I try not to be someone who says I’m going to do something and not follow up. It was with a heavy heart I had to concede defeat in translating all of Yun Zhong Ge (Song in the Clouds), its three thick volumes made for an epic read but created an overwhelming translation project. A few months ago I said I would at least finish the last few chapters and I got close until only the final chapter remained. I actually translated the epilogue already (with Shang Guan Xiao Mei’s story) but this chapter 58 is the definitive last chapter of the book proper. Yu Zheng is currently filming the drama adaptation of the novel and official drama stills have slowly been seeping out and the post topping picture of Chen Xiao as Liu Bing Yi/Liu Xun and Su Qing as Xu Ping Jun was just released this week and makes for the perfect picture to end my Yun Zhong Ge translation journey on this very painfully poignant chapter. The final chapter is really Liu Xun’s story to tell, as by now Liu Fu Ling is gone, Yun Ge has left, Liu He has returned to the hinterlands without his ever present Hong Yi, and Xu Ping Jun finally faced up to the truth about the man she married and accepted the consequences as doled out by the Heavens. I’ve gotten a lot of folks who followed along with and loved this novel asking me exactly how it ended, and also wondering if there some of the lose ends might be revisited.
I can say for certain that this chapter is the bookend to chapter 5 (Stars on the Ground) which you can read here. That was one of the iconic chapters in the book in terms of creating the “before” world – five friends head out to the hills for a night dining under the stars and making a time capsule of their own capturing a lovely moment of time. Xu Ping Jun was a feisty little gal, Yun Ge a carefree little lass, Liu Bing Yi a resigned commoner, Liu He a wastrel by choice, and Meng Jue laying chess piece after chess piece even if his feelings never go according to plan. Reading this final chapter and going back to read chapter 5 really cements Tong Hua‘s ability to write with a clear vision for a cohesive story. YZG ends after this but the world she created was so vivid I felt like I could see what happens afterwards. Liu Xun ruling with sage wisdom (as even Tong Hua concedes in the end and history books tells us that Emperor Xuan of Han was indeed a good ruler to the people) at the cost of everything dear to him when he was only a mere Liu Bing Yi. But in the end, I like to think that everyone would have all made the same choices had they known how it would all end and got a chance to do again. Everyone except perhaps Meng Jue, the most complicated character in this story and the one who always gets the short end of the stick. I hope you all enjoy this final chapter and thanks for taking the YZG ride with me.
Chapter 58 – A Fool Can Have No Regrets:
After Huo Guang died, Liu Xun got to work eliminating the power of the Huo family. He started visiting Huo Cheng Jun’s residence less and less, until he never stepped foot in Shu Fang Pavilion again.
In the second year after Huo Guang’s death, Liu Xun readied everything and launched a lightning fast attack. He started interrogating the reason for Xu Ping Jun’s death. The midwife confessed that the Huo family conspired and poisoned the late Empress. Huo Yu, Huo San, and Huo Yun were forced to launch an all out attack.
After it failed, they were jailed for the attempted coup and every member of the Huo family was deemed a traitor. Huo Cheng Jun was stripped of her position as Empress and banished to the farthest reaches of the Palace.
The family that once was so powerful they covered the sky, their visitors so numerous it extended from the Court to the countryside, in the blink of an eye, the only person that was left was Huo Cheng Jun.
Liu Xun finally exterminated his greatest worry and threat, and with the collapse of the Huo family and the return of power to the royal throne, two new powers emerged. One was the eunuch cadre, with He Xiao Qi as the head eunuch serving Liu Xun. The other was the “Black Army” hand trained by Liu Xun, who controlled the Imperial guards, the Yu Lin Army, and even the entire military. On the surface, the eunuch cadre and the Black Army appeared to be Liu Xun’s right and left hand, one operating in the open, the other operating behind the scenes, both collaborating together.
But He Xiao Qi felt that the Black Army looked at him oddly and he would sometimes remember the members of the Black Army he was ordered to bury alive by Liu Xun, and even in the hottest days of Summer he would break into a cold sweat.
Meng Jue knew what Liu Xun’s next step was going to be, and Liu Xun knew that Meng Jue knew what his next step was going to be. Both of them knew that their Go match that was never finished was going to stop here soon and they were not even pretending otherwise. But in public one remained the Emperor ruling and the other remained the loyal Official, both of them acting out their parts with grace and respect.
Not long after Huo Guang’s death, Meng Jue asked to resign his position to Liu Xun, who received the request but never responded to him. All he did was order Yi Ping Ju (the restaurant where Yun Ge cooked and Xu Ping Jun sold wine to) razed to the ground and the owner thrown in prison. The second day, Liu Xun sent his Black Army to start storming all the pawn shops in town and arresting people. He Xiao Qi would then cook up a crime, since he was now familiar with the Han dynasty law books and could find a crime quickly and easily. On the third day, Meng Jue took back his resignation request.
Afterwards, the businesses in Chang An city started closing or going bankrupt one after another.
Every time Liu Xun received a report from He Xiao Qi, he never seemed to express any emotion. But He Xiao Qi got more and more scared each time he submitted a report. These businesses were all familiar to the Emperor. Meng Jue doing this, was he trying to threaten the Emperor or insult him? Those businesses were already on He Xiao Qi’s list, so how did Meng Jue know as well?
When the businesses on He Xiao Qi’s list were all shuttered, one day Meng Jue finished his lesson for Liu Shi and then smiled at him “All these years, everything I can teach Your Highness I have now taught you.”
Liu Shi heard it and his hand slowly clenched into a fist and he calmly asked “Is Teacher also leaving?”
Meng Jue didn’t answer but only continuing to smile “Your Emperor father has a very different temperament than you and govern differently. In the future you should not directly oppose him. He might treat you differently than all the other princes, but you never know how a person’s heart will change in the future.”
Liu Shi pressed his lip tightly and said “I’m not scared of him!”
Meng Jue didn’t say any more, only getting up to leave. Liu Shi stood up to send him off but Meng Jue said “I want to stroll alone, you don’t need to see me off.”
Liu Shi may be the Crown Prince, but he spent his childhood with Meng Jue, seeing him more than he ever saw his Emperor father. He respected him, admired him, trusted him. When he heard the request, he could only stop in his tracks and stand at the doorway, watching sadly as he departed.
When Meng Jue was gone from sight, Liu Shi was about to turn around when he saw Meng Jue’s jade had fallen on the ground. He picked it up and rushed to catch up to him.
When Meng Jue was almost to the front of the Palace, he saw Liu Xun standing alone admiring the lake view and blocking his path. Meng Jue walked up to courtesy “Your majesty.”
Liu Xun gestured for him to rise but said nothing. Meng Jue smiled and stood there as well. A court lady passed and gave a courtesy when she saw them, her light scent seemed to startle Liu Xun and he asked “Has the lilies bloomed in the lake?”
Cheng Er (the maid to Great Dowager Empress Shang Guan Xiao Mei) said “Yes, it bloomed recently and Great Dowager Empress bestowed some to me.”
Liu Xun said nothing and after some time, waved his hand for Cheng Er to leave. In the distance the sound of the river could be heard.
Liu Xun said to Meng Jue “These past few years, I’ve been all alone, but why are you so solitary as well?” Meng Jue smiled “Your majesty has a Palace full of consorts and a son, how can you be alone?”
Liu Xun was expressionless and asked “What do you think of the Infante of Guang Ling?” Meng Jue casually responded “A useless lout, of no threat.”
Liu Xun nodded, he thought the same, leaving someone like that around had one hundred good reasons and not a single bad one.
Meng Jue then asked “I remember he loved to train attack hounds, does he still do so?” Liu Xun raised an eyebrow and stared at Meng Jue, who only smiled lightly and didn’t add anymore.
After a long pause, Liu Xun casually said “You and I have been through much together, is there anything you want to finish that hasn’t been done. I can finish it for you.”
Meng Jue laughed “I like to do my things myself.”
Liu Xun laughed “Then you can leave!”
Meng Jue turned towards the river and started walking. Liu Xun was almost about to call him back when Meng Jue stopped and asked “Do you remember many years ago on the iced over river when you and I aligned in that bloody fight?”
Liu Xun startled for a moment and then said “I remember! Xu Ping Jun later asked me many times how you and I saved Yun Ge and herself.”
“When you went to summon Liu Fu Ling, you must’ve killed a lot of servants.”
Liu Xun laughed “No less than you killed!”
He Xiao Qi was hidden and saw that the plan was going awry. He wondered what to do and initially wanted to send someone to ask the Emperor. But seeing Meng Jue so close, looking so carefree, his rage boiled to the surface. Hei Zi and his gang’s torn up bodies flashed before his eyes, the bloody image rushing to his head.
Enduring for so many years, he’s finally waited for today. With Meng Jue’s skill, if he walked out of the Palace even the Emperor could not guarantee getting rid of him for good.
He Xiao Qi gestured to the hidden archers around him and nodded. He cocked his own bow and aimed it right at Meng Jue’s back, then sent his arrow contained all his rage towards him.
One arrow first, then tens of arrows followed. Meng Jue heard the arrow and turned quickly as well as backed up towards the river edge. He blocked the arrows but it continued to fly towards him. He avoided the first round of arrows but could not avoid the second.
Tens of arrows pierced his chest and in a moment his body was riddled with arrows, the blood staining his robe.
Liu Xun stood in the distance and calmly looked at him. He also calmly looked at Liu Xun. In the silence, their eyes locked with each other. They wordlessly placed the final piece in this Go match.
Liu Xun’s eyes did not look happy but instead he coldly stated the final truth “We finally finished our unfinished Go match. I won.”
In Meng Jue’s eyes there was no sadness, only scorn “Really?”
Under his scorn there was some exhaustion, some derision, and some inevitability. His body swayed and he could no longer stand. The intense pain caused his vision to blur and Liu Xun’s form gradually disappeared. A person in green walked towards him and a smile curved on his lips. He could see the wide expanse of the blue sky, outside of this dirty world. In the distance with the white clouds, did she manage to forget it all? Did she find the solitude she was looking for?
Did she really forget me completely?
Was her illness better?
This life, this lifetime, it could no longer be. Then he could only pray for next life, next lifetime……..
His figure fell backwards into the raging river. His body disappeared into the ripples and didn’t even leave a trace.
He Xiao Qi softly gave an order and all the archers disappeared, leaving no trace. Guards arrived and Liu Xun ordered “Seal the river exits and look for the body of the assassin.”
Chang Shi An and Chang He arrived all out of breath and it wasn’t clear if the water on Chang He’s face was sweat or tears. He was about to say something but Chang Shi An grabbed him and pulled him to kneel.
Chang Shi An respectfully said “Your majesty, the river is fast and connects with the Yellow River. Chang He is very familiar with the river ways in Chang An, why not let him lead a group to search.”
Liu Xun trusted Chang He like no other and he said “Loyal Chang He, take men to go search, but don’t make it known and come back to report only to me.” Chang He was stunned for a moment and then quickly bowed. He then got up and lead soldiers towards the river.
Chang Shi An bowed again and said “We heard remnants of the traitorous Huo family attacked Your majesty. Please punish me for coming late to the rescue.”
Liu Xun said nothing and Chang Shi An raised his head to peek and noticed Liu Xun staring intently to the side. Chang Shi An turned his head slightly and saw in the corner Crown Prince Liu Shi standing there. There were tears in his eyes and he stared directly at the Emperor but made no move to come greet him. He didn’t even lower his head respectfully, and instead stared directly at Liu Xun. After some time, he suddenly turned and quickly ran off.
Chang Shi An didn’t dare to look anymore and only dutifully kneeled there with his head pressed against the ground. After some time, he heard the rustle of robes and knew Liu Xun was leaving and heard a cold voice say “Everyone can leave.”
Liu Xun walked towards the Court but when he arrived and saw it was empty, he wondered why he came since all the officials had finished the morning session.
He turned towards Xuan Shi Pavilion (Emperor’s residence) only to realize it was also empty, all that was inside was piles and piles of official decrees for him to review. But he felt this incredible exhaustion and only wanted to find a comfortable place to rest for awhile.
He turned again and took a few steps, only to realize he was headed towards Shu Fang Pavilion (Empress’ residence). Even though it was empty, he still felt this sense of loathing and he turned away.
Liu Xun looked around him and didn’t know where to go. Wei Yang Palace. Wei Yang Palace! With so many pavilions and residences, there wasn’t even a place for him to rest with ease.
Without realizing it, he slowly walked out of Wei Yang Palace.
There was a throng of people walking on the street, the businesses bustling and everyone had money in their pockets and were smiling. A boy riding a water buffalo and playing a flute gestured for Liu Xun to move aside and he did to allow the boy to pass. A woman fed her chickens in the yard and craned her neck to see if her husband was coming down the road. She saw Liu Xun staring at her and was about to chastise him when she noticed the way he was looking at her. His eyes were filled with desolation. She thought he was a traveler missing home so she turned around and hurried inside.
Liu Xun walked past home after home until finally he was standing before two homes that were adjacent to each other. The scent of home cooked food wafted out of other homes but these two homes didn’t have any sign of life and sat there desolate.
Liu Xun tugged and the lock opened and he walked towards the kitchen. He touched the icy cold stove, then walked into the dining room and picked up a few bamboo baskets on the ground. He saw cobwebs at the corner of the room and he went to the kitchen to grab a broom and swept the cobwebs away. As he cleaned and cleaned, he swept the rafter beams and the window panes, then moved on to the floor. In the end he grabbed a pail of water and a rag and cleaned the entire room inside and out. Despite it being many years since he did such activities, it didn’t feel foreign to him and instead felt very natural. It was like yesterday or the day before that he helped his wife do such chores.
The room was clean inside and out but he still wasn’t done. He looked at the chests in the room and opened them all up wanting to organize it. Most of the chests were empty but one chest contained some old clothes.
He vaguely remembered that when Liu Fu Ling made him a Royal Duke, he hurried Ping Jun to move to their new residence. She wanted to bring everything from home and he only laughed at her and told her to unpack everything and leave it here. When they got to the packed clothes, Ping Jun refused to leave any behind so he managed to unpack a few robes and tossed it in this very chest before they left.
“These clothes have large and small patched up holes. Even if you gave it to the servants in the Ducal residence no one would take it. Why are you bringing it? Is it for me to wear?”
Ping Jun couldn’t answer him but she still refused to leave behind any clothes that were not patched. He can only sigh “she’s so poor as to be scared” and allowed her to bring it along.
Liu Xun reached inside and took out a robe and saw that it was an old overcoat made for him by Ping Jun. The sleeves were all patched and Ping Jun used thread to sew a bird design on both sleeves to cover up the patch. Using his untrained eye he could make out at least four different embroidery styles, which goes to show how much effort and detail she put into it. She used the cheapest thread and with each stitch made the most intricate and detailed design to transform a patch into a decorative style.
Liu Xun’s fingers lightly touched the embroidery, and in the end he put the coat on himself and closed his eyes, quietly sitting down.
When He Xiao Qi arrived at the house he could still hear sounds inside, but now it was eerily quiet. He accompanied Liu Xun for many years and learned to speak less and not be curious. After some time even he got worried especially when the sky turned dark. He got up his courage and stepped into the yard and looked inside. He gasped when he saw Liu Xun, in the hot Summer night, wearing a winter coat and sitting inside.
Liu Xun opened his eyes and He Xiao Qi immediately kneeled on the ground “Your……your majesty, it’s dark…..dark now.”
Liu Xun quietly stood up and took off his coat and folded it carefully. He Xiao Qi wanted to take it from him but Liu Xun tucked it under his arms and walked outside “Locked the house securely and have someone stand watch over it. Also…the house next door.”
“Yes, shall I also order someone to clean it regularly?”
After a moment of silence “No.”
He Xiao Qi looked at the clean home and understood, quietly locking the door.
Liu Xun didn’t return to the Palace, instead heading further out to the countryside. He saw the fields and forest, the trees and the homes with their candles lit warmly. He seemed comforted but it passed in an instant.
The sun had completely set and the moon had risen like a young woman’s forehead looming over the Eastern hills. It seemed seductive and appeared to have a date with the insects in the fields, all of which started playing their own music. Even the fireflies began to dance in the sky to the beat.
A few fireflies flew past Liu Xun and he didn’t notice but continued to walk ahead. Suddenly he stopped and swiftly turned to look back. He Xiao Qi immediately bowed to receive an order, but Liu Xun didn’t even notice him. He looked around the hills and then suddenly quickly walked towards a particular hill side and appeared to be looking for something on the trees.
He Xiao Qi asked tentatively “If Your majesty is looking for something, your servant I can help you search?”
Liu Xun ignored him and continued to search on every tree until finally he stood before one tree and his fingers touched a scar on it. He took out a dagger and slipped it through the scar line and an oil cloth wrapped package fell out.
Liu Xun bent down and picked it up, but he didn’t immediately open it. He sat on the hill side for a long time in silence as he looked towards the distance.
The fireflies danced in the grass and trees, coming close and then flitting away. Liu Xun reached out and pulled a blade of grass from the ground, thinking to himself that if used for a grass battle this one would be a General that won every skirmish. If Ping Jun used it, Yun Ge would surely be totally drunk by the end. He suddenly realized that the night was too quiet, too desolute. He used his finger and sent the blade of grass flying forward until it landed on the ground. Never again would anyone hoot and holler over a blade of grass, fighting and bickering for it.
After sitting for some time, Liu Xun finally put the oil clothe package on his knee and opened it up. Slips of silk handkerchief unfurled and sat on his knees.
He opened one silk slip that had nothing written on it. He laughed – this one must be his.
Whose would he get next?
He opened another slip and was stunned. The slip had nothing written on it as well. A second later he shook his head and tossed it aside. He will never know which one was his, and which one was Meng Jue’s.
The third slip was in the handwriting of a very lazy man, with a smile danging on his lips, almost like he’s winking at the person reading this “A wish is a person’s deepest darkest secret, how could I write it down for you to sneak a peek?” In a few short strokes he conveyed his mischievousness.
Such a pointless endeavor! Liu Xun coldly huffed and tossed it aside.
There was only two slips remaining. He didn’t move for the longest time, and through the slip he could make out words. He lightly opened the corner of one and a line of elegant characters bringing with it Yun Ge walked towards him in time.
A girl in green sat on the hillside, smiling as a bunch of fireflies darted between her hands. In the darkness and the firefly light, her face shone like a mountain sprite. She lightly caught one and gingerly made a wish “Wishing only to fly together…….” before opening her palm and releasing it. She lifted her head and watched it fly higher and higher.
Liu Xun walked closer so he could hear her entire wish clearly, but in a split second he stopped himself. He looked at the contentment on her face and didn’t want to bother her anymore! He took a deep breath and closed Yun Ge’s silk slip and tenderly set it aside. He lowered his head and looked at the final slip in his lap, his heartbeat increasing and his body rigid.
The girl with the red nose shyly walked towards him from a distance, her figure growing bigger as she grew up, her shyness got less, her fiery personality grew more, When she saw him she stopped hiding and started baldly walking past, the two red flowers on her two braids swinging as she swayed. But under her fiery and feisty personality there was still the girl who was insecure and shy.
He smiled and shook his head. She thought she was so smart, but really she was so silly and understood nothing. How could she be this silly. Because she was so silly, she allowed him to be so stupid.
Which of us is the stupid one?
The Heavens gave them fate – they met when they were kids. This fate was very generous, they lived next door and saw each other every day. If he raised his head he saw her, if he lowered his head he saw her. But to him she was just like water and farm vegetables, so ordinary as to be bland, so common as to be looked down upon. In his heart, he secretly wanted to pair up with his dream of elegance like a one-of-a-kind jade. Because it was so far out of his reach, more and more he coveted and desired it. He thought that rare elegance was something he could not have so he could never forget it. But he never realized that it was the most ordinary of warmth that was already imprinted in his heart.
If he reached out his hand but a little bit he could grab the fate given by Heaven, and transform it into a lifelong destiny on this Earth. But he was so busy chasing after his rare jade that he was afraid he would get stuck in the ordinary common life so he had no time or desire to reach for it.
So who is the silly one?
Ping Jun, I think I’m just a little bit more silly than you.
These words, can you hear it? Perhaps you no longer want to hear it. And no longer care. He laughed so hard he couldn’t even straighten himself, his hand tightly clutching the silk slip and his face pressed against the overcoat, his tears lightly spreading wetness on the embroidered stitches.
“Firefly, light a lamp, fly East, fly West, fly on sister’s dress.
Firefly, light a lamp, fly high, fly low, fly to brother’s horse.
Ride a hose, bring sister alone, stroll the streets, buy a present for sister.”
A little girl was humming this children’s song as she walked through the grass and behind her there was a little boy trying to catch some fireflies. The little girl stared at Liu Xun sitting on the ground and was so startled her song stopped. The little boy glared at Liu Xun but continued to chase after the fireflies.
The little girl curiously looked at Liu Xun and saw him wanting to open the silk slip but then keeping it closed. She was curious so walked over “Uncle, what is written in there?”
Liu Xun saw the red flowers on her braid and tenderly said “It’s a person’s wish.”
“Is it someone you love? Why don’t you read it? If you read it, you can make the wish come true, that will make the person happy.” The little girl was so excited.
Liu Xun said nothing and only carefully tucking the silk slip in his robe. There was nothing left for him to look forward to in his life. Only this silk slip contained something he didn’t know, and he wanted to keep something for himself to look forward to, something that made it feel like it wasn’t over between him and her. It was still ongoing, there was still something to look forward to.
The little girl saw the Liu Xun was ignoring her and pouted. Liu Xun saw her look and his heart swelled “I did a lot of wrong things, she’s angry at me.’
“Oh? Do you regret it then?”
Liu Xun lowered his head.
The little girl said very sympathetically “Because I stole candy, my mom is angry at me. But I still don’t regret it! I knew already that if my mom knew I misbehaved she would be angry at me, but that candy is really delicious! If I had another chance, I would still steal that candy and eat it.”
The little girl opened her eyes wide “What about you? If you had another chance, would you do the same wrong things again?”
Liu Xun was stunned into silence.
“Oh, I was asking you a question, if you can do it again……..”
In the distance a boy called out impatiently “Wild girl, Why aren’t you catching fireflies? You made me come and now you’re lazying away. I’m going home!”
The little girl had no time for Liu Xun and quickly ran to catch up to the boy. Their two figures swiftly disappeared into the trees.
The sky was dotted with stars, the ground was lit up with fireflies. A night wind blew past and Liu Xun wordlessly stood up and headed down the hills. Behind him, four silk slips scattered in the wind amongst the green grass. A gust of wind blew the silk slips into the sky, far into the distance until it disappeared into the darkness, unable to be found again.
Today he could obtain anything in this world. Only the memories that have disappeared with time he could no longer get back.