Ten days later, the waters in Xuan Zhou had withdrawn and the outbreak was completely over. Hua Zhu Yu along with Ji Feng Li and his retinue prepared to head back to Yu City.
When they had first set off on this journey, Hua Zhu Yu traveled in the same carriage with Ji Feng Li. This time around, Hua Zhu Yu was allowed to travel on horse along with the group of guards. The shift in treatment made Hua Zhu Yu quite pleased as Ji Feng Li no longer treated her as a male pet but one of his guards.
But the weather was truly peculiar, it was raining relentlessly just days ago yet now the skies were crystal clear. Although it was late summer, the afternoon sun was exceptionally fierce. Traveling on horseback was nearly asking for one’s skin to be baked off.
Fortunately though, Ji Feng Li was considerate to those beneath him. He instructed everyone to rest during the day and set off once night arrived. Traveling in this manner, they finally arrived at Yu City in mid-July.
After a life and death experience with the flood and outbreak, the guards in particular who had suffered from the illness, felt as though they had been given another chance at life. Everyone was in high spirits at the sight of the bustling streets of Yu City. A few guards even remarked in hushed voices that they wanted to stop by a brothel for some fun and entertainment.
Hua Zhu Yu expressed disdain at their remarks, thinking that men thought with their lower half too often. Back in Liang Zhou, after returning victorious from a battle, many of the other generals visited brothels in celebration. Sometimes they would even force her to go. Fearing that they might doubt her identity if she refused, she had went along with them.
Hua Zhu Yu could be considered to be a frequent guest at Liang Zhou’s Qing Lou( Emerald Brothel), though she would only accompany the ladies there for wine and music. That place was also where she first crossed paths with Dan Hong.
At that time, Dan Hong was getting beaten under the orders of the brothel’s Madam. Aside from her face, there were bruises all over her body. Dan Hong wasn’t willing to receive any guests and was thus punished as so. Coincidentally, Hua Zhu Yu was looking precisely for this type of girl. So from then on, she provided money to buy Dan Hong’s time. Whenever she visited the brothel, she would summon Dan Hong over to play music. After some time, Dan Hong was determined to follow her and since Hua Zhu Yu also felt pity for Dan Hong who was still so young yet had to sell herself in a brothel, she decided to buy her off from the Madam. But Hua Zhu Yu never expected Dan Hong to accompany her to the battlefield, let alone deep into the depths of the Palace.
Now that Huangfu Wu Shang was Emperor, the previously selected Xiu Nu (Elegant Lady) had all become his imperial concubines. Hua Zhu Yu wondered how Dan Hong was faring. When she was still with Huangfu Wu Shuang, she had tried her best to think of a way to let Dan Hong remain by Wu Shuang’s side so that she could preserve her innocence. But that was no longer possible.
Hua Zhu Yu couldn’t help but feel overcome with sad. Sensing that her expression was amiss, the guards all turned quiet.
During the time in Xuan Zhou, Hua Zhu Yu had saved many lives with the medicine she prepared. So these guards all saw her in a different light, no longer looking down on her as before. Recalling that she was a eunuch and perhaps thought that she was feeling abashed, they no longer mentioned going to a brothel.
After returning to the Chancellor’s Residence, Hua Zhu Yu continued to remain in Xin Yuan (Fragrant Courtyard) but it seemed Lan Bing had moved elsewhere. The spacious Xin Yuan was left all to herself. There was no Lan Bing monitoring her at night from the side room nor were there Ji Shui and Ji Yue tailing after her during the day. Compared to before, Hua Zhu Yu enjoyed much more freedom.
One evening, Hua Zhu Yu was feeling quite bored cooped up in her room all day and had unconsciously wandered towards the back garden of the Chancellor’s Residence.
The evening sun which had yet to set, glowed brilliantly in the far off horizon. Its golden rays casted down upon the rippling lake which reflected back a faint exotic shimmer.
Several pavilions were situated over the water, each with walkways extending to shore. Situated at different locations, the pavilions resembled a lotus flower when viewed as a whole.
translations at peachblossomgrove . com
Hua Zhu Yu did not anticipate to come upon such a beautiful scenery. She was strolling unaccompanied along the lake shore when the faint sound of a flute approached from the direction of the lake.
She halted her steps and listened. She felt that this tune was quite familiar. After listening for a while, she realized that it was the piece Ji Feng Li had played during the banquet at Kang Wang’s Residence- Ruo Shui.
According to Wen Wan, this piece was composed by Ji Feng Li himself. That night at the banquet, Hua Zhu Yu had not listened attentively and merely felt that it was a pleasant tune. Listening to it again today, in the company of the flourishing floras and shimmering lake, she felt as though underlying this tune there was a sense of proud solitude.
As a music enthusiast herself, she couldn’t help but take a seat on a nearby rock and silently listen. But after listening, her fingers began to itch. If someone else was playing this piece, she would’ve joined in and harmonized with them. But recalling that the one playing was none other than Ji Feng Li, her interest completely dissipated.
Her gaze faintly swept across the pavilions and she spotted Ji Feng Li. He was standing close to the railing, facing the waters with his jade flute in hand. Lan Bing was beside him, looking quite bored as he leaned against the railing, peering ahead.
Fearing that Lan Bing might catch sight of her, Hua Zhu Yu quickly stood and retreated back into the clusters of flowers, intending to head back. But after just a few steps she heard Lan Bing calling, “Yuan Bao, come here, come here. Where are you running off to?”
Hua Zhu Yu furrowed her brows. His eyes were annoyingly sharp. With no other choice, she could only turn around and slowly walk over.
“Lan Daren, did you call Yuan Bao for something?” Hua Zhu Yu asked with a smile.
Raising his brows, he replied, “Naturally, there are matters to be discussed. You have just listened to Lord Chancellor play the flute so must play a piece in return. I heard that your qin skills are quite something and you used to make a living playing the qin. So how about playing something for Lord Chancellor and my humble self to broaden our knowledge?”
Hua Zhu Yu was slightly taken aback at his request, but then she flashed a smile and replied, “Lan Daren, Lord Chancellor’s flute skills are peerless, how could I dare display my slight skills before an expert such as Lord Chancellor.”
With the sun setting in the far off horizon, Ji Feng Li was still standing near the railings of the pavilion, appearing oblivious to the conversation behind him.
Lan Bing raised his brows in a slightly annoyed manner and said, “Yuan Bao, in truth I have never heard anyone else play Ruo Shui better than Lord Chancellor. So even if your skills are inferior, we won’t give you a hard time.”
“Lord Chancellor’s tune is that of an immortal upon this earth, I concede that my skills are inferior and do not wish to lose face. If there is nothing else, I shall take my leave,” replied Hua Zhu Yu.
Shaking his head, Lan Bing’s fingers glided over the strings of the qin, and a clear beautiful tone resonated.
Hua Zhu Yu suddenly turned around and stared at the instrument beneath Lan Bing’s fingers. It’s body was made of white jade, a white so pale it was akin to snow, luminous and sleek. Taken by surprise she couldn’t help but blurt out, “ Qing Lian?”(Clear water)
Startled, Lan Bing asked, “You know of Qing Lian?”
She knew she had a slip of the tongue so with a faint smile she replied, “It can’t be considered as knowing, as I’ve only heard of it. This qin looks quite similar to the descriptions of Qing Lian. Is this it?” Qing Lian was one of several renowned qins, well-known for its clear, canorous resonance.
“You’re right, this is indeed Qing Lian,” Lan Bing laughingly said. “I really didn’t expect Yuan Bao to be able to recognize this Qing Lian. Since that’s the case, you should be willing to play now right? Not just anyone has the fate to come across Qing Lian you know.”
Hua Zhu Yu began to hesitate. It was a rare occasion to come across such a famous qin and staring at it now, her heart began to stir. But she really didn’t want to play for Ji Feng Li. Intending to refuse, she suddenly heard Ji Feng Li’s faint, calm voice. “Lan Bing, is Qing Lian something anyone can play as they wish? If they want to play, we still have to see if the piece they play is worthy of Qing Lian or not.” Though his tone was pleasant and gentle, the disdain laced in his words could not be ignored.
She turned to glance at Ji Feng Li before deciding to take a seat in front of Qing Lian.
With his back to Hua Zhu Yu, Ji Feng Li saw her sitting in front of the qin from the corners of his eyes and his lips lifted in the semblance of a smile.