I honestly can say that Yun Zhong Ge is a difficult read. The characters are so multifaceted that its hard to take sides without also feeling something tugging from the other end. In essence, we are all Yun Ge, stuck between a perfect guy and a compelling guy. I confess that one of my gripes about the novel is that I think Tong Hua is a leading writer (as I think she did in Da Mo Yao as well), which is she does direct the resolution of emotional knots in a way that skews towards her preferences. I would say that its realistic for Yun Ge to be unable to open herself up to Ling gege right away, because she was genuinely madly in love with Meng Jue. Nor is Meng Jue an easy guy to get over. But I enjoy watching Yun Ge and Ling gege reconnect in ways beyond the romantic, as they really are lonely kindred spirits who bonded so quickly as children not just for the sake of the story, but in a way that felt so touching and extraordinary. To see the extent of which they just “get” each other makes me believe in all those platitudes about meant to be.
Chapter 21: One Year Promise (part II):
Yun Ge’s health gradually returned and she regained her strength. But because the sword stab was so severe, even with the best doctors and medicine, it still left an uncurable cough rooted in her.
Liu Fu Ling was upset by this and secretly ordered all the physicians in the Palace to go research the best cure and treatment for coughing. Anyone who succeeded would be greatly rewarded.
Yun Ge herself didn’t care much “My life was saved and that is already a great miracle. Having an occasional cough is no big deal.”
In the mountains, the sun, the moon, and the time all passed like water flowing. When Yun Ge was injured, it was already late Summer. By the time she was fully recovered, it was early Winter.
She tried her best not to think of that person. During the day it was easier, she found things to do to occupy herself. But at night when she was alone, it was impossible for her not to be sad.
She thought that he must together with Ms. Huo by now. She told herself it didn’t matter to her anymore, but then she remembered how he held her in the wind that day and grabbed her hair and said “Hair knotted, Heart knotted.” Yet now he must be helping Ms. Huo put a hair pin in her hair.
The only happy development was that her anger towards him had lessened. Hate and anger was like the legendary poison of Xi Yu, it can spread and eat away at one’s insides, creating the most excruciating of pain.
Yun Ge didn’t like to hate anyone. He wasn’t true to her, yet conversely she wasn’t true to Ling gege.
All those promises of forever rang in her ears, but those promises could not withstand the temptations and struggles of life. She couldn’t withstand his temptation. He couldn’t withstand the temptation of seeking power. So now she didn’t hate him anymore. If she wanted to hate, then she ought to hate herself first. She ought to hate herself for not having the insight to see what kind of person he was. She ought to hate herself for being so clueless and so self-absorbed.
She saw Liu Fu Ling walk in and she quickly stood up from where she had been staring at a burning stalk of incense in a daze. Liu Fu Ling’s eyes briefly darkened and Yun Ge knew that her attempts to cover it up only made it more obvious. Plus it was impossible for her to conceal anything she was feeling from him. She decided to not put on a pretend happy face and quietly stood there, staring at him.
Liu Fu Ling walked up to her and returned her stare for awhile, finally sighing softly. He pulled her into his embrace “What needs to be done to make you smile like before? It might be easier if I can just give you the world to entertain you.”
Yun Ge wanted to push him away, but when she heard him say that in such a low voice, it pressed down on her so much her heart ached. She suddenly felt weak and let her head rest on his shoulder, feeling the urge to cry.
If certain things didn’t happen, how happy would the two of them be right now?
Liu Fu Ling quietly embraced her for some time before suddenly saying “Did you say that you are convalescing for so long you might get sick from being cooped up? How about I accompany down the mountain for a stroll? Do you want to go?”
Yun Ge thought about it, and then nodded.
Yu An heard the Emperor wanted to go down the mountain and quickly ordered servants readied but the Emperor wouldn’t allow it. Yu An had no choice but to have the guards go undercover and secretly follow behind them. Yun Ge still didn’t know where she was and on the way down the mountain she realized how remote it was. It took some time to even get to a main road, and looking back she could see the residence discreetly hidden.
“Where are we?” Liu Fu Ling was silent for a moment “Lu Mountain.” Because Yun Ge was not familiar with the Emperor’s many residences, she didn’t connect this together. She only silently sighed knowing that she was still so close to Chang An.
They so happened to arrive on market day so the streets were crowded with people and was extra boisterous. There was a good harvest this year, and with the lowered taxes, the price of goods appeared to have gone down so the shoppers were extra happy. In addition to buying household essentials, people were once again buying frivolous items and gifts, so the sellers were happy and there was much conversation and laughter all around.
Yun Ge smiled “Compared to when I first arrived in the Han dynasty, the mood is greatly different. This Emperor is a good Emperor, and Huo Guang is also good.”
This was the first time Liu Fu Ling had been to a market place outside of Chang An. He saw all the people coming to and from and how full of energy it was, so different than his life in the Palace. Despite the noisy chatter, he actually liked this rowdy environment.
Because this was normal, so it felt warm to him. The two of them were constantly jostled by people and Liu Fu Ling was afraid of losing Yun Ge so he grabbed her hand. He held her hand and allowed her to lead him wherever she wanted on the street.
The two of them were just wandering for fun, which made it difficult for Yu An, who needed to keep an eye on all directions at once. But when he saw Liu Fu Ling’s eyes were filled with warmth, Yu An felt this was all worth it.
They came to a plaza where a crowd of people were gathered in a circle around something. Yun Ge immediately pulled Liu Fu Ling and tried to squeeze in. She could heard people in front laughing and making sounds of amazement.
“Look at this imp!”
“They are brothers, right?”
“Based on looks, they might be twins?”
“Where are their parents? How did they come here to play by themselves? Have they eaten yet?”
Yun Ge made a circle and still couldn’t squeeze it. She turned to Yu An and had an idea “Yu An, do you want to go see what’s inside?”
Under Liu Fu Ling’s stare, how could Yu An say no? He smiled and said yes. Yun Ge smiled back “I have an idea. Just shout “that’s my nephews in there!” and people will let you in.”
Yu An relaxed thinking this wasn’t a big deal, so he took a deep breath and yelled “Move way, move way, it’s my nephews in there!”
The people on the outside didn’t know anything so they made way, the people on the inside were shocked and also quickly made way. Yu An was yelling the same thing again when he finally saw what was inside and his words got stuck in his mouth.
It was dead silence all around. Everyone stared at Yu An with expressions of shock and awe.
Inside were two identical little monkeys playing with each other. When everyone got quiet, they looked up and stared with their bright eyes and tails twitching.
Yun Ge muffled her laughter and quickly pulled Liu Fu Ling aside a few steps and said in a small voice “We don’t know this guy” as she pointed to Yu An.
A few seconds later, everyone burst out laughing. The two monkeys got excited and started hooting and doing flips and scratching their butts. A person said with a laugh “We were worried that these two monkeys somehow got there and might starved to death during the Winter if no one took care of them. Now the monkey’s Uncle is here, that’s great! Will Uncle please take your nephews home now.”
Yu An’s face was flashing crimson and white, while Yun Ge was laughing so hard she was doubled over.
Liu Fu Ling was afraid she would start coughing so he quickly patted her back and said to Yu An “Big brother Yu, let’s take them home. We can release them in the wild shortly, and this will be a good deed big brother will earn.”
Yu An stared in shock at Liu Fu Ling, and it was the first time in many years that Yu An dared to meet Liu Fu Ling’s direct stare.
Liu Fu Ling was supporting the green-robed girl by his side and his face had no expression, but his eyes were twinkling with mirth. At this moment, he was not the man higher than everyone else all alone on top. He was no longer without the emotions of happiness and anger. Right now he was just a normal man who was coddling the woman beside him.
Yu An felt his eyes turn misty and he quickly lowered his head and said yes. Yu An accepted the monkeys but kept his poker face on. When Yun Ge spoke with him, he just answered yes or no, on the surface polite, but not really talking to her.
Yun Ge turned to Liu Fu Ling for help, but Liu Fu Ling just fed the monkeys with the food in his hand. “You caused this mess, you fix it.”
Yun Ge ran next to Yu An and kept apologizing “Big brother Yu, I didn’t know it was two monkeys inside. I thought it was some lost kids. Big brother Yu, its not a bad thing to be the uncle to monkeys! Look how cute these two monkeys are!”
Yu An muttered “That cute, how come you didn’t tell the world you are the Aunt.” Yun Ge laughed “Forget about being my nephews, they can be my sons if they wanted! My mom was raised by wolves, so I guess my grandmother must be a wolf then. I don’t mind having monkeys for my sons……”
Yu An’s anger turned to laughter in Yun Ge’s teasing “You’re not even married, how can you say son constantly. Aren’t you embarrassed? Who’s your sons’ daddy then?”
The moment Yu An said that, he remembered that Yun Ge was the mother, he was the Uncle, and the Emperor just called him big brother, which would make the Emperor the two monkeys’……
He wanted to burst out laughing but he didn’t dare, but it was so painful to keep it in. Yun Ge knew she said the wrong thing as well so she snuck a peek at Liu Fu Ling. Turned out Liu Fu Ling was also looking at her so the two of them met each other’s eyes directly. He looked amused while Yun Ge’s face turned bright red.
She stomped her foot and turned around to leave “You two ganged up to mock me!”
Liu Fu Ling ordered Yu An to handle the monkeys and went to chase after Yun Ge. Who knew she was suddenly running back with her face all white. She grabbed Liu Fu Ling’s arm and he asked “What’s going on?”
Yun Ge didn’t answer him, just dragging him into the closest store. The store sold ceramics and in the courtyard was ceramic urns of various sizes. Some were huge for storing water, some medium sized for storing rice, and some smaller for storing pickled vegetables. Yun Ge looked around and saw there was no place to hide. She heard sound coming from outside and in her haste, she pulled Liu Fu Ling with her as they both jumped into a huge water urn.
The water urn was quite large but with two people inside it was barely large enough to contain them. Yun Ge and Liu Fu Ling sat facing each other, so tightly pressed together it was like they were in an intimate embrace. Yun Ge softly said “I’m so addled-brained. They don’t know you, and I didn’t need to drag you in here to hide with me.”
Liu Fu Ling didn’t show any emotion, but his sadness was hard to hide in his eyes.
When Liu Bing Yi heard from his followers that a girl resembling Yun Ge was spotted at the marketplace. he immediately got Meng Jue and they rushed over. They did see someone like her, but before they could get close, the girl disappeared into the crowd.
In the past few months, Meng Jue used all his information networks and contacts from the desert region to Xi Yu but could find no trace of Yun Ge. It was almost like she evaporate into thin air without leaving a single trace. He couldn’t even find out who the two sides were that was fighting that night.
From his initial shock to his worry, he started to wonder if Yun Ge actually escaped that night. Did something unexpected happen to her? Was she dead or alive? His fear and worry caused him to be sleepless every night.
After they searched the area and couldn’t find her, the two of them stood outside the ceramic store and looked dejected. Liu Bing Yi sighed “Perhaps it was a mistake.” Meng Jue was silent for a moment before his palm shot out and shattered the ceramic store display “Not, it must be her.”
Yun Ge, who was hiding in the urn, subconsciously shuddered. Liu Fu Ling quickly reached out and embraced her with both of his arms, as if he wanted to shield Yun Ge from anything that could hurt her.
The store owner came running out all angry but he shut up when Meng Jue glared darkly at him and tossed him a gold leaf “None of your business, go back to sleep.” The owner grabbed the gold leaf and ran into the store and hid under the counter.
Meng Jue said to Liu Bing Yi “She disappeared around here, so order all the stores nearby searched.” Meng Jue then personally walked into the ceramics store. No matter how big or small the urn, he shattered each one he encountered with a resounding bang.
Yun Ge didn’t understand what Meng Jue was thinking. He was the one who used her. He was the one always at the Huo Estate. He was the only seeking more power and connections. He was the one embracing Huo Cheng Jun tenderly. Since he wanted Huo Cheng Jun, why does he want to find her? He can’t be thinking that she would agree to share a husband with Huo Cheng Jun?
Liu Fu Ling saw Yun Ge’s ashen face and knew that Meng Jue was still very important in Yun Ge’s heart. Because he was important, that was why he affected her, and why she was afraid to see him. She was afraid she would still have feelings for him.
The sound of breaking urns got closer and closer to them. Liu Fu Ling whispered in Yun Ge’s ear “If you don’t want to see him, I can send him away.” Yun Ge shook her head.
On the outside Meng Jue looked like a gentleman, but in truth he was brazen and fearless. And right now, he wasn’t even pretending to wear his gentlemanly facade. It was clear that he was going to tear this neighborhood apart until he found her. Ling gege was just an ordinary man and didn’t know any martial arts. How could he block Meng Jue and send him away?
Yun Ge suddenly grabbed Liu Fu Ling’s hand “Can you tell a fib with me? Be my husband. I’ll tell him we’re engaged, tell him to stop coming to bother me…..” Liu Fu Ling’s eyes were filled with heartbreak as he interjected “Yun Ge, we already are engaged to each other.”
Yun Ge was stunned to remember. Yes, they had exchanged their tokens and are an engaged couple………… Yun Ge’s hand weakened and slowly slid down from his hand, but Liu Fu Ling tightly gripped her hand again.
The footsteps got closer and Yun Ge’s heart was a jumbled mess. Fear, pain, anger, frustration, shame, sadness, aching, everything gathering in her heart and tore at her and pulled at her. She felt like her heart was being rendered into pieces. But at this moment, only the hand tightly holding onto her could protect her.
She tightly clasped Liu Fu Ling’s hand back and smiled at him. Her eyes were no longer filled with nervous worry and fear.
Yun Ge heard Meng Jue break the urn right next to theirs and knew he was about to see them. She took a deep breath and conjured up all her courage to face him. Meng Jue raised his palm and was about to strike the urn when he heard a voice call out “Isn’t that Mr. Meng?”
Meng Jue stopped and turned around, waving back with a smile “Yu……..” Yu An quickly gestured “We’re out and about, no need for formalities. Since I’m older than you, if you don’t object, you can call me Brother Yu!”
Meng Jue smiled “I shall be honored to. Why is Brother Yu here?” Yu An laughed “Out running some errands and when walking past here and saw you breaking urns, I got curious and came in to check. If you need any help, let me know.”
Meng Jue smiled and turned to walk out “Nothing important. The store owner upset me and I flew into a momentary rage. Since Brother Yu is out, if you have time, can I take you out for a drink?” Meng Jue and Yu An chatted happily as they walked out of the store.
The moment they stepped out, a few eunuchs ran in to escort Liu Fu Ling and Yun Ge out, where a carriage was waiting to whisk them back to Lu Mountain.
Yun Ge’s mind was a confused mess. Meng Jue and Yu An knew each other. And Meng Jue was very deferential to Yu An and slightly fearful. In fact, he was as deferential to Yu An as he was to Huo Guang. Yet Yu An was simply Ling gege’s personal servant.
Yun Ge silently sat in the carriage, and Liu Fu Ling also sat there in silence. The only sound was the carriage as it rumbled over the mountain roads.
When they returned to the residence, Liu Fu Ling ordered everyone out “Yun Ge, is there something you want to ask me?”
Yun Ge grabbed her hair pin and poked at the lamp fire “In the past, I thought that if I treated someone well, they would treat me well back. If I treated someone with honesty, they would treat me with honesty back. But I’ve now learned that isn’t the case. People in this world are complicated – they lie, cheat, betray, hurt others. I won’t ever lie to someone, but now I now longer people believe so easily. But…….” Yun Ge turned and stared at Liu Fu Ling “………..Ling gege, I believe you. So if even you are lying to me, then who can I believe? I just want to know the truth, please tell me.”
Liu Fu Ling silently stared at Yun Ge. Yun Ge saw in his eyes the familiar look of dark despair he always had, containing a sense of helplessness. Yun Ge’s heart ached. All she wanted was to make him happy, since she was a child and even now, that is all she wanted. “Ling gege, if you don’t want to tell me, then forget it. Maybe later……….”
Liu Fu Ling shook his head “My name has three characters, not two. Between Liu and Ling there is another character of Fu.”
Yun Ge dropped the hair pin she was playing with the lamp fire with and it doused the flame, sending the room into darkness. Yun Ge murmured to herself “Liu Fu Ling, Liu Fu Ling……….Ling gege, your name…..you have the same name as the Emperor of the Han dynasty!”
Liu Fu Ling moved over to sit next to Yun Ge and he grabbed her hand “Yun Ge, no matter who I am, I am still me, I am always your Ling gege.”
Yun Ge felt like her world was spinning. How could Ling gege be the Emperor? How could this be? “Ling gege, you’re not the Emperor, right?”
She stared at him wide-eyed, hoping and praying his answer would be that he wasn’t. Liu Fu Ling couldn’t bear to return her pleading look and he pulled Yun Ge into his embrace. He paid no heed to her struggles and held her tightly “Yun Ge, I am me. In the past, in the present, in the future, I am forever your Ling gege.”
Yun Ge hit Liu Fu Ling’s chest repeatedly, trying to push him away. But Liu Fu Ling continued to hold her tightly, letting her strike him as she wanted, but refusing to let her go. After Yun Ge hit him a few times, she finally started crying “I don’t like the Emperor. I don’t like it! Can you not be the Emperor, okay? Can’t we just live like this? Build a home in the mountains, we can live peacefully and quietly. You love reading exploration books and there aren’t many written. We can travel and gather experiences and you can write it all down. I can write my recipe book as well………….”
Liu Fu Ling pulled Yun Ge’s face into his shoulder while his eyes showed a gutwrenching type of despair. He could only repeat over and over again “I’m sorry, I’m sorry……….”
Because of his identity, his life was already filled with so much hopelessness, things he could not change. So he did his best to not let his identity create more hopelessness for anyone else around him.
When he ate Zhu Gong Zhi’s food, he didn’t want to own the chef because as the Emperor he could. He didn’t want the chef to feel hopeless and constrained because of his own whim. But right now, he was letting Yun Ge feel this same sense of hopelessness. This was the one thing he never wanted to happen, and yet, it has become something he cannot change.
It’s already the dead of night, silence all around. Yun Ge suddenly sat up on the pallet and deftly put on her clothes. She looked around the room to make sure nothing belonged to her. As she was moving to leave, she suddenly turned around and took the notebook from the table, the one that Liu Fu Ling would fill out for her.
Yun Ge left the room by flipping through the window. She ran a short distance, running and running, but then she stopped and looked back towards his residence. It was dark there, the lights having been turned off. He’s likely deep in his sleep.
All these years in her mind, the Ling gege she was looking for so long, he turned out to be exactly like she remembered and imagined he would be. She doesn’t need to say anything, and he already knows everything she’s thinking. But then why is he the Emperor? If he’s the Emperor, does that make him not her Ling gege anymore?
Yun Ge didn’t want to answer her own question. Call her cowardly, call her selfish, but right now she just wanted to escape from it all. Since she was injured, it felt like her mind was never fully clear. Before one shock was absorbed, another shock arrived. Right now she just wanted to be far away from the people and the things that were happening.
She finally made up her mind and turned to leave. She didn’t know when, but Liu Fu Ling was silently standing behind her. In the dark night, his eyes are also dark, unable to show what he’s thinking. Yun Ge stared numbly at Liu Fu Ling, and after some time, she abruptly lowered her head and tried to walk past him.
“Yun Ge” Liu Fu Ling was holding something which he handed to her. In that moment, Yun Ge’s heart thumped and she couldn’t take another step. A tiny leek green embroidered shoe rested in Liu Fu Ling’s palm, on top of the shoe was a pearl the size of a thumb. It was glittering a soft light under the stars.
Yun Ge slowly reached out and took it, the warmth still remaining, likely he kept it against his body always.
“Okay, I’ll wait for you in Chang An.”
“Pinky swear, promise, one hundred years, it won’t change.”
“Do you know what it means when a girl gives an embroidered shoe to a man?”
“I accept it. Yun Ge, you also must remember!”
“With the stars as witness, no regrets or change.”
That night was also like tonight, the sky full of stars. Under the same star-filled sky, the same person standing there. Such stars, such a night, wasn’t this what she had imagined countless times. But why, why was it so bittersweet.
Liu Fu Ling’s eyes landed on the embroidered shoe in Yun Ge’s hand “Yun Ge, I just want one year’s time. I’ve waited for nine years, please at least give me time to hear your stories. In these nine years you must’ve been to even more places. I just want to know and understand the things you’ve done. And give me a chance, to tell you what I’ve been doing here for the past nine years. Don’t you care?”
Yun Ge couldn’t finish. How could she not care? Countless night she laid on the roof looking at the stars, thinking of what Ling gege was doing. She even purposely kept track of what she was doing on specific hours of specific days of specific years, so when she reunited with Ling gege, she would ask him what he was doing at the exact same time. And whether he was thinking of her? There were so many words accumulated over the years she wanted to say to him……
Liu Fu Ling took the embroidered shoe back from Yun Ge “Just one year. If you still want to leave after one year, I will return this pearl embroidered shoe to you. At that time you and I will no longer have any promise to each other. But right now, I want you to fulfill the promise you made years ago.”
Yun Ge suddenly laughed “Ling gege, you are so smart. It’s my fault for being such a dummy years ago, and now that I’m all grown I’m still a dummy. Fine! One year’s promise.” She turned towards her residence “One year from now when I leave, you don’t need to send me off.”
Liu Fu Ling stood there, with his hands tightly gripping the embroidered shoe, staring as Yun Ge’s figure slowly disappeared into her room. Long after she had entered her room, he was still standing in place. He raised his head and looked at the night sky. The darkness was low and it was dotted with stars, an everlasting type of beauty. Such stars, such a night.