Fury of the Phoenix

Free Fury of the Phoenix by Cindy Pon

Book: Fury of the Phoenix by Cindy Pon Read Free Book Online
Authors: Cindy Pon
tapping the tip of his quill against the blackwood table.
    Zhong Ye swallowed hard. The Book of the Dead was evil. One studied from it only if one were a monk, wanting to combat and understand the enemy. Or if one were devoted to the dark arts. His pulse throbbed fast against his throat, and he nodded. He would do anything to learn Yokan’s secrets.
     
    Zhong Ye walked along the edge of the massive palace square after meeting with a young boy of no more than twelve years, a eunuch and a favorite of the Empress’s for his falsetto voice. She was not with child, having been called to the Emperor’s bedchamber only once in the past two months. And her relationship with the Emperor’s top adviser was souring. Zhong Ye had allowed himself a small smile when he heard the news and had pressed a pouch of coins into the boy’s palm. Zhong Ye kept a wide network of spies, each bribed with coins, favors, or threats—whatever combination reaped the best results.
    His boots crunched on golden leaves as he walked through the oblong courtyard that connected the outer court to the inner court. Guards saluted him before pulling the massive doors open. The salute was a first, and he wondered what he had done recently or whom he had been seen with that would have garnered this new show of respect.
    One of the higher-ranking concubines, surrounded by a retinue of handmaids, was strolling toward him. She was twenty years and had a daughter of two years by the Emperor. Zhong Ye stopped and bowed with a flourish. He did not rise until she nodded at him, smiling. “Master Zhong,” she said.
    One of her silly handmaids tittered behind a silk sleeve.
    “It’s been too long since you’ve visited.” She peered up at him coquettishly from beneath lowered lashes. “Not since you’ve been promoted.”
    “I’m always at your service, lady.”
    She pressed an ivory hand to his chest, tipping her head back to capture his gaze. “Yes. I’ll remember that, Master Zhong.” She had always been too liberal with her touch.
    He did not meet her eyes but only bowed lower. She swirled away in a flutter of colorful silks. Her handmaids chattered and giggled, not caring that their voices carried to him.
    “Can you believe, only eighteen years…”
    “So handsome. Those eyes…”
    “It truly is a pity that…” This handmaid had enough decorum to lower her voice.
    Zhong Ye felt the blood rush to his face.
    “It only means I’ll have to be more creative with him.” The concubine’s words rang out from the other end of the courtyard, and her handmaids erupted in laughter.
    He remained with his head inclined and his hands clasped behind his back—clasped so hard he had gouged nail marks into one wrist—until the courtyard was empty. He rubbed his temple when they were gone. Working in the concubines’ inner quarters wasoften like navigating through a chamber of serpents.
    Silver Phoenix was waiting for him when he entered Mei Gui’s quarters. His mood lifted the moment he saw her. She brushed her fingertips on his arm, the lightest touch, startling him. “I have bad news,” she said in a low voice. He closed the panel.
    “My mistress began bleeding heavily this morning. She’s bedridden.”
    Zhong Ye punched one fist into a carved chair. “Does anyone know?”
    “Did you ever tell the Emperor?” Silver Phoenix’s black eyes darted to her mistress’s bedchamber.
    “Of course not. I would have told you,” he said, his mind searching for the best course of action. All thoughts fled when she glided to stand directly in front of him. The top of her head barely reached his chin, but the way she held herself made her appear taller.
    “Can we trust each other, Master Zhong?” The scent of her jasmine perfume filled him. “I want the best for my mistress. And you wish to see her rise in status as well?”
    As long as she held the Emperor’s interest, yes. As long as it benefitted him, he thought. “Was the royal physician

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