Translated by Vivian of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
Xiahou Lian sent Shen Jue back home. The air was chilly, cold to inhale into one’s nose. The moon hung high in the sky, and the moonlight washed the alley path to be silvery white. Xiahou Lian held Shen Jue’s hand as they walked on the path; the gray quadrangle courtyards on both sides drew back one by one, and ahead were dark houses and streets. The night market was already distant, so they couldn’t hear voices and could only hear sporadic dog barks. His mood slowly improved, but it became melancholic again, because Shen Jue would be home soon.
Shen Jue arrived at the gate to his house. The two stone lions were two big shadows, stupidly squatting in front of the gate to Shen Manor. The two of them stood at the gate and said goodbye, and Shen Jue took off his scar, revealing his face he had hidden for a night. Two lanterns hung below the eaves, and in the light and shadows, his eyes were lowered, containing a gentleness they usually didn’t have. Xiahou Lian looked at him quietly. Shen Jue was always so good-looking, and he was a painting wherever he stood; if he stood in a mire, the mire could also turn into a pond full of lotuses because of him. When he stood beside Xiahou Lian, Xiahou Lian’s heart was stuffed full.
Shen Jue was afraid that the night wasn’t safe, so he wanted to allocate a few servants to Xiahou Lian.
Xiahou Lian said that he didn’t need them. “Go inside, I’ll watch you go inside and I’ll leave.”
“I’ll watch you leave, go,” said Shen Jue.
“Ah, you go inside!” Xiahou Lian pushed his shoulders lightly.
The two of them stood there dawdling, and after pushing for a long time, no one had even moved a step. The depot guards stood in the distance in the cold wind, not knowing what was going on with the two of them.
“Why don’t we chat for a while longer,” Shen Jue said in the end.
Actually, they could meet tomorrow, eight more hours to be exact, their eyes closing and opening, and it would pass in a flash. Usually, he even felt that eight hours of sleep wasn’t enough. However, Xiahou Lian was still reluctant, as he always felt that this person had to be by his side, and he was only comfortable if he could reach out and press him into his heart. Before he made up his mind, his mouth answered for him first, saying, “Okay.”
Thus, they sat down on the steps, and Xiahou Lian put a silk handkerchief underneath Shen Jue’s bottom. The two of them sat shoulder-to-shoulder and looked at the moon. The sky was cyan-gray, and they could occasionally see the grayish white shadows of clouds. Moonlight sprinkled down with patters, and the world seemed to be wet, rippling in the water.
Shen Jue asked him, “Have you finished building your saber furnace?”
“It’s been built, but I have no way of forging the iron.” Xiahou Lian had a slight headache. “I only have time at night, but my neighbors say my clanging is so noisy that they can’t sleep. Every time, they kick my front door and even say that they’ll report it to officials.”
“Report it to officials? Aren’t you an official?” Shen Jue looked sideways at him.
“I can’t use it to bully people,” said Xiahou Lian.
Shen Jue was helpless; Xiahou Lian was determined to save face. Last time, he had taught him to intimidate people with power and use his title of governor to do things. So many days had passed, but he had never heard him use it before. If it weren’t for him using his surname of “Godfather,” how could he proceed so unimpeded when he investigated Garan? Shen Jue said, “Build the saber furnace in my manor. My house is big, so the sounds of you forging iron won’t reach the neighbors.”
“Okay.” Xiahou Lian touched his arm. “Do you want to see Leading Mechanism Silk, wait for me to forge it and show you. It’s very fun, and like weaving, you need to install a wire clip and there are warps and wefts, though it isn’t weaved as densely.”
“Can you weave a flower?” Shen Jue asked casually.
“Yes.” Xiahou Lian felt around in the fold of his clothes and pulled off a red string from a pouch. He wrapped the red string onto his hand, and as his fingers twisted, the red string gradually took shape. He weaved as he said, “The theory of Leading Silk arrays is a little similar to this, but it’s a little more complicated. If you want to learn it, I’ll teach you. You’re so smart, you’ll learn it after two days of weaving.”
In the end, it became a three-petaled orchid. He placed the little orchid in Shen Jue’s palm. “For you.”
“You’re a grown man, yet you even know how to weave.” Shen Jue held the little orchid and poked its small yet exquisite petals with his finger.
Xiahou Lian said, “Didn’t I have no other choice? My mother didn’t know how to, so I could only learn it. Otherwise, what would we do with our clothes? Speaking of it, I know many things: stir-frying, cooking, spinning, weaving, sweeping, cutting bamboo poles, and building houses, these were all forced onto me by my mother.”
“Oh,” said Shen Jue, “I don’t know how to do any of those.”
“What do you need to know those for?” Shen Jue had thought that Xiahou Lian was going to say he was extremely wealthy and had thousands of servants, so he didn’t need to worry about these things. However, Xiahou Lian said, “It’s enough that I know how.”
The moonlight was quiet, and everything was quiet. In a very distant place, someone was releasing a sky lantern. It rose into the sky, turning into a second moon. Xiahou Lian said, “Young Master, let me weave a fragrance pouch for you.”
“Is your craftsmanship good? I appear in the imperial court and go to the temple, don’t make me embarrassed for wearing it.” Shen Jue was a little doubtful.
“Don’t underestimate me, okay.”
Shen Jue looked down at his own toes and suddenly recalled that girls in the capital liked to weave fragrance pouches, and when the young man they liked walked by below the embroidery building, they would throw a fragrance pouch at him. From then on, their lovesickness would linger, and they wouldn’t forget for the rest of their life.
A secret thought arose in his heart: it was as if when Xiahou Lian gave him a fragrance pouch, he would be his from then on. A faint smile rose at the corner of his mouth, and he said, “Okay, I want one with an orchid fragrance.”
The candle was burning, and the red wax dripped down, landing on the saucer and slowly drying into small flowers. As Baili Yuan gazed at the candle in a daze, the red body of the candle and yellow candle flame blurred together, with no clear edges and turning into a beautiful halo.
She thought about why she had encountered that xun sound at the time. It was like destiny, the ghost of fate leading her by the hand to go to the garden and meet that xun sound. It was just like how she was fate’s evil spirit, having to kill her parents and siblings in the end, and no one in her family survived except for her.
It was many years later before she encountered Chi Yan again. She had already been the Yama of the Baili clan, and all assassins bowed to her. The first time she had expanded Bliss Fruit to Zijing Pass, the local gangster had been disobedient; he had wanted to take possession of her goods and even wanted to kill her people. She had gotten angry and buried him in the snow, only exposing his smooth head. She saw that he was crying, tears and mucus streaming down and turning into ice that hung on his face. The next morning when she went back to look, he had already been frozen into a piece of ice, and there was still that pitiful expression on his face.
She had had her subordinates handle affairs, and she had gone to the city to play. She had seen Chi Yan there, and he had also been pitiful. He was wrapped in a very tattered gray sheepskin jacket, and Shana was wrapped in rags on his waist. He bought a stiff steamed bun and stood under an inn’s eaves to eat it. He looked to be already over twenty years old, but he still had the expression of a child, the same as back then.
She hid in the crowd and watched him; he was watching a child play on the street. The child shook a rattle and moved back and forth in front of him. Someone pushing an oxcart walked past in front of him, and many cowskin and sheepskin goods were piled on top of it. Sunlight spilled onto the ground, sparse and faint. The sun in the North wasn’t strong, and it was always as dull as plain water. One didn’t feel anything when it shone on their body, but because there was a layer of bright yellow color, it seemed to be able to make people a little warmer.
The crowd moved between them. They were like two rocks, maintaining a tacit agreement that didn’t exist, and neither of them moved. The street was lively, and there were smiles on everyone’s faces, but it had nothing to do with them. They were only observers, only outsiders. She thought, How nice. He was still the same as back then, lonesome like her.
A-Chu finished removing her makeup and lifted her skirt as she walked over. Without red rouge and white powder, she had an even and clear face, with long eyebrows as faint as distant mountains, big eyes sharply contrasted between black and white, and red lips that were a little light. A-Chu squatted down next to the bed and asked her if she was feeling better.
She didn’t answer and instead reached out to touch A-Chu’s face. “A-Chu-jiejie, you’re good-looking without makeup.”
A-Chu covered her mouth and laughed, nudging Baili Yuan’s nose. “Your mouth is so sweet!”
“Even better-looking than that Shen Jue,” said Baili Yuan.
“You speak as if you’ve seen him before.” A-Chu smiled. “Careful Eastern Depot underlings hear you and catch you to make stew. I heard that the eunuchs in the palace like to catch children to make stew the most, since children’s meat is tender and can maintain beauty. Maybe Eunuch Shen stews and eats children every day.”
“A-Chu-jiejie, don’t put on makeup in the future.”
“Why not, I still have to do business, how can I not put on makeup?” A-Chu tilted her head and looked at her.
“Stop doing business. Do you have rules for prostitution? I have money, I’ll take care of it for you.” Baili Yuan took out a pouch from the fold of her clothes and poured out a lot of gold ingots, which clattered onto the bed.
A-Chu looked at them, dumbfounded. “My god, I recognized the god of wealth as my little sister.” She shook her head forcefully and stored the gold ingots back into Baili Yuan’s pouch, stuffing it into the front of her clothes. “Hide your money well and don’t take it out. If a thief sees it, you’ll die. God, what does your family do?”
“My family sells medicine,” said Baili Yuan.
“Selling medicine makes this much money?! Ah, the owner of a herbal medicine shop came last time to listen to the opera, but I thought he was too fat, so I didn’t take a fancy to him.” A-Chu wrung her wrists and sighed. “Never mind, never mind, it’s all nature! Come, come, hurry and get up, let’s release lanterns.”
A-Chu pulled Baili Yuan up. She wore her dirty shorts for the time being, put on her skirt, and finally put on a scarlet cloak before she was pulled into the courtyard. Chi Yan was standing there, holding the corner of the oilpaper of a sky lantern. He had already waited for them for quite a while, and his shoulders and head were covered in snow.
A-Chu ran over excitedly, picked up an ink brush, and wrote her wishes onto the oilpaper. Baili Yuan watched from the side; A-Chu had written “Make a lot of money, find a rich, powerful, and handsome man, buy my freedom and be a concubine.”
Baili Yuan: “…”
She didn’t see what Chi Yan had written, but she didn’t need to see to know. Chi Yan had definitely written “find my little brother,” “let my brother be safe,” and whatnot. Little brother, little brother. She really hated that little brother, and she wanted to find him as soon as possible and kill him. Chi Yan could only have a little sister, not a little brother.
“Okay, it’s your turn to write!” A-Chu handed the brush to her.
Baili Yuan picked up the brush and wrote her wish onto the oilpaper. A-Chu watched blankly and murmured, “A-Yuan, your handwriting is so good.” Her handwriting was indeed the best out of the three of them, with dragons and snakes following her brush, having a boldness that looked down upon the world.
Chi Yan ignited the fire, and the sky lantern swelled up rapidly, leaving the three people on the ground who were looking up at it, rising higher and higher. As the raging flame burned and sizzled, the sky lantern slowly turned in the wind as it drifted far away. The firelight burnt past the side Baili Yuan had written on, and Chi Yan saw her wish.
“A-Yuan wants to be together with Chi Yan-gege and A-Chu-jiejie forever.”