Raising The Water (Part One)
Lashes like fans gently flutters, eyes slowly opening, a pair of exceptionally bright orbs illuminating within the darkness, Gui Wan holds her body up, grabbing the clothes on the bed frame, dressing herself in a leisurely manner, lifting the curtains, she gets out of bed. Pushing open the windows with a “zhi” sound, the moonlight pours down, such brilliance of pale lighting floods into the room, using the faint moonlight, she attends to herself in front of the dressing mirror, single-handedly taking the ribbon, very casually combing up a men’s bun, tying it up with the ribbon, after a little self-grooming, she pushes open the doors.
With the autumn air already thickening, frosty chills mixes with the moonlight as it seeps into one’s heart, she follows the garden path, distantly gazing towards the lit up discussion chamber, heart slightly saddened. With a pause she arrives at the front courtyard, having just stepped inside, she sees eight guards on duty in front of the courtyard, vigilantly standing, faces expressionless. They too see Gui Wan at the same time, the two stood up front were somewhat dumbfounded, blankly staring not knowing what to do. Gui Wan coldly glances across them, eyes like a river in winter, the several people originally guards of the Prime Minister Estate, were instantly silenced, leaving Gui Wan to freely wander into the restricted area of the Prime Minister Estate alone.
The discussion chamber although brightly lit up, but is currently completely silent, the lighting inside shining out onto the courtyard where the winding path leads, vaguely carrying a few points of strangeness. Thinking all over the place, Gui Wan had already passed by the little path, arriving at the doors of the discussion chamber, making guesses with uncertain thoughts, she gently pushes the doors, without thinking the door would actually open with a sound, exposing a little gap. Gui Wan was slightly surprised, not expecting such restricted area for secret discussions would actually be this easy, complicatedly thinking over it again, she thinks about the number of guards that could be hiding around the courtyard, this act of closing the doors is pretty much pointless, such ajar door, can still make herself appear honest and righteous, with no ulterior motives.
Carefully treading into the hall, outside the hall is empty without a single person, candlelight brightly greeting the eyes, to Gui Wan who has treaded all the way here in darkness, it really is rather blinding. She observes her surroundings, slowly walking up to the doors of the inner hall, until she was just one step away from the doors, did she finally hear faint voices. The clear and gentle voice is Lou Che, the unruly and prideful voice should be Prince Duan, also a smooth and deep voice–– could it be Prince of Nan Jun?
The few people discussing the recent big matters within the imperial court in seeming ridicule, some about elderly members relocating, some about the reforming movement, the three of them eloquent, just like great friends who have not met for years. Gui Wan is clearly aware, just a year ago, Lou Che and Prince Duan were still political opponents, to actually be sat together laughing and chatting right now, on one hand it comes down to the situation, on the other hand it is also with the means of benefitting from this joint force. Looks like within officialdom, there are no permanent friends, nor are there permanent enemies, this phrase truly is not wrong at all.
Lips carrying a bitter smile, she suddenly hears Prince Duan burst into hearty laughter, one can even imagine the crazy state he is in from the doors. Ears not missing a single word as she listens to him say: “Prime Minister Lou, that star pupil of yours truly does take after you quite a bit ah, the means he takes to and style of doing things is no less than you, right now he is but a loyal dog of the Emperor, not only viciously biting me one, it looks like he also wants to bite back at you the teacher who graced him now.”
During the Changes of Feng Shan incident a year ago, Guan Xiu Wen condemned Prince Duan who was originally able to free himself from the blame, and even caused him to have his official post terminated, his home raided with goods confiscated, at the time he could only hold back the fire inside of him, not expecting that having spent so many years freely roaming the world of officialdom, he would actually fall under the hands of a kid yet to rid of his air of naivety. And after that, Guan Xiu Wen had been incorporated into the Emperor’s faction of close ministers, with vicious ruthlessness, sparing no consideration, he takes to any means possible, causing everyone within the imperial court to avoid him, no one had ever thought that the young First Ranked Scholar from back then, who was as clear as water would actually become this terrifying.
Officials often uses Lou Che as a comparison, Lou Che’s methods can also be considered viciously ruthless, but likes to use his own power to rid of others; and Guan Xiu Wen is different, always blocking those before him, destroying all those in his path, regardless of friend or foe, sometimes it can even be said to be despicable. All of a sudden, all those within the imperial court are having difficulty in distinguishing the relations between these two people who are teacher and student in name, just that no one dares to speak of it outside, thus also lending a hand to Guan Xiu Wen’s further intensifying cold-hearted artifices.
“Prince Duan is just being too modest, you should know that it was but you who strongly guided and supported him back then, thus giving rise to the situation we are facing today.” Lou Che filled with smiles, ironically speaks.
Gui Wan stands outside the doors, heart jumping upon hearing this. listening to their tones, Lou Che and Prince Duan may be allies, but between them is a matter of passing back and forth, with underlying means of ridiculing, it really is rather strange. But she is extremely quick witted, her mind rapidly thinking over it, and very quickly figures out the mystery within. The biggest tie between Prince Duan and Lou Che is Yao Ying. Right now, although the two people stands together on the same boat, but towards where Yao Ying’s heart lies, inevitably, Prince Duan secretly minds it, that is why he would occasionally poke at Lou Che out of sourness.
The fortunate factor is that Prince of Nan Jun is also present today, occasionally making intercepting quips, thus keeping everything in control. The three of them once again starts discussing the huge matters within the imperial court, speaking of the Emperor secretly sending a message for Lin Rui En to dispatch troops down south into the Capital today, another scheme must be underway, all of them gathers away their playfulness, serious in facing this matter, the dreary atmosphere in the room suddenly tenses up.
Even Gui Wan who is standing by the doors could feel the time passing by very slowly, one slight pause bringing upon suffocating pressure. Listening to them discuss, finding out that the Emperor has the intentions to send troops, her heart suddenly bursts into panic, the Emperor and Lou Che’s party, exactly till when will they stop competing? Lou Che unable to let go of his obsession to the end, the Emperor is also unwilling to stand alone, the dispute between them, could it be they really need to establish a winner and loser?
A sense of vastness in her heart spreads, Gui Wan freezes on the spot, recalling the betting deadline with the Emperor, recalling the long talk within the Lin Estate, recalling all sorts of happenings with Lou Che during all this time……in this moment, she is actually about to go crazy, she is never one to display her emotions on the outside, no matter how great of an emotion she is feeling, it will be deeply hidden inside, although having compassionate thoughts, she would never act upon it, only this matter of fighting for power, has gradually become her heart disease. The reasoning of a stable world Lin Rui En spoke of, she understands, the situation derived from Lou Che’s background, she also understands; back then, that stick of “The Emperor Swallow” she drew before getting married, and all the subsequent fateful encounters, have all produced ominous clouds deep within her heart, even the mentioning of imperial power would make her feel a trace of taboo……she has the carefree and easy-going nature like that of the cloudless skies, but is also sentimentally attached to the happiness of ordinary people, in terms of loving feelings, she too inevitably has blind feelings, all of this entangled within the heart, one word of “chaos” really is insufficient to describe it all.
Always wanting to use tender affection to rub off Lou Che’s ambitious heart, yet the effect is very minimal. Personally seeing the battle between factions of the imperial court grow increasingly fierce, her heart is hung up high unable to settle back down, she is very well aware, competing with imperial power, the final result would definitely be of tragedy, exactly how long the alliance between Lou Che and Prince of Nan Jun, Prince Duan would last is still unknown, one year? Five years? Ten years? Or even longer?
She is not doing this for the country, nor is she doing this for the people, it is just that her heart is pained, afraid that Lou Che taking to such great pains, only to be reaching for a moon reflected in the water, such a flashy chess game, leading to such an outcome, how is anyone able to accept this? Husband ah Husband, how should all this be put to an end?
An upsurge of emotions unstably rising and falling, hit with realisation, she hears the three people inside the room begin to discuss what countermeasures to makes, ideas thrown out left and right, seeming to have plans to transfer the southern troops into the Capital, in order to not alert the Emperor, they are also planning to split up the army, it is originally a usual thing to mobilise small numbers of soldiers for protection, if the southern troops are sent on the move in scattered numbers, number one it can avoid the eyes and ears of others, number two it can also eliminates the risk of arousing suspicions.
Listening to them have everything planned out, not one of the strategies they came up with lacking in backup plans, both offensive and defensive, Gui Wan also secretly held great admiration. Suddenly hearing a strange sound that is practically almost inaudible from behind her, she jumps in surprise, looking back, she only sees a maid holding a tray, placed on it are three fire glazed cups of clear floral designs, seems to be a sort of ginseng soup supplement. The maid seems to also not expect someone to be here, mouth opening wide, looking at Gui Wan in surprise.
Gui Wan suppresses the panic in her heart, placing a finger to her lips, this maid is also quite bright minded, shutting her mouth as she stands behind Gui Wan. At this moment, the inner room has also sunken into silence, seeming to discuss the current situation of deadlock, within the scene of silence there harbours the killing intent of blade lights and sword shadows.
“Dragging though mud and water like this, exactly how long will it continue, might as well move the southern troops into the Capital, I do not believe, obtaining the Capital, we still need to be afraid of him not giving in……by that time, with titles, with positions, taking the……”
These words travelling into her ears, panic rising like sudden thunder hitting the ground, Gui Wan oozing in cold sweat. Not giving it much thought, she extends her arms and forcefully pushing the doors, a sound of “ga zhi”, cutting off the outrageous remarks of the one inside. The three people inside were slightly stunned, filled with murderous intent they turn towards the doors, waiting to catch a clear view of the figure, one shocked, one doubtful, one surprised.
Late autumn dew thick, chilliness invading the body, waves of thin cold follows the opening of the discussion chamber’s doors and rushes into the room, the three men by the table with high positions and great power simultaneously looks towards the outer area, Gui Wan had already taken the tray from the maid’s hands, stepping into the room, a faint smile, a wisp of gentle breeze, eyes circling around, carefully looking around the room.
She already had familiarising encounters with Prince Duan, as for the one sat to the left of Prince Duan, middle aged, noble and dignified, fine facial hair above the lips, bringing out the charm of maturity, a burly figure, sharp eyes of an eagle, heroic spirit revealed within firmness, even when silent he still holds the air of a leader.
“Tonight really is lively, why is Madam Lou still not asleep?” Prince Duan laughingly greets Gui Wan who just entered.
One by one placing down the cups of soup in front of Prince of Nan Jun, Prince Duan, Lou Che, Gui Wan turns around, lightly sweeping a glance at Prince Duan, “Your highness is working so hard, Gui Wan with kind regards, have come to send some midnight refreshments.”
Hearty laughter coming from the mouth of Prince of Nan Jun: “Madam Lou truly is virtuous.” Not knowing whether this is of praises or ridicule, Gui Wan smiles as she courteously performs a wan fu bow. (Wan fu bow 万福礼 – a greeting by women, whereby they fold their hands on the lower right side. A gesture that symbolises, wishing you happiness and good luck)
Prince of Nan Jun has kept his eyes locked onto her since the moment she stepped in, but seeing her fairy sleeves float at first glance, dimples like the spring peaches, just as the rumours have stated, a one in million peerless beauty, what is even more commendable is that sense of inexplicable elegant ease. Observing her for a while, he suddenly catches glimpse of Lou Che’s state of displeasure, anger displayed between his brows; in this muted moment, he once again deeply gazes at Gui Wan, sure enough Lou Che’s face darkens even more, Prince of Nan Jun hurriedly looks away, lowering his head to drink ginseng soup that is still a little hot, secretly sneaking a few laughs inside, didn’t think Lou Che would actually expose such clear display of emotions, actually he is more than double the age of Madam Lou, not to mention he already has a beloved wife back home.
Lou Che holds Gui Wan’s hand from across the table, feeling that it is a little chilly, he looks at Gui Wan with half blame half pity, Gui Wan holds his hand with a faint smile, “Drink it whilst it’s hot.”
Originally a room of surging undercurrents, the slyness of plotting, vanished without a trace amongst the warmth of the hot soup. Prince Duan who carried hidden malignant influences just before also lowers head, taking a drink of the hot soup, eyes circling between Lou Che and Gui Wan.
With the room falling into quiet, Gui Wan sees the three of them intently savouring the ginseng soup, obscured behind the smoke, also seeming to be in their own thoughts, staring with her beautiful eyes, her lips parts as she says: “Taking advantage of this spare time, I shall tell a story for your leisure.”
Lou Che is slightly taken aback, Prince of Nan Jun and Prince Duan appears somewhat interested. Women talking during a dinner is originally an irregularity, apart from a small number of honourable women who specially holds high positions, and these women’s spoken topic during the dinner would even more be of utmost cautiousness. But right now Gui Wan is speaking so frankly, her attitude so natural, because of this all three of them were speechless, waiting for her to continue.
“Zhuang Zi spent an entire lifetime in a state of utter poverty, King Wei of Chu greatly admired his talents, sending an emissary to use a heavy sum of gold to make him become an official, he refused saying: ‘I much prefer playing games and delighting myself in the filthy mud water, than to be willing to be bound by those in power, I am unwilling to be an official for as long as I live, allow my spirit to gain happiness.’ Zhuang Zi’s great friend Hui Shi on the other hand was unable to hold himself back from riches and honour, going to Wei to become the prime minister, Zhuang Zi wanted to go see him, when someone sowed discord saying to Hui Shi: ‘Zhuang Zi wants to come replace you as prime minister.’ Hui Shi in great panic, went searching for Zhuang Zi for three days three nights within the state. Zhuang Zi upon knowing this, tells Hui Shi: ‘Down south there is a type of bird called phoenix, the phoenix flies from the southern sea to the northern sea, if not a plane tree it will not perch on it, if not bamboo it will not eat it, if not sweet spring water it will not drink it. An owl finds a dead rat, thinking the phoenix will come snatching it away, it loudly screams at the phoenix flying over!” A clear voice of dripping jade tells the story, originally a familiar story, thus gives off yet a different kind of feeling. Gui Wan smiles at the three people, they deliberately scheme to seize power, exactly is it gold? Silver? Treasures? Perhaps in the eyes of some people, it is but only a dead rat. (Zhuang Zi is the respectful name for Zhuang Zhou – an influential philosopher during the Warring States Period)
After listening to this, Prince Duan’s expression darkens, eyes locked onto Gui Wan. Prince of Nan Jun actually appears to be in deep thoughts, those in the room were all able to understand the meaning behind Gui Wan’s words, temporarily sinking into their own thoughts, seeming to be affected in the heart, also seeming to have their schemes frankly pointed out.
“Madam really is carefree and easy going, using a dead rat to compare with power and position……” Prince Duan sounds a dry laughter, speaking in a heavy tone.
Gui Wan declined to comment. Prince of Nan Jun actually speaks up full of smiles: “Zhuang Zi’s action certainly delivers his sincere intentions with refinement, Madam’s story is even more profound and moving, I have really received a lesson.”
Seeing his sincere attitude, seriously taking the story into consideration before speaking, Gui Wan knits her brows, didn’t think that this Prince of Nan Jun is even more of a personage than Prince Duan. She breaks into a lucidly elegant laughter with a sound of “pu chi”, “It is but a story, there is no need to take it too seriously.”
The original cold and still atmosphere inside the room is swept away by this one laugh, Prince Duan and Prince of Nan Jun also cracks a smile, the two people’s heart both turning cold, vaguely guessed that Gui Wan has heard their conversation, but she insists on chatting and laughing so freely, acting as though it is all unintentional, but is faintly affecting the atmosphere.
Each one of them making a turn of thoughts, Lou Che remains silent to the end, holding Gui Wan’s hand, firmly refusing to loosen his hold. Gui Wan stands up, looking around in a circle, “Gui Wan shall not bother you all further, excuse me.” Deeply gazing back at Lou Che, waiting for him to let go, she faintly smiles tranquilly, dainty refined steps making a move, heading out of the discussion hall.
Having just left the discussion hall, the frosty cold hits the face, with absolutely no warmth that she felt in the room before, Gui Wan looks up towards the lone hooked moon hanging in the air, remaining motionless for a long while, hearing footsteps from behind, she turns around, Lou Che was already close in front of her.
Hand held by him again, sleeves covering them, under the moon, those orbs of his actually appears clearer than the moon itself, “Gui Wan, you cannot……”
Lou Che hooks her in from her delicately fine waist, tightly hugging her with not the slightest of open gap, with some irrepressible impulse, “Cannot abandon me first, towards you, I will not let go, you got that?” That story just now, Gui Wan was saying it to him, how could he not know what the deeper meaning behind it is, recalling the words she has once said, he actually felt rather flustered and restless.
Gui Wan nestles into his embrace, clutching onto his clothes, softly saying: “There’s an old saying amongst the commoners.”
“Marry a chicken follow the chicken, marry a dog follow the dog.”
Gui Wan faintly smiles in his embrace. In regards to responsibility, she clearly knows he will not change his mind, but she still made the effort to persuade him; in regards to feelings, she too can only walk hand in hand through good and bad, no leaving no abandoning. From now on, they shall never tread through this wave of murky water anymore, the world shall proceed to go on as it should, just now she has already done whatever she herself could do, no longer does she need to shoulder any psychological burden that does not belong to her.
“……look, the moon view is really great……”
Gui Wan raises her head in slight surprise, finding that Lou Che’s brows are highly lifted, appearing very cheerful, ever so slightly, she still seem to feel a little shy, unable to hold back, she laughs out loud……
This power holder with the court and public in one hand, yet is also a man who occasionally reveals himself crystal clear…….is but her husband……
Half a year later.
The Prime Minister Estate extraordinarily bustling, endless streams of horses and carriages at the doors, rubbing shoulders and following steps, a mass of bobbing heads, causing all the surrounding public to rush forth to take a look, pot after pot of flowers being brought into the estate. At this time it is currently the end of spring and early summer, the brilliance of red coming to an end, the garden appears fairly still and silent, with only herbaceous peonies (芍药) either budding, about to bloom, or already blooming in sparkling radiance. Flowers linking to flowers, leaves linking to leaves, some like crowns, some like bowls, some like silk embroidery balls (xiùqiú / 绣球), flowers and greenery, accompanied with all sorts of floral fragrance. Therefore right now all the flowers being sent here from all over the land, only has one species, that is the herbaceous peony.
Gui Wan walks into the garden, seeing the brilliance of purples and reds filling the entire area, she secretly sighs at such a beautiful scenery, like entering fairy wonderland. Eyes glancing all around, when she suddenly sees another pot of extremely gorgeous flowers being brought, carefully taking a look, it is actually a tree peony (), she was slightly stunned, walking up front, the gardener stops what he is doing, awkwardly looking at Gui Wan.
Observing it over and over again, finding that it is indeed a pot of tree peony, Gui Wan ponders in silence. The herbaceous peony and the tree peony are named “The Great Two” amongst flowers. Since the ancient times, it is said: “Tree peony is the flower king, herbaceous peony is the flower prime minister.” Officials from all over the land has been sending herbaceous peonies as tribute this year, with the means of flattering Lou Che, meaning “under one person, above thousands”. And right now, there is actually someone who sent a pot of the flower king tree peony, the meaning behind this is suspicious, she asks: “Who sent this?”
The gardener slightly panics, hurriedly answering: “By the doors, a lord on the horse carriage sent it.” Stammering as he speaks, very compliant, heart lingering in fear as his body half crouches, fearing that any mistake will lead to punishment.
“Where is the one who sent the flowers?”
The gardener raises his head, a face of great fear, pointing towards the right of the main doors, “That horse carriage turned into the small alley by the side.”
“Lead the way, I need to go see.” Gui Wan gently speaks, looking around, she sees Ling Long, Ru Qing, Ru Ming the three maids attending to the courtyard, well organised, her heart felt much more at ease, lightly throwing back her sleeves, she follows the gardener to the doors.
The main doors were already blocked by the tightly packed crowd, the family’s retailers seeing their Madam coming, deliberately opens the right side doors, allowing the two people through. The gardener turns around the right corner where there is less of a crowd, clamouring sounds also gradually fades, Gui Wan squint her eyes as she carefully looks at the small path, suddenly realising this is where she first ran into Ye Li of the Nu Tribe, because this place is right in centre of the Capital, the residencies around here are all of dignitaries, that is why it is particularly quiet. Having only stepped into the alley, she catches glimpse of a black horse carriage parked up at the side of the alley, simple and unadorned, but the fine horses in front of the carriage has shoes as white as snow, are big and tall, clearly a rarely seen precious horse.
Heart suddenly jumping with a trace of anxiety, Gui Wan stops in her steps, standing at the end of the alley, saying to the gardener who is a few steps in front: “Enough, return now.” Just when her words were spoken, she turns around, with a sudden blur of her vision, the gardener was actually stood in front of her.
The gardener who was still trembling before with a humble face, is looking as usual right now, revealing a few points of sternness, saying: “Madam, please go take a closer look.” Tone stiff, where is there still the stammering appearance from before?
Heart filled with anger, she starts growing suspicious deep down, Gui Wan lightly scolds: “Impudence.” How could the servants of the Prime Minister Estate possibly be this bold, usually when she needs things done within the estate, she will always hand it over to Ling Long who always gets the job done smoothly, other than her personal attendants, she is not particularly familiar with other servants, with many people coming today, could it be that he has slipped himself into the estate? As she was thinking, Gui Wan glances over to the alley opening, finding a cluster of black shadows, the alley opening seems to be guarded. She really has taken things too lightly, only wanting to investigate the identity behind the one who sent the flowers, not even keeping her guard up against the servants of the Prime Minister Estate. Looking at the current situation, the identity of the one in the carriage must be extraordinarily honourable, unable to help but to think of one particular person, but that person should be in Yu Gan Hall, and not in the rear alley of the Prime Minister Estate.
“Madam, Master invites you over for a little chat, may Madam not make things difficult for this little one.” The gardener bows his head, once again making an appearance of a courteous and humble servant.
In this situation she cannot refuse. The front doors of the Prime Minister Estate is too rowdy, loudly yelling out will have no use, if the one inside the carriage really is the he that she has guessed, he would inevitably give rise to surging waves on this peaceful ground, here to stir up trouble. Having weighed out the situation like this, Gui Wan combs back the scattered hair by her temple, once again turning back towards the carriage and walks forth.
Only two steps distance away from the carriage, there is absolutely no movements, Gui Wan starts to hesitate, looking back, the gardener is actually not there anymore, in this little alleyway, only her and this horse carriage is left. Wind constantly blowing past inside the alley, it is currently May, the sun brightly shines, the faint flower fragrance lingering in the air, it just so happens that within this elegant tranquillity there carries a trace of unpredictable changes. She considers this over and over again, before taking half a step forward, reaching out to the carriage curtains.
Hand just an inch distant from the curtains, when the black fabric makes a sudden move, rippling as it opens, being lifted from the inside, Gui Wan looks into the carriage in slight surprise.
Suddenly seeing the brightly lit interior, Zheng Liu in a body of light casual clothing, ink coloured patterns embroidered onto the Confucian robes, a jade hair crown holding up his hair, a paper fan in hand, completing the look of an elegant literary person, the corners of his lips raising into a slight curve, those deeply quiet pool of orbs carrying a shallow smile, first gazing at Gui Wan for a moment, before delicately saying: “What? Does Madam not know me now?”
Verifying her previous speculations, the moment she personally sees it, her heart is still somewhat shocked, thoughts making a turn, this spot is within the Prime Minister Estate’s range, it is not the inner courtyard of the imperial palace, even if it is the Emperor, he too cannot go to all lengths without hesitation. Gui Wan spreads a smile of indifference, bowing in greeting, “Greetings to your majesty–––”
“Forego the formalities.” The person in the carriage makes the first move, the paper fan in hand held out, supporting Gui Wan’s half bent body.
The frame of the fan placed on her wrist, passes on waves of coolness, Gui Wan withdraws her hands, elegantly smiles like the chrysanthemums, lightly raising her head, eyes obliquely looking towards Zheng Liu, meeting his veiled and unpredictable dark orbs, she hurriedly looks away in a smooth and neat manner.
“My longing for Madam like the waves, yet Madam actually avoids me like it is the auspicious thing to do, this really makes my soul flee in grieving ah!” Zheng Liu lazily leans against the carriage walls, paper fan gently swaying, fanning one moment and not the next, the refined elegance and warmth he usually faces the ministers with, cannot be seen at all, indiscipline behaviour greatly on show.
Secretly annoyed by this half real half fake attitude of his, as though the entire world is but a game to him, but just have to feel rather afraid of his volatile temperaments, Gui Wan faces him with an attitude of casual ease, “Your majesty must be joking.”
“Joking?” Zheng Liu lifts his thin lips, smiling as he says, “Within this entire world, my ‘monarch’s words are no playful matter’ are of the greatest value, Madam actually does not believe me?”
“I dare not.” Smile unchanging, Gui Wan stands three steps away from the horse carriage, allowing Zheng Liu to carry sharpness within tenderness like the scissor sharp spring breeze of February, she has always used a smile to deal with it, neither stiff nor soft, neither lifted nor lowered.
“Is it daring not to? Or is it not wanting to?” Eyes circling around her body, paying special attention to her every expression, line of sight quietly wandering around, there is also that brisk glowing look that withers within the wind, one by one making its way into the eyes, repeatedly savouring the taste. Wrist making half a turn, fan pointing to a spot, signalling her to take a seat, “Is it not tiring standing there? Come, accompany me for a little chat.”
The fan in Zheng Liu’s hand is pointing towards the area where the carriage and thill connects, capable of holding one person, if she sits here, she will be sitting on the same shoulder level as the Emperor, Gui Wan declines saying: “Thanking your majesty, etiquette between monarch and subject are indispensable.”
“Etiquette between monarch and subject,” Coldly sounding a scoff, Zheng Liu’s lips like the half moon, within the curve of a slight smile, cold words spits out, “I have said before, do not use this type of unnecessary and over-elaborated formalities to restrain me.”
Anger already contained within his words, but within those orbs like deep pools, there is still tender warmth, “Madam, time flies like a spinning spindle, two years have already passed.” Purposely mentioning this topic, watching Gui Wan’s smile faintly gather away in great satisfaction, but upon seeing her knit her brows together, his heart makes a sudden jump, seeming to ripple out, surging with both familiar and unfamiliar emotions, could this be what they call……dismay?
Gui Wan rapidly makes calculations in her mind, did not think that that day’s irresponsible remark of the two year period only has half a year remaining now……
“Didn’t think that your majesty still remembers that playful joke.” Playing innocent as she sounds a melodic laughter, she is set on denying this to a cleaned out end, this matter is only known to the heavens, the earth, the Emperor and her, there is not a third person to stand witness, she insists on saying it was a playful joke, what can he possibly do to her?
“A playful joke?” A sudden rise of his voice, a sharp flash passes Zheng Liu’s cold fear inducing pupils, even he himself received a shock, upon seeing the moment she desperately tries to disassociate herself from him, a chord of a particular root of reasoning within his brain snaps in response, wrathful anger rising within his chest, face instantly turning cold, “Madam is taking this for a playful joke?”
Initially he did indeed take this casual gambling deal as a playful pastime, who knew that when he threw it to the back of his mind, he will encounter her in the palace again. Seeing her accompany him in sitting alone within the cold wind, entertaining herself at the side, clearly concealing the hate in her heart, yet her face only shows a beautifully sweet smile, the efforts of acting differently to how one actually feels inside, how familiar he is with it, like seeing himself in the mirror, he suddenly finds, she is happy and contented with herself, wilfully takes care of herself, with the fluttering style of soaring in the skies, blends in with the norm, but also casts away the norm.
This kind of beauty endowed with the spirits of the universe, his heart grew envy of, also wanting to obtain it.
Sensing his anger dispersing over along with the flow of the wind, Gui Wan unmindfully turns her head to look, eyes sweeping past his fan and that ink coloured clothing rising in the wind, secretly thinking how she is to face his rage. Suddenly seeing his lips hook up, actually sounding another round of laughter, such laugh extremely frivolous.
“Gui Wan, you think that this gambling deal was made by you, thus ending it is also to be set by you?” A charming voice escaping from those lightly pressed lips, Zheng Liu locks his gaze onto her with a ridiculing smile, the tip of his fan placed on the carriage thill, “I did not say to stop, thus this bet must continue.”
Name being called out from his mouth, Gui Wan sucks in a breath, sensing that he is only laughing like this due to his anger reaching an extreme state, under the watch of such a smile, her entire body feels like it has stiffened up, “Your majesty has the highest honour as the monarch, how could you quibble over the smallest things with me this mere woman……” If you wish to quibble, the damage inflicted is but only to your honour as the Son of Heaven.
“Using these words to stimulate me? You think the same method can be used on me twice?”
Lightly shrugging her shoulders, Gui Wan displays a helpless demeanour, “Should your majesty really think like that, Gui Wan can also do nothing about it, your majesty rules the world in the name of benevolence, it is best to think all matters over three times.”
Hearing this, Zheng Liu is slightly stunned, only now did he get a taste of this woman’s wretchedness, blade hidden within her smiles, a seven inch threat drawn at every line, in this very moment, to actually not see her with any falsely adorned smile of slyness, charm like the radiant sun, his heart thumps, instantly speechless.
Catching onto Zheng Liu’s moment of loosened expression, Gui Wan was slightly surprised. Perhaps today she has occupied the upper hand and not the Emperor, this absurd idea suddenly plunges into her mind, but is quickly abandoned with one smile of hers.
To be unoccupied with the advantage right now, is it because of his intention to confuse her? With the bottom of the fan supporting his jaw, Zheng Liu remains silent for a long while, his anger gradually fading, eyes restoring its clear farsightedness, “Since that is so, then the matter of the gambling deal shall be dropped.”
“Yes.” Gui Wan simply sounds a reply. Although this is the ending she had hoped for, but the success came too fast, practically without any twists and turns, causing her heart to give rise to doubts, also feeling a little uneasy, just getting the feeling like the opposition’s purpose is far more than this.
Right now in the alley, not a single noise can be heard, silent to the point of getting a little stuffy, yet the Prime Minister Estate separated by just a wall away is filled with the liveliness of people’s voices, gasps and sighs, praises, yelling, occasionally traveling into the ear, sometimes quiet sometimes noisy, in complete contrast, like being in two different worlds. Just when Zheng Liu sunk into silence, Gui Wan in anxiety, a sound of unexpectedly loud yelling as though it is of close proximity “Provincial Governor of He Nan, one pot of Xian Jiu Chong” such voice comes piercing through the air.
“Provincial Governor of He Nan?” Laughing aloud, Zheng Liu extremely casually rests his feet on the carriage thill, turned his head and slowly speaks: “I heard the Prime Minister Estate is having a small celebration today, a grand occasion like this, seems like I really have not come in vain.”
A seeming praise when heard, but is actually of ridicule, Gui Wan raises her eyes, seeing him smile like the warm southerly wind (harbouring unpleasant feelings), unable to make out the unpredictable meaning right now, she faces it with indifference.
Hearing all the sounds of relaying reports from the alley, Zheng Liu cracks a smile, “In the end I have underestimated Prime Minister Lou, not only in control of the six divisional ministers, but even has the local officials of other provinces in his palm. Madam, you tell me, Prime Minister Lou in the imperial court, exactly is it beneficial or harmful?”
A thorny problem thrown right into her face with one change of the subject, really a great sly fox of an Emperor.
“Your majesty has asked wrong.”
“Asked wrong?” Raising his brows, Zheng Liu half squints those devilish eyes, smiling as he asks, “How have I asked wrong?”
“First of all, your majesty is asking the wrong person, these words should be asking the three councillors and nine ministers, should be asking the high officials of the court, should not be asking me this mere woman; secondly, your majesty as the highest honour on the imperial throne, naturally has the spirit of the Son of Heaven, to not doubt those working for you, this little bit of tolerance, how could you not have any?”
Zheng Liu freezes for a moment, followed by a round of hearty laughter.
“Good, good……” Once again using words to catch him out, the woman before him appears frail, every word is a gem, every phrase sharp and cutting, constantly making him hatefully grit his teeth, but there just also has to be a trace of nameless unwillingness, “A great glib tongue. Gui Wan, you being so pressing with that sharp tongue, are you not afraid I will steel my heart to destroy you? You really think I will endlessly condone you?”
Seeing him speak so coldly, anger revealed on the outside, Gui Wan was secretly in fear, nodding as she says: “It is your majesty who told me to answer the question, could it be that speaking honestly and frankly is also wrong?” Such tone as though suffering injustice, not even giving in an inch of a step. Today she has gained the location advantage, she just does not believe the Emperor will launch an attack on the spot.
Clearly aware the pitiful look of suffering injustice she is displaying is mainly an act, but hearing the tender delivery of voice, somewhere in his heart, he softens up, the anger he felt also half dispersed, the remaining half gloomily resting in his chest. Zheng Liu darkens his face, seeing her carrying seven points of false attitude towards himself, he increasingly dislikes this feeling, just like admiring flowers in the fog, unable to see the distinctive realness in it no matter what. Could it be that this realness is that hard to find?
“Since you want to speak honestly and frankly, then let us speak our minds today.” Face filled with warmth, Zheng Liu uses the fan to tap at the carriage thill, “Are you not tired? Come take a seat in accompanying me.” The final sentence filled with tenderness.
Originally not feeling it, upon hearing his reminder, Gui Wan could only feel both her legs already nearly as numb as wooden logs, unfortunately that carriage thill spot is absolutely off limits, and the surrounding area has not a single area to take a rest at, lightweight, her face appears contented, “Not tired, many thanks to your majesty’s good intentions.”
“One question, you rejected me twice, could it be my good intentions, you disdain this much?” His grace, everyone across the world will bow down in hopes for it, only she will although respond with a smile, but actually refuse it from thousands of li away.
Looking into Zheng Liu’s eyes in surprise, actually catching the fleeting feeling of hurt, she knits her curved brows together, changing the subject: “Should your majesty wish to speak freely, Gui Wan shall respond standing here, only then will we be complying with the social customs.”
Coldly sounding a scoff, Zheng Liu declines to comment, look of displeasure directing at Gui Wan, pausing for a moment, he asks: “You think……being within the Prime Minister Estate range today, I cannot afford to make a public display of any kind, thus being completely restrained?”
Her inner thoughts nailed down in one phrase, Gui Wan frankly shows a faint smile, neither denying nor admitting.
“The entire Capital City sits in the palm of my hand, for how long can the glory of the Prime Minister Estate last? Prince of Nan Jun has already returned to his land two months ago, Prince Duan has although been vindicated, but reduced to a second rank (official), far less than before. Could it be you really think Lou Che joining hands with these two people, is able to win?”
Within this past half of the year, first the northern division entering the Capital, then the southern army moving north, the armies equal in strength, but also cannot stay in the Capital for a long time, in the end they could only do nothing about it; however after this deadlock, the Emperor had not choice but to put an end to Prince Duan’s injustice, clearing off the suspicions from the Changes of Feng Shan. On the surface, it looks like Lou Che has prevailed, first causing the northern division return with no success, then pushing the Emperor to give in. But thinking about it carefully, amongst all this, Lou Che’s political alliance did not receive the slightest bit of profit. In order to counterbalance the Emperor’s military troops, mobilised the southern army’s defence forces, the use of the northern division is the burden of the nation’s treasury (funding) , and the use of the southern army, is the burden of Nan Jun, one’s loss is another’s gain, how can the power of one county compete with that of one country? And Prince Duan is promoted in name but demoted in reality, a great loss of power, faux power held in name only. Therefore the apparent glory displayed on the surface over this past half of the year, is in fact of extreme danger, one careless step, far beyond redemption.
This score, Gui Wan is naturally well aware of, leisurely speaking in a melodic tone: “Your majesty is that certain of winning? Even if you win, there is still a definite heavy price to pay, the country is but your majesty’s, with the slightest damage, the one most distressed, is still your majesty right?”
“Growing a malignant tumour on your hand, one should cut it off first, you cannot just wait for it to wear away the entire body right? I will not let the entire body go into ruin, just because of being unable to bear losing one hand.”
“Unfortunately, before any malignant tumour has grown yet, cutting off that hand, could this be a wise decision?”
Engaging in dispute with Lou Che, putting the imperial court in danger, under one war, both sides suffering losses, an outcome like this, even the Son of Heaven, cannot possibly accept it so easily.
“Without this one hand, I can also find another hand in replacement, within this world, could it be there is no one capable of replacing Lou Che?” A scorning thorn as though pricking into Gui Wan’s innocence, Zheng Liu speaks ever so softly, implied chill thoroughly exposed.
Understanding the aesthetic pleasure upon hearing the striking of chords, Gui Wan immediately thinks of the youth who was once as clear as water, being held in importance use by the Emperor, emerging as a striking figure in the imperial court, gradually earning himself a position amongst positions, although still incapable of endangering Lou Che as of now, but recalling the causes and consequences of him entering officialdom, she is still finding it difficult to unburden her heart. Sunken into deep thoughts for moment, she actually forgets to answer the Emperor’s question.
Up until Zheng Liu looks at her still in the eye, asking: “Is no one able to replace Lou Che? All that he has given, I can also give……”
“Madam……Madam!” The old housekeeper’s hoarse voice mingled with anxiety floats over the wall, from far and swiftly nears, Gui Wan hearing this, solves the dilemma before her eyes. The hidden guards appears one after the other from the corner of alley, approaching the horse carriage.
Seeing the guards come surrounding them, Gui Wan secretly makes a speculation, this is the opportunity to escape. Just as she was about to turn around, feet upon making the slightest movement, the tingling numbness of both her legs were tremendous, difficult to raise her foot, it was in this slacking moment, that Zheng Liu gathers away his laidback attitude, jumping down from the carriage, just like a swimming dragon, he darts forward, abruptly seizing her hand, strong capturing her in place, Gui Wan caught off guard, pulled in front of Zheng Liu, facing Zheng Liu’s sharp eyes in surprise.
“He can, could it be I can’t then?” Catching her seemingly wanting to escape, he is angered by this, not caring for the inappropriate timing and place, also not caring for his personal bodyguards freezing on the spot due to his unusual behaviour, taking no measures with his actions; he only stares at her relentlessly, as though wanting to gather any traces of clues from her face, not paying any attention to anything else around him, although appearing wild he still continues to be crazy.
“Cannot, because you are not Lou Che.” Wrist gripped onto by him, burning sensation spreading out from her wrist, a faint stinging pain, she endures, not showing the slightest bit of weakness in her tone, revealing calm arrogance.
From within her leisurely clear and bright orbs, he sees his own wild arrogance being reflected, Zheng Liu feels the increasing sensation of his heart firing up, rather than hearing this kind of answer, it is better to continue seeing her be fake and indirectly astringent, that way, it will not be like this very moment, unable to let go, but also cannot not let go. The darkness in those slightly narrowed eyes deepens, calm but also holds lingering feelings entangled with pain, even his refined and free smile braces such bitter taste.
One hand pinching onto her chin, watching the wind bring a few strands of hair stroking past her lips, he lightly lets out a long drawn out sigh, deeply grabbing eyes darkening even more, lowering his head in wanting to kiss those sweet smelling lips.
Heart missing a beat, hurriedly trying to move her head back, deeply desiring to avoid his demand, the hand free from his grasp pushes against his chest, who knew he would remain absolutely still, unable to evade it, that hot breath that is already at an extremely close distance grows more dense in between breaths.
“Huang……Huang Gentleman.” Not knowing who spoke up from the side, cutting through the space of this alleyway. Zheng Liu jumps awake, lips moved to the side, a light kiss brushing past Gui Wan’s cheek; once again bowing his head to look, seeing the look of pain on her face, his hand loosen its hold.
Gaining her freedom, Gui Wan desperately takes a big step back, the guards have already surrounded the horse carriage in a circle, the leader amongst them looking at Zheng Liu with a few points of anxiety, opening his mouth but does not know how to say it. The lively noises by the front doors of the Prime Minister Estate has already lightened, with no signs of reporting flower names for a long time now, the crowd has already begun to disperse, soon there will be people passing by the alley, such scenario, what are they to do?
Realising they cannot stay for any longer, Zheng Liu gathers away his devilish state, gloominess hidden within his deep orbs, looking at Gui Wan, those thin lips slightly hooks up into an arc, fine sharpness sweeping past the eyes, containing remnants of chilling cold.
“Looks like my condoning towards you……is already far beyond expectations,” Zheng Liu smiles with seeming self-mockery, “But the price for this, you may not be able to bear, Gui Wan……” A final sound of tender calling, like a curse escaping the lips, he throws back his sleeves, boarding the carriage without looking back, the black curtains rises and falls, blocking the sight of those from outside the carriage.
From another side of the alley, a few horses have already been pulled out, the guards swiftly mounting the horses, coachman raises the whip, the horse carriage turns to another direction, the spinning of the carriage wheels accompanies the bursts of horse hooves, drifting further away.
Gui Wan turns her back, walking out of the alley, wrist still sensing pain, pulling up her sleeves, she reveals a her fair wrist, a big red mark clearly visible, the edges are even starting to turn purple, gently stroking it, she lets out a breath of relief, the Emperor’s temper is originally extremely unpredictable, today it is even more insolent, abrupt anger abrupt gloominess, full of ups and downs.
“Madam……” The old housekeeper upon seeing her, face revealing happiness, quickly making his way over, “Madam? Where exactly did you go? Haven’t seen you for half a day, I even……pei, pei, look at my old mouth, almost spoke of the unpleasant.” Rambling on, upon getting a close look, he finds that Gui Wan’s face appears a little pale, receiving a fright. “Madam? What happened? Did you come across something?”
“Nothing, it was a little noisy inside, I came out for some fresh air.” Turning her eyes with a smile to cover up.
Nodding in acceptance, the old housekeeper places the doubts within in his heart, Madam is Lord Prime Minister’s treasure in the palm, servants need only to serve in dedication, daring not to intervene at all.
“Where’s Lord Prime Minister?” Following the old housekeeper in returning into the courtyard, seeing the servants of the Prime Minister Estate busying around, people lined with flowers, flowers reflecting the people, blossoming flowers like embroidering everywhere, amongst them there is just no sight of the Prime Minister Estate’s master.
“Lord Prime Minister is in the study room discussing matters with visiting officials.” Waving his hand from the side, telling the servant to bring a chair over, placing it in the shaded area of the garden, allowing Gui Wan to sit there, whilst taking a nice little rest, can also admire the flowers for entertainment.
“What people are there in the study room?” Very leisurely asking this, Gui Wan leans back on the chair, one hand supporting her chin, gathering the beautiful scene of the courtyard into her eyes. A few divisional officials within the Capital, also a few lower ministers, state governors of He Nan, Tan Zhou, also……” Respectfully saying everything that he knows, but at the very end, reveals a slight holding back of the tongue.
“Also?” Gui Wan raises her brows.
Heavily nodding his head a few times, the old housekeeper shows a demeanour of helplessness, explaining: “There is also a strange person who came today, not only gifting flowers, also self-claiming to have the talents to bring peace to the country, Lord Prime Minister summoned him, actually also letting him discuss matters in the study room……” Perhaps because this matter has never happened before, the old housekeeper’s tone reveals endless amounts of curiosity.
Lightly sounding a reply, Gui Wan declines to comment, silently sitting in waiting within the courtyard, waiting like this, she waited till the sun descends the mountain peaks, bright lanterns hung up. The study room doors finally opens, filing out are a few officials old and new in silk clothing and jade belts, all with a distinctive look of sternness, when stepping out the doors, they were still whispering to one another in discussion of something, several people catches glimpse of someone within the courtyard, examining eyes looking over, seeing Gui Wan sat amongst the clusters of flowers, not one did not reveal a stunned look, followed by thinking of something, their faces all changes slightly, turning their heads away, lowering their heads whilst walking, heading out of the courtyard.
The last one following behind, is actually a man in cotton clothing, this is originally of no wrong, but following after the group of glamorously dress officials, it indeed appears a little strange. Gui Wan immediately understands this is the strange person the old housekeeper spoke of, only seeing him look towards her, with no expression at all, just like seeing nothing, and also follows the others’ pacing, walking in leave from the courtyard.
 The proverb used for having everything planned out is called chéng zhú zài xiōng / 成竹在胸 which literally translates to having a complete [image of] of bamboo embedded in one’s chest (heart) – before painting bamboo, the image of bamboo is already in one’s heart.