Gu Fang Bu Zi Shang Vol01 Ch11
Winter went, and spring came.
The flowers were blooming while butterflies flew, sometimes they even perched on a finger.
In a huge villa located near the borders of Gui Le and Bei Mo, Pingting stared listlessly into space.
“You’ve gotten thin these days,” He Xia stood behind her, sighing. “Pingting, you’ve changed.”
“Changed?” Pingting chuckled, flicked her finger and the butterfly flew off. She looked up, “Who has changed? Pingting’s surname is still Bai, still owned by Master, still plays qin for Master everyday.”
He Xia studied her, until she was unable to meet his eyes. Then he suddenly turned and got something behind him. “For you.”
“What?” Pingting looked at it carefully, apparently it was a sword given by Chu Beijie as a token of truce. “This is a symbol of truce between two countries. You can’t just give it to me.”
“Chu Beijie has a certain habit, at every battle, he always has a sword on his right and left. This token is the sword on his left.” He Xia paused, lowered his voice and said, “This sword is known as ‘Departed Soul’.”
Pingting’s eyes swivelled towards the centuries-old sword, stretched out a hand and slowly stroked it, repeating, “Departed Soul?”
“Back then I didn’t understand why he left the most important left sword, instead of his right sword, ‘Divine’. But now I get it. He left this sword for you, since your soul has departed from this world.” He Xia stuffed the sword into Pingting’s hands, sighed again, then walked out of the room.
Pingting hugged the sword, the cold scabbard pressed against her skin.
She stared into space.
That’s right, her soul had disappeared while the figure disappeared on that horse.
How could I forget Chu Beijie? It was spring, the best time to admire flowers.
After everything had settled down, she spent her days and nights, carefully and precisely, thinking about Chu Beijie.
Why her heart had become mud then gradually melting into water, she did not know. She could not remember the frauds, the plotting, nor the leading to Chu Beijie’s defeat. She could only think of those three nights at Hua Residence, that time when his face was so sincere while he quietly stood vigil.
“What kind of person are you?” Pingting lifted her head, looking up at the clouds. “Do you hate me, or do you love me? Before your departure, did you pretend to be dismayed, or did you lie to me?”
He was gentle, day and night. That was true.
His deception and lies, they weren’t untrue either.
She was extremely clever, but she was extremely confused at the moment as if she were stuck in quicksand, unable to pull herself up.
Feeling a sudden heavy pain on her shoulder, Pingting turned abruptly, startled.
“Haha, daydreaming again?” Dongzhuo pretended to grimace, but seeing Pingting’s pale face, he stopped himself to laugh instead. “Eh, eh? Why’re you crying?”
Pingting hastily wiped her eyes, glared and said, “You’re never serious. You finally decided to change your habits after that incident, but a couple of days later, your cheeky habits are back again.”
Dongzhuo scratched his head, glanced at her, sat down and lifted a tea cup. “I came to see you and cheer you up. Instead you scowled at me, trying to tell me off or something.”
Pingting felt bad when she heard this. She lowered her head and mumbled, “You don’t need to worry about me, I’m perfectly healthy, and I’ll be all right in a couple of days.”
“A couple of days? We’re leaving today, so lighten up.”
“Today?” Pingting hesitated, “Where are we going?”
Dongzhuo looked stunned, like he had expected that Pingting knew all along. Something unnatural flashed on his face, but it disappeared as soon as it came. He blinked, “I only vaguely heard Master say it twice, something like…‘Although this place has been the secret hideout of our Residence for several years, it is still within Gui Le territory. The King is still searching for us, so it’s best to leave as soon as possible…’I don’t know where we’re going though.” He scratched his head in concentration, “Master asked me to do something by the way. I haven’t done it yet.”
Pingting watched Dongzhuo leave in a hurry, looking away long after he had gone.
Her master and Dongzhuo weren’t to blame for the propaganda in Gui Le.
Ever since returning to her Master’s side, she was like a lost soul. Others would say ten sentences whereas she would awkwardly say one sentence.
She used to partially manage the household work, but ever since falling into the hands of Dong Lin, her work had been distributed among some other maids. Her return did not affect daily life.
Just like that, life continued on.
Her master was right, though the location was fairly discrete, it was still a place where the King could move freely and so preparations must be made early. In the past, she would have realized it early on and told her master, but now… had she also lost her intelligence?
As expected, a maid came to pack her clothes up that day.
Pingting asked, “Where are we going?”
“I don’t know.”
“Master is busy.”
She followed her Residence’s people onto a carriage when she realized that she couldn’t see Dongzhuo either. “Where’s Dongzhuo?”
“How am I supposed to know that? Sis Pingting, don’t worry about it and sit calmly for the journey.”
“Which carriage is Master on? I always sit on the same carriage with him.”
“Sis Pingting, Master wants you to sit on the carriage with us and I don’t know where Master is.”
Only one answer could be given to every ten questions, the journey passed by without incident until they arrived at another residence. It seemed to have been secretly prepared by House of Jing-An several years ago.
Suspicious, Pingting couldn’t help but forget about Chu Beijie, studying her surroundings instead.
Her uneasiness increased.
She hadn’t seen her master yet and she hadn’t realized what was happening before, but now she did.
“Where’s Sir, the Duke?”
“The Duke doesn’t know that we’re here yet.”
“Where is this?”
“I don’t know.”
Realizing that the maid really knew nothing, she tried to go outside to find her master, but she was blocked outside. “I’d like to see Master, please let me go.”
To which she received blank stares, “Master is away, he will find Sis when he comes back.”
She didn’t see He Xia for the next couple of days and she received little news. Pingting couldn’t see her surroundings, beside or in front. Everything was blurry.
She couldn’t help feeling chilled. How could things have changed so much in such a short period of time?
Was the Residence changing or was she?
Soon her sickness from last year returned.
Pingting woke up in the middle of the night, coughing. She sent for a doctor and he was busy all night.
He Xia finally re-appeared that day.
“Why are you sick again?” He Xia frowned, accusingly saying, “You never look after yourself properly. See, you’ve wrecked your body again. What’s the point?” He personally brought and spooned the medicine to her.
Pingting stared at He Xia then broke into a smile. “Master sure is busy these days, I don’t even get to see you anymore.”
“I’m afraid that I’ll upset you. I’m afraid that you’ll work too hard, so I’ve hidden everything that’ll upset you and make you overwork.”
“About the future of the Royal House and ours, have you discussed it with the Duke here?”
“See, see. I told you I always make you worry. I’ll organise everything.”
Pingting propped herself up to drink the medicine, and she closed her eyes. He Xia didn’t leave in a hurry. He sat beside her instead, gently rubbing her shoulder. “Go to sleep, you’re as thin as bone. More food and sleep will do you well. You’re so quiet these days, but it reminds me of the time when we were younger and you used to throw plates into the well.”
“Being young and innocent is so nice.”
“We’re still good.”
A smile spread across Pingting’s thin face, when she suddenly thought of something. “Master, Chu Beijie once told me something.”
“What did he say?”
“He said I am He Xia’s maid yet I didn’t know that he was a famous general. What is famous, you say? It isdistinguishing between what’s important and what’s not. The life of Bai Pingting is…insignificant in comparison to five years of peace.”
He Xia shook his head, “Stupid girl. You believed his words all along?”
“He may be an enemy general, but I do believe in his words.” Pingting looked tenderly at He Xia’s face, whispering “Master is a famous general.”
He Xia didn’t answer.
“Pingting, ever since coming back, you’ve never told me anything about the Duke of Zhen-Bei.”
“Chu Beijie was suspicious of me from the start; though I was often in the room while he read official documents, I couldn’t read a single word on them.”
There was no point in dwelling over the past.
Just like the shabby walls of the Gui Le’s once-beautiful Jing-An Ducal Residence.
Defeat lay ahead, so how could one’s virtues not change?
“Gui Le now has five years of peace, during these five years, the King can form a stronger army to fight against Dong Lin. Every step we take, are worthy to our country. No matter what He Su says, he is Gui Le’s King, if he doesn’t like us, we can’t do anything about it. From now on, House of Jing-An no longer exists, for we are going to retreat into the mountains and never appear in public again.” He Xia paused, then added, “But the problem is that House of Jing-An has many adversaries. Many people would love to kill us, including our King. Therefore, our secrecy will rely on one thing, that is, our location.”
A bone-piercing wind chilled her heart like a rope had suddenly ended her life.
“Master…” Pingting gritted her teeth, finally managing to say, “You’re suspicious of me?”
“You plotted against Chu Beijie and gained valuable time for Gui Le. You are good person. I believe in you.” He Xia raised his head, closing his eyes. Then he opened his eyes and asked softly, “But Pingting, do you believe in yourself?”
Those seven words shocked her.
Pingting was completely shocked. Pain and disbelief was written all over her face.
“What are you saying?” Pingting choked out, after her voice had returned.
He Xia didn’t answer her question, “What are you clutching onto?”
“Departed Soul,” Pingting replied, “You gave it to me.”
“No, Chu Beijie gave you that.” He Xia sighed, “If you had rejected Departed Soul last time, I would have had the slightest trace of hope. I hoped that you wouldn’t have lost your soul and reason to Chu Beijie. But you accepted it. You only thought of Chu Beijie, forgetting Gui Le. When you accepted Departed Soul, did you ever think that it wasonlyfor the symbol of peace between two countries for all the peasants?”
“If I had forgotten about Gui Le, would I have lead Chu Beijie into a trap?”
He Xia looked at her, “An unstable love born amidst danger. Only when they part, do they realise the depth of their love.”
“Pingting, ever since you came back, you’re always refusing to sit on the same carriage as me. We were always as close as siblings before this. That day, he tried to help you, a woman, down the horse, well, not many men can do that…”
“Don’t say anymore, don’t say anymore!” Pingting shook her head, a lump in her throat. She closed her eyes, a shiny tear caught in her eyelashes. “I understand.”
It was true that she tricked Chu Beijie, yet Chu Beijie used his true feelings to trick her.
Love was true, the deception was true too.
Being with her Master in the Jing-An Ducal Residence for the last eighteen years was nothing compared to Chu Beijie’s simple trick.
For the first time in her life, Pingting realised how helplessly she had fallen into his trap. She could no longer get He Xia’s complete trust, because the truth was, she really had fallen in love.
In this world, those who have fallen in love cannot make clear judgements.
If she were to meet Chu Beijie in the future, her actions would be completely unpredictable.
He Xia being suspicious of her was perfectly excusable.
That was Chu Beijie’s final trick, to make her heart ache.
Eyes wide open until sunrise, hearing the rooster crow, Pingting abruptly sat up on her bed. She groped around a bit, like she had lost her mind, until her hands finally traced the familiar patterns on the scabbard.
‘Departed’ and ‘Soul’, were the two ancient characters engraved onto it.
She thought back to the time when Chu Beijie had thrown down his sword, eyes flashing with anger and then back to what He Xia had just told her.
If she hadn’t accepted it, there would still have been hope.
Yet if she did…
Eighteen years of service cleanly wiped away by a single sword.
She did not usually like to cry, but today she had more tears than ever. Her heart was like frozen water. She wanted to cry, but she couldn’t.
Stiffly sitting in bed, she felt her thoughts muddle up. She rubbed her forehead.
She realised that her high temperature had returned as she pressed her cold fingertips against her burning forehead.
A maid called Lingdang, sent by He Xia, came in, carefully asking, “Sis, it’s time to get up?”
She repeated the question three times until Pingting snapped back into focus, “Eh?”
Lingdang brought in some hot water, squeezed a cloth dry and gave it to Pingting. They were always moving around and everything was scattered around the room. Lingdang searched around for the brush Pingting usually used.
Pingting, who was standing behind her, said, “Don’t bother. Find Dongzhuo for me.”
“He’s not here?”
Lingdang shook her head, smiling. “I’ll check.”
The sun was bright, the scent of spring was getting stronger and stronger. The door bead curtain tinkled at Lingdang’s departure, glittering in the sunlight. At that moment, Pingting remembered the blinds at Hua Residence.
She and Lady Hua hid behind blinds, secretly peering at their guests.
That, was the time she first saw Chu Beijie.
Being the only one in the room made it feel cold, so cold that even Pingting couldn’t think too much about the past. After getting out of bed and finding her brush, she slowly brushed her long black hair beside the window, keeping her eyes on the vibrant colours of the outside world.
Red and purple flowers were half open. Lush green grass grew beside the pond. Though it was beautiful, everything was unfamiliar.
It was not the Jing-An Ducal Residence nor Zhen-Bei Ducal Residence.
“Get on the horse with me and say good bye to He Xia. From then on, you will no longer be called Bai Pingting, you will be Chu.”
“You only thought of Chu Beijie; you forgot about Gui Le. When you accepted Departed Soul, did you ever think that it was only for the symbol of peace between two countries, for all the peasants?”
She frowned, like she really wanted to end her life as soon as possible, her hands were clutched tightly to her chest while she looked back at the precious sword beside her bed.
She left Chu Beijie, but she could no longer return to the Jing-An Ducal Residence. How did she, Bai Pingting, who was the most trusted maid of the Marquess of Jing-An, the experienced female military advisor, the girl who gained five years of peace for Gui Le, end up being a lonely spirit?
“Pingting,” came Dongzhuo’s voice somewhere behind her, “You were looking for me?”
Pingting put down her brush, turned around, her lips already forming a smile. “I want to tell you something.”
Dongzhuo looked a bit startled, he hadn’t seen Pingting for several days. He had been busy, but he still knew that something was worrying her. Seeing his friend so distraught made his playful smile disappear, replaced by a more serious, adult-like face. He lowered his head, “Tell me.”
Dongzhuo’s heart sank at these two words.
“Leaving?” He jerked his head up, drilling into Pingting’s black eyes. He forgot about all of his previous problems. He seemed to jolt up, pushing down the words he really wanted to say. Then he asked awkwardly, “Does Master know?”
Pingting chuckled softly, leaned against the windowsill, waving her hand. “Dongzhuo, come closer.” Clutching onto Dongzhuo’s hand, she carefully thought through what she was going to say. “Geez, you always call me Pingting this, Pingting that, but I’m actually older than you by a couple of months. You should be calling me ‘Sis’.”
Dongzhuo was so upset that he forcibly mumbled “Sis” through gritted teeth.
“Good boy,” Pingting actually did pretend to act like an older sister, lecturing. “The hardest thing for people to do is to know when to attack and when to retreat. That day, I attacked Chu Beijie. But today, it is time for me to retreat.”
“But you are a person of the Jing-An Ducal Residence, besides, where can you go? The King is attacking all the people serving the House of Jing-An, you included, and Chu Beijie will definitely hunt for you.”
“I have my own plans.”
Dongzhuo’s pent-up frustration finally exploded, “I know Master’s suspicious of you. I’ll tell Master that you’re a good person.”
“You mustn’t go.”
“I can’t stand it, Master’s the one at fault here. If he stays like this, he’ll be just as bad as our King, right?”
“Stop!” Pingting grabbed him, emphasising every word. “Master has the right to be suspicious.”
Dongzhuo stopped immediately, frowning. “What? I don’t think you have loyalties outside of our residence”
Pingting looked startled for a moment, but then she sighed. “You won’t understand even if I tell you. Anyway, when I’m gone, say that my leaving is for the best. For the entire residence, for Master and for me. Master is in a tight spot at the moment, yet I cannot help him nor can I upset him.”
“How can you upset Master?”
“Dongzhuo…” Pingting looked at him tenderly, but with a bitter smile, “Think of it like this. Master cannot neglect me due to my service but cannot relax around me due to my suspicious actions. He doesn’t dare to look after, harm or make me sad. Sigh, I feel really sorry for Master.”
“But if you go……”
“When I leave, I will no longer be connected to the Residence. I wouldn’t be able to tell you anything, even if I wanted to.”
Dongzhuo was still shaking his head, “No. If you’re like that, aren’t you ungrateful to Master and abusing your authority?”
Pingting’s shiny eyes flashed, “That’s why I need your help. I need to leave without Master’s knowing.”
“No, no, no, I can’t hide anything from Master.”
“Of course not, but Master will lie to you. Let’s bet, if he knows what we’re planning, he will not only not announce it but secretly organise my escape.”
“I just don’t understand you!” Dongzhuo scratched his head, anxiously pacing up and down the room. Then he jerked towards Pingting, “its fine if I help you. Whether Master is at fault or not, all I know is that you were the unlucky one and I know that you will never betray our Residence. But…where could you go? Don’t forget that you’re sick and that it has only been two days since…”
Pingting interrupted, “No, I’m leaving tonight.”
Her tone was soft, but Dongzhuo could hear unwavering decisiveness in it. He raised an eyebrow, “If you don’t tell me where you’re going, I refuse to help you. You’ll be outside alone and if something happens to you, I’ll never have another night of sleep.” His hands were clutched at his chest and he was facing Pingting.
“After leaving here, I will be free so I can go anywhere I want easily. You know that a lot of people are searching for me and did you really think I’d tell such a carefree guy like you? But the direction I plan to go is…” Pingting whispered in his ear, “north.”
Did spring arrive later in the north?
Back in the days while she lived in the Royal Residence, her good friend Yangfeng once said that her dream place was the endless grasslands of the north, where thousands of cattle, sheep and horses grazed upon. Occasionally one would break into a gallop and the other horses would follow, eventually increasing into an ear-splitting sound, like the earth being torn apart.
She couldn’t stay in Gui Le, while Dong Lin was even more dangerous than a dragon’s cave and a tiger’s den.
Why not Bei Mo?
In the distance, the red sun had yet to rise. Pingting took a deep breath of the fresh morning air. She had been resting for too long that even her bones felt cranky. The place where she had been living was hidden in a valley and had little sun. Whenever she went outside, she suddenly felt a nostalgic feeling as she stared up at the broad expanse of sky. She forgot about everything as she thought about galloping away to find her friend in Bei Mo.
Yangfeng’s smile should be more radiant than ever.
- Bei Mo (11): Bei Mo is another one of the four countries (the other one is Yun Chang). Bei Mo literally means “desert in the north”.