I am too tired to write a lengthy note today. If you were looking forward to the second half of the chapter, you all should thank Peanuts because she said since I have been on hiatus for so long, I need to post more regularly to make friends with everyone. 😛
The herbs Master Jun brought back were nothing short of miraculous; most of my injuries healed completely after five days of treatment. I was very satisfied with the results, but still could not help touching the obvious scar on my forehead that remained. I looked at my reflection in the mirror and was reminded of the saying: all that glitters is not gold. Who would have thought that the such a lively body is actually hiding a multitude of decay? If the Pearl were to be removed from my body, my body would most likely turn into ashes within seconds. Just thinking about the possibility was terrifying.
Master Jun brought along Xiao Huang to visit me in the early morning of the sixth day. He sent Xiao Huang away to chase butterflies in the yard before he turning around and asked me, “How have your studies on the Hua Xu Yin progressed in this past year?”
I answered honestly, “My progress have been slow since I lack opportunity to practice.”
He pondered in silence for a while before he saying, “Ah Zhen, you know that the Pearl can only sustain you for three years only. The Pearl is fed by the dreams of mortals. Now that it resides within you, if you wish to live longer, you must use the Hua Xu Yin to absorb the life essence of others by weaving dreams for them. You are a kind child, so this must be difficult for you. But since I have spent so much effort in saving you, I don’t wish for you to live for only three years. Do you understand what I am saying?”
Master Jun is afraid that I do not understand. However, I have already understood this long ago – while I do not wish only to live for three short years, I am also unable to recklessly take the lives of innocents. But there are so many people in this world who live in regret. The Hua Xu Yin is able to create a dream of the past, and in this dream, these people can correct their mistakes. If these people choose to live on in their dream and are willing to sacrifice their lives to do that, wouldn’t this arrangement benefit both of us?
“Could you arrange for some work for me?” I asked.
Master Jun smiled a little and nodded his head, “Very well. Make a trip to the State of Jiang, then.”
Five days later, Jun Wei, Xiao Huang, myself and my seven stringed qin appeared together at a border town in Chen.
Mount Junyu was actually not far from the Jiang-Chen border and we could have reached in three days. Our two-day delay was because we were riding a single horse. This in itself was not the problem. The problem (which caused us much pain and suffering) was that we had to prevent Xiao Huang from eating our only horse. We finally decided to eat our horse and continue our journey on foot. Our travelling pace increased greatly after that.
The border of the the States of Chen and Jiang was marked by a stretch of mountains called Mount Bi. We reached just at the right time – the whole of Mount Bi is covered by a thick layer of snow and avalanches happened frequently; only the most experienced of the veteran hunters in the area could safely pass through. If we had arrived in winter, we would have had to circle the foot of the mountain to get to the other side. But since we arrived in spring, we could travel using the small mountain paths and see the scenic views at the same time.
We had stopped at a gurgling mountain stream. I was refilling our water packs when I suddenly went still. Jun Wei asked, “What’s happened?”
I pointed at the bushes and foliage directly ahead of us, “You should go check out what is happening ahead and learn how lovers meet in secret. That can be used as material for your stories.” We then both snuck up front to see what was happening.
It was a young couple behaving intimately with each other. The man wore a brocade robe while woman was dressed in a thin silk dress. We could not make out their faces because there was a distance between us, but from what we could see – the man had a strong physique while the girl was slight and willowy.
They sat on a bed of wildflowers and there was a horse tethered to a nearby tree. I cast a distracted glance at Xiao Huang – sure enough, he was already drooling while staring intently at the horse. But as Jun Wei was holding him by the back of his neck, Xiao Huang could only exercise self-restraint. The man picked a small red flower and placed it in the woman’s hair. The woman then threw her arms around the man from behind, their bodies pressed close against each other.
Jun Wei turned and placed his hands over my eyes, “If you continue looking, you will surely get stys” I pushed his hands away, “I also need to enhance my knowledge.” He was not persuaded and continued to try to block my vision. This annoyed me, so I pushed him over.
It was at this moment, something happened. Jun Wei was also startled by what he saw, “How did the lady manage to maneuver the man under her so quickly? That woman is also too forward. Why did she suddenly run away with the horse? She shouldn’t have done that; it is too unkind to tease a man sexually and leave him hanging.”
“Sexual teasing, my foot! Didn’t you see the woman stab the man from behind before she fled?” I asked.
“Ah? Weren’t they just hugging each other a little while ago?” Jun Wei asked.
We could have left without any trouble. However, the sight of the man’s body crumpling onto the ground reminded me of one person: Mu Yan.
Since I woke up, I have not thought of him for a long time. This was not because my feelings for him have extinguished – but rather because there was nothing that can be done even if we should meet again. Before my death, I persevered in my feelings for him because I was alive. But I was no longer among the living – I did not breath, nor did I have any sensory feelings. It is already too much to ask of him not to be afraid of me now, never mind anything else. As such, it is better for us never to meet again.
Jun Wei looked over the man’s wound and pronounced that even though the wound was deep, it did not cut into any vital organs or arteries. Since we administered first aid in time, he should live.
I studied his face: thick black eyebrows, a straight nose, thin lips that are pale from blood loss – he really is a handsome man. The ground beneath us had turned red from his blood.
“The question is, why did we bother to save him?” Jun Wei asked, once he managed to stop the man’s bleeding.
“Since he is such a handsome man, perhaps we can take him to the town and sell him for a high price?” I replied. Jun Wei ignored me and called to Xiao Huang, “Son, come and help Daddy drag him along.” Xiao Huang turned his head away. Jun Wei continued, “When we reach the town, Daddy will buy you a roast chicken for you to eat.” Xiao Huang immediately rush over happily.
This handsome man laid unconscious in a clinic for two days straight before waking up. During this time, he said nothing except for mumbling “Zi Yan”. I guessed that “Zi Yan” is a lady’s name, most probably the name of the woman who stabbed him. I sighed: it has been proven time and time again that even heroes can be seduced by a beautiful woman.
“What is wrong with this man? We have saved his life, yet since he regained consciousness, he has not expressed a single word of thanks to us, “ Jun Wei grumbled.
“He is a good-looking man, so I guess we should have expected that he might be a little headstrong,” I replied.
Jun Wei glared at me, “Are you saying that just because he is good-looking, it is alright for him not to pay for the medicine he drank? That it is alright for him not to express gratitude?”
Jun Wei’s clutched at his chest in anger at her response.
Our original plan was to save him and hopefully, receive some reward. If his home was nearby, we would have sent him home on the way before continuing on our journey. However, life seldom takes the path we wish – who would have thought that a man dressed in the finery of a gentleman would not have a single penny on him.
I spoke to him about it awkwardly, “We rescued you in the mountains and brought you here out of the kindness of our hearts. But your injuries were not light and we have paid for all of your medicine so far. We have a long journey ahead, and with a tiger in tow, our expenses are high and our travelling funds are low. So…”
I thought, I am going to hit him if he remains unresponsive.
But he did not give me the opportunity to hit him after all.
Before I could finished what I was about to say, he interrupted me, “A long journey?” That pair of good-looking eyebrows arched upwards and a small smile formed on his lips.
I thought to myself, Did his disappointment in love actually turn him into a dummy?
He continued, “Since your journey is long, it is likely to be dangerous. This untalented person so happened has practiced swordsmanship for a few years. If you do not mind, do allow me to accompany you and protect you on your journey as repayment for saving my life.”
“But about the money for your medicine…”
He removed his jade thumb-ring and handed it to me, “You are truly worried. Pawn this and you should get at least twenty taels of gold. That should be able to pay for my medicine as well as my food along the way.”
I took the thumb-ring from him and looked at him, “You don’t need to protect me. Twenty taels of gold is sufficient reward for saving you.”
He replied lightly, “My life is not as cheap as that.”
I looked at him from top to bottom, “But we must leave and continue our journey tomorrow, would you be well enough by then?”
A low laugh escaped his lips, “That would not be a problem.”
Jun Wei did not understand why this gentleman in blue insisted on accompanying us. After much thought, he finally concluded that it must be because he has fallen for me. I was elated for a while. It was not until I looked at myself in the mirror that I realised this was unlikely since half of my face was covered by the silver mask.
After listening to my rebuttal, Jun Wei lapsed into deep thought again before saying, “In that case, there is no explanation.”
“There are many things in this world that cannot be explained. Just look at Xiao Lan’s: a handsome and talented young man. In a logical world, he would be surrounded by adoring women. However, you have seen it for yourself: the girl he liked had ruthlessly stabbed him. If it weren’t for us, he would have been left to die in the wild. His ability to pick girls really is so bad, it almost caused him is life. This wouldn’t have happened in a reasonable world.”
Jun Wei pondered for awhile before agreeing. He thought about it a little more and before asking, “Who is Xiao Lan?”
“The man in blue whom we saved the other day,” I replied.
Just as I turned to leave to go to the kitchen to check on the medicine, I saw Xiao Lan staring at us. The hand that he had raised to knock on the doorframe was still frozen in mid air.
It was bad manners to gossip about someone behind their backs. And to have been caught red-handed in the act as well! I did not know what to say. After a while, I laughed awkwardly. He also laughed awkwardly, but there was no amusement in his eyes. He turned around and returned to the little back room.
Jun Wei approached me and said, “I now believe that he has not fallen for you.”
I responded, “Do you think it is possible that he has fallen for you?”
Xiao Huang so happened to be passing by our door. Jun Wei ground his teeth, pointed at me and told Xiao Huang, “Son – bite her.”
Ten days later, we finally reached the capital of Jiang, Yue City.
Xiao Lan had mentioned that our journey is bound to be dangerous. After considering his words, we felt that he should be more worldly and experienced than us; so we believed his words blindly and kept waiting for danger to befall on us.
However, nothing happened at all in the last 10 days; we did not even meet a single bandit robber. Jun Wei asked me, “When do you think we will meet a fiend who will attack us?” I replied, “I don’t know. Let’s just wait.” But after waiting for a long time, we still did not meet any fiends and we could only continue to worry.
The day before we entered Yue City, another girl joined our travelling company. Xiao Lan and that girl said that she was Xiao Lan’s handmaiden and bodyguard and that her name was Zhi Su. We met her when we were buying biscuits by the street.
The sun was setting in the background and she was riding a white horse at full speed towards us. Jun Wei pulled me to the side to avoid being trampled on. As she jumped off the horse, her pale blue sleeve brushed my cheek.
Before Jun Wei and I even realised what was happening, she had knelt before Xiao Lan. Ignoring everyone around them, she looked at him with her reddened eyes and choked out, “Gongzi, Zhi Su has finally found you.”
Zhi Su had delicate features and a little red mole on her forehead. Xiao Lan expressed neither approval nor disapproval at her insistence on following us. Jun Wei was quick to agree – Zhi Su is a pretty girl after all, so it was easy to persuade him.
While he was quick to agree to Zhi Su accompanying us, he was also dissatisfied with Xiao Lan at the same time. He whispered to me, “This man really is amorous, even his bodyguard is a woman.”
But I thought, before we left Mount Junyu, Master Jun had instructed Jun Wei to protect me – so Jun Wei could also be considered as my bodyguard. If we were to follow Jun Wei’s logic, wouldn’t I be considered to be amorous as well?
We spent the night at an inn. Xiao Huang woke me up in the middle of the night and looked at me soulfully, as if inviting me to take a stroll with him in the moonlight. We walked down the corridor, a tiger and a dead person together, our footsteps so light it was almost as if we were floating.
Just as they were about to enter the backyard, I heard Zhi Su’s voice, “There is nothing special about the girl. Why is Gongzi refusing to return to the mansion? Does Gongzi know, while you were away this few days, 2nd Gongzi has started taking action. Zhi Su knows that Miss Zhi Yan has wounded Gongzi badly, but think about the big picture.”
I pondered on whether I should continue listening to this gossip. In the end, manners won over curiosity and I decided not to eavesdrop. However, before I could leave, Xiao Lan had already started speaking in a familiar low voice, “Have you all… found Zhi Yan?”
I was leading Xiao Huang away from the the doorway when I heard Zhi Su reply, “Gongzi, you were sincere in your feelings towards her, but she… she is a spy sent by the Zhao Government. Her… her mission was to assassinate you. She…”
Her voice faded away behind Xiao Huang and I.
Under the eaves of the veranda, I recalled the familiarity from earlier. I felt like I had returned to that cave where Mu Yan sat opposite me smiling slightly, his pale fingers playing his qin strung with silk string. It has been three years since that incident and I could not really remember his voice. But that song he played would sometimes sound in my head, like a song I did not know how to sing.
The moon appeared large and very white. I lifted my hand to cover my eyes, just like how he used his fingers to cover my eyes once. But my eyes were no longer that of someone amongst the living.
And there is nothing I could do about it.
 金玉其外，败絮其中 (pinyin: jinyu qi wai, baixu qizhong).
 The guqin (simplified/traditional: 古琴; pinyin: gǔqín) is a plucked seven-string Chinese musical instrument of the zither family. Traditionally, the instrument was simply referred to as qin (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guqin). I had considered translating it into English, but am unable to find an accurate English word for it. It is not a zither, lyre nor a lute (which are all classical stringed instruments). In the end, I decided to just refer to it as qin rather than use an inaccurate translation.
 It is a chinese old wives tale told to kids that we will get stys in our eyes if we see something naughty. 😛
 英雄难过美人关 (pinyin: yingxiong nanguo meiren guan) – a chinese proverb that illustrates how even the heroes can be seduced by a beautiful woman.
 He refers to himself as “在下” (pinyin: zaixia), which is a very polite form of self reference. It indicates humility and polite distance. He continues to use this term in his conversation with Jun Fu throughout the chapter, but I have switched to use “I/me” after the first time since it reads smoother in English.
 lit. Little Blue.
 Can be used to refer to the son of princes, nobles, aristocracy or the rich.