GS 20: An Empty Valley

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A night within an uninhabited mountain in the back-country was actually quite dangerous, when one thought about it. They were both wounded, heavy rain was pouring down outside, the mountain had no shortage of poisonous insects and wild beasts, and the risk of rockslides was there at all times. Yet, every time Fu Shen recalled that night, his most profound memory was that of dropping onto his back, then having someone gently soothe him to sleep.

It was to the extent that even after so many years, falling into that same person’s embrace again still felt familiar.

It stopped coming down in the early morning of the next day. While birds twittered around the mountainside, Fu Shen and Yan Xiaohan left the cavern and followed along the valley to exit. The air was fresh and humid after the rain, with a great many mushrooms sprouting in the woods. Fu Shen had starved all night and kept making eager glances at the insides of the forest, the words ‘I want to eat those’ practically falling out of his eyes.

Yan Xiaohan had to pull him back onto the actual path. “They’re poisonous. You can’t eat them.”

Straw mushrooms and the ones that grow under pine trees aren’t. I can totally eat those,” Fu Shen insisted. “I’ve gathered mushrooms in the plains before, believe me.”

Yan Xiaohan was almost moved by how staunch he was, but with one thought towards their current predicament, he still unfeelingly refused him. “Getting out of danger is most important. If you want to eat mushrooms, wait until we get back to the capital and I’ll send you a box of them, okay?”

Fu Shen bowed his head to ponder for a bit, thusly feeling himself to have been a bit ridiculous right then. He’s typically capable of pretending to be a sophisticated and reliable adult, but perhaps due to Yan Xiaohan’s gentle, night-long tending to him, he’d gotten the tendency to have a few stirrings of mischief sounding off in his head.

“But I’m hungry,” he stressed, looking at Yan Xiaohan impatiently. “Too hungry to move.”

In actuality, the appeal of the mushrooms wasn’t that great, and he wasn’t hell-bent on eating them. He was simply happily recalling the warm hug and peacefulness from yesterday evening, and wanted to get even more attention from his companion in this world of only the two of them, thereby slightly diluting his hunger, fatigue, and trepidation caused by the unknown.

Plainly speaking, he was spoiled now.

Yan Xiaohan looked down at him through lowered lids, surprisingly without impatience, and didn’t expose his lie. His eyes were very soft, like a handful of melting snow; freezing and clear, yet with a convalescent warmth inside.

He turned nimbly around and knelt on one knee, his back to Fu Shen. “Get on. I’ll carry you over.”

Mischief also had to be regulated. Fu Shen couldn’t possibly do something like take advantage of someone’s weakness, so he repeatedly backpedaled. “Nonono, I was only kidding! We can go.”

“I wasn’t.” Yan Xiaohan inclined his head, a smile on his lips. “Just let me compensate you for your meal of mushrooms. It’s alright, come on.”

Hesitation showed on Fu Shen’s face, but it was skin-deep, as that exceptionally straight back was not unlike a magnetic force, enticing him to take a step forwards, extend his arms out, and wrap them around Yan Xiaohan’s neck in an event he could not explain.

Yan Xiaohan steadily carried him forth.

A burst of dull pain came from his lower ribs, the pressure the weight of a good-sized human could put on the wound not be taken lightly. Yan Xiaohan wasn’t in the frame of mind to care, though, as all of his attention was placed on what was under his feet and who was on his back. Fu Shen was as stiff as the board of a coffin at first, trying his utmost to maintain a distance between his chest and the other’s back, but after a period of time, his body slowly slackened, cautiously letting them touch.

In a not-very-suitable analogy, he was like a tiny creature with puffed-up fur shyly approaching, then flopping into his palm with a grumble.

A short moment later, his shoulders felt heavy, and he placed his head down on the other’s shoulder.

Yan Xiaohan was forced to relive that jittery-making tickle from when Fu Shen had forced him into submission. “Brother Yan,” he heard him say right into his ear, “I did help you out twice, but they weren’t any kind of immense favors. They didn’t cost me much to do. You… don’t need to be so overly accommodating to me to repay them.”

Yan Xiaohan lightly adjusted his position on his back, his reply heedless. “I want to make you happy. How can you call this accommodation?”

“Then what would you call it?”

Yan Xiaohan reflected on it seriously. “A mountain of fatherly affection?” he said, uncertain.

“……”

Fu Shen used his forehead to knock against the back of Yan Xiaohan’s head. His overlapping arms could feel a slight vibration from other’s chest, and there was a smile in Yan Xiaohan’s voice. “Dizzy? Be careful, don’t knock yourself silly.”

He was being good to Fu Shen to repay him, but it wasn’t only for that.

In relationships between people, making acquaintances was easy, but making a friend required destiny, and Fu Shen always seemed to keep constant regard for him. It was a nice surprise, from time to time.
  
In the cave when they had been snuggling up for warmth, Yan Xiaohan had said that he didn’t have a father. It was nothing more than a phrase in his mind, yet the weariness and chill had caused his reason to dull and his defenses to relax some, a bit of his very deeply concealed emotions flowing out of the small fissure.

The grasp he had on his willpower wasn’t enough, yet he hadn’t planned on dumping out his secrets to anyone else, nor did he need false comfort and sympathy.

The way Fu Shen thought was very mature, his words and actions consistently controlled and courteous. Yan Xiaohan had already predicted what he would say, yet in the middle of wondering how to overcome this subject, he heard Fu Shen not have a care in the world about it: “If you don’t have one, you don’t have one. I don’t have a mom, either.”

His approach had been like this on the regular — ‘you want to talk about it, I’ll listen. If you don’t, I won’t ask.’

Altruistic.

Yan Xiaohan sighed in relief, and in that moment, he considered this ‘little friend’ as a true one.[1]

They trekked through the valley for nearly a day, Fu Shen having Yan Xiaohan let him jump off his back after a portion of the journey. The ravine’s environment was beautiful, with flowing water, lush vegetation, and a field of orchids growing across the mountainside. Were their current dire situation to be ignored, this scene could be praised as eye-candy.

The two stopped to rest here for a second. Fu Shen wanted to break off a sprig to mess around with, but was once again blocked by Yan Xiaohan. He didn’t get mad, merely questioning him with a smile. “You won’t let me grab this, you won’t let me pluck that. What’s your justification for stopping me this time? Is there poison in the orchids?”

Yan Xiaohan gave him a wild fruit that he hadn’t eaten himself, then let out a breath as he sat down and put slight pressure on his ribs. “No. I just think that they’re growing well in the valley, and if they hadn’t come across us, they could live safe and sound through a couple summers and winters. Were you to snap one off, it’d likely be withered by tomorrow, so why should you?”

Fu Shen laughed. “The ancients once told: ‘if it’s not picked and admired, is that not harming the orchid?’{1} How come to you, it’s instead turned into ‘picking and admiring the orchid is what harms it’?”

” ‘Flowers and trees have hearts as well, why seek to cut off their beauty?’ “{2}

Fu Shen’s grin landed on him. They were very close to each other, half of their bodies pretty much plastered together. Yan Xiaohan explained to himself that this little lordling was too pure, and they’d been enduring the same hardships for a time, which was why he was getting so buddy-buddy with him.

But it might also have been because they were the only two in the mountain. He was a bit scared on the inside, after all, so he was always unconsciously leaning on him.

Yan Xiaohan reached out to hold him, and the two leaned backwards to lay down on the grassy slope, shoulder-to-shoulder.

Fu Shen gazed at the clear blue sky. “Since you’re one to cherish flowers, Brother Yan,” he spoke suddenly and firmly, “and even a wild orchid can get your mercy, what about when the elements level the land flat?”

“You’re saying nonsense again. Thunder and rain can fall from the sky at any given moment – ‘to seasons, to fate, there’s naught I can do’.”{3}

Fu Shen sat up straight. “Then I’ll go and pick that flower. Has anyone ever been immortal? You gotta live every day like it’s your last…”

Yan Xiaohan didn’t know whether to laugh or cry as he pulled him back, securing him in his arms. “Get back here! Must… must you wade through this turbid, rapid water? What does it matter to you whether the Jin family is dead or alive?!”

“Did you guess that?”

“I needed to guess?” Yan Xiaohan gently scoffed at him. “There was a group of people improperly blocking the middle of the road, guilt written on each of their faces. That said, I couldn’t afford to offend you all, else you would have been caught and taken back to the Flying Dragon Guard’s Department of Punishment.[2] There wasn’t a need to fight, just a need to scare a confession out.”

“Hahahaha…” Fu Shen laughed dryly.

“Before I came, I heard that there were many big names in Court pleading Jin Yunfeng’s case, and that included General Fu. That’s why you’re protecting those two, correct?”

Fu Shen didn’t get a chance to nod before the other continued speaking. “Listen to my advice: don’t take everything upon yourself, and have no care or consideration for self-sacrificing loyalty. The winds and waves are sharpest in the Duke of Ying’s Estate; do you really believe the Emperor doesn’t know about General Fu and the Prince of Su?”

“My uncle is–“

“He has the ability to plead for leniency because he’s half a student of Jin Yunfeng’s. Teachers are one of the people to be most respected, so it’s understandable. True feelings aren’t required, either, it’s just a motion to go through. But you’re different.” Yan Xiaohan squeezed the back of his neck. “You have no relationship with Jin Yunfeng. You’re a legitimate son of the Duke, so if you harbor the dregs of the Jin clan, you’ll implicate the entirety of his Estate in the issue. Do you understand?”

It was silent, just like the glow of dusk that slowly descended upon the slope.

Yan Xiaohan lowered his eyes to peer at his contemplative face, getting the feeling that he had spoken too gravely, but then had second thoughts about that. If it made him able to clearly see the pros and cons, a bit of strictness was fine.

In fact, he shouldn’t have mentioned a single word about this. Whether others lived, or died, or were judged unfairly, or deserved what was coming; it all had nothing to do with him. The Flying Dragon Guard was a sabre the Emperor wielded, and a sabre didn’t need to ‘determine’ who got to die.

But Fu Shen was different, in the end—

“Brother Yan,” the other said abruptly, “you’re saying that for my sake. I understand.”

Yan Xiaohan didn’t get any sort of gratification, as it was quite obvious that he was going to follow that with a “but”.

“But you’re a bit off,” Fu Shen went on. “My uncle speaking on Jin Yunfeng’s behalf is genuine, not a mere formality. If Jin Yunfeng is truly guilty, he wouldn’t rush back from the border so many li away, and the Prince of Su wouldn’t entrust him with such a matter were he just going to hide in the sidelines and muck around.
Jin Yunfeng has been wronged. As that’s so, if those folk request something of me here, I can’t just keep my hands in my sleeves and not care.”

He was just about to thoroughly anger Yan Xiaohan to death.

“Would anyone dare to claim themselves innocent, when it comes to the Court’s halls? He had private dealings with Han Yuan, he relayed information to the Prince of An’s Estate, they found several letters and precious items in his home, he’s spoken without proper respect in his heavy criticism of paring down the vassal state… if the Emperor condemns him himself, then what is he getting wrongfully accused of?!”

Fu Shen sighed. “I heard the Flying Dragon Guard presided over this case’s investigation. Shouldn’t you be clearer than me on whether that ‘evidence’ is the real deal, or something someone fabricated?”

He had great enough guts to lie in someone’s arms while secretly mocking said person to be ‘an accomplice to an evil-doer’ and ‘aiding a tyrant’. Yan Xiaohan could strangle him with his bare hands, but Fu Shen didn’t seem to pay attention to that, grabbing his collar as he continued to speak. “I don’t want to lie to you, Brother Yan, so I’ll just tell you this. I really don’t know much about Court matters, but I do know that a vassal Prince is someone the Emperor sees as a threat.”

“I know you sti–“

“I also know that my uncle wouldn’t speak on the behalf of a turncoat official.” Fu Shen’s sights fell upon those slender, swaying orchids. ” ‘Gentlemen are as orchids, learned officials are as swallowgrass[3]; within the wilderness, there’s likely ten blades for every flower.’{4} Of all the officials in Court, only he stood up to speak for the Prince of An.”

“I’ve explained it to you so thoroughly, yet you’re continuing to not get it,” Yan Xiaohan said coldly.

“It’s not that I don’t get it. It’s that somebody insists on going the wrong way.”

“Watch your tongue.”

“What is it that I can’t say? What is that can I shouldn’t dare say?!” Fu Shen leveled his gaze at him. “Making up accusations, fabricating charges, confiscating property, exterminating the family, and planting evidence to set them up! The Emperor is wrong! He just is!”

Yan Xiaohan swiftly flipped around and covered his mouth, his chest heaving with angry, rapid breaths. One above and one below, their eyes met, their breaths audible, and they could see their own reflections in the other’s pupils.

“Let what you’ve said today rot in your stomach. If I hear you say them again, forget anyone else – I’ll send you to the royal prison myself. Remember that.”

Fu Shen’s brows furrowed, mumbling against his palm a few times and using his knee to try and push him off.

Yan Xiaohan moved his hand.

Fu Shen’s miserable shriek surged straight to the top of the sky. “Get off me! You’re pressing on my wound! Ow!”

Yan Xiaohan realized that he really didn’t have a way to deal with Fu Shen: say he’s intelligent, and he would always misbehave at the wrong moment. Say he’s mature, and sometimes he’d be childish and outrageous.

—A temper like this was a real prick in the hand.

However, even if he was being so mortally against societal norms, Yan Xiaohan only hoped that he could hide that well and not be forced to change, nor did he want to treat him like this.

With that kind of reassessment, he suddenly had an understanding of Fu Shen’s state of mind in insisting on helping the Jin family’s descendant.

With no one’s help, Fu Shen got up from the grassy slope by himself, slow as a snail. His strong fervor from the hot blood going to his head had passed, and he had calmed, realizing that he had been somewhat unreasonably brazen.

He wasn’t really an inherently radical person; it was merely that the ‘path’ he was walking differed from others’, and he was young and naive, generally being a bit arrogant and unaware of the difficulties of the world as a result. He hadn’t yet mastered the concealment of his cutting edge.

Yan Xiaohan was first to stand up, speaking without turning his head. “Let’s go.”

He hadn’t taken the first step yet when there was sudden tightness at his wrist. Looking down, he found that Fu Shen was tugging at his sleeve but wasn’t daring to look at him, his head lowered. It seemed a bit pitiful-looking.

Ah. He’d finally recovered from being out of his mind.

Yan Xiaohan narrowed his eyes, inwardly finding this funny, yet he betrayed no trace of emotion. “What?” he asked placidly.

“I… spoke improperly just then and made you mad. I’m sorry.”

Yan Xiaohan said nothing, face cold.

“I know my mistake. It was my fault,” Fu Shen said earnestly. “If you want to beat and scold and punish me, I know to listen to my seniors.”

“That’s enough.” Yan Xiaohan’s voice was frosty. “How could this Yan fellow get the gall to beat or scold Young Master Fu? You aren’t wrong. Our group of treacherous flatterers is.”

Fu Shen’s head drooped lower and lower, really having regrets. This was also the first time he’d had this sort of hunkered posture to apologize to someone, but the other party wasn’t having it, which was not what he anticipated.

“I never regarded you as being treacherous, it’s just…”

It’s just what?

It’s just that people going separate paths could not unite, just that he firmly believed that Jin Yunfeng was falsely accused, just that ‘a noble man cultivates the dao to establish virtue, not to trap others in distress and alter moral integrity’.{5}

He wasn’t able to say more, loosening his grip on Yan Xiaohan’s sleeve. “I’m sorry,” he said with disappointment.

His slipping hand was abruptly caught, resting on a dry and slightly cool palm.

Yan Xiaohan crouched before him. “Who was it just now that said he’d take a beating, scolding, and punishment, and knew to listen to his senior? You made me mad, I say a few words to you, and you can’t stand it? Is your apology so insincere? Hm?”

Fu Shen’s ears inexplicably got hot, his mind a jumble of all sorts of feelings to the point he further dared not lift his head to look at him.

Yan Xiaohan thought and felt himself to be being extraordinarily evil. This was a proper Young Master of a rich and respected family that got injured and fell off a cliff, and had experienced the constant suffering of not eating very much today. Him ending up bullied like this was too wicked.

Fu Shen didn’t know what he should say, so he could only repeat himself. “I’m sorry.”

“Where’s the sincerity?” Yan Xiaohan said after a click of his tongue.

He used his free hand to raise Fu Shen’s chin, making him look evenly at him. “Lift your head. You’re not calling out any name, so who are you saying sorry to? Disregarding the one before, and looking at the new: what should you call me?”

His original intention was to have Fu Shen call him ‘Brother Yan’ and apologize, then he wouldn’t make things hard for him anymore. What he didn’t expect was for Fu Shen to grasp the wrong meaning – after half a day of silence, the other timidly tried something out in an extremely soft voice. “…Gege?”[4]

Being called that by him immediately turned Yan Xiaohan’s whole heart to mush. His lax grip on Fu Shen’s hand subconsciously closed.

A clean breeze blew past, wafting the orchids’ fragrance over them.

“You… I….”

Yan Xiaohan actually stammered. He leaned over to uproot him up from the ground, swiped earth and foliage off his body for him, and barely managed to eke out some words. “…Let’s go.”

Fu Shen still hadn’t turned the corner yet. “Is this… okay?”

“It’s okay, my Eldest Young Master.” Yan Xiaohan bowed his head to watch him, sighing noiselessly in his heart with a slight hook of his lips. “Call me that again, and I may just give up the darkness and turn towards the light for you.”


The author says: Quotes:
{1} Han Yu‘s Grasping the Hidden Orchid
{2} Zhang Jiuling‘s Thoughts (Part I)
{3} Making use of Lu Meng‘s Maxim of Righteousness
{4} Huang Tingjian‘s Record of the Secluded Fragrance Pavilion
{5} Family Sayings of Confucius – In Distress

The translator says: My heart… I’m dying…
I have a strong aversion to leaving things in pinyin, but I will make an exception for gege. ‘Big bro’ just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

[1] A bit lost in translation; 朋友 = friend, while 小朋友 = child (a ‘small friend’).
[2] 慎刑司 – Careful Punishment Department. So foreboding…
[3] AKA Ling Ling Xiang (零陵香), orchid-like grass (蕙草), or lysimachia foenum-graecum hance – I used swallowgrass (燕草). Here’s a picture. I cannot find an English source on it for the life of me, despite it being popular for TCM in China and having at least 10 different names.
[4] Cutesy appellation for an older brother, as opposed to the typically used synonym xiong that Fu Shen had been using earlier. Yan-xiong~ Yan-gege~

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17 thoughts on “GS 20: An Empty Valley

  1. I honestly don’t want them to get out of those woods! My heart is mushy like how yxh’s turned into mush after hearing Gege from FS

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I CANT I CANT I CANT WHY ARE THEY SO SO SO CUTE I really didn’t expect that much adorableness… when Fu Shen was compared to a small animals I WAS READY TO DIE Thank you for my life 🙏

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Omg. They are so warm rn but before the flashback FS said Cai Yue was the reason them two fought. Could it be FS thought YXH sent Cai Yue to death thus FS got mad at YXH? OMG. The misunderstandings!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. thank you for this chapter 🙏

    yessss FS be spoiled, YXH will not be able to resist u calling him “Gege” buttt now that you’re married ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°) how bout calling him hubby~~~

    Like

  5. That was so sweet, but also really sad, I really hope they clear up this misunderstanding later.
    And wishing you a merry xmas (or late one, depending on what time zone you’re in) I came as soon as I saw!

    Like

  6. Thanks for gifting us such a cute chapter!

    Lol @ YX’s reaction to being called gege. I wonder how he would react now if FS called him gege again. I hope we get to see it.

    Liked by 4 people

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