So we have a surprise in store for you. Have you guessed from the picture above?
Yes – again, after much wiffy-waffling about with Peanuts, we have decided to translate the entire story chronologically based on the book. Or rather I have decided, and Peanuts being ever sweet and supportive.
In my first post (ie Chapter 2.1), I had mentioned that we have decided to translate only the main story of Jun Fu and Mu Yan and skip/gloss over the sub-stories.
However, after careful thought, I decided (with Peanut’s support) to commit to translating the entire book chronologically, as opposed to skipping around and revisiting the sub-stories at a later stage. The decision stems from my love for the book, and also because the story is told from Jun Fu’s point of view – and her point of view informs us of her character and personality.
And because no one ever reads the headnote, I am just going to save it for the commentary at the end of the post.
I finally met the patron Master Jun had arranged for me three days later; she is Song Ning, the lady-wife of Shen An, the Zhenyuan General of the State of Jiang. Perhaps it is not correct to refer to her my patron as ultimately, she is not buying a beautiful dream from me, but rather, I am buying her life from her for the price of a dream.
We were at a little villa outside the city. The word of mouth was that the general and his lady-wife were at odds with each other. Song Ning had moved out of the General’s Mansion two years ago to this villa to convalescence, and has never returned to the General’s Mansion since. A lot had happened in those two years, for example: Shen An taking in a concubine, Song Ning falling ill, Song Ning’s health’s deteriorating, Song Ning on the brink of death.
The old servant who came to escort us inside informed us that the lady wishes to see me alone and suggested that Jun Wei and Xiao Lan should go ahead and get some rest iin the guestrooms. Xiao Lan had no objections but Jun Wei was unhappy with the arrangement; I understood that he was concerned for my safety, did not understand why. What could possibly pose a danger to someone who was already dead.
They bargained for quite sometime before they reached a compromise: Xiao Huang shall accompany me to the meeting. Jun Wei petted Xiao Huang’s head and instructed, “Son – protect your mother well.”
I was petting Xiao Huang’s head when I met Xiao Lan’s gaze. He stared at me for a few minutes before saying, “Miss Jun should go quickly and come back quickly.”
The old servant escorted me through two corridors, across a garden and until we came onto a lake. A little curtained pavilion sat in the middle of the lake, surrounded by lotuses. The woman reading in bed looked up when we entered the pavilion.
She looked like one of those beauties who had just stepped out of a master’s painting. Sadly, her complexion is chalk white; she may not live long in this world even if chose not to take her life. This was not because I knew the art of face-reading, but because in this subject of death, there was no one more qualified than I who was already dead – hers was the pallor of someone who was reaching the end of the road. Furthermore, the purpose of my visit is to take her life, so even if she does not pass away natural, I should create the illusion of an accidental death.
The wind lifted the curtains – it was already May. The lady put her book down and coughed a little before looking down at Xiao Huang. She said gently, “Such a tame tiger. Before I had gotten married, I had also raised a wolf cub. It was about this big…” She drew a shape in the air with her finger to illustrate before shaking her head with a laugh. She looked up at me with an unreadable gaze, “Are you Jun Fu? The Jun Fu who Master Jun said can help me realised my greatest wish?”
“Yes,” I answered. To be honest, I was still not used to my new name. I was not a person who preferred the new to the old. I had been Ye Zhen for 17 years, and was attached to that name. So even though it has been a while since I had been given my new name, it was not easy for me to forget my old identity.
Her fingers tapped the rattan bed a couple of times, her pensive expression gradually became a little flushed and a dimple appeared beside her mouth, “Jun Fu, do you know what is the dream I want?”
I sat on Xiao Huang’s back and looked at her seriously, “I don’t know and you will need to tell me the dream.” I thought for a while and added, “I am not here to help you, but here to perform a bargain. I do not want gold or silver as payment and I just need you to take care of our meals during our stay here. Whatever you want your dream to be, that is the dream I will weave for you. And whether to stay in your dream or to leave the dream, that is your choice.”
“Oh?” She said.
I nodded my head. “ If you choose to leave the dream, I will not take a single penny. However, if you choose to stay within the dream…”
She smiled slightly, “And what will Miss Jun do if I choose to stay in my dream?”
I looked into her eyes, “If you choose to stay in your dream, you will give me the rest of your life essence as payment. What do you think?”
Her beautiful brows twitched a little as she stared up at the ceiling. After a little while, she gave a short laugh and said, “Alright.”
That day, I did not manage to return earlier as Xiao Lan had wished. Song Ning had given me her story. This story is her inner demon, a story that she wanted to change even if it was only in a dream. Of course, that was a form of deceiving herself, but because she did not know how to lie to herself, she hoped that the dream could fool her into believing.
The curtains surrounding the pavillion lifted in the wind, revealing the reflection of the setting sun in the lake. Song Ning drank her tea which contained a few drops of my blood. As my blood circulated within her body, musical note by musical note lined up in a sequence before my eyes which I committed to memory. This is Song Ning’s Hua Xu Melody.
Song Ning started to reminisce about the past; scene by scene, her memories appeared before my eyes through music of her Hua Xu Melody. She said, “Miss Jun, did you know – even though I am the wife of a general from Jiang, I was not originally from the State of Jiang. Seven years ago, when I was 17 – about the same age as you are now – I married here with a heart full of love and affection. It was really the best time in my youth…”
In the best time of her youth, Song Ning who is the younger sister of the Song Yan, a great general from the State of Li, encountered Shen An in the battlefield between the States of Li and Jiang. At that time, General Shen An was the youngest general in the Jiang army. He was stern of face, possessed great martial skills and had the reputation of having won all of his battles.
Song Ning came from a family with a long history of military service. Her upbringing was that of a boy’s and her skill with a spear was unrivalled. At the tender age of 14, she had already joined her brother in many of his military campaigns. When she was 16, when other girls of her age held a needle to embroider articles for their wedding trousseau, Song Ning was busy using her spear to kill enemy soldiers in battle.
Historically, there were always more males than females born in the State of Jiang. As such, in the spring of the 17th year of the rule of the Duke Lizhuang of Li, the threshold of every aristocratic family in Li with a marriageable daughter was worn out from visitors, except for that of the Great General’s Mansion. None of the aristocratic men had dared to offer for Song Ning’s hand in marriage; they were afraid that if they were to take a concubine after marrying Song Ning, Song Ning would beat both her husband and the concubine to death. So the Duke Lizhuang gave Song Ning’s hand in marriage to the second son of the Prime Minister. When the groom-to-be heard of this news, he promptly fell off his horse.
Song Ning was away at the battlefield when she received the news. She sat by a stream quietly for a long time until her brother found her. He said, “You don’t need to worry about that kid who doesn’t know what is good for him. Your elder brother here will have a way to make him marry you.”
She smiled at her brother and said softly, “There is no need for elder brother to get angry. Those aristocrats back in the capital are good for nothing and only know how to live in a lap of luxury. They think that I am not good enough for them, but have they considered whether I think they are good enough for me? If I were to marry, I will only marry the hero of this generation.”
These words were originally said off-handedly to indicate that she is not taking the matter of the Prime Minister’s second son to heart. However, in the winter of that year, the hero of the generation in her life appeared on a black horse carrying a heavy sword. His family name is Shen, given name, An and his courtesy name, Bozhou.
In the winter of the 17th year of the rule of the Duke Lizhuang, a wild horse of a rare breed was discovered somewhere near the border of Li and Jiang. Both States wanted this horse for their own and refused to compromise. This sowed the seeds of strife of many years that eventually led to a full out war between the two States.
Song Ning had heard amazing stories about Shen An. In the foolishness of her youth, she was unconvinced of the veracity of these story and had always wanted an opportunity to compete with him.
That snowy day finally came when both State’s armies met at Shangyang Pass. Taking this rare opportunity, the usually responsible Song Ning ignored her brother’s silent warnings, rushed out to the front line and stated, “The Purple Spear, Song Ning has come to challenge General Shen An.” Her cool voice was carried away by the cold wind towards the enemy camp. A figure in white emerge between the ranks of enemy soldiers on a horse carrying a long sword, his handsome face expressionless.
Song Ning’s skills with a spear has never appeared so clumsy; she was thrown off her horse within five strikes. Never in her life had she been defeated so quickly or thoroughly. He came over and easily knocked her helmet off. Momentarily startled, he finally said, “So, it is a female.”
Song NIng fell in love with Shen An then, because he had defeated her. This is also the reason why it became popular for girls to find a mate through a martial arts competition. When strong females are looking for a life partner, they are usually looking for someone who can defeat them. If you want her, you must first defeat her. However, if you defeat her, then you must marry her. If you defeat her but refuse to marry her, you are just being cruel.
Her purple spear had been thrown a distance off. Shen An bent over and used his sword to lift the weapon and throw it in her direction. The spear hit head first into the ground next to Song Ning. “Your spear,” he said, his voice without inflection.
Snow swirled in all directions. All he could see was the Li army of thirty thousand strong behind her. All she could see was him alone.
Shen An became a mighty mountain in Song Ning’s heart. His black stallion, his peerless swordsmanship, his life that is not spent in the arms of a woman – this is the hero that she had always longed for. Alas, he is the hero of an enemy State.
But heroes can fall on hard times. In fact, all men deserving of being referred to as a great general in history had either suffered hardships, or were on their way to suffering such hardships.
Shen An embarked his journey towards hard times after he met Song Ning. Actually, it is not right to phrase it this way as if it is Song Ning’s fault. Shen An’s defeat at Canglu Ye really had nothing to do with her. After much analysis, the military strategists could only conclude that the defeat was because Shen An’s horoscope indicated that he should not have attacked that day.
Shen An was soundly defeated by Li’s Great General Song Yan at Canglu Ye. His entire army of five thousand was annihilated and he himself was struck by multiple arrows and was most likely dead. Song Ning received a message delivered by her brother’s greyfalcon the next day. In a slip of her hand, the palm-sized square of silk fell into the water and the ink spread across the surface like a shadow.
Song Ning refused to believe that Shen An had died because in her heart, Shen An was undefeatable. However, this undefeatable hero was defeated within 3 days; as her newly developed feelings remained strong, she had great difficulty in believing this news.
So Song Ning packed some medicine, lept on the horse and rushed out of the camp. Her thinking was, if he has not died, then she must save him. If he has already died, then she must find his body and bury him with her own hands; she cannot let him lie in a lonely unmarked grave in the vast dessert.
He is the first man she had feelings for. He was a real man that was miles apart from those useless aristocrats back at the Capital. However, with her lack of experience with men, how would she know what a real man was like? She was only imagining what a real man was like and she fell more and more in love with the Shen An in her imagination .
Although the sky was overcast, the desert wind cut like a knife. Her horse neighed in pain from being struck by the gravel blown by the wind. Song Ning laid very low on the back of the horse, her eyes covered with white gauze to protect them, as she struggled to travel against the wind. The wind blew against her face and hands, leaving behind cuts. She would from time to time lick the cuts on her hand before continuing on.
She thought to herself that Shen An must be just waiting for her ahead. This belief sustained her when travelling through the longest stretch of road in the shortest time possible, and at the same time avoid her brother’s army’s camp. This belief is probably not shared by anyone else. Just think about it: how could Shen An possibly be waiting for her ahead? Shen An probably didn’t even remember her at all.
Canglu Ye appeared ahead of her. The desert storm had already covered up most of the blood stained ground, making it as if it the battlefield has been long abandoned. It is only the smell of blood in the air that belied the fact that it was only recently hell on earth. The corpses of Jiang soldiers covered the entire area; one could not take a step without stepping on human flesh and bone.
Song Ning used her bare hands to turn over more than two thousand bodies. One could deduce from this that Song NIng and Shen An were not meant to be; if they were meant to be, Shen An ought to be the first body she turned over. But Song Ning did not give up. Perhaps she felt that she must find in order to make her journey worthwhile. It may be her perseverance that finally touched the Heavens; when she turned over her 2728th body and wiped the blood and much of his face, she hugged him and choked out, “Shen An.”
Song Ning’s blind gamble had paid off: it is difficult for a hero to die even when his time has come. Shen An was still alive. She was still holding him when she heard him grunt in pain from having his wound moved. Her heart thundered within her chest as if struck with a heavy hammer as tears rolled down her face, “I knew that I ought to come.”
They sat together on a pile of bodies. Shen An had fallen back into unconsciousness while Song Ning, who had always faced the world, even in battle, with a small smile, continued crying until tears covered her entire face.
Song Ning had saved Shen An. She had studied medicine before but her talent was limited in this area. At the end of her studies, her skills could barely cure a simple cold and his had greatly saddened her master back then. And Shen An’s injuries here were so severe that even the Saint of Medicine, Baili Yue may not be able to heal.
But under these harsh conditions, the fact that not only did Song Ning manage not to kill Shen An by mistake – but for Shen An to gradually improve under her care – could only be attributed to Heaven having been touched once again by Song Ning’s sincerity. However, Shen An’s eyes have been temporarily blinded by the desert storm.
He sat in a cave in a nearby snow mountain, caressed his sword gently and asked, “May I ask if you are a lady or gentleman?”
Song Ning never did answer his question. The Li Army had razed Canglu Ye to the ground and defeated Shen An’s 5,000 students. She thought that surely Shen An must hate everyyone from Li, so she did not dare let Shen An know that she is Song Ning from the State of Li.
However, life is unpredictable. That night, Shen An’s injuries flared up which caused him to be extremely susceptible to the cold. No matter how many fires she raised in the cave, he continued to suffer and Song Ning could only look on in distress. She thought for a long while and finally decided to use a method described in some old medical texts.
She took off all of their clothes and wrapped herself around him. The fires in the cave slowly melted the ice covering the on the walls, water dripped off making a ‘dida-dida’ sound. Shen An roused to consciousness and tried to push her away but she only hugged him closer. The more he struggled to push her away, the harder she held on to him.
“There is no need for Miss to ruin your good name on my account,” he said helplessly.
Song Ning could only laugh in her heart. She used her finger to write lightly on his chest, “It is merely a doctor’s kindness – please do not worry.”
In actual fact, there was no kindness in her heart. Her thinking was, this is the man she likes, her hero – she would do anything to save him, even at the cost of her life. What more when it is only skinship?
Shen An gave up trying to push her away. Instead, he gently placed his arm around her shoulders, “If Miss have no objections, I will definitely come to offer for your hand when my injuries have healed”. Song Ning trembled a little before resting her head against his chest.
After spending the night suffering from the cold, Shen An’s condition took a turn for the worst. He spent most of the time in lethargic sleep. There was nothing more Song Ning could do by herself, so she finally decided to carry Shen An across the mountain to the nearest town for treatment.
The journey was fraught with danger. Firstly, there is the danger of them being frozen to death or being caught in an avalanche. There is also the danger of them getting lost in the wilds and starving to death. All in all, it would be a very difficult trek.
But after much consideration, Song Ning decided it was a viable solution. While it may seem to be seeking death if they were to leave the cave, but they were also waiting for death if they were to continue staying on in the cave. If death is the ultimate result, at least there is a glimmer of hope in deciding to leave. Never in the entire time did she consider abandoning Shen An.
After travelling through the mountains with Shen An on her back for three days straight without stopping, she finally reached a clinic in the nearest town. Her hands and feet were already covered with cold sores, and she could not even stand up straight any longer.
Shen An had slept through it all.
It had been ten days since Song Ning left the Li army camp. Song Yan was worried to death and had sent his men out to look for her in the area. She had spotted his brother’s subordinates as soon as she entered town and knew then she could not stay here for too long.
Song Ning took out a piece of jade and broke it into two. She hung one half around Shen An’s neck using a piece of red string and kept the other half, intending to use it as a token. She then placed Shen An in the care of the grandfather and granddaughter who ran the clinic, and told them, “This is your country’s general. If you heal him, your king will surely reward you.” The old doctor knelt down quickly and his mute granddaughter held onto him to support him, signaling with hand gestures that Song Ning did not understand.
She raised her hand and touched his eyelashes. His face was very pale and he was fast asleep, unaware that she was leaving.
As Song Ning told me her story, I saw even the parts that were not within her memory.
On the third day after Song Ning left, Shen An finally woke up on a rainy night. After being treated with medicated water, his eyes could finally see again.
The old doctor’s mute granddaughter sat by his bedside. He studied her carefully before finally chucking, “So this is what you look like. Have you been worried these past few days? Where are we now?”
The mute girl’s pretty face blushed red in an instant; she bit her lip and looked away from him shyly.
Shen An studied his surroundings, “Are we at a clinic? Come sit closer to me.”
The mute girl with her red face scooted closer.
He frowned slightly, “You do not know how to speak?”
She nodded hesitatingly.
He took her hand, “No wonder I have never heard you speak. It’s because you did not know how to.”
She cast a peek at him and shyly noded, but did not remove her hand from his.
In the spring of the 18th year of the Duke Lizhuang’s rule, the State of Jiang lost the war. Jiang surrendered two border cities to the State of Li and the two states signed a peace treaty. Not long thereafter, the Duke Lizhuang adopted the sister of the Great General Song Yan, Song Ning as his daughter and granted her the title, Princess Wu. An ambassador was sent to the court of Duke Jiangmu of Jiang to offer Song Ning’s hand in marriage to Shen An, with the intention of forming a marriage alliance between the two states.
Song Ning previously hid her identity from Shen An because she was mindful of the enmity between their two states, and feared that Shen would rather die rather than allow her to save him. But now, as she was about be married to her hero, she remembered that Shen An had promised to marry her. Regardless of whether Shen An loved her, she was going to make him keep his promise. This was the reason why men hated to make any promise to women; because their memories were too good and they will find a way to make them keep their word.
Song Ning wrote a long letter and enclosed her half of their jade token for the ambassador to privately pass to Shen An.
She never received any reply from Shen An. But she did not mind, because after all, Shen An had already agreed to the marriage proposal. Song Ning kept analysing the situation to herself: firstly, Shen An had promised to marry her and secondly, he had personally agreed to marry her in front of the Duke Jiangmu. His co-operativeness in this assured her that there would be no further obstacles.
But she had failed to consider one factor, that is Heaven’s Will. Perhaps it is arcane to attribute life’s quirks to Heaven’s Will, but sometimes that is the only explanation, the case in point being Song Ning’s circumstances as well as my own.
On her wedding night, Song Ning had spent her time reflecting on her feelings for Shen An. She wanted to give him her most beautiful smile the instant he lifted her wedding veil. She was already a lovely woman and when she smiled, her beauty could topple a city. So when Shen An lifted her red wedding veil and was confronted with her smile that could topple a city, he was dazed.
Song Ning turned her head slightly and looked at him from the corner of her eye, her smile growing brighter. His face was expressionless but those were indeed the features familiar to her. She thought that her entire lifetime’s happiness was right there.
Her nanny had taught her that she should say sweet words that would make her husband treat her tenderly, for example, “Husband, I am giving myself to you, please treasure me well.”
Just as she was pondering how to phrase her words, he coldly asked, “Do you know who should be sitting on this bed tonight?”
She did not know what he was talking about. She looked up and uttered, “Ah?”
The coldness in his eyes was frightening, “I heard that it was your brother who suggested this marriage alliance. Why must it be me? Just because I bested you once on the battlefield? Song Ning – from your secret enquiries, didn’t you already know that I already have a fiancee?”
“But you said that you would marry me,” she whispered.
“I am, but a humble subject, “he sneered. “His Highness blackmailed me with Qiqi’s life, how could I refuse your proposal? Only, I do not wish to receive anything from you and I request that you do not expect anything from me.”
She looked at him, “I never wanted anything from you, I only…”
“That’s good, then,” he cut her off.
He stormed out of the wedding chamber, leaving behind a pool of broken moonlight before the bed. She stared as his back and thought, this is not how it should be. She choked out his name, “Shen An” just like how she she did when she held him close at Canglu Ye. But he did not stop.
She did not cry, but remained in a state of shock. She had only cried once in her life, and that was when she found him alive at Canglu Ye. She took of her red wedding dress and folded it neatly. She then lay down in bed and watched the pair of dragon and phoenix candles burn out in the sad moonlight filtering through the window.
The next day, when Song Ning went to pay her respects to the old general and his wife, she overheard the maids gossiping that Shen An had spent the night at He Feng Yuan, where Liu Qiqi, Miss Qiqi lived.
She heard that Qiqi made the general’s clothes; her embroidery was so fine the bamboo looked as if it was real.
She heard that made a fragrant sweet soup for the general using the first lotus seeds from the pond.
She heard that even though Qiqi did not know how to speak, she could still make the general very happy.
Song Ning’s attitude towards the matter was that since Liu Qiqi should have been Shen An’s wife and she had inadvertently ruined their romance, she ought to keep her distance from them. Since their wedding night, Shen An had not shown his face in front of her. From that, she could see that he is a faithful man and felt that that should be respected. She thought, she loved Shen An, but since it has come to this, she could only turn her love into an ideal. Ideals did not feel wronged; ideals did not feel desire.
She had heard a lot about Liu Qiqi.
Although she had come to a self-realisation and channeled her love in the direction of “I love you, but that has nothing to do with you,” she still did not wish to actually meet this person, Liu Qiqi. But sometimes, you won’t get what you want in life, just like how when an emperor wishes for an heir, his harem can understandingly bear him a son immediately. There are many things that are predestined in life, for example whether you will have a son or a daughter; this includes how Song Ning who never had the habit of exercising after lunch, decided to take a walk in the garden one day, and finally met the legendary Liu Qiqi.
 汗血馬 (pinyin: han xue ma): lit. cold-blooded horse; a rare breed of wild horse from the Western Region during the time of the Han Dynasty, which according to legend can travel 1000 li in a day. (see: http://zh.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E6%B1%97%E8%A1%80%E9%A6%AC)
 This is Song Ning’s 名号 (pinyin: ming hao), which is an alternative name. From what I understand, its more like a nickname.
 A place, which I was unable to translate into English – but must be relatively close to Shangyang Pass.
 lit. The Martial Princess
 lit. Garden of the Lotus Phoenix.
Among the four sub-stories in Hua Xu Yin, I had always thought that Song Ning’s was the most tragic of them all. Because much in the vein of Romeo and Juliet’s star-crossed love, this was a tragic comedy of errors, of bad timing and miscommunication.
Unlike in the other three sub-stories where there were very real obstacles that would have most likely prevented the couple from being together even in the end, no such obstacle exist in this story. Their countries were no longer at war, familial objections on both sides were no longer an issue, etc. And for that, to me, this story is even sadder than the rest, because they could quite easily have been happy together.