Hi everyone, this is Hamster. Let me preface this post with a few words. No, I’m not moving to Peanuts’ house, if you’re wondering haha. I’ve decided to pick up translating Huaxu Yin because I would like to see this Tangqi Gongzi work completed. And in the interest of keeping the chapters together, I have asked Peanuts to let me guest blog on her site.
I’d like to apologize first to those who have been waiting for 13th Moon’s story. Because Xiaowen has expressed her intention in continuing that arc, I am actually going to jump to the 3rd story in the novel. It may leave all you Jun Fu and Mu Yan shippers a bit frustrated because you likely have no idea what happened to them in the interim. In regard to that, I haven’t the faintest idea either. I skipped all Jun Fu and Mu Yan interactions when I first read the novel (yes, blasphemy, I know), and in translating the first chapter of the 3rd arc, kinda just picked it up in the middle of nowhere myself.
Next, I’d like to apologize to the rest of the readers, because not only do I have very foggy memory of Jun Fu and Mu Yan, I also don’t remember anything after Ying Ge’s story >_< I thus may have some out-of-context errors in my translations. I ask for your understanding and promise they’ll get straightened out when everything’s said and done.
With that said, I am committed to seeing this book through to the end (why do I sound like my boss when he talks to our clients?), so I hope you guys will rejoin me on the journey. Update schedule is likely going to be every other week (because Tangqi chapters are freakishly long~).
Part 3: A Drunken Tale of Snow-filled Hatred
It made one worry when Jun Wei’s reply still failed to come. Mu Yan deemed that with Xiao Huang’s protection, there was nothing to worry about. Seeing how optimistic he was, I could not tell him that Xiao Huang had long been pawned to the zoo and I had no idea if he had been bought back yet. From what I knew of Jun Wei, I would say our hope was slim. I then wondered why there were so many gay men in this world and why Jun Wei had to be so exquisite. I became a little heavyhearted. It seemed the Jun family line was likely going to end, after all.
Last year he had even vowed that he would marry me if no one else would. If this was how the dice had rolled, then there was really nothing left to say. Ultimately, distant water could not put out nearby fire. Moreover, we didn’t even know where he was right now, so we could only go with the flow. Per Mu Yan’s opinion, since it had been some time without Jun Wei’s reply, he would take me back to Mount Junyu on his way to the Zhao capital. Mu Yan needed to head to the north where the Imperial City lay, which I reckoned was something he had always intended to do but hadn’t until now. I never once believed Mu Yan was so leisure as to take me go sightseeing and immerse in the cultures of various locales. I had begun waiting to hear from him words that essentially meant farewell since long ago. Now that I finally heard them, while I felt sad, I was equally relieved.
Crossing barren hills, through vast plains and flowing rivers, then desolate villages and crow-perched trees, I felt keenly the passage of time. Whenever the sun went down I would count on my fingers the time we had left until we’d say goodbye. Nonetheless, I couldn’t delay our journey like the last time. Mu Yan was amused. “Why do you keep looking at me like that? Is there something on my face?” he asked.
I boldly stepped closer to him. “Yes, there is. Come, let me take a look.”
He leaned forward, his teasing eyes falling upon my own. “Take a good look, then.” I was sure he was joking, but it didn’t matter since we’d have to part ways anyway. It should be all right even if I were to be a little shameless. I nodded. “Close your eyes.” He obediently did as told. A bluish flame rose from the olive pit charcoal. He sat there waiting amid the chirping of insects, looking as if he was fulfilling his obligation with pleasure. He made me suddenly want to reach out to touch his face and eyes that were so close within reach, but I did not dare. My palms were sweating by the time I slowly swept a finger across his brow and used all my courage to touch his temple. I’ll always remember this moment of warmth and contact. In the end, I couldn’t will myself to leave him. No matter what, I just couldn’t. These brows, these eyes, this nose, these lips, this handsome countenance, as well as each vivid expression on his face – everything was etched inside of me. Even if we parted ways, I would remember every detail for the rest of my life. He tilted slightly and, pressing his temple to my finger, quietly opened his eyes. “Ah Fu?” My hand flinched as I quickly withdrew it, charcoal fire crackling in the background. A long while later, I showed him my hand: “Look, there was something on your forehead. I’ve taken it down for you.”
He looked at my empty palm. “Where?”
“Huh? Where has it gone?” I pretended to be surprised. He regarded me with the faintest of smiles, propping his chin wordlessly. Often times I did not know what he was thinking, and it confused me. But that was all right. As long as I knew what I was thinking, it was good enough.
Jun Wei said love tends to bring with it melancholy, because we are forever thinking about the outcome. He was right. When I was by Mu Yan’s side, I always thought about the outcome. But if I lost Mu Yan, I wouldn’t have lost much. I would still be left with his charming image in my memory. And that to me, was the most precious flower that had ever bloomed in my heart.
The swallows had returned from their migration, and roses were bathing under the sunlight. Spring was blossoming in the north as it waned in the south. We hurried along. When we got to the Jiang-Chen border, something I thought would’ve happened right from the beginning but never did finally came to pass.
It was quite serious.
I got abducted.
When we left the mountain, Master Jun had entrusted Jun Wei to protect me as best he could, for he had feared this day. Just because not many knew the wonder of the Huaxu tune did not mean nobody knew. Legends were passed saying the tune was a magic that could revive the dead, and even went on in detail how a man should practice it, how a woman should practice it, how an elderly should practice it, and how a child should practice it… Now everybody coveted it.
When something becomes the object of desire to many, it can bring destruction. For this reason, there were very few true accounts of the Huaxu tune in circulation. Thus despite being in existence for many centuries, it was still very much a myth. I had thought that such a stifling secret magic shouldn’t be well-known among the populace. Hence in the start when Master Jun let Jun Wei come along to protect me, I had silently opposed the idea. At this time, it became clear Master Jun had had his share of experience.
Day gradually darkened into night. Because I was kidnapped, my limbs were of course tied up. However, I had always been an expert at untying ropes, and was able to quickly get myself out. I could see that I was wrapped up in a quilt, above me were gold tassels on the bed curtain, in front was a tightly-closed six-panel wall divider.
On each of the six panels was an unusual landscape. There was a pair of lovers, sometimes night strolling, sometimes waxing poetic. Two of the panels depicted a gentleman leisurely sitting by a tea set with his zither; he was quite familiar looking. An inkling came to mind, but I immediately squashed the idea, for I felt the depicted man’s standard wouldn’t be this bad.
The person who abducted me had acted while Mu Yan wasn’t around. Like I said, however, he surely couldn’t have known that the so-called ancient secret had been sealed into a bead and placed inside of me. Furthermore, he surely couldn’t have known I was already dead. Even if he could uncover the secret, no one would believe it. From the beginning of time, in all of Jiu Zhou, I was the only one to have invoked the Huaxu tune from a dead body.
But before I could more carefully analyze the situation at hand, the closed screen was pushed open. I quickly tucked myself back into the quilt, peeked out, and perceived a feeble candlelight.
It was a maid who had opened the screen. After stepping in, she raised the curtains and then stood to the side, as if blending into the night. The one whose presence I could sense better was the girl sitting opposite her. Not really her face, but her general appearance. Her wide sleeves occupied so much space that one could not ignore them. The tiny candle flame could only illuminate a small space, and I thus wasn’t able to really see her face. With that said, her icy gaze could eat through my bones.
A while later, when the single candlelight gradually brightened, I noticed a bronze goblet filled with jade-colored wine inside. At last, I caught a glimpse of the girl with the icy eyes. Half of her face was shown under the candlelight while the other half was obscured by the wooden beams’ shadows. Her demeanor was frosty, but her beauty was still quite extraordinary.
I couldn’t talk because a handkerchief had been stuffed in my mouth. I pretended to struggle. The girl gestured to her maid. But just as she raised her hand, she lowered it back down and laughed at herself: “What’s gotten into me? Why should I untie you? You just need your ears today.” At this, she drank down the goblet of wine and staggered to the bed, avoiding the help of her maid. She lifted my chin. After ripping off my mask, she jerked her head away. I didn’t see her reaction, but surely, she didn’t think I was hiding the Huaxu tune under my mask, did she?
By and by, she ran her thin ivory fingers along the sinuous scar on my forehead as her eyes frosted up and her voice adopted a chilliness: “So you’re a pretty one. But didn’t you know you aren’t supposed to touch other people’s things?”
It was very quiet in the room. I raised my head to look her in the eyes. I had no idea what she was talking about, but I didn’t want to lose to her. After staring at each other for what seemed to be an eternity, she sneered: “Oh, don’t act so uppity. Have you already forgotten what you’ve done so fast?”
I still hadn’t the foggiest idea what she was talking about, but if she didn’t kidnap me for the Huaxu tune, then had she grabbed the wrong person?
Nevertheless, I straightened my back. This time, she leaned into my face, her hair skimming my forehead, her breath grazing my ears. “You like him, so while I wasn’t there, you deliberately orchestrated an encounter with him, hoping to attract his attention. Like a silly jester, how farcical. Didn’t you know there was already someone he loved?”
I stared in bewilderment. Then, as if a flash of light appeared out of thin air, my head exploded. I couldn’t believe it. Instinctively, I searched my memory for the image of the woman who assassinated Mu Yan on Mount Bishan. Yet all I could really remember was a sea of roses; it had been late spring in April.
The girl in front of me tilted her head watching my confused expression, her slender fingers pressing the right side of her temple. Only now did I notice that on her raven hair was a silk hairpin in the form of… a dark rose.
If she was Qin Ziyan, then she must not have forgotten Mu Yan. But she had hurt him.
I didn’t know how to react to this discovery, neither did I know how I was feeling presently. I only wondered if I had found Mu Yan sooner, if I had sought him out from the crowd before he could meet her, then where would we all be today?
Unfortunately, I looked for him through three whole years without results. I didn’t even get to see him before I died. Such was the heavens’ will.
She edged closer, pressing her forehead in a frown. With the dim candlelight casting on her flushed tipsy face, coldness seemed to have left her. She was looking at me, but it also seemed as though she was looking through me into some empty space. At length, she slightly pursed her lips and said, “At the time, I was a musician in the Zhao Court. I met him for the 1st time at a royal banquet. He was the general who seized fortresses and extended our land for thousands of miles. Including the princesses, there wasn’t a young lady in the entire Zhao Palace who did not admire him.”
Her gaze landed on my face, her lips slightly upturning. “But he only brought me home with him.” She paused, still looking at me with a pleased expression. “You’ve only known his courteous side, but have you ever seen his patience and tenderness?”
I shook my head. She softly smiled: “What we had together are things you can never know.”
Emotions rose inside me, one after another, as heavy as crushing boulders. But I would not yield to her. It was the same as coming across wolves in the wild. No matter how frightened, you must raise your head to face it. The first to bow is always the one that loses.
My father had never taught me anything useful in my life, except that the more distraught you feel, the calmer you must appear. I actually wanted to ask her, if she liked him that much, why did she have the heart to hurt him? Then after she hurt him so terribly, how could she bear not coming to see him? I just couldn’t understand how hurting someone was an expression of love, as I could not imagine how there were people who liked durians. (Wait, what? Plenty of us exist!)
People tend to be muddled in life, even more so when feelings are involved. All my thoughts were derived from my personal experience, but obviously I was inexperienced in this regard.
Footfalls sounded outside. Her expression altered as she sprang to her feet and pulled the wall divider shut. The light before my eyes instantly faded away, leaving behind only the hazy images of Mu Yan with her, diffusing into swirling clouds of shadows. And with the handkerchief strangling my throat, I had no way of speaking.
Holding on to a last ray of hope, I struggled to sit up. No matter what, the outcome would be the same. I heard three familiar taps on the door before it slowly opened. A voice as pliable as a willow branch on a spring day spoke, accompanied by a soft laughter: “Where have you been, Ziyan?” It was Mu Yan. The woman’s reply was tearful: “I’ve been waiting for you. All this time, I’ve been waiting for you to come to me.”
My shoulders and back suddenly could not bear the weigh imposed on them. I slumped against the wall. The same chill right before my death began to spread from my spine. The place where the bead resided suddenly throbbed. It was decidedly strange.
Just then, the bed all of a sudden overturned. By the time I recovered my senses, I saw that I had fallen somewhere. With a dim glimmer of light, I could vaguely discern that this was a long cave. I had fortunately untied myself previously, so even from a great fall, I didn’t suffer any injury. Even though I could feel no pain, I was still afraid of broken limbs.
Leaning against the cave wall looking up, I wondered what was happening in the room at this time.
In my imagination, there must be a starry sky beyond the windowpanes. He would march on the moonlight before opening the door to enter, still charming and nonchalant as always. What do people usually say about these scenes? “From the quivering shadows of the flowers on the wall, I gather that my lover has come.” (1) But he hadn’t come for me.
A line taken from The Story of the Western Wing.
My logic had been very simple. Since Ziyan stabbed him, I thought she would no longer be his beloved and he shouldn’t have feelings for her anymore. I knew I didn’t have any rights as a dead person, but I had hoped he could find a better girl.
All right, so I am lying. I never once hoped he could find a better girl. To be frank, I am selfish. But if I must choose, I would rather he fell in love with someone else. Anyone but Ziyan. My line of thinking was like Rong Yuan’s. Unfortunately they still met up; it seemed neither could let go of their feelings.
Qin Ziyan was right, I was like a farcical clown. But if this was the so-called love between mature adults, then I really didn’t understand it. I looked at my palm and the lifeline that was no longer there. The more I tried to think, the less I could make sense out of anything. I was suffering so much inside but I didn’t know how else to assuage myself.
I picked up my mask from the ground, gave it a wipe, and put it back on. What else was there to do? This was goodbye. I thought of him, of the fact I’d never get to see him again, of my life ending too early. I first met him when I was only a child and when I did not know what love is. By the time I finally came to understand, he already loved someone else. In the endlessly desolate cave, I slowly slid down, buried my head in my knees and burst into tears.
I felt a little better after I was able to cry it out. Facts have proven that sorrows which could be relieved by crying aren’t real sorrows. But when there’s no other ways to vent, crying it out is still better than nothing. I wiped away my tears with my sleeve and then whispered to myself: “Ah Zhen, from now on you are on your own. Don’t let others worry about you anymore.” The quiet sound echoed in the deep cave and came back to me as though someone was by my side, patiently offering me his comfort. It gave me some courage while also letting me forget I was by myself.
I groped and limped along the cave wall to go out, stepping on many rotting skeletons along the way. I suddenly felt scared. It hadn’t crossed my mind before, but after leaving Mu Yan, I came to realize I had been well protected. His protection made me think I was just an ordinary girl and forgot that as a deceased person, I shouldn’t have any fears. With that said, I shouldn’t be afraid in any case. They were all like me – just a pile of bones in some dark cave.
By the time I struggled to get out of the cave, the sky had darkened. There was no starry sky as I had imagined. There was only a torrential rain pouring down over my head like a marching army.
I pushed my way through the night rain. After trapping me in the cave, Qin Ziyan must have thought I’d never be able to escape. However, Mu Yan liked her, and he wouldn’t know she was the one who kidnapped me. I thought to those bones I had just tripped over. They were all killed by the miasma inside the cave. She had always wanted to kill me. Too bad I was already dead. Unless the shark bead inside my chest were destroyed, I couldn’t die again.
The mountains lay ahead of me like a monster, gaping its giant mouth drenched in blood. Towering old trees lurked in the shadows like quiet phantoms. Beaten by the rain, scattered trumpet vines lay wasted on the ground. Winds screeched pass my ears, blasting the rain and seeping a chill into me as cold as freezing ice in the winter. I caught a glimmer in the distant courtyard, but that was the most dangerous place. I didn’t know the way to Mount Junyu, I just knew I had to run in the opposite direction of that terrible light. Although I was accustomed to the dark, there were times I couldn’t see clearly and stumbled on the slippery mountain road, covering myself in mud. When I thought I had gone far enough and could no longer be tracked, I heaved in relief. Spotting some shrubs by the roadside, I decided to take shelter from the rain. The shark bead had made me more susceptible to the cold than ordinary people. Without a need to hurry, I composed myself and felt the cold rain and mud covering up every inch of my body. It’ll be fine once the rain clears up. I clenched my teeth and hugged my knees as I silently comforted myself. It’ll be fine once the rain clears up.
In the mountains, if it rained long enough, all kinds of things could happen. I took into account the various dangers I could be met with, yet I forgot one: that there were predators who waited for their preys in rainy nights. I didn’t even know I was surrounded by danger. By the time I discovered this fact, a clouded leopard had stood about ten meters away from me. It seemed to still be young, its blue eyes gleaming like two will-o-wisps, lighting the mottled pattern on its rain-soaked fur. The young leopard regarded me carefully, perhaps considering what this thing covered with mud in the bushes was, and whether it could be eaten or not. As for me, I only had one thing I could protect myself with: a dagger I had picked up from the cave.
At this point, I couldn’t afford to think too much. I also couldn’t be so naïve as to think that Xiao Huang or Jun Wei would suddenly fall from the sky. Or even more miraculously, Mu Yan falling from the sky. If I had such a idea, the only outcome awaiting me was death.
After staring at each other for a while, the fierce leopard finally made its move. I had no idea where I suddenly got my useless courage from. Instead of running away, I clenched the dagger and awaited its neck. Of course, I missed my target. No matter how badly its sharp claws cut me, since I wasn’t afraid of pain, it didn’t matter. I nevertheless couldn’t stand by and watch it eat me up bite after bite, so I kept at slicing its throat with my dagger. Too preoccupied, all I could hear was the roar of pain. In my mind was only one thought – to hurry and kill it, don’t let its roars lead other beasts here.
The moment the dagger plunged into the leopard’s throat, blood gushed out like a cherry blossom hail, sprinkling on my chest before diffusing out in a glaring bright red. With the open sky high above me, in the endless rainy night, the dagger shakily dropped to the ground. Beads of blood seeped into the muddy soil. I only heard raindrops falling, I could not hear my own breathing. All around, there was no other living thing. Fear finally crept from my feet to my mind. Jun Wei believed I was brave and unfearing. That was when I was young. After I grew up, I realized there were many things I didn’t want to lose. My courage therefore shrank, and my bravery was merely a front. I covered my eyes as I thought to a moonlit night one month ago when we encountered a wolf. The sky was filled with endless stars that night, casting a silvery luster across the whole of Mount Bishan. At the time, someone had stood in front of me with a hint of a smile: “Don’t tell me you haven’t discovered there was a wolf trailing behind us.” He then patted my back to comfort me. “It’s all right. Haven’t I killed it? What are you afraid of?”
I knew full well crying was useless, but I couldn’t help it. Finally in this lonely rainy night, I burst out crying once more, tears spilling through the cracks of my fingers. I missed him. “Mu Yan, where are you? I’m afraid.”
I’m so afraid.