“Amitabha and ten thousand gods of Hatti,” said Zhao Yunlan. “This is so fucking boring.”
He had been the Princess of Haixing for three years already, the title given to him by the previous ruler when Zhao Yunlan defeated the seven-headed dragon. He made a deal with her, to be precise, but nobody needed to know about that -- and Zhao Yunlan was never one to just volunteer information without there being something in it for him. The dragon had been plundering the Haixing countryside for seven years, devouring whole herds of sheep and goats, and valiantly eluding all the efforts of the local cobblers to poison her with sulphur-filled sheepskins. Zhao Yunlan immediately agreed when the old man proposed to him during the celebratory feast, but only because he wasn’t really listening to that arsehole’s ramblings, and also because he was a little -- not so little -- drunk. The consequences of his actions only caught up to him on the following evening, and so he had to promptly respond with an unplanned by flawlessly executed coup d’état -- that old lecher very conveniently had no children, having slaughtered his entire family on his way to seize power. In the aftermath of his velvet revolution, however, Princess Yunlan was standing alone in the ball room, surrounded by seventeen ladies-in-waiting, eleven courtiers specialising in protocol, fifteen junior chancellors and twenty-three royal lawyers, all of them clamouring that a proper princess should move her hand like this and wear her royal clothes like that, and never, absolutely never leave the palace or do anything even remotely interesting at all.
At the beginning, Zhao Yunlan felt quite good just being fed, pampered, and given nice smelling facials, but after a while -- three days, give or take -- he realised he was bored out of his mind and completely helpless to do anything about it. He fucked a bunch of courtiers out of sheer desperation, and held a dozen tournaments. He invited a coven of witches to flaunt their amazing tricks in his royal presence - and the most ruthless one of them, Zhu Hong, stayed with him as the palace accountant. He consulted astrologists, and warned them that he would execute everyone whose predictions turn to be wrong -- and for the next three hours listened to the most slippery and vague sentences ever spoken by humans, snakes or sphinxes. He summoned a bunch of witchers to kill monsters, which proved a complete failure, because those arseholes actually did murder an innocent basilisk. A protected species! He tried his hand at ink wash painting -- the attempt left visible scars on the pristine walls of the palace in the form of seventeen thousand very plump horses frolicking in the muddy monochrome grassland. He wrote an ode to his shins and had it recited it to him at court every day for two weeks. The courtiers all felt obliged to fawn over his poetic talent enthusiastically, despite the painful grimaces on their faces -- and Zhao Yunlan freely admitted it was one of his most inspired ideas. On a very boring spring evening he decided to write a literary classic - and after several weeks ended up with almost one million characters in which Cao Cao in all his muscle-mountain, whiskered glory fights prejudices while fucking his way through the three kingdoms in order to become the most popular courtesan in the brothels of Wei (Zhao Yunlan spend several hours describing Cao Cao’s breathless little moans as he spread his legs for Liu Bei, and arched his back when taken roughly -- like he enjoyed it most -- sighing happily into his whiskers as he thought of the long line of men queueing in front of his room to have a taste of his masculine charms. Zhao Yunlan even inserted himself in the text as a handsome prince who sends a stylish poem about horses and forsythias in bloom to Cao Cao, but decides not to pursue him, instead devoting life to fulfilling his multiple duties -- he had to pause for breath here, or else he would have died laughing).
At some point he started to court disasters: he didn’t invite an evil sorceress to an important ball, and then pricked his finger on a spindle. Nothing happened - he just had a very nice nap He also tried his hand at climbing glass mountains, but the stench of dead bodies lying at foothills quickly scared him away. He visited a White Snake lady in her nest -- she turned out to be a great conversationalist and they spent two days drinking and messing around with courtiers. But in the end, all these were only temporary measures. He needed to invest into something that would last.
One night Zhao Yunlan was skimming through The Records of the Grand Historian and Perceforest for some light-hearted bloodshed and mayhem, when he saw a mysterious glow coming from the direction of the palace gardens. He looked through the window --- the firebird was about to swoop down on a golden apple tree, graceful like a swan, more beautiful than the sunset, and with a fiery tail of peacock, its feathers arranged in glowing orange and red arabesques. It took one apple from the tree and flew away. The apple tree was a very mysterious specimen -- not only did it bear golden fruit, but it grew flowers at the same time, surrounded by yellow forsythias and kerrias, pink mugua trees, budding peonies, and fragrant lilacs, and Zhao Yunlan was quite attached to it. The golden apples looked fabulous in fruit salads.
Suddenly, there was a brainwave.
Princess Yunlan cackled. He rolled on his bed seven times in triumph. He had the servants put the lights out, and went to sleep. The next morning Zhao Yunlan woke up very early and with a clear head. He made himself presentable -- it would never do to leave the bedroom without pants, it could give some courtiers -- junior chancellor Wen in particular -- the wrong idea. He immediately went to his ministers to announce that he would marry anyone who could catch the mysterious thief that had been stealing golden apples from his gardens. By the afternoon the royal heralds went to every city, town and village in Haixing, informing His Royal Majesty’s subjects of the amazing career opportunity awaiting them in the palace.
Meanwhile, Zhao Yunlan, too lazy to really clothe himself properly -- or, more accurately, to allow himself to be clothed, how annoying - put on a tatty green bathrobe -- very soft, perfect for a morning stroll -- and went for a walk in the gardens. Three ladies in waiting, five maids, and a small squadron of guards were following after him, filling the calm spring air with the noise of metal grinding against metal and the delicate rustling of luxurious fabrics. Zhao Yunlan paid them no mind, deep in thoughts. He knew the type of fucking arseholes -- free to go wherever they want -- who went on quests like that in order to marry the fucking princess -- not so long ago wasn’t he one of them, sort of? They didn’t want the princess, not really. They wanted half the kingdom that was part of her dowry. His dowry. They wanted an easy life in exchange for carrying out a simple quest, and marrying a princess was more like a chore that came with the palace nightlife, personal chef, personal guards, and all the maidservants. He gnashed his teeth in fury. How dare they treat him like some kind of object that can be locked away and look pretty? You want to marry a princess? I’ll show you the fucking princess.
Unbeknownst to him, a modest but accomplished scholar, Shen Wei, caught sight of Princess Zhao Yunlan in his majestic green bathrobe, sauntering back and forth among the golden apple trees, and his heart played a symphony.