This was the birthday present that Xuan Long had wanted to give him.
He didn't want it.
He thought the wooden figure was too shabby to look at.
When he had not taken the dragon into his heart, he would not even care about the dragon itself, let alone a wooden figure carved by his hands.
He would not have cared how much thought and care he had put into preparing this gift.
The clumsy dragon, in order to please him, had secretly practised carving the wooden figure over and over again, finally carving a decent one and carefully colouring it, but he didn't want it.
Not only did he not want it, he even trampled on his heart and said it was a useless thing.
Yan Yuan remembered that there was a time when Xuan Long always had small cuts on his hands, which did not get better for a long time.
When he asked him why, Xuan Long refused to say, so he didn't bother to pursue the matter.
Now that he recalled it, it dawned on him that it was for his birthday present.
What he had disdained and scorned was perhaps the best gift Xuan Long could have thought of to give him.
Xuan Long was like that, not good with words, but always good with actions...
like taking good care of him at the thousand-year-old pond, like pulling scales for Yan Yuan when he asked for them after returning to the palace, and reassuring him that he was born with a dull sense of pain when he saw him feel guilty.
How could he have suspected him of having an affair with someone else
He had clearly treated him with such dedication...
that he had given him everything he wanted and nothing he didn't want.
A tear fell on the painted eyebrows of the wooden man in his hand.
Yan Yuan returned to his senses and rubbed the wooden man against his chest to clean it.
Fortunately, the paint was of good quality and would not be easily smudged.
He burst into warm tears and sobbed out at the wooden man.
His body slid down dejectedly and slumped to the floor.
Yan Yuan held the box of wooden figures in his arms, cupping the most delicate one in his right hand, and murmured as he cried.
“A'Po...I am happy with this gift"
"I am happy..."
No one replied to him any more.
When Xuan Long had carved these wooden figures, his heart should have been full of anticipation, expecting how Yan Yuan would look delighted when he received this gift.
But the truth was the opposite of what he had imagined.
Yan Yuan didn't care for them at all, he was too tired to even look at them.
Xuan Long left in disappointment.
Yan Yuan's happiness came too late.
It was too late.
There was no room for regret.
He missed that dragon so much, and when he thought of it deep down, his head began to ache.
Yan Yuan's whole body fell to the ground and curled up, his hands holding the wooden man against his heart, and he cried so hard that his eyes were red and swollen.
"I am happy..."
"Did you hear that..."
"I am happy..."
If Xuan Long was still alive, looking at him like this, he might be soft-hearted, but dead is dead, and there is no coming back even if he cries again.
Yan Yuan knew that.
He cried a lot and gradually couldn't shed any more tears.
He lay on the ground with the cold wooden figure in his arms, his expression hollow.
The palace staff reported that Ning Zhiyu was here and wanted to see Yan Yuan, but Yan Yuan did not want to see anyone, so he locked himself up in this side hall where he had lived with Xuan Long, dismissed the morning court and even handed over the administration of the court to the Prime Minister in his stead.
He knew that he was very ill and that the imperial physicians in the palace could not cure him, and that even the famous doctors from outside the palace could not do anything for him.
The only one who could cure him was Xuan Long, but with that dragon gone, he could only suffer.
Although his mother had died early, his father valued him and found him a gentle stepmother.
He rose through the ranks from crown prince to emperor, and that half of his life could be described as smooth as can be.
Hua Niang said that he had robbed Xuan Long, and Xuan Long was not his.
Otherwise, how could he have fallen into such a deep hole, being tormented by that illness in his head and still thinking about him, thinking that sometimes the thought of 'why don't we just end it' would come to him.
If he died, wouldn't he be able to meet Xuan Long
Such thoughts would appear for a moment before they were ruthlessly erased by Yan Yuan, for he had promised Xuan Long that he would raise their child.
If he was not the emperor, it would have been very difficult for the child to survive if it was left to ordinary people.
that's why when Xuan Long was dying, he begged him like that without any regard for dignity...
He wanted to live well and fulfil Xuan Long's last wish.
However, many times, doing so is often much more difficult than imagining it...
Yan Yuan spent a few days personally cleaning the side hall, keeping all the items in their original positions to create the illusion that Xuan Long was still living there.
Even when it was time to eat, he would have two sets of bowls and chopsticks prepared, with sashimi and fresh shrimp, Xuan Long's favourite foods, at every meal.
Yan Yuan sat at the purple and gold heather table, his ink-coloured hair draped over his body.
He hadn't been out for a long time and was wearing only loose white profane clothes.
He chucked a meaty slice of raw fish into the empty bowl positioned at his side and smiled.
"This fish is barbless...
and good to eat, try it."
He waited a moment, not seeing the food in that bowl diminish, and remarked frostily into the air, "Don't you like it"
Then he took his chopsticks and reached for another food to pass over, "Then try this fresh shrimp."
"Shrimp is good...
it's very good for the body."
"Why aren't you eating..."
After that bowl was piled up with food, it was still properly placed there.
Yan Yuan's eyes gradually reddened and he asked in a small voice why he wasn't eating.
This kind of scene was almost a daily occurrence, if there was an exception, it was because Yan Yuan was suffering from a flare-up of headaches and could not get up from bed.
Chen Yan, who was beside him, could not bear to look at this and went forward with red eyes, "Your Majesty, why are you suffering..."
"You should stop torturing yourself...
Master Han is no longer here.
He left long ago."
Yan Yuan frowned and rebuked, "Chen Yan, what are you talking about"
“A'Po promised to accompany me through this life, how could he go back on his word"
"He is a man of his word..."
"He is a man of his word..."
"He said in my dream that he would love me for ten thousand lifetimes...
how could he leave"
"Chen Yan, doesn't A'Po love these things the most" Yan Yuan looked blankly at the old eunuch and asked in a hoarse voice.
"Why doesn't he eat them..."
Tears dripped from Chen Yan's cloudy eyes, "A sin..."
Seeing that the other party did not reply to him, Yan Yuan stood up holding the table and turned around weakly towards the bed: “A'Po is not eating...
then I am not eating either...
I am tired and need to sleep..."
Yan Yuan lay down on the bed, but could not sleep, his headache tortured him to a maximum of two or three hours of sleep a day.
He hugged the blue brocade quilt and tossed and turned on the bed, the pain was so bad that he could not speak clearly.
"Chen Yan, bring wine...
I have a headache, bring wine quickly."
Chen Yan heard the voice and went over, pulling out the usual porcelain bottle from his sleeve: "Your Majesty, you should not drink wine, the more you drink, the more it hurts."
"You should take some medicine, this is the pain relief medicine prescribed by the Imperial Doctor..."
The small black elixir was placed into the palm of his hand.
Chen Yan had just handed it over when Yan Yuan slapped it away, and it fell to the ground and rolled out of sight.
"I told you to bring wine!!!"
Although strong wine cannot cure stubborn diseases, when drunk, he could fall asleep and sleep for a longer period of time.
Sometimes, if he was lucky, he would dream that he was in love with Xuan Long in the Heavenly Palace, dreaming that he and Xuan Long were in harmony, living like a normal couple, eating, bathing, sleeping and waking up together.
Doing the most ordinary things, the happiness obtained is nothing ordinary.
Most of the time the dreams were just fragments, but the ultimate happiness was enough to envelop Yan Yuan, making him feel as if he was floating on clouds.
Throughout his dreams, Yan Yuan could feel how important the man in his dreams was to him.
When he held him in his arms, it was as if he was holding the whole world, full and content.
The more blissful he was, the more painful it was to wake up.
The extreme despair was so painful that Yan Yuan could not breathe, but he still desperately pursued this dream because it was the only way he could see Xuan Long.
In fact, he was so sober that he just wanted to pretend, to pretend that Xuan Long was still alive, to pretend that Xuan Long was still with him, to pretend that Xuan Long had never left.
The people around him always had to be cruel and unravel his lies, unable to even let him pretend and fool himself.
When he was unlucky, he would have recurring nightmares that Xuan Long was angry with him and wanted to leave him behind and make peace with him.
He dreamt that Xuan Long was stabbed through the heart by his enemies and died in his arms.
As for Yan Yuan's orders, Chen Yan had to obey them, and five or six pots of strong wine were eventually brought to the bedside on a tray.
Yan Yuan got up and casually lifted a jade jug and poured it into his mouth.
He drank in a hurry as if it was not wine but plain water.
As he tilted his head to pour the wine, tears trickled down from the corners of his eyes.
He immersed himself in the wine, and when the ministers occasionally came to visit him to discuss state affairs, Yan Yuan was so drunk that he fell asleep crying out Xuan Long's name.
As time went on, rumours spread in court that the emperor had been bewitched by a demon and that a mysterious dragon had been imprisoned in the palace and died a horrible death.
A minister suggested that a monk should be invited to exorcise the evil spirits, saying that Yan Yuan's illness was caused by the spirit of the dragon, and that the dragon was taking revenge.
If all the items used by the dragon in the palace were burned and a ritual was performed, Yan Yuan would recover.
Yan Yuan wished that it was the spirit of Xuan Long that was haunting him, that it meant that Xuan Long was accompanying him in a different way, but he knew better than anyone that the dragon was gone.
Later, he even stopped entering his dreams.
Yan Yuan kept the relics of Xuan Long as if they were precious, and any person who burned them would be taking his life.
It was impossible for Yan Yuan to destroy them, so the minister who led the campaign was dragged out and beheaded.
On the night of New Year's Eve, there should have been a banquet to welcome the New Year, but Yan Yuan didn't feel like it, and as his head disease was getting worse, he cancelled it.
On this day, he did not drink and he sent a New Year's gift to the Empress Dowager's palace.
He set up a table in the side hall and sat at the table alone, holding his and Xuan Long's child, while all the palace staff were dismissed by him.
As usual, there were empty bowls and chopsticks at his side.
The child was sleeping soundly in the crook of Yan Yuan's arm, and Yan Yuan placed a fish fillet into Xuan Long's bowl and smiled into the air.
"Happy New Year's Eve."
This way, the three of them, as a family, were reunited.