Chapter 64: Tenderness—Part Two
Translated by K of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
Wei WuXian picked up his flute and played a section according to the score. As expected, the two parts of the melody were disconnected. The half of the score on the first page wasn’t the same song as that on the second page at all.
There should be another page between these two pages. It had been torn off, cautiously, stealthily.
The person tore the page with a lot of care. There wasn’t a single trace left of the page, which made it difficult to be discovered. Wei WuXian turned over the book. On the dark blue cover, there was a title of three characters.
Wei WuXian, “The Collection of Turmoil? What book is this? The songs in it sound a bit strange.”
Lan WangJi, “A song collection from Dongying.”
Wei WuXian, “From Dongying? So that’s why the tune soundd a bit different from the ones over here.”
Lan XiChen’s expression was complex, “… Legendarily, The Collection of Turmoil, is a collection of dark songs gathered by one of the GusuLan Sect’s cultivators during his years of wandering when he was travelling by water and arrived in Dongying. The songs in this book, if played along with spiritual energy, are able to harm others, from weakening the body to irritating the mind to agitating the spirit to shutting the senses… Those with great spiritual power could take others’ lives in just seven notes.”
Wei WuXian slammed the desk, “This is the one!”
He was so happy that when he slammed the desk, he almost knocked over the paper lantern on it. Lan WangJi moved it upright just in time. Wei WuXian spoke, “Sect Leader Lan, within the The Collection of Turmoil, is there any that can disturb a person’s composure, making them irritated, agitated, violent, easily-angered?”
Lan XiChen, “… There should be.”
Wei WuXian, “Jin GuangYao’s spiritual energy isn’t high. He wouldn’t have been able to take someone’s life with just seven notes. And killing him this way would’ve been too obvious. He definitely wouldn’t have chosen a song so powerful. But, if he could use the reason of playing the Song of Clarity for ChiFeng-Zun to calm his temper and continued to play it for three months, would the song be able to act as a slow poison and catalyse ChiFeng-Zun’s outburst?”
Lan XiChen, “… Yes.”
Wei WuXian, “Then, the speculation would be very much reasonable. The torn score not part of Cleansing belonged to a missing page of the The Collection of Turmoil. All of the Dongying songs recorded in The Collection of Turmoil are complex and difficult to master. He didn’t have time to copy them down in the forbidden room and could only tear it out—no, that wouldn’t be right. Jin GuangYao is able to look at something once and never forget it again. He tore the page out not because he couldn’t memorize it, but that there’d be no proof once it was gone. To ensure, even if one day it came to light or if he was caught red-handed, nobody would be able to find the source of the melody.”
“All that he’s done has been with extreme caution. In front of you, he was clearly playing the correct version of Cleansing. ChiFeng-Zun wasn’t someone passionate about the arts. He had heard you, Sect Leader Lan, play Cleansing before and knew the overall melody of it. Thus, Jin GuangYao didn’t dare straight up play to him the dark song and instead took trouble to combine two songs of different styles with opposite uses. And he combined them so well. They sound as though there were the same. His musical talent is indeed excellent. I’m guessing that he used little spiritual power in the Cleansing sections and only exerted power in the section of The Collection of Turmoil. After all, ChiFeng-Zun wasn’t familiar with this method of cultivation, so of course he wouldn’t realize the fact that Jin GuangYao had already changed one of the sections into a dark, life-taking tune!”
After a while of silence, Lan XiChen whispered, “… Although he had often visited the Cloud Recesses, I have never told him about the forbidden chamber within the Lan Sect’s Library Pavilion.”
Wei WuXian, “Sect Leader Lan, apologies for the bluntness, but during the Sunshot Campaign, Jin GuangYao was a spy in Nightless City of the QishanWen Sect, and a very good spy at that. He could even find Wen RuoHan’s secret chamber, sneak inside without anyone noticing, memorize all of the maps and scrolls, and write from memory all of the information before sending it to Koi Tower. Before him, the forbidden room of the Lan Sect’s Library Pavilion… really isn’t anything.”
Lan XiChen took into his hands the piece of paper with the score on it. He stared at it for a while, “I will find some way to try this score.”
Lan WangJi, “Brother?”
Lan XiChen, “When Brother passed away, the siege at Burial Mound had already passed and Young Master Wei was no longer in this world. If after trials, this part of the score really is able to disturb the mind and not merely made up, I will…”
Wei WuXian, “ZeWu-Jun, trying the song on living people might oppose the GusuLan Sect’s sect rules.”
Lan XiChen, “I will try it on myself.”
How, as the sect leader of the GusuLan Sect, he could say such an almost ridiculous thing meant that his heart was already in a tangle. Lan WangJi raised his voice slightly, “Brother!”
Lan XiChen supported his head on his hand. His voice was low, as though he was trying to hold something back, “WangJi, the version of Jin GuangYao that I know is entirely different compared to the version that you know and the version that the world knows! Throughout all these years, in my eyes, he has always been… enduring his suffer, caring for all people, treating everyone with respect. I have always believed, without a doubt, that the criticism he received from others all came from misunderstandings, that what I knew how he truly is. Now, you want me to believe, at once, that everything about this person is fake, that he planned to kill one of his sworn brothers, that I was also a part of his plan and even helped him… Could you please allow me some more discretion before I make my own judgement?”
Lan XiChen had taught Jin GuangYao the Song of Clarity, keeping in mind the grudge between Jin GuangYao and Nie MingJue, hoping that they could be how they used to be. He requested Jin GuangYao to help calm Nie MingJue in place of him. Who would’ve known that his kindness made possible Jin GuangYao’s cruelty? How should he face himself now?
None of the three said anything. After they had walked out of the Library Pavilion, Lan WangJi finally spoke, “I will go see Uncle.”
Having been silent for a long time, Lan XiChen spoke as well, “I will bring Young Master Wei back. You can come afterwards.”
Leading Wei WuXian, he walked along the white-pebble paths of the Cloud Recesses for a while before they returned to the secluded, gentian-filled cottage in the depths of the mountains. Wei WuXian stood in front of the door, “Does Mr. Lan know that HanGuang-Jun…”
Lan XiChen, “Uncle has just woken up. I told everyone not to tell him anything unnecessary.”
If Lan QiRen knew of the things that Lan WangJi did with him under Koi Tower, he’d definitely be so angry that he passed out right after he had woken up. Wei WuXian, “Much thanks to Senior Lan for all of the work that he’s done.”
Lan XiChen, “Uncle has done a lot of work indeed.”
Suddenly, he spoke, “Young Master Wei, do you know what this house is for?”
Wei WuXian, “ZeWu-Jun, why would you think that I’d know?”
Lan XiChen glanced at him, “This was where my mother lived back then in the Cloud Recesses.”
Lan XiChen’s mother was Lan WangJi’s mother. Wei WuXian found this a bit strange. The residences of all of the GusuLan Sect’s sect leaders had been the ‘Hanshi’, which was definitely not this little house hidden in a corner of the Cloud Recesses. Perhaps Lan WangJi’s parents were in an unsuitable but pre-arranged marriage like Jiang FengMian and Madam Yu, and thus lived in separation?
No matter how one thought about it, there couldn’t be a positive reason behind how a sect leader didn’t live together with his wife. And, it was said that the wife of the previous sect leader QingHeng-Jun was quite physically weak. She was resting most of the time and it was unsuitable for her to meet others. People didn’t know much about her to begin with. Behind their backs, all of the sects guessed whether or not the ‘sickness’ was something shameful, such as a scar on the face or a handicap. And thus, Wei WuXian didn’t ask too much into it and maintained silence, waiting for Lan XiChen to explain.
Lan XiChen, “Young Master Wei, you should know that my father usually meditated in seclusion and never interacted with the rest of the world too often. Throughout all these years, the GusuLan Sect has been taken care of by Uncle almost single-handedly.”
Wei WuXian, “That I do know.”
Lan XiChen dropped his hand. The hand that he held Liebing with was hidden within his sleeve. He spoke slowly, “The reason that my father often practiced secluded meditation was my mother. This place, compared to a place of living… was more like a place of detention.”
Wei WuXian was surprised.
The father of ZeWu-Jun and HanGuang-Jun, QingHeng-Jun, used to be a famous cultivator. He made his name at a young age and had many things waiting for him in the future. However, at the age of twenty, he suddenly backed away and announced his marriage. He had also ceased to care for much of the world. Although it was called secluded meditation, it was much more like retirement. People had come up with many possible reasons, but none of them had been verified.
Lan XiChen bent down amid the clusters of gentians. He gently stroked those thin, tender petals, “When my father was young, when he returned from a night-hunt once, he saw my mother outside of Gusu city.” He smiled, “I heard that it was love at first sight.”
Wei WuXian grinned as well, “The young are often sentimental.”
Lan XiChen continued, “However, the woman did not care for him as much. In addition, she killed one of my father’s teachers.”
This was beyond imagination. Although Wei WuXian knew that asking too many questions would be very rude, whenever he remembered that those were Lan WangJi’s parents, he felt that he just had to ask. “Why?!”
Lan XiChen, “I do not know. But, I assume that it was something along the lines of ‘grievances’.”
Wei WuXian didn’t ask anymore into this and forced down his curiosity, “And… what happened later?”
“And then,” Lan XiChen explained, “When my father heard of this, of course he was in much pain. But, no matter how he struggled, he still took the woman to his sect in secrecy. Ignoring the objections from his clan, he knelt with her for the Heavens and the Earth without making a sound and told everyone in the clan that she would be his wife for the rest of his life, that whoever wanted to harm her would have to pass through him first.”
Wei WuXian widened his eyes.
Lan XiChen continued, “After the ceremony was completed, my father found a house and locked my mother inside. He found another house and locked himself inside. It was called secluded meditation, but it was in truth to repent.”
He paused before speaking again, “Young Master Wei, can you understand why he did such a thing?”
Wei WuXian answered after a moment of silence, “He could neither forgive the one who killed his teacher nor watch the death of the woman who he loved. He could only marry her to protect her life and force himself not to see her.”
Lan XiChen, “Do you think that this was right?”
Wei WuXian, “I don’t know.”
Lan XiChen looked somewhat lost, “Then, what do you think would be right?”
Wei WuXian, “I don’t know.”
A while later, Lan XiChen whispered, “It could be said that my father did this without a care for anything else. All of the seniors of the clan were enraged, but they had all watched him grow up. They could not do anything except guard the secret, hint to the outside world that the wife of the GusuLan Sect’s sect leader had an unspeakable disease and could not see others. After WangJi and I were born, we were immediately taken out to be cared for by other people. When we grew older, we were brought to Uncle to be taught.
“My uncle… has always had a frank personality to begin with. Because of how my mother caused my father to destroy his own life, he began to hate those who behaved improperly even more. Thus, he poured his heart into teaching WangJi and me. He was especially harsh as well. Every month, we could only see Mother once, inside of this cottage.”
They were two young children, who faced everyday only their harsh uncle, strict teachings, and mountains of books. No matter how tired, they had to straighten their soft backs to be the most outstanding disciples of the clan, the model students in others’ eyes. They could rarely see their closest relatives. They couldn’t fool around in their father’s arms, they couldn’t act spoiled in front of their mother.
But they had clearly done nothing wrong.
Lan XiChen, “Everytime WangJi and I went to see her, she had never complained about how tedious it was locked inside of here, unable to go out one step. She had never asked about our studies, either. She especially liked to tease WangJi, but WangJi, the more you tease him the less willing he is to talk, the worse of an expression he puts on. He has been like this ever since he was young. However,” he chuckled, “even though WangJi never said it, I knew that every month he was looking forward to the day he could see Mother. He was like this, and I was the same.”
Wei WuXian imagined a young Lan WangJi hugged inside of his mother’s arms, his snowy little cheeks flushed pink. He laughed as well. But before his smile had even melted, Lan XiChen continued, “But one day, Uncle suddenly told us that we would not need to go any longer.
“Mother was gone.”
Wei WuXian’s voice was soft, “How old was Lan Zhan back then?”
Lan XiChen, “Six.”
He continued, “He was still too young to understand what ‘gone’ means. No matter how much others comforted him, how much Uncle scolded him, he would continue to come back here every single month, sit down in the hallway, and wait for someone to open the door for him. When he grew older, he understood that Mother would not come back anymore, that nobody would open the door for him, but he kept on coming here.”
Lan XiChen stood up. His dark eyes looked into Wei WuXian’s, “WangJi has been this stubborn ever since he was young.”
The leaves rustled and the gentian flowers swished alongside the wind, their scent lingering. Wei WuXian’s eyes landed on the wooden hallway of the cottage. He could almost see a small child wearing a forehead ribbon sitting in proper posture in front of the house, waiting quietly for the door to open.
He spoke, “Madam Lan must’ve been a very gentle woman.”
Lan XiChen, “In my memories, Mother had indeed been so. I do not know why she did such a thing back then. And, in truth, I…”
He took in a deep breath before confessing, “Do not want to know either.”
After a few moments of silence, Lan XiChen closed his eyes. He took out Liebing. A gust of night wind suddenly sent forth a sobbing note of the xiao. The sound was deep, like a sigh.
Wei WuXian had heard Lan XiChen play Liebing before. Its timbre was just like Lan XiChen himself, as warm and graceful as the breeze and the rain of spring. Yet, now, although his technique was as excellent as ever, the tone evoked a strange mixture of feelings.
The night wind swept by. Lan XiChen’s hair and forehead ribbon were already somewhat disheveled. However, the GusuLan Sect’s sect leader, who had always regarded appearance highly, didn’t pay any attention to them. He only put down Liebing after the song had finished, “Music is forbidden at night in the Cloud Recesses. Today I have gone many times too far. Excuse me, Young Master Wei.”
Wei WuXian, “How so? ZeWu-Jun, have you forgotten that the person standing in front of you is the person who has broken the most rules…”
Lan XiChen smiled, “The GusuLan Sect had never revealed to the outside WangJi and my pasts. I should not have told you. Tonight was my sudden urge to unburden myself, a spur of the moment.”
Wei WuXian, “I’m not the kind of person who talks too much. Don’t worry, ZeWu-Jun.”
Lan XiChen, “Regardless, I would assume that WangJi would not hide anything from you anyways.”
Wei WuXian, “If he doesn’t wish to talk about something then I won’t ask.”
Lan XiChen, “But, with WangJi’s personality, how could he say anything if you do not ask? There are some things that even if you ask him he would not say.”
Wei WuXian was going to speak again when he heard footsteps come from behind him. He turned around to see Lan WangJi approach, bathed in moonlight. His right hand held two round liquor jars with red covers. Wei WuXian’s eyes lit up, “HanGuang-Jun, you really are considerate!”
Dongying: This refers to Japan, though I decided to use the pinyin to keep it wuxia-sounding.
the Heavens and the Earth: Kneeling to the Heavens and the Earth is the last of the three kneels during the Chinese marriage ceremony.