Volume 2, Chapter 17: Rose Balsam and Wood Sorrel

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Old memories resurface.
In the middle of the scene that had a countless number of black and white, only there was it dyed in pale red. Within his field of vision, much fuzzier than other people, only there was it shining brilliantly.

Holding onto go stones, holding onto shogi pieces, the red nails on those fingers gleamed.

As her specialty, her movements were so sure, so efficient that everyone raised both hands in surrender. That was the haughty woman who gazed at him impassively, the courtesan called Fenshen(鳳仙, Feng Xian).

He had headed to the brothel to socialise, but he was honestly fine with anything. He didn’t drink, didn’t get the appeal of erhu or dance. No matter how prettily they dressed up, he could only see white painted go stones.

He had been like that since forever.

He couldn’t tell apart people’s faces. But that became preferable.
To say nothing of getting his mother and nursing mother wrong, he couldn’t tell apart men or women either.

His father said that he was worthless like this, so he went to his young concubine.
His mother didn’t care about a child who couldn’t distinguish her own face and schemed to bring back her husband who had run away with a lover through any means possible.

Due to that, though he was the eldest child of a distinguished family by birth, it was fortunate that he was able to live uninhibited.
He got completely absorbed into go and shogi that he learned from his studies, inclined his ear towards gossip, and sometimes carried out petty pranks.

Even the blue rose that was bloomed in the imperial court, he tried to make it from hearing his uncle.
Only his uncle, who was excellent but clumsy, understood him.

He was told to remember people not by their face, but their voice and bearing, their physiques. He could easily get it by adapting shogi pieces to familiar people. Eventually, people he had no interest in became go stones, and people who eventually became close to him were shogi pieces – like faces he could see.

When he saw his uncle as the promoted rook, he was reaffirmed that he really was a superior man.

When he heard that such an uncle went to study abroad in the West, he didn’t understand how much lonely he would be. Just that, there are now fewer people around him who could understand him.

He never thought he could manifest his own talent in the go and shogi he spent a prolonged time playing.

Owing to his parentage, even though he had no military talent, him suddenly defeating the chief was good fortune. Even if he was weak, if he didn’t squander his subordinates, the money will come. There is no mistaking that when people became pieces for shogi, it is the most interesting game.

As he continued his non-losing streak in game or in work, he was recommended by his spiteful associates and was arranged to have a showdown with a courtesan from the rumours. The Fenshen who never lost from the brothel, and the him who never lost from the military.

No matter who loses. It would be interesting to the spectators.

After all, he was a frog in the well.

As if she was cutting away the him who thought in such a way, Fenshen won against him. She may be holding onto a white stone, she may be starting second, the difference between her formation was overwhelming. Those elegantly manicured fingers, magnificent, crushed her opponent’s pride.

How long has it been since he lost? More than chagrin, he even remembered the refreshingness of that merciless wound. Was he being made light of? He couldn’t stomach that. She said not one word, he got that from her cold bearing.

Then he found himself doubled over, laughing. Everyone fell into an uproar at the strangeness of it.

Tears in his eyes, when he looked at the face of the merciless courtesan, what he saw was not the usual white go stone but the mien of a sullen woman. Like her name, like the rose balsam, like she would burst open if she was touched, she looked at him with eyes that would keep people away.

Do people make that kind of face?

That was the moment he first recognised something obvious.

Fenshen whispered into the ear of the kamuro who was waiting beside her. The little girl briskly returned with a shogi board.

Not letting him hear the voice of the first face he saw, the haughty courtesan wordlessly proposed the next match.

He won’t lose the next match.

Lifting up his sleeves, he lined the pieces on the board.




Just earnestly playing go and shogi over and over again, how many years did they continue their trysts?
However, the frequency of that gradually decreased.

Talented courtesan restricts their sales to some extent to become popular.
Fenshen was one of those too.

Although she wasn’t suited to all tastes with her formidable interaction despite being intelligent, it seems she catered to a type of strange tastes.
She was completely for people with strange taste.

Her price was also lifted. He scarcely met her once every three months.

When he went to the brothel after a long time, her face unsociable as usual, she was painting her nails.
There were a red rose balsam flower and a small grass on the tray.

When he asked what that was, she answered “Catfeet.” Apparently, it was also used in herbal medicine and was effective for detoxification and insect bites.
Amusingly, just like rose balsam, apparently, it actually shoots off seeds when you touch it once it’s ripened.

As he was going to try touch it this time, picking up the yellow flowers to look,

“When shall be the next time you come?” Fenshen asked.
How unusual. She was a woman who only sent standard promotional letters but.

“In another three months,” he said.

“I understand.” Fenshen got her kamuro to put away the nail polish, and began lining up the shogi pieces.




It was the time he heard about Fonshen’s redeeming talk.
Other than having no complaints on the courtesan’s value, it was just that he couldn’t stomach that the people competing for her had raised her price.

Although he was promoted as a military official, he whose position as heir was snatched away by his half-brother didn’t have the money to contend.

What do?

Suddenly, a terrible idea sprang into his mind, but he immediately extinguished it.
It was something he mustn’t do.




Three months later at the brothel, Fenshen was sitting with two boards, go and shogi, set up before her.

The very first thing she said was-

“Shall we make a bet for a change?”

If you win, I’ll award you what you like.

If I win, I’ll receive what I like.

“Please choose the board you like.”

He had a better chance of success for shogi.
But he sat before the go board.

Fenshen, saying she wanted to concentrate on the match, got the little girls to retire.




Afterwards, while not knowing who was winning, when he realised, their hands had overlapped.

There were no tender words, nothing from Fenshen. He too was in a sense not that kind of person. Would that make them similar people?

But, Fenshen muttered, “I want to play go,” in his arms.

Even though he was thinking he wanted to play shogi.




The unfortunate thing was probably what came after.

The uncle he was close to lost his standing. He was a clumsy person as usual.

Father spoke ill of him as a disgrace.
Although it wasn’t as far as he was harmed by his family, he who was influenced by his uncle seemed to be displeasing, and so he was ordered to campaign and told to not come back for a while.

It was fine to ignore him, but that’ll probably become a problem in the distant future.

His father, the military official, was his parent and at the same also his boss.

After he returned in around half a year, he had great difficulty sending a letter to the brothel.

It was after the time the redeeming talk was broken off when he received the letter.
He made nothing of it, thinking it was still fine.

He didn’t think that it would take three years when he returned.




When he returned home, there was a mountain of letters left carelessly in his dusty room.
The tied up branch had completely withered, letting him feel the passing years.

He looked towards one of the letters on the pile – for some reason, it had signs of being opened. The standard letter he was used to seeing was there. However, on the corner of that letter, there was some dark red stain on it.
He glanced at the half-opened pouch that was close by. There were dark red stains on that too.

Upon opening it, there were two things wrapped in dirty paper – twigs or clay or something, he had no idea. One was very small. When he picked it up, he felt like he was going to crush it.

When he identified that there was something attached to the end of the small twig, he finally realised what it was.

He had ten of those on his hands. He was too slow to realise.

Pinky promise. He heard that curse was popular.

He rewrapped the two small twigs, returned it into the pouch and put it away in his breast pocket. Then he was flying towards the pleasure district on a fast horse.

At the brothel of his close friend, evidently more run-down that before, there were merely people that he could only see as go stones. That woman who was like rose balsam wasn’t there. He understood the person who was hitting him with the broom was the madam from her voice.

Fenshen was dead.

After being abandoned by two large patrons, with her reputation fallen, her credence dropped to rock bottom, the courtesan had no other path left than to take in guests like a streetwalker.

It was something you would get if you think a little. But for him, who only had go and shogi in his mind, it wasn’t an answer he could reach.

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He could only just grovel on the ground. Even if he wailed without care of people’s eyes, time does not return.

For just about everything, the short-sighted him was to blame.




Clutching his still throbbing head, Rakan got up from the bed.
He recognised the simple room. He was in the military nap room that he occasionally used when he was skipping out.

Since his daughter was guzzling it down, he didn’t think the wine was that strong.
Rakan didn’t know what type of wine it was.
His throat burned with just a gulp of it.

There was a pitcher of water close by. He filled up a bowl and drank.
An acrid bitterness spread in his mouth, and he ended up vomiting.
It was probably hangover medicine, but he sensed spite in the way it was done.

There was a paulownia box by the pitcher.

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It was something he sent with a letter as a spoil from a prank a long time ago.
He didn’t know it can be preserved in this form even when it’s withered.

He recalled the daughter who was like wood-sorrel, like catfeet.

After that, he knocked on the doors of the Rokushoukan many times, and every time he was chastised by the madam.
There is no baby, hurry up and leave. He would be hit by a broom. A truly terrifying old lady.

When he slumped down to the floor, bleeding from his temples, there was a child picking something next to him.
The grass that grew on the side of the building had yellow flowers. Something he remembered.

When he asked the child what she was doing, she answered that she was doing medicine.
The face he should be seeing as a go stone, was, for some reason, a child with an unsociable face.

The child, grasping the grass with both hands, ran off. The place she ran to, there was an old man with a staggering gait. He would normally see that face as a go stone, but he was a shogi piece. Moreover, it wasn’t a pawn or a knight. It was a big piece, a promoted rook.

He realised who opened the dirty pouch, the letter that had been opened once.

Ruomen was there, his uncle who was long lost after being banished from the inner palace.

He called the child who tagged behind him like a little chick, who was holding on the catfeet, “Maomao”.

Rakan took out the dirty pouch from his breast pocket. It was greatly worn out from being carried around constantly.
There should be two small twigs like things wrapped in paper inside it.

Maomao’s playing hand was awkward. The reason could be that she wasn’t familiar with shogi, but the other thing he understood was on her left hand.
When he looked at the nails that was painted red, only the pinky was crooked.

There’s no point regretting.
There’s nothing he could about it.

Nevertheless, he wanted to be close by.

He was done with a life where he was only surrounded by go stones and shogi pieces.

For that, he mustered his strength. Snatched the family headship from his father, drove out his half-brother and won over his nephew as his adopted son.

He negotiated with the madam many times. He finished paying for the reparations twice-fold in ten years.

He told the kamuro who are now called the Three Princesses and his uncle to respect Maomao’s will.

Unfortunately, Rakan, who didn’t excel in reading people’s feelings, continued to act in ways that completely backfired on him.

Rakan returned the pouch to his breast pocket.

Let’s give up this time. This time.

With his persistent nature, there’s no way he’s going to give up.

Also, more than anything, he couldn’t stand the man who was standing next to his daughter.
Wasn’t he too close? During the match, he touched his daughter’s shoulders three times. It was a good feeling when he got brushed off each time though.

Well then, what shall he do for revenge?

Rakan thought as he took the pitcher and drank up the acrid medicine.
Although, no matter how disgusting, it was no mistaking this was his daughter’s handiwork.

Cleaning the bugs off the flower, let think of just that for now.

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