The Emperor's Strategy has a very clear plot line, which I enjoy. Su Li Li's father was ordered to be killed by the Emperor, similarly, Mu Tou's father was forced to rebel against the Emperor and was killed. Qi Feng Xiang's family has no grudges against the Emperor except for the simple fact that Qi Feng Xiang's family has their eyes on the throne.
The first 10 scenes covered the 1st arc - where Su Li Li and Mu Tou's past get re-visited on them through Qi Feng Xiang. Now that the Emperor is dead, where lies their future? Where did Mu Tou go?
And why does Qi Feng Xiang have his eye on Su Li Li? Is it merely interest or something more sinister? In this second arc, Su Li Li gets closer with Qi Feng Xiang, will she emerge unscathed from the experience or will she lose something very valuable instead?
Scene 11: An Invitation
As the morning arrived, the sun rays lit the yard. Su Li Li held a cloth and it was so wet that it dripped into the pail. She knelt on the floor and used the cloth to delicately clean Uncle Cheng's thin and weak hands. This pair of hands has carried her through the cold wind and rain, had never left her or disdained her.
Yu Fei knelt by her side, and quietly accompanied her.
When Su Li Li finished, she threw the cloth back into the pail. She told Yu Fei, "Stand up, carry Uncle Cheng's legs, we will place him in the coffin." Next to them, was the scented cinnamon wood coffin she had actually planned to sell to Mo Da.
They always said that when the soul leaves the body, the body will become especially heavy. The two of them exerted a large amount of effort before they were able to place Uncle Cheng's slightly stiff body into the coffin.
Su Li Li arranged his sleeves and flattened his hair. Yu Fei suddenly said, "Father Emperor was like this at that time too." Su Li Li turned to him in surprise, "What did you say?"
Yu Fei was a little dazed as he said, "Father Emperor and my prince brothers laid like this in the palace, no one cared for them."
Su Li Li stared at his eyes which were clear and distinguished, they held a weak sense of childishness,there was no trace of his father's brutality in him.
Su Li Li held the coffin cover, she turned her gaze to Uncle Cheng, and said softly, "When my father died, I was only your age. I held his feet, Uncle Cheng held his head... just like what we did today... and placed him in the coffin."*
She silently gazed at Uncle Cheng's white hair, as if she could hear his warm words through time and space consoling her, "Miss don't be afraid, although Master is no longer here, I will watch over you until I die."
A sudden attack of weakness struck through her, Su Li Li leaned on the coffin top, but there were no tears to drop.
Yu Fei's hand pulled her sleeves. Su Li Li's heart had a lot to say, but she did not say to him. Your father killed my father, but in the end there is no one to keep his corpse in the palace, in the end you are as pitiful as me.* Su Li Li suddenly lifted up her head "ha" and laughed, she did not know if she was sad or happy, she stroke Yu Fei's hair and said gently, "Are you hungry? I was so busy this morning, I have not gotten anything for you to eat."
Yu Fei shook his head, he said softly, "I am not hungry." But his stomach made a "gu" sound in protest.
Su Li Li pulled him up to stand, patted off the dust on her body and said, "Let's go and see the kitchen."
Before she finished speaking, there was a person at the door. It was Teacher Zhang with four soldiers.
Su Li Li lightly brushed a glance across them and said, "Since Teacher Zhang has come, you must as well look at Uncle Cheng, I am about to cover the coffin already."
When Teacher Zhang heard this, he quickly walked up and looked into the coffin, "What happened to Uncle Cheng...?"
Su Li Li pointed to a black coffin under the roof, "That's the coffin your wanted, you may carry it away."
Teacher Zhang surprisedly gazed at Su Li Li's face and seemed to be surprised at her calmness. He said, "How do you know we are here to carry the coffin?"
"Aren't the colour of their uniforms from the Qi Family's soldiers?"
Teacher Zhang answered, "This child has lived here for a few days, I have come to bring him away."
Su Li Li's hand grabbed the coffin cover, she was silent for a while, she turned her head to see Yu Fei. Yu Fei shook his head and hid behind her, "I am not leaving, Su Jie Jie."
Su Li Li turned to see Teacher Zhang, he shook his head. She knelt down and took Yu Fei's hand, "You should go, don't be afraid, there are things in this world you cannot hide from. Since there is no use being afraid, why be afraid?"** Mu Tou said since there is no used to be afraid, why should you be afraid; the people in this world cannot beat us, the only ones who can beat us are ourselves.
Thinking of this, she broke into a gentle smile, and brought Yu Fei before Teacher Zhang. Teacher Zhang seemed not able to recognise Su Li Li and looked her up and down, he did not speak, but held Yu Fei and brought him to the door entrance.
Yu Fei's head turned towards Su Li Li, he did not seem to want to leave and looked like he wanted to cry.
The four soldiers carried out the coffin that had the words, "Corrupt Worm That Robs The Country".
Su Li Li said, "Wait. Where is Mu Tou?"
"I don't know."
Su Li Li's gaze was cold, "Since you come from the Qi Family, when you counseled Mu Tou to choose a master in this chaotic times, weren't you advising him to follow the Qi Family? When you brought him to the temple to play, weren't you bringing him to see Qi Feng Xiang?"
Teacher Zhang had a looked of appreciation on his face, he said honestly, "Mu Tou has his own plans, my superficial words were not able to change them."
"I only want to know - where is he?"
Teacher Zhang shook his head and said, "I am not clear about this. He can be treated as an old acquaintance of Third Master (Qi Feng Xiang), although they talked for a long time, I did not know what they talked about." Teacher Zhang changed the topic, "Third Master just reached Capital and has a lot of political matters to settle. The Great Master Qi (Qi Feng Xiang's father)'s army is also arriving soon, so he could not leave and asked me to come here, he said he will come and see you when he is free."
Su Li Li scoffed, "See me? There is nothing nice to see. Teacher Zhang, are you not going to look at Uncle Cheng? See how he was tortured to death by someone?" She reached out to grab Uncle Cheng's hands, his hands were stiff and could not be moved, there was bruising under his fingertips and the skin were purplish black.
"Look at his hands, his hands were broken by someone. His ribs were also broken and his legs cannot be made straight." Su Li Li stroke Uncle Cheng's hands, "Only his face is fine. Why don't you say why would someone torture him like this? Did they want to force something out of him? What did they want to know?"
Teacher Zhang was shocked, he loosened Yu Fei's hand and went to the coffin side, he carefully examined Uncle Cheng's body. Su Li Li watched coldly at the side. Teacher Zhang looked for a long time and said in a deep voice, "Are you suspecting Third Master?"
Su Li Li was silent.
Teacher Zhang said, "You are also not safe here, why don't..."
Su Li Li lifted up her chin, "My shop is small, I will not send you off."
Teacher Zhang was silent for a while, he let out a sigh, stood up and said, "Wait for a while, I will return in a hour. Let's send Uncle Cheng off into the ground."
That afternoon, the great general of You Zhou, Deng Huan Cheng made a grand entrance into the capital with his army, and at that time, Su Li Li was silently digging up a trench with Teacher Zhang to bury Uncle Cheng. When the coffin entered the ground, the soil and dust flew, it brought back old memories. Su Li Li burned some paper, poured wine in respect, and returned home without a word.
After a few days, it was said the young eight year old child who had managed to ran away from the royal killings, succeeded the throne.
General Qi killed the Imperial Adviser Bao Hui and he was put into a large black coffin, on his coffin was carved the words "The Corrupt Worm That Robs The Country". When the coffin was placed on the streets, the citizens used fire to burn it, and used stones to hit it.
The eight year old Little Emperor released an edict, he gave the title of Yuan King that protects the country to General Deng Huan Chen and his third son became a Marquis. The command of the entire army was given to the Qi Family.
The capital quickly returned to its original appearance, and the citizens loved the Yuan King. But, the Third Master Qi Feng Xiang who first reached the capital, he had stolen the hearts of ten thousands of young ladies, his distinguished and handsome air had spread through the whole capital as a beautiful legend.
When Su Li Li heard this, she only laughed, as if she did not know this person. She hired someone to renovate her shop briefly and continued her life. But, Su Li Li had someone remove the door sill, so that the door was now just a big entrance, no one knew why she did so.
When she was free, she would practise with the sword she had bought with Mu Tou. At night, she would hug it to sleep. In this world that were many people and things that one could not change, therefore one would also not hanker after them. Thinking of someone who is alive, no matter how far he or she is, one could feel comforted in the heart, but to miss someone into the bones, that was a sorrow she had never known before that lingered over her. It was like an addiction, one was deep into it and did not know how to break it. The only thing she could lean on was that line, "If I could fly away, I can always fly back."
On day thirty of the new year, in order to show that times have changed, General Chen had ordered through the young Emperor for the streets to be filled with lanterns. Su Li Li went to take a look, the lanterns were greater in number than on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month (see this entry), but the atmosphere was not as warm.
When she returned home, she saw someone sitting on a bamboo stool with a lone lamp, his robes all white, he looked like an immortal that was untouched by the vulgarities of life. He had a white porcelain wine jug in front of him. Seeing Su Li Li had returned, Qi Feng Xiang raised his cup and serenaded a poem, "How many times in a person's life will one be able to praise one's luck and time?"***
Su Li Li looked front and back, left and right, Qi Feng Xiang lowered his head and laughed, "Lady Su, I'm very sorry. I wanted to invite you to drink wine, but you weren't around, and I couldn't wait at the door. Luckily, your door isn't really guarded, so I came in."
He elegantly stretched out his hands, "Please."
Su Li Li looked at his generous attitude, in a moment she could not tell who was the master, who was the guest, but she sat in front of him. Qi Feng Xiang filled up her cup to the brim and raised it, "I give an offering to you."
Su Li Li did not touch her cup, "I don't drink wine."
Qi Feng Xiang placed down his cup, he was a little unpleased, a little intoxicated, he replied, "We have known each other for almost two years, but only met four times. Today is Chinese New Year's Eve, why don't you drink a cup, only one cup."
Su Li Li hesitated, she lifted up the cup and drank it, the wine was pure and scented.
Qi Feng Xiang smiled, he lifted up his head and drank his cup completely, he looked her up and down, seeing the calmness between her brows and the clarity in her eyes, he couldn't help saying in praise, "Lady is not only smart, she is tolerant."
Su Li Li said lightly, "Gentleman Qi is so free to be able to come here today instead of serving the Yuan King."
Qi Feng Xiang filled up his cup again and said, "I thought for half a day, and thought that your place was still best. When I came here, indeed it was very good."
"What is so good about my place? Gentleman Qi is a person who goes to war, aren't you afraid of getting some bad energy?"
Qi Feng Xiang shook his head, "There's no bad energy in coffins, but it allows one to reflect about life and death. Before you returned, I was chatting quite well with your coffins."
Su Li Li always thought she was the only one who chatted with coffins, who knew Qi Feng Xiang also did the same. Su Li Li silently gazed at the thin skinned coffin which was placed not far away, because of the renovation of the shop, there were not much wood materials left, the yard was especially empty.
"What happened that day, Teacher Zhang had informed me."
Qi Feng Xiang said steadily, "I have nothing to do with your old servant's death. I dare to do evil things, but there are some things I despise doing."
Su Li Li was silent, she did not talk, she did not suspect, she was only trying to decipher why he had came today.
Qi Feng Xiang did not pursue the matter, he only filled his cup again with wine, again and again, he smiled a little coldly, "Lady Su, you can relax and let down your heart. I am not a demon or a ghost, I have no evil intentions in coming today."
Su Li Li couldn't help smiling, she replied, "In this big day, all the families are reunited, Gentleman Qi would seem a bit lonely."****
Qi Feng Xiang nodded his head, "Sometimes, the closer you are, the more distant you will be. You will have to be careful about how you speak and act, you must as well find someone you are not familiar with, one can then talk honestly."
Su Li Li looked at the sky, "Your heart has a home, you know what you want to do. But these days I have been very bored, I do not know what I should do." She had been reflecting repeatedly, her vengeance has been repaid, her love has gone, her close kin has died, only when she was alone did she realised that the world could feel so dark and lost.
Her words sounded like a common place complaint, but somehow she felt that Qi Feng Xiang could understand her deeper meaning.
Qi Feng Xiang's long and narrow beautiful gaze lightly swept pass her, it was enough to melt the frozen waters in winter into the streaming spring water, he hid a smile and spoke in a light tone, "Has Boss Su never thought about marrying someone?"
*There is a kind of karmic circle here - Su Li Li's father was killed by Yu Fei's father, but gently and with peace in her heart, she takes care of Yu Fei instead.
** She uses Mu Tou's words that had once soothed her to soothe Yu Fei's fears.
*** It was a very long poem, so I've only translated the last part which I thought captured the gist of what he was saying.
**** On chinese new year's eve, families will reunite and have a dinner together.
Comment: I'm quite excited to start on the second arc :). Su Li Li's cries are true, what should I do now that my revenge is paid off and my love has gone? Qi Feng Xiang smiles and asked, "Has Boss Su never thought about marrying someone?"
As the scenes go, I will ask you to consider as you read - who is Su Li Li's real soulmate?