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Han Zichuan left quietly. Since he was the reigning emperor, I couldn’t kill him no matter how much I hated him. When he left, he didn’t forget to issue a decree to summon Little Li from the palace for the purpose of looking after my daily affairs. I suspected most of his job was to keep an eye on me. With these safeguards in place, Han Zichuan was probably worried that I’d follow in Fang Hua’s footsteps if I took things too hard.
He was such an idiot. As the Carefree Idler, why would I kill myself so easily? If I died…then there’d be no one to save Fang Hua. Autumn ended as winter began, and the temperatures grew colder and colder. In the past, the precious plants here were so doted on by Fang Hua that they bloomed in spite of the weather, competing to flower all over the hills. Now that Fang Hua had passed away, they turned still as well, docilely growing as convention dictated with no wild profusion of seeds.
The yellow earth hill became more desolate as well.
Dressed in thick robes, I squatted on the ground to watch after that Fang Hua wood, a faint pain throbbing from my wrist.
“Master,” a soft voice called from my side. I ignored it.
“Master, the wind’s getting stronger. Let’s go back inside,” Little Li bent down to look at me, his hand shaking as he sought to support my arm. I gave him a dull glance. He was anxiously staring off at a point, his breaths obviously unsteady. This time he forgot about rank to scoop up my sleeves, staring with wide eyes at what I was doing.
“You’re…this is…” his flurried voice shook in confusion. I actually smiled as I pulled down my sleeves to cover my wrist again.
I’d cut a bit deep this time, but the pain was enough to remind me that I could still experience pain…I wasn’t some sort of walking corpse, but someone who could still feel…
“Master, the emperor told me to take care of you so you wouldn’t do foolish things,” Little Li said angrily, suddenly standing up straight. He stamped his feet a few times before withdrawing some gauze and pills from his robes, tugging my hand over, and binding my injury. “I’m glad I brought some medicine with me when I left the house. Just in time, you…why do you have so many cuts, what will we do if it scars?”
“Don’t go to all that trouble,” I looked at him directly. “Now that you’ve bandaged up this wound, won’t I need to use time cutting another one?”
“Why are you so cruel to yourself? Look at what’s happened to you in these days,” Little Li looked at me with wide eyes, the rims reddening. My gaze slowly lowered to the dozens of ugly scars on my wrists, taking pleasure in their existence.
Yes…they might have been ugly, but Fang Hua wouldn’t care. He needed my blood, and I was willing to give it. My mouth split into a smile before I heard a dong! When I looked up, Little Li was kneeling on the ground, head down as his body trembled uncontrollably. He looked ready to cry. “Master, it’s your servant who’s unworthy.”
I quietly looked at him. His voice grew lower and lower, as if he was using all his courage.
“During his life, Lord Hua was extremely good to your servant. Later on, your servant came to serve you. Many times, your servant wanted to remind you of the past, but the words dared not leave my lips…to tell the truth, when the emperor told your servant to send you to Lord Hua’s house, your servant wouldn’t have done it even if I died.”
“It’s thanks to you that I got to spend the remaining days with him.”
“Your servant was really happy for a while, but if your servant had known this would happen, your servant would’ve refused even if I died.”
“I spent my happiest days during that time.”
He stared blankly at me, saying earnestly, “This time, even if your servant loses his life, I’ll make sure to keep you and Lord Hua safe.”
I smiled, a peaceful and tranquil smile. Little Li raised his head, using his sleeves to wipe his face. He took my hand in his as his lip trembled, blowing softly on the injury there.
“The cut’s not deep, really…I’m not in pain.” When I remembered that Fang Hua might be able to wake up from these drops of blood, my chest felt like spilling over with joy.
Day after day passed.
I don’t know how much blood or medicinal plants Fang Hua needed. My body grew weaker and weaker until I nearly fainted a few times. Little Li’s gaze grew more and more anxious as he studied me. The young princes came a few times, but I refused to see them. I really didn’t want them to catch me in this state. I knew my face was ashen white and my lips were always dry. My body grew to fear the cold more and more, so that I’d spent most of my time huddled up in a chair for warmth. Even burning a day’s worth of fire wasn’t enough to warm me up. With my body like this, no forms of tonics could help me.
The cuts on my wrists healed and were cut open again. I’d grown numb to the point that I barely felt any pain. My hands were now mostly useless, as they shook when I even tried to use chopsticks. Later on I told Little Li to forget about chopsticks and give me a spoon (shao zi).
I couldn’t help but laugh. My life was reduced to using a spoon. The name that Fang Hua once gave me really was best.
“Master, you’ve been coughing a lot recently. I want to find a doctor for you.”
“My own medical skills are top-notch. I can diagnose my own illnesses, so if it’s not something I can fix, I doubt another doctor will, either.”
“That’s no good,” Little Li stared at me. “No matter what you say, illnesses should still be treated. The doctor’s already on the way.” When he finished, his voice dropped. “Just listen to me for once, this is something I did secretly so the emperor wouldn’t know.”
Huddled up on the chair, baking before the fire, I gave a soft ‘hn’ of consent. He smiled, revealing a row of white teeth. My gaze slowly crept to him. I still didn’t understand Little Li. The first time I met him, he was a clever and intelligent young eunuch, but a blink of the eye had him as the emperor’s most trustworthy Head Eunuch Li. Now he was bearing the burden of looking after a useless person like me without a single complaint. Perhaps he really had a guilty conscience, but who knew what methods he used to appease the emperor? Though the court was always delivering food and tonics, the emperor never mentioned sending someone over to pick me up. Han Zichuan might have been waiting for me to give up…or maybe he realized that a stubborn person like me would never give up for the rest of my life.
This was fine, too…a broken body like mine wasn’t something anyone dared to take in.
I stretched lazily as I slowly got off the chair. Little Li wanted to hold out a hand to support me, but I refused. The weather was slightly better today, with warm sunlight. It was about time I paid a visit to Fang Hua.
The yellow earth hill was as desolate as before, but a tree by the grave mound had sprouted buds that looked like plum blossoms. I paid my respects to the grave before circling around to Fang Hua, bending down to slowly squat on the ground, blowing aside the dried leaves gathered on the earth. Then I weakly sat down.
There had been frost last night, so it was still a little chilly. I gave a yawn as I looked sideways at the pitch-black Fang Hua wood stuck in the earth. Smiling, I leaned forward to stroke the wood. “Why is it so hard for you to change into red wood?”
I smiled until I couldn’t smile anymore, still staring at it idiotically. “Master, I’ve brought your favorite red lotuses again…I don’t have enough strength anymore, or else I’d gather the sweetest morning dew from the cliff edges.”
If this was like a typical day, he’d definitely say something like, ‘you’ve worked hard, Shao’er,’ But now there was only this branch of dead wood standing solitarily in the soil, completely silent. I reached out…numb fingertips shaking as I touched that glossy black Fang Hua wood. This time, it wasn’t my hand that ached, but my long exhausted heart. I buried my head in my knees, wiping my face on coarse sleeves, and tried my best not to cry.
“Did you think about leaving me behind beforehand? You said you wanted to drink the wine I brewed for you. And you said that after you got well you’d make some warm mantou for me. But I left you when you needed me most. You must have really been hurt, right?” The wind blew noisily, but the surroundings were quiet enough for me to hear my own heart beat.
“Fang Hua, I miss you so much. How could you stand to just go and leave me alone?” My eyes grew hot as a sharp pain rushed to my chest. I couldn’t breathe…
So this was my punishment.
The cuts on my wrists broke open again as tears poured from my eyes. I reached out a blood-soaked finger to touch the Fang Hua wood again and again. My other hand clutched the front of my robes.
Master, you told me to wander the jianghu. Don’t you know? One person’s jianghu isn’t a jianghu at all.
Last night I’d dreamed about our lives at the house again. Those days…were my happiest. I won’t forget them for the rest of my life. Weary, I leaned against the grave mound and closed my eyes for an unknown length of time.
Who was calling me? I turned around, not understanding.
A dark form suddenly appeared before me. I fell back onto the ground, a bit dizzy as I rubbed my forehead. My knees knelt on the yellow earth before I propped up my body with difficulty, finally regaining my breath. There was a tall figure standing there, blocking out the sun. He looked at me blankly for a long time before speaking.
“Why have you become like this?”
I closed my eyes. He knelt down to gently grasp my hand. Looking at Nongyu’s face, I only saw how miserable and desolate he appeared. He shakily brushed against the cuts on my wrist. “Head Eunuch Li sent a messenger pigeon telling me to hurry here. I guessed that you might’ve had trouble, but I didn’t know things were so serious. I’ve heard of Lord Hua’s situation already. What are you doing? You already know…he can’t come back from the dead anymore.”
I stared at him in a trance.
Nongyu held my face in his hands, his eyes filled with pain. A finger brushed across my dry lips as he spoke softly. “How could Little Li allow your foolishness? You have to rest well and take good care of your health. I…I won’t allow you to do such rash things.”
“I want to save him.”
“You’d be hard-pressed to keep your own life at this rate.”
I opened my eyes wide, my vision as blurry as a fog. “No, I’m going to save him. Han Zichuan said Fang Hua loved me.” My chest suddenly felt swollen with grief. “Even if I have to use every drop of blood in my body, I’ll bring him back to life.”
Nongyu placed a hand on my shoulders as he sighed. “The Fang Hua wood’s already passed its best time for rebirth. It’s impossible.”
“You don’t understand,” I grew still for a while, before speaking quietly. “I know Fang Hua…” I slowly smiled as I looked into his eyes, speaking earnestly. Despite this, tears kept falling down my face.
“He needs me to keep him company. That’s what he always wished for before he died, but I turned around and left him. He must have thought I didn’t want him anymore and avoided him on purpose…now he’s angry at me so I have to be with him everyday, keeping him company and indulging his whims until he’s over his temper. Then he’ll come out.”
Nongyu was visibly moved by my words. He drew me into an embrace and said nothing more beyond holding me tight. I closed my eyes as I lay tiredly in his arms, tears moistening his clothes. I wanted Fang Hua to know how much I loved him…
Crying had tired me out and now I felt extremely dizzy. I felt someone picking me up but was too exhausted to resist. My salty tears mixed with the wounds on my wrist…it hurt…and the blood carried the tears away as it flowed from my cuts…
My head felt very faint, very tired…
A drop of blood mixed with tears fell to land on the Fang Hua wood, surrounded by countless other drops of blood…slowly, the yellow earth swallowed it all up. Nongyu gently rose with me in his arms. As he prepared to turn around, I heard the sound of flowers bursting into bloom and smiled a foolish smile. I struggled free from his grasp to fall on the ground, clumsily reaching for the Fang Hua wood as I crawled back step by step.
“Don’t be like this…” Nongyu grabbed me from behind, tightening his embrace as he looked anxiously towards the glowing Fang Hua wood. The black on that dead branch was slowly condensing into a miasma around the body, before a gust of wind scattered the dark fog. In its place was a fiery red Fang Hua wood that shone with the disposition of jade. Around it, all the flowering plants began to sprout buds of their own, on the verge of bursting into bloom…
I couldn’t hold back a sob.
Fang Hua, is that you?
An illusory image of an immortal-like figure appeared by the side of the tomb, looking off into the distance. There was a disconsolate melancholy on his quiet face. My heart twitched before starting to pound. I don’t know where I got the strength from, but I pushed Nongyu’s hands aside a broke into a staggering run towards Fang Hua. Reaching out a hand, I touched nothing but cold air. His appearance turned hazy with his floating white robes as I ran straight through his body to fall to the ground.
A mirage…he was nothing but a shadow.
That figure had his back to me as he stood before Nongyu, speaking in a soft voice. “I don’t know if anyone will see this…but I have a smart and adorable disciple who took in six young princes. If you ever see her, I have to trouble you to give her this message on my behalf. I’m living a leisurely and carefree life on my own, so please don’t miss me.”
Grief filled my heart. Nongyu stared blankly through the shoulders of the figure to look at me. Fang Hua’s form faded in and out and his voice was very quiet, as if speaking to himself. Nongyu seemed frightened by the entire thing and slowly lifted a finger to point at me. Fang Hua suddenly turned around, looking at me from a distance with a small smile.
My heart was pounding nonstop. I raised a hand to clutch my chest as I saw on his face the expression I dearly missed. Though we were separated by ten thousand torrents and a thousand crags of gloom, his eyebrows wrinkled only slightly, and his eyes were filled with warmth. More pain tore at my heart. How was I to describe such a smile…?
Even if I took shallow breaths, it felt as if my insides were being ripped apart.
Like the spring breeze…or moonlight, there was a sense of heartbroken grief. It was bright and gentle, yet mixed with something that made me sick at heart. It was arrogant to say I was familiar with this sensation, but the grief was something that had yet to fade.
He didn’t speak for a long time, as if he was really studying me, feeling all that I felt. His lips curved into a hint of a smile as he stared in rapt attention, almost as if he wanted to use all his strength to see me completely… When the sun showed itself again, its rays shone through his clothes. His image gradually grew faint and blurry.
“Master, don’t go…don’t throw Shao’er away.”
He used his last moments to smile at me, warm and elegant. But I could see his lips move. Though I couldn’t hear him, I could clearly feel the words he spoke, brief as they were:
In an instance of spring, the trees bloomed with youth.
 spoon/shao zi (勺子) – the ‘shao’ in spoon is the same character as the ‘shao’ in Shao’er.
 for an instance of spring, the trees bloomed with youth (愿得韶华刹那，开得满树芳华) – yuande shaohua shana, kaide manshu fanghua, certain words in this sentence resemble the names of certain characters.
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