[Please read for free on the source site, chichilations, and not support an aggregator or content thief. Reposts are not allowed anywhere or for any reason.
Translator receives no income from any ads shown and actively encourages use of blocking extensions.
All comments and discussions are appreciated (I read them all~), and do let me know if there’s any typos afoot.]
After seeing Xiao Xun off, the two returned to the bedroom. “What exactly did you mean just now? Explain,” Fu Shen said.
“You risked letting Xiao Xun go without fully understanding.” Yan Xiaohan narrowed his eyes. “Are you not afraid that I actually will put you under house arrest?”
Fu Shen really wanted to kick him. “Be serious.”
“You stay here with me during this phase, and I will help you fight for a chance to return to Yan Prefecture. I’ve already made that very clear.”
“That’s not what I’m asking, Yan Xiaohan,” Fu Shen retorted, a brief pause between each word. “I’m asking you this: which side are you ultimately standing on?”
You are the Emperor’s most favored subject, his most decorated confidant, and only one step away from ascending to the highest life – why would you want to aid someone who is in an inherently hostile position to that?
Yan Xiaohan’s eyes were still slitted, but that tender mocking that had just been in them was now nowhere to be seen. It was as if he had put a layer of impenetrable armor over himself in the blink of an eye. “Just as there are loyal subjects in this world, some are naturally disloyal,” he said without a care.
“You don’t need to sell yourself short…”
“Don’t be naive, my Marquis,” he said with a smile. “You’ve known what kind of person I am for a long time now, yet you’re troubling yourself to cover it up for me? Though you and I belong to the same Dynasty, you are in charge of keeping the country’s peace while I am merely serving as an official. It’s not for fame, it’s only for the benefits. It’s not for the land or its people, it’s only for myself.
Going to chase profit, choosing which tree to perch in; these are just the ways of any acting official.
And that’s why I’m not standing on your side,” he explained, “I’m standing on the side that’s most advantageous to me.”
He was a pawn in this game of qi, as well as a third player.
He could be used by one party to charge through enemy lines, but he could also flip the game board over without a single word.
Since the Yuantai Emperor wasn’t fond of the weapons he held having too many of their own ideas, then he might as well be an unarmed, defenseless man that was cut off from others.
Because this pawn wasn’t happy.
“Okay, fine. It’s hard to get you to openly admit that you aren’t something.” Fu Shen smiled with the utmost derision. “Then what did you bring me back for? Why didn’t you just let me get drenched to death at the palace gate?”
“It’s because I drooled after your good looks, of course,” Yan Xiaohan replied indifferently.
Fu Shen: “……”
A high-ranking soldier of cutthroat decision-making like him hated most the common practices of false civility and indirect verbosity within the capital’s bureaucracy. Yan Xiaohan, knowing how his temper was, smiled breezily and went to pacify him before he blew up. “Don’t try to find a justification for my exoneration again, Fu Shen.”
When he ceased to call him ‘Marquis’ and changed it to just his name, it was like that layer of armor around him came off, revealing a distant yet familiar figure that was the Yan Xiaohan that Fu Shen had first been acquainted with.
“Picking sides between military and monarchical powers and helping you where I can are two very different things. You and I have known each other for several years. I can’t just stand by and watch you fall.”
It truly was as he himself explained it. Yan Xiaohan’s ‘morality’ towards his friends and his ‘morality’ within the Court were very clearly distinguished between.
Fu Shen finally had nothing to say back. He disliked relying on his tongue wagging to convince others to agree with his own opinions, and with today’s repeated questionings being against the norm, he had run out of patience on top of being displeased with Yan Xiaohan’s ‘self-effacing villainy’. “Are you done?” he asked, face placid.
Yan Xiaohan heard that and knew that he was about to catch on fire. Fu Shen was first a young wealthy master, then a general, and was used to things being exactly how they were stated to be. Every now and then, his temper rose in a way that was genuinely quite… unreasonable.
Even so, Yan Xiaohan insisted on saying more, a dark cloud covering the crown of his head. “I’ll have someone bring over medicine in a bit, remember to–“
“Get out,” Fu Shen said icily.
Mister Yan was worthy of being a talented member of the elite, as he obediently shut up and smoothly got out thereafter.
Fu Shen was too mad to sleep that night, his leg injuries faintly aching. He tossed and turned atop the bed, what Yan Xiaohan had said repeatedly reverberating within his mind.
In truth, what he wanted to ask was: if it were anyone else, and out of ‘morality’ among friends… apart from lending them a hand, would you also bring them back home to take good care of them, keep night vigil while still in your day clothes, and take great pains to urge them to take their medicine?
Would you also ask right into their ear, your teeth gritted with rage, “why are you not rebelling”?
It was unknown how long had passed when the sounds of the rain beating against the window and the steadily rising wind outside of it incited his ingrained pains and a negligible amount of drowsiness. Fu Shen’s eyes were hooding in rest when the tip of his sensitive ear suddenly twitched, the extremely light sound of muffled footsteps coming through the door.
It was Yan Xiaohan.
He lengthened and evened out his breaths to skillfully mimic the flow of sleep, shutting his eyes all the way, then relied solely on sound to distinguish the other’s movements. His mind was churning with many thoughts all the while, but they were as glimpses of shadows, leaving him unable to catch a single one.
He didn’t want to acknowledge that he was actually nervous.
Yan Xiaohan approached the bed quietly. Fu Shen felt a weight added onto his legs, the corner of the blanket next to his foot lifting immediately after, and then something warm getting stuffed under it. Finishing all that, the man didn’t stay to do anything more, leaving as soundlessly as he came.
Waiting until the door shut noiselessly, Fu Shen opened his eyes, clearly seeing the extra layer of blanket on his legs by way of the faint light from the window. His calf hit a solid, heat-producing object, and when he reached under the bedding to touch it, he discovered that it was a cast silver foot-warmer.
The rain pattered against the pane.
His injured lower limbs had poor circulation and the blanket’s coverage didn’t give much heat. The pain he didn’t mind much, but once he had a taste of the warmth this heater brought, the freezing cold immediately became unbearable.
Are you also as attentive as this towards ‘other people’?
Fu Shen returned to laying on his back, staring bemused at the bed’s canopy. He thought himself as possibly unsuited for the Court. The Commander of the Northern Yan could brandish a blade and cut down invading enemies, yet his mind was tied down by a blanket and a heater. If he couldn’t yet shake off this world of comfort, how would he later be able to handle the imperceptible knife of a bloodless kill?
This is real bullshit, he thought to himself.
Maybe he had thought a tick too long before he slept of both the Yuantai Emperor and Yan Xiaohan, as the seldom-dreamer Fu Shen dreamed of a time in his youth.
He was sixteen when he first met Yan Xiaohan.
It was during the Cold Food Festival in the eighteenth year of Yuantai. The capital’s sunset had been magnificent and vast.
There was nowhere in the springtime city flowers weren’t flying about in, the royal willows slanting in the festival’s eastern wind.
The Yuantai Emperor went out to venerate the tombs of his ancestors, the Imperial Guard accompanying him. It just so happened that Fu Shen and a flock of older Young Masters he was acquainted with had gone out for a spring hike, returning to the city right when the sun was going down.
The city was filled to the brim with visiting tourists of every gender at the beginning of the spring season, and this group of handsome, carefree, rich young men urging their steeds into town drew innumerable stares. The more brazen women threw their handkerchiefs or various kinds of flowers used for plant-match towards them, the momentum no less than that of Pan An’s cart being filled with fruit. This magnificent spectacle had the citizens stopping in their tracks, the city’s gate being a site of unusual liveliness for a time.
At that moment, the sudden sound of marching hooves came from behind them as the Imperial Guard burst into the city, armed to the teeth. People automatically moved aside to form a path, the one leading the troops calling out, “Imperial procession coming through! All unconcerned, make way!”
The crowd converged before Fu Shen as the ones in front repeatedly drew back, and it wasn’t clear what happened after that, but there was a moment of unceasing congestion. Seeing the Imperial Guards rushing forth, Fu Shen hastily turned his horse’s head to get out of the way. What he couldn’t have possibly known was that as soon as he moved to the side, he would coincidentally evade a flower that had been thrown at the back of his head.
It was like that flower had grown eyes, bypassing him and flying straight in front of the gate the Imperial Guards were whipping their horses through. How much strength the person who threw the flower used was hard to tell, as Fu Shen swore he could hear the wind breaking.
It’s all over, he thought in supreme despair.
Throwing a flower at a young, wealthy man was called being romantic. Throwing a flower at the Imperial Guard was called being fed up with this world and really hating the fact that you’re still living in it.
A Guard raised his hand and intercepted the flying flower, looking at it in astonishment. Fu Shen responded with extreme speed by pulling up his sleeves to cover his face.
The Guard: “……”
There wasn’t time to say a single word, as the emperor’s carriage had entered the city gates, the Imperial Guards were further clearing the way, and the citizenry was kneeling in respect. Fu Shen, being the younger generation of a meritorious family and among the few there who lived under the shade of special treatment due to relation to a military official, happened to need to kneel in the foremost spot.
The Yuantai Emperor ended up taking notice of the group of Young Masters, who stood out like cranes in a brood of chickens, and intentionally stopped to question them. Of those with military attachments, the Duke of Ying’s Estate could’ve been said to have the strongest developed ones, and Fu Shen was thusly unable to avoid the Emperor giving a few words of encouragement to him alone. It was only when his knees ached from kneeling on the hard stone brick that the Emperor showed the grand mercy of riding onwards to the palace.
The royal carriage proceeded in front, the Imperial Guards subsequently passing by in a file. Fu Shen knelt in wait for the Emperor to get far enough as was according to custom, but there came the sudden sound of horse hooves stopping in front of him for a moment.
He raised his head for a reason he didn’t understand, meeting with a pair of eyes that held a deep smile in them.
The smelted gold of the falling sun was a perfect match with the evening clouds, the other within the depths of the spring wind.
Fu Shen’s line of sight slid from his eyes to his hands that clenched the reins, detecting the white flower he held within the palm of his hand.
…It was the same Guard.
It was too late for Fu Shen to even think about lifting his sleeves up again. He could only watch on helplessly as the other party’s light-colored lips hooked upwards, abruptly spurring his horse forwards to leave while casually throwing the flower back into his arms.
Furthermore, with the abnormally strong flick of his thumb, the flower happened to get stuck right in his collar. Almost as if it was… on purpose.
It was like the still-inexperienced Fu Shen was a scholar who’d been bewitched by a huli jing, standing up with a mind full of paste and eyes full of nothing. That smile seemed to melt into the evening din, still remaining within his sights.
“Hey, Brother Fu, what are you looking at? Let’s go, okay?”
In an event that could only have a supernatural explanation, he didn’t throw the flower away, but instead grasped it in his hand and turned to mount his horse. “That Guard just now… do you recognize him, Brother Yi?” he asked the person next to him with a feigned lack of care.
The one riding parallel was the Duke of Chen’s heir, Yi Siming, who had already been awarded the title of fourth-rank General within the Golden Crow Guard. “Are you talking about that joker?” Disdain appeared in his eyes upon hearing that. “Sorry I didn’t warn you, my good little brother, but that guy isn’t anything good. He’s not worth the effort for us to make friends with him.”
“Why do you say that?” Fu Shen questioned.
“He’s that General of the Left Dragon Martial Guard, Yan Xiaohan.”
Fu Shen understood now. The Golden Crow Guard was headed by the Imperial Guard of the Southern Office while the Dragon Martial Guard belonged to the Northern one, and the two departments didn’t normally get along. It was no wonder Yi Siming didn’t have good feelings towards him.
“You don’t know this, but he’s Duan Linglong’s adopted son,” Yi Siming continued on. “Does he even have any use other than looking alright? Who knows how he managed to climb up there…”
In the Great Zhou, merit-based ministers looked down on clean-streamers, clean-streamers looked down on common literary officials, the literaries looked down on the martial officials, and the class every single one of them looked down on was the eunuchs.
Duan Linglong was the number one eunuch of the day.
As could be imagined, Yan Xiaohan, for acknowledging a eunuch as his adopted father, might as well have been even worse than one in their eyes.
It wasn’t known why, but Fu Shen didn’t feel any revulsion at Yi Siming’s words, instead getting an ineffable twinge of pity, as if he’d seen a flower destroyed right after it had bloomed.
Right. The flower.
He took it into his hand, peering at it intently. It took but the primary glance, however, for the expression to instantly freeze on his face.
God dammit! It was a twin lotus!
The translator says: Props to the random woman who threw a flower so hard she kicked off a gay relationship.
 汤婆子 – lit. translation is “hot water grandma” (the heck). Here’s a picture. The cap would unscrew so hot water would be poured into it, then it would be used as a heater.
 This line is taken from yet another seven-character quatrain: “Cold Food” by Han Hong (韩翃). I was too lazy to make it like actually poem-like, though…
 斗(百)草 – dou(bai)cao, lit. “match all sorts of herbs/plants”. It was an ancient Chinese game where you would basically go off into the wilderness, pick as many different plants you could find, and come back to compare them with your playmates. Whoever got the most different kinds won. Ancient peoples were really bored, y’know.
 Traditionally, women threw things towards men they found attractive, like fruit (bad idea, do not replicate IRL). Legendary prettyboy Pan An purportedly had so much fruit thrown at him by women who found him attractive that it filled up the carriage he was riding.
 More poetry… this is the first line of “A Mess of White Hair” by Li Qingzhao (李清照), though the last line is edited from “where are they/where is that person?”
 左龙武卫 – Not previously mentioned. It’s not the Flying Dragon Guard, nor is it the Divine Martial Army… I think. I would think it was a typo if I wasn’t going off the JJWXC raws and the same term didn’t repeat the very next sentence. /shrug
 Bear with me a bit: the ‘merit-based ministers’ were, of course, officials who have made major wartime contributions. ‘Clean-streamers’ awere essentially political hipsters in that they tended to shun social convention and wealth, hence the name suggesting that the ‘mainstream’ wasn’t clean – they were ironically often well-off despite this. Literary officials were looked down on because they could be of lower classes that did well on the imperial exams or were passed the position due to heredity. Martial officals got that position by being soldiers, which was why the literati didn’t like them. No one ever had any respect for eunuchs for complicated reasons that can be boiled down to “no dick = evil”.
 Two lotuses growing on the same stalk is a symbol of a happily married couple. Ohohoho.