Careful What You Wish For - Nirvana in Fire 2 Fan Fiction No.3

It's been a while since I translated the last piece of fan fiction.

This one I like very much, it's broken into two parts. Chronologically the second half takes place after Lin Xi and Xiao Pingjing had their twins, but that child birth piece I haven't had time to translate yet. So, in the second half of this story, you'll meet their half-year old twins very briefly. 

As for the first part, I thought it would be nice to add in my guess of why Xiao Pingzhang went asking the emperor to grant the marriage with Xiao Xue. In the TV show Pingjing mentioned this when he had dinner with them and his brother and sister in law threw napkins at him. I thought it's a really fun thing to write about.

So, enjoy the story with my very own illustrations!

 

Careful What You Wish For Part 1

 

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On the 28th of the twelfth lunar month, after a year of “free-range” growth at Lang Ya Hall, Xiao Pingjing finally returned to the city of Jin Ling. Riding as fast as he could, he was covered in dust and feeling his bones were about to dislodge from his sockets. Though it was exhausting rushing his way home day and night, as soon as he imagined the consequence of not getting home before New Year, all the pain magically vanished.

By his calculation, he should have arrived at the capital two days sooner. Unfortunately, changes were always faster than plans. He ran into a land slide on his way which stranded him for three days waiting for the road to clear. On this evening, he managed to beat the closing city gate by a fraction and finally returned home.

Lights were already lit by the time he arrived at the front gate of the Chang Lin manor. He was freezing and starving with only cold winds in her empty belly, all he could think of was a bowl of steaming soup and a warm bath. When he entered his parents’ quarter, however, his lord father’s deep bell-like voice was echoing loudly in the courtyard.

Da Ge (oldest brother) was getting a scolding, how rare!

Xiao Pingjing grabbed butler Zhou in a flash, stopping the old man from announcing his arrival. He sneaked his way to the outside of the room and stealthily pressed his ear onto the window frame.

“…You could have told me first, I should be the one to suggest the marriage proposal. You have always behaved with great propriety, why did you do such a rush thing?!”

There was no way that Xiao Pingjing could hold himself back upon hearing the word “marriage”; he dashed in to the room like a shooting arrow.

“Marriage proposal?! Da Ge, did you go to His Majesty? Was it Meng Jie Jie (older sister)?”

Xiao Pingzhang was kneeling on the ground, surprised by the unannounced arrival of Xiao Pingjing. Judging from his younger brother’s weathered looks and riding cape, he must have only just arrived. He winked at Xiao Pingjing, trying to warn him about keeping quiet, yet he was still one step too late to stop his younger brother’s blabbering.

“You! Good you still remembered to come back!” Xiao Tingsheng raised his voice; his tone sounded even harsher than when he was scolding his eldest son.

“Greetings to lord father! It’s been a while, is everything going well?” Xiao Pingjing kneeled and bowed down to the floor, before he could raise up however, Xiao Tingsheng stopped him with a quick gesture.

“Going well? How touching that you still remember that you have a father, a mother, a brother and a home!”

“Lord father, I didn’t do this on purpose. I really couldn’t travel any faster. I should have arrived by the 26th had the road not gotten blocked. I’m late only because of that.”

“What did you say before you left? I would write back every month, what about that? When was the last time you sent a letter home? Do you know how worried your mother has been?”

Xiao Pingjing knew he was at fault on this, so he kept silent and bent his head low.

“Wouldn’t it be better if you could arrive two days later, right on the 30th, then you could go straight into the palace for the New Year’s Eve banquet. That would be a perfect timing!”

“Father, Pingjing is back before the end of year after all. Travelling all this way is tiresome, please let him up first!”

“You only know how to spoil him. I’m not done with you yet!”

Before his could finish his sentence, the rustling of clothes announced the arrival of Lady Chang Lin. Her steps sounded gentle and firm, with two maids following behind, she entered the room.

“Mother! Greetings !” Xiao Pingjing’s eyes curled into two thin arch upon seeing his mother. He bowed down to the floor again.

“You’re home! Let me take a closer look.” Lady Chang Lin held Xiao Pingjing’s face, brushing off a smudge on his cheek with her thumb while helping him up.

“You’ve grown taller, and skinnier. My Pingjing is looking ever more dashing.” She petted him on his head and grabbed his hands, staring at her boy with love and pride, completely ignoring the fact that Xiao Tingsheng was still trying to teach her sons a lesson.

“Don’t even think about an easy way out just because your mother is here! Go kneel in front of the ancestral shrine for two hours, no dinner for either of you!”

“Father!” Xiao Pingjing was already famished, “no food” sounded like a thunder that cracked over head on a bright and clear day.

“My lord!” Lady Chang Lin turned around, knotting her long brows together, her delightful voice echoed with a tint of complaint.

“My lady, I’m being lenient since it’s approaching New Year. You can’t spoil them like this!” Xiao Tingsheng looked much more relaxed when talking to his wife, but his tone was till serious and resolute.

She knew that her husband was a man of his word, besides, they had long before reached an agreement that when it came to discipline their children, they would each take on a role to play. She sighed and shook her head slowly, giving up on arguing with him.

The night was dark; the oil lamps burned with their weak beady lights. Xiao Pingzhang and Xiao Pingjing kneeled in silence in front of the letter-less tablet in the ancestral shrine. Jin Ling in winter is damp and cold; there was no brazier in the room either. Xiao Pingjing was cold and hungry, feeling bitter, he sulked with a childish pout on his face. Xiao Pingzhang stared down his own nose tip, hardly moving a muscle, waiting peacefully for the two hours to pass.

“Da Ge, you owe me! I only had one piece of oven bread since this morning. I didn’t even stop and rode all this way. My butt is still hurting from all that riding. Now I don’t even get my food, and I have to kneel for two hours ! I won’t let you off easy if  you didn’t compensate me well after this!”

“Be queit! If father heard you complain he might add another two extra hours.”

Xiao Pingjing turned around instantly; no one was in the yard outside. He groaned and lowered his voice, unable to hide the mischief in his tone,

“However, Da Ge, I really do admire you running to His Majesty to propose your own marriage! Did Meng Jie Jie know?Is it your own idea or did you two plan this together? I don’t quite get it, even if you told father first, it wouldn’t really be a bad move. It’s not like he doesn’t know you two are close. If father went to talk to His Majesty, you’d spare yourself all this trouble. Why did you go asking for permission without informing father first?”

Xiao Pingzhang raised his head slowly, glaring at his brother.

“You asked so many many questions at once, how am I supposed to answer?”

Xiao Pingjing rolled his eyes, he was used to such reaction from his brother.

“I’m just curious, come on, tell me.”

“You don’t know when to stop, we’ll talk another time.” Xiao Pingjing sounded calm and firm, he turned around, keeping his posture straight and his mouth shut.

Of course he knew his action was inappropriate. It was against the proper rituals and procedures, let alone it was also disrespectful to Xiao Xue. The heir to the Chang Lin House, the intelligent young man who always knew how to act properly and never gave elders any trouble , somehow went ahead with such a daring move. Not only did Xiao Tingsheng not see it coming, even Xiao Xin (The emperor) was stunned. He watched this nephew growing up, knowing all too well that he was well cultured and wise beyond his age. To his sudden and unreasonable request, the emperor responded with a stern face without giving a clear yes or no answer. He appeared angry in front of Xiao Pingzhang while in reality he was more shocked than upset.

What Xiao Tingsheng couldn’t understand was also what Xiao Pingjing didn’t grasp. The daughter from the Meng House and the heir of Chang Lin are a proper match. A potential marriage can be arranged following the common practice. Xiao Pingzhang’s insolent action made no sense at all. What they couldn’t have known was that on the morning of that day, Xiao Pingzhang ran into a few Xun House servants shopping for deer skin in the East Market. He didn’t register what was going on first, and only realized something was off after his horse had already walked past them a dozen steps. Deer skin was not something needed for New Year’s celebration, but when it came to betrothal gifts, it became a must. The only child at the right age for a marriage in the Xun family was Xun Feizhan, if his uncle was preparing for a proposal, then…Xiao Pingzhang turned around his horse and ran back to the leather shop. It took him little effort to coax some useful information out of the servants, which further confirmed his suspicion.

Be the first to strike is the secret to win the battle. He rode straight for the palace without going home first to change into his formal clothes. He was well aware of the fact that the emperor would never agree to such an important matter on a whim, and he was probably heading for a scolding. However, as long as he was the first one to mention this proposal to the emperor, it basically guaranteed his upper hand. Since the emperor was always partial towards the Chang Lin House, after knowing his nephew’s interest in marrying Meng Qianxue, the emperor would almost certainly deny the request for a marriage between the Meng and the Xun family. Though Xiao Pingzhang was a close friend to Xun Feizhan since childhood, when it came to Xiao Xue, he was not about to leave anything to chances.

After the two-hour worth of punishment, Xiao Pingjing returned to his own quarter sad and tired. To his delight, his mother and Meng Qianxue were both waiting inside with wide smiles on their faces; what was even better was that a bow of milk curd and a plate of cakes were waiting for him on the table.

“Come over here! There’s no dinner for you tonight, but luckily your Meng Jie Jie made some cakes this morning and brought them over.”

Though it wasn’t hot soup or proper dishes, it was already the most precious gifts in the eyes of the starving Xiao Pingjing. He thanked heaven and earth for the kindness of his mother and Meng Qianxue.

“I also had the hot water prepared, go take a bath after you finish, and get a good night’s sleep.” 

“Thank you, mother, you are THE  parent who really cared about me!” He mumbled with food in his mouth, which he only managed to swallow with the help of a cup of tea.

“Meng Jie Jie, your culinary skills are unmatched! Once you marry my brother, I’d be able to enjoy your cooking all my life!”

Lady Chang Lin slammed on his shoulder, “uncouth boy!”

Meng Qianxue was never a shy person and she had heard such jokes often. Perhaps it was because of Xiao Pingzhang’s surprising act during the day, or maybe it was because she hadn’t seen Xiao Pingjing for over a year and he brought up such a topic as soon as they met, she felt her cheeks growing warm, and bent down her head to hide her embarrassment.

“Are you angry with me? My apology!” He raised his hands high, bowing down to her like a well behaved child.

“You don’t even shut up with all this food in front of you!” Meng Qianxue wasn’t really annoyed at all. She laughed and pushed the dish closer to Xiao Pingjing. He grabbed a cake and bit a large chunk off.

“You don’t even know how boring the food is up there at Lang Ya Hall. I’m so jealous whenever I think about Da Ge can have food like this every day! He is truly so blessed! Meng Jie Jie is not only good mannered and great at martial arts,  she is also brilliant at cooking!”

“Well then, when you grow up, what kind of wife would you want to marry?” Lady Chang Lin looked at him with a gentle smile, clearly teasing him for fun.

Xiao Pingjing was only twelve then, the only thing he wanted was to become a martial art master, roaming the world with a sword on his back, serving justice and be known for his skills and deeds, he had no clue about what marriage or wife entailed. He blinked blankly, rubbing the sugar and flour off his palms.

“My wife… must be as gentle as mother, as good at making food as Meng Jie Jie, better still if she could practice sword with me every day!”

Meng Qianxue and Lady Chang Lin laughed with their sleeves over their mouths; outside, Xiao Pingzhang had been eavesdropping for quite a while, upon hearing such a childish remark, he too began to laugh.

 

Careful What You Wish For Part 2

 
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As soon as Xiao Pingjing stepped into the inner courtyard of Ji Feng Hall, Lin Xi’s clam and collected voice flowed into his ears from the north room ahead, he could make out the outline of a man who was on his knees, being scolded by her.

“…the preparation for this herb is complicated, it needs to be boiled for nine days without stopping, otherwise the poison couldn’t be fully remediated. It would not only reduce the herb’s medicinal effect, it might even become harmful to the patient. If I wasn’t quick to catch your mistake and these herbs were released into the market, what kind of consequences would Ji Feng Hall face?” Lin Xi always talked with a steady and cool voice, but it never took away the power of her speech. The young apprentice was only a teenager, he was unable to even move a muscle under Lin Xi’s forceful aura.

Xiao Pingjing winced and gasped, feeling a sense of relief coming over him. Thank heaven he was only her husband, not her student. He walked onto the roofed corridor, the noise of his foot steps made Lin Xi stopped talking momentarily. She looked up and saw him entering the room with a swaddled baby in his arms, bringing in a gush of cold wind with him.

“What are you here for?”

Xiao Pingjing was already pulling on the tied strips around his neck; the apprentice boy stood up quickly and took the fur collared cloak Xiao Pingjing handed over. Lin Xin glanced at the boy and shook her head gently.

“You can leave now, throw all this herb away, I’ll talk to you later.”

“Yes.” The apprentice bowed and replied, exiting the room obediently.

Xiao Pingjing sat down beside her, handing the tightly swaddled Xiao Jie over to her.

“He began crying as soon as you left. Aunty Qi and I tried to calm him down but he just wouldn’t stop crying. You need to take a look.”

Lin Xin undressed the swaddle open trained speed and accuracy, she gave the baby a thorough check-up and found no problem at all.

“Sometimes babies just cry for no good reason, it will pass.” Lin Xin gently patted Xiao Jie in her arms and said it with a matter of fact tone , “You carried him out all this way in the cold, what if he got sick?”

“I’m not the doctor, how should I know?”

“You could always learn, a teacher is living under your roof, you don’t even have to pay!” Lin Xin joked with a spark in her eyes.

“I can help you dry the herbs and edit your books, as for the unintelligible medical text, please spare me the pain!” The moment he finished the sentence he knew he was in trouble,  Lin Xi grinned like a child, “Great! We only just had a fresh delivery of milkvetch root, they are still piled in the storage room, we are yet to clean and sort them out.”

“You don’t even have one person in Ji Feng Hall to spare for such a mundane task? Every other woman follows the husband’s command after marriage, yet look at me!” Xiao Pingjing let out a long sigh, and shook his head in despair, “Who is really the wife between the two of us?”

That was a really difficult question to answer. Although on the surface, they were Prince Chang Lin and Princess Consort, no one around them ever called them by such titles. Lin Xin was called Master Lin or Doctor Lin by everyone, as for Xiao Pingjing, the employees of Ji Feng Hall called him Second Young Master, a name inherited from the old days. As someone who couldn’t even run faster from the court matters, the title Prince was too obnoxious for his taste. Usually, a Master of a business such as Ji Feng Hall was a man, and his spouse then would be called Master’s Wife. Yet in Lin Xin’s case, she is herself the Master and the wife, and no one could think of an appropriate title for the Master’s husband. Therefore, they eventually resolved to his old title.

Xiao Pingjing didn’t care much for the formalities, occasionally though, he’d worry about the fact that one day his children would grow up, if by then he was still called Young Master, it really would sound very strange.

As expected,  in Ji Feng Hall, Master Lin is the true authority. Xiao Pingjing worked diligently for a couple of hours. He was only able to take his son home  afterwards, by which time the baby was already fed and fast asleep.

Xiao Pingjing and Lin Xi’s small household in Lang Zhou was only a few minutes’ walk from the Ji Feng Hall branch. Though it was only a three-court-yard house, the residence was elegantly arranged and decorated. Lin Xin often prepared herbs and received patients at home, making the place smell very much like a herbal shop. Aunty Qi was a hired helper after Lin Xin gave birth to the twins, with two servant girls, two servant boys and a butler, their small household was a complete and functional home.

Far different from the princely manor he grew up in, where he was constantly surrounded by maids and nannies, Xiao Ruo and Xiao Jie were almost fully brought up by Xiao Pingjing’s himself. The children were almost six-month old, and Xiao Pingjing had already grown used to waking up in the middle of the night, changing his clothes a few times a day, holding toys in his hands at all times. It wasn’t a stretch to claim that he had spent more time taking care of the children than Lin Xi had. She went to work at Ji Feng Hall in less than a month’s time after she gave brith. In the beginning she would only go every five or six days, then it became more and more frequent. Now she went there every other day, and usually stayed there until sunset. A household like this was probably none heard of throughout the kingdom of Liang, let alone in Lang Zhou.

As he anticipated, Lin Xin didn’t return until late evening that day. The servant boy saw some fresh fish for sale at the local market and brought one back, Xiao Pingjing was just in time to run into him when he returned.  Seeing the wiggling fish in the boy’s hand, he suddenly had the urge to show off his skills and headed for the kitchen.

The east room in their private quarter was their usual dinning place. Lin Xi recognized the dishes were prepared by Xiao Pingjing’s the moment she laid her eyes on the table, casually, she praised each and every one of them as she poked her chopsticks at the food; the husband’s face brimmed with pride like a child.

During the reclusive years at Lang Ya Hall, Xiao Pingjing was often bored. To kill the abundant time he had on hand, he learned cooking for his very skillful sister in law. Though a gentleman was not supposed to even get close to the kitchen (see note.1), the Old Master of Lang Ya Hall was the least rule-abiding person there was. Naturally, nobody even thought of it as a problem. After Lin Xi and He got married, she made quite an effort to learn from him, but all her attempts ended in some form of unexplainable failure. Eventually, she accepted the fact that she had no talent in cooking, and happily handed over such tasks to her prince husband.

“New Year is approaching, is Ji Feng Hall going to close for a while?” Xiao Pingjing picked off a chunk of fish belly and put it in Lin Xi’s bowl.

“Yes, we will close in a few days and re-open after the 15th, so it’s been rather busy lately. ” Lin Xin smiled and accepted his offer, she very much enjoyed such treatment from her husband.

“I wonder where Old Master Li is, it would be great if he could join us for the New Year’s celebration.”

“Master was in Yuan Zhou earlier this month, I’m afraid he wouldn’t be able get here in time.”

Xiao Pingjing hadn’t spent a New Year with family around him for many years. Since his brother’s passing, his sister in law moved to Lang Ya Hall and he was guarding the northern border on his own, leaving his father alone in the capital. When his father passed, he moved to Lang Ya Hall, and no one celebrated New Year up there in the mountains. Afterwards, he traveled with Lin Xi to write her herbal books, spending every New Year on their way. The coming New Year was the first one in a long time that he would  spent at “home”, yet this home and his previous home at Chang Lin Manor couldn’t be more different.

Lin Xi kept her usual calm expression, but the subtle shift on Xiao Pingjing’s face and how quickly he changed topic were clearly registered by her.

After dinner, Lin Xi went to check up on the babies, she waited until they fell asleep and quietly sneaked out of the room. Xiao Pingjing was practicing his sword in the courtyard as usual. Lin Xi held the collar of her cloak tight and wrapped herself warm inside the heavy fabric. She stood under the roof, watching his shadow  dancing across the space.

Many years ago, in the inner courtyard of Ji Feng Hall in Jin Ling, the white gravel splattered among the shadow of the bamboo grove. The blade in the young man’s hand flashed like bright snow under the moon light, making every onlooker captivated by his charm. Now, in this small courtyard,  with limestone paving the surface instead of the white gravel, twisted pine trees stood instead of the bamboos. The man was no longer a youth, but his blade was sharp and swift as ever. He wasn’t drunk tonight though; time had bestowed a touch of fineness to his movement in place of the blunt and raw impulse of his youth.

Finishing up his practice, he flipped his wrist and elegantly pushed his sword back into its sheath. Noticing Lin Xi was watching, he smiled and ran to her in a few strides. He sat down with her on the railings of the roofed corridor and stretched out his hands to hold her freezing red cheeks. His palms burned like fire after a work out.

“You’re freezing! Let me warm you up.” Xiao Pingjing held Lin Xi’s small face and refused to let go. She gently pushed his wrists aside after he had his fun of toying with her face.

“I’m not going to Ji Feng Hall tomorrow, we should go shopping for the New Year. This is our first New Year spent at home, we should do it properly.”

Xiao Pingjing felt a tug on his heart and broke into a smile. He grabbed onto Lin Xi’s small hands under her cloak.

“Sure, we’ll go together.” Xiao Pingjing fell silent for a moment as if his mind was suddenly somewhere else.

“What is it?” Lin Xi asked.

“Nothing, I just remembered, when I was young and studying at Lang Ya Hall, there was one year when I almost didn’t make it home before New Year. I was sent to kneel at the ancestral shrine for two hours without dinner. Back then I thought New Year’s celebration was such a tiresome thing that I was forced to do every year, but now…” his voice grew fainter and fainter as he spoke, the happy old times began to resurface as he talked on.

Lin Xi freed her hands out of his grasp and grabbed onto his hands instead. Pulling them close to her chest, she laid her head on his shoulder, pushing the corner of her forehead against his lower jaw.

 

“My wife… must be as gentle as mother, as good at making food as Meng Jie Jie, better still if she could practice sword with me every day!”

 

Xiao Pingjing had long forgotten he had once said such a thing. The person beside him was nothing like what he had hoped for all those years ago. Lin Xi was cool and collected, hopeless at cooking, she would never practice sword with him, instead she always ordered him around for chores. Perhaps heaven really did hear his request and decided teasing was the best response.

“Don’t worry, in the days to come, there will be no shortage of tiresome things for you to do.” Lin Xi breathed in his warm scent, rubbing her head gently against his neck, she held his hands tightly in her grip.

 

Note 1: In Confucius teaching, 君子远庖厨,gentlemen should stay away from the kitchen stuff, yes, I know it doesn't make sense to our contemporary sensibility, but history is history~

The Return of Spring - Nirvana in Fire 2 Fan Fiction No.2

INTRODUCTION

This piece is what I call a "hole-filling" piece which deals with the "dark period" between NIF1 and NIF2's time setting. It is mostly based on what has been written in NIF1&2 books and fits into characters' age and life experiences. 

The characters featured image is attached in the end. I would recommend 

 

NOT TO CHECK IT OUT FIRST

 

Cause it kind of spoils the story.

And there are further notes attached to the end of the writing. Enjoy!

 

The Return of Spring (春归)

 

Early March, Lang Ya mountain was filled with plum blossoms. The red and pink flowers dotted along the green ridges from the foot to the top of the mountain. Soaked in the misty spring fog, the mountain appeared other-worldly looking from afar.

Xiao Tingsheng slowly ascended the stone steps along the back of the mountain, stopping to take a breath every ten steps or so. As the army doctor had suggested, he should have stayed in bed for at least another fortnight before venturing out. But he could’t bare staying idle in the army camp, knowing there was one more important thing that he had to accomplish. Packing up a few simple items and bringing Lieutenant Yuan with him, he left for Lang Ya Hall under the scrutinizing gaze from the doctor and the worrying looks from his fellow soldiers.

The servant boy at the foot of the mountain rang the bell to notify their arrival for people up in Lan Tai pavilion (Note1). Xiao Tingsheng ordered Lieutenant Yuan to go ahead with their luggage, and climbed the mountain slowly by himself. He had to stop so frequently that it took him over three hours to finally nudge his way to the pavilion. Yuan Feng must have gone arranging their accommodation as he was nowhere to be found. Xiao Tingsheng held on to the pillar under the roofed corridor, breathing shallowly as waves of sweats poured down his forehead.

Perhaps he really did overestimate his abilities; it might be more sensible to wait for a couple more days.

Xiao Tingsheng felt dizzy and his vision blurred. Before he lost his balance, however, he was held up by a steady and strong support under his elbow. Turning around, he saw Lin Chen was already next to him without announcing his arrival. He immediately turned to bow to the Master of Lang Ya Hall, but Lin Chen press down his barely raise arm with a firm push. Holding him steadying while dragging him along, Lin Chen guided Xiao Tingsheng into the tea room and sat him down. Without asking for permission, he grabbed Xiao Tingsheng’s left wrist and started feeling for his pulse. After a moment of silence, he curled up his forefinger to signal his guest serving up the other wrist. Xiao Tingsheng knew very well that there was no use to argue with someone like Lin Chen, obediently, he handed over his right hand.

“Not bad, at least you’re unlikely to get down the mountain horizontally.” Finishing up his diagnosis, Lin Chen shrugged his shoulders and stuck his hands back into his long sleeves. “Although I have to say, you really are quite careless, what’s the point to rushing? It’s not like Lang Ya Mountain has legs to run away.”

Since their last meeting, Xiao Tingsheng hadn’t seen Lin Chen for almost ten years. He thought at least the Master would have changed somewhat, yet this man sitting in front of him was exactly as he remembered–as if they had only said goodbye yesterday, and now they were meeting again. Xiao Tingsheng had already sent a message ahead to explain the purpose of his visit. He was feeling uneasy all the way and worried constantly about what might happen once they met. Now they were finally sitting under the same roof, there was no telltale on Lin Chen’s face, which was completely unexpected on Xiao Tingsheng’s end.

As for Lin Chen, Xiao Tingsheng had already grown from a child into an army general stationed on the border. Apart from his face which still maintained the same look, there was almost nothing left on this young man that resembled the plain little boy in memory. Noticing the rather complicated expression on his face, Lin Chen brushed off his sleeves and retracted his out stretched legs.

A sudden silence descended upon the tea room, making Xiao Tingsheng feel even more uneasy. The tea pot on the stove beside him came to his rescue and began to boil, he thankfully shifted his attention to pouring a cup of freshly made tea for Lin Chen and then himself.

“Once you leave, will you go back to the Northern border, or directly to the city of Jin Ling?”

“Jin Ling?”

“It seems I got the news before you did. Your emperor father has ordered your return to the capital, I’m afraid next time we meet, I would have to call you Marquis.”(Note2)

Xiao Tingsheng froze for a moment, then he raised his arms to bow: “To Master, I’m forever just Tingsheng.”

Lin Chen held his gaze on the young man’s face for a few moments and stayed silent, then he suddenly sprang up from his seat cushion.

“I still have some affairs to attend today, and you need a lot of rest. We’ll talk tomorrow when you feel better.” Before Xiao Tingsheng could reply, he left the room like a piece of floating cloud with his incredible qing gong skill. (Note 3) Watching him disappearing into the foggy and lush mountain greeneries, Xiao Tingsheng sat still for a long while before he let out a long sigh. He turned around to look at the misty spring view outside of the window.

Deep in the mountain, time was truly as still as deep water, perhaps there really was no difference between one day and another.

 

 

 

In the evening, Lin Chen sent over a servant to deliver a bowl of steaming medicine. The man also delivered the message instructing Xiao Tingsheng to go to bed straight after taking the remedy. There was not much to do in the mountain anyway, so he gladly complied and went to bed early. This was, however, the first time Lieutenant Yuan Feng (Note4) visited the famous Lang Ya Hall. After the general went to sleep, he ventured out of their quarter to take a stroll. As the night grew darker, the lights in various windows went out one by one, eventually only the master’s quarter remained lit. Yuan Feng saw from downhill that there seemed to be a shadow moving across the pool of light. Unable to withhold his curiosity, he jogged up the staircase towards the source of light.

As he moved closer, he saw that it was Lin Chen practicing his sword in the small stone paved courtyard outside his compound. The courtyard was surrounded by the main building and two side buildings from three sides; the fourth side was left open. There was no roofed corridor in this compound, so the courtyard appeared more like an open platform. The fourth side was built to the edge of a cliff; a waist-high stone railing was constructed along the edge. There was a stone table inside the railing, surrounded by four stone stools. A wine jug was left lying on its side on the stone table. Lin Chen seemed to be fully immersed in his sword dance. He somersaulted onto the railing and moved across the narrow surface as if it was open ground.  

The master of Lang Ya Hall was truly an exceptional person! Did he have eyes on his feet? Yuan Feng had only known the hard and blunt fighting style that relied on sheer physical strength in the military camp. How could he have ever seen such a flowing and swift fighting style? Not blinking for a moment in case he missed some great move, he looked on in awe as the sword flashed like blazing snow flakes in Lin Chen’s hand. Dressed in white, the master hopped on the top of the cliff like a dancing crane. In the dark of the night, the trees and rocks all blurred into one murky backdrop, making the flying white dot stand out even more.

Mixed in with the swooshing sound made by the sharp blade, a drunken voice was reciting a poem : “The Mayfly’s wings, so beautiful are its clothes, the sadness in my heart, where would I end up?” (Note5) 

Yuan Feng wasn’t a very well read person so he had no idea what Lin Chen was saying. He could only watch in silence as if he was frozen to the ground. He wasn’t sure how long he had stood there until Lin Chen’s voice knocked him out of his trance.

“Have you seen enough? I would have to charge you money if you continued watching any longer!”

Yuan Feng jumped up in surprise. He ran along the stairs and grimaced in embarrassment, holding his arm high he bowed deeply: “Please forgive me Master, my action was inappropriate, I know watching someone practicing in secret is against the rules, please forgive me.”

“Why are you so flustered? Am I really that scary?” Lin Chen flipped the sword around with an elegant wrist turn to pushed it back into its sheath, and threw it down onto the table. Feeling slightly dizzy from the wine he drank, he was in an even better mood for making jokes than usual.

Yuan Feng fought his way up the army ranks, knowing only to live by the rules and following orders. He had no idea how to answer to someone who talked and acted in such a way. Lin Chen couldn’t help laughing secretly in his heart as he watched Yuan Feng’s confused facial expression and body language.

These army men were so stiff and boring!

“Tell me, what do you think of my martial art skills?” 

“Master’s movement… it’s quite…unthinkable, I’m not qualified to speculate.”

“Unthinkable?” Lin Chen found the wording rather funny, “Well then, tell me how do I compare to your General Xiao?”

“Um…” Yuan Feng was a little uncertain about what to say, “ Our general is a military man, his martial arts skills are intended for realistic uses, I’m afraid it not compar…” The moment these words left his mouth, Yuan Feng felt it was quite inappropriate to say such things, so he swallowed the last two syllables before he could finish the sentence.

Li Chen broke into a loud laughter, “Well said! Well said! It’s very true! My movement may be quite showy, but if this is a battle field, I’m afraid it would be quite useless! Of course he learned from that uncouth man Xiao Jingyan.” 

Hearing him calling out the Emperor’s name directly with “uncouth man” added on top, Yuan Feng almost screamed had he not always been a calm and collected person. He barely managed to hold his shock in yet Lin Chen was totally unaware of his reaction; he seemed to be lost in thoughts as he stared into the dark void of the mountain valley.

“The skill of fleeing is still worth learning though. He was lucky this time, but if something like this happened again, who else would be there to…” Lin Chen’s voice grew fainter and fainter until Yuan Feng couldn’t make out what he was saying. The young Lieutenant stood silent and still beside the Master of Lang Ya Hall as the night sank into total darkness.

 

 

 

The medicine from Lin Chen wasn’t something one should try lightly. Yuan Feng had been in and out of Xiao Tingsheng’s room since early morning, seeing that the general was deep asleep, he dared not wake him up. By the time Xiao Tingsheng woke up, it was already mid-day. Even Xiao Tingsheng was quite surprised. When he was a child living in Ye You Court, he had to rise up early every morning to do his chores. Later when he entered Prince Jing’s manor and then the imperial palace as the Prince became the Crown Prince then eventually the emperor, for over ten years, he had grown used to getting up early to practice martial arts. He had hardly missed a morning workout, not even during the New Year's holidays. He tried to recall the last time he got up this late, but nothing came to mind. To his delight, the Master of Lang Ya Hall was as capable as legend had it; he felt much better and energetic than the day before.

After washing up and taking his lunch, Xiao Tingsheng went to meet Lin Chen on his own. Yuan Feng knew that he didn’t want to be followed, so he stood afar outside the meeting hall Lin Chen had for his guests, watching the general entering the room and sliding the door shut behind him. It was a fine day; the bright spring sunshine warmed up the lush vegetation in the mountain, raising a pleasant floral aroma into the air. The plum blossoms burned vibrant against the blue sky. Yuan Feng stood in the warm sun, squinting his eyes in the bright daylight. Less than twenty days ago, he was trapped in the blazing snow storm and bone cracking cold of Plum Ridge (Note 6); how was it possible that now he was enjoying such a peaceful day in this beautiful and unworldly place?

Plume Ridge in the first lunar month was a terrible place. The storm had been raging on for days. The only way out of the valley was blocked by layers of Da Yu’s Imperial Army. In the faint light of daybreak and the blinding blizzard, the outline of the young man in a blue cape that fluttered wildly in the wind was so deeply imprinted upon Yuan Feng’s mind that twenty days later, he could still recall exactly what he had seen on that freezing cold morning. No one knew for sure how the young man cut through the surrounding enemy troops without alerting anyone. Yuan Feng had been serving the general for almost four years, during which time he had only heard him mentioning the name twice. Even though he had never met this young man before, he was almost certain the first moment he laid his eyes upon him that this remarkably handsome man was “Fei Liu ge ge “ (Note7)  in Xiao Tingsheng's words. 

The worst storm in decades was both their hope and their doom. The heavy snowfall and howling wind prevented the reinforcement from entering the mountain, but it also blocked the enemy from advancing. However, everyone knew that once the storm stopped, with a few hundred Da Yu Imperial Army soldiers against their less than seventy men on Da Liang’s side, they were only waiting to be slaughtered.

Xiao Tingsheng had already accepted this fact. When Fei Liu showed up out of the blue, he was really shocked and overjoyed, for a moment, but he soon realized that if it was only the two of them, Fei Liu might be able to get him out of the encirclement without the enemy’s detection. However, if he wanted to get all of his men to safety, it would be an impossible task even for someone as powerful as Fei Liu. Xiao Tingsheng had never considered abandoning his men and fleeing for his own life. No matter how hard Yuan Feng and his other subordinates argued and tried to persuade him, he insisted on staying behind.

“Fight the way out.”

Plus what he said when he first showed up and grabbed Xiao Tingsheng’s arm, which was “Follow me”, Yuan Feng only saw Fei Liu opening his mouth twice. This young man whose gaze was as cold and hard as ice, whose build was slender and tall, was only dressed in a thin layer of clothing in the freezing winter. He seemed to be operating in a world of his own that nobody else could enter.

After sun rise, the storm finally stopped. The valley was covered in a thick layer of fresh and loose snow. It was so quiet that even the sound of pine needles falling can be heard. The sky was washed crystal clear and deep blue; the snow flattened out the rise and fall of the topography and hid all the imperfection under its white blanket. The breathtaking winter scenery had an eerie beauty that made everyone nervous. Xiao Tingsheng shot his last signal into the sky; its loud cracking noise echoed inside the spacious mountain valley.

Seeing the signal, the generals of the Da Yu Imperial Army also knew it was the beginning of a difficult battle. In order to retreat safely, they must capture this enemy general with imperial status before Da Liang’s reinforcement arrived. As for Xiao Tingsheng and his soldiers, they had been trapped in the snow storm for days; no one had extra energy to spare for digging a way out in the deep snow. They stayed still and waited in silence, leaving the task of making a way out to the Da Yu Army.

It was the hardest morning to live through in Yuan Feng’s entire life. There was nothing he could do besides listening to the sound of the Da Yu soldiers’ approaching shovelling noise. Xiao Tingsheng’s men were all resting and storing up their strength, waiting for their opportunity to break through. Yet the anxiety on their faces was too obvious to hide. Unlike everyone else however, Fei Liu showed no fear or concern. He leaned his back on a spruce tree, still as a rock, as if what was about to take place had nothing to do with him at all. 

By mid day, the two armies finally clashed. With only his fists and a short dagger, Fei Liu took down whoever was in his way or whoever was attacking Xiao Tingsheng with one strike. His move was so swift and lethal that Yuan Feng would never have believed someone like this could really exist had he not seen everything with his own eyes. He followed closely behind Xiao Tingsheng, benefiting from Fei Liu’s protection as they pushed their way through the oncoming enemy soldiers.

Hot blood spewed and splattered in front Yuan Feng’s eyes, within minutes, no one could tell the whether the blood on their armour and clothes belonged to themselves or someone else. It was hard enough to walk on the snowy ground, let alone riding horses. The road that was dug out of the deep snow was also quite narrow, making it impossible for either side of the battle to spread out their forces. The trail carved into the snow was stained red by blood, colouring its way out slowly from the depth of the valley.

Yuan Feng couldn’t be sure how long it took for them to cut their way through the snow and the enemy force. The slaughter seemed infinitely long, yet at the same time as short as a flash of lightening. In the end, blood had covered his sight so everything he saw took on a tint of red, and his mouth was filled with the salty and metallic taste. Looking back, he still couldn’t quite sort out the order of events that took place; how the reinforcement converged with them, how he managed to get behind the protection of his army buddies,  everything seemed to have been scrambled up in his memory.

Eventually, only thirteen men managed to fought their way out, among whom Yuan Feng sustained the lightest injuries. He had only a couple of cuts on his forearms and shoulders, by the third day afterwards he was able to walk around without much difficulty. He thought there was no other words beside “fate favoured” to describe his pure and dumb luck. Although Xiao Tingsheng had Fei Liu by his side all the way, he still got stabbed quite badly by a spear, which left him unconscious in bed for five days. As for the rest of the survivors, five of them were still bed ridden when they set out for Lang Ya Hall.

As for Fei Liu, by the time he dragged Xiao Tingsheng behind the shield of their reinforcement army, the general was already unconscious. The soldiers rushed to help their commander, no one paid any attention to the quiet young man. They only turned to look when they heard a loud thud in the snow. Fei Liu was on his knees. Nobody knew him apart from the soldiers who fought their way out with him. His face was covered in clotted and frozen blood which made him almost unrecognizable. His blue clothes had turned black with blood drenched through the fabric. The dagger was still grasped tightly in his hand, blood was dripping slowly off the tip of the blade into the snow. The trail of his coming steps wound through the snow like a blood red snake, disappearing into the wall of the formation of soldiers.

Yuan Feng shuddered when he recalled the picture in his mind; he realized he had wandered off in his memory for quite a while. Though it was a lovely spring day and he was standing in the warm sun, he still felt a rush of freezing cold climbing up his spine, spreading to his finger tips in moments. He turned to look at Lin Chen’s reception hall: the door was still tight shut, and he wondered how far the general and the master’s conversation had gone.

 

 

 

“Master hardly wrote to me all these years, I thought you didn’t want to deal with anything or anyone concerning Jin Ling, then how come Fei Liu ge ge…?’

The tea in their cups was no longer steaming; the atmosphere in the room was so heavy that one could almost feel the weight pressing down on their shoulders.

“These years spent at Lang Ya Hall, he never cared for any other news, apart from one thing, which he constantly reminded me to inform him no matter what.”

“What was that?”

“Tingsheng Didi.”(Note 8)

Xiao Tingsheng’s vision blurred and he quickly lowered his eyes, afraid of looking straight at Lin Chen. Lin Chen turned his gaze to the low table in front of the window: a clay vase with a freshly picked plum branch stood still on top, the pink petals blossomed with a refreshing scent. They sat face to face in silence. Xiao Tingsheng waited for a long time before he mastered the courage to continue speaking.

“Sir, you don’t blame me?”

“Why would I?”

“Because if I didn’t insist…” Xiao Tingsheng lowered his head and sobbed; the sound of the tear drops breaking on his lap was loud and clear.

Lin Chen let out a long sigh.

“Even though you are not your emperor father’s biological son, your stubborn and dull brain is somehow an exact replica of his.”

Xiao Tingsheng raised his head in confusion, and he saw that Lin Chen’s expression took on a softer but more serious look. 

“You did what you thought you should do, he did what he thought he should do, how was that different from the choice your mentor (Note 9) made all those years ago? If I must blame someone, do I have to blame each and every one of you?”

Lin Chen spread out his sleeves and straightened his back, not remembering ever talking to someone in such a serious and formal manner. It was at this moment, looking at the weeping young man, that he first realized clearly he was no longer the Lin Chen who used to travel the world with a carefree attitude and an unburdened heart. 

“The greatest fortune anyone could have in this world is to live their life following their true intent. Fei Liu might appear to be unlucky to others, being afflicted in his mind. But he had lived his life without the need to pretend or to compromise. Whatever he did, he did them with his true intent, isn’t that much more fortunate than most of those ignorant people? As for his ending, whether it’s here or there, now or some other time, does it really matter?”

Xiao Tingsheng had broken into an unstoppable cry; it took him a long time to finally calm down and slowly raise his hands to bow to Lin Chen.

“I’m grateful for Master’s guidance.”

 

 

 

Lin Chen sent out his first message to Jin Ling city in many years on that night, directly addressed to Xiao Jingyan, informing him that his precious adopted son would need to recuperate on the mountains for quite some time before he could set out for the capital. In the days that followed, he personally took care of Xiao Tingsheng’s health and prescribed medicines for him. He also took him on an in-depth tour around Lang Ya Hall, showing him many secret and intricate places that no one outside had ever seen. Xiao Tingsheng had the feeling that if he stayed any longer, Lin Chen would have turned him into his elected disciple. Maybe it was due to the fact that now they shared a common pain of Mei Changsu and Fei Liu, it somehow brought them closer. Lin Chen didn’t know much about Xiao Tingsheng as a person previously, but the days they spent together made him realize this young man was not as boring or dull as he initially appeared to be, and Lin Chen was quite happy to have made a friendship between generations.

By early April, Xiao Tingsheng had recovered fully under Lin Chen’s care, even the small problems he had accumulated over the years fighting on the cold north had been altogether taken care of. On the day he bid farewell to the Master of Lang Ya Hall,  Lin Chen even said to send his regard to Xiao Jingyan, which surprised both men as neither of them had expected something so diplomatic could come out of Lin Chen’s mouth. After Xiao Tingsheng’s departure, Lang Ya Hall returned to its daily routine. It took Lin Chen quite a few days to finally settle back to the life where no guest would come to bother him on a daily basis.

It was the best time of year; spring was everywhere in Lang Ya Mountain. Lin Chen ordered a sapling pagoda tree (Note 10) to be brought up to his quarter. Since he buried Mei Changsu at Plum Ridge ten years ago, he had been fearing there might come a day when he had to go bury Fei Liu as well (Note 11). He was, after all,  a mortal being, however legendary his medical skills were, he couldn’t raise the dead. As hard as he tried, he could never be as detached as he always pretended to be. Perhaps the heavens had finally decided to treat him kindly for once, sparing him the pain of having to send off another person who was dear to him. Just as what he did when he planted the first pagoda tree in his courtyard, burying a set of Mei Changsu’s clothes under its root, this time, he buried Fei Liu’s hair band Xiao Tingsheng brought back from the battle field.

Laying down the soil, watering and arranging the stones around the tree pit, it took him almost an hour to finally plant the tree properly. Lin Chen dusted the soil off his hands and crossed his arms. He looked from left to right to appreciate the two small trees on both sides of his stone table.

“Little Fei Liu, are you happy with my arrangement?” Tears ran down his face before he could finish the sentence.

 

 

 

NOTES

 

1. Lan Tai (兰台)is written in NIF2 books as a pavilion built on the top of the back side of Lang Ya Mountain, designed to receive special guests of Lin Chen's.

2. In NIF2's books, it was stated that Xiao Tingsheng was granted the title Marquis (侯) when he was 23, then the title Wang (王) at 27.

3. Qing Gong (轻功) is a form of martial arts in the Kong Fu novel genre that means abilities to lighten one's steps and body and be swift and jump to great heights.

4. Lieutenant Yuan's full name was never mentioned so I made it up as Yuan Feng.

5.“蜉蝣之羽,衣裳楚楚。心之忧矣,於我归处。" This is a line from a poem 蜉蝣 from the oldest poems collection in China, 诗经。The poet is talking about the short but beautiful life of a mayfly, and feeling sad about the fact that he doesn't know where he would end up. I thought it's very fitting for Lin Chen to be reciting it given what he was going through.

6. Plum Ridge 梅岭,is a place on the northern border where the Chi Yan Army perished in the first NIF. It is also the place where Mei Changsu was buried and later Tingsheng was buried.

7. Ge Ge 哥哥 in Chinese means older brother, you can use it to call a male person who is the same generation as you but older.

8. Di Di 弟弟 is used for younger brother.

9. Mei Changsu

10. Pagoda tree in Chinese is 槐树,the character 槐 is pronounced the same as the character 怀,which means missing someone or in memory of some one. So it's Lin Chen's way of remembering Mei Changsu and Fei Liu.

11. In the first NIF book it was mentioned that Fei Liu was rescued by Lin Chen and Mei Changsu when they were traveling in Japan. Fei Liu was then a boy kidnapped by an assassin's league to be trained as a killer. His brain was affected by the poison those people fed him to control him. Even though later he was rescued, because of the particular martial arts he practiced and the poison he ingested, it is suggested that he was unlikely to live a very long life.

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