This is my favourite Night chapter of the whole book. This was also a large part of why I started reading this book. I decided that this chapter will be best read as a whole and so translated both parts to make one whole chapter 16.
I have been translating for almost eight months now and time has made me realised how much of myself I do put into translating. Translating is not just "changing" or "transforming" one language into another, just like how one adapts a book into a television drama, the medium is not totally alike - you have to feel the story in your heart, and try to re-create it with different tools.
Since so much effort is placed into each chapter, I realised that I must love all the characters of the novel. For example, I cannot just like Phoenix - write him in all his fiery, masochistic, angsty, intense glory. There is also Night - with the cold metallic scales, the quiet moonlight, the nervous and loving Nightmare beasts, the eternal loneliness.
I try my best, but as the story continues, I realise Dian Xian moves so much beyond the literal, into poetic dream-like sequences that I start to add flourishes here and there to try and express what is being said. I don't always know if it works, but I hope some part of this is passed onto you.
Chapter 16: I Do Not Mind Even If It's Shallow
*Kuang lang!* [sound syllables]
The sound was sharp and crisp, a pair of eyes opened at once, as if having been woken from a dream in alarm.
In the light mist of the morning, Night's long figure led one to think of a branch of the Bodhi Tree in the West, carrying the whiff of clean, distant zen philosophy. He sat with his back straight at a table, in one hand was the broken fragments of a porcelain plate, the Nightmare Beast timidly cowered at the side of his feet on the ground, a ball of light was slowly dissolving*.
Rubbing the eyes, one sat up from the wisteria lounge chair, and realised that one had fallen asleep unconsciously while waiting for Night in the Flower Hall. Innocent and muddled, one felt like one had made a very long dream, and yet also had the feeling that one did not dream at all...
I have gotten used to eating breakfast at Night's Four Stars palace, and today was no different. It was just that last night's mutual cultivation had taken too much physical energy, who knew that during the time Night was preparing breakfast one would have fallen asleep. I wondered how much had my divine strength increased and decided that I must test it out when no one was around later.
I gave an affirmative sound as I rose and headed to the table. I looked at the table full of dishes and immediately felt hungry. Just as I was about to start eating, my wrist was caught by Night who cried, "Be careful at your feet."
I looked down and realised that there were two sharp broken porcelain fragments at the tip of my toes. It was truly risky. I was about to move my wrist and thinking of using an enchantment to sweep away these fragments when Night raised his hand to stop me. With a twirl of his fingertips, a light wind carried up the fragments and in an instant the fragments returned to a clean gleaming small half moon plate. He used this small plate to carry some clean water and sat opposite me, his eyelids were closed as he quietly sipped.
After eating finished, I raised my head and saw that Night was still in the same position. He seemed to have drank the water into a state of utter concentration, but the water in the plate did not decrease by a drop. I wondered what he was thinking so deeply about and reached out my hand and waved in front of his eyes, "Are you not eating?"
He suddenly appeared to regain consciousness and lifted up a pair of chopsticks to pick up a very fresh and delicate lettuce. I did not know why but his movements appeared a little stiff, and did not possess his usual grace. He used the pair of chopsticks as if it was a weapon, he tried to pick up the lettuce a few times but he failed to. Finally, he placed down the chopsticks and his dark brows lightly rose. The Nightmare beasts gazed at the door and appeared to want to head out, but yet did not dare to.
I kindly helped him to pick up the delicate lettuce and also scooped the five cereal rice for him. I even removed the onion which he disliked from the lettuce. Basically, I did everything but swallow the rice and vegetable for him. I truly felt I was being as considerate as I could!
Unlike the usual warm and gentle Night, the present Night was not even willing to give me a smile in return. He seemed to still be deep in thought and his brows were locked together so deep that he himself could not untangle them. I became disinterested at the lack of response to my generosity and lowered my head to look at my stomach.
"Last night, the Beauty Night Scent Flower bloomed." After a moment of silent, Night continued, "Unfortunately, Jin Mi was not around... a flower blossomed but with no one to admire, it was lonely as its beautiful scent had no owner, a flower's greatest sadness has to be this."
"How is there no one to admire? Once I gave it to Night, Night is the true owner. Last night, the flower bloomed and Night was around, it did not blossom in waste." After eating finished, I savoured the scent of the hot tea under my nose. Who knew, that a strong external force will come upon me and I would fall into an embrace. I lifted up my head and saw Night's elegant face, both his arms were hugging my chest.
"Am I her true owner?" The warmest smile could not hide the sadness that flowed out his gaze, he leaned down and pressed his lips together tightly, there was an almost transparent icy mist surrounding his lips, as cold as the folklore songs, I couldn't help trembling a little. I suddenly fell into a sudden confusion as if there was endless mist everywhere.
In a moment, the touch of something hard and cold like metal pricked my consciousness back, I saw under my palm was a silver dragon scale, just like when I first saw it, it reflected the dazzle of the daylight but also carried the light distant glow of the moon.
The chest I leaned on lightly went stiff, as if this was the unexpected outcome within expectations, after a long time, he let out a long breath, "In the last ten thousand years, I have only revealed my real self twice, but both times were seen by Jin Mi, this will cause those in the know to laugh**."
I asked, not understanding, "What's so funny about showing one's true self? What's more this dragon tail is very beautiful!"
Night lightly laughed, so light it dissolved into the wind.
"When I was young I lived in the Tai Hu***, my birth mother was an ordinary red silk koi, from the time I was born I was with my fellow red kois, I did not know how high the sky was or how wide was the sea, I did not know why my mother, day after day, would cast spells onto my body..." He massaged the point between his brows, his eyes did not look at the tail that carried the moonlight.
"As the days passed, I slowly realised my difference, as my tail grew longer and longer, and my head birthed a sudden protrusion. Under my stomach, my talons started to form, what's more no matter how many spells my birth mother tried to cast, she was unable to hide my white scales with her weak powers. The surrounding red kois slowly started to distant themselves from me, they made fun of my fierce ugly figure and my pale white colour, they called me a 'demon', saw me as an inauspicious creature. I hid at the corner of the lake, and looked in envy at their fiery red colour****, their tails flipping carefree like silk ribbons, now I realised my feelings must have been feelings of inferiority..."
"Mother told me that the mortals have a saying that 'one's diligence can make up for one's dullness', so I caught onto that weak light of hope, and trained day and night, only hoping that my high level of cultivation will win me respect. When I cultivated into the form of a human, I was no longer willing to show my true self, and I would choose to wear fiery red clothes. Even when I transformed myself, I would only choose the appearance of an ordinary koi, I always thought by doing so I would grow closer to the appearance of an ordinary fish... but now that I think of it, I was like a frog living at the bottom of a well." Night shook his head and gave a low, very low, smile.
"One thousand years later, the heavenly soldiers came down from the sky and brought me to the Heavenly Realms. At that point, I realised that my hard work in the last thousand years was for nothing. It turns out I was not a koi, I was only a white dragon that always wanted to be a fish." He lowered his lids and closed his eyes, he said lightly as if he was only describing the clouds and the wind in the sky, "Actually, to always be that disdained and mocked frog deep in the well may have also been a kind of happiness..."
I quietly listened to this fragmented story with no proper beginning, middle or end, I moistened my throat and said consolingly, "So the two of us are matching! I was a fruit sprite for the last four thousand years that turned out to be a frost flower. How matching indeed!"
Night opened his eyes, his black pupils concentrated on me, he leaned down his face and pressed my lips. After a long entwining kiss, he said, "I don't want much, I don't ask that you love me deeply. I only ask that every day you like me a bit, a little bit, as the days become months, as the months become years, as the years become our lives. Would you?"
He said, "I do not mind if love is shallow, I only ask that love lasts a lifetime."
Love, what really is this object? This seemed harder to understand that mutual cultivation... I fell into a state of confusion. In the Liu Zi pond, it seemed that there still laid Phoenix who was intoxicated drunk by the osmanthus wine...
* I decided to highlight for those who did not catch it - when Jin Mi fell asleep, the Nightmare Beast ate her dream (which presumably had shown Jin Mi's 'mutual cultivation' with Phoenix). Night had seen this dream from the Nightmare Beast and broke the porcelain plate, because he was preparing breakfast for Jin Mi.
**Night uses the proverb, <贻笑大方> which means to cause the experts to laugh.
*** One of the three greatest lakes in China.
**** My thoughts of the "red" was that red is the colour Night had always wanted to be, and isn't it most ironic that this is the colour that Phoenix owns?
I love Chapter 16. Night who has always been the paragon of self control as opposed to Phoenix who appears in the royal hall with his sword dripping with fresh blood. Even after he sees the girl he likes/loves in "mutual cultivation" with Phoenix, he falls silent but never quite loses his control... until he does, when he shows Jin Mi his true self. As you know, Night hates to show anyone his true self - it is his legacy of shame and self disgust. This shows how much Jin Mi's dream affected Night.
But, then Jin Mi tells him in her natural way that his tail is beautiful. This long tail that he has been hiding for oh so long. And, then Night tells her his story and his confession. Night is this intriguing mix of intelligence, manipulation and yet self-abasement. He does not dare to ask for more, only asking for just a bit, a little bit more each day to last for a lifetime. That is all his asks of Jin Mi.