Recently watched the special 12 ep epilogue series of Royal Nirvana. Have to say it’s very similar to the ending of the book and they’ve quite quite a lot of the original dialogue in the drama, although personally I think the book is even more tragic. Because I was curious about how they were going to go about subbing the english version of this part because there are some quite beautiful poetry and language, especially in the crown prince’s final letter to his father and his final words to his cousin and Ah-Bao. And then I realized that it was all google subbed which completely ruined the experience so I decided to take it into my own hands and translate the final 2 chapters of the book (roughly the last episode and a half of the series). The actual book is more depressing that the drama so there are very few chapters where there are tender moments between the Ah-Bao (the female lead) and the crown prince; she spends most of them hating him so I don’t think I can find the equivalent chapters in the book for those moments in the drama.
As determined as stone
The rain slowly lightened with the breaking of dawn, yet the fire continued to burn for all 2 days and nights. Among the fighting and battle cries, Gu Feng’en continued to “protect” the crown prince by placing him under house arrest. On both days, the government post station remained heavily guarded, leaving Dingquan no choice but to wait there in isolation. It was only after 3 days after Gu Feng’en made the order to close the city gates, when their side gained the upper hand, when success was almost within reach was Dingquan allowed to leave his room once more. When dusk fell and after refreshing himself, he under the company of Gu Feng’en went up to the southern wall to take a walk around the battlements.
Dingquan never knew that fire could burn so brightly in the rain. It was a southern western wind that carried the fire towards the north eastern corner of the city where the Cheng army were located. In the turbid rain, the stench of dirt, blood and rotting bodies were carried up by the rain, soaking everyone’s clothes. High up in the battlements, one could see a dark green splatter of color in the horizon in the northerly direction, and further still was the dark, dragon like shadow that was Mt Yan. A dark red smoke covered the sky in the distance, wind fueling the fire, the smoke obscuring the view below, sparks of flames penetrating through the darkness, dancing among the rain droplets, spiraling up before bursting into nothingness.
Closeby was the close combat between the Gu and Li armies; the Gu faction that was trying to tie off loose ends and the Li faction who were resisting to the end. Nevertheless, Dingquan was unable to distinguish the two because the killer and the be killed both wore the same clothes, carried the same weapons and cursed each other in the same language. The only thing he could see was that among the sea of fire and mountains of weapons, was how both the sinful and innocent struggled to survive in this infernal. How they attempted to crawl over the severed heads, limbs, innards, before falling back into the bloodied dirt. How the blood droplets spluttered among the rain, burst in the wind before quickly scattering down, it’s color more brighter than the cherries in his courtyard. Blood stained the falling rain, stained the ground they stood on. The shadows of the war horses rearing and galloping like ghosts haunting the battlefield, merciless treading on the cut pieces of bodies. Although he will not be able to see it, but he knew that the ground below was covered in bloodied footprints. This was enough for him to know how bitterly the fight between different factions of powers, and the fight between humans with other humans.
Behind him, Gu Feng’en stood in silence, watching his ruler who stood before him, watching the infernal that unfolded before him, watched as the hellish scene reflect in the purple robed ruler before him. “If one wishes to succeed, one must offer sacrifices through fire,”he told Dingquan in a steady voice.
The Crown prince did not know when his cousin who had studied the books of the wise ones begun to believe in Buddhism, so much so he would set up this immense sacrificial “offering”, using fire as the altar to deliver to Taotie, in order to achieve his grand scheme.
He watched as the shower of arrows fired down, stopping all the people who tried to leave the city before the outcome of the rebellion. Whether they were members of the Cheng army, or deserting soldiers, or merchants, or simply the normal civilians of the city, or those who had no intention of leaving but was held hostage by the rebels, all of them were cut down by the walls that was supposed to protect them from foreign invaders, tearing away their hopes and only life. The walls did not distinguish friend from foe, just like weapons, who have no eyes or ears or heart to care.
The mound of bodies started to pile beneath the ruler to be. Some belonged to the people who tried to escape by using the pile of bodies to scale the city walls to safety, instead was taken to the underworld sooner, becoming the stepping stone for the living person behind them. However, the road ahead and behind both lead to hell, hence apart from ploughing ahead, in the hope that their death could save those still alive, what else could they do?
There were no cries of bitterness, or perhaps because this had always been a place where war reigned year after year so they were used to it. Humans can adapt to everything, including be killed or kill. At the foot of the wall, he could hear a woman cry, “Why do you kill us?!” but there was no-one who answered her. Nor did she continue. Just like a joke to those who heard her.
Gu Feng’en turned to glance in the northeastern part of the city. “It seems like by tomorrow morning we will be able to take over Changzhou and there will be nothing to worry about here. I will instruct them to gather up our grain supply and we can set off.”
He turned around, leaving Dingquan as the lone spectator. Night gradually fell and his view covered by the darkness. The pale red bloodied rain fell lighter and lighter, until he could only see the people below him. Those who just returned home, who were hurrying to take the civil exam, those who were alert, those in a drunken stupor, those with dreams, those who have given up, those who stubbornly resist, those who were yet to born, all meet the same fate.
Blood can show how many have died, blood can carry the boat, yet can overturn it. It can build cities and can destroy them. Just as he was about to turn away from the bloodshed, a soft cry cut through the war. It was the first innocent cry he had heard in days. Turning back, he searched for the source of it. Below him in the city, was a 3 or 4 year old, his clothes still clean, standing among the dead, confused and scared. By his feet lay countless men and women, perhaps they were his family or perhaps complete strangers.
Dingquan raised his hand as if to summon someone, to make an instruction, but then lowered his hand once more. Before he could say anything a dark shadow stormed past and stamped the lone child to death on it’s way out. He would never know if it was intentional or an accident, just like this unpeaceful world, there was no explanation for it, nor is it necessary to explain. It all made sense, all part of nature’s course. Perhaps those who kicking up a fuss, were those who were afraid, those unwilling to give in, those who had things unfinished, just like that crying that was cut short.
Wanting to reach a hand to help the now bloodied mess that was crying just a moment before, he suddenly realized that that child’s savior and that child was not simply a mere distance away. “Xiao Ze! Ah-Yuan!” He finally let out a painful scream.
That startled his soldiers below him who were busy risking their lives to achieve the dream of their leader who ordered them to kill their comrades, who hurt his own family was now slumped in despair against the city wall. The calm, grace and dignity of a to be ruler had drained out of him, plunging them into disappointment and despair.
Leaning against the cold city wall, he looked up. The rain had stopped, the dark clouds dispersed and a blood-red moon now peered above the turrets. As if the dark universe had opened an angry red eye. He suddenly remembered the past that he had tried to forget. Today was the 12th day of the month, where the moon was about to be complete. He never expected that the thing he yearned to see was this pale moon that was drenched in red and carried a metallic scent.
Perhaps it was his mistake, everything had a flaw to it. Turns out that was true. This empire was not perfect, it has it’s own blemishes, stained by this imperfect moon and the shamelessness of the greedy. The people nourished by it would only be plunged in misery. It was never generous in it’s light; it’s face was screwed up in anger.
It’s not that he did not understand it, if there is an outcome of course there was a cause for it. If one wishes to harvest something, one must plant seeds for that harvest and then water and nourish that seed. This was not a start, and will never be a harvest. If he wished for a harvest, then he must continue to sow the seeds, continue to water it. If he wishes to maintain his situation, he must continue to sow the seeds, and continue to water it. There was no start or end, as it will continue with the flow of time and the passing of the seasons, endless. Just like the person who he hurt said, this was his own private hell, one that he cannot escape from.
The world he blindly chose to ignore, it was in this moment when he suddenly remembered it. How many fields had he destroyed in this journey, that have now become barren save for the few sparse weeds? How many villages have been abandoned because of him? How many people who he wil never meet have been affected by him, who have been hurt by the Xiao imperial clan who cannot and dare not express their anger?
If there is a cause there will be an effect, power that was built on blood, what will be the outcome of it? His life was the prime example of that. Through that almost full bloody moon, he saw his people. On his journey from the capital to Changzhou, he saw the young supporting the elderly as they stood on this blood nourished city; he saw his people no matter how many reincarnations they passed, still remain standing on this soiled soil. He saw his people have no choice but to remain trapped on this blood sullied soil. That was their infernal, how can they escape from it? Countless of them stared back at him with teary eyes, with a resolute expression on their face, “Why has my king not returned?”
Sometime during his reflection, the sound of war had stopped, and the dark skies turned light once more. Only that bloody almost full moon stubbornly remained in the sky, but in the end was replaced by the rising sun in the east. Dingquan moved his frozen limbs; a hand appeared before him to assist him. His raised his head, but avoided the hand Gu Feng’en tried to assist him with. Instead he got up on his own.
The infernal that was the creation of both kindness and sin was uncovered now that night had left. The bloodied scene described in black and white ink the countless books, poems and paintings he had seen in the past now bloomed before him, penetrating his eyes and ears and nose. Now that the predictions in the books have rung true, was there truly a way back for him?
His hands started to shake, but his face had regained it’s calm and steady expression. Gu Feng’en grabbed his hands and told him with excitement, “Your Highness’ great reign is about to begin and bring glory to this land.”
Dingquan withdrew his hand from Gu Feng’en’s, “Let’s stop this Brother Ru,” he replied shaking his head.
“What did you say, Your Highness?” Gu Feng’en asked in disbelief.
Dingquan let out a sad smile, “I said let’s end this here.”
It was then that Gu Feng’en realized what he meant by ending it. He stood in startlement for a moment before asking coldly, “Do you know what His Majesty meant by sending you here?”
Dingquan nodded, “If I didn’t know Father’s mind, I wouldn’t be alive today.”
“So you’ve started to feel fear now that we’ve come to this stage? It’s too late, there’s no way back now!”he said in disbelief.
He shook his head, “Going back is my way back.”
Gu Feng’en stepped towards him and grasped his shoulders, “This is your last chance, I only want you to try this once! Once is enough! What are you afraid of?”he cried in anger.
“I am worried that if I try this once, I will get used to it, that I will become indulged in it, that I will like it and become like you, think that this was the right thing to do. I worry that after I feel that it was the right thing to do, I will become like His Majesty, and you will become Marquis Wud De.”
Gu Feng’en stared at him for a moment before clenching his fists punching Dingquan in the chin.
The weak leader fell to the ground and listened obediently to his cousin’s expression of disappointment and exasperation. “You coward! If I knew you were so weak, so useless, such a woman, why would my Father, my elder brother, the countless soldiers under my command, Lu Shi Yu, Zhang Lu Zheng, and your paternal cousin, fight for you, sacrifice their lives for you!”
He felt a buzzing in his ears and utmost weariness sweep across him. Lying on the floor, he realized how clean and beautiful the sky was after the rain. It had been many years since his cousin had scolded him, this time he will listen to all of it. Gu Feng’en lowered his head to look at him before suddenly removing his sword and cloak and lay beside him just like many years ago when they were still young and naively thought the way of the world was simply black and white and that there was only right and wrong in the world. They believed in everything the books said, what their parents said, that good will prevail over evil and honor would be victorious over deceit. The only thing they refused to believe that there were failed good rulers and victorious thieves. Back then they would lie on the grassy hills in the outskirts of the capital, and stare up at the sky. Gu Feng’en would tell him, “I will serve you so that you can become a wise and good ruler.” At the time that was not something he cared about instead he would ask, “You will not leave?” “I will not.”
But in these 10 years of struggling, what had they lost and what had they gained? 10 years later, as they lay down here once more, all that remained between them was silence.
“Do you know when my Father was trapped, he was surrounded by soldiers of the Cheng army?” Gu Feng’en begun quietly, “Yet all of them were fine but when I found my Father in 5 days time, his body was leaning against a tree and was covered in the arrows of the Hu? They had taken away his sword, his seal and his head. His hair was all loose and ants had already begun to crawl over his body, like a board of rotting wood. He was a great military general, so dying on the battlefield is part of his duty. But as a hero, his outcome was too pitiful.”
Tears sprung up in the corners of Dingquan’s eyes and rolled down his eyes but he said nothing.
“The Gu clan only wishes for a prosperous and peaceful empire. There are many under my command many have parents, have a wife, have children. But they give up their families to come to the border to suffer the icy winters, to risk losing their limbs and heads for what reason? It was only because we want you to clear the corruptness at court, to restore law and order, to bring peace to our world, so that our arts and technology can improve. And the elderly has someone to take care of them, their parents can be surrounded by their children, and have a benevolent ruler and caring ministers so that this dynasty can flourish for more centuries. Your Highness, there are some wishes that can only be achieved if the right person is in that position. Before that happens, can you accept the arrangement my Father, my elder brother and I have made for you? You do not need to do anything, I will protect you.”
“No,” Dingquan argued, “the people you should protect, have been killed by you. A dream that is built by plunging the country in chaos, a dream built by defying nature is I fear, a dream that is merely a fleeting beautiful illusion, an excuse to convince you what you’re doing it right.”
Gu Feng’en let out a cold laugh, “Your Highness, as you’ve seen, whether they are innocent or not they are already dead. They should’ve died 5 years ago anyway. Did your soft methods change their fate? If you delay making this decision today, do you know what will happen in 5 years time?”
Dingquan laughed, “As long as I can make them live for 5 more years, at least I didn’t waste their efforts to protect me for 25 years. If I stop here perhaps some of them will be able to live for 5 more years. Elder brother, there are some things I disagree, there are some I cannot do. But today I realize there are some things I refuse to do. That is what I’m like, there’s nothing I can do.”
Although Gu Feng’en was still laughing, but the tears in his eyes had begun to flow down. He decided to change tactics, “Your Highness, do you think that His Majesty will think what you did was right and the world will agree that your decision was the right one?”
Dingquan shook his head, “Just think of me as the Duke Xiang of Song, think of me as cowardly and weak, think of me as a fool. It’s enough that I think it’s the right decision. Although His Majesty is not a good Father but he is a good enough Emperor. The chaos within our country arose because of the greed of the surrounding countries. It’s time to end this. Elder brother, in the end, this is the empire of the Xiao clan, not the empire of the Gu clan. Let’s stop this. Think of it as stopping His Majesty from wasting unnecessary energy, that the court does not need to waste unnecessary armor, and less civilians will be sacrificed.”
Gu Feng’en turned pale at his words. “Yes, this is the empire of the Xiao. I will not think you are stupid but the history records will not be like me. It is never Heaven who decides who the thief and Emperor is but the people, those who steal the throne become emperors, and those who simply steal a hook is beheaded. We live among this world, none of us can escape it,” he mocked.
Dingquan seemed to hesitate for a moment before finally shaking his head, “I don’t believe that the truth will be buried in dust forever.”
“You don’t understand. Sometimes the ruler may not have lost his empire because he lost the support of his people. Sometimes they lose their empire and then lose the support of his people. You and I can watch and see if the people you save today will revere and admire those who you frown upon. Watch if the people you save today will hate and mock you for your actions today; watch if they will teach their descendants not to behave like you have done today. No, I think we will not be able to see that, perhaps we can discuss it in another life,” he retorted.
“Will you not change your mind?” Gu Feng’en asked as he reached for his sword and got up.
Dingquan closed his eyes and shook his head. Gu Feng’en let out a cold bark of laughter at his response. “Right now Changzhou is as secure as a metal bucket, everyone here supports the Gu clan. You’re simply like a scholar among a den of thieves. You have no weapon or soldier under your command even if you don’t agree what else can you do?”
Dingquan placed a heart on his chest and replied, “Elder brother, then use the sword in your hand and stab me here. Otherwise, you are defying my order. Even if we return to the capital, I will still punish the Gu clan.”
Gu Feng’en nodded and then drew out his sword. The bright sharpness of his sword pierced his eyes. He waited until he heard a loud thud beside him and droplets of red spluttered across his face and lips. He stood up, and went over to the battlements. he removed his jade belt and cast it over the battlements. The wind picked up and his clothes unbuckled, making his expensive purple robe resemble the attire of a scholar’s wide robe.
As he watched the fire continuing to burn in the north east part of the city he quietly muttered, “Elder brother, do you know the true offering to justice, is fire of intelligence, burn away the old restrictions in order to gain a new life. All life was born out of karma, once they burn away their sins, they can be released.”
10 days later, Changzhou reopened it’s doors to welcome the imperial commissioner. With him were hundreds of Jinwu guards and an imperial decree that read, “Xiao Dingquan has been dismissed from his position as crown prince due to his involvement in the rebellion. He must return to the capital immediately. The position of the governor of Changzhou city is abolished and we shall establish another city in the Beizhe province.”
- Offering sacrifices through fire/ or the practise of the homa ritual: This is the belief in Buddhism and traditional East Asian beliefs that although fire burns the offerings in this world, but it acts like an agent to carry it into another world like the underworld or the deities.
- Taotie: Chinese mythological creature who is one of the 4 evil creatures in chinese mythology but was also a symbol of protection as well.
- Elder brother: Gu Feng’en is his cousin through his mother’s side because the chinese word for cousin is made up of 2 words, “biao (表)” to show that it’s the cousin from the maternal side and ” tang (堂)” to represent it’s the cousin from the paternal side and either “ge(哥)” to show it’s an elder male cousin, ” di(弟)” to show it’s a younger male cousin, ” jie(姐)” to show it’s an elder female cousin and ” mei(妹)” to show it’s a younger female cousin. I also personally think it’s also a way to show that he still thinks of Gu Feng’en as family
- Duke Xiang of Song: he has a not very nice saying named after him, the honor of the Duke Xiang of song or 襄公之仁 as he was famous for instead of launching a surprise attack on his enemy, he allowed them to cross the river before fighting them to show his honor/benevolence and ended up dying because of that decision