Oh lordy, this chapter is lovely but just breaks my heart. My Huo Qu Bing finally sees his competition, and it’s just gut-wrenching. Normally when there is a viable love triangle, the girl may be accused of leading both men on. It’s not like that in Da Mo Yao, where currently Yu Er is all about Jiu Ye, and does nothing to encourage Xiao Huo’s attentions. But the funny thing is, he totally affects her regardless, which is always a sign there is something there she is trying to ignore. I’m trying my best to wrap up volume 1 (which has a few more chapters left), so I can delve into volume 2. To me, volume 1 is like an appetizer, but volume 2 is the main course plus dessert plus night cap. Right now there are two male leads, but volume 2 makes it crystal clear who the hero of this story is. Doesn’t mean the other guy isn’t just as important to the story, but at least we’ll have dispensed with the nebulous confusion and finally entering the woman torn between two men part of the journey.
Chapter 13: Falling Petals
The first day of the New Year means happiness? Happiness my rear end! I’m controlling a bellyful of bad temper. Grandpa sees my furrowed brow and gives Xiao Feng a quizzical look, but Xiao Feng just shakes his head indicating that he doesn’t know. I can’t wait any longer so I bow to Grandpa and then rush off to the Bamboo Residence.
It is the first time I use my foot to open the door, giving off a bang and the door opens. Before I can say anything, Jiu Ye smilingly asks “Is it Xiao Yu?”
His voice is the best defuser and my hot temper suddenly deflates. I lower my foot and gently enters the room. He is sitting at the table, holding a bamboo and carving it. He puts down the bamboo and carving knife to welcome me in to sit down.
I sit down next to him and stare at the table. He asks “Are you angry?”
I remain silent, so he says “So not angry then? How was your New Year? Last night Tian Cao dragged me along with them…..”
I furrow my brow and give a deathly glare at the table, but he continues nattering on and on, from when he arrived at the banquet, to toasting, to getting drunk, to…..
I’ve never seen him so talkative so I stare and ask “I’m angry, can’t you tell? You should ask why I’m angry, and ask if you did anything wrong?”
He looks innocent and muffles his laughter “Oh! Why are you angry? Did I do anything wrong?”
I give a sigh of annoyance and flop on the table. Why is he so clueless? What is it that I like about him? He has a weird personality, seemingly welcoming on the surface but really keeping people thousands of miles away. He does know a lot, but it’s not like I want to marry a book. His identity is rather secretive, seemingly a Han citizen but perhaps plotting something against the Han Empire…..I keep trying to think of more bad qualities he possesses.
He looks hopeless “I asked but you won’t answer, so what should I do now?” I angrily slap the table “You have no sincerity! You might as well not ask, and just keep talking about how much fun you had during the New Year!”
The room descends into silence, and I suddenly worry that he’s angry at me. I raise my head to look at him and I see his open palm. Inside is a pair of gold and jade earrings “Is this sincere enough for you?”
I raise my head to look at him and pick up the earring. The gold represents the sand and the green is the water. Even though the Yue Ya Spring is but a small oasis in the desert, he managed to use my name (Jin Yu means gold jade) and find an even deeper meaning into the gift. We met in the golden desert, and almost got in a tussle outside the blue-green spring. The artisan who crafted this delicate piece is truly talented.
I study it and then put it on, with a stone face I say “Not bad. Seeing as how generous you are, I’ll let this one slide.”
I try to be serious but can’t help myself and start laughing. He was looking at me but his eyes had a flash of concern, and then he averts his eyes.
Shi Yu comes in bearing two steaming bowls and places it before me. I look at it and murmur “You didn’t call me so I thought you forgot and didn’t keep your promise.”
He doesn’t say anything for a few moments before speaking in the softest of voices “How can I forget? No matter what, today is all about making you happy.” I grab the bowl of noodles and reply indistinctly “Happy or not, it all depends on you.”
Finished with the birthday noodles, Jiu Ye chats with me and then picks up the bamboo and knife. I ask if he’s making a flute? He nods “This bamboo comes from a special mountain region where it has grown for ten years. No matter the weather change, the sound quality won’t change. It has a beautiful name, called “Xiang Fei Zhu” (Consort Xiang Bamboo). The sound is even more crystal clear than the average bamboo flute.”
I lean forward to look “So this is the famous bamboo! Looking at the spots on it, it resembles tears. It’s so pretty.”
Jiu Ye suddenly stiffens and then expertly distances himself from me. He laughs that if I want it, he’ll give it to me. He has a lot of flutes, but seeing this great material makes him itchy to make one himself. I laugh “I am someone who never rejects a present.”
He nods but doesn’t say anything else.
When I leave the Shi Estate, I run into Shen Xing and Tian Cao and I bow to them, wishing them a happy new year. Shen Xing sees my earrings but doesn’t comment on it, whereas Tian Cao keeps looking “Jiu Ye spent all that effort, so it was to give you a present.”
I touch the earrings and asks what he means? Tian Cao smiles “Jiu Ye learned jade artistry when he was young, but doesn’t practice every day. Because this was such a delicate piece, for this item, he even went to consult an expert for a few days. He wasted a lot of great pieces of jade to get it right. He is really talented with these pieces, from weapons to daily items, nothing he can’t make. Watching him make this, I realized then that the hardest thing in the world to make is a woman’s piece of jewelry.”
I dumbly ask “Do you’re saying Jiu Ye hand made this?” He just smiles at me and bows farewell. I stand there in a daze.
“I don’t know how old I am, but Li Yan is already pregnant and about to become a mom. I’m still here floating around. If there isn’t someone right for me, I won’t get married. But if there is someone right for me, I will seize the opportunity. If there is a chance of happiness before me and I don’t seize it, Papa will call me a fool. Am I a fool? Of course I’m not. I am the beautiful, smart, clever, and cute Jin Yu. So even if you are the floating cloud, I will capture you. You are who I like, right? You once said we are different, but I am working hard to read all the books you like. I believe I can be the same type of person as you. If you want to be the condor, I will be the wind to keep you afloat; if you are want of leaving this all behind, we can buy a few horses and disappear; thank god you don’t like Confucious, because I respect him but don’t particularly want to emulate him, though if you like him, I will try to behave myself….”
I bite down on the ink brush and look at the cloth. I am trying to cheer myself up, so how did my writing get so confusing? I’ve told myself many times that he will like me, he will like me…… I’m afraid to write more, so I write the date on the side and quickly put this cloth away.
I shake for a good long while before a fortune telling stick pops out of the cannister. Huo Qu Bing reaches over and is about to grab it but I’ve already retrieved it. He asks “What are you wishing to know?” and I shake my head “Not telling you.”
He humphed “What could you possibly ask for? If it’s not business then it’s marriage. Right now your business is in the palm of your hands, why ask the fortune on that. So clearly it must be marriage.” I insist it’s not marriage.
A fortune stick reader is looking at me, and stands up when he sees me heading towards him. I suddenly stop and walk away. Huo Qu Bing laughs “Why are you not asking now?”
I hold the fortune stick in my hand and walk for some time before tossing it into the bushes. “Not asking anymore. He can tell another person’s fortune but not his own. He’s dressed well and clearly is hoping to get paid well after telling me what I want to hear. Why doesn’t he tell his own fortune, as to whether he can get my business?”
He laughs “As least you know when to stop, so that means you’re not so desperate yet.”
Thinking back, I feel so silly. But when I saw the sign that said “Telling Marriage Fortunes”, my feet just walked me inside. Like someone who is really sick is willing to find any doctor. I feel silly now but still want to act like I’m not “I thought it was amusing and was just checking it out.”
Huo Qu Bing looks at me with a smile and doesn’t argue with further, letting me win this one. A gust of wind blew past and I breathed in the scent “It’s so fragrant, what kind of flower is this?”
“It’s the acacia.”
I look at him sideways “Why did you call me out today? To go mountain climbing?”
He slowly walked “No reason. Can’t I call you out? Just walking around, shopping, why don’t you look at the acacia tree above you?”
I don’t even hear the rest of what he was saying. All my attention is on the carriage in front of me. Huo Qu Bing looks at me and then follows my eyes to the carriage, which is stopped before an estate. I smile at him “I suddenly have something come up, so I need to leave now.”
He grabbed me “Don’t go!”
I force his hand away “I’ll go find you another day and apologize for this.” Before I finish I’m already drifting towards the carriage. Behind me he calls out “Xiao Yu!”
I don’t turn around and continue walking forward, stopping besides the carriage. I knock on the carriage and Jiu Ye raises the curtains and smiles to see me “Why are you outside the city today?”
I hold his curtain up “Aren’t you outside the city yourself?” I look at his assistant, so he smiles and explains “My grandmother’s last name was Shi, her first name was Qing. This Qing Estate is a place where grandfather built for grandmother. I don’t want to renovate it for wheelchair access, so it’s not convenient for me to move about here.”
I look at the estate and feel a sense of envy, to know there was a man who was so in love with his wife. I used to wonder why the family is named Meng but chose to name the business Shi Enterprises. And all the orphans adopted by the family have the last name Shi as well. Today I finally understand that the last name belonged to the woman his grandfather loved.
Jiu Ye gets off the carriage and uses a crutch, the one I saw in his study that day. Instead of looking awkward, he’s elegant and graceful using it. Since it’s the first time I’ve seen him standing, I stare at him.
He laughs “Is this really that weird?” and I quickly shake my head “No, no, it’s that it looks so….good!”
He stared at me so I tried to explain “Hasn’t anyone told you the impression you give? You…..you….your every gesture is very……” The more nervous I get the harder it is for me to find the right description. But I wanted to explain, worried that he would misunderstand why I kept staring at him.
He reached out and smoothed my wind blown hair and stared at me, saying gently “Yu Er, that’s enough. I understand what you mean.”
I smile at him and over his shoulder, I can see Huo Qu Bing standing there, looking at us from far away. My heart inexplicably lurched and I averted my eyes.
Jiu Ye walked with his crutch and explained how his grandfather built this estate to harness the natural hot springs of this region. He’s here to soak in the hot springs, which is good for stimulating circulation. I sneak a peek at his legs, still not sure what his ailment is, though he doesn’t walk with difficulty when using the crutch.
Before entering the estate, I look back and Huo Qu Bing still stands in the same spot. In the Spring air, the acacia is nearing the peak of it’s blooming. A sea of white blankets the trees, and when a wind blows past, the petals swirl in the air like snow flakes. Normally he loves to be tidy, but he actually stands there without moving, letting the petals land on his head and his robe.
The Lover’s Vines are starting to sprout white buds, playing hide-and-seek with me so I have to search around to count how many have sprouted. I tell them to work extra hard this year, since I’ve put in earthworms and found extra fertilizer for them, to grow big and beautiful.
The vines lightly ripple in the wind, like it hears my plead “When you open big and beautiful, I’ll bring him to meet you” and I lightly kiss a newly sprouted leaf “you guys work hard, and I will also work hard.”
I enter the Bamboo Residence to be told that Jiu Ye is visiting Xiao Feng’s grandpa at the Orchid Suite, but I can see his empty wheelchair in the yard. Tian Cao explains to me that Jiu Ye has one leg that has no strength, but his other leg is fine. If he used a crutch he can walk, though not far, but it’s better for his circulation than sitting in a wheelchair all day.
He explains further that when they were kids, Jiu Ye always wanted to tag along despite his bad leg. But Tian Cao and the older boys didn’t know better and was always devising tricks to shake him off. Jiu Ye figured out what they were doing and became more subdued and started burying his head in books more. One day Jiu Ye sneaked out with his crutch and returned late that night bloodied and bruised. He refused to explain what happened, only saying he fell.
They felt terrible and beat up every bully in Chang An before discovering what had happened. Jiu Ye had read Mo Zi and wanted to find a metal works in the city to discuss how to make weapons. As he walked, some kids taunted him for being a cripple and he got in a fight with them. Afterwards, when they wanted to take Jiu Ye out, he always refused and he also refused to used his crutch ever again in front of others.
Tian Cao asked if I blamed them, and I said no, especially if Jiu Ye didn’t blame them. He was impressed with how straight forward I am. I explained “As long as I am doing well, and the people I care about are doing well, I won’t hurt others for no reason. Is there something wrong with that?”
He quickly responded “Of course! And don’t misunderstand, but we really are grateful to you. When Jiu Ye returned, he started using his crutch in front of others. You helped us relieve this huge burden in our hearts all these years.”
I’m upset the assistant told everyone that I was there that day, and Tian Cao laughs that the way I was adoringly staring at Jiu Ye was also discussed, to everyone’s amusement.
I got mad, which is when Jiu Ye came in on his crutch. I glare at Tian Cao and ask that the assistant be punished for being bad. Tian Cao promises that they are all so busy these days no one has time to gossip. Sheng Xing enters and is happy to see me, but Tian Cao pushes him out quickly, and soon it’s just me and Jiu Ye in the courtyard.
My heart flutters, a sweetness within the awkwardness of the moment. Jiu Ye acts like nothing happened and wheels himself into the room. “The flute made from the Xiang Fei Zhu is done. It’s already so elegant that carving more designs on it would be too much, so I decided to be lazy for once. Do you like it?”
I took the flute from him “I don’t understand these things, so whatever you say must be good.”
He laughs “You have a world famous musician in your dancing house, one that everyone would kill to learn from. Why don’t you ask him to teach you?”
I think about Li Yan Nian, and then think about Li Guan Li, causing me to wrinkle my brows. I tell Jiu Ye that Li Guan Li is like the saying “a dragon has nine sons, each of whom are different.” Jiu Ye tells me I can kick him out if he annoys me. He doesn’t know that I can’t kick him out because of Jiu Ye. He asks me about how fast my businesses are expanding, wondering why I’m doing all this? My heart is happy knowing that he’s keeping tabs on me, so I tell him that I have my own reasons.
He sits in silence for a few moments before talking “Yu Er, do you know why I don’t go outside on crutches? I use a wheelchair to let people think I am very weak, and even Tian Cao and those guys think I can’t walk very far. I am crippled and somewhat weaker, but I am not as weak as they believe.” I ask why he’s doing this act on purpose then?
Jiu Ye explains “I’m putting on this act for the Emperor. My mother was the grand niece of the Dowager Queen Bao, and when she was small she was always playing in the Palace. Back then the Emperor and my mother were close cousins. So when the Dowager Empress Bao was still alive, the Shi Enterprises and the Bao family were very close. When the Bao family fell from favor, the Emperor was wary of the Shi family’s wealth and power. So after mother and father died, and the family business ended up in my hands, if it wasn’t for the fact that I was a cripple, and the family businesses slowly bled money under my watch, there was no way I would not have been extinguished in Chang An.”
This is the first time he’s told me about his background so I listen in shock. I wonder how old he was when this happened, and how he had to shoulder the lives of so many people under the Shi family protection, and learn to survive with the Han Emperor watching his every move. He’s only explaining his family’s ties with the Han dynasty, but what about with Xi Yu? How heavy must that other burden be as well. Walking this road alone, how much has he endured?
He watched me and said slowly “Yu Er, the current Emperor is very calculating and decisive. When the time arrives, he can order anyone killed. So don’t do anything to go against the Imperial family. In Chang An, if you want to compete with other businesses, I can….still….” He swallowed what he wanted to say and finished with this. “Yu Er, please think carefully before you do anything.”