Chapter 7 … 3rd Year of Píngchāng, Spring. As a flower is to beauty, so is she.
Although it seemed like Gu Hong Jian recalled these memories for a long time, it was actually only the blink of an eye. He Fang Ning exclaimed with surprise, “How could your Imperial Majesty never have loved Gu dà ren…”
Lin Si Ze did not take offense; instead, he asked with intrigue, “Why do you think I love her?”
He Fang Ning reasoned, “Your Imperial Majesty and her have been acquainted since childhood. That’s roughly 18 years…”
Lin Si Ze paused unwittingly.
Afterwards, the corner of his mouth quirked up, like a smile but not. He said, “Zhèn has not taken note of it, yet it has unexpectedly been 18 years.”
Gu Hong Jian thought to herself, If the first time I met Lin Si Ze was taken into account, it would be no less than 20 years!
He Fang Ning was stunned. She probably hadn’t expected that she would remind Lin Si Ze of his ‘profound friendship’ with Gu Hong Jian. She then said, “Eh… yes! Not only that, chén qiè arrived later, but that year when chén qiè arrived, chén qiè had also heard about it. Gu dà ren has always been by your majesty’s side, clearing away all hindrances. How can your Imperial Majesty not love Assistant Minister Gu?”
Lin Si Ze countered, “Now I also have Scholar Zhao and General Sun; could it be that I should also love them?”
He Fang Ning was stupefied. “…Your Imperial Majesty jokes.”
Gu Hong Jian couldn’t help but laugh heartily, thinking to herself that it was unexpected that Lin Si Ze could still crack this type of joke. If that honest Scholar Zhao and crass General Sun heard it, they would quite possibly be scared out of their own skins.
Lin Si Ze said, “Zhèn appreciates and also needs a person who can be obedient. Although Assistant Minister Gu is a woman, she is this person.”
His opinion was very clear——she, Gu Hong Jian, was not inferior when compared to Scholar Zhao and General Sun. She was merely born a woman, nothing more to it.
The corners of He Fang Ning’s lips quirked up before falling. She said, “But Assistant Minister Gu has lived in the chambers of imperial concubines for three years. Your Imperial Majesty specifically bestowed her the ‘Zhao Hong’ palace1 …”
Lin Si Ze raised his eyebrow. “You don’t like Zi Yun Palace? From now on, the name will be changed. It will henceforth be called ‘Zi Ning Palace.’”2
He Fang Ning was clearly esctatic, but she still kowtowed and said, “Many thanks, your Imperial Majesty…”
”Is there still more you wish to speak of?” Lin Si Ze continued, “Do you still think zhèn loves Assistant Minister Gu?”
”No…that’s not the case…” He Fang Ning clearly also knew Lin Si Ze’s implications and said, “Between your Imperial Majesty and Assistant Minister Gu, chén qiè doesn’t believe such…”
Lin Si Ze suddenly seemed impatient and proclaimed, “Enough, withdraw.”
He Fang Ning tactfully complied. Not daring to speak after the order, she withdrew. The only remaining occupants of Wen Dao Tang were Lin Si Ze and Gu Hong Jian; a human and a ghost.
When Gu Hong Jian listened to all of Lin Si Ze’s words just now, she also didn’t feel pained at all. She only continued floating in place, her heart exceedingly tranquil.
The matter of him loving her or not, Gu Hong Jian understood long ago. She had already grasped this already, and hearing him enunciate it so clearly, it only gave her an ‘as expected’ type of feeling.
He already couldn’t use words to seriously wound her. This could probably be considered progress on her part.
Only, why was Lin Si Ze so temperamental…
Gu Hong Jian really didn’t understand, but luckily, Jiang Hai Fu entered, whispering lowly into Lin Si Ze’s ear, “Your Imperial Majesty, Zuo dà ren has arrived.”
Lin Si Ze nodded at once. “Permit him to enter.”
The one who entered was indeed Zuo Ning Hao.
Zuo Ning Hao first performed the ceremonial greeting as custom. Lin Si Ze’s attitude towards him was extremely gentle. Lin Si Ze said, “You may rise, Zuo.”
Zuo Ning Hao said his thanks and sat down with no trace of politeness. He spoke on his own accord once more, “Your Imperial Majesty, is your esteemed presence going to grace Zuo fǔ3 in two days?”
Lin Si Ze smiled and replied, “Am I not welcome, Zuo dà ren?”
Zuo Ning Hao hurriedly said, “Of course not, your Imperial Majesty. Your presence naturally brings light to my humble dwelling, but every 18th of September, your majesty wishes to visit. Even though… chén’s older sister died because of Assistant Minister Gu, although to be precise, it was suicide… Your Imperial Majesty really need not worry so——at least, I know that Assistant Minister herself does not care. Last 18th of September, I went to Shi Zi Street to buy yellow paper4 only to see Assistant Minister Gu dressed as a man and drinking alcohol in Zui Xian House.”5
Lin Si Ze listened to what was being said. He was neither pleased nor furious, only saying, “She is not a sensitive person. Zhèn and she are unalike.”
Zuo Ning Hao curled his lip and said, “Although Assistant Minister Gu is your Imperial Majesty’s pet, chén still cannot help but say that this Assistant Minister Gu is indeed extremely malicious. Before, I followed my elder sister and she treated me tremendously well. I have never accepted the words from this poisonous woman. Nevertheless, Assistant Minister Gu has honestly made my knowledge increase again.”
Lin Si Ze’s lips quirked upwards as he acknowledged, “Well, let’s cease talking about her. I will visit Zuo fǔ as usual two days from now. You should remember to greet Minister Zuo.”
Zuo Ning Hao nodded. Fishing out a hairpin, he intoned, “Your Imperial Majesty, though somewhat bold, chén could probably guess that your Imperial Majesty was always slightly different towards my elder sister. Unfortunately, after my elder sister’s death, father had all of my elder sister’s worldly possessions buried with her, not a single thing remaining. Your Imperial Majesty is, in all likelihood, grieving heavily… but a fortuitous happenstance arrived a few days ago when renovating the fǔ. The retinues discovered this hairpin in the gardens… I remember that my elder sister used to wear this when she was a child. She had most likely dropped it while playing in the gardens.To think that it could actually be found…”
Before he had even finished speaking, Zuo Ning Hao offered the hairpin to Lin Si Ze to take. Lin Si Ze’s gaze was fixated upon the old hairpin. He admitted, “I also remember.”
Zuo Ning Hao blanked out before immediately reacting. Lin Si Ze had said he also remembered that this was Zuo Ning Yan’s hairpin.
”I would not have much use in keeping it, so I intend to gift it to your Imperial Majesty,” Zuo Ning Hao revealed.
Lin Si Ze nodded. “Many thanks.”
”Eh, your Imperial Majesty does not need to be thankful. Wēi chén truly is undeserving.” Zuo Ning Hao gestured with his hand to and fro. He exclaimed, “Only, I don’t know if what I have done is right or not. Seeing an object makes one miss its owner. A cherished person has passed away, it will only make one feel even more grief.”
Lin Si Ze shook his head. “You have done great… if there is no other matter, you may leave first.”
Zuo Ning Hao very consciously said he had no other matters and left.
Lin Si Ze grasped the hairpin in his hand, his gaze not leaving it. Gu Hong Jian floated beside him and could make out what was generally called a ‘heartbroken’ expression on his face.
So many years have passed, but he still grieved for Zuo Ning Yan!
Gu Hong Jian also looked at that hairpin for a while. She recognized it as well; its design was very simple—an agate atop a white lotus. Zuo Ning Yan had worn it on that Winter Solstice many years ago.
Lin Si Ze lightly tapped the hairpin against the side of his temple, as if he could draw Zuo Ning Yan’s aura from this lifeless object.
Gu Hong Jian couldn’t help but laugh.
Truly still… deeply devoted.
Who wouldn’t be emotionally moved upon seeing this? Fortunately, Zuo Ning Yan couldn’t see this.
And she, who had seen his love for Zuo Ning Yan all along, had long become accustomed to it.
Lin Si Ze took out a scroll painting. He softly unfurled it to reveal an awe-inspiring portrait of Zuo Ning Yan. The portrait was of her many years ago in her youth, but it was still touching, with her clothed in a white dress and floating in the air just like a fairy.
Lin Si Ze drew this painting years ago. Even if his painting skill back then couldn’t be compared to now, each stroke of the brush vividly painted a soulful friendship.
Gu Hong Jian watched, but she didn’t become jealous.
Lin Si Ze had painted this with her beside him, grinding ink stones.
After Lin Si Ze put away this painting, he suddenly rose and ordered Jiang Hai Fu to bring in a brazier.
Even though it was already September, the capital city’s weather was pleasantly cool unlike the rest of the north, so it was still not bad enough to light a fire. Jiang Hai Fu was clearly a bit puzzled, but he did not dare question the order. He left to retrieve the brazier. Lin Si Ze sat alone in Wen Dao Tang. At last, he set down the hairpin before getting up from his seat to head towards a seemingly unremarkable bookcase.
That bookcase held an arrangement of paintings from some not particularly well-known artists. A previous emperor had an obsession for these kinds of paintings. An emperor following that one naturally wasn’t fond of them, but it was poor manners to throw them away. He had thus rolled them up and piled them on this bookcase.
Lin Si Ze took out a seemingly very common scroll painting from the second shelf and placed it on the desk. He slowly unfurled it.
Gu Hong Jian was very curious at first, but when Lin Si Ze unfurled it a little bit, her entire gaze remained frozen on that scroll.
This scroll held a painting of a woman.
The painter’s technique was very good, but the posture of the figure in the painting couldn’t be regarded as suitable. That woman was attired completely in garments of a government official—her hair draped over her shoulders and scattered. Crouching down in a cluster of flowers, upon her face was a mischievous smile as a hand of hers reached out to pluck a small branch of winter jasmine flowers.6
This person, Gu Hong Jian couldn’t be more familiar with her.
That person was herself.
The inscription for this painting was 3rd Year of Píngchāng, February 18. The seal was Lin Si Ze’s.
Further below that was a very small sentence.
3rd Year of Píngchāng, Spring. As a flower is to beauty, so is she.
Below this was a small line: Thus she destroys the flower as cheerfully as she destroys me.
This painting really was from the Spring of the 3rd Year of Píngchāng. Lin Si Ze had painted Gu Hong Jian then.
Compared to his painting of Zuo Ning Yan, his painting skill here was significantly better, and the emotions here did not lose out to the other painting either.
That was probably the first and only time Gu Hong Jian had modeled for a portrait her entire life. When she left the morning imperial court, she would stealthily slip away to the chambers of imperial concubines, abandoning one title to pick up another.
When official after official advised Lin Si Ze to expand his harem in the morning, Gu Hong Jian would remain in her spot, silent, with a dark face. She would immediately escape to the imperial gardens after the morning imperial court and ruin the welcoming spring flowers that have blossomed not long ago.
Lin Si Ze also knew what was going on in her little mind, but he deliberately acted obtuse and asked, “Hong Jian, why are you picking welcoming spring flowers?”
Gu Hong Jian curled her lips and smiled sinisterly. “Because I see these welcoming spring flowers blossom and recall the influence of her magnificence on others. I fear she will tear away too many people’s gazes.”
Lin Si Ze was unable to restrain a smile and made Jiang Hai Fu go prepare a paper and brush. He immediately began painting Gu Hong Jian in the pavilion. Gu Hong Jian originally intended to leave, but she suddenly realized that Lin Si Ze seemed to be painting her. She instantly felt happy and touched, so she stayed in that cluster of winter jasmine for a long time.
When Lin Si Ze was almost done painting, she moved closer to look. She was pleased with the painting, but upon seeing the small print beneath it, she immediately became unhappy and commented, “So, as it turns out, each and every flower is beautiful! Your Imperial Majesty presumably was thinking of getting more?”
Lin Si Ze quirked his lips and wrote another line beneath it.
Looking at the line ‘Thus she destroys the flower as cheerfully as she destroys me,’ Gu Hong Jian genuinely flushed. The next day, after a clever and eloquent duel of words with a group of state officials, they just couldn’t continue to urge Lin Si Ze to expand his harem.
Later on, Gu Hong Jian didn’t demand Lin Si Ze to give her the painting. After all, she was the focus of the painting. She very much wanted Lin Si Ze to be able to see it whenever he pleased. That way, he wouldn’t forget about her.
Afterwards, their relationship changed once more and died. Gu Hong Jian had quickly forgotten about the existence of that painting.
But it hadn’t occured to her that Lin Si Ze unexpectedly kept it…
Why would he keep it still?
Gu Hong Jian was happy for a moment before she suddenly had an awful premonition.
Sure enough, she looked on helplessly as Lin Si Ze threw the painting into the newly-lit brazier with an expressionless face.
Tongues of flame ruthlessly engulfed the painted woman’s smiling face and the wide expanse of colorful flowers beside her.
Gu Hong Jian even had enough time to reread the minute inscriptions.
3rd Year of Píngchāng. As a flower is to beauty, so is she.
Thus she destroys the flower as cheerfully as she destroys me.
I know everyone wants to get through this quickly and let the Emperor know of the female general’s death. BUT if that happens, you won’t understand the importance completely! Moreover, you all need to know what happened between the two of them in the end. _(:з」∠)_
- The next few chapters are really sweet! 【sent flying】
- (|昭| zhāo means “bright” while |虹| hóng is the same character in Gu Hong Jian’s name. It means “rainbow”) ↩
- (|凝| níng is the same character in He Fang Ning’s name; it means “coagulate/congeal/freeze.” Whereas |紫| zǐ means “violet” or “amethyst.” This, compared to the original palace name of |紫云| where |云| means “clouds”…) ↩
- (|府| fǔ refers to the official residence/household of a family. It’s a sign of respect for a fǔ to have a title instead of simply being an ordinary residence) ↩
- (During the Tang Dynasty, hard yellow paper would be used by officials because of its shiny, glossy finish and its utility for paintings and calligraphy.) ↩
- (|醉| meaning ‘Intoxicated’ and |仙| meaning ‘Immortal’ leads to the overall title of the establishment being ‘Intoxicated Immortal House.’ The title itself speaks of the exclusivity of the establishment, as only officials and nobility would most likely be allowed to enter) ↩
- (Winter Jasmine flowers are also known as the ‘welcoming spring flower’ because it blooms in the dead of winter.) ↩