Hi guys, because it’s the summer, so I’ve spent more time reading and sharpening up my chinese. One of the books that I’ve stumbled across is The Song of Lumen (鹿门歌) which I really enjoyed and would like to share with you and therefore I’ve decided to translate it as a short summer project.
Synopsis: The novel tells the journey of the leader of the embroided clad guards when he delivers the daughter of a charged court official to the capital. The male protagonist, Ping Yu is the younger son of the Marquis of Xiping. The female protagonist, Fu Lanya is the daughter of the impeached court official Fu Bing who once impeached his father. However, the secrets that surround Fu Lanya and her connection to a 20 year old secret causes their journey from Yunnan to the capital to not be a peaceful one. As they work together to overcome each danger one by one, Lanya’s intelligence and courage wins the heart of Ping Yu.
When Liu Baitong left the palace, it was not too late or early, just pass 5pm, the day was slowly dying away and the golden disc was struggling to maintain it’s position overhanging the horizon.
He stared at the protruding sun , undecided for a good while, and when he notices dusk turning into night, he finally made a decision, pulled out a handkerchief, wiped off the sweat on his brow, smoothed out his gown and climbed onto the awaiting carriage outside the palace gates, ordering the driver to drive towards the Willow Hutong.
The driver would often travel along this road. Although it was getting dark, due to familiarity, it was not long before the carriage crossed through an alley, stopping outside a secluded mansion deep in Willow Hutong.
The owner had already been notified so as soon as You Baitong climbed out of the carriage the door opened with a creak.
Upon hearing this, his anxiousness left by half , but for some reason he felt a twinge of fear and calming himself, he looked at the gaping black hole of the entrance like a dark beast trying to swallow him whole.
But before his fear could completely consume him, a youthful feminine looking man appeared from inside. He looked around twenty something, wore the uniform of the royal detective guards. When he saw Liu Baitong he gave him a half smile and standing on a platform he said looking down at Liu Baitong, “Lord Liu you are finally here.”
Startled Liu Baitong glanced back, his face full of fear, he greeted the young man, ” I came late, please forgive me Lord Wang.” Fearing there would be a delay, he hurried up the stairs, following Lord Wang inside.
Although the mansion was indiscernible outside, but inside, it was decorated with gold and precious gems , ivory Jade lines the pathways, the garden was filled with priceless exotic antiques, and in the corridors, the cages in the corridors containing the parrots were made from tortoiseshell imported from the country of Xingluo. In the entirety of Peking city, it was rumored only the Head Eunuch Wang was given this by the Emperor in the last Autumn Festival.
He sighed silently, only Wang Ling would have such an honor.
The young man entered the hall before him but because Liu Baitong was not called in so he remained in the hallway with bated breath.
In the half darkness, there was a sudden shout of anger “You dog.” The voice was rough & low and seemed surprisingly to be close to his ear.
The mansion felt suppressed, he already felt uneasy so when he heard this, he jumped and even lifted his head, startled. But it turned out the voice came from the parrot in the cage.
If under normal circumstances, if he was scolded by an animal, he would not stand there but it was different today. The words “You dog” completely evoked the little shame that was left within him as if someone had smacked him on the face. That sense of shame combined with the long hidden determination surprisingly made him feel like retreating.
“Lord Liu, please come in.” But at that moment, the young man came out from inside and called out to him. Being seeing Liu Baitong’s ashen face, and his silence to his call his face darkened. “Lord Liu?” he called again.
Liu Baitong froze when he heard the slight warning and summoning in his voice, the hairs on his back stood up and as if he was pulled out from a dream, that feeling of retreat disappeared like a cloud of smoke. Giving the young man a grim smile, he entered the room.
Disdain flashed past the young man’s eyes, he stepped aside for Liu Baitong to enter first before he followed him in, drawing the curtain close behind him.
On the top seat ( 上座: also the seat of honor where either the owner or the highest ranking individual in the room would sit), sat a pale, clean shaven middle aged man. He had a feminine face but he had a good, straight posture, unlike a eunuch’s, instead resembling the posture of a general’s more. He was just flicking through a thin book as the maid beside him illuminated the pages with a crystal lamp but seeing them, he cast the book aside, he greeted them warmly, “You’re here.”
Every time he saw the Head Eunuch of the ministry of rites, he was always overcome with a strange feeling. And he seemed to practise a mysterious sorcery as he was clearly beyond the age of 50 yet he looked as if he was only 30.
Because Liu had frequent contact with him, Wang Ling so he understood a little about his temperament. So when he saw the smile on his face, his patience was limited. Afraid the other man would lose his patience, he hurried forward and reported everything he knew. “I have made all the arrangements in the Detection branch of the Censorate. Tomorrow, during the morning court session, I will lead all the officials to impeach Fu Bing and his son.”
“Hphm.” Wang Ling blinked with approval and then slowly replied, “Lord Liu is the favorite student of Fu Bing, if you lead everyone, the outcome will be much more effective.”
He smiled when he finished, so much so that he seemed as if he had finally achieved his long desired wish.
But there was a bitter taste in Liu Baitong’s mouth and he stood there with apprehension.
Beside them, Wang Shizhao watched Liu Baitong’s strained expression and scoffed silently. “Framing his mentor, committing treachery, adding insult to injury, etc, there was not one that Liu Baitong had missed, who is he trying to show his uneasiness to? If he did not betray them, how could Uncle and Li Shimao have evidence of Fu Bing and his son’s crimes so quickly?
With uncle’s help, Li Shimao was appointed as the chancellor, Fu Bing was imprisoned, and even Fu Bing’s eldest son, Fu Yanqing was ushered from Da Xing to the capital overnight to be questioned.
In less than half a month, the Fu family had been knocked from the cloud of power, unable to retaliate.
He laughed coldly, because of the late emperor’s trust, Fu Bing had high aims, was arrogant and unrighteous and opposed uncle at every turn. He had long been an enemy of uncle’s and now his ending will be that he will lose his entire family; he really deserved his fate.
A beautiful face flashed before his eyes, he wondered with Fu Bing’s pretty daughter would react when she realized that her entire family was overturned in one night.
Every time he thought about that delicate little beauty, he felt an ache in his chest. The first time he met her was 2 years ago. At that time, the new emperor had not ascended to the throne yet. Uncle was only a head Eunuch in the Crown Prince’s palace. And he had just recently arrived to the capital to help his uncle by entering the Embroided clad guards. Because he had performed no service to the crown or gifted in martial arts so he had to start from the bottom.
And as the Fu family were close to the late emperor so at the time, at the time, they were at the height of their power.
Not long afterwards, it was the Grand Preceptor Yan’s birthday and to celebrate, all the ministers attended his banquet, even the Crown Prince went to wish his mentor a happy birthday. Uncle wanted his nephew to attend too and made some arrangements allowing him to attend.
It was during that banquet, when he met the intelligent Miss Fu. She was not reach the age for a coming of age ceremony yet she had already blossomed into a gentle beauty, putting the other females who attended to shame. She easily solved the baguenaudier (chinese ring’s) and the way she moved as she did so… attracted the attention of everyone.
She was easy going, friendly, intelligent like a full moon in a midnight sky and the one who attracted the most attention amongst all the female guests.
After that, he begged his uncle to find out everything about her but it turned out she was engaged to the great scholar Lu Sheng’s eldest son since little, and she would marry him after she was out of mourning from her mother.
When he heard this, he developed a toothache from the disappointment but he knew there was an unpassable difference between him and Miss Fu. And an immense beauty like her is not someone he was a position to pursue.
But unexpectedly, times change. Within 2 years, the crown prince ascended the throne, and uncle slowly consolidated power and became the Grand Minister of Rites, and Fu Bing’s arrogance, was disliked by the new Emperor and he slowly fell from favor.
What made him more pleased was, a month ago, just when uncle and Li Shimao was planning to attack Fu Bing, the young master from the Lu family suddenly misconducted himself after drinking and defiled a distant cousin. No-one knew who spread the rumor but soon everyone had heard about it.
Young Master Lu was in disgrace and had no choice but to make that cousin his concubine.
It must be mentioned that it was the norm for such things to happen with men. But who knew that wen Fu Bing overheard it, he flew into a fit of rage. Because at the time he was the right monitor censor of the detection branch of the censorate, who under imperial orders was touring Yun Nan, and because of his position, he sent an urgent letter to the capital to lecture Young Master Lu about his gross misconduct and that he was not worthy of his daughter. It was a harsh letter with no room for the 2 families to mend their relations.
It turned out that Fu Bing loved his daughter immensely, and when he was picking a husband for his daughter, he once gained the permission from Scholar Lu that his daughter and Young Master Lu would have equal rights in the marriage and only if the marriage does not produce any children within 5 years will there be concubines. Now, before the marriage, Young Master Lu had already broken his promise so how could Fu Bing not be angry?
Fu Bing was famed for being good at rhetoric and Scholar Lu, and because he was disgraced by Fu Bing so used the opportunity to call off the marriage.
Fu Bing knew that creating a fuss at this time, would force the Lu’s to be displeased but still he called off the marriage and the relations between the 2 families became as cold as ice.
Now that the Fu family fell to ruin, Miss Fu lost the retreat path that the Lu family could have provided, so when she reaches the capital, apart from being punished and forced into the detention centre, she had no other choice.
He smiled. Such a beautiful blooming flower will now fall into ruin, it really is a shame….
Now he has become a mid rank embroided clad guard and with his uncle’s position in court, if he was to marry, with Miss Fu’s current rank in society, the daughter of a criminal, she is naturally not a good candidate. But if she was to be a plaything, after he bought her… Now that would be a possibility.
What brought him most pleasure was that the Emperor sent him to gather the Fu family’s property and to deliver the female members of the capital. There will be so many opportunities on the way to the capital.
The more Wang Shizhao thought about it, the more overjoyed he felt, so much so that he was almost unable to sit still.
On the other side, Wang Ling was busy asking Liu Baitong about the Fu family’s family matter, especially Fu Bing’s daughter. Afterwards, he asked about how the situation surrounding Mistress Fu’s death.
As Fu Bing’s student, Liu Baitong would often visit the Fu residence and his wife used to have contact with the Fu household so he had a good understanding of their family. As he knew Wang Ling was not someone to be taken lightly with, so he was forced to tell him every detail he knew.
Watching his uncle’s intense interest in the private matters of a household , Wang Shizhao listened in surprise. Thinking back to a strange incident that happened in the past, he was full of questions but as he opened his mouth, he found the words stuck in his mouth when he glanced at the strange appearance of his uncle’s face cast under the lamplight.
When Wang Ling heard enough, he waved to Liu Baitong to stop and stopping to think for a moment he turned to Wang Shizhao and said, ” I heard Fu Bing loves his daughter dearly and had educated her like a boy. Not only did she share lessons with her brother but during their time in Yun Nan, he even personally tutored her. Apart from that, Mistress Fu was not of the Han ethnicity and when alive she knew several unorthodox knowledge so be careful when you meet her. Do not underestimate her. If something occurs due to carelessness and you ruin this, I cannot answer the Emperor.”
“I understand.” Wang Shizhao heard the warning in his uncle’s words and that strange feeling became more pronounced.
“But…” Wang Ling siad as he brushed off some invisible dust on his sleeve, “thanks to Lord Liu, we have an insider amongst the Fu family so we do not have to worry is Miss Fu pulls any tricks.”
Liu Baitong anxiously rubs the sweat off his brow.
Suddenly, there is a knock on the door, someone is requesting an audience.
Wang Ling had been sitting for a while and had started to feel slightly tired but when he heard the noise outside, he straightened up in his chair and asked that person to enter.
After he came in, he whispered into Wang Ling’s ear before withdrawing from the room.
In response, the expression on Wang Ling’s face changed and he threw a daggerlike glare at Liu Baitong. “Please wait for us outside for now. I must speak to my nephew in private.”
Liu Baitong’s heart was hammering quickly in his chest and upon hearing this, he hurriedly left.
“What is it Uncle?” Wang Shizhao carefully asked as he observed for any change in Wang Ling;s expression.
By this time, Wang Ling’s expression had returned to normal and spoke with an even tone, ” Fu Bing’s case is still on trial. There is no-one in Yun Nan to handle it at the moment. So right now there has been some unrest in the refugee camps there. Just now, the Emperor received news and has picked a minister to replace Fu Bing as the Right Monitoring Censor to tour Yun Nan. He has also ordered Ping Yu to protect him. After he reaches there, Ping Yu will be responsible for delivering the Fu female members to the capital.”
“Ping Yu?” Wang Shizhao almost lept up with fury, “Why is it him again? If he is involved, then what should we do about the Fu family?”
“She is only a daughter of a criminal. Let him deliver her, why are you so anxious?” Wang Ling had already calmed down at this point. “Did you forget? When the Late emperor was still on the throne, Fu Bing had impeached the marquis of Xiping 3 times for not doing his proper duty when he was the chancellor. Back then, all the ministers were his students so the call for their punishment went louder and louder with each passing day. The entire family was stripped of their rank and was sent to the Xuan Fu town. If the late Emperor didn’t visit Xuan Fu and there wasn’t that fire in his mansion , and he wasn’t saved by Ping Yu who was a soldier in the army back then, would the family regain their status? They would’ve probably spent the rest of their life eating sand. Now that the Future family is fallen from grace, at best Ping Yu would not add insult to injury, even if he detects something he will only stand by and watch. He won’t involve himself.
Although that was the case, but whenever this superior crosses him mind, it would always make him feel furious. They were both of the same age but because of Ping Yu’s social status, he was always above him. Additionally, he was a sly, crafty individual who smiles to hide his dagger ( 笑里藏刀 idiom meaning that he holds a secret harmful intent despite a kind exterior) He long plotted to replace him but despite his efforts to remove him from office, he never found a weakness….
It took about the time to drink a cup of tea before Wang Shizhao appeared in the hallway where Liu Baitong waited for him. He wanted to go in and say farewell to Wang Ling but Wang Shizhao stopped him.
“Uncle is worn out, he’s already rested. Please follow me I will lead you out.” Liu Baitong smiled in answer and the two walked out together. What he found odd was that despite the vast size of the mansion, there was not a single attendent to be seen. When they turned to walk down a corridor, a cold griping breeze hit him, chilling him to the bones, unable to control himself, Liu Baitong shivered and felt the smell of blood gripping his nose. Only it was very faint so before he could confirm it, it had already drifted away.
Beside him, Wang Shizhao observed him closely, his glare as piercing as a dagger. Feeling this, Liu Baitong dared not to display any sign of detection and covered his misconduct with an embarrassed cough.
Once they reached the main door, the two separated. Wang Shizhao uneasy about Ping Yu delivering the Fu females hurried over to the Northern military headquarters.
Liu Baitong on the other hand climbed into his carriage and went home. And as he lifted the curtain and looked at the sky, it turned out night had already fallen.
Minister of rites: was in charge of state ceremonies, rituals and sacrifices; it also oversaw registers for Buddhist and Daoist priesthoods and even the reception of envoys from tributary states;
Right monitoring censor: a mid level official who would tour the country to ensure all local officials were behaving properly
Embroided clad guard 锦衣卫: Imperial secret police. They were given the authority to overrule judicial proceedings in prosecutions with full autonomy in arresting, interrogating and punishing anyone, including nobles and the emperor’s relatives.
Grand preceptor: highest position to hold as a teacher/mentor. Often the teacher of the princes and sometimes even the Emperor
Censorate : high-level supervisory agency in ancient China.
- The Detection Branch (察院) was responsible for monitoring the behaviour of local officials; monitor censor (監察御史) would tour the country in circuits to ensure the proper discharge of the functions of government and good performance of local officials.
Chinese rings: is a disentanglement puzzle featuring a loop which must be disentangled from a sequence of rings on interlinked pillars.