Truthfully, I have been in something like a book drought. Haven't read a new c-novel in a while - Gentleman Free Floating Cloud doesn't really count as that was a re-read from years ago. I have tried a few but never seem to be able to get into it. So, I recall fondly how the Emperor's Strategy cured my earlier book drought after finishing Lost You Forever... it's strange how subjective tastes can be, you really never know which book will be a new world you will fall into?
With Scene 7, we have finally come to the end of Chapter 2. Yes, only Chapter 2. Qing Yao writes very long chapters, though I forgive her since she ends at a nice 20 Chapters (and I've read far too many long winded 100 chapter c-novels to know how rare that can be). This is yet again a very nice Mu Tou scene, I can hear some reader's cries for more Qi Feng Xiang, and I assure you that his time will come (and you won't have to wait long).
I've translated Scene 7 in full so all readers will get a good idea of Su Li Li's past and her complicated relationship with Yan Huan.
Putting a very old photograph of Bridgette Lin and Gong Li, two of my favourite actresses from one of my favourite old school HK wuxia movies. It's actually a behind the scenes shot!
Scene 7: Su Li Li's Past
In May, the weather was pleasing and the winds were gentle and moist. Ming Yue Brothel was filled with customers, people indulging in this warm dream-like environment and did not know the way home. Yan Hua had accompanied customers drinking for half a night, and she was a little drunk. She returned to her room, her head heavy her eyes sticky, but her consciousness was awakened again.
After lying in her bed for half a day, her heart was upset at the amount of alcohol she was made to drink today. Tolerating until the fourth "geng"* (更), she leaned forward to the flowered porcelain basin and vomited a whole bout.**
When she lifted up her head, she saw a young male dressed in black standing at the window, trim waist broad back, distinguished brows and a handsome face, his eyes were like the shining stars, he had arrived on the back of the night wind.
Although Yan Huan found it strange, she was not anxious, she just dazedly watched him.
Although seeing a beautiful woman vomit was quite an unsightly scenery, Mu Tou's expression was indifferent, "Are you Yan Huan?"
"Yes." Yan Huan used a silk cloth to clean her mouth, and habitually asked, "How may I greet this gentleman?"
Mu Tou did not answer her, "I have come to take you away."
Yan Huan was dazed, "Who asked you take me away?"
"Su Li Li."
Although Mu Tou had known Su Li Li for a year plus, this was the first time he called her name. These few words that came out of his mouth were ordinary, but a special feeling rose in his heart. A small change appeared in his expression, his eyes appeared a little gentler.
Yan Huan observed this and gave a cold laugh. She used her professional eye to examine Mu Tou from top to bottom for a while, "Who is she to take me away?"
Mu Tou was a little angry by her examination, "Unless you rather stay here?!"
"I don't want to stay here, but even more I do not want to be saved by her!" As she was still a little drunk from the wine, Yan Huan could not control her emotions.
Mu Tou asked, "Why do you not want her to save you?"
Yan Huan replied, "She asked you to come?"
After a short pause, Mu Tou said, "She wants to save you very much, that is why I am here." This can be considered an answer to her question.
"In this world, there is no disaster that cannot be bore, only good intentions that cannot be accepted," Yan Huan gave a slightly lonely smile, this can be considered an answer to his question.
"Who are you to her?" Mu Tou asked again.
Yan Huan slowly walked closer to him, her fingers touched his robes, within half an inch away, Mu Tou moved back.
Yan Huan gave a smile that was not a smile, "You really want to know about her matters?"
Mu Tou's eyes slightly narrowed, his eyebrows remained unmoving, but he appeared to give off a more serious calm, "For her, I have come and saved you, you only need to follow me."
"I am not willing!" Yan Hua added, "Let me tell you a story, are you willing to listen?" She moved closer to Mu Tou.
"You may start." This time Mu Tou did not move back, he turned around and sat on a stool by the side.
Yan Huan silently observed him for a while, she sat down on another stool by the table side, poured a cup of cold tea, on closer look, there was a small mosquito in the tea. She swirled the cup in her hands, seeing the tea circle in the white porcelain, the mosquito struggled for a while, then floated with the tea.
Yan Huan spoke, "She is not as good as you think she is."
"Very long ago, there was a big official who offended the Emperor, the Emperor wanted to exterminate his whole clan. That year, his daughter was only five years old, there was a maid that always accompanied her, it was her milk mother's daughter. They had the affinity to be born on the same day, but this was an inauspicious day. The big official to avoid disaster, took his daughter and returned to his ancestral village. The loyal little maid followed her, never leaving her. Three years, they hid, they experienced all kinds of cold and difficulties, " Yan Huan's voice was calm, as if she was talking about a completely unrelated story.
"One day, the imperial soldiers found them. Under their pressing chase, the big official suffered a heavy injury, he had not long more to live. At that time, the big official's daughter was only eight years old, she was surrounded by the soldiers, she pushed out the little maid as her substitute. The Emperor caught the substitute, his anger had not subsided, he said, this big official thought he was so noble and incorruptible, so we shall make his daughter a prostitute, no one is allowed to redeem her."
"The substitute was sent to a brothel, she learned how to sing and dance, she started receiving customers when she was thirteen. From the environment, she has learned all sort of things..." Yan Huan paused towards the cup, "Like this mosquito, painfully struggling, but it can only drown in the end. One day, the lady discovers her conscience and tries to save the mosquito. Tell me, the mosquito has already drowned, what is the use of pulling it up? If she is not dead, how could she tolerate any more kindness from the lady?"
She became more agitated, "From the moment Yan Huan was born, I accepted no pity, any bitterness or joy, that is my fate. Anyone else can help me, but I don't need her false hand!"
With that, no one needed to say who was the maid and who was the lady, it was clear.
"The big official you speak of, he is the Imperial Advisor to the previous Crown Prince Ye Zhi Qiu," Mu Tou said coldly.
Yan Huan was shocked, "Who are you really?!"
Mu Tou's expression was profound, "I have heard of the matters of this big official, and it merely fitted what you told me. Why didn't the substitute say she was a fake?"
Yan Huan lightly laughed, "She said, but no one believed. The lady had ran away, and couldn't be found. Everyone wished she was the lady, she had no one in this world to help her." She slowly stood up, her footsteps lightly moved towards the bed, she leaned sideways, her heart full of joy, her stomach full of sadness, and started to laugh more heartily.
Mu Tou saw she was half drunk, he had already decided in his heart to knock her unconscious and to bring her back. He stood up, smoothened his robes and said, "Miss Yan Huan, sorry for the offence."
Yan Hua's hand grabbed a small red thread, she waved it, "Do you know what this is?"
Mu Tou was dazed.
Yan Huan pulled the rope, languidly, she smiled like a blazing flower, "I see you have not been to such a place before. This rope is placed on every bed in all the rooms, the customers at the brothel don't treat the prostitutes like humans. When their life is threatened by a customer, they will pull this rope, and the guards of the brothel will come up."
Before she finished her words, the door went "peng" and broke open, three large and tall men came in. They saw Mu Tou at the side and Yan Huan on the bed, they were a little surprised, and did not know how to react at first.
Yan Huan's long slim fingers pointed at Mu Tou, "This thief came to steal my things, catch him."
Mu Tou lightly sighed, as if he was unmoved, and did not see the men that were heading towards him, he told Yan Huan, "Even though I can take you away, but I no longer want to."***
Without looking at his side, he stretched his hand, and it happened to catch the fist of one of the men, smoothly he moved and the person's fist became dislocated from his arm. He pushed the man aside and the man hit the two other man from behind. He stood on the windowsill and jumped out of the window, his figure elegant, quickly disappearing into the night.
Su Li Li was waiting in the yard, when Mu Tou suddenly flew in from outside the wall, he immediately landed in front of her. Seeing him return alone, Su Li Li was a little surprised, she immediately pulled his sleeve, "Are you ok? I hope you didn't suffer any injuries, why did you jump in, are you not afraid of your old leg injury..."
Mu Tou smiled and stopped her, "I am fine already, it is nothing."
Su Li Li heard his calm and warm voice, it sounded the same, she asked suspiciously, "Where is Yan Huan?"
"They were watching her and she was not willing to leave."
Su Li Li suspected that Deng Feng Xiang was watching Yan Huan, she lowered her head and reflected, "Who could it be? What shall we do? Even more we cannot let her land in other people's hands."
Mu Tou watched her anxiety, and did not say much, he said, "This lady has animosity against you, all your plans she might not accept. Since she does not accept, you must as well distance yourself from her."
Su Li Li surprisedly raised her head, she stared at his eyes for a while, she did not know how much he knew, and she did not know how to ask.
Mu Tou's eyes were calm without any ripples, just like how he always appeared to be. He told her to distance herself from Yan Huan, no matter how Yan Huan complained, whatever Yan Huan might have said, Mu Tou only thought about her, he had complete trust.
Su Li Li had been wandering around for ten years, hiding herself in cities and towns, she knew of coldness, but now she only felt Mu Tou's warmth seep into her heart, too much to express, her eyes became moist. She lowered her eyelids and said dejectedly, "I know she hates me, it was me that originally owed her."
Mu Tou's finger glided by a small bottle gourd the size of a fist, "Everyone has their own wills, we do not need to change each other to fit. Since she is not willing to accept your help, then let her be."
The little bottle gourd shook, shaking the leaves and vines, its movements were adorable, as if they agreed with what he said.
* Chinese measurement of time. The fourth geng is 1 to 3 am.
** I like that Qing Yao bothered to spend time on the small details of Yan Huan's life. Although she's considered a semi-antagonist to our female lead, Su Li Li, you cannot entirely blame her - because of Su Li Li and the plans of Su Li Li's father to make her a substitute for Su Li Li, she was made to be prostitute. Her life was hard --- she did have reason to hate Su Li Li. But then also, Yan Huan chose not to leave when Su Li Li wanted to help her --- these threads of hatred, when will they end?
*** Mu Tou is super kick ass!
Comments: This is a sad chapter and I think we can all agree that the current Emperor is such a villian! He was the root cause of all these tragedy...... and in case anyone is wondering, no it was not Su Li Li that pushed Yan Huan to be her substitute, her father drugged Su Li Li unconscious and brought her away and pushed out Yan Huan to be her substitute. While Su Li Li was an unknowing party to this (she was also so young, only eight!), she still felt that she was at fault after all Yan Huan was suffering the punishment that could have been hers.
Again, I'm struck by Mu Tou's wisdom and calmness that always soothes Su Li Li's agitated heart.