All of a sudden, he woke up in the middle of the night. With perspiration all over his face, he sat up and daze blankly at the darkness. He had just dreamt about the past. It wasn’t a dream about the three years of imprisonment; on the contrary, it was about the thirteen years that he went through together with that young king. Moreover, it was full of pleasant memories. Yet it made him break out in a cold sweat, waking up from the fright.
How long has it been since I’ve had a dream like that? When recollecting those times now, I can only find it depressing and dark. Utterly suffocating. However, shockingly, I still look upon it as my happiest moments. Are those really my happiest moments?
…As I received sincere greetings from my other brothers, I was joyful; because the person who bullied me got beaten up badly by another brother, I was joyful; as I was saved by the bell when a scapegoat was found, I was joyful; because the party that I wanted to win over accepted the jewellery sent, I was joyful; As I’d finished obliterating all successors—the brothers and sisters that I grew up together with, and got along for more than ten years— so that no one could threaten me, I was joyful…How frightening. A cold shiver ran down Nan Ge Er’s spine involuntarily.
In a split moment, he noticed his hands were painted blood red when he looked down. After letting out a small gasp, he realized it was an illusion. As he covered his face, he felt a cold and wet sensation from his fingers and noticed he had started crying.
What was the reason for my arrival in this world? It would be great if I just died from the fire at the start. I want to return… return to the peaceful world which has my friendly and playful friends, caring family, crush…Neither does this place belong to me, nor do I belong here. I should have died instead of living on in this world like a wandering ghost. I hate all of these!
Never had he complained about anything since he had no time for that. Like a startled beast that was chased by a hunter, he used up all of his strength to dash forward, not even having any time to take a breather. Currently, he, who began relaxing, finally had the spare energy to hate and resent. After quite some time, he raised his head at last. The tears had already stopped streaming down; he only felt a bit dazed in his heart. He had no idea how he should live from now on.
The sky was still dark then; maybe it was still midnight. Outside the window, the wind blew past. Even though Nan Ge Er was inside, he instinctively thought that it would definitely be chilly outside. However, it was suitable for Nan Ge Er, who was currently in emotional turmoil; he felt that he needed to calm down. After wearing his outdoor clothes, he wobbled out.
The winter in this world was always cold. Without air conditioner1, feather quilts or other modern-day items, even if he had the luxury to don on cotton and fur coats and when he was in the palace, he still couldn’t bear the cold. After being submerged in the palace prison for three years, the core of his body got utterly wrecked. Now, even before the late winter arrived, he would start to feel the cold in his body, unable to get warmed up no matter what, incapable of successfully falling asleep every night.
Since he was only able to have a full meal in the government office now because of his efforts, he clearly couldn’t just wishfully hope for a fur coat. Wearing a few more layers of cotton coats, he pushed the door open and walked out. As soon as the door opened, the wind began blasting in, the ferocity almost blowing him away. Instinctively, he shrank his neck in and took a few steps back. He waited for the gust of violent wind to die down before tottering out of his room, his hands burrowed in the opposite sleeves. It was indeed midnight now, without any stars or moon in sight.
Although the current budget of the government office wasn’t as tight as before, due to cost-saving considerations, only two lanterns were hung at the door. It was almost pitch dark on the other side of the door—except for the small, pitiful lanterns leading to the toilet. Nan Ge Er obviously had no interest in walking towards the toilet. Thus, without any care of the darkness ahead, he waddled aimlessly; just wandering listlessly.
The moment when he felt as if he was going to be frozen from the chill, he noticed a shadow at the pavilion in front. Startled, he was about to scamper back, but he quickly regained his composure. Aside from him, who would be in the government office? At the same time, the shadow uttered a beautiful clear voice, “Nan Ge Er?” … As expected, it was Magistrate-daren
Nan Ge Er forgot his grievous turmoil temporarily and drew the corners of his mouth, “Daren, why are you out here instead of resting?” From what I recall, you will wake up earlier than roosters and sleep later than dogs!
“I,” Mo Shu lightly chuckled as he replied, “am viewing the plum blossoms.”
“Hah?” Nan Ge Er answered disbelievingly while stumbling towards the pavilion where Mo Shu was.
When he arrived, the government looked poor, but judging from its structure, a lot of thought was clearly put into the renovations of the government office.
At the very least, there was enough land to build a fake mountain and a man-made lake, it’s just that it never came in handy.
“I don’t think it is time for plum blossoms to bloom, right?” If I’m not wrong, plum blossoms should be blooming in the late winter, shouldn’t it? It is still too early now.
“Mn” Mo Shu answered, “It isn’t time yet.”
“…” Then what the heck are you viewing?
A gust of cold wind blew past him, making him shrink his neck and legs involuntarily. That, coupled with his thick layers of clothes, made him unaware that his left leg had caught his right leg, so he lost balance and tumbled down. A hand ended up reaching out to steady him. “Eh?” He instinctively raised his head in a daze. However, blinded by the dark, he couldn’t see anything.
“…Be careful.” Mo Shu cautioned while helping him up, holding onto his hand as he pulled him to the pavilion.
…Daren, you are too ‘quick’ with your warning! Nan Ge Er was speechless. Truth be told, my heart is still in shock. My current distance from Mo Shu’s pavilion is at least ten steps away, so how did Mo Shu realize that I was going to fall and rush over to help me up in time? As expected, Mo Shu does know kungfu, and seems to be rather great at it too.
Mo Shu didn’t release Nan Ge Er’s hands even after bringing him up to the pavilion. He reached out his hands to hold on Nan Ge Er’s hands that were almost numbed from the cold, asking in a slightly concerned tone, “Why are they so chilly?”
“I’m sensitive to cold.” Nan Ge Er was baffled as he answered. Of course, he couldn’t stop his voice from shivering because of the cold.
Despite standing in such bitterly cold wind, Mo Shu’s palms remained warm, letting Nan Ge Er’s fingers regained some sensation. “Tsk” A click from Mo Shu could be heard faintly, before he began rubbing his hands, “Your body is too weak.”
Despite thinking that Mo Shu couldn’t see his face from the darkness, Nan Ge Er still instinctively pulled a smile on his face, “Yup, it weakened over the years.”
Mo Shu didn’t continue pestering him about that, probably because he noticed Nan Ge Er was unwilling to continue the conversation. “Why were you outside?” Mo Shu rubbed one of Nan Ge Er’s hands a bit, then changed to the other. He shifted his position to block him from the oncoming wind.
“I had a dream.” Nan Ge Er replied truthfully, before asking him back, “The plum blossoms haven’t blossomed yet, have they?” From his point of view, there wasn’t a single plum blossom in sight.
“There.” Mo Shu pointed to a particular direction with his chin, “There is a plum tree in that area.”
After walking in the darkness for quite some time, Nan Ge Er’s eyes had gradually adapted to the dark, so his eyes followed the direction indicated by Mo Shu’s chin… There was only a bunch of branches in the darkness, no flower in sight.
“Mn,” Mo Shu was rather quick in admitting it, before commenting, “By the way, I really wanted to thank you.”
“Huh?” Not knowing what Magistrate-daren meant by that, Nan Ge Er blurted out, perplexed.
“If not for your arrival at the government office, there wouldn’t even be any firewood for the roasting today, not to mention any wine to drink.” Mo Shu added, “It is quite shameful to admit, but Zhu Xi and I aren’t adept at managing, that’s why everyone in the government couldn’t even have a proper meal; we’re utterly useless.” Zhu Xi was the advisor-xiansheng. He stopped for a while, before continuing, “Your body is frail in the first place, we shouldn’t have worked you to the bone. But there isn’t enough manpower or enough money…” As he trailed off, his voice got lower, “Couldn’t focus on a matter when working on another, really…”
Noting that Mo Shu seemed to be somewhat dejected, Nan Ge Er piped in hurriedly, “…It isn’t actually that hard.” That was the truth. Since he wasn’t great at tidying and daily chores, he only did them in a slipshod manner. After that, the kitchen aunty would finish them up when her work was done, so he didn’t need to do much. He busied himself every day just purely for his own needs. It’s just the fact that he couldn’t have a full meal even when he was in the government was indeed rather tragic.
Mo Shu chuckled softly, then stopped talking.
A long silence later, Nan Ge Er couldn’t help but ask again, “Erm, Daren, there isn’t any plum blossoms, so you are…?” He didn’t get it at all; although it was such a chilling day, Mo Shu was outside, gazing at the bare plum tree, euphemistically viewing plum blossoms…
“I’m viewing the plum blossoms.” Mo Shu laughed lightly.
Even though darkness blurred his sight, Nan Ge Er, who was slowly adapting to the dark, could still see his lips raised. “But…” There aren’t even any plum blossoms around here, what on earth is that no-brow looking at!2
“I’m viewing the plum blossoms blooming in the future.” Mo Shu answered again.
“Plum blossoms blooming in the future?” Nan Ge Er got even more confused.
“There, the neighbor’s plum tree.” Mo Shu laughed, “Not long after, the plum blossoms will bloom. They are white, clustered together, exceptionally graceful and beautiful.”
“They have not blossomed yet.”
“Mn, so I said, they are plum blossoms of the future.” Mo Shu laughed.
“So you are viewing the blossoms from your imagination in such a cold night?” No matter how great Nan Ge Er’s composure was, he couldn’t help but mutter out at that moment, “How would you know what the plum blossoms will look like?”
“I don’t know, do you?” Mo Shu chuckled as he asked back.
“How would I know.” Nan Ge Er made a face
“That’s right.” Mo Shu muttered softly, “No one knows how the plum blossoms will look like when they blossom, even they themselves wouldn’t know. Only when they blossom will that be revealed. However, this can’t stop me from guessing what they will look like in the future; isn’t that so?”
“Eh?” Nan Ge Er was dazed, he felt that Mo Shu’s words seemed profound, but he couldn’t quite figure it out.
“That’s why, I guess that it will continue blooming beautiful white flowers, like those from the previous year.” Mo Shu calmly commented, “At least, at this moment, I am viewing the scenery that I guessed.”
… Your method of blossom viewing is too incomprehensible to a layman like me.
“Besides, so what if I can’t see them this year? Next year, or the subsequent year, I will still be able to view the blooming of plum blossoms one day.” Mo Shu laughed, turning his head to face Nan Ge Er.
Although he couldn’t see Mo Shu’s expression well in the darkness, Nan Ge Er could feel Mo Shu’s gaze falling onto him. Nonetheless, he just looked at Mo Shu in a trace, letting a sluggish voice out. “Huh?” He still couldn’t understand what Mo Shu meant. Even though at the moment, he was able to gather that Mo Shu did mean something profound, he still couldn’t comprehend it.
Mo Shu curled his lips, turning back to look at the plum tree again, “How wonderful… the plum tree is.”
Nan Ge Er hadn’t reacted to it yet as his mind was concentrated on mulling over Mo Shu’s words.
The seemingly elegant Mo Shu added, “The plum blossoms can be viewed, the plums can be eaten; what a great deal.”
“…” Nan Ge Er felt that he must have gotten his head stuck in too many doors to consider the guy elegant.
1Air-conditioners in Asia comes with heating functions as well.
2Part of the sentence was a pun :“眉（梅）毛都没有”, literal translation -there weren’t any “hair” of (plum blossoms)”brows” around. “毛都没有”was a casual way of saying nothing at all, with “毛” meaning hair/fur on its own. Since the”眉(mei)” in眉毛(eyebrow)sound similar to 梅(mei)(plum), thus the author included as a “眉毛”pun. Tracy the pun master helped me with the sentence =D