That most happy-go-lucky Yan Yujin who had caused Prince Yu to sigh was actually not as relaxed and easygoing as he had displayed. This noble young master with the fashionable new clothes, embroidered lapel and magnificent saddle, galloping through Jinling’s streets astride a fine purebred horse, had not long ago just accepted an assignment from his father, an assignment that wasn’t very dangerous but yet not easily accomplished.
On the matter of Yan Que getting involved again in the affairs of the court, Yujin was already well aware earlier, but this was confirmed by his father in person during the eve of the Lunar New Year. That night, after completing the sacrifices to the ancestors in the ancestral hall, both father and son returned to the warmth of the small side room and sat around the fire drinking wine, talking freely and uninhibitedly almost all night long.
Yan Yujin had only heard Mei Changsu speak of the unstable events of Yan Que’s youth in a general manner, but this time, it was even more meaningful to hear it directly from the person involved in those events, as he recalled the past. In those years, there was uninhibited affection, there were bold and upright leaders, passionate ideals, great sorrow and tragedy, there were so many people whose memories needed to be cherished, and there were so many things that were difficult to forget. More than ten years of decay and oppression could not change the bold and passionate nature. Raise the head and drink away the pain, throw away the cup and whisper softly*. Although this old Lord Marquis’s heroic spirit had long since whittled away, his face seemed to glow with health and radiate vigor as he spoke of past events, and he did not look in the least bit old and tired.
*This was a difficult phrase to translate in context. Even my Chinese speaking friend found it challenging. So this is just my interpretation of it. I almost dropped it but decided not to because it sounded so wistful! Corrections are welcome!
Yan Yujin decided he liked his father like this, a father who was full of life and in high spirits.
“Yu‘er,” Yan Que stroked his son’s shoulder, looking straight into his eyes, “I dislike faction fights because they are too repulsive, consuming so much that is beautiful and good. I also dislike Mei Changsu. He is too cunning, too unfathomable and impenetrable, which is why I was only willing to support him in some matters previously. But this time, I have decided to support him wholeheartedly, at any cost, because of this decision between him and Prince Jing…..it has truly shocked me. Even though they know fully well that this is a trap, with such obvious advantages and disadvantages, they still want to attempt the rescue, for the sake of nothing more than old ties of affection and justice…..I have not seen such foolish yet at the same time such courageous and bold men in a long time. If I don’t help them now, in future, how will I face my departed friends in the underworld? Yu‘er, do you understand my thinking?”
“I understand.” Yan Yujin held back his usually exuberant expression, and the eyes reflecting the blazing stove fire were especially quiet and deep. “Dad, don’t worry, your son is a descendant of the Yan family, and understands loyalty, and filial piety. Regarding the current situation in court, your son’s view is actually similar to Dad’s. It’s just that I do not know much about Prince Jing…..but since Dad and Su xiong are willing to be employed for his purpose, he must be outstanding.”
“Prince Jing had followed Prince Qi closely since he was a child and he has inherited Prince Qi’s character and the way he dealt with the country’s administrative matters. I am still confident in him from this aspect. But his temperament is quite unlike his brother. He is much more inflexible and pig headed, and lacks poise. You are young, perhaps you don’t really remember Prince Qi…..Jingyu…..so very much like his mother…..”
Regarding youthful infatuations and the feelings between himself and Concubine Chen, Yan Que’s words were especially vague when he recalled the past events. But Yan Yujin had a perceptive mind. He sensed the conflict within his father as he watched him muttering to himself, but he was unable to tell if his father was sighing with sorrow or regret.
Jingyu……Yujin…..was the connection between these two names a coincidence, or was it done subconsciously? Yan Yujin did not ask, but as a child who cared deeply about his father in his heart, he could not resist asking the other question.
“Dad, what about me? Am I also like my mother?”
“You…..” Yan Que returned his glance, taking a good look at his son, his eyes revealing a loving expression, “You are like me when I was young. But when you are my age, I hope you do not become the person I am today.”
“Dad, you’re very good now. Your heart is not cold and your person is not old. What is there that is not good about you?”
“You, child, have a honeyed tongue.” Yan Que smiled and got up, pouring his son another full cup of wine.
“Actually, I have not forgotten the past. Uncle Lin, Concubine Chen niang niang and also Prince Qi. I remember a little bit,” Yan Yujin raised his chin as he recollected, “Prince Qi treated us children very well. If we asked him anything, he would always explain clearly, and when he brought us out for horse-riding and archery, he also took care of us completely, unlike Lin Shu gege, who would get impatient very quickly, and complain that we were slow and stupid, frequently taking us off our horses and tossing us into the carriage for the wet nurse to look after, before running to the front on his own….I remember this most clearly!”
Yan Que cannot help but smile, but his smile soon faded away, “Xiao Shu…..ah…..the most unfortunate is him….”
Yan Yujin could see his father becoming sad again and quickly said, “Dad, has Su xiong mentioned how he intends for you to help him?”
“He had more or less explained it once. My role on that day would mainly be to draw Xia Jiang out and secretly arrange for courtiers to exonerate Prince Jing after the incident. Nothing difficult.”
What Yan Que said might have sounded simple, but it was in actual fact not easy at all, especially in dealing with the latter. He needed to be extremely accurate in his judgment and very careful with his words and actions. Even the slightest deviation would produce the opposite of the desired results.
“Dad, are you sure?”
“With effort, one can achieve anything.” Yan Que’s face was suddenly arrogant. “Your father has been observing these court intrigues impartially all these years. My sense of judgment (of the situation and people in court) is still accurate.”
“Is there anything your son can help you with??”
“Mei Changsu mentioned he wanted to ask for your help, but he asked me to ask you first. If you don’t want to, don’t force yourself.”
Yan Yujin smiled bitterly, saying, “This Su xiong….how could I be unwilling when this is already how matters stand? What is required?”
“He didn’t say. I need to meet with him again, and will ask him then.” Yan Que firmly grabbed hold of his son’s shoulders, saying, “Mei Changsu promised he will not let you do anything dangerous, I will also not take chances.”
“Dad, it’s ok….”
“You might think it’s okay, but your dad still has his concerns. Listen to me. I have already wronged you all these years.”
Yan Yujin was unaccustomed to such tenderness from his father. His nose felt tingly and he raised his head to drink his cup of wine, suppressing the turbulence in his heart.
That night both father and son drank one and a half jars of wine before collapsing, each learning for the first time the other’s tremendous ability to hold his liquor. This drunkenness lasted until the late morning. When they woke up, they noticed a youth with fine features and a cold expression squatting before them, staring at them. As soon as he saw them open their eyes, he shoved a letter at them and said in a loud voice, “Burn it!”, after which he disappeared.
Although the drunkenness had not passed, Yan Que was still sufficiently sober and did not immediately burn the letter as commanded so succinctly by the youth. Instead, he first opened it to read its contents.
It was precisely because of this letter that Yan Yujin let himself loose on Jinling’s streets, in full ostentation, on the 4th day of the Lunar New Year, as he went to call on his friends, before finally arriving at the front of Prince Ji’s mansion.
Known for his straightforward manner and fine wine, the famous royal uncle, Prince Ji, was Yan Yujin’s good friend in spite of their great difference in age. As soon as he saw his young friend, Prince Ji blossomed like a flower and hurried eagerly to the main hall to receive his guest, summoning all his musicians and singing girls to perform a new tune that he had taught them.
But despite his generous hospitality, Yan Yujin was rather inattentive, having just gone through three rounds of drinks earlier. For the sake of politeness, however, he still tried to act like he was enjoying the performance but unfortunately his eyes gave him away.
“Your ears, they have been spoiled by Miaoyin House,” Prince Ji said sullenly. “You are obviously looking down on my household’s simple ballad singing.”
“Your Highness, aren’t you also like that?” Yan Yujin waved his hand at him, not taking this to heart at all. “I don’t think I’m the one most crazy over Miss Gong Yu playing the qin*?
*musical instrument similar to the guzheng
“Alas……,” Prince Ji sighed. “Such a pity. A place like Miaoyin House, how could they have conspired with the bandits……”
“Cheh*, you actually believe this……” Yan Yujin blurted it out without thinking, then suddenly aware of what he had just said, swallowed the rest of his words and raised his glass to propose a toast.
*vocal expression similar to “tsk tsk”
Prince Ji immediately understood. Without batting an eyelid, he followed suit, throwing back two cups of wine. After dismissing the servants, he moved to Yan Yujin’s side and asked softly, “Are you trying to say that Miaoyin House did not actually conspire with the bandits?”
“Conspire with what bandits?” Yan Yujin retorted, “Are those bandits well-known? Does the Ministry of Justice have a case file on them? Who is the main whistleblower? Is there any evidence? This matter has absolutely no foundation in fact.”
“Since they had been wrongly accused, why did the people of Miaoyin House run away to evade blame?”
“That’s very simple. They may have been wrongly accused of collaborating with bandits, but not of offending someone. After offending someone whom you should never offend, if you don’t run, aren’t you just waiting to die?”
Prince Ji suddenly flared up in indignation and said angrily, “Under the Son of Heaven*, who can be so insolent?”
*the Emperor is also known as the Son of Heaven. But it also refers to the land immediately under the jurisdiction of the Emperor, specifically, the capital city.
Yan Yujin shot him a glance and lowered his voice. “Your Highness, do you not know who went to arrest them that day?”
“As a matter of fact, I heard that it was not the Ministry of Justice but the Imperial Court of Justice….” At this point, Prince Ji suddenly understood. The Imperial Court of Justice’s Deputy, Zhu Yue, was Prince Yu’s brother-in-law. He had always been known for his lecherous nature, and if he tried to seize Gong Yu under the pretext of his brother-in-law’s orders, it would actually not be considered an unusual matter.
“Now you understand. There is nothing Gong Yu can do about it. She just intends to hide for a while, to see if there is any other way around it.”
Prince Ji raised his eyebrows and suddenly pointed his finger at Yan Yujin, smiling strangely.
“Your Highness, what is it?”
“How do you know what Miss Gong Yu is thinking?” Prince Ji smiled wickedly. “Speak, was it you who hid her away?”
“Me? Me? How could I possibly have?” Yan Yujin was startled and couldn’t help stammering. “Your Highness, don’t, don’t simply say such things….”
“Guilty guilty,” Prince Ji laughed heartily and continued to pursue it, unwilling to let it go. “Little Yujin, tell me the truth, is it very serious? I am also quite worried for Miss Gong Yu. Is she alright?”
Yan Yujin took a long look at him and then gave up, his shoulders drooping in defeat. “I didn’t hide her away. She got into trouble after fleeing, and sent someone to ask me for help, so I gave her some help. That’s all. She’s alright, and has even learnt a new song. I even listened to it when I sent her some new year merchandise just before the year end.”
Prince Ji was also a music lover, and once he heard that Miss Gong Yu had a new song, he couldn’t help but drool with envy. He tugged at Yan Yujin’s arm and said, “Bring me there. Miss Gong Yu and I are also old friends. Now that she is in distress, how can I not inquire after her?”
“Don’t worry. There’s nothing to fear. After all, isn’t it only Zhu Yue? I don’t really care about that young man. Prince Yu is also unlikely to go so far as to fall out with me because of him. Like it or not I am still his elder.”
“Actually……” Yan Yujin dragged out his voice. “There’s no issue bringing you there. But Miss Gong Yu is quite disheartened, and I’m afraid she wouldn’t be too keen on meeting any more nobles like yourself.”
“Am I the same as the rest of them?” Prince Ji rapped the table, saying, “No matter what you say, I insist on going. Come, let us go there now!”
“Why so anxious?” Yan Yujin could not help but laugh. “Shouldn’t we look at the time first? Alright, since I am unable to stop you anyway, I will go with you and take any blame. I will bring you over tomorrow.”
“That’s close enough. What time tomorrow?”
“In the afternoon, between 1 to 3pm*. I have to accompany my father somewhere before noon.”
*Actually, they didn’t have the modern concept of hourly time in those days but I’m using the corresponding time for convenience and ease of understanding.
“You really are a filial son,” Prince Ji smiled at him teasingly. “In the afternoon between 1 to 3pm then. You must not go back on your word.”
“Don’t you think you would come and knock on my door If I go back on my word?” Yan Yujin stretched out his body and said, “Don’t dress in royal clothes tomorrow. We need to go quietly.”
“I know, I know,” Prince Ji repeated his response, then ordered his servants to arrange for a fresh new round of dishes, keeping his guest, who was already intending to leave, for another half an hour or so of drinks.
At this moment, the evening breeze began to rise, and the atmosphere became a little thick and heavy, with a fishy smell. Tomorrow was definitely not going to be a bright and sunny day. Yan Yujin covered his head with the hood of his cloak and got astride his horse.
Rimmed by the snow white fox fur, that usually cheerful face was solemn.
“On the 5th day of the Lunar New Year in the afternoon between 1 to 3pm, bring Prince Ji to northern Dengjia Alley where Gong Yu is staying.” This was what Mei Changsu had asked Yan Yujin to do. He had carried it out carefully after giving it a lot of thought.
But at the time, he was unable to understand how Mei Changsu’s task for him fit into the larger scheme of things.
I really liked this chapter. So much underlying emotions in this father-son conversation. We also get some deeper insight into Yan Yujin. It was quite heart-wrenching for me when he asked his father “What about me? Am I also like my mother?” It wasn’t until recently that he realized that maybe he mattered to his father. That heart that had been craving his father’s love and approval for so long could no longer withhold this vulnerability. And that friendship between Prince Ji and Yan Yujin – I loved how Yujin made full use of his understanding of Prince Ji’s character to execute the task that MCS set for him. Plus, I would give him an Oscar. Much talent he has.
Some other thoughts:
This is my 8th chapter and comes a little earlier than planned, because the Singapore Elections is being held today and it’s a public holiday here in currently wet and gloomy Singapura. I’m still deciding which way I should vote. But it certainly isn’t as exciting as Malaysian politics, nor are the stakes as high as it was during Malaysia’s 2018 elections. As an ex-Malaysian, I was chuffed that the opposition won – too bad that was the pinnacle of glory before everything started to slide downhill again. But, that’s Malaysian politics for you. Malaysia boleh.
Anyhoo, after translating 10 chapters (yes, more to come once I review and edit them!), I’d like to think my grasp of the language and its structure is getting better but every time I think so, another paragraph comes along to stump me.
In any case, it has just occurred to me – do my translations flow and read well enough to make sense to you? If they don’t, please leave me a note and I would be happy to review and clarify! And if they do, I’d love for you to leave a note anyway! I appreciate and look forward to any feedback, because I sometimes get very insular during the translation work, and tend to just read and literally translate each line and paragraph greedily off the dictionaries / translators, forgetting how proper English should read.