Cold Sands extra 4 (finale!)
Extra - For A Chance Meeting
The third lunar month of the Sixth Year of Xian Qing. Spring was approaching and the weather was mild. It was the Day of Shang Si according to the lunar calendar.
What should have been brilliant sunshine and lustrous greens, drinking and playing, creative poetry and light talks, was instead a palace enshrouded by deep quietude this year around.
Ominous rumours had spread through the imperial palace. The emperor’s headaches had worsened since winter, to the point that he could not think or see straight. One could almost catch a whiff of anxiety in the capital city. Everyone from the elites and nobles to the commoners all held their breaths as they eyed the imperial house.
The imperial physician gave a diagnosis of prolonged stress-induced ailment and strongly recommended holding off the tedious administrative work and focusing on rest. The emperor turned a deaf ear to it and went along with his business unbothered. He had been exposed to harsh conditions in his early years which left his body weakened. He was injured many times later in adulthood but he never paid too much attention to his health and now it has added up in old age.
The stinging headaches were just after-effects.
But the emperor still allowed the crown prince to take the reins on administrative matters in his place. He made visits to the land instead of the emperor. He personally screened talented and able men from all over the country and inspected the lives of the people, winning the praise of the nation. Whether it was amongst the common folk or in the imperial court, all spoke surely of the nineteen-year-old prince’s ability to succeed in His Majesty’s footsteps and to restore Great Rui’s magnificent state.
The emperor was resting at a country residence near the capital, Bath Spring Palace, when this made its way to his ears. An ambiguous smile appeared on his face.
Consort Yuan was right behind the Emperor giving him a gentle massage. She had on a thin chiffon robe, revealing her attractive body. She might have been almost forty but she was still beautiful like a young, thirty-year-old.
Hearing the tranquil trickling of the hot spring and smelling the soothing fragrance in the air actually lightened the Emperor’s headache to some extent. He lay on a ta with his eyes closed and a light grin. Little flower petals floated on the water and steam from the spring drove their delightful scents up into the air. It was a place you would not want to leave once you were in.
The Emperor felt he truly was getting old. The nonchalance in his youth could have been a facade but the fatigue after his thirties could not be concealed.
He grabbed onto Consort Yuan’s delicate arm and peered at her. “I hear birds chirping, Wang Shu. What kind of bird is it?”
She paused before answering with a smile. “It’s the swallows, Your Majesty, returning from the south.”
“So, the swallows have begun to migrate north again, huh.” A pause. “Wang Shu, it’s April, right?”
“Not yet. It’ll only be Shang Si in a few days.”
“The Day of Shang Si. Right, I remember now. How troublesome.”
“Then get someone to go in Your place if it’s troublesome.”
“I do want to but I’m afraid they will start to say that I’ve got one foot in the grave if I do.”
Consort Yuan’s hand shook. “Your Majesty…”
The Emperor turned his gaze out the window and took Consort Yuan’s hand, as if about to speak but he only sighed in the end.
She observed his seemingly empty eyes and started feeling uneasy. She had understood since the day she married him that he was no longer that playboy that hustled through the city streets. He had completely become an emperor who held the rights to life itself in his hands.
It seemed, however, that she was special to him in the imperial palace. Her position was only lower than the empress. She had a son and a daughter and unrivaled love from the Emperor. She was a smart woman. She knew her background was too low and she didn’t have a powerful family to support her. She could only depend on him and his love.
“Where is Huan-er? Did she not accompany you here?”
Consort Yuan forced a smile and fixed the emperor’s robe back onto his shoulders. “Huan-er insisted on going to the south with the crown prince. It was You who granted it.”
The Emperor chuckled as he rubbed his temples. His mind had certainly become foggy. Lin Huan was his youngest and most beloved daughter. The young princess was zealous just like the emperor in his early years, playing, having fun and being silly all day long.
The consort laughed along. As a mother, she obviously wished for her daughter to be wise and gentle. Amongst his seven children, the emperor was excessively strict to the crown prince and quite tough to the rest of the princes and princesses, but his doting for the youngest princess knew no boundaries.
“Your Majesty,” sensing his good mood, she softly said what she had been brooding over. “It would be unwise to continue pampering Huan-er like this. She’s fourteen, almost the age of hair-pinning. What would become of her if she’s allowed such reckless behaviour?”
She spotted the Emperor’s frown before she even finished so she couldn’t do anything but stop.
He let go of her hand and spoke lowly. “To be able to live without worry in the royal house is a luxury in and of itself. I hope that Huan-er can be an exception to that, to not live in the shadows of her background.”
The consort suddenly felt bitter gratefulness. Her eyes turned red as she bit her lips.
Surely, she had realised that the freedom he had been trying to provide for Huan-er was naught but what he wanted but could not have himself.
The room fell quiet save for the splashes of water.
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
“You once sang a song for me. What was it again? For something?”
“That’s right. I wish to hear it. Sing it once more for me.”
The consort nodded lightly and pressed her lips together before singing. Years had passed but her voice was still warm and bright like a youth.
“Green were the ripples of Qi. Alone you had always wept
O how I worried for you, so I gifted you the wind
Please be with me, until the earth ages, the sky crumbles and our hair whitens
The winds never rested, blowing away my troubles
I heard stories of the past, as my memories flew off to the distance
I shall cherish the person before me this moment, and never let go…
…Bitter shadows of the north winds, spoke of sorrow and woe
Hand in hand, we’ll age together, and together in life and death we shall be
Millenniums have elapsed when it all dissipates, and I wake, wistful.
The Emperor had picked up a letter from the stand beside him some time during the song and began reading it. He never got tired of it no matter how many times he had read it. Since ascending the throne, that man’s forceful ways had never changed, charging out to battle and leading attacks, but his temper had been refined. The letter inquired about his illness and urged him with gentle words. Despite being an official message between countries, the contents sounded more like greetings between lovers.
As soon as the word of his illness got out, the Yan emperor sent out this letter along with his messengers as well as rare medicines from Yan. Despite the distance, the message arrived in less than two fortnights.
With a thin smile, the emperor didn’t show much emotion but the hot spring water seemed to flow through his heart, softening and warming the bitterness within.
It’s been twenty years, he thought to himself. He had become old and he as well, but the love between them only became richer with time like wine.
Is it fortune or misfortune? He asked himself.
The emperor shook his head. He couldn’t be sure, perhaps just like the beginning of this love. Neither of them could explain when the seed pushed through the soil and how it grew to be a towering tree.
Perhaps it was just fate, just like their meeting.
The consort heard a long sigh from the emperor. His murmurs sounded like repetitions of the lyrics she had just sung.
“Please be with me, until the earth ages, the sky crumbles and our hair whitens; The winds never rested, blowing away my troubles…”
Shadows danced with the candlelight inside Feng Yi Palace as a cool breeze blew through. The emperor and empress sat at the forefront while the other consorts sat on the two sides according to rank.
In the eyes of a commoner, the handsome, lively emperor and the proper, elegant empress were the father and mother of the entire country. The emperor protected the country from powerful enemies, actively participated in governing the country, encouraged a lawful society and served the people. He was the wisest and most generous ruler they had seen.
The only thing that worried them was the fact that the emperor did not take a great liking to women. He had few concubines and only seven children, far too few.
The empress turned to the emperor beside her and spoke from her rouge lips. “I have summoned all the consorts who have bore children, Your Majesty.”
The emperor opened his eyes a crack and scanned the women before him. He had very little concubines and if it was concubines who had children, there were only four: the empress, Consort Yuan, Consort De and Consort Shu. The other titleless concubines had served the emperor in bed but none gave birth.
He knew very well that the country would only suffer were there too many princes and they fought for the throne.
Consort Shu, Consort De and Consort Yuan were all anxious and the empress watched the emperor steadily too, not knowing what he had in plan.
The emperor picked up a yellow scroll from the table and explained, “This is an official document from Yan delivered just two days ago, requesting my princess’ hand in marriage for the crown prince.”
The empress’ hand trembled unknowingly and she took a glimpse. What her eyes caught were the words: Once marriage bonds are formed, our states will have secured peace and put a stop to all war for the days to come.
“Did You grant it?” She felt uneasy.
The emperor folded the scroll back and replied casually, “A marriage between two countries is a deed that will benefit the people. I have already granted it.”
At once, Consort De felt her anxiety disappearing with a poof. She only bore one son, Lin Die, in her twenty something years in the palace. Anything to do with a princess had nothing to do with her. With that in mind, she looked up at the empress and the other two consorts with daughters.
After much deliberation, Consort Shu looked up to find the emperor sporting a normal expression, so she probed, “Which princess was Your Majesty thinking of marrying to the Crown Prince of Yan?”
The empress stayed quiet. The emperor had three daughters, born from her, Consort Yuan and Consort Shu. She was not sure which he planned to marry off. According to stories, the people of Yan had always been wild and strong, even the civilians were fierce like beasts. The pampered princess would surely experience much hardship being married to that faraway place.
“Lin Huan, the Princess of Chang Ning has not pinned her hair yet, so she will not be considered. There are currently two who have reached adulthood, Yan Xi and Yi Ran.” The emperor glanced over to the women beside him. “Choose one to be married to Great Yan.”
Consort Shu dropped her gaze in a moment of dumbfoundedness but she looked back up. “Your Majesty, the Princess of Chang Ning can perform the coming-of-age ceremony once she returns to the capital. Plus, You have always warned those of us in the inner palace against acting on personal grounds.”
The emperor flashed a tiny smile. “Lin Huan still has a year before pinning her hair. I cannot send a child to another country no matter how much I want to please the Yan emperor, can I?”
His words sounded good and proper but it was blatant that the emperor was biased and protective of Consort Yuan.
Consort Yuan clenched her teeth to hold back her tears. Her hands clutched tightly at the handkerchief.
She remembered that the emperor said to her when he took her into the palace as his concubine: I will protect you from now on so you won’t be bullied because of your low background and so that your children live a good life.
The empress and Consort Shu stared at the emperor, not able to get a single word out of their mouths.
The emperor grabbed a cup into his hand and took a sip. “The crown prince is twenty one this year. Yan Xi is eighteen and Yi Ran is seventeen. They are all close in age.”
Consort Shu slowly lifted her gaze. “Our princesses couldn’t possibly stand living in that country.”
The emperor replaced his tea cup. His eyes were calm. “This involves the lives of millions of people. It is not something that their tempers can decide.”
Faint rays of sunlight were poking through the hall, forming shadows on the tiles. Miniscule particles of dust floated in the air and time seemed to come to a standstill.
The emperor leaned back on the chair with his eyes lidded. His fingers tapped lightly on the table. Each tap seemed to knock on the empress and consorts’ chests. They could feel the overwhelming force exuding from him like a thunder cloud suffocating anyone it looms over. They knew that once married to that place of deserts and ice, beyond thousands of li of land, they would never meet again. However, with the emperor’s grant of a marriage bond, there was no other way.
Then the emperor spoke lazily, “Being supported by the people, one must attempt to repay them. As a member of the royal family, one must be conscious of her duties to the country.”
The empress frowned and sighed at his words and hints of apprehension appeared on her face.
Suddenly, after a long period of silence, the sound of clinking jewelry and shuffling clothes could be heard. The empress stood, clad in her regalia, and bowed down to the emperor.
“On behalf of my daughter, the Princess of Yan Xi, I would like to volunteer to be married to Great Yan in order to form eternal bonds for the two countries.”
Slowly, the emperor opened his eyes to see the empress kneeling before him, head bowed low, and did not show much surprise. He sat up straight with a smile. “You are the mother of this country after all, Zitong, and know your duties to the country.”
With bitter desolation brewing in her heart, the empress pressed her lips together and pulled a smile when she looked up.
The next day, the holy edict was released that the Princess of Yan Xi volunteered to be married to Great Yan to tie the two countries together with marriage.
For three consecutive days, the dowry that the emperor bestowed upon the princess flowed endlessly into Feng Yi Palace.
Wedding gown, wedding crown, head piece, and an array of glittering jewels and stones…
The princess sat before the mirror with a light smile. The woman in the reflection had willowy brows and thin lips, and light danced off her eyes, making her appearance striking and outstanding. The empress was behind her as well, gazing at her daughter.
“Don’t blame your father, Wei-er.”
The princess did not reply but only lowered her head as she played with a hairpin embedded with a thousand-year-old black pearl. The princess’ eyes, face structure and expressions looked after her father. One could see from her eyes a bold aura that an average woman would not have.
“What do you mean, Mother? Father has done no wrong.”
She said with a smile and stuck the hairpin into her hair. She watched her own calm, elegant smile in the mirror.
“Father never feared the Yan and I am Father’s daughter. I have naught to fear.”
The emperor entered wearing a simple black robe and stopped behind the princess. “Well said. A daughter of Lin fears naught.”
The princess did not rise to perform the rituals but only turned her head a little. “How did Father get the time to come visit Mother and me today?”
The emperor reached out to catch her small shoulders and bring her into his arms.
The princess closed her eyes and trembled. She heard him say, “Sorry, Wei-er.”
“Father is sorry, Wei-er.” Her father’s voice sounded so pained. “Once upon a time I sacrificed my everything to protect this country but I did not think I would have to sacrifice my own daughter too.”
“The Yan emperor and empress are both old friends of mine. They will treat you well.”
In this moment, the mighty emperor was only a sorrowful, helpless father.
The princess pulled a smile but all she could taste in her mouth was a bitterness that reached her heart.
Father hugging her like this was something she had never even dreamed of in her eighteen years of life.
He was a ruler first and a father second.
The Fourth Month of the Sixth Year of Xian Qing, the Princess of Yan Xi was married off to Yan. The emperor personally brought the princess to the frontiers, leaving the Crown Prince to govern the country.
A grand ceremony took place on the day the princess’ wedding carriage left the capital. The bright red emblem of the royal house billowed in the wind, appearing as a ball of flames. The rows of imperial guards held up their spears decorated with red tassels and their horses’ stomped hard on the road.
The River Ye had become a gathering spot for merchants of the two countries since the treaty signed in the First Year of Yan Xing. The areas to its north and south became grounds of commercial import. To the north one could reach Yongjing, to the south, South Hill and to the west the Western Region. Tea, horses, china, leather, exotic women, wine, products of all of the land surged in across the borders unobstructed. The peoples gathered and settled together, intermarrying, creating a common bloodline and culture to form one harmonious group.
The north shore of the river was littered with blood red feathers and tassels flashing under the light, rivaling even the sun itself. The Yan emperor had already been waiting with the crown prince in tow for the bride.
It was the Rui customs for the father to bring his daughter to the groom but because of that oath so many years ago, he cannot set foot on Yan land. He could only watch as the second prince brought the princess to the other side.
The emperor squinted and spotted his daughter standing beside a tall, young man amidst the crowd, and behind him, seemed to be his father. That man was looking this way too and when their eyes met over the river, they could almost see into each other’s souls.
The emperor smiled. It was a smile of fulfillment. He felt satisfied with just this one look.
With the celebratory music blasting, the emperor’s headaches were coming back again. He propped up his head and slouched against the seat, resting with his brows tightly furrowed.
He had no idea when the wedding banquet ended. When his head cleared, he was already sitting alone with the Yan emperor in the glamourous tent with a table between them. A soothing incense burned in the censer and the tea leaves picked before the rain season released a fresh scent.
The Yan emperor was far away, sitting tall and proper, with a calm expression that contained none of the fierceness from before. He was holding a cup with two hands while looking in this direction.
It’s been more than twenty years.
He had thought time would wash it all away and let everything be gone with the wind. However, things turned out the exact opposite. The longing did not fade and instead turned into something like wine, the longer it remained sealed up the more its fragrance will fill every corner of the world once opened.
It was just that anything, with the passing of time, becomes hard to voice, the words getting stuck at the tip of the tongue.
The emperor was beginning to feel uncomfortable under his gaze. He cleared his throat. “Your Majesty?”
The Yan emperor cracked a smile but did not speak. He was a bit puzzled as the Yan emperor got up and slowly approached him. As though mesmerized, he stood and faced him quietly.
“You’re still so awkward.” He reached out and pulled him into his arms, tightly securing him.
As a familiar scent hit his nose, he hugged him back and did not make another sound. He was already lost in reminisce. This was an embrace that he had longed for twenty years.
The Yan emperor sat him in his lap and took him into his embrace once more, placing his lips against his lightly.
“You shouldn’t have made that silly promise back then to never step on Yan territory. You’re still here on my lap, aren’t you?”
The emperor chuckled and rested against his shoulders. “And my daughter has become tribute as well.”
The arms around his waist suddenly tightened, locking him in his arms near the point of suffocation. The Yan emperor’s Adam’s apple bobbed as he pressed their foreheads together without a word.
The emperor did not speak either and just leaned on him. No words were sufficient to describe this moment.
He looked down at him, at the face that had become thinner and the eyes that were still determined as before.
“So we meet again, Xin,” he said hoarsely after studying him for some time.
“After twenty years.”
“But it’s not too late.”
“What are you looking at?”
“I just wanna take a good look at you. I haven’t seen you for so long I almost forgot what you look like.”
The emperor reached up to the Yan emperor’s forehead and used his fingertips to smooth out the creases between his brows. “Me too.”
The emperor rested on the other man’s chest and, as though having recovered his livelihood, began to talk about his choices, his softness, his resolute, his ruthlessness and his yearning. The man listened quietly while caressing his hands. He could sense that the man in his arms had not changed. Despite being the praised and honoured ruler of a peaceful era, he was just as lonely as always. He was still that young man he met on the desert who did not like to speak his mind.
He was the same too. Despite being the almighty persona that the officials and the people obey wholly, he still felt that no one could understand him and that he lived alone in his palace.
The rulers owned the realm and reigned above all but the one thing that tailed behind them from beginning to end was loneliness.
He pulled open his collar and planted his lips on his skin, sucking gently. Their breaths intertwined and all they could see in their eyes were each other, nothing else. They were both waiting for this moment of reunion even though this moment came too late.
Summer left and winter came; winter left and spring came back.
News came from Yan that the crown princess bore a son after ten months of pregnancy. Delighted, the Yan emperor picked the name Murong Xun for his grandson and adored him very much.
When the emperor knew about this he was already lying on bed, ill.
The messenger delivered the gifts for his daughter and grandson which included a solid silver longevity lock with floral designs carved in relief. He hoped that this child would bring a longer period of peace for the two countries.
The emperor was lying underneath two layers of blankets in the gloomy hall. His eyes were open and the bright, clear pupils seemed to be dimming day by day to an aged grey. He clung onto the hand of the woman sitting by the bed in silence for a long time.
“Wang Shu, are those the swallows?”
“Yes. It’s spring.”
“Why is it so quiet in here?”
“I made everyone leave. I’ll stay with You.”
“Why don’t you get some rest, Wang Shu?”
After some time, “I’m not tired.”
Consort Yuan’s hands were being tightly held by the emperor, his fingers hooked onto hers. She probably knew that the emperor was afraid of her leaving and lying here alone, so he just wanted to hold onto something in order to feel safe.
The emperor listened to the bird’s cries as they flied across the sky and a smile that the consort could not understand formed on his lips. He did not have anything to be happy about. He just knew that spring was here.
“Wang Shu, do you remember that spring when I took you kite-flying out in the country?”
“I do. I hadn’t come to the palace yet at that time.”
“You liked growing orchids then. Do you still grow them?”
“Yeah, the garden outside Zhao Yang Hall is full of them.”
“Has Lin Hong been on his schoolwork?”
“Hong-er likes school. Did Your Majesty forget?”
The emperor mumbled, “Forget? Yeah, I forgot.” Then his head fell limp to one side and his vision blurred. All that was left was the sharp cries of birds in his ears that reached the sky.
He dreamed of his father’s warhorse and his mother’s regalia, of the manor he once lived in that was now in ruins, of the ascension ceremony that took place at the majestic Tai Qing Hall, of the pools of blood seen from the city walls, of the black cavalry that was everywhere the eye could see, of the grand wedding, and of the countless faces that flitted across his vision, some mad, some smiling.
The emperor seemed to have realised something and he pulled a weak smile.
That night, he summoned the crown prince who knelt in plain clothes by the bed watching his father. Father was forty-five already, the age that signalled old age, but Father seemed to age faster than anyone.
“I must warn you not to use military forces against Yan no matter what. Never attempt to take back the four hundred li of land with the army. Your sister will be the empress of Yan and your nephew may be the next emperor of Yan. These are all opportunies I am leaving you with.”
“I am leaving you a harmonious realm. Guard it carefully. Protect it with everything you have got.”
“You must be a wise ruler and you must know rulers do not have love for himself. He must sacrifice his everything for the country.”
“Remember, my son, what an emperor must do is a hundred times more difficult than what the rest of the world sees.”
The crown prince bowed down respectfully, touching his forehead to the ground.
The Eight Year of Xian Qing, the emperor returned to heaven at the age of forty and five. His posthumous title was An.
With regards to this ruler that reigned Great Rui for twenty-four years, the remarks after his death were not outstanding.
He inherited the vast piece of land and its millions of citizens from his predecessor, fought off a formidable enemy, the Yan calvalry invading southward. He guarded the capital at a time of peril and forced the Emperor Wu Lie of Yan, who at the time was still a prince, to retreat. However, he did not go on the offense and instead ended the war and formed a treaty with the Emperor Wu Lie of Yan.
He purged the court and palace during the war and killed or imprisoned many influential officials, even shooting at refugees. After the war, he cleaned out corruption, focused on helping the lower ranks of society instead of the higher. Many elite families met their ends overnight. He also threatened subjects who had made great contributions to the country, ruining the backbones of the state. All of this made his name associated with cruelty and violence.
His actions disappointed the people who had hopes for a comeback for Great Rui. He did not conquer the barbarians nor did he recover Great Rui’s former name. He was more like a lazy, laissez-fair person who did not expand the territory, who did not make a name for himself, and who did not accomplish much in any area. Throughout his life, he only did two things: truly let the poor live a decent and peaceful life and strip the gentries of their power
His name was not noticeable in the history of Great Rui. The historians seemed to be especially stingy with their ink when it came to him, not willing to write much about his life. His name was not striking amongst the glorious titles of his ancestors. His stories faded from the mouths of the exaggerating storytellers. His heroic feats of protecting the capital seemed to be forgotten on purpose by the people. The Rui citizens did not despise him nor miss him.
His memorial tablet was placed in a dark corner in the temple, in front of which quietly burned thin, long sticks of incense. The portrait of his handsome face slowly turned to dust.
The Yan emperor was playing with his grandson who was babbling when the news arrived in Yongjing. The attendant held the scroll in his hands, awaiting the emperor’s orders.
The Yan emperor’s hand trembled. “When was this?”
“In reply to Your Majesty, it was the ninth day of last month.”
“How was it?”
“He seemed to have left very peacefully.”
The Yan emperor lowered his head. The attendant could not see his expression, only what might have been shaking shoulders and a hand pressed on his neck.
After a while, the emperor finally calmed down. “Let the Ministry of Rites deal with this.”
The nervous attendant left in a hurry. The toddler clapped his hands together, giggling as he lunged for the kite in the sky. The Yan emperor’s eyes became wet as he looked at his grandson.
The toddler was looking more and more like his other grandfather. A handsome face with a rebellious touch in his eyes, the toddler looked just like his grandfather when he smiled.
Their blood finally merged into one.
The Yan emperor stood in the spot, hand frozen in midair while he dumbly watched the child wobbling around. The toddler was calling him but his eyes were cast off to the distance, beyond the palace walls, beyond the desert, beyond the clouds drifting across the horizon, in hopes to fly to where that man was.
“Grandpa, Grandpa.” The child came up to him, rubbing against his legs while reaching up for his hand.
The Yan emperor’s mind came back at last and brought the little guy up on his lap.
The toddler stared at the emperor for some time before pouting his lips and touching his grandfather’s eyes with his own chubby fingers. “You’re crying, Grandpa.”
The emperor’s face was right under the sun. It was pale and there were something wet under his eyes. He opened his mouth to call his name but the word got stuck in his mouth.
He murmured. “Grandpa’s not crying. It’s just sand…sand in my eyes…”
The imperial palace was blocked off with brocade and silk curtains and covered with a healthy layer of greenery—where could the sand have come from?
The child hugged his grandfather’s neck and giggled with a pure, brilliant smile.
Soon, the news travelled into the inner palace. The empress dismissed the servants and jumped on the bed before sobbing with her mouth covered.
Several decades in the palace had changed her from an arrogant, innocent girl to a mature empress. Tears and smiles were a stranger to her.
But he had left. She couldn’t help but cry.
She could still remember that night of peril when he held her tight and took her out of danger’s reach. She lied against his chest that seemed to separate her from all sources of fear.
He took her xiao and left for the unknown, never to be heard again.
At her wedding, he sent a xiao with the messenger. It was only then that she knew he had become the emperor of that country in the south, a person who held the rights to life and death in his hands.
She used to call him “ge,” but this name had long dissipated in the winds of the desert.
The River Ye ran endlessly—splish splash splish splash—as if it had been so since the dawn of time.
With no ceremonial decorations or guards, a single carriage rolled through the morning fog and came to a stop at the north shore.
The Yan emperor and empress stepped off the cart and then took the child off as well. A chilling autumn breeze blew past bringing along a dusty yellow storm. The empress quickly wrapped the child in her cape and hurried after the emperor.
The emperor was strolling over a dead field of grass. The thin blades shook in the wind. Nothing about the river seemed to have changed.
Twenty years of longing had brought a rushed encounter, but after the warmth what awaited them was an eternal farewell.
He looked up at the azure sky. A gloom appeared in the far horizon, a steel grey cloud hovering over from the north slowly covering the entire sky. A row of swan geese soared across the sky towards the distant south.
He sighed. “How cold.”
The toddler studied the plains before him with wide, curious eyes. Hugging the empress’ neck, he asked excitedly, “Where is this?”
The empress flashed a graceful smile. “This is the borders.”
The child pointed to the south. “And where is that?”
“That is your other grandfather’s country.”
The emperor answered calmly before taking the child from the empress. He pointed to the mile after mile of land.
“My other grandfather?” The child asked with his head tilted.
“Yes.” The emperor’s eyes were so dark that they seemed to merge into this duststorm. “Remember your grandfather. He was a hero. He loved his citizens.”
The empress stood beside the emperor with a melancholy heart. “He…he has…” she mumbled.
The emperor forced a smile. “He pursued freedom yet he was imprisoned in the grand palace of the royal family. And now he has to be buried in the royal tomb. It’s so cold and dark. He wouldn’t like it there…never…”
The wind whistled past, whisking their capes into the air.
“The sky is still the same, the water is still the same, but on this desert and under this horizon, there are no more of that person.”
Once upon a time, someone loved and someone waited, but none can escape the wheels of fate.
The Sixth Year of Chong Guang of Great Yan, the Yan emperor returned to heaven at the age of sixty.
They met and they loved. They left one another and they watched one another from afar. They have both departed this world and no battle or war will separate them, and no duty or ambition will force them to make any decisions. The world have become nothing but passing clouds and flowing water to them, something they will not spare a glance at.
From now on, there will be no wars, no arguments, no loneliness, no farewells, no separation. There will only be an eternity that belongs to them.
ayszhang: And that brings us to the end of this project! Thanks for all the love and support for almost one year! <3 This was my first long novel translation and finishing this was a really personal goal for me. Thanks for keeping me motivated to translate and see it through until the end. My next project is a novel called "Till Death Do Us Part." I hope you will give it a shot when it's released on this site! :) Until then.
Translation of the song Wang Shu sang.
Translation of the poem where the name of this chapter came from.
Chapter 41 & Epilogue
Cold Sands - English Translation by ayszhang is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.