Joy of Life - Chapter 203

[Updated at: 2021-01-12 01:47:34]
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Chapter 203: In A Word, Heart

Translator: Nyoi-Bo Studio Editor: Nyoi-Bo Studio

“Last night the rain was sparse and the winds were fierce. Though I slept soundly all night I was still not sober upon waking. I asked the maid who opened the curtains how the flowering apple trees were. She said they were the same as before. Does she not know? Does she not know? Their green leaves should be blooming, the red flowers withered away.” Under the tree, Fan Xian quietly recited, his voice gentle, unsure whether he spoke of people or things. This was the first time that the immortal poet Fan Xian had recited poetry since that night in the palace. [1]

Haitang calmly looked over his slender, even emaciated body, and gradually relaxed the grip on her sword.

“If you want to fight, then I shall fight.” Fan Xian suddenly turned around, looking at Haitang with a smile on his face and a look of determination. “But one day, I would like to see, even without these sobering methods, whether I can protect Xiao En’s life from your hand, Haitang.”

Sobering methods? Naturally, that meant sobering one up from one’s lust.

Haitang’s face remained calm. It was unclear what she was thinking. It seemed she hadn’t expected Fan Xian to recite such poetry while still showing all of the integrity and courage that a man should have. She was a paragon of her generation, and yet she had fallen by Fan Xian’s hand. She had not expected him to face her alone with such courage. At that moment, she discovered that she did not truly understand this young man before her, and she could not help but frown.

But it seemed that what interested her was something else. “I heard that you were no longer composing poetry, Master Fan,” she said calmly. “What has made you so elegant today?”

“Looking at the pines one thinks of winter. Looking at chrysanthemums one thinks of autumn. Looking at the flowering apple trees…” Fan Xian just managed to stop himself from saying the word “spring” [2]. He smiled and narrowed his eyes at Haitang. “I have finished writing verse as it is of no use to the nation or to the people. I have some reputation as a poet in the Kingdom of Qing, yet I have been impatient to speak in verse. That poem was written some years ago after a storm. Today, after seeing your delicate appearance, I could not stop myself from reciting it. I hope you do not think it absurd.”

Haitang lifted her head and narrowed her eyes at Fan Xian. Suddenly, she smiled. “I shall take no notice of your pretension and your attempts to weaken my resolve. I simply feel that what you said before had merit. You are an official of the Kingdom of Qing, and you have the freedom to employ whatever method you choose, so I do not begrudge you for it. As for whether or not your poem was a good one, such things have never made any sense to me, and so I do not understand its meaning. But… flowering apple trees should not get soaked by the rain. If water accumulates in their planting pots, then they will rot. So when their green leaves bloom and their red flowers wilt… perhaps the branches are rotten and weak.”

Having said this, she turned around, and soon afterward she disappeared into the quiet mountain woods. All that was left was a faint aroma, the call of birds, and an embarrassed Fan Xian.

“Lady of the flowers, how can you leave?” Fan Xian gave a sigh, as if he had lost something. “I was just about to tell you a story of a girl who picked mushrooms.” [3]

Haitang walked confidently and at ease, and so did Fan Xian as he made his way back. He patted his buttocks and held his hands behind his back, walking slowly back along the moss-covered mountain road. A few steps down the road, he caught sight of the seven Tiger Guards turning a corner in the road, looking ready to face some great enemy, and Wang Qinian leading a group of officials from the Overwatch Council, hidden in the underbrush, getting ready to strike.

Seeing the Commissioner making his way back so peacefully, everyone breathed a collective sigh of relief. The Overwatch Council officials hidden in the underbrush stood up, all covered in wet grass and leaves. It looked rather comical.

“Master, is it finished?” Wang Qinian frowned as he followed behind Fan Xian. “Our reports say that Haitang is an upper ninth-level master, and in Northern Qi they say that she is a Tianmai. Yet she looks so ordinary… Did she not lay a hand on you, sir?”

“Lay a hand on me?” Fan Xian heard the dirty meaning in Wang Qinian’s words and scolded him. “If she had laid a hand on me, would I still be able to return so free and at ease?”

He suddenly stopped walking and looked at Wang Qinian with suspicion. “You have always been skilled in surveillance. I presume that your hearing is good.”

“That is correct, sir.” Wang Qinian was unsure what he meant.

“So did you hear what I said to her?” Fan Xian smiled, but it was a menacing smile.

Wang Qinian did not dare hid it. “I heard some of it.”

“What did you hear?”

Wang Qinian looked anxious. “I heard some lines of wonderful poetry, and talk of medicine.”

“Do not reveal a thing,” Fan Xian warned him. “If the news ever gets out that I drugged Haitang with an aphrodisiac, then I will no doubt offend the people of Northern Qi. And Haitang might not be able to show her face in public.”

“Yes sir,” said Wang Qinian respectfully. “You are quite remarkable indeed sir, to have made such a terrifying and powerful fighter flee with just a few words.”

Fan Xian paid no attention to his flattery. He simply stood a while in thought. The day’s events seemed simple, but had been quite mentally taxing. He had made sure to emphasize to her his status as an official, to show her that this was not merely some roadside fight, so that she did not fly into a rage as a result of the aphrodisiac coursing through her body and forget the things she had to be mindful of.

And as for that poem – As in a Dream by Li Qingzhao – Fan Xian had had it prepared as a tactic to make her heart ache ever since Yan Ruohai told him of this strange northern girl named Haitang. He had even prepared Han Wo’s Lazily Arising: “At midnight last night rains fell, and now comes a cold spell. Are the flowering apple trees still standing? I lie on my side and look out at the curtains.”

But that poem was even more intimate than Li Qingzhao’s, so he dared not make use of it that day. He smiled to himself. He was careful to say he saw her as delicate, so the feeling must likely have made that girl, touched by his aphrodisiac, feel quite happy. Since childhood, she had been a disciple of a grandmaster, and was worshipped by the idiotic commoners as a Tianmai. After finishing her apprenticeship, she had been without equal, a hero among women. But as a woman, she still wanted to be seen by others as delicate – a woman, even a queen, is still a woman.

Perhaps Fan Xian was not the most capable in the land when it came to seeing through others’ thoughts, but he certainly knew how women thought. That was because in a world where men treated women as inferior, no man wanted to consider what any woman wanted by treating her as his equal.

Fan Xian wanted to, because he loved any woman who presented herself well, so he could leave his mark on them while still letting them enjoy it.

He took a pill from his pocket, the same kind that he had given to Haitang, and swallowed it. “What kind of drug is that?” asked Wang Qinian, curious. Fan Xian handed one to him. “Pills made from dried orange peel. It clears and dispels internal heat. I always keep them on me.”

There was no antidote to Fan Xian’s aphrodisiac. One could only soak in cold water and wait a day for it to pass. The aphrodisiac Haitang had been dosed with was real, but the reason she had been unable to dispel it was in large part due to the reeds surrounding the northern sea. Every spring, the reeds would sprout with white-haired catkins that fell into the waters, reacting with the drug that Fan Xian had administered and strengthening it, making her body itch all the more and presume that the remaining drug was impossible to purge.

And it was because of this that Haitang had quietly accepted Fan Xian’s offer of peace in exchange for the antidote.

Thinking on all this, Fan Xian could not help but shake his head and sigh. He truly was lucky. But he didn’t know when his luck could turn.

That day, the diplomatic mission had stopped in a valley next to the lake. Broken-legged and expressionless, Xiao En stayed in his carriage. He knew that he was facing imprisonment at the hands of the royal family of Northern Qi. The Zhan family had always been fanatical, and they would make things difficult for him until they found out where the temple was. And Ku He, wanting to prevent such a thing from happening, would no doubt use all his power to have him killed. As for Shang Shanhu… the old man suddenly felt tired of all the fighting and scheming. If he were to die by Fan Xian’s hand in the morning, perhaps that wouldn’t be such a bad way to go.

The envoy sent over the border had yet to return. Perhaps he was exchanging angry words around a table with Northern Qi officials. If that were the case, then the Kingdom of Qing had already gathered up the corpses outside Wuduhe. They were the greatest proof of the Northern Qi army’s attempt to trespass over the border and their futile attempt to set Xiao En free.

All across the land, when it came to power, Qing was on the attack, and all other nations were on the defense. Fan Xian’s diplomatic mission could not help but express their anger, and taking advantage of the opportunity, they expressed it in the strongest possible terms. After some time, the Northern Qi officials receiving the Qing envoy finally managed to pacify his anger.

The secret agreement and the overt agreement had begun their next phase.

The diplomatic mission’s carriages all formed into a line and rolled slowly along the edge of the northern sea, entering into another valley. Fan Xian sat in his carriage, looking over the vast lake and watching the mists float gradually past, with his face expressionless, but his mind preoccupied.

The carriage trampled over the meadows, leaving deep tracks and churning up fresh mud. Its wheels turned with great effort to prevent it from being stuck in the morass.

Before they entered the village, Fan Xian entered Si Lili’s carriage one last time. They looked at each other in silence, and after a long time, Fan Xian finally spoke. “After we enter Northern Qi, it will be difficult for me to see you.”

Si Lili nodded. She appeared calm. “Thank you for all your hard work throughout this journey.”

Looking at her gentle face and the smooth curves of her body, Fan Xian cocked his head slightly to one side, as if he were about to say something. Ultimately, he left the carriage, still unable to bring himself to speak a word.

The meadow outside Wuduhe was still stained with the bloody marks of the previous day’s battle. Deep in the underbrush below the hillock still lay a number of overlooked severed limbs and discarded weapons.

Fan Xian leaned on the window in the carriage. He looked at the scarred land. He thought back to the terrifying strength the Black Knights had shown the previous day, and felt somewhat worried. The corpses had been sent back to Northern Qi. The compensation that was to be demanded for this incident was not what currently bothered Fan Xian.

The convoy entered the village, not stopping for even a moment. The villagers stared dumbstruck as they slowly rolled along the stone road, continuing on to the northeast. The curtain of the carriage was still open. This was Fan Xian’s habit: he liked sitting in the carriage and watching the people and the scenery go past, and he didn’t want his eyes to be covered by a length of black cloth.

[1] Fan Xian recites from As in a Dream by Southern Song female poet Li Qingzhao. The characters of Haitang’s name are also those for the name of the tree known as the Chinese flowering apple tree.

[2] As well as Haitang’s name meaning “flowering apple tree”, the word “spring” can also mean “lust” in Chinese.

[3] “The Girl Who Picked Mushrooms” is a Chinese children’s song.