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(Fang Hua, I’ve brought back that person for you.)
(The gentle wind, the endless grass…the low notes of the qin, the evening’s setting sun. Ten years endured by that grave with nothing but the floating scent of flowers.)
I was flustered, wholly and truly lost. I’d never felt such a strong sense of unease. A Fang Hua Beast injured by sentiment lived every ten days as if it was a year. I’d been by his side…for a very long time…
When he picked me up from his doorstep, I’d already discovered that the color of his mole was very dark. But despite everything, he should still have held out until I returned. Why was it like this? I’d brought back Han Zichuan…why did it turn out like this…
The bamboo seemed to be sobbing quietly, their forms flashing back and forth in the wind. The windchime beneath the eaves tinkled as the bamboo stalks dashed against each other.
“Shao’er, Shao’er, the yellow earth hill. Fang Hua’s at the yellow earth hill.”
Astonished, I saw a small feather float down from the air and raised my head to see the parrot standing on the roof, staring at me with its liquid eyes.
The yellow earth hill…
When I forced Han Zichuan up the mountain, we’d passed by that place, but there was no sign of anyone there.
“You little beast, you’re teasing me again,” I laughed in spite of myself and got up. It was hard for me to believe my own words, but I kept repeating them anyways. “Fang Hua’s body must have been ailing, so Second went with him on a walk.”
The parrot landed on my shoulder anxiously, shuffling its claws as it pecked me with its beak.
“Fang Hua’s always been docile. When I said I didn’t like other people seeing him, he used to stay with me for a month or half a year without ever going out. Second’s the lively type and Fang Hua’s softhearted, so he was probably persuaded to take a trip to town,” I seemed to have lost part of my soul as I walked along, slow and stupid.
“Shao’er, Shao’er, the yellow earth hill. Fang Hua’s buried by the yellow earth hill.”
Its voice suddenly turned sad and shrill…
Abruptly, I came to a stop. It was as if something I’d only tacitly understand had broke through to the surface, tearing apart my last traces of hope. My body started trembling uncontrollably as the shoulder where the bird had pecked me started to ache. When I turned back, the little creature was urging me along, as if it was more anxious than me.
My eyes swept past the corridors, seeing every door flung wide open with no sign of Han Zichuan in sight. Something occurred to me just then and I quickly used my internal energy to leap out of the house, stepping past the bamboo to head to that place.
The yellow earth hill didn’t have such a name originally. Perhaps a place like this, where all sorts of mysterious flowers and extraordinary plants took root, might have an even prettier name. I’d just never bothered to ask Fang Hua what it was.
As I rushed on, the thin leaves of bamboo brushed across my face, chilly and a bit painful. There was a single grave standing within that valley, a desolate peak surrounded on all sides by medicinal plants and the aroma of flowers. I could see an indistinct form bending down to pluck something out.
That person was Han Zichuan…
I narrowed my eyes and rushed over, grabbing his hand.
“What are you doing?”
Han Zichuan looked at me with a smile. “I saw your Fang Hua…”
The wind gradually picked up, assailing us with the scent of flowers. I stood dumbfounded as I stared at that smiling face. There was no surprise nor sorrow there, only his usual calm and high spirits, as if everything here had fallen within his predictions. The grasses around the yellow earth hill were sweet-smelling and fragrant, billowing in the wind like soundless sobbing…
The remains of a skeleton were nestled up next to the tomb, behind which stood a single Fang Hua wood…solitary and shining pitch-black, emanating a fragrance that permeated its surroundings.
Fang Hua have an exceedingly unrivaled beauty resembling that of a woman’s, that is difficult to find in the world. As an animal that possesses a sentimental disposition, they will be tied down by the threads of sentiment all their lives. Those who cannot escape the bonds of sentiment are robbed of their lives and die young, leaving the numbers who manage to attain Right Fruit fewer and fewer.
Han Zichuan knelt gently on the ground with a hand on his knee, the other brushing against the Fang Hua wood in the soil with hooded eyes. “When a Fang Hua Beast dies, it’ll turn back into dead wood. If they are heavily injured by sentiment, the color of the wood will turn black, and act as a strong dilution agent for poisons. So it really is true…”
My whole body was shaking as I looked at Han Zichuan’s handsome face staring at the Fang Hua wood. His pupils seemed alit with deep interest, but there wasn’t a speck of grief within them…as if such a death was nothing important. He was completely enraptured by this unremarkable Fang Hua wood, staring at it idiotically while I stared at him. The air about us was scented with the same faint fragrance that only followed Fang Hua himself.
Fang Hua was dead…
Han Zichuan suddenly laughed, reaching out to touch the pitch-black wood. My heart sank as my breath caught, and I grabbed Han Zichuan’s hand in a flash, voice low. “What are you doing? Could it be…all this time, you…”
You wanted this Fang Hua wood?! The rest of the words stuck in my throat, refusing to be spoken. Han Zichuan stood looking at me without saying a word.
“Where did you read that part about the Fang Hua Beast you said just now?” I gazed at him indifferently as my grip tightened, nails drawing blood from the palm of his hand.
He curved his lips up into a grin. “Shao’er you fool, we both lived with Fang Hua in the same house…” he dragged out the sentence before grabbing my hand, clasping it tightly. “If you can go to Fang Hua’s study, then so can I.”
“All the years you’ve lived with us was all part of your scheme to get the Fang Hua wood?”
Han Zichuan wore a brilliant smile. “You know I don’t love him.”
Such a lack of love.
I looked at him deeply, eyes filled with distress. “All these years and I’ve never forgotten what happened in the palace. That image of you two drunkenly lying together was like a needle piercing my heart. I’ve buried it for so long, but now you’re telling me you were hugging him on the bed just for something like this?”
A complicated look appeared in Han Zichuan’s eyes, before something flickered and disappeared. Whatever he meant to say then, he never did.
I was beside myself with rage. “After I left, Fang Hua got sick in the Long Spring Courtyard, right? You knew for a long time that he was ill, so why did you let him leave the palace? Why did you let him live in this faraway place without anyone to take care of him? Without anyone to defend him? Why did you let him just wait until he died?”
Han Zichuan was still smiling easily when he replied. “This was something Fang Hua requested himself, so all Zhen could do was give my consent.”
“For five years, five entire years…I heard nothing but news of Fang Hua from the palace. All those five years, I thought he was still in court living with you.”
“All of my male attendants were named Fang Hua. Didn’t you find out yourself after coming into the palace? I merely used them to mislead the ministers at court,” Han Zichuan reminded me kindly.
“You misled me as well! You spread news of you and Fang Hua amongst all the commoners, forcing me to suffer after I left you. Do you know how I lived through those five years?!”
“I know,” he laughed. “You took in six princes.” Perhaps he’d noticed I looked unsightly, because he stopped using ‘Zhen’. My chest surged with an anger so fierce I could never spit it out or swallow it down. All I did was give him a murderous glare.
“Silly Shao’er, didn’t I send you to him for his final days? You managed to fulfill your filial duty as a disciple.”
“Is that so…” I smiled mournfully.
After we’d spent a night together, after you made me think you were my husband-to-be, you send me off to Fang Hua…you’re so ruthless. Was a single branch of Fang Hua wood that important? For you to take all those pains.
I suddenly lost all my energy. Everything had exceeded my predictions. Han Zichuan took another breath and walked forward, hugging my shivering body close in a firm embrace. I turned my face away, eyes closed to think, before opening them to look at the half-buried Fang Hua wood again.
Fang Hua, I really want to kill this person right now.
But I can’t…because, he can save you. Perhaps…there was still hope if I use his blood to revive you.
Han Zichuan seemed satisfied with my docile behavior, smiling as he stroked my hair. His tone of voice grew gentle and soft. “Shao’er, you don’t understand. Ever since the year Fang Hua brought me home, I began to like this sort of peaceful life. Fang Hua was proficient in qin, chess, calligraphy and painting, with good martial arts skills and an excellent temperament. He was just a little simple when it came to human affairs and matters–like a blank sheet of paper. You didn’t understand anything either, but I still envied you because your smile was so carefree. I envied the fact that you could bully me without scruples, make a fool of Fang Hua, and cause chaos in the house all day. Actually, at that time…I didn’t know he was a Fang Hua Beast.”
I had to smile too, though mine was more from ridicule. At that time…I didn’t know he was the crown prince, either.
“Regarding the things that happened in the past, I don’t want to mention them much,” Han Zichuan’s grip on me loosened slightly as he turned away. His high nose and arching eyebrows looked both grave and stern, filled with the aura of a ruler. “There were too many people plotting against me in the court back them. In order to protect my position as crown prince, I was forced to slip out on the precept to finding medicine for my father. Later on, I accidentally stumbled onto the records of the Fang Hua Beast in a book and realized…the hairpin in your hair was made from Fang Hua wood.”
And then you decided to hurt Fang Hua even after all that, not even sparing me.
“I’ve always been sincere about my feelings for you. Pity that all you did was chase after your master and never spared a glance for me,” Han Zichuan raised a hand to caress my face, his eyes shining. “I couldn’t reconcile with myself. My father was going to die sooner or later, and I didn’t think it was worthwhile to save a dying man by killing the Fang Hua I respected and admired. But later on, I changed my mind.” He looked at me steadily, almost as if in a daze. “I’d never seen a Fang Hua wood before, much less the once-in-a-thousand-years appearance of the Fang Hua Beast. There were enough people plotting against me that I thought if I had one, I’d be safe from everything–and you’d finally belong to me.”
I shaped my lips into a smile, a little sad. “You racked your brains to say all that, but in the end it was still because you wanted the Fang Hua wood.”
Han Zichuan studied me intently, lips shut without a word.
I moved to block the tomb, saying lightly, “I won’t let you take him away. But you…” Pausing, I gave him a glance. “…aren’t going anywhere, either.”
A grin appeared on Han Zichuan’s face as he replied. “I know.” He still held my hand as before, not harried at all. “Let’s make a bet.”
I gave him an icy look.
Han Zichuan laughed, but tightened his grip on me, saying slowly word-by-word. “I’ll let you take my blood to save Fang Hua. If he revives with his previous life’s memories intact as the Fang Hua of before, I’ll let you go to take care of him for the rest of your lives. I’ll never bother you again.” He paused, before his smile widened. “Otherwise, you’ll go back to the palace with me.”
“A Fang Hua wood will reincarnate sooner or later. If he changes into human form…”
“Then I’ll give up on the Fang Hua wood,” he said with resolution.
“You used so much care to set this up, so how could you say you’ll give it up so easily?” I looked at Han Zichuan, voice thin. “Your proposal’s not bad, but I don’t want to bet with you, because…” My eyes were cold as I clapped his shoulders and leaned in. “Even if I’m not gambling….I can still use your blood to save him.”
“Maybe so. I don’t think you even know how many days to feed him fresh blood. There’s no telling when some powerful army will make a surprise attack on the mountain and lay siege to this yellow earth hill. No matter how skilled the Carefree Idler is then, she’ll have trouble protecting the Fang Hua wood.”
Han Zichuan looked off into the distance as he brushed past me. “Let’s place our bets on this final game of ours.”
His clothes whipped noisily in the wind as if he was someone who had gone through countless hardships of life. The only thing missing for the image was the lack of worry etched onto his brow.
“Zichuan, why are you doing this? Even if he turns back into human form and never regains his memories, or never becomes the old Fang Hua, I’ll still leave with him.”
Han Zichuan quirked his lips into a smile and looked at me with an emotion I couldn’t read. “With his injuries so severe, I’m afraid he won’t even have the strength to transform.”
Fang Hua wasn’t just a piece of wood to me. For him, I was willing to fight. I gave him a determined look. “A monarch doesn’t make jokes. You have to do as you say.”
“I wouldn’t bet on something unless I was certain. I’ll have you follow me wholeheartedly into the palace.” he smiled indifferently.
Seeing his drifting sleeves and billowing robes reminded me of floating clouds and flowing waters. His high spirits and daring against that tall, erect figure made it seem as if he was confident of success. I sat for a long time next to the tomb.
If one buries the wood in the dirt, and feeds it a mixture of crushed medicinal herbs mixed with dew touched by the first rays of the morning sun…soon enough the Fang Hua Beast would be born again. Feeding it the blood of the person he loved most would preserve his soul and recover the memories from his past life.
Fang Hua, I’ve already brought that person back.
The gentle wind, the endless grass…the low notes of the qin, the evening’s setting sun. Ten years endured by that grave with nothing but the floating scent of flowers.
These days, I was up before daylight started to break. I’d quietly slip into the eastern rooms to open the windows and extinguish the calming incense in the incense burner. Then I’d kneel in front of the bed to call Han Zichuan’s name. His relaxed eyebrows show that he’d slept peacefully. Little did he know, I’d long taken the time while he was asleep to fly past the bamboo and into the mountains to pluck the freshest flowers and medicinal plants back into the house.
I was happy that I still had the saving grace of being able to do something for my master, Fang Hua.
Han Zichuan might not have been in the palace, but he was used to the bad habit of being waited on. Now there was no one to clothe him, wash him, or put on his shoes, but he still put careful importance on his appearance and made sure he looked presentable before leaving the room. This usually took a few hours.
Every day around this time, I’d go to the yellow earth hill by myself, staring blankly at the skeleton nestled by the tomb. My memories would flood like the tide to submerge me in an infinite sea of sadness…
In the past, it was this corpse that allowed the dead Fang Hua to revive again, but master said he couldn’t remember their past together anymore…
At this moment, my heart was very pained. Master…if you could come back to life, would you still remember me?
Han Zichuan said that Fang Hua was already a piece of wood. The wood was so black that he must have been heavily injured by sentiment, so there was probably no chance for him to reincarnate again. But I refused to believe him…master was such a good person, so how could he just leave me behind?
Contrary to expectations, Han Zichuan was very cooperative these days. He didn’t think of escaping or alerting the palace, but spent his days staring at me while I crushed herbs, petals, and morning dew together to water the Fang Hua wood. He never tried to pluck the Fang Hua wood again, perhaps…due to his bet. I was convinced that Fang Hua cared so much about Han Zichuan in his past life that he’d rather suffer and die from his feelings than take Han Zichuan’s blood to save himself. So…Fang Hua, if you don’t want me to hurt Han Zichuan, hurry and wake up.
Today, there was still no change with the Fang Hua wood. I dug out the cloth from the study again and studied it word by word…but couldn’t find anything. Han Zichuan urged me not to be so anxious. The silk had written that after planting the wood in the earth, a mixture of crushed medicinal herbs mixed with dew touched by the first rays of the morning sun for a month would turn the wood as red as fire, with the disposition of jade.
Today was the 17th day, but it was still a shiny black that lacked the warmth from before when touched. Right now it was no different from dead wood. Despite being planted in the earth, it was still cold and lifeless.
Fang Hua, I’ve decided not to wait any longer.
The silk cloth said that after the the Fang Hua wood took human form, true love’s blood was required to nourish it. Han Zichuan has a strong body, so you don’t need to worry about his health. Since you’ve been hurt so seriously, I’m worried that you’ll forget us after you wake up…
Han Zichuan had lost a lot of blood these days and his complexion was ghastly. So in addition to watering Fang Hua with flower and precious medicinal plants, I spent much time boiling medicine and soup for Han Zichuan to bolster his body. Every time this happened, Han Zichuan would lean quietly by the door, looking at me with a silent smile.
Fang Hua, I’ve finally realized how troublesome it is to cook for someone. The only thing I knew how to make were sweet potatoes, but Han Zichuan can’t squat on the ground eating sweet potatoes with me anymore. His health was terrible. If he just died like this, then there wouldn’t be any blood left to save you. So I taught myself how to light the stove by blowing on the flames, even though the smoke choked me to the point of tears every time and stained my face as sooty black as my childhood days.
Fang Hua, you loved to be clean, yet you always cooked me meals in the kitchen all those years, things that you’d never eat. Was it as hard for you as it was for me when you cooked the first time?
Now that you aren’t here, I can’t help but think of you everyday.
The first soup I made was a failure…but Han Zichuan drank it quite happily. The scene reminded me of my childhood when you made me my first meal: that red braised pork I still remember today as delicious.
Today is the 29th day, just a day short of one month. The Fang Hua wood was still completely black, with no sign of turning red.
This morning while grinding the plants in the courtyard, I suddenly felt a wave of dizziness. It took me awhile to recover. Han Zichuan said it was because I was tiring myself out, and that he wanted Little Li to come from the palace to serve me. I know he was already making plans to return to court.
This bet, had I lost it?
A stalk of wood stood in the dirt. Don’t talk about it changing form to become the previous Fang Hua, it was hard to see if it could transform into human form at all. I tasted the flavor of disappointment while Han Zichuan stood distractedly before a locked door on the western side for a very, very long time…but really, there was nothing for him to worry about.
Right now, only a tiny wish existed to console me. I had no wild wishes for Fang Hua to keep his soul or his memories as my previous master. As long as he could take on human form, as long as he could continue to live, then I’d obediently follow Han Zichuan back to the palace like how we’d agreed.
Today is the 30th day.
The grass around the dirt mound had grown quite a bit, while much of the flowers had withered. But that branch of Fang Hua wood stood alone in the earth as before, still and unmoving. It was only seven cun tall and hadn’t changed in size from the start.
“Shao’er, the wind’s picking up,” a low voice followed the sighing breeze from behind me.
“I know.” I said with low spirits.
Han Zichuan leaned against my shoulders, wrapping his arms around my waist. His face was extremely white, but I pretended I didn’t see. He kept me in his embrace and silently studied places where I’d slit his wrist. He didn’t move for a long while, but kept holding me in a warm hug, a sorrowful look in his eyes. Despite this, he was still smiling. His light green sleeves were already dyed red by blood as warm droplets flowed down his fingers to drip onto the Fang Hua wood.
The first hit on target, while the second and third splashed onto the ground.
Blood flowed down the Fang Hua wood to sink into the earth, absorbed by the yellow dirt. And yet the wood remained as cold and black as before with no changes. The wind kept blowing as I stubbornly stared at the wood until my vision blurred.
“Can you unseal my acupoints? I’m a little weary,” Han Zichuan’s voice was very low.
“No,” I replied coldly.
He gave a faint smile and weakly pillowed his head against me, making me bear his entire weight. The warmth of his body blocked much of the late autumn chill, but his words were a little bit lonely. “You’ve always been so callous to me.”
If I really unsealed your acupoints, I’m afraid you’ll die from excessive blood flow. If you did, there would be no one left to save Fang Hua.
“Shao’er…there’s something I should’ve told you long ago,” Han Zichuan released me and gently tugged my hand, before resting his hands on my shoulders. He lowered his head to look at me, gaze earnest and intent. “You’ve used my blood as an ingredient with the precious plants and morning dew to feed him for a month. Nothing’s happened. It’s already past the time for his rebirth, so there’s no way he can take on human form anymore.”
My body began to shake violently.
Han Zichuan withdrew his hands and tugged off my headband, using it to stop the bleeding from his wrist. He looked at me again, calling out softly. “Shao’er…” His eyes bore directly into mine. “You’re still not clear on who he really loved?”
I gave him a startled look as the feelings I’d suppressed for so long in my heart began to crumble. He kept on talking.
“You’ve never had an inkling after all these days…? My blood is completely useless to Fang Hua.”
“No, he’s been hurt too deeply and that’s why he can’t take human form. He…” I stubbornly grabbed Han Zichuan’s sleeves, wanting to say more but finding I couldn’t.
Han Zichuan heaved a sigh and gave me a pitying glance. His voice was soft. “Do you know why Fang Hua agreed to come to the palace with me to treat father’s illness? Because I used you as collateral…so he was forced to act for your safety. You really don’t know? After you left the palace, your master left as well.”
I suddenly felt unable to stand, my heart aching to the point I couldn’t breathe as my eyes grew hot.
“How is that possible?” I abruptly stood up, no energy in my voice. “When I was living with him, he didn’t even want to mention your name. If it wasn’t because you hurt him, then…”
“Because after you lost your memories, you became my wife,” Han Zichuan gave me a sad smile. Every word he spoke was like a needle stabbing wounds all over my body.
Where did I go wrong…
If this was the truth, then why did Fang Hua push me away after I regained my memories? And why did he tell me to give his body to Han Zichuan after he died? Why would a person like that love me?
And yet, the man standing before me now said Fang Hua loved me…
The joy and pain that surged through my heart was almost unbearable. The force was so alive that it threatened to tear my heart apart, paining me to the point where I couldn’t breathe. Han Zichuan looked at me and suddenly smiled, eyes cool and bright.
“Shao’er, I’ll tell you another thing. The night you can’t forget–the one where we got drunk–I fell atop of Fang Hua, but all he did was mumble ‘Shao’er…my Shao’er.’”
All of my reasoning crumbled into pieces. This was the cruelest thing I’d heard in my life. I gave a dull look to the person in front of me before using all my strength to process what he had just said. These words and sentences brought me no happiness, but only pain. Someone had loved me once, but I threw him away.
“All of this…everything…” I clenched my hands, trying to stay calm. “Why are you telling me this now?” Still, I couldn’t keep my words from trembling.
“He’s just a beast. He raised you until you grew up, taught you medical skills and martial arts, and you called him your master. I’m the one who’s going to live with you for the rest of your life. Fang Hua allowed me to look after you. He begged me to take the Fang Hua wood, hoping that I’d give you a peaceful and happy life.”
“No…you know that the one I love is Fang Hua.”
“But I love you as well. I’m just the same as you…” his voice was filled with loneliness. “For Fang Hua’s sake, you’re willing to do anything.” He raised his wrist, carelessly tracing the skin full of scars with a mild gaze. “I can do that too…and what I want is to break you two apart.”
I was grieved to a point where I had no tears. He turned away, not looking at me any longer as his words were carried on the wind.
“You can spend the time you have left with Fang Hua. After a while I’ll come back…to pick up the Fang Hua wood…”
One single person, one solitary wood.
The wind blew past my lonely thoughts.
Our gazes met across the distance as tears flowed from my eyes.
 Right Fruit (正果) －zhenguo, a cultivation status in Buddhist belief that occurs right before enlightenment.
 cun (寸) – unit of measurement approximating 1.4inches.
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