Posting a little earlier than usual. This chapter shows what could have been between Shen An. If you remember, Jun Fu explained once that the Hua Xu Realm is born from the human heart, but everyone within it is a shadow of their real selves, and would behave exactly how their real selves would.
I remembered Master lecturing Jun Wei and I about how if you release an iron ball weighing 10 kilograms and an iron ball weighing 1 kilogram from the same height at the same time, they would still both hit the ground at the same time. I watched as Xiao Lan jump after me and a feeling of despondency washed over me. According to the principle of the iron balls, how would it be possible for him to reach me in time? Why did he not back up a distance and make a short dash off the cliff in order to gain some acceleration?
Actually, I would not die as long as the Pearl within my body remains intact. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I would not be able to be dead-er from the experience. That was why I did not feel any fear.
But Xiao Lan is but a mere mortal. He must be crazy to jump so fearlessly off the cliff; wasn’t it akin to committing suicide? With this thought, the place where the Pearl resides thumped twice and I suddenly felt a little afraid. I opened my mouth to scream, but the sound seemed to be stuck in my throat. I could only see a sea of white before me, that filled both my eyes and my heart.
It was at this time when something catch my body. A soft sword scratched and pierced the icy cliff wall in a shrill screech. Xiao Lan gripped on to the handle of the sword with his right hand and used his left arm to hold me securely against him. My forehead pressed against his cheek.
We dangled in this manner for a long while. He finally said slowly, “Miss Jun is truly courageous. Your life is on the line and yet you can remain so calm. Other girls would surely be trembling in fear right now.”
“I am also trembling. It’s just that I am quietly trembling inside,” I said.
In order to increase the believability of my words, I wrapped my arms around his neck. This is actually quite a difficult maneuver. I hear the sword being pulled out from the ice. Xiao Lan used the icy cliff face as leverage to leap upwards, and repeated the move three times. I hear the wind whistling in my ears. Before I could react, our feet had touched solid ground again.
My head was dizzy from the journey upwards so I squatted down and rubbed my head. He, on the other, appeared entirely unaffected. He reached out and pulled me away from the edge of the cliff. I did not know what he was thinking. He finally said, “You know that this is only an illusion. Do you really intend to pay with your life just because you accidentally killed within this illusion? I really do not know to call you honest or stupid.”
I thought that this must be the world’s biggest misunderstanding, but I could not tell him about the Pearl. In that case, it was better to let this beautiful misunderstanding continue.
I continued to rub my head.
He knelt next to me, “What’s wrong?”
I was too embarrassed to tell him that the shaking and tumbling had made me dizzy, so I said, “Nothing. It’s just that I’m feeling a little hungry after the scare.”
“Don’t we have some pancakes. Why don’t you have one?”
I suddenly remembered something important and hurriedly held on to him, “How did you break the principle of the iron balls to catch up to me?”
He raised his head, “What is that?”
“It’s a long story, but essentially….” I started.
He interrupted me, “Eat your pancake first. We can talk after you’ve finished.”
And so we started eating pancakes.
But when we finished, I had already forgotten what I wanted to say.
We stayed a further two days in the mountains. According to Xiao Lan, it is a rare opportunity to be able to visit the border between Jiang and Li. Since we were already here, we must take the chance to familiarise ourselves with the surrounding terrain, in order to make this trip worthwhile.
This was the way a military strategist would think. If it was Jun Wei here, he would have insisted that we find an inn to stay for two days so that he can concentrate on his writing. This was have been the novelist’s way of thinking.
I followed Xiao Lan around exploring the terrain. The complicated and confusing surroundings looked unfamiliar to me no matter how many times we walked the same path. However, Xiao Lan was able to map the area up without any hesitation. I looked at him and felt like there was nothing in this world that he did not know how to do. But I rejected an idea within a few minutes because I suddenly remembered that he did not know to give birth.
Two days later, good weather once again gave way to the rain. Timing our arrival to the time Shen An would be waking up, Xiao Lan and I slowly made our way to the clinic with opened umbrellas hovering above our heads. The purpose of this trip was to see how Shen An would react when he saw Song Ning upon waking up.
My heart was actually very unsettled. I did not know whether my gamble would pay off. Their destiny was separated by their countries’ conflict and familial hatred. I did not know whether Shen An would be like me, and be able to separate his personal life from his public duty to his country.
It was the dead of the night. I carefully opened the window and lifted the curtain to look inside. Xiao Lan quickly pulled me away and into a quiet corner, “Is this what you call a sneak peek?”
I brushed off his hand, “How are we sneakily peeping. Don’t make me sound so disgusting. We are just taking a quick peep in secret.”
Xiao Lan crossed his arms and looked at me.
I touched my nose, “Do you want to come and take a sneak peek with me? Since I am already peeping, why don’t we peep together?”
Xiao Lan rubbed his temples tiredly, “You go and peep alone. But be careful. Those two in the room are both skilled in martial arts. There’ll be trouble if they found you there.”
And so, I happily ran off to go peeping.
Through the slit in the window, I saw the scene from 7 years ago replayed. The only difference was that since I had accidentally pushed the original female lead, Liu Qiqi, off the mountain cliff, the woman sitting by the bedside is now Song Ning. She was studying Shen An’s sleeping face with great concentration. Her face was so close to her lips nearly touched his nose.
I thought, If it were me, I would have just kissed him there and then. Just as that though past through my head, Song Ning proved herself to be from a military line – she really kissed him. Because the kiss was to his cheek and because I had excellent eyesight, I saw that her eyes were closed, her long eyelashes were fluttering, her porcelain skin was flushed – and that Shen An chose to open his eyes at that instant.
The rain started to patter on the rooftop, on the pavement outside. He raised his arm and touched her back, bringing her closer to him. She opened her eyes in shock and tried to distance herself from him but he did not let her go. He looked at her carefully, his gaze travelled from her hair that was loosely tied back, to her beautiful eyes. After what seemed like an eternity, an inscrutable smile came onto his pale but handsome face, “I recognise you, Song Ning.”
Panic flashed in her eyes but she regained her composure quickly. She raised her head but did not speak; she only wanted to move away from him, perhaps because of a woman’s modesty. I understood what she was feeling – she really hoped that Shen An would know that she was Song Ning, but at the same time she is so afraid of Shen An knowing that she was Song Ning. Because Song Ning wasn’t just Song Ning, she was also the younger sister of Song Yan, the Great General of Li.
Shen An only hugged her closely to him, “Song Ning, why did you save me?” One could not tell what he was feeling from his voice, and his face did not have the same warmth and gentleness he displayed when he met Liu Qiqi the first time 7 years ago.
Cold sweat perspired in my palms. I had lost my gamble. It was fated that in this life, Shen An is unable to fall in love with Song Ning, and this is so even within this dreamscape.
Song Ning struggled to extricate herself from his grasp, “Don’t you dare think that I really wanted to save you. It is just that you had defeated me before. I am not willing to accept that result. So before I defeat you, you cannot die. I definitely will not let you die. That is my only reason for doing so.”
I did not have the heart to continue watching them. Based on my analysis of Shen An’s personality, I could already predict the likely outcome. Just as I was about to leave and find Xiao Lan for discussion, the lamps in the room suddenly flickered. When the candle flames in the lamps steadied again, the two figures on the bed had already switched positions into one where Shen An was on top of Song Ning.
I used one hand to keep my jaw from hitting the floor.
I saw Shen An firmly kept Song Ning on the bed. He did not look like someone who was still recovering from serious injuries. He asked perplexedly, “Then what were you doing just now, Song Ning. Were you using your mouth to help me hit mosquitoes?”
She blushed, and was at once speechless.
He pushed away her loose hair from her face and stroked the hair at her forehead. He said lightly, “I kept wondering how the girl who saved me would look like. So this is how she looks like me. Why didn’t you say anything? Why didn’t you tell me that you were Song Ning from Sang Yang Pass?”
Tears spilled from Song Ning’s eyes. She hugged him and cried, “Why would I tell you? You surely wouldn’t have allowed me to save you. You must hate me, so you wouldn’t even have let me touch you. You’re awake. It’s good that you’re awake now. I’m going to return to Li. You said that you would marry me – let’s just treat that as a joke. After all, I never took it seriously.”
He looked at her helplessly, and gently patted her back, “Do you think it was very easy to have saved me? Do you think it is easy for me to fall in love?”
She cried even harder, “You’re lying. You just saw my face. You just found out that it was me.”
He planted kisses on her eyelids. “You’re right. I just saw your face, just found out that it was you. I fell in love with the girl who saved me, but I did not know how she looked like.”
The Song Ning from seven years later, lived every day suppressing her feelings. I thought that such was her personality, but it was only today that I understood that it was only because the only man she wanted to act coquettishly with, had ignored her for the entire seven years. She also can behave like this at times, could experience tumultuous emotions. And the man she loved saw this side of her, her innocence, the real Song Ning.
I moved away from the window. Xiao Lan stood under an umbrella in the yard, admiring patches of light coloured cyclamens. This type of flowers are not suited to the climate, so it was really rare to seem them in these parts. And for them to be able to bloom, that was truly an auspicious omen from the heavens.
I walked passed him and the fence. He walked over and held the umbrella over my head, “So what happened between the two of them?”
I gave him a small smile, “I won.”
The rain fell on the umbrella, pitter-patter. He cast a glance at me, “But you do not look too happy.”
“It’s not that I’m not happy,” I said. “It is only after seeing everything that happened tonight in this dreamscape, did I realise that the misunderstanding from seven years ago did not happen, Song Ning and Shen An would have been quite happy together and would not end up where they are at now. So I am just feeling a little emotional about it. This feeling, it’s like… you go to a brothel to find a courtesan, but then she is unwilling to go with you. You always thought it was because you were not good looking enough, and that was why the courtesan did not like you. And some years later, you find out that it was not because she didn’t like you; she actually thought that you were quite handsome and was very willing to spend the night with you. Unfortunately, she had her period that day, so she could not take things one step further.”
He looked at me, “Miss Jun…”
I interrupted him, “Are you about to tell me that I am saying foolish things?. I am actually quite a conservative person. The reason why I am quite unreserved with my words is because I had lived too carefully for the past seven years. Now that I am alone in this world, naturally I would say whatever I am thinking freely. Why would I supress my opinions and make myself unhappy?”
He kept quiet for a while before saying, “Miss Jun is behaving a little out of the ordinary tonight.”
I looked into the distance, at the darkened sky, and asked him “Xiao Lan. What do you think is fake and what do you think is real? I feel that it is all in the mind. If you do not think that it is an illusion, than it is not an illusion. In this world that I created for them, they are real. The tears the shed are real, their smiles are real, their love are real, their loyalty and righteousness is real, their unpredictability is real, their heart’s inconstancy is also real. Although his Hua Xu Realm that is born from the human heart is seeks beauty and perfection, it is actually ugly and brutal. Without a strong heart, be it in reality or a fantasy, one can never attain eternal happiness. And if you have a strong heart, one would be able to lead a good life in reality; in that case, why would someone come into this dreamscape?”
My speech was reasoned out and logical. But towards the end, now that I look back, even I did not know what I was saying.
Xiao Lan thought for a while without a word. He finally looked up at me and asked, “What do you plan to do?”
I had already made up my mind, “I am waiting for a great battle. A battle where the snow will dance in the wind and the bones of war cover the ground.”
He looked at me thoughtfully. I calmly return his stare and suddenly remember something that I needed to tell him, “Ah yes. I forgot to tell you earlier, but look, my clothing here – I cannot reach – can you see it? It’s just on my shoulder… there’s a tear. You’re so capable, surely you’re good at sewing. Can you help me mend it?”
He examined my clothing for a while before finally saying, “This capable me does not know how to sew, so I cannot mend it for you.”
I was not joking when I told Xiao Lan that I was waiting for a big battle. I already know what I need to do. This Hua Xu Realm was actually a void, and each musical note in the Hua Xu Melody represents a period of time within this void. By having the Pearl perform the Hua Xu Melody within this void, we should be able to travel to another point in time within the Melody. However, we can only travel to the future, and once we do so, we will not be able to return to the past.
I had already thought about this for a long while. I will finish this last thing that I have to do, something that my conscience required. But I did not know how far forward in the future we should move to – one year or three years?
I asked Xiao Lan, “Based on your experience, how long do you think we need to give a pair of lovers, for them to become inseparable and create many happy memories?”
The rain has already stopped, so he closed the umbrella and put it away. He calmly replied, “Perhaps half a year.”
On the next day, we managed to borrow a qin from the music hall in town. The music resounded from the qin. As the last note left my fingers, the clouds drifted away in the wind, autumn leaves covered once withered branches and flowers floated in the air towards the ground. It was already half a year later, in the autumn of the 18th year of the reign of the Duke Lizhuang, the time during which the battle between the States of Jiang and Xia will take place.
The battle had already ended, and a barren piece of land stretching a thousand miles was the result. The only thing in sight was Jiang’s army camp that was packing up to return to the capital. This was seven years ago, and nine months after Shen An and Song Ning were married. This is the battle where Xia wanted to invade Jiang; Song Ning had gifted Shen An with her huxing jing.
I went into a reedy area alone and took out the skin mask from my sleeve. I removed my mask from my face, stopped by a small pool and carefully applied the skin mask to my face. Master Jun makes the best skin masks in the world, and my skills are learnt from him. But as I looked at Song Ning’s face reflected in the pool, I suddenly felt that perhaps my ability in this area has surpassed that of my master.
Xiao Lan voice floated slowly over to me, “Miss Jun, are you still alive?”
I pushed away some of the reeds and called out, “I’m here.”
He looked at me from head to toe, “You’ve disguised yourself this way, what are you planning to do?”
“To find Shen An,” I replied. “There is something that I must do. Wait for me here. When I’m done, I will come back to look for you.”
He studied me for a while before saying, “Be careful in all that you do.”
 撒嬌 (pinyin sajiao), according to the dictionary, means to act like a spoiled child, to throw a tantrum or to act coquettishly. The closest equivalent would be ‘aegyo’ in Korean.
 童言无忌 (pinyin tong yan wu ji), a phrase used to express that one is/should not be offended by what a child says (which may be foolish/rude). However, the usual expression does not actually work in this context.
Mostly cute and loving scenes. I was bawling to decembi as I translated the scene between Shen An and Song Ning, that I had forgotten how beautiful the scenes in this book can be. I was actually sniffling away. I have not read HXY for a very long time, so re-reading it as I translate it is like an old friend. I remember vague pieces of it, but now I am rediscovering how funny and beautiful this book is.
The next post will be the finale of the sub-story. I decided to cut here today because it is still comparatively light and fluffy. The tears will come later. *sniffles*