Book 1: Winds Begin to Blow in Tai Yuan
Chapter 34 – “Wild” Mandarin Ducks
During the same time, Shen hour, second half-hour.
Xuande Hall’s Deputy Steward eunuch Lao An walked out from the hall. He stuck out his head to look at the distant bustling, celebratory scenery, massaged his waist, and tottered towards his own residence behind the hall. He was in the secluded and quiet West Six Palaces, close to the cold palace Letter Hall, so even if there was an event happening in the palace today, it still had nothing to do with him. The almost seventy year old eunuch stiffened his mouth while returning to his room, swaying back and forth.
Passing by a quiet cloister, the old eunuch suddenly stopped his steps.
In front, a man and woman who wore the uniforms of a eunuch and a palace maid, were in the middle of flashing past a stretch of fake mountain decorations.
The patrolling guards of the Xuande Hall stopped outside the courtyard door, looking in with attention.
That man and woman pair turned around with panic, their appearances unfamiliar. In the palace maid’s ginger yellow face color rose hints of redness, and she bashfully withdrew back her hand.
The old eunuch’s age was old but his eyes were not; discovering a cylindrical shaped object in the girl’s hand, he started, then realized that this was yet another good drama involving a pair of unnatural lovers.
Pressing his lips, the old fellow thought of his own “eating partner” Jade Ring, and couldn’t help but obscenely chuckle with a “he he” sound. Waving his hand, he signaled for that couple to quickly go, while also gesturing at the guards.
The guards changed directions and left.
Those two lowered their heads, but loitered there not moving. The old eunuch clasped his hands and walked out several steps, before turning around with a surprised “en?” sound.
“Sir Eunuch please save us!” That palace maid suddenly charged forward, her voice choking. The old eunuch narrowed his eyes while looking at her, his brows knitting together.
“Sir Eunuch … we are servants of the Letter Hall … right now … right now we don’t dare to go back …” That maid raised her head. Although her face color was faintly jaundiced, her appearance was very pretty, and her teary face delicate and moving. Slender crescent eyebrows elegantly rose up, causing even that sad expression to have a sense of brightness and refinement.
The old eunuch watched her with pity, feeling that it was only because this lady’s skin color was not well; with one look, one would be able to tell she was from lowly birth, and had few opportunities to succeed in life. Otherwise, with this kind of striking appearance even being a concubine would be possible. Why would she need to stay in the cold palace and become false husband and wife with a eunuch? With this thought he began to have some compassion in his heart for the woman, and hesitantly looked over in the distance.
Over there soldiers came and went without break, their inspection strict. No wonder this pair of wild mandarin ducks didn’t dare to return to the hall. As a deputy steward eunuch himself, he truly could cover for them once. Only, for what reason should he risk danger for people with no relation to him?
The old eunuch recovered his sleeve. His aged eyes dimmed and his expression turn confused as he looked up at the sky.
Yun Hen and Meng Fuyao gave each other a glance. Fuyao raised her eyebrows, using her chin to signal towards Yun Hen. Yun Hen frowned, and softly made a humph sound using his nose. Meng Fuyao immediately pounded the small of his back, her attack ruthless. Helpless, Yun Hen scooped out a bag from his robes and gave it to Meng Fuyao.
With a smoothing of her eyebrows and humor in her eyes, Fuyao received it, and used two hands to offer it to the old eunuch, with a low voice saying, “Sir Eunuch is hardworking, here is a token of our good will.”
The old eunuch straightened up, and swung his sleeve at Meng Fuyao. In an instant, she wisely stuffed that heavy sack into his sleeve pockets. The old eunuch looked at Fuyao with appreciation, then gave a glance at Yun Hen while chuckling, “Chump, you sure have good luck with the ladies.” His vision lewdly swept over that object in Meng Fuyao’s palm. Then, he gestured for them to go to the side hall to each carry over a tray and follow him.
Yun Hen had a downcast expression as he gripped the tray tightly. His eyes drifted, seeing Meng Fuyao stuff that cylinder object into her bosom, and his face couldn’t help but turn red. Fortunately it was a dark night, and no one noticed.
Fuyao coughed shamefacedly and raised her head to look at the sky, once more recording this debt onto Zhan Bei Ye – if it wasn’t for you sealing my true qi, would I have needed to use even this prop?
The old eunuch Lao An had just brought Meng Fuyao and Yun Hen to walk out of Xuande Hall towards the Letter Hall, before an armored guard immediately met them. He visually inspected the three people, seemingly recognized Lao An, and slightly smiled, asking, “Sir Eunuch this late at night, where are you going?”
“Look,” Lao An lifted his chin to signal towards the Letter Hall, his expression showing impatience. “The hall’s maiden Shen has stirred up trouble again. Saying that she got a cold, she dispatched people to ask me for cotton to make winter clothes.”
“This small matter, is it worth having Sir Eunuch to personally come?” The opposite’s eyes were sharp, his vision like a hawk’s.
“Ai, you don’t know.” The old eunuch tiptoed up and went close to the side of his ear, mysteriously saying, “I’m just afraid the maiden’s illness might relapse, so I came with them to take a look. Maiden Shen’s problem, have you not heard? Sigh … I’ve heard she was infected with something not very clean …”
He coughed, then closed his mouth and stopped speaking.
Wind from the other end of the narrow, lonely alley blew past, gusting the fallen leaves on the ground surface into the air. The brittle leaves scraping against the floor sounded like a woman’s brisk footsteps, step by step coming closer.
From the ground transpired a layer of pale white fog, congealing together yet not transforming. In the solemnly quiet, cold night alley, for some reason it formed a kind of ghostly atmosphere.
That guard captain moved his mouth a little, his face changing slightly. He had also been in the palace for a long time, and naturally knew that nearby the Letter Hall, the only people that entered and exited were deposed and fallen people accused of crimes. Those dragged out were all corpses that met violent and sudden ends, and it could be said that every corner had been drenched by fresh blood before, and every space lingered with the souls of the wrongful dead.
People who wielded arms and experienced long years of chopping heads and drinking blood, would actually be more superstitious than others. That captain waved his hand, turning around and indicating the guards behind him to open a path.
With a “cha” sound, the forest of knives and spears retreated while rubbing against each other, and a pencil-straight path opened up amongst the alleyway filled with heavily armored soldiers.
Meng Fuyao and Yun Hen looked at each other, and Yun Hen unexpectedly chuckled. Fuyao’s eyes inadvertently glanced past, suddenly seeing a small stain of blood peeking out from the stomach area of Yun Hen’s robes, that slowly expanded larger.
Meng Fuyao’s expression changed, and she silently mouthed words to Yun Hen. Without a change in his expression, Yun Hen lifted the tray a little higher, covering over that bloodstain.
Fuyao worriedly eyed that spreading blotch of blood, and leaned closer to Yun Hen. At this time, the guard captain in front extended his hand to beckon to them, looking at them with a smile that held intentions of wanting to make things difficult for them. This actually wasn’t because he didn’t believe them, but was only born out of an intentional desire to see, did these eunuchs and woman have the bravery to pass through the steel-colored forest of blades and halberds?
The old eunuch’s face paled a little, and he swallowed a mouthful of saliva. His heart was slightly regretful, but it was a pity that the lie had already been told. Conversely, it would not do if he didn’t go on this trip.
Seeing him so awkward, the guard captain began to feel a little apologetic. Smiling he said, “Please pardon me, Sir Eunuch, this alleyway is very narrow and the brothers cannot scatter far, only able to be stuffed here. If you are afraid of my brothers being clumsy and frightening you, this one can just accompany you over.”
Lao An’s delight shone out on his face, and he made consecutive sounds of agreement. That person came over and walked shoulder to shoulder with Lao An.
Meng Fuyao silently said not good. Yun Hen’s wounds had split open and his blood was flowing out more and more. Once the bloody smell was detected by someone, it would definitely alarm all those people. Plus, once they were in the midst of that stretch of knife and spear forest road, the guarding soldiers would only need to shift their weapons and the two of them would be immediately stabbed to death, without even the possibility of escape!
However, since they had already gotten to this point, they had gambled everything on this plan – there was no longer any way back. Helplessly, Meng Fuyao thought of that phrase often said in books, something like “Even if mountains of blades and seas of fire, still never hesitate.” Weren’t they precisely going to pass through mountains of blades today?
The weather was deep black like iron, the dome of the sky inverted, with everything crushing down on the thick suffocating darkness. There was only that long, narrow, spear forest path that allowed only two people to walk through shoulder to shoulder, pencil-straight leading forwards. Torchlight reflected sharp, deep black light from the spear tips and knife edges, and illuminated the cold, murderous expressions of the guards noiselessly and densely.
Walking along this kind of path, required courage.
Walking to the end of this kind of path, required luck.
Meng Fuyao raised her head and looked at the sky, deeply sucked in a breath of air, and strode forward.
The thousand-men troops were silent, as if no one was there. The sole sound of the crackling burning of torches, drowned out every other sound in between the heavens and earth – like insects chirping, like soft weeping, like, the sound of liquid slowly soaking in.
Those killing weapons that had been stained with fresh blood before, held an innate power to horrify others. The old eunuch originally wanted to find some words to help ease the tension from walking in a forest of spears; however after he opened his mouth, he only felt that his throat was pulled tight by some kind of chilling, murderous force, and he actually couldn’t make a sound.
Killing intent thickly pressed down. As they walked along the road, it caused one’s cold sweat to perspire then dry, dry then perspire.
Halfway in the silent journey, Yun Hen suddenly pulled the tray towards his chest again.
At the same time, that guard captain tilted his head. Sniffing all of a sudden, he said, “What’s that smell?”
The time was Shen hour, third half-hour.
The performing troupe of Qi Xunyi was already in position, waiting in the side hall under the stairs of the Heavenly Peace Hall.
The changing of guards by Yan Lie had already reached the last Palace Gate.
The roll call of troops under Fang Minghe had finished, and the large army marched out of the military camp.
The team of black-clothed assassins flipped, swept, turned and fell, their electric shadows like flowing light, while they materialized and vanished in the various corners of Yanjing.
The graceful, distinguished man wearing wide sleeved robes reclined on a narrow bed, sampling a mouthful of fragrant tea and holding back a smile. He took out a golden watch from the Bolo Kingdom of the western regions, looked at the time, and said:
Author’s Note: Well my dear readers, do you understand what that obscene thing is used for now? “Eating Partners”: Palace maids and eunuchs, because of loneliness, becoming a false husband and wife. And false husbands and wives naturally require props sometimes, he he.Footnotes Mandarin ducks is a phrase that means a pair of lovers Fake mountains, 假山, are common decorations in Chinese palaces that imitate natural mountains.