Naturally, the people of Yu City were unaware of the inner strife within the Imperial Palace. They only knew that the Left Chancellor Ji Feng Li had defeated the Northern Army, preventing the invasion.
Welcoming the heroes back from the battle were the shimmering fireworks in the skies, the streets lit with lanterns, the exuberant beat of the drums and the vibrant decorative silks. Walking down the street of the city, Hua Zhu Yu was among the crowd. The streets were swarmed with people, jostling left and right. Everyone was filled with elation except for her.
It seemed as though as the night got later, the streets were becoming increasingly crowded. Rather than walking forward, Hua Zhu Yu felt as though she was pushed by the crowd. Along the way, someone had stepped on the hem of her skirt, causing her to almost fall. However, a hand had reached out to stabilize her. Having not worn female clothes in so long, she felt slightly unaccustomed to it.
“Oh, it’s a beauty!” a drunk voice sounded beside her.
Hua Zhu Yu looked over and saw the intoxicated look in the man’s squinty eyes as he smiled at her. It was truly a drunken lecher. Having disguised as a man for many years, she had never encountered such a situation before.
She coldly narrowed her eyes and turned her head to avoid the assailing smell of alcohol from his breath. She didn’t want to cause a scene and was thinking of leaving but suddenly she realized that he was stepping on the hem of her skirt.
Behind him was a group of a dozen or so men, who like him were also seemingly intoxicated. They all looked like sons from influential families. Seeing this spectacle, the passersby on the streets dared not intervene and immediately avoided by going around the group.
The drunk man stepping on her skirt grabbed her sleeve with one hand while the other hand reached out to try and remove the veil covering her face.
“Take it easy. Let’s make a bet first. Will the goods1 be first-class, common or substandard?”
“Substandard! She’s wearing a veil to cover up, not letting people see. The goods are definitely substandard!”
Those drunken men all burst out laughing.
“I think it’ll be common. Based on just her figure, she’s definitely not inferior in the slightest to the bewitching Xiao Li of Zui Xian Fang (intoxicated immortal square).
“I bet she’s a first-class beauty. I’ll wager 50 liang of silver!”
“I bet she’s substandard with 52 liang of silver!”
Standing amid the bustling streets, Hua Zhu Yu coldly observed the discussion.
“Young Master, you mustn’t cause trouble here tonight. Lord Chancellor’s horse carriage is about to pass through!” a servant stepped forward to advise.
Unfortunately, these drunkards weren’t in their right mind to worry about other things. They ignored the servant and surrounded Hua Zhu Yu as one of them reach out to remove her veil.
Hua Zhu Yu had been holding back her anger. But once she saw that hand reach out, she slightly leaned to the side to escape and decided to teach them a lesson. Soon after, these men were knocked to the ground one after another.
At the same time, a series of chatters resounded, followed by cheering and applause from the commoners as someone exclaimed, “Lord Chancellor is here!”
Momentarily, fireworks lit the night skies in dazzling colors. The commoners were all clapping as the drums were beating joyfully.
Hua Zhu Yu looked towards that direction and saw the crowd making way as the guards of the Left Chancellor’s Residence rode by on their horses. Behind them were a group of soldiers with pikes and at the rear was a gorgeous horse carriage.
This was Ji Feng Li’s horse carriage but at the moment he was not riding in it. He was on his horse, riding forward, surrounded by the group of soldiers.
The commoners continued to applaud and he smiled as he slowly rode pass.
Though his smile was very light, it was enough to incite the crowd’s fervor.
Seeing his smile, Hua Zhu Yu’s eyes flashed with an icy glint.
Why was it that whenever she was struggling, he could stand there calmly and gracefully smile on his high pedestal? Ultimately, everything she had to endure was all thanks to him, especially the baby in her belly!
When she was entangled in pain and misery, the main culprit remained free and unfettered.
On what basis?
Following behind Ji Feng Li, the carriage’s curtain was suddenly lifted by a delicate hand and a tender face appeared, her eyes faintly sweeping across the crowd.
Upon seeing this, Hua Zhu Yu’s heart sunk. The person sitting in that carriage was indeed Jin Se.
Hua Zhu Yu did not think that Jin Se would follow Ji Feng Li and return to Yu City. Their marriage ceremony was left unfinished but she still followed him back? Hua Zhu Yu thought that she made her intentions quite clear to Jin Se when she tried to kidnap the bride that day. Why did Jin Se return to the tiger’s den?
Hua Zhu Yu was conflicted with many different emotions as she stood there in the crowd. Upon seeing Ji Feng Li approach, one of the drunken lechers who wanted to take liberties of Hua Zhu Yu staggered off the ground and grabbed her sleeve to try and pull her into a small alley. “Beauty, I bet you’re a first-class beauty. If correct, you can spend the night with this young master,” one of them said as he pulled on her sleeve.
The sight of Ji Feng Li had already infuriated Hua Zhu Yu to the limit with no place for her to vent. She sneered and pulled back her sleeve but he held on tightly, not letting go. With a ripping noise, her sleeve was torn, exposing her fair snow-white wrist. Instantly, the cold infiltrated, causing her to slightly shiver.
The bystanders’ gazed at her exposed wrist. Hua Zhu Yu was thoroughly infuriated and from the corner of her eye she could see that Ji Feng Li was also looking this way. Her brows knitted and a sharpness flashed in the depths of her eyes.
The jostling crowd had prevented Ji Feng Li from moving forward. Looking sideways he saw a group of young masters from influential families surrounding a young lady. Her sleeve was also ripped by them. He was about to instruct his guard to go over and assist but then the young lady suddenly moved. Her clothes fluttered in the air like a flower blooming in the night attracting everyone’s attention. Moments later, those young masters were on the ground groaning.
Before the men had the time to stand up again, she had disappeared into the crowd.
Ji Feng Li’s eyes swept across the men on the ground and he lightly smiled. He did not expect that young lady to know martial arts. His eyes searched the crowd but the woman had already disappeared.
He pulled on his reins and continued forward.
In the midst of the crowd, Hua Zhu Yu watched as his silhouette was getting farther and farther away. Beneath her sleeve, her lily-white hands were clenched into a tight fist. Till he completely disappeared from sight, she turned around and left in the opposite direction.
translations at peachblossomgrove . com
It was late at night and the wind was becoming increasingly chilly.
Ji Feng Li arrived at his residence but did not return to his Feng Yuan(Phoenix courtyard) right away. His steps slowly wandered towards Xin Yuan (fragrant courtyard.)
Xin Yuan(fragrant courtyard) was exactly as it was before yet it was no longer autumn but the chilly winter.
Most importantly, that person was no longer here.
Sitting in the room for quite some time, the scene at the banquet emerged in his thoughts. Leaning against Huangfu Wu Shuang, that person smiled and chatted happily. As he thought of this an uncomfortable feeling arose in his chest. He got up and walked out of the room. Then he instructed Ji Yue and Ji Shui, “In the future, you two will live in this courtyard.”
Ji Yue and Ji Shui made a sound of assent but they were not willing in their hearts. They didn’t understand why Lord Chancellor would instruct them to move to Yuan Bao’s old place to live all of a sudden.
After dismissing his guards, Ji Feng Li then wandered to the back garden.
Nearing the end of November, it was a moonless night with only the shimmering stars present.
At the center of the lake was a pavilion. There hung a single lantern, giving off a faint cold light as if reflected off the iced-surface of the lake. Ji Feng Li was standing at the lake’s edge as he proceeded to stroll pass the nine curved overpass and enter the pavilion.
He sat down on the cold stone bench and withdrew the jade flute from his sleeve. Placing his lips on the flute he began to play.
The cold night fog enveloped his body, making his figure increasingly obscure in the dark night. As he played Ruo Shui (Weak Water??), the pleasant melody drifted over the iced lake. He was uncertain if it was due to the cold winter night but he found it quite difficult to play this tune after such a long time.
In the distance, fireworks would occasionally light up the night sky in dazzling colors, a beautiful sight to behold.
But this beauty was very faraway, almost like an illusion that was never within reach.
Suddenly, he could hear the sound of light footsteps approaching and his hands slightly shook causing the tune to become somewhat chaotic. The footsteps walked by the overpass and was getting closer and closer.
“Lord Chancellor,” the person saluted with a bow.
Ji Feng Li stopped and put down his flute.
“Why did you come?” he lightly asked.
With a light smile, Jin Se draped the cloak in her hands over Ji Feng Li and said, “Lord Chancellor, it is windy here, be careful of catching a cold.”
“This Chancellor is fine. You should rest early,” Ji Feng Li faintly said as he turned the jade flute around in his hand.
“I want to remain here with Lord Chancellor .” Jin Se said as she slowly got closer to Ji Feng Li.
“Why trouble yourself? It’s windy here, what if you catch a cold? Let’s quickly return,” he said and stood to leave with Jin Se.
Leaving the back garden, they soon arrived at the entrance of Feng Yuan(Phoenix Courtyard) and he suddenly realized that he had yet to make any accommodation arrangements for Jin Se. Luckily, there were many unoccupied courtyards in his residence so he instructed the maidservants to quickly clean up one for Jin Se.
“Si’Er, for the time being you can stay at Xiang Xue Yuan (fragrant snow courtyard)” Ji Feng Li slowly said.
“Alright. The journey was tiresome, Lord Chancellor should also rest early,” Jin Se replied.
Ji FengLi smiled in reply to Jin Se and stepped into Feng Yuan(phoenix courtyard). After entering the room and taking a seat, he received a secret report from the palace.
After reading it, he ordered Ji Yue and Ji Shui to call Lan Bing, Tang Yu and Tong Shuo over to discuss.
When they arrived, they saw Ji Feng Li had taken the chessboard out. Lan Bing took a seat opposite of Ji Feng Li and slowly said, “This subordinate thought that after Lord Chancellor played chess with Yuan Bao, you would not play with this subordinate again.”
Ji Feng Li’s expression stiffened and there was a trace of coldness in his eyes as he placed a white chess piece down, stating in a chilling tone, “In the future, don’t mention his name again.”
Lan Bing nodded. In his heart he thought perhaps his prior arrangements had been the right decision.
“Just now I received a secret report from the palace. The Thunder Ride troops are indeed in the hands of Chancellor Nie. This time, if not for their secret involvement, Huangfu Wu Shuang would not have seized power so easily,” Ji Feng Li slowly said.
The Thunder Ride troop was a secret army that was fierce and mighty. Back in the day they provided great assistance to Emperor Yan in conquering the vast lands. However, after the wars settled down and peace came, Emperor Yan did not call this army back to Southern Kingdom. Since that time, the Thunder Ride troop has vanished without a trace but Ji Feng Li did not believe that Emperor Yan would disperse such a powerful army. After many years of investigation, it was finally discovered that this army was covertly stationed in the southern island, secretly training, their strength and power not be underestimated.
“It’s actually in the hands of that old fox. I didn’t expect him to keep it hidden for so many years,” Tong Shou commented.
Lan Bing placed a chess piece down, shook his head and said, “I reckon the Thunder Ride troop just recently fell into the hands of Chancellor Nie. Perhaps when Lord Chancellor’s power began to substantially grow 2 years ago was when the Retired Emperor Yan decided to hand it over to Nie Yuan Qiao. At most it should be 2 years.”
Fiddling with the chess piece in his hand, Ji Feng Li then placed in on the chessboard and said, “It’s fine. The Retired Emperor Yan will not relinquish his power so soon. Moreover, Chancellor Nie’s younger sister’s the Empress.”
“I fear the deposed Crown Prince will be enthroned soon,” Tang Yu said in a low voice.
Lan Bing nodded. “Lord Chancellor, our future days will not be peaceful. However, they won’t dare to make a move against you. Lord Chancellor’s reputation is upright and flourishing. Unless they can find you guilty of an atrocious crime as justification, they will not act rashly. Moreover, the military power in the northern border is now in Wang Yu’s hands.”
Ji Feng Li nodded as his gaze remained fixed on the chessboard. The black and white chess pieces were intertwined, like a chaotic battle, each side fighting fervently, neither giving way.
Compared to the battlefield, the struggles at court were more dangerous and frightening. A single wrong move was all it takes to lose everything.
He picked up a black chess piece and chose to take on both an offensive and defensive front.
Lan Bing’s white chess pieces in the middle of the board were already in a secure position. In the frame of a dragon, it seemed as though it would soon be able to break through the clouds and soar at any moment.
Ji Feng Li placed his black chess piece down in the middle of the board.
With his chin rested in the palm of his hand, Lan Bing silently contemplated. From just a glance, he could see the black pieces’ next move. Smiling, he placed down a white chess piece and won a few of Ji Feng Li’s black pieces while also breaking off the black piece’s escape route, having them surrounded.
Tang Yu and Tong Shou observed the chess match from the side. Their eyes narrowed and their brows furrowed when they saw that the black pieces were about to lose but Ji Feng Li remained calm and collected as he said, “Tong Shou, send a letter to the palace, tell our people to investigate the illness of the Retired Emperor Yan and why that Consort Lui is so favored. Also send more scouts to watch over Emperor Kang.”
Tong Shou nodded in assent.
Ji Feng Li’s gaze was fixed on the chessboard. After examining the board, he placed the chess piece in his hand down and broke the formation of the white pieces.
Inside the room, the atmosphere sunk into silence with only the sound of the chess pieces being placed resonating in one’s ears.
Finally, Ji Feng Li placed the last black chess piece down, a bit heavily and forcefully as though he was using all his strength. With a loud sound, he then stood up, his sleeves rustling with a frosty air.
Lan Bing was still focused on the chessboard. He didn’t know when but the black pieces had cut off the formation of his white dragon.
With a sigh, he stood and said, “It seems this subordinate is still not Lord Chancellor’s opponent, if it was…..” Ji Feng Li whole figure exuded a chilly aura and Lan Bing quickly shut his mouth.
- I used the word ‘goods’ here because they were referring to her looks as if it was a commodity
- I wonder if there is a significant symbolism to JFL using the black chess pieces? Because he’s always depicted wearing white and to the best of my recollection, when he played chess in the past he would always play the white pieces