Beta reader: Dairytea
Spring Once More chapter 47
(Traditional Chinese cover scanned by Dairytea)
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After returning Master Su to his room, I wash myself quickly and change into dry clothes. Then I head right back to his room only to see Pei Qixuan standing at the door.
“The young marquess said that he hit Master Su hard enough so that he would wake only at nightfall. I’ve asked Xiao-Shun to fetch some anti-chill herbs from the pharmacy. Remember to drink a bowl of it yourself and then wrap yourself up nice and warm in bed.”
“You’re right.” I wipe my forehead. “Tell Xiao-Quan to fetch me once Master Su has woken up.”
He adds, “Just as well we return to your quarters. There’s something you should see, milord.”
The something is familiar – it’s the letter Master Su left behind for the butler to give me. I take it from him with an apologetic smile.
“This isn’t anything top secret, Master Pei. It’s better to keep the door open in this weather. Let the breeze in.”
He latches the door behind him and sit down at the table. “I told you to call me Qixuan.”
I sneeze. Then cough. Then open the envelope.
“I knew about Brother Su’s matter, in fact, before even Zhong-shu,” he says leisurely. “Too bad you didn’t hear the entire message.”
Too bad I didn’t hear the entire message.
On the plain letter paper is a neatly printed row of words:
Cleaning the family grave. Return tomorrow.
Twiddling a paperweight, an amused Pei Qixuan watches.
I grabbed the wrong end of the stick and even slapped myself in the face with it! Godammit!
What the hell did I get rained on for?! Fuck you, Zhong-shu!
Still playing with the paperweight, he sighs with a smile. “You can’t blame the butler. The prince’s order from years ago still holds. Whoever brings up the name of the Second Master ‘Su Xingzhi’ will be decapitated. Every other member of the Su house buried in their family grave except the Second Master, who is buried behind Moyun Temple.” He shoots me a glance. “Zhong-shu has no idea that the current Prince Tai is a fraud.”
An ugly moth stuck on the window thinking it’s a decoration – that’s me.
So when I sit again by Master Su’s bed, struggling to put on a smile while wiping up the snot running from my nose, the three servants are all standing at the foot of the bed, probably afraid that the next second I’d whip out a knife and stab him.
“You see, Master Su, I was thinking, y’know, it was raining really hard, and you’d have trouble on the mountain path. Ahem, and I wanted to burn some incense for the Second Master for old times’ sake. That’s why I went looking for you. The young marquess, ahem, well, he- anyways, it was all my fault. I hope you–”
“I understand everything.” His voice is so matter-of-the-fact that it makes me uncomfortable. “There are some words that must be spoken in private with His Highness.”
Xiao-Shun agrees effortlessly and slips out the room with Xiao-Quan, while the old butler gives me a long, doubtful look before leaving.
As I wipe my nose again, Master Su continues, “I’ll take this opportunity to tell you this, Master Ma. I came back this time with the intention to reside here, so I won’t be accompanying you to Yangzhou and the capital.”
Still his tone is so lighthearted. I wipe my nose again.
“Gao-bo went home to his farmland after taking you to the temple yesterday, didn’t he? How are you going to live in this big house? How are you going to manage eating, sleeping and washing by yourself?”
“Well, I spoke with Monk Liaoran. I’ll sell the manor and use the sum to redeem a tiny bit of punya for the Su family.”
So I wasn’t wrong about his intentions after all! He did indeed go to visit his brother’s grave but also to find connections to a path to Buddha. When others buy a bed, he’s looking for a bald head. I can’t help but check the temperature on his forehead.
“The world is a beautiful place, Master Su, full of hope. What troubles you so much that you have to take it out on your hair and scalp?”
He chuckles wryly, probably because he finds my words too crude and straightforward, and tries to block me off with deep ones. “Prajñā and bodhi are the ultimate peace.”
Okay, if that’s how you wanna roll. Two can play at that game. The old monk’s utterance flashes before my eyes, and I take off. Hands behind my back, I give Master Su a calm but solemn look.
“Brother Su, you must know that the temple is emptiness, the idol is emptiness, the scalp is emptiness – the holy place is wherever you will it to be. Do not place importance on the vessel.”
It’s actually important to act profound from time to time. Master Su’s face brightens like the moon peeking out from behind the clouds, beautiful like the ripples caused by paddling ducks. I’m so stunned that I sneeze twice in a row.
“Let’s not come back to this monk thing. I don’t think I can go on without you.” Even though Pei Qixuan and the young marquess both know I’m a fraud, one can’t help and the other has suspect intentions. If Master Su leaves me, my situation is hopeless.
I can’t remember which magazine I read this in, but the best way to deal with someone who has lost his zest for life is to reignite his sense of duty. And as expected, Master Su appears uncomfortable, guilt-tripped into compromise, yet I can see more life in his eyes. I take the opportunity to sit down again, moving the chair forward to say something, when my nose begins to itch. I cover it with a handkerchief in time to contain the sneeze.
Master Su places a hand gently on my forehead and frowns. “I’m afraid it’s a fever. Ask Xiao-Shun to fetch a doctor immediately.”
His words are more predictive than Buddha because in one second the servant knocks and coughs quietly at the door. “Milord, milord, Chancellor Liu has come. He’s in the front hall waiting for your presence.”
Damn! I’m still here to connect with my local elector, but I can only say goodbye to him.
“Keep resting. I’ll take a look.”
The chancellor says he has classified information to discuss. He definitely looks the part – plain robes and a small, tight cap – even more bland than the first day. At the four-sided tea table, Fu Qingshu and I sit across from one another, each holding a handkerchief and wiping snot. The chancellor is adept at bureaucratic talk and spends some time sincerely expressing his concern about our health before jumping to the main topic.
“Since taking the position of chancellor, I have toiled tirelessly, afraid to rest even for one moment. Thanks to His Majesty’s providence, Mother Nature has been kind to the crops, and I can say at least I have managed to do right. Alas, I received intelligence yesterday that indecent material is being disseminated on the market, corrupting and endangering the foundations of society. I knew I should not conceal it, so here I am asking for your judgment.”
I’m here yawning at the whole spiel. When he finally finishes, he hands us each a book. As soon as I see the cover, I rejoice at running into an old friend. What a coincidence!
“I’ve seen Miaomiao the Nun at the bookshops, heard it was quite intriguing, too. There’s also an illustrator by the name of Temptress Moon in the West Chamber. I’m sure you know of him.”
“I beg your pardon,” he immediately responds, “but I was only aware he had been investigated and banned. Does this mean someone has copied his work illegally?”
The fly has entered the web on its own accord, and it’s still feigning innocence? I fish out the golden treasure that I procured last night and toss it on the ground before him. Hehe. Chancellor Liu, to run straight into my gun barrel, your stars must not be aligned well this year.
“Do you recognize this book, Chancellor Liu?”
The mandarin starts to shake like a leaf, and his eyes shut in desperation. He begins to beat invisible drums on the ground with his head.
“Your Highness, Your Highness, spare me. I-I-I will come clean about everything. I only beg that my body be left whole… I’ll come clean.”
Three days later, two of the warriors bring back my message to the emperor in the early morning. All officials involved in the Huizhou annual tribute incident have been arrested and sent to the capital for further investigation.
The li’l marquess says it was a blind fox running into a dead rabbit. Pei Qixuan says it was a cooked duck fallen from the sky. Master Su says Missus Liu was the real hero. Whatever they say, my luck has changed and ain’t nobody stopping it. Those with bad luck have no one to blame but themselves.
Naturally, everyone gets a piece of the victory pie. I put on the profound act once again while flipping through the chancellor’s real books camouflaged within the covers of Examinations of Nether Flowers.
“Amitabha, such is life.”
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ayszhang: Hope everyone is having a good summer :)
I may get busier in August and updates may not be weekly...
I may get busier in August and updates may not be weekly...
Spring Once More by ayszhang is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.