Chaos Of Beauty

Chapter 10 — A Fright At The Dead Of Night
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Chapter 10: A Fright At The Dead Of Night

The spring days are lengthening out, the plants and trees grow full of verdure. The oriole’s cry comes jie-jie, [our wives] go in crowds to gather the white southernwood.[1]

“Spring days may be lengthening, but the days are still passing by,” Gui Wan mumbles seemingly smiling, lightly turning her head, she sees the person approaching and asks: “[Older] Brother, what brings you here?”

The approaching person has a very ordinary face, together with his decent looks, virtually no one would have thought that the two people sat opposite one another were actually biological siblings. Yu Yan He laughs, his ordinary face looking upright and honest, “Before setting off on a long journey, I wanted to come see you.”

Gui Wan laughs, revealing not the slightest bit of surprise, under her eyes was fleeting trace of loneliness as she leisurely asks: “Must you really have to leave?”

Hearing her words hold such sorrow that cannot be hidden, Yu Yan He receives a slight shock, he firmly nods his head twice, expressing his own resolution, before turning to once again call out: “Gui Wan……” Turns out, the following words, he could not even bring himself to say, sorrow washes over him, such emotion on his guileless face, appears particularly heartfelt. To leave Gui Wan all alone in this Capital City, he has too much to apologise for, yet the words are unable to leave his mouth.

“I understand,” Interrupting him from further speaking, Gui Wan’s lips hooks up into a sweet smile, saying: “What I don’t understand is, why did Brother choose Jin Yang City?” That is clearly the Empress’ hometown……she does not want to tread into the deeper meanings behind this, because she has a hunch that amongst them, there is a reason that will make her heart tremble.

“……The Empress is in a very difficult situation right now, Gui Wan.” A simple sentence, yet it felt like thunder in spring, loudly striking the ground.

Knitting her brows together, Gui Wan faintly says: “That has nothing to do with Brother.” Her heart rejects this conversation topic, a sort of long absent feeling of unwillingness once again rises within her.

“How could it not, Gui Wan, you clearly know how problematic the current situation is.” Just thinking of his un-fateful older sister’s days in the palace, his guilt would spread out boundlessly, mother’s face once again appearing before him, the mother who has never once given him an ounce of love, the gentle words said before her death, he shall never dare to forget.

Gui Wan tightly presses her lips together, not saying a single word, when thinking back to the conversation with Lou Che in the tent, her heart will suddenly feel sour, she does not want to become enemies with him, in terms politics, how scary of an enemy he is; in terms of feelings, to become enemies with him, how difficult and painful it will be for her……suddenly thinking of something, she asks in surprise: “How did Brother know of the Empress’ identity?”

“When mother passed away, I already knew.” Yu Yan He face appears miserable again.

“Brother,” Gui Wan’s chest rises and falls along with her voice, attentively looking at that unpretentious face, she reminds: “The world is a man’s world, the back palace is a woman’s back palace. This is not a problem you can intervene with.”

“Traditionally, the back palace and imperial court are closely linked together, right now, Consort Ying’s arrogance has already grown too insufferably powerful, just how long can the Empress’ seat be protected, one year, two years……or is it ten years?”

Gui Wan says nothing, absentmindedly looking at the person in front, her heart feeling heavy. After a long moment of silence, she is still indecisive, exactly how is she to choose? No matter what choice is made, they all seem to be wrong, every choice will later be regretted, to weaken Consort Ying’s power, is easier said than done, what about Lou Che? Questions forms in her mind, one after the other, the building pressure causing her to start panicking.

Noticing her hesitation, Yu Yan He takes out a small piece of paper from his sleeve, spreading it before Gui Wan’s eyes. Gui Wan accepts it, having glanced over the words on the paper, she freezes, such exceptionally graceful handwriting, is clearly from the hand of the Empress, the words were dark red, a letter written in blood, on the little piece of paper, it says: protect the land, protect my royal child, protect the elder statesman. Each stroke hooks onto the heart, each word works up one’s emotions, from these quivering strokes, the Empress’s heart pain pours out.

From her mind, the image involuntarily emerges before her, the Empress’ wretched smile, the scene of her kneeling before her, the mournfulness when she was crying as she requests for her to protect her son and father, the resolution in her smile as she spoke of protecting the land. Thinking and thinking, even her heart was turning sour at the thoughts, Gui Wan could only bitterly smile, right now, how could she give up on the weeping older sister deep within the palace?

“Before Hu Guo Temple, this is what the Empress sent out from the palace, it’s been left with me for a month now, a few days ago, I finally received another written message from the palace with great difficulty, after you’ve read it, decide for yourself.” During Gui Wan’s moment of contemplation, Yu Yan He takes out another identical piece of paper, passing it over.

Actually feeling afraid to accept this, this little piece of paper, with such immensely heavy air around it, Gui Wan thinks for a long time, and in the end, she still extends her hand to take hold of it. Upon opening it up, she sees a half a poem: The spring breeze naturally resents the relentless water, it blows east and the water continuously flows west.[2]

Placing the two pieces of paper together, Gui Wan found it difficult to speak in this moment, crumpling the papers into one, she raises her head and faces Yu Yan He, “Brother, have you already made up your mind?”

Without answering her question, Yu Yan He only looks at her steadily, his eyes filled with gentleness.

……

The time between them seems to have been silent for a long, long time, so long that Gui Wan had almost forgotten where she is, matters that occurred over the past half of the year and more, revisits her mind, scene by scene, she is searching for answers. Having returned from Feng Qi Slope, this past month, she had spent recuperating her body, avoiding all the worldly controversies, knowing that the Empress’ title has been protected, she was greatly relieved, at the same time, she found a few contemporarily prestigious strategists and educationists, in efforts to learn the art of trickeries, could it be that, this is also her subconsciously preparing for the future?

No matter how she thinks about it, there is no results, Gui Wan sighs in resignation, noticing that her brother is waiting for her answer, she spreads out a smile on her face: since there is no answer, then from now on, she can slowly search for it, perhaps, she will find a perfect solution that’s best for both sides.

Seeing a hidden meaning within her smile, Yu Yan He knows she found an answer, and also relaxes. Watching as Gui Wan walks up to the study desk, taking a brush, grinding the ink, he was rather puzzled, walking up to her, he continues to watch as Gui Wan takes out a piece of paper, writing something on it. He was about to join her, when the paper was already handed to him, Gui Wan’s voice was filled with cheeriness as she says: “Before Brother leaves, think of a way to pass this to the Empress.”

Yu Yan He speechlessly accepts the piece of paper, his steady eyes glances over the two short phrases:

Fragrant flower and plants have already passed by so why is it necessary to hate, summer activities in the shade is [also] pleasant.[3]

******

Having sent off her older brother, Gui Wan quietly sits inside the study room alone, within this quiet environment, she feels a sense of loneliness and solitude that she has never experienced before. Because of the conversation with her older brother before, questions that she had originally been avoiding can no longer be avoided, the road ahead is immeasurable, and she cannot clearly see what the future holds anymore.

In her moment of deep thoughts, a burst of knocks sounds outside the door. She gets on her feet, opens the door, and was just about to question, when she sees Lou Che standing outside, within his elegant smile, there holds a hidden meaning that one cannot grasp onto. A group of guards stands behind him, there were also two efficient and clever looking maids.

Slightly surprised, she asks him: “Lord Husband, what happened?”

Lou Che watches as Gui Wan walks out from the study room, he lightly frowns, and throws a signal at the guards behind him, seeing the guards spread out, he walks up to the door frame, blocking Gui Wan’s line of sight as he beckons a maid to pass over a cloak, gently wrapping it around Gui Wan’s body, with a voice as gentle as water, he says: “You’ve only just recovered……didn’t I say to take care of yourself?”

Seeing Gui Wan step out from the house, her beautiful face lit pink with powder, leading people into a trance, he could not help but to lower his head and lightly kiss her cheek, when he had just came in contact with her smooth, delicate face, a faint fragrance drifts out, it was as though he got bewitched as his kisses, densely, gently, lands on the side of Gui Wan’s face, on her neck.

A limp, numbing feeling spreads through her entire body, Gui Wan turns her head in avoidance. Even since returning from Feng Qi Slope, Lou Che has been acting more affectionate with such intimate acts, causing her to not know what to do, her heart feels a little nervous, from the corner of her eyes, she notices the two maids are still behind, and immediately feels ashamed and embarrassed.

Lou Che lightly releases Gui Wan, noticing where she is looking, he faintly laughs as he says: “Here are the maids I have picked out for you, they will be taking care of your diet and daily life from now on.”

Gui Wan frowns, instantly feeling uncertain. Her personal maid has always been Ling Long alone, the estate is also swarming with servants, to suddenly receive an addition of two personal maids gives her a strange feeling, she vaguely feels like something has happened, at a turn of an eye, she sees that the guards from just now, have already spread into every corner, the security of this courtyard has clearly been strengthened. This only makes her feel even more doubtful.

The two maids walks up front, kneeling before Gui Wan as they say: “I am Ru Qing (Ru Ming), greeting Madam.” The two people are not only synchronised in action, synchronised in speech, even the tone of their voices are exactly the same, Gui Wan was also secretly amazed, unaware that there are such highly trained maids in the estate.

Seeing the Gui Wan does not seem to be rejecting this arrangement, Lou Che’s heart was half relieved. As soon as he left the imperial court assembly, he immediately made a series of preparations, he must thoroughly protect the woman before him, she just seem to always manage to easily tread into his heart, affecting his mood, plus the situation seems to have become increasingly serious. He lets out a little laugh, secretly thinking: could it be that pampering can also become addictive?

Ordering for the two maids to rise, hundreds of thoughts goes through Gui Wan’s head, thinking of the written message from the Empress just now, thinking of Lou Che safeguarding Consort Ying in court, all of a sudden, her feelings were in a complicated mess.

Lou Che pulls Gui Wan along to the dining room for dinner, along the way, Gui Wan found that, there are indeed much more guards than usual, fortifying this Prime Minister Estate, this brings greater certainty to her original thoughts, so something really did happen. Plus, seeing Lou Che’s behaviour, could this matter be related to her, but thinking of it like this, she too cannot imagine what this could be about, lightly shaking her head, she laughs at herself for thinking too much, it is not the time to dwell on this matter right now, what she needs to think about now is, how she could stealthily bypass Lou Che’s eyes, and help the Empress securely anchor her status……

Up till it was time to sleep, she was still thinking about this problem. Between this time, the two maids were indeed clever and well behaved, quick to complete all tasks, not at all any less than Ling Long, it’s just that, they do not like to speak nor laugh, just like people made of wood, something Gui Wan feels a little unaccustomed to.

Lying down, her thoughts were like tidal waves, repeatedly thinking over the problem, trying to find the roots of trouble, also thinking of a solution that will be best for the two opposing sides in future, to be able to aid the Empress, but also not cause any harm to Consort Ying. Thinking for a long time, it was still a huge mess, sigh, could it be that worldly affairs are all so brutal, with essentially no way to satisfy both sides?

Right in this moment when her mind was in chaos, a subtle aroma faintly drifts in, entering her nose, her body thus starts feeling light, her thoughts gradually sinking, such comfort makes one sigh in satisfaction. A vague thought flashes by her mind, getting the feeling that there is something not right with this aroma, without waiting for her reaction, the darkness has completely enveloped her……

……

In her hazy dream, there seems to be someone hovering over her bed, who is it?

This isn’t right, it’s not a dream, Gui Wan abruptly opens her eyes, she sits up, and catches a black shadow flashing past, receiving a fright, Gui Wan lightly cries out, without waiting for her to completely react, the black shadow leaps outside. Seeing him leave within a flash, Gui Wan has just let out a sigh of relief, when she hears a wave of fighting sounds from outside, knowing that the man in black has ran into the guards, Gui Wan gets out of bed, her steps reaches the door, and she wanders out, a burst of cold wind meets her, and only then did she realise she was dripping in cold sweat.

She looks up towards the courtyard, to find that the man in black is fighting two people, those two people were actually the maids Ru Qing and Ru Ming, the man in black is no doubt highly skilled in martial arts, but the two maids were not any less than him, every strike ruthless and piercing, not at all sloppy[4]. The sound of the three people fighting spreads out, and not long after, a load more guards sprung out like bamboo shoots after the spring rain, gathering around the man in black, Gui Wan coldly watches on from the side, the more she thinks about it, the stranger it seems to be, she does not understand martial arts, so why does she feel that the man in blacks’ actions seems vaguely familiar……as though she has seen it somewhere before.

In this dark night, three figures endlessly fights on in the Prime Minister Estate, a gathering of guards surrounding the three of them, Gui Wan attentively watches this war-like situation, even if she does not understand martial arts in the slightest bit, she too can see that Ru Qing, Ru Ming, the two people act in harmony, with perfect teamwork, didn’t think that Lou Che had actually given her two maids of such formidable power……once again looking back at the man in black, her doubts deepens, from looking at his actions, this mysterious person does not want to cause her any harm, if so, then what is his objective?

Endless thoughts tumbles as she absentmindedly stands by the room door, when she was suddenly overcome with warmth, an additional outer wear hangs over her body, she turns her head, meeting Lou Che’s worried eyes, a gentle and warm voice coming out: “Let’s go in, careful you don’t catch a cold.” So he too has come after hearing the fight. In face of Lou Che’s hinting, she stands in her original spot without moving.

Lou Che helps Gui Wan drape on an outer wear, and tidy up her slightly dishevelled hair, upon lightly taking hold of her hand, he feels it was somewhat icy cold, and anger flares up deep down in his heart, abruptly taking half a step forward, he covers the majority of Gui Wan’s line of sight, lightly raising his hand to make a simple action, the guards acted with amazingly swift pace, spreading out into a fan shape, they raise their bow and arrows on standby, consistently aligning their aim at the man in black.

Seeing such a fuss, Gui Wan was also able to guess, not long later, the man in black can only become a hedgehog, silently letting out a sigh, she turns back to her room. It was at this moment of turning, that an unexpected movement from the man in black, caught her attention, the man in black forces Ru Qing two steps back, suddenly reaching into his chest and dug out an inch long accessory, in the dark, a faint silver light flashes by, Gui Wan freezes, this thing, there is no way she could forget, it is the Nu’s insect venom……

The man in black raises the short flute and blows into it, no sound was emitted, the two maids and all the guards fell into incessant surprise. Her memories resurges, Gui Wan lets out a small cry in shock: “Not good.”

Hearing her blurt out those words, Lou Che frowns, ordering the guards: “Everyone disperse.” Once the gathering of guards heard this, they took several steps back, and the circle they formed suddenly expanded by a lot. Right when everyone were in a state of puzzlement, a sudden “weng” sound approaches, heading straight to the middle of the courtyard, within the darkness, everyone pulls themselves together to take a look, it’s actually a bunch of unidentifiable worms.

No one would have thought that they would actually come across something like this, everyone was thrown into chaos, in this chaotic moment, Lou Che coldly calls out: “Light the fire.” Hearing the order, even the usually well trained guards, could not immediately calm down, not long after, the courtyard was lit up with a fire as bright as day. Insects are generally afraid of firelight, right now with the courtyard lit ablaze, the worms disappears without a trace, even the man in black fled in disarray.

Ru Qing, Ru Ming and all the guards kneels down in unison, not daring to make a move, Lou Che’s face is as usual, his feelings concealed, warmly smiling, he says: “All right now, you’re all pardoned.” Hearing him say this, everyone lets out a sigh of relief, immediately leaving the courtyard, istantly, the courtyard sinks back into darkness.

Lou Che turns around, and sees the side of Gui Wan’s beautiful face hidden in the shadows, he gently consoles her saying: “Do not worry, I will take care of it.”

Faintly hooking up the corner of her lips in a smile, Gui Wan says nothing, her eyes falls upon the middle of the courtyard, only feeling that within this scene of absence and darkness, it seems as though even her heart has sunken into such immeasurable space.

Standing in his original spot next to her, Lou Che’s face shows no emotions, his thoughts like tidal waves, thinking of what happened in the morning, and then to actually have Nu’s people breaking into the Prime Minister Estate at night, could it be that there’s someone leaking out secrets within the imperial court?

After what happened tonight, Gui Wan could not sleep.

In the early hours of the second morning, a lightweight and plain horse carriage stops in front of the Prime Minister Estate back doors. The servants assigned to watch over the back garden were filled with incessant curiosity, and were just about to step forward, when a young man suddenly jumps out from the carriage, handsome and elegant, such appearance of great brilliance, although his clothing were ordinary, but it could not conceal his elegant bearing that is as refreshingly clear as water.

The servants upon seeing this year’s First Ranked Scholar, were immediately put in a difficult spot, a month ago, Master with the reasoning of the imperial examination, moved Guan Xiu Wen to an outer courtyard, after he became the First Ranked Scholar, another order was placed, to disallow entrance to the inner court without any notice, now that Master isn’t in the estate, how are they to take care of this matter? Thinking of this Lord First Ranked Scholar’s friendly and warm nature, Master’s precautions against him is just too unjustifiable.

Right in between this moment of dilemma, the housekeeper comes out, and upon seeing Guan Xiu Wen, he receives a slight shock, laughing in a “hehe” sound as he approaches. Standing before him, he gives a little bow as he says: “This old servant has yet to congratulate Gentleman Guan, how disrespectful of me……” His voice absolutely heartfelt, sincere and moving.

“How is that so?” Guan Xiu Wen hurries forward, his face carrying a friendly smile, such smile is thoroughly pure like that of water, “I have not yet thanked you for taking care of me before.”

The two of them exchanged pleasantries for a long time, both with feelings of reluctance, seeming as though they lack the intentions, Guan Xiu Wen mentions: “I’d like to enter the inner courtyard to thank Madam for her grace of rebirth, don’t know if you can do me a favour?”

The housekeeper also reveals a look of difficulty, remembering Lord Prime Minister’s former orders, he does not dare to personally let someone in, turning to observe Guan Xiu Wen, an appearance of innocence, crystal clear purity and elegance, he could not help but to secretly let out a sigh, such a friendly youth, just what kind of harm can he cause? And then remembers that he was originally brought into the residence by Madam, to want to go thank her right now, can also only be considered as human nature to do so, his heart slightly relaxes as he quietly says: “Gentleman Guan go on in, be careful not to let others see, Madam is resting in the study room of the back chambers.”

Smiling as he nods his head in thanks, Guan Xiu Wen passes by several people, and heads towards the back courtyard.

Originally knowing the Prime Minister Estate like the back of his palm, he chooses to take a quiet and secluded path and actually managed to not run into any servants, in a blink of an eye, he had already arrived at the entrance to the back chambers’ study room, from across the flower beds, he sees two maids step out from the study room, very carefully closing the doors, before turning to leave. He receives a slight shock, those two maids, he does not seem to have any recollection of.

Seeing that they have far left, Guan Xiu Wen goes up the steps, extending his hands to push open the doors, his face lit with a cheerful smile, he was just about to call out, but with the doors half opened, he looks into the study room, to find that no voice is ringing out.

The study room in this back courtyard is quiet and refined, on the settee made of rosewood, Gui Wan lies in deep sleep, in such indescribable peace, the isolation makes it seem as though this place has become an entirely different dimension.

As quietly as possible, he slowly approaches the settee, leaning over to attentively gaze at Gui Wan’s sleeping beauty. The normally gazing eyes were closed right now, like a water lily, her commonly seen smile when awake is concealed, making her appear increasingly pretty and tranquil, watching, and watching, a burst of clamouring gives rise in his heart, his hand reaches out to the face that has countlessly appeared in his dreams, a wonderful feeling hits his fingers, and as though he got possessed, his breathing pattern shortens, difficult to calm down, his heart anxiously beats as he lowers his body, bringing his face just an inch away from Gui Wan, he could clearly feel Gui Wan’s soft breathing, making his heart beat even faster, unable to restrain himself, he lowers his head, lightly kissing her hair, her eyes, her nose. Shocked upon realiseing what he is doing, he immediately raises his head, and in that moment, he seems to be able to hear the sound of his own blood flow.

The person on the settee does not wake up, sunken into deep sleep, between her eyebrows, the trace of fatigue is shown. Wanting to help her wipe away this trace of troubles, his hand reaches for her face, but without even touching her, it falters, and comes towards her slightly parted lips, these lips that are three points more charming than peach blossoms, finding it difficult to control himself, he places a kiss on them, not daring to disturb the person in deep sleep, he just about touches the surface, lightly kissing down on Gui Wan’s lips, as though he’s making a vow……

This could perhaps be the only vow he has made in this lifetime……

Quietly sitting at the side of the settee, he had long forgotten the time, no matter what his eyes just cannot avert themselves away from this face that he always dreamt of and longed for, originally he had only wanted to come ask about the matter concerning yesterday’s night raid, originally he had only wanted to come and listen to her voice, originally……he had already long forgotten his original reason for coming here, he is immersed in this place, unable to pull himself away.

The old housekeeper comes up to the entrance of the study room, from the half opened doors, this is the scene he sees, his heart felt as though it was struck by thunder, shocked to the point his voice could not come out. That youth, quietly sits by Madam’s side without moving, his eyes filled with infinite tenderness, such infatuated eyes……cold sweat dripping, the housekeeper shows an extremely severe look, not daring to make a single move, he does not know whether to alert him or……

Right in this uneasy moment of hesitation and panic, the youth suddenly stands up, and looks out, with no time to hide aside, he immediately meets eyes with the youth. How strange of a matter this is, the clear eyes that were full of tenderness just now, to think that the instance it came in contact with the housekeeper’s, it actually froze up, shooting out a trace of razor-sharp fierceness, making the housekeeper feel like he had been frozen in ice the moment it hit him.

The youth heads towards the door with light steps, turning his head back in dismay, he looks at the figure on the settee as he gently pushes open the doors, and makes a hushing gesture towards the housekeeper. Stepping outside, he seems to know the housekeeper will follow after him, and so stands in wait in centre of the courtyard, only then does the housekeeper reacts, going up to him with hurried steps, words yet to slip out his mouth.

Guan Xiu Wen suddenly turns around, looking at the housekeeper with a seeming smile, saying: “Housekeeper Lou’s granddaughter truly is cute and innocent……”

Not understanding why he would suddenly mention this, the housekeeper looks at the youth in surprise, is this really the Guan Xiu Wen he knew? So ice-cold, so heartless, so eerie……

Taking a step closer, Guan Xiu Wen whispers into the housekeeper’s ear: “Even if not for your own sake, at least take your family into consideration, what you just saw, forget it all.” Having said that, he looks at the housekeeper with a smile that holds a deeper meaning, before turning to leave.

The old housekeeper stands alone in the courtyard, the wind grazes past his ear as he faces his inner struggles endlessly. He should tell Lord Prime Minister of this matter, allow Lord Prime Minister to decide upon it, but in the end he does not take a single step, those words remains vividly in his mind, stopping him from taking action, “Housekeeper Lou’s granddaughter truly is cute and innocent……” What that youth said is true, he cannot not consider this point.

For long, long, time, he is still standing in the middle of the courtyard……

Coming out from the Prime Minister Estate, Guan Xiu Wen carried that meaningful smile all along, unable to conceal his feelings of pleasure, he walks up to the horse carriage, looking back at the Prime Minister Estate, he thinks for a long moment before turning to get on the horse carriage, ordering the long awaiting coachman: “Let’s go.”

The horse carriage slowly departs from the Prime Minister Estate, the coachman is an honest and simple man over thirty years of age, and would never question his master’s matters, his character is particular direct, asking: “Gentleman, returning to the First Ranked Scholar Estate?” The Emperor has bestowed an official’s residence, although construction is not been fully completed, he has already moved in.

“No need,” A clear and sharp voice comes from the carriage, “To the Nu emissary’s residence.”

Turning back in surprise, the coachman had originally wanted to say something, but did not say it in the end, Master’s matters, do not ask, do not speak, do not say too much, these are the fundamentals of being a servant.

All of a sudden, Guan Xiu Wen asks: “When will the First Ranked Scholar Estate be fully renovated?” His voice flat, unable to pick out the high and low tones.

“Gentleman, there’s still another two months.” The coachman respectfully replies, and once again opens his mouth, “Gentleman, in the courtyard, what flowers to plant? How about pomegranate, it’s almost summer, pomegranate blossoms looks nice, and you can even eat pomegranates fruits……”

“Plant plum blossoms.” One cold phrase, cuts him off his lengthy talk.

The coachman says in surprise: “Plum blossom? Winter has already passed by, so bare, what’s so nice about it……” Seeing that there is not even the slightest bit of response from within the carriage, he knew that saying anymore would be futile, whatever the gentleman has decided upon, no one can change.

The coachman’s nagging words that travels to his ears, Guan Xiu Wen pays no attention to, what flower to plant? Of course plum blossoms……extending his arm to take hold of a box within the carriage, he quietly opens it, inside lays a scroll, he absentmindedly looks at the scroll, unconsciously revealing a smile.

Thinking for a long time, he closes the box, his smile also fades away along with this action. Thinking of Gui Wan sleeping so snugly in daylight, she must have run into the Nu spy, looks like the Nu people acts very fast, seems like, he has not fruitlessly given them clues to find the person in the painting, something flashes by his eyes, his face turns dark as he mumbles: “There’s still a lot of matters to attend to……”

His hand lightly strokes the box, Guan Xiu Wen closes his eyes, his thoughts drifting far away……

Be it Lou Che, be it the Nu Tribe, no one has the power to own this roll of scroll, he tightly grips onto the box, so tight, even his knuckles faintly whitens……

******

An emerald green bamboo forest, stalks standing tall like brittle jade, the air carries pure moist and light fragrance, a slight icy cold breath is inhaled into the mouth, such feeling that is refreshing to the heart.

A tall building stands in the middle of the forest, strings of beaded curtain hangs from the eaves, whether it’s in terms of style or form, everything differs greatly from the Celestial Empire. A figure is faintly visible behind the beaded curtains, having yet to approach up close, one can already hear a wave of warm and radiant voice. Freezing on the spot, the youth’s steps falters, didn’t think that he would be here, his figure comes to a standstill as he hesitates as to whether he should walk in or not.

The person inside suddenly stops speaking, and the curtains hanging from the doors are lifted, a deeply moving voice rings out: “So it is Xiu Wen that came.” Such handsomely refined face is brewing with a faint smile bathed in the spring breeze, Lou Che stands above in the building, with an appearance of noble elegance. Only Guan Xiu Wen who is facing him knows, within his smiling eyes there hides traces of hostility and a biting chill.

“Teacher.” Holding the box, Guan Xiu Wen was in an inconvenient position to bow down in greeting properly and could only bend his body a little. He did not think that the person would show up at the Nu Emissary’s residence, giving him a big shock, taking a deep breath, his state of mind returns to normal, concealing his deepest thoughts, he is still carrying a look that is as pure as water.

Letting out two sounds of a low laugh, he too could not tell what the meaning of this laugh is, half playful half teasing: “Didn’t think that the one we’re waiting to come, would be you, I had originally thought it would be Prince Duan……”

His heart quivers, tasting a bad meaning behind his words, Guan Xiu Wen humbly smiles, “Student is returning the painting on imperial orders, incidentally paying a visit to the Nu emissary.” Making a clear statement of his objectives in coming here, to reduce the opposition’s doubts.

Declining to comment, Lou Che turns his body away, letting down the curtains, and turns to head back inside, Guan Xiu Wen could no longer retreat, and could only follow him into the building. From the tables Lou Che and the Nu emissary individually sits at, a warm and clear air floats up, tea fragrance floods into the nose, without a word, he holds onto the box and quietly sits on the next seat from Lou Che.

“I have just started discussing the matter concerning yesterday’s night raid with the emissary, since you have come, you might as well tell us your views as well.” Not caring whether Guan Xiu Wen has seated himself yet, Lou Che says this in a directly open[5] manner.

The emissary’s face appears slightly unnatural, Guan Xiu Wen quickly glances over at him, then continues to act modest and respectful, looking as though he received a shock, he says in surprise: “Teacher’s estate was under attack? Who would be so bold?”

Hearing this, Lou Che starts laughing, insolence revealed in his gentle elegance, laughter filled with chilliness, in midst of this laughter, the Nu emissary could not help but show a slight change in his face, Guan Xiu Wen faintly smiles but says nothing, just that his clenched fists were already sweating profusely.

“Really worthy of being my pupil……” Laughingly saying this phrase, not knowing whether it is a praise or a derogatory.

The Nu emissary looks into Lou Che’s eyes, steadily saying: “Prime Minister Lou coming here today, it’s not just to discuss this night raid matter right?” Somewhat unable to bear the rather eerie atmosphere indoors, he breaks the deadlock.

Abruptly withdrawing his smile, Lou Che returns to his elegantly gentle character, not in a hurry to answer the Nu emissary’s question, he raises the tea cup from the table, lightly taking in a mouthful, only when he seemed to be enjoying the aftertaste, does he leisurely answer: “I have come not for the night raid matter, but regarding the meaning behind this matter, I cannot not make a little trip here.” Having said that, he sweeps a glimpse of Guan Xiu Wen from his peripheral vision, the light in his eyes chillingly shocking.

Neither the emissary nor Guan Xiu Wen dared to rashly speak up, and could only wait for his following words.

Placing down the tea cup, Lou Che looks at the Nu emissary, “Emissary has come from afar, your sincerity in requesting peace settlement is visible, as a great and impressive country, our Celestial Empire would naturally embrace it……” Seeing the Nu emissary’s expression soften, he continues to state, “They say the Nu Tribe suffered a major natural disaster during this year’s winter, with countless horse and sheep casualties, crops are also in bad harvest?”

Hearing these words, the Nu emissary’s face turns pale, bitterly murmuring in reply: “This is exaggerating, this year’s disaster is not severe.”

“Emissary’s words have cured my doubts, and here I thought the Nu were requesting settlement to receive help and support, so it is indeed because of insufficient fighting force.”

Not only is the Nu emissary’s face not looking good at all, even Guan Xiu Wen was rather surprised, didn’t think that the settlement had such reason behind it also.

The Nu emissary had secretly received a big shock. In fact, the Nu requesting a peace treaty, was indeed because this time’s disaster has caused too big of a damage, no matter if it is crops or livestock, all have suffered severe losses, a sudden decrease in warhorses, causing the Nu to be in an difficult situation that makes battle matters in the short term inadvisable, seeking settlement is also a reluctant move in this helpless situation.

After a long silence, the emissary speaks up with fluent Han Chinese as he blurts out: “Our tribe may be suffering from a natural disaster, but it has yet to reach such severity, Prime Minister Lou needs not to worry at all.”

Guan Xiu Wen listens on from the side, hundreds of thoughts running through his head, looking at the emissary, looking at Lou Che, hesitating over what move to make.

Lou Che remains resolutely unmoved, indifferently diverting to another topic as he says: “The intruder that appeared in my estate last night, did not have any malicious intentions. It’s just that, right at the end when he fled the scene, what he used was actually the Nu’s ‘insect venom’.” Raising his eyes to observe the Nu emissary’s expression, he says, “My wife received a scare, sleepless all night……” His words because of the mentioning of Gui Wan, reveals tenderness, his voice turning soft and clear.

The Nu emissary immediately clarifies: “This matter must be an misunderstanding.”

“I also believe there is definitely a misunderstanding in this, therefore I do not plan on pursuing the matter.” Suddenly standing up, Lou Che wanders to the window, observing the green bamboo scenery outside, “The Nu’s private reasons for settlement, I can disregard, the night raid matter, I can also ignore. The Nu coming to friendly terms with our country, is what the people hopes for……”

Hearing him say such words, the Nu emissary could not help but to sigh in relief, listening to Lou Che’s intentions, there seems to be a condition, he pays him full attention, attentively listening for any hidden meanings.

Turning to look at the two people inside, Lou Che laughingly says: “Nu Emissary has given our country three great gifts, our Celestial Empire shall also be gifting great treasures in exchange, the Nu Prince likes beauties of the Celestial Empire, our Celestial Empire shall select five great beauties from all over the country, to gift the Nu Tribe. As for that painting, I believe the Nu Prince had just made it on a whim.”

The Nu emissary freezes on the spot, raising his eyes to Lou Che, his thoughts powering forward as he says: “Prime Minister Lou’s meaning is……”

“Xiu Wen,” The sudden call out causes Guan Xiu Wen to secretly receive a shock, only seeing Lou Che approach him, “Give me the painting.”

The tightly held box in his hands, not knowing whether to give it or not, he steadies his feelings, and in the end, he could only pass it over, in a moment of helplessness.

Lou Che reaches out to accept the scroll container, immediately opening it, and takes out the painting scroll, the scroll slowly unrolls, Guan Xiu Wen and the Nu emissary both turn their heads to watch as the entire painting is presented before them. Lou Che also sighs in praise, this painting is so lifelike, impressively vivid, as if Gui Wan had descended into the painting itself. He could not help but to secretly suspect, has the Nu Prince personally seen Gui Wan before?

Seeing the painting scroll, Guan Xiu Wen’s face appears complicated, pain of secret anguish flowing out from his eyes, he reaches out to the newly brewed tea on the table, and with one careless move, he pours out too much, the hot tea pouring onto his hand, yet he was unconscious of all this.

Observing the painting for a long time, Lou Che’s eyes does not look away as he says: “The person in the painting is my wife.”

The two people, having heard this, were not at all surprised, one had long known this fact, one had spied on the Prime Minister Estate, verifying the identity of the person in the painting, but to hear Lou Che personally say this at this precise moment, they still received a slight shock, to know that in the imperial court, Lou Che had once denied this, only to suddenly admit it right now, there must be a reason for this.

“From now on, I hope that there would no longer be anyone who uses a portrait painting of my wife in search for someone, this portrait painting that was created on a whim, burn it.” Walking up to the windowsill in slow steps, he takes out a lighter, and lights a corner. The flames rises, engulfing the scroll of painting, and in a blink of an eye, the painting had reduced to ashes.

All three of them kept their eyes wide opened as they watched the painting disappear within the fire, the Nu emissary also held a sense of regret, the Prince had told him to search for the beauty in the painting, but it looks like he can only return in failure, towards this gentle and elegant Prime Minister Lou, he always seems to get a deep feeling of being unable to do anything.

Turning his head to look at the varied expression of the two people, Lou Che speaks with an elegant smile: “This painting no longer exists from henceforth, nor would there be people who speaks of this, the Nu can also come to friendly terms with the Celestial Empire, it sure is a wonderful situation of one move three gains, is it not?”

******

On this day, the Nu emissary announces his leave towards the Emperor, his mouth shut off from mentioning the matter of the painting, carrying gifts of treasurable items and five beauties of the Celestial Empire, he leaves the Capital City in return to the Nu.

The Emperor’s was like an elated dragon, feeling as though troubled matters were easily solved, the imperial court was also filled with delighted faces wherever you look, everyone was beaming in great joy.

“Lord First Ranked Scholar please wait……” Hearing someone call out, Guan Xiu Wen looks startled at the person, his expression appearing to show alertness, never would he have thought that the one he had called him would actually be Prince Duan, although he cannot make out what the opposition wants, he still had no choice but to stop and wait.

Prince Duan hurries over, walking side by side with Guan Xiu Wen as they head out of the assembly hall, pleasantly remarking: “Lord First Ranked Scholar is young and promising, with distinguished and commendable bearings, earning my incessant admiration ah.”

Even his words are flattering, Guan Xiu Wen was secretly wary deep inside, not knowing what Prince Duan is trying to achieve.

Seeing the hidden wariness in Guan Xiu Wen’s eyes, Prince Duan lowly laughs, lowering his voice as he says: “Looks like Lord First Ranked Scholar holds deep thoughts about my preconception ah, I am but speaking in accordance to my appreciating heart.”

“I thank your highness’ appreciation……” Appearance wise he does not reveal any emotions, continuing to hang on a modest smile.

“Unfortunate ah……” A sound of a sigh, attracting Guan Xiu Wen’s attention, he changes to a regretful tone, “Prime Minister Lou does not seem to be able to accept you ah.”

Smile appearing denser, Guan Xiu Wen appears relaxed and carefree, “Prince Duan must be joking, Teacher has given me the grace of rebirth, such grace is no different to that of parents, how could he harbour envy.”

Seeing his smoothly clear smile, Prince Duan also could not help but to think of him as praiseworthy, at such a young age, he has already learnt to hide his feelings, Prince Duan felt that, in a few years’ time, he too would definitely become a powerful minister. Unfortunately, he is still puerile and tender right now. Prince Duan seriously says: “It is I who spoke out of line, Lord First Ranked Scholar please don’t let it bother you.”

The two people shares a laugh, filled with superficiality, their eyes quickly meets the parked horse carriages outside the palace, when Prince Duan unintentionally mentions: “Come to think of it, today sure was strange, that Nu emissary had actually not mentioned anything and just left like that, isn’t Lord First Ranked Scholar curious?”

“I have no intentions to be curious……”

“Lord First Ranked Scholar truly is humble,” Prince Duan laughs, “It is only right if you shall come to understand the whole story in this.”

With not even the slightest consideration of giving in, Guan Xiu Wen displays a look of innocence, “I truly do not quite understand what your highness means.”

Prince Duan also did not get annoyed, filled with hidden implications, he lightly says: “The painting the Nu emissary brought in, I believe Lord First Ranked Scholar must know better than me, exactly who the person in the painting is.”

Seeing the other person show no response at all, Prince Duan immediately says: “We honest men do not speak shady words, I have a humble gift for Lord First Ranked Scholar, if you would please take a look.” Having said that, from his sleeves, he pulls out a painting scroll, and it was in this precise moment of pulling it out, that he clearly sees Guan Xiu Wen’s eyes flash a look of difficulty.

His hands were slightly trembling, Guan Xiu Wen practically dared not to take hold of this painting, his heart rapidly beating, getting the feeling as though someone has seen through him. Prince Duan smiles as he tucks the painting into his hand, watching him slowly unroll the painting.

He did not think this painting that had burned away would appear before him again, Guan Xiu Wen had almost practically forgot to breath, blankly staring at the painting, his heart hit by an overwhelming force.[6]

Taking in the entire view of his reaction, Prince Duan makes not a single move. Indeed, ah, that day in court assembly, with a momentary glance upon seeing this painting, this young First Ranked Scholar’s overflowing show of love, just happened to have been caught on by him, although he had concealed this extremely well, he still could not escape intentional observation, Prince Duan leisurely says: “When the imperial palace’s painter was copying the painting, I told him to produce an extra one, there is no one else who has discovered this, Lord First Ranked Scholar can rest assured.”

Guan Xiu Wen completely gathers up his emotions, his eyes turns cold, and his face expressionless as he asks: “Prince Duan, what is the meaning of doing this?”

Reaching out to pat his shoulder, signalling him to relax, Prince Duan carries an intention to please as he says: “Lord First Ranked Scholar, no need to worry, I have no other meaning behind this, just that you seem to really like this painting, so I have gifted it to you.”

Coldly not responding, he knows that it will not be easy to find out his intentions, so he quietly waits for him to speak on.

“The painting certainly is good, but no matter what, it cannot be better than the real person right?” He teasingly says, his steps not faltering, “I heard that Madam Lou’s older brother is transferring to a post in Jin Yang, Madam Lou wants to send him far up to Chen Zhou; the Nu emissary’s returning path to the Nu, just happens to be a similar route to Madam Lou.” His ending sentence suddenly seems to be unintentionally mentioning two matters irrelevant to one another.

Guan Xiu Wen was stunned, his rounded eyes fiercely shooting arrows towards Prince Duan, biting his lips as he remains silent.

Prince Duan did not mind, continuing to say: “Don’t know if Lord First Ranked Scholar likes my gift?” Suddenly stopping in his steps, forcing Guan Xiu Wen to also have no choice but to stop, “What I want and what Lord First Ranked Scholar wants, although not the same, the method is precisely unified, don’t know whether First Ranked Scholar is willing to collaborate with me or not?”

Hearing the voice cutting past his ear along with the wind, Guan Xiu Wen’s thoughts fluctuates, scrambling into one big mess, the person before him, is not one that can easily be dealt with, Lou Che even more so, if he is to wait for an opportune moment to take action, just how many more years……all of a sudden, a sleeping face flashes by in his mind, evoking his infinite amount of tenderness, and thousands of thoughts flashes past his mind.

After a long moment of silence, Guan Xiu Wen puts away the painting in his sleeve, revealing a hint of smooth smile, he lightly bows towards Prince Duan, “Your highness’ gift has truly given me a profoundly passionate and heavy sense of righteousness, how am I to refuse such good intentions from your highness?”

Hearing this, Prince Duan sounds a loud laughter, once again praising: “First Ranked Scholar sure is a talent of the present age, what is more rare is, you’re profoundly passionate with a heavy sense of righteousness, really is praiseworthy ah.”

Hearing such praises that holds ulterior motives, Guan Xiu Wen also laughs, his voice crisp and pleasant, the two people laughs with incomparable harmony within this sparsely populated officials’ path, yet under such laughter, there holds other calculations.

Note:

[1] The opening lines of this Chapter actually comes from the final verse of the poem Chū chē / 出车 which means Driving out the car/cart/carriage. The poem itself is recorded in the Chinese classic, Shī Jīng / 诗经 or Book of Poetry / Book of Odes in the Xiǎo yǎ / 小雅 or Minor Odes of the Kingdomsection. I also like to declare - DISCLAIMER for the translation, I thought it would be better to let you guys read the official english translation by James Legge (and ahem…because of my own laziness :P ), if you want to read the whole poem itself, please click on the following link: http://ctext.org/book-of-poetry/chu-che [Note that these poems are classic texts so it only makes sense that it is written in traditional Chinese characters, although I kept with simplified Chinese in this footnote]

[2] The spring breeze naturally resents the relentless water, it blows east and the water continuously flows west:

Chūn fēng zì hèn wú qíng shuǐ / 春风自恨无情水

Chuī dé dōng liú jìng rì xī / 吹得东流竟日西

The poem is used to express feelings of pain in the much cherished spring time. The water relentlessly flows as it defies the breeze that blows east, whilst it continues to flow west, expressing how quick time passes by, and the spring breeze can do nothing about it.

[3] Fragrant flower and plants have already passed by so why is it necessary to hate, summer activities in the shade is [also] pleasant:

Fāng fēi guò jǐn hé xū hèn / 芳菲过尽何须恨

Xià mù yīn yīn zhèng kě rén / 夏目荫荫正可人

[4] The Chinese phrase used to describe sloppiness - in action of course - istuō ní dài shuǐ / 拖泥带水 translates to dragging [things] through mud and water and thus causing a mess in the process.

[5] The phrase used to express someone speaking in a directly open manner, straight to the point is kāi mén jiàn shān / 开门见山 which translates to open the doors to see the mountain view.

[6] Overwhelming force is the translated meaning of fān jiāng dǎo hǎi / 翻江倒海 - overturning rivers and pouring down seas.

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