I really liked how Tong Hua spent all of volume 1 developing the relationship between Yun Ge and Meng Jue. If Yun Ge met her real Ling gege right away, then it’d be game over before Meng Jue even has a chance. And I’m a firm believer that Meng Jue deserves his chance with Yun Ge, and the rest of it ought to be up to the three of them to sort out in the usual messy love triangle ways. But the gritty reality stemming from one mistaken identity is that what ought to be a simple love triangle now expands outward to include Xu Ping Jun and Liu Bing Yi, two commoners who have somehow gotten swept up into Yun Ge’s love life. Without Meng Jue running interference on Liu Bing Yi and secretly assisting Xu Pung Jun, would those two have gotten married? What happens if Liu Bing Yi ever finds out there were forces nudging his future down a certain path? Now that Liu Fu Ling has found Yun Ge, it doesn’t mean that Yun Ge is going to sudden transfer her affections immediately. I suppose some things that are meant to be can’t be stopped, it only means the journey is a rockier path than one initially thought it would be.
Chapter 20: So Close Yet So Far Away
The oak in the courtyard is still broad enough to shade the midday sun. Inside the kitchen, all the jars and pots were neatly arranged, containing the spices she hadn’t finished using.
The book at the head of the pallet was half open, the candle next to the pallet had half remaining.
But the smiling person who loved the shade of the oak tree, who loved to cook, who searched far and wide for a cure for him, that person was no longer here.
The remaining candle had once accompanied their laughter under its light, it had once warmed them with its flickering flame. But right now, the lone shadow it reflected on the wall appeared to be coldly mocking the emptiness of this room.
“Meng dage, still no news on Yun Ge?” Xu Ping Jun hesitantly stood at the door. Meng Jue stared at the flickering flame and didn’t answer. Xu Ping Jun stood by the door for a long time “Meng dage, I’m sorry, I should have kept Yun Ge from leaving.”
Meng Jue sighed softly and turned towards Xu Ping Jun “Ping Jun, you’re pregnant, go home and rest!”
Xu Ping Jun didn’t leave and instead walked into the room. She was biting her lip but couldn’t bring herself to say it, and her eyes started filling with tears. Meng Jue looked at her, and his initial coldness turned into pity. He gestured for her to sit.
“Ping Jun, despite having no news on Yun Ge, I’m not afraid I can’t find her. Perhaps she’s so sad she wants to wander around for awhile. Plus she doesn’t want to see me so she’ll conceal her tracks. But she’ll have to go home at some point, and then I’ll find her.”
Xu Ping Jun asked “So Meng dage already knows Yun Ge’s family? That’s great.”
Meng Jue stared at Xu Ping Jun “Ping Jun, you’ve known Yun Ge for more than a few days now, how can you be so foolish?”
“I…..I thought that if Yun Ge went home, she would be less sad.” Xu Ping Jun bit her lip.
Meng Jue had a slight smile that wasn’t the least bit joyful “I know you’re worried about Liu Bing Yi. Since Yun Ge met Bing Yi, she’s been extraordinary towards him. She listens to him on everything. But since Yun Ge never tried to fight you for him since the beginning, even now when I’ve hurt her, she won’t be fighting you for Liu Bing Yi either. How can you think so little of Yun Ge? And so little of yourself? How could she ever want to share Liu Bing Yi with you? Its a shame that Yun Ge has treated you like her older sister.”
Xu Ping Jun burst into tears now that all her hidden secrets were laid out in the open.
In the past few days, Liu Bing Yi and Meng Jue have been busy searching for Yun Ge. Liu Bing Yi is as solicitous of her as always, but Meng Jue has been quite cold to her. But she wasn’t afraid of Meng Jue’s coldness. She didn’t know why, but her instinct told her that Meng Jue may blame her for Yun Ge leaving, but he wasn’t angry at her. And he somehow understood her. Rather it was Liu Bing Yi’s solicitous attitude towards her that made her uneasy.
The man before her was elegant and refined, with wealth to rival nations. Underneath his gentleness was a wild arrogance. Be it an Infante Duke or Huo Guang, no one could bend him to their will. But this person residing high high above them all, strangely he had the same soul as her. A soul that came from the bottom of society’s darkest and most selfish of places. It contained a struggle to achieve a dream regardless of the price to be paid.
She knew that her instinct was absurd. How could Meng Jue be like her? But she still got that feeling from him, since the first day she met him, that was her impression of his real nature. Those selfish wants she hid away deep inside, those shameful wants, in front of Meng Jue it didn’t seem so wrong. It seemed normal and acceptable even.
“Meng dage, I….I’m just afraid. Yun Ge is smart and beautiful, and nice. The nicer she is, the more I’m afraid. Liu Bing Yi can read and write. I can’t but Yun Ge can. Liu Bing Yi’s poems, I don’t understand, but Yun Ge does. Liu Bing Yi’s Go tactics, I can’t make heads or tails, but Yun Ge can challenge him and make him laugh. And Bing Yi…….I can’t read his thoughts, whether it was before we got married or now. Sometimes I don’t even know if he’s happy or sad. Take the last few days, I rather he get mad at me for not keeping Yun Ge from leaving. But he’s said nothing at all, just being really nice to me. He’s afraid I’ll get tired so he does all the chores. He’s afraid I’m bored at home so he takes me out for walks. He thinks I’m not smiling so he tells me jokes to cheer me up. It’s almost like Yun Ge never once existed in our lives, and her leaving has had no impact on us. Meng dage, I don’t know Bing Yi’s feelings. The less I know, the less secure I feel, and the more I’m afraid. I am someone who has nothing. I have a barely there father, my mother doesn’t like me, in this world I only have Bing Yi………I know I shouldn’t, but I……………..I have to protect the only thing I have. Meng dage………..I’m sorry………..I have to protect……….”
Xu Ping Jun started sobbing and could only apologize. Meng Jue handed her a handkerchief “I understand. You didn’t do anything wrong. Everyone has the right and power to protect their own happiness.” Xu Ping Jun was stunned that the person who should blame her the most was instead understanding of her “Meng dage, I………….” She felt terrible and she could only cry even harder.
“Ping Jun, you may be smart, but you don’t have vision. You see only what is before you, your heart hasn’t opened to greater possibilities. So your little smarts made you do something underhanded. Your tactics may be fine with an ordinary guy, but Bing Yi is not an ordinary guy. One day your methods will backfire on you.”
Xu Ping Jun stopped crying and stared at Meng Jue, and then remembering what Yun Ge said to her “Meng dage, before Yun Ge left, she said to me that love is like water. If I try too hard to keep it, it’ll seep out until not a drop is remaining. I thought she was talking about herself, but really she was……….she was talking about me?”
Meng Jue looked saddened, while Xu Ping Jun slowly came to grips with what Yun Ge was trying to tell her. In that moment, all her pain and regret came back rushing back “Meng dage, Yun Ge was just like you. She could see through my hidden thoughts. That is why she was in such a rush to leave. She was made at you, but it was also because…..because of me.”
Meng Jue smiled sadly but said nothing, not denying what Xu Ping Jun said. To Yun Ge, all the precious material objects in the world was like a passing breeze, only love and affection are most important to her, and the only thing that can keep her in one place.
In one short day, she lost her love, and shortly afterwards she discovered that her close friendship was teetering precariously. What was there left in Chang An that could keep her? She turned and left, perhaps running away from a failed relationship, but also preserving a precious friendship.
At that moment when Yun Ge was leaving, how much pain must she have been feeling. That other worldly fairy could not dance happily once again, thinking that it must’ve been a mistake for her to even come to Chang An.
Under the darkness of the oak tree was Liu Bing Yi, who had been silently standing there for quite some time. He silently turned and left, disappearing into the darkness. He only heard about half of what was discussed inside the room, but what they were discussing he already guessed most of it. What was surprising was how close Xu Ping Jun and Meng Jue had become as friends. When did the two of them have that sort of kindred understanding?
Xu Ping Jun continued to sob with her head down. Meng Jue’s frustration with her was long gone and he only pitied her now “Ping Jun, you want to protect your happiness, but are your methods correct? The person before you this time was Yun Ge, who didn’t fight with you. What if one day Bing Yi met a girl who was beautiful and smart and knew everything Yun Ge knew, and this woman wanted to fight you for Bing Yi. What will do you?”
Xu Ping Jun’s mouth was wide open “I….I…..she…..she won’t………” She couldn’t even get out one full sentence. She wanted to say such a perfect girl didn’t belong in her world with Bing Yi, but then again, how did Yun Ge stumble her way into their world? And how did Meng Jue become their friend? She wanted to say that Bing Yi would never discard her? But then she was always afraid Bing Yi would leave her for Yun Ge. Each time she saw them talking about things she didn’t understand, it made her heart hurt so much.
After some time, she wiped away her tears and stared at Meng Jue “Meng dage, tell me what I need to do.” Meng Jue silently praised her “You keep reaching for those things far away from you, so why don’t you consider walking closer to those things so they are nearer to you?” Xu Ping Jun furrowed her brows “Walk closer?”
“You say Yun Ge can read Bing Yi’s writing but you can’t. Have you thought about learning to read? You can ask Bing Yi, ask Yun Ge, learn ten characters a day. You say you don’t you understand what they are discussing? If you don’t, ask Yun Ge. Once you figure it out, next time you can join in. Those books on Yun Ge’s bookshelf, if you wanted to read it, she would gladly explain to you. Learning the zither and painting, you couldn’t afford to as a child, but now you are surrounded by people who will teach you for free. If you feel ashamed about this, then why don’t you do something to erase that shame?”
Xu Ping Jun’s heart thundered. She never once thought about it that way! She only envied and admired what Yun Ge had, she only worried about what Bing Yi was thinking, she never thought about herself. She secretly was jealous of Yun Ge, was angry at Bing Yi, but through it all, she was the one who was wrong each step of the way.
“Meng dage, I understand now. I thought those things I didn’t know made me from a different world than Bing Yi. Then I need to work hard to enter his world and not try to pull him into mine or prevent others from entering.” Xu Ping Jun felt freed by this epiphany.
She was living inside a well, knowing there was a greater world outside, but all she could see was the opening in the well. She admired the world outside, she hated the darkness of her world, but she didn’t know how to change it. The more time passed, the more her world became darker and her emotions became more twisted.
She hated herself for hurting Yun Ge, who was always true to her. She missed the old her, who was open and candid, back when she first met Yun Ge. But she was crouched at the floor of the well trying desperately to grab onto her sunlight, but each time she reached for it, she couldn’t jump out of the well and only ended up sinking deeper into the mud. But now, she knew how to climb out of that well and enter the world above. It was slow and hard, but she’s not afraid. She can work hard and follow the ladder that Meng Jue has pointed her towards. She can walk out of her darkness.
Meng Jue said “If you want to learn anything, come find me. If I don’t have time, then San Yue and them would love to help you.” Xu Ping Jun got up and bowed to him “Big brother, than you.” Meng Jue wanted to help her but realized she took off his surname and just called him big brother for the first time. He felt this warmth inside and allowed her to bow to him.
After Xu Ping Jun left, he was alone in the room. Meng Jue absentmindedly reached for a book to pass the time when he noticed Yun Ge’s notes on the side. Her notes were weird, just drawings actually. If she liked a passage, she would draw a smiley sun. If she didn’t like it, she would draw a wilted flower.
Meng Jue stared at a happy sun and in his eyes flashed fire and smoke and the look of utter despair in Yun Ge’s eyes. He abruptly closed the book.
Yun Ge, where are you right now?
Chang An, Huo Estate.
The Huo family now controlled all the guards serving Wei Yang Palace (the Emperor’s residence), but could only guard the doors and could not walk around freely. To keep track of the Emperor’s every move, they needed an eunuch or serving girl loyal to them. But the assignment of servants was under Yu An’s control, and Yu An was deathly loyal to the Emperor. Thus there was not a single servant working for the Huo family that was close to the Emperor.
Huo Yu tried many times to test Yu An, each time he got nowhere. In a rage, he decided to go for broke, and send a pack of assassins to kill Yu An and clip the Emperor’s wing. Afterwards the Emperor’s servants would all be loyal to the Huo family.
Who knew that the assassins would all be dispatched, and not even a corpse could be found. When he saw Yu An at Lu Mountain afterwards, Yu An didn’t have even a hair out of place and was his usual smirking self. Now he finally knew why even his father was wary of this person. And he also finally knew why his father kept repeating “The former Emperor would not have selected a useless servant in such an important position.”
Huo Yu grew up sheltered by his father, everything was according to his wishes. He had never been thwarted before and right now he was so angry he felt like exploding. But all he could do was fly into a rage in front of Huo Yun and Huo Shan.
Huo Yun tried to counsel him “Big brother, we did this alone and without consulting Uncle. Let it go now, otherwise if Uncle found out, we would all be done for.” Huo Shan wasn’t that easy to persuade “So we’ll let that neutered man stay there and thumb his nose at us? All the people we send in, other than the servants in Shu Fang Pavilion with Xiao Mei, all the rest have been dealt with by him and we’ve lost countless good servants.”
Huo Yun glared at Huo Shan “Second brother, stop fanning the flames! We didn’t lose those servants for nothing, now we know what Yu An is capable of. If we bide our time, we can deal with him.” He turned to Huo Yu “Big brother, a gentleman can wait ten years to seek revenge. Uncle took how many years to dispatch Shang Guan Jie?”
Huo Yu understood what Huo Yun was saying. If his father found out, he would be in a world of trouble. He had to swallow this anger. He nodded “Younger brother Yun is correct, let’s pretend this never happened. No one shall mention it again. Yu An……..” Huo Yu coldly huffed “Don’t you ever land in my hands if you want to stay alive!”
Why the word for “worrying” has a fire radical under both characters, this is the first time Yu An finally realized the reason. The last few days, the Emperor was like an ant on a hot stove, slowly roasting alive. Every moment, every waking second, he was worrying with heated flames that licked at his heart.
The unconscious person was the fire that was boiling the Emperor’s feelings of guilt and pain into the most boiling of soups. If that person never regained consciousness, and the most bitter soup in the world boiled over, what will the Emperor do then?
Yu An shuddered. He dared not even consider that possibility. He said to himself “She’ll wake up, we have the best doctors in the Han dynasty, the best. She will wake up.”
He saw Dr. Zhang walk out and hurried forward “Doctor?” Dr. Zhang bowed to Yu An. His father was a famed palace physician and both father-son have the same straightforward honest personality. Liu Fu Ling liked Dr. Zhang’s candidness so Yu An wanted to be helpful and went forward and helped him up.
Dr. Zhang explained “The injury is serious and severe, and also waited too long to be treated. My medical skills are limited, and I have done the best medicine can offer. The rest is up to the Heavens.”
After Yu An heard this, he knew Dr. Zhang said the same thing to the Emperor already. His heart sank and he sighed. He gestured to Dr. Zhang “You are a great and knowledgeable doctor. This matter…..ay! It’s not your fault, its all my fault.”
Dr. Zhang also sighed “Everyone thinks the best doctors are royal physicians, but that is not true. The best doctors may be found hidden in the regular world. I heard my father mention a talented physician from years ago who could be the rebirth of the famed God-like doctor of legend. The rest of us are merely tools to advance the profession. If he could treat Ms. Yun, then the situation may be greatly different.”
Yu An’s eyes widened “Where is that person now? I will find someone to seek him.” Dr. Zhang shook his head “If I knew where he was, I would have told the Emperor and had someone sent to find him already. As a doctor yet my skills are so limited…..ay! My father said he left Chang An years ago and no one knows where he went. I can only hope he passed on his knowledge to a good disciple so that his learning would not be lost. Otherwise its not just a blow to the medical profession, it is a sadness to the people of the world.”
Yu An’s disappointment was written all over his face. After accepting Dr. Zhang’s bow and watching him slump away, he wanted to go into the room and relieve the Emperor. But when he arrived at the door, he heard the sound of a flute playing.
Peering through the beaded curtains, there was a young woman laying on the pallet with her black hair framing her beautiful face. Beside her sat a young man next to her pallet, his face clear and refined. Right now that young man was playing the flute for the young woman.
Normally the music from the Emperor’s flute was like his person, cold and dispassionate. But this time the sound of his flue was different than before. Within the coldness seeped years of longing and emotional connection.
Yu An turned and left the room.
The world inside the beaded curtain belonged only to the two of them. It was the reunion that the Emperor had been waiting the past nine years for.
Liu Fu Ling saw Yun Ge’s tightly furrowed brows slowly relax under the sound of his flute, which made him feel better. When the song ended, he leaned down to whisper in Yun Ge’s ear “Yun Ge, I know you are not completely unaware. You will wake up, and I will be waiting here until you do. You promised to come see me, you can’t break your promise…….”
Liu Fu Ling’s heart leapt and he turned to look at Yun Ge, only to realize that it was the murmurings of someone who was still unconscious. But after the wave of disappointment passed, a warmth seeped into his heart, a combination of joy and ache.
Yun Ge still remembered him, she still thought about him.
Even though he knew she couldn’t possibly hear him, and that “Ling gege” wasn’t her calling him directly, but he still solemnly grasped Yun Ge’s had and vowed “Yun Ge, I am here.”
Yun Ge’s brow furrowed again, she appeared to be in great pain. Liu Fu Ling quickly checked her wound “Is the wound hurting again?”
Yun Ge’s brows appeared to be concealing a lot of pain and her lips moved. Liu Fu Ling quickly leaned down to listen to what she wanted to say.
“Bad….Shi To (rock)……”
The rest of her mumblings trailed off into unintelligible sounds, appearing not important.
But Liu Fu Ling’s heart, in the repeated mumblings, gradually turned colder and colder as it descended down into a dark abyss without sunlight.