Now that all the majority of the main and secondary characters have been introduced in Da Mo Yao, the story can finally start delving into the political intrigue of that era. The war stuff will come later, because my precious Huo Qu Bing didn’t become a great General at a young age by staying in Chang An and doing nothing. I feel like this story has an almost bipolar element, so that when Jin Yu is with Huo Qu Bing she is all fire and spice, but when she is with Jiu Ye is is all waves and blushes. Let’s not forget how young everyone is at this point. Yu Er is sixteen, Qu Bing is eighteen, and Jiu Ye is about twenty. So we’re talking youthful passion and flirtation, but all within a very deadly and serious world of high stakes political alliances and power plays. Both Jiu Ye and Qu Bing are watching over Yu Er already, but one does so covertly while the other is completely out in the open. I just want to shake Yu Er and tell her to pick the cute boy who so clearly adores her, but then again, a girl’s got to follow her heart where it takes her.
Chapter 6: Tipsy
I wake up late so by the time I return to Luo Yu House the girls are practicing dance under the tutelage of Li Yan. Hong Gu mutters that if I didn’t show up soon, she’d be reporting a missing person to the authorities. We watch the dance, with Li Yan occasionally offering pointers, but her every gesture is as arresting as ever. I discuss with Hong Gu how Li Yan’s dance appears to incorporate a foreign flavor, like she’s taken the passion of the Xi Yu dancers and fluidly added it to her movements. But her performance doesn’t have the flirty seductiveness of those dances, managing to be captivating and feminine while she remains pure and seemingly untouchable.
Li Yan asks if I’ve gotten the gold card to go ahead. I don’t answer her but turn to Hong Gu, asking her to collect data on all the dance houses that will be divested. I plan to buy four of them. We have enough money for two, and I will find a way to get the rest. Hong Gu rushes off to do my bidding. Li Yan smiles “Slowly and surely, with preparation and patience. You call me your kindred spirit, but now I don’t think I even deserve that. As long as you want to, every single dancing house in Chang An will be under your control.”
I laugh and murmur “I’m the one who ought to wipe away some sweat. The dancing houses in Chang An are likely not even within your sights.”
Initially she thought my intention behind the performance was to enter the Palace, but now it’s clear I just want to run a successful business. While girls in this industry want to one day leave, I appear to be just fine being in it. What are my intentions?
I respond “It’s not as complicated as you think. I’m just someone without any ties, and no desire for power or wealth. Unless the power and wealth can make me happy, then gold and silver mountains mean less to me than a full moon in the desert. My actions are well calculated and I will do anything to achieve my goal, but the ultimate reason is that I want to make myself happy, and make the person I care about happy. If Chang An isn’t fun anymore, perhaps one day I will grow tired and run back to Xi Yu.”
Li Yan looks at me “You are someone without any constraints. Like an eagle in the sky. You ought be be flying in a place like Xi Yu, Chang An is likely not suitable for you.” I ask if she’s been to Xi Yu, but she hasn’t and has only heard her father describe it.
Suddenly Hong Gu comes running in to inform us that Princess Pinyyang’s servant come by with word that the Princess is on her way. I get dragged out to change, wondering if I’m supposed to welcome her at the door with a kneel and a bow, chanting “long live your highness.” I tell Li Yan to have Master Li prepare as well.
I am seated and everyone crowds around to primp me, which is akin to torture with the pulling and the tugging, then affixing a hair piece to add more volume. Hong Gu goes to ask all the guests to leave, telling them the Princess is coming. I stop her, telling her not to reveal the Princess is coming and just give everyone back their money. I don’t want to start bandying about the Princess’ name already.
My eyes start to cross at the sight of all the silk and jewels being placed on me, leading me to wonder if everything of value Hong Gu owns is on my body right now. I tell her to stop, but she makes me exchange my ear bobs for a jewel encrusted waterfall earring. She tells me that a woman’s entire appearance is of value. I run away to wait for the Princess, not wanting to be tormented any more. Standing at the door, I anticipate meeting the woman responsible for the rise to prominence of the Wei family and the Emperor stripping Empress Chao of her title [The Emperor stripped his first wife Empress Chao of her Empress title to hand it over to his new love Wei Zhi Fu, making her Empress Wei. Wei Zhi Fu is the sister to the Great General Wei, who also happens to be the Princess Pingyang’s husband. This makes Huo Qu Bing nephew to the Emperor, Empress, Princess, and Prince Consort.]
The Princess arrives, and her servants appear pleased to see how I’m dressed to welcome their highness. I escort the Princess in after she informs us that she is here to watch the performance. I ask if she wants to see the entire thing since it’s quite long, and she asks us to put on the best scenes. Li Yan Nian arrives and bows simply and respectfully to the Princess.
Qiu Xiang and Fang Ru, under the accompaniment of Li Yan Nian’s lute, enact scenes where the princess is sending her general off to war. His stirring music, plus the emotional performances of Fang Ru and Qiu Xiang on stage, cause the room to be silent and even the servants of the princess are red-rimmed. Before the song is even finished, suddenly the door opens and the Princess’ servant says “Young master Huo requests an audience with the Princess.” Before his words fall Huo Qu Bing is already walking boldly into the room.
The Princess laughs “You’re still so impatient, if your uncle (Great General Wei) saw you right now, he will surely lecture you.” Huo Qu Bing bows to the Princess and goes to sit beside her “He says what he wants, I do what I want. If I get annoyed, then I’ll just avoid him.”
“Avoid him? How long has it been since you’ve paid your respects to your uncle? I recall you coming by around New Year’s to greet us, but since then you show up only when your uncle isn’t around. It’s almost been half a year, and we’re all a family, you…..”
Huo Qu Bing hurriedly says “My dear Princess Auntie, can you please just let your dear nephew off the hook this time. When I enter the Palace, I get lectured to by Empress Wei, so why is even my kind Princess Auntie lecturing me now as well. Maybe in the future I won’t visit the Princess’ Estate anymore.”
The Princess shook her head at him and resumed watching the performance. Immediately Huo Qu Bing’s expression turned from the warm Spring to the dead of Winter and he turned to stare at me, checking me out from top to bottom with his icy eyes. Finally he pined my eyes to his. I pretended not to notice. He kept staring at me only until the performance finished and Fang Ru, Qiu Xiang, and Li Yan Nian arrive to kneel before the Princess.
The Princess compliments them on a great performance, but she does not want this performance to ever be put on again. Everyone’s color disappears from their faces, and I hurry to kneel before the Princess, ready to accept her orders. She smiles, knowing this performance was so well thought out, and I was quite brave.
Huo Qu Bing stands up and walks over to me, kneeling down right next to me and cutting off what the Princess was saying “Qu Bing needs to beg forgiveness from the Princess.” Even though he said beg forgiveness, but his face has an expression of not a care. The Princess smiles in shock “What did you do wrong? You guys go check if the sun will be setting in the East today” as she gestures to her servants.
“This is a long story, and it starts when Qu Bing first met this Ms Jin…..” As Huo Qu Bing talked, his hands grabbed mine from underneath our robes.
The Han dynasty attire style mandates wide and large sleeves. Kneeling down next to each other, our sleeves overlapped, which allowed him now to do this without detection, When I realized what he was doing, he already reached my fingers. I immediately used my middle finger to poke his nerve. He was smiling and talking to the Princess, but his reaction was immediate and he avoided my middle finger and managed to grab my entire hand until it was in his grasp.
He seemed pleased and shot me a sideways glance. He gave my hand a squeeze and I raised my head to look at the Princess. She was listening to a very nervous part of the story and staring intently at Huo Qu Bing. It was like she was being pursued by the desert thieves, her life in the balance.
I relaxed my strength and my hand softened in his grasp. His words slightly slowed down and he gave me a head lowered questioning look. I kept my head lowered and didn’t move. Slowly I used my strength to use my nail to poke the center of his palm. Thanks to Hong Gu, three of my nails are in the style of long and alluring. He wrinkled his brow. I let out a tiny smile. Let’s see how long you can endure this.
“…..so we were lost in the desert with not enough supplies, so we were doomed……AY YA!” He suddenly yelped. Because the Princess was listening so intently, his sudden yelp caused her to almost jump out of her seat. I was also startled that my hand shook and I quickly looked at the Princess, afraid to use anymore strength.
The Princess worriedly asked “What happened?” Huo Qu Bing continued to hold my hand tightly without releasing it “It felt like an evil hard-hearted scorpion bit me.” The Princess wanted to get up and I quickly explained this room was thoroughly cleaned for her arrival and there was no possibility of any animal being inside.
The Princess looked scared and disbelieving, so I shot Huo Qu Bing a look, asking him to smooth this over, and gave him a tiny pinch on the hand. Huo Qu Bing laughed “Oh, it appears that I accidentally poked myself.” The Princess relaxed and said “You’re so touchy feeling, not sure who you resemble. So what happened next?”
He continued to tell the story, but I was a bellyful of anger. I wanted to do it again, but the second my nails moved, he yelled out “Deadly snake!” I quickly retracted my nails. The Princess quizzically asked “What?” He said in all seriousness “In the desert there are deadly snakes, deadly ants, deadly bees, all of which like to bit people. But if you yell out they won’t dare to bit anymore.” She looked confused but nodded her head. He continued his story and I decided to give up. In this situation I ought to let him win and do what he wants. He relaxed his grip on me and was just lightly holding my hand.
When he finished, the Princess asked me “So you are saying that she choreographed this performance just to get your attention?” He replied “Indeed so” and then shot me a look with was filled with warning and intensity. His hand also tightened on mine. It truly hurt and I quickly replied “Your humble citizen, I was too daring and bold, will the Princess please punish me.” His eyes grew gentle and his grasp relaxed. He asked the Princess “Everything happened because of Qu Bing, so will Princes Auntie please forgive Qu Bing this once.”
The Princess looked at him, and then looked at me, and then she smiled. “Fine, get up now! I never intended to berate Jin Yu, and I can’t control what’s going on between you two. You didn’t have to busy yourself doing this, though I did enjoy hearing the story. And this is the first time I’ve heard of a human living with wolves.”
Huo Qu Bing looked confident as he explained to the Princess that there are lots of stories in the recorded annals of humans communicating with animals. The Princess laughed “Oh yes, your uncle’s trusty war horse appears to understand your uncle. When your uncle has time he even personally washes the horse down and talks to it like an old friend. Your uncle seems to spend more time with it than with me.”
I tried pulling my hand back, and this time he didn’t resist, only giving me a small squeeze before letting go. I bow in gratitude to the Princess and he also gets up and gives her a bow. He sits down next to the Princess again and she looks at him “Last year you said you were going hunting in the mountains, when in truth you went to Xi Yu. If your uncle found out, what’ll happen?”
Huo Qu Bing huffed “The Emperor approved, so who dares berate me?” The Princess gets up and turns to me “I’m done watching the performance, and listening to the story, I’m ready to return now.” After I send the Princess off and turn back, Huo Qu Bing looks at me but I ignore him and walk off. He chases after me and we return to the same room where I entertained the Princess. I sit where the Princess sat and don’t say a word. He sits down next to me in silence as well. Suddenly he lays down and puts one leg on the seat “How does it feel?”
“A little tired, every word must be carefully thought through before saying it. But I also can’t respond too slowly. And all the kneeling is making my knees ache.”
He smiled “And yet you still dressed up like this? Thank goodness I heard about the Princess coming and rushed over here. Or else you might get scared half to death.”
I tell him that he’s over thinking this matter. He suddenly sat up and gave me a cold smile “I’m over thinking? When the Princess presents you (as a present) to the Emperor, that is the path where there is no return.” I smile back “What if there is something better” He startles “Who? There is a girl in this dancing house that hasn’t shown her face yet?”
I thank him for what he did today, asking if he would berate me if someone from my dancing house entered the Palace. He smiled lightly “My Aunt (Empress Wei) is an already wilted flower in the eyes of the Emperor. She’s already selecting ladies for his court, as is everyone in the Palace. If it’s not you, someone else is thinking the same thing. The Princess is also looking for possibilities. When the Emperor visits the Princess, she always summons the most beautiful dancers. Some have caught his eyes, but after a few times serving the Emperor have been tossed aside and forgotten. There is a song about women who aspire to be Wei Zhi Fu (the name of Empress Wei). But how many women out there are actually as beautiful as Wei Zhi Fu was in her prime.”
I respond “There is definitely not many women who have the Great General Wei as a brother and you as a nephew, that’s for sure.” He laughed and raised his palms “Don’t count me in there. In General Wei’s eyes, I’m just a giant block of wood that takes too long to mold. I’m sure he’d rather disown me if he could.”
I smile at him “Are you one?” He asks “Do you think I am?” I didn’t answer and instead ask why he told the Princess about my wolf background, what if I’m treated as a freak and locked away? He explains that was he the only one who saw me with Brother Wolf, he would have kept it a secret. But there were others with him that day, and the Emperor already knows, so it’s best to come clean now with the Princess. I nod.
He orders me “Feed me some fruit.” I put the plate in front of him “You feed yourself! I’m not one of the maids in your estate.” He laughs and grab my hand “If my estate had one like you, why would I come here to experience your temper.” I push his hand away “There is no one here right now, do you want to test your skills against mine?” He sighs and lays back down “You sure know how to ruin the mood.”
I huff “Is this how you are in your own estate, flirting with the maids?” He smiles at me “Why don’t you come back to my estate with me and spend a few nights, then you’ll know.” I humph at him and don’t spar with him any further.
He asks me to bring that beauty over to check her out, whether she’s worth our time. “Our?” I say with a raised brow. “Why not?” he responds. I tell him that I think this is best done through the Princess. He laughs and agrees, plus he has no interest in helping find a new ladylove for the Emperor.
He explains “I just like saying “our” and “us”…..us, us, us….not you or I, but us, us…..” I tell him to stop it. He ignores me and keeps saying “Us, us…..” until I grab a fruit and shove it in his mouth. He doesn’t get angry and instead smiled at me and started chewing.
I stand up “Who has time to waste with you, I’ve got other things to take care of.” He also gets up “I’m off as well.” I smile at him “Don’t want to come with me to see the beauty?” He jokingly asks “Do you see me as someone enamored by feminine charm?” I stop for a moment, and then shake my head.
With a smirk, he leaves me with this “If I want to become powerful, why should I do these tactics. It’s not that I don’t understand, it’s that I don’t want to bother. If you think it’s fun then go ahead and do it, but be careful and don’t get yourself entangled in it.” He turns and strolls out of the room in one powerful swirl.
Everyone gathers in my room with a solemn and depressed air, thinking it’s all over now that we can’t perform the dance and we got the Princess mad. I tell them not to worry. We can perform other dances, and now that word has gotten out that the Princess praised “Hua Yue Nong” as a good performance, the customers will surely come in droves to see our talent. I explain to Hong Gu that the Princess is not mad, if she were, she would have shut us own right from the start instead of waiting until now.
But this performance is still her life story, so it’s time to stop it. Now there will always be the legend swirling about this performance, with those who have seen it spreading the word, and those who have not lamenting the missed chance. The Princess has gotten her objective across, and so have we.
A maid enters with a small porter bearing a present, a cage covered in black cloth. Supposedly it was brought by a man who didn’t leave a name, only saying that I will know who it is from when I see it. I pull off the cloth and there they sit, snow white feathers and red ruby eyes. One is napping and the other is looking at me curiously with a cocked head. I gleefully ask for seeds to be brought over. I smile like a silly person and won’t tell Hong Gu who it is from, so she leaves me to bathe in my happiness.
The sleeping pigeon wakes up now there is food and steals a seed from the other one, which doesn’t get mad and allows it to take the seed. “You are quite a precocious (Tao Qi) one, so I’ll call you Xiao Tao. And you are so giving (Qian Rang) so I’ll call you Xiao Qian. I doubt you understand me. I can only speak wolf, not pigeon.”
After dinner I rush over to the Shi Estate, deciding whether to go via the front door or over the walls. The door opens and Shi Buo pokes his head out, explaining Jiu Ye wanted the door left open for me. I rush to the Bamboo Residence, where the bamboo blinds are half pulled. With a twirl I’ve entered the residence without even touching the blinds. Jiu Ye compliments me on my athletic prowess but I’m embarrassed at being so overeager.
I sit down next to him “Thank you for giving me the pigeons. I really like them. Do they have names, because I already gave them one.” He replied “Just numbers, so what did you name them?”
“The bossy and precocious one is called Xiao Tao, and the gentle and giving one is called Xiao Qian.” He smiled “Then that makes you Xiao Yu.” I respond “Yes! The next time I introduce you, I’ll call you Xiao Jiu.”
He smiles and hands me a small whistle “The pigeon trainer says those two are the most talented of all the pigeons he’s trained in years. He never showed his face in front of them so they didn’t imprint on him. In the next month or so, only you can feed them. Once they imprint on you, you don’t even need a cage anymore.”
I look at the intricate whistle, which has a carving of a pair of pigeons flying on it. It has a tiny hole to string a line through to hang around the neck. I try blowing and it makes an ear piercing screeching noise. He tells me this is a special whistle just for pigeons and they will recognize different sounds as different commands. I ask if he’ll teach me?
He replied “Since I gave you the pigeons, how can I refuse to teach you.” He grabs another whistle and proceeds to blow. I hold my ears expecting a shrill noise but instead it’s a simple playful ditty he plays. After he finishes, he demonstrates all the sounds the whistle can make, showing me and asking me to practice.
Outside the window, a warm breeze wafts into the room. Inside, one is teaching and one is learning, the laughter mixed with work.
An unknown flower scent comes into the room, twirling round the two of us happy people.
My heart feels like it’s in motion, this tightening and contracting, holding me in its thrall. When our eyes touch, it’s like there is something, but nothing is said.
This tipsy feeling, like the joy of getting drunk, makes the heart unwilling to care and wanting to continue to descend deeper into this sensation.