sparkskey (sparkskey) wrote,

Yun Zhong Ge Chapter 36: Love and Hate

Now that I have settled (somewhat) into my new role, updates should be more regular, once every three days or so. Apologies for the long wait! Finally after all that angst, we get more cute moments between Yun Ge and Liu Fu Ling, and also a new bromance between Meng Jue and Liu Fu Ling? Or at least, Meng Jue gets a closer look at the person that is Liu Fu Ling.

How Yun Ge has grown from someone not sure of love, or even who she loves to someone who has found deep abiding love with Liu Fu Ling, resolutely sticking by him no matter what. It doesn't matter that he is the cold and expressionless Emperor, because she sees beyond that to see him as he truly is, a young boy trapped in a position who is just trying his best to survive in the treacherous court while longing for the simple pleasures of life. She tries her best to give him some semblence of normalcy, which is what he wordlessly thanks her for. Sometimes, gratitude needn't be expressed. It can be felt.

Thank you all for waiting so patiently and for your encouragement. I've been so busy, I'm doing snippets of this whenever I've got breaks at work. There are many times I ask myself why I'm taking up such a massive project, but reading the comments and the discussions really keep me going. A huge thank you <3


After Meng Jue left the palace, he went in search of Liu He immediately.

Liu He was at Luo Yu House admiring their song and dance; but the moment Liu He caught sight of Meng Jue’s expression, he ordered all the dancers to leave. Meng Jue smiled “Master Liu, you still have the time to for song and dance? Have you heard the news about Tian Qian Qiu?” Liu He replied “I just found out.” “Was it you?” Liu He shook his head, denying it.

Meng Jue frowned “Did you not receive the message I asked Yi Yue to pass to you?” Liu He said “I did. I had already set the pieces and was waiting for the game to end when unexpectedly this old man suddenly came down with a stroke, rendering all my hard work redundant.” Meng Jue cupped his face with his hands, and closed his eyes, “What were you planning to do?”

Liu He laughed “I planned to make an example of the previous Chancellor Li Cai’s case of thirty years back; old man Tian’s son secretly reserved a piece of imperial burial land with good fengshui after a few words with the imperial astronomer.” Meng Jue spoke as he recalled the incident “Although the Li clan wasn’t as formidable as the Wei clan back then, they too held important position, but Chancellor Li Cai ended up committing suicide in prison because of a parcel of land. Hmmm… This is indeed a good idea that even the gods wouldn’t think of suspecting, but it is too slow. His majesty wanted it to be settled as soon as possible but you chose to use such a time wasting method. Furthermore, Tian Qian Qiu is different; so what if you manage to land him in jail? If Huo Guang intends to protect him, he definitely won’t die.”

“Xiao Jue ah, Xiao Jue!” Liu He laughed as he shook his head “Who said I wanted Tian Qian Qiu’s life? His majesty merely said he didn’t want him to be Chancellor, so I gave his majesty a compelling reason not to make him one. Since I’ve already achieved my goal, why can’t I leave him a space to retreat? Although Tian Qian Qiu is a foolish Chancellor, but he definitely isn’t a sycophantic subject; even if he is guilty, he doesn’t deserve to die.”

Meng Jue looked at Liu He wordlessly. Liu He said “You look tired, rest for a while.” Meng Jue leaned against the pallet, pretending to sleep, suddenly asking “Do you really think Tian Qian Qiu suffered a stroke? It seems like too much of a coincidence.” After thinking about it for a while, Liu He said “Tian Qian Qiu was always obedient to Huo Guang, so it couldn’t have been Huo Guang’s people that harmed him. Although the other subjects might harbour ill intent, they wouldn’t have the courage to touch him yet, the only person who wants to and dares to touch him is the Emperor. His majesty does have a feel brave subjects who aren’t afraid of Huo Guang under him, but his majesty would never order these people to do such dastardly deeds, he would only order….”

“If I’m not wrong, it is only you and Liu Xun.”

Liu He was struck dumb for a moment, then said “After Crown Prince Ju’s rebellion failed and he committed suicide, the late Emperor’s anger didn’t recede, he ordered for all of Crown Prince Ju’s descendants to be killed, including the court officials that he interacted with. Hu Guan San Lao sent in a petition to the late Emperor, saying that the Crown Prince did so because of ‘Evil subject Jiang Cong, as Crown Prince couldn’t clear his name, bitterness filled his heart, with nowhere to release, in anger, he summoned the troops and killed Jiang Cong; it wasn’t his intention to steal his Father’s army.” The superintendent of Emperor Gao’s temple also wrote a report, claiming that the Crown Prince was wrongly accused. As luck would have it, the late Emperor calmed down and already understood that the Crown Prince was set up by others, and so Tian Qian Qiu’s report was accepted, Crown Prince’s crime of planning a revolt was cleared and Tian Qian Qiu was promoted to be Chamberlain for dependencies. However, Tian Qian Qiu is remarkably fair weather; maybe he saw how Hu Guan San Lao wasn’t accused of any crime, so he deduced the late Emperor’s thoughts from there, making use of this opportunity to carve a bright future for himself. Yet, without Hu Lao San Guan or Tian Qian Qiu, I’m afraid Liu Xun wouldn’t even have the opportunity to enter jail. Would Liu Xun be the sort of person to not remember his benefactor?”

Meng Jue coldly said “Just as you said, Hu Guan San Lao was the person who risked death to speak up, Tian Qian Qiu was only going with the flow. Whether or not Liu Xun needs to remember this ‘old favour’ hinges entirely on what kind of person he is. Furthermore, so what if it was Hu Guan San Lao? The world is full of people that bite the hand that feeds them. Wasn’t your Liu clan’s half of this dynasty founded by the “three heroes of the early Han Dynasty”, your ancestor didn’t seem very grateful to them, didn’t he force Zhang Liang to leave, and plotted to kill Han Xin? In the end, of the three heroes, only Xiao He escaped with his life, living modestly.”

Liu He sunk deep in thought, after a long while, he asked “Why did you suddenly ask Yi Yue to send word to me?” Meng Jue closed his eyes, not answering. Liu He thought he had already fallen asleep, when he suddenly him say “If you don’t only want to remain a normal Prince, then start preparing to fight with all your might. If you have time, why don’t you start thinking over why his majesty started to use both you and Liu Xun so much from the beginning of this year? On the surface, it might look like his majesty was sharing his burdens with you, but in reality, it seems even more like his majesty was training, teaching you both, then think deeper, why would his majesty only pass this Tian Qian Qiu matter to you and Liu Xun to settle?”

Liu He’s brows knit and he remained silent. Meng Jue turned over, faced the wall and slept.

Liu He’s servant reported from outside the house “Your highness, we have received word from the palace. His majesty wishes to see your highness.” Liu He said “Alright, wait outside.” “Yes” Liu He called “Xiao Jue?” Meng Jue slept deeply and showed no reaction. Liu He exited the house.

The moment Meng Jue heard the door close, he sat up. After thinking for a while, he called “Come in.” The person who came in wasn’t just any normal dancer but the mistress of Luo Yu House, and bowed respectfully to Meng Jue “Master, may I help you?” Meng Jue said “Please keep an eye on Liu Xun for me.” “Yes.” “Also help me check if any strange happened at Tian Qian Qiu’s residence lately, especially the servant and servant girls in the residence, the poorer their birth, the more likely it is that they are related to the youxia, you must be meticulous in checking this.” “Yes.”

Meng Jue slowly walked out of Luo Yu House. A small boy waiting outside immediately went to meet him. Meng Jue said “I’ll walk alone, without the carriage”

He walked leisurely and slowly. The streets were quiet, only his footsteps could be heard. When he reached a fork on the road, he stopped. Should he go left? Right? Or forward?

When Liu He entered the palace, Liu Xun was already there. Liu Fu Ling said to Liu He “We were just waiting for you. Who do you think is most suited to take on the role of Chancellor?” Liu He mulled it over, not knowing whether this question has been posed to Liu Xun and what was his answer. Liu He muttered to himself, not giving a ready answer, then spotted a merry twinkle in Liu Fu Ling’s eye, and heard him tell Liu Xun “You think about it too.”

Liu He laughed inwardly at himself, quickly gathered his senses to think hard, then saying after a while “This position isn’t a question of who suits it, and should do it, but what is the limit Huo Guang can accept.” Liu Xun said “What uncle said was very reasonable. Huo Guang would never allow such an important position to fall into the hands of your majesty’s trusted subject, but the situation today is quite different from last; your majesty is no longer the child who didn’t have control over the government, so this role would never be allowed to be given to someone like Tian Qian Qiu, therefore we can only choose a person who stands on middle ground.”

Liu Fu Ling nodded “This is the person Huo Guang has nominated.” Qi Xi passed the missive to both Liu He and Liu Xun to read. After they had both seen it, they both laughed and shook their heads “This old man Huo Guang really does have a grip of the situation at hand.” All the five people listed were grade A fence sitters.

Liu Fu Ling sighed “Huo Guang has the wit, ability and charisma; what is rare is that although he is in a high position, he constantly remembers to care for the people and to understand their hardships. The couple of times I reduced taxes and sentences, affecting the reforms of the rich, and because the ones who benefited were the common folk and the ones that would stand to lose out were the many court officials, I faced tremendous opposition, but received Huo Guang’s full support. Without his support, I couldn’t have succeeded in implementing such measures. Under a wise Emperor’s direction, he would be the pillar of support, the jewel of the state; it’s a pity that I ascended the throne so young, and was unable to control him, allowing him to be what he is today.”

Liu Fu Ling’s tone grew solemn as he turned to Liu Xun and Liu He “If you place too much trust on one good subject, allowing his sphere of influenced to expand, and his ambitions to grow, then you are as guilty as those Emperors who are overly paranoid, shunning their good subjects, or even forcing them into rebellion. These are not the actions of a wise Emperor. No matter how brilliant or loyal a horse is, you must always remember to use the reins to make it obedient, to use the saddle to make yourself comfortable. Only then would you be able to run far and wide on it.”

Both Liu He and Liu Xun sunk deep in thought. Liu Fu Ling then instructed them “Write down the person you each think is most suitable for this job and pass it to me.” Liu He and Liu Xun quickly wrote their answers, passed it to Qi Xi, who in turn passed it to the Emperor.

Liu Fu Ling took one look at it, both of them surprisingly offered up the same answer “Yang Chang”. He passed the bamboo slips to Yu An and Yu An crushed those slips into pieces. Liu Fu ling said “It is already very late, you may go back! I need to eat soon too.” Liu He and Liu Xun kowtowed and retreated from the hall.

As Liu Xun’s residence was outside the palace, he left the palace to head back home. Liu He stayed at Zhao Yang Hall because Liu Fu Ling made an exception to allow him to live there, and as the road to Xuan Shi Hall was along the same path, both of them walked together.

After Liu Xun walked for a while, he suddenly remembered something, and quickly turned back to catch up with Liu Fu Ling. To his surprise, he saw Liu Fu Ling and Liu He sitting down to chat in the imperial gardens with a few plates of fresh fruits on the white jade table. Liu Fu Ling didn’t wear the expression of distant calm when interacting with him, but instead as he was talking to Liu He in that moment, he was smiling and exuded warmth.

Liu He was munching on an apricot, what he said couldn’t be heard, but Liu Fu Ling picked up an apricot from the table and threw it at Liu He. Liu He caught it in his hands and took a big bite, laughing. Liu Fu Ling’s face was wreathed in smiles too. They looked as close as brothers, as friends. He thought of his conversation with Liu Fu Ling before Liu He’s arrival. Then, he was uneasy, careful, and Liu Fu Ling remained expressionless, verging on cold detachment.

Liu Xun stood there quietly for a while, not approaching them, then turned and left the palace.

Liu He asked “Didn’t your majesty say he was hungry? Why isn’t your majesty eating?” Liu Fu Ling’s smile grew wider “Yun Ge made dinner.” “Oh---“ Liu He dragged out his exclamation, and laughed “So you’re afraid of offending the beauty, and are trying to save your appetite to make her happy.” “Good that you know. So tell me truthfully, and briefly. The matter I passed to you, what did you do?” “Your subject will obey.” Liu He made a bow with his hands clasped, and reported everything in detail. Liu Fu Ling nodded as he listened and finally smiled “Your position as prince isn’t in vain after all, if even the imperial astronomer is willing to speak up for you.”

Liu He smiled “Everything he said was the truth, that piece of burial land is truly a rare gem of a land with good fengshui. Old man Tian’s son invited him to assess the fengshui, I merely casually mentioned the piece of land as he was looking at the fengshui.” Liu Fu Ling “Men are strong without desire. Once they harbour desire, they would have weakness. However, unless they are Tai Shang, everyone would have desires.”

Liu He laughed “So what is your majesty’s desire?” Liu Fu Ling smiled lightly “What is yours?”

By the time Liu Fu Ling and Liu He were done, it was already past eleven, when he entered Xuan Shi Hall, his first words were “I am very hungry, bring me the food Yun Ge prepared.” Yun Ge smiled when she heard those words “Order the imperial cook to make new ones! It would take about the same time.” Liu Fu Ling sat beside her, smiled but didn’t speak.

Yun Ge asked “Do you feel better?”

“Meng Jue’s medical skills are incredible; the tightness in my chest seemed to have disappeared completely. If I’m completely cured, we will go back to our original plan, but now I’ve thought of an even better idea. “ The sadness in his eyes cleared up, and his eyes were now brimming with happiness. Yun Ge nodded and smiled, burying her head in Liu Fu Ling’s arm, not wanting him to notice her expression.

“What better idea have you got?”

“Reclusion from the world has two kinds ‘hiding’ and ‘death’, I initially planned to ‘hide’ but it kept getting delayed, and I couldn’t think how to deal with Xiao Mei. This illness came at the perfect time, why don’t I just use my illness to ‘die’ and Xiao Mei would have a place to go too. If she wants freedom, I’ll issue an edict ordering for her to be ‘buried with me’, if she wants honour and respect, she would be the Empress Dowager.” Yun Ge only agreed softly, not trusting herself to speak any more.

Liu Fu Ling smiled “In the next two days, I’ll order the imperial physicians to come to diagnose me, to let them fret over it for a while, and also to let their masters truly know, and for the entire world to know.” The dishes arrived, Yu An and Mo Cha assisted Liu Fu Ling and Yun Ge to eat. Knowing that Liu Fu Ling loved to eat fish, Yun Ge used chopsticks to pass him a piece of fish. After taking a bite, Liu Fu Ling praised the dish, saying “Very fresh.”

Yun Ge took a bite for herself “How could it be fresh? Fish is the meat that is the most unable to withstand reheating, the fish tastes like wood.” Mo Cha smiled “As long as it is made by missy, even if it really is a piece of wood boiled in water, his majesty will also find it fresh.” Yun Ge pointed at Mo Cha, and turned to Yu An saying “Yu An, is this the sort servant you have taught? Aren’t you going to reprimand her?”

Yu An’s heart had been heavy because of his majesty’s illness, now that a ray of light could be found in the darkness, his mood took a turn for the better too, and so he laughed “Your servant has already taught her very well, it is only because missy has spoilt her that’s why she has become like this. Missy has his majesty’s backing, how would your servant dare to reprimand Mo Cha?” “Ling Ge Ge?” Liu Fu Ling asked with a straight face “In what way was Yu An wrong? If I were to punish him, I’d need to find a fault first.” “Humph! All of you are in cahoots, bullying me just because I’m not from here!” Yun Ge decided to ignore them and concentrated on finishing her food. Yu An and Mo Cha stifled their laughter.

Liu Fu Ling stared at the embarrassed Yun Ge and thought, in this life, to be able to eat Yun Ge’s cooking every day till he grew old, was his greatest desire.

None of the court officials had much sleep over the next few days, first was news of Tian Qian Qiu’s death from his illness; everyone was busy trying to gain favour, busy paying their last respects. Soon after, the chief imperial censor, Yang Chang was promoted to be Chancellor, and the officials were busy congratulating him and sucking up to him. They had yet to catch their breaths when news of his majesty being ill was released; that the best physician in the official institute of imperial physicians was at his wits end, and his majesty had no choice but to summon all the physicians to diagnose him.

Everyone knew how great Physician Zhang’s skills were, an illness that left him helpless? Everyone’s hearts dropped as they waited with bated breath for the diagnosis.

Grand Marshal’s residence, study.

Two physicians who attended the consultation arrived as promised. When they saw Huo Cheng Jun there, they froze for a bit, then quickly went to pay their respects to Huo Guang.

No matter how important an official may be, they would always hold the imperial physicians in respect, because no one could escape sickness or death. Huo Guang had always treated others warmly, this time he was even more polite, immediately mentioning for the two physicians to sit.

Both physicians reported the process of the consultation in detail to Huo Guang. Huo Guang only listened quietly, not displaying any form of reaction.

When both physicians saw that Huo Guang didn’t have any questions, they stood to take their leave, “We humble subjects still have to look through medical records and logs to find a cure and thus dare not stay too long, we shall first take our leave.”

After the physicians were gone, Huo Guang stared at the window, still not speaking. Huo Yu, Huo Shan and Huo Yun didn’t dare to speak either. There was a small lake not far from the window. There were several egrets on the lake, sometimes flying, other times landing. On the bank, the willow trees swayed slowly as the wind blew. Yellow warblers sang sweetly, but because of the dense greenery, only the sound could be heard. Huo Guang seemed to have lost himself in the scenery before him and didn’t speak for close to an hour, neither did he move. Huo Yu and Huo Shan kept shooting Huo Cheng Jun pointed looks, but she ignored them, also staring dumbly at the window. Huo Guang finally moved his gaze away and his gaze swept across all present in the room “Cheng Jun, take a walk with me outside; the three of you, do whatever you usually do at this time. If you dare to make a move without my permission, I will not go easy on you all”

Huo Yu froze, then anxiously called out “Father….” Huo Guang shot him a stare and he clammed up immediately, leaving the house with his brothers. Huo Cheng Jun slipped her arm through Huo Guang’s as they made their way leisurely to the lake. The cooling breeze swept away most of the summer’s humidity and heat.

Huo Guang smiled and said “This lake was the first lake to be dug at this residence.” Huo Cheng Jun smiled “Your daughter knows; Uncle used to live in this place, and the study was his old residence, all the buildings were slowly added on to the land by father.” Huo Cheng Jun sized up her surroundings “Uncle became a marquis at eighteen, then rose to become Grand Marshal, this house really doesn’t befit uncle’s position.”

Huo Guang laughed “Does the sun need to rely on others to shine? You’d understand if you had met your uncle, that all he need was a ‘family’.” Although Huo Guang was smiling, his eyes reflected a different emotion. Whether in historical records or in the legends of Chang An, there were many questionable points in uncle’s death, anything to do with uncle was also taboo in this house, so Huo Cheng Jun didn’t dare to probe further. Father and daughter both walked one round around the lake, then simply found a flat rock to sit on and rest.

A pair of wild ducks was yawning at the corner of the rock, not showing fear at their presence, instead thinking there was food, and crowding around Huo Cheng Jun as she played with them. Huo Guang looked at Huo Cheng Jun, “Cheng Jun, have you got anyone you wish to marry in mind?”

Huo Cheng Jun froze, and the ducks waddled closer to nip at her fingers. At the sudden pain shooting up her hand, she raised her hand and slapped it hard against the ducks’ body. Both ducks quacked in pain and quickly ran away.

“As I’ve said before, your daughter wishes to enter the palace.” Huo Guang said “There’s no turning back once you choose to tread this path, have you really thought this through? If you really wish to marry someone else, I’ll prepare a good dowry, so that you may be married off with great fanfare.”

Huo Cheng Jun said coldly “Your daughter has already thought this through, instead of marrying a normal person, why not marry the greatest person on earth?” Huo Guang said “This matter has been delayed again and again, first because of Xiao Mei’s illness. Who knew that this girl’s illness would have led his majesty to fall for her? Since the majesties have only just consummated their marriage, it isn’t nice to send you into the palace immediately either, thus I can only wait. Now that I think about it, it might be a blessing in disguise.”

“Father, his majesty’s illness………”

“I don’t know, it is up to the Heaven’s now. If his majesty recovered, everything would proceed as planned; if not……we can only tread carefully now.” Huo Cheng Jun nodded. Huo Guang suddenly asked “Liu Xun and Liu He, which do you prefer?” Huo Cheng Jun froze for a while before the underlying meaning of her father’s words sunk in. She was after all an unmarried maiden; no matter how brilliant she might be, she still felt shy, and so she turned away to face the water.

Huo Guang said “Liu He looks ridiculous, Liu Xun looks gallant, I can’t really figure out the both of them. No matter who is chosen, they both have their good and bad points.”

Liu He’s rude, lustful manner flashed across her mind, and she was filled with a wave of disgust; then she remembered the scene from the lantern festival.

Liu Xun helped her solve a riddle and presented her with a lantern, that ‘Chang’e flying to the moon’ lantern was still hanging in her room. He brought her to eat small dumplings and chive pancakes. Each nook and cranny of Chang An was like his home, he brought her to explore the alleys; many shop owners greeted him happily, and within a humble shop, she tried delicious food she had never tasted before. This was the first time she realised that she seemed to have never truly lived in Chang An. Street performers, upon seeing him would call them to halt, and specially put on a performance for her, refusing to accept a single cent. The street bullies and ruffians would scamper off in an instant the moment they caught sight of him. When he sent her back, she carried the lantern on her left hand, and on her right, a huge bag full of toys and snacks she didn’t even know the name of. This was when she realised that after all those years, she had never once truly experienced the lantern festival in its full glory.

Huo Cheng Jun stared out in a daze. Huo Guang looked at the lake, thinking thoughtfully, saying almost to himself  “Based on their experiences, I’m afraid Liu Xun would be more stubborn and steadfast, harder to control; Liu Xun was brought up as a wealthy prince, never experiencing much hardship, the whole world knows of his ridiculous antics…..but Liu He’s legal wife is the previous Chamberlain for dependencies daughter while Liu Xun’s legal wife is the daughter of a criminal.”

The Chamberlain for dependencies was a first grade official, the first of the nine ranks. Also, Liu He’s marriage was also personally arranged by the late Emperor, and his wedded wife, Wang, had already borne him a son; there were also many officials of the Wang clan littered across court, so it wouldn’t be easy to bypass Liu He’s lawful wife to establish his daughter as Empress. Liu Xun was different though, with no relatives in court, even if he went against his wishes, it wouldn’t be easy for him to succeed without support.

Huo Guang smiled “To me, both of them have their own strengths and weaknesses. Liu He, Liu Xun, choose one. After all, you are my most beloved child.” Although he said that, he felt completely different. The answer he truly wanted to hear was that Huo Cheng Jun wasn’t biased towards either man; if not, whichever man she chooses, he would pick the other. Huo Cheng Jun seemed to have just awoken from a dream, after which she seemed to be in a daze for a while before answering carefully, each word carefully thought out “I am a Huo, I will never want to bow to another woman; since I have decided to enter the palace, I must be Empress. Whoever will allow me to become Empress, I will choose that person.”

Huo Guang smiled and nodded, but not without disappointment, for Cheng Jun had already revealed her choice through her words. He looked towards the lake, slowly saying “You must remember, from the time you enter the palace, it doesn’t matter what kind of person he is, his name is only this word ‘Emperor’. He is not your husband, certainly not someone you can lean not; he might even become your enemy. The only people you can lean on are the Huo clan and your future child.” Huo Cheng Jun nodded wordlessly. Huo Guang let out a long sigh “You must not speak of this to your brothers.”

“Your daughter understands.” Huo Cheng Jun looked towards the other end of the lake. The willow trees stood gracefully on the opposite bank, their gentle swaying reflected in the water. Was it the wind that moved, then first the tree, then finally the reflection, or was it the wind that moved, then the water, then first the tree then the reflection? Sadness, hatred and confusion were all in her eyes.

After some time, Huo Guang said he had matters to attend to and ordered for the carriage to be prepared.

Huo Cheng Jun returned to her residence. Not long after she entered, Xiao Qing surreptitiously sidled up to her side, and passed her a square of silk “Missy, your servant didn’t dare to accept it at first, but he said missy will definitely read it. Your servant was afraid of messing up missy’s plans and thus accepted it. If your servant was at fault, I beg missy to punish me, and this will never again be repeated.”

Huo Cheng Jun opened the silk handkerchief, after reading it silently, she held the handkerchief and looked at the palace lantern hanging by her window frame in a daze. She only spoke after a long while “Bring me a flame.”

Xiao Qing was confused, lighting a candle in broad daylight? But she knew her missy’s actions and words always pleased her master, even now the young masters would greet her missy respectfully, so she didn’t dare to press any further and hurried off to fetch a candle.

Huo Cheng Jun placed the handkerchief into the fire, and coldly ordered “Order someone to prepare the carriage. I will be heading out at night.” Xiao Qing hurriedly replied ”Yes.”

To the world, the numerous imperial physicians were busily buried in their medical journals, checking all medical logs on chest tightness, pondering ways of treatment. Behind the scenes, Meng Jue would drop by every five days to perform acupuncture on Liu Fu Ling, and prescribed medicinal soup to complement his treatment.

When Yun Ge asked Meng Jue what was Liu Fu Ling’s illness, Meng Jue simply answered “I don’t know.” Yun Ge wasn’t satisfied with the answer, but Physician Zhang explained “Only the illnesses described in the medicinal logs have a name, there are still many other sickness that aren’t recorded in the books. Yet it doesn’t mean that just because they don’t have names attached to them, they are untreatable.”

Ever since Meng Jue started treatment, Liu Fu Ling started to show signs of improvement, and he hadn’t had an attack of chest pain or tightness in a while. With solid proof in front of her, Yun Ge started to let go of her worry.

Meng Jue took out a silver needle about a foot long, the thick top tapering to a thin bottom, it looked more like a long drill. Yu An got a shock “Master Meng, what are you trying to do?” Physician Zhang quickly shushed him, then walked over to Yu An’s side to whisper “This should be the needle that can pierce through bone, it can extract a bit of the marrow. Legend has it that Huang Di had used it, this is my first time seeing it too.”

Meng Jue passed a block of cork to Liu Fu Ling, “Your majesty, I’m afraid it will be very painful. I would usually apply some medicine to numb the part, but as I can’t yet determine the illness, I don’t dare to use medicine recklessly, so I can only…” Liu Fu Ling accepted the cork, lightly saying “I can bear it.” Physician Zhang said “Your majesty, if it hurts, just scream, for it will alleviate the pain."

Meng Jue exerted force on his wrists, piercing the needle into Liu Fu Ling’s thigh bone. Liu Fu Ling turned white instantly, and cold sweat dripped down his forehead, each drop as big as a soybean, dripping furiously, but he only clenched his jaw and didn’t make a sound.

When Yu An witnessed that silver needle enter Liu Fu Ling’s body, he felt a shiver run through his bones.

Liu Fu Ling lay on the pallet, Meng Jue stood. He stared down from above at Liu Fu Ling, the needle in his hand moved at a constant speed, slowly entering his bone.

Yun Ge peeping from a window felt Liu Fu Ling’s pain, her face turned white and she bit her lips so hard spots of blood appeared. People describe extreme pain as bone searing pain, how much pain was he feeling at this very instant?

When he heard the sounds of rapid breathing from outside the window, Meng Jue’s dark eyes only grew darker, his hand moved even slower, pushing the needle into the bone extremely slowly. Liu Fu Ling still didn’t groan, but his face turned from white to take on a greenish tinge.

Physician Zhang observed Meng Jue’s acupuncture work with confusion in his eyes. Once the marrow was extracted,

Meng Jue didn’t dare to allow the needle to remain within the bone for too long, and swiftly pulled the needle out. Liu Fu Ling was already in such pain he was in a daze, but he still didn’t utter a sound. Meng Jue placed the needle in a crystal box and gave Yu An the signal to come forth. Yu An quickly went to see his majesty, Liu Fu Ling’s robe was already fully drenched, like it had been soaked in water. Yu An hurriedly commanded Qi Xi to help change his majesty’s robes so that his majesty wouldn’t catch a cold.

Meng Jue kowtowed his leave, Liu Fu Ling muttered something, but he didn’t catch it. Yu An said “Master Meng, come forth to listen.” Meng Jue knelt in front of Liu Fu Ling’s pallet. Liu Fu Ling’s voice was as small as a gnat, “Many thanks!” Meng Jue said “Your subject doesn’t dare claim credit, it was your subject’s duty.”

Liu Fu Ling’s lips twitched, as if he wanted to laugh, but lacked the strength to do so. After a while, he said “You…..You shouldn’t help anyone. What you seek, I will definitely give.” Meng Jue froze. “Save your talents, and remain a bystander.” Liu Fu Ling closed his eyes and lightly raised his index finger. Yu An immediately did a ‘please’ gesture “Master Meng, your servant will send you out.”

Yu An sent Meng Jue out of the house, Meng Jue passed a small wooden box to Yu An “Sorry to trouble you.” Yu An smiled as he received the box “It is your servant who ought to offer thanks; without this scent, Miss Yun would still be suffering.” He opened the box to check and took a sniff “This scent is slightly different.” Meng Jue smiled “The medicine will change with the symptoms. Since her cough is much better than before, naturally the medicine will be different.” Yu An nodded and tucked the box away “Your servant still needs to return to serve his majesty, and will turn back now. Please have a safe trip back.” Meng Jue bowed to depart.

When Meng Jue stepped out of the hall, he spotted Yun Ge sitting in a corner and coldly said “I have something to ask.” Once he was done, he walked out without stopping. Yun Ge continued to sit dumbly for a while before she jumped up and followed him. Once he reached a secluded spot, he stopped. “What did you tell his majesty my fee was?” “To hold great power, and rank third out of the nine ranks of officials.” Yun Ge’s tone was mocking “Since you don’t care about the taxes, if I tell his majesty you aren’t accepting any fee, it will sound even more ridiculous, so I figured this was something you might want.”

Meng Jue smiled “I should be thanking you, you have yet to marry over and you already are helping your husband plan for his future.” Yun Ge turned white, bringing out the bright spots of blood on her lips.

Meng Jue smiled like the spring wind, turned and left.

The moment Meng Jue set foot into his house, Liu He quickly followed “Third Brother, are you treating his majesty?” Meng Jue leaned against the pallet and flipped through his bamboo scrolls “Yes.” “You already knew, but you didn’t tell me……” Liu He pointed at Meng Jue, but wasn’t quite sure how to release his anger, so he put down his hand after a while, to ask “How is his majesty’s illness?”

Meng Jue shook his head “I don’t know.”

Liu He stared at him for an instant, determined he was telling the truth, then continued “Is it curable or not?” Meng Jue looked at the bamboo scroll in his hand “Curable if I find the root of his illness.” “It isn’t chest tightness?” Meng Jue grew impatient. “If it were, would I still say I don’t know?”

Liu He studied him for a while before slowly saying “Xiao Jue, don’t do anything rash because of the wish Second Brother once expressed. When he said those words, he was only not even a fully grown adult who had yet to mature; his thoughts had changed greatly since then. I know you wouldn’t believe my words…”

Meng Jue was still fine when Liu He didn’t mention Yue Sheng, but once Yue Sheng’s name appeared in the conversation, Meng Jue abruptly flung his bamboo scroll at Liu He “Get out!”

Liu He caught the scroll easily, it was a volume of the ‘Imperial Diaries’, a log recording Liu Fu Ling’s everyday life – his diet and his lodgings. Beside the pallet, the table was filled with similar scrolls, and all the careful notes that Meng Jue made; Liu He was filled with remorse.

Meng Jue had already calmed down and said coldly “The situation at court now is fraught with hidden traps, one wrong step and you could lose everything. Worry more about yourself, and stop bothering me here.” With that, he left Liu He to his own devices.

Liu He mulled over the words he was about to say, but San Yue who had been alerted by the commotion dragged him out of the house. As she dragged him towards the garden, she said disapprovingly “How could Da Gong Zi start scolding someone without first checking the facts? During this period of time, Third Master has never once truly rested, holing up in the house every day to read his majesty’s ‘Imperial Diaries’, meticulously going through each his majesty’s actions, from his diet, to living quarters, to each and every illness his majesty has ever suffered from for the past ten over years, four to five thousand days of information, preparing medicine, and then making multiple revisions of his medical formula; his only fear is that one small mistake would trigger his majesty’s illness. Look….” San Yue towards the garden, filled with baskets and baskets of medicine as well as pots of medicinal plants, arranged according to category. The whole garden was filled with a strong medicinal smell, “How could you say Third Master isn’t trying his best? He has put his all into this!”

Liu He remained silent.

San Yue continued mercilessly “Third Master seems to like Miss Yun, whether true or not, you will definitely have a clearer idea than us. If it is true, have you ever thought about what he is going through right now? Neither eating nor sleeping well every day, and who is he saving? Third Master is human too, and you still chide him for flaring up?”

Liu He hurriedly clasped both hands together in apology “My dear missy, I was wrong, it was all my fault. Each of you maids always side with Third Brother, I’ve never seen anyone of you stand up for me when he scolds me.” San Yue stopped talking, not without some unwillingness. Liu He took in his surroundings and suddenly turned back, hurrying back into the study.

San Yue got so worked up, she shouted, chasing after Liu He “Da Gong Zi, why are you heading back?” Liu He turned back and with a wave of his hand, dismissed her, saying warmly “I am going to give Third Bother a reason for saving someone, so that it will make him feel somewhat better about saving this life.” San Yue took one look at Liu He’s expression and didn’t dare to step out of line any further. She stopped and said respectfully “Yes, your servant shall retreat.”

Meng Jue heard the door open, when he saw it was him again, he asked with some fatigue “What other problems have you got?” Liu He sat opposite him, losing his usual smile “I want to tell you something.” Meng Jue was still analysing the needle in the crystal box, and so only nodded. “I don’t know if Yue Sheng has ever told you about an experience he had before he met you?”

Meng Jue stopped all that he was doing, although he still didn’t say anything.

“It was the end years of the late Emperor’s reign, because of internal strife within the government, the people were reduced to leading a miserable life, many displaced people who had lost their land were forced to steal the government’s store of grain, the government issued an edict to arrest and kill those so-called ‘rebels’, Yue Sheng was one of them. In order to survive, Yue Sheng’s father wanted to bring him out of Han, but during their escape, his father was killed by soldiers, but he was saved by a youth and a girl, the small girl was called Yun Ge….”

Meng Jue looked up, staring straight at Liu He.

“As you know, Yue Sheng was the sort of person who would be willing to carry all his brothers’ burdens but unwilling to unload any of his onto his brothers, so I pieced together this story through various snippets he sometimes revealed while he was drunk. I didn’t even know the name of the girl who saved him, until that day…. That day at Gan Quan Mountain, when he died for me. Just before he died, he haltingly asked me to settle some things on his behalf, I managed to guess and understand that the girl who saved him was Yun Ge, he also wanted me to take care of his relatives…. There were many things he wanted to tell me, but he couldn’t muster up the strength. I cried as I swore with the heavens as witness, that I would repay this favour on his behalf, that I would take care of his only relative, which was you.”

Liu He started to get choked up at this point. He had to calm himself down first before continuing “When you found me, I finally met the brother Yue Sheng mentioned so often. I thought to myself, in this life, no matter how you treat me, I will definitely treat you like my own blood brother. In order to fulfil the other part of Yue Sheng’s wish, I put in a huge amount of effort to find Yun Ge, but to no avail. I didn’t expect that I didn’t have to put in any effort to find her in the end, for you suddenly proposed marriage to a girl called Yun Ge, following her from Xi Yu to Chang An. The reason why I went to Chang An wasn’t to check up on you at all, but for her. The moment I saw her, I didn’t need further evidence, I just knew this Yun Ge was the ‘Yun Ge’ I was searching for. But the young man? According to Yue Sheng’s description, the young man seemed to have just only met Yun Ge, I thought it was you, because based on Yue Sheng’s account of the story, it seemed to be around the time you met Yun Ge, the location was also a match.”

Liu He met Meng Jue’s conflicted gaze, “You know even more about Yun Ge than I do, at this point, you should have a clear idea of who was the young man that saved Yue Sheng. I have only recently stumbled across this truth, and with that also understood why Yue Sheng had such a conflicted expression on his face when he saw Liu Fu Ling at Gan Quan Mountain.”

Meng Jue’s voice was as cold as ice “Since you had decided to hide the truth, why are you telling it to me now?”

Liu He heaved a sigh “These were the worlds Yue Sheng left for me before he died. Since I am unable to help him do anything anymore, this is the only thing I can do for him.” He spread his hands and smiled a bitter smile “Yes, I was selfish, I wanted to ease my conscience a little so I didn’t want you to fulfil Yue Sheng’s wish on my behalf. Yet, now I realized that what Yue Sheng owed Liu Fu Ling, is something only you can repay for him.”

Meng Jue’s face grew pale, Liu He made a frightened expression, jumped up, and reverted back to his usual self, hurriedly running out of the house while saying “I’m going off! If you want to pick a fight, go find Liu Yue! I don’t have the time or effort to spar with you today.” Meng Jue stared at the crystal box on his table, a wide array of emotion swirling in his eyes.

The cicada outside the house was frantically chirping “I-know-all, I-know-all—“[1]. Knowing all? Knowing all! It is better for some things in life to remain unknown.

With a loud bamg, the door to the study was suddenly kicked open. Meng Jue, usually slow to anger, suddenly lost control. With a slam of his hand on the table, the inkstone headed straight for the intruder’s vital point.

After sending the inkstone flying, he noticed that the intruder was Yun Ge. His face drained of all colour as he rushed forward.

Yun Ge kicked the door open, and was angrily rushing in, not expecting Meng Jue to throw an inkstone at her. when she noticed it, her mind went blank, but she couldn’t stop her movement, and Meng Jue was still some distance away.

The inkstone was about to smash onto Yun Ge’s forehead when an idea struck the frantic Meng Jue. He picked up a bucket of wood oil by the rack used to polish wooden furniture and flung it towards Yun Ge’s feet.

A pungent stench filled the room, Yun Ge screamed as she slipped on the oily floor, falling hard on the marbled floor. Just a few inches above, the inkstone flew past her head and smashed into a tree in the porch, the tree, an arm length wide, fell instantly. As she fell hard, both her hands and legs stung painfully, and half her face quickly became swollen. Her hair was full of the oily, pungent wood oil, enough to make those in the around her dizzy from the odour.

Meng Jue quickly went to assist her, but she pushed him away with all her might. She wanted to stand up without assistance but her hands and legs were so slippery that she barely managed to get up before she fell again. Looking at her pathetic state, Meng Jue felt like laughing and like his heart was aching at the same time. He quickly said “First, don’t get angry at me, I didn’t know it was you. I’ll order San Yue to make preparations for a bath, once you are done, I’ll formally apologize to you.”

As he spoke, he held on tightly to her arm, wanting to pull her up. Yun Ge slapped his hands away, shouting “I don’t need your fake kindness, we don’t need your fake kindness, we don’t …..” As she shouted, tears flowed freely from her eyes.

Meng Jue’s arms stiffened and Yun Ge made us of his distraction to wrench herself from his grip, trying her best to stand as she cried “I just went to the Shiqu Pavillion [2] to read the secret manuals, the manual stated that when using the needle that can pierce through bone, it must enter and exit the body quickly. It must be taken out quickly so that ensure non-contamination of the marrow extract, it must enter quickly because the pain the needle causes cannot be handled by humans; but you were sticking the needle in so slowly……you said you were someone who would keep his promises, but you…..”

After a few attempts, Yun Ge finally stood up. Her hair and face were covered with oil, and half her face was swollen, looking extremely pitiful, but her eyes were unusually stubborn, “I don’t need your fake kindness, no matter how good your medical prowess may be, I will never allow you to torture him. Therefore, you needn’t come to treat Ling Ge Ge anymore! Anyway, if he lives, I live; he dies, I die. I will always follow him, I won’t be afraid of this strange illness!”

After she was done, she wiped her tears away as she limped out of the house.

Meng Jue wanted to call her back, but when he tried to open his mouth, his throat was dry and hoarse. No sound came out.
[1] Chinese omatopeia for cicada's chirps
[2] 石渠閣 the imperial library, also used to conduct Confucian conferences during the Han dynasty.
Tags: translations, yun zhong ge

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