In a blink of an eye it’s the twelve lunar month, the imperial city blanketed in glittering white.
After handling the political affairs, Zi Wu returns to his bedchambers, and I’m here slowly following behind him. These past few days, there have been local reports of increasingly powerful snowstorms in the southern region, he’s very worried, unable to sleep for a good few consecutive days. Such is the cause of those bluish-black circles forming under his eyes.
After a while of reading, the drowsiness gets to him, as he lies on the study desk, unknowingly drifting into sleep. How much I want to drape a layer of blanket over him, but can only “want” to.
Outside the windows, is once again the su su sound of descending snow. It is but a very gentle sound yet still manages to wake him. He gazes out the window, and with a sound of sigh, covers himself in a big coat, before leaving the doors. Rejecting the eunuch’s following, he alone holds an umbrella and carries a lantern as he steadily takes a stroll through the imperial palace. His steps leisurely slow, seeming to not have any destination in mind.
With no stars nor moon, an entire sky filled with drifting snow, the areas inside and out of the imperial city seemingly dressed in ominous mourning clothes, and he, carries the light seeming to become the sole colour within this world.
From behind him, I match the rhythm of his steps as I follow, one human one ghost. I think I want to continue accompanying him like this, watching over him as he ages through the years isn’t bad either.
Not sure for how long we’ve walked, he suddenly comes to a stop, silently standing before a set of palace doors. I also follow in stopping, one glance upon raising my head, I couldn’t help sinking into an absent mind.
Su Lu Ge [洬录阁]
Emperor of Zhao, the reigning monarch of the last era upon learning of Zi Wu’s betrayal, later had me confined within the palace. Before my death, my final days were spent staying here, staying here for one entire year. Back then, those past happenings that had me experiencing such pain of being better dead than alive, thinking back to them now, I actually find that the memories are already unbearably blurred, only vaguely sensing slight stuffiness inside, unwilling to remember.
Xiao Cheng was extremely diligent in telling the world how I spend life in the palace, he wants to use my pain and suffering to force Zi Wu into giving up. Yet he has never considered, why would this man with such vigorously ambitious heart, be willing to give up the world for one woman.
Zi Wu pushes open the heavy doors, one foot treading inside. Seeing the scene inside the courtyard, he appears to be stunned. This place has never been cleaned by anyone, entering the eyes is but a scene of complete mess, time here seems to still be stuck on that night the last reigning era had perished.
With so many rooms within the imperial palace, after becoming emperor, he very rarely comes to the back palace. Nor does he usually show much concern to the internal matters within the palace, every day, the people in the palace will only clean the areas he goes to, so how would they think of cleaning up this place?
In the courtyard, the snow accumulates in thick layers, his every step leaving a deep footprint, walking with slight difficulty. Coming up to the centre of the courtyard, he silently stands for a while, suddenly calling out:
I instinctively sound a response, but was immediately hit with the realisation, how could he possibly hear my voice?
He alone speaks to himself: “Did you ever call out to me like this also?”
Naturally I have, when Xiao Cheng’s military affairs weren’t going smoothly, he would like to take it all out on me. Every time, the harm inflicted were so unbearably painful, so I would call out his name, thinking back to the misty rain and the Marquis of Chang Ye Estate in Jiangnan, this way the pain will lighten up a lot.
He pushes open the doors and enters the building. Raising the lantern to light it up, inside is filled with dust. Flipped over stools, fallen candleholders, smashed cups, not one thing does not tell of the despair of those days.
I can still remember, a scene of panic inside the imperial city that day, very early do I dress myself in that bright red wedding gown, sitting in front of the mirror, allowing my personal maid, who was trembling all over, to help me pull up a beautiful hairstyle, just like a readied appearance for a wedding.
And later the soldiers enters, taking away the maid who served me all my life, beating her to death, then captures me to the city tower.
He sits on the dust covered couch-bed. Hand stroking across the quilt that’s as hard cold as iron, fingers trembling, he hazily speaks: “Every triumph, will always be accompanied with news of your suffering. Xiao Cheng indeed achieved it, every time I stand on the battlefield, what I think of first is not what good comes from the victory, but what kind of pain you have to endure this time.”
A burst of sourness softens my heart. I cannot bear to see such look on his face.
“But where is the path to retreat? The war has already started, striving forth, still contains a glimmer of hope, and should I give up, not even a glimmer hope will be left.” His voice is very tightly stretched, carrying hoarseness like sorrow, like pain:
“Sang Ge, yet you were too stubborn to even give me the chance to save you.”
I lower my eyes as I silently stand by the doors, such heart like stagnant water giving rise to tidal waves, sour and astringent, also containing that damned hidden warmth.
He sits on the bed, slowly falling asleep. I walk up, kneeling down by his side, repeatedly getting a close look at his face. He’s gotten a lot older, among the black there are already strands of white hair, wrinkles also forming at the corners of his eyes. But I still find him good looking.
I silently eye him, as though I could never get enough.
Up until a ray of morning light passes through my body, shining on his face.
His brows slightly knits together, softly sounding a hum. His childish actions draws out a little laugh from me, all of sudden, his eyes open, within his look there still carries the haziness of early waking: “Sang Ge.”
The haziness quickly disperses, he steadily locks his eyes onto me, within that pair of sparkling black eyes, there shows irregular flickering, making me fail to see though his thoughts: “Sang Ge.”
His breathing becomes extremely light, as though afraid of frightening me, expression also becomes extremely tender: “This year’s seventh-seventh festival, I set off a lantern for you.”
I nod with a smile: “I saw.”
“Sang Ge, take me away.” These words put me at loss, unable to laugh or cry, I don’t even know how to leave myself, how am I to take him along?
And how much abandoning is hidden behind this word ‘away’, I cannot possibly imagine, just that seeing his current expression, I sense the swelling pain in my eyes as though I’m still capable of crying.
I shake my head.
As though unable to bear it, his voice unravels slight panic: “Are you still angry at me for leaving you alone in the Capital? Are you still resenting me for not coming earlier to save you? That day on the city tower I……”
“Zhi-ya” sounds, the doors to the courtyard were pushed open. I instinctively lean out wanting to see who’s come, the morning light revolves around my body, and ears suddenly catches the sound of him falling from the bed-couch: “Sang Ge!”
He desperately reaches forward, hand passing through my body, only managing to scoop the empty air into his embrace.
“Not allowed to leave!”
I look back at him, only seeing his red eyes, pale complexion.
Lightly letting out a sigh, I close my eyes, unable to bear seeing the dejection filling those orbs.
Outside comes a few eunuchs who came in search of him, seeming to have been frightened by his cry, only after waiting for a long time do they dare take trembling steps in: “Your majesty……it’s time for morning assembly.”
He fiercely raises his head, the murderous intent in his eyes like a biting chill: “Just now, who opened the doors?”
The three eunuchs all drops to their knees, entire bodies violently shaking, cold sweat directly flowing down. No one dares to answer. The look in Zi Wu’s eyes extremely cold: “Who?”
Finally one eunuch, with a hoarse whisper, says in despair: “It’s……it’s this servant.” He does not say anything, standing up and walking past the doors, that eunuch had just let out a sigh of relief, only to hear a voice containing not a trace of emotion sound from outside:
The eunuch’s body turns limp, collapsing to the ground.
I lightly sound a sigh, the heaven’s will is always fooling with people. I and he are already life and death apart, clearly no longer able to come in contact with one another, why must the heaven’s let him see me again?
Why let him suffer the pain again?
Third year of Yong Ge, the emperor is greatly enraptured in Taoist sorcery, gathering sorcerers from across the lands into the palace, with the desire to call upon the spirit of Empress Yong Yi.
 Slow slice or líng chí / 凌迟 – death sentence by dismembering of the body.
In The End
Tenth year of Yong Ge, the emperor falls gravely ill, electing Tai Hao, son of Prince Si as crown prince.
Watching those sorcerers fussily chanting incantations by his side, I just want to vent out my irritations. These Taoist priests, who are nothing more than deceiving mystics trying to play god, I seriously wish I could just reveal my true form and scare every one of them to death.
He has long been lying sick in bed, his body already thinned down to the extreme, the dark circles under his eyes deep, yet every time these Taoist priests comes to chant the incantations, he would still keep his spirits up, watching them complete all those bizarre rituals.
The state power has already been completely handed over to the crown prince. To this day, Zi Wu has not taken in a single consort, with no male heir, he naturally elects his brother’s child as crown prince. Fortunately the crown prince holds absolute respect towards Zi Wu.
The strange rituals finally comes to an end, the sorcerers all withdraws. He is already extremely exhausted, closing his eyes to rest.
I sit by his bedside, silently gazing down on his face, the sourness in my heart unbearable.
Zi Wu, Zi Wu, why put yourself through such suffering?
What honour Sang Ge has, to receive such longing from you……
“Your majesty.” A senior eunuch very lightly calls out to him, “Your majesty, Crown Prince is here.”
He slightly stretches his eyes open, lightly nodding. The eunuch thus invites the crown prince in.
“Imperial uncle, is your body feeling any better?”
Zi Wu shakes his head, helplessly smiling: “Isn’t it still the usual, how are the state affairs?”
“Everything is well at peace. Hao-er visiting today, is to inform uncle of great news.” Zi Wu grows interested, raising his eyes to look at him, Tai Hao cheerfully says, “Not long ago, when Grand Secretary Xiao Yi was in Tachun, at the outskirts of the Capital, he ran into Reverend Tai Xu! Xiao Yi thus invited Reverend into his estate as guest. This person is but the grand master of metaphysics, should we invite him in, then uncle you……”
Zi Wu waves his hand, smiling as he says: “What reverend, what grand master? Can the amount of reverends and grand masters that’ve come to the palace these past years be considered little? It is but an empty title, nothing more than fakes, deceiving mystics trying to play god. Hao-er should not believe it.”
Tai Hao is stunned: “But does uncle not believe it?”
“Believe?” Zi Wu’s one laugh brought along a round of coughing fit, the surrounding people busying to feed him water, after a very long time, does he finally settle down, looking out the windows, saying, “It is but a ray of obsession that cannot be put down. Always fearing when it’s time I go down, she has not waited for me. Always wanting to get a little look of her now, only then would my heart be at ease.”
Tai Hao hesitates to speak: “Then Reverend Tai Xu, to invite or not invite?”
Zi Wu after a moment of silence: “Invite.”
That next day, I see this Reverend Tai Xu. Divinity running bone deep, what’s more important is, I can sense an overwhelmingly strange air shrouding his entire being, inducing the fear in me, thus not daring to stay close. As soon as he enters the grand hall, I could only sense a pressuring force, pressing down on me to the point I couldn’t breathe, having no choice but to hide outside. I watch them through the windows.
That Reverend Tai Xu does not perform a grand bow upon seeing Zi Wu, only nodding his head lightly. Zi Wu is not bothered by it either, allowing the eunuchs and palace maids to all withdraw to the outer hall.
“Old priest I, hears your majesty has indulged in Taoist sorcery for many years.”
Zi Wu’s pale lips tugs up a little: “[I’m] but only clinging to one person.”
Reverend strokes his long long white beard: “The empress?” Zi Wu’s eyes instantly sparkles, steadily staring at him. Reverend smiles, saying: “Should it be the empress, she’s right here.” Once spoken, his beaming smile directs towards me.
My heart clenches, but sees Zi Wu also look over desperately, his expression filled with nervousness, he does not see me.
“You can see her? You can see her?” Zi Wu keeps on asking, “Is she well? Is she still waiting for me? Is she……is she…..” Following on, he actually grows so overwhelming anxious, that he does not even know what to say.
My eyes were overcome with absolute swelling pain, should I still be able to cry, I would already be choking back my sobs.
The old priest looks me over, saying: “The empress has been swallowed in severe attachment, thus become a ghost. Should she still not relieve her soul and reincarnate, I’m afraid she will be confined to the human realm for eternity, reduced to an evil spirit.”
Since when did I have a severe attachment? My eyes turn to see Zi Wu, struck with the sudden realisation, so it is not that had no attachment, but because being overly attached, I have actually let go of self-importance. Attached to An Zi Wu, persistently awaiting him. Awaiting him through the aging years, standing by him, watching over him.
Zi Wu upon hearing Reverend Tai Xu’s words, freezes, asking: “How to relieve?”
“With no attachment left, without relieving, can also reach reincarnation.”
“What attachment does Sang Ge have?”
“This, your majesty will have to ask yourself.”
Zi Wu once again freezes, mouth softly whispering the two words “severe attachment”, abruptly dumbfounded: “She’s waiting for me, she’s indeed waiting for me.” The exhilarated joy in his words difficult to conceal.
Reverent Tai Xu leaves with a smile.
That night, Zi Wu’s bedchambers has not one person guarding it, I stand under the plum tree in the courtyard, silently gazing at the hazy moon scene.
The breathing of the person inside the chamber grows a little heavier, I turn my head back, and sees him quietly leaning by the window, those features lit with a warm smile. Just like the very first encounter amongst the misty rain in Jiangnan.
I a forsaken songstress, he a dandy marquis, beautiful like the dreamlike first meeting.
The plum blossoms behind in full bloom, the descending of petals like pink snow paving the land.
“Sang Ge.” He says, “I’m home.”
On the third month of Yong Ge tenth year, the emperor passes away.
Finally after a decade of waiting, a decade of longing, the two are finally together.
I love how after all this time, there is nothing else to be said in that precious moment other than that one phrase of “I’m home”. For Zi Wu, after all that worrying of whether she is still waiting for him, also those questions of panic, and the explanations he wanted to ease her ‘anger’ with in chapter 3, he spent seven whole years trying to reach out to her again, just to get another little look of her, and thanks to the reassurance from the godly Reverend Tai Xu’s words, he comes to realise she is still the Sang Ge who was always waiting for him, so all that was left for him from that very point, was only to return to her side, to finally end her waiting. As for Sang Ge, she has watched over him this entire time, and has personally seen his devotion to her alone. No words are needed to tell her how much she actually means to him, no words can exceed the devotion he has displayed throughout his ten years of reign. And so, with those very words coming from his lips, she really could not ask for anything more. Because all along, this is all she wanted, to be able to wait for him to return to her.
Actually, Zi Wu’s “I’m home” sounds so much more softer and sweeter in Chinese (wǒ huí lái le / 我回来了) the more accurate translations would actually be “I’m back”, but excuse me for changing it to a less accurate translation, because I personally found it sounds a tad too comical this way, all I could think of was The Terminator when I typed it out at first – talk about ruining the mood 😄 So I took it upon myself to change it to “I’m home”, hoping that it sounds sweeter in its own right…only by Sang Ge’s side is Zi Wu at home
……either way, please understand this little alteration haha, but if anyone has any ideas for a better way to put it, I will gladly accept your suggestions ^_^
Also I just noticed that the author first introduces Zi Wu’s country as Cháng Gē / 长歌 which means long song, but in chapters three and four, the country or the reigning era seems to be called Yǒng Gē / 永歌 which means everlasting song. Yong Ge is definitely the more meaningful name, not to mention the more auspicious name for a country too, but both are named after Sang Ge anyways – a homage that represents Zi Wu’s everlasting love, longing and gratitude towards her, such that would continue to be passed down through generations, even if a day comes when Yong Ge perishes, this reigning era that had once existed would still continue to go down in history, as will the story of the empress whose noble death lead to the rise of this era, and the emperor whose undying love for her lead to a lifetime of longing, a lifetime of remarkable devotion, with not a single woman setting foot in his back palace throughout his entire reign…this in itself is a godly feat considering the hundreds of concubines that occupies the back palace back then, but of course such devoted emperor only exists in fiction haha
Well~ it’s been one hell of a short rollercoaster ride, with endless shedding of tears along the way, but I’m very happy to have shared this wonderful story with everyone and I do hope you all had a wonderful time reading as I did with translating it ^_^
Next time, I promise I will pick up a more comedic story, and make up for all the tears with plenty of laughs 😀
Thanks for reading!