Between Mother’s Day and packing, I was only able to get this chapter ready ahead of time, so unfortunately, I will have to miss Friday night’s post. Back from holidays in a week.
The girl in the cover pic is Eleven, and it was drawn by Mo Bao Fei Bao herself.
😭😭😭😭 I need a shoulder to cry on. 😦
Insert Chapter 1.2 – Beautiful Bones (2)
Late into the night, she wrote a letter, pleading to her mother to break off her betrothal.
Mother sent a letter in reply. Not a single word mentioned breaking the betrothal, and instead, what she spoke of was some of the rumors that were circulating among the ordinary people.
A rumor amongst the common folk was that Xiao Nanchen Prince and the crown princess had illicit relations, paying no heed to their relationship as teacher and disciple and disregarding ethics and social order. A rumor amongst the common folk was that Xiao Nanchen Prince had intentions of raising an army to change the ruling surname and declaring his sovereignty. Another rumor amongst the common folk was that the Cui family of Qinghe had already joined with Xiao Nanchen Prince’s manor, offering up both its beautiful daughter and the world for the purpose of being granted a division of the land so that the family clan would be made a line of kings.
My child, guard your words and your actions. The entire family line in Qinghe is held in your hands.
She folded the letter, removed the glass cover protecting the candle of the lamp, and placed the letter in the flame until it had completely burned away.
Imperial edicts from the palace expressing goodwill were frequently received, and the crown prince, as the heir apparent to the throne, personally visited the manor and sought to appease Xiao Nanchen Prince. The lord and his ministers were so harmonious in their relationship, as if to proclaim to the world that the rumors were strictly rumors and that the relationship between the imperial household, the line of the Nanchen Prince, and the Cui family of Qinghe was close, strong, and unshakable.
On her seventeenth birthday, by her mother’s orders, she was to leave Xiao Nanchen Prince’s Manor and this city, Chang’an that she had lived in for ten years, yet had never once seen the bustling of its streets and marketplace.
That day was also a brilliantly sunny day.
It was a seldom seen time when Teacher was in the manor with no matters to attend to, and he was sitting and leaning back in the bamboo chair in the study. When she entered to bid her farewell, sunlight was shining in through the window, casting blotchy shadows upon him and causing him to be partly in the light, partly in the dark. His eyes were clear like water as he raised his head and quietly gazed right at her.
Eleven very carefully and properly paid the ceremonial respect of a disciple to her teacher, kneeling down on both knees and pressing her forehead against the bluestone slabs of the floor. “One who is teacher for one day is regarded as father for a lifetime.” Her bow was to bid farewell to these ten years of his loving kindness, raising and teaching her.
“The empress dowager has issued a decree that I adopt you as my daughter. Eleven, would you be willing to have this pass?”
She rose back to her feet and very gently shook her head.
That bow from a moment ago had already concluded their relationship as teacher and disciple. She did not want to still have anything binding her to him after she stepped out of the prince’s manor.
He gave a small smile. “Then this prince shall, for this once, defy the decree.”
Eleven walked up before him, and leaning up against the side of the bamboo chair, she bent her knees slightly. She looked carefully at him. There was a touch of weariness between his brows. Unconsciously, she reached out her hand, wanting to touch his face.
Just this one time. After this one time, she would leave Chang’an and return to Qinghe.
He sensed her motion and raised his eyes a little to look directly at her. She was frightened, not knowing whether she should pull her hand back or forthrightly touch his face. In that brief, still moment, he had already leaned forward slightly and, complementing her action, placed his face gently into her hand.
Her fingers had a slight tremble, but they still stubbornly held their course and slid from his brow down the bridge of his nose.
She thought, what about these bones was so special that even the imperial household would be wary of them, that they would be on the lips of everyone in the land?
Beauty is offered, a soul is given in return. This was describing a woman offering up her beauty and a man giving his soul in return, but with her plain, unremarkable appearance, how could she possibly merit the words, “beauty is offered”?…… She quietly pulled her hand back. He suddenly gave a little laugh and asked her, “You have been in Chang’an for ten years, but Eleven, you still have not seen the true Chang’an city, have you?” Eleven nodded, and after thinking about it, she could not refrain from giving a rueful smile.
“I will bring you for a look.”
She was taken aback, but when she remembered her mother’s letter, she hesitantly shook her head. Only after he had ordered someone to bring her a hat with a black gauze covering and her entire face was hidden, with only her eyes showing, did he finally take her out of the prince’s manor. Under the bright sun shining high in the sky, in the noisy streets, he and she rode together on a single horse as he softly told her the name of every place and explained what was unique about each of them.
The places where his long whip was present should have been battlefields of life and death, of fighting and killing.
But that day, it was merely there in Chang’an city’s pavilions, terraces, towers, wine shops, and streets. He did not wear his princely robes, and she was covering her face. He was no longer her teacher, and she was no longer his disciple. From a distance, all that anyone could see was simply a girl, with bright, limpid eyes, sitting on the horse and the extremely graceful, poised man who held her in his arms in front of himself.
This was the city of Chang’an where she had lived for ten years.
The day she left the prince’s manor was also the day he once again led troops out into battle against enemy armies. After ten years of wars and fighting, the border areas had been purged of threats, and neighbouring countries were terror-stricken by simply word of his presence. This battle was merely a warning to all the lands and did not have any risk to his life.
She believed as such.
Ten days later, she arrived at the ancestral manor of the Cui family of Qinghe, and under the personal tutelage of the crown prince’s childhood wet nurse, she began to learn wedding etiquette and rituals. The wet nurse seemed to have heard much about her various errors and wrongdoings, and her words and countenance were harsh, deliberately finding fault in every aspect. In silence, she remembered each important point and disregarded the mockery and scorn in her words.
Until an emergency request for aid came from the borderlands.
His Imperial Highness, the crown prince, personally went out to battle, bringing reinforcement troops to Xiao Nanchen Prince. It was then that she felt that there was something amiss.
From the time Xiao Nanchen Prince was sixteen years of age and had mounted his horse to enter the battlefield, he had never once been defeated. Where his sword pointed would surely be a billowing sea of blood, and he would unquestionably return in triumph. What virtues or abilities could a crown prince, who had spent all his days in rest in the imperial palace, possibly have that he would dare to lead the reinforcements out to battle?
There was no one for her to pose her questions to, for the people surrounding her were either her father and brothers or were those belonging to the imperial family.
She remembered, in her ten years in the prince’s manor, if she had fallen asleep, Zhousheng Chen would always carry her back to her room himself, for fear that she would be affected by cold and fall ill. With even the slightest sickness due to invasion of wind-cold in her body, she would be in his room drinking a tea brewed from purple perilla leaf. In contrast, now that she had returned home, even on days when snow was falling thickly, she would still need to stand barefoot on the bluestone tile floors and learn how to climb onto the daybed to wait upon the monarch.
Half a month later, Mother came to watch her as she practiced over and over again the proper movements and posture for seating oneself.
After a long while, Mother finally wordlessly handed her a note.
The words were few and the handwriting seeming as if it had been hastily composed, but so familiar it caused her heart to pound in fear.
Chen, in this life, never forsook the world and has only forsaken Eleven.
In her bare feet, she stood on the bluestone tiles and listened to her mother, one word, one sentence at a time, describe to her how, on that night three days ago, Xiao Nanchen Prince had, just before the battle, turned in rebellion and seized the crown prince in a futile attempt to usurp the throne and become emperor himself. Fortunately, Shi Yi’s father and elder brothers were present and protected his Imperial Highness. The nearly successful rebellion finally failed, and Xiao Nanchen Prince was granted the punishment of death by deboning.
What was meant by deboning? It was for the lone reason that his beautiful bones were widely known in the land.
The crown prince, therefore, before all the people of the land, scraped out the beautiful bones from his body to serve as an example and warning to the people.
Mother’s eyes avoided hers. Her eyes wide, she fixed her gaze upon her mother.
Her mouth opened, but words would not come forth.
This life, she possessed a mouth and tongue but yet was unable to produce speech. She was not even able to ask how he had left this note behind.
Who had forsaken whom?
As Eleven held that piece of paper, she could not prevent her body from trembling. She remembered how, that day, before she had departed, her fingers had felt over every feature of his face, not wanting to forget even the smallest detail about him. But now, what remained in this reunion was merely paper and final words written before death.
His one statement that he had never forsaken the world was clearly telling her he had been set-up and the accusations against him were falsified.
Her father and elder brothers had wronged him, the imperial family had wronged him.
As for her, how could she remove herself from this matter?
Eleven carefully folded up the note and placed it inside her garment collar, beside her heart. She then continued to silently practice, over and over again, how to sit down properly.
Eleven, in this life, did you ever have someone whom you would like to be with, to share that person’s ending?
The answer to this question, she had known already long ago.
Historical records stated:
Zhousheng Chen, the Xiao Nanchen Prince –– a life of unceasing fighting and war, exemplary of whole-hearted loyalty, but in the prime of his life, was marred by fame and glory and gradually developed desires to rebel against the state. The Cui family of Qinghe, fortunately, saw through and thwarted his scheme. Xiao Nanchen Prince was captured. The crown prince’s hatred ran deep into his bones, and he bestowed the punishment of death by deboning upon him.
The sentence was carried out for a full three shichen [six hours], but there was not a single cry or howl of anguish. Even to death, he refused to repent.
Throughout his life, Xiao Nanchen Prince took no wife and had no offspring, but repeated allegations of his secret, illicit relationship with the crown princess were circulated. Four days after Xiao Nanchen Prince’s death, the crown princess also departed this life. There were rumors that she had hung herself from the rafters of one of the ten zhang [approximately 32 metres] tall towers in the prince’s manor, while other accounts said she had thrown herself from the city walls of Chang’an. Opinions differed and there were no conclusive arguments. All that remained, within the library tower of the prince’s manor, was the crown princess’s writing, written with her own hand the entire poem of “Rhapsody of the Imperial Park.” This story was passed down the ages until it became one praised and passed on by the people.
His life of magnificence, of greatness was, with these few words, completely buried and forgotten by the world.
In this life, twenty-six years had passed already.
Shi Yi leaned against the window, looking out beyond the car window at the street signs that were speeding by. She could not help giving a heartfelt sigh over the good weather. There was not even a trace of a cloud in the azure sky, so even one’s mood was pleasant because of this. The taxi cab’s whole journey had been flowing and unimpeded, and even after she was out of the car, her check-in procedure was smooth. However, inside security, both times she passed through the metal detector, the alarm had sounded loudly.
The most frustrating part was, the alarm over in the other security line next to her was blaring incessantly as well. She wondered who was having the same wretched luck as her and had encountered an unreasonable metal detector. “Miss, would you mind taking off your shoes. We need to check again.” She nodded and sat down on one of the chairs off to the side. As she was lowering her head to remove her shoes, she saw the backside view of the man in the adjacent security checkpoint.
Very tall, his back very straight. When she noticed him, he was picking up his laptop computer.
On the other end of the security checkpoint, the long queue wound back like dragon.
And on this end, it was only the two of them being inspected.
“Mr. Zhousheng Chen?” The man guarding the security checkpoint was holding the passport he had left behind. “You forgot your passport.”
“Thank you.” He turned around.
Sensing her gaze on him, he lifted his eyes to look over at her.
That instant of eye contact seemed to suppress all the chaos and noise surrounding them. Nothing else concerned her anymore. Shi Yi stared deeply at him, unable to move her gaze away. She wanted to laugh and at the same time, wanted to cry, but either way, she could not speak, not even half a word.
He had come after all.
Zhousheng Chen, you have come after all.
 纲常伦理 “gang chang lun li.” 纲常 “gang chang” is the simplified name for 三纲五常, the Three “Gang” [Mainstays] and Five Chang [Norms]. 伦理 “lun li” is referring basically to the principles behind the “five norms.” The “three mainstays” are the three relationships between ruler and subject, father and son, and husband and wife. The “five norms” are these previous three relationships as well as the relationship between brothers and friends. The principle behind this is that proper social order is maintained only when these relationships are carried out appropriate in society. In Eleven and Xiao Nanchen Prince’s case, the relationship between “father and son” is what applies to them. (see footnote )
一日为师，终身是父. An idiom meaning, even if a person has only taught me for a one day, I shall regard him as a father for the rest of my life. This is to show the degree of respect one’s teacher deserves in one’s life. However, it is also regarded that your teacher is your elder, and a teacher and student/disciple should never be in a romantic relationship because it violates the natural order that one you should not be in relationship with your “father”/elder.
本王 ‘ben wang’. A form of self-address that means, “this prince.” In front of subordinates, this is how a prince of Zhousheng Chen’s status should address himself. It is more formal as his status is being stated plainly and separates himself from those below him. In this case, the formality is being used because he, as the Xiao Nanchen Prince, will, for Eleven, defy an imperial decree, something that he, a man loyal to his ruler, has never done before.
风寒 “feng han.” In traditional Chinese medicine, there are six climatic “evils” that can enter and are detrimental to the body. “Wind” and “coldness” are two of them. These climatic evils can act in combination. Wind-cold is when external “wind” is accompanied with “coldness.”
 时辰 “shi chen.” Historically, a day was divided up into 12 two-hour periods called “shichen.” Zhousheng Chen’s punishment was carried out for three shichen, or 6 hours. 😦
丈 “zhang.” A Chinese unit of length. The exact measure of a “zhang” has changed throughout history. In the 20th century, it was standardized so that 1 zhang = 3.33 metres, but prior to this, it ranged anywhere from between 2.3 to 3.6 metres. (No historical era has been specified for the ancient parts of this story, and ancient Zhousheng Chen and all his “history” is definitely fictional. You can probably make the assumption that 1 zhang is approximately 3-ish metres and the aforementioned tower is 30-ish metres tall.)
Anyone catch the couple of parallels of the ancient life to the modern times? I love the details…
There were a few comments last update about being hesitant about Eleven and ancient Zhousheng Chen’s relationship in that it was the forbidden romance between teacher and student. So, now that you have had a glimpse of their lives in the ancient times, what do you think of their relationship?
I would not use “romance” to describe their relationship. I don’t feel that their relationship is like one of those relationships often portrayed in dramas where the two are with great difficulty suppressing their feelings for one another, which may be sometimes ignited by an unintended brush of fingers or something along those lines. This brief glimpse of their past life is for us to have insight into the man that ancient Zhousheng Chen was, how his bones were truly beautiful. Shi Yi’s love for him was not simply because he was the teacher who cared for her when she was alienated from everyone and was something much more than the heart-racing feeling a young girl gets for the man she likes. She had a deep, heartfelt respect for him and despite having never left the prince’s manor, knew how great a man he was, how his heart was bigger than just the romantic love between a man and a woman.
I had mentioned that “beauty is offered, a soul is given in return” also describes a love in which no words are needed to express it for it is mutually understood. How appropriate that is for a mute Eleven and for them. Their love for one another would forever be mute, never to be expressed or even thought upon, because she was the crown princess, he was her teacher; it was never to be. They knew of the other’s love, as evidenced by Zhousheng Chen’s final note to Eleven, but it would forever stay only in their eyes and never be spoken, not a passionate, doe-eyed look of forbidden love but one of mutual understanding.
Love without an outlet can go nowhere but become deeper and deeper, and when Eleven realized it was her family’s treachery that had brought about his death, how could she remove herself from the guilt?
That last historical account of Xiao Nanchen Prince’s life makes my heart ache every time. The unfeeling words of the history books stating the “facts” — committed treason, allegedly had an affair with the crown princess — is more callous than outright rebuking him, for it so coldly writes off his entire life of loyalty, military achievements, dedication to the people and country, and all his talents. And then, when you begin truly reading into the words and imagining his hours of torture and people on the streets rebuking him… 😦
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