Proofreaders: Gwen, LSL & Red
Cold Sands ch14
Happy birthday to Mion, one of our proofreaders!Ｏ(≧▽≦)Ｏ
Something special is prepared for her in the next post, which we'll release later today~
XIV A Xiao's Melody
She immediately regains her composure and replies with a smile appropriate for a duchess. “General Yuwen, you’re too courteous. I’m not worthy of your politesse.
He quickly scans me with a smile that’s not quite a smile before handing her a letter sealed with gold wax. “This is a letter for You from His Excellency, the Left Minister.”
She grins to shows her gratitude. “Your hard work is appreciated, General.”
She fingers the envelope but doesn’t open it and moves a bit towards me. “I give you my thanks.” She pauses and looks in the direction behind him. “You should be drinking with His Highness, right? So what brings you...?”
“It’s going to be a busy day tomorrow and I did not want to forget about His Excellency’s message. I brought it for You as soon as I remembered but I was surprised You weren’t in Your quarters.” He pauses. “I was also surprised to find You out here of all places....”
She smiles and says, “I was bored and came out for a stroll.”
He narrows his eyes and studies me, his eyes eerily bright. “Why, of course. The army life can be quite lacking. It’s normal that the duchess should feel bored. But, who might this be?”
She falters but her smile comes back in the blink of an eye. She steps forth and turns to me, explaining, “Allow me to introduce. This is General Yuwen of Great Yan.” She turns to him.
“And this is....”
She stops short in the middle of her sentence and turns to face me. She looks to me, not knowing what to say. I pucker my lips, not knowing what to say either. It’s true, though. My status here is just too awkward.
I look up at his brooding gaze. I think over it twice before choosing the most cautious explanation. “I am a deputy general serving under General Zhou Zhenluan of Great Rui. Han Xin is my name.”
“Zhou Zhenluan, huh. I’ve crossed paths with him.” The corners of his mouth lift up slightly. “As for you,” He scoffs. “You’re naught but a prisoner.”
I smile back at him. “Then you didn’t have to ask, General, since I am just a prisoner.”
He clasps his hands behind his back and paces forward. “However, I do know a thing or two about the Han clan of Great Rui.” He scrutinizes me. “Those of political families, all they do is start conflicts and disputes. All they know is how to deceive and cheat. You’re the same, not knowing shame even after getting captured. Not only are you here completely unharmed, you still have the mood to horse around when your country’s about to perish.”
I try to keep in the anger brewing within me and ignore his words.
He sneers. “The men of Rui aren’t too good at fighting but sure are skilled at dogging women around.”
Xiao Qinyun chews on her lips before stiffening her backbone. She tilts her head up defiantly. “General, you-.”
But Yuwen Yuan shoots her a glance and brushes her aside. I watch quietly as he strides towards me. He’s so close that I can even feel the coldness of his iron armour. The moonlight illuminates his menacing face.
“I strongly advise that you reconsider your position and do not complicate matters for His Highness.”
I stay quiet.
I know exactly what Yuwen Yuan is talking about. My being here is a variable in and of itself.
The sky darkens and faint torch lights flicker from afar.
I take a deep breath and speak as steadily as I can, “I thank you for your advice, General.”
I’m not in the mood to compete with him. I only want to get rid of this plague of a man as soon as possible so things don’t get complicated.
Xiao Qinyun’s face is red with indignation and her frame is shaking, her head lowered and lips pursed. Yuwen Yuan is looking me up and down when she exclaims, “General Yuwen, you’ve been mistaken. He’s the one who saved my life!”
Yuwen Yuan glances sideways at her. “You probably aren’t aware of the treacheries people can harbour, my Duchess. Not to mention, it’s a critical period right now. I must ensure the safety of You and His Highness.
Suddenly Xiao Qinyun cuts in front of me and faces him straight on. “I am grateful for your consideration, General, but this matter is between us. I would appreciate it if you did not get involved.”
The atmosphere changes drastically. Yuwen Yuan shoots me a dangerous look. I’ve already sobered up quite a bit with all the talking. I catch his hand reaching towards his waist and caressing his sword hilt out of the corner of my eye. My heart starts to race.
“Look at you. Even have the duchess on your side now.”
I reach out and scoop Xiao Qinyun behind me protectively. I chuckle nervously after seeing Yuwen Yuan’s stony face. “There’s no such thing. I am a prisoner unworthy of the duchess’ care. It is just that the duchess has a kindred heart.”
Yuwen Yuan scoffs after a moment. “Oh? Is that so?”
“The noble Duchess is only sparing us commoners her generosity—you’re over-thinking it, General.”
A warning bell goes off in my head as soon as I see his face tense up. With no time to think, I turn slightly to the side and lean back along with the momentum, avoiding his strike. The speed of his strike is extremely high and its power even more so. I feel a sharp stream of air hit my face.
If I hadn’t dodged it, at least half of my face would swell up.
“Surely you must know the rules as a prisoner, Han Xin. I did not give you permission to dodge.”
It is as they say: Those who approach have no good intentions; those who mean well do not approach.
“I don’t believe I have done you any disrespect, General. Why did you strike?”
Yuwen Yuan glances sideways at me and snickers. “There aren’t many people who can evade my attacks. I hadn’t thought you were lying low this whole time. Please, allow me to observe your skills.”
‘Observe?’ Don’t take me for a fool.
His attack just now was swift like lightning and full of force. It’s apparent that he wasn’t holding back at all. I might be a prisoner but I don’t want to be beaten for no good reason either. That’s why I dodged it using the martial arts the old geezer taught me. I didn’t think it would lead to this.
Haaah…. I would’ve let him hit me if I had known. It’s no use now even if I did.
Nonetheless, I’m still trying. “My martial skills are crude, General. I would not be a worthy opponent. I impetrate your generous pardon, please.”
“Really?” A slow smile spread on his face.
A look full of menace!
I see the snow white flash of a blade and it’s coming straight for me. I hear a scream from behind me.
I turn sideways and push Xiao Qinyun away. I snatch the xiao away from her hand and rush to face him without hesitation, smartly guiding the impetus of his sword aside. His expression darkens and he drives his sword back around with a snap of the wrist.
How troublesome. I hadn’t thought he would draw his sword so soon and I didn’t have a suitable weapon. I only used the xiao because of the urgency of the situation. There is no way it would last against his sword.
“General! Stop! Stop now!” Xiao Qinyun shouts at us as she gets up.
None of us answer, however, as we are fully concentrated on the battle between sword and xiao. Yuwen Yuan’s manoeuvres are strong and fierce, one attack tightly followed by another, while I whisk the xiao and make it dance nimbly along with its tassel, flicking in and out of sight. We’re evenly matched for now.
Beads of sweat form on my forehead.
This is obviously not a fair fight. Xiaos are originally musical instruments and cannot endure a drawn-out battle. Yuwen Yuan’s moves are relentless and harsh. I couldn’t directly engage with him with only a xiao in hand, neither can I truly fight back. I have the wolf by the ears.
I meet with his blade sometimes and retreat other times while he continues to advance. The blade scrapes across the xiao with an ear-splitting scratching sound, glistening as it shimmers before my eyes.
What the heck does he want from me?
He inhales deeply and swings his sword back around, its blade flashing dangerously. I swerve to the side to elude it and I thrust the xiao forward along the blade, striking sparks as I aim straight for his neck.
He frowns and immediately sidesteps, skimming out of the way. Raising his long weapon, he brings it down with incredible force. The ivory blade tip slashes open the night with the help of the moon and heads directly for me. I bite down in concentration and change my footing, swaying half a chi out of harm’s way. Missing its target, the sword tips his balance as he is not able to retract the motion in time.
I’m breathing somewhat erratically now that I have been on the defensive the entire time. The alcohol that I had consumed is not helping either. No time to speak—I’ve spotted my chance. Using the gap that his sword has given me, I strike the xiao exactly on his right wrist.
The xiao doesn’t do much damage by itself but I had put in all my strength in that one hit and it had struck a critical joint. His face darkens as he sweeps violently back towards me, lips tightly clipped. I manage to take two steps back before he switches the blade’s directions and it flies towards me. I pivot as a gust of wind blows past and I see a metallic flash before my eyes. It’s too late to dodge so I bring the xiao up to stop it. The two weapons clash in midair. With a turn of the wrist, I push on the sword. He no longer is able to bear the weight of his weapon after the hit on his wrist so I apply more force. The xiao shoots out of my hand and draws a long arc in the air before planting into the ground along with his sword.
The two of us leap apart. Neither of us makes another move. We just stand there panting.
I bring my hands together in front of my chest after I’ve composed myself. “You went easy on me, General.”
His expression only gets stormier and stormier by the second. He glares menacingly at me. It’s a look full of threat and danger.
I let out a breath. “I’d said that my martial arts are crude. Naturally, I wasn’t going to be a worthy opponent for you. I was lucky to receive your mercy. I owe you my gratitude, General.”
Beggars can’t be choosers. I’m just saying a few nice words because I don’t want to anger him just yet.
He doesn’t say anything.
We’re in a bit of an awkward situation here when someone’s low voice interrupts it.
I turn to see Murong Yu pacing out from the shadows.
“Your Highness.” Yuwen Yuan bows and I follow suit.
“Enough,” he says nonchalantly. He turns and catches my eye, seeming to look deep into my eyes. I quickly drop my gaze and keep it lowered.
“General Yuwen, I had invited you to wine and yet you left without permission?”
Yuwen Yuan’s expression is one of respect as he replies. “The Left Minister charged me with the responsibility of delivering a letter to the duchess. I came looking for the duchess only because I did not wish to delay the message.”
Murong Yu smiles softly. “Then let us return to the wine since it has been delivered.”
A smile creeps onto Yuwen Yuan’s face. “This is a military base, Your Highness, yet You still let the duchess wander around freely?”
Murong Yu takes a glimpse of the dumbfounded Xiao Qinyun and says almost nonchalantly, “The duchess was already playful and mischievous when she was in the capital. Not even His Excellency, the Left Minister, could rein her in, so I think I will spare the efforts trying.”
Then he turns to her. “What are you still standing there for? Leave this instant!” His volume isn’t high but his tone is awfully harsh.
She gnaws on her lips, takes a look at me and then at Murong Yu before trudging off into the dark.
Yuwen Yuan retrieves his sword from the ground and sheathes it after wiping it off.
“Perhaps Your Highness is being too imprudent.” He moves his gaze from Murong Yu to me. “Allowing a prisoner to wander freely as he wishes in a military base.”
“I have uses for him precisely because he is a prisoner.” Murong Yu’s expression stays unchanged. Yuwen Yuan tries to speak but Murong Yu cuts him off coldly. “General, it is I who is the Grand Marshal of this army.”
Yuwen Yuan stops and turns to me instead. “I understand very well, Your Highness.” He snickers. “But surely You have not forgotten about His Majesty’s edict. All prisoners must be sent back to the capital in chains under General Tuo’s supervision in the near future.”
Murong Yu’s face clouds over and he turns away with a flick of his sleeves. “Of course I have not. Your reminder is unnecessary!”
The news hits me like a bombshell.
Wh-what? All prisoners sent back to the capital in chains? N-n-no...no way!
In Yan tradition, a large number of prisoners are always sent back to the capital in chains and those include royalty and nobility, the rich and wealthy. The emperor would then bestow the prisoners onto the upperclassmen and soldiers according to their accomplishments in the war and allow them to do as they please with the prisoners.
It’s needless to say what would happen to me if I were sent there in chains but there’s nothing more I can do but sigh.
Murong Yu shoots a cold look at Yuwen Yuan before leaving. Yuwen Yuan looks down on me amusingly. I can see the disdain and disregard from his eyes as if to say: ‘You’re just a prisoner. What does it matter if you’ve beaten me? I can end your life with a few words if I wished so.’
I bite down on the inside of my lip as I feel cold sweat sliding down my back. I hadn’t even felt this unsettled when I was fighting him.
I stoop down to pick the xiao up from the dirt after watching them leave. I study it carefully under the moonlight. The body is dark brown and probably was flawless and glossy before getting cut all over by Yuwen Yuan. Even the tassel that was hanging from it is nowhere to be found. I let out a sigh and take a seat on the ground.
Too bad. It was a good xiao, too.
I’ll get her a new one if I get the chance.
I let my eyes flutter close, hold my breath and focus. I then place the xiao lightly against my lips. I’ve picked up a few so-called useless skills straying through the red-light district.
The notes of the xiao slowly begin to unfurl under the lucid moon, like birds whirling about in the warm, gentle spring air, playfully chasing the April sunshine. Then it plunges sharply into the drizzling seasons of autumn. The limpid notes drift idly along, twisting and turning through sunsets and moonsets, tempests and gales, playing the sorrows of farewell.
My vision blurs and my mind drifts off for a moment.
I’ve been constantly enduring since getting captured; enduring physical pain, enduring the pains of not being able to return to my country, and enduring the contemptuous looks of those around me, all just so I can live on.
It’s easy to die proudly but it takes even more courage to live through the pains.
And what about my country?
The state is about to collapse with no one to uphold it. Is everything that is Great Rui really going to crumble into a handful of sand underneath the pounding of the Lupine Blood Mounts? Am I supposed to watch idly as my country and its beautiful land get stamped on by heartless, violent people like Yuwen Yuan?
I see a scene of disaster before my eyes: fully armed Yan cavalry slashing away at the innocent lives of Great Rui citizens as they gallop through, leaving blood flowing like rivers and corpses covering the land….
I dig down hard with my fingers and a series of sharp trills rudely breaks the previous dejection like clashing metal, bringing the broadness of the boundless, yellow desert, the boldness of the mighty, bellowing oceans and the winded neighs of fully armoured horses. The notes climb higher and higher, soaring straight into the empyrean, valiant like heroes, whizzing past like a dancing sword and crying out like a warhorse.
Eeeeeek! The melody splinters into pieces, leaving faint echoes behind.
I let out a deep breath. I feel like my blood’s boiling. My clothes are soaked with sweat. I’m so tired I don’t even want to speak.
And what about my heart?
Can I still be carefree like before?
But the fate of a country lies upon every single one of its citizens.
Maybe I’m just hiding, hiding from my responsibilities.
Responsibilities? I scoff.
What are my responsibilities? Could someone please tell me?
Rescuing Great Rui is something I’m not capable of. I cannot do anything. Anything.
Kin from the maternal lineages have been amassing power ever since the demise of the Former Emperor, leaving the paternal lineage with little authority. The nobles and the wealthy fight each other for power and money. No one tends to the welfare of the people. The civil officials embezzle at all levels of government and the martial officials hold onto their forces and keep to themselves. Capable and talented men aren’t used to their full potential. The court has long been corrupt. Skirmishes have continuously plagued the southern and northern borders, yet no one has stepped forth to solve anything.
Even the almighty old geezer gets worked up talking about it, but he still has nothing up his sleeves. So what could I do?
“Han Xin?” I hear Murong Yu’s voice from behind.
I smile, not surprised at all. “What may I do for you, your highness?”
His complexion looks extra handsome under the smooth moonlight.
He sits down beside me with a stony expression and only speaks after a while. “It’s rare to see you like this.”
I hum carelessly as a reply before falling quiet again.
He peers at the xiao in my hand. “Tell me, what other talents do you have that I don’t know about?”
I turn my head and sigh. “Are you gonna punish me for rubbing Yuwen Yuan the wrong way?”
He shakes his head. “Yuwen Yuan’s martial skill is nearly unmatched amongst my men but you tied with him with nothing but a xiao. I can’t help but be suspicious.”
“What’s there to be suspicious about? Just a scuffle, is all. I’ve had my fair share of them back in the day as a Guardian,” I say nonchalantly.
“Wait, aren’t you supposed to be drinking with him?” I ask.
“We’ve been done for a long time.” He whisks around and snares my wrist. “Don’t change the subject. Answer me.”
Sharp pain shoots up my arm. He pulls me closer to him. I tremble from the pain and clench my jaw.
“Last time with the duchess. This time with Yuwen Yuan. How did you get captured when you’re this skilled?” He glares at me, not letting me escape. “Answer me!”
The painful memories hit me like a roaring wave.
I turn my head away with my eyes tightly closed, not wanting to recall the horrors. “Don’t ask me! It’s not like your men haven’t told you already!”
His eyes flash with what might be fury. He grabs onto my shoulder so violently that it feels like my shoulder blade might shatter.
“I want to hear it from you.”
I’m breathing heavily and my lips are tightly sealed.
It’s shameful enough to get captured by you and now you want to rub salt in my wounds?
Blood-red seeps across my vision—a colour that makes me shake in terror. I hear the screams of men and horses and the clashing of knives against swords, unsettling my mind. I start to tremble all over as soon as I start to recall it. It’s as if I’ve been transported back to those petrifying days. I see myself bathed in blood but there’s nothing I can do.
“You’re shaking. Are you afraid?”
I hold onto his shoulder and open my eyes. “Don’t make me. I really don’t want to.”
“’Cause…it’s not something you’d call memorable.”
He releases his grip a little but keeps gazing at me. I push him away while panting. “Let me have some peace.”
He remains quiet for a long time and then suddenly asks, “What were you just playing?”
I touch the xiao and answer softly, “Cries of Soaring Swan Geese.”
“It’s a piece by filles de joie that tells of their longing for their lover.”
His gaze becomes dark. “But when you played it there was a bit of longing for home added in there. There was some fighting spirit in the notes towards the very end.”
I chuckle. “Oh really?” I fall back onto the ground and poke him with the xiao. “Hey, got any booze?”
He pushes the instrument down and glimpse at me. “You’re drunk.”
I don’t correct him and just look up at the clear night skies. “So what if I’m drunk. So what if I’m sober. What does it matter to you whether I’m drunk or not?”
He doesn’t reply but moves a bit closer.
“I’m really impressed that you could tie with him when you’re this drunk.”
I can’t help but giggle at his words and turn to look at him. To be honest, I really want to be left alone right now but it’s not all that bad with him here. He’s probably the one person that I’m most familiar with in this place. Even if I’d disliked him at first, I can’t help but feel close to him after being with him day in and day out for so long. Plus, he’s not a bad person. He might be difficult at times, a bit cagey and likes to give others a hard time for no reason, but he’s still easy to get along with.
“What a waste it’d be not to get wasted on this beautiful night!” I rap on the grassy ground and feel the evening breeze gliding past with my eyes half-closed.
He frowns and places his hands on mine. “Don’t drink. You should be more careful after messing with Yuwen Yuan.”
I chuckle as I push his hand off, “Careful? Gimme a break. I was already on his bad side since the start.”
“Why do you say that?”
I take a glance at him. “You should’ve seen how he was looking at me like the duchess and I had an affair or something, like he was afraid we were gonna cuckold you by rendezvousing in the middle of the night.” He looks tongue-tied while watching me. I stretch my arms and legs and continue lazily, “Doesn’t matter though. He seems pretty respectful of you. Not as arrogant as they say he is.”
“Of course. We’re both martial people. But the person he’s loyal to is still Father,” he explains flatly.
He lowers his eyes, the moon sketching out a picture of melancholy. I spot loneliness meandering in those eyes of his.
A child born into the house of the emperor undoubtedly has a halo of high-status but how many people would know of the lonesome soul that is shadowed by that ring of light? I can tell after being around him these days that he’s very lonely, yet he won’t trust anyone around him. That’s why he has always been lonely, and maybe this lonesomeness shall accompany him for the rest of his life.
For some odd reason I suddenly sit up and lean slightly towards him. “Do you want the throne, Murong Yu?”
His expression doesn’t change. He only turns to look at me. I feel my smile falling apart and I start to panic.
Why did I say that? Whether he’s lonely or not, whether he’ll fight for the throne or not, those are all his problems. What’s it have to do with me?
I’m about to change the subject when a tiny spark lights up in his eyes, only to be gone the next moment.
“I do,” he says through clipped lips.
My breathing hitches. I hadn’t expected him to just say it like that.
“You’re the first person to ask me so directly.” He steadily watches me with a ghost of a smile on his lips. Then he laughs, loudly but coldly, so coldly that I don’t even think it counts as a laugh. “The throne to an empire—now which man wouldn’t want that?”
I look on, dumbstruck.
Just how many heroes have met their ends because of these five words? This person in front of me, he isn’t just a hero on the battlefield. He may very well hold the jus vitae necisque and preside at the top.
We are two kinds of people.
“That’s good…. At least you have the ambition, unlike me, always so lazy and idle.” I clap his shoulder. “Don’t forget about your buddy when you become emperor, ‘kay. No pretending to not know me.”
“‘Lazy and idle?’” He puts an arm over my shoulders. “What’re you tryin’ to hide now?”
I touch my face confusedly. What? What have I tried to hide? And why is he saying that?
He sighs while staring at me, a faint hint of concern flashing across his eyes. He reaches up and touches the spot between my brows, his voice more gentle than ever before. “You think your disguise is very good, don’t you? Always acting carefree and calm? But I can see it, even during your most cheerful times, the misery that clouds over right here like it’s never going away.”
He nods seriously and pulls me into his embrace. I don’t resist, instead snuggling into a comfortable position. I let out a sigh after settling down.
I had always thought I hid myself very well. Who knew that he’d still….
“Sometimes I see you from behind and I wonder what is it that you’ve been through that is so heavy and secretive that makes you frown even in your sleep.”
I shoot him a disbelieving look and he gives me wholehearted nod. Then I realise that we’ve slept on the same bed many times so it’s no surprise he’s seen me while I was asleep. I wish the earth would just swallow me up when I think about my unsightly sleeping figure.
“The more airily you smile during the day the tighter you furrow your brows at night, like you’re enduring great amounts of pain. I really don’t get it. Why do you have to pretend like you’re fine if it’s so painful? Oh you…. Aren’t you making it hard for yourself?”
Okay, I have to admit that he’s pretty sharp.
I close my eyes wordlessly, feeling his body heat from behind. He wraps both arms around me and surrounds me in his warmth.
His embrace is too warm. I feel like I’m going to drown any minute.
Dairytea's comment: D'aaw~<3 They're so cute. =//u//=
Be sure to come back 5pm EST for our extra release of the day. (and more BL tomorrow!)
ayszhang's comment: Happy Holidays everyone~ and for those who celebrate it: Remember to leave cookies and milk out for Saint Nick!
Cold Sands - English Translation by ayszhang is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.