Synopsis: A fast-paced story about a youngster who loses everything and everyone he holds dear. Through the only family that still remains with him, his uncle, he gets to choose to dedicate his focus and attention to blacksmithing rather than to fall into depression and street life...
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In the days after it stopped snowing, Lin Nan City resumed its commercial trading and the war was over. The families of lost soldiers were slowly healing their wounds and the unwashed bloodstains on top of the city wall began to fade.
Liu Jue’s wound healed quickly and he stayed in the residence to recuperate, keeping close to Qing Luo the entire time. He did not talk about Qing Luo marrying him at all. Qing Luo did not mention emotional matters either. Yet, they were very relaxed and talked casually. Early each morning, she would exercise as usual with skill and agility. Sometimes, she could tie with Liu Jue when they sparred if he did not use his internal energy. Ah Luo said, “Didn’t you always want to know the name of this boxing style and who I learned it from?”
Liu Jue had never seen this kind of fighting that used the foot more than striking with the palm and punching with the fist, without any kind of rules. He held back his curiosity and looked at Qing Luo with a smile.
“This is a kind of martial art from Japan. Actually, after coming here, it does not seem to be of much use in comparison to your martial arts, although it is pretty good for dealing with minor thieves and keeping fit. I started practicing it when I was five years old.”
“Where is Japan?”
“It is an island country overseas. It cannot be found. My master came from there and I cannot see him now either. Sometimes, I truly think that after so many years, it seems like everything has become a dream. Do you believe in the supernatural? How about I tell you about the story of a god?”
Ah Luo smiled gently and curled up on the couch, leaning into Liu Jue’s arms, “That deity was called God and all living beings were his children, his people. He created humans of all shapes and colours. Some became emperors while others became tradesmen and servants. Everyone had very different identities in the world and someone asked him angrily, why did he create such a difference in human beings? Why could that person have a wealthy and easy life while I am tired to death all day long, rushing about to make a living? God said gently, wealth and poverty are as transient as the fleeting clouds. I gave each of you the ability to think, and I gave you souls. When your lives are over and your souls stand before me, they are all equal. There is no discrimination.”
“I understand, you mean that all people are actually equal, but it is just that their identities are different?” Liu Jue said lazily.
“You are so smart!” Ah Luo was delighted, not expecting Liu Jue would get it! Only a word is sufficient for the wise.
“Alright then, let us wait for this life to end to talk about equality. For now, the emperor still has the final say in the Ning Empire, and I still have the final say in the generals’ residence!” A slyness flashed in his eyes and Liu Jue hugged Ah Luo gently. He thought to himself, how is it possible to have equality?
Ah Luo became despondent. Feudal ideology was rooted to the bottom of the hearts of the people here and could not be reformed. Yet, she had to fight for some benefits, right? She kept her chin up and said, “Legend speaks of a country where couples stay monogamous and grow old together. If the husband goes out with other women, it is called cheating and using the criminal law system fitting of the Ning Empire, he would be imposed upon a punishment of a hundred lashes and a tattoo on his face. If he married her, he would be sentenced to prison for bigamy. Minister Li, that father of mine, would be sentenced to prison for more than ten years.”
“Oh? The men there are that pitiful? If they married a woman who cannot birth sons or if he did not like her, he cannot take a concubine?” Liu Jue shook his head, finding it unimaginable.
“They can get a divorce! Men can divorce their wives, and if women are not satisfied, they can divorce their husband and find another love!”
“How absurd! Who instilled these crazy thoughts into you all day long? I will tear her mouth and pull out her tongue!” Liu Jue was enraged, thinking that if he married her and she was not satisfied or not happy, then she would dare to divorce him? Hmph! He pulled Ah Luo’s face and said seriously, “If I marry, I would marry the one I love and we would never part!” He pinched Ah Luo’s nose and said with a smile, “I never expected you to be a jealous woman!”
Ah Luo did not want to brainwash him and also spoke seriously to him, “If I marry, then he can only have me alone. If he takes a concubine, I will leave to satisfy his wish!”
Liu Jue blurted, “So this is why you were unwilling to be with Zi Li?”
Ah Luo stood up and looked out of the window. Zi Li, with his unchanging smile and his faint sorrow, the Zi Li who kept playing his xiao outside the Minister’s residence, the Zi Li who ran wild on horseback with her in the grasslands. She sighed.
The slender figure in front him sighed. Did she actually like Zi Li? Liu Jue leapt up from the couch and hugged Ah Luo tightly, hearing her murmur, “We were both young at that time. He loved to chat and I loved to laugh and we fell asleep without knowing it. The flowers disappeared in dreams. Zi Li and I did not meet at the right time and in the end, we had no fate.”
As it turned out, jealousy was another kind of heartache. He wished that Ah Luo had been raised in her own quarters and only knew him, no one else. Liu Jue’s mind became feverish and he lifted her chin, looking at those moving, shining eyes. He stared at them deeply and could only see his reflection in her pupils. He sighed as his heart beat fervently and covering her eyes, he kissed her. A faint aroma entwined around the tip of his tongue. He watched her long eyelashes flicker in surprise and her cheeks turn red. It was extremely moving. Liu Jue picked her up. He suddenly threw her up, Ah Luo shut her eyes and screamed as she fell weightlessly into his strong arms. He tossed her again and again several times, laughing.
Ah Luo clasped her arms around his neck tightly and said angrily, “Turns out your wound is completely healed?!”
“Turns out you say one thing but think another! Haha! My Ah Luo! Mine!” Liu Jue laughed loudly.
Ah Luo sighed and buried her head in his chest, saying, “My mother wants to become a nun and I am reluctant to part with her. She will not return to the Minister’s residence, and I do not want to either. Don’t send us back!”
Liu Jue put Ah Luo down and said seriously, “Ah Luo, in the end, you are still the Third Miss of the Minister’s residence. You cannot follow me around namelessly. If you want to marry me, you must do so grandly and in style from the Minister’s residence.”
“Then what if you are marrying Cheng Jin and not the Third Miss of the Minister’s family?”
“The person I am engaged to is the Third Miss of the Minister’s family. It has been decided that the An Qing Palace will be related to Minister Li by marriage. You will have to return to Feng City in the end, you cannot hide from this.”
“Is it not good to stay in Lin Nan City? It is far from Feng City, far from the imperial court.”
Liu Jue looked at Ah Luo deeply. She was afraid to return to Feng City, and ultimately did not trust him fully in her heart. Was she doubting that he would be able to protect her? “Ah Luo, you need to understand that I am General Ping Nan of the Ning Empire, the Young Prince of the An Qing Palace, the nephew of Emperor Ning, a prince, the cousin of Zi Li and the others. Some matters cannot be done at one’s discretion. I have my responsibilities. If I leave everything behind and go somewhere far away with you, without even mentioning the Ning Empire, the other empires will think of it as an opportunity and send martial art masters to capture me, a relative of Emperor Ning. Even if the Ning Empire cannot be threatened, the imperial Ning family would be humiliated. Moreover, you do not have a choice either. Even if I do not marry you, your title is the yet to be married wife of me, Liu Jue.” Liu Jue explained the situation to her calmly, “The emperor has already been resting from the imperial court for almost two months and a storm is brewing in Feng City. Winning or losing the throne is a matter of course. The day that the emperor passes away will be the day I return to Feng City with my army.”
Ah Luo was stunned. If she followed him, she really would be forced to be involved in a future life of rivalries and schemes. She unconsciously shook her head.
Liu Jue held her face to stop her from shaking her head, “I understand, you hate that kind of life. Do not think about running away, for how could you possibly run away? Even if you manage to escape, you might just fall into the hands of another country. What do you want me to do? Follow me, Ah Luo, all you need to do is follow me!”
At this moment, Ah Luo felt exhausted. She could follow him and be with him. Yet, when she thought of the people in the Imperial Ning Palace and the Minister’s residence, a weariness started to spread in the depths of her heart. She whispered, “Do you know why Qing Lei hurt her hand at the Prince’s banquet? It was I who played that Autumn Water song. Just one piece of music had caused such a big deal. I had not expected that the Crown Princess would take advantage of it in such a way. Wang Yan Hui really is skilled!”
Liu Jue was stunned, “So that’s why you do not touch the zither. You would not play it no matter what I said. You only played Guanling San because you were forced into having no other choice at the Prince’s banquet! Does Zi Li know?”
Ah Luo shook her head, “All the maids in the Minister’s residence who knew of this had disappeared. I am very afraid. If I had not learnt the flute, it was likely that my father would have destroyed my hands to prevent future troubles. Don’t send me back, I am truly afraid.”
Liu Jue took Ah Luo’s hands. Her fingers were long and her palms were slightly rough from practicing boxing. These hands were the ones that had played Autumn Water which had become famous throughout Feng City, leading to the first concubine of the Crown Prince. These hands had played the flute melody that had made Prince Li fall in love. He stroked Ah Luo’s hands and brought it up to his lips with a kiss, “I see.”
Within a few days, Feng City had swiftly sent Emperor Ning’s imperial edict. When Emperor Ning learned that Lin Nan had defeated the Chen Army, he was so pleased that he went to the imperial court and granted Liu Jue the title of Lord Ping Nan and named Gu Tian Xiang the Duke of Loyalty and Courage. Having heard that the Third Miss of the Minister’s family was found, he had granted a sedan to welcome her back to the Minister’s residence. The Minister family’s general had come with the imperial edict.
After drinking at the banquet held in the generals’ residence, they asked the imperial edict envoy about the situation in Feng City. The imperial envoy said, “Your father, His Majesty, ordered me to relay a message to Lord Ping Nan. His words were that even though you have been promoted to a Lord, you are still Lao Zi’s son. And when Lao Zi speaks, you have to listen as his son.”
The soldiers in the residence lowered their heads, holding back their laughter. Liu Jue’s face flushed red, his heart as clear as a mirror. It seemed that he could only let Ah Luo return to Feng City first alone. She, Liu Jue felt a slight headache. Ah Luo had always been resistant against returning to Feng City. How should he tell her?