You don’t need to have read Da Mo Yao to read Yun Zhong Ge, only that the tiny bits of the throwaway references might not be as relatable. But it does help to read up on your early Han history, gaining some perspective into the political machines of the era when Emperor Wu of Han Liu Che was deciding succession amongst all his sons. There are probably twice as many main and secondary characters in YZG than in DMY, so I might do a character chart soon. But then again, I’m lazy, and assume you guys can keep track, so I might not. I have to warn you all that Ling gege barely shows up in volume 1 of YZG, so don’t ask me where he is. He’s obviously busy governing a country. He’s the most hitting the soysauce (C-slang for uninvolved bystander) male lead in any book I’ve read. But then he makes such an forever impression it barely matters other than we’re all just waiting with bated breath for him to swan back into Yun Ge’s life.
Chapter 3: Scheme Within A Scheme
All the color vanished from Xu Ping Jun’s face and she shrieked “He Xiao Qi, did you guys fight? Who killed whom? Bing Yi would never kill anyone.”
“A Master Li from Chang An arrived to cock fight with Big Brother, and after he lost he tried to buy Big Brother’s chicken. You know Big Brother’s temper, he’s easygoing and no matter how expensive something is he wouldn’t mind, but if someone is his kindred spirit, he’d give it to him for free. But that Master Li was purposely being difficult so no matter how much he offered, Big Brother wouldn’t sell it. He ordered his servants to beat up Big Brother and we all saw it and joined in the fight. It alerted the government officials. To avoid getting us in trouble, Big Brother accepted all the responsibility so the officials arrested him.”
“You…..you…..” Xu Ping Jun was so angry she grabbed He Xiao Qi’s ear “Commoners don’t fight with officials, don’t you guys know that? Was anyone hurt?” “In the beginning Big Brother wouldn’t let us fight, but soon it became a free for all and everyone got so into it. One of the servants died and Big Brother broke that Master’s Li’s leg…… Ouch!” He Xiao Qi yelped and grabbed his ear but Xu Ping Jun had already rushed out of the restaurant.
Yun Ge heard Uncle Chang sigh and tried to casually ask “Uncle Chang, what is that big sister’s relationship to that so-called big brother?”
Uncle Chang sighed again “Working here you’ll get close to that Xu gal. That Liu Bing Yi is famous around here, while the Xu gal has a tough mouth on the outside she’s a tofu heart on the inside. She’s capable and one girl does more than a household of boys. Whereas that Liu Bing Yi, stay as far away as possible. Best if you never talk with him in this entire lifetime. Rumor is his entire family is dead and he’s the only one left. But he darkens his family legacy. He knows how to read and has talent, but refuses to do anything proper. He cock fights, dog fights, gambles, he’s the best at all of that. He’s the leader of the hooligans in the outskirts of Chang An. Xu gal’s dad was formerly an official that angered a noble and endured a “palace punishment”. His wife is now a living widow and her temper is worse than ever…”
“What is…..” Yun Ge heard palace punishment and wondered what it was, but then she heard about a living widowhood and she realized what it meant “Nothing, Uncle Chang, you were saying?”
“Old man Xu now drinks day and night, only caring about wine. He somehow gets along with Liu Bing Yi, but one wonders what they could possibly talk about. Xu gal’s mom loathes Liu Bing Yi, who is so carefree she can’t do anything about him other than ignore him. Xu gal and Liu Bing Yi grew up together, and she’s so good to him, like he was her older brother. Ay! If Xu gal didn’t have that Liu Bing Yi in her life, she’d be much better off. This time Liu Bing Yi is likely done for. Him losing his head is just a slash across the neck, but poor Xu gal!” Uncle Chang finished and hurried off to take care of customers.
Yun Ge thought about it. She was wondering why Ling gege’s personality seemed to have such a monumental change, so it was because of family tragedy and his entire family is dead. “Does killing someone mean getting executed as punishment?”
“The law says so, but then the government officials……will look at who got killed, and who did the killing.” Meng Jue appeared to have a slight smile, but his lowered eyes had not a shadow of amusement. Yun Ge asked “What do you mean?”
“For example, commoners and nobles upsetting the law gets different responses. Xu Ping Jun’s father committed a small infraction and was served with the palace punishment. At the same time during the reign of Emperor Wu of Han, when one of his top officials Li Gan was killed with an arrow by Huo Qu Bing, if it was anyone else, the entire family out be wiped out. But since the person who did the killing was the Emperor’s prized general Huo Qu Bing, and Wei family had control of the court, all that was said about the death of a duke was “He was killed by a rampaging deer herd…………..”
Thinking about the downtrodden Liu Bing Yi, and about the rich young lord from Chang An, Yun Ge lost her appetite and intended to figure out what happened. She said to Meng Jue “I’m full, you can go do your own thing, no need to keep me company. I’ll go walk around by myself.”
“Sure! I’ll see you tonight. Oh right, do you like the place we stayed?” Yun Ge nodded. “I like it, too. I plan to rent it for the long term as a place to stay here. Let’s do this – you don’t need to find another place to stay, as long as you cook for me every night, you can pay rent that way. I don’t plan to stay here long, so when I’m done I’m leaving. Until then, I can help you out and my taste buds will get a treat.”
Yun Ge thought this was an equally beneficial plan. Even if she looked for a place she might not find one immediately. She agreed.
Yun Ge twirled around Chang An all afternoon, but since she was new there and the people who witnessed what happened were all loathe to talk, Yun Ge got nothing out of her digging for information.
Yun Ge had no choice but to go find Xu Ping Jun to see if she got any news. A brick encircled courtyard with many cracks in the walls, with a dilapidated door that showed the figures of people inside. Yun Ge could hear a violent fight inside, wondering if she should knock on the door and what to say afterwards.
She saw someone walking towards the door so she quickly hid “Don’t tell me what to do. I earned this money, I can spend it as I wish.” A fat older woman rushed to the door crying “Giving birth to a daughter is like owing money, how can my life be so hard? Fine, let’s starve! Forget it then, we’ll all go to the grave with that bad luck loser and that’ll make you happy.”
Yun Ge looked at the older woman and then quietly followed Xu Ping Jun, who quickly walked into a lane and stopped outside a shop. Yun Ge looked at the sign above and it said “pawn shop.” Xu Ping Jun hesitated and then bit her lip as she walked inside.
Yun Ge listened from outside the door “The color on this jade is ordinary, and the craftsmanship is poor…..” Yun Ge shook her head with a smile. Even though she didn’t care much for material goods, but Third Brother was particular about having the best of everything. All his things were the best of the best. That jade was as good as any accessory Third Brother owned. This pawn shop owner dared to say it was ordinary, then there could be nothing better in this world.
The owner hesitated and then slowly gave a lowball price, and insisted that it be sold and not pawned so that it could not be bought back. Xu Ping Jun nodded and with tears in her eyes “Double for the price for selling, otherwise the deal is off.”
Yun Ge saw Xu Ping Jun hurry off and knew what she needed the money for. She remembered the location of the pawn shop, then sighed and left. She had all these thoughts in her head but no good ideas. If it was Second Brother, he’d say a few words and have a great idea. If it was Third Brother, he would simply ride his horse past, and who cares if it was a government residence or the inside of a jail, he’d already have rescued the person already.
But why was she so useless? No wonder Third Brother always said she was stupid. She really was stupid.
When she returned to the inn it was completely dark out. Meng Jue’s room was lit and then she remembered she owed him dinner. Despite not being in the mood, she didn’t want to welsh on a promise.
As she pushed up her sleeve to get ready to cook, Meng Jue walked out “Forget about it today, I already asked the owner to make dinner. If you didn’t eat yet, let’s eat together.” Yun Ge walked into the room and picked up the chopstick but she didn’t eat a bite.
Meng Jue asked “Yun Ge, do you have something on your mind?” Yun Ge shook her head and tried to eat, but then she put her chopstick down “Meng Jue, are you familiar with Chang An?”
“My elders have quite a lot of business here. Familiar enough, even with a few government officials.” Yun Ge heard the last sentence and her heart leaped “Then….can you…..can I bother you to…..”
This was Yun Ge’s first time in her life she was asking someone for a favor, and it was to someone she barely knew, so she stuttered and couldn’t say it all. Meng Jue didn’t rush her, just smiling and letting her finish.
“Can I bother you to find out how the government official plans to handle Liu Bing Yi’s case? Is there a way to resolve it? I…..I will repay you in the future.”
Yun Ge was worried that Meng Jue was going to ask her why she cared about a stranger like Liu Bing Yi. She didn’t want to tell anyone at this time that she knew Liu Bing Yi. But strangely enough Meng Jue didn’t ask, just gently saying “Didn’t you say we were friends? Friends need to help each other out. This is a big case and I’ve heard a bit already. Why don’t you eat and I’ll tell you what I know.”
Yun Ge started to gulp down her food and her eyes kept staring at Meng Jue. “Liu Bing Yi offended a man named Li Xu, whose father is a government official. Not a big one, but Li Xu’s older sister is the Flag General and San Le Duke Shang Guan An’s concubine.”
Yun Ge looked confused “Is Shang Guan An a high ranking official?”
“Do you know that the surname of the current Han Emperor is?” Yun Ge shamefully shook her head.
“No big deal if you don’t know.” Meng Jue smiled and put some food in her bowl “This is complicated so I’ll give a quick overview. When the current Emperor ascended the throne he was still young, so Emperor Wu of Han Liu Che selected four Regents for the young Emperor. They are: Shang Guan Jie, San Hong Yang, Jin Ri Chan, and Huo Guang. Of these four, Jin Ri Chan fell ill and died early. The other three are now the top three officials in the Han dynasty. The current Empress is Shang Guan Xiao Mei, the granddaughter of both Shang Guan Jie and Huo Guang. She is only twelve years old this year, but she has been Empress for six years already.”
“So Shang Guan An is a relative to Empress Shang Guan?”
“Empress Shang Guan is the daughter of Shang Guan An. And Shang Guan An’s father is one of the Regents Shang Guan Jie. Plus Shang Guan An’s father-in-law is the other Regent Huo Guang, whose official title is the Great General Xi Ma.”
Yun Ge said “ah!” and then she couldn’t eat anymore. All these great general this and that, Yun Ge couldn’t figure out all their titles and positions. But she understood Empress. Since Empress Shang Guan entered the Palace at age six, that was enough to demonstrate how much power the two families behind her had. No wonder Xu Ping Jun was crying and sold the jade for money. If the person was gone, what used is the jade.
“But Meng Jue, the person wasn’t killed by Liu Bing Yi! Even if he did something wrong, all he did was injure the young lord. Can’t we find out who actually killed the person?”
“Liu Bing Yi is the head of the hooligan band outside Chang An city. If one of his guys killed a servant, with their code of honor, don’t you think they would never let Liu Bing Yi take the fall for them. Lots of them want to turn themselves in, but they have all been kicked out of the government office, claiming their stories are full of holes.”
Yun Ge furrowed her brows “So you’re saying it wasn’t one of Liu Bing Yi’s guys who killed someone……could it be one of the young lord’s men who killed someone? Or maybe there is a deeper conspiracy….”
Meng Ju nodded “Even if it wasn’t exactly like this, you’re not terribly off. Liu Bing Yi knew the young master Li’s background and was trying to control himself, but when the other side picked a fight, Liu Bing Yi must already suspect it wasn’t really over a cock fight dispute. When Emperor Wu of Han was on the throne, he kept raising taxes for his military expansion spend. This caused the populace to suffer greatly and the population to almost dwindle in half. The current Emperor keeps lowering taxes to give the populace a reprieve and returned it to the taxation amounts set by his grandfather Emperor Wen of Han. But the scholarly officials in court are in a schism over it, splitting into factions. Huo Guang is one faction, Xang Hong Yang is another factor, and Shang Guan Jie is yet another faction.”
Meng Jue lowered his eyes and stared at his tea cup, seemingly deep in his own thoughts. He talked about Emperor Wu, then Emperor Wen, and then raising and lowering taxes. Yun Ge understood the gist of it but mostly she didn’t understand much. Even though it didn’t sound like it had anything to do with Liu Bing Yi, but must be related, so Yun Ge tried hard to listen carefully.
Meng Jue raised his head and looked at Yun Ge, his dark eyes seemingly speaking to her, like it was searching for something, or hinting at something. Yun Ge didn’t understand so she looked apologetically at Meng Jue “I’m sorry, I only understood the taxation stuff, I don’t know about those various factions.”
Meng Jue appear to snap out of it and his eyes returned to normal. He said with a casual smile “I was off on a tangent. Simply put is this. This area is under the control of Shang Guan Jie, who has not lowered taxes for his people per the Emperor’s decree. The people are mostly illiterate and easy to fool, but Liu Bing Yi is not stupid. He has been raising questions about why the taxes are not lowered. If things get big, Shang Guan Jie will be in trouble. Perhaps Li Xu was also used, but things worked out perfectly and now Shang Guan Jie can sit back and watch a troublemaker removed for him.”
Yun Ge sat there in a daze, not moving, while Meng Jue just silently stared at her. So this was a trap, a deadly trap. Shang Guan Jie, Shang Guan An, these foreign names represent the highest levels of power. A commoner will never be able to oppose them.
Yun Ge stood up “Meng Jue, can you lend me some money? I might need a lot, a lot. I want to buy the jailer to see Ling…..to see Liu Bing Yi. I also need to buy something else.” Meng Jue sipped his tea “No problems with borrowing money, but money is not enough to save someone. Does your family have any ideas?”
Yun Ge got teary “If this was Xi Yu, or even further West in any of those exotic countries, likely my daddy can help me. My daddy may not be a noble and is just a commoner, but I always felt like there is nothing my daddy can’t do. But this is the Han dynasty, this is Chang An. My mom and my daddy have never been here. My Second and Third Brothers have never been here. And…..and they will never come here.”
When Yun Ge was talking, Meng Jue kept staring at her eyes, as if assessing the truth of her words. His expression didn’t change, but his eyes showed a twinge of disappointment.
Yun Ge sat down with a dejected sigh “Awhile ago I was mad at my mom and my daddy, but now I wish my daddy or my brothers were high officials in the Han dynasty. But even if they had power, they can’t top an Empress! Unless it was the Emperor himself. I wish I had practiced my martial arts skills, so I can go break into a jail and save a person. Knowing how to cook is useless.”
Meng Jue smiled “Jail breaking is a major offense. You might be willing to break in, but Liu Bing Yi might not be willing to be a fugitive for life with you. You would never be able to return home, and must constantly be on the move.”
Yun Ge looked sad and her head kept dropping further and further down “Cooking?” Meng Jue suddenly said “I have an idea. Do you want to try it?” Yun Ge jumped up “I’m willing! I’m willing to do anything!”
“You eat first and I’ll tell you after dinner.” “I’ll eat, I promise to eat, so can you tell me as we’re eating?”
Yun Ge pleaded with Meng Jue, who had no choice but to agree “Right now only one person, the Great General Huo Guang can change this situation around. Like you said, someone died, but it wasn’t by Liu Bing Yi’s hands.”
“But this Huo Guang is Shang Guan An’s father-in-law, why would he help me?” Meng Jue played with his cup “In the royal family, a relative and an enemy are a thin line apart, constantly changing. Rumor is Huo Guang enjoys his fine dining. If you can gain his attention, you can argue your case with him. If you succeed, Liu Bing Yi might not get executed. But if you fail, you might offend the Huo family and the consequences are…… Do you understand?”
Yun Ge nodded “I understand. Even if the chance is miniscule, I want to try it.”
“I’ll buy a connection in the government office so Liu Bing Yi isn’t mistreated in jail. Then we can try to gain Huo Guang’s attention so that he comes to eat your cooking. That is all I can do, the rest is up to you.”
Yun Ge stood up and respectfully bowed to Meng Jue, her heart full of gratitude “Thank you!”
“Why so polite?” Meng Jue stretched and returned half a bow “Why are you so concerned about Liu Bing Yi? Isn’t he a stranger to you?” Yun Ge sighed and because of her gratitude to Meng Jue didn’t want to keep this from him “He and I, when we were kids…..he was a good friend of mine. We haven’t seen each other in many years, so he has already forgotten me. And I don’t intend to tell him about our past.”
Meng Jue was silent for a moment and then said “Yes! It’s been many years, so it’s understandable that he doesn’t recognize you.”
Who knows how Meng Jue did it, but within a short period of time he got the hottest dancers, the most talented poets, and big and small officials all to come out to sample Qi Li Xiang’s cuisine. Even the Inner Person of the eldest princess came to try Yun Ge’s cooking.
Yun Ge’s face would turn red when she thought about her bugging Meng Jue to explain who an Inner Person was and what his official title was. Meng Jue didn’t blink an eye and answered “An Inner Person is not an official title, it’s a way to identify his status. He is someone who uses his body to serve the princess. It’s a male version of a concubine to the Emperor. This Inner Person is Ding Wai Ren and he’s currently the favorite of the princess. You be careful, but don’t worry much. He took my money and won’t cause you any trouble.”
Meng Jue suggested Yun Ge just cook and leave everything else to Uncle Chang, and since Yun Ge loved cooking and disliked socializing, she took Meng Jue’s advice. Under Meng Jue’s orders, Uncle Chang purposely concealed Yun Ge’s identity and gender, so none of the guests ever met Yun Ge.
With Yun Ge’s cooking and Meng Jue’s coordination, news of this mysterious new chef spread like wildfire in Chang An. Qi Li Xiang also became famous because of Yun Ge and opened a restaurant within Chang An. Within a short time its name recognition was inching close to the one hundred year old Yi Ping Ju.
Yi Ping Ju and Qi Li Xiang agreed to hold a competition with five judges to determine whose cuisine reigned supreme. Meng Jue suggested two hidden judging booths to sell to a personage who wanted to be a judge but because of their lofty identity didn’t want to be known.
Yi Ping Ju has over a hundred years tradition in Chang An and many rich kids grew up eating there. Qi Li Xiang was just a small restaurant outside Chang An, so the owner of Yi Ping Ju agreed with Meng Jue’s suggestion since the more noble judge the better it is for them to win.
Under the mutual cooperation of Yi Ping Ju and Qi Li Xiang, this cooking competition became the talk of the town from the highest officials to the lowest beggars, all wondering if the lofty Yi Ping Ju would win or the ordinary Qi Li Xiang.
Some thought Yi Ping Ju had the history, the experienced chefs, the high quality ingredients, and managed to weather a hundred years in Chang An, of course it would win. Others bet on Qi Li Xiang, with its innovative new dishes, and the fact that its new chef became so famous so quickly in Chang An meant that there was likely a powerful backer.
With all this discussion, the gambling houses all took bets on the outcome. Yun Ge could care less about the outcome, and inside she really didn’t like all this heightened interest and fancy jabber. All she was worried about was whether Huo Guang would come. “Meng Jue, do you think this is enough to interest Huo Guang to come?”
“The chance is small whether or not he comes. But this is such big news in Chang An that he will likely hear of your cooking and come try your food eventually.” Yun Ge heard Meng Jue’s confident words and felt a little better. She calmed down and prepared to cook the dishes for the competition. But inside she prayed that Huo Guang will come and take one of the hidden judging booths.
The competition for the two hidden judging booths was fierce, and it wasn’t until the day before the competition that it was purchased with a sky high price. The price left the owners of Qi Li Xiang and Yi Ping Ju stunned that someone would pay such an astronomical sum just to sample a few dishes.
With the former Emperor’s conquests the taxation burden fell on the common people, but within the riches of Chang An the money still flowed. Uncle Chang thought about his glorious future in Chang An and could only see money signs. He treated Yun Ge like she was a treasure, so gentle and warm towards her.
The day of the competition, the two hidden judges finally arrived and Yun Ge dragged Meng Jue to look. To get to the hidden seats a corridor was built to ensure privacy. Right now a young man wearing a very simple robe was walking down the corridor and admiring the paintings on each side.
His age was the same as Yun Ge, with refined and elegant features, and his every move was like a moving art piece. He was beautiful, but lacked a woman’s softness. Though if he was a woman, he would be a stunning beauty.
“Too young, it can’t be Huo Guang.” Yun Ge softly sighed. The man heard them but ignored them and continued to admire the painting. After some time he coolly said “Did you guys select these painting? Not one are from a famous painter, but the person who selected it has a good eye. There aren’t that many in Chang An with such a discerning eye.”
Meng Jue smiled “I’m just honored young master enjoyed it. I selected these paintings.” The young man turned around and looked at Meng Jue. In that moment he appeared to be stunned, like someone being shocked to see a phoenix suddenly landing in a courtyard.
Meng Jue smiled and bowed, while the young man was a bit embarrassed and nodded his head before turning away and looking at Yun Ge. She smiled and bowed to him, while he just stared at Yun Ge, not returning a bow or having any expression.
Yun Ge didn’t care and kept smiling at him, then she secretly prayed that the next judge would be Huo Guang. Meng Jue gestured for the young lord to keep moving along when the sound of a woman’s laughter arrived along with her fragrance.
All three turned around and a richly dressed man was embracing a stunning beauty and they were walking down the corridor. The man was tall but his face was hidden since it was currently buried in the woman’s neck as he nibbled on her. She didn’t avoid him and was just giggling.
The simply dressed young man scoffed coldly and turned back around to look at the paintings. Yun Ge appeared to hear Meng Jue softly sigh, but his expression was normal when she turned to look at him.
The man passed next to them and then slightly raised his head, though his body was still pressed up next to the woman. His gaze lightly brushed over Yun Ge before returning to the woman’s neck and pulled her into their room. Yun Ge didn’t see his face, only seeing that he had a pair of sparking eyes.
Before the curtains were even pulled down there came the sound of silk ripping and heavy breathing. The simply dressed young man glared at the servant taking him to the next room so Meng Jue quickly said “We will give the young master a new quieter room, where it’s better for you to sample the cooking.”
Meng Jue gestured for the servant that he was going to personally lead the way. The young man looked at Meng Jue’s extraordinary aura, and then heard the moans coming from the other room, and he quickly lowered his reddened face and followed behind Meng Jue. His arrogance seemed to lessen a bit and became more approachable.
Yun Ge’s face was also bright red. She lowered her head and ran outside, thinking that they ought to prepare some clothes for that young man and the woman, otherwise how will they leave later? Ah, ah, Yun Ge, what are you thinking? Yun Ge patted her face. How shameful!
She heard voices outside which reminded her that she had a very important thing to do today. Since the two judges are not Huo Guang, she still had a lot of work to so. Winning isn’t important, she must have all of Chang An remember her cooking and talk about it everywhere. As long as Huo Guang loved eating, then it will surely lure him to come sample her food.
Lotus Dew Drop: With a bamboo as the dish carved into a lotus leave, translucent beef tendons cooked the size of pearls with old plum leaves and spring water. It melted in the mouth and felt fresh and had a lingering taste. It was like a Summer day eating the first dew on a lotus leaf.
Lingering Fragrance: A rectangular white pastry without any other adornment plated on a jade plate. Was this really a dish? The first bite reminded one of the heart pumping feeling of first love, the second bite gave the impression of a passionate night under the moon, the third bite was like the longing for a lover. Each bite tasted different, and this pastry lingered long after it was all consumed, the fragrance of a woman in one’s embrace.
For the entire day Yun Ge stayed in the kitchen and poured her energy into the dishes. After all five judges and the two hidden judges rendered their verdict, Yun Ge won three dishes and Yi Ping Ju won five. Even though she lost, it was still a victory.
Yun Ge lost on selecting spices, mixing the flavoring, and the plating. But in each dish it showed her creativity and attention to detail. Especially in how she incorporated poetry, painting and dance into the food. From the name of each dish it showed how creative she was, so much that the poets who once disdained the kitchen felt that she made it more elegant. She gained the admiration of all the poets and scholars in Chang An, and they bestowed on her the nickname “Elegant Chef.”
Because Yun Ge never showed her face, everyone wondered who this mysterious Elegant Chef was. Some claim it is a handsome young man, others think the person must be hideously ugly. Talk became more and more outlandish until Yun Ge laughed just to hear it.
Some really admire Yun Ge’s cooking, others are just jumping on the bandwagon, and others just want to get some face time. No matter what the reason, eating the cooking of the Elegant Chef became the must do thing for all the rich young folks in Chang An to demonstrate they have good taste.
Within a short time, all the rich people in Chang An reserve a meal cooked by Yun Ge, but a request from the Huo Estate still never came. Yun Ge worked hard for that sliver of hope. The final judgment for Liu Bing Yi’s case was getting closer and closer despite all of Yun Ge’s prayers.
In a short month, Xu Ping Jing shrank an entire size and within her eyes there was only sorrow and exhaustion. Because Yun Ge worked at Qi Li Xiang with Xu Ping Jun, and Yun Ge purposely tried to get close to her, since Xu Ping Jun was so sad and not her usual sassy self, they gradually became closer and closer. Not yet to the point where they would say everything to each other, but close enough.
On the day of the judgment, Yun Ge accompanied Xu Ping Ju to the court. Liu Bing Yi was brought out, and despite looking terrible and haggard, his lazy insouciance increased as he walked past everyone watching him. He had a smirk and his usual swagger, looking like he didn’t care one bit about his life or death.
Yun Ge remembered the saying her old thief teacher said about how a dragon swimming in shallow waters gets picked on by the shrimp, and how a tiger fallen from high gets ridiculed by the dogs. Her heart felt pain, while Liu Bing Yi looked at Xu Ping Jun with only an apologetic glance. Xu Ping Jun’s eyes were filled with sorrowful pleading and then she averted her eyes.
Liu Bing Yi saw Yun Ge and Xu Ping Jun’s tightly held hands and he looked shocked as he glanced over Yun Ge. She smiled at him and Liu Bing Yi returned a quick smile.
During the court hearing, all the evidence was read and Liu Bing Yi just smiled like it had nothing to do with him. When the death penalty verdict was rendered, Yun Ge straightened even more with the conviction that she will not her Ling gege die. Xu Ping Jun wobbled and needed Yun Ge to support her “Bing Yi, why don’t you explain that you didn’t kill the person? Are your followers lives worth more? Why are you protecting them?”
Yun Ge quickly covered Xu Ping Jun’s mouth and Liu Bing Yi shot Yun Ge a look of gratitude as Yun Ge dragged Xu Ping Jun out of there. Everyone was gathered outside waiting for news but all Xu Ping Jun could do was cry and tell everyone to scram.
He Xiao Qi might be a kid still but he was quick enough to realize that everyone needed to leave for now. Seeing Xu Ping Jun’s reaction, everyone knew enough what the outcome was. He Xiao Qi looked at Yun Ge and she shook her head at him, then gestured for him to take Xu Ping Jun home.
Yun Ge ran off to find Meng Jue. He was sitting inside Qi Li Xiang drinking tea with a man of who looked in his mid-forties, with a very commanding presence and a face with clean lines. Meng Jue saw Yun Ge come in but ignored her nervous worried expression and said “Yun Ge, we’ve waited for a long time. Go whip up a few of your specialties. I’ve made a kindred friend today and that’s worthy of celebrating.”
Yun Ge startled and met Meng Jue’s eyes. She immediately understood and controlled her emotions before running into the kitchen. Meng Jue looked at her departing figure with a look of daze before quickly recovering himself and smiling at the man in front of him.
Within the span of two pots of tea, Yun Ge presented three dishes. With each dish the man sampled, Yun Ge would explain the name and then stand with her hands nervously gripping her sleeve, afraid to take a big breath.
In the dark porcelain plate like the night sky there rested little stars. The man picked up a star and took a bite “Sweet and bitter. It is clearly a papaya but it tastes like bitter melon. The three dishes, one is green robe, the other mule, what is this one?”
Yun Ge lowered her head “Little stars.”
The man read a poem and then said “Green robe, mule, and little stars, within these dishes there is the angry cry of a wrong person. Does the lady have a relative in trouble? Do you have woe you cannot express? Tell me. Even though people are both into rich and poor lives, but there is still justice in this world.”
Yun Ge saw Meng Jue didn’t object so she slowly explained what happened to Liu Bing Yi. The man just ate his meal without any expression. This man’s thought processes was so deep it couldn’t be fathomed. He didn’t show a sliver of emotion, and when he heard his son-in-law’s name, his chopstick holding the food didn’t even twinge.
When Yun Ge finished, she stood there with cold sweat running down her back. The man listened to Yun Ge’s story and didn’t pay her any attention. He smiled at Meng Jue “Since young man you have already guessed my identity, why would you let this little gal stand before me spouting all this?”
Meng Jue immediately stood up and bowed to the man “My lord Huo, my humble self did not know your identity. How could the Great General not bring a servant along and walk in here? And be willing to talk with me like a friend. In the beginning I took you for a unique person, and later when I saw you eating I started to have doubts. When I saw the ministerial embroidering on your sleeve and the way you talked, I started to guess. Since we already had a candid conversation earlier, I thought it wasn’t inappropriate for Yun Ge to tell her story to you. Will my lord please understand.”
Yun Ge bowed to Huo Guang “This humble self Yun Ge, I pay my respects to my lord Huo.”
“Your name is Yun Ge? What a pretty name. You parents must want you to live like your name.” Huo Guang’s voice was warm as he gestured for Yun Ge to get up “Such a young age and already out alone making a living. My daughter is around your age and all she has is her spoiled temper.”
Yun Ge replied “Miss Huo is of a lofty personage, how could my humble self compare?” Huo Guang’s eyes lingered on Yun Ge’s face and he looked startled “Seeing you, I have this odd sense of familiarity. I suppose this is what people mean when they say a great first impression.”
Yun Ge was stunned by what he said, and seeing his gentle demeanor, she felt he was approachable and bowed to him “Thank my lord Huo for his kind words.”
Huo Guang stood up and walked out “What you said, I will order someone to thoroughly investigate and handle it according to the law.”
When Huo Guang walked far away, Yun Ge suddenly turned around and grabbed Meng Jue’s elbow. She was jumping up and down and hollering in happiness “We did it! We succeeded! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!……” Meng Jue was being shaken left and right by Yun Ge “Enough, that’s enough! No need for thanks!”
He realized Yun Ge wasn’t even listening to what he said. He thought about Yun Ge’s worried expression this past month, and this rare look of genuine happiness. His heart softened and he stood there letting Yun Ge hop up and down around him.
After Yun Ge jumped around for awhile, she suddenly realized how close she was to Meng Jue. She immediately released his arm and took a big step back. Her face was red “I’ll go tell Xu jiejie (big sister Xu) this good news.” Yun Ge was afraid to look at Meng Jue and quickly ran off. She was like a butterfly flitting out of the store and into the brightly lit street.
Meng Jue looked at Yun Ge’s departing figure, not clear whether his expression was one of care or derision. What an clueless girl! How much of what Huo Guang said did she really understand? He suddenly sighed. Forget it! He didn’t have time to deal with this girl anymore.
Seeing the way Yun Ge treated him now, he’s already achieved his intended purpose. It was time to end it. Liu Bing Yi, you got lucky this time.
“Yi Yue.” [Her name means January, and later we’ll meet the others that work for Meng Jue whose names are Er Yue (February), San Yue (March), and so on.]
A black robed figured suddenly appeared out of nowhere and was quietly hidden in the corner of the room. “Young master. The moment Huo Guang entered Qi Li Xiang, the people admiring the view and eating at the other tables are likely all his guards.”
Meng Jue had a slight smile. Amongst the three top officials, Huo Guang was the most cautious. He would never give an enemy the chance to assassinate him.
“Tell Li Xu that this game ends now. Huo Guang is already involved, so he must not want to alert Shang Guan Jie. Whatever money Li Xu wants, give it to him. If he wants Yue Ji, then let Yue Ji play with him some more. As for Ding Wai Ren (the Inner Person to the princess), whatever he wants, give it to him as well. If he wants to climb higher, then make it happen, send him as high as he wants.”
Yi Yue said quietly “Young master spent a lot of money to get Liu Bing Yi into that jail without a trace. It would be a waste to let this opportunity go by.” Meng Jue had a slight smile “I have my own reasons. Wanting Liu Bing Yi’s life, there will be other chances. Right now other matters are more important.”
Initially this trip here was for Yun Ge, but who knew he would find the person he had been looking for all these years. When Yun Ge sat under the tree staring at the jade, he was hidden in the distance also staring at the same jade.
Liu Bing Yi? He remembered the owner of that jade was named Liu Xun. He sent many people over the years to find Liu Xun, thinking that this person must be dead already. Who knew Liu Xun chose to hide in the seemingly most dangerous place, right under the Emperor’s nose. Sometimes the most dangerous place is the safest place. On this alone, Liu Bing Yi can’t be underestimated.
His childhood flashed before him. The thing he wanted to do the most as a child was kill Liu Xun. Didn’t his father say that Liu Xun’s life was the most important? Didn’t his father say that Liu Xun’s bloodline was the most royal? Then fine…….let the most important royal person die in the hands of the most pitiful pathetic person!
A royal grandchild, dying in the hands of a lowly servant. If his father knew, wouldn’t he find it amusing? But alas, there was just too much else happening. Meng Jue couldn’t have anticipated that he would find Liu Bing Yi thanks to Yun Ge. Or that Yun Ge’s concern for Liu Bing Yi would be so great. And now he met Huo Guang, and it’s hard to anticipate what Huo Guang will do about Liu Bing Yi.
Many years ago, in the battle for succession, all the various princes were starting to plot but couldn’t do anything because Wei Qing was still alive, When the guardian of the Wei family Wei Qing died, everyone banded together to set up the Crown Prince. They forced Crown Prince Liu Ju to defend himself, and made it seem like he was revolting.
After Liu Ju’s revolt failed, Empress Wei Zhi Fu committed suicide and everyone in the Crown Prince’s family was killed. The only bloodline from that family left is Liu Xun, who became a commoner.
To eliminate every last threat, the other princes, Shang Guan Jie, even Liu Fu Ling’s mother Consort Zhao all tried to kill Liu Xun. But Huo Guang secretly protected the royal grandchild, succeeding so that everyone thinks Liu Xun is dead.
During these years, Huo Guang paid no attention to Liu Xun, appearing not to care if he lived or died. Meng Jue wasn’t certain yet if Huo Guang knows Liu Bing Yi is in fact Liu Xun. But for now, he’s not planning to ascertain Huo Guang’s intentions.
More importantly, he may dislike Liu Bing Yi, but he didn’t want one Liu Bing Yi to suddenly make Shang Guan Jie recollect what happened many years ago and feel sorry about it, thus ruining Meng Jue’s plans.
Yi Yue bowed “I understand.” Yi Yue was about to leave when Meng Jue said “Tell Da Gong Zhi (Eldest lord) to take into consideration the danger he is in. If someone found out he secretly entered Chang An, it’ll be easy to stick a plotting a rebellion label on him. Tell him to immediately return to Chang Yi.
Yi Yue looked torn and Meng Jue was silent for a moment before sighing “If you can’t convince him that’s fine. In a few days I’ll go back to Chang Yi with him. You guys keep him safe for the next few days, and make sure no one is tracking you guys.”
Yi Yue bowed and quietly melted into the shadows and disappeared. Meng Jue turned and put his hand on the window ledge and looked down from the window at all the citizens of Chang An walking to and fro underneath him.
The afternoon sun shined through the window awning on his form, taking away some of the warmth from the open space and adding a bit of chill from the shadow of the window.
© 2012, ockoala. All rights reserved.