Chapter 77: Mutual Affection in Fine Silk Curtains
Translated by Vivian of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
Note: There is no Chapter 76 in the raws (due to it being taken down on account of censored words, I believe), but the author reposted it as Chapter 77.
When Shen Jue woke up, he discovered that he was wrapped in a blanket. His armor had been taken off to the side, and he was still wearing a military uniform. He had sweated a lot, so his entire body was sticky and uncomfortable, and it was smelly. He wished he could peel off a layer of his own skin, but there was also no way, so he could only tolerate it.
He propped himself up and touched his forehead; it was already no longer feverish. His body was a lot more refreshed, his head was clear, and his hands and feet had strength.
He was laying on top of two trunks, and above his head were the black ceiling and beams. Looking to his side, there were many beddings laid out, and wounded soldiers were sleeping on them. There was a Buddha statue enshrined in the center, an incense inserted in the incense burner, and there was even a wounded soldier lying underneath the table, his face buried in his bedding.
He recognized that this was Anle Hall 1, which was outside the mountain gate of Guangling Temple. It seemed that it was being used by the imperial guards to situate the wounded soldiers. He sat up and wanted to find Xiahou Lian when a person who looked like a medical officer walked over. He had a mustache whose two sides curled up and smiled as he asked, “You’re awake? How do you feel? Is it better?”
Shen Jue nodded and asked, “Where’s the person who sent me here?”
“Oh, are you talking about Xia Lao’er?” The medical officer signaled outside the door with his mouth. “He’s chatting outside with our brothers, I’ll call him for you.”
In a bit, the medical officer brought Xiahou Lian back. Xiahou Lian’s face was smeared to be black, and when he saw that he was awake, he grinned, revealing a mouthful of white teeth. Xiahou Lian sidled over and used his forehead to test his temperature. Only when he confirmed that he no longer had fever was he at ease.
The medical officer laughed teasingly at the side. “Xie Laosan, you don’t know how good this brother of yours is to you. He waited upon you carefully, searching for blankets and going into the temple to ask for honeysuckle to decoct medicine for you. I don’t know what method this guy used, but he even got a bowl of rice congee. Ah, everyone is comrades in the barracks, how come we don’t have this blessing!”
The wounded soldiers around them guffawed and competed to shout, “Yes, yes! How come you didn’t get a bowl for us?”
Xiahou Lian glared at them and said, “What nonsense are you saying!”
Shen Jue muddledly remembered a little; when he had been muddle-headed from his fever, Xiahou Lian had fed him medicine and congee. What the hell was Xie Laosan? Shen Jue disliked it a little. Xiahou Lian’s ability of coming up with names was too bad. Xia Lao’er and Xie Laosan 2 were exactly like two begging tramps in some corner.
He saw the appearance of Xiahou Lian being very familiar with the medical officer and soldiers, and he felt that it was rare. Xiahou Lian was a talented person. He had only slept for so long, yet this guy already addressed this group of people as brothers. When he thought about it, it wasn’t strange. There were many soldiers in the Imperial Guard, and they had entered the mountain in units. They had been killed into a disorder by Xiahou Lian and the Eastern Depot underlings hiding in the mountain, so wounded soldiers were mixed together, none of them knowing each other. Xiahou Lian had a ruffian-like aura, and he was also someone who had been in military barracks before, so mixing into this thieves’ den of the Imperial Guard was practically like a fish in water.
A soldier said to Shen Jue, “Xiao Xie-xiongdi, is Xia-erge your older male lover? You have to answer truthfully, we made a bet, if you’re not then I’ll have to pay up!”
Male lovers was a common practice that had come from the coast of Fujian. Fujian’s folk customs were open, and the same sex would associate and get married, unlike the capering and crafty youth in the capital, Jiangsu, and Zhejiang. They were also particular about having three matchmakers and following the six formalities, no different from a proper husband and wife.
Xiahou Lian was experienced and knowledgeable, so he had already heard of it. He inwardly hated these army ruffians for not guarding their mouths and carelessly spewing nonsense. When Shen Jue was younger, he had been bullied by homosexual eunuchs. Si Xi and that damned eunuch from the imperial kitchen had wanted to go against the rules and had been killed by him, so Shen Jue should hate the habit of cut-sleeves the most, yet this group of people actually said these in front of Shen Jue.
Xiahou Lian opened his mouth and wanted to scold them, yet he heard Shen Jue say calmly, “Sorry, you’ll have to spend money. I’m older than him, so I’m the older male lover. He usually calls me gege.”
The soldiers laughed. “We all guessed wrong! No profit and no loss!”
Xiahou Lian looked at Shen Jue, dumbfounded. Shen Jue looked composed as he lifted his blanket and stepped out the door. The room smelled bad and he had been really uncomfortable. Outside, the sunlight was just right, and there were many ginkgo trees planted in front of the hall. The warm mountain breeze brushed past, and the bright yellow leaves overturned and fluttered, landing all over the ground like gold that covered everywhere.
Shen Jue shaded his eyes with his hand as he gazed below the mountain gate. In the depths of the continuous bluestone steps, the ancient road was covered with tents of the imperial guards, and there was a soldier every ten steps guarding at the side of the mountain path, the goose quill sabers at their waists glinting with a golden light among the fluttering ginkgo leaves.
“Why did you say that?” Xiahou Lian followed him out and asked.
“What, is being my younger male lover wronging you?” Shen Jue glanced at him sideways.
Xiahou Lian hadn’t expected this guy Shen Jue would also make this kind of joke. Forget it, it was fine if Shen Jue didn’t mind. His own reputation was already completely ruined, so it didn’t matter.
Shen Jue took a few steps and asked ponderingly, “You’re already twenty-four years old this year, yet I haven’t seen you have a woman by your side before. It was rumored that you had many women in old times, but you say that that was someone else pinning it on you. As for mistresses and concubines, you also don’t have any. Sometimes, I really have some doubts as to whether you’re homosexual, which is why you have no interest in women.”
“You’re overthinking it.” Xiahou Lian replied quite gloomily, “I’m a proper man. Earlier when I was in Yunxian Building, there was a homosexual brothel next door, and I didn’t even take one step inside.”
Shen Jue made a hm and clasped his hands behind his back as he said with drawn-out sounds, “I heard there’s a famous character in Yanzhi Alley, and I’ve heard him sing ‘Wutong 3 Rain’ in Shen Wenxing’s house before. He’s named Yu Guan’er or something, and he’s quite good-looking, not worse than women. Have you seen him before?”
Xiahou Lian said that he had.
Shen Jue made a curious tone. “Oh? Weren’t you tempted when you saw him?”
“That’s all from cosmetics, I’m also beautiful if I smear some on my face!” Xiahou Lian had a disdainful expression. “Besides, you’re a lot more good-looking than him, yet aren’t I also not tempted?” When he said this, Xiahou Lian recalled the appearance of Shen Jue licking his finger that day, and his heart became a little uneasy. He coughed a few times and said, “I haven’t married because I’ve taken an oath that love has nothing to do with me. Moreover, I’m so poor and I still owe you a lot of debt, how would I have the spare money for a wife, come on.”
Shen Jue listened for a long time, yet only the sentence “you’re a lot more good-looking than him, yet aren’t I also not tempted” poked into his ears. Something seemed to have been dug out of his heart, making it empty. But he still fought stubbornly. Although Xiahou Lian didn’t like men, he also still didn’t have a woman, so he always had hope! “Then what do you feel when you look at those homosexuals, are you disgusted?”
Xiahou Lian knitted his brows and thought for a while. It couldn’t be considered disgust or something of the sort. Qiu-shifu had come from this line of work, and there were a ton of male prostitutes under Garan. There were also no lack of male prostitutes among assassins, so he was already used to it. However, Shen Jue must hate cut-sleeves to the core, so he couldn’t not take a clear stance. After considering his wording for a while, Xiahou Lian said, “It has nothing to do with me, I don’t care about that. In any case, it’s impossible for me to be a cut-sleeve.”
Shen Jue’s heart completely sank down, yet he still had to pretend to be calm on the surface. He made a faint mn and lifted his head to look at the whirling shadows of leaves, his heart full of melancholy. For Zhu Xia, he could make her docile with a fluid glance, yet this guy Xiahou Lian was like a piece of crude iron, impenetrable by water or fire, how come he didn’t take the bait no matter how he provoked him. He still had to work harder and use all of those moves from inside the palace. Seeing that level of battle, Xiahou Lian definitely wouldn’t have a reason not to surrender.
“Stop talking about this, let’s talk business.” Xiahou Lian walked to Shen Jue’s side and said in a low voice, “Xu Ruoyu isn’t in Anle Hall. I asked those soldiers, and they said that some of the wounded were transferred back to the capital for treatment, so I reckon Xu Ruoyu is also inside. Or, he died. When we return to the Eastern Depot, we’ll find a way to search for him.”
He was afraid the empress dowager would hide him closely, so he would be hard to find. Shen Jue knitted his brows and asked, “Has the empress dowager already gone back to the palace? Where is Wan Bohai?”
Xiahou Lian shook his head and said, “The two of them are in Guangling Temple, it seems that they went after saying they were going to worship Buddha.”
Shen Jue smiled in ridicule. “Worship Buddha?” Offering incense at Guangling Temple had already turned into such a situation. The young emperor had already been sent back to the palace by the empress dowager, and there were only the numerous imperial guards and Eastern Depot underlings hiding everywhere left in the huge mountain field. Creating a karma of killing under Buddha’s nose, what Buddha would these two people worship? He turned around and walked toward Guangling Temple. “Okay, we’ll also go and worship.”
It was already three in the afternoon, and the sun’s shadow slanted westward, broken pieces of gold flowing on the glazed tiles. The slanting sun passed through the gaps between the sal tree leaves, shining on the vermillion door and decorative golden dragon painting under the eaves, setting off the emerald-green painting to be even brighter and even more dazzling. Under the white marble railing in front of the Hall of Guanyin Hall 4, soldiers were fully armed and patrolling back and forth, their footsteps as heavy as iron.
Xiahou Lian and Shen Jue pretend to be patrolling soldiers, brushing shoulders with the soldiers guarding under the stone railing as they passed and stepping onto the stone steps. Incense burned in the Buddha urn, the smoke curling. The gate to the Guanyin Hall was shut tightly, yet there were no soldiers standing at the gate, only Zhu Xia was guarding it. Her complexion didn’t look well, and she was sitting on a stone seat, gazing blankly at her toes, not knowing what she was thinking about.
Xiahou Lian and Shen Jue glanced at each other and went around to the back of the Guanyin Hall. Behind it was a surrounding wall, and no soldiers were guarding it. Xiahou Lian listened at the back door for a while. The voices of a man and a woman faintly came from inside, though they were too far so he couldn’t hear them clearly.
Xiahou Lian let Shen Jue step aside and poked through the window gauze to take a look inside. Before his eyes was the Guanshiyin 5 with brilliant gold light, and under its pedestal were many little imps grimacing with their teeth showing. Some were showing the whites of their eyes and some were crying in deep sorrow, all of them appearing to be begging for mercy. The altar was covered by red silk, which hung all the way to the ground.
Behind the Guanshiyin was a partition, and behind the partition was the outer room. There should be other Guanshiyins enshrined inside it, probably the Son-Bringing Guanyin or the Lotus-Holding Guanyin, nothing more than these. There was no one on this side of the partition, so the empress dowager and Wan Bohai should be talking in the outer room. Xiahou Lian made a gesture toward Shen Jue, meaning to go inside and take a look. Shen Jue felt that it was too risky and shook his head in disagreement.
The two of them squatted at the doorway and looked for a while. The voices inside had stopped, gradually turning into the sounds of a woman moaning and groaning.
Xiahou Lian pointed at the red silk underneath the Guanyin’s pedestal, mouthed “it’s okay,” and reached out to lightly crack the door open. He dove in through the gap and rolled on the spot, rolling into the red silk. Shen Jue followed him in diving in, not forgetting to close the door before following Xiahou Lian in rolling underneath the table.
Two big men shrinking underneath the altar was indeed a little tight. Xiahou Lian laid down. The altar was a long strip and its legs were slightly curved, just enough to sleep under. However, the space was too narrow, so only one person could lie down. Xiahou Lian wanted to turn sideways to clear room for Shen Jue, yet Shen Jue pressed down on him, leaning over, his entire body covering Xiahou Lian’s.
Xiahou Lian: “…”
“There’s no other way, tolerate it for a bit,” Shen Jue whispered in his ear.
Shen Jue appeared very innocent, so Xiahou Lian also didn’t think indecent thoughts. Here, the voices in the outer room could be clearly heard. The woman’s drawn-out cries, the man’s heavy panting, and the creaking sounds of deity table shaking violently came clearly from the partition. Xiahou Lian and Shen Jue were face to face and looking at each other, and it occurred to them that they were listening to the matters between a man and woman together. Xiahou Lian couldn’t help but be embarrassed.
It turned out that the empress dowager and Wan Bohai had this layer of relationship. This was also no wonder; the women in the deep palace had been dry for a long time, so it wasn’t uncommon for them to hook up with commanders of the Imperial Guard and garrison guards. The empress dowager was the most honorable woman in the Forbidden City, yet she was also the loneliest woman. Making love under the deity table and separated by a thin wallboard, the love was like a tide, crashing over in wave upon wave, and the entire Hall of Guanyin seemed to be shaking.
The light was dim under the altar, as the red silk isolated the setting sun, leaving only a little bit of a soft light. Xiahou Lian and Shen Jue were too close, and he could even feel Shen Jue’s warm breaths. He looked up; in the light and shadows, he couldn’t see Shen Jue’s coarse skin after the makeup, and only his gorgeous features remained, plunging straight into his heart.
Xiahou Lian’s heart skipped a beat.
The wallboard seemed to be shaking, and Xiahou Lian’s heart also followed in shaking. He regretted it; he shouldn’t have been curious, let alone should he have come in. Shen Jue slowly got even closer, his knees kneeling at the sides of his waist, his chest against his chest, and the tip of his nose rubbing against the tip of his nose. He heard his own heart beating faster and faster, louder and louder, and in the end, there was only his fierce heartbeat left in his entire chest.
Xiahou Lian pushed Shen Jue for him to stay farther away. Shen Jue didn’t budge an inch. His rippling gaze prowled on his face and the icy tip of his nose brushed past his cheek, touching his red ear. Shen Jue stopped kneeling and slowly pressed on his body, not forgetting to explain, “My knees are tired from kneeling, I’m taking a break.”
Xiahou Lian gritted his teeth and said with difficulty, “It hurts, get up a little.”
Shen Jue did as he said and raised himself slightly, but his arms were still tightly pressed to him. Through the military uniform, he could feel Shen Jue’s skin that was as fine and smooth as silk. Over there, the empress dowager became louder and louder, and tidewater surged in the Hall of Guanyin, rushing under the narrow altar. Xiahou Lian felt that he was lying on top of waves, dizzy.
In his daze, the empress dowager’s voice came from over there. Her tones tossed and turned, so oily it was as if water could drip out, instantly startling him awake. Xiahou Lian bit the tip of his tongue, coming back to his senses with great difficulty.
“Empress Dowager, how is my service, is it comfortable?”
“Yes.” The empress dowager smiled. “When I kill Shen Jue, you’ll be able to come and go from Cining Palace 6 at will, and you won’t have to avoid people’s eyes and ears anymore.”
“Thank you for your grace. For this alone, I would still seize Eunuch Shen so our future days can be smooth.”
The empress dowager sighed in melancholy. “It’s a pity we haven’t caught him yet. This mountain can’t be said to be neither big nor small, where exactly do you think he could hide?”
“Empress Dowager, don’t worry, there is me for this. These things are even bothering you, Empress Dowager, don’t I deserve to be hit?”
The deity table shook violently, as if it had collapsed, probably because Wan Bohai had suddenly exerted his strength. It was a long time before the empress dowager could speak. “Don’t underestimate Shen Jue. He’s a shrewd person. Thinking back to the time I had just given birth to the emperor, I didn’t know anything and understood nothing, I only knew to hide my capabilities and bide my time, proceeding with caution. It was Shen Jue who taught me words, actions, mannerisms, and appearance, what to say on what occasions, and what should and shouldn’t be said. All matters, big or small, considering all aspects. Speaking of it, if it weren’t for Shen Jue, there wouldn’t be the me today.”
“Then let’s leave him as an intact corpse as a thank you for his teachings.” Wan Bohai paused and smiled again. “No, we won’t be able to leave him as an intact corpse even if we wanted to. He’s a eunuch, missing teapot spout, he can’t be left as an intact corpse.”
“No matter. A eunuch like Shen Jue should have already redeemed his penis back from the bladesmith 7. I heard that there’s a saying among the eunuchs that the higher they hang their penis, the higher they’ll be promoted. Shen Jue’s penis should also be hung on the beams of his house!”
Wan Bohai laughed loudly.
Shen Jue’s expression became sinister, a storm brewing in his eyes. Xiahou Lian was also so angry his vision went black. He patted Shen Jue’s shoulder and pointed at himself, and then made a gesture of slitting his throat, meaning that he would go out and kill these two people. The gloom in Shen Jue’s eyes immediately dissipated, and he hooked his lips in a smile, touching his head and shaking his head to say that there was no need.
“The palace is going to be locked soon, I have to go.” Their voices became closer and closer; they were walking toward this direction.
Shen Jue looked up, and an indistinct shadow appeared outside the red silk. It was two bare legs; the empress dowager had actually come over without clothes on.
“Empress Dowager, don’t be in a hurry to leave! You finally came out for a walk, don’t you miss me?”
Seeing that Shen Jue was still lifting his head and looking, Xiahou Lian covered his eyes. This kind of filthy scene would taint one’s eyes. Shen Jue blinked in the darkness of his hand, and his long and curved eyelashes swept past his fingers, itchy, as if the tip of a feather was scratching the tip of his heart. Xiahou Lian shivered and retracted his hand.
The empress dowager and Wan Bohai lingered for another while before reluctantly putting on their clothes and leaving. It instantly quieted down in the Hall of Guanyin, and there was still a bit of a charming aura remaining in the air. The setting sun already couldn’t shine inside, so the bottom of the altar was plunged into darkness. It was silent all around, and they could only hear each other’s clear and shallow breaths.
Xiahou Lian pushed Shen Jue. “Young Master, they’re gone, you can get down.”
However, Shen Jue didn’t move. He was silent for a while before letting out a low laugh and saying in his ear, “Call me gege, and I’ll get down.”
- Lit. Hall of Peaceful Pleasure.
- Lao’er is lit. second oldest child, Laosan is lit. third oldest child.
- A type of tree also known as the Chinese parasol tree.
- The most important annex hall in a Chinese Buddhist temple, mainly for enshrining Guanyin, a Buddhist bodhisattva associated with compassion.
- Guanyin is the shortened form for Guanshiyin, which is a translation from the Sanskrit Avalokitasvara.
- Lit. Palace of Compassion and Tranquility.
- Refers to someone who castrates eunuchs.