We’re here, we’re here. Chapter 18 of Yun Zhong Ge marks the end of volume 1 of this rich, nuanced, and densely plotted novel. There are two more volumes to go, but we’ve come a long way since we met the girl in the green woven skirt riding a snow white camel in the desert. I may find Yun Ge somewhat annoyingly idealistic and perky, but I appreciate that she’s still young and is always growing and learning from her experiences. She never stays stagnant, and instead she faces the hard truths in life and soldiers on. I’m sorry this chapter is going to end on a ridiculously tense cliffhanger, but this is why we love it, no?
I love how this chapter finally explained things from Meng Jue’s point of view, and it hurts to realize that he’s going to go with his heart but unbeknownst to him, it’s already too late. I think its hilarious the amount of coincidences that happens on the road between Chang An and Wen Quan Palace to lead to the events that are about to unfurl. Are the Heavens leaning towards Meng Jue or Liu Fu Ling? I think neither at this point, as both men are about to find and lose Yun Ge at the same time.
Chapter 18: Inferno
Outside of Chang An, in the Lu Mountains, the Wen Quan Palace (Hot Springs Palace) was built by Qin Shi Huang. Emperor Wu of Han (Liu Che, Liu Fu Ling’s dad) also added to it. Since Liu Fu Ling ascended the throne, he did not spend any more money on Wen Quan Palace, but the splendor of the yesteryears still permeated every nook and cranny of this Palace.
At the eve of the Crown Prince Wei revolt, when Emperor Wu of Han was poisoned, he chose to come here to recover.
Because the situation was such a mess at that time, plus Liu Che’s personality had turned highly suspicious of everyone, from the Queen on down to the Princes and the court officials, he trusted no one. Thus he did not allow any guard from the Palace or Chang An to enter Wen Quan Palace. At the Palace, all the Emperor’s guards are his most trusted eunuchs.
Because of the dictates of the previous Emperor, and with Liu Fu Ling’s tacit consent, Yu An spent the last ten years diligently building up the second strongest armed forces outside of the Imperial Army, and now they were silently and stealthily sprinkled all around the Lu Mountains.
The hot springs were all inside the Palace, and all around the hot springs there were engraved carvings of lilies used to accessorize and to prevent slipping. Steps lead into the hot springs and the hot steam blanketed the entire room.
Liu Fu Ling was sitting in the hot spring just up to his shoulder, leaning back against the jade pillow as if he was asleep. He didn’t like people close to him, so only Yu An can stand outside the curtains.
An eunuch came inside and bowed to Yu An, who spoke quietly to him before the eunuch departed. Yu An couldn’t see what the situation was inside the curtain, so he didn’t know if he ought to disturb the Emperor, so he stood there clenching his hands.
Liu Fu Ling, without opening his eyes, asked “What is it?”
Yu An quickly answered “Your majesty, I am useless. That day I checked out every woman in Gan Quan Palace and to this day, I cannot find the woman singing. But I was just told something new. Remember the chef who cooked for you once, Zhu Gong Zhi? The chef was at Gan Quan Palace that day, but I had the chef kicked out. I just learned from the Princess’s eunuch Fu Su that, despite the Elegant Chef being named Zhu Gong Zhi (Gentleman Zhu), the chef is in fact a girl.”
Liu Fu Ling slowly opened his eyes “What is her name?”
“Because Fu Su was not one of the Princess’s trusted eunuchs, and all the eunuchs in the Princess’s estate are now dead, so we don’t know what her real name is. But since Zhu Gong Zhi is the chef at Qi Li Xiang in Chang An, I’ve already sent someone to investigate. We’ll find out no later than tomorrow night.”
Liu Fu Ling thought back to eating Zhu Gong Zhi’s food that day, and then the singing in Gan Quan Palace, and he suddenly stood up from the hot spring. He quickly wiped himself and dressed “Yu An, go prepare a carriage. We’re immediately returning to Chang An and going directly to Qi Li Xiang.”
Yu An kneeled and bowed “Didn’t Your majesty come to Wen Quan Palace to meet Meng Jue? Despite only meeting once, my impression of him was very memorable. I hear he’s close to Huo Cheng Jun, and that Huo Guang thinks very highly of him and treats him like a son. I don’t know why he suddenly asked for a meeting with Your majesty, but I think something is brewing there. Why don’t you wait to meet him before returning to Chang An?”
Liu Fu Ling fixed his robe and walked out “When is he coming?” Yu An replied “He will try to leave Chang An tonight, so he’ll arrive in the middle of the night, or maybe tomorrow at dawn. But if he arrives in the middle of the night, he won’t bother Your majesty, so the earliest he’ll come see you is tomorrow morning.”
Liu Fu Ling thought about it “We’re heading back to Chang An through the night. If he arrives, tell him to wait for me, and I’ll see him tomorrow night at the latest.” Yu An realized how out of character Liu Fu Ling’s behavior was but the timing would work out so he said yes and went to prepare the carriage.
Inside the carriage, Liu Fu Ling leaned against the cushion and closed his eyes, as if he was sleeping. But his heart was unsettled. He was afraid to think about Zhu Gong Zhi being the person he was waiting for. All those years, he waited in Chang An, just silently waiting. This is the first time he’s taken the initiative and dared to reach for what he wanted……what he wanted but fate might not be willing to give him.
The wisest decision was to wait to get confirmation. If it was correct, he could make the move. If not, then he can only remain waiting. He rushed down the mountain so quickly that likely people spying on him would see his move. But he was silent and waiting for too long. He was afraid of missing this chance, he was so afraid of what might happen if he let this chance pass him by.
If Zhu Gong Zhi really was her, he had to see her as soon as possible. What if someone had been mean to her? What if she wasn’t happy? What if she wanted to leave Chang An? What if she met someone else? So much could happen in a single day, and he had long ago lost faith in the Heavens.
When he headed down the mountain, there was no wind. But the wind started to pick up, so strong that a person felt like he was being carried away.
Yu An was very unsettled and dared to say “Your majesty, it’s very windy tonight and not good for travel. Let’s go back! The latest tomorrow night we’ll receive news, Your majesty need not make this journey yourself.”
Liu Fu Ling did not open his eyes and said “You can go back.” Yu An immediately replied “Your servant I wouldn’t dare” and retreated to keep guard as they continued on their way.
One black horse, a body covered in a black cloak, Yun Ge rode like the wind. The sharp gusts cut into her face, but the pain only made her happier. It’s been too long since she rode with such wild abandon. Too bad her mount wasn’t Ling Dang, or a Blood Sweat Horse, then she could really enjoy riding unfettered.
Her daddy and mom might not be home. Sometimes when they traveled, it wasn’t odd for them not to come home for two or three years. Second Brother was probably off somewhere journeying. Thank god her lazy Third Brother would be at home. Thinking of Third Brother, she only felt warmth. She even missed Third Brother’s coldness towards her, always acting like he couldn’t be bothered with her.
No wonder people said a girl’s home is her maiden family. When a girl was happy, she wouldn’t miss her family. But when she was sad, the first place she wanted to go was back home.
She once believed that the person who loved her would treat her like his most precious treasure. No matter how others saw her, in his eyes she would be the smartest, the cutest, the prettiest, irreplaceable. She could not be exchanged for a thousand taels of gold in this world. But now she realized that was just a childish dream of a young romantic girl.
People are too complicated, people have too many desires and wants. Perhaps a thousand taels of gold was not enough to be exchanged, but then a million taels of gold might be enough. Or maybe a thousand and one taels of gold is all that it takes to give it up.
Yun Ge felt her eyes fill with tears but she didn’t want to cry another drop for him. She screamed loudly in the wind and the sharp wind hurt her throat so much the pain caused her to swallow her tears.
When she arrived here, Chang An was the capital city of the Han dynasty. The world’s most glamorous city, the most majestic city, and the place she’s been longing to visit since she was a child. Chang An represented her dream, it represented the happiness she thought was always hers.
But now, she never wanted to think about this place again. She wanted to forget everything that happened here.
Yun Ge urged her horse faster….faster so that she can leave all of this behind…..leave it all far far behind…………..
A black horse.
The best way to conceal a black clothed person on a dark black night.
With the face covered, the only thing visible is a pair of eyes.
Even though he knew that rushing to Lu Mountain in the middle of the night he still might not see Liu Fu Ling, but he still needed to decrease the time spent on the road to avoid being detected. Thank god tonight the wind was big so there was few people on the road. Because of the cutting wind, they could also openly cover their faces when traveling.
His delay tactic was almost at a breaking point. Soon Huo Guang would start to be suspicious.
Liu Fu Ling was his only hope now. Since Liu Fu Ling agreed to secretly meet with him, he must know what he wants to say, and will probably agree.
Even though the death of his entire family wasn’t directly caused by Liu Fu Ling, but he always resisted working together with Liu Fu Ling. All he did was work towards his own goals, and watch and judge Liu Fu Ling from afar. He never expected life would push him to this point. Just like he never knew that the Liu Bing Yi he hated since childhood would one day be someone he could discuss things with.
If this happened some time ago, everything would be so simple. He would definitely choose the path that best benefitted him – he would choose to marry Huo Cheng Jun.
Huo Cheng Jun was different than Huo Lian Er. She knew what she wanted and had the power to fight for it. Huo Cheng Jun’s personality was best suited to help him achieve everything he wanted in Chang An.
What remaining use Yun Ge had to him, when compared to Huo Cheng Jun, was negligible.
When he first came to Chang An years ago, he was a simple man without money or connections. Xiao He promised to help him, but as an Infante Duke he was prohibited from using his wealth for anything in Chang An. Plus Xiao He’s power and connections was limited in Chang An. All his plans needed Uncle Feng’s money and connections. But Uncle Feng was greatly influenced by his adoptive father and stayed far away from politics. He would never agree to help him.
Except for Yun Ge. The daughter of the woman his adoptive father loved his entire life. Only she could change things. His adoptive father was like a god in the heart of Uncle Feng, and he was his adoptive father’s only heir. Yun Ge, plus his last name of Meng, could turn everything impossible into something possible.
The reality confirmed what he long suspected. Uncle Feng was enraged that day but when he saw the Gold Silver Flower pin in Yun Ge’s hair, nothing else mattered anymore. What was important was seeing a young man with the last name Meng holding the hand of the girl wearing the Gold Silver Flower hair pin. It finally resolved the sadness in Uncle Feng’s heart about what did not happen long ago.
Now Uncle Feng has handed him all his businesses in the Han dynasty. Even though his other three uncles haven’t handed him the Xi Yu businesses, but compared to the power presented by aligning with the Huo family, those other businesses no longer mattered.
He tried over and over again to convince himself. He even embraced Huo Cheng Jun, even tried to kiss her. He tried to convince himself that “it’s just a woman, if he closed his eyes they are all the same, and Huo Cheng Jun’s looks are comparable to Yun Ge.”
But it wasn’t the same. His mind told him it was the same, but his heart said that it wasn’t the same.
His mind shouted “the same, the same” as he leaned down to kiss Huo Cheng Jun. But his heart clearly told him “not the same, not the same”. And in the last second, right as he was about to kiss Huo Cheng Jun, he pushed her away.
Faced with Huo Cheng Jun’s shocked and incredulous expression, he just smiled and told her that he was overstepping his bounds and dare not do this. But his heart knew that it was because of Yun Ge. He could not let her slip through his hands. It was his little Yun Ge!
When he was at his lowest point, dirty, hopeless, and pathetic, it was Yun Ge who reached out to hold his hand without flinching.
It was Yun Ge who smiled back at him when he derided her.
It was the rich girl that he believed himself to hate for many years, but during those years he remembered every word she said to him, every smile, her green woven skirt, her name.
His three uncles would occasionally mention Yun Ge’s Sky Mountain snow camel named Ling Dang.
Every time it was because he “accidentally” mentioned something which lead to the passing discussion. So each time he perfectly timed his “accidentally” mentioning something.
He tracked the steps of the Sky Mountain snow camel, he tried desperately to find out any information about this girl he loathed.
He found out that she went to the Mu Lake with Ling Dang. She went to the Kong Que River. He learned that Ling Dang accompanied her to the Du Ku Se Mountains, to Tibet, a trip that took three years where all traces were lost of her.
She was so free, living every moment enjoying life.
All the while he diligently studying, practicing martial arts, learning medicine, learning poison, learning the zither, learning to run businesses with his three uncles. During this time, he was keeping an ear on what was happening in the Han dynasty.
He did not waste a single moment of his life.
He worked hard to learn everything, sleeping for only two hours a night. He read books as he was eating. Even in his sleep he was thinking of how to emulate his adoptive father’s every elegant gesture. He used his adoptive father’s perfection to cover up his own aura of rage and pain. He wanted everyone who saw him to have no suspicion. He wanted everyone who once looked down on him to feel ashamed when they compared themselves to him.
He didn’t know if the truth was that he was unconsciously trying to make himself as perfect as possible for when he saw the girl in green again.
Time passed him by as the leaves fell time and again. He quietly waited for his chance to seek revenge. He patiently planned everything. Perhaps…..in his heart, in a place he refused to acknowledge existed, he was also patiently waiting for her to return.
He was waiting for her return and to be reunited with her, and their reunion would be perfect.
He did it! He appeared before her looking impossibly perfect, and this time it was she who was dressed like a beggar. But she didn’t notice him, she didn’t react to him.
She didn’t recognize him?!?
Of course she didn’t recognize him!
Did he mind? Was he fine with her not recognizing him?
He inwardly mocked her idiocy, scoffed at her fake kindness, hated how she didn’t care about anything. But he was not surprised about anything with regards to her.
In those eight years, in the deepest recesses of his heart, he already knew what kind of person she was.
Time and ties binded them. Things happened before he even realized it, and he could no longer rationally erase her from his heart.
In the many times he gazed at her from afar, keeping track of her whereabouts, in the long eight years of his paying attention to her, he had grown accustomed to her in his life.
So right now he can only act like a fool. Instead of staying warm and comfortable in Chang An, he was rushing through the bitter cold wind. Instead of walking a wide safe path, he was choosing to walk a rickety suspension bridge.
This huge wind storm was not suitable for traveling, so along the way Meng Jue didn’t see a single person.
Meng Jue thought he could just travel directly to Lu Mountain. But then he saw a carriage coming towards him, surrounded by guards.
Traveling on such a night, it must be something of vital importance.
Meng Jue was wary and he slowed his horse, moving to the side of the road. Behind him, Liu Yue (June) and Ba Yue (August) also followed and moved aside.
Perhaps it was because of the cold wind, or for other reasons, everyone in that procession was also wearing black cloaks and had their faces covered up, just like Meng Jue and his group.
The guards around the carriage put their hands on their swords as they spotted the three people on the side of the road.
Liu Yue and Ba Yue also tensed and readied themselves. Thankfully the two sides passed each other without incident, and both sides let out a sigh of relief.
Which was when suddenly another group of masked men emerged and attacked the carriage. The carriage was immediately surrounded. Liu Yue and Ba Yue immediately flanked Meng Jue to protect him. They saw the flash of the sword and suddenly all hell broke loose.
This trip, all the eunuchs are martial arts masters. It’s the secret guards that the former Emperor had been training. Despite being outnumbered, Yu An was not afraid. He loudly called out “Kill them ALL!”
Meng Jue knew there was a misunderstanding, especially because the real assassins emerged from the woods right behind him. No matter how you look at it, it would appear that his group was also part of the same group of assassins. It was chaos all around and there was no way to explain. Now that the other side gave the order to kill all, he could do nothing except defend himself. Thus Meng Jue’s group unexpectedly got in the middle of the battle between two sides.
All the eunuchs had been trained since youth to be the best fighters. Not just in martial arts, but also in killing people and torturing people.
The assassins were also good fighters. But who knew they would be faced with a group of eunuchs who had been isolated in Wen Quan Palace training their entire lives. They did nothing except train to protect the Emperor. Because they never got a chance to fight, they were itching to finally unleash their skills now. So everyone of the eunuch guards were even more deadly and vicious than the assassins.
The assassins could not match up and quickly they started to fall under the swords of the eunuchs. And the way they died was also quite painful and vicious.
Liu Fu Ling heard the fighting outside diminish and he rapped on the side of the carriage “Interrogate them.”
Yu An stomped on the ground in frustration at himself. He was so angry earlier he made a mistake. He quickly shouted “Leave some alive.” But in that moment, the only three people alive were Meng Jue’s group of three people.
Yu An immediately flew forward and attacked Meng Jue.
Yu An was trained by the best eunuchs in the Palace since he was three years old, all so that one day he could serve the Crown Prince. He was quite talented, thus Liu Che picked him amongst thousands of eunuchs. Over the years, Yu An’s martial arts could be considered the best in the world.
Meng Jue may have been taught by martial arts masters, but he started learning it when he was older. When he fought against normal people, he was quite good. But faced with a martial arts expert like Yu An, he was completely out-matched.
Liu Yue and Ba Yue were already injured. But the eunuchs around them started playing cat-and-mouse games with them. Not killing them but toying with them, slashing across their bodies in cuts that were not too deep nor too shallow.
Meng Jue kept saying “There’s been a misunderstanding”, but Yu An just wanted to capture him alive and didn’t even care to listen.
Meng Jue’s arrogance was riled and he decided not to explain anymore, just calming down to fight Yu An. His tactics were learned from the Xi Yu assassins and each move was calculated to kill, or at least critically maim.
Because Yu An wanted to capture him alive, and didn’t want to harm him, his actions slowed and became more deliberate. But even though he couldn’t defeat Meng Jue right away, it was only a matter of time before Meng Jue was captured. The other eunuchs guarded the carriage and laughed at the fight where the victor was already clearly determined.
Suddenly there came a sharp scent carried in the wind and a thick fog appeared in the woods. Yu An thought it was another assassin and immediately went back to protect Liu Fu Ling.
Because of the unending court intrigues and battles, all eunuchs carried various poisons and antidotes at all times. It could be used to kill, to save someone, and if need be, to commit suicide with.
Yu An was not afraid of poison since he had ingested various poisons before and was no immune to it all. But for some reason no one was immune to this weird fog and everyone was coughing madly. Their eyes was watering and felt this sharp pain. But it didn’t appear to be poison since everyone still had their strength.
In the fog, everyone’s sword thrusts was off. Meng Jue startled and then he was laughing even as he was coughing. Someone who used spices as a weapon, in this entire world there could be no one else other than his Yun Ge. Since it wasn’t poison, the eunuchs couldn’t deal with it immediately. In truth, the only antidote was to wash their faces and rinse their mouths.
Yu An was afraid of someone else attacking so he could only cough and guard the carriage, watching as a few eunuchs continued to fight with Meng Jue.
Yun Ge, covering her face with a wet cloth, crawled next to Meng Jue in the fog. She tossed something at the eunuchs and screamed “Deadly Five Poison Powder!” The eunuchs immediately jumped back to avoid the powder. Yun Ge grabbed Meng Jue and started to run, with Liu Yue and Ba Yue following behind them.
The eunuchs finally saw that it was just random cooking spices tossed at them. They realized whatever poison couldn’t contain these ingredients. They felt even further enraged to be thus fooled and quickly followed chase.
Yun Ge had started a fire so Meng Jue tossed something in it. Suddenly another gust of white smoke wafted up and it was a fragrant scent instead of the sharp scent of peppers. Meng Jue turned around and called out “Stop chasing us since this time it really is poison. And my poison isn’t just any ordinary poison. Even if you have the antidote, you’ll still be weakened by it.”
The chasing eunuchs tried not to breath but their footsteps became shaky. Just like Meng Jue said, they felt weakened by the smoke.
Yun Ge pointed to the horses left by the other assassins. Meng Jue went to get the horses but Yun Ge remained standing in place. After Meng Jue got on the horse, still Yun Ge didn’t move towards him. He turned his horse around and reached out his hand to pull Yun Ge up on his horse.
Yun Ge stared at Meng Jue but made no move to take his hand.
Yun Ge’s face was normally as clear as the mountain spring and as happy as a wide valley. But right now all that remained was pain and agony in her eyes, with unshed tears. Meng Jue was stunned and he called out “Yun Ge?”
Liu Yue and Ba Yue saw the eunuchs were almost caught up to them and cried out “Gong Zhi!”
“Yun Ge?” Meng Jue cried out again and tried to get his horse closer to her. He leaned down to forcefully pull her on his horse. But Yun Ge jumped away from his reach, and in Meng Jue’s completely disbelieving eyes, she turned her face away from him decisively and then hit his horse on the rump. The horse bolted with Meng Jue, and Liu Yue and Ba Yue immediately followed suit on their horses.
The fire started by Yun Ge was blown by the wind so that all around the woods, there was trees and bushes which caught fire. Thus the horses were spooked and Meng Jue could not control his horse. He could only hunch down to keep from being thrown. He turned around and stared at Yun Ge with eyes filled with complete shock and disbelief. But Yun Ge didn’t even look once at him.
The sky, it was pitch black. But on the ground, the red flames danced. The wind howled around him and the shocked horses raced away from the flames. Meng Jue could only watch as the lone figure slowly disappeared from his view.
Yun Ge grabbed another horse and was getting ready to get on and leave. A eunuch suddenly appeared and saw that everyone had escaped. He was so furious he forget Yu An’s order to capture someone alive. His sword shot out towards Yun Ge.
The moment Yun Ge was about to swing on the horse, she suddenly felt a sharp pain in her back. She lowered her head and stared disbelievingly at her chest. She didn’t know how there could be a sword coming out of her chest. And where did the wetness in her hands come from?
She saw only blackness before her eyes as her hand slid down weakly from the horse, and her body collapsed on the ground.
The horse reared up and whined pitifully, but could not rouse its owner. Under the fire light, her form became a lonely shadow against the pitch black sky.
[End of volume 1]