Translated by Vivian of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
Xiahou Lian had thought more than once, What does it feel like to die?
It was like sinking into a quiet and cold pond as the world returned to a silent and eternal night. He was only a small mayfly, floating in the center of the icy waves. The matters of many years ago came in throngs like crow feathers: the abbot’s low Great Compassion mantra in Garan’s main hall, and that dim and solitary lamp in his house amid the rustling bamboo forest. He recalled the countless nights he had spent on the mountain, the long nights seemingly endless. As the slow chanting of scriptures sounded from Garan, he fell into deep sleep amid the indistinct cymbal sounds.
He had never been afraid of death, since this was the fate he couldn’t avoid. In front of fate, everyone’s lives were as lowly as dust.
The darkness slowly faded, and a bright light appeared at the depths of the afterglow. Gradually, there were jingling sounds, the swaying of iron horses in the wind. Then, there was the crisp sound of a tea bowl shattering on the ground like cracking ice, someone seemed to be speaking panickedly, and he heard the thuds of heads kowtowing on the ground.
Am I still alive? Xiahou Lian was a little muddled. When he sat up on the bed, his head was still dizzy and his body didn’t feel right, so he nearly laid back down. He lifted the curtains with a trembling hand. A red candle was burning on the celadon tray on the tea table, and the wax had seeped marks the size of copper coins.
He got off the carved alcove bed in bare feet and looked outside through the window gauze. The sky was heavily dark, and the crimson gauze palace lanterns swayed below the eaves, the shadows on the ground also swaying. He pushed the door open and walked outside. A voice came from a room at the end of the hall, so he walked for a while and stopped at the door. Shen Jue was sitting on the throne, a string of agate melonseed beads hanging from his wrist as he looked coldly at the group of imperial doctors kneeling below. He hadn’t changed out of his official uniform, so he was wearing yesa robes woven with embroidered gold, very dazzling even across a layer of green smoky screen.
“I asked you all if there was something that can be done, yet you’re all hesitating, taking so long and still not saying anything clearly. The Imperial Institute of Medicine is selected through rounds of selection year after year, how did they choose you quacks?” Shen Jue was so angry his entire body shook. “Is there a way or not, give me a definitive answer. This isn’t the palace, say things directly without concealing anything. If you delay the patient’s condition, just wait and see what I’ll do!”
Sweat flowed on the heads of the doctors below. They had been dragged out of their quilts twice by Eastern Depot underlings, and before they had calmed down from their fright, they were met with Shen Jue’s extreme fury. The leading doctor mustered up his courage and said in a small voice, “If I may dare to be frank with you, Chief Officer. Actually, the last time we came to take a look, we already felt that the illness was serious, but you were very upset and we didn’t dare to say so. Later when you gave him the prescription, he seemed to be better after taking it, so we thought that it really was a life-saving elixir and relaxed. Now, it seems that the effects of this medicine are limited and that it can’t cure it completely.”
Shen Jue’s smile became even icier. “Very good, you all actually dared to hide things from me.”
The doctors looked at each other, trembling and not daring to speak. Shen Jue hated that they were as timid as mice, yet he couldn’t blame them further. He said sternly, “Continue speaking!”
“Yes, yes.” The lead doctor said, “Azalea flowers are an exotic flower from the Miao area, so it’s too dishonest of a practice. If Fang Cunzhen was still here, perhaps he could think of a way to cure it. Although he had poor personal morals, he had immersed in the Miao area for many years and dealt with many barefoot doctors in Miao Village, so he’s the most familiar with these flowers and herbs. Although… Although we do auscultations in the emperor’s presence, our knowledge about exotic flowers and rare herbs really aren’t as good as these warlocks in the martial arts world. Besides, the properties of Sir Xiao Shen’s drug have already changed, and we don’t know exactly what the medicinal tea he drank at the time was. We really… We really can’t do anything.
Shen Jue’s heart turned cold, section by section. Fang Cunzhen had already been killed by him long ago; had he personally destroyed Xiahou Lian’s last chance of survival? He said blankly, “It turns out that after speaking for so long, there is nothing that can be done.”
The doctors didn’t dare to speak, and they bowed their bodies even lower. Shen Jue gazed at the dark mass of black gauze hats below and slowly leaned over, his elbows propped on his knees as he held his forehead painfully. The icy string of beads pressed against his forehead, the coldness penetrating his heart.
“All of you, get out.” Shen Jue’s voice was hoarse, practically unable to be heard.
Everyone was as relieved as if they had been granted amnesty, and they all retreated on their knees. Xiahou Lian hid behind a column and watched them file outside, jogging out of the courtyard.
Shen Jue looked at his own shadow on the ground. It was a black and thin long strip, containing a lonely desolation. Was there really no saving him? His heart seemed to be tightly clutched by someone, hurting agonizingly. He had originally been revising orders in the duty room when he recalled the flowers he had sent, and he had still been looking forward to receiving Xiahou Lian’s letter the next day. That guy was a boorish fellow, and he didn’t know what he would write to him. He had been looking forward to it with all his heart, and revising orders actually hadn’t been tiring. The war in Liaodong was very urgent, so he was too busy and hadn’t had time to go home and see him. He was also busy, so he hadn’t had time to come to the palace. Shen Jue felt melancholic; they had finally come to the same city, finally met, finally opened their hearts, and finally gotten together, yet they were still separated by the imperial palace walls, unable to see each other.
However, who expected that the next moment, Shen Wenxing had hurriedly come in and told him that Xiahou Lian had fallen. He had broken palace curfew and left the palace, and upon coming home, he had seen him laying on the bed, his eyes tightly shut, the bulging quilts seeming like a solitary grave.
How could this happen? he thought. He had been fine before, so how could such a lively person lie down again? Was it retribution? He had committed too many sins and the heavens wanted to punish him, so they played a big joke on him, making him personally choke Xiahou Lian’s chance of survival. He took out the letter Xiahou Lian had written for him, of which every mark and stroke was unexpectedly beautiful. He still remembered Xiahou Lian’s characters in his childhood. They had been crooked, like a crawling dog; later, he had seen the documents that guy wrote, and nothing had changed much. In the years Xiahou Lian had been in Garan, he probably hadn’t touched a brush.
He caressed the characters: “I miss you so much, when are you coming home?” How nice, he also missed him.
The candlelight jumped in the corner of his vision, and his eyes felt scorching, as if burnt by the firelight. He blew out the fire, and it was instantly dark in the room. He held Xiahou Lian’s letter in one hand and covered his face with the other, shedding tears in the darkness.
The door suddenly opened, and a tall and dark figure walked inside. He hurriedly wiped his tears, and Xiahou Lian closed the door, walking to his side and sitting down.
Shen Jue did his best to calm his voice as he said, “You’re awake? How do you feel now? Is your body still brisk?”
Xiahou Lian didn’t answer. He reached out and pulled him into his arms, rubbing his warm and soft hair. “Young Master, don’t cry, my mother said that when you’re sad, hugs will make you feel better. I’m hugging you, don’t cry anymore.”
His voice sounded in his ears, and somehow, Shen Jue’s tears instantly couldn’t be stopped, seeping into the front of Xiahou Lian’s robes on his chest. He didn’t want to cry in front of Xiahou Lian, so he took a deep breath and made his voice even with difficulty. “I didn’t cry.”
Xiahou Lian smiled and embraced him even tighter. “Foolish Young Master, I actually know every time you’ve cried.”
Shen Jue said stubbornly, “I didn’t cry.”
Xiahou Lian counted on his fingers. “When you took your teacher, your damned father didn’t recognize you, so you cried after coming out. And, that time when Madam Su wronged you for being improper and you were punished by your father to kneel in the ancestral hall, you also cried.” He used his sleeve to wipe away the tears on Shen Jue’s face, smiling. “I know you’re conscious about saving face, so I didn’t expose you. Don’t worry, I’ll guard this secret for you, I definitely won’t tell other people that the imposing seal-holder of the Directorate of Rites and the governor of the Eastern Depot, Shen Jue, is actually hiding here and sniveling.”
Shen Jue finally calmed down and looked up at him. He couldn’t see clearly in the dark, but he could feel his focused gaze. Shen Jue lowered his head and held his hand, saying astringently, “It’s clearly you who’s sick, yet you have to comfort me.”
“Who made me hurt my wife?” Xiahou Lian smiled.
It was dark in the room, so Xiahou Lian pulled him outside to sit in the corridor, and the two of them were shoulder-to-shoulder as they looked at the moon. The moonlight that covered the ground was like a courtyard of accumulated water, and the sparse shadows of trees rippled in it, like spreading aquatic plants. Someone began knocking on a temple block outside, thunking, and slowly moved far away. It was already one in the morning, and Shen Jue had to go to the imperial court at five.
Xiahou Lian asked him if he wanted to sleep for a while, but Shen Jue shook his head and asked, “A-Lian, why do you think happiness only lasts for a moment, yet pain lasts for a lifetime?”
Why? The heavens had the heavens’ ideas, and Xiahou Lian couldn’t answer. He looked down at his own toes. “Young Master, don’t be too sad. When my mother died, I practically felt like the sky had collapsed, and I was like a walking corpse. Later, I personally saw my shifu and the old bald donkey off, and I don’t know whether my brother is alive or not. But looking at my situation, if he also drank the old bald donkey’s medicinal tea, I reckon he also isn’t too far from death.”
Shen Jue looked at the side of his face. His expression didn’t contain sorrow or bitterness, it was only indifferent. Shen Jue suddenly felt alarmed. “A-Lian, I won’t let you die. Stay obediently at home and recuperate. Wait for me, okay?”
Xiahou Lian reached out and touched the icy moonlight. “Young Master, I have sent many people away in this lifetime, some complete strangers and some with deep ties, ones I loved and ones who loved me, one by one, I saw them leave in the distance. Now, it’s finally my turn.” He turned his head to gaze at Shen Jue and smiled lightly. “I’ve always been confused as to why the heavens wanted to keep me until now, I should’ve died five years ago in Garan. Now, I understand, Young Master, the heavens had a soft spot for me and wanted me to reunite with you. I’m really, really very satisfied, because I’ve already gotten the greatest happiness in my life.”
“It’s not enough, A-Lian.” There was the sourness of tears in Shen Jue’s nose. “It’s not enough, this isn’t enough, we still have to stay together. Listen, I already sent people to contact the pirates in Nanyang 1, so we’ll soon have our own treasure ship. When you’re better, let’s leave, to the South or the North, as long as we’re together, going anywhere is fine.”
“Young Master,” Xiahou Lian wiped away the teardrops in the corners of his eyes, “don’t be so stubborn…”
Shen Jue gripped his hand tightly, a lump in his throat making him unable to speak.
“Foolish Young Master, do you still not understand?” Xiahou Lian lifted his head, gazing at the tranquil and bright moon.
The night wind brushed past, branches and leaves rustling like some bird flapping its wings. Shen Jue saw wordless silence on Xiahou Lian’s body, as if sealing a saber into its scabbard, the blade tightly restrained.
He said softly, “Those who have to leave will always leave. You cannot keep them, nor should you.”
This has broken my heart.
Thanks for translating, the T/N and editing.
i’m sobbing i can’t take this anymore, i just want them to be happy regardless of all that’s happened.
thanks for the chapter ❤
💔 😭 💔 😭
Thank you for the chapter
Thank You for the new chapter (´,,•ω•,,)♡
Am I going to cry every chapter from now on? :'(
this is upsetting. SJ and XHL, better luck next life (╥_╥) The fate (ehem author) is too cruel to the both of u :/