The weather was finally getting nice. When Henghuo went outside this morning, the vast plains surrounding the Ice Castle were greyish white, and the air had that comforting dry stillness it had when it got really nice and cold. The silence that accompanied such weather was blissful, save from the distant cracks of the scarce trees arduously surviving here in the North. Henghuo took a long deep breath and stretched to feel the pleasant temperature through the thin robes on his skin.
He wondered how the lord of the castle, Mobei Jun, was doing. Recently he’s been coming and going, apparently searching for someone. Some people said it was Linguang Jun, his uncle who dared to try and rob him of his inheritance, so Mobei Jun could finally kill him and rid of the threat. Henghuo was just a servant, but he knew that his lord had little family left, so he guessed he wouldn’t be quick to kill the last of it, even though his own opinion of Linguang Jun wasn’t favorable either.
The other theory was that he was searching that rickety human spy he had. True enough, Henghuo didn’t see him around in a few months, but he assumed he was just doing some low-level spy job in the human realm, or whatever it was he did that Mobei Jun kept him around.
Henghuo pitied the little man. Apart from breeding fast, humans really seemed weak and naturally unsuited to anything other than flocking together and scheming. And this man was like an extreme human – weak for a cultivator, damn, weak even for a regular human, constantly anxious and therefore flocking to the lord constantly, and scheming all the while so he can remain useful enough not to get killed. Henghuo would rather just get killed right away and avoid being pathetic year after year.
So yeah, Henghuo knew that Mobei Jun seemed to find the very-human human useful and/or pitiful enough to not only keep him alive but even occasionally spoil him with coats and blankets (because of course the human is too weak to survive the cold) and human food (Henghuo disapproved of that, maybe at least the meat-only diet could make him sturdier). But to go looking for him specifically? That sounded like a stretch. So what, if the guy disappeared or ran away, the lord could just get a new one and be done with it.
Thus, neither theory seemed likely to Henghuo.
Yet, instead of mulling on the matter further, he decided to wait for the lord to return.
Mobei Jun was a powerful demon, second only to the Great Lord Luo Binghe, and the way he was always independent was what Henghuo respected about him the most, but that also meant that as a servant, he had little insight into his lord’s endeavors. There was no point in guessing who or what was he pursuing until the matter was solved.
The lord returned in the evening. He appeared through the portal right into the main hall, and as always Henghuo stared at the portal in awe. Heghuo was an ice demon like his lord, but the power to move through portals was so high-level and uncommon that only someone like Mobei Jun could possibly wield it. He always looked even more regal than usual when stepping in sure stride out of wherever he came from. Truly a Mobei Jun worthy of his title, a demon of the most noble heritage.
You know who didn’t look regal? The sniveling human behind, bent over in a weird way and clutching his leg, that was for some reason tied together with two pieces of wood.
Henghuo was about to be surprised that it really was the human spy that his Lord was searching, but then Mobei Jun turned around and picked the human up in his arms, and Henghuo’s surprise had to shift.
What the hell.
Mobei Jun barely acknowledged the other demons in the room before heading to his chambers, human in his arms included. He probably just arrived in the hall to announce his return. With a human. That he carried. So that leg was broken or something? Didn’t Mobei Jun break it himself to punish the escape? Then why was he trying to save the human from the pain of walking on it?
Henghuo was at loss. Maybe the lord needed human to run somewhere soon? If so, tough chance, humans take forever to heal. This extra-human human would probably take two.
Henghuo valued his position as Mobei Jun’s retainer, and it was truly an honor to have his service recognized. Even if the recognition was becoming ‘member of the staff that was allowed near the human because they would not kill him (out of either deliberation or stupidity)’. It was only to be expected, that the astute Mobei Jun would be aware that most of the demon servants felt way above serving a human, and had little knowledge and/or concern for how breakable they were. Indeed, Henghuo knew his place and would serve a dog or a rat if it was for his lord’s wishes, and he had enough experience with human realm to know more or less how they worked, but frankly he did not like the idea of Shang Qinghua (whom he now had to call by name) getting so many privileges out of the blue.
And some privileges they were! He got to sit wherever he wanted with Mobei Jun, which was kind of what he was doing before, but with the broken leg, he now got an escort of servants carrying pillows for him to rest on. He slept in the chambers adjacent to the lord’s, which was also kind of what he was doing before, but now they had some kind of indoor fire corner installed to warm the room like someone wanted to grow plants inside. He even heard from the kitchen, that the Lord took up cooking noodles of all things, and that he was feeding his handmade delicacies to the hu—Shang Qinghua.
Just when Henghuo tried to imagine the deed that someone like Shang Qinghua could do to earn this amount of merit with the lord, he was called to help with preparing a bath. A hot bath. Inside the hot room.
Did the lord plan on slow-cooking and eating the human-Hua?
So bucket upon bucket, boiled water was brought in from the kitchen into the cedar tub in the chamber, and by the end of the task Henghuo felt like he had just endured some horrible torture, having ducked into the hot room at least a dozen times. The human was in, and he could finally cook himself in peace, it was his decision and the lord’s order, so Henghuo took no responsibility for however that turned out.
Only after he was almost halfway back to the kitchen to return the bucket, did he realize that human-Hua still had his leg broken and that with his meager height, the tub might be hard to climb into with only one working leg. He could trip and crack that soft human skull, which, knowing humans, would probably kill him instantly.
Henghuo sighed good-naturedly. He was now serving the Shang Qinghua. He would do his job well.
He returned to the hot room, braced himself for the scalding heat that’d greet him, and strode in to help the man into his broth. Except when he looked, Shang Qinghua was already mostly in the bath, save for the stiffly stretched out leg he was currently getting over the wooden rim.
He was balancing on the healthy leg, but when he noticed Henghuo, he let out a startled yell, let go of his broken leg, and landed gracelessly on his ass, the stiff hurt leg sticking out of the water and head dunked below the surface. Henghuo had no idea what was going on or what made the human-Hua scream like that, but he immediately went over to grab him by the armpits and pull him out of the burning hot water.
The next while was just Henghuo flailing his burned arms around and Shang Qinghua coughing and sputtering the water out of his mouth and nose, until finally he looked over at Henghuo and ordered him to get out immediately. Henghuo didn’t even bow on the way out, he needed to get his arms on some ice right away. He ran until he got outside and just about threw himself on the hardened snow next to the servant entrance. Only when he finally healed the burns on his skin with the copious amounts of snow compresses, did he stop to wonder what the hell was this whole panic about.
Why did Shang Qinghua act so surprised to see a common servant appear in his chambers to help? He’s seen Henghuo carry him water before, so even with his absurd anxiety levels he should’ve realized he wasn’t there to kill him. Hell, didn’t Shang Qinghua attend to their lord’s baths occasionally before? He wasn’t some fair maiden, just a regular male human. Oh. Right. A human.
Henghuo nodded solemnly, lying his chin on his fist. He was just ashamed! It was an absolutely normal to be ashamed when being seen naked like that. Henghuo would also be ashamed if someone had seen his naked body.
That is if his body looked like the human’s.
He was obviously small underneath the robes, but without the layers of fabric, it was painfully obvious how completely thin and soft he was. No biceps, no pecs, no abs to be seen, just barely some chub on the flat stomach and limbs. His skin, despite not even being in the water yet, was flushed pink like a boiled scaled sea slug. Henghuo caught glimpse of the human manhood too, and yeah… Henghuo hoped Mobei Jun would let him return to the human realm sometime, because there was no wooing demon ladies with that. He looked exactly as weak as he behaved, and that said a lot. No wonder he was ashamed. Even as a common servant, far from the strength and build of powerful demons like Mobei Jun, Henghuo still looked a lot more fit than that.
He finally felt he understood. No peeking at the human naked. Noted. Poor guy had enough pitiful factor for three lifetimes, no need to add more by judging him further, right?
However, there stayed the matter of punishment for what’s already happened.
Henghuo fully anticipated to be flogged at best or made to attend to the fire in the hot room at worst. To his surprise though, he was not called personally by neither head of staff nor Mobei Jun himself. Instead, all the servants were called in the morning, while the lord spoke at length, for two full sentences, how it was absolutely forbidden to witness Shang Qinghua’s nakedness. And that those who do not oblige would be punished by having their eyes cut. His words.
Inwardly Henghuo thanked Shang Qinghua, who apparently didn’t mention his name specifically when complaining. Frankly he wasn’t sure he could regrow eyes if he got these cut.
After the bath incident, Henghuo was pretty sure that the human would cower away from him even more. Whatever Shang Qinghua felt in that head of his was usually quite persistent, seeing how he went out of his way to avoid their senior cooking maid after she tried a few times to offer him the good parts of the poison mole slain by their lord. Rejecting the delicious, crunchy fried and frozen claws aside, one would think that shame would make him behave about the same with Henghuo.
Surprisingly, that was not a case, and when he brought Shang Qinghua his weird human food one morning, he was asked to sit down at the funny little cushion, next to the funny low table full of paper filled with some unholy looking scribbles in a foreign script.
The human started talking to him.
First of all, Henghuo realized that in contrast with their lord, Shang Qinghua’s words could not be easily relied, or even remembered. What started as some redundant comments about the weather, turned into a long chatter on multitude of unrelated topics, interspersed by chewing on human food. Just when Henghuo was wondering if he was just sat there as a living accessory to direct random human thoughts at, the human shut up for a moment and then fidgeted a little before looking at Henghuo directly.
‘Don’t you find our lord hard to understand sometimes?’ he asked.
‘I mean, not to say he’s weird or anything like that, my King is absolutely an intelligent demon lord, but sometimes he does things I just don’t understand, and when I ask him he often just makes these scary expressions like smirking and narrowing his eyes and staring and all that, and I have no idea what that means, what do you think that means, or do you know because I don’t, and I’m not sure who else to ask’ – From the size of his chest, Henghuo would never guess the human had enough space in his lungs to say this many words in one breath. And yet he did. Impressive.
‘I am a servant, I wouldn’t dare to speak of the lord’s intentions presumptuously, Master Shang.’ – was all he could answer.
Even though he knew very well what expression it must’ve been, because he’s seen it on their Lord multiple times already, all around Shang Qinghua. In Henghuo’s opinion, their lord had absolutely normal expression, and it was hard to mistake the multitude of graceful changes of his face. Such as these kindly and charmed smiles where one of his mouth corners went slightly higher than the other, and his eyes narrowed while he kept his pleasantly cold eyes focused on the object of his affection.
Actually, what was more puzzling than what the expression meant, was why was it directed at Shang Qinghua so often.
He has been seeing it a lot lately, and it almost seemed like their lord… Really liked the human. Henghuo always thought that for all his independent way of being, his lord might be feeling a bit lonely, and hoped he’d find a good friend to confide in if needed. But he thought more along the lines of Great Lord Luo Binghe or some other outstanding demon who could be worthy of the Mobei Jun’s companionship. Not a dingy human from whatever hill he came from.
Then again, it was not his place to judge, he reminded himself. Who knows, maybe Shang Qinghua had some hidden depth he had yet to reveal publicly. Maybe listening to him for eighty hours more would make him get to that depths. Henghuo would rather trust their lord and not try.
Maybe Henghuo was a bit wrong. Maybe Mobei Jun did in fact like the talkative, jittery and easily scared friends. Because for whatever reason, he looked very pleased the last couple days.
And all of these days he was almost inseparably accompanied by a human chatterbox, who also seemed to be enjoying himself. Never in his life has Henghuo seen his lord so patient and well, content, for the lack of better word.
Especially when compared with those few weeks before he returned with the human in tow, when all he did was sighing (sighing! His lord!) and growling irritably (which was much more normal, if not for the lack of clear direction of those growls). Even having his newly inherited powers didn’t seem to make his mood any better.
And yet, now that he had the human-Hua lounging on his pillows somewhere in the room, he was all but smiling as he did his regular North-governing work. He even opted to kill instead of torture and kill more often!
Henghuo hoped this unusual show of leniency wouldn’t make their enemies believe their lord was getting soft.
And once, when he returned from one of Luo Binghe’s assassination missions, Shang Qinghua came up to wipe the blood splatters from his face before Henghuo could even run for a towel, and the lord was so pleased with the human’s service, he said Henghuo was allowed to leave for the rest of the afternoon!
Usually Henghuo got approximately two hours of free time every week, so a break this long was an absurd luxury, but it also made Henghuo worried.
In all his thinking about happy friendships, he forgot that Shang Qinghua was still the lord’s long tenured servant!
What if his servitude was so liked by their lord, that he’d lay off Henghuo as unnecessary? It wouldn’t be long until the human leg was completely healed, and then he could easily take over most of Henghuo’s responsibilities!
Maybe if Henghuo was human, he’d weep and get anxious about his precious role as the Mobei-Jun’s trusted retainer. Wait, no, if he was human, he’d probably scheme and try to get Shang Qinghua fall out of grace and be thrown out.
But Henghuo was a demon, and he had pride. So he decided he’d do his job better, work harder, and shorten his breaks to an hour a week, and show how service is done by someone strong ang hale and not some pinkish, doughy human.
Being a dutiful servant meant that Henghuo could know more about his lord than most demons, even those in much higher positions than Henghuo himself. Henghuo prided himself on being the most secretive about all of the little things he got to know over the years.
So when he came in the late morning to change the sheets in the lord’s room, and noticed that the lord must’ve had a companion of the intimate kind that night, he just gathered the laundry in silence and left in silence, to silently hand them over to the laundry staff.
He was not going to prattle to anyone, that their lord finally found someone he was interested in to share his bed.
Even if he was a bit happy for their Lord who seemed uninterested in taking lovers before.
Even if he wondered who could it be, because they haven’t had any new demon guests recently.
Even if he immediately started considering who would his lord marry, if the spouse would be good to the staff and how many children would they have.
Later that day he smirked at (the back of) Shang Qinghua, who was surely not privy to such interesting little facts about their lord. As if that wasn’t enough to put Henghuo in a good mood, Shang Qinghua seemed to have slipped on the ice again, because he was walking stiltedly as if his hips hurt, even though his leg had healed completely by then.
There was no replacing a demon servant in the Ice Castle until he learnt to walk properly on ice, it was in the job description, Henghuo thought smugly.
Henghuo was tired.
The summer was slowly getting near in the North, and the temperature was already unbearable. The sun shone like an orb of white-hot metal, and reflected off the snow’s glassy texture as if it threatened to melt it completely.
Henghuo worried about the meat stacks which were held in the outdoor pantry. If the temperature got above the ice melting point, the meat wouldn’t last until the banquet, and if he were to get assigned on duty to make sure it stayed frozen with his powers, he’d just get even more tired.
Nonetheless, Henghuo was looking forward to the banquet. He wasn’t sure what was it about exactly, as it wasn’t one of the regularly scheduled meetings, but Mobei Jun made sure to invite every demon that mattered for this mysterious occasion. While for Henghuo and the other staff, it mostly meant a lot of work, it also meant meeting the staff from other parts of the realm and getting to show off the North’s affluence and hospitality. And of course, their Lord would be the host, which was always a thrillingly cold experience to be a part of.
Sadly, Mobei Jun, despite being a perfect host in Henghuo’s eyes, seemed to greatly dislike holding events at the Northern Palace. Thus, it could be safely assumed that this time, it was some matter of great importance that made him go out of his way to organize a full banquet. Henghuo has forgone most of his rest breaks, to make sure time after time that everything was being done properly. Unexpectedly though, this time he had an ally.
Shang Qinghua was by now completely healed of all weird injuries he has had ever since coming back, and actually put his back to directing logistics, noting the expenses and all the other boring organizational work that no one in the demonic staff wanted to take on. While Henghuo prided himself on working perfectly well in chaos, he had to admit that working in an organized fashion was much less tiring and annoying.
Henghuo asked him once, if their lord said anything about the purpose behind the event, but he didn’t know either. Truly mysterious were the ways of the Mobei Jun, thought Henghuo, not to share his motives even with his human best friend.
Somewhere in between the shared organizational work, Henghuo got to know Shang Qinghua minimally better, and he had to admit, he did have some depth one could get to after listening a lot.
He was experienced in logistics work from that funny human hill that Great Lord Luo Binghe’s human also came from. He spoke a lot, and quite often turned to complete babble in his ‘home dialect’, as he described it.
Sometimes Henghuo thought the most interesting things might said be in that rushed code of his, but he wasn’t in position to inquire, so he just listened and nodded occasionally.
However, what pleased Henghuo the most, was that Shang Qinghua respected and admired Mobei Jun almost as much as Henghuo. Possibly more, but hell if Henghuo would admit it.
His descriptions of their lord’s handsome appearance, good taste in clothing and finery, and even his little quirks in behavior were all on point and very appreciative. As they should be! Listening to the human’s prattle was considerably nicer when he started that topic, and it seemed Shang Qinghua noticed his reactions, because recently it felt like he sought him out deliberately from time to time just to talk poetics about the one demon they both admired.
The banquet was afoot. Henghuo made sure to scrub his horns and talons shiny that morning, and took out his most representative uniform before he went out to greet the guests. By the time everyone was seated at the long tables and the food serving staff took over, Henghuo was already tired and just stood obediently to the side while everyone ate and drank.
He looked around looking for the human. Just because he wanted to make sure none of the guests killed or ate him by accident, of course. Not because he hoped to hear his opinion on Mobei Jun’s new set of robes, because Henghuo kept track of them all and these were obviously recently commissioned and of the best quality!
To his worry though, he couldn’t find him among the staff, not anywhere next to the Great Lord Luo Binghe or Shen Qingqiu, that Shang Qinghua claimed to be acquainted with, and not among other guests either.
Just when he considered getting up to check the corridors for traces of blood, the side doors of the hall opened and a person slipped in. Mobei Jun must’ve noticed it too, because he rose from his seat and nodded at the person to come to his side.
Wait, was that Shang Qinghua? He was also dressed in something new!
Shang Qinghua seemed like he had planned to just slip in unnoticed and sit somewhere to the side, but when he noticed the silent command, he immediately turned his steps towards their lord.
Mobei Jun looked pleased, and turned to the guests raising their attention to himself. It seemed he was going to give a speech. Well, concise speech, or however it was called when a person was as smart and regal as Mobei Jun, and only ever needed to use under three sentences.
‘Everyone assembled, I’m getting married. I’m marrying Shang Qinghua in summer.’ – See! Two sentence----- The room was really silent.
Shang Qinghua stood still and visibly shocked by Mobei Jun’s side, and their lord reached for his wrist and raised his small arm like he was announcing his victory.
That Shang Qinghua could win.
Mobei Jun’s heart, apparently.
The stillness of the room seemed to take forever, and Henghuo’s mind went in fifty different directions at once.
Shang Qinghua was staring at their lord’s face, and it seemed the announcement was news to him as well.
Now that he thought, the human’s set of robes kind of matched the lord’s? Just lighter in color, thicker in volume and smaller. But still a complimentary style. That was fashionable of their lord, as expected of their lord.
Their lord that was marrying a human. Human male. Weak human male. Weak talkative human male. Weak talkative human male with no money or status.
Henghuo’s brain was trying to catch up, it really was, and Henghuo didn’t feel bad about it, because at least it was still working.
It didn’t seem so for Shang Qinghua, who just got grabbed by the face and kissed in front of every demon noble that mattered in the realm, and their accompanying staff. He didn’t seem to mind terribly though, because when he finally realized what was happening, he kissed back while his hands fumbled for a moment with Mobei Jun’s face and hair.
It was kind of sweet really, in a very detached way, because kissing publicly, much less kissing humans, was not something Henghuo could imagine his lord doing until just right now.
They stopped, much to everyone’s apparent relief, and sat down. Mobei Jun asked if there was anything Shang Qinghua wanted to say about their engagement.
Shang Qinghua for once in his life had nothing to say, mostly because he still seemed to be so shocked.
The room came back to life with doubled force. The congratulations mixed with bewilderment, disdain, disbelief and more congratulations, and Henghuo was, to be honest, quite surprised there were even that many positive responses.
Then he remembered that Great Lord Luo Binghe and his human spouse were still there, and realized that maybe it was not as completely shocking and unheard of as he had thought. Looking at them though, Great Lord Luo was neutral at most, and Master Shen Qingqiu was concealing his trembling behind a fan like he found the whole affair funny.
Haha. Yes, it was a bit funny. Henghuo smiled. At least it was obvious his lord loved the human for himself, because surely not for his status or great beauty. And even if the human was a bit weak and pathetic, their lord was so great, he could make up for that. Haha. They did seem happy, spending time together!
Looking over, Shang Qinghua was by now less shocked and more awed as he went back to his babbling ways. Mobei Jun sat there and appeared very pleased with himself as he half listened to the babble while looking at his fiancé fondly with narrowed eyes. Fiancé!
Oh gods! Their lord was marrying a human ex-servant, that was literally one step above marrying someone with Henghuo’s status, what kind of ridiculous mésalliance was that?! Couldn’t he at least make him a concubine or something!
Back at the table Mobei Jun was back to looking cold and regal while talking to the guests congratulating them in more or less sincere fashion, while Shang Qinghua looked mildly terrified of each of them. He was probably only able to reign in his habitual trembling because he was half hidden behind Mobei Jun’s deliberately protective stance.
But what about a great demon spouse Henghuo imagined, that would go hand in hand in combat with their lord, making a spectacle of each time they fought and landed blows on each other! If Mobei Jun tried to fight Shang Qinghua, he’d first have to stand in line with the nature, because the human seemed to freeze to the bones within two minutes of stepping outside in winter!
…Maybe they could fight in the hot room, that would put Mobei Jun at enough disadvantage to maybe spare Shang Qinghua a sliver of honor before he’d get beat anyway… Wait, that was not the point!
Apparently, it were still only demons that terrified Shang Qinghua, because when approached by Master Shen Qingqiu, he was immediately out of his protection space. Mobei Jun looked confused, so the humans must’ve switched to that weird ‘home dialect’ of theirs. Though going by how enthusiastic Shang Qinghua was to Master Shen’s unimpressed face, one would think it was him on the congratulating side.
And what about the children! Huh. What about them! Now that he thought, Henghuo couldn’t remember if human males could bear children. Could they? The demon males couldn’t, but maybe there was some way?
In any case Henghuo lowkey hoped it’d be Mobei Jun that carried the children, because he wouldn’t trust Shang Qinghua not to die somewhere in the process, and their lord naturally seemed more apt to protecting himself from enemies and surviving physical challenges… Hm, how many would they have?
No no, that was not his place to consider! There were other things!
The spouse he imagined had to treat the staff well! Damn, Shang Qinghua did treat the staff rather well. If you exclude talking at them a lot.
But he made work faster.
Mobei Jun looked almost sulky by now, with how Shang Qinghua’s attention was not on him. Well, as sulky as he could possibly look with his regal countenance and mature expression. Nonetheless, the human seemed to have gotten better at reading his expressions at last, because he looked up at him with a smile and leant a bit into the lord’s side in a rather cute gesture.
Just don’t say anyone that he thought that.
Maybe it wasn’t that bad.
Maybe apart from his human… existence, Shang Qinghua wouldn’t be THAT bad for their lord. Their lord never seemed interested in marrying anyone else either. It was good he was getting SOMEONE.
He wouldn’t be lonely, and he could continue to sit Shang Qinghua in the corners of the rooms he was in. Or on his beds.
Oh. Oh my god. Henghuo needed to trade a part of his schedule with someone RIGHT NOW.
The following weeks were probably the most harrowing in Henghuo’s life.
He imagined his lord and the lord’s favorite human would probably remember them quite fondly, because that’s what they were with each other lately, fondly, whenever they thought no one was looking.
Or maybe didn’t care even if someone was.
Never in his life, has Henghuo considered there was any injustice in his work conditions, but as he was scrubbing the floors for the second time along with ten other servants, and Shang Qinghua was complaining through giggles how the measuring tape tickled, he considered staging some sort of protest.
You’re getting fitted for some tiny version of the North’s most beautiful, intricate and adequately expensive robes, the wedding robes for Mobei Jun’s spouse! You can take some goddamn tickling, you human dumpling!, he wanted to scream.
Earlier that morning, he had to wait three hours as their Lord has taken up the kitchens to make noodles, because the human wanted noodles again, and who cares that the staff is starving and can’t go in to make their food!
He seriously considered just going outside to hunt something for himself, but no! Someone had to receive the newly commissioned chairs, tables, china and finery that were delivered every day from around the realm.
Some even from outside, as Master Shen went out of his way to send in some gifts from the human side of the world.
One would hope, that in this logistics challenge, there’d be at least some respite of Shang Qinghua’s expertise at work, but no! Henghuo could only sigh.
Obviously Shang Qinghua would be absolutely useless when it was his own party he was supposed to organize. It was to be expected really. Between the different fittings and decisions and most of all, being spoiled by Mobei Jun, not much of logistics work was being done, and the staff ran amok as always.
So in short, Henghuo was vexed and overworked, and maybe even a bit angry at his own Lord.
See! The human’s lousy influence was already showing!
But the truth was, that if there was someone apart from the main couple that wanted the wedding to be perfect, it was definitely Henghuo. To a human or not, the Mobei Jun he admired the most among all demons was getting married, and Henghuo was going to make it the most magnificent event, to tell his grandchildren about.
As a servant he had no status, no influence and no money, but at least he had his back to put to work to make it happen.
By the time of the wedding, Henghuo felt like he was to a war and back. Except the war was mostly with his back pain (do you know how much one has to overwork a demon to make his back hurt? Way more than a human, that’s for sure!) and flower arrangement (Henghuo had no idea why would one try to reanimate and pose already cut flower corpses, but humans always had weird ideas).
The whole affair was an eclectic mix of ice demon and human traditions, although some of Shang Qinghua’s ideas seemed highly unusual even for the human realm. There was exchanging blood and exchanging silver rings. There was slaying a beast together and slicing a sweet baked tower together. There were traditional drums of the North, and a human band playing some strange noises that Shang Qinghua taught them himself.
Of course, the human wouldn’t be himself if he didn’t mess up at some point, tripping on his truly exquisite robes. Thankfully Master Shen managed to catch his cape with one hand and pull him back before he faceplanted on the icy flooring.
The guests, including the human hill people, seemed adequately impressed by the ice palace and its adornments, and the feast which combined all the game from ritual premarital hunts and traditional alcohol made from the hide serpent’s--- oh, right, the lord said the humans would be better not knowing!
Most importantly though, Mobei Jun didn’t seem to regret his decision to marry the human-Hua. On the contrary, they both seemed extremely happy, to the point where both corners of Mobei Jun’s mouth went up equally high! His steps left frost in their wake, showing how brimming with excitement he was for the ceremony, and when the human put a ring on his finger, his eyebrows scrunched in enthusiasm!
With humans it was always more difficult to guess what they were signaling, but when the vows were exchanged and Mobei Jun embraced his new spouse (making him disappear completely behind the spacious fur cape, save for the small arms), he made some gestures to Master Shen. Henghuo wasn’t sure what the two outstretched fingers in horns’ shape meant, but Master Shen smiled rather widely at that, so it must’ve been something positive at least.
(And after that it got funny again, because apparently humans have such weak balance that when Mobei Jun tipped him backwards too much in the embrace, Shang Qinghua lost his footing and had to be pulled back on his feet again.)
Following day, it was time for the one tradition both realms had in common – a joint travel of the newly wed demon and human. Henghuo had no idea where were they going, as long as he wasn’t there. He had enough idea of what human screaming sounded like, and he’d much rather know they were actually dying, and not… well. Metaphorically dying.
And so, this time when the lord said he is free for the rest of the week, he just accepted, bowing gracefully and turned on his heel to leave. For once in his life, he was really glad not to accompany the Mobei Jun.