Translated by Vivian of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
Of course Xiahou Lian couldn’t marry Liu Shao’er.
He paid silver to buy a feast and handled the dowry. He bought everything completely, such as trunks, jewelry, clothes, and whatnot. Then, he carelessly threw the wedding robes onto Shu Qing, held him by his ear, and kicked him into the bridal chamber.
When the bawd saw this, she was angry and scolded Xiahou Lian, “Ge’er, what are you doing? You wrote words to flirt with a girl, but you just finish it by randomly dragging someone to replace you?”
“Look fucking clearly, do I look like someone who can write such a sour thing?” Xiahou Lian looked sideways at her and said, “Don’t talk nonsense to me. Whoever wrote it goes into the bridal chamber, this is your own rule. Do you want to hit yourself in the face?”
“This… This…” The bawd stomped her foot anxiously. “You really don’t know how to appreciate kindness! Liu Shao’er is pure and a very good girl, but you’re handing her over just like this! You don’t know that she was brought back from Yangzhou by Mother Xiangnu, who spent a lot of thought on choosing her. From her hair to her toenails, there’s not a single bad thing!” The bawd pulled Xiahou Lian and lowered her voice. “The girl still doesn’t know about our Garan. The higher-up seniors cherish you, so they chose a girl for you. You two can be an ordinary husband and wife and happily live together. You still don’t know the benefits! The girl will be with you and be raised in Wanxiang Building. When you’re tired, you can rest here, the same as the husbands and wives outside. Isn’t this good?”
No wonder they were all rushing to pimp for him. He didn’t know which old geezer in Garan was worrying about his business.
Xiahou Lian rolled his eyes. “No, I don’t have the spare time to play house with you.”
Inside, Shu Qing hovered by the door and was a threshold guardian 1 for a while. It occurred to him that he himself should go in. He looked down and adjusted the wedding robes on him that had been wrinkled from Xiahou Lian’s tugging, and slowly shuffled in.
Liu Shao’er was sitting on a bed with a carved frame. Her hands were primly placed on her knees, her knees were tightly pressed together, and a red bridal veil covered her face. Shu Qing lingered at the carved floor-to-ceiling door, and was a little at a loss.
He actually had selfish motives.
He had already known that this girl had been chosen for his senior fellow disciple by Garan seniors. His senior fellow disciple’s father was the abbot; this was Garan’s public secret. Although he didn’t usually see the father and son have any contact, he was his flesh and blood after all, so how could he really leave him alone?
Last month, he had seen Liu Shao’er being brought inside by Mother Xiangnu. Mother Xiangnu had seen his somewhat unhinged appearance and was worried, so she had disclosed this matter to him, wanting him to drop this idea. But in the end, this idea hadn’t been dropped. It was like a sprout that had been blown into soil by the wind, slowly pulling out, longer and longer, and finally occupying his entire heart.
Liu Shao’er was the best-looking girl he had ever seen. He still remembered that day when he had been coming back from Fuzimiao after buying the big kite Chi Yan had had his eye on, when he had distantly seen that girl wearing an azure coat. Her head had been lowered as she listened to Mother Xiangnu’s lesson, and her slightly tilted face had been like lustrous white porcelain.
Now, all assassins liked to do this. They would raise a woman in Garan’s brothel or a house somewhere, and when they weren’t making transactions and not going back to Garan, they would rest there. When they were half-asleep and half-awake, it was as if they had really become an ordinary common person among all living beings, living the life of working at sunrise and resting at sunset.
As long as they obediently registered it with Garan and didn’t leave the sight of their spies, Garan still allowed this.
But how could someone like his senior fellow disciple understand to cherish women? Xiahou Lian’s hands only knew how to hold sabers, control Mech Silk, and forge mechanism puppets like Zhaoye. How would he know how to draw delicate eyebrows and rouged lips for women?
Liu Shao’er wouldn’t be happy with him. Shu Qing said to himself, Shige doesn’t care anyway, so it’s okay.
Shu Qing took a deep breath, lifted the pearl agate curtain, and sat down next to Liu Shao’er. He lifted her bridal veil gently. Liu Shao’er’s head was slightly lowered, and the side of her face was the same as when he had first seen it, like a delicate and weak flower bud.
When Liu Shao’er lifted her eyes and saw Shu Qing, there was surprise in her eyes. “How come it’s you?”
Shu Qing rubbed his knees in embarrassment. “Uh, um, Xiahou…”
“Doesn’t want me?”
Shu Qing hastily said, “No, no! Uh, it’s… Um, I…”
“Was that poem, ‘when will the misty rain in Jiangdong cease; green hills outside the fence, white heads under the eaves,’ written by you?”
Shu Qing nodded, his face red.
Liu Shao’er smiled. When she curved her brows, she looked extremely like the crescent moon at the tip of a willow branch.
“I just knew that it was impossible for it to have been written by that person named Xiahou. How can that uneducated person write such an exquisite poem?”
“He is a little rough, but there is refinement in his roughness.” There was a loose thread in the embroidery at his knee, so Shu Qing pulled the thread as he said in a small voice, “His cooking is delicious, and I don’t know how to.”
“You person, you’re clearly the bridegroom, yet you’re only helping to speak for an outsider.” Liu Shao’er stuck out her tongue. “Do you know, Mother originally wanted me to marry him, but somehow, the one who came in became you.”
Shu Qing was so embarrassed he couldn’t speak, and it was a long time before he said, “He… He doesn’t want to get married. He has other things to do.”
“Fortunately it’s you!” Liu Shao’er looked very happy. “Last time, Mother secretly pointed him out to me and said that he looks handsome and his health is also good, so he definitely wouldn’t mistreat me in the future. But look at his appearance, so fierce-looking, how does he look like a good person? Before when I was in Yangzhou, a sister was bought by a martial artist, and guess what?”
Shu Qing looked at her in uncertainty.
“A few days later, that sister ran back with disheveled hair, crying and begging the nursemaid to take her in and not drive her back. She took off her clothes and showed everyone. She was black and blue, and there practically wasn’t a single good piece of flesh. It turned out that that martial artist was a drunkard who hit women when he got drunk!”
“I… Xiahou Lian isn’t like that. He never hits women randomly!” defended Shu Qing.
“People can’t tell from looking at appearances.” Liu Shao’er said, “In the end, the sister was still taken away. There was no other choice, that man paid money, so the sister was his. At the time, I thought that I must not marry a martial artist. They fight and kill, how frightening. The best is to marry a scholar like you, how nice. In the future, maybe you’ll pass the imperial examination, and I’ll be the wife of a recommended man 2!”
“I…” Shu Qing was dumbfounded, as he hadn’t expected that Liu Shao’er would have such thoughts. “But I…”
“Mother told me that I look beautiful, so I can definitely keep Xiahou Lian. She completely thought wrong. How can that kind of man stay on a woman’s bed? What can keep him are only sabers and blood. We women amid wind and dust 3, to put it nicely, are peaceful and beautiful girls on Qinhuai. To put it a little worse, we’re prostitutes. In his eyes, we’re just dust and mud on the ground, right.” Liu Shao’er looked at him steadily, and the light in her eyes was like the babbling river waves under misty spring rain. “Husband, you won’t treat me like this, right?”
Shu Qing gazed at those eyes, and his entire heart seemed to be sucked into them. He breathed rapidly, and his mind was a blank expanse of white.
She didn’t know… that he was also an assassin and also a martial artist.
Was he going to say it? Shu Qing tugged at the embroidery thread on his knee.
Say, or don’t say? Shu Qing felt that his head hurt a lot. He looked at Liu Shao’er again. She was gazing at him, full of hope, and her eyes were overflowing with rippling spring water.
In the end, he heard himself say, “Do not worry, I won’t.”
His voice was weak, but it was clear enough.
Outside, the bawd worriedly reported this matter to Liu Xiangnu. Liu Xiangnu’s hand shook, and her conch eyebrow liner went crooked, drawing out a long line of ink. Calling the bawd to get out, Liu Xiangnu walked out of the room and knocked on another door. A man in black was sitting in the darkness, silent.
Liu Xiangnu lowered her head and said, “Do you know about it?”
“Forget it, he has no fate with love. Let him be.”
“That Shu Qing…” Liu Xiangnu said in a low voice, “Liu Shao’er isn’t law-abiding. Why did you choose such a girl for Lian-ge’er?”
“I originally wanted him to understand that love is like flowers in a mirror, the moon in water. One poke will make it disappear like smoke and clouds, and only the sabers and swords in one’s hands are truly dependable. However, since he has already understood, then forget it.” The man in black sighed. “As for that child Shu Qing, it’s time for him to grow up. Qiu Ye is careless, so I’ll take care of it for him.”
The next day, Xiahou Lian got up early in the morning. He walked to the river and looked up. The windows were side by side, with square-patterned window lattices and tofu skin-like window screens, like paper cut-outs in shadow plays. Shu Qing’s room was still dark. He had had a good time last night, so he was afraid he wouldn’t be able to get up until late morning today.
Hands clasped behind his back, he walked out for a while. In the early morning, Qinhuai River was deserted and quiet. The smoke from the fireworks had dissipated, as if it had been washed, and what entered his eyes were clean cyan-black tiles and white walls. A familiar figure was squatting under the angled railing by the water. Two large wooden basins were next to him, and he was puffing as he washed clothes. Xiahou Lian walked over and took a look; it was Chi Yan. Inside the basins, it was all women’s clothes: light yellow coats, bright red silk pants, and even undergarments.
Xiahou Lian: “…”
Chi Yan was foolish, and he would do whatever he was told to do. The women in the building liked to tease him, so they would frequently give him heavy labor, as if wearing clothes that he washed could turn them into fairies. Chi Yan agreed to work, so the women would give him handkerchiefs and silk scarves, and some even stuffed candy into his mouth. Every time Xiahou Lian came back, he could always see a woman’s scarf fastened on Chi Yan’s neck as he held a large wooden basin to go to the river and wash clothes.
This was just how he was. He would wash clothes if someone wanted him to wash clothes, and he would also kill if someone wanted him to kill.
A black-clothed corpse drifted in the river. Its face was already swollen from being soaked, so he couldn’t see its appearance. Only then did Xiahou Lian discover that there were several boats on the river fishing up corpses. The houseboat in which there had been a fight last night was docked at a distant shore, waiting to be repaired by craftsmen.
He didn’t know who they had assassinated last night, but it seemed that they had lost.
Chi Yan waded through the water and walked down, pulling the corpse up. After being soaked in water, the corpse was unusually heavy, so Xiahou Lian gave him a hand, grabbing the corpse’s shoulders and lifting it to the shore together with Chi Yan.
“It is a Garan spy, I have seen him before,” said Chi Yan. “A few days ago, I bought crab roe buns at his stall.”
Chi Yan drew out a pink pouch from his belt and pulled out a pine nut candy from it, placing it into the palm of the spy’s hand.
He could tell at a glance that it had been given to him by a woman in the building.
“Do you want one?” asked Chi Yan.
Xiahou Lian shook his head. “Eat it yourself.”
Chi Yan put the pouch away and continued washing clothes.
Xiahou Lian saw another corpse being fished up from the center of the river and said to Chi Yan, “Don’t tell them that people died in the river.”
Chi Yan looked up blankly.
“Not saying it is right,” said Xiahou Lian.
Chi Yan made an “oh” and immersed himself in wringing out the water in the clothes and putting them into the dry wooden basin.
“I heard that the old geezer called you back to the mountain.”
Chi Yan nodded. “The abbot wants me to go and assassinate a leader of the Oirats.” There was no expression on his face, as if a long distance and a close one made no difference to him.
“Chi Yan,” said Xiahou Lian, “do you not have anything you want to do?”
Chi Yan was stunned before saying, “I do.” He lowered his eyes, and his long eyelashes were like butterfly wings, fluttering lightly. “What Xiao Lian and the abbot want to do are what I want to do.”
Now it was Xiahou Lian’s turn to be stunned. “What about you? I’m talking about you yourself.”
“We have the same face, the same blood, and the same heart. You are the other me in this world.” Chi Yan said softly, “So what you want to do is what I want to do, and this is what I want.”
“Then what about the abbot?”
“The abbot treats me very well. He is like a master and like a father.” Chi Yan spoke very naturally, but Xiahou Lian was a little angry. That old guy clearly only regarded Chi Yan as a saber, but Chi Yan was ignorant.
Xiahou Lian suppressed his fury and said, “How has he treated you well?”
Chi Yan turned his head, gazing at the cyan-black tiles and white walls of the river houses, as well as the boats with dark awnings on the river.
“Xiao Lian, you hate Garan a lot and you hate killing, but I do not hate them. Actually, there is not much difference between on top of the mountain and below the mountain. Every person only has a few things: a packet of pine nut candies, a few bags of silver, and perhaps they even have a courtyard. Every person has very little. But every person wants to take away other people’s things. People who make transactions want other people’s money, people who are officials want other people’s rights, and we want other people’s lives. Everyone is the same, so why hate it?”
“This is different…”
“Liu Guizang wanted the Garuda’s life, and you want Liu Guizang’s life. It is no different.” Chi Yan held Xiahou Lian’s hands. “But the abbot taught me to practice sabers and gave me kites, so I like him. You are Xiao Lian, and the first time I saw you, I knew that you were another me, the opposite of me.
“I like you, Xiao Lian.”
Chi Yan’s eyes were big and black. Xiahou Lian saw the wandering daylight and cloud shadows in them, as well as himself.
Bitterness arose in his mouth, like eating an astringent walnut. He looked down and held Chi Yan’s hands back. “I see. I like you too, Chi Yan.”
“Ah, damn, the deep bond of brotherhood, I’m about to cry!” Tang Shiqi’s sneaky voice sounded from behind him. Xiahou Lian broke off a tree branch and hit him with a backhand.
Tang Shiqi laughed as he jumped to the side. Shu Qing ran over from the other side, his face lit up in joy.
“Oh? You’re actually willing to get out of bed?” Tang Shiqi held Shu Qing’s shoulders. “Scholar, how did the first night feel, were you driven wild by pleasure?”
Shu Qing’s face became red at a speed visible to the naked eye.
“Fuck off.” Xiahou Lian pulled Shu Qing over and pulled out a stack of silver certificates from the fold of his clothes, putting them in Shu Qing’s hands. “Shifu isn’t around, so your shige will be your senior. It’s absurd for a man not to have money and resources, so keep these silver certificates. The bawd said that that girl doesn’t know our background, so tell her slowly. Don’t say you’re from Garan, just say that you’re a murderer. If she’s still willing to be with you, bring her back to Garan to live a good life. When the time comes, I’ll take people to build a house for you next to Shifu’s house, so it’s convenient for you two husband and wife to live in.”
Shu Qing took the silver certificates, and the rims of his eyes were red.
“It’s not easy for her, either, so treat her well, got it?” Xiahou Lian patted his shoulder. “If she doesn’t want to be with you, then just forget it. Give these silver notes to her and don’t blindly pester her.”
Shu Qing nodded dully.
“Ah, boss, if I get married, do I also get this many silver notes?” Tang Shiqi drooled as he looked at the silver certificates in Shu Qing’s hands.
“You’ll get a slap in the face,” said Xiahou Lian, and he walked a few steps away with his hands clasped behind his back. “All right, I’m leaving with Shiqi. You stay here and don’t cause trouble.”
“Shige, I also want to go to Liuzhou!” Shu Qing pulled him. “Liu Shao’er was originally your wife. I snatched her, so I have to apologize to you.”
Xiahou Lian was speechless and said, “What the hell? Fucking apologize and stay here, or go back to Garan.”
“No, I have to go with you. You won’t let me be on the killing field with you, but I can aid you together with Shiqi-ge.” Shu Qing turned his head and asked Chi Yan, “Chi Yan-ge, are you not going?”
Chi Yan shook his head. “I am going back to Garan.”
Originally, the odds of winning would be much higher if Chi Yan went with them, but Shu Qing knew that Xiahou Lian must kill Liu Guizang himself. Thus, he didn’t say anything and only craned his neck, saying that he must be Xiahou Lian’s sheath.
Shu Qing was always entangled with Xiahou Lian, and he followed Xiahou Lian wherever he went. Xiahou Lian couldn’t do anything about his entanglement, so he stopped insisting and agreed. Before they left, they said their goodbyes at Tongji Gate, and Shu Qing unreasonably pestered Liu Shao’er and had quite a bit of the sense of bidding farewell outside a long corridor 4.
It was the beginning of spring, and willow trees had sprouted along the shores of the city moat, extending all the way to depths that couldn’t be seen, like emerald-green curtains. Peddlers and servants carried things in their hands and on their shoulders as they walked, and an official occasionally entered the city in a carriage with cyan curtains. Xiahou Lian and Tang Shiqi were squatting at the shore, waiting for Shu Qing to say goodbye.
“Say, seriously, how come no one’s coming to see us two off and bid farewell?” Tang Shiqi was holding a fan sprinkled with gold in his hand, fanning desperately. “They don’t even think, maybe after you leave this time you won’t come back.”
Xiahou Lian ignored him and looked down at the reflections of him and himself in the river. In them, one had drooped brows and eyes, and the other was impassive, like two dogs without a home.
“In any case, I’m also known as the character of ‘Shen Jue of Bashu 5,’ so how come no one’s seeing me off?” complained Tang Shiqi.
“Shen Jue of Bashu? What the hell?” asked Xiahou Lian.
“You don’t know? I heard that the governor of the Eastern Depot is as beautiful as a fairy, and some people say he relied on his good looks to be promoted by Wei De and obtained the emperor’s favor. Ah, however, in the end, he’s still good at charming his masters and flattering people shamelessly, otherwise how could he have such a good future?” Tang Shiqi wagged his head, pleased with himself. “We’re the same age, but I, Tang Shiqi, can’t even compare to a eunuch. I really am angry!”
“Fuck your eunuch, you’re a scum of Tang Sect, so shut up!” Xiahou Lian pressed his head. “You even want to compare with Shen Jue with your cowardly appearance!”
“Speaking of Shen Jue, you really do have to be a little careful.” Tang Shiqi threw a stone into the water, and the stone broke through the surface of the water, causing ripples. “I heard that your spies who were in the capital were all cleaned up by him and arrested into the Eastern Depot, and not one came out. In recent days, he’s also been searching everywhere for Garan assassins. Didn’t an unlucky guy fall into his trap a few days ago?”
What Tang Shiqi said was right. Recently, Garan had suffered a great disaster, as Eastern Depot underlings were hunting down spies and assassins everywhere. When they were caught, they would be sent into the Eastern Depot prison. He heard that people walked into that place and were carried out dead, but their Garan people hadn’t even come out dead. But there was also nothing that could be done about this. Garan was a rebel faction in the martial arts world and had also killed quite a few people from the Eastern Depot, so if the Eastern Depot didn’t catch them, who would they catch?
Xiahou Lian sighed. So many years had passed, and he didn’t know whether Shen Jue still remembered him or if he was accidentally caught, whether he could plead with Shen Jue and be let go by him.
Just then, two prison carriages rattled as they drove out of the city gate. They were stuffed full with prisoners with ragged clothes, all of them only skin and bone and with a dejected appearance. However, the people escorting the prison carriages weren’t soldiers, and were instead disciples of Jingdao Mountain Village.
Xiahou Lian stood up, and his gaze became cold, bit by bit.
Tang Shiqi shuddered. He was someone who had stayed in those prison carriages before. The people of Jingdao Mountain Village liked to make fun of the prisoners so in the wilderness when no one was around, they would even tie the prisoners behind the horses and drag them as they ran.
“Boss, calm down, don’t be impulsive.” Tang Shiqi grabbed Xiahou Lian’s sleeve. “Say, these government officials don’t even manage Liu Guizang and let him carry out illegal punishments.”
“He has people in the government, and the people he catches are all people like us who aren’t on the household register and have numerous criminal records. The government officials even thank him.”
There were more and more common people who crowded around the sides, and some people criticized behind their backs.
“Have you heard? That Village Leader Liu of Jingdao Mountain Village was made a cuckold again!” someone said in a low voice.
“I know! His first wife, whom he formally and legally married, actually committed adultery with a bodyguard. His three legitimate sons aren’t even his biological sons!” Someone responded, “I heard the woman was punished by cucking stool 6, the sons were chased and killed. Originally, this was hidden and covered up so no one would know, but somehow, it spread out, and now it’s spread all over the martial arts world!”
“He can’t escape this title of cuckold. I think that his name wasn’t given well, why would they have a “gui 7” character!”
Tang Shiqi went closer to inquire about it, and he came back wearing a smile. “What a cuckold, how can he still take charge of justice in the martial arts world with this reputation? It’s likely that he speaks on top, but the people below joke that he’s a cuckold! The way I see it, it would be proper if he shrank his neck to conduct himself.”
Xiahou Lian didn’t say anything. He only looked down at his palms, on which thin Leading Mechanism Silk was wrapped.
He recited this name silently and gritted his teeth.
- Divine guardians of doors and gates in Chinese folk religions.
- Translation of juren, which is someone who passes the provincial exam.
- An idiom that refers to prostitutes.
- Refers to a song titled “Farewell Song” by Li Shutong.
- Bashu is another name for Sichuan, a southwestern Chinese province.
- A punishment inflicted in ancient times on people who committed adultery. It involved the adulterer being killed by being put into a bamboo pig cage along with a big stone, and thrown into a river.
- 归 (gui), the character in Liu Guizang’s name, is pronounced the same as 龟 (gui) as in turtle (乌龟, wugui). A “green-headed turtle” means the same thing as “wearing a green hat,” which means being a cuckold.