The Northern Empire's capital had broad streets that were bustling with lively people, large buildings on all sides. It was most certainly bigger than the typical villages and provinces.
Amid the busy crowd, a girl with a white veil covering her face rolled around. She was clothed in a pale peach dress, demure and poised, with a distinctive aura.
Walking beside her stood a handsome young man. He was tall and firm, but he didn't seem overly threatening. With long brows and handsome features, he exuded a noble yet chilly aura.
Rin darted her eyes around from beneath her veil and scoured them through the wide streets.
"I have to say, the city is much more lively than I remember." Her eyes looked up at the numerous shops.
His appearance still lazy and casual, An Sun looked around and nodded his head.
"It's pretty crowded." He muttered.
Rin smiled faintly at that but continued to look around with an intrigued gaze. Suddenly, her steps came to a halt. When An Sun noticed the girl walking beside him stop, he too paused his movements. He frowned and cast a glance at her.
"What is it?" He noticed her gaze was on a specific shop.
Realizing she had fallen into a daze, Rin cleared her throat and proceeded ahead.
"It's nothing." She quickly stepped past An Sun.
The eyebrow on An Sun's face rose. He looked in the direction she was previously looking at and saw a plum candy stand. As he pieced things together, the corners of his lips curled in amusement.
"Do you want to buy plum candy?"
Rin's movements stiffened. Although he couldn't see her face, with her skin like a pure white parchment paper, her cheeks became a little flushed and even the tips of her ears turned red.
She lowered her head, appearing shy as she coughed twice. She even turned and glanced at the candy stand. With her head still lowered, she muttered something. However, An Sun heard her clearly.
She said yes.
At that moment, Rin looked like a shy maiden with her emotions stirred up. It was the first he ever saw her like this. An Sun turned around, and at an angle that Rin couldn't see, the corners of his lips hooked up into a slight smile.
"Let's go," He cleared his throat, already walking over to the stand.
Rin's expression froze stiff for a moment. After a few seconds, she quickly followed after him. After buying one candy plum, Rin stared at it wonderingly. There was a sweet-smelling fragrance with tones of honey beginning to drift up.
When she bit into it, the chewy texture was accompanied by the taste of the delicious honey. The moment she swallowed, her mouth was filled with the fragrance of plums.
She hadn't eaten much in the morning before she went to go train under Uncle Guo. When she finished, she bathed and prepared for her outing with An Sun.
At this point, she was hungry!
Rin was too busy enjoying the delicious candy plum to notice An Sun, who was currently observing her in secret out of the corner of his eyes. Upon discovering the slight smile on her exposed lips, his eyes curved.
Clearing his throat, they continued with their walk. That was until Rin's eyes caught sight of another stand.
This time it was a rice cake stand.
Noticing her gaze again, An Sun raised a brow. "Do you want to buy that too?"
After a slight pause, Rin nodded her head. Once more, they walked to the stall and bought a set of rice cakes. Having thought that would be the end, they proceeded to explore the city.
Who would have thought, the longer their outing became, the more food was bought. An Sun felt they had visited almost every stand! Although it wasn't his money they were spending, he still couldn't help but be overwhelmed.
This was too much food for one girl!
Having been away from home for so long and deprived of delicious food, An Sun could understand her sudden eagerness. However, was she so deprived to resort to this much food?
The corners of An Sun's lips were twitching, and his expression didn't look quite right.
"Hey, don't you think this is a little…" An Sun began speaking when he suddenly paused.
Rin turned to him, blinking her big, innocent eyes as she looked at An Sun.
"A little what?" Her cheeks were currently stuffed with a black sesame rice cake she had just bought.
An Sun opened his mouth before quickly clamping it shut. He didn't know how to respond.
After a moment of thinking he finally cleared his throat and said, "This walk…it's a little long. Do you want to rest somewhere?"
Hearing his words, Rin nodded in agreement. He was right. They had been walking for a long time now.
"Any particular place you would like to go?" She asked.
"Anywhere is fine," He replied plainly.
Rin nodded. Her eyes darted around before her gaze landed on a tea shop.
"Then, that tea shop. Would you like to rest there?" She spoke as she pointed toward the building.
An Sun looked over. With no personal care for where they went, there weren't any words in his reply; just a simple affirmative 'mm'.
Thus, the two walked toward the city teashop.
"Please take a seat, young sir, and miss. Feel free to quench your thirst with some tea while you wait for us to attend to your order shortly." The host bowed while the two guests sat in their private room.
"We won't need anyone to tend us. If there is nothing else, please refrain from disturbing my brother and me."
The host was slightly surprised. She glanced her head up from her bowing position and saw the veiled girl sitting by the window. Although hidden, her appearance could be compared to a flower in bloom.
"Yes." She bowed before hastily closing the private room door.
With just the two left in the room, Rin finally took off the veil from her face with a sigh.
"It was getting quite warm wearing this veil all the time." She raised her thin, delicate hand and brushed the hair on her face to the side.
When she looked up, she saw An Sun's usual stern face looking at her with no particular expression.
"Brother?" He raised his brows.
Rin faintly sighed and focused her attention on the tea before them.
While pouring the warm, fragrant beverage into their cups, she said, "It's the only reasonable excuse I could give. It would be too conspicuous for a male and female to be alone together in a private room."
Passing the steaming cup of tea to An Sun, she smiled. "Here, try. From what I've heard it's one of the best teas in the northern capital."
An Sun glanced at the cup in her hand before quietly taking it. A nice fragrance lingered in the air from the tea as the two sat in silence. The table faced the direction of the morning sun, so the sunlight was streaming in from a nearby window, warming them up.
Rin's face was bright and beautiful, the light makeup she wore showed off her great skin. She was currently looking in the direction of the large window with a deep and serene look.
"How come you don't dress like this often?" She heard An Sun suddenly ask.
Turning her head, Rin's brows suddenly rose. "Are you suggesting you like this appearance of mine better?"
An Sun's eyes widened. After staring foolishly for a while, he cleared his throat with a slight flush in his cheeks.
"It was just a question." He grumbled, lifting the cup of tea to his lips. His sharp eyebrows furrowed a little when drinking the contents. It was bitter.
The corners of Rin's lips twitched upwards in soundless laughter. She took a sip of her tea.
"I only dress this way when it's convenient. Similar to when I dress as a man."
Right after she finished speaking, the two went silent.
"Do you also behave differently when it's convenient?" A trace of coldness flashed across An Sun's dark eyes.
Rin remained her usual calm and easygoing self. "Is there a difference between that and survival?"
An Sun could not refute. If he were, he would just be a hypocrite. From his years of living in the An Clan, when didn't he need to behave cautiously?
If he were to act how he pleased, he was sure An Hongyu would have thrown him out by now. His pupils began to darken as he was lost in his thoughts.
When Rin's voice spoke up again, he looked up. "However, those sorts of things are not necessary when it comes to the people I trust."
An Sun was still staring at her, trying to decipher the emotions on her face.
He was calm as he replied, "Then out of all your conveniences, is this your true face? Is this the real you?"
Rin glanced at him. She remained her usual calm and easygoing self and said, "Do you not trust me?"
"That depends, who exactly am I to trust?" An Sun's tone was very cool and impersonal. "Bai Lan, Bai Rin…or the identity you keep hidden?"
Rin kept calm and maintained a gentle, charming expression on her face, without any trace of anxiety. After staring at one another for a while, Rin sighed back in her seat.
"In the end, they're all a part of me. There are no multiple faces, it's just Rin."
"Then can I trust Rin?"
"On?" An Sun's brows furrowed.
The corner of Rin's lips curved up, exposing the two faint dimples on her cheeks. "On whether not I can trust you, An Sun."
The man was stunned for at least three seconds before he regained his senses. She had just hurled his previous words right back at him.
All of a sudden, An Sun broke out into a smile, and he let out a peal of relaxed laughter. That spontaneous, genuine smile shocked Rin silly.
That display of emotions was rare to see. Compared to his usual cool facade, Rin felt that this friendly, warm look suited An Sun more.
"Then I guess I'll continue to trust you, Rin." He raised his cup toward her, a smile on his lips.
Rin chuckled. She lifted her cup. "I too will continue trusting you, Sun."
The two clinked their teacups together.
When the two left the tea shop, the sun had already begun to set. Just when they decided to return to the Bai Manor, a voice suddenly caused their movements to halt.
Hearing the sound of a man's clear and deep voice, Rin inwardly sighed to herself. Looking over her shoulder, veil on her face, she looked at him with clear but emotionless eyes.
The man adorned in brocade fabrics stood a few feet from the two, his black eyes wide. His features were absolute perfection, paired with his fair skin, he didn't lose to An Sun's looks at all. However, his aura was much gentler.
Standing before the two of them was none other than the Northern Empire's Crown Prince, Kang Jing.
Rin's former fiancé.
A/N: I changed the Crown Prince's name from a previous chapter because I've come to realize his original name was in Japanese.
Winter had begun to pass, gradually changing to spring, right at the time when the air was starting to warm up, and the flowers were starting to bloom. The temperature outside was comfortable.