-death.”

Liu Mingyan looked away as Luo Binghe made quick work of the two fools. As he strode away from the Feng Wencheng’s studio, he said to his alpha female general. “Call someone to clean that up.”

“Should we inform the executor of the will that Shen Yuan is due to inherit?” Liu Mingyan wondered.

Luo Binghe shook his head. “No. I don’t want to there to be any connection between my bed servant and Yan Longwei. Anyway, as they said he couldn’t be Feng Wencheng’s son because he’s a male omega.”

Shen Yuan believed Yan Longwei was his father when in reality the notorious traitor was his grandfather. So if his young lover had been born to Yan Julong, who was his father?

Luo Binghe narrowed his eyes as they walked back through official’s row. He had a strong hunch about the identity of Shen Yuan’s alpha sire, but it went against everything he thought he knew about the man.

Chapter Text

Chapter Sixteen

The weekly check-ups with the Imperial Physician improved somewhat for Shen Yuan. Mu Qingfang was pleased the level of Shen Yuan’s omega stress hormone finally dropped into the acceptable range. The imperial physician said that both Shen Yuan and the baby were healthy and strong. The baby had quickened in womb and for the first time Shen Yuan started to feel his son moving around.

However, during his twenty-two week checkup, Imperial Physician Mu Qingfang sat them both down and said he was worried the baby might be receiving too much qi from their dual cultivation. He didn’t want the babe to develop a qi dependency from the constant excess.

Shen Yuan was completely mortified by the matter-of-fact way the imperial physician went about asking Shen Yuan questions to determine if the underlying problem might be that Shen Yuan was developing a sex addiction brought on by his omega hormones and urges during the pregnancy.

Sex addiction!

Shen Yuan have a sex addiction?!?

Wasn’t First Prince a well-known playboy? He’d had sex with so many partners that it would probably take days to finish counting them out. Shouldn’t the imperial physician be more concerned about the Prince having a sex addiction?

So what if Shen Yuan liked to have sex with the Prince? So what if he became anxious if he hadn’t been knotted at least four times a day by his lover! That was literally his job! Shen Yuan was a bed servant. Not only that, if he didn’t dual cultivate with the Prince often enough, he might literally die!

Shen Yuan was hardly the attractive young omega he’d been when he first took his position as the Prince’s bed servant – he was heavily pregnant! He didn’t want his alpha to lose interest in him and find his pleasure in some other omega’s bed! If the Prince didn’t dual cultivate with him often enough, he might literally die!

It didn’t mean Shen Yuan was an unrestrained sex-mad succubus!

The Imperial Physician’s solution to this non-existent problem of Shen Yuan’s sex addiction was to recommend that Luo Binghe engage in more non-sexual intimacy with Shen Yuan. The Imperial Physician explained that the Prince needed to alleviate the worry in Shen Yuan’s subconscious mind that his position as his alpha’s mate was threatened.

The Prince had taken the Imperial Physician’s advice to heart. First Prince took every opportunity he could to spend time with Shen Yuan and Shen Yuan relished every moment. They went on walks together through the Garden of the Dragon’s Peak and the Imperial Gardens, holding hands and stealing kisses. They played weiqi, even though the rules of weiqi seemed so simple in theory – placing his white stones on the board and capturing the Prince’s black stones – Shen Yuan had yet to best the Prince. They played duets on the guqin. They had cultivation practices together and fencing matches using practice swords. The Prince was always afraid of hurting Shen Yuan or the baby during their fencing matches, so Shen Yuan always won those and would gloat afterwards.

Shen Yuan wasn’t sure at what point he’d decided to stop protecting his heart against his growing feelings for the Prince. He didn’t know when he’d stopped plucking out his feelings before they grew roots. All he knew was that he was hopelessly in love with First Prince Luo Binghe. It was too late to pretend otherwise, so Shen Yuan just let himself be swept away by the intensity of the Prince’s devotion and the love in his own heart.

They have lively discussions about a variety of topics. They read the poems of Li Bai and Du Fu and discussed their meanings. They discussed military strategy and the tactics used in the War against the Kingdom of the Five Sects. They discussed the diplomatic ties between the Empire and the Kingdom. They discussed the economies of the Empire and the Kingdom and how a peace treaty rather than an armistice might improve the economies of both nations.

Mu Qingfang’s solution to the other aspect of Shen Yuan’s non-existent sex addiction was to create a very realistic dildo for him so that he’d be able to satisfy himself without needing to over-indulge in dual cultivation and possibly have his baby develop a qi dependency. It was a monstrous thing in the shape of the First Prince’s heavenly pillar complete with a knotting function. It was true to life. The Imperial Physician had crafted it from the measurements he’d taken of the Prince alpha cock during his examination several months before.

The Prince was extremely amused.

Shen Yuan was beyond mortified.

The Prince wanted fuck Shen Yuan with the tool to see if it felt as good for Shen Yuan as the real thing, but Shen Yuan’s face wasn’t so thick that he’d agree to such a thing. So Shen Yuan and First Prince Luo Binghe found their own solution to the problem. They had just as much sex; however Shen Yuan now was allowed to pass qi back to his lover when before he’d only been allowed to receive it.

The dildo was put back into its box to collect dust at the back of the Prince’s closet.

xxx

Qi Qingqi stood with her hands on her hips smirking as Shen Yuan watched the Prince line up the arrow on his bow and hit the target on the roof of the main building of the northern wing of the Hall of Military Victory. Shen Yuan held a hand over his eyes to shield them from the sun as he looked at the target. He’s never hit one so far away before and the Prince made it look so effortless.

“Wow, that was impressive,” Shen Yuan breathed.

“Showing off in front of your lover. How very like you, First Prince,” the alpha female teased. “Now it’s your turn, Shen Yuan. I want you to try to hit same target.”

Shen Yuan glanced back at the shaded portico where Liu Mingyan and Sha Hualing perched in the shade watching them. Shen Yuan often saw the Prince standing next to the two alpha females watching his cultivation practices with Qi Qingqi, but it was completely a different experience having his lover standing right next to him.

“Here let me show you,” The Prince said, handing his bow to Qi Qingqi and striding over. He held the grip below Shen Yuan’s hand tightly as Shen Yuan drew back the bowstring, strung with an arrow. “Very good, you have an excellent form,” he said in a low voice that was more appropriate for the bedroom than the practice field.

“Show me,” Shen Yuan whispered back huskily.

The Prince moved closer until his warm chest was pressed up against Shen Yuan’s back. His other arm moved to Shen Yuan’s elbow. “Relax your elbow.”

Shen Yuan looked up at the target on top of the roof, aiming for it carefully. The Prince’s cheek rested against his and the hand on his elbow smoothed down to rest lightly on the curve of Shen Yuan’s belly. “Now aim carefully. You’re doing very well, my love.”

The arrow flew from the bow and into the air, striking the target in the inner most ring just outside the bullseye.

“Not bad,” Qi Qingqi said with approval.

Shen Yuan turned around in the Prince’s arms, his heart pounding with excitement. Dropping the bow onto the ground at his feet, he claimed his lover’s lips in a kiss. He felt so joyful and cherished and loved, he thought he’d burst from the feeling.

xxx

The First Prince also enjoyed the view from the Mountain-in-View pavilion, so they decided to sit together up at the summit of the Dragon’s Peak to discuss the geography, culture, and history of the Kingdom of the Five Sects. The Prince carried a vast pile of books up the rough-hewn steps and protested vehemently when Shen Yuan tried to help him.

“You’re carrying our child,” the Prince countered when Shen Yuan said that he wasn’t carrying anything. “That’s much more important.”

Once they settled on the cushions placed in the Mountain-in-View Pavilion and the Prince arranged the books and atlases, he pulled Shen Yuan back into his lap. The Prince rested his hands on the top of Shen Yuan’s belly. Now that Shen Yuan was five months along, he was noticeably pregnant.

“I love you, A-Yuan,” the Prince murmured as he pressed kisses to Shen Yuan’s shoulders and neck. “I love you and I love our baby. You’re the only one for me.”

Basking in his lover’s attention, Shen Yuan smiled happily as he opened up the atlas of the Kingdom of the Five Sects and unfolded the maps. Holding out the book in front of him, he observed, “This servant has never before seen a map of the Kingdom of the Five Sects before. This servant only ever studied maps of the Empire.”

“Now your education will be complete,” the Prince mused as he nuzzled his nose against the scent glands under Shen Yuan’s jaw. Tracing a finger along the dark green and brown mountain range that spanned from the southwestern side of the map across to the ocean in a U shape, he explained, “That’s the Tian Gong Mountain Range. It forms a natural border between the Kingdom of the Five Sects and the Empire to the north west.”

Shen Yuan squinted at one of the places on the map. “Qishan. That’s got a large dot. Which sect lives there, Master?”

The Prince made a surprised noise as he said, “That’s one of the most famous places in the Kingdom of the Five Sects. Qishan is home of the Wen sect. It’s the capital region and the capital city is called Nightless City. Qishan is the largest region of the Kingdom. The Qishan Wen sect’s symbol is a blazing sun.”

Shen Yuan felt sick to his stomach. He traced a finger from the dot to the mountain range. He and his older brother had run that distance when he was a child. He remembered scrapping his knees and hands over the rocky terrain once they reached the towering mountains. They passed through a checkpoint, more from the power of Shen Yuan’s frantic omega glamour than anything else. Shen Yuan hadn’t realized at the time that it was a checkpoint into the Empire. He thought it a checkpoint to enter the Imperial Provinces.

“This servant never realized how close it was to the border,” he said aloud.

“It’s funny you should say that, my love,” the Prince observed. “The Tian Gong Mountain Range can be devilishly tricky to traverse. This area here, the darker brown, that’s a deep ravine. Coming from the Kingdom one would need to scale a sheer cliff nearly three li high to pass into the Empire. It’s much longer, but much easier to simply go around or through one of the check points.”

Shen Yuan studied the map, trying to find Lanling where he’d grown up. He remember lush fields and gentle rolling hills. So it likely wasn’t too close to Tian Mountain Range. The Wen soldiers had taken him and his brother to Nightless City from the capital of Lanling. What path would they have taken?

First Prince continued the conversation, pointing to another small dot in the mountains within the Kingdom of the Five Sects. “Gusu is the home of the Lan sect and their capital city is called the Cloud Recesses. The symbol of the Gusu Lan is a cloud. Before Wen Mao became the Chief Cultivator of the Kingdom of the Five Sects, things were more harmonious between our two nations. Cultivators from the Empire were occasionally invited to attend lessons at the Cloud Recesses.”

“Where’s Lanling?” Shen Yuan wondered. “This servant can see Yunmeng over here by the ocean in the south and then – oh, here it is. It’s a lot more central than this servant imagined it would be.”

“Lanling is the home of the Jin sect. Their capital city is called Koi Tower. The symbol of the Lanling Jin is a white peony. It’s a beautiful blossom called sparks amid snow,” the Prince explained.

“Auntie said that there’s a festival every year in Lanling at Koi Tower for the Spring Equinox. It coincides with the peak blooms of their peonies. Have you been?”

The Prince brushed Shen Yuan’s hair back with a hand as he looked over his shoulder at the map. “No, but I’d like to go someday. It’s supposed to be extraordinary. When our two nations are at peace, I’ll take you to the festival for your birthday.”

“Really?” Shen Yuan gasped in excitement, turning back to look at his lover. “That would be so wonderful.”

The Prince smiled warmly at him. “Anything for you, my love. Let’s see, we’ve pointed out three of the five sects so far. Let’s discuss the other two. You mentioned Yunmeng.”

“Yep, right here,” Shen Yuan brought his finger back to the center of the page to the eastern foothills of Tian Gong Mountain Range where the river coming down from the mountains formed a wide blue lake. “Yunmeng.”

“Yunmeng is the home of the Jiang sect. Their capital city is called Lotus Pier. The symbol of the Yunmeng Jiang is a lotus. Yunmeng has a system of lakes fed from the headwaters up in the mountains near Gusu. Do you see the last one, Qinghe?”

“Here it is. By process of elimination, this servant assumes that must be the home of the Nie sect?” Shen Yuan wondered. “Their capital city is the Unclean Realm? Though maybe this servant is misremembering. The Unclean Realm is such a strange name for a—“

“No, that’s right. The Qinghe Nie sect were founded by a butcher, hence the name and motif of the head of a beast,” the Prince agreed. “You have a good memory.”

“What’s it like to be an omega there?” Shen Yuan wondered.

“In the unclean realm? Not very clean?” his lover quipped.

Shen Yuan punched the Prince in the side. “It wasn’t a jest, Master. This servant would like to know what life is like for an omega in the Kingdom of the Five Sects. Is it different than the life of an omega in the Empire?”

“Hm,” the Prince mused. “Most the writings and reports concern the nobility, so that’ll have to be my main point of comparison. Though we’ll have to keep in mind that there are simply a lot more alphas and omegas in the Empire compared to the alpha and omega population of the Kingdom.”

“Because those of elven heritage are more likely to be alpha or omega than beta?”

“Yes. Of the eighty noble families, fourty-one of them are of elven heritage. The imperial family is also of elven heritage. I’m half-elf,” the Prince explained. Leaning forward and rubbing Shen Yuan’s pregnant belly he added, “Our baby is a quarter-elf. Alphas and omegas are more common among elves than betas. It’s the opposite case for humans where there are four betas for each alpha or omega. So even among nobles of human heritage there’s also a certain bias towards alphas because of the elven influence. You can see that in arranged marriages and the laws of succession.”

Shen Yuan smiled down at the healthy swell of his belly. “Are the laws of succession different in the Kingdom? Here succession is determined by secondary gender. Is it the same in the Kingdom if there aren’t as many alphas and omegas? Or do they base it on primary gender because there are few alphas and omegas?”

“I’d never thought of it like that,” the Prince replied. “But you explained the differences in our laws of inheritance very intuitively. It’s just as you said. In the Kingdom it’s the opposite. Succession is determined by primary gender.”

“So in the theoretical example this servant and his master talked about the other day in which a First Wife had a beta son and a Second Wife had an alpha daughter, the alpha daughter would inherit in the Empire, while in the Kingdom the beta son would inherit.”

“Precisely. So theoretically, an omega son could inherit before his alpha sister.”

“Omegas are very rare in the Kingdom, so they’re prized and treasured,” the Prince explained “They’re considered beautiful and mysterious because of rarity and the fact they have stronger cultivation than the average beta. Some are able to use their omega charm abilities to their full advantage to obtain and hold positions of power and influence.”

Shen Yuan put the atlas down in his lap. Cupping his lover’s face in his hands as he leaned back, he pressed a kiss to each corner of the Prince’s lips before nipping at the Prince’s full bottom lip.

“Can an omega be an imperial official … or… whatever their equivalent in the Kingdom?” Shen Yuan wondered as he smoothed his thumbs over the Prince’s cheeks and stared deeply into his eyes.

“The Kingdom doesn’t have the same centralized government that we do in the Empire,” the Prince explained as he watched Shen Yuan with a hungry gaze. “The five sects each have the authority to conduct the small day to day activities of running their regions and the Chief Cultivator deals with the matters of state: collecting taxes, building alliances, and declaring war.”

“Are there any famous omegas in the Kingdom?” Shen Yuan wondered.

“Sure,” the Prince nodded. “Let me think. There are two joint sect leaders: Jiang and Jin. Madam Jin runs the Jin sect with her husband Jin Guangshan and then Yu Ziyuan runs the Jiang sect with her husband Jiang Fengmian. Baoshan Sanren is also a famous omega. She’s a rogue cultivator who lives as a hermit and takes students.”

“That’s really amazing,” Shen Yuan mused. “This servant is aware of the fact that in the Empire it can be difficult to have a career as an omega because many omegas don’t have the opportunity to get the necessary training.”

The Prince leaned backwards slightly, resting his elbow on the pillows behind then. Shen Yuan shifted back with him and rested his head against the Prince’s shoulder instead of his cheek. Shen Yuan ran his hands gently along the Prince’s chest, sliding open the Prince’s silk outer robe slightly so he could get his fingers on the Prince’s perfect pectorals.

“That’s true,” the Prince went on, loosening the sash around Shen Yuan’s robes very casually. “There are omega cultivators and imperial officials; however they’re less common than among the overall population. However, omega nobles on the other hand are much more common than among the overall population. It’s a shame there aren’t more omega cultivators and imperial officials. After all an average omega has higher cultivation potential than the average beta. Unfortunately teachers often use the promise of training to coerce their omegas students into sexual relationships.”

Shen Yuan turned around in the Prince’s lap, his robes falling open to his lover’s ravenous gaze. Shen Yuan smirked, pushing the Prince back slightly to rest against the pillows. Unfortunately, Shen Yuan was at a much more advanced state of undress than his lover with his inner and outer robes sliding off his shoulders from the quick work of his lover’s hands. Even through the folds of the Prince’s robes, Shen Yuan could tell that the Prince was just as interested in where things were going if the hot and hard press of his heavenly pillar against Shen Yuan’s pregnant belly was any indication.

“This servant’s Master is the Crown Prince,” Shen Yuan countered. “Could he do something to improve the prospects for omegas who wish to have a career as a imperial official? Would he do something to punish unscrupulous teachers who use training as a method of sexual coercion rather than learning for their omega pupils?”

The Prince licked his lips and slipped his hands into the open folds of Shen Yuan’s robes, running his hands up Shen Yuan’s sides and then down to his hips. “You’re right, my love. We should ensure omegas have more opportunities in the Empire. When I become Emperor, you can help me draft a policy to change things.”

The Prince’s chest was chiseled from marble: perfect pectorals and impeccable abdominals. Shen Yuan leaned down to kiss one of the red fruits of the Prince’s nipples. Shen Yuan kissed the Prince’s other nipple circling it with his tongue while his thumbing the other one with a finger. His other hand made its way down the Prince’s chest in a gentle caress. The Prince’s cock was too thick to work with one hand so he kissed and caressed his way down to the Prince’s cock so that he could use both. He nipped gently at the skin of the Prince’s well-defined oblique muscles as he pumped the Prince’s heavenly pillar in both hands.

xxx

The next month was the best of his pregnancy. Shen Yuan delighted in being able to continue not only his individual cultivation lessons with Qi Qingqi, but also his dual cultivation lessons with First Prince Luo Binghe. He’d grown rusty in his dual cultivation because he was only allowed a couple lessons and it had been nearly five months since he’d practiced passing qi. However, he improved so quickly that even First Prince Luo Binghe had been surprised.

Shen Yuan hadn’t been surprised by his own competence. Not only had he become an expert in accepting qi into his body, but he’d also been party to innumerable demonstrations during the past five months even though he hadn’t been permitted to transfer qi himself during that time. So once he began learning again, he improved in leaps and bounds.

Shen Yuan shifted his knees as he came down from orgasm. He’d brought his alpha to a powerful orgasm. His thighs burned from the exercise and he felt amazing. First Prince Luo Binghe was sprawled out below him on the bed with his hands gripping his hips tightly as he stared worshipfully up at him.

“How was that?” Shen Yuan wondered.

“I think I’ve found a new god to worship,” the Prince gasped weakly, moving his hands from Shen Yuan’s hips over to his babe-swollen belly. Shen Yuan was heavy with child now in the six month of his pregnancy. “I hope my grandparents don’t mind. Where did you learn how to do that?”

Shen Yuan ran his hands over his belly and rubbed his hands over the spot where he felt a tiny fist punching into his side. “Anything this servant knows his master taught him,” he told his lover. “Did First Prince find pleasure?”

First Prince Luo Binghe surged up and captured Shen Yuan’s lips with his. He put both of his hands over Shen Yuan’s where they rested on his pregnant belly. “That was the first time I’ve absorbed qi from my pregnant omega’s chrysanthemum with my cock. It was a sacred experience.”

Shen Yuan blushed. “Don’t tease.”

His lover laughed heartily. He kissed Shen Yuan passionately and scented his cheeks, neck, and chest. “I love you. Your qi felt like love and desire and family. I could get drunk off it.”

Shen Yuan sneezed at his lover’s overpowering musk that the Prince had rubbed all over Shen Yuan’s cheeks and chest. “But it worked? This servant has never managed to send qi through his cunt before.”

The Prince carded his hands through Shen Yuan’s hair as he kissed him deeply. “I’m going to miss you this week. I didn’t want to attend without you, but the Emperor insisted. Now that you’ve just shown me that new skill, do you have any idea how much more difficult it’ll be to leave you?”

“First Prince will have to amuse himself with all the beautiful courtesans falling at his feet hoping to warm his bed,” Shen Yuan quipped.

The Prince grinned wickedly at him. “Why, A-Yuan, are you jealous?”

Shen Yuan huffed and looked away. He refused to acknowledge the little voice in the back of his mind crowing about the fact this new skill had made his alpha giddy with pleasure. The little voice gloated about Shen Yuan’s skill in dual cultivation – his alpha wouldn’t find another omega that could please him as well as Shen Yuan could! The Prince would be back in his bed again before too long. If his alpha knew he was the omega that could best pleasure him then his alpha wouldn’t abandon him and their baby for one of the countless omega courtesans in the imperial city much more beautiful, talented, and desirable than Shen Yuan.

Shen Yuan was heavy with child. His back ached and his ankles were swollen. On a good day he couldn’t see his toes. He was six months into his pregnancy and his belly felt impossibly large. He couldn’t even imagine how much larger it would swell before he was ready to give birth. He wasn’t the lithe and sexy omega that he used to be. He wondered if it was really the Emperor who refused to give Shen Yuan an invitation or it was the First Prince who wanted to ensure Shen Yuan wouldn’t attend the Imperial Gala so he could use the time away slating his lust. At the Imperial Gala, First Prince Luo Binghe would have his pick of lovers.

Shen Yuan replied, “This servant doesn’t have the right to be jealous. How could this servant compare to the beautiful and accomplished courtesans at the imperial gala? First Prince has an immense sexual appetite he will surely wish to slake at the Imperial Gala. If First Prince takes a lover, this servant will not be offended. This servant knows that the Prince loves him and only wants to have children with him.”

The Prince titled his chin towards him to look into his eyes. “You needn’t be jealous, my love. Who could compare to you? I wish I could take you to the Imperial Gala with me, but my father’s threatened to disown me if I so much as appoint you as my concubine. You’ll be much safer here. Besides, it wouldn’t be long before I become Emperor and when I do, you’ll become my First Husband.”

“What?” Shen Yuan gasped.

“You heard me. Father said that I’d have to wait until I become Emperor, but he plans to abdicate before too long. We’ll likely discuss it further at the Imperial Gala. It wouldn’t be long before you’ll be my husband, my love.”

“But,” Shen Yuan gasped, staring up at his lover in bewilderment. “I’m no one. I’m a servant. You can’t marry me! Especially after you become the Emperor!”

The Prince chuckled. “My love, after I become Emperor, I can do whatever the fuck I want. And I want you to be my husband.”

Shen Yuan cupped the Prince’s face in his hands and smiled up at him, the corner of his lips tilting up in amusement. “Well, It’s a very stupid thing to do, First Prince,” he whispered. “Just imagine all of the politically advantageous husbands or wives you could marry instead. It’s a very stupid thing to do.”

The Emperor had forbidden Shen Yuan from attending the Imperial Gala. The Emperor wanted to ensure that First Prince spent time meeting with the delegation from the Kingdom of the Five Sects. He didn’t want Shen Yuan’s presence to distract the Prince or interfere with any attempts to arrange a marriage between First Prince and an omega noble.

“I don’t want any of those vapid and conniving courtesans as my spouse,” Luo Binghe countered. “I want you to be my only husband and the mother of all my children.”

“Ch-children?” Shen Yuan stuttered looking up at the Prince wide eyed. “How many children does First Prince want?”

The Prince grinned. “I want at least one of each: an omega daughter and son and another alpha son. I want our children to have your gray eyes and smile.”

Shen Yuan gaped at him. “I-I’m not sure I want to have another child after this one. Surely after First Prince has an alpha son, he wouldn’t walk any more children.”

“It’s a little early to be talking about another child,” the Prince mused, smiling down at him. “We might both change our minds after our son is born. I might decide one is enough. You might decide you want another.”

Shen Yuan felt his face burn. “Then we’ll discuss it again after our baby is born. There’s no rush. We’re both young, healthy, and have strong cultivation.”

The Prince winked at him. “I’m going to miss you. A month feels like too long to be parted. Though it’s a great comfort to know that Mu Qingfang will be here monitoring your health and qi reserves. He’s promised to notify me in case of an emergency; though he’s assured me that your current qi reserves are strong enough to last through the entirety of your pregnancy and then two more without needing to dual cultivate again. If you miss having me in your bed, my love, you can always use the tool Mu Qingfang created for you and pretend it’s me pleasuring you.”

Shen Yuan looked away. He could go a month without having sex. He’d gone sixteen years without having sex the first time. He could last a month, right? Well maybe he’d bring that monstrous dildo with him just in case he found himself needing it for… medical reasons.

“I have another present for you to amuse yourself with while I’m away, my love.”

xxx

The Imperial Palace emptied out in the days leading up to the Imperial gala. The Inner Palace was typically peaceful and private, so Shen Yuan didn’t really notice a difference. However, the ambient noise from the Outer Palace that always seemed to pass through the Southern Glorious Gate was much diminished.

Shen Yuan was astounded by the Prince’s gift to him. Shen Yuan had mentioned his curiosity about the Divine Library at the Hall of Divine Rule several times. He never expected he would be permitted to enter it. It was carefully guarded and only the members of the imperial family were able to enter. There were many secret documents contained within about the ruling dynasty.

Even more extraordinary was the fact Shen Yuan was granted permission for both Shen Yuan and Dongmei stay in the Hall of Divine Rule to make it more convenient for Shen Yuan to explore the library and for Dongmei to serve him while he stayed in the Hall of Divine Rule.

Shen Yuan wasn’t sure what to make of it. He knew that divine elves were unpredictable and fickle, so he wasn’t about to look this gift horse in the mouth. Why had the Emperor allowed him this honor?

As soon as they arrived in the Hall of Divine Rule, Dongmei was given a pendant to wear that granted her restricted access to the Hall of Divine Rule. Shen Yuan carried a child with divine elven blood inside his body, so he didn’t need any sort of pendant to come and go as he pleased. He had full authority to enter any part of the Emperor’s Residence. The babe’s divine elven blood allowed Shen Yuan to pass through the seals guarding the Hall of Divine Rule with ease as long as he carried his son inside his body.

Dongmei was given a tour of the kitchens, servant’s passageways, and servant’s quarters by the housekeeper while Shen Yuan was taken to the guest room where he would be staying during his time in the Emperor’s Residence.

The Hall of Divine Rule was silent as the grave. Shen Yuan’s footsteps echoed on the cold white marble as he walked down the passageways through the palace. While the Hall of Martial Victory was chorus of blacks and reds and golds, the Hall of Divine Rule was a symphony of whites, and reds, and silvers. The beautiful white marble pillars were decorated with insignias of silver butterflies that gleamed in the light coming through the wall to ceiling painted glass windows.

While the Hall of Martial Victory was decorated with statues and equestrian paintings of the crown princes who had lived in the palace, the Hall of Divine Rule was decorated with statues and painted glass. The scenes in the painted glass were of the notable accomplishments of the past emperors.

Shen Yuan studied another scene of Tianlang-Jun’s accomplishments with interest before looking at the statue underneath the painted glass. Many of the statues in the Hall of Divine Rule were of the same martial god. He was a handsome figure wielding a sword in one hand and holding a flower in the other. But this statue was different. It was a statue with two figures. The first was the martial god and the second was a tall elven man with a dangerous curved scimitar and an eye patch. The martial god’s robes were painted in cream and gold and the elven man’s robes were painted with reds and silver.

“Here you are,” said a harried voice from behind him. “I was wondering where you’d run off to.”

Shen Yuan whirled around in surprise. He didn’t know someone was expecting him. It was a young man who looked just a couple years older than him. If his slender form and robes hadn’t been enough of a designation of his occupation as a scholar than the smudge of ink on his cheek and fingers gave it away. It was clear from the lack of scent that the young man was either a beta or was diligent with scent cancelling soaps.

The young man did a double take. “Lord Hong?” He looked down at Shen Yuan’s pregnant belly. “I’m sorry if I sound impertinent, but are you related to Hong Tengfei? You look remarkably alike, though he’s not um…you know.” The man made a sweeping gesture with his arms to indicate a pregnant belly.

Shen Yuan stared.

The other man hit the flat of his palm against his forehead, muttering to himself, “Stupid. I’m sorry that I didn’t introduce myself. My name is Shang Qinghua. I’m General Mo Beijun’s... um… I’m actually not sure what my job is. I usually just follow him around and do what he asks me to. He asked me to help look after you while he and First Prince Luo Binghe are at the Imperial Gala.”

“Who did you think this servant resembles?” Shen Yuan asked curiously.

Inside he was panicking. Inside he was reeling. Oh no! Had the steward of First Prince Luo Binghe’s most trusted general discover his true identity? If this Shang Qinghua knew, how long until Mo Beijun would find out? How long until the First Prince found out?

His brother was in serious danger.

“Hong Tengfei. I just met him the other day. He’s a very charming male omega engaged to Lord Yue Qingyuan. I believe their marriage ceremony is supposed to take place during the ninth day of the Imperial Gala. You look remarkably like him, though your eye colors are very different. Wow, your eyes are really beautiful. It’s rare to see someone with gray eyes.”

Shen Yuan put a hand to his pregnant belly and smiled weakly. “This servant must apologize that Lord Shang Qinghua needed to give up his invitation to the Imperial Gala to come here instead.”

Shang Qinghua snorted. “Are you kidding? I was more than happy to avoid a month of watching all those simpering courtiers try to seduce my lord Mo Beijun. The Imperial Gala is always a celebration of excess: gluttony, greed, pride, envy, and lust. I’m happy to spend it here in the Inner Palace. How many people can say they were granted entrance into the Hall of Divine Rule? Besides, Imperial Galas are held every six years. So my first Imperial Gala will simply be the next one.”

Shen Yuan nodded. “This servant agrees and is particularly excited to enter the Divine Library.”

Shang Qinghua grinned at him. “I’m not anyone of note, you don’t need to address me with such deference. I’m more or less equal to you in rank.”

“Oh,” Shen Yuan said with a small smile. “It’s nice to meet you, Shang Qinghua. I’ll try to be less formal.”

Chapter Text

Chapter Seventeen

The Imperial Galas were held once every six years. One could always feel the anticipation building in the imperial court during the months leading up to the Gala. Six years wasn’t a long time to wait for one with elven heritage or high cultivation. Imperial Galas seemed to occur fairly often to Luo Binghe, but for humans with low cultivation, six years was a long time to wait.

The Imperial Gala was always an opulent affair. There were concerts from the most talented guqin players in the Empire. There were exhibitions of the masterpieces of the most talented calligraphers and painters. There were recitations and lectures by experts in their various fields. There were debates where imperial officials sought to prove their intellect and oratory skills. There were contests in archery, swordplay, equestrian arts, and alchemy.

Spontaneous contests of weiqi sprung up all over the main garden court as imperial officials did their best to show off their skills in the strategy game. Several rooms in the main garden court had been set up for tea drinking or wine drinking. One of the more private buildings in the main garden court had been designated for meditation, perfect for those who sought either enlightenment, peace from the chaos, or both.

In the evening it was revelry of drinking and fighting and sex.  

A division of the Imperial Court planned the Imperial Gala; though most of the approvals went through the Imperial Majesties because Imperial Galas were held at one of the Imperial Residences scattered throughout the Empire. Some locations were more popular than others.

This year there was tremendous anticipation because it would be held at the Imperial Residence recently constructed in the most largest and most beautiful of the Richu Islands in the Glistening Sea. The islands had long been the jewels of the Kingdom of the Five Sects. The lands were surrendered to the Empire about fifteen years ago as part of the reparations for the War against the Kingdom of Five Sects.

The royal residence on the largest of the Richu Islands had been demolished to make room for the much larger and more opulent Imperial Residence. Imperial Galas were typically four weeks long with the final day ending in a festival celebrating the summer equinox. This year’s Imperial Gala had been shifted back four weeks to begin on the summer equinox rather than end on it. It was a necessary adjustment to the schedule to ensure that the Imperial Residence was complete before the Imperial Gala began.

The Imperial Residence was a convenient place to host an Imperial Gala with its large banquet halls, ballrooms, and guest chambers arrayed around an immense freshwater lagoon. The layout was designed in the near-the-water style, with the buildings placed back from the water’s edge so the water level could remain high. It was an archipelago connected by floating pathways and arched bridges. Several of the guest chambers weren’t connected to the rest of the complex. They could be reached by boat and ensured complete privacy for reflection.

The main garden court of the southern wing of the Imperial Residence had been completed. The northern wing of the Imperial Residence for the imperial family was still under construction but was due to be completed next year. It was linked to southern wing through the water gardens and the Surging Wave Gate. The northernmost buildings of the imperial family’s wing abutted the sandy beaches of the island. There were several private courtyards under construction in the imperial family’s wing in various styles.

Zhuzhi-Lang’s garden included several rocky grottos connected to freshwater pools. Luo Binghe’s garden was a lush expanse of exotic plants with pools and fountains of both fresh and salt water. The Emperor’s garden included a freshwater oasis in the middle of soft sand dunes shaded by several species of palm trees.

Luo Binghe sat in the Emperor’s garden the afternoon before the Imperial Gala was due to begin with his father and Zhuzhi-Lang. The Second Prince shifted to sit under the shade of one of the palm trees. Due to his zhuyin heritage, he was sensitive to overheating.

Emperor Tianlang-Jun took a sip of the drink Auntie had brought out for him. He smacked his lips together with approval. “That’s quite good. Coconut milk and baiju, you said? You should try one, Binghe.”

Luo Binghe took one from the tray and thanked Auntie before she handed the third drink to Zhuzhi-Lang and went to finish preparations for dinner. The drink was cool and refreshing and tasted like the Richu Islands.

Luo Binghe reclined back in his chair, lifting his face towards the warmth of the sun. He missed Shen Yuan. It had only been two days. He wanted him here with him. He wanted to taste the sea and salt on his skin. He wanted to kiss his smiling lips and babe-swollen belly.

The Emperor continued, “So the delegation from the Kingdom of the Five Sects came after all?”

“Yesss,” agreed Zhuzhi-Lang. “I wasss asss sssurprisssed as you to hear.”

Luo Binghe nodded. “I’ve never crossed swords with Nie Mingjue, but he’s said to be a fierce warrior. He made a name for himself during the War against the Kingdom of the Five Sects and was behind many of the Kingdom’s victories. Lan Xichen is said to be the most accomplished cultivator of his generation. I hope they both participate in the melee. I’ve never crossed swords with them before and would like to.”

“Nie Mingjue and Lan Xichen are leadersss of two of the five Sssectsss,” Zhuzhi-Lang noted. “The other membersss of the delegation are Wen Chao, the youngessst ssson of Wen Rouhan, and Wen Chao’sss bodyguard, Wen Zhuliu.”

Luo Binghe scoffed. “He brought his bodyguard?”

The Emperor took another sip of this drink and raised an eyebrow. “Do we think there’s any legitimacy to the intelligence we’ve received about tension between Wen Rouhan and some of the other Sects?”

Luo Binghe crossed his arms over his chest. “We’ll see what we can learn from the Nie sect and Lan sect leaders. If Wen Rouhan is removed as Chief Cultivator of the Kingdom of the Five Sects, it’ll ensure a more lasting peace in the region.”

xxx

The Hall of Retreat and Reflection was set in the middle of the lagoon and connected to the western and eastern sides of the main garden court by two arched bridges. The two bridges were tall enough for small boats to pass beneath. It was a large and impressive building, perfect for holding the marriage of Yue Qingyuan and his fiancé Hong Tengfei. The wedding would be the following evening and was going to be the centerpiece of the Imperial Gala.

Out of the corner of his eye he saw a flash of green silk and familiar profile.

Shizun!

He would recognize that profile anywhere.

What was he doing here?

He was supposed to be at the Hall of Divine Rule.

Luo Binghe made his way through the press of the crowd towards where he’d seen his lover. Though when he reached the other side of the room the familiar figure was nowhere to be found. He stared a moment too long at a confused beta man in green silk robes.

The beta man’s hairstyle and figure were reminiscent of Shen Yuan’s from a distance but now that Luo Binghe was closer, he didn’t notice any resemblance at all in the man’s unremarkable face. He recognized the man as the government official from Hua Huan Palace who helped track the tax shipments from the Provinces. But Luo Binghe couldn’t remember the man’s name for the life of him.

Luo Binghe had his lover on the brain. He had just seen what he wanted to.

“Good evening,” Luo Binghe said with a nod at the beta.

“First Prince,” said a husky voice at his elbow.

“Lady Maigu Xia,” said the beta man breathlessly.

Luo Binghe looked at the Prime Minister’s simpering omega daughter out of the corner of his eye. The nerve of this fool and her father! She had endangered Shen Yuan because of her ambition. His blood boiled. Luo Binghe always made an effort to be polite during these Imperial Events and not use his alpha powers – it was rude to use an alpha command in polite company.

But in this case, he didn’t care.

“I’m leaving. You two will now have a very long and boring conversation.”

He knew his alpha sway was successful from the slightly glazed looks in the beta man’s and omega woman’s eyes.

“First Prince,” called a familiar voice from the crowd.

Luo Binghe turned to find himself looking at the smiling face of Yue Qingyuan. He patted the other man on the back fondly. He’d received missives from his general faithfully, but he hadn’t seen him in the flesh for several months. Yue Qingyuan had the air about him of a man in love. It was very appropriate for a man on the eve of his wedding day.

“Good to see you, Qingyuan,” Luo Binghe replied. “Am I going to finally met your legendary fiancé? When are you going to introduce us?”

Luo Binghe very much wanted to meet ‘Hong Tengfei’ so that he could take a measure of the man. He knew in his bones that Shen Yuan’s older brother or mother or whatever-his-relation-to-Shen-Yuan was up to no good. Luo Binghe didn’t want Yue Qingyuan or Shen Yuan to suffer for Yan Julong’s crimes.

He was a villain, a cunning villain.

Yue Qingyuan smiled and turned to his left. When he didn’t see anyone there, he looked around in confusion for a moment. “A-Fei is excited to meet you as well. He was here just a minute ago. He mentioned getting another glass of wine.” His general nodded at Luo Binghe’s glass. “It looks like yours is empty too.”

Luo Binghe chuckled. “Something that’ll have to be remedied. How did you find your chambers? You and your fiancé are staying in the main garden court? Did you acquire one of the private rooms only accessible by boat?”

Yue Qingyuan finished his glass of wine. “We got one of the better chambers in the complex, though I had to call in more favors than I’d like to admit.” Yue Qingyuan chuckled. “But it was worth it. It took us seventeen years to find each other again, but now we’ll be married officially at last. There’s a beautiful symmetry to the fact we had a quiet elopement at the first Imperial Gala and now we’ll have a large official wedding ceremony at this one.”

Luo Binghe blinked. “You and Hong Tengfei eloped during the first Imperial Gala?”

Yue Qingyuan blushed. “We were so in love we couldn’t wait. The only other people who attended were Head Priest Niu Renshu who officiated and A-Fei’s servant who served as witness. We planned to have a large official ceremony after I made a name for myself during the war and received permission from A-Fei’s father.”

Luo Binghe crossed his arms over his chest. The evidence was really starting to pile up in support of his theory. “When will have you back in the Imperial City? Or is your husband so desirable that you can’t bear to leave his bed?” Luo Binghe teased.  

“You’re one to talk,” came the wry voice of Liu Mingyan as she walked up with her older brother.

Liu Qingge nodded at Yue Qingyuan saying, “It’s good to see you again, Qingyuan-shixiong. Have you met the delegation from the Kingdom of the Five Sects yet?”

Yue Qingyuan nodded. “I had the pleasure of meeting Nie Mingjue and Lan Xichen earlier. First Prince, I think you’ll enjoy making their acquaintance.”

“Indeed,” Luo Binghe nodded. “Did you ask if they planned to participate in the melee next week?”  

Yue Qingyuan’s gray eyes sparkled. “Nie Mingjue was eager to, though Lan Xichen was reluctant. You’ll have to convince them for me.”

xxx

‘Hong Tengfei’ was elusive. It wasn’t until the following morning Luo Binghe was able to corner the man. If he hadn’t known better, Luo Binghe would’ve said ‘Hong Tengfei’ had been avoiding him. So he surprised Yue Qingyuan’s fiancé while the man was preparing himself for his wedding.

Luo Binghe quietly and discretely dismissed ‘Hong Tengfei’s’ manservant so he could have a private discussion with the male omega. His excuse was that he wanted to meet ‘Hong Tengfei’ before his wedding to Yue Qingyuan later in the day. The manservant was a man Luo Binghe recognized from his previous life. Ming Fan looked at the Prince in alarm but scurried away all the same.

When Luo Binghe walked into the room, ‘Hong Tengfei’ stood with his back to him as he braided two pieces of his dark hair to pull into the ornament on his head. “Ming Fang,” the other man said. “Come help this master with his hair.”

There was something so familiar about ‘Hong Tengfei’s’ voice. It reminded him of Shen Qingqiu’s cold tone when Luo Binghe first arrived at Qing Jing Peak. It made the hairs on the back of Luo Binghe’s neck stand up.

“I sent away your servant,” Luo Binghe said simply.

‘Hong Tengfei’ grabbed his red wedding veil and placed it over his head. Turning around he bowed, “First Prince Luo Binghe, to what do I owe the honor?”

Luo Binghe narrowed his eyes at the other man, trying to discern his features through the nearly opaque wedding veil. He couldn’t see much at all. “I need to determine if you are worthy of marrying my friend, Yue Qingyuan.”

‘Hong Tengfei’ crossed his arms over his chest. “My wedding to Yue Qingyuan is in two hours. I hope you’re able to make a determination quickly, First Prince.”

Luo Binghe took note of how ‘Hong Tengfei’s’ movements moved him towards the sword hung up on the wall. He could sense just how tense and defensive the other man became as soon as Luo Binghe walked into the room. When Luo Binghe’s eyes drifted to the blade on the wall itself, he felt his blood run cold.

He knew that sword. He would recognize it anywhere. He had placed the shards of that elegant weapon into the five-flavored tea of forgetfulness.

Luo Binghe had used the fan he had gifted to Shen Qingqiu before the Immortal Alliance Conference as his “arrow” to find his Shizun again. It had worked like a charm. Shen Yuan was just as beautiful, kind, quick-witted, and mysterious as he’d been in their previous life. Fate had brought them together as if by design. They had conceived a child together. Even their bodies had been made with the other’s pleasure in mind.

Luo Binghe had used the shards of Xiu Ya as the “anchor” to allow Shen Qingqiu to regain his memories from their previous life. For his own “anchor”, Luo Binghe used the jade pendant gifted to him by his adoptive mother. As soon as his fingers touched the jade, he remembered everything.

So how was it that Yan Julong was in possession of Shizun’s spiritual sword, Xiu Ya?

When Luo Binghe had questioned Shen Yuan using his alpha thrall all those months ago, the young omega hadn’t understood at all what Luo Binghe meant when he asked if Shen Yuan had touched the Xiu Ya blade and regained his memories from their previous life. If Yan Julong possessed the blade, Shen Yuan would have surely had the opportunity.

Shen Yuan couldn’t have lied under the effect of Luo Binghe’s alpha thrall. Had something gone wrong with the ritual? Luo Binghe’s “anchor” and “arrow” had worked exactly as expected. Yet Shen Qingqiu’s “anchor” had failed.

“That’s a beautiful blade,” Luo Binghe observed. “It’s unusual for a male omega to forge a spiritual sword. Take off your veil, so I can see your face.”

“I shouldn’t dare,” the other man demurred. “It’s bad luck.”

“Remove your veil,” Luo Binghe repeated. “It’s only bad luck if your fiancé sees you before the ceremony. Besides Yue Qingyuan told me that you both eloped together during the Imperial Gala all those years ago.”

‘Hong Tengfei’ removed the wedding veil. As his features were finally revealed, Luo Binghe’s breath was robbed from his lungs. He stared at the other man in shock.

Yan Julong’s resemblance to Shen Yuan was uncanny. They could be twins.

Not only did Yan Julong have Shizun’s sword, he better resembled the Shen Qingqiu Luo Binghe remembered than Shen Yuan did. The same clever dark eyes, the same nose, and the same pursed lips. The same look of distaste Luo Binghe remembered from much of his youth.

Although Yan Julong better resembled Shen Qingqiu’s physical form, Luo Binghe could see he was missing something crucial: he didn’t have the heart and soul of the Shizun that Luo Binghe had fallen in love with.

Although Shen Yuan didn’t look exactly like the Shen Qingqiu Luo Binghe remembered, he was identical in heart and soul. He was exactly like the man Luo Binghe had fallen in love with. The differences in their appearances were inconsequential and only seemed to enhance Shen Yuan’s beauty rather than detract from it: the gray eyes and the elegant sloped nose.

Those were two of Yue Qingyuan’s prominent features.

Shen Yuan’s heart scent was bamboo, nearly identical to Yue Qingyuan’s. Heart scents were inherited from the parent of the opposite secondary gender. So Luo Binghe’s alpha son would inherit Shen Yuan’s bamboo heart scent, which Shen Yuan had in turn inherited from his alpha sire.

Yue Qingyuan always said he wanted to wait until marriage to make love for the first time. Yue Qingyuan and ‘Hong Tengfei’ eloped eighteen years ago. Shen Yuan looked remarkably like Yan Julong and Yue Qingyuan. Shen Yuan had celebrated his seventeenth birthday on the spring equinox. The spring equinox was nine months after the summer solstice, which had been the final day of the Imperial Gala eighteen years ago.

Luo Binghe was now confident in what had previously been only a hunch.

Shen Yuan was the son of Yan Julong and Yue Qingyuan.

Luo Binghe kept his gaze carefully blank. He didn’t want to make ‘Hong Tengfei’ aware of Luo Binghe’s realization. So he continued his questioning of the male omega as if nothing had changed.

“Yan Julong,” Luo Binghe said simply. “We meet at last. I’m not surprised to find you in Wen Rouhan’s pocket. The rotten apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”

Yan Julong folded the wedding veil and put it aside. “Does Qi-ge know?”

“Not yet. It would break his heart to learn the man he loved was a traitor. Where have you been for the past seventeen years? Why have you resurfaced now? What are your intentions towards Yue Qingyuan?”

Yan Julong spread his arms wide as if to emphasize his candor. Yet, the cunning gleam in his dark eyes countered any of ‘Hong Tengfei’s’ attempts to appear trustworthy in Luo Binghe’s eyes. There was just something so wrong and off-putting about seeing that calculating and malicious expression on a face that looked so much like the one Binghe loved.

“For the past seventeen years, I’ve been hiding from Wen Rouhan and raising my younger brother. Wen Rouhan’s agents caught up to me a year ago. They threatened to kill my brother unless I completed a mission for Wen Rouhan.”

Luo Binghe didn’t trust Yan Julong as far as he could throw him. Luo Binghe expected Yan Julong to be as cunning as his father Yan Longwei had been. The treasonous villain always knew how to weave truth with lies to deceive others. So Luo Binghe called upon his alpha sway ability to ensure Yan Julong didn’t lie to him.

“How did they catch up to you?”

Yan Julong crossed his arms over his chest. “You don’t need to use your alpha abilities, I’ll tell you the truth.”

“How did they catch up to you?” Luo Binghe repeated.

“They set a trap,” Yan Julong explained. “They made it seem like my son inherited a large sum of money from Feng Wencheng, the man I’d passed off as his father.” Yan Julong’s eyes widened as he realized what he’d said. He’d spoken more freely than he’d expected under the influence of Luo Binghe’s alpha sway ability.

“Your omega glamour was rumored to be immensely powerful. Even stronger than that of my mother Su Xiyuan,” Luo Binghe drawled. “So I expected you to put up more resistance to my alpha sway rather than give away all your secrets. I confess I’m a bit disappointed. With the exception of my four alpha generals, it’s rare to meet anyone who poses the slightest challenge. I was hoping you’d be different.”

‘Hong Tengfei’ sounded discomposed as he asked, “What do you want?”

“I want to know what you’re up to,” Luo Binghe said mildly. “Go on, tell me the story. How did you fall into Wen Rouhan’s trap? I thought the cunning and duplicitous Yan Julong was too smart to fall into such an obvious trap.”

Yan Julong glared at Luo Binghe. “Money was tight, so I decided it was worth the risk. I expected that Feng Wencheng or his sons were up to something and was prepared to counter them. I didn’t expect agents of Wen Rouhan.”

“Was Feng Wencheng working for Wen Rouhan?”

“No, he wasn’t,” Yan Julong replied with his lip curled in revulsion.

“Tell me about Wen Rouhan’s agents. How many of them are you aware of? Give me their names, descriptions, and locations. What’re each of their skills?”

Yan Julong narrowed his eyes at Luo Binghe. “I’m aware of four agents and I’ve met three in person. The one I primarily dealt with is Wang Lingjiao. She’s a beta human around twenty years old, curvaceous with dark hair and dark eyes. I don’t know where she lives; she’d always come to me. However I suspect that she lives in the Imperial City and likely works in the Imperial Palace.”

“Lingjiao, you said?” Luo Binghe wondered. That was the name of the Wen agent Feng Wencheng’s two moronic sons had dealt with. “Is she a servant of Prime Minister Maigu?”

“I’m not sure who she’s employed by,” Yan Julong shook his head.

“If you had to make an educated guess?”

Yan Julong looked at Luo Binghe with distaste, “Someone in the Imperial Palace that’s well connected. It could be the Prime Minister. Or it could be someone else.”

“Tell me about the other two agents.”

“They’re an elderly couple named Wang Wei and Wang Min. Wang Wei is a beta human in his seventies with white hair. He’s a talented craftsman and dangerous assassin. Wang Min is a beta human in her sixties with gray hair. She’s also a craftsman and assassin. They own a shop in the merchant district called the Red Dragon. My son was their unknowing hostage for a time.”

“Elderly assassins?” Luo Binghe noted with amusement. “And the fourth?”

“I don’t know much of anything about the fourth agent. All I know was that he or she was stationed in the Imperial Provinces. When the other three agents spoke about the fourth agent in my presence, they called that person C and were careful not to use pronouns. The three agents confronted me at the office of the imperial official who was serving as the executor for Feng Wencheng’s will. Luckily I had gone alone to the Imperial City to investigate my son’s inheritance.   I thought he was safe at home in the Imperial Provinces. Unfortunately, they had been able to track us down in the Imperial Provinces. C was going to kill my son if I didn’t do what Wen Rouhan asked of me. Wang Lingjiao sent C a coded letter to our village in the Imperial Provinces after I agreed to the mission. C was ready to kill my son if C didn’t receive the letter.”

“What was the mission from Wen Rouhan?”

Yan Julong took a deep breath. “Marry Yue Qingyuan and bear his child.”

Luo Binghe raised an eyebrow. “So they knew you’d already seduced him as Hong Tengfei eighteen years ago during the Imperial Gala.”

The male omega shook his head.

Luo Binghe blinked. Why would Wen Rouhan have assigned Yan Julong this mission if he hadn’t been aware of the groundwork Yan Julong had already done to ensure its success? All Yan Julong needed to do to complete his mission now was reveal Shen Yuan to Yue Qingyuan and have the young man legitimized.

Luo Binghe knew Yue Qingyuan would be overjoyed to discover he and ‘Hong Tengfei’ had a son together. Shen Yuan was a son Yue Qingyuan could be proud of: beautiful, talented, and kindhearted.

Though Yue Qingyuan would likely also be mortified at the imperial court thinking he fathered a child out of wedlock. Sha Hualing would probably tease Yue Qingyuan mercilessly about it for years to come. Though of course Yue Qingyuan hadn’t actually fathered a child out of wedlock; Qingyuan and ‘Hong Tengfei’ had been legally married when Shen Yuan was born. They’d likely also been legally married when he was conceived. Shen Yuan was Yue Qingyuan’s trueborn son. All they’d need to prove it was their marriage license from the Imperial Gala eighteen years ago – which likely existed because marriage licenses were made for both elopements and lavish official weddings – and Shen Yuan’s paternity test.

However, the vipers of the imperial court loved a scandal. The intrigue of the honorable Lord Yue fathering a bastard child was just the sort of thing they would sink their teeth into and refuse to let go. Rumors would fly about whether the elopement even happened or if the marriage license from eighteen years ago was a current forgery. Rumors would fly about if the elopement only happened because Yue Qingyuan had already gotten Hong Tengfei pregnant. The latter was certainly possible, but Luo Binghe didn’t think Yue Qingyuan would have slept with ‘Hong Tengfei’ until after they were married.

After all Yue Qingyuan was an honorable man.

Considering how uncomfortable Yue Qingyuan was with the idea of a bed servant, he’d likely pass out after realizing his beautiful, talented, and kindhearted young omega son was serving as Luo Binghe’s bed servant. His young omega son was pleasuring Luo Binghe frequently and zealously. Shen Yuan was also very pregnant with Luo Binghe’s child.

Yue Qingyuan was an honorable man. He would demand that Luo Binghe marry his son and Luo Binghe would be more than happy to oblige  

The Warden of the Eastern Provinces was a virtuous man. Luo Binghe knew for a fact Yue Qingyuan was already uncomfortable with the philosophical concept of a bedservant and the fact Luo Binghe was having an illegitimate child with his. The baby would be illegitimate for the week or so it took the papers to be processed by the registrar. The fact they’d already filed the imperial conception record with the registrar would speed things along.

The Emperor said it took nearly a year for him to push the papers legitimizing Luo Binghe through the registrar. The fact there hadn’t been an imperial conception record for Luo Binghe’s conception apparently caused some frustrating delays.

Luo Binghe was still salty his father hadn’t allowed Shen Yuan to be his spouse or concubine. The baby would be trueborn and legitimate if Shen Yuan held either rank. Now Luo Binghe had to push some paper through to make it happen.

Yue Qingyuan likely would see it differently. He’d been a trueborn son of his father whose legitimacy was taken away because of the treachery of one of his father’s other wives. Yue Qingyuan would want to make sure any child Shen Yuan had with Luo Binghe was born legitimate, not legitimized.

So if Wen Rouhan didn’t know Yan Julong had already seduced Yue Qingyuan at the Imperial Gala eighteen years ago, what did he think happened?

“Why were you at the Imperial Gala eighteen years ago? What does Wen Rouhan know of your time there?”

“I was there to steal details of the empire’s next military offensives for Wen Rouhan. They didn’t realize I’d done so by impersonating my friend Hong Tengfei. They believed Yue Qingyuan fell in love with the real Hong Tengfei.”

“So then why did Wen Rouhan want you specifically to seduce Yue Qingyuan?”

Yan Julong’s hands trembled. “I’m a male omega. The only person Lord Yue had been attracted to was an omega male. When my son and I were captured by the Wen clan nine years ago, Wen Xu trained me for this mission himself. We escaped before he could finish my training. Now they’re impatient for me to complete the mission and give them the Eastern Provinces.”

Luo Binghe raised an eyebrow. “After presenting Yue Qingyuan’s heir to your great-uncle Wen Rouhan, how long do you plan to wait before assassinating your husband?”

“My great-uncle doesn’t want me implicated in Yue Qingyuan’s death. It could complicate the period of my regency over the Eastern Provinces until Yue Qingyuan’s child comes of age. Wen Rouhan’s agent C will be dispatched to assassinate Yue Qingyuan after the child is born.”

Luo Binghe studied the other man carefully. Shen Yuan was seventeen. While alphas came of age at eighteen, omegas came of age at sixteen. Yan Julong wouldn’t have a reason to serve as regent. Shen Yuan was already old enough to assume the position of Warden of the Eastern Provinces. Yue Qingyuan’s older beta brother had been stripped of his titles and inheritance. Yue Qingyuan’s older beta sister had married Prime Minister Maigu and had a beta son and an omega daughter. Shen Yuan would fall next in line. Any child of Yue Qingyuan and Yan Julong would be either alpha or omega and thus be Qingyuan’s heir.

“What reward has Wen Rouhan promised you for completing this mission?”

Yan Julong scoffed, narrowing his eyes at Luo Binghe. “I have no intention of fulfilling the mission for Wen Rouhan. He and his son Wen Xu think they broke me. They think I’ll do whatever they ask. They’re fools to believe that. I saw the war crimes they committed in the Northern Provinces. I’ve seen how they terrorize the other Four Sects. I believe in Wen Rouhan’s mission to free the humans of the Empire from their demonic elven rulers; however, I know if the Eastern Provinces came under the power of Wen Rouhan, it would only be trading one tyrant for another.”

Luo Binghe found ‘Hong Tengfei’s’ use of the word demonic very interesting. Elven heritage and customs in this life were swapped almost one to one with demonic heritage and customs in his previous life. There were some cultural differences between elves and demons, but at their core they were the same.

Why would Yan Julong choose to use the word demonic to describe his elven rulers?

“And you would rather be ruled by the devil you know?” Luo Binghe said. “That’s an interesting choice of words, calling your divine elven rulers demonic. Tell me, what happened when you touched your Xiu Ya sword for the first time? Did it unlock memories of your previous life?”

Yan Julong searched Luo Binghe’s eyes with alarm. “Yes. I remembered my life as Qing Jing Peak Lord.”

Luo Binghe strengthened the impact of his alpha sway as he asked, “Has your son Shen Yuan also touched your Xiu Ya sword with his bare hands? Did he unlock memories of his previous life?”

Yan Julong gritted his teeth to try to resist, but the words spilled out quickly from between his lips. “A-Yuan has held my Xiu Ya sword in his bare hands. It did not awaken any memories of his previous life.”

Luo Binghe crossed his arms under his chest. “Do you remember me from your previous life, Shen Qingqiu?”

Yan Julong snarled at him. “How could I forget, you filthy beast!”

Luo Binghe chuckled. “Then you must remember Yue Qingyuan as well. Though in your previous life he was the Leader of the Cang Qiong Mounain Sect and in this life he’s the Warden of the Eastern Provinces and your fiancé. Are you prepared to carry a child for him? I can imagine that must be a disorienting concept for the Qing Jing Peak Lord.”

Yan Julong huffed. “If Wen Rouhan doesn’t have a child with the blood of the Yue clan and the Wen clan, he won’t be able to gain and secure a foothold in the Eastern Provinces. The citizens of the Eastern Provinces love Lord Yue Qingyuan fiercely. They respected his father, but they adore Lord Yue Qingyuan. The annexation and control over the Eastern Provinces will be easy for Wen Rouhan if he’s able to use Yue Qingyuan’s child as his puppet. But I have no intention of letting my great-uncle use any child of mine to pursue his own interests or increase his power.”

Luo Binghe narrowed his eyes at the other man. Yan Julong already had a son by Yue Qingyuan. If he wanted to give Wen Rouhan the Eastern Provinces, all Yan Julong would need to do would be to have Yue Qingyuan legitimize Shen Yuan. Once Shen Yuan became the heir to the Warden of the Eastern Provinces all that would be left would be for Yan Julong to assassinate Yue Qingyuan. Yet Yan Julong was captured in Luo Binghe’s alpha sway and he denied any intention of fulfilling the mission that Wen Rouhan had given him.

Yue Qingyuan had been mourning ‘Hong Tengfei’ for seventeen years. Why had Yan Julong waited to long to reveal himself? Could it be true that he was hiding from Wen Rouhan all these years? Luo Binghe had a feeling the man was up to something. Maybe he hoped to double cross Wen Rouhan.

Luo Binghe didn’t trust Yan Julong as far as he could throw him. This man was the son of Yan Longwei, the most infamous traitor in the Empire.

“But you already have a son by Yue Qingyuan. Tell me, did you pass Shen Yuan off as Feng Wencheng’s son because you wanted to protect your son or because you wanted to protect his father?” Luo Binghe asked curiously.

Yan Julong voice shook as he asked, “Does Qi-ge know?”

Luo Binghe crossed his arms over his chest. “It seems there’s a lot about you that Qingyuan-shidi doesn’t know. Why did you lie about Shen Yuan’s parentage?”

“It had to be done,” Yan Julong countered.

“Why lie about Shen Yuan’s parentage?” he asked again.

The man’s chest rose and fell in panic as the truth was torn out of him and tears glittered at the corners of his eyes. But Luo Binghe didn’t care. This man might be Shen Yuan’s mother, but he was a traitor. This man had caused the death of countless soliders and civilians and very nearly cost the Empire the war. This man had broken Yue Qingyuan’s heart for seventeen years and kept his son from him.

Sure, legitimizing Shen Yuan would’ve put Yue Qingyuan in the crosshairs of two elderly assassins – Luo Binghe would be ashamed of Quingyuan if the man couldn’t fight off two elderly assassins! - but it would’ve meant young Shizun would’ve lived an easier life. He would’ve been loved and cared for and doted upon by his father. Emperor Tianlang-Jun would’ve likely pressured Luo Binghe into an arranged marriage with young Shizun because it would strengthen the imperial family’s relationship with the Eastern Provinces.

The thought made him giddy.

“If my father knew the baby was Qi-ge’s he would’ve forced me to get rid of it. My father knew you suspected him of passing military secrets to the Wens, but he hadn’t been implicated yet. That’s why he sent me to steal the plans. Wen Rouhan demanded better information and father couldn’t use his usual channels.   If you learned Yan Longwei’s bastard son, whose father you suspected of passing military secrets to the Wens, was pregnant by Yue Qingyuan of all people, you would suspect that I’d impersonated Hong Tengfei at the Imperial Gala and become suspicious.”

Luo Binghe blinked. It was true Luo Binghe had been suspicious of Yan Longwei at the time. However he needed to be careful not to act rashly because it would’ve hurt the troops’ morale if the Imperial General accused one of the high ranking military officers of treason during the middle of a war and the charges proved false.

“You could have just as easily told Yue Qingyuan a half-truth that you and Hong Tengfei had changed places as a jest and that the ‘Hong Tengfei’ he actually fell in love with was you,” Luo Binghe countered.

“The man Yue Qingyuan fell in love with didn’t exist,” Yan Julong said thickly. “He wouldn’t love me if he knew what I’d done and who I was.”

“So why did you keep the baby?” Luo Binghe wondered.

Yan Julong’s chest rose and fell in fury and fear as he stared at Luo Binghe. His nails cut into his clenched fists. “I didn’t even realize I was pregnant until I was starting my second trimester. I thought my symptoms were from the stress of having to endure Feng Wencheng’s training, but I was determined to make my father proud. Father said he would legitimize me with if I completed Feng Wengcheng’s training. So I endured it and tried to- tried to think of Qi-ge when Feng Wencheng raped me once a week and called it dual cultivation.”

Tears dripped down the male omega’s face. His face was pale and his cheeks flushed and he looked miserable revealing information about himself that was so private and to traumatizing, but Luo Binghe needed to know more. He pulled the information out of the other man mercilessly.

“When I finally realized I might’ve been pregnant, I went to a physician to confirm it and end the pregnancy. I thought the baby was Feng Wencheng’s. When the physician said I was four months along I knew it had to be Qi-ge’s. I was so relieved. I carried the baby of the man I loved inside me; I wouldn’t let anyone hurt Qi-ge’s baby. But I also knew no one could know it was Yue Qingyuan’s baby.”

“Not even Yue Qingyuan? He was engaged to Hong Tengfei. He was bound to find out at some point that the real Hong Tengfei wasn’t the one he fell in love with.”

“I couldn’t. Not when it was so dangerous for Father. I hoped I could tell Qi-ge someday, but I had to be patient and wait until the war was over to see which way the wind was blowing. When the real Hong Tengfei and I would write to each other, he told me of the love letters Qi-ge sent and the replies A-Fei wrote back. He asked my advice about how to break off their engagement.”

“And everyone believed your child was Feng Wencheng’s?” Luo Binghe wondered.

“I sometimes needed to use my omega sway to convince people when they became suspicious of why I looked so much farther along and why the baby was born two months early and why his eyes stayed so blue. Feng Wencheng’s late omega wife bore him an alpha and a beta, so I knew it’d be suspicious if A-Yuan was omega, so I said he was a beta. I had to be careful not to let anyone else bathe or change A-Yuan because they’d find out he was omega. I’m sure people were suspicious, but I was able to keep up the charade for the five months we lived at the Feng siheyuan after A-Yuan was born. Feng Wencheng’s cultivation and alpha abilities were too powerful to manipulate, so I had to be very careful around him.”

“It was during that time the Rape of the Northern Provinces occurred,” Luo Binghe observed. “Where you also aware when it would occur as your Father seemed to be? Did you realize that the information you passed along to our enemies revealed how they could exploit a weakness in the imperial line and invade the Northern Provinces?”

Yan Julong crossed his arms over his chest. “I passed along the plans for the dragon, eagle, and falcon offensives. I noticed a weakness in the imperial line during the falcon offensive and pointed it out to my father. I didn’t know the exact timing of the military offensives, but I knew the signs that indicated were imminent and gave that information to my Father.” Yan Julong looked away. “I never imagined the Wen clan would slaughter anyone they encountered in the Northern Provinces. I thought he wanted to rule the territory not lay waste to it.”

“Do you have any idea how many lives were lost because of your actions? We had nearly two hundred thousand casualties during the dragon, eagle, and falcon offensives. It’s estimated that a third of the population of the Northern Provinces was wiped out during the Rape of the Northern Provinces– two and half million people,” Luo Binghe spat. “How can you live with yourself knowing how many lives were lost by your actions?”

“Two and a half million,” Yan Julong whispered, growing pale. “I never sought out the number; I didn't want to know. I was young and stupid to trust my father.”

“What happens to your son if you don’t fulfill your mission for Wen Rouhan? Does Wen Rouhan have him as his prisoner?” Luo Binghe asked curiously.

Luo Binghe knew exactly where Shen Yuan was at the moment. Based on Yan Julong’s most recent letter to Shen Yuan, he knew that the other man knew as well.

“Demon! Monster! Rapist!” Yan Julong snarled. “Let him go! He’s your prisoner!”  

“He’s not my prisoner,” Luo Binghe drawled. “Shen Yuan is very happy in my Palace and in my bed. Our lovemaking has been enthusiastically consensual. He’s pregnant with my child. You’ll be a grandmother is three short months. Did you know?”

“No,” Yan Julong whispered, shaking his head and taking a step back. “No, you’re lying. You have to be. He can’t be pregnant. That’s not possible.”

“It’s no lie,” Luo Binghe grinned. “I must say that you’re very lucky, ‘Hong Tengfei.’

Your son is safely in my protection. There’s no safer place for him against the agents of Wen Rouhan than in my bed.”

“No, no, please,” Yan Julong begged. “Let him go. I’ll do anything. Please.”

“He’s not my prisoner,” Luo Binghe said with a smirk. “You; however, I haven’t decided what to do with yet. I should have you executed for treason. However, that would break Shen Yuan’s heart and Yue Qingyuan’s. So I’ll give you a chance to redeem yourself, ‘Hong Tengfei.’ If I’m satisfied with the result, I might let you live.”

Yan Julong glared at him. “What do you want?”

“I want you to help identify and neutralize the Wen clan agents. You’ll work with me to identify them. Will you agree to this?”

Yan Julong crossed his hands over his chest and nodded.

“I want you to destroy any remaining evidence of Shen Yuan’s connection to Yan Julong or Yan Longwei. I will have a birth certificate forged for Shen Yuan under the birth name Hong Qingqiu. It’s fortunate you indicated Shen Yuan as beta on his real birth certificate. You’re a very talented liar, Yan Julong, so I’m sure you’ll be able to come up with a credible story to explain everything.”

Yan Julong sighed. “Alright.”

Luo Binghe nodded. “Finally, I want you to introduce Shen Yuan or Hong Qingqiu as he’ll be known now to his father and have him legitimized. You will do this as soon as possible. Shen Yuan and I will marry soon after he is legitimized.”

Yan Julong pursed his lips. “An omega’s third trimester is a very delicate time and the first months after the baby are born are very exhausting and stressful. I speak from experience. I don’t want to cause my son any undue stress, so I’d prefer to wait until several months after the baby is born when I believe Shen Yuan will be ready for the news. Do I have your permission, First Prince?”

Luo Binghe frowned. He’d hoped that Yan Julong would talk to Yue Qingyuan during the Imperial Gala. Then Luo Binghe would be able to marry Shen Yuan soon after. However, the scum villain Yan Julong made a good point. Third trimesters were a stressful time for an omega and the first months were very busy according to the readings that Mu Qingfang had given Luo Binghe about pregnancy and a child’s developmental stages.

“I’ll agree to that, but I don’t want you to wait too long. If you don’t tell them both by this time next year or I will.”

“I understand,” Yan Julong agreed.

“Treat Yue Qingyuan well. If you break his heart, I’ll tear yours out from your chest,” Luo Binghe threatened. “Well I must be going. You need to finish preparing for your wedding. Congratulations.”  

Yan Julong stared as Luo Binghe walked out of the room.

xxx

Luo Binghe stood in the front of the Hall with Sha Hualing and Mo Beijun as they watched the Head Priest Niu Renshu conduct the marriage ceremony of Yue Qingyuan and Hong Tengei. He watched his general Yue Qingyuan as the man stood beside his fiancé. The two spoke their vows, completed the tea ceremony, and made their three bows. Yue Qingyuan was clearly besotted with ‘Hong Tengfei’. He looked at the omega like he hung the sky.

They’d decided to go with a more traditional practice for the wedding, so Hong Tengfei’s red veil remained on for the entire ceremony.   Some foolish beta official had whispered it was because Hong Tengfei, a male omega, was so beautiful that he had to cover his face otherwise everyone would fall in love with him.

Luo Binghe suspected it was because Yan Julong worried he might be recognized by some attendees of the imperial gala who had known his father. Though luckily the male omega didn’t take after his father Yan Longwei in looks. Yan Julong’s features seemed to resemble that of his Wen clan ancestors.

Chapter Text

Chapter Eighteen

Shang Qinghua didn’t allow him to leave the Hall of Divine Rule during the month the imperial court attended the Imperial Gala in the Richu Islands of the Glistening Sea. Shen Yuan felt like he was under house arrest. When Shen Yuan realized he’d forgotten a couple of things in the Hall of Military Rule, he needed to have Dongmei fetch them for him instead.

Shen Yuan did in fact bring the tool the Imperial Physician made for Shen Yuan of the Prince’s heavenly pillar. Shen Yuan spent so much brain power trying to make sure no one knew he’d brought it that he’d forgotten several of the other essentials that he meant to pack. Dongmei needed to return to the Hall of Military Victory to pick them up for him.

Shen Yuan didn’t plan to use the tool, but it was nice to know that there. A month was a long time to go without having any sexual pleasure when he’d been having sex with his alpha lover eight times a day every day for nearly eight months! He was just so very pregnant and so very horny. He could always rub one off, but masturbating paled in comparison to getting knotted by his alpha lover.

Hm, I mean the tool was right there. No one would know, right?

He missed the Prince’s spicy scent of amber, cardamom, and bergamot. He missed the warmth of his embrace. He missed the soothing timbre of his deep voice. He missed the Prince’s chuckles and smiles and observations and wry comments. He missed how the Prince’s eyes would light up every time he saw Shen Yuan and soften every time he smoothed his hand against the generous curve of Shen Yuan’s babe-swollen belly.

He missed the Prince’s talented lips and mouth against his mouth, his skin, his cock, or his chrysanthemum. He missed the feeling of the Prince’s warm hands mapping every inch of his skin. He missed the hot press of the Prince’s alpha cock fucking him vigorously or languidly or sweetly but always so well. He missed the intense pleasure of his knot tying them together until it was almost too much and Shen Yuan lost himself to all consuming pleasure. He missed…

No, he could resist! He had some self-control! He didn’t have a sex addiction! He could last a month without having sex! He’d already lasted five days!

Think of something else. Think of something else. Stop thinking about sex!

Shen Yuan would have felt isolated and enclosed if he was under house arrest anywhere except in the Hall of Divine Rule. The Hall of Divine Rule was massive. Shen Yuan had always been impressed by the majesty of the First Prince’s Hall of Military Victory, but it paled in comparison to the Hall of Divine Rule.

The Hall of Divine Rule was so immense that Shen Yuan was confident that at least three Halls of Military Victory could fit inside the complex. The eastern wing of the Hall of Divine Rule was the Emperor’s private residence, which included the Divine Library. By Shen Yuan’s estimation, the eastern wing of the Hall of Divine Rule was about four times bigger than the northern wing of the Hall of Military Victory, which was First Prince’s private residence. The Divine Library took up roughly a quarter of the Hall of Divine Rule, so it was roughly the same size as the entire northern wing of the Hall of Military Victory.

The Divine Library was more incredible than Shen Yuan could have even imagined. It was constructed out a stunning white marble with veins of gold, silver, and scarlet running through to add sparks of color and interest. The ceilings soared. From floor to ceiling were towering windows on each of the four sides of the library that let in a great deal of natural light. There were three floors with a series of spiraling staircases made of the same marble to take the scholar from one floor to the next.

In the center of the room around the circle of ebony desks and the immense lexicon cataloging the title, locations, and subjects of each book in the library was an immense sphere of carved white jade. The reliefs were delicate and exquisite and detailed the love story of the progenitors of the current divine elven dynasty.

Shen Yuan was awestruck.

The romantic in him liked to think that the elven Emperor Hua Cheng had this beautiful library constructed for his divine consort to make the human Xie Lian think of his own martial palace in the heavens.

Shen Yuan was torn out of his reverie by the movement of the baby in his belly. It was like clockwork. His son would stretch in the early afternoon and then spend a couple hours moving around, punching or kicking him in the belly. He rubbed a hand against his belly as Shen Yuan sorted the books on the ebony desk.

xxx

Shen Yuan and Dongmei found Shang Qinghua to be enjoyable company. The pair of omegas had found a new favorite spot in the Emperor’s gardens two nights ago and invited the beta male to join them to have dinner under the stars. They enjoyed the early summer warmth and the soothing sound of water rushing along through the manmade stream through the garden. The Emperor’s private gardens encircled the Divine Library in a bright white marble of the Library gleamed like a pearl in the twilight.

After finishing his meal, Shang Qinghua pushed it to the center of the table. “All of this feels so surreal. Sometimes I wonder if this is all just a dream and I’m going to wake up and find myself back in my old life.”

Dongmei sighed, resting her head in one hand. “Those days must seem so far away now. I know they do for me, the days before I came to the Imperial Palace. I don’t think I’d even recognize the girl I was before I can to the Imperial City anymore.”

“I know what you mean,” Shang Qinghua nodded. “I grew up in the Northern Provinces. My family was part of the merchant class but we weren’t wealthy. I showed promise at cultivation as a child, so they sent me to one of the imperial cultivation schools in the Imperial Provinces. They… all my family was killed during the Rape of the Northern Provinces. I was the only one that survived because I was studying in the Imperial Provinces.”

“I was born in the Northern Provinces too,” Shen Yuan admitted. Dongmei looked over at him with surprise. “My mother died when I was a baby, so I don’t have any memories of her. I never met my father; he was fighting in the war. Jiu-xiong says that we look more like our mother though I have my father’s eyes.”

“Where’s your brother now?” Dongmei wondered.

Shen Yuan sighed. “He has a new lord he’s serving, but I’m worried his master is forcing Jiu-xiong to do some bad things. My brother’s tried to keep me out of it as best he can. I haven’t been to the Northern Provinces since I was a young child. What are they like these days?”

Shang Qinghua topped off his and Dongmei’s glasses of wine before leaning back to look up at the stars. “If you’re looking for real estate, land in the western part of the Northern Provinces is very cheap.”

Dongmei snorted. “That’s because it’s basically a tundra. There’s a reason no one wants to live there except elves that have ice in their veins.”

“True,” Shang Qinghua quipped. “The bandit activity got pretty bad last year until Lord Yue Qingyuan swept in with some of Lord Mo Beijun’s northern troops to suppress it. My Lord Mo Beijun said that he’d never seen Lord Yue so martial and intense, but I do hear that alphas can get aggressive if they think their omega is threatened.”

Dongmei took a sip of her wine and nodded. “Tell me about it. You wouldn’t believe how neurotic First Prince became after Shen Yuan concieved. He was taste tasting all of his food, asking for updates every hour on the hour about how Shen Yuan was feeling—“

Dongmei’s eyes lit up and she sat up in her seat, “Oh, I bet you haven’t heard this story, Qinghua! So the Prince was meeting with his economic advisors about some new crop rotation that could increase crop yields in the Northern Provinces by x%, you know the usual thing, when Chonglin – he’s the Prince’s most trusted manservant so he’s the one that delivers most of these hourly A-Yuan updates to the Prince -- comes in with the hourly update: the cougar has banged the drum.”

Shen Yuan put his hands over his face. It was so mortifying to have this story retold. He wondered if there was anyone in the Palace who hadn’t heard it yet.

“That’s the call sign the servants use with the Prince when he’s in meetings. Shen Yuan is the cougar and the Prince is the dragon. We haven’t decided what to call the baby. The servants are having a contest to guess the day and time the baby’s born and the winner will get to pick the baby’s call sign. The Prince has to approve it too of course, but I hope I win. I want the baby’s call sign to be cub. Isn’t that cute?”

“It’s not fair!” Shen Yuan protested, his cheeks flushing as his friend told this embarrassing story again. “I’m so much younger than the Prince! Why do I have to be the cougar!”

“We already picked it, A-Yuan,” Dongmei said with a grin. “It’s too late to change it.”

Shen Yuan pouted. “The Prince gets to be part of the contest. Why can’t I?”

“You’re the one having the baby so you could affect the result, so it’s not fair. Everyone decided.”

Shen Yuan gestured down to his babe-swollen belly. “I think the baby is the one who decides when he’s born, not me. I should get to put a name in for the call sign.”

Dongmei winked at Shang Qinghua before resting her elbow on the table and fluttering her eyelashes at Shen Yuan, “You’ll have to talk to Auntie. She’s the one running the contest.”

Shen Yuan stared. “Auntie’s running the contest? Just how wide is the participation of the call sign contest?”

Dongmei waved a hand. “It’s just among some of the higher ranked servants of the Hall of Military Victory. Only like six people are eligible and then Auntie and the Prince and the Emperor.”

“I still think it’s so unfair,” Shen Yuan muttered under his breath.

“Well let me finish the story,” Dongmei said, turning back to Shang Qinghua who was grinning at them. “So Chonglin comes in with the update: the cougar has banged the drum. The Prince hears this and just bolts out of the room and his three economic advisors are like: what just happened?! Oh my stars! Did the Kingdom of the Five Sects invade us again! What going on? What should we do? Why did First Prince Luo Binghe leave in such a hurry? Is the Palace on Fire?”

“I was fine,” Shen Yuan protested. “I wasn’t ‘banging the drum!’ It was completely unnecessary. The update should have been the cougar was in the den!”

“Oh, you wanted the drum banged,” Dongmei quipped back.

Shang Qinghua raised an eyebrow.

“Basically the cougar banging the drum means that Shen Yuan needed the Prince to drop whatever he was doing and go and make love to him.”

“Dual cultivate,” Shen Yuan corrected, suddenly feeling very defensive and very flushed. “I’m not a sex addict. It’s for medical reasons. I’m pregnant, so I need to have a lot of sex --”

Dongmei burst out laughing.

“--to prevent a qi reserve depletion! People have died, Dongmei. It’s not funny!”

Dongmei put a hand over her mouth and said through her giggles, “Sorry! I know I shouldn’t laugh. It’s sad what happened to First Prince’s and Second Prince’s mothers. It was just so funny the way you said it. ‘I’m pregnant, so I need to have a lot of sex.’”

Shen Yuan rested his hands over his belly. “Are you going to finish your story? What did Chonglin say when the economic advisors asked if the sky was falling?”

Dongmei put a hand to her mouth and started giggling again. “No, but you might start to feel the ground shaking.”

xxx

Dongmei stood up from her pallet on the floor. She padded across the room and cursed as she stubbed her toe against one of the side tables before sitting at the edge of his bed. The moonlight haloed the summer plum blossoms in her hair. She ran her hand up and down his back soothingly as Shen Yuan brushed away the tears from the corner of his eyes.

“You were crying in your sleep,” she said softly. “What’s wrong? Did you have a nightmare?”

“Yes and No. I couldn’t sleep. I was just thinking about that story and how the Prince always rushes over when I need anything. Then I was thinking about how in love with him I am and how much I miss him,” Shen Yuan sniffled, wiping away the tears from his eyes. “It’s only been five days that we’ve been apart, so I know it’s stupid for me to be upset. But I’m just … so worried.”

“What are you worried about?” Dongmei asked quietly.

Shen Yuan sniffled. “That he’s going to come back from the Imperial Gala after spending a whole month with all those sophisticated and talented courtesans and realize that he doesn’t want me anymore. They’re probably all laughing and gossiping about me right now: did you see that hideous weimao hat he wore to the recitation, did you see how he trailed after the Prince like a lost little mouse, did you see how he was too afraid to say a word in front of everyone. The Prince will realize I’m not good enough for him. After spending a whole month with the entire imperial court, he’s going to realize just how little I fit into this life and how little I fit into his life. He’ll realize I don’t belong here and want me to leave.”

Dongmei scoffed. “Shen Yuan, you don’t need to worry about your place in First Prince’s affections. He would go to any lengths to make you happy. He ran out of that meeting so fast the economic advisors worried we were at war. All because he wanted to make sure your drum got banged.” Shen Yuan’s weak chuckle turned into a cough. “A-Yuan, he conceived a child with you that both he and his father have legitimized. For years, he’s made it clear no one has been worthy of bearing his child. He wants you to be the mother of his child, you Shen Yuan, no one else.”

Shen Yuan whispered, “The Prince has probably taken countless lovers at the Imperial Gala by now. How can I compete with someone like Lady Maigu Xia? She’s so beautiful and talented and confident. I felt so out of place standing next to her at the recitation. I couldn’t even say a word.”

“I’m sure she felt the same way when she saw you standing by the Prince’s side with your belly swollen with his child. She probably felt furious and like she couldn’t compete with you. You aren’t giving yourself enough credit, A-Yuan,” Dongmei protested. “You might not be a nobleman like those other vapid sycophants, but you can recite poetry, play the guqin, write calligraphy and your cultivation is better than most according to people in the know. I don’t know much about all that, but shifu Qi Qingqi says that you’re doing very well. I’m sure you’ll catch up really soon to the rest of the imperial court and you won’t need to feel out of place any more.”

“I don’t know if I’ll even catch up though, Dongmei,” Shen Yuan went on. “I’m not sure I’m cut out for this. I’m pampered and spoiled, but everything is just so different from what I’m used to. I don’t have to worry if I’m going to go to bed hungry. Now I have to worry if the Prime Minister’s going to have me framed for treason and executed because I got in his daughter’s way. I feel like I have no control over my life. I’m just a pawn on a chessboard and everyone knows how the pieces move except me.”

Dongmei walked over to him and brushed his hair back from his eyes. She smiled up at him. “I’m not in your shoes, so I don’t know how you’re feeling. But take some time to dwell on the good things in your life. You have a lot to be thankful for. We both have a lot to be thankful for. You have so many people here who are looking out for you and carrying for you. You needn’t feel out of place,” she went on.

“Thanks for talking with me, Dongmei. This helped a lot. It’s late. We should try to go back to sleep.”

xxx

His room in the Hall of Divine Rule was exquisitely decorated. Though with all the heavy silks and decorations it was very hot at night. Now in the seventh month of his pregnancy, Shen Yuan had trouble falling asleep even when he was in a familiar bed. He’d had trouble falling asleep during the past several days. So he opened all of the windows to allow the cool breeze into the room.

When Dongmei asked if he wanted her to sleep on her pallet on the floor in case he had a nightmare, he said he was fine. She’d been staying up late and looking out for him for the last couple nights. She needed her rest. He laid awake staring at the side table where he’d hidden the tool Mu Qingfang had made for him of the Prince’s heavenly pillar. He still hadn’t worked up the courage to use it.

Eleven days and he still hadn’t broken. Take that sex addiction!

Tonight with the night breeze came a carrier pigeon with a message. Shen Yuan looked at the bird in confusion before climbing out of bed to see what message the bird carried. The bird cooed in his hands as Shen Yuan gently stroked his feathers. It didn’t have a message tied around his feet like he expected, but he had a pendant around his neck. The bird lowered his neck for Shen Yuan to remove the pendant.

As soon as he ran his hand over the green jade pendant, a seal appeared on the floor. Shen Yuan gaped as a projection of his brother appeared in the middle of the seal.

“A-Yuan,” came his brother’s voice.

Shen Jiu’s voice disappeared into the summer air and his image flickered and then disappeared. It had been months since he’d heard Jiu-xiong’s voice. He felt such a sense of relief and then dismay as his older brother’s image disappeared.

The seal on the floor pulsed and Shen Jiu appeared again, though his image was fainter this time. His voice was frantic. “This technique allows me a short time. Are you his prisoner? Did he force a pregnancy on you?”

Shen Yuan’s eyes widened as he shook his head. “No, it’s not like that at all. I’m not a prisoner. The Prince didn’t force me to do anything. Gege, are you all right? I’ve avoided those in the palace who might realize our resemblance. I think only one has so far, Mo Beijun’s steward Shang Qinghua.”

His brother’s image flickered in and out for a moment. “I’m fine. This is so twisted … I’m going to rescue you from there, A-Yuan.”

Shen Yuan frowned at him. “What are you talking about?”

Shen Jiu’s eyes flickered to Shen Yuan’s belly, his mouth in a thin line. He looked back up and said, “I should never have left you alone in the Imperial City. I never considered—“ His brother’s image flickered out before it reappeared. “A-Yuan, you need to be very careful. First Prince Luo Binghe is a very dangerous man.”

Shen Yuan crossed his arms over his chest.   “I’m not a child. You don’t need to worry about me.”

His older brother sighed. “Didi, I’m always going to worry about you. I never imagined you’d be pregnant... It certainly throws a wrench into things. I’m surprised he let you out of his sight. This is the opportunity for you to escape Imperial Palace. Go to the apartment I rented for you. I’ll meet you there in a week to smuggle you out of the Imperial City.  It'll take me some time to leave the Imperial Gala and travel to the Imperial City.”

Shen Yuan protested. “I can’t leave the Imperial Palace!”

Jiu-xiong narrowed his eyes. “So you are a prisioner!”

“No, I’m not a prisoner, Gege. I like it here. I don’t want to leave. I heard you and Yue Qingyuan were getting married at the Imperial Gala. I wish I could’ve been there to see it.”

Shen Jiu searched his eyes. “A-Yuan, have you heard of Stockholm Syndrome?”

Shen Yuan continued, ignoring his older brother’s remark. He wasn’t a prisioner. He didn’t know why his older brother was so certain that he must be. “I haven’t told the Prince anything about you or father. He has no idea I have any connection to Hong Tengfei or Yan Longwei. Jiu-xiong, I was careful to avoid Yue Qingyuan while in the palace. I didn’t want to endanger you.”

Shen Jiu sighed heavily as he stared at Shen Yuan shaking his head with disapproval.  “This is such a mess. A-Yuan. It’s not safe for us to write to each other anymore. I’ll pass along information to you in another way. Be careful. Be safe. Don’t try to contact me.  I'll come for you myself.  Don’t do anything stupid.”

His brother’s image flickered before disappearing. As the carrier pigeon flew away, Shen Yuan frowned at it with annoyance. Don’t do anything stupid?

Jiu-xiong was the one pretending to be someone he wasn’t, seducing a powerful nobleman, and completing a secret mission for the enemy. Shen Yuan hadn’t done anything half as dangerous as his older brother had.

Chapter Text

Chapter Nineteen

The delegation from the Kingdom of the Five Sects was given rooms in the main garden court as a show of respect. The rooms that had been appointed for them were a set of private chambers accessible only by boat.

The Kingdom of the Five Sects had been a thorn in Luo Binghe’s side for decades. The Chief Cultivator who ruled the nation had been from the Wen clan for generations. The Wen clan held the Empire and the imperial majesties in such hatred that it had always been difficult to conduct any diplomatic talks with the Kingdom of the Five Sects. After the armistice, it was nearly impossible.

The recent insights from Luo Binghe’s past life made many things in this world clearer; however, the motivations and machinations of the Kingdom of the Five Sects and Wen Rouhan were still a mystery to Luo Binghe. The far distant cultivation sects were rarely discussed on Qing Jing Peak when Luo Binghe was a student there. The only knowledge Luo Binghe had from his past life about the Five Sects concerned Wei Wuxian, the Yiling Patriarch. When he was a demon lord, Luo Binghe fielded complaints from irate ghosts and demons about the demonic cultivation practices of the Yiling Patriarch and the disciples of his cultivation path.

Luo Binghe wished that he knew more about the Wen clan from his previous life. It might have helped in dealing with them in this one. To begin, Luo Binghe wasn’t sure if the delegation from the Kingdom of the Five Sects had an ulterior motive in coming to the Imperial Gala. So he and Liu Mingyan had been spying on them since they arrived to make sure they didn’t attempt any acts of espionage or assassination. However, the delegation’s behavior demonstrated no ulterior motives for their attendance to the Imperial Gala.

They’d spent the first couple days of the Imperial Gala discussing a trade agreement with the Empire. Yue Qingyuan took the lead on the discussion as the Warden of the Eastern Provinces. His province had the most to gain from such an agreement, so he was well suited to ensuring it would benefit the Empire as a whole.

Yue Qingyuan and Lan Xichen drafted the new trade agreement. Qingyuan gave his impression of the other three men to Luo Binghe after it was all said and done. Lan Xichen was astute and politically minded. Nie Mingjue was more of a warrior than a politician, so he deferred to the Lan sect head on matters out of his expertise. Wen Chao was a self-important fool. He wasn’t a warrior, a politician, or a diplomat.

Now the trade agreement had been signed by the Emperor and would just need to be signed by Wen Rouhan as well.

The delegation from the Kingdom of the Five Sects embraced the spirit of revelry at the Imperial Gala. During each of the past thirteen nights Luo Binghe had been spying on them, they had participated in many of the events of the Gala: Nie Mingjue with exhilaration as he got to participate in the fencing exhibitions, Lan Xichen with amusement as he observed the antics of his friend, Wen Chao with petulance as many of the beautiful woman he’d been trying to seduce found a different lovers, and Wen Zhuliu with forbearance as many of the beautiful women Wen Chao tried to seduce attempted to lure him into bed instead after they were unsuccessful in catching the eye of Lan Xichen or Nie Mingjue.

This afternoon Lan Xichen had passed along a message to Luo Binghe through Sha Hualing. The message was simple. He and Nie Mingjue wished to speak with Luo Binghe alone tonight. They would leave a window in their rooms open for him.

Sha Hualing passed the message along to Luo Binghe with some displeasure. When Lan Xichen had slipped her a note she’d hoped it would lead to a liaison rather than a secret message. After all, Lan Xichen was the most beautiful and lusted after alpha at the Imperial Gala and it was said he’d remained celibate throughout. Sha Hualing, who for all the time Luo Binghe had known her had only ever shown interest in omega women, said that Lan Xichen was the second man she’d ever desired.

“Second after you of course, First Prince,” she quipped with a saucy wink.

Luo Binghe rolled his eyes. Sha Hualing was a beautiful woman and he’d enjoyed sleeping with her in the past, but she was nothing to Shen Yuan.

In two weeks he would be back home and in his lover’s arms. He’d be able to kiss Shen Yuan’s soft lips and smell the gentle perfume of his bamboo heart scent, and smooth his hands over his lover’s very pregnant belly.

He cherished every little flicker of surprise and consternation in his lover’s eyes as he felt their son kicking around in his womb. At night after making love, he liked to rest his head against Shen Yuan’s pregnant belly and feel their child moving around. Shen Yuan would run his hands through Luo Binghe’s hair, drowsy and contented with pleasure and complain about how active their son became at night after dual cultivation.

Anyway, having a secret meeting with two members of the delegation from the Kingdom of the Five Sects under the nose of the other two turned out to be more of a challenge than Luo Binghe anticipated. The simple fact of the matter was, Wen Chao and his shadow rarely left Lan Xichen’s side.

Lan Xichen’s pleasant demeanor and beautiful form attracted a lot of attention, so Wen Chao clung to the other man’s robes, trying to peel away some of the other man’s admirers for himself.

The delegates from the Kingdom of the Five Sects hadn’t become so unrestrained in their pleasures to join the orgies in the halls of the main garden court that started late into the evenings. They preferred to take their pleasure behind closed doors.

Unfortunately Wen Chao didn’t have much luck in attracting lovers. He would return to their shared rooms in a rage when unsuccessful. If Wen Chao returned to their rooms after an unsuccessful seduction, Lan Xichen would usually retire early to his bedroom. Nie Mingjue would either do the same, or go to the rooms of the lover or lovers he’d decided to bed for the night. On the five occasions Wen Chao retired to his bedroom in a fit of temper, Lan Xichen, Nie Mingjue, and Wen Zhuliu sat outside under the stars drinking wine and conversing.  

More often than not, Wen Chao was unable to find a lover for the night. He was unattractive, both his manner and appearance were greasy. Not only that, he was a beta male trying to pass himself off as an alpha.

Alphas and omegas were less common in the Kingdom than the Empire, so maybe he was able to get away with his deception in his homeland. Here, few were fooled by such a display. Wen Chao wouldn’t have appeared so unappealing if he weren’t completely eclipsed by the two alpha clan leaders beside him.

Even still, during the past two weeks Wen Chao had been able to convince a tipsy and lustful beta women into bed during three of the past thirteen nights. During the first of those liaisons, Wen Zhuliu remained nearby to guard his master. The second and third trysts were with a lustful beta servant woman from the Imperial Palace. Several sycees were exchanged before the woman led Wen Chao away to an empty room to have sex. Liu Mingyan followed Wen Chao during those evenings, while Luo Binghe followed the others.

However during the second assignation, Wen Zhuliu returned with Lan Xichen and Nie Mingjue to their rooms to share jars of wine with the beta and omega men and women that decided to join the three alphas from the Kingdom of the Five Sects for a nightcap and then a vigorous rutting by the hot-blooded Nie Mingjue.

Luo Binghe was amused to watch as Lan Xichen, Wen Zhuliu, and the betas and omegas Nie Mingjue hadn’t invited into his bed continued their conversations and jars of wine all the while listening to the chorus of moans, shrieks of ecstasy, and violent movement of furniture from the other room.

Well, Luo Binghe didn’t like the odds. It was rare for the two delegates from the Wen Sect to be parted from the delegates from the Lan and Nie Sect. So Luo Binghe would need to engineer and tryst for Wen Chao and Wen Zhuliu so he could have a private conversation with Lan Xichen and Nie Mingjue. It was clear that Wen Chao preferred women, but Wen Zhuliu was a mystery.

“What do I think Wen Zhuliu’s type is?” Sha Hualing asked with a laugh as she tossed back the last dregs of her cocktail of coconut milk and baiju. “Hm, good question. What do you think, Qingge-shidi?”

Liu Qingge looked at Luo Binghe with something akin to alarm, “Why do you ask, First Prince?”

Luo Binghe reclined back in his seat with a sigh. His chambers in the northern wing of the Imperial Palace were well guarded. Only those with divine elven blood or a special amulet containing the divine elven blood could enter his rooms in the Imperial Palace of the Richu Islands. In the privacy of his gardens, Luo Binghe was free to discuss his plans. He only wished his generals could be a bit more help.

Auntie walked over with a tray, collecting their drinks and distributing new ones. Sha Hualing sat up and looked at the pink glass in her hand. “Oh, this one is grapefruit and baiju, Auntie?”

“Indeed, mistress,” said Auntie with a bow.

Luo Binghe took his drink of coconut milk and baiju from Auntie. She smiled down at him. “First Prince, were you asking about the delegation from the Kingdom of the Five Sects?”

He raised an eyebrow at her. “I was yes.” He cleared his throat, redirecting his question to her. “I don’t suppose you know what Wen Zhuliu’s type is? That is, the bodyguard of Wen Chao?”

Auntie nodded. “Indeed I do, First Prince. Alpha male.”

Luo Binghe grinned up at her. Auntie was very intuitive and insightful. Though on occasion she could be scatterbrained. “Yes, Wen Zhuliu is an alpha male. But do you know what sort of person he’s attracted to?”

Auntie nodded again. “He’s attracted to alpha males.”

Luo Binghe blinked in surprise. He’d noticed no such thing and he’d been attempting to discover Wen Zhuliu’s preferences for several days. “Where did you hear that, Auntie?”

Auntie handed a new drink to Mo Beijun before moving over to Liu Mingyan with the alpha female’s drink. “I didn’t hear it from anyone, First Prince. But this old servant has eyes and she’s seen the eyes of Master Wen Zhuliu linger the longest on that of his alpha male companion.”

Sha Hualing scoffed, “Auntie, that’s hardly evidence. I’m attracted to omega females, but even my eyes have lingered on Lan Xichen. The fact Wen Zhuliu is attracted to Lan Xichen does not mean alpha males are his type.”

Auntie’s eyes twinkled. “I didn’t say Wen Zhuliu’s eyes lingered on Lan Xichen. I’ve observed his eyes lingering on the form of Nie Mingjue.”

Luo Binghe’s smile broadened. Oh, this was perfect.

Luo Binghe didn’t often use his alpha powers. He was able to overcome most of his problems through physical strength or cunning, so it was rare for him to flex his alpha powers. Few alphas had access to the alpha’s command power. Indeed, only about one in five alphas had the command ability. Omegas were very rare in the population, but the omega charm ability was more common among omegas than the alpha command ability was among alphas - nearly a third of omegas possessed the ability.   The advanced alpha power of sway and the advanced omega power of glamour were extremely rare.

For the rest of the population the ultimate alpha power of thrall and omega power of enchant were more legend than reality. In fact the only alphas that possessed the thrall ability were Luo Binghe and his father.

An alpha command could only be performed while in direct contact with the subject. It needed to be administered verbally and the effect was only as long as the alpha remained in visual contact with the subject in question. An alpha’s sway power was immeasurably more powerful than an alpha command and didn’t require a verbal catalyst. It could be administered visually, but it was very short in duration: hours where an alpha command could be months or even years if the alpha remained in visual contact. But there was power in being able to have complete control over someone without saying what you wanted.

The ultimate alpha power, thrall, was something only Luo Binghe and his father could access. It required a verbal, visual, and pheromone catalyst, but it didn’t require consistent direct contact with the subject and lasted for a long the alpha administering it wished for it to: days, months, years, decades, or even centuries.

“What is it that has you grinning so sinisterly?” asked Liu Qingge in alarm.

“Mu Qingfang is in the Imperial City tending to Shen Yuan. So who’s the physician on site for the imperial gala? I need an alpha aphrodisiac.”

Sha Hualing scoffed into her cocktail, “I’ve never heard of you having trouble getting it up, First Prince. The only trouble you seem to have is getting your monstrous cock all the way inside the eager courtesan warming your bed. I admire your bed servant for being so keen to be split open on your heavenly pillar every day and several times a day. He’s a brave man.”

“It’s not for me,” the First Prince countered.

“Well you can join the club, First Prince,” Auntie quipped wryly.

Luo Binghe raised an eyebrow at her.

Auntie held the empty tray to her chest as she explained, “The gala physician’s supply of aphrodisiacs, heat expressers, and pseudo-heat elixirs is completely depleted. He didn’t adequately account for demand. Second Prince was complaining to me that they’ve never had a problem like this before at the Imperial Gala. Mu Qingfang always brings sufficient supplies for seemingly every eventuality, but his replacement isn’t meeting expectations. Many imperial officials and their omega spouses have been complaining to Second Prince during past week. He’s at the end of his rope.”

Liu Mingyan took a sip of her cocktail, observing, “There are always a handful of alpha-omega or beta-omega couples that arrange their heat vacation during the Imperial Gala. That’s what Qingyuan-shixiong and his new husband are doing right now after all. But don’t forget that later this year, a little prince is going to be born. I wouldn’t be surprised if many ambitious imperial officials are trying to have a child around the same time as yours, First Prince. No doubt, hoping to increase influence by having their child be a playmate of the little prince.”

Auntie nodded, “Indeed. There’s a tremendous surplus of anti-ovulation pills, but the supplies of everything else have been completely exhausted.”

Sha Hualing put down her pink drink and stood up. “Oh! That reminds me. I almost forgot! I brought an alpha aphrodisiac as a wedding gift for Qingyuan-shidi.”

“A likely excuse for an alpha having trouble keeping up with her omega lover’s libido, Hualing-shimie,” Luo Binghe teased. “Need any advice from the expert?”

Sha Hualing winked at him. “I’ve never left a lover unsatisfied, First Prince. The wedding gift is for Qingyuan-shidi. He didn’t get lucky during the Imperial Gala when he and his husband fell in love. So I wanted to give an alpha aphrodisiac to my shidi as a special gift for finally getting lucky. I forgot about it until you mentioned him. I’ll go get it.”

xxx

Sha Hualing held a hand over her mouth to cover her giggles as she stood beside Luo Binghe and Liu Mingyan. They watched from afar as Second Prince Zhuzhi-Lang spoke with one of the Tianyi omega triplets. The young woman flipped her hair over her shoulder and smiled seductively up at Second Prince though her lashes. As a female omega of elven origin, she wasn’t afraid by the thought of the zhuyin race’s hemipenis. If anything she seemed excited by the thought.

There really was someone out there for everyone.

Sha Hualing giggled, “Oh, this is so devious. I love it!”

“Shut up, Hualing,” Liu Mingyan hissed. “Do you want them to hear you?”

“Are the others coming over here?” Luo Binghe asked quietly, leaning back against the wall and drinking from his cup of wine. “Are we ready?”

“Yes. I have the cup prepared,” Liu Mingyan whispered.

“Those two from the Wen clan are going to have the time of their life,” Sha Hualing grinned. “So Wen Zhuliu gets the aphrodisiac, right?”

“Yes, he’ll likely be more difficult to please,” Luo Binghe noted. “This’ll change that.”

“The other two Tianyi triplets are coming over here,” Sha Hualing whispered.

xxx

Luo Binghe swung in through the open window of the smallest bedroom in the set of rooms appointed for the delegation from the Kingdom of the Five Sects. It was the only one was left open. He straightened and looked around. It looked like the leader of the Lan sect had taken this smaller bedroom during their two weeks at the Imperial Gala. He could tell from the set of white robes neatly folded on the chair beside the bed and the faint scent of sandalwood lingering in the room.

He found the two men waiting for him in the main receiving hall of their private chambers. Nie Mingjue stood in front of his chair with his arms crossed over his chest. Lan Xichen sat next to him. He appeared more at ease than the Nie sect leader. Luo Binghe was pleased to see neither were armed.

“First Prince Luo Binghe,” Nie Mingjue said, his deep voice a dangerous rumble.

“Sect Leaders Nie and Lan,” Luo Binghe deadpanned. “I’m flattered by the invitation, but I have a much more desirable lover waiting for me in the Imperial City.”  

The two alphas reacted differently to the joke. The alpha male from the Lan sect remained sitting and looked at Luo Binghe with an amused expression. Nie Mingjue on the other hand flushed bright red and stormed over, looking like he wanted to rip Luo Binghe’s head from his shoulders.

Luo Binghe dealt with the Nie alpha male quickly, expelling a subtle burst of qi to stop the other man in his tracks and rob the breath from his lungs. Nie Mingjue sank to his knees, gasping for breath.

“I hope you’ll forgive this misunderstanding,” Lan Xichen said mildly. “The message I sent was not an invitation into bed. We wished to discuss the armistice itself with you. We hoped that by speaking face to face, we could come to an agreement to improve the relationship between the Empire and the Kingdom. The trust between our two lands had been strained for two long.”

Luo Binghe released his control of the qi squeezing Nie Mingjue’s lungs. He waved to the ebony table across the room with a wry smile. “Come, let’s sit down. I’m more than willing to discuss such things with you.”

xxx

As a divine elf, Luo Binghe was immune to all poisons. Poison would not kill him or hurt him. Indeed he actually enjoyed the taste of some poisons. However, he was curious to see if his hosts wanted to try something. So he swapped his wine goblet after Lan Xichen poured out a glass for him. He waited until Nie Mingjue drank from his glass before he did.

“Can’t be too careful,” Luo Binghe said sweetly as took Nie Mingjue’s glass from in front of him. The other man looked down at his new glass with narrowed eyes.

Lan Xichen noted, “If you don’t trust us to pour a glass of wine that’s not poisoned, how can we hope to discuss peace between our two lands?”

Looking up at the other alpha with his eyebrows raised he said, “Speak then. I’m listening”

Nie Mingjue growled, “Then as a sign of goodwill, you can return our swords. You took and sealed the spiritual swords of all the soldiers of the Kingdom of the Five Sects on Wan Jian Peak after the war.”

Luo Binghe raised an eyebrow. “The Empire asked for many concessions, but we wouldn’t rob you of your spiritual swords. A spiritual sword is an extension of a cultivator’s spirit. Such an act is considered a war crime in the Empire.”

“We have on good authority that our spiritual swords are on Wan Jian Peak,” Lan Xichen said mildly. “However, there is some debate as to whether you and your empire had them placed there or if it was the work of another.”

Luo Binghe took a sip of wine and leaned back in his seat. “I’m planning a journey to Wan Jian Peak myself. If you meet me at Wan Jian Peak on the Spring Equinox, I will allow you to enter the mountain. A sign off goodwill as you say.”

“How do we know that we can trust you?” Nie Mingjue countered. “How do we know that this isn’t a trap?”

Luo Binghe shrugged. “You don’t. We can continue our diplomatic talks after you’ve searched Wan Jian Peak.”

Nie Mingjue narrowed his eyes. “In nine months' time? You could’ve relocated our swords in that time.”

Luo Binghe sighed. He wanted to give Shen Yuan time to recover from childbirth before talking him to Wan Jian Peak. It was dangerous for a cultivator to attempt to bond with a sword spirit before they were ready. Not only that but Luo Binghe wanted to be sure that his lover had recovered from the childbirth. The spring equinox was also Shen Yuan’s birthday. Luo Binghe would present the spiritual sword of his lover as a birthday gift.

“In nine months' time or not at all.” Luo Binghe said simply.

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty

Shen Yuan ran his hands over the healthy swell of his pregnant belly with a smile as he looked over at Dongmei leafing through the pages of the first two illustrated children’s book he’d created in the Divine Library. Next to them, Shang Qinghua twirled the pendant around his neck that granted him entry into the Divine Library as he read through the third and fourth ones of the set.

“These watercolors are extraordinary,” Dongmei breathed as she flipped to the next page. “Your drawings of Emperor Hua Cheng and Xie Lian look so much like their sculptures in the Hall of Divine Rule.”

“The stories are almost lyrical in their poetry,” Shang Qinghua went on. “You’re a wonderful writer. I should have you read over some of my prose.”

“What a lovely gift to celebrate your son’s birth!” Dongmei went on excitedly. “Children’s stories based on the adventures of his ancestors! You can read them to the little prince before bed.”

Dongmei traded Xie Lian and the Festive Heavenly Parade to Shang Qinghua for Hua Cheng and the Temple of a Thousand Lights. She flipped it open and ran her hands over the watercolor of Emperor Hua Cheng. “It’s a shame you didn’t have any metallic paints,” she noted. “The watercolors are so beautiful, but they’d really pop if Emperor Hua Cheng’s belt and vambraces were done in metallic silver paint.”

“I’m sure we could buy some in the Imperial City,” Shang Qinghua countered.

Shen Yuan grinned. “The shop in the Imperial City where I used to work before taking a job at the Imperial Palace sells metallic paints and oils.”

Dongmei took Xie Lian Visits the Imperial City from Shang Qinghua and stacked it on top of Hua Cheng Challenges Thirty-Three Gods in her lap. “What’s the name of the shop where you used to work?” she wondered. “I could go in the morning tomorrow while you’re reading in the Divine Library with Qinghua. You could have them by the afternoon!”

Shen Yuan looked over at Dongmei with a grin. “Dongmei, thank you so much! It’s in the merchant district not far from the Southern Glorious Gate. It’s called the Red Dragon. You can’t miss it; there’s a big wooden sign in the shape of a dragon.”

“That should be pretty easy to find then!” she said brightly.

“You’ll have to be sure to send my best wishes to the shopkeepers, Madam Min and Mister Wei. The Wangs are a sweet old couple. I should write a note for them. It’s been a couple months since we’ve corresponded.”

xxx

Light streamed in through the windows and made the white marble of the Divine Library shine like snow. The light reflected off the veins of gold, silver, and scarlet in the marble sending a kaleidoscope of color through the room. Shen Yuan brushed away a piece of hair away from his face as he gently applied the silver metallic paint to his painting.

The first set of illustrated books had been made with watercolors. For his second set, he was experimenting with oils. Dongmei had brought him two jars of metallic paint in gold and silver from the Red Dragon. Shen Yuan gave her a copper sycee to buy the beautiful metallic paint from Madam Win and Mister Wei, but they gave it to her for free when she said handed over the note from Shen Yuan.

Learning they were a gift from the Wangs, Shen Yuan had used them too generously on the first two of the next set of four illustrated children’s books. He’d nearly used up all of the metallic silver paint on Hua Cheng’s necklaces and vambraces!

Shen Yuan looked over at the second floor bannister on the left side of the Divine Library. He’d hung a rope across the bannister and clipped his paintings there to dry. He’d finished the illustrations for the next two books of his second installment and was nearly finished with the third. He only had this page and then the final one. He hadn’t added the words of the story to the pages yet, though he’d mapped them out carefully on four pages on the ebony desk next to him.  

Shang Qinghua’s shadow fell over his painting as he looked over Shen Yuan’s shoulder at the illustration he was finishing. “You’ll have to ask Dongmei to get more of that metallic silver paint if you plan to make another illustrated book about Emperor Hua Cheng,” the other man observed.

“Hm,” Shen Yuan murmured. “You’re probably right. I haven’t used much of the gold paint. Maybe I’ll have the last illustrated book use more of that.” Turning around in his chair he looked at the scrolls in the other man’s arms. “What are you reading about?”

The other man sat next to him and piled some of the scrolls on the ebony desk. “Histories, monster anthologies, romances. I’m doing research and gathering inspiration for my novel. It’s still a very rough draft, but maybe when it’s a bit more polished you could read it and give me some advice!”

“Oh,” Shen Yuan said bright. “I’d love to! What’s the book about?”

“It’s called the Proud Immortal Demon Way,” Shang Qinghua explained excitedly. “It takes place in an alternate reality where humans and elves mingle with demons and gods. The protagonist is a cultivation prodigy who’s the long lost son of the king of the demons. He battles monsters, exposes corrupt cultivation masters, and seduces countless beauties.”

Shen Yuan grinned. “That sounds like a fun read!”

“So what illustrated book are you working on now?” Shang Qinghua wondered, “You already have Xie Lian and the Festive Heavenly Parade, Hua Cheng Challenges Thirty-Three Gods, Xie Lian Visits the Imperial City, and Hua Cheng and the Temple of a Thousand Lights.”

Shen Yuan pointed up to the second floor bannister. “Next there’s Xie Lian, Hua Cheng and the Little Prince. That’s about Emperor Tianlang-Jun. He’s the Little Prince. Xie Lian, Hua Cheng, and the Little Snake Charmer is about Second Prince Zhuzhi-Lang’s mother and Emperor Tianlang-Jun’s young sister.  The one I’m working on now is Xie Lian and the Phoenix. I really should have used more of the metallic gold paint on the phoenix, but I could always go back and add more, I suppose. This is story is how Xie Lian decided upon the phoenix as the symbol of the Emperor’s consort.”

“So the last one is Hua Cheng and the what?” Shang Qinghua asked, noticing the pattern.

“I haven’t settled on the title yet, but I really enjoyed that story about how Xie Lian’s two generals, Mu Qing and Feng Xin, were worried that Hua Cheng had used his alpha thrall to make Xie Lian fall in love with him. So Hua Cheng made the … um,” Shen Yuan waved his hand as he tried to explain the primary source he’d read, “the translation is a bit tricky, um…the dragon scepter? That could detect if someone had been affected by an alpha’s thrall.”

“Why would you use that as your last story?” Shang Qinghua laughed. “There are so many better stories!”

Shen Yuan shrugged. “It’s a nice lesson about the consequences of using one’s alpha or omega abilities to control or deceive someone. My son will have alpha abilities, so I want to have a story to talk about them with him. If the dragon scepter showed that Xie Lian was being controlled by Emperor’s Hua Cheng’s alpha thrall the story would have ended much differently. It would have broken their engagement.”

Shang Qinghua furrowed his brows. “You’ll have to forgive me if this is rude, but…um… you do know how ability inheritance works don’t you? Are you sure you want to write a story about alpha thrall if your child won’t be able achieve that ability?”

Shen Yuan blinked at the other man. “What are you talking about? Why wouldn’t my baby inherit his father’s alpha abilities?”

Shang Qinghua bit his bottom lip, looking very uncomfortable. “I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this, A-Yuan. If the difference in ability between the child’s parents is two or more levels, the baby will inherit a lesser ability. You would need to possess the omega glamour ability for your baby with the Prince to inherit his sire’s ultimate alpha ability. There’s only one level of difference between the alpha thrall and omega glamour.”

“But,” Shen Yuan said feeling very confused. “I have the omega glamour ability. Why would my baby not inhert his father’s alpha abilities?”

Shang Qinghua looked at him with wide eyes. “Really? The second level abilities are really rare. That’s amazing you have the omega glamour ability. I’ve never heard of a servant having a second level ability. The only people I’ve ever heard having second level abilities are powerful and influential imperial officials or nobles. That’s really amazing.”

Shen Yuan shrugged. “I only really used it once by accident and it was…frightening. I don’t ever want to use it again.”

Shang Qinghua snorted. “Wow, even still that’s amazing. What happened that first time you used it?”

Shen Yuan shook his head and looked away. He didn’t want to think about his escape from Nightless City. He never wanted to think about his omega glamour ability. He was sorry that he’d brought it up. He knew the second level abilities were rare, but he didn’t really think about how unusual it would be for a servant to have one.

He wasn’t really sure how could have inherited one to be honest if they were so rare and unusual. Yan Longwei was a beta after all. Maybe he would have to ask his brother about it sometime.

“How does ability inheritance work with betas?” Shen Yuan wondered.

“Betas don’t have abilities,” Shang Qinghua said. “Only alphas or omegas do.”

“What about their children?” Shen Yuan wondered. “My mother was an omega female and my father was a beta male. How could I have inherited the omega glamour ability from them?”

Shang Qinghua scratched his head. “I’m not an expert on ability inheritance. You should ask Imperial Physician Mu. Though from what I read, I think betas can be, like, carriers of low level abilities if they had an alpha or omega parent with a higher level ability. The beta won’t be able to activate the ability him or herself, but if they had a child, they child might be able to inherit one.”  

“Hm,” Shen Yuan murmured.

He and his older brother both had the omega glamour ability. So even though Yan Longwei was a beta male, he must have carried an inherent low level ability that he was able to pass onto his two children. That must have meant that their omega beta servant mother had the omega glamour ability. That was pretty cool to think about.

“Are you sure you want to do a story on Hua Cheng and the Dragons Scepter?” Shang Qinghua frowned. “The moral of that story that you’re going for’s a bit philosophical. It might be difficult for a child to understand.”

Shen Yuan shook his head. “No, I don’t think so. The moral of the story is simply about love and free will. Hua Cheng had the power to force Xie Lian to love him with his alpha thrall. That was exactly what the Generals Mu Qing and Feng Xin feared. But Emperor Hua Cheng loved Xie Lian too much to deceive and control him in that way. Once everyone saw the result from the dragon scepter trial, they couldn’t object to Xie Lian’s engagement to Hua Cheng. They knew that the divine omega Xie Lian loved the elven alpha Emperor Hua Cheng of his own free will.”

Shang Qingfang shrugged. “That sounds like a boring story to be honest. Though at least the side story about how Hua Cheng proved the dragon scepter correctly identified people under an alpha’s thrall will be a funny anecdote. That was how General Feng Xin got his nickname Tremendous Masculinity after all.”

Shen Yuan raised an eyebrow. The side story about how Hua Cheng used his alpha thrall ability to resolve the sexual tension between the between Generals Mu Qing and Feng Xin and prove that the dragon scepter worked was way too mature for him to illustrate in a book for his child!

Did Shang Qinghua have no shame?

“That wouldn’t be fit for children!” Shen Yuan said severely, putting a hand over his pregnant belly protectively. His son kicked him in the side as if in agreement. “If I include that, it will be only a kiss rather than—“

“Mu Qing getting his drum banged?” Shang Qinghua quipped.

Shen Yuan blushed crimson. “Now I’m having second thoughts about illustrating it at all. I thought it had a nice moral and I could use a lot of this metallic gold paint for the dragon scepter.”

“But the dragon scepter’s not gold, it’s white jade,” Shang Qinghua countered.

“The dragon scepter’s real?” Shen Yuan gasped. “I thought it was a legend.”

“It’s very real. It’s in the treasure vaults of the Yue estate. The Eastern Provinces are modern day Xian Le. That’s where it was kept after Emperor Hua Cheng gave it to the noble families of Xian Le after the annexation of Xian Le into the Empire. It was a symbolic gesture, both a gift and a threat,” Shang Qinghua explained. He leaned back in his chair and pointed towards a row of shelves on the second floor of the Divine Library. “You could probably read more about all that in modern imperial history over there.”

“Modern Imperial History?” Shen Yuan wondered. “Why would it be in the modern imperial history section? The dragon scepter was created so long ago I thought it to be a legend like so many things from that era!”

Shang Qinghua shrugged. “Well, yeah, the alpha scepter collected dust in the treasure vaults of the Yue estate for centuries. That was until Yue Qingyuan’s father used it during the War Against the Kingdom of the Five Sects anytime he spoke with the Imperial Majesties. The nobles from the Eastern Provinces demanded it. They wanted to be sure their lord wasn’t being controlled by the imperial majesties.”

Shen Yuan smoothed his hands over his belly where his son kicked him in the side again. It wasn’t until he listened to Yue Weizhe’s recitation of Du Fu’s Song of the Wagons that Shen Yuan realized support for the War against the Kingdom of the Five Sects hadn’t been as universal in the Empire as he imagined.

“White jade,” Shen Yuan muttered to himself. “What am I going to do with all this metallic gold paint?”

“Hm,” the other man pondered. “How about a story about how the Imperial City was founded? It involves a game of dice. You could use the metallic gold paint for the dice. Hua Cheng and the Imperial City.”

“That’s a good one too,” Shen Yuan bit his bottom lip. “I think I’ll probably need to send Dongmei back to the Red Dragon for more paint regardless. Any story that involves Emperor Hua Cheng involves a lot of metallic silver paint. I want to finish the illustrations before First Prince returns from the Imperial Gala.”

Shen Yuan should have plenty of time to complete his project because the Imperial Gala would stretch on for another two weeks after today.