This chapter was more summary than translation because it’s a set up episode. It’s still critical to the narrative, but because my darling perfect stupendous Huo Qu Bing doesn’t show up, naturally it’s not an episode that leaves me riveted. If you are a JiuYu shipper, then you can happily feast on this. This chapter really set everything in motion in Da Mo Yao. Jin Yu is smart and fearless, but she’s also too risk-taking for her own good. I appreciate that she’ll never blame others or rail at the Heavens for problems that arise she had a hand in creating. Aside from Jin Yu and Jiu Ye, most of the characters in DMY are real life historical figures, and this episode introduces the Li siblings (famous in Han dynasty history). It’s amusing to see Tong Hua twist the history to fit her story, but I like how creative she works within the existing framework.
Tong Hua has said in interviews that, not only is Xiao Huo her favorite male character ever written, she wrote DMY for him. Because she doesn’t believe in her heart of hearts that this brilliant young man died at the age of 24 (this is well known in Chinese history and is not a spoiler to all the Chinese readers of this novel, so I’ll let you all know as well). I am NOT saying Huo Qu Bing dies in the end of DMY. He might, or he might not. The most important takeaway is that Tong Hua loved him so much she wrote a love story solely for him, i.e. she created Jin Yu for him. As for me? My translations of the DMY novel is also because of him. I need no other reason. He’s about as memorable a fictional leading man as Fitzwilliam Darcy is to a battalion to young girls reading Pride and Prejudice for the first time.
Chapter 4: Beauty
When the carriage returns to Luo Yu House, my position has greatly changed. I am returning as the new head of this business. I was assured Hong Gu would be fine with it, and indeed she was, pleased that she was not punished and could still enjoy her life and run the house with me. She handed me the books for the last few years, and confirmed that the best girls have indeed left. In truth, she was happy I came, someone to bear the heavy burden with her. And with my friendship with the Big Boss, I would be a good mountain for her to lean on.
I understood now why Wu Ye allowed me to be the new head, hoping I can turn the fortunes of this dance hall around not because I have the capability, but because I had the connections with Jiu Ye. I was told that Fang Ru has the potential but she didn’t have the heart to do this. I called for her to be brought to me. I told Hong Gu not to worry, these things take time. We can train the girls, but it’s luck to find a true star with talent and beauty. We might want to build up our reputation outside first with fresh new tactics, and then the talent will come to us.
I told her it was up to the two of us to think up new ideas, suggesting we take a tour of all the dance houses and she tell me what their specialties are. When Fang Ru arrived, I told her that I was giving her back her sale contract and she was free to leave. She looked shocked and grateful. I told her to come to me if she needed anything since I saw her as a friend. She ran off so quickly Hong Gu remarked that she’s never seen Fang Ru move that fast in this house before. I tell her there is a chance Fang Ru may return of her own accord, and we need to take it because forcing her to stay she will never put her heart in it.
I’ve paid off Fang Ru’s debt and the money will be docked from my earnings, which makes me laugh, to incur debt on this job before I even take on any responsibility. Hong Gu doesn’t know if I’m hurting in my wallet right now, but she knows I’ll be hurting elsewhere soon. She stares my ears until I back away. Hong Gu says “It’s not my fault. You got out but then you chose to come back willingly. From now on you will be the face of this business, you have to look the part.”
I remember legends of the past who have sacrificed, whereas I am merely sacrificing my ears. When I return to the Bamboo Residence, I peek in the mirror and realize how ugly I look right now. I touch my ears and sigh. Papa didn’t want me to become a flower, yet I become the head of a bunch of flowers. But if what I am doing can alleviate some of the worry in Jiu Ye’s furrowed brows, then everything will be worth it. If back then I had this level of thoughtfulness, perhaps I could have helped Papa think up great plans, then things would not have……
I shake my head and tell the me in the mirror “Don’t chase after the dead. You already spent more than a thousand days in sadness, it’s time to forget and look ahead. Didn’t Papa say so? The mistakes of the past are so that we don’t make it again. You’ve grown up now, it’s time for you to learn to share in another person’s worries.”
I can smell Xiao Feng bringing dinner, which normally would send me running, but today I don’t move from my spot. I tell him to bring the food inside, I don’t feel well. Xiao Feng worries that I’m sick and has Jiu Ye come check on me. It was Jiu Ye who treated his sick grandpa. I quickly said it was nothing, startled to learn that Jiu Ye knew medicine.
After dinner, I kept thinking about how to run the business when there was a knock on the door and I absentmindedly said to come in. It was Jiu Ye, and I wanted to wrap a towel around my head but couldn’t find one, so I just covered my ears. I pulled on the string by accident and it hurt like heck. He asked if I was sick, and then saw my ears “Hong Gu pierced your ears?”
I pouted and nodded. He laughed “Take your hand away, didn’t Hong Gu tell you not to touch it for 10 to 20 days otherwise it will get infected?”
I realized that if it was infected, the string would be removed and after the infection heals, I’ll be pierced again. I quickly put my hands down. Jiu Ye looked at my weepy expression and shook his head with a smile. He turned his wheelchair around and left, returning shortly with a small ceramic pot. He explained that this was aged wine that was good for preventing infections.
He gestured with a white cloth for me to tilt my head so I knelt down and turned my head towards him. His cold hands lightly touched my ear lobes and barely grazed my cheeks, but I felt my face heat up. He used his hand to hold my head still and when I turned, my lips accidentally pressed against his palm. My heart thumped and I quickly shifted my head, staring intently at my skirt hem on the ground. His hand stilled for a moment before it resumed cleaning my ears.
As he wiped my ears with the wine, he revealed that he had his ears pierced as a child. Since he was a sickly child, his mom heard that piercing the ear to pretend to raise the boy as a girl will make the child easier to raise healthy.
To create the earring hole, Hong Gu strung some ugly moles on the ends of the string. I asked if he had those when he got his ears pierced. He teased me “My mom had mine painted in rainbow colors to make me happy.” I looked at him with some pity, clearly his were even more conspicuous than mine.
After he wheeled himself out, I remained kneeling on the pallet for quite some time. Suddenly I stood up and started dancing and twirling on the pallet. Until my body grew tired and I collapsed on my covers, where I buried my head in the blanket and smiled like a loony. When wolves are young, they learn to lick their own wounds. So this is what it feels like to be taken care of by someone else. It is so warm, and I want to be a human. Papa Papa, I am so happy right now!
Buried in the blankets, I had my goofy smile for a long time. Suddenly I sat up and grabbed a hankerchief and wrote along the edges of it.
“Happiness is the flower that grows in the heart. Beautiful and seductive, lingering and enchanting a person. But the memory can lie, and I worry that one day I won’t remember today’s happiness. So I want to write down what happens from now on. So that one day when I am old, so old that I can’t even walk, I can sit on a pallet and read these hankerchiefs and see my own happiness. There will be times of sadness, but no matter if it’s happy or sad, it’s the traces of the life I led. But I will try my hardest to be happy…….”
While dining at Yi Ping Ju, the top restaurant in the city, we heard a beggar singing a folk tale song outside. The performance was so well received the beggar was greatly rewarded by those who listened. It gave us the idea to add a story to our dances, which had until now been just a performance without any narrative. After a month, I came up with an interesting story, with songs and lyrics to accompany it.
Hong Gu was worried, a story about a princess and her horse servant falling in love and overcoming all odds to be married. I thought it was romantic. Hong Gu pointed out that even an idiot would see that, despite all the names being changed, it was the story about the current Han princess, Princess Pingyang, and her husband the Great General Wei (who was formerly her horse servant). That was exactly what I intended.
Hong Gu asked “You want to use the whispered about story that everyone in Chang An has heard about, the story about the current Great General Wei, to incite everyone’s curiosity and bring in the audience who wants to hear gossip. But one person is the current General holding all the military might in the Kingdom, and the other is the older sister to the current Han Emperor. Have you thought about their reaction?”
I popped a sweet in my mouth and responded “What kind of reaction? Great General Wei was base-born and endured a lot of hardships in his youth, which is why he understands the struggles of the common people, and why he has such a gentle persona. He is someone who will not create unnecessary scenes. If he hears of this, he will likely laugh it off and ignore us. Princess Pingyang is always worried about the age gap between her and General Wei. On the surface she pretends not to care, but she really does care what others think. Her biggest worry is that General Wei married her because of her birth, but deep down he dislikes that she’s much older than him. But this dance performance will highlight their love story, how they fell in love dispute their great differences and only could be together after the Emperor discovered it and used a decree to allow them to get married. What a fabulous happy ending!”
Hong Gu asked about the Emperor, leaving me laughing at how impressed she must be with my prowess, that the performance I devised could potentially reach the ears of the Emperor. If that happened, it would mean we really were famous. Hong Gu knows this industry, if we perform it, we’ll be famous.
I explain that I tried my best to paint the Emperor in the best light, as wise and brave. How he receives it is beyond my control. But I want to take this chance and asks her to take it with me. She sighed, impressed with my youth and guts. She’s endured not being famous for so long, she wants to take this leap of faith with me, especially since I’ve put so much thought into it.
Fang Ru suddenly returns, softly telling us that she wants to return to the dancing house. She appears resigned, but then loses her temper at me, asking if I’m happy now that she’s returned. Isn’t this what I wanted all along? I tell her to stop blaming the others and the world for what happened to her. She starts to cry and let out her frustrations, while Hong Gu comforts her. I tell her “When Hong Gu was six, she was sold by her brother so he could marry a woman. I don’t even know who my parents are. All the girls here have sob stories. At least you had good parents for many years. I’ve already torn up your sales contract so you are coming back as a free woman. You can leave anytime. But if you choose to stay, you have to follow the rules of this house.”
After Fang Ru goes to rest, I ask Hong Gu how it feels to play a good guy for once. She concedes it feels good, and she has seen that my methods produce better results than forcing girls to do what they hate. I have Fang Ru start learning the part of the princess, with two other girls to learn the part of the Great General Wei. I tell Hong Gu to adjust the performance as necessary and I’ll leave it up to her, since I’m going home now. I suddenly realize that I used the word “home”, not sure when that started. Hong Gu laughs, asking me to just move here to make it more efficient and more fun to spend time together. I make a moue at her without responding, getting in the carriage and heading off.
I noticed through the window that it was another full moon night, surprising me to realize it. Brother Wolf is likely strolling under the moonlight, and occasionally howling at the moon. Does he think of me? I don’t know if wolves have this emotion. I’ll ask him when I go back to see him. Or perhaps he has a mate now, someone to howl at the moon with.
Chang An and Xi Yu are vastly different. Looking skyward, there is bound to be an obstruction like a rooftop or a wall. In the desert plains, everywhere you look the sky connects with the edges of the earth. But right now I am sitting on the roof and looking at the sky, and it looks as expansive.
I touch the flute in my hand. Being busy choreographing the performance, I haven’t touched it in a long time. I don’t know if I can play the Bai To Ying tune I just learned. I play with a serious of stops and starts, filled with mistakes. But I’m still happy. Not being able to howl at the moon, playing at the moon is also an enjoyment. After playing it another time, it’s much smoother and I feel quite proud of myself.
As I’m being all full of myself towards the moon, the sound of another flute wafts up to me. It’s leisurely and elegant, like a fairy dancing or a beauty weeping. Jiu Ye sits in the courtyard playing a flute. The same flute, mine sounds like a hungry 80 year old while his sounds like a fair maiden at the banks of a river. His music seems to be pulling at the moonlight, illuminating him with a silvery essence so that his white robe makes him appear indescribably handsome.
The song ends yet I remain bathed in the conflicting emotion of happiness turned to woe [that her tune was so bad compare to Jiu Ye]. He held his flute and looked up at me “Bai To Ying is a song about a woman’s despair. If your heart isn’t aligned, it’s impossible to capture all the tonal shifts. This is my first time hearing this tune played with such a happy vibe. Thankfully you have an expansive lung to play it.”
I stuck my tongue out at him “This is the only tune I know, so tomorrow I’ll go learn more. Your playing is so wonderful to listen to. Keep playing, I’m in such a happy playing mood.” I pointed to the moon “The bright moon, the clear sky, the swaying bamboo trees next to you, these are all such happy things.” Sometimes people are not as well off as wolves. Wolves always get excited at the full moon, whereas people often ignore it.
Jiu Ye looked at me for a moment before nodding “You are right, these are all happy things.” He looked at the moon again before raising his flute to his lips. I don’t know this tune, but it sounds like a spring rain where people are laughing, the trees are laughing, the blades of grass are laughing. I stare at Jiu Ye playing the flute. I don’t know why you have this hidden sorrow in your eyes, but I want to ease it.
Under the black and blue night sky, with the moon hovering over us, one of us sits in the courtyard, the other sits on the roof with knees drawn up, the bamboos as dancer and the jade flute as music.
Fang Ru’s quiet and restrained performance as the princess sending her general off to war is heartbreaking, so the people in the audience sniffle and wipe their tears away. Hong Gu is shocked at how well Fang Ru is doing after a slightly shaky start. She thinks in 10 days, Luo Yu House will be the hottest place in all of Chang An. I smile and walk outside.
It’s April already, the air bursting with energy. All the excitement I kept pent up in front of Hong Gu finally bubbles forth. What is waiting for me in the future? Will I achieve the objective I hid within the dance performance? I hear a noise and walk to the courtyard to see the music conductor pushing a man out. He explains this man wants a job as a musician here but we already have enough.
The young man is wearing worn but clean robes, a clear open face that looks honest but slightly worried. I got a good impression from him so ask where he’s from. He’s just arrived at Chang An, and his name is Li Yan Nian. I allow him to play for me, and he’s come prepared with his lute carried on his back. He starts to play and his music is extraordinary, transporting the audience to the vast wilderness where nature and music blend seamlessly together.
I know I must keep this talent no matter what. I ask why he’s seeking employment here. With his talent, the more famous Tian Xian House ought to be his first choice. He admits that he went there already and they want him. He explains that he’s lost his parents recently and traveled here with his younger brother and sister to seek a living. His sister heard about the new dance performance of “Hua Yue Nong” (Flower Moon Passion) here at Luo Yu House and insisted he come here to play for us.
Li Yan Nian explained that his sister thinks the performance of Hua Yue Nong was surely well calculated. I was stunned to know that his sister saw through my intentions and could see that this was no simple dance performance. Since I was small, I learned tactic and strategy, with Papa teaching me that life can change on a dime. Having once experienced a cataclysmic event, after entering the Shi Residence, I started collecting data on the rich and powerful in Chang An. But this sister of his appeared to have just arrived in Chang An and already knows the workings of it. Her decision to eschew a more famous dance house for ours is a decision made with purposeful forethought and the willingness to take a risk. If she knew my ulterior motive and therefore wants to enter Luo Yu House, what is her motive? Why does she want to meet Princess Pingyang?
I take a closer look at Li Yan Nian, finding him quite handsome. If his sister is equally as eye-catching, then I must keep this person. I doubled the offer he got from Tian Xian House. He accepted calmly, not seeming particularly happy. I tell him to call me Madam Yu, like everyone here does. I decide to call him Master Li, and invite him to move into the house with his siblings. He confirms that they are living in a shack in the outskirts of the city, and I share that I once lived in the forest when I first arrived, which finally elicits a smile of mutual understanding from him.
I ordered a room cleaned and inform Hong Gu I hired a new musician, telling her to trust me on this one, his talent is unparallel. Li Yan Nian arrives the next morning with his siblings. His younger brother resembles him, with a bit more youthful brashness. His sister is covered in a face veil, but even her walk is elegant like a dance, entrancing us all.
Under the veil, all I can see are her eyes, which are enough to assess her. It’s seductive yet calculating, in a split second it felt like a flash of a sword slashed through the air. I’m intrigued! I smile, while besides me Hong Gu keeps sighing and sighing. This girl, just by her form, has caused Hong Gu who has seen countless beauties, to be speechless. Li Yan Nian bows to me and introduces his younger brother Li Guan Li and his sister Li Yan. [The Yan character in the names of Li Yan Nian and Li Yan are completely different characters in Chinese though pronounced the same.]
Li Guan Li happily checked out their residence, while Li Yan didn’t enter the room but stood in place and looked at me. The first words she said to me was wondering why I did all this for them. She didn’t think their status deserved my benefaction. Her voice was not like that of most girls. It was deep and low, requiring one to listen carefully to capture her words. It was akin to someone whispering in your ear at night, causing a twitching in the heart.
I told her “I normally don’t like to be so obvious, but I really want to keep you. And it’s all of you, not just Master Li. I like to do things in one clean swoop, so you don’t have to move around, which is more hassle for all of us.”
She asked “Us?” I laughed “Your brother is a master at the lute and handsome to boot. His sister understood my intentions simply by watching the dance performance I created. How can I let my kindred spirit be disappointed?”
Li Yan’s eyes reveal twinkling mirth “Madam is surely very perceptive.”
I didn’t know there could be a female version of bosom buddies, where two people just get each other. I chuckled “No more than you. My name is Jin Yu.”
She elegantly takes off her veil “I am Li Yan.”
I suck in a deep breath as I am hit by stunning shock. It’s not like I haven’t seen a beautiful woman before, but she is not someone that the word beautiful is even adequate to describe. So it’s true that in this world, there is a kind of beauty that can make a person forget oneself. If the stars fell because of her, if the moon lost its lustre because of her, I would not be surprised.