Song Ci came to the capital with Liang Bing when he was sixteen years old. His studies for over ten years had not been in vain, as he came in second when he took the imperial examination at eighteen years of age. And because the Liang Clan had been a family of influential officials for generations, the Emperor conferred him an official position of the third grade1 at the Ministry of Justice.
Liang Bing was the one who asked the Emperor for the post in the Ministry of Justice. Initially, the Emperor had intended to assign Song Ci to the Ministry of Rites after seeing how refined he was. But Liang Bing felt that his son could barely wield a sword with both hands and so he should be toughened up more. Thus, he asked for a place in the Ministry of Justice.
However, it did not achieve the effect Liang Bing desired. Those from the Ministry of Justice knew that Song Ci was from the Liang Clan, and what’s more, he was the newly crowned bangyan.2 So they all rushed to curry favor with him. All the assignments he received were effortless, easy jobs, and he was only too happy to fish in muddied water and take advantage of the situation every day.
Song Ci felt that it was not a bad thing to keep going on like this. If he could find a gentle, caring wife of equal status in the capital, that’d be even better.
But Liang Yanbei’s arrival was the start of the interruption to his stable life.
On New Year’s Eve, the Emperor held an annual banquet in the palace and ordered all the officials of third grade and above in the capital to attend. So Song Ci and Liang Yanbei put on their formal attire and headed for the palace together.
This was Liang Yanbei’s first time entering the palace. Afraid that he might cause trouble, Song Ci kept a close eye on him. But Liang Yanbei was like a slippery loach, disappearing the moment Song Ci took his eyes off him. Panic-stricken, Song hurriedly searched for him and ended up coming across His Ninth Royal Highness, Wen Chan, at the entrance of the banquet venue.
Song Ci had not seen him for a while, so the moment he saw him, he immediately cast all thoughts of Liang Yanbei to the back of his mind and walked over excitedly to greet Wen Chan.
Among all the princes, the one Song Ci liked the most and was on good terms with was Wen Chan. Wen Chan was gentle by nature, and he was laidback despite his tender age. Sometimes, they would sit together without speaking for a couple of hours, and Song Ci would still feel at ease with him.
But this time, Wen Chan’s smile felt distant. He even addressed him as Young Master Liang the moment he opened his mouth. It stunned Song Ci.
Everyone in the capital knew that Wen Chan was on good terms with him. Every time they met, Wen Chan would address him as “Brother Shuhong”. This “Young Master Liang” totally widened the distance between them.
Song Ci concealed his forlorn thoughts and exchanged a few words of conventional greetings with him before he turned around to look for Liang Yanbei again. Song Ci’s mind wandered the entire time during the banquet. From time to time, he looked at Wen Chan, and so it was by coincidence that he realized that Wen Chan had quietly left his seat in the middle of the banquet.
Immediately right after, Liang Yanbei left his seat too. Song Ci kept his eyes open and followed after them once both of them had left.
There was a large wood behind the banquet venue. In the chilly winter, the trees had all been stripped bare of their leaves. The moon of the night was white and bright. Somehow, it appeared eerie.
It was in this wood that Wen Chan encountered an assassin. Song Ci watched with his heart in his mouth. Fortunately, Liang Yanbei came to his rescue. Only then was Wen Chan safe.
Song Ci hid behind them as both of them conversed before him. A strange feeling crashed against the thick layer of seal at the bottom of his heart, almost breaking through it to gush forth. Song Ci took a deep breath and forced back that budding emotion. Before both of them could discover him, he sneaked back to the banquet.
After the banquet ended, Song Ci sent Liang Yanbei away as he went out of his way to stay back. He thought that he should invite Wen Chan out for a stroll given the lively festive mood these days. Otherwise, with his comings and goings limited to the palace, Wen Chan could only remain cooped up in the palace—he had never been close to other imperial descendants.
But Wen Chan did not emerge even though Song Ci waited until the crowd dispersed. It was only when he asked around that he found out Wen Chan had already returned to his palace a long time ago. In the end, Song Ci could only leave the palace in the embrace of the cold wind and return home.
Song Ci was idle at home too. Many times, Liang Yanbei had wanted to ask him out to play, but when Song Ci saw him with the young master of the Xie Clan, he could not be bothered to join in. After all, he was several years older than them.
Moreover, it used to be that Wen Chan would send a letter to invite him out during this period of time, so Song Ci wanted to wait for the letter at home. He ended up waiting until the Shangyuan Festival.3
“You aren’t young anymore. Go out for a stroll and see if you can meet a maiden you like. Father will take care of it for you.” Liang Bing said.
Song Ci was not that interested in maidens. Instead, he was more bothered about why Wen Chan had never sent him a letter. Worried that something had happened to the latter in the palace, he took You Wen with him and headed for the palace.
Horse carriages were not allowed once they arrived at the inner palace, so Song Ci got off. He was all wrapped up in a thick cloak as he took one step after another, leaving behind footprints in the snow.
The sky was about to darken. The wind at night was much more freezing than it was in the daytime. It did not take long for Song Ci’s face to be frozen red. There was even snot trickling out of his nose from the cold. Song Ci did not even dare reach out his hand to wipe it away. Instead, he merely sniffled once in a while.
Although Wen Chan was not the crown prince, he had the entire Xiyang Palace to himself. The location was somewhat remote. As Song Ci walked over on foot, the cold wind soaked through his cloak and cotton-padded clothes. His legs were freezing cold too. Yet, the walking kind of warm him up and left a layer of sweat on his back.
Just as he was about to arrive, You Wen suddenly yelled out to Song Ci. “Young Master, look… Isn’t that His Ninth Royal Highness’s carriage?”
Song Ci blinked his eyes, which had gone sore from the blowing wind, and looked in the direction where You Wen had pointed. Sure enough, he saw a carriage slowly moving away from him, leaving behind long tracks in the snowy white ground.
Wen Chan’s carriage was particularly easy to recognize. There was a big “Chan” word on both sides of the carriage. It was the only one in the entire capital.
Song Ci stopped in his tracks and huffed out a mouthful of white air. He looked straight ahead, lost in thoughts.
On seeing this, You Wen lowered his voice and said, “This slave will go now to stop His Ninth Royal Highness’s carriage.”
“Don’t go.” Song Ci spoke in a light tone. “You aren’t allowed to stop the imperial carriage in the palace. Furthermore, you can’t catch up with it at such a distance.”
“Let’s head back.” Song Ci turned around and walked back along the footprints he had left behind when he came. The sky had already darkened by the time he walked back to the carriage. His limbs were so stiff that he had to roast himself beside the heater in the carriage for a while before he could regain the sensations in his limbs.
Since he had already lost the mood to take a stroll at the Shangyuan Festival, he headed home.
Perhaps his body had always been weak, or perhaps the wind was too cold and strong. By the time Song Ci reached home, he had fallen ill. Song Ci did not like to drink his medicine, and he had the habit of drinking a drop and pouring away a drop. As a result, his fever persisted for about half a month. He only recovered after the first month of the lunar year had passed.
At the start of the second month, the Ministry of Justice assigned him a scattering of work. Just when he finally felt at ease, he heard some rumors circulating in the capital.
Rumor had it that His Ninth Royal Highness had, over a lotus lantern, forced the Missy of the Zhao Clan to kneel and admit her mistake during the Shangyuan Festival. Later, he was grounded by the Emperor for spouting nonsense during a test. Song Ci naturally did not believe that Wen Chan was such a person, so he sent people to make inquiries from all over. But in the end, the answers he received were more or less the same.
Considering that it has been some time since he last saw Wen Chan, he simply sent over his visitation card4 and headed over to ask about it himself.
But Song Ci did not expect Wen Chan to avoid talking about these matters. He looked as if he had no wish to converse further with Song Ci. Several times, Song Ci brought up a topic only for Wen Chan to gloss it over. The trace of loneliness in Song Ci’s eyes could barely be concealed. All of a sudden, this Wen Chan before him felt like a stranger.
The Wen Chan of the past had always been Wen Chan before him, but the current Wen Chan seemed to have become His Ninth Royal Highness. Between them stood a barrier and an insurmountable stairway. Song Ci did not know if he could still be considered friends with Wen Chan now.
After Song Ci left the palace and returned home, he bumped into Liang Yanbei, who had come as a guest. The latter was holding a letter in his hand. The moment Liang Yanbei saw him, he came up in a greeting. “Elder Cousin Brother, Zhoulan said she is thinking of coming to the capital for a few days to play.”
Situ Zhoulan was Liang Yanbei’s childhood playmate. They were once betrothed to each other, but something happened to Liang Yanbei later, and the betrothal was annulled.
The Situ Clan had a reputation in Jinling for being a family of divine physicians for generations. The clan master of the Situ Clan was on friendly terms with Liang Jun, but he did not have any interactions with Liang Bing.
That was why Song Ci had seen Situ Zhoulan only a few times even though she grew up with Liang Yanbei.
Song Ci was not in a good mood at the moment, so he said in an indifferent tone, “As she wishes. But I’m not going to be responsible for receiving her.”
“Then forget it. I don’t have time to be entertaining her either.” Liang Yanbei folded the letter and put it in his bosom. When he looked up again, he saw Song Ci, who had just come in through the door, leaving again. Thus, he hurried up to him and asked, “Elder Cousin Brother, where are you going?”
Song Ci ignored him. Liang Yanbei followed him all the way to a modest wine tavern.
There were no chairs in the tavern, just three-foot low tables and soft cushions. Each table was separated by a screen that would keep patrons from disturbing each other despite the bustle.
Song Ci liked this kind of places the most. He favored coming here alone, especially when he was in a bad mood, as he could slowly calm himself down amid the din and aroma of wine.
How was he to know that there would be a little tail tagging along behind his butt this time? The moment Song Ci took his seat, Liang Yanbei sat down opposite him and asked for a jar of wine. “Elder Cousin Brother, where’s the joy in drinking alone? Let me drink with you!”
Song Ci raised his hand and gestured for him to shut up. “Be quiet if you don’t want me to chase you away.”
Liang Yanbei obeyed and shut his mouth, causing Song Ci to cast him a surprised look. When the wine was served, Song Ci poured himself a cup, but the spiciness of it choked him. He coughed a few times as his eyes watered.
Liang Yanbei laughed and said, “Take your time to drink.”
Song Ci was about to respond when he suddenly heard voices conversing at the next table. They even mentioned him.
“Hey, have you noticed that the relationship between His Ninth Royal Highness and Young Master Liang has been much distant these days?”
“Which Young Master Liang are you talking about? There are currently two in this capital.” The tone was deliberately nasty.
“Oh, true. It’s easy to mix them up. I’m talking about the one of shu birth5 in the Liang Clan.”
“Oooh, him.” Another man laughed. “Didn’t you notice that His Ninth Royal Highness is much closer with the one of di birth? With the legitimate descendant around, who would care about the one not of direct line?”
Song Ci tightened his fist . The wordings in these few sentences were so cutting that Song Ci frowned. His expression took on a vicious turn.
“Don’t be fooled by how dazed and silly His Ninth Royal Highness usually appears. He seems like he only cares about having fun, but his heart is like a mirror. He knows how to choose between the one of di birth and shu birth.”
Song Ci’s breathing suddenly quickened. He raised his eyes to look at Liang Yanbei, only to see a smug expression on the latter’s face as he raised him a victorious smile. Song Ci blinked his eyes and shook his head. But when he looked again, the Liang Yanbei before him had disappeared.
“Have you remembered?” Situ Zhoulan’s voice rang out again. “Haven’t you always been like this?”
The emotion that had been repressed earlier broke through its seal. It was as if it had hovered at the bottom of his heart for a long time. Like vines of thorns, it spread out to tighten its hold on his heart, strangling it.
He remembered. He had never been the chosen one.
Back then, when he came to the capital, he had, at a banquet held by the Emperor, met a youthful Wen Chan for the first time under a blooming pear blossom tree. Wen Chan had been chatting with his brothers at that time. His pretty and fair appearance was like those pear blossoms—pure and untainted.
Song Ci had thought that this must be a person with a gentle disposition. He would surely not possess the same secular and narrow views as the others.
So Song Ci had taken the initiative to take the first step. He greeted Wen Chan awkwardly, and ever since that day, he came to have a bosom friend in the capital.
Every time after he went on a stroll with Wen Chan, Song Ci had to endure the malicious whispers in the capital. Many people said he was intentionally trying to curry favor with His Ninth Royal Highness. But he had never seen Wen Chan exhibiting this kind of thinking, so he had never cared.
That was, until now, when the friendship he had never once doubted turned into a laughing stock.
He had been trying to convince himself that Wen Chan was not the kind of person to do such a thing. But time and time again, his disappointment and loneliness hit back his ability to console himself until he could no longer find a reason to support his reasoning.
The tavern was noisy as if everyone had started talking about this matter. They spoke in contemptuous tones as they trampled over Song Ci again and again with words that turned into sharp blades knifing his heart.
“He’s originally a son of shu birth, and he’s still delusional enough to fawn on the imperial family. Such wishful thinking! Who knows how much of his second place in the imperial examination was genuinely due to his talents?”
Song Ci crushed the wine cup in his hand, and the wine flowed all over his hand. He flipped the table and raged, “It was with my own abilities that I received the title of bangyan!”
A bloody red washed over his originally black eyes. His anger magnified and clouded all his reason. By the time Song Ci returned to his senses, the entire wine tavern was littered with corpses and awash in blood that soaked through his boots.
The red color marks on his face faded another fraction.
Song Ci looked at his bloodied hands. His entire body trembled as he murmured, “Why? Why are you the same as them?”
The blood melted away bit by bit as the scene elapsed. Song Ci watched as the blurred scene before him grew clearer. The voice of a youth suddenly rang out behind him, “Wei-er-meimei!”
Song Ci turned around in a panic and saw a young Song Ci trotting over. The green willows on the street crystallized with each step he took. With this shout, the long-forgotten memories of his past returned with a vivid vengeance.
The youth Song Ci ran past his side and stopped beside a maiden dressed in pink. “Wei-er-meimei, I bought this bracelet yesterday from the streets. Look. Is it to your liking?”
The maiden turned around with a look of impatience on her pretty face. “I don’t like these kinds of things. Can you stop buying them for me all the time? I don’t even know where to throw them now!”
The youth Song Ci instantly reined in half of his smile as he retracted the hand that was holding out the bracelet. Then he smiled again and said, “Alright, I understand. Wei-er-meimei, don’t be angry.”
Song Ci’s heart ached. It was as if his strength had taken leave of him. He wanted to sit down, and yet he also wanted to flee this place and not look at what was happening before his eyes.
Because he knew that this maiden in pink had left him heartbroken for a very long time.
This chapter echoes with chapter 12 of the novel next door, “Your Ninth Royal Highness, Please Change Your Clothes.”6~~ After so long, I finally wrote it from another perspective.
Song Ci is the main lead in these few chapters. Rong Bai won’t appear for the time being.
Rong Bai: I still want to sleep for a little longer.
Situ Zhoulan is not a crucial character. Just a villain who’s passing by.
- 三品 Officials were classified in nine hierarchic grades, with grade one being the highest rank. Their salaries ranged according to their rank.
- 榜眼 bang-yan; the candidate who came second in the imperial examination. The one who gets first place is known as Zhuangyuan (状元)
- Shangyuan Festival (上元节), also known as the Lantern Festival or Yuanxiao Festival (元宵節), is the final event of the Spring Festival (春节) on 15th of the first month of the lunar calendar.
拜帖 (also 名帖), a visitation card (or name card) written on paper or wood used by officials, nobles or distinguished people to notify the other party of their visit. It would usually indicate his name, position, and so on. It’s like a name card in the modern world.
- Children in those days were classified according to whether they were a di or shu child. A di son (嫡子) was born by the legal first wife (this was the wife who has been officially married into the family, also known as a zhengshi (正室)). Being the eldest of the legal wife made him the legitimate heir. They also had a higher social status and often received better treatment compared to the shu sons (庶子) born by concubines.
《九殿下请更衣》 Literally translated as “Your Ninth Royal Highness, Please Change Your Clothes.” is the author’s older BL novel featuring Liang Yanbei x Wen Chan. [Link]