Chapter 11: Leaving The Capital
Over the splendid view of the city, the singing of orioles converges into a mess; down in the city, waves of spring sea smoke washes ashore.
Qu Zhou is a city, lower west from the Capital, that must be passed through, with distinctive landscape, capturing everyone’s attention, it is located at the transport routes of trading businesses, which also makes it one of the Celestial Empire’s bustling trading cities. The scenery of Qu Zhou is much mellower than that of the Capital, indeed described as “sound of orioles everywhere, mist and clouds bright and clear”.
During the evening hours, on the ancient road outside Qu Zhou, a group of horse carriages slowly passes by, on this ancient road with little signs of human population, the occasional pedestrians that walks by, cannot help but to speculate the identity of the carriage team. In the central group, there is actually an eight horse-drawn carriage, exuding an extraordinarily imposing air, guards surrounding the carriage in centre, neatly arranged in formation as they vigilantly advance forward……
Just when the carriage team were moving in a pace neither fast nor slow, a horse from the rear end of the road, comes galloping up, the carriage group did not stop to wait for the horse to approach, after a little while, the galloping horse had already charged in front of them, the person on the horse is dressed in purple robes with a black hat, clearly someone from the back palace, the horse’s hooves lightly rises, stopping at the rear of the carriage team, and the one on the horse immediately asks loudly: “Where is Prime Minister Lou?”
The eight horse-drawn carriage is extremely spacious, with the additional steady speed, the inside of the carriage is no different to a small room, Ru Qing sits at left wall of the carriage, she picks up the plate of fruits from the small table, and turns around, looking towards Gui Wan who is staring at the scenery outside, she says: “Madam, have some fruits, once it gets to evening, we shall be arriving in Qu Zhou.”
Ru Ming who is sitting next to Gui Wan, takes the plate, picking up a grape and hands it to Gui Wan.
Taking it, she had only just placed the fruit in her mouth, when the horse carriage comes to a sudden hal, Gui Wan places down the bamboo pick in hand, her eyes focusing outside, looking calm, appearing as though she is thinking about something.
Ru Qing, Ru Ming exchanges eye contact, revealing a look of helplessness, the current situation has already been happened four times, to suddenly halt the carriage right now, there is no need to ask to know that someone from the palace has come in request of Lord Prime Minister to return, ever since they have left the Capital City a day ago, people from the palace has continuously been coming forth on this road, even if one was not originally bothered by this, they too will grow fed up.
There is not a single trace of movement for a while, the carriage is still standing in its spot. Ru Qing, Ru Ming grows doubtful, the halting of the horse carriage this time, is unexpectedly long, just when the two people were pushing the task of investigating the situation to one another, a horse slowly struts up to the carriage, Gui Wan raises her sight towards the person, faintly smiling, “Brother.”
Yu Yan He’s face does not look at ease, he steadily looks at Gui Wan, saying: “Gui Wan, a matter has arose in the palace……” The following words remains in his mouth, unspoken.
Hearing those words, without responding at all, Gui Wan just leisurely supports her chin with one hand, appearing not very concerned, as she quietly waits for him to speak on, seeing this, Yu Yan He lightly sighs, quietly saying: “Consort Ying is pregnant, I heard she suddenly got a stomach-ache this morning, the situation seems to be very severe, right now they are desperately calling Brother-in-law back to the palace.”
Showing no reaction, Gui Wan picks up the bamboo pick and pricks into a grape, placing it into her mouth, gently chewing, and says nothing. Yu Han He felt somewhat desperate, unable to refrain from speaking: “This cannot be good, the Empress……” The slightly condemning look in Gui Wan’s eyes stops him from saying the following words, shame emerges on Yu Yan He’s face, he was only just reminded that there are other people here.
“Gui Wan.” A mellow voice interrupts their exchange, Lou Che struts up on a horse.
Spreading a graceful smile, Gui Wan looks towards Lou Che, asking: “Has something happened?”
A great sense of guilt wells up in his heart, Lou Che attentively looks at the one inside the carriage, thinking back to leaving the Capital City the day before, his original intentions were to accompany Gui Wan in sending off Yu Yan He; secondly with the summer season approaching, he had wanted to accompany Gui Wan avoid the summer heat (spend summer break), that is why, no matter how many times the palace sent for people to urge him into returning, he would always ignore them, but right now……his hand clenches with the note in hold, Lou Che was faced with extreme difficulty.
Noticing his hesitation and difficulty, Gui Wan averts her eyes away, still smiling as per usual, a tidal wave of feelings washes over her eyes, revealing a trace of loneliness and disappointment that passes by in a flash.
“Gui Wan,” His voice quiet as his calling out towards her holds an infinite amount of difficulty, “Urgent matters have arose in the palace, I need to return this once.” Unable to explain the details, Lou Che felt a little annoyed, seeing Gui Wan hear this and only smile in understanding, with no other response at all, his feelings were jumbled up into a rather complex state.
Riding the horse up close to the carriage, under everyone’s watchful eyes, Lou Che lowers his body, planting a soft kiss on Gui Wan’s cheek, upon leaning in towards her ear, his warm breath hits the outer area of her ear as he softly says: “Wait for me, I’ll quickly go and return.” Having said that, he looks deep into Gui Wan’s eyes, before turning around and riding off on his horse.
The guards surrounding the horse carriages, were all dumbstruck, although Prime Minister Lou’s doting love for his wife is known throughout the land, but to see it personally with their own eyes, is something that they really cannot get used to, Yu Yan He also appeared absolutely baffled, watching Lou Che go behind the carriage team, giving out some sort of order, before leading eight guards as they speedily head down the road that they came from, he turns back to look at his own little sister, laughingly saying: “Looks Brother-in-law treats you……” His words comes to an abrupt stop, looking shocked as he sees Gui Wan’s smile, such illusive smile, only he as an older brother would understand, just how much loss and disappointment that smile is concealing.
“Gui Wan……” A sound of soft calling, filled with the hidden meanings of Yu Yan He’s worry and concern.
Hundreds of feelings gathers in her heart, indistinguishable at this moment, hearing Brother’s gentle calling, Gui Wan lets out a laugh, the faint, distant laughter has grown ever so resonant, attentively gazing at Yu Yan He, she says: “Is Brother worrying about me?” When the last syllable was sounded, all traces of melancholy has already been completely swept away.
Sensing that the matter seems to concern Lou Che’s leaving, Yu Yan He gently says: “We can stay at the place in front for two days, and wait for Brother-in-law’s return.”
“No need,” Flatly rejecting this suggestion, Gui Wan’s indifferent attitude causes her tone to stretch exceptionally far apart, “It is not possible for him to hurry back, we shall continue making out way to Qu Zhou, there are still many things to do.”
Hearing her say that there are still many things to do, Yu Yan He freezes for a moment, after thinking about the meaning of this, he immediately reveals a look of anxiety, unable to refrain from saying: “We need to wait till we reach Jin Yang, before we think of a plan……” The Empress situation is becoming increasingly tough, originally, only the Empress has given birth to a prince, now that Consort Ying is pregnant, if she gives birth to a son, then the Empress’ only life support will also be in grave danger.
“No need to wait till Jin Yang, Brother first hurry to Jin Yang, take up your official post, I will remain in Qu Zhou for a few days.” Gui Wan waves her hand, allowing for the surrounding guards to keep far away, only then can she explain to Yu Yan He.
Looking at Gui Wan with doubts and puzzlement, Yu Yan He dumbly asks: “Remain in Qu Zhou?”
Gui Wan’s eyes flashes in change, from her gaze, a heart moving look flows out, those dark pupils harbouring laughter, reveals a deeply hidden beauty, “The current situation is indeed unfavourable, heaven-sent timing, favourable position, people’s support, Consort Ying has ruled out two of those, to reverse this situation, apart from location and power, there still requires one word.”
“Mouth,” Unconsciously playing with the bamboo pick in hand, Gui Wan talks and laughs in leisurely manner, “A carefree and content mouth, is support of the people, it is also the only thing Consort Ying has nowhere to start laying her hands on. The current Emperor, to be able to take seat upon the imperial throne, was also dependant on what the people wished for, right now, we too can also follow this example.”
He now understands what Gui Wan means. Qu Zhou is a city of trading businesses, any information can be exchanged here in the fastest possible way, news in the Capital City spreads to the outside once it passes through here, news from places all over also gathers here in Qu Zhou. Slightly sad deep inside, he asks again: “How are you going to grasp hold of the people’s carefree and content mouths?” One must know, it takes great difficulty to grasp hold of this, if poorly controlled, he is afraid that it will only backfire.
A pair of small squinted eyes, revealing a haughty attitude, Gui Wan continues to support her chin with one hand, her right hand picks up a grape with the bamboo pick as she says: “In this world, the ones that are most qualified to speak out are none other than the scholars, it has not been long since the imperial examination has ended, presumably, there are still a lot of students staying in Qu Zhou right now, to pass it through their mouths, spreading it out to the world, what could be so difficult in doing that?”
Unable to suppress the inscrutable feeling that arises deep in his heart, Yu Yan He looks straight at Gui Wan, his heart feeling two points heavier, as he slowly says: “Don’t know whether dragging you into this is right or wrong?”
Quietly letting out a laugh, Gui Wan comfortingly says: “Unless I am willing, who can force me, Brother does not need to blame yourself at all.”
Nodding his head twice, he was still wary at heart, Yu Yan He calls out a few orders, before riding away. After a while of rest, the entire carriage team once again sets off, slowly heading towards Qu Zhou.
Lying inside the carriage, Gui Wan’s eyes locks onto Ru Qing, Ru Ming, her resonant voice revealing no emotions: “You two heard everything just now?”
Ru Qing, Ru Ming, nods at the same time: “We did.”
“Right now you can make a choice,” Gui Wan with delicate demeanour, lightly speaks: “Loyal to me, or loyal to Lord Husband.”
Never did they think they would hear such a question, Ru Qing, Ru Ming looks at each other, not quite understanding the meaning in this, in that moment, they did not dare to reply.
The carriage curtain has already been let down, the lighting inside dim, so quiet that not even one human voice can be heard, only the turning wheels and the horse hooves from outside travels into one’s ears, the dullness making one feel a sense of suffocation.
A faint smile spreads out, Gui Wan suddenly sounds a laugh, half teasing half serious: “Do not worry……you do not necessarily have to reply.”
The two maids simultaneously sighs in relief, they had almost thought that what happened just now was just a dream, peering at Gui Wan, deeply unpredictable within the darkness, suddenly they hear Gui Wan order: “Prepare male attires, after we enter Qu Zhou, we will only keep eight bodyguards with us, the rest of the guards shall remain at the outskirts of Qu Zhou.”
Ru Ming was puzzled, her face filled with panic: “Wouldn’t this be dangerous?”
“The ones we are dealing with are frail scholars, there will not be any danger.”
Able to make out Gui Wan’s reluctance to explain, Ru Qing nods as she answers with a sound of ‘yes’, and the inside of the carriage restores its quietness.
In the evening, the inside of Qu Zhou’s rest inn was a scene of liveliness, Qu Zhou is originally a city rich in business, with a complex flow of people, in this resting area right now, talking with eloquence, people staggers around.
The head of the rest inn has drank quite a few cups of wine, he cheerfully stands out in the lobby, playing finger guessing game (drinking game) with people, suddenly his ear is pulled up, feeling the burning pain, he looks back, to see his own madam, and hurriedly smiles apologetically: “Madam, why have you come down?” His madam is famed throughout the entire Qu Zhou, nicknamed “Fiery Xi Shi”, famed for her beauty and hot temper. (Note: Xi Shi is one of the renowned Four Great Beauties of China, her name is often used to refer to one as a great beauty)
“Xiao Ya Zi has called for you a few times, you only know how to guess fingers, neglecting serious matters……” Upon seeing the married couple start a squabble, everyone comes crashing down in laughter, the familiar people all know this is how the couple get along, it has also made its way to become the butt of all jokes in Qu Zhou.
Right when the two people were busy arguing, a worker runs into the lobby, yelling out: “Sir, Madam, there’s customers at the door.”
Fiery Xi Shi throws him a dirty look, shouting: “If there’s customers, do you not know how to serve them, what you stood peeping at……”
Just when her voice faded down, eight brawny men enters with expressionless faces, separating into two rows, four people in a line at the entrance of the lobby. Complete silence suddenly falls upon the lobby, the gathering of people all stares at the doors.
Just when the eight men stood in place, behind, three people walks in, the two in front strangely behaved the same, be it actions or expression, appearing to be delicate and pretty young men, but upon closer inspection, the rouge and powder scent is too heavy, they were actually women in disguise, everyone were doubtful and puzzled, then looking towards the final person at the back, their breathing suddenly stops.
Glorious air shining bright, cute and handsome yet stunningly beautiful, a body of gradient light blue-white outfit, at the crown of the head, hair tied up in a silver ribbon, elegantly beautiful posture of great nobility, a light smile that doesn’t leave the lips, on the left ear, a string of black pearl earrings falls to the shoulder, lightly swaying along with the person’s movements, beaming radiance overflows, against her graceful beauty, everything else is dissolves to nothing, between light and dark, such unique charm is far too extraordinary.
Clearly knowing the person is a woman in disguise, everyone still gets the kind of feeling like they cannot breathe, such demonic beauty that trespass the boundaries of gender, within the huge lobby, be it men or women, all were stunned speechless.
Ru Qing steps forward, speaking towards the head of the rest inn and Fiery Xi Shi who stands in the middle of the lobby: “We would like to have the room on the second and a half floor.” Her speech breaks through the silence, and only then does the big lobby restores its original complex mix of voices.
Fiery Xi Shi hurriedly nods her head, unable to refrain from casting Gui Wan a glance, secretly thinking there are still characters such as this in the world, attentively saying: “Got it, there is a honoured guest room on the second floor, usually unoccupied, perfect for all of you to enjoy the use of.”
Gui Wan reveals a sparse and thin smile, striding forward towards the second floor, studying the surrounding environment, quite satisfied, her thoughts quietly takes a turn, and already thinks of a sure plan, it is at this place, she shall borrow the carefree and content mouths for use.
 Yet another Chapter opening up with a poem. The poem is called Magnoliaand is by Qián wéi yǎn / 錢惟演. I have translated the whole poem here for those interested.
Over the splendid view of the city, the singing of orioles converges into a mess,
Down in the city, waves of spring sea smoke washes ashore.
When will the green willow [that is] like endlessly fragrant grass subside?
My eyes tears up in sorrow, yet my insides have already shattered.
Feelings have gradually declined with age,
Surprised [I am] to find the Luan face of blossoming beauty in the mirror has already changed.
Over the previous years, my body was frail and sickly, [thus] hated fragrant wine,
Today, with the cup before me, I am only afraid the fragrant wine will run dry.
[Notes: “my inside have already shattered” refers to overwhelmed with grief. And Luan is a legendary bird, similar to a phoenix.]
《木兰花》 《Mù Lán Huā》
城上風光鶯語亂， (Chéng shàng fēng guāng yīng yǔ luàn)
城下煙波春拍岸。 (chéng xià yān bō chūn pāi àn)
綠楊芳草幾時休? (Lǜ yáng fāng cǎo jǐ shí xiū)
淚眼愁腸先已斷。 (Lèi yǎn chóu cháng xiān yǐ duàn)
情懷漸覺成衰晚， (Qíng huái jiàn jué chéng shuāi wǎn)
鸞鏡朱顏驚暗換。 (Luán jìng zhū yán jīng àn huàn)
昔年多病厭芳尊， (Xī nián duō bìng yàn fāng zūn)
今日芳尊惟恐淺。 (jīn rì fāng zūn wéi kǒng qiǎn)
A poem of the Nothern Song Dynasty. The poem expresses the poet’s frustration and sorrows of how his political career has ended during his later years, and can also be said to express the suffering of decaying in one’s later years. The first two lines linking the overview of the city and the view down in the city, describes a rich dynamic that depicts the spring scenery. He sketches out the magnificent scene over the city, yet below in the city, he sketches out a scene of vastness, an image of spring water washing ashore. Allowing the reader to sense the looming gloom of the poet’s spring sorrows.
Spring is a time that makes one reminisce their times of pride, faced with such beautiful scenery, the poet has once experienced being in a high official position, but in contrast, spring time only pulls out those memories that he is not proud off, thus adding more suffering to the pain before him. The line “When will the green willow [that is] like endlessly fragrant grass subside?” expresses his desperation in wanting this hateful spring period to pass by as he now continues to drink to forget.
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