It’s here – the famous chapter Lily Boat Night Song in volume 2 of Yun Zhong Ge, the one Tong Hua wrote just for Liu Fu Ling. I’d be remiss not to share it with everyone, especially since it’s not just a fun chapter, it also heralds a dreaded moment in Liu Fu Ling’s life. What struck me in re-reading this chapter is how different Yun Ge reacts to Meng Jue and Liu Fu Ling, and I’m not talking just about her attitude towards them. When Meng Jue hurt Yun Ge, her first reaction was to run away. When Liu Fu Ling hurts Yun Ge, her first reaction is to confront him and fight for her love. Perhaps she simply matured after one failed relationship with Meng Jue, or ultimately she understands Liu Fu Ling in a way she never understood Meng Jue. This chapter is happiness and tears all rolled into one, which is really all I ask for in a compelling story.
Chapter 33: Lily Boat Night Song
Liu Fu Ling was getting busier and busier.
Yun Ge’s days were conversely getting quieter and quieter.
There was nothing she could help with. The only thing she could do was not add to his worries. So Yun Ge tried hard to control her countless thoughts, turning herself into a right and proper young lady. She hardly even visited Hong Yi anymore, choosing to stay inside Xuen Shi Pavilion. One book, one dish of incense, and it was a day.
She was naturally active so it wasn’t that she wasn’t bored. But she thought about the coming future, in just a short time later she’ll be able to fly out of here for good. That calmed her down as she treasured this little secret between her and Liu Fu Ling. As she waited happily for that day to arrive.
As Yun Ge waited for that day to come, the nights grew shorter as the days grew longer. The colors of Spring turned into the humidity of Summer.
She stared at the window pane and counted each panel.
“That bored?” a person sat down next on the pallet.
Yun Ge excitedly jumped “How come you’re back today when it’s not even dark out? Nothing else you need to do?”
“The preparations are almost done, now it’s time to set things in motion gradually” Liu Fu Ling replied. He lost some more weight during this period, and his face showed his exhaustion. But because he was happy, he appeared in good spirits.
Yun Ge sat up “Who did you pick?” then quickly amended it “Don’t tell me who it is, I’m not good at keeping a secret in front of people close to me. I’m afraid I’ll let it slip.”
Lou Fu Ling smiled “They are both good. Right now I haven’t decided who is better suited.” Yun Ge nodded “How are the preparations?”
“I already summoned back General Zhao Chong Guo to Chang An and elevated Du Yen Nian as Right Minister. Right General Zhang An Shi has been careful not to take sides between Huo Guang and me, but his brother Zhang He has a warrior’s heart. If he’s on my side, I won’t worry about Zhang An Shi helping Huo Guang…..”
Yun Ge was startled “Zhang He? Lord Zhang? If you let Big brother Bing Yi talk to him, he’ll help you no matter what you ask.”
“So….that’s the case.” Liu Fu Ling understood now “It appears the rumors are true, there are still pockets of people loyal to Crown Prince Wei.”
“You need to ask Big brother Bing Yi to find out who else is in that group.” Liu Fu Ling responded “Liu Bing Yi won’t tell me. A servant is always wary of his liege.” Yun Ge sighed “Who told you to be the Emperor then?”
Liu Fu Ling laughed “As long as I’m aware, that’s enough. I’ll stop telling you about these things. You won’t understand anyway. You’re an addle brained little thing. You probably didn’t even know the Right General Zhang An Shi was the younger brother of Zhang He.”
Yun Ge stuck her tongue out “Zhang He has such a low official position, how could I know his brother was such a high ranking official? So many ministers and officials, who has the time to remember all their names, much less figure out their relationship to each other. The Emperor really must be exceptionally intelligent to handle the position! You are so smart……….”
Liu Fu Ling smiled and bopped her on the forehead “Stop beating around the bush, what is it you really want to tell me?”
Yun Ge’s brow furrowed “Xiao Mei is almost recovered fully from her illness. Huo Guang will start again trying to send Huo Cheng Jun into the Palace as your Consort. Have you decided how to handle it?” Liu Fu Ling’s smiled disappeared. He had no answer for that. Every man was burdened with the need to have offspring to carry on the family name, much less an Emperor? The offspring of the Emperor will determine the future of the entire dynasty. When it came to this issue, there was no one in court that would back Liu Fu Ling in this fight.
Yun Ge saw his expression and quickly said “What do you want to eat tonight? I’ll cook for you.” Liu Fu Ling grabbed her hand “Don’t worry, I’ll find a way to handle the Huo Cheng Jun situation.” Yun Ge smiled and nodded her head.
Liu Fu Ling smiled and said “I heard the lilies have bloomed in the lake. Liu He has been complaining that he’s overworked lately and wanted to go boating on the lake tonight. I ordered the imperial kitchens to prepare snacks, dessert and fruit so we can boat on the lake and admire the lilies tonight. What do you think?”
Yun Ge was ecstatic “Leave it to Liu He to make me happy.” Yun Ge was so cooped up that she didn’t even fully wash up before pulling Liu Fu Ling behind her and sprinting for the lake.
At this time the sun hadn’t completely set yet. The last rays shone on the low fronds of the lilies, the gold mixed with the green creating an amber luminescence. Each lily was the size of a bowl, some were white while others were pink, clustered together as it reached for the sky. When the wind blew, the leaves rustled, the light shifted, the flowers swayed, the water rippled, the light changed, all the colors blended together.
Yun Ge happily cried out “Locked up inside all day long, look what I almost missed!”
The others weren’t here yet but Liu Fu Ling could see Yun Ge could hardly wait so he ordered a small boat lowered. Yun Ge grabbed the oar and kicked the oarsman off “I don’t need you to row, I can row the boat myself.” Yu An was worried “Your majesty…………” Liu Fu Ling looked at him and Yu An was afraid to say another word.
Yun Ge rowed the boat away from the shore under the worried watchful eyes of Yu An.
The little boat traversed deeper into the lake and the lilies grew more dense around them. Gradually they were surrounded by lilies and they couldn’t see the people on shore anymore. Yun Ge hadn’t exercised in a long time so after rowing for a bit, she was already perspiring and her cheeks glowed pink with healthy exertion. Her face juxtaposed with the lilies was quite a sight in itself.
Yun Ge noticed Liu Fu Ling staring at her and laughed “Why are you staring at me? I can’t possibly be prettier than the lilies?” Liu Fu Ling simply smiled and said nothing. He reached out and plucked a lily frond and tucked it over Yun Ge’s head to shade her.
Boating on the lake, half the pleasure comes from rowing. Yun Ge didn’t want Liu Fu Ling to miss out on this experience so she handed him the oar “I’ll teach you how to row.” Liu Fu Ling laughed “You really think I’m an Emperor who doesn’t know how to do anything? A child Emperor is just like other kids, always looking for fun things to do.” He reached over and took the oar from her. After a few strokes, his movement was smooth and his rowing was as good as Yun Ge.
Yun Ge laid down on the boat and grabbed the edge of her lily frond hat and tucked it in her mouth. “It’s refreshing as expected.” She pulled a piece off and fed it to Liu Fu Ling. The boat was rocked by a wave when Liu Fu Ling leaned over to eat the leaf so Yun Ge’s body swayed and she pitched forward. Liu Fu Ling ended up nibbling on her finger instead.
The two of them was immobilized on the boat as if struck by lightning. Only the boat moved as it swayed in the waves. Yun Ge lowered her head and pulled back her hand. Liu Fu Ling instead grabbed her hand while his other free hand reached out and encircled her waist. He leaned over to kiss Yun Ge.
Yun Ge felt the heady scent of the lilies intoxicating her and making her body melt. She leaned into Liu Fu Ling’s arms and closed her eyes. When Liu Fu Ling’s lips touched hers, she suddenly remembered the promise Meng Jue extracted from her. She forcefully pushed Liu Fu Ling away and yelled “No!”
She pushed so hard and since Liu Fu Ling was not expecting it, he almost toppled into the water. Yun Ge rushed to grab him and finally steadied his body, but half his robe was soaking wet already. The boat continued to wobble as the two of them were breathing heavily.
Liu Fu Ling’s hands tightly gripped the oars and he looked up at the lilies and said “It’s all my fault.” His eyes appeared calm but inside was so much heartache.
Yun Ge reached for his hand but Liu Fu Ling didn’t react.
“Ling gege, it’s not that I don’t want to. It’s because………Ling gege, I do want to, I really do want to.” Yun Ge didn’t know how to make him believe her so she could only keep repeating “I want to.” Liu Fu Ling concealed the hurt in his eyes and reached for Yun Ge’s hand as he said again “It’s all my fault”. He hid his sadness and gave her only understanding and consideration.
Yun Ge knew just one word or one action could soothe Liu Fu Ling’s hurt, but she couldn’t say anything or do anything. She suddenly hated Meng Jue, and hated herself. “Ling gege, wait until next year. No matter what you do, I will be willing. I will never push you away.” Yun Ge’s face was so red the color extended all the way down her neck, but she boldly kept her face up and stared directly at Liu Fu Ling.
Yun Ge’s eyes were like two burning embers and it chased away the coldness in Liu Fu Ling’s heart. He got embarrassed with Yun Ge staring at him so he averted his eyes “You make me out to be some lascivious pervert. Are all the Xi Yu girls as bold as you?”
Yun Ge grabbed her lily frond and used it to shield her face and cool down her burning cheeks.
Liu Fu Ling rowed the boat as it continued to traverse the lilies.
Cool breeze. Flowing water.
The boat leisurely glided the lake and the awkwardness between them dissipated. Yun Ge felt the boat was slowing down so she lifted the frond and saw Liu Fu Ling’s face was red and he had sweat all over his forehead. “Ling gege, what’s wrong?”
Liu Fu Ling wiped his forehead and came away with cold sweat. “I’m a little hot”. He smiled at Yun Ge “I guess I was rowing too fast, plus I haven’t exerted myself in so long, I’m probably a little tired.”
Yun Ge quickly plucked a lily frond and used it to shield his head, then used her frond to fan him “Feeling a little better?”
Liu Fu Ling nodded. Yun Ge took the oars from him. “Let your lady servant, I, row the boat. Perchance which dock would the young master like to go?”
Liu Fu Ling, with one hand on the boat steer and one hand on his chest, laughed “Wherever the young lady would like to go, then I shall go there.”
Yun Ge held the oars and rowed towards the direction of the sunset. A huge red round setting sun turned the little boat into a tiny reflection. The faint sounds of laughter wafted out from the scent of the lilies.
“If your lady servant, I, want to go to the edge of the sky?”
“I shall accompany you.”
“To the horn of the ocean?”
“I shall accompany you.”
“To the top of the mountain?”
“I shall accompany you.”
The light had waned and Yun Ge suddenly realized they have been playing on the lake for quite some time. She thought about Liu He and how he must be waiting for them so she quickly rowed.
After rowing for a bit, she saw a barge ahead of her. There were fires lit on the barge while small boats followed alongside.
Liu He saw them at the same time and groused “Your servant I suggested going boating, yet Your majesty left us behind to enjoy it first. You climb the wall and kick the ladder away, you cross the bridge and then tear it down. So not loyal.” As they got closer to each other, Yun Ge saw Liu Xun and Xu Ping Jun sitting in one boat, Liu He and Hong Yi in another boat, and Meng Jue in a boat by himself. Yu An and Qi Si were in a boat following behind everyone. Yun Ge was so thrilled and waved at Xu Ping Jun “Xu jiejie.”
Seeing Liu Fu Ling, Xu Ping Jun was extra formal so she just smiled back at Yun Ge and nodded her head, then quickly bowed to Liu Fu Ling. There were servant girls on the barge playing the flute and zither, and even playing the drums. The barge was in front while the boats were all trailing it, all the better to listen to the music and admire the scenery.
When it comes to enjoyment, of everyone present, it was likely Yun Ge and Liu He that spoke the same language. Liu He smiled and asked Yun Ge “So what do you think?”
Yun Ge smirked and said “When I said you were crass, you really were crass to the extreme. Tonight there is such a beautiful moon out. Rather than admiring the moon, you conjured up this fire-lit barge. There are so many lovely lilies all around us, so even if we listen to music, it ought to be something simple like a single flute or a zither. Playing under the moonlight, with the waves as accompaniment. You have an entire barge of people blowing and plucking and drumming, it really wastes the lunar splendor and the floral magnificence.”
Liu He shaded his eyes and thought for a moment, before weakly pointing to everyone on the barge “You all go back!”
The barge departed and silence descended over them. Everyone’s hearing became heightened and it was then the full impact of the moonlight became noticeable. They could smell the lilies, hear the rippling waves, see the fronds swaying. Liu He asked Yun Ge “So what entertainment then?”
Yun Ge laughed “Don’t ask me. I hate using my brain. Guessing, riddles, shooting, none of it sounds fun. You guys play whatever you want, I’ll just sit back and watch.”
Xu Ping Jun opened her mouth as if she wanted to say something, but immediately shut it.
Liu Xun encouraged her with a smile, saying in a soft voice “It’s just playing a game. Don’t think of them as the Emperor or Dukes. Plus you are Duke’s wife. Say whatever you want. If you say something wrong, it’s no big deal.”
Xu Ping Jun got up her courage and said “Royal Uncle, I have an idea. There are four boats, and each boat takes one of the four corners. Each corner chooses one activity such as playing a song, singing, or composing a poem. If everyone likes it, then throw lilies on that boat. In the end, we’ll tally up which boat has the most lilies to decide who wins. The loser has to drink. But then, Lord Meng only has one person on his boat, which puts him at a disadvantage.”
Liu He clapped in approval “After countless lily boating excursions, this hasn’t been done before. What an elegant idea.” He glanced at Meng Jue “We’ll give him an extra turn, what disadvantage will he have? Yun Ge, what do you think?”
Yun Ge lowered her head and played with the lily frond in her hand, casually saying “If Lord He likes it, then that’s fine.” Liu Fu Ling still didn’t say a word so Liu He bowed to him as a courtesy “The first turn, will Your majesty do the honor.”
Liu Fu Ling seemed slightly dazed and didn’t appear to hear what Liu He said, so Yun Ge softly called “Ling gege?”
Liu Fu Ling looked in confusion at Yun Ge, as if he didn’t hear what had been discussed earlier. Yun Ge softly said “We can sing, compose poems, play a tune, what do you want to do?” As Yun Ge was talking, her long white hands stroked the lily frond.
Liu Fu Ling glanced at her for a moment before saying:
The simple view lacks a rippling current, the tapered fingers folds the lily.
The cold breeze laments a lacking song, the cloud light bares the moon over the river.
Everyone roared their approvals for this poem that not only described the scenery but also described a person. Liu Bing Yi was in awe “What a verse of “the cloud light bares the moon over the river”.”
Everyone tossed lilies towards their boat. They all avoided Liu Fu Ling so all the lilies were aimed at Yun Ge. She laughed as she avoided the lilies “Hey! Hey! You guys are so devious. This is a big boat, so why are you all tossing it at me.” In moments, all the lilies were scattered over her body and the fragrance wafted over her, leaving Yun Ge laughing and crying at her predicament.
She said to Liu Fu Ling “If you win, I get pelted with lilies. Let’s not win next time then, these lilies hurt quite a bit when it hits the body.” Yun Ge lowered her head to brush some lilies off her skirt. Liu Fu Ling smiled and reached out to brush some lilies off her head, but his hand halted midway and then he pulled back and put it on his chest. His other hand tighly gripped the oar.
Yu An, who was following behind them, turned ashen and quickly rowed over. He whispered in Liu Fu Ling’s ear and Liu Fu Ling nodded. He turned with a smile to everyone “I have something urgent I need to take care. Don’t let me ruin the fun. Continue boating and after I’m done, I’ll come back.” Yun Ge quickly said “I’ll go back with you.”
Liu Fu Ling said in a low voice “It’s court matters. Even if you go back, you’ll be waiting for me. Why don’t you stay and have fun with everyone. It’s a rare occasion for Xu Ping Jun to be in the Palace. You’re pretty much half the owner of this Palace so you need to be a good host in my stead. You can’t abandon your guests. When I’m done, I’ll hurry back.” Yun Ge could only nod her head.
Yu An was in such a rush he didn’t want to have the Emperor climb on his boat so he said “Ms. Yun, can you ride on another boat and let me use your boat to row the Emperor back.” Liu He laughed “Meng Jue’s boat coincidentally has just one person, Yun Ge can sit in his boat!”
Before Yun Ge could say anything, Yu An quickly said “Lord Meng, can you row over to pick up Ms. Yun.” Meng Jue rowed his boat over. Liu Fu Ling indicated for Yun Ge to be gracious “I’ll be back soon.” Yun Ge nodded and grabbed onto Meng Jue’s extended oar and then jumped on his boat.
Yu An jumped to where Yun Ge was sitting and quickly rowed back to shore. After Liu Fu Ling left, Xu Ping Jun let out a sigh of relief, feeling less pressure. She smiled “We’ve only got three boats left, and with two people per boat, it’s completely fair. Yun Ge, since you got pelted with the lilies, why don’t you pick the next boat.” Yun Ge felt like everyone was on Meng Jue’s side so she was annoyed. “I pick you, Xu jiejie.”
After she said it, she realized that with Big brother Bing Yi there, they couldn’t possibly lose. To her surprise, Xu Ping Jun smiled and, not waiting for Liu Bing Yi to say anything, started to compose a poem.
Under the crystal curtain a pampered shy Chang Er resides, her silken robes are green ripples of waves as she walks.
The image disappears but the sensation lingers, leaping into a dream to relive the memory.
Other than Meng Jue, everyone stared at her with their mouths wide open. Even Liu Xun stared at Xu Ping Jun like she was a stranger he had never met before. It wasn’t that Xu Ping Jun’s lily poem was all that good. Compared to Liu Fu Ling, it was still a world of difference. But a year ago, Xu Ping Jun couldn’t even read. From not knowing a single character to being able to compose a poem, how much hard work must she have put in?
Xu Ping Jun was embarrassed with everyone staring at her so she pointed to Meng Jue “It’s not very good, so everyone please endure it.” Yun Ge loudly cried “What’s not good about it? It’s marvelous!”
Yun Ge was so anxious to toss lilies that she looked around for some. Meng Jue handed her lilies that he just plucked and she was in such a rush she didn’t think much of it, taking it and heaving it towards Xu Ping Jun. Xu Ping Jun laughed and tried to duck, but Hong Yi’s lily arrived at the same time. She avoided one but couldn’t avoid the other, which hit her smack in the forehead. Xu Ping Jun rubbed her forehead and laughed. Yun Ge saw Meng Jue aiming his lily towards Xu Ping Jun’s skirt and huffed “When you were tossing the lilies at me, I didn’t see you going easy on me.”
Meng Jue handed the lily to her “You can throw it.”
Liu He called Yun Ge, and both of them tossed their lily at Xu Ping Jun at the same time. Xu Ping Jun saw Yun Ge’s lily was traveling at a slower speed so she ducked that way first. Who know the other lily would suddenly change directions, bump into the first lily, and both of them thwacked Xu Ping Jun on the head simultaneously. Xu Ping Jun rubbed her head and cried foul “Da Gong Zhi, Yun Ge, you two are taking advantage of me not knowing any martial arts!”
Yun Ge stuck out her tongue “You didn’t say that we weren’t prohibited from using martial arts when we tossed lilies.”
Xu Ping Jun smiled and pointed at Yun Ge “Next boat, Meng Jue and Yun Ge.” Yun Ge huffed “You want to pelt me? I…I…I don’t know anything. This match I concede defeat.” Liu He and Liu Xun laughed “You don’t know doesn’t mean Meng Jue doesn’t. Meng Jue, you’re not about to concede defeat to us, are you.?”
Meng Jue looked at Yun Ge, while Yun Ge raised her head and looked at the moon. Meng Jue smiled “Defeat is defeat” and then he raised a cup to toast the moon. Liu He called out “Too small, change to another cup, the big one.” Meng Jue grabbed the biggest cup and poured it full before drinking it all.
Liu He called “Yun Ge, your turn to drink now.” “Didn’t Meng Jue just drink?” Xu Ping Jun laughed “Yun Ge, both of you lost, so both of you need to drink. You can’t expect just him to suffer the punishment.”
“Humph! When you guys pelted me, everyone seemed to forget there was someone else on the boat with me.” Yun Ge grumbled as she poured herself a cup. As she brought it to her lips, Meng Jue took it away and gulped it down. Yun Ge said to him in a low voice “I can drink, no need for you to cover for me.”
Meng Jue said very casually “From now on, for every day your cough isn’t cured, you are not allowed to drink.”
Liu He and Xu Ping Jun gave Yun Ge a knowing smirk “You don’t need to get pelted or drink, so you can easily concede defeat from now on.” Meng Jue pointed to Liu He “Stop yammering. You guys’ turn.”
Hong Yi took out a green short flute from her sleeve and brought it to her lips with a smile. Her tune was just like her, gentle and fluid, clear and vibrant. It didn’t have thick longing or heartpumping passion, it couldn’t make the moon weep or make the flowers sad. But her tune was like the calmest wind, the most sparkling water, chasing away the humidity of Summer and dispelling the worries of the world. Everyone listening shed their inhibitions, doubts, and hidden worries. With the boat rocked by waves, enjoying the breeze, in the company of friends, there was no greater happiness than this.
Hong Yi turned to the side to play the flute. Liu He moved from the stern of the boat and laid down on Hong Yi’s lap. He turned and saw Liu Xun and Xu Ping Jun sitting side by side and holding hands as they admired the lilies gliding past their boat. He smiled.
Meng Jue and Yun Ge sat a distance away from each other, both of them looking up at the moon. Sometimes their eyes would meet. Meng Jue’s eyes hid a thousand words he wanted to say, but when it got to his lips, it turned into a wordless smile. The sound from Hong Yi’s flute trickled into silence and everyone remained silent, listening only to the water rippling.
After some time, Liu Xun’s voice rang out “This tune reveals a person. Da Gong Zhi, you need to treasure her.” Liu He laughed “So was it good or not? I don’t see you guys throwing lilies, or drinking?”
Everyone grabbed their lilies but seeing Hong Yi calmly sitting there, no one had the heart to pelt her, so all the lilies were launched at Liu He. But Liu He wasn’t Yun Ge and Xu Ping Jun. Without even moving his body, none of the lilies managed to hit him, all landing harmlessly on his robe. He laughed and gestured to Xu Ping Jun and Yun Ge “Thank you for the flowers, my beauties.” He then pointed at Yun Ge and Meng Jue “I pick you guys.”
“Us again?” Yun Ge asked in annoyance. “Why us again?” “How can it be us again?”
Finally Yun Ge didn’t even have the energy to complain “I knew it would be us again.” Liu He and Liu Xun set out to punk her, so no matter who she picked next, the following turn would revert back to her.
Liu He laughed “Yun Ge, you still won’t play? No matter how much Meng Jue can tolerate his alcohol, he can’t endure us pounding him turn after turn. But I guess it’s fine. That guy is as wily as a fox and never gets taken advantage of. I’ve never enjoying plying him with alcohol this much. Continue, let’s continue! I want to see what a drunk fox looks like.”
Before Meng Jue drank his cup, Yun Ge said “This turn, I won’t concede defeat.” Meng Jue said nothing, only putting down his cup. Yun Ge thought for a while and then said “I’ll sing you all a song!” She lightly tapped the side of the boat to grab a beat before opening her mouth and sing. The song she sang was the Lily poem Liu Fu Ling just composed for her.
Yun Ge wasn’t used to singing a song on the fly, and without a musical accompaniment to help her find the right pitch and tune, her singing was off-key.
Suddenly she heard music from behind her. It was Meng Jue, holding a clay ocarina, playing with his head lowered. The clay ocarina was one of the earliest instruments of the Xia Hua tribe in the Central Plains. Legend has it the celestial Flame Emperor and Yellow Emperor created it from clay earth of the ground. The music from it was like the plains, vast and thick, with a mysterious sadness. Yun Ge’s voice was clear and bright, fast and free. These two seemingly incompatible sounds were directed by Meng Jue to blend in harmony.
The lonely mysterious ocarina and the clear melodic voice – one chased and the other darted, one hid while the other appeared, one went and the other returned. It was close yet seemed so far away. The song and tune appeared to fly over the peaks and valleys, through the forest of trees, across the plains, traveling thousands of miles. In the beginning, it was the ocarina that led the voice. But in the end, the emotion in the voice grew more and more powerful and touching, turning around to lead the tune from the ocarina in a duet. The music of the ocarina and the voice led each other, expanding through every ripple in the lake. One was despairing, one was forlorn, singing about this world’s sadness through the ages: love and hate, life and death, parting and gathering.
The song ended. Everyone held their breaths and stared at Yun Ge and Meng Jue.
Yun Ge didn’t know when she was suddenly standing up on the boat. Meng Jue was dazed as well. He didn’t intend to play a sad tune. When he used the ocarina to bring Yun Ge’s voice out, he ended up being led by her song. So much that the music was out of his own control. He was just playing the tune that was drawn out. Yun Ge stood there unmoving, until she suddenly said “I’m going home.”
It was Summertime and normally Liu Fu Ling would be meeting with officials at Qing Liang Pavilion (which was designed to keep cool). Yun Ge went to Qing Liang Pavilion first. No one was there. She rushed to Xuen Shi Pavilion. It was pitch black inside, and unusually quiet.
Yun Ge started to get nervous. Did Ling gege go look for them? As she was turning to leave, Yu An emerged from seemingly nowhere “Ms. Yun, the Emperor is inside the Pavilion.” Yu An was hidden in the darkness and Yun Ge could not see his expression, but she felt his voice was dark and ominous.
Yun Ge was confused “Why are you not inside the Pavilion serving him, but is instead outside? Is he asleep? Why isn’t a single lamp lit?” She rushed into the Pavilion and heard Liu Fu Ling’s smiling voice ask “Why are you back so early?”
Yun Ge’s eyes couldn’t adjust to the darkness that quickly so she followed his voice and walked to him “Why didn’t you come back? What happened? Are you unhappy?” Liu Fu Ling helped Yun Ge sit down next to him “I am a little unhappy, but it’s nothing, not a big deal.”
“Is it court matters? Is Huo Guang being difficult? Is our plan being thwarted?” Liu Fu Ling said nothing, only staring at Yun Ge. He reached out and touched her hair, and trailed down to caress her face. His fingers were ice cold. Yun Ge grabbed his hand and sucked in her breath “Why are your hands so cold in the middle of Summer. In the future, you have to go with me to climb mountains and ride horses. In a few months, I guarantee it’ll be more effective than eating sparrow nest and ginseng.”
Liu Fu Ling’s voice was hoarse “Yun Ge, can you spend the night with me tonight? Just like last time, you sleep on one end of the pallet, and I sleep on the other.” Yun Ge wanted to nod but she couldn’t “I…..I can’t this time. I’ll stay here and talk with you, talk until you want to go to sleep. Is that okay?”
Liu Fu Ling saw how apologetic Yun Ge was and he grew silent, then he smiled “Okay. You have to tell me what you all played earlier today.”
When Yun Ge got to the part about Hong Yi playing the flute, Liu Fu Ling grew tired and clutched his chest, leaning on the pallet with his eyes closed. “Yun Ge, I want to rest now. You go to sleep! Help me summon Yu An.”
“Okay. You stop thinking about those stressful things. After a good night’s sleep, we’ll find a way to resolve it.” Yun Ge covered him with a blanket and then quietly left the Pavilion.
The next day, when Yun Ge went to see Liu Fu Ling first thing in the morning, there was no one in the Pavilion. A little eunuch said “The Emperor left first thing in the morning to take care of things.”
“Oh. Was he in a good mood today?” The little eunuch replied “Miss, you know the Emperor. His emotion is the same all year round. Always very calm, never very happy or unhappy.” Yun Ge smiled and didn’t reply. She knew Ling gege’s emotions were in truth just like everyone else.
For the subsequent days, Liu Fu Ling would leave first thing in the morning and come back late into the night. When Yun Ge stayed up late and managed to see him when he returned, he always looked exhausted so she didn’t want to delay him from resting. It appeared something had happened, so when he earlier said all the preparations were ready, it suddenly reverted back to being not ready for some reason.
Yun Ge controlled her impatience and buckled down to start her wait again. She started taking care of the plants in the garden of Xuen Shi Pavilion: cutting, watering, potting. It was something she was used to doing since she was a kid, plus she liked doing it. The flowers in Xuen Shi Pavilion calmed down her anxious heart.
After some time, when Yun Ge saw the first earthworm, she squatted down and stared happily. When she first started tending the flowers, there wasn’t a single earthworm in the soil.
Fu Su stood to the side and stared at Yun Ge for a long time. In the end he walked up to her, summoning all his courage to tell her something “My lady, there is something……..the Emperor…….the Emperor……..”
Yun Ge put down her shovel and quietly stared at Fu Su. He couldn’t bear how open she looked at him so he lowered his head and said “These past days, when the Emperor leaves Xuen Shi Pavilion, he always goes to Shu Fang Pavilion.”
Yun Ge didn’t say a word, just turning her head to silently stare at a flower that was half wilted. After a long time, she got up “I want to take a walk by myself. Don’t follow me, got it?”
Yun Ge ran the entire way, arriving outside of Qing Liang Pavilion. Her footsteps stopped abruptly and she backed into the corner, staring at the door of the Pavilion. The cicadas were calling loudly since it was the dead of Summer.
Yun Ge’s mind was filled with jumbled thoughts. She remembered her promise with Ling gege on the desert plains of Xi Yu, and it calmed her down. But then she remembered her promise with Meng Jue on the mountain top, and that disrupted her again. She thought about how there was a love that was unchangeable through time or power, but then she thought about a love that could be exchanged for power and wealth. She didn’t know how long she stood there, only noticing the sun was setting in the West when a familiar figure exited Qing Liang Pavilion. He was surrounded by officials and they all turned left. That was not the way to Xuen Shi Pavilion, that was the way to Shu Fang Pavilion.
Perhaps he was going to another place? Maybe he was going to see Liu He? That is what Yun Ge kept trying to convince herself. She followed him from a distance. She saw him arrived at Shu Fang Pavilion. She saw Xiao Mei happily come out and bow to him with a glorious smile. She saw him reach out and help Xiao Mei up. She saw him hold Xiao Mei’s hand and walk into Shu Fang Pavilion. So he wasn’t just passing by, he intended to go there.
The thing she trusted the most in her heart shattered. Those sharp jagged pieces pierced her to the very bone. How much she trusted him, was how much it conversely hurt now. Yun Ge slowly sat down on the ground and wrapped her arms around herself. She curled into ball, as if the smaller she made herself, she could lessen the pain.
Hong Yi helped her up. Liu He appeared to be saying something, but Yun Ge couldn’t comprehend what he was saying, she just smiled dumbly at him.
“…………a Crown Prince concerns the future of the entire dynasty. No matter which political faction, every official is aligned together on this matter…….The Emperor is still the Emperor, and rather than have Huo Cheng Jun as a Consort, its better if he consummated his marriage with Xiao Mei. If Xiao Mei conceived, it would just be a son. If Huo Cheng Jun conceived, the ramifications are unthinkable……….” Liu He’s voice trailed off and Yun Ge could only see his mouth continuing to move but she could hear nothing.
So everyone already knew. She was the only one kept in the dark. Yun Ge didn’t want to listen to Liu He explain anymore. How could she not understand these concerns? So this is how Ling gege intended to handle this situation.
She smiled and declined Hong Yi and Liu He’s offer to accompany her. She walked back to Xuen Shi Pavilion alone. The world seemed disoriented to her and she didn’t know where she should go. She walked slowly with no destination in sight.
The yellow sparrows on the lake still took flight and landed in pairs. The lilies were still in the height of its glorious bloom. The river still rushed forth fast and unrelenting.
But, some things, were gone now.
From Wei Yang Palace to Jian Zhang Palace, and then back again, Yun Ge didn’t know how long she walked. She saw the moon had crawled to the middle of the night sky. When she returned to Xuen Shi Pavilion, Liu Fu Ling immediately rushed out and grabbed her arms “Where did you go……..” His voice stopped in his throat and his anxious hands slowly released her. His voice turned calm “It’s late, you should hurry up and go to sleep.”
She shouldn’t covet things for herself, she ought to just keep her head held high and calmly walk right past him. But she couldn’t. Yun Ge hated herself right now, but if begging could bring things back, then let her hate herself! “Ling gege, I want to speak with you.”
Liu Fu Ling turned around “I’m tired, let’s talk tomorrow!”
“Ling gege” Her voice was clear and certain, just like many many years ago. Liu Fu Ling halted imperceptibly before walking into Xuen Shi Pavilion without even looking back. Yun Ge stood there in front of the Pavilion in a daze.
It was still pitch black outside when Liu Fu Ling rose and got dressed. When he walked out of the door, he saw a lone figure standing in front of the Pavilion, her robe covered with dew as if she had been standing there all night.
“Ling gege, I want to speak with you.” Yun Ge looked directly at Liu Fu Ling, her face stark white and exhausted, but there was a sliver of hope in her eyes. Liu Fu Ling’s face was just as ashen, but he met Yun Ge’s gaze directly as he said “I need to attend court.”
He walked past Yun Ge quickly, as if he was escaping. The sliver of hope in Yun Ge’s eyes died, leaving only emptiness and despair.
Liu Fu Ling stopped at he arrived at the steps leading out of the Pavilion. No matter what, he could not take that final step out. He suddenly turned around and rushed to Yun Ge’s side, grabbing her hand and pulling her out of the Palace. A carriage departed from Wei Yang Palace in the darkness.
Yun Ge’s eyes regained a shred of happiness, but Liu Fu Ling’s eyes were pitch black, completely without emotion.
“Ling gege, I know Huo Guang is forcing you to take a Consort. Are you playacting with Xiao Mei for his benefit? Also, do you really want kids? Can you wait for me for a bit? I…..I can…..” Liu Fu Ling placed his hand on Yun Ge’s lips and shook his head with a smile “Let’s forget these things for now. It’s just you and me for today. We can talk about those things later.” Yun Ge nodded and Liu Fu Ling put his hand down.
Yu An didn’t know where the Emperor took Yun Ge. He jumped in the carriage and just ordered it to leave Wei Yang Palace as fast as possible. So he could only whip those horses and speed away. After some time, the carriage ended up in the remote part of the countryside at the base of a mountain. As he was about to turn the carriage around, the Emperor told him to stop and got off with Yun Ge “Wait for us here.”
Yu An worried “Your majesty, there is a remote mountainside, let your servant I follow you.”
“I want to spend some time alone with Yun Ge.” Seeing the hopeless sadness in the Emperor’s eyes, Yu An felt his heart ache so much. He said not another word and retreated to the side of the road.
Liu Fu Ling and Yun Ge held hands and slowly walked up the mountain road. Yun Ge raised her head and saw the mountain peak, and then looked at the sky, smiling “If we hurry a bit, we can see the sunrise.”
“Okay. Let’s see who gets to the mountain top first.”
“Ling gege, if I win, you have to promise me one thing as a reward.”
Liu Fu Ling didn’t respond, only smiling as he quickly ascended the mountain, so Yun Ge hurried to catch up to him. The two of them put aside all their worries and climbed the mountain with a single-minded determination. Each wanted to be the first person to see the sunrise.
The mountain wasn’t terribly tall so it seemed easy to ascend. But towards the top the road was inclined steeply and littered with jutting rocks and thick brush, making it hard to find a path.
Yun Ge saw Liu Fu Ling covered in sweat “Ling gege, I can’t climb anymore. Let’s come earlier next time and slowly climb!”
“The sunrise next time will not be the sunrise today. There are things in life I have no control over, but this one thing I can make happen.” Liu Fu Ling’s voice was steely with a rare kind of determination, so Yun Ge didn’t mention giving up anymore. Liu Fu Ling saw Yun Ge staring at him while she climbed, so he wiped his sweat and laughed “All year round all I do is get in and out of a carriage. People do everything for me. On this rare occasion of getting some exercise, sweating is a good thing.” Yun Ge thought about it and agreed, smiling and pumping her arms to power herself up the mountain.
Many times, the road appeared blocked and Yun Ge wanted to give up, but Liu Fu Ling behind her pushed forward with conviction, believing there was a way to get to the top. They used branches to clear the brush and Liu Fu Ling took off his outer robe and used it in very narrow steep areas as a rope for them to hoist themselves up. Every time they got to a seeming dead end, if they plowed forward they would reach an opening shortly or would find a large tree to assist them or rocks to help them steady their feet.
Despite the hard climb, they always managed to find a route upward. The peak was right before them and the sky to the East was filled with thick clouds and a faint redness was slowly appearing. The sun appeared like it was about to leap out of the sea of clouds.
Initially Yun Ge wasn’t all that interested in today’s sunrise, but as she got closer she got more excited, climbing with gusto and shouting “Ling gege, hurry up, hurry up, the sun is about to rise.”
As she neared the top, Yun Ge turned around and saw the Liu Fu Ling was slowing down. She wanted to head back down and pull him up but he raised his head and said to her “You go up first. I’ll be right there. Let’s not let both of us miss the sunrise. If you see it, you can at least tell me about it. Hurry!”
Yun Ge hesitated but Liu Fu Ling kept urging her on “You seeing it is the same as me seeing it. Hurry up.” Yun Ge pulled on a branch with her might and leaped one final step, and she was on the mountain top.
The moment she arrived at the peak, a red round sun burst from the sea of clouds. In that split second, the entire world turned bright and all living creatures came to life. Before her was a glorious blue sky filled with clouds, behind her was Liu Fu Ling smiling at her with the sunlight on his face. The golden light highlighted his fine features and Yun Ge felt like crying. She opened her arms and screamed towards the rising sun “Ahhhhhh——”
All the hurt and frustration in her heart was swept away through the peaks of the mountain, leaving her feeling like her life was brilliant and hopeful.
Liu Fu Ling slowly arrived at the peak and sat down on a rock. He smiled as he watched Yun Ge standing at the edge of the mountain jumping in happiness. His tightened brow was pushed aside. Yun Ge finished hooting and hollering and then felt slightly embarrassed. She sat down next to Liu Fu Ling and placed her head in his lap, saying with a smile “In the Palace I’m afraid of screaming, so here in the wildness I can go crazy.”
Liu Fu Ling wanted to use his sleeve to wipe her smudged face but then he saw his sleeve was just as dirty so he let it be. Yun Ge nuzzled her face on the palm of his hand “Ling gege, I feel like you love to smile more and more.”
Ling Fu Ling smiled and looked towards the distance, saying nothing.
“But your smile is not the smile of happiness. It’s like you’re smiling to conceal a feeling of hopelessness. Ling gege, I’m not all stupid. There are many things that worry you that you can talk to me about. But you can’t, you can’t………..you said I’m the only one you’re taking responsibility for in your life. When I see you with another woman, my heart hurts.”
“Yun Ge……..” Liu Fu Ling lightly rubbed her head and there was pain in his eyes. He slowly took a deep breath and his calm smile was back “Will you remember today’s sunrise?”
“Yes.” Yun Ge rested her face on his knee and looked towards the canyon “I’ve seen countless sunrises, but today is the most special. Plus this is the first sunrise I’ve seen with you, and I’ll always remember it.”
“Yun Ge, I want you to remember that life is like today’s climb up the mountain. At times it appears to be at a dead end, but if you press forward, you’ll find a way out. Every time you think you’ve come to a point of no return, perhaps it’s the Heaven’s way of telling you to turn the corner and take a different path. Maybe the Heavens want you to see a different view, so you always have to press forward to reach the peak.”
“Okay” Yun Ge answered with some understanding. Liu Fu Ling held her face in his hands and stared at her, as if he wanted to imprint an entire lifetime in his eyes. Yun Ge’s face reddened “Ling gege.”
Liu Fu Ling released her and stood up with a smile “It’s time to go back. I’ve abandoned an entire court of officials without a word. Wei Yang Palace is probably in an uproar by now.” Yun Ge was reluctant to go. On this mountain top, it was just him and her. When they got back, there would countless people standing between him and her.
While it appeared Liu Fu Ling wasn’t loathe to depart, he walked very slowly to descend the mountain. He held Yun Ge’s hand and every step appeared to be something he was committing to memory.
Yu An saw two disheveled people return to the carriage and he was alarmed. After Liu Fu Ling and Yun Ge settled into the carriage, Yu An asked “Your majesty, where to?”
After a long time, Liu Fu Ling said in a smiling voice “Back to the Palace.”