I found my two male leads for my novel translation of Yun Zhong Ge. I feel kinda giddy I can cast away whomever I want, just cuz I complain and moan each time an adaption casting turns out wonky, and for once I can do something about it in my neck of the woods. With Yang Mi as Yun Ge, I hereby present my loverboy Yuan Hong as Meng Jue and my special guy Roy Qiu as Liu Fu Ling. I can easily switch these two pretties around because with their acting breadth they can do either. But Ling is older than Jue, and I think this works better in my mind.
This casting might even be possible, since rumors has Yumama wanting to work with both Yuan Hong and Roy Qiu. With his adaptation of Smiling Proud Wanderer already cast, that leaves YZG ripe for him to try and snatch these two guys. Hey, either of them are loads better than the usual barrel of bleh leading men he usually uses. Though if Feng Shao Feng isn’t too big for Yumama’s britches, I can see him as Meng Jue as well. Just a reminder that YZG is really slow burn, it’s much much more complex and nuanced than Da Mo Yao, so everything takes a long time to unfold and even longer to fully flesh out. Just read and think, allowing the answers to arrive in due time
Chapter 2: Accompanying Fragrant Grass
Time is like an arrow, the falling petals are the same every year but the people do not remain the same. When the Winters turn into Summers, the smiling girl of yesteryear has reached her bloom.
A brightly lit room, even though it is but one room, it’s already bigger than many combined rooms in other homes. Underneath the floor is heated so even though it is cold outside, the inside feels like a sunny March day. The window panes are lined with green gauze, the decorations inside are precious Han jade, and an urn to the side is filled with South sea pearls.
A young girl’s laughter faintly rings out, but despite her voice being present, peering in through the doorway there is no one there. There is only a high shelf completely covered with potted plants. Some are blooming red flowers, others are white ones, and some more are just completely green and falling over the sides of the plant and trailing onto the floor. Another plant is growing along the side of the shelf all the way to the roof, where a red star-shaped flower has bloomed.
Many exotic plants are vying for attention in this hothouse, adding warmth and fragrance to the entire room. Walking in, one would think they had accidentally entered a fairy’s residence. Walking deeper inside and past the first flowers, they get an even bigger shock.
Inside there was a stove top right in the middle of the nursery. Even if this stove top cut from stone was extraordinarily made, it still shouldn’t be in the middle of this room. But it really is a kitchen, and right now a black-robed girl with her face covered in a gauze veil was cooking.
Yun Ge was sitting on the window ledge, her feet dangling as she slipped her shoes on and off. She was eating seeds and watching Ah Zhu cooking “Ah Zhu, you are cooking, not practicing swords play. Relax your hands! There are no poses, no rules, just what you feel like doing.”
Ah Zhu remained very serious and staring at the knife in her hand. Each piece of vegetable she was chopping was identical in size and shape. Yun Ge didn’t need to look to know that it would be identical to what she demonstrated to Ah Zhu.
Thinking about when Ah Zhu would move over to cook the vegetables, her every move would once again be identical to Yun Ge’s, even the time and movement of the hands Ah Zhu would copy exactly so. Yun Ge sighed and shook her head, secretly berating her Third Brother. How the heck did he turn an exceptional swords woman into this controlled state of being?
Suddenly a maid came running in “My lady, another guy not afraid of death is here to ask for your hand in marriage.” Yun Ge gave a devious laugh “Come call me to watch the show when my mom tosses him out.” The maid smiled and ran off, but then she didn’t return for some time.
Yun Ge started to get worried and said to Ah Zhu “Let me go see what’s happening, I’ll be right back.” Ah Zhu nodded her head, but she wouldn’t know that Yun Ge’s “be right back” will turn into “never coming back.”Ah Zhu waited in the room until it was dark out and still Yun Ge didn’t come back.
Using the dark of the night, Yun Ge carried her belongings on her back and flipped over the wall out the courtyard. She turned back to look at the courtyard with some hesitation, but she still took big steps and left.
In the shadow behind her, a young man’s voice said “Just like Dad anticipated, Yun Ge is really running away from home after I goaded her a bit. Now that she’s taken off, the guy asking for marriage can also leave and Mom won’t feel torn anymore. Dad, do you want me to grab her back in a few days time?”
A soft sigh, with some laughter in his voice, and a tinge of worry “If I’m worried and always tracked your whereabouts, would you be happy?” The young man didn’t respond. “When a little eagle is grown she’ll fly away. An old eagle can’t take care of the little eagle forever. She needs to learn how to take care of herself. Let her go! It can’t be possible that my daughter wouldn’t be able to take care of herself.”
“Then we’ll just let her be?” the young man’s voice was calm but had some mirth. “……………………” After a period of silence, a voice of resignation rang out “I can spout all the logic, but I really can’t do it. I didn’t get this precious daughter until my forties, I know I’ve spoiled her. I keep thinking Yun Ge hasn’t grown up yet. When you have time, just keep an eye on her then.”
“What about you, Dad? Are you and Mom traveling again?” A happy voice said “We finally made it to all of you fully grown, of course we’re going to do whatever we want now.” The young man laughed, the tone of voice like two friends talking rather than a son and father “Yun Ge Er loves sticking to your side. Dad, did you purposely not turn down the offer of marriage so that you can upset Yun Ge so much she’d run away from home?”
In the breeze there was only the sound of soft laughter. But the young man could see in his father’s still sharp as an eagle’s eyes something that he could’t quite understand. It was like his father was remembering someone.
In his heart, his father is someone who won’t even blink an eye if the sky fell down. He can’t imagine a person out there who could put this look on his father’s face.
Yun Ge had run away from home for a few days now but she was still feeling upset. She didn’t understand why her normally loving and accommodating to her wishes parents didn’t kick the marriage seeker out on his rear end. Not only did they not kick him out, they were apparently very solicitous of him.
Third Brother was even worse. Instead of helping her come up with a plan, he was really annoyed with her. Third Brother was always arrogant when he talked, but that moment it felt like he couldn’t wait to marry her off.
Yun Ge had a bellyful of woe she couldn’t find anyone to talk to. She was angry and sad, deciding to run away from home that very night. Since she’s gone, what are they going to do about it? If they want a marriage that badly, they can marry that guy! She was never going to marry him.
Everyone thought she had forgotten, her mom and daddy must believe she’s forgotten, but she has not forgotten. She remembered vividly the promise she made.
The day when she returned home, her daddy and her mom saw the hair rope around her neck and asked her where it came from. She told them the truth, but who knew her parents face would turn somber. She was so scared she didn’t tell them about the subsequent promise and her giving of her shoe.
Mom took away her hair rope and made her promise to never go find Ling gege to play. She cried and refused, and that was the first time her parents didn’t acquiesce to her. In the end her mom couldn’t take her crying and stopped making her promise not to find Ling gege, but she still wouldn’t give her back the hair rope.
Later she secretly asked her daddy to give her back the hair rope. Who knew her daddy, who in her mind wouldn’t even furrow his eyebrows in the face of an oncoming avalanche, actually sighed and said “Yun Er, your mom is doing this for your own good. Don’t let your mom worry.”
It’s been so many years that Ling gege’s face is blurry in her mind, but his smile under the starry night continued to remind her, remind her that she made that promise.
On the day she learned from a book that a woman giving a man an embroidered shoe meant she was promising to marry him, her heart beat so fast it almost jumped out of her chest. She quickly put the book away like she had done something wrong.
That day her mind was in a daze, sometimes worried sometimes happy. She couldn’t sleep that night so she went up on the roof to look at the stars. The stars in the sky were as brilliant as that night when his dark eyes were shining with little specks of light. In that moment, she suddenly understood what he meant when he said “I accept it. Yun Ge, you must remember!”
He accepted it, which meant he also promised. Yun Ge reminisced about every little moment with Ling gege, her only friend since she was a child.
Laying under the stars, she thought about Ling gege in Chang An also looking at the star-filled night. Yun Ge had this weird feeling, knowing for certain that he must also be looking at this sky right now and also quietly remembering their time together. She was anticipating their reunion with happiness. Her lingering worry dissipated and turned into only joy.
Laying on the roof, she said to the stars “I remember! The entire sky full of stars as my witness, I would never dare forget.” From that moment on, Yun Ge had a huge secret.
When she was alone, she would sometimes secretly smile. Normally she hated being alone and loved company, but suddenly she would run off to be by herself and stare at the night sky. When she heard kids sing folk songs about getting married, she would turn beet red. She stopped wearing any red clothes, because she wanted this color to be worn for a certain person on that certain day.
She kept plotting how to go find Ling gege, worried how to make her parents agree to let her go to Chang An. Who knew her parents would suddenly want to marry her off. Since they don’t want her anymore, then she might as well run away and go to Chang An to find Ling gege.
But she didn’t have the hair rope anymore, how could she find Ling gege? And when she saw Ling gege, how will she explain? Tell him that his token was confiscated by her mom? ……………….
Yun Ge sighed. Forget about this for now, let’s get to Chang An first! She’ll find a way.
Traveling East, Yun Ge could only marvel that the Han dynasty is worthy of being called the Sky dynasty. The bustling market towns are more grand than other nations could hope for, with new fun and weird things to see.
But Yun Ge grew up seeing treasures and oddities, plus her parents don’t care about owning things. So even the most unique thing Yun Ge would just take a look and move on, to her its nothing important. She only paid attention to the food along the way. If she heard of a delicious item, she would be sure to sample it.
Ay! Daddy, mom, even her brothers don’t want her anymore. Why is she even bothering learning new dishes for them? Even though she was grumbling, it’s hard to get rid of her habits from childhood, so Yun Ge continued to run into restaurant after restaurant, and buy spice after spice.
Even filled with woe, her face would redden when she would think about not cooking this for Third Brother, but instead cooking it for Ling gege.
Because she was so annoyed, she decided to dress like a beggar to travel, for fun and to make her parents suffer. She felt like the more raggedy she looked, it would make her parents feel even worse, and that made her feel slightly better.
When Yun Ge left home it was cold and frosty out, but by the time she arrived in Chang An it was already Spring. Arriving right outside Chang An, Yun Ge heard about a restaurant called Qi Li Xiang (Seven Mile Fragrant Loft), and she hurried to check it out, wanting to know how the fragrance could waft for seven miles.
Arriving outside the restaurant, she saw it crowded with people already. Her heart lifted, excited to check out something fun! Everyone crowded to watch so Yun Ge was hopping up and down and still she couldn’t see anything over the crowds.
Yun Ge saw the eight-deep crowd and smiled, taking out the pungent fish grass from her pouch and squeezing it in her hand. She pushed through and everyone passed for her as they hurried to pinch their noses and move aside. Yun Ge happily got the best spot and no one came to bother her. She tossed a dried sour plum in her mouth and got ready to watch the show.
A girl around Yun Ge’s age, with a pretty face and some feistiness in her eyes, was berating a younger boy. She jerked the boy’s ear “See if you dare steal money again?” The boy was wearing threadbare clothes and was shaking at the girl’s attitude “Big sister Xu, please forgive me, on account of my eighty year old mother and eight year old younger sister, please forgive me once…..”
The girl was furious and continued to berate the boy and hitting him a few times with a stick. The boy’s ears were bright red, like it was about to be jerked off, wanting to beg for mercy but seeing the girl’s expression gave up “Forget it, forget it!”
Yun Ge was dressed like a beggar this entire way and endured a lot of nasty derision, so seeing the boy this way and hearing he was all alone, felt sympathetic to him. She was thinking of how to save the boy when the owner of the restaurant came out to beg her to stop since she was blocking business.
The girl appeared familiar with the owner, so she gave the boy one more glare before reluctantly letting him go. The girl sold her wine to the owner, counted her money carefully, and then left. Yun Ge’s eyes twirled and then quietly followed the girl.
Because no one was paying attention, so no one noticed that when Yun Ge was outside watching this show, up in the second floor of the restaurant, a richly dressed young man was staring at her. When he saw her leave, he immediately left the restaurant and followed behind her.
Yun Ge followed the girl and walked for some time before arriving at a small lane. She looked around to make sure the coast was clear and wanted to strike when suddenly someone called out “Ping Jun.” Yun Ge stopped and shrank into the shadows.
A tall handsome young man walked up. His black robe was washed so much it was turning white, his shoes were covered in patches, and he was carrying a few chickens that barely had any feathers left on them. Even though his attire was so poor, he didn’t exhibit the demeanor of a poor person. The way he walked was as purposeful as a lion, his eyes showing a kind of lofty coldness. But his smile was open and carefree, revealing a contentment borne from being an ordinary person.
Nobility, poverty, coldness, warmth, all of these incongruous auras combined together in this young man. Yun Ge angrily looked towards him and then her heart leapt. Even though his demeanor was not the same, but those eyes……so familiar!
Even under the bright sunlight, his smiling eyes were dark and cold. But Yun Ge knew that when those eyes truly smiled, it would twinkle brighter than a night full of stars. The Ping Jun girl tossed some coins at the man “Take it!” He refused “I won some money in a cock fight today.”
“The money you won is for past debt, this is money from that alcoholic Fu Xu. My mom won’t know, so you won’t need to worry about her nagging, plus……” Ping Jun smiled and took a jade piece from her robe and twirled it in front of the man “I’m still holding your item, so I’m not afraid of you paying me back. I’ll get back the money and interest.”
The man laughed heartily and didn’t resist anymore, taking the money and putting it in his robe. He took the carrying stick from Ping Jun and they walked side by side down the lane.
Yun Ge’s mind was in a daze. That jade piece? That jade piece! Under the sunlight the dancing dragon was the identical as before. Yun Ge grabbed a piece of raw ginger in her pouch and smeared it over her eyes. It immediately turned red and her tears came tumbling down. Yun Ge ran towards them, and the man reacted quickly when he heard the footsteps and turned around but Yun Ge had already ran into Ping Jun.
The man grabbed Yun Ge’s arm to berate her, but he saw a beggar with tears so he tamped down what he was going to say. Yun Ge pulled her hand back and looked carefully at his face, before saying “I’m sorry” quickly to Ping Jun and then stumbling away.
Ping Jun had been hit right on her chest and she was red faced with anger, but when she saw Yun Ge’s face, her temper disappeared and she asked “Little brother, who mistreated you?” But before her question was finished Yun Ge had already disappeared.
The man reacted “Ping Jun, check quickly, did you lose anything?” Ping Jun reached into her robe and started running, angry, laughing, and nervous “I can’t believe someone dared to mess with you. Liu Bing Yi, as leader of the young band of hooligans, I can’t believe you would encounter this! Didn’t the rumors all say that everyone works for you?”
Yun Ge sat under a tree and stared in a daze at her jade piece. A few hours passed and she never moved. She had been worried about how to find him without the hair rope, who knew she set foot in the city and would immediately run into Ling gege.
A person’s looks will change, but the jade piece wouldn’t change. This one was identical to the one Ling gege wore. Unless a jade came from the same piece and from the same artisan, it was impossible to make two identical ones. Plus he had the same eyes as she remembered.
Before she arrived in Chang An, she worried she wouldn’t find him or he had left, she couldn’t have imagined that he would have forgotten her. Now she no longer could count on Ling gege remembering their promise, which was thousands of days ago. Back then he wouldn’t give her the jade piece, yet now it was in the hands of another girl.
Yun Ge was like a lost desert traveler, thinking she was about to reach a water source, to arrive there only to see more desert ahead. In her despair she thought “Ling gege wouldn’t forget me, he wouldn’t” while another voice said “He forgot, he already forgot.”
Yun Ge sat there until her stomach growled, remainding her that she had gone to Qi Li Xiang to eat. But after all that, she simply forgot. She dragged herself to a random noodle store to just eat something.
The owner look measure of Yun Ge’s get up and was disgruntled, but Yun Ge was so preoccupied she didn’t care to play tricks anymore and just tossed him extra money for the meal. The owner immediately changed his attitude and brought whatever she ordered.
The noodle was just average, and Yun Ge was hungry, but she wasn’t able to eat it. She lowered her head and started counting each strand, when suddenly the chatter in the noodle store all faded into silence.
Yun Ge looked up and startled, a richly dressed man was standing at the doorway and taking off his hat. A simple move, but his movement was alluring and elegant so the viewer simply couldn’t look away. His hair was encircled with a white jade circlet, his black strands darker than the darkest night, seemingly softer than the smoothest silk, shinier than even precious gems.
It was hard to differentiate from his features whether he was Han or Xi Yu, his angles were sharper than the Han, but softer than a Xi Yu person. He was as perfect as if carved from a piece of jade. A personage like him ought to be stepping on jade stones with a beauty on his arm and living in a crystal palace, yet he showed up here and was warm and polite to the owner. He asked for a bowl of noodles.
Because of his appearance, everyone stopped eating and just stared at him. Some people felt overwhelmed and wanted to leave but couldn’t. Yun Ge had seen plenty of lofty personages with powerful auras, but this person was as calm as the moon’s reflection on a lake, as light as the high clouds, as warm as a Spring breeze, as clean as a tree on the banks.
Yun Ge thought of a lot of descriptions but couldn’t find one suitable for him. He gave off the impression that initially felt very clear, but it was as ephemeral as a passing cloud or a flowing stream, clear but impossible to capture. Someone like him really is hard to encounter in life.
The man saw Yun Ge staring at his eyes, and there was flash in its obsidian depths. Yun Ge might have been secretly admiring his form, but since she was small she traveled the world with her parents and saw countless interesting people and things. The reason she kept staring at him was because she felt this odd tinge in her heart.
It was like when one is traveling and comes across a new vista. You know you have never seen it before, but there is this indescribable feeling of familiarity almost like you encountered it in a dream. Yun Ge thought about it but couldn’t make any connection, so she shrugged it off and went back to counting her noodles.
Humph! Smelly Third Brother, you smelly peacock. If he saw that person, would his narcissism drop down a few notches? But then she remembered there was no way Third Brother would ever visit Chang An. Daddy, mom, her brothers are all hundreds of miles away. She’s all alone here, all alone……
The young man asked Yun Ge with a smile “Can I sit here?” Yun Ge looked around and saw there were no empty tables, but he still didn’t need to pick her to share a table with. There was a pretty older woman staring at him, he could sit with her, why pick someone as dirty as her?
“When one is being stared at while eating, even the most delicious food loses it allure” the man said with some resignation and continued to smile like a March sun. Yun Ge was dressed like a beggar this whole way and always people avoided her. For the first time someone was talking to her as if she was dressed in her normal outfit. Yun Ge felt a sense of warmth towards him and nodded her head.
The young man made a gesture of thanks and sat across from her. Everyone stared at her and Yun Ge immediately regretted agreeing to let him share her table. But it was too late for regrets, might as well endure it!
The owner brought over a bowl of noodles in a fancy bowl, with more meat, better meat, and more noodles than hers. It smelled so fragrant that Yun Ge knew it was much better than the one she was eating. Yun Ge sighed loudly. This is the power of beauty. It’s not only beautiful women who get special perks, even a beautiful man also gets this treatment.
The man saw Yun Ge stare at his bowl and painfully ate a bite of her own noodles. He smiled warmly and pushed his bowl towards her “I can share with you.” Yun Ge dispensed with politeness and scooped out half his bowl. He said “My name is Meng Jue. Meng is the same as Meng Zhi. Jue is the combination of the two characters for King and Jade.”
Yun Ge was intently eating so took a moment to register he was introducing himself. She still had a big bite of noodles and she said “I’m Yun Ge.” She finished eating and sighed “Ox tail, golden dates, ginger, all sealed in an earthen pot and cooked for three days. Even though the beef is rather tough, its still not bad.”
Meng Jue ate a bite of noodle and nodded with a smile, like he was really tasting the noodle. Yun Ge softly sighed, how could this person’s noodle eating gesture still be that beautiful? Yun Ge stared at Meng Jue in a daze, her hand playing with the jade in her pocket.
Her purpose coming to Chang An was to find Ling gege. Now that she found him, what’s next? Meng Jue looked at Yun Ge seemingly staring at him, but not seeing him at all in truth. His eyes flashed a bit of annoyance with a dash of heavy concern, and then it was gone in the blink of an eye, returing to a Spring breeze type of warm smile.
Yun Ge was still zoned out but Meng Jue took a look at the people outside and immediately called the owner over to pay the bill. He reached into his sleeve but took out no money. Everyone looked confused and Meng Jue sighed “My money must’ve been stolen by the beggar who just bumped into me.”
Yun Ge’s face turned red, thinking Meng Jue was talking about her, thankful her face was covered in dirt. She threw some money at the owner “Enough?” and the owner smiled “Enough, enough!” Meng Jue just had a smile when watching Yun Ge pay for him and didn’t decline.
When Meng Jue and Yun Ge walked out of the restaurant, the owner said “So many weird things these days! In twenty years this is the first time I’ve seen a beggar walk in to eat, a man like a Heavenly figure coming in. But the rich man had no money while the beggar paid too much.”
Yun Ge noticed two people ahead and wanted to slip away, but suddenly Meng Jue grabbed her and kept profusely thanking her. Yun Ge tried to break free but couldn’t. Meng Jue was already so eye-catching, and now he was pulling and pushing with a beggar, so everyone on the street turned to watch.
Xu Ping Jun and Liu Bing Yi, walking ahead, also turned back and when they both saw Yun Ge they rushed over. Xu Ping Jun yelled “You stinky beggar, return what you stole or else you’ll get it!” Everyone on the street stared at Yun Ge and Meng Jue made a shocked expression before releasing her.
Yun Ge wanted to run but Liu Bing Yi blocked her way, his face smiling but his tone frigid “You look new to here, coming from out of town? If you need money, people will help, but you needn’t be so ruthless. The rule is to not steal from women and children, because stealing from a woman you’ll likely violate her privacy unintentionally. Plus you don’t steal important things, a jade is usually a family heirloom and passed on through generations. Don’t you know these rules?”
Yun Ge often thought about her reunion with Ling gege, it was happy, it was sad, and he would say things to her. She even imagined she would pretend not to remember him and see how he would talk to her. But this…….this look of disdain, this scolding tone of voice. She stared for a long time at Ling gege before her and then asked “Is your surname Liu?”
That day Ling gege said his name was Zhao Ling, but then later told her it was a fake name. Right now all she knows for certain is that his real surname is Liu, but she’s not even sure if he’s real name is Ling. Liu Bing Yi thought this person knew who he was, the head of a band of hoodlums outside Chang An, and nodded “Yes.”
“Give it back!” Xu Ping Jun reached out her hand to Yun Ge and said with a very angry tone. Yun Ge bit her lips and hesitated, before slowly taking out the jade and handing it over. Xu Ping Jun wanted to take it but Yun Ge appeared to be reluctant and couldn’t let go right away.
Xu Ping Jun pulled hard before taking it back. She saw everyone watching them and remembered Liu Bing Yi’s admonition that this jade could not be seen by outsiders. She quickly put it away but touched it to make sure it was fine before letting out a sigh of relief.
“You’re so young but you’ve got skills and endurance. You can make your way, so why aren’t you learning proper things and doing these bad things?” Xu Ping Jun wanted to sternly scold this beggar who stole from her and touched her chest, but when she saw the beggar looking completely forlorn with unshed tears in her eyes, she didn’t have the heart to be angry anymore.
Liu Bing Yi heard Xu Ping Jun’s initial angry words and smiled with a bit of discomfort. Everyone around knew what Liu Bing Yi did and had to stop themselves from smiling. If comparing who learned to do the most bad things, no one on the outskirts of Chang An can beat Liu Bing Yi. Even though he didn’t steal or rob, but those who did were all his friends. He didn’t know how to farm but he knew all the side tricks, so much that even the rich kids in Chang An came to gamble with him.
Yun Ge looked at Liu Bing Yi, and then looked at Xu Ping Jun. He’s jade has already been given to someone else, he must’ve forgotten their stories already. The promise they made, the one that neither was allowed to forget, he must’ve have already forgotten.
Yun Ge’s lips quivered and she wanted to say something, but when she saw Xu Ping Jun staring at her, her youthful heart couldn’t say it out loud. Forget it! She came to Chang An and she saw him. Since he’s forgotten, just let it be then!
Yun Ge silently walked past Liu Bing Yi, still in a daze like she got lost in the middle of an intersection and didn’t know which way to go. “Wait!” Yun Ge’s heart leaped and she turned back towards Liu Bing Yi, who didn’t know why he stopped her. He hesitated and then said in a gentle voice “Don’t steal anymore” and then took money out and gave it to her.
Xu Ping Jun was furious and wanted to say something but stopped herself. Yun Ge stared at Liu Bing Yi’s eyes and asked “You need money to pay your debt. If you give it to me, what will happen to you?” Liu Bing Yi smiled like the carefree proud leader of the warriors he was “Money goes, money comes.”
Yun Ge smiled but her voice was still crackly “Thank you for helping me. I’m very happy, but I don’t need your money.” She stared at the clearly unhappy Xu Ping Jun and then quickly ran off.
Liu Bing Yi wanted to call Yun Ge again but saw Xu Ping Jun staring at him, so he just turned back and gave her an apologetic smile. Xu Ping Jun glared at him and then stalked off. Liu Bing Yi quickly chased after her.
When he passed Meng Jue, the two of them gave each other an assessing look and a mutual smile. One person’s smile was dashing and confident, the other gentle and warm. The people on the street dispersed now that the show was over.
Meng Jue stood there not moving, staring at the direction Yun Ge took off with a slight smile on his face. The sunset pulled his shadow out until it was very long. Even though the street was crowded with people, for some reason everyone automatically gave him lots of space.
Yun Ge walked for a long time down the street. It was dark out and she didn’t know where she was headed, but she couldn’t keep walking. A servant at an inn was calling out for guests to stay there and Yun Ge stopped. He wanted to send her out back if she was begging for food. Yun Ge reached inside and found no money.
At home she never knew the importance of money. But on this trip, she understood that even a hero can be forced to die without money. She started to get nervous and searched her entire body, but her money purse and accessories were all gone, even her pouch containing her spices was gone.
She was so worried but all she could do was sigh. Second Brother often said “You reap what you sow”, but her punishment for what she just did couldn’t possibly have come that quickly? The servant was done with Yun Ge and pushed her “Stop blocking the doorway, otherwise don’t blame me for getting rough!”
The servant was about to hit Yun Ge when a voice behind her said “He’s with me.” The servant barely blinked an eye before calling Yun Ge “young master” and then reaching out for the money in Meng Jue’s hand. “This young master must want the best room. We have a suite with its own courtyard, bathroom, and kitchen. It’s quiet and elegant, just perfect for a good rest….”
Meng Jue’s eyes were hidden under his hat and Yun Ge couldn’t see his expression. Yun Ge gave him a look and walked away. “Yun Ge, you treated me to lunch this afternoon, this is my pay back.” Yun Ge hesitated and didn’t say anything, but she was truly exhausted. Plus she didn’t put much value on money, so she nodded and followed Meng Jue into the inn.”
The warm water washed away all her dust and dirt, but couldn’t wash away her emotional emptiness. She laid on the pallet for a long time but couldn’t fall asleep. She heard a familiar tune coming from outside, causing her heart to flutter and she quickly put on her robe and went outside.
On this trip, she dressed like a boy for fun and not purposely to hide her gender. All she did when she left was tie her hair back and took off.
Meng Jue, wearing all white, was sitting in a bamboo pavilion and playing the zither, his long hair beautifully falling around him. This image led Yun Ge to think of a poem she once read, which would be perfect in describing Meng Jue.
Meng Jue heard Yun Ge’s footsteps and raised his head. It was like the moonlight came down with his gaze, shining its light on the entire courtyard. He didn’t blink an eye at Yun Ge’s female attire, barely glancing over her before returning his eyes to the zither.
Yun Ge didn’t even bother to explain and just quietly sat down on a rock. This song she listened to since she was small, it helped to ease her emotional exhaustion a bit. After the tune finished, neither spoke for a long time.
Yun Ge finally said “My Second Brother loved this tune and used to play for me all the time whenever I was unhappy.” “I see.” “I’m not a thief. I didn’t steal that girl’s jade. I initially wanted to prank her, and later I just wanted to look at that jade carefully.” “I know.”
Yun Ge looked quizzically at Meng Jue, whose gaze brushed over her face once “In the beginning I was shocked, but once I studied your actions, it’s clear you were born in a wealthy family.”
“You must find it strange then, why would I steal something if I wasn’t a thief? My Second Brother has a good friend Swifty Hands. He’s a good person, and to be able to eat my food, he taught me his pickpocketing skills. He boasted that if he was the second best in the world, then no one could be deemed the best. But my money got stolen today and I never once noticed. In the future when I see him, I’ll laugh and say he’s wrong, someone else is better than him!” Yun Ge started laughing as she talked.
Meng Jue’s lowered eyes flashed a thought but he was still smiling. He lightly plucked a new notes from the zither and the twinkling notes perfectly paired with Yun Ge’s laughter.
“These past few weeks I’ve been feeling terribly put upon. I thought I would be happy when I reached Chang An, but instead I’m even more unhappy. I feel better after talking with you, and I think I’ve come to a conclusion. What comes must go. Since I have a home I can’t return to, then I’ll just stay in Chang An and have some fun. At least it won’t be a waste of me traveling hundreds of miles to get here.” Yun Ge clapped her hands and smiled before standing up “Thank you for listening to me vent some frustrations! I won’t bother you any longer, I’m off to bed.”
Yun Ge took two steps before turning back. To her surprise Meng Jue had been staring at her departing figure with a piercing gaze, which disappeared in a second. She startled for a moment before smiling “My name is Yun Ge. Yun as in cloud, Ge as in song. King of the Jades, now we’re really friends.”
A night’s good slumber has left Yun Ge not wanting to open her eyes despite the bright sunlight pouring in through the window. She happily stretched “Bright sun, lazy Spring sleep!”
Outside the window a gentle voice said with a smiling tone “If you know it’s lazy Spring sleep, then you ought to get up.” Yun Ge immediately turned red, but then she covered her mouth and silently laughed “Meng Jue, can you lend me some money? I want to buy an outfit, I’m feeling happy now and I don’t want to be a beggar anymore.”
“Fine! You wash up and an outfit will be delivered shortly.” Meng Jue’s taste didn’t disappoint Yun Ge. The outfit was exquisite without being flashy, the detailed work was evident, and it happened to be her favorite color. Yun Ge checked herself out in the mirror. A green woven skirt billowing around her, giving her a certain ladylike effect. She made a face at her own reflection and then ran out of the room.
“Meng Jue, are you from Chang An?” “No.” “Then what are you doing in Chang An? For fun?” “For business.”
“Oh” Yun ge laughed “You don’t look like a merchant.” Meng Jue smiled and turned her question back “What are you doing in Chang An?” “Me? I……I guess I came to play! But now I have not a penny on me so I can’t play anymore. I want to first earn some money.”
Meng Jue smiled at Yun Ge “How you do plan on earning money? Even though this is the capital of the Han dynasty, but it’s not easy making a living, especially for a woman. Need me to help you…..”
Yun Ge smiled “Don’t underestimate me! As long as people need to eat, then I can make money. I’ll return your money to you shortly. I plan to go work at Qi Li Xiang a few days and check out their wine. Want to come with me?”
Meng Jue stared at Yun Ge with some surprise, but his smile didn’t change “Fine, let’s have lunch there then.”
Yun Ge and Meng Jue walked into Qi Li Xiang and the entire restaurant descended into silence. The waiter quickly escorted them to the best table and asked what they wanted. Meng Jue looked at Yun Ge, who asked “Whatever we want to order?”
The waiter replied “Our food may not be comparable to Yi Ping Ju inside the city, but it’s famous out here. A lot of city rich boys come here especially to eat. The miss can order whatever you want!”
“Okay, then….nothing too complicated, something simple!” Yun Ge rattled off these fancy named dishes and then a special wine as a chaser. The waiter looked stricken and could only guess what those dishes were. But since he already proclaimed anything was possible, he quickly excused himself to go find the chef.
Meng Jue smiled at Yun Ge, who stuck her tongue out at him. The owner and the chef came out together and bowed “Apologies to the young lady, we can guess one dish, but the other two, Three Water Shining Moon and Chang Eh Dancing Moon, we do not know how to make it. Can you explain?”
Yun Ge smiled “Three Water Dancing Moon: use water from Yi Xun, water from Ji Nan, water from Yen Bei, cook with a moon fish from the Jen Ju Spring right outside Chang An. With a small fire, under the fish meat has complete cooked into the soup, use a gauze to remove all the detriment and what remains is a milky white soup. Finally add peach blossoms from the Xi Zai Mountains and some sand salt to taste. Chang Eh Dancing Moon: eel braised with twenty four spices in hot oil. When it comes out the color is glossy and the taste is fresh and fragrant. Plate it on a white round plate like the moon. The long back of the eel when upturned looks like Chang Eh’s billowing sleev as she dances, so this dish is also called Chang Eh Dancing Moon.”
Yun Ge’s voice was crisp and clear and she said it all without stopping to take a breath, as if everything was so easy to understand, but the owner and the chef listened and turned towards each other. The owner bowed “Our apologies! Young lady is such a master. We can try to make Chang Eh Dancing Moon, but we can’t make the Three Water Shining Moon, I’m afraid.”
Before Yun Ge can answer, a clear female voice called out “Isn’t it just a stir fried eel dish? Who has time to make it so complicated. Chang Eh Dancing Moon? Sounds like someone is trying to cause a scene.” Yun Ge looked up and saw Xu Ping Jun walking in while carrying a large barrel of wine.
The owner quickly said “That’s not correct. Color, scent, taste are the three requirements to judge a dish. The right name and the right color are also very important.” Yun Ge smiled and didn’t speak, just taking a deep whiff of the wine “What fragrant wine! This isn’t any ordinary Gao Liang wine, it has an indescribable crispness. What’s the scent? It’s not floral, it’s not a spice…..”
Ping Jun gave Yun Ge an assessing look. Even though she recognized Meng Jue, but she didn’t connect the picky Yun Ge with yesterday’s dilapidated beggar. She laughed “You keep on guessing! The owner here has been guessing for many years. If it was so easy to guess, I’d be out of a livelihood.”
Yun Ge was shocked “You made this wine?” Xu Ping Jun turned and left, ignoring Yun Ge, who furrowed her brows thinking about the wine scent. The owner and the chef were waiting while Meng Jue softly called Yun Ge’s name to get her attention. She gathered her wits and stood up to bow to the owner and chef “I actually came here today to get a job. Do you need a chef?”
The owner stared at Yun Ge, already certain she knew her cooking, but he couldn’t figure out why she needed a job. Yun Ge smiled and pointed at Meng Jue “He bought me my clothes and I still owe him money! Today I will make Chang Eh Dancing Moon and Zhou Gong Spitting Seeds. If you like my cooking then you can hire me. If not, then we’ll just pay for our food and leave.”
The old chef stared at Meng Jue, wondering why this rich guy needed to let this sparkling little lady earn money for him. Meng Jue saw the disgruntled look but could only smile wanly.
The owner was already thinking that great chefs are hard to come by, and he had been thinking of how to compete with Yi Ping Ju in the city. This girl was like Heaven sent “Fine! The two dishes require a lot of skill. Zhou Gong Spitting Seeds is uses ordinary ingredients so the skill is in the flavoring, so the ordinary tastes extraordinary. Chang Eh Dancing Moon tests knife skills and color combination. Why the dish deserves this name requires great knife talent.”
Yun Ge smiled brilliantly at Meng Jue “My first guest will be Mr. Meng then, thank you for sampling!” She got up and walked into the kitchen. After some time, the dish hadn’t arrived but the smell did. Everyone turned their noses towards the kitchen.
Zhou Gong Spitting Seeds wasn’t placed in an ordinary urn. It was plated in an emptied out winter melon. The waiter purposely walked very slow. The outside of the winter melon was carved with the characters of “Zhou Gong Spitting Seeds, The World Retrieves the Heart”, with the green of the melon as the base and the white of the melon meat as the design. The green and white contrast turned this dish into a work of art.
As the dish passed each table, the smell caused everyone to praise it. Another waiter came out holding an all white plat with an eel on it. The eel was plated like a woman dancing with her sleeve billowing in an alluring way. The two waiters announced the names of the two dishes and the other customers all clamored to order it.
The owner was beaming and announced that this was a new dish created by the new chef and today there would be no more made. But everyone can come early tomorrow to sample it!
Yun Ge happily returned to sit down across from Meng Jue, who poured her a cup of tea. “Congratulations!” “How is it?” Yun Ge stared at Meng Jue, who first took a bit of a meat ball from the winter melon, and then took a bit of the eel. He carefully chewed “Um, delicious. It’s the most delicious meal I’ve ever eaten. And it’s the most beautiful meat ball and stir-fried eel dish I’ve see.”
From behind Yun Ge came the sound of a woman laughing. Likely Xu Ping Jun heard Meng Jue call it the most beautiful meat ball and eel and couldn’t help but laugh. Yun Ge turned to look at Xu Ping Jun, who raised an eyebrow and looked challengingly at Yun Ge. But Yun Ge gave her a breezy smile and turned back to look at the meat ball on Meng Jue’s chopstick and also started laughing out loud.
Xu Ping Jun was stunned for a minute, and she lowered her attitude and went over to plop a jug of wine down on the table. “Hear Uncle Chang say you are working here from now on. Since it’s our first meeting, I’ll treat you to this.”
Yun Ge was stunned for a moment and then smiled to Xu Ping Jun “Thank you.” Meng Jue smiled at Yun Ge and Xu Ping Jun “Today is my taste buds’ lucky day, not only is there good food, there is good wine.”
The three of them were in the middle of talking when the young boy Xu Ping Jun was berating yesterday came running into the restaurant. There was blood on his sleeve and his face was streaked with tears “Big sister Xu, big sister Xu, something terrible happened! We killed someone and the government officials have arrested big brother Liu.”