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Ysabel, Jaya, you are welcome. Xiaohu, but I thought you were asking for it? Lance, if you don't mind me asking, where are you? Commuting on trains? Does not sound too common on my side of the world. Shirak, just so you know, I am not translating the text word for word, plus this is a fictional story, not a historical text. Speaking about translation, a while back, during the Condor Trilogy project, someone pointed out that Yi Deng ought to be 'Duke Duan', not 'Emperor Duan'. His argument was that there was already an emperor in China, so technically he could not be an emperor. However, everybody in the story called him 'huang ye' (emperor). So, should we call him 'Duke Duan' instead? Are we, as translators of fiction, at fault for 'interpreting' the text? John Minford came to mind. He is definitely a scholar, a professional translator; yet he took a lot of 'liberty' with the original text. I have not read Graham Shaw and Olivia Mok, or the new translation of 'Eagle Shooting Hero' that is supposed to be published around now. I don't know what you guys think about their work? How about TV adaptation like Lance mentioned? They are certainly different than the original. Anyway, 'nuff said. We are here to enjoy the story, not to bicker about a certain word. Hungry, Akolaw, thanks for dropping in. Since you are a big Huang Yi fan, perhaps you'll enjoy this part. You know, perhaps I'll copy his style, whenever I encounter a text that I am not sure, I'd just say, 'it's hard to describe' …

Book 24 Chapter 13 - Ancient Castle Duzun

Duzun Bao was located in the northern suburbs of Chengdu, on the southern bank of Wansui [lit. ten-thousand years, i.e. long live (the king, etc.)] Pond, lying from south to north, like a miniature Imperial City.

The entire castle was made of stone bricks, giving the impression of a secured-city-protected-by-a-metal-wall-and-a-moat-of-boiling-water [idiom: well fortified].

When they reached the other end of the drawbridge spanning across the river protecting the castle, Shi Feixuan halted her steps and said, "Feixuan already completed my duty, Xu Xiong only needs to announce your name, someone will take Xu Xiong to see Miss Qingxuan."

Taken aback, Xu Ziling asked, "You are not coming in with me?"

Acting a bit helpless, Shi Feixuan replied, "I am afraid Miss Qingxuan would not be so happy to see me, but please do not ask for the reason. Xu Xiong, please take a good care of yourself."

Finished speaking, she laughed, tranquil and calm, before floating away. Xu Ziling stared blankly at her for a moment before walking across the drawbridge.

On the already open wide gate of the castle, someone was already waiting respectfully. A big man wearing gorgeous brocade clothes, around forty years old, respectful, solemn and courteous. After listening to the name and surname of the visitor, he introduced himself as the housekeeper [or butler] of Duzun Bao, Fang Yimin. He said, "Xu Gongzi has honored us by your presence; this is indeed our Duzun Bao's privilege. This way, please."

Although Xu Ziling felt that this whole thing was rather strange, he knew that Shi Feixuan could not possibly deceive him; thereupon he followed Fang Yimin to enter the castle gate.

Beyond the entrance was a stone screen wall [across the gate of a house (for privacy)]. Rounding the stone screen wall, there was a big and tall stone memorial arch, where there were four large characters, 'Zhong Xin Li Yi' [loyal, trustworthy, propriety, righteousness] written on it - connecting the gate with a perfectly straight stone-slab pathway. On both sides of the pathway were evergreen pine and cypress trees [symbolic: steadfast nobility]. The buildings were hidden among the trees; the ambience was that of serene and hidden in depth.

Fang Yimin smiled and said, "It was only this morning that our Baozhu [fort master] learned that Gongzi has honored Chengdu with your presence, while also heard that Ba Meng people have the heart to make things difficult for Gongzi; thereupon he immediately went to call on Ba Meng's Feng Zhen to have a talk."

Xu Ziling came to his senses as if he was startled from his dream; he said, "Xie Baozhu's profound love and generous intention, Xu Ziling is very grateful."

Fang Yimin took him across a stone bridge spanning over a clear stream winding from the northwest. Just ahead was a cluster of towering buildings right in the middle of Duzun Bao, with interlocking wooden brackets between the top of the columns and the crossbeams high in the air, full of paintings and carving.

Most of all, there were a pair of giant stone squatting lions - mighty and vivid, under the stone steps of the main hall, about a zhang tall, increasing the strong mystery and dignity of the main hall.

While walking, Fang Yimin said with laugh, "It should be us who are grateful. This way, please."

Amazed, Xu Ziling followed by his side. Going around the main hall, they took the dirt pathway, along the winding road [orig. twisting and turning like a sheep's intestine] leading toward the side garden. Both sides of the pathway were full of exotic flowers and rare herbs, brilliant and dazzling to the eyes under the bright sun, while providing delightful shade. "Why are you grateful to me?" he could not help asking.

Fang Yimin smiled mysteriously and spoke in low voice, "Very soon Gongzi will find out. Please forgive Xiaoren for not daring to disclose it in advance."

The pathway ended. Ahead, the willow trees made the shade, the flowers gave the light [idiom: light at the end of the tunnel], another clearing appeared. Under the flowers and trees cupping their hands in salute [i.e. forming an arch], a tranquil, unique small two-story building, was located at this serene and elegant corner.

Raising his cupped hands in salute, Fang Yimin said, "Gongzi, please come into the small building to see Miss Qingxuan. Xiaoren takes my leave here."

Just like that, he bowed and retreated toward the pathway, and disappeared around a curve.

Xu Ziling was dumbstruck; it was quite a while later that he came to his senses and walked over toward the small building.

Along the way, the most suspicious thing was that he never met anybody else of the castle. Were it not for Shi Feixuan personally taking him here, he would have suspected that Duzun Bao was setting up an ambush, or at least they harbored evil designs.

Upon reaching the steps at the front door of the small building, Xu Ziling raised his voice, saying, "Miss Shi, Xu Ziling is here to meet the appointment."

Shi Qingxuan's brimming-with-magnetic-force touching voice came from upstairs, "Come up here!"

Xu Ziling finally put his keyed-up mind down.

Frankly speaking, although he had 90% confidence that Shi Feixuan would not harm him, but due to past experience, especially with Shen Luoyan and Yun Yuzhen, two women, who bit the hand that fed them, inevitably he always felt a little uneasy.

The major premise of the struggle over the world was that father and son, older and younger brothers, all could become enemies; much less just friends as strangers coming together by chance.

Secretly he was ashamed for harboring suspicion toward Shi Feixuan. This fairy-like beauty deserved to be treated as someone outside the dust of the earth, she could not possibly be someone who drift with the waves and go with the flow [idiom: following the crowd blindly].

He went up the steps one by one.

The small reception hall downstairs was tidy, simple yet elegant, brimming with feminine, gentle and soft - atmosphere. The place where Shi Qingxuan stayed momentarily, quite naturally, ought to be the lady's chamber of someone with status within the castle.

He saw a flight of stairs leading to the upper floor.

For some reason, suddenly Xu Ziling felt a little tense; perhaps because of the unusual atmosphere, or perhaps because this meeting was arranged by Shi Feixuan as the go-between [orig. one who threaded the needle].

Thinking about when he first arrived at Chengdu the previous night, the breathtaking, enchanted feeling where, under the lantern light illuminating the sky, Shi Qingxuan lifted half of the veil covering her face, he could not stop his heart from jumping a bit faster.

Xu Ziling took the steps upstairs. When he reached the second floor, immediately his breathing stopped, his heart was violently shaken.

Kou Zhong was standing alone by the ship's railing on the port side, casting his gaze on the boundless expanse of the ocean.

A long forgotten memory was flashing through his mind at the speed of lightning or a spark of the flint.

He remembered when together with Xu Ziling, which was hard to differentiate between elder and younger brother with him, were racking their brains on how to steal a boatload of salt under Hai Sha Bang, the evil tiger's paws, and escape into the ocean. Afterwards they encountered the wind and the waves, and were forced to abandon the salt to save their lives. The scene was still vivid in his mind, as if it had just happened not long ago.

Time is fleeting. His relationship with Song Yuzhi was just like that; in the blink of an eye they separated in sadness. This time he went to the Song Family to look for her, how would this unyielding, proud, coming from the South's most illustrious aristocratic family, beauty react?

The most fascinating, as well as the most terrifying, aspect of one's destiny was the vast, with no clear boundary, unpredictable development.

Before the Mid-Autumn Festival, his heart has never moved him to go across a thousand li to see Song Yuzhi. But now he was on his way to Lingnan. Who could have foreseen it beforehand?

All the reasons for his trip to Lingnan were only excuses for his longing to see 'the one's intended' [usually female].

Ay! Kou Zhong sighed inwardly. Whether it was the pursuit of hegemony over the world, or the pursuit of love, he might just be someone who overestimated his own capabilities, like a moth throwing itself into the flame, a self-destruction hidden behind the brilliance of the light.

This moment Li Shimin was thrown far away at the back of his mind, yet there was no possibility for him to turn around. Before defeat in battle, before his death, he really wanted to see Song Yuzhi one more time.

Currently, it was his only cherished desire.

Shi Qingxuan was wearing double-lapel rounded collar, blue flower print women's clothing; graceful, confident and at ease, sitting in front of the windowsill, fixing her eyes indifferently at him. Lucid and elegant beyond compare, her pretty face, without the least bit of cosmetics, exuded some kind of hard to describe sad, yet beautiful and tranquil, expression. Her natural good looks inviting in a sisterly way, lovely and touching. Her outline was so defined as if it was carved with a knife, brimming with a sense of beauty, which complimented her icy flesh and jade skin. Speaking about her lucid-and-elegant-like-a-fairy appearance, any one tread, one hair [idiom: an iota] addition or subtraction would destroy this moon-appearance, flowery-countenance, which could only come from the work of the gods in heaven.

Compared to her previous appearance with fake nose or rough, swarthy complexion, it could be said that her appearance this time was of a very different world.

Shi Qingxuan finally kept her promise to let Xu Ziling see her natural beauty in all its glory.

The blue flower print clothing she was wearing was of soft cloth; although it was a monochromatic print, there was a strong blue-white contrast that gave the impression of multitude of changes within the monochromatic world, a perfect blend of the contrast, an unusually unique color scheme.

Her admired-by-the-world jade flute was so casually resting on her knee. The brilliant sun penetrated the forest tree sprinkled its light into the window, turning into a halo, which enveloped her inside the shade of bright red clouds in heavenly heavy atmosphere, so moving that it made people holding their breath.

A hard to describe feeling welled up in Xu Ziling's heart.

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