Translated by Vivian of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
To obtain one portion of joy, ten portions of suffering were needed in exchange. If one portion of joy had already been obtained, then a tenfold in suffering was needed as repayment.
Xie Jinglan had understood this principle a long time ago, but he hadn’t expected that the heavens were actually this harsh.
He stood in the doorway of the courtyard and saw Xiahou Lian carrying a cloth bundle on his back, a sturdy man standing next to him.
The man was very tall, and he had a wide face and dark skin. It was a cold day, but his sleeves were rolled up, revealing the firm muscles on his hands. He appeared a little cramped, not knowing where to put his hands and feet, even more unseemly than the Xiahou Lian next to him. He was looking around when he saw Xie Jinglan. He turned and asked Aunt Lan, “This is?”
Aunt Lan was still secretly crying. When she saw that Xie Jinglan had returned, she hastily wiped her tears and bowed. “Young Master. Xiao Lian’s father has come to pick him up.”
The man smiled brightly. “So this is the little young master.”
He pulled a pack of pine nut candies wrapped in oil paper out of his pocket and handed it to Xie Jinglan while saying, “I’ve disturbed you during this period of time. I’m Xiao Lian’s father, and at the time, I sold him into the manor because I was forced to. There was no harvest at home, and my wife was raising another baby. Fortunately, we’re a little better off now, so I hurried here to buy his freedom. This child has good luck, I heard that an official already bought his freedom, so I’ll be taking him back now. Young Master, do you have any other instructions?”
He and Xiahou Lian must not have matched their confessions, their excuses were completely different, and Xiahou Lian’s expression was a little embarrassed. Xie Jinglan ignored the man and only asked Xiahou Lian, “You’re leaving?”
“Mn. I’m leaving.”
The man sulkily took back the pine nut candies and crossed his arms, waiting for the two of them to finish chattering.
“Did you bring everything?”
“If I want to write to you, where should I write to?”
Xiahou Lian looked at Uncle Duan. Uncle Duan had a bit of a headache, and he said to himself that this brat was really high-maintenance. He smiled placatingly and said, “This would be difficult, we can’t receive letters at our nook.”
Xie Jinglan had already guessed that this man wouldn’t allow him to continue to keep in touch with Xiahou Lian, so he didn’t make things difficult and merely said, “If you want to write to me, send it to Official Su’s house, he’ll forward it to Mr. Dai.”
“Okay. As long as you don’t dislike my ugly characters.”
“Go on, then. Take good care of yourself on the way.”
Xiahou Lian hesitated for a while before saying, “Um, Lian Xiang, she…”
“I already watched her mother take her corpse away with my own eyes, you don’t need to worry.”
In the end, Xiahou Lian still didn’t tell Xie Jinglan that Lian Xiang wasn’t dead. After all, if he said that Lian Xiang was fine, he would definitely implicate Qiu Ye. He was silent for a while before saying, “Young Master, your father…”
Xiahou Lian’s gaze flickered, and Xie Jinglan knew that something was going on at a glance. He said, “He and I already have nothing to do with each other, so you don’t need to say anything else.”
“I understand.” Xiahou Lian patted Xie Jinglan’s shoulder and said, “Then I’ll be going.”
“We’ll meet again.”
“We’ll meet again.”
Aunt Lan stuffed a few steamed buns to Xiahou Lian and said, crying, “Xiao Lian, take care of yourself.”
“Aunt, you also have to take care of yourself. Don’t be too sad, don’t cry and hurt yourself.” Xiahou Lian took the steamed buns, held Uncle Duan’s hand, turned, and left.
Xie Jinglan and Aunt Lan saw the two of them to the side door and watched as they slowly walked far away. The two of them, one tall and one short, one footstep heavy and one footstep light, walked in the alley. In the distance, there was a crimson sunset, and as Xiahou Lian walked step by step into the distance, the setting sun shone on his body, making his figure become hazy, as if in the next moment he would disappear in the sunset.
Xie Jinglan suddenly couldn’t suppress his fear. Would he and Xiahou Lian never see each other again?
Xie Jinglan suddenly ran over. Xiahou Lian heard him and had just turned around when he was hugged by Xie Jinglan.
His body had the clean smell of honey locust, and Xiahou Lian sniffed.
“Don’t forget what I said in the study the day before yesterday.” He heard Xie Jinglan, whose head was buried in his shoulder, say muffledly.
“I won’t forget. I’ll remember it in my heart.”
“I’ll find you.”
“Mn, I know.”
“Okay, you can go now.”
“We’ll meet again.”
“We’ll meet again.”
This time, he really left. Xie Jinglan leaned on the wall and watched. The stone brick wall was very rough, and touching it made his hand hurt a little. Xiahou Lian got onto an oxcart at the end of the alley and disappeared around the corner.
Xiahou Lian hadn’t left Jinling, Uncle Duan had settled him in Wanxiang Building. Every day, he would leave early and return late, so it was seldom that they saw each other. Xiahou Lian once again lived the life of being let loose. Fortunately, he had already gotten used to it, and he could already derive amusement from himself.
He hadn’t guessed wrong, Garan had their eye on Xie Bingfeng. Assassins entered Jinling City one by one. Wanxiang Building’s front yard was brightly lit, with people reveling and drinking, a paradise on Earth. In the backyard, assassins drenched their sabers in liquor, the expressionless white porcelain masks on their faces flowing with orange candlelight. Out of Garan’s Eight Legions, six were here. Out of the two remaining, one of them had broken their arm in their last assassination and had stayed on the mountain to recuperate. The other one was his mother, who was still in the Western Regions and of whom there was no news.
Xiahou Lian was slightly uneasy. Garan assassins had always acted alone, like a lone wolf on a snowy field. However, there were at least twenty assassins gathered in the backyard. In total, the number of Garan assassins wouldn’t be over thirty. He didn’t dare to talk out of place and ask anything, as assassins didn’t care for their lives and were even more bloodthirsty than a pack of wolves. They wouldn’t think any more of him just because he was the Garuda’s son, and if they were brought to submission by someone, it was always only because that person had an even sharper saber in their hand.
Who else did they have their eye on? One assassin had to kill at least one person, so they had to kill at least twenty people. Killing twenty people in the one Jinling City, this was a transaction Garan of Seven Leaves had never had before.
Why had Uncle Duan taken him out of Xie Manor before his mother had returned, was it only because they were going to assassinate Xie Bingfeng?
Xiahou Lian couldn’t understand and could only run wildly around Wanxiang Building. In a few days, he had already figured out the interior and exterior structure of Wanxiang Building. He climbed up along a pillar onto a beam, and then swung from the beam to the third floor. He slipped into Liu Ji’s room and stole a pair of gold earrings from her dressing box.
Uncle Duan knew that he wasn’t one to save money, and lately, he had been very stingy. The bit of money he gave wasn’t even enough to fill the gaps between his teeth, and it wasn’t enough for the costs of Xiahou Lian buying snacks at all.
Footsteps sounded from outside the door. Xiahou Lian put the earrings away in his pocket, stepped onto the windowsill, and climbed outside, clinging onto the wall. Underneath his feet was the quietly flowing Qinhuai River.
“How come you’re in the mood to come today? I thought you had forgotten me a long time ago.” Liu Ji sat in front of her dressing table and looked at the man in the mirror.
“Lately, I’ve been busy with the impeachment of Eunuch Wei, spinning like a top. I came to you as soon as I had leisure time.” Xie Bingfeng moved closer to Liu Ji and sniffed deeply at the fragrance on her body. “So fragrant. My darling, what cosmetics are you using? It smells so good.”
“What cosmetics, this is my body scent.” Liu Ji humphed and said, “You’ve been demoted to Jinling, are you still going to impeach him? Do you want to be demoted to the middle of nowhere? I won’t have the time to accompany you.”
“Don’t worry, this time the Six Ministries, Three Judicial Departments, and Twenty-Four Yamens are signing the letter together, which can definitely bring down that eunuch. The day he falls from power is when I’ll return to the capital,” Xie Bingfeng said, smiling, pride even in the space between his eyes and brows.
“Six Ministries and Three Judicial Departments? That’s still the capital’s Six Ministries and Three Judicial Departments. What does it have to do with an idle official who stays in the old capital 1 like you, joining in blindly,” disagreed Liu Ji.
“What do you know? My name is on the jointly signed letter, so when the time comes, I’ll have a share of the credit. Besides, I’ve already spread the word for my entire Xie Manor to know the memorial to the throne by heart, so if I die, there’s still the entire 108 people in Xie Manor to knock on the imperial palace gate for me. People everywhere will praise my righteous deeds, and although my official ranking isn’t as good as before, my reputation will be far better than before. So what if I’m an idle official who stays in the old capital?”
Liu Ji snorted and said, “Fishing for fame.”
“You! You woman, you really do have long hair but little knowledge. My deeds will live on forever, and when future historians record history, they’ll definitely write a word of praise for me. You really are…” Xie Bingfeng was so angry he was panting. When he saw Liu Ji sitting gracefully and upright, her face like fine porcelain and her eyes like crescent moons, he brazenly got closer and said, “No matter, no matter, why am I trying to talk reason with you? When I obtain the edict to return to the capital, I’ll buy your freedom and take you with me. When the time comes, you’ll know the benefits.”
Liu Ji was happy and said, “Okay, I’ll be waiting, you better keep your word.”
“Of course.” Xie Bingfeng kissed Liu Ji and said, “That old witch back at home has been watching closely these past few days, so I should get going. I’ll come see you again next time.”
“Hurry, hurry, careful your behind catches fire.” Liu Ji waved her fan, shooing him away.
After he finally left, Liu Ji picked up a handkerchief and wiped her face, saying resentfully, “Old geezer, a catastrophe is imminent yet you’re still not self-aware. You ordered the entire manor to memorize the memorial to the throne by heart, so Wei De is going to exterminate your entire clan. You’re still pleased with yourself, having grand dreams of going down in history, how ridiculous!”
Xiahou Lian was clinging on outside the window, and hearing this gave him chills all over. He waited for Liu Ji to go out of the door and then cautiously returned to the room.
The big word “exterminate” pressed down on his heart. He was so worried, he forgot how to get downstairs.
Exterminate, when were they going to exterminate? When was Xie Jinglan going to leave Xie Manor? Would he be able to avoid it or not? Xiahou Lian spun around anxiously, yet he was at a loss for what to do.
Relying on his power alone, how could he save Xie Jinglan and Aunt Lan? There was also Lan Xiang from the study, that little girl who talked about Lian-gege all day long. How could he get everyone out?
Way, way, he kept asking himself to hurry up and think of a way.
“Xiao Lian!” Uncle Duan thumped Xiahou Lian’s head from behind him and said, “What are you wandering around for, hurry up and go back to your room to rest. The front yard is a filthy mess, don’t stay here too long.”
Xiahou Lian looked up, and Uncle Duan’s dark cheeks came into view. He said, “Uncle, haven’t you always been persuading me not to become an assassin before?”
“What, have you figured it out?” Uncle Duan rubbed Xiahou Lian’s head. “There’s nothing bad about raising chickens and ducks on the mountain. Our mountain is so big, it’s enough for you to go wild for a lifetime.”
I’ve gotten tired of playing in it a long time ago, Xiahou Lian thought disdainfully. He said to Uncle Duan, “On the assassination this time, bring me along and let me see a real killing field, and then I’ll make a decision.”
“No.” Uncle Duan rejected him without even thinking.
“Why what! With your skinny arms and legs, if I gave you a saber, you won’t even be able to kill a pig, yet you want to kill a person? You cutting flowers and chopping wood is more like it. What if something happens to you, how do you want me to explain it to your mother?”
“I’m not going to kill anyone, I’ll just watch from the side.” Xiahou Lian said, “Aren’t you going to exterminate the entire Xie clan this time? I’m just going to watch from the side, if you don’t let me experience a real killing field, how can I make the best decision?”
Uncle Duan shivered and hastily covered Xiahou Lian’s mouth. “Little rascal, where’d you hear that from?”
Xiahou Lian was dragged into a corner by him. “It doesn’t matter where I heard it from, I already know anyway.”
Uncle Duan knew that Xiahou Lian had been born in the year of the Monkey. It must’ve been that some assassin hadn’t been watching their mouth and had let something leak, and Xiahou Lian had happened to be hiding nearby. He pondered for a bit before saying, “It’s not impossible.”
Xiahou Lian’s eyes lit up. “Uncle, just take me there.”
Uncle Duan sighed helplessly and said, “All right, listen up, put on your clothes and your mask. When we’re working, don’t run around wildly like you usually do. As soon as the temple block sounds, follow everyone and withdraw.”
Xiahou Lian nodded his head like he was pounding garlic.
Uncle Duan took a short saber from his waist and handed it to Xiahou Lian.
It was a very shabby saber. The shark-skin scabbard was covered with scratches, and the engraved patterns had accumulated dark red bloodstains, giving it a hidden ferociousness. Xiahou Lian pulled the saber out, and the blade as bright as snow reflected his eyes and brows.
Uncle Duan said, “If you have the ability, you can kill a few people to try it out. After killing someone, you’ll understand that being an assassin isn’t that fun. If you want to become Garan’s best assassin, you’ll have to forge yourself into a saber; to forge yourself into a saber, your heart must first be hardened into iron.”
How could a heart grown from flesh become iron? Xiahou Lian put the saber back into the scabbard and forced out a smile. “I see. Just you wait and see!”