So I also got my third main male lead cast, Huang Xiaoming as Liu Bing Yi (aka Liu Xun). His tendency to over-emote with the crazy eyes will definitely come in handy in the latter half of this novel. But I think his arrogance and carefree vibe is perfect for Liu Bing Yi. I confess that the first time I read Yun Zhong Ge, I zipped through volume 1 to get to volume 2, where a certain swoony someone takes center stage. But in re-reading it for the translation, I’m loving the details given to introducing all the characters and establishing their personalities and backgrounds. Tong Hua takes her time, and she uses so much nuance that I’m still catching details I missed the first time around.
Chapter 4: Show Outside A Show
As Yun Ge was waiting for a re-trial, unexpectedly everything changed. Someone went to the authorities to confess that he accidentally killed the Li family servant and gave bulletproof testimony. Liu Bing Yi’s case is overturned and his death sentence is commuted.
The death sentence is commuted but he can’t avoid more punishment, he will stay in jail for eighteen months. Yun Ge was filled with questions but she decided not to think too much about it. As long as Ling gege was fine then she didn’t care how.
Before Yun Ge and Xu Ping Jun could finish celebrating, news comes out that the Emperor was commuting the sentences of all prisoners the nation over. Liu Bing Yi went from a death sentence to inexplicably being released from prison within a few short days.
Yun Ge accompanied Xu Ping Jun to welcome him out of jail. She saw Xu Ping Jun rush towards him, angry and crying, while Liu Bing Yi continued to apologize until she started to smile. Yun Ge averted her eyes and stared into the distance, her sorrow hard to express.
Liu Bing Yi and Xu Ping Jun walked over and Xu Ping Jun’s face was completely happy for the first time. Whereas the almost died Liu Bing Yi’s casual smile seemed to conceal a coldness.
“Bing Yi, this is my new friend Yun Ge. Don’t think she’s so young, but she’s already a famous person in Chang An. She only makes one meal a day for customers and even the princess has to reserve in advance to eat her food. You’re in luck today as she will cook dinner for us to welcome you back and get rid of your bad luck. But it’s all on account of me.” Xu Ping Jun finished talking and was laughing.
Yun Ge was so nervous she gripped her sleeve, but when Liu Bing Yi heard her name, he had no reaction and just looked at her and then said “Thank you young lady.” Yun Ge’s hand dropped weakly beside her.
He really forgot! Their two days in the desert has been lost in the thousands of days apart! Knowing he was thanking her for Xu Ping Jun, Yun Ge gave a small smile and returned the bow “You’re too polite young sir.”
Xu Ping Jun laughed and pulled Yun Ge up “So fake! Why are you two so mealy all of a sudden? Yun Ge, since you call me big sister (Xu jiejie), then you can call Bing Yi big brother (Liu dage). Bing Yi can just call you Yun Ge, okay?”
Yun Ge kept smiling despite her mouth aching and her tasting bitterness inside her mouth, so she quickly nodded “Yes.”
Yun Ge was making meat balls and her hands were oily when she heard a sound behind her. She didn’t turn around “Xu jiejie, can you re-tie my apron?” Someone reached out and tied her loosened apron.
YUn Ge felt something was off and the silent person behind her was not the talkative Xu Ping Jun. As she was about to turn around, she smelled the clean reedy scent of a young man, and she immediately guessed who it was.
She turned red faced and her body stiffened, standing there not moving. Liu Bing Yi tied the apron and then walked next to her, casually asking “Need me to help anywhere else? Wash these vegetables?”
Yun Ge kept her head lowered and made her meat balls “No need, I can do it myself.” Liu Bing Yi took the bowl and started washing “You spend the money, you spend the time, I can’t just eat for free!”
Yun Ge kept making meat balls with her head lowered, the two of them quiet for some time and the only noise was from the water. Yun Ge thought the room was quiet, too quiet, like she can hear her own heartbeat.
She wanted to say something to break the silence “You….” And Liu Bing Yi also spoke up at the same time “You…..”
They both startled and then said at the same time again “You go first.”
Liu Bing Yi laughed and Yun Ge also laughed, the two of them feeling more comfortable around each other. Liu Bing Yi asked “What did you want to say?”
Yun Ge just wanted to break the silence, but then she saw Liu Bing Yi had washed the vegetables cleanly and arranged it neatly for ease of use, so she laughed “My Third Brother is the most picky about eating, but he never enters the kitchen. My Second Brother is happy to help out, but he’s always making it worse rather than better. I’m pleasantly surprised you actually did help out.”
“With someone to serve you, then one needn’t learn how to do this.” Liu Bing Yi smiled lightly and finished sorting the vegetables swiftly. Yun Ge wanted to know what happened to his family, how everyone died, and how he’s survived all these years. But she didn’t know how to broach it.
Tell him that I am Yun Ge? But he appears not to know the name Yun Ge at all. Yun Ge thought about that promise neither was supposed to forget and she felt sad again, lowering her head and not saying anything.
Liu Bing Yi stood off to the side and watched Yun Ge with an assessing eye, not saying anything. He suddenly stopped smiling and stared at her “I don’t want to beat around the bush. Who are you and why have you purposely tried to get close to me?”
Yun Ge realized that Liu Bing Yi recognized her as that beggar who stole the jade “I’m not a bad person. I thought Xu jiejie was being mean to He Xiao Qi so I wanted to prank her. It was a coincidence.”
Liu Bing Yi stared at her, seemingly wanting to read her mind through her eyes. Yun Ge was afraid so she averted her eyes. His hand lightly reached out and touched Yun Ge’s face and across her eyes, his smile returning “From your eyes you don’t seem like a bad person.”
His hands were cold but where he brushed across her face Yun Ge turned red hot. She wanted to hide but he stepped forward and used his other hand to grab Yun Ge’s waist and pull them tightly up against each other.
Those familiar eyes are right in front of her and Yun Ge’s heart started to flutter, making her feel weak. But those eyes seem so foreign and all Yun Ge can see are freezing derision in its depths.
Her body shook and she cleared her head, trying to push Li Bing Yi away. He didn’t release her and instead embraced the struggling Yun Ge and kissed her on her eyes. “I’m not worth them using a beauty to tempt me. If they wanted, they can kill me anytime.”
Liu Bing Yi smiled like he didn’t care, but his voice betrayed his pain.
Yun Ge was embarrassed and angry, but mostly disappointed. But hearing what he said she was so worried “Who wants you dead? Who are “they”?”
Liu Bing Yi thought Yun Ge had an ulterior motive but her reaction and her behavior didn’t seen fake. And right now her concern for him was just flooding out of the depths of her eyes.
He was confident about his ability to read people, and he was already somewhat believing of Yun Ge’s assertion this was all a coincidence. But he still couldn’t figure out why Yun Ge seemed above and beyond concerned about him. He kept staring at Yun Ge.
Meng Jue happened to walk in and saw this scene of the two of them tightly pressed up against each other. Liu Bing Yi had his arms around Yun Ge’s waist and Yun Ge’s hands were pressed on Liu Bing Yi’s chest. Their eyes were staring at each other without blinking. One had unshed tears, the other’s face was beet red.
A cold light flashed through Meng Jue’s eyes in a second and then his face resumed its normal warm breezy smile “I think I came in at a bad time.” Yun Ge jumped out of Liu Bing Yi’s embrace and with her face bright red she explained “That’s not it, that’s not it.”
Liu Bing Yi crossed his arms and leaned on the kitchen cabinet, saying in a calm manner “Brother Meng? I heard Ping Jun talk about you all afternoon. You are indeed as elegant as a jade with uncommonly striking aura. What’s even more unusual is that Brother Meng you would deign to be friends with us.”
Meng Jue made a bow “Just call me Meng Jue, all I am is a member of the lowest merchant class, there is no deign to be friends to be had.”
“Merchants have in history controlled commerce and even the Emperors must rely on them. In a short time the “Elegant Chef” has made a name in Chang An. It can’t be Yun Ge’s efforts alone, clearly the person behind her must be Brother Meng. How can I underestimate such a “merchant” as you?”
Meng Jue laughed “Brother Bing Yi is truly impressive. You just got out of jail and already you know every whisper passing through Chang An.”
Yun Ge looked between the elegant Meng Jue and the confident Liu Bing Yi and then she sighed wearily. She lowered her head to work, letting the two of them shoot jabs at each other.
This is almost done braising, it can rest now. The meat balls are ready for the wok. The plate for the leek is here, the plate for the ginger is here, the plate for the oil is here.
…….this over here…..
The place was blocked by Liu Bing Yi, then……Liu Bing Yi unconsciously accepted the plate.
Yes! That place is fine….
And this? Meng Jue’s hands were empty….
There would be fine.
When Xu Ping Jun walked in her eyes widened. Yun Ge was like a busy bee fluttering around and twirling between two tall men standing in the middle of the kitchen. The two men were conversing, one holding a plate and the other holding a bowl.
Bing Yi was fine, she’s seen him carrying plates before. But Meng Jue…..this kind of a man…..his hands ought to be holding the hand of a beauty, a porcelain cup, a wolf’s hair brush…. Whatever it is, it shouldn’t be a bowl of black bean sauce.
But what shocked Xu Ping Jun was how Yun Ge ignored the pretty and just used it for whatever purpose she needed. Xu Ping Jun took the bowl and the plate “Go go go, talk outside and stop blocking the way. Can’t you see how busy she is and you two are in her way.”
Those two men trading barbs at one another had already conversed from the Qin dynasty merchants to the prohibition on the salt trade to the current taxation policy….. They even discussed the Han dynasty’s policy towards the Xiong Nu.
Because they both grew up in the commoner world; they personally witnessed the suffering of the lower classes; they both endured a lot of pain and suffering growing up; they both pay attention to the changes in the court and political winds; they both are brilliantly intelligent; so they ended up seeing eye to eye on many things to a shocking degree.
In this back and forth of testing each other and taking measure of each other, they unconsciously developed a camaraderie. With Xu Ping Jun’s interjection, they both snapped out of it and then started to laugh. Within their wariness towards each other, they still managed to gain a measure of appreciation for the other person.
Liu Bing Yi grabbed a jug of wine, and when Meng Jue saw it, he grabbed two cups and the two of them walked out together. Yun Ge saw Xu Ping Jun cutting vegetables and almost slicing herself so grabbed the knife back “Xu jiejie, let me do it! You went to get wine from the house, what took so long?” Xu Ping Jun turned around to check the fire “Just got delayed by some things.”
After a few moments, Xu Ping Jun couldn’t figure it out and she was so close to Yun Ge by now, so she told the truth “I went to the pawn shop, where I pawned Bing Yi’s jade because of needing money these days. It’s Bing Yi’s only item left from his family, and despite knowing I sold it and can’t buy it back, I still went anyways. But when I arrived, he told me the jade can’t sell and he’ll sell it back to me for the same price he paid me. I told him to hold it until I can get the money, but he just gave it back and told me to sign on a promissory note and pay him later. Don’t you think that is the oddest thing ever?”
Yun Ge furrowed her brows and secretly railed at the pawn shop owner. He’s a business man and he handles it this way? Yun Ge casually said “Why think so much? Getting the jade back is the most important thing! And you didn’t get it for free so you don’t owe him anything, and it belonged to you any way.”
Xu Ping Jun smiled and shook her head “You’re right, getting the jade back is most important, otherwise how will I face Bing Yi. Yun Ge, can you….” Yun Ge smiled and said yes. Xu Ping Jun smiled back “Good little sister. Thank you. I know you don’t need money, but I’ll be frank and tell you I can’t pay you back that fast. It’ll have to be slowly.”
Don’t need money? Sigh, Yun Ge hadn’t cleared with Meng Jue how much she owed him, and she had no idea how long it would take for her to pay him back. She’ll need to learn from Xu jiejie how to scrimp and save from now on. Yun Ge made a face at Xu Ping Jun “If you teach me how to make your wine, then you don’t need to pay me back.”
Xu Ping Jun huffed “Don’t even think about it! Family secret recipe, we’ll never tell.” She then checked there was no one outside and then said to Yun Ge “It’s actually all hokey. My dad can drink but he can’t make wine. Mine is just ordinary Gao Lian wine, but I preserve it in an unique way. I seal the wine not in an earthen jar but in a bamboo stalk, so when it comes out it has the fresh scent of the bamboo.”
Yun Ge laughed “So that’s it! I thought it was bamboo. I tried putting bamboo leaves in but it made it bitter, and when I put in bamboo dew drops the taste was too light and the process takes too long. Can’t believe it’s so easy….Xu jiejie, you’re so smart!”
“I don’t deserve this compliment, the idea came from Bing Yi. He doesn’t work on the farm or house, but anything he encounters he always has weird ideas that make it better.”
Yun Ge startled and then smiled “Xu jiejie, since you told me the recipe, then you don’t need to pay me back.” Xu Ping Jun retorted “When did I want to sell my recipe? Borrowing money means owing money. If you don’t let me pay you back, I’ll borrow it from Mr. Meng.”
Yun Ge quickly said “Good sister, I was wrong. Loaned money is one thing, wine recipe is another.” Xu Ping Jun gave Yun Ge a piercing look and then laughed. Dinner was ready but for one more dish, so she told Xu Ping Jun to take it all out and start eating first.
Yun Ge put the final dish on in a basket and walked out to the garden. It was starting to get dark and a moon like a woman’s bright smile was starting to rise. It wasn’t hot or cold, walking in the garden there was a fresh coolness that was refreshing.
Yun Ge took a deep breath, and hidden within the floral aroma was the faint smell of sandalwood. Yun Ge stopped since she was familiar now with every smell in this garden. She heard the sound of clothing rustling “Who’s there? Who’s hiding there?”
“I’m openly laying here watching the moon. Who’s hiding?” A seductive man’s voice replied. Yun Ge was stunned. This suite was where only she and Meng Jue lived, how could there be a strange man?
She walked through the flowers and trees to see that all the flowers had been stripped bare and pooled on the ground. A man wearing a purple and gold robe was laying on top of the bed of flower petals. His features were extraordinary beautiful, and right now his eyes are half opened and he had a small smile on his lips, making him seem like he had not a care in this world.
His black hair was not tied up and his robe was slightly opened, and the fallen petals were sprinkled throughout his hair and his clothes, making him seem otherworldly under this pale moonlight.
What a flower killer, not one petal remaining! Yun Ge was so angry that she laughed “You ought to have left me a few petals, I was planning to pluck some in the next few days to make a dessert.” The man still stared at the sky “The ground was too cold.”
Yun Ge saw his sparkling eyes and recognized him “You….you’re the one who bought one of the hidden judging rooms. Why are you here? Are you a friend of the King of the Jades? Why didn’t he invite you to dine with us? Does he not want people to know that you two know each other?”
Yun Ge’s every sentence was a question and then she answered it herself. He finally turned to look at Yun Ge “King of the Jades? That’s an amusing name. What’s yours?” “Yun Ge.”
“So you’re the……one.” The man’s voice was so low that all Yun Ge could hear was the word “one”
“……..you’re a smart girl. Xiao Jue isn’t worried about people knowing that he and I know each other, he’s just not happy to see me in Chang An. I snuck in here.” He said it with a smile, and his smile was full of teasing and seductive playfulness, but his eyes revealed a kid’s joy with playing a prank.
Yun Ge smiled and turned to leave “Then you keep playing hide-and-seek with him! I’m hungry and am off to eat.” “Oh, I’m hungry, too! I also want to eat!” The man sat up from the flower petals and with his getting up his loosened robe opened and revealed his chest under the moonlight.
Yun Ge’s eyes brushed past and she remembered the first time she saw him and immediately she turned beet red. The man wasn’t embarrassed in the least and just continued to have a smile and checked out Yun Ge like she was an amusing toy.
Yun Ge saw he wasn’t going to fix his clothes so she turned around “We’re eating soon, want to come? You can give that King of the Jades a shock.”
The man was about to fix his clothes when his eyes brushed past the row of trees and he immediately stopped. With a smirk he walked behind Yun Ge and pressed up against her back. One hand was grabbing her arm while the other hand encircled her waist. He lowered his head and whispered in her ear “Why don’t I take you somewhere else to eat? I guarantee you’ll be satisfied.”
His voice was low and throaty, and this cool breezy night immediately turned sensuous and seductive with just a few words. Yun Ge tried to break free from him but he didn’t move, only continuing to hold onto her arm. Yun Ge couldn’t escape, no matter how much she struggled she couldn’t break free of his embrace.
Yun Ge wasn’t embarrassed towards him, she was furious. She decided to be vicious and was about to smash him over the head with the basket in her hand filled with hot soup, burning the guy so she could escape.
There was suddenly movement from the trees and Meng Jue casually walked out and his eyes fixed on the person behind Yun Ge. His smile was inviting like the moon and he bowed “When did the my lord arrive?”
The man saw that Meng Jue didn’t look upset, making his game not fun anymore, so he released Yun Ge immediately. Yun Ge turned around to slap him but he blocked her move and in the push and pull, he sent her body flying towards Meng Jue. Meng Jue reached out to help and Yun Ge fell right into his embrace.
Different than the man, with his scent of sandalwood mixed with woman’s make up, Meng Jue smelled clean, like an oak tree after the rain. Yun Ge’s heart started beating and her face was red all the way to her ears.
The man found this amusing and started to laugh out loud. Yun Ge had never endured such treatment and she was so angry and embarrassed that she almost started crying but she forced herself not to. She couldn’t beat this guy in a fight so might as well not even bother.
She tried to struggle out of Meng Jue’s embrace, and he hesitated for a moment before releasing her and allowing Yun Ge to run off.
Meng Jue’s eyes followed Yun Ge until she disappeared from sight, then he turned with a smile towards the man “My lord isn’t done playing in Chang An?” The man smiled at Meng Jue “With a beauty in your arms, how did it feel? Aren’t you going to thank me?” Meng Jue’s smile barely changed “If you want to use that girl to anger me, then don’t bother.”
“Since she’s someone that doesn’t merit you getting angry over, then she doesn’t matter. Since she doesn’t matter, then why did you come to Chang An for her? If you even waved a finger you can get any woman you want. Seeing you two, tonight was the first time you’ve embraced her, no? Wily fox Meng, what you say and what you do don’t match up. What are you planning?”
Meng Jue smiled and didn’t reply. The man laughed even though he kept his voice low “In that case, I can do whatever I want with her and you don’t need to care.” Meng Jue replied “Yun Ge isn’t one of those rich daughters you can tease, or one of those ladies of the night you can toy with. If you suffer in her hands, don’t blame me for not warning you.”
“To pluck a flower one must be fast, otherwise….ay! Do you see that flower bush over there? A step too late and someone else will get there first. I heard she’s quite solicitous of someone named Liu Bing Yi…..”
The man rushed to Meng Jue’s side and wanted to put his hand on Meng Jue’s shoulder, but Meng Jue swiftly moved in a flash and the man’s hand landed in the air. The man sighed “It’s so tiring talking to you. I think that the less often I see you, the better it is for my health.” He touched his stomach and made a sad face “Ay yah! I’m about to starve to death. I hear you guys have good food tonight, I’m so lucky to arrive just in time.”
Liu Bing Yi and Xu Ping Jun saw the man behind Meng Jue and immediately stood up while Yun Ge ignored him and continued to eat her dinner. Meng Jue laughed “My friend suddenly came to visit, I hope you don’t mind. His surname is also Liu, and since he’s the eldest amongst his brothers, so we all call him Da Gong Zhi (Eldest lord).”
Da Gong Zhi waved at Liu Bing Yi and Xu Ping Jun, but when his gaze met Liu Bing Yi’s for a brief second, his face showed shocked. When he looked carefully at Liu Bing Yi, the shock disappeared and he returned to normal.
Liu Bing Yi and Xu Ping Jun bowed to him while Yun Ge continued to ignore Da Gong Zhi. The three never noticed Da Gong Zhi’s swift change of expression but Meng Jue just lowered his eyes and had a slight smile.
Before Da Gong Zhi finished greeting everyone he was already sitting down at the spot where Meng Jue was supposed to sit. He said “Smells so good!” He dispensed with politeness and grabbed a bowl. He ladled soup in his bowl but Yun Ge grabbed the soup container over and poured herself a bowl.
He saw Yun Ge drink the soup and he quickly drank his. He finished it and said in awe “So delicious, I’ve never had this taste before! It’s so fragrant and smooth. Good soup! Good soup!” Yun Ge smiled and looked at him “Using a small fire to cook the meat buds and let it dissolve in the soup. Meat buds are already tender, so the soup is of course smooth.”
Da Gong Zhi looked at Yun Ge’s smile, then looked at Meng Jue’s smile, leading him to feel a coldness from his toes upward. His hand reaching for another ladle of soup pulled back “What are meat buds? I’ve eaten tons of delicacies since I was a kid, never heard of meat buds.”
Yun Ge casually said “Putting the best pork shoulder in a dank place, in a few days maggots will form. It is soft and white, the skin smooth and slippery. It’s better than the most tender of pork, so its called a meat bud. Put these soft white slippery meat buds in……”
Da Gong Zhi got up and already ran to the side to throw up. Yun Ge just smiled while Xu Ping Jun couldn’t contain her laughter anymore and held her stomach and started guffawing. Liu Bing Yi also smiled and shook his head.
After rinsing his mouth and washing his hands multiple times, Da Gong Zhi returned, looking at the table of food without his usual carefree demeanor. “Can’t believe you guys can eat it. Meng Jue, I applaud you. How did you come up with this “treasure” of a dish?”
Yun Ge poured Xu Ping Jun a bowl and she smiled at Da Gong Zhi before drinking. Da Gong Zhi stared at Xu Ping Jun with a look of incredulousness. After hearing what Yun Ge said, how could anyone drink that soup?
Did he stay away from Chang An so long that people turned daft? This formerly dashing and self-absorbed person suddenly turned into a clueless chicken. Yun Ge looked at Da Gong Zhi’s dumbfounded expression and smirked “How old are you? Did you have your adult ceremony yet?”
Da Gong Zhi was so confused and said in annoyance “You must be joking! Are you blind? Xiao Jue has to call me big brother.” “Oh………” Yun Ge drawled. The she smiled “I guess my eyes are bad. Who knew someone would listen to half of what I said and then believe it like a three year old would.”
Da Gong Zhi looked furious and asked Yun Ge “What do you mean?” Yun Ge smiled “I wasn’t finished earlier and then you ran off. I wanted to say that meat buds might be a delicacy but few people would dare drink it. But my soup tastes as good as meat bud soup but I used ordinary ingredients like tofu and pig’s brain, and then cooked it differently. How could a “big brother” like yourself react so quickly?”
Da Gong Zhi stood there and then stared at Meng Jue. He spent his days lolling around with women and now he got punked by this little girl? His dashing aura, his carefree demeanor, all of that was gone! Meng Jue smiled and put his hands palm up in a gesture of “now you know not to mess with her.”
Yun Ge went back to ignoring Da Gong Zhi and chatting with Xu Ping Jun while eating and drinking. Liu Bing Yi also went back to chatting with Meng Jue. Da Gong Zhi saw everyone was happily eating so he went back to sit down “Today I’m staking my life on keeping this young lady company. Let’s see what else she has up her sleeve. I don’t believe that you all dare to eat this table of food and I can’t.”
Yun Ge smiled and poured wine for everyone, but Da Gong Zhi covered his cup “I don’t need you, I’ll do it myself.” Before he finished a jug of wine, his face turned beet red and he suddenly ran off “Xiao Jue, where….where is the outhouse?” Meng Jue tried to contain his laughter while pointing in a direction.
Da Gong Zhi didn’t even blink as he glared at Yun Ge “Nice sneaky one!” and then he took off. Xu Ping Jun laughed so hard she started choking on her wine “Yun Ge, what did you slip in the food? How come the rest of us are fine?”
“I put it in every dish, but when I poured you all wine I slipped the antidote in. He refused my wine, so what I can do about it?” Yun Ge had a very innocent look on her face.
Xu Ping Jun asked laughingly “What did he do to upset you?” Yun Ge lowered her head mumbling “Nothing.”
Yun Ge thought about what a crazy day it was today. Was there ominous clouds, or everyone got hit with love potion? From when she was born until now, except for her daddy, her brothers, and Ling gege, she had never been embraced by a man. But in one day, she was embraced by three different men.
Xu Ping Jun loved joining in the fun “Yun Ge, you have any more tricks to punk Da Gong Zhi? I’ll help you….” Liu Bing Yi could see that Da Gong Zhi was no an ordinary man, with his nobility seeping out from him, and he didn’t want Yun Ge to incur his wrath. He cut off Xu Ping Jun “Yun Ge, if you’re not angry anymore, then let it go. This is a warning, and if he dares mess with you again, then next time you can get him back.”
Yun Ge smiled at Liu Bing Yi “Yes, I’ll listen to big brother.” Under the moonlight Yun Ge’s sudden smile was like a Spring flower blooming. Liu Bing Yi had a brief yet complicated look in his eyes before it passed and he smiled in his usual lazy way, but with an added hint of warmth.
Yun Ge heard a song from the courtyard, and since she couldn’t sleep, she went out and walked under the moonlight. It was a sorrowful song she heard since she was a kid, but only today did she understand its full meaning.
The song talked about yesterday and today, coming and going, how time never stops. In the memory it is still brilliant and strong, but in the eyes it is snowy and blurry. Time ages a person, destroys love and splits up people. When the seasons change, there are live partings where one will never see each other again, as well as permanent death farewells.
That phrase in the song is likely talking about how human’s lament the impermanence of life. Things change, people change, this is likely what it all means!
A few thousand days have passed and the Ling gege of her memory is gone, leaving only the Liu dage of today. For the first time, Yun Ge was curious about what things were on her Second Brother’s mind. Her always calm, always gentle Second Brother. Why did he constantly play this tune?
Second Brother, my Second Brother, if you were home that day, I probably wouldn’t have run away from home. But if I didn’t run away, then I would have never understood this tune. I would always have stayed his little sister than he needs to protect, he needs to console.
Even though its been a few months since she angrily ran away from home, but this journey she experienced the vagaries of life, leading Yun Ge to feel like these past few months were her most fulfilling part of her life. In a few months, she had grown wiser about many things, and matured a bit more. She had more things in her heart. She didn’t know if it was good or bad, but it was likely the price to pay to grow up.
Meng Jue was sitting under the bamboo playing the zither. His all-black robe made him seen even more commanding. This man as beautiful as jade, with such an extraordinary aura, the Heavens must surely love him. Giving him such a fine face, such wealth, and he is so well-learned, one almost can’t find any flaw in him. So why did he like playing this song? What could he have on his mind?
Meng Jue’s tune suddenly changed, into one about asking for forgiveness. Yun Ge was initially hiding behind a tree and didn’t want to see him, but when she heard his tune she felt bad hiding. She walked up to him and sat down, looking at him with a smile. Nothing needed to be said. When his song finished, she took the zither over and brokenly tried to play the song from earlier.
Yun Ge’s hand gestures were elegant, but she sometimes made mistakes and couldn’t continue. It was clear she was taught by a master zither player, but she never made the effort to focus and practice. Meng Jue sat down next to Yun Ge, and his hands lightly floated over the zither as he led Yun Ge along.
Yun Ge could smell Meng Jue’s scent and his hands would sometimes brush past hers. When Yun Ge made a mistake, he would take her hand and correct it with her. Yun Ge’s felt her face blush and her heart flutter. Meng Jue acted like he didn’t notice anything and his expression remained calm as he taught Yun Ge to play.
Yun Ge’s nervousness passed and her heart fell into the song. With Meng Jue’s pointers and playing the song many times, she memorized it until she could play the entire tune of “Cai Wei”. Under the stars, the two of them sat side by side, one charmingly pretty, the other composed and confident.
Yun Ge plucked a few notes, this might not be a priceless zither, but it was a good one nonetheless. The zither was clean without any adornments, only two small Gold Silver Flowers craved into the side. It showed off the carefree abandon of flowers dancing in the wind.
The artisan who carved it was a master, within a few strokes the flowers came alive, though in the simple lines an intense sorrow leaped off the zither. The more beautiful the flower was, the more it made a person hurt to look at it. Thinking of the tune, Yun Ge couldn’t help herself and traced the flower carvings.
“Who taught you to play the tune? Who made this zither?”
“My adoptive father.” When Meng Jue mentioned his adoptive father, there was this warmth in his eyes, and his smile was different than before.
“You mentioned leaving Chang An, are you going back to see your parents?” “I only have an adoptive father, I don’t have a father. My mother…..my mother died when I was young.” Yun Ge was initially worried she asked the wrong question, but Meng Jue’s tone was calm without a shred of sadness, leaving Yun Ge unsure of how to respond.
After some moments “Do you….do you miss your parents?” People not close to him never care to ask him this question, and those close to him never think they need to ask this question. This is the first time someone has ever asked him that question. Without any need to conceal, Meng Jue’s eyebrows lifted and his dark obsidian eyes reflected confusion, almost like a person could drown in the depths of his eyes.
Meng Jue was sitting very close to Yun Ge, but at that moment Yun Ge felt like he was very far away from her. So far away they were world’s apart. After some time, Meng Jue replied “I don’t know.” Yun Ge lowered her head and casually flicked the zither strings. Was he unwilling to think about it, or too scared to think about it?
Meng Jue looked at the stars in the sky in a daze, so Yun Ge said softly “Xi Yu has a legend that the stars in the sky are the souls of our loved ones. They shine because they miss us.” Meng Jue turned to look at Yun Ge, with a slight smile but his voice was as frigid as an icy jade “From that high up in the sky, what could they possibly know? How could they possibly see anything down here clearly?”
He adjusted his robe and stood up “It’s late, let’s get some sleep” and walked away, disappearing into the night. Yun Ge wanted to remind him to take the zither but he had already left so she shrugged. She lowered her head and plucked the strings absentmindedly.
“Music is used to make merry. Look at the two of you, all acting like your mom died.” Da Gong Zi walked up with a large biscuit in his hand and a jug of water. He crossed his legs and sat down, drinking his water and eating his biscuit as if it was super tasty.
“Your mom died!” Yun Ge huffed at him without raising her head. “Of course my mom died! If she didn’t die, how could I live so carefree?” Da Gong Zho wasn’t upset and instead smiled. Yun Ge was shocked, this person……he’s clearly not right in the head.
Seeing him like this, and thinking of his previous frivolous and bold ways, she burst out laughing “Biscuit taste good?” “After eating too many exotic delicacies, sometimes I want to eat what the common people eat.”
“You make yourself sound like a government official secretly touring his lands.” “I am a high government official. How to explain? There are only a few ministers and officials in Chang An that wouldn’t kneel and bow their heads to me if they saw me.”
“What kind of government official could you be? Oh right, your last name is Liu. Are you an infante then? I as a commoner dared to prank your highness, I ought to be executed” Yun Ge said with a derisive smile. [The rank is 藩王 which is a Prince level title given to sons or grandsons of the former Emperor who are not in line to succeed, i.e. they are the uncles or cousins to any current Emperor. The Spanish title of “infante” is the most apt rather calling them Princes, which usually refers to the sons of the current Emperor.]
“You’re right! I am an infante.” Da Gong Zhi took a bite of his biscuit and sighed “You were rude to me, you deserve to die.” Yun Ge knew he was of noble birth based on his demeanor, but an infante cannot come to Chang An without the Emperor’s permission. This is to keep the infantes from ever plotting a rebellion, and this rule has been in place since the Zhou dynasty and the entire world knows this.
If there really was an infante who snuck into Chang An, he would never boldly announce he was one. Even though Da Gong Zhi said with all sincerity, Yun Ge was still amused and got up and gave him a bow and said in a fake scared voice “Your highness, I am so clueless, will your highness please spare my life this once.”
Da Gong Zhi laughed and waved his hand “Your temper….! I am an infante and you are not scared of me at all, and constantly punk me. Even if I was not an infante, you also won’t disrespect me. You are an unusual and amusing person. I haven’t the heart to kill you. Ay…..what a shame…..you’re someone Lao San wants….” [Lao San literally means number three, and is a way for sworn brothers to refer to each other. The eldest is Lao Da (number one), the second is Lao Er (number two), and the youngest is Lao San (number three). So here Da Gong Zhi is saying that his third sworn brother wants her.]
He stared at Yun Ge and was muttering something underneath his breath, and his sensual smile made Yun Ge uncomfortable. She made a poker face at him “You….you better not be plotting anything. If you mess with me, I won’t let you off easy next time.”
Da Gong Zhi stood up and walked towards Yun Ge “I wasn’t planning anything, but now that you mention it, I’m curious what else you have up your sleeve.” Yun Ge was so anxious but knew she couldn’t show any weakness otherwise in the future he was going to torment her to death.
She smiled at him “In a land far West from here there is a plant people call a flytrap flower. The juice is exceedingly smelly and if it gets on the body it will take years before it dissipates. If Da Gong Zhi accidentally got a few drops on you, then all the beauties by your side will surely suffer. And that will make Da Gong Zhi suffer even more!”
Da Gong Zhi stopped and smiled at Yun Ge “Why don’t you explain in detail exactly how that will make me suffer?” Yun Ge felt her cheeks redden and she opened her mouth but couldn’t say anything. “You said it but now you’re too scared to explain it.” Da Gong Zhi smiled and sat back down “I’ll stop teasing you. Yun Ge, why don’t you come to my residence in the near future. I’ve got loads of interesting things to play with.”
Yun Ge smiled and wrinkled her nose “All you know is play, play, play. Anything else you care about?” Da Gong Zhi grew serious and appeared to be seriously thinking about it. He smiled and acted like he didn’t care, but his voice was somber “Nothing else. And its better if I have nothing else. Play, play, play all day is best for me, and for others.”
Yun Ge made a face at him “When I leave Chang An tomorrow, you and I can go play together. I’m good at eating and having fun. We can go out to sea to have seafood and lay on the ship deck watching the seagulls. We can go climb Snow Mountain and there is a dish made with the snow fruit mixed with the snow there that is out of this world. Ever been to the Sky Mountains? The Sky Lake is the best place to view the moon. At night we ride a boat on the lake with a jug of wine and a few dishes, it’s like living in fairy paradise. People only know to watch a sunrise on a mountain top, but watching a sunrise on the ocean is also beautiful…..
Yun Ge got excited talking and Da Gong Zhi was stunned and admired Yun Ge “I always thought I was the master at playing. I’ve secretly played over half the places in the Han dynasty. But compared to you, I’m like a sparrow in a gilded cage trying to pretend I’ve been places. A golden cage is still a cage.”
Yun Ge stuck her tongue out at him and turned to leave “Off to sleep. Not playing with you anymore. Remember to return the zither to the King of the Jades.”
When Yun Ge walked far, she heard the song coming from behind her. It was clearly the tune asking for forgiveness, despite the fact that the notes were filled with mistakes. Yun Ge didn’t turn around but she had a slight smile.