Chapter 1: The Emperor Swallow
In the heaven’s recording of the first year, the prince with excellent reputation amongst the people, Zheng Liu, ascended the throne as Emperor. This seems to be what all the people wanted. During that early spring, hundreds of neglected tasks had been undertaken, and the country was in quite the flourishing state.
Today is the busiest day of Hong Fu temple, devotees gathers here, not just the usual commoners but also many dignitaries within the Capital. More importantly, the Capital’s two most prestigious beauties have come today to offer incense.
Although they say monks are completely indifferent to worldly temptations, after a long time, they too will generate fatigue in their sights. Hearing that two beauties will be coming today, the hearts of old and young monks alike shows traces of delightfulness.
The two beauties, one is the daughter of Han Lin Academy’s (imperial academy)minister, Yao Ying. The other is the daughter of the Capital’s commander in chief’s secretary, Yu Gui Wan. A scholar who has seen the two of them before has once commented: One is a tender flower illuminating the moon, charming like the flowers in spring. One is a willow branch trembling in the wind, pitiful like the moon in autumn.
Inside the monastery’s grounds, a four-bearer dark red sedan chair stops outside the most remote and spacious entrance. When the sedan is placed down, a maid walks up, reaching out to lift the curtain. She speaks to the person inside: “Young Lady, we have arrived.”
Someone slowly comes out from within the sedan. Although they have already grown accustomed to the young lady’s looks, the four sedan bearers still continue to momentarily feel as though the air around them has been pumped up with excitement.
Gui Wan comes out from the sedan, looking up to see the wide vacant area of the monastery, no unexpected incidents has occurred, it is indeed really quiet and secluded, really in line with her requirements. From the corner of her eyes, she spots two other sedans outside the monastery. A little surprised by this, don’t know who else could have chosen this path to avoid the eyes and ears of the people.
Faintly smiling, she looks back to tell the sedan bearers to get some rest, and turns back, leading the maid, Ling Long, towards Hong Fu temple.
The monastery has already sent for someone to wait for her since early morning, seeing Yu Gui Wan and her maid slowly walk up, he hurriedly goes up to greet her. When he gets a clear look of Gui Wan’s face, he freezes on the spot, never thought that there would be such beauty in this world. Now, he suddenly understands why the master of the Dharma Hall had sent for him, the one with greatest concentration amongst the younger generation, to be designated to this specific post.
Composing himself, he curtly pays his respects to Gui Wan, “Benefactor Yu, Master has been waiting, please follow me.”
The maid Ling Long glances over this monk a few times. Within her eyes, a look of admiration held within her eyes.
Gui Wan nods her head, “I thank Master for leading the way.”
The three people walks through the middle of the big hall, no one speaking along the way, thus increasing the constant cloudiness in the atmosphere within this incomparably solemn temple.
Having just come out of that specifically empty hall, Gui Wan was surprised to see that other than the Dharma Hall’s Master Hong Yuan, there is also a man and woman. Although it is just their back views, one can still sense the extraordinary air around them. From the looks of their luxurious attires, one can only assume that if not wealthy, they are at least of honourable position.
Master Hong Yuan has a somewhat solemn expression as he says something to them. In the woman’s hand, there holds a kau chim stick (used for divination or drawing lots) , looks like they’re in the middle of interpreting the divine meaning behind it. The man is elegant and upright, standing at the side. Gui Wan, Ling Long and the young monk quietly stands there, whilst the three people conversing didn’t even notice their arrival.
The woman who had sought interpretation for her kau chim stick lightly smacks it down, placing the stick on the table. She stands up, turning around, and meet eyes with Gui Wan. Gui Wan was stunned, that woman was also stunned, the person beside her is even more utterly stunned.
A feeling like that of both sun and moon illuminating the big hall, within that moment, one can only feel the entire hall suddenly light up brightly. Those present, will perhaps never forget this scene, both are women of such exquisite beauty, standing within the same hall. One with startling beauty, one with peerless elegance.
A gentle sound of laughter soon breaks the deadlock, the man accompanying the woman who had sought interpretation for her kau chim stick, laughs out loud. Gui Wan follows the source of the sound, who would have thought, within this hall, there stands another extremely dazzling figure? A carefree, tall and handsome man, his eyes moist and light, his face like crowned jade.
The man smiles towards the woman next to him, saying: “See, I wasn’t wrong was I?”
A few days ago, he had told her: You live in your own conceited world, but you should know that in this world, there exists another who is no less than you.
That woman laughs, such splendour like that of spring flowers, facing Gui Wan, “You’re Young Lady Yu right?”
Gui Wan also laughs, like the poems of the autumn moon, “You’re Young Lady Yao right?”
Both did not answer, but both knew of each other’s identity. Yao Ying has always been conceited, but seeing Gui Wan today, she too is surprised. When she was just about to saying something, her eyes caught a glimpse of Master Hong Yuan’s heavily serious expression, her face turns dark, exposing a slight feeling of sadness.
Gui Wan sees this, and was slightly surprised. Seeing Yao Ying apologetically nod at her, she could only lightly return the gesture. Yao Ying no longer says anything, and heads out of the hall. Within that moment in which she passes by Gui Wan, Gui Wan seemed to have spotted tears dwelling at the corners of her eyes. The handsome man besides her continues to smile, gentle and cultivated, only a trace of frustration barely visible between his brows.
Master Hong Yuan raises his head, revealing a kind and gentle smile to Gui Wan. Pressing his palms together, he calmly speaks: “Benefactor Yu, have you come today to talk about Zen or to pay respect to the Buddha?”
Gui Wan’s thoughts were still lingering on the fleeting presence of the pair from before, when she suddenly thinks of something on the whim, answering: “I shall just seek answers from the kau chim sticks today.”
Master Hong Yuan was a little surprised, as he eyes Gui Wan, a kind of solemnity diffuses. Slightly bowing his head, the scene from just before surfaces in his mind again.
The stunningly beautiful woman called Yao Ying that had just come, is just like what they say, a beauty as ethereal as a dream. Looking as though some sort of gloominess has enveloped her, a beautiful appearance always end up carrying the greatest of worries. She had drawn out a kau chim stick, an extremely good stick, not only a good stick, but also the stick amongst sticks. Since he has become a monk in Hong Fu temple, almost forty years, yet only one person has gotten that specific stick before. The person who had gotten this stick was the late Empress Dowager, who had since lived a life of all-powerful glory, splendour, wealth and rank alike. Unfortunately, there was the whole ordeal with the prince’s case, and being involved in it, a cup of poisoned wine ended her life.
Today, to once again see this stick labelled as “The Emperor Swallow” stick, Hong Yuan has mixed feelings about this. Legend has it that women who draws out this stick will become factors that will influence the happenings within the imperial court, which leads to the changes within the country. The late Empress Dowager who had drawn out this stick held autocratic power within political affairs, holding the Emperor under duress. Could it be that this woman, who drawn out this stick, will also get involved with affairs within the monarchy? Such a beautiful woman will also be walking the path of narcissistic power?
“Master……” Gui Wan lightly calls out, today’s Hong Yuan really is acting rather strange, his condition does not seem to be in line with the profoundness of the Buddha, contrarily, he is mirroring it as though he too has been infected by worldly sorrows.
Hong Yuan composes himself, looking at the outstanding, peerlessly elegant beauty in front of him, he speaks with a steady and calm voice: “Since Benefactor Yu would like to kau chim, this old monk shall sincerely interpret the results for you.”
Gui Wan nods her head, “I believe Master.” Hong Yuan is a renowned eminent monk, from one’s view it can be said that his fame runs far across the lands. All that he has predicted, will definitely come true.
He watches as Gui Wan kneels before the Buddha, sincerely seeking answers from the kau chim sticks, before standing up, and gracefully walking towards him. Within that moment, he appears to have once again thought back to that time, over thirty years ago, that innocent, beautiful girl holding a stick as she runs over to him, letting this monk who wasn’t particularly high in generations nor cultivation to interpret her stick. That stick……
The Emperor Swallow……
It really is The Emperor Swallow……
How could this be? It is not an illusion, trembling hands take hold of the stick from Gui Wan’s hand. Hong Yuan thought that he had gone crazy. The kau chim sticks in Hong Fu temple are randomly taken from the Dharma Hall every day. There is only one of each stick. This stick, he had clearly just used his internal strength to crush it into powder, how could it appear in his hand again, could it be he’s really gone crazy?
Carefully looking at it again, it’s clearly The Emperor Swallow stick.
Gui Wan looks at Master Hong Yuan in surprise, she has never seen him like this, he is an eminent and well cultivated monk, always wise, quiet, but today he has been acting uncharacteristically, especially when he took the stick from her just now, it was as though he saw a ghost, his mouth reciting: “The Emperor Swallow, how could this be, The Emperor Swallow……”
The maid, Ling Long walks up, wanting to pull Gui Wan back a step. Looking at the state of this Hong Yuan, he can’t be crazy right?
Gui Wan shakes her head, signalling Ling Long to withdraw.
Only after a while, did Hong Yuan calm down, he indifferently smiles, speaking graciously towards Gui Wan: “Benefactor Yu, today I am unable to interpret this stick for you. This stick, I cannot interpret. I do not know if you are willing to listen to this old monk tell you a story?”
Gui Wan remains indifferent, only nodding her head very sincerely. Don’t know if it’s her misconception, but she feels that Master Hong Yuan’s eyes are still looking a little lax. After his little moment of madness, he surprisingly restores his usual calmness, but all of a sudden, he appears to have aged ten years.
Hong Yuan stretches out his hand to beckon the young monk from before who had been standing outside this entire time, “You come and listen too.” Not waiting for the young monk’s reply, he smiles. Very blurrily, he starts to slowly tell the most unforgettable story in his life, “This stick, is called ‘The Emperor Swallow’. Over thirty years ago, there was a woman……”
In the golden autumn of September, today is an auspicious day, it is the imperial court’s grand secretary - Prime Minister Lou Che’s big wedding day, not to mention it is also the Capital’s famed beauty. The entire Capital is talking about this matter, buzzing with liveliness.
The Yu Residence’s courtyard has people coming and going, every person is in a hurry to get things done, but all their faces carries nothing but a look of great joy.
“Ling Long.” Gui Wan calls out her personal maid’s name, her face calm and composed, not showing the tiniest bit of panic, nor is there the cheerfulness and attentive look of a bride.
Ling Long trots into the house from outside the room, replying as she comes: “Yong Lady, what can I do for you?”
Gui Wan looks at her, laughingly saying: “I told you to get the wedding dress, where did you run off to?”
“Young Lady, the wedding dress is placed in the closet behind you.” Ling Long is one who lives up to her name, clever and sensible, get things done smoothly, also capable of dealing with all types of people.
Gui Wan stands up, opening the closet behind her, as expected, an exquisitely beautiful red wedding dress stands before her eyes. Hand stroking over the delicately embroidered patterns, every stitch, every thread, implies the world’s most beautiful blessings and wishes.
There is no longer any time to sigh, she must immediately change her clothes. Gui Wan’s hands takes hold of the wedding dress, and a sound of “si—” is heard, the wedding dress has hooked onto something, tearing a two inch hole. As soon as Ling Long hears the sound, she immediately steps forwards, coming up to Gui Wan’s side.
The tearing of a wedding dress is such bad luck, they must find the culprit who tore the outfit.
Just when Ling Long reaches into the closet trying to dig in, suddenly, she sees Gui Wan’s eyes staring into the closet. Ling Long was puzzled, and also follows Gui Wan’s gaze to stare. There was nothing in the closet, other than the stick she had drawn out half a year ago, the stick she’s never thrown away - “The Emperor Swallow”.
Thinking back to the story they heard half a year ago, Ling Long was slightly angry as she picks up the stick, growling as she speaks: “This unlucky stick, it is better to not keep it.” Saying that, she casually throws it out the window.
Gui Wan does not stop her, smiling, she takes hold of the wedding dress, saying to Ling Long: “Okay, let us think about how we shall mend this now.” Master and servant both takes out the thread and needles, starting to busy themselves with sewing.
Only unconsciously, would Gui Wan look outside the window, her mind filled with endless thoughts.
 sì dà jiē kōng / 四大皆空 - in Buddhism, all four elements (earth, water, fire and air which makes up the world) are void, which means being indifferent to worldly temptations.
 I have already explained that these kau chim is used for divination from drawing lots, it’s part of Chinese fortune telling practice, performed in Taoist or Buddhist temples.
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