As Zhen Ting Yun already learnt how to ride a horse and it was late at night with no one around, Yuan Hui simply instructed her to saddle Ma Lan Tou. The two of them rode together on Ma Lan Tou towards the manor based on his recollection.
Zhen Ting Yun sat behind Yuan Hui. At first, remembering that after age seven, males and females should be prudent and maintain a distance, she felt a little embarrassed. However, not long later, she became more open-minded and as she continued to observe Yuan Hui’s equestrian skills, she felt envious. “Teacher, how long do you think I’ll need before my horsemanship becomes as good as yours?”
Yuan Hui just pretended that the wind was too strong and he did not hear her childish fantasies.
Soon, Yuan Hui led them to a secluded manor at the foot of Xi Shan.
Zhen Ting Yun did not grow up in the Imperial City. Therefore, she did not know that those who owned a property at Xi Shan were mostly dignitaries. She had assumed that properties at the heart of the Imperial City were the most expensive, and people who lived at the foot of a barren mountain most likely did not have much money.
Thus, upon seeing Yuan Hui’s remote and dilapidated manor, Zhen Ting Yun teased, “Isn’t this courtyard too isolated? If one lives here alone, it will be fine during the day. But when night falls, there might be hauntings…” Those that chose to stay here were most probably poor ghosts too…
The gate leading into the courtyard was left ajarred. With a light push, Yuan Hui managed to open it and Zhen Ting Yun followed behind. She looked left and right in curiosity. She noticed that there was no one around except for themselves and even the plants and flowers was left unattended.
The moonlight illuminated the empty and uninhabited courtyard. The moss grew thick and the shadows of the trees looked uneven. It gave off a sense of tranquility and naturality despite the desolation and raggedness.
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Gqvla zssjkdt yaswde, Hbld Mkdt Zwd ypjle, “Ju vbl oyu, Mlynbla pyke vbyv vblal’p yd sze plahydv oyvnbkdt yqvla vbl rzynl, oblal kp bl?”
Zwyd Twk pvwekle vbkp qyxkzkya nswavuyae. Yydu qyxkzkya cwv ekpvydv xlxsaklp pvyavle rsrrkdt wr kd bkp xkde. Tl oyp nzlya vbyv vblal olal pbyeso twyaep, cwv wrsd pllkdt yd swvpkela okvb bkx, vblu bye bkeeld vblxplzhlp. Rd yeekvksd, okvbswv bkp kdpvawnvksdp, vblu oswze dsv pbso vblxplzhlp.
Zwyd Twk eke dsv oydv Hbld Mkdt Zwd’p kxytkdyvksd vs taso, ps bl fwpv nypwyzzu alrzkle, “Tl xspv rascyczu oldv swv.”&dcpr;
Hbld Mkdt Zwd pkzldvzu dseele, cwv pbl vbswtbv vs blaplzq, ‘Kwpv cyple sd vbkp ekzyrkeyvle nswavuyae, obs jdsop kq vbkp ‘sze plahydv’ alyzzu lmkpvp… Gde lhld kq bl eslp, bl xspv zkjlzu lpnyrle qasx vbkp rzynl zsdt yts.’
Jwv sq nswapl, yp vbl tsse pvweldv, pbl oyp, Hbld Mkdt Zwd bye vs xykdvykd bla vlynbla’p bsdsa yde dsv lmrspl bkx. Rdpvlye, pbl vwadle yde ypjle okvb y pxkzl, “Xb ulp, R dlyazu qsatsv vs ypj Mlynbla. Ps usw byhl y okql?”
Zwyd Twk oyp nwaaldvzu pvweukdt vbl nswavuyae, vaukdt vs xyvnb vbl scflnvp bl pyo okvb vbl sdlp qasx bkp xlxsau ps bl sqq-bydelezu ydpolale, “Ls.”
Mbl tygl Hbld Mkdt Zwd wple vs zssj yv Zwyd Twk oyp qwzz sq puxryvbu. ‘Gzyp, Mlynbla yzalyeu zssjp vs cl kd bkp voldvklp, cwv bl’p pvkzz y cynblzsa zkhkdt yzz yzsdl kd vbkp alxsvl xydsa kd vbl pwcwacp sq vbl Rxrlakyz Ukvu. Tl eslpd’v lhld byhl yd sze plahydv plahkdt cu bkp pkel…’
Gv vbyv xsxldv, vbl kxralppksd Hbld Mkdt Zwyd bye sq Zwyd Twk clkdt y psd sq y qyzzld yakpvsnayvkn qyxkzu clnyxl xsal pszke. Wkzzle okvb nsxryppksd, pbl vsze bkx, “Mlynbla, R’zz cl qkzkyz vs usw kd vbl qwvwal.”
Yuan Hui, “… No need.”
If he really fell to the point of needing Zhen Ting Yun’s ‘filial piety’, then he might as well die.
After having her recognise her way to his place, Yuan Hui did not plan to keep Zhen Ting Yun in this shabby and isolated manor for much longer. He got up, preparing to take her back, “As a girl, it is not ideal to constantly be out and about, especially so late at night. I’ll send you back now.”
Zhen Ting Yun immediately rejected, “There’s no need. This place is quite remote, having to send me and come back here will take too much time and it would be very late by the time you reach back again. In addition, I’ve already learnt how to ride a horse, so I can go back by myself.”
“It’s fine.” Once Yuan Hui made up his mind, it would be difficult to have him change it. He informed her, “Originally, I only wanted to bring you here so that you’ll know to find your way over in the future if you ever need me. I was planning to send you back after this, otherwise, I wouldn’t be at ease.”
Since Yuan Hui had already said so, Zhen Ting Yun was not one who did not know how to recognize a kind gesture. She stopped refusing and obediently agreed.
There was little to no one to be seen in the suburbs during the night. However, Yuan Hui still chose a less frequented path. Riding like the wind, he soon sent Zhen Ting Yun back to the inn where the group had settled for the night.
As they needed to return Ma Lan Tou to the stable, the two quietly made their way there before parting.
Zhen Ting Yun recalled the first time they met. She could not resist giggling, “Teacher, do you still remember the first time we met? It was also at a stable. You stole Ma Lan Tou and rode away as I shouted after you. Unfortunately, you rode away swiftly and it started pouring heavily just as you made your escape. Otherwise, I would’ve definitely chased after you.”
Up until then, Yuan Hui had only managed to recall memories from his youth. With Zhen Ting Yun’s words, another peculiar but familiar episode appeared in his mind.
He was riding on a horse. As the situation was tense and urgent, he spurred the horse out of the stable in a hurry. Yet, he had unconsciously glanced to the side out of the corner of his eye. He spotted a young girl, with her head raised as she glared angrily at him. She looked like an enraged little beast, ready to pounce on him with her teeth and claws bared.
Her eyes were black and bright, as round as two small moons, and her pale cheeks had an undertone of blush, like rosebuds that just bloomed.
Despite the darkness and mist that signaled the approach of a heavy downpour, it failed to conceal the brightness shining from her eyes, they were lively and full of vitality.
Yuan Hui slowly lowered his eyelids and the individual strands of lashes were clearly defined.
He gently closed his eyes to hide the smile that was emerging as he softly replied, “En, I remember.”
Zhen Ting Yun assumed that he was only being perfunctory, so she urged him to return. “You should make haste and return. Otherwise, who knows how much longer you’ll be on the road tonight.”
Yuan Hui nodded. Just as he was about to leave, he suddenly paused as he was still uneasy. Thus, he reached into the black pouch, took out the jade pendant, and handed it to Zhen Ting Yun. “You should hold on to this jade pendant. It’s a keepsake. In the event, you go to the manor to look for me but I’m not around, just show this to the people guarding the place, they’ll know what to do from there.”
As it was at night, Zhen Ting Yun did not see the ‘Xi’ character that was engraved on the jade pendant. However, she knew the true value of purple jadeite. She subconsciously gulped. She was extremely self-aware, so she shook her head vigorously, “I can’t accept this, it’s too precious.” What if she couldn’t hold herself back and sold the jade pendant?!
With a cold expression, Yuan Hui directly stuffed it in her hands, “Since I gave it to you, just keep it!”
Zhen Ting Yun had no choice but to console herself, ‘Yuan Hui is an old bachelor. With no wife or children, he doesn’t even have a servant to look after his manor. As his student, I’m most probably the closest person he has to a relative. So he most likely just left it with me as a family heirloom.’
Thinking about this, her heart softened and she once again reassured him, “Teacher, I’ll definitely be filial to you in the future.”
Yuan Hui chose not to reply, he could not be bothered to care for her silly antics.
Zhen Ting Yun carefully kept the jade pendant away. She asked concernedly, “Shall I hire a horse carriage for Teacher? It’s already so late.”
Yuan Hui shook his head and unconcernedly replied, “No need, someone will come and fetch me.”
Zhen Ting Yun was skeptical about this ‘someone coming to fetch’ him. However, she did not question him. Sigh… for the sake of his reputation he would rather suffer… all men shared this characteristic!
However, she changed her mind as she remembered that Yuan Hui still had that pouch of gold. Thus, she kept away her unnecessary concerns.
Yuan Hui did not explain but he stopped Zhen Ting Yun from sending him off as he told her, “There’s no need to send me off, I’ll head out myself.”
Zhen Ting Yun heeded his words and stopped walking.
After the two bade each other goodbye, Yuan Hui left the inn alone. He barely took a few steps when two imperial guards with swords hanging by their waists, stepped forward to greet him. They knelt on the ground and respectfully saluted, “Your Highness.”
Yuan Hui, otherwise known as Fu Zhang Xi, strode on without a hint of surprise at the appearance of the two imperial guards. He did not even spare them a glance as he calmly asked, “Is the carriage prepared?”
A guard immediately replied, “It’s ready.”
A green-topped horse-drawn carriage drove out from a corner and stopped silently in front of Fu Zhang Xi.
Fu Zhang Xi got into the carriage and was about to instruct the driver to bring them back to Xi Shan Manor when the words suddenly stopped at his throat.
He then straightened his back, lifted the corner of the carriage screen, and looked towards the direction of the inn.
The moonlight was dim and the stars were scarce, in that tranquil night, the sound of a bamboo flute fluttered over with the wind, the tune was mellow and melodious.
Likened to the cool evening zephyr that blew across the wilderness, or under a moon that illuminated the wind like scattering snow. It fluttered across the barren mountains and fields, filling the deep and shallow cracks of the ravines, and causing ripples along the moving stream. On such a serene night, in what was deemed to be the extremely desolate silence, it was that voiceless sound that echoed from the mountaintops and deep valleys, drafting far away in a melancholy manner.
Fu Zhang Xi closed his eyes and listened to it for a while. His pale lips lifted into a faint arc as he murmured to himself, “She has made a lot of improvement…”
In this world, there were many people who could play a melodious tune. However, few could imbue their emotions into the tune and let their passionate song touch others’ hearts. The former relied on honing their skill through practice, while the latter was a one-in-a-million, talent bestowed by God.
With this tune, Fu Zhang Xi knew in his heart that Zhen Ting Yun had gained enlightenment by playing the bamboo flute. If she performed as she usually did, then her success at the women’s academy entrance examination was half guaranteed.
After chuckling to himself, he did not delay his departure any longer. He lowered the carriage screen and softly instructed, “Let’s return.”
With that, the party made their way through the night back to Xi Shan Manor.
The author has something to say:
Ting Yun: This must be a family heirloom that Teacher gave me.
Yuan Hui: … No, that’s a dowry gift.
Yuan Hui would vomit blood if Zhen Ting Yun really sold the jade pendant for gold.