Chapter 68: Fallen Flowers Drifting in the Current
Translated by Vivian of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
A few temple block sounds came from the pitch-black street, and then the watchman shouted, “The weather is dry, be careful of your candles!”
Xiahou Lian and a group of underlings were lying in ambush on the two sides of a street. His back was against a pillar, and he was hiding in the shadow of a column. To his left and right were underlings the same as him, their left hands pressed on their goose quill sabers and their breaths adjusted to the lightest. Their black yesa robes practically melted into one with the darkness, and only the embroidery on their chests and backs flowed with a dark gold brilliance, a ferociousness that flashed past.
Today was his third day of becoming an officer in the Eastern Depot’s fifth division. They had been ordered to lie in ambush in Qianmen Street 1 to arrest a remaining member of the Wei Faction, Li Xian. He clenched his fists and the scars were stretched, itching numbly.
He had recuperated at home for half a month, and the tooth in his mouth had also been filled. He originally hadn’t planned on filling it, as it was missing inside anyway, so besides meat getting stuck in it when eating, there weren’t many hindrances. Shen Jue had insisted on pressing his head and getting people to fill it, and they had even used ivory. Forget it, more debt didn’t weigh on the body, and he owed Shen Jue so much anyway, so he could afford this one. He had also asked Shen Jue the whereabouts of Tang Shiqi, but Shen Jue had said that he hadn’t seen a person like this and reckoned that he had escaped. Xiahou Lian had been on the edge with worry for Tang Shiqi, and when he had originally seen that the things in his secret dens were at Shen Jue’s place, he had thought that it hadn’t boded well for that brat. Fortunately, he had already fled. Shen Jue had transported all of his sabers, spears, clubs, clothes, shoes, and socks to his house, saying that at the time he had been afraid that they would be stolen so he had safeguarded them for him. Although, he didn’t know why Shen Jue would feel that people would want to steal erotica, sweat towels, and underpants.
He was still using the name of Xiahou Lian, as there were countless people in the world with the same name. His appearance had already changed, so he wasn’t afraid of people saying that he was a Garan assassin. Some of Shen Jue’s trusted aides should have guessed his identity, but many of them weren’t clean themselves. Most of the trusted aides under Shen Jue had come from the martial arts world. Some had been bandits, some had smuggled salt, and some had even been pirates. They were able to settle down now because Shen Jue had helped them clean up. In their eyes, Xiahou Lian was also a capable person who had been recruited by Shen Jue like this.
The rattling of carriages sounded in the depths of the street. Xu Ruoyu, who was standing across from Xiahou Lian, pursed his lips and imitated a few bird calls. All of the underlings immediately became alert, put their right hands on the hilts of their sabers, and stuck to the pillars, their gazes looking at the distant darkness.
Xu Ruoyu was the division leader of the fifth division. It had been him who had played the role of King Fu last time, and it was said that he had mixed with theatrical troupes before. The smile was already gone from his face that looked joyous, and there was a grim killing intent at the corners of his eyes and the tips of his brows.
Two carriages drove over, one in the front and one in the back, and they soon entered the center of Qianmen Street. The underlings filed out, handbows on their arms as they blocked the carriages’ ways. Xu Ruoyu showed his ivory block and shouted sternly, “The Eastern Depot is catching people. Those inside, come down to be checked!”
There was no movement in the carriages, as if they had died. In the empty night, only the breathing of the underlings could be heard. The underlings were surprised to discover that there were no coachmen at either of the carriages’ front armrests. The carriages stopped slightly in the center of the street, as if they were hearse carriages that had driven over from the underworld.
“I’ll say it again, those inside, come down!”
Right after he said this, a subtle and sharp sound came in the air, as if fabric had been torn. Xiahou Lian’s eyebrows jumped, and he knocked Xu Ruoyu away, swiftly drawing his saber. The mercury-like light of the saber flowed out, and two short black arrows striking the blade of the drawn saber one after another, two silver fluorescent lights splashing like water droplets.
Xu Ruoyu roared, “Shoot arrows! Go!”
Crossbow arrows shot into the night, whistling as they plunged into the curtains of the carriage. However, only several muffled sounds were heard, and then all noises were gone, as if they had escaped into an unknown void. The underlings put away their handbows and pulled their sabers out of their scabbards, the golden hilts and blade collars sparkling.
Xiahou Lian leapt onto the carriage’s armrest and continuously slashed horizontally. The carriage’s curtains broke into four pieces and floated down, revealing the empty compartment behind them. There was no one in the compartment! Xiahou Lian realized something was wrong, but it was already too late! As if something icy was pricking his back, his assassin instincts forced him to look up, and the severe and destructive light of an arc fell directly on him. At the same time, a tearing sound that made one’s teeth ache sounded from underneath his feet. It was a blade impaling the wooden boards under his feet, nearing him!
Pressing him from above and below!
Xiahou Lian rolled on the spot and entered the carriage compartment, and the hem of his clothes was cut by the point of the saber that emerged from below. Xiahou Lian didn’t stop. He directly rammed against the rear panel of the carriage, his blade as the vanguard, brazenly piercing the wooden partition with the strength of his forward lunge. He heard the dull sound of his saber piercing into flesh and blood, and dark red blood flowed out from the saber’s blood groove. The gold reflected the blood, gold and red interweaving, which contained a ferocious beauty. He rammed against the wooden partition once again, the partition collapsed suddenly, and he plunged into the night against the wooden boards. The boards fell to the ground, breaking into pieces, and a man dressed in black was even pressed underneath them.
These sabersmen had been lying in ambush behind the carriage’s back panel and underneath the carriage’s base frame, creeping like spiders along with the carriage. Xiahou Lian roared, “Be careful of above and below!”
The underlings surrounded the carriage and threw out iron hooks. The hooks bit tightly onto the carriage curtains, and underlings on two sides pulled at the same time. The carriage curtains collapsed entirely, bits of wood flying. The figure of the man on top of the carriage fell down, and the narrow and long saber he held in both hands was as piercingly cold as frost amid the dust. The man underneath also climbed up, back to back with his companion. The underlings lunged over, and in an instant, sabers strangled each other in the air, their lights splashing like rain.
Xiahou Lian walked before the second carriage and used the spine of his saber to knock on the carriage’s armrest, saying, “Come down.”
The carriage curtains were parted by a hand, and a thin man’s cheeks appeared in the darkness. Behind him, there were also a woman and two children, a boy and a girl, looking to be ten years old.
Li Xian looked at Xiahou Lian, his lips trembling. “You and I both know Shen Jue’s methods. Let me live, and I’ll give all of my wealth and property to you.”
“No.” Xiahou Lian continued to use the spine of his saber to knock the armrest, the tapping seeming like a persistent urging. “Come down.”
“You’re a good man, why are you willing to be Shen Jue’s running dog!”
Xiahou Lian smiled disdainfully. “That’s still better than being Wei De’s drowning dog. And,” he licked his lips and said, “my governor is handsome. Let alone being a dog, I’d be willing to even be the mud under his feet!”
“You!” Li Xian’s eyes gradually became somber. “Then I can only… offend you!”
The light of a saber as bright as snow burst out, and Li Xian jumped out from the carriage compartment, the three-foot long saber in his hands chopping down like mountains that fell and earth that gave away. Xiahou Lian held his saber in a reverse grip and sliced past the opposite blade. The melancholic light of his saber seemed to cut Li Xian’s eyes, making him subconsciously close his eyes. Xiahou Lian lifted his foot and kicked. Li Xian fell back, striking into the armrest, and there was severe pain in the back of his waist. Xiahou Lian turned his blade and used the spine of his saber to chop toward the side of Li Xian’s neck, planning to knock him out.
Li Xian thought that Xiahou Lian wanted to kill him, so he widened his eyes in terror. With a pull of his left hand, he dragged down the girl in the carriage, standing her in front of him. Xiahou Lian clearly hadn’t expected his action, and he barely stopped the instant the back of his saber would hit the girl’s head. Li Xian gritted his teeth and pushed the girl toward Xiahou Lian. Xiahou Lian held the girl, and Li Xian’s blade also followed.
He actually planned to cleave the girl along with Xiahou Lian in one stroke!
The strong wind from the blade blew on his face, and it was as if a thin layer of frost had formed on his face. The girl happened to be pressing on Xiahou Lian’s right hand, so he had no way of swinging his saber! In his haste, everything happened in a moment like lightning and flint. Xiahou Lian didn’t have time to think, and he subconsciously held the girl and swiftly turned around, using his shoulders and back to block that blow.
Dense frost hairs arose on his shoulders, and he closed his eyes as he waited for that blow to land. However, the chop he was anticipating didn’t succeed. Xiahou Lian opened his eyes and saw Shen Jue beside him and raising Jingtie. Xiahou Lian looked along Jingtie’s jet-black blade. The point of Jingtie had pierced into Li Xian’s chest, and blood dripped on the ground with patters.
Li Xian looked blankly at Jingtie, and the saber in his hand clattered as it fell to the ground.
The girl in Xiahou Lian’s arms started crying, and she buried her head into the front of Xiahou Lian’s robes.
Shen Jue stared at the girl gloomily. The underlings had already cleaned up the sabersmen, so they rushed over to greet Shen Jue. Shen Jue sneered as he looked around and said, “I was passing by, so I came to see how you all were doing. The result was really eye-opening, it even took so much effort to catch Li Xian!” He looked over and saw that the girl was still snuggled in Xiahou Lian’s arms, sobbing and sniffling. His expression instantly became ferocious. “Xiahou Lian, what are you still holding this girl for, can’t you let go!”
Xiahou Lian: “…”
Xiahou Lian carried the child back to the woman. Unexpectedly, the woman pushed the child, and the girl fell to the ground, part of her head breaking.
“What’s the use of having you! You can’t even block! This is just great, your father’s dead! It’s over, we’re all over!” the woman clapped and stomped as she scolded, and the girl sobbed on the ground.
Xiahou Lian hastily helped the girl up, moving her hand away to see her injury as he roared at the woman, “Are you sick! You fucking let your daughter block sabers?!”
“She’s not my daughter! She’s a little bitch raised by a bitch! A little bitch! Killing her own mother didn’t count, she even killed her father!” The woman became crazy and started cursing wildly. Shen Jue’s ears hurt from listening, so he told the underlings to drag her away. The boy stumbled as he followed, crying nonstop for his mother. The crying gradually faded away, coming from across the hazy night and sounding like a ghost’s wails.
Xiahou Lian put the girl on the steps at the side of the street, pulled out a handkerchief to wrap the wound on her forehead, and asked her name. The child refused to answer and still cried, her small face the size of a palm red from crying. Xiahou Lian couldn’t do anything about it, so he turned his head to look at the center of the street. The underlings were cleaning up the mess, dragging the corpses away and also pulling the carriages away. Xu Ruoyu pointed at the girl and asked Shen Jue a few words. Shen Jue answered impatiently, and Xu Ruoyu left. People gradually left. The girl had gotten tired from crying, and she was silent with her head lowered, still not saying anything when asked questions.
“That’s enough, quickly send her to the Court of Judicial Review, she should stay with her father’s first wife,” Shen Jue walked over and said.
“I heard that female relatives of criminals have to go to the Royal Academy. This child is so young, does she also have to go there?” asked Xiahou Lian.
“What else? Are you going to raise her?” Shen Jue said coldly.
Xiahou Lian stood up and used his elbow to poke Shen Jue. “Young Master, help me out. What you say is definitely effective, would someone dare to go against your wishes? This child looks so pitiful, just care for her.”
Shen Jue glanced at the girl. Her face was wrinkled from crying, and his eyes hurt from looking at her. Shen Jue’s face was filled with unwillingness as he said, “She’s not my daughter, why would I care for her?”
Xiahou Lian said shamelessly, “Young Master, I’m begging you! Just regard it as caring for me. I used all of my effort to save her, so wouldn’t sending her into the Royal Academy make that in vain?”
Xiahou Lian said a lot, but Shen Jue only heard the words “caring for me.” This was his person, so if he didn’t care for him, who would? Shen Jue’s heart softened, and he intended on agreeing. However, he was afraid Xiahou Lian’s kindness would overflow and ask him to help save any cat or dog he saw on the street. Thus, he said with a cold face, “Just this one, don’t take it as a precedent. The Wei Faction is involved widely, so there are people being sent into the Royal Academy every day. Don’t ask me to save them, the Eastern Depot isn’t a temple and I’m not a bodhisattva, no one donates incense to me.”
“I know,” said Xiahou Lian. “I’m also not a bodhisattva. I’ll help a bit if I can, and if I can’t then never mind.” He smiled and said, “However, where shall we put her? I can’t take care of children and there’s no one else at home except me. What should I do?”
Shen Jue called a servant over and told him to pick up the child. “Let Lian Xiang look after her. Tomorrow is the Mid-Autumn Festival, Lian Xiang asked you to come over to have a meal. There’s going to be a banquet in the palace, so I”m not sure if I’ll come back. There’s no need for you to wait for me.”
Shen Jue’s carriage gradually became distant, and Xiahou Lian held his goose quill saber as he unhurriedly went home.
The empress dowager sat before a bronze mirror, her fingers brushing the wig bun on top of her head. Zhu Xia opened the dressing box, and the empress dowager chose a pair of butterfly and flower hairpins inlaid with gold and pearls. Zhu Xia picked up the hairpins and slowly inserted them into her bun as she said, “His Majesty’s homework has been sent over, do you want to take a look?”
The empress dowager put her hand on Zhu Xia’s arm and said slowly, “Then I’ll take a look.”
She walked to the outer room, where the young emperor’s essays and calligraphy were placed on the table, already spread out. The empress dowager sat down and took a slight look. It had been fine when she hadn’t looked, but the more she looked, the angrier she became. The characters were sloppy, and he had learned Mencius’s philosophies for so long, yet the essays he wrote were still incoherent nonsense. The empress dowager slapped the table in anger and pointed at someone, saying, “Call the emperor over, I want to ask him some things!”
Zhu Xia persuaded her to relax. The person who had been sent out hadn’t left for long before they came back again and said, “His Majesty is playing happily in the Leopard House, and he says that if the empress dowager has any problems, she should let someone pass on the message and that there’s no need for him to come over.”
The empress dowager was so angry her vision became black, and she said in hatred, “This is reversed! He doesn’t even listen to his mother’s words! Who’s accompanying him in the Leopard Room!”
The person below answered in a small voice, “It’s Little Eunuch Shen, Eunuch Jiang, and the others. When I went, Little Eunuch Shen was being a horse for him to ride on.”
“Good! It’s that group of bastards under Shen Jue!” The empress dowager clenched her fists, and her painted fingernails pierced into her palms, dark red blood seeping out.
Zhu Xia drove out the people around as she rushed over to pry the empress dowager’s fists, urging nonstop, “Empress Dowager, don’t be angry, how terrible would it be if you get hurt from your anger! Shen Wenxing and that group of bastards are inciting His Majesty into not learning well! In recent days, if they aren’t going to the Leopard House, then they’re going to Qianqing Palace to saw wood! Eunuch Shen has a lot going on, he has to manage the Eastern Depot outside and also manage internal affairs inside. He doesn’t have time to deal with them, so they’re rebelling! Empress Dowager, don’t be angry, I’ll tell Eunuch Shen now!”
The empress dowager finally calmed down and opened her fists to look. They were already dripping with blood, and Zhu Xia shed tears in distress, hastily going to find medicine for metal-inflicted wounds. Zhu Xia squatted as she helped her apply the medicine, and the empress dowager looked down at her glossy bun. Her hair was combed backward, revealing her full forehead. Her appearance was quite alright, so how come she couldn’t hold Shen Jue’s heart? At the time, she had tried her best to shove Zhu Xia to Shen Jue, just for this. All men were presumably fickle, and especially since Shen Jue was missing a piece of his crotch, he cared even less about love between men and women.
“Are you and Shen Jue the same as usual?” asked the empress dowager.
Zhu Xia blushed and looked down. “A few days ago, he sent Shen Wenxing to send rouge over. It’s said that people in the Eastern Depot collected it from Goryeo 2 and even gave it a pleasant name, something like ‘A Sample of Spring.’ That day, I happened to have some things, so I only came back very late. Shen Wenxing had waited expectantly for a long time under the scorching sun, saying that Eunuch Shen had ordered him that he must give it to me personally.”
The empress dowager raised an eyebrow and asked, “Oh? Why haven’t you seen him be so caring before?”
Zhu Xia slowly put away the medicine and said, “Empress Dowager, you forget that Shen Jue was still under Scoundrel Wei before, so how could he have been so rampant? He’s actually still attentive, and he’s privately sent me hairpins, earrings, and handkerchiefs and says some heart-tugging words when we encounter each other. Once, he even asked about my intestinal obstruction 3. I was still wondering, how did he know I had fallen ill of this? Guess what he said? He said that hadn’t seen me by your side before that day so he had felt it was strange and specially sent people to ask, and only then did he know that I was ill.”
The empress dowager was delighted, and she poked Zhu Xia’s shoulder. “You imp, you actually hid it from me. I even thought that you two were hopeless!”
Zhu Xia gave the empress dowager an angry look and turned around, saying, “How would you have wanted me to say it! Could it be that I even had to rush before you and say that Eunuch Shen brought a handkerchief over yesterday and that he sent a hairpin and earrings today? How embarrassing!”
The empress dowager smiled slowly. Sure enough, love was a bottomless abyss; who could escape? Eunuchs were the same. The empress dowager used a handkerchief to wipe the corners of her eyes and put on a distressed look. “Ah, you’ve accompanied me for so many years, so I’m happy if you can marry the right man! But this Shen Jue is really not easy to control. Look, His Majesty only knows to be playful all day long and even delays his homework. He wants to raise my child to be useless!”
Zhu Xia’s expression changed, and she hastily said, “Empress Dowager, you misunderstand him. I’ll call him over now, and you can ask properly! If he did something bad, punish him!”
The empress dowager shook her head and pulled Zhu Xia’s hands over, putting them into her palms. “I know that you are wholehearted toward me, and I also don’t want to make such trouble with Shen Jue. The plan now is that only by seizing Shen Jue’s place, letting him fall down and letting that group of bastards be far away from His Majesty can His Majesty work hard! Don’t worry, seizing his place wouldn’t be disposing of him, treating him badly, or something of the sort. We’ll still let him stay in the Directorate of Rites and be a secretary or brush-holder, let him choose! Think, if your position is above his, won’t he have to listen to you for everything?”
Zhu Xia knitted his brows tightly and kneeled down, saying, “What you say is right. Don’t worry, I still know the order of priorities well.”
“What you have to do is tightly cage Shen Jue’s heart. When necessary, pry for some information so I know what to expect.” The empress dowager slowly grasped Zhu Xia’s hands and said, “Tomorrow is the Mid-Autumn Festival. The period of filial piety for the late emperor hasn’t ended yet, so everything in the palace is following the principle of simplicity, and I told Shen Jue to go back to rest a little earlier. Go to his house first, set up, and arrange properly. Men like women who are virtuous and can keep the house. He experiences hardships outside, and only coming home to a woman making him calm and comfortable will his heart be warm. I heard his manor is very desolate; spend some effort to make it livelier. Normally, how can such a big manor do without a mistress? Do you understand?”
Zhu Xia nodded repeatedly.