“I remember that a carp yao saved my life.”
Editor(s): juurensha, namio
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One day and night later, within the bedchambers in Xingqing Palace.
Yang Yuhuan had slept deeply for a whole night, and now she slowly began to wake.
“Are you feeling a little better now?” Hongjun’s voice sounded by her ear.
Hongjun had changed into a sky-blue martial robe, and now he sat by the bedside. He looked like a beautiful piece of jade, or a jade tree in the wind. In this instant, he was using his slightly chilly index and middle fingers, pressing them against Yang Yuhuan’s neck.
The Azure Jade Peacock Plume emitted pulses of light as the Pentacolor Sacred Light circulated through Yang Yuhuan’s body. The members of the Exorcism Department were worried that Lady Guoguo had done something to her body; in that last, chaotic battle, the fox yao’s words appeared straightforward, but they had left behind too many riddles in the end.
Hongjun said to Li Jinglong and the rest gathered in front of the bed, “I can’t sense any yao energy.”
Everyone finally let out a breath at that. Li Longji then continued, “Guozhong is in Hebei right now, and a detailed account of the matter must be made, so that he can get a proper explanation as well.”
Yang Yuhuan remembered what had happened, and two trails of clear tears trickled down her face as she asked, “Where… where is my eldest sister?”
“What do you remember?” Hongjun handed a glass bowl to an eunuch as he said, “Put the medicine in this bowl.”
Yang Yuhuan’s memories were spotty, and she could only vaguely remember that she saw a fox yao and had a very long dream. Her memories, scattered like broken shards, caused her to have no ability to recount the series of events that had happened.
“It’s probably the effect of the Lihun Pollen,” Li Jinglong explained to Li Longji.
“I remember that a carp yao saved my life,” Yang Yuhuan exclaimed. “Where is that fish now?”
Li Longji had said before that whoever saved Yang Yuhuan would be given a promotion in office and appointed a higher rank, but he hadn’t expected that Yang Yuhuan would actually recognize a carp yao with hairy legs as the yao that had saved her, so this became an awkward affair.
“It’s my good friend, Zhao Zilong,” Hongjun said. “Some other day, I’ll introduce you two, but now, come, drink this medicine ba. After you drink it, everything will be alright.”
Hongjun held that glass bowl in his hand as Li Longji went forward, supporting Yang Yuhuan into sitting up, but Yang Yuhuan stared fixedly at Hongjun.
The Hongjun in Yang Yuhuan’s eyes was radiant with youth, his lips red, his teeth white, his brows black and arched like the distant mountains. His eyes were like evening stars, his nose-bridge high and straight, his skin white and fair, his fingers long and slender. Those eyes held a hint of a twinkling smile.
“You… your surname is Kong?” Yang Yuhuan asked curiously. “Who is Kong Xuan to you?”
In that instant, a solemn silence fell over the hall. Hongjun’s hand trembled incessantly, and some of the medicine inside actually spilled out. He forced himself to calm down as he asked, “You know my dad?”
“You’re Kong Xuan’s son!” Yang Yuhuan grabbed Hongjun’s wrist with one hand, asking, “Where are your parents?”
“Beloved consort,” Li Longji hurried to interject. “You should rest well, this matter can wait until later.”
Hongjun’s eyes were tinged with shock as he looked at Yang Yuhuan, then at Li Longji. Yang Yuhuan turned her head and said to Li Longji, “Doctor Kong! Your Majesty! Do you still remember? 16 years ago, when this subject had a strange illness? The person who saved me then was Doctor Kong!”
Li Jinglong glanced at Hongjun, and the hall was filled with silence unbroken by even a bird call. Li Longji replied, “There does seem to have been such a person, and in the past Zhen heard Mao’er speak of him before… en.”
Li Longji hesitated for a long while, but Yang Yuhuan smiled. “Your mother is Jia Yuze. Are your parents still well?”
“They’ve both passed away,” Hongjun said dejectedly.
Yang Yuhuan was still for a long while without making a noise, but Li Jinglong spoke up from behind Hongjun. “All the citizens of the world are Your Majesty’s subjects, and being able to share some of the cares of the emperor and the imperial consort is just one of their many duties. Hongjun, the imperial consort is tired, let her have a good rest ba.”
Li Jinglong understood that Li Longji wasn’t willing to bring up past matters very often. After all, Yang Yuhuan had once been his son’s wife, and such a thing was still considered a little against the order of things, so he called Hongjun over to his side. Hongjun then said, “When you’re a little better, we can speak then.”
Li Longji nodded his head, sending them away.
In the side palace, everyone let loose a sigh of relief. While getting rid of the yao last night, thankfully Xingqing Palace hadn’t been reduced to a pile of rubble. None of the members of the Exorcism Department returned to their headquarters; they all found places in the palace to lay their heads down and sleep. The moment they woke, they ate, then bathed, changed their clothes, and as the afternoon sun shone down, Li Longji specially allowed the group to rest within the tea room as they waited. He himself went to hold a court session to deal with the series of questions that had sprung up in these past days.
Before that, Li Jinglong had been kept at Li Longji’s side the entire time to speak with the officials who entered the court. First it was the Judiciary Department, then the Ministry of Justice, and after that, the commander of the Six Armies. It wasn’t until this moment that he had a chance to breathe.
“Thankfully the impact of last night’s events isn’t widespread,” Li Jinglong said. “At the present moment, we can contain it as it is, and the citizens of Chang’an are unaware of what has happened.”
“There’s too much that they shouldn’t know, so have them all sniff a little Lihun Pollen and it’ll be fine,” Qiu Yongsi smiled.
“That Golden-Winged Great Peng that appeared in the end really came from who knows where huh,” Mo Rigen said. “Like a god descending from the heavens.”
The carp yao was sprawled out by Hongjun’s feet as it slept, but when it heard those words, it lifted its gaze warily, shooting a look towards Hongjun. Hongjun faltered, but thankfully the rest of them didn’t notice his strange reaction as they tirelessly discussed the Golden-Winged Great Peng’s appearance.
The Golden-Winged Great Peng was a godly bird from legends, and it held great renown amongst the common citizens of the Great Tang. In the end, the general consensus was that that bird was once the protective deity of the Tang royal family, and after the fox yao took over Chang’an, it had left, but after the Exorcism Department’s continued efforts, it had finally returned to once again watch over the Great Tang.
Was it like that? Even Hongjun himself didn’t know that Qing Xiong had such an impressive background, and it was as if yao were also split into two kinds: ones with good reputations, and ones with bad.
When twilight came, Li Longji had yet to let the group return. It wasn’t until they had eaten dinner and the emperor had taken his meal that an eunuch came with a message: His Majesty would meet them in the Jinhua Luo. The eunuch then lit their way with a lantern as he led everyone towards the side palace.
It was the beginning of winter, and within Jinhua Luo, the 400 year old gingko had already shed all its leaves, standing bare in the middle of the pond. That huge screen in Jinhua Luo was as open and splendid as ever, but the scenery had changed to one of snow falling gently. Behind the screen, a person’s silhouette was gently plucking at the strings of a qin in ones and twos, like a clear spring in the midst of the snow, causing the listeners to feel relaxed and carefree.
The five of them sat down on the same seats that Li Jinglong and Hongjun had sat on last time. Qiu Yongsi and Mo Rigen were still discussing the matter of who would win if the jiao dragon fought with the Golden-Winged Great Peng. In the next moment, a cry came from outside, “The crown prince has arrived --”
Li Jinglong hadn’t expected that the crown prince would come, and he hurriedly rose to welcome him as a tall, skinny, dark-skinned middle aged man strode in swiftly. He reached out a hand to gently pat Li Jinglong’s shoulder as he smiled. “Jinglong.”
“Your Highness!” Li Jinglong was evidently shocked and delighted.
That person was indeed the Great Tang crown prince Li Heng. When Li Linfu had been in power, Li Heng had been squeezed out of the capital, instead heading out to lead troops in the field. Last year, after Li Linfu had been deposed, Li Heng finally was able to get rid of the biggest calamity weighing down his heart, and with one less enemy, he could finally lift his head high again. Li Longji then made him the crown prince and called him back to Chang’an.
“The King of Di has arrived --”
“The King of Shou has arrived --”
Back then, before Li Heng left the capital, he had met Li Jinglong on multiple occasions. The Longwu Army that Li Jinglong was in often accompanied Li Heng to the Mt. Li hunting grounds to hunt game, and back then Li Jinglong had felt that Li Heng was a superior who was appreciative of his abilities. Li Heng, on the other hand, had a strong impression of this young man who had spent his entire family fortune to buy a single sword. And before, Li Jinglong had even had the thought of following Li Heng to the northeastern front to fight.
However, because Li Heng had needed to ensure his own safety, he had no time to discuss all this in depth with Li Jinglong before he had rushed away from Chang’an.
“Yo, who is this?” Li Heng saw Hongjun behind Li Jinglong, so he turned his head that way and smiled. “His looks put our entire family’s to shame!”
The King of Di Li Yan and the King of Shou Li Mao came in together, and the members of the Exorcism Department hurried to greet them. Li Mao resembled his mother, Imperial Consort Wu, his features handsome and delicate, but he lacked a bit of iron and yang. Li Yan had the air of a martial artist, but the space between his brows had a faint aura of fruitlessness.
“Our imperial father ordered us to come first, to get a little closer with Jinglong,” Li Yan said. “Without even knowing it, we actually slept through such an earth-shaking event last night.”
“Your Highnesses have the protection of the true dragon’s power,” Li Jinglong hurried to say. “Normal yao and evils naturally cannot withstand it.”
As they spoke, both sides sat down in the proper order. Hongjun observed the crown prince. Seeing that he wore a bracelet of nephrite jade beads, each bead as white as mutton fat and as uniform as its brethren, the light glistening off it, Hongjun felt very close with him. He said, “These beads of yours, when I was small…”
Li Heng noticed his expression, and he smiled. “Do you like them? I’ll give this to you.”
Saying this, Li Heng took off the bracelet and had a servant hand it to Hongjun. At this, Li Jinglong’s expression changed minutely, but just as Hongjun was about to refuse politely, Li Jinglong, feeling that while accepting it was not possible, not accepting it was out of the question as well, so he could only say to Hongjun, “Aren’t you going to give your thanks?”
Li Heng’s set of nephrite beads were called the “Godly Tears of Tianshan”, and they had been given to him as a gift 10 years ago, when Gao Xianzhi had personally led a campaign to the Zhetysu River Basin, and the Karluks had been assigned officials’ roles. In these years, Li Heng had loved this string of beads so much that he never untied them, and they never left his person.
Hongjun’s next words of “when I was small, I played marbles with a set of beads exactly like these” were stifled in his throat, and he could only accept them with two hands, hurriedly saying, “Thank you.”
The princes exchanged multiple conventional greetings with each other, each with their own style. From those words, it could be seen that they hadn’t met for a long time, but all of them treated Li Heng as the leader. As soon as Li Heng spoke, everyone else fell silent. Seeing this, Hongjun couldn’t help but think of the words Lady Guoguo had spoken before her death: if Yang Yuhuan also bore children, then perhaps they might be a little younger than them. Would they have been sitting here as well?
After defeating the fox yao, Qiu Yongsi had also analyzed the situation. Though he didn’t know what magic the fox yao had used, it must have been an extremely cruel, evil art, to make Yang Yuhuan bear Li Longji’s child three times, but have no way to give birth successfully to any of them. To this, Li Jinglong’s deduction was: Lady Guoguo didn’t want Yang Yuhuan to give birth to one of Li Longji’s princelings, perhaps because if that happened, an unknown variable would come into play.
But all of this, with the fox yao’s death, became an eternal mystery. However, it was exactly because of this that Li Heng’s position as crown prince would no longer be threatened by any danger.
“Father is still debating matters,” Li Heng smiled. “Jinglong, tell us ba, what exactly happened?”
So Li Jinglong began to detail what had happened from the beginning, including the case with the imperial examination the princes did not know about. As he was vividly describing the details of the happenings, just when he was halfway through, Li Longji arrived. Indicating that the group did not need to be overly polite, he took a seat and listened to Li Jinglong recounting the events. When he finished, the princes’ faces were filled with shock.
“This…” Li Heng exclaimed to Li Longji, “I didn’t know it was this dangerous!”
Qiu Yongsi said, “Though it’s said that the evil yao were wreaking havoc, the heavens looked favorably upon my Great Tang, and in the last moment, a Golden-Winged Great Peng swooped down from the sky, an arrival of an auspicious omen.”
“True,” Li Longji said after a long sigh. “ Zhen personally bore witness to the great peng.”
Hongjun thought, thankfully it wasn’t Chong Ming who had come then, otherwise they’d have to bustle about for three days and three nights just to put out all the fire.
Li Heng and the others nodded their heads, but confusion appeared in their eyes. Evidently, they didn’t believe it, and they bore expressions of “what in the world”. But because Li Longji believed this matter, they could only go along with him.
After this time, Li Longji’s expression seemed to have become even more exhausted, and after listening, he just managed to lift his spirits a little as he said, “In the end, it was a carp that saved your honored mother, the imperial consort.”
“A carp.” Li Yan and Li Mao hadn’t yet surfaced from the “you’re kidding me” thoughts, so they merely nodded unconsciously. Li Mao said, “A carp is pretty good.”
“It’s a good fish.” After Li Heng finished listening to that entire long string of things, with fox yao and ao fish and a bunch of other monsters, he didn’t know how to respond at all, and he could only nod along.
Li Longji then asked, “Where is the fish?”
“Zhao Zilong,” Hongjun turned his head and called. “They’re asking for you.”
The carp yao stuck its head out from behind the table. Its mouth moved a little, and it took a look at the nephrite beads that Hongjun had placed on the table, before looking at the princes, and in that instant the interior of Jinhua Luo was filled with silence.
The carp yao said, “Upon seeing injustice, I merely drew my weapon to assist, so no need to be polite.”
The three princes were greatly startled. Cups of tea were overturned in the commotion, nearly drawing the guards over as well, but Li Longji began to laugh loudly, saying, “So, now do you all believe this?”
Li Heng was still a little apprehensive as he lowered his head to look at the carp yao, but he swiftly recovered his calm, and he nodded. “Now I believe it.”
“In front of the Xuande Gates, Zhen did promise before that whoever was to save the imperial consort would be rewarded with an official’s position,” Li Longji said. “What do you want? Speak ba.”
The carp yao suddenly thought of something, and it spoke. “No need for an official’s position, having a carp be an official would be a pretty strange sight. There is just one thing I’d like to ask of you, Your Majesty. I once was indebted to someone, but now they’ve died, and I heard that Xingjiao Temple has kept many of his Buddhist relics. Can you give me one in memory of him?”
“Naturally.” Li Longji then said to Li Heng, “In a few days, you may go carry out this task on its behalf.”
“Yes, yes,” Li Heng hurriedly nodded as he used his sleeve to wipe away his sweat. Li Yan and Li Mao were still looking at the carp yao with uncontrolled horror. The carp yao stuck its head into Hongjun’s cup of tea and took a few sips; it was used to such gazes from the humans, and afterwards it shrank back underneath the table, lying back down next to Hongjun’s feet.
Li Longji then said, “Naturally, Jinglong’s efforts to exterminate the yao cannot be denied, and starting tomorrow, the Exorcism Department’s members will be promoted accordingly. You will also be granted a portion of territory, which you may choose yourself when the time comes.”
Li Jinglong hurried to once again bow and thank His Majesty. Li Longji said to Li Heng, “Originally, the Exorcism Department was under Guozhong’s command, but starting tonight, it will be yours to command.”
Everyone understood that Li Longji, upon seeing the Exorcism Department’s exceptional abilities, couldn’t feel secure leaving it in an outsider’s hands; they had to remain within the command of the Li clan, to give their lives for the royal family. Now that they had been directly handed over to the crown prince, and in most matters they would have to listen to the crown prince, the emperor could finally sleep soundly at night.
“There is one matter I would like to enquire about,” Li Heng said. “Jinglong, in the Chang’an of today, are there still yao, and how many?”
After Li Jinglong thought for a long moment, he said, “There are basically no more left, but whether none of them are left at all, it’s hard to say.”
Everyone looked at each other. In reality, the members of the Exorcism Department had already split up yesterday to investigate in every area of the city. Last night, after discussing it over and over again on the observation platform, it seemed as though Chang’an was no longer like how it had been before, where it felt as if a cloud enshrouded the entire city. With the yao king’s death, the yaoguai, both big and small, must have scattered after seeing the tree fall, and they had completely deserted the city.
Mo Rigen said, “The return of the Golden-Winged Great Peng is the strongest piece of evidence. Though we do not know where it is hiding today, there shouldn’t be any strange occurrences in the short term.”
“Wu…” Li Longji nodded. “Inside the Daci’en Temple is painted a mural of a garuda, which is the godly bird that protects the country and destroys all evil, and now that it has returned, it is true that there is no more need to worry. Alright, so be it.”
Today, Li Longji was clearly not in the mood to discuss such things, because he had to go back to watch over Yang Yuhuan, so everyone rose to see him off. After the emperor left, Li Jinglong then chatted for a little longer about everything and nothing with the princes. Seeing that everyone’s hearts were not in it, Li Heng ended the meeting early. As they left Jinhua Luo, he personally saw Li Jinglong and the rest of the department in a line trailing after him off outside of the main palace of Xingqing Palace.
Last night, it had rained, and right now the night sky was filled with starry brilliance, the Milky Way like a belt, its stars glimmering over the land. After the fox yao’s execution, the atmosphere of Chang’an had indeed changed greatly.
“Your Highness,” Li Jinglong turned and said, “Though the Exorcism Department wields remarkable powers, we are unable to fight mortals who are not familiar with magic, so please forgive us for that.”
“That is natural,” Li Heng smiled. “Today, Father specially ordered that you all should not be doing such unbefitting things as assassinations. However, I hope that there will never be a day that this sharp sword that is the Exorcism Department will need to leave its sheath.”
Li Jinglong replied mildly, “Hopefully, it will be so.”
And saying this, Li Jinglong and Li Heng made their farewells to each other, both of them having reached a tacit understanding. The Exorcism Department headed by Li Jinglong would be loyal to the future emperor of the Great Tang, and the crown prince would give thanks to the Exorcism Department for having saved his entire family. With that, the two of them each left the plaza.
“It feels like there’s no more yao energy, it’s really different,” Hongjun smiled.
Mo Rigen replied, “Speaking of it, it’s strange, now the night sky looks exactly like how it does on the grasslands.”
The carp yao, from behind Hongjun’s back, replied, “When the yao energy enveloped Chang’an, various stars went dark, the guest stars opposed the master, and there was an energy of conflict. Now that the yao king is dead, the spiritual energy of the usual stars has naturally grown stronger.”
As the group walked through the courtyard, just as they were about to leave the Meridian Gates behind, Mo Rigen sucked in a few breaths of fresh air and said, “We just don’t know the black jiao’s whereabouts.”
Qiu Yongsi sent a look to Mo Rigen, but even this small movement couldn’t escape Li Jinglong’s eyes. He asked, “What’s wrong?”
“Let’s talk about this in a few days,” Qiu Yongsi smiled. “There are some things that need to be discussed at length.”
Li Jinglong didn’t continue asking about it either, merely nodding his head. Suddenly, a carriage rushed over, stopping in front of the Meridian Gates, and a person climbed off. It was Li Longji.
“Your Majesty?!” Li Jinglong exclaimed, surprised.
“Accompany Zhen for a stroll,” Li Longji said. “Kong Hongjun, the imperial consort has a few things to ask you.”
The rest of them, understanding how to behave in this delicate situation, left the palace. Li Longji took Li Jinglong along as they walked around the outskirts of the Meridian Gates towards the plaza, and Hongjun, after letting the carp yao go back with Mo Rigen, climbed into the carriage alone. Within the carriage, there was a lit brazier, and Yang Yuhuan sat there, wrapped in a large fur cloak, staring off into space. As soon as she saw Hongjun, she began to smile faintly.
“His Majesty doesn’t like it when I bring up the past,” Yang Yuhuan said warmly. “As long as you’re just listening, it’s alright, but don’t speak of it often.”
Hongjun asked, “Why is that? I was just about to ask you…”
Yang Yuhuan began to smile, and she said, “You were raised in a sheltered environment since you were young, so you do not understand much about dealing with the world, right?” And saying this, she used her hand to stroke Hongjun’s ear, asking, “And what happened here? Where did you get this wound?”
Hongjun turned his head, rubbing at the edges of his injured ear as he replied, “It’s nothing, when I was young I kept bumping into things, so in comparison, ‘tis but a flesh wound.”
Yang Yuhuan let out a sigh, before beginning to inquire after Hongjun’s family. Hongjun spoke simply of some of it, before Yang Yuhuan said, “And that’s to say, after Yuze and Doctor Kong passed away, you lived in the mountains for 12 years.”
“What kind of people were my parents?” Hongjun already had no memory of his father or mother.
“Like pearls and jade complimenting each other,” Yang Yuhuan said warmly. “A golden man and a jade-like woman, a pair of great beauty. Your mother was a woman of the Huayin Jia family, and she and I once came as companions to Chang’an to attend Princess Xianyi’s wedding… Not long after, Luoyang, Hongnong, Sikang, and the surrounding regions were all struck with a plague, and your dad used his medical skills to help the people. He saved the lives of many citizens.”
Yang Yuhuan lifted her gaze to look at Hongjun, who thought deeply for a moment. As he remembered the words that Lady Guoguo had spoken before she died, in the end he didn’t feel relieved, so he pressed his fingers against Yang Yuhuan’s pulse point.
“As for my big sister’s matters, His Majesty already told me everything,” Yang Yuhuan said quietly. “Do you know when exactly she came to my side, Hongjun?”
Hongjun’s brows furrowed deeply as he once again used the Pentacolor Sacred Light to search through Yang Yuhuan’s meridians. Unlike Li Jinglong, Yang Yuhuan did not practice martial arts, and her meridians were as empty as air, not rejecting the touch of his Pentacolor Sacred Light.
“Do you remember when you saw anything strange?” Hongjun held that hand as he placed one foot on the footrest of the horse cart, turning his head as he asked Yang Yuhuan the question.
“When I was young, I once saw a white fox,” Yang Yuhuan said after pondering. “It was the year I turned 14.”
“A white fox?” Hongjun suddenly felt a sense of unease. “It wasn’t grey?”
Yang Yuhuan nodded her head and continued, “Afterwards, after I married… after I married Li Mao, I was gravely ill for a time. I suffered in my dreams, and my high fever would not fade. Just before I fell ill, your father and mother suddenly came to the manor. They said that soon a disaster would befall me, and there was only one method to save my life.”
“What method?” Hongjun asked.
Yang Yuhuan furrowed her brows. “On my back, he used some medicine to draw a sigil, and he said that that would be able to deter yao and devils…”
It was as if a bolt of lighting shot through Hongjun’s mind, and he could dimly deduce what had happened then.
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), moon.