We’re a few chapters from the end of Da Mo Yao and the story is slowly headed towards a final catharsis. Everyone has grown up, learned some tough and painful lessons, and find themselves contemplating the seemingly simple question of “What’s next?”. For Yu Er, she’s the type of woman who actually does follow her man, despite her wild and unorthodox upbringing. That means she will do whatever Huo Qu Bing decides to do, whether that means getting involved in the battle for succession or leaving it all behind. At least they have each other, and Huo Qu Bing may soon discover that, despite his seemingly large family, the only person he can trust is Yu Er.
Chapter 35: Trust
What Huo Qu Bing described as “just the usual wealth and power” turned out to be so vast it stuns the entire court and nation. With this victory, Emperor Wu of Han awards him wealth equal to five thousand eight hundred households. But that is just the beginning.
The key is that all the generals who went out with Huo Qu Bing all got an official title and rewards. There are so many of his subordinates made generals and dukes that it takes up half the court of such positions. Other than Li Gan, who is conflicted towards Huo Qu Bing, everyone else who served with him are loyal and devoted since they went through life and death together. Especially the surrendered Xiong Nu leaders all are grateful to Huo Qu Bing and admire his courage and conviction. The bond Huo Qu Bing develops with these people cannot be understood by the scholars in court or the ordinary folks.
The position of Da Shi Ma (head of the entire military) is traditionally held by only one person, and in recent years it has been Wei Qing. To take away Wei Qing’s control, Liu Che purposely makes both Generals Huo Qu Bing and Wei Qing split the position, and raises Huo Qu Bing’s general rank to equal Wei Qing. With this, Huo Qu Bing’s rank in court has surpassed what Wei Qing worked years to attain.
Actually Liu Che, as uncle to Huo Qu Bing, knows him better than his aunt Empress Wei Zhi Fu. Liu Che may not ever trust anyone, but he knows that Huo Qu Bing is trustworthy on the battlefield and is not someone who cares about court politics. Huo Qu Bing will never pander in order to seek more power or wealth. He can chase the Xiong Nu for days and nights, but he doesn’t spend a moment with the court chatter. He often silently sits on the side and cares not to make friends with the scholar officials. This is probably what differentiates Wei Qing and Huo Qu Bing the most. Wei Qing, to protect and secure his family’s control, will endure and be willing to be solicitous even to Consort Li when necessary. But these things Huo Qu Bing will never do. Compared to the unfathomable Wei Qing, Liu Che clearly would rather trust Huo Qu Bing more.
But in truth, Qu Bing understands and sees all the politicking in court. He just doesn’t care, and he has his own way of dealing with it. Those who are adept at political sweet talking often find themselves hitting a brick wall with Huo Qu Bing. Take Li Gan, for instance, his numerous tactics all end up with nothing in the face of Qu Bing’s straight forward nature.
Because Liu Che is openly trying to push down Wei Qing while preferring Huo Qu Bing, the door to the Wei estate grow more and more quiet as the door to the Huo estate grows ever more popular. Some people who followed Wei Qing go test the waters with Huo Qu Bing and surprisingly find themselves rewarded. When this news travels to Wei Qing, he just smiles “If people want to leave, why keep them?” Huo Qu Bing’s open door attitude and Wei Qing’s hands off attitude leads to all Wei Qing’s followers except for Ren An turning to throw their lot with Huo Qu Bing.
It’s not clear how Wei Qing sees Huo Qu Bing, or whether he understands the difficult position Huo Qu Bing is in. He treats Huo Qu Bing the same as usual, but his eldest son is very angry with Huo Qi Bing. When he sees Huo Qu Bing, he’s not polite or courteous, responding to questions with curt answers.
The Empress hears that I am recovered, and knowing a mother’s heart, uses the excuse of a Palace banquet to call me in to see my son. Despite giving birth to Qu Bing’s child, I still do not have an official title. The Empress wanted to seat me elsewhere, but Qu Bing publicly held my hand and said “Yu Er sits with me.” Auntie Yun wanted to say something but the Empress just smiled “Add another seat next to Qu Bing.”
I was initially worried about how to handle this, but feeling the warmth of his hand, I suddenly don’t care anymore. Nothing is as important as our entwined hands. Since Qu Bing is worried about my safety and want me next to him to feel reassured, then why do I have to concern myself with what other people think.
Huo Qu Bing held my hand and we walked through the crowd of people staring at us. I confidently return their looks. Because of the man whose hand is holding mine, none of your looks can touch the happiness in my heart. I will not lower my head or avert my eyes.
Huo Qu Bing sat me down and then shot me a surprised look. He’s shocked that the normally carefully me would docilely follow his way of doing whatever he wanted. I secretly make a face at him and he smiles at me, his surprise turning into tender affection.
The nanny brings the baby and walked towards us. Huo Qu Bing appeared unaffected on the surface, but I can feel his hand tremble slightly. My heart was filled with all these feelings, not longing but instead regret and guilt. I even want to escape and avert my eyes from looking at the baby.
Li Yan initially watched Qu Bing and I with coldness in her eyes, but now she has a slight smile. I suddenly am reminded that there are unseen eyes looking at me. Since I selfishly made the decision that day for the sake of my baby, then now is not the time for me to show my guilt.
I force myself to look at the baby in the nanny’s arms. It’s strange, his innocent dark eyes make me feel this ache inside and I reach out for the baby. All these feelings welled up inside and my arms are shaking. The nanny sees me like this and is hesitant to hand me the baby. The baby stares at me, and then lets out a laugh. I see his laughter and I can’t contain it any longer, my heart cries inside for my baby. Are you smiling like this as well?
Huo Qu Bing reached out for the baby, and his hands used to the sword and arrow is suddenly very clumsy with the baby. The baby starts to loudly cry and the nanny hurries to comfort him. The Empress sees us and says to the nanny “Take Tan Er away.” She said to us “When you both have calmed down more, you can spend time alone with Tan Er. The Emperor treats Tan Er even better than he treated Ju Er. Thankfully Ju Er is also very loving towards Tan Er, otherwise I worry Ju Er will get jealous!”
Her words caused the entire banquet to start laughing, everyone is envious. They say the Crown Prince is so loving and give congratulations to Wei Shao Er. Huo Qu Bing and I sit there in silence. Li Yan’s mouth slightly tilts upward as she smiles.
Huo Tan has his thumb in his mouth and makes little cooing noises as he sleeps soundly. Huo Qu Bing sits on the pallet and rocks his cradle with his hand, staring silently at the baby. I see Qu Bing like this and my heart hurts so badly like a rock has fallen on it. I want to tell him the truth but when I look around I see Li Yan staring at us from outside the window. She raises her eyebrow and shakes her head at me with a smile, before departing.
I see Qu Bing staring at the baby in a daze and I chase after Li Yan. She clearly knew I was coming because she was waiting in a remote area. Before I said anything, she asked “How does it feel?” I don’t know what to say or how to respond so I just stare at her without an expression.
“Jin Yu, from now on, for every day Huo Tan is in the Palace, you won’t be able to smile. You will worry about him every day. This child is like his father and gets along with the Emperor quite well. Right now he’s the Emperor’s treasure and no one dares touch him. But babies are prone to accidents. A fall here, a trip there, arms and legs are easy to injure. At that time, the Emperor will at most kill people who didn’t take good care of him.”
If it wasn’t for her, I could have married Qu Bing; if it wasn’t for her, Liu Che might not have taken the baby into the Palace; if it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t have done this plan, putting lives at risk; all of Jiu Ye’s pain and agony during those days were because of her; Qu Bing’s guilt and self-blame is all because of her…..
She was smiling so full of herself, so happy, that this moment she wasn’t just Li Yan with her calculated plans, she was just a woman who suffered in the Palace taking out her rage on me. If I was in pain, then she would feel better about her life. All my concealed and built up rage suddenly exploded and in a flash I was standing right in front of her and my hands were around her neck. Li Yan’s face turned white and she started coughing, though she still smiled “I forgot you knew martial arts! But this is not the desert of the Xi Yu region for you to do as you will! Do you dare? Can you handle the consequences?”
So she’s not the only one gone crazy, I’m also going crazy. I take a deep breath and slowly release my hands and smile and bow to her “Will your highness please forgive my lapse.”
I reach out to fix her robe and say in a low voice “Your highness, neither Qu Bing nor I are kindhearted people. If Tan Er has even one hair on his head missing, I will have one thousand Luo Lan people die. If Tan Er fell anywhere, I will have ten thousand Luo Lan people die. If he has anything else happen to him, I will have ALL of Luo Lan……go to the grave with him!”
Li Yan stared at me in shock, and before she can response, I caress her cheek and continue “Don’t worry, I will never reveal your identity. I will never reveal your identity. At most all I will do is destroy Luo Lan. Qu Bing holds extensive military power. Even if he was just passing through Luo Lan on the way to war, he can easily kill tens of thousands of Luo Lan citizens. The Emperor won’t even care. Ay! I wonder what the population of Luo Lan is? Or I can set a trap for Luo Lan to do something that angers the Emperor, and if he gets angry, he can easily wipe out Luo Lan.”
Li Yan’s eyes were wide open “You wouldn’t do it.” The more I argue the less believable it is, so I just smile and walk away while keeping my eyes trained on hers. She sees my expression and starts to doubt her own words. Seeing her expression, I know my threat has worked. I turn and walk away. Tan Er, this is the only thing I can do for you as a mother.
Li Yan started laughing behind me “Jin Yu, you….” I didn’t turn around. She and I have nothing to discuss any further.
Since leaving the Palace, Qu Bing has been sitting in front of the sand board. He sits there the entire night. I thought he was strategizing as a way to help him deal with his frustration so I don’t bother him. I want to give him space to to work through things himself.
Before sleeping I walk over there and see that the sand is covered in the character “Tan”. He sees me and smile, pulling me into his embrace “Yu Er, no matter what the Emperor says, I will bring our child back to your side.” I startle and hurriedly say “Right now the political situation is precarious, neither the Empress nor the Great General Wei will agree with you opposing the Emperor.”
Li Guang’s death has caused a lot of officials to support the Li family and start opposing the Wei family’s stronghold on power. Plus the populace has very high regard for Li Guang and they blame Wei Qing for his terrible death. In court, neither Li Yan nor any of the other concubines opposing Empress Wei will let this opportunity pass them by. Everyone will align to topple the Wei family first and then deal later with what to do. All the factions opposing the Crown Prince are working together now despite the fact that they may be enemies down the road.
Li Guang’s younger brother Li Cai is currrently the prime minister and the head of hundreds of ministers. He got there from a military background, and since Li Guang’s suicide he has been calm and trying to control all the Li family members. But it’s exactly his calm that ought to make people afraid. The more calm he is, the more dangerous he is. Right now Empress Wei is no longer the woman who was beloved by the Emperor, and Wei Qing is now longer the Emperor’s most trust general. Wei Zhi Fu may be Empress, but everyone knows that the Emperor adores Li Yan above all in the Palace. Wei Qing may be a general, but everyone can see the Emperor has already relied on Huo Qu Bing in order to take away Wei Qing’s power.
Right now in court, Huo Qu Bing has become the most pivotal person, with both sides trying to gauge his attitude. If he can’t stay above the fray and with one move, either side will try to destroy him. Outside attacks aren’t scary, what’s worse is if the Wei family tries to take him down so that Liu Che can’t rely on him to oppose Wei Qing. The Wei family has no idea that underneath Huo Qu Bing’s silence and coldness is a passionate heart. Perhaps they don’t care to know since they are immersed in political strategizing all day long.
Huo Qu Bing heard what I said and didn’t understand why I appeared so concerned for the Wei family. Once he realized what I was worried about, I could see sadness flash through his eyes and then it changed into warmth and a smile for me. He hugged me tightly “Silly Yu Er, you don’t need to worry about me. I will be protecting you and the baby for the rest of your lives. I won’t be so easily set up by anyone.”
Outside the curtains there was a slight sound. Huo Qu Bing was likely too focused on me, or he thought it was Uncle Chen and this was his home, so his defenses was down and didn’t even hear it. After a moment, Qing Wu walks in with the tea tray from outside the curtains, her face red and afraid of looking directly at us sitting together in an embrace. She courteously place the tea tray down before bowing and scurrying out.
Huo Qu Bing didn’t even pay attention to her, but I smiled at how fleet of foot she was, just like her name suggested. How many such talented people are hiding in this Huo Estate?
My hands encircled Qu Bing’s neck and I kiss him. Since he’s been back, we’ve spent the last few months together, but because of my health he’s kept himself under tight control. With my forward gesture, he lets his defenses down and passionately kisses me back, picking me up and carrying me into the bedroom.
The moment we lay down we are completely entwined together. Initially I was doing this partly for show, to get us into the bedroom so I could talk privately with him. But now I’m just as aroused and completely lost in the moment. He wanted to slow down and he propped himself up and looked at me. He kissed me on the forehead and then continued kissing as he murmured “I’ve missed you so much…..”
With my one sliver of alertness I curl around his body and press up even tighter. He was initially trying to slow down for my sake but with my actions he can barely hold back as he cries out “Yu Er” and then his hands move down…..
“Qu Bing, Tan Er is not our son.” I press right next to his ear and whisper softly. His entire body stiffens and he stares at me. My eyes fill with tears and I quickly hug him “I’m sorry, I couldn’t let our son enter the Palace. So I begged Jiu Ye to find a weak orphaned baby to swap with our son. I didn’t mean to lie to you. But I worry that you are always in and out of the Palace, and when everyone is staring at you, they might notice something off. I’ve tried many times to tell you, but always there was a reason….”
I see his face turning darker and darker and my voice trails off. All my excuses and explanations disappear. It was all my fault, why even explain? My tears are swimming in my eyes but I try valiantly not to let them fall. Qu Bing’s chest is rising and falling heavily and I’m wondering if he’s furious. I let go of him to turn and leave, but then I can’t bear it and grab onto his robe.
He stared at me for some time before saying very clearly “I am angry, but not because you lied to me. No matter if you lie to me, I know you’re doing it for us. This idea is not something I won’t be able to understand. But I’m angry that you put your life at risk. Was your early delivery also planned? Otherwise how could you have a baby ready to swap out without the Palace suspecting?”
I was ready for his censure, but who knew he wasn’t angry at my deception. He has already come to trust me completely. My tears finally fall and I embrace him tightly “It will never happen again, it will never happen again……”
He suddenly punched the pallet violently and muttered “That Meng Jiu! How come he does whatever you ask? How could he let you take such a risk? Does he have the baby? Is the baby healthy?” I reply through my tears “Yes, the baby is already out of Chang An and somewhere very safe. Even though he was born early by two months, but he’s not like the weak Tan Er in the Palace. He’s very healthy and very alert.”
He quickly wiped away my tears “Don’t cry. I’m angry but I’m more upset at myself. I vowed before your Papa’s grave that I would take good care of you and not you be unhappy even once. But since you came back to Chang An with me, it’s only been you enduring things for me. This all happened because of me, because I wasn’t by your side so you had to endure it all alone.”
The more he talked the more I cried “Good Yu Er, don’t cry anymore. I’m not angry anymore. Good Yu Er, no matter what happens in the future, you can’t use your life to risk it. If something happened to you, how will I…..” His voice caught in his throat and his eyes were red. After some time, he softly said “You are not just my beloved Yu Er, you might be the only family I have in my life going forward. The only one who believes in me, who trusts me, who stands by my side. Do you understand?”
I vigorously nod my head “I won’t ever do something like this again. I…….” I rub the area between his eyes “Even though I was unconscious and you were by my side during that time, but I know the pain and sorrow in your heart. In the future I will take good care of myself, I won’t ever let you go through this again.”
His eyes gradually warmed and he held my face and kissed me soundly. He then started kissing from the corner of my lips all the way to my eyes, kissing my tears away. The fire between us flared up once again and became impossible to quench. All my rational thought went away and I murmur “Qu Bing, you also must never let me go through something like that.” He indistinctly replied before he shifted and we were joined together…..
The Spring arrived not at all like early Spring. The cold is still vicious and even the foliage doesn’t appear to be coming anytime soon. The calm in Chang An for the last six months is suddenly at an end. The Prime Minister of the Han dynasty Li Cai is accused of privately using sacred holy lands for his own use. Liu Che is very superstitious and believes heavily in praying to the gods and Heaven. He places great trust in the Taoist priests and shamans in the Palace, so much so that even the princes and princesses are polite to those folks. To have one’s own Prime Minister using sacred holy lands enrages Liu Che and he has Li Cai tossed in prison awaiting judgment.
General Li Guang lived a clean and upstanding life, good to people, generous and forthright. He earned a lot of reward during his time, but when he died he left no wealth. When his coffin was carried into Chang An, the citizens of the entire city wept for him. Now Li Guang has died for only a short time and his younger brother Li Cai has been accused of stealing sacred holy lands for his own use. This scandal rocks the nation. People do not understand politics so they believe this and curse the Li family to the sky.
Li Gan tries to round up support all over court, even coming to the Huo Estate, but Qu Bing does not see him.
When Empress Chen was cast out many years ago, one important detail involved a voodoo doll being found in Empress Chen’s chambers that featured the concubines who the Empress adored. Rumor has it Empress Chen would curse them every day. I have my own doubts about those voodoo dolls, which are easy for maids to slip into Empress Chen’s chambers. Same with this sacred holy land, which could have been written incorrectly on the ledgers so that Li Cai could easily have missed it when he was apportioning the land.
This is classic warfare, with the Wei family seemingly doing every out in the open, but secretly keeping this trump card to push the enemy into a dead end. But things are not yet finalized, so the winner remains to be seen. In the middle of the trial for this case, Li Cai commits suicide in prison. The former General, Duke, and Prime Minister ends up killing himself over the misuse of a piece of sacred holy land.
Suicide? I laugh. If Wei Ji and I died in prison back then, would we have been coined with a suicide out of guilt moniker? Within a short six months, the two highest Li family officials Li Guang and Li Cai both committed suicide and the family has barely finished with one grieving period before it begins another. The two great Generals from one family ended up not dying in the hands of the Xiong Nu, but both by suicide.
Huo Qu Bing coldly watches all of this unfolding from the sidelines. He continues to train, hunt, and even has a football field built in the estate. The cheers on the football field remain energetic, but deep within Qu Bing’s eyes I can see his disdain for all this.
Gong Xun He and Wei Jun Ru come visit Qu Bing, claiming it was along the way, but really they are eyeing the now empty Prime Minister spot. In fact, everyone in court is eyeing that position. Wei Jun Ru sees me and is so solicitous, asking how I’ve been and telling me to go see her if Qu Bing is ever mean to me. Since we’re family.
Qu Bing might seem cold on the outside but he actually really treasures his family. His last name may be Huo but he grew up in the Wei family, so their refusal to accept me has always hurt him. Now he sees the Wei elders so warm towards me and I can see it makes him happy. I sigh and the grasp Wei Jun Ru’s hand back “With Auntie standing up for me, Qu Bing will never be mean to me. I’ve been embroidering recently and can’t seem to do it well. Since Auntie is here, can you give me some pointers?”
Gong Xun He heard me and could see I understood what was happening. Wei Jun Ru looks at Qu Bing “There are lots of clever ladies out there who can embroider. Is it for Qu Bing? If so then I must go see it.” Qu Bing’s gaze brushed past me and he couldn’t contain his pleasure. I take Wei Jun Ru out while Qu Bing and Gong Xun He continue talking.
It’s nighttime and I can barely contain my sleepiness I hear Qu Bing softly call “Yu Er”, but then says nothing else. I smile and bit him lightly on his shoulder “How come you’re not asleep? You can do whatever you want. I may not want you embroiled in the fight for succession because it’s a life and death proposition. But if it want to do it, then no matter what I don’t have an opinion on it.”
He didn’t say anything other than tightly pulling me into his embrace. His hands quickly decides it wants to do other stuff and I whisper in his ear “You’re not stressed anymore so now you want to bother me! I’m sleepy! You let me sleep…..oh!” He smiled and kissed me, effectively stopping what I was going to say.