How Could I Keep Such a Secret?
Gan Ning had done his best to avoid Sun Ce's eyes as they rode north, but he knew his lord was closely watching him and Mi Tei for the slightest hint of their betrayal. It was easy to keep quiet though. He did not want the burden he bore. He had forgotten about his visit to Lu Xun's tent that night, but retiring to bed had done him no favors. Left to his own thoughts, he had finally understood the weight of what he had heard in the dark.
There were many secrets of the Wu empire, it seemed, and he was now a keeper of more than he wanted. He glanced at Mi Tei, but just as he had been avoiding Sun Ce, she avoided them both, choosing to reign her horse and fall back to her soldiers and two guards. Someone had given Wu Cao Cao's plans, but he had never known it was her. She had gone to the bed of one of his generals to get them, something Gan Ning had not imagined her capable of, though he realized that it should not have come as a surprise. She had been fanatical in her devotion to Sun Shang Xiang and her service of Wu. If anyone would have done anything for the Sun family, it was the princess's bodyguard.
Then there was Sun Ce's indiscretion. It was really the heart of the matter. Gan Ning tried to convince himself that it was none of his concern. He certainly did not usually toy with the court games of love and romance. He had fallen into something with Lu Xun, something he did not want to name, even to himself, but he kept up the pretense of being a rogue and a scoundrel, a man who loved women, and there were plenty to love. That man inside him told him to ignore it, to simply allow Sun Ce his affair to run its course. The other half of his conscience knew better though, and it was winning the argument. He knew the danger Sun Ce placed himself and his kingdom in if the affair should go array. A knife in the dark, a poison in his cup, a fall from a great height, all those fates could await the Wu emperor for his secret passion. Gan Ning could prevent that, could save his lord from destruction if only he had the will to do so.
The way Mi Tei had sworn her loyalty made him burn with an uncomfortable feeling. It was somewhere between shame and jealousy. His allegiance to Wu was just as strong as hers, if not stronger, and she had not hesitated to fight against him and Sun Ce. She had spoken frankly, as if she had some right to question their lord openly. Only Zhou Yu spoke to the Sun family as though he were one of them, and he seemed composed, ignorant of what worried Gan Ning so much.
If Sun Ce was keeping this a secret from even Zhou Yu, Gan Ning had no choice but to protect his emperor, even from himself. As he gripped the reigns of his horse, he steeled his jaw, resolving to catch Mi Tei's attention when they stopped. They had much to discuss.
"Lady, Gan Ning requests an audience," her guard announced.
Mi Tei looked up from her letter, one that would never be sent, and brushed the bristles of her pen on the ink stone. She did not slow in her writing. Her guard shifted from foot to foot nervously but did not push for an answer. Mi Tei had known the pirate would come, or rather she had hoped, for she was too proud to go to him after he had shoved her so bitterly to the ground. She was not weak and she was not used to being pushed over, treated like a useless woman. She had proven years before that she was useful to Sun Shang Xiang and Wu, she would not go backwards.
"You may send him in, and then you may leave," Mi Tei said quietly. A moment later, the flap of her tent flipped open and fell closed again and she could sense his presence there.
"You know why I am here," Gan Ning said quickly.
Mi Tei continued to brush the characters across the parchment, not glancing up at him, not wanting to look into his eyes. She wanted to seethe silently for a bit longer, before they had to face what they both knew needed their combined attentions. For the moment though, she wrote, the practiced movements bringing her some comfort on a day when it was difficult to find.
"Mi Tei," Gan Ning said, his voice becoming slightly annoyed.
"You have interrupted," she replied. All that remained was to write her name upon the page. She did so and placed the brush down on the table. Then, slowly and methodically, she picked up the paper, ink still wet, and touched the corner to the flame of her candle, the fire greedily licking up the fuel and burning down toward her fingers. She dropped it in the metal tray beside it and watched as it was devoured, her longing taken with it. Before she looked up, she replaced the mask of a warrior on her face.
"How dramatic," Gan Ning commented.
Mi Tei did not acknowledge it. "You requested an audience."
"There must be something done," Gan Ning said seriously.
"Yes, I concur," Mi Tei said. "But what do you propose, Gan Ning?"
"We've really left ourselves with few options," he said, collapsing onto her pile of furs that hid her bed. She wrinkled her nose, not liking him there. "We can stop him, stop her from coming, but we must do this ourselves. He asked that we keep his secret, not aid him in seeing the whore."
"Or we can help him," Gan Ning said sourly.
"He is our Emperor," Mi Tei said. "The first option is an act against his wishes, treason, if you will. The second is madness. There must be a way to help him understand."
"Unless he believes there is more to this affair than a warm bed and soft caresses," Gan Ning said, his eyes darkening.
"Do you believe there is? That our Emperor summons her here for more than the comfort of a woman's skin?" Mi Tei asked solemnly.
Gan Ning stood, beginning to pace the small tent. "No, no, I cannot say for sure," he said.
The tent flap suddenly opened and Mi Tei's guard stepped in, bowing deeply and apologizing for intruding. Mi Tei did not move to reprimand the woman for interrupting so brashly, but saw the panic flash across Gan Ning's face.
"You will never repeat what you have heard," Mi Tei commanded, though it was already an unspoken agreement she had with the woman. They both knew the importance of secrecy from a shared past; that was why she was Mi Tei's guard.
"Lady, the Emperor, our Lord and Light, he wishes to speak with you...and Lord Gan Ning, in his tent," she said, head still bowed.
The officers exchanged a glance, dreading that their questions would be answered.
Sun Ce stalked into his tent with every intention of smashing something, but the opportunity never presented itself. Gan Ning and Mi Tei both stood at the sight of him and knelt into deep bows, their eyes downcast. It took a moment for the Emperor of Wu to regain his composure. He had not expected them so soon, though he had ordered them to his tent.
"Stand up," he commanded and sank down onto the chair at his map table. As an after thought, he pulled the heavy fur coat around his body closer at the chill of the air.
"My Lord, what do you require of us?" Gan Ning asked.
"I trust the two of you to keep your word to me," Sun Ce began. They exchanged a glance. "Was I wrong to do so?"
"No, my Lord," Gan Ning said. "We have told no one, but we are concerned about your activities."
"Then hear this," Sun Ce said firmly, his temper flaring. "It is not your duty to question my will. You are officers under my command and I will not have you interfer."
"How can we not, my Lord?" Mi Tei asked boldly. "You are our Emperor, we love you dearly, like we love the sun in our life."
Sun Ce's eyes narrowed. "Because it is my choice," he told her. "I have come very far to rule Wu province. Our lands have expanded much with the sacrifices of my father and myself. I will have some comfort in this life."
"Of course, my Lord," Gan Ning said. "But from an enemy? We find it hard to understand."
"You may speak for yourself, Gan Ning, but I am certain Mi Tei knows well what I have found," Sun Ce said, looking straight at the woman he spoke of. She did not flinch, her face impassive, and it annoyed him. "Perhaps you would like to hear her tale?"
"You would be so unkind to me?" Mi Tei asked, her wavering voice betraying the calm on her face for being false.
The question stung, though Sun Ce tried to ignore it. He knew he could not be so spiteful. Though he was furious, his campaign beginning to go badly because of some thieves, concealing his secret affair consuming more energy than he wished to expend, he could not treat her with so much cruelty, not after all he had already shown her, yet she still remained a loyal subject.
"My Lord," Gan Ning said. "I would like nothing more than to speak freely to you once. I shall not request it again upon this delicate matter."
"My, how this pirate has reformed into a proper gentleman," Sun Ce remarked. "Who would know now where we found you?" He waved his hand. "I grant you permission to speak, Gan Ning, but if you ask questions, I do not guarantee answers."
"Thank you, my Lord," Gan Ning said, and paused, making Sun Ce feel slightly uneasy before he began, though the emperor decided that had been the point. "I became a servant of Wu out of respect, for Lord Sun Quan. I have stayed for years, serving your house with my blade, cutting down your enemies for a brighter future. I only ask if that future is still your pursuit."
Sun Ce shifted in his chair, sitting up taller. "Of course."
"Then I will still serve you as best I can," Gan Ning said. "I wanted to cut her down the moment I saw her, my Lord. I wanted to destroy her for Wu. She fought against us, but now she is by your side, if only in secret. But for how long? How long will she stay with you? And how long will you stay with her?"
"Don't," Mi Tei interrupted, seeing the look on Sun Ce's face. He had not been masking his emotions, and they clearly showed his officers what they had been trying to gain the truth about.
"Love," Gan Ning said quietly, glancing to Mi Tei.
"For love," she said quietly. "The worst of our fears."
"And why the worst?" Sun Ce asked them, his hand moving slowly to massage his temple. "Should I not love something other than war and conquering this land?" He kicked at the map table and leapt to his feet. "For love, I betray my family, I lie to those closest to me. And you tell me it is the worst of your fears. Tell me, why is love a terrible prospect?"
"Love is difficult," Gan Ning said evenly.
"And love is unpredictable," Mi Tei added.
Sun Ce looked from one to the other; they had discussed this at length. He had not summoned them soon enough. They would convince him to give her up, and where would he be then? Anger surged in him once again and he glared at one then the other. "You will help me."
Another glance, another silent flicker of communication.
"You, Gan Ning, Mi Tei, will help me keep this secret," Sun Ce said lowly. "You will help me see Diao Chan again."
Note: It's been a while since I wrote much of fan fiction. I'd really appreciate reviews, even to say that you hate it, the direction I've gone, the realism is terrible. I DO plan to finish this, no matter how many reviews I do or don't get, but anything is better than hits and visitors but no notice that it really exists. Thanks for reading this far ^^