Madam Xue’s funeral was held in June. During that month, the eldest son of Marquis Qingyi died of a serious illness, his young daughter was lost and could not be found, and Marquis Qingyi, who had the perfect life, suddenly returned to being alone. To outsiders, they described him as pitiful.
At that time, the taoists of the Celestial Bureau were arguing with the Buddist monks who had come to perform the ceremonies for helping the soul find peace. In the midst of the cacophony, he was kneeling alone in front of the funeral hall, white, snow-like paper strips falling over his shoulders.
He was still thinking about Madam Xue’s last words.
——When you look at me, it’s like you’re looking at someone else.
“Marquis.” The servant called him in a soft voice, holding a scented sachet with a voluminous tassel in his hands, looking a bit embarrassed: “I found this among the lady’s belongings……”
He lowered his eyes, scanning over it. The palm-sized scented sachet was elaborately embroidered with a vivid, lifelike qilin made of silver thread.
This scented sachet was all too familiar to him, as his wet nurse had lost her sight embroidering it for him when he was five years old. Ever since then, he kept it close to his body until he accidentally lost it at the beginning of his marriage.
The whole family was mobilized to find it, but to no avail. He once knelt in front of his nanny’s grave for the time it took to burn one stick of incense because of this.
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“……” Tl vssj vbl kdnldpl cyt, yde vbl vypplz powdt vbaswtb vbl yka, xyjkdt yd yan.
——Ebu eke Yyeyx Dwl dlle kv?
Mbl kdnldpl rswnb oyp blyhu kd bkp byde, yde obld bl srldle kv, vblal oyp y tsze kdtsv yde y rktlsd ltt-pkgle eaytsd’p rlyaz kdpkel.
Mblal olal yzps plhlayz vbkd ryrlap aszzle kdvs vwclp, obknb olal saktkdyzzu vbl elle vs y bswpl yde zyde, cwv yqvla plhld-lktbv ulyap, vbl qszele nsadlap olal osad yde vsad.
Mbl oyhlakdt zktbvp sq vbl blyavb zlrv ynaspp bkp qynl, yde bl rwaple bkp zkrp.
Rv oyp vbl elle vs y bswpl yde zyde wdela bkp dyxl.
“Slxlxcla bso vbkp pnldvle pynblv oyp zspv plhld ulyap yts? Tl zssjle cynj yv vbl cwvzla, bkp tygl nsze.
Flhld ulyap yts, bl qlzz sqq vbl bsapl, zspv yd kxrsavydv ryav sq bkp xlxsau, yde pvyavle vs byhl blyeynblp. Yyeyx Dwl bke bkp rlapsdyz pnldvle rswnb, yde vbl “svblap” pbl xldvksdle, yzz sq obknb olal hlau pvaydtl.
“——How could this servant know?” The butler had a dodgy expression on his face.
The Zhao family was a powerful family, and the main wife had only given birth to a son and daughter. The son was ignorant and incompetent, so the daughter had to be dominant and aggressive, a common result.
Elder sister’s reach had always been very far, like a sea animal with tentacles. Using the excuse of their family’s glory, she had enclosed his world, and he had always known it.
He swept his gaze over the butler’s anxious expression—— as if the only way to survive the oncoming wave was to play a fool.
“You’ve been with this Marquis for over ten years,” he said. He lowered his eyelids, his tone very calm, “Do you think that even if I flee to the ends of the earth, I am still a puppet in the hands of Consort Zhao?”
In such a mourning hall, white streamers and coins fluttering, the sight of the always proud and untalkative Marquis Qingyi, who’s wife was dead, and was left all alone, laughing at himself to a servant, was very unbearable to see.
As expected, this method worked very well. The butler stuttered for a while. Finally, sympathy prevailed. He knelt, red-eyed, with a thump, “……This servant dares not deceive the marquis……”
He looked around and saw that the surrounding area was noisy, so he took two steps on his knees, carefully approaching him: “The day the marquis fell off his horse, he took this scented sachet with him, and was in a hurry to go somewhere. But before leaving the city gate, the horse went crazy……”.
He fixedly looked at the butler: “Where was I going?
“This……” The other person hesitated again.
He pinched the thin sheets of paper in his hand. His fingertips stroked the felt on the incense bag, and suddenly felt a bump. Startled, his fingers reached in and investigated. There were a few characters sewn on in the inner layer, as if someone had specially turned the incense bag out and sewn it on, and then carefully concealed it inside.
The stitches were crude, not like a woman’s work, but to a greater extent, his own hasty handwork.
“Mu, rong, er……”
He identified the words one by one, it was as if a thunderbolt had struck down, separating inch by inch the scars that were fused to the skin.
The butler’s expression paled instantly.
“Marquis, Marquis, you can’t go……” the butler seemed to be frightened, scrambling over on his hands and feet. One foot stepped into the water puddle, causing mud and water to splash everywhere.
The weather outside the mourning hall had long changed, the wind was howling, blowing the falling rain in all directions. The whistling wind sounded between the dry branches, and his clothes were wet in no time.
“Get out of the way.” The horse under him ran wildly, trampling on the water and knocking down the branches that were coming at him. In the blink of an eye, he lost the people behind him.
When he couldn’t see anyone else, he loosened his grip on the reins and slumped down on the horse’s back. His hands and feet in the stirrups were worn with blood because he had pushed too hard.
No one knew that when those three words appeared in front of his eyes, even if he read them once in silence, he would suffer the pain of a thousand lashes.
This pain suddenly reminded him of what happened before Madam Xue went into labor.
The banana tree in the corner of the courtyard, the veil, and the autumn appearance, finally culminated in a mirage, the person he was holding in the mirage.
The raindrops hit his face and mixed with the cold sweat that slipped down from the sides of his forehead, stinging and bringing tears to his eyes.
Sure enough, there was a “someone else.”
But this “someone else” was not anyone else.
The shaking hand gripped the horse whip and sped up sharply, galloping all the way to the countryside, hooves flying.
“Whoa——” He squeezed the horse’s abdomen between his legs and the horse tilted its head. The rain hit its shiny coat, turning into droplets of water that ran down smoothly.
It was late in the day and only the outlines of the trees could be seen in the distance, as if they were rendered in ink. An old stable keeper, whistling and wearing a tilted woven bamboo hat, was checking the stables and troughs. As if he had heard something, he turned his head and took a moment to recognize the man on the horse before rushing over and taking off his hat in surprise.
“Oh, how come the marquis does not have an umbrella?”
“Where is my horse?” He turned over and dismounted, his hair dripping with water, his face blue from either the pain or the sudden cold weather.
Whenever he went on a long journey, he would always replace his horse with one that could travel a long-distances, and usually kept it in the herd. This was something that he and the stable keeper had mutually agreed upon since they were children.
He had not ventured into this place for seven years since he had fallen from his horse.
“It’s feeding, it’s feeding.” The stable keeper repeated, turning his hat into an umbrella and putting it comically over his head, “I’ll go and fetch it……”.
“No need.” He interrupted, his Adam’s apple bobbing, and only after a long time, did he speak with difficulty. “The last time I came to get him, where did I intend to go?”
“……” The stable keeper turned around and stopped, his expression looking as if he had made some mistake.
“Tell me.” He raised his voice, the rain was sparse with gusts of wind, the wind sounding like a whistle. The scented sachet pouch clutched in his hand was somewhat deformed, the edge of the gold ingot pressed against his palm, sending signals of pain.
“The last time, seven years ago……,” the stable keeper paused, bowing his head and responding respectfully, “you wanted to take the fastest horse and go out of town overnight, the faster the better.”
“You said it was to the south, to a place called Wufang Town.”
Wufang Town…… his pupils shrank.
It seemed to be the first time he had heard these two words, yet at the same time, it seemed he had heard them countless times before.
Wispy clouds, long-lasting fog, music and song every night, no worries and no fear……
“You told me that someone was waiting there.”
“The lady was about to give birth, so we had to hurry.”
I asked you, “Are you coming back? By then you had already ridden your horse a ways. You turned around and said, “I’m not coming back.”
“At that time you said with a smile, “Take it as if there has never been a Marquis Qingyi in the city of Chang’an.”
The vastness of the sky was unfathomable, like the sea turned upside down.
It was a starless night. The falling rain rushed into his arms; sparkling and descending, and seeming to slowly condense into crystalline snowflakes, performing a slow and graceful dance.
Time thus became infinitely long, the sky which the snowflakes fell was as quiet as a lover’s distant and forgiving gaze.
He lay on his side, his body twitching, bloody foam spilling from his mouth, the only light was from his opened eyes.
“The lady is about to give birth……”
“You’re also pregnant now, aren’t you afraid it’ll bump into you?”
“This child is the expectation of your heart and mine, so let’s call it Ziqi, okay?”
“I came, to kill you of course.”
“This is your flesh and blood……”
“Do you know?” The person who was speaking, spun around lightly, with a quiet and beautiful appearance, similar to a fairy, “Mount Qilin snows year-round and we dance in the snow.”
Torches and people slowly gathered, like innumerable ants, surrounded him as a group. They seemed to be anxiously talking among themselves.
The moment someone moved to lift him up and touched him, he spat out a mouthful of blood, his eyes unfocused, and opened his mouth hoarsely: “Is it snowing?”
The people looked at each other, their expressions panicked: “Marquis, April just started, where would there be snow?”
He closed his eyes and opened them again. The blood-tinted world only had the fine drizzle to wash it away, and the more it washed, the dirtier it got.
It turned out that pure white landscape was the cataracts in his eyes.
His wife’s funeral was not yet over, and Marquis Qingyi became critically ill. Consort Zhao quickly left the palace to look after him, and when she saw his face, tears covered her face.
The little Pan An, who had once been greatly admired, had turned into a ghastly skeleton lying on the bed. When the servants saw him, they turned their heads away and avoided him, fearful of his appearance.
He refused to say anything, staring at the canopy like a dead man, his eyes like an empty city.
He heard the Buddhist priest speak to his sobbing elder sister: “Consort, people live by “vital energy.’ Now that the light in the eyes of the marquis is gone, it means that the vital energy is gone, and lingering like this……”
His joints seemed to be rusted by the fine drizzle. It was very difficult to move even slightly, therefore no one was able to pull out the name-embroidered scented sachet from his hand.
“We agreed to be husband and wife and to be honest with each other, so why did you hide it from me?”
The light in the study was bright, shining on the one he always yearned for. She looked at him in alarm, as if she wanted to explain, but was too ashamed to speak: “I didn’t.”
His anger was getting the better of him. The more perfect she was, the greater were his fears and suspicions: “Do you love me or not?”
But she hesitated, and only after a long time did she answer softly: “I don’t know if this is love.”
After all, he was young and exuberant, and just this one sentence made people feel that half a lifetime of love had become a joke, which drove him to leave home in anger and turn his head towards Chang’an.
The idea that people and demons go different ways and had separate paths, once blown by the cold wind, would not count halfway down the road.
If she really wanted to cheat him, she should’ve been like the fox demons in books: saying she loved him to the bone, cheating him of a lifetime of being faithful and true, never parting, serving her, giving her free rein, and letting her drain every inch of him. That, was a qualified demon.
Rong’er, Mu Rong’er.
However, she didn’t even know how to lie.
The amnesia spell had backfired. Along with it came the pain of his overwhelming sorrow, but if it could offset the karmic consequences of his permanent disappearance and abandonment of his wife and child, that would be all right.
Seven years had passed and Ziqi had already grown so much. He had been left to roam the streets, a face full of dust, shoulder blades prominent, barefoot, and he didn’t even have shoes.
Furthermore…… he only hated himself for not taking another look at him.
The first time he saw the child, they met in person but did not recognize each other, playing a game of life and death.
Then, what about the one whom he held dear?
He did not dare to think about how she gave birth to a child alone, and after waiting day after day until all her hopes had fallen into the mud, this was what it had come to.
His elder sister held his hand, and he lowered his eyes, thinking of the time he held the dying Madam Xue’s hand.
How the times changed; his turn had come so quickly.
His elder sister’s eyes were red and swollen: “Qinghuan, do you have any words to leave behind?
He looked slightly to the side and saw the person standing behind her.
Murong’er stood so far away that she almost seemed to be an illusion. She was still absolutely beautiful, leaning against the door, a coldness emanating from her maroon pupils, while looking at him with a smile from afar, as if she had specifically come to see his plight.
That was not her.
Where had his Rong’er gone?
“Sister.” The tears in his eyes snaked down, and he struggled to open his lips, “In my clothes…… the scepter of the Mu family……”
“Go to the Mu family…… to pick up Ziqi…….”
If that child stayed with that demon-hunter family, how could he still be happy?
Zhao Fei’s eyes widened, as if she did not expect his last words to be such: “That bastard……”
“Zhao Qinru.” He interrupted and clutched her hand in a death grip, the blood vessels in the whites of his eyes bursting, blood coloring the whites. His voice trembeled, similar to how one would let out puffs of cold air in the winter, “That is my and Rong’er’s child…… from now on…… I have nothing more to do with the Zhao family……”
Take it as if there has never been a Marquis Qingyi in Chang’an City.
How wonderful it would be if only he could run away. He could be an ordinary farmer in a remote town, with his wife and child in either arm, never to be separated.
On the day of the wedding in Wufang Town, the bride lifted the veil first, the red wedding veil contrasted with her scallion-like fingers. Under the bright makeup, despite the uneasiness in her eyes, she was still so beautiful: “According to your rules, after today, we will be together forever, right?”
The candles in the bridal chamber flickered, and the room was filled with an intoxicating glow of happiness. He smiled and replied, “Naturally, we will be together forever.”
Time was like yellowing pages of a book, flipping forward quickly, fireworks and lanterns covered the skies. The sky was filled with bright and lively shooting stars and the entire mortal world was illuminated by the New Year’s revelry.
Young people do not know worry, and only feel that everything in the world is so fresh and beautiful.
The evening breeze lifted the veil of the white-clothed girl. Her breathtaking eyes, collided with his.
“I came to watch the fireworks.”
Hello, happy November! How’s everyone? I’m busy running around these days. Though, I prefer staying home, every outing seems to sap away some of my energy… Luckily, I have a good paperback book to sit down with and read.