First of all, thank you for all of your comments to Chapter 3.2. Never in my wildest imagination did I foresee such passionate analysis of Song Ning and Shen An’s story. I appreciate everyone’s views and I hope we can have another round of debates when we finish the Song Ning and Shen An arc.
And then…. nothing happens in this chapter post, except a lot of characterization and cute between Jun Fu, Jun Wei and Xiao Lan. We get to know Jun Fu a lot better in this chapter from her thoughts on Song Ning’s story and also her interactions with the other characters.
Dedication: This chapter dedicated to Decembi :)
Two days later, while we were having breakfast together, I brought up that that today was the day I will be entering Song Ning’s dreamscape to fix some of her regrets, would Xiao Lan be able to go in with me? Xiao Lan had not had the opportunity to show off his skills because our journey to Jiang has been so smooth; he must be feeling disappointed indeed.
If he follows me into the dreamscape this time, we would likely meet with unforeseen circumstances and he will surely have an opportunity to rescue me from danger. This will cure his disappointment and allow him to make good the promise he made to me 16 days and 8 hours ago.
As soon as I finished speaking, the three other people at the table dropped their chopsticks. Xiao Lan displayed some quick reflexes here; with a wave of his sleeve, he managed to collect everyone’s chopsticks before they hit the ground.
Jun Wei was surprised because I had invited Xiao Lan into Song Ning’s dreamscape, but did not ask him. After all, he was the swordsman Master Jun sent to protect me.
I had my reasons for making this decisions. Although Jun Wei called himself a swordsman, he was usually too preoccupied with writing stories. Often, he would be inspired in the middle of a fight and unilaterally decide to that the fight had ended, leaving his companions behind to run off to a secluded area to continue his creative writing. This is the reason why although Xiao Huang is a pet tiger, he sometimes even more savage than a wild tiger; he had lost count the number of times an inspired Jun Wei had run off without him, leaving him in the midst of a crowd of swords and a rain of arrows.
From this, one could see that the unluckier one was, the greater the risks of having Jun Wei protect oneself, because danger and disaster was as unpredictable as the arrival of inspiration. So if one had other options, even Xiao Huang would not choose Jun Wei, let alone myself who was not particularly skilled at fighting.
Even though I thought so deep in my heart, I could not deal such a blow to Jun Wei’s self-esteem. I thought for a while before saying to him, “The most important job is for you to stay and protect my qin. Think about it – what will happen if everyone has entered Song Ning’s dreamscape and someone takes the opportunity to destroy my qin?”
Jun Wei paused and thought deeply after hearing my explanation. After a while, he turned around and slowly instructed Xiao Lan, “Even though the place you are going is just a dreamscape created by Ah Fu for Song Ning, but in this dream – Ah Fu and yourself are real. If you are injured in the dream, then you would be injured in reality; if you die in the dream, then you would be dead in reality as well. Take utmost care; it is nothing if you die, but you must protect Ah Fu carefully.”
Xiao Lan did not say a word. Instead, he reached out and picked up the last Crystal Jade Dumpling from the steamer. I swallowed. His chopsticks paused in midair as he looked towards me and asked with a faint smile, “Does Miss Jun like this?”
I looked at the dumpling in between his chopsticks and reluctantly shook my head.
The bamboo chopsticks swiftly changed directions and in a blink of an eye, the dumpling was resting on my plate before me. His gesture was so elegant and refined, it would not look out of place at any great banquet.
I was actually not that interested in the dumpling. I used to like it when I was alive, so I was just reminiscing the taste of it earlier. Since I no longer had any sense of taste, it would be a waste for me to eat it, so I could only move to return it back to him.
Just as my chopsticks carrying the dumpling hovered about Xiao Lan’s bowl of soup, Jun Wei suddenly shouted, “What are you all doing? Did you all hear what I just said?”
I was startled by his shout and the dumpling slid off my chopsticks into the soup. Xiao Lan pulled me back just in time. “Pa” it went in and vegetables flew everywhere.
Jun Wei’s white robe was now splattered with soup and vegetables. He looked angrily at me.
Xiao Lan stared back at Jun Wei and said solemnly, “I have already committed Brother Jun’s worlds to memory. It is nothing if I die, but I must protect Miss Jun carefully.”
Jun Wei gritted his teeth, “You don’t need to protect her already; you can just kill her off now!”
“That… wouldn’t be good,” I said.
Xiao Lan cast a faint smile in my direction and was about to speak with Zhi Su who had been silent all this while finally spoke up, “Miss Jun is a skilled illusionist. It has been a while since we have seen such in the East…”
“She comes from a poor family. It is not surprising that she would learn a few illusion tricks to earn a bit of money?” Jun Wei interrupted her.
An odd expression came onto Zhi Su’s face.
Xiao Lan looked at me smilingly, “A poor family? To earn a bit of money?”
I cast one look at Jun Wei, considered his expression, and felt that it was best not to go against the background he had created for me, “Yes…”
Zhi Su: “…”
Xiao Lan: “…”
After breakfast, Jun Wei went to his room to change his clothes. Zhi Su also left without a word. This left Xiao Lan and myself waiting in the hall. We sat on the rosewood chairs and contemplated how we could make Shen An fall in love with Song Ning in the dreamscape.
The dreamscape created by the Hua Xu Melody was known as the Hua Xu Realm. This Realm could only recreate the past, so it was impossible to create the Shen An in Song Ning’s imagination. Our objective in entering Song Ning’s Hua Xu Realm is to change the past and prevent the tragic events from happening again so that Song Ning can live happily ever after without sorrow in the dreamscape. However, the question is how do we achieve this happily ever after without sorrow? The root of her suffering is the desire in her heart.
I thought, perhaps we could kidnap Song Ning at the battle of Canglu Ye; this way she would not be able to rescue Shen An and Shen An would have died a useful death. But this differed greatly from Song Ning’s wishes. I was wondering if we should take the risk.
Just as I was dealing with my internal struggle, Xiao Lan interrupted my train of thought. He studied my seven stringed qin for a moment and asked, “Earlier, Miss Jun mentioned that there would be trouble if this qin were to be destroyed?”
I absent-mindedly made a sound in agreement.
He then asked with interest, “What sort of trouble?” If this qin were to be destroyed, would the Hua Xu Realm created by playing it similarly be destroyed?”
I froze for a moment; I could not understand why he could have such terrifying thoughts. I shook my head and replied, “No. Only that if this qin were to be destroyed, I will have to spend two pieces of gold to buy another one.”
He looked at me without a word.
The air around us fell silent.
After a while, his handsome face broke into a smile. The smile was so beautiful that it hurt my eyes.
He said with a laugh, “Miss Jun really… reminds me of another girl I know.”
I felt slightly unhappy after hearing him say that. It reminded of how I once heard a blacksmith tried to sweet-talk to his wife by telling her that she looked like the famous actress, Zhang Baizhi from the State of Chao, but wound up having his wife chase him down seven streets with a spade. Zhang Baizhi was beautiful enough to topple cities and kingdoms while Mrs Liu’s height was six feet two and weighed 210 pounds.
The truth is that all women did not wish to have beauty that could topple cities and kingdoms, but only hoped to be one of a kind. I thought, if my husband in the future spoke the same words as Xiao Lan today, I would surely make him kneel on washboards. But as soon as I finished that thought, I realised that I had thought too much. If I could have a husband in the future, then that husband could only be Jun Wei, and Jun Wei never learnt his lessons even after being punished to kneel on washboards.
Slightly after 7 in the morning, the four of us and a tiger arrived at the little pavillion.
Song Ning looked much better than two days ago. Her hair was put up in a high bun and adorned with silk flowers. A disc of white jade inlaid in silver rested on her forehead. I wondered where had I ever seen her look like this. It struck me a while later: I saw it in her memories through the Hua Xu Diao two days ago. She looked like this on her wedding night, except that instead of wearing a red wedding dress, she was wearing a plain white dress today.
I asked, “You… like this…”
She laughed, “I still must dress properly before I could go see him.”
I knew who she was talking about. It was the Shen An she fell in love with. The Shen An who unhorsed her at Shanyang Pass in the winter of the seventeenth year of the Duke of Li’s reign; the Shen An who told her in the mountain cave at Canglu Ye, “If Miss have no objections, I will definitely come to offer for your hand when your injuries have healed.”
Song Ning’s greatest mistake was that her experience with man was limited to only Shen An, so when she lost him it was as if she had lost everything. This made her unable to let go even in the face of death. If she had another man in her life, then in the worst case scenario, losing him would only be lessening the burdens of her life. I could not continue to imagine this scenario any further; any further then this would evolved into a female-oriented feature article.
Song Ning said to me, “Jun Fu, would it be too greedy of me if I were to ask to reunite with Luo’er? If he were still alive, he would be turning six next month. I don’t know how he would look like now, but he was really adorable when he was alive.”
I uncovered my seven-stringed qin while consoling her softly, “My purpose here is to make your desires come true. I will let the two of you reunite. We will go out now while you lie here and have a good sleep. Once you are asleep, I will come and weave a dream for you.”
Song Ning quickly fell asleep. Her words had steadied my heart. I thought, in the end, I must still take that risk.
The lotus pond was covered with jade green leaves with a few closed lotus buds dotting the surface. The servants had already set up my qin on one side. I was experimentally plucking at my qin to tune the instrument when I saw Jun Wei cover his ears. He did not know that my skills had greatly improved. I did not like practicing the qin in the past because I did not know who I was playing for. My master was elderly, so he would usually start yawning within a quarter of the hour.
Jun Wei would always want to start playing when he saw me play. I, on the other hand, could not help fantasizing violently about hitting him over his head with my qin as soon as I see him pluck at his. After Mu Yan appeared, even though I did not know his face and could not remember his voice, I could not forget the image of him playing the qin in the moonlight and that music which I had never heard before continued to linger in my memories. I remembered a line of a poem that went, “the desire to communicate my thoughts through a jade qin”; I put so much effort into practicing the qin thereafter because I wished to express myself by playing for him.
Two quarters of the hour after 9 in the morning, just as the sun broke through the clouds to shower the earth in golden light, I began playing Song Ning’s Hua Xu Melody. I had thought that given her strong and stubborn personality and her three years’ experience as a soldier on the battlefield, her Melody must surely be like the sounds of armoured calvary and bloody killing. However, the melody that came from the strings being plucked was the sound of heart-piercing sadness and hidden bitterness.
The Hua Xu Melody was the embodiment of a person’s heart, with his or her life as the score. This was a melody where each note was a bloody tear; one could not imagine how broken Song Ning’s heart was. No matter how strong she was, she was but a woman. She survived the battlefields but was defeated by love in the end.
When I played the last note, mist began to form on the surface of the lotus pond. A faint multicoloured light which can only be seen by the owner of the Pearl, pulsed within the mist.
Xiao Lan looked in the direction of the rockery; I could not tell what he was thinking. I stood up next to my qin and moved towards him in two steps and grabbed his hand. He looked at me in surprised.
I was about to explain myself to him when Jun Wei cried out, “Men and women should maintain a distance.”
Xiao Lan kept silent.
I kept holding on to his hand.
I was no longer a living person of this world, so the societal rules that govern men and women really meant little to me. However, I could neither ignore Xiao Lan’s thinking, nor could I ignore his female bodyguard, Zhi Su’s. But other than holding on his hand, there was no other way to bring him into Song Ning’s Hua Xu Realm.
Zhi Su had an expression of surprise. She opened her mouth as if to say something, before closing it again decisively. In comparison, Xiao Lan did not overreact at all. But I thought I should still ask for his opinion, “I need to hold your hand for a little while, do you mind?”
He stared at me calmly and raised an eyebrow, “And what if I say I mind?”
I returned his stare calmly, “Then once we return from Song Ning’s dreamscape, you should find a sword and cut off your hand.”
“That is a good suggestion,” Jun Wei interjected, “It befits a strong man.”
“Your head, that is a good suggestion,” I said.
Xiao Lan’s lips curled upwards, “I was just joking. Why would I mind when Miss Jun doesn’t mind either?”
His smile made me suddenly nervous. But we were in the midst of serious business; there was no time to think about irrelevant things. I held on to him as I jumped towards the multicoloured light in the mist floating above the surface of the lotus pond.
If a stranger were to walk by that instant, he surely would have thought that we were holding hands to commit suicide for love. Jun Wei, Zhi Su and Xiao Huang were standing by the side waving goodbye at us, as if they were sending off their loved ones. One really could not imagine how a stranger would feel seeing such a sight.
 Chinese washboards have a zig zag pattern carved into the middle, which makes it painful to kneel on. See picture here: http://www.globaltimes.cn/Portals/0/attachment/2011/c49b7d18-1f01-441f-bb7a-71a81bf9c2e1.jpeg
 This is from a poem by the Southern Song General Yue Fei, titled 《小重山》(pinyin. xiao chongshan) (lit. small weighty mountain). The whole line goes, “欲将心事付瑶琴。知音少，弦断有谁听?” (pinyin. yù jiāng xīnshì fù yáo qín. Zhīyīn shǎo, xián duàn yǒu shuí tīng?), which describes someone who wished to communicate his thoughts through his music, but alas, there are few who understand him. And when the strings on his qin breaks, who else would be willing to listen to him? (source: http://www.exam58.com/scmj/3679.html)
 Jun Fu actually literally says that she wants to play herself for Mu Yan to hear, but that sounds like ALL KINDS of wrong in English. When read with the line of the poem she quoted, she is actually saying she wants to communicate her heart’s desire to him through her music, which is all kinds of sweet.🙂
In this chapter, the line from Yue Fei’s poem that Jun Fu quotes asks: there are few who are his 知音 (pinyin. zhiyin), when the string breaks, who would be willing to hear his music. Decembi reminded me that 知音 had multiple meanings. On the most basic level, it literally meant someone who “knows the music”. However, it could also mean a soulmate that will understand your heart. So Jun Fu wants to play for Mu Yan, hoping that he is her 知音.
And so, this chapter post is dedicated to Decembi, who is my literature 知音.🙂