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Golden Stage Chapter 21

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The two finally made it out of the ravine as dusk fell, meeting up with the Flying Dragon Guard's search party. Yan Xiaohan helped Fu Shen up onto his horse, sharing a ride as the Guard personally escorted the latter back to Hidden Orchid Villa.

All the Guards halted their march when they came to the outer gate of the Villa. Yan Xiaohan also dismounted at this juncture, pa.s.sed Fu Shen over to Yi Siming and others who came busily rus.h.i.+ng over, added a few directives like “pay attention to the wound” and “apply medicine right away”, then went to urge his horse to leave.

His figure was immersed within the melted moonlight and dim luminescence with a particularly enigmatic silhouette, consequently making his face seem exceptionally wan. Fu Shen felt beyond guilty, and utterly apologetic on the inside. It wouldn't be unreasonable to say that someone who had gone through great troubles to bring him back ought to be invited into his home for tea and some rest. However, as they're harboring an at-large descendant of the Jin family and both sides are well aware of the matter, were the Flying Dragon Guard to be allowed in, it was the equivalent of sending a lamb into a tiger's den; everything done before would be an entirely futile waste of effort.

"No need to send me off. Rest well." Yan Xiaohan lifted his reins, speaking with a mild smile as he seemed to catch his guiltiness. "I still have official business to tend to, and won't trouble you with it. Please take very good care of yourself, Young Master Fu. I'll see you again in the capital someday."

Fu Shen raised his hand in farewell to him, his eyes following the Flying Dragon Guard's figures as they disappeared at the end of the mountain road. Turning around, he found Yi Siming was holding his arm at staring at him pensively. "Tsk, tsk, tsk. You've only known each other for how long, and now you're gazing at him with those big watery eyes like you're upset he has to go?" he said with bland sarcasm. "Look at all that anxious energy you got, like you can't wait to have him tie you to his belt and bring you along. Very promising."

Fu Shen gave as good as he got. "No matter what else, he rescued me from the valley. What were you doing? Waiting until you'd finished drinking your tea and rested enough before you came and found me, when I might've already gone cold down there? You still have the face to 'tsk' me? Very virtuous."

"…That's true. Being worthy enough to be called the one who risked his life to save you is something even I can't totally claim. Alright, let's go, let's go. The doctor's been waiting inside for half a day already. Get your wound checked out."

No one was in the mood to go hunting anymore after going through something like that, and they all agreed to stay the night in the Villa before going back to the capital later. Yi Siming thereafter made arrangements for and took the woman and infant away. Fu Shen stayed a few days more until the wound on his back scabbed over, only then taking up his horse and strutting down-mountain.

During his departure, he intentionally wound back to that open slope of orchids he'd seen that time ago, then paused for a very long time. He didn't end up getting the willpower to pluck one. Facing the wind with a sigh, he swiveled around and spurred his horse to leave.

Recalling this scene after so many years, it now seemed like a lifetime ago flas.h.i.+ng past – he thus suddenly understood the truth behind "youth don't know the taste of sorrow, making up poems to describe it". [1] The sky changed color when he returned to the Duke of Ying's Estate, and he got a good scolding from Fu Tingxin. Relying on his own youth, Fu Shen didn't take his back-wound too seriously, laying on his stomach for a few days prior to getting up to be a lively champ once more.

Now, however, the situation in the capital was less than good. The scope of the rebellion incident's involvement kept getting wider and wider; it was not only those in the same party as Han Yuan being investigated, but also those with a connection to the Prince of An. It was even to the extent that Jin Yunfeng's followers and old friends were suffering its spread. The Emperor was apparently dead-set on making Jin Yunfeng into a fowl of warning to the Prince of An, with Fu Tingxin and the rest's imperial pleas being stones thrown into a bottomless sea. All in Court were at the edge of their seats, each of them sensing danger.

Fu Shen hadn't ever been in Court, but from what little amount of news he heard from Fu Tingxin about it, his mind was full of worries and concerns. His worries led to him not telling his uncle about how he'd saved the Jin family's descendant even to this day, afraid that acting on his own would cause trouble for Fu Tingxin; his concerns were about how those two were so closely connected to it, that every day this incident wasn't tied up was another day they could not go free.

As his mind wandered, someone from the household pa.s.sed an inscribed letter to him, claiming that it came from outside and was an invitation for him to attend a meal at Vivid Harmony west of Brightspring Bridge [2], during .

Fu Shen took it and gave it a look. His own name was written in red on the outside, and within was a gold-sprinkled sheet of paper with small, neat script spelling out the t.i.tle "Colonel Yan of the Left Divine Martial Guard".

He sprang up, hurriedly went into his room to change his clothes and brush his hair, then headed out as soon as he was ready. Though his face was deliberately taut, it still didn't conceal his excitement. The servant following after him jogged the whole time, inwardly puzzled: How strange. Who is it that has this magnificent ability to make his soul fly after them with just one invitation?

Vivid Harmony was a well-known restaurant in the capital, the cook skilled in Huaiyang cuisine. Fu Shen quickly climbed its steps, pushed open the door of a private room, side-stepped a four-section folding screen, and had his eyes drawn to a figure clad in pale blue sitting upright within. That someone had heard his footsteps, happening to turn his head towards the door to look at the same time.

"Brother Yan!"

He smiled without words, perhaps not even sensing himself to have done so. Yan Xiaohan looked him in the eyes and got up to greet him, his demeanor as warm and gentle as a spring breeze brus.h.i.+ng one's face. "Please come in. How is your health, Young Master Fu?"

"It's been fine. Those were all minor injuries, they don't matter." Fu Shen took a seat opposite to him, drinking the tea the other poured for him. "Why are you in such a good mood today, Brother Yan? Did something special happen?"

Yan Xiaohan laughed. "Never. I simply heard that you were back in the capital. I should have prepared gifts and visited your Estate as thanks for your kindness in saving my life, but it's just that my status makes things difficult. Being able to be friends with you is already rare enough, and I mustn't stain a Duke's frontmost doorstep by treading on it. I thought it over, then decided I would call you over to thank you in private."

Their ranks are as different as the earth and sky, their friends.h.i.+p destined to be seen as improper to others. Yan Xiaohan had brought this up time and time again – perhaps he also wanted him to be low-key about this so as not to invoke criticism. Fu Shen took note of his good intentions, sighing. "You're being so distant, Brother Yan. You and I stayed in a cave deep in the mountains, why should we keep talking stuff about ident.i.ty and family status? Or am I, in your mind, a self-interested sn.o.b?"

Yan Xiaohan fully understood that Fu Shen was deliberately tamping himself down. He couldn't help but retreat a step to make amends. "Okay, I won't bring it up. I've misspoken – you aren't to blame, Young Master Fu."

He punished himself with a cup of tea instead of wine. In the midst of their conversation, a waiter knocked on the door, then arranged the table full of dishes. The ingredients used were not as expensive as those used in the Marquis of Gao Men's Estate [3], but they surpa.s.sed it in delicateness, the food light and nouris.h.i.+ng. There's also no seafood or mutton to give off that fishy, sheepy stench, and there's even a sweet, fruity drink in Fu Shen's cup.

This banquet was sufficient enough to deduce Yan Xiaohan's intentions out of, and Fu Shen was naturally disinclined to brush off his kindness. They chat as they dine, going on and on about anything and everything, their meal lasting near a full s.h.i.+chen.

Happily full of food and drink after noon came, when it came time to leave, Yan Xiaohan suddenly spoke to him in a lowered voice. "Talk in the Court has gotten tight, those implicated in the Jin case broadening. His Majesty is frequently asking questions, and the Department's been ordered repeatedly to make strict investigations—" He paused to nod at Fu Shen. "You who are trying to sneak something behind his back need to be careful."

Fu Shen looked fearful. "Many thanks for mentioning that, Brother Yan," he responded guiltily.

"And thanks for your consideration." Yan Xiaohan smiled icily. "That you all are able to keep your fox tails concealed is something I'm infinitely grateful for."

It would be inappropriate for them to come and go at the same time, so Yan Xiaohan was the first to leave. Fu Shen waited in the private room for a bit more than half the time it would take for a cup of tea to brew. When he went downstairs, a large carriage with a blue oiled canopy suddenly arrived at the gate, coming to a stop precisely in front of him. The coachman nimbly jumped off it, saluting him. "h.e.l.lo, Young Master Fu. My master has ordered this lowly one to take you back to the Estate. There are also several gifts within the carriage prepared for you— if you please, Young Master."

"Um? Is it from the Estate…?"

"The Northern Army's Yan," the driver said concisely.

Thoughtful and proper; that sure seemed like Yan Xiaohan's personal style. Fu Shen lifted the carriage's curtain and quickly climbed aboard. He caught sight of two boxes neatly arranged within the compartment, one big and one small; the big one was a neat square, and the small one was flat and long. "What's in these?" he asked out of unbearable curiosity.

"This lowly one doesn't know," the coachman said apologetically, "they were purchased by my master personally. We're about to leave, so please take a seat, Young Master."

Fu Shen settled within the extraordinarily stable carriage, carefully opening the previously-mentioned long box. Upon getting a good look at the object within, his heart suddenly began to beat wildly.

It was a professionally-carved, red sandalwood recurve bow!

That day on Gemstone Mountain, Yan Xiaohan had hacked Fu Shen's bow apart, but then they later shared the tribulations of falling off the cliff and trekking together – he had consequently overlooked this matter and didn't intend on seeking him out to demand compensation for it. Yet Yan Xiaohan was the one to keep that in his mind, looking for an opportunity to re-supply him.

Fu Shen's heart went soft yet also ached, his throat acting like it was blocked up. He reached out and gently caressed the bow's mirror-polished surface, feeling a few carved characters in seal script on the bow's tip – its name.

'Sunset Profound'. [4]

His emotions settling somewhat, he closed the lid on the box and looked to the other, bigger box. He contrarily didn't think to cry upon lifting the lid this time— it turned into an emotion between crying and laughter, as the inside of the box was packed full of dried mushrooms, as well as pine nuts, hazelnuts, chestnuts, and all sorts of dried fruits.

He truly remembered everything – he remembered kindness, and he remembered stupid stuff.

Fu Shen silently stared at the contents of the box with a dumb grin for a bit, until the carriage stopped at the corner gate of the Duke's Estate. Seeing him disembark, the boyservants at the gate rushed to carry his things for him. Fu Shen held the box with the bow in it like it was a priceless treasure, walking forward as he gave instructions. "Carry that to my courtyard. In a bit, take about half of it and bring it around to each room. Say that it was sent from a friend."

Regardless of him being a Flying Dragon or Imperial Guard, Fu Shen considered him a friend. As for the Estate's doorstep, if that got stained, then it got stained.

The next day, Fu Shen got up early and left to go find Yi Siming. He thought of what Yan Xiaohan had said yesterday and needed to see with his own eyes that the servant girl and baby boy were safe and sound to be at ease.

Yi Siming was meticulous in his work and had a vast amount of means, so the two had been handed over to him to arrange for when the time came. On account of pa.s.sageways by both land and sea being blocked by interrogating officers, going southwards wasn't easy to do, and going to another Prefecture or County wasn't safe, either. He simply found a place for them within a solitary courtyard in the rural area of the small County that was being tended to by an elderly couple. What was told to those outside was that they were a grand-niece and -nephew that had lost both their parents and had come from another area to seek refuge.

The two sped their horses along the whole journey, and when they arrived, the servant girl Cai Yue was in the middle of helping the old lady embroider. Upon seeing her benefactors had come, she quickly got up on ceremony, fetching tea with particular politeness. Fu Shen surveyed the surroundings, noted that her life was worry-free and the baby had someone taking care of him, and calmed down a tiny amount, once again giving her a veiled warning that she shouldn't walk around much outside these days.

Though he feared for them and didn't explicitly explain the situation in Court, Cai Yue already implicitly knew that her master's family was in a calamity that was difficult to escape from, and it would be hard to have their day of exoneration in the future. She saluted them tearfully, talking as she wept. "Your kindness in saving our lives, Young Masters, is something Cai Yue will remember all her life. She will be unable to return this immense deed in this lifetime, and can only pray every day for Buddha to bless you both. In the next life, she would be willing to be a beast of burden, working hard for your benefit."

Fu Shen couldn't take this and turned away. Yi Siming sighed. "There's no need for all that. So long as you raise this kid up well, our thoughts won't have been wasted."

That semi-large baby was already able to crawl off the kang bed, somehow fumbling over to Fu Shen's side to gnaw on his sleeve with his toothless little mouth. Fu Shen picked him up; seeing him flail his arms and holler nonsense loudly was adorably charming, and the dark haze in his heart slightly dispersed as he gave a faint smile.

He was a handsome young man and someone with both integrity and talent – that smile was akin to a thousand trees blooming, filling the room with its glow. The tiny infant also appeared to be endlessly happy, twisting and turning in his hands as he wanted to pounce on him. Fu Shen hadn't antic.i.p.ated himself to actually charm a child, so he set him free, along with his joy.

After the ruckus made by one big and one small, the old woman carried the baby off. Yi Siming was reluctant to stay here for long and seized this as the chance to take their leave. Fu Shen left some silver for them and stated that there was no need to see them off in no uncertain terms. The two tried to be as inconspicuous as possible, leaving for the city in as low-profile a manner as they came.

At about the halfway point, however, Fu Shen absent-mindedly felt at his waist and realized the jade pendant he wore under his clothes was unexpectedly missing. Were it anything else that he lost, he'd be okay, but that piece of jade just happened to be given to him by his second uncle, and it's something Fu Shen had never once parted with since his childhood up until now. "Might've gotten torn off when you were playing with the kid just now,” Yi Siming said upon seeing this. “I'll go back with you to find it."

Fu Shen waved him off glumly. "I won't trouble you, Brother Yi, go on ahead. I'll go back along the road we just took to search`."

Yi Siming knew it had quite a bit of significance to him and he wouldn't give up even if he couldn't find it, so he didn't press the issue and urged his horse to leave. Fu Shen turned his own around and headed towards the county town once more.

The translator says: Siming's such a bro. I wonder where he's at in present time?

[1] Taken from a poem by Xin Qiji, though not word for word.
[2] 景和楼 = lit. “Bright Union Establishment”, with the building part knocked off because it's redundant in English. 春明桥 = …bright spring bridge.
[3] 高门侯 = lit. Marquis of Tall Gates. Hey, buddy, who are you??
[4] 长渊落日 = Changyuan Luori, lit. “the setting sun, forever profound”.

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About Golden Stage Chapter 21 novel

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