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Hua Zhu Yu looked straight into Ji Feng Li’s eyes.
Those deep, dark eyes of his were clear as streaming water, taking her under. He was clearly stunned, as though he didn’t anticipate the official overseeing the execution to be her.
But very quickly, his eyes flashed with discernment. With a faint smile, he continued to slowly ascend the steps up to the execution stage.
The execution time had not yet arrived. Hua Zhu Yu along with the Ministry of Justice Lu Ding Zhi and the Right Chancellor Nie Yuan Qiao were seated at the back perimeter of the stage.
The Yulin Army guards, with their hands resting upon the hilt of their swords, were stationed securely around the perimeter, numbering in the thousands.
As the official overseeing the execution, Hua Zhu Yu picked up the edict and recited Ji Feng Li’s crimes and Huangfu Wu Shuang’s orders. Across the execution ground, besides the sound of falling snow, her clear chilly voice resonated with each sentence she spoke.
Treason, monopolizing the court, even framing Emperor Kang… the list goes on, every crime worthy of the death penalty.
As she continued reading, Hua Zhu Yu’s heart grew increasingly cold. This was the consequence of political struggles in court. Once you topple, all charges will be pressed against you.
“The execution, death by a thousand cuts, is set to take place at noon on the 6th day of the first month,” Hua Zhu Yu slightly struggled to finish the last sentence. She felt as though her body was depleted of strength, even her hands were unsteady as she held the edict.
Placing the edict down, she proceeded to walk over to Ji Feng Li.
He silently stood there in the snow, against the cold blowing wind, looking at her.
Amidst the fluttering snowflakes, they stood a distance apart. His eyes shone with a heart-piercing pain as he held her gaze, unblinking. It was uncertain if he had grown thin or that his prison uniform was too large but his loose clothes trembled in beat with the wind, echoing faintly. Strands of his black long hair fell before his brows as his phoenix eyes slightly narrowed. His lips were tightly pursed and his complexion was slightly haggard yet he was still breathtakingly handsome as before.
He suddenly smirked and said, “Such a pleasant voice. It’s a pity the words you speak, Ji mo(a humble pronoun) don’t wish to hear. Actually, Bao Er ah, for a long time now, I’ve wanted to hear you sing a song for me. Unfortunately, it seems I won’t get the chance in this lifetime.” He intentionally prolonged those last few words teasingly.
Because Hua Zhu Yu had just read the edict aloud, it was very quiet so Ji Feng Li’s voice was carried a far distance. Even the people in the audience heard it. Hua Zhu Yu could vaguely ascertain the officials behind her had heard it too from their sharp intakes of breath.
She glared at Ji Feng Li and coldly yelled, “Audacious! Your death is near and you still dare to speak nonsense, mocking this official!”
Ji Feng Li looked at her and replied in a hoarse voice, “Because I’m about to die, I dare speak the words from the bottom of my heart.”
Hua Zhu Yu’s whole body stiffened as her heart trembled with various emotions. She tried to remain calm, not letting her emotions show as she went back to take her seat.
The audience was in commotion but the execution time had yet to arrive when suddenly the sound of a qin could be heard. It was clear as it lingered in the air, gradually suppressing the noisy commotion.
Everyone looked towards the direction of the sound and saw a parked carriage a distance not too far away. The music resonated from within the luxurious carriage, traveling out through the window. Standing outside, one could vaguely make out the slender silhouette of a woman as she glided her fingers across the strings.
The sound of the qin flowed softly with winding intricacy. It was slow and sentimental with an undertone of inexpressible melancholy, confessing of a helpless grief without end. Amidst the snowy skies, the sound of the qin was like a flower blooming carelessly in the whirling wind. It evoked a deep sense of sorrow from within everyone’s hearts.
Although it sounded wistful it was simultaneously calming. Dispelling the dreary atmosphere at the execution grounds, it brought a comforting serenity to one’s heart.
The person playing the qin was highly skilled.
“Who is playing the qin?” The Ministry of Justice Lu Ding Zhi, who was sitting beside Hua Zhu Yu, leaned to the side and asked a lowly official.
The official bowed and replied in a low voice, “This official is not clear. It’s probably some noble young miss that came to send off the criminal surnamed Ji.” He then turned around and instructed, “Guards, go over there and find out which young miss it is.”
After a short while, the Yulin Army guards came back to report, “Daren, the person playing the qin is the 3rd princess.”
It turns out to be the 3rd princess Huangfu Yan!
Everyone in Yu City was aware of the 3rd princess’s infatuation with Ji Feng Li. Although he refused her hand in marriage, she was unconcerned, continuing to admire him. It was no surprise that she came to send him off today.
The song finally came to an end.
However, as the sound of the qin died down, the pipa commenced. This time it was coming from another gorgeous carriage.
“Who is that now?” Lu Ding Zhi asked again.
The guards quickly reported, “Daren, this time it is Miss Wen.”
When Hua Zhu Yu heard this, she couldn’t help but bitterly smile. Her entire figure was somewhat rigid. There were feelings rippling in her heart but as to what kinds of feeling, she couldn’t decipher in this moment.
Huangfu Yan came. All the women who admired Ji Feng Li in Yu City also came. Even Wen Wan was here. Though she had harmed Ji Feng Li she still came to send him off. But Hua Zhu Yu was the only one sitting high on the stage, the one overseeing his execution, the one pushing him to his death.
Hua Zhu Yu attentively listened to the pipa. As the song came to an end, a guard came up to report, “Bao Daren, 3rd princess wishes to present a cup of wine to the criminal surnamed Ji to see him off.”
“Alright,” Hua Zhu Yu indifferently replied.
Huangfu Yan’s carriage drove over, slowly passing through the crowd. Once the carriage arrived near the stage and came to a stop, Huangfu Yan alighted. She was not dressed in extravagant palace brocades but had on a plain white dress. Her hair was also fixed in a simple bun, without any fancy hairpins.
Huangfu Yan slowly walked over step by step. Her long slender fingers clung tightly to the wine cup. Her beautiful face was fraught with distress and sorrow.
Her white dress was as white as the falling snow, white as mourning clothes, so white that it stung Hua Zhu Yu’s eyes. Huangfu Yan arrived with the cup of wine and immediately the officers of the Ministry of Justice went over. They took out a silver needle to test the wine for poison. Even criminals who were sentenced to death were not allowed to die before the execution.
After determining that there was nothing wrong with the wine, the officer bowed and returned the cup of wine to Huangfu Yan. She coldly humphed and raised her dress as she continued up the stage.
translations at peachblossomgrove . com
“Lord Chancellor, I came to send you off!” Huangfu Yan used to be a shy young miss. Whenever she met Ji Feng Li in court, she never dared to face him directly. But now she was staring at his face as though she couldn’t get enough even if she were stare at it her entire life.
“Thank you 3rd princess.” Ji Feng Li received the wine and downed it in one shot with his head tilted back. Facing Huangfu Yan, he smiled and asked “Third princess, may I call you mei mei(younger sister)?”
Huangfu Yan nodded with reddened eyes.
“Yan mei, I really care for you as a brother would care for his sister. I believe third princess will surely find a great husband. Once I am gone, princess must take care of yourself,” he gently instructed.
At this time, the sound of two firecrackers rang out, signalling that the execution time was near.
Consequently, the guards stepped forward to escort Huangfu Yan down. At this time she could no longer hold it in and began to cry, “No, don’t.…..”
Huangfu Yan resisted and the guards had to forcibly drag her away.
Upon hearing the firecracker, Hua Zhu Yu was also perturbed, her heart tightening involuntarily. The firecracker was the signal for the overseeing official to prepare for the execution. After an incense stick of time, another firecracker will sound, signalling the execution to begin.
Hua Zhu Yu looked over towards the execution stage with difficulty. Ji Feng Li was still standing there silently.
In fact, Hua Zhu Yu always had this gut feeling that Ji Feng Li wouldn’t die.
This was because she was aware of his power and ability.
She was certain he had a path of retreat. Otherwise, he wouldn’t allow himself to be imprisoned without resistance. Nor would he so calmly arrive here at the execution grounds.
The time was near but there was no unusual movements within the execution ground.
The wind was growing stronger and the snow descending heavier. Ji Feng Li’s thin clothes quivered fiercely in the wind. He looked as though he would be blown away at any second, disappearing from this earth.
Suddenly a sense of fear crept at her heart.
The executioner was beginning to walk up the stage. From head to toe, he was in all black attires, covering his whole body. His face was also masked behind a black scarf, revealing only a pair of eyes.
The sentence of death by a thousand cuts was the most severe form of punishment. It’s so cruel that even the executioner did not dare to look at the person he was punishing. He feared that after that person dies, they will return as a vengeful ghost seeking the executioner’s life. Thus when it’s time to carry out the sentence, the executioner would conceal himself completely.
Behind the executioner, his assistant accompanied him. He stepped forward and began to take off Ji Feng Li’s shirt, revealing his shoulder blades that had been pierced by the chains and exposing his chest. Ji Feng Li was already half-naked and they were about to remove his trousers, causing a stir amongst the audience.
Someone in the crowd shouted, “Leave Lord Chancellor a little bit of face!”
The people were in an uproar. Hua Zhu Yu bit her lower lip as the hands hidden beneath her sleeves shook.
Upon hearing this, the executioner proceeded to tear Ji Feng Li’s trousers, exposing his thighs to the chilly wind.
The assistant then took out a large net and placed it over Ji Feng Li. The net was tightened, bearing down into his skin.
The executioner then calmly opened the wooden chest in his hands and withdrew more than 10 different types of knives. These were his tools. They came in all different sizes and shapes.
The sentence of death by a thousand cuts subjected the criminal to endure 999 cuts before death. As a result, the executioner must prepare more than 10 different knives to complete this extremely difficult execution method.
The executioner chose a small, sharp knife and used a towel to wipe it down. He then stood there waiting. The second firecracker resonated and Hua Zhu Yu threw the execution token on the ground.
Cries grew increasingly loud among the audience.
Hua Zhu Yu was sitting there slightly in a daze. She felt like heaven and earth was collapsing and a devastating sense of sorrow was overwhelming her. The blood in her body seemed to have froze, her strength draining. If she hadn’t been sitting, she would’ve collapsed on the ground.
The execution was about to begin.
Suddenly, she stood up and walked over to the stage.
“Bao daren, what are you doing?” Chancellor Nie coldly asked.
Hua Zhu Yu turned around with a cold smile and said, “He’s my enemy. This gonggong wants to punish him personally to resolve this hatred in my heart.”
Nie Yuan Qiao was slightly taken aback but stepped aside to let her go.
Hua Zhu Yu stepped onto the execution stage. Amidst the wintry storm, her sleeves fluttered like a butterfly using all its strength to fly towards the skies.
“Remove the net and put on his clothes. I have something to discuss with him!” she coldly ordered.
The executioner and assistant exchanged glances before proceeding to remove the net and put on his clothes. Looking at his torn trousers, Hua Zhu Yu removed her cloak and threw it at him.
“You all withdrew first!” Hua Zhu Yu ordered with her hands clasped behind her back. It was hard to discern what she was thinking from her calm demeanor yet cold smile.
The two withdrew from the stage hesitantly.
Hua Zhu Yu then calmly directed her gaze towards Ji Feng Li.
The once peerlessly elegant chancellor was in a prison uniform, detained with shackles. He was much thinner and his complexion was palid. But even so, he was still very calm, a gentle smile still playing on his lips.
For a long time, she had wanted to wipe away that fake smile. She wanted to see his horrified, helpless expression but she had failed to do so. But couldn’t help but admit he was truly strong-willed and tenacious. Even when he was about to be subjected to such a severe punishment, he could still remain so calm and collected.
“Ji Feng Li, I’ve waited long for this day!” she said with a smile as she picked up a long small knife from the executioner’s wooden box.
Holding onto Hua Zhu Yu’s cloak, Ji Feng Li could feel the warmth of body heat enveloping his body, seeping into his heart.
This was enough for him!
Before his sentence, to be able to receive, for a brief moment, that person’s sympathy, he already felt content.
“Bao Er, you can’t bare it after all, can you?” he said in a low gentle voice with his head lowered.
“That’s not the case. I just felt that rather than letting the executioner do it, doing it myself would resolve this anger and hatred!” Hua Zhu Yu replied with a weak smile.
Ji Feng Li’s smile stiffened and the light in his eyes turned bleak. Unblinking, he stared at her with eyes of sorrow and coldness.
Amidst the snow storm, a snowflake fell upon her face and melted into water as it slid down her face, giving him the illusion that she was crying but she clearly was not. The snow was getting heavier. He stood there holding onto her cloak as if it was his most cherished belonging.
She pursed her lips and moved closer to him. Without a word she held the knife and stabbed him. If she didn’t act fast, she feared she wouldn’t bare to. The first attack stabbed his left arm, the second stabbed his right arm, the third stabbed his left rib, the fourth stabbed his right rib, the fifth stabbed his left leg and the sixth stabbed his right leg.
The sound of cutting into flesh was like the roaring wind yet Ji Feng Li appeared to have heard nothing, nor did it seem like he felt anything either. Before his eyes he only saw her. Standing less than 2 steps away, he looked straight into her eyes, the eyes that stirred his very heart was filled with an icy coldness.
“Bao… Er…. is … your …hatred …… resolved?” he slowly asked.
Once she stopped, his body was covered in fresh blood. She had stabbed him 6 times and he had returned her with 6 words.
Those 6 words rendered her motionless.
Those 6 words made her feel empty and hollow, as if her heart had been pierced through with an arrow.
But at this critical point in time, she must continue to stab him. It’s just that her hand was shaking so much that she could barely hold onto the knife.
She froze but she suddenly felt his hand on her waist pulling her towards him with the knife stabbing straight into his chest. In the blink of an eye, the smell of blood infused the air like a blossoming flower and the falling snow was dyed a glaring red. Clearly, they were very close to one another yet the distance between them was as far as a lifetime away.
Too far to be close….
“Is your hatred gone now?” he asked again.
Those dark eyes silently locked onto hers with such devotion and sincerity. She was stunned, unable to think straight.
The audience below was in an uproar. Even the other officials were shocked, standing up looking towards them. But Hua Zhu Yu could not see or hear anything.
It was as though only she and him remained on this earth.
Before her eyes, there was only him.
“Ji Feng Li, don’t you hate me?” she slowly asked as she lifted her hand to wipe the blood at the corner of his mouth.
Ji Feng Li suddenly smiled. His smile was blindingly radiant. In a flash, everything seemed to be blown away. Even when he’s dying, he was still capable of enchanting others. “Bao Er, how could I ever hate you. Everything you do is because you hate me. I didn’t know you hated me so deeply. I just know that you’re Ying Shu Xie, Hua Mu’s subordinate. But now I think you and Hua Mu must have another relationship thus your hatred for me runs so deep. Bao Er, I know what kind of person you are. You wouldn’t harm me for no reason. So I won’t hate you. I’ll never hate you. It’s just that I’m about to leave soon.” His phoenix eyes turned slightly dull and lifeless.
“Bao Er, I’m leaving. If there truly is an afterlife, do you know what I want to do most?” he lowered his head and asked.
“What?” Hua Zhu Yu asked as she looked up at him. Unknowingly, tears welled at the corners of her eyes, slowly trickling down.
“I would appeal to the King of Hell, let me be reborn as a woman in the next life. Bao Er, I don’t want to be a man with you anymore.” His low voice encircled around her ear.
An aching pain ate at her chest, bursting like fireworks in the night sky, flaring so abruptly that it took her off guard. The pain was not fleeting but rather a gradual diffusion that spread throughout her body until it was all that she could feel.
On her face, pearls of tears trickled down, making him doubt his vision.
Was she feeling pity, sympathy or……
“Bao Er, after all is said and done, you still care for me, don’t you?” he suddenly reached out and took her into his arms.
Encircling her so tightly within his embrace, she was rendered breathless. He rested his chin on her shoulder as his cheeks brushed against hers. She could hear his heavy breathe closing in as his lips found hers in an overbearing kiss.
In that moment, her heart seemed to stop beating and everything around her seemed to have froze. She didn’t dare move, not even breathe. Her heart felt like it was about to burst right out of her chest. Nestled tightly within his arms, all she could do was allow him to take her lips unrestrained.
Hua Zhu Yu felt her whole body grow soft as her heart was enveloped in a boundless warmth.
His kiss was overbearing and demanding. But gradually it softened, more and more until finally his lips left hers. His head slowly hung on her shoulder as he whispered, “Bao Er, I love you. But I will forget you forever!”
Hua Zhu Yu felt Ji Feng Li’s body grow limp and fall backwards. She put her arms around him but as if there was a desperate force pulling him down he fell to the ground.
He looked up at her, at her tear-stricken face as his eyes slowly closed. It had already come to this. They were destined to never be together. Everything was completely over now…
“Ji Feng Li, you won’t die!” she said in a low voice, whispering in his ears. But he did not seem to hear, nor understand…
Before arriving at the execution grounds, she had already received a letter from Kang. She finally realized that matters were not as she had imagined.
She did not want to kill. Contrary, she wanted to save him.
Before coming here, besides Chancellor Nie’s people, she had bribed most of the officers and even the guards.
She intended to let him fake his death and quietly take him away.
But it seemed like he was really dead!
She looked up at the snow-filled sky. The snow was continuing to fall and it wasn’t long before it enveloped his body.
“Is he dead?” Someone reached out to take his pulse, whether it was Chancellor Nie or someone else she couldn’t discern.
Hua Zhu Yu did not move nor speak.
She was still in shock, continuing to stare at his face.
As the snow fell on his face, she reached out to push it aside. But the snow was falling heavier and heavier. In the end, his face was completely covered in snow.
“He’s dead!”someone behind her slowly said, the voice quiet and cold.
These words were even sharper than the sharpest sword. In a flash, Hua Zhu Yu’s heart was shattered into thousands of pieces.