Liu Fu Ling is such a cute boy with an apricot I really can't wait to see the boy who will play him. Can I just say how much I love the scene where Yun Ge threw water at Liu He? It is such a Yun Ge thing to do, and only she'll be able to get away with it.
Update: CHAPTER COMPLETE.
When news spread that Liu Fu Ling had summoned Liu He to the capital, all the court officials expressed surprise, confusion, and even found it funny. Was his majesty finding Chang An too boring? Was that why he had summoned this clown to entertain himself, and everyone else in the process? Some meticulous court officials still had some hopes for Liu He, and felt that although this person might be muddleheaded in trivial matters, he would still have the sense to be clearheaded about such a big matter. Of course he couldn’t accept this summons from his majesty, he should fake an injury to postpone this, then this whole matter will be over.
To their surprise, they heard that not only did Liu He accept the summons; he was even rushing preparations to enter the capital, on the surface telling everyone “I want to quickly enter Chang An to pay my respects to his majesty”, but in secret he was heard to have grabbed hold of the officials who read him his summons, incessantly asking them where the best ladies in Chang An were, which gentlemen were the best at eating, drinking and entertaining, which dance houses had the most talented women. All those court officials shook their heads and sighed, their hopes truly quashed. Those eunuchs who accompanied the court officials to read the summons immediately reported everything to Huo Guang upon returning to Chang An. Of course this person wasn’t an upright gentleman, but when they talked about the ridiculous things they witnessed in Changyi, they shook their heads as they spoke. Huo Yu, Huo Shan and Huo Yun were laughing at his anecdotes but Huo Guang’s expression was solemn.
The day Prince He of Changyi was due to arrive in Chang An, Chang An was bustling like the people were celebrating a festival, thousands of people vacating the streets just to catch a glimpse of the Prince of Changyi. The beautiful Madam Lee was already a legend among the womenfolk. Prince Changyi was her grandson, it is said he was a rare beauty, tender and romantic. This was the first time Liu Fu Ling had summoned a border prince to the capital since ascending the throne, so everyone wanted a glimpse of his face. Of course, Liu He didn’t disappoint; he used a way no one had even thought of to let everyone in Chang An remember him. Even after twenty, thirty years later, when the Emperor, Empress, Huo Guang were all buried under the sands of time, never to be mentioned again, there would still be white haired ladies telling their grandchildren about the time they saw Liu He.
Around 5 to 7am, when there sun had yet to rise, there were already commoners taking their places at the city gates, making sure they got the best spot. Around 7 to 9am, imperial guards dressed in armour and carrying swords came to maintain peace.
From 9 to 11am, a group officials slowly came streaming in, just before noon, officials who were of the third grade and above were already at the city gates; exactly at noon, Grand Marshal, Chancellor, Generals all arrive; then at the end of noon, Liu Fu Ling arrived at the city gates in the company of eunuchs and palaces maids. At 9am, the sentinels had reported that Prince Changyi was 40li away from the city gates. He would have arrived at 1pm, latest. Yet Liu Fu Ling stood on top of the palace gates, waiting from the end of noon to 2pm, but the Prince of Changyi had yet to make an appearance. Then, under the advice of the officials, Liu Fu Ling went to the side of the city gates to rest. Liu Fu Ling was still fairly understanding, even summoning Huo Guang, Tian Qian Qiu, Zhang An Shi and officials who were getting on in age to the city gates, allowing them to sit and wait while drinking tea. The other officials could only stand ramrod straight under the hot sun in their official robes, continuing their wait. At 3pm, there was still no sign of the Prince of Changyi. The commoners at the side could still sit while waiting or search vendors selling food and drink, chewing on their rice biscuits as they talked amongst themselves while waiting, but the other officials could only wait despite the dryness in their throats, the rumbling in their tummies and the numbness of their legs! The only thing they could do was to inwardly curse the Prince of Changyi as many curses as they could think of. At 5pm, the sun was already starting its descent but the Prince of Changyi still hadn’t arrived. From the earlier bustling excitement among the commoners, it slowly became quieter and quieter until silence fully fell on that place. No one had any energy left in them to create noise or sounds of excitement.
Now everyone felt that since they had already waited the whole day, if they still didn’t see this Prince of Changyi, wouldn’t they have wasted the whole day? No one was content to just give up! Of course, there were also people who ‘respected’ the Prince of Changyi for making his majesty wait! With almost ten thousand people standing at the city gates but not a sound to be heard towards the end could only be described as eerily strange.
Just when the rays of the setting sun fell upon everyone, forcing them to squint in order to see the west, a melodious, lilting music travelled through the crowd. Accompanied by the music, a group of people walked along the roads winding to the city gates in the slight glow of the sunrays. With the music also came a vague, barely there aroma, like a hundred flowers blooming at once, marking the return of spring. Eight pretty maidens, with flower baskets in their hands walked slowly while throwing dried flower petals. Behind them were eight burly, bearded men, carrying a huge pallet on their shoulders. Although they were burly men, but because they were walking behind the maidens, even their steps took on an air of gracefulness. On the pallet there were a few girls with hair piled high on their heads and held together by golden pins playing various instruments for the man behind them. There was another pallet behind them but this time, the pallet was carried by eight tall, beautiful Hu maidens.
A man was propped up on the pallet, with a maid lying on his knee. The man’s head was bowed as he played with a lock of her hair, the other hand holding a cup of red wine from Xi Yu. He wore a headdress made of purple-gold jade, and a purple robe, a belt of white jade at his waist. His eyes were dark and bright, his lips like begonia, his looks prettier than most women by half, but his sharp brows added an air of handsomeness, so that no one would mistake him for a woman. His eyes swept the crowd; his lips curved in a smile and his eyes brimmed with his tenderness. Every girl his gaze brushed across felt that his gaze was meant for them alone, their hearts beating faster. That gaze bespoke of tantalizing unknowns. All the men present wanted to smash their head against the wall, realizing that this man is living the life a true man should life. Many playful, naughty boys who saw Liu He resolved in that instant to study hard, brush up their martial arts so that they could rise to be powerful officials next time. Only then could they have power, money and beautiful ladies, and become a man like Liu He. When Liu Fu Ling walked out of the city gates and saw the scene before him, he finally realized why Liu He took close to a day to cover a distance of 40li. All the officials reverently welcomed the Prince of Chanyi to Chang An as one.
When Liu He saw Liu Fu Ling standing in front, he quickly ordered the Hu maidens to stop, hopped off his pallet and rushed to kowtow to Liu Fu Ling. “Your subject didn’t know that your majesty will be here to welcome your subject and bows in thanks to your majesty for your favour. The roads were rough, it wasn’t an easy journey and thus we were delayed. Your subject seeks your majesty’s forgiveness.” Liu Fu Ling mentioned for him to rise “We are one family, no need for so many formalities.” Huo Guang, Tian Qian Qiu and other officials came forward to pay their respects and ask after Liu He. After the formalities, Liu Fu Ling and Liu He walked side by side, talking as they walked. The officials that have stood for a whole day could finally leave.
Liu Bing Yi left home early and after suffering the whole day without food, he now doubled over in hunger, holding on to Meng Jue’s arm, he said weakly “Next time you want to punish Da Gong Zi, remember to call me. I’ll definitely help with the planning, giving money and strength and everything I’ve got.” Meng Jue must have known this would have had happened, given his long friendship with Da Gong Zi, since his face was a picture of calm. When he saw Liu Bing Yi’s expression, he suddenly laughed “Da Gong Zi and I are friends, but shouldn’t you be calling him ‘Uncle’? Then wouldn’t I then be your….” Liu Bing Yi interrupted “Don’t joke! Based on your words, since Da Gong Zi called his majesty ‘Uncle’, and Yun Ge calls his majesty ‘Ling Ge Ge’, then what should you call Yun Ge? We should just call each other whatever we wish, without taking in the familial relations! The imperial relations are numerous and confusing. Furthermore, I don’t have the right as yet to call Da Gong Zi ‘Uncle’. “ Meng Jue smiled, not replying. Liu Bing Yi asked “Meng Jue, have you managed to figure out why his majesty summoned the Prince of Changyi to Chang An?”
“Why didn’t you object to the Prince of Changyi coming to Chang An? Aren’t you afraid of what might happen?”
Meng Jue said blandly “This decision has nothing to do with me, he has his own plan, I merely didn’t object.”
Liu Fu Ling planned the banquet to welcome Liu He into the capital, it was held in Jian Ning Palace, lending an air of familiarity as compared to the grandness of Wei Yang Palace. As this was a private imperial family banquet, there were a limited number of people invited. The Emperor, Prince of Changyi, Huo Guang, Tian Qian Qiu, Zhang An Shi, Liu Bing Yi and Meng Jue were among those.
When the other officials noticed Liu Bing Yi and Meng Jue among the guests, they were first surprised, then remembered the words his majesty said the night they bravely fought with the Prince of Central Qiang, and understood his majesty wanted to raise Liu Bing Yi and Meng Jue up. Some officials after understanding his majesty’s intentions were prepared to start drafting a missive to request his majesty to promote the duo. As it was a family banquet, everyone came not wearing their usual court robes.
Huo Guang didn’t bring his wife, only attending with Huo Yu and Huo Cheng Jun, Tian Qian Qiu, Zhang An Shi and Liu Bing Yi had wives but all opted to attend alone. Incidentally, Liu Fu Ling also attended the banquet alone; the Empress didn’t make an appearance. Huo Cheng Jun was a woman, so she couldn’t speak as she wished. Huo Yu didn’t dare to do so either with his father around. Huo Guang, Tian Qian Qiu, Zhang An Shi, Meng Jue and Liu Bing Yi were all careful, meticulous people who wouldn’t speak unless absolutely needed. Liu Fu Ling was naturally quiet, not an Emperor good with words and entertainment. A whole hall filled with people, but only Liu He was talking and laughing, the more he talked the more depressed he got, finally reaching his limit and complaining to Liu Fu Ling “Your majesty, is this what a banquet looks like in Chang An? First there are no beauties, second, no fine wine, third, no song or dance, and here I was still longing every day for the romantic tales I’ve heard of Chang An. This is too boring!”
Liu Fu Ling lowered his eyes to the wine cup on his table and Yu An hurriedly bowed to say “Your highness, besides the tribute wine served tonight, there is also the most famous ‘Zhu Ye Qing’ wine in Chang An. Although it isn’t the best wine ever but it can still be considered ‘fine wine.’ “ Liu He scoffed “Just by hearing your words I can tell you’re someone who doesn’t drink. Wine is meant to be drunk, not admired by its name alone. With a beauty in my embrace, interesting gentlemen as drinking partners, melodious music to my ears, then wine would have taste. What is this now? What difference does this wine have from pure water?” As Liu He spoke, he poured the wine in his cup to the floor.
Yu An stood there, troubled. Of course he knew what a banquet was supposed to be like. He too had witnessed the extravagance of the late Emperor’s banquets, but his majesty never approached beauties, or liked such banquets, so in the past ten years the palace hadn’t specially trained songstresses or dancers to accompany officials for entertainment and drink. If there were any big grand banquets, the song and dance would be entrusted to the Ministry of Rites. For normal, small banquets, all officials knew his majesty’s preference and no one dared to protest. Tonight though, he was faced with such a prickly issue. Where was he supposed to find someone in such a short notice? He could only smile and apologize “Your highness, it is your servant who didn’t plan properly.” Liu He stopped talking but unhappiness was written all over his face. Liu Fu Ling said “I see you’ve brought many maidens with you on this journey. I’ll bend the rules and permit them to accompany you to drink.”
With a wave of his hand and a vague air of respect, Liu He said “I thank your majesty for your kindness, but your subject was afraid that he had spoiled them and they would behave impudently so I’ve only brought two maids with me into the palace. The rest remain outside, by the time they come in, this banquet would have ended. Let us just make do with what we have!” Although he said ‘make do’, his expression didn’t even help. He held his wine cup, heaved a long sigh, his face one of sadness and loneliness. Liu Fu Ling must have had an extremely good grasp on his temper because his brow didn’t even knit when dealing with Liu He. His face remained bland, if he had questions then he asked; if not he didn’t say a word. No matter what, Liu Fu Ling was the head of state, which means even the mighty Huo Guang didn’t dare to go against Liu Fu Ling in front of everyone. This Prince of Changyi was truly the most famous ridiculous prince.
Tian Qian Qiu and Zhang An Shi only lowered their eyes and concentrated on eating, shutting the outside world out. Meng Jue was full of smiles as he tasted his wine. Huo Guang seemed troubled, seemingly miles away. The whole hall was only filled with Liu He’s sighs. Huo Cheng Jun suddenly rose and kowtowed to Liu Fu Ling. ‘Long live your majesty, your subject Huo Cheng Jun knows a bit of song and dance. If his highness doesn’t mind, your subject is willing to perform a dance to entertain your highness.” Liu Fu Ling had yet to say anything before Liu He happily replied “Fine.” Liu Fu Ling nodded, acceding to her request.
Liu He smiled “A dance without music is like a dish without salt. I wonder what dance are you planning to dance?” As Liu He spoke, his gaze slanted towards Meng Jue, his face full of smiles. Huo Cheng Jun smiled at Liu Fu Ling “Your subject has heard that your majesty is good at playing the lute and flute and would audaciously request for your majesty to play an accompaniment on the flute.”
Everyone’s eyes were on Huo Cheng Jun; Meng Jue’s expression was even more complicated. Liu He froze, then immediately started to rub his hands in glee. “Good suggestion. Your majesty, your subject would like to submit an audacious request for that too. I’ve only heard of your majesty’s talents but have yet to truly see them for myself, please accede to your subject’s request.” Liu Fu Ling didn’t even express surprise, only smiled blandly and told Yu An “Bring my flute to me.” Then he asked Huo Cheng Jun “What song would you like?” “Zhe Yao Dance  song” Liu Fu Ling nodded in agreement. After Huo Cheng Jun bowed to express her thanks, she rose gracefully.
Today she wore a robe of pure white, the skirts and sleeves for every special, wider and more billowy than a normal robe. The colourful silk belt at her waist with butterflies and flowers embroidered on it was the only colour on her clothes. Her waist was already slim, yet in contrast to the wide skirts and sleeves, she only seemed weak and pitiful, creating images of the beautiful but weak butterfly. Everyone who looked at her couldn’t help but to take pity on her.
While everyone was still engrossed in her beauty, the melodious sound of the flute slowly wafted in, bringing everyone to a fantasy world. At the low parts, the flute was like the spring breeze blowing over flowers, at high parts, it was like an angry sea pushing a rush; wrapping around everyone like a thousand webs, strong like a thousand horse stampede. It was like a bright moon shining through the pine trees, only the moonlight, not the moon could be seen. Then it was like a clear stream flowing through rocks, only the water, not the source could be seen. The flute sound wrapped itself around everyone, absorbed in the music, but not the musician.
When Liu Fu Ling reached the song’s climax, Huo Cheng Jun suddenly flung her wide sleeves out, her long sleeves dancing in the wind like a live snake. Then everyone realized the secret behind her sleeve. There were pleats hidden in her sleeves, multi-coloured butterflies embroidered within white pleats of her sleeves. At this moment when her sleeve was twirling in the air, the pleats opened, and all the ‘butterflies’ looked like they were flying in the air. As the pleats opened and closed, the butterflies appeared then disappeared, in unpredictable movements. Everyone felt the sound like a thousand horse stampede, or the raging waves in their ears, and the butterflies ascending and descending in the sky around them. The dazzling array of colours made them dizzy, and every time a ‘butterfly’ flew then descended, they felt the sense of weakness and fragility keenly.
Everyone seated were extraordinary people, but now their breath were first taken away by Liu Fu Ling’s amazing flute sound, then their souls captured by Huo Cheng Jun’s dazzling dance, they couldn’t catch a breath from such glorious display of beauty. As the flute music slowly calmed, everyone seemed to have seen the full moon slowly rise. The slight breeze softly blew across the pines, the soft moonlight falling through the gaps of the pine trees and onto the rocks, reflecting the clear stream gurgling its way across the rocks.
Huo Cheng Jun slowly became more graceful as the music calmed, her sleeves slowly dancing across her body, flying or lowered, curled around or curved up, floating in the night sky, various never-ending forms and poses. Her body, was bent forward or backward, tilted left or right. Her waist was bent or stretched or curved or uncurled, a slim graceful waist, flexible like it was boneless, forming graceful poses. They then understood why it was called ‘Zhe Yao Dance’. The flute was nearing the end of the score, like the wind called back to the vacuum through the pines, or waves crashing. Huo Cheng Jun raised both her arms, smiling, like she was flying in the midst of the waves crashing around her, and accompanied by a flight of butterflies.
As she twirled, the use of her wide skirts became apparent, slowly opening up as she spun faster and faster, the embroidery within the pleats of her skirts revealed. They were of various flowers. When she first started, it was like spring descending on earth again, thousands of flowers shyly opening up their blooms, but as she spun faster, her skirts opened fully, the flowers in half bloom now bloomed fully, spectacularly. The music slowly came to a close, and Huo Cheng Jun’s body slowly started to fall towards the flower garden from her flight with the ‘butterflies’. When the music faded away, her sleeves lowered, and she landed on her wide skirts. The beautiful butterflies and the colourful fresh flowers disappeared in an instant; the brilliance that coloured their world suddenly became a simple, white nothing.
Only a frail, weak girl breathing slightly heavily remained, lying in the whiteness.
The whole hall was silent. Liu He was entranced. Liu Bing Yi couldn’t take his eyes off her. Meng Jue’s eyes remained pitch black and unreadable. Huo Guang didn’t care about anyone’s reaction but Liu Fu Ling’s. Admiration was plain in Liu Fu Ling’s eyes as he silently looked at Huo Cheng Jun.
Huo Guang was first happy, silently commenting that he is still a man after all. Then when he took a closer look, his heart grew cold. There was no trace of longing, desire, possessiveness; this wasn’t the way a man looked at a woman. Instead, he looked like he just saw a beautiful sunrise, an exquisitely carved jade piece, purely admiring it for its beauty.
After a while, Liu He clapped and praised “Not wasting this night, Chang An is Chang An indeed! Legend has said Emperor Gaozu of Han’s beloved concubine Madam Qi loved to dance the ‘Zhe Yao Dance’, ‘known as the dance of the curved sleeves and bent waist, the song I desire to return to upon coming home’, I have always longed to see Madam Qi’s gracefulness but after watching Miss Huo’s dance today I fear it might be even better than Madam Qi’s.” Tian Qian Qiu smiled “It is also said that Emperor Gaozu of Han often held Madam Qi in his embrace as he played for her, tears streaming down his face. Today’s flute and dance were excellent, no less magical.”
Liu Fu Ling acted like he didn’t catch the meaning behind Liu He’s and Tian Qian Qiu’s words, only nodding in agreement. “It was an excellent dance indeed. I bestow upon you a white jade ruyi, and two bangles scented with Chinese cedar.” Huo Cheng Jun kowtowed in thanks “Your subject thanks your majesty for your great favour. Your subject doesn’t dare to claim credit; it was only your majesty’s flute was played well.” Liu Fu Ling didn’t add on, only mentioning for her to rise.
The banquet lost its previous solemnness, Liu He was in a chatty mood, first talking to Huo Cheng Jun a little about dance, then with Liu Fu Ling about music. Huo Yu was also someone who loved entertainment, and found many common topics with the Prince of Changyi. They both kept toasting each other while talking. Someone in the crowd would also throw a few lines into the conversation and the whole hall was filled with laughter.
When the banquet was about to end, Liu He was already as drunk as a lord, losing his inhibitions, openly leering at Huo Cheng Jun. She was embarrassed and angered at his unwavering gaze and the pure, hot desire displayed in his eyes, but she couldn’t do anything about it. Huo Guang had no choice but to request an early leave, bringing Huo Yu and Huo Cheng Jun along. Soon after, Tian Qian Qiu and Zhang An Shi also requested their leave.
When they saw that Huo Guang, Tian Qian Qiu and Zhang An Shi had already left, Meng Jue and Liu Bing Yi were about to request to leave too when Liu Fu Ling said “I will be returning to Wei Yang Palace, walk along with the Prince of Changyi and I.” Meng Jue and Liu Bing Yi replied “We obey.”
In order to make his entertainment within more convenient reach, Emperor Wu of Han had ordered craftsmen to build a suspended bridge for his carriage connecting Wei Yang Palace and Jian Ning Palace. Thus he was about to move from Jian Ning Palace to Wei Yang Palace midair. Yu An lighted the way with his lantern, Liu Fu Ling walked behind him, Meng Jue and Liu Bing Yi followed behind holding on to Liu He who could barely walk by now, with Qi Xi rounding out the group walking at the very end. Midway through the suspended path, Liu Fu Ling stopped, Meng Jue and Liu Bing Yi quickly stopped too.
Standing midair, surrounded by nothingness, everyone felt very at ease.
Liu Fu Ling glanced at the dead drunk Liu He, calling him by his nickname “He Nu, I am going to introduce someone to you. Liu Bing Yi is the grandson of the late Emperor’s oldest son Crown Prince Ju – Liu Xun.” This was completely beyond his expectations, so Liu Bing Yi stood in a daze. This name only appeared in his dreams and memories when he was alone at night, never spoken to anyone, and never spoken by everyone to him. This was the first time he heard it spoken in front of others, and standing on the highest point of the palace no less. When he heard his name spoken from the mouth of the Son of the Heavens, while overlooking the whole of Chang An, Liu Bing Yi felt like everything was too surreal. Meng Jue only smiled “Congratulations.”
This was when Liu Bing Yi snapped out of his reverie, and quickly kowtowed to Liu Fu Ling “Your subject thanks your majesty for your favour.” Then kowtowed to Liu He. “Your nephew Liu Xun pays his respects to Uncle.” Liu He was hanging on to the railings of the pathway babbling nonsense “Beauty, beauty, with such supple waist, if I were to couple with her on the pallet, the ecstasy would be……”
Liu Fu Ling, Liu Bing Yi and Meng Jue all pretended they didn’t hear what he just said. Liu Fu Ling let Liu Bing Yi rise “Over the next few days, there will be subjects submitting their missives in succession praising your talents and abilities then and requesting for your promotion. I will take this opportunity to announce your birth in front of everyone and restore your name. You must be prepared for the coming wave of commotion.” “Your subject understands.” Liu Bing Yi saluted him, tears swirling in his eyes as he bowed. After drifting for close to twenty years, his name was finally restored, his grandfather, father can now rest easy in their graves.
Meng Jue had a different expression in his eyes but when he saw Liu Fu Ling staring at him, he quickly bowed his head. Liu Fu Ling resumed walking once again. Meng Jue and Liu Bing Yi quickly lifted Liu He, now sprawled across the floor, up and followed behind.
Once they crossed the bridge, immediately eunuchs were there to receive them, taking Liu He from them back to Zhao Yang Hall to rest. Liu Fu Ling told Liu Bing Yi and Meng Jue “Both of you may return to your residence!” They both bowed and left.
The moment Liu Fu Ling walked into Xuan Shi Hall, he saw Yun Ge sitting on the rooftop. Liu Fu Ling raised his head to ask “Why aren’t you resting?”
“I’m listening to music!”
“Come down quick, I need to discuss something with you.”
“No”. Yun Ge propped her chin up with her hands, staring intently at the night sky.
Liu Fu Ling looked at Yu An, and after Yu An understood his intention, his face lost colour as he stuttered “Your majesty means to climb up to the rooftop? Your majesty wants a ladder?” He was mulling over whether or not he should fetch one when Fu Yu quietly pointed at the ladder propped up against the wall at the side. “Your majesty.” Liu Fu Ling climbed up the ladder, and Yu An was so nervous for his safety that he didn’t even dare to breathe. He watched as Liu Fu Ling walked towards Yun Ge and sat down beside her; only then did he dare to breathe, not forgetting to shoot a Fu Yu a glare.
“What song are you listening to?”
“Zhe Yao Dance song.”
“Is it nice?”
Liu Fu Ling smiled “When did you cultivate so many spies within the palace?” “
You openly sent someone back to pick up your flute. I merely asked out of curiosity, then went secretly to take a peek.” Liu Fu Ling’s smile grew broader “Isn’t someone always praising herself as open minded, beautiful and smart? Where is the understanding? Or the intelligence? As for the beauty….” He shook his head at her “An angry person is nowhere near beautiful.”
Yun Ge burst out in anger “You still dare to laugh? Was the dance by the Huo maiden beautiful?”
“Not beautiful? I saw each and every one of you watching her so intently! If you lie, I’ll double your guilt!”
“Beautiful? Then why didn’t you keep her here so you can watch all you want?” Liu Fu Ling reached out to hold her hand “I was about to discuss this issue with you.”
Yun Ge stood up all of a sudden, almost falling off the roof in the process. Liu Fu Ling had the foresight to hold her hand, and quickly held her steady.
Yun Ge’s annoyance was half real, and even that bit of true annoyance was because of her previous grudge against Huo Cheng Jun, not really because of tonight’s issue. She calmed down, her face cold as she said “No way, no room of discussion. I don’t care what tactic you’re thinking of using, whether a ruse or a delay tactic, whether you need to numb and kill the enemy by using false feelings or not, I’m not going to allow it. Even if you have ten thousand reasons why, this is wrong, don’t even think about it!”
“If I remember correctly, not long ago someone was still trying to match me with someone else, now I can’t even do it in name only?” Liu Fu Ling stared amusedly at Yun Ge. Yun Ge embarrassed, said “That was then, this is now. Furthermore you have already made one Shang Guan Xiao Mei suffer; you can’t make Huo Cheng Jun suffer too for the rest of her life. I may not like her, but I am a woman too.” Liu Fu Ling’s smiled vanished “Yun Ge, don’t be mad. I am not trying to discuss this with you. As you’ve said, I’ve already taken away Xiao Mei’s youth; I can never do that to another woman again.” Liu Fu Ling’s actions before were just to tease her, smiling because she cared. Yun Ge flushed and mumbled with her head bowed “You can only do that to me.”
Liu Fu Ling smiled “Yes, since you gave me your embroidered shoe, I was destined to spend my life with you.” Yun Ge became agitated “I didn’t! You were the one who stared at my feet, so I thought you liked my shoe.”
“Fine, fine, fine. I was the one who wanted it from you.”
Yun Ge lowered her head and smiled “What is it you want to discuss?” “Looks like Huo Guang plans to send Huo Cheng Jun into the palace. I am childless so I figured Tian QIan Qiu will lead the other court officials to beseech me to take on a concubine, and their first choice will be none other than the outstanding Huo Cheng Jun. If Xiao Mei releases a proclamation using her status as Empress to complement Huo Guang’s actions, then..”
Liu Fu Ling sighed “Then I’m afraid I can’t stand against the opinions of the people and proper ancestral rites.”
“How ridiculous! Aren’t you Han known as the ‘leader of etiquette’? As they mock the border tribes for having no proper etiquette, officials still dare propose aunt and niece share a husband?”
Liu Fu Ling smiled slightly “It is ridiculous but Emperor Hui of Jin’s Empress was his own niece, this is the imperial family for you.” Yun Ge ran out of ideas “Ling Ge Ge, what should we do?”
“We should enlist someone to help us.”
“Shang Guan Xiao Mei.”
“Will she help us? She is related by blood to Huo after all, and still has to depend on Huo Guang’s patronage in the palace.”
Liu Fu Ling sighed “I don’t know either.”
The next day, Liu Fu Ling went to court and Yun Ge went to find Shang Guan Xiao Mei.
The palace maids were already used to seeing Yun Ge coming in and out of Jiao Fang Hall and knew that she wasn’t to be trifled with. If they planned to follow her and the Empress, she would definitely give them a sound scolding. Furthermore, what important matters could she have to discuss with the Empress? So when they saw her, they all retreated, allowing her and the Empress to play in peace.
Yun Ge told Xiao Mei of Huo Guang’s plans to send Huo Cheng Jun into the palace, Xiao Mei felt like a thousand needles were pricking her heart, all her past grudges and hatred came rolling like waves in her heart, but her smile never left her face. “Xiao Mei, could you help his majesty stop Huo Cheng Jun from coming into the palace?” Xiao Mei gave a pretty smile “I don’t know of such matters, neither do I wish to handle them. I am but a weak woman, with no ability to help Huo Guang, or the Emperor.”
She thought that Yun Ge will be disappointed or unhappy, but unexpectedly, Yun Ge was still smiling, saying empathetically “I understand, you have it harder than us.” Xiao Mei didn’t like the sound of ‘us’, smiled sweetly and said “Jie Jie must remember to speak with caution in future. His majesty bears the authority of the Emperor, and can only refer to himself with the royal I, wherefore the ‘us’? If this reaches the ears of anyone else, you’ll get into trouble!” Yun Ge smiled happily and nodded “Yes, I understand! I’ll be careful in front of others. Xiao Mei, thank you!”
Xiao Mei didn’t know whether Yun Ge was truly stupid or acting muddleheaded, she only felt like all her anger was blocked and turned to leave. “I didn’t sleep well last night and would like to catch up on my sleep. I’ll play with Jie Jie next time.”
When Yun Ge returned to Xuan Shi Hall, Liu Fu Ling only had to take one look at her face to know that Xiao Mei had rejected them, “Don’t worry, I’ll think of another way.” If Huo Guang planned to make his move soon, Yun Ge truly couldn’t think of any other way to stop him, but didn’t want to burst Liu Fu Ling’s bubble, so she only smiled and nodded.
Liu Fu Ling reached for her hand “Do you know when it is darkest at night?”
Liu Fu Ling shook his head “Wrong, it is darkest when dawn is about to break.”
Yun Ge held on tightly to Liu Fu Ling’s hand and smiled truly for the first time “Yes”
When Prince of Changyi entered the capital, his majesty personally left the palace to receive him, not even fretting after waiting for more than two hours, then specially allowed him to stay in Zhao Yang Hall, showing him unusual favour. All the eunuchs and palace maids in Zhao Yang Hall didn’t dare to be careless, each doing their best to serve Liu He. They had been serving in an empty Zhao Yang Hall since entering the palace, in the richest place on earth but without any connection to the ‘richest’, this was a golden ticket sent from the Heaven for them to get out of Zhao Yang Hall if they perform well.
Both of the Prince of Changyi’s maids were affectionately called ‘Jie Jie’ by everyone, showing them respect like they were the mistresses of this hall. However, one of the maids was cold like ice, no matter how hard they tried to butter her up she just refused to smile; the other had a pretty smile, sweet and amiable but was a mute, no matter what they said, she only smiled. Everyone had already tried their best but ran out of ideas, so they could only calm their fervor.
By the time Liu Fu Ling and Yun Ge arrived at Zhao Yang Hall, the sun was already bright but Liu He still remained soundly asleep. Si Yue and Hong Yi who were idling around on the hallway froze when they spotted Yun Ge but Yun Ge was happy and surprised to see them. “If I had known you would be here, I would have come by earlier to play with you all.” Si Yue and Hong Yi only smiled, then paid their respects to Liu Fu Ling. “Long live your majesty, the Prince didn’t know your majesty would be coming and is still sleeping, your servant will go rouse him right away.” Hong Yi turned to enter the sleeping quarters while Si Yue respectfully led Liu Fu Ling to the main hall.
The flowers are Zhao Yang Hall were growing prettily, the bushes bloomed with flowers welcoming spring, pale orange in colour, dancing in the wind, a bunch of apricot flowers shyly revealed its petals. Liu Fu Ling saw that Yun Ge had already ran forward to take a closer look and summoned Si Yue with a wave “Let us just go outside!”
At his words, the eunuchs briskly laid out a rug of sparrow’s feathers and bamboo mats, lighted the fire and arranged the couches. When they were done, they all silently retreated. Liu Fu Ling had waited 10 minutes but Liu He had yet to appear. He didn’t seem unhappy though, as he sipped his tea, admired the flowers and waited quietly.
Yun Ge had already walked a few rounds in front of the flowers and grew impatient, running to the window to knock on it. Hong Yi opened it and slapped her hand away with a smile, helplessly pointing towards the pallet. Liu He was still lying on it, grumbling in his sleep when he heard the noise. Then he rolled over, used his blanket to cover his ears and continued to sleep. Yun Ge looked at Liu Fu Ling in askance, but Liu Fu Ling only shook his head slightly, mentioning for her to control her impatience and wait a bit longer. She frowned, then casually picked flower pot under the window and flung the water towards Da Gong Zi.
Hong Yi covered her mouth in shock, Si Yue’s eyes widened. Da Gong Zi let out a scream, immediately tossing his blankets aside and jumping off his pallet, staring angrily at her direction. Yun Ge glared angrily back. When Liu He saw Yun Ge, he froze, his anger dissipating, then called for Hong Yi to bring him his clothes. After sloppily washing himself and flinging on a robe, he walked out to pay his respects to Liu Fu Ling.
Liu Fu Ling let him rise, then sit. Liu He didn’t demur and sat opposite Liu Fu Ling, taking the tea Hong Yi gave him and taking a big gulp before asking Yun Ge “What are you doing here?” Yun Ge scoffed “I’ve been in the palace for such a long time and you haven’t had a clue? Stop acting stupid!” Liu He massaged his temple in pain “I only know that everyone was getting themselves in a tizzy because of some palace maid, how would I have known that was you? Third Brother, he…..Sigh! I can’t be bothered getting into the matter between you two. Your majesty, please send me back to Changyi!” As Liu He spoke, his eyes were bright, his appearance today a far cry from the day before.
Liu Fu Ling asked “He Nu has played enough?” Liu He smiled bitterly “Your majesty makes fun of me.” When Yun Ge heard Liu Fu Ling call Liu He ‘He Nu’, she asked ‘Why are you called He Nu?” Liu He laughed awkwardly “Isn’t it just a nickname? Why would there be a reason for that.”
Yun Ge knew Liu Fu Ling wouldn’t tell her such things, and cocked her head towards Yu An “Yu An, haven’t you been wanting to see my swordplay?”
Yu An coughed slightly “His highness was stunningly handsome as a child; when Crown Prince Ju saw his little highness, he praised him by saying “His looks surpasses Song Yu” Legend has said that Song Yu’s nickname was ‘Yu Nu’, so all the concubines in the palace started teasingly calling his little highness ‘Yu Nu’. His little highness was very unhappy about them, complaining “Imperial Crown Prince has spoken, Yu Nu wasn’t as beautiful as I”, and looked so upset everyone laughed. The late Emperor was present too and exclaimed with laughter ‘He’er speaks logically; I can never let my Yu Nu steal my He Nu’s glory.’ Thus from then on, everyone started calling his highness ‘He Nu’. His majesty wasn’t born at that point in time so I’m afraid it’s his majesty’s first time hearing the origins of his highness nickname too.”
The past leaped up vividly like it was just yesterday, but the world had already changed, with other events and people now taking its place.
Liu He stared intently at the smoke rising from the kettle, a vague smile playing in his face. Liu Fu Ling was in a daze too. When he was two or three, the Crown Prince already had an uneasy relationship with his Imperial Father, and after the Crown Prince’s death, his Imperial Father got more and more depressed. He had never heard the sound of his Father’s laughter. When he heard Yu An’s account, he only felt like he didn’t recognize those people.
Yun Ge held on to Si Yue and Hong Yi’s hands, dragging them out of the hall “I’ll bring you around to the other palaces.” Si Yue and Hong Yi kept turning back to Liu He, and upon seeing his expressionless face, they could only let themselves be half dragged, half cajoled by Yun Ge out of the hall.
Yu An quietly retreated out of the hall too, closing the doors behind him.
Liu Fu Ling rose and walked towards the apricot flowers in half bloom “Do you remember how many years have passed since we first met?” “Five years. When your majesty was sixteen, your subject first saw your imperial face at Gan Quan Palace.” That year, he lost Second Brother, he could never forget it.
Liu Fu Ling smiled “Yet I remember it as seventeen years ago, when I first met you. Back then, you were hiding on this very apricot tree munching on stolen apricots.”
Surprised, Liu He searched his memory then suddenly jumped off his seat. “You…..You were the child who asked me for apricots to eat calling me ‘Ge Ge’?” Liu Fu Ling smiled “After seventeen years, you still thought I was a lost nobleman’s son, but I have already found out you were Liu He. You lost.” Liu He stared dumbly at Liu Fu Ling, his face a picture of disbelief.
That year, Crown Prince Ju just passed away; the late Emperor was nearing seventy. With the crown prince position empty, all the princes were grew feverish with impatience. Among all those princes included his father – Prince Ai of Changyi Liu Bo. It was the late Emperor’s birthday and summoned all the princes to the capital for his birthday, all the princes quickly brought their favoured sons along with them. This was because everyone knew that the throne is not only passed on to the son, but will also be passed on to the grandson. If any imperial grandson caught Emperor Wu of Han’s eye, they stood a greater chance of gaining the throne. He wasn’t his father’s most favoured child but he was his Imperial Grandfather’s most favoured grandson, and also the only child from his mother, so whether or not his father was willing, he would bring him along to the capital.
At his mother’s continued reminders and behests, he boarded the carriage headed to Chang An. Although his mother treated him extremely well and he rarely spent time with his father, but in his heart, he was closer to his father. Although his father was romantic and amorous, with a bit of a lust for power, but he wasn’t one to push his limits. If the Crown Prince wasn’t dead, his father would be content with guarding over Changyi, spending his days secretly searching for beauties. His mother was different though, his mother’s thirst for power scared him, and her cruelty frightened him even more. He knew that his mother had ordered a maid his father had slept with to be beaten to death, and also knew that all his brothers by other concubines had died suspicious deaths, he could even feel the hatred his father had for his mother under the smiles.
From Changyi to Chang An, it was a considerable journey. Throughout the long journey, his father didn’t make an effort to draw close to him. Throughout the journey, his father was accompanied by beauties and wasn’t lonely, but he was extremely lonely throughout, so he spent all the time mulling over his mother’s words, then his father’s words, contemplating his mother’s personality, then his father’s, thinking of what his world would be like if he became Crown Prince.
When the carriage arrived at Chang An, he had made a decision. He could not let his mother gain the throne. Yes, he couldn’t let her do it. If this throne was his father’s, he would be more than happy to be Crown Prince, but how could this be? Empress Lu Zhi’s ‘great contributions’ were studied by each and every imperial grandson. He knew of how the corrupt Empress Dowager, in order to consolidate power, almost ended up killing his Imperial Grandfather, he heard his teacher talk about that. He most certainly did not want to end up like Emperor Hui of Han, dying young from depression because of his mother’s ruthlessness. He didn’t think he would be as lucky as his Imperial Grandfather, with an Empress Chen Jiao saving his life again and again. His Imperial Grandfather used the story of ‘keeping Empress Chen Jiao in a golden house’ in order to trick the whole Chen clan into dying for him. He was now eleven this year and still had yet to find a powerful relative like them. Therefore, it was best that mother kept her ‘great talent and bold vision’ strictly within the boundaries of Changyi, just for display. Then, no matter depressed he might be, there would still be a limit. His father would also be able to live a few more years in peace.
Since he had made his decision, he desperately employed all tactics to go against his mother’s wishes. During recitation, while other princes recited the classics, he recited sexual and colourful poetry. Martial arts, while other grandsons were riding, shooting, carrying heavy bronze cauldrons, looking very intimidating, he did a graceful Yue Maiden Sword dance, turning fancy swordplay into something erotic. His father was depressed, he became even more so. He was a young man too, how could he not be ambitious? How could he be willing to let himself be made a fool out of? He wanted to hear cheers after his swordplay too, wanted to meet his Imperial Grandfather’s approving gaze, and not that gaze that slowly started to speak of disappointment and sadness.
Yet, he couldn’t.
When he snuck away from the banquet and roamed into Zhao Yang Hall, he saw the ripe apricots hanging from the tree. In front of the sumptuous food served in the great hall, he had no appetite but now his stomach rumbled. So he nimbly climbed up the tree and started to feast on apricots. He heard the eunuchs making their rounds in search of him, calling his name repeatedly but he ignored them, only wanted to temporarily push those frustrated thoughts he had away while hiding in the dark. He squinted to look upon the blue sky, casually plucking another apricot. After he was done, he reached for another one.
“’Peaches satiate, apricots wound, plum trees bury dead people under them’.  If you continue eating apricots that way you’re going to get a tummy ache!” A small child of about four, five stood under the tree, his hands behind his back as he solemnly scolded him while looking up at him. Although his face was solemn, his eyes were accusatory. He laughed mockingly then threw an apricot towards the small boy.
The small boy hesitated, then started munching on the apricot. When he was done, he looked up again. He flung another apricot towards that small boy.
One lying on the tree, the other standing under it, eating apricots. Maybe he was too depressed or maybe he felt that that boy was still small, and couldn’t understand another, so he started to talk to the small boy. He told him, he was the son of a nobleman who secretly snuck out of the banquet. The small boy said he too was the son of a nobleman who accidentally stumbled upon this graden. He hinted at his troubles, and boasted of his martial arts and writing talents. He even commented on the people and matters at court, telling the small child, if he were born in the imperial family, based on his immense talents, he would definitely be a good Emperor. The small boy nodded as he munched on his apricot “I believe Ge Ge.” He felt disappointed at not being able to show off his charms, and the loneliness and the ridiculousness of the situation overcame him - he was actually pouring his heart out to a four year old boy while eating apricots.
As the small boy ate, he told him of his own troubles. His mother forced him to do this and that, to be outstanding, he must outshine everyone else, and gain his father’s favour more than any of his brothers. He laughed while sitting on the tree, wasn’t the small boy’s troubles his very troubles? Looks like they were kindred spirits. This boy’s mother didn’t seem like the ‘tender and respectable’ woman either. Their mothers both relied on them and used them as pawns. Each family had struggles of its own.
Although he was only four or five, this small boy spoke clearly and thoughtfully. He was surprised “Who is your father?” The small boy asked in return “Who is your father?” He smiled, not replying. The small boy also smiled then turned back to his apricot. They shielded their status, for once revealed the spell would be broken. Who would still be willing to talk to each other? They both thought the same thing, only they both didn’t realize it.
He saw the sun making its descent downwards and hopped off the tree. “I must go; you better hurry off to find your father!” “Ge Ge, will you be back here to eat apricots?” The small boy looked reluctant to part, under the sunlight, his small frame looked very lonely. He was very familiar with that sort of loneliness, because he felt it too. “I’m not sure. Maybe I will, maybe I won’t.”
“Ge Ge, can we be friends? When I read ‘Records of the Grand Historian’, I was very envious of those swordsmen who would pour their hearts out over wine, their promises worth a thousand taels of gold. I often fantasize, how great it would be if I had such close friends who understand me. Though far away, but still having each other’s backs.” He smiled; this was probably the dreams of many small boys. To be swordsmen storming through the plains as they settled their scores. To have a friend who would understand them in a few words, a woman who would follow them to their deaths. The most moving part of Sima Qian’s ‘Record of a Grand Historian’ wasn’t the Records of Emperors, or famous officials, generals or chancellors but the Records of Youxia. “If you’re still willing to be my friend even after you discover my identity, of course I’d be willing to be your friend.” His voice turned cold as if he already knew what the outcome would be.
The small boy chewed on his half eaten apricot, his brows tightly knitted, deep in thought. “Ge Ge, let us make a bet to see who finds out the other’s identity first. Whoever finds out first will then be the winner. The loser would have to fulfill one wish of the winner’s!” He heard approaching footsteps and replied with an air of indifference “Sure. I need to go now. We’ll meet again if we have affinity.” The small boy grabbed on to his sleeve “Our promises must be worth their weight in gold! ”
He lowered his head and saw the small boy was only up to his waist, but looking extremely resolute with his small lips pursed. Although he was small, he exuded an aura of authority. He smiled “Fine, a promise worth gold it is!” The small boy let him go “You better leave! If someone finds you here, I’m afraid you’ll get a scolding. I’ve got to go too.”
As he walked away, he turned back only to see the small boy often turning back too to wave at him.
 40li is about 16kilometers.
 Zhe Yao Dance: One of the Chinese Classical dance, also known as long sleeve dance. Literally, waist bending dance.
 Its way cuter in Chinese because of the rhyme and it is like an old school chant that children used to say.
 A saying meaning to honour your promise.