Chapter 11 … She didn’t even know why she liked Lin Si Ze, but she had known from the very beginning that Lin Si Ze liked Zuo Ning Yan.
It was finally the Spring of Wànshùn Year 40, and Teacher Meng, who had been gone all winter, returned at last from the south with a flourish. He had returned with some specialty snacks for them. And while this winter was unrelentingly unbearable, it had, as a result, deepened the relationship between Gu Hong Jian and Lin Si Ze. Upon seeing this, Teacher Meng became extremely joyous.
This return, however, Teacher Meng did not teach the two anything, instead asking them, “A year has passed already; you both, one seventeen years of age, the other sixteen, are considered adults, are you not?”
Gu Hong Jian stood and gestured to her height, saying, “Yes!”
Lin Si Ze rose. “…Yes.”
Gu Hong Jian amazedly realized, how come Lin Si Ze grew so much in less than a year?!
Not allowing her time to ponder, Teacher Meng stated, “Concealing strength and biding time also has a time limit. Now…it’s time.”
Gu Hong Jian: “Ah…”
Lin Si Ze steadily nodded nevertheless. “Yes, that’s right.”
“The Emperor’s health is not well; presumably, the chancellor will propose for him to establish a crown prince. Regardless of whether the Emperor himself is willing, he must still think this matter over carefully… Hong Jian, who do you think is the most likely candidate?”
Stunned, Gu Hong Jian had not expected to be asked this and replied hesitantly, “The eldest prince has Imperial Tutor Yao’s support but is unfortunately disliked by his Imperial Majesty. Moreover, his body is not fit. The second prince’s birth mother, Shu guìfēi,1 is doted upon the most by the Imperial Father. The third prince is nothing special, and the fourth prince and second prince are of the same faction…”
Although Gu Hong Jian and Lin Si Ze lived in Bai Fu Palace, seemingly cut off from the rest of the world, they had, in fact, paid close attention to the outside world’s movements. Gu Hong Jian was in charge of making discreet inquiries among the servant for information. She, after all, had stayed in the palace for several years and knew some martial arts as well. She naturally was competent. For the most part, the other young palace maids were all very willing to gossip with her, so when she carefully mentioned their masters, they didn’t care about speaking to her about it.
Furthermore, in addition to the information obtained by Lin Si Ze, Teacher Meng also occasionally gave them some details.
Therefore after extrapolation, Gu Hong Jian more or less had an answer.
Teacher Meng gave a smile, one neither approving nor opposing, and replied, “Then as of now, if you needed to get rid of someone, what should you do?”
Gu Hong Jian blanked for a moment before murmuring, “You should…”
Teacher Meng smiled again. “I will tell you a small bit of gossip. The second prince and third prince have been quarreling for several days over a songstress, in public with numerous people onlooking as well.”
Gu Hong Jian’s mind churned as she stared at Teacher Meng.
Teacher Meng patted her head instead. “Ponder slowly. I will come again tomorrow and ask you again.”
After he spoke, he left as blithely as he came.
Gu Hong Jian stood there in a stupor, feeling ill at ease after his words. Lin Si Ze, who probably also had a heavy load on his mind, did not say anything to her.
In the evening at last, Gu Hong Jian finally figured out the answer.
Assassinate the second prince.
Lin Si Ze heard her soft mumbling and scowled, grunting, “Mn?”
“The second prince and third prince had quarreled a few days ago because of a songstress. Everyone knows they do not get along well. If the second prince were to die, the third prince would be suspect—but it would simply be suspicion. In order for the third prince to shed off the blame, he would certainly have to search all over the place for the culprit. And since the fourth prince previously sided with the second prince, he will naturally go on all kinds of crusades against the third prince… Once the second prince is dead, the third prince and fourth prince will be making a lot of commotion; who will even consider you, this prince akin to a shadow?”
Lin Si Ze was silent for a moment before commenting, “Hong Jian, don’t you think this kind of plan is ruthless?”
Gu Hong Jian declared, “Don’t tell me this isn’t an inevitable matter on your journey to success? If you think this plan is ruthless, then how will you succeed in the future? Lin Si Ze, I also am like you and do not want to kill to surpass others. I have not even seen a dead body, but I—I prepared myself for this since that day I was brought here by Teacher Meng, that day Teacher Meng began instructing me in martial arts… Do not tell me that you have actually not steeled yourself!”
Confronted by Gu Hong Jian’s aggressive questions, Lin Si Ze could only chuckle lightly and somewhat helplessly reply, “You say so much, yet I merely asked you if you think this plan is ruthless. I did not say that I thought this plan is ruthless.”
Gu Hong Jian: “Ah…”
“This matter of fratricide, I do not have any mental misgivings. Not to mention how they regard me, they simply do not deserve the address of ‘brother.’ I am just a bit worried for you,” Lin Si Ze stated.
He was worried for her.
After learning this point, Gu Hong Jian’s heaven-shattering rage immediately extinguished in a split second. Her voice softening, she said, “Since I have proposed this plan, I therefore hold no hesitations. I said that I have long since prepared myself! You look at me as I usually am with you, happy and joyous, but that is with you! To your enemies, I will naturally not be lenient!”
“Thank you,” Lin Si Ze expressed.
This was the first time Lin Si Ze thanked Gu Hong Jian. Gu Hong Jian waved her hands, looking indifferent to his words as she said, “Okay, okay, continuing on… What do you think of my plan?”
Lin Si Ze queried, “Why kill the second prince and not the third prince?”
“Because Shu guìfēi is favored. If the second prince died, Shu guìfēi will surely not leave the matter at that and will involve the emperor, demanding he find out the truth. Furthermore, she will certainly suspect the third prince… If the third prince were to die, Shu guìfēi will only think of means to protect the second prince. The third prince’s birth mother suffered an early demise, and his foster mother huìfēi2 is not doted upon highly by the emperor either. She probably will not be able to cause trouble like Shu guìfēi…” Gu Hong Jian trailed off.
Although the explanation was clear and concise, in truth, there was an additional reason Gu Hong Jian had not voiced.
Because she remembered who had taken the lead to bully Lin Si Ze back then; the one who had tossed Lin Si Ze into the lake was precisely the second prince.
She reflected that if the second prince were to die, she would not feel very guilty.
Lin Si Ze didn’t know these thoughts of hers and only smiled faintly. “Hong Jian’s brains are indeed more useful than before.”
Gu Hong Jian snapped back, “My brains have always been useful, okay?!”
Lin Si Ze proposed, “Even though this plan is not bad, there is still areas for improvement…”
The next day, Teacher Meng arrived as planned. After hearing Gu Hong Jian and Lin Si Ze’s theoretical plan, he was stunned for a moment, seemingly helpless yet also gratified. “This plan is not bad, but, sometimes you need to hold back; being this absolute is…too much.”
Gu Hong Jian and Lin Si Ze only understood half of what Teacher Meng was imparting upon them, but they still nodded repeatedly and expressed their understanding. Teacher Meng then ceased his elaborations.
As if the heavens also wanted to help Lin Si Ze and Gu Hong Jian, Lin Si Ze unexpectedly received an invitation to the Spring Welcoming Feast. One must know that he previously had never been allowed attendance. Probably because the emperor had thought that Lin Si Ze, almost coming of age, would leave his own official palace residence in some years’ time to forge his own path, or possibly because the emperor’s health was faltering, the emperor wished for all his children to be present and so sent for Lin Si Ze.
On the road, they coincidentally ran into someone they knew of but remained largely unacquainted with.
Zuo Ning Yan.
She was attired in white spring garments, whose cloth clung softly to her skin. Black hair fell down to a tender, soft waist, though strands from both temples were braided and kept in place behind her head by a hairpin in the shape of a white lotus with agate hanging off the pin. Her entire visage seemed to have walked out of a painting.
Gu Hong Jian had not seen her for ten years, yet Zuo Ning Yan was still wearing all white and was still as beautiful. The young girl with white jade skin from back then had blossomed into an incredibly slender and elegant maiden.
Upon seeing her, Gu Hong Jian’s first reaction was to unexpectedly recall the container of soup that Zuo Ning Yan had not consumed. She couldn’t help but pause in her stride; afraid of Lin Si Ze scolding her, however, she very quickly came back to reality. Yet when she glanced at Lin Si Ze, she discovered Lin Si Ze had paused just as she did.
He was also staring at Zuo Ning Yan.
At that moment, an expression crossed Lin Si Ze’s face, one Gu Hong Jian had never seen before.
After seeing that expression, she likened it to a man who had starved for eternity and had finally caught sight of a freshly hot steamed bun, to a man who had thirsted for eternity and had caught sight of a clear lake.
He liked Zuo Ning Yan.
At that moment, Gu Hong Jian was sixteen years and did not know what was ‘like.’ In her mind, it was all confusing. Even though she liked to be by Lin Si Ze’s side, she also liked to deliberately provoke his anger, liked to see him in the throes of fury, and liked to see him smile at her slightly—she fundamentally did not know what kind of thoughts she held toward Lin Si Ze.
When she saw Lin Si Ze’s expression at the moment, however, she very clearly understood that Lin Si Ze liked Zuo Ning Yan.
She didn’t even know why she liked Lin Si Ze, but she had known from the very beginning that Lin Si Ze liked Zuo Ning Yan.
This was a matter with no alternatives at all.
‘Starts with emotional love and ends with virtue and propriety’3—Gu Hong Jian had understood this saying long ago.
‘Emotional love’ was included in this understanding; previously, Lin Si Ze and Teacher Meng were both unable to describe this feeling well, only causing Gu Hong Jian to become even more uncomprehending. She now understood at last, yet this understanding was actually because of observing it in others.
Or rather, in Lin Si Ze.
Why does Lin Si Ze…like Zuo Ning Yan?
Yet unknown to Gu Hong Jian, who continued to dwell on this puzzlement, Lin Si Ze had already shifted his gaze away and left as if unaffected. Gu Hong Jian could only follow him forward.
Due to a combination of etiquette and a fear of others hearing, she did not even dare to speak a single word of inquiry.
- Guìfēi = imperial consort, valued consort; there can only be 1 Guìfēi, which is the highest of the three Madame positions, which is just under the Empress ↩
- 惠妃 huìfēi is another noble consort rank, but it is still below guìfēi regardless of dynasty ↩
- The complete Confucian doctrine is fā hū qíng zhǐ hū lǐ yì ‘发乎情止乎礼义,’ which refers to the idealistic pure love consistent to Confucian moral standards rather than the ‘carnal desire’ that arises from simply mutual attraction ↩