Joy of Life - Chapter 205[Updated at: 2021-01-12 01:47:34]
Chapter 205: By the Roadside
Translator: Nyoi-Bo Studio Editor: Nyoi-Bo Studio
Wang Qinian looked at Fan Xian, seemingly wanting to see something different in his face. After all, Si Lili was entering the palace, and it was possible that the two would never have the chance to see each other again.
But to his surprise, Fan Xian’s face remained unmoved, his eyes like two calm, clear pools. He smiled as he walked forward and cupped his hands in salute, separated from her by a gaggle of handmaids. He was about to say something, but to his surprise, he caught sight of a hateful glance fixed on him from the side.
Fan Xian felt somewhat uncomfortable, and turned his head to one side to see an old woman whose clothing clearly indicated that she occupied some status.
The old woman did not wait for him to say a word. “Lady Si has set foot on our territory,” she hissed with cold disdain. “She need no longer listen to the rebuke of some official from Southern Qi.”
Fan Xian frowned, wondering where such animosity had come from. The old woman muttered to herself, her voice filled with contempt. “This southern official still dares to gawk slack-jawed at the lady. What ill manners.”
The old woman was from the palace, and had indeed once had some status. When Si Lili was young and lived in the Northern Qi royal palace in Shangjing, she had waited on her. The Emperor of Northern Qi, worried that Si Lili had suffered in Qing to the south, and that she would be wronged by the officials of Qing on their journey northward, had ordered the old woman to receive her at the border in the hopes that she could help Si Lili recuperate.
Fan Xian frowned once more, then suddenly made his way toward the carriage where Si Lili stood. The powerful zhenqi in his body dissipated outward slightly, causing the women around him to give a yelp and withdraw to the side, clearing a path for him to approach. At the end of that path, next to the carriage, was a somewhat uncomfortable Si Lili.
“How rude!” scolded the old woman. “What are you doing, you southern barbarian? Guards, remove him at once.”
Hearing this, the Northern Qi Brocade Guards and officials hurried over. They were a handful of inexperienced young men getting ready to pull out their sabers. But the Northern Qi officials knew Fan Xian’s background. Son-in-law of the noble Prime Minister, son of a minister, Prince Consort of the Qing royal family, the immortal poet who had caused the mighty Zhuang Mohan to spit blood… This was no ordinary official!
In the last year’s war, Northern Qi had lost numerous battles. This diplomatic agreement was not coming from a position of strength. No one would dare not to show the proper consideration to such an important person. An official hurriedly dismissed the Brocade Guard.
The old woman became even angrier, and pointed a scolding finger at the official. “How can we let these southern barbarians impinge so wantonly on Qi territory!?” Her eyes bulged like a fish. Her years in the palace had left her completely ignorant of the outside world. She gritted her rotten teeth, puffed up her sallow cheeks and waved a wrinkled palm, aiming a slap directly at Fan Xian’s face!
Smack! With a smile, Fan Xian had grabbed hold of the old woman’s wrist. He turned his head to look her in the eye.
There was a hint of fear in the old woman’s eyes, and yet she remained defiant. “Unhand me! Or I shall truly give you what for!”
Smack! This time, the old woman was the one who sustained the blow. Her legs buckled and she tumbled to the yellow earth. She held her aching face in her hands and looked at Fan Xian with shock. It had probably been many years since anyone had hit her, so the shock of the blow made her forget to even cry out in pain.
Fan Xian withdrew his hand, and with a hint of loathing, touched the bark of a tree with his palm. He dusted off his clothes and spoke gently. “Since you call me a southern barbarian, I shall act barbarously.”
The slap had stunned everyone. No one expected the immortal poet, Commissioner Fan Xian, to raise a hand to an old woman. Wiping the sweat from his brow, an official hurried up to him to explain. “This old woman is an elder of the palace, and even officials must show her some respect.”
Fan Xian looked at the old woman, who sat on the ground clutching her mouth, wailing. He shook his head. “I am not an official of Northern Qi,” he replied calmly, “so I see no need to fawn over her, even if she is a palace elder. I think she brings shame onto the palace.”
His words were arrogant indeed. He paid no mind to the honor of the royal palace of Northern Qi. The official gritted his teeth and lowered his head, knowing the situation was beyond his control. Even if Fan Xian had lifted a hand to hit someone, there wasn’t much he could say about it.
Fan Xian strolled along the path that had opened up to the carriage. By that point, no one dared to obstruct him. He smiled at Si Lili. “Please take care of yourself in the palace.”
Si Lili gave a faint smile, covering up her previously frenetic look. She pursed her lips. “I am afraid I cannot repay you for your considerateness during our journey. I am at a loss…”
Fan Xian smiled. “At a loss… of course. Don’t worry.” In a few simple words, they had agreed on the future of Si Lili’s brothers left behind in the capital. Saying nothing more, Fan Xian withdrew. He stood at a distance in the middle of the diplomatic convoy, watching the old man and the woman who had accompanied them on their long journey get into Northern Qi carriages.
He narrowed his eyes. It was rather remarkable. Northern Qi did not seem to treat this as a secret agreement. By all rights, Xiao En was being secretly transferred to Shangjing. Today there were crowds and countless Brocade Guards. It wasn’t discreet in the slightest. If Shang Shanhu was important to the Northern Qi royal family, then how was the young Emperor supposed to deal with him? And Haitang was yet another opposing force. It seemed that the Emperor of Northern Qi must have had something of a headache.
Fan Xian was still confused by Si Lili’s treatment. It seemed that the Emperor truly liked her, otherwise she would not have been received so warmly. But even if Si Lili was the daughter of a Qing prince, it had been so many years that she had long since ceased to have any value… Could it be that the young Emperor truly did believe in such a thing as love? But if he was so serious about the matter, wouldn’t the Empress Dowager be angry about it? How was Si Lili going to be able to enter the palace?
The old man, his legs broken, silently entered his carriage. Fan Xian couldn’t help but sigh to himself. Xiao En had finally left his prisoner’s carriage to enter another prisoner’s carriage. How could a carriage carry his the pain of 20 years of separation and imprisonment?
After crossing over the border into Northern Qi, the Black Knights had quietly made their way back to a relay station near the capital. The safety of the diplomatic mission was entirely in the hands of the Brocade Guard and their army detachment. Fan Xian managed to get a hard-fought half-day’s rest, feeling quite content. In any case, it appeared that his brazenness on foreign soil had not caused any trouble for the diplomatic mission.
The spring sunshine shone down on their route. Many of the people in the diplomatic mission had visited Northern Qi before; even Wang Qinian had once done business on behalf of someone else between the two countries. The only ones who seemed particularly excited about leaving the country were Fan Xian and the seven Tiger Guards.
Although Gao Da, as head of the Tiger Guards, kept stony-faced – as was befitting a man of his position – as he looked at the others as they gazed out of the window at the bustling scenery outside, he knew that they were quite excited by the landscape of this foreign land.
Fan Xian laughed. “I suppose this is a new experience for us. But the scenery here in Northern Qi isn’t all that different from Qing. The trees look different, and even if the weather is colder, it’s still warmer than the wastelands southwest of the great lake.”
“Although Northern Qi is to the northeast,” explained Wang Qinian, “it has quite a fine climate.”
Gao Da suddenly muttered something in his low grumbling voice, and because he was a man of few words, Fan Xian was quite interested in what he had to say. “The scenery in the north is fine indeed. My greatest wish has always been to follow His Majesty in the Fourth Northern Expedition, capturing territory for the Kingdom of Qing and helping His Majesty unite the land.”
The carriage shuddered as it travelled swiftly along the road. Green leaves hung from the deciduous trees outside. Swept up by the breeze from the moving carriage, they seemed to shake their heads and sigh.
Fan Xian sighed too. “In such beautiful spring scenery, perhaps we should speak less of battles.”
That being said, he still proceeded to explain to everyone what they had to pay careful attention to in their trip to Shangjing. It was not necessary to conduct further negotiations. The implementation of last year’s agreement was unlikely to be too difficult, but there were some areas that required concern. Save for Fan Xian, Wang Qinian, and Gao Da, the only other person in the carriage was vice-envoy Lin Jing of Honglu Temple, so no topic was off-limits for the four men; all that was necessary was ensuring that they were not heard by Northern Qi men.
There was still some distance from Wuduhe to Shangjing. As the carriage made its way eastward, the lines in Fan Xian’s brow gradually grew deeper. He was no longer in the mood to look out at the endless dry, dull scenery outside the carriage. He sat and pondered. Where was Xiao En headed now? And Si Lili? Before she entered the palace, what identity would the young Emperor have arranged for her? Chen Pingping’s Operation White Sleeve had been secretly aborted by Fan Xian. Was Fan Xian’s Operation Red Sleeve going to be put into practice one day?
Seeing that Commissioner Fan seemed to be in low spirits, vice-envoy Lin Jing spoke respectfully. “Sir, though the diplomatic mission is safe, the road is yet far and arduous. I ask that you exercise patience a little while longer.”
He knew full well of Fan Xian’s status. When he had slapped that old woman in Wuduhe, Lin Jing had not thought it to be important. In the capital Fan Xian’s temper was well known by the Guo family and by the only daughter of Commander Ye, to say nothing of this insignificant servant woman. He knew full well that the diplomatic mission operated entirely on the orders of Commissioner Fan and that he was merely a functionary sorting out odd jobs. Fearing Fan Xian’s sour mood and the possibility he had overstepped his boundaries, he hurriedly tried to straighten things out with a smile. “Shangjing is one of the most flourishing places in the world. The girls there are different from the ones on Liujing River back in the capital. They have a different kind of graceful bearing. When we get there, you can see for yourself, sir.”