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“Be blunt. The ambush at Blue Sand Pass, the Eastern Tartar envoy going through an assassination – was that the Emperor setting the Golden Crow Guard into motion?”
Fu Shen hummed in affirmation. “You guessed it,” he said flatly.
He felt Yan Xiaohan suddenly tighten the hand that was fastened on him, hence he smiled very gently. “I know what you want to say. Him dying from anger wouldn’t be an injustice, right? However, Brother Yan,” he spoke in a somewhat frustrated way, “There’s no one who’s just starting to raise their foot that’s then gotten to reach that step today.
His Majesty is getting old now, paranoid, suspicious, believing what he hears and slandering – but he wasn’t like that before. The Duke of Ying’s Estate, even if it’s waning, is still a colossus, as is the Northern Yan Iron Cavalry, as is the Marquis of Jing Ning’s Estate… with no Emperor, there would be no Fu family today, let alone me.
In the second year of Yuantai, near the beginning of His Majesty’s reign, Northern Xinjiang was in turmoil. My grandfather was transferred to the position of Gan Prefecture’s governor, and the Emperor gave him unconditional support, military power, provisions, funds… the state treasury that hadn’t been well-rounded to begin with was nearly emptied, but only then was North Xinjiang pacified once again. My father and second uncle were cornerstones whose effects are still felt in the army today, and there’s many generals scattered among the four borders who had all grown up during that battle.
Directly after you and I were born, the world ushered in an era of stability. I can’t go against my conscience and say it was purely from the feats of the Fu’s predecessors.”
Yan Xiaohan smiled with an unclear meaning. Fu Shen could hear his disapproval, but the other had no refute, only motioning for him to continue speaking.
“He was a wise ruler, once. The day of the marriage sanction, you asked me why I didn’t just rebel, and I told you at the time that the Northern Yan’s illustrious reputation couldn’t be ruined in one day. There’s another reason I didn’t tell you about. You witnessed it today, too… I just can’t do it.
That’s why I can only use unconventional means to retaliate against him, and I can’t help but go about saving him. Might as well set up a memorial arch for the fact that I’m his bitch…”
Yan Xiaohan immediately lifted up his hand and slapped him on the waist at that. “Don’t talk nonsense,” he scolded.
“You get what I mean. Everything in my hand, the Emperor gave to me. Now that he wants to take it back, he’s afraid that I wouldn’t be willing to loosen my grip…”
The rivers and mountains were the same as they ever were, but people’s hearts were no longer what they had been.
He didn’t go on explaining. Yan Xiaohan and he were close with no gap between them, but he couldn’t sympathize, after all. Intertwining contradictions, fickleness – even Fu Shen himself felt worthless, so who knew what he’d be in the eyes of others? He might just be blindly loyal.
Fu Shen lifted his head in shock, almost believing that Yan Xiaohan had lost his mind and gone mad. Immediately after, he was cuddled into the man’s embrace — it wasn’t like an intimate manner of embracement between adults, but rather that of cajoling a child, the indulgence and fondness in it not veiled at all.
“Do you know what you’re like, Jingyuan?” Yan Xiaohan kissed him on the center of his hair, a tolerant smile towards the one that had ‘you’re sick’ etched all across his face. “A good kid that has never done anything bad who suddenly had a day where he did do something bad, got a guilty conscience, and fessed the whole thing up without waiting for anyone to ask about it.”
Fu Shen really wanted to kick him.
Yan Xiaohan, the inconsiderate jerk, couldn’t help but keep grinning. “You say that you’re all a bunch of upright gentlemen, but life’s hard, hm?
You can say this or that, but you only hate that he’s paranoid, and you can’t change the innate honor in your bones. If it were me, this pretty much wouldn’t be an issue. I’m a conniver who falls out with folks at the drop of a hat, forming waves with no wind, and that’s saying nothing of when other people come provoke me all on their own.”
“What bull. Would I be like you?”
“Are you a saint, then?”
“Why do I get the feeling you’re mocking me in a roundabout way?”
“You’re overthinking. Since you’re not me, why should you be like a lowlife and get revenge over so much as a wrong look? Since you’re not a saint, why should you insist on forcing yourself to be selfless and repay good unto evil?
No one can force you to take revenge. Whether you’re inclined to pick it up or let it go all depends on your own feelings. Or, if you don’t want to do the work yourself, having me do it in your place is fine, too.
Besides, a clay figurine still has some of the qualities of its dirt. The Emperor has such a grand path set up for himself, so why’s he so hateful? Injuring loyal officials and good generals because of suspicion and jealousy is not something the wise ruler of any dynasty or era would set about doing. Those that have done wrong must accept punishment. There’s no sense in having you, the victim, exonerate him on his behalf.”
Fu Shen had never heard him utter such a lengthy, verbose lecture before and felt it a bit of a novelty for an instant, finding himself unable to refute in spite of everything.
Yan Xiaohan raised the other’s chin up with one hand, smiling. “Marquis, when you were sixteen, you dared to holler out ‘the Emperor is wrong’ right in front of my face. Why do you now have your limbs tied up instead, not showing your sharp edge?”
The years-old past surged up like a wave, merging with distant memories at the end of the horizon. Fu Shen’s throat suddenly ached.
“Cast off that shitty monarch who wants his subjects dead. Don’t learn the bad habits of those pedantic scholars.” Yan Xiaohan lowered his head and kissed him, his voice mellow, yet each word seeming like it smashing into Fu Shen’s heart. “Daring to love, daring to hate, directly repaying both kindness and enmity; no one can tie you up aside from yourself.”
Again and again he had followed Fu Shen’s back with his eyes as he’d gone off somewhere far away, watching him morph from a teenager to a young adult, from a General to a noble, and as his soaring spirit was eroded by incessant cold wind and yellow sand, waves of noise of both praises and denouncements in turn, and bearing responsibilities upon his shoulders yet never having a day he could unload them.
Sometimes, Yan Xiaohan wished for himself to be as insane as rumors told. He wanted to seal up the sixteen-year-old Fu Shen, forever stopping him from going into those years of untold suffering, or – just like that day of the marriage sanction – looking maliciously at what he had trusted, depended upon, and defended then completely collapsing, having him no longer be a man of honor and casting off the shackles on him from that point on.
All were unattainable fantasies, each the most hopeless projection of fancy in a mundane world. Yan Xiaohan very seldom had times where he lost control, being clear-headed most often. When he’s clear-headed, he could tell Fu Shen “you are set up high within my heart, and no one can reach you”, but only when he lost control would he then dare to admit that Fu Shen’s donning of armor and going into battle at eighteen, embarking on the road of a loyal official and good general, was one of a mere two counts of powerlessness he’d had in his life.
In this world, being a loyal official was not only exhausting, but desperate.
Yin and yang had gone awry, and the fortune of heaven had been called; he hadn’t expected that, one day, he’d be able to be in such harmony with this man.
Even though Fu Shen could only sit atop a wheelchair, he was still a difficult-to-handle lethal weapon of the world, and not easily provoked. Yet, in this late night, the moment he was pulled from within his gloom and into moving tenderness, a sort of near-illusory satisfaction suddenly gave rise in Yan Xiaohan’s chest. It was as if he had finally managed to spread his wings, candidly wrapping them around the one he most wanted to protect.
Their breaths intertwined, lips stuck together, and heartbeats became more and more in sync. Fu Shen’s fingers gently ran along his dark, slightly damp hair. It was unclear who was consoling who, in the end.
The night flew past.
Fu Shen wasn’t sure when he had fallen asleep, but Yan Xiaohan was long gone by the time he woke up. It wasn’t early in the day anymore, the breeze gentle and the sun warm, and along with the extra warmth of their closeness, he’d had a rare bout of a cozy, contented, and easy sleep.
The madness of the Vast Longevity Feast and the melancholy he had nowhere to vent from yesterday were like events that had happened a very long time ago. Many things he hadn’t yet gotten over had seemed gargantuan, and only after he had gotten over them did he discover that they actually weren’t at all.
What was most important was that someone had been wiling to provide an extensive amount of patience be beside him and keep him company, not minding the trouble it’d take to undo his enormous jumble of knots, and observing that his low mood might not have the slightest bit of reason to it.
It was hard for Yan Xiaohan, the Court lackey who’d been roundly cursed at and derided by the clean-streamers, to have to silently bear with trying to comprehend the mindsets of loyalists.
Prior to lunch, an imperial eunuch came from the palace to pass on an imperial decree. For the Marquis of Jing Ning’s deed of saving his esteemed self, His Majesty praised his fealty, and bestowed upon him several trunks of medicinal supplies, precious metals, jewels, and other such things. There was also a special mention of an order to ask him what rewards he might want, and they would be carried out to their full extent.
Fu Shen thought for a moment, turned his head to look at the Yan Estate’s main gate, and smiled. “To be devoted to one’s monarch and country is a subject’s duty. I am unworthy of receiving His Majesty’s generous conferment and mighty heavenly favor, so how could I dare to covet for even more? I have only one audacious request, and I’ll be asking you to convey it for me, good Eunuch.”
The eunuch beamed at him. “Please speak, Marquis.”
“At the Vast Longevity Feast yesterday, the Flying Dragon guard supposed the duty of bodyguards to keep His Majesty safe. However, the treacher was cunning, and it narrowly led to disaster; as my wife is the leader of the Guard, he won’t be able to escape blame. A husband and wife are united in heart, and I hope that His Majesty will allow this servant to use his own merits, passing them over to him so that my wife can be forgiven for his crime of not doing his best at guarding,” Fu Shen replied, completely serious.
It was like lightning had descended from the sky and split open the roof of the Estate. The eunuch was in a daze, almost believing himself to have imagined what he’d heard. “Marquis… wh-what did you just say…?” he asked with a white face.
Fu Shen gave a light smile. “Hm? Was what this Marquis said not clear?”
“It… it was…” The eunuch’s sweat came out in pearls, feeling like he had heard a terrible, monstrous secret and Yan Xiaohan was going to kill him to keep him quiet tonight.
After watching the reporting eunuch’s figure retreat as he fled in a flurry, Fu Shen leisurely turned around, facing the courtyard of maids and boyservants who were standing around dumbstruck.
“Are you all very touched from witnessing what I’d done?” he said with no change in expression. “You can’t blame me for being softhearted. That actually was something your Master wouldn’t stop fretting about after the fact. Last night he laid in my arms and cried for half the evening.”
Fu Shen had others carry the trunks away and went back to have lunch without any sort of remorse. Wanting to aid in digestion after his meal, he thought about how the Yan Estate wasn’t far from the Clear Void Monastery, and how the priest that came from it had been really fishy. He ended up being unable to restrain his curiosity, thus having Du Leng push him into the neighborhood for a stroll.
The formerly flourishing temple had since become poor, full of desolation with none at its doors. In order to prevent fish from slipping the net, Yan Xiaohan had intentionally allocated a squadron of Imperial Guards to keep watch on the place. In quite a coincidence, the one leading them was precisely a face Fu Shen had seen before: General Wei Xuzhou.
General Wei was extremely slick in the ways of the world. He had also originally thought that the Yan-Fu pair were mismatched, but it could clearly be seen from Yan Xiaohan’s demeanor after the marriage that his attitude towards Fu Shen wasn’t the same. It couldn’t be said for sure that Fu Shen didn’t have the same idea, but their Sir Yan certainly attached quite a bit of importance to the Marquis of Jing Ning.
Seeing Fu Shen’s arrival, he was mentally speechless as he simultaneously stepped forwards in greeting, keeping an unfailing modest bearing as he took the initiative to suggest that Fu Shen go in to take a look.
Fu Shen remembered the first time he’d seen him; Wei Xuzhou hadn’t been so cordial at the time. “Is General Wei not worried that this Marquis is an accomplice to the assassin?” he said, unable to keep from grinning.
“Where are those words coming from, Marquis?” Wei Xuzhou promptly stated. “You are one of our own.”
Eyes lowering in his grin, Fu Shen repeated, “’Your own’.”
Each of the two old foxes seemed to have obtained the information they wanted from this riddle-like conversation, smiling as they looked at each other. Wei Xuzhou made a ‘please do’ gesture, and Fu Shen gave him a shallow nod in regards. “I’ll be troubling you, then. Let’s go, Du Leng.”
The translator says: This author is working on a new wuxia-themed novel called Spring Breeze Passing Sword (a… tentative title) and I’m very excited, huhuhuhu. I even made a page for it, though no translating or even reading will be getting done until the work’s finished.