"No!" Meng Fuyao shook her head. "What have others' mistakes got anything to do with you? Zhangsun Wuji, you're wise and should understand this logic. Do not punish yourself on behalf of wrongdoers."
She released her hands suddenly and walked to the jail entrance before striking the lock with Destiny Rebellion. The lock came apart, and she pushed her way in, stopping before King De and going down on her knees. After three bows she spoke, "The dead is to be honored the most. As for whatever gratitude and grudges that were left behind, they are now bows that I owe you. Also, I am sorry for having disturbed your corpse. There's something that I have to do, whether you like it or not."
She stood up and moved forward to close his wide-opened mouth.
"No matter who's in the wrong, this isn't the way a father should punish a son." Meng Fuyao reached forward with determination, closing his wide-opened eyes before placing his body down in a resting position. She then started wiping the words on the wall without hesitation.
There wasn't any cloth around, so she used her own sleeves to do so.
When done, she turned around to see Zhangsun Wuji sitting on the floor observing her. He had remained quiet throughout, like the trace of moonlight that shone through the narrow window above the jail ceiling. It was cold and cast onto the pitch black floor, it resembled a nameless tablet that could never be removed.
The unsettled accounts, love, and hate, rights, and wrongs that faded along with death were like the nameless tablet - only a blank was left.
The blood on the wall could be erased, but how could one remove the scars left in the heart?
Meng Fuyao walked over to the copper lamp on the wall and lit it up before taking a seat in front of Zhangsun Wuji and amid a pool of blood trace.
The dim light, sunset-like, flickered about in the empty and lonely cell, interweaving all past events that had occurred and could never be altered.
"A long time ago there was an emperor who got severely injured in a battle to suppress a revolt. A capable general brought him into the mountain cave to recuperate, eventually dying on his behalf at the final moment. The general was also a member of the royal family and shared the same family name as the emperor. Upon reaching safety, the emperor swore not to let royal members mistreat the general's descendants. He then adopted the general son and became his father.
"Since then the orphan was conferred with the title of a king and guarded the royal family like his own. Three generations later, also this generation, the current emperor fell ill often. The king fought bravely, stayed loyal to the nation, and was basically the emperor's arms. When they were young, they had often traveled far away to tour and have fun.
"It was springtime when both of them trekked to a mountain outside the city. The emperor stopped in a pavilion and started playing a piece on the zither while the king broke into an exciting sword dance. Halfway through they were disrupted by a lady who was passing by. Sharp-tongued, she thoroughly criticized their respective skills, causing them to pack up and go but never really forgetting about her."
The room was hazily lit, and Zhangsun Wuji's calm expression could be seen. His mind was in a remote place, as visible from his eyes. It was as if he had been brought back to the scene from a long time ago where the breeze was blowing, and the flowers were plenty. A refined young man was playing the zither while another passionate youth was brandishing his sword under the tree. A young lady, dressed in a yellow robe and surrounded by falling petals, approached them and burst into a tirade, unknowingly stirring the affairs of the world, destabilizing the imperial family and the destinies of countless individuals, even after many, many years.
Meng Fuyao reached her hand out in silence to grab his hand while he simply let out a faint smile and gently patted her hand.
"Some time passed, and the emperor got busy with national affairs, gradually forgetting the woman from that fateful day. One time, the king dashed into the palace, informing the emperor that the lady had been found and that he was going to marry her. Having heard that she was born into a far away tribe but unwilling to snatch a brother's lover, he sent a trustworthy eunuch to her residence with a painting of a swordsman, from the previous dynasty, dancing in the snow. The emperor figured that the lady probably knew martial arts and would appreciate the painting. He had the eunuch keep his identity a secret. He only was to mention the encounter that had made him think about her often. He should also say that he had boldly gifted her such a painting in hope that she would like it."
"She accepted it, and asked after some time if it is from the zither player or swordsman."
"Thinking that she was asking about the content of the painting the eunuch answered, 'Swordsman.'"
"'Alright,' she smiled."
"Pleased, the emperor released a decree to send her into the palace as a concubine. In her second year, she bore him the first and only prince. Satisfied he made her the empress."
"During her first year as the empress, the king found his own princess, the eldest daughter of King Linjiang. Originally, leaders of the same clans were not allowed to marry, but since he was young and pampered, and was the only one she had wanted to marry, they tied the knot eventually. That time, the citizens were magnanimous and willing to let go of old ideas. To them, the pair made the perfect couple."
Zhangsun Wuji looked out of the window and at the moonbeam. It was a full moon it seemed, and he wondered if many years ago, on that night, the two seemingly loving couples were also enjoying the beautiful moon. What had actually happened that night, such that the poison that was hatred and revenge had been injected into the far future with no hope of reconciliation?
"Days passed like that, and it seemed to everyone that nothing was amiss. Of course, only involved parties were aware of the undercurrents. For example, the empress found out that she had married the wrong man and that the emperor was impotent. The emperor understood that she didn't love him. The king believed that the emperor had stolen his woman, while the princess finally realized that her husband wasn't really considered a husband. These revelations seeped into their hearts like poison and made their days insufferable."
"Then the child grew up. At the age of 3, he went missing for half a month. To be precise, he was brought away by the princess."
"Ah," Meng Fuyao let out.
"The princess - a naturally prejudiced and wild lady - risked her life to enter the palace and steal the child, locking him in a secret room. She had no intention of scolding him. All she did was put a mirror up to his face and point at the reflection in it. 'Look at your nose and temples. You're his! You're his! This cheap man. Cheap man, cheap man…' she cursed endlessly as the child cried. She then pinched him forcefully, shushing him. 'In this world, people who smile aren't really smiling, and people who cry aren't really crying. It's all fake. Only the bitterness within is real, and unseen by others. No one must see it, or they will be done for.'"
"The child was locked up in that dark room for half a month and forced to look at his own reflection every day, harming his sight in the process. When he was rescued, he almost turned blind. From then on, he no longer knew how to cry."
Meng Fuyao raised her head and sniffed a little. Her throat sounded hoarse as she added, "Please give me a minute to digest this."
Zhangsun Wuji lowered his head, using his ice-cold hand to massage her fingers. "It's all in the past…" he reassured gently.
Meng Fuyao stared at his chest, noticing a wet patch. She reached toward the fellow who had been secretly crying and pulled him out. "Stop hiding, guinea pig. Let's cry all we want."
Lord Yuan Bao silently extended his claw and clung onto her neck.
Zhangsun Wuji revealed his usual smile, causing Meng Fuyao to look away. She did not want to see him forever hiding his sadness. In that smile was a kid who had been transformed through endless struggles. He knew not to let others know of his pain. Now, all grown up, the seemingly perfect Zhangsun prince was beyond healing.
All she could do to share the pain was to hold onto his hand, using her warmth to melt the man's ice-cold heart.
"… it was the king who saved the child. He looked straight into the child's eyes, instilling fear, before carrying him up and laughing maniacally, 'Mine, mine--- hah, this is mine, and you'll never snatch it back---'"
"The empress was present at that point. She had the palace maids leave and locked the door before pouncing forward and crying, "It's yours… ours… it's all ours in future… they did not hide it from the child, thinking that he couldn't understand them, but he did."
"At the age of 10, the child finally gained some abilities and the emperor's adoration. The latter gave him the power to manage military affairs and showcase his political talent. The king and the empress were in joy and discussed how they could get the former to ascend the throne by ridding the emperor."
"The child became aware of it and pondered for countless nights, but to no avail. One night he visited the emperor in his hall and saw him fiddling with a painting. Instead of keeping it, the emperor had him go over and take a look."
"It was that night that the child finally got to know the full story. What he had not been able to forget, since that night, was the softness in the emperor's eyes when he looked at the empress, and his apologetic look when talking about the king."
"It was then that the child understood. The emperor knew everything, the child's identity included."
"That night he returned to his own room and caught no sleep. He studied the emperor and the king's characters closely and had to admit that be it to assume a father or emperor's role, the emperor himself would be the better candidate. The king was narrow-minded and had over the years been led astray by accumulated hatred. While the emperor was weak and unable to offer greater contributions, he was magnanimous and kind, and the citizens had been able to lead a peaceful life because of him. He had also given everything he could to that child, by teaching him all he needed to know. He held onto his hands when teaching calligraphy, and placed him on his knees when teaching music. Before that night, the emperor had never once sensed that he wasn't the child's biological father."