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Spring Once More chapter 46
(Traditional Chinese cover scanned by Dairytea)
His snide remark is like boiling water, and I am the dead pig in the pot. I should have been prepared to own up to the shit I did behind closed doors. I give an airy laugh as I feel his forehead.
“Fortunately, you don’t have a fever. Be sure to cover up and get plenty of sleep after taking the medicine. Don’t let the chilly draft get you.”
As I leave his room, the rain stops, and a few rays of sunlight are peeking through the clouds. I take a leisurely stroll around the courtyards, but something’s not quite right inside. It’s the unease of a bank robber who has a sack of cash but cannot and dares not spend any of it. And he knows the end is nigh.
Water droplets roll off the roof and splash onto the ground. Zhong-shu greets me as he sweeps the premises. Suddenly, it occurs to me that I’m here on official business. The li’l marquess was injured last night, and I’m not going to fall behind! I’d better act fast while the weather allows. I call for Xiao-Shun and ask for some of the imperial warriors to be summoned from their bivouac.
These guys may look malnourished, but I still have high hopes for them.
“Tonight, you shall come with me on a scouting mission at the home of Chancellor Liu. This is top secret, so if any word of it gets out, don’t expect any generosity from me.”
The four warriors bow their heads. “Understood!”
Not bad. Looks promising!
The chancellor’s abode is state property, but it’s obvious there’s been extra work put into the decor. All the hexagonal lampshades hanging from the roof ledge are made from crystal panels painted with wheat, and the courtyard is enveloped in an intoxicating flowery mist. Judging by the glow coming from the paper windows and doors, the candles must be a decent size. Not to mention – one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight – all eight rooms are lit.
“Seems like their household has got quite a few people,” I murmur to myself.
One of the warriors whispers, “According to my intelligence, the chancellor has one wife, eight concubines, three sons and three daughters.”
Well, he sure picked auspicious numbers.
The four warriors do not disappoint. From the back gate all the way to the inner courtyard, they fell one servant after another with a 100% success rate. They seem to be familiar with the layout and painlessly lead me to a hidden spot behind some rock formations adjacent to the left chamber. There’s a fight going down, and I see someone’s teapot-shaped shadow, chest puffed out and hands on the hips.
“…going back home tomorrow, and we’ll each be on our separate ways! You, go arrange my clothes, and the second master’s, too! It’s over now. I’d be a fool to stay with you!”
What luck! I can’t even make this up. A scene of mutiny on the enemy ship. I plop down on the grass and peek my eyes out from the rocks. I listen, rubbing my chin. It sounds like the wife. A moment later, I’m proven correct.
“My lady, let’s talk this out civilly.” It’s Chancellor Liu’s desperately low voice. “What would they think if they heard the commotion….”
But Missus Liu is quite confident, her voice so loud my ears are buzzing. “What would they think? What would they think about all the wrong you’ve done!”
Chancellor Liu isn’t hitting the trill very evenly. “Oh goodness gracious, someone might hear! If we don’t keep that one up there happy, my position and this whole family will both be in danger!”
“Well, if you’re so afraid of getting caught now, maybe you shouldn’t have committed the crime in the first place! You wanna swim, fine, then jump, but don’t drag us into it. Jiao-er, Yan-er, have you gotten everything ready?! I’m going home tomorrow, and I won’t have a thing to do with you. Then you can keep bringing that disgusting filth home!”
Then comes a huge racket of objects being thrown and the chancellor’s cries of pain. Next, a string of stuff comes flying out the windows, ripping the paper. The warriors step out and in a blur of movement return with every single item. I scrutinize each of them under the dim light.
“Mirror, useless. Comb, rubbish. Bottles, cups, plates…hm?”
I spy a corner of what appears to be a book behind the mirror. I sneak it into my sleeve and wave at the warriors.
“See if there’s anything else useful, and take it with us.”
The episode with Missus Liu will probably last some time, so we’ll call it a night.
Back in Su manor, only Xiao-Shun and Xiao-Quan are still up waiting for my orders. Before food or a bath, I take out that book from earlier. I gasp when I see what the candlelight shows: an inky-blue cover with four familiar words – Examination of Nether Flowers.
Never knew Chancellor Liu was likeminded.
It’s raining again the next morning. I get up and go for breakfast. Pei Qixuan is in the parlour, asking me with those smiling eyes, “Did you get anything from the night scout at the yamen?” I make some sounds in reply.
Fu Qingshu strolls in and asks first thing, “Did you get anything useful at the yamen last night?” I reply maybe.
Xiao-Shun serves the congee and fried pancakes that he bought. I scan the room. “We’re missing someone. Where’s Master Su? Why hasn’t he come?”
With a bowl of congee in hand, the servant freezes in place and looks at Xiao-Quan, who looks at Zhong-shu by the door. The butler looks at me and falls to his knees in tears.
“Milord, Master Su, he…he…”
I frown. “He what?” He was here yesterday at lunchtime.
The old man wipes his eyes. “He asked me to tell you, Milord…and also to give you a letter. Master Su said…he said…”
I put down my chopsticks, pick up the letter from his hand and fling it on the table. “Simply tell me where he went.”
He looks up, tears flowing. “Master Su went to Moyun Temple on the mountain just outside town to…”
Water droplets splash onto the stone steps. I shut my eyes.
Su Yanzhi. Master Su. What went on in your head to make you decide to go bald?
“The manor, the things, he left all that behind?”
“Master Su said to let the physical things go.”
Let the physical things go
I sigh. “When did he leave? He must have taken Gao-bo. Yesterday afternoon?”
The butler nods. “Indeed, when you went to visit the young marquess. I was going to report this to you, but Master Su asked me to tell you only today. I…I…”
I interrupt him, “Where is Moyun Temple?”
He looks up again. His mouth gapes open. Finally, he spits out the instructions. “To the west. Mount Yunwu.”
I step past the butler and over the parlour threshold. Xiao-Shun is hollering behind me. “Y-Your Highness, let’s wait till the weather is good. We won’t get any palanquins in this rain, and the only carriage in this manor was taken by Master –”
I grab an umbrella in the walkway. “I do have legs, do I not!”
I cast a glance at the stable as I walk past. I should’ve learned horseback riding.
The ground is completely soaked by the rain these two days, and I can’t go a single step without sliding or sinking. I lead the way while Xiao-Shun, Xiao-Quan and Zhong-shu waddle behind me with the umbrella. We make it out of the alley, onto the main street, but as we approach the city walls, the sound of horse hooves catches up to us. The rider makes a hard break as he passes us.
It’s Fu Qingshu. All he says is, “Get on.”
They say you see someone’s true colours only in dire times. Li’l Marquess – what a good man!
I toss the umbrella and hop on. When I’m settled in the saddle, he whips the reins, and the horse sneezes before galloping away.
Of course, the heavens couldn’t miss the show. A few flashes of blinding light, a couple claps of thunder, and the rain pours even harder. By the time we arrive at the foot of Mount Yunwu, water was flowing from the top of our heads to our heels.
Glued to the back of his wet shirt, I remind him, “Brother Fu, you’d better watch the road ahead. If we were to do a slippity-slide and crash into a tree, then we’ll have a hell of a lot on our plates today.”
Moyun Temple really chose a fucking great place to be built, that is, at the peak of the mountain. We ride the horse to the midpoint after which we walk – more like slide – up the smaller paths with the steed in tow.
Fu Qingshu recites a poem, “Lucky are we to be before the flowers and the moon, satisfied by a wet coat of smoky drizzle.”
I wipe my face. “I bet whoever wrote that never had a day like ours.”
When we finally arrive, my legs are trembling. Nearly head-butting the gate, I knock twice. A young monk’s glossy head pops out. When he sees our pitiful state, he prays ‘Amitabha.’
“Dear laymen, you must be here to hide from the rain. Please hurry in.”
Who in their right fucking minds would come to the top of a mountain to hide from the rain?!
I step over the threshold. “No, we’re here for someone.”
I’ve got to say I admire the chief monk. For once, here is someone who is straightforward and efficient.
“Amitabha, are you looking for Layman Su? He is in the back room. Follow me, please.”
Layman Su. That means he hasn’t shaven and gone on the righteous path. My stomach rests easy.
Master Su stands up, scripture in hand. I naturally have nothing to say. I have no right. I am in no position. What little relationship we have can disappear just like that.
So he stares at me, emotionless, while I stare back, wordless.
It’s the pinnacle of stupidity. Two men staring dumbly at each other but not talking.
Fu Qingshu raises his arm and chops down at Master Su’s neck. A clean, fluid, graceful swipe. I step forward to catch the limp body and flash a grateful smile. “My brother!”
“Amitabha,” says the chief monk.
I hold Master Su in a bridal carry. The good thing about not eating much is it makes you easy to carry and transport.
“Amitabha,” says the chief monk at the gates.
I grin at him. “Monk, I’m taking Layman Su with me.”
“Amitabha,” says the old monk. “I have just one question. Can one horse carry three men?”
I don’t have a third hand to scratch my nose, but I laugh drily.
He also smiles at me. “His carriage is in the backyard.”
I smile gratefully at him. “You are a good man, Monk.”
“The holy place is wherever your heart wills it to be.”
The monk tells me to pass this message on to Master Su.
The descent turns out to be much easier than the ascent. With the horse pulling the carriage, we arrive back in the city and are in the manor in less than four hours.
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Spring Once More by ayszhang is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.