For all who were nervous, this picture should be a pretty good indication that this chapter is kinder on the heart than the previous couple. (Yeah, yeah, I know it’s not autumn in the picture, but, as Zhousheng Chen said, “It’s the concept, the mood!” 😜)
Chapter 16.3 – The Roles People Play (3)
The two of them did not take a vehicle for their return from the cemetery to the old manor.
Walking up the mountain, along the road, about an hour later, they saw the familiar sight of tall, decorated stone archways.
The trees here were even more towering, and fallen leaves blanketed the entire road.
Without the dense covering of leaves, the sun easily passed through the high branches and fell upon the ground, scattering shadows outwards.
“Your mother said… it is your grandmother’s ninetieth birthday in a few days, and the celebration is going to be held here.”
With a light “mm,” he answered, “Grandmother’s physical and mental health as well as energy levels are not very good. None of us have told her about Wenxing yet.” Shi Yi nodded, indicating that she understood what he meant.
“Tong Jiaren will be coming, too.” He thought of something and told her, “Grandmother likes her very much.”
Shi Yi once again nodded.
Prior to coming to Zhenjiang, Zhousheng Chen had informed her that Tong Jiaren and Zhou Wenchuan were already in the midst of filing for divorce.
The two did not have too many entanglements between them, and their divorce was one of mutual consent. Furthermore, Zhou Wenchuan was not insistent on the custody of his child with Tong Jiaren. Whether it was because he was being plagued by the investigations or for Wang Man’s sake, he had very readily agreed that after the baby was born, the child would be under the care of and raised by the mother and had not forced her to leave the baby with the Zhou family.
“Back then, you and her…” She wanted to speak but held back her words, not entirely certain herself what it was she wanted to ask.
Tong Jiaren’s relationship with the Zhou family was very interwoven and complex.
She seemed to have some sort of relationship with each person: with Zhousheng Chen, the engagement between two playmates from childhood innocence; with Zhou Wenchuan, the relationship of husband and wife; and with Zhousheng Ren, a blood relation…
“She and I are just like what I once told you. That simple.”
Shi Yi smiled, “I know.”
She trusted Zhousheng Chen’s character. If there really had been a romantic relationship between them, he would certainly have told her.
In regards to Tong Jiaren breaking off the engagement of her own accord, Shi Yi more or less could infer the reason why.
After all, since Zhousheng Chen entered university at the age of fourteen, he had all along demonstrated a passion for research. If, in a family, there were two sisters and one liked the uncle who held the control of the entire Zhou family while the other liked Zhousheng Chen, who had nothing but name and empty power, then that family would unquestionably choose to ingratiate itself with the uncle who already had true power and authority.
Zhousheng Chen removed his coat and draped it over his arm. He could sense her gaze on him. “Shi Yi.”
“All along, I’ve felt very guilty towards you.” Zhousheng Chen was suddenly at a loss for words. “Perhaps you can say, it was not just guilt. I want to tell you some truths.”
“Mm. Tell me.”
“After you met me, there were many times when you were in danger, to the point where they were even life-threatening.” He quietly exhaled a long breath. “My close family members all, to some extent, have done things to hurt you, for example, those several ‘accidents’ you encountered.”
Shi Yi had already guessed this was what he would say.
She remained silent.
Zhousheng Chen possibly was feeling truly guilty then and did not continue to expound on his words, instead asking, “Were you ever scared?”
She nodded slightly.
The time she was most terrified was the gun battle in a foreign country. The smoke of the guns had saturated the air. It was a scene she had never before had to face. As for the remaining incidents, she had been isolated from the truth of the situation. To her, Wuzhen was the place where the most wonderful memories belonging to her and Zhousheng Chen had occurred. And as for that first time, when she had fallen into the water, nobody could have suspected that it had all been a ploy…
Only that last time, the one that had caused Zhousheng Chen to take her and leave the Zhou manor, had she truly been frightened.
He had not been by her side, but she had felt pain so great she thought she was going to die.
“If I had told you everything, you would have realized that, from the very first day you came to the Zhou family, this place was the most vile place in the world. The people here, each harbours his own dark schemes and each has his own secrets…
Falling into a moment of silence, Zhousheng Chen halted his steps and turned to face her.
He was much taller than her, and from her angle, he, naturally, was standing against the light. His eyes and his outline gave her a sense of peacefulness. Even with his back to the sun, he still did not radiate any sense of gloominess.
Shi Yi was waiting for him to continue.
Zhousheng Chen, however, all of a sudden remembered their first, real date.
That day, she had looked him over with an expression of marvel as she circled him with a smile. In a tone of great admiration, she had told him, “Your appearance today is very befitting of your name.”
In her heart, this name seemed to be perfection.
He remembered, on that gambling ship ten years ago, after his mother had died, Xiao Ren had laid there in his arms, crying himself to sleep, then awakening only to cry again, saying over and over that he would seek vengeance. Later, Xiao Ren grew up, and he understood the truth behind what had happened, that after his mother’s identity as a spy had been found out by the family clan, it was merely the fear of facing the family’s cruel, merciless methods of punishments that had forced her to choose a brutal method of suicide… Xiao Ren no longer made mention of seeking revenge anymore, and aisde from being somewhat withdrawn in personality, he seemed to have long forgotten about his mother’s incident.
Because Xiao Ren understood one principle:
It was very difficult for those of the Zhou family to have their lives taken by outsiders. The only people who could provide a true threat to them were their closest family.
There was no beauty in this name. It merely represented all different forms of danger.
“All along, I have not wanted to clearly tell you about the things in the Zhou family because…”
At the end of the mountain road, leaves suddenly could be seen swirling up.
He halted his words.
Twenty-odd people appeared in their sight and formed two orderly lines as they walked down from the mountain, all the while sweeping away fallen leaves. They all belonged to the Zhou family.
When they saw Zhousheng Chen and Shi Yi, they hurriedly paused and greeted them with “Eldest Young Master, Miss Shi Yi.”
Zhousheng Chen motioned to them to continue sweeping. Very shortly, a vehicle turned out from around a bend and drove down toward them before coming to a stop beside them. Poking his head out of the car was Xiao Ren, who had headed up the mountain ahead of them.
“I got there more than an hour ago, and you guys are still here.” Out of the blue, he eyed Shi Yi over from top to bottom and then heaved a long sigh. “Big Sister, you’re wearing high heels. It must have been pretty tiring walking up the mountain, eh?”
The boy’s lips curved upwards. Then, he told them he needed to leave the mountain to attend to some matters and left very quickly.
Only after the vehicle had disappeared from their sight did Zhousheng Chen lower his head to look at her. “Tired?”
“A little,” she admitted honestly.
Bending slightly at the waist, he hooked one arm under her legs and the other around her body, and scooped her up into his arms.
She glanced around and said to him quietly, “We’re almost there already. Let me walk by myself?”
All around them, the people completely treated the two of them like air, and no one dared take a single sideways glance at them. There was only the rustling sound of sweeping. But this type of stillness, even more so, made her feel a little embarrassed…
He paid no attention to her words and had already begun to walk up the mountain again.
“Zhousheng Chen?” She rested against him and tilted her head up to gaze at him.
“What you were saying earlier… you hadn’t finished it yet.” She still remembered. “Why did you not want to tell me the truth all this time?”
“You aren’t able to guess?”
“No, I can’t.”
“If I told you a certain hotel frequently had ghost hauntings, would you go stay there?”
“No… I’m scared of ghosts.”
“I’m scared, too.” He paused for a moment before he told her, “I was scared that, if you knew this place had evil ghosts everywhere, you would choose to leave.”
He had said, he was scared.
And what he was scared of was that she would leave.
This was the first time he had ever stated what he feared.
Aside from Wenxing’s incident where he had allowed himself to become immersed into the situation, in all the other relationships and matters, the role he took on was more like an onlooker, always maintaining the appropriate clarity of mind, attitudes, and values.
Even in regards to Wenxing’s death, in the end, he had still retained and held to his own values.
She believed, that day, what caused him to set down his gun were not the many explanations people had given him but rather, it had come from his own heart. He ultimately was different from the rest of the Zhou family and would not allow himself to pronounce judgment of guilt or to determine any person’s life or death.
On this winding mountain road, after taking a little bend, they were already unable to see those people sweeping the leaves.
She wrapped her arms around his neck and raised her head.
Stopping his strides, he looked down at her. “What’s wrong?”
“If I kiss you right now, will you still be able to hold me?” she asked gently.
He was a little surprised, but very quickly, his voice also became softer. “No problem.”
Adjusting his arms slightly, Zhousheng Chen raised her up a little higher in his arms.
He could sense that she wanted to take the lead, and so he let her bring her face close to his. Shi Yi closed her eyes and, like a cat, she slowly touched her tongue first to the corner of his mouth, then to his lips, and finally, proceeded deeper, beginning to kiss him.
When love had reached the utmost depths, the greatest fear was of losing it.
Fear that the feelings would fade for no apparent reason. Fear of being separated in life. And even more so, fear of parting through death.
She remembered that she, too, had once been terribly afraid. Even when they had become legally recognized as husband and wife, she would still fear that he would suddenly leave her. The promise of a gentleman carried the weight of a thousand gold. From that telephone call in which he had proposed, he had steadfastly upheld his promise.
To accept her, learn about her, understand her, treasure her, and love her.
And for her, she viewed him as her game of chess: regardless of win or loss, life or death, each piece played, each move made would be without regrets.
By the time they arrived at the old manor, it was three o’clock in the afternoon, the time of day when the sunlight was at its best.
To their great surprise, when they stepped into their own courtyard wing, they saw Uncle and Zhousheng Chen’s mother sitting inside the sitting hall, and with them were also several of the family elders. Since Shi Yi’s engagement to Zhousheng Chen, this was actually her first time directly meeting his uncle, face-to-face.
This man, who currently was at the helm of the Zhou family, had snow-white hair at the temples, but his eyes were energetic and clear.
Zhousheng Chen’s mother was still exquisitely dressed. She, too, had just returned from the cemetery back to the Zhou household, still wearing a black cheongsam, and her eyes were listless and dull.
“Miss Shi Yi.” Zhousheng Chen’s uncle gave a slight nod toward Shi Yi. “Greetings to you.”
Politely, Shi Yi also returned his nod and answered, “Hello.”
This simple greeting was like a statement of his stance, that he accepted Shi Yi’s status and would also relinquish his authority.
All the elders sitting there began to smile, and one after another, they caringly inquired about her well-being, looking at her with affectionate expressions, like the most ordinary of elders. Ultimately, everyone knew that soon, Zhousheng Chen would be the one making the decisions in the Zhou family, and this girl, who appeared to be kindhearted and harmless, would be taking over all the businesses currently held in the hands of Zhousheng Chen’s mother.
In such a family, from their viewpoint, nothing could give greater relief than a peaceful transition.
After all, in these last few months, the Zhousheng surname had experienced much unrest, and everyone had hoped for today’s outcome for a long time.
It seemed that Zhousheng Chen did not like for her to have to engage in social civilities with the Zhou family members and motioned for her that she was at liberty to go upstairs.
After Shi Yi had gone upstairs by herself, she sat in the study that she had enjoyed sitting in the first time she had been here and leafed through a book she had borrowed from the library tower the last time she came. The position of the bookmark was still the same, and even the placement of the book was unchanged.
While her fingers flipped through the book, two girls came upstairs, one carrying tea while the other, an incense burner.
The burner, which already contained powdered incense that had been pressed using a seal into the shape of a plum blossom, was placed on the incense burner table before it was lit.
Downstairs, the sound of conversation could faintly be heard but soon disappeared. It would seem that the matters being discussed were not serious. Shi Yi heard Zhousheng Chen’s mother say to him, “Xiao Chen, I only have one request: please treat your younger brother with kindness.”
Shi Yi did not hear what Zhousheng Chen’s response was.
Very shortly, he was walking up the stairs. She was leaning sideways against the couch, listening to the sound of his steady, deliberate footsteps, until slowly, he appeared in her vision. Quietly, she inquired, “Are they all gone now?”
“Yes.” He asked her, “Would you like to sleep for a short while?”
“Now?” She thought briefly and then answered, “I’m not too tired.”
The main reason was because the incense he had selected was qielan agarwood, which had an energizing effect.
“I don’t think I’ve ever noticed that you like this.” She seemed somewhat lost in her thoughts as she asked him, “Why are you all of a sudden in the mood to burn some today?”
“It was Mei Xing’s suggestion.”
“Mei Xing?” This answer was rather unexpected.
He contemplated over how he could explain to her the answer to her question. “Dogs are very sensitive animals. In other countries, there have been several cases where people had gotten cancer but were unaware of it. However, after their pet dog suddenly seemed to go crazy and bit them, they went to the hospital and the medical check discovered the cancer.” He chuckled, “I saw several times that you’ve been barked at by dogs and made the mental association back to those cases, so I looked through the results from your latest physical check-up. However, I found out that you are physically very healthy.”
Shi Yi could not hold back a giggle. “Oh, my great scientist, you are so very careful. And so? What does this have to do with agarwood incense?”
“And then, I happened to mention this to Meixing, and he used his heretical beliefs to successfully influence me.”
Zhousheng Chen laughed, “He said, perhaps it might be another situation. Dogs can see certain things ordinary people cannot see – for instance, unique spirits – and agarwood can detect supernatural beings and cleanse those things that are unclean, so perhaps it may be good for you.”
Shi Yi gaped rather incredulously at him.
He smiled, “What?”
Qielan agarwood incense.
It took one thousand years to cultivate and was the highest grade of agarwood incense, commonly used by the imperial families of the past.
Vaguely, she remembered that back then, Zhousheng Chen would send all the qielan agarwood incense in Xiao Nanchen Prince’s manor over to her, but for fear that the incense would be too strong, he only permitted her to use it in her own courtyard and not inside her room.
The doting and love he had once had for her had all been shown in the minute details.
“So, just because dogs bark at me, you two men started a discussion that spanned from modern scientific theories to ancient beliefs of ghosts and spirits.” Shi Yi slipped her hands up to rest on Zhousheng Chen’s shoulders. “And, you would actually believe in that…”
“Yes.” Gazing into her eyes, he answered, “I believe it.”
 鬼 “gui.” Technically, this word in the simplest sense means ghost or spirit. However, it is often used to describe treacherous or sinister things, usually hidden out of sight. So, of course, here, Zhousheng Chen is referring to the people of the Zhou family.
 君子一诺，重若千金. A sentence based on the Chinese idiom, 一诺千金 “a promise should be worth the weight of a thousand gold [pieces, ingots].” The concept of the “gentleman” or 君子 “junzi” is someone who would be considered morally upright, and the promises he makes need only be said once, for they would surely be kept.
 Incense powder can be formed into a shape or what is called a “trail” by using a metal seal, which acts as a stencil into which the powder is placed. When the seal is removed, the shape remains.
 伽蓝香 “qie lan xiang.” Agarwood (沉香) is reputed to the most precious and most expensive wood in the world. It has been prized throughout Chinese history, known for its sweet, rich, deep fragrance, and hence, it has been used to make incense (as well as other uses such as medicinally, oils, etc) since ancient times. Qielan agarwood is the highest grade of agarwood and is very rare. Historically, it was reserved for the imperial family and worth exorbitant prices, even centuries ago.
Based on the comments last post, I thought I’d clarify. Wenxing acted solo on the drowning and poisoning incidents. I believe that the author’s intent was that Zhousheng Chen’s mother’s words in the hospital were not a confession of guilt. They were words spoken out of desperation, hoping to divert Zhousheng Chen’s attention away from Zhou Wenchuan so that he would not believe Wenchuan was behind all the attacks on Shi Yi. (I suspect even she thought Wenchuan was the one doing it.) These are her own words, “Do you think, if our family wanted a girl to disappear, we would need to use such gentle means to do so?” and then Zhousheng Chen’s thoughts after, “Given that the purpose was clear, if it was Mother, why would she bother to use a method that acted so slowly, like slow-dripping droplets that only gradually permeated to its purpose?” If she wanted Shi Yi to disappear, she wouldn’t do it behind his back with all this secret maneuvering. Based on her status in the family, she’d just order someone to remove her from the picture and not be scared to admit it.
The atmosphere of this chapter really speaks to me. After a loved one has been laid to rest, there is still that overarching sense of sorrow of which only time can slowly dull the sting, captured so well by the little details, like the stillness of the mountains of autumn, the solemnity of the two lines of people sweeping the leaves. But, perhaps tying into the underlying theme that the journey of life will always continue, the brilliant sunshine that was described, the confession of and reflection on Zhousheng Chen’s past decision gives the feeling they will move on now.
So, here we have it. The reason why he didn’t tell her. There were many assumptions tossed around that it was because of his “love for the greater good” that he decided not to tell her, because he was too caught up in trying to get to the leadership role so he would have funds to save the world. But really, it came down to the simplest of reasons: fear. Fear that she would walk out of his life. I have said time and again that I believe the decision to not tell her was a mistake, but truly, his reason is very… human.
I have lots and lots to say about Zhousheng Chen, including more on this point, but I’m going to have to save all of it until near the end of the novel, mainly because I’m really short on time this week and, on top of that, injured so didn’t get to cohesively gather all my thoughts on him together.😦 (I’m starting to believe Peanuts, who says I’m a bit of a magnet for injuries, at least this year.)
Instead, I just wanted to mention Shi Yi. The question had once been raised, was it unrealistic that Shi Yi did not know that someone was intentionally trying to endanger her? Disregarding any that may have occurred offscreen that Zhousheng Chen took care of before they happened, these are the 4 instances of danger that Shi Yi was in, that she herself reflected over:
- Bremen gun fight — This appeared random and out of the blue. She was out of country, nothing had happened before, and it was set-up to appear not even directed at her. Naturally, she would not have thought otherwise at the time.
- Wuzhen attempted abduction — Zhousheng Chen had been completely prepared for it. Shi Yi heard nothing but the sound of metal falling. Zhousheng Chen had been calm and chatted with her the whole time, reciting poetry. Definitely wouldn’t link that to any danger. Even most of us, as readers, had no clue something was happening just outside her door.
- Near-drowning incident — This was the first time she suffered any physical harm. Wenxing had been obviously ill. Shi Yi had not been pushed and had fallen over because of the rocking. While we know now that it was staged, the circumstances at the time had appeared like everything was just bad timing. Shi Yi had clued in that Zhousheng Chen was suspicious about the incident, but she had thought it over in her head again, and, most importantly, given that the person with her was Wenxing, whom she trusted, she discarded any suspicions of foul play.
- Poisoning incident — Shi Yi felt fear and probably, that this incident was suspicious but chose not to ask about it. In chapter 15.3, after Zhousheng Chen had slipped the eighteen prayer beads on her wrist, these were her thoughts: “With all these unexpected mishaps and obstacles, she, too, was starting to fear. Fear that a single misstep would result in something terrible happening.” Notice, it was “a single misstep.” She wasn’t thinking fate or random accidents or bad luck. A misstep, a mistake — a moment of letting their guard down, making the wrong move, etc — would cause another incident to happen.
We think of Shi Yi as being very wise, and in many ways, she is. Having endured and remembered reincarnation, her views of life are quite different and mature. She is focused on her values and discards everything that does not feel important to her in the grand cycle of life and death. But, though she has two lifetimes of memories, she’s also quite inexperienced in the world in many ways. As Eleven, she was sheltered. From seven to seventeen years old, Eleven spent all her time in the prince’s manor, never having stepped foot out of it in those ten years. Even to the very end, she only knew that somehow, her family had been involved in Xiao Nanchen Prince’s death, but she did not know the extent of the scheming. In this life, while she may know in her mind that power struggles, scheming, etc. can occur, like in the dramas she provides the voice acting for, she grew up in a normal family, stays away from complicated relationships, chose a career where people did not feel the need to maneuver to get to higher places, and in general, stays away from people. Notice how after Mei Xing informed her about Zhou Wenchuan being investigated by Interpol (chapter 15.3), she immediately linked him up to Bremen, so it shows she’s not unintelligent, just has no experience on these matters to draw from. I find it quite reasonable that she would not know until some time after the poisoning, when Zhousheng Chen whisked her away from the manor.
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