I know that Koala has temporarily paused translating and have been getting requests for translations, so I've decided to pick it up. It isn't going to be an easy project, so bear with me as I try to unravel olden Chinese and phrase them in plain English. I'll try to post a part a day (thank goodness for chapter breaks!), continuing in the post I've left off until a chapter is complete, so hopefully that will ease the wait a little.
(Update: CHAPTER COMPLETE)
This is the chapter where the ties that bind the characters are brought to light, as they meet face to face. Yun Ge realizes who Liu Bing Yi truly is, and Liu Bing Yi realizes that he can't keep running any more. Liu Fu Ling continues to be perfect and understanding as always. Seeing how kind Huo Guang can be humanizes him, which makes it even more of a pity that he didn't know/ had yet to acknowledge Yun Ge as his goddaughter. He has tender sides to him too, not just some one-dimensional moustache twirling villian.
Liu Bing Yi carried two old hens as he pushed the door open. His voice was heard before his presence felt “Ping Jun, I’ve got two old hens for you to stew tonight.” Meng Jue sat by the cradle playing with the child, upon seeing his excitement, he said teasingly “The saying is true then – a person is complete with a son, you even speak with twice as much vigour compared to a everyone else.” Xu Ping Jun took the hens, though complaining, sweetness filled her heart “I’m done with my confinement; there’s no need to keep eating such nourishing foods. If we ate like this every day, we’ll eat ourselves poor.” Liu Bing Yi noticed that although Meng Jue was smiling, there was sadness in his eyes that he just couldn’t get rid of, so he shot Ping Jun a look. Xu Ping Jun hurriedly carried the child on her back and went into the kitchen.
As Liu Bing Yi scooped water to wash his hands, he said “The market was rife with gossip about you and Huo Cheng Jun today. I heard you went to the rouge stall with her, causing a group of women to stare at both of you. What exactly are you trying to do? If you continue to associate yourself with Huo Cheng Jun, Yun Ge would definitely ignore you even if you’ve found her. You can’t actually believe that she would be willing to be your concubine right?”
Meng Jue just looked at Liu Bing Yi quietly. Liu Bing Yi felt his blood freeze at Meng Jue’s leveled gaze, smiled as he asked “Why are you looking at me like this?” Meng Jue asked “Bing Yi, I’m going to ask you something, you must answer truthfully.” Liu Bing Yi saw Meng Jue’s solemn expression, thought for a while before saying “Ask away!”
“Have you ever accepted an embroidered shoe from a girl when you were young?”
Liu Bing Yi froze for a moment, then burst into laughter “Here I am thinking you were going to ask about the rise and fall of our dynasty and you ask me this?”
“You’re sure? You haven’t forgotten?”
Liu Bing Yi shook his head, smiling “When I was young, I was always hiding. Indeed, I travelled quite a bit, and met many people but I most certainly have not accepted a girl’s embroidered shoe.”
Meng Jue lowered his head and sighed.
Yun Ge was muddleheaded but how could he make the same mistake! How could he forget that there was someone who bore a resemblance to Liu Bing Yi. Liu Fu Ling ascended the throne when he was 8, as head of state, he created a huge stir each time he left the palace, let alone going to Xi Yu? He really couldn’t imagine him going to Xi Yu, let alone make the connection that the childhood friend Yun Ge couldn’t forget was Liu Fu Ling, not Liu Bing Yi.
Liu Bing Yi asked with some bafflement “Meng Jue, why is your expression so strange? Could it be that you really wished that I’ve had accepted some girl’s embroidered shoe?” There was a trace of bitterness in Meng Jue’s smile as he said “Indeed, I wish that the person who took the embroidered shoe was you” But, it wasn’t Liu Bing Yi but Liu Fu Ling. When Huo Cheng Jun informed him that the girl the Emperor had brought to the palace was Yun Ge, he figured the person in the carriage that night was most probably Liu Fu Ling, but he just couldn’t think of why Yun Ge would be by Liu Fu Ling’s side. Yun Ge might have been captured by Liu Fu Ling, mistaken as an assassin, or be rescued by him, but no matter what, Yun Ge wouldn’t have followed Liu Fu Ling to take up residence in the palace. It all made sense now. Yun Ge had always treated Liu Bing Yi differently, even when she mistook him for someone else; now that she actually has met the person she has been thinking of, how could she bear to see him disappointed or sad?
As he flashed back to the Princess’ residence, the scene where Liu Fu Ling tasted her dishes, Meng Jue felt a rush of cold air through his heart. He got up to leave. Liu Bing Yi said “Meng Jue, you haven’t answered me. What exactly are you trying to do? If you don’t draw the lines of your relationship with Huo Cheng Jun clearly, I’m not going to help with your search for Yun Ge any longer.” Meng Jue didn’t even look back as he answered “I’ve already found her; you can stop your search. As for my dealings with Huo Guang, you'll have your answer within the next few days.” Liu Bing Yi, surprised, asked “You found her? Where?” Meng Jue didn’t give him an answer, merely opened the door and left.
A few months ago, the name Meng Jue might not have rung a bell; after today, Meng Jue’s name will be like Huo Guang’s, known amongst all. A month ago, Huo Guang recommended Meng Jue for a court position and beseeched the Emperor for a title, submitting a few vacant official titles for consideration, but the Emperor gave Meng Jue the title of Jianyi Dafu (advisory counsellor), an title that wasn’t even included in the first hundred official positions. Everyone felt this sense of malicious joy, knowing that this Meng gentleman was close to Miss Huo; just imagining Huo Guang’s anger at the Emperor’s action was more than enough. As for the wise officials that have met Meng Jue, they lamented at how this man’s talent is now condemned to be wasted at his new position all because of a power struggle between the Emperor and his subject.
Unexpectedly, at court today, it was this advisory counsellor, an official excluded from the first hundred official positions, the person Huo Guang personally recommended – Meng Jue who grandly listed 20 charges against Huo Guang:
As a high ranking official, although he has acted with restraint, he hasn’t managed to control his family- that was charge number one.
A servant of the Huo’s- Feng Zi- used the Huo name to bully others, raping a Hu woman who was a wine seller – that was charge number two.
Mistress Huo’s relatives relied on the Huo’s power to force the prices of rice up, buying at low prices and reselling at high ones, oppressing others to seek higher profits – that was charge number three.
Housekeeper Wang fought for the right of way with court officials, not only flouting the edict that commoners were to give way to officials, but also instigating his subordinates to beat up court officials on the very street. That was charge number four.
The important thing was: these were charges that even court officials couldn’t remember once the dust had settled; maybe if they thought harder, everyone could come up with one or two charges; but while it was trivial to them, the commoners lapped it all up and felt each charge keenly.
What were the commoners scared of? They didn’t care who was to be a Grand Marshal or a General, they were only afraid of officials abusing their power for their own gains, to bully and deceive them. Meng Jue’s image of working for the best interest of the common folk, not bowing to power, and his uprightness, coupled together with his impeachment of Huo Guang at court spread his name far beyond the boundaries of the court, and onto the streets of Chang An. Everyone rejoiced, for finally here is a truly righteous official, a just judge addressing their grievances.
Wine seller Hu regained her freedom, and started to sell wine again. There were long queues at her shop, not only to buy her wine, but also to hear her tale. One was a pretty widow from a foreign land, the other a bully who relied on the Grand Marshal’s power to bully others; the tale was said to be vividly painted. Someone penned her story into poetry, driven to inspiration under the influence of wine, and soon it was sung all over various tea and wine houses across the city.
“General Huo of high fame
He had a slave called Feng Zi Du by name
Relying on the general's full power
Feng ogled a Hunnish maiden, wine house flower
The Hunnish maiden was only fifteen;
Alone she served out wine when spring was green
Her long gown girt with double girdle by the side
Her vest adorned with lovebirds and sleeves wide,
Jade from the Blue Field in her hair did appear;
A pair of Roman pearls behind her ear
Her two tresses were so charming and fair
That in the world they stood without compare.
One tress was worth five million coins even then;
Two of them worth much more than ten.
"Who would have thought a captain of the guard
Would drop in and pay me his high regard!
His silver saddle has a dazzling sheen;
His carriage waits with a canopy green.
He comes forward to ask me for clear wine
I raise jade winepot by the silken cord fine.
He asks me then for delicious dish;
I offer him on a golden plate sliced fish.
He gives me a bronze mirror of renown
And tries it to tie it to my red silk gown.
But I would rather have my red silk torn
Than let him stain my body humbly born.
A man would always love a second wife;
A woman should love her husband through life.” 
Those who have seen Meng Jue would then sing praises of Meng Jue’s words and manners after a retelling of the Hu maiden’s humiliation – it was his uprightness that bought her freedom while others remembered Meng Jue’s wit and elegance at the banquet thrown at the Huo’s residence. Who else was as distinguished as him? Meng Jue’s exceedingly good looks, impeccable speech and manner, righteous disdain for wealth and power made him the ideal man of countless maidens across Chang An.
Accompanied by the melodious voices of songstresses, through brothels full of beauties, Meng Jue’s fame spread with the song out of Chang An, and even to the desert.
Huo residence, study.
Huo Yu couldn’t contain his exasperation: “’General Huo of high fame. He had a slave called Feng Zi Du by name. Relying on the general's full power. Feng ogled a Hunnish maiden, wine house flower’, Father would you look at this! This Meng Jue is playing with us Huos! How can this be tolerated? I bet the song sung at these wine houses is part of his ploy too; does he really believe that if he has the Emperor on his side, we will not do him harm? Humph!’
Huo Guang showed almost no expression as he read the poem, then he smiled and praised it “Proper arrangement, comfortable cadence, a good poem indeed” Huo Yu was stunned “Father?” Huo Guang looked at him, sighed and shook his head “If only you had half of Meng Jue’s intellect, I wouldn’t be in want of such a son-in-law.” Huo Yu clenched his fists, his heart full of anger, his lips unable to refute Huo Guang’s words. Huo Shan said “Uncle, your nephew has a way to quietly dispose of Meng Jue, but for sister’s….” Huo Guang cut Huo Shan off, his eyes full of derision “Get rid of Meng Jue? Are you planning to do it openly? Or secretly? If you choose to do it openly, Meng Jue is an advisory counsellor, according to the late Emperor ‘an official not included in the first hundred officals’, even the Emperor himself can’t simply decree his life or death, and even more so now that he has the Emperor backing him in secret. No matter how fast your ‘open method’ may be, if the Emperor refuses to let you make a move, what more can you do? If you choose to do it secretly, now the whole world knows that Meng Jue has offended the Huos, if he meets with a mysterious death, we Huos will be forever known as traitorous, evil court officials who murdered the good and wise. The Emperor is looking for us to make mistakes. If we first lose the hearts of the people, sinking ourselves in sin, we are ruining the very foundation of this house. If the foundation is ruined, how can the house stand?” His words shocked Huo Shan and Huo Yun, although they weren’t happy, there was nothing they could say. Huo Yu started angrily “We can’t do this, nor that, does that mean we’re to sit back and not do anything?”
Huo Guang replied sternly “Of course there are things you can do. First, make sure you each discipline your respective houses. If I hear of such ridiculous things happening again, I will punish whichever house that servant came from.”
Huo Yu, Huo Shan, Huo Yun exchanged looks, bowed their heads and answered “yes” unhappily.
“Second,” Huo Guang pointed to the poem on his desk, “Such talent resides among men; I am at fault for not noticing him earlier. Go find him, treat him well, and raise him up to an important position so that he may fully display his talents.” Huo Yu refused to speak, Huo Shan and Huo Yun replied “Your nephews will see it done.”
“Third, the next time you see Meng Jue in court, be as polite as you can. If I see any of you creating a fuss, the least you’ll be getting is being punished according to the rules of this house, in severe cases, I’ll see that you are punished according this country’s laws.” All 3 remained silent. Huo Guang let his disappointed gaze brushed across all three of them before abruptly slamming his hands on the desk, voice full of reproach as he said “Huo Yu?” Huo Yu felt his blood run cold as he met his father’s gaze, stood up immediately and replied fearfully “Your son understands.” Huo Shan and Huo Yun quickly stood as well, bowed as they said “Your nephews understand too.” Huo Guang looked at them, finally allowing his face betray to signs of fatigue; sighed and waved them away.
As the three walked out, they ran into Huo Cheng Jun. As Huo Cheng Jun bowed to her three brothers, Huo Yu harrumphed “Your good taste!”; his expression cold as he left with a flick of his sleeve. Huo Shan, Huo Yun brushed her off and hurriedly made their exit. Huo Cheng Jun’s eyes filled with tears, and bit her lips to keep them from falling.
She opened the door quietly, only to see her father with his eyes closed in a state of repose, his thin face hiding signs of fatigue. In a matter of days, her father’s white hair seemed to have multiplied, the greying hair on his temple made him look much older than he really was. Her heart filled with regret, sadness, distress, she treaded softly behind her father, and helped him massage his temple. Huo Guang didn’t open his eyes, only smiled and called “Cheng Jun?” Cheng Jun answered “Father, if you’re tired, why don’t you just lie down for a bit?” Huo Guang smiled “Only my heart is weary. Cheng Jun, surely you’ve heard of what has happened recently. Don’t take them to heart. This only happened because Father was too careless, not settling things properly.” For the past few days, Cheng Jun had only faced her mother’s reproachful gaze, or her brothers’ cold, hurtful words; upon hearing her father’s words, she couldn’t contain her tears as they fell, drop by drop.
Huo Guang sighed, pulled Cheng Jun to his side, making her kneel in front of him like a little girl as he wiped away her tears. “Silly girl, why do you cry? You are a Huo, able to marry whoever you choose. I’ll definitely pick a good one for you.” Huo Cheng Jun wept on her father’s knee, unable to contain her sorrow “Father, I’m sorry.” Huo Guang gently brushed his hands over her hair, smiled and said “Silly girl, why are you sorry? You liking Meng Jue shows your good taste. Meng Jue just doesn’t have the good fortune to marry you.” Huo Cheng Jun cried for a long while, releasing all the sadness supressed in her heart. When she felt better, she slowly stopped the tears.
“Father, what is it you plan to do?” Huo Guang didn’t answer but countered “What do you think I should do?”
Huo Cheng Jun lifted her head “Cultivation of the self, it is better not to do anything.” Huo Guang just contemplated Huo Cheng Jun upon hearing her words, not saying anything for a while. Huo Cheng Jun grew uneasy “Father, I’m truly not trying to help Meng Jue. Although he brought a list of 20 charges against the Huo family, he didn’t dare to underestimate a general’s power – not a single one of those charges were directly related to Father. Father’s only error was the inability to discipline your subordinates. As long as Father’s reputation isn’t truly damaged, no matter what happens, we Huos can be redeemed. Everyone is looking at the Huo family now, in the eyes of the people, no matter what we do, they’ll only pick at our mistakes. If someone makes use of it to cause another commotion, I’m afraid they might directly implicate you this time. Therefore, we shouldn’t punish those who rebuke the Huo family, but treat them with kindness, showing others our tolerance, at the same time restructuring the Huo residences. After all, the Huo family is like a big tree attracting wind – our fame attracting criticism, and we’re also known as the thorn in the Emperor’s eye, if we don’t discipline and restructure, even if not for Meng Jue today, should something else happen in future, surely there will be someone who would stand up to it.”
Huo Guang heaved a long sigh, held Huo Cheng Jun’s shoulders and said “Why are you born a woman? If you were a man, I wouldn’t be half as worried.”
Wei Yang Palace, Xuan Shi Hall.
A room of warmth, a room of delicate fragrance, a room of laughter.
Yun Ge had a rug made of sheep wool half draped across her body, lazing on the pallet as she talked and laughed. Liu Fu Ling sat close to the fire at the bottom of Yun Ge’s pallet, not using a couch, but rather choosing to drape white tiger fur skin on top of the carpet, half leaning against the side of her pallet. In his hands he held a pair of tongs, using it to record the time by hitting it against the stove.
Yun Ge originally wanted to tell him the story of how she met a Queen of Xiao Rou Zhi [a tribe, part of the Yuezhi tribe that didn’t move to the west]. The Central Plains have seen many Emperors since Yan Emperor and Yellow Emperor, but never a female Emperor, so Liu Fu Ling was intrigued when he heard that Xiao Rou Zhi had a female Emperor. Alas, Yun Ge was an incorrigible chatterbox, she started talking from the time she left the Peacock River, it has almost been a day and she still hasn’t reached the part where she entered the Xiao Rou Zhi tribe. She just had to talk about the people she met along the way, what newfangled toys she bought, what delicious food she ate, if she continued at this rate, it would be the new year by the time she actually got to Xiao Rou Zhi. Liu Fu Ling had no choice but to set a time limit for her, when it came to irrelevant parts, he would use the tongs to count the time, when the tongs stopped beating on the stove, she would have to quickly move on to the next part.
As she heard Liu Fu Ling increase his speed, she started talking faster and faster; but no matter how fast she spoke, she couldn’t finish her story, getting so agitated she sat up and grabbed Liu Fu Ling’s shoulder. Pressing his shoulder down so he wouldn’t beat the tongs, she rushed through her story “You have no idea how pretty the songtress was, how moving her voice, the moment we heard her sing, we forgot we were supposed to hurry….Ah! Stop beating…. Stop it… You have to listen to this part… It’s very fun… Even my third brother stopped to listen…”
Liu Fu Ling remained expressionless, raised his hand to continue to beat when Yun Ge frowned and released all her words in one breath “Her skin whiter than sheep, her waist suppler than willow, when she saw us she trailed behind our camels singing. Even our camels stopped to listen, I gave her a tael of silver but she said she only wanted a glimpse of our Ah Zhu’s face. Don’t you think she’s weird? Why would she even want to see Ah Zhu? She isn’t even a man…..” “Ai ya!” Yun Ge exclaimed, she just couldn’t finish it in one breath, her hand gripped the pallet as she started gasping, but her other hand refused to release Liu Fu Ling’s shoulder. “How…is… this telling a story? It seems more…like..I’m…running…for life.”
Liu Fu Ling was worried that she’d start coughing, when he saw that she was just breathing a little heavier, he let go of that worry. As she saw Liu Fu Ling’s arm start to lift again, Yun Ge showed him her sad face, how can someone be this heartless!! In the end, she decided to slide off her pallet onto the floor, gripping his shoulders with both hands. Now that there is someone blocking him, he couldn’t beat the stove any more, ha!
Liu Fu Ling took one look at Yun Ge’s face, merely said “Move aside.” She shook her head, resolute. Liu Fu Ling just looked at a point behind her, expressionless. All of a sudden, Yun Ge smelt something odd, turned, then finally realized her woollen rug had somehow slid to the edge of the brass stove, and was being burned black. Fire embers looking like they would leap up any moment. She was going to start searching everywhere for things to grab in her anxiety when Liu Fu Ling just passed her the water bottle he held in his hand. She took it and quickly poured it over the flames; with a sizzling sound, black smoke bloomed – the whole room was now filled with the stench of burnt sheep wool, and a puddle of water.
Yun Ge held her nose “You…….You saw all that and you didn’t move the rug away?” Liu Fu Ling’s eyes twinkled with laughter even as his face didn’t betray any emotion “I wanted to use the tongs to move it aside, but you refused to move.”
Yun Ge stared at Liu Fu Ling, agape. So now he’s saying it is her fault?!
Outside the hall, Liu Shun held his breath as he peeked in. Liu Fu Ling dragged Yun Ge out, ordering Liu Shun as he passed “Take care of the mess as quick as you can.” Liu Shun bowed his head “Yes” Yu An saw that the Emperor and Yun Ge were about to leave the palace, quickly ordering huge cloaks to be brought over. A cloak made of red fox fur, and one of black fox fur. Liu Fu Ling took the red cloak first, made sure it was wrapped snugly around Yun Ge before reaching for the black one, draping it on himself. The pair walked slowly along the walls of Xuan Shi Hall, aimlessly, as they wished. When Yun Ge caught a glimpse of the nearby Palace Gates, she suddenly stopped and seemed to be deep in thought. Liu Fu Ling followed her line of sight, looked outside the palace, “Do you want to go out for a walk?” Yun Ge’s expression took on a tinge of sadness “I heard Big Brother and Xu Jie Jie’s child is born, they once said I was to be the child’s aunt.” Liu Fu Ling asked “This Big Brother of yours is the one you mistook for me - Liu Bing Yi?”
Yun Ge nodded.
Liu Fu Ling thought for a moment, then handed out orders “Yu An, prepare the carriage. We are to leave the palace.” Yu An took a look at the skies, feeling like he was in a difficult position. The skies were dark, to hurriedly leave the palace like this wasn’t appropriate; but to persuade the Emperor otherwise was even more inappropriate; he could only order for the proper arrangements to be made.
Yu An disguised himself a coachman, driving the carriage himself “Emperor, where to?” Liu Fu Ling said “Liu Bing Yi’s house.” The hand Yu An raised to crack his whip paused and gave Qi Xi, who was at his side, a pointed look. Qi Xi quickly nodded, indicating he will watch his step.
Winter, was dark early, and cold. Xu Ping Jun had prepared food in advance, stoked the fire of the Kang (bed-stove); her family of three sat on top of it. The moment the door closed, all the cold was shut outside! Her son was on the Kang, sleeping soundly. Liu Bing Yi had an old cotton jacket draped over him, sat by his son’s side, reading Sima Qian’s “Records of a Grand Historian” (Shiji), analysing the good and bad of Liu Che’s policies. Xu Ping Jun was sprawled on a little table on the Kang, holding a pair of chopsticks, practicing her writing on the sand, reading it silently as she wrote, deep in concentration. Liu Bing Yi stole a look at her sometimes, she didn’t even notice, Liu Bing Yi just shook his head, laughing.
Suddenly, a knock sounded at the door, Liu Bing Yi and Xu Ping Jun exchanged surprised glances. On such a cold wintry night, everyone would be trying to avoid the chill, seldom would they go visiting, who could it be? Liu Bing Yi made a move to get up but Xu Ping Jun had already jumped off the Kang. She wore her shoes, smoothed out her skirts then rushed to open the door asking “Who is it?”, as she opened the door.
Outside, a man and a woman stood side by side, looking extremely wealthy. The man wore a black fox fur cloak, the woman a rare cloak of red fox fur, one reserved, the other smiling, one cold, one warm, there was dissonance yet a strange sense of harmony. Xu Ping Jun opened her mouth, but no sound came out. Yun Ge smiled and winked at Xu Ping Jun, turned to Liu Fu Ling and said “I must be eating so much that my figure has changed. Even my sister does not recognize me!” Tears filled Xu Ping Jun’s eyes as she grabbed Yun Ge in a hug. She was so afraid she would never have the chance to right the wrongs she had done in this life when the Heavens graciously sent Yun Ge back into her life. While Yun Ge expected surprise when Xu Ping Jun saw her, she didn’t expect such an intense reaction. Touched, she laughed “For someone who is a mother still behaving like a child, how are you going to raise your child?” Xu Ping Jun quietly wiped her tears away, held Yun Ge’s hand and dragged her into the house. “Bing Yi, Bing Yi, look who’s here?”
Liu Bing Yi put his book down, lifted his eyes and saw Yun Ge. He was about to rush off the Kang to greet her when he noticed the man behind her. Stunned, his face changed as he jumped off barefoot, grabbed Yun Ge and Xu Ping Jun and pushed them behind his ramrod straight back. Liu Bing Yi merely continued to stand, quietly assessing Liu Bing Yi. Liu Bing Yi’s breathed heavily, his eyes full of distrust.
A strange, tense atmosphere filled the room. Xu Ping Jun and Yun Ge looked first at Liu Fu Ling, then at Liu Bing Yi, not understanding why two people who just met for the first time seemed to be at each other’s throats, why Bing Yi seemed like he was going to fight to the very death for them.
Yun Ge walked out from behind Liu Bing Yi, Liu Bing Yi wanted to grab her back, but didn’t manage to, for she was already standing by Liu Fu Ling’s side, telling him “This is Big Brother Bing Yi, this is Xu Jie Jie”, then turned to Liu Bing Yi and Xu Ping Jun saying “He is…..” She just looked at him, not knowing how to introduce him. Xu Ping Jun moved out to stand beside Liu Bing Yi, holding his clenched fist, smiled and said “I have met this gentleman once before.” Liu Fu Ling nodded slightly, “I have yet to properly express my gratitude to madam for showing the way, for I was too much in a rush the last time.” Xu Ping Jun just laughed “You are too kind. Since you are Yun Ge’s friend, that makes you our friend.”
After she was done, she looked expectantly at Yun Ge, for the name Yun Ge had yet to utter. Yun Ge shot Xu Ping Jun a sheepish look “He is…. Is my… Ling gege.” Xu Ping Jun froze for a moment, who introduces people that way? A grown man, with no first or last name, it’s not like he was unpresentable! Liu Fu Ling’s eyes filled with warmth and told Xu Ping Jun “Coincidentally, I am a Liu too, sharing your husband’s last name.”
Liu Bing Yi’s surprise at seeing Liu Fu Ling had ebbed away, as he slowly regained his senses. He knew that since Liu Fu Ling has already caught wind of his existence, he only had to utter the word if he wanted his life. Anything he did right now would be useless, he might as well treat him with frankness. But….he looked at Xu Ping Jun and his baby lying on the Kang…he would be letting them down, dragging them with him into this dangerous world.
Liu Bing Yi bowed to Liu Fu Ling, put on his shoes, asked Xu Ping Jun to make some simple dishes, set the table, then invited Liu Fu Ling and Yun Ge to sit on the Kang. The heated Kang was warm and toasty; Liu Fu Ling and Yun Ge both wearing cloaks felt warm.
Liu Fu Ling reached out to untie Yun Ge’s cloak for her, but Yun Ge laughed as she ducked away “I’ll do it. You take care of yourself.” Liu Bing Yi looked at the two of them, his heart filled with surprise, shock, puzzlement, a mix of various emotions. Yun Ge took off her cloak, kicked off her shoes and crawled back to the Kang, sprawling in front of Liu Bing Yi’s son. His little son was still in deep slumber, raising his small hands bunched into fists once in a while, coaxing laughter out of Yun Ge, as she bent over to kiss the sleeping child. “I am your aunt, do you know that? You must remember to call me ‘aunt’!”
Xu Ping Jun poured wine out as she arranged the dishes “He still has a long while to go before he can talk! Both you and Bing Yi are smart yet can be so muddleheaded at times, he spends the whole day telling the child to call him ‘Father’; doesn’t he realize that if an infant were to talk right now, it would scare everyone to death?” Liu Fu Ling spoke up “Bring the child to me.” Yun Ge carefully carried the child, moved to Liu Fu Ling’s side to show him the child. Liu Bing Yi continued to stare intently at Liu Fu Ling. Liu Fu Ling bowed his head to look at the child, untied a pendant he always wore and tucked it into the baby’s blanket “We came hurriedly so we didn’t come with presents; let this be a show of our sincerity.” Xu Ping Jun knew that this man wouldn’t carry any normal pendant, and tried to refuse the present. Liu Fu Ling smiled at Liu Bing Yi saying “Come to think about it, I should be this child’s elder, there is no need to refuse my present.” Liu Bing Yi took the child from Yun Ge, passed it to Xu Ping Jun. “I thank…. this gentleman on behalf of Hu’er.” Yun Ge smiled and asked “Is Hu’er his pet name? What is his name?” [Chinese children would have informal pet names and a formal personal name.] Xu Ping Jun replied “We haven’t thought of it yet, so we’ve always called him by his pet name.”
Liu Bing Yi turned abruptly to Liu Fu Ling “Please give my son a name.”, his heart filled with anxiety has he uttered those words, although he still kept a smiling façade. Yun Ge glanced at Liu Bing Yi, then at Liu Fu Ling, remaining silent. Liu Fu Ling thought for a moment, asked Liu Bing Yi “I just casually flipped through the “Lost Book of Zhou” today, and took a liking to the word ‘Shi’, how about that as a name?”
Yun Ge tilted her head, thinking out loud “Liu Shi?”
Xu Ping Jun quickly passed the sand box to Yun Ge, asking in a small voice “Yun Ge, how do you write that?” Yun Ge surprised, laughed delightedly “Jie jie, you’re learning to write?” Yun Ge slowly wrote the word out for Xu Ping Jun, stroke by stroke. Xu Ping Jun quickly committed the word to memory, she didn’t know whether it was a good or bad character, only felt that this character was very uncommon. For a commoner’s child to use such an uncommon character, she was worried that not many people will be able to pronounce his name in future.
When Liu Bing Yi heard the name Liu Fu Ling gave, he relaxed, worry for the child dissipating, stood up and bowed with great reverence “Thank you for bestowing the name.” Xu Ping Jun could feel that Liu Bing Yi really liked this name, quickly carried the child and bowed to express her gratitude. Liu Fu Ling only nodded, not saying anything. Seeing the bamboo slip on the Kang, he asked “Which part of “Records of a Grand Historian” do you like best?” Liu Bing Yi hesitated, then replied “Of late I really enjoyed reading about the late Emperor when he was younger.”
Liu Fu Ling nodded slightly, then quietly took in the house and its surroundings. Liu Fu Ling remained silent, so Liu Bing Yi didn’t say anything either. Xu Ping Jun felt that Liu Bing Yi was vastly different from the Liu Bing Yi she knew, and gathered that something strange was going on, and so she didn’t say a word too. Yun Ge ignored all of them, playing with Hu’er, sometimes leaning close to drop a kiss on his face.
This family might not be rich, but it had a mistress with nimble hands, and thus, filled with warmth. Liu Fu Ling’s gaze fell on every table and chair in the house before finally landing on Liu Bing Yi. Although Liu Bing Yi’s old cotton jacket was obviously old, its sleeves already torn, yet because of Xu Ping Jun’s careful mending, she made a darker coloured patch look like it was flowers, carefully embroidered on.
Liu Bing Yi calming took in Liu Fu Ling’s accessing glance. If Liu Fu Ling’s earlier accessing look was to judge whether or not he was worthy to talk to, what was he assessing now? The sad state of the Prince’s grandson’s life? Probably not. It might be his first meeting with Liu Fu Ling, but he trusted Yun Ge’s judgement; and above all, he trusted his own keen sense of discernment. So what was Liu Fu Ling trying to find out? Why did he leave the palace to meet him? Silence descended upon that palace.
Yun Ge stretched as she jumped off the Kang, wearing her shoes as she said “It’s late, Big Brother and Xu Jie Jie should be resting, and we should go.” She brought Liu Fu Ling’s cloak over as he stood up. Yun Ge was standing on a step, which made her slightly taller than Liu Fu Ling, so she happily helped Liu Fu Ling tie on his cloak, casually draped on her own cloak, and turned to leave. However, Liu Fu Ling seemed to have read her mind; Yun Ge might be fast, but Liu Fu Ling was faster – he grabbed her by the collar, forced her back, and Yun Ge could only grimace as Liu Fu Ling made sure she was properly dressed. Not a single word was uttered during this lively scene. Xu Ping Jun almost burst out laughing. Once Liu Fu Ling arranged her cloak for her, the two of them walked out of the door. Liu Bing Yi and Xu Ping Jun set them off, saw that the moment Yun Ge pulled the door opened, figures morphed from the darkness to welcome them, helping them onto the carriage. After Yun Ge was on the carriage, she tentatively stuck her body out to wave goodbye.
Liu Bing Yi only locked the door once the carriage was swallowed by darkness. Back in the house, he remained silent for a while. Xu Ping Jun quietly sat by his side, then urged him to sleep after a while “No matter what happens in future, men must still sleep.” Liu Bing Yi held her hand “Life might get tougher for the both of us in future. Now that it has come to this, I don’t see any point keeping this from you any longer. No matter what happens in future, I want you to be prepared at the very least. Do you know who that was just now?” Xu Ping Jun said “That man emanated luxury, his expression cold, but not because of pride, he also…..also seemed very powerful, it was this hidden power within him, unlike the power displays of those court officials. He is no normal person, but no matter who he is, since he is Yun Ge’s friend, he is also our friend. Right, Bing Yi, did you see it? His eyes bear some resemblance to yours. It’s such a big world, yet anything is possible. Unsuspecting people might even mistake you for relatives!” Liu Bing Yi’s grip on her hand tightened, as if he was scared she wouldn’t believe him, enunciating each word carefully “He is my relative, come to think of it, I should call him ‘Grandfather’, my grandfather was the eldest amongst them, he was the youngest, so there was more than a forty year age gap between the two. His surname is Liu, name Fu Ling, the Emperor of this dynasty.”
Xu Ping Jun’s eyes widened, she felt the world closing in around her; her hands and feet started trembling. In a matter of seconds, cold sweat broke out on her forehead. Liu Bing Yi sighed and gathered her in his embrace. “Ping Jun, I’m sorry, for dragging you down to suffer with me in this life.”
All sorts of things raced through Xu Ping Jun’s mind, first thinking the Emperor’s big brother, wasn’t that Crown Prince Li, Liu Ju? Then thought of the violent death that befell his family, then remembered his name was banned to this very day; should Liu Bing Yi and her run away? Where to? Then made the connection that Liu Bing Yi was the grandson of a prince. Royalty?! If I were to tell Mother, she would probably faint in shock over actually marrying a nobleman. Only this nobleman is one Mother would surely shun. Why did the Emperor come? To kill them? Does that mean she’s now an Imperial Concubine?
Xu Ping Jun felt fear, then absurdity grip her, when she felt as if her foundations were crumbling; she remembered she was still in his silent embrace. Her warring emotions slowly settled down as rested her head on Liu Bing Yi’s shoulders, said calmly “I am willing to be dragged down by you in this life, and for you to do so is my good fortune.” Liu Bing Yi held Xu Ping Jun, gazed at their sleeping son, feeling like there was a huge heaviness on his shoulders. He was no longer alone – in the past he could harbour thoughts of giving up, now he had to be determined to walk forward, not just forward, but make a name for himself.
Roads, are made by man. Surely the Heavens didn’t spare his life only for him to wander adrift through life?
Xu Ping Jun mentally ran through everything Liu Fu Ling said and did today, trying to guess his thoughts but thought it very difficult. Liu Fu Ling always maintained an expressionless façade; it was hard to determine whether he was happy or angry. Where Liu Fu Ling was hard to read, Yun Ge was easy. Although she couldn’t figure how Yun Ge and the Emperor could have met as children, now that she knew even the idle street punk of Chang An could be an Imperial grandson, nothing, she believed, is impossible in this world.“Bing Yi, does Yun Ge know your identity? No matter what the Emperor might think, Yun Ge will never harm you.”
Bing Yi said “When they first came, Yun Ge had no clue, but seeing how she behaved later on, she probably would have guessed the truth by then.”
Yun Ge now is not the Yun Ge of old, Meng Jue hurt her deeply, so she wasn’t going to trust anyone so easily from now on. She had once followed him to the graves of Crown Prince Li’s family, piecing that together with today’s happenings, she would definitely have made the connection that he was a descendent of Crown Prince Li, and also probably figured he was closely connected to the Imperial family.
Xu Ping Jun let out a sigh of relief, with Yun Ge around, no matter what happens, they would have time to face it. In the worst case scenario, even if…. Even if something were to happen, they must protect Hu’er. Come to think of it, this must be the reason why Bing Yi specially requested the Emperor to name Hu’er.
He wasn’t begging for his son’s name, but for his life. There must be a deeper meaning behind this ‘Shi’ character the Emperor had given, explaining why Bing Yi gave thanks so reverentially
Inside the carriage, Yun Ge happily lay on the cushion, unusually quiet.
Liu Fu Ling looked at her “Liu Bing Yi is an alias, his real name is Liu Xun. The jade pendant he carries and the one on me are carved from He Shi Bi , by the same craftsman, causing your earlier confusion. I wanted to meet him today…..”
Yun Ge changed position languidly like a cat, making herself more comfortable, smiled “Ling gege, I know you wouldn’t harm Big Brother Bing Yi. Enough blood has been shed for this bloody throne; you wouldn’t order his death just because he is related to Crown Prince Li. I’m not worried about that. I just think it is funny, how every time I know a Liu, he is somehow related to the Imperial family? I’m just thinking what other Lius I know, so as to ascertain which Prince or King he may be, or an Imperial descendent, saving myself from the surprise in future.”
Liu Fu Ling amused, asked “Who are the other Lius you know?”
Yun Ge stuck out her tongue “The one who considers himself the world’s most handsome, charming, free and unruly man, your ridiculous nephew.”
Liu Fu Ling was surprised “Liu He?” When did Yun Ge meet Liu He? The only time she could have met him was during the hunt at Gan Quan Palace, but if she met him then, she wouldn’t be surprised he was part of the Imperial family.
Yun Ge thought of Liu He, looked at Liu Fu Ling before bursting into laughter, chortling as she hit her cushion.  Liu Fu Ling saw her amusement, and smiled too “Next time I will fulfil your wish, ordering him to perform the necessary greeting the younger generation should, and call you ‘aunt’ when he sees you.”
Yun Ge laughed as she vigorously nodded her head, then the figure of the other person crossed her thoughts, stealing all her previous joy away. When Liu Fu Ling saw Yun Ge suddenly burying her face within the rug, he knew she must have been thinking of the past again, though not exactly knowing why. He didn’t offer comfort, nor try to distract her, only choose to look quietly at her, giving Yun Ge her own space through the silence.
After a long while, Yun Ge’s muffled voice travelled from the bottom of the rugs “Liu He secretly entered Chang An, he and Meng Jue are close, and can be considered sworn brothers. Their relationship is held together only by another sworn brother. Meng Jue is wary of Liu He, they aren’t completely open with each other, I doubt Liu He really trusts Meng Jue either.”
Liu Fu Ling was slightly shocked but he didn’t really care much for what he just heard. If Liu He abided by rules, then he wouldn’t be Liu He. What he cared about was Yun Ge’s unwavering trust in him, and her desire to protect him. But, Yun Ge, are you only being so nice now so that you may leave without regrets a year later?
“Captain of the Guard” by Xin Yannian, Translated by Xu Yuan Chong from "Golden Treasury of Poetry from Han to Sui"
奭 (shi) means ‘to flourish’
 Most legendary and valuable jade in China
 see Chapter 10