Joyful Reunion - Chapter 107
Book 3, Chapter 24 (Part 2)
“They’re secret letters written by Borjigin Batu and Ögedei for those two.” Duan Ling replies, handing the papers to Chang Liujun. “You take them. Present them to Chancellor Mu.”
But Chang Liujun won’t take them. “Whoever got them gets to hand them over.”
“Yeah.” Wu Du knows exactly what Duan Ling is doing, and without another word takes both of the exam papers and puts them away.
“What do we do now?” Chang Liujun continues. “We’ll have to figure out something, don’t we? If the grand chancellor finds out about this, we’re all done for!”
Wu Du and Duan Ling are both thinking wow that was close. Duan Ling’s face doesn’t reveal that anything is out of the ordinary, frowning as he thinks silently without a word.
And now Zheng Yan leaps up the stairs within several steps, bringing in a gust of wind as he sits down next to the three of them, putting down an oil-paper wrapped package on the table. Meanwhile, Lang Junxia is coming slowly up the stairs.
“Every last gift list is right here,” Zheng Yan says.
Lang Junxia’s return gives Duan Ling an involuntary start, but Wu Du glowers as he says to Zheng Yan, “What did you tell him for?”
“He was the one who stole the stuff out for me,” Zheng Yan says. “It was in the Eastern Palace.”
“Where’s the scabbard?” Lang Junxia asks.
A cold wind blows by. Duan Ling’s back is covered in a cold sweat; he feels chilly.
Wu Du gestures for Lang Junxia to take it. Lang Junxia’s gaze moves to the scabbard on the table, but he does not take his seat. He merely reaches out, brushing his fingers over the scabbard to push a button that opens the secret compartment with a click.
But the secret compartment turns out to be empty.
Lang Junxia looks at it without saying anything. All the other four people in the room are staring at him. Chang Liujun seems to realise something, and the eyes showing above his mask are filled with suspicion, first glancing at Wu Du before his attention turns back to Duan Ling.
“Aiyoh,” Zheng Yan mutters. “Now what are we playing at?”
Lang Junxia gives this the faintest of smiles, and pushes the scabbard back across the table.
“Where are they holding him?” Zheng Yan says to Duan Ling.
“I … don’t quite remember. At any rate it can’t be outside the city. I heard laughing, and from behind the black cloth over my head, it was really bright, it was …”
An idea suddenly occurs to Duan Ling as he recalls Mu Qing’s original plans for the evening. “Could it be the Bouquet Pavilion?”
They’re all just watching Duan Ling, waiting for him to decide. After all, he’s the only one who’s been kidnapped.
“Let’s check the Bouquet Pavilion,” Duan Ling says. “We’ll split up into two groups, one to the Bouquet Pavilion, and the other group will head to the harbour to deliver the goods. While they’re at it they can follow Amga as well. You … Wuluohou Mu, you and Zheng Yan keep an eye on the harbour, while Wu Du, Chang Liujun and I will go find Mu Qing. Is that alright?”
Lang Junxia smiles softly, and without saying anything more, he turns to leave.
“The rest is in your hands,” Zheng Yan replies, then vaulting over the handrail, he disappears into the night.
Duan Ling only lets out that breath he’s been holding once Lang Junxia is gone. He turns to look at Wu Du, but Wu Du signals with a slight waving of his hand to let him know there’s no need to worry. Meanwhile, Chang Liujun’s mind has gone wandering entirely. The three of them arrive at the alleyway behind the Bouquet Pavilion; Duan Ling tilts his head, trying to make out the noises coming from the building. He has a feeling this place is it.
“It’s here,” Duan Ling says. “This is the likeliest place.”
The inside of the Bouquet Pavilion is full of young servants and women, and if they’re trying to hide someone, all they have to do is hide them on a bed and they’ll be difficult to find.
Wu Du says, “Let’s split up and search room by room. Chang Liujun, you take the first floor, we’ll take the second.”
While Amga and Khatanbaatar are staying in Jiangzhou, they must spend a lot of time at the Bouquet Pavilion for bouts of debauchery. Otherwise what are they expecting foreign diplomats to do while they’re hanging around in the Han capital? Wrestling in the courtyard everyday?
The more Duan Ling thinks about it, the more he thinks he’s guessed correctly. After they establish what signals to use with Chang Liujun, Wu Du wraps one arm around Duan Ling’s waist and lands on the second floor in a couple of steps.
“We’re not going to use the door?!” Duan Ling whispers.
“Don’t bother. We’ll find him as quickly as we can, then go home and get some sleep. Aren’t you tired? You were writing an exam all day.”
Duan Ling can but drop it. Wu Du is gone in a flash, while Duan Ling is still clinging to the eaves, moving sideways carefully along the windows trying not to make a sound. Wu Du can only come back and say to him. “No one’s going to notice any noise. It’s not like we’re eavesdropping outside the Office of the Secretariat.”
It’s a lackadaisical spring evening; even if there’s an occasional clink of ceramic tile any guest would just assume they heard a cat. Wu Du pulls a window open and looks inside to find a girl playing the qin, and a scholar listening to music.
The Bouquet Pavilion was once the biggest brothel in Xichuan to begin with, and as Great Chen relocated its capital, the brothel had also come along. Now that a series of renovations have been made, it’s more luxurious than ever, with more than twenty private rooms on the second floor. Duan Ling opens one of the windows as well. Inside is a fat official, repeatedly and loudly kissing a boy in his arms.
Duan Ling can’t help finding it comical, and Wu Du waves at him right away to tell him not to look anymore. He opens a window himself, pointing at another for Duan Ling to check.
What’s behind each window seems like a world of its own, all walks of life contained therein. Duan Ling leans in close to a window and his face turns crimson immediately — there’s a man, fair and slender, embracing another young man, lifting up one of his legs, and they’re copulating while facing a mirror. The mirror shows a perfect reflection of the place where their bodies connect, and like a jade pestle grinding a flower to produce juices, a white liquid is splattering all over. The young man is clearly enjoying this tremendously; the skin from his chest all the way up to his neck looks thoroughly crimson, and he sounds breathless.
Duan Ling nearly cries out in surprise, and he quickly ducks down beneath the window sill. And over here Wu Du actually thinks he may have discovered something and comes over to check; with just one look his handsome face turns bright red and he hurriedly closes the window, grabs Duan Ling’s hand, and bolts.
Duan Ling’s head is all taken up with that image, and stumbling over his feet, he nearly slips off the tiles. Wu Du grabs him around the waist, and for a moment they’re both a little embarrassed.
“Careful,” Wu Du says.
“Um …” Duan Ling gives himself a second to calm down, and when he feels that thing in Wu Du’s pants bumping against him, he backs away a bit, his heart beating madly inside his chest.
“Over this way.”
“Oh right.” Wu Du opens yet another window and indicates Duan Ling wait outside.
Someone is lying on the bed, and Duan Ling recognises that it’s Mu Qing with one glance. Who else would be sleeping inside the Bouquet Pavilion at this hour? He jumps into the room behind Wu Du, and pulls the blanket away. Unsurprisingly, they find Khatanbaatar and Mu Qing lying there side by side.
Mu Qing is unhurt and sleeping soundly. Duan Ling wonders if it’s because Amga is worried that Wu Du would take revenge against him, or that he’s a good man to begin with, that he somehow hasn’t tortured Mu Qing.
“Do we save him?” On account that they haven’t hurt Mu Qing, Duan Ling decides he doesn’t really want to give Khatanbaatar a hard time anymore.
“Even if I want to save him I don’t have the antidote. I already gave it to Zheng Yan.”
Duan Ling turns to the window and whistles to signal they’ve found Mu Qing, letting Chang Liujun know that he should come and get him. Chang Liujun is up in their room within seconds, and when he sees Mu Qing lying there stock still, he feels his lifespan shortened by half from the fright alone. He pinches the meridian point above Mu Qing’s lip in an attempt to wake him, and brings over a cup of tea to pour between his lips.
“Come on and have a look already. What’s the matter with him?” Chang Liujun says.
Duan Ling says, “He’s fine — he’s just fainted away, that’s all.”
Soon enough, Mu Qing wakes up as they thought he would, and after he lets out a breath he says, “Eh? Chang Liujun?”
They all stare at him, speechless. “Wang Shan? Wu Du?” Mu Qing looks around him. “Where are we? The Bouquet Pavilion? What are you guys doing here so early?”
Duan Ling’s got to give it to him; the lot of them have been in a state of panic for most of the evening on his behalf, but meanwhile Mu Qing has spent the entire time dreaming.
Then Chang Liujun gets Wu Du to carefully check whether Mu Qing has been poisoned or not, and finally picks him up despite his protests to take him home.
“I can walk on my own!” Mu Qing struggles. “Why don’t we get drinks next door? Wait a second! I still …”
Wu Du and Duan Ling drop their foreheads into their hands. Chang Liujun is furious. “We’re scared half to death because of you!! And you’re still talking about drinking! Let’s get home! We’ll get home and both get a standing punishment!”
“Use the door then! Why are you jumping out of the window?” Mu Qing is held under Chang Liujun’s arm like a ball, his legs kicking wildly in the air as he struggles.
Duan Ling can’t stop laughing. He puts the covers back over Khatanbaatar and leaves the room with Wu Du; whether Khatanbaatar lives through this will depend on what Amga is capable of.
“How’d you do on the exams?” Wu Du is only now in the mood to chat idly with Duan Ling.
“I did alright.” Duan Ling says to him smilingly, “No more weight on my shoulders.”
All his years of school have finally ended today, and if he makes it to the Palace Exams, he’ll probably become an official. If he doesn’t make it to the Palace Exams then he’ll just have to find some other way to make a living.
“You told me to promise you one thing. What is it?” Wu Du asks.
The two step out of the room into a well-lit hallway, resplendent with shining lanterns; the ladies of the Bouquet Pavilion mill about and music is ringing out all around them. There’s a hint of a blush on Duan Ling’s cheeks, and recalling what he had in mind this morning, he suddenly remembers the scene he saw earlier behind that open window — and immediately blushes down to his collarbones.
“It’s no—nothing. Let’s go home.” Duan Ling’s just about to turn around, but Wu Du takes him by the hand and stops him.
This chapter is scrapped from readlightnovel.org
“Come on,” Wu Du smiles at him. “Let’s get some drinks.”
“Um …” Duan Ling licks his lips.
Wu Du hasn’t even started drinking yet, but there’s a hint of a blush in his cheeks as well. He turns to look at the doors nearby. “There ought to be some spots left.”
Inside Duan Ling’s heart, his heart is thumping, but Wu Du signals he should stay here and wait while he goes downstairs to see the brothel keeper to book a private room on the second floor. That’s not good is it? Are we going to … How did Wu Du know what I was thinking?
“There’s no room left on the second floor!” Wu Du’s already talked to the brothel keeper, and now he yells up the stairs. “Come downstairs.”
Duan Ling takes quick steps down the stairs with reddened cheeks, and all the girls coming up the stairs turn to look at him; one of them even reaches out for his sleeve. Duan Ling raises his arm at once to block them, escaping downstairs under extreme embarrassment.
A pimp comes over and guides Duan Ling and Wu Du into a room. “Will you have one for each of you, sirs? Or what would you like?”
“We’re here for some music,” Wu Du says. “Bring a screen and put it in front of us. We’re only here to listen to the pipa player, no need to arrange for anything else — bring some snacks and such, we haven’t had dinner yet.
Duan Ling thinks of Shangjing’s Viburnum, and it seems like that’s how things were done there. And so the pimp dusts down the low daybed for them and brings over a screen, ordering food to go with their wine, and he doesn’t call over girls to drink with them either. Duan Ling finds this much more comfortable.
Wu Du gives the wine jug a sniff and says to the pimp, “Get us a clean jug.”
“Wine costs one tael of silver per jug,” the pimp replies. “Sir, you have to prepay for new jugs of wine.”
Wu Du stares at the pimp without a word.
Duan Ling gives Wu Du’s sleeve a tug; he finds this so funny. Intimidated by Wu Du’s looks that could murder, the pimp picks up the jug and flees to get a fresh jug, but not without complaining quietly to himself as he does so.
‘I tried to be nice,“ Wu Du scoffs.
Duan Ling remains silent.
They sit facing each other; outside, the sound of the pipa gradually softens until it comes to a stop. Someone calls out “wonderful” and another rewards the player with gifts. Duan Ling sticks his head out from behind the screen, wondering just how beautiful the player may be. When the pipa player sees Duan Ling’s pretty face, she sends him a sweet smile and a wink before she picks up her pipa and leaves.
Wu Du looks on in silence.
Duan Ling says, “It’s the first time I’ve ever sat in the main hall of the Bouquet Pavilion. It’s pretty interesting, actually.”
“Come over to this side. Don’t peek out from behind the screen like that.”
Duan Ling can but return to Wu Du’s side, and sit with him shoulder to shoulder. Soon, their fresh jug of wine arrives and the server brings them several plates of common stir fries and snacks. All Duan Ling had today was some cold rice at lunch, and he hasn’t eaten all day, but only once Wu Du tells him to “eat” does he start eating.
Wu Du doesn’t eat anything himself, and waits on Duan Ling as he eats. Duan Ling wonders what’s happening with Zheng Yan and Lang Junxia; they have to stand by the river in the middle of the night getting lashed at by the wind, and there’s also that poisoned Mongolian lying on the second floor.
“Why aren’t you eating?” Seeing that Wu Du hasn’t touched the food, he picks up his cup. “Come on. I drink to you.”
Wu Du nearly laughs aloud; Duan Ling is so focused on eating that he must be starving, and he picks up his wine cup as Wu Du picks up his own, then Duan Ling is barely gulping down his warm wine before he’s eating again. Seconds later, when he gets thirsty, he opens the lid of the wine jug and starts drinking right out of the jug.
“Do we need to go check on Zheng Yan and Wuluohou Mu?” Duan Ling finally says this once he’s full of food and wine.
“Let them be. Want more to drink?”
“No more.” Duan Ling lets out a long, long breath. “If I drink anymore I’ll be drunk.”
“If you get drunk I’ll carry you home on my back. It’s fine. On your birthday I’d already wanted to take you out for drinks — in any case you’re an adult now, and you’ve had your exams, so naturally I’m going to take you out somewhere fun.”
Slightly intoxicated from the drink, Duan Ling leans into Wu Du’s arms.
Wu Du feels a bit restless, and turning to his side he raises an arm, finally wrapping it around Duan Ling.
“Hey,” Duan Ling says to Wu Du, “Wu Du, let’s go upstairs.”
“Upstairs?” Wu Du pauses to think, and on realising what Duan Ling is saying a blush lands on his cheeks. “The—there’s no … no more room upstairs. Why don’t we uh, go home?”
Duan Ling grabs Wu Du’s arm and pulls himself closer to lean against his shoulder, and in the next moment he’s lifting his face up to look at him with naught but intoxication in his eyes. His lips part as if he’s about to say something.
Shadows sway to and fro beyond the screen, with the light shining through it glowing into multi-colours, casting its glow onto the two of them. The pipa has begun to play again, and this time the singer is singing A Farewell in Yangguan, Thrice Refrained.2
“In Weicheng a fine morning rain wets the earth, and willow leaves by the inn seem ever more lush and green …”
“Young master, this way please.”
“They’ve come all the way over here it seems,” Cai Yan’s voice is saying, “where’s that kid from the Mus?”
“He should’ve arrived by now,” a man’s voice answers him. “Have a seat for now, young master.”
Cai Yan and another literati comes around the screen. Duan Ling is drunk, and Wu Du has also entirely let down his guard. Eyes meet between the four and Cai Yan says in surprise, “Wu Du?”
Wu Du’s smile fades away; he doesn’t even remember that he has to get up and greet Cai Yan formally. Smiling, Cai Yan sits down on the other low daybed and says without minding Wu Du’s manners, “Mu Qing asked me to come over here this evening, said he has a very good friend he’d like me to meet. I never imagined that it’d be …”
Cai Yan stops here, only realising what’s going on now as he meets Duan Ling’s eyes.
“… It’s you,” Cai Yan murmurs, his face turning deathly pale in an instant.
“It’s me.” Duan Ling sobers up halfway, sits up cross-legged, picks up the wine jug and pours a cup. “Your Highness, I drink to you.”
Cai Yan and Duan Ling sit calmly across from each other. The bright short notes of pipa play on beyond the screen, accompanying the female pipa-player’s quiet recital. “Have another cup of fine wine 'fore our parting, sir, for west of Yangguan it’s rare to see old friends …”