The moment Song Ci stepped through the door, every scene in his vision was bathed in an aged yellow light.
Strange scenes flashed through his mind as if those scenes were forcefully imposed on him.
He saw a soaking wet Jiang Liang leaning on a wooden stick as he desperately shoved past the guards at the gate and urged his crippled legs on to the courtyard.1
The guard behind him raised his unsheathed blade with the intention to hit Jiang Liang’s neck, but another man stopped him.
“Why are you stopping me?!” The guard fumed.
“Let him in.” The other man said, “This matter needs a closure.”
“What if he gets beaten to death?!” Song Ci was stunned on hearing this anxious yell.
The two guards were not as malicious as they seemed.
As both of them tugged at each other, Jiang Liang stumbled into the courtyard. Under the pouring rain, he shouted, “Feng Zhuojun—!”
The sound spread so far that the sound of suona stopped.
Song Ci blinked his eyes and found himself standing in the Feng Residence’s courtyard. The rain came down in such torrents that his clothes were soaked through. The cold was further exacerbated by the wind. Song Ci could sense how freezing his body was, but Jiang Liang, who was still in his body, was still standing as straight as a ramrod.
All the sounds came to a stop. The guests in the main hall heard his voice and came out one after another to stand under the eaves to watch the drama. Feng Zhuojun, who was doing the formal bows,2 followed them out.
He stood in the middle of the crowd, dressed in a wedding robe that was glaring to the eyes. There was still a smile on his handsome face, but the instant he saw Song Ci, his expression changed.
Song Ci sharply sensed that the Feng Zhuojun before him was different from the previous one.
However, the next moment, an uncontrollable pain gushed out from the softest part of his heart and engulfed his entire chest so fast that he could hardly breathe.
This was Jiang Liang’s emotion. It was not that potent, but it was hard to bear. This was clearly an incident that happened in the past decades ago. Yet Jiang Liang still felt such vivid pain when he encountered it again.
Song Ci felt the tears brimming in his eyes, blurring everything around him.
It hit him then, why he had felt as if he had let Jiang Liang down.
It was Song Ci who took hold of Jiang Liang’s hand and led him to re-experience what had caused him anguish decades ago.
All for the so-called truth he wanted to know.
Song Ci’s self-reproach hit him so fast that he did not know how to apologize to Jiang Liang. He could only watch helplessly as Jiang Liang took one step after another towards Feng Zhuojun.
Under the eaves, Feng Zhuojun stood in sharp contrast to Jiang Liang, who cut a sorry figure. He frowned. The expression on his face was unfamiliar. “What are you doing here?”
Jiang Liang walked up to the bottom of the stairs. Ignoring the strange looks he was getting, he raised his head and smiled at Feng Zhuojun. “Are you getting married today?”
Before Feng Zhuojun could answer, the bride lifted her red veil3 and walked out. Hatred filled her face the moment she saw Jiang Liang. With a raise of her hand, she swung a slap at Jiang Liang with such force that Jiang Liang could hardly maintain his balance.
On seeing this, Feng Zhuojun hurriedly tried to stop her. The furious bride shook off his hand. “Why are you stopping me? Aren’t you going to beat this slut to death?!”
But Feng Zhuojun said nothing and merely pulled the bride back a few steps before telling the servants, “Chase him out!”
The servants obeyed and came over, wanting to pull him away, but Jiang Liang was unwilling to budge. He asked as he struggled, “You once said to me that if you were to marry one day, I’ll definitely be the one who will grasp the wedding silk4 with you. It has only been how long? And you have forgotten all these words?”
Feng Zhuojun fell silent.
“You even said that you would use blood silk to make a one-of-a-kind wedding robe for me. Even if you exhausted all your family fortunes. Even if it took you years. I have never expected you to honor all these grandiose words, but why did you abandon me like this without giving me a good explanation?” Jiang Liang’s voice was full of sorrow as if he was weeping tears of blood at each word. His eyes were locked on Feng Zhuojun in a stare.
“I’m sorry.” Feng Zhuojun said out of the blue.
Jiang Liang burst out laughing. “Exactly the same. It’s exactly the same. Just like what you said back then. Word for word.”
Song Ci was alarmed by his hysteria. He was afraid Jiang Liang would do something crazy or turn evil because of this.
“You might as well hit me, spurn me, or insult me. They are all better than humbling yourself to apologize to me.” Jiang Liang gnashed his teeth. “How can I take this lying down?!”
The bride with the surname Wang was so enraged that her gorgeous face contorted with fury as she roared at the servants. “What are you doing?! Throw him out!”
By this point, Feng Zhuojun’s parents had rushed over. When they saw Jiang Liang, they ordered the servants to teach Jiang Liang a lesson. Feng Zhuojun looked as if he wanted to stop them, but after Old Master Feng glared at him, he did not dare to make any more moves.
Rods and sticks as thick as a man’s wrist rained down mercilessly on Jiang Liang’s body. In a blink of an eye, his neck, arms, back, and legs, had all suffered blows.
Jiang Liang gritted his teeth. It was so painful that he curled up into a ball. But yet, he laughed. Icy rainwater flowed through every corner of his body and into his burning yet ice-cold heart.
He looked stubbornly at Feng Zhuojun with a pleading expression. He did not care how others looked at him; he only hoped that Feng Zhuojun would take just one look at him.
But Feng Zhuojun’s gaze was focused elsewhere.
This beating was worse than the one he received in the theater. Jiang Liang could not endure the blows and a mouthful of blood spurted out from his mouth. A bright red flower bloomed on his stained clothes. The rainwater instantly smudged it.
On seeing this, Feng Zhuojun hurriedly said, “Stop it! Stop hitting!”
Old Master Feng was about to glare at him again when Feng Zhuojun explained, “Today is my big day. It is not auspicious to see blood. Just get someone to throw him out.”
Perhaps he looked too pitiful that even the guests spoke out to persuade Old Master Feng. At last, Old Master Feng waved his hand and said, “Throw him out. If he dares to come in again to stir up trouble, then we’ll destroy his voice!”
And so, it was in this way Jiang Liang was carried away and callously thrown out of the gate. He tumbled a few rounds on the ground before coming to a stop. Enduring the sharp pain all over his body, he huddled into himself.
“I’m sorry…” He sobbed, “… to have let your body get hurt.”
This voice was so soft, only Song Ci could hear it.
Like a hand suddenly clenching his heart to stifle his heartbeat, it made him feel suffocated.
Jiang Liang, oh Jiang Liang. Such a gentle Jiang Liang. Such a fragile Jiang Liang.
He had grown up strong, complying with his mother’s last wish to become a kind person. Even at this excruciating juncture, he still apologized to Song Ci.
The anguish in his heart was thoroughly conveyed to Song Ci. Song Ci could not help asking, “Do you love him that much?”
For his sake, he had been willing to designate this land as his prison. He had remained in the City of Qinchuan for decades and endured the ridicule and insults of the city folks. For such a long time, had his love never faded even the slightest?
Or had it turned into an unrelenting obsession? Perhaps Jiang Liang was clear that his actions were cowardly and demeaning, that was why he had been speechless when Song Ci had asked him earlier why he did not leave Qinchuan.
He had let others stabbed his heart with knives, then hide his pain behind a gentle smile.
But what had Jiang Liang done wrong? For what reason did he have to endure all these?
Jiang Liang said, “Little Young Master has yet to experience love, am I right?”
Song Ci admitted. “Indeed, I haven’t.”
Jiang Liang said, “One day, when you meet someone who moves your heart, you will understand. Perhaps you may not be able to give up everything for him, but without him, you will feel that everything in your life is meaningless.”
“That’s how love is. When it taints you, there will be nothing you can do about it.”
Song Ci pursed his lips and said nothing. Since he could not comprehend it, there was no way he could refute it.
During his silence, a person holding up an umbrella walked up, stopped before Jiang Liang, and squatted down slowly.
Jiang Liang raised his head. “Troupe mistress…”
There were streaks of tears on the plump woman’s face. “Child, why go to such extent? You wouldn’t listen to my admonishments and insisted on coming here to suffer and bring pain upon yourself.”
“I couldn’t take it lying down…” Jiang Liang wept bitterly.
“Come back with me. Let’s not incur the wrath of the Fengs any more.” The plump woman stroked his face and whispered.
This surprised Song Ci very much. From her savage actions before, he had thought that she was afraid of the Fengs taking out their anger on her, that’s why she had treated Jiang Liang thus. He never expected her to do it with good intentions. It was just that she had used a different way to express it.
While Song Ci was zoning out, he heard Wen Changchu’s voice. “Little Fox, Feng Zhuojun had left something for Jiang Liang back then. It’s hidden in his chamber.”
“What thing?” Song Ci asked subconsciously.
“It’s the promise Feng Zhuojun has honored.” Wen Changchu answered.
Like a torch that had suddenly lit up, his words illuminated the doubt in Song Ci’s heart. He closed his eyes and instantly took back control of his body. Enduring the pain, he crawled up from the ground.
Jiang Liang said in astonishment. “Little Young Master, you…”
Song Ci said, “Don’t worry, let’s go and see that promise Feng Zhuojun has fulfilled.”
With that, he stepped towards the Feng Residence again. The plump woman looked at him in surprise and stopped him in a loud voice, “Jiang Liang!”
Song Ci turned back to look at the plump woman. He wanted to say something, but on second thought, this was all an illusion of the past. It was useless to say a word more, so he ignored her.
He dashed a few steps. Under the gaze of the two guards, he leaped and landed nimbly atop the entrance wall.
The two guards were worried on seeing this and came running under the eaves to him. Pointing at Song Ci, they said, “Do you have a death wish?! Come down quickly!”
This time, Song Ci did not look back and straight off leaped down the top of the wall. He whispered to Jiang Liang, “Do you know where Feng Zhuojun’s room is?”
Not knowing what he was going to do, Jiang Liang was a little flustered. “Little Young Master, you are still in the chessboard array. You mustn’t act presumptuously.”
Song Ci stood behind the dense clusters of trees and used the thickness to keep out his own voice. He said to Jiang Liang, “Listen to me. This chessboard will do me no harm. I’m going to ascertain something now. I hope you can help me.”
Jiang Liang thought for only a moment before agreeing. He said, “I have caused you so much physical pain. I feel very apologetic about it. Just go ahead and tell me what you need me to help you with.”
“Then tell me, where is Feng Zhuojun’s room?” Song Ci nodded.
Fortunately, Feng Zhuojun had brought Jiang Liang to the Feng Residence before, so he was familiar with the Feng Residence. Guiding Song Ci, they bypassed those patrolling guards and slipped smoothly into Feng Zhuojun’s chamber.
Feng Zhuojun’s room was not big, but it was connected to a small study. Everything in the room was clean and tidy. Song Ci swept a quick glance around before he rolled up his two dripping wet sleeves and started to ransack the room.
His way of searching was totally destructive. He turned everything he could see in the room upside down. His actions frightened Jiang Liang, who asked, “Little Young Master, what are you doing?”
“Looking for something.” Song Ci replied simply. He more or less had an idea what the object Feng Zhuojun had left behind was. That was why he dared to rummage around so brazenly.
“I can see that. But can you tell me what it is? Perhaps I have some impression of it.”
Song Ci said nothing. He hunted for it in silence all the way from the study to the chamber, ignoring the clutter he left on the ground. He walked over to the side of the bed, lifted the bedding, and uncovered the bed board. A dark wooden chest appeared before him.
He grinned. “I’ve found it.”
- In a traditional compound in 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.”
红盖头 Red veil used to cover the bride’s face during the wedding ceremony. Similar to the white veil used in Western weddings.
A long strip of red silk with a silk ball in the middle jointly held by the groom and bride during the wedding ceremony.