Chapter 17 … She and he—parted ways and began walking different roads.
Wànshùn Year 41, February 10th. Emperor Xuanwen died within Ren He Palace. All the state affairs and Emperor Xuanwen’s burial arrangements were left to Crown Prince Lin Si Ze to handle.
Gu Hong Jian had also finally seen the tired face of baggy-eyed Lin Si Ze.
Seeing him like this, Gu Hong Jian did not want to trouble him and only said, “Go rest; after that, make these people let me go.”
Lin Si Ze said, “Teacher Meng.”
Gu Hong Jian startled and asked, “What?”
In retrospect, she had last met Teacher Meng in spring of Wànshùn Year 40. They had discussed eliminating the second prince then.
Afterward, Teacher Meng did not appear again and only sent two extremely brief letters once in a while to inform them of his well-being.
“Teacher Meng is coming to tomorrow night’s feast.” Lin Si Ze waved a piece of paper. “Don’t you want to see him?”
Very sullenly, Gu Hong Jian finally admitted, “Yes.”
Lin Si Ze nodded indifferently and said, “I’ll go rest first.”
He then turned around and left, leaving behind Gu Hong Jian as she fumed with rage between gritted teeth.
With this, Gu Hong Jian had no choice but to wait until tomorrow night. In the meanwhile, Lin Si Ze would probably be resting the entire time, so the two of them would not run into each other until dusk tomorrow. Lin Si Ze pushed open Gu Hong Jian’s door himself to bring her to the back gardens of De Ze Palace.
That tent shack Gu Hong Jian had made for gambling had not been torn down; instead, the wooden table and chairs had been removed for what seemed to be well-made stone tables and chairs.
On the table was a pot of wine and three jade cups.
Gu Hong Jian straightforwardly poured herself a cup and drank readily. Smacking her lips in satisfaction, she asked, “When will Teacher Meng arrive?”
Lin Si Ze said, “Probably soon.”
He also sat down on a chair after he answered.
No more words were spoken between the two. The mood remained awkward but not for long, as Teacher Meng arrived right on schedule.
Teacher Meng wore ink-black clothes like before and appeared to be older. Although he radiated health and vigor, remaining just as elegant and straightforward, wrinkles had still begun forming at the corners of his eyes, and his temples had become the color of frost.
Gu Hong Jian suddenly stared at Teacher Meng as she realized: While she and Lin Si Ze had grown very little, Teacher Meng had become quite old. After all was said and done, they had left Teacher Meng’s protection; in other words, during this absence of over a year, they had long left Teacher Meng’s protection. She suddenly became enlightened as to why Teacher Meng abruptly disappeared for so long.
This was because he had absolutely no control over the previous events, which had snowballed with irresistible force.
As if to confirm Gu Hong Jian’s thoughts, Teacher Meng opened his mouth to speak. “Si Ze, Hong Jian, I’m leaving.”
Gu Hong Jian dumbly said, “To the south to have fun? Where have you been for the past year?”
Teacher Meng smiled and shook his head. “Everywhere, that’s all. You have done very well and no longer need my help. I know it all. As for this time, I also don’t know where I will go, but I regard all four corners of the world as home and will simply roam far and wide.”
Gu Hong Jian suddenly understood and exclaimed, “Why? You’re growing older, and Lin Si Ze will soon be the emperor. You can stay and live leisurely as a government official, living in ease and comfort! Even if you have ambitions elsewhere, do you need to wander the four oceans?”
Teacher Meng chuckled. “The capital is not my final destination. Even if I settle down, I will return to my hometown to do so. At the moment, I am wandering the four oceans because not all my regrets have been resolved. My heart remains desolate, empty. Falling and withering like autumn leaves on this world…although it sounds somewhat miserable, it is actually quite freeing.”1
These words instead made Gu Hong Jian also a bit yearnful. She trailed off, “Yes…”
She then concluded sorrowfully, “But like this, we won’t know when we’ll be able to meet you again.”
Teacher Meng smiled and replied, “We’ll always meet again.”
Lin Si Ze had known of this long ago and simply pursed his lips, saying, “Teacher is probably traveling far, so please be sure to take care of yourself. If there is any trouble, send news to the palace. I…and Hong Jian will definitely do everything within our powers to help. There are not enough words to thank you for your kindness all these years, but I hope that when Teacher grows tired of wandering, you will return to the capital to rest. When that moment comes, Teacher does not need to climb the wall to enter. The palace doors will always be open for Teacher.”
Teacher Meng looked thankful, though he also sighed regretfully. “Si Ze, you are very clever. Now that everything is on the right track, know that your birth mother is probably watching you from above and is very proud of what you have grown up to become. But, you are inevitably walking a very long and lonesome road. My final advice to you is to not lose sight of the truly important things. Knowing how to pursue things is an excellent ability, but absolutely do not give up what should not be given up.”
Lin Si Ze pondered these words and nodded. “Mn.”
“Hong Jian, take good care of Lin Si Ze.” Teacher Meng reached out and lightly patted Gu Hong Jian’s head.
Gu Hong Jian stared at him blankly and exclaimed, pretending as if nothing had happened, “Of course! I have been following him so painstakingly these past years. Now that he has flourished, it would be foolish of me to leave!”
Teacher Meng did not know whether to laugh or cry. “You spoke correctly.”
Lin Si Ze: “…”
He shot a glance at Gu Hong Jian but saw that she was giggling with Teacher Meng. He could not see a flaw in her facade.
In fact, Gu Hong Jian, who still had not realized the true meaning behind Teacher Meng’s departure, was waving enthusiastically at the departing Teacher Meng’s back. “Teacher, take care on the road! I will miss you! If you’re tired, come back quickly!”
Teacher Meng turned his head around and smiled at her, his gaze just as kind and warm as all those years ago.
And this was the last time Teacher Meng and Gu Hong Jiang would meet.
Several years later, Teacher Meng had yet to return, nor did he send letters. He had come to help Lin Si Ze, and now that Lin Si Ze no longer needed his help, he left, carefree. He only left behind Lin Si Ze and Gu Hong Jian, facing the tribulations of life ahead.
Teacher Meng left, so now there were only Gu Hong Jian and Lin Si Ze. Gu Hong Jian drank a mouthful of wine and asked, “Teacher Meng also left, so can I leave then?”
Lin Si Ze asked, “How is life outside the palace?”
“Pretty good. A lot of freedom.”
Gu Hong Jian gave her reply
In fact, it was better than pretty good.
Lin Si Ze had given her a tremendous amount of money. After she left, Gu Hong Jian had used that money to buy a house with a fully enclosed courtyard, one in a very good environment. She then hired two servants. Gu Hong Jian had truly intended to open a business at first, but she had bitterly lived in the palace for years on end and had insufficient knowledge on outside matters. For the time being, she had no idea of how to start. Deeply sensing her knowledge to be lacking, she therefore simply invited a small, well-known teacher from the capital to teach her.
In passing, she spent some money to look for her parents and little brother, both who had abandoned her back then. Unfortunately, the trail was honestly too faint; she was unable to make any progress.
In her heart, Gu Hong Jian clearly understood that each and every move she made was probably under Lin Si Ze’s control, but she actually did not want to truly leave the palace.
Lin Si Ze asked, “You…are not returning to the palace?”
The awkwardness yet familiarity between the two was obvious, and the source of all this was certainly that day when Gu Hong Jian had thoughtlessly confessed her feelings.
In reality, if Lin Si Ze had given her a relatively clear reply, several issues could have been resolved.
Regardless of what he said—Sorry; I do not like you; there cannot be anything between us; or even I am willing to like you as well—any response would have, at the very least, not left the air between them to be so awkward.
At the very least, there would be a decisive conclusion.
From the very beginning till now, however, Lin Si Ze had chosen to evade the issue.
Gu Hong Jian knew, however, that this was merely because Lin Si Ze did not like her and, in his heart, disliked her. But he also did not want to lose someone like Gu Hong Jian either—a useful subordinate.
Therefore, he chose to avoid this subject and attempted to interact with Gu Hong Jian as he always did.
He increasingly became used to manipulating her.
Gu Hong Jian breathed in through her nose and felt that the palace was becoming even colder. She stated, “No.”
Lin Si Ze asked, “Why?”
He was actually even asking why…he truly was pretending…
Gu Hong Jian replied, “I killed Zuo Ning Yan and do not dare to stay in the palace, okay?”
Upon hearing the name Zuo Ning Yan, Lin Si Ze’s face darkened. He then said, “Do not say words of anger. I know I was excessive that day. You spoke correctly. Most of the blame for her death falls upon the Yao family. As for Zuo Xiang…Zuo Xiang told me that Zuo Ning Yan’s younger brother, Zuo Ning Hao, was born with a serious illness. He needed a snow lotus herb, but the palace had none. Only the Yao family’s treasury had one. In order to save Zuo Ning Hao…the Zuo family accepted the proposal. Zuo Ning Yan’s suicide, however, was not something Zuo Xiang had anticipated.”
Gu Hong Jian shook her head and said, “I know you hate me.”
Lin Si Ze sighed and reached out to thump her head. “What nonsense are you saying.”
That moment when her red-clothed figure descended down like an Asura, to be frank, Lin Si Ze’s anger had entirely dissipated.
…Besides, he should not have been angry with her in the first place.
At this moment, Gu Hong Jian felt that Lin Si Ze was manipulating her, while Lin Si Ze felt that he had to do his best to urge Gu Hong Jian to stay.
The two of them had thoughts each unto their own. Thus, although Lin Si Ze had thumped her head, as if slightly returning to their previously close relationship, Gu Hong Jian still shook her head and said, “You can hate me.”
Lin Si Ze stated, “In the end, you are still speaking nonsense.”
“Inevitably, you will hate me one day.” Gu Hong Jian stood up and looked at Lin Si Ze. “Not now, but in the future. I do not want to see such a day, so it’s better if I stay far away from you.”
Lin Si Ze still could not understand, but he did not obstruct her again and simply said, “Let it be. You’ll only be staying outside the palace for the time being.”
From his words, it seemed that he still firmly believed that Gu Hong Jian would return.
Gu Hong Jian also did not explain herself further and left the palace. She returned to her small pile of wealth and studied every day and night.
On the night of the ceremony for Lin Si Ze to ascend to the throne, however, she finally returned to the palace stealthily, infiltrating the event. She frightened the pitiful Jiang Hai Fu when she jumped down. After that, with the help of Jiang Hai Fu and the acquiescence of Lin Si Ze, she changed into the clothes of a common imperial maid and watched Lin Si Ze from the distance. He was clad in a bright yellow dragon robe with an imperial crown adorning his head. He sat upon the imperial throne expressionlessly and accepted the congratulations of the civil and military officials.
This was, in fact, a fantasy Gu Hong Jian had dreamt countless times, but she never before imagined that the day Lin Si Ze ascended the throne, she would need to watch so furtively like this instead of openly standing behind him.
They had finally reached the end of that road full of thistles and thorns, but a fork in the road suddenly appeared without warning. She and he—parted ways and began walking different roads.
Author’s Note: This novel will not be VIP-restricted, so be at ease. In regards to this being published, I am even more eager and persistent than you are about me finishing the novel.
- “My heart remains desolate, empty” refers to being restless, unable to decide on a course of life, not knowing what to do. A lonely mindset and empty heart, essentially. “Falling and withering like autumn leaves on this world” refers to drifting through the world without a home; a wanderer. ↩