As Ji Feng Li walked in upon this scene, the expression on his face slightly stiffen for a split second before the corners of his lips lifted in a smile and his eyes darkened.
He swiftly approach the bed and stood in front of Hua Zhu Yu.
"This Chancellor's future wife dares not bother Commander Bao, hand over the medicine," he said with his hand extended towards her. His eyes glowered with a burning flame, masking the sadness hidden within its depths.
Seeing his outstretched hand, Hua Zhu Yu was reminded of that moment on the battlefield. Amidst the backdrop of flying arrows, his hand was extended towards her as he shouted, "Give me your hand!" In that moment, his words had resonated in her heart.
Today, his hands were extended towards her but they were cold and distant.
This time, it wasn't her hand he was asking for but the bowl of medicine within them, his future wife's medicine.
"Give me the bowl of medicine!" Ji Feng Li reiterated impatiently, his words frosty as the snow outside.
Hua Zhu Yu's complexion slightly changed as her eyes flashed with self-mockery.
What was she thinking? After hearing Jin Se speak a few good words for him, she was a bit unsettled seeing him again. What if it was really as Jin Se had said?
Hua Zhu Yu collected her thoughts and smiled. She took a spoonful of medicine and brought it to her lips. She blew on it, cooling it before bringing the spoon to Jin Se's lips.
Jin Se was a little apprehensive, uncertain if she should drink or not. Hua Zhu Yu gave her a reassuring smile and Jin Se followed her lead and slowly drank the medicine.
After feeding Jin Se a spoonful of medicine, Hua Zhu Yu placed the spoon back in the bowl and slowly stood. She then handed the bowl to Ji Feng Li and said, "Lord Chancellor."
He responded with a light grunt and reached for the bowl. Inadvertently their fingers touched and both of them quickly retracted their hands as if scalded by the contact.
With a resounding thud, the porcelain bowl dropped to the ground. The dark brown liquid splattered and a few drops splashed onto Hua Zhu Yu's hand, leaving a red burn mark.
Ji Feng Li's gaze swept across her hand and condensed upon the mess on the ground.
Hua Zhu Yu furrowed her brows and leaned over to start cleaning up the mess.
Jin Se anxiously got up and cautiously said, " Leave that to Xu'Er, you should retire."
"You shouldn't get up, quickly lie down." Ji Feng Li stepped forward and took a seat on the bedside to help her lie down.
Helpless, Jin Se lied back on the bed. Ji Feng Li rearranged the blankets around her and smiled softly, cautioning, "Be careful of reopening your wounds."
Hua Zhu Yu was picking up the broken pieces of porcelain off the ground. In a moment of carelessness, she had scratched her finger, drawing a few drops of red blood. Perhaps she had wielded a sword for far too long that when it came to these sorts of things, she was a bit clumsy. Ji Feng Li's dark eyes lightly swept across her finger before directing elsewhere.
"Si'Er, how are your wounds?" Ji Feng Li softly asked with a smile.
Ji Feng Li's gentle smile sent Jin Se's heart into a rapid cadence. A faint blush surfaced on her cheeks and she lowered her gaze, quietly replying, "It's… it's fine." Inadvertently, her gaze swept across Hua Zhu Yu's finger and her heart trembled in concern.
The scratch on Hua Zhu Yu's finger wasn't big but the blood continued to spill. Hua Zhu Yu searched her pocket for a cloth to bind her finger but could not find one. Seeing this, Jin Se reached for a handkerchief beneath her pillow and said, "Use this!"
Hua Zhu Yu smiled bitterly. Having disguised as a man for so long, she didn't even carry a simple handkerchief. She received the handkerchief and bandaged her finger. Afterwards she took the broken pieces and stood. "Left Chancellor daren, this commander ask to withdraw."
Without looking back, he waved his hand and said, "You may leave." Hua Zhu Yu paid her respects and left.
As she stepped outside, the snowy scenery paid its greetings with the frosty wind by its side. She couldn't help but shiver. She threw the broken porcelain pieces down and it slowly sank in the snow. She welcomed the coldness and let it assault her senses as she walked away.
Stronger, she silently urged the wind. She wished it could cast away the weakness in her heart and let there remain only solitary resilience. Let the snow descend and bury all the ambitions and schemes with it, leaving behind a world free of war, a place of respite that she much needed.
As she walked away, she gazed up at the snowy night sky, felt the snowflakes upon her face as the biting coldness seep into her bones.
Originally, she planned to stay by Ji Feng Li's side to investigate but she didn't expect the war to break out. Now that the war was coming to an end, she must resume the investigation. However she feared that after returning to the capital, she wouldn't have the opportunity to remain in his close circle any longer.
After Hua Zhu Yu left, Ji Feng Li ordered the servant Xu'Er to bring a new bowl of medicine. He swooped a spoonful of medicine and brought it to Jin Se's lips. At this moment, the image of Hua Zhu Yu cooling the medicine emerged in his mind making him recall that night when those same lips tinted with bitter medicine had left him unarmed, slowly taking root in his heart.
He absentmindedly finished feeding Jin Se the bowl of medicine. He gave the empty bowl to Xu'Er and after a few words with Jin Se he quickly returned to his camp. He summoned Wang Yu and a few others to discuss their return to the capital.
"With a relatively flat terrain, Yangguan requires a strong defensive force. Wang Yu, you and Nangong Jue should remain here to safeguard Yangguan along with 50,000 troops. Although the Northern Army was defeated, it's uncertain whether the Northern Emperor still has intentions of conquering south," Ji Feng Li slowly remarked.
Wang Yu nodded. "Lord Chancellor is right. This general has also been thinking of how to relocate the troops. Only…" Wang Yu suddenly paused then continued, "Lord Chancellor, where do you intend to reassign Commander Bao? He's a rare talent and this General would like to keep him along with the Hu Battalion at the border."
Ji Feng Li thought about it and said, "On this matter you can discuss it with him. If he agrees to remain here then that's fine. If not, you shouldn't force him."
"Lord Chancellor, didn't you say that Commander Bao was a rare talent who you wanted to work for you in the capital? Why let him remain here at the border?" Nangong Jue asked with furrowed brows.
Ji Feng Li's eyes flickered with hesitation and he said, "He is a rare talent. It's fine if he remains here, just…." just as long as I don't see him everyday, no matter where he is, it'll be fine.
When Ji Feng Li had rescued Hua Zhu Yu from Nei Cheng Yuan and brought her back to the Chancellor's Residence, it was because he felt it was a waste to lose such a talent. But today, he had no intentions of keeping her, he’d rather let her go her own path.
Ji Feng Li was not an indecisive person. There are certain things that if you must cut loose, you must do so firm- heartedly. If the heart cannot be restrained then things should come to an end.
Along the vast skies and boundless seas, from henceforth that person shall walk his path and I, my own. Across the corners of the world, from the heavens to the earth, perhaps it's best to never meet again.
Perhaps that was the only way to forget, the only way for the pain to settle.
"It's better if he remains in Yangguan. It's not like the capital is short of such talents anyway," Lan Bing asserted. These past few days Lan Bing had not look well, even his eyes were dispirited.
Tang Yu stood there silently in contemplation, wondering what the right course of action was.
The snow continued to descending over the next few days. It wasn't until the morning of the fourth did the skies finally clear up.
Since the Northern Army had retreated, the people that fled Yangguan had finally returned to their homes. The city that had suffered the brute of war was suddenly full of life.
Perhaps it was because they had lived near the border for so long that they were accustomed to the sudden outbreak of war. It only took half a month before the city returned to its previous liveliness. During the day, the markets were crowded with people while at night campfires were lit all around.
The imperial army was set to return to the capital soon so the people of Yanguan decided to have a special celebration on the banks of Xiang Shui River on the east side of the city.
These past few evenings, Hua Zhu Yu's fellow comrades from the Hu Battalion would invite her with them on their excursions to the city. Although Hua Zhu Yu wasn't in the mood, she was forced to ride out with them anyways.
Today was the 15th of October. The moon was full and round, its incandescent rays of light outshone even the various stars in the cold night.
Hua Zhu Yu and the soldiers walked around the night market for some time before arriving at Xiang Shui River. The river bank was decorated with colorful lights and the trees was adorned with all sorts of lanterns in different shapes and sizes.
Though the winter night was cold, it was not a big deal for the people there. They came wrapped in their cotton coats and gathered near the stage. Beneath the stage were about a hundred set of tables and chairs, of various length and size, all brought from their household. Though it looked a bit shabby, everyone was in high spirits.
They had arrived a bit early and a few people came to lead them over to their seats. Commander Bao's heroic feats upon the battlefield was no news to them. They had admired her for her contributions but they didn't know she was a eunuch. Seeing her bright, good-looking features, a few young ladies came by and tried to strike conversation.
Hua Zhu Yu lightly smile and turned a blind eye to this. Such occurrences had also happened back at Liangzhou.
Sitting beside her, military officer Liu whispered, "Commander Bao, how about you stay here instead of following Lord Chancellor back to the capital? The ladies here are so friendly!"
Hua Zhu Yu smiled and said, "If military officer Liu fancies a lady why don't you relocate and start a life here."
Military officer Liu shyly scratched his head and replied, "That's a good idea but it's you that those ladies fancy."
translations at peachblossomgrove . com
"So what if they fancy me, I won't be taking a wife," Hua Zhu Yu casually replied.
Military Officer Liu's face suddenly darkened when he recalled that Hua Zhu Yu was a eunuch. He didn't know how to reply or speak any comforting words.
Hua Zhu Yu didn't know what he was thinking and gave him a strange look.
"Left Chancellor daren has arrived! Left Chancellor daren has arrived!" someone exclaimed.
Military officer Liu was at a loss for words so when he heard this he quickly grabbed at the opportunity to change the subject. He stood up and pulled Hua Zhu Yu. "Lord Chancellor is here!"
Hua Zhu Yu got up with him and her gaze swept across the crowd. She spotted the group of a dozen or so people that were approaching.
The person walking in front was indeed Ji Feng Li, dressed in robes of black, patterned with white clouds. His stature was tall and lean, exhibiting grace and gentility that could not be concealed by his dark attires.
His eyes and lips evoked a gentle smile that radiated beneath the lanterns lining the riverside.
Behind him was Tang Yu, Lan Bing, Tong Shou, and Nangong Jue. There was also a woman among the group, Jin Se.
Hua Zhu Yu didn't get the chance to see Jin Se again after that meeting. Naturally, it was because Ji Feng Li didn't permit her to see his future wife. Seeing Jin Se again tonight made Hua Zhu Yu realize she was quite a beauty.
Perhaps Jin Se did not stand out among the orioles and swallows nested in the imperial capital but amid the snowy northern border, Jin Se exuded a different kind of beauty. Her figure was tall and graceful while her appearance was delicate and lovely. Tonight she wore a snowy fox cloak. The fur of the cloak wrapped around her neck, highlighting her graceful features.
Seeing Jin Se accompanying Ji Feng Li on this outing, Hua Zhu Yu was reassured that her wounds were healing well, allowing Hua Zhu Yu to release a load of worry in her heart.
As the group approached, the common people saluted, "Left Chancellor daren," their voices brimming with reverence and admiration.
In their eyes, Left Chancellor Ji Feng Li was without a doubt an exceptional official who cared for the well-being of the populace.
Ji Feng Li lightly smiled and nodded in acknowledgement at the crowd.
Not waiting till Ji Feng Li arrived, Hua Zhu Yu took her seat.
Ji Feng Li and his entourage was escorted to the first rows of seat. Hua Zhu Yu sat behind Jin Se who was seated beside Ji Feng Li. From her perspective, Hua Zhu Yu could see the both of them clearly.
Noticing Hua Zhu Yu, Jin Se quietly turned around and smiled at Hua Zhu Yu who smiled back.
But at that moment, the sound of the gong and drums sounded on the stage and the performances began. There were folk shadow plays, singing, and dancing acts.
Sitting in the audience, Hua Zhu Yu's attention was not on the stage. She appeared solitary and quiet, bask beneath the rays of moonlight. As she looked up at the moon, a sense of sorrow emerged.
Her fellow comrades had opened a bottle of wine and were pouring one another a bowl. Hua Zhu Yu decided to join in and drank several bowls herself. Soon after, she could feel the alcohol taking effect. She gazed up at the full moon, thinking, the moon was so bright, so round, yet she was never to reunite with her loved ones in this lifetime1. An aching pain flooded her heart, drowning her in melancholy. Amongst this crowd of laughter and smiles, only she was alone, and always will be.
The acts on stage had come to an end. Some of the soldiers had gone up on the stage to perform a song. One of them asked, "Can anyone play the pipa?"
"I can!" Hua Zhu Yu downed her last drop of wine with her head thrown back. The pungent sensation seemed to surge all the way up to her eyes, making her clear eyes mist. Standing up, her whole body was bathed in the bright moonlight. She smashed the empty bowl on the ground and jumped up on stage. Her clothes were stained with wine and wisps of hair were scattered across her forehead but she didn't care and casually sat down with the pipa.
Can anyone play the drums?" Hua Zhu Yu asked the audience.
Everyone was silent for a moment before Tang Yu volunteered, "I'll do it!" He jumped up on stage and picked up the drum mallet.
"I heard that Lord Chancellor's flute skills are excellent. I wonder if our ears will have the pleasure of listening to it tonight," a soldier who seemed to have drunk a bit too much exclaimed. This piqued the interest of the audience, both the soldiers and commoners all agreed.
Ji Feng Li remained sitting calmly and didn't get up until a long while later. On his lips was his usual graceful smile but his eyes were slightly cold.
He walked up on stage and stood not too far from Hua Zhu Yu with a jade flute in hand.
"Lord Chancellor, what song would you like to play?" Tang Yu asked.
Standing there, his eyes flashed with a tinge of sorrow and he replied in a heavy tone, "I'll play the song "Chu Sai Qu" in honor of our fallen soldiers."
Tang Yu nodded understandingly.
Hua Zhu Yu placed her hands on the strings, feeling a bit sentimental.
The audience stood silently and everyone poured their wine on the ground in front of them, commemorating the heroes who had died for the country.
In the silence, the sound of the flute rose in a long prelude, full of sadness and compassion. Hua Zhu Yu fingers glided across the strings and Tang Yu also joined in with the drum. With the beautiful song, the soldiers in the audience couldn't help but sing along to the music.
Once the song came to an end, countless sighs were heard amongst the crowd.
Hua Zhu Yu silently got off the stage and returned to her seat.
Seeing that Ji Feng Li was a receptive person, someone pointed at Jin Se and asked, "Lord Chancellor, I hear that this young lady here is your future wife. When is your wedding, we'd love to toast and drink the congratulatory wine!"
Ji Feng Li smiled and lightly replied, "It’s still early."
"Early? Why don't you just hold the wedding here in Yangguan? If you return to the capital, we won't be able to drink the congratulatory wine!"
Seeing Ji Feng Li surrounded by the people of Yangguan, Hua Zhu Yu left for the riverbank. She untied her horse from the tree and decided to ride back to the army camp.
Standing there among the crowd, Ji Feng Li glanced at the figure that was riding farther and farther away. The smile on his face gradually tensed and his eyes darkened.
The moonlight illuminated Hua Zhu Yu as she rode back. With the night breeze blowing against her face she felt more alert. She gave a loud signal and the horse picked up speed. Riding against the wind, the chill enveloped her body, seeing into her heart.
Riding in a horse carriage, Jin Se soon returned to the army camp. The ride back was a bit jarring that as soon as she alighted, she felt a nauseous feeling in the pit of her stomach and she couldn’t help but throw up.
Witnessing this, Ji Feng Li jumped off his horse and quickly strode over. He patted her back and asked with concern, "What’s wrong, are you alright?"
Jin Se wiped her mouth with a handkerchief and smiled at Ji Feng Li before replying," I might have eaten too much and the carriage ride was a bit bumpy so I’m just feel a bit nauseous. But I'm alright. No need to worry Lord Chancellor."
Ji Feng Li furrowed his brows and said, "Why don't I call the physician over to check up on you."
"There's no need. I'm really alright. I just need some rest, that's all. It's nothing to be concerned about Lord Chancellor. You should go rest. Si'Er shall retire." Jin Se quickly rejected the offer and allowed Xu'Er to support her as she returned to her tent.
Ji Feng Li silently stood there for some time and watched her walk away. When he looked back, he saw Lan Bing and Tang Yu were also silently standing there.
Lan Bing was slightly shaking and his face was tense with sorrow.
Ji Feng Li sighed and turned to Tang Yu, "Tang Yu, call the military physician over to take Si'Er's pulse."
Tang Yu was about to go get the physician when Lan Bing suddenly stopped him. " Lord Chancellor, it’s better not to call for the physician."
Tang Yu was puzzled and asked, "If she's sick, why shouldn't we call the physician over?"
"There are times when a woman throws up but she’s not sick. If…. If we call the physician, we would ruin her reputation," Lan Bing curtly replied before turning around to leave.
Ji Feng Li was stunned by his response. He knew what Lan Bing was referring to but could it really be….
The thought of it scared him to the core. A coldness seemed to be engulfing him and his heart, so much so that the chilling night wind did not even faze him.
t/nThe full moon is a symbolism for family reunion Also, just wanted to mention that I did summarize a section in the chapter. I summarized the performance part because it was a little long and I didn’t really think it added much to the development of the story.