Chapter 103 : Bidding Farewell (Part II)
The carriage rumbled down the road when it suddenly came to a stop. Startled, Lian Qiao reacted by lifting the carriage curtain, “What’s happening?”
Jiang Ruan tilted her head and caught a glimpse of the corner of a black coloured jacket through the narrow slit of the curtain. A fleeting thought crossed her mind, and she instructed the driver, “Have the coachman withdraw for now.”
The place where they had stopped just happened to be a small alleyway, and there was nary a trace of anyone within the vicinity. Bai Zhi was somewhat concerned, but Jiang Ruan had already started to disembark from the carriage.
Sure enough, upon stepping down, she saw before her a lonely and graceful person dressed completely in black with his back to her, and yet the dark alleyway somehow seemed to light up because of him.
She instructed Bai Zi and Lian Qiao to remain in the carriage while she went up to Xiao Shao. When she was right before him, she uttered, “Xiao Wangye.”
Xiao Shao lowered his head to look at her and after a thought, asked, “Are you really going with the Empress Dowager to the imperial ancestral temple?”
Jiang Ruan nodded, “Yes. It is my good fortune to be able to accompany the Empress Dowager.” Pausing, she looked at Xiao Shao, “Many thanks to Xiao Wangye for rescuing me that day at the palace feast.”
“Since you contrived to be injured, I could only control the sword qi so that it injured you to a lesser degree. In the end, you still had to bear an injury. My apologies.” Xiao Shao said solemnly.
Jiang Ruan was startled. He actually perceived that she had made a calculated move to meet the sword thrust. Immediately, she felt a complicated mix of emotions. However, she still smiled and said, “Ruan niang and Xiao Wangye are different. When I want something, I will take it upon myself to do all that is necessary to achieve my goal. If I had not blocked the sword, then I would have had no way to gain what I wanted.”
“And did you gain what you wanted to?” Xiao Shao asked.
Jiang Ruan looked into the distance and replied, “Soon.”
Xiao Shao’s beautiful eyes flashed with emotion. He pursed his lips, retrieved an object from within his robes and placed it in Jiang Ruan’s hand.
That object was an exquisite and compact dagger; embedded on its head was an emerald opal. With one look, one could tell it was an extraordinary item. Jiang Ruan had also seen it before as this was the exact same dagger that never left Xiao Shao’s side. Stunned, she asked, “Xiao Wangye, this is......?”
“Whilst in the imperial ancestral temple, one may not be absolutely safe.” Xiao Shao faintly replied, “It can be of some help to you.” He continued, “I need to take another trip to the Miaojiang and will be leaving on the day of your departure so I will not be there to say goodbye to you.”
苗疆 (Miáojiang) – Hmong or Miao ethnic group of southwest China. Miaojiang referes to Miao border.
Jiang Ruan felt astonished, this person was quite strange; why would he specifically mention his journey to her? The dagger that was left in her hand felt like something heavy that was pressed against her heart. Jiang Ruan shook her head, “This is something that is of extraordinary significance to Xiao Wangye. Forgive me, I am unable to accept it.”
“A congratulatory gift for your birthday.” Xiao Shao replied.
“En?” Jiang Ruan was stunned once more.
Xiao Shao explained, “This dagger is your birthday gift.” After saying this, he continued. “There is no reason to take back what I have already given.” With that, he then stared at that dagger intensely with a look that said he vowed to never take it back.
In her heart, she could not help but break into laughter. Usually, Xiao Shao had an appearance of always being cold and cheerless, thus when would he ever show such childishness like he did at this moment? It was truly something astounding.
As she looked at the person before her, he was dressed in a beautifully embroidered black outfit with a magnificent lofty temperament. This handsome face of his was cold, aloof, yet elegant and possessed an air of self-restraint. However, that pair of deep and pitch black eyes were as brightly resplendent as the night sky at this very moment, transfixed on her carrying a hint of willfulness.
With this sort of person, she found that her cheeks had somehow begun to burn under the fixed gaze of that pair of starry eyes. But then she came to her senses, and cursed herself under her own breath. She was too young; in the eyes of Xiao Shao, she would not even be considered to be a young woman yet. What did she have to be embarrassed about?
“Many thanks, Xiao Wangye,” she calmly replied.
Xiao Shao’s gaze landed on Jiang Ruan’s wrist and he suddenly said, “It suits you very well.”
The Blood Moon bracelet that Jiang Ruan wore on her arm was emitting a faint blue glow. Having been seen in one glance by Xiao Shao, Jiang Ruan immediately lowered her hands down as if stung by a bee, her long sleeves covering up her wrists. She felt vexed, why was he so strange today? It could be assumed that because they were both leaving the capital, this ally had stepped in for assistance once more. But precisely because he had done so, it was somewhat vexing.
After she exchanged a few more words with Xiao Shao, she quickly returned to the carriage. It then steadily moved with rumbling sounds towards the outer alley. The youth clad in black stood unwaveringly in that alley, like a pine tree exuding an extraordinary elegance that was natural, graceful and unforced. He faintly watched as the carriage travelled further away, and only then did he turn around and leave.
 秀骨青松 (xiù gǔ qīng sōng) – This was actually part of a poem by Xin Qi Ji, one of the great poets along with Su Shi and Li Qing Zhao from the southern Song period. The phrase refers to the out of the ordinary, elegant manners and like the evergreen pine tree, a firm, unswerving and steadfast ideal of integrity.
Inside the carriage, Jiang Ruan was lost in thought. What was she like three years from now in her last life?
* * *
Meanwhile, in the Jiang fu, chaos reigned.
 翻天覆地 (Fāntiānfùdì) – sky and the earth turning upside down (idiom); fig. complete confusion / everything turned on its head.
Xia Yan only had to think about Jiang Ruan accompanying Empress Dowager Yi De to the imperial ancestral temple, and she felt as though someone was twisting a knife in her heart. How did something like this drop into the lap of a b*tch like Jiang Ruan!
Jiang Su Su had been pale and wan over the past few days, and the words that Xuan Li had spoken on the night of the palace feast stabbed at her heart. She could not accept the fact that, unexpectedly, the person in the heart of such a vigorous and handsome young man was Jiang Ruan. Consequently, upon hearing the news that Jiang Ruan was going to leave, she laughed bitterly and said, “All right, it’s good that you are leaving, and it would be best if you die at the imperial ancestral temple.”
She looked at Xia Yan and said, “Mother, I want to go to the family ancestral temple.”
“Have you become muddle-headed?” Xia Yan said in shock. “Go to the family ancestral temple? Do you not know that going to the family ancestral temple will ruin your life?”
Jiang Su Su was not as emotional as she usually was. With a calm expression on her pale face, she replied, “Mother, I have thought it through already, I want to go to the family ancestral temple. I have already asked Father, and he has agreed.”
“Su’er, what happened?” Xia Yan said in a panic. She could not help but feel uneasy with Jiang Su Su acting in this way.
“Nothing has happened,” Jiang Su Su said as she turned her head away, as if unwilling to speak any further. “I am simply weary of life in the fu. It will be good to go to the family ancestral temple and experience peace of mind. Isn’t Jiang Ruan going to the imperial ancestral temple as well? Why can’t I do the same? Isn’t it just a matter of obtaining a good reputation; hasn’t she come thus far merely by relying on this? After three years, I can do the same.”
Xia Yan wanted to persuade her further, but Jiang Su Su had already stated, “Mother need not say more, I have already made up my mind and will leave in a few days.”
Naturally, there was more than one person in the Jiang fu who was green with envy that Jiang Ruan was accompanying the Empress Dowager. There was no need to talk about Jiang Li; although she had received the marriage arrangement from Zuo Langzhong, when she recalled that Jiang Ruan had been able to insinuate herself into the imperial family, her envy knew no bounds.
In Jiang Dan’s courtyard, Jiang Dan lay on her bed, listless and sickly.
A maidservant said through her tears, “Miss, although much has happened, please eat a little something. If you continue like this, you will collapse.”
“I’m just not reconciled to this,” Jiang Dan said hoarsely. “I hurried to secure my future, but had to exchange it for this ending. Jiang Li snatched away my marriage arrangement, Jiang Su Su is shielded by Father, and even Jiang Ruan; I had thought her situation was not much better than mine, and now even she is basking in unending adulation. But what have I gained?” Her eyes darkened momentarily as she continued, softly, “I’m not reconciled to this at all. There will come a day when I will live a life better than all of them, and all of them will have to look up to me.”
It seemed that the happiest person in the Jiang fu was Old Jiang Madame. After all, Jiang Ruan’s surname was ‘Jiang’, which indicated to all that she was a member of the Jiang family, and no matter what other people thought, when outsiders spoke of Jiang Ruan, they would know that she was a young lady from the Jiang fu. The favour of the Emperor towards Jiang Ruan was the favour of the Emperor towards the Jiang fu. When she thought about this, she increasingly felt that Jiang Ruan and her older brother were more pleasing to her eyes.
At this time, Jiang Xin Zhi was talking to Jiang Ruan in Ruan Ju. Jiang Ruan had already received the news that he would be going into battle against the Tianjin kingdom. In her previous life, the battle between the Tianjin kingdom and the Great Jin dynasty lasted no less than five years, but Jiang Xin Zhi was already gone by that time. Now that this event was to reoccur in this lifetime, she naturally knew that the Great Jin would eventually emerge victorious from this military campaign, but it would be a tragic victory. The Tianjin kingdom had an extremely formidable military advisor, and following the advice of this cunning and treacherous ‘weapon’, even though the Great Jin had the advantage of numbers, they very narrowly escaped defeat.
In truth, Jiang Xin Zhi had already made his decision, but was uneasy about Jiang Ruan. Fortunately, as soon as he returned to the fu, he heard the news about Empress Dowager Yi De wanting to take Jiang Ruan with her. He felt as if a huge boulder had been lifted off his heart. It was far safer for Jiang Ruan to accompany Empress Dowager Yi De than to stay in the Jiang fu. However, he was still somewhat suspicious, and said, “I have no idea why the Empress Dowager wants you to go with her, but being close to those in authority can be as perilous as being close to a tiger. The Empress Dowager is no exception. Ah Ruan, you have to use your discretion and play it by ear; you must never allow yourself to come to grief.”
Jiang Ruan smiled as she said, “Dage does not need to be anxious for me, I have my own plans.” She knew that Jiang Xin Zhi was going into battle because of her. If not for his intention to protect her even more carefully, why would Jiang Xin Zhi involve himself in such a cruel and bloody activity. She thought of the cultured and refined young master from a civilian court official’s family in her previous life, and how the hands which had only previously held a writing brush, now wielded a sword; even his pristine white robe had also been exchanged for battle armour.
She said, “Thank you, Dage.”
Jiang Xin Zhi patted her head, and did not say anything.
* * *
On the day that the Empress Dowager left the capital, there were thirty-six cushioned sedan chairs, nine hundred elite imperial bodyguards, and eighty-five carriages carrying Damask silk and jade. As it moved, the procession was a majestic, imposing sight. The Emperor stood atop the palace wall and watched the procession recede into the distance.
Jiang Xin Zhi’s eyes still reflected his reluctance. Jiang Ruan had stealthily thrust the papers in her hand into Jiang Xin Zhi’s robes. Jiang Xin Zhi was stunned, but Jiang Ruan smiled slightly and whispered, “One of the letters is for Dage, and the other is for the capital’s Great Master Hui Jue. Dage, take care of yourself.”
Those letters were the work of an entire night, where she had written from memory. In her previous life, while in the palace, she had heard of the battle between the Tianjin kingdom and the Great Jin dynasty. Several of the engagements between the two forces had been especially thrilling, and had been described in great detail by people in the palace. She ransacked her mind for information and wrote all that she could remember of those battles on the paper which she then gave to Jiang Xin Zhi. She didn’t care if Jiang Xin Zhi would be sceptical of her, she only wanted to ensure Jiang Xin Zhi’s safety. At present, she simply wished that she could remember the details more clearly, and was vexed that she had not listened more attentively in her previous life. If she had, then Jiang Xin Zhi’s chances of survival would increase.
As for Great Master Hui Jue’s letter, it covered the period of the three years that she would be absent from the capital. There were several matters which she had to ensure carried on as they had been done in her previous life.
Jiang Xin Zhi smiled. He said, “Ah Ruan, take care of yourself,” before turning and leaving.
Lu Zhu lifted the curtain of the horse carriage and looked out, saying, “Everything is really quite impressive. It’s just sad that Miss has only recently returned to the capital and now has to leave not so long after.”
“I’m not sad,” Jiang Ruan said as she produced a small smile. As she looked out, she still seemed to be able to see the corner of Jiang Xin Zhi’s robe flying in the wind. But then she turned around again to face the unknown. Ahead of her were three years that were unfamiliar to her and had never happened. This young General was about to step onto the battlefield, fight hand-to-hand, and gain what was uniquely his, an unparalleled arrogance and honour.
Dage, we are now parting. I hope that the two of us will be fated to meet again in three years’ time, each standing a head above others, noble amongst nobles.
The two turned around, and neither of them looked back. Many years later, when the Great Jin dynasty had become prosperous and beautiful, like a picturesque painting of the Jiangshan river, this scene would be enthusiastically discussed by many people. The farewell at the city gate of this legendary brother-and-sister pair would become the starting point of their true glory in this lifetime.
The horses neighed as their hooves clip-clipped along. The rising sun burst forth in all its splendour, painting half the sky of the Great Jin red. The brilliance of the rose-tinted clouds reflected the high morale of the elite troops, and as the resplendent imperial carriage set off, nature in all its splendour and warmth gently watched as the procession moved into the distance.
End of Volume 1.