Chaos Of Beauty

Chapter 26 — Crushed Jade
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Chapter 26: Crushed Jade

I need to leave the palace……

This thought has been repeatedly going through Gui Wan’s head countless times, but up to this very moment, she is still within the tall red tiled walls, looking at that strongly fragrant tree green and lush, she sighs her faint sorrows and clear worries, what is she waiting for? Repeating this over and over again, she self-stops, self-asks, self-sighs, the longer she stays in the palace, the more indistinguishable the entanglement becomes, increasingly coiled, virtually like a sticky spider web, coated with a body of foulness, and even carries the pain of rotting heart, eroding bones.

“The white gull [as though] asking me, mooring that lone boat, is the body being held back, [or] is the heart being held back? Should your heart remain [here], why are [your] brows knitted together……?”[1] Sitting in the back courtyard of Jing Ye, here, every little thing, every scene, is no different to the Prime Minister Estate, hooking up her long drawn out feelings, there is no one who does not speak within the palace, she softly sings out.

The Emperor has changed, since that bewitched night, it has been over a month, he seems to have been constantly changing. The detainment within Jing Ye has loosened, she can freely wander around the palace, the palace maids and eunuchs’ addressment have changed, “Madam Lou” has changed into “Madam Wan” overnight, softly sounding a laugh, Gui Wan’s singing voice turns a few notches higher, how could she possibly not understand the Emperor’s intentions, as they say, if the name is not right then the speech will not be in order, and if the speech is not in order then nothing can be accomplished. The Emperor deliberately blurs her identity, for the four words of “correct titles proper words”.

A monarch’s feelings of passion appears ruthless……

Waves of howling passes by her ears, the scene of Li gong-gong’s death a few days ago once again appearing before her eyes. Originally thinking that leaving the palace still required the golden opportunity of eliminating Li Yu, who knew that she would actually happen upon such chance a few days ago, Li Yu has always been bending the laws and acted domineeringly within the palace, a few days ago, just when he was moving out the obsolete treasures from within Jing Ye, he ran into the big-bellied Consort Yin, perhaps Consort Ying truly is the pain in the hearts of all women in the back palace, even if it was only spotting a few things, it was enough to touch upon Consort Yin’s wounds, she flew into great rage, in addition to the long been over-provoked emotions, originally holding great dissatisfaction towards Li Yu, taking advantage of still carrying the dragon child (emperor’s son), she insisted on punishing him. Gui Wan upon receiving the news, headed to the imperial garden to check out the situation, just happening to run into the Emperor who also came having received the news.

He originally wanted to save Li Yu, in the end, for some unknown reason, he actually endured it, personally seeing his own trusted confidant Head Eunuch get beaten to death under the wooden stick. In this situation, Consort Yin was able to enjoy a round of glory, thus demonstrating she is the Emperor’s current favoured consort. Li Yu’s death, is favourable and harmless to Gui Wan, but to personally see him lose his life because of such offenses that can be deemed big or small, a sense of fox grieving over the death of rabbits evoked within her. When the Emperor was walking past her side, he softly says: “Since you wanted him dead, I granted you. As long as you wish, I will fulfil whatever you want.” This sentence, upon hearing it, a chill ripples through her entire body, howling in the cold, Zheng Liu ah Zheng Liu, are you truly this secretive and unpredictable, with everything in hand, exactly how much has he seen though?

These red walls forever unending, connecting together everywhere, this imperial palace, just like a pit of tigers and dragons. “Past travelling friends, are they still there? [Recalling] the building amongst the flowers, the boat under the willow trees. Dreaming, dreaming, even dreaming cannot bring me back, [only showing] the cold water and air of emptiness [before me].”[1] Words and tones painting vivid scenes, entangling of tender and grace, her beautiful figure in palace outfit, singing alone in infinite solitude, singing of opera, singing of people, singing of gut-wrenching love.

How long has it already been since entering the palace? Winter goes spring comes, spring goes summer at its peak, everything rustling by in a blink of the eye, it is actually coming up to five months, De Yu is already the Head Eunuch, she also has the opportunity to leave the palace, but why is she in delay, unable to decide, what is she waiting for?

Suddenly finding, that the world is such a big place, but there is just no place for her, cannot return to the Prime Minister Estate, also cannot seek refuge at Older Brother’s place, taking the initiative to find Lou Che……will he welcome her with a smile?

Thinking back, in this world, is there anyone waiting for her? And where is her home? Does it have a light, a seat, a cup of tea, the sound of tenderly long greetings specially set up for her, whilst waiting?

She is no deity nor demon, just an ordinary mortal, unable to get rid of fame and fortune, such that is difficult to resist……where love lies, deeply grieved, and how is she to speak up, Husband ah Husband, still remember me?

Still remember me?

“[Staring at the] misty yellow clouds (dim skies, snow clouds), [snow] soaking through cotton [clothes]. They all say no one holds such deep sorrows like me, amongst the snow tonight, there are plum blossoms, like the melancholy in me……” (The plum blossoms covered in plain white, like his sorrowful heart)[1]

Summer fills the air, plum blossoms that had long fallen, sparsely scatters, the subtle fragrance eliminating the dust, in this blazing glory of the burning sun, only she still feels the cold, always maintaining a touch of brilliance unaffected by the world, is such a difficult task ah……

The resonant sound of applauding fills her ears, Gui Wan looks back, the Empress’ clear figure of lilac, an embroidered gown with wide sleeves, a lone shadow gracefully standing in the courtyard, smiling as she gazes at her, “Like the melancholy in me……how truly penetratingly you sang it.”

How long has it been since she last seen the Empress smile at her in greeting like this? Seeing it right now, it actually feels a little unreal, as though looking at it through a thin coating, unable to refrain from guessing what the deeper meaning behind this smile is, originally thinking there were still three points of sisterly love, this too has faded due to such thin coating that cannot be pierced through.

“Your highness.” Gui Wan softly greets as she approaches, saying, “What wind has blown your highness here?”

“A family does not have to be so polite to one another,” The Empress leisurely says, such graceful bearings rarely seen in this world, “Why should the two of us still act like strangers?”

Affected by her word of “family”, Gui Wan creases her brows, only able to smile as she looks at the Empress, waiting for her to speak of the meaning behind her visit, every little action of everyone within this palace, all harbours deeper meanings, with absolutely not a trace of waste, be it laughter, be it love.

“What? Are you blaming me for the cold shoulder I have been showing you recently?” The Empress laughingly asks, “This palace is very cunning, who doesn’t live carefully? You should not blame me, I too had no choice.”

“I know.” Had no choice, everything resorts to having no choice. But once one does something wrong, the best excuse are those words, Gui Wan meekly smiles, the clear wind far and near.

Eyes circling around Gui Wan face, the Empress softly sighs as she says: “I know what you are thinking, Gui Wan, you and I ought to be the closest people in this entire world, it is regrettable we turned out like this, all is fate fooling with people. What I owed you in the past, I have never once forgotten, today I ask you this one last question, do you still trust in me?”

Does she still trust her? Gui Wan was just thinking this, hesitating, yet her mouth had already fought to answer first: “Trust.”

The Empress’ calm face finally reveals true sincerity thanks to this one word of trust, sighing as she says: “Prime Minister Lou has already returned to the Capital yesterday, in a little while, he will be entering the palace, would you like to go see him?”

Surprise clearly displayed on her face, Gui Wan steadily looks at the Empress, seeming to want to make out what is true, what is false from it. In the quiet afternoon of calm wind and peaceful trees, she hesitates indecisively, see or not to see, caught in between a dilemma. An unsmooth feeling surging up her chest, her smile is no longer pure, braced with complex emotions, it appears to be filled with difficulty, “Okay, I’ll see him.”

******

“What is this place?” Following the Empress in slithering their way around the palace, they arrive at a small narrow room, looks like no one has lived here for ten years, Gui Wan could not help but to ask, her heart heavy with doubts.

“At the side is the west side hall of Chong Hua Palace,” The Empress takes out her silk handkerchief to shake off the dust from a table without any concern, carefully wiping the chair, she carefully explains, “The late Empress Dowager set up a secret chamber here, able to observe whatever is happening in the hall.”

Noticing a landscape painting hung on the wall in front, with not a speck of dust on it, incompatible with the condition the room is in, Gui Wan approaches it, carefully observing, only then did she notice that the painting had been punctured, looking through the hole, this large hall that she has once been in with Zheng Liu, is presented before her eyes, perfectly clear, secretly taken aback, to say the finely designed layout of this palace is of wonderfully intricate workmanship is really no exaggeration.

The Empress takes out a pot of tea from who knows where, placing it on the table, pouring to cups full, she softly whispers to Gui Wan: “They are about to come, let us quietly wait here.”

Gui Wan seeing her look of complete calmness, reveals a faint smile, they all say men are the ones who devise strategies in the command tent, ruling the world, but looking at it now, women knows of all movements best, political tactics from beyond the tent curtains are actually not at all any less. Leisurely sitting down, taking a sip of the tea, cheek resting in hand as they quietly wait.

The waiting time feel particularly long, the tea fragrance already fading, yet the main hall is still soundless with nobody there, Gui Wan casually looks around, her face displaying calmness, yet her heart is stirring with inexplicable feelings surging up.

“Does Minister Lou still remember this place by any chance?”

This gentle and refined voice travels into the secret chamber from within the hall, Gui Wan and the Empress both receives a little shock, the two of them meeting eyes, the Empress attentively looks into the punctured hole, Gui Wan remains motionless, gathering up her smile as she concentrates on listening.

“Chong Hua Palace side hall……your majesty is in very high spirits today.” Hearing this clear and smooth voice like that of the wind, Gui Wan’s brows lightly creases together, the one who has disappeared for nearly five months, has he finally returned?

“Minister Lou has returned from Nan Jun, and even prepared a big gift for me, how could I not be happy? That is why I have thought to make a trip to this place, all is thanks to your blessing……”

“This subject should be thankful of your majesty, if not for your majesty’s grace, how could this subject possibly go to the land of Nan Jun……”

Listening to them both acting so perfunctorily and courteous in the hall, happily getting along harmoniously on the surface, when in reality, bladed hearts lies beyond the honey coated tongues. Gui Wan spreads a satirical smile, this pair of monarch and subject, deep with shrewdness, heavy with calculating hearts, can also be said to be well-matched.

Chatting in the hall in a you speak I follow manner, they have only been speaking of insignificant matters, Gui Wan sends the remaining tea in the cup down her throat, watching the Empress return to her seat. The hall suddenly becomes quiet, silent and stuffy. The Empress was absolutely puzzled, was just about to go up front to take a peek again, when the voices sounds once again.

“Lou Che, your eyes no longer holds this Emperor I, so why hold up such false pretence?”

This voice carrying severity within gentleness, the Empress’ action of wanting to observe the situation freezes, Gui Wan also places down the empty cup in hand, the two of them equally oblivious to what happened within the hall, but could sense the atmosphere weigh down with an imposing air.

“Over and over again you have prevented the establishment of the central academy, and have joined forces with Prince Duan, Prince of Nan Jun, you really think there is no one else in the court?”

An elegant laughter sounds, “Since your majesty has directly spoken today, this subject would also like to directly speak words of persuasion, your majesty is eager for quick success and instant benefits, hiring large numbers of young beginners, marginalising the senior officials in court, doing this is although favourable in centralising power, but is not a good policy.”

“Good,” Zheng Liu also starts laughing, extremely arrogant, “Great words of persuasion, since you Lou Che became the prime minister, this is the most pertinent words you have spoken.”

Following on was the sound of cups and plates, a voice thinly laced with laughter once again speaks up, “Back then when the Crown Prince advised me to kill you, I hesitated, thinking back to it, when it comes to reading people, Crown Prince’s eyes are a level above mine.”

“But Crown Prince’s methods were viciously cruel, not listening to others’ disagreements, an unfit candidate to become monarch.” Lou Che gently follows on, his calm attitude appears very orderly.

“That is why you joined forces with the Empress Dowager in harming the Crown Prince with slow poisoning, gaining a firm foothold, and then in the name of clearing the imperial family, exposed the Empress Dowager……Lou Che, in terms of vicious methods, the Crown Prince back then cannot even compare to you in this case, from one little regular attendant to today’s prime minister, you can be said to have been treading up in the blood of others.”

After a moment of silence, Lou Che slowly speaks: “Your majesty’s words are too heavy, this subject is unable to shoulder it, the Crown Prince’s disease back then really had nothing to do with me, as for the Empress Dowager, that was because she wanted to get rid of me, therefore I could only take pre-emptive action, it was only for the means of self-defence.”

“Planting your henchmen, power dominating over the laws of the imperial court is also out of self-defence?” Lightly containing his disdain, Zheng Liu sarcastically laughs as he asks.

“Otherwise, this subject would not be able to be drinking with your majesty today, head and body long been separated, compared to Crown Prince, your majesty is also much better qualified. ‘Changes of Feng Shan’, ‘Sieging of Jing Ye’, your majesty really had this subject perform poorly in handling these situations.”

The Empress heart receives a fright upon hearing this, met with overwhelming respect, she turns her head to the side, Gui Wan in return smiles at her, that warm and gentle smile touched the Empress’ heart, not knowing how, her heart also calms down.

The monarch and subject within the hall continues talking, the seemingly homely chat releasing a bloody air, you cheat me I outwit you. Between their talking and laughter, the winds of change brushes by, the world, the country, the power holder, all seems to be a chess game, two people standing in opposition, competing to prove superior, the chessboard, being the world.

“Prince Duan has been waiting to be summoned from outside the eastern city gates for three days already, if your majesty continues to ignore this, I’m afraid that the commoner’s “righteous” image will be damaged……” Lou Che thus advices.

“Prince Duan,” Zheng Liu interestingly ponders this name he has not been hearing of for a long time, “Prince Duan, originally thinking he is arrogant and overbearing, really did not think that……he is a man full of sentiment, for a woman……”

Sighing out loud, followed by a frivolous laugh raising three notches higher, suddenly stopping: “Lou Che, you taking Consort Ying out of the palace, I had originally thought you truly are so deeply affectionate, never did I think you would actually bring her to Prince Duan’s side, thus creating the opportunity to form an alliance with Prince Duan. Only with such methods, can I consider it to be a little more meaningful, playing chess still requires an opponent, if there is no you Lou Che, this imperial court will inevitably become a lot less interesting.”

Standing alone at the top……hearing Zheng Liu’s words, Gui Wan was suddenly hit with mixed feelings, savouring the meaning behind his words, dejection floats up. So frank and open between the two monarch and subject, clearly the forewarning of desperate battle. Power is so loveable and dear, compared to a beauty, it even more so has a hero willing to bow down to.

That is why, Lou Che is able to abandon Consort Ying, abandon her……

Slowly getting up, the Empress turns her head in surprise, Gui Wan uses her finger to make a silent action, faintly smiling as she turns around, very gently opening the door they came in from, she says nothing at all, one person fluttering away. Behind, the Empress still appeared dumbfounded, unable to comprehend what is going on.

The path they took upon coming here, Gui Wan has already forgotten, following the many turns of the corridor, she slowly walks, head filled with no thoughts, just wanting to leave that stuffy place, her mind is at ease, but is also empty, fleeting and unpredictable. Originally thinking she had many things to say, but right now not even a single word is able to come out her mouth.

Her chest feeling stuffy, suffocating……

Wandering around the palace to several places, coming to a stop every now and then, giving herself a break to think, unknowingly wasting a lot of time. The skies gradually masked, the sun already descending west, looking up, Gui Wan finally found the familiar place, feeling a little tired, she raises her strides into the palace doors, this courtyard of Jing Ye is exactly the same as the Prime Minster Estate, yet she just cannot adapt to it, her heart vaguely rejecting it, eyes sweeping across, fixing onto one spot, she is suddenly speechless.

Lou Che stands at the entrance of the Jing Ye hall, within his handsomely elegant smile there holds hidden irritation and displeasure, seeing Gui Wan slowly walking over, the corner of his lips rises, quickly heading over to her, “Gui Wan……” Thousands of words only comes out as a muffled sigh.

Gaze shining with brilliance, Gui Wan raises her eyes to look at him, “Lord Husband……”

Coming to a close proximity, Lou Che hears this and frowns, Gui Wan’s addressment carries an overtone, husband is identity, lord is position of power, that addressment harbours estrangement. Heart secretly startled, he extends his hand, gently brushing the bridge of Gui Wan’s nose, but also cannot bear to use force, lightly skimming past, he says: “I kept you waiting for a long time, let us return home now.”

That voice is like the spring breeze containing laughter, blowing directly into her heart, leaving the palace is what she wishes for, Gui Wan nods. A cool breeze lightly raises, loose hair floating before her eyes, she had only just raised her hand, when it came in contact with Lou Che’s finger, that long slender finger helps her gently brush back the loose hair behind her ear, and then with a hook of his hand, he takes advantage of the situation to gently pull her into his arms, “Angry? You can be annoyed, you can be angry, but you cannot deliberately neglect me like this. Gui Wan……”

Lightly letting out a sigh, Lou Che also did not know how to explain, towards the important matters within court, he is able direct situations at ease, without the slightest hesitation, but towards this extremely coddled one, he instead has no idea how to handle her moods. She is always carrying a smile, smiling when angry, smiling when sad, even when she is feeling nothing at all, she is still smiling, after spending a long time together, did he finally know that it is a type of disciplined habit that has sunk into her every bone. Clearly aware that she is not happy right now, he feels somewhat incapable, if he is to hold her tighter, he is afraid of unintentionally hurting her, if he is to loosen his hold, he is also afraid that his feelings would not reach her heart.

Tired, so she is tired, lightly leaning against Lou Che, she originally wanted to back away, but in the end she could not bear it, five months of bitterness, in this embrace, fades, scatters, his one sentence of “let us return home now” by her ear, a trace of sourness, floats up her heart, arousing her infinitely tender heart. What should she trust in? Other people’s words, or what she witness before her eyes? Before she could reach a decision, her heart grew tired, that is why everything can wait for later to bother about, silently saying this deep inside, for the first time in these five months, she feels so relaxed.

Gently hugging Gui Wan, Lou Che lightly pats her shoulder, like coaxing a little child, seeing her close her eyes, he knows she is exhausted, softly saying: “In Nan Jun I saw a particular palace lantern, delicate and lovely, I brought one back, what do you think of placing it in your room?”

“Palace lantern?” Gui Wan lightly rubs her face, her fan-like eyelashes slightly flutters, “Palace lanterns takes up space, I don’t want it.”

“I got them to make you a small one, hanging it in the room, using glass to create the surface……” Towards Gui Wan’s wilfulness he was not bothered by it, and instead feels fortunate, her heart has not rejected him.

Seeing her not answer him, he knows she has agreed, Lou Che chuckles, continuing to speak of what he has seen and heard in Nan Jun, half coaxing half persuading, teasing Gui Wan to speak, wanting to resolve the knot in her heart.

The palace maids outside Jing Yi Hall were put in a difficult spot upon seeing the situation, a bold one amongst them, quietly leans in, her voice not resonant but still clearly heard by Lou Che, politely reminding: “Prime……Prime Minister Lou, Madam Wan, the carriage is already ready.”

Lou Che’s body suddenly stiffens, Gui Wan feels this, opening her eyes, she backs away, when her waist is clasped onto by Lou Che, Lou Che’s other hand brushes through her hair, wrapping around her shoulder, very tenderly. But the eyes that turned towards the palace maids flashed with cold sharpness, waves of cold wind blows, “What did you address just now?”

The palace maid had already been petrified, not knowing what she has done wrong, submissively saying: “Prime……Prime Minister Lou, Madam……Madam Wan……carriage……carriage……”

“Impudence,” Lou Che coldly scolds, “In accordance to habitual nature of addressing women in the palace, I Lou Che’s wife, should be addressed as Madam Lou, could it be that you do not know?”

Legs giving away, dropping to her knees, the palace maid hurriedly kowtows, “Prime Minister Lou pardon this offense, this servant is listening to the commands from the heads……”

“Come!” Not giving the slightest chance, Lou Che loudly calls out, several guards from outside the hall floods in, standing in alignment, “Take her away, fifty slaps to the mouth, throw her out of the palace.”

The palace maid continues to kowtow nonstop, pleading for mercy, the guards listens to the orders and immediately steps forward, dragging the palace maid out of the hall. The palace maids at the side had long been frightened to point of not daring to utter a sound, one tremblingly comes forward, “Prime Minister Lou, Madam Lou……the carriage is already ready.”

Sensing the fury diffusing from Lou Che’s body, Gui Wan stays silent, sinking into thoughts, Lou Che had already lowered his head, “Are you tired……we’re returning home now.”

Gently placing a kiss on her cheek, even the cool breeze was melting in this tenderness, carrying warmth as it blows.

******

From the palace to the official road there is a long path, red walls running down both sides, endlessly long with quite a large distant apart. Walking side by side with Lou Che down this path, Gui Wan looks ahead, unable to help but to think back to taking a walk like this with Consort Ying, discussing the length of this long path. She said, when going there her eager heart like a shooting arrow, when walking back the path feels like a long journey, Consort Ying is very attentive with delicate thoughts, such that can be seen in this one remark. Right now, this path is still the same, her body already grown fragile, women of beauty that can overthrow cities, do they all suffer such fate in the end?

Her heart feeling cold, Gui Wan wants to withdraw her hand, with one little movement she finds that Lou Che has tightly clasped onto her hand refusing to loosen it, seamlessly joined together, with great strength, to the point it faintly pained her. Looking to the side at Lou Che, those thin lips tightly pressed together, that slight curve may be a smile but he is still angry, just when she was about to speak up, Lou Che suddenly slows down his speed, staring in front, his smile spreads wider, but those eyes of still pools appears to deepen.

“Your highness.”

Through the final doorway of the deep palace, the Empress leisurely makes her way over, that glamorous bearing unchanging, smiling as she says: “Hearing that Gui Wan is leaving the palace, I came to send her off. Prime Minister Lou, can you let me speak a few words to your madam in private?”

Lou Che’s deep eyes forms a smile, releasing Gui Wan’s hand, he naturally takes a few steps back, “This subject thanks your highness for your grace and affection on Gui Wan’s behalf.” Hand forming a respectful gesture, he elegantly walks away, forming a greater distance from Gui Wan and the Empress, stationing himself in the rear area.

Gui Wan rotates the wrist that is already somewhat stiff, the Empress approaches, intimately holding her hand, providing her support, the two of them slowly paces forward.

“Why did you leave like that before?” The Empress softly speaks, “Did you hear something that made you uncomfortable?”

“Your highness is too considerate, the air was a bit stuffy in there, I only wanted to get some fresh air.” Gui Wan smiles.

Holding up Gui Wan delicately fair hand, the Empress gently sighs: “In the end you are unable to trust me……Gui Wan, women has it difficult, residing deep in the back palace, women in the estates of nobility has it even more difficult, the meaning of this, I believe you also understand, en?”

These words are really touching, containing a heavy weight, Gui Wan heart was moved, looking at the Empress, a smile of gentle warmth, seven points similar to her mother’s, warmth rushing up her body, Gui Wan lightly holds the Empress’ hand.

“Men’s heart is set on the world, women’s world is set on men’s heart, this is difficulty of women. Having entered the palace for so many years now, I have come to realise a principle……” The Empress’ eyes appears to turn hazy, seeming to be reminiscing something, her tones also sounds somewhat fleeting, “Rather than vying for doting love, better to vie for position, a woman’s vanity is built on a man’s power.”

“Your highness……” Gui Wan was speechless, speculating the deeper meaning behind the Empress’ remark.

“Gui Wan, today finding you to go Chong Hua Palace, I actually wanted to tell you, as long as you are willing, I am willing to share control over the phoenix seal with you, reigning the back palace together……” The Empress’ words like a sudden clap of thunder, comes to a sudden stop.

Heartrate speeding up, Gui Wan releases her hand, glancing behind, Lou Che appears as though he is not paying any attention, only then does her eyes turns back to the Empress, deeply gazing at her, “Your highness, are you thinking right? How could you say such words?”

The Empress calmly smiles magnanimously, with unspeakable tolerance and tenderness, “You have seven apertures leading to an exquisitely bright heart[3], how could you not know that my words all come from a sincere heart, I will only ask you one question, are you willing?”

Gui Wan steadily stares at the Empress, eye meet eye, she sees the deep hope inside, like shallow autumn pools, glistening under the sun, revealing a promising brilliance.

Firmly shaking her head, Gui Wan’s lips forms a crescent moon, “I am not a phoenix, so how could I enter the imperial family, thanking your highness’ good intentions, but I cannot afford to undertake this.”

Pausing for a moment, the Empress sounds a laughter, heartily laughing out loud, seeming happy but also seeming glum, a burst of laughter, even Lou Che in the distance peeks over in absolute puzzlement. Easily gathering up her laugher, the Empress seriously looks at Gui Wan, “Good……good, indeed exquisitely brighter than others, with pure graceful bearing alone, not many people in the world is able to match up to you, it is I who played the villain in vain.”

As this woman deemed the mother of the country continues speaking, the tears in her eyes appears more evident, eyes turning red, Gui Wan upon seeing this, also senses the sour feelings stirring, softly advising: “Your highness needs not to overthink this, the road is coming to an end now, you cannot send me off further, quickly return to the palace.”

Seeing the Prime Minister Estate’s carriage and guards waiting at the end of the road, the Empress absentmindedly nods her head, opening her mouth to say something, but closes it again. Lou Che steps forward, looking at the Empress in wonderment, taking hold of Gui Wan’s hand, he casts aside a word of “your highness we will be taking our leave now”, and walks ahead just like that. The Empress dumbly remains standing on the spot, suddenly making a move, she quickly paces forward, pulling Gui Wan to a stop, she leans towards her ear, quietly saying: “Leave from Xuan Yu Gates absolutely must not head to Xuan Ji Gates, be sure to remember.”

Gui Wan looks back at her in surprise, those dark orbs lightly turning, already able to work out the mystery behind it, warmth bubbling up, hundreds of feelings gathering in the chest.

“Thank you…… [Older] Sister……”

The Empress nods her head, and then shakes, crystal clear tears dripping down drop by drop, standing in the same spot, she watches Gui Wan and Lou Che aboard the horse carriage, the horse whip lifts, the gulu sound of the carriage wheels sounds, and only then did she collect herself, turning around, wanting to return to the deep palace, when she was startled by the towering red walls and long road ahead standing before her eyes, looking at this in daze, she carries a bottomless look of melancholy, slowly walking deep into the palace, where she is to be masked in vanity.

“What’s wrong? Not feeling well?” Lou Che raises his hand and places it on Gui Wan’s forehead, finger lightly tapping the in between of her knitted brows, those eyes filled with warmth locked onto her, seeming to want to find some sort of clue.

Lifting a corner of the carriage curtains, seeing the path ahead heading towards Xuan Yu Gates, her heart is slightly settled, Gui Wan turns her head to Lou Che, a face of beautiful jade, an air of pure nobility, sincere concern, a man of such elegance, of graceful movements, just what kind of heart does he carry? Heart feeling a little conflicted, she takes a deep breath, asking: “Where have you taken Consort Ying to?”

Lou Che was struck into a light daze, he did not expect Gui Wan to abruptly throw out this question, containing a smile as he says: “Yao Ying and I are already a matter of the past, difficult to mention, do not let it burden you.” His voice carrying a light chuckle, seeming pleased.

“Husband, where have you taken her to? Is……is it Prince Duan’s place?” Stuck in her heart, compelled to speak of it, Gui Wan continues to ask, even if the truth is difficult to accept, she still wants to personally hear him say it again.

Smile gathered away, surprise flashes by Lou Che’s eyes, “Who was it that wagged their tongue at you?”

Deeply sensing his displeasure, Gui Wan melodic voice sounds with a shallow smile: “That means, it’s true then?”

The look in his eyes and the creasing of his brows deepening, Lou Che lightly presses his lips together, those deeply still and cold eyes looking at Gui Wan dead on, seeing her melodious state, light like the wind, he could not hold back his sigh, overflowing with tenderness, “I’m willing to explain, are you willing to listen?”

Looking at Lou Che confused, Gui Wan nods. Lou Che seeing this, once again spreads a faint smile, a deep voice saying: “That day, I came into the palace……”

“Lord Prime Minister!” A sound of loud calling, reaching their ears like thunder, cutting off the conversation between the two inside the carriage, Lou Che’s pupils flashes a cold sharpness, that calm face slightly alarmed. Gui Wan is able to make out from Lou Sheng’s voice, shock, Lou Sheng has always been a man who maintains his calm, is the pillar amongst the guards, what could possibly make him panic like this?

“Lord Prime Minister, there’s an ambush at Xuan Yu Gates……” Amongst the loud shout, the sound of hooves from the guards seems a little chaotic.

Lou Che immediately raises his hand to lift the curtains, looking outside.

The curtain highly raised, entering the eyes were a scene of dark red, Gui Wan’s heart instantly jumps. In the evening of the Capital City, sunset glow still lingers, covered in misty rosy clouds, dense like an ochre stone dyed red, occupying half the sky, the gathering of soldiers below the Xuan Yu Gates coloured under such picturesque scenery, coldly ready to kill as they stand in rows, blocking the way out. The leading commander is of petite stature, heroic air overflowing but is covered behind that delicately pretty face, a posture of howling autumn wind, bearings of rippling green water, as a woman she does not fall short of a man’s charismatic leadership.

“Prime Minister Lou, his majesty has decreed, may Madam remain here, and stay in the palace for a few more days.”

Sat high on the horse, Lin Ran Yi loudly announces her reason for coming, clad in a body of black battle gear, complementing her heroism, solemn just like a female warlord.

Gui Wan feels anger and surprise invade her body at the same time, hand clenching onto the floor cushion, pulling herself together without saying a word, she looks over the unfamiliar scene beyond the curtains.

Alarm flashing past his pupils, Lou Che remains by the carriage window, a shallow smile containing a dark chill, ridiculing: “A parade like this, is of hospitality? The Lin family has been flaunting righteousness for generations, never bully the weak, never disgrace goodness, such style of doing things today, this Lou can also be considered to have gained enriched knowledge, truly a loss of respect ah, Great Lin.” Harsh words spouting from his mouth, smile floating into the air, not showing any panic at all.

Sudden silence, Lin Ran Yi’s face turns red then white, heng sword 横刀 pointing forward, voice stiffly following a given pattern of speech: “Prime Minister Lou should not blame me, I too am acting upon imperial orders, if Madam may step off the carriage now.”

The soldiers blocking off the gateway are the Lin family’s soldiers, their military capacity very orderly, the front row holding long handled weapons (陌刀), the back row lined with prepared archers, although they are making not the slightest movement, the oppressive air is already intensely spreading out.

Gui Wan attentively observes Lou Che’s expression, afraid to miss the most subtle change, but that deeply still look of firmness is nowhere to be seen, his deepest thoughts unrevealing. Hand sensing warmth, she finds that Lou Che’s big hand is tightly wrapping hers, resolute without the slightest of doubt or hesitation, at the same time he orders Lou Sheng who is closely following the carriage’s side: “Charge through.”

To actually receive no answer from outside the carriage, Lou Sheng appears somewhat absentminded as he looks at the pretty figure on the horse in front, his face displaying an unfamiliar emotion, even the sound of shouting scraping past his ears was not heard by him, nor did he know what kind of feeling this is, up until he hears Lou Che’s short shout of “Lou Sheng”, did he finally snap out of it, the command entering his ear being “charge through”.

Charge through? Forcefully charge through? Raising his head to look in front, he seems to hold all sorts of difficulty as he looks towards Lin Ran Yi, suddenly finding that she too seems to similarly have a vague look of confliction flashing by her expression.

Heart hit with pain, without the chance to carefully think over it, his hand already habitually grips onto the handle of his sabre, a sharp sound of metal, with a flash of silver, he brandishes the sabre forward, shouting out: “Protect Lord Prime Minister and Madam, head forth.” Legs clamping onto the horse’s body, arrows launched, the guards unsheathes their weapons in response to his call, all charging forward at the same time.

Shocked by this forceful momentum, Gui Wan watches the guards beside the carriage courageously leap forward; before her touched feelings came into play, the originally stopped carriage wheels once again starts to crazily spin, violently hurtling forward. She hurriedly holds onto the carriage railing to stabilise her body, her back seeming to have something to lean on, the fluctuating bumpiness did not seem to be too much either. Turning her head to the side, she meets that half hidden half sunken expression, Lou Che has his arms wrapped around her body, pulling her into his embrace, heart slightly settled, his mind moves to the outside of the carriage, a scene of chaotic confrontation, clashing of weapons, sound of ruthless slashing, practically makes one dare not to believe this place is inside the imperial palace.

The Emperor seems to be determined to have her stay behind, perhaps there is also the meaning of having Lou Che stay behind altogether. Armed forces of the Lin family are originally brave and fierce troops, operations following the law, vigorous momentum like a rainbow[4], and the personal bodyguards of the Prime Minister Estate are all highly skilled individuals carefully picked out by Lou Che himself, with both sides clashing, it is actually difficult to distinguish which side stands higher. One side firmly defending their ground, one side attacking with full force, such battle that originally still had room for the carriage to gradually approach Xuan Yu Gates becomes a brutal scene, murderous intent diffusing into the air, infectiously sinking into the people’s minds. The Lin family’s military troops have always been warriors on the battlefield, ferocious like a tiger; the guards of the Prime Minister Estate has gained the chance to take a plunge, vigorous like a leopard; a battle between tiger and leopard fierce and tragic, sorrowful howls, sounds of furious killing grows increasingly louder the more that it is heard.

Gui Wan is sad to see this, in the moment she shakes her head, she sees Lin Ran Yi and Lou Sheng fighting each other. The two people fiercely fighting, each swing of the blade alarmingly dangerous, each attack thrown vicious, fighting it out like their lives are on the line; but amongst all this there are also other factors that are affecting them, so every time they hit a moment of life and death, the blade skims past, not harming the other person, the two of them continues to fight on like this, in a situation where they themselves have not become aware of, they have already given up the opportunity to inflict any harm on the other person.

Taking this entire scene into her eyes, Gui Wan’s brows weighs down with hidden concern, she has entered the palace for a long time, Lou Sheng has been staying in the Prime Minister Estate, and the one who was guarding the Prime Minister Estate would unfortunately be Lin Ran Yi right? Not knowing what exactly happened between the two people, but the affection flowing out from them cannot fool others, even if that love is hidden behind a thick layer of curtain. Allies and enemies, the haunting entanglement of love, has gained relief amongst this one fight to kill, amongst the light of the sabre and shadow of the sword, all sentiment and grievances have been reduced.

Eyes spotting the carriage almost reaching the Xuan Yu Gates, Lin Ran Yi swings her blade, the light flashing past his eyes, pushes Lou Sheng back, pulling at the horse to turn around, retreating back at the same time, upon seeing the unfavourable situation, she grits her teeth and loudly shouts: “Release the arrows“

The back row of archers that have not made a move yet, immediately pulls back the strings of the bow upon receiving orders, releasing the arrows, because they already received orders, not to harm the people inside the carriage, the arrows like a meteor shower all aims towards the guards of the Prime Minister Estate, avoiding the carriage location. Arrows descending like rain, the sharp sound of piercing through the air constantly comes charging towards the guards. The pointed arrowhead, difficult to guard against, no matter how skilled the guards are, they still struggle to cope, the team slightly scattered, their pacing starts to become chaotic, the horse carriage unable to move forward.

Inside the carriage, Lou Che deeply furrows his brows, eyes stilly looking outside the carriage, sweeping past the entire scene, shouting: “Kill your way past, first capture Lin Ran Yi, dead or alive.”

Once the words got out, the guards loudly accepts their orders, Gui Wan struck with fright, a chill running up her body, Lin Ran Yi is not like others, is the friend she shared laughter with amongst the light breeze of the Green Sea grasslands, is the saviour she once went through thick and thin with, to treat her like this, that sound of “dead or alive” clearly carries the deep meaning of go for the kill with nothing at expense, heart slightly twitching, she shouts out: “No, not allowed to harm her……” Body tightening, firmly held back by Lou Che, the arm looped around her body strong like iron.

The guards did not necessarily not hear it, but they are only loyal to one person, that is Prime Minister Lou, the words of others, be it Madam, be it the Emperor, they do not have the necessity to care for, and so they still continue to charge towards Lin Ran Yi.

Lou Sheng is the one who is most at loss in this battle situation, his ears unable to hear other voices, only the sound of whistling from the biting cold of the western wind, the clash of armoury and blades, vigorous roars, all seeming to stop once it hits his eardrums, unable to pass on into his mind. Suddenly a large number of men and horses comes charging over, shattering his state of loss, the scene of blood red returning to his vision, looking forward, that delicately pretty figure on the horse, clad in black armoury, of brisk and neat heroic form. Riding his horse in approach, for a moment, he too did not know whether to listen to orders and capture her, or to protect her from the harm of others, a sharp shadow suddenly pricks his face, with a wave of his hand, the light and shadow diverts to the side, scraping his face as it passes. A warm feeling comes flowing down his cheek, and only then did he realise, just now it was an arrow that grazed past him, as though he cannot sense the pain at all, he continues to ride his horse towards Lin Ran Yi, the dark liquid continuously flowing down his face, but he does not have the leisurely time to bother with it, bit by bit……he is almost reaching……

“No” A woman’s scream pierces the ear.

All of a sudden, just how much of a light scattering sight this is, breaking through the air, blowing against his face, he could not react in time, everything blurring before his eyes, the black figure leaping over, he was just about to reach out to catch her, when their bodies collided, forceful impact, Lou Sheng holds onto the warm body, falling off the horseback together, the instant they land on the ground, his stunned soul also seems to have broken following the fall.

No……this high-pitched scream remains in Gui Wan’s mouth, someone has called it out before her, the woman’s voice filled with panic that shook the entire scene. No one knew what had happened, all happened in that one moment, the archers of the Lin family troops were all stunned on the spot, because of Lou Sheng’s approach, they thought he wanted to harm Lin Ran Yi, thus sent arrows charging at him. Upon seeing he is to be killed under the shower of arrows, Lin Ran Yi suddenly jumps out, blocking the arrowheads, even if the Lin family troops wanted to withdraw the arrows, there was nothing they could do.

Enemy and ourselves, in this moment is difficult to distinguish now……

Why did she save him? The entire sea of figures froze at the same time, everyone asking this same question.

Lou Sheng tremblingly holds onto Lin Ran Yi’s body, his face so contorted, one cannot make out his expression, half his face absolutely blurred from the nonstop bleeding, wide open eyes containing nothing at all, only monstrous fright and regret. Hand stroking Lin Ran Yi’s back, on it were clearly three heart piercing arrows pointing at his eyes, his heart, how he wants to reach out to hold onto the handle of the arrows, but finds that his hands were trembling so much, even the slightest bit of strength has been lost.

The person in his arms painstakingly raises her hand, bright red blood soaking into her black armour, only by devoting all efforts, did she manage to lightly struggle her way up to Lou Sheng’s face, the corners of her lip squeezing out a smile with great difficulty, “Tired?”

Everything was invested into this one word……

She actually has a lot of things to say, want to tell him to wear an armour under his military robes in future, because of the dangers of fighting, he needs to know how to protect himself, this boorish man lacks attentiveness, and would not be able to pay attention to such things; and want to tell him not to mind the first time they met, because she already does not mind anymore; also want to tell him not to practice martial arts during the wee hours of night again, the deeper the night, the heavier the dew, chilly air easily harms the body……also……want to tell him to do many many good things on her behalf……but, there is no chance to anymore.

Lin Ran Yi’s eyes very gently closes, leaving behind no conveyances at all, containing a smile, she gradually slips away from all contact with this world, life driven away, burnt out……

The entire sea of people silently watches.

Tears have already blurred both her eyes, Gui Wan silently chokes back her tears, heart feeling like a hole has been drilled through, such emptiness that can no longer be filled again, stomach lying on the carriage railing, everything before her eyes sometimes blurred sometimes clear, the dragon above that wall is baring its fangs and brandishing its claws, such magnificence as though it is about to fly into the skies, but that Lou Sheng’s expression is blurred, a scene of bright colours, covering everything, a scene of blood red, grows larger the more it melts out, flowing onto the ground, half a sky of red sunset glow, seeming to blend together with the ground, other than red there is still red, other than blood there is still blood……

Blood red filling the entire sky……

“Quickly open the gates, exit the palace.” Amongst the entire scene, only one voice is cold, calmly seizing the opportunity, wisely commanding.

The carriage wheels once again starts spinning, bumpily rushing out of the palace, Gui Wan’s gaze is fixed dead onto the centre of the scene, Lou Sheng is still motionlessly holding Lin Ran Yi, that poignancy, silences the entire land, everything sinking into solemnity.

The western wind once again rises.

Suddenly a cry as frightful as it is sorrowful roars out: “Ah” Lou Sheng laments to the heavens, for the heavens to hear, for the earth to hear, for……her to hear……

Straight to the skies……

Who says heroes shed no tears, who says heroes have no regrets……?

This love can become a memory to reminisce in time, just that by then it is already inconsolable……

******

Capital City, Lin Estate.

Since early morning onwards, there has been a constant stream of people coming to the estate, amongst them are officials in the Capital, there are soldiers who guards the frontier for many years, there are also small pedlars and menial servants, all without any exception rushing into the Lin Estate, to light some incense in offering to the Lin family’s eldest daughter Lin Ran Yi, sending her on her final journey, occasionally there are people hiding their faces as they silently weep, sorrowfully expressing such regrets.

Just when the servants of the Lin Estate busy themselves with red eyes on this occasion, another lightweight horse carriage stops outside the estate. All eyes were attracted over, it is not that this horse carriage is any way luxuriously out of the ordinary, but because the coachman, a burly figure, on the left side of his face, from the corner of his eyes to his lower jaw, has two deep slashes, the wound with no dressing at all is only treated with some powdered medicine, from the wound that has not yet healed up, blood red flesh can be seen, horrifying to the extreme.

Descending the carriage to see this scene, everyone observing Lou Sheng with a strange look from time to time, Gui Wan looks around, was just about to call Lou Sheng, but sees the muscles of that injured side of his face tremble, desperately trying to suppress something, not at all caring about everyone’s reaction around him.

“Why the suffering……” Unconsciously, Gui Wan softly whispers, her voice slightly chokes back.

Why the suffering……clearly knowing that coming would also deepen your wound that has not yet healed, why must you still come? During the deep night of the chosen date, the half-moon appears like a hook, night dew sinking into the clothing, Lou Sheng soullessly returns to the estate, his mouth containing sounds of mumblings to himself. Up until he sees Lou Che, does he bend his body and kneels down, his clothing covered in paint-like bloodstain, an entire face of devastation, using this kneeling posture, he masks himself within the sparse and blotchy shadows of the trees. Even Lou Che who never reveals his inner emotions, reveals feelings of deep sorrow.

After that, Lou Sheng stands alone in the courtyard, Lou Che solitarily sits inside the study room, silently spending the night. On the second day, master is still the master, servant is still the servant.

“Lou Sheng……” Calling him back to reality, Gui Wan steps through the doorway of the Lin Estate, to find that he is still dumbly standing outside the door, simply allowing the observing and gossiping to circle around him. Black pigmented brows lightly raising, she suddenly catches glimpse of the pain in his eyes, his dried eyes like a scene of emptiness.

Originally should not have brought him along. It was Lou Che who said, allow him to send her on her final journey, if not he will regret it for the rest of his life. A phrase of no regrets, in exchange for two times of heartache, feelings of sourness faintly surges up the heart. Gui Wan follows the Lin family’s servant towards the ancestral hall, entering her eyes were white mourning dresses, a gloomy sight.

The death of Ran Yi, exchanged three days of calm, seeming to have washed everything clean……

When leaving the palace, Lin Rui En was guarding Yu Xuan Ji Gates, Lin Ran Yi was guarding Yu Xuan Yu Gates, listening the Empress’ words, they avoided Lin Rui En, this is fortunate for Lou Che, but for Lou Sheng it is a pain that has been carved into his bones, imprinted in his heart, amongst the two, which is more important?

She is growing increasingly confused, worldly matters are never complete, never regular, never reasonable, what the eyes see and what the ears hear, are not necessarily the entire truth, just like the explanation Lou Che has given these past three says. Back then when he encountered the encircling in the palace, he planned to escape through the secret passage inside the imperial palace, in the situation he was in at that time, how could possibly abandon Consort Ying, abandoning her, would cause the Emperor to immediately turn the spearhead towards her instead. The love he had for her is no more, with good faith in surviving, he has promised to attend to her safety, thus would not be forsaking her in times of crisis. Taking Consort Ying along as he escapes the palace, he immediately orders to send a message to the Prime Minister Estate, before any reply was received, the Prime Minister Estate has already been besieged, he painstakingly waited at the mushroom garden for more than six hours, seeing that the Capital is immediately going to be closed off, he had no choice but to leave the Capital City.

These words resolved almost half a year of doubts, the burden in her heart has been lifted, but was replaced by chilling sorrows, all of this today, came in exchange for Ran Yi’s life, this explanation was fulfilled by a bloodstained heroine.

Sinking into deep thoughts, she passes by the inner courtyard, wave after wave of sobbing sounds from the large hall, a black wooden coffin stood in centre, on top of the coffin, is a single deeply engraved seal “福” (blessing/good fortune), passing through the heavy crowd, Gui Wan looks stunned at the figure stood stationed by the coffin’s side.

Lin Rui En silently stands at the side of the mourning hall, expression even colder than usual, the lighting inside the hall is slightly dim, the slightly weak candlelight next to the memorial tablet reflects across his eyes of impassive waves, other than silence, there is only indifference.

Gui Wan passes by a few people, heading straight to the middle of the hall, sincerely offering incense, faint smoke forming waves as it diffuses before her eyes, the view of snow white before her eyes seems to have transform into a shroud. In this scene of pure white, a colour of bright yellow partially enters her vision, turns out that a long case is placed right in centre of the hall, it takes only one look, for Gui Wan to guess the significance behind it, it is the imperial edict the Emperor has just issued, claiming the eldest daughter of the Lin family died a sudden death due to severe illness, and personally written an order to bestow Lin Ran Yi with the title of “Princess Hu Guo”. The truth is thus effortlessly buried within that long case just like that, with no one ever to speak of it again. (Hù Guó / 护国 means protecting the country, Ran Yi’s title of Hù Guó Gong Zhǔ / 护国公主 literally means princess who protects the country.)

“Ran Yi……” Slowly lowering her hands that offered incense, Gui Wan raises her head towards the memorial tablet, “Do protect and bless him a lot……”

That boorish man who never let slip a single drop of tear is crying for you, can you hear it? Ran Yi……

“Madam.” Lin Rui En takes a few strides forward, facing the side of Gui Wan’s face, “May I invite Madam to venture into the back courtyard for a talk?”

His extraordinarily determined demeanour tells Gui Wan that she cannot reject him, Gui Wan does not utter a word, following him in quietly withdrawing out of the mourning hall. The light breeze knows not of sorrows, carrying three points of sweetness as it brushes the face. Their steps coming to a stop in the back courtyard, an entire courtyard filled with chrysanthemums, the flowers flourishing and the stems stands strong, dancing along to the movement of the wind, an elegant brilliance.

“Sister loves chrysanthemums most, says chrysanthemums are noble, just like an extraordinarily famed person unyielding towards flattery with great integrity.”

Looking to his half depressed half clear eyes, Gui Wan discovers a feeling called “pain” in them, “General……” Just like how she is with Lou Sheng, she is unable to speak up in consolation.

“Our father passionately loves the art of war, an entire life spent on a battle horse, hoping for future generations to inherit such ambition, but his firstborn is actually a daughter, because of this, our father took not even a step into the house for a half a year, and later gave birth to me outside, bringing me back home. Sister has since never even gotten an ounce of love from our father, but Sister is very strong, contending for first place in everything, giving up on all things girls should care for, clearly of female body, yet insists on learning the aspirations of men.” Lin Rui En strolls in front of the chrysanthemums, extending his hand to lightly hold a chrysanthemum flower, half open like a firework, “Sister complied with the Lin family’s motto, her entire life for the country, resolutely fighting in battlefields, resisting foreign enemies, guarding the imperial power……”

The Lin family’s blood, should be shed whilst resisting the enemy in the battlefield, should be shed whilst defending the motherland, their flesh and blood, exists for the monarch, exists for the people, exists for the country……

Slightly filled with sorrow, Gui Wan remains frozen for a long while, lowering her head to look at the entire courtyard of chrysanthemum, speaking with realisation: “General may speak directly……”

Silently glancing over at Gui Wan, Lin Rui En’s entire face of solemn desolation, “Monarch and subjects at odds in the imperial court, certainly due to the division of power, everyone unable to become one at heart, is regarded as a great taboo to a country. The Nu Tribe resides in the far north, a tiger carefully gazing over, the borders cannot have a day of relaxation, military governors of several areas holds great numbers of their own troops, difficult for the imperial court to control, six government divisions in the imperial court looks to Prime Minister Lou’s command, and newly promoted intimate ministers listens to the orders of his majesty, wanting to reform the institutional system, such a deadlock, for such a long time, is unfavourable to the country, Madam……what should be done from henceforth?”

Hearing his speech, Gui Wan was oozing with cold sweat, the current situation has been charted within her heart, but has never been as clear as this before, Lin Rui En spoke of the question she has been desperately evading, this game of chess, played to this point, how should the following moves be played? There is no tie in the imperial court, the finale can only be determined by win or lose, who is the loser? And who is the winner?

Taking a look at the cold and stern general before her, she suddenly discovers, he is a silent tiger, coldly watching everything unfold, not make the slightest move, armed forces in his palm, heart like still water. It is not that he does not understand how to play with power, rather, he does not wish to play with power, Zheng Liu and Lou Che’s heart is placed on the imperial court, and his heart, perhaps remains above in the vastness of the skies. The sword in hand, is not for himself, nor for power, it is for the people, the country, this is the pride of military personnel, his achievements, his mightiness all comes from every sword and sabre fought on the battlefield.

This entire courtyard of chrysanthemum seems symbolic of the Lin family, unyielding, unbending, cleanly standing proud.

“General’s meaning……is [you are] loyal to his majesty, with absolute unwavering heart?” Faintly speaking with leisure, Gui Wan’s eyes reflecting his figure of pure white.

“Yes.” With not the slightest of hesitation, Lin Rui En answers, “Madam, I know you are in a difficult positon, but you certainly hold influences on both Prime Minister Lou and his majesty, I hope that for all the officials, regardless of rank, within the Capital, for the people living in the borderlands, Madam will take careful consideration, to slow down this battle. This Lin does not wish, that one day, I will have to point my sword at Prime Minister Lou, at Madam.”

These words, he originally would never have spoken of in this lifetime, but the death of Ran Yi, has clearly declared the future prospects of the imperial court, a vast scene of bloodiness. Looking at this scene of early autumn, he could not help but to nobly decide, to be able to pledge loyalty for the lord of tomorrow is one of his lifetime aspiration, he has once guarded the frontier when he was younger, and has also developed deep feelings towards the people of there, towards this land he has gained a sense of honour and disgrace as well as duty, seeing the dispute in imperial court grow increasingly fierce, he is also faced with choices, although the current Emperor cannot be considered a brilliant ruler, but the word loyalty is something he definitely cannot abandon, this is the steeled bones he has as someone of the Lin military family. Scholars cannot have no integrity, soldiers cannot have no righteousness.

Rounded eyes staring at Lin Rui En, Gui Wan can sense the sudden suffocating atmosphere, the tone of these words is clearly telling her to persuade Lou Che to give up on power, lips forming a bitter smile, Lou Che’s intentions is already resolute, who is able to shake him? With power in hand, how is one able to easily give it up? What exactly should she do?

Under the rather brilliantly shinning sun, showering onto Lin Rui En, whose shadow greatly expands, Gui Wan half lowers her eyes, avoiding the light, opening it a moment later, her eyes contains a scene of brilliant clearness.

“General, please give me a year, if I am unable to resolve this situation of deadlock, then a year later, I shall flee to a place faraway from here, leaving this contentious land.”

Seeming to have not expected her to speak words of such ambition, Lin Rui En is clearly stunned, his face somewhat eased, but also carries slight worry.

Ending the conversation, Gui Wan nods her head, saying a word of goodbye, she leaves the chrysanthemum courtyard and heads out.

“Madam……” A sound of quiet calling once again stops her, this tone seems a lot softer than before, all of a sudden she did not know whether to turn back or not.

“If Madam is met with any difficulties at all, this Lin is still the person who picked up the handkerchief for you.”

The view of plum blossoms seemingly sparse, the drifting fragrance dejected, he was willing to bow down and pick up her handkerchief……this scene, this circumstance, not once has she forgotten……

Note:

[1] A poem of the Southern Song Dynasty composed by poet Jiǎng Jié / 蒋捷called Plum Blossom Citing · Jing Xi Snow Barrier

[2] Fox grieving over the death of rabbits or tù sǐ hú bēi / 兔死狐悲 is an idiom to say that even animals grieves for their kinds.

[3] Seven apertures leading to an exquisitely bright heart or qī qiào líng lóng xīn /七窍玲珑心 - the seven apertures are the seven openings in your head (2 eyes, 2 ears, 2 nostrils, mouth), the saying is used to refer to sensitive people who is able to thoroughly take in and assess situations, thus being smart enough to act accordingly.

[4] Vigorous momentum like a rainbow or qì shì rú hóng / 气势如虹 - means that their vigorous spirits and strong momentum seems to be able to charge across a long rainbow.

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