Zisui Zhi Chen

Chapter 5

Chapter 5: Billows

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Posted on 9th Dec 2021 by Yue

Bai Jiu’s words were unsympathetic. There was at least some warmth left to them the last time but now, they were only devastatingly cold. Xin Yi’s eyelashes trembled as he said, “Then he could be considered to have died a worthwhile death, since there’s a place for him to rest in peace.”

Bai Jiu did not answer him and turned over to his side. He looked at the big porcelain vase at the corner of the couch and said, “That is his fate.”

Xin Yi quickly tidied his clothes and answered in agreement. The blush on his face had yet to disappear as he remained lying on the cushion, smiling quietly. Even as a few strands of hair had slipped down at the front to cover his round and bright eyes, the pure naivety on his face still could not be concealed.

Still so young, and significantly naïve.

Bai Jiu shifted the position of his long legs and turned back his gaze to continue looking at him, asking him, “During the Dragon Boat Festival1, there will be a banquet inside the palace. His Majesty has put in your name. Would you like to go with me?”

Xin Yi only smiled and said, “I’m afraid I do not have a choice.”

Bai Jiu said softly, “There isn’t anyone who would dare to let out a bark even if you don’t go. So right now, I’m asking you.”

Xin Yi thought about the face of his grandfather, the Emperor. The last time he had seen him was when he was conferred to Shizi about seven or eight years ago. Except for a peek of the dragon robe of the Twelve Symbols of Sovereignty2 when he was kneeling down, he could not remember anything else. What did the Emperor look like? Xin Yi did not care, but this was a matter that was inevitable to him so he hesitated for a moment before he said, “I want to go.”

Bai Jiu looked at the strands of hair in front of his eyes and his fingers twitched with the urge to move. He could more or less guess what was on his mind but did not delve deeper into it. After a while, he suddenly asked, “Back then, how did you celebrate this day at home?”

Xin Yi pulled the back pillow back into his arms and said, “We celebrated it like everyone else.”

“How did everyone else celebrate it?”

Xin Yi raised his eyes to look at him and seeing that his expression was the same as usual, he recalled, “My mom would take us to hang calamus and burn garden angelica while my dad would offer realgar wine to my brothers to drink. Since there were only dragon boat races in Shangjin, my father wasn’t interested. As soon as we woke up early in the morning, my mom would gather us together with our dad to wrap rice dumplings. Er-ge3 has skillful hands so his was always wrapped nicely. As for my dad, even though he had been wrapping them for years, he was still all fingers and thumbs.” When he said up till here, there was a pause before his expression softened and he said, “Maybe he had known how to since long ago and just wanted mom to teach him hand-in-hand.”

Bai Jiu listened to everything, his fingers tapping lightly against his leg.

“My brothers’ scented sachets were all also embroidered by my mom. Because I was still small, I could only tie the five-colored threads. When the rice dumplings were done steaming, I would use the mince-meat filled one to exchange for Da-ge4‘s scented sachet. This went on for a few years and it was only later that I found out everyone besides my dad liked to eat candied dates.” The more Xin Yi spoke, the more relaxed he got. With the back pillow in his arms, he turned around and saw that outside of the window pane, the sky had already turned dark. “As soon as it got dark, the lanterns inside the manor would be lit one by one. Then we would sit under my mom’s favorite grapevines, enjoying ourselves by chatting and star-gazing. We would do this for the Dragon Boat Festival, for the Mid-Autumn Festival5 and also in our everyday lives.”

Never separating even once.

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Even until the end when all paths had been blocked off, dad and mom never once left any of their sons behind.

“It was really just that ordinary.” Xin Yi smiled as his eyes turned to Bai Jiu who was beside him, “It’s not anything interesting worth mentioning.”

“Now, these words of yours are really not humble.” Bai Jiu’s eyes focused as if he was reminiscing, “I thought everyone celebrated it by putting on airs and gathering together at the same place.”

“That’s the tradition of the Capital.” Xin Yi followed with a smile, “I’m afraid that’s how my lord has always celebrated it in the Palace.”

Bai Jiu looked regretful, “By putting on airs.”

This time, Xin Yi let out a laugh. He relaxed and said, “It’s unlikely it was till this extent.”

“If I’m called a beast dressed like a human, it’s all by the virtue of this skin. Otherwise, I’m afraid I’m merely a monster. In comparison of such, is a person putting on airs not appropriate?” Bai Jiu pressed the bridge of his nose with his fingertips and said, “Now that a vicious dog has come into power, even the human skin can’t hide the hostile gaze of a group of beasts.”

“My lord……Does not count.” Xin Yi said softly, “Even though the rumors aren’t good, my lord is a sincere person.”

Bai Jiu laughed when he heard those words. Out of the sudden, he leaned his head down towards him, stopping right in front of his eyes with an indifferent gaze, “A truly distorted illusion.”

“It’s not an illusion.” Xin Yi said, “At least my lord is not a hypocrite.”

Bai Jiu looked at him for a long time. Looked at him until his face had reddened, looked at him until he had become a little uneasy, looked at him until… his own heart felt an itch. His fingertips finally touched the strands of hair in front of him and he should have brushed them aside there and then. But instead, Bai Jiu’s fingertips rubbed those soft strands of hair delicately.

The atmosphere that had cooled down after much difficulty was heated up once again. This time, Xin Yi suddenly sat up straight and said, “Oh no.”

Bai Jiu retracted his hand and also sat up, looked at him, asking with his eyes.

At his look, Xin Yi brought a hand that had formed a fist to cover underneath his nose and said slowly, “Did we forget……to eat?”

Bai Jiu casually let out a sound in agreement and instead of looking at Xin Yi’s expression, he got off the couch and called for Old Qu. He turned back and said to him, “After the meal, you still need to apply the ointment. Call for someone to inform me after you’re done with your bath.” After he finished, he walked out without turning back.

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Xin Yi felt that Bai Jiu’s pace this time was quicker than yesterday’s. When Old Qu served his meal, his ears were still hot. He reached his hands out for a touch, at a loss of what this feeling was. As he got up, his hand touched the unpolished jade that Bai Jiu had left on the couch and he lifted his hand to look.

His face then vividly started to burn once more.

After he was done bathing, he did not ask anyone to call for Bai Jiu. He carelessly applied the ointment himself and as he lay on the bed, he tossed and turned before finally falling asleep with his mind feeling out of place. This continued on to the next day. As he got up, his head was hurting somewhat, unsure of whether it was because he had been overthinking. Xin Yi asked someone to change the water to a cold one, and it was only after wiping his face again that his mind started to come to.

It was only after knowing that Bai Jiu was not inside the manor that he left the room. The sky was grey today, looking as if it would rain. But thankfully the breeze was gentle so it was especially pleasant when standing underneath the tree.

“The Dragon Boat Festival is near. In the past, how did my lord celebrate it in the manor?” Xin Yi raised a hand to take the leaf on his head, twirling it around with his fingertips, “I heard that there was a difference between the Capital and Bei Yang.”

“My lord does not celebrate it.” Old Qu smiled at Xin Yi with hands on his back, and said with some lament, “Previously, when working with the Imperial Bodyguards, there was no time. But now that it’s time for the celebration, I’m afraid my lord would not even know of it. In the manor, there are no female companions, and since no one would dare to mention it upfront, my lord just passed these few years like this.”

“These few years?”

Old Qu caressed his beard and simply smiled, “The wind is nice today. It will definitely be pleasant to ride on a horse.”

Xin Yi did not ask any further and chatted with Old Qu about other things as they headed towards the racecourse. It was probably because the wind was cool today that Chi Ye was rather active. As soon as he saw Xin Yi from afar, he raised his hooves restlessly as if he could not wait to get out of the stable. Xin Yi let him out of the stable and Chi Ye galloped excitedly on the racecourse. After running a lap, he returned to Xin Yi’s side and enthusiastically rubbed his head against him. Xin Yi laughed and gave a few rubs back in return.

Not long after playing, someone bent over by Old Qu’s ear to notify him of the arrival of an invitation card. With just a glance, Old Qu already could tell that this card was not to invite his lordship, but to invite Xin Yi.

Xin Yi held the invitation in his hands and after looking at it, he said with a smile, “I do not recognize this official called Lord He. Does Old Qu know?”

“This Lord He’s name is An Chang, given name Ru Xu. He is called the Virtuous Pillar of the Court6 among the people of the Capital for his being of unwavering virtue. Even though he’s not in the Censorate7, he has the authority to exercise as part of the Censorate as appointed by His Majesty. He is as virtuous as a sharp blade8 and is most feared by greedy and corrupt officials. Lord He graduated from the Hanlin Academy and is the Left Councilor, Lord Zhang’s favorite student. In the Capital, he is a well-known figure.” Old Qu sighed after finishing, then said, “He’s a good person, but because he heeds to Lord Zhang’s every word, he does not give a good face to our lord.”

Since he is a student of the Left Councilor Zhang Taiyan, it had meant he was with the left faction who are at odds with Bai Jiu; so of course he would give Bai Jiu a difficult time.

Xin Yi looked at these three words He An Chang again and again but he still could not figure out why someone like him with a resolutely upright character would look for someone such as himself? Currently, his only value depended on him inheriting the army of Bei Yang’s Sanjin. Thus, as a court official and also one who was unlike Bai Jiu; raising storms whenever he goes, what could he possibly talk to him about?

Xin Yi thought about it and accepted the invitation, said, “Either way, I will go and have a look.”

He An Chang did not invite him to meet in his manor and had instead fixed on an elegant place with a beautiful view in the Capital which was the Bu’er Teahouse. This Bu’er Teahouse was not somewhere ordinary. It just so happens that it was opposite the entertainment house that Bai Jiu frequents in the Capital and was Left Councilor Zhang Taiyan’s favorite place to drink tea and listen to storytellers. Xin Yi thought of how convenient this chosen place must be; besides already showing how He An Chang was disinterested in Bei Yang’s army, it had also made Xin Yi appear in front of the people from the left faction alongside alarming Bai Jiu as well.

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As to whether this was something that could alarm Bai Jiu, Xin Yi would not be able to tell. If it was said that  Bai Jiu only brought him into the Capital to keep him safe for Bei Yang’s military; this man has never once mentioned the words Bei Yang’s military to him. Conversely, if it was said that Bai Jiu was doing this out of personal relations; before Po Suo City, he never interacted with Bai Jiu even once and the people in Yan Palace did not have any relations with Bai Jiu either.

The carriage stopped in front of Bu’er Teahouse. Xin Yi lifted the curtain and got off the carriage. He looked around to see a few carriages, all of which were plain and ordinary-looking. With a smile on his face, he lifted his robe and stepped inside.

There are no clean officials inside the Capital. Even for those who dye textiles, no matter how simple their work was on the surface, their hands had also once been stained grey to a certain extent. Regarding this, Bai Jiu had always done whatever it is that he wanted; as compared to being a hypocrite, he did not mind being the actual villain.

As soon as he stepped over the threshold, he could feel the stares from the people around him. He lifted his head and his eyes swept over his surroundings with an apparent gentle smile. On top of the second floor staircase stood a cold-looking young man, with hands clasped behind his back. He was unexpectedly dressed in the garb of a student, a jin fu9.

Xin Yi smiled, nodded his head in respect and stepped upstairs. He An Chang did not hesitate to lead the way. “Yi Shizi, please.”

Before reaching upstairs, he could already hear the storyteller’s voice in cadence. Xin Yi listened carefully and heard a name from the previous dynasty called Wang Zang. Wang Zang himself was an eunuch and was the main culprit, holding enough power that posed a threat to the throne, causing the previous dynasty to fall into a decline. His notorious reputation was engraved in history. However, in terms of the omnipotence in court, if he was in cahoots with Bai Jiu at this current time, then he would already have had other ulterior motives in mind.

Once he got up the second floor, he could already see the peculiarity of this Bu’er Teahouse. The parapet of the second floor was extensive. In front of the people who were seated in the centre was an unrestrained and loud storyteller with a wood in hand while at the back, there was a folding screen erected with simple yet elegant beauties brewing tea with their jade-like hands behind. As the view stretched beyond the parapet, different layers of the Capital’s landscape could be seen sequentially. What was most wonderous was that the Palace could be seen as well. The crown of the Hall of Supreme Harmony was a brilliant colored glaze which only added further to its majestic glory. A gentle breeze came at this moment, making it just right for one to enjoy drinking tea wholeheartedly.

The middle seat had been occupied by someone. He was a white-haired and vibrantly spirited old man. With just a single glance, Xin Yi had roughly guessed who this was. This was not because Xin Yi had a good eye, but it was because his reputation was so exceptional that the only one worthy of this seat and its prestige was him.

The Left Councilor, Zhang Taiyan.

He An Chang said to Xin Yi, “Shizi, please take a seat.”

Xin Yi folded his hands at him foremost, gesturing for him to sit down first. Zhang Taiyan who was in his seat turned to two thin-skinned walnuts, laughing as he saw this situation and said, “Is there a need for Yi Shizi to be this overly courteous? Please just take a seat. Today, the only ones here are the three of us so rather than treating us as officials, simply treat us as tea friends.”

Xin Yi let out a laugh, his expression both innocent and friendly at the same time. Setting aside his formality and vigilance, he then sat down. Beside him, He An Chang sat down as well. Coming from behind the folding screen was a young boy who served them tea. Xin Yi took a small sip and even though his smile remained the same, in his heart however, he could not taste anything.

Zhang Taiyan blew his tea a few times; this pretentious amiability of his made him exude the air of a self-assured erudite. Deep inside, Xin Yi felt troubled. He could only lower his head with a smile, looking at the scattered tea leaves in his cup sinking, making it seem as if he was not well-versed on the matter of tea tasting.

“It has been a few days since Shizi came to the Capital.” The gears in Zhang Taiyan’s head started to turn once again and he laughed as he said, “It must have been at least ten years since this elder has left Bei Yang. The sight of Bei Yang Sanjin that year was so fresh in my mind that I still think about it from time to time. That time, Yan Wang Dianxia was in his years of valiance and had steadily taught your older brother to the utmost. This elder had once thought that with Bei Yang having such a valiant king in its descendance, how could it not prosper for a few generations?” As he said up till here, the look in his eyes became more affectionate, looking at Xin Yi as if he was his own grandson. “This elder had great expectations of your second brother entering the Censorate in the future. I only hate that because of my humble position at that time, it was not possible to accept Jing-gongzi as a student. Even when I think of it now, my heart would still feel pain, it was a pity, a real pity.”

The tips of Xin Yi’s fingers that rested on the side of the teacup slightly trembled, his lowered eyes containing turbulent billows.

Yes, at that time.

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At that time, who could compete with Bei Yang Yan Palace and those from the imperial bloodline? At that time, his father was drafted as the king of a bordering city in Dawan. At that time, his older brother had steadily led the army at such a young age. At that time, his second brother’s words had moved Dalan in a bizarre and impractical discussion10. At that time, his third brother was invincible in launching surprise attacks. Bygone were the brilliance of those years that was now an unbearable old scar hidden in the depths of his heart. Even with such great admiration and reverence, not a single person in the Yan Palace who did not deserve to die was saved and the only one left behind was an utterly useless mute. Now, no one is qualified to share sentiments with him because the truth was, the world’s reverence had only achieved in turning the Hall of Supreme Harmony into a bunch of countless sharp knives coming from all four directions, driving everyone to the brink of extinction.

There was no use in pretending to miss the glory from the past as the only sentiment he wanted to keep was that of an ordinary family.

Zhang Taiyan took a sip of the tea and was about to continue when the hot tea unexpectedly toppled over, spilling and scalding Xin Yi’s hand. Xin Yi opened his mouth and raised his head, his expression of sheer helplessness softening the hearts of the others.

“Shizi, be careful.” He An Chang who was beside him pulled out a cotton handkerchief from his sleeve and very quickly, he wiped Xin Yi’s scalded hand with tea water, but he still could not prevent the red mark from becoming more obvious.

Xin Yi immediately waved his hands, gesturing that he was alright and even smiled apologetically at Zhang Taiyan as well as showing his gratitude towards He An Chang. His actions were unable to make He An Chang detect anything out of it. However, quietly sitting opposite of him, Zhang Taiyan’s smile went a few degrees colder.


1. 端阳节 (duanyang jie) also known as the Dragon Boat Festival (端午节 duanwu jie) is a traditional holiday that is celebrated on the fifth day, fifth month of the lunar calendar.

2. 龙袍十二章纹 also known as The Twelve Symbols of Sovereignty Dragon Robe is a ceremonial robe worn by the Emperor.

3. 二哥 (er ge) is second brother.

4. 大哥 (da ge) is oldest brother or in other words, big brother.

5. 拜月节 (bai yue jie) also known as the Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋节 zhong qiu jie) is a traditional holiday that is celebrated on the fifteenth day, eighth month of the lunar calendar.

6. 清流朝柱 (qing liu chao zhu) in which clear flowing waters (qing liu) is used in referring to someone with high moral standards and reputation. And An Chang (安常) means in keeping with the norm or calm and just. The An (安) character also means safe and calm.

7. 督察院 (du cha yuan) also known as the Censorate was established in the Qin Dynasty and is the highest-level ranking court in the Ming Dynasty. They served directly under the Emperor and took part in important decisions, supervising and investigating ministers for corruption, among other tasks.

8. 白面斩 (bai mian zhan) is a figurative speech and I translated it according to my own interpretation.

9. 巾服 (jin fu) is a clothing and cap worn generally by officials and prestigious scholars who has yet to have an official position.

10. 清谈 (qing tan) is used to refer to impractical talk or discussion between scholars and officials during the Wei and Jin period. It was later used in referring to empty talk that did not contribute to solving anything.

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