I couldn't sleep that night. Bai Ye had carried me back to my room at the end of the evening—my legs wobbled so much that I couldn't walk on my own—and I stared at the canopy over my bed for hours, trying to make sense out of what just happened to my mind and body.
Even after the absurd hour in the bath, even after he wreaked havoc on all my senses, I still wanted more of him. The fire inside me had been doused only temporarily, and when he tucked me in my bed and kissed me a good night's sleep, the flames burst once more. It took all my determination and control to hold myself back from clutching onto him and begging him to stay.
This was not what I had expected. Since when did my feelings for him grow into … such unspeakable wants?
I tossed uneasily. The sheets rustled against my nightgown, and the silken fabric grazed over my nipples, still sensitive and slightly swollen from his touch. I trembled, half from the sensation and half from mortification. The lulling songs of late summer insects played incessantly outside my window, trying to rock me into slumber. They did not succeed.
The herbal bath did work wonders. Even after a whole night without sleep, I climbed out of bed the next morning refreshed and energetic, and my body felt light as ever.
My timing when I passed the garden couldn't have been worse though. When I ran into Bai Ye after his practice, the lascivious scenes from last evening were still churning in my mind, and I had to lower my head to hide my flushed cheeks in a polite greeting.
"Qing-er," he nodded, "the box on the tea table is for you."
I darted a glance at the table in puzzlement. Why didn't he give it to me in person? When I looked back up again, he was gone.
I was secretly glad that I was left alone to let my cheeks cool. I walked over to the table and picked up the small box in my hands. It was made of dark sandalwood, and the lid was carved into intricate floral patterns. Just like the decoration of the bath chamber, this wasn't Bai Ye's typical style. I opened it with growing curiosity. What could he want to give to me in such a manner?
Lying on the velvet-lined bottom of the box was a lotus. My cheeks burned once more, recalling the lotus petals from the bath last night and what Bai Ye had done with them. A note in his familiar handwriting was attached to the side of the box, with instructions on how to use the plant in herbal medicine.
I examined the flower with my fingertips. It wasn't a typical water lotus, with its thin, rippled edges and milky white color. But I vaguely recalled seeing a sketch in a medicine book that matched this one …
It was a snow lotus, I remembered. One of the most precious herbs that only grew on the Ice Mountains during the summer.
I was astounded. Was this the purpose of Bai Ye's trip? Did he travel all the way into those dangerous mountain ranges just to gather this for me?
I ran towards his room without thinking. "Bai Ye!" I stumbled a little over the threshold. "You didn't need to risk the Ice Mountains just for this …"
Surprise crossed his eyes when he saw me. "You've seen it before?" He obviously didn't expect I'd recognize it.
"I remember it from one of the books in your library that I searched through for something else," I said. Maybe he was right, I did have a gift for medicine. "The snow lotus is touted as the wonder herb … But why? I don't need such a precious ingredient for anything, especially not if …"
Especially not if he had to put himself in danger for it. Though I didn't want to hurt his pride by saying so.
He only smiled. "The potion you've been brewing recently is harsh on your body. Snow lotus is best known for alleviating those side effects."
"Recently?" It took me a little while to understand what he meant, and as soon as I did, my cheeks burned again. Ever since Bai Ye and I crossed that forbidden line between us, I had been making medicine for myself to … prevent childbearing. He must've noticed it from the lingering scent in my room.
"Master …" I dug my fingers into the carvings of the box, unsure what to say. For some reasons that I couldn't explain, I thought that he might be displeased with the potion I was making, so I hadn't told him about it. But I forgot the fact that his experience in medicine was so advanced that he only needed a whiff to know.
"The snow lotus won't negate or lessen the intended effect of your medicine," he said, "so no need to worry. And if you want to be more discreet, you can burn some mugwort while brewing to cover up the smell, though I doubt anyone else at Mount Hua has a nose as sharp as mine."
Somewhere in the back of my mind, I realized that I was probably indeed the most spoiled disciple ever existed. How could he be so thoughtful and caring? How could he be willing to go through so much effort and take such a risk just for me? And here I was, not even willing to tell him about the potion in the first place …
I suddenly felt selfish. "I should've told you," I lowered my head in a mumble. "I'm sorry."
He closed the distance between us. "You should've told me indeed, Qing-er," he bent over me and whispered into my ears. "If I knew sooner that you were so prepared … I could've done a lot more, and a lot better."
His breath sizzled my ears, and his teasing words set the fire within me that I had barely kept under control roaring once more. If he was going to kiss me … I didn't know what I might do next.
But he didn't. He only chuckled at my blush and said, "Be back soon if you need to go gather morning herbs. It's about time for new lessons."