CHAPTER COMPLETE! Sorry for the delay. I underwent minor dental surgery, then my laptop electrocuted me and died, then work started piling up. Translating this chapter made me feel the whole range of emotions I felt as I read the book, just a sense of sorrow for Liu Fu Ling and admiration of his noble character, as well as mild annoyance at Yun Ge. Koala has translated the next chapter as well as done up a summary of 39 and 40, but I will do up a full translation of those chapters.
Since ascending the throne at eight, till today, Liu Fu Ling had accumulated close to fourteen years of Qi Ju Zhu. Meng Jue finished all the fourteen years of records within a month, and made meticulous notes.
As he flipped through records of various years, comparing them, he thought of all of Liu Fu Ling’s symptoms. Suddenly, his eyes fixed on something, as if he had a revelation, and quickly read through all his notes again, then threw the bamboo scroll aside and hurriedly left.
After four hours, he came back in a rush, and ordered San Yue and Liu Yue to follow him out of the capital. The horse trotted the whole way, till they were out of Chang An. Once they reached a remote hill, Meng Jue ordered the carriage to stop. San Yue and Liu Yue looked at each other in bafflement, each not knowing what Meng Jue was trying to do.
Meng Jue smiled “Climb the mountain with me.” Meng Jue had already spent many days shut up in his residence; it was rare that he would make a trip out, so both of them smiled and answered yes. No one lived at the foot of the hill, and as such, the foliage was lusher, and filled with the rawness of nature. There were many sources of water on the mountain, rivers, streams and waterfalls were present at every turn, whether big or small, they all came together at the foot of the mountain to form a large river. The river water was as clear as crystal, with wild ducks and geese swimming around in flocks, and the occasional heron or swan soaring past the skies.
The area glowed wherever sunlight fell, sometimes fish would jump out of the water, a full body of silver scales, and with a pretty swish of its tail, landing back into the water with a splash.
San Yue was excitedly making sounds of wonder.
Meng Jue smiled as he appreciated his surroundings, then started to climb up the mountain by following the flow of the stream. Ragged rocks lined the area and thick undergrowth blanketed the area, so there was no proper path. However, all three of them possessed a good set of martial arts skills, so they didn’t find the climb difficult at all; San Yue even felt that it was more fun climbing this mountain.
There were many cypress and elm trees on the mountain, their lush leaves keeping the hot summer sun at bay. Vines crawled across boulders, swaying gently in the wind. The stream wound across the boulders, and the water only further brought out the crisp green of the vines. On drier land, small purple flowers bloomed. Although they weren’t gorgeous, they stood out. San Yue scooped up a few purple flowers from the water, and asked “Master, what is the name of this vine? I’ve never seen it anywhere else.”
Meng Jue smiled at the boulder, and replied “Wild lobed kudzu vine.”
When they reached the top, Meng Jue stood at the edge of the cliff, surveying his surroundings. Under the sunlight, everything was green, teeming with life, not a single rotting leaf to be seen. San Yue was jumping around the woods, leisurely taking in everything. In a short while, she had already run far. Suddenly, she screamed, and frightened Liu Yue, who thought she might have seen a poisonous snake or a ferocious beast; but when he rushed over, he only saw San Yue staring dumbly at the scene in front of her
Under the great elm tree lay an endless stretch of purplish-red flowers; they danced and sparkled, as if the sunset had fallen onto the ground.
None of the flowers were of the same size, some were as big as a large bowl, others as small as a gnat, but they all resembled clocks; at the passing of the slightest breeze, each of these ‘clocks’ would gently sway. From above, it looked as if a fairy had cloaked herself with colours and was dancing gracefully. The stream water, which flowed across the boulders next to the flowers moved swiftly at times, and slowly at others, as if it was accompanying the dance.
Screaming because of a few flowers? Liu Yue laughed “Women!”
San Yue glared at him “Don’t you find it gorgeous? Master, you be the judge!”
Meng Jue stood quietly behind them, staring intently at the purplish-red sunset glow displayed before them and smiled “Very gorgeous indeed. The sun is about to set, let us head back..”
Once again, they walked along the dry gullies the stream had carved out, but the climb down was way faster than the hike up, and they were at the river in a short while.
Once the road back, Meng Jue leaned against a soft couch and fell into deep sleep.
Liu Yue loosened his grip on the reins, allowing the horses to move at a slower pace; San Yue whispered “Master hasn’t slept this well in a long time. In future, we should ask him out more often.”
A night without dreams.
When Meng Jue awoke, he didn’t get up immediately as usual; instead, he stared at the skies gradually turning white. He only got up much later, after San Yue had already stuck her ear to the door to listen for signs of movement for some time. After washing up, he left to meet Liu Fu Ling.
Liu Fu Ling was delayed by some matters and was thus still in the grand hall. Qi Xi mentioned for him to head to Xuan Shi Hall first to wait. It was shortly after noon, and what should have been a hot and humid day turned cool in Xuan Shi Hall because of the flowers and vines that clustered together, blocking out the sunlight and the heat. Within the hall, a faint aroma lingered, and it was dark and cooling. Yun Ge sat under the eaves of the veranda, her head bent, tying pieces of string together. After tying them, she undid them, then tied them again, then undid them, repeating the process again and again, with no trace of annoyance despite her fumbling, clumsy fingers. Her brows were tightly knitted together, as if they carried countless troubles, but her eyes were filled with tenderness and sweetness.. After entering the hall, Meng Jue only stood in a corner, quietly observing her, but she didn’t even notice, her attention fully placed on tying the string.
Mo Cha entered the hall and when she saw where Meng Jue’s gaze led, she froze in shock, too scared to even utter a word. Meng Jue moved his gaze away from Yun Ge, smiled and greeted Mo Cha “Eunuch Qi Xi told me to wait here for his majesty.”
Only when Mo Cha saw that Meng Jue was his usual gentlemanly self did she let down her guard, smiling “Master Meng, please wait in the front hall!!”
Yun Ge stood up, her tone frosty as she said “Master Meng, if you have official matters to report, please enter, if not, please leave.”
Meng Jue said “I have several important words to say to you.”
With regards to matters at court, it was better to know less, so since Meng Jue was always greeted by Yun Ge at Xuan Shi Hall and no one else, so Mo Cha quickly retreated.
Yun Ge refused to budge, coldly ordered “Leave!”
Meng Jue quickly walked to her side. Yun Ge’s face was filled with anger as she raised her voice, intending to force him out “Fu Yu!” Meng Jue lowered his voice and quickly said “I have already found out what his majesty’s illness is. In three months, I promise I can heal him.”
Fu Yu hurriedly rushed to towards them but only saw Yun Ge standing dumbly with a funny expression on her face, a mix of surprise, disbelief, together with sadness and anger. “Missy?” He tried calling her name. Yun Ge pointed towards the exit and Fu Yu quickly stationed himself outside. Yun Ge sat down, and said coldly “You promised me that you will treat his majesty’s illness. But how did you treat him? Why should I believe you this time?”
Meng Jue sat down beside her, and looked at the silk threads in her hand, then smiled coldly “Since you have already read records on the bone-piercing needle, you should now know that this needle is the best tool for investigating complicated illnesses. It only fell out of favour with doctors because of the high risk involved and gradually the art of using this needle was lost. There was a reason behind me choosing to use it. Furthermore, I only told you I would treat his majesty’s illness, but I didn’t make any promises with regards to how I would treat him, how could you say I broke my promise in this regard?”
In the face of Meng Jue’s eloquent speech, Yun Ge was so angry her hands shook, but when she thought of Liu Fu Ling’s illness, she decided to rein in her anger “How would you treat him this time?” “I will use the best treatment to treat him, of course there will be no way of escaping from the pain, but I will try my best to minimize the pain.”
Yun Ge slowly asked, with a hint of nervousness “Can you really cure his majesty’s illness?”
Meng Jue replied with certainty “Although it might take some effort, and his majesty would have to suffer a bit, but I can cure him.”!
After so much suffering, a ray of actual hope could be seen. Tears swirled in Yun Ge’s eyes, and in that instant of extreme happiness, she almost uttered the words “thank you”, but the words stilled right at her lips, turning into bitterness.
Meng Jue asked coldly “My condition is still the same, are you willing to pay the price for treatment?” Yun Ge stiffened, then silently nodded her head.“This is your choice.” Meng Jue seemed to be tired, and said darkly “I will honour the promise I made today and do my utmost best to cure him, you must honour your promise too.”
Yun Ge nodded again. In front of Meng Jue, she slowly picked apart the love knot she had been tying earlier. Meng Jue stopped speaking, but his eyes were black vortexes of emotion. A heavy, suffocating silence descended upon the both of them.
Fu Yu poked his head in, whispering “Missy, his majesty has returned.”
Yun Ge walked to the doors of the hall and smacked Fu Yu’s head “If he has come back, then just say so! Why are you acting so furtively?”
Fu Yu snuck a glance at Meng Jue, scratched his head and laughed awkwardly. Meng Jue was slightly surprised for in this eunuch’s heart, the Emperor wasn’t his master, Yun Ge was.
Upon entering the palace, Meng Jue reported to Liu Fu Ling “Your subject already knows what illness your majesty is suffering from, and have also found a cure for it.”
When he heard the news, even the normally poker-faced Liu Fu Ling couldn’t tamp down the happiness brimming in his eyes when he looked at Yun Ge. He asked Meng Jue “Is it the unprecedented case of chest tightness? How are you going to treat it? How long will treatment take?”
Meng Jue requested “Your subject would like to report a few matters to your majesty in private.” Yun Ge frowned and stared at Meng Jue. Meng Jue smiled, but under that smile was an unquestionable determination. Liu Fu Ling nodded, acceding to his request.
Yun Ge waited outside for more than two hours, standing till her legs ached; only then did she hear Liu Fu Ling commanding people to enter and she quickly rushed in. Liu Fu Ling remained detached as usual, and Meng Jue was still warm and genial; they both looked the same, but Yun Ge sensed that there was a bond of understanding and trust now between them that wasn’t there before, something only men shared – it was something that she wouldn’t be part of no matter how close she was to Liu Fu Ling.
Yun Ge let go of whatever remaining reservations she had, and some strange feeling coursed through her, she couldn’t tell whether it was surprise, sadness or bitterness, but the only thing she was sure of was that, this time Meng Jue would definitely do his best to treat Liu Fu Ling’s illness.
The moment everyone heard that the illness was treatable, the mood lightened, and they were more casual with their words. Meng Jue instructed Yu An and Yun Ge “Although his majesty isn’t suffering from chest tightness, it could also be considered chest tightness, one of the symptoms being blocked blood flow, leading to chest pains. Light food will promote better blood flow. During this period of treatment, his majesty is not to eat red meat. However, his majesty should eat more beans.” Yu An quickly said “Yes.” Meng Jue continued “As his majesty does not wish his illness to be made known to the imperial physicians, so it must appear as if all the food preparation is done according to Physician Zhang’s prescription, avoiding pork, mutton, and eating fish and chicken.”
Yun Ge said “These bunch of quack physicians at the Imperial Physician Institute, they were all abuzz with the discussion of his majesty’s illness at first, fearing that others would first claim credit, then when they realised the illness was untreatable, they all grew timid and fearful, fearing that their heads would roll, and started to push responsibility away, even faking illness so they wouldn’t have to do consultation. Only two to three physicians remained to treat him, but the only one that is making any effort is Physician Zhang, the others aren’t willing to take the risk at all; blindly agreeing to whatever Physician Zhang says. What you’re trying to say is to let everyone think that Physician Zhang is treating his majesty, while you treat him in secret, therefore I would still need to cook fish or double boil chicken for his majesty, to cheat and fool others.”
Meng Jue nodded “Yes, it must appear as if we are following Physician Zhang’s orders on the surface.”
Yun Ge asked “How do you plan on treating him?” Meng Jue asked Yu An “Has Supervisor Yu prepared the thing I humbly requested?” Yu An replied “Yes”, and turned to leave. Not long after, he returned carrying a wooden box, and passed it to Meng Jue. Meng Jue requested Liu Fu Ling to take off his outer robe and lie down, smiling “If your majesty doesn’t want to look, just close your eyes and don’t think about it.” Liu Fu Ling smiled “It is a rare chance to see something I’ve never seen before. It will be too much of a waste if I were to close my eyes.” Yun Ge perked up at their exchange and sidled up to Meng Jue “Last time it was a needle that was as long as an awl, what is it this time?”
Meng Jue placed the box in front of her and mentioned for her to open it. When she did, she was so surprised she let out a scream, dropping the lid on the floor and taking a few steps back. Meng Jue and Liu Fu Ling both laughed at her reaction.
The box was full of worms with greyish-brown bodies. They differed from other worms in that, most worms would wriggle, but the moment these worms saw that the lid had been opened, they quickly poked their heads out, moving wildly in the air, looking very hungry, like they were about to gobble a human whole, causing chills to run down the spine of anyone who saw them.
Yun Ge was slightly annoyed “All of you knew they were worms, but still tricked me into opening the box. These worms…….these worms aren’t meant to be eaten right?” As she spoke, she shot Liu Fu Ling a sympathetic look.
Meng Jue said “His majesty won’t be eating those worms, those worms will be eating his majesty instead.” He gestured for Yu An to assist the Emperor in rolling his sleeves up and taking off his socks, revealing his bare hands and legs. He then used bamboo tweezers to pick up the worms one by one, placing them on Liu Fu Ling’s fingers and toes. The moment the worms caught sight of a body, they immediately clung on to it, and their bodies slowly started to expand, as their body expanded, their colour also changed, from the greyish-brown to blood red.
Yun Ge’s brows knit tightly together as she watched the scene in front of her “They are sucking blood! Does it hurt?” Liu Fu Ling smiled as he shook his head “It doesn’t.” Meng Jue added “These worms are called leeches, they thrive in dark, wet places and feed on blood. As they suck blood, they will release an anaesthetic that would cause the host body not to feel any pain. However, if it enters a human body, it could cause death.”
Yun Ge immediately said “Yu An, keep an eye on those worms.” Yu An smiled “Yes.” As they spoke, all the leeches on Liu Fu Ling’s fingers were becoming larger and larger, almost four to five times their original size. Yun Ge watched the leeches in horror.
“These worms are greedy creatures, each time they suck blood, they can grow up to 10 times their original size.” After soaking the bamboo tweezers in wine, Meng Jue picked each leech up, threw them back in the box before taking out another batch of greyish-brown leeches to place on Liu Fu Ling’s fingers and toes. Yun Ge asked “Why are you using them to suck his majesty’s blood?”
Meng Jue was busy with his work and couldn’t be bothered to reply. It was only after some time did he say “All ten fingers link back to the heart, the blood in the hands will circulate back to the heart. The leeches’ blood sucking will help cleanse his majesty’s blood, giving him a smoother blood flow. The toes correspond to the five organs, through stimulating blood flow in the legs, the five organs will benefit too.”
Yun Ge nodded, though not really understanding his words. She had never heard of this method of treatment before, trust Meng Jue to come up with such an unusual method. “Will the leeches have to suck his blood every day?”
Meng Jue said “Once every day and night, the sooner we cleanse the body of the old blood, the faster the body will replenish the system with new blood, giving rise to a more effective treatment.” Yun Ge was slightly worried “At this rate, and having to abstain from meat and fish too, will his body be able to take it?” Liu Fu Ling tried to soothe her worry, saying “All sick people will naturally become weak; once recovered though; the body will regain its former condition with the proper care.” Meng Jue said “The prescription I have written will stimulate blood flow and replenish his ‘qi’. After ten days, I will readjust my treatment according to the effects. I will also choose a batch of Chinese Brake herbs, using special herbs as fertilizers. When needed, you could always stew a batch of it. I would have to ask Supervisor Yu to sneak them into the palace. Yun Ge, you have to prepare them yourself, don’t pass it on to someone else.”
Yu An and Yun Ge both nodded “Understood.”
Meng Jue’s treatment, though horrifying, was effective. After a few months, Liu Fu Ling’s chest tightness and pain were much better without the help of acupuncture. Although his heart would still act up once in a while, but the frequency and the intensity of the pain had lessened drastically. There was no way to hide his progress from Physician Zhang; but try as he might Physician Zhang just couldn’t figure out how his illness suddenly took a turn for the better. With all those questions, he couldn’t decide whether it was true or merely surface progress. Under Liu Fu Ling’s secret command, Physician Zhang told the world that the Emperor was in critical condition.
Yun Ge asked Meng Jue when Liu Fu Ling would completely recover. Meng Jue said, in three months, the blockages in the heart would clear, curing his chest pains but this was only the beginning. As he had been afflicted with this illness for a long while, it would require prolonged periods of proper treatment for his health to return to that of a normal person- maybe two years, three years, or longer. As he got better and with what limited time he had, Liu Fu Ling hastened the implementation of his plan, hoping that everything would be settled in the next two to three months.
He became harsher, stricter with Liu He, leaving no time for the two of them to even sit down for a cup of tea. In the eyes of the people at court, they only saw the Emperor getting worse, unable to attend morning court sessions; then they thought of how the Emperor had no children, and started to be perturbed, paying Liu He and Liu Xun even closer attention.
Many people continually visited Liu Xun’s residence hoping to gain an audience with him, so he decided to simply close his gates and get rid of the guards guarding the door so that anyone who came would be facing a shut door. Liu He continued to behave as before, joking jovially with everyone. Often, those court officials would feel very excited after spending almost a day talking to Liu He, only to realise once Liu He had departed that they had not even talking about the main point.
Everyone was each trying to guess Huo Guang’s reaction, but all they could see was his unwavering loyalty to the Emperor. Huo Guang lived a secluded life, speaking little, only entering the palace every day to discuss political matters with the Emperor, giving a detailed report of everything and meticulously handling each matter that was handed down to him with care. Under his strict eye, none of the Huo sons dared to step out of the line, only focusing on fulfilling their duty and ignoring the chatter around them. Many court officials tried to test Huo Guang’s attitude, but whether they made oblique references or goaded him, he would not budge. Huo Guang was like a deep, murky well; even the biggest stone flung into it would not even cause a ripple.
Liu Fu Ling’s worsening condition not only affected the relationships of the court officials with each other but also Liu He, Liu Xun’s and Meng Jue’s relationship. Liu He and Liu Xun slowly drifted apart, whether intentional or not.
In the past they would often gather together to discuss the task in which his majesty had entrusted them, helping each other, and covering for each other. If you couldn’t think of something, I’d fill in, if I overlooked something, you’d remind me. They joined forces to face Huo Guang, corrupted officials, the rich and noble, and derived joy from that combat! After settling matters at hand, Liu Xun would often bring Liu He, in plain clothes, to search for the hidden gems of Chang An, as one was a youxia of Chang An who knew everybody, gallant and full of integrity; the other was irreverent and informal despite his noble upbringing, longing for life in the Jianghu. Their views coincided on many matters and enjoyed a very amicable relationship with each other.
Although Liu He knew Meng Jue first, but Meng Jue was someone who was outwardly warm yet cold, someone who might seem close but in fact held others at a distance. In addition, he had a deep, complicated thought process, unwilling to involve himself in trivial matters, so purely comparing their personalities, Liu He felt like he was closer to Liu Xun.
Yet now, even when the both of them met occasionally, they never broached the subject of politics, nor did they head out to tour the city together again. Following the conversation in the study, Liu He sought Meng Jue out a few times to pepper him with questions about the Emperor’s health: “Is his majesty’s illness really incurable?”
Meng Jue never gave a direct answer and Liu He stopped asking. Although he still referred to Meng Jue as “Third Brother”, or “Xiao Jue”, but he slowly started to transfer Si Yue and the others away, changing the people who served him to the old people who served at Changyi Residence.
Liu Xun treated Meng Jue as per normal, often asking Xu Ping Jun to cook some simple dishes and inviting Meng Jue to visit to eat and drink. Meng Jue would go if he had the time to, if he didn’t, he would kindly refuse the offer. Liu Xun wasn’t too bothered by it, whereas Xu Ping Jun, after many days of not seeing Meng Jue, would specially prepare some food and send it to his residence, asking San Yue if Meng Jue was well, and complain that Meng Jue hasn’t visited in so long that Hu’er would just forget him if this went on. However, in the past whenever Liu Xun faced a prickly issue at court, especially if that involved Huo Guang, he would often ask for Meng Jue’s opinion, but now he didn’t mention it at all, as if he was settling all his problems with ease. Meng Jue acted as if he was oblivious to the turmoil around him, treating everyone as per normal – other than treating Liu Fu Ling, he would be gardening in his residence, flipping through scrolls of poetry, or leisurely walking through the markets of Chang An, but he never bought anything, only walking aimlessly, sometimes asking for a quote.
Despite the dark clouds looming over Chang An, Meng Jue’s life was simple and peaceful.
Time was like water, passing without a trace. Summer left before they knew it, and Autumn arrived, cloaking the earth in new colours.
One day, after taking Liu Fu Ling’s pulse, Meng Jue smiled and turned to him saying “Congratulations, your majesty, for largely recovering from your illness. From now on, all your majesty needs to do is to pay more attention to your diet and have enough exercise, with proper care, everything should be alright.”
Yun Ge didn’t dare to believe his words. He had recovered? Was it for real? Since knowing Ling Ge Ge was ill in summer till now, all the indescribable pain, fear, despair and torture she had gone through, all the nightmares are now over?
Yu An too, was in a daze, asking “Has his majesty truly recovered?” Meng Jue requested that Yu An summon Physician Zhang. Physician Zhang took the Emperor’s pulse, observed his pallor, and then used a gold needle to check, his joy becoming more and more evident, finally kowtowing to Liu Fu Ling in disbelief “Congratulations, your majesty, congratulations!”
The huge burden Liu Fu Ling carried had finally been lifted; he looked at Yun Ge, his eyes shining with excitement, happiness, hope, like stars in the sky. Yun Ge beamed but tears rolled freely down her cheeks. This was the first time Liu Fu Ling revealed any kind of emotion in the presence of others, as he looked at her empathetically, his voice hoarse as he said “You have suffered a lot during this time.” Yun Ge only looked steadily at him, unable to answer. Meng Jue’s eyes swept coldly over Yun Ge, then lowered his eyes and sat gracefully. Yu An hastily wiped away the tears pooling in his eyes and smiled as he passed a handkerchief to Yun Ge “Although these are tears of happiness, your servant still wishes to see Missy smile.”
Yun Ge bowed her head, wiping her tears away as she was overwhelmed by various emotions, a mix happiness, bitterness, relief and pain. She struggled to compose herself, to bury all those feelings deep in her heart, before she finally dared to look up. When she heard Meng Jue giving instructions on how to care for Liu Fu Ling, she quickly gathered her wits to listen intently.
“………………..a body which has just recovered from a long bout of illness is even weaker than a sick body. All care must be taken withhis majesty’s diet and residence; remember to pay extra attention to every detail, there must be no room for negligence.” Yu An nodded “Your servant understands, his majesty is like someone who just spent his energy fighting off his enemies; although the enemies have fled, but his own energy is spent. It is the time when the old energy is spent, and the new has yet to come.” Yu An left out the second half of his statement – during this time, when defences are at the barest minimum, if an accident were to occur, the damage caused would be even greater than during the fight. Meng Jue nodded “As long as Supervisor Yu understands. I’ll still be determining his majesty’s diet, but Supervisor Yu will still need to personally supervise the preparation of food.”
Liu Fu Ling wasn’t listening to their words; his eyes trained on Yun Ge, a question in his eyes. When Yun Ge glanced sideways, she met his gaze, she didn’t dare to look at him, but neither did she dare to look away; she could only muster up all her courage to smile gracefully.
Meng Jue’s gaze brushed across Yun Ge’s face, and looked at Liu Fu Ling “Your majesty needs to focus on regaining strength, don’t sleep late and don’t over-exert yourself.” Liu Fu Ling temporarily set his suspicion aside, and moved his gaze away to look at Meng Jue “I have always been a good patient, whatever my physician prescribes, I will follow.” The pressure on Yun Ge suddenly lifted, if Liu Fu Ling continued staring like that, she was afraid her smile would have just crumbled.
Liu Fu Ling told Physician Zhang and Meng Jue “I will have some matters I would like to discuss with the both of you.” Both people said “Please speak, your majesty.” “With regards to my illness, I’d like the both of you to help me think of ways to keep this hidden….”
Yun Ge was exhausted and couldn’t stand it any longer. She gestured to Yu An and quietly left the great hall. She returned to her own house, flung a large handful of Meng Jue’s scented powder into the burner and threw herself on the pallet.
After Meng Jue knew of Liu Fu Ling’s illness, he made a new set of scented powder for her, deliberately increasing sleep-inducing effectiveness of this powder.Despite the many worries weighing on her, Yun Ge still fell into deep sleep, aided by the scent.
The moment Liu Fu Ling was done settling his “bedridden with illness” business, night had already fallen. By the time he found Yun Ge, and saw her sleeping soundly, he didn’t have the heart to wake her up; he only wrapped the blanket more firmly around her, and sat quietly by her side before leaving.
Although Liu Fu Ling knew Yun Ge was keeping something from him, but this was the crucial period for the execution of his plan, with so many issues to deal with, sometimes even if the opportunity came, he didn’t want to force Yun Ge – he wanted to wait till she was comfortable with sharing. Now that Liu Fu Ling had truly recovered, Yun Ge was at times happy, at times worried. She didn’t know what Meng Jue was thinking, and when he would demand for her to fulfil her side of the bargain. Then she figured that Ling Ge Ge and her would still have some time together, no matter what, she should wait till the “new energy” has formed, when he was in a better mental state before telling him everything.
“Yun Ge, penny for your thoughts.” Xu Ping Jun waved her hand in front of Yun Ge’s face. Yun Ge started in surprise, laughed and said “Jie Jie, how did you enter the palace?” “Humph! How did I enter the palace? We haven’t seen each other for a few months, have you even thought of me once?”
A few months…..
Yun Ge smiled apologetically, indeed, her thoughts had never once turned to Xu Ping Jun, or she should say she hadn’t been thinking at all, not even daring to think.
A few notes of pique could truly be detected in Xu Ping Jun’s tone when she next spoke “And here I was, thinking about you every day; Hu’er just started to learn how to speak, and I taught him the word for ‘Aunt’ and now he can say ‘Aunt’ with ease, but this aunt has never once spared a thought for her nephew. For you!” Xu Ping Jun flung a scented pouch to Yun Ge, and turned away to leave in a huff.
Yun Ge quickly grabbed hold of her “My dear sister, this was all my fault. This day on, I will think about you and Hu’er a hundred times a day, so as to make up for lost time.” Xu Ping Jun thought of the rumours flying around the city about the Emperor’s illness, then looked at how much frail Yun Ge now looked. Her heart ached for her, all anger forgotten.
The pouch in Yun Ge’s hand was made from silk of the finest grade; instead of plants, flowers or small beasts embroidered on it, a poem was carefully embroidered on using gold and silver thread. “A clear, simple scene without waves, with a touch of her slender hands, lily leaves bow and fold. Notes of a lone boat song drift along the cold air, first rays of sun peeking from the cloud reveal the moon over the river.” When the bold, strong script met a woman’s gentle needlework, the result was something that showed romanticism, gentleness, and character. Yun Ge loved it to bits, immediately tying it to her belt “With Da Ge’s good handwriting and Jie Jie’s good embroidery, this is just too beautiful!”
Xu Ping Jun imitated Yun Ge’s tone, adding “The best part about it is that it has my ‘Ling Ge Ge’s’ good poetry!”
Yun Ge didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry “Heavens! Are you sure you’re someone who is a mother? Why haven’t you got any sense?”
Teasing aside, Xu Ping Jun was in fact delighted that Yun Ge liked the scented sachet she made so much “I made a pouch for you last Chinese Valentine’s Day, and thought it wasn’t too bad at that time, but now that I think about it, it was too coarse and crude. This year’s scented sachet was something I came up with after spending ages thinking of what to make. The scent in this sachet is also specially sourced by your Da Ge, why don’t you try smelling it?”
Yun Ge nodded “It really does smell very nice!”
“I originally wanted to give it to you during Chinese Valentine’s Day but your Da Ge said it would be impossible for you to leave the palace to celebrate that day with me, which is why I’m only passing it to you now.”
Yun Ge wrapped her arms around Xu Ping Jun cutely “Thank you, Jie Jie. Sigh! Jie Jie’s embroidery is so good, I can’t bring myself to look at any other; oh, what shall I do in future?”
Xu Ping Jun burst out laughing “You little rascal! I’ve been idling about at home anyway, so just send word through your Da Ge whenever you want something, I’ll make it for you, alright?” Yun Ge happily agreed as she played with the scented sachet, sweetness filling her heart.
Xu Ping Jun used to be suspicious and on her guard around her, but since she returned to Chang An, she couldn’t figure out why exactly, but everything changed. Xu Ping Jun truly treated her like her own sister, only lavishing love and affection on her, with no trace of distrust. The happiness she felt right now wasn’t the headiness of the love between a man and a woman, but it still made her feel like she was soaking up the spring sun – warm, mild and long.
After speaking to Yun Ge for some time, Xu Ping Jun reluctantly bade her goodbye for she still had to pay her respects to the Empress. She kept nagging at Yun Ge to take good care of herself before she left. Yun Ge nodded vigorously.
Nightfall. When Liu Fu Ling returned, Yun Ge twirled in front of him and proudly asked “Is my scented sachet pretty?” Liu Fu Ling asked “Who made that for you?” Yun Ge straightened up, and said loudly “I made it for myself, is there a problem?”
Yun Ge, doing needlework? Liu Fu Ling couldn’t help but laugh, he picked it up to take a closer look and was pleasantly surprised when he saw it was his poem “This is Liu Xun’s handwriting. Your Xu Jie Jie must have really put in a lot of effort for you, for trying to bring out the character of the words is harder than embroidering flowers and plants.”
Yun Ge, despondent, consoled herself by saying “It’s okay, I make delicious food, so it’s okay for not knowing needlework” Liu Fu Ling laughed “It doesn’t make me like you any less.” “Humph!” Yun Ge quickly turned away, “Who cares whether you like me or not?”
Three days later.
Liu Fu Ling was “doing his best” to receive court officials, Yang Shang and Du Yan Nian were arguing over some issue, bickering opening at court, one called the other a “mean fellow”, the other retorted “petty Confucian”, one said the other was “ignorant”, the other retorted “Sourpuss”.
Yun Ge heard them arguing fiercely and citing the classics from the adjoining hall, and couldn’t help but sneak out to see what was going on.
She heard that at Emperor Gaozu of Han’s court, the officials often fought and it was normal for them to come to blows if the argument got heated. These were all officials that helped found the dynasty, Emperor Gaozu couldn’t dissuade them either, and could only let them argue, fight, and finally, when he could no longer take it, he would quietly sneak away. Yun Ge was surprised, but now as she watched Yang Shang and Du Yan Nian, with their flushed faces and throbbing veins, she finally caught a glimpse of the “valiant” character of Han officials.
Ah! So the Hans might look genteel and refined but after all, these were the same people who managed to defeat the Xiongnu!
All the court officials were completely unmoved by the argument, some were smiling and laughing, some were deep in thought with their eyes closed, some tried to throw in a few words of advice, which only served to rile both Yang Shang and Du Yan Nian further; both turning to that person and ordering him to shut up. No one dared to speak further, allowing the two of them to continue with their argument.
Liu Fu Ling leaned against his pallet, seeming like he was listening intently to their argument but was in fact coldly observing Huo Guang’s, Liu Xun’s and Liu He’s every reaction. For some strange reason, suddenly he felt more and more agitated, the noise from the argument seemed magnified, like they were arguing right beside him, like thunder, causing his head to throb. His heart felt like it was about to burst; he sat up abruptly, and shouted “Silence!” Just after he spoke, he spat out blood and collapsed backwards on the pallet.
Just like that, the great hall was suddenly reduced to complete silence. Yun Ge was first stunned, then thought, Ling Ge Ge was acting? His acting was unbelievably realistic! She wondered whether it was Meng Jue’s idea, or Ling Ge Ge’s idea?
All colour drained from Yu An’s face as he knelt beside Liu Fu Ling shouting “Physician! Physician! Summon the physician!” Then turned to whisper urgent instructions to Qi Xi.
Qi Xi ran out, his face pale. Yun Ge asked “Where are you going?” Qi Xi said “To fetch Meng Jue.” Yun Ge’s head buzzed, she rushed forward to the pallet, not caring that there were still court officials in the hall. “Your majesty, your majesty.”
Liu Fu Ling’s face was purplish-blue, his limbs twitched, but he had no reaction. The court was thrown into chaos, with the court officials either wailing or crying, or looking anxiously about, waiting for a physician to deliver the prognosis. Huo Guang took charge of the situation; silencing everyone “His majesty has merely passed out and is in no danger. Please return to your respective residences, I’ll send further reports if anything happens” Those court officials who paid no heed and tried to rush forward to take a closer look quickly retreated with a sharp look from Huo Guang.
Everyone left the great hall collectively. Yu An offered his thanks “Many thanks, Lord Huo!”
Yun Ge’s hands were icy cold; she caught his glance, and at thought of his commanding presence earlier, her heart grew even colder. She knew Huo Guang wouldn’t leave without first listening to the physicians’ prognosis, so she suddenly said “His majesty would wish to have his relatives by his side; may his Lord and Marquis please stay.” Liu He and Liu Xun both stopped. Yu An nodded slightly at Yun Ge, praising her for being thoughtful.
A few physicians stumbled into court. After taking Liu Fu Ling’s pulse, some started wailing without even speaking, others turned deathly pale, not even daring to speak, only kowtowing furiously in front of the pallet. Huo Guang scoffed, the few crying physicians stopped their caterwauling immediately and fearfully took the Emperor’s pulse again. Yun Ge heart dropped, but she kept reminding herself, it was impossible, absolutely impossible; Meng Jue and Physician Zhang have both said that Ling Ge Ge had made a complete recovery.
As Physician Zhang was in the medicinal hall, he arrived late. The moment he arrived, the sea of physicians parted in relief, as if they have found their saviour. After taking his pulse, Physician Zhang’s whole body started to quake, muttering to Yu An and Yun Ge “Impossible! Impossible! How can it be? How can it be?”
Yun Ge knew that this wasn’t the time to cry, and supressed the vortex of emotion in her heart, asking Physician Zhang “Does the good physician need to administer acupuncture? Or some other method? We should all take our leave so that Physician Zhang will be able to administer treatment in peace.” Physician Zhang snapped out of his musings and turned to Huo Guang, Liu He, Liu Xun “I beg Lord Huo, his Lord and Marquis to retreat, your humble servant needs to administer acupuncture.” The few physicians acted like they had just received a royal pardon, quickly adding
“True, true! Acupuncture administration requires absolute silence, your subjects shall retreat.” Huo Guang already found what he was looking for, glanced at Yun Ge, then kowtowed to Liu Fu Ling “Your subject shall take his leave!”
Everyone in the hall left.
Physician Zhang hurriedly administered acupuncture, doing what he could to protect Liu Fu Ling’s heart vessel. After that, he didn’t know how to proceed, and could only wait for Meng Jue to arrive. Meng Jue arrived with his court robes askew, obviously having rushed down without the time to make himself more presentable.
“Step aside!” Everyone present moved aside. “Golden needle!” Physician Zhang immediately passed it to him.
Soon, Meng Jue had used 72 golden needles, and Liu Fu Ling’s twitching limbs slowly stopped, the purplish-blue hue also left his cheeks, although his face was still deathly pale, at least it was better than before. Yun Ge couldn’t help herself, she leaned forward to see whether Ling Ge Ge was better. Meng Jue frowned as he turned and ran his eyes over her. Suddenly, his eyes turned dark and murderous, filling with anger
“Get out of here!” Yun Ge stumbled backwards “I…I….I’m sorry!”
His voice was as sharp as knives “Do you know that all these needles are currently in his vital points? Who told you to draw closer? Who are you to him? Is there a place for you to stand near this imperial pallet? Yu An, chase her away immediately!” Yu An was at a loss, not knowing what to say, but Yun Ge was already quickly making her way out
“I’ll go as far away as you want me to, as long as you can save him!”
Meng Jue stared at Liu Fu Ling lying on the pallet, remaining silence. His usual half-smile was nowhere to be seen; his silent demeanour sending chills throughout the hall.
Physician Zhang asked hesitantly “Master Meng, how did this happen? He had clearly recovered!”
Liu Fu Ling slowly opened his eyes, when he saw Meng Jue, he actually cracked a small smile “This was all because I was too useless! I have put all your efforts to waste!”
Meng Jue gave him a slight smile, the warm smile laced with bitterness “I’ll think of another way.” With a flick of his hand at Yu An, Yu An and Physician Zhang both immediately left the hall.
Meng Jue removed the needles on Liu Fu Ling’s body one by one. Liu Fu Ling asked “How much time do I have left?” Meng Jue thought for a while before answering “If your subject cannot think of another method, the longest is four to five months, shortest, anytime.” Liu Fu Ling smiled softly “In other words, the next time I experience another chest pain, I might not wake up again.”
Meng Jue remained silent.
Liu Fu Ling stared dumbly at the ceiling, his expression an indescribable mix of sorrow and bitterness – in the end, none of his wishes in this life will be fulfilled. He suddenly struggled to sit, and Meng Jue quickly pushed him back down “Your majesty just regained consciousness; it isn’t advisable to move about right now. If there is any matter, just speak and your servant will do it.”
Liu Fu Ling ignored Meng Jue’s objections and forced himself to sit, then wanted to bow in front of Meng Jue. Meng Jue was shocked; the words “Your majesty!” just left his mouth when he suddenly understood why Liu Fu Ling was doing this. He knelt in front of Liu Fu Ling’s pallet “Your majesty needn’t do this, if Yun Ge ever questions this in future, your subject will just say it was because of my lack of skills, which led to me being unable to cure your majesty.”
Liu Fu Ling said “She is a very stubborn person. If she ever finds out the truth behind this matter, I… I wouldn’t be able to leave this world in peace, so I’ll have to trouble you to bear this burden. Think of it as repaying Yue Sheng’s debt for him; from today onwards, we don’t owe each other anything.”
Liu Fu Ling weakly raised his hand, mentioning for Meng Jue to rise, then pointed at his imperial pallet, gesturing for him to sit. Meng Jue sat on the pallet without any fear.
Liu Fu Ling asked “We were so careful, it would have been near impossible to find a crack. How did he do it this time?” Meng Jue remained silent. It was only a long while later did he write two characters on Liu Fu Ling’s palm. Liu Fu Ling laughed bitterly.
Meng Jue’s eyes were hard and cold
Liu Fu Ling’s was abnormally strong mentally. In an instant, the shock from hearing the news faded and he calmly told Meng Jue “You and I no longer owe each other anything, you are now no longer bound to your promise and are free to do as you wish. However, as a friend, my advice to you is to observe the fire from the opposite bank of the river. No matter who ascends the throne in future, you will be involved. If you get yourself involved in this struggle, and throw your family name into this, you might just lose everything.”
He was actually still sticking to his words? Meng Jue was first shocked, then the shock turned into understanding, finally becoming a range of complex emotions, he didn’t know whether was respect, or pity.
“You might seem closer to Liu He, but in fact, you probably are as close to him as you are to Liu Xun. The grudge between the both of you has been longstanding – Yue Sheng’s death- no matter how you feel about it, Liu He always thought you cared. I heard he has sent Si Yue out of the palace; looks like he doesn’t trust the people Yue Sheng trained. But only, why is Hong Yi still by his side?”
Meng Jue said “Liu He doesn’t know Hong Yi is Second Brother’s sister.”
Yue Sheng’s search for his long-lost sister that his parents sold to pay their debts led him to the House of Chang Yi, but he didn’t expect Hong Yi to have become mute. His hatred towards the people of that house would have been extremely great. A man on a mission, he devised a way to enter the House. From being full of hatred to gaining Liu He’s trust, training guards, assassins for the house to finally becoming fast friends, the journey was one full of truths and lies and Meng Jue wasn’t sure of the whole story either.
“When he heard that the old princess consort who poisoned Hong Yi causing her to go mute had died a horrible death, Second Brother’s hatred probably turned into helplessness. Furthermore, Hong Yi was….to Liu He.” Meng Jue sighed. “It is not that Liu He doesn’t trust the men Second Brother trained, he just doesn’t trust me. However, indeed he shouldn’t, for if the need arises, I would definitely use Si Yue to monitor his movements.”
Liu Fu Ling admiration for Meng Jue’s ‘true despicable man’ character grew “In this court in Chang An, no one can completely trust anyone. Huo Guang doesn’t even dare to trust his own sons.”
Meng Jue smiled “This ‘distrust’ is the right thing to do, or else Liu He would have caught wind of each and every one of Huo Guang’s movement. Since entering Chang An, he has spent a lot of effort on Huo Yu and Huo Shan.”
Liu Fu Ling said “I am tired, you may go! Let Yu An enter first, don’t let Yun Ge come in.”
Meng Jue had some understanding of his thoughts and answered “Yes”, leaving the hall.
He told Yu An “His majesty has regain consciousness, and commands Supervisor Yu to enter.” Yu An quickly entered the hall.
Yun Ge wanted to follow but Meng Jue stopped her. She looked straight at him, like she was drowning and he was her final hope.
Yet now, I am too just a stalk of grass. Meng Jue lowered his eyes and looked at the scented sachet on Yun Ge’s waist. Although he couldn’t really see the words, but he could guess which poem was embroidered on it.
Yun Ge saw that he was staring at the scented sachet and quickly said “I didn’t make that, I wouldn’t wear it again anymore.” Meng Jue smiled slightly. Yun Ge asked “Is his majesty alright?” Meng Jue smiled “He is fine.” Yun Ge hovered between doubt and trust, but yet still wishing Meng Jue’s words were all true.
Yu An called for Yun Ge from within the hall and Yun Ge was rushing to leave when Meng Jue suddenly raised his arm and she slammed straight into him, his arms catching her in a half-embrace.
Yun Ge was anxious, but she didn’t dare to use strong words against him, so she asked softly “Have you got anything else to say?” Meng Jue let go “No, you may go!” The moment he finished his sentence, Yun Ge had already entered the hall.
Meng Jue gazed at her swirling skirts swiftly disappearing from view, his lips forming a mocking smile, but in his eyes were hidden depths of sorrow and pity.
Beside the pebbled path outside Xuan Shi Hall were many maple trees. Autumn was already well under way, just looking across, one could see the sky dyed a brilliant red, the radiant flowers all softly glowing with a touch from the rays of the setting sun, making the whole place seem a touch more beautiful and three times more vibrant. Meng Jue gathered up his robes and walked away slowly. The setting sun, maple leaves, and evening sky all seemed to give him a warm red glow.
The autumn wind blew, and the leaves fell from their branches in a flurry. He stepped over the fallen leaves, and they crackled in protest. The withered, half-withered and freshly fallen leaves all mingled together, destruction and bleakness in the gorgeousness.