It’s autumn when the letter finds them. The peripatetic life of a rogue cultivator (and husband) means that communication can be a little hit and miss, but there are inns that they stop in regularly on their travels, where the landlords know to keep messages for them, and where their friends know they can, eventually, be reached. Changze watches his wife’s face light up when she recognises the calligraphy; he smiles as she throws herself down to tear open the letter while he pours the tea, and then he watches her smile fade and her eyes narrow as she reads the body of the letter.
When she looks up at him, he’s already resigning himself ruefully to the thought that they won’t be taking a well-deserved break to recuperate from their latest adventures after all. Still, hopefully he can count on at least one night under a proper roof, with access to hot water and someone else’s cooking.
She nods, sharp and short, and hands him the letter. Changze’s eyes dart to the signature first - Bai Sichun. He remembers the scandal, although he wasn’t familiar with the details, because it was (although he never learned exactly why) what precipitated Cangse’s final argument with Jiang Fengmian, and their departure from Lotus Pier under a cloud. Murder was usually punished with execution, but somehow or other the Lan Clan seemed to have been willing to accept the woman who killed one of their most respected elders into the Clan as the wife of the Lan Sect heir. He knows that she and Cangse were friends, at Gusu - there are few enough female cultivators, let alone female cultivators who choose this dangerous life despite not having the backing of a powerful Sect or Clan, so it’s unsurprising that they took to one another.
He isn’t sure entirely what happened after Cangse left Gusu, though, to cause her friend to commit a murder. Cangse has never spoken about it, although he’s sure she knows; the Lans were characteristically close-mouthed about the whole affair, and eventually gossip had dried up for lack of sources. It was - what, four, five years ago? News of the murder and its consequences reached Lotus Pier a few weeks after the events; the first Changze knew about it was when the sound of clashing metal and upraised voices brought him running to find Cangse and Fengmian with swords drawn fighting in the middle of the pier like they meant it; or Cangse, at least, seemed to mean it. Jiang Fengmian had never been angry with her in his life, as far as Changze could make out, even when she pointedly ignored his increasingly unsubtle hints that she could become Madam Jiang if she felt so inclined. She bested him in the fight, of course, as she usually did, but this time when she had her sword at Jiang Fengmian’s throat, Changze had honestly thought for one terrifying moment that she was going to kill him. He’d never seen such an expression on her face before. He still isn’t sure whether it was his voice begging her to put the sword down that stopped her, or whether he was imagining the murderous rage in the first place - but certainly that was the end of all friendly relations between Cangse Sanren and Lotus Pier.
She left that same evening, declaring herself a rogue cultivator, and it was this that had pushed Changze into finally speaking up about his feelings before it was too late. He really hadn’t expected her to say yes.
“We’re going to Gusu,” Cangse says now, tightly.
Changze bites his lip. He isn’t going to tell his wife what to do, because he isn’t stark staring mad, but he knows that look, and there are only two of them - and he isn’t going to be very much use fighting against the amassed Lan Clan, if it comes to that.
“Because Bai Sichun is pregnant again?” he says, cautiously. He can’t help glancing down at his wife’s belly; she isn’t showing to the point that strangers notice it, but they think it’s been three months now.
“Because she’s pregnant again,” agrees Cangse in a flat voice. She sounds like she’s announcing that her friend has a fatal illness. He’s missing something.
“You look like she’s sharing bad news, love,” he says. “Isn’t this good news?”
Cangse’s nostrils flare, and she draws a deep breath. “This is not my secret to discuss,” she says, her voice unsteady - and nobody has ever accused Cangse Sanren of an excess of discretion, so it really must be something serious.
“But you think she needs you?”
“She needs someone; she wrote to me. She needs rescuing.”
Changze’s eyes widen. “Rescuing.” The letter definitely did not say anything about rescuing.
He nods slowly, rubbing at the stubble on his chin. “Rescuing it is, then,” he says, and is rewarded with that blinding smile that drove him to turn his back on his lord and his home and follow her into the wilderness. "Can we get a hot bath first, love?"