Surprise! Haha, if anyone is watching Big with me, you’ll totally get that inside joke. I’ve always said I write what I feel like, and my desire to translate Da Mo Yao and Yun Zhong Ge was prompted by my love for the novels rather than doing a public service of generating content. I was in the mood yesterday and brought out some chapters to reread, and it got me in the mood to translate a chapter. I realized that in my first impressions review of YGZ, I fawned over the amazing Third Brother but he’s not yet been featured in any of the chapters I translated other than as described by Yun Ge and in the beginning when he had a bit part. Third Brother really has one chapter in this novel, and chapter 44 is it.
The chapter title is of course not what I wrote above, because Tong Hua went to town in volume three of YZG and all her chapter titles get progressively longer and more intricate. This is a lull in the mayhem of the story right after Liu Fu Ling dies and there is a mad scramble for the next Emperor. Huo Guang finally has the puppet Emperor he hopes he can control, Yun Ge finds herself in the depths of a despair that is fueled by vengeance, and Third Brother arrives in Chang An to deliver some smackdowns and reveal some secrets. In short, this chapter is full of fantastic sequences and character narrative.
Chapter 44: The Same Sky Mountain Moon, Doesn’t Shine on the Person of Yesteryear
Even though Liu Xun wasn’t Huo Guang’s first choice, he was rather pleased with the way things turned out. On coronation day, he praised Liu Xun as wise before the entire court. After the coronation, Liu Xun would ask his opinion on everything no matter how large or small.
Under their collaboration, the ten thousand soldiers at the border stand ready to strike at the offending Xiong Nu. The day for Huo Cheng Jun to enter the Palace was also selected. But due to the problem in Xi Yu, and because of some unknown lowly person, the two of the started to have some cracks in their relationship.
Xiao Wan Zhi was an ordinary farming son who became well-learned in his youth. He was recommended to Huo Guang, who was impressed with his knowledge and eloquence. He ought to be a high ranking official, but for one small matter he offended Huo Guang and was thus banished to obscurity.
After Liu Xun ascended the throne, he heard of this person and was curious. He decided to utilize him, both for his talent, and for his likely hatred of Huo Guang after suffering for years under him. Right now he needed someone who was not afraid of Huo Guang’s power and was also intelligent.
On the problem of Xi Yu, Liu Xun acted like he didn’t want to get embroiled in the conflict in the Kingdom of Wu Sun so he didn’t want to send troops. After Huo Guang’s repeated requests, he agreed to send troops to aid Wu Sun, but he intended to send Xiao Wan Zhi as the Han envoy with the troops.
If Huo Guang didn’t allow Xiao Wan Zhi to be the Han envoy, then Liu Xun wouldn’t send the troops. Liu Xun was backed by the court faction that wanted to stay out of other kingdoms warfare and conserve the dynasty’s resources. The situation in Wu Sun grew dire so Huo Guang had no choice but to relent and allow Xiao Wan Zhi to be the Han envoy. Liu Xun then relented and dispatched troops to assist the Kingdom of Wu Sun. It appeared Huo Guang got the better end of the bargain, but Huo Guang wasn’t happy.
Huo Cheng Jun privately tried to counsel her dad “Daddy, the Emperor just wanted Xiao Wan Zhi to be the special envoy, it’s not even a high ranking position. Why are you so upset? He’s not a formidable enemy of the Huo family, we needn’t worry about him!”
Huo Guang smiled bitterly “Are you like all the outsiders, thinking I didn’t use him because he angered me on a small matter? Is your dad such a narrow minded person?” Huo Cheng Jun grumbled “Your daughter is wrong! Did you have another reason?”
“Xiao Wan Zhi is a talent, not just on the classic texts, but on the military manuals as well. He memorized it all and there is not a single official in court who can ask a question he can’t answer. When the Emperor met him, he was understandably impressed, that is not surprising. I was also impressed when I first met him.” Huo Cheng Jun was shocked “This person is that smart?”
Huo Guang continued “Back then I was impressed and immediately kept him by my side. I wanted to train him and then give him a high position. But as time passed, I slowly realized this person was only superficially wise. He looks lofty and pure, but deep down he’s greedy for power and prestige, and worse yet is that he refuses to acknowledge it.”
Huo Guang smiled wanly “The court is not a pure place, it’s a dirty place filled with calculations and machinations. Only two kinds of people can succeed there. Someone who is pure of heart and hard working, remaining untouched in the filth. But these people almost always have tragic endings, though live forever being exalted in history. The other kind of person is someone who is seemingly ruthless and calculating, but adheres to his own set of standards. This kind of person is like an eel, living in the filth but not obstructed by it. They are able to manipulate the filth and help their constituents and run the country. Someone like Xiao Wan Zhi thinks he’s the former but refuses to accept he’s really the latter. So his secret desire for power and wealth will only lead the country astray. I prevented the Emperor from using him because I was afraid he’s bad for the country. But the Emperor thinks I’m wasting a talent because I’m afraid this man will try to thwart me in the future.”
Concern and worry shone in Huo Guang’s eyes, and added to that his already all white head of hair, he suddenly seemed so much older. Huo Cheng Jun felt confused. Every time she thought she understood her father, she’ll discover she doesn’t really. Was her father really ruthless, or kind? Was he a good official, or an evil official? Was he heartless, or caring? Was he a power hungry minister, or a kind wise official? Was her father the second type of official he described?
“Daddy, you forget to say what the ending is for the second type of official”
“The second type of official’s ending?” Huo Guang warmly gazed at his daughter and smiled. After some time he looked towards the distance and said “Some can extricate themselves completely, others are shattered into a million pieces. But I don’t think they care. As long as they have accomplished their goal, they don’t care about what befalls them.”
It was bright and early when Huo Guang led Huo Yu, Huo San, Huo Yun, and Huo Cheng Jun to the Huo ancestral temple outside of Chang An so they could all pray to the ancestors.
It wasn’t any of the ancestral worship holidays or the anniversary of a passing, so this was baffling to outsiders. But Huo Yu was used to it. Since he was a child, his father would come to the ancestral temple when he was happy or when he was sad. The incense and the darkness of the temple appeared to calm his father down. It was just that they didn’t know if his dad was happy or sad on this trip.
Everything in court was going smoothly, so he ought to be happy. But his father’s face swirled in the mist of the incense was unreadable. He appeared to be smiling, but a deeper look revealed all these conflicting emotions underneath. It appeared to be even too much for his normally unflappable father to bear, and after praying to the ancestors, they all retreated to the rooms to rest.
Because it wasn’t an official ancestor worship day, so even though Huo Guang was vegetarian, he didn’t prohibit the youngsters from eating meat. Huo Yun heard a fresh deer was caught in the woods and immediately went to prepare it for a meal. The kids ate and Huo Guang laid on the pallet and sipped his tea as he listened to the youngsters laughing.
Huo Cheng Jun didn’t like the smoke of the roasting meat so she moved to sit farther away next to her dad’s pallet. She played with a flask of wine in her hand, quiet and deep in thought. Her wine was long cold but she didn’t even notice. “Cheng Jun, what are you thinking about?” Huo Guang asked.
Huo Cheng Jun’s face was pale and she sat down next to Huo Guang and quietly said “Daddy, are we really going to let Yun Ge go so easily?”
His daughter’s fixation on this was so intense! Huo Guang sighed “Yun Ge is now without any worth. Right now the situation in court is uncertain, there is no need to make enemies with Meng Jue because of her.”
Huo Yu heard the name “Meng Jue” and waved all the servants away. Huo San mistook Huo Yu’s gesture and picked up the deer meat “This does taste better when one does the cooking.” Huo Yun poured himself a cup of warm wine and acted like he wasn’t listening, but he was paying rapt attention.
Huo Yu said “Father, Meng Jue is our enemy. We are already on opposite sides. Better to get rid of him as early as possible.” Huo Guang smiled softly “Yun Er, you said that Yun Ge was found in the home of a farmer outside of Chang An. Did you know who had imprisoned Yun Ge before then?”
Huo Yun’s wine spilled, but luckily Huo San ate a piece of sizzling venison and burned his tongue and started screeching, which diverted attention away. Huo Yun quickly said “Imprisoned? Didn’t Liu Fu Ling arrange for Yun Ge to be hidden away there?”
“If it was Liu Fu Ling’s arrangement, why wasn’t the imperial seal found with her? How did the imperial seal end up in Liu Xun’s hands? Meng Jue said that Yun Ge was imprisoned in the Cold Palace first.”
Huo Yun and Huo Yu both yelled out in astonishment, neither of them could believe it. Huo Yu angrily huffed “I can’t believe it was right under our noses.”
“We underestimated Liu Xun. That Emperor……….is not easy to deal with.” Huo Guang softly sighed “He wants Meng Jue to be his sword, but Meng Jue isn’t an easy person to deal with either. That sword won’t accede to his wishes and stab towards me right now.” When Huo Guang spoke, Huo Yun looked worried and he blinked a few times at Huo Cheng Jun but she sat there with her lead lowered and didn’t respond.
Huo Yun controlled his emotions and lowered his eyes. He appeared quite somber, making people think he was upset at being played by Liu Xun. Huo San spit out his water and asked “So does this mean Meng Jue isn’t our enemy?”
Huo Yu coldly replied “He’s our enemy. But it’s an enemy we want to keep close. We want his sword to be pointed at the Emperor, rather than force him to align with the Emperor to oppose us.” He understood the logic of what he was saying, but Huo Yu was still bitter about it, and he tossed the pitcher of wine in front of him against the window.
Huo Guang heard what Huo Yu said and nodded, but when he saw his gesture, he wrinkled his brows. He turned to look at the silent Huo Cheng Jun “Cheng Jun, what are you thinking?”
Huo Cheng Jun smiled and raised her head “Daddy, older brother’s words are correct. I’m just worried about that Yun Ge. Daddy wasn’t there that day, so you’re not concerned. But I saw with my own eyes the look in her eyes. Even thinking about it gives me goosebumps. I keep thinking that letting her live today will be like keeping a time bomb around.”
Yun Ge carrying the dragon seed was information that the fewer people who knew about, the better, so Huo Guang didn’t tell anyone else. So Huo Yu and the other two cousins listened to this conversation but didn’t quite understand what it was about. Seeing that Huo Guang didn’t want to elaborate, the three of them didn’t dare ask. But Huo Yu believe what Huo Cheng Jun said was right. Leaving an enemy who hated you to the core was not a smart thing to do.
But currently both the Emperor and Meng Jue were protecting Yun Ge’s life. It was hard to eliminate Yun Ge right now so they had to just wait and see. “Right now the best thing to do is to accede to the Emperor’s wishes. Let’s discuss Yun Ge’s situation later. Cheng Jun, what’s most important for you right now is preparing to enter the Palace. Liu Xun is different than Liu Fu Ling. He’s a man with normal urges. He will likely take consorts and concubines, and use that to affect the shifts in court power. You have a heavy burden on your shoulders.”
Huo Cheng Jun’s brows furrowed some more and she solemnly nodded her head. Actually, from when she secretly smuggled Yun Ge out of the Cold Palace, the battle between her and Liu Xun had already begun. She didn’t trust him, and of course he didn’t trust her.
After they finished the meal, everyone prepared to head down the mountain and return to Chang An. Other than the road navigating lackeys, there was an additional hundred guards protecting their convoy. The group boldly traveled on the mountain road, with Huo Cheng Jun riding in a red covered palanquin while Huo Yu and the cousins rode on Blood Sweat Horses. On the way up Huo Guang rode in a palanquin, but he was in the mood to ride down and got on a steed. The convoy was large in numbers but everyone was well trained so there was no chatter. Plus it was the Winter so the mountains were quiet and the only sound was the horse hooves clopping.
Riding in a convoy, with docile horses and guards, everyone let their guard down. Huo San had already nodded off on his horse. Suddenly the horse in front cried out, causing all the birds in the forest to take flight. Huo San’s horse stopped abruptly and tossed him. He was about to start yelling when he realized that Huo Guang and everyone else had all gotten off their horses.
Huo Yu and Huo Yun unsheathed their swords and went to protect Huo Guang. Huo Guang’s expression was calm and he ordered “Don’t worry about me, protect your sister.”
Huo Yu and Huo Yun heard that and headed towards Huo Cheng Jun. Huo San suddenly realized “assassin” and figured out what was happening. He quickly unsheathed his sword and rushed towards Huo Cheng Jun. All the guards grabbed their weapons and prepared to meet the enemy. The guards nearest to them changed their formation and created multiple concentric circles to protect Huo Guang and his family.
The guards on the most outer circle grabbed their bow and arrows and readied to shoot. The guards in the circle within grabbed their shields to form a protective barrier. The guards closest in the middle all wore armor and were skilled in hand-to-hand combat and with their armor could use their bodies to block any weapons.
Behind Huo Guang stood a few people dressed like lowly servants, but their stance showed that they were skilled martial artists. After everyone was prepared, Huo Yun and Huo San calmed down. With such heavy protection, no assassin could break through. They gripped their swords and headed towards the outside.
All they could see in the countless swords in motion was a long black whip flowing through the air like a snake slithering freely. It was able to sneak through the tiny gaps in the swords to attack the wrist of the swordsman, causing their hands to completely loose strength and the sword to fall on the ground. After seeing most of the guards disarmed could Huo Guang see clearly that the assassins were just two people!
In the front was a girl in black with her face covered in a veil. She was riding an all black horse and controlling it expertly. Most horse whips were at most a few feet long, but hers was three or four times longer. She controlled it beautifully, the littlest movement and a guard would cry out in pain. Behind the girl was an all white horse, and a man riding on it. He was dressed in a rich robe with a gold circlet around his hair. He was regal and imposing, his aura blindingly powerful, but on his face was a fearsome silver wolf mask. The wolf was carved so lifelike it was imposing. The sunlight shone on the silver mask and gave off a cold and cruel light. It sent shivers into a person’s heart. A pair of dark eyes glittered inside the mask. Faced with the multitude of guards, his eyes conveyed a dispassionate disdain.
From when they appeared until now, the ground was littered with the injured and the dead, but he just sat on the horse and quietly watched it all. It appeared that he didn’t care about anyone’s life or death. Even if the girl before him died, he appeared to not give a damn either. Huo Yu was arrogant and he was trained by Huo Guang carefully and had faced many bloody battles. He had never known fear before, but this time his hands started to shake. He didn’t care that there were more guards still battling the girl and ordered “Release the arrows!” The outer guards released their cocked arrows.
The black robed girl quickly swung her whip and like a gust of wind all the arrows around her were repelled. The arrows didn’t harm the enemy one whit, instead killing all their guards that were battling the girl. Huo San was furious and impatient and got on his horse “Big brother, I’m going out to face her!”
Huo Guang was about to open his mouth and berate him when suddenly a loud resounding horse cry arose. It reverberated in the canyon, sounding like a thousand horses whining. Huo San’s horse suddenly knelt down and threw Huo San. Huo Yu and Huo Yun’s two horse also knelt down. Huo Guang’s steed didn’t kneel, but was hopping left and right, nervous and frightened, almost kicking a few guards down.
The man’s white horse appeared to be surveying his subjects. It looked at the three kneeling Blood Sweat Horses and proudly kicked his hooves and nodded his head. The three Blood Sweat Horses docilely got up and lined up next to each other. They displayed none of the arrogance of their bloodlines. Huo Yu’s hand shook and he roared “Release arrows.”
This time the arrows were even denser than the last time and some broke through the black robed girl’s whip perimeter, forcing her to grab her sword to strike down the remaining arrows. Huo Yu saw this and was furious. If he knew, he would have brought the archers of the Yu Lin Army with him. Even if that girl’s martial arts was great, she would still be dead by the arrows. But who would have imagined that a trip to pray to the ancestors outside of Chang An would turn into a battle. The guards that came with them was already unheard of. “Release arrows!”
The black robed girl faced the oncoming wave and waves of arrows and each time barely survived. She was in perilous danger but the man behind her remained riding his horse and coldly surveying the situation. He appeared not to be concerned or rushed.
“Release…..” Huo Yu’s eyes suddenly widened.
He saw the man on the white horse suddenly speed up and became a bolt of white lightening in the oncoming wave of arrows. He raced towards them, and raced toward a thick forest of arrows descending towards him. He arrived at the barrier of shields when suddenly the white horse whined loudly and leaped high into the air. He was like a shooting star as he leapt over the rows of guards and calmly landed in the middle of the barricade.
The barrier they thought could not be breached was just like an illusion. All the guards started to panic, with the black robed girl in front and the man on the white horse behind them. They didn’t know who to attack first. The servants next to Huo Guang attacked, one attacking the man while another tried to slash the horse’s leg.
The white horse avoided the attack even without the man’s orders, and with a kick of his hind legs, walloped the men sneaking up behind him. The three Blood Sweat Horses saw the white horse in danger and suddenly started to go berserk, attacking and kicking anyone trying to get close to the white horse.
The steed was also panicking and tried to escape. In the mayhem, Huo Cheng Jun was almost kicked by a horse. Huo San and Huo YUn quickly shielded her and started fighting with the horses. In the commotion, the man’s sword was like snowflakes dancing through the air, causing even the blood to freeze in a person. It appeared to be everywhere, and every sword thrust expertly hit a person’s weak spot. In truth his movements were fast, but in Huo Guang’s eyes everything seemed to be in slow motion. The man’s sword was arcing through the air like a streaking star, dancing like a passing cloud. Everyone before him was ruthlessly taken down. His sword was accurate and unflinching, and all the expert martial artists protecting Huo Guang was taken down in a flash.
Huo Yu was seeing red and he screamed “Protect the Great General.” Countless guards rushed forward and faced with the multitude of swords before him, the man suddenly got off his horse. He flew off his horse, his movements as quiet as a phantom. Huo Guang thought he heard people gasp but it was so fast that he couldn’t even react to it. And then there a was coldness pressed against his neck that went straight into his heart.
Everything immediately ceased. Only a man wearing a silver wolf mask, standing in front of Huo Guang. The sword in his hand was pressed against Huo Guang’s neck. Huo Yu, Huo San, and Huo Yun were struck dumb. Huo Guang was an all powerful God in their minds. No matter what happened, he could always resolve it. How could someone be holding a sword against Huo Guang’s neck? Huo Cheng Jun was silent for some time before she snapped out of it and screamed “Everyone stop! Step back!”
No one needed her to say it, everyone had already halted and was staring in shock at the man and Huo Guang. She looked at the man and said with some respect and some menace “The man under your sword is the Great General of the Han dynasty. If you hurt him even a hair, that is an insult to the Han dynasty, and will result in the death of your entire family. But if you lower your sword, no matter what grievance you have, we will listen to what you have to say.”
Huo Guang’s face was a tad pale but he didn’t appear to be frightened. He had a slight smile and he casually asked “Pray from which Xi Yu kingdom did the young master come from? The Blood Sweat Horse appears to have wings, able to travel hundreds of miles. It’s called a “Sky Horse” in the classic texts. There are wild horses in the mountains near the Da Fan kingdoms, but they are so fast no one can capture them. So the Da Fan kingdom had an idea and placed female horses at the base of the mountain. The wild horses mated with the female horses and produced what we call the Blood Sweat Horse. Emperor Wu of Han used twenty-five thousand soldiers to seek the Blood Sweat Horse. He got a thousand of them and treats each like a rare treasure. But the Blood Sweat Horses in our Han dynasty today has its blood diluted so many times from the true wild horses of the legend that they are no longer the Blood Sweat Horses that were originally bred. This white horse of yours, it must be a descendant of the wild horses. When I was young I visited Xi Yu once, but never got to visit Da Fan. I’ve never seen a true Blood Sweat Horse before. I must thank the young master for allowing me to open my eyes today at this wonder.”
Huo Guang had a sword against his neck but appeared to having a casual conversation, making everyone gape at this odd scene. Suddenly the sound of horse hooves arrived and it was the black robed girl returning. Because Huo Guang was in danger, no one noticed the black robed girl had left. She returned and said “Third young master, the five people going to seek help have been dispatched.”
Huo Guang’s face turned, his delay tactic was completely seen through. He forced a smile and candidly asked “If the young master wanted to kill me, I would already be dead. So what do you want?” The man’s voice was as cold as ice “I want to see Yun Ge. If the Great General has her brought here and she’s completely unharmed even down to a hair on her head, then you will be unharmed as well.”
In a half in hour was the time that was originally set for Yun Ge’s execution. It was clear this person was here to save Yun Ge. Huo Guang paused for a second and then relaxed. He was worried this person was connected to Liu Xun, but who knew instead that he was here for Yun Ge. This is good! If this person was Liu Xun’s friend, the Huo Guang would be in grave danger.
Huo Cheng Jun wanted to tell the truth but held back. If this person knew Yun Ge wasn’t in their hands, would he release her father? The man he was holding under his sword was the Great General of the Han dynasty. If he wanted anything, he could get it. If he missed this chance, he wouldn’t get another.
Huo Guang was a naturally suspicious person, but for some odd reason, he trusted this person holding a sword to his neck. This man’s arrogant gestures seemed familiar somehow “Yun Ge’s crimes have been exonerated and she’s been released from prison. Right now she is at the estate of Sir Dong Lian Meng Jue.” The man gave him a long hard look, then silently removed the sword, turned around, and got back on the horse. His movements were as effortless as water flowing. In the blink of an eye he was on his horse. There were still tens of armored and weaponed guards around him but he appeared not to notice them. He casually eased his horse off.
He arrived inexplicably, now he was leaving inexplicably. There were a sea of dead bodies on the ground that caused everyone’s heart to quake, but it appeared just like a game to him. Huo San roared in anger and threw his sword at him. Huo Yu appeared to awaken from a dream and ordered “Catch him! Chen Tian, Wang Zhi immediately go to the Yu Lin Army and grab reinforcements.”
The man suddenly turned his head around. Huo San’s sword was slicing through the air and headed straight for his face. Everyone thought he would duck but he didn’t move an inch. He allowed the sword to strike his face mask with a thud.
“Ah!” was the gasps of shock from the crowd. The crowd grew silent as the silver wolf mask split open. The man wasn’t harmed in the slightest, and this was clearly his intention. Under the mask was a handsome face wearing a cold expression. The man’s eyes rested briefly on Huo Guang’s face and then he turned his head around. Within a second, the white horse and the black horse had disappeared into the forest.
After seeing the man’s face clearly, Huo Guang appeared to have been struck by lightening. His eyes saw black and and he toppled forward. Huo Yun hurried to help him “Uncle, uncle…….” Huo Yu, Huo San, and Huo Cheng Jun rushed forward “Dad, dad!” “Uncle, uncle!”
In the midst of all the yelling, a few servants helped Hua Guang regain his breathing and burned some incense for him to breath. After Huo Guang calmed down and regained his breath, he was still in a daze and appeared to be unable to focus. After some time he ordered Huo Yu “Immediately cease chasing after that person. And never ever tell anyone about what happened today.” After some more thinking, he said “After we return, send all the guards here today to the border towns to be soldiers.” Huo Yu was baffled but he didn’t dare ask any questions, only answering yes to everything.
Yun Ge was the most docile patient San Yue had ever taken care of, but also the coldest. No matter how bitter the medicine, if placed before her, she would drink it in one gulp. No matter how painful the acupuncture, she wouldn’t even furrow her forehead and endured it. But with respect to anything else, no matter how much effort was put in, she appeared not to notice at all.
She was cold to every single person. And it was a coldness that didn’t come from being arrogant or lofty. It was a coldness that came from being guarded.
San Yue remembered her innocent and pure smile from before and it made her heart ache. She finally could understand a bit of what her young master must be feeling. She was a bystander and it already made her heart hurt to see Yun Ge this way. Someone in the middle of this situation must be feeling more than heartache.
The sun set early in the Winter so dinner was served earlier. After San Yue finished serving Yun Ge dinner, she cleared the plates and walked outside. In the dusky light she saw two people standing in the courtyard. One was a black robed girl in a black veil. Another was a man standing with his back to her. San Yue’s martial arts wasn’t weak, yet she didn’t even sense when these two people entered the courtyard, or how long they had been standing there.
This was Yun Ge’s residence, and was well protected by guards, yet these two people managed to enter without alerting anyone. She cautiously took a step back and then smashed the plates on the ground and screamed “Help!”
The man appeared to be vastly annoyed and took big steps and entered the residence. San Yue wanted to stop him but a whip suddenly blocked her path. She saw the man enter the residence and heard Yun Ge cry out in shock. San Yue was so anxious she was almost in tears. If anything else happened to Yun Ge, how could she face her young master? The black robed girl saw her expression and softly said “From when you came with dinner, I was already following you. I can see that you have treated my lady with such care. Thank you!”
After she said that, she lowered her whip and San Yue realized what the girl said “Yun Ge is the lady of your household?” Ba Yue and Jiu Yue rushed inside and thought San Yue was being attacked and moved to strike the black robed girl. San Yue was alarmed and warned the black robed girl “Be careful!” Meng Jue stepped into the courtyard and yelled “Ms. Zhu, please halt.”
Ah Zhu pulled her whip back, San Yue helped deflect Ba Yue’s sword thrust, and Meng Jue tossed a jade pendant and blocked Jiu Yue’s knife attack. Ah Zhu bowed to Meng Jue “Greetings, Mr. Meng.”
Meng Jue bowed back “It’s been a few years. Have you been well? When did you arrive in Chang An?”
“All is well. We arrived around noon.”
Meng Jue looked towards the residence “Is Yao here as well?”
Ah Zhu explained “When notice of Yun Ge’s execution reached Dun Huang, those in the know immediately reported it to Third young master. Its not that we don’t believe in Mr. Meng. Its just that siblings are connected at the heart, and there was no way he wouldn’t be worried about her. Will Mr. Meng please not be offended.” Meng Jue appeared casual and he said “Who would take offense? Back then I promised Yun Ge’s parents that I would take care of her. Yet my taking care of her landed her in this situation. I am the one who ought to be asking forgiveness from you all.”
Ah Zhu avoided his bow and kindly said “I believe young master you have done your best. It’s just……….you know my young master’s personality. I hope you see that it’s because of Yun Ge and don’t let it bother you.” Meng Jue nodded.
“We just arrived in Chang An so we still don’t know what happened. What did Yun Ge do that would result in her getting executed?”
Meng Jue didn’t answer, and after some time he said “If Yun Ge wants to explain, she’ll tell you herself.” He hesitated and then walked towards the residence. When he arrived at the doorway, he stopped and didn’t take another step. These past few days Yun Ge was like a wooden statue, but now she appeared to have gotten some life back. She sat with her head lowered and her tears fell on the blanket. The man sitting on the pallet stared at Yun Ge with his brows furrowed. He appeared quite angry. The siblings, one sitting quietly, the other crying, neither of them saying anything to each other.
The man was normally of few words, but finally even he couldn’t take it any more. “Yun Ge Er, are you mute? I asked you who mistreated you? Why don’t you answer? How come you have so many tears?” Yun Ge continued to silently cry.
Yun Ge was a chatterbox since she was a kid. Even when no one paid her any attention she could talk all day long to herself. When had she ever been at loss for words. The man’s heart hurt and he was also frustrated. For the first time in his life, he softened and said gently “Who mistreated you, you tell your big brother. I will go avenge any wrongs done to you. After I deal with them, I’ll take you home. Whatever you want, I’ll go find it for you. Wherever you want to go play, I’ll accompany you.”
Who knew that instead of stopping her crying, Yun Ge suddenly flew into his arms and started sobbing even more loudly.
Third Brother was completely clueless as to what to do. Yun Ge only ever wanted coddling and comfort from Second Brother. In front of him, she was always tart tongued and teasing. His body stiffened, like he had no idea what to do next. After some time, he copied what Second Brother would do and lightly patted Yun Ge on the back. It was a movement he was completely unfamiliar with, so the expression on his face was extremely awkward. He turned to look at Meng Jue standing in the doorway. Meng Jue bowed to him but Third Brother’s mouth just tilted up in a mocking slight smile, his eyes full of derision.
Meng Jue smiled casually but in truth he was completely on guard. If Yun Ge pointed her finger at him, the next second her Third Brother’s sword would follow. Yun Ge cried for some time and finally stopped. She rested on her Third Brother’s shoulder and asked “I thought you all didn’t want me anymore! Where’s dad? And mom? And Second Brother? How come none of you came to see me?”
If Third Brother had arrived earlier, perhaps this all……………Yun Ge was talking and suddenly her eyes filled with tears again.
Did this little chit think her execution was a reason for a family reunion? Third Brother furrowed his brows but said nothing. Ah Zhu responded “Master and Madam don’t know yet. Last year they were coming back from a trip to Turkey when they passed through Da Ban Mountain and ran into an avalanche……..”
“What?” Yun Ge shot up like a startled bird, her face turning stark white. Ah Zhu quickly followed “Master and Madam are fine, they are just stuck in the mountain caves until the snow melts in the Spring and they can leave.”
“Then, then…….” “My lady please don’t fret, Third young master prepared food and necessities and had the condors fly it up to the mountains to them.”
Third Brother furrowed his brows and said “Stop worrying! I think dad believes he’s in some paradise. He had me send ink brushes and plush rugs up to him, the ink brushes made with the fur from a sheep’s neck, the rug in the design of crysanthemums.”
“Where’s Second Brother?”
Third Brother’s face turned dark. Ah Zhu wanted to say something but Third Brother interjected impatiently “You’re the stupidest one in the entire family! Second Brother can handle his own situation. And in the worst case scenario, he has me to help so you don’t need to worry. But your situation? What the heck happened? If it’s nothing important, then let’s return to Xi Yu right now.”
Ah Zhu asked with concern “My lady, your complexion looks terrible, did you fall ill?” Yun Ge was silent for a moment and then she said “Third Brother, I can handle my own situation. I know there are lots of things at home you need to take care of. You go home with Ah Zhu first.”
“You’re not coming home with me?” Yun Ge’s eyes misted with tears “Not right now. Wait until I……….take care of some matters. Then I will go home.” Third Brother stared at Yun Ge, and then nodded. Even though they were siblings, but each had to live their own life. No one can live a life for another person. Third Brother coldly said “Then don’t let me receive another notice that you’re getting your head chopped off!”
Ah Zhu softly said “When young master received notice of your execution, he immediately set off. Since receiving the notice, we barely stopped to rest.”
To travel from Xi Yu to here within three days, even on a Blood Sweat Horse it would be exhausting! Plus her Third Brother’s constitution was always weak. Since Yun Ge lost the baby, she felt like her entire body was frozen in ice. Even the blood in her veins was cold. Right now she felt like no matter what she went through, a corner of her heart felt warm. She wanted to retreat into that corner right now, but thinking about her baby…………if the baby lived, he would have an uncle who pampered him; he would have powerful Ah Zhu to play with him; he would have a mom who was a master chef; she would cook him the most delicious foods in the world; she would take him to climb Sky Mountain; to eat grapes in Turkey…….but its all gone! Nothing was left. He never got to experience anything before he was cruelly taken away.
Yun Gr raised her head and stared at Meng Ju. Meng Jue calmly smiled at her, obscuring all his emotions. Yun Ge’s eyes were filled with piercing coldness, stabbing into his eyes, getting sucked into the vortex and not even making a ripple.
Third Brother suddenly said “Yun Ge Er, I’ll arrange another place for you to stay.” Yun Ge didn’t understand, how did her Third Brother’s connections reach all the way to Chang An? Didn’t their dad forbid them from ever stepping foot in the Han dynasty? But leaving the Meng Estate was not a bad thing, so Yun Ge nodded her head. Third Brother wordlessly picked Yun Ge up and walked outside. Meng Jue moved aside, and when San Yue wanted to speak up, she was shushed by the look in his eyes.
These last few days, Yun Ge never got a moment’s peace. So now Yun Ge nestled in her brother’s arms and nodded off to sleep. In her dreamy state she felt the horse climbing a mountain path. When she opened her eyes, she was indeed on the mountain path and after traveling some more, Yun Ge saw that they were surrounded by tombstones. She asked “Third Brother, where is this place?”
“When you were small, didn’t you always ask why you have a Second and a Third Brother, but no Eldest Brother?”
“Yes, but mom and dad always refused to answer. Every time I asked, mom always looked sad and regretful. Second Brother later told me not to ask anymore and make mom sad. When I grew up, he promised to tell me.”
Third Brother halted the horse beside a lavish tombstone. He carried Yun Ge off the horse and calmly said “This is Eldest Brother.”
Yun Ge said “Ah”, her shock was greater than her sadness because she always suspected her Eldest Brother had died. But she was shocked his tomb was in the Han dynasty! She walked forward and read the words on the tomb “In sorrow, Huo Tan.” Underneath was a small row of words, which Yun Ge read and confused her even more. Emperor Wu of Han cried for the passing of her Eldest Brother?
Yun Ge wanted to ask but she saw Third Brother kneel down before the tomb and respectfully bow three times. Her always arrogant and cold Third Brother was so respectful and courteous, she quickly knelt down and bowed to the tomb. “Eldest Brother, I’m sorry. I didn’t know your tomb was in Chang An. Its taken me until now to come pay my respects.”
Third Brother finished paying his respects and stood up. Yun Ge asked “So Second Brother’s name of “Huo” isn’t his first name, it’s his last name. Eldest Brother and Second Brother both have the last name Huo, and we both have the last name Huo as well, right? I always thought we were like the Xiong Nu, people without a last name. Duke? Why was Eldest Brother a Duke of the Han dynasty? Why didn’t mom and dad move his tomb away, leaving him all alone here.”
Third Brother didn’t answer and instead looked towards the side of the tomb and coldly said “Lord Huo, you have been listening for some time now. All your questions ought to have been answered.”
Huo Guang stepped out slowly from the copse of trees, his face eerily white. Huo Tan? Huo Guang? Yun Ge’s heart thundered and she appeared to make the connection. She was still weak so her body collapsed on the ground. Ah Zhu rushed forward to support her. Huo Guang carefully studied Third Brother’s visage, and after some time, he appeared to confirm something “What is your name?”
Huo Guang smiled and nodded “Sun, moon, stars, all put together makes the character Yao, meaning to leap high. Just a name Big Brother would have thought of.” He turned to look at Yun Ge, his smile frozen “Is Yun Ge my Big Brother’s little daughter?”
“My dad’s daughter in his later years.” Huo Yao was a man of few words, but he added one more “She’s the most precious one in our family.”
“Big Brother, he………..he………..” Huo Guang’s face lost all his blood color and he couldn’t get out one complete sentence.
“My mom and dad are fine. Lord Huo must not like me staying in Chang An long and I’m planning to leave immediately. But Yun Ge wants to stay in Chang An and play some more. I’ll entrust her to Lord Huo.” Huo Guang startled and right as he was about to respond, Huo Yao suddenly raised his eyebrow and took steps back. He grabbed Yun Ge and gave a cold smile “Good one, Lord Huo!”
In a few moments, Huo Guang heard rustling around the tomb. Huo Guang hurried to explain “It’s not on my orders.” He yelled out “Who is it? Come out and see me!”
He saw Huo Cheng Jun ride up “Daddy, I saw you leave the city alone and I was worried. I followed you here and I’ve ordered this area surrounded. But why is daddy………….” Huo Cheng Jun couldn’t understand why her normally cautious father was speaking so close with the assassin. Wasn’t her dad afraid of being accosted? Huo Guang yelled “Cheng Jun, order everyone to retreat. You come over here, I need to speak with you.”
Huo Cheng Jun startled for a moment, and then jumped off her horse. She slowly walked up to Huo Guang, staring at him and then turning to stare at Yun Ge’s group. Huo Guang pointed at Huo Yao and Yun Ge and his voice cracked with emotion”That is your older cousins, go call them older brother and older sister and pay your respects.”
Huo Cheng Jun’s eyes widened and her mouth opened into a O, her face gaping in shock. Yun Ge jerked her face away and bit down on her lips, her body quaking. Huo Guang said to Huo Yao “The ancestral temple is close by. Since you are here, go light an incense for the ancestors. Who knows if there will be a next time.” Huo Yao thought for a moment and then nodded.
Huo Yao brought Yun Ge to the Huo family ancestral temple to light incense and kneel and bow to the ancestors. When he got to the plaque for “Huo Qu Bing”, Huo Yao saw that the incense holder was spotlessly clean. Some of the coldness in his eyes dissipated. Yun Ge stared at the “Huo Qu Bing” plaque and murmured “So this is daddy’s real name. I’ve heard of this name before.”
Huo Guang said to Huo Yao “You can return to Xi Yu without worrying. For every day Yun Ge is in Chang An, I will take care of her.” Huo Yao bowed and finally said “Thank you, Uncle.”
Huo Guang looked at the face that was so similar to his Big Brother’s face and his eyes misted and his heart ached. All his fighting, rage, injustice, worry, none of that seemed important anymore. All these years, wasn’t he was angry because his Big Brother died so pointlessly and his sister-in-law committed suicide. Wasn’t he so furious that his Big Brother had no progeny?
After paying respects to the ancestors, Huo Guang asked Huo Yao to sit beside him and tell him about his Big Brother and sister-in-law’s life all this time. Huo Guang was so overcome with emotion and was desperate for Huo Yao to tell him everything. But Huo Yao didn’t like to talk and he was also not sentimental, so for every ten questions from Huo Guang, he answered with a few phrases. Huo Guang was so anxious but there was nothing he could do. Ah Zhu saw this and said “Lord Huo, whatever you want to know, you can ask Yun Ge Er in the future. She’s a chatterbox and any little thing she can talk about it in detail for the entire day.”
Huo Guang looked at Yun Ge sitting in the corner all withdrawn, and then he looked at Huo Cheng Jun sitting in the other corner all withdrawn, and his smile froze awkwardly on his face. He coughed a few times and glossed it over. Huo Guang thought of Huo Yao living and traveling in Xi Yu and his heart shook. He wanted to ask but couldn’t bring himself to open his mouth. He thought of that name, and it was a heavy as a thousand tons of gold, pressed on his tongue so he couldn’t speak. Huo Yao saw that he wasn’t asking anymore questions so he got up to leave.
Huo Guang was frantic so he blurted out “Yao Er, have you heard of Feng Liao.” Huo Yao’s was expressionless but he slightly nodded his head, but didn’t continue. Huo Guang wanted to ask but didn’t know where to start. Time passed so fast, how many years had passed? He startled and then sighed, waving his hand “You siblings must have a lot to discuss, I won’t take up anymore of your time. Go say goodbye to Yun Ge!” Huo Yao nodded and walked towards Yun Ge.
Huo Guang pushed all his emotions into the depths of his heart and arranged his expression into the normal calm look. Ah Zhu standing to the side heard this exchange and she suddenly spoke up “How could anyone in Xi Yu not know Madam Feng’s name? Princess Xie Yo came when the Han dynasty was at its weak point and brought Han culture to the Xi Yu and even Xiong Nu people. She passed on medical knowledge to the various kingdoms in Xi Yu. She used kindness to earn the respect of the Xi Yu people for the Han dynasty. All of these doings, everyone in Xi Yu knows about. And half of all the things she accomplished was due to the assistance of Madam Feng.”
Huo Guang said nothing but his expression shaded. After some time, he looked carefully at Ah Zhu and asked “What you said wasn’t something that an average Xi Yu person could say.” Ah Zhu’s face was covered by her veil so it wasn’t clear what her expression was, but she replied “I remember years ago, Master and Madam had a chance encounter with Madam Feng. the three of them conversed in happiness and drank to kindred spirits. My Master rarely compliments people, but he complimented Princess Xie Yo and Madam Feng as a “female warrior of the dynasty.”
Huo Guang’s froze and his eyes were filled with happiness and sorrow. He had a bit of a young man’s hesitation as he asked “My Big Brother, he really praised them as such?” Ah Zhu nodded. Huo Guang thought of another worry and asked “Years ago Big Brother was world renowned, and she is so smart and perceptive. Did she guess Big Brother’s real identity?” Ah Zhu replied “I don’t know. Madam Feng may have guessed, or may not have.” Huo Guang lowered his head and grew silent.
Ah Zhu bowed to Huo Guang and then retreated. Huo Yao sat next to Yun Ge and looked at her exhausted and haggard face. His heart ached with worry. For a man who rarely spoke even once, he repeated again “Yun Ge Er, are you sure you don’t want to come home with me?”
Yun Ge stared dumbly at her Third Brother. Huo Cheng Jun was her younger cousin! She had to call the person she hated the most in this world little sister? What will she do?
Huo Yao took something out of his robe and placed it in Yun Ge’s hand. It was soft and Yun Ge lowered her head and immediately tears sprang to her eyes and fell like rain. A dark black hair braid, with a woman’s earring hanging on it. Since the day she made her promise under the stars, it’s finally returned to her hands.
Huo Yao wanted to use this to cheer Yun Ge up, who knew he would instead make his little sister cry again. He was frustrated and said “I remember when you were small, you would cry and beg for this thing. On my way out of the house, since mom and dad weren’t around, I stole it out for you. If I knew it would make you cry……I wouldn’t……..” Yun Ge tightly gripped the hair rope and said with her voice cracking “Thank you, Third Brother. Really, thank you!” The hair rope in her hand was soft, but Yun Ge felt like sharp daggers were piercing her heart, the pain making her bleed inside. She rested on her brother’s shoulder and softly said with conviction “I want to stay in Chang An.”
Huo Yao glanced at Huo Cheng Jun and asked “Do you want to stay in the Huo Estate? If you don’t like it, I can find you another place.” Yun Ge rested her chin on her brother’s shoulder, her eyes staring at Huo Cheng Jun, and she enunciated each word carefully “I’ll live at the Huo Estate.”
Huo Yao stroked Yun Ge’s head and tenderly said “As long as it makes you happy, do whatever you want to do. If you need any help, have someone come find me. In this entire world, all I know is that you are my little sister. Other people, I don’t know and don’t care about. But remember, when you feel better, forget Chang An and come home to Xi Yu. Let’s get Second Brother and go climb Sky Mountain together.”
Third Brother’s rare display of gentleness appeared to encompass a full understanding of everything, causing Yun Ge to cry again as she nodded her head. Her heart knew the Sky Mountain was still there, but the people had gone. When Yun Ge stopped crying, Huo Yao led her over to Huo Guang “Uncle, nephew I will be going now.”
Huo Guang stood up “Be careful on the way. When you see your dad, just……just………” The two brothers would never have a chance to meet again in this lifetime. During these years, everything he did, his brother likely knew all about it. Right now there was nothing more he could say. Huo Guang smilled bitterly and said “You can go home with your heart at ease! I will take good care of Yun Ge.”
Huo Yao bowed to Huo Guang and then turned and left. Yun Ge walked him to the doorway and saw Third Brother and Ah Zhu swing on their horses and set off. In the dark Winter night, her Third Brother’s back grew smaller and smaller in the distance. The sole bit of warmth in Yun Ge’s heart also disappeared. Until the end, all that was left was the earring she was tightly gripping in her hand.
Huo Guang coughed a few times and cleared his throat “Yun Ge, be careful and don’t face the wind directly. In a bit, the servants will have the carriage ready and we can all go home.” Yun Ge carefully draped the hair rope around her neck and stroked the earring once before quietly walking back into the room.
Huo Cheng Jun, who was silent this entire time, suddenly smashed the hand warmer on the ground and ran out of the room. Huo Guang yelled “Cheng Jun!” and in his voice was warning and censure. Huo Cheng Jun stopped in the doorway with her back to the room, her expression unseen. The wind blew her robe around her, and some moments later, Huo Cheng Jun turned around and stared at Yun Ge and then curtsied “Big sister please forgive me, little sister I was rude.”