Before night fell on the next day, the wind was a bit chilly. I was afraid Tian Shu would be bored to death stuck indoors all day and so took him with me to the garden for some fresh air. Some of the maids were astute, such as Luo Yue, she brought us a Go board and we played at the stone table.
Played two rounds, three rounds… It was quite dull.
The fun in playing go was when you or the other person struggled in gaining or losing one. One player would be happy while the other angry, one smug while the other smiled glumly. At times you might fiddle anxiously with your ear or touch your cheek, at other times you might get cold sweat and hesitate to put the piece down. This was precisely the pleasure of it.
However, Mu Ruoyan played with an expressionless face. If I took one of his pieces, he wouldn’t react in the slightest. If he gained one of my pieces, he would still have the same non-reaction. His face remained the same whether he was winning or losing. *I felt thoroughly bored.
In the past, I’ve played a few rounds of go with Tian Shu up in heaven, but he wasn’t like this. Under intense pressure, his brows would have a slight wrinkle, and he would mutter strategies under his breath. When I entered his trap, although he wouldn’t show his joy, his eyebrows would draw closer and his eyes slightly squinted while a faint smile appeared on his face. Although not a lot, he would at least show a bit of joy and anger. When you compared the two, wood-carving Mu Ruoyan and Tian Shu of the past had quite a few differences.
I still remember, one time, we had happened upon each other at Old Man South Pole’s dwelling. I played a round of go with Tian Shu. That game had been extremely unfavourable for me; I was subdued from all directions and, even after exerting all my strength, couldn’t regain the game flow. I was forced to mournfully throw my piece and hiss out my surrender. Tian Shu’s finger was in the middle of placing his piece, the white Go piece made a light tap on the board. Once I admitted defeat, he flashed a smile, his slender fingers picked up the Go pieces one by one and loaded them back into their basket. At that time, Tian Shu Xingjun had let out a smile that betrayed his usual wintry coldness.
I glanced at the Mu Ruoyan before me. He was Tian Shu’s incarnation with the smallest bit of warmth in him gone. Mu Ruoyan was just like today’s weather, a gentle light breeze carrying a penetrating chill.
Mu Ruoyan’s limpid pair of eyes lifted to look at my face. Being the target of his gaze unnerved me a little, I realised shortly afterwards that I was spacing out. I shot him an embarrassed smile, “I was lost in thought and forgot to put down my piece.” I placed the piece I had in hand without thinking. Mu Ruoyan’s expression finally shifted.
“Young lord Li is playing with white, why are you putting down black?”
My cheeks warmed. I had just taken a number of Mu Ruoyan’s pieces and was collecting them when I peeked at his expression. I was unaware and got lost in thought whilst holding his black piece in my hand. Therefore in my muddled state, I placed it back down. I picked it up again, getting more and more embarrassed, “I was confused, yes, confused.”
From a distance, someone said languidly, “Not confused, it’s ‘leisurely watching the beauty, even the wind had gotten drunk with’.”
*I coughed audibly. A black-clothed figure sauntered into the courtyard and the maid announced, “Young master, Sir Zhao has come.”
I thought to myself: You don’t say. Sir Zhao is all but standing in front of me. Can your young master not know he had come?
We’re sorry for MTLers or people who like using reading mode, but our translations keep getting stolen by aggregators so we’re going to bring back the copy protection. If you need to MTL please retype the gibberish parts.
He cupped his hands in greeting before *me and spoke politely, “Barging into your courtyard with no prior notice to visit, may third lord not rebuke me.”
I could only follow suit, “You are being humble, Sir Zhao. To receive your visit today is truly my honour.”
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*I waved for the attendants to leave us. Sure enough, Heng Wen’s wondering eyes stared at Mu Ruoyan as if they were invited to do so. Mu Ruoyan started to get up and I cleared my throat again, “Ruoyan, this person is Sir Zhao. Sir Zhao, this is……”
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Mu Ruoyan returned the courtesy and said, “Lord Zhao is courteous, should you not object to it, you can directly call me Ruoyan. The word ‘lord’ is not necessary at all.”
Heng Wen could see that Tian Shu had no ill intentions, however, with Tian Shu’s current situation, he was unable to keep bitter words from leaking out of his heart upon meeting an outsider. A breeze swept through and Mu Ruoyan lightly coughed twice. He must be restraining himself from coughing out the rest of it. Then, he mustered the effort to smile at Heng Wen, “My manners are lacking, please excuse me.”
“This lowly one came looking for third master for a matter. I shan’t keep lord Yan from his rest.” Heng Wen quietly pulled on my sleeve.
I followed him about ten steps away before asking in a low voice, “Why have you come?”
Heng Wen whispered into my ear, “Nan Ming Dijun is here. He’s in the front yard.”
I was stunned, “Huh?”
“Ssh. When you arrive there, you have to seem to know nothing of it. Tian Shu looks unwell, let him rest inside for a while.”
At that, I turned to Mu Ruoyan who was putting away the Go pieces. I said, “You should go in and read or rest awhile. Leave that to the servants to tidy.”
Mu Ruoyan put down the pieces and replied, “I can put these away. Not doing anything at all would make me just like a disabled person.”
Faced with such words, *I felt awfully guilty. I had no other choice but to leave him in the courtyard while Heng Wen and I took brisk steps to the front yard.
As we walked, I asked Heng Wen, “Nan Ming Dijun came into Dongjun Wang’s manor so boldly as the Nanjun Wang?”
Heng Wen laughed, “General Shan may be a fool in love, but he is shrewd. How can he commit such a folly? You’ll get it when you see it.”
The situation in the front yard gave *me a shock.
There were around a dozen men dressed in short robes lined up in the yard while the inner courtyard’s head steward was pacing left and right in front of them, one of his hands behind his back and the other fiddling with his goatee.
Those dozen men were newly selected guard-servants of the Dongjun Wang’s manor.
Among them was a tall imposing figure. His clothes were worn and torn and his feet were adorned with coarse straw sandals. Nan Ming Dijun, in Shan Chengling’s body.
This immortal lord had thought of countless ways for Shan Chengling to enter the manor. Old Ming Ge had told me he will make his move at midnight and I assumed, conveniently, that he would surely appear when the sky is completely dark. On a moonless night, as the wind rises, he scales the wall and carefully infiltrates using his martial arts to move on the rooftop and dropping down lightly…… I had thought of all kinds of possibilities, but never in the world had I considered that he would get through the gates as a slave sold into the household, moreover in bright daylight.
Nan Ming Dijun was indeed the Jade Emperor’s dear lovesick fool.
Nan Ming Dijun sold himself to the manor just like that, and Dongjun Wang’s head steward also took him in without qualms.
What were the head steward’s eyes made of?
Shan Chengling’s appearance didn’t look much different from when he was Nan Ming Dijun. He had a gallant figure, standing higher than eight chi, his pair of ink black sword-like eyebrows slanted upwards with a set of bright hawk-like eyes. Despite his face smeared with dirt and his bird nest hair, he still resembled a wild boar standing amongst a herd of thin swine. With one look, one could discern that he was out of the ordinary. A man of this calibre, how could he be sold as a slave.
Was it because of Ming Ge’s arrangements?
The head steward pulled out a book of names and started noting their duties. This immortal lord sauntered over, the head steward’s lowered his hands and bowed to me, “I hope you’re well, third master.”
At the words ‘third master’, Shan Chengling’s sharp gaze flashed towards me like blade slashing its opponent. I simply nodded my head as though I didn’t notice it. “They’re all newly admitted servants of the manor?”
The head steward confirmed it. I paced to the front of the crowd and pretended to examine each one. I lingered a moment longer near Shan Chengling, sizing him up while keeping my considerations to myself. Nan Ming had fallen into my hands. I need to answer to Jade Emperor’s expectations; what sort of work should I assign to him? Letting him see Tian Shu, but not letting them make contact so that they could both suffer the torment.
Chopping wood, lighting fire, guarding the door… These jobs usually wouldn’t have a chance to enter Han courtyard. Nan Ming was too strong; he couldn’t do a servant’s work. Thinking about it, there’s only one task he could do that’ll let him walk into my courtyard and catch a glimpse of his dearest one…
I made up my mind. I turned to tell the bowing head steward, “For the time being, have this man change each courtyards’ nightly incense.”
In the evening, I embraced Tian Shu, “The weather’s gone cold; I’m sleeping under your blanket.”
Early the next morning, after washing up, I made as if I was taking in the morning air in the yard. Once I was out of people’s view, I rushed into Heng Wen’s quarters. I calmly let him pull me out of Li Siming, which Heng Wen did with alacrity. Then, he readily flew back to Han courtyard with me to watch the event unfold.
Shan Chengling, dressed in a guard’s attire, was checking the inside of a chamber pot at one corner of the yard. His hands were lifting up a chamber pot when he spotted a thin fragile silhouette down the corridor with his raised head. The man seemed to be dragging his sleep-heavy body and, out of some sort of instinct, he turned his body sideways. The instant their eyes met, the whole world came to a stop.
At that balcony, the butterfly lovers met once more.
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Butterfly Lovers story and history told by AvenueX