Did anyone order a beauty to topple a country, with a side of hotblooded protector? Episode 8 of Da Mo Yao ratchets up the political machinations from pure plotting into action, and to no one’s surprise, Li Yan makes a stunning debut to the eyes of the Han Emperor. Is Yu Er doing the right thing in helping her? She doesn’t know, but she assessed the risks and her current situation and made a careful choice. I can support that. But let’s not forget that she’s still running from her past, and in this episode, her past may or may not catch up to her. The good news is that someone is there is shield her. And he doesn’t disappoint, once again stepping up and showing Yu Er that she’s not all alone in Chang An. He makes it very clear that she has him when she needs someone, no questions asked. I think I might need to go lay down now.
Chapter 8: Shocking Encounter
Outside is thunder and pouring rain, inside we sit and I stare at Li Yan “I’ve already met with the Princess, so in the shortest time necessary, you will have to do everything I ask.” She nods. I point to all the books and ask her to read and understand the tactical manuals. She will be in the Palace and engaging in political intrigue with the Emperor and all the other women. The Emperor ascended to the throne at the age of sixteen, and today is thirty six years old. A man at the pinnacle of his life must be well versed in battle and wits. He is sometimes cold, sometimes warm.
Li Yan looks at the books “Since the Emperor is my enemy, but also my one ally in the Palace, our battle is between a man and a woman. I’ve never been intimate with a man before. In this battle, if I lose my heart first, I will have lost, right?”
I point to the anatomy texts and she wrinkled her nose that it sounds like trying to probe the innards of the Emperor. Hong Gu pipes up that the books we needs are the ones about male-female intimate relations. Li Yan and my cheeks both heat up. She whispers to me “Xiao Yu, have you read it before?”
I haven’t, and those kinds of book are very rare and almost impossible to acquire. Only the Palace with its vast repository might have a copy. Leaving me no choice but to go find Huo Qu Bing.
“I need to bother you to find a book for me” I keep my head lowered staring at my shoes.
Huo Qu Bing is leaning on the cushion and casually drawls “What book? Not yet another military tactical manual?”
I lower my head even more and softly answer “No.”
He asks with a hint of exasperation “What’s wrong with you today? What is the matter that you can’t just come out and say it. Hemming and hawing.”
I take a deep breath and whisper “It’s…….it’s a man and a woman……man woman……concerning that.”
“What?” He suddenly sits up straight and stares at me. I keep my head burrowed and stare at the ground, not making a sound. I can feel that even my neck is burning hot, my face must surely be on fire.
He started laughing “What? What is that? I don’t understand what you are saying. You need to be more specific.”
I suddenly stand up “Forget it!”
He grabbed my sleeve and smiled “Is it for you to read or for someone else?”
I don’t dare to turn back and look at him “For someone else.”
He laughed “That kind of book, even the Palace might only have one copy. I’ll have someone hand copy and deliver it to you in a few days. You should read it as well. It’ll come in handy, If there is anything you don’t understand, I can……” Before he finished talking, I had already jerked my sleeve from his hand and quickly taken off.
I sit with Li Yan in silence while Hong Gu teases us. She’ll find some of Chang An’s most experienced ladies of the night to come and educate Li Yan personally, She teases that I ought to sit in on the lesson, it’ll sure come in handy someday. Both Li Yan and I are completely red-faced. After Hong Gu leaves, I tell Li Yan to work on her eyes. She doesn’t have the eyes of a sixteen year old without a care in this world. Her eyes are filled with deep pain that even I could see through, she is clearly not going to be able to convince the Emperor. I want her to go out and observe normal girls and check out the look in their eyes.
I tell her to start crying from now on, despite her mother telling her never to cry, She needs to learn to cry on a dime, and cry prettily and sorrowfully. I proceed to tell her the story of Empress Wei.
“Rumor has it that when the Emperor first brought Wei Zhi Fu into the Palace, the then current Empress refused to relent. So the Emperor had no choice and could not see Wei Zhi Fu for an entire year. When he finally saw her again, she got on her knees and cried and begged the Emperor to release her from the Palace. Today we all know the end of that story. Tears and laughter are tools that she needs to learn how to use it wisely,
I tell her that these are the hard things, the rest is easier. We’ll go through the Emperor’s life story and get to know his personality. Li Yan gets up and fixes her clothes before kneeling to give me a formal bow. I want to help her up but she grabs my hand “Please accept this bow from me. Because in the future, you will have to be bowing to me. This is the only time I can show my gratitude for what you have done for me.” I accept her bow.
“The gold silver flower seeds have arrived and I asked the gardener to plant it in my new garden. By Spring time next year it will have bloomed. I want to ask you to come view the flowers with me. Will you come? Should I plant some at the Shi Estate? You treat me so well, always carefully answering my every question. My requests, even if it has nothing to do with Shi Enterprises, you always agree. But exactly where do you put me in your heart? Sometimes I feel you getting closer and closer to me, but when I reach out my hand, you suddenly turn away. Why?……”
I hold my brush, why do I have to always test and probe his feelings. I put the handkerchief away and walk outside. I ask Li Yan if I can ask Li Yan Nian some questions. As we’re walking over, I softly ask how she’s coming along in her studies, She doesn’t anwer, only telling me to sit in on the lessons if I am so curious. I laugh, telling her I want to learn from the best, so I’ll wait for her to finish her education.
She tells me not to spend my days just running the business, I need to worry about my future as well. She can see that the Big Boss treats me well, and the way I am so careful around him, he must be special. If he’s not married then…… I cut her off and squeeze her cheeks playfully, telling her that because she’s off getting married soon doesn’t mean she needs to pull me down with her. She huffs that her good intentions are so wasted on me.
When we arrive, Fang Ru is leaving Li Yan Nian’s residence and she quickly explains she came to inquire about a tune. I tease that I didn’t even ask, and she’s already trying to explain. Li Yan secretly pokes me and lets Fang Ru scurry off. I tease Li Yan for sticking up for her future sister-in-law already. She warns me not to use my jokester attitude on Fang Ru and her brother, who are gentle people.
Li Yan NIan welcomes us inside. I ask how it is in the Palace? Since he was recommended by Princess Pingyang, everyone is very respectful towards him. I heard he’s been praised by the Emperor and already rewarded. Li Yan can tell I’m beating around the bush and tells me to cut to the chase.
I drink water and look Li Yan Nian in the face “There is a very introverted person who also loves music. If a girl wants to tell him her feelings, but not sure how he feels and doesn’t dare be direct, does Master Li have any suggestions on how the girl can reveal her feelings in a way that is easier to accept?”
He stares and starts to think, while Li Yan starts laughing at me. As someone who has read all the military manuals yet I need to ask for advice on this, she tells me consider the things I said to her, and practice it myself,
I calmly answer Li Yan “I don’t consider this a battle, because from the very beginning I had opened my heart. I have no defenses, I’m not afraid of him coming in. I’m afraid that he won’t come in. I have no calm and calculation here, just my heart.”
After much thought, Li Yan Nian confessed that he was but a musician and all he knows is how to use music to convey emotion. He heard I played the flute as well, so he suggested that since Li Yan also played, she can teach me since we spend so much time together. Li Yan suddenly took off after looking unhappy, so I gestured for Li Yan Nian to stay while I chased after her.
Finding her alone in the room, looking out the window, her loneliness was palpable. I tell her “You can still change your mind. The worst that can happen is the Princess is upset, but I can resolve that.”
She softly replied “I really envy you, to live so free. You can do what you want, and pursue that happiness that you want.”
“You’re also doing what you want now, no one is forcing you.”
“I am forcing myself. Jin Yu, you don’t understand, and I hope you never understand what it feels like to force oneself to do something.”
I left her alone, and as I was walking back to my room, Xiao Tao landed on my shoulder with a cloth note on his leg. I was so happy I ran to my room.
I ask the Princess if we can meet in a Bamboo Forest in her residence, sharing with her the understanding that women are like flowers, needing accompaniment to best display their beauty. We arrive right at dusk, so the sky is red-tipped. Li Yan stands next to a bamboo tree with her back to us. I tell the Princess that I did not pose Li Yan this way, or that she even knows the Princess will be meeting her today.
The Princess sighs “How can a person’s back already conjure up all these thoughts. I want to see her face, but am afraid I will be disappointed. Her face cannot disappoint her form. This anxious feeling is indeed something that would not happen had I met her in a room.”
The Princess walks forward and Li Yan hears footsteps and turns around. She has a smile and is pointing to the setting sun, about to say something when she recognizes the Princess and immediately kneels and bows. The Princess has her rise and compliments her simply adorned beauty as such a precious jade that she was loathe to see Li Yan kneeling.
I look at Li Yan, telling her that this is all I can do, the rest is up to her. She understands. Going there was the two of us, returning is just me. The anxious Li Guan Li asks if the Princess likes Li Yan and I confirm it. Li Yan Nian looks thunderous and turns to punch a tree. He wonders if perhaps his biggest regret in life will be coming to Luo Yu House.
“Even though my sister said this is what she wanted, it’s her own idea, but I still can’t help but hate you. You disappoint me. Do you want riches and wealth that much? So much that you won’t hesitate to sacrifice a girl’s future?”
I give a small smile “Hate all you want. Li Yan has already stepped on a path of no return. Rather than object, you need to help her. You need to use all your talent to help her.”
I leave him and go back to my room, telling Hong Gu what happened. For Li Yan to impress the Princess, who has seen countless beauties, is quite a feat. The Princess will be sure to devise the best opportunity to present Li Yan to the Emperor. Sitting there, I suddenly get up and grab the handkerchief with the “Li” embroidered on it. I hold it over the fire until little by little it burns up and the remnants are just black charred bits on the ground. What was before could no longer be distinguished.
I’m holding an invitation from the Princess to attend her birthday celebration at her estate. Hong Gu thinks it’s because the Princess likes Li Yan so much she’s extended this invite to us. She wants to dress us, but I tell her to dress herself. I’ll wear a nice outfit with a few accessories, that will be enough. I tell her to trust me on this one.
The banquet is situated on the banks of the lake, with lanterns lit illuminating everything. The dais where the guest of honor sits is still empty. We’re seated at the very end of the banquet area, where we are promptly ignored by the guests already enjoying the event. Suddenly a silence descends and everyone gets on their knees and bows “Long live your majesty the Emperor. Long live your highness the Empress.”
Hidden in the back, I can observe everyone carefully. The Han Emperor that Papa and Yi Zhi Xie often talked about is sitting right in the middle of the banquet. I remember asking Yi Zhi Xie many years ago whether the Emperor was a good looking as Yi Zhi Xie. It is only now, years later, that I have an answer. He is handsome, but not as good looking as Yi Zhi Xie. But his aura was more powerful than Yi Zhi Xie. But then again, the Yi Zhi Xie that I knew was before he became the Shan Yu. Who knows what he’s like now?
I looked at the Empress and was stunned. She was like the water, as soft, gentle, flowing and crystal clear as the water. Under the light, she is like a fairy pond under the moonlight, an astonishing beauty. What wilted flower? There is a kind of beauty that never fades or wilts with time.
Hong Gu sighs “That is a woman amongst women. No wonder back then the Emperor went up against the Dowager Queen and the Princess to have her.” I nod.
Princess Pingyang is sitting with a large man with a gentle demeanor, who is likely the Great General Wei. He’s like the stories say – physically brawn but calm and composed on the inside. He and the Empress just sat there watching the Princess and the Emperor happily chat.
The people on the main dais are all relatives of the Imperial family or high ranking officials. Everyone appears to be enjoying themselves but their eyes always stray back to the Emperor to follow his mood and his lead. Underneath the guise of getting along, they are trying to gain the Emperor’s favor. Only Huo Qu Bing pays attention to his food. He occasionally raises his head but his expression is cold and he doesn’t acknowledge others around him. He doesn’t socialize with others and they don’t socialize with him. Since the banquet started, there was only one twenty some year old young man who raised his glass to toast Huo Qu Bing, who smiled and toasted back.
I find out from Hong Gu that the young man is Li Gan, the third young master of the General Li. I see that she described him correctly before, handsome and dashing, but with an air of confidence being born into a military family. Suddenly the banquet quieted and Li Yan Lian arrived and began to play. After some time, joining the sound of the lute was the sound of a flute rising from the distance. Everyone turned to see where the flute was coming from, and on a small boat sat Li Yan playing the flute. She is veiled but her seductive beauty hidden within is evident to all.
After she bows to the Emperor and the Princess, she suddenly steps off the boat and appears to float on the water. She starts to dance in the moonlight on the surface of the lake, a water fairy come to life. Everyone stares in shock while Li Yan Nian’s music hits a crescendo. Li Yan tosses out a long ribbon and starts to dance with it, creating spirals in the air that is in tune with the music. As the eyes follow the ribbon, suddenly Li Yan vanishes, like she went back to the water.
The first to snap out of it was Huo Qu Bing, the Great General Wei, and myself, while everyone is still staring at the lake. I turn to look at the Emperor, while the Great General Wei and Huo Qu Bing immediately look towards the Empress (their sister and aunt, respectively), Empress Wei has a small smile and is still looking at the lake, But within her brows it looks like she’s surpressing tears. Li Gan looks amazed, while Li Yan Nian just looks at his lute with an expressionless look.
In this silence the Emperor’s voice is heard “Bring this girl to meet me.” Hong Gu holds my hand with a smile, while Li Gan’s hand shakes and he spills his wine, but he quickly composes himself.
The Emperor and the Princess banter, with her revealing that she had wooden boards built under the lake surface so that Li Yan’s would appear to be dancing on water. The banquet finally ends and everyone disperses. We wait until most people have left before we take out leave. Hong Gu looks happy but I can’t seem to find the joy in this. Planning something is one thing, seeing it happen is another. The Empress Wei entranced the Emperor years ago by performing a dance for him at the Princess estate. Years later, the same thing has happened again, now by a different woman. When the Emperor saw Li Yan tonight, did he recall Wei Zhi Fu of years ago?
When I was a child I loved banquets, it was always a happy occasion. Even when Papa didn’t want to go, I would find a way to attend. Sitting at today’s Imperial banquet, I finally see clearly that underneath all the riches and wealth hides a bitter cold. I suddenly miss Papa a lot, and when I’m down the image that comes to mind is Jiu Ye. I want to see his warm figure under the lamp light. One lamp, one person, one warmth. I tell Hong Gu to go home by herself, I want to walk.
Under the moonlight, the occasional dog bark breaks the silence of the night. As I’m walking, a carriage passes by which abruptly stops. Huo Qu Bing jumps out of the carriage and stares at me “What are you doing here? Were you at the Princess’ banquet earlier?”
I nod, and he coldly says “Congratulations.” I bite down on what I wanted to say and continue walking. He sends the carriage off and quietly walks besides me. I wanted to ask him to leave, but seeing the expression on his face, I can’t say anything, so we walk in silence.
The carriage goes far and the night quiets down like we are. On the long street there is only the sound of our footsteps on the ground. He looked ahead and softly said “Some things you can anticipate in advance, but seeing it unfold is a different experience.” I tell him to yell at me if it’ll make him feel better.
He gave me a sideways glance and with a smile said “If I was mad it’s gone now. It’s rare to see you so subdued, plus what happened was as expected. I just didn’t expect Li Yan’s entrance to be so well thought out, conquering all in one fell swoop. Li Yan understood strategy, first she had Li Yan Nian use a tune to engage the Emperor’s attention, then her appearance was both stunning and still secretive. It was a truly exciting performance tonight.”
The moon is bright and the light blanketed the entire street, but I can only see the path right in front of me. What is at the end of the lane I cannot clearly see. The first meeting between Li Yan and Liu Che (the name of the Emperor) is both calculated yet uncertain. Li Yan won this round, but what about the future?
We walk in silence, based on the path it appears Huo Qu Bing wants to walk me back to Luo Yu House. We turn into another street where at the end a lantern illuminates the sign “Tian Xiang House”. A few people are leaving Tian Xiang House, and the most popular dancers are actually personally sending them off. I check out these customers and my heart lurches. My knees grow weak and I almost collapse on the ground. Huo Qu Bing reaches over to support me, but I’m still staring straight ahead. It’s not possible! How could he be here on the streets of Chang An?
He’s wearing a Han style outfit, standing straight and proud under the lantern light, a white robe encircled with jade, elegant and refined. Because he is a Xiong Nu, his features are very defined, like a knife blade’s sharpness type of handsome. But his demeanor is distant and cold, like a thousand feet of snow, the cold radiating from him. The lantern normally gives off warmth, but around him there is only chill. Surrounded by warm flowers, it’s like he’s standing all alone on a snowy mountain top, always solitary. So this is what he looks like after becoming the Shan Yu. Between his eyes there is no warmth and softness when once he was the smiling and dashing Lord.
In a blink of an eye I cannot move, cannot speak, just standing there dumbfounded as they walk towards me. Once I react, it’s like I’m back in the desert, trying to escape with Yu Dan for our lives, telling me that I need to run and hide. I immediately turn around and look everywhere, but all around me are closed houses with nowhere to hide. I want to run away but Huo Qu Bing grabs my arm “What are you afraid of?”
I hear the footsteps almost to my back, and in a moment of hopelessness and abject fear, I dive into Huo Qu Bing’s arms and embrace him, my head buried in his shoulder. He’s momentarily stunned, and then his arms slowly encircle me. He whispers in my ear “As long as I am here, no one in Chang An city can hurt you.”
A rough laughter breaks the silence, “The girls in Chang An are quite passionate! The carefree nature is like our….Xi Yu girls. That backside looks like…..”
Huo Qu Bing makes a move but I squeeze his back, so he retracts his arms.
A soft cough and the man’s words trail off. A very familiar yet completely unfamiliar voice speaks up “Young master please forgive us. My servant is careless with his words. He didn’t mean any disrespect or insult. Coming from Xi Yu, just a little rough around the edges.”
My body continues to shake uncontrollably. He’s standing right next to me, I never thought I would ever see him again. I can’t believe that, years later, I would reunite with Yi Zhi Xie on the streets of Chang An. If I supposedly make a move, will he die by my hands? Not possible, in this place, with his prowess and current position, his servants must all be martial arts experts. Plus his own skill is the best in all of Xiong Nu. But is it because I can’t do it physically, or because I don’t want to do it emotionally?
Huo Qu Bing powerfully embraces me, letting me know that he’s here to handle this. His voice is cold “You all best scram and disappear from my eyes.”
“Hmmm?” Yi Zhi Xie’s iight voice immediately silences the others.
A soft playful voice pipes up “My master so graciously apologized already, but the young master was so rude in return. What a waste of a good looking form.”
Huo Qu Bing grabs me and twirls a few times, and the sound of metal darts hit the ground. Huo Qu Bing is furious and about to push me aside when I continue to embrace him and beg “Let them go, please, please…..”
“Duo Er, what are you doing?” Yi Zhi Xie’s voice sounds calm but underneath I can sense his anger.
Duo Er? And still with the same temper? Mu Da Duo? She is here as well.
Mu Da Duo fakes a laugh “Young master’s skill is quite good! A genuine hero, no wonder you have such a temper. I was wrong, will the young master forgive me.”
In all of Chang An, there is likely no one who would dare to try and injure Huo Qu Bing and afterwards still stand there able to talk. Huo Qu Bing controls his rage and just spits out “Get lost!”
A few cold scoffs are drowned out by Yi Zhi Xie’s one word of “Let’s go.” All I hear are footsteps scurrying away, and in a few moments the street is quiet again, the night returned to normal. But I am covered in cold sweat.
Huo Qu Bing softly said “They’re gone.” I tried to stand straight but my body is limp and I almost slip. He hurries to hold onto me, and my head rests on his shoulders. I make no sound or movement. In a few short moments, I feel like I experienced a life and death battle, my body and soul are exhausted.
He quietly stands there until I raise my head to leave his embrace. He laughs “Done using me so you’re going to toss me aside now?” I force a smile and say “Thank you.” He checks me out from head to toe, holding his chin and giving me an assessing look. He gives a naughty smile “This kind of assistance is what I am happy to give. A beauty in my embrace is a great joy. But next time, it won’t be a simple “thank you” that will be enough to dismiss me. I’ll want a more substantive response.”
I bend down to look for the fallen metal darts “Who was thanking you for the embrace? I was thanking you for not asking me who they were.”
“If you want to tell me, if I don’t ask you’ll tell me. But if you want to bury your past, you will never explain. I know only the Jin Yu that I know.” Huo Qu Bing crouched on the ground to help me look.
I startled, looking at him, but he merely lowered his head to keep searching “There is one over here.” As he reached out to grab it, I immediately say “Don’t use your hand.”
Taking out a handkerchief from my shirt, I gently pick up the metal dart. After examining it carefully, I confirm that it belongs to Mu Da Duo. It appears that she is doing well. All these years later, I am no longer the me of the past, whereas her personality remains the same.
“Trying to hurt someone due to a verbal tussle, and it’s poisonous?” Huo Qu Bing stares at the metal dart with his face dark and stern.
I shake my head, trying to explain “It’s not poison. She just loves to make mischief. It’s just coated with something to make a person itch. If you were hit, you wouldn’t die, but you’ll be painfully itchy.”
Huo Qu Bing looks suspicious “No man would be that pointless, so it’s a girl? No wonder her voice was a bit odd.” I nod my head.
After Huo Qu Bing brings me back to the house and is about to bid me farewell, I just stand there staring at him. It’s just so hard to explain. After awhile, seeing that I’m not going to talk, he gently says “Relax. That man had an extraordinary demeanor. His servants are also not ordinary. They are clearly not ordinary foreign merchants. But I won’t dispatch anyone to investigate their background.” I gratefully bowed to him and turn to go inside when he calls me with a soft voice “If anything happens you have to come find me. Remember that you are not alone in Chang An.”
His eyes show the warmth inside and I look at him for awhile. The anxiety in my heart slowly melts away. I vigorously nod my head and give him a bright smile. “Sleep well.” I watch him leave until he disappears from sight, before I go inside.
It is the dark of night but I don’t feel like sleeping. I hold a cup and stare at the light, watching the wax slowly melt away. It feels like each drop is burning into my heart.
Why is Yi Zhi XIe in Chang An? What is his purpose? To find allies? It’s like life cannot be anticipated, right when I thought I had thoroughly buried my past, in the sudden illumination of a lantern light I see him again. Papa, I promised you not to go find Yi Zhi XIe, that I would do my best to forget the Xiong Nu, and I have arrived in the Han dynasty. But whey did he re-appear in the streets of the Han dynasty?