After the beatings ended, there was not a single spot on Song Ci’s body that did not hurt.
It was only when the woman with the sharp and shrill voice saw him motionless, as if he had passed out, that she stopped her ‘lesson’ and instructed someone to lock him up in a pitch-black woodshed.
Everything around him quietened down. Song Ci sat on the ground, gasping for breath. But then, he suddenly felt his mouth move, and his voice rang out, “I’m sorry to have implicated you and make you suffer such pain.”
Song Ci was stunned. He raised his eyebrows. “You’re… Jiang Liang?”
“That’s right. I’m in your body.”
The feeling of his body being controlled made him feel weird. Plus, from the outside, it looked as if he was talking to himself like a man possessed.
“What is this place?” Song Ci asked.
“It’s gameplay with no moves made yet. You just walked through part of it earlier. These are the remaining parts. You were supposed to walk this path on your own. I never expected you to find me and lead me in too.” Although the voice came from the same mouth, Jiang Liang’s tone was much softer.
Song Ci did not know how to reply to him. All of a sudden, he felt as if he had let Jiang Liang down, but he could not fathom why.
After a moment of silence, Jiang Liang sighed. “It has been so many decades ago. San Chi Tai had been rebuilt many times. This little woodshed had been long demolished. I never thought I’d see it again in this kind of place.”
After hearing this, Song Ci had a question. “The person-in-charge of this place treats you so badly, why did you stay on for so many decades? I heard that Feng Zhuojun had already redeemed1 you back then.”
Jiang Liang smiled and said softly, “As big as the world may be out there, only San Chi Tai can accept me. Other than this place, there is nowhere else I can go.”
Song Ci inwardly grumbled, the world is so big out there; if you leave the City of Qinchuan, a captivating man like you would be welcomed with open arms everywhere.
After thinking about it, he still could not help asking. “Can’t you leave this place?”
Jiang Liang spoke no further. He was so abnormally quiet that Song Ci thought he was now the only one left.
It was only when Song Ci felt sleepy that the door to the woodshed opened. A girl walked in and whispered to him, “Jiang Liang, the troupe mistress told me to let you out, but warns you not to look for the Fengs again…”
It was then Song Ci felt his body move. Fortunately, the ability of his body to recover was pretty good. He could no longer feel any pain by this point. But Jiang Liang still walked slowly – one step at a time – back to his room. His movements were similarly slow as he lit the candle lamp.
The room was neat and tidy. It did not make one think of a lady’s chamber, but there was no obvious air of masculinity to it either. He went to the table and reached for a bronze mirror on it.
Song Ci noted that the bronze mirror was precisely the same as the one in the Mirror Old Man’s hand and realized that this was Mirror Old Man. Sorrow overcame him as he thought of how Mirror Old Man had, all these decades, watched helplessly as Jiang Liang sat all alone and heartbroken in this room.
Jiang Liang looked in the mirror and said, “Little Young Master, you have a really pretty face.”
This unexpected praise made Song Ci feel embarrassed. He said, “You flatter me. My looks aren’t even a tenth of Young Master Jiang.”
Jiang Liang smiled and said, “Don’t be modest. This face of mine might be exquisite, but it’s too delicate. When I was young, many people wanted to spend silver to redeem me and take me home to be their lover.”
He said this calmly and frankly. It was obvious Jiang Liang no longer took it to heart. But Song Ci did not know how to continue the conversation. He merely said, “It seems that everyone has a good eye for beauty.”
Jiang Liang smiled and pulled open the drawer of the table. There was a folding fan in it. He carefully took it out.
Song Ci had yet to take a closer look when his vision blurred and tears gushed out of his eyes. Jiang Liang spread open the fan. The fan was white and flawless, with a character the size of a fingernail at the corner of the fan frame—Liang.
The word was as red as blood. It flickered vividly under the glow of the candlelight.
Jiang Liang gently caressed the word with his fingertip, as if with infinite yearning.
“Is this the folding fan that Feng Zhuojun gave you?” Song Ci asked softly.
“He didn’t give it to me. I hid it secretly the day he came here. He forgot to take it back when he left.” With his train of thought interrupted by Song Ci, Jiang Liang wiped away a handful of tears and smiled. “I’m sorry you have to see me like this. This fan has been in my hand for decades. I’ve been sentimentally attached to it for a very long time. It’s just that it was almost burned to ashes during that great fire. Now that I’ve seen it again, I couldn’t help myself…”
Song Ci said, “I understand.”
Actually, he did not really understand this kind of feeling. But at this moment, other than saying ‘I know’, or ‘I understand’, there seemed to be nothing else he could say.
Jiang Liang, however, seemed happy to hear Song Ci say so. Pointing to the character, he said, “Look, this is embroidered with blood silk. Feng Zhuojun said he wanted to embroider me on a fan so that he could take me wherever he went.”
“How can silk be embroidered on a fan?” Song Ci asked in astonishment.
“I don’t know either, but he always has a way to do it.” Jiang Liang said, “Just like the entire street of lanterns back then. He is very capable.”
Song Ci nodded his head. He thought, wasn’t it easy to hang up lanterns? As long as he paid enough silver, he could even get them to hang up a man, let alone lanterns.
What was rare though, was Feng Zhuojun’s sincere thoughts.
“I initially meant for Feng Zhuojun to come to me and ask me for it. But who knew that he didn’t care about this fan at all. If it’s gone, it’s gone. He never thought of looking for it at all…” Jiang Liang was clearly smiling, but the tears were falling. “He even lied to me, saying that this was his most precious treasure.”
“Perhaps he knew the fan was with you, so he gave it to you?” Song Ci comforted him.
“If that was truly the case, then why did he treat me this way? Jiang Liang asked. “Did he forget all those vows we have made back then?”
Song Ci wanted to ask about the vows, but he was afraid of bringing up Jiang Liang’s painful memories. He could only say, “They are all in the past. Jiang Liang, you should walk out of this relationship and leave your feelings for Feng Zhuojun behind.”
“If I could, I wouldn’t have set up the Xingluo Chessboard Array.” Jiang Liang said. “It’s also to undo the knot in my heart that I did so.”
He looked out of the window, only to see that the starry night sky was now bright. It was just that the sky looked overcast as if it was going to rain.
“Time has passed.” Jiang Liang said. “Today should be the day of Feng Zhuojun’s marriage.”
“That fast?” Song Ci felt doubtful. “If I remember correctly, Feng Zhuojun had only just proposed marriage…”
“Because I’m in the chessboard array, so it’s soundless every time a move is made and the scene changes.” Jiang Liang stood up and said in a relaxed tone, “Let’s go. I’ll show you my worst nightmare in decades.”
His words made Song Ci flustered. Before Song Ci could dissuade him, Jiang Liang pushed the door open and walked out. A bunch of people came up the aisle and stood before him to block him. The plump fat woman stood at the side and said to Jiang Liang with detachment, “What are you doing?”
Jiang Liang said, “I’m going out.”
“Jiang Liang!” The plump woman raised her voice; it was so shrill it grated on Song Ci’s ears. She said fiercely, “Young Master Feng is getting married today. You reckless man, don’t go and stir up trouble. If you want to step out today, break your legs first!”
Jiang Liang remained stubborn and walked on without saying a word.
His temperament was gentle, but he was too headstrong; no one could persuade him.
“Hit him!” The plump woman said bitterly.
A rod came smashing down on his leg, immediately sending him kneeling onto the ground. The sharp pain alarmed Song Ci and his eyebrows involuntarily twitched. His heart ached for his body.
Jiang Liang gave a muffled snort and trembled as he rose to his feet and continued on.
“Hit him again!” The plump woman commanded.
Another rod mercilessly struck his other leg. Unable to sustain himself, he kneeled down on the ground. Cold sweat instantly drenched his head. He gritted his teeth and braced himself, wanting to get to his feet.
Left without a choice, Song Ci could only secretly mobilize that powerful force in his body and transfer it to his limbs. The wounds of his body healed quickly. When the next rod fell, it broke instead of injuring him.
The group of people around him were dumbfounded. Jiang Liang was surprised too. Song Ci could not help but urge him on, “Go!”
Controlling Song Ci’s body, Jiang Liang shoved his way past the people before him and strode away. The plump woman hurriedly tried to get them to stop him. When he came to the two-way banisters, he leaped down in a moment of anxiety.
He thought he would have a hard fall. He did not expect his body to be pretty light, like a silent fox. He landed deftly on the ground. Jiang Liang looked back and glared at that plump woman, then he ran out of San Chi Tai without looking back.
“Thank you so much, Little Young Master.” Jiang Liang panted heavily as he thanked Song Ci.
Song Ci kept silent and did not respond, but his heart inexplicably ached for Jiang Liang. Back then, Jiang Liang was merely a performer who could only sing and dance. How did he overcome the obstruction of so many people? How had he walked out of San Chi Tai?
Jiang Liang ran desperately. A loud thunder resounded overhead, and it started to pour heavily. The pedestrians all fled in a hurry. Only Jiang Liang was still running in the heavy rain. He ran on tirelessly until the voice of suona2
drifted into his ears.
The sound reverberated in the air through the patter of raindrops, the jubilation in its melody undisguised. Jiang Liang stopped before the entrance of the residence and looked up. The Feng Residence’s plaque3 came into his view.
Feng Zhuojun was getting married inside, and Jiang Liang had run all the way here from San Chi Tai.
The moment he came to a standstill, Song Ci said, “Jiang Liang, don’t go in.”
But Jiang Liang said, “I’m already here.”
Song Ci did not know how to advise him. But it was truly a torture to see, with his own eyes, his lover donning a wedding robe to marry someone else. There would hardly be anyone who would be able to accept this. He hesitated for a moment and asked, “Did you went in back then?”
Jiang Liang nodded. “Yes.”
Song Ci said no further. This was his decision. No one else could interfere.
The guards at the entrance knew him. One of them brandished the hilt of his blade and said, “Go away, go away! Stop standing at the door! Look out for those coming out!”
Another said, “Young Master Jiang, today is our young master’s big day. Please don’t stir up trouble.”
Jiang Liang looked at them and said, “Let me in. I want to see your young master.”
“That’s impossible, Old Master and Madam are both inside. If they find out that you are here, they would surely break your legs and throw you out!”
The Feng Residence was gaily decorated with lanterns and decorations. The gate was opened, and a pair of big ‘double happiness’4 decorations were affixed on the door pillars. Red silk extended from the main gate to the main hall. Even from a distance away,5 they could hear the laughter of the guests and the loud, clear sound of suona.
“First bow to Heaven and Earth—”6 An exuberant voice rang out from afar through the sound of the rain. Song Ci had an acute sense of hearing, and so he heard it very clearly.
Jiang Liang’s heart clenched. A suffocating pain overwhelmed him. This feeling was keenly conveyed to Song Ci. Song Ci whispered, “Storm in.”
Jiang Liang hesitated for a moment. “You will be hurt…”
“It doesn’t matter.” Song Ci said, “Compared to the pain in the heart, every other injury is minor.”
“What are you doing here, mumbling to yourself?” The guard said, “We told you to leave, don’t you understand?!”
Jiang Liang’s eyes were steely as he took a big stride forward and charged through the gate.
- 赎身 Redeem (a person); paying a price to ‘buy’ the freedom of those who have been sold into certain trades, e.g., slaves and courtesans (i.e., prostitutes), and in this case, a performer in an opera troupe.
唢呐, Suona. Also called laba, it is a Chinese double-reed woodwind instrument and one of the most commonly used, e.g. in weddings.
A signboard at the top of a entrance/gate to indicate the name of the residence.
双喜, literally double happiness or blessings. This word is usually used on decorations during traditional Chinese weddings.
- In a traditional compound in the ancient times, especially those of the rich, influential, and noble, the main hall would usually be a distance away from the main gate. Refer to this image for an example of a traditional compound.
- 拜堂 ritual bows by the bride and groom in a traditional wedding ceremony. There are three bows to perform before they are considered formally married.
“First bow to heaven and earth; second bow to the parents; third bow to each other.”